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A short story by Margaret Bemister

The Adventures Of Wesakchak: A Battle With The Sioux

Title:     The Adventures Of Wesakchak: A Battle With The Sioux
Author: Margaret Bemister [More Titles by Bemister]

Less than sixty years ago, the vast tracts of land which are now large cities and cultivated farms were prairie and forest. Numerous tribes of Indians camped on these prairies in summer-time, and when the cold winter came, they sought the shelter of the forest. Most of these tribes were very warlike and fought with one another, but sometimes the white people were attacked by the savages. The most warlike tribe was the Sioux, and the white settlers, who were very few in number, were always on the alert against their attacks.

In June, 1851, a party of three hundred hunters set out on their annual buffalo hunt. With them went the grave, kindly-faced missionary, who had given up his life to work in the western wilds. They travelled to the westward, keeping a sharp lookout for Indian tribes, as their route now lay through the Sioux territory. After about three weeks' journey over the prairies, they decided to separate into two bands, as this is the usual way in buffalo hunting. But the older men thought this was not safe, because they would need all their numbers if attacked by the Indians. They talked it over for some time, and finally sixty-five hunters with their wives and children separated from the larger party and decided to go in a different direction. Each party was to take the direction of the Big Hill.

After some time, two scouts came riding back from the larger party to tell the others that a tribe of Sioux had been seen by them, and to be very watchful. The hunters kept a watch, but saw nothing of the Indians, and at last, after about six days' journey, reached the Big Hill. Their chief sent five of the officers to have a look around and find out the best place to pitch their camp, and also to see if there were Indians in the neighborhood. The five men rode to the top of the small ridge, and from there could see a camp in the distance. They could not tell whether it was their friends or the Indians, so they rode on, and on reaching the top of the higher ridge saw it was a camp of Sioux Indians. Instead of going back to warn the hunters, they rode on, and the Indians, who had sighted them at once, came forward to meet them. The Indians appeared very friendly, but while talking to the officers they closed in, and the men saw that they were prisoners. Two of them at once put spurs to their horses and made a dash for liberty. Before the Indians could stop them, they had escaped, and had ridden back to the party.

When the missionary and the hunters heard what had happened, they at once pitched camp and began to fortify it. They knew they could not save the prisoners, and decided that it was better to defend themselves than for all to lose their lives.

They had scarcely begun these preparations when two Sioux Indians rode up. They said they had been sent to tell the hunters not to worry about their companions. The Indians would not harm them and would bring them back in safety the next day. After delivering this message, the Sioux rode away. The hunters were not at all reassured, for they knew the Indians did not speak the truth, and had merely come as spies to find out how large their camp was.

During the night the hunters continued their preparations. They arranged their carts in a circle, putting the shafts of one into the wheels of the next, so fastening them together. Then they dug a hole in the centre of this fortification and in it put the women and children. They threw the earth in little mounds, behind which they could crouch and shoot. By morning the fortification was complete. The sentries, who had been watching all night, now gave warning that a band of Indians was approaching. Thirty of the hunters mounted and rode forward to meet them. Some of the Indians were in advance and halted when the hunters reached them. Suddenly a man on horseback came dashing past. It was one of the officers who had been made prisoner.

"There is nothing but death for us all," he shouted. "They are two thousand strong and intend to massacre every one of us." But the hunters did not let this daunt them; they rode up to the chief and pretended they thought the Indians were friendly. They gave them a few presents and asked them to journey back. But the Indians, who now saw what an easy victory they could have, would not listen to this. The hunters, seeing they meant to fight, turned their horses and galloped back to the camp. Scarcely were they within the fortification when the Indians dashed up. They had not waited for the main band to overtake them, but with one fierce yell came on, expecting to overturn the carts. But the hunters, crouching behind the little mounds of earth, aimed and fired. Every shot was true, and the foremost warriors fell from their ponies. The men reloaded and fired, and again the Indians bit the dust. Those in the rear now withdrew to the top of the ridge to wait for the remainder of the band. Another horseman came dashing up then, his horse all covered with foam. It was the fourth prisoner. His guard had been among the whites, and had allowed him to escape, firing in the air as the prisoner escaped from the rear of the war party. The savages now came in sight, an immense number, confident of victory because they were so strong. The missionary said, "My children, the Indians are very strong and great in number. But fight bravely. You have a Father above who sees this battle. Trust in Him. Die if you must, but die bravely."

With fierce yells the savages surrounded the little camp. They did not dream that a handful of men behind a barricade of wooden carts could cause them to retreat after killing the bravest of their warriors. For five hours bullets whistled back and forth over the heads of the men kneeling in the shelter of the carts. The Indians had begun the battle confident of victory, but as the time went on and warrior after warrior was killed, their courage grew faint. Late in the afternoon they said, "Let us go back; it is of no use to fight them. They have a Manitou with them."

They began to retreat, and by evening all was peaceful where the battle had been. But the hunters knew that on the morrow the attack would be renewed, and so did not let this deceive them. All through the night they could hear the hideous yells of the savages. They decided to start back in the morning, hoping to meet their friends, for they had sent two scouts, when the firing began, to tell them of the attack.

They arranged the carts in four rows and divided the hunters into four parties. One party was to ride in front of the carts, another at the back, and the other two on the sides. Then, if they sighted the Indians, they were to give the warning by two horsemen riding past each other on the top of the ridge.

They set out by daylight, and had not gone many miles when they saw two horsemen ride past each other in their rear. This was the signal of a fresh attack. At once the party was halted; two rows of carts went to one side, two to the other. Then the ends were filled in, and the circle was complete. They began to dig a hole in the centre and throw up the mounds of dirt. The women and children were hidden, and the hunters with loaded guns went behind their ramparts. The large band of Indians advanced. They were not so numerous as the day previous, but were quite fierce for the fight.

For five hours the two fought. At the end of that time the Indian chief advanced and signalled that the battle was over. The hunters did not believe him at first, but suddenly the tribe of Indians with their horses at full gallop came dashing close to the camp. They were yelling fiercely, and discharged their guns into the air as they rode by. The noise was most hideous since the battle had begun, and for a second the hunters were fear-bound. Then, as they realized that this was really the end of the fight, their shouts of joy rang out in answer to the Indians' yells. The Indians now retreated, and hardly had they disappeared when the big party of hunters galloped up. They were accompanied by two hundred Saultaux who had joined them to help to drive back the Sioux. At first they were all going to follow, but finally they decided they had had enough of fighting and would go on in search of the buffalo.

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Margaret Bemister's short story: Adventures Of Wesakchak: A Battle With The Sioux