The story opens with an Indian village, the home of Big Bear, the son of the Sioux chief. The government agent, impressed with the brightness of the lad, persuades his father to permit him to be sent to a military school. The cadets, perfectly disciplined, are shown in their trim uniforms, drilling on the parade grounds and the young savage is introduced into their midst. Ten years serve to convert the slender boy into a stalwart man, who graduates with the rank of lieutenant, and is assigned to Fort Reno. He arrives in a stagecoach and reports for duty to Col. Garvin. The officers and their families are at dinner when the colonel introduces the new officer. Lieutenant Big Bear is made to keenly feel barrier of race, as his pleasant acknowledgment of the introduction is met with coolness. Soft-hearted Ethel, the colonel's daughter, noting the man's mental anguish, impulsively comes forward and gives the lieutenant her hand, with a gracious word of welcome. The old Indian chief is advised of his son's coming, and attired in all the glory of paint and feathers, so dear to the Indian heart, visits Big Bear. An affecting scene takes place as the father and son meet again, and the old chief fondly caresses the gold trappings of his son's uniform, and proudly admires the shining brass buttons. The actions of the chief are the source of much amusement to the other officers and the women of the post, who watch the pair from a window and mimic the actions of the chief. Indignant at their narrowness, Ethel runs out and asks Big Bear for an introduction to his father. Capt. Haines has been an ardent wooer of Ethel, and he resents the friendly interest she has taken in the Indian. He is infuriated when he sees Big Bear in pleasant conversation with the girl while the lieutenant is waiting to speak to the colonel at his quarters. Haines waits for Big Bear and warns him from speaking to Ethel. The Indian resents the insult, the men engage in a terrific struggle. Haines is being badly thrashed by the powerful Indian when he draws the revolver from Big Bear's holster and attempts to shoot him. The weapon is knocked from his hand, but the shot attracts other officers who pull the contestants apart. Haines dramatically accuses Big Bear of having attempted to kill him, and points to the Indian's revolver with one cartridge exploded. Big Bear is court-martialed and found guilty of assaulting a brother officer, and is ordered publicly disgraced and dismissed from the service. The ceremony is most impressive, as the shoulder straps and side arms of the lieutenant are torn from him, in the presence of the whole regiment. Big Bear packs his belongings into his trunk, including his saber and uniform, and departs. With tears in her eyes and quivering lips, Ethel alone bids the lieutenant good-bye, and as he clasps the hand of the girl and sees the sympathy and friendship in her face, his whole heart goes out to her. With the taciturnity of his race, however, he does not betray his feelings, and with a hand clasp he bids her adieu forever. Big Bear is given a warm welcome by the tribe, and his father and mother. His civilian's attire is noted, and when the Indians hear the story of his disgrace they are filled with rage. The government has been negotiating with the Indians for their lands, and, a few days later, at a meeting with the colonel at the fort, the old chief denounces the pale-faces and their methods, and threatens trouble. After his departure, the colonel, knowing that a terrible Indian war is inevitable, sends a courier to Ft. Custer, apprising the commander of the situation, and telling him that the women of Ft. Reno would be sent to Ft. Custer via stage coach, under escort, for safety. The courier is shot from his horse by the Indians, who find the letter but are unable to read it. Big Bear has been persuaded by his father to don the war paint, and to join in the fight against the whites, when the letter is brought into camp. He interprets the message and the old chief immediately determines to massacre the escort and capture the women. Instantly Big Bear realizes the terrible danger Ethel is placed in, and, alone in his tent, he racks his brain for a scheme to save her. A vision of her soft eyes looking tenderly at him as she bade him good-bye comes to him, and he resolves to sacrifice his life, if need be, to save her from harm. At the fort the women are placed in the coach, and, accompanied by a picked detail, start on the journey to Ft. Custer, a larger and safer structure. As the Indians leave the camp to ambush the soldiers, Big Bear, by a ruse, stays behind, and rushing into his tent, tears the Indian feathers from his head and dons his lieutenant's uniform. Buckling his saber about him, he examines his heavy army pistols, and, leaping on a horse, starts out on his hopeless mission. As the stage coach reaches a valley, the surrounding bushes and trees become suddenly alive with Indians, and a volley marks a trail of death among the soldiers. Lashing their horses, the troopers endeavor to escape, and a running fight ensues. Behind a hill the last stand is made, and huddled together the little band fight for their lives. Galloping along, Big Bear comes upon the body of the company bugler, and picking up his instrument, makes his way to the crest of the hill. From this advantageous position, hidden by the bushes, he deliberately picks off the redskins as they approach close to the stagecoach, Coolly and calmly he makes every bullet tell. Amid the terrible excitement and thunder of riflery, the crack of his guns is not noticed. With the clothes practically shot from his back and hanging in shreds, a trooper suddenly darts through the line of Indians, down the hillside, and plunging into the river at terrific speed the horse turns a somersault. The wounded rider clings to the saddle and the noble animal gallops to the fort. A word, and the bugle call rings out and the brigade is mounted and hastening to the scene of battle. Meantime the little band is in a desperate predicament. Big Bear has seen the escape of the soldier, and knowing that every second is golden, he puts the bugle to his lips and the musical blasts of "The Charge" cause consternation among the Indians, who think the soldiers are at hand and hurriedly retreat. They soon discover their mistake, however, and return to the attack with redoubled fury. The few minutes' respite, however, have saved the doomed people. Creeping up from the foot of the hill an Indian works his way to the back of Big Bear. Taking deliberate aim he sends a bullet crashing into his body. Mortally wounded, the lieutenant leaps upon the Indian, but is soon dispatched. As the troops arrive and charge into the ranks of the Indians a thrilling scene is enacted, but the redskins are broken up and scattered, and ignominiously run for their lives, pursued by the relentless soldiers. The last scene shows the still form of the lieutenant in the twilight, the man who was despised by the white people with whom he had cast his lot, and who met his death at the hands of his own race, "unwept, unhonored and unsung," his heroism unknown even to the girl for whom he gave his life. They met. A far something in the soul of the girl responded to an indefinite something in his. And the greatest blessing and the greatest bane of earth melded with and became her being, a heedless, headless love. Then he tired of the jesting imitation, of the eternal squalor and the dreary denial, and longed for the convenient comforts and luxuries of his other life. He told them he was going to work elsewhere, and the girl's heart filled with an instinctive but indistinct fear and foreboding, interpreted by a great, glistening tear. Type was never so cold and bold and cruel as that which told her, a few weeks later, of his marriage to millions. A great sob arose from the desert of her soul to mock the lying promises of man, and her heart bowed to a sorrow as solemn as midnight, as profound as death.
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