Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Secret of the Lost Tribe, Prologue, Part Four

Begin with the beginning.

Adams looked up from the corpse of his partner. He had heard hoofbeats again. The Indians were coming, all screaming their wild war whoops now. Once he saw them, he knew they were too many. He wanted to call out to the men, but it was not necessary. They had already taken cover behind the cabin, behind trees, and behind boulders, aiming their repeating rifles, which they fortunately kept handy.

The first volley erupted like a line of volcanoes. The Indian vanguards fell from their horses. While his men chambered new rounds, Adams dived into the cabin to get his rifle. Reemerging, he found cover behind a boulder, and they all fired again. Smoke wafted across the narrow canyon, beginning to fill it like fog.

Although most of the Indians shot arrows, some had rifles. The Adams party singled out the rifles first and succeeded at shooting all of them down before they did much harm, except for some flesh wounds. Still, no matter how many Indians the men shot, the archers kept coming. The Indian infantry had arrived. Maybe the tribe had run out of rifles and horses, but certainly not out of Indians.

A single arrow might not kill or incapacitate a man if it did not hit an artery or a vital organ. However, within minutes, several of Adams' party received multiple arrow hits. Those men still able to move about retreated into the cabin, running, limping, or creeping.

Don't do it… "No!" Adams shouted his warning. "Not into the cabin!"

But they did not listen. He knew that they were cornering themselves in a lethal trap: The rough cabin had no windows. The men would only be able to fire from the door. Behind their backs the Indians could do pretty much what they liked. Shooting everything that moved, Adams retreated as well — not into the cabin, however, but under the trees beyond.

Back in the cabin, the situation went from bad to worse: The men soon ran out of rifle cartridges and had to fall back on their revolvers. They shot as fast as they were able to reload their wheel guns. Due to the shorter range of revolvers, the Indians were able to move in closer. Even when the defenders scored hits, they usually needed more than one of the less powerful bullets to kill an assailant. A single hit did not even necessarily incapacitate an Indian, or shoot him from his horse. The only upside was that the archers did not know how to shoot a gun, so they did not pick up their fallen brothers' rifles.

When the Indians finally thought of a less suicidal plan than the good old frontal assault, there were still more than enough of them left to carry it out. While the archers in front of the cabin pinned down the defenders inside, other savages prepared flaming arrows in the woods behind it. Adams shot down as many of them as his supply of rifle ammunition permitted. Then he moved closer to the Indians and began to exhaust his revolver cartridges as well.

The warriors did not bother to expend many arrows on him. They remained absorbed in their task of preparing a rain of fire. The trees provided enough cover to convince them he could never exterminate them all. They simply absorbed his bullets, absorbed them with their bodies. Still, there were plenty of savages left, and more were arriving from above the waterfall.

Already, before Adams was able to shoot them, some archers had succeeded at lighting their arrows, shooting them, and setting the cabin on fire. Smoke began to rise from the shake roof, mingling with the gun smoke. Little had the prospectors thought about the danger posed by the highly flammable roof covering, particularly in Indian country. Now their lack of foresight, and the recklessness with which they had challenged the Indians, came back to haunt them.

With the materials the wilderness provided, they had not been able to build a structure that was fireproof in any way, shape, or form. Their inadequate arsenal of guns and ammunition could not cash the check their rash foray above the falls had written. Already, the roof was fully involved. Inside, it was getting hotter and hotter.

Both the fire and the situation were out of control, literally too hot to handle. Sheets of flame began to flow down the log walls of the cabin. The prospectors trapped in there were in for a fiery death, if smoke inhalation did not finish them first. They were running out of options.

One man after another sallied from the blazing cabin and ran for it, while those remaining in there provided covering fire. But invariably, each of the fugitives was shot down by the easily replenished line of archers in front of the cabin. Already, the ground was littered with corpses that looked like wire brushes.

Meanwhile, Adams had run out of ammunition. There was nothing left for him to do. Any unarmed attempt to help his partners would have amounted to suicide.

He turned to flee into the woods. There was no way he could escape on horseback. A single Indian was enough to block the narrow canyons they had come in through. The only way was to climb the canyon walls and hike for it. The cries of his wounded, dying partners haunted him, dying down behind him, as the distance increased, and they bled or were burned to death.

Suddenly, Adams thought he had heard a twig break — but not under his own boot. He looked around. From under the trees beside him, three Indians stepped forward. Two were half-naked like the others, but one of them was fully dressed in hides and bedecked with jet and turquoise gems. Adams realized he was faced with the chief of the tribe. While the chief's bodyguards were aiming arrows at Adams, the chief himself brandished an antique flintlock musket.

He glowered at Adams. "Medicine man tell me you leader of palefaces. You not sneak away. You die."

The chief aimed and fired the rusty flintlock. Adams wanted to try and get out of the line of fire, but he knew he was not faster than a bullet. It was all over.

With a big bang, the flintlock exploded into the chief's face. He fell to the ground like a felled tree. The two other Indians raised a dreadful hue and cry over their fallen chief. Adams took the opportunity to run away before they would recover and shoot him with their arrows. As he climbed the canyon wall, he was sure the murderous savages were still tracking him.

Yet, he made it to the desert beyond the canyon without seeing any Indians. Immediately, he set out on what he thought was the way to Fort Wingate. But without a horse or a guide it was a completely different matter. When he had worn holes into the thin leather soles of his old cavalry boots, and his feet were all blistered and bloody, he dropped to his knees. On hands and knees he crept on until they were raw and bloody as well. When he felt he had worn his hands and knees down to the bone, he dropped to his stomach and wriggled on like a worm, mile after mile. Hours — or days? — later, his shirt and jeans were all in tatters and he was leaving a trail of blood.

Finally, when he was about to give up and die, thirst-crazed, there appeared riders on the horizon. Indians? He was past caring.

As the riders approached, he saw they were not Indians. He recognized the blue and yellow uniforms of a Cavalry patrol. The Cavalrymen rode up to him.

The officer tipped his hat. "Lieutenant Standish, US Cavalry, at your service, sir."

Read on…

Or buy the full story.

No comments: