The road wound along the Platte, generally within sight of the river, though occasionally the stream was hidden by sand hills. One day in those rolling hills occurred an incident which was to me, perhaps to us all, the most alarming event of our long journey.
Father's team chanced to be leading the train. About noon we drove into a valley perhaps a half mile in width and two miles in length. The valley bottom was grassy and we found a good pool of water. Father stopped and turned his horses loose to graze. The other drivers did likewise, but instead of driving up and joining the head wagons as they usually did, for some reason that day they stopped with the train stretched out along the road for a mile or more.
The grazing horses moved quietly past us out into the valley. Derby and Prince were farthest away, but followed closely by our other horses and the rest of the teams. It was a quiet, beautiful little valley surrounded by sand hills on which was a sparse growth of sage bushes and other low shrubbery.
While we were eating our lunch Win said, "I wonder what those Indians are doing out there."
We looked and Father went for his glass. We often saw Indians riding around us as we traveled, but the actions of these were unusual. Three Indians were riding furiously back and forth, perhaps a half mile away, first riding one way, wheeling sharply and riding back as hard as possible, only to turn and repeat the performance. Presently two more rode down the hillside and all five continued the strange actions.
Father looked at them carefully. "They seem to be just riding," he said, but he was plainly puzzled. "There's not enough of them to bother about," he decided and we went on with our lunch, though still watching the red men wonderingly.
At last one of the Indians left the group and came toward our camp. As he rode up, Father asked, "What are you doing out there?"
"Catch dog," he said and rode past us along the line of wagons.
Father looked again with his glass. "There's no dog there." He turned to the group nearest us. "I don't like the way those Indians are acting," he said. "That rascal lied to me just now, too."
"We'd better tell the folks to look out," a man said and someone sprang onto a horse and rode back with a warning. Some of the wagons had not yet come through the hills into the valley.
The Indian who had been riding past the emigrants as they were quietly eating their noonday meal turned at last and rode swiftly back toward the others who had stopped and were apparently waiting for him.
As he reached them one of the Indians waved his arm. Instantly such a commotion as broke out on that hillside I cannot describe. From the brow of the hill rushed an Indian pony with two long poles tied to his collar and dragging on the ground behind. He was loaded from his ears to the ends of the poles with dried dearskins, tin cans, pans, - everything an Indian could find or devise to rattle or clang. Behind the pony, beating him to make him run and yelling at the tops of their lungs, came a band of Indians. Instantly the whole hillside seemed alive with Indians. They seemed to spring from behind every bush and rock, and shrieking and howling they raced toward us. Our hearts stood still. If our horses stampeded, we were done.
As I said before, our English hunters were nearer the Indians than the other teams. Father seized his gun and started quietly among the horses, which were fast becoming excited, calling as usual, "Come, Derby come Prince, we want you. Come on Derby, come." The two horses were looking with quiet interest toward the Indians, but when they heard Father's voice, they turned as usual and whinnying and answer, trotted obediently to him. Our other teams followed them closely through the hundreds of horses that were fast becoming frantic. Instead of stampeding, however, when our horses trotted so quietly to Father, the whole band turned and moved back to the wagons. They were quickly caught, every horse and mule, quieted and fastened. The coolness of one team had saved them all.
The Indians, hundreds, thousands it seemed to me, their faces wildly painted, each feather headdress erect, rode furiously toward us, yelling madly.
As they neared us I heard Uncle Isaac's voice shout to Father, "John, you get that chief!" Farther off, another voice commanded, "Get your guns! Every man pick your Indian. Don't waste a shot!"
When they came within gunshot the Indians faced a line ready and waiting. Every man and boy in the train stood with a gun in his hands.
The yelling ceased. The chief, suddenly smiling, rode forward saying, "How! How! Friends, no shoot! How." The others followed now, all smiling and offering their hands to be shaken.
Father and Uncle Isaac shook the big chief's hand when he held it out saying, "Friend, no shoot!"
"We couldn't tell that from your actions," Uncle Isaac said. "Why are you doing this way?"
The Indians gave no satisfactory answer, but rode about, smiling at us all. Finally they wheeled their horses and raced back to the hills. It was a lucky day for us when Father bought Derby and Prince.