Boys of the Fort/32
RELIEF AT LAST——CONCLUSION.
The attack did not come until half an hour later, and during the time of waiting the nerves of the boys were strained to the utmost. The seriousness of the situation was depicted upon the faces of all the soldiers, who felt that the coming contest must decide whether or not the fort was to stand.
The firing began on the part of the Indians and desperadoes, who advanced upon the stronghold from four points of the compass at once. The enemy had learned the folly of massing their force, and Indians and whites came on in a wide open skirmish line.
The soldiers within the stockade fired upon the advancing foe as best they could. Yet by the time red men and desperadoes were within reach of the stockade only three of the foe had fallen.
As before, some of the Indians carried a board with strips nailed across it for steps, and the desperadoes had a similar contrivance. The two boards were placed at opposite ends of the stockade, and, while some of the enemy began to mount them, others came rushing on with a tree trunk, which they used as a battering-ram against the stockade gate.
The noise was now terrific, as rifle and cannon shot sounded out, mingled with the warwhoops of the Indians and the groans and shrieks of the wounded and dying.
As for Joe and Darry, the first shock over, each felt as if he was in a dream—as if this terrible sight presented to their gaze could not be true, They shot off their rifles mechanically, yet when it was all over Joe remembered how he had sent one redskin tumbling back into the ditch, and Darry could tell of a desperado who had dropped his gun because of a shot through the shoulder.
"Fight to the last, men!" shouted Captain Moore, as he discharged his pistol at the leader of the desperadoes. Gilroy had hit him in the forearm, but the young officer's aim was still more true, and Matt Gilroy went down never to rise again.
In the meanwhile old Benson was having a terrific hand-to-hand encounter with White Ox. Each had fired a shot at the other, and now they closed in, the Indian chief with his hunting-knife and the old scout with his clubbed rifle.
The struggle was as short as it was thrilling. Benson made a pass which the Indian chief dodged. Then White Ox plunged his knife toward the old scout's heart, but a quick turn made it catch in Benson's hunting-shirt. Down came the rifle butt a second time, and the blow, catching White Ox on the neck, forced him to his knees. Even then he struck at Benson's legs, but the old scout leaped over his head. Then down came the rifle butt once more, and the Indian chief gave a groan which was his last.
Fully sixty Indians and a score of desperadoes were now within the stockade, and it looked as if all was lost to our friends. A part of the regulars were fighting at the entrance to the stable, but the majority were gathered around Captain Moore at the entrance to the officers quarters. Behind these were the ladies of the fort and the officers who were sick.
"Perhaps we had better surrender," said Colonel Fairfield, when told by his wife of the condition of affairs. "If we don't——" He could not finish.
"Kill the white soldiers!" was the cry from the Indians. "White Ox has fallen! They must all die! Spare nobody!"
Captain Moore was now fighting as never before. Beside him stood old Benson, and not far away were Joe and Darry. Each of the number was wounded, and hardly any of the regulars were better off. Ammunition was running low. Still the horrible din continued, and the dust and smoke were blinding.
But now, hark, what was that? From a distance sounded out a bugle call. Then came a shot, followed by another, and then a regular volley. Captain Moore started, and his eyes lit with pleasure.
"The relief!" he shouted. "The relief from Fort Prescott! Boys, we are saved!"
"Hurrah, the relief!" was the shout which made the fort ring from end to end. "The relief! We are saved!"
"Give it to the reds and to the desperadoes!" came from old Benson. "Teach 'em the lesson so they won't forget it! Don't let a skunk of 'em escape!"
Nearer and nearer came the shots from without, and a bugle continued to blow calls to a detachment still further away. Then up to the fort rode a troop of dashing cavalry from Fort Prescott, Hank Leeson beside them, and every horse covered with foam. Crack! crack! crack! spoke up the firearms of the newcomers, and Indians and desperadoes fell in all directions.
"We must retreat!" shouted one of the desperadoes. "The game is up!"
"Retreat! retreat!" came from the others; and the red men took up the cry. Soon the enemy were pouring from the fort grounds even more rapidly than they had entered.
There was only a pitiful handful that could follow them, the young captain, Benson, and nine regulars. But there was no need for even that number, for the blood of the cavalry was up and every desperado and red man received one or more shots the instant he appeared. Soon the enemy were flying in all directions. But the cavalry went after them, and in the end all but four desperadoes and thirty-six Indians were killed, the others being forced to surrender.
It was rather a silent party that gathered in and around the fort that night. Victory had come to our friends, but the cost had been a heavy one, and the hospital ward of the fort was filled to over flowing.
Hank Leeson came in for many a warm hand shake, and was made to tell his story over and over again.
"It was a close shave," said the old hunter. "Twice I got in a close box with the redskins an' I had to shoot one of 'em down afore I could git away. Thet's wot kept me so long. I'm glad we wasn't an hour later, fer then mebbe we'd 'a' been too late."
All of the principal desperadoes were dead and the same can be said of the Indians. Among the slain was found the body of Bicker, and, if the truth must be told, nobody mourned his loss.
"He is responsible for a great deal of this suffering," said Captain Moore. "Had he lived it is likely he would have been court-martialed and shot."
Both of the boys had been slightly wounded, yet each felt happy when the fighting was over and they were assured that from henceforth they would be safe to come and go as they pleased.
"It was like a regular campaign," said Darry. "Joe, we have become soldiers after all!"
"That's so, Darry," replied Joe. "We can call ourselves, after this, the boys of the fort!"
A few words more, and we will bring this story of fort life in the Great Northwest to a close.
Two weeks after the events just narrated Joe and Darry returned to their homes, Here they were received with open arms by their parents, who had heard all manner of ugly reports and who half expected to see them coming back wounded and crippled for life. But the lads soon proved that they were not so bad off as that, and inside of a few months both were as well as ever.
At the fort an active campaign was started under Captain Moore and the commander of the cavalry, and this resulted in the rounding up of six more desperadoes and thirty Indians. Lieutenant Carrol and four regulars were found as prisoners of the Indians and were released.
The desperadoes were turned over to the civil courts, and were dealt with severely, two being hung and the others being imprisoned for years.
Drossdell was court-martialed, and after a long trial was sentenced to imprisonment in a military prison for ten years. He served six years, after which he was released. To his credit be it said, he turned over a new leaf, and from the West went to Cuba, where he fought with the Cubans against Spanish rule. He was with the Cubans at the fall of Santiago and died a few weeks later of tropical fever.
As soon as the proper medicines could be obtained and administered, those who had been drugged at the fort began to recover, and inside of two weeks Colonel Fairfield, Captain Lee, and our other friends were around once more, although rather weak.
The mining company whose money had been saved was exceedingly thankful to Captain Moore and the others for what had been done, and when, several years later, the young captain left the regular army, this company offered him a lucrative position, which he accepted and which he fills to this day.
Old Benson and Hank Leeson still continue to roam the Great Northwest, and are happy. Occasionally they receive a visit from Joe and Darry, and are never more satisfied than when they have the two young men with them on a hunting and fishing tour.
"Takes me back to years ago," says old Benson. "Years ago, when you were both green as grass."
"Well, we are not so green now," replies Joe, with a quiet smile. "Through bitter experience we have learned a thing or two."
"Now it is over I am glad I didn't miss it," puts in Darry. "We got a genuine taste of soldier life, didn't we?"
"That's so," adds Joe. "We were really and truly the Boys of the Fort."