They’d ribbed it up for me to ride Martin’s mare, Black Hawk, while a little feller named Hollis rode his own horse.
Donnelly’s part was to stay in the saddle and keep the other horses close to Barrett and Martin. They was to stick next to the money, and one of ’em do the bearin’ off of the booty while the other made the protection play.
We hoped in the excitement to get off without harmin’ any of Uncle Sam’s pets, but all three of the boys had been with the Rangers and I knew if it came to a show down, they wouldn’t hesitate to “pot” one or two in gittin’ away.
We rode out from camp the next mornin’ to where we’d staked out a mile track on the prairie and it seemed as if the whole Crow Nation was there, and nary a white but us five.
They’d entered two pretty good-lookin’ horses and had their jockeys stripped down to breech-clouts, while Hollis and me wore our whole outfits on our backs, as we didn’t exactly figger on dressin’ after the race, leastways, not on that side of the river.
Just before we lined up, Jim says: “Now you —— all ride like ——, and when you git to the far turn we’ll let the guns loose and stampede the crowd. Then jest leave the track and make a break fer the river, everybody fer himself. We’ll all meet at them cottonwoods on the other side, so we can stand ’em off if they try to swim across after us.”
That would have been a sure enough hot race if we had run it out, for we all four got as pretty a start as I ever see and went down the line all together with a-bangin’ of hoofs and Indian yells ringin’ in our ears.
I had begun to work Black Hawk out of the bunch to get a clear start across the prairie at the turn, when I heard the guns begin snappin’ like pop-corn.
“They’ve started already,” yelled Hollis, and we turned the rearin’ horses toward the river, three miles away, leavin’ them two savages tearin’ down the track like mad.
I glanced back as I turned, but, instead of seein’ the boys in the midst of a decent retreat, the crowd was swarmin’ after ’em like a nest of angry hornets, while Donnelly, with his reins between his teeth, was blazin’ away at three reds who were right at Barrett’s heels as he ran for his horse. Martin was lashin’ his jumpin’ cayuse away from the mob which sputtered and spit angry shots after him. Bucks were runnin’ here and there and hastily mountin’ their ponies—while an angry roar came to me, punctuated by the poppin’ of the guns.
Hollis and I reached the river and swam it half a mile ahead of the others and their yellin’ bunch of trailers, so we were able to protect ’em in their crossin’.
I could see from their actions that Bennett and Martin was both hurt and I judged the deal hadn’t panned out exactly accordin’ to specifications.
The Crows didn’t attempt to cross in the teeth of our fire, however, being satisfied with what they’d done, and the horses safely brought our three comrades drippin’ up the bank to where we lay takin’ pot-shots at every bunch of feathers that approached the opposite bank.