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´╗┐Title: The Voyage of the Rattletrap
Author: Carruth, Hayden, 1862-1932
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Voyage of the Rattletrap" ***

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Transriber's Note:

The illustration captions at the places where they have been
inserted in the HTML version, not in the exact locations where
they occur in the book.


THE VOYAGE OF THE RATTLETRAP

BY
HAYDEN CARRUTH

AUTHOR OF "THE ADVENTURES OF JONES" ETC.

ILLUSTRATED
BY H. M. WILDER

NEW YORK HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS 1897



TO

JOHN BRIAR

A POOR COOK BUT A GOOD FELLOW



CONTENTS

 CHAP
    I. Getting Ready
   II. Outward Bound
  III. From Lookout Lake To The Missouri River
   IV. Into Nebraska
    V. Across The Niobrara
   VI. By Canyons To Valentine
  VII. Through The Sand Hills
 VIII. On The Antelope Flats
   IX. Off For The Black Hills
    X. Among The Mountains
   XI. Deadwood
  XII. Homeward Bound



ILLUSTRATIONS

MAP
The Voyage First Suggested
Preparations
Grandpa Oldberry Presages Disaster
Snoozer
Mutiny Of The Pony
Effect Of A Strange Noise
Plan For Rousing A Sound Sleeper
First Lesson In Hay Twisting
Investigations
Hats
Milking The Heifer That Wore A Sleigh Robe
Wet But Hopeful
Anti-Horse Thieves
Jack Shoots A Grouse
Flight Of The Blacksmith
Studying Botany
"When The Winds Are Breathing Low"
Sad Result Of Dishonesty
First Night Camp In The Sand Hills
Dark Doings Of The Cook
No Horse-Feed
The Careful Corn Owner
A Study In Red Men
A Good Salesman
Big Bear Looks Into The Educational Situation
A Lesson In Finance
The Rattletrap In The Storm
Effect Of A Dog On A Mexican
Post-Mortem On A Grizzly
'gene Starts A Cook-Book
Lack Of Confidence In Mankind
Flying Cord-Wood
The Deserted Ranch
Old "Blenty Vaters"
In The Prairie Fire
Well! Well! Well!


[Frontispiece: Map of the voyage]


THE VOYAGE OF THE RATTLETRAP



I: GETTING READY


Perhaps we were pretty big boys--Jack and I.  In fact, I'm
afraid we were so big that we haven't grown much since.  But Ollie
was a boy, anyhow; he couldn't have been more than a dozen years
old, and we looked upon him as being a very small boy indeed;
though when folks saw us starting off, some of them seemed to
think that we were as boyish as he, because, they said, it was
such a foolish thing to do; and in some way, I'm sure I don't
know how, boys have got the reputation of always doing foolish
things.  "They're three of a kind," said Grandpa Oldberry, as he
watched us weigh anchor; "their parents oughter be sent fer."

Well, it's hard to decide where to begin this true history.
We didn't keep any log on this voyage of the Rattletrap.  But I'll
certainly have to go back of the time when Grandpa Oldberry
expressed his opinion; and perhaps I ought to explain how we
happened to be in that particular port.  As I said, we--Jack and
I--were pretty big boys, so big that we were off out West and in
business for ourselves, though, after all, that didn't imply that
we were very old, because it was a new country, and everybody was
young; after the election the first fall it was found that the
man who had been chosen for county judge wasn't quite twenty-one
years of age yet, and therefore, of course, couldn't hold office;
and we were obliged to wait three weeks till he had had his
birthday, and then to have a special election and choose him
again.  Everybody was young except Grandpa Oldberry and Squire
Poinsett.

But I was trying to account for our being in the port of
Prairie Flower.  Jack had a cheese-factory there, and made small
round cheeses.  I had a printing-office, and printed a small
square newspaper.  In my paper I used to praise Jack's cheeses,
and keep repeating how good they were, so people bought then; and
Jack used, once in a while, to give me a cheese.  So we both
managed to live, though I think we sometimes got a little tired
of being men, and wished we were back home, far from thick round
cheeses and thin square newspapers.

One evening in the first week in September, when it was
raining as hard as it could rain, and when the wind was blowing
as hard as it could blow, and was driving empty boxes and
barrels, and old tin pails, and wash-boilers, and castaway hats
and runaway hats and lost hats, and other things across the
prairie before it, Jack came into my office, where I was setting
type (my printer having been blown away, along with the boxes and
the hats), and after he had allowed the rain to run off his
clothes and make little puddles like thin mud pies on the dusty
floor, he said:

[Illustration: The Voyage First Suggested]

"I'm tired of making poor cheeses."

"Well," I answered, "I'm tired of printing a poor newspaper."

"Let's sell out and go somewhere," continued Jack.

"All right," I said.  "Let's."

So we did.

Of course the Rattletrap wasn't a boat which sailed on the
water, though I don't know as I  thought to mention this before.
In fact, a water boat wouldn't have been of any use to us in
getting out of Prairie Flower, because there wasn't any water
there, except a very small stream called the Big Sioux River,
which wandered along the prairie, sometimes running in one
direction and sometimes in the other, and at other times standing
still and wondering if it was worth while to run at all.  The port
of Prairie Flower was in Dakota.  This was when Dakota was still a
Territory, three or four years, perhaps, before it was cut into
halves and made into two States.  So, there being no water, we of
course had to provide ourselves with a craft that could navigate
dry land; which is precisely what the Rattletrap was-namely, a
"prairie schooner."

"I've got a team of horses and a wagon," went on Jack, that
rainy night when we were talking.  "You've got a pony and a
saddle.  We've both got guns.  When we drive out of town some stray
dog will follow us.  What more 'll we want?"

"Nothing," I said, as I clapped my stick down in the
space-box.  "We can put a canvas cover on the wagon and sleep in
it at night, and cook our meals over a camp-fire, and--and--have
a time."

"Of course--a big time.  It's a heavy spring-wagon, and there
is just about room in it behind the seat for a bed.  We can put on
a cover that will keep out rain as well as a tent, and carry a
little kerosene-oil stove to use for cooking if we can't build a
fire out-doors for any reason.  We can take along flour,
and-and--and salt, and other things to eat, and shoot game,
and--and--and have a time."

We became so excited that we sat down and talked till
midnight about it.  By this time the rain had stopped, and when we
went out the stars were shining, and the level ground was covered
with pools of water.

"If it was always as wet as this around here we could go in a
genuine schooner," said Jack.

"Yes, that's so.  But what shall we call our craft?"

"I think 'Rattletrap' would be a good name," said Jack.

"I don't think it's a very pretty name," I replied.

"You wait till you get acquainted with that wagon, and you
will say it's the best name in the world, whether it's pretty or
not.  You don't know that wagon yet.  The tongue is spliced, the
whiffletrees are loose, the reach is cracked, the box is tied
together with a rope, the springs creak, the wheels wabble, lean
different ways, and never follow one another."

"Do they all turn in the same direction?"  I asked.

"I don't believe they do.  It would be just like one to turn
backward while the other three were going forward."

"We'll call our craft the Rattletrap, then.  Good-night."

"Good-night," said Jack; and we parted, each to dream of our
approaching cruise.

[Illustration: Preparations]

In a week we were busy getting ready to start.  I found, when
I looked over the wagon as it stood back of the cheese-factory,
that it was much as Jack had described it, only I noticed that
the seat as well as the springs creaked, and that a corner was
broken off the dash-board.  But we set to work upon it with a
will.  We tightened up the nuts and screws all over it, and wound
the broken pole with wire.  We nailed together the box so that the
rope could be taken off, and oiled the creaking springs.  We had
no trouble in finding a top, as half the people in the country
had come in wagons provided with covers only a year or so before.
We got four bows and attached them to the box, one at each end,
and the other two at equal distances between.  These bows were
made of hard-wood, and were a quarter of an inch thick and an
inch and a half wide.  They ran up straight on either side for two
or three feet, and then rounded over, like a croquetwicket, being
high enough so that as we stood upright in the wagon-box our
heads would just nicely clear them.  Over this skeleton we
stretched our white canvas cover, and tied it down tightly along
the sides.  This made what we called the cabin.  There was an ample
flap in front, which could be let down at night and fastened back
inside during the day.  At the rear end the cloth folded around,
and was drawn together with a "puckering-string," precisely like
a button-bag.  By drawing the string tightly this back end could
be entirely closed up; or the string could be let out, and the
opening made any size wanted.  After the cover was adjusted we
stood off and admired our work.

"Looks like an elephant on wheels," said Jack.

"Or an old-fashioned sun-bonnet for a giantess," I added.

"Anyhow, I'll wager a cheese it'll keep out the rain, unless
it comes down too hard," said Jack.  "Now for the smaller parts of
our rigging, and the stores."

On the back end we fastened a feed-box for the horses, as
long as the wagon-box was wide, and ten or twelve inches square,
with a partition in the middle.  We put stout iron rings in the
corners of this, making a place to tie the horses.  On the
dash-board outside we built another box, for tools.  This was
wedge-shaped, about five inches wide at the top, but running down
to an inch or two at the bottom, and had a hinged cover.  We put
aboard a satchel containing the little additional clothing which
we thought we should need.  Things in this line which did not seem
to be absolutely necessary were ruled out--indeed, for the sake
of lightness we decided to take just as little of everything that
we could.  We made another box, some two feet long, a foot deep,
and fourteen inches wide, with a hinged cover, which we called
the "pantry," for our supply of food.  This we stood in the wagon
with the satchel.  Usually in the daytime after we started each of
these rode comfortably on the bed back of the seat.  This bed was
a rather simple affair, made up of some bed-clothing and pillows
arranged on a thick layer of hay in the bottom of the wagon-box.
Our small two-wick oil-stove we put in front next to the
dash-board, a lantern we hung up on one of the bows, and a big
tin pail for the horses we suspended under the wagon.

"Since you're going to be cook," I said to Jack, "you tend to
getting the dishes together."

"They'll be few enough," he answered.  "I don't like to wash
'em.  Tin mostly, I guess; because tin won't break."

So he put a few knives and forks and spoons, tin plates and
cups, a frying-pan, a small copper kettle, and a few other
utensils in another box, which also found a home on the bed.
Other things which we did not forget were a small can of
kerosene; two half-gallon jugs, one for milk and one for water; a
basket for eggs; a nickel clock (we called it the chronometer);
and in the tool-box a hatchet, a monkey-wrench, screw-driver,
small saw, a piece of rope, one or two straps, and a few nails,
screws, rivets, and similar things which might come handy in case
of a wreck.

"Now for the armament and the life-boat," said Jack.

For armament Jack contributed a double-barrelled shot-gun and
a heavy forty-five-calibre repeating rifle, and I a light
forty-four-calibre repeating rifle, and a big revolver of the
same calibre (though using a slightly shorter cartridge), with a
belt and holster.  This revolver we stored in the tool-box,
chiefly for use in case we were boarded by pirates, while the
guns we hung in leather loops in the top of the cover.  In the
tool-box we put a good supply of ammunition and plenty of
matches.  We also each carried a match-box, a pocket compass, and
a stout jack-knife.

"Now, how's your life-boat?"  asked Jack.

I led her out.  She was a medium-sized brown Colorado pony,
well decorated with brands, and with a white face and two white
feet.  She wore a big Mexican saddle and a horse-hair bridle with
a silver bit.

"She'll do," said Jack.  "In case of wreck, we'll escape on
her, if possible.  She'll also be very handy in making landings
where the harbor is poor, and in exploring unknown coasts."

[Illustration: Grandpa Oldberry Presages Disaster]

All of this work took several days, but when it was done the
Rattletrap was ready for the voyage, and we decided to start the
next morning.

"She's as prairie-worthy a craft as ever scoured the plain,"
was Jack's opinion; "and if we can keep the four wheels from
starting in opposite directions we'll be all right."

But where was Ollie all this while?  And who was Ollie,
anyhow?  Ollie was Jack's little nephew, and he lived back East
somewhere--I don't remember where.  The nearer we got ready to
start, the more firmly Jack became convinced that Ollie would
like to go along, so at last he sent for him to come, and he
arrived the night before our start.  Ollie liked the idea of the
trip so much that he simply stood and looked at the wagon, the
guns, the pony, and the horses, and was speechless.  At last he
managed to say:

"Uncle Jack, it'll be just like a picnic, won't it?"

The next morning we started as early as we could.  But it was
not before people were up.

"Where be they going?"  asked Grandpa Oldberry.

"Oh, Nebraska, and Wyoming, and the Black Hills, and any
crazy place they hear of," answered Squire Poinsett.

"They'll all be scalped by Injuns," said Grandpa Oldberry.
"Ain't the Injuns bad this fall?"

"So I was a-reading," returned the Squire.  "And in the hills
I should be afeared of b'ar."

"Right," assented Grandpa.  "B'ar and sim'lar varmints.  And
more 'specially hossthieves and sich-like cutthroats.  I
disremember seeing three scalawags starting off on such a fool
trip since afore the war."



II: OUTWARD BOUND


The port of Prairie Flower was in the eastern part of the
Territory of Dakota.  It stood out on an open plain a half-dozen
miles wide, which seemed to be the prairie itself, though it was
really the valley of the Big Sioux River, that funny stream which
could run either way, and usually stood still in the night and
rested.  To the east and west the edges of this valley were
faintly marked by a range of very low bluffs, so low that they
were mere wrinkles in the surface of the earth, and made the
valley but very little lower than the great plain which rolled
away for miles to the east and for leagues to the west.

It was a beautiful morning a little after the middle of
September that the Rattletrap got away and left Prairie Flower
behind.  The sun had been up only half an hour or so, and the
shadow of our craft stretched away across the dry gray plain like
a long black streak without end.  The air was fresh and dewy.  The
morning breeze was just beginning to stir, and down by the river
the acres of wild sunflowers were nodding the dew off their
heads, and beginning to roll in the first long waves which would
keep up all day like the rolling of the ocean.  We shouted
"Good-bye" to Grandpa Oldberry and Squire Poinsett, but they only
shook their heads very seriously.  The cows and horses picketed on
the prairie all about the little clump of houses which made up
the town looked at us with their eyes open extremely wide, and no
doubt said in their own languages, like Grandpa Oldberry, that
they had no recollection of seeing any such capers as this for
many years.

"See here," I said, suddenly, to Jack, "where's that dog you
said was going to follow us?"

"You just hold on," answered Jack.

"Oh, are we going to have a dog, too?"  asked Ollie.

"You wait a minute," insisted Jack.

Just then we passed the railroad station.  Jack craned his
head out of the front end of the wagon.  Ollie and I did the same.
Lying asleep on the corner of the station platform we saw a dog.
He was about the size of a rather small collie; or, to put it
another way, perhaps he was half as big as the largest-size dog.
If dogs were numbered like shoes, from one to thirteen, this
would have been about a No.  7 dog.  He was yellow, with short
hair, except that his tail was very bushy.  One ear stood up
straight, and the other lopped over, very much wilted.  Jack
whistled sharply.  The dog tossed up his head, straightened up his
lopped ear, let fall his other ear, and looked at us.  Jack
whistled again, and the dog came.  He ran around the wagon, barked
once or twice, sniffed at the pony's heels and got kicked at for
his familiarity, yelped sharply, and came and looked up at us,
and wagged his bushy tail with a great flourish.

"He wants to get in.  Give him a boost, Ollie," said Jack.

Ollie clambered over the dash-board and jumped to the ground.
He pushed the dog forward, and he leaped up and scrambled into
the wagon, jumped over on the bed, where he folded his head and
tail on his left side, turned around rapidly three times, and lay
down and went to sleep, one ear up and one ear down.

[Illustration: Snoozer]

"He's just the dog for the Rattletrap," said Jack.  "We'll
call him Snoozer."

"That looks a good deal like stealing to me, Uncle Jack,"
said Ollie.  "Doesn't he belong to somebody?"

"No," said Jack, "he doesn't belong to anybody but us.  He
came here a week ago with a tramp.  The tramp deserted him, and
rode away on the trucks of a freight train; but Snoozer didn't
like that way of travelling, because there wasn't any place to
sleep, so he stayed behind.  Since then he has tried to follow
every man in town, but none of them would have him.  He's a
regular tramp dog, not good for anything, and therefore just the
dog for us."

Snoozer was the last thing we shipped, and after taking him
aboard we were soon out of the harbor of Prairie Flower, and
bearing away across the plain to the southwest.  In twenty minutes
we ware among the billowing sunflowers, standing five or six feet
high on other side of the road, which seemed like a narrow crack
winding through them.  Ollie reached out and gathered a handful of
the drooping yellow blossoms.  The pony was tied behind carrying
her big saddle, and tossing her head about, and showing that she
was very suspicious of the whole proceedings, and especially
of a small flag which Ollie had fastened to the top of the
wagon-cover, which fluttered in the fresh morning breeze.  Snoozer
slept on and never stirred.  At last the road came to the river,
and then followed close along beside its bank, which was only a
foot or so high.  Ollie was interested in watching the long grass
which grew in the bottom of the stream and was brushed all in one
direction by the sluggish current, like the silky fur of some
animal.  After a while we came to a gravelly place which was a
ford, and crossed the stream, stopping to let the horses drink.
The water was only a foot deep.  As we came up on the higher
ground beyond the river we met the south wind squarely, and it
came in at the front of the cover with a rush.  We heard a sharp
flutter behind, and then the wagon gave a shiver and a lurch, and
the horses stopped; then there was another shock and lurch, and
it rolled back a few inches.

"There," exclaimed Jack, "some of those wheels have begun to
turn backward!  I told you!"

I looked back.  Our puckering-string had given way, and the
rear of the cover had blown out loosely.  This had been more than
the pony could stand, and she had broken her rope and run back a
dozen rods, where she stood snorting and looking at the wagon.

"First accident!"  I cried.  "She'll run home, and we'll have
to go back after her."

"Perhaps we can get around her," said Jack.  "We'll try."

We left Ollie to hold the horses, and I went out around among
the sunflowers, while Jack stood behind the wagon with his hat
half full of oats.  I got beyond her at last, and drove her slowly
toward the wagon.  She snorted and stamped the ground angrily with
her forward feet; but at last she ventured to taste of the oats,
and finding more in the feed-box on the rear of the wagon, she
began eating them and forgot her fright.

"I guess we'd better not tie her, but let her follow," said
Jack.  "As soon as we have gone a little ways she'll come to think
the wagon is home, and stick to it."

"Yes," I said.  "I think she is really as great a tramp as
Snoozer, and just the pony for us."  "Are we all tramps?"  asked
Ollie.

"Well," said Jack, "I'm afraid Grandpa Oldberry thinks we
don't lack much of it.  He says varmints will catch us."

"Do you think they will?"  went on Ollie, just a little bit
anxiously.

"Oh, I guess not," said Jack.  "You see, we've got four guns.
Then there's Snoozer."

"But will they try to catch us?"

"Well, I don't know.  Grandpa Oldberry says the varmints are
awfully thick this fall."

"But what are varmints?"

"Oh, wolves, and b'ars, and painters, and--"

"What are painters?"

"Grandpa means panthers, I guess.  Then there's Injuns, and
hoss-thieves, and--"

"There's a prairie-chicken!"  I cried, as one rose up out of
the long grass.

"Perhaps we can get one for dinner," said Jack.

[Illustration: Mutiny of the Pony]

He took his gun and went slowly toward where the other had
been.  Another whirred away like a shot.  Jack fired, but missed
it.  We started on, leaving the pony tossing her head and stamping
her feet in a great passion on account of the report of the gun;
but when she saw that we paid no attention to her and were
rapidly going out of sight she turned, after taking a long look
back at distant Prairie Flower, and came trotting along the road,
with her stirrups dangling at her sides, and soon was following
close behind.

Before we realized it the chronometer showed that it was
almost noon.  By this time we had left the sea of sunflowers and
crept over the wrinkle at the western edge of the valley, and
were off across the rolling prairie itself.  Still Snoozer never
stirred.

"I wonder when he'll wake up?"  said Ollie.

"You'll see him awake enough at dinnertime," said Jack.

"Well, you'll see me awake enough then, too," answered Ollie.
"I'm hungry."

"We hardy pioneers plunging into the trackless waste of a new
and unexplored country never eat but one meal a day," said Jack.
"And that's always raw meat--b'ar-meat, generally."

"Well," said Ollie, "I don't see any b'ar-meat, or even
prairie-chicken-meat.  Why didn't you hit the prairie-chicken,
Uncle Jack?"

"I'm not used to shooting at such small game," answered Jack,
solemnly.  "My kind of game is b'ar--b'ar and other varmints."

Just then we passed a house, and down a little way from it,
close to the road, was a well.

"Here's a good place to have dinner," said Jack; so we drove
out by the side of the road and stopped.  "If I'm to be cook,"
said Jack to me, "then you've got to take care of the horses and
do all the outside work.  I'll be cook; you'll be rancher.  That's
what we'll call you--rancher."

I unhitched the horses, tied them behind the wagon, and gave
them some oats and corn in the feed-box.  The pony I fed in the
big tin pail near by.  The grass beside the road was so dry, and
it was so windy, that we decided it was not safe to build a fire
outdoors, so Jack cooked pancakes over the oil-stove inside.
These with some cold meat he handed out to Ollie and me as we sat
on the wagon-tongue, while he sat on the dash-board.  We were
half-way through dinner when we heard a peculiar whine, followed
by a low bark, in the wagon, and then Snoozer leaped out,
stretched himself, and began to wag his tail so fast that it
looked exactly like a whirling feather duster.  We fed him on
pancakes, and he ate so many that if Jack had not fried some more
we'd have certainly gone hungry.

"I told you he was a true tramp," said Jack.  "Just see his
appetite!"

After we had finished, and the horses had grazed about on the
dry grass some time, we started on.  We hoped to reach a little
lake which we saw marked on the map, called Lake Lookout, for the
night camp; so we hurried along, it being a good distance ahead.
All the afternoon we were passing 'between either great fields
where the wheat had been cut, leaving the stubble, or beside long
stretches of prairie.  There were a few houses, many of them built
of sod.  Not much happened during the afternoon.  Ollie followed
the example of Snoozer, and curled up on the bed and had a long
nap.  We saw a few prairie-chickens, but did not try to shoot any
of them.  The pony trotted contentedly behind.  Just before night I
rode her ahead, looking for the lake.  I found it to be a small
one, perhaps a half-mile wide, scarcely below the level of the
prairie, and generally with marshy shores, though on one side the
beach was sandy and stony, with a few stunted cottonwood-trees,
and here I decided we would camp.  I went back and guided the
Rattletrap to the spot.  Soon Jack had a roaring fire going from
the dry wood which Ollie had collected.  I fed the horses and
turned them loose, and they began eagerly on the green grass
which grew on the damp soil near the lake.  The pony I picketed
with a long rope and a strap around one of her forward ankles,
between her hoof and fetlock, as we scarcely felt like trusting
her all night.  Snoozer got up for his supper, and after that
stretched himself by the fire and blinked at it sleepily.  The
rest of us did much the same.  After a while Ollie said.

"I think that bed in the wagon looks pretty narrow for two.
How are three going to sleep in it?"

"I don't think three are going to sleep in it," said Jack.

"Where are you going to sleep, then, Uncle Jack?"

Jack laughed.  "I think," he said, "that the rancher and the
cook will sleep in the wagon, and let you sleep under the wagon.
Nothing makes a boy grow like sleeping rolled up in a blanket
under a wagon.  You'll be six inches taller if you do it every
night till we get back."

"Well, I don't think so," said Ollie, just a little alarmed
at the prospect.  "I'd prefer to sleep in the wagon.  Maybe what
Grandpa Oldberry said about wild animals is so.  You say you like
to shoot 'em, so you stay outside and do it--I don't."

At last it was arranged that Ollie and I should sleep inside
and Jack under the wagon.  We were surprised to find how early we
were ready for bed.  The long ride and the fresh air had given us
an appetite for sleep.  So we soon turned in, the dog staying
outside with Jack.

"Good-night, Uncle Jack!"  called Ollie, as we put out the
lantern and covered up in the narrow bed.  "Look out for
painters!"

I was almost asleep when Ollie shook me, and whispered,
"What's that noise?"

I listened, and heard a regular, hollow, booming sound,
something like the very distant discharge of cannon.

"It's the horses walking on the ground-always sounds that way
in the night," I answered.

Again I was almost asleep when Ollie took hold of my arm, and
said, "What's that?"

[Illustration: Effect of a Strange Noise]

I once more listened, and recognized a peculiar creaking
noise as that made by the horses cropping off the grass.  I
explained to Ollie, and then dropped off sound asleep.  I don't
know how long it was, but after some time I was again roused up
by a nervous shake.

"Listen to that," whispered Ollie.  "What can it be?"

I sat up cautiously and listened.  It was a strange, rattling,
unearthly sound, which I could not account for any better than
Ollie.

"It's a bear," he whispered.  "I heard them make that noise at
the park back home."

I was puzzled, and concluded that it must be some wild
animal.  I took down one of the guns, crept softly to the front
end of the wagon, raised the flap, and looked out.  The wind was
still, and the night air met my face with a cool, damp feeling.
The moon had just risen and the lake was like silver.  I could see
the horses lying asleep like dark mounds.  But the mysterious
noise kept up, and even grew louder.  I grasped the gun firmly,
and let myself cautiously out of the front end of the wagon.  Then
I climbed back in less softly and hung up the gun.

"Wh-what is it?"  asked Ollie, in a faint whisper.

"It's your eloquent Uncle Jack snoring," I said.  "He's one of
Grandpa Oldberry's sim'lar varmints."



III: FROM LOOKOUT LAKE TO THE MISSOURI RIVER


Our first night in the Rattletrap passed without further
incident--that is, the greater part of it passed, though Ollie
declared that it lacked a good deal of being all passed when we
got up.  The chief reason for our early rise was Old Blacky, a
member of our household (or perhaps wagonhold) not yet introduced
in this history.  Old Blacky was the mate of Old Browny, and
the two made up our team of horses.  Old Browny was a very
well-behaved, respectable old nag, extremely fond of quiet and
oats.  He invariably slept all night, and usually much of the day;
he was a fit companion for our dog.  It was the firm belief of all
on board that Old Browny could sleep anywhere on a fairly level
stretch of road without stopping.

But Old Blacky was another sort of beast.  He didn't seem to
require any sleep at all.  What Old Blacky wanted was food.  He
loved to sit up all night and eat, and keep us awake.  He seldom
even lay down at night, but would moon about the camp and blunder
against things, fall over the wagon-tongue, and otherwise
misbehave.  Sometimes when we camped where the grass was not just
to his liking he would put his head into the wagon and help
himself to a mouthful of bedquilt or a bite of pillow.  He was
little but an appetite mounted on four legs, and next to food he
loved a fight.  Besides the name of Old Blacky, we also knew him
as the Blacksmith's Pet; but this will have to be explained later
on.

On this first morning, just as it was becoming light in the
east, Old Blacky began to make his toilet by rubbing his shoulder
against one corner of the wagon.  As he was large and heavy, and
rubbed as hard as he could, he soon had the wagon tossing about
like a boat; and as the easiest way out of it, we decided to get
up.  It was cool and dewy, with the larger stars still shining
faintly.  We found Jack under the wagon.  Ollie stirred him up, and
said:

[Illustration: Plan for Rousing a Sound Sleeper]

"See any varmints in the night, Uncle Jack?"

"Yes," answered Jack, as he unrolled himself from his
blanket.  "Or at least I felt one.  That disgraceful Old Blacky
nibbled at my ear twice.  The first time I thought it was nothing
less than a bear."

"Did he disturb Snoozer?"

"I guess nothing ever disturbs Snoozer.  He never moved all
night.  How's the firewood department, Ollie?"

"All right," replied Ollie.  "Got up enough last night."

"Then build the fire while I get breakfast."

This pleased Ollie, and he soon had a good fire going.  I
caught Old Blacky, who had started off to walk around the lake,
woke up Old Browny, who was sleeping peacefully with his
nose resting on the ground, quieted the pony, who was still
suspicious, with a few pats on the neck, and gave them all their
oats.  Soon the rest of us also had our breakfast, including
Snoozer, who seemed to wake up by instinct, and after waiting a
little for somebody to come and stretch him, stretched himself,
and began waving his tail to attract our attention to his urgent
need of food.

"Before we get back home that dog will want us to feed him
with a spoon," said Jack.

It was only a little while after sunrise when we were off for
another day's voyage.  We were headed almost due south, and all
that day and the three or four following (including Sunday, when
we stayed in camp), we did not change our general direction.  We
were aiming to reach the town of Yankton, where we intended to
cross the Missouri River and turn to the west in Nebraska.  The
country through which we travelled was much of it prairie, but
more was under cultivation, and the houses of settlers were
numerous.  The land on which wheat or other small grains had been
grown was bare, but as we got farther south we passed great
fields of corn, some of it standing almost as high as the top of
our wagon-cover.

For much of the way we were far from railroads and towns, and
got most of our supplies of food from the settlers whose houses
we passed or, indeed, sighted, since the pony proved as
convenient for making landings as Jack had predicted she would.
Ollie usually went on these excursions after milk and eggs and
such like foods.  The different languages which he encountered
among the settlers somewhat bewildered him, and he often had hard
work in making the people he found at the houses understand what
he wanted.  There Were many Norwegians, and the third day we
passed through a large colony of Russians, saw a few Finns, and
heard of some Icelanders who lived around on the other side of a
lake.

"It wouldn't surprise me," said Ollie one day, "to find the
man in the moon living here in a sod house."

Perhaps a majority--certainly a great many--of all these
people lived in houses of this kind.  Ollie had never seen
anything of the sort before, and he became greatly interested in
them.  The second day we camped near one for dinner.

"You see," said Jack, "a man gets a farm, takes half his
front yard and builds a house with it.  He gains space, though,
because the place he peels in the yard will do for flowerbeds,
and the roof and sides of his house are excellent places to grow
radishes, beets, and similar vegetables."

"Why not other things besides radishes and beets?"  asked
Ollie.

"Oh, other things would grow all right, but radishes and
beets seem to be the natural things for sod-house growing.  You
can take hold of the lower end and pull 'em from the inside, you
know, Ollie."

"I don't believe it, Uncle Jack," said Ollie, stoutly.  "Ask
the rancher," answered Jack.  "If you're ever at dinner in a sod
house, and want another radish, just reach up and pull one down
through the roof, tops and all.  Then you're sure they're fresh.
I'd like to keep a summer hotel in a sod house.  I'd advertise
'fresh vegetables pulled at the table.'"

"I'm going to ask the man about sod houses," returned Ollie.
He went up to where the owner of the house was sitting outside,
and said:

"Will you please tell me how you make a sod house?"

"Yes," said the man, smiling.  "Thinking of making one?"

"Well, not just now," replied Ollie.  "But.  I'd like to know
about them.  I might want to build one--sometime," he added,
doubtfully.

"Well," said the man, "it's this way: First we plough up a
lot of the tough prairie sod with a large plough called a
breaking-plough, intended especially for ploughing the prairie
the first time.  This turns it over in a long, even, unbroken
strip, some fourteen or sixteen inches wide and three or four
inches thick.  We cut this up into pieces two or three feet long,
take them to the place where we are building the house, on a
stone-boat or a sled, and use them in laying up the walls in just
about the same way that bricks are used in making a brick house.
Openings are left for the doors and windows, and either a shingle
or sod roof put on.  If it's sod, rough boards are first laid on
poles, and then sods put on them like shingles.  I've got a sod
roof on mine, you see."

Ollie was looking at the grass and weeds growing on the top
and sides of the house.  They must have made a pretty sight when
they were green and thrifty earlier in the season, but they were
dry and withered now.

"Do you ever have prairie-fires on your roofs?"  asked Ollie,
with a smile.

"Oh, they do burn off sometimes," answered the man.  "Catch
from the chimney, you know.  Did you ever see a hay fire?"

"No."

"Come inside and I'll show you one."

In the house, which consisted of one large room divided
across one end by a curtain, Ollie noticed a few chairs and a
table, and opposite the door a stove which looked very much like
an ordinary cook-stove, except that the place for the fire was
rather larger.  Back of it stood a box full of what seemed to be
big hay rope.  The man's wife was cooking dinner on the stove.

"Here's a young tenderfoot," said the man, "who's never seen
a hay fire."

"Wish I never had," answered the woman.  The man laughed.
"They're hardly as good as a wood fire or a coal fire," he said
to Ollie; "but when you're five hundred miles, more or less, from
either wood or coal they do very well."  The man took off one of
the griddles and put in another "stick" of hay.  Then he handed
one to Ollie, who was surprised to find it almost as heavy as a
stick of wood.  "It makes a fairly good fire," said the man.  "Come
outside and I'll show you how to twist it."

[Illustration: First Lesson in Hay Twisting]

They went out to a haystack near by, and the man twisted a
rope three or four inches in diameter, and about four feet long.
He kept hold of both ends till it was wound up tight; then he
brought the ends together, and it twisted itself into a hard
two-strand rope in the same way that a bit of string will do when
similarly treated.  There was quite a pile of such twisted sticks
on the ground.  "You see," said the man, "in this country, instead
of splitting up a pile of fuel we just twist up one."  Ollie bade
the man good-bye, took another look at the queer house, and came
down to the wagon.

"So you saw a hay-stove, did you?"  said Jack.  "I could have
told you all about 'em.  I once stayed all night with a man who
depended on a hay-stove for warmth.  It was in the winter.  Talk
about appetites!  I never saw such an appetite as that stove had
for hay.  Why, that stove had a worse appetite than Old Blacky.  It
devoured hay all the time, just as Old Blacky would if he could;
and even then its stomach always seemed empty.  The man twisted
all of the time, and I fed it constantly, and still it was never
satisfied."

"How did you sleep?"  asked Ollie.

"Worked right along in our sleep--like Old Browny," answered
Jack.

The last day before reaching Yankton was hot and sultry.  The
best place we could find to camp that night was beside a deserted
sod house on the prairie.  There was a well and a tumble-down sod
stable.  There were dark bands of clouds low down on the
southeastern horizon, and faint flashes 'of lightning.

"It's going to rain before morning," I said.  "Wonder if it
wouldn't be better in the sod house?"

We examined it, but found it in poor condition, so decided
not to give up the wagon.  "The man that lived there pulled too
many radishes and parsnips and carrots and such things into it,
and then neglected to hoe his roof and fill up the holes," said
Jack.  "Besides, Old Blacky will have it rubbed down before
morning.  'When I sleep in anything that Old Blacky can get at, I
want it to be on wheels so it can roll out of the way."

We went to bed as usual, but at about one o'clock we were
awakened by a long rolling peal of thunder.  Already big drops of
rain were beginning to fall.  Ollie and I looked out, and found
Jack creeping from under the wagon.

"That's a dry-weather bedroom of mine," he observed, "and I
think I'll come up-stairs."

The flashes of lightning followed each other rapidly, and by
them we could see the horses.  Old Browny was sleeping and Old
Blacky eating, but the pony stood with head erect, very much
interested in the storm.  Jack helped Snoozer into the wagon, and
came in himself.  We drew both ends of the cover as close as
possible, lit the lantern, and made ourselves comfortable, while
Jack took down his banjo and tried to play.  Jack always tried to
play, but never quite succeeded.  But he made a considerable
noise, and that was better than nothing.

The wind soon began to blow pretty fresh, and shake the cover
rather more than was pleasant.  But.  nothing gave way, and after,
as it seemed, fifty of the loudest claps of thunder we had ever
heard, the rain began to fall in torrents.

"That is what I've been waiting for," said Jack.  "Now we'll
see if there's a good cover on this wagon, or if we've got to put
a sod roof on it, like that man's house."

The rain kept coming down harder and harder, but though there
seemed to be a sort of a light spray in the air of the wagon, the
water did not beat through.  In some places along the bows it ran
down on the inside of the cover in little clinging streams, but
as a household we remained dry.  Jack was still experimenting on
the banjo, and the dog had gone to sleep.  Suddenly a flash of
lightning dazzled our eyes as if there were no cover at all over
and around us, with a crash of thunder which struck our ears like
a blow from a fist.  Jack dropped the banjo, and the dog shook his
head as if his ears tingled.  We all felt dizzy, and the wagon
seemed to be swaying around.

[Illustration: Investigations]

"That struck pretty close," I said.  "I hope it didn't hit one
of the horses."  "If it hit Old Blacky, I'll bet a cooky it got
the worst of it," answered Jack, taking up his banjo again.  "Look
out, Ollie, and maybe you'll see the lightning going off
limping."

It was still raining, though not so hard.  Soon we began to
hear a peculiar noise, which seemed to come from behind the
wagon.  It was a breaking, splintering sort of noise, as if a
board was being smashed and split up very gradually.

"Sounds as if a slow and lazy kind of lightning was striking
our wagon," said Jack.

Ollie's face was still white from the scare at the stroke of
lightning, and his eyes now opened very wide as he listened to
the mysterious noise.  Jack pulled open the back cover an inch and
peeped out.  Then he said:

"I guess Old Blacky's tussle with the lightning left him
hungry; he's eating up one side of the feed-box."

Then we laughed at the strange noise, and in a few minutes,
the rain having almost ceased, we put on our rubber boots and
went out to look after the other horses.  Old Browny we found in
the lee of the sod house, not exactly asleep, but evidently about
to take a nap.  The pony had pulled up her picket-pin and
retreated to a little hollow a hundred yards away.  We caught her
and brought her back.  By the light of the lantern we found that
the great stroke of lightning had struck the curb of the well,
shattering it, and making a hole in the ground beside it.  The
storm had gone muttering off to the north, and the stars were
again shining overhead.

"What a stroke of lightening that must have been to do that!"
said Ollie, as he looked at the curb with some awe.

"It wasn't the lightning that did that," returned his
truthful Uncle Jack.  "That's where Old Blacky kicked at the
lightning and missed it."

Then we returned to the wagon and went to bed.  The next
morning at ten o'clock we drove into Yankton.  We found the
ferry-boat disabled, and that we should have to go forty miles up
the river to Running Water before we could cross.  We drove a mile
out of town, and went into camp on a high bank overlooking the
milky, eddying current of the Missouri.



IV: INTO NEBRASKA


We were a good deal disappointed in not getting over into
Nebraska, because we had seen enough of Dakota, but there was no
help for it.  A log had got caught in the paddlewheel of the
ferry-boat and wrecked it, and there was no other way of
crossing.

"Old Blacky could swim across," said Jack, "but Browny would
go to sleep and drown."

[Illustrations: Hats]

It is rather doubtful, however, about even Blacky's ability
to have swum the river, since it was a half-mile wide, and with a
rather swift current.  In the afternoon we walked back to Yankton
and bought the biggest felt hats we could find, with wide and
heavy leather bands.  We knew that we should now soon be out in
the stock-growing country, and that, as Jack said, "the cowboys
wouldn't have any respect for us unless we were top-heavy with
hat."

We were camped on the high bank of the river, opposite a
farm-house.  It was getting dusk when we got back to the wagon,
with our heads aching from our new hats, which seemed to weigh
several pounds apiece.  Jack, as cook, announced that there was no
milk on hand, and sent Ollie over to the neighboring house to see
if he could get some.  Ollie returned, and reported that the man
was away from home, but that the woman said we could have some if
we were willing to go out to the barn-yard and milk one of the
cows.  The others decided that it was my duty to milk, but I asked
so many foolish questions about the operation that Jack became
convinced that I didn't know how, and said he would do it
himself.  We all went over to the house, borrowed a tin pail from
the woman, and went out to the yard.

We found about a dozen cows inside, of various sizes, but all
long-legged and long-horned.

"Must be this man belongs to the National Trotting-Cow
Association," said Jack, as he crawled under the barbed-wire
fence into the yard.  "That red beast over there in the corner
ought to be able to trot a mile in less than three minutes."

He cautiously went up to a spotted cow which seemed to be
rather tamer than the rest, holding out one hand, and saying,
"So, bossy," in oily tones, as if he thought she was the finest
cow he had ever seen.  When he was almost to her she looked at him
quickly, kicked her nearest hind-foot at him savagely, and walked
off, switching her tail, and shaking her head so that Ollie was
afraid it would come off and be lost.

"Can't fool that cow, can I?"  said Jack, as he turned to
another.  But he had no better luck this time, and after trying
three or four more he paused and said:

"These must be the same kind of cows Horace Greeley found
down in Texas before the war.  When he came back he said the way
they milked down there was to throw a cow on her back, have a
nigger hold each leg, and extract the milk with a clothes-pin."

But at last he found a brindled animal in the corner which
allowed him to sit down and begin.  He was getting on well when,
without the least warning, the cow kicked, and sent the pail
spinning across the yard, while Jack went over backwards, and his
new hat fell off.  There was one calf in the yard which had been
complaining ever since we came, because it had not yet had its
supper.  The pail stopped rolling right side up, and this calf ran
over and put his head in it, thinking that his food had come at
last.  Jack picked himself up and ran to rescue the pail.  The calf
raised his head suddenly, the pail caught on one of his little
horns, and he started off around the yard, unable to see, and
jumping wildly over imaginary objects.  Jack followed.  A cow,
which was perhaps the mother of the calf, started after Jack.  The
family dog, hearing the commotion, came running down from the
house and began to pursue the cow.  This wild procession went
around the yard several times, till at last the pail came off the
calf's head, and Jack secured it.  Then he picked up his hat, the
brim of which another calf had been chewing, rinsed out the pail
at the pump, and tried another cow.

This time he selected the worst-looking one of the lot, but
to the surprise of all of us she stood perfectly still, only
switching him a few times with her tail.  As soon as he got a
couple of quarts of milk he stopped and came out of the yard.
Ollie and I had, of course, been laughing at him a good deal, but
Jack paid no attention to it.  As we walked towards the house he
said:

"Well, there's one consolation: after all of that work and
trouble, the woman can't put on the face to charge us for the
milk."  A moment later he said to her: "I've got about two quarts;
how much is it?"

"Ten cents," answered the woman.  "Didn't them cows seem to
take kindly to you?"

"Well, they didn't exactly crowd around me and moo with
delight," replied Jack, as he handed over a dime with rather bad
grace.

That evening a neighbor called on us as we sat about our
camp-fire, and we told him the experience with the cows.

[Illustration: Milking the Heifer that Wore a Sleigh-Robe]

"Puts me in mind of the time a fellow had over at the Santee
Agency a year or so ago," said our visitor.  "There's a man there
named Hawkins that's got a tame buffalo cow.  Of course you might
as well try to milk an earthquake as a buffalo.  Well, one day a
man came along looking for work, and Hawkins hired him.
Milking-time came, and Hawkins sent the man out to milk, but
forgot to tell hint about the buffalo.  The man was a little
green, and it was sort of dark in the barn, and the first thing
he tried to milk was the buffalo cow.  She kicked the pail through
the window, smashed the stall, and half broke the man's leg the
first three kicks.  He hobbled to the house, and says to Hawkins:
'Old man, that there high-shouldered heifer of yourn out there
has busted the barn and half killed me, and I reckon I'll quit
and go back East, where the cows don't wear sleigh-robes and kick
with four feet at once.'"

Bright and early the next morning we got off again.  Nothing
of importance happened that day.  We were travelling through a
comparatively old-settled part of the country, and the houses
were numerous.  A young Indian rode with us a few miles, but he
was a very civilized sort of red man.  He had been at work on a
farm down near Yankton, and was on his way to the Ponca
Reservation to visit his mother.  As an Indian he rather disgusted
Ollie.

"If I were a big six-foot Indian," he said, after our
passenger had gone, "I think I'd carry a tomahawk, and wear a
feather or two at least.  I don't see what's the advantage of
being an Indian if you're going to act just like a white man."

We camped that night in a beautiful nook in a bluff near a
little stream.  The next day we reached Running Water.  The
ferry-boat was a little thing, with a small paddle-wheel on each
side operated by two horses on tread-mills.  A man stood at the
stern with a long oar to steer it.  The river was not so wide here
as at Yankton, but the current was swifter, which no doubt gave
the place its name.  It looked very doubtful if we should ever get
across in the queer craft, but after a long time we succeeded in
doing so.  It gave us a good opportunity to study the water of the
river, which looked more like milk than water, owing to the fine
clay dissolved in it.  The ferry-man thought very highly of the
water, and told us proudly that a glass of it would never settle
and become clear.

"It's the finest drinking-water in the world," he said.  "I
never drink anything else.  Take a bucket of it up home every
evening to drink overnight.  You don't get any of this clear
well-water down me."

We tasted of it, but couldn't see that it was much different
from other water.

"Boil it down a little, and give it a lower crust, and I
should think it would make a very good custard-pie," said Jack.

We found Niobrara to be a little place of a few hundred
houses.  We went into camp on the edge of the town, where we
stayed the next day, as it was Sunday.  Early Monday morning we
were out on the road which led along the banks of the Niobrara
River.  We were somewhat surprised at the smallness of this
stream.  It was of considerable width but very shallow, and in
many places bubbled along over the rocks like a wide brook.  We
spoke of its size to a man whom we met.  Said he:

"Yes, it ain't no great shakes down here around its mouth,
but you just wait till you get up in the neighborhood of its
head-waters.  It's a right smart bit of a river up there."

"But I thought a river was usually bigger at its mouth than
at its source," I said.

"Depends on the country it runs through," answered the man.
"Some rivers in these parts peter out entirely, and don't have no
mouth a' tall--just go into the ground and leave a wet spot.  This
here Niobrara comes through a dry country, and what the sun don't
dry up and the wind blow away the sand swallers mostly, though
some water does sneak through, after all; and in the spring it's
about ten times as big as it is now.  The Niobrara goes through
the Sand Hills.  Anything that goes through the Sand Hills comes
out small.  You fellers are going through the Sand Hills--you'll
come out smaller than you be now."

This was the first time we had heard of the Sand Hills, but
after this everybody was talking about them and warning us
against them.

"Why," said one man, "you know that there Sarah Desert over
in Africa somewhere?  Well, sir, that there Sarah is a reg'lar
flower-garden, with fountains a-squirting and the band playing
'Hail Columbia,' 'longside o' the Newbraska Sand Hills.  You'll go
through 'em for a hundred miles, and you'll wish you'd never been
born!"

This was not encouraging, but as they were still several
days' travel ahead, we resolved not to worry about them.

But the country rapidly began to grow drier and more sandy,
especially after the road ceased to follow the river.  Before we
left the river valley, however, Ollie made an important discovery
in a thicket on the edge of the bank.  This was a number of wild
plum-trees full of fruit.  We gathered at least a half-bushel of
plums, and several quarts of wild grapes.

About the middle of the afternoon we came up on a great level
prairie stretching away to the west as far as we could see.  There
seemed to be but few houses, and the scattering fields of corn
were stunted and dried up.  It had apparently been an extremely
dry season, though the prospects for rain that night were good,
and grew better.  It was hot, and a strong south wind was
blowing. Night soon began to come on, but we could find no good
camping-place.  We had not passed a house for four or five miles,
nor a place where we could get water for the horses.  As it grew
dark, however, it began to rain.  It kept up, and increased to
such an extent that in half an hour there were pools of water
standing along the road in many places, and we decided to stop.
It was wet work taking care of the horses, but the most
discouraging thing was the report from the cook that there was no
milk with which to make griddle-cakes for supper, and as he did
not know how to make anything else, the prospect was rather
gloomy.  But through the rain we finally discovered a light a
quarter of a mile away, and Ollie and I started out to find it.
Jack refused to go, on the plea that he was still lame from his
Yankton trip after milk.

[Illustration: Wet but Hopeful]

We blundered away through the rain and darkness, and after
stumbling in a dozen holes, running into a fence, and getting
tangled up in an abandoned picket-rope, at last came up to the
house.  It was a little one-room board house such as the settlers
call a "shack."  The door was open, and inside we could see a man
and woman and half a dozen children and a full dozen dogs.  We
walked up, and when the man saw us he called "Come in!"  tossed
two children on the bed in the corner, picked up their chairs,
which were home-made, and brought them to us.

"Wet, ain't it?"  he exclaimed.  "Rainy as the day Noah yanked
the gang-plank into the Ark.  I was a-telling Martha there was a
right smart chance of a shower this afternoon.  What might
you-uns' names be, and where might you be from, and where might
you be going?"

We told him all about ourselves, and he went on:

"Rainy night.  Too late to help the co'n, though.  Co'n's poor
this year; reckon we'll have to live on taters and hope.  Tater
crop ain't no great shakes, though.  Nothing much left but hope,
and dry for that.  Reckon I'll go back to old Missouri in the
spring, and work in a saw-mill.  No saw-mills here, 'cause there
ain't nothing to saw.  Hay don't need sawing.  Martha," he added,
turning to his wife, "was it you said our roof didn't need
mending?"

"I said it did need it a powerful sight," answered the woman,
as she put another stick of hay in the stove, and a stream of
rain-water sputtered in the fire.

"Mebby you're right," said the man.  "There's enough dry spots
for the dogs and children, but when we have vis'tors somebody has
got to get wet.  Reckon I oughter put on two shingles for vis'tors
to set under.  You fellers will stay to supper, of course.  We
'ain't got much but bacon and taters, but you're powerful
welcome."

"No," I said, "we really mustn't stop.  What we wanted was to
see if we couldn't get a little milk from you."

"Well, I'll be snaked!"  exclaimed the man.  "That makes me
think I ain't milked the old cow yet."

"I milked her more'n two hours ago, while you was cleaning
your rifle," said his wife.

"That so?"  replied the man.  "Where's the milk?"

The woman looked around a little.  "Reckon the dogs or the
young Uns must 'a' swallered it.  'Tain't in sight, nohow."

"Oh, we can milk 'er again!"  exclaimed the man.  "Old Spot
sometimes comes down heavier on the second or third milking than
she does on the first."

He took a gourd from a shelf, and told us to "come on;" and
started out.  He wore a big felt hat, but no coat, and he was
barefooted.  Just outside the door stood a bedstead and two or
three chairs.  "We move 'em out in the daytime to make more
room," explained the man.  The rain was still pouring down.  The
man took our lantern and began looking for the cow.  He soon found
her, and while I held the lantern, and Ollie our jug, he went
down on his knees beside the cow and began to milk with one hand,
holding the gourd in the other.  The cow stood perfectly still, as
if it was no new thing to be milked the second time.  We had on
rubber coats, but the man was without protection, and as he sat
very near the cow a considerable stream ran off of her hip-bone
and down the back of his neck.  When the gourd was full he poured
it in our jug, and at my offering to pay for it he was almost
insulted.  "Not a cent, not a cent!"  he exclaimed.  "Al'ays glad to
'commodate a neighbor.  Good-night; coming down in the morning to
swap hosses with you."

He went back to the house, and we started for the wagon.

"He wouldn't have got quite so wet if he hadn't kept so close
to the cow," said Ollie, as we walked along.

"What he needs," said I, "are eave-troughs on his cow."



V: ACROSS THE NIOBRARA


The next morning dawned fair.  We were awakened by Old Blacky
kicking the side of the wagon-box with both hind-feet.

"If that man with the ever-blooming cow comes down," said
Jack, "I'll swap him Old Blacky."

Just then we heard a loud "Hello!"  and, looking out, we found
the man leading a small yellow pony.

"I just 'lowed I'd come down and let you fellers make
something out of me on a hoss-trade," said the man.

"Well," answered Jack, "we're willing to swap that black
horse over there.  He's a splendid animal."

"Isn't he rather much on the kick?"  the man asked.  "He does
kick a little," admitted Jack, "but only for exercise.  He
wouldn't hurt a fly.  But he is so high-lifed that he has to kick
to ease his nerves once in a while."

"Thought I seen him whaling away at your wagon," returned the
man.  "Couldn't have him round my place, 'cause my house ain't
very steady, and I reckon he'd have it kicked all to flinders
inside of a week."

He talked for some time, but finally went off when he found
that Jack was not willing to part with any horse except Old
Blacky.

The road was so sandy that the rain had not made much
difference with it, and we were soon again moving on at a good
rate.  We were travelling in a direction a little north of west,
and from one to half a dozen miles south of the Niobrara River.
It would have been nearer to have kept north of the river, but we
were prevented by the Sioux and Ponca Indian reservations,
through which no one was allowed to go.  Our intention was to
cross to the north of the river at Grand Rapids and get into the
Keya Paha country, about which we heard a great deal, keep
Straight west, and, after crossing the river twice more, reach
Fort Niobrara and the town of Valentine, beyond which were the
Sand Hills.  This route would keep us all the time from twenty to
thirty miles north of the railroad.

[Illustration: Anti-Hourse-Thieves]

We had not gone far this morning when we met two men on
horseback riding side by side.  They looked like farmers, only we
noticed that each carried a big revolver in a belt and one of
them a gun.  They simply said "Good-morning," and passed on.  In
about half an hour we met another pair similarly mounted and
armed, and in another half-hour still two more.

"Must be a wedding somewhere, or a Sunday--school picnic,"
said Jack.

"But why do they all have the guns?"  asked Ollie, innocently.

"Oh, I don't know," answered Jack.  "Varmints about, I
suppose."

In a few minutes we came to a man working beside the road,
and asked him what it all meant.  He looked around in a very
mysterious manner, and then half whispered the one word
"Vigilantees!"  with a strong accent on each syllable.

"Oh!"  said Jack, "vigilance committee."

"Correct," returned the man.

"After horse-thieves, I suppose?"  went on Jack.

"Exactly," replied the man.  "Stole two horses at Black Bird
last night at ten o'clock.  Holt County Anti-Horse-thief
Association after 'em this morning at four.  That's the way we do
business in this country!"

We drove on, and Jack said:

"What the Association wants to do is to buy Old Blacky and
put him in a pasture for bait.  In the morning the members can go
out and gather up a wagon-load of disabled horse-thieves that
have tried to steal him in the night and got kicked over the
fence."

We either met or saw a dozen other men on horseback, always
in pairs; but whether or not they caught the thief we never
heard.

[Illustration: Jack Shoots a Grouse]

So far we had had very poor luck in finding game; but in the
afternoon of this day Jack shot a grouse, and we camped rather
earlier than usual, so that he might have ample time to cook it.
There were also the plums and grapes to stew.  We made our camp
not far from a house, and, after a vast amount of extremely
serious labor on the part of the cook, had a very good supper.

The next day passed with but one incident worth recalling.  In
the afternoon we crossed the Niobrara at Grand Rapids on a
tumbledown wooden bridge, and turned due west through the Keya
Paha country.  This is so called from the Keya Paha River
(pronounced Key-a-paw), a branch of the Niobrara which comes down
out of Dakota and joins it a few miles below Grand Rapids.  The
country seemed to be much the same as that through which we had
travelled, perhaps a little flatter and sandier.  Just across the
river we saw the first large herd of stock, some five or six
hundred head being driven east by half a dozen cowboys.

A short distance beyond the river we came to a little
blacksmith shop beside the road.  As soon as Jack saw it he said:

"We ought to stop and get the horses shod.  I was looking at
the holes the calks of Old Blacky's shoes made in the wagon-box
last night, and they are shallow and irregular.  He needs new
shoes to do himself justice.  If this blacksmith seems like a man
of force of character, we'll see what he can do."

Jack looked at the blacksmith quizzically when we drove up,
and whispered to us, "He'll do," and we unhitched.  The pony had
never been shod, and did not seem to need any artificial aids, so
we left her to graze about while the others were being attended
to.

"Just shoe the brown one first, if it doesn't make any
difference," said Jack.

"All right," answered the blacksmith, and he went to work on
this decent old nag, who slept peacefully throughout the whole
operation.

He then began On Old Blacky.  He soon had shoes nailed on the
old reprobate's forward feet, and approached his rear ones.  Old
Blacky had made no resistance so far, and had contented himself
with gnawing at the side of the shop and switching his tail.  He
even allowed the blacksmith to take one of his hind-feet between
his knees and start to pull off the old shoe.  Then he began to
struggle to free his leg.  The blacksmith held on.  Old Blacky saw
that the time for action had arrived, so he drew his leg, with
the foolish blacksmith still clinging to it, well up forward, and
then threw it back with all his strength.  The leg did not fly
off, but the blacksmith did, and half-way across the shop.  He
picked himself up, and, after looking at the horse, said:

[Illustration: Flight of the Blacksmith]

"'Pears's if that ain't a colt any more."

"No," answered Jack; "he's fifteen or sixteen."

"Old enough to know better," observed the blacksmith.  "I'll
try him again."

He once more got the leg up, and again Old Blacky tried to
throw him off.  But this time the man hung on.  After the third
effort Blacky looked around at him with a good deal of surprise.
Then he put down the leg to which the man was still clinging, and
with the other gave him a blow which was half a kick and half a
push, which sent the man sprawling over by his anvil.

"The critter don't seem to take to it nohow, does he?"  said
the blacksmith, cheerfully, as he again got up.

"He's a very peculiar horse," answered Jack.  "Has violent
likes and dislikes.  His likes are for food, and his dislikes for
everything else."

"I'll tackle him again, though," said the man.

But Blacky saw that he could no longer afford to temporize
with the fellow, and now began kicking fiercely with both feet in
all directions, swinging about like a warship to get the proper
range on everything in sight, and finally ending up by putting
one foot through the bellows.

"Reckon I've got to call in assistance," said the man, as he
started off.  He came back with another man, who laid hold of one
of Blacky's forward legs and held it up off the floor.  The
blacksmith then seized one of his hind ones and got it up.  This
left the old sinner so that if he would kick he would have to
stand on one foot while he did it, and this was hardly enough for
even so bad a horse as he was.  He did not wholly give up,
however, but after a great amount of struggling they at last got
him shod.

"We'll call him the Blacksmith's Pet," said Jack.

Good camping-places did not seem to be numerous, and just
after the sun had gone down we turned out beside the road near a
half-completed sod house.  There was no other house in sight, and
this had apparently been abandoned early in the season, as weeds
and grass were growing on top of the walls, which were three or
four feet high.  There was also a peculiar sort of well, a few of
which we had seen during the day.  It consisted of four one-inch
boards nailed together and sunk into the ground.  The boards were
a foot wide, thus making the inside of the shaft ten inches
square.  This one was forty or fifty feet deep, but there was a
long rope and slender tin bucket beside it.  The water was not
good, but there was no other to be had.  Near the house Ollie
found the first cactus we had seen, which showed, if nothing else
did, that we were getting into a dry country.  He took it up
carefully and stowed it away in the cabin to take back home as
evidence of his extensive travels.

For several days we had not been able to have a camp-fire,
owing to the wind and dryness of the prairie, for had we started
a prairie fire it might have done great damage.

"We don't want the Holt County Anti-Prairie Fire Society
after us," Jack had said; so we bad been using our oil-stove.

But this evening was very still, and there seemed to be no
danger in building a camp-fire within the walls of the house, and
we soon had one going with wood which we had gathered along the
river, since to have found wood enough for a camp-fire in that
neighborhood would have been as impossible as to have found a
stone or a spring of water.

We were sitting about on the sods after supper when a man
rode up on horseback, who said he was looking for some lost
stock.  We asked him to have something to eat, and he accepted the
invitation, and afterwards talked a long time, and gave us much
information which we wished about the country.  Somebody mentioned
the little well, and the man turned to Ollie and said:

"How would you like to slip down such a well?"

"I'm afraid I'm too big," answered Ollie.  "Well, perhaps you
are; but there was a child last summer over near where I live who
wasn't too big.  He was a little fellow not much over two years
old.  The well was a new one, and the curb was almost even with
the top of the ground.  He slipped down feet first.  It was a
hundred and twenty feet deep, with fifteen feet of water at the
bottom; but he fitted pretty snug, and only went down about fifty
feet at first.  His mother missed him, saw that the cover was gone
from the well, and listened.  She heard his voice, faint and
smothered.  There was no one else at home.  She called to him not
to stir, and went to the barn, where there was a two-year-old
colt.  He had never been ridden before, but he was ridden that
afternoon, and I guess he hasn't forgotten the lesson.  She came
to my place first, told me, and rode away to another neighbor's.
In half an hour there were twenty men there, and soon fifty, and
before morning two hundred.

"There was no way to fish the child out-the only thing was to
dig down beside the small shaft.  We could hear him faintly, and
we began to dig.  We started a shaft about four feet square.  The
sandy soil caved badly, but men with horses running all the way
brought out lumber from Grand Rapids for curbing.

"The child's father came too.  He listened a second at the
small shaft, and then went down the other.  Two men could work at
the bottom of it.  One of the men was relieved every few minutes
by a fresh worker, but the father worked on, and did more than
the others, not-withstanding the changes.  All of the time the
mother sat on the ground beside the small shaft with her arms
about its top.  At four o'clock in the morning we were down
opposite the prisoner.  He was still crying faintly.  We saw that
to avoid the danger of causing him to slip farther down we must
dig below him, bore a hole in the board, and push through a bar.
But a few shovelfuls more were needed.  The work jarred the shaft,
and the child slipped twenty---five feet deeper.  At seven o'clock
we were down to where he was again, though we could no longer
bear him.  We dug a little below, bored a bole, and the father
slipped through a pickaxe handle, and fainted away as he felt the
little one slide down again but rest on the handle.  We tore off
the boards, took the baby out, and drew him and his father to the
surface.  There were two doctors waiting for them, and the next
day neither was much the worse for it."

The man got on his horse and rode away.  We agreed that he had
told us a good story, but the next day others assured us that it
had all happened a year before.



VI: BY CAYNONS TO VALENTINE


Besides the cactus, another form of vegetation which began
to attract more and more of Ollie's attention was the red
tumbleweed.  Indeed, Jack and I found ourselves interested in it
also.  The ordinary tumbleweed, green when growing and gray when
tumbling, had long been familiar to us, but the red variety was
new.  The old kind which we knew seldom grew more than two feet in
diameter; it was usually almost exactly round, and with its
finely branched limbs was almost as solid as a big sponge, and
when its short stem broke off at the top of the ground in the
fall it would go bounding away across the prairie for miles.  The
red sort seemed to be much the same, except for its color and
size.  We saw many six or seven feet, perhaps more, in diameter,
though they were rather flat, and not probably over three or four
feet high.

The first one we saw was on edge, and going at a great rate
across the prairie, bounding high into the air, and acting as if
it had quite gone crazy, as there was a strong wind blowing.

"Look at that overgrown red tumbleweed!"  exclaimed Jack.  "I
never saw anything like that before.  Jump on the pony, Ollie, and
catch the varmint and bring it back here!"

Ollie was willing enough to do this, and the pony was willing
enough to go, so off they went.  I think if the weed had had a
fair field that Ollie would never have overtaken it, but it got
caught in the long grass occasionally, and he soon came up to it.
But the pony was not used to tumbleweed-coursing, and shied off
with a startled snort.  Ollie brought her about and made another
attempt.  But again the frightened pony ran around it.  Half a
dozen times this was repeated.  At last she happened to dash
around it on the wrong side just as it bounded into the air
before the wind.  It struck both horse and rider like a big
dry-land wave, and Ollie seized it.  If the poor pony had been
frightened before, she was now terror-stricken, and gave a jump
like a tiger, and shot away faster than we had ever seen her run
before.  Ollie had lost control of her, and could only cling to
the saddle with one hand and hold to the big blundering weed with
the other.  Fortunately the pony ran toward the wagon.  As they
came up we could see little but tumbleweed and pony legs, and it
looked like nothing so much as a hay-stack running away on its
own legs.  When the pony came up to the wagon she stopped so
suddenly that Ollie went over her head.  But he still clung to the
weed, and struck the ground inside of it.  He jumped up, still in
the weed, so that it now looked like a hay-stack on two legs.  We
pulled him out of it, and found him none the worse for his
adventure.    But he was a little frightened, and said:

[Illustration: Studying Botany]

"I don't think I'll chase those things again, Uncle Jack--not
with that pony."

"Oh, that's all right, Ollie," said Jack.  "I'm going to
organize the Nebraska Cross-Country Tumbleweed Club, and you'll
want to come to the meets.  We'll give the weed one minute start,
and the first man that catches it will get a prize of--of a
watermelon, for instance."

"Well, I think I'll take another horse before I try it,"
returned Ollie.

"Might try Old Browny," I said.  "If he ever came up to a
tumbleweed he would lie right down on it and go to sleep."

"Yes, and Blacky would hold it with one foot and eat it up,"
said Jack.  "Unless he took a notion to turn around and kick it
out of existence."

We looked the queer plant over carefully, and found it so
closely branched that it was impossible to see into it more than
a few inches.  The branched were tough and elastic, and when it
struck the ground after being tossed up it would rebound several
inches.  But it was almost as light asa thistle-ball, and when we
turned it loose it rolled away across the prairie again as if
nothing had happened.

"They're bad things sometimes when there is a prairie tire,"
said Jack.  "No matter how wide the fire-break may be, a blazing
tumbleweed will often roll across it and set tire to the grass
beyond.  They've been known to leap over streams of considerable
width, too, or fall in the water and float across, still
blazing. Two years ago the town of Frontenac was burned up by a
tumbleweed, though the citizens had made ah approved fire-break
by ploughing two circles of furrows around their village and
burning off the grass between them.  These big red ones must be
worse than the others.  I believe," he went on, "that tumbleweeds
might be used to carry messages, like carrier-pigeons.    The
next one we come across we'll try it."

That afternoon we caught a fine specimen, and Jack securely
fastened this message to it and turned it adrift:

   "Schooner Rattletrap, September --, 188-: Latitude.
   42.50; Longitude, 99.35.  To Whom it may Concern: From Prairie
   Flower, bound for Deadwood.  All well except Old Blacky, who has
   an appetite."

The night after our stop by the unfinished house we again
camped on the open prairie, a quarter of a mile from a settler's
house, where we got water for the horses.  This house was really a
"dugout," being more of a cellar than a house.  It was built in
the side of a little bank, the back of the sod roof level with
the ground, and the front but two or three feet above it.

"I'd be afraid, if I were living in it, that a heavy rain in
the night might fill it up, and float the bedstead, and bump my
nose on the ceiling," said Jack.

Ir had been a warm afternoon, but when we went to bed it was
cooler, though there was no wind stirring.  The smoke of our
camp-fire went straight up.  There was no moon, but the sky was
clear, and we remarked that we had not seen the stars look so
bright any night before.  The front of our wagon stood toward the
northwest.  We went to bed, but at two o'clock we were awakened by
a most violent shaking of the cover.  The wind was blowing a gale,
and the whole top seemed about to be going by the board.  We
scrambled up, and I heard Jack's voice calling for me to come
out.  The cover-bows were bent far over, and the canvas pressed in
on the side to the southwest till it seemed as if it must burst.
The front end of the top had gone out and was cracking in the
wind.  I crept forward, and us I did so I felt the wagon rise up
on the windward side and bump back on the ground.  I concluded we
were doomed to u wreck, and called to Ollie to get out as fast us
he could.  I supposed a hard storm had struck us, but as I went
over the dash-board I was astonished to see the stars shining us
brightly as ever in the deep, dark sky.  Jack was clinging to the
rear wagon wheel on the windward side, which was all that had
saved it from capsizing.  He called to me to take hold of the
tongue and steer the craft around with the stern to the gale.  I
did so, while he turned on the wheel.

    [Illustration: When the Winds are Breathing Low]

As it came around the loose sides of the cover began to flutter and
crack, while the puckering-string gave way, and the wind swept
through the wagon, carrying everything that was loose before it,
including Ollie, who was just getting over the dash-board.  He was
not hurt, but just then we heard a most pitiful yelping, as Jack's
blankets and pillow went rolling away from where the wagon had
stood.  It was Snoozer going with them.  The yelping disappeared in
the darkness, and we heard frying-pans, tin plates, and other camp
articles clattering away with the rest.  The Rattletrap itself had
tried to run before the gale, but I had put on the brake and
stopped it. The three of us then crouched in front of it, and
waited for the wind to blow itself out.  We could see or hear
nothing of the horses.  There was nota cloud in sight, and the
stars still shone down calmly and unruffled, while the wind cut and
hissed through the long prairie grass all about us.  It kept up for
about ten minutes, when it began to stop as suddenly as it had
begun.  In twenty minutes there was nothing but a cool, gentle
breeze coming out of the southwest.  We lit the lantern and tried
to gather up our things, but soon realized that we could not do
much that night.  We found the unfortunate Snoozer crouched in a
little depression which was perhaps an old buffalo wallow, but
could see nothing of the horses.  We concluded to go to bed and
wait for morning.

When it came we found our things scattered for over a quarter of a
mile.  We recovered everything, though the wagon-seat was broken.
The horses had come back, so we could not tell how far they had
gone before the wind.

"I've read about those night winds on the plains," said Jack, "and
we'll look out for 'em in the future.  We'll put an anchor on
Snoozer at least."

This intelligent animal had not forgotten his night's experience,
and stuck closely in the wagon, where he even insisted on taking
his breakfast.

The road we were following was gradually drawing closer to the
Niobrara, and we began to see scattering pine-trees, stunted and
broken, along the heads of the canyons or ravines leading down to
the river.  There was less sand, and we made better progress. The
country was but little settled, and game was more plentiful. We got
two or three grouse.  We went into camp at night by the head of
what appeared to be a large canyon, under a tempest-tossed old
pine-tree, through which the wind constantly sighed.  There was no
water, but we counted on getting it down the canyon.  A man went by
on horseback, driving some cattle, who told us that we could find a
spring down about half a mile.

"Can we get any hay down there?"  I asked him.  "We're out of feed
for the horses, and the grass seems pretty poor here."

"Down a mile beyond the spring I have a dozen stacks," answered the
man, "and you're welcome to all you can bring up on your pony.
Just go down and help yourselves."

We thanked him and he went on.  As soon as we could we started
down.  It was beginning to get dark, and grew darker rapidly as we
went down the ravine, as its sides were high and the trees soon
became numerous.  There was no road, nothing but a mere
cattle-path, steep and stony in many places.  We found the spring
and watered all the horses, left Blacky and Browny, and went on
after the hay with the pony, Jack leading her, and Ollie and I
walking ahead with the lantern.  It seemed a long way as we
stumbled along in the darkness, all the time downhill.  "I guess
that man wasn't so liberal as he seemed," said Jack.  "The pony
will be able to carry just about enough hay up here to make Snoozer
a bed."

We plunged on, till at last the path became a little nearer
level.  It crossed a small open tract and then wound among bushes
and low trees.  Suddenly we saw something gleam in the light of
the lantern, and stopped right on the river's bank.  The water
looked deep and dark, though not very wide.  The current was swift
and eddying.

"We've passed the hay," I said.  "Ir must be on that open flat
we crossed."

We went back, and, turning to the right, soon found it.  I set
the lantern down and began to pull hay from one of the stacks,
when the pony made a sudden movement, struck the lantern with her
foot, and smashed the globe to bits.

"There," exclaimed Jack, "we'll have a fine time going up
that badger-hole of a canyon in the dark!"

But there was nothing else to do, and we made up two big
bundles of hay and tied them to the pony's back.

"She'll think it's tumbleweeds," said Ollie.

"If she's headed in the right direction I hope she will,"
answered Jack.

We started up, but it was a long and toilsome climb.  In many
places Jack and I had to get down on our hands and knees and feel
out the path.  The worst place was a scramble up a bank twenty
feet high, and covered with loose stones.  I was ahead.  The heroic
little pony with her unwieldy load sniffed at the prospect a
little, and then started bravely up, "hanging on by her
toe-nails," as Ollie said.  When she was almost to the top she
stepped on a loose stone, lost her footing, went over, and rolled
away into the darkness and underbrush.  Jack stumbled over a
little of the hay which had come off in the path, hastily rolled
up a torch, and lit it with a match.  By this light we found the
pony on her back, like a tumble-bug, with her load for a cushion
and her feet in the air, and kicking wildly in every direction.
While Ollie held the torch, Jack and I went to her rescue, and,
after a vast deal of pulling and lifting, got her to her feet
just as the hay torch died out.  Again she scrambled up the bank,
and this time with success.  We went on, found the other horses,
and were soon at the wagon.  We voted the pony all the hay she
wanted, and went to bed tired.

The next day, the ninth out from Yankton, though it was a
long run, brought us to Valentine, the first town on the railroad
which we had seen since leaving the former place.  Before we
reached it we went several miles along the upper ends of the
canyons, down a long hill so steep that we had to chain both hind
wheels, forded the Niobrara twice, followed the river several
miles, went out across the military reservation, which was like a
desert, saw six or eight hundred negro soldiers at Fort Niobrara,
and finally drove through Valentine, and went into camp a mile
west of town.  On the way we saw thousands of the biggest and
reddest tumbleweeds, and two or three new sorts of cactus.  The
colored troops surprised Ollie, as he had never seen any before.

"It's the western winds and the hot sun that's tanned those
soldiers," said Jack.  "We'll look just that way, too, before we
get back."

Ollie was half inclined to believe this astonishing statement
at first, but concluded that his uncle was joking.

[Illustration: Sad Result of Dishonesty]

We went into camp on the banks of the Minichaduza River, a
little brook which flows into the Niobrara from the northwest.
All night it gurgled and bubbled almost under our wheels.  A man
stopped to chat with us as we sat around our camp-fire after
supper.  We told him of our experience in getting the hay the
night before.  He laughed and said: "Ever steal any of your horse
feed?"

"We haven't yet," answered Jack.  "We try to be reasonably
honest."

"Some don't, though," replied the man.  "Most of 'em that are
going West in a covered wagon seem to think corn in the field is
public property.  A fellow camped right here one afternoon last
fall.  He was out of feed, and took a grain sack on one arm and a
big Winchester rifle on the other, and went over to old Brown's
cornfield.  He took the gun along not to shoot anybody, but to
sort of intimidate Brown if he should catch him.  Suddenly he saw
an old fellow coming towards him carrying a gun about a foot
longer than his own.  The young fellow wilted right down on the
ground and never moved.  He happened to go down on a big prickly
cactus, but he never stirred, cactus or no cactus.  He thought
Brown had caught him, and that he was done for.  The old man kept
coming nearer and nearer.  He was almost to him.  The young fellow
concluded to make a brave fight.  So he jumped up and yelled.  The
old man dropped his gun and ran like a scared wolf.  Then the
young fellow noticed that the other also had a sack in which he
had been gathering corn.  He called him back, they saw that they
were both thieves, shook hands, and went ahead and robbed old
Brown together."

The man got up to go.  "Well, good-night, boys," he said.
"Rest as hard as you can tomorrow.  You'll strike into the Sand
Hills at about nine o'clock Monday morning.  Take three days'
feed, and every drop of water you can carry; and it you waste any
of it washing your hands you're bigger fools than I think you
are."



VII: THROUGH THE SAND HILLS


"Come, stir out of that and get the camels ready for the
desert!"

This was Jack's cheery way of warning Ollie and me that it
was time to get up on the morning of our start into the Sand
Hills.

"Any simooms in sight?"  asked Ollie, by way of reply to
Jack's remark.

"Well, I think Old Browny scents one; he has got his nose
buried in the sand like a camel," answered Jack.

It was only just coming daylight, but we were agreed that an
early start was best.  It was another Monday morning, and we knew
that it would take three good days' driving to carry us through
the sand country.  We had learned that, notwithstanding what our
visitor of the first night had said, there were several places on
the road where we could get water and feed for the horses.  We
should have to carry some water along, however, and had got two
large kegs from Valentine, and filled them and all of our jugs
and pails the night before.  We also had a good stock of oats and
corn, and a big bundle of hay, which we put in the cabin on the
bed.

"Just as soon as Old Blacky finds that there is no water
along the road he will insist on having about a barrel a day,"
said Jack.  "And if he can't get it he will balk, and kick the
dash-board into kindling-wood."

A little before sunrise we started.  It was agreed, owing to
the increase in the load and the deep sand, that no one, not even
Snoozer, should be allowed to ride in the wagon.  If Ollie got
tired he was to ride the pony.  So we started off, walking beside
the wagon, with the pony lust behind, as usual, dangling her
stirrups, and the abused Snoozer, looking very much hurt at the
insult put upon him, following behind her.

For three or four miles the road was much like that to which
we had been accustomed.  Then it gradually began to grow sandier.
We were following an old trail which ran near the railroad,
sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other; and this was
the case all the way through the hills.  The railroad was new,
having been built only a year or two before.  There was a station
on it every fifteen or twenty miles, with a side-track, and a
water-tank for the engines, but not much else.

There was no well-marked boundary to the Sand Hills, but
gradually, and almost before we realized it, we found ourselves
surrounded by them.  We came to a crossing of the railroad, and in
a little cut a few rods away we saw the sand drifted over the
rails three or four inches deep, precisely like snow.

"Well," said Jack, "I guess we're in the Sand Hills at last
if we've got where it drifts."

"I wonder if they have to have sand-ploughs on their
engines?"  said Ollie.

"I've heard that they frequently have to stop and shovel it
off," answered Jack.

As we got farther among the sand dunes we found them all
sizes and shapes, though usually circular, and from fifteen to
forty feet high.  Of course the surface of the county was very
irregular, and there would be places here and there where the
grass had obtained a little footing and the sand had not drifted
up.  There were also some hills which seemed to be independent of
the sand piles.

We stopped for noon on a little flat where there was some
struggling grass, This flat ran off to the north, and narrowed
into a small valley through which in the spring probably a little
water flowed.  We had finished dinner when we noticed a flock of
big birds circling about the little valley, and, on looking
closer, saw that some of them were on the ground.

"They are sand-hill cranes," said Jack.  "I've seen them in
Dakota, but this must be their home."

They were immense birds, white and gray, and with very long
legs.  Jack took his rifle and tried to creep up on them, but they
were too shy, and soared away to the south.

We soon passed the first station on the railroad, called
Crookston.  The telegraph-operator came out and looked at us,
admitted that it was a sandy neighborhood, and went back in.  We
toiled on without any incident of note during the whole
afternoon.  Toward night we passed another station, called
Georgia, and the man in charge allowed us to fill our kegs from
the water-tank.

    [Illustration: First Night Camp in the Sand Hills]

We went on three or four miles and stopped beside the trail, and a
hundred yards from the railroad, for the night. The great drifts of
sand were all around us, and no desert could have been lonelier.
We had a little wood and built a camp-fire. The evening was still
and there was not a sound.  Even the Blacksmith's Pet, wandering
about seeking what he could devour, and finding nothing, made
scarcely a sound in the soft sand.  The moon was shining, and it
was warm as any summer evening.  Jack sat on the ground beside the
wagon and played the banjo for half an hour.  After a while we
walked over to the railroad.  We could hear a faint rumble, and
concluded that a train was approaching.

"Let's wait for it," proposed Jack.  "It will be along in a
moment."

We waited and listened.  Then we distinctly heard the whistle
of a locomotive, and the faint roar gradually ceased.

"It's stopped somewhere," I said.

"Don't see what it should stop around here for," said Jack,
"unless to take on a sand-hill crane."

Then we heard it start up, run a short distance, and again
stop; this it repeated half a dozen times, and then after a pause
it settled down to a long steady roar again.

"It isn't possible, is it, that that train has been stopped
at the next station west of here?" I said.

"The next station is Cody, and it's a dozen miles from here,"
answered Jack.  "It doesn't seem as if we could hear it so far,
but we'll time it and see."

He looked at his watch and we waited.  For a long time the
roar kept up, occasionally dying away as the train probably went
through a deep cut or behind a hill.  It gradually increased in
volume, till at last it seemed as if the train must certainly be
within a hundred yards.  Still it did not appear, and the sound
grew louder and louder.  But at the end of thirty-five minutes it
came around the curve in sight and thundered by, a long freight
train, and making more noise, it seemed, that any train ever made
before.

"That's where it was!" exclaimed Jack--"at Cody, twelve
miles from here; and we first heard it I don't know how far
beyond.  If I ever go into the telephone business I'll keep away
from the Sand Hills.  A man here ought to be able to hold a
pleasant chat with a neighbor two miles off, and by speaking up
loud ask the postmaster ten miles away if there is any mail for
him."

We were off ploughing through the sand again early the next
morning.  We could not give the horses quite all the water they
wanted, but we did the best we could.  We were in the heart of the
hills all day.  There were simply thousands of the great sand
drifts in every direction.  Buffalo bones half buried were
becoming numerous.  We saw several coyotes, or prairie wolves,
skulking about, but we shot at them without success.  We got water
at Cody, and pressed on.  In the afternoon we sighted some
antelope looking cautiously over the crest of a sand billow.
Ollie mounted the pony and I took my rifle, and we went after
them, while Jack kept on with the wagon.  They retreated, and we
followed them a mile or more back from the trail, winding among
the drifts and attempting to get near enough for a shot.  But they
were too wary for us.  At last we mounted a hill rather higher
than the rest, and saw them scampering away a mile or more to the
northwest.  We were surprised more by something which we saw still
on beyond them, and that was a little pond of water deep down
between two great ridges of sand.

"I didn't expect to see a lake in this country," said Ollie.

I studied the lay of the land a moment, and said: "I think
it's simply a place where the wind has scooped out the sand down
below the water-line and it has filled up.  The wind has dug a
well, that's all.  You know the telegraph-operator at Georgia told
us the wells here were shallow--that there's plenty of water down
a short distance."

We could see that there was considerable grass and quite an
oasis around the pond.  But in every other direction there was
nothing but sand billows, all scooped out on their northwest
sides where the fierce winds of winter had gnawed at them.  The
afternoon sun was sinking, and every dune cast a dark shadow on
the light yellow of the sand, making a great landscape of glaring
light covered with black spots.  A coyote sat on a buffalo skull
on top of the next hill and looked at us.  A little owl flitted by
and disappeared in one of the shadows.

"This is like being adrift in an open boat," I said to Ollie.
"We must hurry on and catch the Rattletrap."

"I'm in the open boat," answered Ollie.  "You're just simply
swimming about without even a life-preserver on."

We turned and started for the trail.  We found it, but we had
spent more time in the hills than we realized, and before we had
gone far it began to grow dark.  We waded on, and at last saw
Jack's welcome camp-fire.  When we came up we smelled grouse
cooking, and he said:

"While you fellows were chasing about and getting lost I
gathered in a brace of fat grouse.  What you want to do next time
is to take along your hat full of oats, and perhaps you can coax
the antelope to come up and eat."

The camp was near another railroad station called Eli.  We had
been gradually working north, and were now not over three or four
miles from the Dakota line; but Dakota here consisted of nothing
but the immense Sioux Indian Reservation, two or three hundred
miles long.

The next morning Jack complained of not feeling well.

"What's the matter, Jack?"  I asked.

"Gout," answered Jack, promptly.  "I'm too good a cook for
myself.  I'm going to let you cook for a few days, and give my
system a rest."

[Illustration: Dark Doings of the Cook]

This seemed very funny to Ollie and me, who had been eating
Jack's cooking for two or three weeks.  The fact was that the
gouty Jack was the poorest cook that ever looked into a
kettle, and he knew it well enough.  He could make one
thing--pancakes--nothing else.  They were usually fairly good,
though he would sometimes get his recipes mixed up, and use his
sour-milk one when the milk was sweet, or his sweet-milk one when
it was sour; but we got accustomed to this.  Then it was hard to
spoil young and tender fried grouse, and the stewed plums had
been good, though he had got some hay mixed with them; but the
flavor of hay is not bad.  We bought frequently of "canned goods"
at the stores, and this he could not injure a great deal.

We did not pay much attention to Jack's threat about stopping
cooking.  He got breakfast after a fashion, mixing sour and sweet
milk as an experiment, and though he didn't eat much himself, we
did not think he was going to be sick.  But after walking a short
distance he declared he could go no farther, and climbed into the
cabin and rolled upon the bed.

Ollie and I ploughed along with the sand still streaming,
like long flaxen hair, off the wagon-wheels as they turned.  In a
little valley about ten o'clock Ollie shot his first grouse.  We
saw more antelope, and met a man with his wife and six children
and five dogs and two cows and twelve chickens going east.  He
said he was tired of Nebraska, and was on his way to Illinois.  At
noon we stopped at Merriman, another railroad station.  Jack got
up and made a pretence of getting dinner, but he ate nothing
himself, and really began to look ill.

We made but a short stop, as we were anxious to get out of
the worst of the sand that afternoon.  We asked about feed and
water for the horses, and were told that we could get both at
Irwin, another station fifteen miles ahead.  We pressed on, with
Jack still in the wagon, but it was almost dark before we reached
the station.  We found a man on the railroad track.

"Can we get some feed and water here?"  I asked of him.

"Reckon not," answered the man.

"Where can we find the station agent?"

"He's gone up to Gordon, and won't be back till midnight."

"Hasn't any one got any horse-feed for sale?"

[Illustration: No Horse-Feed]

"There isn't a smell of horse-feed here," said the man.  "I've
got the only well, except the railroad's, but it's 'most dry.
I'll give you what water I can, though.  As for feed, you'd better
go on three miles to Keith's ranch.  It's on Lost Creek Flat, and
there's lots of haystacks there, and you can help yourself.  At
the ranch-house they will give you other things."

We drove over to the man's house, and got half a pail of
water apiece for the horses.  They wanted more, but there was no
more in the well.  The man said we could get everything we wanted
at the ranch, and we started on.  The horses were tired, but even
Old Blacky was quite amiable, and trudged along in the sand
without complaint.

Jack was still in the wagon, and we heard nothing of him.  It
was cloudy and very dark.  But the horses kept in the trail, and
after, as it seemed to us, we had gone five miles, we felt
ourselves on firmer ground.  Soon we thought we could make out
something, perhaps hay-stacks, through the darkness.  I sent Ollie
on the pony to see what it was.  He rode away, and in a moment I
heard a great snorting and a stamping of feet, and Ollie's voice
calling for me to come.  I ran over with the lantern, and found
that he had ridden full into a barbed-wire fence around a
hay-stack.  The pony stood trembling, with the blood flowing from
her breast and legs, but the scratches did not seem to be deep.

"We must find that ranch-house," I said to Ollie.  "It ought
to be near."

For half an hour we wandered among the wilderness of
hay-stacks, every one protected by barbed wire.  At last we heard
a dog barking, followed the sound, and came to the house.  The dog
was the only live thing at home, and the house was locked.

"Well, what we want is water," I said, "and here's the well."

We let down the bucket and brought up two quarts of mud.

"The man was right," said Ollie.  "This is worse than the
Sarah Desert."

"Fountains squirt and bands play 'The Old Oaken Bucket' in
the Sarah Desert 'longside o' this," I answered.

It was eleven o'clock before we found the wagon.  We could
hear Jack snoring inside, and were surprised to find Snoozer on
guard outside, wide awake.  He seemed to feel his responsibility,
and at first was not inclined to let us approach.

We unharnessed the horses, and Ollie crawled under the fence
around one of the stacks of hay and pulled out a big armful for
them.

"The poor things shall have all the hay they want, anyhow,"
he said.

"I'm afraid they'll think it's pretty dry," I returned, "but
I don't see what we can do."

Then I called to Jack, and said: "Come, get up and get us
some supper!"

After a good deal of growling he called back: "I'm not
hungry."

"But we are, and you're well enough to make some cakes."

"Won't do it," answered Jack.  "You folks can make 'em as
well as I can."

"I can't.  Can you?" I said to Ollie.  He shook his head.

"You're not very sick or you wouldn't be so cross," I called
to Jack: "Roll out and get supper, or I'll pull you out!"

"First follow comes in this wagon gets the head knocked off
'm!"  cried Jack.  "Besides, there's no milk!    No eggs!    No
nothing!  Go 'way!  I'm sick!  That's all there is," and something
which looked like a cannon-ball shot out of the front end of the
wagon, followed by a paper bag which might have been the wadding
used in the Cannon.  "That's all!  Lemme 'lone!"  And we heard Jack
tie down the front of the cover and roll over on the bed again.

"See what it is," I said to Ollie.

He took the lantern and started.  "Guess it's a can of Boston
baked beans," he said.  "Oh, then we're all right," I replied.

He picked it up and studied it carefully by the light of the
lantern.

"No," he said, slowly, "it isn't that.  G--g, double
o--gooseberries--that's what it is--a can of gooseberries we got
at Valentine."

"And this is a paper bag of sugar," I said, picking it up.
"No gout to-night!"

I cut open the can and poured in the sugar.  We stirred it up
with a stick, and Ollie drank a third of it and I the rest.  Then
we crawled under the wagon, covered ourselves with the pony's
saddle-blanket, and went to sleep.  But before we did so I said:

"Ollie, at the next town I am going to get you a cook-book,
and we'll be independent of that wretch in the wagon."

"All right," answered Ollie.



VIII: ON THE ANTELOPE FLATS


The next morning the condition of the tempers of the crew of the
Rattletrap was reversed.  Jack was feeling better and was quite
amiable, and inclined to regret his bloodthirsty language of the
night before.  But Ollie and I, on our diet of gooseberries, had not
prospered, and woke up as cross as Old Blacky.  The first thing I
did was to seize the empty gooseberry can and hit the side of the
wagon a half-dozen resounding blows.

"Get up there," I cried, "and 'tend to breakfast!  No
pretending you're sick this morning."

"All right!"  came Jack's voice, cheerfully.  "Certainly.  No
need of your getting excited, though.  You see, I really wasn't
hungry last night, or I'd have got supper."

"But we were hungry!"  answered Ollie.  "I don't think I was
ever much hungrier in my life; and then to get nothing but a pint
of gooseberries!  I could eat my hat this morning!"

"I'm sorry," said Jack, coming out; "but I can't cook unless
I'm hungry myself.  The hunger of others does not inspire me.  I
gave you all there was.  Your hunger ought to have inspired you to
do something with those gooseberries."

"I'd like to know what sort of a meal you'd have got up with
a can of gooseberries?"

"Why, my dear young nephew," exclaimed Jack, "if I'd been
awakened to action I'd have fricasseed those gooseberries, built
them up into a gastronomical poem; and made a meal of them fit
for a king.  A great cook like I am is an artist as much as a
great poet.  He--"

"Oh, bother!"  I interrupted; "the gooseberries are gone.
There's the grouse Ollie shot yesterday.  Do something with that
for breakfast."

Jack disappeared in the wagon, and began to throw grouse
feathers out the front end with a great flourish.  The poor horses
were much dejected, and stood with their heads down.  They had
eaten but little of the hay.  Water was what they wanted.

"We must hitch up and go on without waiting for breakfast," I
said to Ollie.  "It can't be far to water now, and they must have
some.  Jack can be cooking the grouse in the wagon."

So we were soon under way, keeping a sharp lookout, for any
signs of a house or stream of water.  We had gone five or six
miles, and were descending into a little valley, when there came
a loud whinny from Old Blacky.  Sure enough, at the foot of the
hill was a stream of water.  The pony ran toward it on a gallop,
and as soon as we could unhitch the others they joined her.  They
all waded in, and drank till we feared they would never be able
to wade out again.  Then they stood taking little sips, and
letting their lips rest just on the surface and blinking
dreamily.  We knew that they stood almost as much in need of food
as of water, as they had had nothing but the hay since the noon
before.  There was a field of corn half a mile away, on a
side-hill, but no house in sight.

"I'm going after some of that corn," I said to the others.
"If I can't find the owner to buy it, then I'll help myself."

I mounted the pony and rode away.  There was still no house in
sight at the field, and I filled a sack and returned.  The horses
went at their breakfast eagerly.  But twice during the meal they
stopped and plunged in the brook and took other long drinks; and
at the end Old Blacky lay down in a shallow place and rolled, and
came out looking like a drowned rat.

In the meantime Jack had got the grouse ready, and we ate it
about as ravenously as the horses did their corn.  We had just
finished, and were talking about going, when a tall man on a
small horse almost covered with saddle rode up, and began to talk
cheerfully on various topics.  After a while he said:

[Illustration: The Careful Corn Owner]

"Well, boys, was that good corn?"

We all suspected the truth instantly.

"He did it!"  exclaimed Jack, pointing at me.  "He did it all
alone.  We're going to give him up to the authorities at the next
town."

The man laughed, and said: "Don't do it.  He may reform."

There seemed to be but one thing to do, so I said: "It was
your corn, I suppose.  Our only excuse is that we were out of
corn.  Tell us how much it is, and we'll pay you for it."

"Not a cent," answered the man, firmly.  "It's all right.  I've
travelled through them Sand Hills myself, and I know how it is.
You're welcome to all you took, and you can have another sackful
if you want to go after it."

I thanked him, but told him that we expected to get some feed
at Gordon, the next town.  After wishing us good-luck, he rode
away.

We started on, and made but a short stop for noon, near
Gordon.  We found ourselves in a fairly well-settled country,
though the oldest settlers had been there but two or three years.
The region was called the Antelope Flats, and was quite level,
with occasional ravines.  The trail usually ran near the railroad,
and that night we camped within three or four rods of it.  Long
trains loaded with cattle thundered by all night.  We were
somewhat nervous lest Old Blacky should put his shoulder against
the wagon while we slept, and push it on the track in revenge for
the poor treatment we gave him in the Sand Hills, but the plan
didn't happen to occur to him.  It was at this camp that we
encountered a remarkable echoing well.  It was an ordinary open
well, forty or fifty feet deep, near a neighboring house, but a
word spoken above it came back repeated a score of times.  We
failed to account for it.

The next forenoon we jogged along much the same as usual and
stopped for noon at Rushville.  This was not far from the Pine
Ridge Indian Agency and the place called Wounded Knee, where the
battle with the Sioux was fought three or four years later.  We
saw a number of Indians here, and though they came up to Ollie's
idea of what an Indian should be a little better than the one
that rode with us, they still did not seem to be just the thing.

[Illustration: A Study in Red Men]

"I don't think," he said, "that they ought to smoke
cigarettes."

"It does look like rather small business for an Indian,
doesn't it?"  answered Jack.  "But then smoking cigarettes is small
business for anybody.  What's your idea of what an Indian ought to
smoke?"

"Well, I'm not sure he ought to smoke anything, except of
coarse the peace-pipe occasionally.  And he oughtn't to smoke that
very much, because an Indian shouldn't make peace very often."

"Right on the war-path all the time, flourishing a
scalping-knife above his head, and whooping his teeth
loose--that's your notion of an Indian."

"Well, I don't know as that is exactly it," returned Ollie,
doubtfully.  "But it seems to me these are hardly right.  Their
clothes seem to be just like white people's."

"I don't know about that," said Jack.  "I saw one when I went
around to the post-office wearing bright Indian moccasins, a pair
of soldier's trousers, a fashionable black coat, and a cowboy
hat.  I never saw a white man dressed just like that."

"Well, I think they ought to wear some feathers, anyhow,"
insisted Ollie.  "An Indian without feathers is just like a--a
turkey without 'em."

The Indians were idling all over town, big, lazy,
villanous-looking fellows, and very frequently they were smoking
cigarettes, and often they were dressed much as Jack had
described, though their clothes varied a good deal.  There were
two points which they all had in common, however--they were all
dirty, and all carried bright, clean repeating-rifles, We
wondered why they needed the rifles, since there was no game in
the neighborhood.

The chief business of Rushville seemed to be shipping bones.
We went over to the railroad to watch the process.  There were
great piles of them about the station, and men were loading them
into freight-cars.

"What's done with them?"  we asked of a man.

"Shipped East, and ground up for fertilizer," he answered.

"Where do they all come from?"

"Picked up about the country everywhere.  Men make a business
of gathering them and bringing them in at so much a load.  Supply
won't last many months longer, but it's good business now."

They were chiefly buffalo bones, though there were also those
of the deer, elk, and antelope.  We saw some beautiful elk
antlers, and many broad white skulls of the buffalo, some of them
still with the thick black horns on them.  As we were watching the
loading of the bones Ollie suddenly exclaimed:

"Oh, see the pretty little deer!"

We looked around, and saw, in the front yard of a house, a
young antelope, standing by the fence, and also watching the
bone-men as they worked.

"It is a beautiful creature, isn't it?"  said Jack.  "And how
happy and contented it looks!"

"I guess it's happy because it isn't in the bone-pile," said
Ollie.

We went over to it, and found it so tame that it allowed
Ollie to pet it as much as he pleased.  The man who owned it told
us that he had found it among the Sand Hills, with one foot
caught in a little bridge on the railroad, where it had
apparently tried to cross.  He rescued it just before a train came
along.

We left Rushville after a rather longer stop for noon than we
usually made.  Nothing worthy of mention occurred during the
afternoon, and that night we camped on the edge of another small
town, called Hay Springs.

"I don't know," said Jack, "whether or not they really have
springs here that flow with water and hay, or how it got its
funny name.  If there are that kind of springs, I think it's a
pity there can't be some of them in the Sand Hills."

Jack went over town after supper for some postage-stamps, and
came back quite excited.

"Found it at last, Ollie!"  he exclaimed.  "Grandpa Oldberry
was right."

"What--a varmint?"  asked Ollie.

"A genuine varmint," answered Jack.  "A regular painter.  It's
in a cage, to be sure, but it may get out during the night."

We all went over to see it.  It was in a big box back of a
hotel, and the man in charge called it a mountain-lion, and said
it was caught up in the Black Hills.  "Right where we're going,"
whispered Ollie.  The animal was, I presume, really a jaguar, and
was a big cat three or four feet long.

We were off again the next morning, looking forward eagerly
to the camp for the night, which we expected would be at Chadron,
and where our course would change to the north into Dakota again,
this time on the extreme western edge, and carry us up to the
mountains.  Most of the day we travelled through a rougher
country, and saw many buttes--steep-sided, flat-topped mounds;
and in the neighborhood of Bordeaux the road wound among
scattering pine-trees.  We camped at noon near the house of a
settler who seemed to have a dog farm, as the place was overrun
with the animals.    We needed some corn for the horses, and
asked him if he had any to sell.  He was a queer looking man, with
hair the color of molasses candy, and skim-milk eyes.

[Illustration: A Good Salesman]

"Waal, now, stranger, I jess reckon I have got some co'n to
sell," he said.  "The only trouble with that there co'n o' mine is
that it ain't shucked.  If you wouldn't mind to go out into the
field and shuck it out, we can jess make a deal right here."

We finally gave him fifty cents for all our three sacks would
hold, and he pointed out the field a quarter of a mile away and
went back to the house.  We noticed that he very soon mounted a
pony and rode away towards  Hay Springs, but thought nothing of
it.  When we were ready to start we drove over to the cornfield to
get what we had paid for.  Jack put his head out of the wagon,
took a long look, and said:

"That's the sickest-looking cornfield I ever saw!"

We got out, and found a sorry prospect.  The corn was poor and
scattering and choked with weeds.

"And the worst of it," called Jack, as he waded out into the
weeds, "is that it has been harvested about twelve times already.
The scoundrel has been selling it to every man that came along
for a month, and I don't believe there were three sackfuls in the
whole field to start with."

We went to work at it, and found that he was not far from
right.

"No wonder the old skeesicks went off to town soon as he got
his money," I said.  "He won't show himself back here till he is
sure we have gone."

We worked for an hour, and managed to fill one bag with
"nubbins," and gave up, promising ourselves that we wouldn't be
imposed upon in that way again.

We reached Chadron in due time, and went into camp a little
way beyond, on the banks of the White River, a stream which flows
through Dakota and finally joins the Missouri.  Our camp was on a
little flat where the river bends around in the shape of a
horseshoe.  It seemed to be a popular stopping-place, and there
were half a dozen other covered wagons in camp there.  The number
of empty tin cans scattered about on that piece of ground must
have run up into the thousands.  But there had not been a mile of
the road since we left Valentine which had not had from a dozen
to several hundred cans scattered along it, left by former
"movers."  We had contributed our share, including the gooseberry
can.  From the labels we noticed on the can windrow along the road
it seemed that peaches and Boston baked beans were the favorite
things consumed by the overland travellers, though there were a
great many green-corn, tomato, and salmon cans.

"You can get every article of food in tin cans now," observed
Jack one day, "except my pancakes.  I'm going to start a pancake
cannery.  I'll label my cans 'Jack's Celebrated Rattletrap
Pancakes--Warranted Free from Injurious Substances.  Open this
end.  Soak two weeks before using.'"

It was a pretty camping-place on the little can-covered fiat,
and we sat up late, visiting with our neighbors and talking about
the Black Hills.

"I think," said Jack, as we stumbled over the cans on our way
to the Rattletrap, "that I'll go into the mining business up
there myself.  I'll just back the Blacksmith's Pet up to the side
of a mountain, tickle his heels with a straw, and he'll have a
gold-mine kicked out inside of five minutes."



IX: OFF FOR THE BLACK HILLS


The next day was Sunday, so we did not leave the White River
camp till Monday morning.  We found Chadron (pronounced Shadron) an
extremely lively town, in which all of the citizens wore big hats
and immense jingling Mexican spurs.  We had the big hats, but to
be in fashion and not to attract attention we also got jingling
spurs.

"I shall wear 'em all night," said Jack, as he strapped his
on.  "Only dudes take off their spurs when they go to bed, and I'm
no dude."

Our next objective point was Rapid City.  It was a beautiful
morning when we turned to the north.  The sand had disappeared,
and the soil was more like asphalt pavement.

"The farmers fire their seed into the ground with
six-shooters," said a man we fell in with on the road.  "Very
expensive for powder."

"The soil's what you call gumbo, isn't it?"  I said to him.

"Yes.  Works better when it's wet.  One man can stick a spade
into it then.  Takes two to pull it out, though."

It was not long before we passed the Dakota line, marked by a
post and a pile of tin cans.  Shortly before noon Ollie made a
discovery.

"What are those little animals?"  he cried.  "Oh, I
know--prairie-dogs!"

There was a whole town of them right beside the road, with
every dog sitting on top of the mound that marked his home, and
uttering his shrill little bark, and marking each bark by a
peculiar little jerk of his tail.

"How do you know they are prairie-dogs?"  asked Jack.

"They had some of them in the park at home," said Ollie.  "But
last fall they all went down in their burrows for the winter, and
in the spring they didn't come up.  Folks said they must have
frozen to death."

"Nonsense," said Jack.  "They got turned around somehow, and
in the spring dug down instead of digging up.  They may come out
in China yet if they have good-luck."

"I can hardly swallow that," replied Ollie.  "But, anyhow,
these seem to be all right."

There must have been three or four hundred of them, and not
for a moment did one of them stop barking till Snoozer jumped out
of the wagon and charged them, when, with one last bark, each one
of them shot down his hole so quick that it was almost impossible
to see him move.

"Now that's just about the sort of game that Snoozer likes!"
exclaimed Jack.  "If they were badgers, or even woodchucks, you
couldn't drive him at them."

"I don't think there is much danger of his getting any of
them," said Ollie.

We called Snoozer back, and soon one of the little animals
cautiously put up his head, saw that the coast was clear, gave
one bark, and all the rest came up, and the concert began as if
nothing had happened.

"I suppose that was the mayor of the town that peeped up
first?"  said Ollie.  "Yes, or the chief of police," answered Jack.
We camped that night by the bed of a dry creek, and watered the
horses at a settler's house half a mile away.

"That's the most beautiful place for a stream I ever saw,"
observed Jack.  "If a man had a creek and no bed for it to run in,
he'd be awfully glad to get that."

The next day was distinctly a prairie-dog day.  We passed
dozens of their towns, and were seldom out of hearing of their
peculiar chirp.

"I wonder," said Ollie, "if the bark makes the tail go, or
does the tail set off the bark."

"Oh, neither," returned Jack.  "They simply check off the
barks with their tails.  There's a National Prairie-Dog Barking
Contest going on, and they are seeing who can yelp the most in a
week.  They keep count with their tails."

At the little town of Oelrichs we saw a number of Indians,
since we were again near the reservation.  One little girl nine or
ten years old must have been the daughter of an important
personage, since she was dressed in most gorgeous clothes, all
covered with beads and colored porcupine-quill-work.  And at last
Ollie saw an Indian wearing feathers.  Three eagle feathers stuck
straight up in his hair.  He was standing outside of a log house
looking in the window.  By-and-by a young lady came to the door of
the house, and as we were nearer than anybody else, she motioned
us to come over.

[Illustration: Big Bear Looks Into the Educational Situation]

"I wish," she said, "that you'd please go around and ask Big
Bear to go away.  He keeps looking in the window and bothering the
scholars."

We stepped around the corner, and Jack said: "See here,
neighbor Big Bear, you're impeding the cause of education."

The Indian looked at him stolidly, but did not move.

"Teacher says vamoose--heap bother pappooses," said Jack.

The Indian grunted and walked away.  "Nothing like
understanding the language," boasted Jack, as we went back to the
wagon.

At noon we camped beside a stream, but thirty feet above
it. There was a clay bank almost as hard as stone rising
perpendicularly from the water's edge.  With a pail and rope we
drew up all the water we needed.  In the afternoon we got our
first sight of the Black Hills, like clouds low on the northern
horizon.  About the same time we struck into the old Sidney trail,
which, before the railroad had reached nearer points, was used in
carrying freight to the Hills in wagons.  In some places it was
half a mile wide and consisted of a score or more of tracks worn
into deep ruts.  There was a herd of several thousand Texas cattle
crossing the trail in charge of a dozen men, and we waited and
watched them go by.  Ollie had never seen such a display of horns
before.

Shortly after this we came upon the first sage-bush which we
had seen.  It was queer gray stuff, shaped like miniature trees,
and had the appearance of being able to get along with very
little rain.

Toward night we found ourselves winding down among the hills
to the Cheyenne River.  They were strange-looking hills, most
of them utterly barren on their sides, which were nearly
perpendicular, the hard soil standing almost as firm as rock.
They were ribbed and seamed by the rain--in fact, they were not
hills at all, properly speaking, but small bluffs left by the
washing out of the ravines by the rain and melting snows.  Just as
the sun was sinking among the distant hills we came to the river.
It was shallow, only four or five yards wide, and we easily
forded it and camped on the other side.  The full moon was just
rising over the eastern hills.  There was not a sound to be heard
except the gentle murmur of the stream and the faint rustle of
the leaves on a few cottonwood-trees.  There was plenty of
driftwood all around, and after supper we built up the largest
camp-fire we had ever had.  The flame leaped up above the
wagon-top, and drifted away in a column of sparks and smoke,
while the three horses stood in the background with their heads
close together munching their hay, and the four of us (counting
Snoozer) lay on the ground and blinked at the fire.

"This is what I call the proper thing," remarked Jack, after
some time, as he roiled over on his blanket and looked at the
great round moon.

"Yes," I said, "this will do well enough.  But it would be
pretty cool here if it wasn't for that fire."

"Yes, the nights are getting colder, that's certain.  I was
just wondering if that cover will withstand snow as well as it
does rain?"

"Why," said Ollie, "do you think it's going to snow?"

"Not to-night," returned Jack.  "But it may before we get out
of the mountains.  The snow comes pretty early up there sometimes.
I think I'll get inside and share the bed with the rancher after
this, and you and Snoozer can curl up in the front end of the
wagon-box.  It would be a joke if we got snowed in somewhere, and
had to live in the Rattletrap till spring."

"I wouldn't care if we could keep warm," said Ollie.  "I like
living in it better than in any house I ever saw."

"I'm afraid it would get a little monotonous along in March,"
laughed Jack.  "Though I think myself it's a pretty good place to
live.  Stationary houses begin to seem tame.  I hope the trip won't
spoil us all, and make vagabonds of us for the rest of our
lives."

We were reluctant to leave this camp the next morning, but
knew that we must be moving on.  It was but a few miles to the
town of Buffalo Gap, and we passed through it before noon.

"There are more varmints," cried Ollie, as we were driving
through the town.  They were in a cage in front of a store, and we
stopped to see them.

"What are they?"  one of us asked the man who seemed to own
them.

"Bob-cats," he answered, promptly.

"Must be a Buffalo Gap name for wild-cats," said Jack, as we
drove on, "because that's what they are."

Ollie had gone into a store to buy some cans of fruit, and
when he came out he looked much bewildered.

[Illustration: A Lesson in Finance]

"I think," he said, "that that man must be crazy, or
something.  There were thirty cents coming to me in change.  He
tossed out a quarter and said, 'Two bits,' and then a dime and
said, 'Short bit--thank you,' and closed up the drawer and
started off.  I didn't want more than was coming to me, so I
handed out a nickle and said, 'There, that makes it right.' The
man looked at it, laughed, and pushed it back, and said, 'Keep
it, sonny; I haven't got any chickens.' Now, I'd like to know
what it all meant."

We both laughed, and when Jack recovered his composure he
said:

"It means simply that we're getting out into the mining
country, where no coin less than a dime circulates.  He didn't
happen to have three dimes, so the best he could do was to give
you either twenty-five or thirty-five cents, and he was letting
you have the benefit of the situation by making it thirty-five.  A
bit is twelve and a half cents, and a short bit is ten cents.  A
two-bit piece is a quarter."

"Yes; but what about his not keeping chickens?"

"Oh, that was simply his humorous way of saying that all
coins under a dime are fit only for chicken-feed."

We camped that night beside the trail near a little log
store.  "What you want to do," said the man in charge, "is to take
your horses down there behind them trees to park 'em for the
night.  Good feed down there."

"'To park,'" said Jack, in a low voice.  "New and interesting
verb.  He mean's turn 'em out to grass.  We mustn't appear green."
Then he said to the man:

"Yes, we reckoned we'd park 'em down there to-night."

The next day was the coldest we had experienced, and we were
glad to walk to keep warm.  We were getting among the smaller of
the hills, with their tops covered with the peculiarly dark
pine-trees which give the whole range its name.  We camped at
night under a high bank which afforded some protection from the
chilly east wind.  Now that we were all sleeping in the wagon
there was no room in it to store the sacks of horse-feed which we
had, and we knew that if we put them outside Old Blacky would eat
them up before morning.

"There's nothing to do," said Jack, "but to carry them around
up on that bank and hang them down with ropes.  Leave 'em about
twelve feet from the bottom and ten feet from the top, and I
don't think the Pet can get them."

We accordingly did so, and went to bed with the old scoundrel
standing and looking up at the bags wistfully, though he had just
had all that any horse needed for supper.  But in the morning we
found that he had clambered up high enough to get hold of the
bottom of one of the sacks and pull it down and devour fully half
of it.  He was, as Jack said, "the worst horse that ever looked
through a collar."

[Illustration: The Rattletrap in the Storm]

But the weather in the morning gave us more concern than did
the foraging of the ancient Blacky.  It was even colder than the
night before, and the raw east wind was rawer, and with it all
there was a drizzling rain.  It was not a hard rain, but one of
the kind that comes down in small clinging drops and blows in
your face in a fine spray.  Jack got breakfast in the wagon, and
we ate the hot cakes and warmed-over grouse with a good relish.
Then we loaded in what was left of the horsefeed, and started.

It was impossible to keep warm even by walking, but we
plodded on and made the best of it.  The road was hilly and stony;
but by noon we had got beyond the rain, and for the rest of the
way it was dry even if cold.  The hills among which we were
winding grew constantly higher, and the quantity of pine timber
upon their summits greater.  Just as dusk was beginning to creep
down we came around one which might fairly have been called a
small mountain, and saw Rapid City spread out before us, the
largest town we had seen since leaving Yankton.  We skirted around
it, and came to camp under another hill and near a big stone
quarry a half-mile west of town.  There was a mill-race just below
us, and plenty of water.  We fed the horses and had supper.  There
was a road not much over a hundred yards in front of our camp,
along which, through the darkness, we could hear teams and wagons
passing.

"I wonder where it goes to?"  said Ollie.

"I think it's the great Deadwood trail over which all the
supplies are drawn to the mines by mule or horse or ox teams,"
said Jack.  "There's no railroad, you know, and everything has to
go by wagon--goods and supplies in, and a great deal of ore out.
Let's go over and see."

The moon was not yet risen and the sky was covered with
clouds, so it was extremely dark.  We took along our lantern, but
it did not make much impression on the darkness.  When we reached
the road we found that everywhere we stepped we went over our
shoe-tops in the soft dust.  We beard a deep, strange creaking
noise, mixed with what sounded like reports of a pistol, around
the bend in the trail.  Soon we could make out what seemed to be a
long herd of cattle winding towards us, with what might have been
a circus tent swaying about behind them.

"What's coming?"  we asked of a boy who was going by.

"Old Henderson," he replied.

"What's he got?"

"Just his outfit."

"But what are all the cattle?"

"His team."

"Not one team?"

"Yes; eleven yoke."

"Twenty-two oxen in one team?"

"Yes; and four wagons."

The head yoke of oxen was now opposite to us, swaying about
from side to side and swirling their tails in the air, but still
pressing forward at the rate of perhaps a mile and a half or two
miles an hour.  Far back along the procession we could dimly see a
man walking in the dust beside the last yoke, swinging a long
whip which cracked in the air like a rifle.  Behind rolled and
swayed the four great canvas-topped wagons, tied behind one
another.  We watched the strange procession go by.  There was only
one man, without doubt Henderson, grizzled and seemingly sixty
years old.  The wagon wheels were almost as tall as he was, and
the tires were four inches wide.  The last wagon disappeared up
the trail in the dust and darkness.

"Well," said Jack, "I think when I start out driving at this
time of night with twenty-two guileless oxen and four ten-ton
wagons that I'll want to get somewhere pretty badly."  Then we
went back to the Rattletrap.



X: AMONG THE MOUNTAINS


After we got back to the Rattletrap we promised ourselves
plenty of Sport the next day watching the freighters with their
long teams and wagon trains.  Jack could not recover from his
first glimpse of Henderson.

"Rather a neat little turnout to take a young lady out
driving with," he said, after we had gone to bed.  "Twenty-two
oxen and four wagons.  Plenty of room.  Take along her father and
mother.  And the rest of the family.  And her school-mates.  And the
whole town.  Good team to go after the doctor with if somebody was
sick--mile and a half an hour.  That trotting-cow man at Yankton
ought to come up here and show Henderson a little speed.  Still, I
dare say Henderson could beat Old Browny on a good day for
sleeping, and when he didn't have Blacky to pall him along."

But we got small sight of the trail the next day, as the rain
we had left behind came upon us again in greater force than ever.
It began toward morning, and when we looked out, just as it was
becoming light, we found it coming down in sheets--"cold, wet
sheets," as Ollie said, too.  The horses stood huddled together,
wet and chilled.  We got on our storm-coats and led them up to a
house a sort distance away, which proved to be Smith's ranch.
There we found large, dry sheds, under which we put them and
where they were very glad to go.  Once back in the cabin of the
Rattletrap, we scarcely ventured out again.

It certainly wasn't a very cheerful day.  We would not have
minded the rain much, because we were dry enough; but the cold
was disagreeable, and we were obliged to wear our overcoats all
day.  We could watch the road from the front of the wagon, and saw
a number of freighters go by, usually with empty wagons, as it
soon became too muddy for those with loads.  We saw one
fourteen-ox team with four wagons, and another man with twelve
oxen and three wagons.  There were also a number of mule teams,
and we noticed one of twelve mules and five wagons, and several
of ten mules and three or four wagons.  With these the driver
always rode the nigh wheel animal--that is, the left-hand rear
one.

"I'm going to put a saddle on Old Blacky and ride him after
this," said Jack.  "Bound to be in the fashion.  Wonder how
Henderson is getting along in the mud?  A mile in two hours, I
suppose.  Must be impossible for him to see the head oxen through
this rain."

The downpour never stopped all day.  We tried letter-writing,
but it was too cold to hold the pen; and Jack's efforts at
playing the banjo proved equally unsuccessful.  We fell back on
reading, but even this did not seem to be very satisfactory.  So
we finally settled down to watching the rain and listening to the
wind.

When evening came we shut down the front of the cover and
tried to warm up the cabin a little by leaving the oil-stove
burning, but it didn't seem to make much difference.  So we soon
went to bed, rather damp, somewhat cold, and a little dispirited.
I think we all stayed awake for a long time listening to the
beating of the rain on the cover, and wondering about the weather
of the morrow.

When we awoke in the morning it did not take long to find out
about the weather.  The rain had ceased and the sky was clear, but
it was colder.  Outside we found ice on the little pools of water
in the footprints of the horses.  We were stiff and cold.  Some of
us may have thought of the comforts of home, but none of us said
anything about them.

"This is what I like," said Jack.  "Don't feel I'm living
unless I find my shoes frozen in the morning.  Like to break the
ice when I go to wash my face and hands, and to have my hair
freeze before I can comb it."

But we observed that he kept as close to the camp-fire which
we started as any of us.  We went up to Smith's to look after the
horses.  While Jack and I were at the sheds Ollie stayed in the
road watching the freight teams.  A big swarthy man, over six feet
in height, came along, and after looking over the fence at
Smith's house some time, said to Ollie:

[Illustration: Effect of a Dog on a Mexican]

"Do you s'pose Smith's at home?"

"Oh, I guess so," answered Ollie.

"I'd like to see him," went on the man, with an uneasy air.

"Probably you'll find him eating breakfast," said Ollie.

"I don't like to go in," said the man.  "Why not?"

"I'm--I'm afraid of the dog."

"Oh!"  replied Ollie.  "Well, I'm not.  Come on," and he stalked
ahead very bravely, while the man followed cautiously behind.

"He's a Mexican," said Smith in explanation afterwards.  "All
Mexicans are afraid of dogs."

"That's a pretty broad statement," said Jack, after Smith had
gone.  "I believe, if there was a good reward offered, that I
could find a Mexican who isn't afraid of dogs.  Though perhaps
it's the hair they're afraid of; Mexican dogs don't have any, you
know."

"Don't any of them have hair?"  asked Ollie.

"Not a hair," answered his truthful uncle.  "I don't suppose a
Mexican dog would know a hair if he saw it."

"I think that's a bigger story than Smith's," said Ollie.

It was Sunday, and we spent most of the day in the wagon,
though we took a long walk up the valley in the afternoon.  The
first thing Ollie said the next morning was, "When are we going
to see the buffaloes?"

Smith had been telling us about them the evening before.  They
were down-town, and belonged to a Dr.  McGillicuddie.  They had
been brought in recently from the Rosebud Indian Agency, and had
been captured some time before in the Bad Lands.

We followed the trail, now as deep with mud as it had been
with dust, meeting many freighters on the way, and found the
buffaloes near the Deadwood stage barn.

"See!"  exclaimed Ollie; "there they are, in the yard."

"Don't say 'yard,'" returned Jack; "say 'corral,' with a
good, strong accent on the last syllable.  A yard is a corral, and
a farm a ranch, and a revolver a six-shooter--and a lot more.
Don't be green, Oliver."

"Oh, bother!"  replied Ollie.  "There's ten of 'em.  See the big
fellow!"

"They're nice ones, that's so," answered Jack.  "I'd like to
see the Yankton man we heard about try to milk that cow over in
the corner."

[Illustration: Post-Mortem on a Grizzly]

After we had seen the buffaloes we wandered about town and
jingled our spurs, which were quite in the fashion.  We
encountered a big crowd in front of one of the markets, and found
that a hunter had just come in from the mountains to the west
with the carcass of the biggest bear ever brought into Rapid
City.  Some said it was a grizzly, and others a silvertip, and one
man tried to settle the difficulty by saying that there wasn't
any difference between them.  But it was certainly a big bear, and
filled the whole wagon-box.  Ollie sidled through the crowd and
asked so many questions of the man, who was named Reynolds, that
he good-naturedly gave Ollie one of the largest of the claws.  It
was five inches long.

At noon we went down to the camp of the freighters on the
outskirts of town, near Rapid Creek.  There must have been fifty
"outfits"--Jack said that was the right word--and several hundred
mules, as many oxen, and a few horses.  The animals were, most of
them, wandering about wherever they pleased, the mules and horses
taking their dinner out of nosebags, and the mules keeping up a
gentle exercise by kicking at one another.  It seemed a hopeless
confusion, but the men were sitting about on the ground, calmly
cooking their dinners over little camp-fires.  One man, whom we
had got acquainted with in the morning at Smith's, asked us to
have dinner with him, and made the invitation so pressing that we
accepted.  He had several gallon's of coffee and plenty of bacon
and canned fruit, and a peculiar kind of bread which he had baked
himself.

[Illustration: 'Gene Starts a Cook-Book]

"I'm a-thinking," he said, "there ain't enough sal'ratus in
that there bread; but I'm a poor cook, anyhow."

The bread seemed to us to be already composed chiefly of
saleratus, so his apology struck us as unnecessary.  He very
kindly wrote out the receipt on a shingle for Jack, but I stole
it away from him after we got home and burned it in the
camp-fire; so we escaped that.

"Your pancakes are bad enough," I said to him.  "We don't care
to try your saleratus bread."

Jack was a good deal worked up about the loss of his receipt,
and experimented a long time to produce something like the
freighter's bread without it; but as Snoozer wouldn't try the
stuff he made, and he was afraid to do so himself, nothing came
of it.

We enjoyed our dinner with the man, however, and Jack added
further to his vocabulary in finding that the drivers of the ox
teams were called "bullwhackers," and those of the mules and
horses "muleskinners."

In the afternoon we climbed the hill above our camp.  It gave
us a long view off to the east across the level country, while
away to the west were the mountain-peaks rising higher and
higher.  It was still cold, and the raw northeast wind moaned
through the pines in a way that made us think of winter.

We went to bed early that night, so as to get a good start
for Deadwood the next day.  We brought the horses down from the
ranch in the evening, blanketed them, and stood them out of the
wind among some trees.

"Four o'clock must see us rolling out of our comfortable beds
and getting ready to start," said Jack, as we turned in.  "We must
play we are freighters."

Jack planned better than he knew; we really "rolled out" in
an exceedingly lively manner at three o'clock.  We were sleeping
soundly at that hour, when we were awakened by the motion of the
wagon.  Jack and I sat up.  It was swaying from side to side, and
we could hear the wheels bumping on the stones.  The back end was
considerably lower than the front.

"It's running down the bank!"  I cried, and we both plunged
through the darkness for the brake-handle.  We fell over Ollie and
Snoozer, and were instantly hopelessly tangled.  It seemed an age,
with the wagon swaying more and more, before we found the handle.
Jack pushed it up hard, we heard the brake grind on the wheels
outside; then there was a great bump and splash, and the wagon
tilted half over and stopped.  We found Ourselves lying on the
side of the cover, with cold water rising about us.  We were not
long in getting out, and discovered that the Rattletrap was
capsized in the mill-race.

"Old Blacky did it!"  cried Jack, as he danced around and
shook his wet clothes.  "I know he did.  The old sinner!"

We got out the lantern and lit it.  Only the hind end of the
wagon was really in the race; one front wheel still clung to the
bank, and the other was up in the air.  Ollie got in and began to
pass things out to Jack, while I went up the hill after the
horses.  Jack was right.  Old Blacky was evidently the author of
our misfortune.  He had broken loose in some manner, and probably
begun his favorite operation of making his toilet on the corner
of the wagon by rubbing against it.  The brake had carelessly been
left off, he had pushed the wagon back a few feet, and it had
gone over the bank.  I soon had the harness on the horses, and got
them down the hill.  We hitched them to the hind wheel with a long
rope, Jack wading in the water to his waist, and pulled the wagon
upright.  Then we attached them to the end of the tongue, and
after hard work drew it out of the race.  By this time we were
chilled through and through.  Our beds and nearly everything we
had were soaking with water.

"How do you like it, Uncle Jack?"  inquired Ollie.  "Do you
feel that you are living now?"

Jack's teeth were chattering.  "Y--yes," he said; "but I won't
be if we don't get a fire started pretty quick."

There were some timbers from an old bridge near by, and we
soon had a good fire, around which we tramped in a procession
till our clothes were fairly dry.  The wind was chilly, and it was
a dark, cloudy morning.  The unfortunate Snoozer had gone down
with the rest of us, and was the picture of despair, till Ollie
rubbed him with a dry corner of a blanket, and gave him a good
place beside the fire.

By the time two or three hours had elapsed we began to feel
partially dry, and decided to start on, relying on exercise to
keep ourselves warm.  We had had breakfast in the meantime, and,
on the whole, were feeling rather cheerful again.  We opened the
cover and spread out the bedding, inside and outside, and hung
some of it on a long pole which we stuck into the wagon from the
rear.  Altogether we presented a rather funny appearance as we
started out along the trail, but no one paid much attention to
us.  The freighters were already astir, and we were constantly
passing or meeting their long trains.  Among others we passed
Eugene Brooks, the man with whom we had taken dinner.  We told him
of our mishap, and he laughed and said:

"That's nothing in this country.  Something's always happening
here which would kill folks anywhere else.  You stay here awhile
and you'll be as tough as your old black horse."

Brooks had an outfit of five spans of mules and two wagons.
We stayed with him a half-hour, and then went on.  As we could not
reach Deadwood that day, he advised us to camp that night where
the trail crossed Thunder Butte Creek, a branch of La Belle
Fourche.

The trail led for the most part through valleys or along the
sides of hills, and was generally not far from level, though
there was, of course, a constant though hardly perceptible rise
as we got farther into the mountains.  We camped at noon at Elk
Creek, and made further progress at drying our household effects.
We pressed on during the afternoon, and passed through the town
of Sturgis, where we laid in some stores of provisions to take
the place of those spoiled by the water, and also a quantity of
horse-feed.  Later we congratulated ourselves on our good-luck in
doing this.

As the afternoon wore away we found ourselves getting up
above the timber-line.  The mountains began to shut in our view in
all directions, and the valleys were narrowing.  As night drew
nearer, Jack said:

"Seems to me it's about time we got to this Thunder Butte
Creek.  'Gene said that if we passed Sturgis we'd have to go on to
that if we wanted water."

We soon met a man, and inquired of him the distance to the
desired stream.  "Two miles," he replied, promptly.  We went on as
much as a mile and met another man, to whom we put the same
question.  "Three miles," he answered, with great decision.

"That creek seems to be retreating," said Jack, after the man
had gone on.  "We've got to hurry and catch it, or it will run
clean into Deadwood and crawl down a gold mine."

It was growing dark.  We forged ahead for another mile, and by
this time it was quite as dark as it was going to be, with a
cloudy sky, and mountains and pines shutting out half of that.  I
was walking ahead With the lantern, and came to a place where the
trail divided.

"The road forks here," I called.  "Which do you suppose is
right?"

"Which seems to be the most travelled?"  asked Jack.

"Can't see any difference," I replied.  "We'll have to leave
it to the instinct of the horses."

"Yes, I'd like to put myself in the grasp of Old Blacky's
instinct.  The old scoundrel would go wrong if he knew which was
right."

"Well," I returned, "come on and see which way he turns, and
then go the other way."  (Jack always declared that the old fellow
understood what I said.)

He drove up to the forks, and Blacky turned to the right.
Jack drew over to the left, and we went up that road.  We
continued to go up it for fully three miles, though we soon
became convinced that it was wrong.  It constantly grew narrower
and apparently less travelled.  We were soon winding along a
mountain-side among the pines, and around and above and below
great rocks.

"We'll go till we find a decent place to camp, and then stop
for the night," said Jack.  We finally came to a little level
bench covered with giant pines, and we could hear water beyond.  I
went on with the lantern, and found a small stream leaping down a
gulch.

"This is the place to stop," I said, and we soon had our camp
established, and a good fire roaring up into the tree-tops.  Ollie
found plenty of dry pine wood, and we blanketed the horses and
stood them under a protecting ledge.  It was cold, and the wind
roared down the gulch and moaned in the pines, but we scarcely
felt it below.  We finished drying our bedding and had a good
supper.  Jack got out his banjo and tried to compete with the
brook and the pines.  We went to bed feeling that we were glad we
had missed the road, since it had brought so delightful a
camping-place.

Ollie was the first to wake in the morning.  It was quite
light.

"What makes the cover sag down so?"  he asked.  Jack opened his
eyes, reached up with the whipstock and raised it.  Something slid
off the outside with a rush.

"Open the front and you'll see," answered Jack.

Ollie did so, and we all looked out.  The ground was deep with
snow, and it was still falling in great feathery flakes.  Old
Blacky was loose, and looked in at us with a wicked gleam in his
eyes.



XI: DEADWOOD


"You're a miserable, sneaking, treacherous old equine
scoundrel!"  cried Jack, shaking his fist violently at Old Blacky.
"You knew you were making us come the wrong road."

Old Blacky answered never a word, but turned, hit the
wagon-tongue a kick, and joined the other horses.

"Well, close down the front and let's talk this thing over,"
said Jack.  "In the first place, we are snowed in."

"In the second place," said I, "we may stay snowed in a
week."

"I don't think we're prepared for that," said Ollie, very
solemnly.

"Let's see," went on Jack.  "There are two sacks of ground
feed under Ollie's bed.  By putting the horses on rather short
rations that ought to last pretty nearly or quite a week.  But for
hay we're not so well provided.  There's one big bundle under the
wagon, if Blacky hasn't eaten it up.  The pony won't need any,
because she knows how to paw down to the dry grass.  The others
don't know how to do this, and the hay will last them, after a
fashion, for about three days."

"Perhaps by that time the pony will have taught them how to
paw," I said.

"Wouldn't be surprised," returned Jack.  "Perhaps by that time
we'll all be glad to learn from her.  We've got flour enough to
last a fortnight, so we needn't be afraid of running out of
water-pancakes at least.  You don't grow fat on 'em, but, on the
other hand, there is no gout lurking in a water-pancake as I make
it."

"No, Jack, that's so," I said, feelingly.  "We've got enough
bacon for several meals, a can of chicken, and two earls of
beans.  Also a loaf of bread and a pound of crackers.  Then there's
three cans of fruit, a dozen potatoes, six eggs, a quart of milk,
and half a pound of pressed figs.  After that we'll paw with the
pony."

"I wonder if we couldn't get some game?"  inquired Ollie.

"Snow-birds, maybe," said Jack.  "Or perhaps an owl.  I've
heard b'iled owl spoken of."

After all, the prospect was not so bad.  Besides, it was so
early in the season that it did not seem at all likely that we
should be snowbound a week.  Still, we knew little about the
mountain climate.

We got on our overcoats and went out and gave the horses
their breakfast.  Old Blacky was still cross, but Jack contented
himself by calling him a few names.  We also got up what wood we
could and piled it against the wagon, for use in case our
kerosene became exhausted, though we decided to cook in the wagon
for the present.  The snow was seven or eight inches deep, and
still falling rapidly.  After breakfast we took the pony down to a
little open fiat and turned her loose.  The old instinct of her
wild days came back to her, and she began to paw away the snow
and gnaw at the scanty grass beneath.

After giving the other horses a little hay we returned to the
wagon, where we stayed most of the day.  I'm afraid we were a
little frightened by the prospect.  Of course, we knew that if it
came to the worst we could leave the wagon and make our way back
along the trail on foot, but we did not want to do that.  But as
for getting the wagon back along the narrow road, now blotted out
by the snow, we knew it would be foolish to attempt it.  It was
not very cold in the wagon, and Jack played the banjo, and we
were fairly cheerful.  The snow kept coming down all day, and by
night it was a foot deep.  The pony came in from the flat as it
began to grow dark, and we gave the horses their supper and left
them in the shelter of the rocks.  Then we brushed the snow off
the top of the cover, as we had done several times before, and
went in to spend the evening by the light of the lantern.  When
bedtime came, Jack looked up and said:

"The cover doesn't seem to sag down.  It must have stopped
snowing."

We looked out, and found that it was so.  We could even see
the stars; and, better yet, it did not seem to be growing colder.
We went to bed feeling encouraged.

The next morning the sun peeped in at us through the long
trunks of the pines, and Ollie soon discovered that the wind was
from the south.

"Unless it turns cold again, this will fix the snow," said
Jack.

He was right, and it soon began to thaw.  By noon the little
stream in the gulch was a torrent, and before night patches of
bare ground began to appear.  We decided not to attempt to leave
camp that day, but the next morning saw us headed back along the
tortuous road.  In two hours we were again on the main trail.  Just
as we turned in, Eugene Brooks came along, having also been
delayed by the snow, though the fall where he was had not been
nearly so great.  'Gene laughed at us, and told us that we had
been following a trail to some lead mines which had been
abandoned several months before.

[Illustration: Lack of Confidence in Mankind]

Half a mile farther on we came to the Thunder Butte Creek
which we had sought.  The water was almost blood-red, which 'Gene
told us came from the gold stamp-mills on its upper course.  If
the water had been gray it would have indicated silver-mining.
Just beyond we met the Deadwood Treasure Coach.  It was an
ordinary four-horse stage, without passengers, but carrying two
guards, each with a very short double-barrelled shot-gun resting
across his lap.  The stage was operated by the express company,
and was bringing out the gold bricks from the mines near
Deadwood.

"I suppose," said Ollie, musingly, "if anybody tried to rob
the coach, those fellows would shoot with their guns?"

"Oh no," replied Jack.  "Oh no; they carry those guns to fan
themselves with on hot days."  But Ollie did not seem to be misled
by this astonishing information.

As we went on the road grew constantly more mountainous.
Sometimes the trail ran  along ledges, and sometimes near roaring
streams and waterfalls, and the great pine-trees were everywhere.
We passed two grizzly  old placer-miners working just off the
trail, and stopped and watched them "pan out" a few shovelfuls of
dirt.  They were rewarded by two or three specks of gold, and
seemed  satisfied.  'Gene told us afterward that one of  them was
an old California '49er, who had  used the same pan in every
State and Territory of the West.

It was a little after noon when we drove into Deadwood--the
last point outward bound at which the Rattletrap expected to
touch.  It was a larger town than Rapid City, and was wedged in a
little gulch between two mountains, with the White Wood Creek
rushing along and threatening to wash away the main street.  We
noticed that the only way of reaching many of the houses on the
mountain-side was by climbing long flights of stairs.  We drove
on, and camped near a mill on the upper edge of town.

In the afternoon we wandered about town, and, among other
places, visited the many Chinese stores.  We also clambered up the
mountain-sides to the two cemeteries, which we could see far
above the town.  It seemed to us that on rather too many of the
head-stones, (which were in nearly every case boards, by-the-way)
it was stated that the person whose grave it marked was
"assassinated by" so-and so, giving the name of the assassin; but
these were of the old days, when no doubt there were a good many
folks in Deadwood who left the town just as well off after they
had been assassinated.  "Killed by Indians" was also the record on
some of the boards.  Ollie was greatly interested in the Chinese
graves, with dishes of rice and chicken on them, and colored
papers covered with curious characters--prayers, I suppose.  We
climbed on up to the White Rocks, almost at the top of the
highest peak overlooking Deadwood, and had a good view of the
town and gulch below, and of the great Bear Butte standing out
alone and bold miles to the east.  We were tired, and glad to go
to bed as soon as we got back to the wagon.

The next day we decided to visit Lead City (pronounced not
like the metal, but like the verb to lead).  Here were most of the
big gold mines, including the great Homestake Mine.  It was only
two or three miles, and we drove over early.  It was a strange
town, perched on the side of a mountain, and consisted of small
openings in the ground, which were the mines, and immense
shed-like buildings, which contained the ore-reducing works.  The
noise of the stamp-mills filled the whole town, and seemed to
drown out and cover up everything else.  We soon found that there
was no hope of our getting into the mines.

"They'd think you were spies for the other mines, or
something of that sort," said a man to us.  "Nobody can get down.
Nobody knows where they are digging, and they don't mean that
anybody shall.  They may be digging under their own property
exclusively, and they may not.  For all I know, they may be taking
gold that belongs to me a thousand feet, more or less, under my
back yard."

"If I had a back yard here," said Jack, after we had passed
on, "I'd put my ear to the ground once in a while and listen, and
if I heard anybody burrowing under it I'd--well--I'd yell scat at
'em."

We found no difficulty in getting in the stamp-mills, and a
man kindly told us much about them.

"The Homestake Mills make up the largest gold-reducing plant
in the world," said the man.  "Where do you suppose the largest
single stamp-mill in the world is?"  We guessed California.

"No," he said; "it's in Alaska--the Treadwell Mill."

We decided that the stamp-mills were the noisiest place we
were ever in.  There were hundreds of great steel bars, three or
four inches in diameter and a dozen feet long, pounding up and
down at the same time on the ore and reducing it to powder.  It
was mixed with water, and ran away as thin red mud, the gold
being caught by quicksilver.  The openings of the shafts and
tunnels were in or near the mills, and there were the smallest
cars and locomotives which we had ever seen going about
everywhere on narrow tracks, carrying the ore.  Ollie walked up to
one of the locomotives and looked down at it, and said:

"Why, it seems just like a Shetland-pony colt.  I believe I
could almost lift it."

The engineer sat on a little seat on the back end, and seemed
bigger than his engine.  As we looked at them we constantly
expected to see them tip up in front from the weight of the
engineer.  There was also a larger railroad, though still a narrow
gauge, winding away for twenty miles along the tops of the hills,
which was used principally for bringing wood for the engines and
timbers for propping up the mines.

[Illustration: Flying Cord-Wood]

We were walking along a connecting shed, and happened to look
out a window, when we saw a four-foot stick of cord-wood shoot up
fifty feet from some place behind us, and after sailing over a
wide curve, like a "fly-ball," alight on a great pile of similar
sticks on the lower ground, which was much higher than an
ordinary house, and must have contained thousands of cords.

"Good gracious!"  exclaimed Jack.  "Wish I could throw a stick
of wood like that fellow."

Another and another shot after the first one in quick
succession.  Sometimes there were two almost together, and we
noticed the bigger and heavier the stick the higher and farther
it was shot.  We saw some almost a foot in diameter soaring like
straws before the wind.

"What a baseball pitcher that man would make!"  went on Jack,
enthusiastically.  "Think of his arm!  Look at that big one go--it
must weigh two hundred pounds!"

"Let's get out of this shed and investigate the mystery," I
said.

Outside it was all clear.  The narrow-gauge wood railroad
ended on the edge of the steep hill overlooking the mills.  Down
this was a long wooden chute, or flume, like a big trough, which
for the last thirty or forty feet at its lower end curved upward.
Men were unloading wood from a train at the upper end.  Each stick
shot down the flume like lightning, up the short incline at the
end, and soared away like a bird to the pile beyond and below the
shed.  A little stream of water trickled constantly down the chute
to keep the friction of the logs from setting it on fire.

"That's the most interesting thing here," said Jack.  "I'd
like to send the Blacksmith's Pet down the thing and see what he
would do.  I'll wager he'd kick the wood-pile all over the town
after he alighted."

We spent nearly the whole day in wandering about the
stamp-mills.  The great steam engines which operated them were
some of the largest we had ever seen.

"And think," observed Jack, "of the fact that all of this
heavy machinery, including the big engines and the locomotives
and cars, and, in fact, everything, was brought overland on
wagons, probably most of it nearly three hundred miles.  No wonder
people got to driving such teams as Henderson's."

Toward night we returned to Deadwood by the way of Central
City.  Here were more great mines and mills, but they did not Seem
to be so prosperous, and part of the town was deserted, and
consisted of nothing but empty houses.  Just as the sun set we
drove in through the Golden Gate, and east anchor at our old camp
near the mill.

The next morning was wintry again, with snowflakes floating
in the air.  The ground was frozen, and the wind seemed to come
through the wagon-cover with rather more freedom than we enjoyed.

"It's time we began the return voyage," said Jack.  "We're a
long way from home, and we won't get there any too soon if we go
as fast as we can and take the shortest out."  So we started that
afternoon.

The shortest cut was to return to Rapid City, and then,
instead of going south into Nebraska, to go straight east,
through the Sioux Indian Reservation, crossing the Missouri at
Pierre, and then on across the settled country of eastern Dakota
to Prairie Flower, over against the Minnesota line.

We followed the same road between Deadwood and Rapid City,
with the exception that we turned out in one place, and went
around by Fort Meade.  Here we found a beautiful camping-place the
first night near a little stream and great overhanging rocks, and
not far from Bear Butte.  We reached Rapid late the next night,
which was Saturday, and stopped at the old camp near the
mill-race.  Here we stayed over Sunday, but Monday noon saw us
under sail again.  As we went through the town we stopped at the
freighter's camp, and told 'Gene Brooks good-bye, and then drove
away across the wide rolling plain to the east.

'Gene had warned us that we had a lonesome road before us to
Pierre, one hundred and seventy miles, nearly all of it across
the reservation.

"You'll follow the old freight trail all the way," he said,
"but you may not see three teams the whole distance, because
since the railroad got nearer it isn't used.  You'll find an old
stage station about every fifteen or seventeen miles, with
probably one man in charge.  You may see a horse-thief or two, or
something of that sort.  S'ciety ain't what it ought to be 'round
a reservation gen'rally."

[Illustration: The Deserted Ranch]

Just before the sun sank behind the mountains, which lay like
low black clouds to the west, we came to a little ranch standing
alone on the prairie.  The door was open, and it seemed to be
deserted, though there was a rude bed inside.  There was a good
well of water, and we decided to camp near it for the night,
especially as the grass was good.  There was no other house in
sight.  Bedtime arrived, and no one came to the ranch.

"I think I'll just sleep in that house tonight," said Jack,
"and see how it seems.  I'll leave the door open, so as not to
have too much luxury at first."

So he went to bed in the shanty, taking Snoozer along, and
leaving the wagon to Ollie and me.

We must have been asleep three or four hours when I was
awakened by the loud barking of a dog.  I started up and began
unfastening the front end of the cover.  Just then I heard the
pony snort in terror; and then followed a shot from a gun and the
sound of horses galloping away.  As I put my head out, Jack
called, excitedly:

"Some men were trying to get the pony.  They'd have done it,
too, if Snoozer hadn't barked and scared them away."

I was out of the wagon by this time, and found the pony
trembling at the end of her picket-line as near the wagon as she
could get.  Snoozer kept barking as if he couldn't stop.

"Did they shoot at you, Jack?"  I asked.

"No, I guess not.  I think they just blazed away for fun.  They
went off toward the Reservation.  Some of Gene's poor s'ciety, I
suppose."

It took half an hour to get the frightened pony and indignant
dog quieted; and perhaps it was longer than that before we again
got to sleep.



XII: HOMEWARD BOUND


"Snoozer shall have a pancake medal."

This was the first thing Ollie and I heard in the morning,
and it was Jack's voice addressing the hero of the night before.
We speedily rolled out, and agreed with Jack that Snoozer must be
suitably rewarded, he seemed fully to understand the importance
of his action in barking at the right moment, and for the first
morning on the whole trip he was up and about, waving his bushy
tail with great industry, and occasionally uttering a detached
bark, just to remind us of how he had done it.  He walked around
the pony several times, and looked at her with a haughty air, as
much as to say, "Where would you be now if it hadn't been for
me?"

"He shall have a pancake," continued Jack--"the biggest and
best pancake which the skilful hand of this cook can concoct."

Jack proceeded to carry out his promise, and when breakfast
was ready presented a griddlecake, all flowing with melted
butter, to the dog, which was as big as could be made in the
frying-pan.

"I always knew," said Jack, "that Snoozer would do something
some day.  He's lazy, but he's got brains.  He would never bark at
the moon, because he knows the moon isn't doing anything wrong,
but when it comes to horse-thieves it's different."

Snoozer munched his pancake, occasionally stopping to give a
grand swing to his tail and let off a little yelp of pure joy.

As we were getting ready for a start, and speculating on the
prospect for water, a man came along, riding a mule, and we asked
him about it.

[Illustration: Old "Blenty Vaters"]

"Yah, blenty vaters," said the man.  "Doan need to dake no
vaters along.'

"Any houses on the road?" asked Jack.

"Blenty houses," answered the stranger "houses, vaters,
efferydings."

We thanked him and started.  Notwithstanding this assurance, I
had intended to fill a jug with water, but forgot it, and we went
off without a drop.  We were going down what was called the Ridge
Road, along the divide between Elk and Elder creeks, and hoped to
reach the crossing of the Cheyenne at Smithville Post-office that
evening, and get on the Reservation the next morning.  In half an
hour we passed some trees which marked the site of the Washday
Springs, but there was no house there, nor had we seen one at
eleven o'clock.  We met an Indian on foot, and Jack said to him:

"Where can we get some water?"

The Indian shook his head.  "Cheyenne River," he replied.

"Isn't there any this side?"

"No," with another jerk of the head.  Then he stalked on.

"Yes, and the Indian's right, I'll warrant," exclaimed Jack.
"'Blenty raters,' indeed!  Why, that Dutchman doesn't know enough
to ache when he's hurt."

"Well, we're in for it," said I.  "We can't go back.  Maybe
it'll rain," though there was not a cloud in sight, and there was
more danger of an earthquake than of a shower.

So we went on, and a little after dark wound down among the
black baked bluffs to the crossing, without any of us having had
a drop to drink since before sunrise.  After we had "lowered the
river six inches," as Jack declared, we went into camp.

We were up early in the morning, and Jack went down the river
with his gun and got a brace of grouse.  There was one house near
the crossing, which was the post-office.  The man who lived there
told us it was a hundred and twenty-five miles across the
Reservation to Pierre, and twenty miles to Peno Hill, the first
station at which we should find any one.  The ford was deep, the
water coming up to the wagon-box, and there was ice along the
edges of the river.  It was a fine clear day, however, and the
cold did not trouble us much.  We wound up among the bluffs on the
other side of the river, and at the top had our last sight of the
Black Hills.  We went on across the rolling prairie, black as ink,
as .the grass had all been burned off, and reached Peno Hill at a
little after noon.  There was a rough board building, one end of
it a house and the other a barn.  All of the stage stations were
built after this plan.  We camped here for dinner, and pressed on
to reach Grizzly Shaw's for the night.  About the middle of the
afternoon we passed Bad River Station, kept by one Mexican Ed.

"I'm going to watch and see if he runs when he sees Snoozer,"
said Ollie.  Snoozer had insisted on walking most of the time
since his adventure with the horse-thieves; but, greatly to
Ollie's disappointment, Mexican Ed showed no signs of fear even
when Snoozer went so far as to growl at him.

As it grew dark we passed among the Grindstone
Buttes--several small hills.  A prairie fire was burning among
them, and lit up the road for us.  We came to Shaw's at last, and
went into camp.  We visited the house before we went to bed, and
found that Shaw was grizzly enough to justify his name, and that
he had a family consisting of a wife and daughter and two
grandchildren.

"Pierre is our post-office," said Shaw, "eighty-five miles
away."

"The postman doesn't bring out your letters, then?"  returned
Jack.

"We ain't much troubled with postmen, nor policemen, nor
hand-organ men, nor no such things," answered Shaw.  "Still, once
in a while a sheriff goes by looking for somebody."

We told him of our experience with thieves, and he said:

"It's a wonder they didn't get your pony.  There's lots of 'em
hanging about the edge of the Reserve, because it's a good place
for 'em to hide."

"Must make a very pleasant little walk down to the
post-office when you want to mail a letter," said Jack, after we
got back to the wagon--"eighty-five miles.  And think of getting
there, and finding that you had left the letter on the hall
table, and having to go back!"

We were off again the next morning, as usual.  At noon we
stopped at Mitchell Creek, where we found another family,
including a little girl five or six years old, who carried her
doll in a shawl on her back, as she had seen the Indian women
carry their babies.  We had intended to reach Plum Creek for the
night, but got on slower than we expected, owing partly to a
strong head-wind, so darkness overtook us at Frozen Man's Creek.

"Not a very promising name for a November camping-place,"
said Jack, "but I guess we'll have to stop.  I don't believe it's
cold enough to freeze anybody to-night."

There was no house here, but there was water, and plenty of
tall, dry grass, so it made a good place for us to stop.  Frozen
Man's Creek, as well as all the others, was a branch of the Bad
River, which flowed parallel with the trail to the Missouri.  We
camped just east of the creek.  The grass was so high that we
feared to build a camp-fire, and cooked supper in the wagon.

"I'm glad we've got out of the burned region," said Jack.
"It's dismal, and I like to hear the wind cutting through the dry
grass with its sharp swish."

There was a heavy wind blowing from the southeast, but we
turned the rear of the wagon in that direction, saw that the
brake was firmly on, and went to bed feeling that we should not
blow away.

"I wonder who the poor man was that was frozen here?"  was the
last thing Jack said before he went to sleep.  "Book agent going
out to Shaw's, perhaps, to sell him a copy of 'Every Man his Own
Barber; or, How to Cut your Own Hair with a Lawn-Mower.'"

We were doomed to one more violent awakening in the old
Rattletrap.  At two o'clock in the morning I was roused up by the
loud neighing of the horses.  Old Blacky's hoarse voice was
especially strong.  As I opened my eyes there was a reddish glare
coming through the white cover.  "Prairie fire!"  flashed into my
mind instantly, and I gave Jack a shake and got out of the front
of the wagon as quickly as I could.  I had guessed aright; the
flames were sweeping up the shallow valley of the creek before
the wind as fast as a horse could travel.

    [Illustration: In the Prairie Fire]

Jack came tumbling out, and we knew instantly what to do.  We both
ran a few yards ahead of the wagon and knelt in the grass, and
struck matches almost at the same moment.  Jack's went out, but
mine caught, and a little flame leaped up, reached over and to both
sides, and then rolled away before the wind, spreading wider and
wider.  I beat out the feeble blaze which tried to work to
windward, and ran back to the wagon, while Jack went after the
horses.  The coming flames were almost upon us by this time; but
Ollie was out, and together, aided by the wind, we rolled the wagon
ahead on our little new-made oasis of safety.  Jack pulled up the
pony's picket-pin, and brought her on also, while the other horses,
being loose, sought the place themselves.  The flames came up to
the edge of the burned place, reached over for more grass, did not
find it, and died out.  But on both sides of us they rushed on, and
soon overtook our little fire, and went on to the northwest.  The
wind, first hot from the fire, now came cool and fresh, though full
of the odor of the burned grass.

"Closest call we've had," said Jack.  "Yes," I replied; "been
pretty warm for us if we hadn't waked up.  Our animals are doing
better; first Snoozer distinguished himself, and now I think we've
to thank Old Blacky mainly for this alarm."

We were pretty well frightened, and though we went back to bed, I
do not believe that any of us slept again that night.  At the first
touch of dawn we were up.  As it grew lighter, the great change in
the landscape became apparent.  The gray of the prairie was turned
to the blackest of black.  Only an occasional big staring buffalo
skull relieved the inkiness.  Far away to the northwest we could
see a low hanging cloud of smoke where the fire was still burning.

"Blacky ought to have a hay medal," said Jack at breakfast. "If I
had any hay I'd twist him up one as big as a door-mat."

But Blacky, unlike Snoozer, seemed to have no pride in his
achievement, and he wandered all around the neighborhood trying to
find a mouthful of grass which had been missed by the fire; but he
was not successful.

"If the frozen man had been here last night he'd have been thawed
out," I said.

"Yes; and if Shaw had been here, what a good time it would have
been for him to let the fire run over his hair and clear off the
thickest of it!"  returned Jack.

We started on, but the long wind had brought bad weather, and
before noon it began to snow.  It kept up the rest of the day, and
by night it was three or four inches deep.  We stopped at noon at
Lance Creek, and made our night camp at Willow Creek; at each place
there was a stage station in charge of one man.  It cleared off as
night came on, but the wind changed to the north, and it grew
rapidly colder.  Shortly after midnight we all woke up with the
cold.  We already had everything piled on the beds, but as we were
too cold to sleep, there was nothing to do but to get up and start
the camp-fire again.  This we did, and stayed near it the rest of
the night, and in this way kept warm at the expense of our sleep.

The morning was clear, but it was by far the coldest we had
experienced.  The thermometer at the station marked below zero at
sunrise.  We almost longed for another prairie fire.  It grew a
little warmer after we started, and at about eleven o'clock we
reached Fort Pierre, on the Missouri, opposite the town Of Pierre. 
The ferry-boat had not yet been over for the day, but was expected
in the afternoon.

"You're lucky to get it at all," said a man to us.  "It is liable
to stop any day now, and then, till the ice is thick enough for
crossing, there will be no way of getting over."

The boat came puffing across toward night, and we were safely
landed east of the Missouri once more.  But we were still two
hundred miles from home; the country was well settled most of the
way, however, and we felt that our voyage was almost ended. Little
happened worthy of mention in the week which it took us to traverse
this distance.  The weather became warmer and was pleasant most of
the way.  On the last night out it snowed again a little and grew
colder.  We were still a long day's drive from Prairie Flower, but
we determined to make that port even if it took half the night.

[Illustration: Well! Well! Well!]

It was ten o'clock when we saw the lights of the town.

"Here we are," said Jack, "and I vote we've had a good time,
and that we forgive Old Blacky his temper, and old Browny and
Snoozer their sleepiness, and Ollie his questions, and the
rancher his general incompetence."

"And the cook his pancakes!"  cried Ollie.  We stopped a little
way in front of Squire Poinsett's grocery, and Jack picked up the
big revolver and fired the six shots into the air.  The pony had
come alongside the wagon, and Snoozer had his head over the
dash-board.  Half a dozen people came running out, including
Grandpa Oldberry, wearing red yarn mittens and carrying a
lantern.  He held up the light and looked at us.

"Well, I vum," he exclaimed, "if it ain't them three pesky
scallawags back safe and sound!  I've said all along that varmints
would get ye sure, and we'd never see hide nor hair of ye again!
Well, well, well!"

It was clear that Grandpa was just a little disappointed to
see that his predictions hadn't been fulfilled.

So the voyage of the good schooner Rattletrap was ended.  It
had been over a thousand miles in length, and had lasted for more
than two months.





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