Brant held out his hand. “I’ll certainly do all in my power, Hampton, to bring this out right. You can rely on that, and I will be faithful to the little girl. Now, just a word to guide you regarding our situation here. We have every reason for believing that the Sioux are in considerable force in our front somewhere, and not far down this stream. Nobody knows just how strong they are, but it looks to me as if we were pretty badly split up for a very heavy engagement. Not that I question Custer’s plan, you understand, only he may be mistaken about what the Indians will do. Benteen’s battalion is out there to the west; Reno is just ahead of us up the valley; while Custer has taken five troops on a detour to the right across the bluffs, hoping to come down on the rear of the Sioux. The idea is to crush them between the three columns. No one of these detachments has more than two hundred men, yet it may come out all right if they only succeed in striking together. Still it ’s risky in such rough country, not knowing exactly where the enemy is. Well, good luck to you, and take care of yourself.”
The two men clasped hands, their eyes filled with mutual confidence. Then Hampton touched spurs to his horse, and galloped swiftly forward.
THE FIGHT IN THE VALLEY
Far below, in the heart of the sunny depression bordering the left bank of the Little Big Horn, the stalwart troopers under Reno’s command gazed up the steep bluff to wave farewell to their comrades disappearing to the right. Last of all, Custer halted his horse an instant, silhouetted against the blue sky, and swung his hat before spurring out of sight.
The plan of battle was most simple and direct. It involved a nearly simultaneous attack upon the vast Indian village from below and above, success depending altogether upon the prompt cooeperation of the separate detachments. This was understood by every trooper in the ranks. Scarcely had Custer’s slender column of horsemen vanished across the summit before Reno’s command advanced, trotting down the valley, the Arikara scouts in the lead. They had been chosen to strike the first blow, to force their way into the lower village, and thus to draw the defending warriors to their front, while Custer’s men were to charge upon the rear. It was an old trick of the Seventh, and not a man in saddle ever dreamed the plan could fail.
A half-mile, a mile, Reno’s troops rode, with no sound breaking the silence but the pounding of hoofs, the tinkle of accoutrements. Then, rounding a sharp projection of earth and rock, the scattered lodges of the Indian village already partially revealed to those in advance, the riders were brought to sudden halt by a fierce crackling of rifles from rock and ravine, an outburst of fire in their faces, the wild, resounding screech of war-cries, and the scurrying