Horse and rider skirted the cottonwoods and disappeared in a depression beyond.
“Something about these guys”
West glared at Morse, his heavy chin outthrust, his bowed legs wide apart. “You’ve done run on the rope long enough with me, young feller. Here’s where you take a fall hard.”
The younger man said nothing. He watched, warily. Was it to be a gun-play? Or did the big bully mean to manhandle him? Probably the latter. West was vain of his reputation as a two-fisted fighter.
“I’m gonna beat you up, then turn you over to the Crees,” the infuriated man announced.
“You can’t do that, West. He’s a white man same as you,” protested Stearns.
“This yore put-in, Brad?” West, beside himself with rage, swung on the little man and straddled forward a step or two threateningly.
“You done said it,” answered the old-timer, falling back. “An’ don’t you come closter. I’m liable to get scared, an’ you’d ought not to forget I’m as big as you behind a six-shooter.”
“Here they come—like a swarm o’ bees!” yelled Barney.
The traders forgot, for the moment, their quarrel in the need of common action. West snatched up a rifle and dropped a bullet in front of the nearest Indian. The warning brought the Crees up short. They held a long consultation and one of them came forward making the peace sign.
In pigeon English he expressed their demands.
“He’s gone—lit right out—stole one of our broncs. You can search the camp if you’ve a mind to,” West replied.
The envoy reported. There was another long pow-wow.
Brad, chewing tobacco complacently behind a wagon wheel, commented aloud. “Can’t make up their minds whether to come on an’ massacree us or not. They got a right healthy fear of our guns. Don’t blame ’em a bit.”
Some of the Crees were armed with bows and arrows, others with rifles. But the trade guns sold the Indians of the Northern tribes were of the poorest quality.
[Footnote 4: These flintlock muskets were inaccurate. They would not carry far. Their owners were in constant danger of having fingers or a hand blown off in explosions. The price paid for these cheap firearms was based on the length of them. The butt was put on the floor and the gun held upright. Skins laid flat were piled beside it till they reached the muzzle. The trader exchanged the rifle for the furs. (W.M.R.)]
The whites, to the contrary, were armed with the latest repeating Winchesters. In a fight with them the natives were at a terrible disadvantage.
The Crees realized this. A delegation of two came forward to search the camp. West pointed out the tracks of the horse upon which their tribal enemy had ridden away.
They grunted, “Ugh! Ugh! Ugh!”