The letter which was delivered to
Warren Starr by his mortally wounded hound not only
gave that young man definite news of the alarming events
in the neighborhood of his home, but has conveyed to
the reader the cause of the abrupt change in his plans
and of the stirring incidents which led to the hasty
flight of the Starr family from their ranch on the
north of the Big Cheyenne River.
As stated in the note, it was Tim
Brophy, the young Irishman, who made the discovery
in time to prevent the family being overwhelmed and
massacred. While Jared Plummer, the lank New Englander,
rode to the westward to look after some strays, Tim
galloped north to attend to the main herd, which was
supposed to be cropping the abundant grass in the
neighborhood of several small streams and tributaries
of the main river.
Tim had been in the employ of Mr.
Starr for three years, and had spent most of his life
in the West, so that he had fully learned the lesson
which such an experience should teach everyone.
He knew of the impending trouble among the Indian
tribes, and was always on the alert. It was not
long, therefore, before he came upon signs which told
him something was amiss.
In the corner of a natural clearing,
near one of the small streams, he discovered a dozen
of the cattle lying dead. It was not necessary
for him to dismount and examine the ground to learn
the cause of such slaughter. The footprints of
ponies near by, the bullet wounds, and other indications
answered the question that came to his lips at the
first glimpse of the cruel butchery.
“The spalpeens!” he exclaimed
wrath-fully. “They niver had a better friend
than Mr. Starr, and that’s the shtyle in which
they pays him for the same. Worrah, worrah, but
it’s too bad!”
Riding cautiously to the top of the
next elevation, the young rancher saw other sights
which filled him with greater indignation and resentment.
A half mile to the northward the entire herd of cattle,
numbering several hundreds, were scurrying over the
plain in a wild panic. The figures of several
Sioux bucks galloping at their heels, swinging their
arms and shouting, so as to keep up and add to the
affright, left no doubt that Mr. Starr’s fine
drove of cattle was gone beyond recovery. The
result of months of toil, expense, and trouble were
vanishing as they sometimes do before the resistless
sweep of the cyclone.
The blue eyes of the Celt flashed,
as he sat in the saddle and contemplated the exasperating
raid. Nothing would have pleased him better than
to dash with several companions after the marauders
and force them to a reckoning for the outrage.
But eager as he was for such an affray, he was too
wise to try it alone. There were five or six of
the horsemen, and he was no match for them.
Besides this, a more alarming discovery
broke upon him within a minute after observing the
stampede. From the clump of wood on his right,
along the edge of the stream, only a few hundred yards
away, he detected the faint smoke of a camp-fire.
The Sioux were there.
The sight so startled Tim that he
wheeled his pony short around and withdrew behind
the elevation he had just ascended, fearing he had
already been observed by the red men.
Such undoubtedly would have been the
fact had any of the turbulent Sioux been on guard,
but the occasion was one of those rare ones in which
the warriors acted upon the theory that no such precaution
was needed, since no possible danger could threaten
Suspecting the truth, Tim dropped
hastily from his pony and stole along the edge of
the stream, until he reached a point which gave him
a sight of the miscreants, and at the same time afforded
him tolerably fair protection.
The scene was calculated to inspire
anything but pleasant feelings in a spectator.
Fully a score of young warriors were squatted in a
circle, listening to the harangue of one of their
number, who had wrought himself into a furious passion.
He was swinging his arms, shouting and leaping about
like a lunatic, and rising to a pitch which not only
threatened to throw him into a paroxysm, but was imparting
itself to his listeners. Some of them were smoking,
but showing at the same time an excitement which is
generally believed to be foreign to the American race.
They were all bucks, and eager to be led upon the warpath.
There was not an old or middle-aged man among them.
The eavesdropper was not able to understand
their words, but the gestures left no doubt of their
fearful meaning. The speaker pointed in the direction
of the home of the Starrs so often, and indulged in
so much action to which the others signified full
assent, that it was beyond dispute that they meant
to attack the house and slay the inmates. Knowing
all about these, and the resistance they were likely
to meet, they would wait until night before bursting
Tim Brophy was sagacious enough to
grasp almost on the instant the full nature of the
awful peril. He saw that accident, or rather Providence,
had given to him the secret which revealed that only
by prompt action could the lives of his friends be
saved. There was no saying how long the council,
if such it may be called, would last, and he did not
care to know.
Nothing could show the intense absorption
of the fierce Sioux in the outrage they had determined
to commit more than the fact that a white man rose
up in full view only a few hundred yards away, without
his presence being detected. Such being the case,
it was easy for Tim to withdraw from the immediate
vicinity of the gathering, steal round to where his
pony was cropping the grass, and mount again.
He rode carefully forward, keeping
the elevation between him and the camp of the hostiles,
until convinced it was safe, when he struck his horse
into a run and sped away as if for life.
A few minutes sufficed to take him
to the house, where the unsuspicious folk looked up
in wonder at his haste and agitation. Mr. Starr
was sitting near the window reading a newspaper, his
little girl Dot was playing with her doll on the floor,
and the wife was busy with her household duties.
It took but a few minutes for Tim
to tell the news. Jared Plummer had not yet come
in, and there could be no guessing as to what additional
facts he would give them.
Like his employe, the rancher was
quick to grasp the situation. The only possible
safety was in flight, and no time was to be lost.
The building, with its broad, flat
roof, its many windows and insecure portions, was
in no condition for successful defence, where the small
garrison could not guard one-half the weak points.
The assailants could readily fire it, and it would
burn like so much touchwood. Flight, therefore,
was the one and only thing to be thought of.
It was yet comparatively early in
the afternoon, and those on the ranch had noted the
signs of the approaching snowstorm. The husband
directed his wife to make her preparations few and
simple, and to waste no time. It was idle to
bewail the necessity which compelled them to leave
so many precious articles behind. Life was dearer
than all, and the courageous helpmate proved herself
equal to the occasion. She gathered the articles
of clothing they were likely to need, filled several
bags with the provisions in the house, and announced
that she was ready.
There was a horse each for the father,
mother, and Tim Brophy, while a fourth, a small, tough
pony, was laden with the bag of provisions, extra
clothing, and a few articles deemed indispensable.
These were brought round to the front, and in much
less time than would be supposed the little cavalcade
was ready to move.
Despite the belief of Brophy that
no attack would be made until after darkness had closed,-a
belief shared by Mr. Starr,-the rancher
was fearful that his home would be placed under surveillance
while daylight lasted, and that the intended flight
would be discovered before it began. In such
an event, the family could only fight it out to the
desperate end, and that they would do so admits of