A short time after they left, we decided to send a party out ourselves, to follow the Indians and recapture the girl if possible, as well as recover the mules stolen. Jerry offered to lead the party in person, provided I would accompany it, and Don Ignacio could be induced to take charge of the camp during our absence. The arrangements perfected, Jerry selected a dozen of the best men; and before daylight, we were in the saddle and on the trail.
All day we rode over rocky mesas or through dense chapparal,—here fording a stream, now thundering over a barren plain, or picking our way through gloomy canons or up steep bluffs.
The sun set; but Jerry did not pause in the pursuit. With his eyes on the ground, and the same eager, anxious expression on his face, he rode as he had ridden all day. Every nerve was strung to its utmost tension, every sense was on the alert. Hardly had he spoken, not once hesitated as to the course, nor for a single instant lost the track we had been following.
At last we came to a little valley, shut in by dark gray rocks and tall mountains. At a signal from Jerry, we dismounted, unsaddled our animals, and partook of a hasty supper; then again took to the trail; penetrating deeper and deeper into the mountain fastnesses, over rocks and through dense underbrush, until at last the shimmer of the waters of a broad river met our gaze, and we paused upon its banks.
It was the Rio Grande; and here we decided to encamp for the night.
A few hours’ rest and, just at daylight, we plunged into the water and renewed our search, following the banks for miles; but no trace of the track could we find. Just as we were giving up in despair, one of the party, who was a long distance in the lead, uttered a shout: he had again found the trail. It was evident now, that, in order to deceive any party that might follow them, they had entered the river and followed its bed through the water, nearly ten miles; hoping thereby to successfully hide their course.
We now sent one man back to the point where the trail entered the river, that he might guide the soldiers, whom we every moment expected to arrive from Fort Davis.
It was a useless precaution however, for no soldier came. If we had but known! but, alas! how could we? We waited until twilight came, and then reluctantly retraced our steps, believing it useless to attempt to follow the thieves after so long a time had been given them in which to escape with their prisoners. I was much pleased, however, to hear Jerry express the opinion, that the Comanches would gladly ransom them, and that the only obstacle in the way would be the difficulty in communicating with the band who made the capture; for it seemed probable that they belonged in that, then, almost inaccessible portion of the state, known as the “Pan-handle.”
When midnight came and no tidings reached us from the fort, we reluctantly determined to start homeward.