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The Cheyennes' Last Fight, Or The Ending Of Dull Knife's Band. Part 5
Immediately on hearing the fire, Vroom, at Camp Canby, had thrown two troops in skirmish order across the valley to prevent escape to the east, and hurried into Robinson himself at the head of a third troop.
Already mounted, Vroom was the first to overtake and re-engage the flying Cheyennes, whose knowledge of the geography of the country proved remarkable. They had selected a high bluff two miles west of the post as their means of escape, its summit inaccessible to horsemen for more than six miles from the point of their ascent.
Almost daily for months had I ridden beneath this bluff and would readily have sworn not even a mountain goat could ascend to its summit; but, hidden away in an angle of the cliff lay a slope accessible to footmen, and this the Indians knew and sought.
Just below this slope Vroom brought the rear guard to bay, and a brief, desperate engagement was fought. The Indians succeeded in holding the troops in check until all but those fallen under the fire of Vroom's command were able to reach the summit.
Here on this slope, fighting in the front ranks of the rear guard, the "Princess," Dull Knife's youngest daughter, was killed!
Further pursuit until daylight being impossible, the troopers were marched back into the garrison.
By daylight the hospital was filled with wounded Indians, and thirty-odd dead - bucks, squaws, and children - lay in a row by the roadside near the sawmill, and there later they were buried in a common trench.
At dawn of the tenth, Captain Wessells led out four troops of cavalry, and, after a couple of hours' scouting, found that the Indians had followed for ten miles the summit of the high divide between white River and Soldier Creek, traveling straight away westward, and then had descended to the narrow valley of Soldier Creek, up which the trail lay plain to follow through the snow as a beaten road.
Along this trail Captain Vroom led the column at the head of his troop. Next behind him rode Lieut. George A. Dodd, then a youngster not long out of West Point, and later for many years recognized as the crack cavalry captain of the army. Next behind Dodd I rode.
Ahead of the column a hundred yards rode Woman's Dress, a Sioux scout.
For seventeen miles from the post the trail showed that the fugitives had made no halt! A marvelous march on such a bitter night for a lot of men, women, and children many of them wounded, all half clad and practically starved for five days!
Presently the trail wound round the foot of a high, steep hill, the crest of which was covered with fallen timber, a hill so steep the column was broken into single file to pass it. Here the trail could be seen winding on through the snow over another hill a half mile ahead.
Thus an ambush was the last thing expected, but, after passing the crest of the second hill, the Indians had made a wide detour to the north, gained the fallen timber on the crest of this first hill, and had there entrenched themselves.
So it happened that at the moment the head of Vroom's column came immediately beneath their entrenchment, the Cheyennes opened fire at short range, emptied two or three saddles, and naturally and rightly enough stampeded the leading troop into the brush ahead of and back of the hill, for it was no place to stand and make a fight.
Nothing remained but to make a run for the brush, and a good run he made of it, but, encumbered with a buffalo overcoat and labouring through the heavy snow, he soon got winded and dropped a moment for rest behind the futile shelter of a sage bush.
Meantime, the troopers had reached the timber, dismounted, taken positions behind trees, and were pouring into the Indian stronghold a fire so heavy that Dodd was soon able to make another run and escape to the timber unscathed. *******
The Indian stronghold on the hilltop was soon surrounded and held under a desultory long-range fire all day, as the position was one impregnable to a charge.
No packs or rations having been brought, at nightfall Captain Wessells built decoy campfires about the Indians' position and marched the command back into the garrison.
He told me Lieutenant Baxter, with a detachment of ten men, had located, on the slope of a bluff a mile east of the Deadman Ranch, a camp of Indians which he believed represented a large band of hostiles still loose.
Pointing to a spur of the bluffs, three or four hundred feet high, standing well out into the valley a scant mile east of my ranch, the trooper hurried on in to the garrison for reinforcements, and I spurred away for the bluff, and soon could see a line of dismounted troopers strung along the crest of the ridge.
As I rode up to the foot of the bluff, skirmish firing began on top of the ridge.
After running my horse as far up the hill as its precipitous nature would permit, I started afoot climbing for the crest, but, finding it inaccessible at that point, started around the face of the bluff to the east to find a practicable line of ascent, when suddenly I was startled to hear the ominous, shrill buzz of rifle balls just above my head, from the skirmish fine on the crest of the ridge - startled, indeed, for I had supposed the Indians to be on the crest of the bluff, farther to the south.
Dropping behind a tree and looking downhill, I saw a faint curl of smoke rising from a little washout one hundred yards below me, and, crouched beside the smouldering fire in the washout, a lone Indian.
This warrior's fight and death was characteristic of the magnificent spirit which had inspired the band, from the beginning of the campaign at Fort Reno.
In mid-afternoon, scouting to the south of the garrison for trails, Lieutenant Baxter had discovered this campfire, and, quite naturally assuming that none but a considerable band of the Indians would venture upon building a campfire so near to the garrison, had immediately sent a trooper courier into the garrison with advice of his discovery.