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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 3: Comanche Moon,
a novel by Chet Cunningham, [IMAGE]2003

A dry, eerie wind whipped around them; the September sun bore down unrelentingly on the seven blue uniformed men huddled in desperation behind the only cover they had: a twenty-four inch deep dry wash in the Texas high plains. At least they were backed up against a thirty-foot high crumbling granite cliff, giving them protection to the rear.

A rifle snarled in front of them and a chunk of hot lead zinged a foot over the top of their protective dirt wall and splattered into the cliff.

"Lieutenant, how in Christ's name we gonna get out of here?" a trooper called, his voice a pleading wail.

Lieutenant Dan Edwards took off his light brown campaign hat and wiped sweat from his forehead. He had no answer for the private in B Company of the Second Cavalry, no answer at all.

His hand came back from his forehead with blood on it. A graze. He looked at the six men with him. The Comanche attack had been a total surprise. His patrol tried to ride away but the warriors had them surrounded. They dismounted and found the best cover available. Then, in a slashing attack, the Comanches drove off their horses.

Lieutenant Edwards figured they had enough ammunition to hold out until it was dark. Then they could slip away. Maybe.

He watched over the lip of the small dirt bank. Two hundred yards ahead was a slight rise in the endless Texas plains. Behind that protection were forty Comanche warriors eager to take scalps.

Nearly half of them were armed with rifles, but none of those were repeating Spencers, thank God. To the left lay an open area a hundred yards wide. Not a chance to outrun the Comanche bullets that way. To the right the little water course flattened out for another two hundred yards before it gave out entirely in a sweeping half mile of unbroken prairie.

Lieutenant Edwards still had no idea where the hostiles had come from. One moment his detail was on a boring, routine scouting patrol to see if there were any Indian activity out twenty miles from Fort Comfort.

The next moment they were under attack by a howling mass of Comanche who skillfully boxed them in and drove them backward against this bluff and sealed off both exits. For being notorious for individual action, this band of savages had worked extremely well together. Their tactics were perfect: surprise, containment ... eventual victory.

"Come on, Lieutenant, we got to do something," a trooper with a bloody kerchief around his left arm said. "Maybe if we all jumped up and charged the bastards...."

"Shut up, Murdock," Corporal Lawson said. "The lieutenant is figuring it out right now."

Lieutenant Edwards swallowed. That was the trouble, there wasn't a damn thing left to figure out. The Comanches had eliminated any possible avenue of escape by luck or design, it didn't matter now.

A volley of six shots slammed into the top of the dirt wall, showering them with alkaline dust.

"We wait them out until darkness," Lieutenant Edwards said with more confidence than he felt. "Let's have a casualty report. How's Greggson?"

"Real bad, Lieutenant," Corporal Lawson said. "Took one through the lung. He can't move or he dies. Outside of that we got some scratches. Rest of us are able to make a good account of ourselves."

The troopers pressed against the rough face of the low wall. Their army regulation, knee-high brown leather boots showed spurs on the heels, useless now. Most of the blue pants were dirt smeared. The cartridge belts still held half the issue of rifle rounds and supported a regulation, leather holstered Army issue .44 revolver. The men's dark blue shirts were sweat stained, sticking to their skin. A swarm of small gnats and stinging flies pestered them into constant slapping and waving.

Lieutenant Edwards took another quick look over the top of the wash from a different spot. Nothing. The hostiles were waiting. What for? Like most of the Comanches, this band had a smart leader. He knew they had a sure victory here and he evidently didn't want to rush things or risk his warriors. Thirst alone would defeat the troopers if the day became hot enough.

It sneaked out of the clear blue sky with only a whisper, then a "thonking" sound as a Comanche war arrow buried itself six inches deep in the soft dirt.

"Damnit!" Lieutenant Edwards brayed. "That's one way we can't defend ourselves. Spread out along the wall as much as possible and lay on your sides. That was probably a marker."

As he spoke three more arrows shot high into the sky and then, dropping like mortar shells, sliced into the ground just in front of the wall.

"Rifles up, and over the wall. Keep your head down. On my signal fire two rounds each." When the weapons were in place he said: "Now!"

The six Spencers scattered twelve rounds into and over the Indians' protection.

Thirty seconds later twenty arrows dropped silently out of the sky. Corporal Lawson screamed in pain. One of the Comanche arrows tore into his thigh. The complete arrowhead and its backward prongs were buried in his flesh. He reached down and broke off the shaft, blanching white as he did so, and shaking his head to keep from passing out.

Nobody else was hit.

"Another round," Lieutenant Edwards ordered. Five rifles fired this time.

A horse charged over the protective hill from the left side. It must have a rider on it, but all they saw was a rawhide band around the pony and one foot locked under it. The Comanche rode on the far side of the horse in safety.

They waited. It was a taunt. The rider got within a hundred yards, gave a furious Comanche war cry, then wheeled and rode back, now on the other side of the mount, still almost out of sight.

They waited. Another flight of arrows came in but missed them. Again a rider bolted from the protection of the hill and rode toward them. Lieutenant Edwards lifted up, saw the rider and pushed his rifle over the top of the dirt. Then he lifted up and fired three times, as fast as he could lever the Spencer. The pony went down, dead as he hit the ground, and rolled. Two rifle rounds from the hill answered, spraying dirt on Edwards.

He moved, lifted up and sent two more shots at the Comanche warrior who had kicked free of the horse and now ran for the hill. Edwards brought him down with his second shot just as the officer bellowed in pain and jolted away from the two foot dirt wall.

A rifle round from the enemy had smashed his left shoulder.

Two troopers pulled him back into the protection of the wall and a moment later the arrows began to drop in on them again. At least fifty of them fell in the first wave, Edwards figured. He held his bleeding shoulder. One goddamned Comanche for seven U.S. troopers. A damn poor exchange.

Edwards thought about his wife, Olive, and his little boy, Will, just four, and Martha, who was over six. He realized that he would never see them again. There was no way out of this trap.

He shook his head, refusing to accept his own logic. There had to be a way out. He eyed the jumble of rocks to the left. It was almost a hundred yards. They could move and fire, move and fire. That was better than laying here and getting picked off like fish in a barrel.

"Men, I'm sorry I got you in this mess. I still don't know where that bunch came from. This decision is up to you. Should we lay here and get slaughtered like sheep, or should we see if we can get to the outcropping over there?"

"A hundred yards?" Corporal Lawson asked.

"About. We'll move and fire, spaced five yards apart, run, drop and fire at the hill, get up and run again. Fifteen twenty yards at a bite. Zig-zagging wouldn't hurt. All right men, what do you say?"

All six of them nodded. Greggson was barely conscious. He pulled his six-gun, cocked the hammer and gave his rifle to Murdock.

"Get the hell out of here," Greggson said, a smile on his rugged face.

"All right, up on your feet, but squat down. We all go at once and string out. Fire while running might be better. If you stop they'll have an easier target. We might surprise them. Ready?"

Edwards looked at the men. It was his fault. He should have had some outriders. Damn!

"Let's go!"

He had forgotten about his shattered left shoulder. He led the group. He held the Spencer with his right hand but could only steady it with his left as he fired a shot at the bank. He kept running and almost dropped the weapon as he levered in a new round.

Ten yards! He saw out of the corner of his eye the other men stringing out. Two troopers passed him, firing as they ran. Lawson limped badly on his wounded leg and fell behind.

For ten seconds there was no firing from the hill. Then it came, a dozen rounds. Lawson went down first. He took a round in the chest and spilled over sideways and never moved.

Ahead the others kept running. Murdock was in front. A dozen rounds slammed into the dirt around him but missed. They had covered fifty yards, then Gonzales caught a round in the side. It rammed into his heart and he flopped on the prairie.

Another twenty seconds, Edwards told himself as his feet pounded on the ground. He wasn't used to running. A chunk of hot lead caught his pants leg and zapped through. No damage. He was almost there.

He heard a scream from behind him. Six Comanches rode out on their ponies waving fourteen-foot long lances. Edwards wanted to stop and aim and kill one of the bastards, but if he did he would be a perfect target for the riflemen still firing.

He never felt the bullet strike. His left leg broke under him as he stepped down and another slug hit him in the chest. Fewer targets for them. Damn!

He plowed a furrow in the ground and lay there in the dirt and sand without moving. He could play dead. Yes. But the Comanches mutilated their enemies. He tried to stand but fell.

His rifle lay beyond reach. He grabbed at his six-gun, but it also had spilled out of its holster.

Edwards saw Murdock reach the first rock, but before he could dive behind it two rounds took him in the chest and he flopped back lifelessly.

Private Smith dropped beside him.

"Let me help you, Lieutenant!"

The words were barely from his mouth when his face exploded as a rifle round entered from behind his ear and came out his eye, taking half the face with it.

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