Two novels of the Plains Indian Wars of the Western Frontier
The story of America has always been one of ‘frontiers.’ During the 18th century ‘the west’ was in that part of the continent we term the east today and the threat to settlers from hostile indigenous Indian tribes was from those who inhabited that densely forested wilderness of lakes and mountains. Inexorably and inevitably the tide of European pioneers—the new Americans—pushed westward towards the Pacific Ocean. The drive to open new country, to found new states, build homes and farms became an exodus of almost biblical proportions—the ‘Manifest Destiny.’ After the Civil War between the Northern and Southern states immigrant wagon trains would push the emergent nation into and across the great plains of the interior of the continent—the home of enormous herds of American buffalo and the Indian tribes who subsisted on them. These were the Plains Indians, born hunters and warriors who some called ‘the finest light cavalry on earth’ for their skill in horsemanship and who were fiercely defensive of their traditional and sacred way of life. True to pattern when an advanced society encroaches upon a primitive culture there came the inevitable conflict which could only be settled in blood. The two novels in this book, The Last of the Chiefs (a story of the Great Sioux War) and The Horsemen of the Plains (a story of the Great Cheyenne War) are adventures which are set against those once turbulent—but now romantic—times, when the Cheyennes, Arapahos and Sioux were masters of the plains and it was the task of the United States Army, the infantry and cavalry in ‘dirty shirt blue’ to tame them. The author of these novels, Joseph A. Altsheler, was a prolific author of adventure fiction almost always set against an historical background and most often employing the history of his own nation, the United States of America as subject material. Indeed, Altsheler remains highly regarded for his authenticity and accuracy of historical detail. Leonaur publish several series by Altsheler including, ‘The French and Indian War’ series, ‘The Colonial Frontier’ series, ‘The Civil War’ series and a single volume which contains the entire ‘Great War’ series.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
A phantom rose out of the ground beside us, and resolved itself into the shape of a man, tall, erect, and but half clothed. It was Osseo.<br>
“What song do the birds sing tonight, Osseo?” I asked, wishing to speak in a light tone in the presence of a lady. But there was no lightness in his reply.<br>
“The warriors come,” he replied, “as many as when they slew the army of the General-who-never-walks, and more. Before the sun marks the noon hour tomorrow the scalps of those will hang at the belts of the warriors! Manito has made them mad that they may go laughing to death!”<br>
He stretched out his long arm and pointed toward the supply train.<br>
“I know it, Osseo,” I said, “but I can do nothing. I have even begged them to come inside the fort.”<br>
But I made another effort. I went forth to the packers, repeated Osseo’s news and again asked them to come in. They laughed at me, and two or three went so far as to hint that I was a coward. But I refused to take offence, repeated the attempt with similar failure, and then, returning to the fort, placed nearly half my force on guard, making ceaseless rounds in person to see that nothing was neglected. It was not my intent to take any sleep that night; in truth, I could not have slept had I wished it, and the hours passed with terrible slowness. The forest made no sign, the fresh foliage there sighing gently in the wind, and naught else stirring. But I knew that this stillness was ominous; the savage loves a sudden onslaught, and when the ignorant least expects him he comes. The night passed, and the first light of day as narrow as a sword-blade showed under the edge of the horizon. Then the war-whoop, issuing at once from thousands of throats, burst from the forest, and the warriors in swarms poured forward among the trees.<br>
I was watching by the palisade, and I saw their first onset, as they swept like a flood upon the camp of the pack train. I beheld a multitude of flitting brown forms, the flash of upraised tomahawks, and the puff-puff of white smoke from the rifles. The war-whoop, which had swelled at first in one mighty yell, now fell and then rose again, becoming shriller, but continually piercing the drum of the ear as if with the thrust of a knife.<br>
My men fired from the palisade, and here and there one of the flitting brown forms fell, but the wood still poured forth its savage horde. The men in the camp beheld upon them the death of which they had been warned, and at which they had laughed. They grasped their rifles, and at the same moment the stroke of the tomahawk fell. The camp was destroyed as if by one of our western tornadoes; most of the packers were killed before they could fight, and the rest, driven on by terror, fled to the fort, where we scarce had time to admit them before the horde was upon us too. The attack was so sudden, though expected by many, and the result so sweeping, that the effect of it was unreal. Our eyes seemed to deceive us, but our reason told us it was true.<br>
No man fattens upon his food faster than the red savage, and swinging aloft the bleeding scalps and filling all the forest with their triumphant whoops, the horde rushed upon Fort Recovery, eager for the prize which they had no doubt of winning. Had I been without responsibilities I should have sought the figure of Hoyoquim, sure that he was somewhere in the van, in order that I might send toward him an unerring bullet. I bore the chief no special animosity, but with him fallen the spirit must go out of the attack. The duties of command, however, lay heavy upon me, and I ran from point to point of the wall, urging the men to keep their coolness and to fire with certain aim.<br>
The rattle of our rifles ran in a ring around the palisade, the men standing in the face of all this yelling and frightful swarm with a firmness that was beyond praise, and a storm of bullets broke full upon the brown mass that was launched against us. I expected that the savages would fall back, knowing their dislike of the open assault; but motives of unusual power urged them, and shouting their war-cries and firing their rifles, they rushed to the very foot of the palisade, some hewing at the wood with their tomahawks, and others, drunk with blood-lust, seeking to climb up and spring among us.<br>
I thanked God in that moment for a long experience of Indian warfare, and, knowing that any case of faintheartedness on our side would give to the savages their opening, I watched every point, and always, despite our scanty numbers, I sent relief to any part where the soldiers seemed to yield. Old Joe Grimes rushed past me once, his face black with powder smoke, and a real joy shining in his eyes.<br>
“Didn’t I tell you men’ll fight better without any commander?” he cried. “See how they stand! A fool of a soldier would a had us all beat afore this.”<br>
Which I thought rather hard upon me, but I had no time to argue the matter with Joe.<br>
Three of the savages cleared the wooden wall and sprang among us, but they were shot dead before they touched the ground. Yet others took their places and made the same attempt. Never before had I seen such tenacity in assault by the Indians, and now I began to hear the powerful voice of Hoyoquim driving them on, though I sought in vain for the sight of his figure. He was hidden from me by the palisade.