Author: Allen, Jay Winthrop
West (U.S.) — Juvenile fiction
Mine accidents — Juvenile fiction
American bison — Juvenile fiction
The Trail Boys of the Plains; Or, The Hunt for the Big Buffalo
THE TRAIL BOYS OF THE PLAINS
THE HUNT FOR THE BIG BUFFALO
JAY WINTHROP ALLEN
WALTER S. ROGERS
GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY
GEORGE SULLY & COMPANY
PRINTED IN THE U. S. A.
Table of Contents
I—SOMETHING ABOUT A BUFFALO
II—AT THE SILENT SUE
III—THE LAME INDIAN
IV—THE ROCKING STONE
V—THE BEARS’ DEN
VI—IN THE OLD TUNNEL
VII—THE RESCUE—AND AFTERWARD
VIII—CHET SHOOTS A HAWK
IX—ON THE TRAIL TO GRUB STAKE
X—MR. HAVENS HAS A VISITOR
XI—THE FIRST ADVENTURE
XIII—“THE DOG SOLDIERS”
XV—“WHAT WON’T BE LED MUST BE DRIVEN”
XVI—THE WOLF RING
XIX—A FRUITLESS CHASE
XX—A MIDNIGHT ALARM
XXI—A STARTLING DISCOVERY
XXII—AFTER THE THIEVES
XXIII—THE FIRST BUFFALO
XXIV—TIT FOR TAT
XXVI—“THE KING OF THEM ALL”
XXVII—DIG’S GREAT IDEA
XXIX—PLENTY OF EXCITEMENT
XXX—HOW IT ENDED
When the rifle spoke the huge head of the buffalo was almost under Poke’s belly
Dig spurred his horse over to the place and leaped down to give his chum a helping hand
Then Chet saw the bear—a big black fellow, standing erect
They fairly “wolfed” the venison steaks
CHAPTER I—SOMETHING ABOUT A BUFFALO
“Do you really suppose such a buffalo exists?” queried Chet Havens, who was braiding a whiplash.
“You’ve got me there, boy,” said his chum, Dig Fordham, trying for the hundredth time to carve his initials in the adamantine surface of the old horse-block, and with a dull jackknife.
“By the last hoptoad that was chased out of Ireland! wouldn’t it be just the Jim-dandy adventure, Chet, if we could go out after this herd and capture the king of them all? It would be great!”
“It would be great enough, all right,” admitted Chet, nodding. “But it would be some contract to capture such a bull. According to all accounts he must be as strong as an elephant and almost as big.”
“Whew! do you think so, Chet?”
“If he measures up anywhere near to the specifications that Tony Traddles gave us last week.”
“Oh—Tony!” returned Dig, in disgust. “If he saw a lizard sitting on a log in the sun he’d declare it was the size of a crocodile.”
Chetwood Havens laughed. He was a nice-looking, fair-haired boy with grey-blue eyes and long, dextrous, capable hands. He braided the thongs without giving them more than a casual and cursory glance.
He was a tall boy, and slender, but with plenty of bodily strength. Digby Fordham was more sturdily built. He was square-set, broad-shouldered and thick-chested; and he had a broad, good-humoured face as well. His black hair was crisp; he had little, twinkling eyes; and usually his countenance wore a smile.
“Well,” Chet went on to say, following his chum’s criticism of Tony’s report, “there was Rafe Peters. Rafe is an old hunter, and he ought to know what he’s talking about when he says it’s the biggest bull buffalo that he ever saw.”
“Aw—all the buffaloes have gone up into Canada, somewhere,” growled Dig.
“No. I expect there are stray herds—small ones—hidden away in the mountains. Something or other has driven this herd out upon the plains. I heard some of the men talking about making up a party to go out and shoot ’em; but they are all too busy just now in the mines.”
“I reckon Rafe was just trying to string us,” said Dig.
“You’re a Doubting Thomas,” laughed his chum.
“Well, why shouldn’t I be? I’ve heard tell of buffaloes ever since I was knee-high to a tin whistle, and never a buffalo sign have I seen yet—’cept those mangy old robes father’s got in the barn. I’m beginning to be like the old farmer that went into the menagerie and saw the giraffe. After he’d stared at it for an hour he shook his head, and said, ‘Drat it all! there jest ain’t no such animile!’” and Dig chuckled.
Chet was reflective. “Strange how all those creatures have disappeared from the western plains, where they were once so plentiful,” he said. “Pete was telling me that he was once hired by a government expedition to keep the men supplied with fresh meat, and that he often shot two and three hundred buffaloes in a single day.”
“And he was only one white hunter who worked at that time on the herds. Some just killed the beasts for their hides—and the hides were as low as a dollar apiece at one time. Then, the Indians slaughtered hundreds of thousands uselessly. Why, Dig! I was reading the other night that when the first Spaniards came up from Mexico across the Great Staked Plains, they had to fairly push their way through the buffalo herds.”
“Whew!” said his chum again. “When was this, Chet?”
“Some time before you were born, boy,” returned Chet, dryly.
“Did you ever see a buffalo?” demanded Dig, suddenly.
“Yes, at Nugget City when Wolfer Ben’s Wild West showed there. He had a bull and three cows; and lots of old plainsmen went to see the show just because of the buffaloes. They hadn’t seen any of the creatures for a couple of decades.”
Dig was still chuckling. “Tell some eastern folks that and they wouldn’t believe you. You know, I’ve a cousin Tom down Boston way, and he’s always writing and saying he wants to come out here.”
“I’ve heard you speak of him.”
“Yep. Well, every time Tom gets mad with the folks at home, or sore on the school he goes to, or the teachers, he writes me and says he’s going to run away and come out here. And he wants to know what kind of guns and ammunition he’ll have to buy, and if he’ll have to wear a bowie-knife and two pistols stuck in his belt. He, he!”
“He must be a blockhead,” said Chet, in disgust. “What does he think Silver Run is?”
“Well, I tell you,” proceeded Digby, “it’s partly my fault. At first I told him the truth—that we had churches and schools and a circulating library, and folks took a bath Saturday nights, if they didn’t oftener, and wore boiled shirts on Sunday; and that a man who wore a pistol in his belt would be taken in by the constable and examined as to his sanity.
“But that didn’t suit Tom—oh, no! He said he knew I was kidding him.”
“That’s what! So I got sick of being disbelieved, and I began to write him the sort of stuff he wanted. I told him about the Comanches attacking the town and we beating ’em off with great slaughter.”
“Dig Fordham! How could you? Why, we haven’t seen a bad Indian in years.”
“Never mind. That’s what Tom wanted me to tell him. I told him all the miners wore red flannel shirts, and went about with their pants tucked into their boot-tops, and that they wore pistols in their belts, and bowie-knives in their boots— By the way, Chet; what is a bowie-knife?”
Chet laughed. “A kind of long-bladed hunting knife, ground to an edge on both sides of the point, and invented by Colonel James Bowie, of Texas. I got that out of an encyclopaedia.”
“Well, Tom knows all about ’em. I hope he comes out here some time, togged up in the way he thinks we dress at Silver Run. If he does, I know he’d scare a corral full of ponies into fits!” and Dig went off into another spasm of laughter.
The boys had gotten off the subject of the strange buffalo herd that had appeared on the open plains between Silver Run and Grub Stake, a second silver mining town, deeper in the Rockies. Before Dig recovered from his laughter at his own humorous conception of his cousin’s appearance at Silver Run, Chet started up into a listening attitude.
“What you cocking your ears for, Chet?” demanded Dig. “What’s got you?”
“Who’s this coming?” demanded Chet, holding up his hand.
When the boys were silent they could hear the pounding of heavily shod feet on the hard road. The Havens lived on the outskirts of Silver Run, and the road to the mines passed by their corral fence.
Chet sprang up, and even the slower Digby showed interest. The pounding feet were coming rapidly nearer.
The boys ran around the corner of the high board fence to the edge of the road. There, coming down the hill, and out from the belt of timber that surrounded the mountain above the town, was a man in yellow overalls and cowhide boots. He was without a cap, his shirt was open at the throat, and every indication about him showed excitement.
“Goodness!” gasped Chet. “What can that mean?”
“It’s Dan Gubbins—and he’s so scared he can’t shut his mouth!” observed Dig.
This seemed true. Dan Gubbins ran with his mouth wide open and fear expressed unmistakably in his rugged features. He was one of the men working in the mine in which Mr. Havens and Mr. Fordham were interested.
“Hey, Dan! what’s the matter?” shouted Dig, as the big miner came closer.
“She’s caved!” croaked the man, his throat so dry he could scarcely speak.
“Who’s caved?” demanded Dig.
“What’s caved?” asked Chet, better understanding the vernacular.
“The Silent Sue! She slumped in like rotten ice in February!” gasped the big miner, leaning against the fence near the boys. “Oh, my Jimminy! It’s awful!”
Chet turned pale. Dig reddened and gulped back a sob with difficulty.
“You—you don’t mean the mine’s all caved in?” stammered the latter.
“The shaft,” replied Dan.
Chet, the practical, demanded:
“How many are caught in the cave-in?”
“There’s five down there, besides—”
Dan halted and stared at the boy with sudden apprehension. Then, after a moment, he whispered:
“My golly, Chet! whatever am I to tell your mother? Yer dad’s down there with ’em!”
“Father!” exclaimed Chet, seizing Dig’s hand.
“Is my father in it too?” cried Dig, ready to burst into tears.
“Mr. Fordham warn’t there noways,” said Dan, getting his breath and able now to speak more intelligibly. “Whatever am I to tell your mother, Chet?” he repeated.
“You won’t say anything to her, Dan,” replied the boy, firmly. “I’ll tell her myself. But give me the particulars. We want to know how it happened. Isn’t there any hope? Can’t we get at them down there?”
“Dunno,” returned the miner. “Rafe Peters is in charge, and they are digging like prairie-dogs to get down into the gallery. Everybody down there is all right so fur. Ye see, it was like this: There was a blast goin’ to be shot in Number Two tunnel. Ye know where that run to?”
Chet nodded. “Over toward the old Crayton Shaft—that’s open now—on the other side of the mountain. Father was saying the other day that the Silent Sue’s Number Two must be getting pretty near the old diggings.”
“That’s it,” said Dan Gubbins, nodding, and wiping his moist forehead with the back of a hairy hand. “Well, they got ready that shot, which was a heavy one. The timbering of the lower part of the shaft didn’t suit Mr. Havens and he told Tony to put in new cross-braces and some new planks.”
“Tony Traddles?” demanded Chet.
“Yes. An’ he oughter be jailed for what he done,” added the miner, bitterly.
“How was that?” queried Digby, his eyes big with interest.
“Mr. Havens,” pursued the miner, “went down to see that all was clear in the tunnel before the shot. He sings out to Tony and asks if the timbering was all right; and the lazy rascal said ’twas.”
“And wasn’t it?” snapped Chet, his eyes blazing.
“No. He’d come up to fill and light his pipe and hadn’t blocked and wedged his cross-beams. There was five of the boys ’sides your father in the tunnel, and when the shot went off the shoring at the bottom of the shaft shook right out and she caved in! It was awful! I wonder you didn’t hear the rumble of it. And what I’m goin’ ter say ter your mother, Chet—”
“You’re going to say nothing to her, Dan,” repeated the boy. “I’ll tell her. You go and get a doctor, or two, Dan—and all the other help you can. You saddle Hero and Poke, Dig. We must get up to the mine in a hurry. I won’t be in the house long.”
He turned quickly away and started for the back door of his home. The others did not see his face.
CHAPTER II—AT THE SILENT SUE
Those few yards between the corral and the back door of the Havens’ pretty home in the Silver Run suburb were the hardest steps Chet had ever taken. For his age he was naturally a thoughtful boy, and he had been impressed by the manner in which his father ever shielded the delicate, gentle mother from all the rough things of life. If there was an accident in the mine, Mr. Havens seldom mentioned it before his wife, and never did he repeat the particulars.
Chet had seen and understood. He knew that his mother was not to be troubled by ordinary things if it could be helped. Of course, she must know of his father’s danger; but the news must be broken to her carefully. He could not allow rough but kind-hearted Dan Gubbins to go in with his story of the accident at the Silent Sue claim.
As he entered the sewing-room where his mother was engaged at her work, she looked up with a little smile on her face.
“What’s wanted, Chetwood?” she asked.
She was a small woman, with a very delicate pink flush in her cheeks and bands of prematurely grey hair above her forehead and over the tops of her ears. Chet often said, laughingly, that if he ever wanted to marry a girl, he’d wait to find one who wore her hair just like his mother wore hers.
“What’s wanted, Chetwood?” she repeated, as the boy remained silent after quietly closing the door. Then she saw his troubled face and the work on which she was busied fell from her hands and, from her lap, slipped to the floor as she slowly rose.
“Chetwood! My son! your father—?”
Her cry was low, but it thrilled Chet to the heart. He sprang forward to seize her shaking hands. He knew that she was ever fearful when Mr. Havens was in the mine.
“It’s not so bad as all that, Mother! Wait! don’t believe the worst!” begged the boy, his voice choked with emotion.
“He—he isn’t killed?”
“Not a bit of it! There’s been a—a little accident. Father is down there with some of the other men.”
“Down where?” she asked sharply.
“In Number Two drift. There was a cave-in. Of course they’ll get them out. Old Rafe Peters is on the job already with a gang. I’m going right up there.”
“Oh, Chet! Are you sure that is all? They are still alive?”
“Of course!” cried the boy, with strong conviction and even calling up a smile. “Dan Gubbins came down to bring the news and get some more men. Dig and I are going to ride right up.”
“Where is Digby’s father?” queried Mrs. Havens anxiously.
“He didn’t happen to be there when the cave-in took place. But he’s probably there now. We’ll get at them all right. Don’t you fear, Mother.”
“Oh, but my son! I shall be fearful indeed until I know your father is safe. I am always afraid when he is in the mine. The men take such chances!”
“Well, the Silent Sue has not recorded many accidents. Father and Dig’s father are both very careful. Now, Mother, don’t worry any more than you can help. I’ll send down word just as soon as we know anything for sure.”
He kissed her—and kissed her cheerfully. That was the hardest part of his mission, for he, too, was greatly worried. Then he seized his cap and quirt and hurried out to the corral. Dig Fordham had, for once, been prompt. He held Chet’s handsome bay, Hero, by the bridle, while his own sleepy-looking, Roman-nosed Poke was cropping grass at the edge of the road.
“Come on, Dig!” Chet cried, hastily jerking the reins from his chum’s hand. “We must hurry.”
“Did you tell her?” whispered his chum, awe-struck.
“All she needed to know now,” snapped back Chet. “Look alive!”
He was astride of Hero in a moment and the noble animal took the trail without urging. Dig whistled for Poke. Then he whistled again. The ugly, sleepy-looking animal stopped for just one more bite.
“Isn’t that just like you, you ornery brute!” growled Digby. “If ever I wanted you in a hurry you wouldn’t mind. Come on!”
He jumped for the horse, caught at the trailing bridle, and Poke stood on his hind legs and pawed the air, his eyes suddenly afire, striving to wheel about and escape Dig’s clutching hand.
Digby Fordham wasn’t afraid of any horse. He sprang right in under the pawing hoofs, and seized the dangling reins. His hold was secure; his wrist firm. At his first jerk Poke’s head came down and, naturally, the horse’s forefeet as well.
The instant the hoofs struck the ground, and before Poke could begin any further display of antics, Dig was in the saddle. Chet, looking back over his shoulder as Hero set the pace up the mountain, saw that his chum was securely astride Poke. Give Dig both feet in the stirrups, and no horse living could dismount him. He rode as though he were a part of the horse.
Digby and Poke were not always in accord, but Poke was tireless and carried the heavy boy as though he were a feather-weight. Poke could go without food and water much longer than most mountain-bred mustangs. Dig declared there must be a strain of camel in him. But there was not an attractive thing about the brute, either in temper or appearance.
In a minute he was neck and neck with Hero, and both horses were carrying their young masters up the slope at a fast pace. Dig grumbled:
“This old rascal always cuts up when I want him in a hurry. I’m going to trade him off for a horned toad, and then use the toad for a currycomb. Your Hero is a regular lady’s horse ’side o’ him.”
“You know you wouldn’t take any money for old Poke,” returned Chet, reaching out and smiting the black across his ugly nose with his own palm. “Why do you give him a chance to get away from you?”
“Because hope springs eternal in my breast,” declared Dig, who would joke under any and all circumstances. “I’m always hopin’ I’ve got the rascal broken of his bad habits.”
Chet was not in a mood for laughter; nor was his chum careless of thought. He really hoped to get Chet’s mind off the mine accident. It might not be anywhere near so bad as Dan Gubbins had said.
Mining at Silver Run was now carried on with much more care for human life than it had been when the claims were first staked out and the original owners had begun to get out “pay dirt.” Mr. Havens was a practical engineer, a graduate from a College of Mines, and with a long experience at other diggings before he had obtained a controlling interest in the Silent Sue.
It was a mine the stock of which had never been exploited in the eastern market. Mr. Fordham and Mr. Havens had always been able to obtain sufficient capital to buy machinery and improve their methods of getting out the ore; and they found the Silent Sue t