Immediately the peaceful camp of the Be-don-ko-he became the scene of hurried preparation for flight and for the war trail. A scouting party of a dozen braves was dispatched in the direction from which the troops might be expected, to watch and report their movements; if necessary, to hold them in check while the main body of the Be-don-ko-he, with their women, their children, their pony herd and their camp equipment made good their escape across the line into Mexico.
Hurriedly were war bands adjusted, grim faces streaked with pigment, weapons looked to, ponies caught and bridled. For the first time as a warrior Shoz-Dijiji prepared for the war trail. Across his swart face, from ear to ear, he painted a broad band of vermilion, laying on the pigment boldly with the index finger of his right hand, stooping low toward the light of a little fire, his features reflected in a small round mirror held in his left hand. Above and below the vermilion band he laid a coat of blue, the base of which was a ground micaceous stone. A single necklace adorned his throat and two small silver rings were in his ears.
Attached to his person and concealed from view was his tzi-daltai, wrapped in a three-inch square of buckskin upon which were painted crooked lines of red and yellow, depicting the red snake and the yellow. This phylactery was in itself big medicine and very sacred; it added to the potency of his tzi-daltai, rendering that amulet all powerful. In addition to the tzi-daltai the phylactery contained a bit of sacred turquoise, and a tiny cross of lightning riven pine, which Shoz-Dijiji called intchi-dijin, the black wind. Upon these things no alien eye might look without destroying their efficacy. For this reason the little package was securely hidden in the folds of his loin cloth.
Upon his legs Shoz-Dijiji drew his long war moccasins with their rawhide soles and protecting toe armor, their tops, three feet long, he turned down from just below the knee, thus still further protecting the lower leg from the sharp spines of the cactus. Slender thongs of buckskin, leading from the moccasin tops to the belt of his loin cloth, kept the former from falling down around his ankles. A pair of cotton drawers encased his legs and a quiet-hued print shirt covered his torso, its skirts falling outside the drawers. There was a cartridge belt around his waist and a six-shooter and a butcher knife at his hips, but he also carried his beloved bow and arrows as well as the rifle he had taken from the white prospector.
Shoz-Dijiji preferred the nakedness of a single loin cloth, for thus it had been his wont to go in all weathers since he wore anything at all, but custom seemed to demand these other things of full fledged warriors, though all were accustomed to discard them upon the eve of battle, and as he had just attained the status of the warrior class he felt it incumbent upon him to uphold its traditions even to the point making himself supremely uncomfortable in hated shirt and drawers. However, the party had been upon the trail but a short time before he discovered that the drawers wrinkled and chafed him and they were discarded with no regrets; and later in the day he removed his shirt and gave it to Gian-nah-tah.
“It makes me look like a pindah lickoyee,” he confided to his friend. “In it I do not feel free. I shall not wear it.”
His bronzed hide, naked to the elements almost from birth, little felt the hot rays of the sun, thus eliminating the only practical reason why an Apache should wear a shirt at all. Thus Shoz-Dijiji rode almost naked—except for moccasins, G-string and head bandanna he was quite naked. Beneath his bandanna he wore the war band about his brow confining his black hair, slicked smooth with tallow. It was not long after the shirt went that he removed the bandanna, breathing a sigh of relief, for now Shoz-Dijiji was himself again.
Before dawn the party had separated, the braves, in pairs, moving at right angles to their original line of march, and in both directions, forming at last a thin line of scouts that surveyed from hidden vantage spots a front of sixty miles extending east and west across the lines the troops would naturally follow as they marched down from San Carlos.
Signals had been arranged and the rendezvous designated by the sub-chief in command. The braves were to proceed as quickly as possible to certain advantageous positions indicated by the sub-chief. There they were to remain until they sighted troops, or received the signal that other scouts had sighted them. They were to stay concealed and, if possible, avoid battle.
Shoz-Dijiji was accompanied by Gian-na-tah, and together they rode through the night toward their appointed station, which they reached shortly after dawn, making a slight detour to avoid a ranch house, and coming at last to the rocky rim of a canyon through which led a well-travelled road along which it was a foregone conclusion that troops would pass if they followed a certain route to the border.
In lieu of a saddle Shoz-Dijiji rode astride a well-worn gray blanket. This he removed from Nejeunee’s back after they had hidden the two ponies in a narrow ravine a mile from the road. Coming to the rim of the canyon, Shoz-Dijiji lay flat upon his belly, his head at the very edge of the summit of the precipitous wall of the canyon. Quickly Gian-nah-tah draped the gray blanket about the black poll of his friend, sprinkled dirt about its edges where they met the ground, leaving only a small opening through which the keen eyes of the Black Bear might take in the whole of the canyon below.
From the road the most suspicious might have looked carefully and seen only another gray boulder upon the canyon’s rim. Gian-nah-tah, entirely concealed from the sight of anyone passing through the canyon, watched northward along the flank, where a careful and experienced Indian fighter would send Indian scouts before permitting his command to enter the narrow canyon, so eminently suited to sudden and disastrous ambush. He also watched to east and west for the signal that would announce the discovery of the enemy by another scout.
Patience is a quality of mind and will but vaguely sensed by civilized races. The higher types of savages have it developed to a degree of outstanding virtue, but perhaps of all peoples the North American Indians have achieved it most closely to perfection, and of these it remained for the Apaches to raise it to the pinnacle of highest specialization. With Shoz-Dijiji as with his fellows it was a fine art in which he took just pride.
Thus it was that for hours he could lie perfectly motionless, watching the silent, deserted, dusty road below. No sound escaped his ears, no odor, his nostrils; his eyes saw everything within the range of their vision. No lizard moved, no insect crawled along its way that Shoz-Dijiji did not see and note. A rattle-snake crossed the road and disappeared among the rocks upon the other side; a horned toad, basking in the sun, awaiting unwary flies, attracted his attention by its breathing so quiet and still were the surroundings that even the gentle rising and falling of its warty hide attracted the quick eyes of the Apache; a darting swift was as sure of detection as would an Indian elephant have been.
And as he lay there his mind was occupied with many thoughts, mostly somber, for the mind of the Apache inclines in that direction. This background, however, was often shot with lights of a happier vein—with recollections of Ish-kay-nay and anticipations. He considered, pridefully, the traditions of his people, the glory of their past, the exploits of their greatest warriors; he pondered the wrongs that had been inflicted upon them by their enemies.
He recalled the tales of the murders committed upon them by Mexicans and whites—the differentiation of color is strictly and solely Apachen—he reviewed the numerous and increasing thefts of their ancestral lands. These thoughts awakened within him no self-pity as they might have in an Anglo-Saxon, so thoroughly had training and environment suceeeded in almost erasing hereditary inclinations; instead they aroused hatred and a desire for vengeance.
His thoughts, gloomy or roseate, were suddenly interrupted by a faint sound that came down out of the north. It grew in intensity, so that Shoz-Dijiji knew that whatever caused it was approaching, and he knew what was causing it, the feet of horses moving at a walk. Listening, he determined that they were too few to announce the approach of a body of troops. Perhaps a few scouts rode in advance. He waited, watching the northern end of the canyon.
Presently three bearded men rode into view. They were not soldiers. They were not cowboys. Shoz-Dijiji identified them as of that class of fools who scratched around in arid hills for the yellow iron, pesh-litzogue. He gazed down upon them with contempt. His fingers, resting upon his rifle, twitched. What a wonderful target they presented! But he was scouting and must forego this Usen-given opportunity. Of course the sub-chief had only mentioned specifically the soldiers of the white-eyes, when he had warned them against engaging the enemy. Technically Shoz-Dijiji would be committing no disobedience were he to rid the world of these three quite useless creatures; but he knew that he had been sent here to watch for soldiers and for nothing else, so he curbed his desire.
The floor of the canyon was dotted with boulders, large and small, among which the road wound. Some of the boulders were larger than a large tepee, offering splendid cover. Behind them more than one man had fought and died, making his last stand.
Shoz-Dijiji was suddenly attracted by a sound coming from the south, a rhythmical sound that announced the approach of a loping horse. Two of the three men drew quickly behind a great boulder, the third behind another on the opposite side of the road. The Apache waited, watching. The loping horse drew nearer. He entered the lower end of the canyon and presently came within the range of Shoz-Dijiji’s vision. Its rider was a girl—a white girl.
Even from where he lay he saw that she was very good to look at. As she came abreast of the three whites they rode directly into the road and barred her passage, and as she sought to wheel her horse one of them reached out and seized her bridle rein. The girl reached for a six-shooter that hung at her hip, a cold, blue Colt; but another of the three had slipped from his saddle and run to her side. Now he grasped her wrist, tore the weapon from its holster and dragged the girl to the ground. It was all done very quickly. Shoz-Dijiji watched. His hatred for the men mounted.
He could hear the words that were spoken below and he understood them. He heard the girl call one of the men by name, demanding that they release her. He felt the contempt in her tone and a like sentiment for them in his own breast aroused within him, unconsciously, a sense of comradeship with the girl.
“Your old man kicked me out,” growled the man she had addressed. “You told him to. I wasn’t good enough for you, eh? You’ll find I am. You’re goin’ with me, but you ain’t a-goin’ as Mrs. Cheetim—you’re goin’ as Dirty Cheetim’s woman. Sabe?”
The girl seemed very cool. Shoz-Dijiji could not but admire her. The ethics of the proceedings did not interest him; but suddenly he became aware of the fact that his interest was keenly aroused and that his inclinations were strongly upon the side of the girl. He did not know why. He did not attempt to analyze his feelings. He only knew that it pleased him to interfere.
He heard the girl’s reply. Her voice was steady, level, low. It had a quality that touched hidden chords within the breast of the Apache, arousing pleasant reactions.
“You are a fool, Cheetim,” she said. “You know my old man. He will kill you if he has to follow you to Hell to get you, and you know it.”
“They’ll be two of us in Hell then,” replied Cheetim. “Come on—git back on that cayuse.” He jerked her roughly. The barrel of a rifle slid quietly from beneath the edge of a gray boulder at the top of the canyon’s wall; there was a loud report that rebounded thunderously from wall to wall. Cheetim dropped in his tracks.
“Apaches!” screamed one of the remaining men and scrambled into his saddle, closely followed by his companion. The girl’s horse wheeled and ran toward the south. Another shot and one of the fleeing men toppled from his saddle. The girl looked up to see a painted, all but naked warrior leaping down the steep canyon side toward her, She reached for her Colt, forgetting that it was gone. Then he was beside her.—She stood there bravely, facing him.
“Nejeunee,” announced Shoz-Dijiji, which means friend or friendly; but the girl did not understand.—He held out his hand; this she understood. She took it, smiling.
“You sabe English?” she asked.
“No savvy,” lied Shoz-Dijiji. He picked up the Colt, where it lay beside the dead Cheetim, and handed it to her.
“What your name?” demanded the girl.
“No savvy,” said Shoz-Dijiji.
She pointed a finger at her own breast. “Me, Wichita Billings”, she announced, and then she pointed the finger at him, questioningly.
“Huh!” exclaimed the Apache. “Shoz-Dijiji,” and he pointed at his own deep chest.
Without a word he turned and left her, walking south toward the end of the canyon. The girl followed because in that direction lay the ranch of her father. When she came in sight of the Apache again he had already caught her horse and was leading it toward her. He handed her the bridle rein, pointed toward the ranch and started at a swinging trot up the side of the canyon. Being a wise girl and having lived in Indian country since she was born, Wichita Billings put spurs to her horse and disappeared around a bend in the canyon toward the squat, fortified ranch house that was her home.
Why the Apache had befriended her she could not guess; but for that matter Shoz-Dijiji could not guess either why he had acted as he had. He knew what Geronimo or Juh would have done. He wondered why he had not done likewise.
Halfway between the ranch and the canyon Wichita Billings met her father and two of his ranch hands. Faintly they had heard the shots from the direction of the canyon and knowing that the girl had ridden in that direction they had started out to investigate. Briefly she told them what had transpired and Billings was frankly puzzled.
“Must have been a reservation Indian on pass, he decided. Maybe some buck we give grub to some time.”
Wichita shook her head. “I never seen him before,” she said, “and, Dad, that siwash wasn’t on no pass, he was on the warpath—paint, fixin’s an’ all. He didn’t have nothin’ on but a G-string an’ moccasins, an’ he was totin’ a young arsenal.”
“Ole Geronimo’s been out quite some time,” said one of the hands; “most likely it was one of his Cheeracows. Wisht I’d a-been there.”
“What would you a-done?” inquired the girl, contemptuously.
“They’d a-been one more good Injun,” boasted the man.
“Say, if you’d been there they couldn’t no one of seen your coat-tails for the dust, Hank,” laughed the girl as she gathered her horse and reined toward the ranch again. “Besides I think that buck was one pretty good Indian, alive; the way he took my part against Cheetim.”
“They ain’t only one kind of a good Injun,” grumbled Hank, “an’ that’s a dead one.”
From behind a distant boulder Shoz-Dijiji and Gian-nah-tah watched the four as they rode toward the ranch. “Why did you let the woman go?” asked Gian-nah-tah.
“Gian-nah-tah,” said Shoz-Dijiji, “this I may say to you because we are long time friends and because Gian-nah-tah knows that the heart of Shoz-Dijiji is brave: Shoz-Dijiji will never take the war trail against women and children. That is for weaklings and women—not for a great warrior.”
Gian-nah-tah shook his head, for he did not understand; nor, for that matter, did Shoz-Dijiji, though each of them pondered the matter carefully for a long time after they had returned to their respective posts.
Gian-nah-tah, following the instructions of Shoz-Dijiji, watched now carefully toward the ranch as well as for smoke signals from the east or west, or for flankers sneaking down through the hills from the north; and at last, far away in the west, a distant smoke rewarded his watching. Faintly at first it arose, a thin gray column against the azure sky, gained in volume, persisted steadily.
Gian-nah-tah crept to Shoz-Dijiji’s side, touched him and pointed. The young warrior saw the distant shaft rising unwaveringly through the still, midday air, calling the scattered bands to the rendezvous, sending its message over an area as great as the whole state of West Virginia, to be received with as varied emotions as there were eyes to see it.
It told the savage vedettes where the soldiers of the pindah lickoyee were marching toward the border and where to gather to harass and delay them; it brought an oath to the lips of a grizzled man in dusty blue who rode at the head of a weary, dust-choked column, for it told him that the wily enemy had sighted him and that the clans were gathering to oppose him upon some well-selected field of their own choosing. To the far scattered cowman and miner it cried: “The hostiles are on the war-path!” and set them to barricading ranch house and cabin, oiling breech blocks and counting ammunition; it sent mothers to their knees in prayer, with crying children huddled about them.
It filled the heart of Shoz-Dijiji with joyous song, for it told him that he was soon to fight his first fight as a warrior against the hated warriors of the pindah lickoyee. It urged the main body of the fleeing Be-don-ko-he onward toward the border, torturing, burning, ravishing, killing as it went. For an hour the smoke column hung in the sky, a beacon of the hate, the cruelties, the treacheries, the wrongs that man inflicts on man.
Silently, from east and west, the Be-don-ko-he scouts assembled far to the south of the long dead signal fire; and up from the south came Geronimo the next day with twelve warriors to reinforce them. Slowly they dropped back, leaving sentinels upon their rear and flanks, sentinels who retreated just ahead of the advancing enemy, whose every move was always under observation by a foe he never saw.
The trail narrowed where it entered low, rocky, barren hills. “Hold them here,” said Geronimo to a sub-chief, and left four warriors with him, while he retreated another mile into the hills and disposed his men for more determined resistance.
“Hell!” murmured a grizzled man in blue denim overalls down the seams of which the troop tailor had sewn broad yellow stripes. “I don’t believe there’s an Apache within forty miles of us, outside our own scouts.”
A lean, parched sergeant, riding at his side, shook his head. “You can’t most always sometimes tell, sir,” he volunteered.
From the base of the hills ahead came the crack of a rifle, putting a period to that paragraph. The officer grinned. To the right of the trail was a shallow gully. Into this he led his troop, still in column of fours.
“Prepare to dismount. Dismount! Number twos hold horses! Fall ’em in, sergeant!” He gave commands quietly, coolly. The men obeyed with alacrity. The point, three men riding in advance of the troop, having uncovered the enemy raced back to the shelter of the gully, the bullets of the hostiles pinging about their heads. Far to the rear the pack train and two companies of infantry plodded through the dust.
Behind a rock that barely covered his prone figure from the eyes of the enemy, lay Shoz-Dijiji. Similarly sheltered, four other painted savages fired after the retreating point. One of them was a wrinkled old subchief, a past-master of the art of Apache warfare. The five watched the dismounted cavalrymen deploy into the open, dropping behind bushes and boulders as they wormed their way forward.
There was a burst of fire from the thin line that made the Apaches duck behind their shelter; when they looked again it was to see that the soldiers had advanced, fifty yards, perhaps, and again sought cover. The Indians fired rapidly to give the impression of a larger force than actually constituted this insignificant rear guard. The soldiers peppered away at the puffs of smoke that signalized the positions of the foe.
The sub-chief called across to Shoz-Dijiji and the two wormed themselves back, turned to the left and sought new positions, holding their fire, waiting for the moment the old warrior knew would come. Again the soldiers fired rapidly, half of them concentrating their fire upon the rocks from behind which the puffs of smoke had arisen while the other half arose, and, bent half double, raced forward to new and more advanced positions. It was then that the sub-chief and Shoz-Dijiji opened fire upon them from their new positions that had not yet attracted the fire of the cavalrymen. The grizzled captain saw three of his men stumble forward, their faces in the dirt. Afterward two of them crawled painfully toward cover but the third lay very still.
Angry, the entire troop fired rapidly at the Indian position, until there was no response; then the second half of the troop advanced in a quick rush. From another point, far to the right of that upon which they had been concentrating their fire, came the crack of a rifle and another soldier fell.
Shoz-Dijiji reloaded and fired again. To his rear the sub-chief with the three other warriors was trotting back toward the main body of hostiles that was busily engaged in the construction of simple but effective fortifications under the supervision of Geronimo.
The captain had lost four men and had not seen an Indian. He had no definite idea of the strength of the enemy. He could not advance without exposing his men to the full fire of the hostiles. To his left was a dry wash that afforded complete protection, and into this he ordered his troop, there to await the coming of the infantry. Behind his rock, quite alone, Shoz-Dijiji held off the United States Army while the war chief of all the Apaches prepared for a determined stand a mile to the south.
For an hour the cavalrymen sweltered and cursed in the dusty barranca. Occasionally one would lift a head above the sheltering wall, there would be a crack and the ping of a bullet and the head would duck to safety—Shoz-Dijiji, patient, tireless, eagle-eyed, hung doggedly to his post.
Then the infantry arrived. Out of effective range they took to the barranca, the pack train sheltering in the gully with the horses of the troop. The cavalry, loath to relinquish the honor to doughboys, charged the position of the hostiles after the infantry had poured a steady fusillade of rifle fire into it for several minutes.
Hunched double that they might present the smallest possible target, grasping their carbines at the ready, separated by intervals of a yard or two, the men advanced at the double up the gentle, rock-strewn acclivity. Their grizzled captain led them. A dozen yards beyond the summit he raised his hand and the blue line halted. The officer looked about him. For hundreds of yards in all directions there was not sufficient cover to conceal a cottontail. There was not an Indian in sight.
“Hell!” murmured the captain.
A half mile to the south of him Shoz-Dijiji trotted toward the stronghold of his people, while the blue column reformed to resume the heartbreaking pursuit of the elusive quarry. The Apache scouts, who had been sent out to the east and west the day before, returned to the command, reporting signs of renegades at widely separated points. A rancher and his family had been murdered at Sulphur Springs, two cowboys had had a running fight with Apaches in San Simon Valley, two men had been killed near Billings’ ranch.
A lieutenant with six men and three scouts was sent ahead of the column. Within a mile they were fired upon and driven back. The infantry deployed and advanced after a brief reconnaissance by the grizzled captain. Geronimo had chosen a position impossible for cavalry, impregnable to infantry. His fortifications topped a low but steep hill, the summit of which was already boulder-strewn by nature. On three sides the hill overlooked open country that afforded no shelter within the effective range of the weapons of that day, on the fourth side, behind him, rose rugged mountains that offered him a ready avenue of retreat. Within twenty miles to the north there was no water for the soldiers or their mounts. Ten miles to the south, upon the opposite side of the range, there was plenty of water, but Geronimo sat astride the only trail short of a fifty-mile-long detour around the end of the range.
The infantry advanced. Already that day they had marched twenty miles beneath a blistering sun from the last water. Their lips were parched and blistered, their eyes, their nostrils, their throats were choked with the stinging, impalpable dust of the alkali desert. All day they had groused and cursed and bewailed the fate that had sent them into “this man’s army”; but that had been while they were plodding along in the shroud of dust that hung continually about them and with no sign of an enemy about.
Now it was different. All was changed. With the first shot fatigue slipped from them as easily as an old coat, they forgot the hardships and the thirst, they fretted to go as young thoroughbreds at the barrier. And they were young thoroughbreds—these picked men, hard as nails, the flower of the western army. No finer body of men ever underwent crueler hardships in a more savage country, against a more savage and resourceful foe in any country in the world, and none ever got fewer thanks.
On they went, up toward that silent, rock-bound hilltop. There was no cover; they were advancing to the charge. Geronimo waited. He knew that they would underestimate his strength, judging it by what they had developed at the last stand a mile to the north; and he was right. He waited until the blue line was well within range, then he opened on them with all his rifles. A few men fell. The command to charge was given and up the slope the soldiers raced, yelling. In twos and threes they fell beneath the withering fire of the hostiles. It was a useless sacrifice and the retreat was sounded.
Covered by the fire of the cavalry they withdrew and dug themselves in three-fourths of the way down the slope—those that remained of them. Until dark they lay there, sniping, being sniped, the painted savages yelling taunts and insults at them. Their water was gone, their dead and wounded lay beneath the pitiless sun on the fire-swept slope.
A sergeant, beneath a hail of lead, brought in a wounded officer. Twenty-five years later he was awarded a Congressional Medal, which arrived in time to be pinned on his breast by an attendant at the poor house before he was buried in potter’s field.
Under the protection of darkness they recovered their dead and those of the wounded who had miraculously survived the determined sniping of the Apaches. The officers held a council. What water there was left was distributed among the infantrymen. The cavalry and the pack train, bearing the wounded, started back across those weary, dusty miles for water. The dead they buried on the field. At dawn the hostiles recommenced their sniping, though the infantry had withdrawn to such a distance that only an occasional bullet fell among them. They did not know that now the entire force opposing them consisted of but three warriors; that the others were miles away to the south. All day they lay there without shelter while the Apaches fired at them at long range and at long intervals.
It was after dark before the cavalry returned. The hostile fire had ceased, but how could the soldiers know that the last of the enemy was miles away upon the southern trail. Geronimo had accomplished all that he had set out to accomplish. He had held up the troops two full days and in that time the Be-don-ko-he, with the exception of a few warriors, had crossed the boundary into Mexico and disappeared in the rugged mazes of the Mother Mountains; and he had done it without losing a man.