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´╗┐Title: The Oregon Trail: sketches of prairie and Rocky-Mountain life
Author: Parkman, Francis, 1823-1893
Language: English
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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 Oregon Trail: sketches of prairie and Rocky-Mountain life" ***

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THE OREGON TRAIL

by Francis Parkman, Jr.



CONTENTS


I     THE FRONTIER

II    BREAKING THE ICE

III   FORT LEAVENWORTH

IV    "JUMPING OFF"

V     "THE BIG BLUE"

VI    THE PLATTE AND THE DESERT

VII   THE BUFFALO

VIII  TAKING FRENCH LEAVE

IX    SCENES AT FORT LARAMIE

X     THE WAR PARTIES

XI    SCENES AT THE CAMP

XII   ILL LUCK

XIII  HUNTING INDIANS

XIV   THE OGALLALLA VILLAGR

XV    THE HUNTING CAMP

XVI   THE TRAPPERS

XVII  THE BLACK HILLS

XVIII A MOUNTAIN HUNT

XIX   PASSAGE OF THE MOUNTAINS

XX    THE LONELY JOURNEY

XXI   THE PUEBLO AND BENT'S FORT

XXII  TETE ROUGE, THE VOLUNTEER

XXIII INDIAN ALARMS

XXIV  THE CHASE

XXV   THE BUFFALO CAMP

XXVI  DOWN THE ARKANSAS

XXVII THE SETTLEMENTS



CHAPTER I

THE FRONTIER


Last spring, 1846, was a busy season in the City of St. Louis. Not only
were emigrants from every part of the country preparing for the journey
to Oregon and California, but an unusual number of traders were making
ready their wagons and outfits for Santa Fe. Many of the emigrants,
especially of those bound for California, were persons of wealth and
standing. The hotels were crowded, and the gunsmiths and saddlers
were kept constantly at work in providing arms and equipments for the
different parties of travelers. Almost every day steamboats were leaving
the levee and passing up the Missouri, crowded with passengers on their
way to the frontier.

In one of these, the Radnor, since snagged and lost, my friend and
relative, Quincy A. Shaw, and myself, left St. Louis on the 28th of
April, on a tour of curiosity and amusement to the Rocky Mountains. The
boat was loaded until the water broke alternately over her guards. Her
upper deck was covered with large weapons of a peculiar form, for
the Santa Fe trade, and her hold was crammed with goods for the same
destination. There were also the equipments and provisions of a party
of Oregon emigrants, a band of mules and horses, piles of saddles and
harness, and a multitude of nondescript articles, indispensable on
the prairies. Almost hidden in this medley one might have seen a small
French cart, of the sort very appropriately called a "mule-killer"
beyond the frontiers, and not far distant a tent, together with a
miscellaneous assortment of boxes and barrels. The whole equipage was
far from prepossessing in its appearance; yet, such as it was, it was
destined to a long and arduous journey, on which the persevering reader
will accompany it.

The passengers on board the Radnor corresponded with her freight. In her
cabin were Santa Fe traders, gamblers, speculators, and adventurers
of various descriptions, and her steerage was crowded with Oregon
emigrants, "mountain men," negroes, and a party of Kansas Indians, who
had been on a visit to St. Louis.

Thus laden, the boat struggled upward for seven or eight days against
the rapid current of the Missouri, grating upon snags, and hanging for
two or three hours at a time upon sand-bars. We entered the mouth of
the Missouri in a drizzling rain, but the weather soon became clear,
and showed distinctly the broad and turbid river, with its eddies, its
sand-bars, its ragged islands, and forest-covered shores. The Missouri
is constantly changing its course; wearing away its banks on one
side, while it forms new ones on the other. Its channel is shifting
continually. Islands are formed, and then washed away; and while the old
forests on one side are undermined and swept off, a young growth springs
up from the new soil upon the other. With all these changes, the water
is so charged with mud and sand that it is perfectly opaque, and in
a few minutes deposits a sediment an inch thick in the bottom of a
tumbler. The river was now high; but when we descended in the autumn
it was fallen very low, and all the secrets of its treacherous shallows
were exposed to view. It was frightful to see the dead and broken trees,
thick-set as a military abatis, firmly imbedded in the sand, and all
pointing down stream, ready to impale any unhappy steamboat that at high
water should pass over that dangerous ground.

In five or six days we began to see signs of the great western movement
that was then taking place. Parties of emigrants, with their tents and
wagons, would be encamped on open spots near the bank, on their way to
the common rendezvous at Independence. On a rainy day, near sunset, we
reached the landing of this place, which is situated some miles from
the river, on the extreme frontier of Missouri. The scene was
characteristic, for here were represented at one view the most
remarkable features of this wild and enterprising region. On the muddy
shore stood some thirty or forty dark slavish-looking Spaniards, gazing
stupidly out from beneath their broad hats. They were attached to one of
the Santa Fe companies, whose wagons were crowded together on the banks
above. In the midst of these, crouching over a smoldering fire, was a
group of Indians, belonging to a remote Mexican tribe. One or two French
hunters from the mountains with their long hair and buckskin dresses,
were looking at the boat; and seated on a log close at hand were three
men, with rifles lying across their knees. The foremost of these, a
tall, strong figure, with a clear blue eye and an open, intelligent
face, might very well represent that race of restless and intrepid
pioneers whose axes and rifles have opened a path from the Alleghenies
to the western prairies. He was on his way to Oregon, probably a more
congenial field to him than any that now remained on this side the great
plains.

Early on the next morning we reached Kansas, about five hundred
miles from the mouth of the Missouri. Here we landed and leaving our
equipments in charge of my good friend Colonel Chick, whose log-house
was the substitute for a tavern, we set out in a wagon for Westport,
where we hoped to procure mules and horses for the journey.

It was a remarkably fresh and beautiful May morning. The rich and
luxuriant woods through which the miserable road conducted us were
lighted by the bright sunshine and enlivened by a multitude of birds. We
overtook on the way our late fellow-travelers, the Kansas Indians, who,
adorned with all their finery, were proceeding homeward at a round pace;
and whatever they might have seemed on board the boat, they made a very
striking and picturesque feature in the forest landscape.

Westport was full of Indians, whose little shaggy ponies were tied by
dozens along the houses and fences. Sacs and Foxes, with shaved heads
and painted faces, Shawanoes and Delawares, fluttering in calico frocks,
and turbans, Wyandottes dressed like white men, and a few wretched
Kansas wrapped in old blankets, were strolling about the streets, or
lounging in and out of the shops and houses.

As I stood at the door of the tavern, I saw a remarkable looking person
coming up the street. He had a ruddy face, garnished with the stumps of
a bristly red beard and mustache; on one side of his head was a round
cap with a knob at the top, such as Scottish laborers sometimes wear;
his coat was of a nondescript form, and made of a gray Scotch plaid,
with the fringes hanging all about it; he wore pantaloons of coarse
homespun, and hob-nailed shoes; and to complete his equipment, a little
black pipe was stuck in one corner of his mouth. In this curious attire,
I recognized Captain C. of the British army, who, with his brother, and
Mr. R., an English gentleman, was bound on a hunting expedition across
the continent. I had seen the captain and his companions at St. Louis.
They had now been for some time at Westport, making preparations for
their departure, and waiting for a re-enforcement, since they were too
few in number to attempt it alone. They might, it is true, have joined
some of the parties of emigrants who were on the point of setting out
for Oregon and California; but they professed great disinclination to
have any connection with the "Kentucky fellows."

The captain now urged it upon us, that we should join forces and proceed
to the mountains in company. Feeling no greater partiality for the
society of the emigrants than they did, we thought the arrangement an
advantageous one, and consented to it. Our future fellow-travelers had
installed themselves in a little log-house, where we found them all
surrounded by saddles, harness, guns, pistols, telescopes, knives, and
in short their complete appointments for the prairie. R., who professed
a taste for natural history, sat at a table stuffing a woodpecker; the
brother of the captain, who was an Irishman, was splicing a trail-rope
on the floor, as he had been an amateur sailor. The captain pointed
out, with much complacency, the different articles of their outfit. "You
see," said he, "that we are all old travelers. I am convinced that no
party ever went upon the prairie better provided." The hunter whom they
had employed, a surly looking Canadian, named Sorel, and their muleteer,
an American from St. Louis, were lounging about the building. In a
little log stable close at hand were their horses and mules, selected by
the captain, who was an excellent judge.

The alliance entered into, we left them to complete their arrangements,
while we pushed our own to all convenient speed. The emigrants for whom
our friends professed such contempt were encamped on the prairie about
eight or ten miles distant, to the number of a thousand or more, and new
parties were constantly passing out from Independence to join them.
They were in great confusion, holding meetings, passing resolutions, and
drawing up regulations, but unable to unite in the choice of leaders to
conduct them across the prairie. Being at leisure one day, I rode over
to Independence. The town was crowded. A multitude of shops had sprung
up to furnish the emigrants and Santa Fe traders with necessaries for
their journey; and there was an incessant hammering and banging from a
dozen blacksmiths' sheds, where the heavy wagons were being repaired,
and the horses and oxen shod. The streets were thronged with men,
horses, and mules. While I was in the town, a train of emigrant wagons
from Illinois passed through, to join the camp on the prairie, and
stopped in the principal street. A multitude of healthy children's faces
were peeping out from under the covers of the wagons. Here and there a
buxom damsel was seated on horseback, holding over her sunburnt face an
old umbrella or a parasol, once gaudy enough but now miserably faded.
The men, very sober-looking countrymen, stood about their oxen; and as I
passed I noticed three old fellows, who, with their long whips in their
hands, were zealously discussing the doctrine of regeneration. The
emigrants, however, are not all of this stamp. Among them are some of
the vilest outcasts in the country. I have often perplexed myself to
divine the various motives that give impulse to this strange migration;
but whatever they may be, whether an insane hope of a better condition
in life, or a desire of shaking off restraints of law and society, or
mere restlessness, certain it is that multitudes bitterly repent the
journey, and after they have reached the land of promise are happy
enough to escape from it.

In the course of seven or eight days we had brought our preparations
near to a close. Meanwhile our friends had completed theirs, and
becoming tired of Westport, they told us that they would set out in
advance and wait at the crossing of the Kansas till we should come up.
Accordingly R. and the muleteers went forward with the wagon and tent,
while the captain and his brother, together with Sorel, and a trapper
named Boisverd, who had joined them, followed with the band of horses.
The commencement of the journey was ominous, for the captain was
scarcely a mile from Westport, riding along in state at the head of his
party, leading his intended buffalo horse by a rope, when a tremendous
thunderstorm came on, and drenched them all to the skin. They hurried on
to reach the place, about seven miles off, where R. was to have had the
camp in readiness to receive them. But this prudent person, when he
saw the storm approaching, had selected a sheltered glade in the woods,
where he pitched his tent, and was sipping a comfortable cup of coffee,
while the captain galloped for miles beyond through the rain to look
for him. At length the storm cleared away, and the sharp-eyed trapper
succeeded in discovering his tent: R. had by this time finished his
coffee, and was seated on a buffalo robe smoking his pipe. The captain
was one of the most easy-tempered men in existence, so he bore his
ill-luck with great composure, shared the dregs of the coffee with his
brother, and lay down to sleep in his wet clothes.

We ourselves had our share of the deluge. We were leading a pair of
mules to Kansas when the storm broke. Such sharp and incessant flashes
of lightning, such stunning and continuous thunder, I have never known
before. The woods were completely obscured by the diagonal sheets of
rain that fell with a heavy roar, and rose in spray from the ground; and
the streams rose so rapidly that we could hardly ford them. At length,
looming through the rain, we saw the log-house of Colonel Chick, who
received us with his usual bland hospitality; while his wife, who,
though a little soured and stiffened by too frequent attendance on
camp-meetings, was not behind him in hospitable feeling, supplied us
with the means of repairing our drenched and bedraggled condition. The
storm, clearing away at about sunset, opened a noble prospect from the
porch of the colonel's house, which stands upon a high hill. The sun
streamed from the breaking clouds upon the swift and angry Missouri, and
on the immense expanse of luxuriant forest that stretched from its banks
back to the distant bluffs.

Returning on the next day to Westport, we received a message from the
captain, who had ridden back to deliver it in person, but finding that
we were in Kansas, had intrusted it with an acquaintance of his named
Vogel, who kept a small grocery and liquor shop. Whisky by the way
circulates more freely in Westport than is altogether safe in a place
where every man carries a loaded pistol in his pocket. As we passed this
establishment, we saw Vogel's broad German face and knavish-looking eyes
thrust from his door. He said he had something to tell us, and
invited us to take a dram. Neither his liquor nor his message was very
palatable. The captain had returned to give us notice that R., who
assumed the direction of his party, had determined upon another route
from that agreed upon between us; and instead of taking the course of
the traders, to pass northward by Fort Leavenworth, and follow the path
marked out by the dragoons in their expedition of last summer. To adopt
such a plan without consulting us, we looked upon as a very high-handed
proceeding; but suppressing our dissatisfaction as well as we could, we
made up our minds to join them at Fort Leavenworth, where they were to
wait for us.

Accordingly, our preparation being now complete, we attempted one fine
morning to commence our journey. The first step was an unfortunate one.
No sooner were our animals put in harness, than the shaft mule reared
and plunged, burst ropes and straps, and nearly flung the cart into
the Missouri. Finding her wholly uncontrollable, we exchanged her
for another, with which we were furnished by our friend Mr. Boone of
Westport, a grandson of Daniel Boone, the pioneer. This foretaste of
prairie experience was very soon followed by another. Westport was
scarcely out of sight, when we encountered a deep muddy gully, of a
species that afterward became but too familiar to us; and here for the
space of an hour or more the car stuck fast.



CHAPTER II

BREAKING THE ICE


Both Shaw and myself were tolerably inured to the vicissitudes of
traveling. We had experienced them under various forms, and a birch
canoe was as familiar to us as a steamboat. The restlessness, the love
of wilds and hatred of cities, natural perhaps in early years to every
unperverted son of Adam, was not our only motive for undertaking the
present journey. My companion hoped to shake off the effects of a
disorder that had impaired a constitution originally hardy and robust;
and I was anxious to pursue some inquiries relative to the character and
usages of the remote Indian nations, being already familiar with many of
the border tribes.

Emerging from the mud-hole where we last took leave of the reader, we
pursued our way for some time along the narrow track, in the checkered
sunshine and shadow of the woods, till at length, issuing forth into
the broad light, we left behind us the farthest outskirts of that great
forest, that once spread unbroken from the western plains to the shore
of the Atlantic. Looking over an intervening belt of shrubbery, we saw
the green, oceanlike expanse of prairie, stretching swell over swell to
the horizon.

It was a mild, calm spring day; a day when one is more disposed to
musing and reverie than to action, and the softest part of his nature is
apt to gain the ascendency. I rode in advance of the party, as we passed
through the shrubbery, and as a nook of green grass offered a strong
temptation, I dismounted and lay down there. All the trees and saplings
were in flower, or budding into fresh leaf; the red clusters of the
maple-blossoms and the rich flowers of the Indian apple were there in
profusion; and I was half inclined to regret leaving behind the land of
gardens for the rude and stern scenes of the prairie and the mountains.

Meanwhile the party came in sight from out of the bushes. Foremost rode
Henry Chatillon, our guide and hunter, a fine athletic figure, mounted
on a hardy gray Wyandotte pony. He wore a white blanket-coat, a broad
hat of felt, moccasins, and pantaloons of deerskin, ornamented along the
seams with rows of long fringes. His knife was stuck in his belt; his
bullet-pouch and powder-horn hung at his side, and his rifle lay before
him, resting against the high pommel of his saddle, which, like all his
equipments, had seen hard service, and was much the worse for wear. Shaw
followed close, mounted on a little sorrel horse, and leading a larger
animal by a rope. His outfit, which resembled mine, had been provided
with a view to use rather than ornament. It consisted of a plain, black
Spanish saddle, with holsters of heavy pistols, a blanket rolled up
behind it, and the trail-rope attached to his horse's neck hanging
coiled in front. He carried a double-barreled smooth-bore, while I
boasted a rifle of some fifteen pounds' weight. At that time our attire,
though far from elegant, bore some marks of civilization, and offered a
very favorable contrast to the inimitable shabbiness of our appearance
on the return journey. A red flannel shirt, belted around the waist like
a frock, then constituted our upper garment; moccasins had supplanted
our failing boots; and the remaining essential portion of our attire
consisted of an extraordinary article, manufactured by a squaw out of
smoked buckskin. Our muleteer, Delorier, brought up the rear with his
cart, waddling ankle-deep in the mud, alternately puffing at his pipe,
and ejaculating in his prairie patois: "Sacre enfant de garce!" as
one of the mules would seem to recoil before some abyss of unusual
profundity. The cart was of the kind that one may see by scores around
the market-place in Montreal, and had a white covering to protect the
articles within. These were our provisions and a tent, with ammunition,
blankets, and presents for the Indians.

We were in all four men with eight animals; for besides the spare horses
led by Shaw and myself, an additional mule was driven along with us as a
reserve in case of accident.

After this summing up of our forces, it may not be amiss to glance at
the characters of the two men who accompanied us.

Delorier was a Canadian, with all the characteristics of the true Jean
Baptiste. Neither fatigue, exposure, nor hard labor could ever impair
his cheerfulness and gayety, or his obsequious politeness to his
bourgeois; and when night came he would sit down by the fire, smoke his
pipe, and tell stories with the utmost contentment. In fact, the prairie
was his congenial element. Henry Chatillon was of a different stamp.
When we were at St. Louis, several gentlemen of the Fur Company had
kindly offered to procure for us a hunter and guide suited for our
purposes, and on coming one afternoon to the office, we found there a
tall and exceedingly well-dressed man with a face so open and frank that
it attracted our notice at once. We were surprised at being told that it
was he who wished to guide us to the mountains. He was born in a little
French town near St. Louis, and from the age of fifteen years had been
constantly in the neighborhood of the Rocky Mountains, employed for the
most part by the Company to supply their forts with buffalo meat. As a
hunter he had but one rival in the whole region, a man named Cimoneau,
with whom, to the honor of both of them, he was on terms of the closest
friendship. He had arrived at St. Louis the day before, from the
mountains, where he had remained for four years; and he now only asked
to go and spend a day with his mother before setting out on another
expedition. His age was about thirty; he was six feet high, and very
powerfully and gracefully molded. The prairies had been his school;
he could neither read nor write, but he had a natural refinement and
delicacy of mind such as is rarely found, even in women. His manly face
was a perfect mirror of uprightness, simplicity, and kindness of heart;
he had, moreover, a keen perception of character and a tact that would
preserve him from flagrant error in any society. Henry had not the
restless energy of an Anglo-American. He was content to take things
as he found them; and his chief fault arose from an excess of easy
generosity, impelling him to give away too profusely ever to thrive in
the world. Yet it was commonly remarked of him, that whatever he might
choose to do with what belonged to himself, the property of others was
always safe in his hands. His bravery was as much celebrated in the
mountains as his skill in hunting; but it is characteristic of him that
in a country where the rifle is the chief arbiter between man and man,
Henry was very seldom involved in quarrels. Once or twice, indeed,
his quiet good-nature had been mistaken and presumed upon, but the
consequences of the error were so formidable that no one was ever known
to repeat it. No better evidence of the intrepidity of his temper could
be wished than the common report that he had killed more than thirty
grizzly bears. He was a proof of what unaided nature will sometimes do.
I have never, in the city or in the wilderness, met a better man than my
noble and true-hearted friend, Henry Chatillon.

We were soon free of the woods and bushes, and fairly upon the broad
prairie. Now and then a Shawanoe passed us, riding his little shaggy
pony at a "lope"; his calico shirt, his gaudy sash, and the gay
handkerchief bound around his snaky hair fluttering in the wind. At noon
we stopped to rest not far from a little creek replete with frogs and
young turtles. There had been an Indian encampment at the place, and
the framework of their lodges still remained, enabling us very easily
to gain a shelter from the sun, by merely spreading one or two blankets
over them. Thus shaded, we sat upon our saddles, and Shaw for the first
time lighted his favorite Indian pipe; while Delorier was squatted over
a hot bed of coals, shading his eyes with one hand, and holding a little
stick in the other, with which he regulated the hissing contents of the
frying-pan. The horses were turned to feed among the scattered bushes of
a low oozy meadow. A drowzy springlike sultriness pervaded the air, and
the voices of ten thousand young frogs and insects, just awakened into
life, rose in varied chorus from the creek and the meadows.

Scarcely were we seated when a visitor approached. This was an old
Kansas Indian; a man of distinction, if one might judge from his dress.
His head was shaved and painted red, and from the tuft of hair remaining
on the crown dangled several eagles' feathers, and the tails of two or
three rattlesnakes. His cheeks, too, were daubed with vermilion; his
ears were adorned with green glass pendants; a collar of grizzly bears'
claws surrounded his neck, and several large necklaces of wampum hung
on his breast. Having shaken us by the hand with a cordial grunt of
salutation, the old man, dropping his red blanket from his shoulders,
sat down cross-legged on the ground. In the absence of liquor we offered
him a cup of sweetened water, at which he ejaculated "Good!" and was
beginning to tell us how great a man he was, and how many Pawnees he
had killed, when suddenly a motley concourse appeared wading across the
creek toward us. They filed past in rapid succession, men, women, and
children; some were on horseback, some on foot, but all were alike
squalid and wretched. Old squaws, mounted astride of shaggy, meager
little ponies, with perhaps one or two snake-eyed children seated behind
them, clinging to their tattered blankets; tall lank young men on foot,
with bows and arrows in their hands; and girls whose native ugliness not
all the charms of glass beads and scarlet cloth could disguise, made up
the procession; although here and there was a man who, like our visitor,
seemed to hold some rank in this respectable community. They were the
dregs of the Kansas nation, who, while their betters were gone to hunt
buffalo, had left the village on a begging expedition to Westport.

When this ragamuffin horde had passed, we caught our horses, saddled,
harnessed, and resumed our journey. Fording the creek, the low roofs of
a number of rude buildings appeared, rising from a cluster of groves and
woods on the left; and riding up through a long lane, amid a profusion
of wild roses and early spring flowers, we found the log-church and
school-houses belonging to the Methodist Shawanoe Mission. The Indians
were on the point of gathering to a religious meeting. Some scores of
them, tall men in half-civilized dress, were seated on wooden benches
under the trees; while their horses were tied to the sheds and fences.
Their chief, Parks, a remarkably large and athletic man, was just
arrived from Westport, where he owns a trading establishment. Beside
this, he has a fine farm and a considerable number of slaves. Indeed the
Shawanoes have made greater progress in agriculture than any other tribe
on the Missouri frontier; and both in appearance and in character form a
marked contrast to our late acquaintance, the Kansas.

A few hours' ride brought us to the banks of the river Kansas.
Traversing the woods that lined it, and plowing through the deep sand,
we encamped not far from the bank, at the Lower Delaware crossing. Our
tent was erected for the first time on a meadow close to the woods, and
the camp preparations being complete we began to think of supper. An old
Delaware woman, of some three hundred pounds' weight, sat in the porch
of a little log-house close to the water, and a very pretty half-breed
girl was engaged, under her superintendence, in feeding a large flock of
turkeys that were fluttering and gobbling about the door. But no offers
of money, or even of tobacco, could induce her to part with one of her
favorites; so I took my rifle, to see if the woods or the river could
furnish us anything. A multitude of quails were plaintively whistling
in the woods and meadows; but nothing appropriate to the rifle was to be
seen, except three buzzards, seated on the spectral limbs of an old dead
sycamore, that thrust itself out over the river from the dense sunny
wall of fresh foliage. Their ugly heads were drawn down between their
shoulders, and they seemed to luxuriate in the soft sunshine that was
pouring from the west. As they offered no epicurean temptations, I
refrained from disturbing their enjoyment; but contented myself with
admiring the calm beauty of the sunset, for the river, eddying swiftly
in deep purple shadows between the impending woods, formed a wild but
tranquillizing scene.

When I returned to the camp I found Shaw and an old Indian seated on the
ground in close conference, passing the pipe between them. The old man
was explaining that he loved the whites, and had an especial partiality
for tobacco. Delorier was arranging upon the ground our service of tin
cups and plates; and as other viands were not to be had, he set before
us a repast of biscuit and bacon, and a large pot of coffee. Unsheathing
our knives, we attacked it, disposed of the greater part, and tossed the
residue to the Indian. Meanwhile our horses, now hobbled for the first
time, stood among the trees, with their fore-legs tied together, in
great disgust and astonishment. They seemed by no means to relish this
foretaste of what was before them. Mine, in particular, had conceived a
moral aversion to the prairie life. One of them, christened Hendrick,
an animal whose strength and hardihood were his only merits, and who
yielded to nothing but the cogent arguments of the whip, looked toward
us with an indignant countenance, as if he meditated avenging his
wrongs with a kick. The other, Pontiac, a good horse, though of plebeian
lineage, stood with his head drooping and his mane hanging about his
eyes, with the grieved and sulky air of a lubberly boy sent off to
school. Poor Pontiac! his forebodings were but too just; for when I last
heard from him, he was under the lash of an Ogallalla brave, on a war
party against the Crows.

As it grew dark, and the voices of the whip-poor-wills succeeded the
whistle of the quails, we removed our saddles to the tent, to serve as
pillows, spread our blankets upon the ground, and prepared to bivouac
for the first time that season. Each man selected the place in the
tent which he was to occupy for the journey. To Delorier, however, was
assigned the cart, into which he could creep in wet weather, and find a
much better shelter than his bourgeois enjoyed in the tent.

The river Kansas at this point forms the boundary line between the
country of the Shawanoes and that of the Delawares. We crossed it on
the following day, rafting over our horses and equipage with much
difficulty, and unloading our cart in order to make our way up the steep
ascent on the farther bank. It was a Sunday morning; warm, tranquil and
bright; and a perfect stillness reigned over the rough inclosures
and neglected fields of the Delawares, except the ceaseless hum and
chirruping of myriads of insects. Now and then, an Indian rode past on
his way to the meeting-house, or through the dilapidated entrance of
some shattered log-house an old woman might be discerned, enjoying all
the luxury of idleness. There was no village bell, for the Delawares
have none; and yet upon that forlorn and rude settlement was the same
spirit of Sabbath repose and tranquillity as in some little New England
village among the mountains of New Hampshire or the Vermont woods.

Having at present no leisure for such reflections, we pursued our
journey. A military road led from this point to Fort Leavenworth, and
for many miles the farms and cabins of the Delawares were scattered
at short intervals on either hand. The little rude structures of logs,
erected usually on the borders of a tract of woods, made a picturesque
feature in the landscape. But the scenery needed no foreign aid. Nature
had done enough for it; and the alteration of rich green prairies and
groves that stood in clusters or lined the banks of the numerous little
streams, had all the softened and polished beauty of a region that has
been for centuries under the hand of man. At that early season, too,
it was in the height of its freshness and luxuriance. The woods were
flushed with the red buds of the maple; there were frequent flowering
shrubs unknown in the east; and the green swells of the prairies were
thickly studded with blossoms.

Encamping near a spring by the side of a hill, we resumed our journey in
the morning, and early in the afternoon had arrived within a few miles
of Fort Leavenworth. The road crossed a stream densely bordered with
trees, and running in the bottom of a deep woody hollow. We were about
to descend into it, when a wild and confused procession appeared,
passing through the water below, and coming up the steep ascent toward
us. We stopped to let them pass. They were Delawares, just returned
from a hunting expedition. All, both men and women, were mounted on
horseback, and drove along with them a considerable number of pack
mules, laden with the furs they had taken, together with the buffalo
robes, kettles, and other articles of their traveling equipment, which
as well as their clothing and their weapons, had a worn and dingy
aspect, as if they had seen hard service of late. At the rear of the
party was an old man, who, as he came up, stopped his horse to speak to
us. He rode a little tough shaggy pony, with mane and tail well knotted
with burrs, and a rusty Spanish bit in its mouth, to which, by way of
reins, was attached a string of raw hide. His saddle, robbed probably
from a Mexican, had no covering, being merely a tree of the Spanish
form, with a piece of grizzly bear's skin laid over it, a pair of rude
wooden stirrups attached, and in the absence of girth, a thong of hide
passing around the horse's belly. The rider's dark features and keen
snaky eyes were unequivocally Indian. He wore a buckskin frock, which,
like his fringed leggings, was well polished and blackened by grease and
long service; and an old handkerchief was tied around his head. Resting
on the saddle before him lay his rifle; a weapon in the use of which
the Delawares are skillful; though from its weight, the distant prairie
Indians are too lazy to carry it.

"Who's your chief?" he immediately inquired.

Henry Chatillon pointed to us. The old Delaware fixed his eyes intently
upon us for a moment, and then sententiously remarked:

"No good! Too young!" With this flattering comment he left us, and rode
after his people.

This tribe, the Delawares, once the peaceful allies of William Penn, the
tributaries of the conquering Iroquois, are now the most adventurous and
dreaded warriors upon the prairies. They make war upon remote tribes the
very names of which were unknown to their fathers in their ancient
seats in Pennsylvania; and they push these new quarrels with true
Indian rancor, sending out their little war parties as far as the Rocky
Mountains, and into the Mexican territories. Their neighbors and
former confederates, the Shawanoes, who are tolerable farmers, are in
a prosperous condition; but the Delawares dwindle every year, from the
number of men lost in their warlike expeditions.

Soon after leaving this party, we saw, stretching on the right, the
forests that follow the course of the Missouri, and the deep woody
channel through which at this point it runs. At a distance in front were
the white barracks of Fort Leavenworth, just visible through the trees
upon an eminence above a bend of the river. A wide green meadow, as
level as a lake, lay between us and the Missouri, and upon this, close
to a line of trees that bordered a little brook, stood the tent of the
captain and his companions, with their horses feeding around it, but
they themselves were invisible. Wright, their muleteer, was there,
seated on the tongue of the wagon, repairing his harness. Boisverd
stood cleaning his rifle at the door of the tent, and Sorel lounged
idly about. On closer examination, however, we discovered the captain's
brother, Jack, sitting in the tent, at his old occupation of splicing
trail-ropes. He welcomed us in his broad Irish brogue, and said that
his brother was fishing in the river, and R. gone to the garrison. They
returned before sunset. Meanwhile we erected our own tent not far off,
and after supper a council was held, in which it was resolved to remain
one day at Fort Leavenworth, and on the next to bid a final adieu to
the frontier: or in the phraseology of the region, to "jump off." Our
deliberations were conducted by the ruddy light from a distant swell of
the prairie, where the long dry grass of last summer was on fire.



CHAPTER III

FORT LEAVENWORTH


On the next morning we rode to Fort Leavenworth. Colonel, now General,
Kearny, to whom I had had the honor of an introduction when at St.
Louis, was just arrived, and received us at his headquarters with the
high-bred courtesy habitual to him. Fort Leavenworth is in fact no fort,
being without defensive works, except two block-houses. No rumors of
war had as yet disturbed its tranquillity. In the square grassy area,
surrounded by barracks and the quarters of the officers, the men were
passing and repassing, or lounging among the trees; although not many
weeks afterward it presented a different scene; for here the very
off-scourings of the frontier were congregated, to be marshaled for the
expedition against Santa Fe.

Passing through the garrison, we rode toward the Kickapoo village, five
or six miles beyond. The path, a rather dubious and uncertain one, led
us along the ridge of high bluffs that bordered the Missouri; and by
looking to the right or to the left, we could enjoy a strange contrast
of opposite scenery. On the left stretched the prairie, rising into
swells and undulations, thickly sprinkled with groves, or gracefully
expanding into wide grassy basins of miles in extent; while its
curvatures, swelling against the horizon, were often surmounted by lines
of sunny woods; a scene to which the freshness of the season and the
peculiar mellowness of the atmosphere gave additional softness. Below
us, on the right, was a tract of ragged and broken woods. We could look
down on the summits of the trees, some living and some dead; some erect,
others leaning at every angle, and others still piled in masses together
by the passage of a hurricane. Beyond their extreme verge, the turbid
waters of the Missouri were discernible through the boughs, rolling
powerfully along at the foot of the woody declivities of its farther
bank.

The path soon after led inland; and as we crossed an open meadow we saw
a cluster of buildings on a rising ground before us, with a crowd of
people surrounding them. They were the storehouse, cottage, and stables
of the Kickapoo trader's establishment. Just at that moment, as it
chanced, he was beset with half the Indians of the settlement. They had
tied their wretched, neglected little ponies by dozens along the fences
and outhouses, and were either lounging about the place, or crowding
into the trading house. Here were faces of various colors; red, green,
white, and black, curiously intermingled and disposed over the visage
in a variety of patterns. Calico shirts, red and blue blankets, brass
ear-rings, wampum necklaces, appeared in profusion. The trader was a
blue-eyed open-faced man who neither in his manners nor his appearance
betrayed any of the roughness of the frontier; though just at present he
was obliged to keep a lynx eye on his suspicious customers, who, men
and women, were climbing on his counter and seating themselves among his
boxes and bales.

The village itself was not far off, and sufficiently illustrated the
condition of its unfortunate and self-abandoned occupants. Fancy to
yourself a little swift stream, working its devious way down a woody
valley; sometimes wholly hidden under logs and fallen trees, sometimes
issuing forth and spreading into a broad, clear pool; and on its banks
in little nooks cleared away among the trees, miniature log-houses
in utter ruin and neglect. A labyrinth of narrow, obstructed paths
connected these habitations one with another. Sometimes we met a stray
calf, a pig or a pony, belonging to some of the villagers, who usually
lay in the sun in front of their dwellings, and looked on us with cold,
suspicious eyes as we approached. Farther on, in place of the log-huts
of the Kickapoos, we found the pukwi lodges of their neighbors, the
Pottawattamies, whose condition seemed no better than theirs.

Growing tired at last, and exhausted by the excessive heat and
sultriness of the day, we returned to our friend, the trader. By this
time the crowd around him had dispersed, and left him at leisure. He
invited us to his cottage, a little white-and-green building, in
the style of the old French settlements; and ushered us into a neat,
well-furnished room. The blinds were closed, and the heat and glare
of the sun excluded; the room was as cool as a cavern. It was neatly
carpeted too and furnished in a manner that we hardly expected on the
frontier. The sofas, chairs, tables, and a well-filled bookcase would
not have disgraced an Eastern city; though there were one or two little
tokens that indicated the rather questionable civilization of the
region. A pistol, loaded and capped, lay on the mantelpiece; and through
the glass of the bookcase, peeping above the works of John Milton
glittered the handle of a very mischievous-looking knife.

Our host went out, and returned with iced water, glasses, and a bottle
of excellent claret; a refreshment most welcome in the extreme heat of
the day; and soon after appeared a merry, laughing woman, who must have
been, a year of two before, a very rich and luxuriant specimen of Creole
beauty. She came to say that lunch was ready in the next room. Our
hostess evidently lived on the sunny side of life, and troubled herself
with none of its cares. She sat down and entertained us while we were
at table with anecdotes of fishing parties, frolics, and the officers
at the fort. Taking leave at length of the hospitable trader and his
friend, we rode back to the garrison.

Shaw passed on to the camp, while I remained to call upon Colonel
Kearny. I found him still at table. There sat our friend the captain,
in the same remarkable habiliments in which we saw him at Westport; the
black pipe, however, being for the present laid aside. He dangled
his little cap in his hand and talked of steeple-chases, touching
occasionally upon his anticipated exploits in buffalo-hunting. There,
too, was R., somewhat more elegantly attired. For the last time we
tasted the luxuries of civilization, and drank adieus to it in wine good
enough to make us almost regret the leave-taking. Then, mounting,
we rode together to the camp, where everything was in readiness for
departure on the morrow.



CHAPTER IV

"JUMPING OFF"


The reader need not be told that John Bull never leaves home without
encumbering himself with the greatest possible load of luggage. Our
companions were no exception to the rule. They had a wagon drawn by six
mules and crammed with provisions for six months, besides ammunition
enough for a regiment; spare rifles and fowling-pieces, ropes and
harness; personal baggage, and a miscellaneous assortment of articles,
which produced infinite embarrassment on the journey. They had also
decorated their persons with telescopes and portable compasses, and
carried English double-barreled rifles of sixteen to the pound caliber,
slung to their saddles in dragoon fashion.

By sunrise on the 23d of May we had breakfasted; the tents were leveled,
the animals saddled and harnessed, and all was prepared. "Avance donc!
get up!" cried Delorier from his seat in front of the cart. Wright,
our friend's muleteer, after some swearing and lashing, got his
insubordinate train in motion, and then the whole party filed from the
ground. Thus we bade a long adieu to bed and board, and the principles
of Blackstone's Commentaries. The day was a most auspicious one; and yet
Shaw and I felt certain misgivings, which in the sequel proved but too
well founded. We had just learned that though R. had taken it upon him
to adopt this course without consulting us, not a single man in
the party was acquainted with it; and the absurdity of our friend's
high-handed measure very soon became manifest. His plan was to strike
the trail of several companies of dragoons, who last summer had made an
expedition under Colonel Kearny to Fort Laramie, and by this means to
reach the grand trail of the Oregon emigrants up the Platte.

We rode for an hour or two when a familiar cluster of buildings appeared
on a little hill. "Hallo!" shouted the Kickapoo trader from over his
fence. "Where are you going?" A few rather emphatic exclamations might
have been heard among us, when we found that we had gone miles out of
our way, and were not advanced an inch toward the Rocky Mountains. So
we turned in the direction the trader indicated, and with the sun for
a guide, began to trace a "bee line" across the prairies. We struggled
through copses and lines of wood; we waded brooks and pools of water; we
traversed prairies as green as an emerald, expanding before us for mile
after mile; wider and more wild than the wastes Mazeppa rode over:

     "Man nor brute,
     Nor dint of hoof, nor print of foot,
     Lay in the wild luxuriant soil;
     No sign of travel; none of toil;
     The very air was mute."

Riding in advance, we passed over one of these great plains; we looked
back and saw the line of scattered horsemen stretching for a mile or
more; and far in the rear against the horizon, the white wagons creeping
slowly along. "Here we are at last!" shouted the captain. And in truth
we had struck upon the traces of a large body of horse. We turned
joyfully and followed this new course, with tempers somewhat improved;
and toward sunset encamped on a high swell of the prairie, at the foot
of which a lazy stream soaked along through clumps of rank grass. It
was getting dark. We turned the horses loose to feed. "Drive down the
tent-pickets hard," said Henry Chatillon, "it is going to blow." We did
so, and secured the tent as well as we could; for the sky had changed
totally, and a fresh damp smell in the wind warned us that a stormy
night was likely to succeed the hot clear day. The prairie also wore
a new aspect, and its vast swells had grown black and somber under the
shadow of the clouds. The thunder soon began to growl at a distance.
Picketing and hobbling the horses among the rich grass at the foot of
the slope, where we encamped, we gained a shelter just as the rain began
to fall; and sat at the opening of the tent, watching the proceedings of
the captain. In defiance of the rain he was stalking among the horses,
wrapped in an old Scotch plaid. An extreme solicitude tormented him,
lest some of his favorites should escape, or some accident should befall
them; and he cast an anxious eye toward three wolves who were sneaking
along over the dreary surface of the plain, as if he dreaded some
hostile demonstration on their part.

On the next morning we had gone but a mile or two, when we came to an
extensive belt of woods, through the midst of which ran a stream, wide,
deep, and of an appearance particularly muddy and treacherous. Delorier
was in advance with his cart; he jerked his pipe from his mouth, lashed
his mules, and poured forth a volley of Canadian ejaculations. In
plunged the cart, but midway it stuck fast. Delorier leaped out
knee-deep in water, and by dint of sacres and a vigorous application of
the whip, he urged the mules out of the slough. Then approached the long
team and heavy wagon of our friends; but it paused on the brink.

"Now my advice is--" began the captain, who had been anxiously
contemplating the muddy gulf.

"Drive on!" cried R.

But Wright, the muleteer, apparently had not as yet decided the point
in his own mind; and he sat still in his seat on one of the shaft-mules,
whistling in a low contemplative strain to himself.

"My advice is," resumed the captain, "that we unload; for I'll bet any
man five pounds that if we try to go through, we shall stick fast."

"By the powers, we shall stick fast!" echoed Jack, the captain's
brother, shaking his large head with an air of firm conviction.

"Drive on! drive on!" cried R. petulantly.

"Well," observed the captain, turning to us as we sat looking on, much
edified by this by-play among our confederates, "I can only give my
advice and if people won't be reasonable, why, they won't; that's all!"

Meanwhile Wright had apparently made up his mind; for he suddenly began
to shout forth a volley of oaths and curses, that, compared with the
French imprecations of Delorier, sounded like the roaring of heavy
cannon after the popping and sputtering of a bunch of Chinese crackers.
At the same time he discharged a shower of blows upon his mules, who
hastily dived into the mud and drew the wagon lumbering after them. For
a moment the issue was dubious. Wright writhed about in his saddle,
and swore and lashed like a madman; but who can count on a team of
half-broken mules? At the most critical point, when all should have been
harmony and combined effort, the perverse brutes fell into lamentable
disorder, and huddled together in confusion on the farther bank. There
was the wagon up to the hub in mud, and visibly settling every instant.
There was nothing for it but to unload; then to dig away the mud
from before the wheels with a spade, and lay a causeway of bushes and
branches. This agreeable labor accomplished, the wagon at last emerged;
but if I mention that some interruption of this sort occurred at least
four or five times a day for a fortnight, the reader will understand
that our progress toward the Platte was not without its obstacles.

We traveled six or seven miles farther, and "nooned" near a brook. On
the point of resuming our journey, when the horses were all driven down
to water, my homesick charger, Pontiac, made a sudden leap across, and
set off at a round trot for the settlements. I mounted my remaining
horse, and started in pursuit. Making a circuit, I headed the runaway,
hoping to drive him back to camp; but he instantly broke into a gallop,
made a wide tour on the prairie, and got past me again. I tried this
plan repeatedly, with the same result; Pontiac was evidently disgusted
with the prairie; so I abandoned it, and tried another, trotting along
gently behind him, in hopes that I might quietly get near enough to
seize the trail-rope which was fastened to his neck, and dragged about a
dozen feet behind him. The chase grew interesting. For mile after mile
I followed the rascal, with the utmost care not to alarm him, and
gradually got nearer, until at length old Hendrick's nose was fairly
brushed by the whisking tail of the unsuspecting Pontiac. Without
drawing rein, I slid softly to the ground; but my long heavy rifle
encumbered me, and the low sound it made in striking the horn of the
saddle startled him; he pricked up his ears, and sprang off at a run.
"My friend," thought I, remounting, "do that again, and I will shoot
you!"

Fort Leavenworth was about forty miles distant, and thither I determined
to follow him. I made up my mind to spend a solitary and supperless
night, and then set out again in the morning. One hope, however,
remained. The creek where the wagon had stuck was just before us;
Pontiac might be thirsty with his run, and stop there to drink. I kept
as near to him as possible, taking every precaution not to alarm him
again; and the result proved as I had hoped: for he walked deliberately
among the trees, and stooped down to the water. I alighted, dragged old
Hendrick through the mud, and with a feeling of infinite satisfaction
picked up the slimy trail-rope and twisted it three times round my hand.
"Now let me see you get away again!" I thought, as I remounted. But
Pontiac was exceedingly reluctant to turn back; Hendrick, too, who
had evidently flattered himself with vain hopes, showed the utmost
repugnance, and grumbled in a manner peculiar to himself at being
compelled to face about. A smart cut of the whip restored his
cheerfulness; and dragging the recovered truant behind, I set out in
search of the camp. An hour or two elapsed, when, near sunset, I saw the
tents, standing on a rich swell of the prairie, beyond a line of woods,
while the bands of horses were feeding in a low meadow close at hand.
There sat Jack C., cross-legged, in the sun, splicing a trail-rope,
and the rest were lying on the grass, smoking and telling stories. That
night we enjoyed a serenade from the wolves, more lively than any with
which they had yet favored us; and in the morning one of the musicians
appeared, not many rods from the tents, quietly seated among the horses,
looking at us with a pair of large gray eyes; but perceiving a rifle
leveled at him, he leaped up and made off in hot haste.

I pass by the following day or two of our journey, for nothing occurred
worthy of record. Should any one of my readers ever be impelled to visit
the prairies, and should he choose the route of the Platte (the best,
perhaps, that can be adopted), I can assure him that he need not
think to enter at once upon the paradise of his imagination. A dreary
preliminary, protracted crossing of the threshold awaits him before
he finds himself fairly upon the verge of the "great American desert,"
those barren wastes, the haunts of the buffalo and the Indian, where
the very shadow of civilization lies a hundred leagues behind him. The
intervening country, the wide and fertile belt that extends for
several hundred miles beyond the extreme frontier, will probably answer
tolerably well to his preconceived ideas of the prairie; for this it
is from which picturesque tourists, painters, poets, and novelists, who
have seldom penetrated farther, have derived their conceptions of the
whole region. If he has a painter's eye, he may find his period of
probation not wholly void of interest. The scenery, though tame, is
graceful and pleasing. Here are level plains, too wide for the eye
to measure green undulations, like motionless swells of the ocean;
abundance of streams, followed through all their windings by lines of
woods and scattered groves. But let him be as enthusiastic as he may,
he will find enough to damp his ardor. His wagons will stick in the mud;
his horses will break loose; harness will give way, and axle-trees prove
unsound. His bed will be a soft one, consisting often of black mud,
of the richest consistency. As for food, he must content himself with
biscuit and salt provisions; for strange as it may seem, this tract of
country produces very little game. As he advances, indeed, he will see,
moldering in the grass by his path, the vast antlers of the elk, and
farther on, the whitened skulls of the buffalo, once swarming over this
now deserted region. Perhaps, like us, he may journey for a fortnight,
and see not so much as the hoof-print of a deer; in the spring, not even
a prairie hen is to be had.

Yet, to compensate him for this unlooked-for deficiency of game, he
will find himself beset with "varmints" innumerable. The wolves will
entertain him with a concerto at night, and skulk around him by day,
just beyond rifle shot; his horse will step into badger-holes; from
every marsh and mud puddle will arise the bellowing, croaking, and
trilling of legions of frogs, infinitely various in color, shape and
dimensions. A profusion of snakes will glide away from under his horse's
feet, or quietly visit him in his tent at night; while the pertinacious
humming of unnumbered mosquitoes will banish sleep from his eyelids.
When thirsty with a long ride in the scorching sun over some boundless
reach of prairie, he comes at length to a pool of water, and alights to
drink, he discovers a troop of young tadpoles sporting in the bottom of
his cup. Add to this, that all the morning the hot sun beats upon him
with sultry, penetrating heat, and that, with provoking regularity, at
about four o'clock in the afternoon, a thunderstorm rises and drenches
him to the skin. Such being the charms of this favored region, the
reader will easily conceive the extent of our gratification at learning
that for a week we had been journeying on the wrong track! How this
agreeable discovery was made I will presently explain.

One day, after a protracted morning's ride, we stopped to rest at noon
upon the open prairie. No trees were in sight; but close at hand, a
little dribbling brook was twisting from side to side through a hollow;
now forming holes of stagnant water, and now gliding over the mud in a
scarcely perceptible current, among a growth of sickly bushes, and great
clumps of tall rank grass. The day was excessively hot and oppressive.
The horses and mules were rolling on the prairie to refresh themselves,
or feeding among the bushes in the hollow. We had dined; and Delorier,
puffing at his pipe, knelt on the grass, scrubbing our service of tin
plate. Shaw lay in the shade, under the cart, to rest for a while,
before the word should be given to "catch up." Henry Chatillon, before
lying down, was looking about for signs of snakes, the only living
things that he feared, and uttering various ejaculations of disgust,
at finding several suspicious-looking holes close to the cart. I sat
leaning against the wheel in a scanty strip of shade, making a pair of
hobbles to replace those which my contumacious steed Pontiac had
broken the night before. The camp of our friends, a rod or two distant,
presented the same scene of lazy tranquillity.

"Hallo!" cried Henry, looking up from his inspection of the snake-holes,
"here comes the old captain!"

The captain approached, and stood for a moment contemplating us in
silence.

"I say, Parkman," he began, "look at Shaw there, asleep under the cart,
with the tar dripping off the hub of the wheel on his shoulder!"

At this Shaw got up, with his eyes half opened, and feeling the part
indicated, he found his hand glued fast to his red flannel shirt.

"He'll look well when he gets among the squaws, won't he?" observed the
captain, with a grin.

He then crawled under the cart, and began to tell stories of which his
stock was inexhaustible. Yet every moment he would glance nervously at
the horses. At last he jumped up in great excitement. "See that horse!
There--that fellow just walking over the hill! By Jove; he's off. It's
your big horse, Shaw; no it isn't, it's Jack's! Jack! Jack! hallo,
Jack!" Jack thus invoked, jumped up and stared vacantly at us.

"Go and catch your horse, if you don't want to lose him!" roared the
captain.

Jack instantly set off at a run through the grass, his broad pantaloons
flapping about his feet. The captain gazed anxiously till he saw
that the horse was caught; then he sat down, with a countenance of
thoughtfulness and care.

"I tell you what it is," he said, "this will never do at all. We shall
lose every horse in the band someday or other, and then a pretty plight
we should be in! Now I am convinced that the only way for us is to have
every man in the camp stand horse-guard in rotation whenever we stop.
Supposing a hundred Pawnees should jump up out of that ravine, all
yelling and flapping their buffalo robes, in the way they do? Why, in
two minutes not a hoof would be in sight." We reminded the captain that
a hundred Pawnees would probably demolish the horse-guard, if he were to
resist their depredations.

"At any rate," pursued the captain, evading the point, "our whole system
is wrong; I'm convinced of it; it is totally unmilitary. Why, the way
we travel, strung out over the prairie for a mile, an enemy might attack
the foremost men, and cut them off before the rest could come up."

"We are not in an enemy's country, yet," said Shaw; "when we are, we'll
travel together."

"Then," said the captain, "we might be attacked in camp. We've no
sentinels; we camp in disorder; no precautions at all to guard against
surprise. My own convictions are that we ought to camp in a hollow
square, with the fires in the center; and have sentinels, and a regular
password appointed for every night. Besides, there should be vedettes,
riding in advance, to find a place for the camp and give warning of an
enemy. These are my convictions. I don't want to dictate to any man. I
give advice to the best of my judgment, that's all; and then let people
do as they please."

We intimated that perhaps it would be as well to postpone such
burdensome precautions until there should be some actual need of
them; but he shook his head dubiously. The captain's sense of military
propriety had been severely shocked by what he considered the irregular
proceedings of the party; and this was not the first time he had
expressed himself upon the subject. But his convictions seldom produced
any practical results. In the present case, he contented himself,
as usual, with enlarging on the importance of his suggestions, and
wondering that they were not adopted. But his plan of sending out
vedettes seemed particularly dear to him; and as no one else was
disposed to second his views on this point, he took it into his head to
ride forward that afternoon, himself.

"Come, Parkman," said he, "will you go with me?"

We set out together, and rode a mile or two in advance. The captain,
in the course of twenty years' service in the British army, had seen
something of life; one extensive side of it, at least, he had enjoyed
the best opportunities for studying; and being naturally a pleasant
fellow, he was a very entertaining companion. He cracked jokes and told
stories for an hour or two; until, looking back, we saw the prairie
behind us stretching away to the horizon, without a horseman or a wagon
in sight.

"Now," said the captain, "I think the vedettes had better stop till the
main body comes up."

I was of the same opinion. There was a thick growth of woods just before
us, with a stream running through them. Having crossed this, we found
on the other side a fine level meadow, half encircled by the trees; and
fastening our horses to some bushes, we sat down on the grass; while,
with an old stump of a tree for a target, I began to display the
superiority of the renowned rifle of the back woods over the foreign
innovation borne by the captain. At length voices could be heard in the
distance behind the trees.

"There they come!" said the captain: "let's go and see how they get
through the creek."

We mounted and rode to the bank of the stream, where the trail crossed
it. It ran in a deep hollow, full of trees; as we looked down, we saw a
confused crowd of horsemen riding through the water; and among the dingy
habiliment of our party glittered the uniforms of four dragoons.

Shaw came whipping his horse up the back, in advance of the rest, with
a somewhat indignant countenance. The first word he spoke was a blessing
fervently invoked on the head of R., who was riding, with a crest-fallen
air, in the rear. Thanks to the ingenious devices of the gentleman, we
had missed the track entirely, and wandered, not toward the Platte, but
to the village of the Iowa Indians. This we learned from the dragoons,
who had lately deserted from Fort Leavenworth. They told us that our
best plan now was to keep to the northward until we should strike the
trail formed by several parties of Oregon emigrants, who had that season
set out from St. Joseph's in Missouri.

In extremely bad temper, we encamped on this ill-starred spot; while the
deserters, whose case admitted of no delay rode rapidly forward. On the
day following, striking the St. Joseph's trail, we turned our horses'
heads toward Fort Laramie, then about seven hundred miles to the
westward.



CHAPTER V

"THE BIG BLUE"


The great medley of Oregon and California emigrants, at their camps
around Independence, had heard reports that several additional parties
were on the point of setting out from St. Joseph's farther to the
northward. The prevailing impression was that these were Mormons,
twenty-three hundred in number; and a great alarm was excited in
consequence. The people of Illinois and Missouri, who composed by far
the greater part of the emigrants, have never been on the best terms
with the "Latter Day Saints"; and it is notorious throughout the country
how much blood has been spilt in their feuds, even far within the limits
of the settlements. No one could predict what would be the result, when
large armed bodies of these fanatics should encounter the most impetuous
and reckless of their old enemies on the broad prairie, far beyond the
reach of law or military force. The women and children at Independence
raised a great outcry; the men themselves were seriously alarmed; and,
as I learned, they sent to Colonel Kearny, requesting an escort of
dragoons as far as the Platte. This was refused; and as the sequel
proved, there was no occasion for it. The St. Joseph's emigrants were as
good Christians and as zealous Mormon-haters as the rest; and the very
few families of the "Saints" who passed out this season by the route of
the Platte remained behind until the great tide of emigration had gone
by; standing in quite as much awe of the "gentiles" as the latter did of
them.

We were now, as I before mentioned, upon this St. Joseph's trail. It was
evident, by the traces, that large parties were a few days in advance of
us; and as we too supposed them to be Mormons, we had some apprehension
of interruption.

The journey was somewhat monotonous. One day we rode on for hours,
without seeing a tree or a bush; before, behind, and on either side,
stretched the vast expanse, rolling in a succession of graceful swells,
covered with the unbroken carpet of fresh green grass. Here and there a
crow, or a raven, or a turkey-buzzard, relieved the uniformity.

"What shall we do to-night for wood and water?" we began to ask of each
other; for the sun was within an hour of setting. At length a dark green
speck appeared, far off on the right; it was the top of a tree, peering
over a swell of the prairie; and leaving the trail, we made all haste
toward it. It proved to be the vanguard of a cluster of bushes and low
trees, that surrounded some pools of water in an extensive hollow; so we
encamped on the rising ground near it.

Shaw and I were sitting in the tent, when Delorier thrust his brown face
and old felt hat into the opening, and dilating his eyes to their utmost
extent, announced supper. There were the tin cups and the iron spoons,
arranged in military order on the grass, and the coffee-pot predominant
in the midst. The meal was soon dispatched; but Henry Chatillon still
sat cross-legged, dallying with the remnant of his coffee, the beverage
in universal use upon the prairie, and an especial favorite with him. He
preferred it in its virgin flavor, unimpaired by sugar or cream; and
on the present occasion it met his entire approval, being exceedingly
strong, or, as he expressed it, "right black."

It was a rich and gorgeous sunset--an American sunset; and the ruddy
glow of the sky was reflected from some extensive pools of water among
the shadowy copses in the meadow below.

"I must have a bath to-night," said Shaw. "How is it, Delorier? Any
chance for a swim down here?"

"Ah! I cannot tell; just as you please, monsieur," replied Delorier,
shrugging his shoulders, perplexed by his ignorance of English, and
extremely anxious to conform in all respects to the opinion and wishes
of his bourgeois.

"Look at his moccasion," said I. "It has evidently been lately immersed
in a profound abyss of black mud."

"Come," said Shaw; "at any rate we can see for ourselves."

We set out together; and as we approached the bushes, which were at some
distance, we found the ground becoming rather treacherous. We could
only get along by stepping upon large clumps of tall rank grass, with
fathomless gulfs between, like innumerable little quaking islands in
an ocean of mud, where a false step would have involved our boots in a
catastrophe like that which had befallen Delorier's moccasins. The thing
looked desperate; we separated, so as to search in different directions,
Shaw going off to the right, while I kept straight forward. At last I
came to the edge of the bushes: they were young waterwillows, covered
with their caterpillar-like blossoms, but intervening between them
and the last grass clump was a black and deep slough, over which, by a
vigorous exertion, I contrived to jump. Then I shouldered my way through
the willows, tramping them down by main force, till I came to a wide
stream of water, three inches deep, languidly creeping along over a
bottom of sleek mud. My arrival produced a great commotion. A huge green
bull-frog uttered an indignant croak, and jumped off the bank with a
loud splash: his webbed feet twinkled above the surface, as he jerked
them energetically upward, and I could see him ensconcing himself in
the unresisting slime at the bottom, whence several large air bubbles
struggled lazily to the top. Some little spotted frogs instantly
followed the patriarch's example; and then three turtles, not larger
than a dollar, tumbled themselves off a broad "lily pad," where they had
been reposing. At the same time a snake, gayly striped with black and
yellow, glided out from the bank, and writhed across to the other side;
and a small stagnant pool into which my foot had inadvertently pushed a
stone was instantly alive with a congregation of black tadpoles.

"Any chance for a bath, where you are?" called out Shaw, from a
distance.

The answer was not encouraging. I retreated through the willows, and
rejoining my companion, we proceeded to push our researches in company.
Not far on the right, a rising ground, covered with trees and bushes,
seemed to sink down abruptly to the water, and give hope of better
success; so toward this we directed our steps. When we reached the place
we found it no easy matter to get along between the hill and the water,
impeded as we were by a growth of stiff, obstinate young birch-trees,
laced together by grapevines. In the twilight, we now and then, to
support ourselves, snatched at the touch-me-not stem of some ancient
sweet-brier. Shaw, who was in advance, suddenly uttered a somewhat
emphatic monosyllable; and looking up I saw him with one hand grasping a
sapling, and one foot immersed in the water, from which he had forgotten
to withdraw it, his whole attention being engaged in contemplating the
movements of a water-snake, about five feet long, curiously checkered
with black and green, who was deliberately swimming across the pool.
There being no stick or stone at hand to pelt him with, we looked at him
for a time in silent disgust; and then pushed forward. Our perseverence
was at last rewarded; for several rods farther on, we emerged upon a
little level grassy nook among the brushwood, and by an extraordinary
dispensation of fortune, the weeds and floating sticks, which elsewhere
covered the pool, seemed to have drawn apart, and left a few yards of
clear water just in front of this favored spot. We sounded it with a
stick; it was four feet deep; we lifted a specimen in our cupped hands;
it seemed reasonably transparent, so we decided that the time for action
was arrived. But our ablutions were suddenly interrupted by ten
thousand punctures, like poisoned needles, and the humming of myriads
of over-grown mosquitoes, rising in all directions from their native mud
and slime and swarming to the feast. We were fain to beat a retreat with
all possible speed.

We made toward the tents, much refreshed by the bath which the heat of
the weather, joined to our prejudices, had rendered very desirable.

"What's the matter with the captain? look at him!" said Shaw. The
captain stood alone on the prairie, swinging his hat violently around
his head, and lifting first one foot and then the other, without moving
from the spot. First he looked down to the ground with an air of
supreme abhorrence; then he gazed upward with a perplexed and indignant
countenance, as if trying to trace the flight of an unseen enemy. We
called to know what was the matter; but he replied only by execrations
directed against some unknown object. We approached, when our ears were
saluted by a droning sound, as if twenty bee-hives had been overturned
at once. The air above was full of large black insects, in a state of
great commotion, and multitudes were flying about just above the tops of
the grass blades.

"Don't be afraid," called the captain, observing us recoil. "The brutes
won't sting."

At this I knocked one down with my hat, and discovered him to be no
other than a "dorbug"; and looking closer, we found the ground thickly
perforated with their holes.

We took a hasty leave of this flourishing colony, and walking up
the rising ground to the tents, found Delorier's fire still glowing
brightly. We sat down around it, and Shaw began to expatiate on the
admirable facilities for bathing that we had discovered, and recommended
the captain by all means to go down there before breakfast in the
morning. The captain was in the act of remarking that he couldn't have
believed it possible, when he suddenly interrupted himself, and clapped
his hand to his cheek, exclaiming that "those infernal humbugs were at
him again." In fact, we began to hear sounds as if bullets were humming
over our heads. In a moment something rapped me sharply on the forehead,
then upon the neck, and immediately I felt an indefinite number of sharp
wiry claws in active motion, as if their owner were bent on pushing his
explorations farther. I seized him, and dropped him into the fire.
Our party speedily broke up, and we adjourned to our respective tents,
where, closing the opening fast, we hoped to be exempt from invasion.
But all precaution was fruitless. The dorbugs hummed through the tent,
and marched over our faces until day-light; when, opening our blankets,
we found several dozen clinging there with the utmost tenacity. The
first object that met our eyes in the morning was Delorier, who seemed
to be apostrophizing his frying-pan, which he held by the handle at
arm's length. It appeared that he had left it at night by the fire; and
the bottom was now covered with dorbugs, firmly imbedded. Multitudes
beside, curiously parched and shriveled, lay scattered among the ashes.

The horses and mules were turned loose to feed. We had just taken our
seats at breakfast, or rather reclined in the classic mode, when an
exclamation from Henry Chatillon, and a shout of alarm from the captain,
gave warning of some casualty, and looking up, we saw the whole band
of animals, twenty-three in number, filing off for the settlements, the
incorrigible Pontiac at their head, jumping along with hobbled feet,
at a gait much more rapid than graceful. Three or four of us ran to cut
them off, dashing as best we might through the tall grass, which was
glittering with myriads of dewdrops. After a race of a mile or more,
Shaw caught a horse. Tying the trail-rope by way of bridle round the
animal's jaw, and leaping upon his back, he got in advance of the
remaining fugitives, while we, soon bringing them together, drove them
in a crowd up to the tents, where each man caught and saddled his own.
Then we heard lamentations and curses; for half the horses had broke
their hobbles, and many were seriously galled by attempting to run in
fetters.

It was late that morning before we were on the march; and early in the
afternoon we were compelled to encamp, for a thunder-gust came up and
suddenly enveloped us in whirling sheets of rain. With much ado, we
pitched our tents amid the tempest, and all night long the thunder
bellowed and growled over our heads. In the morning, light peaceful
showers succeeded the cataracts of rain, that had been drenching us
through the canvas of our tents. About noon, when there were some
treacherous indications of fair weather, we got in motion again.

Not a breath of air stirred over the free and open prairie; the clouds
were like light piles of cotton; and where the blue sky was visible, it
wore a hazy and languid aspect. The sun beat down upon us with a sultry
penetrating heat almost insupportable, and as our party crept slowly
along over the interminable level, the horses hung their heads as
they waded fetlock deep through the mud, and the men slouched into
the easiest position upon the saddle. At last, toward evening, the old
familiar black heads of thunderclouds rose fast above the horizon, and
the same deep muttering of distant thunder that had become the ordinary
accompaniment of our afternoon's journey began to roll hoarsely over
the prairie. Only a few minutes elapsed before the whole sky was densely
shrouded, and the prairie and some clusters of woods in front assumed a
purple hue beneath the inky shadows. Suddenly from the densest fold of
the cloud the flash leaped out, quivering again and again down to the
edge of the prairie; and at the same instant came the sharp burst and
the long rolling peal of the thunder. A cool wind, filled with the smell
of rain, just then overtook us, leveling the tall grass by the side of
the path.

"Come on; we must ride for it!" shouted Shaw, rushing past at full
speed, his led horse snorting at his side. The whole party broke into
full gallop, and made for the trees in front. Passing these, we found
beyond them a meadow which they half inclosed. We rode pell-mell upon
the ground, leaped from horseback, tore off our saddles; and in a moment
each man was kneeling at his horse's feet. The hobbles were adjusted,
and the animals turned loose; then, as the wagons came wheeling rapidly
to the spot, we seized upon the tent-poles, and just as the storm broke,
we were prepared to receive it. It came upon us almost with the darkness
of night; the trees, which were close at hand, were completely shrouded
by the roaring torrents of rain.

We were sitting in the tent, when Delorier, with his broad felt hat
hanging about his ears, and his shoulders glistening with rain, thrust
in his head.

"Voulez-vous du souper, tout de suite? I can make a fire, sous la
charette--I b'lieve so--I try."

"Never mind supper, man; come in out of the rain."

Delorier accordingly crouched in the entrance, for modesty would not
permit him to intrude farther.

Our tent was none of the best defense against such a cataract. The
rain could not enter bodily, but it beat through the canvas in a fine
drizzle, that wetted us just as effectively. We sat upon our saddles
with faces of the utmost surliness, while the water dropped from the
vizors of our caps, and trickled down our cheeks. My india-rubber cloak
conducted twenty little rapid streamlets to the ground; and Shaw's
blanket-coat was saturated like a sponge. But what most concerned us
was the sight of several puddles of water rapidly accumulating; one
in particular, that was gathering around the tent-pole, threatened
to overspread the whole area within the tent, holding forth but an
indifferent promise of a comfortable night's rest. Toward sunset,
however, the storm ceased as suddenly as it began. A bright streak
of clear red sky appeared above the western verge of the prairie, the
horizontal rays of the sinking sun streamed through it and glittered in
a thousand prismatic colors upon the dripping groves and the prostrate
grass. The pools in the tent dwindled and sunk into the saturated soil.

But all our hopes were delusive. Scarcely had night set in, when the
tumult broke forth anew. The thunder here is not like the tame thunder
of the Atlantic coast. Bursting with a terrific crash directly above our
heads, it roared over the boundless waste of prairie, seeming to roll
around the whole circle of the firmament with a peculiar and awful
reverberation. The lightning flashed all night, playing with its livid
glare upon the neighboring trees, revealing the vast expanse of the
plain, and then leaving us shut in as by a palpable wall of darkness.

It did not disturb us much. Now and then a peal awakened us, and made us
conscious of the electric battle that was raging, and of the floods that
dashed upon the stanch canvas over our heads. We lay upon india-rubber
cloths, placed between our blankets and the soil. For a while they
excluded the water to admiration; but when at length it accumulated and
began to run over the edges, they served equally well to retain it, so
that toward the end of the night we were unconsciously reposing in small
pools of rain.

On finally awaking in the morning the prospect was not a cheerful one.
The rain no longer poured in torrents; but it pattered with a quiet
pertinacity upon the strained and saturated canvas. We disengaged
ourselves from our blankets, every fiber of which glistened with little
beadlike drops of water, and looked out in vain hope of discovering some
token of fair weather. The clouds, in lead-colored volumes, rested upon
the dismal verge of the prairie, or hung sluggishly overhead, while the
earth wore an aspect no more attractive than the heavens, exhibiting
nothing but pools of water, grass beaten down, and mud well trampled by
our mules and horses. Our companions' tent, with an air of forlorn
and passive misery, and their wagons in like manner, drenched and
woe-begone, stood not far off. The captain was just returning from his
morning's inspection of the horses. He stalked through the mist and
rain, with his plaid around his shoulders; his little pipe, dingy as an
antiquarian relic, projecting from beneath his mustache, and his brother
Jack at his heels.

"Good-morning, captain."

"Good-morning to your honors," said the captain, affecting the Hibernian
accent; but at that instant, as he stooped to enter the tent, he tripped
upon the cords at the entrance, and pitched forward against the guns
which were strapped around the pole in the center.

"You are nice men, you are!" said he, after an ejaculation not necessary
to be recorded, "to set a man-trap before your door every morning to
catch your visitors."

Then he sat down upon Henry Chatillon's saddle. We tossed a piece of
buffalo robe to Jack, who was looking about in some embarrassment. He
spread it on the ground, and took his seat, with a stolid countenance,
at his brother's side.

"Exhilarating weather, captain!"

"Oh, delightful, delightful!" replied the captain. "I knew it would be
so; so much for starting yesterday at noon! I knew how it would turn
out; and I said so at the time."

"You said just the contrary to us. We were in no hurry, and only moved
because you insisted on it."

"Gentlemen," said the captain, taking his pipe from his mouth with an
air of extreme gravity, "it was no plan of mine. There is a man among us
who is determined to have everything his own way. You may express your
opinion; but don't expect him to listen. You may be as reasonable as
you like: oh, it all goes for nothing! That man is resolved to rule the
roost and he'll set his face against any plan that he didn't think of
himself."

The captain puffed for a while at his pipe, as if meditating upon his
grievances; then he began again:

"For twenty years I have been in the British army; and in all that time
I never had half so much dissension, and quarreling, and nonsense, as
since I have been on this cursed prairie. He's the most uncomfortable
man I ever met."

"Yes," said Jack; "and don't you know, Bill, how he drank up all the
coffee last night, and put the rest by for himself till the morning!"

"He pretends to know everything," resumed the captain; "nobody must give
orders but he! It's, oh! we must do this; and, oh! we must do that; and
the tent must be pitched here, and the horses must be picketed there;
for nobody knows as well as he does."

We were a little surprised at this disclosure of domestic dissensions
among our allies, for though we knew of their existence, we were not
aware of their extent. The persecuted captain seeming wholly at a loss
as to the course of conduct that he should pursue, we recommended him to
adopt prompt and energetic measures; but all his military experience
had failed to teach him the indispensable lesson to be "hard," when the
emergency requires it.

"For twenty years," he repeated, "I have been in the British army, and
in that time I have been intimately acquainted with some two hundred
officers, young and old, and I never yet quarreled with any man. Oh,
'anything for a quiet life!' that's my maxim."

We intimated that the prairie was hardly the place to enjoy a quiet
life, but that, in the present circumstances, the best thing he could
do toward securing his wished-for tranquillity, was immediately to put
a period to the nuisance that disturbed it. But again the captain's
easy good-nature recoiled from the task. The somewhat vigorous measures
necessary to gain the desired result were utterly repugnant to him; he
preferred to pocket his grievances, still retaining the privilege of
grumbling about them. "Oh, anything for a quiet life!" he said again,
circling back to his favorite maxim.

But to glance at the previous history of our transatlantic confederates.
The captain had sold his commission, and was living in bachelor ease
and dignity in his paternal halls, near Dublin. He hunted, fished, rode
steeple-chases, ran races, and talked of his former exploits. He
was surrounded with the trophies of his rod and gun; the walls were
plentifully garnished, he told us, with moose-horns and deer-horns,
bear-skins, and fox-tails; for the captain's double-barreled rifle had
seen service in Canada and Jamaica; he had killed salmon in Nova Scotia,
and trout, by his own account, in all the streams of the three kingdoms.
But in an evil hour a seductive stranger came from London; no less a
person than R., who, among other multitudinous wanderings, had once been
upon the western prairies, and naturally enough was anxious to visit
them again. The captain's imagination was inflamed by the pictures of a
hunter's paradise that his guest held forth; he conceived an ambition
to add to his other trophies the horns of a buffalo, and the claws of
a grizzly bear; so he and R. struck a league to travel in company. Jack
followed his brother, as a matter of course. Two weeks on board the
Atlantic steamer brought them to Boston; in two weeks more of hard
traveling they reached St. Louis, from which a ride of six days
carried them to the frontier; and here we found them, in full tide of
preparation for their journey.

We had been throughout on terms of intimacy with the captain, but
R., the motive power of our companions' branch of the expedition, was
scarcely known to us. His voice, indeed, might be heard incessantly; but
at camp he remained chiefly within the tent, and on the road he either
rode by himself, or else remained in close conversation with his friend
Wright, the muleteer. As the captain left the tent that morning, I
observed R. standing by the fire, and having nothing else to do, I
determined to ascertain, if possible, what manner of man he was. He had
a book under his arm, but just at present he was engrossed in actively
superintending the operations of Sorel, the hunter, who was cooking some
corn-bread over the coals for breakfast. R. was a well-formed and rather
good-looking man, some thirty years old; considerably younger than the
captain. He wore a beard and mustache of the oakum complexion, and
his attire was altogether more elegant than one ordinarily sees on the
prairie. He wore his cap on one side of his head; his checked shirt,
open in front, was in very neat order, considering the circumstances,
and his blue pantaloons, of the John Bull cut, might once have figured
in Bond Street.

"Turn over that cake, man! turn it over, quick! Don't you see it
burning?"

"It ain't half done," growled Sorel, in the amiable tone of a whipped
bull-dog.

"It is. Turn it over, I tell you!"

Sorel, a strong, sullen-looking Canadian, who from having spent his life
among the wildest and most remote of the Indian tribes, had imbibed much
of their dark, vindictive spirit, looked ferociously up, as if he longed
to leap upon his bourgeois and throttle him; but he obeyed the order,
coming from so experienced an artist.

"It was a good idea of yours," said I, seating myself on the tongue of a
wagon, "to bring Indian meal with you."

"Yes, yes" said R. "It's good bread for the prairie--good bread for the
prairie. I tell you that's burning again."

Here he stooped down, and unsheathing the silver-mounted hunting-knife
in his belt, began to perform the part of cook himself; at the same
time requesting me to hold for a moment the book under his arm, which
interfered with the exercise of these important functions. I opened
it; it was "Macaulay's Lays"; and I made some remark, expressing my
admiration of the work.

"Yes, yes; a pretty good thing. Macaulay can do better than that though.
I know him very well. I have traveled with him. Where was it we first
met--at Damascus? No, no; it was in Italy."

"So," said I, "you have been over the same ground with your countryman,
the author of 'Eothen'? There has been some discussion in America as to
who he is. I have heard Milne's name mentioned."

"Milne's? Oh, no, no, no; not at all. It was Kinglake; Kinglake's the
man. I know him very well; that is, I have seen him."

Here Jack C., who stood by, interposed a remark (a thing not common with
him), observing that he thought the weather would become fair before
twelve o'clock.

"It's going to rain all day," said R., "and clear up in the middle of
the night."

Just then the clouds began to dissipate in a very unequivocal manner;
but Jack, not caring to defend his point against so authoritative a
declaration, walked away whistling, and we resumed our conversation.

"Borrow, the author of 'The Bible in Spain,' I presume you know him
too?"

"Oh, certainly; I know all those men. By the way, they told me that one
of your American writers, Judge Story, had died lately. I edited some of
his works in London; not without faults, though."

Here followed an erudite commentary on certain points of law, in which
he particularly animadverted on the errors into which he considered that
the judge had been betrayed. At length, having touched successively
on an infinite variety of topics, I found that I had the happiness
of discovering a man equally competent to enlighten me upon them all,
equally an authority on matters of science or literature, philosophy or
fashion. The part I bore in the conversation was by no means a prominent
one; it was only necessary to set him going, and when he had run long
enough upon one topic, to divert him to another and lead him on to pour
out his heaps of treasure in succession.

"What has that fellow been saying to you?" said Shaw, as I returned to
the tent. "I have heard nothing but his talking for the last half-hour."

R. had none of the peculiar traits of the ordinary "British snob";
his absurdities were all his own, belonging to no particular nation or
clime. He was possessed with an active devil that had driven him over
land and sea, to no great purpose, as it seemed; for although he had the
usual complement of eyes and ears, the avenues between these organs and
his brain appeared remarkably narrow and untrodden. His energy was much
more conspicuous than his wisdom; but his predominant characteristic was
a magnanimous ambition to exercise on all occasions an awful rule and
supremacy, and this propensity equally displayed itself, as the reader
will have observed, whether the matter in question was the baking of a
hoe-cake or a point of international law. When such diverse elements
as he and the easy-tempered captain came in contact, no wonder some
commotion ensued; R. rode roughshod, from morning till night, over his
military ally.

At noon the sky was clear and we set out, trailing through mud and slime
six inches deep. That night we were spared the customary infliction of
the shower bath.

On the next afternoon we were moving slowly along, not far from a patch
of woods which lay on the right. Jack C. rode a little in advance;


The livelong day he had not spoke;


when suddenly he faced about, pointed to the woods, and roared out to
his brother:

"O Bill! here's a cow!"

The captain instantly galloped forward, and he and Jack made a vain
attempt to capture the prize; but the cow, with a well-grounded distrust
of their intentions, took refuge among the trees. R. joined them, and
they soon drove her out. We watched their evolutions as they galloped
around here, trying in vain to noose her with their trail-ropes, which
they had converted into lariettes for the occasion. At length they
resorted to milder measures, and the cow was driven along with the
party. Soon after the usual thunderstorm came up, the wind blowing with
such fury that the streams of rain flew almost horizontally along the
prairie, roaring like a cataract. The horses turned tail to the storm,
and stood hanging their heads, bearing the infliction with an air of
meekness and resignation; while we drew our heads between our shoulders,
and crouched forward, so as to make our backs serve as a pent-house
for the rest of our persons. Meanwhile the cow, taking advantage of the
tumult, ran off, to the great discomfiture of the captain, who seemed to
consider her as his own especial prize, since she had been discovered by
Jack. In defiance of the storm, he pulled his cap tight over his brows,
jerked a huge buffalo pistol from his holster, and set out at full speed
after her. This was the last we saw of them for some time, the mist and
rain making an impenetrable veil; but at length we heard the captain's
shout, and saw him looming through the tempest, the picture of a
Hibernian cavalier, with his cocked pistol held aloft for safety's sake,
and a countenance of anxiety and excitement. The cow trotted before him,
but exhibited evident signs of an intention to run off again, and the
captain was roaring to us to head her. But the rain had got in behind
our coat collars, and was traveling over our necks in numerous little
streamlets, and being afraid to move our heads, for fear of admitting
more, we sat stiff and immovable, looking at the captain askance, and
laughing at his frantic movements. At last the cow made a sudden plunge
and ran off; the captain grasped his pistol firmly, spurred his horse,
and galloped after, with evident designs of mischief. In a moment we
heard the faint report, deadened by the rain, and then the conqueror
and his victim reappeared, the latter shot through the body, and quite
helpless. Not long after the storm moderated and we advanced again. The
cow walked painfully along under the charge of Jack, to whom the captain
had committed her, while he himself rode forward in his old capacity
of vedette. We were approaching a long line of trees, that followed
a stream stretching across our path, far in front, when we beheld the
vedette galloping toward us, apparently much excited, but with a broad
grin on his face.

"Let that cow drop behind!" he shouted to us; "here's her owners!" And
in fact, as we approached the line of trees, a large white object, like
a tent, was visible behind them. On approaching, however, we found,
instead of the expected Mormon camp, nothing but the lonely prairie, and
a large white rock standing by the path. The cow therefore resumed her
place in our procession. She walked on until we encamped, when R. firmly
approaching with his enormous English double-barreled rifle, calmly and
deliberately took aim at her heart, and discharged into it first one
bullet and then the other. She was then butchered on the most approved
principles of woodcraft, and furnished a very welcome item to our
somewhat limited bill of fare.

In a day or two more we reached the river called the "Big Blue." By
titles equally elegant, almost all the streams of this region are
designated. We had struggled through ditches and little brooks all that
morning; but on traversing the dense woods that lined the banks of the
Blue, we found more formidable difficulties awaited us, for the stream,
swollen by the rains, was wide, deep, and rapid.

No sooner were we on the spot than R. had flung off his clothes, and was
swimming across, or splashing through the shallows, with the end of a
rope between his teeth. We all looked on in admiration, wondering what
might be the design of this energetic preparation; but soon we heard him
shouting: "Give that rope a turn round that stump! You, Sorel: do you
hear? Look sharp now, Boisverd! Come over to this side, some of you, and
help me!" The men to whom these orders were directed paid not the
least attention to them, though they were poured out without pause
or intermission. Henry Chatillon directed the work, and it proceeded
quietly and rapidly. R.'s sharp brattling voice might have been
heard incessantly; and he was leaping about with the utmost activity,
multiplying himself, after the manner of great commanders, as if his
universal presence and supervision were of the last necessity. His
commands were rather amusingly inconsistent; for when he saw that the
men would not do as he told them, he wisely accommodated himself
to circumstances, and with the utmost vehemence ordered them to do
precisely that which they were at the time engaged upon, no doubt
recollecting the story of Mahomet and the refractory mountain.
Shaw smiled significantly; R. observed it, and, approaching with a
countenance of lofty indignation, began to vapor a little, but was
instantly reduced to silence.

The raft was at length complete. We piled our goods upon it, with
the exception of our guns, which each man chose to retain in his own
keeping. Sorel, Boisverd, Wright and Delorier took their stations at
the four corners, to hold it together, and swim across with it; and in
a moment more, all our earthly possessions were floating on the turbid
waters of the Big Blue. We sat on the bank, anxiously watching the
result, until we saw the raft safe landed in a little cove far down on
the opposite bank. The empty wagons were easily passed across; and then
each man mounting a horse, we rode through the stream, the stray animals
following of their own accord.



CHAPTER VI

THE PLATTE AND THE DESERT


We were now arrived at the close of our solitary journeyings along the
St. Joseph's trail. On the evening of the 23d of May we encamped near
its junction with the old legitimate trail of the Oregon emigrants. We
had ridden long that afternoon, trying in vain to find wood and water,
until at length we saw the sunset sky reflected from a pool encircled by
bushes and a rock or two. The water lay in the bottom of a hollow, the
smooth prairie gracefully rising in oceanlike swells on every side.
We pitched our tents by it; not however before the keen eye of Henry
Chatillon had discerned some unusual object upon the faintly-defined
outline of the distant swell. But in the moist, hazy atmosphere of the
evening, nothing could be clearly distinguished. As we lay around the
fire after supper, a low and distant sound, strange enough amid the
loneliness of the prairie, reached our ears--peals of laughter, and the
faint voices of men and women. For eight days we had not encountered a
human being, and this singular warning of their vicinity had an effect
extremely wild and impressive.

About dark a sallow-faced fellow descended the hill on horseback, and
splashing through the pool rode up to the tents. He was enveloped in a
huge cloak, and his broad felt hat was weeping about his ears with
the drizzling moisture of the evening. Another followed, a stout,
square-built, intelligent-looking man, who announced himself as leader
of an emigrant party encamped a mile in advance of us. About twenty
wagons, he said, were with him; the rest of his party were on the
other side of the Big Blue, waiting for a woman who was in the pains of
child-birth, and quarreling meanwhile among themselves.

These were the first emigrants that we had overtaken, although we had
found abundant and melancholy traces of their progress throughout the
whole course of the journey. Sometimes we passed the grave of one who
had sickened and died on the way. The earth was usually torn up, and
covered thickly with wolf-tracks. Some had escaped this violation. One
morning a piece of plank, standing upright on the summit of a grassy
hill, attracted our notice, and riding up to it we found the following
words very roughly traced upon it, apparently by a red-hot piece of
iron:


MARY ELLIS

DIED MAY 7TH, 1845.

Aged two months.


Such tokens were of common occurrence, nothing could speak more for the
hardihood, or rather infatuation, of the adventurers, or the sufferings
that await them upon the journey.

We were late in breaking up our camp on the following morning, and
scarcely had we ridden a mile when we saw, far in advance of us, drawn
against the horizon, a line of objects stretching at regular intervals
along the level edge of the prairie. An intervening swell soon hid them
from sight, until, ascending it a quarter of an hour after, we saw close
before us the emigrant caravan, with its heavy white wagons creeping on
in their slow procession, and a large drove of cattle following behind.
Half a dozen yellow-visaged Missourians, mounted on horseback, were
cursing and shouting among them; their lank angular proportions
enveloped in brown homespun, evidently cut and adjusted by the hands
of a domestic female tailor. As we approached, they greeted us with
the polished salutation: "How are ye, boys? Are ye for Oregon or
California?"

As we pushed rapidly past the wagons, children's faces were thrust
out from the white coverings to look at us; while the care-worn,
thin-featured matron, or the buxom girl, seated in front, suspended
the knitting on which most of them were engaged to stare at us with
wondering curiosity. By the side of each wagon stalked the proprietor,
urging on his patient oxen, who shouldered heavily along, inch by
inch, on their interminable journey. It was easy to see that fear and
dissension prevailed among them; some of the men--but these, with one
exception, were bachelors--looked wistfully upon us as we rode lightly
and swiftly past, and then impatiently at their own lumbering wagons
and heavy-gaited oxen. Others were unwilling to advance at all until
the party they had left behind should have rejoined them. Many were
murmuring against the leader they had chosen, and wished to depose him;
and this discontent was fermented by some ambitious spirits, who had
hopes of succeeding in his place. The women were divided between regrets
for the homes they had left and apprehension of the deserts and the
savages before them.

We soon left them far behind, and fondly hoped that we had taken a final
leave; but unluckily our companions' wagon stuck so long in a deep muddy
ditch that, before it was extricated, the van of the emigrant caravan
appeared again, descending a ridge close at hand. Wagon after wagon
plunged through the mud; and as it was nearly noon, and the place
promised shade and water, we saw with much gratification that they were
resolved to encamp. Soon the wagons were wheeled into a circle; the
cattle were grazing over the meadow, and the men with sour, sullen
faces, were looking about for wood and water. They seemed to meet with
but indifferent success. As we left the ground, I saw a tall slouching
fellow with the nasal accent of "down east," contemplating the contents
of his tin cup, which he had just filled with water.

"Look here, you," he said; "it's chock full of animals!"

The cup, as he held it out, exhibited in fact an extraordinary variety
and profusion of animal and vegetable life.

Riding up the little hill and looking back on the meadow, we could
easily see that all was not right in the camp of the emigrants. The
men were crowded together, and an angry discussion seemed to be going
forward. R. was missing from his wonted place in the line, and the
captain told us that he had remained behind to get his horse shod by a
blacksmith who was attached to the emigrant party. Something whispered
in our ears that mischief was on foot; we kept on, however, and coming
soon to a stream of tolerable water, we stopped to rest and dine. Still
the absentee lingered behind. At last, at the distance of a mile, he
and his horse suddenly appeared, sharply defined against the sky on the
summit of a hill; and close behind, a huge white object rose slowly into
view.

"What is that blockhead bringing with him now?"

A moment dispelled the mystery. Slowly and solemnly one behind the
other, four long trains of oxen and four emigrant wagons rolled over the
crest of the declivity and gravely descended, while R. rode in state
in the van. It seems that, during the process of shoeing the horse,
the smothered dissensions among the emigrants suddenly broke into open
rupture. Some insisted on pushing forward, some on remaining where they
were, and some on going back. Kearsley, their captain, threw up his
command in disgust. "And now, boys," said he, "if any of you are for
going ahead, just you come along with me."

Four wagons, with ten men, one woman, and one small child, made up
the force of the "go-ahead" faction, and R., with his usual proclivity
toward mischief, invited them to join our party. Fear of the
Indians--for I can conceive of no other motive--must have induced him
to court so burdensome an alliance. As may well be conceived, these
repeated instances of high-handed dealing sufficiently exasperated
us. In this case, indeed, the men who joined us were all that could be
desired; rude indeed in manner, but frank, manly, and intelligent.
To tell them we could not travel with them was of course out of the
question. I merely reminded Kearsley that if his oxen could not keep up
with our mules he must expect to be left behind, as we could not consent
to be further delayed on the journey; but he immediately replied, that
his oxen "SHOULD keep up; and if they couldn't, why he allowed that he'd
find out how to make 'em!" Having availed myself of what satisfaction
could be derived from giving R. to understand my opinion of his conduct,
I returned to our side of the camp.

On the next day, as it chanced, our English companions broke the
axle-tree of their wagon, and down came the whole cumbrous machine
lumbering into the bed of a brook! Here was a day's work cut out for us.
Meanwhile, our emigrant associates kept on their way, and so vigorously
did they urge forward their powerful oxen that, with the broken
axle-tree and other calamities, it was full a week before we overtook
them; when at length we discovered them, one afternoon, crawling quietly
along the sandy brink of the Platte. But meanwhile various incidents
occurred to ourselves.

It was probable that at this stage of our journey the Pawnees would
attempt to rob us. We began therefore to stand guard in turn, dividing
the night into three watches, and appointing two men for each. Delorier
and I held guard together. We did not march with military precision to
and fro before the tents; our discipline was by no means so stringent
and rigid. We wrapped ourselves in our blankets, and sat down by the
fire; and Delorier, combining his culinary functions with his duties as
sentinel, employed himself in boiling the head of an antelope for our
morning's repast. Yet we were models of vigilance in comparison with
some of the party; for the ordinary practice of the guard was to
establish himself in the most comfortable posture he could; lay his
rifle on the ground, and enveloping his nose in the blanket, meditate
on his mistress, or whatever subject best pleased him. This is all well
enough when among Indians who do not habitually proceed further in their
hostility than robbing travelers of their horses and mules, though,
indeed, a Pawnee's forebearance is not always to be trusted; but in
certain regions farther to the west, the guard must beware how he
exposes his person to the light of the fire, lest perchance some
keen-eyed skulking marksman should let fly a bullet or an arrow from
amid the darkness.

Among various tales that circulated around our camp fire was a rather
curious one, told by Boisverd, and not inappropriate here. Boisverd was
trapping with several companions on the skirts of the Blackfoot country.
The man on guard, well knowing that it behooved him to put forth his
utmost precaution, kept aloof from the firelight, and sat watching
intently on all sides. At length he was aware of a dark, crouching
figure, stealing noiselessly into the circle of the light. He hastily
cocked his rifle, but the sharp click of the lock caught the ear of
Blackfoot, whose senses were all on the alert. Raising his arrow,
already fitted to the string, he shot in the direction of the sound. So
sure was his aim that he drove it through the throat of the unfortunate
guard, and then, with a loud yell, bounded from the camp.

As I looked at the partner of my watch, puffing and blowing over his
fire, it occurred to me that he might not prove the most efficient
auxiliary in time of trouble.

"Delorier," said I, "would you run away if the Pawnees should fire at
us?"

"Ah! oui, oui, monsieur!" he replied very decisively.

I did not doubt the fact, but was a little surprised at the frankness of
the confession.

At this instant a most whimsical variety of voices--barks, howls, yelps,
and whines--all mingled as it were together, sounded from the prairie,
not far off, as if a whole conclave of wolves of every age and sex were
assembled there. Delorier looked up from his work with a laugh, and
began to imitate this curious medley of sounds with a most ludicrous
accuracy. At this they were repeated with redoubled emphasis, the
musician being apparently indignant at the successful efforts of a
rival. They all proceeded from the throat of one little wolf, not
larger than a spaniel, seated by himself at some distance. He was of
the species called the prairie wolf; a grim-visaged, but harmless little
brute, whose worst propensity is creeping among horses and gnawing the
ropes of raw hide by which they are picketed around the camp. But
other beasts roam the prairies, far more formidable in aspect and in
character. These are the large white and gray wolves, whose deep howl we
heard at intervals from far and near.

At last I fell into a doze, and, awakening from it, found Delorier
fast asleep. Scandalized by this breach of discipline, I was about to
stimulate his vigilance by stirring him with the stock of my rifle; but
compassion prevailing, I determined to let him sleep awhile, and then to
arouse him, and administer a suitable reproof for such a forgetfulness
of duty. Now and then I walked the rounds among the silent horses, to
see that all was right. The night was chill, damp, and dark, the dank
grass bending under the icy dewdrops. At the distance of a rod or two
the tents were invisible, and nothing could be seen but the obscure
figures of the horses, deeply breathing, and restlessly starting as they
slept, or still slowly champing the grass. Far off, beyond the black
outline of the prairie, there was a ruddy light, gradually increasing,
like the glow of a conflagration; until at length the broad disk of the
moon, blood-red, and vastly magnified by the vapors, rose slowly upon
the darkness, flecked by one or two little clouds, and as the light
poured over the gloomy plain, a fierce and stern howl, close at hand,
seemed to greet it as an unwelcome intruder. There was something
impressive and awful in the place and the hour; for I and the beasts
were all that had consciousness for many a league around.

Some days elapsed, and brought us near the Platte. Two men on horseback
approached us one morning, and we watched them with the curiosity and
interest that, upon the solitude of the plains, such an encounter always
excites. They were evidently whites, from their mode of riding, though,
contrary to the usage of that region, neither of them carried a rifle.

"Fools!" remarked Henry Chatillon, "to ride that way on the prairie;
Pawnee find them--then they catch it!"

Pawnee HAD found them, and they had come very near "catching it";
indeed, nothing saved them from trouble but the approach of our party.
Shaw and I knew one of them; a man named Turner, whom we had seen at
Westport. He and his companion belonged to an emigrant party encamped
a few miles in advance, and had returned to look for some stray oxen,
leaving their rifles, with characteristic rashness or ignorance behind
them. Their neglect had nearly cost them dear; for just before we
came up, half a dozen Indians approached, and seeing them apparently
defenseless, one of the rascals seized the bridle of Turner's fine
horse, and ordered him to dismount. Turner was wholly unarmed; but the
other jerked a little revolving pistol out of his pocket, at which
the Pawnee recoiled; and just then some of our men appearing in the
distance, the whole party whipped their rugged little horses, and made
off. In no way daunted, Turner foolishly persisted in going forward.

Long after leaving him, and late this afternoon, in the midst of a
gloomy and barren prairie, we came suddenly upon the great Pawnee trail,
leading from their villages on the Platte to their war and hunting
grounds to the southward. Here every summer pass the motley concourse;
thousands of savages, men, women, and children, horses and mules, laden
with their weapons and implements, and an innumerable multitude of
unruly wolfish dogs, who have not acquired the civilized accomplishment
of barking, but howl like their wild cousins of the prairie.

The permanent winter villages of the Pawnees stand on the lower Platte,
but throughout the summer the greater part of the inhabitants are
wandering over the plains, a treacherous cowardly banditti, who by a
thousand acts of pillage and murder have deserved summary chastisement
at the hands of government. Last year a Dakota warrior performed a
signal exploit at one of these villages. He approached it alone in the
middle of a dark night, and clambering up the outside of one of the
lodges which are in the form of a half-sphere, he looked in at the round
hole made at the top for the escape of smoke. The dusky light from the
smoldering embers showed him the forms of the sleeping inmates; and
dropping lightly through the opening, he unsheathed his knife, and
stirring the fire coolly selected his victims. One by one he stabbed and
scalped them, when a child suddenly awoke and screamed. He rushed from
the lodge, yelled a Sioux war-cry, shouted his name in triumph and
defiance, and in a moment had darted out upon the dark prairie, leaving
the whole village behind him in a tumult, with the howling and baying of
dogs, the screams of women and the yells of the enraged warriors.

Our friend Kearsley, as we learned on rejoining him, signalized himself
by a less bloody achievement. He and his men were good woodsmen, and
well skilled in the use of the rifle, but found themselves wholly out of
their element on the prairie. None of them had ever seen a buffalo and
they had very vague conceptions of his nature and appearance. On the
day after they reached the Platte, looking toward a distant swell, they
beheld a multitude of little black specks in motion upon its surface.

"Take your rifles, boys," said Kearslcy, "and we'll have fresh meat for
supper." This inducement was quite sufficient. The ten men left their
wagons and set out in hot haste, some on horseback and some on foot, in
pursuit of the supposed buffalo. Meanwhile a high grassy ridge shut the
game from view; but mounting it after half an hour's running and riding,
they found themselves suddenly confronted by about thirty mounted
Pawnees! The amazement and consternation were mutual. Having nothing but
their bows and arrows, the Indians thought their hour was come, and
the fate that they were no doubt conscious of richly deserving about
to overtake them. So they began, one and all, to shout forth the most
cordial salutations of friendship, running up with extreme earnestness
to shake hands with the Missourians, who were as much rejoiced as they
were to escape the expected conflict.

A low undulating line of sand-hills bounded the horizon before us. That
day we rode ten consecutive hours, and it was dusk before we entered the
hollows and gorges of these gloomy little hills. At length we gained the
summit, and the long expected valley of the Platte lay before us. We
all drew rein, and, gathering in a knot on the crest of the hill, sat
joyfully looking down upon the prospect. It was right welcome; strange
too, and striking to the imagination, and yet it had not one picturesque
or beautiful feature; nor had it any of the features of grandeur, other
than its vast extent, its solitude, and its wilderness. For league after
league a plain as level as a frozen lake was outspread beneath us;
here and there the Platte, divided into a dozen threadlike sluices, was
traversing it, and an occasional clump of wood, rising in the midst like
a shadowy island, relieved the monotony of the waste. No living thing
was moving throughout the vast landscape, except the lizards that darted
over the sand and through the rank grass and prickly-pear just at our
feet. And yet stern and wild associations gave a singular interest to
the view; for here each man lives by the strength of his arm and the
valor of his heart. Here society is reduced to its original elements,
the whole fabric of art and conventionality is struck rudely to pieces,
and men find themselves suddenly brought back to the wants and resources
of their original natures.

We had passed the more toilsome and monotonous part of the journey; but
four hundred miles still intervened between us and Fort Laramie; and to
reach that point cost us the travel of three additional weeks. During
the whole of this time we were passing up the center of a long narrow
sandy plain, reaching like an outstretched belt nearly to the Rocky
Mountains. Two lines of sand-hills, broken often into the wildest and
most fantastic forms, flanked the valley at the distance of a mile or
two on the right and left; while beyond them lay a barren, trackless
waste--The Great American Desert--extending for hundreds of miles to the
Arkansas on the one side, and the Missouri on the other. Before us and
behind us, the level monotony of the plain was unbroken as far as the
eye could reach. Sometimes it glared in the sun, an expanse of hot,
bare sand; sometimes it was veiled by long coarse grass. Huge skulls
and whitening bones of buffalo were scattered everywhere; the ground
was tracked by myriads of them, and often covered with the circular
indentations where the bulls had wallowed in the hot weather. From every
gorge and ravine, opening from the hills, descended deep, well-worn
paths, where the buffalo issue twice a day in regular procession down
to drink in the Platte. The river itself runs through the midst, a thin
sheet of rapid, turbid water, half a mile wide, and scarce two feet
deep. Its low banks for the most part without a bush or a tree, are of
loose sand, with which the stream is so charged that it grates on
the teeth in drinking. The naked landscape is, of itself, dreary and
monotonous enough, and yet the wild beasts and wild men that frequent
the valley of the Platte make it a scene of interest and excitement to
the traveler. Of those who have journeyed there, scarce one, perhaps,
fails to look back with fond regret to his horse and his rifle.

Early in the morning after we reached the Platte, a long procession of
squalid savages approached our camp. Each was on foot, leading his horse
by a rope of bull-hide. His attire consisted merely of a scanty cincture
and an old buffalo robe, tattered and begrimed by use, which hung
over his shoulders. His head was close shaven, except a ridge of hair
reaching over the crown from the center of the forehead, very much like
the long bristles on the back of a hyena, and he carried his bow and
arrows in his hand, while his meager little horse was laden with dried
buffalo meat, the produce of his hunting. Such were the first specimens
that we met--and very indifferent ones they were--of the genuine savages
of the prairie.

They were the Pawnees whom Kearsley had encountered the day before, and
belonged to a large hunting party known to be ranging the prairie in the
vicinity. They strode rapidly past, within a furlong of our tents,
not pausing or looking toward us, after the manner of Indians when
meditating mischief or conscious of ill-desert. I went out and met them;
and had an amicable conference with the chief, presenting him with
half a pound of tobacco, at which unmerited bounty he expressed much
gratification. These fellows, or some of their companions had committed
a dastardly outrage upon an emigrant party in advance of us. Two men,
out on horseback at a distance, were seized by them, but lashing their
horses, they broke loose and fled. At this the Pawnees raised the yell
and shot at them, transfixing the hindermost through the back with
several arrows, while his companion galloped away and brought in the
news to his party. The panic-stricken emigrants remained for several
days in camp, not daring even to send out in quest of the dead body.

The reader will recollect Turner, the man whose narrow escape was
mentioned not long since. We heard that the men, whom the entreaties
of his wife induced to go in search of him, found him leisurely driving
along his recovered oxen, and whistling in utter contempt of the Pawnee
nation. His party was encamped within two miles of us; but we passed
them that morning, while the men were driving in the oxen, and the women
packing their domestic utensils and their numerous offspring in the
spacious patriarchal wagons. As we looked back we saw their caravan
dragging its slow length along the plain; wearily toiling on its way, to
found new empires in the West.

Our New England climate is mild and equable compared with that of the
Platte. This very morning, for instance, was close and sultry, the sun
rising with a faint oppressive heat; when suddenly darkness gathered in
the west, and a furious blast of sleet and hail drove full in our faces,
icy cold, and urged with such demoniac vehemence that it felt like a
storm of needles. It was curious to see the horses; they faced about
in extreme displeasure, holding their tails like whipped dogs, and
shivering as the angry gusts, howling louder than a concert of wolves,
swept over us. Wright's long train of mules came sweeping round before
the storm like a flight of brown snowbirds driven by a winter tempest.
Thus we all remained stationary for some minutes, crouching close to our
horses' necks, much too surly to speak, though once the captain looked
up from between the collars of his coat, his face blood-red, and the
muscles of his mouth contracted by the cold into a most ludicrous grin
of agony. He grumbled something that sounded like a curse, directed
as we believed, against the unhappy hour when he had first thought of
leaving home. The thing was too good to last long; and the instant the
puffs of wind subsided we erected our tents, and remained in camp for
the rest of a gloomy and lowering day. The emigrants also encamped near
at hand. We, being first on the ground, had appropriated all the wood
within reach; so that our fire alone blazed cheerfully. Around it soon
gathered a group of uncouth figures, shivering in the drizzling rain.
Conspicuous among them were two or three of the half-savage men who
spend their reckless lives in trapping among the Rocky Mountains, or
in trading for the Fur Company in the Indian villages. They were all
of Canadian extraction; their hard, weather-beaten faces and bushy
mustaches looked out from beneath the hoods of their white capotes with
a bad and brutish expression, as if their owner might be the willing
agent of any villainy. And such in fact is the character of many of
these men.

On the day following we overtook Kearsley's wagons, and thenceforward,
for a week or two, we were fellow-travelers. One good effect, at least,
resulted from the alliance; it materially diminished the serious fatigue
of standing guard; for the party being now more numerous, there were
longer intervals between each man's turns of duty.



CHAPTER VII

THE BUFFALO


Four days on the Platte, and yet no buffalo! Last year's signs of them
were provokingly abundant; and wood being extremely scarce, we found an
admirable substitute in bois de vache, which burns exactly like peat,
producing no unpleasant effects. The wagons one morning had left the
camp; Shaw and I were already on horseback, but Henry Chatillon still
sat cross-legged by the dead embers of the fire, playing pensively with
the lock of his rifle, while his sturdy Wyandotte pony stood quietly
behind him, looking over his head. At last he got up, patted the neck of
the pony (whom, from an exaggerated appreciation of his merits, he had
christened "Five Hundred Dollar"), and then mounted with a melancholy
air.

"What is it, Henry?"

"Ah, I feel lonesome; I never been here before; but I see away yonder
over the buttes, and down there on the prairie, black--all black with
buffalo!"

In the afternoon he and I left the party in search of an antelope; until
at the distance of a mile or two on the right, the tall white wagons
and the little black specks of horsemen were just visible, so slowly
advancing that they seemed motionless; and far on the left rose the
broken line of scorched, desolate sand-hills. The vast plain waved with
tall rank grass that swept our horses' bellies; it swayed to and fro in
billows with the light breeze, and far and near antelope and wolves were
moving through it, the hairy backs of the latter alternately appearing
and disappearing as they bounded awkwardly along; while the antelope,
with the simple curiosity peculiar to them, would often approach as
closely, their little horns and white throats just visible above the
grass tops, as they gazed eagerly at us with their round black eyes.

I dismounted, and amused myself with firing at the wolves. Henry
attentively scrutinized the surrounding landscape; at length he gave a
shout, and called on me to mount again, pointing in the direction of the
sand-hills. A mile and a half from us, two minute black specks
slowly traversed the face of one of the bare glaring declivities, and
disappeared behind the summit. "Let us go!" cried Henry, belaboring the
sides of Five Hundred Dollar; and I following in his wake, we galloped
rapidly through the rank grass toward the base of the hills.

From one of their openings descended a deep ravine, widening as it
issued on the prairie. We entered it, and galloping up, in a moment were
surrounded by the bleak sand-hills. Half of their steep sides were bare;
the rest were scantily clothed with clumps of grass, and various uncouth
plants, conspicuous among which appeared the reptile-like prickly-pear.
They were gashed with numberless ravines; and as the sky had suddenly
darkened, and a cold gusty wind arisen, the strange shrubs and the
dreary hills looked doubly wild and desolate. But Henry's face was all
eagerness. He tore off a little hair from the piece of buffalo robe
under his saddle, and threw it up, to show the course of the wind. It
blew directly before us. The game were therefore to windward, and it was
necessary to make our best speed to get around them.

We scrambled from this ravine, and galloping away through the hollows,
soon found another, winding like a snake among the hills, and so deep
that it completely concealed us. We rode up the bottom of it, glancing
through the shrubbery at its edge, till Henry abruptly jerked his rein,
and slid out of his saddle. Full a quarter of a mile distant, on the
outline of the farthest hill, a long procession of buffalo were walking,
in Indian file, with the utmost gravity and deliberation; then more
appeared, clambering from a hollow not far off, and ascending, one
behind the other, the grassy slope of another hill; then a shaggy head
and a pair of short broken horns appeared issuing out of a ravine close
at hand, and with a slow, stately step, one by one, the enormous brutes
came into view, taking their way across the valley, wholly unconscious
of an enemy. In a moment Henry was worming his way, lying flat on
the ground, through grass and prickly-pears, toward his unsuspecting
victims. He had with him both my rifle and his own. He was soon out of
sight, and still the buffalo kept issuing into the valley. For a long
time all was silent. I sat holding his horse, and wondering what he was
about, when suddenly, in rapid succession, came the sharp reports of the
two rifles, and the whole line of buffalo, quickening their pace into
a clumsy trot, gradually disappeared over the ridge of the hill. Henry
rose to his feet, and stood looking after them.

"You have missed them," said I.

"Yes," said Henry; "let us go." He descended into the ravine, loaded the
rifles, and mounted his horse.

We rode up the hill after the buffalo. The herd was out of sight when
we reached the top, but lying on the grass not far off, was one quite
lifeless, and another violently struggling in the death agony.

"You see I miss him!" remarked Henry. He had fired from a distance of
more than a hundred and fifty yards, and both balls had passed through
the lungs--the true mark in shooting buffalo.

The darkness increased, and a driving storm came on. Tying our horses
to the horns of the victims, Henry began the bloody work of dissection,
slashing away with the science of a connoisseur, while I vainly
endeavored to imitate him. Old Hendrick recoiled with horror and
indignation when I endeavored to tie the meat to the strings of raw
hide, always carried for this purpose, dangling at the back of the
saddle. After some difficulty we overcame his scruples; and heavily
burdened with the more eligible portions of the buffalo, we set out on
our return. Scarcely had we emerged from the labyrinth of gorges and
ravines, and issued upon the open prairie, when the pricking sleet came
driving, gust upon gust, directly in our faces. It was strangely
dark, though wanting still an hour of sunset. The freezing storm soon
penetrated to the skin, but the uneasy trot of our heavy-gaited horses
kept us warm enough, as we forced them unwillingly in the teeth of the
sleet and rain, by the powerful suasion of our Indian whips. The prairie
in this place was hard and level. A flourishing colony of prairie dogs
had burrowed into it in every direction, and the little mounds of
fresh earth around their holes were about as numerous as the hills in
a cornfield; but not a yelp was to be heard; not the nose of a single
citizen was visible; all had retired to the depths of their burrows,
and we envied them their dry and comfortable habitations. An hour's
hard riding showed us our tent dimly looming through the storm, one
side puffed out by the force of the wind, and the other collapsed in
proportion, while the disconsolate horses stood shivering close around,
and the wind kept up a dismal whistling in the boughs of three old
half-dead trees above. Shaw, like a patriarch, sat on his saddle in the
entrance, with a pipe in his mouth, and his arms folded, contemplating,
with cool satisfaction, the piles of meat that we flung on the ground
before him. A dark and dreary night succeeded; but the sun rose with
heat so sultry and languid that the captain excused himself on that
account from waylaying an old buffalo bull, who with stupid gravity was
walking over the prairie to drink at the river. So much for the climate
of the Platte!

But it was not the weather alone that had produced this sudden abatement
of the sportsmanlike zeal which the captain had always professed. He had
been out on the afternoon before, together with several members of his
party; but their hunting was attended with no other result than the
loss of one of their best horses, severely injured by Sorel, in vainly
chasing a wounded bull. The captain, whose ideas of hard riding were all
derived from transatlantic sources, expressed the utmost amazement at
the feats of Sorel, who went leaping ravines, and dashing at full speed
up and down the sides of precipitous hills, lashing his horse with
the recklessness of a Rocky Mountain rider. Unfortunately for the poor
animal he was the property of R., against whom Sorel entertained an
unbounded aversion. The captain himself, it seemed, had also attempted
to "run" a buffalo, but though a good and practiced horseman, he had
soon given over the attempt, being astonished and utterly disgusted at
the nature of the ground he was required to ride over.

Nothing unusual occurred on that day; but on the following morning Henry
Chatillon, looking over the oceanlike expanse, saw near the foot of the
distant hills something that looked like a band of buffalo. He was not
sure, he said, but at all events, if they were buffalo, there was a fine
chance for a race. Shaw and I at once determined to try the speed of our
horses.

"Come, captain; we'll see which can ride hardest, a Yankee or an
Irishman."

But the captain maintained a grave and austere countenance. He mounted
his led horse, however, though very slowly; and we set out at a trot.
The game appeared about three miles distant. As we proceeded the captain
made various remarks of doubt and indecision; and at length declared he
would have nothing to do with such a breakneck business; protesting that
he had ridden plenty of steeple-chases in his day, but he never knew
what riding was till he found himself behind a band of buffalo day
before yesterday. "I am convinced," said the captain, "that, 'running'
is out of the question.* Take my advice now and don't attempt it. It's
dangerous, and of no use at all."

     *The method of hunting called "running" consists in
     attacking the buffalo on horseback and shooting him with
     bullets or arrows when at full-speed.  In "approaching," the
     hunter conceals himself and crawls on the ground toward the
     game, or lies in wait to kill them.

"Then why did you come out with us? What do you mean to do?"

"I shall 'approach,'" replied the captain.

"You don't mean to 'approach' with your pistols, do you? We have all of
us left our rifles in the wagons."

The captain seemed staggered at the suggestion. In his characteristic
indecision, at setting out, pistols, rifles, "running" and "approaching"
were mingled in an inextricable medley in his brain. He trotted on in
silence between us for a while; but at length he dropped behind and
slowly walked his horse back to rejoin the party. Shaw and I kept on;
when lo! as we advanced, the band of buffalo were transformed into
certain clumps of tall bushes, dotting the prairie for a considerable
distance. At this ludicrous termination of our chase, we followed the
example of our late ally, and turned back toward the party. We
were skirting the brink of a deep ravine, when we saw Henry and the
broad-chested pony coming toward us at a gallop.

"Here's old Papin and Frederic, down from Fort Laramie!" shouted Henry,
long before he came up. We had for some days expected this encounter.
Papin was the bourgeois of Fort Laramie. He had come down the river
with the buffalo robes and the beaver, the produce of the last winter's
trading. I had among our baggage a letter which I wished to commit to
their hands; so requesting Henry to detain the boats if he could until
my return, I set out after the wagons. They were about four miles in
advance. In half an hour I overtook them, got the letter, trotted back
upon the trail, and looking carefully, as I rode, saw a patch of broken,
storm-blasted trees, and moving near them some little black specks like
men and horses. Arriving at the place, I found a strange assembly. The
boats, eleven in number, deep-laden with the skins, hugged close to
the shore, to escape being borne down by the swift current. The rowers,
swarthy ignoble Mexicans, turned their brutish faces upward to look, as
I reached the bank. Papin sat in the middle of one of the boats upon the
canvas covering that protected the robes. He was a stout, robust fellow,
with a little gray eye, that had a peculiarly sly twinkle. "Frederic"
also stretched his tall rawboned proportions close by the bourgeois,
and "mountain-men" completed the group; some lounging in the boats, some
strolling on shore; some attired in gayly painted buffalo robes, like
Indian dandies; some with hair saturated with red paint, and beplastered
with glue to their temples; and one bedaubed with vermilion upon his
forehead and each cheek. They were a mongrel race; yet the French blood
seemed to predominate; in a few, indeed, might be seen the black snaky
eye of the Indian half-breed, and one and all, they seemed to aim at
assimilating themselves to their savage associates.

I shook hands with the bourgeois, and delivered the letter; then the
boats swung round into the stream and floated away. They had reason
for haste, for already the voyage from Fort Laramie had occupied a full
month, and the river was growing daily more shallow. Fifty times a
day the boats had been aground, indeed; those who navigate the Platte
invariably spend half their time upon sand-bars. Two of these boats,
the property of private traders, afterward separating from the rest,
got hopelessly involved in the shallows, not very far from the Pawnee
villages, and were soon surrounded by a swarm of the inhabitants. They
carried off everything that they considered valuable, including most of
the robes; and amused themselves by tying up the men left on guard and
soundly whipping them with sticks.

We encamped that night upon the bank of the river. Among the emigrants
there was an overgrown boy, some eighteen years old, with a head as
round and about as large as a pumpkin, and fever-and-ague fits had dyed
his face of a corresponding color. He wore an old white hat, tied under
his chin with a handkerchief; his body was short and stout, but his
legs of disproportioned and appalling length. I observed him at sunset,
breasting the hill with gigantic strides, and standing against the sky
on the summit, like a colossal pair of tongs. In a moment after we heard
him screaming frantically behind the ridge, and nothing doubting that
he was in the clutches of Indians or grizzly bears, some of the party
caught up their rifles and ran to the rescue. His outcries, however,
proved but an ebullition of joyous excitement; he had chased two little
wolf pups to their burrow, and he was on his knees, grubbing away like a
dog at the mouth of the hole, to get at them.

Before morning he caused more serious disquiet in the camp. It was his
turn to hold the middle guard; but no sooner was he called up, than he
coolly arranged a pair of saddle-bags under a wagon, laid his head upon
them, closed his eyes, opened his mouth and fell asleep. The guard on
our side of the camp, thinking it no part of his duty to look after the
cattle of the emigrants, contented himself with watching our own horses
and mules; the wolves, he said, were unusually noisy; but still no
mischief was anticipated until the sun rose, and not a hoof or horn was
in sight! The cattle were gone! While Tom was quietly slumbering, the
wolves had driven them away.

Then we reaped the fruits of R.'s precious plan of traveling in company
with emigrants. To leave them in their distress was not to be thought
of, and we felt bound to wait until the cattle could be searched for,
and, if possible, recovered. But the reader may be curious to know
what punishment awaited the faithless Tom. By the wholesome law of
the prairie, he who falls asleep on guard is condemned to walk all
day leading his horse by the bridle, and we found much fault with
our companions for not enforcing such a sentence on the offender.
Nevertheless had he been of our party, I have no doubt he would in like
manner have escaped scot-free. But the emigrants went farther than mere
forebearance; they decreed that since Tom couldn't stand guard without
falling asleep, he shouldn't stand guard at all, and henceforward his
slumbers were unbroken. Establishing such a premium on drowsiness could
have no very beneficial effect upon the vigilance of our sentinels; for
it is far from agreeable, after riding from sunrise to sunset, to feel
your slumbers interrupted by the butt of a rifle nudging your side, and
a sleepy voice growling in your ear that you must get up, to shiver and
freeze for three weary hours at midnight.

"Buffalo! buffalo!" It was but a grim old bull, roaming the prairie by
himself in misanthropic seclusion; but there might be more behind the
hills. Dreading the monotony and languor of the camp, Shaw and I saddled
our horses, buckled our holsters in their places, and set out with Henry
Chatillon in search of the game. Henry, not intending to take part in
the chase, but merely conducting us, carried his rifle with him, while
we left ours behind as incumbrances. We rode for some five or six miles,
and saw no living thing but wolves, snakes, and prairie dogs.

"This won't do at all," said Shaw.

"What won't do?"

"There's no wood about here to make a litter for the wounded man; I have
an idea that one of us will need something of the sort before the day is
over."

There was some foundation for such an apprehension, for the ground was
none of the best for a race, and grew worse continually as we proceeded;
indeed it soon became desperately bad, consisting of abrupt hills and
deep hollows, cut by frequent ravines not easy to pass. At length, a
mile in advance, we saw a band of bulls. Some were scattered grazing
over a green declivity, while the rest were crowded more densely
together in the wide hollow below. Making a circuit to keep out of
sight, we rode toward them until we ascended a hill within a furlong of
them, beyond which nothing intervened that could possibly screen us from
their view. We dismounted behind the ridge just out of sight, drew our
saddle-girths, examined our pistols, and mounting again rode over
the hill, and descended at a canter toward them, bending close to
our horses' necks. Instantly they took the alarm; those on the hill
descended; those below gathered into a mass, and the whole got in
motion, shouldering each other along at a clumsy gallop. We followed,
spurring our horses to full speed; and as the herd rushed, crowding and
trampling in terror through an opening in the hills, we were close at
their heels, half suffocated by the clouds of dust. But as we drew near,
their alarm and speed increased; our horses showed signs of the utmost
fear, bounding violently aside as we approached, and refusing to
enter among the herd. The buffalo now broke into several small bodies,
scampering over the hills in different directions, and I lost sight of
Shaw; neither of us knew where the other had gone. Old Pontiac ran like
a frantic elephant up hill and down hill, his ponderous hoofs striking
the prairie like sledge-hammers. He showed a curious mixture of
eagerness and terror, straining to overtake the panic-stricken herd, but
constantly recoiling in dismay as we drew near. The fugitives, indeed,
offered no very attractive spectacle, with their enormous size and
weight, their shaggy manes and the tattered remnants of their last
winter's hair covering their backs in irregular shreds and patches, and
flying off in the wind as they ran. At length I urged my horse close
behind a bull, and after trying in vain, by blows and spurring, to
bring him alongside, I shot a bullet into the buffalo from this
disadvantageous position. At the report, Pontiac swerved so much that I
was again thrown a little behind the game. The bullet, entering too much
in the rear, failed to disable the bull, for a buffalo requires to be
shot at particular points, or he will certainly escape. The herd ran up
a hill, and I followed in pursuit. As Pontiac rushed headlong down on
the other side, I saw Shaw and Henry descending the hollow on the right,
at a leisurely gallop; and in front, the buffalo were just disappearing
behind the crest of the next hill, their short tails erect, and their
hoofs twinkling through a cloud of dust.

At that moment, I heard Shaw and Henry shouting to me; but the muscles
of a stronger arm than mine could not have checked at once the furious
course of Pontiac, whose mouth was as insensible as leather. Added to
this, I rode him that morning with a common snaffle, having the day
before, for the benefit of my other horse, unbuckled from my bridle the
curb which I ordinarily used. A stronger and hardier brute never trod
the prairie; but the novel sight of the buffalo filled him with terror,
and when at full speed he was almost incontrollable. Gaining the top of
the ridge, I saw nothing of the buffalo; they had all vanished amid the
intricacies of the hills and hollows. Reloading my pistols, in the best
way I could, I galloped on until I saw them again scuttling along at
the base of the hill, their panic somewhat abated. Down went old Pontiac
among them, scattering them to the right and left, and then we had
another long chase. About a dozen bulls were before us, scouring over
the hills, rushing down the declivities with tremendous weight and
impetuosity, and then laboring with a weary gallop upward. Still
Pontiac, in spite of spurring and beating, would not close with them.
One bull at length fell a little behind the rest, and by dint of much
effort I urged my horse within six or eight yards of his side. His back
was darkened with sweat; he was panting heavily, while his tongue lolled
out a foot from his jaws. Gradually I came up abreast of him, urging
Pontiac with leg and rein nearer to his side, then suddenly he did what
buffalo in such circumstances will always do; he slackened his gallop,
and turning toward us, with an aspect of mingled rage and distress,
lowered his huge shaggy head for a charge. Pontiac with a snort, leaped
aside in terror, nearly throwing me to the ground, as I was wholly
unprepared for such an evolution. I raised my pistol in a passion to
strike him on the head, but thinking better of it fired the bullet after
the bull, who had resumed his flight, then drew rein and determined
to rejoin my companions. It was high time. The breath blew hard from
Pontiac's nostrils, and the sweat rolled in big drops down his sides;
I myself felt as if drenched in warm water. Pledging myself (and I
redeemed the pledge) to take my revenge at a future opportunity, I
looked round for some indications to show me where I was, and what
course I ought to pursue; I might as well have looked for landmarks in
the midst of the ocean. How many miles I had run or in what direction,
I had no idea; and around me the prairie was rolling in steep swells
and pitches, without a single distinctive feature to guide me. I had
a little compass hung at my neck; and ignorant that the Platte at this
point diverged considerably from its easterly course, I thought that by
keeping to the northward I should certainly reach it. So I turned
and rode about two hours in that direction. The prairie changed as I
advanced, softening away into easier undulations, but nothing like the
Platte appeared, nor any sign of a human being; the same wild endless
expanse lay around me still; and to all appearance I was as far from my
object as ever. I began now to consider myself in danger of being
lost; and therefore, reining in my horse, summoned the scanty share of
woodcraft that I possessed (if that term he applicable upon the prairie)
to extricate me. Looking round, it occurred to me that the buffalo might
prove my best guides. I soon found one of the paths made by them in
their passage to the river; it ran nearly at right angles to my course;
but turning my horse's head in the direction it indicated, his freer
gait and erected ears assured me that I was right.

But in the meantime my ride had been by no means a solitary one.
The whole face of the country was dotted far and wide with countless
hundreds of buffalo. They trooped along in files and columns, bulls
cows, and calves, on the green faces of the declivities in front. They
scrambled away over the hills to the right and left; and far off, the
pale blue swells in the extreme distance were dotted with innumerable
specks. Sometimes I surprised shaggy old bulls grazing alone, or
sleeping behind the ridges I ascended. They would leap up at my
approach, stare stupidly at me through their tangled manes, and then
gallop heavily away. The antelope were very numerous; and as they are
always bold when in the neighborhood of buffalo, they would approach
quite near to look at me, gazing intently with their great round eyes,
then suddenly leap aside, and stretch lightly away over the prairie, as
swiftly as a racehorse. Squalid, ruffianlike wolves sneaked through the
hollows and sandy ravines. Several times I passed through villages of
prairie dogs, who sat, each at the mouth of his burrow, holding his paws
before him in a supplicating attitude, and yelping away most vehemently,
energetically whisking his little tail with every squeaking cry he
uttered. Prairie dogs are not fastidious in their choice of companions;
various long, checkered snakes were sunning themselves in the midst of
the village, and demure little gray owls, with a large white ring around
each eye, were perched side by side with the rightful inhabitants. The
prairie teemed with life. Again and again I looked toward the crowded
hillsides, and was sure I saw horsemen; and riding near, with a mixture
of hope and dread, for Indians were abroad, I found them transformed
into a group of buffalo. There was nothing in human shape amid all this
vast congregation of brute forms.

When I turned down the buffalo path, the prairie seemed changed; only
a wolf or two glided past at intervals, like conscious felons, never
looking to the right or left. Being now free from anxiety, I was at
leisure to observe minutely the objects around me; and here, for the
first time, I noticed insects wholly different from any of the varieties
found farther to the eastward. Gaudy butterflies fluttered about my
horse's head; strangely formed beetles, glittering with metallic luster,
were crawling upon plants that I had never seen before; multitudes of
lizards, too, were darting like lightning over the sand.

I had run to a great distance from the river. It cost me a long ride
on the buffalo path before I saw from the ridge of a sand-hill the pale
surface of the Platte glistening in the midst of its desert valleys, and
the faint outline of the hills beyond waving along the sky. From where
I stood, not a tree nor a bush nor a living thing was visible throughout
the whole extent of the sun-scorched landscape. In half an hour I came
upon the trail, not far from the river; and seeing that the party had
not yet passed, I turned eastward to meet them, old Pontiac's long
swinging trot again assuring me that I was right in doing so. Having
been slightly ill on leaving camp in the morning six or seven hours of
rough riding had fatigued me extremely. I soon stopped, therefore; flung
my saddle on the ground, and with my head resting on it, and my horse's
trail-rope tied loosely to my arm, lay waiting the arrival of the
party, speculating meanwhile on the extent of the injuries Pontiac had
received. At length the white wagon coverings rose from the verge of the
plain. By a singular coincidence, almost at the same moment two horsemen
appeared coming down from the hills. They were Shaw and Henry, who had
searched for me a while in the morning, but well knowing the futility of
the attempt in such a broken country, had placed themselves on the top
of the highest hill they could find, and picketing their horses near
them, as a signal to me, had laid down and fallen asleep. The stray
cattle had been recovered, as the emigrants told us, about noon. Before
sunset, we pushed forward eight miles farther.


JUNE 7, 1846.--Four men are missing; R., Sorel and two emigrants.
They set out this morning after buffalo, and have not yet made their
appearance; whether killed or lost, we cannot tell.


I find the above in my notebook, and well remember the council held on
the occasion. Our fire was the scene of it; or the palpable superiority
of Henry Chatillon's experience and skill made him the resort of the
whole camp upon every question of difficulty. He was molding bullets
at the fire, when the captain drew near, with a perturbed and care-worn
expression of countenance, faithfully reflected on the heavy features
of Jack, who followed close behind. Then emigrants came straggling from
their wagons toward the common center; various suggestions were made to
account for the absence of the four men, and one or two of the emigrants
declared that when out after the cattle they had seen Indians dogging
them, and crawling like wolves along the ridges of the hills. At this
time the captain slowly shook his head with double gravity, and solemnly
remarked:

"It's a serious thing to be traveling through this cursed wilderness";
an opinion in which Jack immediately expressed a thorough coincidence.
Henry would not commit himself by declaring any positive opinion.

"Maybe he only follow the buffalo too far; maybe Indian kill him; maybe
he got lost; I cannot tell!"

With this the auditors were obliged to rest content; the emigrants, not
in the least alarmed, though curious to know what had become of their
comrades, walked back to their wagons and the captain betook himself
pensively to his tent. Shaw and I followed his example.

"It will be a bad thing for our plans," said he as we entered, "if these
fellows don't get back safe. The captain is as helpless on the prairie
as a child. We shall have to take him and his brother in tow; they will
hang on us like lead."

"The prairie is a strange place," said I. "A month ago I should have
thought it rather a startling affair to have an acquaintance ride out in
the morning and lose his scalp before night, but here it seems the most
natural thing in the world; not that I believe that R. has lost his
yet."

If a man is constitutionally liable to nervous apprehensions, a tour on
the distant prairies would prove the best prescription; for though when
in the neighborhood of the Rocky Mountains he may at times find himself
placed in circumstances of some danger, I believe that few ever breathe
that reckless atmosphere without becoming almost indifferent to any evil
chance that may befall themselves or their friends.

Shaw had a propensity for luxurious indulgence. He spread his blanket
with the utmost accuracy on the ground, picked up the sticks and stones
that he thought might interfere with his comfort, adjusted his saddle to
serve as a pillow, and composed himself for his night's rest. I had the
first guard that evening; so, taking my rifle, I went out of the tent.
It was perfectly dark. A brisk wind blew down from the hills, and
the sparks from the fire were streaming over the prairie. One of the
emigrants, named Morton, was my companion; and laying our rifles on the
grass, we sat down together by the fire. Morton was a Kentuckian, an
athletic fellow, with a fine intelligent face, and in his manners and
conversation he showed the essential characteristics of a gentleman.
Our conversation turned on the pioneers of his gallant native State. The
three hours of our watch dragged away at last, and we went to call up
the relief.

R.'s guard succeeded mine. He was absent; but the captain, anxious lest
the camp should be left defenseless, had volunteered to stand in his
place; so I went to wake him up. There was no occasion for it, for the
captain had been awake since nightfall. A fire was blazing outside of
the tent, and by the light which struck through the canvas, I saw him
and Jack lying on their backs, with their eyes wide open. The captain
responded instantly to my call; he jumped up, seized the double-barreled
rifle, and came out of the tent with an air of solemn determination, as
if about to devote himself to the safety of the party. I went and lay
down, not doubting that for the next three hours our slumbers would be
guarded with sufficient vigilance.



CHAPTER VIII

TAKING FRENCH LEAVE


On the 8th of June, at eleven o'clock, we reached the South Fork of the
Platte, at the usual fording place. For league upon league the desert
uniformity of the prospect was almost unbroken; the hills were dotted
with little tufts of shriveled grass, but betwixt these the white sand
was glaring in the sun; and the channel of the river, almost on a level
with the plain, was but one great sand-bed, about half a mile wide. It
was covered with water, but so scantily that the bottom was scarcely
hidden; for, wide as it is, the average depth of the Platte does not at
this point exceed a foot and a half. Stopping near its bank, we gathered
bois de vache, and made a meal of buffalo meat. Far off, on the other
side, was a green meadow, where we could see the white tents and wagons
of an emigrant camp; and just opposite to us we could discern a group of
men and animals at the water's edge. Four or five horsemen soon entered
the river, and in ten minutes had waded across and clambered up the
loose sand-bank. They were ill-looking fellows, thin and swarthy, with
care-worn, anxious faces and lips rigidly compressed. They had good
cause for anxiety; it was three days since they first encamped here, and
on the night of their arrival they had lost 123 of their best cattle,
driven off by the wolves, through the neglect of the man on guard. This
discouraging and alarming calamity was not the first that had overtaken
them. Since leaving the settlements, they had met with nothing but
misfortune. Some of their party had died; one man had been killed by the
Pawnees; and about a week before, they had been plundered by the Dakotas
of all their best horses, the wretched animals on which our visitors
were mounted being the only ones that were left. They had encamped, they
told us, near sunset, by the side of the Platte, and their oxen were
scattered over the meadow, while the band of horses were feeding a
little farther off. Suddenly the ridges of the hills were alive with a
swarm of mounted Indians, at least six hundred in number, who, with a
tremendous yell, came pouring down toward the camp, rushing up within a
few rods, to the great terror of the emigrants; but suddenly wheeling,
they swept around the band of horses, and in five minutes had
disappeared with their prey through the openings of the hills.

As these emigrants were telling their story, we saw four other
men approaching. They proved to be R. and his companions, who had
encountered no mischance of any kind, but had only wandered too far
in pursuit of the game. They said they had seen no Indians, but only
"millions of buffalo"; and both R. and Sorel had meat dangling behind
their saddles.

The emigrants re-crossed the river, and we prepared to follow. First
the heavy ox-wagons plunged down the bank, and dragged slowly over the
sand-beds; sometimes the hoofs of the oxen were scarcely wetted by the
thin sheet of water; and the next moment the river would be boiling
against their sides, and eddying fiercely around the wheels. Inch by
inch they receded from the shore, dwindling every moment, until at
length they seemed to be floating far in the very middle of the river.
A more critical experiment awaited us; for our little mule-cart was
but ill-fitted for the passage of so swift a stream. We watched it with
anxiety till it seemed to be a little motionless white speck in the
midst of the waters; and it WAS motionless, for it had stuck fast in a
quicksand. The little mules were losing their footing, the wheels were
sinking deeper and deeper, and the water began to rise through the
bottom and drench the goods within. All of us who had remained on the
hither bank galloped to the rescue; the men jumped into the water,
adding their strength to that of the mules, until by much effort the
cart was extricated, and conveyed in safety across.

As we gained the other bank, a rough group of men surrounded us. They
were not robust, nor large of frame, yet they had an aspect of hardy
endurance. Finding at home no scope for their fiery energies, they had
betaken themselves to the prairie; and in them seemed to be revived,
with redoubled force, that fierce spirit which impelled their ancestors,
scarce more lawless than themselves, from the German forests, to
inundate Europe and break to pieces the Roman empire. A fortnight
afterward this unfortunate party passed Fort Laramie, while we were
there. Not one of their missing oxen had been recovered, though they had
remained encamped a week in search of them; and they had been compelled
to abandon a great part of their baggage and provisions, and yoke cows
and heifers to their wagons to carry them forward upon their journey,
the most toilsome and hazardous part of which lay still before them.

It is worth noticing that on the Platte one may sometimes see the
shattered wrecks of ancient claw-footed tables, well waxed and rubbed,
or massive bureaus of carved oak. These, many of them no doubt
the relics of ancestral prosperity in the colonial time, must have
encountered strange vicissitudes. Imported, perhaps, originally from
England; then, with the declining fortunes of their owners, borne across
the Alleghenies to the remote wilderness of Ohio or Kentucky; then to
Illinois or Missouri; and now at last fondly stowed away in the family
wagon for the interminable journey to Oregon. But the stern privations
of the way are little anticipated. The cherished relic is soon flung out
to scorch and crack upon the hot prairie.

We resumed our journey; but we had gone scarcely a mile, when R. called
out from the rear:

"We'll camp here."

"Why do you want to camp? Look at the sun. It is not three o'clock yet."

"We'll camp here!"

This was the only reply vouchsafed. Delorier was in advance with his
cart. Seeing the mule-wagon wheeling from the track, he began to turn
his own team in the same direction.

"Go on, Delorier," and the little cart advanced again. As we rode on, we
soon heard the wagon of our confederates creaking and jolting on behind
us, and the driver, Wright, discharging a furious volley of oaths
against his mules; no doubt venting upon them the wrath which he dared
not direct against a more appropriate object.

Something of this sort had frequently occurred. Our English friend was
by no means partial to us, and we thought we discovered in his conduct a
deliberate intention to thwart and annoy us, especially by retarding
the movements of the party, which he knew that we, being Yankees, were
anxious to quicken. Therefore, he would insist on encamping at all
unseasonable hours, saying that fifteen miles was a sufficient day's
journey. Finding our wishes systematically disregarded, we took the
direction of affairs into our own hands. Keeping always in advance, to
the inexpressible indignation of R., we encamped at what time and place
we thought proper, not much caring whether the rest chose to follow or
not. They always did so, however, pitching their tents near ours, with
sullen and wrathful countenances.

Traveling together on these agreeable terms did not suit our tastes; for
some time we had meditated a separation. The connection with this party
had cost us various delays and inconveniences; and the glaring want
of courtesy and good sense displayed by their virtual leader did not
dispose us to bear these annoyances with much patience. We resolved to
leave camp early in the morning, and push forward as rapidly as possible
for Fort Laramie, which we hoped to reach, by hard traveling, in four or
five days. The captain soon trotted up between us, and we explained our
intentions.

"A very extraordinary proceeding, upon my word!" he remarked. Then he
began to enlarge upon the enormity of the design. The most prominent
impression in his mind evidently was that we were acting a base and
treacherous part in deserting his party, in what he considered a very
dangerous stage of the journey. To palliate the atrocity of our conduct,
we ventured to suggest that we were only four in number while his party
still included sixteen men; and as, moreover, we were to go forward
and they were to follow, at least a full proportion of the perils he
apprehended would fall upon us. But the austerity of the captain's
features would not relax. "A very extraordinary proceeding, gentlemen!"
and repeating this, he rode off to confer with his principal.

By good luck, we found a meadow of fresh grass, and a large pool of
rain-water in the midst of it. We encamped here at sunset. Plenty of
buffalo skulls were lying around, bleaching in the sun; and sprinkled
thickly among the grass was a great variety of strange flowers. I had
nothing else to do, and so gathering a handful, I sat down on a buffalo
skull to study them. Although the offspring of a wilderness, their
texture was frail and delicate, and their colors extremely rich; pure
white, dark blue, and a transparent crimson. One traveling in this
country seldom has leisure to think of anything but the stern features
of the scenery and its accompaniments, or the practical details of each
day's journey. Like them, he and his thoughts grow hard and rough. But
now these flowers suddenly awakened a train of associations as alien to
the rude scene around me as they were themselves; and for the moment my
thoughts went back to New England. A throng of fair and well-remembered
faces rose, vividly as life, before me. "There are good things," thought
I, "in the savage life, but what can it offer to replace those powerful
and ennobling influences that can reach unimpaired over more than three
thousand miles of mountains, forests and deserts?"

Before sunrise on the next morning our tent was down; we harnessed our
best horses to the cart and left the camp. But first we shook hands
with our friends the emigrants, who sincerely wished us a safe journey,
though some others of the party might easily have been consoled had we
encountered an Indian war party on the way. The captain and his brother
were standing on the top of a hill, wrapped in their plaids, like
spirits of the mist, keeping an anxious eye on the band of horses below.
We waved adieu to them as we rode off the ground. The captain replied
with a salutation of the utmost dignity, which Jack tried to imitate;
but being little practiced in the gestures of polite society, his effort
was not a very successful one.

In five minutes we had gained the foot of the hills, but here we came to
a stop. Old Hendrick was in the shafts, and being the very incarnation
of perverse and brutish obstinacy, he utterly refused to move. Delorier
lashed and swore till he was tired, but Hendrick stood like a rock,
grumbling to himself and looking askance at his enemy, until he saw a
favorable opportunity to take his revenge, when he struck out under the
shaft with such cool malignity of intention that Delorier only escaped
the blow by a sudden skip into the air, such as no one but a Frenchman
could achieve. Shaw and he then joined forces, and lashed on both sides
at once. The brute stood still for a while till he could bear it no
longer, when all at once he began to kick and plunge till he threatened
the utter demolition of the cart and harness. We glanced back at the
camp, which was in full sight. Our companions, inspired by emulation,
were leveling their tents and driving in their cattle and horses.

"Take the horse out," said I.

I took the saddle from Pontiac and put it upon Hendrick; the former
was harnessed to the cart in an instant. "Avance donc!" cried Delorier.
Pontiac strode up the hill, twitching the little cart after him as if
it were a feather's weight; and though, as we gained the top, we saw the
wagons of our deserted comrades just getting into motion, we had little
fear that they could overtake us. Leaving the trail, we struck directly
across the country, and took the shortest cut to reach the main stream
of the Platte. A deep ravine suddenly intercepted us. We skirted its
sides until we found them less abrupt, and then plunged through the best
way we could. Passing behind the sandy ravines called "Ash Hollow," we
stopped for a short nooning at the side of a pool of rain-water; but
soon resumed our journey, and some hours before sunset were descending
the ravines and gorges opening downward upon the Platte to the west of
Ash Hollow. Our horses waded to the fetlock in sand; the sun scorched
like fire, and the air swarmed with sand-flies and mosquitoes.

At last we gained the Platte. Following it for about five miles, we saw,
just as the sun was sinking, a great meadow, dotted with hundreds of
cattle, and beyond them an emigrant encampment. A party of about a dozen
came out to meet us, looking upon us at first with cold and suspicious
faces. Seeing four men, different in appearance and equipment from
themselves, emerging from the hills, they had taken us for the van
of the much-dreaded Mormons, whom they were very apprehensive of
encountering. We made known our true character, and then they greeted
us cordially. They expressed much surprise that so small a party should
venture to traverse that region, though in fact such attempts are not
unfrequently made by trappers and Indian traders. We rode with them to
their camp. The wagons, some fifty in number, with here and there a tent
intervening, were arranged as usual in a circle; in the area within the
best horses were picketed, and the whole circumference was glowing with
the dusky light of the fires, displaying the forms of the women and
children who were crowded around them. This patriarchal scene was
curious and striking enough; but we made our escape from the place with
all possible dispatch, being tormented by the intrusive curiosity of the
men who crowded around us. Yankee curiosity was nothing to theirs. They
demanded our names, where we came from, where we were going, and what
was our business. The last query was particularly embarrassing; since
traveling in that country, or indeed anywhere, from any other motive
than gain, was an idea of which they took no cognizance. Yet they were
fine-looking fellows, with an air of frankness, generosity, and even
courtesy, having come from one of the least barbarous of the frontier
counties.

We passed about a mile beyond them, and encamped. Being too few in
number to stand guard without excessive fatigue, we extinguished our
fire, lest it should attract the notice of wandering Indians; and
picketing our horses close around us, slept undisturbed till morning.
For three days we traveled without interruption, and on the evening of
the third encamped by the well-known spring on Scott's Bluff.

Henry Chatillon and I rode out in the morning, and descending the
western side of the Bluff, were crossing the plain beyond. Something
that seemed to me a file of buffalo came into view, descending the
hills several miles before us. But Henry reined in his horse, and keenly
peering across the prairie with a better and more practiced eye, soon
discovered its real nature. "Indians!" he said. "Old Smoke's lodges, I
b'lieve. Come! let us go! Wah! get up, now, Five Hundred Dollar!" And
laying on the lash with good will, he galloped forward, and I rode by
his side. Not long after, a black speck became visible on the prairie,
full two miles off. It grew larger and larger; it assumed the form of
a man and horse; and soon we could discern a naked Indian, careering at
full gallop toward us. When within a furlong he wheeled his horse in
a wide circle, and made him describe various mystic figures upon the
prairie; and Henry immediately compelled Five Hundred Dollar to execute
similar evolutions. "It IS Old Smoke's village," said he, interpreting
these signals; "didn't I say so?"

As the Indian approached we stopped to wait for him, when suddenly he
vanished, sinking, as it were, into the earth. He had come upon one of
the deep ravines that everywhere intersect these prairies. In an instant
the rough head of his horse stretched upward from the edge and the rider
and steed came scrambling out, and hounded up to us; a sudden jerk of
the rein brought the wild panting horse to a full stop. Then followed
the needful formality of shaking hands. I forget our visitor's name.
He was a young fellow, of no note in his nation; yet in his person and
equipments he was a good specimen of a Dakota warrior in his ordinary
traveling dress. Like most of his people, he was nearly six feet high;
lithely and gracefully, yet strongly proportioned; and with a skin
singularly clear and delicate. He wore no paint; his head was bare; and
his long hair was gathered in a clump behind, to the top of which was
attached transversely, both by way of ornament and of talisman, the
mystic whistle, made of the wingbone of the war eagle, and endowed with
various magic virtues. From the back of his head descended a line of
glittering brass plates, tapering from the size of a doubloon to that of
a half-dime, a cumbrous ornament, in high vogue among the Dakotas, and
for which they pay the traders a most extravagant price; his chest and
arms were naked, the buffalo robe, worn over them when at rest, had
fallen about his waist, and was confined there by a belt. This, with the
gay moccasins on his feet, completed his attire. For arms he carried a
quiver of dogskin at his back, and a rude but powerful bow in his hand.
His horse had no bridle; a cord of hair, lashed around his jaw, served
in place of one. The saddle was of most singular construction; it was
made of wood covered with raw hide, and both pommel and cantle rose
perpendicularly full eighteen inches, so that the warrior was wedged
firmly in his seat, whence nothing could dislodge him but the bursting
of the girths.

Advancing with our new companion, we found more of his people seated in
a circle on the top of a hill; while a rude procession came straggling
down the neighboring hollow, men, women, and children, with horses
dragging the lodge-poles behind them. All that morning, as we moved
forward, tall savages were stalking silently about us. At noon we
reached Horse Creek; and as we waded through the shallow water, we saw a
wild and striking scene. The main body of the Indians had arrived before
us. On the farther bank stood a large and strong man, nearly naked,
holding a white horse by a long cord, and eyeing us as we approached.
This was the chief, whom Henry called "Old Smoke." Just behind him his
youngest and favorite squaw sat astride of a fine mule; it was covered
with caparisons of whitened skins, garnished with blue and white beads,
and fringed with little ornaments of metal that tinkled with every
movement of the animal. The girl had a light clear complexion, enlivened
by a spot of vermilion on each cheek; she smiled, not to say grinned,
upon us, showing two gleaming rows of white teeth. In her hand, she
carried the tall lance of her unchivalrous lord, fluttering with
feathers; his round white shield hung at the side of her mule; and his
pipe was slung at her back. Her dress was a tunic of deerskin, made
beautifully white by means of a species of clay found on the prairie,
and ornamented with beads, arrayed in figures more gay than tasteful,
and with long fringes at all the seams. Not far from the chief stood a
group of stately figures, their white buffalo robes thrown over their
shoulders, gazing coldly upon us; and in the rear, for several acres,
the ground was covered with a temporary encampment; men, women, and
children swarmed like bees; hundreds of dogs, of all sizes and colors,
ran restlessly about; and, close at hand, the wide shallow stream was
alive with boys, girls, and young squaws, splashing, screaming, and
laughing in the water. At the same time a long train of emigrant
wagons were crossing the creek, and dragging on in their slow, heavy
procession, passed the encampment of the people whom they and their
descendants, in the space of a century, are to sweep from the face of
the earth.

The encampment itself was merely a temporary one during the heat of the
day. None of the lodges were erected; but their heavy leather coverings,
and the long poles used to support them, were scattered everywhere
around, among weapons, domestic utensils, and the rude harness of mules
and horses. The squaws of each lazy warrior had made him a shelter
from the sun, by stretching a few buffalo robes, or the corner of a
lodge-covering upon poles; and here he sat in the shade, with a favorite
young squaw, perhaps, at his side, glittering with all imaginable
trinkets. Before him stood the insignia of his rank as a warrior, his
white shield of bull-hide, his medicine bag, his bow and quiver, his
lance and his pipe, raised aloft on a tripod of three poles. Except the
dogs, the most active and noisy tenants of the camp were the old women,
ugly as Macbeth's witches, with their hair streaming loose in the wind,
and nothing but the tattered fragment of an old buffalo robe to hide
their shriveled wiry limbs. The day of their favoritism passed two
generations ago; now the heaviest labors of the camp devolved upon them;
they were to harness the horses, pitch the lodges, dress the buffalo
robes, and bring in meat for the hunters. With the cracked voices of
these hags, the clamor of dogs, the shouting and laughing of children
and girls, and the listless tranquillity of the warriors, the whole
scene had an effect too lively and picturesque ever to be forgotten.

We stopped not far from the Indian camp, and having invited some of the
chiefs and warriors to dinner, placed before them a sumptuous repast of
biscuit and coffee. Squatted in a half circle on the ground, they soon
disposed of it. As we rode forward on the afternoon journey, several of
our late guests accompanied us. Among the rest was a huge bloated savage
of more than three hundred pounds' weight, christened La Cochon, in
consideration of his preposterous dimensions and certain corresponding
traits of his character. "The Hog" bestrode a little white pony, scarce
able to bear up under the enormous burden, though, by way of keeping
up the necessary stimulus, the rider kept both feet in constant motion,
playing alternately against his ribs. The old man was not a chief; he
never had ambition enough to become one; he was not a warrior nor a
hunter, for he was too fat and lazy: but he was the richest man in the
whole village. Riches among the Dakotas consist in horses, and of these
The Hog had accumulated more than thirty. He had already ten times as
many as he wanted, yet still his appetite for horses was insatiable.
Trotting up to me he shook me by the hand, and gave me to understand
that he was a very devoted friend; and then he began a series of most
earnest signs and gesticulations, his oily countenance radiant with
smiles, and his little eyes peeping out with a cunning twinkle from
between the masses of flesh that almost obscured them. Knowing nothing
at that time of the sign language of the Indians, I could only guess at
his meaning. So I called on Henry to explain it.

The Hog, it seems, was anxious to conclude a matrimonial bargain. He
said he had a very pretty daughter in his lodge, whom he would give
me, if I would give him my horse. These flattering overtures I chose to
reject; at which The Hog, still laughing with undiminished good humor,
gathered his robe about his shoulders, and rode away.

Where we encamped that night, an arm of the Platte ran between high
bluffs; it was turbid and swift as heretofore, but trees were growing on
its crumbling banks, and there was a nook of grass between the water
and the hill. Just before entering this place, we saw the emigrants
encamping at two or three miles' distance on the right; while the whole
Indian rabble were pouring down the neighboring hill in hope of the same
sort of entertainment which they had experienced from us. In the savage
landscape before our camp, nothing but the rushing of the Platte broke
the silence. Through the ragged boughs of the trees, dilapidated and
half dead, we saw the sun setting in crimson behind the peaks of the
Black Hills; the restless bosom of the river was suffused with red; our
white tent was tinged with it, and the sterile bluffs, up to the rocks
that crowned them, partook of the same fiery hue. It soon passed away;
no light remained, but that from our fire, blazing high among the dusky
trees and bushes. We lay around it wrapped in our blankets, smoking and
conversing until a late hour, and then withdrew to our tent.

We crossed a sun-scorched plain on the next morning; the line of old
cotton-wood trees that fringed the bank of the Platte forming its
extreme verge. Nestled apparently close beneath them, we could discern
in the distance something like a building. As we came nearer, it assumed
form and dimensions, and proved to be a rough structure of logs. It was
a little trading fort, belonging to two private traders; and originally
intended, like all the forts of the country, to form a hollow square,
with rooms for lodging and storage opening upon the area within. Only
two sides of it had been completed; the place was now as ill-fitted for
the purposes of defense as any of those little log-houses, which
upon our constantly shifting frontier have been so often successfully
maintained against overwhelming odds of Indians. Two lodges were pitched
close to the fort; the sun beat scorching upon the logs; no living thing
was stirring except one old squaw, who thrust her round head from the
opening of the nearest lodge, and three or four stout young pups, who
were peeping with looks of eager inquiry from under the covering. In a
moment a door opened, and a little, swarthy black-eyed Frenchman came
out. His dress was rather singular; his black curling hair was parted
in the middle of his head, and fell below his shoulders; he wore a tight
frock of smoked deerskin, very gayly ornamented with figures worked
in dyed porcupine quills. His moccasins and leggings were also gaudily
adorned in the same manner; and the latter had in addition a line of
long fringes, reaching down the seams. The small frame of Richard,
for by this name Henry made him known to us, was in the highest degree
athletic and vigorous. There was no superfluity, and indeed there
seldom is among the active white men of this country, but every limb was
compact and hard; every sinew had its full tone and elasticity, and the
whole man wore an air of mingled hardihood and buoyancy.

Richard committed our horses to a Navahoe slave, a mean looking fellow
taken prisoner on the Mexican frontier; and, relieving us of our rifles
with ready politeness, led the way into the principal apartment of his
establishment. This was a room ten feet square. The walls and floor were
of black mud, and the roof of rough timber; there was a huge fireplace
made of four flat rocks, picked up on the prairie. An Indian bow and
otter-skin quiver, several gaudy articles of Rocky Mountain finery, an
Indian medicine bag, and a pipe and tobacco pouch, garnished the walls,
and rifles rested in a corner. There was no furniture except a sort
of rough settle covered with buffalo robes, upon which lolled a
tall half-breed, with his hair glued in masses upon each temple,
and saturated with vermilion. Two or three more "mountain men" sat
cross-legged on the floor. Their attire was not unlike that of Richard
himself; but the most striking figure of the group was a naked Indian
boy of sixteen, with a handsome face, and light, active proportions, who
sat in an easy posture in the corner near the door. Not one of his limbs
moved the breadth of a hair; his eye was fixed immovably, not on any
person present, but, as it appeared, on the projecting corner of the
fireplace opposite to him.

On these prairies the custom of smoking with friends is seldom omitted,
whether among Indians or whites. The pipe, therefore, was taken from the
wall, and its great red bowl crammed with the tobacco and shongsasha,
mixed in suitable proportions. Then it passed round the circle, each man
inhaling a few whiffs and handing it to his neighbor. Having spent half
an hour here, we took our leave; first inviting our new friends to drink
a cup of coffee with us at our camp, a mile farther up the river. By
this time, as the reader may conceive, we had grown rather shabby; our
clothes had burst into rags and tatters; and what was worse, we had very
little means of renovation. Fort Laramie was but seven miles before us.
Being totally averse to appearing in such plight among any society that
could boast an approximation to the civilized, we soon stopped by the
river to make our toilet in the best way we could. We hung up small
looking-glasses against the trees and shaved, an operation neglected for
six weeks; we performed our ablutions in the Platte, though the utility
of such a proceeding was questionable, the water looking exactly like
a cup of chocolate, and the banks consisting of the softest and richest
yellow mud, so that we were obliged, as a preliminary, to build a
cause-way of stout branches and twigs. Having also put on radiant
moccasins, procured from a squaw of Richard's establishment, and made
what other improvements our narrow circumstances allowed, we took our
seats on the grass with a feeling of greatly increased respectability,
to wait the arrival of our guests. They came; the banquet was concluded,
and the pipe smoked. Bidding them adieu, we turned our horses' heads
toward the fort.

An hour elapsed. The barren hills closed across our front, and we could
see no farther; until having surmounted them, a rapid stream appeared
at the foot of the descent, running into the Platte; beyond was a green
meadow, dotted with bushes, and in the midst of these, at the point
where the two rivers joined, were the low clay walls of a fort. This
was not Fort Laramie, but another post of less recent date, which having
sunk before its successful competitor was now deserted and ruinous. A
moment after the hills, seeming to draw apart as we advanced, disclosed
Fort Laramie itself, its high bastions and perpendicular walls of
clay crowning an eminence on the left beyond the stream, while behind
stretched a line of arid and desolate ridges, and behind these again,
towering aloft seven thousand feet, arose the grim Black Hills.

We tried to ford Laramie Creek at a point nearly opposite the fort, but
the stream, swollen with the rains in the mountains, was too rapid. We
passed up along its bank to find a better crossing place. Men gathered
on the wall to look at us. "There's Bordeaux!" called Henry, his face
brightening as he recognized his acquaintance; "him there with the
spyglass; and there's old Vaskiss, and Tucker, and May; and, by George!
there's Cimoneau!" This Cimoneau was Henry's fast friend, and the only
man in the country who could rival him in hunting.

We soon found a ford. Henry led the way, the pony approaching the bank
with a countenance of cool indifference, bracing his feet and sliding
into the stream with the most unmoved composure.

     At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
     And the water broke o'er the saddle-bow

We followed; the water boiled against our saddles, but our horses bore
us easily through. The unfortunate little mules came near going down
with the current, cart and all; and we watched them with some solicitude
scrambling over the loose round stones at the bottom, and bracing
stoutly against the stream. All landed safely at last; we crossed a
little plain, descended a hollow, and riding up a steep bank found
ourselves before the gateway of Fort Laramie, under the impending
blockhouse erected above it to defend the entrance.



CHAPTER IX

SCENES AT FORT LARAMIE


Looking back, after the expiration of a year, upon Fort Laramie and its
inmates, they seem less like a reality than like some fanciful picture
of the olden time; so different was the scene from any which this tamer
side of the world can present. Tall Indians, enveloped in their white
buffalo robes, were striding across the area or reclining at full length
on the low roofs of the buildings which inclosed it. Numerous squaws,
gayly bedizened, sat grouped in front of the apartments they occupied;
their mongrel offspring, restless and vociferous, rambled in every
direction through the fort; and the trappers, traders, and ENGAGES of
the establishment were busy at their labor or their amusements.

We were met at the gate, but by no means cordially welcomed. Indeed,
we seemed objects of some distrust and suspicion until Henry Chatillon
explained that we were not traders, and we, in confirmation, handed to
the bourgeois a letter of introduction from his principals. He took
it, turned it upside down, and tried hard to read it; but his literary
attainments not being adequate to the task, he applied for relief to
the clerk, a sleek, smiling Frenchman, named Montalon. The letter read,
Bordeaux (the bourgeois) seemed gradually to awaken to a sense of what
was expected of him. Though not deficient in hospitable intentions, he
was wholly unaccustomed to act as master of ceremonies. Discarding all
formalities of reception, he did not honor us with a single word, but
walked swiftly across the area, while we followed in some admiration to
a railing and a flight of steps opposite the entrance. He signed to us
that we had better fasten our horses to the railing; then he walked
up the steps, tramped along a rude balcony, and kicking open a door
displayed a large room, rather more elaborately finished than a barn.
For furniture it had a rough bedstead, but no bed; two chairs, a chest
of drawers, a tin pail to hold water, and a board to cut tobacco upon. A
brass crucifix hung on the wall, and close at hand a recent scalp, with
hair full a yard long, was suspended from a nail. I shall again have
occasion to mention this dismal trophy, its history being connected with
that of our subsequent proceedings.

This apartment, the best in Fort Laramie, was that usually occupied by
the legitimate bourgeois, Papin; in whose absence the command devolved
upon Bordeaux. The latter, a stout, bluff little fellow, much inflated
by a sense of his new authority, began to roar for buffalo robes. These
being brought and spread upon the floor formed our beds; much better
ones than we had of late been accustomed to. Our arrangements made, we
stepped out to the balcony to take a more leisurely survey of the long
looked-for haven at which we had arrived at last. Beneath us was the
square area surrounded by little rooms, or rather cells, which opened
upon it. These were devoted to various purposes, but served chiefly for
the accommodation of the men employed at the fort, or of the equally
numerous squaws, whom they were allowed to maintain in it. Opposite to
us rose the blockhouse above the gateway; it was adorned with a figure
which even now haunts my memory; a horse at full speed, daubed upon
the boards with red paint, and exhibiting a degree of skill which might
rival that displayed by the Indians in executing similar designs upon
their robes and lodges. A busy scene was enacting in the area. The
wagons of Vaskiss, an old trader, were about to set out for a remote
post in the mountains, and the Canadians were going through their
preparations with all possible bustle, while here and there an Indian
stood looking on with imperturbable gravity.

Fort Laramie is one of the posts established by the American Fur
Company, who well-nigh monopolize the Indian trade of this whole region.
Here their officials rule with an absolute sway; the arm of the United
States has little force; for when we were there, the extreme outposts
of her troops were about seven hundred miles to the eastward. The little
fort is built of bricks dried in the sun, and externally is of an oblong
form, with bastions of clay, in the form of ordinary blockhouses, at two
of the corners. The walls are about fifteen feet high, and surmounted by
a slender palisade. The roofs of the apartments within, which are built
close against the walls, serve the purpose of a banquette. Within,
the fort is divided by a partition; on one side is the square area
surrounded by the storerooms, offices, and apartments of the inmates;
on the other is the corral, a narrow place, encompassed by the high clay
walls, where at night, or in presence of dangerous Indians, the horses
and mules of the fort are crowded for safe-keeping. The main entrance
has two gates, with an arched passage intervening. A little square
window, quite high above the ground, opens laterally from an adjoining
chamber into this passage; so that when the inner gate is closed and
barred, a person without may still hold communication with those within
through this narrow aperture. This obviates the necessity of admitting
suspicious Indians, for purposes of trading, into the body of the fort;
for when danger is apprehended, the inner gate is shut fast, and all
traffic is carried on by means of the little window. This precaution,
though highly necessary at some of the company's posts, is now seldom
resorted to at Fort Laramie; where, though men are frequently killed in
its neighborhood, no apprehensions are now entertained of any general
designs of hostility from the Indians.

We did not long enjoy our new quarters undisturbed. The door was
silently pushed open, and two eyeballs and a visage as black as night
looked in upon us; then a red arm and shoulder intruded themselves, and
a tall Indian, gliding in, shook us by the hand, grunted his salutation,
and sat down on the floor. Others followed, with faces of the natural
hue; and letting fall their heavy robes from their shoulders, they took
their seats, quite at ease, in a semicircle before us. The pipe was now
to be lighted and passed round from one to another; and this was the
only entertainment that at present they expected from us. These visitors
were fathers, brothers, or other relatives of the squaws in the
fort, where they were permitted to remain, loitering about in perfect
idleness. All those who smoked with us were men of standing and repute.
Two or three others dropped in also; young fellows who neither by their
years nor their exploits were entitled to rank with the old men and
warriors, and who, abashed in the presence of their superiors, stood
aloof, never withdrawing their eyes from us. Their cheeks were adorned
with vermilion, their ears with pendants of shell, and their necks with
beads. Never yet having signalized themselves as hunters, or performed
the honorable exploit of killing a man, they were held in slight
esteem, and were diffident and bashful in proportion. Certain formidable
inconveniences attended this influx of visitors. They were bent on
inspecting everything in the room; our equipments and our dress alike
underwent their scrutiny; for though the contrary has been carelessly
asserted, few beings have more curiosity than Indians in regard to
subjects within their ordinary range of thought. As to other matters,
indeed, they seemed utterly indifferent. They will not trouble
themselves to inquire into what they cannot comprehend, but are quite
contented to place their hands over their mouths in token of wonder, and
exclaim that it is "great medicine." With this comprehensive solution,
an Indian never is at a loss. He never launches forth into speculation
and conjecture; his reason moves in its beaten track. His soul is
dormant; and no exertions of the missionaries, Jesuit or Puritan, of the
Old World or of the New, have as yet availed to rouse it.

As we were looking, at sunset, from the wall, upon the wild and desolate
plains that surround the fort, we observed a cluster of strange objects
like scaffolds rising in the distance against the red western sky. They
bore aloft some singular looking burdens; and at their foot glimmered
something white like bones. This was the place of sepulture of some
Dakota chiefs, whose remains their people are fond of placing in the
vicinity of the fort, in the hope that they may thus be protected from
violation at the hands of their enemies. Yet it has happened more than
once, and quite recently, that war parties of the Crow Indians, ranging
through the country, have thrown the bodies from the scaffolds, and
broken them to pieces amid the yells of the Dakotas, who remained pent
up in the fort, too few to defend the honored relics from insult. The
white objects upon the ground were buffalo skulls, arranged in the
mystic circle commonly seen at Indian places of sepulture upon the
prairie.

We soon discovered, in the twilight, a band of fifty or sixty
horses approaching the fort. These were the animals belonging to the
establishment; who having been sent out to feed, under the care of armed
guards, in the meadows below, were now being driven into the corral for
the night. A little gate opened into this inclosure; by the side of it
stood one of the guards, an old Canadian, with gray bushy eyebrows,
and a dragoon pistol stuck into his belt; while his comrade, mounted
on horseback, his rifle laid across the saddle in front of him, and
his long hair blowing before his swarthy face, rode at the rear of the
disorderly troop, urging them up the ascent. In a moment the narrow
corral was thronged with the half-wild horses, kicking, biting, and
crowding restlessly together.

The discordant jingling of a bell, rung by a Canadian in the area,
summoned us to supper. This sumptuous repast was served on a rough table
in one of the lower apartments of the fort, and consisted of cakes of
bread and dried buffalo meat--an excellent thing for strengthening the
teeth. At this meal were seated the bourgeois and superior dignitaries
of the establishment, among whom Henry Chatillon was worthily included.
No sooner was it finished, than the table was spread a second time (the
luxury of bread being now, however, omitted), for the benefit of
certain hunters and trappers of an inferior standing; while the ordinary
Canadian ENGAGES were regaled on dried meat in one of their lodging
rooms. By way of illustrating the domestic economy of Fort Laramie, it
may not be amiss to introduce in this place a story current among the
men when we were there.

There was an old man named Pierre, whose duty it was to bring the meat
from the storeroom for the men. Old Pierre, in the kindness of
his heart, used to select the fattest and the best pieces for his
companions. This did not long escape the keen-eyed bourgeois, who was
greatly disturbed at such improvidence, and cast about for some means to
stop it. At last he hit on a plan that exactly suited him. At the side
of the meat-room, and separated from it by a clay partition, was another
compartment, used for the storage of furs. It had no other communication
with the fort, except through a square hole in the partition; and of
course it was perfectly dark. One evening the bourgeois, watching for
a moment when no one observed him, dodged into the meat-room, clambered
through the hole, and ensconced himself among the furs and buffalo
robes. Soon after, old Pierre came in with his lantern; and, muttering
to himself, began to pull over the bales of meat, and select the best
pieces, as usual. But suddenly a hollow and sepulchral voice proceeded
from the inner apartment: "Pierre! Pierre! Let that fat meat alone! Take
nothing but lean!" Pierre dropped his lantern, and bolted out into
the fort, screaming, in an agony of terror, that the devil was in the
storeroom; but tripping on the threshold, he pitched over upon the
gravel, and lay senseless, stunned by the fall. The Canadians ran out
to the rescue. Some lifted the unlucky Pierre; and others, making an
extempore crucifix out of two sticks, were proceeding to attack the
devil in his stronghold, when the bourgeois, with a crest-fallen
countenance, appeared at the door. To add to the bourgeois'
mortification, he was obliged to explain the whole stratagem to Pierre,
in order to bring the latter to his senses.

We were sitting, on the following morning, in the passage-way between
the gates, conversing with the traders Vaskiss and May. These two men,
together with our sleek friend, the clerk Montalon, were, I believe, the
only persons then in the fort who could read and write. May was telling
a curious story about the traveler Catlin, when an ugly, diminutive
Indian, wretchedly mounted, came up at a gallop, and rode past us into
the fort. On being questioned, he said that Smoke's village was close at
hand. Accordingly only a few minutes elapsed before the hills beyond the
river were covered with a disorderly swarm of savages, on horseback and
on foot. May finished his story; and by that time the whole array had
descended to Laramie Creek, and commenced crossing it in a mass. I
walked down to the bank. The stream is wide, and was then between three
and four feet deep, with a very swift current. For several rods the
water was alive with dogs, horses, and Indians. The long poles used in
erecting the lodges are carried by the horses, being fastened by the
heavier end, two or three on each side, to a rude sort of pack saddle,
while the other end drags on the ground. About a foot behind the horse,
a kind of large basket or pannier is suspended between the poles, and
firmly lashed in its place on the back of the horse are piled various
articles of luggage; the basket also is well filled with domestic
utensils, or, quite as often, with a litter of puppies, a brood of small
children, or a superannuated old man. Numbers of these curious vehicles,
called, in the bastard language of the country travaux were now
splashing together through the stream. Among them swam countless dogs,
often burdened with miniature travaux; and dashing forward on horseback
through the throng came the superbly formed warriors, the slender figure
of some lynx-eyed boy, clinging fast behind them. The women sat perched
on the pack saddles, adding not a little to the load of the already
overburdened horses. The confusion was prodigious. The dogs yelled and
howled in chorus; the puppies in the travaux set up a dismal whine
as the water invaded their comfortable retreat; the little black-eyed
children, from one year of age upward, clung fast with both hands to the
edge of their basket, and looked over in alarm at the water rushing so
near them, sputtering and making wry mouths as it splashed against their
faces. Some of the dogs, encumbered by their loads, were carried down by
the current, yelping piteously; and the old squaws would rush into the
water, seize their favorites by the neck, and drag them out. As each
horse gained the bank, he scrambled up as he could. Stray horses and
colts came among the rest, often breaking away at full speed through the
crowd, followed by the old hags, screaming after their fashion on all
occasions of excitement. Buxom young squaws, blooming in all the charms
of vermilion, stood here and there on the bank, holding aloft their
master's lance, as a signal to collect the scattered portions of his
household. In a few moments the crowd melted away; each family, with its
horses and equipage, filing off to the plain at the rear of the fort;
and here, in the space of half an hour, arose sixty or seventy of
their tapering lodges. Their horses were feeding by hundreds over the
surrounding prairie, and their dogs were roaming everywhere. The fort
was full of men, and the children were whooping and yelling incessantly
under the walls.

These newcomers were scarcely arrived, when Bordeaux was running across
the fort, shouting to his squaw to bring him his spyglass. The obedient
Marie, the very model of a squaw, produced the instrument, and Bordeaux
hurried with it up to the wall. Pointing it to the eastward, he
exclaimed, with an oath, that the families were coming. But a few
moments elapsed before the heavy caravan of the emigrant wagons could
be seen, steadily advancing from the hills. They gained the river, and
without turning or pausing plunged in; they passed through, and slowly
ascending the opposing bank, kept directly on their way past the fort
and the Indian village, until, gaining a spot a quarter of a mile
distant, they wheeled into a circle. For some time our tranquillity
was undisturbed. The emigrants were preparing their encampment; but
no sooner was this accomplished than Fort Laramie was fairly taken by
storm. A crowd of broad-brimmed hats, thin visages, and staring eyes
appeared suddenly at the gate. Tall awkward men, in brown homespun;
women with cadaverous faces and long lank figures came thronging in
together, and, as if inspired by the very demon of curiosity, ransacked
every nook and corner of the fort. Dismayed at this invasion, we
withdrew in all speed to our chamber, vainly hoping that it might prove
an inviolable sanctuary. The emigrants prosecuted their investigations
with untiring vigor. They penetrated the rooms or rather dens, inhabited
by the astonished squaws. They explored the apartments of the men, and
even that of Marie and the bourgeois. At last a numerous deputation
appeared at our door, but were immediately expelled. Being totally
devoid of any sense of delicacy or propriety, they seemed resolved to
search every mystery to the bottom.

Having at length satisfied their curiosity, they next proceeded to
business. The men occupied themselves in procuring supplies for their
onward journey; either buying them with money or giving in exchange
superfluous articles of their own.

The emigrants felt a violent prejudice against the French Indians,
as they called the trappers and traders. They thought, and with some
justice, that these men bore them no good will. Many of them were firmly
persuaded that the French were instigating the Indians to attack and
cut them off. On visiting the encampment we were at once struck with
the extraordinary perplexity and indecision that prevailed among
the emigrants. They seemed like men totally out of their elements;
bewildered and amazed, like a troop of school-boys lost in the woods. It
was impossible to be long among them without being conscious of the high
and bold spirit with which most of them were animated. But the FOREST is
the home of the backwoodsman. On the remote prairie he is totally at a
loss. He differs much from the genuine "mountain man," the wild prairie
hunter, as a Canadian voyageur, paddling his canoe on the rapids of the
Ottawa, differs from an American sailor among the storms of Cape Horn.
Still my companion and I were somewhat at a loss to account for this
perturbed state of mind. It could not be cowardice; these men were of
the same stock with the volunteers of Monterey and Buena Vista. Yet, for
the most part, they were the rudest and most ignorant of the frontier
population; they knew absolutely nothing of the country and its
inhabitants; they had already experienced much misfortune, and
apprehended more; they had seen nothing of mankind, and had never put
their own resources to the test.

A full proportion of suspicion fell upon us. Being strangers we were
looked upon as enemies. Having occasion for a supply of lead and a few
other necessary articles, we used to go over to the emigrant camps to
obtain them. After some hesitation, some dubious glances, and fumbling
of the hands in the pockets, the terms would be agreed upon, the
price tendered, and the emigrant would go off to bring the article in
question. After waiting until our patience gave out, we would go in
search of him, and find him seated on the tongue of his wagon.

"Well, stranger," he would observe, as he saw us approach, "I reckon I
won't trade!"

Some friend of his followed him from the scene of the bargain and
suggested in his ear, that clearly we meant to cheat him, and he had
better have nothing to do with us.

This timorous mood of the emigrants was doubly unfortunate, as it
exposed them to real danger. Assume, in the presence of Indians a bold
bearing, self-confident yet vigilant, and you will find them tolerably
safe neighbors. But your safety depends on the respect and fear you are
able to inspire. If you betray timidity or indecision, you convert them
from that moment into insidious and dangerous enemies. The Dakotas saw
clearly enough the perturbation of the emigrants and instantly availed
themselves of it. They became extremely insolent and exacting in their
demands. It has become an established custom with them to go to the camp
of every party, at it arrives in succession at the fort, and demand a
feast. Smoke's village had come with the express design, having made
several days' journey with no other object than that of enjoying a cup
of coffee and two or three biscuits. So the "feast" was demanded, and
the emigrants dared not refuse it.

One evening, about sunset, the village was deserted. We met old men,
warriors, squaws, and children in gay attire, trooping off to the
encampment, with faces of anticipation; and, arriving here, they seated
themselves in a semicircle. Smoke occupied the center, with his warriors
on either hand; the young men and boys next succeeded, and the squaws
and children formed the horns of the crescent. The biscuit and coffee
were most promptly dispatched, the emigrants staring open-mouthed at
their savage guests. With each new emigrant party that arrived at Fort
Laramie this scene was renewed; and every day the Indians grew more
rapacious and presumptuous. One evening they broke to pieces, out of
mere wantonness, the cups from which they had been feasted; and this
so exasperated the emigrants that many of them seized their rifles and
could scarcely be restrained from firing on the insolent mob of Indians.
Before we left the country this dangerous spirit on the part of the
Dakota had mounted to a yet higher pitch. They began openly to threaten
the emigrants with destruction, and actually fired upon one or two
parties of whites. A military force and military law are urgently called
for in that perilous region; and unless troops are speedily stationed at
Fort Laramie, or elsewhere in the neighborhood, both the emigrants and
other travelers will be exposed to most imminent risks.

The Ogallalla, the Brules, and other western bands of the Dakota, are
thorough savages, unchanged by any contact with civilization. Not one
of them can speak a European tongue, or has ever visited an American
settlement. Until within a year or two, when the emigrants began to
pass through their country on the way to Oregon, they had seen no whites
except the handful employed about the Fur Company's posts. They esteemed
them a wise people, inferior only to themselves, living in leather
lodges, like their own, and subsisting on buffalo. But when the swarm
of MENEASKA, with their oxen and wagons, began to invade them, their
astonishment was unbounded. They could scarcely believe that the earth
contained such a multitude of white men. Their wonder is now giving way
to indignation; and the result, unless vigilantly guarded against, may
be lamentable in the extreme.

But to glance at the interior of a lodge. Shaw and I used often to
visit them. Indeed, we spent most of our evenings in the Indian village;
Shaw's assumption of the medical character giving us a fair pretext. As
a sample of the rest I will describe one of these visits. The sun had
just set, and the horses were driven into the corral. The Prairie Cock,
a noted beau, came in at the gate with a bevy of young girls, with whom
he began to dance in the area, leading them round and round in a circle,
while he jerked up from his chest a succession of monotonous sounds, to
which they kept time in a rueful chant. Outside the gate boys and young
men were idly frolicking; and close by, looking grimly upon them, stood
a warrior in his robe, with his face painted jet-black, in token that
he had lately taken a Pawnee scalp. Passing these, the tall dark lodges
rose between us and the red western sky. We repaired at once to the
lodge of Old Smoke himself. It was by no means better than the others;
indeed, it was rather shabby; for in this democratic community, the
chief never assumes superior state. Smoke sat cross-legged on a buffalo
robe, and his grunt of salutation as we entered was unusually cordial,
out of respect no doubt to Shaw's medical character. Seated around the
lodge were several squaws, and an abundance of children. The complaint
of Shaw's patients was, for the most part, a severe inflammation of the
eyes, occasioned by exposure to the sun, a species of disorder which
he treated with some success. He had brought with him a homeopathic
medicine chest, and was, I presume, the first who introduced that
harmless system of treatment among the Ogallalla. No sooner had a robe
been spread at the head of the lodge for our accommodation, and we
had seated ourselves upon it, than a patient made her appearance; the
chief's daughter herself, who, to do her justice, was the best-looking
girl in the village. Being on excellent terms with the physician, she
placed herself readily under his hands, and submitted with a good grace
to his applications, laughing in his face during the whole process, for
a squaw hardly knows how to smile. This case dispatched, another of
a different kind succeeded. A hideous, emaciated old woman sat in the
darkest corner of the lodge rocking to and fro with pain and hiding
her eyes from the light by pressing the palms of both hands against
her face. At Smoke's command, she came forward, very unwillingly, and
exhibited a pair of eyes that had nearly disappeared from excess of
inflammation. No sooner had the doctor fastened his grips upon her than
she set up a dismal moaning, and writhed so in his grasp that he lost
all patience, but being resolved to carry his point, he succeeded at
last in applying his favorite remedies.

"It is strange," he said, when the operation was finished, "that I
forgot to bring any Spanish flies with me; we must have something here
to answer for a counter-irritant!"

So, in the absence of better, he seized upon a red-hot brand from the
fire, and clapped it against the temple of the old squaw, who set up an
unearthly howl, at which the rest of the family broke out into a laugh.

During these medical operations Smoke's eldest squaw entered the lodge,
with a sort of stone mallet in her hand. I had observed some time before
a litter of well-grown black puppies, comfortably nestled among some
buffalo robes at one side; but this newcomer speedily disturbed their
enjoyment; for seizing one of them by the hind paw, she dragged him out,
and carrying him to the entrance of the lodge, hammered him on the head
till she killed him. Being quite conscious to what this preparation
tended, I looked through a hole in the back of the lodge to see the
next steps of the process. The squaw, holding the puppy by the legs, was
swinging him to and fro through the blaze of a fire, until the hair was
singed off. This done, she unsheathed her knife and cut him into small
pieces, which she dropped into a kettle to boil. In a few moments
a large wooden dish was set before us, filled with this delicate
preparation. We felt conscious of the honor. A dog-feast is the greatest
compliment a Dakota can offer to his guest; and knowing that to refuse
eating would be an affront, we attacked the little dog and devoured him
before the eyes of his unconscious parent. Smoke in the meantime was
preparing his great pipe. It was lighted when we had finished our
repast, and we passed it from one to another till the bowl was empty.
This done, we took our leave without further ceremony, knocked at the
gate of the fort, and after making ourselves known were admitted.

One morning, about a week after reaching Fort Laramie, we were holding
our customary Indian levee, when a bustle in the area below announced
a new arrival; and looking down from our balcony, I saw a familiar red
beard and mustache in the gateway. They belonged to the captain, who
with his party had just crossed the stream. We met him on the stairs as
he came up, and congratulated him on the safe arrival of himself and his
devoted companions. But he remembered our treachery, and was grave and
dignified accordingly; a tendency which increased as he observed on our
part a disposition to laugh at him. After remaining an hour or two at
the fort he rode away with his friends, and we have heard nothing of him
since. As for R., he kept carefully aloof. It was but too evident that
we had the unhappiness to have forfeited the kind regards of our London
fellow-traveler.



CHAPTER X

THE WAR PARTIES


The summer of 1846 was a season of much warlike excitement among all the
western bands of the Dakota. In 1845 they encountered great reverses.
Many war parties had been sent out; some of them had been totally cut
off, and others had returned broken and disheartened, so that the whole
nation was in mourning. Among the rest, ten warriors had gone to the
Snake country, led by the son of a prominent Ogallalla chief, called The
Whirlwind. In passing over Laramie Plains they encountered a superior
number of their enemies, were surrounded, and killed to a man.
Having performed this exploit the Snakes became alarmed, dreading the
resentment of the Dakota, and they hastened therefore to signify their
wish for peace by sending the scalp of the slain partisan, together with
a small parcel of tobacco attached, to his tribesmen and relations. They
had employed old Vaskiss, the trader, as their messenger, and the scalp
was the same that hung in our room at the fort. But The Whirlwind proved
inexorable. Though his character hardly corresponds with his name, he is
nevertheless an Indian, and hates the Snakes with his whole soul. Long
before the scalp arrived he had made his preparations for revenge. He
sent messengers with presents and tobacco to all the Dakota within three
hundred miles, proposing a grand combination to chastise the Snakes, and
naming a place and time of rendezvous. The plan was readily adopted and
at this moment many villages, probably embracing in the whole five or
six thousand souls, were slowly creeping over the prairies and tending
towards the common center at La Bonte's Camp, on the Platte. Here their
war-like rites were to be celebrated with more than ordinary solemnity,
and a thousand warriors, as it was said, were to set out for the enemy
country. The characteristic result of this preparation will appear in
the sequel.

I was greatly rejoiced to hear of it. I had come into the country almost
exclusively with a view of observing the Indian character. Having from
childhood felt a curiosity on this subject, and having failed completely
to gratify it by reading, I resolved to have recourse to observation.
I wished to satisfy myself with regard to the position of the Indians
among the races of men; the vices and the virtues that have sprung from
their innate character and from their modes of life, their government,
their superstitions, and their domestic situation. To accomplish my
purpose it was necessary to live in the midst of them, and become, as
it were, one of them. I proposed to join a village and make myself an
inmate of one of their lodges; and henceforward this narrative, so far
as I am concerned, will be chiefly a record of the progress of this
design apparently so easy of accomplishment, and the unexpected
impediments that opposed it.

We resolved on no account to miss the rendezvous at La Bonte's Camp. Our
plan was to leave Delorier at the fort, in charge of our equipage and
the better part of our horses, while we took with us nothing but our
weapons and the worst animals we had. In all probability jealousies and
quarrels would arise among so many hordes of fierce impulsive savages,
congregated together under no common head, and many of them strangers,
from remote prairies and mountains. We were bound in common prudence to
be cautious how we excited any feeling of cupidity. This was our plan,
but unhappily we were not destined to visit La Bonte's Camp in this
manner; for one morning a young Indian came to the fort and brought us
evil tidings. The newcomer was a dandy of the first water. His ugly face
was painted with vermilion; on his head fluttered the tail of a prairie
cock (a large species of pheasant, not found, as I have heard, eastward
of the Rocky Mountains); in his ears were hung pendants of shell, and a
flaming red blanket was wrapped around him. He carried a dragoon sword
in his hand, solely for display, since the knife, the arrow, and the
rifle are the arbiters of every prairie fight; but no one in this
country goes abroad unarmed, the dandy carried a bow and arrows in an
otter-skin quiver at his back. In this guise, and bestriding his yellow
horse with an air of extreme dignity, The Horse, for that was his name,
rode in at the gate, turning neither to the right nor the left, but
casting glances askance at the groups of squaws who, with their mongrel
progeny, were sitting in the sun before their doors. The evil tidings
brought by The Horse were of the following import: The squaw of Henry
Chatillon, a woman with whom he had been connected for years by the
strongest ties which in that country exist between the sexes, was
dangerously ill. She and her children were in the village of The
Whirlwind, at the distance of a few days' journey. Henry was anxious to
see the woman before she died, and provide for the safety and support
of his children, of whom he was extremely fond. To have refused him
this would have been gross inhumanity. We abandoned our plan of joining
Smoke's village, and of proceeding with it to the rendezvous, and
determined to meet The Whirlwind, and go in his company.

I had been slightly ill for several weeks, but on the third night
after reaching Fort Laramie a violent pain awoke me, and I found myself
attacked by the same disorder that occasioned such heavy losses to the
army on the Rio Grande. In a day and a half I was reduced to extreme
weakness, so that I could not walk without pain and effort. Having
within that time taken six grains of opium, without the least beneficial
effect, and having no medical adviser, nor any choice of diet, I
resolved to throw myself upon Providence for recovery, using, without
regard to the disorder, any portion of strength that might remain to
me. So on the 20th of June we set out from Fort Laramie to meet The
Whirlwind's village. Though aided by the high-bowed "mountain saddle,"
I could scarcely keep my seat on horseback. Before we left the fort we
hired another man, a long-haired Canadian, with a face like an owl's,
contrasting oddly enough with Delorier's mercurial countenance. This was
not the only re-enforcement to our party. A vagrant Indian trader, named
Reynal, joined us, together with his squaw Margot, and her two nephews,
our dandy friend, The Horse, and his younger brother, The Hail Storm.
Thus accompanied, we betook ourselves to the prairie, leaving the beaten
trail, and passing over the desolate hills that flank the bottoms of
Laramie Creek. In all, Indians and whites, we counted eight men and one
woman.

Reynal, the trader, the image of sleek and selfish complacency, carried
The Horse's dragoon sword in his hand, delighting apparently in this
useless parade; for, from spending half his life among Indians, he had
caught not only their habits but their ideas. Margot, a female animal
of more than two hundred pounds' weight, was couched in the basket of
a travail, such as I have before described; besides her ponderous bulk,
various domestic utensils were attached to the vehicle, and she was
leading by a trail-rope a packhorse, who carried the covering of
Reynal's lodge. Delorier walked briskly by the side of the cart, and
Raymond came behind, swearing at the spare horses, which it was his
business to drive. The restless young Indians, their quivers at their
backs, and their bows in their hand, galloped over the hills, often
starting a wolf or an antelope from the thick growth of wild-sage
bushes. Shaw and I were in keeping with the rest of the rude cavalcade,
having in the absence of other clothing adopted the buckskin attire
of the trappers. Henry Chatillon rode in advance of the whole. Thus we
passed hill after hill and hollow after hollow, a country arid, broken
and so parched by the sun that none of the plants familiar to our more
favored soil would flourish upon it, though there were multitudes of
strange medicinal herbs, more especially the absanth, which covered
every declivity, and cacti were hanging like reptiles at the edges of
every ravine. At length we ascended a high hill, our horses treading
upon pebbles of flint, agate, and rough jasper, until, gaining the top,
we looked down on the wild bottoms of Laramie Creek, which far below us
wound like a writhing snake from side to side of the narrow interval,
amid a growth of shattered cotton-wood and ash trees. Lines of tall
cliffs, white as chalk, shut in this green strip of woods and meadow
land, into which we descended and encamped for the night. In the morning
we passed a wide grassy plain by the river; there was a grove in front,
and beneath its shadows the ruins of an old trading fort of logs. The
grove bloomed with myriads of wild roses, with their sweet perfume
fraught with recollections of home. As we emerged from the trees, a
rattlesnake, as large as a man's arm, and more than four feet long,
lay coiled on a rock, fiercely rattling and hissing at us; a gray hare,
double the size of those in New England, leaped up from the tall ferns;
curlew were screaming over our heads, and a whole host of little prairie
dogs sat yelping at us at the mouths of their burrows on the dry plain
beyond. Suddenly an antelope leaped up from the wild-sage bushes, gazed
eagerly at us, and then, erecting his white tail, stretched away like a
greyhound. The two Indian boys found a white wolf, as large as a calf in
a hollow, and giving a sharp yell, they galloped after him; but the wolf
leaped into the stream and swam across. Then came the crack of a rifle,
the bullet whistling harmlessly over his head, as he scrambled up the
steep declivity, rattling down stones and earth into the water below.
Advancing a little, we beheld on the farther bank of the stream, a
spectacle not common even in that region; for, emerging from among the
trees, a herd of some two hundred elk came out upon the meadow, their
antlers clattering as they walked forward in dense throng. Seeing us,
they broke into a run, rushing across the opening and disappearing
among the trees and scattered groves. On our left was a barren prairie,
stretching to the horizon; on our right, a deep gulf, with Laramie
Creek at the bottom. We found ourselves at length at the edge of a
steep descent; a narrow valley, with long rank grass and scattered trees
stretching before us for a mile or more along the course of the
stream. Reaching the farther end, we stopped and encamped. An old huge
cotton-wood tree spread its branches horizontally over our tent. Laramie
Creek, circling before our camp, half inclosed us; it swept along the
bottom of a line of tall white cliffs that looked down on us from the
farther bank. There were dense copses on our right; the cliffs, too,
were half hidden by shrubbery, though behind us a few cotton-wood trees,
dotting the green prairie, alone impeded the view, and friend or enemy
could be discerned in that direction at a mile's distance. Here we
resolved to remain and await the arrival of The Whirlwind, who would
certainly pass this way in his progress toward La Bonte's Camp. To go
in search of him was not expedient, both on account of the broken and
impracticable nature of the country and the uncertainty of his position
and movements; besides, our horses were almost worn out, and I was in no
condition to travel. We had good grass, good water, tolerable fish
from the stream, and plenty of smaller game, such as antelope and deer,
though no buffalo. There was one little drawback to our satisfaction--a
certain extensive tract of bushes and dried grass, just behind us, which
it was by no means advisable to enter, since it sheltered a numerous
brood of rattlesnakes. Henry Chatillon again dispatched The Horse to the
village, with a message to his squaw that she and her relatives should
leave the rest and push on as rapidly as possible to our camp.

Our daily routine soon became as regular as that of a well-ordered
household. The weather-beaten old tree was in the center; our rifles
generally rested against its vast trunk, and our saddles were flung on
the ground around it; its distorted roots were so twisted as to form one
or two convenient arm-chairs, where we could sit in the shade and read
or smoke; but meal-times became, on the whole, the most interesting
hours of the day, and a bountiful provision was made for them. An
antelope or a deer usually swung from a stout bough, and haunches were
suspended against the trunk. That camp is daguerreotyped on my memory;
the old tree, the white tent, with Shaw sleeping in the shadow of it,
and Reynal's miserable lodge close by the bank of the stream. It was a
wretched oven-shaped structure, made of begrimed and tattered buffalo
hides stretched over a frame of poles; one side was open, and at the
side of the opening hung the powder horn and bullet pouch of the owner,
together with his long red pipe, and a rich quiver of otterskin, with a
bow and arrows; for Reynal, an Indian in most things but color, chose
to hunt buffalo with these primitive weapons. In the darkness of this
cavern-like habitation, might be discerned Madame Margot, her overgrown
bulk stowed away among her domestic implements, furs, robes, blankets,
and painted cases of PAR' FLECHE, in which dried meat is kept. Here
she sat from sunrise to sunset, a bloated impersonation of gluttony
and laziness, while her affectionate proprietor was smoking, or begging
petty gifts from us, or telling lies concerning his own achievements,
or perchance engaged in the more profitable occupation of cooking some
preparation of prairie delicacies. Reynal was an adept at this work; he
and Delorier have joined forces and are hard at work together over
the fire, while Raymond spreads, by way of tablecloth, a buffalo hide,
carefully whitened with pipeclay, on the grass before the tent. Here,
with ostentatious display, he arranges the teacups and plates; and then,
creeping on all fours like a dog, he thrusts his head in at the opening
of the tent. For a moment we see his round owlish eyes rolling wildly,
as if the idea he came to communicate had suddenly escaped him; then
collecting his scattered thoughts, as if by an effort, he informs us
that supper is ready, and instantly withdraws.

When sunset came, and at that hour the wild and desolate scene would
assume a new aspect, the horses were driven in. They had been grazing
all day in the neighboring meadow, but now they were picketed close
about the camp. As the prairie darkened we sat and conversed around the
fire, until becoming drowsy we spread our saddles on the ground, wrapped
our blankets around us and lay down. We never placed a guard, having
by this time become too indolent; but Henry Chatillon folded his loaded
rifle in the same blanket with himself, observing that he always took it
to bed with him when he camped in that place. Henry was too bold a man
to use such a precaution without good cause. We had a hint now and then
that our situation was none of the safest; several Crow war parties were
known to be in the vicinity, and one of them, that passed here some time
before, had peeled the bark from a neighboring tree, and engraved upon
the white wood certain hieroglyphics, to signify that they had invaded
the territories of their enemies, the Dakota, and set them at defiance.
One morning a thick mist covered the whole country. Shaw and Henry went
out to ride, and soon came back with a startling piece of intelligence;
they had found within rifle-shot of our camp the recent trail of about
thirty horsemen. They could not be whites, and they could not be Dakota,
since we knew no such parties to be in the neighborhood; therefore
they must be Crows. Thanks to that friendly mist, we had escaped a hard
battle; they would inevitably have attacked us and our Indian companions
had they seen our camp. Whatever doubts we might have entertained, were
quite removed a day or two after, by two or three Dakota, who came to us
with an account of having hidden in a ravine on that very morning, from
whence they saw and counted the Crows; they said that they followed
them, carefully keeping out of sight, as they passed up Chugwater; that
here the Crows discovered five dead bodies of Dakota, placed according
to the national custom in trees, and flinging them to the ground, they
held their guns against them and blew them to atoms.

If our camp were not altogether safe, still it was comfortable enough;
at least it was so to Shaw, for I was tormented with illness and vexed
by the delay in the accomplishment of my designs. When a respite in my
disorder gave me some returning strength, I rode out well-armed upon
the prairie, or bathed with Shaw in the stream, or waged a petty warfare
with the inhabitants of a neighborhood prairie-dog village. Around our
fire at night we employed ourselves in inveighing against the fickleness
and inconstancy of Indians, and execrating The Whirlwind and all his
village. At last the thing grew insufferable.

"To-morrow morning," said I, "I will start for the fort, and see if I
can hear any news there." Late that evening, when the fire had sunk
low, and all the camp were asleep, a loud cry sounded from the darkness.
Henry started up, recognized the voice, replied to it, and our dandy
friend, The Horse, rode in among us, just returned from his mission to
the village. He coolly picketed his mare, without saying a word, sat
down by the fire and began to eat, but his imperturbable philosophy
was too much for our patience. Where was the village? about fifty miles
south of us; it was moving slowly and would not arrive in less than
a week; and where was Henry's squaw? coming as fast as she could with
Mahto-Tatonka, and the rest of her brothers, but she would never reach
us, for she was dying, and asking every moment for Henry. Henry's manly
face became clouded and downcast; he said that if we were willing he
would go in the morning to find her, at which Shaw offered to accompany
him.

We saddled our horses at sunrise. Reynal protested vehemently against
being left alone, with nobody but the two Canadians and the young
Indians, when enemies were in the neighborhood. Disregarding his
complaints, we left him, and coming to the mouth of Chugwater,
separated, Shaw and Henry turning to the right, up the bank of the
stream, while I made for the fort.

Taking leave for a while of my friend and the unfortunate squaw, I will
relate by way of episode what I saw and did at Fort Laramie. It was not
more than eighteen miles distant, and I reached it in three hours; a
shriveled little figure, wrapped from head to foot in a dingy white
Canadian capote, stood in the gateway, holding by a cord of bull's hide
a shaggy wild horse, which he had lately caught. His sharp prominent
features, and his little keen snakelike eyes, looked out from beneath
the shadowy hood of the capote, which was drawn over his head exactly
like the cowl of a Capuchin friar. His face was extremely thin and like
an old piece of leather, and his mouth spread from ear to ear. Extending
his long wiry hand, he welcomed me with something more cordial than the
ordinary cold salute of an Indian, for we were excellent friends. He had
made an exchange of horses to our mutual advantage; and Paul, thinking
himself well-treated, had declared everywhere that the white man had
a good heart. He was a Dakota from the Missouri, a reputed son of the
half-breed interpreter, Pierre Dorion, so often mentioned in Irving's
"Astoria." He said that he was going to Richard's trading house to sell
his horse to some emigrants who were encamped there, and asked me to go
with him. We forded the stream together, Paul dragging his wild charge
behind him. As we passed over the sandy plains beyond, he grew quite
communicative. Paul was a cosmopolitan in his way; he had been to the
settlements of the whites, and visited in peace and war most of the
tribes within the range of a thousand miles. He spoke a jargon of French
and another of English, yet nevertheless he was a thorough Indian; and
as he told of the bloody deeds of his own people against their enemies,
his little eye would glitter with a fierce luster. He told how the
Dakota exterminated a village of the Hohays on the Upper Missouri,
slaughtering men, women, and children; and how an overwhelming force of
them cut off sixteen of the brave Delawares, who fought like wolves
to the last, amid the throng of their enemies. He told me also another
story, which I did not believe until I had it confirmed from so many
independent sources that no room was left for doubt. I am tempted to
introduce it here.

Six years ago a fellow named Jim Beckwith, a mongrel of French,
American, and negro blood, was trading for the Fur Company, in a very
large village of the Crows. Jim Beckwith was last summer at St. Louis.
He is a ruffian of the first stamp; bloody and treacherous, without
honor or honesty; such at least is the character he bears upon the
prairie. Yet in his case all the standard rules of character fail,
for though he will stab a man in his sleep, he will also perform most
desperate acts of daring; such, for instance, as the following: While he
was in the Crow village, a Blackfoot war party, between thirty and forty
in number came stealing through the country, killing stragglers and
carrying off horses. The Crow warriors got upon their trail and pressed
them so closely that they could not escape, at which the Blackfeet,
throwing up a semicircular breastwork of logs at the foot of a
precipice, coolly awaited their approach. The logs and sticks, piled
four or five high, protected them in front. The Crows might have
swept over the breastwork and exterminated their enemies; but though
out-numbering them tenfold, they did not dream of storming the little
fortification. Such a proceeding would be altogether repugnant to their
notions of warfare. Whooping and yelling, and jumping from side to side
like devils incarnate, they showered bullets and arrows upon the logs;
not a Blackfoot was hurt, but several Crows, in spite of their leaping
and dodging, were shot down. In this childish manner the fight went on
for an hour or two. Now and then a Crow warrior in an ecstasy of valor
and vainglory would scream forth his war song, boasting himself the
bravest and greatest of mankind, and grasping his hatchet, would rush
up and strike it upon the breastwork, and then as he retreated to his
companions, fall dead under a shower of arrows; yet no combined
attack seemed to be dreamed of. The Blackfeet remained secure in their
intrenchment. At last Jim Beckwith lost patience.

"You are all fools and old women," he said to the Crows; "come with me,
if any of you are brave enough, and I will show you how to fight."

He threw off his trapper's frock of buckskin and stripped himself naked
like the Indians themselves. He left his rifle on the ground, and taking
in his hand a small light hatchet, he ran over the prairie to the right,
concealed by a hollow from the eyes of the Blackfeet. Then climbing
up the rocks, he gained the top of the precipice behind them. Forty or
fifty young Crow warriors followed him. By the cries and whoops that
rose from below he knew that the Blackfeet were just beneath him; and
running forward, he leaped down the rock into the midst of them. As
he fell he caught one by the long loose hair and dragging him down
tomahawked him; then grasping another by the belt at his waist, he
struck him also a stunning blow, and gaining his feet, shouted the Crow
war-cry. He swung his hatchet so fiercely around him that the astonished
Blackfeet bore back and gave him room. He might, had he chosen, have
leaped over the breastwork and escaped; but this was not necessary, for
with devilish yells the Crow warriors came dropping in quick succession
over the rock among their enemies. The main body of the Crows, too,
answered the cry from the front and rushed up simultaneously. The
convulsive struggle within the breastwork was frightful; for an instant
the Blackfeet fought and yelled like pent-up tigers; but the butchery
was soon complete, and the mangled bodies lay piled up together under
the precipice. Not a Blackfoot made his escape.

As Paul finished his story we came in sight of Richard's Fort. It stood
in the middle of the plain; a disorderly crowd of men around it, and an
emigrant camp a little in front.

"Now, Paul," said I, "where are your Winnicongew lodges?"

"Not come yet," said Paul, "maybe come to-morrow."

Two large villages of a band of Dakota had come three hundred miles
from the Missouri, to join in the war, and they were expected to reach
Richard's that morning. There was as yet no sign of their approach; so
pushing through a noisy, drunken crowd, I entered an apartment of logs
and mud, the largest in the fort; it was full of men of various races
and complexions, all more or less drunk. A company of California
emigrants, it seemed, had made the discovery at this late day that they
had encumbered themselves with too many supplies for their journey.
A part, therefore, they had thrown away or sold at great loss to
the traders, but had determined to get rid of their copious stock of
Missouri whisky, by drinking it on the spot. Here were maudlin squaws
stretched on piles of buffalo robes; squalid Mexicans, armed with bows
and arrows; Indians sedately drunk; long-haired Canadians and trappers,
and American backwoodsmen in brown homespun, the well-beloved pistol and
bowie knife displayed openly at their sides. In the middle of the room a
tall, lank man, with a dingy broadcloth coat, was haranguing the company
in the style of the stump orator. With one hand he sawed the air, and
with the other clutched firmly a brown jug of whisky, which he applied
every moment to his lips, forgetting that he had drained the contents
long ago. Richard formally introduced me to this personage, who was no
less a man than Colonel R., once the leader of the party. Instantly the
colonel seizing me, in the absence of buttons by the leather fringes of
my frock, began to define his position. His men, he said, had mutinied
and deposed him; but still he exercised over them the influence of
a superior mind; in all but the name he was yet their chief. As the
colonel spoke, I looked round on the wild assemblage, and could not help
thinking that he was but ill qualified to conduct such men across the
desert to California. Conspicuous among the rest stood three tail
young men, grandsons of Daniel Boone. They had clearly inherited the
adventurous character of that prince of pioneers; but I saw no signs of
the quiet and tranquil spirit that so remarkably distinguished him.

Fearful was the fate that months after overtook some of the members of
that party. General Kearny, on his late return from California, brought
in the account how they were interrupted by the deep snows among the
mountains, and maddened by cold and hunger fed upon each other's flesh.

I got tired of the confusion. "Come, Paul," said I, "we will be off."
Paul sat in the sun, under the wall of the fort. He jumped up, mounted,
and we rode toward Fort Laramie. When we reached it, a man came out of
the gate with a pack at his back and a rifle on his shoulder; others
were gathering about him, shaking him by the hand, as if taking leave.
I thought it a strange thing that a man should set out alone and on
foot for the prairie. I soon got an explanation. Perrault--this, if
I recollect right was the Canadian's name--had quarreled with the
bourgeois, and the fort was too hot to hold him. Bordeaux, inflated with
his transient authority, had abused him, and received a blow in return.
The men then sprang at each other, and grappled in the middle of the
fort. Bordeaux was down in an instant, at the mercy of the incensed
Canadian; had not an old Indian, the brother of his squaw, seized hold
of his antagonist, he would have fared ill. Perrault broke loose from
the old Indian, and both the white men ran to their rooms for their
guns; but when Bordeaux, looking from his door, saw the Canadian, gun in
hand, standing in the area and calling on him to come out and fight,
his heart failed him; he chose to remain where he was. In vain the old
Indian, scandalized by his brother-in-law's cowardice, called upon him
to go upon the prairie and fight it out in the white man's manner; and
Bordeaux's own squaw, equally incensed, screamed to her lord and master
that he was a dog and an old woman. It all availed nothing. Bordeaux's
prudence got the better of his valor, and he would not stir. Perrault
stood showering approbrious epithets at the recent bourgeois. Growing
tired of this, he made up a pack of dried meat, and slinging it at his
back, set out alone for Fort Pierre on the Missouri, a distance of three
hundred miles, over a desert country full of hostile Indians.

I remained in the fort that night. In the morning, as I was coming
out from breakfast, conversing with a trader named McCluskey, I saw
a strange Indian leaning against the side of the gate. He was a tall,
strong man, with heavy features.

"Who is he?" I asked. "That's The Whirlwind," said McCluskey. "He is the
fellow that made all this stir about the war. It's always the way with
the Sioux; they never stop cutting each other's throats; it's all they
are fit for; instead of sitting in their lodges, and getting robes to
trade with us in the winter. If this war goes on, we'll make a poor
trade of it next season, I reckon."

And this was the opinion of all the traders, who were vehemently opposed
to the war, from the serious injury that it must occasion to their
interests. The Whirlwind left his village the day before to make a visit
to the fort. His warlike ardor had abated not a little since he
first conceived the design of avenging his son's death. The long and
complicated preparations for the expedition were too much for his
fickle, inconstant disposition. That morning Bordeaux fastened upon him,
made him presents and told him that if he went to war he would destroy
his horses and kill no buffalo to trade with the white men; in short,
that he was a fool to think of such a thing, and had better make up his
mind to sit quietly in his lodge and smoke his pipe, like a wise man.
The Whirlwind's purpose was evidently shaken; he had become tired, like
a child, of his favorite plan. Bordeaux exultingly predicted that he
would not go to war. My philanthropy at that time was no match for my
curiosity, and I was vexed at the possibility that after all I might
lose the rare opportunity of seeing the formidable ceremonies of
war. The Whirlwind, however, had merely thrown the firebrand; the
conflagration was become general. All the western bands of the Dakota
were bent on war; and as I heard from McCluskey, six large villages
already gathered on a little stream, forty miles distant, were daily
calling to the Great Spirit to aid them in their enterprise. McCluskey
had just left and represented them as on their way to La Bonte's Camp,
which they would reach in a week, UNLESS THEY SHOULD LEARN THAT THERE
WERE NO BUFFALO THERE. I did not like this condition, for buffalo
this season were rare in the neighborhood. There were also the two
Minnicongew villages that I mentioned before; but about noon, an Indian
came from Richard's Fort with the news that they were quarreling,
breaking up, and dispersing. So much for the whisky of the emigrants!
Finding themselves unable to drink the whole, they had sold the residue
to these Indians, and it needed no prophet to foretell the results; a
spark dropped into a powder magazine would not have produced a quicker
effect. Instantly the old jealousies and rivalries and smothered feuds
that exist in an Indian village broke out into furious quarrels. They
forgot the warlike enterprise that had already brought them three
hundred miles. They seemed like ungoverned children inflamed with the
fiercest passions of men. Several of them were stabbed in the drunken
tumult; and in the morning they scattered and moved back toward the
Missouri in small parties. I feared that, after all, the long-projected
meeting and the ceremonies that were to attend it might never take
place, and I should lose so admirable an opportunity of seeing the
Indian under his most fearful and characteristic aspect; however,
in foregoing this, I should avoid a very fair probability of being
plundered and stripped, and, it might be, stabbed or shot into the
bargain. Consoling myself with this reflection, I prepared to carry the
news, such as it was, to the camp.

I caught my horse, and to my vexation found he had lost a shoe and
broken his tender white hoof against the rocks. Horses are shod at Fort
Laramie at the moderate rate of three dollars a foot; so I tied
Hendrick to a beam in the corral, and summoned Roubidou, the blacksmith.
Roubidou, with the hoof between his knees, was at work with hammer and
file, and I was inspecting the process, when a strange voice addressed
me.

"Two more gone under! Well, there is more of us left yet. Here's Jean
Gars and me off to the mountains to-morrow. Our turn will come next, I
suppose. It's a hard life, anyhow!"

I looked up and saw a little man, not much more than five feet high, but
of very square and strong proportions. In appearance he was particularly
dingy; for his old buckskin frock was black and polished with time and
grease, and his belt, knife, pouch, and powder-horn appeared to have
seen the roughest service. The first joint of each foot was entirely
gone, having been frozen off several winters before, and his moccasins
were curtailed in proportion. His whole appearance and equipment bespoke
the "free trapper." He had a round ruddy face, animated with a spirit of
carelessness and gayety not at all in accordance with the words he had
just spoken.

"Two more gone," said I; "what do you mean by that?"

"Oh," said he, "the Arapahoes have just killed two of us in the
mountains. Old Bull-Tail has come to tell us. They stabbed one behind
his back, and shot the other with his own rifle. That's the way we live
here! I mean to give up trapping after this year. My squaw says she
wants a pacing horse and some red ribbons; I'll make enough beaver to
get them for her, and then I'm done! I'll go below and live on a farm."

"Your bones will dry on the prairie, Rouleau!" said another trapper, who
was standing by; a strong, brutal-looking fellow, with a face as surly
as a bull-dog's.

Rouleau only laughed, and began to hum a tune and shuffle a dance on his
stumps of feet.

"You'll see us, before long, passing up our way," said the other man.
"Well," said I, "stop and take a cup of coffee with us"; and as it was
quite late in the afternoon, I prepared to leave the fort at once.

As I rode out, a train of emigrant wagons was passing across the stream.
"Whar are ye goin' stranger?" Thus I was saluted by two or three voices
at once.

"About eighteen miles up the creek."

"It's mighty late to be going that far! Make haste, ye'd better, and
keep a bright lookout for Indians!"

I thought the advice too good to be neglected. Fording the stream, I
passed at a round trot over the plains beyond. But "the more haste, the
worse speed." I proved the truth in the proverb by the time I reached
the hills three miles from the fort. The trail was faintly marked, and
riding forward with more rapidity than caution, I lost sight of it. I
kept on in a direct line, guided by Laramie Creek, which I could see
at intervals darkly glistening in the evening sun, at the bottom of
the woody gulf on my right. Half an hour before sunset I came upon its
banks. There was something exciting in the wild solitude of the place.
An antelope sprang suddenly from the sagebushes before me. As he leaped
gracefully not thirty yards before my horse, I fired, and instantly he
spun round and fell. Quite sure of him, I walked my horse toward him,
leisurely reloading my rifle, when to my surprise he sprang up and
trotted rapidly away on three legs into the dark recesses of the hills,
whither I had no time to follow. Ten minutes after, I was passing along
the bottom of a deep valley, and chancing to look behind me, I saw in
the dim light that something was following. Supposing it to be wolf, I
slid from my seat and sat down behind my horse to shoot it; but as
it came up, I saw by its motions that it was another antelope. It
approached within a hundred yards, arched its graceful neck, and gazed
intently. I leveled at the white spot on its chest, and was about to
fire when it started off, ran first to one side and then to the other,
like a vessel tacking against a wind, and at last stretched away at full
speed. Then it stopped again, looked curiously behind it, and trotted up
as before; but not so boldly, for it soon paused and stood gazing at
me. I fired; it leaped upward and fell upon its tracks. Measuring the
distance, I found it 204 paces. When I stood by his side, the antelope
turned his expiring eye upward. It was like a beautiful woman's, dark
and rich. "Fortunate that I am in a hurry," thought I; "I might be
troubled with remorse, if I had time for it."

Cutting the animal up, not in the most skilled manner, I hung the meat
at the back of my saddle, and rode on again. The hills (I could not
remember one of them) closed around me. "It is too late," thought I,
"to go forward. I will stay here to-night, and look for the path in the
morning." As a last effort, however, I ascended a high hill, from which,
to my great satisfaction, I could see Laramie Creek stretching before
me, twisting from side to side amid ragged patches of timber; and
far off, close beneath the shadows of the trees, the ruins of the old
trading fort were visible. I reached them at twilight. It was far from
pleasant, in that uncertain light, to be pushing through the dense trees
and shrubbery of the grove beyond. I listened anxiously for the footfall
of man or beast. Nothing was stirring but one harmless brown bird,
chirping among the branches. I was glad when I gained the open prairie
once more, where I could see if anything approached. When I came to the
mouth of Chugwater, it was totally dark. Slackening the reins, I let my
horse take his own course. He trotted on with unerring instinct, and by
nine o'clock was scrambling down the steep ascent into the meadows where
we were encamped. While I was looking in vain for the light of the
fire, Hendrick, with keener perceptions, gave a loud neigh, which was
immediately answered in a shrill note from the distance. In a moment I
was hailed from the darkness by the voice of Reynal, who had come out,
rifle in hand, to see who was approaching.

He, with his squaw, the two Canadians and the Indian boys, were the sole
inmates of the camp, Shaw and Henry Chatillon being still absent. At
noon of the following day they came back, their horses looking none the
better for the journey. Henry seemed dejected. The woman was dead, and
his children must henceforward be exposed, without a protector, to the
hardships and vicissitudes of Indian life. Even in the midst of his
grief he had not forgotten his attachment to his bourgeois, for he had
procured among his Indian relatives two beautifully ornamented buffalo
robes, which he spread on the ground as a present to us.

Shaw lighted his pipe, and told me in a few words the history of his
journey. When I went to the fort they left me, as I mentioned, at the
mouth of Chugwater. They followed the course of the little stream all
day, traversing a desolate and barren country. Several times they came
upon the fresh traces of a large war party--the same, no doubt, from
whom we had so narrowly escaped an attack. At an hour before sunset,
without encountering a human being by the way, they came upon the lodges
of the squaw and her brothers, who, in compliance with Henry's message,
had left the Indian village in order to join us at our camp. The lodges
were already pitched, five in number, by the side of the stream. The
woman lay in one of them, reduced to a mere skeleton. For some time she
had been unable to move or speak. Indeed, nothing had kept her alive
but the hope of seeing Henry, to whom she was strongly and faithfully
attached. No sooner did he enter the lodge than she revived, and
conversed with him the greater part of the night. Early in the morning
she was lifted into a travail, and the whole party set out toward our
camp. There were but five warriors; the rest were women and children.
The whole were in great alarm at the proximity of the Crow war party,
who would certainly have destroyed them without mercy had they met. They
had advanced only a mile or two, when they discerned a horseman, far
off, on the edge of the horizon. They all stopped, gathering together in
the greatest anxiety, from which they did not recover until long after
the horseman disappeared; then they set out again. Henry was riding with
Shaw a few rods in advance of the Indians, when Mahto-Tatonka, a younger
brother of the woman, hastily called after them. Turning back, they
found all the Indians crowded around the travail in which the woman was
lying. They reached her just in time to hear the death-rattle in
her throat. In a moment she lay dead in the basket of the vehicle. A
complete stillness succeeded; then the Indians raised in concert their
cries of lamentation over the corpse, and among them Shaw clearly
distinguished those strange sounds resembling the word "Halleluyah,"
which together with some other accidental coincidences has given rise
to the absurd theory that the Indians are descended from the ten lost
tribes of Israel.

The Indian usage required that Henry, as well as the other relatives of
the woman, should make valuable presents, to be placed by the side of
the body at its last resting place. Leaving the Indians, he and Shaw set
out for the camp and reached it, as we have seen, by hard pushing, at
about noon. Having obtained the necessary articles, they immediately
returned. It was very late and quite dark when they again reached the
lodges. They were all placed in a deep hollow among the dreary hills.
Four of them were just visible through the gloom, but the fifth and
largest was illuminated by the ruddy blaze of a fire within, glowing
through the half-transparent covering of raw hides. There was a perfect
stillness as they approached. The lodges seemed without a tenant. Not a
living thing was stirring--there was something awful in the scene. They
rode up to the entrance of the lodge, and there was no sound but the
tramp of their horses. A squaw came out and took charge of the animals,
without speaking a word. Entering, they found the lodge crowded with
Indians; a fire was burning in the midst, and the mourners encircled
it in a triple row. Room was made for the newcomers at the head of the
lodge, a robe spread for them to sit upon, and a pipe lighted and handed
to them in perfect silence. Thus they passed the greater part of the
night. At times the fire would subside into a heap of embers, until the
dark figures seated around it were scarcely visible; then a squaw would
drop upon it a piece of buffalo-fat, and a bright flame, instantly
springing up, would reveal of a sudden the crowd of wild faces,
motionless as bronze. The silence continued unbroken. It was a relief
to Shaw when daylight returned and he could escape from this house of
mourning. He and Henry prepared to return homeward; first, however, they
placed the presents they had brought near the body of the squaw, which,
most gaudily attired, remained in a sitting posture in one of the
lodges. A fine horse was picketed not far off, destined to be killed
that morning for the service of her spirit, for the woman was lame, and
could not travel on foot over the dismal prairies to the villages of
the dead. Food, too, was provided, and household implements, for her use
upon this last journey.

Henry left her to the care of her relatives, and came immediately with
Shaw to the camp. It was some time before he entirely recovered from his
dejection.



CHAPTER XI

SCENES AT THE CAMP


Reynal heard guns fired one day, at the distance of a mile or two from
the camp. He grew nervous instantly. Visions of Crow war parties began
to haunt his imagination; and when we returned (for we were all absent),
he renewed his complaints about being left alone with the Canadians
and the squaw. The day after, the cause of the alarm appeared. Four
trappers, one called Moran, another Saraphin, and the others nicknamed
"Rouleau" and "Jean Gras," came to our camp and joined us. They it was
who fired the guns and disturbed the dreams of our confederate Reynal.
They soon encamped by our side. Their rifles, dingy and battered with
hard service, rested with ours against the old tree; their strong rude
saddles, their buffalo robes, their traps, and the few rough and simple
articles of their traveling equipment, were piled near our tent. Their
mountain horses were turned to graze in the meadow among our own; and
the men themselves, no less rough and hardy, used to lie half the day in
the shade of our tree lolling on the grass, lazily smoking, and telling
stories of their adventures; and I defy the annals of chivalry to
furnish the record of a life more wild and perilous than that of a Rocky
Mountain trapper.

With this efficient re-enforcement the agitation of Reynal's nerves
subsided. He began to conceive a sort of attachment to our old camping
ground; yet it was time to change our quarters, since remaining too long
on one spot must lead to certain unpleasant results not to be borne
with unless in a case of dire necessity. The grass no longer presented a
smooth surface of turf; it was trampled into mud and clay. So we removed
to another old tree, larger yet, that grew by the river side at a
furlong's distance. Its trunk was full six feet in diameter; on one
side it was marked by a party of Indians with various inexplicable
hieroglyphics, commemorating some warlike enterprise, and aloft among
the branches were the remains of a scaffolding, where dead bodies had
once been deposited, after the Indian manner.

"There comes Bull-Bear," said Henry Chatillon, as we sat on the grass at
dinner. Looking up, we saw several horsemen coming over the neighboring
hill, and in a moment four stately young men rode up and dismounted.
One of them was Bull-Bear, or Mahto-Tatonka, a compound name which he
inherited from his father, the most powerful chief in the Ogallalla
band. One of his brothers and two other young men accompanied him. We
shook hands with the visitors, and when we had finished our meal--for
this is the orthodox manner of entertaining Indians, even the best of
them--we handed to each a tin cup of coffee and a biscuit, at which they
ejaculated from the bottom of their throats, "How! how!" a monosyllable
by which an Indian contrives to express half the emotions that he is
susceptible of. Then we lighted the pipe, and passed it to them as they
squatted on the ground.

"Where is the village?"

"There," said Mahto-Tatonka, pointing southward; "it will come in two
days."

"Will they go to the war?"

"Yes."

No man is a philanthropist on the prairie. We welcomed this news most
cordially, and congratulated ourselves that Bordeaux's interested
efforts to divert The Whirlwind from his congenial vocation of bloodshed
had failed of success, and that no additional obstacles would interpose
between us and our plan of repairing to the rendezvous at La Bonte's
Camp.

For that and several succeeding days, Mahto-Tatonka and his friends
remained our guests. They devoured the relics of our meals; they filled
the pipe for us and also helped us to smoke it. Sometimes they stretched
themselves side by side in the shade, indulging in raillery and
practical jokes ill becoming the dignity of brave and aspiring warriors,
such as two of them in reality were.

Two days dragged away, and on the morning of the third we hoped
confidently to see the Indian village. It did not come; so we rode out
to look for it. In place of the eight hundred Indians we expected, we
met one solitary savage riding toward us over the prairie, who told
us that the Indians had changed their plans, and would not come within
three days; still he persisted that they were going to the war. Taking
along with us this messenger of evil tidings, we retraced our footsteps
to the camp, amusing ourselves by the way with execrating Indian
inconstancy. When we came in sight of our little white tent under the
big tree, we saw that it no longer stood alone. A huge old lodge was
erected close by its side, discolored by rain and storms, rotted with
age, with the uncouth figures of horses and men, and outstretched hands
that were painted upon it, well-nigh obliterated. The long poles which
supported this squalid habitation thrust themselves rakishly out from
its pointed top, and over its entrance were suspended a "medicine-pipe"
and various other implements of the magic art. While we were yet at a
distance, we observed a greatly increased population of various colors
and dimensions, swarming around our quiet encampment. Moran, the
trapper, having been absent for a day or two, had returned, it seemed,
bringing all his family with him. He had taken to himself a wife for
whom he had paid the established price of one horse. This looks cheap at
first sight, but in truth the purchase of a squaw is a transaction which
no man should enter into without mature deliberation, since it involves
not only the payment of the first price, but the formidable burden of
feeding and supporting a rapacious horde of the bride's relatives, who
hold themselves entitled to feed upon the indiscreet white man. They
gather round like leeches, and drain him of all he has.

Moran, like Reynal, had not allied himself to an aristocratic circle.
His relatives occupied but a contemptible position in Ogallalla society;
for among those wild democrats of the prairie, as among us, there are
virtual distinctions of rank and place; though this great advantage they
have over us, that wealth has no part in determining such distinctions.
Moran's partner was not the most beautiful of her sex, and he had the
exceedingly bad taste to array her in an old calico gown bought from
an emigrant woman, instead of the neat and graceful tunic of whitened
deerskin worn ordinarily by the squaws. The moving spirit of the
establishment, in more senses than one, was a hideous old hag of eighty.
Human imagination never conceived hobgoblin or witch more ugly than she.
You could count all her ribs through the wrinkles of the leathery skin
that covered them. Her withered face more resembled an old skull than
the countenance of a living being, even to the hollow, darkened sockets,
at the bottom of which glittered her little black eyes. Her arms had
dwindled away into nothing but whipcord and wire. Her hair, half black,
half gray, hung in total neglect nearly to the ground, and her sole
garment consisted of the remnant of a discarded buffalo robe tied round
her waist with a string of hide. Yet the old squaw's meager anatomy was
wonderfully strong. She pitched the lodge, packed the horses, and did
the hardest labor of the camp. From morning till night she bustled about
the lodge, screaming like a screech-owl when anything displeased her.
Then there was her brother, a "medicine-man," or magician, equally
gaunt and sinewy with herself. His mouth spread from ear to ear, and his
appetite, as we had full occasion to learn, was ravenous in proportion.
The other inmates of the lodge were a young bride and bridegroom; the
latter one of those idle, good-for nothing fellows who infest an Indian
village as well as more civilized communities. He was fit neither
for hunting nor for war; and one might infer as much from the stolid
unmeaning expression of his face. The happy pair had just entered upon
the honeymoon. They would stretch a buffalo robe upon poles, so as to
protect them from the fierce rays of the sun, and spreading beneath this
rough canopy a luxuriant couch of furs, would sit affectionately side
by side for half the day, though I could not discover that much
conversation passed between them. Probably they had nothing to say; for
an Indian's supply of topics for conversation is far from being copious.
There were half a dozen children, too, playing and whooping about the
camp, shooting birds with little bows and arrows, or making miniature
lodges of sticks, as children of a different complexion build houses of
blocks.

A day passed, and Indians began rapidly to come in. Parties of two or
three or more would ride up and silently seat themselves on the grass.
The fourth day came at last, when about noon horsemen suddenly appeared
into view on the summit of the neighboring ridge. They descended, and
behind them followed a wild procession, hurrying in haste and disorder
down the hill and over the plain below; horses, mules, and dogs, heavily
burdened travaux, mounted warriors, squaws walking amid the throng, and
a host of children. For a full half-hour they continued to pour down;
and keeping directly to the bend of the stream, within a furlong of us,
they soon assembled there, a dark and confused throng, until, as if
by magic, 150 tall lodges sprung up. On a sudden the lonely plain was
transformed into the site of a miniature city. Countless horses were
soon grazing over the meadows around us, and the whole prairie was
animated by restless figures careening on horseback, or sedately
stalking in their long white robes. The Whirlwind was come at last! One
question yet remained to be answered: "Will he go to the war, in order
that we, with so respectable an escort, may pass over to the somewhat
perilous rendezvous at La Bonte's Camp?"

Still this remained in doubt. Characteristic indecision perplexed their
councils. Indians cannot act in large bodies. Though their object be of
the highest importance, they cannot combine to attain it by a series of
connected efforts. King Philip, Pontiac, and Tecumseh all felt this to
their cost. The Ogallalla once had a war chief who could control
them; but he was dead, and now they were left to the sway of their own
unsteady impulses.

This Indian village and its inhabitants will hold a prominent place in
the rest of the narrative, and perhaps it may not be amiss to glance for
an instant at the savage people of which they form a part. The Dakota
(I prefer this national designation to the unmeaning French name, Sioux)
range over a vast territory, from the river St. Peter's to the Rocky
Mountains themselves. They are divided into several independent bands,
united under no central government, and acknowledge no common head.
The same language, usages, and superstitions form the sole bond between
them. They do not unite even in their wars. The bands of the east fight
the Ojibwas on the Upper Lakes; those of the west make incessant war
upon the Snake Indians in the Rocky Mountains. As the whole people is
divided into bands, so each band is divided into villages. Each village
has a chief, who is honored and obeyed only so far as his personal
qualities may command respect and fear. Sometimes he is a mere nominal
chief; sometimes his authority is little short of absolute, and his fame
and influence reach even beyond his own village; so that the whole band
to which he belongs is ready to acknowledge him as their head. This was,
a few years since, the case with the Ogallalla. Courage, address, and
enterprise may raise any warrior to the highest honor, especially if
he be the son of a former chief, or a member of a numerous family, to
support him and avenge his quarrels; but when he has reached the dignity
of chief, and the old men and warriors, by a peculiar ceremony, have
formally installed him, let it not be imagined that he assumes any of
the outward semblances of rank and honor. He knows too well on how
frail a tenure he holds his station. He must conciliate his uncertain
subjects. Many a man in the village lives better, owns more squaws and
more horses, and goes better clad than he. Like the Teutonic chiefs of
old, he ingratiates himself with his young men by making them presents,
thereby often impoverishing himself. Does he fail in gaining their
favor, they will set his authority at naught, and may desert him at any
moment; for the usages of his people have provided no sanctions by which
he may enforce his authority. Very seldom does it happen, at least among
these western bands, that a chief attains to much power, unless he is
the head of a numerous family. Frequently the village is principally
made up of his relatives and descendants, and the wandering community
assumes much of the patriarchal character. A people so loosely united,
torn, too, with ranking feuds and jealousies, can have little power or
efficiency.

The western Dakota have no fixed habitations. Hunting and fighting, they
wander incessantly through summer and winter. Some are following the
herds of buffalo over the waste of prairie; others are traversing the
Black Hills, thronging on horseback and on foot through the dark gulfs
and somber gorges beneath the vast splintering precipices, and emerging
at last upon the "Parks," those beautiful but most perilous hunting
grounds. The buffalo supplies them with almost all the necessaries of
life; with habitations, food, clothing, and fuel; with strings for
their bows, with thread, cordage, and trail-ropes for their horses, with
coverings for their saddles, with vessels to hold water, with boats to
cross streams, with glue, and with the means of purchasing all that they
desire from the traders. When the buffalo are extinct, they too must
dwindle away.

War is the breath of their nostrils. Against most of the neighboring
tribes they cherish a deadly, rancorous hatred, transmitted from father
to son, and inflamed by constant aggression and retaliation. Many times
a year, in every village, the Great Spirit is called upon, fasts are
made, the war parade is celebrated, and the warriors go out by handfuls
at a time against the enemy. This fierce and evil spirit awakens their
most eager aspirations, and calls forth their greatest energies. It is
chiefly this that saves them from lethargy and utter abasement. Without
its powerful stimulus they would be like the unwarlike tribes beyond
the mountains, who are scattered among the caves and rocks like beasts,
living on roots and reptiles. These latter have little of humanity
except the form; but the proud and ambitious Dakota warrior can
sometimes boast of heroic virtues. It is very seldom that distinction
and influence are attained among them by any other course than that of
arms. Their superstition, however, sometimes gives great power, to those
among them who pretend to the character of magicians. Their wild hearts,
too, can feel the power of oratory, and yield deference to the masters
of it.

But to return. Look into our tent, or enter, if you can bear the
stifling smoke and the close atmosphere. There, wedged close together,
you will see a circle of stout warriors, passing the pipe around,
joking, telling stories, and making themselves merry, after their
fashion. We were also infested by little copper-colored naked boys and
snake-eyed girls. They would come up to us, muttering certain words,
which being interpreted conveyed the concise invitation, "Come and eat."
Then we would rise, cursing the pertinacity of Dakota hospitality, which
allowed scarcely an hour of rest between sun and sun, and to which we
were bound to do honor, unless we would offend our entertainers. This
necessity was particularly burdensome to me, as I was scarcely able to
walk, from the effects of illness, and was of course poorly qualified
to dispose of twenty meals a day. Of these sumptuous banquets I gave a
specimen in a former chapter, where the tragical fate of the little dog
was chronicled. So bounteous an entertainment looks like an outgushing
of good will; but doubtless one-half at least of our kind hosts, had
they met us alone and unarmed on the prairie, would have robbed us of
our horses, and perchance have bestowed an arrow upon us beside. Trust
not an Indian. Let your rifle be ever in your hand. Wear next your heart
the old chivalric motto SEMPER PARATUS.

One morning we were summoned to the lodge of an old man, in good truth
the Nestor of his tribe. We found him half sitting, half reclining on a
pile of buffalo robes; his long hair, jet-black even now, though he
had seen some eighty winters, hung on either side of his thin features.
Those most conversant with Indians in their homes will scarcely believe
me when I affirm that there was dignity in his countenance and mien. His
gaunt but symmetrical frame, did not more clearly exhibit the wreck of
bygone strength, than did his dark, wasted features, still prominent and
commanding, bear the stamp of mental energies. I recalled, as I saw him,
the eloquent metaphor of the Iroquois sachem: "I am an aged hemlock; the
winds of a hundred winters have whistled through my branches, and I
am dead at the top!" Opposite the patriarch was his nephew, the young
aspirant Mahto-Tatonka; and besides these, there were one or two women
in the lodge.

The old man's story is peculiar, and singularly illustrative of a
superstitious custom that prevails in full force among many of the
Indian tribes. He was one of a powerful family, renowned for their
warlike exploits. When a very young man, he submitted to the singular
rite to which most of the tribe subject themselves before entering
upon life. He painted his face black; then seeking out a cavern in a
sequestered part of the Black Hills, he lay for several days, fasting
and praying to the Great Spirit. In the dreams and visions produced by
his weakened and excited state, he fancied like all Indians, that he
saw supernatural revelations. Again and again the form of an antelope
appeared before him. The antelope is the graceful peace spirit of the
Ogallalla; but seldom is it that such a gentle visitor presents itself
during the initiatory fasts of their young men. The terrible grizzly
bear, the divinity of war, usually appears to fire them with martial
ardor and thirst for renown. At length the antelope spoke. He told the
young dreamer that he was not to follow the path of war; that a life of
peace and tranquillity was marked out for him; that henceforward he was
to guide the people by his counsels and protect them from the evils of
their own feuds and dissensions. Others were to gain renown by fighting
the enemy; but greatness of a different kind was in store for him.

The visions beheld during the period of this fast usually determine
the whole course of the dreamer's life, for an Indian is bound by iron
superstitions. From that time, Le Borgne, which was the only name by
which we knew him, abandoned all thoughts of war and devoted himself to
the labors of peace. He told his vision to the people. They honored his
commission and respected him in his novel capacity.

A far different man was his brother, Mahto-Tatonka, who had transmitted
his names, his features, and many of his characteristic qualities to his
son. He was the father of Henry Chatillon's squaw, a circumstance which
proved of some advantage to us, as securing for us the friendship of
a family perhaps the most distinguished and powerful in the whole
Ogallalla band. Mahto-Tatonka, in his rude way, was a hero. No chief
could vie with him in warlike renown, or in power over his people. He
had a fearless spirit, and a most impetuous and inflexible resolution.
His will was law. He was politic and sagacious, and with true Indian
craft he always befriended the whites, well knowing that he might
thus reap great advantages for himself and his adherents. When he had
resolved on any course of conduct, he would pay to the warriors the
empty compliment of calling them together to deliberate upon it, and
when their debates were over, he would quietly state his own opinion,
which no one ever disputed. The consequences of thwarting his imperious
will were too formidable to be encountered. Woe to those who incurred
his displeasure! He would strike them or stab them on the spot; and this
act, which, if attempted by any other chief, would instantly have cost
him his life, the awe inspired by his name enabled him to repeat again
and again with impunity. In a community where, from immemorial time,
no man has acknowledged any law but his own will, Mahto-Tatonka, by the
force of his dauntless resolution, raised himself to power little short
of despotic. His haughty career came at last to an end. He had a host
of enemies only waiting for their opportunity of revenge, and our old
friend Smoke, in particular, together with all his kinsmen, hated him
most cordially. Smoke sat one day in his lodge in the midst of his
own village, when Mahto-Tatonka entered it alone, and approaching the
dwelling of his enemy, called on him in a loud voice to come out, if
he were a man, and fight. Smoke would not move. At this, Mahto-Tatonka
proclaimed him a coward and an old woman, and striding close to the
entrance of the lodge, stabbed the chief's best horse, which was
picketed there. Smoke was daunted, and even this insult failed to call
him forth. Mahto-Tatonka moved haughtily away; all made way for him, but
his hour of reckoning was near.

One hot day, five or six years ago, numerous lodges of Smoke's kinsmen
were gathered around some of the Fur Company's men, who were trading
in various articles with them, whisky among the rest. Mahto-Tatonka was
also there with a few of his people. As he lay in his own lodge, a fray
arose between his adherents and the kinsmen of his enemy. The war-whoop
was raised, bullets and arrows began to fly, and the camp was in
confusion. The chief sprang up, and rushing in a fury from the lodge
shouted to the combatants on both sides to cease. Instantly--for the
attack was preconcerted--came the reports of two or three guns, and the
twanging of a dozen bows, and the savage hero, mortally wounded, pitched
forward headlong to the ground. Rouleau was present, and told me the
particulars. The tumult became general, and was not quelled until
several had fallen on both sides. When we were in the country the feud
between the two families was still rankling, and not likely soon to
cease.

Thus died Mahto-Tatonka, but he left behind him a goodly army of
descendants, to perpetuate his renown and avenge his fate. Besides
daughters he had thirty sons, a number which need not stagger the
credulity of those who are best acquainted with Indian usages and
practices. We saw many of them, all marked by the same dark complexion
and the same peculiar cast of features. Of these our visitor, young
Mahto-Tatonka, was the eldest, and some reported him as likely to
succeed to his father's honors. Though he appeared not more than
twenty-one years old, he had oftener struck the enemy, and stolen more
horses and more squaws than any young man in the village. We of the
civilized world are not apt to attach much credit to the latter
species of exploits; but horse-stealing is well known as an avenue
to distinction on the prairies, and the other kind of depredation is
esteemed equally meritorious. Not that the act can confer fame from
its own intrinsic merits. Any one can steal a squaw, and if he chooses
afterward to make an adequate present to her rightful proprietor,
the easy husband for the most part rests content, his vengeance falls
asleep, and all danger from that quarter is averted. Yet this is
esteemed but a pitiful and mean-spirited transaction. The danger is
averted, but the glory of the achievement also is lost. Mahto-Tatonka
proceeded after a more gallant and dashing fashion. Out of several dozen
squaws whom he had stolen, he could boast that he had never paid for
one, but snapping his fingers in the face of the injured husband, had
defied the extremity of his indignation, and no one yet had dared to lay
the finger of violence upon him. He was following close in the footsteps
of his father. The young men and the young squaws, each in their way,
admired him. The one would always follow him to war, and he was esteemed
to have unrivaled charm in the eyes of the other. Perhaps his impunity
may excite some wonder. An arrow shot from a ravine, a stab given in the
dark, require no great valor, and are especially suited to the Indian
genius; but Mahto-Tatonka had a strong protection. It was not alone his
courage and audacious will that enabled him to career so dashingly
among his compeers. His enemies did not forget that he was one of thirty
warlike brethren, all growing up to manhood. Should they wreak their
anger upon him, many keen eyes would be ever upon them, many fierce
hearts would thirst for their blood. The avenger would dog their
footsteps everywhere. To kill Mahto-Tatonka would be no better than an
act of suicide.

Though he found such favor in the eyes of the fair, he was no dandy. As
among us those of highest worth and breeding are most simple in manner
and attire, so our aspiring young friend was indifferent to the gaudy
trappings and ornaments of his companions. He was content to rest his
chances of success upon his own warlike merits. He never arrayed himself
in gaudy blanket and glittering necklaces, but left his statue-like
form, limbed like an Apollo of bronze, to win its way to favor. His
voice was singularly deep and strong. It sounded from his chest like the
deep notes of an organ. Yet after all, he was but an Indian. See him as
he lies there in the sun before our tent, kicking his heels in the air
and cracking jokes with his brother. Does he look like a hero? See him
now in the hour of his glory, when at sunset the whole village empties
itself to behold him, for to-morrow their favorite young partisan goes
out against the enemy. His superb headdress is adorned with a crest of
the war eagle's feathers, rising in a waving ridge above his brow, and
sweeping far behind him. His round white shield hangs at his breast,
with feathers radiating from the center like a star. His quiver is at
his back; his tall lance in his hand, the iron point flashing against
the declining sun, while the long scalp-locks of his enemies flutter
from the shaft. Thus, gorgeous as a champion in his panoply, he rides
round and round within the great circle of lodges, balancing with a
graceful buoyancy to the free movements of his war horse, while with a
sedate brow he sings his song to the Great Spirit. Young rival warriors
look askance at him; vermilion-cheeked girls gaze in admiration, boys
whoop and scream in a thrill of delight, and old women yell forth his
name and proclaim his praises from lodge to lodge.

Mahto-Tatonka, to come back to him, was the best of all our Indian
friends. Hour after hour and day after day, when swarms of savages of
every age, sex, and degree beset our camp, he would lie in our tent, his
lynx eye ever open to guard our property from pillage.

The Whirlwind invited us one day to his lodge. The feast was finished,
and the pipe began to circulate. It was a remarkably large and fine one,
and I expressed my admiration of its form and dimensions.

"If the Meneaska likes the pipe," asked The Whirlwind, "why does he not
keep it?"

Such a pipe among the Ogallalla is valued at the price of a horse.
A princely gift, thinks the reader, and worthy of a chieftain and a
warrior. The Whirlwind's generosity rose to no such pitch. He gave
me the pipe, confidently expecting that I in return should make him a
present of equal or superior value. This is the implied condition of
every gift among the Indians as among the Orientals, and should it not
be complied with the present is usually reclaimed by the giver. So I
arranged upon a gaudy calico handkerchief, an assortment of vermilion,
tobacco, knives, and gunpowder, and summoning the chief to camp, assured
him of my friendship and begged his acceptance of a slight token of it.
Ejaculating HOW! HOW! he folded up the offerings and withdrew to his
lodge.

Several days passed and we and the Indians remained encamped side by
side. They could not decide whether or not to go to war. Toward evening,
scores of them would surround our tent, a picturesque group. Late one
afternoon a party of them mounted on horseback came suddenly in sight
from behind some clumps of bushes that lined the bank of the stream,
leading with them a mule, on whose back was a wretched negro, only
sustained in his seat by the high pommel and cantle of the Indian
saddle. His cheeks were withered and shrunken in the hollow of his jaws;
his eyes were unnaturally dilated, and his lips seemed shriveled and
drawn back from his teeth like those of a corpse. When they brought him
up before our tent, and lifted him from the saddle, he could not walk or
stand, but he crawled a short distance, and with a look of utter misery
sat down on the grass. All the children and women came pouring out of
the lodges round us, and with screams and cries made a close circle
about him, while he sat supporting himself with his hands, and looking
from side to side with a vacant stare. The wretch was starving to death!
For thirty-three days he had wandered alone on the prairie, without
weapon of any kind; without shoes, moccasins, or any other clothing than
an old jacket and pantaloons; without intelligence and skill to guide
his course, or any knowledge of the productions of the prairie. All this
time he had subsisted on crickets and lizards, wild onions, and three
eggs which he found in the nest of a prairie dove. He had not seen a
human being. Utterly bewildered in the boundless, hopeless desert that
stretched around him, offering to his inexperienced eye no mark by which
to direct his course, he had walked on in despair till he could walk no
longer, and then crawled on his knees until the bone was laid bare. He
chose the night for his traveling, lying down by day to sleep in the
glaring sun, always dreaming, as he said, of the broth and corn cake he
used to eat under his old master's shed in Missouri. Every man in the
camp, both white and red, was astonished at his wonderful escape not
only from starvation but from the grizzly bears which abound in that
neighborhood, and the wolves which howled around him every night.

Reynal recognized him the moment the Indians brought him in. He had
run away from his master about a year before and joined the party of
M. Richard, who was then leaving the frontier for the mountains. He had
lived with Richard ever since, until in the end of May he with Reynal
and several other men went out in search of some stray horses, when he
got separated from the rest in a storm, and had never been heard of up
to this time. Knowing his inexperience and helplessness, no one dreamed
that he could still be living. The Indians had found him lying exhausted
on the ground.

As he sat there with the Indians gazing silently on him, his haggard
face and glazed eye were disgusting to look upon. Delorier made him
a bowl of gruel, but he suffered it to remain untasted before him. At
length he languidly raised the spoon to his lips; again he did so, and
again; and then his appetite seemed suddenly inflamed into madness, for
he seized the bowl, swallowed all its contents in a few seconds, and
eagerly demanded meat. This we refused, telling him to wait until
morning, but he begged so eagerly that we gave him a small piece, which
he devoured, tearing it like a dog. He said he must have more. We told
him that his life was in danger if he ate so immoderately at first.
He assented, and said he knew he was a fool to do so, but he must
have meat. This we absolutely refused, to the great indignation of the
senseless squaws, who, when we were not watching him, would slyly bring
dried meat and POMMES BLANCHES, and place them on the ground by his
side. Still this was not enough for him. When it grew dark he contrived
to creep away between the legs of the horses and crawl over to the
Indian village, about a furlong down the stream. Here he fed to his
heart's content, and was brought back again in the morning, when Jean
Gras, the trapper, put him on horseback and carried him to the fort.
He managed to survive the effects of his insane greediness, and
though slightly deranged when we left this part of the country, he was
otherwise in tolerable health, and expressed his firm conviction that
nothing could ever kill him.

When the sun was yet an hour high, it was a gay scene in the village.
The warriors stalked sedately among the lodges, or along the margin
of the streams, or walked out to visit the bands of horses that were
feeding over the prairie. Half the village population deserted the close
and heated lodges and betook themselves to the water; and here you might
see boys and girls and young squaws splashing, swimming, and diving
beneath the afternoon sun, with merry laughter and screaming. But
when the sun was just resting above the broken peaks, and the purple
mountains threw their prolonged shadows for miles over the prairie; when
our grim old tree, lighted by the horizontal rays, assumed an aspect
of peaceful repose, such as one loves after scenes of tumult and
excitement; and when the whole landscape of swelling plains and
scattered groves was softened into a tranquil beauty, then our
encampment presented a striking spectacle. Could Salvator Rosa have
transferred it to his canvas, it would have added new renown to his
pencil. Savage figures surrounded our tent, with quivers at their backs,
and guns, lances, or tomahawks in their hands. Some sat on horseback,
motionless as equestrian statues, their arms crossed on their breasts,
their eyes fixed in a steady unwavering gaze upon us. Some stood erect,
wrapped from head to foot in their long white robes of buffalo hide.
Some sat together on the grass, holding their shaggy horses by a rope,
with their broad dark busts exposed to view as they suffered their robes
to fall from their shoulders. Others again stood carelessly among the
throng, with nothing to conceal the matchless symmetry of their forms;
and I do not exaggerate when I say that only on the prairie and in the
Vatican have I seen such faultless models of the human figure. See that
warrior standing by the tree, towering six feet and a half in stature.
Your eyes may trace the whole of his graceful and majestic height, and
discover no defect or blemish. With his free and noble attitude, with
the bow in his hand, and the quiver at his back, he might seem, but
for his face, the Pythian Apollo himself. Such a figure rose before the
imagination of West, when on first seeing the Belvidere in the Vatican,
he exclaimed, "By God, a Mohawk!"

When the sky darkened and the stars began to appear; when the prairie
was involved in gloom and the horses were driven in and secured around
the camp, the crowd began to melt away. Fires gleamed around, duskily
revealing the rough trappers and the graceful Indians. One of the
families near us would always be gathered about a bright blaze, that
displayed the shadowy dimensions of their lodge, and sent its lights
far up among the masses of foliage above, gilding the dead and ragged
branches. Withered witchlike hags flitted around the blaze, and here for
hour after hour sat a circle of children and young girls, laughing and
talking, their round merry faces glowing in the ruddy light. We could
hear the monotonous notes of the drum from the Indian village, with the
chant of the war song, deadened in the distance, and the long chorus of
quavering yells, where the war dance was going on in the largest lodge.
For several nights, too, we could hear wild and mournful cries, rising
and dying away like the melancholy voice of a wolf. They came from the
sisters and female relatives of Mahto-Tatonka, who were gashing their
limbs with knives, and bewailing the death of Henry Chatillon's squaw.
The hour would grow late before all retired to rest in the camp.
Then the embers of the fires would be glowing dimly, the men would be
stretched in their blankets on the ground, and nothing could be heard
but the restless motions of the crowded horses.

I recall these scenes with a mixed feeling of pleasure and pain. At
this time I was so reduced by illness that I could seldom walk without
reeling like a drunken man, and when I rose from my seat upon the ground
the landscape suddenly grew dim before my eyes, the trees and lodges
seemed to sway to and fro, and the prairie to rise and fall like the
swells of the ocean. Such a state of things is by no means enviable
anywhere. In a country where a man's life may at any moment depend on
the strength of his arm, or it may be on the activity of his legs, it is
more particularly inconvenient. Medical assistance of course there was
none; neither had I the means of pursuing a system of diet; and sleeping
on a damp ground, with an occasional drenching from a shower, would
hardly be recommended as beneficial. I sometimes suffered the
extremity of languor and exhaustion, and though at the time I felt
no apprehensions of the final result, I have since learned that my
situation was a critical one.

Besides other formidable inconveniences I owe it in a great measure to
the remote effects of that unlucky disorder that from deficient
eyesight I am compelled to employ the pen of another in taking down
this narrative from my lips; and I have learned very effectually that a
violent attack of dysentery on the prairie is a thing too serious for
a joke. I tried repose and a very sparing diet. For a long time, with
exemplary patience, I lounged about the camp, or at the utmost staggered
over to the Indian village, and walked faint and dizzy among the lodges.
It would not do, and I bethought me of starvation. During five days I
sustained life on one small biscuit a day. At the end of that time I was
weaker than before, but the disorder seemed shaken in its stronghold and
very gradually I began to resume a less rigid diet. No sooner had I done
so than the same detested symptoms revisited me; my old enemy resumed
his pertinacious assaults, yet not with his former violence or
constancy, and though before I regained any fair portion of my ordinary
strength weeks had elapsed, and months passed before the disorder left
me, yet thanks to old habits of activity, and a merciful Providence, I
was able to sustain myself against it.

I used to lie languid and dreamy before our tent and muse on the past
and the future, and when most overcome with lassitude, my eyes turned
always toward the distant Black Hills. There is a spirit of energy
and vigor in mountains, and they impart it to all who approach their
presence. At that time I did not know how many dark superstitions and
gloomy legends are associated with those mountains in the minds of the
Indians, but I felt an eager desire to penetrate their hidden recesses,
to explore the awful chasms and precipices, the black torrents, the
silent forests, that I fancied were concealed there.



CHAPTER XII

ILL LUCK


A Canadian came from Fort Laramie, and brought a curious piece of
intelligence. A trapper, fresh from the mountains, had become enamored
of a Missouri damsel belonging to a family who with other emigrants had
been for some days encamped in the neighborhood of the fort. If bravery
be the most potent charm to win the favor of the fair, then no wooer
could be more irresistible than a Rocky Mountain trapper. In the present
instance, the suit was not urged in vain. The lovers concerted a scheme,
which they proceeded to carry into effect with all possible dispatch.
The emigrant party left the fort, and on the next succeeding night but
one encamped as usual, and placed a guard. A little after midnight
the enamored trapper drew near, mounted on a strong horse and leading
another by the bridle. Fastening both animals to a tree, he stealthily
moved toward the wagons, as if he were approaching a band of buffalo.
Eluding the vigilance of the guard, who was probably half asleep, he met
his mistress by appointment at the outskirts of the camp, mounted her on
his spare horse, and made off with her through the darkness. The sequel
of the adventure did not reach our ears, and we never learned how the
imprudent fair one liked an Indian lodge for a dwelling, and a reckless
trapper for a bridegroom.

At length The Whirlwind and his warriors determined to move. They had
resolved after all their preparations not to go to the rendezvous at La
Bonte's Camp, but to pass through the Black Hills and spend a few weeks
in hunting the buffalo on the other side, until they had killed enough
to furnish them with a stock of provisions and with hides to make their
lodges for the next season. This done, they were to send out a small
independent war party against the enemy. Their final determination left
us in some embarrassment. Should we go to La Bonte's Camp, it was
not impossible that the other villages would prove as vacillating and
indecisive as The Whirlwinds, and that no assembly whatever would take
place. Our old companion Reynal had conceived a liking for us, or rather
for our biscuit and coffee, and for the occasional small presents which
we made him. He was very anxious that we should go with the village
which he himself intended to accompany. He declared he was certain that
no Indians would meet at the rendezvous, and said moreover that it
would be easy to convey our cart and baggage through the Black Hills. In
saying this, he told as usual an egregious falsehood. Neither he nor
any white man with us had ever seen the difficult and obscure defiles
through which the Indians intended to make their way. I passed them
afterward, and had much ado to force my distressed horse along the
narrow ravines, and through chasms where daylight could scarcely
penetrate. Our cart might as easily have been conveyed over the summit
of Pike's Peak. Anticipating the difficulties and uncertainties of an
attempt to visit the rendezvous, we recalled the old proverb about "A
bird in the hand," and decided to follow the village.

Both camps, the Indians' and our own, broke up on the morning of the 1st
of July. I was so weak that the aid of a potent auxiliary, a spoonful of
whisky swallowed at short intervals, alone enabled me to sit on my hardy
little mare Pauline through the short journey of that day. For half a
mile before us and half a mile behind, the prairie was covered far
and wide with the moving throng of savages. The barren, broken plain
stretched away to the right and left, and far in front rose the gloomy
precipitous ridge of the Black Hills. We pushed forward to the head of
the scattered column, passing the burdened travaux, the heavily laden
pack horses, the gaunt old women on foot, the gay young squaws on
horseback, the restless children running among the crowd, old men
striding along in their white buffalo robes, and groups of young
warriors mounted on their best horses. Henry Chatillon, looking backward
over the distant prairie, exclaimed suddenly that a horseman was
approaching, and in truth we could just discern a small black speck
slowly moving over the face of a distant swell, like a fly creeping on a
wall. It rapidly grew larger as it approached.

"White man, I b'lieve," said Henry; "look how he ride! Indian never ride
that way. Yes; he got rifle on the saddle before him."

The horseman disappeared in a hollow of the prairie, but we soon saw him
again, and as he came riding at a gallop toward us through the crowd of
Indians, his long hair streaming in the wind behind him, we recognized
the ruddy face and old buckskin frock of Jean Gras the trapper. He was
just arrived from Fort Laramie, where he had been on a visit, and
said he had a message for us. A trader named Bisonette, one of Henry's
friends, was lately come from the settlements, and intended to go with a
party of men to La Bonte's Camp, where, as Jean Gras assured us, ten or
twelve villages of Indians would certainly assemble. Bisonette desired
that we would cross over and meet him there, and promised that his men
should protect our horses and baggage while we went among the Indians.
Shaw and I stopped our horses and held a council, and in an evil hour
resolved to go.

For the rest of that day's journey our course and that of the Indians
was the same. In less than an hour we came to where the high barren
prairie terminated, sinking down abruptly in steep descent; and standing
on these heights, we saw below us a great level meadow. Laramie Creek
bounded it on the left, sweeping along in the shadow of the declivities,
and passing with its shallow and rapid current just below us. We sat
on horseback, waiting and looking on, while the whole savage array went
pouring past us, hurrying down the descent and spreading themselves
over the meadow below. In a few moments the plain was swarming with the
moving multitude, some just visible, like specks in the distance, others
still passing on, pressing down, and fording the stream with bustle
and confusion. On the edge of the heights sat half a dozen of the elder
warriors, gravely smoking and looking down with unmoved faces on the
wild and striking spectacle.

Up went the lodges in a circle on the margin of the stream. For the sake
of quiet we pitched our tent among some trees at half a mile's distance.
In the afternoon we were in the village. The day was a glorious one,
and the whole camp seemed lively and animated in sympathy. Groups of
children and young girls were laughing gayly on the outside of the
lodges. The shields, the lances, and the bows were removed from the tall
tripods on which they usually hung before the dwellings of their owners.
The warriors were mounting their horses, and one by one riding away over
the prairie toward the neighboring hills.

Shaw and I sat on the grass near the lodge of Reynal. An old woman, with
true Indian hospitality, brought a bowl of boiled venison and placed it
before us. We amused ourselves with watching half a dozen young squaws
who were playing together and chasing each other in and out of one of
the lodges. Suddenly the wild yell of the war-whoop came pealing from
the hills. A crowd of horsemen appeared, rushing down their sides and
riding at full speed toward the village, each warrior's long hair flying
behind him in the wind like a ship's streamer. As they approached, the
confused throng assumed a regular order, and entering two by two, they
circled round the area at full gallop, each warrior singing his war song
as he rode. Some of their dresses were splendid. They wore superb
crests of feathers and close tunics of antelope skins, fringed with the
scalp-locks of their enemies; their shields too were often fluttering
with the war eagle's feathers. All had bows and arrows at their back;
some carried long lances, and a few were armed with guns. The White
Shield, their partisan, rode in gorgeous attire at their head, mounted
on a black-and-white horse. Mahto-Tatonka and his brothers took no part
in this parade, for they were in mourning for their sister, and were all
sitting in their lodges, their bodies bedaubed from head to foot with
white clay, and a lock of hair cut from each of their foreheads.

The warriors circled three times round the village; and as each
distinguished champion passed, the old women would scream out his name
in honor of his bravery, and to incite the emulation of the younger
warriors. Little urchins, not two years old, followed the warlike
pageant with glittering eyes, and looked with eager wonder and
admiration at those whose honors were proclaimed by the public voice of
the village. Thus early is the lesson of war instilled into the mind
of an Indian, and such are the stimulants which incite his thirst for
martial renown.

The procession rode out of the village as it had entered it, and in half
an hour all the warriors had returned again, dropping quietly in, singly
or in parties of two or three.

As the sun rose next morning we looked across the meadow, and could see
the lodges leveled and the Indians gathering together in preparation to
leave the camp. Their course lay to the westward. We turned toward the
north with our men, the four trappers following us, with the Indian
family of Moran. We traveled until night. I suffered not a little from
pain and weakness. We encamped among some trees by the side of a little
brook, and here during the whole of the next day we lay waiting for
Bisonette, but no Bisonette appeared. Here also two of our trapper
friends left us, and set out for the Rocky Mountains. On the second
morning, despairing of Bisonette's arrival we resumed our journey,
traversing a forlorn and dreary monotony of sun-scorched plains, where
no living thing appeared save here and there an antelope flying before
us like the wind. When noon came we saw an unwonted and most welcome
sight; a rich and luxuriant growth of trees, marking the course of a
little stream called Horseshoe Creek. We turned gladly toward it. There
were lofty and spreading trees, standing widely asunder, and supporting
a thick canopy of leaves, above a surface of rich, tall grass. The
stream ran swiftly, as clear as crystal, through the bosom of the wood,
sparkling over its bed of white sand and darkening again as it entered a
deep cavern of leaves and boughs. I was thoroughly exhausted, and flung
myself on the ground, scarcely able to move. All that afternoon I lay
in the shade by the side of the stream, and those bright woods and
sparkling waters are associated in my mind with recollections of
lassitude and utter prostration. When night came I sat down by the
fire, longing, with an intensity of which at this moment I can hardly
conceive, for some powerful stimulant.

In the morning as glorious a sun rose upon us as ever animated that
desolate wilderness. We advanced and soon were surrounded by tall bare
hills, overspread from top to bottom with prickly-pears and other cacti,
that seemed like clinging reptiles. A plain, flat and hard, and with
scarcely the vestige of grass, lay before us, and a line of tall
misshapen trees bounded the onward view. There was no sight or sound of
man or beast, or any living thing, although behind those trees was the
long-looked-for place of rendezvous, where we fondly hoped to have found
the Indians congregated by thousands. We looked and listened anxiously.
We pushed forward with our best speed, and forced our horses through
the trees. There were copses of some extent beyond, with a scanty stream
creeping through their midst; and as we pressed through the yielding
branches, deer sprang up to the right and left. At length we caught a
glimpse of the prairie beyond. Soon we emerged upon it, and saw, not
a plain covered with encampments and swarming with life, but a vast
unbroken desert stretching away before us league upon league, without a
bush or a tree or anything that had life. We drew rein and gave to the
winds our sentiments concerning the whole aboriginal race of America.
Our journey was in vain and much worse than in vain. For myself, I was
vexed and disappointed beyond measure; as I well knew that a slight
aggravation of my disorder would render this false step irrevocable, and
make it quite impossible to accomplish effectively the design which had
led me an arduous journey of between three and four thousand miles. To
fortify myself as well as I could against such a contingency, I resolved
that I would not under any circumstances attempt to leave the country
until my object was completely gained.

And where were the Indians? They were assembled in great numbers at a
spot about twenty miles distant, and there at that very moment they
were engaged in their warlike ceremonies. The scarcity of buffalo in
the vicinity of La Bonte's Camp, which would render their supply of
provisions scanty and precarious, had probably prevented them from
assembling there; but of all this we knew nothing until some weeks
after.

Shaw lashed his horse and galloped forward, I, though much more vexed
than he, was not strong enough to adopt this convenient vent to my
feelings; so I followed at a quiet pace, but in no quiet mood. We
rode up to a solitary old tree, which seemed the only place fit for
encampment. Half its branches were dead, and the rest were so scantily
furnished with leaves that they cast but a meager and wretched shade,
and the old twisted trunk alone furnished sufficient protection from the
sun. We threw down our saddles in the strip of shadow that it cast, and
sat down upon them. In silent indignation we remained smoking for an
hour or more, shifting our saddles with the shifting shadow, for the sun
was intolerably hot.



CHAPTER XIII

HUNTING INDIANS


At last we had reached La Bonte's Camp, toward which our eyes had turned
so long. Of all weary hours, those that passed between noon and sunset
of the day when we arrived there may bear away the palm of exquisite
discomfort. I lay under the tree reflecting on what course to pursue,
watching the shadows which seemed never to move, and the sun which
remained fixed in the sky, and hoping every moment to see the men and
horses of Bisonette emerging from the woods. Shaw and Henry had ridden
out on a scouting expedition, and did not return until the sun was
setting. There was nothing very cheering in their faces nor in the news
they brought.

"We have been ten miles from here," said Shaw. "We climbed the highest
butte we could find, and could not see a buffalo or Indian; nothing but
prairie for twenty miles around us."

Henry's horse was quite disabled by clambering up and down the sides of
ravines, and Shaw's was severely fatigued.

After supper that evening, as we sat around the fire, I proposed to Shaw
to wait one day longer in hopes of Bisonette's arrival, and if he
should not come to send Delorier with the cart and baggage back to
Fort Laramie, while we ourselves followed The Whirlwind's village and
attempted to overtake it as it passed the mountains. Shaw, not having
the same motive for hunting Indians that I had, was averse to the
plan; I therefore resolved to go alone. This design I adopted very
unwillingly, for I knew that in the present state of my health the
attempt would be extremely unpleasant, and, as I considered, hazardous.
I hoped that Bisonette would appear in the course of the following day,
and bring us some information by which to direct our course, and enable
me to accomplish my purpose by means less objectionable.

The rifle of Henry Chatillon was necessary for the subsistence of the
party in my absence; so I called Raymond, and ordered him to prepare to
set out with me. Raymond rolled his eyes vacantly about, but at length,
having succeeded in grappling with the idea, he withdrew to his bed
under the cart. He was a heavy-molded fellow, with a broad face exactly
like an owl's, expressing the most impenetrable stupidity and entire
self-confidence. As for his good qualities, he had a sort of stubborn
fidelity, an insensibility to danger, and a kind of instinct or
sagacity, which sometimes led him right, where better heads than his
were at a loss. Besides this, he knew very well how to handle a rifle
and picket a horse.

Through the following day the sun glared down upon us with a pitiless,
penetrating heat. The distant blue prairie seemed quivering under it.
The lodge of our Indian associates was baking in the rays, and our
rifles, as they leaned against the tree, were too hot for the touch.
There was a dead silence through our camp and all around it, unbroken
except by the hum of gnats and mosquitoes. The men, resting their
foreheads on their arms, were sleeping under the cart. The Indians kept
close within their lodge except the newly married pair, who were seated
together under an awning of buffalo robes, and the old conjurer, who,
with his hard, emaciated face and gaunt ribs, was perched aloft like a
turkey-buzzard among the dead branches of an old tree, constantly on the
lookout for enemies. He would have made a capital shot. A rifle bullet,
skillfully planted, would have brought him tumbling to the ground.
Surely, I thought, there could be no more harm in shooting such a
hideous old villain, to see how ugly he would look when he was dead,
than in shooting the detestable vulture which he resembled. We dined,
and then Shaw saddled his horse.

"I will ride back," said he, "to Horseshoe Creek, and see if Bisonette
is there."

"I would go with you," I answered, "but I must reserve all the strength
I have."

The afternoon dragged away at last. I occupied myself in cleaning my
rifle and pistols, and making other preparations for the journey. After
supper, Henry Chatillon and I lay by the fire, discussing the properties
of that admirable weapon, the rifle, in the use of which he could fairly
outrival Leatherstocking himself.

It was late before I wrapped myself in my blanket and lay down for the
night, with my head on my saddle. Shaw had not returned, but this gave
no uneasiness, for we presumed that he had fallen in with Bisonette, and
was spending the night with him. For a day or two past I had gained in
strength and health, but about midnight an attack of pain awoke me, and
for some hours I felt no inclination to sleep. The moon was quivering on
the broad breast of the Platte; nothing could be heard except those low
inexplicable sounds, like whisperings and footsteps, which no one who
has spent the night alone amid deserts and forests will be at a loss to
understand. As I was falling asleep, a familiar voice, shouting from the
distance, awoke me again. A rapid step approached the camp, and Shaw on
foot, with his gun in his hand, hastily entered.

"Where's your horse?" said I, raising myself on my elbow.

"Lost!" said Shaw. "Where's Delorier?"

"There," I replied, pointing to a confused mass of blankets and buffalo
robes.

Shaw touched them with the butt of his gun, and up sprang our faithful
Canadian.

"Come, Delorier; stir up the fire, and get me something to eat."

"Where's Bisonette?" asked I.

"The Lord knows; there's nobody at Horseshoe Creek."

Shaw had gone back to the spot where we had encamped two days before,
and finding nothing there but the ashes of our fires, he had tied his
horse to the tree while he bathed in the stream. Something startled his
horse, who broke loose, and for two hours Shaw tried in vain to catch
him. Sunset approached, and it was twelve miles to camp. So he abandoned
the attempt, and set out on foot to join us. The greater part of his
perilous and solitary work was performed in darkness. His moccasins were
worn to tatters and his feet severely lacerated. He sat down to eat,
however, with the usual equanimity of his temper not at all disturbed
by his misfortune, and my last recollection before falling asleep was of
Shaw, seated cross-legged before the fire, smoking his pipe. The
horse, I may as well mention here, was found the next morning by Henry
Chatillon.

When I awoke again there was a fresh damp smell in the air, a gray
twilight involved the prairie, and above its eastern verge was a streak
of cold red sky. I called to the men, and in a moment a fire was blazing
brightly in the dim morning light, and breakfast was getting ready. We
sat down together on the grass, to the last civilized meal which Raymond
and I were destined to enjoy for some time.

"Now, bring in the horses."

My little mare Pauline was soon standing by the fire. She was a fleet,
hardy, and gentle animal, christened after Paul Dorion, from whom I had
procured her in exchange for Pontiac. She did not look as if equipped
for a morning pleasure ride. In front of the black, high-bowed mountain
saddle, holsters, with heavy pistols, were fastened. A pair of saddle
bags, a blanket tightly rolled, a small parcel of Indian presents tied
up in a buffalo skin, a leather bag of flour, and a smaller one of tea
were all secured behind, and a long trail-rope was wound round her
neck. Raymond had a strong black mule, equipped in a similar manner. We
crammed our powder-horns to the throat, and mounted.

"I will meet you at Fort Laramie on the 1st of August," said I to Shaw.

"That is," replied he, "if we don't meet before that. I think I shall
follow after you in a day or two."

This in fact he attempted, and he would have succeeded if he had not
encountered obstacles against which his resolute spirit was of no avail.
Two days after I left him he sent Delorier to the fort with the cart
and baggage, and set out for the mountains with Henry Chatillon; but a
tremendous thunderstorm had deluged the prairie, and nearly obliterated
not only our trail but that of the Indians themselves. They followed
along the base of the mountains, at a loss in which direction to go.
They encamped there, and in the morning Shaw found himself poisoned by
ivy in such a manner that it was impossible for him to travel. So they
turned back reluctantly toward Fort Laramie. Shaw's limbs were swollen
to double their usual size, and he rode in great pain. They encamped
again within twenty miles of the fort, and reached it early on the
following morning. Shaw lay seriously ill for a week, and remained at
the fort till I rejoined him some time after.

To return to my own story. We shook hands with our friends, rode out
upon the prairie, and clambering the sandy hollows that were channeled
in the sides of the hills gained the high plains above. If a curse had
been pronounced upon the land it could not have worn an aspect of more
dreary and forlorn barrenness. There were abrupt broken hills, deep
hollows, and wide plains; but all alike glared with an insupportable
whiteness under the burning sun. The country, as if parched by the heat,
had cracked into innumerable fissures and ravines, that not a little
impeded our progress. Their steep sides were white and raw, and along
the bottom we several times discovered the broad tracks of the terrific
grizzly bear, nowhere more abundant than in this region. The ridges of
the hills were hard as rock, and strewn with pebbles of flint and coarse
red jasper; looking from them, there was nothing to relieve the desert
uniformity of the prospect, save here and there a pine-tree clinging at
the edge of a ravine, and stretching out its rough, shaggy arms. Under
the scorching heat these melancholy trees diffused their peculiar
resinous odor through the sultry air. There was something in it, as I
approached them, that recalled old associations; the pine-clad mountains
of New England, traversed in days of health and buoyancy, rose like a
reality before my fancy. In passing that arid waste I was goaded with
a morbid thirst produced by my disorder, and I thought with a longing
desire on the crystal treasure poured in such wasteful profusion from
our thousand hills. Shutting my eyes, I more than half believed that
I heard the deep plunging and gurgling of waters in the bowels of the
shaded rocks. I could see their dark ice glittering far down amid the
crevices, and the cold drops trickling from the long green mosses.

When noon came, we found a little stream, with a few trees and bushes;
and here we rested for an hour. Then we traveled on, guided by the sun,
until, just before sunset, we reached another stream, called Bitter
Cotton-wood Creek. A thick growth of bushes and old storm-beaten trees
grew at intervals along its bank. Near the foot of one of the trees we
flung down our saddles, and hobbling our horses turned them loose to
feed. The little stream was clear and swift, and ran musically on its
white sands. Small water birds were splashing in the shallows, and
filling the air with their cries and flutterings. The sun was just
sinking among gold and crimson clouds behind Mount Laramie. I well
remember how I lay upon a log by the margin of the water, and watched
the restless motions of the little fish in a deep still nook below.
Strange to say, I seemed to have gained strength since the morning, and
almost felt a sense of returning health.

We built our fire. Night came, and the wolves began to howl. One deep
voice commenced, and it was answered in awful responses from the hills,
the plains, and the woods along the stream above and below us. Such
sounds need not and do not disturb one's sleep upon the prairie. We
picketed the mare and the mule close at our feet, and did not wake until
daylight. Then we turned them loose, still hobbled, to feed for an hour
before starting. We were getting ready our morning's meal, when Raymond
saw an antelope at half a mile's distance, and said he would go and
shoot it.

"Your business," said. I, "is to look after the animals. I am too weak
to do much, if anything happens to them, and you must keep within sight
of the camp."

Raymond promised, and set out with his rifle in his hand. The animals
had passed across the stream, and were feeding among the long grass
on the other side, much tormented by the attacks of the numerous large
green-headed flies. As I watched them, I saw them go down into a hollow,
and as several minutes elapsed without their reappearing, I waded
through the stream to look after them. To my vexation and alarm I
discovered them at a great distance, galloping away at full speed,
Pauline in advance, with her hobbles broken, and the mule, still
fettered, following with awkward leaps. I fired my rifle and shouted to
recall Raymond. In a moment he came running through the stream, with a
red handkerchief bound round his head. I pointed to the fugitives, and
ordered him to pursue them. Muttering a "Sacre!" between his teeth, he
set out at full speed, still swinging his rifle in his hand. I walked
up to the top of a hill, and looking away over the prairie, could just
distinguish the runaways, still at full gallop. Returning to the fire,
I sat down at the foot of a tree. Wearily and anxiously hour after
hour passed away. The old loose bark dangling from the trunk behind
me flapped to and fro in the wind, and the mosquitoes kept up their
incessant drowsy humming; but other than this, there was no sight nor
sound of life throughout the burning landscape. The sun rose higher and
higher, until the shadows fell almost perpendicularly, and I knew that
it must be noon. It seemed scarcely possible that the animals could be
recovered. If they were not, my situation was one of serious difficulty.
Shaw, when I left him had decided to move that morning, but whither
he had not determined. To look for him would be a vain attempt. Fort
Laramie was forty miles distant, and I could not walk a mile without
great effort. Not then having learned the sound philosophy of yielding
to disproportionate obstacles, I resolved to continue in any event the
pursuit of the Indians. Only one plan occurred to me; this was to send
Raymond to the fort with an order for more horses, while I remained on
the spot, awaiting his return, which might take place within three days.
But the adoption of this resolution did not wholly allay my anxiety, for
it involved both uncertainty and danger. To remain stationary and alone
for three days, in a country full of dangerous Indians, was not the most
flattering of prospects; and protracted as my Indian hunt must be by
such delay, it was not easy to foretell its ultimate result. Revolving
these matters, I grew hungry; and as our stock of provisions, except
four or five pounds of flour, was by this time exhausted, I left the
camp to see what game I could find. Nothing could be seen except four or
five large curlew, which, with their loud screaming, were wheeling over
my head, and now and then alighting upon the prairie. I shot two of
them, and was about returning, when a startling sight caught my eye. A
small, dark object, like a human head, suddenly appeared, and vanished
among the thick hushes along the stream below. In that country every
stranger is a suspected enemy. Instinctively I threw forward the muzzle
of my rifle. In a moment the bushes were violently shaken, two heads,
but not human heads, protruded, and to my great joy I recognized the
downcast, disconsolate countenance of the black mule and the yellow
visage of Pauline. Raymond came upon the mule, pale and haggard,
complaining of a fiery pain in his chest. I took charge of the animals
while he kneeled down by the side of the stream to drink. He had kept
the runaways in sight as far as the Side Fork of Laramie Creek, a
distance of more than ten miles; and here with great difficulty he had
succeeded in catching them. I saw that he was unarmed, and asked him
what he had done with his rifle. It had encumbered him in his pursuit,
and he had dropped it on the prairie, thinking that he could find it
on his return; but in this he had failed. The loss might prove a very
formidable one. I was too much rejoiced however at the recovery of the
animals to think much about it; and having made some tea for Raymond in
a tin vessel which we had brought with us, I told him that I would give
him two hours for resting before we set out again. He had eaten nothing
that day; but having no appetite, he lay down immediately to sleep. I
picketed the animals among the richest grass that I could find, and made
fires of green wood to protect them from the flies; then sitting down
again by the tree, I watched the slow movements of the sun, begrudging
every moment that passed.

The time I had mentioned expired, and I awoke Raymond. We saddled and
set out again, but first we went in search of the lost rifle, and in
the course of an hour Raymond was fortunate enough to find it. Then we
turned westward, and moved over the hills and hollows at a slow pace
toward the Black Hills. The heat no longer tormented us, for a cloud
was before the sun. Yet that day shall never be marked with white in my
calendar. The air began to grow fresh and cool, the distant mountains
frowned more gloomily, there was a low muttering of thunder, and dense
black masses of cloud rose heavily behind the broken peaks. At first
they were gayly fringed with silver by the afternoon sun, but soon the
thick blackness overspread the whole sky, and the desert around us
was wrapped in deep gloom. I scarcely heeded it at the time, but now
I cannot but feel that there was an awful sublimity in the hoarse
murmuring of the thunder, in the somber shadows that involved the
mountains and the plain. The storm broke. It came upon us with a zigzag
blinding flash, with a terrific crash of thunder, and with a hurricane
that howled over the prairie, dashing floods of water against us.
Raymond looked round, and cursed the merciless elements. There seemed
no shelter near, but we discerned at length a deep ravine gashed in the
level prairie, and saw half way down its side an old pine tree, whose
rough horizontal boughs formed a sort of penthouse against the tempest.
We found a practicable passage, and hastily descending, fastened our
animals to some large loose stones at the bottom; then climbing up, we
drew our blankets over our heads, and seated ourselves close beneath the
old tree. Perhaps I was no competent judge of time, but it seemed to me
that we were sitting there a full hour, while around us poured a deluge
of rain, through which the rocks on the opposite side of the gulf were
barely visible. The first burst of the tempest soon subsided, but the
rain poured steadily. At length Raymond grew impatient, and scrambling
out of the ravine, he gained the level prairie above.

"What does the weather look like?" asked I, from my seat under the tree.

"It looks bad," he answered; "dark all around," and again he descended
and sat down by my side. Some ten minutes elapsed.

"Go up again," said I, "and take another look;" and he clambered up the
precipice. "Well, how is it?"

"Just the same, only I see one little bright spot over the top of the
mountain."

The rain by this time had begun to abate; and going down to the bottom
of the ravine, we loosened the animals, who were standing up to their
knees in water. Leading them up the rocky throat of the ravine, we
reached the plain above. "Am I," I thought to myself, "the same man who
a few months since, was seated, a quiet student of BELLES-LETTRES, in a
cushioned arm-chair by a sea-coal fire?"

All around us was obscurity; but the bright spot above the mountaintops
grew wider and ruddier, until at length the clouds drew apart, and
a flood of sunbeams poured down from heaven, streaming along the
precipices, and involving them in a thin blue haze, as soft and lovely
as that which wraps the Apennines on an evening in spring. Rapidly the
clouds were broken and scattered, like routed legions of evil spirits.
The plain lay basking in sunbeams around us; a rainbow arched the desert
from north to south, and far in front a line of woods seemed inviting
us to refreshment and repose. When we reached them, they were glistening
with prismatic dewdrops, and enlivened by the song and flutterings of
a hundred birds. Strange winged insects, benumbed by the rain, were
clinging to the leaves and the bark of the trees.

Raymond kindled a fire with great difficulty. The animals turned eagerly
to feed on the soft rich grass, while I, wrapping myself in my blanket,
lay down and gazed on the evening landscape. The mountains, whose stern
features had lowered upon us with so gloomy and awful a frown, now
seemed lighted up with a serene, benignant smile, and the green waving
undulations of the plain were gladdened with the rich sunshine. Wet,
ill, and wearied as I was, my spirit grew lighter at the view, and I
drew from it an augury of good for my future prospects.

When morning came, Raymond awoke, coughing violently, though I had
apparently received no injury. We mounted, crossed the little stream,
pushed through the trees, and began our journey over the plain beyond.
And now, as we rode slowly along, we looked anxiously on every hand
for traces of the Indians, not doubting that the village had passed
somewhere in that vicinity; but the scanty shriveled grass was not more
than three or four inches high, and the ground was of such unyielding
hardness that a host might have marched over it and left scarcely a
trace of its passage. Up hill and down hill, and clambering through
ravines, we continued our journey. As we were skirting the foot of a
hill I saw Raymond, who was some rods in advance, suddenly jerking the
reins of his mule. Sliding from his seat, and running in a crouching
posture up a hollow, he disappeared; and then in an instant I heard the
sharp quick crack of his rifle. A wounded antelope came running on three
legs over the hill. I lashed Pauline and made after him. My fleet little
mare soon brought me by his side, and after leaping and bounding for
a few moments in vain, he stood still, as if despairing of escape. His
glistening eyes turned up toward my face with so piteous a look that it
was with feelings of infinite compunction that I shot him through the
head with a pistol. Raymond skinned and cut him up, and we hung the
forequarters to our saddles, much rejoiced that our exhausted stock of
provisions was renewed in such good time.

Gaining the top of a hill, we could see along the cloudy verge of the
prairie before us lines of trees and shadowy groves that marked the
course of Laramie Creek. Some time before noon we reached its banks
and began anxiously to search them for footprints of the Indians. We
followed the stream for several miles, now on the shore and now wading
in the water, scrutinizing every sand-bar and every muddy bank. So
long was the search that we began to fear that we had left the trail
undiscovered behind us. At length I heard Raymond shouting, and saw him
jump from his mule to examine some object under the shelving bank. I
rode up to his side. It was the clear and palpable impression of an
Indian moccasin. Encouraged by this we continued our search, and at
last some appearances on a soft surface of earth not far from the shore
attracted my eye; and going to examine them I found half a dozen tracks,
some made by men and some by children. Just then Raymond observed across
the stream the mouth of a small branch entering it from the south. He
forded the water, rode in at the opening, and in a moment I heard him
shouting again, so I passed over and joined him. The little branch had a
broad sandy bed, along which the water trickled in a scanty stream; and
on either bank the bushes were so close that the view was completely
intercepted. I found Raymond stooping over the footprints of three or
four horses. Proceeding we found those of a man, then those of a child,
then those of more horses; and at last the bushes on each bank were
beaten down and broken, and the sand plowed up with a multitude of
footsteps, and scored across with the furrows made by the lodge-poles
that had been dragged through. It was now certain that we had found
the trail. I pushed through the bushes, and at a little distance on the
prairie beyond found the ashes of a hundred and fifty lodge fires, with
bones and pieces of buffalo robes scattered around them, and in some
instances the pickets to which horses had been secured still standing
in the ground. Elated by our success we selected a convenient tree, and
turning the animals loose, prepared to make a meal from the fat haunch
of our victim.

Hardship and exposure had thriven with me wonderfully. I had gained both
health and strength since leaving La Bonte's Camp. Raymond and I made a
hearty meal together in high spirits, for we rashly presumed that having
found one end of the trail we should have little difficulty in reaching
the other. But when the animals were led in we found that our old ill
luck had not ceased to follow us close. As I was saddling Pauline I saw
that her eye was as dull as lead, and the hue of her yellow coat visibly
darkened. I placed my foot in the stirrup to mount, when instantly she
staggered and fell flat on her side. Gaining her feet with an effort she
stood by the fire with a drooping head. Whether she had been bitten by
a snake or poisoned by some noxious plant or attacked by a sudden
disorder, it was hard to say; but at all events her sickness was
sufficiently ill-timed and unfortunate. I succeeded in a second attempt
to mount her, and with a slow pace we moved forward on the trail of the
Indians. It led us up a hill and over a dreary plain; and here, to our
great mortification, the traces almost disappeared, for the ground was
hard as adamant; and if its flinty surface had ever retained the print
of a hoof, the marks had been washed away by the deluge of yesterday. An
Indian village, in its disorderly march, is scattered over the prairie,
often to the width of full half a mile; so that its trail is nowhere
clearly marked, and the task of following it is made doubly wearisome
and difficult. By good fortune plenty of large ant-hills, a yard or more
in diameter, were scattered over the plain, and these were frequently
broken by the footprints of men and horses, and marked by traces of the
lodge-poles. The succulent leaves of the prickly-pear, also bruised from
the same causes, helped a little to guide us; so inch by inch we moved
along. Often we lost the trail altogether, and then would recover it
again, but late in the afternoon we found ourselves totally at fault.
We stood alone without clew to guide us. The broken plain expanded
for league after league around us, and in front the long dark ridge of
mountains was stretching from north to south. Mount Laramie, a little
on our right, towered high above the rest and from a dark valley just
beyond one of its lower declivities, we discerned volumes of white smoke
slowly rolling up into the clear air.

"I think," said Raymond, "some Indians must be there. Perhaps we
had better go." But this plan was not rashly to be adopted, and we
determined still to continue our search after the lost trail. Our good
stars prompted us to this decision, for we afterward had reason to
believe, from information given us by the Indians, that the smoke was
raised as a decoy by a Crow war party.

Evening was coming on, and there was no wood or water nearer than the
foot of the mountains. So thither we turned, directing our course toward
the point where Laramie Creek issues forth upon the prairie. When we
reached it the bare tops of the mountains were still brightened with
sunshine. The little river was breaking with a vehement and angry
current from its dark prison. There was something in the near vicinity
of the mountains, in the loud surging of the rapids, wonderfully
cheering and exhilarating; for although once as familiar as home itself,
they had been for months strangers to my experience. There was a rich
grass-plot by the river's bank, surrounded by low ridges, which would
effectually screen ourselves and our fire from the sight of wandering
Indians. Here among the grass I observed numerous circles of large
stones, which, as Raymond said, were traces of a Dakota winter
encampment. We lay down and did not awake till the sun was up. A large
rock projected from the shore, and behind it the deep water was slowly
eddying round and round. The temptation was irresistible. I threw off
my clothes, leaped in, suffered myself to be borne once round with the
current, and then, seizing the strong root of a water plant, drew myself
to the shore. The effect was so invigorating and refreshing that I
mistook it for returning health. "Pauline," thought I, as I led the
little mare up to be saddled, "only thrive as I do, and you and I will
have sport yet among the buffalo beyond these mountains." But scarcely
were we mounted and on our way before the momentary glow passed. Again I
hung as usual in my seat, scarcely able to hold myself erect.

"Look yonder," said Raymond; "you see that big hollow there; the Indians
must have gone that way, if they went anywhere about here."

We reached the gap, which was like a deep notch cut into the mountain
ridge, and here we soon discerned an ant-hill furrowed with the mark of
a lodge-pole. This was quite enough; there could be no doubt now. As we
rode on, the opening growing narrower, the Indians had been compelled to
march in closer order, and the traces became numerous and distinct. The
gap terminated in a rocky gateway, leading into a rough passage upward,
between two precipitous mountains. Here grass and weeds were bruised to
fragments by the throng that had passed through. We moved slowly over
the rocks, up the passage; and in this toilsome manner we advanced for
an hour or two, bare precipices, hundreds of feet high, shooting up on
either hand. Raymond, with his hardy mule, was a few rods before me,
when we came to the foot of an ascent steeper than the rest, and which
I trusted might prove the highest point of the defile. Pauline strained
upward for a few yards, moaning and stumbling, and then came to a dead
stop, unable to proceed further. I dismounted, and attempted to lead
her; but my own exhausted strength soon gave out; so I loosened the
trail-rope from her neck, and tying it round my arm, crawled up on my
hands and knees. I gained the top, totally exhausted, the sweat drops
trickling from my forehead. Pauline stood like a statue by my side, her
shadow falling upon the scorching rock; and in this shade, for there was
no other, I lay for some time, scarcely able to move a limb. All around
the black crags, sharp as needles at the top, stood glowing in the
sun, without a tree, or a bush, or a blade of grass, to cover their
precipitous sides. The whole scene seemed parched with a pitiless,
insufferable heat.

After a while I could mount again, and we moved on, descending the rocky
defile on its western side. Thinking of that morning's journey, it
has sometimes seemed to me that there was something ridiculous in my
position; a man, armed to the teeth, but wholly unable to fight, and
equally so to run away, traversing a dangerous wilderness, on a sick
horse. But these thoughts were retrospective, for at the time I was in
too grave a mood to entertain a very lively sense of the ludicrous.

Raymond's saddle-girth slipped; and while I proceeded he was stopping
behind to repair the mischief. I came to the top of a little declivity,
where a most welcome sight greeted my eye; a nook of fresh green grass
nestled among the cliffs, sunny clumps of bushes on one side, and shaggy
old pine trees leaning forward from the rocks on the other. A shrill,
familiar voice saluted me, and recalled me to days of boyhood; that of
the insect called the "locust" by New England schoolboys, which was fast
clinging among the heated boughs of the old pine trees. Then, too, as
I passed the bushes, the low sound of falling water reached my ear.
Pauline turned of her own accord, and pushing through the boughs we
found a black rock, over-arched by the cool green canopy. An icy stream
was pouring from its side into a wide basin of white sand, from whence
it had no visible outlet, but filtered through into the soil below.
While I filled a tin cup at the spring, Pauline was eagerly plunging
her head deep in the pool. Other visitors had been there before us. All
around in the soft soil were the footprints of elk, deer, and the Rocky
Mountain sheep; and the grizzly bear too had left the recent prints of
his broad foot, with its frightful array of claws. Among these mountains
was his home.

Soon after leaving the spring we found a little grassy plain, encircled
by the mountains, and marked, to our great joy, with all the traces of
an Indian camp. Raymond's practiced eye detected certain signs by which
he recognized the spot where Reynal's lodge had been pitched and his
horses picketed. I approached, and stood looking at the place. Reynal
and I had, I believe, hardly a feeling in common. I disliked the fellow,
and it perplexed me a good deal to understand why I should look with so
much interest on the ashes of his fire, when between him and me there
seemed no other bond of sympathy than the slender and precarious one of
a kindred race.

In half an hour from this we were clear of the mountains. There was a
plain before us, totally barren and thickly peopled in many parts with
the little prairie dogs, who sat at the mouths of their burrows and
yelped at us as we passed. The plain, as we thought, was about six miles
wide; but it cost us two hours to cross it. Then another mountain range
rose before us, grander and more wild than the last had been. Far out of
the dense shrubbery that clothed the steeps for a thousand feet shot up
black crags, all leaning one way, and shattered by storms and thunder
into grim and threatening shapes. As we entered a narrow passage on the
trail of the Indians, they impended frightfully on one side, above our
heads.

Our course was through dense woods, in the shade and twinkling sunlight
of overhanging boughs. I would I could recall to mind all the startling
combinations that presented themselves, as winding from side to side
of the passage, to avoid its obstructions, we could see, glancing at
intervals through the foliage, the awful forms of the gigantic cliffs,
that seemed at times to hem us in on the right and on the left, before
us and behind! Another scene in a few moments greeted us; a tract of
gray and sunny woods, broken into knolls and hollows, enlivened by birds
and interspersed with flowers. Among the rest I recognized the mellow
whistle of the robin, an old familiar friend whom I had scarce expected
to meet in such a place. Humble-bees too were buzzing heavily about
the flowers; and of these a species of larkspur caught my eye, more
appropriate, it should seem, to cultivated gardens than to a remote
wilderness. Instantly it recalled a multitude of dormant and delightful
recollections.

Leaving behind us this spot and its associations, a sight soon presented
itself, characteristic of that warlike region. In an open space, fenced
in by high rocks, stood two Indian forts, of a square form, rudely built
of sticks and logs. They were somewhat ruinous, having probably been
constructed the year before. Each might have contained about twenty men.
Perhaps in this gloomy spot some party had been beset by their enemies,
and those scowling rocks and blasted trees might not long since have
looked down on a conflict unchronicled and unknown. Yet if any traces
of bloodshed remained they were completely hidden by the bushes and tall
rank weeds.

Gradually the mountains drew apart, and the passage expanded into a
plain, where again we found traces of an Indian encampment. There were
trees and bushes just before us, and we stopped here for an hour's rest
and refreshment. When we had finished our meal Raymond struck fire, and
lighting his pipe, sat down at the foot of a tree to smoke. For some
time I observed him puffing away with a face of unusual solemnity. Then
slowly taking the pipe from his lips, he looked up and remarked that we
had better not go any farther.

"Why not?" asked I.

He said that the country was becoming very dangerous, that we were
entering the range of the Snakes, Arapahoes and Grosventre Blackfeet,
and that if any of their wandering parties should meet us, it would cost
us our lives; but he added, with a blunt fidelity that nearly reconciled
me to his stupidity, that he would go anywhere I wished. I told him to
bring up the animals, and mounting them we proceeded again. I confess
that, as we moved forward, the prospect seemed but a dreary and doubtful
one. I would have given the world for my ordinary elasticity of body
and mind, and for a horse of such strength and spirit as the journey
required.

Closer and closer the rocks gathered round us, growing taller and
steeper, and pressing more and more upon our path. We entered at length
a defile which I never had seen rivaled. The mountain was cracked from
top to bottom, and we were creeping along the bottom of the fissure, in
dampness and gloom, with the clink of hoofs on the loose shingly rocks,
and the hoarse murmuring of a petulant brook which kept us company.
Sometimes the water, foaming among the stones, overspread the whole
narrow passage; sometimes, withdrawing to one side, it gave us room to
pass dry-shod. Looking up, we could see a narrow ribbon of bright blue
sky between the dark edges of the opposing cliffs. This did not last
long. The passage soon widened, and sunbeams found their way down,
flashing upon the black waters. The defile would spread out to many rods
in width; bushes, trees, and flowers would spring by the side of the
brook; the cliffs would be feathered with shrubbery, that clung in every
crevice, and fringed with trees, that grew along their sunny edges. Then
we would be moving again in the darkness. The passage seemed about four
miles long, and before we reached the end of it, the unshod hoofs of our
animals were lamentably broken, and their legs cut by the sharp stones.
Issuing from the mountain we found another plain. All around it stood a
circle of lofty precipices, that seemed the impersonation of silence and
solitude. Here again the Indians had encamped, as well they might, after
passing with their women, children and horses through the gulf behind
us. In one day we had made a journey which had cost them three to
accomplish.

The only outlet to this amphitheater lay over a hill some two hundred
feet high, up which we moved with difficulty. Looking from the top,
we saw that at last we were free of the mountains. The prairie
spread before us, but so wild and broken that the view was everywhere
obstructed. Far on our left one tall hill swelled up against the sky, on
the smooth, pale green surface of which four slowly moving black specks
were discernible. They were evidently buffalo, and we hailed the sight
as a good augury; for where the buffalo were, there too the Indians
would probably be found. We hoped on that very night to reach the
village. We were anxious to do so for a double reason, wishing to bring
our wearisome journey to an end, and knowing, moreover, that though
to enter the village in broad daylight would be a perfectly safe
experiment, yet to encamp in its vicinity would be dangerous. But as we
rode on, the sun was sinking, and soon was within half an hour of the
horizon. We ascended a hill and looked round us for a spot for our
encampment. The prairie was like a turbulent ocean, suddenly congealed
when its waves were at the highest, and it lay half in light and half in
shadow, as the rich sunshine, yellow as gold, was pouring over it. The
rough bushes of the wild sage were growing everywhere, its dull pale
green overspreading hill and hollow. Yet a little way before us, a
bright verdant line of grass was winding along the plain, and here and
there throughout its course water was glistening darkly. We went down to
it, kindled a fire, and turned our horses loose to feed. It was a little
trickling brook, that for some yards on either bank turned the barren
prairie into fertility, and here and there it spread into deep pools,
where the beaver had dammed it up.

We placed our last remaining piece of the antelope before a scanty fire,
mournfully reflecting on our exhausted stock of provisions. Just then an
enormous gray hare, peculiar to these prairies, came jumping along, and
seated himself within fifty yards to look at us. I thoughtlessly raised
my rifle to shoot him, but Raymond called out to me not to fire for
fear the report should reach the ears of the Indians. That night for the
first time we considered that the danger to which we were exposed was
of a somewhat serious character; and to those who are unacquainted with
Indians, it may seem strange that our chief apprehensions arose from
the supposed proximity of the people whom we intended to visit. Had any
straggling party of these faithful friends caught sight of us from the
hill-top, they would probably have returned in the night to plunder us
of our horses and perhaps of our scalps. But we were on the prairie,
where the GENIUS LOCI is at war with all nervous apprehensions; and
I presume that neither Raymond nor I thought twice of the matter that
evening.

While he was looking after the animals, I sat by the fire engaged in
the novel task of baking bread. The utensils were of the most simple
and primitive kind, consisting of two sticks inclining over the bed of
coals, one end thrust into the ground while the dough was twisted in a
spiral form round the other. Under such circumstances all the epicurean
in a man's nature is apt to awaken within him. I revisited in fancy the
far distant abodes of good fare, not indeed Frascati's, or the Trois
Freres Provencaux, for that were too extreme a flight; but no other than
the homely table of my old friend and host, Tom Crawford, of the White
Mountains. By a singular revulsion, Tom himself, whom I well remember
to have looked upon as the impersonation of all that is wild and
backwoodsman-like, now appeared before me as the ministering angel of
comfort and good living. Being fatigued and drowsy I began to doze, and
my thoughts, following the same train of association, assumed another
form. Half-dreaming, I saw myself surrounded with the mountains of
New England, alive with water-falls, their black crags tinctured with
milk-white mists. For this reverie I paid a speedy penalty; for the
bread was black on one side and soft on the other.

For eight hours Raymond and I, pillowed on our saddles, lay insensible
as logs. Pauline's yellow head was stretched over me when I awoke. I
got up and examined her. Her feet indeed were bruised and swollen by the
accidents of yesterday, but her eye was brighter, her motions livelier,
and her mysterious malady had visibly abated. We moved on, hoping within
an hour to come in sight of the Indian village; but again disappointment
awaited us. The trail disappeared, melting away upon a hard and stony
plain. Raymond and I separating, rode from side to side, scrutinizing
every yard of ground, until at length I discerned traces of the
lodge-poles passing by the side of a ridge of rocks. We began again to
follow them.

"What is that black spot out there on the prairie?"

"It looks like a dead buffalo," answered Raymond.

We rode out to it, and found it to be the huge carcass of a bull killed
by the Indians as they had passed. Tangled hair and scraps of hide were
scattered all around, for the wolves had been making merry over it,
and had hollowed out the entire carcass. It was covered with myriads of
large black crickets, and from its appearance must certainly have lain
there for four or five days. The sight was a most disheartening one,
and I observed to Raymond that the Indians might still be fifty or sixty
miles before us. But he shook his head, and replied that they dared not
go so far for fear of their enemies, the Snakes.

Soon after this we lost the trail again, and ascended a neighboring
ridge, totally at a loss. Before us lay a plain perfectly flat,
spreading on the right and left, without apparent limit, and bounded in
front by a long broken line of hills, ten or twelve miles distant.
All was open and exposed to view, yet not a buffalo nor an Indian was
visible.

"Do you see that?" said Raymond; "Now we had better turn round."

But as Raymond's bourgeois thought otherwise, we descended the hill and
began to cross the plain. We had come so far that I knew perfectly well
neither Pauline's limbs nor my own could carry me back to Fort Laramie.
I considered that the lines of expediency and inclination tallied
exactly, and that the most prudent course was to keep forward. The
ground immediately around us was thickly strewn with the skulls and
bones of buffalo, for here a year or two before the Indians had made a
"surround"; yet no living game presented itself. At length, however, an
antelope sprang up and gazed at us. We fired together, and by a singular
fatality we both missed, although the animal stood, a fair mark, within
eighty yards. This ill success might perhaps be charged to our own
eagerness, for by this time we had no provision left except a little
flour. We could discern several small lakes, or rather extensive pools
of water, glistening in the distance. As we approached them, wolves
and antelopes bounded away through the tall grass that grew in their
vicinity, and flocks of large white plover flew screaming over their
surface. Having failed of the antelope, Raymond tried his hand at the
birds with the same ill success. The water also disappointed us. Its
muddy margin was so beaten up by the crowd of buffalo that our timorous
animals were afraid to approach. So we turned away and moved toward the
hills. The rank grass, where it was not trampled down by the buffalo,
fairly swept our horses' necks.

Again we found the same execrable barren prairie offering no clew by
which to guide our way. As we drew near the hills an opening appeared,
through which the Indians must have gone if they had passed that way at
all. Slowly we began to ascend it. I felt the most dreary forebodings
of ill success, when on looking round I could discover neither dent of
hoof, nor footprint, nor trace of lodge-pole, though the passage was
encumbered by the ghastly skulls of buffalo. We heard thunder muttering;
a storm was coming on.

As we gained the top of the gap, the prospect beyond began to disclose
itself. First, we saw a long dark line of ragged clouds upon the
horizon, while above them rose the peak of the Medicine-Bow, the
vanguard of the Rocky Mountains; then little by little the plain came
into view, a vast green uniformity, forlorn and tenantless, though
Laramie Creek glistened in a waving line over its surface, without a
bush or a tree upon its banks. As yet, the round projecting shoulder of
a hill intercepted a part of the view. I rode in advance, when suddenly
I could distinguish a few dark spots on the prairie, along the bank of
the stream.

"Buffalo!" said I. Then a sudden hope flashed upon me, and eagerly and
anxiously I looked again.

"Horses!" exclaimed Raymond, with a tremendous oath, lashing his mule
forward as he spoke. More and more of the plain disclosed itself, and
in rapid succession more and more horses appeared, scattered along
the river bank, or feeding in bands over the prairie. Then, suddenly,
standing in a circle by the stream, swarming with their savage
inhabitants, we saw rising before us the tall lodges of the Ogallalla.
Never did the heart of wanderer more gladden at the sight of home than
did mine at the sight of those wild habitations!



CHAPTER XIV

THE OGALLALLA VILLAGE


Such a narrative as this is hardly the place for portraying the mental
features of the Indians. The same picture, slightly changed in shade and
coloring, would serve with very few exceptions for all the tribes that
lie north of the Mexican territories. But with this striking similarity
in their modes of thought, the tribes of the lake and ocean shores, of
the forests and of the plains, differ greatly in their manner of life.
Having been domesticated for several weeks among one of the wildest of
the wild hordes that roam over the remote prairies, I had extraordinary
opportunities of observing them, and I flatter myself that a faithful
picture of the scenes that passed daily before my eyes may not be devoid
of interest and value. These men were thorough savages. Neither their
manners nor their ideas were in the slightest degree modified by contact
with civilization. They knew nothing of the power and real character of
the white men, and their children would scream in terror at the sight of
me. Their religion, their superstitions, and their prejudices were the
same that had been handed down to them from immemorial time. They fought
with the same weapons that their fathers fought with and wore the same
rude garments of skins.

Great changes are at hand in that region. With the stream of emigration
to Oregon and California, the buffalo will dwindle away, and the large
wandering communities who depend on them for support must be broken
and scattered. The Indians will soon be corrupted by the example of the
whites, abased by whisky, and overawed by military posts; so that within
a few years the traveler may pass in tolerable security through their
country. Its danger and its charm will have disappeared together.

As soon as Raymond and I discovered the village from the gap in the
hills, we were seen in our turn; keen eyes were constantly on the watch.
As we rode down upon the plain the side of the village nearest us was
darkened with a crowd of naked figures gathering around the lodges.
Several men came forward to meet us. I could distinguish among them the
green blanket of the Frenchman Reynal. When we came up the ceremony of
shaking hands had to be gone through with in due form, and then all were
eager to know what had become of the rest of my party. I satisfied them
on this point, and we all moved forward together toward the village.

"You've missed it," said Reynal; "if you'd been here day before
yesterday, you'd have found the whole prairie over yonder black with
buffalo as far as you could see. There were no cows, though; nothing but
bulls. We made a 'surround' every day till yesterday. See the village
there; don't that look like good living?"

In fact I could see, even at that distance, that long cords were
stretched from lodge to lodge, over which the meat, cut by the squaws
into thin sheets, was hanging to dry in the sun. I noticed too that the
village was somewhat smaller than when I had last seen it, and I asked
Reynal the cause. He said that the old Le Borgne had felt too weak
to pass over the mountains, and so had remained behind with all his
relations, including Mahto-Tatonka and his brothers. The Whirlwind
too had been unwilling to come so far, because, as Reynal said, he was
afraid. Only half a dozen lodges had adhered to him, the main body of
the village setting their chief's authority at naught, and taking the
course most agreeable to their inclinations.

"What chiefs are there in the village now?" said I.

"Well," said Reynal, "there's old Red-Water, and the Eagle-Feather, and
the Big Crow, and the Mad Wolf and the Panther, and the White Shield,
and--what's his name?--the half-breed Cheyenne."

By this time we were close to the village, and I observed that while the
greater part of the lodges were very large and neat in their appearance,
there was at one side a cluster of squalid, miserable huts. I looked
toward them, and made some remark about their wretched appearance. But I
was touching upon delicate ground.

"My squaw's relations live in those lodges," said Reynal very warmly,
"and there isn't a better set in the whole village."

"Are there any chiefs among them?" asked I.

"Chiefs?" said Reynal; "yes, plenty!"

"What are their names?" I inquired.

"Their names? Why, there's the Arrow-Head. If he isn't a chief he ought
to be one. And there's the Hail-Storm. He's nothing but a boy, to be
sure; but he's bound to be a chief one of these days!"

Just then we passed between two of the lodges, and entered the great
area of the village. Superb naked figures stood silently gazing on us.

"Where's the Bad Wound's lodge?" said I to Reynal.

"There, you've missed it again! The Bad Wound is away with The
Whirlwind. If you could have found him here, and gone to live in his
lodge, he would have treated you better than any man in the village.
But there's the Big Crow's lodge yonder, next to old Red-Water's. He's a
good Indian for the whites, and I advise you to go and live with him."

"Are there many squaws and children in his lodge?" said I.

"No; only one squaw and two or three children. He keeps the rest in a
separate lodge by themselves."

So, still followed by a crowd of Indians, Raymond and I rode up to the
entrance of the Big Crow's lodge. A squaw came out immediately and took
our horses. I put aside the leather nap that covered the low opening,
and stooping, entered the Big Crow's dwelling. There I could see the
chief in the dim light, seated at one side, on a pile of buffalo robes.
He greeted me with a guttural "How, cola!" I requested Reynal to tell
him that Raymond and I were come to live with him. The Big Crow gave
another low exclamation. If the reader thinks that we were intruding
somewhat cavalierly, I beg him to observe that every Indian in the
village would have deemed himself honored that white men should give
such preference to his hospitality.

The squaw spread a buffalo robe for us in the guest's place at the head
of the lodge. Our saddles were brought in, and scarcely were we seated
upon them before the place was thronged with Indians, who came crowding
in to see us. The Big Crow produced his pipe and filled it with the
mixture of tobacco and shongsasha, or red willow bark. Round and round
it passed, and a lively conversation went forward. Meanwhile a squaw
placed before the two guests a wooden bowl of boiled buffalo meat, but
unhappily this was not the only banquet destined to be inflicted on us.
Rapidly, one after another, boys and young squaws thrust their heads in
at the opening, to invite us to various feasts in different parts of the
village. For half an hour or more we were actively engaged in passing
from lodge to lodge, tasting in each of the bowl of meat set before us,
and inhaling a whiff or two from our entertainer's pipe. A thunderstorm
that had been threatening for some time now began in good earnest. We
crossed over to Reynal's lodge, though it hardly deserved this name, for
it consisted only of a few old buffalo robes, supported on poles, and
was quite open on one side. Here we sat down, and the Indians gathered
round us.

"What is it," said I, "that makes the thunder?"

"It's my belief," said Reynal, "that it is a big stone rolling over the
sky."

"Very likely," I replied; "but I want to know what the Indians think
about it."

So he interpreted my question, which seemed to produce some doubt
and debate. There was evidently a difference of opinion. At last old
Mene-Seela, or Red-Water, who sat by himself at one side, looked up with
his withered face, and said he had always known what the thunder was.
It was a great black bird; and once he had seen it, in a dream, swooping
down from the Black Hills, with its loud roaring wings; and when it
flapped them over a lake, they struck lightning from the water.

"The thunder is bad," said another old man, who sat muffled in his
buffalo robe; "he killed my brother last summer."

Reynal, at my request, asked for an explanation; but the old man
remained doggedly silent, and would not look up. Some time after I
learned how the accident occurred. The man who was killed belonged to an
association which, among other mystic functions, claimed the exclusive
power and privilege of fighting the thunder. Whenever a storm which they
wished to avert was threatening, the thunder-fighters would take their
bows and arrows, their guns, their magic drum, and a sort of whistle,
made out of the wingbone of the war eagle. Thus equipped, they would
run out and fire at the rising cloud, whooping, yelling, whistling, and
beating their drum, to frighten it down again. One afternoon a heavy
black cloud was coming up, and they repaired to the top of a hill, where
they brought all their magic artillery into play against it. But the
undaunted thunder, refusing to be terrified, kept moving straight
onward, and darted out a bright flash which struck one of the party
dead, as he was in the very act of shaking his long iron-pointed
lance against it. The rest scattered and ran yelling in an ecstasy of
superstitious terror back to their lodges.

The lodge of my host Kongra-Tonga, or the Big Crow, presented a
picturesque spectacle that evening. A score or more of Indians were
seated around in a circle, their dark naked forms just visible by
the dull light of the smoldering fire in the center, the pipe glowing
brightly in the gloom as it passed from hand to hand round the lodge.
Then a squaw would drop a piece of buffalo-fat on the dull embers.
Instantly a bright glancing flame would leap up, darting its clear light
to the very apex of the tall conical structure, where the tops of the
slender poles that supported its covering of leather were gathered
together. It gilded the features of the Indians, as with animated
gestures they sat around it, telling their endless stories of war and
hunting. It displayed rude garments of skins that hung around the lodge;
the bow, quiver, and lance suspended over the resting-place of the
chief, and the rifles and powder-horns of the two white guests. For a
moment all would be bright as day; then the flames would die away, and
fitful flashes from the embers would illumine the lodge, and then leave
it in darkness. Then all the light would wholly fade, and the lodge and
all within it be involved again in obscurity.

As I left the lodge next morning, I was saluted by howling and yelling
from all around the village, and half its canine population rushed
forth to the attack. Being as cowardly as they were clamorous, they kept
jumping around me at the distance of a few yards, only one little cur,
about ten inches long, having spirit enough to make a direct assault. He
dashed valiantly at the leather tassel which in the Dakota fashion was
trailing behind the heel of my moccasin, and kept his hold, growling and
snarling all the while, though every step I made almost jerked him over
on his back. As I knew that the eyes of the whole village were on the
watch to see if I showed any sign of apprehension, I walked forward
without looking to the right or left, surrounded wherever I went by this
magic circle of dogs. When I came to Reynal's lodge I sat down by it, on
which the dogs dispersed growling to their respective quarters. Only one
large white one remained, who kept running about before me and showing
his teeth. I called him, but he only growled the more. I looked at him
well. He was fat and sleek; just such a dog as I wanted. "My friend,"
thought I, "you shall pay for this! I will have you eaten this very
morning!"

I intended that day to give the Indians a feast, by way of conveying a
favorable impression of my character and dignity; and a white dog is
the dish which the customs of the Dakota prescribe for all occasions of
formality and importance. I consulted Reynal; he soon discovered that an
old woman in the next lodge was owner of the white dog. I took a
gaudy cotton handkerchief, and laying it on the ground, arranged some
vermilion, beads, and other trinkets upon it. Then the old squaw was
summoned. I pointed to the dog and to the handkerchief. She gave a
scream of delight, snatched up the prize, and vanished with it into
her lodge. For a few more trifles I engaged the services of two other
squaws, each of whom took the white dog by one of his paws, and led him
away behind the lodges, while he kept looking up at them with a face
of innocent surprise. Having killed him they threw him into a fire to
singe; then chopped him up and put him into two large kettles to boil.
Meanwhile I told Raymond to fry in buffalo-fat what little flour we
had left, and also to make a kettle of tea as an additional item of the
repast.

The Big Crow's squaw was set briskly at work sweeping out the lodge for
the approaching festivity. I confided to my host himself the task of
inviting the guests, thinking that I might thereby shift from my own
shoulders the odium of fancied neglect and oversight.

When feasting is in question, one hour of the day serves an Indian as
well as another. My entertainment came off about eleven o'clock. At that
hour, Reynal and Raymond walked across the area of the village, to the
admiration of the inhabitants, carrying the two kettles of dog-meat
slung on a pole between them. These they placed in the center of the
lodge, and then went back for the bread and the tea. Meanwhile I had put
on a pair of brilliant moccasins, and substituted for my old buckskin
frock a coat which I had brought with me in view of such public
occasions. I also made careful use of the razor, an operation which no
man will neglect who desires to gain the good opinion of Indians. Thus
attired, I seated myself between Reynal and Raymond at the head of the
lodge. Only a few minutes elapsed before all the guests had come in and
were seated on the ground, wedged together in a close circle around
the lodge. Each brought with him a wooden bowl to hold his share of the
repast. When all were assembled, two of the officials called "soldiers"
by the white men, came forward with ladles made of the horn of the Rocky
Mountain sheep, and began to distribute the feast, always assigning
a double share to the old men and chiefs. The dog vanished with
astonishing celerity, and each guest turned his dish bottom upward to
show that all was gone. Then the bread was distributed in its turn,
and finally the tea. As the soldiers poured it out into the same wooden
bowls that had served for the substantial part of the meal, I thought it
had a particularly curious and uninviting color.

"Oh!" said Reynal, "there was not tea enough, so I stirred some soot in
the kettle, to make it look strong."

Fortunately an Indian's palate is not very discriminating. The tea was
well sweetened, and that was all they cared for.

Now the former part of the entertainment being concluded, the time for
speech-making was come. The Big Crow produced a flat piece of wood
on which he cut up tobacco and shongsasha, and mixed them in due
proportions. The pipes were filled and passed from hand to hand around
the company. Then I began my speech, each sentence being interpreted
by Reynal as I went on, and echoed by the whole audience with the usual
exclamations of assent and approval. As nearly as I can recollect, it
was as follows:

I had come, I told them, from a country so far distant, that at the rate
they travel, they could not reach it in a year.

"Howo how!"

"There the Meneaska were more numerous than the blades of grass on the
prairie. The squaws were far more beautiful than any they had ever seen,
and all the men were brave warriors."

"How! how! how!"

Here I was assailed by sharp twinges of conscience, for I fancied I
could perceive a fragrance of perfumery in the air, and a vision rose
before me of white kid gloves and silken mustaches with the mild and
gentle countenances of numerous fair-haired young men. But I recovered
myself and began again.

"While I was living in the Meneaska lodges, I had heard of the
Ogallalla, how great and brave a nation they were, how they loved
the whites, and how well they could hunt the buffalo and strike their
enemies. I resolved to come and see if all that I heard was true."

"How! how! how! how!"

"As I had come on horseback through the mountains, I had been able to
bring them only a very few presents."

"How!"

"But I had enough tobacco to give them all a small piece. They might
smoke it, and see how much better it was than the tobacco which they got
from the traders."

"How! how! how!"

"I had plenty of powder, lead, knives, and tobacco at Fort Laramie.
These I was anxious to give them, and if any of them should come to the
fort before I went away, I would make them handsome presents."

"How! howo how! how!"

Raymond then cut up and distributed among them two or three pounds of
tobacco, and old Mene-Seela began to make a reply. It was quite long,
but the following was the pith of it:

"He had always loved the whites. They were the wisest people on earth.
He believed they could do everything, and he was always glad when any
of them came to live in the Ogallalla lodges. It was true I had not made
them many presents, but the reason of it was plain. It was clear that I
liked them, or I never should have come so far to find their village."

Several other speeches of similar import followed, and then this more
serious matter being disposed of, there was an interval of smoking,
laughing, and conversation; but old Mene-Seela suddenly interrupted it
with a loud voice:

"Now is a good time," he said, "when all the old men and chiefs are here
together, to decide what the people shall do. We came over the mountain
to make our lodges for next year. Our old ones are good for nothing;
they are rotten and worn out. But we have been disappointed. We have
killed buffalo bulls enough, but we have found no herds of cows, and the
skins of bulls are too thick and heavy for our squaws to make lodges of.
There must be plenty of cows about the Medicine-Bow Mountain. We ought
to go there. To be sure it is farther westward than we have ever been
before, and perhaps the Snakes will attack us, for those hunting-grounds
belong to them. But we must have new lodges at any rate; our old ones
will not serve for another year. We ought not to be afraid of the
Snakes. Our warriors are brave, and they are all ready for war. Besides,
we have three white men with their rifles to help us."

I could not help thinking that the old man relied a little too much on
the aid of allies, one of whom was a coward, another a blockhead, and
the third an invalid. This speech produced a good deal of debate.
As Reynal did not interpret what was said, I could only judge of the
meaning by the features and gestures of the speakers. At the end of it,
however, the greater number seemed to have fallen in with Mene-Seela's
opinion. A short silence followed, and then the old man struck up
a discordant chant, which I was told was a song of thanks for the
entertainment I had given them.

"Now," said he, "let us go and give the white men a chance to breathe."

So the company all dispersed into the open air, and for some time the
old chief was walking round the village, singing his song in praise of
the feast, after the usual custom of the nation.

At last the day drew to a close, and as the sun went down the horses
came trooping from the surrounding plains to be picketed before the
dwellings of their respective masters. Soon within the great circle of
lodges appeared another concentric circle of restless horses; and here
and there fires were glowing and flickering amid the gloom of the dusky
figures around them. I went over and sat by the lodge of Reynal. The
Eagle-Feather, who was a son of Mene-Seela, and brother of my host the
Big Crow, was seated there already, and I asked him if the village would
move in the morning. He shook his head, and said that nobody could tell,
for since old Mahto-Tatonka had died, the people had been like children
that did not know their own minds. They were no better than a body
without a head. So I, as well as the Indians themselves, fell asleep
that night without knowing whether we should set out in the morning
toward the country of the Snakes.

At daybreak, however, as I was coming up from the river after my
morning's ablutions, I saw that a movement was contemplated. Some of the
lodges were reduced to nothing but bare skeletons of poles; the leather
covering of others was flapping in the wind as the squaws were pulling
it off. One or two chiefs of note had resolved, it seemed, on moving;
and so having set their squaws at work, the example was tacitly followed
by the rest of the village. One by one the lodges were sinking down in
rapid succession, and where the great circle of the village had been
only a moment before, nothing now remained but a ring of horses and
Indians, crowded in confusion together. The ruins of the lodges were
spread over the ground, together with kettles, stone mallets, great
ladles of horn, buffalo robes, and cases of painted hide, filled with
dried meat. Squaws bustled about in their busy preparations, the old
hags screaming to one another at the stretch of their leathern lungs.
The shaggy horses were patiently standing while the lodge-poles were
lashed to their sides, and the baggage piled upon their backs. The dogs,
with their tongues lolling out, lay lazily panting, and waiting for the
time of departure. Each warrior sat on the ground by the decaying embers
of his fire, unmoved amid all the confusion, while he held in his hand
the long trail-rope of his horse.

As their preparations were completed, each family moved off the ground.
The crowd was rapidly melting away. I could see them crossing the river,
and passing in quick succession along the profile of the hill on the
farther bank. When all were gone, I mounted and set out after them,
followed by Raymond, and as we gained the summit, the whole village
came in view at once, straggling away for a mile or more over the barren
plains before us. Everywhere the iron points of lances were glittering.
The sun never shone upon a more strange array. Here were the heavy-laden
pack horses, some wretched old women leading them, and two or three
children clinging to their backs. Here were mules or ponies covered from
head to tail with gaudy trappings, and mounted by some gay young squaw,
grinning bashfulness and pleasure as the Meneaska looked at her. Boys
with miniature bows and arrows were wandering over the plains, little
naked children were running along on foot, and numberless dogs were
scampering among the feet of the horses. The young braves, gaudy with
paint and feathers, were riding in groups among the crowd, and often
galloping, two or three at once along the line, to try the speed of
their horses. Here and there you might see a rank of sturdy pedestrians
stalking along in their white buffalo robes. These were the dignitaries
of the village, the old men and warriors, to whose age and experience
that wandering democracy yielded a silent deference. With the rough
prairie and the broken hills for its background, the restless scene
was striking and picturesque beyond description. Days and weeks made me
familiar with it, but never impaired its effect upon my fancy.

As we moved on the broken column grew yet more scattered and disorderly,
until, as we approached the foot of a hill, I saw the old men before
mentioned seating themselves in a line upon the ground, in advance of
the whole. They lighted a pipe and sat smoking, laughing, and telling
stories, while the people, stopping as they successively came up, were
soon gathered in a crowd behind them. Then the old men rose, drew their
buffalo robes over their shoulders, and strode on as before. Gaining the
top of the hill, we found a very steep declivity before us. There was
not a minute's pause. The whole descended in a mass, amid dust and
confusion. The horses braced their feet as they slid down, women and
children were screaming, dogs yelping as they were trodden upon, while
stones and earth went rolling to the bottom. In a few moments I could
see the village from the summit, spreading again far and wide over the
plain below.

At our encampment that afternoon I was attacked anew by my old disorder.
In half an hour the strength that I had been gaining for a week past had
vanished again, and I became like a man in a dream. But at sunset I lay
down in the Big Crow's lodge and slept, totally unconscious till the
morning. The first thing that awakened me was a hoarse flapping over my
head, and a sudden light that poured in upon me. The camp was breaking
up, and the squaws were moving the covering from the lodge. I arose and
shook off my blanket with the feeling of perfect health; but scarcely
had I gained my feet when a sense of my helpless condition was once more
forced upon me, and I found myself scarcely able to stand. Raymond had
brought up Pauline and the mule, and I stooped to raise my saddle from
the ground. My strength was quite inadequate to the task. "You must
saddle her," said I to Raymond, as I sat down again on a pile of buffalo
robes:


"Et hoec etiam fortasse meminisse juvabit."


I thought, while with a painful effort I raised myself into the saddle.
Half an hour after, even the expectation that Virgil's line expressed
seemed destined to disappointment. As we were passing over a great
plain, surrounded by long broken ridges, I rode slowly in advance of
the Indians, with thoughts that wandered far from the time and from the
place. Suddenly the sky darkened, and thunder began to mutter. Clouds
were rising over the hills, as dreary and dull as the first forebodings
of an approaching calamity; and in a moment all around was wrapped in
shadow. I looked behind. The Indians had stopped to prepare for the
approaching storm, and the dark, dense mass of savages stretched far to
the right and left. Since the first attack of my disorder the effects
of rain upon me had usually been injurious in the extreme. I had no
strength to spare, having at that moment scarcely enough to keep my seat
on horseback. Then, for the first time, it pressed upon me as a strong
probability that I might never leave those deserts. "Well," thought I
to myself, "a prairie makes quick and sharp work. Better to die here, in
the saddle to the last, than to stifle in the hot air of a sick chamber,
and a thousand times better than to drag out life, as many have done,
in the helpless inaction of lingering disease." So, drawing the buffalo
robe on which I sat over my head, I waited till the storm should come.
It broke at last with a sudden burst of fury, and passing away as
rapidly as it came, left the sky clear again. My reflections served
me no other purpose than to look back upon as a piece of curious
experience; for the rain did not produce the ill effects that I had
expected. We encamped within an hour. Having no change of clothes, I
contrived to borrow a curious kind of substitute from Reynal: and this
done, I went home, that is, to the Big Crow's lodge to make the entire
transfer that was necessary. Half a dozen squaws were in the lodge, and
one of them taking my arm held it against her own, while a general laugh
and scream of admiration were raised at the contrast in the color of the
skin.

Our encampment that afternoon was not far distant from a spur of the
Black Hills, whose ridges, bristling with fir trees, rose from the
plains a mile or two on our right. That they might move more rapidly
toward their proposed hunting-grounds, the Indians determined to leave
at this place their stock of dried meat and other superfluous articles.
Some left even their lodges, and contented themselves with carrying a
few hides to make a shelter from the sun and rain. Half the inhabitants
set out in the afternoon, with loaded pack horses, toward the mountains.
Here they suspended the dried meat upon trees, where the wolves and
grizzly bears could not get at it. All returned at evening. Some of the
young men declared that they had heard the reports of guns among the
mountains to the eastward, and many surmises were thrown out as to the
origin of these sounds. For my part, I was in hopes that Shaw and Henry
Chatillon were coming to join us. I would have welcomed them cordially,
for I had no other companions than two brutish white men and five
hundred savages. I little suspected that at that very moment my unlucky
comrade was lying on a buffalo robe at Fort Laramie, fevered with ivy
poison, and solacing his woes with tobacco and Shakespeare.

As we moved over the plains on the next morning, several young men were
riding about the country as scouts; and at length we began to see them
occasionally on the tops of the hills, shaking their robes as a signal
that they saw buffalo. Soon after, some bulls came in sight. Horsemen
darted away in pursuit, and we could see from the distance that one
or two of the buffalo were killed. Raymond suddenly became inspired.
I looked at him as he rode by my side; his face had actually grown
intelligent!

"This is the country for me!" he said; "if I could only carry the
buffalo that are killed here every month down to St. Louis I'd make
my fortune in one winter. I'd grow as rich as old Papin, or Mackenzie
either. I call this the poor man's market. When I'm hungry I have only
got to take my rifle and go out and get better meat than the rich folks
down below can get with all their money. You won't catch me living in
St. Louis another winter."

"No," said Reynal, "you had better say that after you and your Spanish
woman almost starved to death there. What a fool you were ever to take
her to the settlements."

"Your Spanish woman?" said I; "I never heard of her before. Are you
married to her?"

"No," answered Raymond, again looking intelligent; "the priests don't
marry their women, and why should I marry mine?"

This honorable mention of the Mexican clergy introduced the subject of
religion, and I found that my two associates, in common with other white
men in the country, were as indifferent to their future welfare as men
whose lives are in constant peril are apt to be. Raymond had never
heard of the Pope. A certain bishop, who lived at Taos or at Santa
Fe, embodied his loftiest idea of an ecclesiastical dignitary. Reynal
observed that a priest had been at Fort Laramie two years ago, on his
way to the Nez Perce mission, and that he had confessed all the men
there and given them absolution. "I got a good clearing out myself that
time," said Reynal, "and I reckon that will do for me till I go down to
the settlements again."

Here he interrupted himself with an oath and exclaimed: "Look! look! The
Panther is running an antelope!"

The Panther, on his black and white horse, one of the best in the
village, came at full speed over the hill in hot pursuit of an antelope
that darted away like lightning before him. The attempt was made in mere
sport and bravado, for very few are the horses that can for a moment
compete in swiftness with this little animal. The antelope ran down the
hill toward the main body of the Indians who were moving over the plain
below. Sharp yells were given and horsemen galloped out to intercept his
flight. At this he turned sharply to the left and scoured away with such
incredible speed that he distanced all his pursuers and even the vaunted
horse of the Panther himself. A few moments after we witnessed a more
serious sport. A shaggy buffalo bull bounded out from a neighboring
hollow, and close behind him came a slender Indian boy, riding without
stirrups or saddle and lashing his eager little horse to full speed.
Yard after yard he drew closer to his gigantic victim, though the bull,
with his short tail erect and his tongue lolling out a foot from his
foaming jaws, was straining his unwieldy strength to the utmost. A
moment more and the boy was close alongside of him. It was our friend
the Hail-Storm. He dropped the rein on his horse's neck and jerked an
arrow like lightning from the quiver at his shoulder.

"I tell you," said Reynal, "that in a year's time that boy will match
the best hunter in the village. There he has given it to him! and there
goes another! You feel well, now, old bull, don't you, with two arrows
stuck in your lights? There, he has given him another! Hear how the
Hail-Storm yells when he shoots! Yes, jump at him; try it again, old
fellow! You may jump all day before you get your horns into that pony!"

The bull sprang again and again at his assailant, but the horse kept
dodging with wonderful celerity. At length the bull followed up his
attack with a furious rush, and the Hail-Storm was put to flight, the
shaggy monster following close behind. The boy clung in his seat like a
leech, and secure in the speed of his little pony, looked round toward
us and laughed. In a moment he was again alongside of the bull, who
was now driven to complete desperation. His eyeballs glared through
his tangled mane, and the blood flew from his mouth and nostrils. Thus,
still battling with each other, the two enemies disappeared over the
hill.

Many of the Indians rode at full gallop toward the spot. We followed at
a more moderate pace, and soon saw the bull lying dead on the side of
the hill. The Indians were gathered around him, and several knives were
already at work. These little instruments were plied with such wonderful
address that the twisted sinews were cut apart, the ponderous bones fell
asunder as if by magic, and in a moment the vast carcass was reduced to
a heap of bloody ruins. The surrounding group of savages offered no very
attractive spectacle to a civilized eye. Some were cracking the huge
thigh-bones and devouring the marrow within; others were cutting away
pieces of the liver and other approved morsels, and swallowing them
on the spot with the appetite of wolves. The faces of most of them,
besmeared with blood from ear to ear, looked grim and horrible enough.
My friend the White Shield proffered me a marrowbone, so skillfully laid
open that all the rich substance within was exposed to view at once.
Another Indian held out a large piece of the delicate lining of the
paunch; but these courteous offerings I begged leave to decline. I
noticed one little boy who was very busy with his knife about the
jaws and throat of the buffalo, from which he extracted some morsel of
peculiar delicacy. It is but fair to say that only certain parts of the
animal are considered eligible in these extempore banquets. The Indians
would look with abhorrence on anyone who should partake indiscriminately
of the newly killed carcass.

We encamped that night, and marched westward through the greater part of
the following day. On the next morning we again resumed our journey. It
was the 17th of July, unless my notebook misleads me. At noon we stopped
by some pools of rain-water, and in the afternoon again set forward.
This double movement was contrary to the usual practice of the Indians,
but all were very anxious to reach the hunting ground, kill the
necessary number of buffalo, and retreat as soon as possible from the
dangerous neighborhood. I pass by for the present some curious incidents
that occurred during these marches and encampments. Late in the
afternoon of the last-mentioned day we came upon the banks of a little
sandy stream, of which the Indians could not tell the name; for they
were very ill acquainted with that part of the country. So parched and
arid were the prairies around that they could not supply grass enough
for the horses to feed upon, and we were compelled to move farther and
farther up the stream in search of ground for encampment. The country
was much wilder than before. The plains were gashed with ravines and
broken into hollows and steep declivities, which flanked our course, as,
in long-scattered array, the Indians advanced up the side of the stream.
Mene-Seela consulted an extraordinary oracle to instruct him where the
buffalo were to be found. When he with the other chiefs sat down on the
grass to smoke and converse, as they often did during the march, the old
man picked up one of those enormous black-and-green crickets, which the
Dakota call by a name that signifies "They who point out the buffalo."
The Root-Diggers, a wretched tribe beyond the mountains, turn them to
good account by making them into a sort of soup, pronounced by certain
unscrupulous trappers to be extremely rich. Holding the bloated insect
respectfully between his fingers and thumb, the old Indian looked
attentively at him and inquired, "Tell me, my father, where must we go
to-morrow to find the buffalo?" The cricket twisted about his long horns
in evident embarrassment. At last he pointed, or seemed to point, them
westward. Mene-Seela, dropping him gently on the grass, laughed with
great glee, and said that if we went that way in the morning we should
be sure to kill plenty of game.

Toward evening we came upon a fresh green meadow, traversed by the
stream, and deep-set among tall sterile bluffs. The Indians descended
its steep bank; and as I was at the rear, I was one of the last to reach
this point. Lances were glittering, feathers fluttering, and the water
below me was crowded with men and horses passing through, while the
meadow beyond was swarming with the restless crowd of Indians. The sun
was just setting, and poured its softened light upon them through an
opening in the hills.

I remarked to Reynal that at last we had found a good camping-ground.

"Oh, it is very good," replied he ironically; "especially if there is a
Snake war party about, and they take it into their heads to shoot down
at us from the top of these hills. It is no plan of mine, camping in
such a hole as this!"

The Indians also seemed apprehensive. High up on the top of the tallest
bluff, conspicuous in the bright evening sunlight, sat a naked warrior
on horseback, looking around, as it seemed, over the neighboring
country; and Raymond told me that many of the young men had gone out in
different directions as scouts.

The shadows had reached to the very summit of the bluffs before the
lodges were erected and the village reduced again to quiet and order. A
cry was suddenly raised, and men, women, and children came running out
with animated faces, and looked eagerly through the opening on the hills
by which the stream entered from the westward. I could discern afar
off some dark, heavy masses, passing over the sides of a low hill. They
disappeared, and then others followed. These were bands of buffalo cows.
The hunting-ground was reached at last, and everything promised well for
the morrow's sport. Being fatigued and exhausted, I went and lay down in
Kongra-Tonga's lodge, when Raymond thrust in his head, and called
upon me to come and see some sport. A number of Indians were gathered,
laughing, along the line of lodges on the western side of the village,
and at some distance, I could plainly see in the twilight two huge black
monsters stalking, heavily and solemnly, directly toward us. They were
buffalo bulls. The wind blew from them to the village, and such was
their blindness and stupidity that they were advancing upon the enemy
without the least consciousness of his presence. Raymond told me that
two men had hidden themselves with guns in a ravine about twenty yards
in front of us. The two bulls walked slowly on, heavily swinging from
side to side in their peculiar gait of stupid dignity. They approached
within four or five rods of the ravine where the Indians lay in ambush.
Here at last they seemed conscious that something was wrong, for they
both stopped and stood perfectly still, without looking either to the
right or to the left. Nothing of them was to be seen but two huge black
masses of shaggy mane, with horns, eyes, and nose in the center, and
a pair of hoofs visible at the bottom. At last the more intelligent of
them seemed to have concluded that it was time to retire. Very slowly,
and with an air of the gravest and most majestic deliberation, he began
to turn round, as if he were revolving on a pivot. Little by little his
ugly brown side was exposed to view. A white smoke sprang out, as it
were from the ground; a sharp report came with it. The old bull gave
a very undignified jump and galloped off. At this his comrade wheeled
about with considerable expedition. The other Indian shot at him from
the ravine, and then both the bulls were running away at full speed,
while half the juvenile population of the village raised a yell and ran
after them. The first bull was soon stopped, and while the crowd stood
looking at him at a respectable distance, he reeled and rolled over on
his side. The other, wounded in a less vital part, galloped away to the
hills and escaped.

In half an hour it was totally dark. I lay down to sleep, and ill as I
was, there was something very animating in the prospect of the general
hunt that was to take place on the morrow.



CHAPTER XV

THE HUNTING CAMP


Long before daybreak the Indians broke up their camp. The women of
Mene-Seela's lodge were as usual among the first that were ready for
departure, and I found the old man himself sitting by the embers of the
decayed fire, over which he was warming his withered fingers, as the
morning was very chilly and damp. The preparations for moving were
even more confused and disorderly than usual. While some families were
leaving the ground the lodges of others were still standing untouched.
At this old Mene-Seela grew impatient, and walking out to the middle of
the village stood with his robe wrapped close around him, and harangued
the people in a loud, sharp voice. Now, he said, when they were on an
enemy's hunting-grounds, was not the time to behave like children;
they ought to be more active and united than ever. His speech had some
effect. The delinquents took down their lodges and loaded their pack
horses; and when the sun rose, the last of the men, women, and children
had left the deserted camp.

This movement was made merely for the purpose of finding a better and
safer position. So we advanced only three or four miles up the little
stream, before each family assumed its relative place in the great
ring of the village, and all around the squaws were actively at work in
preparing the camp. But not a single warrior dismounted from his horse.
All the men that morning were mounted on inferior animals, leading their
best horses by a cord, or confiding them to the care of boys. In small
parties they began to leave the ground and ride rapidly away over the
plains to the westward. I had taken no food that morning, and not being
at all ambitious of further abstinence, I went into my host's lodge,
which his squaws had erected with wonderful celerity, and sat down in
the center, as a gentle hint that I was hungry. A wooden bowl was soon
set before me, filled with the nutritious preparation of dried meat
called pemmican by the northern voyagers and wasna by the Dakota. Taking
a handful to break my fast upon, I left the lodge just in time to see
the last band of hunters disappear over the ridge of the neighboring
hill. I mounted Pauline and galloped in pursuit, riding rather by the
balance than by any muscular strength that remained to me. From the
top of the hill I could overlook a wide extent of desolate and unbroken
prairie, over which, far and near, little parties of naked horsemen were
rapidly passing. I soon came up to the nearest, and we had not ridden
a mile before all were united into one large and compact body. All
was haste and eagerness. Each hunter was whipping on his horse, as if
anxious to be the first to reach the game. In such movements among the
Indians this is always more or less the case; but it was especially
so in the present instance, because the head chief of the village was
absent, and there were but few "soldiers," a sort of Indian police, who
among their other functions usually assumed the direction of a buffalo
hunt. No man turned to the right hand or to the left. We rode at a swift
canter straight forward, uphill and downhill, and through the stiff,
obstinate growth of the endless wild-sage bushes. For an hour and a half
the same red shoulders, the same long black hair rose and fell with
the motion of the horses before me. Very little was said, though once I
observed an old man severely reproving Raymond for having left his rifle
behind him, when there was some probability of encountering an enemy
before the day was over. As we galloped across a plain thickly set with
sagebushes, the foremost riders vanished suddenly from sight, as if
diving into the earth. The arid soil was cracked into a deep ravine.
Down we all went in succession and galloped in a line along the bottom,
until we found a point where, one by one, the horses could scramble out.
Soon after we came upon a wide shallow stream, and as we rode swiftly
over the hard sand-beds and through the thin sheets of rippling water,
many of the savage horsemen threw themselves to the ground, knelt on the
sand, snatched a hasty draught, and leaping back again to their seats,
galloped on again as before.

Meanwhile scouts kept in advance of the party; and now we began to see
them on the ridge of the hills, waving their robes in token that
buffalo were visible. These however proved to be nothing more than old
straggling bulls, feeding upon the neighboring plains, who would stare
for a moment at the hostile array and then gallop clumsily off. At
length we could discern several of these scouts making their signals
to us at once; no longer waving their robes boldly from the top of the
hill, but standing lower down, so that they could not be seen from the
plains beyond. Game worth pursuing had evidently been discovered. The
excited Indians now urged forward their tired horses even more rapidly
than before. Pauline, who was still sick and jaded, began to groan
heavily; and her yellow sides were darkened with sweat. As we were
crowding together over a lower intervening hill, I heard Reynal and
Raymond shouting to me from the left; and looking in that direction,
I saw them riding away behind a party of about twenty mean-looking
Indians. These were the relatives of Reynal's squaw Margot, who, not
wishing to take part in the general hunt, were riding toward a distant
hollow, where they could discern a small band of buffalo which they
meant to appropriate to themselves. I answered to the call by ordering
Raymond to turn back and follow me. He reluctantly obeyed, though
Reynal, who had relied on his assistance in skinning, cutting up, and
carrying to camp the buffalo that he and his party should kill, loudly
protested and declared that we should see no sport if we went with the
rest of the Indians. Followed by Raymond I pursued the main body of
hunters, while Reynal in a great rage whipped his horse over the hill
after his ragamuffin relatives. The Indians, still about a hundred in
number, rode in a dense body at some distance in advance. They galloped
forward, and a cloud of dust was flying in the wind behind them. I could
not overtake them until they had stopped on the side of the hill where
the scouts were standing. Here, each hunter sprang in haste from the
tired animal which he had ridden, and leaped upon the fresh horse that
he had brought with him. There was not a saddle or a bridle in the whole
party. A piece of buffalo robe girthed over the horse's back served in
the place of the one, and a cord of twisted hair lashed firmly round
his lower jaw answered for the other. Eagle feathers were dangling from
every mane and tail, as insignia of courage and speed. As for the rider,
he wore no other clothing than a light cincture at his waist, and a pair
of moccasins. He had a heavy whip, with a handle of solid elk-horn,
and a lash of knotted bull-hide, fastened to his wrist by an ornamental
band. His bow was in his hand, and his quiver of otter or panther skin
hung at his shoulder. Thus equipped, some thirty of the hunters galloped
away toward the left, in order to make a circuit under cover of the
hills, that the buffalo might be assailed on both sides at once.
The rest impatiently waited until time enough had elapsed for their
companions to reach the required position. Then riding upward in a body,
we gained the ridge of the hill, and for the first time came in sight of
the buffalo on the plain beyond.

They were a band of cows, four or five hundred in number, who were
crowded together near the bank of a wide stream that was soaking
across the sand-beds of the valley. This was a large circular basin,
sun-scorched and broken, scantily covered with herbage and encompassed
with high barren hills, from an opening in which we could see our allies
galloping out upon the plain. The wind blew from that direction. The
buffalo were aware of their approach, and had begun to move, though very
slowly and in a compact mass. I have no further recollection of seeing
the game until we were in the midst of them, for as we descended the
hill other objects engrossed my attention. Numerous old bulls were
scattered over the plain, and ungallantly deserting their charge at our
approach, began to wade and plunge through the treacherous quick-sands
or the stream, and gallop away toward the hills. One old veteran was
struggling behind all the rest with one of his forelegs, which had
been broken by some accident, dangling about uselessly at his side. His
appearance, as he went shambling along on three legs, was so ludicrous
that I could not help pausing for a moment to look at him. As I came
near, he would try to rush upon me, nearly throwing himself down at
every awkward attempt. Looking up, I saw the whole body of Indians full
a hundred yards in advance. I lashed Pauline in pursuit and reached
them just in time, for as we mingled among them, each hunter, as if by
a common impulse, violently struck his horse, each horse sprang forward
convulsively, and scattering in the charge in order to assail the entire
herd at once, we all rushed headlong upon the buffalo. We were among
them in an instant. Amid the trampling and the yells I could see their
dark figures running hither and thither through clouds of dust, and the
horsemen darting in pursuit. While we were charging on one side, our
companions had attacked the bewildered and panic-stricken herd on
the other. The uproar and confusion lasted but for a moment. The dust
cleared away, and the buffalo could be seen scattering as from a common
center, flying over the plain singly, or in long files and small compact
bodies, while behind each followed the Indians, lashing their horses to
furious speed, forcing them close upon their prey, and yelling as they
launched arrow after arrow into their sides. The large black carcasses
were strewn thickly over the ground. Here and there wounded buffalo were
standing, their bleeding sides feathered with arrows; and as I rode past
them their eyes would glare, they would bristle like gigantic cats, and
feebly attempt to rush up and gore my horse.

I left camp that morning with a philosophic resolution. Neither I nor
my horse were at that time fit for such sport, and I had determined to
remain a quiet spectator; but amid the rush of horses and buffalo, the
uproar and the dust, I found it impossible to sit still; and as four or
five buffalo ran past me in a line, I drove Pauline in pursuit. We went
plunging close at their heels through the water and the quick-sands,
and clambering the bank, chased them through the wild-sage bushes that
covered the rising ground beyond. But neither her native spirit nor the
blows of the knotted bull-hide could supply the place of poor Pauline's
exhausted strength. We could not gain an inch upon the poor fugitives.
At last, however, they came full upon a ravine too wide to leap over;
and as this compelled them to turn abruptly to the left, I contrived to
get within ten or twelve yards of the hindmost. At this she faced about,
bristled angrily, and made a show of charging. I shot at her with
a large holster pistol, and hit her somewhere in the neck. Down she
tumbled into the ravine, whither her companions had descended before
her. I saw their dark backs appearing and disappearing as they galloped
along the bottom; then, one by one, they came scrambling out on the
other side and ran off as before, the wounded animal following with
unabated speed.

Turning back, I saw Raymond coming on his black mule to meet me; and as
we rode over the field together, we counted dozens of carcasses lying on
the plain, in the ravines and on the sandy bed of the stream. Far away
in the distance, horses and buffalo were still scouring along, with
little clouds of dust rising behind them; and over the sides of
the hills we could see long files of the frightened animals rapidly
ascending. The hunters began to return. The boys, who had held the
horses behind the hill, made their appearance, and the work of flaying
and cutting up began in earnest all over the field. I noticed my host
Kongra-Tonga beyond the stream, just alighting by the side of a cow
which he had killed. Riding up to him I found him in the act of drawing
out an arrow, which, with the exception of the notch at the end, had
entirely disappeared in the animal. I asked him to give it to me, and
I still retain it as a proof, though by no means the most striking one
that could be offered, of the force and dexterity with which the Indians
discharge their arrows.

The hides and meat were piled upon the horses, and the hunters began to
leave the ground. Raymond and I, too, getting tired of the scene, set
out for the village, riding straight across the intervening desert.
There was no path, and as far as I could see, no landmarks sufficient
to guide us; but Raymond seemed to have an instinctive perception of
the point on the horizon toward which we ought to direct our course.
Antelope were bounding on all sides, and as is always the case in the
presence of buffalo, they seemed to have lost their natural shyness and
timidity. Bands of them would run lightly up the rocky declivities,
and stand gazing down upon us from the summit. At length we could
distinguish the tall white rocks and the old pine trees that, as we well
remembered, were just above the site of the encampment. Still, we could
see nothing of the village itself until, ascending a grassy hill, we
found the circle of lodges, dingy with storms and smoke, standing on the
plain at our very feet.

I entered the lodge of my host. His squaw instantly brought me food
and water, and spread a buffalo robe for me to lie upon; and being much
fatigued, I lay down and fell asleep. In about an hour the entrance of
Kongra-Tonga, with his arms smeared with blood to the elbows, awoke me.
He sat down in his usual seat on the left side of the lodge. His squaw
gave him a vessel of water for washing, set before him a bowl of boiled
meat, and as he was eating pulled off his bloody moccasins and placed
fresh ones on his feet; then outstretching his limbs, my host composed
himself to sleep.

And now the hunters, two or three at a time, began to come rapidly in,
and each, consigning his horses to the squaws, entered his lodge with
the air of a man whose day's work was done. The squaws flung down the
load from the burdened horses, and vast piles of meat and hides were
soon accumulated before every lodge. By this time it was darkening fast,
and the whole village was illumined by the glare of fires blazing all
around. All the squaws and children were gathered about the piles of
meat, exploring them in search of the daintiest portions. Some of these
they roasted on sticks before the fires, but often they dispensed with
this superfluous operation. Late into the night the fires were still
glowing upon the groups of feasters engaged in this savage banquet
around them.

Several hunters sat down by the fire in Kongra-Tonga's lodge to talk
over the day's exploits. Among the rest, Mene-Seela came in. Though he
must have seen full eighty winters, he had taken an active share in the
day's sport. He boasted that he had killed two cows that morning, and
would have killed a third if the dust had not blinded him so that he had
to drop his bow and arrows and press both hands against his eyes to stop
the pain. The firelight fell upon his wrinkled face and shriveled figure
as he sat telling his story with such inimitable gesticulation that
every man in the lodge broke into a laugh.

Old Mene-Seela was one of the few Indians in the village with whom I
would have trusted myself alone without suspicion, and the only one from
whom I would have received a gift or a service without the certainty
that it proceeded from an interested motive. He was a great friend to
the whites. He liked to be in their society, and was very vain of the
favors he had received from them. He told me one afternoon, as we were
sitting together in his son's lodge, that he considered the beaver and
the whites the wisest people on earth; indeed, he was convinced they
were the same; and an incident which had happened to him long before had
assured him of this. So he began the following story, and as the pipe
passed in turn to him, Reynal availed himself of these interruptions to
translate what had preceded. But the old man accompanied his words with
such admirable pantomime that translation was hardly necessary.

He said that when he was very young, and had never yet seen a white man,
he and three or four of his companions were out on a beaver hunt, and he
crawled into a large beaver lodge, to examine what was there. Sometimes
he was creeping on his hands and knees, sometimes he was obliged to
swim, and sometimes to lie flat on his face and drag himself along. In
this way he crawled a great distance underground. It was very dark, cold
and close, so that at last he was almost suffocated, and fell into a
swoon. When he began to recover, he could just distinguish the voices of
his companions outside, who had given him up for lost, and were singing
his death song. At first he could see nothing, but soon he discerned
something white before him, and at length plainly distinguished three
people, entirely white; one man and two women, sitting at the edge of
a black pool of water. He became alarmed and thought it high time to
retreat. Having succeeded, after great trouble, in reaching daylight
again, he went straight to the spot directly above the pool of water
where he had seen the three mysterious beings. Here he beat a hole with
his war club in the ground, and sat down to watch. In a moment the nose
of an old male beaver appeared at the opening. Mene-Seela instantly
seized him and dragged him up, when two other beavers, both females,
thrust out their heads, and these he served in the same way. "These,"
continued the old man, "must have been the three white people whom I saw
sitting at the edge of the water."

Mene-Seela was the grand depository of the legends and traditions of the
village. I succeeded, however, in getting from him only a few fragments.
Like all Indians, he was excessively superstitious, and continually saw
some reason for withholding his stories. "It is a bad thing," he would
say, "to tell the tales in summer. Stay with us till next winter, and I
will tell you everything I know; but now our war parties are going out,
and our young men will be killed if I sit down to tell stories before
the frost begins."

But to leave this digression. We remained encamped on this spot five
days, during three of which the hunters were at work incessantly, and
immense quantities of meat and hides were brought in. Great alarm,
however, prevailed in the village. All were on the alert. The young men
were ranging through the country as scouts, and the old men paid careful
attention to omens and prodigies, and especially to their dreams. In
order to convey to the enemy (who, if they were in the neighborhood,
must inevitably have known of our presence) the impression that we were
constantly on the watch, piles of sticks and stones were erected on all
the surrounding hills, in such a manner as to appear at a distance like
sentinels. Often, even to this hour, that scene will rise before my
mind like a visible reality: the tall white rocks; the old pine trees
on their summits; the sandy stream that ran along their bases and half
encircled the village; and the wild-sage bushes, with their dull
green hue and their medicinal odor, that covered all the neighboring
declivities. Hour after hour the squaws would pass and repass with their
vessels of water between the stream and the lodges. For the most part
no one was to be seen in the camp but women and children, two or three
super-annuated old men, and a few lazy and worthless young ones.
These, together with the dogs, now grown fat and good-natured with the
abundance in the camp, were its only tenants. Still it presented a busy
and bustling scene. In all quarters the meat, hung on cords of hide, was
drying in the sun, and around the lodges the squaws, young and old,
were laboring on the fresh hides that were stretched upon the ground,
scraping the hair from one side and the still adhering flesh from the
other, and rubbing into them the brains of the buffalo, in order to
render them soft and pliant.

In mercy to myself and my horse, I never went out with the hunters after
the first day. Of late, however, I had been gaining strength rapidly, as
was always the case upon every respite of my disorder. I was soon able
to walk with ease. Raymond and I would go out upon the neighboring
prairies to shoot antelope, or sometimes to assail straggling buffalo,
on foot, an attempt in which we met with rather indifferent success. To
kill a bull with a rifle-ball is a difficult art, in the secret of which
I was as yet very imperfectly initiated. As I came out of Kongra-Tonga's
lodge one morning, Reynal called to me from the opposite side of the
village, and asked me over to breakfast. The breakfast was a substantial
one. It consisted of the rich, juicy hump-ribs of a fat cow; a repast
absolutely unrivaled. It was roasting before the fire, impaled upon a
stout stick, which Reynal took up and planted in the ground before his
lodge; when he, with Raymond and myself, taking our seats around it,
unsheathed our knives and assailed it with good will. It spite of all
medical experience, this solid fare, without bread or salt, seemed to
agree with me admirably.

"We shall have strangers here before night," said Reynal.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"I dreamed so. I am as good at dreaming as an Indian. There is the
Hail-Storm; he dreamed the same thing, and he and his crony, the Rabbit,
have gone out on discovery."

I laughed at Reynal for his credulity, went over to my host's lodge,
took down my rifle, walked out a mile or two on the prairie, saw an old
bull standing alone, crawled up a ravine, shot him and saw him escape.
Then, quite exhausted and rather ill-humored, I walked back to the
village. By a strange coincidence, Reynal's prediction had been
verified; for the first persons whom I saw were the two trappers,
Rouleau and Saraphin, coming to meet me. These men, as the reader may
possibly recollect, had left our party about a fortnight before. They
had been trapping for a while among the Black Hills, and were now on
their way to the Rocky Mountains, intending in a day or two to set out
for the neighboring Medicine Bow. They were not the most elegant or
refined of companions, yet they made a very welcome addition to the
limited society of the village. For the rest of that day we lay smoking
and talking in Reynal's lodge. This indeed was no better than a little
hut, made of hides stretched on poles, and entirely open in front.
It was well carpeted with soft buffalo robes, and here we remained,
sheltered from the sun, surrounded by various domestic utensils of
Madame Margot's household. All was quiet in the village. Though the
hunters had not gone out that day, they lay sleeping in their lodges,
and most of the women were silently engaged in their heavy tasks. A few
young men were playing a lazy game of ball in the center of the village;
and when they became tired, some girls supplied their place with a more
boisterous sport. At a little distance, among the lodges, some children
and half-grown squaws were playfully tossing up one of their number in
a buffalo robe, an exact counterpart of the ancient pastime from which
Sancho Panza suffered so much. Farther out on the prairie, a host of
little naked boys were roaming about, engaged in various rough games, or
pursuing birds and ground-squirrels with their bows and arrows; and
woe to the unhappy little animals that fell into their merciless,
torture-loving hands! A squaw from the next lodge, a notable active
housewife named Weah Washtay, or the Good Woman, brought us a large bowl
of wasna, and went into an ecstasy of delight when I presented her
with a green glass ring, such as I usually wore with a view to similar
occasions.

The sun went down and half the sky was growing fiery red, reflected on
the little stream as it wound away among the sagebushes. Some young
men left the village, and soon returned, driving in before them all
the horses, hundreds in number, and of every size, age, and color. The
hunters came out, and each securing those that belonged to him, examined
their condition, and tied them fast by long cords to stakes driven in
front of his lodge. It was half an hour before the bustle subsided
and tranquillity was restored again. By this time it was nearly dark.
Kettles were hung over the blazing fires, around which the squaws were
gathered with their children, laughing and talking merrily. A circle
of a different kind was formed in the center of the village. This was
composed of the old men and warriors of repute, who with their white
buffalo robes drawn close around their shoulders, sat together, and as
the pipe passed from hand to hand, their conversation had not a particle
of the gravity and reserve usually ascribed to Indians. I sat down with
them as usual. I had in my hand half a dozen squibs and serpents, which
I had made one day when encamped upon Laramie Creek, out of gunpowder
and charcoal, and the leaves of "Fremont's Expedition," rolled round a
stout lead pencil. I waited till I contrived to get hold of the large
piece of burning BOIS DE VACHE which the Indians kept by them on the
ground for lighting their pipes. With this I lighted all the fireworks
at once, and tossed them whizzing and sputtering into the air, over
the heads of the company. They all jumped up and ran off with yelps of
astonishment and consternation. After a moment or two, they ventured to
come back one by one, and some of the boldest, picking up the cases
of burnt paper that were scattered about, examined them with eager
curiosity to discover their mysterious secret. From that time forward I
enjoyed great repute as a "fire-medicine."

The camp was filled with the low hum of cheerful voices. There were
other sounds, however, of a very different kind, for from a large lodge,
lighted up like a gigantic lantern by the blazing fire within, came a
chorus of dismal cries and wailings, long drawn out, like the howling of
wolves, and a woman, almost naked, was crouching close outside, crying
violently, and gashing her legs with a knife till they were covered with
blood. Just a year before, a young man belonging to this family had gone
out with a war party and had been slain by the enemy, and his relatives
were thus lamenting his loss. Still other sounds might be heard; loud
earnest cries often repeated from amid the gloom, at a distance beyond
the village. They proceeded from some young men who, being about to set
out in a few days on a warlike expedition, were standing at the top of a
hill, calling on the Great Spirit to aid them in their enterprise. While
I was listening, Rouleau, with a laugh on his careless face, called to
me and directed my attention to another quarter. In front of the lodge
where Weah Washtay lived another squaw was standing, angrily scolding an
old yellow dog, who lay on the ground with his nose resting between
his paws, and his eyes turned sleepily up to her face, as if he were
pretending to give respectful attention, but resolved to fall asleep as
soon as it was all over.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" said the old woman. "I have fed
you well, and taken care of you ever since you were small and blind, and
could only crawl about and squeal a little, instead of howling as you do
now. When you grew old, I said you were a good dog. You were strong and
gentle when the load was put on your back, and you never ran among the
feet of the horses when we were all traveling together over the prairie.
But you had a bad heart! Whenever a rabbit jumped out of the bushes, you
were always the first to run after him and lead away all the other dogs
behind you. You ought to have known that it was very dangerous to act
so. When you had got far out on the prairie, and no one was near to help
you, perhaps a wolf would jump out of the ravine; and then what could
you do? You would certainly have been killed, for no dog can fight well
with a load on his back. Only three days ago you ran off in that way,
and turned over the bag of wooden pins with which I used to fasten up
the front of the lodge. Look up there, and you will see that it is all
flapping open. And now to-night you have stolen a great piece of fat
meat which was roasting before the fire for my children. I tell you, you
have a bad heart, and you must die!"

So saying, the squaw went into the lodge, and coming out with a large
stone mallet, killed the unfortunate dog at one blow. This speech
is worthy of notice as illustrating a curious characteristic of the
Indians: the ascribing intelligence and a power of understanding speech
to the inferior animals, to whom, indeed, according to many of their
traditions, they are linked in close affinity, and they even claim the
honor of a lineal descent from bears, wolves, deer, or tortoises.

As it grew late, and the crowded population began to disappear, I too
walked across the village to the lodge of my host, Kongra-Tonga. As I
entered I saw him, by the flickering blaze of the fire in the center,
reclining half asleep in his usual place. His couch was by no means an
uncomfortable one. It consisted of soft buffalo robes laid together on
the ground, and a pillow made of whitened deerskin stuffed with feathers
and ornamented with beads. At his back was a light framework of poles
and slender reeds, against which he could lean with ease when in a
sitting posture; and at the top of it, just above his head, his bow
and quiver were hanging. His squaw, a laughing, broad-faced woman,
apparently had not yet completed her domestic arrangements, for she was
bustling about the lodge, pulling over the utensils and the bales of
dried meats that were ranged carefully round it. Unhappily, she and
her partner were not the only tenants of the dwelling, for half a dozen
children were scattered about, sleeping in every imaginable posture. My
saddle was in its place at the head of the lodge and a buffalo robe
was spread on the ground before it. Wrapping myself in my blanket I lay
down, but had I not been extremely fatigued the noise in the next lodge
would have prevented my sleeping. There was the monotonous thumping of
the Indian drum, mixed with occasional sharp yells, and a chorus chanted
by twenty voices. A grand scene of gambling was going forward with all
the appropriate formalities. The players were staking on the chance
issue of the game their ornaments, their horses, and as the excitement
rose, their garments, and even their weapons, for desperate gambling
is not confined to the hells of Paris. The men of the plains and the
forests no less resort to it as a violent but grateful relief to
the tedious monotony of their lives, which alternate between fierce
excitement and listless inaction. I fell asleep with the dull notes
of the drum still sounding on my ear, but these furious orgies lasted
without intermission till daylight. I was soon awakened by one of the
children crawling over me, while another larger one was tugging at
my blanket and nestling himself in a very disagreeable proximity. I
immediately repelled these advances by punching the heads of these
miniature savages with a short stick which I always kept by me for the
purpose; and as sleeping half the day and eating much more than is good
for them makes them extremely restless, this operation usually had to be
repeated four or five times in the course of the night. My host himself
was the author of another most formidable annoyance. All these
Indians, and he among the rest, think themselves bound to the constant
performance of certain acts as the condition on which their success in
life depends, whether in war, love, hunting, or any other employment.
These "medicines," as they are called in that country, which are usually
communicated in dreams, are often absurd enough. Some Indians will
strike the butt of the pipe against the ground every time they smoke;
others will insist that everything they say shall be interpreted by
contraries; and Shaw once met an old man who conceived that all would be
lost unless he compelled every white man he met to drink a bowl of cold
water. My host was particularly unfortunate in his allotment. The Great
Spirit had told him in a dream that he must sing a certain song in the
middle of every night; and regularly at about twelve o'clock his dismal
monotonous chanting would awaken me, and I would see him seated bolt
upright on his couch, going through his dolorous performances with a
most business-like air. There were other voices of the night still more
inharmonious. Twice or thrice, between sunset and dawn, all the dogs
in the village, and there were hundreds of them, would bay and yelp in
chorus; a most horrible clamor, resembling no sound that I have ever
heard, except perhaps the frightful howling of wolves that we used
sometimes to hear long afterward when descending the Arkansas on the
trail of General Kearny's army. The canine uproar is, if possible, more
discordant than that of the wolves. Heard at a distance, slowly rising
on the night, it has a strange unearthly effect, and would fearfully
haunt the dreams of a nervous man; but when you are sleeping in the
midst of it the din is outrageous. One long loud howl from the next
lodge perhaps begins it, and voice after voice takes up the sound till
it passes around the whole circumference of the village, and the air is
filled with confused and discordant cries, at once fierce and mournful.
It lasts but for a moment and then dies away into silence.

Morning came, and Kongra-Tonga, mounting his horse, rode out with the
hunters. It may not be amiss to glance at him for an instant in his
domestic character of husband and father. Both he and his squaw, like
most other Indians, were very fond of their children, whom they indulged
to excess, and never punished, except in extreme cases when they
would throw a bowl of cold water over them. Their offspring became
sufficiently undutiful and disobedient under this system of education,
which tends not a little to foster that wild idea of liberty and utter
intolerance of restraint which lie at the very foundation of the Indian
character. It would be hard to find a fonder father than Kongra-Tonga.
There was one urchin in particular, rather less than two feet high, to
whom he was exceedingly attached; and sometimes spreading a buffalo robe
in the lodge, he would seat himself upon it, place his small favorite
upright before him, and chant in a low tone some of the words used as an
accompaniment to the war dance. The little fellow, who could just manage
to balance himself by stretching out both arms, would lift his feet and
turn slowly round and round in time to his father's music, while my host
would laugh with delight, and look smiling up into my face to see if
I were admiring this precocious performance of his offspring. In his
capacity of husband he was somewhat less exemplary. The squaw who lived
in the lodge with him had been his partner for many years. She took
good care of his children and his household concerns. He liked her well
enough, and as far as I could see they never quarreled; but all his
warmer affections were reserved for younger and more recent favorites.
Of these he had at present only one, who lived in a lodge apart from his
own. One day while in his camp he became displeased with her, pushed her
out, threw after her her ornaments, dresses, and everything she had,
and told her to go home to her father. Having consummated this summary
divorce, for which he could show good reasons, he came back, seated
himself in his usual place, and began to smoke with an air of utmost
tranquillity and self-satisfaction.

I was sitting in the lodge with him on that very afternoon, when I felt
some curiosity to learn the history of the numerous scars that appeared
on his naked body. Of some of them, however, I did not venture to
inquire, for I already understood their origin. Each of his arms was
marked as if deeply gashed with a knife at regular intervals, and there
were other scars also, of a different character, on his back and on
either breast. They were the traces of those formidable tortures
which these Indians, in common with a few other tribes, inflict upon
themselves at certain seasons; in part, it may be, to gain the glory of
courage and endurance, but chiefly as an act of self-sacrifice to secure
the favor of the Great Spirit. The scars upon the breast and back were
produced by running through the flesh strong splints of wood, to which
ponderous buffalo-skulls are fastened by cords of hide, and the wretch
runs forward with all his strength, assisted by two companions, who take
hold of each arm, until the flesh tears apart and the heavy loads
are left behind. Others of Kongra-Tonga's scars were the result of
accidents; but he had many which he received in war. He was one of the
most noted warriors in the village. In the course of his life he had
slain as he boasted to me, fourteen men, and though, like other Indians,
he was a great braggart and utterly regardless of truth, yet in this
statement common report bore him out. Being much flattered by my
inquiries he told me tale after tale, true or false, of his warlike
exploits; and there was one among the rest illustrating the worst
features of the Indian character too well for me to omit. Pointing out
of the opening of the lodge toward the Medicine-Bow Mountain, not many
miles distant he said that he was there a few summers ago with a war
party of his young men. Here they found two Snake Indians, hunting. They
shot one of them with arrows and chased the other up the side of the
mountain till they surrounded him on a level place, and Kongra-Tonga
himself, jumping forward among the trees, seized him by the arm. Two of
his young men then ran up and held him fast while he scalped him alive.
Then they built a great fire, and cutting the tendons of their captive's
wrists and feet, threw him in, and held him down with long poles
until he was burnt to death. He garnished his story with a great many
descriptive particulars much too revolting to mention. His features were
remarkably mild and open, without the fierceness of expression common
among these Indians; and as he detailed these devilish cruelties, he
looked up into my face with the same air of earnest simplicity which a
little child would wear in relating to its mother some anecdote of its
youthful experience.

Old Mene-Seela's lodge could offer another illustration of the ferocity
of Indian warfare. A bright-eyed, active little boy was living there.
He had belonged to a village of the Gros-Ventre Blackfeet, a small but
bloody and treacherous band, in close alliance with the Arapahoes. About
a year before, Kongra-Tonga and a party of warriors had found about
twenty lodges of these Indians upon the plains a little to the eastward
of our present camp; and surrounding them in the night, they butchered
men, women, and children without mercy, preserving only this little
boy alive. He was adopted into the old man's family, and was now fast
becoming identified with the Ogallalla children, among whom he mingled
on equal terms. There was also a Crow warrior in the village, a man of
gigantic stature and most symmetrical proportions. Having been taken
prisoner many years before and adopted by a squaw in place of a son whom
she had lost, he had forgotten his old national antipathies, and was now
both in act and inclination an Ogallalla.

It will be remembered that the scheme of the grand warlike combination
against the Snake and Crow Indians originated in this village; and
though this plan had fallen to the ground, the embers of the martial
ardor continued to glow brightly. Eleven young men had prepared
themselves to go out against the enemy. The fourth day of our stay in
this camp was fixed upon for their departure. At the head of this party
was a well-built active little Indian, called the White Shield, whom I
had always noticed for the great neatness of his dress and appearance.
His lodge too, though not a large one, was the best in the village,
his squaw was one of the prettiest girls, and altogether his dwelling
presented a complete model of an Ogallalla domestic establishment. I
was often a visitor there, for the White Shield being rather partial
to white men, used to invite me to continual feasts at all hours of the
day. Once when the substantial part of the entertainment was concluded,
and he and I were seated cross-legged on a buffalo robe smoking together
very amicably, he took down his warlike equipments, which were
hanging around the lodge, and displayed them with great pride and
self-importance. Among the rest was a most superb headdress of feathers.
Taking this from its case, he put it on and stood before me, as if
conscious of the gallant air which it gave to his dark face and his
vigorous, graceful figure. He told me that upon it were the feathers of
three war-eagles, equal in value to the same number of good horses. He
took up also a shield gayly painted and hung with feathers. The effect
of these barbaric ornaments was admirable, for they were arranged with
no little skill and taste. His quiver was made of the spotted skin of a
small panther, such as are common among the Black Hills, from which the
tail and distended claws were still allowed to hang. The White Shield
concluded his entertainment in a manner characteristic of an Indian. He
begged of me a little powder and ball, for he had a gun as well as bow
and arrows; but this I was obliged to refuse, because I had scarcely
enough for my own use. Making him, however, a parting present of a paper
of vermilion, I left him apparently quite contented.

Unhappily on the next morning the White Shield took cold and was
attacked with a violent inflammation of the throat. Immediately he
seemed to lose all spirit, and though before no warrior in the village
had borne himself more proudly, he now moped about from lodge to lodge
with a forlorn and dejected air. At length he came and sat down, close
wrapped in his robe, before the lodge of Reynal, but when he found that
neither he nor I knew how to relieve him, he arose and stalked over to
one of the medicine-men of the village. This old imposter thumped him
for some time with both fists, howled and yelped over him, and beat a
drum close to his ear to expel the evil spirit that had taken possession
of him. This vigorous treatment failing of the desired effect, the White
Shield withdrew to his own lodge, where he lay disconsolate for some
hours. Making his appearance once more in the afternoon, he again took
his seat on the ground before Reynal's lodge, holding his throat with
his hand. For some time he sat perfectly silent with his eyes fixed
mournfully on the ground. At last he began to speak in a low tone:

"I am a brave man," he said; "all the young men think me a great
warrior, and ten of them are ready to go with me to the war. I will go
and show them the enemy. Last summer the Snakes killed my brother. I
cannot live unless I revenge his death. To-morrow we will set out and I
will take their scalps."

The White Shield, as he expressed this resolution, seemed to have lost
all the accustomed fire and spirit of his look, and hung his head as if
in a fit of despondency.

As I was sitting that evening at one of the fires, I saw him arrayed in
his splendid war dress, his cheeks painted with vermilion, leading his
favorite war horse to the front of his lodge. He mounted and rode round
the village, singing his war song in a loud hoarse voice amid the
shrill acclamations of the women. Then dismounting, he remained for some
minutes prostrate upon the ground, as if in an act of supplication.
On the following morning I looked in vain for the departure of the
warriors. All was quiet in the village until late in the forenoon, when
the White Shield, issuing from his lodge, came and seated himself in his
old place before us. Reynal asked him why he had not gone out to find
the enemy.

"I cannot go," answered the White Shield in a dejected voice. "I have
given my war arrows to the Meneaska."

"You have only given him two of your arrows," said Reynal. "If you ask
him, he will give them back again."

For some time the White Shield said nothing. At last he spoke in a
gloomy tone:

"One of my young men has had bad dreams. The spirits of the dead came
and threw stones at him in his sleep."

If such a dream had actually taken place it might have broken up this
or any other war party, but both Reynal and I were convinced at the time
that it was a mere fabrication to excuse his remaining at home.

The White Shield was a warrior of noted prowess. Very probably, he would
have received a mortal wound without a show of pain, and endured without
flinching the worst tortures that an enemy could inflict upon him. The
whole power of an Indian's nature would be summoned to encounter such
a trial; every influence of his education from childhood would have
prepared him for it; the cause of his suffering would have been visibly
and palpably before him, and his spirit would rise to set his enemy at
defiance, and gain the highest glory of a warrior by meeting death with
fortitude. But when he feels himself attacked by a mysterious evil,
before whose insidious assaults his manhood is wasted, and his strength
drained away, when he can see no enemy to resist and defy, the boldest
warrior falls prostrate at once. He believes that a bad spirit has
taken possession of him, or that he is the victim of some charm. When
suffering from a protracted disorder, an Indian will often abandon
himself to his supposed destiny, pine away and die, the victim of his
own imagination. The same effect will often follow from a series of
calamities, or a long run of ill success, and the sufferer has been
known to ride into the midst of an enemy's camp, or attack a grizzly
bear single-handed, to get rid of a life which he supposed to lie under
the doom of misfortune.

Thus after all his fasting, dreaming, and calling upon the Great Spirit,
the White Shield's war party was pitifully broken up.



CHAPTER XVI

THE TRAPPERS


In speaking of the Indians, I have almost forgotten two bold adventurers
of another race, the trappers Rouleau and Saraphin. These men were bent
on a most hazardous enterprise. A day's journey to the westward was the
country over which the Arapahoes are accustomed to range, and for which
the two trappers were on the point of setting out. These Arapahoes, of
whom Shaw and I afterward fell in with a large village, are ferocious
barbarians, of a most brutal and wolfish aspect, and of late they had
declared themselves enemies to the whites, and threatened death to the
first who should venture within their territory. The occasion of the
declaration was as follows:

In the previous spring, 1845, Colonel Kearny left Fort Leavenworth with
several companies of dragoons, and marching with extraordinary celerity
reached Fort Laramie, whence he passed along the foot of the mountains
to Bent's Fort and then, turning eastward again, returned to the point
from whence he set out. While at Fort Larantie, he sent a part of his
command as far westward as Sweetwater, while he himself remained at the
fort, and dispatched messages to the surrounding Indians to meet him
there in council. Then for the first time the tribes of that vicinity
saw the white warriors, and, as might have been expected, they were
lost in astonishment at their regular order, their gay attire, the
completeness of their martial equipment, and the great size and power of
their horses. Among the rest, the Arapahoes came in considerable numbers
to the fort. They had lately committed numerous acts of outrage, and
Colonel Kearny threatened that if they killed any more white men he
would turn loose his dragoons upon them, and annihilate their whole
nation. In the evening, to add effect to his speech, he ordered a
howitzer to be fired and a rocket to be thrown up. Many of the Arapahoes
fell prostrate on the ground, while others ran screaming with amazement
and terror. On the following day they withdrew to their mountains,
confounded with awe at the appearance of the dragoons, at their big gun
which went off twice at one shot, and the fiery messenger which they had
sent up to the Great Spirit. For many months they remained quiet,
and did no further mischief. At length, just before we came into the
country, one of them, by an act of the basest treachery, killed two
white men, Boot and May, who were trapping among the mountains. For this
act it was impossible to discover a motive. It seemed to spring from one
of those inexplicable impulses which often actuate Indians and appear
no better than the mere outbreaks of native ferocity. No sooner was the
murder committed than the whole tribe were in extreme consternation.
They expected every day that the avenging dragoons would arrive, little
thinking that a desert of nine hundred miles in extent lay between the
latter and their mountain fastnesses. A large deputation of them came to
Fort Laramie, bringing a valuable present of horses, in compensation for
the lives of the murdered men. These Bordeaux refused to accept. They
then asked him if he would be satisfied with their delivering up the
murderer himself; but he declined this offer also. The Arapahoes went
back more terrified than ever. Weeks passed away, and still no dragoons
appeared. A result followed which all those best acquainted with Indians
had predicted. They conceived that fear had prevented Bordeaux from
accepting their gifts, and that they had nothing to apprehend from
the vengeance of the whites. From terror they rose to the height of
insolence and presumption. They called the white men cowards and old
women; and a friendly Dakota came to Fort Laramie and reported that they
were determined to kill the first of the white dogs whom they could lay
hands on.

Had a military officer, intrusted with suitable powers, been stationed
at Fort Laramie, and having accepted the offer of the Arapahoes to
deliver up the murderer, had ordered him to be immediately led out
and shot, in presence of his tribe, they would have been awed into
tranquillity, and much danger and calamity averted; but now the
neighborhood of the Medicine-Bow Mountain and the region beyond it was a
scene of extreme peril. Old Mene-Seela, a true friend of the whites, and
many other of the Indians gathered about the two trappers, and vainly
endeavored to turn them from their purpose; but Rouleau and Saraphin
only laughed at the danger. On the morning preceding that on which they
were to leave the camp, we could all discern faint white columns of
smoke rising against the dark base of the Medicine-Bow. Scouts were out
immediately, and reported that these proceeded from an Arapahoe camp,
abandoned only a few hours before. Still the two trappers continued
their preparations for departure.

Saraphin was a tall, powerful fellow, with a sullen and sinister
countenance. His rifle had very probably drawn other blood than that of
buffalo or even Indians. Rouleau had a broad ruddy face marked with as
few traces of thought or care as a child's. His figure was remarkably
square and strong, but the first joints of both his feet were frozen
off, and his horse had lately thrown and trampled upon him, by which
he had been severely injured in the chest. But nothing could check his
inveterate propensity for laughter and gayety. He went all day rolling
about the camp on his stumps of feet, talking and singing and frolicking
with the Indian women, as they were engaged at their work. In fact
Rouleau had an unlucky partiality for squaws. He always had one whom he
must needs bedizen with beads, ribbons, and all the finery of an Indian
wardrobe; and though he was of course obliged to leave her behind him
during his expeditions, yet this hazardous necessity did not at all
trouble him, for his disposition was the very reverse of jealous. If at
any time he had not lavished the whole of the precarious profits of his
vocation upon his dark favorite, he always devoted the rest to feasting
his comrades. If liquor was not to be had--and this was usually the
case--strong coffee was substituted. As the men of that region are by
no means remarkable for providence or self-restraint, whatever was
set before them on these occasions, however extravagant in price, or
enormous in quantity, was sure to be disposed of at one sitting. Like
other trappers, Rouleau's life was one of contrast and variety. It was
only at certain seasons, and for a limited time, that he was absent on
his expeditions. For the rest of the year he would be lounging about the
fort, or encamped with his friends in its vicinity, lazily hunting or
enjoying all the luxury of inaction; but when once in pursuit of beaver,
he was involved in extreme privations and desperate perils. When in
the midst of his game and his enemies, hand and foot, eye and ear, are
incessantly active. Frequently he must content himself with devouring
his evening meal uncooked, lest the light of his fire should attract
the eyes of some wandering Indian; and sometimes having made his rude
repast, he must leave his fire still blazing, and withdraw to a distance
under cover of the darkness, that his disappointed enemy, drawn thither
by the light, may find his victim gone, and be unable to trace his
footsteps in the gloom. This is the life led by scores of men in the
Rocky Mountains and their vicinity. I once met a trapper whose breast
was marked with the scars of six bullets and arrows, one of his arms
broken by a shot and one of his knees shattered; yet still, with the
undaunted mettle of New England, from which part of the country he had
come, he continued to follow his perilous occupation. To some of the
children of cities it may seem strange that men with no object in
view should continue to follow a life of such hardship and desperate
adventure; yet there is a mysterious, restless charm in the basilisk eye
of danger, and few men perhaps remain long in that wild region without
learning to love peril for its own sake, and to laugh carelessly in the
face of death.

On the last day of our stay in this camp, the trappers were ready for
departure. When in the Black Hills they had caught seven beaver, and
they now left their skins in charge of Reynal, to be kept until their
return. Their strong, gaunt horses were equipped with rusty Spanish bits
and rude Mexican saddles, to which wooden stirrups were attached, while
a buffalo robe was rolled up behind them, and a bundle of beaver traps
slung at the pommel. These, together with their rifles, their knives,
their powder-horns and bullet-pouches, flint and steel and a tincup,
composed their whole traveling equipment. They shook hands with us and
rode away; Saraphin with his grim countenance, like a surly bulldog's,
was in advance; but Rouleau, clambering gayly into his seat, kicked his
horse's sides, flourished his whip in the air, and trotted briskly over
the prairie, trolling forth a Canadian song at the top of his lungs.
Reynal looked after them with his face of brutal selfishness.

"Well," he said, "if they are killed, I shall have the beaver. They'll
fetch me fifty dollars at the fort, anyhow."

This was the last I saw of them.

We had been for five days in the hunting camp, and the meat, which all
this time had hung drying in the sun, was now fit for transportation.
Buffalo hides also had been procured in sufficient quantities for making
the next season's lodges; but it remained to provide the long slender
poles on which they were to be supported. These were only to be had
among the tall pine woods of the Black Hills, and in that direction
therefore our next move was to be made. It is worthy of notice that amid
the general abundance which during this time had prevailed in the camp
there were no instances of individual privation; for although the hide
and the tongue of the buffalo belong by exclusive right to the hunter
who has killed it, yet anyone else is equally entitled to help himself
from the rest of the carcass. Thus, the weak, the aged, and even the
indolent come in for a share of the spoils, and many a helpless old
woman, who would otherwise perish from starvation, is sustained in
profuse abundance.

On the 25th of July, late in the afternoon, the camp broke up, with
the usual tumult and confusion, and we were all moving once more, on
horseback and on foot, over the plains. We advanced, however, but a few
miles. The old men, who during the whole march had been stoutly striding
along on foot in front of the people, now seated themselves in a circle
on the ground, while all the families, erecting their lodges in the
prescribed order around them, formed the usual great circle of the camp;
meanwhile these village patriarchs sat smoking and talking. I threw my
bridle to Raymond, and sat down as usual along with them. There was none
of that reserve and apparent dignity which an Indian always assumes
when in council, or in the presence of white men whom he distrusts. The
party, on the contrary, was an extremely merry one; and as in a social
circle of a quite different character, "if there was not much wit, there
was at least a great deal of laughter."

When the first pipe was smoked out, I rose and withdrew to the lodge of
my host. Here I was stooping, in the act of taking off my powder-horn
and bullet-pouch, when suddenly, and close at hand, pealing loud
and shrill, and in right good earnest, came the terrific yell of the
war-whoop. Kongra-Tonga's squaw snatched up her youngest child, and ran
out of the lodge. I followed, and found the whole village in confusion,
resounding with cries and yells. The circle of old men in the center had
vanished. The warriors with glittering eyes came darting, their weapons
in their hands, out of the low opening of the lodges, and running with
wild yells toward the farther end of the village. Advancing a few rods
in that direction, I saw a crowd in furious agitation, while others ran
up on every side to add to the confusion. Just then I distinguished
the voices of Raymond and Reynal, shouting to me from a distance, and
looking back, I saw the latter with his rifle in his hand, standing on
the farther bank of a little stream that ran along the outskirts of the
camp. He was calling to Raymond and myself to come over and join him,
and Raymond, with his usual deliberate gait and stolid countenance, was
already moving in that direction.

This was clearly the wisest course, unless we wished to involve
ourselves in the fray; so I turned to go, but just then a pair of eyes,
gleaming like a snake's, and an aged familiar countenance was thrust
from the opening of a neighboring lodge, and out bolted old Mene-Seela,
full of fight, clutching his bow and arrows in one hand and his knife
in the other. At that instant he tripped and fell sprawling on his face,
while his weapons flew scattering away in every direction. The women
with loud screams were hurrying with their children in their arms to
place them out of danger, and I observed some hastening to prevent
mischief, by carrying away all the weapons they could lay hands on. On
a rising ground close to the camp stood a line of old women singing a
medicine song to allay the tumult. As I approached the side of the brook
I heard gun-shots behind me, and turning back, I saw that the crowd had
separated into two lines of naked warriors confronting each other at a
respectful distance, and yelling and jumping about to dodge the shot of
their adversaries, while they discharged bullets and arrows against each
other. At the same time certain sharp, humming sounds in the air over my
head, like the flight of beetles on a summer evening, warned me that the
danger was not wholly confined to the immediate scene of the fray. So
wading through the brook, I joined Reynal and Raymond, and we sat
down on the grass, in the posture of an armed neutrality, to watch the
result.

Happily it may be for ourselves, though quite contrary to our
expectation, the disturbance was quelled almost as soon as it had
commenced. When I looked again, the combatants were once more mingled
together in a mass. Though yells sounded, occasionally from the throng,
the firing had entirely ceased, and I observed five or six persons
moving busily about, as if acting the part of peacemakers. One of the
village heralds or criers proclaimed in a loud voice something which
my two companions were too much engrossed in their own observations to
translate for me. The crowd began to disperse, though many a deep-set
black eye still glittered with an unnatural luster, as the warriors
slowly withdrew to their lodges. This fortunate suppression of the
disturbance was owing to a few of the old men, less pugnacious than
Mene-Seela, who boldly ran in between the combatants and aided by
some of the "soldiers," or Indian police, succeeded in effecting their
object.

It seemed very strange to me that although many arrows and bullets were
discharged, no one was mortally hurt, and I could only account for
this by the fact that both the marksman and the object of his aim were
leaping about incessantly during the whole time. By far the greater part
of the villagers had joined in the fray, for although there were not
more than a dozen guns in the whole camp, I heard at least eight or ten
shots fired.

In a quarter of an hour all was comparatively quiet. A large circle of
warriors were again seated in the center of the village, but this time
I did not venture to join them, because I could see that the pipe,
contrary to the usual order, was passing from the left hand to the right
around the circle, a sure sign that a "medicine-smoke" of reconciliation
was going forward, and that a white man would be an unwelcome intruder.
When I again entered the still agitated camp it was nearly dark, and
mournful cries, howls and wailings resounded from many female voices.
Whether these had any connection with the late disturbance, or were
merely lamentations for relatives slain in some former war expeditions,
I could not distinctly ascertain.

To inquire too closely into the cause of the quarrel was by no means
prudent, and it was not until some time after that I discovered what
had given rise to it. Among the Dakota there are many associations, or
fraternities, connected with the purposes of their superstitions,
their warfare, or their social life. There was one called "The
Arrow-Breakers," now in a great measure disbanded and dispersed. In the
village there were, however, four men belonging to it, distinguished by
the peculiar arrangement of their hair, which rose in a high bristling
mass above their foreheads, adding greatly to their apparent height, and
giving them a most ferocious appearance. The principal among them was
the Mad Wolf, a warrior of remarkable size and strength, great courage,
and the fierceness of a demon. I had always looked upon him as the most
dangerous man in the village; and though he often invited me to feasts,
I never entered his lodge unarmed. The Mad Wolf had taken a fancy to a
fine horse belonging to another Indian, who was called the Tall Bear;
and anxious to get the animal into his possession, he made the owner a
present of another horse nearly equal in value. According to the customs
of the Dakota, the acceptance of this gift involved a sort of obligation
to make an equitable return; and the Tall Bear well understood that
the other had in view the obtaining of his favorite buffalo horse.
He however accepted the present without a word of thanks, and having
picketed the horse before his lodge, he suffered day after day to pass
without making the expected return. The Mad Wolf grew impatient and
angry; and at last, seeing that his bounty was not likely to produce the
desired return, he resolved to reclaim it. So this evening, as soon as
the village was encamped, he went to the lodge of the Tall Bear, seized
upon the horse that he had given him, and led him away. At this the Tall
Bear broke into one of those fits of sullen rage not uncommon among the
Indians. He ran up to the unfortunate horse, and gave him three mortals
stabs with his knife. Quick as lightning the Mad Wolf drew his bow to
its utmost tension, and held the arrow quivering close to the breast
of his adversary. The Tall Bear, as the Indians who were near him said,
stood with his bloody knife in his hand, facing the assailant with the
utmost calmness. Some of his friends and relatives, seeing his danger,
ran hastily to his assistance. The remaining three Arrow-Breakers,
on the other hand, came to the aid of their associate. Many of their
friends joined them, the war-cry was raised on a sudden, and the tumult
became general.

The "soldiers," who lent their timely aid in putting it down, are by
far the most important executive functionaries in an Indian village.
The office is one of considerable honor, being confided only to men of
courage and repute. They derive their authority from the old men and
chief warriors of the village, who elect them in councils occasionally
convened for the purpose, and thus can exercise a degree of authority
which no one else in the village would dare to assume. While very few
Ogallalla chiefs could venture without instant jeopardy of their lives
to strike or lay hands upon the meanest of their people, the "soldiers"
in the discharge of their appropriate functions, have full license to
make use of these and similar acts of coercion.



CHAPTER XVII

THE BLACK HILLS


We traveled eastward for two days, and then the gloomy ridges of the
Black Hills rose up before us. The village passed along for some miles
beneath their declivities, trailing out to a great length over the arid
prairie, or winding at times among small detached hills or distorted
shapes. Turning sharply to the left, we entered a wide defile of the
mountains, down the bottom of which a brook came winding, lined with
tall grass and dense copses, amid which were hidden many beaver dams and
lodges. We passed along between two lines of high precipices and rocks,
piled in utter disorder one upon another, and with scarcely a tree, a
bush, or a clump of grass to veil their nakedness. The restless Indian
boys were wandering along their edges and clambering up and down their
rugged sides, and sometimes a group of them would stand on the verge of
a cliff and look down on the array as it passed in review beneath them.
As we advanced, the passage grew more narrow; then it suddenly expanded
into a round grassy meadow, completely encompassed by mountains; and
here the families stopped as they came up in turn, and the camp rose
like magic.

The lodges were hardly erected when, with their usual precipitation, the
Indians set about accomplishing the object that had brought them there;
that is, the obtaining poles for supporting their new lodges. Half the
population, men, women and boys, mounted their horses and set out for
the interior of the mountains. As they rode at full gallop over the
shingly rocks and into the dark opening of the defile beyond, I thought
I had never read or dreamed of a more strange or picturesque cavalcade.
We passed between precipices more than a thousand feet high, sharp
and splintering at the tops, their sides beetling over the defile or
descending in abrupt declivities, bristling with black fir trees. On our
left they rose close to us like a wall, but on the right a winding brook
with a narrow strip of marshy soil intervened. The stream was clogged
with old beaver dams, and spread frequently into wide pools. There were
thick bushes and many dead and blasted trees along its course, though
frequently nothing remained but stumps cut close to the ground by
the beaver, and marked with the sharp chisel-like teeth of those
indefatigable laborers. Sometimes we were driving among trees, and then
emerging upon open spots, over which, Indian-like, all galloped at
full speed. As Pauline bounded over the rocks I felt her saddle-girth
slipping, and alighted to draw it tighter; when the whole array swept
past me in a moment, the women with their gaudy ornaments tinkling as
they rode, the men whooping, and laughing, and lashing forward their
horses. Two black-tailed deer bounded away among the rocks; Raymond shot
at them from horseback; the sharp report of his rifle was answered by
another equally sharp from the opposing cliffs, and then the echoes,
leaping in rapid succession from side to side, died away rattling far
amid the mountains.

After having ridden in this manner for six or eight miles, the
appearance of the scene began to change, and all the declivities around
us were covered with forests of tall, slender pine trees. The Indians
began to fall off to the right and left, and dispersed with their
hatchets and knives among these woods, to cut the poles which they had
come to seek. Soon I was left almost alone; but in the deep stillness of
those lonely mountains, the stroke of hatchets and the sound of voices
might be heard from far and near.

Reynal, who imitated the Indians in their habits as well as the worst
features of their character, had killed buffalo enough to make a
lodge for himself and his squaw, and now he was eager to get the poles
necessary to complete it. He asked me to let Raymond go with him and
assist in the work. I assented, and the two men immediately entered the
thickest part of the wood. Having left my horse in Raymond's keeping,
I began to climb the mountain. I was weak and weary and made slow
progress, often pausing to rest, but after an hour had elapsed, I gained
a height, whence the little valley out of which I had climbed seemed
like a deep, dark gulf, though the inaccessible peak of the mountain was
still towering to a much greater distance above. Objects familiar from
childhood surrounded me; crags and rocks, a black and sullen brook that
gurgled with a hollow voice deep among the crevices, a wood of mossy
distorted trees and prostrate trunks flung down by age and storms,
scattered among the rocks, or damming the foaming waters of the little
brook. The objects were the same, yet they were thrown into a wilder and
more startling scene, for the black crags and the savage trees assumed
a grim and threatening aspect, and close across the valley the opposing
mountain confronted me, rising from the gulf for thousands of feet, with
its bare pinnacles and its ragged covering of pines. Yet the scene was
not without its milder features. As I ascended, I found frequent little
grassy terraces, and there was one of these close at hand, across which
the brook was stealing, beneath the shade of scattered trees that seemed
artificially planted. Here I made a welcome discovery, no other than a
bed of strawberries, with their white flowers and their red fruit, close
nestled among the grass by the side of the brook, and I sat down by
them, hailing them as old acquaintances; for among those lonely and
perilous mountains they awakened delicious associations of the gardens
and peaceful homes of far-distant New England.

Yet wild as they were, these mountains were thickly peopled. As I
climbed farther, I found the broad dusty paths made by the elk, as
they filed across the mountainside. The grass on all the terraces was
trampled down by deer; there were numerous tracks of wolves, and in
some of the rougher and more precipitous parts of the ascent, I found
foot-prints different from any that I had ever seen, and which I took to
be those of the Rocky Mountain sheep. I sat down upon a rock; there was
a perfect stillness. No wind was stirring, and not even an insect could
be heard. I recollected the danger of becoming lost in such a place,
and therefore I fixed my eye upon one of the tallest pinnacles of the
opposite mountain. It rose sheer upright from the woods below, and by an
extraordinary freak of nature sustained aloft on its very summit a large
loose rock. Such a landmark could never be mistaken, and feeling once
more secure, I began again to move forward. A white wolf jumped up
from among some bushes, and leaped clumsily away; but he stopped for a
moment, and turned back his keen eye and his grim bristling muzzle. I
longed to take his scalp and carry it back with me, as an appropriate
trophy of the Black Hills, but before I could fire, he was gone among
the rocks. Soon I heard a rustling sound, with a cracking of twigs at
a little distance, and saw moving above the tall bushes the branching
antlers of an elk. I was in the midst of a hunter's paradise.

Such are the Black Hills, as I found them in July; but they wear a
different garb when winter sets in, when the broad boughs of the fir
tree are bent to the ground by the load of snow, and the dark mountains
are whitened with it. At that season the mountain-trappers, returned
from their autumn expeditions, often build their rude cabins in the
midst of these solitudes, and live in abundance and luxury on the game
that harbors there. I have heard them relate, how with their tawny
mistresses, and perhaps a few young Indian companions, they have spent
months in total seclusion. They would dig pitfalls, and set traps for
the white wolves, the sables, and the martens, and though through the
whole night the awful chorus of the wolves would resound from the frozen
mountains around them, yet within their massive walls of logs they would
lie in careless ease and comfort before the blazing fire, and in the
morning shoot the elk and the deer from their very door.



CHAPTER XVIII

A MOUNTAIN HUNT


The camp was full of the newly-cut lodge-poles; some, already prepared,
were stacked together, white and glistening, to dry and harden in the
sun; others were lying on the ground, and the squaws, the boys, and even
some of the warriors were busily at work peeling off the bark and paring
them with their knives to the proper dimensions. Most of the hides
obtained at the last camp were dressed and scraped thin enough for use,
and many of the squaws were engaged in fitting them together and
sewing them with sinews, to form the coverings for the lodges. Men were
wandering among the bushes that lined the brook along the margin of the
camp, cutting sticks of red willow, or shongsasha, the bark of which,
mixed with tobacco, they use for smoking. Reynal's squaw was hard
at work with her awl and buffalo sinews upon her lodge, while her
proprietor, having just finished an enormous breakfast of meat, was
smoking a social pipe along with Raymond and myself. He proposed at
length that we should go out on a hunt. "Go to the Big Crow's lodge,"
said he, "and get your rifle. I'll bet the gray Wyandotte pony against
your mare that we start an elk or a black-tailed deer, or likely as not,
a bighorn, before we are two miles out of camp. I'll take my squaw's old
yellow horse; you can't whip her more than four miles an hour, but she
is as good for the mountains as a mule."

I mounted the black mule which Raymond usually rode. She was a very fine
and powerful animal, gentle and manageable enough by nature; but of
late her temper had been soured by misfortune. About a week before I
had chanced to offend some one of the Indians, who out of revenge went
secretly into the meadow and gave her a severe stab in the haunch
with his knife. The wound, though partially healed, still galled her
extremely, and made her even more perverse and obstinate than the rest
of her species.

The morning was a glorious one, and I was in better health than I had
been at any time for the last two months. Though a strong frame and well
compacted sinews had borne me through hitherto, it was long since I had
been in a condition to feel the exhilaration of the fresh mountain wind
and the gay sunshine that brightened the crags and trees. We left the
little valley and ascended a rocky hollow in the mountain. Very soon we
were out of sight of the camp, and of every living thing, man, beast,
bird, or insect. I had never before, except on foot, passed over such
execrable ground, and I desire never to repeat the experiment. The black
mule grew indignant, and even the redoubtable yellow horse stumbled
every moment, and kept groaning to himself as he cut his feet and legs
among the sharp rocks.

It was a scene of silence and desolation. Little was visible except
beetling crags and the bare shingly sides of the mountains, relieved
by scarcely a trace of vegetation. At length, however, we came upon
a forest tract, and had no sooner done so than we heartily wished
ourselves back among the rocks again; for we were on a steep descent,
among trees so thick that we could see scarcely a rod in any direction.

If one is anxious to place himself in a situation where the hazardous
and the ludicrous are combined in about equal proportions, let him get
upon a vicious mule, with a snaffle bit, and try to drive her through
the woods down a slope of 45 degrees. Let him have on a long rifle, a
buckskin frock with long fringes, and a head of long hair. These latter
appendages will be caught every moment and twitched away in small
portions by the twigs, which will also whip him smartly across the face,
while the large branches above thump him on the head. His mule, if she
be a true one, will alternately stop short and dive violently forward,
and his position upon her back will be somewhat diversified and
extraordinary. At one time he will clasp her affectionately, to avoid
the blow of a bough overhead; at another, he will throw himself back
and fling his knee forward against the side of her neck, to keep it
from being crushed between the rough bark of a tree and the equally
unyielding ribs of the animal herself. Reynal was cursing incessantly
during the whole way down. Neither of us had the remotest idea where we
were going; and though I have seen rough riding, I shall always retain
an evil recollection of that five minutes' scramble.

At last we left our troubles behind us, emerging into the channel of
a brook that circled along the foot of the descent; and here, turning
joyfully to the left, we rode in luxury and ease over the white pebbles
and the rippling water, shaded from the glaring sun by an overarching
green transparency. These halcyon moments were of short duration. The
friendly brook, turning sharply to one side, went brawling and foaming
down the rocky hill into an abyss, which, as far as we could discern,
had no bottom; so once more we betook ourselves to the detested woods.
When next we came forth from their dancing shadow and sunlight, we found
ourselves standing in the broad glare of day, on a high jutting point of
the mountain. Before us stretched a long, wide, desert valley, winding
away far amid the mountains. No civilized eye but mine had ever looked
upon that virgin waste. Reynal was gazing intently; he began to speak at
last:

"Many a time, when I was with the Indians, I have been hunting for
gold all through the Black Hills. There's plenty of it here; you may
be certain of that. I have dreamed about it fifty times, and I never
dreamed yet but what it came true. Look over yonder at those black rocks
piled up against that other big rock. Don't it look as if there might
be something there? It won't do for a white man to be rummaging too much
about these mountains; the Indians say they are full of bad spirits; and
I believe myself that it's no good luck to be hunting about here after
gold. Well, for all that, I would like to have one of these fellows up
here, from down below, to go about with his witch-hazel rod, and I'll
guarantee that it would not be long before he would light on a gold
mine. Never mind; we'll let the gold alone for to-day. Look at those
trees down below us in the hollow; we'll go down there, and I reckon
we'll get a black-tailed deer."

But Reynal's predictions were not verified. We passed mountain after
mountain, and valley after valley; we explored deep ravines; yet still
to my companion's vexation and evident surprise, no game could be found.
So, in the absence of better, we resolved to go out on the plains and
look for an antelope. With this view we began to pass down a narrow
valley, the bottom of which was covered with the stiff wild-sage
bushes and marked with deep paths, made by the buffalo, who, for some
inexplicable reason, are accustomed to penetrate, in their long grave
processions, deep among the gorges of these sterile mountains.

Reynal's eye was ranging incessantly among the rocks and along the edges
of the black precipices, in hopes of discovering the mountain sheep
peering down upon us in fancied security from that giddy elevation.
Nothing was visible for some time. At length we both detected something
in motion near the foot of one of the mountains, and in a moment
afterward a black-tailed deer, with his spreading antlers, stood gazing
at us from the top of a rock, and then, slowly turning away, disappeared
behind it. In an instant Reynal was out of his saddle, and running
toward the spot. I, being too weak to follow, sat holding his horse and
waiting the result. I lost sight of him, then heard the report of his
rifle, deadened among the rocks, and finally saw him reappear, with a
surly look that plainly betrayed his ill success. Again we moved forward
down the long valley, when soon after we came full upon what seemed a
wide and very shallow ditch, incrusted at the bottom with white clay,
dried and cracked in the sun. Under this fair outside, Reynal's eye
detected the signs of lurking mischief. He called me to stop, and then
alighting, picked up a stone and threw it into the ditch. To my utter
amazement it fell with a dull splash, breaking at once through the thin
crust, and spattering round the hole a yellowish creamy fluid, into
which it sank and disappeared. A stick, five or six feet long lay on the
ground, and with this we sounded the insidious abyss close to its edge.
It was just possible to touch the bottom. Places like this are numerous
among the Rocky Mountains. The buffalo, in his blind and heedless walk,
often plunges into them unawares. Down he sinks; one snort of terror,
one convulsive struggle, and the slime calmly flows above his shaggy
head, the languid undulations of its sleek and placid surface alone
betraying how the powerful monster writhes in his death-throes below.

We found after some trouble a point where we could pass the abyss, and
now the valley began to open upon the plains which spread to the horizon
before us. On one of their distant swells we discerned three or four
black specks, which Reynal pronounced to be buffalo.

"Come," said he, "we must get one of them. My squaw wants more sinews to
finish her lodge with, and I want some glue myself."

He immediately put the yellow horse at such a gallop as he was capable
of executing, while I set spurs to the mule, who soon far outran her
plebeian rival. When we had galloped a mile or more, a large rabbit,
by ill luck, sprang up just under the feet of the mule, who bounded
violently aside in full career. Weakened as I was, I was flung forcibly
to the ground, and my rifle, falling close to my head, went off with a
shock. Its sharp spiteful report rang for some moments in my ear. Being
slightly stunned, I lay for an instant motionless, and Reynal, supposing
me to be shot, rode up and began to curse the mule. Soon recovering
myself, I rose, picked up the rifle and anxiously examined it. It was
badly injured. The stock was cracked, and the main screw broken, so that
the lock had to be tied in its place with a string; yet happily it was
not rendered totally unserviceable. I wiped it out, reloaded it, and
handing it to Reynal, who meanwhile had caught the mule and led her up
to me, I mounted again. No sooner had I done so, than the brute began to
rear and plunge with extreme violence; but being now well prepared for
her, and free from incumbrance, I soon reduced her to submission. Then
taking the rifle again from Reynal, we galloped forward as before.

We were now free of the mountain and riding far out on the broad
prairie. The buffalo were still some two miles in advance of us. When we
came near them, we stopped where a gentle swell of the plain concealed
us from their view, and while I held his horse Reynal ran forward with
his rifle, till I lost sight of him beyond the rising ground. A few
minutes elapsed; I heard the report of his piece, and saw the buffalo
running away at full speed on the right, and immediately after, the
hunter himself unsuccessful as before, came up and mounted his horse in
excessive ill-humor. He cursed the Black Hills and the buffalo, swore
that he was a good hunter, which indeed was true, and that he had never
been out before among those mountains without killing two or three deer
at least.

We now turned toward the distant encampment. As we rode along, antelope
in considerable numbers were flying lightly in all directions over the
plain, but not one of them would stand and be shot at. When we reached
the foot of the mountain ridge that lay between us and the village, we
were too impatient to take the smooth and circuitous route; so turning
short to the left, we drove our wearied animals directly upward among
the rocks. Still more antelope were leaping about among these flinty
hillsides. Each of us shot at one, though from a great distance, and
each missed his mark. At length we reached the summit of the last ridge.
Looking down, we saw the bustling camp in the valley at our feet, and
ingloriously descended to it. As we rode among the lodges, the Indians
looked in vain for the fresh meat that should have hung behind our
saddles, and the squaws uttered various suppressed ejaculations, to the
great indignation of Reynal. Our mortification was increased when
we rode up to his lodge. Here we saw his young Indian relative, the
Hail-Storm, his light graceful figure on the ground in an easy attitude,
while with his friend the Rabbit, who sat by his side, he was making an
abundant meal from a wooden bowl of wasna, which the squaw had placed
between them. Near him lay the fresh skin of a female elk, which he had
just killed among the mountains, only a mile or two from the camp. No
doubt the boy's heart was elated with triumph, but he betrayed no sign
of it. He even seemed totally unconscious of our approach, and his
handsome face had all the tranquillity of Indian self-control;
a self-control which prevents the exhibition of emotion, without
restraining the emotion itself. It was about two months since I had
known the Hail-Storm, and within that time his character had remarkably
developed. When I first saw him, he was just emerging from the habits
and feelings of the boy into the ambition of the hunter and warrior. He
had lately killed his first deer, and this had excited his aspirations
after distinction. Since that time he had been continually in search
of game, and no young hunter in the village had been so active or
so fortunate as he. It will perhaps be remembered how fearlessly he
attacked the buffalo bull, as we were moving toward our camp at the
Medicine-Bow Mountain. All this success had produced a marked change in
his character. As I first remembered him he always shunned the society
of the young squaws, and was extremely bashful and sheepish in their
presence; but now, in the confidence of his own reputation, he began
to assume the airs and the arts of a man of gallantry. He wore his red
blanket dashingly over his left shoulder, painted his cheeks every day
with vermilion, and hung pendants of shells in his ears. If I observed
aright, he met with very good success in his new pursuits; still the
Hail-Storm had much to accomplish before he attained the full standing
of a warrior. Gallantly as he began to bear himself among the women and
girls, he still was timid and abashed in the presence of the chiefs and
old men; for he had never yet killed a man, or stricken the dead body of
an enemy in battle. I have no doubt that the handsome smooth-faced boy
burned with keen desire to flash his maiden scalping-knife, and I would
not have encamped alone with him without watching his movements with a
distrustful eye.

His elder brother, the Horse, was of a different character. He was
nothing but a lazy dandy. He knew very well how to hunt, but preferred
to live by the hunting of others. He had no appetite for distinction,
and the Hail-Storm, though a few years younger than he, already
surpassed him in reputation. He had a dark and ugly face, and he
passed a great part of his time in adorning it with vermilion, and
contemplating it by means of a little pocket looking-glass which I
gave him. As for the rest of the day, he divided it between eating and
sleeping, and sitting in the sun on the outside of a lodge. Here he
would remain for hour after hour, arrayed in all his finery, with an old
dragoon's sword in his hand, and evidently flattering himself that he
was the center of attraction to the eyes of the surrounding squaws. Yet
he sat looking straight forward with a face of the utmost gravity, as
if wrapped in profound meditation, and it was only by the occasional
sidelong glances which he shot at his supposed admirers that one could
detect the true course of his thoughts.

Both he and his brother may represent a class in the Indian community;
neither should the Hail-Storm's friend, the Rabbit, be passed by without
notice. The Hail-Storm and he were inseparable; they ate, slept, and
hunted together, and shared with one another almost all that they
possessed. If there be anything that deserves to be called romantic
in the Indian character, it is to be sought for in friendships such as
this, which are quite common among many of the prairie tribes.

Slowly, hour after hour, that weary afternoon dragged away. I lay in
Reynal's lodge, overcome by the listless torpor that pervaded the
whole encampment. The day's work was finished, or if it were not, the
inhabitants had resolved not to finish it at all, and all were dozing
quietly within the shelter of the lodges. A profound lethargy, the very
spirit of indolence, seemed to have sunk upon the village. Now and then
I could hear the low laughter of some girl from within a neighboring
lodge, or the small shrill voices of a few restless children, who alone
were moving in the deserted area. The spirit of the place infected me;
I could not even think consecutively; I was fit only for musing and
reverie, when at last, like the rest, I fell asleep.

When evening came and the fires were lighted round the lodges, a select
family circle convened in the neighborhood of Reynal's domicile. It was
composed entirely of his squaw's relatives, a mean and ignoble clan,
among whom none but the Hail-Storm held forth any promise of future
distinction. Even his protests were rendered not a little dubious by the
character of the family, less however from any principle of aristocratic
distinction than from the want of powerful supporters to assist him in
his undertakings, and help to avenge his quarrels. Raymond and I sat
down along with them. There were eight or ten men gathered around the
fire, together with about as many women, old and young, some of whom
were tolerably good-looking. As the pipe passed round among the men,
a lively conversation went forward, more merry than delicate, and at
length two or three of the elder women (for the girls were somewhat
diffident and bashful) began to assail Raymond with various pungent
witticisms. Some of the men took part and an old squaw concluded
by bestowing on him a ludicrous nick name, at which a general laugh
followed at his expense. Raymond grinned and giggled, and made several
futile attempts at repartee. Knowing the impolicy and even danger of
suffering myself to be placed in a ludicrous light among the Indians,
I maintained a rigid inflexible countenance, and wholly escaped their
sallies.

In the morning I found, to my great disgust, that the camp was to retain
its position for another day. I dreaded its languor and monotony, and
to escape it, I set out to explore the surrounding mountains. I was
accompanied by a faithful friend, my rifle, the only friend indeed on
whose prompt assistance in time of trouble I could implicitly rely. Most
of the Indians in the village, it is true, professed good-will toward
the whites, but the experience of others and my own observation had
taught me the extreme folly of confidence, and the utter impossibility
of foreseeing to what sudden acts the strange unbridled impulses of an
Indian may urge him. When among this people danger is never so near as
when you are unprepared for it, never so remote as when you are armed
and on the alert to meet it any moment. Nothing offers so strong a
temptation to their ferocious instincts as the appearance of timidity,
weakness, or security.

Many deep and gloomy gorges, choked with trees and bushes, opened from
the sides of the hills, which were shaggy with forests wherever the
rocks permitted vegetation to spring. A great number of Indians were
stalking along the edges of the woods, and boys were whooping and
laughing on the mountain-sides, practicing eye and hand, and indulging
their destructive propensities by following birds and small animals
and killing them with their little bows and arrows. There was one glen,
stretching up between steep cliffs far into the bosom of the mountain. I
began to ascend along its bottom, pushing my way onward among the rocks,
trees, and bushes that obstructed it. A slender thread of water trickled
along its center, which since issuing from the heart of its native rock
could scarcely have been warmed or gladdened by a ray of sunshine. After
advancing for some time, I conceived myself to be entirely alone;
but coming to a part of the glen in a great measure free of trees and
undergrowth, I saw at some distance the black head and red shoulders of
an Indian among the bushes above. The reader need not prepare himself
for a startling adventure, for I have none to relate. The head and
shoulders belonged to Mene-Seela, my best friend in the village. As
I had approached noiselessly with my moccasined feet, the old man was
quite unconscious of my presence; and turning to a point where I could
gain an unobstructed view of him, I saw him seated alone, immovable as
a statue, among the rocks and trees. His face was turned upward, and
his eyes seemed riveted on a pine tree springing from a cleft in the
precipice above. The crest of the pine was swaying to and fro in the
wind, and its long limbs waved slowly up and down, as if the tree had
life. Looking for a while at the old man, I was satisfied that he was
engaged in an act of worship or prayer, or communion of some kind with
a supernatural being. I longed to penetrate his thoughts, but I could
do nothing more than conjecture and speculate. I knew that though the
intellect of an Indian can embrace the idea of an all-wise, all-powerful
Spirit, the supreme Ruler of the universe, yet his mind will not always
ascend into communion with a being that seems to him so vast, remote,
and incomprehensible; and when danger threatens, when his hopes are
broken, when the black wing of sorrow overshadows him, he is prone to
turn for relief to some inferior agency, less removed from the ordinary
scope of his faculties. He has a guardian spirit, on whom he relies
for succor and guidance. To him all nature is instinct with mystic
influence. Among those mountains not a wild beast was prowling, a bird
singing, or a leaf fluttering, that might not tend to direct his destiny
or give warning of what was in store for him; and he watches the world
of nature around him as the astrologer watches the stars. So closely is
he linked with it that his guardian spirit, no unsubstantial creation of
the fancy, is usually embodied in the form of some living thing--a bear,
a wolf, an eagle, or a serpent; and Mene-Seela, as he gazed intently on
the old pine tree, might believe it to inshrine the fancied guide and
protector of his life.

Whatever was passing in the mind of the old man, it was no part of
sense or of delicacy to disturb him. Silently retracing my footsteps, I
descended the glen until I came to a point where I could climb the steep
precipices that shut it in, and gain the side of the mountain. Looking
up, I saw a tall peak rising among the woods. Something impelled me to
climb; I had not felt for many a day such strength and elasticity of
limb. An hour and a half of slow and often intermittent labor brought me
to the very summit; and emerging from the dark shadows of the rocks and
pines, I stepped forth into the light, and walking along the sunny verge
of a precipice, seated myself on its extreme point. Looking between the
mountain peaks to the westward, the pale blue prairie was stretching to
the farthest horizon like a serene and tranquil ocean. The surrounding
mountains were in themselves sufficiently striking and impressive, but
this contrast gave redoubled effect to their stern features.



CHAPTER XIX

PASSAGE OF THE MOUNTAINS


When I took leave of Shaw at La Bonte's Camp, I promised that I would
meet him at Fort Laramie on the 1st of August. That day, according to my
reckoning, was now close at hand. It was impossible, at best, to fulfill
my engagement exactly, and my meeting with him must have been postponed
until many days after the appointed time, had not the plans of the
Indians very well coincided with my own. They too, intended to pass
the mountains and move toward the fort. To do so at this point was
impossible, because there was no opening; and in order to find a passage
we were obliged to go twelve or fourteen miles southward. Late in the
afternoon the camp got in motion, defiling back through the mountains
along the same narrow passage by which they had entered. I rode in
company with three or four young Indians at the rear, and the moving
swarm stretched before me, in the ruddy light of sunset, or in the deep
shadow of the mountains far beyond my sight. It was an ill-omened spot
they chose to encamp upon. When they were there just a year before, a
war party of ten men, led by The Whirlwind's son, had gone out against
the enemy, and not one had ever returned. This was the immediate cause
of this season's warlike preparations. I was not a little astonished
when I came to the camp, at the confusion of horrible sounds with which
it was filled; howls, shrieks, and wailings were heard from all the
women present, many of whom not content with this exhibition of grief
for the loss of their friends and relatives, were gashing their legs
deeply with knives. A warrior in the village, who had lost a brother
in the expedition; chose another mode of displaying his sorrow. The
Indians, who, though often rapacious, are utterly devoid of avarice, are
accustomed in times of mourning, or on other solemn occasions, to give
away the whole of their possessions, and reduce themselves to nakedness
and want. The warrior in question led his two best horses into the
center of the village, and gave them away to his friends; upon which
songs and acclamations in praise of his generosity mingled with the
cries of the women.

On the next morning we entered once more among the mountains. There was
nothing in their appearance either grand or picturesque, though they
were desolate to the last degree, being mere piles of black and broken
rocks, without trees or vegetation of any kind. As we passed among them
along a wide valley, I noticed Raymond riding by the side of a younger
squaw, to whom he was addressing various insinuating compliments. All
the old squaws in the neighborhood watched his proceedings in great
admiration, and the girl herself would turn aside her head and laugh.
Just then the old mule thought proper to display her vicious pranks; she
began to rear and plunge most furiously. Raymond was an excellent rider,
and at first he stuck fast in his seat; but the moment after, I saw
the mule's hind-legs flourishing in the air, and my unlucky follower
pitching head foremost over her ears. There was a burst of screams and
laughter from all the women, in which his mistress herself took part,
and Raymond was instantly assailed by such a shower of witticisms, that
he was glad to ride forward out of hearing.

Not long after, as I rode near him, I heard him shouting to me. He was
pointing toward a detached rocky hill that stood in the middle of the
valley before us, and from behind it a long file of elk came out at
full speed and entered an opening in the side of the mountain. They had
scarcely disappeared when whoops and exclamations came from fifty voices
around me. The young men leaped from their horses, flung down their
heavy buffalo robes, and ran at full speed toward the foot of the
nearest mountain. Reynal also broke away at a gallop in the same
direction, "Come on! come on!" he called to us. "Do you see that band of
bighorn up yonder? If there's one of them, there's a hundred!"

In fact, near the summit of the mountain, I could see a large number of
small white objects, moving rapidly upward among the precipices, while
others were filing along its rocky profile. Anxious to see the sport,
I galloped forward, and entering a passage in the side of the mountain,
ascended the loose rocks as far as my horse could carry me. Here I
fastened her to an old pine tree that stood alone, scorching in the sun.
At that moment Raymond called to me from the right that another band of
sheep was close at hand in that direction. I ran up to the top of the
opening, which gave me a full view into the rocky gorge beyond; and
here I plainly saw some fifty or sixty sheep, almost within rifle-shot,
clattering upward among the rocks, and endeavoring, after their usual
custom, to reach the highest point. The naked Indians bounded up lightly
in pursuit. In a moment the game and hunters disappeared. Nothing could
be seen or heard but the occasional report of a gun, more and more
distant, reverberating among the rocks.

I turned to descend, and as I did so I could see the valley below alive
with Indians passing rapidly through it, on horseback and on foot.
A little farther on, all were stopping as they came up; the camp was
preparing, and the lodges rising. I descended to this spot, and soon
after Reynal and Raymond returned. They bore between them a sheep which
they had pelted to death with stones from the edge of a ravine, along
the bottom of which it was attempting to escape. One by one the hunters
came dropping in; yet such is the activity of the Rocky Mountain sheep
that, although sixty or seventy men were out in pursuit, not more than
half a dozen animals were killed. Of these only one was a full-grown
male. He had a pair of horns twisted like a ram's, the dimensions of
which were almost beyond belief. I have seen among the Indians ladles
with long handles, capable of containing more than a quart, cut from
such horns.

There is something peculiarly interesting in the character and habits
of the mountain sheep, whose chosen retreats are above the region of
vegetation and storms, and who leap among the giddy precipices of their
aerial home as actively as the antelope skims over the prairies below.

Through the whole of the next morning we were moving forward, among
the hills. On the following day the heights gathered around us, and the
passage of the mountains began in earnest. Before the village left its
camping ground, I set forward in company with the Eagle-Feather, a man
of powerful frame, but of bad and sinister face. His son, a light-limbed
boy, rode with us, and another Indian, named the Panther, was also of
the party. Leaving the village out of sight behind us, we rode together
up a rocky defile. After a while, however, the Eagle-Feather discovered
in the distance some appearance of game, and set off with his son in
pursuit of it, while I went forward with the Panther. This was a mere
NOM DE GUERRE; for, like many Indians, he concealed his real name out
of some superstitious notion. He was a very noble looking fellow. As he
suffered his ornamented buffalo robe to fall into folds about his loins,
his stately and graceful figure was fully displayed; and while he sat
his horse in an easy attitude, the long feathers of the prairie cock
fluttering from the crown of his head, he seemed the very model of
a wild prairie-rider. He had not the same features as those of other
Indians. Unless his handsome face greatly belied him, he was free from
the jealousy, suspicion, and malignant cunning of his people. For the
most part, a civilized white man can discover but very few points
of sympathy between his own nature and that of an Indian. With every
disposition to do justice to their good qualities, he must be conscious
that an impassable gulf lies between him and his red brethren of the
prairie. Nay, so alien to himself do they appear that, having breathed
for a few months or a few weeks the air of this region, he begins to
look upon them as a troublesome and dangerous species of wild beast,
and, if expedient, he could shoot them with as little compunction as
they themselves would experience after performing the same office upon
him. Yet, in the countenance of the Panther, I gladly read that there
were at least some points of sympathy between him and me. We were
excellent friends, and as we rode forward together through rocky
passages, deep dells, and little barren plains, he occupied himself very
zealously in teaching me the Dakota language. After a while, we came to
a little grassy recess, where some gooseberry bushes were growing at the
foot of a rock; and these offered such temptation to my companion, that
he gave over his instruction, and stopped so long to gather the fruit
that before we were in motion again the van of the village came in
view. An old woman appeared, leading down her pack horse among the
rocks above. Savage after savage followed, and the little dell was soon
crowded with the throng.

That morning's march was one not easily to be forgotten. It led us
through a sublime waste, a wilderness of mountains and pine forests,
over which the spirit of loneliness and silence seemed brooding. Above
and below little could be seen but the same dark green foliage. It
overspread the valleys, and the mountains were clothed with it from the
black rocks that crowned their summits to the impetuous streams that
circled round their base. Scenery like this, it might seem, could have
no very cheering effect on the mind of a sick man (for to-day my disease
had again assailed me) in the midst of a horde of savages; but if the
reader has ever wandered, with a true hunter's spirit, among the forests
of Maine, or the more picturesque solitudes of the Adirondack Mountains,
he will understand how the somber woods and mountains around me might
have awakened any other feelings than those of gloom. In truth they
recalled gladdening recollections of similar scenes in a distant and far
different land. After we had been advancing for several hours through
passages always narrow, often obstructed and difficult, I saw at a
little distance on our right a narrow opening between two high wooded
precipices. All within seemed darkness and mystery. In the mood in which
I found myself something strongly impelled me to enter. Passing over the
intervening space I guided my horse through the rocky portal, and as
I did so instinctively drew the covering from my rifle, half expecting
that some unknown evil lay in ambush within those dreary recesses. The
place was shut in among tall cliffs, and so deeply shadowed by a host
of old pine trees that, though the sun shone bright on the side of the
mountain, nothing but a dim twilight could penetrate within. As far as
I could see it had no tenants except a few hawks and owls, who, dismayed
at my intrusion, flapped hoarsely away among the shaggy branches. I
moved forward, determined to explore the mystery to the bottom, and soon
became involved among the pines. The genius of the place exercised
a strange influence upon my mind. Its faculties were stimulated into
extraordinary activity, and as I passed along many half-forgotten
incidents, and the images of persons and things far distant, rose
rapidly before me with surprising distinctness. In that perilous
wilderness, eight hundred miles removed beyond the faintest vestige
of civilization, the scenes of another hemisphere, the seat of ancient
refinement, passed before me more like a succession of vivid paintings
than any mere dreams of the fancy. I saw the church of St. Peter's
illumined on the evening of Easter Day, the whole majestic pile, from
the cross to the foundation stone, penciled in fire and shedding a
radiance, like the serene light of the moon, on the sea of upturned
faces below. I saw the peak of Mount Etna towering above its inky mantle
of clouds and lightly curling its wreaths of milk-white smoke against
the soft sky flushed with the Sicilian sunset. I saw also the gloomy
vaulted passages and the narrow cells of the Passionist convent where
I once had sojourned for a few days with the fanatical monks, its pale,
stern inmates in their robes of black, and the grated window from whence
I could look out, a forbidden indulgence, upon the melancholy Coliseum
and the crumbling ruins of the Eternal City. The mighty glaciers of the
Splugen too rose before me, gleaming in the sun like polished silver,
and those terrible solitudes, the birthplace of the Rhine, where
bursting from the bowels of its native mountains, it lashes and
foams down the rocky abyss into the little valley of Andeer. These
recollections, and many more, crowded upon me, until remembering that
it was hardly wise to remain long in such a place, I mounted again
and retraced my steps. Issuing from between the rocks I saw a few rods
before me the men, women, and children, dogs and horses, still filing
slowly across the little glen. A bare round hill rose directly above
them. I rode to the top, and from this point I could look down on the
savage procession as it passed just beneath my feet, and far on the
left I could see its thin and broken line, visible only at intervals,
stretching away for miles among the mountains. On the farthest ridge
horsemen were still descending like mere specks in the distance.

I remained on the hill until all had passed, and then, descending,
followed after them. A little farther on I found a very small meadow,
set deeply among steep mountains; and here the whole village had
encamped. The little spot was crowded with the confused and disorderly
host. Some of the lodges were already completely prepared, or the squaws
perhaps were busy in drawing the heavy coverings of skin over the bare
poles. Others were as yet mere skeletons, while others still--poles,
covering, and all--lay scattered in complete disorder on the ground
among buffalo robes, bales of meat, domestic utensils, harness, and
weapons. Squaws were screaming to one another, horses rearing and
plunging dogs yelping, eager to be disburdened of their loads, while
the fluttering of feathers and the gleam of barbaric ornaments added
liveliness to the scene. The small children ran about amid the crowd,
while many of the boys were scrambling among the overhanging rocks, and
standing, with their little bows in their hands, looking down upon a
restless throng. In contrast with the general confusion, a circle of old
men and warriors sat in the midst, smoking in profound indifference and
tranquillity. The disorder at length subsided. The horses were driven
away to feed along the adjacent valley, and the camp assumed an air of
listless repose. It was scarcely past noon; a vast white canopy of smoke
from a burning forest to the eastward overhung the place, and partially
obscured the sun; yet the heat was almost insupportable. The lodges
stood crowded together without order in the narrow space. Each was a
perfect hothouse, within which the lazy proprietor lay sleeping. The
camp was silent as death. Nothing stirred except now and then an old
woman passing from lodge to lodge. The girls and young men sat together
in groups under the pine trees upon the surrounding heights. The dogs
lay panting on the ground, too lazy even to growl at the white man.
At the entrance of the meadow there was a cold spring among the rocks,
completely overshadowed by tall trees and dense undergrowth. In this
cold and shady retreat a number of girls were assembled, sitting
together on rocks and fallen logs, discussing the latest gossip of
the village, or laughing and throwing water with their hands at the
intruding Meneaska. The minutes seemed lengthened into hours. I lay
for a long time under a tree, studying the Ogallalla tongue, with the
zealous instructions of my friend the Panther. When we were both tired
of this I went and lay down by the side of a deep, clear pool formed
by the water of the spring. A shoal of little fishes of about a pin's
length were playing in it, sporting together, as it seemed, very
amicably; but on closer observation, I saw that they were engaged in a
cannibal warfare among themselves. Now and then a small one would fall
a victim, and immediately disappear down the maw of his voracious
conqueror. Every moment, however, the tyrant of the pool, a monster
about three inches long, with staring goggle eyes, would slowly issue
forth with quivering fins and tail from under the shelving bank. The
small fry at this would suspend their hostilities, and scatter in a
panic at the appearance of overwhelming force.

"Soft-hearted philanthropists," thought I, "may sigh long for their
peaceful millennium; for from minnows up to men, life is an incessant
battle."

Evening approached at last, the tall mountain-tops around were still gay
and bright in sunshine, while our deep glen was completely shadowed.
I left the camp and ascended a neighboring hill, whose rocky summit
commanded a wide view over the surrounding wilderness. The sun was still
glaring through the stiff pines on the ridge of the western mountain.
In a moment he was gone, and as the landscape rapidly darkened, I turned
again toward the village. As I descended the hill, the howling of wolves
and the barking of foxes came up out of the dim woods from far and near.
The camp was glowing with a multitude of fires, and alive with dusky
naked figures, whose tall shadows flitted among the surroundings crags.

I found a circle of smokers seated in their usual place; that is, on the
ground before the lodge of a certain warrior, who seemed to be generally
known for his social qualities. I sat down to smoke a parting pipe
with my savage friends. That day was the 1st of August, on which I had
promised to meet Shaw at Fort Laramie. The Fort was less than two
days' journey distant, and that my friend need not suffer anxiety on my
account, I resolved to push forward as rapidly as possible to the place
of meeting. I went to look after the Hail-Storm, and having found him,
I offered him a handful of hawks'-bells and a paper of vermilion, on
condition that he would guide me in the morning through the mountains
within sight of Laramie Creek.

The Hail-Storm ejaculated "How!" and accepted the gift. Nothing more was
said on either side; the matter was settled, and I lay down to sleep in
Kongra-Tonga's lodge.

Long before daylight Raymond shook me by the shoulder.

"Everything is ready," he said.

I went out. The morning was chill, damp, and dark; and the whole camp
seemed asleep. The Hail-Storm sat on horseback before the lodge, and my
mare Pauline and the mule which Raymond rode were picketed near it.
We saddled and made our other arrangements for the journey, but before
these were completed the camp began to stir, and the lodge-coverings
fluttered and rustled as the squaws pulled them down in preparation for
departure. Just as the light began to appear we left the ground, passing
up through a narrow opening among the rocks which led eastward out of
the meadow. Gaining the top of this passage, I turned round and sat
looking back upon the camp, dimly visible in the gray light of the
morning. All was alive with the bustle of preparation. I turned away,
half unwilling to take a final leave of my savage associates. We turned
to the right, passing among the rocks and pine trees so dark that for a
while we could scarcely see our way. The country in front was wild and
broken, half hill, half plain, partly open and partly covered with woods
of pine and oak. Barriers of lofty mountains encompassed it; the woods
were fresh and cool in the early morning; the peaks of the mountains
were wreathed with mist, and sluggish vapors were entangled among the
forests upon their sides. At length the black pinnacle of the tallest
mountain was tipped with gold by the rising sun. About that time the
Hail-Storm, who rode in front gave a low exclamation. Some large animal
leaped up from among the bushes, and an elk, as I thought, his horns
thrown back over his neck, darted past us across the open space, and
bounded like a mad thing away among the adjoining pines. Raymond was
soon out of his saddle, but before he could fire, the animal was full
two hundred yards distant. The ball struck its mark, though much too low
for mortal effect. The elk, however, wheeled in its flight, and ran at
full speed among the trees, nearly at right angles to his former course.
I fired and broke his shoulder; still he moved on, limping down into the
neighboring woody hollow, whither the young Indian followed and killed
him. When we reached the spot we discovered him to be no elk, but a
black-tailed deer, an animal nearly twice the size of the common deer,
and quite unknown to the East. We began to cut him up; the reports of
the rifles had reached the ears of the Indians, and before our task was
finished several of them came to the spot. Leaving the hide of the deer
to the Hail-Storm, we hung as much of the meat as we wanted behind
our saddles, left the rest to the Indians, and resumed our journey.
Meanwhile the village was on its way, and had gone so far that to get in
advance of it was impossible. Therefore we directed our course so as to
strike its line of march at the nearest point. In a short time, through
the dark trunks of the pines, we could see the figures of the Indians
as they passed. Once more we were among them. They were moving with even
more than their usual precipitation, crowded close together in a narrow
pass between rocks and old pine trees. We were on the eastern descent
of the mountain, and soon came to a rough and difficult defile, leading
down a very steep declivity. The whole swarm poured down together,
filling the rocky passageway like some turbulent mountain stream. The
mountains before us were on fire, and had been so for weeks. The view in
front was obscured by a vast dim sea of smoke and vapor, while on either
hand the tall cliffs, bearing aloft their crest of pines, thrust their
heads boldly through it, and the sharp pinnacles and broken ridges of
the mountains beyond them were faintly traceable as through a veil.
The scene in itself was most grand and imposing, but with the savage
multitude, the armed warriors, the naked children, the gayly appareled
girls, pouring impetuously down the heights, it would have formed a
noble subject for a painter, and only the pen of a Scott could have done
it justice in description.

We passed over a burnt tract where the ground was hot beneath the
horses' feet, and between the blazing sides of two mountains. Before
long we had descended to a softer region, where we found a succession
of little valleys watered by a stream, along the borders of which grew
abundance of wild gooseberries and currants, and the children and many
of the men straggled from the line of march to gather them as we passed
along. Descending still farther, the view changed rapidly. The burning
mountains were behind us, and through the open valleys in front we could
see the ocean-like prairie, stretching beyond the sight. After passing
through a line of trees that skirted the brook, the Indians filed out
upon the plains. I was thirsty and knelt down by the little stream to
drink. As I mounted again I very carelessly left my rifle among the
grass, and my thoughts being otherwise absorbed, I rode for some
distance before discovering its absence. As the reader may conceive,
I lost no time in turning about and galloping back in search of it.
Passing the line of Indians, I watched every warrior as he rode by me at
a canter, and at length discovered my rifle in the hands of one of them,
who, on my approaching to claim it, immediately gave it up. Having no
other means of acknowledging the obligation, I took off one of my spurs
and gave it to him. He was greatly delighted, looking upon it as a
distinguished mark of favor, and immediately held out his foot for me to
buckle it on. As soon as I had done so, he struck it with force into
the side of his horse, who gave a violent leap. The Indian laughed and
spurred harder than before. At this the horse shot away like an arrow,
amid the screams and laughter of the squaws, and the ejaculations of the
men, who exclaimed: "Washtay!--Good!" at the potent effect of my gift.
The Indian had no saddle, and nothing in place of a bridle except a
leather string tied round the horse's jaw. The animal was of course
wholly uncontrollable, and stretched away at full speed over the
prairie, till he and his rider vanished behind a distant swell. I never
saw the man again, but I presume no harm came to him. An Indian on
horseback has more lives than a cat.

The village encamped on a scorching prairie, close to the foot of the
mountains. The beat was most intense and penetrating. The coverings
of the lodges were raised a foot or more from the ground, in order to
procure some circulation of air; and Reynal thought proper to lay aside
his trapper's dress of buckskin and assume the very scanty costume of an
Indian. Thus elegantly attired, he stretched himself in his lodge on a
buffalo robe, alternately cursing the heat and puffing at the pipe which
he and I passed between us. There was present also a select circle of
Indian friends and relatives. A small boiled puppy was served up as a
parting feast, to which was added, by way of dessert, a wooden bowl of
gooseberries, from the mountains.

"Look there," said Reynal, pointing out of the opening of his lodge; "do
you see that line of buttes about fifteen miles off? Well, now, do you
see that farthest one, with the white speck on the face of it? Do you
think you ever saw it before?"

"It looks to me," said I, "like the hill that we were camped under when
we were on Laramie Creek, six or eight weeks ago."

"You've hit it," answered Reynal.

"Go and bring in the animals, Raymond," said I: "we'll camp there
to-night, and start for the Fort in the morning."

The mare and the mule were soon before the lodge. We saddled them, and
in the meantime a number of Indians collected about us. The virtues of
Pauline, my strong, fleet, and hardy little mare, were well known in
camp, and several of the visitors were mounted upon good horses which
they had brought me as presents. I promptly declined their offers, since
accepting them would have involved the necessity of transferring poor
Pauline into their barbarous hands. We took leave of Reynal, but not
of the Indians, who are accustomed to dispense with such superfluous
ceremonies. Leaving the camp we rode straight over the prairie toward
the white-faced bluff, whose pale ridges swelled gently against the
horizon, like a cloud. An Indian went with us, whose name I forget,
though the ugliness of his face and the ghastly width of his mouth dwell
vividly in my recollection. The antelope were numerous, but we did not
heed them. We rode directly toward our destination, over the arid plains
and barren hills, until, late in the afternoon, half spent with heat,
thirst, and fatigue, we saw a gladdening sight; the long line of trees
and the deep gulf that mark the course of Laramie Creek. Passing through
the growth of huge dilapidated old cottonwood trees that bordered the
creek, we rode across to the other side.

The rapid and foaming waters were filled with fish playing and splashing
in the shallows. As we gained the farther bank, our horses turned
eagerly to drink, and we, kneeling on the sand, followed their example.
We had not gone far before the scene began to grow familiar.

"We are getting near home, Raymond," said I.

There stood the Big Tree under which we had encamped so long; there were
the white cliffs that used to look down upon our tent when it stood
at the bend of the creek; there was the meadow in which our horses had
grazed for weeks, and a little farther on, the prairie-dog village
where I had beguiled many a languid hour in persecuting the unfortunate
inhabitants.

"We are going to catch it now," said Raymond, turning his broad, vacant
face up toward the sky.

In truth, the landscape, the cliffs and the meadow, the stream and the
groves were darkening fast. Black masses of cloud were swelling up in
the south, and the thunder was growling ominously.

"We will camp here," I said, pointing to a dense grove of trees lower
down the stream. Raymond and I turned toward it, but the Indian stopped
and called earnestly after us. When we demanded what was the matter, he
said that the ghosts of two warriors were always among those trees, and
that if we slept there, they would scream and throw stones at us all
night, and perhaps steal our horses before morning. Thinking it as well
to humor him, we left behind us the haunt of these extraordinary ghosts,
and passed on toward Chugwater, riding at full gallop, for the big drops
began to patter down. Soon we came in sight of the poplar saplings that
grew about the mouth of the little stream. We leaped to the ground,
threw off our saddles, turned our horses loose, and drawing our knives,
began to slash among the bushes to cut twigs and branches for making a
shelter against the rain. Bending down the taller saplings as they
grew, we piled the young shoots upon them; and thus made a convenient
penthouse, but all our labor was useless. The storm scarcely touched us.
Half a mile on our right the rain was pouring down like a cataract, and
the thunder roared over the prairie like a battery of cannon; while we
by good fortune received only a few heavy drops from the skirt of the
passing cloud. The weather cleared and the sun set gloriously. Sitting
close under our leafy canopy, we proceeded to discuss a substantial meal
of wasna which Weah-Washtay had given me. The Indian had brought with
him his pipe and a bag of shongsasha; so before lying down to sleep,
we sat for some time smoking together. Previously, however, our
wide-mouthed friend had taken the precaution of carefully examining the
neighborhood. He reported that eight men, counting them on his fingers,
had been encamped there not long before. Bisonette, Paul Dorion, Antoine
Le Rouge, Richardson, and four others, whose names he could not tell.
All this proved strictly correct. By what instinct he had arrived at
such accurate conclusions, I am utterly at a loss to divine.

It was still quite dark when I awoke and called Raymond. The Indian was
already gone, having chosen to go on before us to the Fort. Setting out
after him, we rode for some time in complete darkness, and when the sun
at length rose, glowing like a fiery ball of copper, we were ten miles
distant from the Fort. At length, from the broken summit of a tall sandy
bluff we could see Fort Laramie, miles before us, standing by the side
of the stream like a little gray speck in the midst of the bounding
desolation. I stopped my horse, and sat for a moment looking down upon
it. It seemed to me the very center of comfort and civilization. We were
not long in approaching it, for we rode at speed the greater part of the
way. Laramie Creek still intervened between us and the friendly walls.
Entering the water at the point where we had struck upon the bank, we
raised our feet to the saddle behind us, and thus, kneeling as it were
on horseback, passed dry-shod through the swift current. As we rode up
the bank, a number of men appeared in the gateway. Three of them came
forward to meet us. In a moment I distinguished Shaw; Henry Chatillon
followed with his face of manly simplicity and frankness, and Delorier
came last, with a broad grin of welcome. The meeting was not on either
side one of mere ceremony. For my own part, the change was a most
agreeable one from the society of savages and men little better than
savages, to that of my gallant and high-minded companion and our
noble-hearted guide. My appearance was equally gratifying to Shaw, who
was beginning to entertain some very uncomfortable surmises concerning
me.

Bordeaux greeted me very cordially, and shouted to the cook. This
functionary was a new acquisition, having lately come from Fort Pierre
with the trading wagons. Whatever skill he might have boasted, he had
not the most promising materials to exercise it upon. He set before me,
however, a breakfast of biscuit, coffee, and salt pork. It seemed like a
new phase of existence, to be seated once more on a bench, with a knife
and fork, a plate and teacup, and something resembling a table before
me. The coffee seemed delicious, and the bread was a most welcome
novelty, since for three weeks I had eaten scarcely anything but meat,
and that for the most part without salt. The meal also had the relish of
good company, for opposite to me sat Shaw in elegant dishabille. If one
is anxious thoroughly to appreciate the value of a congenial companion,
he has only to spend a few weeks by himself in an Ogallalla village. And
if he can contrive to add to his seclusion a debilitating and somewhat
critical illness, his perceptions upon this subject will be rendered
considerably more vivid.

Shaw had been upward of two weeks at the Fort. I found him established
in his old quarters, a large apartment usually occupied by the absent
bourgeois. In one corner was a soft and luxuriant pile of excellent
buffalo robes, and here I lay down. Shaw brought me three books.

"Here," said he, "is your Shakespeare and Byron, and here is the
Old Testament, which has as much poetry in it as the other two put
together."

I chose the worst of the three, and for the greater part of that day
lay on the buffalo robes, fairly reveling in the creations of that
resplendent genius which has achieved no more signal triumph than that
of half beguiling us to forget the pitiful and unmanly character of its
possessor.



CHAPTER XX

THE LONELY JOURNEY


On the day of my arrival at Fort Laramie, Shaw and I were lounging on
two buffalo robes in the large apartment hospitably assigned to us;
Henry Chatillon also was present, busy about the harness and weapons,
which had been brought into the room, and two or three Indians were
crouching on the floor, eyeing us with their fixed, unwavering gaze.

"I have been well off here," said Shaw, "in all respects but one; there
is no good shongsasha to be had for love or money."

I gave him a small leather bag containing some of excellent quality,
which I had brought from the Black Hills.

"Now, Henry," said he, "hand me Papin's chopping-board, or give it to
that Indian, and let him cut the mixture; they understand it better than
any white man."

The Indian, without saying a word, mixed the bark and the tobacco in due
proportions, filled the pipe and lighted it. This done, my companion
and I proceeded to deliberate on our future course of proceeding; first,
however, Shaw acquainted me with some incidents which had occurred at
the fort during my absence.

About a week previous four men had arrived from beyond the mountains;
Sublette, Reddick, and two others. Just before reaching the Fort
they had met a large party of Indians, chiefly young men. All of them
belonged to the village of our old friend Smoke, who, with his whole
band of adherents, professed the greatest friendship for the whites. The
travelers therefore approached, and began to converse without the least
suspicion. Suddenly, however, their bridles were violently seized and
they were ordered to dismount. Instead of complying, they struck
their horses with full force, and broke away from the Indians. As
they galloped off they heard a yell behind them, mixed with a burst of
derisive laughter, and the reports of several guns. None of them were
hurt though Reddick's bridle rein was cut by a bullet within an inch of
his hand. After this taste of Indian hostility they felt for the moment
no disposition to encounter further risks. They intended to pursue the
route southward along the foot of the mountains to Bent's Fort; and as
our plans coincided with theirs, they proposed to join forces. Finding,
however, that I did not return, they grew impatient of inaction, forgot
their late escape, and set out without us, promising to wait our arrival
at Bent's Fort. From thence we were to make the long journey to the
settlements in company, as the path was not a little dangerous, being
infested by hostile Pawnees and Comanches.

We expected, on reaching Bent's Fort, to find there still another
re-enforcement. A young Kentuckian of the true Kentucky blood, generous,
impetuous, and a gentleman withal, had come out to the mountains with
Russel's party of California emigrants. One of his chief objects, as
he gave out, was to kill an Indian; an exploit which he afterwards
succeeded in achieving, much to the jeopardy of ourselves and others who
had to pass through the country of the dead Pawnee's enraged relatives.
Having become disgusted with his emigrant associates he left them, and
had some time before set out with a party of companions for the head of
the Arkansas. He sent us previously a letter, intimating that he would
wait until we arrived at Bent's Fort, and accompany us thence to the
settlements. When, however, he came to the Fort, he found there a party
of forty men about to make the homeward journey. He wisely preferred to
avail himself of so strong an escort. Mr. Sublette and his companions
also set out, in order to overtake this company; so that on reaching
Bent's Fort, some six weeks after, we found ourselves deserted by our
allies and thrown once more upon our own resources.

But I am anticipating. When, before leaving the settlement we had made
inquiries concerning this part of the country of General Kearny, Mr.
Mackenzie, Captain Wyeth, and others well acquainted with it, they had
all advised us by no means to attempt this southward journey with
fewer than fifteen or twenty men. The danger consists in the chance of
encountering Indian war parties. Sometimes throughout the whole length
of the journey (a distance of 350 miles) one does not meet a single
human being; frequently, however, the route is beset by Arapahoes and
other unfriendly tribes; in which case the scalp of the adventurer is in
imminent peril. As to the escort of fifteen or twenty men, such a force
of whites could at that time scarcely be collected by the whole country;
and had the case been otherwise, the expense of securing them, together
with the necessary number of horses, would have been extremely heavy. We
had resolved, however, upon pursuing this southward course. There were,
indeed, two other routes from Fort Laramie; but both of these were less
interesting, and neither was free from danger. Being unable therefore to
procure the fifteen or twenty men recommended, we determined to set out
with those we had already in our employ, Henry Chatillon, Delorier, and
Raymond. The men themselves made no objection, nor would they have made
any had the journey been more dangerous; for Henry was without fear, and
the other two without thought.

Shaw and I were much better fitted for this mode of traveling than we
had been on betaking ourselves to the prairies for the first time a few
months before. The daily routine had ceased to be a novelty. All the
details of the journey and the camp had become familiar to us. We had
seen life under a new aspect; the human biped had been reduced to his
primitive condition. We had lived without law to protect, a roof to
shelter, or garment of cloth to cover us. One of us at least had been
without bread, and without salt to season his food. Our idea of what
is indispensable to human existence and enjoyment had been wonderfully
curtailed, and a horse, a rifle, and a knife seemed to make up the whole
of life's necessaries. For these once obtained, together with the skill
to use them, all else that is essential would follow in their train,
and a host of luxuries besides. One other lesson our short prairie
experience had taught us; that of profound contentment in the present,
and utter contempt for what the future might bring forth.

These principles established, we prepared to leave Fort Laramie. On the
fourth day of August, early in the afternoon, we bade a final adieu to
its hospitable gateway. Again Shaw and I were riding side by side on the
prairie. For the first fifty miles we had companions with us; Troche,
a little trapper, and Rouville, a nondescript in the employ of the Fur
Company, who were going to join the trader Bisonette at his encampment
near the head of Horse Creek. We rode only six or eight miles that
afternoon before we came to a little brook traversing the barren
prairie. All along its course grew copses of young wild-cherry trees,
loaded with ripe fruit, and almost concealing the gliding thread of
water with their dense growth, while on each side rose swells of rich
green grass. Here we encamped; and being much too indolent to pitch
our tent, we flung our saddles on the ground, spread a pair of buffalo
robes, lay down upon them, and began to smoke. Meanwhile, Delorier
busied himself with his hissing frying-pan, and Raymond stood guard
over the band of grazing horses. Delorier had an active assistant in
Rouville, who professed great skill in the culinary art, and seizing
upon a fork, began to lend his zealous aid in making ready supper.
Indeed, according to his own belief, Rouville was a man of universal
knowledge, and he lost no opportunity to display his manifold
accomplishments. He had been a circus-rider at St. Louis, and once he
rode round Fort Laramie on his head, to the utter bewilderment of all
the Indians. He was also noted as the wit of the Fort; and as he had
considerable humor and abundant vivacity, he contributed more that
night to the liveliness of the camp than all the rest of the party put
together. At one instant he would be kneeling by Delorier, instructing
him in the true method of frying antelope steaks, then he would come and
seat himself at our side, dilating upon the orthodox fashion of braiding
up a horse's tail, telling apocryphal stories how he had killed a
buffalo bull with a knife, having first cut off his tail when at full
speed, or relating whimsical anecdotes of the bourgeois Papin. At last
he snatched up a volume of Shakespeare that was lying on the grass, and
halted and stumbled through a line or two to prove that he could read.
He went gamboling about the camp, chattering like some frolicsome ape;
and whatever he was doing at one moment, the presumption was a sure
one that he would not be doing it the next. His companion Troche sat
silently on the grass, not speaking a word, but keeping a vigilant eye
on a very ugly little Utah squaw, of whom he was extremely jealous.

On the next day we traveled farther, crossing the wide sterile basin
called Goche's Hole. Toward night we became involved among deep ravines;
and being also unable to find water, our journey was protracted to
a very late hour. On the next morning we had to pass a long line of
bluffs, whose raw sides, wrought upon by rains and storms, were of a
ghastly whiteness most oppressive to the sight. As we ascended a gap
in these hills, the way was marked by huge foot-prints, like those of
a human giant. They were the track of the grizzly bear; and on the
previous day also we had seen abundance of them along the dry channels
of the streams we had passed. Immediately after this we were crossing a
barren plain, spreading in long and gentle undulations to the horizon.
Though the sun was bright, there was a light haze in the atmosphere.
The distant hills assumed strange, distorted forms, and the edge of
the horizon was continually changing its aspect. Shaw and I were riding
together, and Henry Chatillon was alone, a few rods before us; he
stopped his horse suddenly, and turning round with the peculiar eager
and earnest expression which he always wore when excited, he called
to us to come forward. We galloped to his side. Henry pointed toward a
black speck on the gray swell of the prairie, apparently about a mile
off. "It must be a bear," said he; "come, now, we shall all have some
sport. Better fun to fight him than to fight an old buffalo bull;
grizzly bear so strong and smart."

So we all galloped forward together, prepared for a hard fight; for
these bears, though clumsy in appearance and extremely large, are
incredibly fierce and active. The swell of the prairie concealed the
black object from our view. Immediately after it appeared again. But now
it seemed quite near to us; and as we looked at it in astonishment,
it suddenly separated into two parts, each of which took wing and
flew away. We stopped our horses and looked round at Henry, whose face
exhibited a curious mixture of mirth and mortification. His hawk's eye
had been so completely deceived by the peculiar atmosphere that he had
mistaken two large crows at the distance of fifty rods for a grizzly
bear a mile off. To the journey's end Henry never heard the last of the
grizzly bear with wings.

In the afternoon we came to the foot of a considerable hill. As we
ascended it Rouville began to ask questions concerning our conditions
and prospects at home, and Shaw was edifying him with a minute account
of an imaginary wife and child, to which he listened with implicit
faith. Reaching the top of the hill we saw the windings of Horse Creek
on the plains below us, and a little on the left we could distinguish
the camp of Bisonette among the trees and copses along the course of
the stream. Rouville's face assumed just then a most ludicrously blank
expression. We inquired what was the matter, when it appeared that
Bisonette had sent him from this place to Fort Laramie with the sole
object of bringing back a supply of tobacco. Our rattle-brain friend,
from the time of his reaching the Fort up to the present moment, had
entirely forgotten the object of his journey, and had ridden a dangerous
hundred miles for nothing. Descending to Horse Creek we forded it, and
on the opposite bank a solitary Indian sat on horseback under a tree. He
said nothing, but turned and led the way toward the camp. Bisonette had
made choice of an admirable position. The stream, with its thick growth
of trees, inclosed on three sides a wide green meadow, where about forty
Dakota lodges were pitched in a circle, and beyond them half a dozen
lodges of the friendly Cheyenne. Bisonette himself lived in the Indian
manner. Riding up to his lodge, we found him seated at the head of it,
surrounded by various appliances of comfort not common on the prairie.
His squaw was near him, and rosy children were scrambling about in
printed-calico gowns; Paul Dorion also, with his leathery face and old
white capote, was seated in the lodge, together with Antoine Le Rouge, a
half-breed Pawnee, Sibille, a trader, and several other white men.

"It will do you no harm," said Bisonette, "to stay here with us for a
day or two, before you start for the Pueblo."

We accepted the invitation, and pitched our tent on a rising ground
above the camp and close to the edge of the trees. Bisonette soon
invited us to a feast, and we suffered abundance of the same sort of
attention from his Indian associates. The reader may possibly recollect
that when I joined the Indian village, beyond the Black Hills, I found
that a few families were absent, having declined to pass the mountains
along with the rest. The Indians in Bisonette's camp consisted of these
very families, and many of them came to me that evening to inquire after
their relatives and friends. They were not a little mortified to learn
that while they, from their own timidity and indolence, were almost in
a starving condition, the rest of the village had provided their lodges
for the next season, laid in a great stock of provisions, and were
living in abundance and luxury. Bisonette's companions had been
sustaining themselves for some time on wild cherries, which the squaws
pounded up, stones and all, and spread on buffalo robes, to dry in the
sun; they were then eaten without further preparation, or used as an
ingredient in various delectable compounds.

On the next day the camp was in commotion with a new arrival. A single
Indian had come with his family the whole way from the Arkansas. As he
passed among the lodges he put on an expression of unusual dignity and
importance, and gave out that he had brought great news to tell the
whites. Soon after the squaws had erected his lodge, he sent his little
son to invite all the white men, and all the most distinguished Indians,
to a feast. The guests arrived and sat wedged together, shoulder to
shoulder, within the hot and suffocating lodge. The Stabber, for that
was our entertainer's name, had killed an old buffalo bull on his way.
This veteran's boiled tripe, tougher than leather, formed the main item
of the repast. For the rest, it consisted of wild cherries and grease
boiled together in a large copper kettle. The feast was distributed, and
for a moment all was silent, strenuous exertion; then each guest, with
one or two exceptions, however, turned his wooden dish bottom upward to
prove that he had done full justice to his entertainer's hospitality.
The Stabber next produced his chopping board, on which he prepared the
mixture for smoking, and filled several pipes, which circulated among
the company. This done, he seated himself upright on his couch, and
began with much gesticulation to tell his story. I will not repeat
his childish jargon. It was so entangled, like the greater part of an
Indian's stories, with absurd and contradictory details, that it was
almost impossible to disengage from it a single particle of truth. All
that we could gather was the following:

He had been on the Arkansas, and there he had seen six great war parties
of whites. He had never believed before that the whole world contained
half so many white men. They all had large horses, long knives, and
short rifles, and some of them were attired alike in the most splendid
war dresses he had ever seen. From this account it was clear that bodies
of dragoons and perhaps also of volunteer cavalry had been passing up
the Arkansas. The Stabber had also seen a great many of the white lodges
of the Meneaska, drawn by their long-horned buffalo. These could be
nothing else than covered ox-wagons used no doubt in transporting stores
for the troops. Soon after seeing this, our host had met an Indian who
had lately come from among the Comanches. The latter had told him
that all the Mexicans had gone out to a great buffalo hunt. That the
Americans had hid themselves in a ravine. When the Mexicans had shot
away all their arrows, the Americans had fired their guns, raised their
war-whoop, rushed out, and killed them all. We could only infer from
this that war had been declared with Mexico, and a battle fought in
which the Americans were victorious. When, some weeks after, we arrived
at the Pueblo, we heard of General Kearny's march up the Arkansas and of
General Taylor's victories at Matamoras.

As the sun was setting that evening a great crowd gathered on the plain
by the side of our tent, to try the speed of their horses. These were of
every shape, size, and color. Some came from California, some from the
States, some from among the mountains, and some from the wild bands of
the prairie. They were of every hue--white, black, red, and gray, or
mottled and clouded with a strange variety of colors. They all had a
wild and startled look, very different from the staid and sober aspect
of a well-bred city steed. Those most noted for swiftness and spirit
were decorated with eagle-feathers dangling from their manes and tails.
Fifty or sixty Dakotas were present, wrapped from head to foot in their
heavy robes of whitened hide. There were also a considerable number of
the Cheyenne, many of whom wore gaudy Mexican ponchos swathed around
their shoulders, but leaving the right arm bare. Mingled among the
crowd of Indians were a number of Canadians, chiefly in the employ of
Bisonette; men, whose home is in the wilderness, and who love the camp
fire better than the domestic hearth. They are contented and happy in
the midst of hardship, privation, and danger. Their cheerfulness and
gayety is irrepressible, and no people on earth understand better how
"to daff the world aside and bid it pass." Besides these, were two or
three half-breeds, a race of rather extraordinary composition, being
according to the common saying half Indian, half white man, and half
devil. Antoine Le Rouge was the most conspicuous among them, with his
loose pantaloons and his fluttering calico skirt. A handkerchief was
bound round his head to confine his black snaky hair, and his small
eyes twinkled beneath it, with a mischievous luster. He had a fine
cream-colored horse whose speed he must needs try along with the rest.
So he threw off the rude high-peaked saddle, and substituting a piece of
buffalo robe, leaped lightly into his seat. The space was cleared, the
word was given, and he and his Indian rival darted out like lightning
from among the crowd, each stretching forward over his horse's neck and
plying his heavy Indian whip with might and main. A moment, and both
were lost in the gloom; but Antoine soon came riding back victorious,
exultingly patting the neck of his quivering and panting horse.

About midnight, as I lay asleep, wrapped in a buffalo robe on the ground
by the side of our cart, Raymond came up and woke me. Something he said,
was going forward which I would like to see. Looking down into camp
I saw, on the farther side of it, a great number of Indians gathered
around a fire, the bright glare of which made them visible through the
thick darkness; while from the midst of them proceeded a loud, measured
chant which would have killed Paganini outright, broken occasionally by
a burst of sharp yells. I gathered the robe around me, for the night
was cold, and walked down to the spot. The dark throng of Indians was
so dense that they almost intercepted the light of the flame. As I was
pushing among them with but little ceremony, a chief interposed himself,
and I was given to understand that a white man must not approach the
scene of their solemnities too closely. By passing round to the other
side, where there was a little opening in the crowd, I could see clearly
what was going forward, without intruding my unhallowed presence into
the inner circle. The society of the "Strong Hearts" were engaged in one
of their dances. The Strong Hearts are a warlike association, comprising
men of both the Dakota and Cheyenne nations, and entirely composed,
or supposed to be so, of young braves of the highest mettle. Its
fundamental principle is the admirable one of never retreating from any
enterprise once commenced. All these Indian associations have a tutelary
spirit. That of the Strong Hearts is embodied in the fox, an animal
which a white man would hardly have selected for a similar purpose,
though his subtle and cautious character agrees well enough with an
Indian's notions of what is honorable in warfare. The dancers were
circling round and round the fire, each figure brightly illumined at one
moment by the yellow light, and at the next drawn in blackest shadow as
it passed between the flame and the spectator. They would imitate with
the most ludicrous exactness the motions and the voice of their sly
patron the fox. Then a startling yell would be given. Many other
warriors would leap into the ring, and with faces upturned toward
the starless sky, they would all stamp, and whoop, and brandish their
weapons like so many frantic devils.

Until the next afternoon we were still remaining with Bisonette. My
companion and I with our three attendants then left his camp for the
Pueblo, a distance of three hundred miles, and we supposed the journey
would occupy about a fortnight. During this time we all earnestly hoped
that we might not meet a single human being, for should we encounter
any, they would in all probability be enemies, ferocious robbers and
murderers, in whose eyes our rifles would be our only passports. For
the first two days nothing worth mentioning took place. On the third
morning, however, an untoward incident occurred. We were encamped by the
side of a little brook in an extensive hollow of the plain. Delorier
was up long before daylight, and before he began to prepare breakfast
he turned loose all the horses, as in duty bound. There was a cold mist
clinging close to the ground, and by the time the rest of us were awake
the animals were invisible. It was only after a long and anxious search
that we could discover by their tracks the direction they had taken.
They had all set off for Fort Laramie, following the guidance of a
mutinous old mule, and though many of them were hobbled they had driven
three miles before they could be overtaken and driven back.

For the following two or three days we were passing over an arid desert.
The only vegetation was a few tufts of short grass, dried and shriveled
by the heat. There was an abundance of strange insects and reptiles.
Huge crickets, black and bottle green, and wingless grasshoppers of the
most extravagant dimensions, were tumbling about our horses' feet, and
lizards without numbers were darting like lightning among the tufts of
grass. The most curious animal, however, was that commonly called the
horned frog. I caught one of them and consigned him to the care of
Delorier, who tied him up in a moccasin. About a month after this I
examined the prisoner's condition, and finding him still lively and
active, I provided him with a cage of buffalo hide, which was hung up
in the cart. In this manner he arrived safely at the settlements. From
thence he traveled the whole way to Boston packed closely in a trunk,
being regaled with fresh air regularly every night. When he reached his
destination he was deposited under a glass case, where he sat for some
months in great tranquillity and composure, alternately dilating and
contracting his white throat to the admiration of his visitors. At
length, one morning, about the middle of winter, he gave up the ghost.
His death was attributed to starvation, a very probable conclusion,
since for six months he had taken no food whatever, though the sympathy
of his juvenile admirers had tempted his palate with a great variety
of delicacies. We found also animals of a somewhat larger growth. The
number of prairie dogs was absolutely astounding. Frequently the hard
and dry prairie would be thickly covered, for many miles together, with
the little mounds which they make around the mouth of their burrows, and
small squeaking voices yelping at us as we passed along. The noses of
the inhabitants would be just visible at the mouth of their holes,
but no sooner was their curiosity satisfied than they would instantly
vanish. Some of the bolder dogs--though in fact they are no dogs at all,
but little marmots rather smaller than a rabbit--would sit yelping at us
on the top of their mounds, jerking their tails emphatically with every
shrill cry they uttered. As the danger grew nearer they would wheel
about, toss their heels into the air, and dive in a twinkling down into
their burrows. Toward sunset, and especially if rain were threatening,
the whole community would make their appearance above ground. We would
see them gathered in large knots around the burrow of some favorite
citizen. There they would all sit erect, their tails spread out on
the ground, and their paws hanging down before their white breasts,
chattering and squeaking with the utmost vivacity upon some topic of
common interest, while the proprietor of the burrow, with his head
just visible on the top of his mound, would sit looking down with a
complacent countenance on the enjoyment of his guests. Meanwhile, others
would be running about from burrow to burrow, as if on some errand of
the last importance to their subterranean commonwealth. The snakes were
apparently the prairie dog's worst enemies, at least I think too well of
the latter to suppose that they associate on friendly terms with these
slimy intruders, who may be seen at all times basking among their holes,
into which they always retreat when disturbed. Small owls, with wise and
grave countenances, also make their abode with the prairie dogs, though
on what terms they live together I could never ascertain. The manners
and customs, the political and domestic economy of these little marmots
is worthy of closer attention than one is able to give when pushing by
forced marches through their country, with his thoughts engrossed by
objects of greater moment.

On the fifth day after leaving Bisonette's camp we saw late in the
afternoon what we supposed to be a considerable stream, but on our
approaching it we found to our mortification nothing but a dry bed of
sand into which all the water had sunk and disappeared. We separated,
some riding in one direction and some in another along its course. Still
we found no traces of water, not even so much as a wet spot in the sand.
The old cotton-wood trees that grew along the bank, lamentably abused by
lightning and tempest, were withering with the drought, and on the dead
limbs, at the summit of the tallest, half a dozen crows were hoarsely
cawing like birds of evil omen as they were. We had no alternative but
to keep on. There was no water nearer than the South Fork of the Platte,
about ten miles distant. We moved forward, angry and silent, over a
desert as flat as the outspread ocean.

The sky had been obscured since the morning by thin mists and vapors,
but now vast piles of clouds were gathered together in the west. They
rose to a great height above the horizon, and looking up toward them I
distinguished one mass darker than the rest and of a peculiar conical
form. I happened to look again and still could see it as before. At some
moments it was dimly seen, at others its outline was sharp and distinct;
but while the clouds around it were shifting, changing, and dissolving
away, it still towered aloft in the midst of them, fixed and immovable.
It must, thought I, be the summit of a mountain, and yet its heights
staggered me. My conclusion was right, however. It was Long's Peak, once
believed to be one of the highest of the Rocky Mountain chain, though
more recent discoveries have proved the contrary. The thickening gloom
soon hid it from view and we never saw it again, for on the following
day and for some time after, the air was so full of mist that the view
of distant objects was entirely intercepted.

It grew very late. Turning from our direct course we made for the river
at its nearest point, though in the utter darkness it was not easy to
direct our way with much precision. Raymond rode on one side and Henry
on the other. We could hear each of them shouting that he had come upon
a deep ravine. We steered at random between Scylla and Charybdis, and
soon after became, as it seemed, inextricably involved with deep chasms
all around us, while the darkness was such that we could not see a rod
in any direction. We partially extricated ourselves by scrambling, cart
and all, through a shallow ravine. We came next to a steep descent down
which we plunged without well knowing what was at the bottom. There was
a great crackling of sticks and dry twigs. Over our heads were certain
large shadowy objects, and in front something like the faint gleaming
of a dark sheet of water. Raymond ran his horse against a tree; Henry
alighted, and feeling on the ground declared that there was grass enough
for the horses. Before taking off his saddle each man led his own horses
down to the water in the best way he could. Then picketing two or three
of the evil-disposed we turned the rest loose and lay down among the dry
sticks to sleep. In the morning we found ourselves close to the South
Fork of the Platte on a spot surrounded by bushes and rank grass.
Compensating ourselves with a hearty breakfast for the ill fare of the
previous night, we set forward again on our journey. When only two or
three rods from the camp I saw Shaw stop his mule, level his gun, and
after a long aim fire at some object in the grass. Delorier next jumped
forward and began to dance about, belaboring the unseen enemy with a
whip. Then he stooped down and drew out of the grass by the neck an
enormous rattlesnake, with his head completely shattered by Shaw's
bullet. As Delorier held him out at arm's length with an exulting grin
his tail, which still kept slowly writhing about, almost touched the
ground, and the body in the largest part was as thick as a stout man's
arm. He had fourteen rattles, but the end of his tail was blunted, as if
he could once have boasted of many more. From this time till we reached
the Pueblo we killed at least four or five of these snakes every day as
they lay coiled and rattling on the hot sand. Shaw was the St. Patrick
of the party, and whenever he or any one else killed a snake he always
pulled off his tail and stored it away in his bullet-pouch, which was
soon crammed with an edifying collection of rattles, great and small.
Delorier, with his whip, also came in for a share of the praise. A day
or two after this he triumphantly produced a small snake about a span
and a half long, with one infant rattle at the end of his tail.

We forded the South Fork of the Platte. On its farther bank were the
traces of a very large camp of Arapahoes. The ashes of some three
hundred fires were visible among the scattered trees, together with
the remains of sweating lodges, and all the other appurtenances of a
permanent camp. The place however had been for some months deserted. A
few miles farther on we found more recent signs of Indians; the trail
of two or three lodges, which had evidently passed the day before,
where every foot-print was perfectly distinct in the dry, dusty soil. We
noticed in particular the track of one moccasin, upon the sole of which
its economical proprietor had placed a large patch. These signs gave us
but little uneasiness, as the number of the warriors scarcely exceeded
that of our own party. At noon we rested under the walls of a large
fort, built in these solitudes some years since by M. St. Vrain. It was
now abandoned and fast falling into ruin. The walls of unbaked bricks
were cracked from top to bottom. Our horses recoiled in terror from the
neglected entrance, where the heavy gates were torn from their hinges
and flung down. The area within was overgrown with weeds, and the long
ranges of apartments, once occupied by the motley concourse of traders,
Canadians, and squaws, were now miserably dilapidated. Twelve miles
further on, near the spot where we encamped, were the remains of still
another fort, standing in melancholy desertion and neglect.

Early on the following morning we made a startling discovery. We passed
close by a large deserted encampment of Arapahoes. There were about
fifty fires still smouldering on the ground, and it was evident from
numerous signs that the Indians must have left the place within two
hours of our reaching it. Their trail crossed our own at right angles,
and led in the direction of a line of hills half a mile on our left.
There were women and children in the party, which would have greatly
diminished the danger of encountering them. Henry Chatillon examined the
encampment and the trail with a very professional and businesslike air.

"Supposing we had met them, Henry?" said I.

"Why," said he, "we hold out our hands to them, and give them all we've
got; they take away everything, and then I believe they no kill us.
Perhaps," added he, looking up with a quiet, unchanged face, "perhaps we
no let them rob us. Maybe before they come near, we have a chance to get
into a ravine, or under the bank of the river; then, you know, we fight
them."

About noon on that day we reached Cherry Creek. Here was a great
abundance of wild cherries, plums, gooseberries, and currants. The
stream, however, like most of the others which we passed, was dried up
with the heat, and we had to dig holes in the sand to find water for
ourselves and our horses. Two days after, we left the banks of the creek
which we had been following for some time, and began to cross the high
dividing ridge which separates the waters of the Platte from those
of the Arkansas. The scenery was altogether changed. In place of the
burning plains we were passing now through rough and savage glens and
among hills crowned with a dreary growth of pines. We encamped among
these solitudes on the night of the 16th of August. A tempest was
threatening. The sun went down among volumes of jet-black cloud, edged
with a bloody red. But in spite of these portentous signs, we neglected
to put up the tent, and being extremely fatigued, lay down on the ground
and fell asleep. The storm broke about midnight, and we erected the
tent amid darkness and confusion. In the morning all was fair again,
and Pike's Peak, white with snow, was towering above the wilderness afar
off.

We pushed through an extensive tract of pine woods. Large black
squirrels were leaping among the branches. From the farther edge of
this forest we saw the prairie again, hollowed out before us into a vast
basin, and about a mile in front we could discern a little black speck
moving upon its surface. It could be nothing but a buffalo. Henry primed
his rifle afresh and galloped forward. To the left of the animal was a
low rocky mound, of which Henry availed himself in making his approach.
After a short time we heard the faint report of the rifle. The bull,
mortally wounded from a distance of nearly three hundred yards, ran
wildly round and round in a circle. Shaw and I then galloped forward,
and passing him as he ran, foaming with rage and pain, we discharged our
pistols into his side. Once or twice he rushed furiously upon us, but
his strength was rapidly exhausted. Down he fell on his knees. For one
instant he glared up at his enemies with burning eyes through his black
tangled mane, and then rolled over on his side. Though gaunt and thin,
he was larger and heavier than the largest ox. Foam and blood flew
together from his nostrils as he lay bellowing and pawing the ground,
tearing up grass and earth with his hoofs. His sides rose and fell
like a vast pair of bellows, the blood spouting up in jets from the
bullet-holes. Suddenly his glaring eyes became like a lifeless jelly.
He lay motionless on the ground. Henry stooped over him, and making an
incision with his knife, pronounced the meat too rank and tough for use;
so, disappointed in our hopes of an addition to our stock of provisions,
we rode away and left the carcass to the wolves.

In the afternoon we saw the mountains rising like a gigantic wall at
no great distance on our right. "Des sauvages! des sauvages!" exclaimed
Delorier, looking round with a frightened face, and pointing with
his whip toward the foot of the mountains. In fact, we could see at a
distance a number of little black specks, like horsemen in rapid
motion. Henry Chatillon, with Shaw and myself, galloped toward them
to reconnoiter, when to our amusement we saw the supposed Arapahoes
resolved into the black tops of some pine trees which grew along a
ravine. The summits of these pines, just visible above the verge of
the prairie, and seeming to move as we ourselves were advancing, looked
exactly like a line of horsemen.

We encamped among ravines and hollows, through which a little brook
was foaming angrily. Before sunrise in the morning the snow-covered
mountains were beautifully tinged with a delicate rose color. A noble
spectacle awaited us as we moved forward. Six or eight miles on our
right, Pike's Peak and his giant brethren rose out of the level prairie,
as if springing from the bed of the ocean. From their summits down to
the plain below they were involved in a mantle of clouds, in restless
motion, as if urged by strong winds. For one instant some snowy peak,
towering in awful solitude, would be disclosed to view. As the
clouds broke along the mountain, we could see the dreary forests, the
tremendous precipices, the white patches of snow, the gulfs and chasms
as black as night, all revealed for an instant, and then disappearing
from the view. One could not but recall the stanza of "Childe Harold":

     Morn dawns, and with it stern Albania's hills,
     Dark Suli's rocks, and Pindus' inland peak,
     Robed half in mist, bedewed with snowy rills,
     Array'd in many a dun and purple streak,
     Arise; and, as the clouds along them break,
     Disclose the dwelling of the mountaineer:
     Here roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak,
     Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear,
     And gathering storms around convulse the closing year.

Every line save one of this description was more than verified here.
There were no "dwellings of the mountaineer" among these heights. Fierce
savages, restlessly wandering through summer and winter, alone invade
them. "Their hand is against every man, and every man's hand against
them."

On the day after, we had left the mountains at some distance. A black
cloud descended upon them, and a tremendous explosion of thunder
followed, reverberating among the precipices. In a few moments
everything grew black and the rain poured down like a cataract. We got
under an old cotton-wood tree which stood by the side of a stream, and
waited there till the rage of the torrent had passed.

The clouds opened at the point where they first had gathered, and the
whole sublime congregation of mountains was bathed at once in warm
sunshine. They seemed more like some luxurious vision of Eastern romance
than like a reality of that wilderness; all were melted together into
a soft delicious blue, as voluptuous as the sky of Naples or the
transparent sea that washes the sunny cliffs of Capri. On the left the
whole sky was still of an inky blackness; but two concentric rainbows
stood in brilliant relief against it, while far in front the ragged
cloud still streamed before the wind, and the retreating thunder
muttered angrily.

Through that afternoon and the next morning we were passing down the
banks of the stream called La Fontaine qui Bouille, from the boiling
spring whose waters flow into it. When we stopped at noon, we were
within six or eight miles of the Pueblo. Setting out again, we found by
the fresh tracks that a horseman had just been out to reconnoiter us; he
had circled half round the camp, and then galloped back full speed for
the Pueblo. What made him so shy of us we could not conceive. After an
hour's ride we reached the edge of a hill, from which a welcome sight
greeted us. The Arkansas ran along the valley below, among woods and
groves, and closely nestled in the midst of wide cornfields and green
meadows where cattle were grazing rose the low mud walls of the Pueblo.



CHAPTER XXI

THE PUEBLO AND BENT'S FORT


We approached the gate of the Pueblo. It was a wretched species of fort
of most primitive construction, being nothing more than a large
square inclosure, surrounded by a wall of mud, miserably cracked and
dilapidated. The slender pickets that surmounted it were half broken
down, and the gate dangled on its wooden hinges so loosely, that to
open or shut it seemed likely to fling it down altogether. Two or three
squalid Mexicans, with their broad hats, and their vile faces overgrown
with hair, were lounging about the bank of the river in front of it.
They disappeared as they saw us approach; and as we rode up to the gate
a light active little figure came out to meet us. It was our old friend
Richard. He had come from Fort Laramie on a trading expedition to Taos;
but finding, when he reached the Pueblo, that the war would prevent his
going farther, he was quietly waiting till the conquest of the country
should allow him to proceed. He seemed to consider himself bound to do
the honors of the place. Shaking us warmly by the hands, he led the way
into the area.

Here we saw his large Santa Fe wagons standing together. A few squaws
and Spanish women, and a few Mexicans, as mean and miserable as the
place itself, were lazily sauntering about. Richard conducted us to the
state apartment of the Pueblo, a small mud room, very neatly
finished, considering the material, and garnished with a crucifix, a
looking-glass, a picture of the Virgin, and a rusty horse pistol. There
were no chairs, but instead of them a number of chests and boxes
ranged about the room. There was another room beyond, less sumptuously
decorated, and here three or four Spanish girls, one of them very
pretty, were baking cakes at a mud fireplace in the corner. They brought
out a poncho, which they spread upon the floor by way of table-cloth.
A supper, which seemed to us luxurious, was soon laid out upon it, and
folded buffalo robes were placed around it to receive the guests. Two
or three Americans, besides ourselves, were present. We sat down Turkish
fashion, and began to inquire the news. Richard told us that, about
three weeks before, General Kearny's army had left Bent's Fort to march
against Santa Fe; that when last heard from they were approaching the
mountainous defiles that led to the city. One of the Americans produced
a dingy newspaper, containing an account of the battles of Palo Alto and
Resaca de la Palma. While we were discussing these matters, the doorway
was darkened by a tall, shambling fellow, who stood with his hands in
his pockets taking a leisurely survey of the premises before he entered.
He wore brown homespun pantaloons, much too short for his legs, and
a pistol and bowie knife stuck in his belt. His head and one eye
were enveloped in a huge bandage of white linen. Having completed his
observations, he came slouching in and sat down on a chest. Eight or ten
more of the same stamp followed, and very coolly arranging themselves
about the room, began to stare at the company. Shaw and I looked at each
other. We were forcibly reminded of the Oregon emigrants, though these
unwelcome visitors had a certain glitter of the eye, and a compression
of the lips, which distinguished them from our old acquaintances of the
prairie. They began to catechise us at once, inquiring whence we had
come, what we meant to do next, and what were our future prospects in
life.

The man with the bandaged head had met with an untoward accident a few
days before. He was going down to the river to bring water, and was
pushing through the young willows which covered the low ground, when he
came unawares upon a grizzly bear, which, having just eaten a buffalo
bull, had lain down to sleep off the meal. The bear rose on his hind
legs, and gave the intruder such a blow with his paw that he laid his
forehead entirely bare, clawed off the front of his scalp, and narrowly
missed one of his eyes. Fortunately he was not in a very pugnacious
mood, being surfeited with his late meal. The man's companions, who were
close behind, raised a shout and the bear walked away, crushing down the
willows in his leisurely retreat.

These men belonged to a party of Mormons, who, out of a well-grounded
fear of the other emigrants, had postponed leaving the settlements until
all the rest were gone. On account of this delay they did not reach Fort
Laramie until it was too late to continue their journey to California.
Hearing that there was good land at the head of the Arkansas, they
crossed over under the guidance of Richard, and were now preparing to
spend the winter at a spot about half a mile from the Pueblo.

When we took leave of Richard, it was near sunset. Passing out of the
gate, we could look down the little valley of the Arkansas; a beautiful
scene, and doubly so to our eyes, so long accustomed to deserts and
mountains. Tall woods lined the river, with green meadows on either
hand; and high bluffs, quietly basking in the sunlight, flanked the
narrow valley. A Mexican on horseback was driving a herd of cattle
toward the gate, and our little white tent, which the men had pitched
under a large tree in the meadow, made a very pleasing feature in the
scene. When we reached it, we found that Richard had sent a Mexican to
bring us an abundant supply of green corn and vegetables, and invite
us to help ourselves to whatever we wished from the fields around the
Pueblo.

The inhabitants were in daily apprehensions of an inroad from more
formidable consumers than ourselves. Every year at the time when the
corn begins to ripen, the Arapahoes, to the number of several thousands,
come and encamp around the Pueblo. The handful of white men, who are
entirely at the mercy of this swarm of barbarians, choose to make a
merit of necessity; they come forward very cordially, shake them by the
hand, and intimate that the harvest is entirely at their disposal. The
Arapahoes take them at their word, help themselves most liberally, and
usually turn their horses into the cornfields afterward. They have the
foresight, however, to leave enough of the crops untouched to serve as
an inducement for planting the fields again for their benefit in the
next spring.

The human race in this part of the world is separated into three
divisions, arranged in the order of their merits; white men, Indians,
and Mexicans; to the latter of whom the honorable title of "whites" is
by no means conceded.

In spite of the warm sunset of that evening the next morning was a
dreary and cheerless one. It rained steadily, clouds resting upon the
very treetops. We crossed the river to visit the Mormon settlement. As
we passed through the water, several trappers on horseback entered it
from the other side. Their buckskin frocks were soaked through by the
rain, and clung fast to their limbs with a most clammy and uncomfortable
look. The water was trickling down their faces, and dropping from the
ends of their rifles, and from the traps which each carried at the
pommel of his saddle. Horses and all, they had a most disconsolate and
woebegone appearance, which we could not help laughing at, forgetting
how often we ourselves had been in a similar plight.

After half an hour's riding we saw the white wagons of the Mormons drawn
up among the trees. Axes were sounding, trees were falling, and log-huts
going up along the edge of the woods and upon the adjoining meadow.
As we came up the Mormons left their work and seated themselves on
the timber around us, when they began earnestly to discuss points
of theology, complain of the ill-usage they had received from the
"Gentiles," and sound a lamentation over the loss of their great temple
at Nauvoo. After remaining with them an hour we rode back to our camp,
happy that the settlements had been delivered from the presence of such
blind and desperate fanatics.

On the morning after this we left the Pueblo for Bent's Fort. The
conduct of Raymond had lately been less satisfactory than before, and
we had discharged him as soon as we arrived at the former place; so that
the party, ourselves included, was now reduced to four. There was some
uncertainty as to our future course. The trail between Bent's Fort and
the settlements, a distance computed at six hundred miles, was at this
time in a dangerous state; for since the passage of General Kearny's
army, great numbers of hostile Indians, chiefly Pawnees and Comanches,
had gathered about some parts of it. A little after this time they
became so numerous and audacious, that scarcely a single party, however
large, passed between the fort and the frontier without some token of
their hostility. The newspapers of the time sufficiently display this
state of things. Many men were killed, and great numbers of horses and
mules carried off. Not long since I met with the gentleman, who, during
the autumn, came from Santa Fe to Bent's Fort, when he found a party
of seventy men, who thought themselves too weak to go down to the
settlements alone, and were waiting there for a re-enforcement. Though
this excessive timidity fully proves the ignorance and credulity of
the men, it may also evince the state of alarm which prevailed in the
country. When we were there in the month of August, the danger had not
become so great. There was nothing very attractive in the neighborhood.
We supposed, moreover, that we might wait there half the winter without
finding any party to go down with us; for Mr. Sublette and the others
whom we had relied upon had, as Richard told us, already left Bent's
Fort. Thus far on our journey Fortune had kindly befriended us. We
resolved therefore to take advantage of her gracious mood and trusting
for a continuance of her favors, to set out with Henry and Delorier, and
run the gauntlet of the Indians in the best way we could.

Bent's Fort stands on the river, about seventy-five miles below the
Pueblo. At noon of the third day we arrived within three or four miles
of it, pitched our tent under a tree, hung our looking-glasses against
its trunk and having made our primitive toilet, rode toward the fort.
We soon came in sight of it, for it is visible from a considerable
distance, standing with its high clay walls in the midst of the
scorching plains. It seemed as if a swarm of locusts had invaded the
country. The grass for miles around was cropped close by the horses of
General Kearny's soldiery. When we came to the fort, we found that not
only had the horses eaten up the grass, but their owners had made
away with the stores of the little trading post; so that we had great
difficulty in procuring the few articles which we required for our
homeward journey. The army was gone, the life and bustle passed away,
and the fort was a scene of dull and lazy tranquillity. A few invalid
officers and soldiers sauntered about the area, which was oppressively
hot; for the glaring sun was reflected down upon it from the high white
walls around. The proprietors were absent, and we were received by Mr.
Holt, who had been left in charge of the fort. He invited us to dinner,
where, to our admiration, we found a table laid with a white cloth, with
castors in the center and chairs placed around it. This unwonted repast
concluded, we rode back to our camp.

Here, as we lay smoking round the fire after supper, we saw through the
dusk three men approaching from the direction of the fort. They rode up
and seated themselves near us on the ground. The foremost was a tall,
well-formed man, with a face and manner such as inspire confidence at
once. He wore a broad hat of felt, slouching and tattered, and the rest
of his attire consisted of a frock and leggings of buckskin, rubbed with
the yellow clay found among the mountains. At the heel of one of his
moccasins was buckled a huge iron spur, with a rowel five or six inches
in diameter. His horse, who stood quietly looking over his head, had a
rude Mexican saddle, covered with a shaggy bearskin, and furnished with
a pair of wooden stirrups of most preposterous size. The next man was a
sprightly, active little fellow, about five feet and a quarter high, but
very strong and compact. His face was swarthy as a Mexican's and covered
with a close, curly black beard. An old greasy calico handkerchief was
tied round his head, and his close buckskin dress was blackened and
polished by grease and hard service. The last who came up was a large
strong man, dressed in the coarse homespun of the frontiers, who dragged
his long limbs over the ground as if he were too lazy for the effort. He
had a sleepy gray eye, a retreating chin, an open mouth and a
protruding upper lip, which gave him an air of exquisite indolence
and helplessness. He was armed with an old United States yager, which
redoubtable weapon, though he could never hit his mark with it, he was
accustomed to cherish as the very sovereign of firearms.

The first two men belonged to a party who had just come from California
with a large band of horses, which they had disposed of at Bent's
Fort. Munroe, the taller of the two, was from Iowa. He was an excellent
fellow, open, warm-hearted and intelligent. Jim Gurney, the short man,
was a Boston sailor, who had come in a trading vessel to California, and
taken the fancy to return across the continent. The journey had already
made him an expert "mountain man," and he presented the extraordinary
phenomenon of a sailor who understood how to manage a horse. The third
of our visitors named Ellis, was a Missourian, who had come out with a
party of Oregon emigrants, but having got as far as Bridge's Fort, he
had fallen home-sick, or as Jim averred, love-sick--and Ellis was just
the man to be balked in a love adventure. He thought proper to join the
California men and return homeward in their company.

They now requested that they might unite with our party, and make the
journey to the settlements in company with us. We readily assented, for
we liked the appearance of the first two men, and were very glad to
gain so efficient a re-enforcement. We told them to meet us on the next
evening at a spot on the river side, about six miles below the fort.
Having smoked a pipe together, our new allies left us, and we lay down
to sleep.



CHAPTER XXII

TETE ROUGE, THE VOLUNTEER


The next morning, having directed Delorier to repair with his cart
to the place of meeting, we came again to the fort to make some
arrangements for the journey. After completing these we sat down under a
sort of perch, to smoke with some Cheyenne Indians whom we found there.
In a few minutes we saw an extraordinary little figure approach us in a
military dress. He had a small, round countenance, garnished about
the eyes with the kind of wrinkles commonly known as crow's feet and
surrounded by an abundant crop of red curls, with a little cap resting
on the top of them. Altogether, he had the look of a man more conversant
with mint juleps and oyster suppers than with the hardships of prairie
service. He came up to us and entreated that we would take him home to
the settlements, saying that unless he went with us he should have to
stay all winter at the fort. We liked our petitioner's appearance so
little that we excused ourselves from complying with his request. At
this he begged us so hard to take pity on him, looked so disconsolate,
and told so lamentable a story that at last we consented, though not
without many misgivings.

The rugged Anglo-Saxon of our new recruit's real name proved utterly
unmanageable on the lips of our French attendants, and Henry Chatillon,
after various abortive attempts to pronounce it, one day coolly
christened him Tete Rouge, in honor of his red curls. He had at
different times been clerk of a Mississippi steamboat, and agent in
a trading establishment at Nauvoo, besides filling various other
capacities, in all of which he had seen much more of "life" than was
good for him. In the spring, thinking that a summer's campaign would
be an agreeable recreation, he had joined a company of St. Louis
volunteers.

"There were three of us," said Tete Rouge, "me and Bill Stevens and John
Hopkins. We thought we would just go out with the army, and when we had
conquered the country, we would get discharged and take our pay, you
know, and go down to Mexico. They say there is plenty of fun going on
there. Then we could go back to New Orleans by way of Vera Cruz."

But Tete Rouge, like many a stouter volunteer, had reckoned without
his host. Fighting Mexicans was a less amusing occupation than he had
supposed, and his pleasure trip was disagreeably interrupted by brain
fever, which attacked him when about halfway to Bent's Fort. He jolted
along through the rest of the journey in a baggage wagon. When they came
to the fort he was taken out and left there, together with the rest of
the sick. Bent's Fort does not supply the best accommodations for an
invalid. Tete Rouge's sick chamber was a little mud room, where he and a
companion attacked by the same disease were laid together, with nothing
but a buffalo robe between them and the ground. The assistant surgeon's
deputy visited them once a day and brought them each a huge dose of
calomel, the only medicine, according to his surviving victim, which he
was acquainted with.

Tete Rouge woke one morning, and turning to his companion, saw his eyes
fixed upon the beams above with the glassy stare of a dead man. At this
the unfortunate volunteer lost his senses outright. In spite of the
doctor, however, he eventually recovered; though between the brain fever
and the calomel, his mind, originally none of the strongest, was so much
shaken that it had not quite recovered its balance when we came to the
fort. In spite of the poor fellow's tragic story, there was something
so ludicrous in his appearance, and the whimsical contrast between his
military dress and his most unmilitary demeanor, that we could not help
smiling at them. We asked him if he had a gun. He said they had taken
it from him during his illness, and he had not seen it since; "but
perhaps," he observed, looking at me with a beseeching air, "you will
lend me one of your big pistols if we should meet with any Indians." I
next inquired if he had a horse; he declared he had a magnificent one,
and at Shaw's request a Mexican led him in for inspection. He exhibited
the outline of a good horse, but his eyes were sunk in the sockets, and
every one of his ribs could be counted. There were certain marks too
about his shoulders, which could be accounted for by the circumstance,
that during Tete Rouge's illness, his companions had seized upon the
insulted charger, and harnessed him to a cannon along with the draft
horses. To Tete Rouge's astonishment we recommended him by all means to
exchange the horse, if he could, for a mule. Fortunately the people at
the fort were so anxious to get rid of him that they were willing to
make some sacrifice to effect the object, and he succeeded in getting a
tolerable mule in exchange for the broken-down steed.

A man soon appeared at the gate, leading in the mule by a cord which he
placed in the hands of Tete Rouge, who, being somewhat afraid of his new
acquisition, tried various flatteries and blandishments to induce her
to come forward. The mule, knowing that she was expected to advance,
stopped short in consequence, and stood fast as a rock, looking straight
forward with immovable composure. Being stimulated by a blow from behind
she consented to move, and walked nearly to the other side of the fort
before she stopped again. Hearing the by-standers laugh, Tete Rouge
plucked up spirit and tugged hard at the rope. The mule jerked backward,
spun herself round, and made a dash for the gate. Tete Rouge, who clung
manfully to the rope, went whisking through the air for a few rods, when
he let go and stood with his mouth open, staring after the mule, who
galloped away over the prairie. She was soon caught and brought back
by a Mexican, who mounted a horse and went in pursuit of her with his
lasso.

Having thus displayed his capacity for prairie travel, Tete Rouge
proceeded to supply himself with provisions for the journey, and with
this view he applied to a quartermaster's assistant who was in the fort.
This official had a face as sour as vinegar, being in a state of chronic
indignation because he had been left behind the army. He was as anxious
as the rest to get rid of Tete Rouge. So, producing a rusty key, he
opened a low door which led to a half-subterranean apartment, into which
the two disappeared together. After some time they came out again, Tete
Rouge greatly embarrassed by a multiplicity of paper parcels containing
the different articles of his forty days' rations. They were consigned
to the care of Delorier, who about that time passed by with the cart
on his way to the appointed place of meeting with Munroe and his
companions.

We next urged Tete Rouge to provide himself, if he could, with a gun.
He accordingly made earnest appeals to the charity of various persons
in the fort, but totally without success, a circumstance which did not
greatly disturb us, since in the event of a skirmish he would be much
more apt to do mischief to himself or his friends than to the enemy.
When all these arrangements were completed we saddled our horses and
were preparing to leave the fort, when looking round we discovered that
our new associate was in fresh trouble. A man was holding the mule for
him in the middle of the fort, while he tried to put the saddle on her
back, but she kept stepping sideways and moving round and round in
a circle until he was almost in despair. It required some assistance
before all his difficulties could be overcome. At length he clambered
into the black war saddle on which he was to have carried terror into
the ranks of the Mexicans.

"Get up," said Tete Rouge, "come now, go along, will you."

The mule walked deliberately forward out of the gate. Her recent conduct
had inspired him with so much awe that he never dared to touch her with
his whip. We trotted forward toward the place of meeting, but before he
had gone far we saw that Tete Rouge's mule, who perfectly understood
her rider, had stopped and was quietly grazing, in spite of his
protestations, at some distance behind. So getting behind him, we drove
him and the contumacious mule before us, until we could see through the
twilight the gleaming of a distant fire. Munroe, Jim, and Ellis were
lying around it; their saddles, packs, and weapons were scattered about
and their horses picketed near them. Delorier was there too with our
little cart. Another fire was soon blazing high. We invited our new
allies to take a cup of coffee with us. When both the others had gone
over to their side of the camp, Jim Gurney still stood by the blaze,
puffing hard at his little black pipe, as short and weather-beaten as
himself.

"Well!" he said, "here are eight of us; we'll call it six--for them two
boobies, Ellis over yonder, and that new man of yours, won't count for
anything. We'll get through well enough, never fear for that, unless the
Comanches happen to get foul of us."



CHAPTER XXIII

INDIAN ALARMS


We began our journey for the frontier settlements on the 27th of August,
and certainly a more ragamuffin cavalcade never was seen on the banks of
the Upper Arkansas. Of the large and fine horses with which we had left
the frontier in the spring, not one remained; we had supplied their
place with the rough breed of the prairie, as hardy as mules and almost
as ugly; we had also with us a number of the latter detestable animals.
In spite of their strength and hardihood, several of the band were
already worn down by hard service and hard fare, and as none of them
were shod, they were fast becoming foot-sore. Every horse and mule had
a cord of twisted bull-hide coiled around his neck, which by no
means added to the beauty of his appearance. Our saddles and all our
equipments were by this time lamentably worn and battered, and our
weapons had become dull and rusty. The dress of the riders fully
corresponded with the dilapidated furniture of our horses, and of the
whole party none made a more disreputable appearance than my friend and
I. Shaw had for an upper garment an old red flannel shirt, flying open
in front and belted around him like a frock; while I, in absence of
other clothing, was attired in a time-worn suit of leather.

Thus, happy and careless as so many beggars, we crept slowly from day to
day along the monotonous banks of the Arkansas. Tete Rouge gave constant
trouble, for he could never catch his mule, saddle her, or indeed do
anything else without assistance. Every day he had some new ailment,
real or imaginary, to complain of. At one moment he would be woebegone
and disconsolate, and the next he would be visited with a violent flow
of spirits, to which he could only give vent by incessant laughing,
whistling, and telling stories. When other resources failed, we used to
amuse ourselves by tormenting him; a fair compensation for the trouble
he cost us. Tete Rouge rather enjoyed being laughed at, for he was
an odd compound of weakness, eccentricity, and good-nature. He made a
figure worthy of a painter as he paced along before us, perched on the
back of his mule, and enveloped in a huge buffalo-robe coat, which some
charitable person had given him at the fort. This extraordinary garment,
which would have contained two men of his size, he chose, for some
reason best known to himself, to wear inside out, and he never took it
off, even in the hottest weather. It was fluttering all over with seams
and tatters, and the hide was so old and rotten that it broke out every
day in a new place. Just at the top of it a large pile of red curls was
visible, with his little cap set jauntily upon one side, to give him
a military air. His seat in the saddle was no less remarkable than his
person and equipment. He pressed one leg close against his mule's side,
and thrust the other out at an angle of 45 degrees. His pantaloons were
decorated with a military red stripe, of which he was extremely vain;
but being much too short, the whole length of his boots was usually
visible below them. His blanket, loosely rolled up into a large bundle,
dangled at the back of his saddle, where he carried it tied with a
string. Four or five times a day it would fall to the ground. Every few
minutes he would drop his pipe, his knife, his flint and steel, or a
piece of tobacco, and have to scramble down to pick them up. In doing
this he would contrive to get in everybody's way; and as the most of the
party were by no means remarkable for a fastidious choice of language, a
storm of anathemas would be showered upon him, half in earnest and half
in jest, until Tete Rouge would declare that there was no comfort in
life, and that he never saw such fellows before.

Only a day or two after leaving Bent's Fort Henry Chatillon rode forward
to hunt, and took Ellis along with him. After they had been some time
absent we saw them coming down the hill, driving three dragoon-horses,
which had escaped from their owners on the march, or perhaps had given
out and been abandoned. One of them was in tolerable condition, but the
others were much emaciated and severely bitten by the wolves. Reduced as
they were we carried two of them to the settlements, and Henry exchanged
the third with the Arapahoes for an excellent mule.

On the day after, when we had stopped to rest at noon, a long train of
Santa Fe wagons came up and trailed slowly past us in their picturesque
procession. They belonged to a trader named Magoffin, whose brother,
with a number of other men, came over and sat down around us on the
grass. The news they brought was not of the most pleasing complexion.
According to their accounts, the trail below was in a very dangerous
state. They had repeatedly detected Indians prowling at night around
their camps; and the large party which had left Bent's Fort a few weeks
previous to our own departure had been attacked, and a man named Swan,
from Massachusetts, had been killed. His companions had buried the body;
but when Magoffin found his grave, which was near a place called the
Caches, the Indians had dug up and scalped him, and the wolves had
shockingly mangled his remains. As an offset to this intelligence, they
gave us the welcome information that the buffalo were numerous at a few
days' journey below.

On the next afternoon, as we moved along the bank of the river, we saw
the white tops of wagons on the horizon. It was some hours before we
met them, when they proved to be a train of clumsy ox-wagons, quite
different from the rakish vehicles of the Santa Fe traders, and loaded
with government stores for the troops. They all stopped, and the drivers
gathered around us in a crowd. I thought that the whole frontier might
have been ransacked in vain to furnish men worse fitted to meet the
dangers of the prairie. Many of them were mere boys, fresh from the
plow, and devoid of knowledge and experience. In respect to the state
of the trail, they confirmed all that the Santa Fe men had told us.
In passing between the Pawnee Fork and the Caches, their sentinels had
fired every night at real or imaginary Indians. They said also that
Ewing, a young Kentuckian in the party that had gone down before us, had
shot an Indian who was prowling at evening about the camp. Some of them
advised us to turn back, and others to hasten forward as fast as we
could; but they all seemed in such a state of feverish anxiety, and so
little capable of cool judgment, that we attached slight weight to what
they said. They next gave us a more definite piece of intelligence;
a large village of Arapahoes was encamped on the river below. They
represented them to be quite friendly; but some distinction was to be
made between a party of thirty men, traveling with oxen, which are of
no value in an Indian's eyes and a mere handful like ourselves, with a
tempting band of mules and horses. This story of the Arapahoes therefore
caused us some anxiety.

Just after leaving the government wagons, as Shaw and I were riding
along a narrow passage between the river bank and a rough hill that
pressed close upon it, we heard Tete Rouge's voice behind us. "Hallo!"
he called out; "I say, stop the cart just for a minute, will you?"

"What's the matter, Tete?" asked Shaw, as he came riding up to us with a
grin of exultation. He had a bottle of molasses in one hand, and a large
bundle of hides on the saddle before him, containing, as he triumphantly
informed us, sugar, biscuits, coffee, and rice. These supplies he had
obtained by a stratagem on which he greatly plumed himself, and he was
extremely vexed and astonished that we did not fall in with his views of
the matter. He had told Coates, the master-wagoner, that the commissary
at the fort had given him an order for sick-rations, directed to the
master of any government train which he might meet upon the road. This
order he had unfortunately lost, but he hoped that the rations would
not be refused on that account, as he was suffering from coarse fare and
needed them very much. As soon as he came to camp that night Tete Rouge
repaired to the box at the back of the cart, where Delorier used to
keep his culinary apparatus, took possession of a saucepan, and after
building a little fire of his own, set to work preparing a meal out of
his ill-gotten booty. This done, he seized on a tin plate and spoon, and
sat down under the cart to regale himself. His preliminary repast did
not at all prejudice his subsequent exertions at supper; where, in spite
of his miniature dimensions, he made a better figure than any of us.
Indeed, about this time his appetite grew quite voracious. He began to
thrive wonderfully. His small body visibly expanded, and his cheeks,
which when we first took him were rather yellow and cadaverous, now
dilated in a wonderful manner, and became ruddy in proportion. Tete
Rouge, in short, began to appear like another man.

Early in the afternoon of the next day, looking along the edge of the
horizon in front, we saw that at one point it was faintly marked with
pale indentations, like the teeth of a saw. The lodges of the Arapahoes,
rising between us and the sky, caused this singular appearance. It
wanted still two or three hours of sunset when we came opposite their
camp. There were full two hundred lodges standing in the midst of a
grassy meadow at some distance beyond the river, while for a mile around
and on either bank of the Arkansas were scattered some fifteen hundred
horses and mules grazing together in bands, or wandering singly about
the prairie. The whole were visible at once, for the vast expanse was
unbroken by hills, and there was not a tree or a bush to intercept the
view.

Here and there walked an Indian, engaged in watching the horses. No
sooner did we see them than Tete Rouge begged Delorier to stop the cart
and hand him his little military jacket, which was stowed away there. In
this he instantly invested himself, having for once laid the old buffalo
coat aside, assumed a most martial posture in the saddle, set his cap
over his left eye with an air of defiance, and earnestly entreated that
somebody would lend him a gun or a pistol only for half an hour. Being
called upon to explain these remarkable proceedings, Tete Rouge observed
that he knew from experience what effect the presence of a military man
in his uniform always had upon the mind of an Indian, and he thought the
Arapahoes ought to know that there was a soldier in the party.

Meeting Arapahoes here on the Arkansas was a very different thing from
meeting the same Indians among their native mountains. There was another
circumstance in our favor. General Kearny had seen them a few weeks
before, as he came up the river with his army, and renewing his threats
of the previous year, he told them that if they ever again touched
the hair of a white man's head he would exterminate their nation. This
placed them for the time in an admirable frame of mind, and the effect
of his menaces had not yet disappeared. I was anxious to see the village
and its inhabitants. We thought it also our best policy to visit them
openly, as if unsuspicious of any hostile design; and Shaw and I, with
Henry Chatillon, prepared to cross the river. The rest of the party
meanwhile moved forward as fast as they could, in order to get as far as
possible from our suspicious neighbors before night came on.

The Arkansas at this point, and for several hundred miles below, is
nothing but a broad sand-bed, over which a few scanty threads of water
are swiftly gliding, now and then expanding into wide shallows. At
several places, during the autumn, the water sinks into the sand and
disappears altogether. At this season, were it not for the numerous
quicksands, the river might be forded almost anywhere without
difficulty, though its channel is often a quarter of a mile wide. Our
horses jumped down the bank, and wading through the water, or galloping
freely over the hard sand-beds, soon reached the other side. Here, as we
were pushing through the tall grass, we saw several Indians not far
off; one of them waited until we came up, and stood for some moments
in perfect silence before us, looking at us askance with his little
snakelike eyes. Henry explained by signs what we wanted, and the Indian,
gathering his buffalo robe about his shoulders, led the way toward the
village without speaking a word.

The language of the Arapahoes is so difficult, and its pronunciations so
harsh and guttural, that no white man, it is said, has ever been able
to master it. Even Maxwell the trader, who has been most among them, is
compelled to resort to the curious sign language common to most of the
prairie tribes. With this Henry Chatillon was perfectly acquainted.

Approaching the village, we found the ground all around it strewn with
great piles of waste buffalo meat in incredible quantities. The lodges
were pitched in a very wide circle. They resembled those of the Dakota
in everything but cleanliness and neatness. Passing between two of them,
we entered the great circular area of the camp, and instantly hundreds
of Indians, men, women and children, came flocking out of their
habitations to look at us; at the same time, the dogs all around the
village set up a fearful baying. Our Indian guide walked toward the
lodge of the chief. Here we dismounted; and loosening the trail-ropes
from our horses' necks, held them securely, and sat down before the
entrance, with our rifles laid across our laps. The chief came out
and shook us by the hand. He was a mean-looking fellow, very tall,
thin-visaged, and sinewy, like the rest of the nation, and with scarcely
a vestige of clothing. We had not been seated half a minute before a
multitude of Indians came crowding around us from every part of the
village, and we were shut in by a dense wall of savage faces. Some of
the Indians crouched around us on the ground; others again sat behind
them; others, stooping, looked over their heads; while many more stood
crowded behind, stretching themselves upward, and peering over each
other's shoulders, to get a view of us. I looked in vain among this
multitude of faces to discover one manly or generous expression; all
were wolfish, sinister, and malignant, and their complexions, as well
as their features, unlike those of the Dakota, were exceedingly bad.
The chief, who sat close to the entrance, called to a squaw within the
lodge, who soon came out and placed a wooden bowl of meat before us. To
our surprise, however, no pipe was offered. Having tasted of the meat as
a matter of form, I began to open a bundle of presents--tobacco, knives,
vermilion, and other articles which I had brought with me. At this there
was a grin on every countenance in the rapacious crowd; their eyes began
to glitter, and long thin arms were eagerly stretched toward us on all
sides to receive the gifts.

The Arapahoes set great value upon their shields, which they transmit
carefully from father to son. I wished to get one of them; and
displaying a large piece of scarlet cloth, together with some tobacco
and a knife, I offered them to any one who would bring me what I wanted.
After some delay a tolerable shield was produced. They were very anxious
to know what we meant to do with it, and Henry told them that we were
going to fight their enemies, the Pawnees. This instantly produced a
visible impression in our favor, which was increased by the distribution
of the presents. Among these was a large paper of awls, a gift
appropriate to the women; and as we were anxious to see the beauties
of the Arapahoe village Henry requested that they might be called to
receive them. A warrior gave a shout as if he were calling a pack of
dogs together. The squaws, young and old, hags of eighty and girls of
sixteen, came running with screams and laughter out of the lodges; and
as the men gave way for them they gathered round us and stretched out
their arms, grinning with delight, their native ugliness considerably
enhanced by the excitement of the moment.

Mounting our horses, which during the whole interview we had held close
to us, we prepared to leave the Arapahoes. The crowd fell back on each
side and stood looking on. When we were half across the camp an idea
occurred to us. The Pawnees were probably in the neighborhood of the
Caches; we might tell the Arapahoes of this and instigate them to send
down a war party and cut them off, while we ourselves could remain
behind for a while and hunt the buffalo. At first thought this plan of
setting our enemies to destroy one another seemed to us a masterpiece of
policy; but we immediately recollected that should we meet the Arapahoe
warriors on the river below they might prove quite as dangerous as
the Pawnees themselves. So rejecting our plan as soon as it presented
itself, we passed out of the village on the farther side. We urged our
horses rapidly through the tall grass which rose to their necks. Several
Indians were walking through it at a distance, their heads just visible
above its waving surface. It bore a kind of seed as sweet and nutritious
as oats; and our hungry horses, in spite of whip and rein, could not
resist the temptation of snatching at this unwonted luxury as we passed
along. When about a mile from the village I turned and looked back over
the undulating ocean of grass. The sun was just set; the western sky was
all in a glow, and sharply defined against it, on the extreme verge of
the plain, stood the numerous lodges of the Arapahoe camp.

Reaching the bank of the river, we followed it for some distance
farther, until we discerned through the twilight the white covering
of our little cart on the opposite bank. When we reached it we found
a considerable number of Indians there before us. Four or five of them
were seated in a row upon the ground, looking like so many half-starved
vultures. Tete Rouge, in his uniform, was holding a close colloquy with
another by the side of the cart. His gesticulations, his attempts
at sign-making, and the contortions of his countenance, were most
ludicrous; and finding all these of no avail, he tried to make the
Indian understand him by repeating English words very loudly and
distinctly again and again. The Indian sat with his eye fixed steadily
upon him, and in spite of the rigid immobility of his features, it was
clear at a glance that he perfectly understood his military companion's
character and thoroughly despised him. The exhibition was more amusing
than politic, and Tete Rouge was directed to finish what he had to say
as soon as possible. Thus rebuked, he crept under the cart and sat down
there; Henry Chatillon stopped to look at him in his retirement, and
remarked in his quiet manner that an Indian would kill ten such men and
laugh all the time.

One by one our visitors rose and stalked away. As the darkness thickened
we were saluted by dismal sounds. The wolves are incredibly numerous
in this part of the country, and the offal around the Arapahoe camp had
drawn such multitudes of them together that several hundred were howling
in concert in our immediate neighborhood. There was an island in
the river, or rather an oasis in the midst of the sands at about the
distance of a gunshot, and here they seemed gathered in the greatest
numbers. A horrible discord of low mournful wailings, mingled with
ferocious howls, arose from it incessantly for several hours after
sunset. We could distinctly see the wolves running about the prairie
within a few rods of our fire, or bounding over the sand-beds of the
river and splashing through the water. There was not the slightest
danger to be feared from them, for they are the greatest cowards on the
prairie.

In respect to the human wolves in our neighborhood, we felt much less
at our ease. We seldom erected our tent except in bad weather, and that
night each man spread his buffalo robe upon the ground with his loaded
rifle laid at his side or clasped in his arms. Our horses were picketed
so close around us that one of them repeatedly stepped over me as I lay.
We were not in the habit of placing a guard, but every man that night
was anxious and watchful; there was little sound sleeping in camp, and
some one of the party was on his feet during the greater part of the
time. For myself, I lay alternately waking and dozing until midnight.
Tete Rouge was reposing close to the river bank, and about this time,
when half asleep and half awake, I was conscious that he shifted his
position and crept on all-fours under the cart. Soon after I fell into
a sound sleep from which I was aroused by a hand shaking me by the
shoulder. Looking up, I saw Tete Rouge stooping over me with his face
quite pale and his eyes dilated to their utmost expansion.

"What's the matter?" said I.

Tete Rouge declared that as he lay on the river bank, something caught
his eye which excited his suspicions. So creeping under the cart for
safety's sake he sat there and watched, when he saw two Indians, wrapped
in white robes, creep up the bank, seize upon two horses and lead them
off. He looked so frightened, and told his story in such a disconnected
manner, that I did not believe him, and was unwilling to alarm the
party. Still it might be true, and in that case the matter required
instant attention. There would be no time for examination, and so
directing Tete Rouge to show me which way the Indians had gone, I took
my rifle, in obedience to a thoughtless impulse, and left the camp. I
followed the river back for two or three hundred yards, listening and
looking anxiously on every side. In the dark prairie on the right I
could discern nothing to excite alarm; and in the dusky bed of the
river, a wolf was bounding along in a manner which no Indian could
imitate. I returned to the camp, and when within sight of it, saw that
the whole party was aroused. Shaw called out to me that he had counted
the horses, and that every one of them was in his place. Tete Rouge,
being examined as to what he had seen, only repeated his former story
with many asseverations, and insisted that two horses were certainly
carried off. At this Jim Gurney declared that he was crazy; Tete Rouge
indignantly denied the charge, on which Jim appealed to us. As we
declined to give our judgment on so delicate a matter, the dispute grew
hot between Tete Rouge and his accuser, until he was directed to go to
bed and not alarm the camp again if he saw the whole Arapahoe village
coming.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE CHASE


The country before us was now thronged with buffalo, and a sketch of the
manner of hunting them will not be out of place. There are two methods
commonly practiced, "running" and "approaching." The chase on horseback,
which goes by the name of "running," is the more violent and dashing
mode of the two. Indeed, of all American wild sports, this is the
wildest. Once among the buffalo, the hunter, unless long use has made
him familiar with the situation, dashes forward in utter recklessness
and self-abandonment. He thinks of nothing, cares for nothing but
the game; his mind is stimulated to the highest pitch, yet intensely
concentrated on one object. In the midst of the flying herd, where the
uproar and the dust are thickest, it never wavers for a moment; he drops
the rein and abandons his horse to his furious career; he levels his
gun, the report sounds faint amid the thunder of the buffalo; and when
his wounded enemy leaps in vain fury upon him, his heart thrills with
a feeling like the fierce delight of the battlefield. A practiced and
skillful hunter, well mounted, will sometimes kill five or six cows in
a single chase, loading his gun again and again as his horse rushes
through the tumult. An exploit like this is quite beyond the capacities
of a novice. In attacking a small band of buffalo, or in separating a
single animal from the herd and assailing it apart from the rest, there
is less excitement and less danger. With a bold and well trained horse
the hunter may ride so close to the buffalo that as they gallop side by
side he may reach over and touch him with his hand; nor is there much
danger in this as long as the buffalo's strength and breath continue
unabated; but when he becomes tired and can no longer run at ease, when
his tongue lolls out and foam flies from his jaws, then the hunter had
better keep at a more respectful distance; the distressed brute may turn
upon him at any instant; and especially at the moment when he fires his
gun. The wounded buffalo springs at his enemy; the horse leaps violently
aside; and then the hunter has need of a tenacious seat in the saddle,
for if he is thrown to the ground there is no hope for him. When he sees
his attack defeated the buffalo resumes his flight, but if the shot be
well directed he soon stops; for a few moments he stands still, then
totters and falls heavily upon the prairie.

The chief difficulty in running buffalo, as it seems to me, is that of
loading the gun or pistol at full gallop. Many hunters for convenience'
sake carry three or four bullets in the mouth; the powder is poured
down the muzzle of the piece, the bullet dropped in after it, the stock
struck hard upon the pommel of the saddle, and the work is done. The
danger of this method is obvious. Should the blow on the pommel fail to
send the bullet home, or should the latter, in the act of aiming, start
from its place and roll toward the muzzle, the gun would probably burst
in discharging. Many a shattered hand and worse casualties besides have
been the result of such an accident. To obviate it, some hunters make
use of a ramrod, usually hung by a string from the neck, but this
materially increases the difficulty of loading. The bows and arrows
which the Indians use in running buffalo have many advantages over fire
arms, and even white men occasionally employ them.

The danger of the chase arises not so much from the onset of the wounded
animal as from the nature of the ground which the hunter must ride
over. The prairie does not always present a smooth, level, and uniform
surface; very often it is broken with hills and hollows, intersected by
ravines, and in the remoter parts studded by the stiff wild-sage bushes.
The most formidable obstructions, however, are the burrows of wild
animals, wolves, badgers, and particularly prairie dogs, with whose
holes the ground for a very great extent is frequently honeycombed.
In the blindness of the chase the hunter rushes over it unconscious of
danger; his horse, at full career, thrusts his leg deep into one of the
burrows; the bone snaps, the rider is hurled forward to the ground and
probably killed. Yet accidents in buffalo running happen less frequently
than one would suppose; in the recklessness of the chase, the hunter
enjoys all the impunity of a drunken man, and may ride in safety over
the gullies and declivities where, should he attempt to pass in his
sober senses, he would infallibly break his neck.

The method of "approaching," being practiced on foot, has many
advantages over that of "running"; in the former, one neither breaks
down his horse nor endangers his own life; instead of yielding to
excitement he must be cool, collected, and watchful; he must understand
the buffalo, observe the features of the country and the course of the
wind, and be well skilled, moreover, in using the rifle. The buffalo are
strange animals; sometimes they are so stupid and infatuated that a man
may walk up to them in full sight on the open prairie, and even shoot
several of their number before the rest will think it necessary to
retreat. Again at another moment they will be so shy and wary, that in
order to approach them the utmost skill, experience, and judgment are
necessary. Kit Carson, I believe, stands pre-eminent in running
buffalo; in approaching, no man living can bear away the palm from Henry
Chatillon.

To resume the story: After Tete Rouge had alarmed the camp, no further
disturbance occurred during the night. The Arapahoes did not attempt
mischief, or if they did the wakefulness of the party deterred them
from effecting their purpose. The next day was one of activity and
excitement, for about ten o'clock the men in advance shouted the
gladdening cry of "Buffalo, buffalo!" and in the hollow of the prairie
just below us, a band of bulls were grazing. The temptation was
irresistible, and Shaw and I rode down upon them. We were badly mounted
on our traveling horses, but by hard lashing we overtook them, and
Shaw, running alongside of a bull, shot into him both balls of his
double-barreled gun. Looking round as I galloped past, I saw the bull in
his mortal fury rushing again and again upon his antagonist, whose
horse constantly leaped aside, and avoided the onset. My chase was more
protracted, but at length I ran close to the bull and killed him with
my pistols. Cutting off the tails of our victims by way of trophy, we
rejoined the party in about a quarter of an hour after we left it.
Again and again that morning rang out the same welcome cry of "Buffalo,
buffalo!" Every few moments in the broad meadows along the river, we
would see bands of bulls, who, raising their shaggy heads, would gaze in
stupid amazement at the approaching horsemen, and then breaking into a
clumsy gallop, would file off in a long line across the trail in front,
toward the rising prairie on the left. At noon, the whole plain before
us was alive with thousands of buffalo--bulls, cows, and calves--all
moving rapidly as we drew near; and far-off beyond the river the
swelling prairie was darkened with them to the very horizon. The party
was in gayer spirits than ever. We stopped for a nooning near a grove of
trees by the river side.

"Tongues and hump ribs to-morrow," said Shaw, looking with contempt at
the venison steaks which Delorier placed before us. Our meal finished,
we lay down under a temporary awning to sleep. A shout from Henry
Chatillon aroused us, and we saw him standing on the cartwheel
stretching his tall figure to its full height while he looked toward the
prairie beyond the river. Following the direction of his eyes we could
clearly distinguish a large dark object, like the black shadow of a
cloud, passing rapidly over swell after swell of the distant plain;
behind it followed another of similar appearance though smaller. Its
motion was more rapid, and it drew closer and closer to the first. It
was the hunters of the Arapahoe camp pursuing a band of buffalo. Shaw
and I hastily sought and saddled our best horses, and went plunging
through sand and water to the farther bank. We were too late. The
hunters had already mingled with the herd, and the work of slaughter was
nearly over. When we reached the ground we found it strewn far and
near with numberless black carcasses, while the remnants of the herd,
scattered in all directions, were flying away in terror, and the Indians
still rushing in pursuit. Many of the hunters, however, remained upon
the spot, and among the rest was our yesterday's acquaintance, the chief
of the village. He had alighted by the side of a cow, into which he
had shot five or six arrows, and his squaw, who had followed him on
horseback to the hunt, was giving him a draught of water out of a
canteen, purchased or plundered from some volunteer soldier. Recrossing
the river we overtook the party, who were already on their way.

We had scarcely gone a mile when an imposing spectacle presented itself.
From the river bank on the right, away over the swelling prairie on the
left, and in front as far as we could see, extended one vast host of
buffalo. The outskirts of the herd were within a quarter of a mile. In
many parts they were crowded so densely together that in the distance
their rounded backs presented a surface of uniform blackness; but
elsewhere they were more scattered, and from amid the multitude rose
little columns of dust where the buffalo were rolling on the ground.
Here and there a great confusion was perceptible, where a battle was
going forward among the bulls. We could distinctly see them rushing
against each other, and hear the clattering of their horns and their
hoarse bellowing. Shaw was riding at some distance in advance, with
Henry Chatillon; I saw him stop and draw the leather covering from his
gun. Indeed, with such a sight before us, but one thing could be thought
of. That morning I had used pistols in the chase. I had now a mind to
try the virtue of a gun. Delorier had one, and I rode up to the side of
the cart; there he sat under the white covering, biting his pipe between
his teeth and grinning with excitement.

"Lend me your gun, Delorier," said I.

"Oui, monsieur, oui," said Delorier, tugging with might and main to
stop the mule, which seemed obstinately bent on going forward. Then
everything but his moccasins disappeared as he crawled into the cart and
pulled at the gun to extricate it.

"Is it loaded?" I asked.

"Oui, bien charge; you'll kill, mon bourgeois; yes, you'll kill--c'est
un bon fusil."

I handed him my rifle and rode forward to Shaw.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

"Come on," said I.

"Keep down that hollow," said Henry, "and then they won't see you till
you get close to them."

The hollow was a kind of ravine very wide and shallow; it ran obliquely
toward the buffalo, and we rode at a canter along the bottom until it
became too shallow, when we bent close to our horses' necks, and then
finding that it could no longer conceal us, came out of it and rode
directly toward the herd. It was within gunshot; before its outskirts,
numerous grizzly old bulls were scattered, holding guard over their
females. They glared at us in anger and astonishment, walked toward us
a few yards, and then turning slowly round retreated at a trot which
afterward broke into a clumsy gallop. In an instant the main body caught
the alarm. The buffalo began to crowd away from the point toward which
we were approaching, and a gap was opened in the side of the herd. We
entered it, still restraining our excited horses. Every instant the
tumult was thickening. The buffalo, pressing together in large bodies,
crowded away from us on every hand. In front and on either side we could
see dark columns and masses, half hidden by clouds of dust, rushing
along in terror and confusion, and hear the tramp and clattering of ten
thousand hoofs. That countless multitude of powerful brutes, ignorant
of their own strength, were flying in a panic from the approach of two
feeble horsemen. To remain quiet longer was impossible.

"Take that band on the left," said Shaw; "I'll take these in front."

He sprang off, and I saw no more of him. A heavy Indian whip was
fastened by a band to my wrist; I swung it into the air and lashed
my horse's flank with all the strength of my arm. Away she darted,
stretching close to the ground. I could see nothing but a cloud of
dust before me, but I knew that it concealed a band of many hundreds of
buffalo. In a moment I was in the midst of the cloud, half suffocated
by the dust and stunned by the trampling of the flying herd; but I was
drunk with the chase and cared for nothing but the buffalo. Very soon
a long dark mass became visible, looming through the dust; then I could
distinguish each bulky carcass, the hoofs flying out beneath, the short
tails held rigidly erect. In a moment I was so close that I could have
touched them with my gun. Suddenly, to my utter amazement, the hoofs
were jerked upward, the tails flourished in the air, and amid a cloud
of dust the buffalo seemed to sink into the earth before me. One vivid
impression of that instant remains upon my mind. I remember looking down
upon the backs of several buffalo dimly visible through the dust. We had
run unawares upon a ravine. At that moment I was not the most accurate
judge of depth and width, but when I passed it on my return, I found it
about twelve feet deep and not quite twice as wide at the bottom. It
was impossible to stop; I would have done so gladly if I could; so, half
sliding, half plunging, down went the little mare. I believe she came
down on her knees in the loose sand at the bottom; I was pitched forward
violently against her neck and nearly thrown over her head among the
buffalo, who amid dust and confusion came tumbling in all around. The
mare was on her feet in an instant and scrambling like a cat up the
opposite side. I thought for a moment that she would have fallen back
and crushed me, but with a violent effort she clambered out and gained
the hard prairie above. Glancing back I saw the huge head of a bull
clinging as it were by the forefeet at the edge of the dusty gulf. At
length I was fairly among the buffalo. They were less densely crowded
than before, and I could see nothing but bulls, who always run at the
rear of the herd. As I passed amid them they would lower their heads,
and turning as they ran, attempt to gore my horse; but as they were
already at full speed there was no force in their onset, and as Pauline
ran faster than they, they were always thrown behind her in the effort.
I soon began to distinguish cows amid the throng. One just in front of
me seemed to my liking, and I pushed close to her side. Dropping the
reins I fired, holding the muzzle of the gun within a foot of her
shoulder. Quick as lightning she sprang at Pauline; the little mare
dodged the attack, and I lost sight of the wounded animal amid the
tumultuous crowd. Immediately after I selected another, and urging
forward Pauline, shot into her both pistols in succession. For a while
I kept her in view, but in attempting to load my gun, lost sight of her
also in the confusion. Believing her to be mortally wounded and unable
to keep up with the herd, I checked my horse. The crowd rushed onward.
The dust and tumult passed away, and on the prairie, far behind the
rest, I saw a solitary buffalo galloping heavily. In a moment I and my
victim were running side by side. My firearms were all empty, and I had
in my pouch nothing but rifle bullets, too large for the pistols and
too small for the gun. I loaded the latter, however, but as often as I
leveled it to fire, the little bullets would roll out of the muzzle
and the gun returned only a faint report like a squib, as the powder
harmlessly exploded. I galloped in front of the buffalo and attempted to
turn her back; but her eyes glared, her mane bristled, and lowering her
head, she rushed at me with astonishing fierceness and activity. Again
and again I rode before her, and again and again she repeated her
furious charge. But little Pauline was in her element. She dodged her
enemy at every rush, until at length the buffalo stood still, exhausted
with her own efforts; she panted, and her tongue hung lolling from her
jaws.

Riding to a little distance I alighted, thinking to gather a handful
of dry grass to serve the purpose of wadding, and load the gun at my
leisure. No sooner were my feet on the ground than the buffalo came
bounding in such a rage toward me that I jumped back again into the
saddle with all possible dispatch. After waiting a few minutes more,
I made an attempt to ride up and stab her with my knife; but the
experiment proved such as no wise man would repeat. At length,
bethinking me of the fringes at the seams of my buckskin pantaloons,
I jerked off a few of them, and reloading my gun, forced them down the
barrel to keep the bullet in its place; then approaching, I shot the
wounded buffalo through the heart. Sinking to her knees, she rolled over
lifeless on the prairie. To my astonishment, I found that instead of
a fat cow I had been slaughtering a stout yearling bull. No longer
wondering at the fierceness he had shown, I opened his throat and
cutting out his tongue, tied it at the back of my saddle. My mistake was
one which a more experienced eye than mine might easily make in the dust
and confusion of such a chase.

Then for the first time I had leisure to look at the scene around me.
The prairie in front was darkened with the retreating multitude, and on
the other hand the buffalo came filing up in endless unbroken columns
from the low plains upon the river. The Arkansas was three or four miles
distant. I turned and moved slowly toward it. A long time passed before,
far down in the distance, I distinguished the white covering of the cart
and the little black specks of horsemen before and behind it. Drawing
near, I recognized Shaw's elegant tunic, the red flannel shirt,
conspicuous far off. I overtook the party, and asked him what success he
had met with. He had assailed a fat cow, shot her with two bullets, and
mortally wounded her. But neither of us were prepared for the chase that
afternoon, and Shaw, like myself, had no spare bullets in his pouch;
so he abandoned the disabled animal to Henry Chatillon, who followed,
dispatched her with his rifle, and loaded his horse with her meat.

We encamped close to the river. The night was dark, and as we lay down
we could hear mingled with the howling of wolves the hoarse bellowing of
the buffalo, like the ocean beating upon a distant coast.



CHAPTER XXV

THE BUFFALO CAMP


No one in the camp was more active than Jim Gurney, and no one half
so lazy as Ellis. Between these two there was a great antipathy. Ellis
never stirred in the morning until he was compelled to, but Jim was
always on his feet before daybreak; and this morning as usual the sound
of his voice awakened the party.

"Get up, you booby! up with you now, you're fit for nothing but eating
and sleeping. Stop your grumbling and come out of that buffalo robe or
I'll pull it off for you."

Jim's words were interspersed with numerous expletives, which gave them
great additional effect. Ellis drawled out something in a nasal tone
from among the folds of his buffalo robe; then slowly disengaged
himself, rose into sitting posture, stretched his long arms, yawned
hideously, and finally, raising his tall person erect, stood staring
round him to all the four quarters of the horizon. Delorier's fire was
soon blazing, and the horses and mules, loosened from their pickets,
were feeding in the neighboring meadow. When we sat down to breakfast
the prairie was still in the dusky light of morning; and as the sun rose
we were mounted and on our way again.

"A white buffalo!" exclaimed Munroe.

"I'll have that fellow," said Shaw, "if I run my horse to death after
him."

He threw the cover of his gun to Delorier and galloped out upon the
prairie.

"Stop, Mr. Shaw, stop!" called out Henry Chatillon, "you'll run down
your horse for nothing; it's only a white ox."

But Shaw was already out of hearing. The ox, who had no doubt strayed
away from some of the government wagon trains, was standing beneath some
low hills which bounded the plain in the distance. Not far from him a
band of veritable buffalo bulls were grazing; and startled at Shaw's
approach, they all broke into a run, and went scrambling up the
hillsides to gain the high prairie above. One of them in his haste and
terror involved himself in a fatal catastrophe. Along the foot of
the hills was a narrow strip of deep marshy soil, into which the bull
plunged and hopelessly entangled himself. We all rode up to the spot.
The huge carcass was half sunk in the mud, which flowed to his very
chin, and his shaggy mane was outspread upon the surface. As we came
near the bull began to struggle with convulsive strength; he writhed
to and fro, and in the energy of his fright and desperation would lift
himself for a moment half out of the slough, while the reluctant mire
returned a sucking sound as he strained to drag his limbs from its
tenacious depths. We stimulated his exertions by getting behind him and
twisting his tail; nothing would do. There was clearly no hope for him.
After every effort his heaving sides were more deeply imbedded and the
mire almost overflowed his nostrils; he lay still at length, and looking
round at us with a furious eye, seemed to resign himself to his fate.
Ellis slowly dismounted, and deliberately leveling his boasted yager,
shot the old bull through the heart; then he lazily climbed back again
to his seat, pluming himself no doubt on having actually killed a
buffalo. That day the invincible yager drew blood for the first and last
time during the whole journey.

The morning was a bright and gay one, and the air so clear that on the
farthest horizon the outline of the pale blue prairie was sharply drawn
against the sky. Shaw felt in the mood for hunting; he rode in advance
of the party, and before long we saw a file of bulls galloping at full
speed upon a vast green swell of the prairie at some distance in front.
Shaw came scouring along behind them, arrayed in his red shirt, which
looked very well in the distance; he gained fast on the fugitives, and
as the foremost bull was disappearing behind the summit of the swell,
we saw him in the act of assailing the hindmost; a smoke sprang from the
muzzle of his gun, and floated away before the wind like a little
white cloud; the bull turned upon him, and just then the rising ground
concealed them both from view.

We were moving forward until about noon, when we stopped by the side of
the Arkansas. At that moment Shaw appeared riding slowly down the side
of a distant hill; his horse was tired and jaded, and when he threw
his saddle upon the ground, I observed that the tails of two bulls were
dangling behind it. No sooner were the horses turned loose to feed than
Henry, asking Munroe to go with him, took his rifle and walked quietly
away. Shaw, Tete Rouge, and I sat down by the side of the cart to
discuss the dinner which Delorier placed before us; we had scarcely
finished when we saw Munroe walking toward us along the river bank.
Henry, he said, had killed four fat cows, and had sent him back for
horses to bring in the meat. Shaw took a horse for himself and another
for Henry, and he and Munroe left the camp together. After a short
absence all three of them came back, their horses loaded with the
choicest parts of the meat; we kept two of the cows for ourselves and
gave the others to Munroe and his companions. Delorier seated himself
on the grass before the pile of meat, and worked industriously for
some time to cut it into thin broad sheets for drying. This is no easy
matter, but Delorier had all the skill of an Indian squaw. Long before
night cords of raw hide were stretched around the camp, and the meat was
hung upon them to dry in the sunshine and pure air of the prairie.
Our California companions were less successful at the work; but they
accomplished it after their own fashion, and their side of the camp was
soon garnished in the same manner as our own.

We meant to remain at this place long enough to prepare provisions for
our journey to the frontier, which as we supposed might occupy about a
month. Had the distance been twice as great and the party ten times as
large, the unerring rifle of Henry Chatillon would have supplied
meat enough for the whole within two days; we were obliged to remain,
however, until it should be dry enough for transportation; so we erected
our tent and made the other arrangements for a permanent camp. The
California men, who had no such shelter, contented themselves with
arranging their packs on the grass around their fire. In the meantime we
had nothing to do but amuse ourselves. Our tent was within a rod of the
river, if the broad sand-beds, with a scanty stream of water coursing
here and there along their surface, deserve to be dignified with the
name of river. The vast flat plains on either side were almost on a
level with the sand-beds, and they were bounded in the distance by low,
monotonous hills, parallel to the course of the Arkansas. All was one
expanse of grass; there was no wood in view, except some trees and
stunted bushes upon two islands which rose from amid the wet sands of
the river. Yet far from being dull and tame this boundless scene was
often a wild and animated one; for twice a day, at sunrise and at noon,
the buffalo came issuing from the hills, slowly advancing in their grave
processions to drink at the river. All our amusements were too at their
expense. Except an elephant, I have seen no animal that can surpass a
buffalo bull in size and strength, and the world may be searched in vain
to find anything of a more ugly and ferocious aspect. At first sight of
him every feeling of sympathy vanishes; no man who has not experienced
it can understand with what keen relish one inflicts his death wound,
with what profound contentment of mind he beholds him fall. The cows are
much smaller and of a gentler appearance, as becomes their sex. While
in this camp we forebore to attack them, leaving to Henry Chatillon, who
could better judge their fatness and good quality, the task of killing
such as we wanted for use; but against the bulls we waged an unrelenting
war. Thousands of them might be slaughtered without causing any
detriment to the species, for their numbers greatly exceed those of the
cows; it is the hides of the latter alone which are used for purpose of
commerce and for making the lodges of the Indians; and the destruction
among them is therefore altogether disproportioned.

Our horses were tired, and we now usually hunted on foot. The wide, flat
sand-beds of the Arkansas, as the reader will remember, lay close by
the side of our camp. While we were lying on the grass after dinner,
smoking, conversing, or laughing at Tete Rouge, one of us would look
up and observe, far out on the plains beyond the river, certain black
objects slowly approaching. He would inhale a parting whiff from the
pipe, then rising lazily, take his rifle, which leaned against the cart,
throw over his shoulder the strap of his pouch and powder-horn, and
with his moccasins in his hand walk quietly across the sand toward the
opposite side of the river. This was very easy; for though the sands
were about a quarter of a mile wide, the water was nowhere more than two
feet deep. The farther bank was about four or five feet high, and quite
perpendicular, being cut away by the water in spring. Tall grass grew
along its edge. Putting it aside with his hand, and cautiously looking
through it, the hunter can discern the huge shaggy back of the buffalo
slowly swaying to and fro, as with his clumsy swinging gait he advances
toward the water. The buffalo have regular paths by which they come down
to drink. Seeing at a glance along which of these his intended victim
is moving, the hunter crouches under the bank within fifteen or twenty
yards, it may be, of the point where the path enters the river. Here he
sits down quietly on the sand. Listening intently, he hears the heavy
monotonous tread of the approaching bull. The moment after he sees a
motion among the long weeds and grass just at the spot where the path
is channeled through the bank. An enormous black head is thrust out,
the horns just visible amid the mass of tangled mane. Half sliding, half
plunging, down comes the buffalo upon the river-bed below. He steps
out in full sight upon the sands. Just before him a runnel of water is
gliding, and he bends his head to drink. You may hear the water as it
gurgles down his capacious throat. He raises his head, and the drops
trickle from his wet beard. He stands with an air of stupid abstraction,
unconscious of the lurking danger. Noiselessly the hunter cocks his
rifle. As he sits upon the sand, his knee is raised, and his elbow rests
upon it, that he may level his heavy weapon with a steadier aim. The
stock is at his shoulder; his eye ranges along the barrel. Still he is
in no haste to fire. The bull, with slow deliberation, begins his march
over the sands to the other side. He advances his foreleg, and exposes
to view a small spot, denuded of hair, just behind the point of his
shoulder; upon this the hunter brings the sight of his rifle to bear;
lightly and delicately his finger presses upon the hair-trigger. Quick
as thought the spiteful crack of the rifle responds to his slight touch,
and instantly in the middle of the bare spot appears a small red dot.
The buffalo shivers; death has overtaken him, he cannot tell from
whence; still he does not fall, but walks heavily forward, as if nothing
had happened. Yet before he has advanced far out upon the sand, you
see him stop; he totters; his knees bend under him, and his head sinks
forward to the ground. Then his whole vast bulk sways to one side; he
rolls over on the sand, and dies with a scarcely perceptible struggle.

Waylaying the buffalo in this manner, and shooting them as they come to
water, is the easiest and laziest method of hunting them. They may also
be approached by crawling up ravines, or behind hills, or even over the
open prairie. This is often surprisingly easy; but at other times
it requires the utmost skill of the most experienced hunter. Henry
Chatillon was a man of extraordinary strength and hardihood; but I have
seen him return to camp quite exhausted with his efforts, his limbs
scratched and wounded, and his buckskin dress stuck full of the thorns
of the prickly-pear among which he had been crawling. Sometimes he would
lay flat upon his face, and drag himself along in this position for many
rods together.

On the second day of our stay at this place, Henry went out for an
afternoon hunt. Shaw and I remained in camp until, observing some bulls
approaching the water upon the other side of the river, we crossed over
to attack them. They were so near, however, that before we could get
under cover of the bank our appearance as we walked over the sands
alarmed them. Turning round before coming within gunshot, they began to
move off to the right in a direction parallel to the river. I climbed
up the bank and ran after them. They were walking swiftly, and before I
could come within gunshot distance they slowly wheeled about and faced
toward me. Before they had turned far enough to see me I had fallen flat
on my face. For a moment they stood and stared at the strange object
upon the grass; then turning away, again they walked on as before; and
I, rising immediately, ran once more in pursuit. Again they wheeled
about, and again I fell prostrate. Repeating this three or four times,
I came at length within a hundred yards of the fugitives, and as I
saw them turning again I sat down and leveled my rifle. The one in the
center was the largest I had ever seen. I shot him behind the shoulder.
His two companions ran off. He attempted to follow, but soon came to
a stand, and at length lay down as quietly as an ox chewing the cud.
Cautiously approaching him, I saw by his dull and jellylike eye that he
was dead.

When I began the chase, the prairie was almost tenantless; but a great
multitude of buffalo had suddenly thronged upon it, and looking up, I
saw within fifty rods a heavy, dark column stretching to the right and
left as far as I could see. I walked toward them. My approach did not
alarm them in the least. The column itself consisted entirely of cows
and calves, but a great many old bulls were ranging about the prairie
on its flank, and as I drew near they faced toward me with such a shaggy
and ferocious look that I thought it best to proceed no farther. Indeed
I was already within close rifle-shot of the column, and I sat down on
the ground to watch their movements. Sometimes the whole would stand
still, their heads all facing one way; then they would trot forward,
as if by a common impulse, their hoofs and horns clattering together
as they moved. I soon began to hear at a distance on the left the sharp
reports of a rifle, again and again repeated; and not long after, dull
and heavy sounds succeeded, which I recognized as the familiar voice
of Shaw's double-barreled gun. When Henry's rifle was at work there was
always meat to be brought in. I went back across the river for a horse,
and returning, reached the spot where the hunters were standing. The
buffalo were visible on the distant prairie. The living had retreated
from the ground, but ten or twelve carcasses were scattered in various
directions. Henry, knife in hand, was stooping over a dead cow, cutting
away the best and fattest of the meat.

When Shaw left me he had walked down for some distance under the river
bank to find another bull. At length he saw the plains covered with
the host of buffalo, and soon after heard the crack of Henry's rifle.
Ascending the bank, he crawled through the grass, which for a rod or two
from the river was very high and rank. He had not crawled far before to
his astonishment he saw Henry standing erect upon the prairie, almost
surrounded by the buffalo. Henry was in his appropriate element. Nelson,
on the deck of the Victory, hardly felt a prouder sense of mastery than
he. Quite unconscious that any one was looking at him, he stood at the
full height of his tall, strong figure, one hand resting upon his side,
and the other arm leaning carelessly on the muzzle of his rifle. His
eyes were ranging over the singular assemblage around him. Now and then
he would select such a cow as suited him, level his rifle, and shoot her
dead; then quietly reloading, he would resume his former position. The
buffalo seemed no more to regard his presence than if he were one of
themselves; the bulls were bellowing and butting at each other, or else
rolling about in the dust. A group of buffalo would gather about the
carcass of a dead cow, snuffing at her wounds; and sometimes they would
come behind those that had not yet fallen, and endeavor to push them
from the spot. Now and then some old bull would face toward Henry with
an air of stupid amazement, but none seemed inclined to attack or fly
from him. For some time Shaw lay among the grass, looking in surprise at
this extraordinary sight; at length he crawled cautiously forward, and
spoke in a low voice to Henry, who told him to rise and come on. Still
the buffalo showed no sign of fear; they remained gathered about their
dead companions. Henry had already killed as many cows as we wanted for
use, and Shaw, kneeling behind one of the carcasses, shot five bulls
before the rest thought it necessary to disperse.

The frequent stupidity and infatuation of the buffalo seems the more
remarkable from the contrast it offers to their wildness and wariness at
other times. Henry knew all their peculiarities; he had studied them as
a scholar studies his books, and he derived quite as much pleasure from
the occupation. The buffalo were a kind of companions to him, and, as he
said, he never felt alone when they were about him. He took great pride
in his skill in hunting. Henry was one of the most modest of men; yet,
in the simplicity and frankness of his character, it was quite clear
that he looked upon his pre-eminence in this respect as a thing too
palpable and well established ever to be disputed. But whatever may have
been his estimate of his own skill, it was rather below than above that
which others placed upon it. The only time that I ever saw a shade of
scorn darken his face was when two volunteer soldiers, who had just
killed a buffalo for the first time, undertook to instruct him as to the
best method of "approaching." To borrow an illustration from an opposite
side of life, an Eton boy might as well have sought to enlighten Porson
on the formation of a Greek verb, or a Fleet Street shopkeeper to
instruct Chesterfield concerning a point of etiquette. Henry always
seemed to think that he had a sort of prescriptive right to the buffalo,
and to look upon them as something belonging peculiarly to himself.
Nothing excited his indignation so much as any wanton destruction
committed among the cows, and in his view shooting a calf was a cardinal
sin.

Henry Chatillon and Tete Rouge were of the same age; that is, about
thirty. Henry was twice as large, and fully six times as strong as Tete
Rouge. Henry's face was roughened by winds and storms; Tete Rouge's was
bloated by sherry cobblers and brandy toddy. Henry talked of Indians and
buffalo; Tete Rouge of theaters and oyster cellars. Henry had led a life
of hardship and privation; Tete Rouge never had a whim which he would
not gratify at the first moment he was able. Henry moreover was the
most disinterested man I ever saw; while Tete Rouge, though equally
good-natured in his way, cared for nobody but himself. Yet we would
not have lost him on any account; he admirably served the purpose of
a jester in a feudal castle; our camp would have been lifeless without
him. For the past week he had fattened in a most amazing manner; and
indeed this was not at all surprising, since his appetite was most
inordinate. He was eating from morning till night; half the time he
would be at work cooking some private repast for himself, and he paid
a visit to the coffee-pot eight or ten times a day. His rueful and
disconsolate face became jovial and rubicund, his eyes stood out like
a lobster's, and his spirits, which before were sunk to the depths of
despondency, were now elated in proportion; all day he was singing,
whistling, laughing, and telling stories. Being mortally afraid of Jim
Gurney, he kept close in the neighborhood of our tent. As he had seen an
abundance of low dissipated life, and had a considerable fund of
humor, his anecdotes were extremely amusing, especially since he never
hesitated to place himself in a ludicrous point of view, provided he
could raise a laugh by doing so. Tete Rouge, however, was sometimes
rather troublesome; he had an inveterate habit of pilfering provisions
at all times of the day. He set ridicule at utter defiance; and being
without a particle of self-respect, he would never have given over his
tricks, even if they had drawn upon him the scorn of the whole party.
Now and then, indeed, something worse than laughter fell to his share;
on these occasions he would exhibit much contrition, but half an hour
after we would generally observe him stealing round to the box at the
back of the cart and slyly making off with the provisions which Delorier
had laid by for supper. He was very fond of smoking; but having no
tobacco of his own, we used to provide him with as much as he wanted, a
small piece at a time. At first we gave him half a pound together, but
this experiment proved an entire failure, for he invariably lost not
only the tobacco, but the knife intrusted to him for cutting it, and a
few minutes after he would come to us with many apologies and beg for
more.

We had been two days at this camp, and some of the meat was nearly fit
for transportation, when a storm came suddenly upon us. About sunset the
whole sky grew as black as ink, and the long grass at the river's
edge bent and rose mournfully with the first gusts of the approaching
hurricane. Munroe and his two companions brought their guns and placed
them under cover of our tent. Having no shelter for themselves, they
built a fire of driftwood that might have defied a cataract, and wrapped
in their buffalo robes, sat on the ground around it to bide the fury of
the storm. Delorier ensconced himself under the cover of the cart. Shaw
and I, together with Henry and Tete Rouge, crowded into the little tent;
but first of all the dried meat was piled together, and well protected
by buffalo robes pinned firmly to the ground. About nine o'clock the
storm broke, amid absolute darkness; it blew a gale, and torrents of
rain roared over the boundless expanse of open prairie. Our tent was
filled with mist and spray beating through the canvas, and saturating
everything within. We could only distinguish each other at short
intervals by the dazzling flash of lightning, which displayed the whole
waste around us with its momentary glare. We had our fears for the tent;
but for an hour or two it stood fast, until at length the cap gave way
before a furious blast; the pole tore through the top, and in an instant
we were half suffocated by the cold and dripping folds of the canvas,
which fell down upon us. Seizing upon our guns, we placed them erect, in
order to lift the saturated cloth above our heads. In this disagreeable
situation, involved among wet blankets and buffalo robes, we spent
several hours of the night during which the storm would not abate for a
moment, but pelted down above our heads with merciless fury. Before
long the ground beneath us became soaked with moisture, and the water
gathered there in a pool two or three inches deep; so that for a
considerable part of the night we were partially immersed in a cold
bath. In spite of all this, Tete Rouge's flow of spirits did not desert
him for an instant, he laughed, whistled, and sung in defiance of the
storm, and that night he paid off the long arrears of ridicule which
he owed us. While we lay in silence, enduring the infliction with what
philosophy we could muster, Tete Rouge, who was intoxicated with animal
spirits, was cracking jokes at our expense by the hour together. At
about three o'clock in the morning, "preferring the tyranny of the
open night" to such a wretched shelter, we crawled out from beneath the
fallen canvas. The wind had abated, but the rain fell steadily. The fire
of the California men still blazed amid the darkness, and we joined
them as they sat around it. We made ready some hot coffee by way of
refreshment; but when some of the party sought to replenish their cups,
it was found that Tete Rouge, having disposed of his own share, had
privately abstracted the coffee-pot and drank up the rest of the
contents out of the spout.

In the morning, to our great joy, an unclouded sun rose upon the
prairie. We presented rather a laughable appearance, for the cold and
clammy buckskin, saturated with water, clung fast to our limbs; the
light wind and warm sunshine soon dried them again, and then we were
all incased in armor of intolerable rigidity. Roaming all day over the
prairie and shooting two or three bulls, were scarcely enough to restore
the stiffened leather to its usual pliancy.

Besides Henry Chatillon, Shaw and I were the only hunters in the party.
Munroe this morning made an attempt to run a buffalo, but his horse
could not come up to the game. Shaw went out with him, and being better
mounted soon found himself in the midst of the herd. Seeing nothing
but cows and calves around him, he checked his horse. An old bull came
galloping on the open prairie at some distance behind, and turning, Shaw
rode across his path, leveling his gun as he passed, and shooting
him through the shoulder into the heart. The heavy bullets of Shaw's
double-barreled gun made wild work wherever they struck.

A great flock of buzzards were usually soaring about a few trees
that stood on the island just below our camp. Throughout the whole of
yesterday we had noticed an eagle among them; to-day he was still
there; and Tete Rouge, declaring that he would kill the bird of America,
borrowed Delorier's gun and set out on his unpatriotic mission. As might
have been expected, the eagle suffered no great harm at his hands. He
soon returned, saying that he could not find him, but had shot a buzzard
instead. Being required to produce the bird in proof of his assertion
he said he believed he was not quite dead, but he must be hurt, from the
swiftness with which he flew off.

"If you want," said Tete Rouge, "I'll go and get one of his feathers; I
knocked off plenty of them when I shot him."

Just opposite our camp was another island covered with bushes, and
behind it was a deep pool of water, while two or three considerable
streams course'd over the sand not far off. I was bathing at this place
in the afternoon when a white wolf, larger than the largest Newfoundland
dog, ran out from behind the point of the island, and galloped leisurely
over the sand not half a stone's throw distant. I could plainly see his
red eyes and the bristles about his snout; he was an ugly scoundrel,
with a bushy tail, large head, and a most repulsive countenance. Having
neither rifle to shoot nor stone to pelt him with, I was looking eagerly
after some missile for his benefit, when the report of a gun came from
the camp, and the ball threw up the sand just beyond him; at this he
gave a slight jump, and stretched away so swiftly that he soon dwindled
into a mere speck on the distant sand-beds. The number of carcasses that
by this time were lying about the prairie all around us summoned the
wolves from every quarter; the spot where Shaw and Henry had hunted
together soon became their favorite resort, for here about a dozen dead
buffalo were fermenting under the hot sun. I used often to go over the
river and watch them at their meal; by lying under the bank it was easy
to get a full view of them. Three different kinds were present; there
were the white wolves and the gray wolves, both extremely large, and
besides these the small prairie wolves, not much bigger than spaniels.
They would howl and fight in a crowd around a single carcass, yet they
were so watchful, and their senses so acute, that I never was able to
crawl within a fair shooting distance; whenever I attempted it, they
would all scatter at once and glide silently away through the tall
grass. The air above this spot was always full of buzzards or black
vultures; whenever the wolves left a carcass they would descend upon
it, and cover it so densely that a rifle-bullet shot at random among
the gormandizing crowd would generally strike down two or three of them.
These birds would now be sailing by scores just about our camp, their
broad black wings seeming half transparent as they expanded them against
the bright sky. The wolves and the buzzards thickened about us with
every hour, and two or three eagles also came into the feast. I killed a
bull within rifle-shot of the camp; that night the wolves made a fearful
howling close at hand, and in the morning the carcass was completely
hollowed out by these voracious feeders.

After we had remained four days at this camp we prepared to leave it.
We had for our own part about five hundred pounds of dried meat, and the
California men had prepared some three hundred more; this consisted
of the fattest and choicest parts of eight or nine cows, a very small
quantity only being taken from each, and the rest abandoned to the
wolves. The pack animals were laden, the horses were saddled, and the
mules harnessed to the cart. Even Tete Rouge was ready at last, and
slowly moving from the ground, we resumed our journey eastward. When
we had advanced about a mile, Shaw missed a valuable hunting knife and
turned back in search of it, thinking that he had left it at the camp.
He approached the place cautiously, fearful that Indians might be
lurking about, for a deserted camp is dangerous to return to. He saw
no enemy, but the scene was a wild and dreary one; the prairie was
overshadowed by dull, leaden clouds, for the day was dark and gloomy.
The ashes of the fires were still smoking by the river side; the grass
around them was trampled down by men and horses, and strewn with all the
litter of a camp. Our departure had been a gathering signal to the birds
and beasts of prey; Shaw assured me that literally dozens of wolves were
prowling about the smoldering fires, while multitudes were roaming over
the prairie around; they all fled as he approached, some running over
the sand-beds and some over the grassy plains. The vultures in great
clouds were soaring overhead, and the dead bull near the camp was
completely blackened by the flock that had alighted upon it; they
flapped their broad wings, and stretched upward their crested heads
and long skinny necks, fearing to remain, yet reluctant to leave their
disgusting feast. As he searched about the fires he saw the wolves
seated on the distant hills waiting for his departure. Having looked
in vain for his knife, he mounted again, and left the wolves and the
vultures to banquet freely upon the carrion of the camp.



CHAPTER XXVI

DOWN THE ARKANSAS


In the summer of 1846 the wild and lonely banks of the Upper Arkansas
beheld for the first time the passage of an army. General Kearny, on his
march to Santa Fe, adopted this route in preference to the old trail of
the Cimarron. When we came down the main body of the troops had already
passed on; Price's Missouri regiment, however, was still on the way,
having left the frontier much later than the rest; and about this time
we began to meet them moving along the trail, one or two companies at
a time. No men ever embarked upon a military expedition with a greater
love for the work before them than the Missourians; but if discipline
and subordination be the criterion of merit, these soldiers were
worthless indeed. Yet when their exploits have rung through all America,
it would be absurd to deny that they were excellent irregular troops.
Their victories were gained in the teeth of every established precedent
of warfare; they were owing to a singular combination of military
qualities in the men themselves. Without discipline or a spirit of
subordination, they knew how to keep their ranks and act as one man.
Doniphan's regiment marched through New Mexico more like a band of free
companions than like the paid soldiers of a modern government. When
General Taylor complimented Doniphan on his success at Sacramento and
elsewhere, the colonel's reply very well illustrates the relations which
subsisted between the officers and men of his command:

"I don't know anything of the maneuvers. The boys kept coming to me,
to let them charge; and when I saw a good opportunity, I told them they
might go. They were off like a shot, and that's all I know about it."

The backwoods lawyer was better fitted to conciliate the good-will than
to command the obedience of his men. There were many serving under him,
who both from character and education could better have held command
than he.

At the battle of Sacramento his frontiersmen fought under every possible
disadvantage. The Mexicans had chosen their own position; they were
drawn up across the valley that led to their native city of Chihuahua;
their whole front was covered by intrenchments and defended by batteries
of heavy cannon; they outnumbered the invaders five to one. An eagle
flew over the Americans, and a deep murmur rose along their lines. The
enemy's batteries opened; long they remained under fire, but when at
length the word was given, they shouted and ran forward. In one of the
divisions, when midway to the enemy, a drunken officer ordered a halt;
the exasperated men hesitated to obey.

"Forward, boys!" cried a private from the ranks; and the Americans,
rushing like tigers upon the enemy, bounded over the breastwork. Four
hundred Mexicans were slain upon the spot and the rest fled, scattering
over the plain like sheep. The standards, cannon, and baggage were
taken, and among the rest a wagon laden with cords, which the Mexicans,
in the fullness of their confidence, had made ready for tying the
American prisoners.

Doniphan's volunteers, who gained this victory, passed up with the main
army; but Price's soldiers, whom we now met, were men from the same
neighborhood, precisely similar in character, manner, and appearance.
One forenoon, as we were descending upon a very wide meadow, where
we meant to rest for an hour or two, we saw a dark body of horsemen
approaching at a distance. In order to find water, we were obliged to
turn aside to the river bank, a full half mile from the trail. Here we
put up a kind of awning, and spreading buffalo robes on the ground, Shaw
and I sat down to smoke beneath it.

"We are going to catch it now," said Shaw; "look at those fellows,
there'll be no peace for us here."

And in good truth about half the volunteers had straggled away from the
line of march, and were riding over the meadow toward us.

"How are you?" said the first who came up, alighting from his horse and
throwing himself upon the ground. The rest followed close, and a score
of them soon gathered about us, some lying at full length and some
sitting on horseback. They all belonged to a company raised in St.
Louis. There were some ruffian faces among them, and some haggard with
debauchery; but on the whole they were extremely good-looking men,
superior beyond measure to the ordinary rank and file of an army. Except
that they were booted to the knees, they wore their belts and military
trappings over the ordinary dress of citizens. Besides their swords and
holster pistols, they carried slung from their saddles the excellent
Springfield carbines, loaded at the breech. They inquired the character
of our party, and were anxious to know the prospect of killing buffalo,
and the chance that their horses would stand the journey to Santa Fe.
All this was well enough, but a moment after a worse visitation came
upon us.

"How are you, strangers? whar are you going and whar are you from?" said
a fellow, who came trotting up with an old straw hat on his head. He was
dressed in the coarsest brown homespun cloth. His face was rather sallow
from fever-and-ague, and his tall figure, though strong and sinewy was
quite thin, and had besides an angular look, which, together with his
boorish seat on horseback, gave him an appearance anything but graceful.
Plenty more of the same stamp were close behind him. Their company
was raised in one of the frontier counties, and we soon had abundant
evidence of their rustic breeding; dozens of them came crowding round,
pushing between our first visitors and staring at us with unabashed
faces.

"Are you the captain?" asked one fellow.

"What's your business out here?" asked another.

"Whar do you live when you're at home?" said a third.

"I reckon you're traders," surmised a fourth; and to crown the whole,
one of them came confidentially to my side and inquired in a low voice,
"What's your partner's name?"

As each newcomer repeated the same questions, the nuisance became
intolerable. Our military visitors were soon disgusted at the concise
nature of our replies, and we could overhear them muttering curses
against us. While we sat smoking, not in the best imaginable humor, Tete
Rouge's tongue was never idle. He never forgot his military character,
and during the whole interview he was incessantly busy among his
fellow-soldiers. At length we placed him on the ground before us, and
told him that he might play the part of spokesman for the whole. Tete
Rouge was delighted, and we soon had the satisfaction of seeing him talk
and gabble at such a rate that the torrent of questions was in a great
measure diverted from us. A little while after, to our amazement, we saw
a large cannon with four horses come lumbering up behind the crowd; and
the driver, who was perched on one of the animals, stretching his neck
so as to look over the rest of the men, called out:

"Whar are you from, and what's your business?"

The captain of one of the companies was among our visitors, drawn by
the same curiosity that had attracted his men. Unless their faces belied
them, not a few in the crowd might with great advantage have changed
places with their commander.

"Well, men," said he, lazily rising from the ground where he had been
lounging, "it's getting late, I reckon we had better be moving."

"I shan't start yet anyhow," said one fellow, who was lying half asleep
with his head resting on his arm.

"Don't be in a hurry, captain," added the lieutenant.

"Well, have it your own way, we'll wait a while longer," replied the
obsequious commander.

At length however our visitors went straggling away as they had come,
and we, to our great relief, were left alone again.

No one can deny the intrepid bravery of these men, their intelligence
and the bold frankness of their character, free from all that is mean
and sordid. Yet for the moment the extreme roughness of their manners
half inclines one to forget their heroic qualities. Most of them seem
without the least perception of delicacy or propriety, though among them
individuals may be found in whose manners there is a plain courtesy,
while their features bespeak a gallant spirit equal to any enterprise.

No one was more relieved than Delorier by the departure of the
volunteers; for dinner was getting colder every moment. He spread a
well-whitened buffalo hide upon the grass, placed in the middle the
juicy hump of a fat cow, ranged around it the tin plates and cups,
and then acquainted us that all was ready. Tete Rouge, with his usual
alacrity on such occasions, was the first to take his seat. In his
former capacity of steamboat clerk, he had learned to prefix the
honorary MISTER to everybody's name, whether of high or low degree; so
Jim Gurney was Mr. Gurney, Henry was Mr. Henry, and even Delorier, for
the first time in his life, heard himself addressed as Mr. Delorier.
This did not prevent his conceiving a violent enmity against Tete Rouge,
who, in his futile though praiseworthy attempts to make himself
useful used always to intermeddle with cooking the dinners. Delorier's
disposition knew no medium between smiles and sunshine and a downright
tornado of wrath; he said nothing to Tete Rouge, but his wrongs rankled
in his breast. Tete Rouge had taken his place at dinner; it was his
happiest moment; he sat enveloped in the old buffalo coat, sleeves
turned up in preparation for the work, and his short legs crossed on the
grass before him; he had a cup of coffee by his side and his knife ready
in his hand and while he looked upon the fat hump ribs, his eyes dilated
with anticipation. Delorier sat just opposite to him, and the rest of us
by this time had taken our seats.

"How is this, Delorier? You haven't given us bread enough."

At this Delorier's placid face flew instantly into a paroxysm of
contortions. He grinned with wrath, chattered, gesticulated, and hurled
forth a volley of incoherent words in broken English at the astonished
Tete Rouge. It was just possible to make out that he was accusing him
of having stolen and eaten four large cakes which had been laid by for
dinner. Tete Rouge, utterly confounded at this sudden attack, stared at
Delorier for a moment in dumb amazement, with mouth and eyes wide open.
At last he found speech, and protested that the accusation was false;
and that he could not conceive how he had offended Mr. Delorier, or
provoked him to use such ungentlemanly expressions. The tempest of words
raged with such fury that nothing else could be heard. But Tete Rouge,
from his greater command of English, had a manifest advantage over
Delorier, who after sputtering and grimacing for a while, found his
words quite inadequate to the expression of his wrath. He jumped up
and vanished, jerking out between his teeth one furious sacre enfant de
grace, a Canadian title of honor, made doubly emphatic by being usually
applied together with a cut of the whip to refractory mules and horses.

The next morning we saw an old buffalo escorting his cow with two small
calves over the prairie. Close behind came four or five large white
wolves, sneaking stealthily through the long meadow-grass, and watching
for the moment when one of the children should chance to lag behind his
parents. The old bull kept well on his guard, and faced about now and
then to keep the prowling ruffians at a distance.

As we approached our nooning place, we saw five or six buffalo standing
at the very summit of a tall bluff. Trotting forward to the spot where
we meant to stop, I flung off my saddle and turned my horse loose. By
making a circuit under cover of some rising ground, I reached the foot
of the bluff unnoticed, and climbed up its steep side. Lying under the
brow of the declivity, I prepared to fire at the buffalo, who stood on
the flat surface about not five yards distant. Perhaps I was too hasty,
for the gleaming rifle-barrel leveled over the edge caught their notice;
they turned and ran. Close as they were, it was impossible to kill them
when in that position, and stepping upon the summit I pursued them over
the high arid tableland. It was extremely rugged and broken; a great
sandy ravine was channeled through it, with smaller ravines entering on
each side like tributary streams. The buffalo scattered, and I soon lost
sight of most of them as they scuttled away through the sandy chasms; a
bull and a cow alone kept in view. For a while they ran along the edge
of the great ravine, appearing and disappearing as they dived into some
chasm and again emerged from it. At last they stretched out upon the
broad prairie, a plain nearly flat and almost devoid of verdure, for
every short grass-blade was dried and shriveled by the glaring sun. Now
and then the old bull would face toward me; whenever he did so I fell
to the ground and lay motionless. In this manner I chased them for about
two miles, until at length I heard in front a deep hoarse bellowing. A
moment after a band of about a hundred bulls, before hidden by a slight
swell of the plain, came at once into view. The fugitives ran toward
them. Instead of mingling with the band, as I expected, they passed
directly through, and continued their flight. At this I gave up the
chase, and kneeling down, crawled to within gunshot of the bulls, and
with panting breath and trickling brow sat down on the ground to watch
them; my presence did not disturb them in the least. They were not
feeding, for, indeed, there was nothing to eat; but they seemed to
have chosen the parched and scorching desert as the scene of their
amusements. Some were rolling on the ground amid a cloud of dust;
others, with a hoarse rumbling bellow, were butting their large heads
together, while many stood motionless, as if quite inanimate. Except
their monstrous growth of tangled grizzly mane, they had no hair; for
their old coat had fallen off in the spring, and their new one had not
as yet appeared. Sometimes an old bull would step forward, and gaze at
me with a grim and stupid countenance; then he would turn and butt his
next neighbor; then he would lie down and roll over in the dirt, kicking
his hoofs in the air. When satisfied with this amusement he would jerk
his head and shoulders upward, and resting on his forelegs stare at me
in this position, half blinded by his mane, and his face covered with
dirt; then up he would spring upon all-fours, and shake his dusty sides;
turning half round, he would stand with his beard touching the ground,
in an attitude of profound abstraction, as if reflecting on his puerile
conduct. "You are too ugly to live," thought I; and aiming at the
ugliest, I shot three of them in succession. The rest were not at all
discomposed at this; they kept on bellowing and butting and rolling
on the ground as before. Henry Chatillon always cautioned us to keep
perfectly quiet in the presence of a wounded buffalo, for any movement
is apt to excite him to make an attack; so I sat still upon the ground,
loading and firing with as little motion as possible. While I was
thus employed, a spectator made his appearance; a little antelope came
running up with remarkable gentleness to within fifty yards; and there
it stood, its slender neck arched, its small horns thrown back, and its
large dark eyes gazing on me with a look of eager curiosity. By the side
of the shaggy and brutish monsters before me, it seemed like some lovely
young girl wandering near a den of robbers or a nest of bearded pirates.
The buffalo looked uglier than ever. "Here goes for another of you,"
thought I, feeling in my pouch for a percussion cap. Not a percussion
cap was there. My good rifle was useless as an old iron bar. One of the
wounded bulls had not yet fallen, and I waited for some time, hoping
every moment that his strength would fail him. He still stood firm,
looking grimly at me, and disregarding Henry's advice I rose and walked
away. Many of the bulls turned and looked at me, but the wounded brute
made no attack. I soon came upon a deep ravine which would give me
shelter in case of emergency; so I turned round and threw a stone at
the bulls. They received it with the utmost indifference. Feeling myself
insulted at their refusal to be frightened, I swung my hat, shouted, and
made a show of running toward them; at this they crowded together and
galloped off, leaving their dead and wounded upon the field. As I moved
toward the camp I saw the last survivor totter and fall dead. My speed
in returning was wonderfully quickened by the reflection that the
Pawnees were abroad, and that I was defenseless in case of meeting with
an enemy. I saw no living thing, however, except two or three squalid
old bulls scrambling among the sand-hills that flanked the great ravine.
When I reached camp the party was nearly ready for the afternoon move.

We encamped that evening at a short distance from the river bank. About
midnight, as we all lay asleep on the ground, the man nearest to me
gently reaching out his hand, touched my shoulder, and cautioned me at
the same time not to move. It was bright starlight. Opening my eyes and
slightly turning I saw a large white wolf moving stealthily around the
embers of our fire, with his nose close to the ground. Disengaging my
hand from the blanket, I drew the cover from my rifle, which lay close
at my side; the motion alarmed the wolf, and with long leaps he bounded
out of the camp. Jumping up, I fired after him when he was about thirty
yards distant; the melancholy hum of the bullet sounded far away through
the night. At the sharp report, so suddenly breaking upon the stillness,
all the men sprang up.

"You've killed him," said one of them.

"No, I haven't," said I; "there he goes, running along the river.

"Then there's two of them. Don't you see that one lying out yonder?"

We went to it, and instead of a dead white wolf found the bleached skull
of a buffalo. I had missed my mark, and what was worse, had grossly
violated a standing law of the prairie. When in a dangerous part of
the country, it is considered highly imprudent to fire a gun after
encamping, lest the report should reach the ears of the Indians.

The horses were saddled in the morning, and the last man had lighted his
pipe at the dying ashes of the fire. The beauty of the day enlivened us
all. Even Ellis felt its influence, and occasionally made a remark as we
rode along, and Jim Gurney told endless stories of his cruisings in the
United States service. The buffalo were abundant, and at length a large
band of them went running up the hills on the left.

"Do you see them buffalo?" said Ellis, "now I'll bet any man I'll go and
kill one with my yager."

And leaving his horse to follow on with the party, he strode up the hill
after them. Henry looked at us with his peculiar humorous expression,
and proposed that we should follow Ellis to see how he would kill a fat
cow. As soon as he was out of sight we rode up the hill after him, and
waited behind a little ridge till we heard the report of the unfailing
yager. Mounting to the top, we saw Ellis clutching his favorite weapon
with both hands, and staring after the buffalo, who one and all were
galloping off at full speed. As we descended the hill we saw the party
straggling along the trail below. When we joined them, another scene
of amateur hunting awaited us. I forgot to say that when we met the
volunteers Tete Rouge had obtained a horse from one of them, in exchange
for his mule, whom he feared and detested. The horse he christened
James. James, though not worth so much as the mule, was a large and
strong animal. Tete Rouge was very proud of his new acquisition, and
suddenly became ambitious to run a buffalo with him. At his request,
I lent him my pistols, though not without great misgivings, since
when Tete Rouge hunted buffalo the pursuer was in more danger than the
pursued. He hung the holsters at his saddle bow; and now, as we passed
along, a band of bulls left their grazing in the meadow and galloped in
a long file across the trail in front.

"Now's your chance, Tete; come, let's see you kill a bull." Thus urged,
the hunter cried, "Get up!" and James, obedient to the signal, cantered
deliberately forward at an abominably uneasy gait. Tete Rouge, as we
contemplated him from behind; made a most remarkable figure. He still
wore the old buffalo coat; his blanket, which was tied in a loose bundle
behind his saddle, went jolting from one side to the other, and a large
tin canteen half full of water, which hung from his pommel, was jerked
about his leg in a manner which greatly embarrassed him.

"Let out your horse, man; lay on your whip!" we called out to him.
The buffalo were getting farther off at every instant. James, being
ambitious to mend his pace, tugged hard at the rein, and one of his
rider's boots escaped from the stirrup.

"Woa! I say, woa!" cried Tete Rouge, in great perturbation, and after
much effort James' progress was arrested. The hunter came trotting back
to the party, disgusted with buffalo running, and he was received with
overwhelming congratulations.

"Too good a chance to lose," said Shaw, pointing to another band of
bulls on the left. We lashed our horses and galloped upon them. Shaw
killed one with each barrel of his gun. I separated another from the
herd and shot him. The small bullet of the rifled pistol, striking too
far back, did not immediately take effect, and the bull ran on with
unabated speed. Again and again I snapped the remaining pistol at him. I
primed it afresh three or four times, and each time it missed fire, for
the touch-hole was clogged up. Returning it to the holster, I began to
load the empty pistol, still galloping by the side of the bull. By this
time he was grown desperate. The foam flew from his jaws and his tongue
lolled out. Before the pistol was loaded he sprang upon me, and followed
up his attack with a furious rush. The only alternative was to run
away or be killed. I took to flight, and the bull, bristling with fury,
pursued me closely. The pistol was soon ready, and then looking back,
I saw his head five or six yards behind my horse's tail. To fire at it
would be useless, for a bullet flattens against the adamantine skull of
a buffalo bull. Inclining my body to the left, I turned my horse in
that direction as sharply as his speed would permit. The bull, rushing
blindly on with great force and weight, did not turn so quickly. As I
looked back, his neck and shoulders were exposed to view; turning in the
saddle, I shot a bullet through them obliquely into his vitals. He
gave over the chase and soon fell to the ground. An English tourist
represents a situation like this as one of imminent danger; this is
a great mistake; the bull never pursues long, and the horse must
be wretched indeed that cannot keep out of his way for two or three
minutes.

We were now come to a part of the country where we were bound in common
prudence to use every possible precaution. We mounted guard at night,
each man standing in his turn; and no one ever slept without drawing
his rifle close to his side or folding it with him in his blanket. One
morning our vigilance was stimulated by our finding traces of a large
Comanche encampment. Fortunately for us, however, it had been abandoned
nearly a week. On the next evening we found the ashes of a recent fire,
which gave us at the time some uneasiness. At length we reached the
Caches, a place of dangerous repute; and it had a most dangerous
appearance, consisting of sand-hills everywhere broken by ravines and
deep chasms. Here we found the grave of Swan, killed at this place,
probably by the Pawnees, two or three weeks before. His remains, more
than once violated by the Indians and the wolves, were suffered at
length to remain undisturbed in their wild burial place.

For several days we met detached companies of Price's regiment. Horses
would often break loose at night from their camps. One afternoon we
picked up three of these stragglers quietly grazing along the river.
After we came to camp that evening, Jim Gurney brought news that more of
them were in sight. It was nearly dark, and a cold, drizzling rain had
set in; but we all turned out, and after an hour's chase nine horses
were caught and brought in. One of them was equipped with saddle and
bridle; pistols were hanging at the pommel of the saddle, a carbine was
slung at its side, and a blanket rolled up behind it. In the morning,
glorying in our valuable prize, we resumed our journey, and our
cavalcade presented a much more imposing appearance than ever before. We
kept on till the afternoon, when, far behind, three horsemen appeared
on the horizon. Coming on at a hand-gallop, they soon overtook us, and
claimed all the horses as belonging to themselves and others of their
company. They were of course given up, very much to the mortification of
Ellis and Jim Gurney.

Our own horses now showed signs of fatigue, and we resolved to give them
half a day's rest. We stopped at noon at a grassy spot by the river.
After dinner Shaw and Henry went out to hunt; and while the men lounged
about the camp, I lay down to read in the shadow of the cart. Looking
up, I saw a bull grazing alone on the prairie more than a mile distant.
I was tired of reading, and taking my rifle I walked toward him. As
I came near, I crawled upon the ground until I approached to within a
hundred yards; here I sat down upon the grass and waited till he should
turn himself into a proper position to receive his death-wound. He was
a grim old veteran. His loves and his battles were over for that season,
and now, gaunt and war-worn, he had withdrawn from the herd to graze by
himself and recruit his exhausted strength. He was miserably emaciated;
his mane was all in tatters; his hide was bare and rough as an
elephant's, and covered with dried patches of the mud in which he had
been wallowing. He showed all his ribs whenever he moved. He looked like
some grizzly old ruffian grown gray in blood and violence, and scowling
on all the world from his misanthropic seclusion. The old savage looked
up when I first approached, and gave me a fierce stare; then he fell
to grazing again with an air of contemptuous indifference. The moment
after, as if suddenly recollecting himself, he threw up his head, faced
quickly about, and to my amazement came at a rapid trot directly toward
me. I was strongly impelled to get up and run, but this would have been
very dangerous. Sitting quite still I aimed, as he came on, at the
thin part of the skull above the nose. After he had passed over about
three-quarters of the distance between us, I was on the point of firing,
when, to my great satisfaction, he stopped short. I had full opportunity
of studying his countenance; his whole front was covered with a huge
mass of coarse matted hair, which hung so low that nothing but his two
forefeet were visible beneath it; his short thick horns were blunted and
split to the very roots in his various battles, and across his nose and
forehead were two or three large white scars, which gave him a grim and
at the same time a whimsical appearance. It seemed to me that he stood
there motionless for a full quarter of an hour, looking at me through
the tangled locks of his mane. For my part, I remained as quiet as he,
and looked quite as hard; I felt greatly inclined to come to term with
him. "My friend," thought I, "if you'll let me off, I'll let you off."
At length he seemed to have abandoned any hostile design. Very slowly
and deliberately he began to turn about; little by little his side came
into view, all be-plastered with mud. It was a tempting sight. I forgot
my prudent intentions, and fired my rifle; a pistol would have served at
that distance. Round spun old bull like a top, and away he galloped
over the prairie. He ran some distance, and even ascended a considerable
hill, before he lay down and died. After shooting another bull among the
hills, I went back to camp.

At noon, on the 14th of September, a very large Santa Fe caravan came
up. The plain was covered with the long files of their white-topped
wagons, the close black carriages in which the traders travel and sleep,
large droves of animals, and men on horseback and on foot. They all
stopped on the meadow near us. Our diminutive cart and handful of men
made but an insignificant figure by the side of their wide and bustling
camp. Tete Rouge went over to visit them, and soon came back with half
a dozen biscuits in one hand and a bottle of brandy in the other. I
inquired where he got them. "Oh," said Tete Rouge, "I know some of the
traders. Dr. Dobbs is there besides." I asked who Dr. Dobbs might be.
"One of our St. Louis doctors," replied Tete Rouge. For two days past
I had been severely attacked by the same disorder which had so greatly
reduced my strength when at the mountains; at this time I was suffering
not a little from the sudden pain and weakness which it occasioned.
Tete Rouge, in answer to my inquiries, declared that Dr. Dobbs was
a physician of the first standing. Without at all believing him, I
resolved to consult this eminent practitioner. Walking over to the camp,
I found him lying sound asleep under one of the wagons. He offered in
his own person but an indifferent specimen of his skill, for it was five
months since I had seen so cadaverous a face.

His hat had fallen off, and his yellow hair was all in disorder; one of
his arms supplied the place of a pillow; his pantaloons were wrinkled
halfway up to his knees, and he was covered with little bits of grass
and straw, upon which he had rolled in his uneasy slumber. A Mexican
stood near, and I made him a sign that he should touch the doctor. Up
sprang the learned Dobbs, and, sitting upright, rubbed his eyes and
looked about him in great bewilderment. I regretted the necessity of
disturbing him, and said I had come to ask professional advice. "Your
system, sir, is in a disordered state," said he solemnly, after a short
examination.

I inquired what might be the particular species of disorder.

"Evidently a morbid action of the liver," replied the medical man; "I
will give you a prescription."

Repairing to the back of one of the covered wagons, he scrambled in; for
a moment I could see nothing of him but his boots. At length he produced
a box which he had extracted from some dark recess within, and opening
it, he presented me with a folded paper of some size. "What is it?" said
I. "Calomel," said the doctor.

Under the circumstances I would have taken almost anything. There was
not enough to do me much harm, and it might possibly do good; so at camp
that night I took the poison instead of supper.

That camp is worthy of notice. The traders warned us not to follow the
main trail along the river, "unless," as one of them observed, "you want
to have your throats cut!" The river at this place makes a bend; and
a smaller trail, known as the Ridge-path, leads directly across the
prairie from point to point, a distance of sixty or seventy miles.

We followed this trail, and after traveling seven or eight miles, we
came to a small stream, where we encamped. Our position was not chosen
with much forethought or military skill. The water was in a deep hollow,
with steep, high banks; on the grassy bottom of this hollow we picketed
our horses, while we ourselves encamped upon the barren prairie just
above. The opportunity was admirable either for driving off our horses
or attacking us. After dark, as Tete Rouge was sitting at supper, we
observed him pointing with a face of speechless horror over the shoulder
of Henry, who was opposite to him. Aloof amid the darkness appeared
a gigantic black apparition; solemnly swaying to and fro, it advanced
steadily upon us. Henry, half vexed and half amused, jumped up, spread
out his arms, and shouted. The invader was an old buffalo bull, who with
characteristic stupidity, was walking directly into camp. It cost some
shouting and swinging of hats before we could bring him first to a halt
and then to a rapid retreat.

That night the moon was full and bright; but as the black clouds chased
rapidly over it, we were at one moment in light and at the next in
darkness. As the evening advanced, a thunderstorm came up; it struck us
with such violence that the tent would have been blown over if we had
not interposed the cart to break the force of the wind. At length it
subsided to a steady rain. I lay awake through nearly the whole night,
listening to its dull patter upon the canvas above. The moisture, which
filled the tent and trickled from everything in it, did not add to the
comfort of the situation. About twelve o'clock Shaw went out to stand
guard amid the rain and pitch darkness. Munroe, the most vigilant as
well as one of the bravest among us, was also on the alert. When about
two hours had passed, Shaw came silently in, and touching Henry, called
him in a low quick voice to come out. "What is it?" I asked. "Indians,
I believe," whispered Shaw; "but lie still; I'll call you if there's a
fight."

He and Henry went out together. I took the cover from my rifle, put a
fresh percussion cap upon it, and then, being in much pain, lay down
again. In about five minutes Shaw came in again. "All right," he said,
as he lay down to sleep. Henry was now standing guard in his place. He
told me in the morning the particulars of the alarm. Munroe' s watchful
eye discovered some dark objects down in the hollow, among the horses,
like men creeping on all fours. Lying flat on their faces, he and Shaw
crawled to the edge of the bank, and were soon convinced that what they
saw were Indians. Shaw silently withdrew to call Henry, and they all
lay watching in the same position. Henry's eye is of the best on
the prairie. He detected after a while the true nature of the moving
objects; they were nothing but wolves creeping among the horses.

It is very singular that when picketed near a camp horses seldom show
any fear of such an intrusion. The wolves appear to have no other object
than that of gnawing the trail-ropes of raw hide by which the animals
are secured. Several times in the course of the journey my horse's
trail-rope was bitten in two by these nocturnal visitors.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE SETTLEMENTS


The next day was extremely hot, and we rode from morning till night
without seeing a tree or a bush or a drop of water. Our horses and mules
suffered much more than we, but as sunset approached they pricked up
their ears and mended their pace. Water was not far off. When we came to
the descent of the broad shallowy valley where it lay, an unlooked-for
sight awaited us. The stream glistened at the bottom, and along its
banks were pitched a multitude of tents, while hundreds of cattle were
feeding over the meadows. Bodies of troops, both horse and foot, and
long trains of wagons with men, women, and children, were moving over
the opposite ridge and descending the broad declivity in front. These
were the Mormon battalion in the service of government, together with a
considerable number of Missouri volunteers. The Mormons were to be
paid off in California, and they were allowed to bring with them
their families and property. There was something very striking in the
half-military, half-patriarchal appearance of these armed fanatics, thus
on their way with their wives and children, to found, if might be, a
Mormon empire in California. We were much more astonished than pleased
at the sight before us. In order to find an unoccupied camping ground,
we were obliged to pass a quarter of a mile up the stream, and here we
were soon beset by a swarm of Mormons and Missourians. The United States
officer in command of the whole came also to visit us, and remained some
time at our camp.

In the morning the country was covered with mist. We were always early
risers, but before we were ready the voices of men driving in the cattle
sounded all around us. As we passed above their camp, we saw through the
obscurity that the tents were falling and the ranks rapidly forming; and
mingled with the cries of women and children, the rolling of the Mormon
drums and the clear blast of their trumpets sounded through the mist.

From that time to the journey's end, we met almost every day long trains
of government wagons, laden with stores for the troops and crawling at a
snail's pace toward Santa Fe.

Tete Rouge had a mortal antipathy to danger, but on a foraging
expedition one evening, he achieved an adventure more perilous than
had yet befallen any man in the party. The night after we left the
Ridge-path we encamped close to the river. At sunset we saw a train of
wagons encamping on the trail about three miles off; and though we
saw them distinctly, our little cart, as it afterward proved, entirely
escaped their view. For some days Tete Rouge had been longing
eagerly after a dram of whisky. So, resolving to improve the present
opportunity, he mounted his horse James, slung his canteen over his
shoulder, and set forth in search of his favorite liquor. Some hours
passed without his returning. We thought that he was lost, or perhaps
that some stray Indian had snapped him up. While the rest fell asleep I
remained on guard. Late at night a tremulous voice saluted me from the
darkness, and Tete Rouge and James soon became visible, advancing toward
the camp. Tete Rouge was in much agitation and big with some important
tidings. Sitting down on the shaft of the cart, he told the following
story:

When he left the camp he had no idea, he said, how late it was. By the
time he approached the wagoners it was perfectly dark; and as he saw
them all sitting around their fires within the circle of wagons, their
guns laid by their sides, he thought he might as well give warning of
his approach, in order to prevent a disagreeable mistake. Raising his
voice to the highest pitch, he screamed out in prolonged accents, "Camp,
ahoy!" This eccentric salutation produced anything but the desired
result. Hearing such hideous sounds proceeding from the outer darkness,
the wagoners thought that the whole Pawnee nation were about to break
in and take their scalps. Up they sprang staring with terror. Each man
snatched his gun; some stood behind the wagons; some threw themselves
flat on the ground, and in an instant twenty cocked muskets were leveled
full at the horrified Tete Rouge, who just then began to be visible
through the darkness.

"Thar they come," cried the master wagoner, "fire, fire! shoot that
feller."

"No, no!" screamed Tete Rouge, in an ecstasy of fright; "don't fire,
don't! I'm a friend, I'm an American citizen!"

"You're a friend, be you?" cried a gruff voice from the wagons; "then
what are you yelling out thar for, like a wild Injun. Come along up here
if you're a man."

"Keep your guns p'inted at him," added the master wagoner, "maybe he's a
decoy, like."

Tete Rouge in utter bewilderment made his approach, with the gaping
muzzles of the muskets still before his eyes. He succeeded at last in
explaining his character and situation, and the Missourians admitted him
into camp. He got no whisky; but as he represented himself as a
great invalid, and suffering much from coarse fare, they made up a
contribution for him of rice, biscuit, and sugar from their own rations.

In the morning at breakfast, Tete Rouge once more related this story.
We hardly knew how much of it to believe, though after some
cross-questioning we failed to discover any flaw in the narrative.
Passing by the wagoner's camp, they confirmed Tete Rouge's account in
every particular.

"I wouldn't have been in that feller's place," said one of them, "for
the biggest heap of money in Missouri."

To Tete Rouge's great wrath they expressed a firm conviction that he
was crazy. We left them after giving them the advice not to trouble
themselves about war-whoops in future, since they would be apt to feel
an Indian's arrow before they heard his voice.

A day or two after, we had an adventure of another sort with a party of
wagoners. Henry and I rode forward to hunt. After that day there was
no probability that we should meet with buffalo, and we were anxious to
kill one for the sake of fresh meat. They were so wild that we hunted
all the morning in vain, but at noon as we approached Cow Creek we saw
a large band feeding near its margin. Cow Creek is densely lined with
trees which intercept the view beyond, and it runs, as we afterward
found, at the bottom of a deep trench. We approached by riding along the
bottom of a ravine. When we were near enough, I held the horses while
Henry crept toward the buffalo. I saw him take his seat within shooting
distance, prepare his rifle, and look about to select his victim. The
death of a fat cow was certain, when suddenly a great smoke arose from
the bed of the Creek with a rattling volley of musketry. A score of
long-legged Missourians leaped out from among the trees and ran after
the buffalo, who one and all took to their heels and vanished. These
fellows had crawled up the bed of the Creek to within a hundred yards of
the buffalo. Never was there a fairer chance for a shot. They were good
marksmen; all cracked away at once, and yet not a buffalo fell. In fact,
the animal is so tenacious of life that it requires no little knowledge
of anatomy to kill it, and it is very seldom that a novice succeeds
in his first attempt at approaching. The balked Missourians were
excessively mortified, especially when Henry told them if they had kept
quiet he would have killed meat enough in ten minutes to feed their
whole party. Our friends, who were at no great distance, hearing such a
formidable fusillade, thought the Indians had fired the volley for our
benefit. Shaw came galloping on to reconnoiter and learn if we were yet
in the land of the living.

At Cow Creek we found the very welcome novelty of ripe grapes and plums,
which grew there in abundance. At the Little Arkansas, not much farther
on, we saw the last buffalo, a miserable old bull, roaming over the
prairie alone and melancholy.

From this time forward the character of the country was changing every
day. We had left behind us the great arid deserts, meagerly covered
by the tufted buffalo grass, with its pale green hue, and its short
shriveled blades. The plains before us were carpeted with rich and
verdant herbage sprinkled with flowers. In place of buffalo we found
plenty of prairie hens, and we bagged them by dozens without leaving the
trail. In three or four days we saw before us the broad woods and the
emerald meadows of Council Grove, a scene of striking luxuriance and
beauty. It seemed like a new sensation as we rode beneath the resounding
archs of these noble woods. The trees were ash, oak, elm, maple,
and hickory, their mighty limbs deeply overshadowing the path, while
enormous grape vines were entwined among them, purple with fruit. The
shouts of our scattered party, and now and then a report of a rifle,
rang amid the breathing stillness of the forest. We rode forth again
with regret into the broad light of the open prairie. Little more than a
hundred miles now separated us from the frontier settlements. The whole
intervening country was a succession of verdant prairies, rising in
broad swells and relieved by trees clustering like an oasis around some
spring, or following the course of a stream along some fertile hollow.
These are the prairies of the poet and the novelist. We had left danger
behind us. Nothing was to be feared from the Indians of this region, the
Sacs and Foxes, the Kansas and the Osages. We had met with signal
good fortune. Although for five months we had been traveling with an
insufficient force through a country where we were at any moment liable
to depredation, not a single animal had been stolen from us, and our
only loss had been one old mule bitten to death by a rattlesnake. Three
weeks after we reached the frontier the Pawnees and the Comanches began
a regular series of hostilities on the Arkansas trail, killing men and
driving off horses. They attacked, without exception, every party, large
or small, that passed during the next six months.

Diamond Spring, Rock Creek, Elder Grove, and other camping places
besides, were passed all in quick succession. At Rock Creek we found a
train of government provision wagons, under the charge of an emaciated
old man in his seventy-first year. Some restless American devil had
driven him into the wilderness at a time when he should have been seated
at his fireside with his grandchildren on his knees. I am convinced
that he never returned; he was complaining that night of a disease, the
wasting effects of which upon a younger and stronger man, I myself had
proved from severe experience. Long ere this no doubt the wolves have
howled their moonlight carnival over the old man's attenuated remains.

Not long after we came to a small trail leading to Fort Leavenworth,
distant but one day's journey. Tete Rouge here took leave of us. He was
anxious to go to the fort in order to receive payment for his valuable
military services. So he and his horse James, after bidding an
affectionate farewell, set out together, taking with them as much
provision as they could conveniently carry, including a large quantity
of brown sugar. On a cheerless rainy evening we came to our last
encamping ground. Some pigs belonging to a Shawnee farmer were grunting
and rooting at the edge of the grove.

"I wonder how fresh pork tastes," murmured one of the party, and more
than one voice murmured in response. The fiat went forth, "That pig
must die," and a rifle was leveled forthwith at the countenance of the
plumpest porker. Just then a wagon train, with some twenty Missourians,
came out from among the trees. The marksman suspended his aim, deeming
it inexpedient under the circumstances to consummate the deed of blood.

In the morning we made our toilet as well as circumstances would permit,
and that is saying but very little. In spite of the dreary rain of
yesterday, there never was a brighter and gayer autumnal morning than
that on which we returned to the settlements. We were passing through
the country of the half-civilized Shawanoes. It was a beautiful
alternation of fertile plains and groves, whose foliage was just tinged
with the hues of autumn, while close beneath them rested the neat
log-houses of the Indian farmers. Every field and meadow bespoke the
exuberant fertility of the soil. The maize stood rustling in the wind,
matured and dry, its shining yellow ears thrust out between the gaping
husks. Squashes and enormous yellow pumpkins lay basking in the sun in
the midst of their brown and shriveled leaves. Robins and blackbirds
flew about the fences; and everything in short betokened our near
approach to home and civilization. The forests that border on the
Missouri soon rose before us, and we entered the wide tract of shrubbery
which forms their outskirts. We had passed the same road on our outward
journey in the spring, but its aspect was totally changed. The young
wild apple trees, then flushed with their fragrant blossoms, were now
hung thickly with ruddy fruit. Tall grass flourished by the roadside in
place of the tender shoots just peeping from the warm and oozy soil. The
vines were laden with dark purple grapes, and the slender twigs of the
maple, then tasseled with their clusters of small red flowers, now
hung out a gorgeous display of leaves stained by the frost with burning
crimson. On every side we saw the tokens of maturity and decay where
all had before been fresh and beautiful. We entered the forest, and
ourselves and our horses were checkered, as we passed along, by the
bright spots of sunlight that fell between the opening boughs. On either
side the dark rich masses of foliage almost excluded the sun, though
here and there its rays could find their way down, striking through the
broad leaves and lighting them with a pure transparent green. Squirrels
barked at us from the trees; coveys of young partridges ran rustling
over the leaves below, and the golden oriole, the blue jay, and the
flaming red-bird darted among the shadowy branches. We hailed these
sights and sounds of beauty by no means with an unmingled pleasure.
Many and powerful as were the attractions which drew us toward the
settlements, we looked back even at that moment with an eager longing
toward the wilderness of prairies and mountains behind us. For myself I
had suffered more that summer from illness than ever before in my life,
and yet to this hour I cannot recall those savage scenes and savage men
without a strong desire again to visit them.

At length, for the first time during about half a year, we saw the roof
of a white man's dwelling between the opening trees. A few moments after
we were riding over the miserable log bridge that leads into the center
of Westport. Westport had beheld strange scenes, but a rougher looking
troop than ours, with our worn equipments and broken-down horses, was
never seen even there. We passed the well-remembered tavern, Boone's
grocery and old Vogel's dram shop, and encamped on a meadow beyond.
Here we were soon visited by a number of people who came to purchase our
horses and equipage. This matter disposed of, we hired a wagon and drove
on to Kansas Landing. Here we were again received under the hospitable
roof of our old friend Colonel Chick, and seated on his porch we looked
down once more on the eddies of the Missouri.

Delorier made his appearance in the morning, strangely transformed by
the assistance of a hat, a coat, and a razor. His little log-house was
among the woods not far off. It seemed he had meditated giving a ball
on the occasion of his return, and had consulted Henry Chatillon as to
whether it would do to invite his bourgeois. Henry expressed his entire
conviction that we would not take it amiss, and the invitation was now
proffered, accordingly, Delorier adding as a special inducement
that Antoine Lejeunesse was to play the fiddle. We told him we would
certainly come, but before the evening arrived a steamboat, which came
down from Fort Leavenworth, prevented our being present at the expected
festivities. Delorier was on the rock at the landing place, waiting to
take leave of us.

"Adieu! mes bourgeois; adieu! adieu!" he cried out as the boat pulled
off; "when you go another time to de Rocky Montagnes I will go with you;
yes, I will go!"

He accompanied this patronizing assurance by jumping about swinging his
hat, and grinning from ear to ear. As the boat rounded a distant point,
the last object that met our eyes was Delorier still lifting his hat and
skipping about the rock. We had taken leave of Munroe and Jim Gurney at
Westport, and Henry Chatillon went down in the boat with us.

The passage to St. Louis occupied eight days, during about a third of
which we were fast aground on sand-bars. We passed the steamer Amelia
crowded with a roaring crew of disbanded volunteers, swearing, drinking,
gambling, and fighting. At length one evening we reached the crowded
levee of St. Louis. Repairing to the Planters' House, we caused diligent
search to be made for our trunks, which after some time were discovered
stowed away in the farthest corner of the storeroom. In the morning we
hardly recognized each other; a frock of broadcloth had supplanted the
frock of buckskin; well-fitted pantaloons took the place of the Indian
leggings, and polished boots were substituted for the gaudy moccasins.

After we had been several days at St. Louis we heard news of Tete Rouge.
He had contrived to reach Fort Leavenworth, where he had found the
paymaster and received his money. As a boat was just ready to start
for St. Louis, he went on board and engaged his passage. This done, he
immediately got drunk on shore, and the boat went off without him. It
was some days before another opportunity occurred, and meanwhile the
sutler's stores furnished him with abundant means of keeping up his
spirits. Another steamboat came at last, the clerk of which happened to
be a friend of his, and by the advice of some charitable person on shore
he persuaded Tete Rouge to remain on board, intending to detain him
there until the boat should leave the fort. At first Tete Rouge was
well contented with this arrangement, but on applying for a dram, the
barkeeper, at the clerk's instigation, refused to let him have it.
Finding them both inflexible in spite of his entreaties, he became
desperate and made his escape from the boat. The clerk found him after
a long search in one of the barracks; a circle of dragoons stood
contemplating him as he lay on the floor, maudlin drunk and crying
dismally. With the help of one of them the clerk pushed him on board,
and our informant, who came down in the same boat, declares that he
remained in great despondency during the whole passage. As we left St.
Louis soon after his arrival, we did not see the worthless, good-natured
little vagabond again.

On the evening before our departure Henry Chatillon came to our rooms
at the Planters' House to take leave of us. No one who met him in the
streets of St. Louis would have taken him for a hunter fresh from the
Rocky Mountains. He was very neatly and simply dressed in a suit of dark
cloth; for although, since his sixteenth year, he had scarcely been for
a month together among the abodes of men, he had a native good taste and
a sense of propriety which always led him to pay great attention to his
personal appearance. His tall athletic figure, with its easy flexible
motions, appeared to advantage in his present dress; and his fine face,
though roughened by a thousand storms, was not at all out of keeping
with it. We took leave of him with much regret; and unless his changing
features, as he shook us by the hand, belied him, the feeling on his
part was no less than on ours. Shaw had given him a horse at Westport.
My rifle, which he had always been fond of using, as it was an excellent
piece, much better than his own, is now in his hands, and perhaps
at this moment its sharp voice is startling the echoes of the Rocky
Mountains. On the next morning we left town, and after a fortnight of
railroads and steamboat we saw once more the familiar features of home.





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