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THE YOUNG RANCHERS

OR _FIGHTING THE SIOUX_

"FOREST AND PRAIRIE SERIES," No. 3.

BY EDWARD S. ELLIS

AUTHOR OF "BOY PIONEER SERIES," "DEERFOOT SERIES,"
"WILDWOOD SERIES," ETC.


PHILADELPHIA
HENRY T. COATES & CO.

COPYRIGHT, 1895,
BY PORTER & COATES.




[Illustration: THE DEATH OF THE FAITHFUL MESSENGER.]




CONTENTS.


I. DANGER AHEAD

II. THE VOICELESS FRIEND

III. COMPANIONS IN PERIL

IV. TIM BROPHY'S DISCOVERY

V. LEAVING THE RANCH

VI. "TIMOTHY BROPHY, ESQ., AT YOUR SERVICE"

VII. STIRRING TIMES

VIII. STARCUS

IX. ON THE BANK OF A STREAM

X. BENT ARM AND HIS BAND

XI. AT BAY

XII. FACING WESTWARD

XIII. IN THE FRINGE OF THE WOODS

XIV. TURNED BACK

XV. MISSING

XVI. A THIEF OF THE NIGHT

XVII. THROUGH THE WOOD

XVIII. NIGHT AND MORNING

XIX. A STARTLING SURPRISE

XX. A RUN FOR LIFE

XXI. AWAY WE GO!

XXII. ON FOOT

XXIII. DOWN!

XXIV. THE FRIEND IN NEED

XXV. THE PRAIRIE DUEL

XXVI. ON THE GROUND

XXVII. A GOOD SAMARITAN

XXVIII. THE LONE HORSEMAN

XXIX. A BREAK FOR FREEDOM

XXX. COMRADES AGAIN

XXXI. THE LAST HOPE

XXXII. AWAY! AWAY!

XXXIII. BREAD CAST UPON THE WATERS




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


THE DEATH OF THE FAITHFUL MESSENGER.

A HOT PURSUIT.

TIM'S FORTUNATE SHOT.

THE DEATH OF THE INDIAN.




THE YOUNG RANCHERS;

OR,

FIGHTING THE SIOUX.




CHAPTER I.

DANGER AHEAD.


There was snow in the air. Warren Starr had felt it ever since meridian,
though not a flake had fallen, and the storm might be delayed for hours
yet to come. There was no mistaking the dull leaden sky, the chill in
the atmosphere, and that dark, increasing gloom which overspreads the
heavens at such times.

Young Warren was a fine specimen of the young hunter, though he had not
yet passed his nineteenth year. His home was in South Dakota, and he was
now on his return from Fort Meade, at the eastern foot of the Black
Hills, and had fully twenty miles to travel, though the sun was low in
the horizon, as he well knew, even if it was veiled by the snow vapor.

His father's ranch lay to the north of the Big Cheyenne, and the son was
familiar with every foot of the ground, having traversed it many a time,
not only on his visits to the fort, but in the numerous hunting
excursions of which he was so fond. He could have made the journey by
night, when no moon was in the sky, had there been need of doing so, but
he decided that it was better to give his pony the rest he required, and
to push on at an early hour the next morning. He had eaten nothing since
the noon halt, and his youth and vigor gave him a powerful appetite, but
he had learned long before that one of the first requisites of the
hunter is to learn to endure cold, heat, hunger, and hardship
unmurmuringly.

But the youth was in so uneasy a mental state that he rode slowly for
nearly an hour, debating with himself whether to draw rein or push on.
The rumors of trouble among the Sioux were confirmed by his visit to
Fort Meade. A spirit of unrest had prevailed for a long time, caused by
the machinations of that marplot, Sitting Bull, the harangues of
medicine men who proclaimed the coming Messiah, the ghost dances, the
eagerness of the young bucks to take the warpath, and the universal
belief that the last opportunity for the red men to turn back the
advance of the Caucasian race was to be made soon or never.

The fact that our Government had its military posts scattered through
the disaffected country, that the Indian reservations were comparatively
well governed, that the officers were men whose valor and skill had been
proven times without number, and that these authorities were keeping
close watch on the growing disaffection produced a quieting effect in
many quarters, though the best informed men foresaw the impending storm.
That which troubled Warren Starr on his lonely ride northward was the
fact that on that ranch, twenty miles away, dwelt his father, mother,
and little sister, known by the pet name of Dot. His father had two
assistants in the care of the ranch, Jared Plummer, a man in middle
life, and Tim Brophy, a lusty young Irishman, about the same age as
Warren. But the ranch was not fitted to withstand an attack from any of
the bands through the country. Those turbulent bucks were the very ones
to assail his home with the fury of a cyclone, and if they did, Heaven
help the loved ones there, even though the three men were well provided
with arms and ammunition.

The commandant of Fort Meade suggested to Warren that he urge his people
to come into the fort without delay. Such a suggestion, coming from the
officer, meant a good deal.

That which caused the youth to decide to wait until morning was the
fatigue of his animal, and the more important fact that it was best not
only to arrive at the ranch in the daytime, but to ride through several
miles of the surrounding country when the chance to use his eyes was at
the best. If hostiles were in the section, he might pass within a
hundred yards of them in the darkness without discovering it, but it was
impossible to do so when the sun was in the sky.

He was now riding across an open plain directly toward a small branch of
the Big Cheyenne, beyond which lay his home. He could already detect the
fringe of timber that lined both sides of the winding stream, while to
the right rose a rocky ridge several hundred feet in height, and a mile
or two distant appeared a similar range on the left.

The well-marked trail which the lad was following passed between these
elevations; that on the right first presenting itself and diverging so
far to the east, just before the other ridge was reached, that it may be
said it disappeared, leaving the other to succeed it.

Despite the long ride and the fatigue of himself as well as his animal,
young Starr was on the alert. He was in a dangerous country, and a
little negligence on his part was liable to prove fatal.

"If there is a lot of Sioux watching this trail for parties going either
way, this is the spot," he reflected, grasping his Winchester, lying
across his saddle, a little more firmly. "I have met them here more than
once, and, though they claimed to be friendly, I was always uneasy, for
it is hard for an Indian to resist the temptation to hurt a white man
when it looks safe to do so."

Nothing could have exceeded the caution of the youth. The trail showed
so plainly that his pony kept to it without any guidance on his part,
and the reins lay loose on his neck. Every minute or two the rider
glanced furtively behind him to make sure no treacherous enemy was
stealing upon him unawares; and then, after a hasty look to the right
and left, he scanned the rocky ridge on his right, peering forward the
next moment at the one farther off on his left.

He was searching for that which he did not want to find--signs of red
men. He knew a good deal of their system of telegraphy, and half
suspected that some keen-eyed Sioux was crouching behind the rocks of
the ridge, awaiting the moment to signal his approach to his confederate
farther away.

It might have seemed possible to some to flank the danger by turning far
to the right or left, but that would have involved a long detour and
delay in arriving home. At the same time, if any warriors were on the
watch, they could easily checkmate him by accommodating their movements
to his, and continually heading him off, whichever direction he took. He
had considered all these contingencies, and felt no hesitation in
pressing straight forward, despite the apparent peril involved in doing
so.

Suddenly Jack pricked his ears and raised his head, emitting at the same
time a slight whiff through his nostrils.

No words could have said more plainly: "Beware, master! I have
discovered something."

The rider's natural supposition was that the danger, whatever it might
be, was on the crest of the ridge he was approaching; but, when he
shaded his eyes and peered forward, he was unable to detect anything at
all. Enough light remained in the sky for him to use his excellent eyes
to the best advantage, but nothing rewarded the scrutiny.

Jack continued advancing, though his gait was now a slow walk, as if he
expected his master to halt altogether; but the latter acted like the
skilful railway engineer, who, seeing the danger signal ahead, continues
creeping slowly toward it, ready to check his train on the instant it
becomes necessary to do so. He allowed the pony to step tardily forward,
while he strove to locate the point whence peril threatened.

"What the mischief do you see, Jack?" he asked, in a half-impatient
tone; "if I didn't know you never joked, I would believe you were trying
some trick on me to get me to camp for the night."

Once the horseman fancied he caught the faint outlines of a thin column
of smoke climbing into the sky from the crest of the ridge, but closer
study convinced him that he was wrong. If such a signal were kindled, it
must be clear enough to be recognized from the farther elevation, which
was more distant than the horseman.

"I shall observe the vapor as soon as they," he thought, "for my eyes
are as sharp--helloa! that beats the mischief!"

At last Warren Starr learned what it was that had alarmed his pony.




CHAPTER II.

THE VOICELESS FRIEND.


The keen eyes, instead of looking at the crest of the rocky ridge on his
right, were now centred on the ground, where they detected a small dark
speck swiftly approaching the horseman. At the first glance, the object
suggested a cannon-ball rolling with great speed toward the pony, that
was now standing still, with head erect, ears thrown forward, and the
appearance of perplexed interest in the thing, whatever it might be.

For a minute Warren Starr was unable to guess the meaning of the
singular sight. Whatever its nature, it was evident that it was aiming
to reach the rider with the least possible delay.



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