Indian Fighters: On To California
John Shiply was leaning on the bar in his favorite saloon, nursing a beer while he tried to plan his next move. The bartender said, "John, I hear ya had a fallin' out with the sheriff. What ya gonna do, now?"
"I ain't real shore, Abner. I guess we'll move on ta California. There ain't nothin' aroun' here fer an honest man ta do."
"I heard of sumpthin' what might interest ya. I hear tell of a wagon train in Austin formin' up ta head fer California, some place called San Diego, I think. They're looking fer experienced Injun fighters ta be their guards. Ya think y'all might be interested in that?"
"Yeah, that sounds better than anythin' else I've heard of. Much obliged, Abner. I'll ask the others what they think. It's a 3-day ride under the best of conditions, and there's some Injun activity between here and there."
"Well, from what I hear, it'll be 2 weeks afore they're ready ta leave, soz y'all gots the time ta git there."
"The others ought ta be here pretty soon. They're over buying the .44 Dragoon Colts we need ta replace the ones we had ta turn in when we quit the militia. At least, we got ta keep them special repeatin' rifles we bought ourselves... Here they come now. Talk ta ya later, Abner."
The six friends came into the saloon and sat down at a couple of tables they pushed together. Abe asked, "Y'all all want beer? I'll git it." Abe went to the bar and placed the order for 7 beers.
A cowboy standing at the bar turned to Abe and asked, "Who's the woman what came in with y'all. I ain't never heard of no woman comin' inta a saloon, afore."
"Don't say nothin' ta her about it, ifen ya know what's good fer ya. That there woman is Cock Cutter. She ain't nobody ta be messin' with."
"Shit, man, much obliged fer the warnin'. I'd hate ta have mine cut off over a little misunderstanding."
Abe grinned and nodded as he paid for the beer and carried the mugs to the table. "Here ya go, Miss Abigail. The rest of y'all kin reach fer yer own."
John said, "Abner just told me 'bout a wagon train formin' up in Austin whats lookin fer guards fer a trip to California. It sounds ta me like the kind of thing we need. Y'all want to ride all the way ta Austin on what might be a wild goose chase?"
This prompted a lot of discussion, but a consensus was finally reached. They would leave for Austin early on the morrow, on the off-chance of landing the job. Abigail pointed out that there sure weren't any prospects for a job around this town. She finished her beer and left with Jerome to round up supplies for the trip.
The next day, they started out toward Austin just at dawn. They had gone about 10 miles when they saw a cloud of dust and heard some shooting. Abigail shouted, "LET'S GO. I WANNA GIT ME SOME INJUN COCKS!" and charged off toward the dust cloud. The men couldn't let her go alone, so they sped up to catch her.
Before long, they saw the classic battle formation of the Comanches: horses racing around in a circle while the Indians shot their arrows at the defenders. Jerome unfurled their battle flag, a stylized severed nose dripping blood, as they raced to catch Abigail.
Abigail was no fool, so she slowed down when they got near the battle. The defenders appeared to be 3 covered wagons in a line with several White men, women, and children, hiding under the wagons. They had been attacked by 9 Indians; there did not appear to be any casualties on either side at this point in the battle.
John surveyed the situation and ordered, "PISTOLS AT THE READY! FIRE AT WILL! CHARGE!"
They had almost reached the Indians when they were spotted. The Comanches were getting ready to defend themselves with their lances when one of the warriors pointed at the flag. Several of the Indians yelled, in Comanche, "Cock Cutter!" This was enough to unnerve the Comanches and they fled the scene as fast as their horses could carry them.
John called a halt to the charge and they all broke into nearly uncontrollable laughter. One of the men shouted from under a wagon, "WHAT'S SO ALL-FIRED FUNNY?"
John rode over and said, "Didn't ya see them Injuns run when they recognized who we were? That there woman is the famous Cock Cutter and them Comanches knew it. They was afeared that she would cut their cocks off. That's why they ran." The men laughed, the women gasped, and the children looked bewildered.
John asked, "Who y'all be?"
"We're headed ta Austin ta jine a wagon train whats headed ta California. What about y'all?"
"We're headed fer the same place. We're looking fer jobs as guards."
The man said, "Y'all shore gits our vote!" This remark produced some cheers from the other people with the wagons. "Would y'all be interested in ridin' along with us. We could use the help, an' the train ain't goin' nowhere 'til we gits there."
John looked around at his people, who all nodded assent, so he said, "Shore, we'll be happy ta ride along with ya." John introduced himself and the rest of his people.
The man from the wagon said, "I'm Josephus Williams. The wagon train will wait cuz I'm the one what's payin' fer it. Y'all are hired ta be our guards ifen ya're willin' ta work for $1 a day and found (food and other supplies), startin' with today an' runnin' 'til we gits ta California."
John said, "That sounds fair ta me. Ya got yerselves some experienced Injun fighters as guards. I'd like ta talk ta ya 'bout yer plans fer the trip, but we ought ta be on our way, in case them damned Injuns decide ta come back."
That evening, Abigail held a cooking class. She started showing the women how to fix the food their men liked without beating themselves to death doing it. Abigail won over the women with that exhibition, and they became very good friends. This was a revelation for Abigail, who had never had the opportunity to talk to women about the things women liked to talk about. This went a long way toward removing the chip from Abigail's shoulder.
John spent some time talking to Josephus about his plans for the trip. Josephus planned to head for El Paso. There was a trail through southern New Mexico Territory and on to California that missed most of the mountains, though there were some high hills and desert along the way. He expected a lot of trouble from Comanches and Chiricahua and Mescalero Apaches. He didn't expect much problems with the desert until the wagon train reached California. Water wasn't expected to be a problem as long as they stuck to the marked trail, which ran from water hole to water hole. He also had been warned of sink holes and quicksand in New Mexico Territory.
Josephus expected to have about 50 wagons in the train. He had not yet hired a wagon master or a scout, he expected to find them in Austin or El Paso. He really didn't expect to need either one until they got to El Paso, so he wouldn't worry about that for a while.
A joyful surprise to John was the presence of a 2-pounder cannon being pulled behind Josephus' wagon. Josephus Williams had been in the Army as an artillery officer, so he knew the value of cannon and how to use it. He had an ample supply of powder, round shot, and cannister for the cannon, so John was much encouraged by his new employer.
The great thing about the 2-pounder was that it was small enough to be fired from under a wagon, so it could be more easily protected from charging Indians. John's only regret was that they had just the one cannon; he would have been happier with an entire battery of them.
It took 8 more days to get to Austin. Josephus and John, both, were concerned that the horses were not doing well pulling the heavily loaded wagons. The only wagon that appeared to be doing well was pulled by mules, and Josephus considered having all the wagons switch to mules by the time they got to El Paso.
They spent two weeks in Austin preparing for the trek. Josephus insisted that everyone switch to mules to pull the wagons. This met with some resistance until Josephus firmly declared that the only wagons allowed in the train would be pulled by mules. Three families dropped out of the train, one because they couldn't afford to buy mules and two because they just didn't hold with mules. John figured that these latter two were better left behind; he, for one, didn't want to put up with stupid people.
John asked all the men to arm themselves with the .44 caliber Dragoon Colt. These guns were almost a drug on the market, since "everybody" was switching to the more fashionable .36 caliber Navy Colt. John shopped around Austin and was able to buy the the Dragoons in quantity for less than $5 each. John held shooting practice over several days and got all the men and some of the women who were willing to the point where they were adequately accurate at 10-15 yards range. John figured that hitting a target as big as a horse at that range was good enough for starters.
When not all of the women showed up for pistol practice, Abigail went around explaining to the reluctant ones the disadvantages of being a captive of the Indians. The final day, every woman in the train showed up for pistol practice, and John had to go shopping for more pistols.
Finally, they were ready to leave. John had Abigail ride point, since she had the best nose for Indians. He did warn her not to chase after any Indians she saw, but to come back and tell the rest of them of the danger. She reluctantly agreed to abide by his wishes, but she really was going to have to restrain herself.
John put Seth on riding drag and had his other 4 men function as outriders. John, himself, rode up and down the train making sure that everybody was safe. Josephus had found a wagon master, but they still didn't have a scout.
They were about 15 miles from Austin, on their second day of their trek, when Abigail came rushing back to John with the report that she had spotted a party of men and horses just below a ridge about a mile ahead. They didn't look like Indians, but they sure didn't look very friendly. John took Abigail with him as he rode up to Josephus and Oscar White, the new wagon master. John reported the potential problem and made sure that Abigail got full credit for spotting it.
The leaders all thought that this was a chance to practice forming their defensive wall. They had gone through the exercise several times the day before when they had stopped early for the night. John was glad for the chance to try it out in earnest.
John had a friend when he was in the Army during the Mexican War who had done some experimenting with defensive formations for supply wagons. He had found that forming the wagons into two boxes, one inside the other, was the most effective defense. This train had enough wagons that John could go a bit further and form 3 boxes. His idea was to put up an outer wall of wagons, and an intermediate wall of wagons with about 25 feet separating the two walls. The primary fighters would congregate between these two walls and under the wagon beds of the outer wall.
The narrow distance between the two walls would be too close together for an Indian to jump one wall on his horse and retain enough momentum to jump the second wall. Thus, he would be relatively easy to kill. If there was time available, the livestock would be gathered between the second wall and a third box which would contain the women and children. The women would be armed with their pistols as a last line of defense, but probably would not have to shoot at anything. However, they could protect the children, if need be.
The defensive boxes were formed with the requisite amount of fumbling and swearing, but John was sure that the people would get better as they had more practice. Once the defensive setup was ready, John rode out with his people to test the intentions of the bunch of men that Abigail had spotted. Jerome unfurled their flag as they approached the potential enemies.
The men got very friendly when they saw the flag. They all recognized it and were suitably impressed. There were 15 men in the bunch, and John talked to the leader. He claimed that they were a bunch of cowboys for a nearby ranch who were out working the range. John was suspicious, since this was just too many men for that kind of job. While the two men were talking, the other "cowboys" drifted around to encircle John's people.
Jeb started riding slowly toward one of the encircling riders, and the man nervously reached for his gun. Jeb shouted, "AMBUSH!" and charged the man in front of him. All of John's people reacted immediately, since they were expecting trouble. They pulled a pistol and fired at the nearest opponent. Seven men, including the leader, went down, and the other 8 took off as fast as their horses could run. Shots were fired after the fleeing men, but no effort was made to chase them.
Five of the men were dead and two were wounded. Abe and Jack had minor flesh wounds, but were not seriously injured. One of the wounded was the leader. John said to him, "You know who we are, and that there woman is Cock Cutter. Ifen ya don't tell me what I want to know, I'll turn her loose on ya. I reckon ya know what that means."
"I ain't tellin' ya nothin, ya asshole!"
"Cock Cutter, please come over here and convince this here fool that we ain't to be trifled with."
"Shore thing, Cap'n. I have 'im singin' any tune ya want in jus' minutes." Abigail swaggered toward the wounded thug and pulled out her bowie knife.
The wounded thug screamed, "KEEP THAT CRAZY WOMAN AWAY FROM ME! I'LL ANSWER YER QUESTIONS!"
"OK, this is yer last chance. What were y'all plannin' fer us?"
"We wuz gonna attack ya and take any valuables ya might have. We planned ta sell yer stock in the next town."
John said, "That's what I figured. Go ahead an' cut their throats since there ain't no trees near by ta hang 'em."
A few minutes later, they had looted all the valuables the dead bandits had and were leading their horses back toward the wagon train. Suddenly, the other 8 bandits burst out from behind a hill and charged John's people. John ordered, "PISTOLS AT THE READY! FIRE AT WILL!"
The bandits were still 50 yards away when they began shooting their pistols as they rode at full speed toward John's troops. Their pistols, all .36 caliber Navy Colts, were empty by the time they got within 10 yards, and John's people began firing deliberately at the charging fools. Soon, there were 8 more dead bandits, and 8 more horses and sets of valuables were added to the pool of loot. Leading 15 horses back to the train wasn't all that easy, but they managed.
The people of the train had eaten lunch while they were waiting for the results of the confrontation, so John's people were welcomed back to the train with a hot meal and coffee. Good feeling abounded! Abe and Jack's wounds were treated, and the wagon train resumed its journey toward El Paso.