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- Jim Cummings - 26/26 -
the Territory are partly civilized and live in organized towns and villages, electing their head men from time to time. Others are wild and uncivilized, wandering from place to place, pitching their tepees of buffalo hide on the bank of some rippling stream, or, sequestered in some lovely valley, engage in the pursuit of game and in the care of their herds of ponies and cattle.
It was to the latter class that Eagle Claw and his band belonged. Gaudy paint, vemillion and yellow, smeared their faces in all the fantastic designs which their grotesque imaginations could invent. The tanned buckskin leggins, fringed and beaded, were supported at the waist by a belt of leather embroidered and figured. A blanket thrown carelessly over the shoulder completed the costume, with the addition of mocassins made of rawhide. Their ponies were selected from the cream of their stock, and the gorgeous trappings of the saddles and harness made a most picturesque scene as the cavalcade filed over the plains.
Riding between two stalwart specimens of the Cherokee tribe, Swanson was closely guarded. All the answer he could get for his indignant questionings was a surly "Humph," or a sullen admonition to keep quiet. The chief led the party due southwest from Swanson's ranche, and all day long the sturdy ponies were kept at the long, swinging lope which enables them to cover miles during a day.
Late in the afternoon the chief, raising in his stirrups, gave a peculiar, vibrating yell, which was immediately taken up by his followers until the welkin rang with the penetrating sounds.
Like a faint echo an answering yell came back, and soon the forms of horsemen, dashing over the range, could be discerned.
Familiar with all the Indian customs Swanson recognized the yell. It told the camp that the scouting party had returned successful.
A short canter and the entire band wheeled around the edge of a tract of timber and came out upon the village, pitched on the banks of a stream of water, the tepees grouped in a circle around the chief's wigwam, the blue smoke curling lazily through the aperture at the top, and the welcome smell of cooking meats permeating the place. Swanson was given in charge of a guard and escorted to a vacant tepee, where he was firmly bound, hand and foot, and thrown upon a pile of fur robes.
A large fire had been built near Eagle Claw's wigwam, and one by one the sub-chiefs, head-men and old Indians of the tribe gravely stalked toward it and seated themselves in the circle.
Rising from his place Eagle Claw ordered the prisoner to be brought forward.
As Swanson caught sight of the council-fire, the stern faces surrounding it, and the grave air of his captors, his guilty heart sank within him, and, trembling in every joint, he was hardly able to totter to the place assigned him. The Indians noted his condition with scornful eyes, and Eagle Claw, advancing from the rest, said:
"How now, does the coyote tremble because he is asked to join the council with his brethren?"
The mocking words brought Swanson's pluck back again, and drawing himself to his full height he answered:
"You red devil! Don't brother me. Drop that beating around the bush and out with the truth."
"'Tis well. A liar is a curse to his people. The Cherokees are men of truth and have but a single tongue."
"The Cherokees are the biggest rascals in the Territory, the meanest horse-thieves, and couldn't tell the truth to save their rascally necks from the halter," said Swanson.
The Indian's eyes flashed ominously at these words, and rising his voice, he said:
"My brother has a long tongue. It might be well if it were cut out; but we know he is joking, for is he not a Cherokee himself?"
"Not I. You can't make a mustang out of a broken-down broncho and you can't make a white man out of an Indian."
"But you took one of the fairest of our young maidens to your tepee, and--"
"Fairest young maiden? I took the skinniest rack-a-bones in the tribe. The old hag! She was too lazy to earn her salt, and was the biggest fool that ever wore calico."
A terrible look of rage came into Eagle Claw's face, for Swanson had married his own sister, and such an insult was not to be brooked. But with all the powers of dissimulation which the Indian possesses, he forced a smile to his lips, and, blandly speaking, pointed to the thongs around Swanson's arms.
"It is not well that our brother should be tied that way," and drawing his keen knife, he cut the thongs, and Swanson freed his arms.
His arms free, all of Swanson's courage returned. Hastily glancing around the circle, he suddenly shot out his right arm. Reeling backward, Eagle Claw fell to the ground, and the Indians saw something pass them like the wind, straight for the pony herd.
In an instant the camp was in commotion, hoarse yells came from tawny throats, and in swift pursuit of the flying Swanson the braves ran after him.
He had the start, however, and agile and athletic to a remarkable degree, his hands pressed to his side, his mouth closed and saving his wind, he sped before the pursuing red men and gained the corral of the ponies.
The Indians had not taken his knife from him, and hastily selecting his steed, the leather lariat was severed in a trice, and vaulting on his back, Swanson made a dash for life into the darkness. The thundering of hoofs told him that the red devils were close after him. Turning abruptly to one side he rode at right angles to his former course, and suddenly drawing up his horse he stood still. The sound of the chase neared him, and presently he heard them sweeping past, the darkness completely shrouding himself and his horse from their keen eyes.
Leaping to the ground, he placed his ear to the earth, and the faint throbbing of the horse hoofs beating the ground grew fainter as his pursuers rode further away.
Mounting his horse again, he commenced slowly and stealthily to circumnavigate the camp, and it wasn't until he had gained the opposite side, that he ventured to put his horse to a gallop.
He had never been in that section of the country before, but it did not matter so long as he could put a good distance between himself and his captors in which direction he rode.
The dawn of the next day found his horse loping along, Swanson keeping a sharp eye out for Indians.
He was satisfied that he had at last eluded pursuit, and turning into a clump of timber he tied his horse with the remnants of the lariat and threw himself on the ground near it.
All day long he slept, and as evening closed in he turned his horse from the timber and mounting a slight elevation near it, he gazed around for landmarks. To his surprise, he recognized the country as that near his own ranche, and feeling the pangs of hunger in a most distressing degree, he urged his horse in the direction of the ranche.
He had ridden several hours, and he knew that he must be somewhere near his place, when, rising before him, he discerned the house.
Almost simultaneous with his discovery a wide sheet of flame burst from the roof and, dismayed and astonished, Swanson checked his horse.
A multitude of yells rent the air, and Swanson, turning his horse again fled before the avenging Cherokees, but a hissing whistling sound was heard, a long, writhing lariat shot out, and the noose, falling over Swanson's shoulders, drew together with the run, and, lifted completely from the saddle, Swanson was thrown senseless to the ground. A bucketful of water was dashed over his face, and recovering he saw the demon faces of Eagle Claw and his band surrounding him.
"My brother was cold and we started a fire that he might get warm. He was lost and we made a light to guide him here. We love our brother Swanson. We would always have him with us," jeered the Indian,
To this Swanson was incapable of replying. His senses were benumbed and he hardly realized what was going on around him. Staggering to his feet he reeled to and fro like a drunken man.
As he walked toward the fire, he was suddenly grasped from behind, and again were his arms pinioned. There was no escape for him this time. Forced to his knees, he was placed facing half a dozen of the best marksmen of the tribe. His shirt was torn open, exposing his hairy breast. A signal was given, and the sharp reports of the rifles rang out in tune with the crackling timbers of the house, and falling to his face, Swanson gave a convulsive struggle and died as his own roof fell in; and a mass of blackened timbers marked the place where once stood Swanson's ranche.
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