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Title: Life in the Far West
Author: Ruxton, George Frederick Augustus
Language: English
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LIFE IN THE FAR WEST

by

GEORGE FREDERICK RUXTON

Author of “Travels in Mexico,” &c.



William Blackwood and Sons
Edinburgh and London.
M.DCCC.XLIX.

Originally Published in Blackwood's Magazine.

John Hughes, Printer, Edinburgh.



THE LATE

GEORGE FREDERICK RUXTON.


The London newspapers of October 1848 contained the mournful tidings
of the death, at St Louis on the Mississippi, and at the early age of
twenty-eight, of Lieutenant George Frederick Ruxton, formerly of her
Majesty's 89th regiment, the author of the following sketches.

Many men, even in the most enterprising periods of our history, have
been made the subjects of elaborate biography, with far less title to
the honour than this lamented young officer. Time was not granted him
to embody in a permanent shape a tithe of his personal experiences
and strange adventures in three quarters of the globe. Considering,
indeed, the amount of physical labour he underwent, and the extent of
the fields over which his wanderings spread, it is almost surprising
he found leisure to write so much. At the early age of seventeen, Mr
Ruxton quitted Sandhurst, to learn the practical part of a soldier's
profession in the civil wars of Spain. He obtained a commission in a
squadron of lancers then attached to the division of General Diego
Leon, and was actively engaged in several of the most important
combats of the campaign. For his marked gallantry on these occasions,
he received from Queen Isabella II., the cross of the first class of
the order of St Fernando, an honour which has seldom been awarded to
one so young. On his return from Spain he found himself gazetted to a
commission in the 89th regiment; and it was whilst serving with that
distinguished corps in Canada that he first became acquainted with
the stirring scenes of Indian life, which he has since so graphically
portrayed. His eager and enthusiastic spirit soon became wearied with
the monotony of the barrack-room; and, yielding to that impulse which
in him was irresistibly developed, he resigned his commission, and
directed his steps towards the stupendous wilds, tenanted only by the
red Indian, or by the solitary American trapper.

Those familiar with Mr Ruxton's writings cannot fail to have remarked
the singular delight with which he dwells upon the recollections of
this portion of his career, and the longing which he carried with him,
to the hour of his death, for a return to those scenes of primitive
freedom. “Although liable to an accusation of barbarism,” he writes,
“I must confess that the very happiest moments of my life have been
spent in the wilderness of the Far West; and I never recall, but with
pleasure, the remembrance of my solitary camp in the Bayou Salade,
with no friend near me more faithful than my rifle, and no companions
more sociable than my good horse and mules, or the attendant cayute
which nightly serenaded us. With a plentiful supply of dry pine-logs
on the fire, and its cheerful blaze streaming far up into the sky,
illuminating the valley far and near, and exhibiting the animals,
with well-filled bellies, standing contentedly at rest over their
picket-fire, I would sit cross-legged, enjoying the genial warmth,
and, pipe in mouth, watch the blue smoke as it curled upwards,
building castles in its vapoury wreaths, and, in the fantastic shapes
it assumed, peopling the solitude with figures of those far away.
Scarcely, however, did I ever wish to change such hours of freedom for
all the luxuries of civilised life; and, unnatural and extraordinary
as it may appear, yet such is the fascination of the life of the
mountain hunter, that I believe not one instance could be adduced of
even the most polished and civilised of men, who had once tasted the
sweets of its attendant liberty, and freedom from every worldly care,
not regretting the moment when he exchanged it for the monotonous life
of the settlements, nor sighing and sighing again once more to partake
of its pleasures and allurements.”

On his return to Europe from the Far West, Mr Ruxton, animated with
a spirit as enterprising and fearless as that of Raleigh, planned
a scheme for the exploration of Central Africa, which was thus
characterised by the president of the Royal Geographical Society, in
his anniversary address for 1845:—“To my great surprise, I recently
conversed with an ardent and accomplished youth, Lieutenant Ruxton,
late of the 89th regiment, who had formed the daring project of
traversing Africa in the parallel of the southern tropic, and has
actually started for this purpose. Preparing himself by previous
excursions on foot, in North Africa and Algeria, he sailed from
Liverpool early in December last, in the Royalist, for Ichaboe. From
that spot he was to repair to Walvish Bay, where we have already
mercantile establishments. The intrepid traveller had received from
the agents of these establishments such favourable accounts of the
nations towards the interior, as also of the nature of the climate,
that he has the most sanguine hopes of being able to penetrate to the
central region, if not of traversing it to the Portuguese colonies
of Mozambique. If this be accomplished, then indeed will Lieutenant
Ruxton have acquired for himself a permanent name among British
travellers, by making us acquainted with the nature of the axis of the
great continent of which we possess the southern extremity.”

In pursuance of this hazardous scheme, Ruxton, with a single
companion, landed on the coast of Africa, a little to the south of
Ichaboe, and commenced his journey of exploration. But it seemed as
if both nature and man had combined to baffle the execution of his
design. The course of their travel lay along a desert of moving sand,
where no water was to be found, and little herbage, save a coarse
tufted grass, and twigs of the resinous myrrh. The immediate place
of their destination was Angra Peguena, on the coast, described as
a frequented station, but which in reality was deserted. One ship
only was in the offing when the travellers arrived, and, to their
inexpressible mortification, they discovered that she was outward
bound. No trace was visible of the river or streams laid down in
the maps as falling into the sea at this point, and no resource was
left to the travellers save that of retracing their steps—a labour
for which their strength was hardly adequate. But for the opportune
assistance of a body of natives, who encountered them at the very
moment when they were sinking from fatigue and thirst, Ruxton and his
companion would have been added to the long catalogue of those whose
lives have been sacrificed in the attempt to explore the interior of
that fatal country.

The jealousy of the traders, and of the missionaries settled on the
African coast, who constantly withheld or perverted that information
which was absolutely necessary for the successful prosecution of the
journey, induced Ruxton to abandon the attempt for the present. He
made, however, several interesting excursions towards the interior,
and more especially in the country of the Bosjesmans.

Finding his own resources inadequate for the accomplishment of
his favourite project, Mr Ruxton, on his return to England, made
application for Government assistance. But though this demand was
not altogether refused, it having been referred to the Council of
the Royal Geographical Society, and favourably reported upon by that
body, so many delays interposed that Ruxton, in disgust, resolved
to withdraw from the scheme, and to abandon that field of African
research which he had already contemplated from its borders. He next
bent his steps to Mexico; and, fortunately, has presented to the world
his reminiscences of that country, in one of the most fascinating
volumes which, of late years, has issued from the press. It would,
however, appear that the African scheme, the darling project of his
life, had again recurred to him at a later period; for, in the course
of the present spring, before setting out on that journey which was
destined to be his last, the following expressions occur in one of his
letters:—

      “My movements are uncertain, for I am trying to get up a yacht
     voyage to Borneo and the Indian Archipelago; have volunteered
     to Government to explore Central Africa; and the Aborigines
     Protection Society wish me to go out to Canada to organise the
     Indian tribes; whilst, for my own part and inclination, I wish to
     go to all parts of the world at once.”

As regards the volume to which this notice serves as Preface, the
editor does not hesitate to express a very high opinion of its merits.
Written by a man untrained to literature, and whose life, from
boy-hood upwards, was passed in the field and on the road, in military
adventure and travel, its style is yet often as remarkable for graphic
terseness and vigour, as its substance every where is for great
novelty and originality. The narrative of “Life in the Far West” was
first offered for insertion in _Blackwood's Magazine_ in the spring
of 1848, when the greater portion of the manuscript was sent, and the
remainder shortly followed. During its publication in that periodical,
the wildness of the adventures related excited suspicions in certain
quarters as to their actual truth and fidelity. It may interest the
reader to know that the scenes described are pictures from life,
the results of the author's personal experience. The following are
extracts from letters addressed by him, in the course of last summer,
to the conductors of the Magazine above named:—

     “I have brought out a few more softening traits in the characters
     of the mountaineers—but not at the sacrifice of truth—for some of
     them have their good points; which, as they are rarely allowed
     to rise to the surface, must be laid hold of at once before they
     sink again. Killbuck—that 'old hos' _par exemple_, was really
     pretty much of a gentleman, as was La Bonté. Bill Williams,
     another 'hard case,' and Rube Herring, were 'some' too.

     “The scene where La Bonté joins the Chase family is so far true,
     that he did make a sudden appearance; but, in reality, a day
     before the Indian attack. The Chases (and I wish I had not given
     the proper name[1]) did start for the Platte alone, and were
     stampedoed upon the waters of the Platte.

     “The Mexican fandango _is true to the letter_. It does seem
     difficult to understand how they contrived to keep their
     knives out of the hump-ribs of the mountaineers; but how
     can you account for the fact, that, the other day, 4000 Mexicans,
     with 13 pieces of artillery, behind strong entrenchments and
     two lines of parapets, were routed by 900 raw Missourians; 300
     killed, as many more wounded, all their artillery captured, as
     well as several hundred prisoners; and that not one American was
     killed in the affair? _This is positive fact._

     “I myself, with three trappers, cleared a fandango at Taos, armed
     only with bowie-knives—some score Mexicans, at least, being in
     the room.

     “With regard to the incidents of Indian attacks, starvation,
     cannibalism, &c., I have invented not one out of my own head.
     They are all matters of history in the mountains; but I have, no
     doubt, jumbled the _dramatis personæ_ one with another, and may
     have committed anachronisms in the order of their occurrence.”

Again he wrote as follows:—

     “I think it would be as well to correct a misapprehension as to
     the truth or fiction of the paper. It is no _fiction_. There is
     no incident in it which has not actually occurred, nor one
     character who is not well known in the Rocky Mountains, with
     the exception of two whose names are changed—the originals of
     these being, however, equally well known with the others.”

His last letter, written just before his departure from England, a few
weeks previously to his death, will hardly be read by any one who ever
knew the writer, without a tear of sympathy for the sad fate of this
fine young man, dying miserably in a strange land, before he had well
commenced the hazardous journey whose excitement and dangers he so
joyously anticipated:—

     “As you say, human nature can't go on feeding on civilised
     fixings in this 'big village;' and this child has felt like
     going West for many a month, being half froze for buffler meat
     and mountain doins. My route takes me _viâ_ New York, the Lakes,
     and St Louis, to Fort Leavenworth, or Independence on the Indian
     frontier. Thence packing my 'possibles' on a mule, and mounting a
     buffalo horse (Panchito, if he is alive), I strike the
     Santa Fé trail to the Arkansa, away up that river to the
     mountains, winter in the Bayou Salade, where Killbuck and La
     Bonté joined the Yutes, cross the mountains next spring to
     Great Salt Lake—and that's far enough to look forward to—always
     supposing my hair is not lifted by Comanche or Pawnee on the
     scalping route of the Coon Creeks and Pawnee Fork.”

Poor fellow! he spoke lightly, in the buoyancy of youth and a
confident spirit, of the fate he little thought to meet, but which
too surely overtook him—not indeed by Indian blade, but by the no
less deadly stroke of disease. Another motive, besides that love of
rambling and adventure, which, once conceived and indulged, is so
difficult to eradicate, impelled him across the Atlantic. He had for
some time been out of health at intervals, and he thought the air
of his beloved prairies would be efficacious to work a cure. In a
letter to a friend, in the month of May last, he thus referred to the
probable origin of the evil:—

      “I have been confined to my room for many days, from the
     effects of an accident I met with in
     the Rocky Mountains, having been spilt from the bare back of a
     mule, and falling on the sharp picket of an Indian lodge on the
     small of my back. I fear I injured my spine, for I have never
     felt altogether the thing since, and shortly after I saw you,
     the symptoms became rather ugly. However, I am now getting round
     again.”

His medical advisers shared his opinion that he had sustained internal
injury from this ugly fall; and it is not improbable that it was
the remote, but real cause of his dissolution. From whatsoever this
ensued, it will be a source of deep and lasting regret to all who
ever enjoyed opportunities of appreciating the high and sterling
qualities of George Frederick Ruxton. Few men, so prepossessing on
first acquaintance, gained so much by being better known. With great
natural abilities and the most dauntless bravery, he united a modesty
and gentleness peculiarly pleasing. Had he lived, and resisted his
friends' repeated solicitations to abandon a roving life, and settle
down in England, there can be little doubt that he would have made
his name eminent on the list of those daring and persevering men,
whose travels in distant and dangerous lands have accumulated for
England, and for the world, so rich a store of scientific and general
information. And, although the few words it has been thought right
and becoming here to devote to his memory, will doubtless be more
particularly welcome to his personal friends, we are persuaded that
none will peruse without interest this brief tribute to the merits of
a gallant soldier, and accomplished English gentleman.



LIFE IN THE FAR WEST.



CHAPTER I.


Away to the head waters of the Platte, where several small streams
run into the south fork of that river, and head in the broken ridges
of the “Divide” which separates the valleys of the Platte and
Arkansa, were camped a band of trappers on a creek called Bijou. It
was the month of October, when the early frosts of the coming winter
had crisped and dyed with sober brown the leaves of the cherry and
quaking ash belting the brooks; and the ridges and peaks of the Rocky
Mountains were already covered with a glittering mantle of snow,
sparkling in the still powerful rays of the autumn sun.

The camp had all the appearance of permanency; for not only did it
comprise one or two unusually comfortable shanties, but the numerous
stages on which huge stripes of buffalo meat were hanging in process
of cure, showed that the party had settled themselves here in order to
lay in a store of provisions, or, as it is termed in the language of
the mountains, “to make meat.” Round the camp fed twelve or fifteen
mules and horses, their fore-legs confined by hobbles of raw hide;
and, guarding these animals, two men paced backwards and forwards,
driving in the stragglers, ascending ever and anon the bluffs which
overhung the river, and leaning on their long rifles, whilst they
swept with their eyes the surrounding prairie. Three or four fires
burned in the encampment, at some of which Indian women carefully
tended sundry steaming pots; whilst round one, which was in the
centre of it, four or five stalwart hunters, clad in buckskin, sat
cross-legged, pipe in mouth.

They were a trapping party from the north fork of Platte, on their
way to wintering-ground in the more southern valley of the Arkansa;
some, indeed, meditating a more extended trip, even to the distant
settlements of New Mexico, the paradise of mountaineers. The elder of
the company was a tall gaunt man, with a face browned by twenty years'
exposure to the extreme climate of the mountains; his long black hair,
as yet scarcely tinged with grey, hanging almost to his shoulders, but
his cheeks and chin clean shaven, after the fashion of the mountain
men. His dress was the usual hunting-frock of buckskin, with long
fringes down the seams, with pantaloons similarly ornamented, and
moccasins of Indian make. Whilst his companions puffed their pipes in
silence, he narrated a few of his former experiences of western life;
and whilst the buffalo “hump-ribs” and “tender loin” are singing away
in the pot, preparing for the hunters' supper, we will note down the
yarn as it spins from his lips, giving it in the language spoken in
the “far west:”—

“'Twas about 'calf-time,' maybe a little later, and not a hunderd year
ago, by a long chalk, that the biggest kind of rendezvous was held
'to' Independence, a mighty handsome little location away up on old
Missoura. A pretty smart lot of boys was camp'd thar, about a quarter
from the town, and the way the whisky flowed that time was 'some'
now, _I_ can tell you. Thar was old Sam Owins—him as got 'rubbed
out'[2] by the Spaniards at Sacramenty, or Chihuahuy, this hos doesn't
know which, but he 'went under'[3] any how. Well, Sam had his train
along, ready to hitch up for the Mexican country—twenty thunderin big
Pittsburg waggons; and the way _his_ Santa Fé boys took in the liquor
beat all—eh, Bill?”

“_Well_, it did.”

“Bill Bent—his boys camped the other side the trail, and they was all
mountain men, wagh!—and Bill Williams, and Bill Tharpe (the Pawnees
took his hair on Pawnee Fork last spring): three Bills, and them
three's all 'gone under.' Surely Hatcher went out that time; and
wasn't Bill Garey along, too? Didn't him and Chabonard sit in camp for
twenty hours at a deck of Euker? Them was Bent's Indian traders up on
Arkansa. Poor Bill Bent! them Spaniards made meat of him. He lost his
topknot to Taos. A 'clever' man was Bill Bent as _I_ ever know'd trade
a robe or 'throw' a bufler in his tracks. Old St Vrain could knock the
hind-sight off him though, when it came to shootin, and old silver
heels spoke true, she did: 'plum-center' she was, eh?”

“_Well_, she wasn't nothin else.”

“The Greasers[4] payed for Bent's scalp, they tell me. Old St Vrain
went out of Santa Fé with a company of mountain men, and the way they
made 'em sing out was 'slick as shootin'. He 'counted a coup,' did
St Vrain. He throwed a Pueblo as had on poor Bent's shirt. I guess
he tickled that niggur's hump-ribs. Fort William[5] aint the lodge
it was, an' never will be agin, now he's gone under; but St Vrain's
'pretty much of a gentleman,' too; if he aint, I'll be dog-gone, eh,
Bill?”

“He is _so-o_.”

“Chavez had his waggons along. He was only a Spaniard any how, and
some of his teamsters put a ball into him his next trip, and made a
raise of _his_ dollars, wagh! Uncle Sam hung 'em for it, I heard, but
can't b'lieve it, nohow. If them Spaniards wasn't born for shootin',
why was beaver made? You was with us that spree, Jemmy?”

“No _sirre-e_; I went out when Spiers lost his animals on Cimmaron: a
hunderd and forty mules and oxen was froze that night, wagh!”

“Surely Black Harris was thar; and the darndest liar was Black
Harris—for lies tumbled out of his mouth like boudins out of a
bufler's stomach. He was the child as saw the putrefied forest in the
Black Hills. Black Harris come in from Laramie; he'd been trapping
three year an' more on Platte and the 'other side;' and, when he got
into Liberty, he fixed himself right off like a Saint Louiy dandy.
Well, he sat to dinner one day in the tavern, and a lady says to him:—

“'Well, Mister Harris, I hear you're a great travler.'

“'Travler, marm,' says Black Harris, 'this niggur's no travler; I ar'
a trapper, marm, a mountain-man, wagh!'

“'Well, Mister Harris, trappers are great travlers, and you goes over
a sight of ground in your perishinations, I'll be bound to say.'

“'A sight, marm, this coon's gone over, if that's the way your 'stick
floats.'[6] I've trapped beaver on Platte and Arkansa, and away up on
Missoura and Yaller Stone; I've trapped on Columbia, on Lewis Fork,
and Green River; I've trapped, marm, on Grand River and the Heely
(Gila). I've fout the 'Blackfoot' (and d——d bad Injuns they ar); I've
'raised the hair'[7] of more _than one_ Apach, and made a Rapaho
'come' afore now; I've trapped in heav'n, in airth, and h—; and scalp
my old head, marm, but I've seen a putrefied forest.'

“'La, Mister Harris, a what?'

“'A putrefied forest, marm, as sure as my rifle's got hind-sights,
and _she_ shoots center. I was out on the Black Hills, Bill Sublette
knows the time—the year it rained fire—and every body knows when that
was. If thar wasn't cold doins about that time, this child wouldn't
say so. The snow was about fifty foot deep, and the bufler lay dead
on the ground like bees after a beein'; not whar we was tho', for
_thar_ was no bufler, and no meat, and me and my band had been livin'
on our mocassins (leastwise the parflesh[8]), for six weeks; and poor
doins that feedin' is, marm, as you'll never know. One day we crossed
a 'cañon' and over a 'divide,' and got into a peraira, whar was green
grass, and green trees, and green leaves on the trees, and birds
singing in the green leaves, and this in Febrary, wagh! Our animals
was like to die when they see the green grass, and we all sung out,
'hurraw for summer doins.'

“'Hyar goes for meat,' says I, and I jest ups old Ginger at one of
them singing birds, and down come the crittur elegant; its darned head
spinning away from the body, but never stops singing, and when I takes
up the meat, I finds it stone, wagh! 'Hyar's damp powder and no fire
to dry it,' I says, quite skeared.

“'Fire be dogged,' says old Rube. 'Hyar's a hos as 'll make fire
come;' and with that he takes his axe and lets drive at a cotton
wood. Schr-u-k—goes the axe agin the tree, and out comes a bit of the
blade as big as my hand. We looks at the animals, and thar they stood
shaking over the grass, which I'm dog-gone if it wasn't stone, too.
Young Sublette comes up, and he'd been clerking down to the fort on
Platte, so he know'd something. He looks and looks, and scrapes the
trees with his butcher knife, and snaps the grass like pipe stems, and
breaks the leaves a-snappin' like Californy shells.'

“'What's all this, boy?' I asks.

“'Putrefactions,' says he, looking smart, 'putrefactions, or I'm a
niggur.'

“'La, Mister Harris,' says the lady, 'putrefactions! why, did the
leaves, and the trees, and the grass smell badly?'

“'Smell badly, marm!' says Black Harris, 'would a skunk stink if he
was froze to stone? No, marm, this child didn't know what putrefaction
was, and young Sublette's varsion wouldn't 'shine' nohow, so I chips
a piece out of a tree and puts it in my trap-sack, and carries it in
safe to Laramie. Well, old Captain Stewart, (a clever man was that,
though he was an Englishman), he comes along next spring, and a Dutch
doctor chap was along too. I shows him the piece I chipped out of
the tree, and he called it a putrefaction too; and so, marm, if that
wasn't a putrefied peraira, what was it? For this hos doesn't know,
and _he_ knows 'fat cow' from 'poor bull,' anyhow.'

“Well, old Black Harris is gone under too, I believe. He went to the
'Parks' trapping with a Vide Poche Frenchman, who shot him for his
bacca and traps. Darn them Frenchmen, they're no account any way you
lays your sight. (Any bacca in your bag, Bill? this beaver feels like
chawing.)

“Well, any how, thar was the camp, and they was goin to put out the
next morning; and the last as come out of Independence was that ar
Englishman. He'd a nor-west[9] capote on, and a two-shoot gun rifled.
Well, them English are darned fools; they can't fix a rifle any
ways; but that one did shoot 'some;' leastwise _he_ made it throw
plum-center. He made the bufler 'come,' _he_ did, and fout well at
Pawnee Fork too. What was his name? All the boys called him Cap'en,
and he got his fixings from old Choteau; but what he wanted out thar
in the mountains, I never jest rightly know'd. He was no trader, nor
a trapper, and flung about his dollars right smart. Thar was old grit
in him, too, and a hair of the black b'ar at that.[10] They say he
took the bark off the Shians when he cleared out of the village with
old Beaver Tail's squaw. He'd been on Yaller Stone afore that: Leclerc
know'd him in the Blackfoot, and up in the Chippeway country; and
he had the best powder as ever I flashed through life, and his gun
was handsome, that's a fact. Them thar locks was grand; and old Jake
Hawken's nephey, (him as trapped on Heeley that time), told me, the
other day, as he saw an English gun on Arkansa last winter as beat all
off hand.

“Nigh upon two hundred dollars I had in my possibles, when I went to
that camp to see the boys afore they put out; and you know, Bill, as I
sat to 'Euker' and 'seven up'[11] till every cent was gone.

“'Take back twenty, old coon,' says Big John.

“'H—'s full of such takes back,' says I; and I puts back to town and
fetches the rifle and the old mule, puts my traps into the sack, gets
credit for a couple of pounds of powder at Owin's store, and hyar I
ar on Bijou, with half a pack of beaver, and running meat yet, old
hos: so put a log on, and let's have a smoke.

“Hurraw, Jake, old coon, bear a hand, and let the squaw put them tails
in the pot; for sun's down, and we'll have to put out pretty early to
reach 'Black Tail' by this time to-morrow. Who's fust guard, boys?
them cussed 'Rapahos' will be after the animals to-night, or I'm no
judge of Injun sign. How many did you see, Maurice?”

“Enfant de Gârce, me see bout honderd, when I pass Squirrel Creek, one
dam war-party, parceque, they no hosses, and have de lariats for steal
des animaux. May be de Yutas in Bayou Salade.”

“We'll be having trouble to-night, I'm thinking, if the devils are
about. Whose band was it, Maurice?”

“Slim-Face—I see him ver close—is out; mais I think it White Wolf's.”

“White Wolf, maybe, will lose his hair if he and his band knock round
here too often. That Injun put me afoot when we was out on 'Sandy'
that fall. This niggur owes him one, any how.”

“H—'s full of White Wolves: go ahead, and roll out some of your doins
across the plains that time.”

“You seed sights that spree, eh, boy?”

“_Well_, we did. Some of em got their flints fixed this side of Pawnee
Fork, and a heap of mule-meat went wolfing. Just by Little Arkansa
we saw the first Injun. Me and young Somes was ahead for meat, and I
had hobbled the old mule and was 'approaching' some goats,[12] when
I see the critturs turn back their heads and jump right away for me.
'Hurraw, Dick!' I shouts, 'hyars brown-skin acomin,' and off I makes
for the mule. The young greenhorn sees the goats runnin up to him, and
not being up to Injun ways, blazes at the first and knocks him over.
Jest then seven darned red heads top the bluff, and seven Pawnees come
a-screechin upon us. I cuts the hobbles and jumps on the mule, and,
when I looks back, there was Dick Somes ramming a ball down his gun
like mad, and the Injuns flinging their arrows at him pretty smart,
I tell you. 'Hurraw, Dick, mind your hair,' and I ups old Greaser
and let one Injun 'have it,' as was going plum into the boy with his
lance. _He_ turned on his back handsome, and Dick gets the ball down
at last, blazes away, and drops another. Then we charged on em, and
they clears off like runnin cows; and I takes the hair off the heads
of the two we made meat of; and I do b'lieve thar's some of them
scalps on my old leggings yet.

“Well, Dick was as full of arrows as a porky-pine: one was sticking
right through his cheek, one in his meat-bag, and two more 'bout his
hump-ribs. I tuk 'em all out slick, and away we go to camp, (for they
was jost a-campin' when we went ahead) and carryin' the goat too.
Thar' was a hurroo when we rode in with the scalps at the end of our
guns. 'Injuns! Injuns!' was the cry from the greenhorns; 'we'll be
'tacked to-night, that's certain.'

“'Tacked be ——' says old Bill; 'aint we men too, and white at that?
Look to your guns, boys; send out a strong hos'-guard with the
animals, and keep your eyes skinned.'

“Well, as soon as the animals were unhitched from the waggons, the
guvner sends out a strong guard, seven boys, and old hands at that. It
was pretty nigh upon sundown, and Bill had just sung out to 'corral.'
The boys were drivin' in the animals, and we were all standin' round
to get 'em in slick, when, 'howgh-owgh-owgh-owgh,' we hears right
behind the bluff, and 'bout a minute and a perfect crowd of Injuns
gallops down upon the animals. Wagh! war'nt thar hoopin'! We jump
for the guns, but before we get to the fires, the Injuns were among
the cavayard. I saw Ned Collyer and his brother, who were in the
hos'-guard, let drive at 'em; but twenty Pawnees were round 'em before
the smoke cleared from their rifles, and when the crowd broke the two
boys were on the ground, and their hair gone. Well, that ar Englishman
just saved the cavayard. He had his horse, a regular buffalo-runner,
picketed round the fire quite handy, and as soon as he sees the fix,
he jumps upon her and rides right into the thick of the mules, and
passes through 'em, firing his two-shoot gun at the Injuns, and, by
Gor, he made two come. The mules, which was a snortin' with funk and
running before the Injuns, as soon as they see the Englisman's mare
(mules 'ill go to h— after a horse, you all know), followed her right
into the corral, and thar they was safe. Fifty Pawnees come screechin'
after 'em, but we was ready that time, and the way we throw'd 'em
was something handsome, I tell you. But three of the hos'-guard got
skeared—leastwise their mules did, and carried 'em off into the
peraira, and the Injuns having enough of _us_, dashed after 'em right
away. Them poor devils looked back miserable now, with about a hundred
red varmints tearin' after their hair, and whooping like mad. Young
Jem Bulcher was the last; and when he seed it was no use, and his time
was nigh, he throw'd himself off the mule, and standing as upright
as a hickory wiping stick, he waves his hand to us, and blazes away
at the first Injun as come up, and dropped him slick; but the moment
after, you may guess, _he_ died.

“We could do nothin', for, before our guns were loaded, all three
were dead and their scalps gone. Five of our boys got rubbed out that
time, and seven Injuns lay wolf's meat, while a many more went away
gut-shot, I'll lay. How'sever, five of us went under, and the Pawnees
made a raise of a dozen mules, wagh!”

Thus far, in his own words, we have accompanied the old hunter in
his tale; and probably he would have taken us, by the time that the
Squaw Chilipat had pronounced the beaver tails cooked, safely across
the grand prairies—fording Cotton Wood, Turkey Creek, Little Arkansa,
Walnut Creek, and Pawnee Fork—passed the fireless route of the Coon
Creeks, through a sea of fat buffalo meat, without fuel to cook it;
have struck the big river, and, leaving at the “Crossing” the waggons
destined for Santa Fé, have trailed us up the Arkansa to Bent's Fort;
thence up Boiling Spring, across the divide over to the southern fork
of the Platte, away up to the Black Hills, and finally camped us, with
hair still preserved, in the beaver-abounding valleys of the Sweet
Water, and Câche la Poudre, under the rugged shadow of the Wind River
mountains; if it had not so happened, at this juncture, as all our
mountaineers sat cross-legged round the fire, pipe in mouth, and with
Indian gravity listened to the yarn of the old trapper, interrupting
him only with an occasional wagh! or with the exclamations of some
participator in the events then under narration, who would every now
and then put in a corroborative,—“This child remembers that fix,” or,
“hyar's a niggur lifted hair that spree,” &c.—that a whizzing noise
was heard in the air, followed by a sharp but suppressed cry from one
of the hunters.

In an instant the mountaineers had sprung from their seats, and,
seizing the ever-ready rifle, each one had thrown himself on the
ground a few paces beyond the light of the fire (for it was now
night-fall;) but not a word escaped them, as, lying close, with
their keen eyes directed towards the gloom of the thicket, near
which the camp was placed, with rifles cocked, they waited a renewal
of the attack. Presently the leader of the band, no other than
Killbuck, who had so lately been recounting some of his experiences
across the plains, and than whom no more crafty woodsman or more
expert trapper ever tracked a deer or grained a beaverskin, raised
his tall, leather-clad form, and, placing his hand over his mouth,
made the prairie ring with the wild protracted note of an Indian
war-whoop. This was instantly repeated from the direction where the
animals belonging to the camp were grazing, under the charge of
the horse-guard. Three shrill whoops answered the warning of the
leader, and showed that the guard was on the alert, and understood
the signal. However, with the manifestation of their presence, the
Indians appeared to be satisfied; or, what is more probable, the
act of aggression had been committed by some daring young warrior,
who, being out on his first expedition, desired to strike the first
_coup_, and thus signalise himself at the outset of the campaign.
After waiting some few minutes, expecting a renewal of the attack,
the mountaineers in a body rose from the ground and made towards the
animals, with which they presently returned to the camp; and, after
carefully hobbling and securing them to pickets firmly driven into the
ground, mounting an additional guard, and examining the neighbouring
thicket, they once more assembled round the fire, relit their pipes,
and puffed away the cheering weed as composedly as if no such being as
a Redskin, thirsting for their lives, was within a thousand miles of
their perilous encampment.

“If ever thar was bad Injuns on these plains,” at last growled
Killbuck, biting hard the pipe-stem between his teeth, “it's these
Rapahos, and the meanest kind at that.”

“Can't beat the Blackfeet, any how,” chimed in one La Bonté, from
the Yellow Stone country, a fine handsome specimen of a mountaineer.
“However, one of you quit this arrow out of my hump,” he continued,
bending forwards to the fire, and exhibiting an arrow sticking out
under his right shoulder-blade, and a stream of blood trickling down
his buckskin coat from the wound.

This his nearest neighbour essayed to do; but finding, after a tug,
that it “would not come,” expressed his opinion that the offending
weapon would have to be “butchered” out. This was accordingly effected
with the ready blade of a scalp-knife; and a handful of beaver-fur
being placed on the wound, and secured by a strap of buckskin round
the body, the wounded man donned his hunting-shirt once more, and
coolly set about lighting his pipe, his rifle lying across his lap,
cocked and ready for use.

It was now near midnight—dark and misty; and the clouds, rolling away
to the eastward from the lofty ridges of the Rocky Mountains, were
gradually obscuring the dim starlight. As the lighter vapours faded
from the mountains, a thick black cloud succeeded them, and settled
over the loftier peaks of the chain, faintly visible through the gloom
of night, whilst a mass of fleecy scud soon overspread the whole
sky. A hollow moaning sound crept through the valley, and the upper
branches of the cotton woods, with their withered leaves, began to
rustle with the first breath of the coming storm. Huge drops of rain
fell at intervals, hissing as they dropped into the blazing fires, and
pattering on the skins with which the hunters hurriedly covered the
exposed baggage. The mules near the camp cropped the grass with quick
and greedy bites round the circuit of their pickets, as if conscious
that the storm would soon prevent their feeding, and already humped
their backs as the chilling rain fell upon their flanks. The prairie
wolves crept closer to the camp, and in the confusion that ensued from
the hurry of the trappers to cover the perishable portions of their
equipment, contrived more than once to dart off with a piece of meat,
when their peculiar and mournful chiding would be heard as they fought
for the possession of the ravished morsel.

When every thing was duly protected, the men set to work to spread
their beds, those who had not troubled themselves to erect a shelter
getting under the lee of the piles of packs and saddles; whilst
Killbuck, disdaining even such care of his carcass, threw his buffalo
robe on the bare ground, declaring his intention to “take” what was
coming at all hazards, and “any how.” Selecting a high spot, he drew
his knife and proceeded to cut drains round it, to prevent the water
running into him as he lay; then taking a single robe he carefully
spread it, placing under the end farthest from the fire a large stone
brought from the creek. Having satisfactorily adjusted this pillow,
he added another robe to the one already laid, and placed over all a
Navajo blanket, supposed to be impervious to rain. Then he divested
himself of his pouch and powder-horn, which, with his rifle, he placed
inside his bed, and quickly covered up lest the wet should reach them.
Having performed these operations to his satisfaction, he lighted
his pipe by the hissing embers of the half-extinguished fire (for by
this time the rain poured in torrents), and went the rounds of the
picketed animals, cautioning the guard round the camp to keep their
“eyes skinned, for there would be 'powder burned' before morning.”
Then returning to the fire, and kicking with his mocassined foot the
slumbering ashes, he squatted down before it, and thus soliloquised:—

“Thirty year have I been knocking about these mountains from
Missoura's head as far sothe as the starving Gila. I've trapped a
'heap,'[13] and many a hundred pack of beaver I've traded in my time,
wagh! What has come of it, and whar's the dollars as ought to be in
my possibles? Whar's the ind of this, I say? Is a man to be hunted by
Injuns all his days? Many's the time I've said I'd strike for Taos,
and trap a squaw, for this child's getting old, and feels like wanting
a woman's face about his lodge for the balance of his days; but when
it comes to caching of the old traps, I've the smallest kind of heart,
I have. Certain, the old-state comes across my mind now and again,
but who's thar to remember my old body? But them diggings gets too
over crowded now-a-days, and its hard to fetch breath amongst them
big bands of corncrackers to Missoura. Beside, it goes against natur
to leave bufler meat and feed on hog; and them white gals are too
much like picturs, and a deal too 'fofarraw' (fanfaron). No; darn the
settlements, I say. It won't shine, and whar's the dollars? Howsever,
beaver's 'bound to rise;' human natur can't go on selling beaver a
dollar a pound; no, no, that arn't a going to shine much longer, I
know. Them was the times when this child first went to the mountains:
six dollars the plew—old 'un or kitten. Wagh! but its bound to rise,
I says agin; and hyar's a coon knows whar to lay his hand on a dozen
pack right handy, and then he'll take the Taos trail, wagh!”

Thus soliloquising, Killbuck knocked the ashes from his pipe, and
placed it in the gaily ornamented case that hung round his neck,
drew his knife-belt a couple of holes tighter, resumed his pouch and
powder-horn, took his rifle, which he carefully covered with the folds
of his Navajo blanket, and striding into the darkness, cautiously
reconnoitred the vicinity of the camp. When he returned to the fire he
sat himself down as before, but this time with his rifle across his
lap; and at intervals his keen gray eye glanced piercingly around,
particularly towards an old, weather-beaten, and grizzled mule, who
now, old stager as she was, having filled her belly, stood lazily over
her picket pin, with her head bent down and her long ears flapping
over her face, her limbs gathered under her, and her back arched to
throw off the rain, tottering from side to side as she rested and
slept.

“Yep, old gal!” cried Killbuck to the animal, at the same time picking
a piece of burnt wood from the fire and throwing it at her, at which
the mule gathered itself up and cocked her ears as she recognised her
master's voice. “Yep, old gal! and keep your nose open; thar's brown
skin about, I'm thinkin', and maybe you'll get 'roped' (lasso'd) by
a Rapaho afore mornin.” Again the old trapper settled himself before
the fire; and soon his head began to nod, as drowsiness stole over
him. Already he was in the land of dreams; revelling amongst bands of
“fat cow,” or hunting along a stream well peopled with beaver; with
no Indian “sign” to disturb him, and the merry rendezvous in close
perspective, and his peltry selling briskly at six dollars the plew,
and galore of alcohol to ratify the trade. Or, perhaps, threading
the back trail of his memory, he passed rapidly through the perilous
vicissitudes of his hard, hard life—starving one day, revelling in
abundance the next; now beset by whooping savages thirsting for
his blood, baying his enemies like the hunted deer, but with the
unflinching courage of a man; now, all care thrown aside, secure and
forgetful of the past, a welcome guest in the hospitable trading fort;
or back, as the trail gets fainter, to his childhood's home in the
brown forests of old Kentuck, tended and cared for—his only thought to
enjoy the homminy and johnny cakes of his thrifty mother. Once more,
in warm and well remembered homespun, he sits on the snake fence round
the old clearing, and munching his hoe-cake at set of sun, listens to
the mournful note of the whip-poor-will, or the harsh cry of the noisy
catbird, or watches the agile gambols of the squirrels as they chase
each other, chattering the while, from branch to branch of the lofty
tamarisks, wondering how long it will be before he will be able to
lift his father's heavy rifle, and use it against the tempting game.
Sleep, however, sat lightly on the eyes of the wary mountaineer, and
a snort from the old mule in an instant stretched his every nerve.
Without a movement of his body, his keen eye fixed itself upon the
mule, which now stood with head bent round, and eyes and ears pointed
in one direction, snuffing the night air and snorting with apparent
fear. A low sound from the wakeful hunter roused the others from their
sleep; and raising their bodies from their well-soaked beds, a single
word apprised them of their danger.

“Injuns!”

Scarcely was the word out of Killbuck's lips, when, above the howling
of the furious wind, and the pattering of the rain, a hundred savage
yells broke suddenly upon their ears from all directions round the
camp; a score of rifle-shots rattled from the thicket, and a cloud of
arrows whistled through the air, whilst a crowd of Indians charged
upon the picketed animals. “Owgh, owgh—owgh—owgh—g-h-h.” “A foot, by
gor!” shouted Killbuck, “and the old mule gone at that. On 'em, boys,
for old Kentuck!” And he rushed towards his mule, which jumped and
snorted mad with fright, as a naked Indian strove to fasten a lariat
round her nose, having already cut the rope which fastened her to the
picket-pin.

“Quit that, you cussed devil!” roared the trapper, as he jumped upon
the savage, and without raising his rifle to his shoulder, made a
deliberate thrust with the muzzle at his naked breast, striking him
full, and at the same time pulling the trigger, actually driving the
Indian two paces backwards with the shock, when he fell in a heap, and
dead. But at the same moment, an Indian, sweeping his club round his
head, brought it with fatal force down upon Killbuck; for a moment the
hunter staggered, threw out his arms wildly into the air, and fell
headlong to the ground.

“Owgh! owgh, owgh-h-h!” cried the Rapaho, and, striding over the
prostrate body, he seized with his left hand the middle lock of the
trapper's long hair, and drew his knife round the head to separate the
scalp from the skull. As he bent over to his work, the trapper named
La Bonté saw his companion's peril, rushed quick as thought at the
Indian, and buried his knife to the hilt between his shoulders. With
a gasping shudder the Rapaho fell dead upon the prostrate body of his
foe.

The attack, however, lasted but a few seconds. The dash at the animals
had been entirely successful, and, driving them before them, with
loud cries, the Indians disappeared quickly in the darkness. Without
waiting for daylight, two of the three trappers who alone were to be
seen, and who had been within the shanties at the time of attack,
without a moment's delay commenced packing two horses, which having
been fastened to the shanties had escaped the Indians, and placing
their squaws upon them, showering curses and imprecations on their
enemies, left the camp, fearful of another onset, and resolved to
retreat and câche themselves until the danger was over. Not so La
Bonté, who, stout and true, had done his best in the fight, and now
sought the body of his old comrade, from which, before he could
examine the wounds, he had first to remove the corpse of the Indian he
had slain. Killbuck still breathed. He had been stunned; but, revived
by the cold rain beating upon his face, he soon opened his eyes, and
recognised his trusty friend, who, sitting down, lifted his head into
his lap, and wiped away the blood that streamed from the wounded scalp.

“Is the top-knot gone, boy?” asked Killbuck; “for my head feels
queersome, I tell you.”

“Thar's the Injun as felt like lifting it,” answered the other,
kicking the dead body with his foot.

“Wagh! boy, you've struck a coup; so scalp the nigger right off, and
then fetch me a drink.”

The morning broke clear and cold. With the exception of a light cloud
which hung over Pike's Peak, the sky was spotless; and a perfect calm
had succeeded the boisterous storm of the previous night. The creek
was swollen and turbid with the rains; and as La Bonté proceeded a
little distance down the bank to find a passage to the water, he
suddenly stopped short, and an involuntary cry escaped him. Within a
few feet of the bank lay the body of one of his companions, who had
formed the guard at the time of the Indians' attack. It was lying on
the face, pierced through the chest with an arrow which was buried
to the very feathers, and the scalp torn from the bloody skull.
Beyond, but all within a hundred yards, lay the three others, dead,
and similarly mutilated. So certain had been the aim, and so close the
enemy, that each had died without a struggle, and consequently had
been unable to alarm the camp. La Bonté, with a glance at the bank,
saw at once that the wily Indians had crept along the creek, the noise
of the storm facilitating their approach undiscovered, and crawling up
the bank, had watched their opportunity to shoot simultaneously the
four hunters on guard.

Returning to Killbuck, he apprised him of the melancholy fate of their
companions, and held a council of war as to their proceedings. The old
hunter's mind was soon made up. “First,” said he, “I get back my old
mule; she's carried me and my traps these twelve years, and I aint
a goin' to lose her yet. Second, I feel like taking hair, and some
Rapahos has to 'go under' for this night's work. Third, We have got to
câche the beaver. Fourth, We take the Injun trail, wharever it leads.”

No more daring mountaineer than La Bonté ever trapped a beaver, and no
counsel could have more exactly tallied with his own inclination than
the law laid down by old Killbuck.

“Agreed,” was his answer, and forthwith he set about forming a câche.
In this instance they had not sufficient time to construct a regular
one, so they contented themselves with securing their packs of beaver
in buffalo robes, and tying them in the forks of several cotton-woods,
under which the camp had been made. This done, they lit a fire, and
cooked some buffalo meat; and, whilst smoking a pipe, carefully
cleaned their rifles, and filled their horns and pouches with good
store of ammunition.

A prominent feature in the character of the hunters of the far west is
their quick determination and resolve in cases of extreme difficulty
and peril, and their fixedness of purpose, when any plan of operations
has been laid requiring bold and instant action in carrying out. It is
here that they so infinitely surpass the savage Indian, in bringing
to a successful issue their numerous hostile expeditions against
the natural foe of the white man in the wild and barbarous regions
of the west. Ready to resolve as they are prompt to execute, and
combining far greater dash and daring with equal subtlety and caution,
they possess great advantage over the vacillating Indian, whose
superstitious mind in a great degree paralyses the physical energy of
his active body; and who, by waiting for propitious signs and seasons
before he undertakes an enterprise, often loses the opportunity by
which his white and more civilised enemy knows so well how to profit.

Killbuck and La Bonté were no exceptions to this characteristic rule;
and before the sun was a hand's-breadth above the eastern horizon,
the two hunters were running on the trail of the victorious Indians.
Striking from the creek where the night attack was made, they crossed
to another known as Kioway, running parallel to Bijou, a few hours'
journey westward, and likewise heading in the “divide.” Following this
to its forks, they struck into the upland prairies lying at the foot
of the mountains; and crossing to the numerous water-courses which
feed the creek called “Vermilion” or “Cherry,” they pursued the trail
over the mountain-spurs until it reached a fork of the Boiling Spring.
Here the war-party had halted and held a consultation, for from this
point the trail turned at a tangent to the westward, and entered the
rugged gorges of the mountains. It was now evident to the two trappers
that their destination was the Bayou Salade,—a mountain valley which
is a favourite resort of the buffalo in the winter season, and which,
and for this reason, is often frequented by the Yuta Indians as
their wintering ground. That the Rapahos were on a war expedition
against the Yutas, there was little doubt; and Killbuck, who knew
every inch of the ground, saw at once, by the direction the trail had
taken, that they were making for the Bayou in order to surprise their
enemies, and, therefore, were not following the usual Indian trail
up the cañon of the Boiling Spring River. Having made up his mind to
this, he at once struck across the broken ground lying at the foot of
the mountains, steering a course a little to the eastward of north,
or almost in the direction whence he had come: and then, pointing
westward, about noon he crossed a mountain chain, and descending into
a ravine through which a little rivulet tumbled over its rocky bed,
he at once proved the correctness of his judgment by striking the
Indian trail, now quite fresh, as it wound through the cañon along
the bank of the stream. The route he had followed, impracticable to
pack-animals, had saved at least half-a-day's journey, and brought
them within a short distance of the object of their pursuit; for, at
the head of the gorge, a lofty bluff presenting itself, the hunters
ascended to the summit, and, looking down, descried at their very feet
the Indian camp, with their own stolen cavallada feeding quietly round.

“Wagh!” exclaimed both the hunters in a breath. “And thar's the old
ga'l at that,” chuckled Killbuck, as he recognised his old grizzled
mule making good play at the rich buffalo grass with which these
mountain valleys abound.

“If we don't make 'a raise' afore long, I wouldn't say so. Thar plans
is plain to this child as beaver sign. They're after Yuta hair, as
certain as this gun has got hind-sights; but they ar'nt agoin' to pack
them animals after 'em, and have crawled like 'rattlers' along this
bottom to câche 'em till they come back from the Bayou,—and maybe
they'll leave half a dozen 'soldiers'[14] with 'em.”

How right the wily trapper was in his conjectures will be shortly
proved. Meanwhile, with his companion, he descended the bluff, and
pushing his way into a thicket of dwarf pine and cedar, sat down on a
log, and drew from an end of the blanket, strapped on his shoulder, a
portion of a buffalo's liver, which they both discussed, _raw_, with
infinite relish; eating in lieu of bread (an unknown luxury in these
parts) sundry strips of dried fat. To have kindled a fire would have
been dangerous, since it was not impossible that some of the Indians
might leave their camp to hunt, when the smoke would at once have
betrayed the presence of enemies. A light was struck, however for
their pipes, and after enjoying this true consolation for some time,
they laid a blanket on the ground, and, side by side, soon fell asleep.

If Killbuck had been a prophet, or the most prescient of “medicine
men,” he could not have more exactly predicted the movements in the
Indian camp. About three hours before “sundown,” he rose and shook
himself, which movement was sufficient to awaken his companion.
Telling La Bonté to lie down again and rest, he gave him to understand
that he was about to reconnoitre the enemy's camp; and after carefully
examining his rifle, and drawing his knife-belt a hole or two tighter,
he proceeded on his dangerous errand. Ascending the same bluff whence
he had first discovered the Indian camp, he glanced rapidly around,
and made himself master of the features of the ground—choosing
a ravine by which he might approach the camp more closely, and
without danger of being discovered. This was soon effected; and
in half an hour the trapper was lying on his belly on the summit
of a pine-covered bluff, which overlooked the Indians within easy
rifle-shot, and so perfectly concealed by the low spreading branches
of the cedar and arbor-vitæ, that not a particle of his person could
be detected; unless, indeed, his sharp twinkling gray eye contrasted
too strongly with the green boughs that covered the rest of his face.
Moreover, there was no danger of their hitting upon his trail, for
he had been careful to pick his steps on the rock-covered ground, so
that not a track of his moccasin was visible. Here he lay, still as
a carcagien in wait for a deer, only now and then shaking the boughs
as his body quivered with a suppressed chuckle, when any movement in
the Indian camp caused him to laugh inwardly at his (if they had known
it) unwelcome propinquity. He was not a little surprised, however,
to discover that the party was much smaller than he had imagined,
counting only forty warriors; and this assured him that the band had
divided, one half taking the Yuta trail by the Boiling Spring, the
other (the one before him) taking a longer circuit in order to reach
the Bayou, and make the attack on the Yutas in a different direction.

At this moment the Indians were in deliberation. Seated in a large
circle round a very small fire,[15] the smoke from which ascended
in a thin straight column, they each in turn puffed a huge cloud of
smoke from three or four long cherry-stemmed pipes, which went the
round of the party; each warrior touching the ground with the heel
of the pipe-bowl, and turning the stem upwards and away from him as
“medicine” to the Great Spirit, before he himself inhaled the fragrant
kinnik-kinnik. The council, however, was not general, for only fifteen
of the older warriors took part in it, the others sitting outside and
at some little distance from the circle. Behind each were his arms—bow
and quiver, and shield hanging from a spear stuck in the ground, and
a few guns in ornamented covers of buckskin were added to some of the
equipments.

Near the fire, and in the centre of the inner circle, a spear was
fixed upright in the ground, and on this dangled the four scalps of
the trappers killed the preceding night; and underneath them, affixed
to the same spear, was the mystic “medicine bag,” by which Killbuck
knew that the band before him was under the command of the chief of
the tribe.

Towards the grim trophies on the spear, the warriors, who in turn
addressed the council, frequently pointed—more than one, as he did
so, making the gyratory motion of the right hand and arm, which the
Indians use in describing that they have gained an advantage by skill
or cunning. Then pointing westward, the speaker would thrust out his
arm, extending his fingers at the same time, and closing and reopening
them repeatedly, meaning, that although four scalps already ornamented
the “medicine” pole, they were as nothing compared to the numerous
trophies they would bring from the Salt Valley, where they expected to
find their hereditary enemies the Yutas. “That now was not the time
to count their coups,” (for at this moment one of the warriors rose
from his seat, and, swelling with pride, advanced towards the spear,
pointing to one of the scalps, and then striking his open hand on
his naked breast, jumped into the air, as if about to go through the
ceremony). “That before many suns all their spears together would not
hold the scalps they had taken, and that they would return to their
village and spend a moon relating their achievements, and counting
coups.”

All this Killbuck learned: thanks to his knowledge of the language
of signs—a master of which, if even he have no ears or tongue, never
fails to understand, and be understood by, any of the hundred tribes
whose languages are perfectly distinct and different. He learned,
moreover, that at sundown the greater part of the band would resume
the trail, in order to reach the Bayou by the earliest dawn; and also,
that no more than four or five of the younger warriors would remain
with the captured animals. Still the hunter remained in his position
until the sun had disappeared behind the ridge; when, taking up their
arms, and throwing their buffalo robes on their shoulders, the war
party of Rapahos, one behind the other, with noiseless step, and
silent as the dumb, moved away from the camp. When the last dusky form
had disappeared behind a point of rocks which shut in the northern end
of the little valley or ravine, Killbuck withdrew his head from its
screen, crawled backwards on his stomach from the edge of the bluff,
and, rising from the ground, shook and stretched himself; then gave
one cautious look around, and immediately proceeded to rejoin his
companion.

“_Lave_ (get up), boy,” said Killbuck, as soon as he reached him.
“Hyar's grainin' to do afore long—and sun's about down, I'm thinking.”

“Ready, old hos,” answered La Bonté, giving himself a shake. “What's
the sign like, and how many's the lodge?”

“Fresh, and five, boy. How do you feel?”

“_Half froze for hair._ Wagh!”

“We'll have moon to-night, and as soon as _she_ gets up, we'll make
'em 'come.'”

Killbuck then described to his companion what he had seen, and
detailed his plan. This was simply to wait until the moon afforded
sufficient light, then to approach the Indian camp and charge into
it, “lift” as much “hair” as they could, recover their animals, and
start at once to the Bayou and join the friendly Yutas, warning them
of the coming danger. The risk of falling in with either of the Rapaho
bands was hardly considered; to avoid this, they trusted to their own
foresight, and the legs of their mules, should they encounter them.

Between sundown and the rising of the moon, they had leisure to eat
their supper, which, as before, consisted of raw buffalo-liver; after
discussing which, Killbuck pronounced himself “a 'heap' better,” and
ready for “huggin.”

In the short interval of almost perfect darkness which preceded the
moonlight, and taking advantage of one of the frequent squalls of
wind which howl down the narrow gorges of the mountains, these two
determined men, with footsteps noiseless as the panther's, crawled
to the edge of the little plateau of some hundred yards' square,
where the five Indians in charge of the animals were seated round
the fire, perfectly unconscious of the vicinity of danger. Several
clumps of cedar bushes dotted the small prairie, and amongst these the
well-hobbled mules and horses were feeding. These animals, accustomed
to the presence of whites, would not notice the two hunters as they
crept from clump to clump nearer to the fire, and also served, even if
the Indians should be on the watch, to conceal their movements from
them.

This the two men at once perceived; but old Killbuck knew that if
he passed within sight or smell of his mule, he would be received
with a hinny of recognition, which would at once alarm the enemy.
He therefore first ascertained where his own animal was feeding,
which luckily was at the farther side of the prairie, and would not
interfere with his proceedings.

Threading their way amongst the feeding mules, they approached a
clump of bushes about forty yards from the spot where the unconscious
savages were seated smoking round the fire; and here they awaited,
scarcely drawing breath the while, the moment when the moon rose above
the mountain into the clear cold sky, and gave them light sufficient
to make sure their work of bloody retribution. Not a pulsation in the
hearts of these stern determined men beat higher than its wont; not
the tremour of a nerve disturbed their frame. They stood with lips
compressed and rifles ready, their pistols loosened in their belts,
their scalp-knives handy to their gripe. The lurid glow of the coming
moon already shot into the sky above the ridge, which stood out in
bold relief against the light; and the luminary herself just peered
over the mountain, illuminating its pine-clad summit, and throwing her
beams on an opposite peak, when Killbuck touched his companion's arm,
and whispered, “Wait for the full light, boy.”

At this moment, however, unseen by the trapper, the old grizzled mule
had gradually approached, as she fed along the plateau; and, when
within a few paces of their retreat, a gleam of moonshine revealed to
the animal the erect forms of the two whites. Suddenly she stood still
and pricked her ears, and stretching out her neck and nose, snuffed
the air. Well she knew her old master.

Killbuck, with eyes fixed upon the Indians, was on the point of giving
the signal of attack to his comrade, when the shrill hinny of his mule
reverberated through the gorge. The Indians jumped to their feet and
seized their arms, when Killbuck, with a loud shout of “At 'em boy;
give the niggurs h—!” rushed from his concealment, and with La Bonté
by his side, yelling a fierce war-whoop, sprung upon the startled
savages.

Panic-struck with the suddenness of the attack, the Indians scarcely
knew where to run, and for a moment stood huddled together like
sheep. Down dropped Killbuck on his knee, and stretching out his
wiping-stick, planted it on the ground at the extreme length of his
arm. As methodically and as coolly as if about to aim at a deer, he
raised his rifle to this rest and pulled the trigger. At the report
an Indian fell forward on his face, at the same moment that La Bonté,
with equal certainty of aim and like effect, discharged his own rifle.

The three surviving Indians, seeing that their assailants were but
two, and knowing that their guns were empty, came on with loud yells.
With the left hand grasping a bunch of arrows, and holding the bow
already bent and arrow fixed, they steadily advanced, bending low to
the ground to get their objects between them and the light, and thus
render their aim more certain. The trappers, however, did not care
to wait for them. Drawing their pistols, they charged at once; and
although the bows twanged, and the three arrows struck their mark, on
they rushed, discharging their pistols at close quarters. La Bonté
threw his empty one at the head of an Indian who was pulling his
second arrow to its head at a yard's distance, drew his knife at the
same moment, and made at him.

But the Indian broke and ran, followed by his surviving companion; and
as soon as Killbuck could ram home another ball, he sent a shot flying
after them as they scrambled up the mountain side, leaving in their
fright and hurry their bows and shields on the ground.

The fight was over, and the two trappers confronted each other:—“We've
given 'em h—!” laughed Killbuck.

“_Well_, we have,” answered the other, pulling an arrow out of his
arm.—“Wagh!”

“We'll lift the hair, any how,” continued the first, “afore the
scalp's cold.”

Taking his whetstone from the little sheath on his knife-belt, the
trapper proceeded to “edge” his knife, and then stepping to the
first prostrate body, he turned it over to examine if any symptom of
vitality remained. “Thrown cold!” he exclaimed, as he dropped the
lifeless arm he had lifted. “I sighted him about the long ribs, but
the light was bad, and I couldn't get a 'bead' 'off hand' any how.”

Seizing with his left hand the long and braided lock on the centre of
the Indian's head, he passed the point edge of his keen butcher-knife
round the parting, turning it at the same time under the skin to
separate the scalp from the skull; then, with a quick and sudden
jerk of his hand, he removed it entirely from the head, and giving
the reeking trophy a wring upon the grass to free it from the blood,
he coolly hitched it under his belt, and proceeded to the next; but
seeing La Bonté operating upon this, he sought the third, who lay
some little distance from the others. This one was still alive, a
pistol-ball having passed through his body, without touching a vital
spot.

“Gut-shot is this niggur,” exclaimed the trapper; “them pistols never
throws 'em in their tracks;” and thrusting his knife, for mercy's
sake, into the bosom of the Indian, he likewise tore the scalp-lock
from his head, and placed it with the other.

La Bonté had received two trivial wounds, and Killbuck till now had
been walking about with an arrow sticking through the fleshy part of
his thigh, the point being perceptible near the surface of the other
side. To free his leg from the painful encumbrance, he thrust the
weapon completely through, and then, cutting off the arrow-head below
the barb, he drew it out, the blood flowing freely from the wound. A
tourniquet of buckskin soon stopped this, and, heedless of the pain,
the hardy mountaineer sought for his old mule, and quickly brought it
to the fire (which La Bonté had rekindled), lavishing many a caress,
and most comical terms of endearment, upon the faithful companion of
his wanderings. They found all the animals safe and well; and after
eating heartily of some venison which the Indians had been cooking at
the moment of the attack, made instant preparations to quit the scene
of their exploit, not wishing to trust to the chance of the Rapahos
being too frightened to again molest them.

Having no saddles, they secured buffalo robes on the backs of two
mules—Killbuck, of course, riding his own—and lost no time in
proceeding on their way. They followed the course of the Indians
up the stream, and found that it kept the cañons and gorges of the
mountains, where the road was better; but it was with no little
difficulty that they made their way, the ground being much broken,
and covered with rocks. Killbuck's wound became very painful, and
his leg stiffened and swelled distressingly, but he still pushed on
all night, and, at daybreak, recognising their position, he left the
Indian trail, and followed a little creek which rose in a mountain
chain of moderate elevation, and above which, and to the south, Pike's
Peak towered high into the clouds. With great difficulty they crossed
this ridge, and ascending and descending several smaller ones, which
gradually smoothed away as they met the valley, about three hours
after sunrise they found themselves in the south-east corner of the
Bayou Salade.

The Bayou Salade, or Salt Valley, is the most southern of three very
extensive valleys, forming a series of table-lands in the very centre
of the main chain of the Rocky Mountains, known to the trappers by the
name of the “Parks.” The numerous streams by which they are watered
abound in the valuable fur-bearing beaver, whilst every species of
game common to the west is found here in great abundance. The Bayou
Salade especially, owing to the salitrose nature of the soil and
springs, is the favourite resort of all the larger animals common
to the mountains; and, in the sheltered prairies of the Bayou, the
buffalo, forsaking the barren and inclement regions of the exposed
plains, frequent these upland valleys, in the winter months; and
feeding upon the rich and nutritious buffalo grass which, on the
bare prairies, at that season, is either dry and rotten, or entirely
exhausted, not only sustain life, but retain a great portion of the
“condition” that the abundant fall and summer pasture of the lowlands
has laid upon their bones. Therefore is this valley sought by the
Indians as a wintering ground. Its occupancy has been disputed by most
of the mountain tribes, and long and bloody wars have been waged to
make good the claims set forth by Yuta, Rapaho, Sioux, and Shians.
However, to the first of these it may be said now to belong, since
their “big village” has wintered there for many successive years;
whilst the Rapahos seldom visit it unless on war expeditions against
the Yutas.

Judging, from the direction the Rapahos were taking, that the friendly
tribe of Yutas were there already, the trappers had resolved to join
them as soon as possible; and therefore, without resting, pushed on
through the uplands, and, towards the middle of the day, had the
satisfaction of descrying the conical lodges of the village, situated
on a large level plateau, through which ran a mountain stream. A
numerous band of mules and horses were scattered over the pasture,
and round them several mounted Indians kept guard. As the trappers
descended the bluffs into the plain, some straggling Indians caught
sight of them; and instantly one of them, lassoing a horse from the
herd, mounted it, bare-backed, and flew like wind to the village to
spread the news. Soon the lodges disgorged their inmates; first the
women and children rushed to the side of the strangers' approach; then
the younger Indians, unable to restrain their curiosity, mounted their
horses, and galloped forth to meet them. The old chiefs, enveloped in
buffalo robes (softly and delicately dressed as the Yutas alone know
how), and with tomahawk held in one hand and resting in the hollow of
the other arm, sallied last of all from their lodges, and, squatting
in a row on a sunny bank outside the village, awaited, with dignified
composure, the arrival of the whites. Killbuck was well known to most
of them, having trapped in their country and traded with them years
before at Roubideau's fort at the head waters of the Rio Grande. After
shaking hands with all who presented themselves, he at once gave them
to understand that their enemies, the Rapahos, were at hand, with a
hundred warriors at least, elated by the coup they had just struck
against the whites, bringing, moreover, four white scalps to incite
them to brave deeds.

At this news the whole village was speedily in commotion: the
war-shout was taken up from lodge to lodge; the squaws began to lament
and tear their hair; the warriors to paint and arm themselves. The
elder chiefs immediately met in council, and, over the medicine-pipe,
debated as to the best course to pursue,—whether to wait the attack,
or sally out and meet the enemy. In the mean time, the braves were
collected together by the chiefs of their respective bands, and
scouts, mounted on the fastest horses, despatched in every direction
to procure intelligence of the enemy.

The two whites, after watering their mules and picketing them in some
good grass near the village, drew near the council fire, without,
however, joining in the “talk,” until they were invited to take their
seats by the eldest chief. Then Killbuck was called upon to give
his opinion as to the direction in which he judged the Rapahos to be
approaching, which he delivered in their own language, with which
he was well acquainted. In a short time the council broke up, and,
without noise or confusion, a band of one hundred chosen warriors
left the village, immediately after one of the scouts had galloped
in and communicated some intelligence to the chiefs. Killbuck and La
Bonté volunteered to accompany the war-party, weak and exhausted as
they were; but this was negatived by the chiefs, who left their white
brothers to the care of the women, who tended their wounds, now stiff
and painful: and spreading their buffalo robes in a warm and roomy
lodge, left them to the repose they so much needed.



CHAPTER II.


The next morning, Killbuck's leg was greatly inflamed, and he was
unable to leave the lodge; but he made his companion bring the old
mule to the door, that he might give her a couple of ears of Indian
corn, the last remains of the slender store brought by the Indians
from the Navajo country. The day passed, and sundown brought no
tidings of the war-party. This caused no little wailing on the part of
the squaws, but was interpreted by the whites as a favourable augury.
A little after sunrise, on the second morning, the long line of the
returning warriors was discerned winding over the prairie, and a scout
having galloped in to bring the news of a great victory, the whole
village was soon in a ferment of paint and drumming. A short distance
from the lodges, the warriors halted to await the approach of the
people. Old men, children, and squaws sitting astride their horses,
sallied out to escort the victorious party in triumph to the village.
With loud shouts and songs, and drums beating the monotonous Indian
time, they advanced and encircled the returning braves, one of whom,
his face covered with black paint, carried a pole on which dangled
thirteen scalps, the trophies of the expedition. As he lifted these on
high, they were saluted with deafening whoops and cries of exultation
and savage joy. In this manner they entered the village, almost before
the friends of those fallen in the fight had ascertained their losses.
Then the shouts of delight were converted into yells of grief; the
mothers and wives of those braves who had been killed (and seven had
“gone under”) presently returned with their faces, necks, and hands
blackened, and danced and howled round the scalp-pole, which had been
deposited in the centre of the village, in front of the lodge of the
great chief.

Killbuck now learned that a scout having brought intelligence that
the two bands of Rapahos were hastening to form a junction, as soon
as they learned that their approach was discovered, the Yutas had
successfully prevented it; and attacking one party, had entirely
defeated it, killing thirteen of the Rapaho braves. The other party
had fled on seeing the issue of the fight, and a few of the Yuta
warriors were now pursuing them.

To celebrate so signal a victory, great preparations sounded their
notes through the village. Paints,—vermilion and ochres—red and
yellow,—were in great request; whilst the scrapings of charred wood,
mixed with gunpowder, were used as substitute for black, the medicine
colour.

The lodges of the village, numbering some two hundred or more, were
erected in parallel lines, and covered a large space of the level
prairie in shape of a parallelogram. In the centre, however, the
space which half a dozen lodges in length would have taken up was
left unoccupied, save by one large one, of red-painted buffalo skins,
tatooed with the mystic totems of the “medicine” peculiar to the
nation. In front of this stood the grim scalp-pole, like a decayed
tree trunk, its bloody fruit tossing in the wind; and on another
pole, at a few feet distance, was hung the “bag” with its mysterious
contents. Before each lodge a tripod of spears supported the arms and
shields of the Yuta chivalry, and on many of them, smoke-dried scalps
rattled in the wind, former trophies of the dusky knights who were
arming themselves within. Heraldic devices were not wanting,—not,
however, graved upon the shield, but hanging from the spear-head,
the actual “totem” of the warrior it distinguished. The rattlesnake,
the otter, the carcagien, the mountain badger, the war-eagle, the
kon-qua-kish, the porcupine, the fox, &c., dangled their well-stuffed
skins, displaying the guardian “medicine” of the warriors they
pertained to, and representing the mental and corporeal qualities
which were supposed to characterise the braves to whom they belonged.

From the centre lodge, two or three “medicine men,” fantastically
attired in the skins of wolves and bears, and bearing long peeled
wands of cherry in their hands, occasionally emerged to tend a
very small fire which they had kindled in the centre of the open
space; and, when a thin column of smoke arose, one of them planted
the scalp-pole obliquely across the fire. Squaws in robes of white
dressed buckskin, garnished with beads and porcupines' quills, and
their faces painted bright red and black, then appeared. These ranged
themselves round the outside of the square, the boys and children of
all ages, mounted on bare-backed horses, galloping round and round,
and screaming with eagerness, excitement, and curiosity.

Presently the braves and warriors made their appearance, and squatted
round the fire in two circles, those who had been engaged on the
expedition being in the first or smaller one. One medicine man sat
under the scalp-pole, having a drum between his knees, which he tapped
at intervals with his hand, eliciting from the instrument a hollow
monotonous sound. A bevy of women, shoulder to shoulder, then advanced
from the four sides of the square, and some, shaking a rattle-drum in
time with their steps, commenced a jumping jerking dance, now lifting
one foot from the ground, and now rising with both, accompanying the
dance with a chant, which swelled from a low whisper to the utmost
extent of their voices—now dying away, and again bursting into
vociferous measure. Thus they advanced to the centre and retreated
to their former positions; when six squaws, with their faces painted
a dead black, made their appearance from the crowd, chanting, in
soft and sweet measure, a lament for the braves the nation had lost
in the late battle: but soon as they drew near the scalp-pole, their
melancholy note changed to the music (to them) of gratified revenge.
In a succession of jumps, raising the feet alternately but a little
distance from the ground, they made their way, through an interval
left in the circle of warriors, to the grim pole, and encircling
it, danced in perfect silence round it for a few moments. Then they
burst forth with an extempore song, laudatory of the achievements of
their victorious braves. They addressed the scalps as “sisters” (to
be called a squaw is the greatest insult that can be offered to an
Indian), and, spitting at them, upbraided them with their rashness
in leaving their lodges to seek for Yuta husbands; “that the Yuta
warriors and young men despised them, and chastised them for their
forwardness and presumption, bringing back their scalps to their own
women.”

After sufficiently proving that they had any thing but lost the use
of their tongues, but possessed, on the contrary, as fair a length
of that formidable weapon as any of their sex, they withdrew, and
left the field in undisputed possession of the men: who, accompanied
by tap of drum, and by the noise of many rattles, broke out into
a war-song, in which their own valour was by no means hidden in a
bushel, or modestly refused the light of day. After this came the
more interesting ceremony of a warrior “counting his coups.”

A young brave, with his face painted black, mounted on a white horse
mysteriously marked with red clay, and naked to the breech-clout,
holding in his hand a long taper lance, rode into the circle, and
paced slowly round it; then, flourishing his spear on high, he darted
to the scalp-pole, round which the warriors were now seated in a
semicircle; and in a loud voice, and with furious gesticulations,
related his exploits, the drums tapping at the conclusion of each.
On his spear hung seven scalps, and holding it vertically above his
head, and commencing with the top one, he told the feats in which he
had raised the trophy hair. When he had run through these, the drums
tapped loudly, and several of the old chiefs shook their rattles, in
corroboration of the truth of his achievements. The brave, swelling
with pride, then pointed to the fresh and bloody scalps hanging on the
pole. Two of these had been torn from the heads of Rapahos struck by
his own hand, and this feat, _the_ exploit of the day, had entitled
him to the honour of counting his coups. Then, sticking his spear
into the ground by the side of the pole, he struck his hand twice on
his brawny and naked chest, turned short round, and, swift as the
antelope, galloped into the plain: as if overcome by the shock his
modesty had received in being obliged to recount his own high-sounding
deeds.

“Wagh!” exclaimed old Killbuck, as he left the circle, pointing his
pipe-stem towards the fast-fading figure of the brave, “that Injun's
heart's about as big as ever it will be, I'm thinking.”

With the Yutas, Killbuck and La Bonté remained during the winter;
and when the spring sun had opened the ice-bound creeks, and melted
the snow on the mountains, and its genial warmth had expanded the
earth and permitted the roots of the grass to “live” once more, and
throw out green and tender shoots, the two trappers bade adieu to the
hospitable Indians, who broke up their village in order to start for
the valleys of the Del Norte. As they followed the trail from the
bayou, at sundown, just as they thought of camping, they observed
ahead of them a solitary horseman riding along, followed by three
mules. His hunting-frock of fringed buckskin, and the rifle resting
across the horn of his saddle, at once proclaimed him white; but as he
saw the mountaineers winding through the cañon, driving before them
half a dozen horses, _he_ judged they might possibly be Indians and
enemies, the more so as their dress was not the usual costume of the
whites. The trappers, therefore, saw the stranger raise the rifle in
the hollow of his arm, and, gathering up his horse, ride steadily to
meet them, as soon as he observed they were but two; two to one in
mountain calculation being scarcely considered odds, if red skin to
white.

However, on nearing them, the stranger discovered his mistake; and,
throwing his rifle across the saddle once more, reined in his horse
and waited their approach; for the spot where he then stood presented
an excellent camping-ground, with abundance of dry wood and convenient
water.

“Where from, stranger?”

“The divide, and to the bayou for meat; and you are from there, I see.
Any buffalo come in yet?”

“Heap, and seal-fat at that. What's the sign out on the plains?”

“War-party of Rapahos passed Squirrel at sundown yesterday, and nearly
raised my animals. Sign, too, of more on left fork of Boiling Spring.
No buffalo between this and Bijou. Do you feel like camping?”

“_Well_, we do. But whar's your companyeros?”

“I'm alone.”

“Alone! Wagh! how do you get your animals along?”

“I go ahead, and they follow the horse.”

“Well, that beats all! That's a smart-looking hos now; and runs some,
I'm thinking.”

“Well, it does.”

“Whar's them mules from? They look like Californy.”

“Mexican country—away down south.”

“H—! Whar's yourself from?”

“There away, too.”

“What's beaver worth in Taos?”

“Dollar.”

“In Saint Louiy?”

“Same.”

“H—! Any call for buckskin?”

“A heap! The soldiers in Santa Fé are half froze for leather; and
moccasins fetch two dollars, easy.”

“Wagh! How's trade on Arkansa, and what's doin to the Fort?”

“Shians at Big Timber, and Bent's people trading smart. On North Fork,
Jim Waters got a hundred pack right off, and Sioux making more.”

“Whar's Bill Williams?”

“Gone under, they say: the Diggers took his hair.”

“How's powder goin?”

“Two dollars a pint.”

“Bacca?”

“A plew a plug.”

“Got any about you?”

“Have _so_.”

“Give us a chaw; and now let's camp.”

Whilst unpacking their own animals, the two trappers could not refrain
from glancing, every now and then, with no little astonishment, at the
solitary stranger they had so unexpectedly encountered. If truth be
told, his appearance not a little perplexed them. His hunting-frock
of buckskin, shining with grease, and fringed pantaloons, over which
the well-greased butcher-knife had evidently been often wiped after
cutting his food, or butchering the carcass of deer and buffalo,
were of genuine mountain make. His face, clean shaved, exhibited in
its well-tanned and weather-beaten complexion, the effects of such
natural cosmetics as sun and wind; and under the mountain hat of felt
which covered his head, long uncut hair hung in Indian fashion on his
shoulders. All this would have passed muster, had it not been for the
most extraordinary equipment of a double-barrelled rifle; which, when
it had attracted the eyes of the mountaineers, elicited no little
astonishment, not to say derision. But, perhaps, nothing excited their
admiration so much as the perfect docility of the stranger's animals;
which, almost like dogs, obeyed his voice and call; and albeit that
one, in a small sharp head and pointed ears, expanded nostrils, and
eye twinkling and malicious, exhibited the personification of a
“lurking devil,” yet they could not but admire the perfect ease with
which even this one, in common with the rest, permitted herself to be
handled.

Dismounting, and unhitching from the horn of his saddle the coil of
skin rope, one end of which was secured round the neck of the horse,
he proceeded to unsaddle; and whilst so engaged, the three mules, two
of which were packed, one with the unbutchered carcass of a deer, the
other with a pack of skins, &c., followed leisurely into the space
chosen for the camp, and, cropping the grass at their ease, waited
until a whistle called them to be unpacked.

The horse was a strong square-built bay; and, although the severities
of a prolonged winter, with scanty pasture and long and trying travel,
had robbed his bones of fat and flesh, tucked up his flank, and
“ewed” his neck; still his clean and well-set legs, oblique shoulder,
and withers fine as a deer's, in spite of his gaunt half-starved
appearance, bore ample testimony as to what he _had_ been; while his
clear cheerful eye, and the hearty appetite with which he fell to work
on the coarse grass of the bottom, proved that he had something in him
still, and was game as ever. His tail, gnawed by the mules in days of
strait, attracted the observant mountaineers.

“Hard doins when it come to that,” remarked La Bonté.

Between the horse and two of the mules a mutual and great affection
appeared to subsist, which was no more than natural, when their master
observed to his companions that they had travelled together upwards of
two thousand miles.

One of these mules was a short, thick-set, stumpy animal, with an
enormous head surmounted by proportionable ears, and a pair of
unusually large eyes, beaming the most perfect good temper and
docility (most uncommon qualities in a mule.) Her neck was thick,
and rendered more so in appearance by reason of her mane not being
roached, (or, in English, hogged), which privilege she alone enjoyed
of the trio; and her short, strong legs, ending in small, round,
cat-like hoofs, were feathered with a profusion of dark brown hair.

As she stood stock-still, whilst the stranger removed the awkwardly
packed deer from her back, she flapped her huge ears backward and
forward, occasionally turning her head, and laying her cold nose
against her master's cheek. When the pack was removed, he advanced
to her head, and resting it on his shoulder, rubbed her broad and
grizzled cheeks with both his hands for several minutes, the old
mule laying her ears, like a rabbit, back upon her neck, and with
half-closed eyes enjoyed mightily the manipulation. Then, giving her a
smack upon the haunch, and a “hep-a” well known to the mule kind, the
old favourite threw up her heels and cantered off to the horse, who
was busily cropping the buffalo grass on the bluff above the stream.

Great was the contrast between the one just described and the next
which came up to be divested of her pack. She, a tall beautifully
shaped Mexican mule, of a light mouse colour, with a head like a
deer's, and long springy legs, trotted up obedient to the call, but
with ears bent back and curled up nose, and tail compressed between
her legs. As her pack was being removed, she groaned and whined like a
dog, as a thong or loosened strap touched her ticklish body, lifting
her hind-quarters in a succession of jumps or preparatory kicks, and
looking wicked as a panther. When nothing but the fore pack-saddle
remained, she had worked herself into the last stage; and as the
stranger cast loose the girth of buffalo hide, and was about to lift
the saddle and draw the crupper from the tail, she drew her hind legs
under her, more tightly compressed her tail, and almost shrieked with
rage.

“Stand clear,” he roared (knowing what was coming), and raised the
saddle, when out went her hind legs, up went the pack into the
air, and, with it dangling at her heels, away she tore, kicking
the offending saddle as she ran. Her master, however, took this as
matter of course, followed her and brought back the saddle, which he
piled on the others to windward of the fire one of the trappers was
kindling. Fire-making is a simple process with the mountaineers. Their
bullet-pouches always contain a flint and steel, and sundry pieces of
“punk”[16] or tinder; and pulling a handful of dry grass, which they
screw into a nest, they place the lighted punk in this, and, closing
the grass over it, wave it in the air, when it soon ignites, and
readily kindles the dry sticks forming the foundation of the fire.

The tit-bits of the deer the stranger had brought in were soon
roasting over the fire; whilst, as soon as the burning logs had
deposited a sufficiency of ashes, a hole was raked in them, and the
head of the deer, skin, hair, and all, placed in this primitive oven,
and carefully covered with the hot ashes.

A “heap” of “fat meat” in perspective, our mountaineers enjoyed their
ante-prandial pipes, recounting the news of the respective regions
whence they came; and so well did they like each other's company, so
sweet was the “honey-dew” tobacco of which the strange hunter had
good store, so plentiful the game about the creek, and so abundant
the pasture for their winter-starved animals, that before the carcass
of the “two-year” buck had been more than four-fifths consumed;
and, although rib after rib had been picked and chucked over their
shoulders to the wolves, and one fore leg and _the_ “bit” of all,
the head, were still cooked before them,—the three had come to the
resolution to join company, and hunt in their present locality for a
few days at least—the owner of the “two-shoot” gun volunteering to
fill their horns with powder, and find tobacco for their pipes.

Here, on plenty of meat, of venison, bear, and antelope, they merrily
luxuriated; returning after their daily hunts to the brightly burning
camp-fire, where one always remained to guard the animals, and
unloading their packs of meat, (all choicest portions), ate late into
the night, and, smoking, wiled away the time in narrating scenes in
their hard-spent lives, and fighting their battles o'er again.

The younger of the trappers, he who has figured under the name of La
Bonté, had excited, by scraps and patches from his history, no little
curiosity in the stranger's mind to learn the ups and downs of his
career; and one night, when they assembled earlier than usual at the
fire, he prevailed upon the modest trapper to “unpack” some passages
in his wild adventurous life.

“Maybe,” commenced the mountaineer, “you both remember when old Ashley
went out with the biggest kind of band to trap the Columbia, and
head-waters of Missoura and Yellow Stone. Well, that was the time this
niggur first felt like taking to the mountains.”

This brings us back to the year of our Lord 1825; and perhaps it
will be as well, in order to render La Bonté's mountain language
intelligible, to translate it at once into tolerable English, and to
tell in the third person, but from his own lips, the scrapes which
befell him in a sojourn of more than twenty years in the Far West, and
the causes that impelled him to quit the comfort and civilisation of
his home, to seek the perilous but engaging life of a trapper of the
Rocky Mountains.

La Bonté was raised in the state of Mississippi, not far from Memphis,
on the left bank of that huge and snag-filled river. His father was a
Saint Louis Frenchman, his mother a native of Tennessee. When a boy,
our trapper was “some,” he said, with the rifle, and always had a
hankering for the west; particularly when, on accompanying his father
to Saint Louis every spring, he saw the different bands of traders
and hunters start upon their annual expeditions to the mountains.
Greatly did he envy the independent, _insouciant_ trappers, as, in all
the glory of beads and buckskin, they shouldered their rifles at Jake
Hawkin's door (the rifle-maker of St Louis), and bade adieu to the
cares and trammels of civilised life.

However, like a thoughtless beaver-kitten, he put his foot into a trap
one fine day, set by Mary Brand, a neighbour's daughter, and esteemed
“some punkins,” or in other words toasted as the beauty of Memphis
County, by the susceptible Mississippians. From that moment he was
“gone beaver;” “he felt queer,” he said, “all over, like a buffalo
shot in the lights; he had no relish for mush and molasses; homminy
and johnny cakes failed to excite his appetite. Deer and turkeys ran
by him unscathed; he didn't know, he said, whether his rifle had
hind-sights or not. He felt bad, that was a fact; but what ailed him
he didn't know.”

Mary Brand—Mary Brand—Mary Brand! the old Dutch clock ticked it. Mary
Brand! his head throbbed it when he lay down to sleep. Mary Brand!
his rifle-lock spoke it plainly when he cocked it, to raise a shaking
sight at a deer. Mary Brand, Mary Brand! the whip-poor-will sung it,
instead of her own well-known note; the bull-frogs croaked it in the
swamp, and mosquitoes droned it in his ear as he tossed about his bed
at night, wakeful, and striving to think what ailed him.

Who could that strapping young fellow, who passed the door just now,
be going to see? Mary Brand: Mary Brand. And who can Big Pete Herring
be dressing that silver fox-skin so carefully for? For whom but Mary
Brand? And who is it that jokes, and laughs, and dances, with all the
“boys” but him; and why?

Who but Mary Brand: and because the love-sick booby carefully avoids
her.

“And Mary Brand herself—what is she like?”

“She's 'some' now; that _is_ a fact, and the biggest kind of punkin
at that,” would have been the answer from any man, woman, or child in
Memphis County, and truly spoken, too; always understanding that the
pumpkin is the fruit by which the _ne-plus-ultra_ of female perfection
is expressed amongst the figuratively-speaking westerns.

Being an American woman, of course she was tall, and straight and
slim as a hickory sapling, well formed withal, with rounded bust, and
neck white and slender as the swan's. Her features were small, but
finely chiselled; and in this, it may be remarked, the lower orders
of the American women differ from, and far surpass the same class in
England, or elsewhere, where the features, although far prettier, are
more vulgar and commonplace. Mary Brand had the bright blue eye, thin
nose, and small but sweetly-formed mouth, the too fair complexion and
dark brown hair, which characterise the beauty of the Anglo-American,
the heavy masses (hardly curls), that fell over her face and neck,
contrasting with their polished whiteness. Such was Mary Brand: and
when to her good looks are added a sweet disposition, and all the best
qualities of a thrifty housewife, it must be allowed that she fully
justified the eulogiums of the good people of Memphis.

Well, to cut a love-story short, in doing which not a little moral
courage is shown, young La Bonté fell desperately in love with the
pretty Mary, and she with him; and small blame to her, for he was a
proper lad of twenty—six feet in his moccasins—the best hunter and
rifle-shot in the country, with many other advantages too numerous to
mention. But when did the course, &c. e'er run smooth? When the affair
had become a recognised “courting” (and Americans alone know the
horrors of such prolonged purgatory), they became, to use La Bonté's
words, “awful fond,” and consequently about once a-week had their
tiffs and makes-up.

However, on one occasion, at a “husking,” and during one of these
tiffs, Mary, every inch a woman, to gratify some indescribable
feeling, brought to her aid jealousy—that old serpent who has caused
such mischief in this world; and by a flirtation over the corn-cobs
with Big Pete, La Bonté's former and only rival, struck so hard a blow
at the latter's heart, that on the moment his brain caught fire,
blood danced before his eyes, and he became like one possessed. Pete
observed and enjoyed his struggling emotion—better for him had he
minded his corn-shelling alone;—and the more to annoy his rival, paid
the most sedulous attention to pretty Mary.

Young La Bonté stood it as long as human nature, at boiling heat,
could endure; but when Pete, in the exultation of his apparent
triumph, crowned his success by encircling the slender waist of the
girl with his arm, and snatching a sudden kiss, he jumped upright from
his seat, and seizing a small whisky-keg which stood in the centre
of the corn-shellers, he hurled it at his rival, and crying to him,
hoarse with passion, “to follow if he was a man,” he left the house.

At that time, and even now, in the remoter states of the western
country, rifles settled even the most trivial differences between the
hot-blooded youths; and of such frequent occurrence and invariably
bloody termination did these encounters become, that they scarcely
produced sufficient excitement to draw together half-a-dozen
spectators.

In the present case, however, so public was the quarrel, and so
well known the parties concerned, that not only the people who had
witnessed the affair, but all the neighbourhood, thronged to the
scene of action, in a large field in front of the house, where the
preliminaries of a duel between Pete and La Bonté were being arranged
by their respective friends.

Mary, when she discovered the mischief her thoughtlessness was likely
to occasion, was almost beside herself with grief, but she knew how
vain it would be to attempt to interfere. The poor girl, who was most
ardently attached to La Bonté, was carried, swooning, into the house,
where all the women congregated, and were locked in by old Brand, who,
himself an old pioneer, thought but little of bloodshed, but refused
to let the “women folk” witness the affray.

Preliminaries arranged, the combatants took up their respective
positions at either end of a space marked for the purpose, at forty
paces from each other. They were both armed with heavy rifles, and
had the usual hunting-pouches, containing ammunition, hanging over
the shoulder. Standing with the butts of their rifles on the ground,
they confronted each other, and the crowd drawing away a few paces
only on each side, left one man to give the word. This was the single
word “fire;” and, after this signal was given, the combatants were at
liberty to fire away until one or the other dropped.

At the word, both the men quickly raised their rifles to the shoulder,
and, whilst the sharp cracks instantaneously rang, they were seen to
flinch, as either felt the pinging sensation of a bullet entering his
flesh. Regarding each other steadily for a few moments, the blood
running down La Bonté's neck from a wound under the left jaw, whilst
his opponent was seen to place his hand once to his right breast, as
if to feel the position of his wound, they commenced reloading their
rifles. But, as Pete was in the act of forcing down the ball with his
long hickory wiping-stick, he suddenly dropped his right arm—the rifle
slipped from his grasp—and, reeling for a moment like a drunken man—he
fell dead to the ground.

Even here, however, there was law of some kind or another, and the
consequences of the duel were, that the constables were soon on the
trail of La Bonté to arrest him. He easily avoided them, and taking to
the woods, lived for several days in as wild a state as the beasts he
hunted and killed for his support.

Tired of this, he at last resolved to quit the country, and betake
himself to the mountains, for which life he had ever felt an
inclination.

When, therefore, he thought the officers of justice had grown slack in
their search of him, and that the coast was comparatively clear, he
determined to start on his distant expedition to the Far West.

Once more, before he carried his project into execution, he sought and
obtained a last interview with Mary Brand.

“Mary,” said he, “I'm about to break. They're hunting me like a fall
buck, and I'm bound to quit. Don't think any more about me, for I
shall never come back.”

Poor Mary burst into tears, and bent her head on the table near which
she sat. When she again raised it, she saw La Bonté, his long rifle
upon his shoulder, striding with rapid steps from the house. Year
after year rolled on, and he did not return.



CHAPTER III.


A few days after his departure, La Bonté found himself at St Louis,
the emporium of the fur trade, and the fast-rising metropolis of the
precocious settlements of the west. Here, a prey to the agony of mind
which jealousy, remorse, and blighted love mix into a very puchero of
misery, he got into the company of certain “rowdies,” a class that
every western city particularly abounds in; and, anxious to drown his
sorrows in any way, and quite unscrupulous as to the means, he plunged
into all the vicious excitements of drinking, gambling, and fighting,
which form the every-day amusements of the rising generation of St
Louis.

Perhaps in no other part of the United States, where indeed humanity
is frequently to be seen in many curious and unusual phases, is there
a population so marked in its general character, and at the same
time divided into such distinct classes, as in the above-named city.
Dating, as it does, its foundation from yesterday—for what are thirty
years in the growth of a metropolis?—its founders are now scarcely
passed middle life, regarding with astonishment the growing works of
their hands; and whilst gazing upon its busy quays, piled with grain
and other produce of the west, its fleets of huge steamboats lying
tier upon tier alongside the wharves, its well-stored warehouses,
and all the bustling concomitants of a great commercial depôt,
they can scarcely realise the memory of a few short years, when on
the same spot nothing was to be seen but the miserable hovels of a
French village—the only sign of commerce being the unwieldy bateaux
of the Indian traders, laden with peltries from the distant regions
of the Platte and Upper Missouri. Where now intelligent and wealthy
merchants walk erect, in conscious substantiality of purse and credit,
and direct the commerce of a vast and well-peopled region, there
stalked but the other day, in dress of buckskin, the Indian trader
of the west; and all the evidences of life, mayhap, consisted of
the eccentric vagaries of the different bands of trappers and hardy
mountaineers, who accompanied, some for pleasure and some as escort,
the periodically arriving bateaux, laden with the beaver skins and
buffalo robes collected during the season at the different trading
posts in the Far West.

These, nevertheless, were the men whose hardy enterprise opened to
commerce and the plough the vast and fertile regions of the West.
Rough and savage though they were, they were the true pioneers
of that extraordinary tide of civilisation which has poured its
resistless current through tracts large enough for kings to govern,
over a country now teeming with cultivation, where, a few short
years ago, countless herds of buffalo roamed unmolested, where the
bear and deer abounded, and the savage Indian skulked through the
woods and prairies, lord of the unappreciated soil that now yields
its prolific treasures to the spade and plough of civilised man. To
the wild and half-savage trapper, who may be said to exemplify the
energy, enterprise, and hardihood characteristic of the American
people, divested of all the false and vicious glare with which a
high state of civilisation, too rapidly attained, has obscured their
real and genuine character, in which the above traits are eminently
prominent—to these men alone is due the empire of the West—destined in
a few short years to become the most important of those confederate
states composing the mighty union of North America.

Sprung, then, out of the wild and adventurous fur trade, St Louis,
still the emporium of that species of commerce, preserves even now,
in the character of its population, many of the marked peculiarities
distinguishing its early founders, who were identified with the
primitive Indian in hardihood and instinctive wisdom. Whilst the
French portion of the population retain the thoughtless levity and
frivolous disposition of their original source, the Americans of St
Louis, who may lay claim to be native, as it were, are as strongly
distinguished for determination and energy of character as they are
for physical strength and animal courage; and are remarkable, at
the same time, for a singular aptitude in carrying out commercial
enterprises to successful terminations, apparently incompatible with
the thirst of adventure and excitement which forms so prominent a
feature in their character. In St Louis and with her merchants have
originated many commercial enterprises of gigantic speculation, not
confined to the immediate locality or to the distant Indian fur trade,
but embracing all parts of the continent, and even a portion of the
Old World. And here it must be remembered that St Louis is situated
inland, at a distance of upwards of one thousand miles from the sea,
and three thousand from the capital of the United States.

Besides her merchants and upper class, who form a little aristocracy
even here, a large portion of her population, still connected with the
Indian and fur trade, preserve all their original characteristics,
unacted upon by the influence of advancing civilisation. There is,
moreover, a large floating population of foreigners of all nations,
who must possess no little amount of enterprise to be tempted to
this spot, whence they spread over the remote western tracts, still
infested by the savage; so that, if any of their blood is infused into
the native population, the characteristic energy and enterprise is
increased, and not tempered down by the foreign cross.

But perhaps the most singular of the casual population are the
mountaineers, who, after several seasons spent in trapping, and with
good store of dollars, arrive from the scene of their adventures,
wild as savages, determined to enjoy themselves, for a time, in all
the gaiety and dissipation of the western city. In one of the back
streets of the town is a tavern well known as the “Rocky-Mountain
House,” and hither the trappers resort, drinking and fighting as long
as their money lasts, which, as they are generous and lavish as Jack
Tars, is for a few days only. Such scenes, both tragic and comic, as
are enacted in the Rocky-Mountain House, are beyond the powers of pen
to describe; and when a fandango is in progress, to which congregate
the coquettish belles from “Vide Poche,” as the French portion of
the suburb is nicknamed,—the grotesque endeavours of the bear-like
mountaineers to sport a figure on the light fantastic toe, and their
insertions into the dance of the mystic jumps of Terpsichorean Indians
when engaged in the “medicine” dances in honour of bear, of buffalo,
or ravished scalp,—are such startling innovations on the choreographic
art as would make the shade of Gallini quake and gibber in his pumps.

Passing the open doors and windows of the Mountain House, the
stranger stops short as the sounds of violin and banjo twang upon his
ears, accompanied by extraordinary noises—sounding unearthly to the
greenhorn listener, but recognised by the initiated as an Indian song
roared out of the stentorian lungs of a mountaineer, who patting his
stomach with open hands, to improve the necessary shake, choruses the
well-known Indian chant:—

    Hi—Hi—Hi—Hi,
      Hi-i—Hi-i—Hi-i—Hi-i
    Hi-ya—hi-ya—hi-ya—hi-ya
      Hi-ya—hi-ya—hi-ya—hi-ya
    Hi-ya—hi-ya—hi—hi,
            &c. &c. &c.

and polishes off the high notes with a whoop which makes the old
wooden houses shake again, as it rattles and echoes down the street.

Here, over fiery “monaghahela,” Jean Batiste, the sallow half-breed
voyageur from the north—and who, deserting the service of the “North
West” (the Hudson's Bay Company), has come down the Mississippi, from
the “Falls,” to try the sweets and liberty of “free” trapping—hobnobs
with a stalwart leather-clad “boy,” just returned from trapping on
the waters of Grand River, on the western side the mountains, who
interlards his mountain jargon with Spanish words picked up in Taos
and California. In one corner a trapper, lean and gaunt from the
starving regions of the Yellow Stone, has just recognised an old
companyero, with whom he hunted years before in the perilous country
of the Blackfeet.

“Why, John, old hos, how do you come on?”

“What! Meek, old 'coon! I thought you were under?”

One from Arkansa stalks into the centre of the room, with a pack of
cards in his hand, and a handful of dollars in his hat. Squatting
cross-legged on a buffalo robe, he smacks down the money, and cries
out—“Ho, boys, hyar's a deck, and hyar's the beaver (rattling the
coin), who dar set his hos? Wagh!”

Tough are the yarns of wondrous hunts and Indian perils, of
hairbreadth 'scapes and curious “fixes.” Transcendant are the
qualities of sundry rifles, which call these hunters masters; “plum”
is the “centre” each vaunted barrel shoots; sufficing for a hundred
wigs is the “hair” each hunter has “lifted” from Indians' scalps;
multitudinous the “coups” he has “struck.” As they drink so do they
brag, first of their guns, their horses, and their squaws, and lastly
of themselves:—and when it comes to that, “ware steel.”

La Bonté, on his arrival at St Louis, found himself one day in no less
a place than this; and here he made acquaintance with an old trapper
about to start for the mountains in a few days, to hunt on the head
waters of Platte and Green River. With this man he resolved to start,
and, having still some hundred dollars in cash, he immediately set
about equipping himself for the expedition. To effect this, he first
of all visited the gun-store of Hawken, whose rifles are renowned
in the mountains, and exchanged his own piece, which was of very
small bore, for a regular mountain rifle. This was of very heavy
metal, carrying about thirty-two balls to the pound, stocked to the
muzzle, and mounted with brass, its only ornament being a buffalo
bull, looking exceedingly ferocious, which was not very artistically
engraved upon the trap in the stock. Here, too, he laid in a few
pounds of powder and lead, and all the necessaries for a long hunt.

His next visit was to a smith's store, which smith was black by trade
and black by nature, for he was a nigger, and, moreover, celebrated
as being the best maker of beaver-traps in St Louis, and of him he
purchased six new traps, paying for the same twenty dollars—procuring,
at the same time, an old trap-sack, made of stout buffalo skin, in
which to carry them.

We next find La Bonté and his companion—one Luke, better known as
Grey-Eye, one of his eyes having been “gouged” in a mountain fray—at
Independence, a little town situated on the Missouri, several hundred
miles above St Louis, and within a short distance of the Indian
frontier.

Independence may be termed the “prairie port” of the western country.
Here the caravans destined for Santa Fé, and the interior of Mexico,
assemble to complete their necessary equipment. Mules and oxen are
purchased, teamsters hired, and all stores and outfit laid in here
for the long journey over the wide expanse of prairie ocean. Here,
too, the Indian traders and the Rocky-Mountain trappers rendezvous,
collecting in sufficient force to ensure their safe passage through
the Indian country. At the seasons of departure and arrival of
these bands, the little town presents a lively scene of bustle and
confusion. The wild and dissipated mountaineers get rid of their last
dollars in furious orgies, treating all comers to galore of drink,
and pledging each other, in horns of potent whisky, to successful
hunts and “heaps of beaver.” When every cent has disappeared from
their pouches, the free trapper often makes away with rifle, traps,
and animals, to gratify his “dry” (for your mountaineer is never
“thirsty”); and then, “hos and beaver” gone, is necessitated to hire
himself to one of the leaders of big bands, and hypothecate his
services for an equipment of traps and animals. Thus La Bonté picked
up three excellent mules for a mere song, with their accompanying
pack-saddles, _apishamores_,[17] and lariats, and the next day, with
Luke, “put out” for Platte.

As they passed through the rendezvous, which was encamped on a little
stream beyond the town, even our young Mississippian was struck with
the novelty of the scene. Upwards of forty huge waggons, of Conostoga
and Pittsburg build, and covered with snow-white tilts, were ranged in
a semicircle, or rather a horse-shoe form, on the flat open prairie,
their long “tongues” (poles) pointing outwards; with the necessary
harness for four pairs of mules, or eight yoke of oxen, lying on the
ground beside them, spread in ready order for “hitching up.” Round
the waggons groups of teamsters, tall stalwart young Missourians,
were engaged in busy preparation for the start, greasing the wheels,
fitting or repairing harness, smoothing ox-bows, or overhauling their
own moderate kits or “possibles.” They were all dressed in the same
fashion: a pair of “homespun” pantaloons, tucked into thick boots
reaching nearly to the knee, and confined round the waist by a broad
leathern belt, which supported a strong butcher-knife in a sheath. A
coarse checked shirt was their only other covering, with a fur cap on
the head.

Numerous camp-fires surrounded the waggons, and near them lounged
wild-looking mountaineers, easily distinguished from the “greenhorn”
teamsters by their dresses of buckskin, and their weather-beaten
faces. Without an exception, these were under the influence of the
rosy god; and one, who sat, the picture of misery, at a fire by
himself—staring into the blaze with vacant countenance, his long
matted hair hanging in unkempt masses over his face, begrimed with
the dirt of a week, and pallid with the effects of ardent drink—was
suffering from the usual consequences of having “kept it up” beyond
the usual point, paying the penalty in a fit of “horrors”—as _delirium
tremens_ is most aptly termed by sailors and the unprofessional.

In another part, the merchants of the caravan and the Indian traders
superintended the lading of the waggons, or mule packs. They were
dressed in civilised attire, and some were even bedizened in St Louis
or Eastern City dandyism, to the infinite disgust of the mountain men,
who look upon a bourge-way (bourgeois) with most undisguised contempt,
despising the very simplest forms of civilisation. The picturesque
appearance of the encampment was not a little heightened by the
addition of several Indians from the neighbouring Shawnee settlement,
who, mounted on their small active horses, on which they reclined,
rather than sat, in negligent attitudes, quietly looked on at the
novel scene, indifferent to the “chaff” in which the thoughtless
teamsters indulged at their expense. Numbers of mules and horses were
picketed at hand, whilst a large herd of noble oxen were being driven
towards the camp—the wo-ha of the teamsters sounding far and near, as
they collected the scattered beasts in order to yoke up.

As most of the mountain men were utterly unable to move from camp,
Luke and La Bonté, with three or four of the most sober, started in
company, intending to wait on “Blue,” a stream which runs into the Caw
or Kanzas River, until the “balance” of the band came up. Mounting
their mules, and leading the loose animals, they struck at once into
the park-like prairie, and were speedily out of sight of civilisation.

It was the latter end of May, towards the close of the season of
heavy rains, which in early spring render the climate of this country
almost intolerable, at the same time that they fertilise and thaw the
soil, so long bound up by the winter's frosts. The grass was every
where luxuriantly green, and gaudy flowers dotted the surface of the
prairie. This term, however, should hardly be applied to the beautiful
undulating scenery of this park-like country. Unlike the flat monotony
of the Grand Plains, here well wooded uplands, clothed with forest
trees of every species, and picturesque dells, through which run
clear bubbling streams belted with gay-blossomed shrubs, every where
present themselves; whilst on the level meadow-land, topes of trees
with spreading foliage afford a shelter to the game and cattle, and
well-timbered knolls rise at intervals from the plain.

Many clear streams dashing over their pebbly beds intersect the
country, from which, in the noon-day's heat, the red-deer jump,
shaking their wet sides, as the noise of approaching man disturbs
them; and booming grouse rise from the tall luxuriant herbage at
every step. Where the deep escarpments of the river banks exhibit the
section of the earth, a rich alluvial soil of surpassing depth courts
the cultivation of civilised man; and in every feature it is evident
that here nature has worked with kindliest and most bountiful hand.

For hundreds of miles along the western or right bank of the
Missouri does a country extend, with which, for fertility and natural
resources, no part of Europe can stand comparison. Sufficiently large
to contain an enormous population, it has, besides, every advantage
of position, and all the natural capabilities which should make it
the happy abode of civilised man. Through this unpeopled country the
United States pours her greedy thousands, to seize upon the barren
territories of her feeble neighbour.

Camping the first night on “Black Jack,” our mountaineers here cut
each man a spare hickory wiping-stick for his rifle; and La Bonté, who
was the only greenhorn of the party, witnessed a savage ebullition
of rage on the part of one of his companions, exhibiting the perfect
unrestraint which these men impose upon their passions, and the
barbarous anger which the slightest opposition to their will excites.
One of the trappers, on arriving at the camping-place, dismounted from
his horse, and, after divesting it of the saddle, endeavoured to lead
his mule by the rope up to the spot where he wished to deposit his
pack. Mule-like, however, the more he pulled the more stubbornly she
remained in her tracks, planting her fore-legs firmly, and stretching
out her neck with provoking obstinacy. Truth to tell, it does require
the temper of a thousand Jobs to manage a mule; and in no case does
the wilful mulishness of the animal stir up one's choler more than
in the very trick this one played, and which is a daily occurrence.
After tugging ineffectually for several minutes, winding the rope
round his body, and throwing himself suddenly forward with all his
strength, the trapper actually foamed with passion; and although he
might have subdued the animal at once by fastening the rope with a
half-hitch round its nose, this, with an obstinacy equal to that of
the mule itself, he refused to attempt, preferring to vanquish her by
main strength. Failing so to do, the mountaineer, with a volley of
blasphemous imprecations, suddenly seized his rifle, and levelling it
at the mule's head, shot her dead.

Passing the Wa-ka-rasha, a well-timbered stream, they met a band of
Osages going “to buffalo.” These Indians, in common with some tribes
of the Pawnees, shave the head, with the exception of a ridge from
the forehead to the centre of the scalp, which is “roached” or hogged
like the mane of a mule, and stands erect, plastered with unguents,
and ornamented with feathers of the hawk and turkey. The naked scalp
is often painted in mosaic with black and red, the face with shining
vermilion. This band were all naked to the breech-clout, the warmth
of the sun having made them throw their dirty blankets from their
shoulders. These Indians not unfrequently levy contributions on the
strangers they accidentally meet; but they easily distinguish the
determined mountaineer from the incautious greenhorn, and think it
better to let the former alone.

Crossing Vermilion, the trappers arrived on the fifth day at “Blue,”
where they encamped in the broad timber belting the creek, and there
awaited the arrival of the remainder of the party.

It was two days before they came up; but the following day they
started for the mountains, fourteen in number, striking a trail which
follows the “Big Blue” in its course through the prairies, which, as
they advanced to the westward, gradually smoothed away into a vast
unbroken expanse of rolling plain. Herds of antelope began to show
themselves, and some of the hunters, leaving the trail, soon returned
with plenty of their tender meat. The luxuriant but coarse grass they
had hitherto seen now changed into the nutritious and curly buffalo
grass, and their animals soon improved in appearance on the excellent
pasture. In a few days, without any adventure, they struck the Platte
River, its shallow waters (from which it derives its name) spreading
over a wide and sandy bed, numerous sand bars obstructing the sluggish
current, nowhere sufficiently deep to wet the forder's knee.

By this time, but few antelope having been seen, the party ran
entirely out of meat; and, one whole day and part of another having
passed without so much as a stray rabbit presenting itself, not a few
objurgations on the buffalo grumbled from the lips of the hunters, who
expected ere this to have reached the land of plenty. La Bonté killed
a fine deer, however, in the river bottom, after they had encamped,
not one particle of which remained after supper that night, but
which hardly took the rough edge off their keen appetites. Although
already in the buffalo range, no traces of these animals had yet been
seen; and as the country afforded but little game, and the party did
not care to halt and lose time in hunting for it, they moved along
hungry and sulky, the theme of conversation being the well remembered
merits of good buffalo meat,—of “fat fleece,” “hump rib,” and “tender
loin;” of delicious “boudins,” and marrow bones too good to think
of. La Bonté had never seen the lordly animal, and consequently but
half believed the accounts of the mountaineers, who described their
countless bands as covering the prairie far as the eye could reach,
and requiring days of travel to pass through; but the visions of
such dainty and abundant feeding as they descanted on set his mouth
watering, and danced before his eyes as he slept supperless, night
after night, on the banks of the hungry Platte.

One morning he had packed his animals before the rest, and was riding
a mile in advance of the party, when he saw on one side the trail,
looming in the refracted glare which mirages the plains, three large
dark objects without shape or form, which rose and fell in the
exaggerated light like ships at sea. Doubting what it could be, he
approached the strange objects; and as the refraction disappeared
before him, the dark masses assumed a more distinct form, and clearly
moved with life. A little nearer, and he made them out—they were
buffalo. Thinking to distinguish himself, the greenhorn dismounted
from his mule, and quickly hobbled her, throwing his lasso on the
ground to trail behind when he wished to catch her. Then, rifle in
hand, he approached the huge animals, and, being a good hunter, knew
well to take advantage of the inequalities of the ground and face the
wind; by which means he crawled at length to within forty yards of
the buffalo, which quietly cropped the grass, unconscious of danger.
Now, for the first time, he gazed upon the noble beast he had so often
heard of, and longed to see. With coal-black beard sweeping the ground
as he fed, an enormous bull was in advance of the others, his wild
brilliant eyes peering from an immense mass of shaggy hair, which
covered his neck and shoulder. From this point his skin was smooth as
one's hand, a sleek and shining dun, and his ribs were well covered
with shaking flesh. Whilst leisurely cropping the short curly grass
he occasionally lifted his tail into the air, and stamped his foot as
a fly or musquito annoyed him—flapping the intruder with his tail, or
snatching at the itching part with his ponderous head.

When La Bonté had sufficiently admired the buffalo, he lifted his
rifle, and, taking steady aim, and certain of his mark, pulled the
trigger, expecting to see the huge beast fall over at the report. What
was his surprise and consternation, however, to see the animal only
flinch when the ball struck him, and then gallop off, followed by the
others, apparently unhurt. As is generally the case with greenhorns,
he had fired too high, ignorant that the only certain spot to strike a
buffalo is but a few inches above the brisket, and that a higher shot
is rarely fatal. When he rose from the ground, he saw all the party
halting in full view of his discomfiture; and when he joined them,
loud were the laughs, and deep the regrets of the hungry at his first
attempt.

However, they now knew that they were in the country of meat; and a
few miles farther, another band of stragglers presenting themselves,
three of the hunters went in pursuit, La Bonté taking a mule to pack
in the meat. He soon saw them crawling towards the band, and shortly
two puffs of smoke, and the sharp cracks of their rifles, showed that
they had got within shot; and when he rode up, two fine buffaloes were
stretched upon the ground. Now, for the first time, he was initiated
in the mysteries of “butchering.” He watched the hunters as they
turned the carcass on the belly, stretching out the legs to support it
on each side. A transverse cut was then made at the nape of the neck,
and, gathering the long hair of the boss in one hand, the skin was
separated from the shoulder. It was then laid open from this point to
the tail, along the spine, and then, freed from the sides and pulled
down to the brisket, but still attached to it, was stretched upon
the ground to receive the dissected portions. Then the shoulder was
severed, the fleece removed from along the backbone, and the hump-ribs
cut off with a tomahawk. All this was placed upon the skin; and after
the “boudins” had been withdrawn from the stomach, and the tongue—a
great dainty—taken from the head, the meat was packed upon the mule,
and the whole party hurried to camp rejoicing.

There was merry-making in the camp that night, and the way they
indulged their appetites—or, in their own language, “throw'd” the
meat “cold”—would have made the heart of a dyspeptic leap for joy or
burst with envy. Far into the “still watches of the tranquil night”
the fat-clad “depouille” saw its fleshy mass grow small by degrees
and beautifully less, before the trenchant blades of the hungry
mountaineers; appetising yards of well-browned “boudin” slipped glibly
down their throats; rib after rib of tender hump was picked and flung
to the wolves; and when human nature, with helpless gratitude, and
confident that nothing of superexcellent comestibility remained, was
lazily wiping the greasy knife that had done such good service,—a
skilful hunter was seen to chuckle to himself as he raked the deep
ashes of the fire, and drew therefrom a pair of tongues so admirably
baked, so soft, so sweet, and of such exquisite flavour, that a veil
is considerately drawn over the effects their discussion produced in
the mind of our greenhorn La Bonté, and the raptures they excited in
the bosom of that, as yet, most ignorant mountaineer. Still, as he
ate he wondered, and wondering admired, that nature, in giving him
such profound gastronomic powers, and such transcendant capabilities
of digestion, had yet bountifully provided an edible so peculiarly
adapted to his ostrich-like appetite, that after consuming nearly his
own weight in rich and fat buffalo meat, he felt as easy and as little
incommoded as if he had lightly supped on strawberries and cream.

Sweet was the digestive pipe after such a feast; soft was the sleep
and deep, which sealed the eyes of the contented trappers that night.
It felt like the old thing, they said, to be once more amongst the
“meat;” and, as they were drawing near the dangerous portion of the
trail, they felt at home; although they now could never be confident,
when they lay down at night upon their buffalo robes, of awaking again
in this life, knowing, as they did, full well, that savage men lurked
near, thirsting for their blood.

However, no enemies showed themselves as yet, and they proceeded
quietly up the river, vast herds of buffaloes darkening the plains
around them, affording them more than abundance of the choicest
meat; but, to their credit be it spoken, no more was killed than was
absolutely required,—unlike the cruel slaughter made by most of the
white travellers across the plains, who wantonly destroy these noble
animals, not even for the excitement of sport, but in cold-blooded
and insane butchery. La Bonté had practice enough to perfect him in
the art, and, before the buffalo range was passed, he was ranked as
a first-rate hunter. One evening he had left the camp for meat, and
was approaching a band of cows for that purpose, crawling towards
them along the bed of a dry hollow in the prairie, when he observed
them suddenly jump towards him, and immediately afterwards a score of
mounted Indians appeared, whom, by their dress, he at once knew to be
Pawnees and enemies. Thinking they might not discover him, he crouched
down in the ravine; but a noise behind caused him to turn his head,
and he saw some five or six advancing up the bed of the dry creek,
whilst several more were riding on the bluffs. The cunning savages had
cut off his retreat to his mule, which he saw in the possession of
one of them. His presence of mind, however, did not desert him; and
seeing at once that to remain where he was would be like being caught
in a trap (as the Indians could advance to the edge of the bluff and
shoot him from above), he made for the open prairie, determined at
least to sell his scalp dearly, and make “a good fight.” With a yell
the Indians charged, but halted when they saw the sturdy trapper
deliberately kneel, and, resting his rifle on the wiping-stick, take
a steady aim as they advanced. Full well the Pawnees know, to their
cost, that a mountaineer seldom pulls his trigger without sending a
bullet to the mark; and, certain that one at least must fall, they
hesitated to make the onslaught. Steadily the white retreated with
his face to the foe, bringing the rifle to his shoulder the instant
that one advanced within shot, the Indians galloping round, firing the
few guns they had amongst them at long distances, but without effect.
One young “brave,” more daring than the rest, rode out of the crowd,
and dashed at the hunter, throwing himself, as he passed within a few
yards, from the saddle, and hanging over the opposite side of his
horse, thus presenting no other mark than his left foot. As he crossed
La Bonté, he discharged his bow from under his horse's neck, and with
such good aim, that the arrow, whizzing through the air, struck the
stock of the hunter's rifle, which was at his shoulder, and, glancing
off, pierced his arm, inflicting, luckily, but a slight wound. Again
the Indian turned in his course, the others encouraging him with loud
war-whoops, and, once more passing at still less distance, he drew
his arrow to the head. This time, however, the eagle eye of the white
detected the action, and suddenly rising from his knee as the Indian
approached (hanging by his foot alone over the opposite side of the
horse), he jumped towards the animal with outstretched arms and a loud
yell, causing it to start suddenly, and swerve from its course. The
Indian lost his foot-hold, and, after a fruitless struggle to regain
his position, fell to the ground; but instantly rose upon his feet
and gallantly confronted the mountaineer, striking his hand upon his
brawny chest and shouting a loud whoop of defiance. In another instant
the rifle of La Bonté had poured forth its contents; and the brave
savage, springing into the air, fell dead to the ground, just as the
other trappers, who had heard the firing, galloped up to the spot.
At sight of them the Pawnees, with yells of disappointed vengeance,
hastily retreated.

That night La Bonté first lifted hair!

A few days later the mountaineers reached the point where the Platte
divides into two great forks: the northern one, stretching to the
north-west, skirts the eastern base of the Black Hills, and sweeping
round to the south rises in the vicinity of the mountain valley called
the New Park, receiving the Laramie, Medicine Bow, and Sweet-Water
creeks. The other, or “South Fork,” strikes towards the mountains
in a south-westerly direction, hugging the base of the main chain
of the Rocky Mountains; and, fed by several small creeks, rises in
the uplands of the Bayou Salade, near which is also the source of
the Arkansa. To the forks of the Platte the valley of that river
extends from three to five miles on each side, enclosed by steep sandy
bluffs, from the summits of which the prairies stretch away in broad
undulating expanse to the north and south. The “bottom,” as it is
termed, is but thinly covered with timber, the cotton-woods being
scattered only here and there; but some of the islands in the broad
bed of the stream are well wooded, leading to the inference that the
trees on the banks have been felled by Indians who formerly frequented
the neighbourhood of this river as a chosen hunting-ground. As, during
the long winters, the pasture in the vicinity is scarce and withered,
the Indians feed their horses on the bark of the sweet cotton-wood,
upon which they subsist, and even fatten. Thus, wherever a village
has encamped, the trunks of these trees strew the ground, their upper
limbs and smaller branches peeled of their bark, and looking as white
and smooth as if scraped with a knife.

On the forks, however, the timber is heavier and of greater variety,
some of the creeks being well wooded with ash and cherry, which break
the monotony of the everlasting cotton-wood.

Dense masses of buffalo still continued to darken the plains, and
numerous bands of wolves hovered round the outskirts of the vast
herds, singling out the sick and wounded animals, and preying upon
such calves as the rifles and arrows of the hunters had bereaved of
their mothers. The white wolf is the invariable attendant upon the
buffalo; and when one of these persevering animals is seen, it is
certain sign that buffalo are not far distant. Besides the buffalo
wolf, there are four distinct varieties common to the plains, and
all more or less attendant upon the buffalo. These are, the black,
the gray, the brown, and last and least the _coyote_, or _cayeute_
of the mountaineers, the “_wach-unka-mănet_,” or “medicine wolf” of
the Indians, who hold the latter animal in reverential awe. This
little wolf, whose fur is of great thickness and beauty, is of
diminutive size, but wonderfully sagacious, making up by cunning
what it wants in physical strength. In bands of from three to thirty
they not unfrequently station themselves along the “runs” of the
deer and the antelope, extending their line for many miles—and the
quarry being started, each wolf follows in pursuit until tired, when
it relinquishes the chase to another relay, following slowly after
until the animal is fairly run down, when all hurry to the spot and
speedily consume the carcass. The cayeute, however, is often made a
tool of by his larger brethren, unless, indeed, he acts from motives
of spontaneous charity. When a hunter has slaughtered game, and is in
the act of butchering it, these little wolves sit patiently at a short
distance from the scene of operations, while at a more respectful one
the larger wolves (the white or gray) lope hungrily around, licking
their chops in hungry expectation. Not unfrequently the hunter throws
a piece of meat towards the smaller one, who seizes it immediately,
and runs off with the morsel in his mouth. Before he gets many yards
with his prize, the large wolf pounces with a growl upon him, and the
cayeute, dropping the meat, returns to his former position, and will
continue his charitable act as long as the hunter pleases to supply
him.

Wolves are so common on the plains and in the mountains, that the
hunter never cares to throw away a charge of ammunition upon them,
although the ravenous animals are a constant source of annoyance to
him, creeping to the camp-fire at night, and gnawing his saddles and
_apishamores_, eating the skin ropes which secure the horses and mules
to their pickets, and even their very hobbles, and not unfrequently
killing or entirely disabling the animals themselves.

Round the camp, during the night, the cayeute keeps unremitting watch,
and the traveller not unfrequently starts from his bed with affright,
as the mournful and unearthly chiding of the wolf breaks suddenly upon
his ear: the long-drawn howl being taken up by others of the band,
until it dies away in the distance, or some straggler passing within
hearing answers to the note, and howls as he lopes away.

Our party crossed the south fork about ten miles from its juncture
with the main stream, and then, passing the prairie, struck the north
fork a day's travel from the other. At the mouth of an ash-timbered
creek they came upon Indian “sign,” and, as now they were in the
vicinity of the treacherous Sioux, they moved along with additional
caution, Frapp and Gonneville, two experienced mountaineers, always
heading the advance.

About noon they had crossed over to the left bank of the fork,
intending to camp on a large creek where some fresh beaver “sign” had
attracted the attention of some of the trappers; and as, on further
examination, it appeared that two or three lodges of that animal were
not far distant, it was determined to remain here a day or two, and
set their traps.

Gonneville, old Luke, and La Bonté, had started up the creek, and were
carefully examining the banks for “sign,” when the former, who was in
front, suddenly paused, and looking intently up the stream, held up
his hand to his companions to signal them to stop.

Luke and La Bonté both followed the direction of the trapper's intent
and fixed gaze. The former uttered in a suppressed tone the expressive
exclamation, Wagh!—the latter saw nothing but a wood-duck swimming
swiftly down the stream, followed by her downy progeny.

Gonneville turned his head, and extending his arm twice with a forward
motion up the creek, whispered—“Les sauvages.”

“Injuns, sure, and Sioux at that,” answered Luke.

Still La Bonté looked, but nothing met his view but the duck with her
brood, now rapidly approaching; and as he gazed, the bird suddenly
took wing, and, flapping on the water, flew a short distance down the
stream and once more settled on it.

“Injuns?” he asked; “where are they?”

“Whar?” repeated old Luke, striking the flint of his rifle, and
opening the pan to examine the priming. “What brings a duck a-streakin
it down stream, if humans aint behint her? and who's thar in these
diggins but Injuns, and the worst kind? and we'd better push to camp,
I'm thinking, if we mean to save our hair.”

“Sign” sufficient, indeed, it was to all the trappers, who, on being
apprised of it, instantly drove in their animals, and picketed
them; and hardly had they done so when a band of Indians made their
appearance on the banks of the creek, from whence they galloped to the
bluff which overlooked the camp at the distance of about six hundred
yards; and crowning this, in number some forty or more, commenced
brandishing their spears and guns, and whooping loud yells of
defiance. The trappers had formed a little breast-work of their packs,
forming a semicircle, the chord of which was made by the animals
standing in a line, side by side, closely picketed and hobbled. Behind
this defence stood the mountaineers, rifle in hand, and silent and
determined. The Indians presently descended the bluff on foot, leaving
their animals in charge of a few of the party, and, scattering,
advanced under cover of the sage bushes which dotted the bottom, to
about two hundred yards of the whites. Then a chief advanced before
the rest, and made the sign for a talk with the Long-knives, which
led to a consultation amongst the latter, as to the policy of acceding
to it. They were in doubts as to the nation these Indians belonged to,
some bands of the Sioux being friendly, and others bitterly hostile to
the whites.

Gonneville, who spoke the Sioux language, and was well acquainted with
the nation, affirmed they belonged to a band called the Yanka-taus,
well known to be the most evil-disposed of that treacherous nation;
another of the party maintained they were Brulés, and that the chief
advancing towards them was the well-known Tah-sha-tunga or Bull Tail,
a most friendly chief of that tribe. The majority, however, trusted
to Gonneville, and he volunteered to go out to meet the Indian,
and hear what he had to say. Divesting himself of all arms save
his butcher-knife, he advanced towards the savage, who awaited his
approach, enveloped in the folds of his blanket. At a glance he knew
him to be a Yanka-tau, from the peculiar make of his moccasins, and
the way in which his face was daubed with paint.

“Howgh!” exclaimed both as they met; and, after a silence of a few
moments, the Indian spoke, asking—“Why the Long-knives hid behind
their packs, when his band approached? Were they afraid, or were they
preparing a dog-feast to entertain their friends?” The whites were
passing through his country, burning his wood, drinking his water,
and killing his game; but he knew they had now come to pay for the
mischief they had done, and that the mules and horses they had brought
with them were intended as a present to their red friends.

“He was Mah-to-ga-shane,” he said, “the Brave Bear: his tongue was
short, but his arm long; and he loved rather to speak with his bow
and his lance than with the weapon of a squaw. He had said it: the
Long-knives had horses with them and mules; and these were for him, he
knew, and for his 'braves.' Let the White-face go back to his people
and return with the animals, or he, the 'Brave Bear,' would have to
come and take them; and his young men would get mad and would feel
blood in their eyes; and then he would have no power over them; and
the whites would have to 'go under.'”

The trapper answered shortly.—“The Long-knives,” he said, “had brought
the horses for themselves—their hearts were big, but not towards the
Yanka-taus: and if they had to give up their animals, it would be
to _men_ and not _squaws_. They were not 'wah-keitcha,'[18] (French
engagés), but Long-knives; and, however short were the tongues of the
Yanka-taus, theirs were still shorter, and their rifles longer. The
Yanka-taus were dogs and squaws, and the Long-knives spat upon them.”

Saying this, the trapper turned his back and rejoined his companions;
whilst the Indian slowly proceeded to his people, who, on learning the
contemptuous way in which their threats had been treated, testified
their anger with loud yells; and, seeking whatever cover was afforded,
commenced a scattering volley upon the camp of the mountaineers. The
latter reserved their fire, treating with cool indifference the balls
which began to rattle about them; but as the Indians, emboldened by
this apparent inaction, rushed for a closer position, and exposed
their bodies within a long range, half-a-dozen rifles rang from the
assailed, and two Indians fell dead, one or two more being wounded.
As yet, not one of the whites had been touched, but several of the
animals had received wounds from the enemy's fire of balls and arrows.
Indeed, the Indians remained at too great a distance to render the
volleys from their crazy fusees any thing like effectual, and had to
raise their pieces considerably to make their bullets reach as far
as the camp. After three of their band had been killed outright, and
many more wounded, their fire began to slacken, and they drew off to
a greater distance, evidently resolved to beat a retreat. Retiring
to the bluff, they discharged their pieces in a last volley, mounted
their horses and galloped off, carrying their wounded with them.
This last volley, however, although intended as a mere bravado,
unfortunately proved fatal to one of the whites. Gonneville, at the
moment, was standing on a pack, to get an uninterrupted sight for a
last shot, when one of the random bullets struck him in the breast.
La Bonté caught him in his arms as he was about to fall, and laying
the wounded trapper gently on the ground, stripped him of his buckskin
hunting-frock, to examine the wound. A glance was sufficient to
convince his companions that the blow was mortal. The ball had passed
through the lungs; and in a few moments the throat of the wounded
man swelled and turned to a livid blue colour, as the choking blood
ascended. Only a few drops of purple blood trickled from the wound,—a
fatal sign,—and the eyes of the mountaineer were already glazing with
death's icy touch. His hand still grasped the barrel of his rifle,
which had done good service in the fray. Anon he essayed to speak,
but, choked with blood, only a few inarticulate words reached the ears
of his companions, as they bent over him.

“Rubbed—out—at—last,” they heard him say, the words gurgling in his
blood-filled throat; and opening his eyes once more, and turning them
upwards for a last look at the bright sun, the trapper turned gently
on his side and breathed his last sigh.

With no other tools than their scalp-knives, the hunters dug a grave
on the banks of the creek; and whilst some were engaged in this work,
others sought the bodies of the Indians they had slain in the attack,
and presently returned with three reeking scalps, the trophies of the
fight. The body of the mountaineer was wrapped in a buffalo robe,
the scalps being placed on his breast, and the dead man was then laid
in the shallow grave, and quickly covered—without a word of prayer,
or sigh of grief; for, however much his companions may have felt, not
a word escaped them. The bitten lip and frowning brow told of anger
rather than of sorrow, as they vowed—what they thought would better
please the spirit of the dead man than vain regrets—bloody and lasting
revenge.

Trampling down the earth which filled the grave, they raised upon
it a pile of heavy stones; and packing their mules once more, and
taking a last look at their comrade's lonely resting-place, they
turned their backs upon the stream, which has ever since been known as
“Gonneville's Creek.”

If the reader casts his eye over any of the recent maps of the
western country, which detail the features of the regions embracing
the Rocky Mountains, and the vast prairies at their bases, he will
not fail to observe that many of the creeks or smaller streams which
feed the larger rivers,—as the Missouri, Platte, and Arkansa,—are
called by familiar proper names, both English and French. These are
invariably christened after some unfortunate trapper, killed there in
Indian fight; or treacherously slaughtered by the lurking savages,
while engaged in trapping beaver on the stream. Thus alone is the
memory of these hardy men perpetuated, at least of those whose fate
is ascertained: for many, in every season, never return from their
hunting expeditions, but meet a sudden death from Indians, or a more
lingering fate from accident or disease in some lonely gorge of the
mountains where no footfall save their own, or the heavy tread of
grizzly bear, disturbs the unbroken silence of the awful solitude.
Then, as many winters pass without some old familiar faces making
their appearance at the merry rendezvous, their long protracted
absence may perhaps elicit a remark, as to where such and such
a mountain worthy can have betaken himself, to which the casual
rejoinder of “Gone under, maybe,” too often gives a short but certain
answer.

In all the philosophy of hardened hearts, our hunters turned from the
spot where the unmourned trapper met his death. La Bonté, however, not
yet entirely steeled by mountain life to a perfect indifference to
human feeling, drew his hard hand across his eye, as the unbidden tear
rose from his rough but kindly heart. He could not forget so soon the
comrade he had lost, the companion in the hunt or over the cheerful
camp-fire, the narrator of many a tale of dangers past, of sufferings
from hunger, cold, thirst, and untended wounds, of Indian perils, and
other vicissitudes. One tear dropped from the young hunter's eye, and
rolled down his cheek—the last for many a long year.

In the forks of the northern branch of the Platte, formed by the
junction of the Laramie, they found a big village of the Sioux
encamped near the station of one of the fur companies. Here the party
broke up; many, finding the alcohol of the traders an impediment to
their further progress, remained some time in the vicinity, while La
Bonté, Luke, and a trapper named Marcelline, started in a few days
to the mountains, to trap on Sweet Water and Medicine Bow. They had
leisure, however, to observe all the rascalities connected with the
Indian trade, although at this season (August) hardly commenced.
However, a band of Indians having come in with several packs of last
year's robes, and being anxious to start speedily on their return, a
trader from one of the forts had erected his lodge in the village.

Here he set to work immediately, to induce the Indians to trade.
First, a chief appoints three “soldiers” to guard the trader's lodge
from intrusion; and these sentries amongst the thieving fraternity can
be invariably trusted. Then the Indians are invited to have a drink—a
taste of the fire-water being given to all to incite them to trade. As
the crowd presses upon the entrance to the lodge, and those in rear
become impatient, some large-mouthed savage who has received a portion
of the spirit, makes his way, with his mouth full of the liquor and
cheeks distended, through the throng, and is instantly surrounded
by his particular friends. Drawing the face of each, by turns, near
his own, he squirts a small quantity into his open mouth, until
the supply is exhausted, when he returns for more, and repeats the
generous distribution.

When paying for the robes, the traders, in measuring out the liquor
in a tin half-pint cup, thrust their thumbs or the four fingers of
the hand into the measure, in order that it may contain the less, or
not unfrequently fill the bottom with melted buffalo fat, with the
same object. So greedy are the Indians, that they never discover the
cheat, and, once under the influence of the liquor, cannot distinguish
between the first cup of comparatively strong spirit, and the
following ones diluted five hundred per cent, and poisonously drugged
to boot.

Scenes of drunkenness, riot, and bloodshed last until the trade is
over. In the winter it occupies several weeks, during which period the
Indians present the appearance, under the demoralising influence of
the liquor, of demons rather than of men.



CHAPTER IV.


La Bonté and his companions proceeded up the river, the Black Hills
on their left hand, from which several small creeks or feeders swell
the waters of the North Fork. Along these they hunted unsuccessfully
for beaver “sign,” and it was evident the spring hunt had almost
exterminated the animal in this vicinity. Following Deer Creek to the
ridge of the Black Hills, they crossed the mountain on to the waters
of the Medicine Bow, and here they discovered a few lodges, and La
Bonté set his first trap. He and old Luke finding “cuttings” near
the camp, followed the “sign” along the bank until the practised eye
of the latter discovered a “slide,” where the beaver had ascended
the bank to chop the trunk of a cotton wood, and convey the bark to
its lodge. Taking a trap from “sack,” the old hunter, after setting
the trigger, placed it carefully under the water, where the “slide”
entered the stream, securing the chain to the stem of a sappling
on the bank; while a stick, also attached to the trap by a thong,
floated down the stream, to mark the position of the trap, should the
animal carry it away. A little farther on, and near another “run,”
three traps were set; and over these Luke placed a little stick,
which he first dipped into a mysterious-looking phial containing his
“medicine.”[19]

The next morning they visited the traps, and had the satisfaction of
finding three fine beaver secured in the first three they visited,
and the fourth, which had been carried away, they discovered by the
float-stick, a little distance down the stream, with a large drowned
beaver between its teeth.

The animals being carefully skinned, they returned to camp with the
choicest portions of the meat, and the tails, on which they most
luxuriously supped; and La Bonté was fain to confess that all his
ideas of the superexcellence of buffalo were thrown in the shade by
the delicious beaver tail, the rich meat of which he was compelled to
allow was “great eating,” unsurpassed by “tender loin” or “boudin,” or
other meat of whatever kind he had eaten of before.

The country where La Bonté and his companions were trapping, is very
curiously situated in the extensive bend of the Platte which encloses
the Black Hill range on the north, and which bounds the large expanse
of broken tract known as the Laramie Plains, their southern limit
being the base of the Medicine Bow Mountains. From the north-western
corner of the bend, an inconsiderable range extends to the westward,
gradually decreasing in height until it reaches an elevated plain,
which forms a break in the stupendous chain of the Rocky Mountains,
and affords the easy passage now known as the Great, or South Pass.
So gradual is the ascent of this portion of the mountain, that
the traveller can scarcely believe he is crossing the dividing
ridge between the waters which flow into the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans, and that in a few minutes he can fling two sticks into two
neighbouring streams, one to be carried thousands of miles, traversed
by the eastern waters in their course to the Gulf of Mexico, the other
to be borne a lesser distance to the Gulf of California.

The country is frequented by the Crows and Snakes, who are at
perpetual war with the Shians and Sioux, following them often far down
the Platte, where many bloody battles have taken place. The Crows are
esteemed friendly to the whites; but when on war expeditions, and
“hair” their object, it is always dangerous to fall in with Indian
war-parties, and particularly in the remote regions of the mountains,
where they do not anticipate retaliation.

Trapping with tolerable success in this vicinity, the hunters crossed
over, as soon as the premonitory storms of approaching winter warned
them to leave the mountains, to the waters of Green River, one of
the affluents of the Colorado, intending to winter at a rendezvous
to be held in “Brown's Hole”—an enclosed valley so called—which,
abounding in game, and sheltered on every side by lofty mountains,
is a favourite wintering-ground of the mountaineers. Here they found
several trapping bands already arrived; and a trader from the Uintah
country, with store of powder, lead, and tobacco, prepared to ease
them of their hardly-earned peltries.

Singly, and in bands numbering from two to ten, the trappers dropped
into the rendezvous; some with many pack-loads of beaver, others with
greater or less quantity, and more than one on foot, having lost his
animals and peltry by Indian thieving. Here were soon congregated many
mountaineers, whose names are famous in the history of the Far West.
Fitzpatrick and Hatcher, and old Bill Williams, well known leaders
of trapping parties, soon arrived with their bands. Sublette came in
with his men from Yellow Stone, and many of Wyeth's New Englanders
were there. Chabonard with his half-breeds, Wah-keitchas all, brought
his peltries from the lower country; and half-a-dozen Shawanee and
Delaware Indians, with a Mexican from Taos, one Marcelline, a fine
strapping fellow, the best trapper and hunter in the mountains, and
ever first in the fight. Here, too, arrived the “Bourgeois” traders
of the “North West”[20] Company, with their superior equipments,
ready to meet their trappers, and purchase the beaver at an equitable
value; and soon the trade opened, and the encampment assumed a busy
appearance.

A curious assemblage did the rendezvous present, and representatives
of many a land met there. A son of _La belle France_ here lit his
pipe from one proffered by a native of New Mexico. An Englishman and
a Sandwich Islander cut a quid from the same plug of tobacco. A Swede
and an “old Virginian” puffed together. A Shawanee blew a peaceful
cloud with a scion of the “Six Nations.” One from the Land of Cakes—a
canny chiel—sought to “get round” (in trade) a right “smart” Yankee,
but couldn't “shine.”

The beaver went briskly, six dollars being the price paid per lb. in
goods—for money is seldom given in the mountain market, where “beaver”
is cash, for which the articles supplied by the traders are bartered.
In a very short time peltries of every description had changed hands,
either by trade, or by gambling with cards and betting. With the
mountain men bets decide every question that is raised, even the most
trivial; and if the Editor of _Bell's Life_ were to pay one of these
rendezvous a winter visit, he would find the broad sheet of his paper
hardly capacious enough to answer all the questions which would be
referred to his decision.

Before the winter was over, La Bonté had lost all traces of civilised
humanity, and might justly claim to be considered as “hard a case”
as any of the mountaineers then present. Long before the spring
opened, he had lost all the produce of his hunt and both his animals,
which, however, by a stroke of luck, he recovered, and wisely “held
on to” for the future. Right glad when spring appeared, he started
from Brown's Hole, with four companions, to hunt the Uintah or Snake
country, and the affluents of the larger streams which rise in that
region and fall into the Gulf of California.

In the valley of the Bear River they found beaver abundant, and
trapped their way westward until they came upon the famed locality of
the Beer and Soda Springs—natural fountains of mineral water, renowned
amongst the trappers as being “medicine” of the first order.

Arriving one evening, about sundown, at the Bear Spring, they found
a solitary trapper sitting over the rocky basin, intently regarding,
with no little awe, the curious phenomenon of the bubbling gas. Behind
him were piled his saddles and a pack of skins, and at a little
distance a hobbled Indian pony fed amongst the cedars which formed a
grove round the spring. As the three hunters dismounted from their
animals, the lone trapper scarcely noticed their arrival, his eyes
being still intently fixed upon the water. Looking round at last,
he was instantly recognised by one of La Bonté's companions, and
saluted as “Old Rube.” Dressed from head to foot in buckskin, his
face, neck, and hands appeared to be of the same leathery texture, so
nearly did they assimilate in colour to the materials of his dress. He
was at least six feet two or three in his moccasins, straight-limbed
and wiry, with long arms ending in hands of tremendous grasp, and
a quantity of straight black hair hanging on his shoulders. His
features, which were undeniably good, wore an expression of comical
gravity, never relaxing into a smile, which a broad good-humoured
mouth could have grinned from ear to ear.

“What, boys,” he said, “will you be simple enough to camp here,
alongside these springs? Nothing good ever came of sleeping here, I
tell you, and the worst kind of devils are in those dancing waters.”

“Why, old hos,” cried La Bonté, “what brings you hyar then, and camp
at that?”

“This niggur,” answered Rube solemnly, “has been down'd upon a sight
too often to be skeared by what can come out from them waters; and
thar arn't a devil as hisses thar, as can 'shine' with this child,
I tell you. I've tried him onest, an' fout him to clawin' away to
Eustis,[21] and if I draws my knife again on such varmint, I'll raise
his hair, as sure as shootin'.”

Spite of the reputed dangers of the locality, the trappers camped on
the spot, and many a draught of the delicious sparkling water they
quaffed in honour of the “medicine” of the fount. Rube, however, sat
sulky and silent, his huge form bending over his legs, which were
crossed, Indian fashion, under him, and his long bony fingers spread
over the fire, which had been made handy to the spring. At last they
elicited from him that he had sought this spot for the purpose of
“_making medicine_,” having been persecuted by extraordinary ill luck,
even at this early period of his hunt—the Indians having stolen two
out of his three animals, and three of his half-dozen traps. He had,
therefore, sought the springs for the purpose of invoking the fountain
spirits, which, a perfect Indian in his simple heart, he implicitly
believed to inhabit their mysterious waters. When the others had, as
he thought, fallen asleep, La Bonté observed the ill-starred trapper
take from his pouch a curiously carved red stone pipe, which he
carefully charged with tobacco and kinnik-kinnik. Then approaching
the spring, he walked three times round it, and gravely sat himself
down. Striking fire with his flint and steel, he lit his pipe, and,
bending the stem three several times towards the water, he inhaled a
vast quantity of smoke, and bending back his neck and looking upwards,
puffed it into the air. He then blew another puff towards the four
points of the compass, and emptying the pipe into his hand, cast the
consecrated contents into the spring, saying a few Indian “medicine”
words of cabalistic import. Having performed the ceremony to his
satisfaction, he returned to the fire, smoked a pipe on his own hook,
and turned into his buffalo robe, conscious of having done a most
important duty.

In the course of their trapping expedition, and accompanied by Rube,
who knew the country well, they passed near the Great Salt Lake, a
vast inland sea, whose salitrose waters cover an extent of upwards of
one hundred and forty miles in length, by eighty in breadth. Fed by
several streams, of which the Big Bear River is the most considerable,
this lake presents the curious phenomenon of a vast body of water
without any known outlet. According to the trappers, an island,
from which rises a chain of lofty mountains, nearly divides the
north-western portion of the lake, whilst a smaller one, within twelve
miles of the northern shore, rises six hundred feet from the level of
the water. Rube declared to his companions that the larger island was
known by the Indians to be inhabited by a race of giants, with whom no
communication had ever been held by mortal man; and but for the casual
wafting to the shores of the lake of logs of gigantic trees, cut by
axes of extraordinary size, the world would never have known that such
a people existed. They were, moreover, white as themselves, and lived
upon corn and fruits, and rode on elephants, &c.

Whilst following a small creek at the south-west extremity of the
lake, they came upon a band of miserable Indians, who, from the fact
of their subsisting chiefly on roots, are called the Diggers. At
first sight of the whites they immediately fled from their wretched
huts, and made towards the mountain; but one of the trappers,
galloping up on his horse, cut off their retreat, and drove them
like sheep before him back to their village. A few of these wretched
creatures came into camp at sundown, and were regaled with such meat
as the larder afforded. They appeared to have no other food in their
village but bags of dried ants and their larvæ, and a few roots of the
yampah. Their huts were constructed of a few bushes of grease-wood,
piled up as a sort of breakwind, in which they huddled in their filthy
skins. During the night, they crawled up to the camp and stole two of
the horses, and the next morning not a sign of them was visible. Now
La Bonté witnessed a case of mountain law, and the practical effects
of the “lex talionis” of the Far West.

The trail of the runaway Diggers bore to the north-west, or along the
skirt of a barren waterless desert, which stretches far away from the
southern shores of the Salt Lake to the borders of Upper California.
La Bonté, with three others, determined to follow the thieves,
recover their animals, and then rejoin the other two (Luke and Rube)
on a creek two days' journey from their present camp. Starting at
sunrise, they rode on at a rapid pace all day, closely following the
trail, which led directly to the north-west, through a wretched sandy
country, without game or water. From the appearance of the track,
the Indians must still have been several hours ahead of them, when
the fatigue of their horses, suffering from want of grass and water,
compelled them to camp near the head of a small water-course, where
they luckily found a hole containing a little water, and whence a
broad Indian trail passed, apparently frequently used. Long before
daylight they were again in the saddle, and, after proceeding a few
miles, saw the lights of several fires a short distance ahead of them.
Halting here, one of the party advanced on foot to reconnoitre, and
presently returned with the intelligence that the party they were in
pursuit of had joined a village numbering thirty or forty huts.

Loosening their girths, they permitted their tired animals to feed
on the scanty herbage which presented itself, whilst they refreshed
themselves with a pipe of tobacco—for they had no meat of any
description with them, and the country afforded no game. As the first
streak of dawn appeared in the east, they mounted their horses, after
first examining their rifles, and moved cautiously towards the Indian
village. As it was scarcely light enough for their operations, they
waited behind a sandhill in the vicinity, until objects became more
distinct, and then, emerging from their cover with loud war-whoops,
they charged abreast into the midst of the village.

As the frightened Indians were scarcely risen from their beds, no
opposition was given to the daring mountaineers, who, rushing upon
the flying crowd, discharged their rifles at close quarters, and
then, springing from their horses, attacked them knife in hand, and
only ceased the work of butchery when nine Indians lay dead upon the
ground. All this time the women, half dead with fright, were huddled
together on the ground, howling piteously; and the mountaineers
advancing to them, whirled their lassos round their heads, and
throwing the open nooses into the midst, hauled out three of them,
and securing their arms in the rope, bound them to a tree, and then
proceeded to scalp the dead bodies. Whilst they were engaged in this
work, an old Indian, withered and grisly, and hardly bigger than an
ape, suddenly emerged from a rock, holding in his left hand a bow
and a handful of arrows, whilst one was already drawn to the head.
Running towards them, and almost before the hunters were aware of
his presence, he discharged an arrow at a few yards' distance, which
buried itself in the ground not a foot from La Bonté's head as he bent
over the body of the Indian he was scalping; and hardly had the whiz
ceased, when whirr flew another, striking him in his right shoulder.
Before the Indian could fit a third arrow to his bow, La Bonté sprang
upon him, seized him by the middle, and spinning his pigmy form round
his head, as easily as he would have twirled a tomahawk, he threw
him with tremendous force on the ground at the feet of one of his
companions, who, stooping down, coolly thrust his knife into the
Indian's breast, and quickly tore off his scalp.

The slaughter over, without casting an eye to the captive squaws,
the trappers proceeded to search the village for food, of which they
stood much in need. Nothing, however, was found but a few bags of
dried ants, which, after eating voraciously of, but with wry mouths,
they threw aside, saying the food was worse than “poor bull.” They
found, however, the animals they had been robbed of, and two more
besides,—wretched half-starved creatures; and on these mounting their
captives, they hurried away on their journey back to their companions,
the distance being computed at three days' travel from their present
position. However, they thought, by taking a more direct course, they
might find better pasture for their animals, and water, besides saving
at least half a day by the short cut. To their cost, they proved the
old saying, that “a short cut is always a long road,” as will be
presently shown.

It has been said that from the south-western extremity of the Great
Salt Lake a vast desert extends for hundreds of miles, unbroken by the
slightest vegetation, destitute of game and water, and presenting a
cheerless expanse of sandy plain, or rugged mountain, thinly covered
with dwarf pine or cedar, the only evidence of vegetable life. Into
this desert, ignorant of the country, the trappers struck, intending
to make their short cut; and, travelling on all day, were compelled to
camp at night, without water or pasture for their exhausted animals,
and themselves ravenous with hunger and parched with thirst. The next
day three of their animals “gave out,” and they were fain to leave
them behind; but imagining that they must soon strike a creek, they
pushed on until noon, but still no water presented itself, nor a sign
of game of any description. The animals were nearly exhausted, and a
horse which could scarcely keep up with the slow pace of the others
was killed, and its blood greedily drunk; a portion of the flesh being
eaten raw, and a supply carried with them for future emergencies.

The next morning two of the horses lay dead at their pickets, and one
only remained, and this in such a miserable state that it could not
possibly have travelled six miles further. It was, therefore, killed,
and its blood drunk, of which, however, the captive squaws refused
to partake. The men began to feel the effects of their consuming
thirst, which the hot horse's blood only served to increase; their
lips became parched and swollen, their eyes blood-shot, and a giddy
sickness seized them at intervals. About mid-day they came in sight
of a mountain on their right hand, which appeared to be more thickly
clothed with vegetation; and arguing from this that water would be
found there, they left their course and made towards it, although
some eight or ten miles distant. On arriving at the base, the most
minute search failed to discover the slightest traces of water, and
the vegetation merely consisted of dwarf piñon and cedar. With their
sufferings increased by the exertions they had used in reaching the
mountain, they once more sought the trail, but every step told on
their exhausted frames. The sun was very powerful, the sand over which
they floundered was deep and heavy, and, to complete their sufferings
a high wind blew it in their faces, filling their mouths and noses
with its searching particles.

Still they struggled onwards manfully, and not a murmur was heard
until their hunger had entered the _second stage_ upon the road to
starvation. They had now been three days without food or water; under
which privation nature can hardly sustain herself for a much longer
period. On the fourth morning, the men looked wolfish, their captives
following behind in sullen and perfect indifference, occasionally
stooping down to catch a beetle if one presented itself, and greedily
devouring it. A man named Forey, a Canadian half-breed, was the first
to complain. “If this lasted another sundown,” he said, “some of them
would 'be rubbed out;' that meat had to be 'raised' anyhow; and for
his part, he knew where to look for a feed, if no game was seen before
they put out of camp on the morrow; and meat was meat, anyhow they
fixed it.”

No answer was made to this, though his companions well understood
him: their natures as yet revolted against the last expedient. As for
the three squaws, all of them young girls, they followed behind their
captors without a word of complaint, and with the stoical indifference
to pain and suffering, which alike characterises the haughty Delaware
of the north and the miserable stunted Digger of the deserts of the
Far West. On the morning of the fifth day, the party were seated
round a small fire of piñon, hardly able to rise and commence their
journey, the squaws squatting over another at a little distance, when
Forey commenced again to suggest that, if nothing offered, they must
either take the alternative of starving to death, for they could
not hope to last another day, or have recourse to the revolting
extremity of sacrificing one of the party to save the lives of all.
To this, however, there was a murmur of dissent, and it was finally
resolved that all should sally out and hunt; for a deer-track had been
discovered near the camp, which, although it was not a fresh one,
proved that there must be game in the vicinity. Weak and exhausted as
they were, they took their rifles and started for the neighbouring
uplands, each taking a different direction.

It was nearly sunset when La Bonté returned to the camp, where he
already espied one of his companions engaged in cooking something
over the fire. Hurrying to the spot, overjoyed with the anticipations
of a feast, he observed that the squaws were gone; but, at the same
time, thought it was not improbable they had escaped during their
absence. Approaching the fire, he observed Forey broiling some meat on
the embers, whilst at a little distance lay what he fancied was the
carcass of a deer.

“Hurrah, boy!” he exclaimed, as he drew near the fire. “You've 'made'
a 'raise,' I see.”

“_Well_, I have,” rejoined the other, turning his meat with the point
of his butcher knife. “There's the meat, hos—help yourself.”

La Bonté drew the knife from his scabbard, and approached the spot
his companion was pointing to; but what was his horror to see the yet
quivering body of one of the Indian squaws, with a large portion of
the flesh butchered from it, part of which Forey was already greedily
devouring. The knife dropped from his hand, and his heart rose to his
throat.

The next day he and his companion struck the creek where Rube and the
other trapper had agreed to await them, and found them in camp with
plenty of meat, and about to start again on their hunt, having given
up the others for lost. From the day they parted, nothing was ever
heard of La Bonté's other two companions, who doubtless fell a prey
to utter exhaustion, and were unable to return to the camp. And thus
ended the Digger expedition.

It may appear almost incredible that men having civilised blood in
their veins could perpetrate such wanton and cold-blooded acts of
aggression on the wretched Indians, as that detailed above; but it is
fact that the mountaineers never lose an opportunity of slaughtering
these miserable Diggers, and attacking their villages, often for the
purpose of capturing women, whom they carry off, and not unfrequently
sell to other tribes, or to each other. In these attacks neither sex
nor age is spared; and your mountaineer has as little compunction in
taking the life of an Indian woman, as he would have in sending his
rifle-ball through the brain of a Crow or Blackfoot warrior.

La Bonté now found himself without animals, and fairly “afoot;”
consequently nothing remained for him but to seek some of the trapping
bands, and hire himself for the hunt. Luckily for him, he soon fell
in with Roubideau, on his way to Uintah, and was supplied by him with
a couple of animals; and thus equipped, he started again with a large
band of trappers, who were going to hunt on the waters of Grand River
and the Gila. Here they fell in with another nation of Indians, from
which branch out the innumerable tribes inhabiting Northern Mexico
and part of California. They were in general friendly, but lost no
opportunity of stealing horses or any articles left lying about
the camp. On one occasion, the trappers being camped on a northern
affluent of the Gila, a volley of arrows was discharged amongst them,
severely wounding one or two of the party, as they sat round the camp
fires. The attack, however, was not renewed, and the next day the
camp was moved further down the stream, where beaver was tolerably
abundant. Before sundown a number of Indians made their appearance,
and making signs of peace, were admitted into the camp.

The trappers were all sitting at their suppers over the fires, the
Indians looking gravely on, when it was remarked that now would be
a good opportunity to retaliate upon them for the trouble their
incessant attacks had entailed upon the camp. The suggestion was
highly approved of, and instantly acted upon. Springing to their
feet, the trappers seized their rifles, and commenced the slaughter.
The Indians, panic-struck, fled without resistance, and numbers fell
before the death-dealing rifles of the mountaineers. A chief, who had
been sitting on a rock near the fire where the leader of the trappers
sat, had been singled out by the latter as the first mark for his
rifle.

Placing the muzzle to his heart, he pulled the trigger, but the
Indian, with extraordinary tenacity of life, rose and grappled with
his assailant. The white was a tall powerful man, but, notwithstanding
the deadly wound the Indian had received, he had his equal in strength
to contend against. The naked form of the Indian twisted and writhed
in his grasp, as he sought to avoid the trapper's uplifted knife. Many
of the latter's companions advanced to administer the _coup de grâce_
to the savage, but the trapper cried to them to keep off: “If he
couldn't whip the Injun,” he said, “he'd go under.”

At length he succeeded in throwing him, and, plunging his knife no
less than seven times into his body, he tore off his scalp, and went
in pursuit of the flying savages. In the course of an hour or two, all
the party returned, and sitting by the fires, resumed their suppers,
which had been interrupted in the manner just described. Walker, the
captain of the band, sat down by the fire where he had been engaged
in the struggle with the Indian chief, whose body was lying within a
few paces of it. He was in the act of fighting the battle over again
to one of his companions, and was saying that the Indian had as much
life in him as a buffalo bull, when, to the horror of all present, the
savage, who had received wounds sufficient for twenty deaths, suddenly
rose to a sitting posture, the fire shedding a glowing light upon the
horrid spectacle. The face was a mass of clotted blood, which flowed
from the lacerated scalp, whilst gouts of blood streamed from eight
gaping wounds in the naked breast.

Slowly this frightful figure rose to a sitting posture, and, bending
slowly forward to the fire, the mouth was seen to open wide, and a
hollow gurgling—owg-h-h—broke from it.

“H—!” exclaimed the trapper—and jumping up, he placed a pistol to the
ghastly head, the eyes of which sternly fixed themselves on his, and
pulling the trigger, blew the poor wretch's skull to atoms.

The Gila passes through a barren, sandy country, with but little
game, and sparsely inhabited by several different tribes of the great
nation of the Apache. Unlike the rivers of this western region, this
stream is, in most parts of its course, particularly towards its upper
waters, entirely bare of timber, and the bottom, through which it
runs, affords but little of the coarsest grass. Whilst on this stream,
the trapping party lost several animals for want of pasture, and many
more from the predatory attacks of the cunning Indians. These losses,
however, they invariably made good whenever they encountered a native
village—taking care, moreover, to repay themselves with interest
whenever occasion offered.

Notwithstanding the sterile nature of the country, the trappers,
during their passage up the Gila, saw with astonishment that the arid
and barren valley had once been peopled by a race of men far superior
to the present nomade tribes who roam over it. With no little awe
they gazed upon the ruined walls of large cities, and the remains of
houses, with their ponderous beams and joists, still testifying to
the skill and industry with which they were constructed: huge ditches
and irrigating canals, now filled with rank vegetation, furrowed the
plains in the vicinity, marking the spot where once green waving maize
and smiling gardens covered what now is a bare and sandy desert.
Pieces of broken pottery, of domestic utensils, stained with bright
colours, every where strewed the ground; and spear and arrow-heads of
stone, and quaintly carved idols, and women's ornaments of agate and
obsidian, were picked up often by the wondering trappers, examined
with child-like curiosity, and thrown carelessly aside.[22]

A Taos Indian, who was amongst the band, was evidently impressed
with a melancholy awe, as he regarded these ancient monuments of his
fallen people. At midnight he rose from his blanket and left the camp,
which was in the vicinity of the ruined city, stealthily picking his
way through the line of slumbering forms which lay around; and the
watchful sentinel observed him approach the ruins with a slow and
reverential gait. Entering the mouldering walls, he gazed silently
around, where in ages past his ancestors trod proudly, a civilised
race, the tradition of which, well known to his people, served but
to make their present degraded position more galling and apparent.
Cowering under the shadow of a crumbling wall, the Indian drew his
blanket over his head, and conjured to his mind's eye the former power
and grandeur of his race—that warlike people who, forsaking their own
country for causes of which no tradition, however dim, now exists,
sought in the fruitful and teeming valleys of the south a soil and
climate which their own lands did not afford; and, displacing the
wild and barbarous hordes inhabiting the land, raised there a mighty
empire, great in riches and civilisation.

The Indian bowed his head, and mourned the fallen greatness of his
tribe. Rising, he slowly drew his tattered blanket round his body,
and prepared to leave the spot, when the shadow of a moving figure,
creeping past a gap in the ruined wall, through which the moonbeams
played, suddenly arrested his attention. Rigid as a statue, he stood
transfixed to the spot, thinking a former inhabitant of the city
was visiting, in a ghostly form, the scenes his body once knew so
well. The bow in his right hand shook with fear as he saw the shadow
approach, but was as tightly and steadily grasped when, on the figure
emerging from the shade of the wall, he distinguished the form of a
naked Apache, armed with bow and arrow, crawling stealthily through
the gloomy ruins.

Standing undiscovered within the shadow of the wall, the Taos raised
his bow, and drew an arrow to the head, until the other, who was
bending low to keep under cover of the wall, and thus approach
the sentinel standing at a short distance, seeing suddenly the
well-defined shadow on the ground, rose upright on his legs, and,
knowing escape was impossible, threw his arms down his sides, and,
drawing himself erect, exclaimed, in a suppressed tone, “Wa-g-h!”

“Wagh!” exclaimed the Taos likewise, but quickly dropped his arrow
point, and eased the bow.

“What does my brother want,” he asked, “that he lopes like a wolf
round the fires of the white hunters?”

“Is my brother's skin not red?” returned the Apache, “and yet he asks
a question that needs no answer. Why does the 'medicine wolf' follow
the buffalo and deer? For blood—and for blood the Indian follows the
treacherous white from camp to camp, to strike blow for blow, until
the deaths of those so basely killed are fully avenged.”

“My brother speaks with a big heart, and his words are true; and
though the Taos and Pimo (Apache) black their faces towards each other
(are at war), here, on the graves of their common fathers, there is
peace between them. Let my brother go.”

The Apache moved quickly away, and the Taos once more sought the
camp-fires of his white companions.

Following the course of the Gila to the eastward, they crossed a range
of the Sierra Madre, which is a continuation of the Rocky Mountains,
and struck the waters of the Rio del Norte, below the settlements of
New Mexico. On this stream they fared well; besides trapping a great
quantity of beaver, game of all kinds abounded, and the bluffs near
the well-timbered banks of the river were covered with rich gramma
grass, on which their half-starved animals speedily improved in
condition.

They remained for some weeks encamped on the right bank of the stream,
during which period they lost one of their number, shot with an arrow
whilst lying asleep within a few feet of the camp-fire.

The Navajos continually prowl along that portion of the river which
runs through the settlements of New Mexico, preying upon the cowardly
inhabitants, and running off with their cattle whenever they are
exposed in sufficient numbers to tempt them. Whilst ascending the
river, the trappers met a party of these Indians returning to their
mountain homes with a large band of mules and horses which they
had taken from one of the Mexican towns, besides several women and
children, whom they had captured, as slaves. The main body of the
trappers halting, ten of the band followed and charged upon the
Indians, who numbered at least sixty, killed seven of them, and retook
the prisoners and the whole cavallada of horses and mules. Great were
the rejoicings when they entered Socorro, the town whence the women
and children had been taken, and as loud the remonstrances, when,
handing them over to their families, the trappers rode on, driving
fifty of the best of the rescued animals before them, which they
retained as payment for their services. Messengers were sent on to
Albuquerque with intelligence of the proceeding; and as troops were
stationed there, the commandant was applied to, to chastise the
insolent whites.

That warrior, on learning that the trappers numbered less than
fifteen, became alarmingly brave, and ordering out the whole of his
disposable force, some two hundred dragoons, sallied out to intercept
the audacious mountaineers. About noon one day, just as the latter
had emerged from a little town between Socorro and Albuquerque, they
descried the imposing force of the dragoons winding along a plain
ahead. As the trappers advanced, the officer in command halted his
men, and sent out a trumpeter to order the former to await his coming.
Treating the herald to a roar of laughter, on they went, and, as they
approached the soldiers, broke into a trot, ten of the number forming
line in front of the packed and loose animals, and, rifle in hand,
charging with loud whoops. This was enough for the New Mexicans.
Before the enemy were within shooting distance, the gallant fellows
turned tail, and splashed into the river, dragging themselves up the
opposite bank like half-drowned rats, and saluted with loud peels of
laughter by the victorious mountaineers, who, firing a volley into the
air, in token of supreme contempt, quietly continued their route up
the stream.

Before reaching the capital of the province, they struck again to the
westward, and following a small creek to its junction with the Green
River, ascended that stream, trapping _en route_ to the Uintah or
Snake Fork, and arrived at Roubideau's rendezvous early in the fall,
where they quickly disposed of their peltries, and were once more on
“the loose.”

Here La Bonté married a Snake squaw, with whom he crossed the
mountains and proceeded to the Platte through the Bayou Salade, where
he purchased of the Yutas a commodious lodge, with the necessary
poles, &c.; and being now “rich” in mules and horses, and in all
things necessary for _otium cum dignitate_, he took unto himself
another wife, as by mountain law allowed; and thus equipped, with both
his better halves attired in all the glory of fofarraw, he went his
way rejoicing.

In a snug little valley lying under the shadow of the mountains,
watered by Vermilion Creek, and in which abundance of buffalo, elk,
deer, and antelope fed and fattened on the rich grass, La Bonté raised
his lodge, employing himself in hunting, and fully occupying his
wives' time in dressing the skins of the many animals he killed. Here
he enjoyed himself amazingly until the commencement of winter, when he
determined to cross to the North Fork and trade his skins, of which
he had now as many packs as his animals could carry. It happened that
he one day left his camp, to spend a couple of days hunting buffalo
in the mountains, whither the bulls were now resorting, intending to
“put out” for Platte on his return. His hunt, however, led him farther
into the mountains than he anticipated, and it was only on the third
day that sundown saw him enter the little valley where his camp was
situated.

Crossing the creek, he was not a little disturbed at seeing fresh
Indian sign on the opposite side, which led in the direction of his
lodge; and his worst fears were realised when, on coming within
sight of the little plateau where the conical top of his white lodge
had always before met his view, he saw nothing but a blackened mass
strewing the ground, and the burnt ends of the poles which had once
supported it.

Squaws, animals, and peltry, all were gone—an Arapaho moccasin lying
on the ground told him where. He neither fumed nor fretted, but,
throwing the meat off his pack animal, and the saddle from his horse,
he collected the blackened ends of the lodge poles and made a fire—led
his beasts to water and hobbled them, threw a piece of buffalo meat
upon the coals, squatted down before the fire, and lit his pipe. La
Bonté was a true philosopher. Notwithstanding that his house, his
squaws, his peltries, were gone “at one fell swoop,” the loss scarcely
disturbed his equanimity; and before the tobacco in his pipe was half
smoked out, he had ceased to think of his misfortune. Certes, as he
turned his apolla of tender loin, he sighed as he thought of the
delicate manipulations with which his Shoshone squaw, Sah-qua-manish,
was wont to beat to tenderness the toughest bull meat—and missed
the tending care of Yute Chil-co-thē, or the “reed that bends,” in
patching the holes worn in his neatly fitting moccasins, the work of
her nimble fingers. However, he ate and smoked, and smoked and ate,
and slept none the worse for his mishap; thought, before he closed his
eyes, a little of his lost wives, and more perhaps of the “Bending
Reed” than of Sah-qua-manish, or “she who runs with the stream,” drew
his blanket tightly round him, felt his rifle handy to his grasp, and
was speedily asleep.

Whilst the tired mountaineer breathes heavily in his dream, careless
and unconscious that a living soul is near, his mule on a sudden
pricks her ears and stares into the gloom, whence a figure soon
emerges, and with noiseless steps draws near the sleeping hunter.
Taking one look at the slumbering form, the same figure approaches
the fire and adds a log to the pile; which done, it quietly seats
itself at the feet of the sleeper, and remains motionless as a
statue. Towards morning the hunter awoke, and, rubbing his eyes,
was astonished to feel the glowing warmth of the fire striking on
his naked feet, which, in Indian fashion, were stretched towards
it; as by this time, he knew, the fire he left burning must long
since have expired. Lazily raising himself on his elbow, he saw a
figure sitting near it with the back turned to him, which, although
his exclamatory wagh was loud enough in all conscience, remained
perfectly motionless, until the trapper, rising, placed his hand upon
the shoulder: then, turning up its face, the features displayed to his
wondering eye were those of Chil-co-thē, his Yuta wife. Yes, indeed,
the “reed that bends” had escaped from her Arapaho captors, and made
her way back to her white husband, fasting and alone.

The Indian women who follow the fortunes of the white hunters are
remarkable for their affection and fidelity to their husbands, the
which virtues, it must be remarked, are all on their own side; for,
with very few exceptions, the mountaineers seldom scruple to abandon
their Indian wives, whenever the fancy takes them to change their
harems; and on such occasions the squaws, thus cast aside, wild with
jealousy and despair, have been not unfrequently known to take signal
vengeance both on their faithless husbands and on the successful
beauties who have supplanted them in their affections. There are
some honourable exceptions, however, to such cruelty, and many of
the mountaineers stick to their red-skinned wives for better and for
worse, often suffering them to gain the upper hand in the domestic
economy of the lodges, and being ruled by their better halves in all
things pertaining to family affairs; and it may be remarked, that,
when once the lady dons the unmentionables, she becomes the veriest
termagant that ever henpecked an unfortunate husband.

Your refined trappers, however, who, after many years of bachelor
life, incline to take to themselves a better half, often undertake an
expedition into the settlements of New Mexico, where not unfrequently
they adopt a very “Young Lochinvar” system in procuring the required
rib; and have been known to carry off, _vi et armis_, from the midst
of a fandango in Fernandez, or El Rancho of Taos, some dark-skinned
beauty—with or without her own consent is a matter of unconcern—and
bear the ravished fair one across the mountains, where she soon
becomes inured to the free and roving life fate has assigned her.

American women are valued at a low figure in the mountains. They are
too fine and “fofarraw.” Neither can they make moccasins, or dress
skins; nor are they so schooled to perfect obedience to their lords
and masters as to stand a “lodge-pole-ing,” which the western lords of
the creation not unfrequently deem it their bounden duty to inflict
upon their squaws for some dereliction of domestic duty.

To return, however, to La Bonté. That worthy thought himself a lucky
man to have lost but one of his wives, and she the worst of the two.
“Here's the beauty,” he philosophised, “of having two 'wiping-sticks'
to your rifle; if one breaks whilst ramming down a ball, there's still
hickory left to supply its place.” Although, with animals and peltry,
he had lost several hundred dollars' worth of “possibles,” he never
groaned or grumbled. “There's redskin will pay for this,” he once
muttered, and was done.

Packing all that was left on the mule, and mounting Chil-co-thē on his
buffalo horse, he shouldered his rifle and struck the Indian trail for
Platte. On Horse Creek they came upon a party of French[23] trappers
and hunters, who were encamped with their lodges and Indian squaws,
and formed quite a village. Several old companions were amongst them;
and, to celebrate the arrival of a “camarade,” a splendid dog-feast
was prepared in honour of the event. To effect this, the squaws
sallied out of their lodges to seize upon sundry of the younger and
plumper of the pack, to fill the kettles for the approaching feast.
With a presentiment of the fate in store for them, the curs slunk away
with tails between their legs, and declined the pressing invitations
of the anxious squaws. These shouldered their tomahawks and gave
chase; but the cunning pups outstripped them, and would have fairly
beaten the kettles, if some of the mountaineers had not stepped out
with their rifles and quickly laid half-a-dozen ready to the knife. A
cayeute, attracted by the scent of blood, drew near, unwitting of the
canine feast in progress, and was likewise soon made _dog_ of, and
thrust into the boiling kettle with the rest.

The feast that night was long protracted; and so savoury was the
stew, and so agreeable to the palates of the hungry hunters, that
at the moment the last morsel was drawn from the pot, when all
were regretting that a few more dogs had not been slaughtered, a
wolfish-looking cur, who incautiously poked his long nose and head
under the lodge skin, was pounced upon by the nearest hunter, who in
a moment drew his knife across the animal's throat, and threw it to a
squaw to skin and prepare for the pot. The wolf had long since been
vigorously discussed, and voted by all hands to be “good as dog.”

“Meat's meat,” is a common saying in the mountains, and from the
buffalo down to the rattlesnake, including every quadruped that
runs, every fowl that flies, and every reptile that creeps, nothing
comes amiss to the mountaineer. Throwing aside all the qualms and
conscientious scruples of a fastidious stomach, it must be confessed
that _dog-meat_ takes a high rank in the wonderful variety of cuisine
afforded to the gourmand and the gourmet by the prolific “mountains.”
Now, when the bill of fare offers such tempting viands as buffalo
beef, venison, mountain mutton, turkey, grouse, wildfowl, hares,
rabbits, beaver and their tails, &c. &c., the station assigned to
“dog” as No. 2 in the list can be well appreciated—No. 1, in delicacy
of flavour, richness of meat, and other good qualities, being the
flesh of _panthers_, which surpasses every other, and all put together.

“Painter meat can't 'shine' with this,” says a hunter, to express
the delicious flavour of an extraordinary cut of “tender loin,” or
delicate fleece.

La Bonté started with his squaw for the North Fork early in November,
and arrived at the Laramie at the moment that the big village of the
Sioux came up for their winter trade. Two other villages were encamped
lower down the Platte, including the Brulés and the Yanka-taus, who
were now on more friendly terms with the whites. The first band
numbered several hundred lodges, and presented quite an imposing
appearance, the village being laid out in parallel lines, the lodge
of each chief being marked with his particular totem. The traders
had a particular portion of the village allotted to them, and a line
was marked out which was strictly kept by the soldiers appointed for
the protection of the whites. As there were many rival traders, and
numerous _coureurs des bois_, or peddling ones, the market promised
to be brisk, the more so as a large quantity of ardent spirits was in
their possession, which would be dealt with no unsparing hand to put
down the opposition of so many competing traders.

In opening a trade a quantity of liquor is first given “on the
prairie,”[24] as the Indians express it in words, or by signs in
rubbing the palm of one hand quickly across the other, holding
both flat. Having once tasted the pernicious liquid, there is no
fear but they will quickly come to terms; and not unfrequently the
spirit is drugged, to render the unfortunate Indians still more
helpless. Sometimes, maddened and infuriated by drink, they commit
the most horrid atrocities on each other, murdering and mutilating
in a barbarous manner, and often attempting the lives of the traders
themselves. On one occasion a band of Sioux, whilst under the
influence of liquor, attacked and took possession of a trading fort of
the American Fur Company, stripping it of every thing it contained,
and roasting the trader himself over his own fire.

The principle on which the nefarious trade is conducted is this, that
the Indians, possessing a certain quantity of buffalo robes, have
to be cheated out of them, and the sooner the better. Although it
is explicitly prohibited by the laws of the United States to convey
spirits across the Indian frontier, and its introduction amongst
the Indian tribes subjects the offender to a heavy penalty; yet the
infraction of this law is of daily occurrence, perpetrated almost in
the very presence of the government officers, who are stationed along
the frontier for the purpose of enforcing the laws for the protection
of the Indians.

The misery entailed upon these unhappy people by the illicit traffic
must be seen to be fully appreciated. Before the effects of the
poisonous “fire-water,” they disappear from the earth like “snow
before the sun.” Although aware of the destruction it entails upon
them, the poor wretches have not moral courage to shun the fatal
allurement it holds out to them, of wild excitement and a temporary
oblivion of their many sufferings and privations. With such palpable
effects, it appears only likely that the illegal trade is connived
at by those whose policy it has ever been, gradually but surely, to
exterminate the Indians, and by any means to extinguish their title to
the few lands they now own on the outskirts of civilisation. Certain
it is that large quantities of liquor find their way annually into the
Indian country, and as certain are the fatal results of the pernicious
system, and that the American government takes no steps to prevent it.
There are some tribes who have as yet withstood the great temptation,
and have resolutely refused to permit liquor to be brought into their
villages. The marked difference between the improved condition of
these, and the moral and physical abasement of those which give way
to the fatal passion for drinking, sufficiently proves the pernicious
effects of the liquor trade on the unfortunate and abused aborigines;
and it is matter of regret that no philanthropist has sprung up in the
United States to do battle for the rights of the Red men, and call
attention to the wrongs they endure at the hands of their supplanters
in the lands of their fathers.

Robbed of their homes and hunting-grounds, and driven by the
encroachments of the whites to distant regions, which hardly support
existence, the Indians, day by day, gradually decrease before
the accumulating evils, of body and soul, which their civilised
persecutors entail upon them. With every man's hand against them,
they drag on to their final destiny; and the day is not far distant
when the American Indian will exist only in the traditions of his
pale-faced conquerors.

The Indians trading at this time on the Platte were mostly of the
Sioux nation, including the tribes of Burnt-woods, Yanka-taus,
Pian-Kashas, Assinaboins, Oglallahs, Broken Arrows, all of which
belong to the great Sioux nation, or La-cotahs, as they call
themselves, and which means cut-throats. There were also some
Cheyennes allied to the Sioux, as well as a small band of Republican
Pawnees.

Horse-racing, gambling, and ball-play, served to pass away the time
until the trade commenced, and many packs of dressed robes changed
hands amongst themselves. When playing at the usual game of “_hand_,”
the stakes, comprising all the valuables the players possess, are
piled in two heaps close at hand, the winner at the conclusion of
the game sweeping the goods towards him, and often returning a small
portion “on the prairie,” with which the loser may again commence
operations with another player.

The game of “hand” is played by two persons. One, who commences,
places a plum or cherry-stone in the hollow formed by joining the
concaved palms of the hands together, then shaking the stone for a few
moments, the hands are suddenly separated, and the other player must
guess which hand now contains the stone.

Large bets are often wagered on the result of this favourite game,
which is also often played by the squaws, the men standing round
encouraging them to bet, and laughing loudly at their grotesque
excitement.

A Burnt-wood Sioux, Tah-tunganisha, one of the bravest chiefs of his
tribe, was out, when a young man, on a solitary war expedition against
the Crows. One evening he drew near a certain “medicine” spring,
where, to his astonishment, he encountered a Crow warrior in the act
of quenching his thirst. He was on the point of drawing his bow upon
him, when he remembered the sacred nature of the spot, and making the
sign of peace, he fearlessly drew near his foe, and proceeded likewise
to slake his thirst. A pipe of kinnik-kinnik being produced, it was
proposed to pass away the early part of the night in a game of “hand.”
They accordingly sat down beside the spring, and commenced the game.

Fortune favoured the Crow. He won arrow after arrow from the
Burnt-wood brave; then his bow, his club, his knife, his robe, all
followed, and the Sioux sat naked on the plain. Still he proposed
another stake against the other's winnings—his scalp. He played, and
lost; and bending forward his head, the Crow warrior drew his knife
and quickly removed the bleeding prize. Without a murmur the luckless
Sioux rose to depart, but first exacted a promise from his antagonist
that he would meet him once more at the same spot, and engage in
another trial of skill.

On the day appointed, the Burnt-wood sought the spot, with a new
equipment, and again the Crow made his appearance, and they sat down
to play. This time fortune changed sides; the Sioux won back his
former losses, and in his turn the Crow was stripped to his skin.

Scalp against scalp was now the stake, and this time the Crow
submitted his head to the victorious Burnt-wood's knife; and both the
warriors stood scalpless on the plain.

And now the Crow had but one single stake of value to offer, and the
offer of it he did not hesitate to make. He staked his life against
the other's winnings. They played; and fortune still being adverse, he
lost. He offered his breast to his adversary. The Burnt-wood plunged
his knife into his heart to the very hilt; and, laden with his spoils,
returned to his village, and to this day wears suspended from his ears
his own and enemy's scalp.

The village presented the usual scene of confusion as long as the
trade lasted. Fighting, brawling, yelling, dancing, and all the
concomitants of intoxication, continued to the last drop of the
liquor-keg, when the reaction after such excitement was almost worse
than the evil itself. During this time, all the work devolved upon
the squaws, who, in tending the horses, and in packing wood and water
from a long distance, had their time sufficiently occupied. As there
was little or no grass in the vicinity, the animals were supported
entirely on the bark of the cotton-wood; and to procure this, the
women were daily engaged in felling huge trees, or climbing them
fearlessly, chopping off the upper limbs—springing like squirrels from
branch to branch, which, in their confined costume, appeared matter of
considerable difficulty.

The most laughter-provoking scenes, however, were, when a number
of squaws sallied out to the grove, with their long-nosed,
wolfish-looking dogs harnessed to their _travées_ or trabogans, on
which loads of cotton-wood were piled. The dogs, knowing full well the
duty required of them, refuse to approach the coaxing squaws, and, at
the same time, are fearful of provoking their anger by escaping and
running off. They, therefore, squat on their haunches, with tongues
hanging out of their long mouths, the picture of indecision, removing
a short distance as the irate squaw approaches. When once harnessed to
the travée, however, which is simply a couple of lodge-poles lashed
on either side of the dog, with a couple of cross-bars near the ends
to support the freight, they follow quietly enough, urged by bevies
of children, who invariably accompany the women. Once arrived at the
scene of their labours, the reluctance of the curs to draw near the
piles of cotton-wood is most comical. They will lie down stubbornly
at a little distance, whining their uneasiness, or sometimes scamper
off bodily, with their long poles trailing after them, pursued by the
yelling and half frantic squaws.

When the travées are laden, the squaws, bent double under loads of
wood sufficient to break a porter's back, and calling to the dogs,
which are urged on by the buffalo-fed urchins in rear, lead the line
of march. The curs, taking advantage of the helpless state of their
mistresses, turn a deaf ear to their coaxings, lying down every
few yards to rest, growling and fighting with each other, in which
encounters every cur joins the _mêlée_, charging pell-mell into the
yelping throng, upsetting the squalling children, and making confusion
worse confounded. Then, armed with lodge-poles, the squaws, throwing
down their loads, rush to the rescue, dealing stalwart blows on the
pugnacious curs, and finally restoring something like order to the
march.

“Tszoo—tszoo!” they cry, “wah, kashne, ceit-cha—get on, you devilish
beasts—tszoo—tszoo!” and belabouring them without mercy, they start
them into a gallop, which, once commenced, is generally continued
till they reach their destination.

The Indian dogs are, however, invariably well treated by the squaws,
since they assist materially the every-day labours of these patient
over-worked creatures, in hauling firewood to the lodge, and, on the
line of march, carrying many of the household goods and chattels,
which otherwise the squaw herself would have to carry on her back.
Every lodge possesses from half-a-dozen to a score—some for draught
and others for eating—for dog meat forms part and parcel of an Indian
feast. The former are stout, wiry animals, half wolf half sheep-dog,
and are regularly trained to draught; the latter are of a smaller
kind, more inclined to fat, and embrace every variety of the genus
cur. Many of the southern tribes possess a breed of dogs entirely
divested of hair, which evidently have come from South America, and
are highly esteemed for the kettle. Their meat, in appearance and
flavour, resembles young pork, but far surpasses it in richness and
delicacy.

The Sioux are very expert in making their lodges comfortable, taking
more pains in their construction than most Indians. They are all
of conical form: a framework of straight slender poles, resembling
hop-poles, and from twenty to twenty-five feet long, is first erected,
round which is stretched a sheeting of buffalo robes, softly dressed,
and smoked to render them water-tight. The apex, through which the
ends of the poles protrude, is left open to allow the smoke to escape.
A small opening, sufficient to permit the entrance of a man, is made
on one side, over which is hung a door of buffalo hide. A lodge of
the common size contains about twelve or fourteen skins, and contains
comfortably a family of twelve in number. The fire is made in the
centre immediately under the aperture in the roof, and a flap of the
upper skins is closed or extended at pleasure, serving as a cowl or
chimney-top to regulate the draught and permit the smoke to escape
freely. Round the fire, with their feet towards it, the inmates sleep
on skins and buffalo rugs, which are rolled up during the day, and
stowed at the back of the lodge.

In travelling, the lodge-poles are secured half on each side a horse,
and the skins placed on transversal bars near the ends, which trail
along the ground,—two or three squaws or children mounted on the same
horse, or the smallest of the latter borne in the dog travées. A set
of lodge-poles will last from three to seven years, unless the village
is constantly on the move, when they are soon worn out in trailing
over the gravelly prairie. They are usually of ash, which grows on
many of the mountain creeks, and regular expeditions are undertaken
when a supply is required, either for their own lodges, or for trading
with those tribes who inhabit the prairies at a great distance from
the locality where the poles are procured.

There are also certain creeks where the Indians resort to lay in a
store of kinnik-kinnik (the inner bark of the red willow), which they
use as a substitute for tobacco, and which has an aromatic and very
pungent flavour. It is prepared for smoking by being scraped in thin
curly flakes from the slender saplings, and crisped before the fire,
after which it is rubbed between the hands into a form resembling
leaf-tobacco, and stored in skin bags for use. It has a highly
narcotic effect on those not habituated to its use, and produces a
heaviness sometimes approaching stupefaction, altogether different
from the soothing effects of tobacco.

Every year, owing to the disappearance of the buffalo from their
former haunts, the Indians are compelled to encroach upon each
other's hunting-grounds, which is a fruitful cause of war between
the different tribes. It is a curious fact, that the buffalo retire
before the whites, whilst the presence of Indians in their pastures
appears in no degree to disturb them. Wherever a few white hunters
are congregated in a trading port, or elsewhere, so sure it is that,
if they remain in the same locality, the buffalo will desert the
vicinity, and seek pasture elsewhere. In this, the Indians affirm,
the wah-keitcha, or “bad medicine,” of the pale-faces is very
apparent; and they ground upon it their well-founded complaints of the
encroachments made upon their hunting-grounds by the white hunters.

In the winter, many of the tribes are reduced to the very verge of
starvation—the buffalo having passed from their country into that
of their enemies, when no other alternative is offered them, but to
remain where they are and starve, or to follow the game into a hostile
region, a move entailing war and all its horrors.

Reckless, moreover, of the future, in order to prepare robes for the
traders, and to procure the pernicious fire-water, they wantonly
slaughter, every year, vast numbers of buffalo cows (the skins of
which sex only are dressed), and thus add to the evils in store for
them. When questioned on this subject, and reproached with such
want of foresight, they answer, that however quickly the buffalo
disappears, the Red man “goes under” more quickly still; and that the
Great Spirit has ordained that both shall be “rubbed out” from the
face of nature at one and the same time,—“that arrows and bullets
are not more fatal to the buffalo than the small-pox and fire-water
to them, and that before many winters' snows have disappeared, the
buffalo and the Red man will only be remembered by their bones,
which will strew the plains.”—“They look forward, however, to a
future state, when, after a long journey, they will reach the happy
hunting-grounds, where buffalo will once more blacken the prairies;
where the pale-faces dare not come to disturb them; where no winter
snows cover the ground, and the buffalo are always plentiful and fat.”

As soon as the streams opened, La Bonté, now reduced to two animals
and four traps, sallied forth again, this time seeking the dangerous
country of the Blackfeet, on the head waters of the Yellow Stone
and Upper Missouri. He was accompanied by three others, a man named
Wheeler, and one Cross-Eagle, a Swede, who had been many years in
the western country. Reaching the forks of a small creek, on both of
which appeared plenty of beaver sign, La Bonté followed the left-hand
one alone, whilst the others trapped the right in company, the former
leaving his squaw in the company of a Sioux woman, who followed the
fortunes of Cross-Eagle, the party agreeing to rendezvous at the
junction of the two forks as soon as they had trapped to their heads
and again descended them. The larger party were the first to reach the
rendezvous, and camped on the banks of the main stream to await the
arrival of La Bonté.

The morning after their return, they had just risen from their
blankets, and were lazily stretching themselves before the fire, when
a volley of firearms rattled from the bank of the creek, and two of
their number fell dead to the ground, whilst at the same moment the
deafening yells of Indians broke upon the ears of the frightened
squaws. Cross-Eagle seized his rifle, and, though severely wounded,
rushed to the cover of a hollow tree which stood near, and crawling
into it, defended himself the whole day with the greatest obstinacy,
killing five Indians outright, and wounding several more. Unable to
drive the gallant trapper from his retreat, the savages took advantage
of a favourable wind which suddenly sprang up, and fired the long dry
grass surrounding the tree. The rotten log catching fire, at length
compelled the hunter to leave his retreat. Clubbing his rifle, he
charged amongst the Indians, and fell at last, pierced through and
through with wounds, but not until two more of his assailants had
fallen by his hand.

The two squaws were carried off, and one was sold shortly afterwards
to some white men at the trading ports on the Platte; but La Bonté
never recovered the “Bending Reed,” nor even heard of her existence
from that day. So once more was the mountaineer bereft of his better
half; and when he returned to the rendezvous, a troop of wolves were
feasting on the bodies of his late companions, and of the Indians
killed in the affray, of which he only heard the particulars a long
time after from a trapper, who had been present when one of the squaws
was offered at the trading post for sale, and had heard her recount
the miserable fate of her husband and his companions on the forks of
the creek, which, from the fact of La Bonté being the leader of the
party, has since borne his name.

Undaunted by this misfortune, the trapper continued his solitary
hunt, passing through the midst of the Crow and Blackfeet country;
encountering many perils, often hunted by the Indians, but always
escaping. He had soon loaded both his animals with beaver, and then
thought of bending his steps to some of the trading rendezvous on the
other side of the mountains, where employés of the Great North-west
Fur Company meet the trappers with the produce of their hunts, on
Lewis's fork of the Columbia, or one of its numerous affluents. His
intention was to pass the winter at some of the company's trading
posts in Oregon, into which country he had never yet penetrated.



CHAPTER V.


We have said that La Bonté was a philosopher: he took the streaks of
ill luck which checkered his mountain life with perfect carelessness,
if not with stoical indifference. Nothing ruffled his danger-steeled
equanimity of temper; no sudden emotion disturbed his mind. We have
seen how wives were torn from him without eliciting a groan or
grumble, (but such _contretemps_, it may be said, can scarcely find a
place in the category of ills); how the loss of mules and mustangs,
harried by horse-stealing Indians, left him in the _ne-plus-ultra_
of mountain misery—“afoot;” how packs and peltries, the hard-earned
“beaver” of his perilous hunts, were “raised” at one fell swoop by
free-booting bands of savages. Hunger and thirst, we know, were
commonplace sensations to the mountaineer. His storm-hardened flesh
scarce felt the pinging wounds of arrow-point or bullet; and when in
the midst of Indian fight, it is not probable that any tender qualms
of feeling would allay the itching of his fingers for his enemy's
scalp-lock, nor would any remains of civilised fastidiousness prevent
his burying his knife again and again in the life-blood of an Indian
savage.

Still, in one dark corner of his heart, there shone at intervals a
faint spark of what was once a fiercely-burning fire. Neither time,
that corroder of all things, nor change, that ready abettor of
oblivion, nor scenes of peril and excitement, which act as dampers
to more quiet memories, could smother this little smouldering spark,
which now and again—when rarely-coming calm succeeded some stirring
passage in the hunter's life, and left him, for a brief time, devoid
of care, and victim to his thoughts—would flicker suddenly, and light
up all the nooks and corners of his rugged breast, and discover to his
mind's eye that one deep-rooted memory clung there still, though long
neglected; proving that, spite of time and change, of life and fortune,

  “On revient toujours à ses premiers amours.”

Often and often as La Bonté sat cross-legged before his solitary
camp-fire, and, pipe in mouth, watched the blue smoke curling
upwards in the clear cold sky, a well-remembered form appeared to
gaze upon him from the vapoury wreaths. Then would old recollections
crowd before him, and old emotions, long a stranger to his breast,
shape themselves, as it were, into long-forgotten but now familiar
pulsations. Again he felt the soft subduing influence which once, in
days gone by, a certain passion exercised over his mind and body; and
often a trembling seized him, the same he used to experience at the
sudden sight of one Mary Brand, whose dim and dreamy apparition so
often watched his lonely bed, or, unconsciously conjured up, cheered
him in the dreary watches of the long and stormy winter nights.

At first he only knew that one face haunted his dreams by night, and
the few moments by day when he thought of any thing, and this face
smiled lovingly upon him, and cheered him mightily. Name he had quite
forgotten, or recalled it vaguely, and, setting small store by it, had
thought of it no more.

For many years after he had deserted his home, La Bonté had cherished
the idea of again returning to his country. During this period he had
never forgotten his old flame, and many a choice fur he had carefully
laid by, intended as a present for Mary Brand; and many a _gâge
d'amour_ of cunning shape and device, worked in stained quills of
porcupine and bright-coloured beads—the handiwork of nimble-fingered
squaws—he had packed in his possible sack for the same destination,
hoping a time would come when he might lay them at her feet.

Year after year wore on, however, and still found him, with traps and
rifle, following his perilous avocation; and each succeeding one saw
him more and more wedded to the wild mountain-life. He was conscious
how unfitted he had become again to enter the galling harness of
conventionality and civilisation. He thought, too, how changed in
manners and appearance he now must be, and could not believe that
he would again find favour in the eyes of his quondam love, who, he
judged, had long since forgotten him; and inexperienced as he was in
such matters, yet he knew enough of womankind to feel assured that
time and absence had long since done the work, if even the natural
fickleness of woman's nature had lain dormant. Thus it was that he
came to forget Mary Brand, but still remembered the all-absorbing
feeling she had once created in his breast, the shadow of which still
remained, and often took form and feature in the smoke-wreaths of his
solitary camp-fire.

If truth be told, La Bonté had his failings as a mountaineer, and—sin
unpardonable in hunter law—still possessed, in holes and corners of
his breast seldom explored by his inward eye, much of the leaven of
kindly human nature, which now and again involuntarily peeped out, as
greatly to the contempt of his comrade trappers as it was blushingly
repressed by the mountaineer himself. Thus, in his various matrimonial
episodes, he treated his dusky _sposas_ with all the consideration
the sex could possibly demand from hand of man. No squaw of his ever
humped shoulder to receive a castigatory and marital “lodge-poling”
for offence domestic; but often has his helpmate blushed to see her
pale-face lord and master devote himself to the feminine labour
of packing huge piles of fire-wood on his back, felling trees,
butchering unwieldy buffalo—all which are included in the Indian
category of female duties. Thus he was esteemed an excellent _parti_
by all the marriageable young squaws of Blackfoot, Crow, and
Shoshone, of Yutah, Shian, and Arapaho; but after his last connubial
catastrophe, he steeled his heart against all the charms and coquetry
of Indian belles, and persevered in unblessed widowhood for many a
long day.

From the point where we left him on his way to the waters of the
Columbia, we must jump with him over a space of nearly two years,
during which time he had a most uninterrupted run of good luck;
trapping with great success on the head streams of the Columbia and
Yellow Stone—the most dangerous of trapping ground—and finding good
market for his peltries at the “North-west” posts—beaver fetching as
high a price as five and six dollars a “plew”—the “golden age” of
trappers, now, alas, never to return, and existing only in the fond
memory of the mountaineers. This glorious time, however, was too good
to last. In mountain language, “such heap of fat meat was not going to
'shine' much longer.”

La Bonté was at this time one of a band of eight trappers, whose
hunting ground was about the head waters of the Yellow Stone, which
we have before said is in the country of the Blackfeet. With him were
Killbuck, Meek, Marcellin, and three others; and the leader of the
party was Bill Williams, that old “hard case” who had spent forty
years and more in the mountains, until he had become as tough as the
parflêche soles of his moccasins. They were all good men and true,
expert hunters, and well-trained mountaineers. After having trapped
all the streams they were acquainted with, it was determined to strike
into the mountains, at a point where old Williams affirmed, from the
“run” of the hills, there must be plenty of water, although not one
of the party had before explored the country, or knew any thing of
its nature, or of the likelihood of its affording game for themselves
or pasture for their animals. However, they packed their peltry, and
put out for the land in view—a lofty peak, dimly seen above the more
regular summit of the chain, being their landmark.

For the first day or two their route lay between two ridges of
mountains, and by following the little valley which skirted a creek,
they kept on level ground, and saved their animals considerable labour
and fatigue. Williams always rode ahead, his body bent over his
saddle-horn, across which rested a long heavy rifle, his keen gray
eyes peering from under the slouched brim of a flexible felt-hat,
black and shining with grease. His buckskin hunting-shirt, bedaubed
until it had the appearance of polished leather, hung in folds over
his bony carcass; his nether extremities being clothed in pantaloons
of the same material (with scattered fringes down the outside of
the leg—which ornaments, however, had been pretty well thinned to
supply “whangs” for mending moccasins or pack-saddles), which, shrunk
with wet, clung tightly to his long, spare, sinewy legs. His feet
were thrust into a pair of Mexican stirrups made of wood, and as big
as coal-scuttles; and iron spurs of incredible proportions, with
tinkling drops attached to the rowels, were fastened to his heel—a
bead-worked strap, four inches broad, securing them over the instep.
In the shoulder-belt which sustained his powder-horn and bullet-pouch,
were fastened the various instruments essential to one pursuing his
mode of life. An awl, with deer-horn handle, and the point defended
by a case of cherry-wood carved by his own hand, hung at the back
of the belt, side by side with a worm for cleaning the rifle; and
under this was a squat and quaint-looking bullet-mould, the handles
guarded by strips of buckskin to save his fingers from burning when
running balls, having for its companion a little bottle made from the
point of an antelope's horn, scraped transparent, which contained
the “medicine” used in baiting the traps. The old coon's face was
sharp and thin, a long nose and chin hob-nobbing each other; and
his head was always bent forward giving him the appearance of being
hump-backed. He _appeared_ to look neither to the right nor left,
but, in fact, his little twinkling eye was everywhere. He looked at
no one he was addressing, always seeming to be thinking of something
else than the subject of his discourse, speaking in a whining, thin,
cracked voice, and in a tone that left the hearer in doubt whether he
was laughing or crying. On the present occasion he had joined this
band, and naturally assumed the leadership (for Bill ever refused to
go in harness), in opposition to his usual practice, which was to hunt
alone. His character was well known. Acquainted with every inch of the
Far West, and with all the Indian tribes who inhabited it, he never
failed to outwit his Red enemies, and generally made his appearance
at the rendezvous, from his solitary expeditions, with galore of
beaver, when numerous bands of trappers dropped in on foot, having
been despoiled of their packs and animals by the very Indians through
the midst of whom old Williams had contrived to pass unseen and
unmolested. On occasions when he had been in company with others, and
attacked by Indians, Bill invariably fought manfully, and with all the
coolness that perfect indifference to death or danger could give, but
always “on his own hook.” His rifle cracked away merrily, and never
spoke in vain; and in a charge—if ever it came to that—his keen-edged
butcher-knife tickled the fleece of many a Blackfoot. But at the same
time, if he saw that discretion was the better part of valour, and
affairs wore so cloudy an aspect as to render retreat advisable, he
would first express his opinion in curt terms, and decisively, and,
charging up his rifle, would take himself off and “câche”[25] so
effectually that to search for him was utterly useless. Thus, when
with a large party of trappers, when any thing occurred which gave him
a hint that trouble was coming, or more Indians were about than he
considered good for his animals, Bill was wont to exclaim—

“Do 'ee hyar now, boys, thar's sign about? this hos feels like
caching;” and, without more words, and stoically deaf to all
remonstrances, he would forthwith proceed to pack his animals, talking
the while to an old, crop-eared, raw-boned Nez-percé pony, his own
particular saddle-horse, who in dogged temper and iron hardiness, was
a worthy companion of his self-willed master. This beast, as Bill
seized his apishamore to lay upon its galled back, would express
displeasure by humping its back and shaking its withers with a wincing
motion, that always excited the ire of the old trapper; and no sooner
had he laid the apishamore smoothly on the chafed skin, than a wriggle
of the animal shook it off.

“Do 'ee hyar now, you darned crittur?” he would whine out, “can't
'ee keep quiet your old fleece now? Isn't this old coon putting out
to save 'ee from the darned Injuns now, do 'ee hyar?” And then,
continuing his work and taking no notice of his comrades, who stood
by bantering the eccentric old trapper, he would soliloquise—“Do 'ee
hyar, now? This niggur sees sign ahead—he does; he'll be afoot afore
long, if he don't keep his eye skinned,—_he_ will. _Injuns_ is all
about, they ar': Blackfoot at that. Can't come round this child—they
can't, wagh!” And at last, his pack animals securely tied to the tail
of his horse, he would mount, and throwing the rifle across the horn
of his saddle, and without noticing his companions, would drive the
jingling spurs into his horse's gaunt sides, and muttering, “Can't
come round this child—they can't!” would ride away; and nothing more
would be seen or heard of him perhaps for months, when they would
not unfrequently, themselves bereft of animals in the scrape he had
foreseen, find him located in some solitary valley, in his lonely
camp, with his animals securely picketed around, and his peltries safe.

However, if he took it into his head to keep company with a party,
all felt perfectly secure under his charge. His iron frame defied
fatigue, and, at night, his love for himself and his own animals
was sufficient guarantee that the camp would be well guarded. As he
rode ahead, his spurs jingling, and thumping the sides of his old
horse at every step, he managed, with admirable dexterity, to take
advantage of the best line of country to follow—avoiding the gullies
and cañons and broken ground, which would otherwise have impeded his
advance. This tact appeared instinctive, for he looked neither right
nor left, whilst continuing a course as straight as possible at the
foot of the mountains. In selecting a camping site, he displayed
equal skill: wood, water, and grass began to fill his thoughts
towards sundown, and when these three requisites for a camping ground
presented themselves, old Bill sprang from his saddle, unpacked his
animals in a twinkling, and hobbled them, struck fire and ignited a
few chips (leaving the rest to pack in the wood), lit his pipe, and
enjoyed himself. On one occasion, when passing through the valley,
they had come upon a band of fine buffalo cows, and, shortly after
camping, two of the party rode in with a good supply of fat fleece.
One of the party was a “greenhorn” on his first hunt, fresh from a
fort on Platte, and as yet uninitiated in the mysteries of mountain
cooking. Bill, lazily smoking his pipe, called to him, as he happened
to be nearest, to butcher off a piece of meat and put it in his pot.
Markhead seized the fleece, and commenced innocently carving off a
huge ration, when a gasping roar from the old trapper caused him to
drop his knife.

“Ti-ya,” growled Bill, “do 'ee hyar, now, you darned greenhorn, do 'ee
spile fat cow like that whar you was raised? Them doins wont shine in
this crowd, boy, do 'ee hyar, darned you? What! butcher meat across
the grain! why, whar'll the blood be goin' to, you precious Spaniard?
Down the grain, I say,” he continued in a severe tone of rebuke,
“and let your flaps be long, or out the juice'll run slick—do 'ee
hyar, now?” But this heretical error nearly cost the old trapper his
appetite, and all night long he grumbled his horror at seeing “fat
cow spiled in that fashion.”

When two or three days' journey brought them to the end of the
valley, and they commenced the passage of the mountain, their march
was obstructed by all kinds of obstacles; although they had chosen
what appeared to be a gap in the chain, and what was in fact the only
practicable passage in that vicinity. They followed the cañon of a
branch of the Yellow Stone, where it entered the mountain; but from
this point it became a torrent, and it was only by dint of incredible
exertions that they reached the summit of the ridge. Game was
exceedingly scarce in the vicinity, and they suffered extremely from
hunger, having, on more than one occasion, recourse to the parflêche
soles of their moccasins to allay its pangs. Old Bill, however, never
grumbled; he chewed away at his shoes with relish even, and as long as
he had a pipeful of tobacco in his pouch, was a happy man. Starvation
was as yet far off, for all their animals were in existence; but as
they were in a country where it was difficult to procure a remount,
each trapper hesitated to sacrifice one of his horses to his appetite.

From the summit of the ridge, Bill recognised the country on the
opposite side to that whence they had just ascended as familiar to
him, and pronounced it to be full of beaver, as well as abounding in
the less desirable commodity of Indians. This was the valley lying
about the lakes now called Eustis and Biddle, in which are many
thermal and mineral springs, well known to the trappers by the names
of the Soda, Beer, and Brimstone Springs, and regarded by them with no
little awe and curiosity, as being the breathing-places of his Satanic
majesty—considered, moreover, to be the “biggest kind” of “medicine”
to be found in the mountains. If truth be told, old Bill hardly
relished the idea of entering this country, which he pronounced to be
of “bad medicine” notoriety, but nevertheless agreed to guide them to
the best trapping ground.

One day they reached a creek full of beaver sign, and determined to
halt here and establish their headquarters, while they trapped in the
neighbourhood. We must here observe, that at this period—which was
one of considerable rivalry amongst the various trading companies in
the Indian territory—the Indians, having become possessed of arms
and ammunition in great quantities, had grown unusually daring and
persevering in their attacks on the white hunters who passed through
their country, and consequently the trappers were compelled to roam
about in larger bands for mutual protection, which, although it made
them less liable to open attack, yet rendered it more difficult for
them to pursue their calling without being discovered; for, where one
or two men might pass unseen, the broad trail of a large party, with
its animals, was not likely to escape the sharp eyes of the cunning
savages.

They had scarcely encamped when the old leader, who had sallied out a
short distance from camp to reconnoitre the neighbourhood, returned
with an Indian moccasin in his hand, and informed his companions that
its late owner and others were about.

“Do 'ee hyar now, boys, thar's _Injuns_ knocking round, and Blackfoot
at that; but thar's plenty of beaver too, and this child means
trapping any how.”

His companions were anxious to leave such dangerous vicinity; but the
old fellow, contrary to his usual caution, determined to remain where
he was—saying that there were Indians all over the country for that
matter; and as they had determined to hunt here, he had made up his
mind too—which was conclusive, and all agreed to stop where they were,
in spite of the Indians. La Bonté killed a couple of mountain sheep
close to camp, and they feasted rarely on the fat mutton that night,
and were unmolested by marauding Blackfeet.

The next morning, leaving two of their number in camp, they started in
parties of two, to hunt for beaver sign and set their traps. Markhead
paired with one Batiste, Killbuck and La Bonté formed another couple,
Meek and Marcellin another; two Canadians trapped together, and Bill
Williams and another remained to guard the camp: but this last,
leaving Bill mending his moccasins, started off to kill a mountain
sheep, a band of which animals was visible.

Markhead and his companion, the first couple on the list, followed a
creek, which entered that on which they had encamped, about ten miles
distant. Beaver sign was abundant, and they had set eight traps, when
Markhead came suddenly upon fresh Indian sign, where squaws had passed
through the shrubbery on the banks of the stream to procure water, as
he knew from observing a large stone placed by them in the stream,
on which to stand to enable them to dip their kettles in the deepest
water. Beckoning to his companion to follow, and cocking his rifle,
he carefully pushed aside the bushes, and noiselessly proceeded up
the bank, when, creeping on hands and knees, he gained the top, and,
looking from his hiding-place, descried three Indian huts standing
on a little plateau near the creek. Smoke curled from the roofs of
branches, but the skin doors were carefully closed, so that he was
unable to distinguish the number of the inmates. At a little distance,
however, he observed two or three squaws gathering wood, with the
usual attendance of curs, whose acuteness in detecting the scent of
strangers was much to be dreaded.

Markhead was a rash and daring young fellow, caring no more for
Indians than he did for prairie dogs, and acting ever on the spur
of the moment, and as his inclination dictated, regardless of
consequences. He at once determined to enter the lodges, and attack
the enemy, should any be there; and the other trapper was fain to
join him in the enterprise. The lodges proved empty, but the fires
were still burning, and meat cooking upon them, to which the hungry
hunters did ample justice, besides helping themselves to whatever
goods and chattels, in the shape of leather and moccasins, took their
fancy.

Gathering their spoil into a bundle, they sought their horses, which
they had left tied under cover of the timber on the banks of the
creek; and, mounting, took the back trail, to pick up their traps
and remove from so dangerous a neighbourhood. They were approaching
the spot where the first trap was set, a thick growth of ash and
quaking-ash concealing the stream, when Markhead, who was riding
ahead, observed the bushes agitated, as if some animal was making its
way through them. He instantly stopped his horse, and his companion
rode to his side, to inquire the cause of this abrupt halt. They
were within a few yards of the belt of shrubs which skirted the
stream; and before Markhead had time to reply, a dozen swarthy heads
and shoulders suddenly protruded from the leafy screen, and as many
rifle-barrels and arrows were pointing at their breasts. Before the
trappers had time to turn their horses and fly, a cloud of smoke
burst from the thicket almost in their faces. Batiste, pierced with
several balls, fell dead, and Markhead felt himself severely wounded.
However, he struck the spurs into his horse; and as some half-score
Blackfeet jumped with loud cries from their cover, he discharged
his rifle amongst them, and galloped off, a volley of balls and
arrows whistling after him. He drew no bit until he reined up at the
camp-fire, where he found Bill quietly dressing a deer-skin. That
worthy looked up from his work; and seeing Markhead's face streaming
with blood, and the very unequivocal evidence of an Indian rencontre
in the shape of an arrow sticking in his back, he asked,—“Do 'ee feel
bad now, boy? Whar away you see them darned Blackfoot?”

“Well, pull this arrow out of my back, and may be I'll feel like
telling,” answered Markhead.

“Do 'ee hyar now! hold on till I've grained this cussed skin, will
'ee! Did 'ee ever see sich a darned pelt, now? it won't take the
smoke any how I fix it.” And Markhead was fain to wait the leisure of
the imperturbable old trapper, before he was eased of his annoying
companion.

Old Bill expressed no surprise or grief when informed of the fate of
poor Batiste. He said it was “just like greenhorns, runnin' into them
cussed Blackfoot;” and observed that the defunct trapper, being only a
Vide-pôche, was “no account anyhow.” Presently Killbuck and La Bonté
galloped into camp, with another alarm of Indians. They had also been
attacked suddenly by a band of Blackfeet, but, being in a more open
country, had got clear off, after killing two of their assailants,
whose scalps hung at the horns of their saddles. They had been in
a different direction to that in which Markhead and his companion
had proceeded, and, from the signs they had observed, expressed
their belief that the country was alive with Indians. Neither of
these men had been wounded. Presently the two Canadians made their
appearance on the bluff, galloping with might and main to camp, and
shouting “Indians, Indians,” as they came. All being assembled, and a
council held, it was determined to abandon the camp and neighbourhood
immediately. Old Bill was already packing his animals, and as he
pounded the saddle down on the withers of his old Rosinante, he
muttered,—“Do 'ee hyar, now! this coon 'ull câche, _he_ will.” So
mounting his horse, and leading his pack mule by a lariat, he bent
over his saddle-horn, dug his ponderous rowels into the lank sides of
his beast, and, without a word, struck up the bluff and disappeared.

The others, hastily gathering up their packs, and most of them having
lost their traps, quickly followed his example, and “put out.” On
cresting the high ground which rose from the creek, they observed
thin columns of smoke mounting into the air from many different
points, the meaning of which they were at no loss to guess. However
they were careful not to show themselves on elevated ground, keeping
as much as possible under the banks of the creek, when such a course
was practicable; but, the bluffs sometimes rising precipitously from
the water, they were more than once compelled to ascend the banks,
and continue their course along the uplands, whence they might easily
be discovered by the Indians. It was nearly sundown when they left
their camp, but they proceeded during the greater part of the night at
as rapid a rate as possible; their progress, however, being greatly
retarded as they advanced into the mountain, their route lying up
stream. Towards morning they halted for a brief space, but started
again as soon as daylight permitted them to see their way over the
broken ground.

The creek now forced its way through a narrow cañon, the banks being
thickly clothed with a shrubbery of cottonwood and quaking-ash. The
mountain rose on each side, but not abruptly, being here and there
broken into plateaus and shelving prairies. In a very thick bottom,
sprinkled with coarse grass, they halted about noon, and removed the
saddles and packs from their wearied animals, picketing them in the
best spots of grass.

La Bonté and Killbuck, after securing their animals, left the camp to
hunt, for they had no provisions of any kind; and a short distance
beyond it, the former came suddenly upon a recent moccasin track in
the timber. After examining it for a moment, he raised his head with
a broad grin, and, turning to his companion, pointed into the cover,
where, in the thickest part, they discerned the well-known figure of
old Bill's horse, browsing upon the cherry bushes. Pushing through the
thicket in search of the brute's master, La Bonté suddenly stopped
short as the muzzle of a rifle-barrel gaped before his eyes at the
distance of a few inches, whilst the thin voice of Bill muttered—

“Do 'ee hyar now, I was nigh giving 'ee h——: I _was_ now. If I
didn't think 'ee was Blackfoot, I'm dogged now.” And not a little
indignant was the old fellow that his câche had been so easily, though
accidentally, discovered. However, he presently made his appearance in
camp, leading his animals, and once more joined his late companions,
not deigning to give any explanation as to why or wherefore he had
deserted them the day before, merely muttering, “do 'ee hyar now,
thar's trouble comin'.”

The two hunters returned after sundown with a black-tailed deer; and
after eating the better part of the meat, and setting a guard, the
party were glad to roll in their blankets and enjoy the rest they
so much needed. They were undisturbed during the night; but at dawn
of day the sleepers were roused by a hundred fierce yells, from the
mountains enclosing the creek on which they had encamped. The yells
were instantly followed by a ringing volley, the bullets thudding into
the trees, and cutting the branches near them, but without causing
any mischief. Old Bill rose from his blanket and shook himself, and
exclaimed “Wagh!” as at that moment a ball plumped into the fire over
which he was standing, and knocked the ashes about in a cloud. All
the mountaineers seized their rifles and sprang to cover; but as yet
it was not sufficiently light to show them their enemy, the bright
flashes from the guns alone indicating their position. As morning
dawned, however, they saw that both sides of the cañon were occupied
by the Indians; and, from the firing, judged there must be at least a
hundred warriors engaged in the attack. Not a shot had yet been fired
by the trappers, but as the light increased, they eagerly watched
for an Indian to expose himself, and offer a mark to their trusty
rifles. La Bonté, Killbuck, and old Bill, lay a few yards distant from
each other, flat on their faces, near the edge of the thicket, their
rifles raised before them, and the barrels resting in the forks of
convenient bushes. From their place of concealment to the position of
the Indians—who, however, were scattered here and there, wherever a
rock afforded them cover—was a distance of about a hundred and fifty
yards, or within fair rifle-shot. The trappers were obliged to divide
their force, since both sides of the creek were occupied; but, such
was the nature of the ground, and the excellent cover afforded by
the rocks and boulders, and clumps of dwarf pine and hemlock, that
not a hand's-breadth of an Indian's body had yet been seen. Nearly
opposite La Bonté, a shelving glade in the mountain side ended in an
abrupt precipice, and at the very edge, and almost toppling over it,
were several boulders, just of sufficient size to afford cover to a
man's body. As this bluff overlooked the trappers' position, it was
occupied by the Indians, and every rock covered an assailant. At one
point, just over where La Bonté and Killbuck were lying, two boulders
lay together, with just sufficient interval to admit a rifle-barrel
between them, and from this breas-twork an Indian kept up a most
annoying fire. All his shots fell in dangerous propinquity to one or
other of the trappers, and already Killbuck had been grazed by one
better directed than the others. La Bonté watched for some time in
vain for a chance to answer this persevering marksman, and at length
an opportunity offered, by which he was not long in profiting.

The Indian, as the light increased, was better able to discern his
mark, and fired, and yelled every time he did so, with redoubled
vigour. In his eagerness, and probably whilst in the act of taking
aim, he leaned too heavily against the rock which covered him, and,
detaching it from its position, down it rolled into the cañon,
exposing his body by its fall. At the same instant, a wreath of smoke
puffed from the bushes which concealed the trappers, and the crack
of La Bonté's rifle spoke the first word of reply to the Indian
challenge. A few feet behind the rock, fell the dead body of the
Indian, rolling down the steep sides of the cañon, and only stopped
by a bush at the very bottom, within a few yards of the spot where
Markhead lay concealed in some high grass.

That daring fellow instantly jumped from his cover, and drawing his
knife, rushed to the body, and in another moment held aloft the
Indian's scalp, giving, at the same time, a triumphant whoop. A score
of rifles were levelled and discharged at the intrepid mountaineer;
but in the act many Indians incautiously exposed themselves, every
rifle in the timber cracked simultaneously, and for each report an
Indian bit the dust.

Now, however, they changed their tactics. Finding they were unable
to drive the trappers from their position, they retired from the
mountain, and the firing suddenly ceased. In their retreat they were
forced to expose themselves, and again the whites dealt destruction
amongst them. As the Indians retired, yelling loudly, the hunters
thought they had given up the contest; but presently a cloud of smoke
rising from the bottom immediately below them, at once discovered
the nature of their plans. A brisk wind was blowing up the cañon;
and, favoured by it, they fired the brush on the banks of the stream,
knowing that before this the hunters must speedily retreat.

Against such a result, but for the gale of wind which drove the fire
roaring before it, they could have provided—for your mountaineer never
fails to find resources on a pinch. They would have fired the brush
to leeward of their position, and also carefully ignited that to
windward, or between them and the advancing flame, extinguishing it
immediately when a sufficient space had thus been cleared, over which
the flame could not leap, and thus cutting themselves off from it both
above and below their position. In the present instance they could not
profit by such a course, as the wind was so strong that, if once the
bottom caught fire, they would not be able to extinguish it; besides
which, in the attempt, they would so expose themselves that they would
be picked off by the Indians without difficulty. As it was, the fire
came roaring before the wind with the speed of a race-horse, and,
spreading from the bottom, licked the mountain sides, the dry grass
burning like tinder. Huge volumes of stifling smoke rolled before it,
and, in a very few minutes, the trappers were hastily mounting their
animals, driving the packed ones before them. The dense clouds of
smoke concealed every thing from their view, and, to avoid this, they
broke from the creek and galloped up the sides of the cañon on to the
more level plateau. As they attained this, a band of mounted Indians
charged them. One, waving a red blanket, dashed through the cavallada,
and was instantly followed by all the loose animals of the trappers,
the rest of the Indians pursuing with loud shouts. So sudden was the
charge, that the whites had not power to prevent the stampede. Old
Bill, as usual, led his pack mules by the lariat; but the animals,
mad with terror at the shouts of the Indians, broke from him, nearly
pulling him out of his seat at the same time.

To cover the retreat of the others with their prey, a band of mounted
Indians now appeared, threatening an attack in front, whilst their
first assailants, rushing from the bottom, at least a hundred strong,
assaulted in rear. “Do 'ee hyar, boys!” shouted old Bill, “break, or
you'll go under. This child's goin' to câche!” and saying the word,
off he went. _Sauve-qui-peut_ was the order of the day, and not a
moment too soon, for overwhelming numbers were charging upon them, and
the mountain resounded with savage yells. La Bonté and Killbuck stuck
together: they saw old Bill, bending over his saddle, dive right into
the cloud of smoke, and apparently make for the creek bottom—their
other companions scattering each on his own hook, and saw no more
of them for many a month; and thus was one of the most daring and
successful bands broken up that ever trapped in the mountains of the
Far West.

It is painful to follow the steps of the poor fellows who, thus
despoiled of the hardly-earned produce of their hunt, saw all their
wealth torn from them at one swoop. The two Canadians were killed upon
the night succeeding that of the attack. Worn with fatigue, hungry and
cold, they had built a fire in what they thought was a secure retreat,
and, rolled in their blankets, were soon buried in a sleep from which
they never awoke. An Indian boy tracked them, and watched their camp.
Burning with the idea of signalising himself thus early, he awaited
his opportunity, and noiselessly approaching their resting-place,
shot them both with arrows, and returned in triumph to his people with
their horses and scalps.

La Bonté and Killbuck sought a passage in the mountain by which
to cross over to the head waters of the Columbia, and there fall
in with some of the traders or trappers of the North-west. They
became involved in the mountains, in a part where was no game of any
description, and no pasture for their miserable animals. One of these
they killed for food; the other, a bag of bones, died from sheer
starvation. They had very little ammunition, their moccasins were worn
out, and they were unable to procure skins to supply themselves with
fresh ones. Winter was fast approaching; the snow already covered the
mountains; and storms of sleet and hail poured incessantly through
the valleys, benumbing their exhausted limbs, hardly protected by
scanty and ragged covering. To add to their miseries, poor Killbuck
was taken ill. He had been wounded in the groin by a bullet some time
before, and the ball still remained. The wound, aggravated by walking
and the excessive cold, assumed an ugly appearance, and soon rendered
him incapable of sustained exertion, all motion even being attended
with intolerable pain. La Bonté had made a shanty for his suffering
companion, and spread a soft bed of pine branches for him, by the
side of a small creek at the point where it came out of the mountain
and followed its course through a little prairie. They had been three
days without other food than a piece of parflêche, which had formed
the back of La Bonté's bullet-pouch, and which, after soaking in
the creek, they eagerly devoured. Killbuck was unable to move, and
sinking fast from exhaustion. His companion had hunted from morning
till night, as well as his failing strength would allow him, but had
not seen the traces of any kind of game, with the exception of some
old buffalo tracks, made apparently months before by a band of bulls
crossing the mountain.

The morning of the fourth day La Bonté, as usual, rose at daybreak
from his blanket, and was proceeding to collect wood for the fire
during his absence while hunting, when Killbuck called to him, and in
an almost inarticulate voice desired him to seat himself by his side.

“Boy,” he said, “this old hos feels like goin' under, and that afore
long. You're stout yet, and if thar was meat handy, you'd come round
slick. Now, boy, I'll be under, as I said, afore many hours, and if
you don't raise meat you'll be in the same fix. I never eat dead
meat[26] myself, and wouldn't ask no one to do it neither; but meat
fair killed is meat any way; so, boy, put your knife in this old
niggur's lights, and help yourself. It's 'poor bull,' I know, but
maybe it'll do to keep life in; and along the fleece thar's meat yet,
and maybe my old hump ribs has picking on 'em.”

“You're a good old hos,” answered La Bonté, “but this child ain't
turned niggur yet.”

Killbuck then begged his companion to leave him to his fate, and
strive himself to reach game; but this alternative La Bonté likewise
generously refused, and faintly endeavouring to cheer the sick man,
left him once again to look for game. He was so weak that he felt
difficulty in supporting himself, and knowing how futile would be his
attempts to hunt, he sallied from the camp convinced that a few hours
more would see the last of him.

He had scarcely raised his eyes, when, hardly crediting his senses,
he saw within a few hundred yards of him an old bull, worn with age,
lying on the prairie. Two wolves were seated on their haunches before
him, their tongues lolling from their mouths, whilst the buffalo
was impotently rolling his ponderous head from side to side, his
blood-shot eyes glaring fiercely at his tormentors, and flakes of
foam, mixed with blood, dropping from his mouth over his long shaggy
beard. La Bonté was transfixed; he scarcely dared to breathe, lest the
animal should be alarmed and escape. Weak as it was, he could hardly
have followed it, and, knowing that his own and companion's life hung
upon the success of his shot, he scarcely had strength to raise his
rifle. By dint of extraordinary exertions and precautions, which were
totally unnecessary, for the poor old bull had not a move in him, the
hunter approached within shot. Lying upon the ground, he took a long
steady aim, and fired. The buffalo raised its matted head, tossed it
wildly for an instant, and, stretching out its limbs convulsively,
turned over on its side and was dead.

Killbuck heard the shot, and crawling from under the little shanty
which covered his bed, saw, to his astonishment, La Bonté in the act
of butchering a buffalo within two hundred yards of camp. “Hurraw for
you!” he faintly exclaimed; and exhausted by the exertion he had used,
and perhaps by the excitement of an anticipated feast, fell back and
fainted.

However, the killing was the easiest matter, for when the huge carcass
lay dead upon the ground, our hunter had hardly strength to drive the
blade of his knife through the tough hide of the old patriarch. Then
having cut off as much of the meat as he could carry, eating the while
sundry portions of the liver, which he dipped in the gall-bladder by
way of relish, La Bonté cast a wistful look upon the half-starved
wolves, who now loped round and round, licking their chops, only
waiting until his back was turned to fall to with appetite equal to
his own, and capabilities of swallowing and digesting far superior. La
Bonté looked at the buffalo and then at the wolves, levelled his rifle
and shot one dead, at which the survivor scampered off without delay.

Arrived at camp, packing in a tolerable load of the best part of the
animal—for hunger lent him strength—he found poor Killbuck lying on
his back, deaf to time, and to all appearance gone under. Having no
salvolatile or vinaigrette at hand, La Bonté flapped a lump of raw
fleece into his patient's face, and this instantly revived him. Then
taking the sick man's shoulder, he raised him tenderly into a sitting
posture, and invited, in kindly accents, “the old hos to feed,”
thrusting at the same time a tolerable slice of liver into his hand,
which the patient looked at wistfully and vaguely for a few short
moments, and then greedily devoured. It was nightfall by the time that
La Bonté, assisted by many intervals of hard eating, packed in the
last of the meat, which formed a goodly pile around the fire.

“Poor bull” it was in all conscience: the labour of chewing a mouthful
of the “tender loin” was equal to a hard day's hunt; but to them,
poor starved fellows, it appeared the richest of meat. They still
preserved a small tin pot, and in this, by stress of eternal boiling,
La Bonté contrived to make some strong soup, which soon restored his
sick companion to marching order. For himself, as soon as a good meal
had filled him, he was strong as ever, and employed himself in drying
the remainder of the meat for future use. Even the wolf, bony as he
was, was converted into meat, and rationed them several days. Winter,
however, had set in with such severity, and Killbuck was still so
weak, that La Bonté determined to remain in his present position
until spring, as he now found that buffalo frequently visited the
valley, as it was more bare of snow than the lowlands, and afforded
them better pasture; and one morning he had the satisfaction of seeing
a band of seventeen bulls within long rifle-shot of the camp, out of
which four of the fattest were soon laid low by his rifle.

They still had hard times before them, for towards spring the buffalo
again disappeared; the greater part of their meat had been spoiled,
owing to there not being sufficient sun to dry it thoroughly; and
when they resumed their journey they had nothing to carry with them,
and had a desert before them without game of any kind. We pass over
what they suffered. Hunger and thirst were their portion, and Indians
assaulted them at times, and many miraculous and hair-breadth escapes
they had from these enemies.



CHAPTER VI.


The trail to Oregon, followed by traders and emigrants, crosses the
Rocky Mountains at a point known as the South Pass, where a break in
the chain occurs of such moderate and gradual elevation, as to permit
the passage of waggons with tolerable facility. The Sweet Water Valley
runs nearly to the point where the dividing ridge of the Pacific and
Atlantic waters throws off its streams to their respective oceans. At
one end of this valley, and situated on the right bank of the Sweet
Water, a huge isolated mass of granitic rock rises to the height of
three hundred feet, abruptly from the plain. On the smooth and scarped
surface presented by one of its sides, are rudely carved the names and
initials of traders, trappers, travellers, and emigrants, who have
here recorded the memorial of their sojourn in the remote wilderness
of the Far West. The face of the rock is covered with names familiar
to the mountaineers as those of the most renowned of their hardy
brotherhood; while others again occur, better known to the science
and literature of the Old World than to the unlearned trappers of
the Rocky Mountains. The huge mass is a well-known landmark to the
Indians and mountaineers; and travellers and emigrants hail it as the
half-way beacon between the frontiers of the United States and the
still distant goal of their long and perilous journey.

It was a hot sultry day in July. Not a breath of air relieved the
intense and oppressive heat of the atmosphere, unusual here, where
pleasant summer breezes, and sometimes stronger gales, blow over
the elevated plains with the regularity of trade-winds. The sun,
at its meridian height, struck the dry sandy plain and parched the
drooping buffalo-grass on its surface, and its rays, refracted and
reverberating from the heated ground, distorted every object seen
through its lurid medium. Straggling antelope, leisurely crossing
the adjoining prairie, appeared to be gracefully moving in mid-air;
whilst a scattered band of buffalo bulls loomed huge and indistinct
in the vapoury distance. In the timbered valley of the river, deer
and elk were standing motionless in the water, under the shade of
the overhanging cottonwoods, seeking a respite from the persevering
attacks of swarms of horse-flies and musquitos; and now and then a
heavy splash was heard, as they tossed their antlered heads into the
stream, to free them from the venomous insects that buzzed incessantly
about them. In the sandy prairie, beetles of an enormous size were
rolling in every direction huge balls of earth, pushing them with
their hind legs with comical perseverance; cameleons darted about,
assimilating the hue of their grotesque bodies with the colour of
the sand: groups of prairie-dog houses were seen, each with its
inmate barking lustily on the roof; whilst under cover of nearly
every bush of sage or cactus a rattlesnake lay glittering in lazy
coil. Tantalising the parched sight, the neighbouring peaks of the
lofty Wind River Mountains glittered in a mantle of sparkling snow,
whilst Sweet Water Mountain, capped in cloud, looked gray and cool,
in striking contrast to the burned up plains which lay basking at its
foot.

Resting their backs against the rock (on which, we have said, are
_now_ carved the names of many travellers), and defended from the
powerful rays of the sun by its precipitous sides, two white men
quietly slept. They were gaunt and lantern-jawed, and clothed in
tattered buckskin. Each held a rifle across his knees, but—strange
sight in this country—one had its pan thrown open, which was
rust-eaten and contained no priming; the other's hammer was without
a flint. Their faces were as if covered with mahogany-coloured
parchment; their eyes were sunken; and as their jaws fell listlessly
on their breasts, their cheeks were hollow, with the bones nearly
protruding from the skin. One was in the prime of manhood, with
handsome features; the other, considerably past middle age, was stark
and stern. Months of dire privation had brought them to this pass. The
elder of the two was Killbuck, of mountain fame; the other was hight
La Bonté.

The former opened his eyes, and saw the buffalo feeding on the plain.
“Ho, boy,” he said, touching his companion, “thar's meat a-runnin.”

La Bonté looked in the direction the other pointed, stood up, and
hitching round his pouch and powder-horn, drew the stopper from the
latter with his teeth, and placing the mouth in the palm of his left
hand, turned the horn up and shook it.

“Not a grain,” he said—“not a grain, old hos.”

“Wagh!” exclaimed the other, “we'll have to eat afore long,” and
rising, walked into the prairie. He had hardly stepped two paces,
when, passing close to a sage bush, a rattlesnake whizzed a note of
warning with its tail. Killbuck grinned, and taking the wiping-stick
from his rifle-barrel, tapped the snake on the head, and, taking it by
the tail, threw it to La Bonté, saying, “hyar's meat, any how.” The
old fellow followed up his success by slaying half-a-dozen more, and
brought them in skewered through the head on his wiping-stick. A fire
was soon kindled, and the snakes roasting before it; when La Bonté,
who sat looking at the buffalo which fed close to the rock, suddenly
saw them raise their heads, snuff the air, and scamper towards him. A
few minutes afterwards a huge shapeless body loomed in the refracted
air, approaching the spot where the buffalo had been grazing The
hunters looked at it and then at each other, and ejaculated “Wagh!”
Presently a long white mass showed more distinctly, followed by
another, and before each was a string of animals.

“Waggons, by hos and beaver! Hurrah for Conostoga!” exclaimed the
trappers in a breath, as they now observed two white-tilted waggons,
drawn by several pairs of mules, approaching the very spot where they
sat. Several mounted men were riding about the waggons, and two on
horseback, in advance of all, were approaching the rock, when they
observed the smoke curling from the hunters' fire. They halted at
sight of this, and one of the two, drawing a long instrument from a
case, which Killbuck voted a rifle, directed it towards them for a
moment, and then, lowering it, again moved forward.

As they drew near, the two poor trappers, although half-dead with
joy, still retained their seats with Indian gravity and immobility of
feature, turning now and then the crackling snakes which lay on the
embers of the fire. The two strangers approached. One, a man of some
fifty years of age, of middle height and stoutly built, was clad in
a white shooting-jacket, of cut unknown in mountain tailoring, and a
pair of trousers of the well-known material called “shepherd's plaid;”
a broad-brimmed Panama shaded his face, which was ruddy with health
and exercise; a belt round the waist supported a handsome bowie-knife,
and a double-barrelled fowling-piece was _slung_ across his shoulder.

His companion was likewise dressed in a light shooting-jacket, of
many pockets and dandy cut, rode on an English saddle and in _boots_,
and was armed with a superb double rifle, glossy from the case, and
bearing few marks of use or service. He was a tall, fine-looking
fellow of thirty, with light hair and complexion; a scrupulous beard
and mustache; a wide-awake hat, with a short pipe stuck in the band,
not very black with smoke; an elaborate powder-horn over his shoulder,
with a Cairngorm in the butt as large as a plate; a blue handkerchief
tied round his throat in a sailor's knot, and the collar of his shirt
turned carefully over it. He had, moreover, a tolerable idea of his
very correct appearance, and wore Woodstock gloves.

The trappers looked at them from head to foot, and the more they
looked, the less could they make them out.

“H—!” exclaimed La Bonté emphatically.

“This beats grainin' bull-hide slick,” broke from Killbuck as the
strangers reined up at the fire, the younger dismounting, and staring
with wonder at the weather-beaten trappers.

“Well, my men, how are you?” he rattled out. “Any game here? By Jove!”
he suddenly exclaimed, seizing his rifle, as at that moment a large
buzzard, the most unclean of birds, flew into the topmost branch of a
cottonwood, and sat, a tempting shot. “By Jove, there's a chance!”
cried the mighty hunter; and, bending low, started off to approach the
unwary bird in the most approved fashion of northern deer-stalkers.
The buzzard sat quietly, and now and then stretched its neck to gaze
upon the advancing sportsman, who on such occasions threw himself flat
on the ground, and remained motionless, in dread of alarming the bird.
It was worth while to look at the countenance of old Killbuck, as he
watched the antics of the “bourgeois” hunter. He thought at first that
the dandy rifleman had really discovered game in the bottom, and was
nothing loth that there was a chance of his seeing meat; but when he
understood the object of such manœuvres, and saw the quarry the hunter
was so carefully approaching, his mouth grinned from ear to ear, and,
turning to La Bonté, he said, “Wagh! _he's_ some—_he_ is!”

Nothing doubting, however, the stranger approached the tree on which
the bird was sitting, and, getting well under it, raised his rifle and
fired. Down tumbled the bird; and the successful hunter, with a loud
shout, rushed frantically towards it, and bore it in triumph to the
camp, earning the most sovereign contempt from the two trappers by the
achievement.

The other stranger was a quieter character. He, too, smiled as he
witnessed the exultation of his younger companion, (whose horse, by
the way, was scampering about the plain), and spoke kindly to the
mountaineers, whose appearance was clear evidence of the sufferings
they had endured. The snakes by this time were cooked, and the
trappers gave their new acquaintances the never-failing invitation to
“sit and eat.” When the latter, however, understood what the viands
were, their looks expressed the horror and disgust they felt.

“Good God!” exclaimed the elder, “you surely cannot eat such
disgusting food?”

“This niggur doesn't savy what disgustin is,” gruffly answered
Killbuck; “but them as carries empty paunch three days an' more, is
glad to get 'snake-meat,' I'm thinkin.”

“What! you've no ammunition, then?”

“_Well_, we haven't.”

“Wait till the waggons come up, and throw away that abominable stuff,
and you shall have something better, I promise,” said the elder of the
strangers.

“Yes,” continued the younger, “some hot preserved soup, hotch-potch,
and a glass of porter, will do you good.”

The trappers looked at the speaker, who was talking Greek (to them).
They thought the bourgeois were making fun, and did not half like it,
so answered simply, “Wagh! h—'s full of hosh-posh and porter.”

Two large waggons presently came up, escorted by some eight or ten
stout Missourians. Sublette was amongst the number, well known as a
mountain trader, and under whose guidance the present party, which
formed a pleasure expedition at the expense of a Scotch sportsman,
was leisurely making its way across the mountains to the Columbia. As
several mountaineers were in company, Killbuck and La Bonté recognised
more than one friend, and the former and Sublette were old compañeros.
As soon as the animals were unhitched, and camp formed on the banks of
the creek, a black cook set about preparing a meal. Our two trapping
friends looked on with astonishment as the sable functionary drew
from the waggon the different articles he required to furnish forth a
feed. Hams, tongues, tins of preserved meats, bottles of pickles, of
porter, brandy, coffee, sugar, flour, were tumbled promiscuously on
the prairie; whilst pots and pans, knives, forks, spoons, plates, &c.
&c., displayed their unfamiliar faces to the mountaineers. “Hosh-posh
and porter” did not now appear such Utopian articles as they had first
imagined; but no one but those who have fared for years on simple meat
and water, can understand the relish with which they accepted the
invitation of the Capen (as they called the Scotchman) to “take a horn
of liquor.” Killbuck and La Bonté sat in the same position as when we
first surprised them asleep under the shadow of Independence Rock,
regarding the profuse display of comestibles with scarce-believing
eyes, and childishly helpless from the novelty of the scene. Each
took the proffered half-pint cup, filled to the brim with excellent
brandy—(no tee-totallers they!)—looked once at the amber-coloured
surface, and with the usual mountain pledge of “here's luck!” tossed
off the grateful liquour at a breath. This prepared them in some
measure for what was yet in store for them. The Scotchman bestirred
the cook in his work, and soon sundry steaming pots were lifted from
the fire, and the skillets emptied of their bread—the contents of the
former poured in large flat pans, while panikins were filled with
smoking coffee. The two trappers needed no second invitation, but,
seizing each a panful of steaming stew, drew the butcher-knives from
their belts, and fell to lustily—the hospitable Scotchman plying them
with more and more, and administering corrective noggins of brandy the
while; until at last they were fain to cry enough, wiped their knives
on the grass, and placed them in their sheaths—a sign that human
nature could no more. How can pen describe the luxury of the smoke
that followed, to lips which had not kissed pipe for many months, and
how the fragrant honey-dew from Old Virginia was relishingly puffed.

But the Scotchman's bounty did not stop here. He soon elicited from
the lips of the hunters the narrative of their losses and privations,
and learned that they now, without ammunition and scarcely clothed,
were on their way to Platte Fort, to hire themselves to the Indian
traders in order to earn another outfit, wherewith once more to betake
themselves to their perilous employment of trapping. What was their
astonishment to see their entertainer presently lay out upon the
ground two piles of goods, each consisting of a four-point Mackinaw,
two tin canisters of powder, with corresponding lead and flints, a
pair of moccasins, a shirt, and sufficient buckskin to make a pair of
pantaloons; and how much the more was the wonder increased when two
excellent Indian horses were presently lassoed from the cavallada, and
with mountain saddle, bridle, and lariats complete, together with the
two piles of goods described, presented to them “on the prairie” or
“gift-free,” by the kind-hearted stranger, who would not even listen
to thanks for the most timely and invaluable present.

Once more equipped, our two hunters, filled with good brandy and fat
buffalo meat, again wended on their way; their late entertainers
continuing their pleasure trip across the gap of the South Pass,
intending to visit the Great Salt Lake, or Timponogos, of the West.
The former were bound for the North Fork of the Platte, with the
intention of joining one of the numerous trapping parties which
rendezvous at the American Fur Company's post on that branch of the
river. On a fork of Sweet Water, however, not two days after the
meeting with the Scotchman's waggons, they encountered a band of
a dozen mountaineers, mounted on fine horses, and well armed and
equipped, travelling along without the usual accompaniment of a
mulada of pack-animals, two or three mules alone being packed with
meat and spare ammunition. The band was proceeding at a smart rate,
the horses moving with the gait peculiar to American animals, known
as “_pacing_” or “_racking_,” in Indian file—each of the mountaineers
with a long heavy rifle resting across the horn of his saddle. Amongst
them our two friends recognised Markhead, who had been of the party
dispersed months before by the Blackfeet on one of the head streams
of the Yellow Stone, which event had been the origin of the dire
sufferings of Killbuck and La Bonté. Markhead, after running the
gauntlet of numerous Indians, through the midst of whose country
he passed with his usual temerity and utter disregard to danger,
suffering hunger, thirst, and cold—those every-day experiences of
mountain life—riddled with balls, but with three scalps hanging from
his belt, made his way to a rendezvous on Bear River, whence he struck
out for the Platte in early spring, in time to join the band he now
accompanied, who were on a horse-stealing expedition to the Missions
of Upper California. Little persuasion did either Killbuck or La Bonté
require to join the sturdy freebooters. In five minutes they had gone
“files-about,” and at sundown were camping on the well-timbered bottom
of “Little Sandy,” feasting once more on delicate hump-rib and tender
loin.

For California, ho!

Fourteen good rifles in the hands of fourteen mountain men, stout
and true, on fourteen strong horses, of true Indian blood and
training—fourteen cool heads, with fourteen pairs of keen eyes in
them, each head crafty as an Indian's, directing a right arm strong as
steel, and a heart as brave as grizzly bear's. Before them a thousand
miles of dreary desert or wilderness, overrun by hostile savages,
thirsting for the white man's blood; famine and drought, the arrows of
wily hordes of Indians—and, these dangers past, the invasion of the
civilised settlements of whites, the least numerous of which contained
ten times their number of armed and bitter enemies,—the sudden swoop
upon their countless herds of mules and horses, the fierce attack
and bloody slaughter;—such were the consequences of the expedition
these bold mountaineers were now engaged in. Fourteen lives of any
fourteen enemies who would be rash enough to stay them, were, any day
you will, carried in the rifle barrels of these stout fellows; who,
in all the proud consciousness of their physical qualities, neither
thought, nor cared to think, of future perils; and rode merrily on
their way, rejoicing in the dangers they must necessarily meet. Never
a more daring band crossed the mountains; a more than ordinary want
of caution characterised their march, and dangers were recklessly
and needlessly invited, which even the older and more cold-blooded
mountaineers seemed not to care to avoid. They had, each and all, many
a debt to pay the marauding Indians. Grudges for many privations,
for wounds and loss of comrades, rankled in their breasts; and not
one but had suffered more or less in property and person at the hands
of the savages, within a few short months. Threats of vengeance on
every Redskin they met were loud and deep; and the wild war-songs
round their nightly camp-fires, and grotesque scalp-dances, borrowed
from the Indians, proved to the initiated that they were, one and all,
“half-froze for hair.” Soon after Killbuck and La Bonté joined them,
they one day suddenly surprised a band of twenty Sioux, scattered on
a small prairie and butchering some buffalo they had just killed.
Before they could escape, the whites were upon them with loud shouts,
and in three minutes the scalps of eleven were dangling from their
saddle-horns.

Struggling up mountains, slipping down precipices, dashing over
prairies which resounded with their Indian songs, charging the
Indians wherever they met them, and without regard to their numbers;
frightening with their lusty war-whoops the miserable Diggers, who
were not unfrequently surprised while gathering roots in the mountain
plains, and who, scrambling up the rocks and concealing themselves,
like sage rabbits, in holes and corners, peered, chattering with
fear, as the wild and noisy troop rode by:—scarce drawing rein,
they passed rapidly the heads of Green and Grand Rivers, through a
country abounding in game and in excellent pasture; encountering in
the upland valleys, through which meandered the well-timbered creeks
on which they made their daily camps, many a band of Yutas, through
whom they dashed at random, caring not whether they were friends or
foes. Passing many other heads of streams, they struck at last the
edge of the desert, lying along the south-eastern base of the Great
Salt Lake, and which extends in almost unbroken sterility to the
foot of the range of the Sierra Nevada—a mountain chain, capped with
perpetual snow, that bounds the northern extremity of a singular
tract of country, walled by mountains and utterly desert, whose salt
lagoons and lakes, although fed by many streams, find no outlet to
the ocean, but are absorbed in the spongy soil or thirsty sand, which
characterise the different portions of this deserted tract. In the
“Grand Basin,” it is reported, neither human nor animal life can be
supported. No oases cheer the wanderer in the unbroken solitude of
the vast wilderness. More than once the lone trapper has penetrated,
with hardy enterprise, into the salt plains of the basin; but no signs
of beaver or fur-bearing animal rewarded the attempt. The ground
is scantily covered with coarse unwholesome grass that mules and
horses refuse to eat; and the water of the springs, impregnated with
the impurities of the soil through which it percolates, affords but
nauseating draughts to the thirsty traveller.

In passing from the more fertile uplands to the lower plains, as they
descended the streams, the timber on their banks became scarcer,
and the groves more scattered. The rich buffalo or _grama_ grass was
exchanged for a coarser species, on which the hard-worked animals soon
grew poor and weak. The thickets of plum and cherry, of boxalder and
quaking ash, which had hitherto fringed the creeks, and where the deer
and bear loved to resort—the former to browse on the leaves and tender
shoots, the latter to devour the fruit—now entirely disappeared,
and the only shrub seen was the eternal sage-bush, which flourishes
every where in the western regions in uncongenial soils where other
vegetation refuses to grow. The visible change in the scenery had also
a sensible effect on the spirits of the mountaineers. They travelled
on in silence through the deserted plains; the hi-hi-hiya of their
Indian chants was no longer heard enlivening the line of march. More
than once a Digger of the Piyutah tribe took himself and hair, in
safety, from their path, and almost unnoticed; but as they advanced
they became more cautious in their movements, and testified, by the
vigilant watch they kept, that they anticipated hostile attacks even
in these arid wastes. They had passed without molestation through
the country infested by the bolder Indians. The mountain Yutas, not
relishing the appearance of the hunters, had left them unmolested;
but they were now entering a country inhabited by the most degraded
and abject of the western tribes; who, nevertheless, ever suffering
from the extremities of hunger, have their brutish wits sharpened
by the necessity of procuring food, and rarely fail to levy a
contribution of rations, of horse or mule flesh, on the passenger in
their inhospitable country. The brutish cunning and animal instinct of
these wretches is such, that although arrant cowards, their attacks
are more feared than those of bolder Indians. These people-called
the Yamparicas or Root-Diggers—are, nevertheless, the degenerate
descendants of those tribes which once overran that portion of the
continent of North America now comprehended within the boundaries of
Mexico, and who have left such startling evidences in their track of a
comparatively superior state of civilisation. They now form an outcast
tribe of the great nation of the Apache, which extends under various
names from the Great Salt Lake along the table-lands on each side the
Sierra Madre to the tropic of Cancer, where they merge into what are
called the Mexican Indians. The whole of this nation is characterised
by most abject cowardice; and they even refuse to meet the helpless
Mexicans in open fight—unlike the Yuta or Camanche, who carry bold and
open warfare into the territories of their civilised enemy, and never
shrink from hand to hand encounter. The Apaches and the degenerate
Diggers pursue a cowardly warfare, hiding in ambush, and shooting the
passer-by with arrows; or, dashing upon him at night when steeped in
sleep, they bury their arrow to the feather in his heaving breast. As
the Mexicans say, “_Sin ventaja, no salen_;” they never attack without
odds. But they are not the less dangerous enemies on this account; and
by the small bands of trappers who visit their country, they are the
more dreaded by reason of this cowardly and wolfish system of warfare.

To provide against surprise, therefore, as the hunters rode along,
flankers were extended _en guerilla_ on each side, mounting the high
points to reconnoitre the country, and keeping a sharp look-out
for Indian sign. At night the animals were securely hobbled, and
a horse-guard posted round them—a service of great danger, as the
stealthy cat-like Diggers are often known to steal up silently, under
cover of the darkness, towards the sentinel, shoot him with their
arrows, and approaching the animals, cut the hobbles and drive them
away unseen.

One night they encamped on a creek where was but little of the
coarsest pasture, and that little scattered here and there; so that
they were compelled to allow their animals to roam farther than usual
from camp in search of food. Four of the hunters, however, accompanied
them to guard against surprise; whilst but half of those in camp lay
down to sleep, the others, with rifles in their hands, remaining
prepared for any emergency. This day they had killed one of their two
pack-mules for food, game not having been met with for several days;
but the animal was so poor, that it scarcely afforded more than one
tolerable meal to the whole party.

A short time before the dawn of day an alarm was given; the animals
were heard to snort violently; a loud shout was heard, followed by
the sharp crack of a rifle, and the tramp of galloping horses plainly
showed that a stampede had been effected. The whites instantly sprang
to their arms, and rushed in the direction of the sounds. The body
of the cavallada, however, had luckily turned, and, being headed by
the mountaineers, were surrounded and secured, with the loss of only
three, which had probably been mounted by the Indians.

Day breaking soon after, one of their band was discovered to be
missing; and it was then found that a man who had been standing
horse-guard at the time of the attack, had not come into camp with
his companions. At that moment a thin spiral column of smoke was seen
to rise from the banks of the creek, telling but too surely the fate
of the missing mountaineer. It was the signal of the Indians to their
people that a “_coup_” had been struck, and that an enemy's scalp
remained in their triumphant hands.

“H——!” exclaimed the trappers in a breath; and soon imprecations and
threats of revenge, loud and deep, were showered upon the heads of the
treacherous Indians. Some of the party rushed to the spot where the
guard had stood, and there lay the body of their comrade, pierced
with lance and arrow, the scalp gone, and the body otherwise mutilated
in a barbarous manner. Five were quickly in the saddle, mounted upon
the strongest horses, and flying along the track of the Indians, who
had made off towards the mountains with their prize and booty. We will
not follow them in their work of bloody vengeance, save by saying that
they followed the savages to their village, into which they charged
headlong, recovered their stolen horses, and returned to camp at
sundown with thirteen scalps dangling from their rifles, in payment
for the loss of their unfortunate companion.[27]

In their further advance, hunger and thirst were their daily
companions; they were compelled to kill several of their animals for
food, but were fortunate enough to replace them by a stroke of good
luck in meeting a party of Indians returning from an excursion against
one of the Californian settlements with a tolerably large band of
horses. Our hunters met this band one fine morning, and dashed into
the midst at once; half a dozen Indians bit the dust, and twenty
horses were turned over from red to white masters in as many seconds,
which remounted those whose animals had been eaten, and enabled
the others to exchange their worn-out steeds for fresh ones. This
fortunate event was considered a _coup_, and the event was celebrated
by the slaughter of a fat young horse, which furnished an excellent
supper that night—a memorable event in these starveling regions.

They were now devouring their horses and mules at the rate of one
every alternate day; for, so poor were the animals, that one scarcely
furnished an ample meal for the thirteen hungry hunters. They were
once more reduced to the animals they rode on; and after a fast of
twenty-four hours' duration, were debating on the propriety of drawing
lots as to whose Rosinante should fill the kettle, when some Indians
suddenly appeared making signs of peace upon the bluff, and indicating
a disposition to enter the camp for the purpose of trading. Being
invited to approach, they offered to trade a few dressed elk-skins;
but being asked for meat, they said that their village was a long
way off, and they had nothing with them but a small portion of some
game they had lately killed. When requested to produce this, they
hesitated, but the trappers looking hungry and angry at the same
moment, an old Indian drew from under his blanket several flaps of
portable dried meat, which he declared was bear's. It was but a small
ration amongst so many; but, being divided, was quickly laid upon
the fire to broil. The meat was stringy, and of whitish colour,
altogether unlike any flesh the trappers had before eaten. Killbuck
was the first to discover this. He had been quietly masticating the
last mouthful of his portion, the stringiness of which required more
than usual dental exertion, when the novelty of the flavour struck him
as something singular. Suddenly his jaws ceased their work, he thought
a moment, took the morsel from his mouth, looked at it intently, and
dashed it into the fire.

“Man-meat, by G—!” he cried out; and at the words every jaw stopped
work: the trappers looked at the meat and each other.

“I'm dog-gone if it ain't!” cried old Walker, looking at his piece,
“and white meat at that, wagh!” (and report said it was not the first
time he had tasted such viands;) and the conviction seizing each mind,
every mouthful was quickly spat into the fire, and the ire of the
deceived whites was instantly turned upon the luckless providers of
the feast. They saw the storm that was brewing, and without more ado
turned tail from the camp, and scuttled up the bluffs, where, turning
round, they fired a volley of arrows at the tricked mountaineers, and
instantly disappeared.

However, the desert and its nomade pilferers were at length passed;
the sandy plains became grass-covered prairies; the monstrous
cottonwood on the creeks was replaced by oak and ash; the surface of
the country grew more undulating, and less broken up into cañons and
ravines; elk and deer leaped in the bottoms, and bands of antelope
dotted the plains, with occasional troops of wild horses, too wary to
allow the approach of man. On the banks of a picturesque stream called
the San Joaquim, the party halted a few days to recruit themselves and
animals, feasting the while on the fattest of venison and other game.
They then struck to the south-east for two days, until they reached a
branch of the “Las Animas,” a clear stream running through a pretty
valley, well timbered and abounding in game. Here, as they wound along
the river-banks, a horseman suddenly appeared upon the bluff above
them, galloping at a furious rate along the edge. His dress approached
in some degree to civilised attire. A broad-brimmed sombrero
surmounted his swarthy face; a coloured blanket, through a slit in
which his head was thrust, floated in the air from his shoulders;
leathern leggings encased his lower limbs; and huge spurs jingled on
his heels. He rode in a high-peaked Mexican saddle, his feet thrust
in ponderous stirrups, and in his hand swung a coil of ready lasso,
his only offensive arm. One of the trappers knew a little Spanish, and
instantly hailed him.

“_Compadre_,” he shouted, “_por onde va?_” The Californian reined in
suddenly, throwing the horse he rode on its very haunches, and darting
down the bluff, galloped unhesitatingly into the midst of the hunters.

“_Americanos!_” he exclaimed, glancing at them; and continued,
smiling—“_Y caballos quieren, por eso vienen tan lejitos. Jesus, que
mala gente!_”—“It's horses you want, and for this you come all this
way. Ah, what rogues you are!”

He was an Indian, employed at the mission of San Fernando, distant
three days' journey from their present position, and was now searching
for a band of horses and mules which had strayed. San Fernando,
it appeared, had once before been visited by a party of mountain
free-booters, and the Indian therefore divined the object of the
present one. He was, he told them, “_un Indio, pero mansito_:” an
Indian, but a tame one;[28] “_de mas, Christiano_:” a Christian
moreover (exhibiting a small cross which hung round his neck).
There were many people about the mission, he said, who knew how to
fight, and had plenty of arms; and there were enough to “eat up”
the “_Americanos, sin frijoles_,” without beans, as he facetiously
observed. For his part, however, he was very friendly to the
_Americanos_; he had once met a man of that nation who was a good
sort of fellow, and had made him a present of tobacco, of which he
was particularly fond. Finding this hint did not take, he said that
the horses and mules belonging to the mission were innumerable—“like
that,” he added, sweeping his hand to all points of the compass over
the plain, to intimate that they would cover that extent; and he could
point out a large herd grazing nearer at hand than the mission, and
guarded but by three _vaqueros_. Regaled with venison, and with a
smoke of his coveted tobacco, he rode off, and made his way to the
mission without delay, conveying the startling intelligence that a
thousand Americans were upon them.

The next morning the thirteen doughty mountaineers quietly resumed
their journey, moving leisurely along towards the object of their
expedition.

It will not be out of place here to digress a little, in order to
describe the singular features of the establishments formed in those
remote regions by the Catholic church, as nuclei round which to
concentrate the wandering tribes that inhabit the country, with a view
to give them the benefit of civilised example, and to wean them from
their restless nomadic habits.

The establishment of missions in Upper California is coeval with
the first settlement of Southern Mexico. No sooner had Spanish rule
taken a firm foot-hold in the Aztec empire, than the avowed primary
object of the military expedition began to be carried into effect.
“To save the souls” of the savage and barbarous subjects of their
most Catholic majesties was ever inculcated upon the governors of
the conquered country as the grand object to be sought after, as
soon as tranquillity was partially restored by the submission of the
Mexicans; and the Cross, the sacred emblem of the Catholic faith, was
to be upraised in the remotest corners of the country, and the natives
instructed and compelled to worship it, in lieu of the grotesque
images of their own idolatrous religion.

To carry into effect these orthodox instructions, troops of pious
priests, of friars and monks of every order, and even of saintly
nuns, followed in the wake of the victorious armies of Cortez; and,
girding up their loins with zealous fervour and enthusiasm, and with
an enterprise and hardihood worthy of buccaneers, they pushed their
adventurous way far into the bowels of the land, preaching devoutly
and with commendable perseverance to savages who did not understand a
syllable of what they so eloquently discoursed; and returning, after
the lapse of many months passed in this first attempt, with glowing
accounts of the “_muy buen indole_,” the very ductile disposition of
the savages, and of the thousands they had converted to “_la santa fé
catolica_.”

Ferdinand and Isabel, of glorious memory, at once beat up for
volunteers. Crowds of Franciscan monks, greasy Capuchinos, and nuns
of orthodox odour, joined the band; and saints even of the feminine
gender, long since canonised and up aloft amongst the goodly muster of
saints and martyrs, put foot once more on _terra firma_, and, rosary
in hand, crossed the seas to participate in the good work. As proof
of this latter fact, one Venabides, a Franciscan, whose veracity is
beyond impeachment, declared that, while preaching in the regions
now known as New Mexico, one million Indians from the “rumbo” known
as Cibolo, a mighty nation, approached his temporary pulpit on the
Rio Grande, and requested in a body the favour of being baptised.
Struck with the singularity of this request from Indians with whom
he had as yet held no communication, and with conscientious scruple
as to whether he would be justified in performing such ceremony
without their having received previous instruction, he hesitated a few
moments before making an answer. At this juncture the Indians espied a
medallion which hung around his neck, bearing the effigy of a certain
saint of extraordinary virtue. At sight of this they fell on their
knees before it; and it was some time before they found words (in
what language does not appear) to explain to the holy father that the
original of that effigy, which hung pendant from his neck, had been
long amongst them instructing them in the elements of the Christian
religion, and had only lately disappeared; informing them that certain
reverend men would shortly appear in the land, who would finish the
good work she had devoutly commenced, and clench the business by
baptising the one million miserable sinners who now knelt before El
Padre Venabides.

“Valgame Dios!” reverently exclaimed that worthy man, “qui milagro es
este;” [what a miracle is this I hear;] and casting up his eyes, and
speaking slowly, as if he weighed every word, and taxing his memory of
the historical calendar of saints, continued,—

“_Se murió—aquella—santissima—muger—en el ano 175—es decir—ya
hacen—mil—quatro—cientos—anos._” [That most holy woman died in the
year 175, that is to say, one thousand four hundred years ago.]

“Oh, what a strange thing is this!” the padre continues devoutly.
“After so many ages spent in heaven in company of the angels, of most
holy men, and of virgins the most pure; and, perhaps, also in the
company of my worthy and esteemed friend and patron, Don Vincente
Carvajal y Calvo, who died a few years ago in San Lucar of Xeres
(bequeathing me certain arrobas of dry wine, of a class I greatly
esteem—for which act he deserved to be canonised, and, I have no
doubt, is), the said Don Vincente Carvajal y Calvo being, moreover, a
man of the purest and holiest thoughts (Dios mio! what a puchero that
man always had on his table!) this holy woman comes here—to these wild
and remote regions; this holy woman (who died fifteen hundred years
ago), abandoning the company of angels, of holy men, and sanctified
women and virgins, and also of Don Vincente Carvajal y Calvo (that
worthy man!)—comes here, I say, where there are neither pucheros, nor
garbanzos, nor dry wine, nor sweet wine, neither of Xeres, nor of Val
de Peñas, nor of Peralta; where” (sobbed the padre, and bellowed
the last word) “there is—nothing either to eat or to drink. Valgame
Purissima Maria! And what is the name of this holy woman? the world
will ask,” continues Venabides. “Santa Clara of Carmona is her name,
one well known in my native country, who leaves heaven and all its
joys, wends her way to the distant wilds of New Spain, and spends
years in inducting the savage people to the holy faith. Truly a pious
work, and pleasing to God!”[29]

Thus spoke Venabides the Franciscan, and no doubt he believed what he
said; and many others in Old Spain were fools enough to believe it
too, for the shaven heads flocked over in greater numbers, and the cry
was ever “still they come.”

Along the whole extent of the table-lands, not an Indian tribe but was
speedily visited by the preaching friars and monks; and, in less than
a century after the conquest of Mexico by the Spaniards, these hardy
and enthusiastic frayles had pushed their way into the inhospitable
regions of New Mexico, nearly two thousand miles distant from the
valley of Anahuac. How they succeeded in surmounting the natural
obstacles presented by the wild and barren deserts they traversed; how
they escaped the infinite peril they encountered at every step, at the
hands of the savage inhabitants of the country, with whose language
they were totally unacquainted, is sufficient puzzle to those who, in
the present day, have attempted a journey in the same regions.

However, it is impossible not to admire the hardihood of these holy
pioneers of civilisation, who, totally unfitted by their former mode
of life for undergoing such hardships as they must have anticipated,
threw themselves into the wilderness with fearless and stubborn zeal.

For the most part, however, they found the Indians exceedingly
hospitable and well disposed; and it was not until some time
after—when, receiving from the missionary monks glowing, and not
always very truthful accounts of the riches of the country in which
they had located themselves, the governors of Mexico despatched
armed expeditions under adventurous desperadoes to take and retain
possession of the said country, with orders to compel the submission
of the native tribes, and enforce their obedience to the authority
of the whites—that the simple and confiding Indians began to see the
folly they had committed in permitting the residence amongst them
of these superior beings, whom they had first looked upon as more
than mortal, but who, when strong enough to do so, were not long in
throwing off the mask, and proving to the simple savages that they
were much “more human than divine.”

Thus, in the province of New Mexico, Fray Augustin Ruiz, with his
co-preachers, Marcos and Venabides, were kindly received by the native
inhabitants, and we have seen how one million (?) Indians came from
the “rumbo” of the Cibolo, ready and willing to receive the baptismal
sacrament. This Cibolo, or Sivulo, as it is written in some old MSS.,
is, by the way, mysteriously alluded to by the monkish historians who
have written on this region, as being a kingdom inhabited by a very
superior class of Indians to any met with between Anahuac and the Vale
of Taos—in the enjoyment of a high state of civilisation, inhabiting
a well-built city, the houses of which were three stories high, and
having attained considerable perfection in the domestic arts. This,
notwithstanding the authority of Don Francisco Vasquez Coronado, who
visited Cibolo, and of Solis and Venegas, who have guaranteed the
assertion, must be received _cum grano salis_; but, at all events,
the civilisation of the mysterious Cibolo may be compared to that
of the Aztec empire, under Montezuma, at the time of the Spanish
Conquest, both being egregiously exaggerated by the historians of
the day. Cibolo was situated on a river called Tegue. At this day,
neither name is known to the inhabitants of New Mexico. If pate-shaven
Venabides had held his tongue, New Mexico might now be in the peaceful
possession of the Catholic Missions, and the property of the Church
of Mexico pretty considerably enhanced by the valuable _placeres_, or
gold washings, which abound in that province. Full, however, of the
wonderful miracle of Santa Clara of Carmona, which had been brought to
light through the agency of the medallion at the end of his rosario,
Fray Venabides must needs return to Spain, and humbug poor old
Fernando, and even the more sensible Isabel, with wonderful accounts
of the riches of the country he had been instrumental in exploring,
and of the excellent disposition of the natives to receive the word
of God. Don Juan Oñate was, therefore, quickly despatched to take
possession; and in his train followed twelve Castilian families of
_sangre azul_, to colonise the newly-acquired territory. The names of
these still remain, disgraced by the degenerate wretches who now bear
them, but in whom scarce a drop of blood remains which ever filtered
from the veins of the paladins of Old Castile.

Then commenced the troublous times. The missions were upheld by dint
of steel alone; and frequently the Indians rose, and often massacred
their white persecutors. The colonists were more than once driven
bodily from New Mexico, and were only reinstated by the aid of large
bodies of armed men.

In California, however, they managed these things better. The wily
monks took care to keep all interlopers from the country, established
themselves in snug quarters, instructed the Indians in agriculture,
and soon gained such an ascendancy over them, that no difficulty was
experienced in keeping them under proper and wholesome restraint.
Strong and commodious missions were built and fortified, well stored
with arms and ammunition, and containing sufficient defenders to defy
attack. Luxuriant gardens and thriving vineyards soon surrounded these
isolated stations: the plains waved with golden corn; whilst domestic
cattle, thriving on the rich pasture, and roaming far and near,
multiplied and increased a hundred-fold.

Nothing can be more beautiful than the appearance of one of these
missions, to the traveller who has lately passed the arid and barren
wilderness of the North-west. The _adobe_ walls of the convent-looking
building, surmounted by cross and belfry, are generally hidden in a
mass of luxuriant vegetation. Fig-trees, bananas, cherry, and apple,
leaf-spreading platanos, and groves of olives, form umbrageous vistas,
under which the sleek monks delight to wander; gardens, cultivated
by their own hands, testify to the horticultural skill of the worthy
padres; whilst vineyards yield their grateful produce to gladden the
hearts of the holy exiles in these western solitudes. Vast herds of
cattle roam half-wild on the plains, and bands of mules and horses,
whose fame has even reached the distant table-lands of the Rocky
Mountains, and excited the covetousness of the hunters—and thousands
of which, from the day they are foaled to that of their death, never
feel a saddle on their backs—cover the country. Indians (Mansitos)
idle round the skirts of these vast herds (whose very numbers keep
them together), living, at their own choice, upon the flesh of mule,
or ox, or horse.



CHAPTER VII.


The Mission of San Fernando is situated on a small river called Las
Animas, a branch of the Los Martires. The convent is built at the neck
of a large plain, at the point of influx of the stream from the broken
spurs of the sierra. The savana is covered with luxuriant grass, kept
down, however, by the countless herds of cattle which pasture on it.
The banks of the creek are covered with a lofty growth of oak and
poplar, which near the Mission have been considerably thinned for the
purpose of affording fuel and building materials for the increasing
settlement. The convent stands in the midst of a grove of fruit-trees,
its rude tower and cross peeping above them, and contrasting
picturesquely with the wildness of the surrounding scenery. Gardens
and orchards lie immediately in front of the building, and a vineyard
stretches away to the upland ridge of the valley. The huts of the
Indians are scattered here and there, built of stone and adobe,
sometimes thatched with flags and boughs, but comfortable enough. The
convent itself is a substantial building, of the style of architecture
characterising monastic edifices in most parts of the world.
Loopholes peer from its plastered walls, and on a flat portion of the
roof a comically mounted gingall or wall-piece, carrying a two-pound
ball, threatens the assailant in time of war. At one end of the oblong
building, a rough irregular arch of sun-burned bricks is surmounted by
a rude cross, under which hangs a small but deep-toned bell—the wonder
of the Indian peones, and highly venerated by the frayles themselves,
who received it as a present from a certain venerable archbishop of
Old Spain, and who, whilst guarding it with reverential awe, tell
wondrous tales of its adventures on the road to its present abiding
place.

Of late years the number of the canonical inmates of the convent has
been much reduced—there being but four priests now to do the duties of
the eleven who formerly inhabited it: Fray Augustin, a Capuchin of due
capacity of paunch, being at the head of the holy quartette. Augustin
is the conventual name of the reverend father, who fails not to
impress upon such casual visitants to that _ultima Thule_ as he deems
likely to appreciate the information, that, but for his humility,
he might add the sonorous appellations of Ignacio Sabanal-Morales-y
Fuentes—his family being of the best blood of Old Castile, and known
there since the days of Ruy Gomez—el Campéador—possessing, moreover,
half the “vega” of the Ebro, &c., where, had fate been propitious, he
would now have been the sleek superior of a rich capuchin convent,
instead of vegetating, a leather-clad frayle, in the wilds of
California Alta.

Nevertheless, his lot is no bad one. With plenty of the best and
fattest meat to eat, whether of beef or venison, of bear or mountain
mutton; with good wine and brandy of home make, and plenty of it;
fruit of all climes in great abundance; wheaten or corn bread to suit
his palate; a tractable flock of natives to guide, and assisted in the
task by three brother shepherds; far from the strife of politics or
party—secure from hostile attack (not quite, by-the-by), and eating,
drinking, and sleeping away his time, one would think that Fray
Augustin Ignacio Sabanal-Morales-y Fuentes had little to trouble him,
and had no cause to regret even the vega of Castilian Ebro, held by
his family since the days of el Campéador.

One evening Fray Augustin sat upon an adobe bench, under the fig-tree
shadowing the porch of the Mission. He was dressed in a goat-skin
jerkin, softly and beautifully dressed, and descending to his hips,
under which his only covering—tell it not in Gath!—was a long linen
shirt, reaching to his knees, and lately procured from Puebla de los
Angeles, as a sacerdotal garment. Boots, stockings, or unmentionables,
he had none. A cigarito, of tobacco rolled in corn shuck, was
occasionally placed between his lips; whereupon huge clouds of smoke
rushed in columns from his mouth and nostrils. His face was of a
golden yellow colour, relieved by arched and very black eyebrows;
his shaven chin was of most respectable duplicity—his corporation
of orthodox dimensions. Several Indians and half-bred Mexican women
were pounding Indian corn on metates near at hand; whilst sundry
beef-fed urchins of whitey-brown complexion sported before the door,
exhibiting, as they passed Fray Augustin, a curious resemblance to the
strongly marked features of that worthy padre. They were probably his
nieces and nephews—a class of relations often possessed in numbers by
priests and monks.

The three remaining brothers were absent from the Mission; Fray
Bernardo, hunting elk in the sierra; Fray José, gallivanting at Puebla
de los Angeles, ten days' journey distant; Fray Cristoval, lassoing
colts upon the plain. Augustin, thus left to his own resources, had
just eaten his vespertine frijolitos and chile colorado, and was
enjoying a post-cœnal smoke of fragrant pouche under the shadow of his
own fig-tree.

Whilst thus employed, an Indian dressed in Mexican attire approached
him hat in hand, and, making a reverential bow, asked his directions
concerning domestic business of the Mission.

“Hola! friend José,” cried Fray Augustin in a thick guttural voice,
“pensaba yo—I was thinking that it was very nearly this time three
years ago when those 'malditos Americanos' came by here and ran off
with so many of our cavallada.”

“True, reverend father,” answered the administrador, “just three years
ago, all but fifteen days: I remember it well. _Malditos sean_—curse
them!”

“How many did we kill, José?”

“Quizas mōōchos—a great many, I dare say. But they did not fight
fairly—charged right upon us, and gave us no time to do any thing.
They don't know how to fight, these Mericanos; come right at you,
before you can swing a lasso, hallooing like Indios Bravos.”

“But, José, how many did they leave dead on the field?”

“Not one.”

“And we?”

“Valgame Dios! thirteen dead, and many more wounded.”

“That's it! Now if these savages come again (and the Chemeguaba,
who came in yesterday, says he saw a large trail), we must fight
adentro—within—outside is no go; for as you very properly say, José,
these Americans don't know how to fight, and kill us before—before we
can kill them! Vaya!”

At this moment there issued from the door of the Mission Don Antonio
Velez Trueba, a Gachupin—that is, a native of Old Spain—a wizened old
hidalgo refugee, who had left the mother country on account of his
political opinions, which were stanchly Carlist, and had found his
way—how, he himself scarcely knew—from Mexico to San Francisco in
Upper California, where, having a most perfect contempt for every
thing Mexican, and hearing that in the Mission of San Fernando, far
away, were a couple of Spanish padres of “sangre regular,” he had
started into the wilderness to ferret them out; and having escaped
all dangers on the route (which, however, were hardly dangers to the
Don, who could not realise the idea of scalp-taking savages), had
arrived with a whole skin at the Mission. There he was received with
open arms by his countryman Fray Augustin, who made him welcome to
all the place afforded, and there he harmlessly smoked away his time;
his heart far away on the banks of the Genil and in the grape-bearing
vegas of his beloved Andalusia, his withered cuerpo in the sierras of
Upper California. Don Antonio was the walking essence of a Spaniard
of the _ancien régime_. His family dated from the Flood, and with
the exception of sundry refreshing jets of Moorish blood, injected
into the Truebas during the Moorish epoch, no strange shoot was ever
engrafted on their genealogical tree. The marriages of the family were
ever confined to the family itself—never looking to fresh blood in a
station immediately below it, which was not hidalgueño; nor above,
since any thing higher in rank than the Trueba y Trueba family, _no
habia_, there was not.

Thus, in the male and female scions of the house, were plainly visible
the ill effects of breeding “in and in.” The male Truebas were sadly
degenerate Dons, in body as in mind—compared to their ancestors of
Boabdil's day; and the señoritas of the name were all eyes, and eyes
alone, and hardly of such stamp as would have tempted that amorous
monarch to bestow a kingdom for a kiss, as ancient ballads tell.

    “Dueña de la negra toca,
    Por un beso de tu boca,
      Diera un reyno, Boabdil;
    Y yo por ello, Cristiana,
    Te diera de buena gana
      Mil cielos, si fueran mil.”

Come of such poor stock, and reared on tobacco smoke and “gazpacho,”
Don Antonio would not have shone, even amongst pigmy Mexicans, for
physical beauty. Five feet high, a framework of bones covered with a
skin of Andalusian tint, the Trueba stood erect and stiff in all the
consciousness of his “sangre regular.” His features were handsome,
but entirely devoid of flesh, his upper lip was covered with a
jet-black mustache mixed with gray, his chin was bearded “like the
pard.” Every one around him clad in deer and goat skin, our Don walked
conspicuous in shining suit of black—much the worse for wear, it must
be confessed—with beaver hat sadly battered, and round his body and
over his shoulder an unexceptionable “capa” of the amplest dimensions.
Asking, as he stepped over him, the pardon of an Indian urchin who
blocked the door, and bowing with punctilious politeness to the
sturdy mozas who were grinding corn, Don Antonio approached our friend
Augustin, who was discussing warlike matters with his administrador.

“Hola! Don Antonio, how do you find yourself, sir?”

“Perfectly well, and your very humble servant, reverend father; and
your worship also, I trust you are in good health?”

“_Sin novedad_—without novelty;” which, since it was one hour and a
half since our friends had separated to take their siestas, was not
impossible.

“Myself and the worthy José,” continued Fray Augustin, “were speaking
of the vile invasion of a band of North American robbers, who three
years since fiercely assaulted this peaceful Mission, killing many
of its inoffensive inhabitants, wounding many more, and carrying off
several of our finest colts and most promising mules to their dens and
caves in the Rocky Mountains. Not with impunity, however, did they
effect this atrocity. José informs me that many of the assailants were
killed by my brave Indians. How many said you, José?”

“Quizas mo-o-ochos,” answered the Indian.

“Yes, probably a great multitude,” continued the padre; “but, unwarned
by such well-merited castigation, it has been reported to me by a
Chemeguaba mansito, that a band of these audacious marauders are now
on the road to repeat the offence, numbering many thousands, well
mounted and armed; and to oppose these white barbarians it behoves us
to make every preparation of defence.”[30]

“There is no cause for alarm,” answered the Andaluz. “I (tapping
his breast) have served in three wars: in that glorious one 'de la
Independencia,' when our glorious patriots drove the French like sheep
across the Pyrenees; in that equally glorious one of 1821; and in the
late magnanimous struggle for the legitimate rights of his majesty
Charles V., king of Spain (doffing his hat), whom God preserve. With
that right arm,” cried the spirited Don, extending his shrivelled
member, “I have supported the throne of my kings—have fought for my
country, mowing down its enemies before me; and with it,” vehemently
exclaimed the Gachupin, working himself into a perfect frenzy, “I will
slay these Norte Americanos, should they dare to show their faces in
my front. Adios, Don Augustin Ignacio Sabanal-Morales-y Fuentes,” he
cried, doffing his hat with an earth-sweeping bow; “I go to grind my
sword. Till then adieu.”

“A countryman of mine!” said the frayle, admiringly, to the
administrador. “With him by our side we need not to fear: neither
Norte Americanos, nor the devil himself, can harm us when he is by.”

Whilst the Trueba sharpens his Tizona, and the priest puffs volumes
of smoke from his nose and mouth, let us introduce to the reader one
of the muchachitas, who knelt grinding corn on the metate, to make
tortillas for the evening meal. Juanita was a stout wench from Sonora,
of Mexican blood, hardly as dark as the other women who surrounded
her, and with a drop or two of the Old Spanish blood struggling with
the darker Indian tint to colour her plump cheeks. An enagua (a
short petticoat) of red serge was confined round her waist by a gay
band ornamented with beads, and a chemisette covered the upper part
of the body, permitting, however, a prodigal display of her charms.
Whilst pounding sturdily at the corn, she laughed and joked with her
fellow-labourers upon the anticipated American attack, which appeared
to have but few terrors for her. “Que vengan,” she exclaimed—“let them
come; they are only men, and will not molest us women. Besides, I
have seen these white men before—in my own country, and they are fine
fellows, very tall, and as white as the snow on the sierras. Let them
come, say I!”

“Only hear the girl!” cried another: “if these savages come, then will
they kill Pedrillo, and what will Juanita say to lose her sweetheart?”

“Pedrillo!” sneered the latter; “what care I for Pedrillo? Soy
Mejicana, yo—a Mexican girl am I, I'd have you know, and don't demean
me to look at a wild Indian. Not I, indeed, by my salvation! What I
say is, let the Norte Americanos come.”

At this juncture Fray Augustin called for a glass of aguardiente,
which Juanita was despatched to bring, and, on presenting it, the
churchman facetiously inquired why she wished for the Americans,
adding, “Don't think they'll come here—no, no: here we are brave men,
and have Don Antonio with us, a noble fellow, well used to arms.” As
the words were on his lips, the clattering of a horse's hoofs was
heard rattling across the loose stones and pebbles in the bed of the
river, and presently an Indian herder galloped up to the door of the
Mission, his horse covered with foam, and its sides bleeding from
spur-wounds.

“Oh, padre mio!” he cried, as soon as he caught sight of his
reverence, “vienen los Americanos—the Americans, the Americans are
upon us. Ave Maria purissima!—more than ten thousand are at my heels!”

Up started the priest and shouted for the Don.

That hidalgo presently appeared, armed with the sword that had graced
his thigh in so many glorious encounters—the sword with which he
had mowed down the enemies of his country, and by whose aid he now
proposed to annihilate the American savages, should they dare to
appear before him.

The alarm was instantly given; peones, vagueros hurried from the
plains; and milpas, warned by the deep-toned bell, which soon rung out
its sonorous alarum. A score of mounted Indians, armed with gun and
lasso, dashed off to bring intelligence of the enemy. The old gingall
on the roof was crammed with powder and bullets to the very muzzle, by
the frayle's own hand. Arms were brought and piled in the sala, ready
for use. The padre exhorted, the women screamed, the men grew pale
and nervous, and thronged within the walls. Don Antonio, the fiery
Andaluz, alone remained outside, flourishing his whetted sabre, and
roaring to the padre, who stood on the roof with lighted match, by the
side of his formidable cannon, not to be affrighted. “That he, the
Trueba, was there, with his Tizona, ready to defeat the devil himself
should he come on.”

He was deaf to the entreaties of the priest to enter.

“Siempre en el frente—Ever in the van,” he said, “was the war-cry of
the Truebas.”

But now a cloud of dust was seen approaching from the plain, and
presently a score of horsemen dashed headlong towards the Mission.
“El enemigo,” shouted Fray Augustin; and, without waiting to aim, he
clapped his match to the touch-hole of the gun, harmlessly pointed to
the sky, and crying out “in el nombre de Dios”—in God's name—as he did
so, was instantly knocked over and over by the recoil of the piece,
then was as instantly seized by some of the Indian garrison, and
forced through the trap-door into the building; whilst the horsemen
(who were his own scouts) galloped up with the intelligence that the
enemy was at hand, and in overwhelming force.

Thereupon the men were all mounted, and formed in a body before the
building, to the amount of more than fifty, well armed with guns or
bows and arrows. Here the gallant Don harangued them, and infusing
into their hearts a little of his own courage, they eagerly demanded
to be led against the enemy. Fray Augustin re-appeared on the roof,
gave them his blessing, advised them to give no quarter, and, with
slight misgivings, saw them ride off to the conflict.

About a mile from the Mission, the plain gradually ascended to a ridge
of moderate elevation, on which was a growth of dwarf oak and ilex.
To this point the eyes of the remaining inmates of the convent were
earnestly directed, as here the enemy was first expected to make his
appearance. Presently a few figures were seen to crown the ridge,
clearly defined against the clear evening sky. Not more than a dozen
mounted men composed this party, which all imagined must be doubtless
the vanguard of the thousand invaders. On the summit of the ridge
they halted a few minutes, as if to reconnoitre; and by this time
the Californian horsemen were halted in the plain, midway between
the Mission and the ridge, and distant from the former less than
half-a-mile, so that all the operations were clearly visible to the
lookers-on.

The enemy wound slowly, in Indian file, down the broken ground of the
descent; but when the plain was reached, they formed into something
like a line, and trotted fearlessly towards the Californians. These
began to sit uneasily in their saddles; nevertheless they made a
forward movement, and even broke into a gallop, but soon halted, and
again huddled together. Then the mountaineers quickened their pace,
and their loud shout was heard as they dashed into the middle of the
faltering troop. The sharp cracks of the rifles followed, and the
duller reports of the smooth-bored pieces of the Californians; a cloud
of smoke and dust arose from the plain, and immediately half-a-dozen
horses, with empty saddles, broke from it, followed quickly by the
Californians, flying like mad across the level. The little steady line
of the mountaineers advanced, and puffs of smoke arose, as they loaded
and discharged their rifles at the flying horsemen. As the Americans
came on, however, one was seen to totter in his saddle, the rifle fell
from his grasp, and he tumbled headlong to the ground. For an instant
his companions surrounded the fallen man, but again forming, dashed
towards the Mission, shouting fierce war-whoops, and brandishing
aloft their long and heavy rifles. Of the defeated Californians some
jumped off their horses at the door of the Mission, and sought shelter
within; others galloped off towards the sierra in panic-stricken
plight. Before the gate, however, still paced valiantly the proud
hidalgo, encumbered with his cloak, and waving with difficulty his
sword above his head. To the priest and women, who implored him to
enter, he replied with cries of defiance, “Viva Carlos Quinto,” and
“Death or glory.” He shouted in vain to the flying crowd to halt;
but, seeing their panic was beyond hope, he clutched his weapon more
firmly as the Americans dashed at him, closed his teeth and his eyes,
thought once of the vega of his beloved Genil, and of Granada la
Florida, and gave himself up for lost. Those inside the Mission, when
they observed the flight of their cavalry, gave up the defence as
hopeless; and already the charging mountaineers were almost under the
walls, when they observed the curious figure of the little Don making
demonstrations of hostility.

“Wagh!” exclaimed the leading hunter (no other than our friend La
Bonté), “here's a little crittur as means to do all the fighting;”
and seizing his rifle by the barrel, he poked at the Don with the
butt-end, who parried the blow, and with such a sturdy stroke, as
nearly severed the stock in two. Another mountaineer rode up, and,
swinging his lasso overhead, threw the noose dexterously over the
Spaniard's head, and as it fell over his shoulders, drew it taut, thus
securing the arms of the pugnacious Don as in a vice.

“Quartel!” cried the latter; “por Dios, quartel!”

“Quarter be d——!” exclaimed one of the whites, who understood
Spanish; “who's agoin' to hurt you, you little crittur?”

By this time Fray Augustin was waving a white flag from the roof, in
token of surrender; and soon after he appeared trembling at the door,
beseeching the victors to be merciful and to spare the lives of the
vanquished, when all and every thing in the Mission would be freely
placed at their disposal.

“What does the niggur say!” asked old Walker, the leader of the
mountaineers, of the interpreter.

“Well, he talks so queer, this hos can't rightly make it out.”

“Tell the old coon then to quit that, and make them darned greasers
clear out of the lodge, and pock some corn and shucks here for the
animals, for they're nigh give out.”

This being conveyed to him in mountain Spanish, which fear alone made
him understand, the padre gave orders to the men to leave the Mission,
advising them, moreover, not to recommence hostilities, as himself was
kept as hostage, and if a finger was lifted against the mountaineers,
he would be killed at once, and the Mission burned to the ground. Once
inside, the hunters had no fear of attack, they could have kept the
building against all California; so, leaving a guard of two outside
the gate, and first seeing their worn-out animals supplied with piles
of corn and shucks, they made themselves at home, and soon were paying
attention to the hot tortillas, meat, and chile colorado which were
quickly placed before them, washing down the hot-spiced viands with
deep draughts of wine and brandy. It would have been amusing to have
seen the faces of these rough fellows as they gravely pledged each
other in the grateful liquor, and looked askance at the piles of fruit
served by the attendant Hebes. These came in for no little share of
attention, it may be imagined; but the utmost respect was paid to
them, for your mountaineer, rough and bear-like though he be, never,
by word or deed, offends the modesty of a woman, although sometimes
obliged to use a compulsory wooing, when time is not allowed for
regular courtship, and not unfrequently known to jerk a New Mexican
or Californian beauty behind his saddle, should the obdurate parents
refuse consent to their immediate union. It tickled the Americans not
a little to have all their wants supplied, and to be thus waited upon,
by what they considered the houris of paradise; and after their long
journey, and the many hardships and privations they had suffered,
their present luxurious situation seemed scarcely real.

The hidalgo, released from the durance vile of the lasso, assisted at
the entertainment; his sense of what was due to the “sangre regular”
which ran in his veins being appeased by the fact, that he sat _above_
the wild uncouth mountaineers, these preferring to squat cross-legged
on the floor in their own fashion, to the uncomfortable and novel
luxury of a chair. Killbuck, indeed, seemed to have quite forgotten
the use of such pieces of furniture. On Fray Augustin offering him
one, and begging him, with many protestations, to be seated, that
old mountain worthy looked at it, and then at the padre, turned it
round, and at length comprehending the intention, essayed to sit.
This he effected at last, and sat grimly for some moments, when,
seizing the chair by the back, he hurled it out of the open door,
exclaiming,—“Wagh! this coon aint hamshot anyhow, and don't want such
fixins, he don't;” and gathering his legs under his body, reclined in
the manner customary to him. There was a prodigious quantity of liquor
consumed that night, the hunters making up for their many banyans;
but as it was the pure juice of the grape, it had little or no effect
upon their hard heads. They had not much to fear from attacks on the
part of the Californians; but, to provide against all emergencies, the
padre and the Gachupin were “hobbled,” and confined in an inner room,
to which there was no ingress nor egress save through the door which
opened into the apartment where the mountaineers lay sleeping, two of
the number keeping watch. A fandango with the Indian girls had been
proposed by some of them, but Walker placed a decided veto on this.
He said “they had need of sleep now, for there was no knowing what
to-morrow might bring forth; that they had a long journey before them,
and winter was coming on; they would have to 'streak' it night and
day, and sleep when their journey was over, which would not be until
Pike's Peak was left behind them. It was now October, and the way
they'd have to hump it back to the mountains would take the gristle
off a painter's tail.”

Young Ned Wooton was not to the fore when the roll was called. He
was courting the Sonora wench Juanita, and to some purpose, for we
may at once observe, that the maiden accompanied the mountaineer to
his distant home, and at the present moment is sharing his lodge on
Hard-scrabble creek of the upper Arkansa, having been duly and legally
married by Fray Augustin before their departure.

But now the snow on the ridge of the Sierra Madre, and the nightly
frosts; the angular flights of geese and ducks constantly passing
overhead; the sober tints of the foliage, and the dead leaves that
strew the ground; the withering grass on the plain, and the cold
gusts, sometimes laden with snow and sleet, that sweep from the
distant snow-clad mountains;—all these signs warn us to linger no
longer in the tempting valley of San Fernando, but at once to pack our
mules to cross the dreary and desert plains and inhospitable sierras;
and to seek with our booty one of the sheltered bayous of the Rocky
Mountains.

On the third day after their arrival, behold our mountaineers
again upon the march, driving before them—with the assistance of
half-a-dozen Indians, impressed for the first few days of the journey
until the cavallada get accustomed to travel without confusion—a band
of four hundred head of mules and horses, themselves mounted on the
strongest and fleetest they could select from at least a thousand.

Fray Augustin and the Hidalgo, from the house-top, watched them
depart: the former glad to get rid of such unscrupulous guests at any
cost, the latter rather loath to part with his boon companions, with
whom he had quaffed many a quartillo of Californian wine. Great was
the grief, and violent the sobbing, when all the girls in the Mission
surrounded Juanita to bid her adieu; as she, seated en cavalier on
an easy pacing mule, bequeathed her late companions to the keeping
of every saint in the calendar, and particularly to the great St
Ferdinand himself, under whose especial tutelage all those in the
Mission were supposed to live. Pedrillo, poor forsaken Pedrillo, a
sullen sulky half-breed, was overcome, not with grief, but with anger
at the slight put upon him, and vowed revenge. He of the “sangre
regular,” having not a particle of enmity in his heart, waved his
arm—that arm with which he had mowed down the enemies of Carlos
Quinto—and requested the mountaineers, if ever fate should carry them
to Spain, not to fail to visit his quinta in the vega of Genil, which,
with all in it, he placed at their worships' disposal—con muchissima
franqueza.

Fat Fray Augustin likewise waved his arm, but groaned in spirit as he
beheld the noble band of mules and horses, throwing back clouds of
dust on the plain where they had been bred. One noble roan stallion
seemed averse to leave his accustomed pasture, and again and again
broke away from the band. Luckily old Walker had taken the precaution
to secure the “_bell-mare_” of the herd, and mounted on her rode
ahead, the animals all following their well-known leader. As the roan
galloped back, the padre was in ecstasy. It was a favourite steed, and
one he would have gladly ransomed at any price.

“Ya viene, ya viene!” he cried out, “now, now it's coming! hurra
for the roan!” but, under the rifle of a mountaineer, one of the
Californians dashed at it, a lasso whirling round his head, and
turning and twisting like a doubling hare, as the horse tried to avoid
him, at last threw the open coil over the animal's head, and led him
back in triumph to the band.

“Maldito sea aquel Indio—curse that Indian!” quoth the padre, and
turned away.

And now our sturdy band—less two who had gone under—were fairly on
their way. They passed the body of their comrade who had been killed
in the fight before the Mission; the wolves, or Indian dogs, had
picked it to the bones; but a mound near by, surrounded by a rude
cross, showed where the Californians (seven of whom were killed) had
been interred—the pile of stones at the foot of the cross testifying
that many an _ave maria_ had already been said by the poor Indians,
to save the souls of their slaughtered companions from the pangs of
purgatory.

For the first few days progress was slow and tedious. The confusion
attendant upon driving so large a number of animals over a country
without trail or track of any description, was sufficient to prevent
speedy travelling; and the mountaineers, desirous of improving the
pace, resolved to pursue a course more easterly, and to endeavour to
strike the great SPANISH TRAIL, which is the route followed by the
New Mexicans in their journeys to and from the towns of Puebla de
los Angeles and Santa Fé. This road, however, crosses a long stretch
of desert country, destitute alike of grass and water, save at a few
points, the regular halting-places of the caravans; and as but little
pasture is to be found at these places at any time, there was great
reason to doubt, if the Santa Fé traders had passed this season, that
there would not be sufficient grass to support the numerous cavallada,
after the herbage had been laid under contribution by the traders'
animals. However, a great saving of time would be effected by taking
this trail, although it wound a considerable distance out of the way
to avoid the impassable chain of the Sierra Nevada—the gap in those
mountains through which the Americans had come being far to the
southward, and at this late season probably obstructed by the snow.

Urged by threats and bribes, one of the Indians agreed to guide the
cavallada to the trail, which he declared was not more than five
days' distant. As they advanced, the country became wilder and more
sterile,—the valleys, through which several small streams coursed,
alone being capable of supporting so large a number of animals. No
time was lost in hunting for game; the poorest of the mules and horses
were killed for provisions, and the diet was improved by a little
venison when a deer casually presented itself near the camping ground.
Of Indians they had seen not one; but they now approached the country
of the Diggers, who infest the district through which the Spanish
trail passes, laying contributions on the caravans of traders, and who
have been, not inaptly, termed the “Arabs of the American desert.” The
Californian guide now earnestly entreated permission to retrace his
steps, saying, that he should lose his life if he attempted to pass
the Digger country alone on his return. He pointed to a snow-covered
peak, at the foot of which the trail passed; and leave being accorded,
he turned his horse's head towards the Mission of San Fernando.

Although the cavallada travelled, by this time, with much less
confusion than at first, still, from the want of a track to follow,
great trouble and exertion were required to keep the proper direction.
The bell-mare led the van, carrying Walker, who was better acquainted
with the country than the others; another hunter, of considerable
distinction in the band, on a large mule, rode by his side. Then
followed the cavallada, jumping and frisking with each other, stopping
whenever a blade of grass showed, and constantly endeavouring to
break away to green patches which sometimes presented themselves in
the plains. Behind the troop, urging them on by dint of loud cries
and objurgations, rode six mountaineers, keeping as much as possible
in a line. Two others were on each flank to repress all attempts to
wander, and keep the herd in a compact body. In this order the caravan
had been crossing a broken country, up and down ridges, all day,
the animals giving infinite trouble to their drivers, when a loud
shout from the advanced guard put them all upon the _qui-vive_. Old
Walker was seen to brandish the rifle over his head and point before
him, and presently the cry of “The trail! the trail!” gladdened all
hearts with the anticipation of a respite from the harassing labour
of mule-driving. Descending a broken ridge, they at once struck into
a distinct and tolerably well-worn track, into which the cavallada
turned as easily and instinctively as if they had all their lives
been accustomed to travel on beaten roads. Along this they travelled
merrily—their delight being, however, alloyed by frequent indications
that hunger and thirst had done their work on the mules and horses of
the caravans which had preceded them on the trail. They happened to
strike it in the centre of a long stretch of desert, extending sixty
miles without either water or pasture; and many animals had perished
here, leaving their bones to bleach upon the plain. The soil was
sandy, but rocks and stones covered the surface, disabling the feet of
many of the young horses and mules; several of which, at this early
stage of the journey, were already abandoned. Traces of the wretched
Diggers became very frequent; these abject creatures resorting to the
sandy plains for the purpose of feeding upon the lizards which there
abound. As yet they did not show; only at night they prowled around
the camp, waiting a favourable opportunity to run the animals. In the
present instance, however, many of the horses having been left on the
road, the Diggers found so plentiful a supply of meat as to render
unnecessary any attack upon the formidable mountaineers.

One evening the Americans had encamped, earlier than usual, on a creek
well-timbered with willow and quaking-ash, and affording tolerable
pasture; and although it was still rather early, they determined to
stop here, and give the animals an opportunity to fill themselves.
Several deer had jumped out of the bottom as they entered it; and
La Bonté and Killbuck had sallied from the camp with their rifles,
to hunt and endeavour to procure some venison for supper. Along the
river banks, herds of deer were feeding in every direction, within
shot of the belt of timber; and the two hunters had no difficulty in
approaching and knocking over two fine bucks within a few paces of
the thicket. They were engaged in butchering the animals, when La
Bonté, looking up from his work, saw half-a-dozen Indians dodging
among the trees, within a few yards of himself and Killbuck. At the
same instant two arrows _thudded_ into the carcass of the deer over
which he knelt, passing but a few inches from his head. Hollowing to
his companion, La Bonté immediately seized the deer, and, lifting it
with main strength, held it as a shield before him, but not before
an arrow had struck him in the shoulder. Rising from the ground he
retreated behind cover, yelling loudly to alarm the camp, which was
not five hundred yards' distant on the other side of the stream.
Killbuck, when apprised of the danger, ran bodily into the plain,
and, keeping out of shot of the timber, joined La Bonté, who now, out
of arrow-shot, threw down his shield of venison and fired his rifle
at the assailants. The Indians appeared at first afraid to leave
the cover; but three or four more joining them, one a chief, they
advanced into the plain, with drawn bows, scattering wide apart, and
running swiftly towards the whites, in a zigzag course, in order not
to present a steady mark to their unerring rifles. The latter were
too cautious to discharge their pieces, but kept a steady front,
with rifle at shoulder. The Indians evidently disliked to approach
nearer; but the chief, an old grizzled man, incited them by word and
gesture—running in advance, and calling upon the others to follow him.

“Ho, boy!” exclaimed Killbuck to his companion, “that old coon must go
under, or we'll get rubbed out by these darned critturs.”

La Bonté understood him. Squatting on the ground, he planted his
wiping-stick firmly at the extent of his left arm, and resting the
long barrel of his rifle on his left hand, which was supported by the
stick, he took a steady aim and fired. The Indian, throwing out his
arms, staggered and let fall his bow—tried hard to recover himself,
and then fell forward on his face. The others, seeing the death
of their chief, turned and made again for the cover. “You darned
critturs,” roared Killbuck, “take that!” and fired his rifle at the
last one, tumbling him over as dead as a stone. The camp had also been
alarmed. Five of them waded across the creek and took the Indians in
rear; their rifles cracked within the timber, several more Indians
fell, and the rest quickly beat a retreat. The venison, however, was
not forgotten; the two deer were packed into camp, and did the duty of
mule-meat that night.

This lesson had a seasonable effect upon the Diggers, who made no
attempt on the cavallada that night or the next; for the camp remained
two days to recruit the animals.

We will not follow the party through all the difficulties and perils
of the desert route, nor detail the various devilries of the Diggers,
who constantly sought opportunities to stampede the animals, or,
approaching them in the night as they grazed, fired their arrows
indiscriminately at the herd, trusting that dead or disabled ones
would be left behind, and afford them a good supply of meat. In the
month of December the mountaineers crossed the great dividing ridge
of the Rocky Mountains, making their way through the snowy barrier
with the utmost difficulty, and losing many mules and horses in the
attempt. On passing the ridge, they at once struck the head-springs
of the Arkansa river, and turned into the Bayou Salade. Here they
found a village of Arapahos, and were in no little fear of leaving
their cavallada with these dexterous horse-thieves. Fortunately, the
chief in command was friendly to the whites, and restrained his young
men; and a present of three horses insured his good offices. Still,
the near neighbourhood of these Indians being hardly desirable, after
a few days' halt, the Americans were again on their way, and halted
finally at the juncture of the Fontaine-qui-bout with the Arkansa,
where they determined to construct a winter camp. They now considered
themselves at home, and at once set about building a log-shanty
capable of containing them all, and a large corral for securing the
animals at night, or in case of Indian alarms. This they effected by
felling several large cottonwoods, and throwing them in the form of
a horse-shoe: the entrance, however, being narrower than in that
figure, and secured by upright logs, between which poles were fixed
to be withdrawn at pleasure. The house, or “fort”—as any thing in the
shape of a house is called in these parts, where, indeed, every man
must make his house a castle—was loopholed on all sides, and boasted
a turf chimney of rather primitive construction; but which answered
the purpose of drawing the smoke from the interior. Game was plentiful
all around;—bands of buffalo were constantly passing the Arkansa; and
there were always deer and antelope within sight of the fort. The
pasture, too, was good and abundant—being the rich grama or buffalo
grass, which, although rather dry at this season, still retains its
fattening qualities; and the animals soon began to improve wonderfully
in condition and strength.

Of the four hundred head of mules and horses with which they had
started from California, but one-half reached the Arkansa. Many had
been killed for food (indeed they had furnished the only provisions
during the journey), many had been stolen by the Indians, or shot by
them at night; and many had strayed off and not been recovered. We
have omitted to mention that the Sonora girl, Juanita, and her spouse,
Ned Wooton, remained behind at Roubideau's fort and rendezvous on the
Uintah, which our band had passed on the other side of the mountains,
whence they proceeded with a party to Taos in New Mexico, and resided
there for some years, blessed with a fine family, &c. &c. &c., as the
novels end.

As soon as the animals were fat and strong, they were taken down the
Arkansa to Bent's Indian trading fort, about sixty miles below the
mouth of Fontaine-qui-bout. Here a ready sale was found for them,
mules being at that time in great demand on the frontier of the United
States, and every season the Bents carried across the plains to
Independence a considerable number collected in the Indian country,
and in the upper settlements of New Mexico. While the mountaineers
were descending the Arkansa, a little incident occurred, and some of
the party very unexpectedly encountered an old friend. Killbuck and
La Bonté, who were generally compañeros, were riding some distance
ahead of the cavallada, passing at the time the mouth of the Huerfano
or Orphan Creek, when, at a long distance before them, they saw the
figure of a horseman, followed by two loose animals, descending the
bluff into the timbered bottom of the river. Judging the stranger to
be Indian, they spurred their horses and galloped in pursuit, but the
figure ahead suddenly disappeared. However, they quickly followed the
track, which was plain enough in the sandy bottom, that of a horse
and two mules. Killbuck scrutinised the “sign,” and puzzled over it a
considerable time; and at last exclaimed—“Wagh! this sign's as plain
as mon beaver to me; look at that hos-track, boy; did ye ever see that
afore?”

“_Well_, I have!” answered La Bonté, peering down at it: “that ar
shuffle-toe seems handy to me now, I _tell_ you.”

“The man as used to ride that hos is long gone under, but the hos,
darn the old crittur, is old Bill Williams's, I'll swar by hook.”

“Well, it aint nothin else,” continued La Bonté, satisfying himself
by a long look; “it's the old boy's hos as shure as shootin: and them
Rapahos has rubbed him out at last, and raised his animals. Ho, boy!
let's lift their hair.”

“Agreed,” answered Killbuck; and away they started in pursuit,
determined to avenge the death of their old comrade.

They followed the track through the bottom and into the stream, which
it crossed, and, passing a few yards up the bank, entered the water
again, when they could see nothing more of it. Puzzled at this,
they sought on each side the river, but in vain; and, not wishing
to lose more time in the search, they proceeded through the timber
on the banks to find a good camping-place for the night, which had
been their object in riding in advance of the cavallada. On the left
bank, a short distance before them, was a heavy growth of timber,
and the river ran in one place close to a high bluff, between which
and the water was an almost impervious thicket of plum and cherry
trees. The grove of timber ended before it reached this point, and
but few scattered trees grew in the little glade which intervened,
and which was covered with tolerable grass. This being fixed upon
as an excellent camp, the two mountaineers rode into the glade, and
dismounted close to the plum and cherry thicket, which formed almost a
wall before them, and an excellent shelter from the wind. Jumping off
their horses, they were in the act of removing the saddles from their
backs, when a shrill neigh burst from the thicket not two yards behind
them; a rustling in the bushes followed, and presently a man dressed
in buckskin, and rifle in hand, burst out of the tangled brush,
exclaiming in an angry voice—

“Do'ee hy'ar now? I was nigh upon gut-shootin some of e'e—I was now;
thought e'e was darned Rapahos, I did, and câched right off.”

“Ho, Bill! what, old hos! not gone under yet?” cried both the hunters.
“Give us your paw.”

“Do'ee now, if hy'ar ar'nt them boys as was rubbed out on Lodge Pole
(creek) a time ago. Do'ee hyar? if this aint 'some' now, I would'nt
say so.”

Leaving old Bill Williams and our two friends to exchange their rough
but hearty greetings, we will glance at that old worthy's history
since the time when we left him caching in the fire and smoke on the
Indian battle-ground in the Rocky Mountains. He had escaped fire
and smoke, or he would not have been here on Arkansa with his old
grizzled Nez-percé steed. On that occasion, the veteran mountaineer
had lost his two pack-animals and all his beaver. He was not the man,
however, to want a horse or mule as long as an Indian village was
near at hand. Skulking, therefore, by day in cañons and deep gorges
of the mountains, and travelling by night, he followed closely on the
trail of the victorious savages, bided his time, struck his “coup,”
and recovered a pair of pack-horses, which was all he required. Ever
since, he had been trapping alone in all parts of the mountains; had
visited the rendezvous but twice for short periods, and then with full
packs of beaver; and was now on his way to Bent's Fort, to dispose of
his present loads of peltry, enjoy one good carouse on Taos whisky,
and then return to some hole or corner in the mountains which he
knew of, to follow in the spring his solitary avocation. He too had
had his share of troubles, and had many Indian scrapes, but passed
safely through all, and scarcely cared to talk of what he had done,
so matter-of-fact to him were the most extraordinary of his perilous
adventures.

Arrived at Bent's Fort, the party disposed of their cavallada, and
then—respect for the pardonable weaknesses of our mountain friends
prompts us to draw a veil over the furious orgies that ensued. A
number of hunters and trappers were “in” from their hunting-grounds,
and a village of Shians and some lodges of Kioways were camped round
the fort. As long as the liquor lasted, and there was good store of
alcohol as well as of Taos whisky, the Arkansa resounded with furious
mirth—not unmixed with graver scenes; for your mountaineer, ever
quarrelsome in his cups, is quick to give and take offence, when
rifles alone can settle the difference, and much blood is spilt upon
the prairie in his wild and frequent quarrels.

Bent's Fort is situated on the left or northern bank of the river
Arkansa, about one hundred miles from the foot of the Rocky
Mountains—on a low and level bluff of the prairie which here slopes
gradually to the water's-edge. The walls are built entirely of
adobes—or sun-burned bricks—in the form of a hollow square, at two
corners of which are circular flanking towers of the same material.
The entrance is by a large gateway into the square, round which are
the rooms occupied by the traders and employés of the host. These are
small in size, with walls coloured by a white-wash made of clay found
in the prairie. Their flat roofs are defended along the exterior by
parapets of adobe, to serve as a cover to marksmen firing from the
top; and along the coping grow plants of cactus of all the varieties
common in the plains. In the centre of the square is the press for
packing the furs; and there are three large rooms, one used as a store
and magazine, another as a council-room, where the Indians assemble
for their “talks,” whilst the third is the common dining-hall, where
the traders, trappers, and hunters, and all employés, feast upon the
best provender the game-covered country affords. Over the culinary
department presided of late years a fair lady of colour, Charlotte
by name, who was, as she loved to say, “de onlee lady in de dam Injun
country,” and who moreover was celebrated from Long's Peak to the
Cumbres Espanolás for slapjacks and pumpkin pies.

Here congregate at certain seasons the merchants of the plains and
mountains, with their stocks of peltry. Chiefs of the Shian, the
Kioway, and Arapaho, sit in solemn conclave with the head traders,
and smoke the “calumet” over their real and imaginary grievances. Now
O-cun-no-whurst, the Yellow Wolf, grand chief of the Shian, complains
of certain grave offences against the dignity of his nation! A trader
from the “big lodge” (the fort) has been in his village, and before
the trade was opened, in laying the customary chief's gift “on the
prairie”[31] has not “opened his hand,” but “squeezed out his present
between his fingers,” grudgingly, and with too sparing measure. This
was hard to bear, but the Yellow Wolf would say no more!

Tah-kai-buhl, or, “he who jumps,” is deputed from the Kioway to
warn the white traders not to proceed to the Canadian to trade with
the Comanche. That nation is mad—a “heap mad” with the whites, and
has “dug up the hatchet” to “rub out” all who enter its country.
The Kioway loves the paleface, and gives him warning (and “he who
jumps” looks as if he deserves something “on the prairie” for his
information).

Shawh-noh-qua-mish, “the peeled lodge-pole,” is there to excuse his
Arapaho braves, who lately made free with a band of horses belonging
to the fort. He promises the like shall never happen again, and he,
Shawh-noh-qua-mish, speaks with a “single tongue.” Over clouds of
tobacco and kinnik-kinnik, these grave affairs are settled and terms
arranged.

In the corral, groups of leather-clad mountaineers, with “decks” of
“euker” and “seven up,” gamble away their hard-earned peltries. The
employés—mostly St Louis Frenchmen and Canadian voyageurs—are pressing
packs of buffalo skins, beating robes, or engaged in other duties
of a trading fort. Indian squaws, the wives of mountaineers, strut
about in all the pride of beads and fofarrow, jingling with bells and
bugles, and happy as paint can make them. Hunters drop in with animals
packed with deer or buffalo meat to supply the fort; Indian dogs look
anxiously in at the gateway, fearing to enter and encounter their
natural enemies, the whites: and outside the fort, at any hour of the
day or night, one may safely wager to see a dozen cayeutes or prairie
wolves loping round, or seated on their haunches, and looking gravely
on, waiting patiently for some chance offal to be cast outside.
Against the walls, groups of Indians, too proud to enter without an
invitation, lean, wrapped in their buffalo robes, sulky and evidently
ill at ease to be so near the whites without a chance of fingering
their scalp-locks; their white lodges shining in the sun, at a little
distance from the river-banks; their horses feeding in the plain
beyond.

The appearance of the fort is very striking, standing as it does
hundreds of miles from any settlement, on the vast and lifeless
prairie, surrounded by hordes of hostile Indians, and far out of reach
of intercourse with civilised man; its mud-built walls inclosing a
little garrison of a dozen hardy men, sufficient to hold in check the
numerous tribes of savages ever thirsting for their blood. Yet the
solitary stranger passing this lone fort, feels proudly secure when he
comes within sight of the “stars and stripes” which float above the
walls.



CHAPTER VIII.


Again we must take a jump with La Bonté over a space of several
months; when we find him, in company of half a dozen trappers, amongst
them his inseparable compañero Killbuck, camped on the Greenhorn
creek, _en route_ to the settlements of New Mexico. They have a few
mules packed with beaver for the Taos market: but this expedition has
been planned more for pleasure than profit—a journey to Taos valley
being the only civilised relaxation coveted by the mountaineers. Not a
few of the present band are bound thither with matrimonial intentions;
the belles of Nuevo Mejico being to them the _ne plus ultra_ of female
perfection, uniting most conspicuous personal charms (although coated
with cosmetic _alegria_—an herb, with the juice of which the women
of Mexico hideously bedaub their faces), with all the hard-working
industry of Indian squaws. The ladies, on their part, do not hesitate
to leave the paternal abodes, and eternal tortilla-making, to share
the perils and privations of the American mountaineers in the distant
wilderness. Utterly despising their own countrymen, whom they are
used to contrast with the dashing white hunters who swagger in all
the pride of fringe and leather through their towns—they, as is but
natural, gladly accept husbands from the latter class; preferring the
stranger, who possesses the heart and strong right arm to defend them,
to the miserable cowardly “peládos,” who hold what little they have on
sufferance of savage Indians, but one degree superior to themselves.

Certainly no band of hunters that ever appeared in the vale of Taos,
numbered in its ranks a properer lot of lads than those now camped on
Greenhorn, intent on matrimonial foray into the settlements of New
Mexico. There was young Dick Wooton, who was “some” for his inches,
being six feet six, and as straight and strong as the barrel of his
long rifle. Shoulder to shoulder with this “boy,” stood Rube Herring,
and not a hair's-breadth difference in height or size was there
between them. Killbuck, though mountain winters had sprinkled a few
snow-flakes on his head, _looked up_ to neither; and La Bonté held
his own with any mountaineer who ever set a trap in sight of Long's
Peak or the Snowy Range. Marcellin—who, though a Mexican, despised
his people and abjured his blood, having been all his life in the
mountains with the white hunters—looked down easily upon six feet and
odd inches. In form a Hercules, he had the symmetry of an Apollo;
with strikingly handsome features, and masses of long black hair
hanging from his slouching beaver over the shoulders of his buckskin
hunting shirt. He, as he was wont to say, was “no dam Spaniard, but
'mountainee man,' wagh!” Chabonard, a half-breed, was not lost in
the crowd;—and, the last in height, but the first in every quality
which constitutes excellence in a mountaineer, whether of indomitable
courage, or perfect indifference to death or danger; with an iron
frame capable of withstanding hunger, thirst, heat, cold, fatigue, and
hardships of every kind; of wonderful presence of mind, and endless
resources in times of peril; with the instinct of an animal, and the
moral courage of a _man_—who was “taller” for his inches than KIT
CARSON, paragon of mountaineers?[32] Small in stature, and slenderly
limbed, but with muscles of wire, with a fair complexion and quiet
intelligent features, to look at Kit none would suppose that the
mild-looking being before him was an incarnate devil in Indian fight,
and had raised more hair from head of Redskins than any two men in the
western country; and yet, thirty winters had scarcely planted a line
or furrow on his clean-shaven face. No name, however, was better known
in the mountains—from Yellow Stone to Spanish Peaks, from Missouri to
Columbia River—than that of Kit Carson, “raised” in Boonlick, county
of Missouri State, and a credit to the diggins that gave him birth.

On Huerfano or Orphan Creek, so called from an isolated _hutte_ which
stands on a prairie near the stream, our party fell in with a village
of Yuta Indians, at that time hostile to the whites. Both parties
were preparing for battle, when Killbuck, who spoke the language,
went forward with signs of peace, and after a talk with several
chiefs, entered into an armistice, each party agreeing not to molest
the other. After trading for a few deer-skins, which the Yutas are
celebrated for dressing delicately fine, the trappers moved hastily
on out of such dangerous company, and camped under the mountain on
Oak Creek, where they forted in a strong position, and constructed a
corral in which to secure their animals at night. At this point is
a tolerable pass through the mountains, where a break occurs in a
range, whence they gradually decrease in magnitude until they meet
the sierras of Mexico, which connect the two mighty chains of the
Andes and the Rocky Mountains. From the summit of the dividing ridge,
to the eastward, a view is had of the vast sea of prairie which
stretches away from the base of the mountains, in dreary barrenness,
for nearly a thousand miles, until it meets the fertile valley of
the great Missouri. Over this boundless expanse, nothing breaks the
uninterrupted solitude of the view. Not a tree or atom of foliage
relieves the eye; for the lines of scattered timber which belt the
streams running from the mountains, are lost in the shadow of their
stupendous height, and beyond this nothing is seen but the bare
surface of the rolling prairie. In no other part of the chain are the
grand characteristics of the Far West more strikingly displayed than
from this pass. The mountains here rise, on the eastern side, abruptly
from the plain, and the view over the great prairies is not therefore
obstructed by intervening ridges. To the westward the eye sweeps over
the broken spurs which stretch from the main range in every direction;
whilst distant peaks, for the most part snow-covered, are seen at
intervals rising isolated above the range. On all sides the scene is
wild and dismal.

Crossing by this pass, the trappers followed the Yuta trail over a
plain, skirting a pine-covered ridge, in which countless herds of
antelope, tame as sheep, were pasturing. Numerous creeks intersect it,
well timbered with oak, pine, and cedar, and well stocked with game of
all kinds. On the eleventh day from leaving the Huerfano, they struck
the Taos valley settlement on Arroyo Hondo, and pushed on at once to
the village of Fernandez—sometimes, but improperly, called Taos. As
the dashing band clattered through the village, the dark eyes of the
reboso-wrapped muchachas peered from the doors of the adobe houses,
each mouth armed with cigarito, which was at intervals removed to
allow utterance to the salutation to each hunter as he trotted past of
_Adios Americanos_,—“Welcome to Fernandez!” and then they hurried off
to prepare for the fandango, which invariably followed the advent of
the mountaineers. The men, however, seemed scarcely so well pleased;
but leaned sulkily against the walls, their sarapes turned over the
left shoulder, and concealing the lower part of the face, the hand
appearing from its upper folds only to remove the eternal cigarro from
their lips. They, from under their broad-brimmed sombreros, scowled
with little affection upon the stalwart hunters, who clattered past
them, scarcely deigning to glance at the sullen Peládos, but paying
incomprehensible compliments to the buxom wenches who smiled at them
from the doors. Thus exchanging salutations, they rode up to the house
of an old mountaineer, who had long been settled here with a New
Mexican wife, and who was the recognised entertainer of the hunters
when they visited Taos valley, receiving in exchange such peltry as
they brought with them.

No sooner was it known that Los Americanos had arrived, than nearly
all the householders of Fernandez presented themselves to offer the
use of their “salas” for the fandango which invariably celebrated
their arrival. This was always a profitable event; for as the
mountaineers were generally pretty well “flush” of cash when on
their “spree,” and as open-handed as an Indian could wish, the sale
of whisky, with which they regaled all comers, produced a handsome
return to the fortunate individual whose room was selected for the
fandango. On this occasion the sala of the Alcalde Don Cornelio Vegil
was selected and put in order; a general invitation was distributed;
and all the dusky beauties of Fernandez were soon engaged in arraying
themselves for the fête. Off came the coats of dirt and “alegnía”
which had bedaubed their faces since the last “funcion,” leaving
their cheeks clear and clean. Water was profusely used, and their
cuerpos were doubtless astonished by the unusual lavation. Their long
black hair was washed and combed, plastered behind their ears, and
plaited into a long queue, which hung down their backs. _Enaguas_
of gaudy colour (red most affected) were donned, fastened round the
waist with ornamented belts, and above this a snow-white _camisita_
of fine linen was the only covering, allowing a prodigal display
of their charms. Gold and silver ornaments, of antiquated pattern,
decorate their ears and necks; and massive crosses of the precious
metals, wrought from the gold or silver of their own placeres, hang
pendant on their breasts. The enagua or petticoat, reaching about
halfway between the knee and ancle, displays their well-turned limbs,
destitute of stockings, and their tiny feet, thrust into quaint little
shoes (_zapatitos_) of Cinderellan dimensions. Thus equipped, with the
reboso drawn over their heads and faces, out of the folds of which
their brilliant eyes flash like lightning, and each pretty mouth
armed with its cigarito, they coquettishly enter the fandango.[33]
Here, at one end of a long room, are seated the musicians, their
instruments being generally a species of guitar, called heaca, a
_bandolin_, and an Indian drum, called _tombé_—one of each. Round the
room groups of New Mexicans lounge, wrapped in the eternal sarape, and
smoking of course, scowling with jealous eyes at the more favoured
mountaineers. These, divested of their hunting-coats of buckskins,
appear in their bran-new shirts of gaudy calico, and close fitting
buckskin pantaloons, with long fringes down the outside seam from the
hip to the ancle; with moccasins, ornamented with bright beads and
porcupine quills. Each, round his waist, wears his mountain-belt and
scalp-knife, ominous of the company he is in, and some have pistols
sticking in their belt.

The dances—save the mark!—are without form or figure, at least
those in which the white hunters sport the “fantastic toe.” Seizing
his partner round the waist with the gripe of a grisly bear, each
mountaineer whirls and twirls, jumps and stamps; introduces Indian
steps used in the “scalp” or “buffalo” dances, whooping occasionally
with unearthly cry, and then subsiding into the jerking step, raising
each foot alternately from the ground, so much in vogue in Indian
ballets. The hunters have the floor all to themselves. The Mexicans
have no chance in such physical force dancing; and if a dancing
Peládo[34] steps into the ring, a lead-like thump from a galloping
mountaineer quickly sends him sprawling, with the considerate
remark—“Quit, you darned Spaniard! you can't 'shine' in this crowd.”

During a lull, guagés[35] filled with whisky go the rounds—offered to
and seldom refused by the ladies—sturdily quaffed by the mountaineers,
and freely swallowed by the Peládos, who drown their jealousy and
envious hate of their entertainers in potent aguardiente. Now, as the
guagés are oft refilled and as often drained, and as night advances,
so do the spirits of the mountaineers become more boisterous, while
their attentions to their partners become warmer—the jealousy of
the natives waxes hotter thereat—and they begin to show symptoms
of resenting the endearments which the mountaineers bestow upon
their wives and sweethearts. And now, when the room is filled to
crowding,—with two hundred people, swearing, drinking, dancing, and
shouting—the half-dozen Americans monopolising the fair, to the
evident disadvantage of at least threescore scowling Peládos, it
happens that one of these, maddened by whisky and the green-eyed
monster, suddenly seizes a fair one from the waist-encircling arm of
a mountaineer, and pulls her from her partner. Wagh!—La Bonté—it is
he—stands erect as a pillar for a moment, then raises his hand to
his mouth, and gives a ringing war-whoop—jumps upon the rash Peládo,
seizes him by the body as if he were a child, lifts him over his head,
and dashes him with the force of a giant against the wall.

The war, long threatened, has commenced; twenty Mexicans draw their
knives and rush upon La Bonté, who stands his ground, and sweeps them
down with his ponderous fist, one after another, as they throng around
him. “Howgh-owgh-owgh-owgh-h!” the well-known warhoop, bursts from the
throats of his companions, and on they rush to the rescue. The women
scream, and block the door in their eagerness to escape; and thus
the Mexicans are compelled to stand their ground and fight. Knives
glitter in the light, and quick thrusts are given and parried. In the
centre of the room the whites stand shoulder to shoulder—covering the
floor with Mexicans by their stalwart blows; but the odds are fearful
against them, and other assailants crowd up to supply the place of
those who fall.

The alarm being given by the shrieking women, reinforcements of
Peládos rushed to the scene of action, but could not enter the
room, which was already full. The odds began to tell against the
mountaineers, when Kit Carson's quick eye caught sight of a high
stool or stone, supported by three long heavy legs. In a moment he had
cleared his way to this, and in another the three legs were broken off
and in the hands of himself, Dick Wooton, and La Bonté. Sweeping them
round their heads, down came the heavy weapons amongst the Mexicans
with wonderful effect—each blow, dealt by the nervous arms of Wooton
and La Bonté, mowing down a good half-dozen of the assailants. At this
the mountaineers gave a hearty whoop, and charged the wavering enemy
with such resistless vigour, that they gave way and bolted through the
door, leaving the floor strewed with wounded, many most dangerously;
for, as may be imagined, a thrust from the keen scalp-knife by the
nervous arm of a mountaineer was no baby blow, and seldom failed to
strike home—up to the “Green River”[36] on the blade.

The field being won, the whites, too, beat a quick retreat to the
house where they were domiciled, and where they had left their rifles.
Without their trusty weapons they felt, indeed, unarmed; and not
knowing how the affair just over would be followed up, lost no time in
making preparations for defence. However, after great blustering on
the part of the prefecto, who, accompanied by a _posse comitatus_ of
“Greasers,” proceeded to the house, and demanded the surrender of all
concerned in the affair—which proposition was received with a yell of
derision—the business was compounded by the mountaineers promising to
give sundry dollars to the friends of two of the Mexicans, who died
during the night of their wounds, and to pay for a certain amount of
masses to be sung for the repose of their souls in purgatory. Thus the
affair blew over; but for several days the mountaineers never showed
themselves in the streets of Fernandez without their rifles on their
shoulders, and refrained from attending fandangos for the present, and
until the excitement had cooled down.

A bitter feeling, however, existed on the part of the men; and one
or two offers of a matrimonial nature were rejected by the papas of
certain ladies who had been wooed by some of the white hunters, and
their hands formally demanded from the respective padres.

La Bonté had been rather smitten with the charms of one Dolores
Salazar—a buxom lass, more than three parts Indian in her blood, but
confessedly the “beauty” of the Vale of Taos. She, by dint of eye,
and of nameless acts of elaborate coquetry, with which the sex so
universally bait their traps, whether in the salons of Belgravia, or
the rancherias of New Mexico, contrived to make considerable havoc in
the heart of our mountaineer; and when once Dolores saw she had made
an impression, she followed up her advantage with all the arts the
most civilised of her sex could use when fishing for a husband.

La Bonté, however, was too old a hunter to be easily caught; and
before committing himself, he sought the advice of his tried companion
Killbuck. Taking him to a retired spot without the village, he drew
out his pipe and charged it—seated himself cross-legged on the ground,
and, with Indian gravity, composed himself for a “talk.”

“Ho, Killbuck!” he began, touching the ground with the bowl of his
pipe, and then turning the stem upwards for “_medicine_”—“Hyar's
a child feels squamptious like, and nigh upon 'gone beaver,' _he_
is—Wagh!”

“Wagh!” exclaimed Killbuck, all attention.

“Old hos,” continued the other, “thar's no use câching anyhow what a
niggur feels—so hyar's to 'put out.' You're good for beaver _I_ know;
at deer or buffler, or darned red Injun either, you're 'some.' Now
that's a fact. 'Off-hand,' or 'with a rest,' you make 'em 'come.'
You knows the 'sign' of Injuns slick—Blackfoot or Sioux, Pawnee or
Burnt-wood, Zeton, Rapaho, Shian, or Shoshonée, Yutah, Piyutah, or
Yamhareek—their trail's a plain as writin', old hos, to you.”

“Wagh!” grunted Killbuck, blushing bronze at all these compliments.

“Your sight ain't bad. Elks is elk; black-tail deer ain't white-tails;
and b'ar is b'ar to you, and nothin' else, a long mile off and more.”

“Wa-agh!”

“Thar ain't a track as leaves its mark upon the plains or mountains
but you can read off-hand; that I've see'd myself. But tell me, old
hos, can you make understand the 'sign' as shows itself in a woman's
breast?”

Killbuck removed the pipe from his mouth, raised his head, and puffed
a rolling cloud of smoke into the air,—knocked the ashes from the
bowl, likewise made his “medicine”—and answered thus:—

“From Red River, away up north amongst the Britishers, to Heely (Gila)
in the Spanish country—from old Missoura to the Sea of Californy,
I've trapped and hunted. I knows the Injuns and thar 'sign,' and they
knows _me_, I'm thinkin. Thirty winters has snowed on me in these
hyar mountains, and a niggur or a Spaniard[37] would larn 'some' in
that time. This old tool” (tapping his rifle) “shoots 'center' _she_
does; and if thar's game afoot, this child knows 'bull' from 'cow,'
and ought to could. That deer is deer, and goats is goats, is plain
as paint to any but a greenhorn. Beaver's a cunning crittur, but I've
trapped a 'heap;' and at killing meat when meat's a-running, I'll
'shine' in the biggest kind of crowd. For twenty year I packed a squaw
along. Not one, but a many. First I had a Blackfoot—the darndest slut
as ever cried for fofarrow. I lodge-poled her on Colter's Creek, and
made her quit. My buffler hos, and as good as four packs of beaver, I
gave for old Bull-tail's daughter. He was head chief of the Ricaree,
and 'came' nicely 'round' me. Thar was'nt enough scarlet cloth, nor
beads, nor vermilion in Sublette's packs for her. Traps wouldn't buy
her all the fofarrow she wanted; and in two years I'd sold her to
Cross-Eagle for one of Jake Hawkin's guns—this very one I hold in my
hands. Then I tried the Sioux, the Shian, and a Digger from the other
side, who made the best moccasin as ever _I_ wore. She was the best of
all, and was rubbed out by the Yutas in the Bayou Salade. Bad was the
best; and after she was gone under I tried no more.

“Afore I left the settlements I know'd a white gal, and she was some
punkins. I have never seed nothing as 'ould beat her. Red blood won't
'shine' any ways you fix it; and though I'm h— for 'sign,' a woman's
breast is the hardest kind of rock to me, and leaves no trail that
I can see of. I've hearn you talk of a gal in Memphis county; Mary
Brand you called her oncest. The gal I said _I_ know'd, her name I
disremember, but she stands before me as plain as Chimley Rock on
Platte, and thirty year and more har'nt changed a feature in her face,
to me.

“If you ask this child, he'll tell you to leave the Spanish slut to
her Greasers, and hold on till you take the trail to old Missoura,
whar white and Christian gals are to be had for axing. Wagh!”

La Bonté rose to his feet. The mention of Mary Brand's name decided
him; and he said—

“Darn the Spaniard! she can't shine with me; come, old hos! let's
move.”

And, shouldering their rifles, the two compañeros returned to the
Ranch. More than one of the mountaineers had fulfilled the object of
their journey, and had taken to themselves a partner from amongst
the belles of Taos, and now they were preparing for their return
to the mountains. Dick Wooton was the only unfortunate one. He had
wooed a damsel whose parents peremptorily forbade their daughter to
wed the hunter, and he therefore made ready for his departure with
considerable regret.

The day came, however. The band of mountaineers were already mounted,
and those with wives in charge were some hours on the road, leaving
the remainder quaffing many a stirrup-cup before they left. Dick
Wooton was as melancholy as a buffalo bull in spring; and as he rode
down the village, and approached the house of his lady-love, who stood
wrapped in reboso, and cigarito in mouth, on the sill of the door, he
turned away his head as if dreading to say adios. La Bonté rode beside
him, and a thought struck him.

“Ho, Dick!” he said, “thar's the gal, and thar's the mountains: shoot
sharp's the word.”

Dick instantly understood him, and was “himself again.” He rode up to
the girl as if to bid her adieu, and she came to meet him. Whispering
one word, she put her foot upon his, was instantly seized round the
waist, and placed upon the horn of his saddle. He struck spurs into
his horse, and in a minute was out of sight, his three companions
covering his retreat, and menacing with their rifles the crowd which
was soon drawn to the spot by the cries of the girl's parents, who had
been astonished spectators of the daring rape.

The trapper and his bride, however, escaped scatheless, and the whole
party effected a safe passage of the mountains, and reached the
Arkansa, where the band was broken up,—some proceeding to Bent's Fort,
and others to the Platte, amongst whom were Killbuck and La Bonté,
still in company.

These two once more betook themselves to trapping, the Yellow Stone
being their chief hunting-ground. But we must again leap over months
and years, rather than conduct the reader through all their perilous
wanderings, and at last bring him back to the camp on Bijou, where
we first introduced him to our mountaineers; and as we have already
followed them on the Arapaho trail, which they pursued to recover
their stolen animals from a band of that nation, we will once again
seat ourselves at the camp on Boiling Spring, where they had met a
strange hunter on a solitary expedition to the Bayou Salade, whose
double-barrelled rifle had excited their wonder and curiosity.

From him they learned also that a large band of Mormons were
wintering on the Arkansa, _en route_ to the Great Salt Lake and Upper
California; and as our hunters had before fallen in with the advanced
guard of these fanatic emigrants, and felt no little wonder that
such helpless people should undertake so long a journey through the
wilderness, the stranger narrated to them the history of the sect,
which we shall shortly transcribe for the benefit of the reader.



CHAPTER IX.


The Mormons were originally of the sect known as “Latter-day
Saints,” which sect flourishes wherever Anglo-Saxon gulls are found
in sufficient numbers to swallow the egregious nonsense of fanatic
humbugs who fatten upon their credulity. In the United States they
especially abounded; but, the creed becoming “slow,” one Joe Smith, a
_smart_ man, arose from its ranks, and instilled a little life into
the decaying sect.

Joe, better known as the “Prophet Joe,” was taking his siesta one
fine day, upon hill in one of the New England States, when an angel
suddenly appeared to him, and made known the locality of a new Bible
or Testament, which contained the history of the lost tribes of
Israel; that these tribes were no other than the Indian nations which
possessed the continent of America at the time of its discovery,
and the remains of which still existed in their savage state; that,
through the agency of Joe, these were to be reclaimed, collected into
the bosom of a church to be there established, according to principles
which would be found in the wonderful book—and which church was
gradually to receive into its bosom all other churches, sects, and
persuasions, with “unanimity of belief and perfect brotherhood.”

After a certain probation, Joe was led in body and spirit to the
mountain; by the angel who first appeared to him, was pointed out the
position of the wonderful book, which was covered by a flat stone,
on which would be found two round pebbles, called Urim and Thummim,
and through the agency of which the mystic characters inscribed on
the pages of the book were to be deciphered and translated. Joe found
the spot indicated without any difficulty, cleared away the earth,
and discovered a hollow place formed by four flat stones; on removing
the topmost one of which sundry plates of brass presented themselves,
covered with quaint and antique carving; on the top lay Urim and
Thummim (commonly known to the Mormons as Mummum and Thummum, the
pebbles of wonderful virtue), through which the miracle of reading the
plates of brass was to be performed.

Joe Smith, on whom the mantle of Moses had so suddenly fallen,
carefully removed the plates and hid them, burying himself in woods
and mountains whilst engaged in the work of translation. However, he
made no secret of the important task imposed upon him, nor of the
great work to which he had been called. Numbers at once believed
him, but not a few were deaf to belief, and openly derided him.
Being persecuted (as the sect declares, at the instigation of the
authorities), and many attempts being made to steal his precious
treasure, Joe, one fine night, packed his plates in a sack of beans,
bundled them into a Jersey waggon, and made tracks for the West. Here
he completed the great work of translation, and not long after gave
to the world the “Book of Mormon,” a work as bulky as the Bible, and
called “of Mormon,” for so was the prophet named by whose hand the
history of the lost tribes had been handed down in the plates of brass
thus miraculously preserved for thousands of years, and brought to
light through the agency of Joseph Smith.

The fame of the Book of Mormon spread over all America, and even to
Great Britain and Ireland. Hundreds of proselytes flocked to Joe, to
hear from his lips the doctrine of Mormonism; and in a very brief
period the Mormons became a numerous and recognised sect, and Joe was
at once, and by universal acclamation, installed as the head of the
Mormon church, and was ever after known by the name of the “Prophet
Joseph.”

However, from certain peculiarities in their social system, the
Mormons became rather unpopular in the settled States, and at length
moved bodily into Missouri, where they purchased several tracts
of land in the neighbourhood of Independence. Here they erected a
large building, which they called the Lord's Store, where goods were
collected on the common account, and retailed to members of the
church at moderate prices. All this time their numbers increased in
a wonderful manner, and immigrants from all parts of the States, as
well as Europe, continually joined them. As they became stronger, they
grew bolder and more arrogant in their projects. They had hitherto
been considered as bad neighbours, on account of their pilfering
propensities, and their utter disregard of the conventional decencies
of society—exhibiting the greatest immorality, and endeavouring to
establish amongst their society an indiscriminate concubinage. This
was sufficient to produce an ill feeling against them on the part of
their neighbours, the honest Missourians; but they still tolerated
their presence amongst them, until the Saints openly proclaimed their
intention of seizing upon the country, and expelling by force the
present occupants—giving, as their reason, that it had been revealed
to their prophets that the “Land of Zion” was to be possessed by
themselves alone.

The sturdy Missourians began to think this was a little too strong,
and that, if they permitted such aggressions any longer, they would
be in a fair way of being despoiled of their lands by the Mormon
interlopers. At length matters came to a crisis, and the Saints,
emboldened by the impunity with which they had hitherto carried out
their plans, issued a proclamation to the effect that all in that part
of the country, who did not belong to the Mormon persuasion, must
“clear out,” and give up possession of their lands and houses. The
Missourians collected in a body, burned the printing-press from which
the proclamation had emanated, seized several of the Mormon leaders,
and, after inflicting a summary chastisement, “tarred and feathered”
them, and let them go.

To revenge this insult, the Mormons marshalled an army of Saints, and
marched upon Independence, threatening vengeance against the town
and people. Here they met, however, a band of sturdy backwoodsmen,
armed with rifles, determined to defend the town against the fanatic
mob, who, not relishing their appearance, refused the encounter, and
surrendered their leaders at the first demand. The prisoners were
afterwards released, on condition that the Mormons left that part of
the country without delay.

Accordingly, they once more “took up their beds and walked,” crossing
the Missouri to Clay County, where they established themselves, and
would finally have formed a thriving settlement but for their own
acts of wilful dishonesty. At this time their blasphemous mummery
knew no bounds. Joe Smith, and other prophets who had lately arisen,
were declared to be chosen of God; and it was the general creed that,
on the day of judgment, the former would take his stand on the right
hand of the judgment-seat, and that none would pass into the kingdom
of heaven without his seal and touch. One of their tenets was the
faith in “spiritual matrimony.” No woman, it appeared, would be
admitted into heaven unless “passed” by a saint. To qualify them for
this, it was necessary that the woman should first be received by the
guaranteeing Mormon as an “earthly wife,” in order that he did not
pass in any of whom he had no knowledge. The consequence of this state
of things may be imagined. The most debasing immorality was a precept
of the order, and an almost universal concubinage existed amongst
the sect, which at this time numbered at least forty thousand. Their
disregard to the laws of decency and morality was such as could not be
tolerated in any class of civilised society.

Again did the honest Missourians set their faces against this
pernicious example, and when the county to which the Mormons had
removed became more thickly settled, they rose to a man against the
modern Gomorrah. The Mormons, by this time, having on their part
gained considerable accession to their strength, thought to set the
laws at defiance, organised and armed large bodies of men, in order
to maintain the ascendency over the legitimate settlers, and bid fair
to constitute an “imperium in imperio” in the State, and become the
sole possessors of the public lands. This, of course, could not be
tolerated. Governor Boggs at once ordered out a large force of State
militia to put down this formidable demonstration, marched against
the Mormons, and suppressed the insurrectionary movement without
bloodshed.

From Clay County they moved still farther into the wilds, and settled
at last in Caldwell County, where they built the town of “Far West,”
and here they remained for the space of three years.

During this time they were continually receiving converts to the
faith, and many of the more ignorant country people were disposed to
join them, being only deterred by the fear of incurring ridicule from
the stronger-minded. The body of the Mormons seeing this, called upon
their prophet, Joe Smith, to perform a miracle in public before all
comers, which was to prove to those of their own people who still
doubted the doctrine, the truth of what it advanced—(the power of
performing miracles was stedfastly declared to be in their hands by
the prophets)—and to enlist those who wavered in the Mormon cause.

The prophet instantly agreed, and declared that, upon a certain day,
he would walk across the broad waters of the Missouri without wetting
the soles of his feet. On the appointed day, the river banks were
thronged by an expectant crowd. The Mormons sang hymns of praise in
honour of their prophet, and were proud of the forthcoming miracle,
which was to set finally at rest all doubt as to his power and
sanctity.

This power of performing miracles and effecting miraculous cures of
the sick, was so generally believed by the Mormons, that physic was
never used amongst them. The prophets visited the beds of the sick,
and laid hands upon them, and if, as of course was almost invariably
the case, the patient died, it was attributed to his or her want of
faith; but if, on the contrary, the patient recovered, there was
universal glorification on the miraculous cure.

Joe Smith was a tall, fine-looking man, of most plausible address,
and possessed the gift of the gab in great perfection. At the time
appointed for the performance of the walking-water miracle, he duly
attended on the river banks, and descended barefoot to the edge of the
water.

“My brethren!” he exclaimed in a loud voice, “this day is a happy one
to me, to us all, who venerate the great and only faith. The truth of
our great and blessed doctrine will now be proved before the thousands
I see around me. You have asked me to prove by a miracle that the
power of the prophets of old has been given to me. I say unto you, not
only to me, but to all who have faith. I have faith, and can perform
miracles—that faith empowers me to walk across the broad surface of
that mighty river without wetting the soles of my unworthy feet; but
if ye are to _see_ this miracle performed, it is necessary that ye
have faith also, not only in yourselves, but in me. Have ye this faith
in yourselves?”

“We have, we have!” roared the crowd.

“Have ye the faith in me, that ye believe I can perform this miracle?”

“We have, we have!” roared the crowd.

“Then,” said Joe Smith, coolly walking away, “with such faith do ye
know well that I _could_, but it boots not that I _should_, do it;
therefore, my brethren, doubt no more”—and Joe put on his boots and
disappeared.

Being again compelled to emigrate, the Mormons proceeded into the
state of Illinois, where, in a beautiful situation, they founded the
new Jerusalem, which, it had been declared by the prophet Mormon,
should rise out of the wilderness of the west, and where the chosen
people should be collected under one church, and governed by the
elders after a “spiritual fashion.”

The city of Nauvoo soon became a large and imposing settlement. An
enormous building, called the Temple of Zion, was erected, half church
half hôtel, in which Joe Smith and the other prophets resided—and
large storehouses were connected with it, in which the goods and
chattels belonging to the community were kept for the common good.

However, here, as every where else, they were continually quarrelling
with their neighbours; and as their numbers increased, so did their
audacity. A regular Mormon militia was again organised and armed,
under the command of experienced officers, who had joined the sect;
and now the authority of the state government was openly defied. In
consequence, the executive took measures to put down the nuisance,
and a regular war commenced, and was carried on for some time, with
no little bloodshed on both sides; and this armed movement is known
in the United States as the Mormon war. The Mormons, however, who,
it seemed, were much better skilled in the use of the tongue than
the rifle, succumbed: the city of Nauvoo was taken, Joe Smith and
other ringleading prophets captured; and the former, in an attempt to
escape from his place of confinement, was seized and shot. The Mormons
declare he had long foretold his own fate, and that when the rifles
of the firing party who were his executioners were levelled at the
prophet's breast, a flash of lightning struck the weapons from their
hands, and blinded for a time the eyes of the sacrilegious soldiers.

With the death of Joe Smith the prestige of the Mormon cause declined;
but still thousands of proselytes joined them annually, and at last
the state took measures to remove them altogether, as a body, from the
country.

Once again they fled, as they themselves term it, before the
persecutions of the ungodly! But this time their migration was far
beyond the reach of their enemies, and their intention was to place
between them the impassable barrier of the Rocky Mountains, and to
seek a home and resting-place in the remote regions of the Far West.

This, the most extraordinary migration of modern times, commenced
in the year 1845; but it was not till the following year that the
great body of the Mormons turned their backs upon the settlements of
the United States, and launched boldly out into the vast and barren
prairies, without any fixed destination as a goal to their endless
journey. For many months, long strings of Pittsburg and Conostaga
waggons, with herds of horses and domestic cattle, wound their way
towards the Indian frontier, with the intention of rendezvousing at
Council Bluffs on the Upper Missouri. Here thousands of waggons were
congregated, with their tens of thousands of men, women, and children,
anxiously waiting the route from the elders of the church, who on
their parts scarcely knew whither to direct the steps of the vast
crowd they had set in motion. At length the indefinite destination of
Oregon and California was proclaimed, and the long train of emigrants
took up the line of march. It was believed the Indian tribes would
immediately fraternise with the Mormons, on their approaching their
country; but the Pawnees quickly undeceived them by running off with
their stock on every opportunity. Besides these losses, at every camp,
horses, sheep, and oxen strayed away and were not recovered, and
numbers died from fatigue and want of provender; so that, before they
had been many weeks on their journey, nearly all their cattle, which
they had brought to stock their new country, were dead or missing,
and those that were left were in most miserable condition.

They had started so late in the season, that the greater part were
compelled to winter on the Platte, on Grand Island, and in the
vicinity, where they endured the greatest privations and suffering
from cold and hunger. Many who had lost their stock lived upon
roots and pig-nuts; and scurvy, in a most malignant form, and other
disorders, carried off numbers of the wretched fanatics.

Amongst them were many substantial farmers from all parts of the
United States, who had given up their valuable farms, sold off all
their property, and were dragging their irresponsible and unfortunate
families into the wilderness—carried away by their blind and fanatic
zeal in this absurd and incredible faith. There were also many poor
wretches from different parts of England, mostly of the farm-labouring
class, with wives and families, crawling along with helpless and
almost idiotic despair, but urged forward by the fanatic leaders of
the movement, who promised them a land flowing with milk and honey to
reward them for all their hardships and privations.

Their numbers were soon reduced by want and disease. When too late,
they often wished themselves back in the old country, and sighed many
a time for the beer and bacon of former days, now preferable to the
dry buffalo meat (but seldom obtainable) of the Far West.

Evil fortune pursued the Mormons, and dogged their steps. The year
following, some struggled on towards the promised land, and of these
a few reached Oregon and California. Many were killed by hostile
Indians; many perished of hunger, cold, and thirst, in passing the
great wilderness; and many returned to the States, penniless and
crestfallen, and heartily cursing the moment in which they had
listened to the counsels of the Mormon prophet. The numbers who
reached their destination of Oregon, California, and the Great Salt
Lake, are computed at 20,000, of whom the United States had an
unregretted riddance.

One party had followed the troops of the American government intended
for the conquest of New Mexico and the Californias. Of these a
battalion was formed, and part of it proceeded to Upper California;
but the way being impracticable for waggons, some seventy families
proceeded up the Arkansa, and wintered near the mountains, intending
to cross to the Platte the ensuing spring, and join the main body of
emigrants on their way by the south pass of the Rocky Mountains.

In the wide and well-timbered bottom of the Arkansa, the Mormons had
erected a street of log shanties, in which to pass the inclement
winter. These were built of rough logs of cottonwood, laid one above
the other, the interstices filled with mud, and rendered impervious to
wind or wet. At one end of the row of shanties was built the “church”
or temple—a long building of huge logs, in which the prayer-meetings
and holdings-forth took place. The band wintering on the Arkansa were
a far better class than the generality of Mormons, and comprised many
wealthy and respectable farmers from the western states, most of whom
were accustomed to the life of woodmen, and were good hunters. Thus
they were enabled to support their families upon the produce of their
rifles, frequently sallying out to the nearest point of the mountains
with a waggon, which they would bring back loaded with buffalo, deer,
and elk meat, thereby saving the necessity of killing any of their
stock of cattle, of which but few remained.

The mountain hunters found this camp a profitable market for their
meat and deer-skins, with which the Mormons were now compelled to
clothe themselves, and resorted there for that purpose—to say nothing
of the attraction of the many really beautiful Missourian girls who
sported their tall graceful figures at the frequent fandangoes.
Dancing and preaching go hand in hand in Mormon doctrine, and the
“temple” was generally cleared for a hop two or three times during
the week, a couple of fiddles doing the duty of orchestra. A party of
mountaineers came in one day, bringing some buffalo meat and dressed
deer-skins, and were invited to be present at one of these festivals.

Arrived at the temple, they were rather taken aback by finding
themselves in for a sermon, which one of the elders delivered
preparatory to the “physical exercises.” The preacher was one
Brown—called, by reason of his commanding a company of Mormon
volunteers, “Cap'en Brown”—a hard-featured, black-coated man of
five-and-forty, correctly got up in black continuations, and white
handkerchief round his neck, a costume seldom seen at the foot of
the Rocky Mountains. The Cap'en, rising, cleared his voice, and thus
commenced, first turning to an elder (with whom there was a little
rivalry in the way of preaching):—“Brother Dowdle!”—(brother Dowdle
blushed and nodded: he was a long tallow-faced man, with black hair
combed over his face)—“I feel like holding forth a little this
afternoon, before we glorify the Lord,—a—a—in the—a—holy dance. As
there are a many strange gentlemen now—a—present, it's about right to
tell 'em—a—what our doctrine just is, and so I tells 'em right off
what the Mormons is. They are the chosen of the Lord; they are the
children of glory, persecuted by the hand of man: they flies here to
the wilderness, and, amongst the _Injine_ and the buffler, they lifts
up their heads, and cries with a loud voice, Susannah, and hurray for
the promised land! Do you believe it? I _know_ it.

“They wants to know whar we're going. Whar the church goes—thar we
goes. Yes, to hell, and pull the devil off his throne—that's what
we'll do. Do you believe it? I _know_ it.

“Thar's milk and honey in that land as we're goin' to, and the lost
tribes of Israel is thar, and will jine us. They say as we'll starve
on the road, bekase thar's no game and no water; but thar's manna up
in heaven, and it 'll rain on us, and thar's prophets among us can
make the water 'come.' Can't they, brother Dowdle?”

“_Well_, they can.”

“And now, what have the Gen_tiles_ and the Philis_tines_ to say
against us Mormons? They says we're thieves, and steal hogs; yes,
d—— 'em! they say we has as many wives as we like. So we have. I've
twenty—forty, myself, and mean to have as many more as I can get. But
it's to pass unfortunate females into heaven that I has 'em—yes, to
prevent 'em going to roaring flames and damnation that I does it.

“Brother Dowdle,” he continued, in a hoarse, low voice, “I've 'give
out,' and think we'd better begin the exercises grettful to the Lord.”

Brother Dowdle rose, and, after saying that “he didn't feel like
saying much, begged to remind all hands, that dancing was solemn like,
to be done with proper devotion, and not with laughing and talking,
of which he hoped to hear little or none; that joy was to be in their
hearts, and not on their lips; that they danced for the glory of the
Lord, and not their own amusement, as did the Gen_tiles_.” After
saying thus, he called upon brother Ezra to “strike up:” sundry
couples stood forth, and the ball commenced.

Ezra of the violin was a tall, shambling Missourian, with a pair of
“homespun” pantaloons thrust into the legs of his heavy boots. Nodding
his head in time with the music, he occasionally gave instructions to
such of the dancers as were at fault, singing them to the tune he was
playing, in a dismal nasal tone,—

    “Down the centre—hands across,”
    “You, Jake Herring—thump it,”
    “Now, you all go right ahead—
    Every one of you hump it.
          Every one of you—_hump it_.”

The last words being the signal that all should clap the steam on,
which they did _con amore_, and with comical seriousness.

A mountaineer, Rube Herring, whom we have more than once met in the
course of this narrative, became a convert to the Mormon creed,
and held forth its wonderful doctrines to such of the incredulous
trappers as he could induce to listen to him. Old Rube stood nearly
six feet six in height, and was spare and bony in make. He had picked
up a most extraordinary cloth coat amongst the Mormons, which had
belonged to some one his equal in stature. This coat, which was of
a snuff-brown colour, had its waist about a hand's span from the
nape of Rube's neck, or about a yard above its proper position, and
the skirts reached to his ancles. A slouching felt-hat covered his
head, from which long black hair escaped, hanging in flakes over his
lantern-jaws. His pantaloons of buckskin were shrunk with wet, and
reached midway between his knees and ancles, and his huge feet were
encased in moccasins of buffalo-cow skin.

Rube was never without the book of Mormon in his hand, and his
sonorous voice might be heard, at all hours of the day and night,
reading passages from its wonderful pages. He stood the badgering
of the hunters with most perfect good humour, and said there never
was such a book as that ever before printed; that the Mormons were
the “biggest kind” of prophets, and theirs the best faith ever man
believed in.

Rube had let out one day that he was to be hired as guide by this
party of Mormons to the Great Salt Lake; but their destination being
changed, and his services not required, a wonderful change came over
his mind. He was, as usual, book of Mormon in hand, when brother Brown
announced the change in their plans; at which the book was cast into
the Arkansa, and Rube exclaimed—“Cuss your darned Mummum and Thummum!
thar's not one among you knows 'fat cow' from 'poor bull,' and you may
go h—— for me.” And turning away, old Rube spat out a quid of tobacco
and his Mormonism together.

Amongst the Mormons was an old man, named Brand, from Memphis county,
state of Tennessee, with a family of a daughter and two sons, the
latter with their wives and children. Brand was a wiry old fellow,
nearly seventy years of age, but still stout and strong, and wielded
axe or rifle better than many a younger man. If truth be told, he was
not a very red-hot Mormon, and had joined them as much for the sake
of company to California, whither he had long resolved to emigrate,
as from any implicit credence in the faith. His sons were strapping
fellows, of the sterling stuff that the Western pioneers are made of;
his daughter Mary, a fine woman of thirty, for whose state of single
blessedness there must doubtless have been sufficient reason; for she
was not only remarkably handsome, but was well known in Memphis to be
the best-tempered and most industrious young woman in those diggings.
She was known to have received several advantageous offers, all of
which she had refused; and report said, that it was from having been
disappointed in very early life in an _affaire du cœur_, at an age
when such wounds sometimes strike strong and deep, leaving a scar
difficult to heal. Neither his daughter, nor any of his family, had
been converted to the Mormon doctrine, but had ever kept themselves
aloof, and refused to join or associate with them; and, for this
reason, the family had been very unpopular with the Mormon families
on the Arkansa; and hence, probably, one great reason why they now
started alone on their journey.

Spring had arrived, and it was time the Mormons should proceed on
their march; but whether already tired of the sample they had had of
life in the wilderness, or fearful of encountering the perils of the
Indian country, not one amongst them, with the exception of old Brand,
seemed inclined to pursue the journey farther. That old backwoodsman,
however, was not to be deterred, but declared his intention of
setting out alone, with his family, and risking all the dangers to be
anticipated.

One fine sunny evening in April of 1847, when the cottonwoods on the
banks of the Arkansa began to put forth their buds, and robins and
blue-birds—harbingers of spring—were hopping, with gaudy plumage,
through the thickets, three white-tilted Conostoga waggons emerged
from the timbered bottom of the river, and rumbled slowly over the
prairie, in the direction of the Platte's waters. Each waggon was
drawn by eight oxen, and contained a portion of the farming implements
and household utensils of the Brand family. The teams were driven by
the young boys, the men following in rear with shouldered rifles—Old
Brand himself mounted on an Indian horse, leading the advance. The
women were safely housed under the shelter of the waggon tilts, and
out of the first the mild face of Mary Brand smiled adieu to many
of her old companions who had accompanied them thus far, and now
wished them “God-speed” on their long journey. Some mountaineers, too,
galloped up, dressed in buckskin, and gave them rough greeting—warning
the men to keep their “eyes skinned,” and look out for the Arapahos,
who were out on the waters of the Platte. Presently all retired, and
then the huge waggons and the little company were rolling on their
solitary way through the deserted prairies—passing the first of the
many thousand miles which lay between them and the “setting sun,” as
the Indians style the distant regions of the Far West. And on, without
casting a look behind him, doggedly and boldly marched old Brand,
followed by his sturdy family.

They made but a few miles that evening, for the first day the _start_
is all that is effected; and nearly the whole morning is taken up in
getting fairly under weigh. The loose stock had been sent off earlier,
for they had been collected and corralled the previous night; and,
after a twelve hours' fast, it was necessary they should reach the
end of the day's journey betimes. They found the herd grazing in the
bottom of the Arkansa, at a point previously fixed upon for their
first camp. Here the oxen were unyoked, and the waggons drawn up so as
to form the three sides of a small square. The women then descended
from their seats, and prepared the evening meal. A huge fire was
kindled before the waggons, and round this the whole party collected;
whilst large kettles of coffee boiled on it, and hoe-cakes baked upon
the embers.

The women were sadly downhearted, as well they might be, with the
dreary prospect before them; and poor Mary, when she saw the Mormon
encampment shut out from her sight by the rolling bluffs, and nothing
before her but the bleak, barren prairie, could not divest herself
of the idea that she had looked for the last time on civilised
fellow-creatures, and fairly burst into tears.

In the morning the heavy waggons rolled on again across the upland
prairies, to strike the trail used by the traders in passing from the
south fork of the Platte to the Arkansa. They had for guide a Canadian
voyageur, who had been in the service of the Indian traders, and knew
the route well, and who had agreed to pilot them to Fort Lancaster, on
the north fork of the Platte. Their course led for about thirty miles
up the Boiling Spring River, whence they pursued a north-easterly
course to the dividing ridge which separates the waters of the Platte
and Arkansa. Their progress was slow, for the ground was saturated
with wet, and exceedingly heavy for the cattle, and they scarcely
advanced more than ten miles a-day.

At the camp-fire at night, Antoine, the Canadian guide, amused them
with tales of the wild life and perilous adventures of the hunters and
trappers who make the mountains their home; often extorting a scream
from the women by the description of some scene of Indian fight and
slaughter, or beguiling them of a commiserating tear by the narrative
of the sufferings and privations endured by those hardy hunters in
their arduous life.

Mary listened with the greater interest, since she remembered that
such was the life which had been led by one very dear to her—by one,
long supposed to be dead, of whom she had never but once, since
his departure, nearly fifteen years before, heard a syllable. Her
imagination pictured him as the bravest and most daring of these
adventurous hunters, and conjured up his figure charging through the
midst of whooping savages, or stretched on the ground perishing from
wounds, or cold, or famine.

Amongst the characters who figured in Antoine's stories, a hunter
named La Bonté was made conspicuous for deeds of hardiness and daring.
The first mention of the name caused the blood to rush to Mary's face:
not that she for a moment imagined it was her La Bonté, for she knew
the name was a common one; but, associated with feelings which she had
never got the better of, it recalled a sad epoch in her former life,
to which she could not look back without mingled pain and pleasure.

Once only, and about two years after his departure, had she ever
received tidings of her former lover. A mountaineer had returned from
the Far West to settle in his native State, and had found his way to
the neighbourhood of old Brand's farm. Meeting him by accident, Mary,
hearing him speak of the mountain hunters, had inquired, tremblingly,
after La Bonté. Her informant knew him well—had trapped in company
with him—and had heard at the trading fort, whence he had taken his
departure for the settlements, that La Bonté had been killed on the
Yellow Stone by Blackfeet; which report was confirmed by some Indians
of that nation. This was all she had ever learned of the lover of her
youth.

Now, upon hearing the name of La Bonté so often mentioned by Antoine,
a vague hope was raised in her breast that he was still alive, and she
took an opportunity of questioning the Canadian closely on the subject.

“Who was this La Bonté, Antoine, who you say was so brave a
mountaineer?” she asked one day.

“J'ne sais pas; he vas un beau garçon, and strong comme le
diable—enfant de garce, mais he pas not care a dam for les sauvages,
pe gar. He shoot de centare avec his carabine; and ride de cheval
comme one Comanche. He trap heap castor, (what you call beevare,)
and get plenty dollare—mais he open hand vare wide—and got none too.
Den, he hont vid de Blackfoot and avec de Cheyenne, and all round de
montaignes he hont dam sight.”

“But, Antoine, what became of him at last? and why did he not come
home, when he made so many dollars?” asked poor Mary.

“Enfant de garce, mais pourquoi he com home? Pe gar, de montaigne-man,
he love de montaigne and de prairie more better dan he love de grandes
villes—même de Saint Louis ou de Montreal. Wagh! La Bonté, well, he
one montaigne-man, wagh! He love de buffaloe and de chevreaux plus
que de bœuf and de mouton, may be. Mais on-dit dat he have autre
raison—dat de gal he lofe in Missouri not lofe him, and for dis he not
go back. Mais now he go ondare, m' on dit. He vas go to de Californe,
may be to steal de hos and de mule—pe gar, and de Espagnols rub him
out, and take his hair, so he mort.”

“But are you sure of this?” she asked, trembling with grief.

“Ah, now, j'ne suis pas sûr, mais I tink you know dis La Bonté.
Enfant de garce, maybe you de gal in Missouri he lofe, and not lofe
him. Pe gar! 'fant de garce! fort beau garçon dis La Bonté, pourquoi
you ne l'aimez pas? Maybe he not gone ondare. Maybe he turn op,
autrefois. De trappares, dey go ondare tree, four, ten times, mais
dey turn op twenty time. De sauvage not able for kill La Bonté, ni de
dam Espagnols. Ah, non! ne craignez pas; pe gar, he not gone ondare
encore.”

Spite of the good-natured attempts of the Canadian, poor Mary burst
into a flood of tears: not that the information took her unawares, for
she long had believed him dead; but because the very mention of his
name awoke the strongest feelings within her breast, and taught her
how deep was the affection she had felt for him whose loss and violent
fate she now bewailed.

As the waggons of the lone caravan roll on towards the Platte, we
return to the camp where La Bonté, Killbuck, and the stranger, were
sitting before the fire when last we saw them:—Killbuck loquitur:—

“The doins of them Mormon fools can't be beat by Spaniards, stranger.
Their mummums and thummums you speak of won't 'shine' whar Injuns are
about; nor pint out a trail, whar nothin crossed but rattler-snakes
since fust it snow'd on old Pike's Peak. If they pack along them
_profits_, as you tell of, who can make it rain hump-ribs and
marrow-guts when the crowd gets out of the buffler range, they are
'some,' now, that's a fact. But this child don't believe it. I'd
laugh to get a sight on these darned Mormonites, I would. They're 'no
account,' I guess; and it's the 'meanest' kind of action to haul their
women critters and their young 'uns to sech a starving country as the
Californys.”

“They are not all Mormons in the crowd,” said the strange hunter; “and
there's one family amongst them with some smartish boys and girls, I
tell you. Their name's Brand.”

La Bonté looked up from the lock of his rifle, which he was
cleaning—but either didn't hear, or, hearing, didn't heed, for he
continued his work.

“And they are going to part company,” continued the stranger, “and
put out alone for Platte and the South Pass.”

“They'll lose their hair, I'm thinking,” said Killbuck, “if the
Rapahos are out thar.”

“I hope not,” continued the other, “for there's a girl amongst them
worth more than that.”

“Poor beaver!” said La Bonté, looking up from his work. “I'd hate to
see any white gal in the hands of Injuns, and of Rapahos worse than
all. Where does she come from, stranger?”

“Down below St Louis, from Tennessee, I've heard them say.”

“Tennessee,” cried La Bonté,—“hurrah for the old State! What's her
name, stran——” At this moment Killbuck's old mule pricked her ears
and snuffed the air, which action catching La Bonté's eye, he rose
abruptly, without waiting a reply to his question, and exclaimed, “The
old mule smells Injuns, or I'm a Spaniard!”

The hunter did the old mule justice, and she well maintained her
reputation as the best “guard” in the mountains; for in two minutes an
Indian stalked into the camp, dressed in a cloth capote, and in odds
and ends of civilised attire.

“Rapaho,” cried Killbuck, as soon as he saw him; and the Indian
catching the word, struck his hand upon his breast, and exclaimed,
in broken Spanish and English mixed, “Si, si, me Arapaho, white man
amigo. Come to camp—eat heap _carne_—me amigo white man. Come from
Pueblo—hunt cibola—me gun break—_no puedo matar nada: mucha hambre_
(very hungry),—heap eat.”

Killbuck offered his pipe to the Indian, and spoke to him in his own
language, which both he and La Bonté well understood. They learned
that he was married to a Mexican woman, and lived with some hunters at
the Pueblo fort on the Arkansa. He volunteered the information that
a war party of his people were out on the Platte trail to intercept
the Indian traders on their return from the North Fork; and as some
“Mormones” had just started with three waggons in that direction,
he said his people would make a “roise.” Being muy amigo himself to
the whites, he cautioned his present companions from crossing to the
“divide,” as the “braves,” he said, were a “heap” mad, and their
hearts were “big,” and nothing in the shape of white skin would live
before them.

“Wagh!” exclaimed Killbuck, “the Rapahos know me, I'm thinking; and
small gain they've made against this child. I've knowed the time when
my gun-cover couldn't hold more of their scalps.”

The Indian was provided with some powder, of which he stood in need;
and, after gorging as much meat as his capacious stomach would hold,
he left the camp, and started into the mountain.

The next day our hunters started on their journey down the river,
travelling leisurely, and stopping wherever good grass presented
itself. One morning they suddenly struck a wheel trail, which left
the creek banks and pursued a course at right angles to it, in the
direction of the “divide.” Killbuck pronounced it but a few hours old,
and that of three waggons drawn by oxen.

“Wagh!” he exclaimed, “if them poor devils of Mormonites ain't going
head first into the Rapaho trap. They'll be 'gone beaver' afore long.”

“Ay,” said the strange hunter, “these are the waggons belonging to
old Brand, and he has started alone for Laramie. I hope nothing will
happen to them.”

“Brand!” muttered La Bonté. “I knowed that name mighty well once,
years agone; and should hate the worst kind that mischief happened
to any one who bore it. This trail's as fresh as paint; and it goes
against me to let these simple critters help the Rapahos to their own
hair. This child feels like helping 'em out of the scrape. What do you
say, old hos?”

“I thinks with you, boy,” answered Killbuck, “and go in for following
this waggon trail, and telling the poor critters that thar's danger
ahead of them. What's your talk, stranger?”

“I go with you,” shortly answered the latter; and both followed
quickly after La Bonté, who was already trotting smartly on the trail.

Meanwhile the three waggons, containing the household gods of the
Brand family, rumbled slowly over the rolling prairie, and towards
the upland ridge of the “divide,” which, studded with dwarf pine
and cedar thicket, rose gradually before them. They travelled with
considerable caution, for already the quick eye of Antoine had
discovered recent Indian sign upon the trail, and, with mountain
quickness, had at once made it out to be that of a war party;
for there were no horses with them, and, after one or two of the
moccasin tracks, the mark of a rope which trailed upon the ground
was sufficient to show him that the Indians were provided with the
usual lasso of skin, with which to secure the horses stolen in the
expedition. The men of the party were consequently all mounted and
thoroughly armed, the waggons moved in a line abreast, and a sharp
look-out was kept on all sides. The women and children were all
consigned to the interior of the waggons; and the latter had also guns
in readiness, to take their part in the defence, should an attack be
made.

However, they had seen no Indians, and no fresh sign, for two days
after they left the Boiling Spring River, and they began to think they
were well out of their neighbourhood. One evening they camped on a
creek called Black Horse, and, as usual, had corralled the waggons,
and forted as well as circumstances would permit, when three or four
Indians suddenly appeared on a bluff at a little distance, and, making
signals of peaceable intentions, approached the camp. Most of the
men were absent at the time, attending to the cattle or collecting
fuel, and only old Brand and one of his young grandchildren, about
fourteen years old, remained in camp. The Indians were hospitably
received, and regaled with a smoke, after which they began to evince
their curiosity by examining every article lying about, and signifying
their wishes that it should be given to them. Finding their hints were
not taken, they laid hold of several things which took their fancies,
and, amongst others, of the pot which was boiling on the fire, and
with which one of them was about very coolly to walk off, when old
Brand, who up to this moment had retained possession of his temper,
seized it out of the Indian's hand, and knocked him down. One of the
others instantly began to draw the buckskin cover from his gun, and
would no doubt have taken summary vengeance for the insult offered
to his companion, when Mary Brand courageously stepped up to him,
and, placing her left hand upon the gun which he was in the act of
uncovering, with the other pointed a pistol at his breast.

Whether daunted by the bold act of the girl, or admiring her devotion
to her father, the Indian drew himself back, exclaimed “Howgh!” and
drew the cover again on his piece, went up to old Brand, who all this
time looked him sternly in the face, and, shaking him by the hand,
motioned at the same time to the others to be peaceable.

The other whites presently coming into camp, the Indians sat quietly
down by the fire, and, when the supper was ready, joined in the
repast, after which they gathered their buffalo robes about them, and
quietly withdrew. Meanwhile Antoine, knowing the treacherous character
of the savages, advised that the greatest precaution should be taken
to secure the stock; and before dark, therefore, all the mules and
horses were hobbled and secured within the corral, the oxen being
allowed to feed at liberty—for the Indians scarcely care to trouble
themselves with such cattle. A guard was also set round the camp, and
relieved every two hours; the fire was extinguished, lest the savages
should aim, by its light, at any of the party, and all slept with
rifles ready at their sides. However, the night passed quietly, and
nothing disturbed the tranquillity of the camp. The prairie wolves
loped hungrily around, and their mournful cry was borne upon the wind
as they chased deer and antelope on the neighbouring plain; but not a
sign of lurking Indians was seen or heard.

In the morning, shortly after sunrise, they were in the act of yoking
the oxen to the waggons, and driving in the loose animals which had
been turned out to feed at daybreak, when some Indians again appeared
upon the bluff, and, descending it, confidently approached the camp.
Antoine strongly advised their not being allowed to enter; but Brand,
ignorant of Indian treachery, replied that, so long as they came as
friends, they could not be deemed enemies, and allowed no obstruction
to be offered to their approach. It was now observed that they were
all painted, armed with bows and arrows, and divested of their buffalo
robes, appearing naked to the breech-clout, their legs only being
protected by deerskin leggings, reaching to the middle of the thigh.
Six or seven first arrived, and others quickly followed, dropping
in one after the other, until a score or more were collected round
the waggons. Their demeanour, at first friendly, soon changed as
their numbers increased, and they now became urgent in their demands
for powder and lead, and bullying in their manner. A chief accosted
Brand, and, through Antoine, informed him “that, unless the demands
of his braves were acceded to, he could not be responsible for the
consequences; that they were out on the 'war-trail,' and their eyes
were red with blood, so that they could not distinguish between white
and Yuta scalps; that the party, with all their women and waggons,
were in the power of the Indian 'braves,' and therefore the white
chief's best plan was to make the best terms he could; that all they
required was that they should give up their guns and ammunition 'on
the prairie.' and all their mules and horses-retaining the 'medicine'
buffaloes (the oxen) to draw their waggons.”

By this time the oxen were yoked, and the teamsters, whip in hand,
only waited the word to start. Old Brand foamed whilst the Indian
stated his demands, but, hearing him to the end, exclaimed, “Darn the
red devil! I wouldn't give him a grain of powder to save my life. Put
out, boys!”—and, turning to his horse, which stood ready saddled, was
about to mount, when the Indians sprang at once upon the waggons, and
commenced their attack, yelling like fiends.

One jumped upon old Brand, pulled him back as he was rising in the
stirrup, and drew his bow upon him at the same moment. In an instant
the old backwoodsman pulled a pistol from his belt, and, putting
the muzzle to the Indian's heart, shot him dead. Another Indian,
flourishing his war-club, laid the old man at his feet; whilst some
dragged the women from the waggons, and others rushed upon the men,
who made brave fight in their defence.

Mary, when she saw her father struck to the ground, sprang with a
shrill cry to his assistance; for at that moment a savage, frightful
as red paint could make him, was standing over his prostrate body,
brandishing a glittering knife in the air, preparatory to thrusting it
into the old man's breast. For the rest, all was confusion: in vain
the small party of whites struggled against overpowering numbers.
Their rifles cracked but once, and they were quickly disarmed; whilst
the shrieks of the women and children, and the loud yells of the
Indians, added to the scene of horror and confusion. As Mary flew to
her father's side, an Indian threw his lasso at her, the noose falling
over her shoulders, and, jerking it tight, he uttered a delighted
yell as the poor girl was thrown back violently to the ground. As
she fell, another deliberately shot an arrow at her body, whilst the
one who had thrown the lasso rushed forward, his scalp-knife flashing
in his hand, to seize the bloody trophy of his savage deed. The girl
rose to her knees, and looked wildly towards the spot where her
father lay bathed in blood; but the Indian pulled the rope violently,
dragged her some yards upon the ground, and then rushed with a yell
of vengeance upon his victim. He paused, however, as at that moment a
shout as fierce as his own sounded at his very ear; and, looking up,
he saw La Bonté gallopping madly down the bluff, his long hair and
the fringes of his hunting-shirt and leggins flying in the wind, his
right arm supporting his trusty rifle, whilst close behind him came
Killbuck and the stranger. Dashing with loud hurrahs to the scene of
action, La Bonté, as he charged down the bluff, caught sight of the
girl struggling in the hands of the ferocious Indian. Loud was the
war-shout of the mountaineer, as he struck his heavy spurs to the
rowels in his horse's side, and bounded like lightning to the rescue.
In a single stride he was upon the Indian, and, thrusting the muzzle
of his rifle into his very breast, he pulled the trigger, driving the
savage backward by the blow itself, at the same moment that the bullet
passed through his heart, and tumbled him over stone-dead. Throwing
down his rifle, La Bonté wheeled his obedient horse, and, drawing a
pistol from his belt, again charged the enemy, among whom Killbuck and
the stranger were dealing death-giving blows. Yelling for victory,
the mountaineers rushed at the Indians; and they, panic-struck at the
sudden attack, and thinking this was but the advanced guard of a large
band, fairly turned and fled, leaving five of their number dead upon
the field.

Mary, shutting her eyes to the expected death-stroke, heard the loud
shout La Bonté gave in charging down the bluff, and, again looking
up, saw the wild-looking mountaineer rush to her rescue, and save her
from the savage by his timely blow. Her arms were still pinned by the
lasso, which prevented her from rising to her feet; and La Bonté was
the first to run to aid her, as soon as the fight was fairly over.
He jumped from his horse, cut the skin rope which bound her, raised
her from the ground, and, upon her turning up her face to thank him,
beheld his never-to-be-forgotten Mary Brand; whilst she, hardly
believing her senses, recognised in her deliverer her former lover,
and still well-beloved La Bonté.

“What, Mary! can it be you?” he asked, looking intently upon the
trembling woman.

“La Bonté, you don't forget me!” she answered, and threw herself
sobbing into the arms of the sturdy mountaineer.

There we will leave her for the present, and help Killbuck and his
companions to examine the killed and wounded. Of the former, five
Indians and two whites lay dead, grandchildren of old Brand, fine lads
of fourteen or fifteen, who had fought with the greatest bravery, and
lay pierced with arrows and lance wounds. Old Brand had received a
sore buffet, but a hatful of cold water from the creek sprinkled over
his face soon restored him. His sons had not escaped scot-free, and
Antoine was shot through the neck, and, falling, had actually been
half scalped by an Indian, whom the timely arrival of La Bonté had
caused to leave his work unfinished.

Silently, and with sad hearts, the survivors of the family saw the
bodies of the two boys buried on the river bank, and the spot marked
with a pile of loose stones, procured from the rocky bed of the creek.
The carcasses of the treacherous Indians were left to be devoured by
wolves, and their bones to bleach in the sun and wind—a warning to
their tribe, that such foul treachery as they had meditated had met
with a merited retribution.

The next day the party continued their course to the Platte. Antoine
and the stranger returned to the Arkansa, starting in the night to
avoid the Indians; but Killbuck and La Bonté lent the aid of their
rifles to the solitary caravan, and, under their experienced guidance,
no more Indian perils were encountered. Mary no longer sat perched
up in her father's Conostoga, but rode a quiet mustang by La Bonté's
side; and no doubt they found a theme with which to while away the
monotonous journey over the dreary plains. South Fork was passed, and
Laramie was reached. The Sweet Water mountains, which hang over the
“pass” to California, were long since in sight; but when the waters
of the North Fork of Platte lay before their horses' feet, and the
broad trail was pointed out which led to the great valley of Columbia
and their promised land, the heads of the oxen were turned _down_ the
stream where the shallow waters flow on to join the great Missouri—and
not _up_, towards the mountains where they leave their spring-heads,
from which springs flow several waters—some coursing their way to
the eastward, fertilising, in their route to the Atlantic, the lands
of civilised man; others westward, forcing a passage through rocky
cañons, and flowing through a barren wilderness, inhabited by fierce
and barbarous tribes.

These were the routes to choose from: and, what ever was the cause,
the oxen turned their yoked heads away from the rugged mountains;
the teamsters joyfully cracked their ponderous whips, as the waggons
rolled lightly down the Platte; and men, women, and children, waved
their hats and bonnets in the air, and cried out lustily, “Hurrah for
home!”

La Bonté looked at the dark sombre mountains ere he turned his back
upon them for the last time. He thought of the many years he had spent
beneath their rugged shadow, of the many hardships he had suffered,
of all his pains and perils in those wild regions. The most exciting
episodes of his adventurous career, his tried companions in scenes of
fierce fight and bloodshed, passed in review before him. A feeling
of regret was creeping over him, when Mary laid her hand gently on
his shoulder. One single tear rolled unbidden down his cheek, and he
answered her inquiring eyes: “I'm not sorry to leave it, Mary,” he
said; “but it's hard to turn one's back upon old friends.”

They had a hard battle with Killbuck, in endeavouring to persuade
him to accompany them to the settlements. The old mountaineer shook
his head. “The time,” he said “was gone by for that. He had often
thought of it, but, when the day arrived, he hadn't heart to leave the
mountains. Trapping now was of no account, he knew; but beaver was
bound to rise, and then the good times would come again. What could he
do in the settlements, where there wasn't room to move, and where it
was hard to breathe—there were so many people?”

He accompanied them a considerable distance down the river, ever and
anon looking cautiously back, to ascertain that he had not gone out of
sight of the mountains. Before reaching the forks, however, he finally
bade them adieu; and, turning the head of his old grizzled mule
westward, he heartily wrung the hand of his comrade La Bonté; and,
crying Yep! to his well-tried animal, disappeared behind a roll of the
prairie, and was seen no more—a thousand good wishes for the welfare
of the sturdy trapper speeding him on his solitary way.

Four months from the day when La Bonté so opportunely appeared to
rescue Brand's family from the Indians on Black Horse Creek, that
worthy and the faithful Mary were duly and lawfully united in the
township church of Brandville, Memphis county, State of Tennessee. We
cannot say, in the concluding words of nine hundred and ninety-nine
thousand novels, that “numerous pledges of mutual love surrounded
and cheered them in their declining years,” &c. &c.; because it was
only on the 24th of July, in the year of our Lord 1847, that La Bonté
and Mary Brand were finally made one, after fifteen long years of
separation.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fate of one of the humble characters who have figured in these
pages, we must yet tarry a little longer to describe.

During the past winter, a party of mountaineers, flying from
overpowering numbers of hostile Sioux, found themselves, one stormy
evening, in a wild and dismal cañon near the elevated mountain valley
called the “New Park.”

The rocky bed of a dry mountain torrent, whose waters were now
locked up at their spring-heads by icy fetters, was the only road
up which they could make their difficult way: for the rugged sides
of the gorge rose precipitously from the creek, scarcely affording
a foot-hold to even the active bighorn, which occasionally looked
down upon the travellers from the lofty summit. Logs of pine,
uprooted by the hurricanes which sweep incessantly through the
mountain defiles, and tossed headlong from the surrounding ridges,
continually obstructed their way; and huge rocks and boulders, fallen
from the heights and blocking up the bed of the stream, added to the
difficulty, and threatened them every instant with destruction.

Towards sundown they reached a point where the cañon opened out into a
little shelving glade or prairie, a few hundred yards in extent, the
entrance to which was almost hidden by a thicket of dwarf pine and
cedar. Here they determined to encamp for the night, in a spot secure
from Indians, and, as they imagined, untrodden by the foot of man.

What, however, was their astonishment, on breaking through the
cedar-covered entrance, to perceive a solitary horse standing
motionless in the centre of the prairie. Drawing near, they found it
to be an old grizzled mustang, or Indian pony, with cropped ears and
ragged tail, (well picked by hungry mules), standing doubled up with
cold, and at the very last gasp from extreme old age and weakness.
Its bones were nearly through the stiffened skin, the legs of the
animal were gathered under it; whilst its forlorn-looking head and
stretched-out neck hung listlessly downwards, almost overbalancing
its tottering body. The glazed and sunken eye—the protruding and
froth-covered tongue—the heaving flank and quivering tail—declared its
race was run; and the driving sleet and snow, and penetrating winter
blast, scarce made impression upon its callous and worn-out frame.

One of the band of mountaineers was Marcellin, and a single look at
the miserable beast was sufficient for him to recognise the once
renowned Nez-percé steed of old Bill Williams. That the owner himself
was not far distant he felt certain; and, searching carefully around,
the hunters presently came upon an old camp, before which lay,
protruding from the snow, the blackened remains of pine logs. Before
these, which had been the fire, and leaning with his back against a
pine trunk, and his legs crossed under him, half covered with snow,
reclined the figure of the old mountaineer, his snow-capped head bent
over his breast. His well-known hunting-coat of fringed elk-skin hung
stiff and weather-stained about him; and his rifle, packs, and traps,
were strewed around.

Awe-struck, the trappers approached the body, and found it frozen hard
as stone, in which state it had probably lain there for many days
or weeks. A jagged rent in the breast of his leather coat, and dark
stains about it, showed he had received a wound before his death; but
it was impossible to say, whether to his hurt, or to sickness, or
to the natural decay of age, was to be attributed the wretched and
solitary end of poor Bill Williams.

A friendly bullet cut short the few remaining hours of the trapper's
faithful steed; and burying, as well as they were able, the body of
the old mountaineer, the hunters next day left him in his lonely
grave, in a spot so wild and remote, that it was doubtful whether even
hungry wolves would discover and disinter his attenuated corpse.


THE END.


PRINTED BY JOHN HUGHES, 3 THISTLE STREET, EDINBURGH.



FOOTNOTES:

[1] In accordance with this suggestion, the name was changed to
Brand. The mountaineers, it seems, are more sensitive to type than to
tomahawks; and poor Ruxton, who always contemplated another expedition
among them, would sometimes jestingly speculate upon his reception,
should they learn that he had shown them up in print.

[2] Killed, } both terms adapted from the Indian figurative
            }
[3] Died,   } language.

[4] The Mexicans are called “Spaniards” or “Greasers” (from their
greasy appearance) by the Western people.

[5] Bent's Indian trading fort on the Arkansa.

[6] Meaning—if that's what you mean. The “stick” is tied to the beaver
trap by a string; and, floating on the water, points out its position,
should a beaver have carried it away.

[7] Scalped.

[8] Soles made of buffalo hide.

[9] The Hudson Bay Company having amalgamated with the American North
West Company, is known by the name 'North West' to the southern
trappers. Their employés usually wear Canadian capotes.

[10] A spice of the devil.

[11] “Euker,” “poker,” and “seven up,” are the fashionable games of
cards.

[12] Antelope are frequently called “goats” by the mountaineers.

[13] An Indian is always a “heap” hungry or thirsty—loves a “heap”—is
a “heap” brave—in fact, “heap” is tantamount to very much.

[14] The young untried warriors of the Indians are thus called.

[15] There is a great difference between an Indian's fire and a
white's. The former places the ends of logs to burn gradually; the
latter, the centre, besides making such a bonfire that the Indians
truly say, “The white makes a fire so hot that he cannot approach to
warm himself by it.”

[16] A pithy substance found in dead pine-trees.

[17] Saddle-blanket made of buffalo-calf skin.

[18] The French Canadians are called _wah-keitcha_—“bad medicine”—by
the Indians, who account them treacherous and vindictive, and at the
same time less daring than the American hunters.

[19] A substance obtained from a gland in the scrotum of the beaver,
and used to attract that animal to the trap.

[20] The Hudson's Bay Company is so called by the American trappers.

[21] A small lake near the head waters of the Yellow Stone, near which
are some curious thermal springs of ink-black water.

[22] The Aztecs are supposed to have built this city during their
migration to the south; there is little doubt, however, but that the
region extending from the Gila to the Great Salt Lake, and embracing
the province of New Mexico, was the locality from which they emigrated.

[23] Creoles of St Louis, and French Canadians.

[24] “On the prairie,” is the Indian term for a free gift.

[25] Hide—from _cacher_.

[26] Carrion.

[27] In Frémont's expedition to California, on a somewhat similar
occasion, two mountaineers, one the celebrated Kit Carson, the other
a St Louis Frenchman named Godey, and both old trappers, performed a
feat surpassing the one described above, inasmuch as they were but
two. They charged into an Indian village to rescue some stolen horses,
and avenge the slaughter of two New Mexicans who had been butchered by
the Indians; both which objects they effected, returning to camp with
the lost animals and a couple of propitiatory scalps.

[28] The Mexicans call the Indians living near the missions and
engaged in agriculture, _mansos_, or _mansitos_, tame.

[29] From a manuscript obtained in Santa Fé of New Mexico, describing
the labours of the missionaries Fray Augustin Ruiz, Venabides, and
Marcos, in the year 1585.

[30] From the report to the Governor of California by the Head of the
Mission, in reference to the attacks by the American mountaineers.

[31] Indian expression for a free gift.

[32] Since the time of which we speak, Kit Carson has distinguished
himself in guiding the several U. S. exploring expeditions, under
Frémont, across the Rocky Mountains, and to all parts of Oregon and
California; and for his services, the President of the United States
presented the gallant Mountaineer with the commission of lieutenant in
a newly raised regiment of mounted riflemen, of which his old leader
Frémont is appointed colonel.

[33] The word _fandango_, in New Mexico, is not applied to the
peculiar dance known in Spain by that name, but designates a ball or
dancing meeting.

[34] A nickname for the idle fellows hanging about a Mexican town,
translated into “Greasers” by the Americans.

[35] Cask-shaped gourds.

[36] The knives used by the hunters and trappers are manufactured at
the “Green River” works, and have that name stamped upon the blade.
Hence the mountain term for doing any thing effectually is “up to
Green River.”

[37] Always alluding to Mexicans, who are invariably called Spaniards
by the Western Americans.



  ┌───────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────┐
  │ Transcriber's note:                                               │
  │                                                                   │
  │ The original spelling, hyphenation, and punctuation have been     │
  │ retained, with the exception of apparent typographical errors     │
  │ which have been corrected.                                        │
  │                                                                   │
  │ Ambiguous hyphens at the ends of lines were retained.             │
  │                                                                   │
  │ Punctuation and spelling were made consistent when a predominant  │
  │ form was found in this book; otherwise they were not changed.     │
  │                                                                   │
  │ Footnotes were moved to the end of the book and numbered in one   │
  │ sequence.                                                         │
  └───────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────┘





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