A Case of Fever by Robert Barr
"O, underneath the blood red sun,
No bloodier deed was ever done!
Nor fiercer retribution sought
The hand that first red ruin wrought."
This is the doctor's story—
The doctors on board the Atlantic liners are usually young men. They are
good-looking and entertaining as well, and generally they can play the
violin or some other instrument that is of great use at the inevitable
concert which takes place about the middle of the Atlantic. They are
urbane, polite young men, and they chat pleasantly and nicely to the
ladies on board. I believe that the doctor on the Transatlantic steamer
has to be there on account of the steerage passengers. Of course the
doctor goes to the steerage; but I imagine, as a general thing, he does
not spend any more time there than the rules of the service compel him
to. The ladies, at least, would be unanimous in saying that the doctor
is one of the most charming officials on board the ship.
This doctor, who tells the story I am about to relate, was not like the
usual Atlantic physician. He was older than the average, and, to judge
by his somewhat haggard, rugged face, had seen hard times and rough
usage in different parts of the world. Why he came to settle down on
an Atlantic steamer—a berth which is a starting-point rather than a
terminus—I have no means of knowing. He never told us; but there he
was, and one night, as he smoked his pipe with us in the smoking-room,
we closed the door, and compelled him to tell us a story.
As a preliminary, he took out of his inside pocket a book, from which he
selected a slip of creased paper, which had been there so long that it
was rather the worse for wear, and had to be tenderly handled.
"As a beginning," said the doctor, "I will read you what this slip of
paper says. It is an extract from one of the United States Government
Reports in the Indian department, and it relates to a case of fever,
which caused the death of the celebrated Indian chief Wolf Tusk.
"I am not sure that I am doing quite right in telling this story. There
may be some risk for myself in relating it, and I don't know exactly
what the United States Government might have in store for me if the truth
came to be known. In fact, I am not able to say whether I acted rightly
or wrongly in the matter I have to tell you about. You shall be the best
judges of that. There is no question but Wolf Tusk was an old monster,
and there is no question either that the men who dealt with him had
been grievously—but, then, there is no use in my giving you too many
preliminaries; each one will say for himself whether he would have acted
as I did or not. I will make my excuses at the end of the story." Then
he read the slip of paper. I have not a copy of it, and have to quote
from memory. It was the report of the physician who saw Wolf Tusk die,
and it went on to say that about nine o'clock in the morning a heavy and
unusual fever set in on that chief. He had been wounded in the battle of
the day before, when he was captured, and the fever attacked all parts
of his body. Although the doctor had made every effort in his power to
relieve the Indian, nothing could stop the ravages of the fever. At four
o'clock in the afternoon, having been in great pain, and, during the
latter part, delirious, he died, and was buried near the spot where he
had taken ill. This was signed by the doctor.
"What I have read you," said the physician, folding up the paper again,
and placing it in his pocket-book, "is strictly and accurately true,
otherwise, of course, I would not have so reported to the Government.
Wolf Tusk was the chief of a band of irreconcilables, who were now in
one part of the West and now in another, giving a great deal of trouble
to the authorities. Wolf Tusk and his band had splendid horses, and they
never attacked a force that outnumbered their own. In fact, they never
attacked anything where the chances were not twenty to one in their
favour, but that, of course, is Indian warfare; and in this, Wolf Tusk
was no different from his fellows.
"On one occasion Wolf Tusk and his band swooped down on a settlement
where they knew that all the defenders were away, and no one but women
and children were left to meet them. Here one of the most atrocious
massacres of the West took place. Every woman and child in the
settlement was killed under circumstances of inconceivable brutality.
The buildings, such as they were, were burnt down, and, when the men
returned, they found nothing but heaps of smouldering ruin.
"Wolf Tusk and his band, knowing there would be trouble about this, had
made for the broken ground where they could so well defend themselves.
The alarm, however, was speedily given, and a company of cavalry from
the nearest fort started in hot pursuit.
"I was the physician who accompanied the troops. The men whose families
had been massacred, and who were all mounted on swift horses, begged
permission to go with the soldiers, and that permission was granted,
because it was known that their leader would take them after Wolf Tusk
on his own account, and it was thought better to have every one engaged
in the pursuit under the direct command of the chief officer.
"He divided his troop into three parts, one following slowly after Wolf
Tusk, and the other two taking roundabout ways to head off the savages
from the broken ground and foothills from which no number of United
States troops could have dislodged them. These flanking parties were
partly successful. They did not succeed in heading off the Indians
entirely, but one succeeded in changing their course, and throwing the
Indians unexpectedly into the way of the other flanking party, when a
sharp battle took place, and, during its progress, we in the rear came
up. When the Indians saw our reinforcing party come towards them each
man broke away for himself and made for the wilderness. Wolf Tusk, who
had been wounded, and had his horse shot under him, did not succeed in
escaping. The two flanking parties now having reunited with the main
body, it was decided to keep the Indians on the run for a day or two at
least, and so a question arose as to the disposal of the wounded chief.
He could not be taken with the fighting party; there were no soldiers to
spare to take him back, and so the leader of the settlers said that as
they had had enough of war, they would convey him to the fort. Why the
commander allowed this to be done, I do not know. He must have realized
the feelings of the settlers towards the man who massacred their wives
and children. However, the request of the settlers was acceded to, and I
was ordered back also, as I had been slightly wounded. You can see the
mark here on my cheek, nothing serious; but the commander thought I had
better get back into the fort, as he was certain there would be no more
need of my services. The Indians were on the run, and would make no
"It was about three days' march from where the engagement had taken
place to the fort. Wolf Tusk was given one of the captured Indian
horses. I attended to the wound in his leg, and he was strapped on the
horse, so that there could be no possibility of his escaping.
"We camped the first night in a little belt of timber that bordered
a small stream, now nearly dry. In the morning I was somewhat rudely
awakened, and found myself tied hand and foot, with two or three of the
settlers standing over me. They helped me to my feet, then half carried
and half led me to a tree, where they tied me securely to the trunk.
"'What are you going to do? What is the meaning of this?' I said to them
"'Nothing,' was the answer of the leader; 'that is, nothing, if you will
sign a certain medical report which is to go to the Government. You will
see, from where you are, everything that is going to happen, and we
expect you to report truthfully; but we will take the liberty of writing
the report for you.
"Then I noticed that Wolf Tusk was tied to a tree in a manner similar to
myself, and around him had been collected a quantity of firewood. This
firewood, was not piled up to his feet, but formed a circle at some
distance from him, so that the Indian would be slowly roasted.
"There is no use in my describing what took place. When I tell you that
they lit the fire at nine o'clock, and that it was not until four in the
afternoon that Wolf Tusk died, you will understand the peculiar horror
"'Now,' said the leader to me when everything was over,' here is the
report I have written out,' and he read to me the report which I have
read to you.
"'This dead villain has murdered our wives and our children. If I could
have made his torture last for two weeks I would have done so. You have
made every effort to save him by trying to break loose, and you have not
succeeded. We are not going to harm you, even though you refuse to sign
this report. You cannot bring him to life again, thank God, and all you
can do is to put more trouble on the heads of men who have already,
through red devils like this, had more trouble than they can well stand
and keep sane. Will you sign the report?'
"I said I would, and I did."