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Since his first novel was published in 1968 Chet Cunningham has written and had published nearly 300 works of fiction and 15 non fiction books. He is equally adept on horseback, in the techno-thriller arena, or recounting military history. His output includes 125 westerns and 50 men's action/adventure novels.

Excerpt From Pony Soldiers 1: Slaughter at Buffalo Creek,
a novel by Chet Cunningham, [IMAGE]2003

Corporal Alf Lewton stared at the rolling plains around him and shook his head.

"Know what I know, Sarge, and I sure as hell felt them savages. They watching us, I still say so, and it's a raiding party sure as hell. We should find a spot we can defend and ride out a patrol."

Sergeant Bill Bowers sent a long stream of tobacco juice squirting into the Texas sage. He had been with the Troop since it was formed back in fifty-five. There wasn't much in the way of soldiering and fighting he hadn't seen, including the Comanche.

"Alf, you don't shoot a Comanche until you see the little bastard. Half the time you never see them. You damn well won't see them until they want you to. So we keep moving. If we pull up here, we'll be a day late getting into Fort Comfort and the old man will raise all bloody hell."

Corporal Lewton slouched lower in his saddle where he sat the army black. He looked at his anchors, the three big Pittsburgh supply wagons, each with five thousand pounds of supplies. Then there was the real problem, the fourth rig, a covered wagon that held the most precious cargo, the wife and two small children of Captain Colt Harding, the fort's commanding officer.

Fort Comfort wasn't exactly a hardship post, but damn few women had elected to come into the wilds of Western Texas. It was the last fort before the country turned into the raw and unmapped Comanche hunting grounds.

Alf wanted to light his pipe but he didn't. It was hot enough already and not yet ten o'clock in the morning. He shaded his hand over his gray campaign hat with the low crown and wide brim. It did a lot to keep the sun out of his eyes. He stared at the small sandstone ridge to their right.

True he had not seen any Comanches. He had not even seen smoke there. No Indian smoke signals. He'd heard about them but never actually spotted any. Damn, he wished they were out of this long narrow valley. That is if you can have a valley without any hills. The country was so damn flat it gave him the shakes. He was a Tennessee mountain man himself, and damn proud of it.

Alf loved riding with the Cavalry, the famous Second Cavalry, the sharpest, most highly decorated outfit in the whole damn U.S. Army! Corporal Lewton looked at the ridge of sandstone again, then went back to the head of the small supply train where he rode the point of a fifteen man Cavalry escort.

Eight members of the escort detail were ahead of the rigs, the rest along the sides and a rear guard.

Alf would be damn glad to get in two more good days of travel and arrive at the gates of Fort Comfort. It was called a Fort but was not the headquarters of a regiment. It was more of an outpost over a hundred and twenty miles west of Austin.

Inside the rocking, jolting covered wagon, Milly Harding was trying to read a story to her two children. Little Sadie was just past her fourth birthday. Captain Colt Harding, her father, tried not to show it, but he plainly favored the shy little beauty. She had long blond hair and sparkling blue eyes, a mischievous grin and a laugh that won everyone's heart in a minute. She looked up at her mother now.

"Why is it so hot? Why are we bouncing so much? Mommie, why did we have to leave St. Louis?" The questions were softly spoken, laced with a smile of confusion.

Milly had answered the same questions a dozen times on the long trip, most of it done on the more comfortable stage coaches. Now she smiled and pushed back her own long blond hair that Colt wouldn't let her cut. She had washed her hair last night and was too tired to put it up properly. Now it swung around her shoulders and half way down her back.

She watched Sadie with eyes that matched the child's intense blue ones and smiled.

"We're going because Daddy wanted us to! Isn't that wonderful! A lot of places Daddy has to work aren't nice enough for sweet little girls and jumping jack boys to stay. But Fort Comfort is the best one so far. And we'll be there in just two more days!"

"I liked it back home," Sadie said shyly. Then she shrugged. "I know I'll like it at our new house too. Won't I, Mommie?"

"Yes you will, Sadie. Fort Comfort is your new home. You'll love living there."

Yale, seven now and the big brother and man-of-the-family when Daddy was away, launched his own worry.

"I sure won't have many kids to play with. Didn't you say there were only two other officers' families there?"

"Yes, Yale, but we don't know how many children they have. Remember the Johnsons? They have twelve little ones."

Yale tried to spin a top on a board but the top, made from a wooden spool for thread, kept falling off the side.

"I hope they both have twelve kids. If not I'm gonna play with the enlisted kids. Maybe I can play with some Indians!"

"Yale Harding, you will not. Indians are savages. That is no way to talk. I'm sure there will be plenty of playmates. Anyway, you'll be able to take riding lessons. Your father promised."

Yale twisted his face, nodded and concentrated on the top.

Milly watched him a moment, he was so like his father, single minded, determined ... yes, stubborn, a good strong Harding stubborn streak that was evident in both her children. She looked back at Sadie, her beautiful little daughter, and her last child, the doctor had told her.

Sadie was such a love. She seldom complained, almost never got into mischief or trouble, and was as pretty as a picture in her little calico dress and blue ribbons in her long blonde hair. Milly was so thankful to have a sweet little girl. She was the luckiest woman alive! She hugged both her children.

"Now, where were we in the story? Yes, the old fox was in the garden waiting to see if the chicken coop would be closed tightly that night by Farmer Brown."

Milly heard a whoop outside. Yale scrambled over the mattress laid in the bottom of the wagon to the tailgate and looked out the round opening made by the canvas top.

"Something is happening!" Yale called.

Milly walked on her knees to the back of the wagon and pushed her head outside.

The wagon had stopped. The Cavalrymen were shouting. She saw the soldier escort milling around Sergeant Bowers. He looked to the west, and when Milly stared that way she gasped and pushed her hand to her mouth.

Coming down the small rise a quarter of a mile away were at least twenty screaming, shouting Indian braves. She had never seen an Indian before, but these must be Indians, and they were coming to attack the wagons!

Bowers barked orders, dismounting the Pony Soldiers, spotting them behind the wagons. Their breech loading, single shot rifles loaded and ready to fire.

The Comanches came at the supply train in their traditional attack method, a sweeping V with the best war chief riding on the point of the V, his war shield held up as powerful medicine to ward off the roundeyes' bullets.

The Cavalry mounts were tied to wagon wheels and the blue shirtedblue-shirted troopers lay behind the wheels to fire at the coming charge. Some of the recruits snapped shots at the raiders.

"Hold your fire!" Bowers bellowed. "Wait until the bastards get within good range, damnit!"

Bowers wished his men had been issued the Spencer repeating rifle like some of the troops had. The seven shot, lever operated weapons, could hold off an attack. His men had a variety of single shot breech loaders and even some muzzle loaders left over from the Civil War.

"God damn, forgot about the civilians!" Bowers yelped and charged to the covered wagon with the passengers and barked in the back opening.

"Mrs. Harding. You lay down low as you can get and keep your kids down. Pile anything you have round you that will stop bullets. Stay in the wagon and keep that pistol handy. Then you better start praying!"

He saw the startled look on the woman's face as she poked her head out of the opening. Then he was gone, diving under her wagon, unlimbering his Gallager breech loading carbine. It was a .52 caliber but the range was no more than 500 yards. He had to wait to fire to be sure the hostiles were in range of all the carbines his men had.

Bowers watched the painted heathens charging forward. When they were within four hundred yards he gave the order to five,fire, and a dozen rifles barked. Two Indian horses went down. He saw one brave wounded, but the attackers drove forward. On some unseen signal they parted and half went each way as they began circling the line of four wagons.

Only three or four of the Indians had rifles, Bowers decided. But that only made them more deadly--they had to get in close to use their arrows and lances. The sergeant had seen Comanches attacking before, and he was always amazed by their horsemanship. They rode so they were almost entirely hidden on the far side of their charging ponies. They shot their arrows and rifles from under the belly of the horses! There was nothing to shoot at except the Indian pony, which Bowers did now and brought one down.

The Comanche riding the mount rolled away, his bow and arrows held in his right hand. A moment later he vanished behind a small bush, but Bowers knew the savage would be crawling forward still on the attack.

The Indians' circle came closer and closer, sometimes at less than fifty yards, but still there was little to shoot at except the ponies. Some of the Cavalrymen didn't want to kill the mounts. Horses were precious to them.

When the Comanches made their first circle, the troopers had moved between the wagon wheels, where they had some protection from both sides.

The first time the Comanches circled also brought the death of six army horses. The Indians knew if the Pony Soldiers were on foot they would be easier to run down and kill.

Bowers bellowed over the firing for the men to shoot the horses out from under the Comanches, but still few did. The horse was almost sacred to the newer recruits, and Bowers had six of them on this escort duty.

Bowers felt the thud of the arrow but no pain in his back as a lucky shot arrow slanted between the wooden wagon wheel spokes behind him and plunged into his flesh. Funny that it didn't hurt, must be a slanting blow, he decided. Bowers tried to lift his carbine to aim it, but his hand wouldn't move.

"God damn!" Bowers screeched. He couldn't move either arm. He tried to sit up only to find that he couldn't move his legs. Christ! The arrow must have hit his spinal column! He was paralyzed! Only his eyes would move and he could talk.

"Lewton, get over here!" Bowers bellowed. A lull in the firing let his voice reach out to the corporal, who dashed from the second wagon and slid in beside his superior.

"Yeah, Sarge?"

"I'm hit, can't move!"

Alf Lewton looked at the arrow in Bower's back and swore.

"I can't touch it, Sarge. It's deep in your spine. You stay right there. We'll get rid of these damn Comanches and we'll put you in the wagon."

Just as Corporal Lewton said the words, a .52 caliber bullet from Walking White Eagle's rifle slammed through the Pony Soldier's left eye, killing him instantly, dumping him half over Bowers.

The firing diminished. Troopers called to each other as they used up the sixty rounds they carried for their rifles and carbines. Pistols began to fire when the rifles ran dry.

Inside the last wagon, Milly Harding lay on top of her two children, tears of fright and worry streaming down her face as she listened to the fight rage outside. She heard the rifles firing less and less. She could not look outside. Already three arrows had slapped through the canvas top.

The troopers would defeat them, she was sure. Indians were well known to strike and pull back, to strike again and if the defense was too strong, they would pick up their dead and wounded and move to an easier target. It was talked about all the time by the officers' wives who had men fighting the Indians.

These Comanches were savages and cowards and fought only when they had surprise and three times as many Indians as Cavalrymen.

Another arrow sliced through the canvas and tore into her left arm. Milly screamed. The arrowhead pierced her upper arm, missed the bone and came out the far side.

Little Sadie began to cry.

Yale squirmed from under his mother and looked at the blood on his mother's arm. The point had gone all the way through with the bloody metal tip sticking in the mattress. Milly shuddered, a soft weeping from the sudden pain flooded from her.

Yale's eyes went wide for a moment, then he swallowed hard. He took both hands and without a word broke off the feather end of the long shaft. Milly choked down a scream when the shaft moved in her flesh.

Yale lifted her arm, grasping the arrow just above the point and suddenly jerked the arrow shaft through the bloody wound and free. Milly screeched in pain, then covered her mouth, tears welling as she tried to control the agony.

"It will be fine now, Mother," Yale said. "I heard Father talking about how to do this," he said solemnly. Then he tied his kerchief around the wound to stop the bleeding.

Milly looked at him with wonder. "Thank you, darling." She shivered, beat down the pain and then pulled her precious children to her. They lay down, pushing as low as they could get and piled bags and boxes on top of them.

Outside under one of the big Pittsburgh freight wagons, Private Templeton fired his Gallager and then pushed a new Poultney foil cartridge in and aimed again. Just before he fired, he saw an Indian break from the pack and ride straight for him. Templeton tried to change his aim, but he was too late.

The fourteen-foot lance the warrior threw from twenty feet away, shot from his hand, flew between the wagon wheel spokes and drove through Private Templeton's throat. He jolted backward, his last shot going wild as he died.

Under the next freight wagon Private Zedicher screamed at his buddy six feet away. "Zeek, you got any more .52 caliber rounds!"

Zeek couldn't reply. He lay as if he were firing his pistol, but a Comanche arrow still quivered where it had driven six inches into Zeek's forehead.

Zedicher saw Zeek's head clearly then, bellowed in rage and jumped up from under the wagon and ran for his horse. It was one of two U.S. Cavalry blacks still standing.

A riderless Indian pony raced toward him. Zedicher waved his pistol at it, but the animal came on. Zedicher couldn't understand it. Then at the last second he saw the buckskin fringed legging showing where an Indian's foot was wedged under the wide rawhide surcingle around the horse.

In a second and a half the Comanche brave lifted up, leaned over his charging pony's back and his knife sliced Private Zedicher's throat from one side to the other. Zedicher died before he fell to the prairie grass.

The brave wheeled, rode upright looking for more yellow legs. He saw only two still firing, and both were about to be cut to pieces by his brothers. The brave rode back, slid off the back of the pony to the body of the yellow-leg-who-ran-away.

Fox Paw made two quick cuts around the Pony Soldier's head, then popped off the short hair. He tucked the scalp under his horsehair belt, then vaulted on his mount and rode toward the last wagon with the tall cover.

There would be much loot to claim and he wanted to be the first in the richest looking wagon.

He leaped from his horse to the wagon's wooden side and sliced the thin canvas with his knife, tearing it back.

Milly Harding lifted the revolver when she saw the savage leap on the wagon. She aimed the heavy six-gun and when the Comanche's face peered through the rent in the wagon cover, she fired. The bullet went wide. She closed her eyes and fired again and the brave slammed backward off the wagon.

Walking White Eagle spun his pony around when he saw Fox Paw fly off the covered wagon. Blood gushed from his shoulder. The last of the Pony Soldiers was down. White Eagle touched his knees to his borrowed war pony and raced up to the rear opening of the last prairie schooner.

In a graceful leap, the Indian went through the covered wagon's small rear opening and came up with his knife in his hand and pressed it against the throat of a white woman. She had no warning, no time to lift the heavy six-gun. White Eagle knocked the pistol from her hand as his knife pushed her back on the mattress.

The two children scuttered to the far end of the wagon and wailed in terror. White Eagle picked up the pistol,pistol; it was one of the fires-many-times weapons. He put it in the rawhide band that circled his waist, then caught the woman's long blonde hair and pulled her toward the rear canvas opening.

He threw the woman outside for the braves and turned back toward the children. The boy screamed at him in fury and charged at White Eagle with a pocket knife. White Eagle let the boy come, then suddenly held out his own knife with a six-inch blade. Yale Harding could not stop. He screamed as he staggered and fell on the knife. It penetrated his chest and his heart, killing him instantly.

White Eagle pushed the small boy away without looking at him again and wiped his blade on the boy's clothes. The boy child was too old to train properly. He walked over the carefully packed household goods to the small girl who screamed in gasping, wide-eyed terror.

He picked her up and held her under one arm as he sorted through the goods in the wagon. He found ribbons, a dozen different kinds that he took for his wives, then a long streamer of cloth as wide as his arm. He wrapped the cloth around his torso, took the pistol and a rifle he had found and leaped to the ground.

The white girl was still under his arm, struggling and kicking. He slapped her gently, and she stopped screaming.

Fox Paw had bound up his shoulder wound and had claimed the blonde roundeye woman. He had stripped her clothes off until she was naked, then staked her hands to the ground and spread eagled her legs, tying them to stakes driven in the ground.

With great ceremony he removed his breechclout and dropped between the woman's white thighs. She screeched at him, calling him every vile name she could remember. He slapped her, then twisted her breasts until she screamed in agony.

He drove into her quickly, grunting and panting as three braves stood watching.

The other braves looted the freight wagons. They turned out to be army supply rigs loaded with food and material for the fort. There were many hundred pound sacks of beans, flour, sugar, potatoes, new uniforms, small axes and thousands of items forthe Fort Sutter's store.

White Eagle quickly looked at the goods in the wagon. They were three days' ride from the safety of the upper Brazos River. They had come far into Texas this time raiding. With any good medicine they could drive one of the wagons closer to their camp. At once he rejected the plan. No brave would drive a wagon, that was woman's work.

A new plan came quickly, it would work. He looked at the stacks of uniforms the braves were throwing around. He caught one pair of blue pants. By cutting the legs off he could use them for winter leggings. He found two more pair and tied them to his mount.

The squalling child under his arm bit his shoulder. He whacked her with the back of his hand. He had forgotten about her. Quickly he tied her hands and feet together with rawhide, then stretched her across his back like a blanket roll and tied a wide rawhide thong from her hands to her feet across his chest. She would be secure there and leave both his hands free for looting.

When he got back to the big covered wagon, the braves had thrown out everything, even the mattress. Two more braves had taken their turn with the white captive, laughing and joking about her blonde muff of crotch hair.

Fox Paw made certain that everyone understood she was his captive and he had claimed her. White Eagle shrugged. It was the way of the People. She would be a difficult slave, but with good training she might do. Even the roundeyes had slaves. He never thought twice about taking slaves or captives or killing hostages. It was simply the way of the People.

White Eagle kicked through the goods from the wagon. He had no need for dresses or clothes. His women would enjoy the ribbons and the cloth he found. He uncovered a copper kettle. It would be good for boiling stew, hestew. He tied it to the horse's surcingle and kept looking.

From a small chest he found a round mirror with silver on the handle and a picture on the back. He put it in the kettle and tied it securely.

Also in the chest White Eagle discovered a leather bag filled with cartridges for the revolver. There were over a hundred of them. He smiled as he took them. The fires-many-times small weapon would help make the Comanche as well armed as the Pony Soldiers. Every Pony Soldier had one.

He ran from one of the blue shirted soldiers to the next, picking up the revolvers. Soon he had found them all! It was the best loot he could imagine! He stripped the pistol rounds from the men's pouches and pockets until he had more than he could carry. He filled the copper pot with them, and motioned to Thunder Dog to collect the long guns.

All would be tied securely on a mule to be taken back to the lodges. Soon there was a contest among the braves to find the rifles and carbines, and to locate as much ammunition as they could. They checked each wagon, but there was no more ammunition.

White Eagle called a small council and the senior warriors stood to one side with their war ponies.

In quick order they decided what must be done. The Pony Soldiers' beans, flour and potatoes would be taken. One of the young boys who had been herding the horses was sent to bring back twenty of the mules they had stolen.

The hundred pound sacks of beans, potatoes and flour were tied on the mules. Two sacks of coffee beans were discovered and a great shout went up. Many of the braves had grown to like coffee. All of the food would be distributed when they got back to their camp.

An hour later, the raiding party was ready to move. Fox Paw stood over the white woman. He had satisfied himself three times with her. More than a dozen braves had emptied their loins in her and pushed themselves back in their breechclouts.

Fox Paw decided the white woman would be more bother than good as a slave. She had fainted several times as the braves used her. She was weak. Now she screamed at him, lunged upward until she pulled free one stake holding her hand. She raked broken fingernails down Fox Paw's chest, drawing blood.

Fox Paw swung his knife, slicing her breast. She screamed and fell back to the ground. Her eyes pleaded with him. Fox Paw shrugged, and swung his sharp knife again, slitting her throat. As she died, he took her scalp. Fox Paw let out a Comanche war cry as the long blonde hair and scalp made a popping noise as it came free. He tied the blonde hair on his lance, and lifted it high.

Every Pony Soldier had been scalped. They had been sliced and cut, mutilated so they could not fight well in the afterlife.

White Eagle made one final check of the wagons. They had left the sacks of sugar, they had no need for them. He had found a strong wooden box, but when he opened it he discovered only worthless yellow discs. They were squaw's clay, too soft to be any good for hunting arrow tips or scrapers. He took three of them, placing them in a leather pouch on his wide leather surcingle. Perhaps Always Smiling would like them.

With a whoop and a shout they rode away with half a dozen army mounts and mules that had survived the attack.

They formed a strange looking war party. Every brave wore some item of clothing from the wagons. Two had on Pony Soldier blue shirts. Several had put on the Cavalrymen's broad brimmed hats with the chin straps.

Half the war lances held fluttering strips of cloth and freshly taken scalps. One sported a pair of woman'swomen's drawers. The warriors shouted and sang as they drove the pack mules across the dry Texas landscape toward a small valley just beyond the sandstone ridge.

There they picked up more than four hundred horses and mules they had stolen on their Texas raids, and began herding the animals west and north toward their lodges high on the headwaters of the mighty Brazos River. The Comanche were safe there.

The small roundeye girl slung across White Eagle's back cried again but White Eagle paid no attention to her. She was safe, she could not get away, and in three days he would give her to Cries In The Morning. She had no children and she had asked him to watch for a small girl to adopt.

White Eagle and his warriors rode toward their camp with happy hearts. It had been a productive raid with many horses stolen. They had not been attacked by any other tribe, had not lost a man, and only four had been wounded by the Pony Soldiers.

The Kwahari Comanches soon would be safely out of the lands penetrated by the roundeyes and back to their wilderness camp where they would always be safe.

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