“No, I haven’t. No more than you have,” replied our foreman. “But this much I do know, or will just as soon as the sun comes out: I know north from south. We have been traveling north by a little west, and if we hold that course we’re bound to strike the North Fork, and within a day or two afterwards we will come into the government trail, running from Fort Elliot to Camp Supply, which will lead us into our own trail. Or if we were certain that we had cleared the Indian reservation, we could bear to our right, and in time we would reenter the trail that way. I can’t help the weather, boys, and as long as I have chuck, I’d as lief be lost as found.”
If there was any recovery in the feelings of the outfit after this talk of Flood’s, it was not noticeable, and it is safe to say that two thirds of the boys believed we were in the Pan-handle of Texas. One man’s opinion is as good as another’s in a strange country, and while there wasn’t a man in the outfit who cared to suggest it, I know the majority of us would have indorsed turning northeast. But the fates smiled on us at last. About the middle of the forenoon, on the following day, we cut an Indian trail, about three days old, of probably fifty horses. A number of us followed the trail several miles on its westward course, and among other things discovered that they had been driving a small bunch of cattle, evidently making for the sand hills which we could see about twenty miles to our left. How they had come by the cattle was a mystery,—perhaps by forced levy, perhaps from a stampede. One thing was certain: the trail must have contributed them, for there were none but trail cattle in the country. This was reassuring and gave some hint of guidance. We were all tickled, therefore, after nooning that day and on starting the herd in the afternoon, to hear our foreman give orders to point the herd a little east of north. The next few days we made long drives, our saddle horses recovered from their scare, and the outfit fast regained its spirits.
On the morning of the tenth day after leaving the trail, we loitered up a long slope to a divide in our lead from which we sighted timber to the north. This we supposed from its size must be the North Fork. Our route lay up this divide some distance, and before we left it, some one in the rear sighted a dust cloud to the right and far behind us. As dust would hardly rise on a still morning without a cause, we turned the herd off the divide and pushed on, for we suspected Indians. Flood and Priest hung back on the divide, watching the dust signals, and after the herd had left them several miles in the rear, they turned and rode towards it,—a move which the outfit could hardly make out. It was nearly noon when we saw them returning in a long lope, and when they came in sight of the herd, Priest waved his hat in the air and gave the long yell. When he explained that there was a herd of cattle on the trail in the rear and to our right, the yell went