Tom said, “My little ol’ head was swimmin’ with the remembrances of the year before when I saw my own kin hangin’ from fences, gutted and skinned like so many slaughtered sheep. I took one quick look around and decided to high tail it for the next station. Knowin’ Injuns like I did, I knew damned well that they had some lookouts on a ridge somewhere just waitin’. I don’t mind tellin’ you that by then I was one scared child.”
“Had the Paiutes taken all of the horses?” Grant asked.
“Good question, the fact is that they’d not taken all the horses. They had left one. Nice lookin’ long legged roany gelding. All saddled and ready too. Just like it had been left by the station folks before they was killed.
Had I been one of those boys from the East, like ol’ Cooter, who didn’t know much about Injuns, I reckon I would have got suckered. But I knowed damned well that there weren’t no Injuns leavin’ no horses standin’ around unless that horse be just on the short side of lame. You can bet that pony would have been easy catchin’ fer them Paiutes had I been dumb enough to throw the mochila on him. But I’d spent enough time with the Blackfoot to know Injun ways. I thought about that fresh horse, that’s for sure…but the trail had been pretty flat and my pony wasn’t near played out so I decided to dance with the one who brung me.
I duly considered the circumstance and figured it was best to leave that big roan tar baby right where he was and high tail for the next station and hope for the best. I can still remember that pinto I was ridin’. Looked a little like that one Dixie calls Cupcake. He was a tough little mustang with a big heart and I was thankin’ God for every step he made past Buckland’s Station. I put him into a lope and figured I’d ease him along to see what was gonna happen. Sure enough about three miles out I see dust comin’ off the sidehill just below the ridgeline up ahead and off to my left. I knew right then and there that I was in for a race. I kicked that little mustang up a gear and he was movin’ along right smartly. Then I could see that them Paiutes was comin’ in at an angle to cut me off.
There was a low piece of ground betwixt me and the Paiutes who comin’ down off the ridge. Kind of an arroyo or wash or big gully place if ya know what I mean. I turned that pinto to the left and rode toward the hills them Injuns had just rode out of…like I was gonna make a run for those hills. As soon as I turned off the trail, I could see that they was turnin’ to their right to cut me off. They was hopin’ to get me in the narrows at the head of that arroyo. Figuring I’d snookered ‘em temporarily, I rode like hell until we lost sight of one another. When I hit that low ground and they couldn’t see me, I cut back hard to my right and headed down that arroyo to the main trail. I was usin’ all that poor little pony had to offer. Struck me that maybe them Paiutes weren’t near as smart as the Blackfoot or the Sioux to fall for an old trick like that. Maybe that’s why you never heard quite so much about ‘em.”
“That was a very clever concept for a thirteen-year-old boy,” Grant said.
“Clever…but unfortunately, not perfect. I did manage to get the jump on ‘em but it wasn’t long before they’d seen the error of their ways and got back into hot pursuit. Now I knew that it was a matter of keeping that pinto on his feet for another six or seven miles and hopin’ that none of them Injuns had foreseen my plan. I kept wondering if there was any of them Paiutes that had got ahead of me. I knowed for certain that was any of them layin’ in wait along the trail; I would surely be decoratin’ an anthill before sundown.
I reckon I was pretty lucky as none of them Injuns were in my front, but my little cayuse was gettin’ about as low on gas as this here Stutz. Mile by mile those Paiutes was gainin’ ground on me…about a quarter for every mile I’d ride. It wasn’t long before I could actually hear their pony’s hooves pounding along behind me.”
“I’ll bet you were happy to have those weapons you’d been issued?” Grant said.
“I didn’t have any weapons. I had quit carryin’ the damned things ‘cause they was too heavy. Besides, the company policy was to run for it if you could, so the weapons was just one more thing to slow you down. Most of the boys didn’t carry weapons, except for a knife and maybe a pistol. That rifle they gave us was just about useless. It was single shot and shootin’ from horseback was a waste of time. Besides which, it weighed way too much if a fella wanted to make speed. Had I been carryin’ that rifle, them redskins would have had me sure. Even the pistols were way too bulky for my skinny little ass and way too heavy unless carried in a saddle holster. However, I got to admit that right about the time I heard those Injun pony’s hooves, I was wishin’ that I had me one of them six shootin’ Navy Colts. I knew that little mustang didn’t have much left and just about the time I figured I was done for, damned if I don’t see the smoke comin’ from the next station.”
Tom read the look on Grant’s face.
“Not the burnin’ down smoke but cookin’ smoke. I knew then that if I could keep my little cayuse on his feet I had a pretty good chance. I was hopin’ that them Injun ponies was gettin’ as played out as my pinto. I knew that the fellas at the station would have guns and I was hopin’ that they’d be lookin’ out for my arrival. Now you remember that bugle I told ya about that the Pony Express gave us to signal our arrival?”
“Well I didn’t have that sumbitch either. All that folderol was too heavy and bulky to pack along. Like I told you, the company policy was to use speed to avoid trouble and to avoid a fight at all costs. Travel light and travel fast was our way of lookin’ at it. But anyway, my only hope was that the fellas at the station would see the dust and know that I was coming with an escort…and I was really hopin’ that they was gonna deter my riding companions with some hot lead.
I was maybe a mile and a half from the station corral when I heard the swish of an arrow past my ear. I knew that sound real well. One of them redskins had got close enough to get off a shot with his bow and it looked like he was pretty damned good with the thing too. I would likely have put some gravy stains in my buckskin britches had I not been so preoccupied with spurring that little mustang; just hopin’ that he had one more mile left in him.
Then I heard another swish, and somethin’ hit me in the right side. I could feel the cold shaft of an arrow against my skin and the warm blood runnin’ down my rib cage. I looked down to see the arrow head stickin’ out of the front of my shirt and I figured I had taken it right through the lung.
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