Tuesday, November 6, 2007


THE OREGON TRAIL by Francis Parkman, Jr.

by Francis Parkman, Jr.
Last spring, 1846, was a busy season in the City of St. Louis. Not
only were emigrants from every part of the country preparing for the
journey to Oregon and California, but an unusual number of traders
were making ready their wagons and outfits for Santa Fe. Many of the
emigrants, especially of those bound for California, were persons of
wealth and standing. The hotels were crowded, and the gunsmiths and
saddlers were kept constantly at work in providing arms and
equipments for the different parties of travelers. Almost every day
steamboats were leaving the levee and passing up the Missouri,
crowded with passengers on their way to the frontier.
In one of these, the Radnor, since snagged and lost, my friend and
relative, Quincy A. Shaw, and myself, left St. Louis on the 28th of
April, on a tour of curiosity and amusement to the Rocky Mountains.
The boat was loaded until the water broke alternately over her
guards. Her upper deck was covered with large weapons of a peculiar
form, for the Santa Fe trade, and her hold was crammed with goods for
the same destination. There were also the equipments and provisions
of a party of Oregon emigrants, a band of mules and horses, piles of
saddles and harness, and a multitude of nondescript articles,
indispensable on the prairies. Almost hidden in this medley one
might have seen a small French cart, of the sort very appropriately
called a "mule-killer" beyond the frontiers, and not far distant a
tent, together with a miscellaneous assortment of boxes and barrels.
The whole equipage was far from prepossessing in its appearance; yet,
such as it was, it was destined to a long and arduous journey, on
which the persevering reader will accompany it.
The passengers on board the Radnor corresponded with her freight. In
her cabin were Santa Fe traders, gamblers, speculators, and
adventurers of various descriptions, and her steerage was crowded
with Oregon emigrants, "mountain men," negroes, and a party of Kansas
Indians, who had been on a visit to St. Louis.
Thus laden, the boat struggled upward for seven or eight days against
the rapid current of the Missouri, grating upon snags, and hanging
for two or three hours at a time upon sand-bars. We entered the
mouth of the Missouri in a drizzling rain, but the weather soon
became clear, and showed distinctly the broad and turbid river, with
its eddies, its sand-bars, its ragged islands, and forest-covered
shores. The Missouri is constantly changing its course; wearing away
its banks on one side, while it forms new ones on the other. Its
channel is shifting continually. Islands are formed, and then washed
away; and while the old forests on one side are undermined and swept
off, a young growth springs up from the new soil upon the other.
With all these changes, the water is so charged with mud and sand
that it is perfectly opaque, and in a few minutes deposits a sediment
an inch thick in the bottom of a tumbler. The river was now high;
but when we descended in the autumn it was fallen very low, and all
the secrets of its treacherous shallows were exposed to view. It was
frightful to see the dead and broken trees, thick-set as a military
abatis, firmly imbedded in the sand, and all pointing down stream,
ready to impale any unhappy steamboat that at high water should pass
over that dangerous ground.
In five or six days we began to see signs of the great western
movement that was then taking place. Parties of emigrants, with
their tents and wagons, would be encamped on open spots near the
bank, on their way to the common rendezvous at Independence. On a
rainy day, near sunset, we reached the landing of this place, which
is situated some miles from the river, on the extreme frontier of
Missouri. The scene was characteristic, for here were represented at
one view the most remarkable features of this wild and enterprising
region. On the muddy shore stood some thirty or forty dark slavishlooking
Spaniards, gazing stupidly out from beneath their broad hats.
They were attached to one of the Santa Fe companies, whose wagons
were crowded together on the banks above. In the midst of these,
crouching over a smoldering fire, was a group of Indians, belonging
to a remote Mexican tribe. One or two French hunters from the
mountains with their long hair and buckskin dresses, were looking at
the boat; and seated on a log close at hand were three men, with
rifles lying across their knees. The foremost of these, a tall,
strong figure, with a clear blue eye and an open, intelligent face,
might very well represent that race of restless and intrepid pioneers
whose axes and rifles have opened a path from the Alleghenies to the
western prairies. He was on his way to Oregon, probably a more
congenial field to him than any that now remained on this side the
great plains.
Early on the next morning we reached Kansas, about five hundred miles
from the mouth of the Missouri. Here we landed and leaving our
equipments in charge of my good friend Colonel Chick, whose log-house
was the substitute for a tavern, we set out in a wagon for Westport,
where we hoped to procure mules and horses for the journey.
It was a remarkably fresh and beautiful May morning. The rich and
luxuriant woods through which the miserable road conducted us were
lighted by the bright sunshine and enlivened by a multitude of birds.
We overtook on the way our late fellow-travelers, the Kansas Indians,
who, adorned with all their finery, were proceeding homeward at a
round pace; and whatever they might have seemed on board the boat,
they made a very striking and picturesque feature in the forest
Westport was full of Indians, whose little shaggy ponies were tied by
dozens along the houses and fences. Sacs and Foxes, with shaved
heads and painted faces, Shawanoes and Delawares, fluttering in
calico frocks, and turbans, Wyandottes dressed like white men, and a
few wretched Kansas wrapped in old blankets, were strolling about the
streets, or lounging in and out of the shops and houses.
As I stood at the door of the tavern, I saw a remarkable looking
person coming up the street. He had a ruddy face, garnished with the
stumps of a bristly red beard and mustache; on one side of his head
was a round cap with a knob at the top, such as Scottish laborers
sometimes wear; his coat was of a nondescript form, and made of a
gray Scotch plaid, with the fringes hanging all about it; he wore
pantaloons of coarse homespun, and hob-nailed shoes; and to complete
his equipment, a little black pipe was stuck in one corner of his
mouth. In this curious attire, I recognized Captain C. of the
British army, who, with his brother, and Mr. R., an English
gentleman, was bound on a hunting expedition across the continent. I
had seen the captain and his companions at St. Louis. They had now
been for some time at Westport, making preparations for their
departure, and waiting for a re-enforcement, since they were too few
in number to attempt it alone. They might, it is true, have joined
some of the parties of emigrants who were on the point of setting out
for Oregon and California; but they professed great disinclination to
have any connection with the "Kentucky fellows."
The captain now urged it upon us, that we should join forces and
proceed to the mountains in company. Feeling no greater partiality
for the society of the emigrants than they did, we thought the
arrangement an advantageous one, and consented to it. Our future
fellow-travelers had installed themselves in a little log-house,
where we found them all surrounded by saddles, harness, guns,
pistols, telescopes, knives, and in short their complete appointments
for the prairie. R., who professed a taste for natural history, sat
at a table stuffing a woodpecker; the brother of the captain, who was
an Irishman, was splicing a trail-rope on the floor, as he had been
an amateur sailor. The captain pointed out, with much complacency,
the different articles of their outfit. "You see," said he, "that we
are all old travelers. I am convinced that no party ever went upon
the prairie better provided." The hunter whom they had employed, a
surly looking Canadian, named Sorel, and their muleteer, an American
from St. Louis, were lounging about the building. In a little log
stable close at hand were their horses and mules, selected by the
captain, who was an excellent judge.
The alliance entered into, we left them to complete their
arrangements, while we pushed our own to all convenient speed. The
emigrants for whom our friends professed such contempt were encamped
on the prairie about eight or ten miles distant, to the number of a
thousand or more, and new parties were constantly passing out from
Independence to join them. They were in great confusion, holding
meetings, passing resolutions, and drawing up regulations, but unable
to unite in the choice of leaders to conduct them across the prairie.
Being at leisure one day, I rode over to Independence. The town was
crowded. A multitude of shops had sprung up to furnish the emigrants
and Santa Fe traders with necessaries for their journey; and there
was an incessant hammering and banging from a dozen blacksmiths'
sheds, where the heavy wagons were being repaired, and the horses and
oxen shod. The streets were thronged with men, horses, and mules.
While I was in the town, a train of emigrant wagons from Illinois
passed through, to join the camp on the prairie, and stopped in the
principal street. A multitude of healthy children's faces were
peeping out from under the covers of the wagons. Here and there a
buxom damsel was seated on horseback, holding over her sunburnt face
an old umbrella or a parasol, once gaudy enough but now miserably
faded. The men, very sober-looking countrymen, stood about their
oxen; and as I passed I noticed three old fellows, who, with their
long whips in their hands, were zealously discussing the doctrine of
regeneration. The emigrants, however, are not all of this stamp.
Among them are some of the vilest outcasts in the country. I have
often perplexed myself to divine the various motives that give
impulse to this strange migration; but whatever they may be, whether
an insane hope of a better condition in life, or a desire of shaking
off restraints of law and society, or mere restlessness, certain it
is that multitudes bitterly repent the journey, and after they have
reached the land of promise are happy enough to escape from it.
In the course of seven or eight days we had brought our preparations
near to a close. Meanwhile our friends had completed theirs, and
becoming tired of Westport, they told us that they would set out in
advance and wait at the crossing of the Kansas till we should come
up. Accordingly R. and the muleteers went forward with the wagon and
tent, while the captain and his brother, together with Sorel, and a
trapper named Boisverd, who had joined them, followed with the band
of horses. The commencement of the journey was ominous, for the
captain was scarcely a mile from Westport, riding along in state at
the head of his party, leading his intended buffalo horse by a rope,
when a tremendous thunderstorm came on, and drenched them all to the
skin. They hurried on to reach the place, about seven miles off,
where R. was to have had the camp in readiness to receive them. But
this prudent person, when he saw the storm approaching, had selected
a sheltered glade in the woods, where he pitched his tent, and was
sipping a comfortable cup of coffee, while the captain galloped for
miles beyond through the rain to look for him. At length the storm
cleared away, and the sharp-eyed trapper succeeded in discovering his
tent: R. had by this time finished his coffee, and was seated on a
buffalo robe smoking his pipe. The captain was one of the most easytempered
men in existence, so he bore his ill-luck with great
composure, shared the dregs of the coffee with his brother, and lay
down to sleep in his wet clothes.
We ourselves had our share of the deluge. We were leading a pair of
mules to Kansas when the storm broke. Such sharp and incessant
flashes of lightning, such stunning and continuous thunder, I have
never known before. The woods were completely obscured by the
diagonal sheets of rain that fell with a heavy roar, and rose in
spray from the ground; and the streams rose so rapidly that we could
hardly ford them. At length, looming through the rain, we saw the
log-house of Colonel Chick, who received us with his usual bland
hospitality; while his wife, who, though a little soured and
stiffened by too frequent attendance on camp-meetings, was not behind
him in hospitable feeling, supplied us with the means of repairing
our drenched and bedraggled condition. The storm, clearing away at
about sunset, opened a noble prospect from the porch of the colonel's
house, which stands upon a high hill. The sun streamed from the
breaking clouds upon the swift and angry Missouri, and on the immense
expanse of luxuriant forest that stretched from its banks back to the
distant bluffs.
Returning on the next day to Westport, we received a message from the
captain, who had ridden back to deliver it in person, but finding
that we were in Kansas, had intrusted it with an acquaintance of his
named Vogel, who kept a small grocery and liquor shop. Whisky by the
way circulates more freely in Westport than is altogether safe in a
place where every man carries a loaded pistol in his pocket. As we
passed this establishment, we saw Vogel's broad German face and
knavish-looking eyes thrust from his door. He said he had something
to tell us, and invited us to take a dram. Neither his liquor nor
his message was very palatable. The captain had returned to give us
notice that R., who assumed the direction of his party, had
determined upon another route from that agreed upon between us; and
instead of taking the course of the traders, to pass northward by
Fort Leavenworth, and follow the path marked out by the dragoons in
their expedition of last summer. To adopt such a plan without
consulting us, we looked upon as a very high-handed proceeding; but
suppressing our dissatisfaction as well as we could, we made up our
minds to join them at Fort Leavenworth, where they were to wait for
Accordingly, our preparation being now complete, we attempted one
fine morning to commence our journey. The first step was an
unfortunate one. No sooner were our animals put in harness, than the
shaft mule reared and plunged, burst ropes and straps, and nearly
flung the cart into the Missouri. Finding her wholly uncontrollable,
we exchanged her for another, with which we were furnished by our
friend Mr. Boone of Westport, a grandson of Daniel Boone, the
pioneer. This foretaste of prairie experience was very soon followed
by another. Westport was scarcely out of sight, when we encountered
a deep muddy gully, of a species that afterward became but too
familiar to us; and here for the space of an hour or more the car
stuck fast.
Both Shaw and myself were tolerably inured to the vicissitudes of
traveling. We had experienced them under various forms, and a birch
canoe was as familiar to us as a steamboat. The restlessness, the
love of wilds and hatred of cities, natural perhaps in early years to
every unperverted son of Adam, was not our only motive for
undertaking the present journey. My companion hoped to shake off the
effects of a disorder that had impaired a constitution originally
hardy and robust; and I was anxious to pursue some inquiries relative
to the character and usages of the remote Indian nations, being
already familiar with many of the border tribes.
Emerging from the mud-hole where we last took leave of the reader, we
pursued our way for some time along the narrow track, in the
checkered sunshine and shadow of the woods, till at length, issuing
forth into the broad light, we left behind us the farthest outskirts
of that great forest, that once spread unbroken from the western
plains to the shore of the Atlantic. Looking over an intervening
belt of shrubbery, we saw the green, oceanlike expanse of prairie,
stretching swell over swell to the horizon.
It was a mild, calm spring day; a day when one is more disposed to
musing and reverie than to action, and the softest part of his nature
is apt to gain the ascendency. I rode in advance of the party, as we
passed through the shrubbery, and as a nook of green grass offered a
strong temptation, I dismounted and lay down there. All the trees
and saplings were in flower, or budding into fresh leaf; the red
clusters of the maple-blossoms and the rich flowers of the Indian
apple were there in profusion; and I was half inclined to regret
leaving behind the land of gardens for the rude and stern scenes of
the prairie and the mountains.
Meanwhile the party came in sight from out of the bushes. Foremost
rode Henry Chatillon, our guide and hunter, a fine athletic figure,
mounted on a hardy gray Wyandotte pony. He wore a white blanketcoat,
a broad hat of felt, moccasins, and pantaloons of deerskin,
ornamented along the seams with rows of long fringes. His knife was
stuck in his belt; his bullet-pouch and powder-horn hung at his side,
and his rifle lay before him, resting against the high pommel of his
saddle, which, like all his equipments, had seen hard service, and
was much the worse for wear. Shaw followed close, mounted on a
little sorrel horse, and leading a larger animal by a rope. His
outfit, which resembled mine, had been provided with a view to use
rather than ornament. It consisted of a plain, black Spanish saddle,
with holsters of heavy pistols, a blanket rolled up behind it, and
the trail-rope attached to his horse's neck hanging coiled in front.
He carried a double-barreled smooth-bore, while I boasted a rifle of
some fifteen pounds' weight. At that time our attire, though far
from elegant, bore some marks of civilization, and offered a very
favorable contrast to the inimitable shabbiness of our appearance on
the return journey. A red flannel shirt, belted around the waist
like a frock, then constituted our upper garment; moccasins had
supplanted our failing boots; and the remaining essential portion of
our attire consisted of an extraordinary article, manufactured by a
squaw out of smoked buckskin. Our muleteer, Delorier, brought up the
rear with his cart, waddling ankle-deep in the mud, alternately
puffing at his pipe, and ejaculating in his prairie patois: 'Sacre
enfant de garce!" as one of the mules would seem to recoil before
some abyss of unusual profundity. The cart was of the kind that one
may see by scores around the market-place in Montreal, and had a
white covering to protect the articles within. These were our
provisions and a tent, with ammunition, blankets, and presents for
the Indians.
We were in all four men with eight animals; for besides the spare
horses led by Shaw and myself, an additional mule was driven along
with us as a reserve in case of accident.
After this summing up of our forces, it may not be amiss to glance at
the characters of the two men who accompanied us.
Delorier was a Canadian, with all the characteristics of the true
Jean Baptiste. Neither fatigue, exposure, nor hard labor could ever
impair his cheerfulness and gayety, or his obsequious politeness to
his bourgeois; and when night came he would sit down by the fire,
smoke his pipe, and tell stories with the utmost contentment. In
fact, the prairie was his congenial element. Henry Chatillon was of
a different stamp. When we were at St. Louis, several gentlemen of
the Fur Company had kindly offered to procure for us a hunter and
guide suited for our purposes, and on coming one afternoon to the
office, we found there a tall and exceedingly well-dressed man with a
face so open and frank that it attracted our notice at once. We were
surprised at being told that it was he who wished to guide us to the
mountains. He was born in a little French town near St. Louis, and
from the age of fifteen years had been constantly in the neighborhood
of the Rocky Mountains, employed for the most part by the Company to
supply their forts with buffalo meat. As a hunter he had but one
rival in the whole region, a man named Cimoneau, with whom, to the
honor of both of them, he was on terms of the closest friendship. He
had arrived at St. Louis the day before, from the mountains, where he
had remained for four years; and he now only asked to go and spend a
day with his mother before setting out on another expedition. His
age was about thirty; he was six feet high, and very powerfully and
gracefully molded. The prairies had been his school; he could
neither read nor write, but he had a natural refinement and delicacy
of mind such as is rarely found, even in women. His manly face was a
perfect mirror of uprightness, simplicity, and kindness of heart; he
had, moreover, a keen perception of character and a tact that would
preserve him from flagrant error in any society. Henry had not the
restless energy of an Anglo-American. He was content to take things
as he found them; and his chief fault arose from an excess of easy
generosity, impelling him to give away too profusely ever to thrive
in the world. Yet it was commonly remarked of him, that whatever he
might choose to do with what belonged to himself, the property of
others was always safe in his hands. His bravery was as much
celebrated in the mountains as his skill in hunting; but it is
characteristic of him that in a country where the rifle is the chief
arbiter between man and man, Henry was very seldom involved in
quarrels. Once or twice, indeed, his quiet good-nature had been
mistaken and presumed upon, but the consequences of the error were so
formidable that no one was ever known to repeat it. No better
evidence of the intrepidity of his temper could be wished than the
common report that he had killed more than thirty grizzly bears. He
was a proof of what unaided nature will sometimes do. I have never,
in the city or in the wilderness, met a better man than my noble and
true-hearted friend, Henry Chatillon.
We were soon free of the woods and bushes, and fairly upon the broad
prairie. Now and then a Shawanoe passed us, riding his little shaggy
pony at a "lope"; his calico shirt, his gaudy sash, and the gay
handkerchief bound around his snaky hair fluttering in the wind. At
noon we stopped to rest not far from a little creek replete with
frogs and young turtles. There had been an Indian encampment at the
place, and the framework of their lodges still remained, enabling us
very easily to gain a shelter from the sun, by merely spreading one
or two blankets over them. Thus shaded, we sat upon our saddles, and
Shaw for the first time lighted his favorite Indian pipe; while
Delorier was squatted over a hot bed of coals, shading his eyes with
one hand, and holding a little stick in the other, with which he
regulated the hissing contents of the frying-pan. The horses were
turned to feed among the scattered bushes of a low oozy meadow. A
drowzy springlike sultriness pervaded the air, and the voices of ten
thousand young frogs and insects, just awakened into life, rose in
varied chorus from the creek and the meadows.
Scarcely were we seated when a visitor approached. This was an old
Kansas Indian; a man of distinction, if one might judge from his
dress. His head was shaved and painted red, and from the tuft of
hair remaining on the crown dangled several eagles' feathers, and the
tails of two or three rattlesnakes. His cheeks, too, were daubed
with vermilion; his ears were adorned with green glass pendants; a
collar of grizzly bears' claws surrounded his neck, and several large
necklaces of wampum hung on his breast. Having shaken us by the hand
with a cordial grunt of salutation, the old man, dropping his red
blanket from his shoulders, sat down cross-legged on the ground. In
the absence of liquor we offered him a cup of sweetened water, at
which he ejaculated "Good!" and was beginning to tell us how great a
man he was, and how many Pawnees he had killed, when suddenly a
motley concourse appeared wading across the creek toward us. They
filed past in rapid succession, men, women, and children; some were
on horseback, some on foot, but all were alike squalid and wretched.
Old squaws, mounted astride of shaggy, meager little ponies, with
perhaps one or two snake-eyed children seated behind them, clinging
to their tattered blankets; tall lank young men on foot, with bows
and arrows in their hands; and girls whose native ugliness not all
the charms of glass beads and scarlet cloth could disguise, made up
the procession; although here and there was a man who, like our
visitor, seemed to hold some rank in this respectable community.
They were the dregs of the Kansas nation, who, while their betters
were gone to hunt buffalo, had left the village on a begging
expedition to Westport.
When this ragamuffin horde had passed, we caught our horses, saddled,
harnessed, and resumed our journey. Fording the creek, the low roofs
of a number of rude buildings appeared, rising from a cluster of
groves and woods on the left; and riding up through a long lane, amid
a profusion of wild roses and early spring flowers, we found the logchurch
and school-houses belonging to the Methodist Shawanoe Mission.
The Indians were on the point of gathering to a religious meeting.
Some scores of them, tall men in half-civilized dress, were seated on
wooden benches under the trees; while their horses were tied to the
sheds and fences. Their chief, Parks, a remarkably large and
athletic man, was just arrived from Westport, where he owns a trading
establishment. Beside this, he has a fine farm and a considerable
number of slaves. Indeed the Shawanoes have made greater progress in
agriculture than any other tribe on the Missouri frontier; and both
in appearance and in character form a marked contrast to our late
acquaintance, the Kansas.
A few hours' ride brought us to the banks of the river Kansas.
Traversing the woods that lined it, and plowing through the deep
sand, we encamped not far from the bank, at the Lower Delaware
crossing. Our tent was erected for the first time on a meadow close
to the woods, and the camp preparations being complete we began to
think of supper. An old Delaware woman, of some three hundred
pounds' weight, sat in the porch of a little log-house close to the
water, and a very pretty half-breed girl was engaged, under her
superintendence, in feeding a large flock of turkeys that were
fluttering and gobbling about the door. But no offers of money, or
even of tobacco, could induce her to part with one of her favorites;
so I took my rifle, to see if the woods or the river could furnish us
anything. A multitude of quails were plaintively whistling in the
woods and meadows; but nothing appropriate to the rifle was to be
seen, except three buzzards, seated on the spectral limbs of an old
dead sycamore, that thrust itself out over the river from the dense
sunny wall of fresh foliage. Their ugly heads were drawn down
between their shoulders, and they seemed to luxuriate in the soft
sunshine that was pouring from the west. As they offered no
epicurean temptations, I refrained from disturbing their enjoyment;
but contented myself with admiring the calm beauty of the sunset, for
the river, eddying swiftly in deep purple shadows between the
impending woods, formed a wild but tranquillizing scene.
When I returned to the camp I found Shaw and an old Indian seated on
the ground in close conference, passing the pipe between them. The
old man was explaining that he loved the whites, and had an especial
partiality for tobacco. Delorier was arranging upon the ground our
service of tin cups and plates; and as other viands were not to be
had, he set before us a repast of biscuit and bacon, and a large pot
of coffee. Unsheathing our knives, we attacked it, disposed of the
greater part, and tossed the residue to the Indian. Meanwhile our
horses, now hobbled for the first time, stood among the trees, with
their fore-legs tied together, in great disgust and astonishment.
They seemed by no means to relish this foretaste of what was before
them. Mine, in particular, had conceived a moral aversion to the
prairie life. One of them, christened Hendrick, an animal whose
strength and hardihood were his only merits, and who yielded to
nothing but the cogent arguments of the whip, looked toward us with
an indignant countenance, as if he meditated avenging his wrongs with
a kick. The other, Pontiac, a good horse, though of plebeian
lineage, stood with his head drooping and his mane hanging about his
eyes, with the grieved and sulky air of a lubberly boy sent off to
school. Poor Pontiac! his forebodings were but too just; for when I
last heard from him, he was under the lash of an Ogallalla brave, on
a war party against the Crows.
As it grew dark, and the voices of the whip-poor-wills succeeded the
whistle of the quails, we removed our saddles to the tent, to serve
as pillows, spread our blankets upon the ground, and prepared to
bivouac for the first time that season. Each man selected the place
in the tent which he was to occupy for the journey. To Delorier,
however, was assigned the cart, into which he could creep in wet
weather, and find a much better shelter than his bourgeois enjoyed in
the tent.
The river Kansas at this point forms the boundary line between the
country of the Shawanoes and that of the Delawares. We crossed it on
the following day, rafting over our horses and equipage with much
difficulty, and unloading our cart in order to make our way up the
steep ascent on the farther bank. It was a Sunday moming; warm,
tranquil and bright; and a perfect stillness reigned over the rough
inclosures and neglected fields of the Delawares, except the
ceaseless hum and chirruping of myriads of insects. Now and then, an
Indian rode past on his way to the meeting-house, or through the
dilapidated entrance of some shattered log-house an old woman might
be discerned, enjoying all the luxury of idleness. There was no
village bell, for the Delawares have none; and yet upon that forlorn
and rude settlement was the same spirit of Sabbath repose and
tranquillity as in some little New England village among the
mountains of New Hampshire or the Vermont woods.
Having at present no leisure for such reflections, we pursued our
journey. A military road led from this point to Fort Leavenworth,
and for many miles the farms and cabins of the Delawares were
scattered at short intervals on either hand. The little rude
structures of logs, erected usually on the borders of a tract of
woods, made a picturesque feature in the landscape. But the scenery
needed no foreign aid. Nature had done enough for it; and the
alteration of rich green prairies and groves that stood in clusters
or lined the banks of the numerous little streams, had all the
softened and polished beauty of a region that has been for centuries
under the hand of man. At that early season, too, it was in the
height of its freshness and luxuriance. The woods were flushed with
the red buds of the maple; there were frequent flowering shrubs
unknown in the east; and the green swells of the prairies were
thickly studded with blossoms.
Encamping near a spring by the side of a hill, we resumed our journey
in the morning, and early in the afternoon had arrived within a few
miles of Fort Leavenworth. The road crossed a stream densely
bordered with trees, and running in the bottom of a deep woody
hollow. We were about to descend into it, when a wild and confused
procession appeared, passing through the water below, and coming up
the steep ascent toward us. We stopped to let them pass. They were
Delawares, just returned from a hunting expedition. All, both men
and women, were mounted on horseback, and drove along with them a
considerable number of pack mules, laden with the furs they had
taken, together with the buffalo robes, kettles, and other articles
of their traveling equipment, which as well as their clothing and
their weapons, had a worn and dingy aspect, as if they had seen hard
service of late. At the rear of the party was an old man, who, as he
came up, stopped his horse to speak to us. He rode a little tough
shaggy pony, with mane and tail well knotted with burrs, and a rusty
Spanish bit in its mouth, to which, by way of reins, was attached a
string of raw hide. His saddle, robbed probably from a Mexican, had
no covering, being merely a tree of the Spanish form, with a piece of
grizzly bear's skin laid over it, a pair of rude wooden stirrups
attached, and in the absence of girth, a thong of hide passing around
the horse's belly. The rider's dark features and keen snaky eyes
were unequivocally Indian. He wore a buckskin frock, which, like his
fringed leggings, was well polished and blackened by grease and long
service; and an old handkerchief was tied around his head. Resting
on the saddle before him lay his rifle; a weapon in the use of which
the Delawares are skillful; though from its weight, the distant
prairie Indians are too lazy to carry it.
"Who's your chief?" he immediately inquired.
Henry Chatillon pointed to us. The old Delaware fixed his eyes
intently upon us for a moment, and then sententiously remarked:
"No good! Too young!" With this flattering comment he left us, and
rode after his people.
This tribe, the Delawares, once the peaceful allies of William Penn,
the tributaries of the conquering Iroquois, are now the most
adventurous and dreaded warriors upon the prairies. They make war
upon remote tribes the very names of which were unknown to their
fathers in their ancient seats in Pennsylvania; and they push these
new quarrels with true Indian rancor, sending out their little war
parties as far as the Rocky Mountains, and into the Mexican
territories. Their neighbors and former confederates, the Shawanoes,
who are tolerable farmers, are in a prosperous condition; but the
Delawares dwindle every year, from the number of men lost in their
warlike expeditions.
Soon after leaving this party, we saw, stretching on the right, the
forests that follow the course of the Missouri, and the deep woody
channel through which at this point it runs. At a distance in front
were the white barracks of Fort Leavenworth, just visible through the
trees upon an eminence above a bend of the river. A wide green
meadow, as level as a lake, lay between us and the Missouri, and upon
this, close to a line of trees that bordered a little brook, stood
the tent of the captain and his companions, with their horses feeding
around it, but they themselves were invisible. Wright, their
muleteer, was there, seated on the tongue of the wagon, repairing his
harness. Boisverd stood cleaning his rifle at the door of the tent,
and Sorel lounged idly about. On closer examination, however, we
discovered the captain's brother, Jack, sitting in the tent, at his
old occupation of splicing trail-ropes. He welcomed us in his broad
Irish brogue, and said that his brother was fishing in the river, and
R. gone to the garrison. They returned before sunset. Meanwhile we
erected our own tent not far off, and after supper a council was
held, in which it was resolved to remain one day at Fort Leavenworth,
and on the next to bid a final adieu to the frontier: or in the
phraseology of the region, to "jump off." Our deliberations were
conducted by the ruddy light from a distant swell of the prairie,
where the long dry grass of last summer was on fire.
On the next morning we rode to Fort Leavenworth. Colonel, now
General, Kearny, to whom I had had the honor of an introduction when
at St. Louis, was just arrived, and received us at his headquarters
with the high-bred courtesy habitual to him. Fort Leavenworth is in
fact no fort, being without defensive works, except two block-houses.
No rumors of war had as yet disturbed its tranquillity. In the
square grassy area, surrounded by barracks and the quarters of the
officers, the men were passing and repassing, or lounging among the
trees; although not many weeks afterward it presented a different
scene; for here the very off-scourings of the frontier were
congregated, to be marshaled for the expedition against Santa Fe.
Passing through the garrison, we rode toward the Kickapoo village,
five or six miles beyond. The path, a rather dubious and uncertain
one, led us along the ridge of high bluffs that bordered the
Missouri; and by looking to the right or to the left, we could enjoy
a strange contrast of opposite scenery. On the left stretched the
prairie, rising into swells and undulations, thickly sprinkled with
groves, or gracefully expanding into wide grassy basins of miles in
extent; while its curvatures, swelling against the horizon, were
often surmounted by lines of sunny woods; a scene to which the
freshness of the season and the peculiar mellowness of the atmosphere
gave additional softness. Below us, on the right, was a tract of
ragged and broken woods. We could look down on the summits of the
trees, some living and some dead; some erect, others leaning at every
angle, and others still piled in masses together by the passage of a
hurricane. Beyond their extreme verge, the turbid waters of the
Missouri were discernible through the boughs, rolling powerfully
along at the foot of the woody declivities of its farther bank.
The path soon after led inland; and as we crossed an open meadow we
saw a cluster of buildings on a rising ground before us, with a crowd
of people surrounding them. They were the storehouse, cottage, and
stables of the Kickapoo trader's establishment. Just at that moment,
as it chanced, he was beset with half the Indians of the settlement.
They had tied their wretched, neglected little ponies by dozens along
the fences and outhouses, and were either lounging about the place,
or crowding into the trading house. Here were faces of various
colors; red, green, white, and black, curiously intermingled and
disposed over the visage in a variety of patterns. Calico shirts,
red and blue blankets, brass ear-rings, wampum necklaces, appeared in
profusion. The trader was a blue-eyed open-faced man who neither in
his manners nor his appearance betrayed any of the roughness of the
frontier; though just at present he was obliged to keep a lynx eye on
his suspicious customers, who, men and women, were climbing on his
counter and seating themselves among his boxes and bales.
The village itself was not far off, and sufficiently illustrated the
condition of its unfortunate and self-abandoned occupants. Fancy to
yourself a little swift stream, working its devious way down a woody
valley; sometimes wholly hidden under logs and fallen trees,
sometimes issuing forth and spreading into a broad, clear pool; and
on its banks in little nooks cleared away among the trees, miniature
log-houses in utter ruin and neglect. A labyrinth of narrow,
obstructed paths connected these habitations one with another.
Sometimes we met a stray calf, a pig or a pony, belonging to some of
the villagers, who usually lay in the sun in front of their
dwellings, and looked on us with cold, suspicious eyes as we
approached. Farther on, in place of the log-huts of the Kickapoos,
we found the pukwi lodges of their neighbors, the Pottawattamies,
whose condition seemed no better than theirs.
Growing tired at last, and exhausted by the excessive heat and
sultriness of the day, we returned to our friend, the trader. By
this time the crowd around him had dispersed, and left him at
leisure. He invited us to his cottage, a little white-and-green
building, in the style of the old French settlements; and ushered us
into a neat, well-furnished room. The blinds were closed, and the
heat and glare of the sun excluded; the room was as cool as a cavern.
It was neatly carpeted too and furnished in a manner that we hardly
expected on the frontier. The sofas, chairs, tables, and a wellfilled
bookcase would not have disgraced an Eastern city; though
there were one or two little tokens that indicated the rather
questionable civilization of the region. A pistol, loaded and
capped, lay on the mantelpiece; and through the glass of the
bookcase, peeping above the works of John Milton glittered the handle
of a very mischievous-looking knife.
Our host went out, and returned with iced water, glasses, and a
bottle of excellent claret; a refreshment most welcome in the extreme
heat of the day; and soon after appeared a merry, laughing woman, who
must have been, a year of two before, a very rich and luxuriant
specimen of Creole beauty. She came to say that lunch was ready in
the next room. Our hostess evidently lived on the sunny side of
life, and troubled herself with none of its cares. She sat down and
entertained us while we were at table with anecdotes of fishing
parties, frolics, and the officers at the fort. Taking leave at
length of the hospitable trader and his friend, we rode back to the
Shaw passed on to the camp, while I remained to call upon Colonel
Kearny. I found him still at table. There sat our friend the
captain, in the same remarkable habiliments in which we saw him at
Westport; the black pipe, however, being for the present laid aside.
He dangled his little cap in his hand and talked of steeple-chases,
touching occasionally upon his anticipated exploits in buffalohunting.
There, too, was R., somewhat more elegantly attired. For
the last time we tasted the luxuries of civilization, and drank
adieus to it in wine good enough to make us almost regret the leavetaking.
Then, mounting, we rode together to the camp, where
everything was in readiness for departure on the morrow.
The reader need not be told that John Bull never leaves home without
encumbering himself with the greatest possible load of luggage. Our
companions were no exception to the rule. They had a wagon drawn by
six mules and crammed with provisions for six months, besides
ammunition enough for a regiment; spare rifles and fowling-pieces,
ropes and harness; personal baggage, and a miscellaneous assortment
of articles, which produced infinite embarrassment on the journey.
They had also decorated their persons with telescopes and portable
compasses, and carried English double-barreled rifles of sixteen to
the pound caliber, slung to their saddles in dragoon fashion.
By sunrise on the 23d of May we had breakfasted; the tents were
leveled, the animals saddled and harnessed, and all was prepared.
"Avance donc! get up!" cried Delorier from his seat in front of the
cart. Wright, our friend's muleteer, after some swearing and
lashing, got his insubordinate train in motion, and then the whole
party filed from the ground. Thus we bade a long adieu to bed and
board, and the principles of Blackstone's Commentaries. The day was
a most auspicious one; and yet Shaw and I felt certain misgivings,
which in the sequel proved but too well founded. We had just learned
that though R. had taken it upon him to adopt this course without
consulting us, not a single man in the party was acquainted with it;
and the absurdity of our friend's high-handed measure very soon
became manifest. His plan was to strike the trail of several
companies of dragoons, who last summer had made an expedition under
Colonel Kearny to Fort Laramie, and by this means to reach the grand
trail of the Oregon emigrants up the Platte.
We rode for an hour or two when a familiar cluster of buildings
appeared on a little hill. "Hallo!" shouted the Kickapoo trader from
over his fence. "Where are you going?" A few rather emphatic
exclamations might have been heard among us, when we found that we
had gone miles out of our way, and were not advanced an inch toward
the Rocky Mountains. So we turned in the direction the trader
indicated, and with the sun for a guide, began to trace a "bee line"
across the prairies. We struggled through copses and lines of wood;
we waded brooks and pools of water; we traversed prairies as green as
an emerald, expanding before us for mile after mile; wider and more
wild than the wastes Mazeppa rode over:
"Man nor brute,
Nor dint of hoof, nor print of foot,
Lay in the wild luxuriant soil;
No sign of travel; none of toil;
The very air was mute."
Riding in advance, we passed over one of these great plains; we
looked back and saw the line of scattered horsemen stretching for a
mile or more; and far in the rear against the horizon, the white
wagons creeping slowly along. "Here we are at last!" shouted the
captain. And in truth we had struck upon the traces of a large body
of horse. We turned joyfully and followed this new course, with
tempers somewhat improved; and toward sunset encamped on a high swell
of the prairie, at the foot of which a lazy stream soaked along
through clumps of rank grass. It was getting dark. We turned the
horses loose to feed. "Drive down the tent-pickets hard," said Henry
Chatillon, "it is going to blow." We did so, and secured the tent as
well as we could; for the sky had changed totally, and a fresh damp
smell in the wind warned us that a stormy night was likely to succeed
the hot clear day. The prairie also wore a new aspect, and its vast
swells had grown black and somber under the shadow of the clouds.
The thunder soon began to growl at a distance. Picketing and
hobbling the horses among the rich grass at the foot of the slope,
where we encamped, we gained a shelter just as the rain began to
fall; and sat at the opening of the tent, watching the proceedings of
the captain. In defiance of the rain he was stalking among the
horses, wrapped in an old Scotch plaid. An extreme solicitude
tormented him, lest some of his favorites should escape, or some
accident should befall them; and he cast an anxious eye toward three
wolves who were sneaking along over the dreary surface of the plain,
as if he dreaded some hostile demonstration on their part.
On the next morning we had gone but a mile or two, when we came to an
extensive belt of woods, through the midst of which ran a stream,
wide, deep, and of an appearance particularly muddy and treacherous.
Delorier was in advance with his cart; he jerked his pipe from his
mouth, lashed his mules, and poured forth a volley of Canadian
ejaculations. In plunged the cart, but midway it stuck fast.
Delorier leaped out knee-deep in water, and by dint of sacres and a
vigorous application of the whip, he urged the mules out of the
slough. Then approached the long team and heavy wagon of our
friends; but it paused on the brink.
"Now my advice is--" began the captain, who had been anxiously
contemplating the muddy gulf.
"Drive on!" cried R.
But Wright, the muleteer, apparently had not as yet decided the point
in his own mind; and he sat still in his seat on one of the shaftmules,
whistling in a low contemplative strain to himself.
"My advice is," resumed the captain, "that we unload; for I'll bet
any man five pounds that if we try to go through, we shall stick
"By the powers, we shall stick fast!" echoed Jack, the captain's
brother, shaking his large head with an air of firm conviction.
"Drive on! drive on!" cried R. petulantly.
"Well," observed the captain, turning to us as we sat looking on,
much edified by this by-play among our confederates, "I can only give
my advice and if people won't be reasonable, why, they won't; that's
Meanwhile Wright had apparently made up his mind; for he suddenly
began to shout forth a volley of oaths and curses, that, compared
with the French imprecations of Delorier, sounded like the roaring of
heavy cannon after the popping and sputtering of a bunch of Chinese
crackers. At the same time he discharged a shower of blows upon his
mules, who hastily dived into the mud and drew the wagon lumbering
after them. For a moment the issue was dubious. Wright writhed
about in his saddle, and swore and lashed like a madman; but who can
count on a team of half-broken mules? At the most critical point,
when all should have been harmony and combined effort, the perverse
brutes fell into lamentable disorder, and huddled together in
confusion on the farther bank. There was the wagon up to the hub in
mud, and visibly settling every instant. There was nothing for it
but to unload; then to dig away the mud from before the wheels with a
spade, and lay a causeway of bushes and branches. This agreeable
labor accomplished, the wagon at last emerged; but if I mention that
some interruption of this sort occurred at least four or five times a
day for a fortnight, the reader will understand that our progress
toward the Platte was not without its obstacles.
We traveled six or seven miles farther, and "nooned" near a brook.
On the point of resuming our journey, when the horses were all driven
down to water, my homesick charger, Pontiac, made a sudden leap
across, and set off at a round trot for the settlements. I mounted
my remaining horse, and started in pursuit. Making a circuit, I
headed the runaway, hoping to drive him back to camp; but he
instantly broke into a gallop, made a wide tour on the prairie, and
got past me again. I tried this plan repeatedly, with the same
result; Pontiac was evidently disgusted with the prairie; so I
abandoned it, and tried another, trotting along gently behind him, in
hopes that I might quietly get near enough to seize the trail-rope
which was fastened to his neck, and dragged about a dozen feet behind
him. The chase grew interesting. For mile after mile I followed the
rascal, with the utmost care not to alarm him, and gradually got
nearer, until at length old Hendrick's nose was fairly brushed by the
whisking tail of the unsuspecting Pontiac. Without drawing rein, I
slid softly to the ground; but my long heavy rifle encumbered me, and
the low sound it made in striking the horn of the saddle startled
him; he pricked up his ears, and sprang off at a run. "My friend,"
thought I, remounting, "do that again, and I will shoot you!"
Fort Leavenworth was about forty miles distant, and thither I
determined to follow him. I made up my mind to spend a solitary and
supperless night, and then set out again in the morning. One hope,
however, remained. The creek where the wagon had stuck was just
before us; Pontiac might be thirsty with his run, and stop there to
drink. I kept as near to him as possible, taking every precaution
not to alarm him again; and the result proved as I had hoped: for he
walked deliberately among the trees, and stooped down to the water.
I alighted, dragged old Hendrick through the mud, and with a feeling
of infinite satisfaction picked up the slimy trail-rope and twisted
it three times round my hand. "Now let me see you get away again!" I
thought, as I remounted. But Pontiac was exceedingly reluctant to
turn back; Hendrick, too, who had evidently flattered himself with
vain hopes, showed the utmost repugnance, and grumbled in a manner
peculiar to himself at being compelled to face about. A smart cut of
the whip restored his cheerfulness; and dragging the recovered truant
behind, I set out in search of the camp. An hour or two elapsed,
when, near sunset, I saw the tents, standing on a rich swell of the
prairie, beyond a line of woods, while the bands of horses were
feeding in a low meadow close at hand. There sat Jack C., crosslegged,
in the sun, splicing a trail-rope, and the rest were lying on
the grass, smoking and telling stories. That night we enjoyed a
serenade from the wolves, more lively than any with which they had
yet favored us; and in the morning one of the musicians appeared, not
many rods from the tents, quietly seated among the horses, looking at
us with a pair of large gray eyes; but perceiving a rifle leveled at
him, he leaped up and made off in hot haste.
I pass by the following day or two of our journey, for nothing
occurred worthy of record. Should any one of my readers ever be
impelled to visit the prairies, and should he choose the route of the
Platte (the best, perhaps, that can be adopted), I can assure him
that he need not think to enter at once upon the paradise of his
imagination. A dreary preliminary, protracted crossing of the
threshold awaits him before he finds himself fairly upon the verge of
the "great American desert," those barren wastes, the haunts of the
buffalo and the Indian, where the very shadow of civilization lies a
hundred leagues behind him. The intervening country, the wide and
fertile belt that extends for several hundred miles beyond the
extreme frontier, will probably answer tolerably well to his
preconceived ideas of the prairie; for this it is from which
picturesque tourists, painters, poets, and novelists, who have seldom
penetrated farther, have derived their conceptions of the whole
region. If he has a painter's eye, he may find his period of
probation not wholly void of interest. The scenery, though tame, is
graceful and pleasing. Here are level plains, too wide for the eye
to measure green undulations, like motionless swells of the ocean;
abundance of streams, followed through all their windings by lines of
woods and scattered groves. But let him be as enthusiastic as he
may, he will find enough to damp his ardor. His wagons will stick in
the mud; his horses will break loose; harness will give way, and
axle-trees prove unsound. His bed will be a soft one, consisting
often of black mud, of the richest consistency. As for food, he must
content himself with biscuit and salt provisions; for strange as it
may seem, this tract of country produces very little game. As he
advances, indeed, he will see, moldering in the grass by his path,
the vast antlers of the elk, and farther on, the whitened skulls of
the buffalo, once swarming over this now deserted region. Perhaps,
like us, he may journey for a fortnight, and see not so much as the
hoof-print of a deer; in the spring, not even a prairie hen is to be
Yet, to compensate him for this unlooked-for deficiency of game, he
will find himself beset with "varmints" innumerable. The wolves will
entertain him with a concerto at night, and skulk around him by day,
just beyond rifle shot; his horse will step into badger-holes; from
every marsh and mud puddle will arise the bellowing, croaking, and
trilling of legions of frogs, infinitely various in color, shape and
dimensions. A profusion of snakes will glide away from under his
horse's feet, or quietly visit him in his tent at night; while the
pertinacious humming of unnumbered mosquitoes will banish sleep from
his eyelids. When thirsty with a long ride in the scorching sun over
some boundless reach of prairie, he comes at length to a pool of
water, and alights to drink, he discovers a troop of young tadpoles
sporting in the bottom of his cup. Add to this, that all the morning
the hot sun beats upon him with sultry, penetrating heat, and that,
with provoking regularity, at about four o'clock in the afternoon, a
thunderstorm rises and drenches him to the skin. Such being the
charms of this favored region, the reader will easily conceive the
extent of our gratification at learning that for a week we had been
journeying on the wrong track! How this agreeable discovery was made
I will presently explain.
One day, after a protracted morning's ride, we stopped to rest at
noon upon the open prairie. No trees were in sight; but close at
hand, a little dribbling brook was twisting from side to side through
a hollow; now forming holes of stagnant water, and now gliding over
the mud in a scarcely perceptible current, among a growth of sickly
bushes, and great clumps of tall rank grass. The day was excessively
hot and oppressive. The horses and mules were rolling on the prairie
to refresh themselves, or feeding among the bushes in the hollow. We
had dined; and Delorier, puffing at his pipe, knelt on the grass,
scrubbing our service of tin plate. Shaw lay in the shade, under the
cart, to rest for a while, before the word should be given to "catch
up." Henry Chatillon, before lying down, was looking about for signs
of snakes, the only living things that he feared, and uttering
various ejaculations of disgust, at finding several suspiciouslooking
holes close to the cart. I sat leaning against the wheel in
a scanty strip of shade, making a pair of hobbles to replace those
which my contumacious steed Pontiac had broken the night before. The
camp of our friends, a rod or two distant, presented the same scene
of lazy tranquillity.
"Hallo!" cried Henry, looking up from his inspection of the snakeholes,
"here comes the old captain!"
The captain approached, and stood for a moment contemplating us in
"I say, Parkman," he began, "look at Shaw there, asleep under the
cart, with the tar dripping off the hub of the wheel on his
At this Shaw got up, with his eyes half opened, and feeling the part
indicated, he found his hand glued fast to his red flannel shirt.
"He'll look well when he gets among the squaws, won't he?" observed
the captain, with a grin.
He then crawled under the cart, and began to tell stories of which
his stock was inexhaustible. Yet every moment he would glance
nervously at the horses. At last he jumped up in great excitement.
"See that horse! There--that fellow just walking over the hill! By
Jove; he's off. It's your big horse, Shaw; no it isn't, it's Jack's!
Jack! Jack! hallo, Jack!" Jack thus invoked, jumped up and stared
vacantly at us.
"Go and catch your horse, if you don't want to lose him!" roared the
Jack instantly set off at a run through the grass, his broad
pantaloons flapping about his feet. The captain gazed anxiously till
he saw that the horse was caught; then he sat down, with a
countenance of thoughtfulness and care.
"I tell you what it is," he said, "this will never do at all. We
shall lose every horse in the band someday or other, and then a
pretty plight we should be in! Now I am convinced that the only way
for us is to have every man in the camp stand horse-guard in rotation
whenever we stop. Supposing a hundred Pawnees should jump up out of
that ravine, all yelling and flapping their buffalo robes, in the way
they do? Why, in two minutes not a hoof would be in sight." We
reminded the captain that a hundred Pawnees would probably demolish
the horse-guard, if he were to resist their depredations.
"At any rate," pursued the captain, evading the point, "our whole
system is wrong; I'm convinced of it; it is totally unmilitary. Why,
the way we travel, strung out over the prairie for a mile, an enemy
might attack the foremost men, and cut them off before the rest could
come up."
"We are not in an enemy's country, yet," said Shaw; "when we are,
we'll travel together."
"Then," said the captain, "we might be attacked in camp. We've no
sentinels; we camp in disorder; no precautions at all to guard
against surprise. My own convictions are that we ought to camp in a
hollow square, with the fires in the center; and have sentinels, and
a regular password appointed for every night. Besides, there should
be vedettes, riding in advance, to find a place for the camp and give
warning of an enemy. These are my convictions. I don't want to
dictate to any man. I give advice to the best of my judgment, that's
all; and then let people do as they please."
We intimated that perhaps it would be as well to postpone such
burdensome precautions until there should be some actual need of
them; but he shook his head dubiously. The captain's sense of
military propriety had been severely shocked by what he considered
the irregular proceedings of the party; and this was not the first
time he had expressed himself upon the subject. But his convictions
seldom produced any practical results. In the present case, he
contented himself, as usual, with enlarging on the importance of his
suggestions, and wondering that they were not adopted. But his plan
of sending out vedettes seemed particularly dear to him; and as no
one else was disposed to second his views on this point, he took it
into his head to ride forward that afternoon, himself.
"Come, Parkman," said he, "will you go with me?"
We set out together, and rode a mile or two in advance. The captain,
in the course of twenty years' service in the British army, had seen
something of life; one extensive side of it, at least, he had enjoyed
the best opportunities for studying; and being naturally a pleasant
fellow, he was a very entertaining companion. He cracked jokes and
told stories for an hour or two; until, looking back, we saw the
prairie behind us stretching away to the horizon, without a horseman
or a wagon in sight.
"Now," said the captain, "I think the vedettes had better stop till
the main body comes up."
I was of the same opinion. There was a thick growth of woods just
before us, with a stream running through them. Having crossed this,
we found on the other side a fine level meadow, half encircled by the
trees; and fastening our horses to some bushes, we sat down on the
grass; while, with an old stump of a tree for a target, I began to
display the superiority of the renowned rifle of the back woods over
the foreign innovation borne by the captain. At length voices could
be heard in the distance behind the trees.
"There they come!" said the captain: "let's go and see how they get
through the creek."
We mounted and rode to the bank of the stream, where the trail
crossed it. It ran in a deep hollow, full of trees; as we looked
down, we saw a confused crowd of horsemen riding through the water;
and among the dingy habiliment of our party glittered the uniforms of
four dragoons.
Shaw came whipping his horse up the back, in advance of the rest,
with a somewhat indignant countenance. The first word he spoke was a
blessing fervently invoked on the head of R., who was riding, with a
crest-fallen air, in the rear. Thanks to the ingenious devices of
the gentleman, we had missed the track entirely, and wandered, not
toward the Platte, but to the village of the Iowa Indians. This we
learned from the dragoons, who had lately deserted from Fort
Leavenworth. They told us that our best plan now was to keep to the
northward until we should strike the trail formed by several parties
of Oregon emigrants, who had that season set out from St. Joseph's in
In extremely bad temper, we encamped on this ill-starred spot; while
the deserters, whose case admitted of no delay rode rapidly forward.
On the day following, striking the St. Joseph's trail, we turned our
horses' heads toward Fort Laramie, then about seven hundred miles to
the westward.
The great medley of Oregon and California emigrants, at their camps
around Independence, had heard reports that several additional
parties were on the point of setting out from St. Joseph's farther to
the northward. The prevailing impression was that these were
Mormons, twenty-three hundred in number; and a great alarm was
excited in consequence. The people of Illinois and Missouri, who
composed by far the greater part of the emigrants, have never been on
the best terms with the "Latter Day Saints"; and it is notorious
throughout the country how much blood has been spilt in their feuds,
even far within the limits of the settlements. No one could predict
what would be the result, when large armed bodies of these fanatics
should encounter the most impetuous and reckless of their old enemies
on the broad prairie, far beyond the reach of law or military force.
The women and children at Independence raised a great outcry; the men
themselves were seriously alarmed; and, as I learned, they sent to
Colonel Kearny, requesting an escort of dragoons as far as the
Platte. This was refused; and as the sequel proved, there was no
occasion for it. The St. Joseph's emigrants were as good Christians
and as zealous Mormon-haters as the rest; and the very few families
of the "Saints" who passed out this season by the route of the Platte
remained behind until the great tide of emigration had gone by;
standing in quite as much awe of the "gentiles" as the latter did of
We were now, as I before mentioned, upon this St. Joseph's trail. It
was evident, by the traces, that large parties were a few days in
advance of us; and as we too supposed them to be Mormons, we had some
apprehension of interruption.
The journey was somewhat monotonous. One day we rode on for hours,
without seeing a tree or a bush; before, behind, and on either side,
stretched the vast expanse, rolling in a succession of graceful
swells, covered with the unbroken carpet of fresh green grass. Here
and there a crow, or a raven, or a turkey-buzzard, relieved the
"What shall we do to-night for wood and water?" we began to ask of
each other; for the sun was within an hour of setting. At length a
dark green speck appeared, far off on the right; it was the top of a
tree, peering over a swell of the prairie; and leaving the trail, we
made all haste toward it. It proved to be the vanguard of a cluster
of bushes and low trees, that surrounded some pools of water in an
extensive hollow; so we encamped on the rising ground near it.
Shaw and I were sitting in the tent, when Delorier thrust his brown
face and old felt hat into the opening, and dilating his eyes to
their utmost extent, announced supper. There were the tin cups and
the iron spoons, arranged in military order on the grass, and the
coffee-pot predominant in the midst. The meal was soon dispatched;
but Henry Chatillon still sat cross-legged, dallying with the remnant
of his coffee, the beverage in universal use upon the prairie, and an
especial favorite with him. He preferred it in its virgin flavor,
unimpaired by sugar or cream; and on the present occasion it met his
entire approval, being exceedingly strong, or, as he expressed it,
"right black."
It was a rich and gorgeous sunset--an American sunset; and the ruddy
glow of the sky was reflected from some extensive pools of water
among the shadowy copses in the meadow below.
"I must have a bath to-night," said Shaw. "How is it, Delorier? Any
chance for a swim down here?"
"Ah! I cannot tell; just as you please, monsieur," replied Delorier,
shrugging his shoulders, perplexed by his ignorance of English, and
extremely anxious to conform in all respects to the opinion and
wishes of his bourgeois.
"Look at his moccasion," said I. "It has evidently been lately
immersed in a profound abyss of black mud."
"Come," said Shaw; "at any rate we can see for ourselves."
We set out together; and as we approached the bushes, which were at
some distance, we found the ground becoming rather treacherous. We
could only get along by stepping upon large clumps of tall rank
grass, with fathomless gulfs between, like innumerable little quaking
islands in an ocean of mud, where a false step would have involved
our boots in a catastrophe like that which had befallen Delorier's
moccasins. The thing looked desperate; we separated, so as to search
in different directions, Shaw going off to the right, while I kept
straight forward. At last I came to the edge of the bushes: they
were young waterwillows, covered with their caterpillar-like
blossoms, but intervening between them and the last grass clump was a
black and deep slough, over which, by a vigorous exertion, I
contrived to jump. Then I shouldered my way through the willows,
tramping them down by main force, till I came to a wide stream of
water, three inches deep, languidly creeping along over a bottom of
sleek mud. My arrival produced a great commotion. A huge green
bull-frog uttered an indignant croak, and jumped off the bank with a
loud splash: his webbed feet twinkled above the surface, as he jerked
them energetically upward, and I could see him ensconcing himself in
the unresisting slime at the bottom, whence several large air bubbles
struggled lazily to the top. Some little spotted frogs instantly
followed the patriarch's example; and then three turtles, not larger
than a dollar, tumbled themselves off a broad "lily pad," where they
had been reposing. At the same time a snake, gayly striped with
black and yellow, glided out from the bank, and writhed across to the
other side; and a small stagnant pool into which my foot had
inadvertently pushed a stone was instantly alive with a congregation
of black tadpoles.
"Any chance for a bath, where you are?" called out Shaw, from a
The answer was not encouraging. I retreated through the willows, and
rejoining my companion, we proceeded to push our researches in
company. Not far on the right, a rising ground, covered with trees
and bushes, seemed to sink down abruptly to the water, and give hope
of better success; so toward this we directed our steps. When we
reached the place we found it no easy matter to get along between the
hill and the water, impeded as we were by a growth of stiff,
obstinate young birch-trees, laced together by grapevines. In the
twilight, we now and then, to support ourselves, snatched at the
touch-me-not stem of some ancient sweet-brier. Shaw, who was in
advance, suddenly uttered a somewhat emphatic monosyllable; and
looking up I saw him with one hand grasping a sapling, and one foot
immersed in the water, from which he had forgotten to withdraw it,
his whole attention being engaged in contemplating the movements of a
water-snake, about five feet long, curiously checkered with black and
green, who was deliberately swimming across the pool. There being no
stick or stone at hand to pelt him with, we looked at him for a time
in silent disgust; and then pushed forward. Our perseverence was at
last rewarded; for several rods farther on, we emerged upon a little
level grassy nook among the brushwood, and by an extraordinary
dispensation of fortune, the weeds and floating sticks, which
elsewhere covered the pool, seemed to have drawn apart, and left a
few yards of clear water just in front of this favored spot. We
sounded it with a stick; it was four feet deep; we lifted a specimen
in our cupped hands; it seemed reasonably transparent, so we decided
that the time for action was arrived. But our ablutions were
suddenly interrupted by ten thousand punctures, like poisoned
needles, and the humming of myriads of over-grown mosquitoes, rising
in all directions from their native mud and slime and swarming to the
feast. We were fain to beat a retreat with all possible speed.
We made toward the tents, much refreshed by the bath which the heat
of the weather, joined to our prejudices, had rendered very
"What's the matter with the captain? look at him!" said Shaw. The
captain stood alone on the prairie, swinging his hat violently around
his head, and lifting first one foot and then the other, without
moving from the spot. First he looked down to the ground with an air
of supreme abhorrence; then he gazed upward with a perplexed and
indignant countenance, as if trying to trace the flight of an unseen
enemy. We called to know what was the matter; but he replied only by
execrations directed against some unknown object. We approached,
when our ears were saluted by a droning sound, as if twenty bee-hives
had been overturned at once. The air above was full of large black
insects, in a state of great commotion, and multitudes were flying
about just above the tops of the grass blades.
"Don't be afraid," called the captain, observing us recoil. "The
brutes won't sting."
At this I knocked one down with my hat, and discovered him to be no
other than a "dorbug"; and looking closer, we found the ground
thickly perforated with their holes.
We took a hasty leave of this flourishing colony, and walking up the
rising ground to the tents, found Delorier's fire still glowing
brightly. We sat down around it, and Shaw began to expatiate on the
admirable facilities for bathing that we had discovered, and
recommended the captain by all means to go down there before
breakfast in the morning. The captain was in the act of remarking
that he couldn't have believed it possible, when he suddenly
interrupted himself, and clapped his hand to his cheek, exclaiming
that "those infernal humbugs were at him again." In fact, we began
to hear sounds as if bullets were humming over our heads. In a
moment something rapped me sharply on the forehead, then upon the
neck, and immediately I felt an indefinite number of sharp wiry claws
in active motion, as if their owner were bent on pushing his
explorations farther. I seized him, and dropped him into the fire.
Our party speedily broke up, and we adjourned to our respective
tents, where, closing the opening fast, we hoped to be exempt from
invasion. But all precaution was fruitless. The dorbugs hummed
through the tent, and marched over our faces until day-light; when,
opening our blankets, we found several dozen clinging there with the
utmost tenacity. The first object that met our eyes in the morning
was Delorier, who seemed to be apostrophizing his frying-pan, which
he held by the handle at arm's length. It appeared that he had left
it at night by the fire; and the bottom was now covered with dorbugs,
firmly imbedded. Multitudes beside, curiously parched and shriveled,
lay scattered among the ashes.
The horses and mules were turned loose to feed. We had just taken
our seats at breakfast, or rather reclined in the classic mode, when
an exclamation from Henry Chatillon, and a shout of alarm from the
captain, gave warning of some casualty, and looking up, we saw the
whole band of animals, twenty-three in number, filing off for the
settlements, the incorrigible Pontiac at their head, jumping along
with hobbled feet, at a gait much more rapid than graceful. Three or
four of us ran to cut them off, dashing as best we might through the
tall grass, which was glittering with myriads of dewdrops. After a
race of a mile or more, Shaw caught a horse. Tying the trail-rope by
way of bridle round the animal's jaw, and leaping upon his back, he
got in advance of the remaining fugitives, while we, soon bringing
them together, drove them in a crowd up to the tents, where each man
caught and saddled his own. Then we heard lamentations and curses;
for half the horses had broke their hobbles, and many were seriously
galled by attempting to run in fetters.
It was late that morning before we were on the march; and early in
the afternoon we were compelled to encamp, for a thunder-gust came up
and suddenly enveloped us in whirling sheets of rain. With much ado,
we pitched our tents amid the tempest, and all night long the thunder
bellowed and growled over our heads. In the morning, light peaceful
showers succeeded the cataracts of rain, that had been drenching us
through the canvas of our tents. About noon, when there were some
treacherous indications of fair weather, we got in motion again.
Not a breath of air stirred over the free and open prairie; the
clouds were like light piles of cotton; and where the blue sky was
visible, it wore a hazy and languid aspect. The sun beat down upon
us with a sultry penetrating heat almost insupportable, and as our
party crept slowly along over the interminable level, the horses hung
their heads as they waded fetlock deep through the mud, and the men
slouched into the easiest position upon the saddle. At last, toward
evening, the old familiar black heads of thunderclouds rose fast
above the horizon, and the same deep muttering of distant thunder
that had become the ordinary accompaniment of our afternoon's journey
began to roll hoarsely over the prairie. Only a few minutes elapsed
before the whole sky was densely shrouded, and the prairie and some
clusters of woods in front assumed a purple hue beneath the inky
shadows. Suddenly from the densest fold of the cloud the flash
leaped out, quivering again and again down to the edge of the
prairie; and at the same instant came the sharp burst and the long
rolling peal of the thunder. A cool wind, filled with the smell of
rain, just then overtook us, leveling the tall grass by the side of
the path.
"Come on; we must ride for it!" shouted Shaw, rushing past at full
speed, his led horse snorting at his side. The whole party broke
into full gallop, and made for the trees in front. Passing these, we
found beyond them a meadow which they half inclosed. We rode pellmell
upon the ground, leaped from horseback, tore off our saddles;
and in a moment each man was kneeling at his horse's feet. The
hobbles were adjusted, and the animals turned loose; then, as the
wagons came wheeling rapidly to the spot, we seized upon the tentpoles,
and just as the storm broke, we were prepared to receive it.
It came upon us almost with the darkness of night; the trees, which
were close at hand, were completely shrouded by the roaring torrents
of rain.
We were sitting in the tent, when Delorier, with his broad felt hat
hanging about his ears, and his shoulders glistening with rain,
thrust in his head.
"Voulez-vous du souper, tout de suite? I can make a fire, sous la
charette--I b'lieve so--I try."
"Never mind supper, man; come in out of the rain."
Delorier accordingly crouched in the entrance, for modesty would not
permit him to intrude farther.
Our tent was none of the best defense against such a cataract. The
rain could not enter bodily, but it beat through the canvas in a fine
drizzle, that wetted us just as effectively. We sat upon our saddles
with faces of the utmost surliness, while the water dropped from the
vizors of our caps, and trickled down our cheeks. My india-rubber
cloak conducted twenty little rapid streamlets to the ground; and
Shaw's blanket-coat was saturated like a sponge. But what most
concerned us was the sight of several puddles of water rapidly
accumulating; one in particular, that was gathering around the tentpole,
threatened to overspread the whole area within the tent,
holding forth but an indifferent promise of a comfortable night's
rest. Toward sunset, however, the storm ceased as suddenly as it
began. A bright streak of clear red sky appeared above the western
verge of the prairie, the horizontal rays of the sinking sun streamed
through it and glittered in a thousand prismatic colors upon the
dripping groves and the prostrate grass. The pools in the tent
dwindled and sunk into the saturated soil.
But all our hopes were delusive. Scarcely had night set in, when the
tumult broke forth anew. The thunder here is not like the tame
thunder of the Atlantic coast. Bursting with a terrific crash
directly above our heads, it roared over the boundless waste of
prairie, seeming to roll around the whole circle of the firmament
with a peculiar and awful reverberation. The lightning flashed all
night, playing with its livid glare upon the neighboring trees,
revealing the vast expanse of the plain, and then leaving us shut in
as by a palpable wall of darkness.
It did not disturb us much. Now and then a peal awakened us, and
made us conscious of the electric battle that was raging, and of the
floods that dashed upon the stanch canvas over our heads. We lay
upon india-rubber cloths, placed between our blankets and the soil.
For a while they excluded the water to admiration; but when at length
it accumulated and began to run over the edges, they served equally
well to retain it, so that toward the end of the night we were
unconsciously reposing in small pools of rain.
On finally awaking in the morning the prospect was not a cheerful
one. The rain no longer poured in torrents; but it pattered with a
quiet pertinacity upon the strained and saturated canvas. We
disengaged ourselves from our blankets, every fiber of which
glistened with little beadlike drops of water, and looked out in vain
hope of discovering some token of fair weather. The clouds, in leadcolored
volumes, rested upon the dismal verge of the prairie, or hung
sluggishly overhead, while the earth wore an aspect no more
attractive than the heavens, exhibiting nothing but pools of water,
grass beaten down, and mud well trampled by our mules and horses.
Our companions' tent, with an air of forlorn and passive misery, and
their wagons in like manner, drenched and woe-begone, stood not far
off. The captain was just returning from his morning's inspection of
the horses. He stalked through the mist and rain, with his plaid
around his shoulders; his little pipe, dingy as an antiquarian relic,
projecting from beneath his mustache, and his brother Jack at his
"Good-morning, captain."
"Good-morning to your honors," said the captain, affecting the
Hibernian accent; but at that instant, as he stooped to enter the
tent, he tripped upon the cords at the entrance, and pitched forward
against the guns which were strapped around the pole in the center.
"You are nice men, you are!" said he, after an ejaculation not
necessary to be recorded, "to set a man-trap before your door every
morning to catch your visitors."
Then he sat down upon Henry Chatillon's saddle. We tossed a piece of
buffalo robe to Jack, who was looking about in some embarrassment.
He spread it on the ground, and took his seat, with a stolid
countenance, at his brother's side.
"Exhilarating weather, captain!"
"Oh, delightful, delightful!" replied the captain. "I knew it would
be so; so much for starting yesterday at noon! I knew how it would
turn out; and I said so at the time."
"You said just the contrary to us. We were in no hurry, and only
moved because you insisted on it."
"Gentlemen," said the captain, taking his pipe from his mouth with an
air of extreme gravity, "it was no plan of mine. There is a man
among us who is determined to have everything his own way. You may
express your opinion; but don't expect him to listen. You may be as
reasonable as you like: oh, it all goes for nothing! That man is
resolved to rule the roost and he'll set his face against any plan
that he didn't think of himself."
The captain puffed for a while at his pipe, as if meditating upon his
grievances; then he began again:
"For twenty years I have been in the British army; and in all that
time I never had half so much dissension, and quarreling, and
nonsense, as since I have been on this cursed prairie. He's the most
uncomfortable man I ever met."
"Yes," said Jack; "and don't you know, Bill, how he drank up all the
coffee last night, and put the rest by for himself till the morning!"
"He pretends to know everything," resumed the captain; "nobody must
give orders but he! It's, oh! we must do this; and, oh! we must do
that; and the tent must be pitched here, and the horses must be
picketed there; for nobody knows as well as he does."
We were a little surprised at this disclosure of domestic dissensions
among our allies, for though we knew of their existence, we were not
aware of their extent. The persecuted captain seeming wholly at a
loss as to the course of conduct that he should pursue, we
recommended him to adopt prompt and energetic measures; but all his
military experience had failed to teach him the indispensable lesson
to be "hard," when the emergency requires it.
"For twenty years," he repeated, "I have been in the British army,
and in that time I have been intimately acquainted with some two
hundred officers, young and old, and I never yet quarreled with any
man. Oh, 'anything for a quiet life!' that's my maxim."
We intimated that the prairie was hardly the place to enjoy a quiet
life, but that, in the present circumstances, the best thing he could
do toward securing his wished-for tranquillity, was immediately to
put a period to the nuisance that disturbed it. But again the
captain's easy good-nature recoiled from the task. The somewhat
vigorous measures necessary to gain the desired result were utterly
repugnant to him; he preferred to pocket his grievances, still
retaining the privilege of grumbling about them. "Oh, anything for a
quiet life!" he said again, circling back to his favorite maxim.
But to glance at the previous history of our transatlantic
confederates. The captain had sold his commission, and was living in
bachelor ease and dignity in his paternal halls, near Dublin. He
hunted, fished, rode steeple-chases, ran races, and talked of his
former exploits. He was surrounded with the trophies of his rod and
gun; the walls were plentifully garnished, he told us, with moosehorns
and deer-horns, bear-skins, and fox-tails; for the captain's
double-barreled rifle had seen service in Canada and Jamaica; he had
killed salmon in Nova Scotia, and trout, by his own account, in all
the streams of the three kingdoms. But in an evil hour a seductive
stranger came from London; no less a person than R., who, among other
multitudinous wanderings, had once been upon the western prairies,
and naturally enough was anxious to visit them again. The captain's
imagination was inflamed by the pictures of a hunter's paradise that
his guest held forth; he conceived an ambition to add to his other
trophies the horns of a buffalo, and the claws of a grizzly bear; so
he and R. struck a league to travel in company. Jack followed his
brother, as a matter of course. Two weeks on board the Atlantic
steamer brought them to Boston; in two weeks more of hard traveling
they reached St. Louis, from which a ride of six days carried them to
the frontier; and here we found them, in full tide of preparation for
their journey.
We had been throughout on terms of intimacy with the captain, but R.,
the motive power of our companions' branch of the expedition, was
scarcely known to us. His voice, indeed, might be heard incessantly;
but at camp he remained chiefly within the tent, and on the road he
either rode by himself, or else remained in close conversation with
his friend Wright, the muleteer. As the captain left the tent that
morning, I observed R. standing by the fire, and having nothing else
to do, I determined to ascertain, if possible, what manner of man he
was. He had a book under his arm, but just at present he was
engrossed in actively superintending the operations of Sorel, the
hunter, who was cooking some corn-bread over the coals for breakfast.
R. was a well-formed and rather good-looking man, some thirty years
old; considerably younger than the captain. He wore a beard and
mustache of the oakum complexion, and his attire was altogether more
elegant than one ordinarily sees on the prairie. He wore his cap on
one side of his head; his checked shirt, open in front, was in very
neat order, considering the circumstances, and his blue pantaloons,
of the John Bull cut, might once have figured in Bond Street.
"Turn over that cake, man! turn it over, quick! Don't you see it
"It ain't half done," growled Sorel, in the amiable tone of a whipped
"It is. Turn it over, I tell you!"
Sorel, a strong, sullen-looking Canadian, who from having spent his
life among the wildest and most remote of the Indian tribes, had
imbibed much of their dark, vindictive spirit, looked ferociously up,
as if he longed to leap upon his bourgeois and throttle him; but he
obeyed the order, coming from so experienced an artist.
"It was a good idea of yours," said I, seating myself on the tongue
of a wagon, "to bring Indian meal with you."
"Yes, yes" said R. "It's good bread for the prairie--good bread for
the prairie. I tell you that's burning again."
Here he stooped down, and unsheathing the silver-mounted huntingknife
in his belt, began to perform the part of cook himself; at the
same time requesting me to hold for a moment the book under his arm,
which interfered with the exercise of these important functions. I
opened it; it was "Macaulay's Lays"; and I made some remark,
expressing my admiration of the work.
"Yes, yes; a pretty good thing. Macaulay can do better than that
though. I know him very well. I have traveled with him. Where was
it we first met--at Damascus? No, no; it was in Italy."
"So," said I, "you have been over the same ground with your
countryman, the author of 'Eothen'? There has been some discussion
in America as to who he is. I have heard Milne's name mentioned."
"Milne's? Oh, no, no, no; not at all. It was Kinglake; Kinglake's
the man. I know him very well; that is, I have seen him."
Here Jack C., who stood by, interposed a remark (a thing not common
with him), observing that he thought the weather would become fair
before twelve o'clock.
"It's going to rain all day," said R., "and clear up in the middle of
the night."
Just then the clouds began to dissipate in a very unequivocal manner;
but Jack, not caring to defend his point against so authoritative a
declaration, walked away whistling, and we resumed our conversation.
"Borrow, the author of 'The Bible in Spain,' I presume you know him
"Oh, certainly; I know all those men. By the way, they told me that
one of your American writers, Judge Story, had died lately. I edited
some of his works in London; not without faults, though."
Here followed an erudite commentary on certain points of law, in
which he particularly animadverted on the errors into which he
considered that the judge had been betrayed. At length, having
touched successively on an infinite variety of topics, I found that I
had the happiness of discovering a man equally competent to enlighten
me upon them all, equally an authority on matters of science or
literature, philosphy or fashion. The part I bore in the
conversation was by no means a prominent one; it was only necessary
to set him going, and when he had run long enough upon one topic, to
divert him to another and lead him on to pour out his heaps of
treasure in succession.
"What has that fellow been saying to you?" said Shaw, as I returned
to the tent. "I have heard nothing but his talking for the last
R. had none of the peculiar traits of the ordinary "British snob";
his absurdities were all his own, belonging to no particular nation
or clime. He was possessed with an active devil that had driven him
over land and sea, to no great purpose, as it seemed; for although he
had the usual complement of eyes and ears, the avenues between these
organs and his brain appeared remarkably narrow and untrodden. His
energy was much more conspicuous than his wisdom; but his predominant
characteristic was a magnanimous ambition to exercise on all
occasions an awful rule and supremacy, and this propensity equally
displayed itself, as the reader will have observed, whether the
matter in question was the baking of a hoe-cake or a point of
international law. When such diverse elements as he and the easytempered
captain came in contact, no wonder some commotion ensued; R.
rode roughshod, from morning till night, over his military ally.
At noon the sky was clear and we set out, trailing through mud and
slime six inches deep. That night we were spared the customary
infliction of the shower bath.
On the next afternoon we were moving slowly along, not far from a
patch of woods which lay on the right. Jack C. rode a little in
The livelong day he had not spoke;
when suddenly he faced about, pointed to the woods, and roared out to
his brother:
"O Bill! here's a cow!"
The captain instantly galloped forward, and he and Jack made a vain
attempt to capture the prize; but the cow, with a well-grounded
distrust of their intentions, took refuge among the trees. R. joined
them, and they soon drove her out. We watched their evolutions as
they galloped around here, trying in vain to noose her with their
trail-ropes, which they had converted into lariettes for the
occasion. At length they resorted to milder measures, and the cow
was driven along with the party. Soon after the usual thunderstorm
came up, the wind blowing with such fury that the streams of rain
flew almost horizontally along the prairie, roaring like a cataract.
The horses turned tail to the storm, and stood hanging their heads,
bearing the infliction with an air of meekness and resignation; while
we drew our heads between our shoulders, and crouched forward, so as
to make our backs serve as a pent-house for the rest of our persons.
Meanwhile the cow, taking advantage of the tumult, ran off, to the
great discomfiture of the captain, who seemed to consider her as his
own especial prize, since she had been discovered by Jack. In
defiance of the storm, he pulled his cap tight over his brows, jerked
a huge buffalo pistol from his holster, and set out at full speed
after her. This was the last we saw of them for some time, the mist
and rain making an impenetrable veil; but at length we heard the
captain's shout, and saw him looming through the tempest, the picture
of a Hibernian cavalier, with his cocked pistol held aloft for
safety's sake, and a countenance of anxiety and excitement. The cow
trotted before him, but exhibited evident signs of an intention to
run off again, and the captain was roaring to us to head her. But
the rain had got in behind our coat collars, and was traveling over
our necks in numerous little streamlets, and being afraid to move our
heads, for fear of admitting more, we sat stiff and immovable,
looking at the captain askance, and laughing at his frantic
movements. At last the cow made a sudden plunge and ran off; the
captain grasped his pistol firmly, spurred his horse, and galloped
after, with evident designs of mischief. In a moment we heard the
faint report, deadened by the rain, and then the conqueror and his
victim reappeared, the latter shot through the body, and quite
helpless. Not long after the storm moderated and we advanced again.
The cow walked painfully along under the charge of Jack, to whom the
captain had committed her, while he himself rode forward in his old
capacity of vedette. We were approaching a long line of trees, that
followed a stream stretching across our path, far in front, when we
beheld the vedette galloping toward us, apparently much excited, but
with a broad grin on his face.
"Let that cow drop behind!" he shouted to us; "here's her owners!"
And in fact, as we approached the line of trees, a large white
object, like a tent, was visible behind them. On approaching,
however, we found, instead of the expected Mormon camp, nothing but
the lonely prairie, and a large white rock standing by the path. The
cow therefore resumed her place in our procession. She walked on
until we encamped, when R. firmly approaching with his enormous
English double-barreled rifle, calmly and deliberately took aim at
her heart, and discharged into it first one bullet and then the
other. She was then butchered on the most approved principles of
woodcraft, and furnished a very welcome item to our somewhat limited
bill of fare.
In a day or two more we reached the river called the "Big Blue." By
titles equally elegant, almost all the streams of this region are
designated. We had struggled through ditches and little brooks all
that morning; but on traversing the dense woods that lined the banks
of the Blue, we found more formidable difficulties awaited us, for
the stream, swollen by the rains, was wide, deep, and rapid.
No sooner were we on the spot than R. had flung off his clothes, and
was swimming across, or splashing through the shallows, with the end
of a rope between his teeth. We all looked on in admiration,
wondering what might be the design of this energetic preparation; but
soon we heard him shouting: "Give that rope a turn round that stump!
You, Sorel: do you hear? Look sharp now, Boisverd! Come over to
this side, some of you, and help me!" The men to whom these orders
were directed paid not the least attention to them, though they were
poured out without pause or intermission. Henry Chatillon directed
the work, and it proceeded quietly and rapidly. R.'s sharp brattling
voice might have been heard incessantly; and he was leaping about
with the utmost activity, multiplying himself, after the manner of
great commanders, as if his universal presence and supervision were
of the last necessity. His commands were rather amusingly
inconsistent; for when he saw that the men would not do as he told
them, he wisely accommodated himself to circumstances, and with the
utmost vehemence ordered them to do precisely that which they were at
the time engaged upon, no doubt recollecting the story of Mahomet and
the refractory mountain. Shaw smiled significantly; R. observed it,
and, approaching with a countenance of lofty indignation, began to
vapor a little, but was instantly reduced to silence.
The raft was at length complete. We piled our goods upon it, with
the exception of our guns, which each man chose to retain in his own
keeping. Sorel, Boisverd, Wright and Delorier took their stations at
the four corners, to hold it together, and swim across with it; and
in a moment more, all our earthly possessions were floating on the
turbid waters of the Big Blue. We sat on the bank, anxiously
watching the result, until we saw the raft safe landed in a little
cove far down on the opposite bank. The empty wagons were easily
passed across; and then each man mounting a horse, we rode through
the stream, the stray animals following of their own accord.
We were now arrived at the close of our solitary journeyings along
the St. Joseph's trail. On the evening of the 23d of May we encamped
near its junction with the old legitimate trail of the Oregon
emigrants. We had ridden long that afternoon, trying in vain to find
wood and water, until at length we saw the sunset sky reflected from
a pool encircled by bushes and a rock or two. The water lay in the
bottom of a hollow, the smooth prairie gracefully rising in oceanlike
swells on every side. We pitched our tents by it; not however before
the keen eye of Henry Chatillon had discerned some unusual object
upon the faintly-defined outline of the distant swell. But in the
moist, hazy atmosphere of the evening, nothing could be clearly
distinguished. As we lay around the fire after supper, a low and
distant sound, strange enough amid the loneliness of the prairie,
reached our ears--peals of laughter, and the faint voices of men and
women. For eight days we had not encountered a human being, and this
singular warning of their vicinity had an effect extremely wild and
About dark a sallow-faced fellow descended the hill on horseback, and
splashing through the pool rode up to the tents. He was enveloped in
a huge cloak, and his broad felt hat was weeping about his ears with
the drizzling moisture of the evening. Another followed, a stout,
square-built, intelligent-looking man, who announced himself as
leader of an emigrant party encamped a mile in advance of us. About
twenty wagons, he said, were with him; the rest of his party were on
the other side of the Big Blue, waiting for a woman who was in the
pains of child-birth, and quarreling meanwhile among themselves.
These were the first emigrants that we had overtaken, although we had
found abundant and melancholy traces of their progress throughout the
whole course of the journey. Sometimes we passed the grave of one
who had sickened and died on the way. The earth was usually torn up,
and covered thickly with wolf-tracks. Some had escaped this
violation. One morning a piece of plank, standing upright on the
summit of a grassy hill, attracted our notice, and riding up to it we
found the following words very roughly traced upon it, apparently by
a red-hot piece of iron:
DIED MAY 7TH, 1845.
Aged two months.
Such tokens were of common occurrence, nothing could speak more for
the hardihood, or rather infatuation, of the adventurers, or the
sufferings that await them upon the journey.
We were late in breaking up our camp on the following morning, and
scarcely had we ridden a mile when we saw, far in advance of us,
drawn against the horizon, a line of objects stretching at regular
intervals along the level edge of the prairie. An intervening swell
soon hid them from sight, until, ascending it a quarter of an hour
after, we saw close before us the emigrant caravan, with its heavy
white wagons creeping on in their slow procession, and a large drove
of cattle following behind. Half a dozen yellow-visaged Missourians,
mounted on horseback, were cursing and shouting among them; their
lank angular proportions enveloped in brown homespun, evidently cut
and adjusted by the hands of a domestic female tailor. As we
approached, they greeted us with the polished salutation: "How are
ye, boys? Are ye for Oregon or California?"
As we pushed rapidly past the wagons, children's faces were thrust
out from the white coverings to look at us; while the care-worn,
thin-featured matron, or the buxom girl, seated in front, suspended
the knitting on which most of them were engaged to stare at us with
wondering curiosity. By the side of each wagon stalked the
proprietor, urging on his patient oxen, who shouldered heavily along,
inch by inch, on their interminable journey. It was easy to see that
fear and dissension prevailed among them; some of the men--but these,
with one exception, were bachelors--looked wistfully upon us as we
rode lightly and swiftly past, and then impatiently at their own
lumbering wagons and heavy-gaited oxen. Others were unwilling to
advance at all until the party they had left behind should have
rejoined them. Many were murmuring against the leader they had
chosen, and wished to depose him; and this discontent was fermented
by some ambitious spirits, who had hopes of succeeding in his place.
The women were divided between regrets for the homes they had left
and apprehension of the deserts and the savages before them.
We soon left them far behind, and fondly hoped that we had taken a
final leave; but unluckily our companions' wagon stuck so long in a
deep muddy ditch that, before it was extricated, the van of the
emigrant caravan appeared again, descending a ridge close at hand.
Wagon after wagon plunged through the mud; and as it was nearly noon,
and the place promised shade and water, we saw with much
gratification that they were resolved to encamp. Soon the wagons
were wheeled into a circle; the cattle were grazing over the meadow,
and the men with sour, sullen faces, were looking about for wood and
water. They seemed to meet with but indifferent success. As we left
the ground, I saw a tall slouching fellow with the nasal accent of
"down east," contemplating the contents of his tin cup, which he had
just filled with water.
"Look here, you," he said; "it's chock full of animals!"
The cup, as he held it out, exhibited in fact an extraordinary
variety and profusion of animal and vegetable life.
Riding up the little hill and looking back on the meadow, we could
easily see that all was not right in the camp of the emigrants. The
men were crowded together, and an angry discussion seemed to be going
forward. R. was missing from his wonted place in the line, and the
captain told us that he had remained behind to get his horse shod by
a blacksmith who was attached to the emigrant party. Something
whispered in our ears that mischief was on foot; we kept on, however,
and coming soon to a stream of tolerable water, we stopped to rest
and dine. Still the absentee lingered behind. At last, at the
distance of a mile, he and his horse suddenly appeared, sharply
defined against the sky on the summit of a hill; and close behind, a
huge white object rose slowly into view.
"What is that blockhead bringing with him now?"
A moment dispelled the mystery. Slowly and solemnly one behind the
other, four long trains of oxen and four emigrant wagons rolled over
the crest of the declivity and gravely descended, while R. rode in
state in the van. It seems that, during the process of shoeing the
horse, the smothered dissensions among the emigrants suddenly broke
into open rupture. Some insisted on pushing forward, some on
remaining where they were, and some on going back. Kearsley, their
captain, threw up his command in disgust. "And now, boys," said he,
"if any of you are for going ahead, just you come along with me."
Four wagons, with ten men, one woman, and one small child, made up
the force of the "go-ahead" faction, and R., with his usual
proclivity toward mischief, invited them to join our party. Fear of
the Indians--for I can conceive of no other motive--must have induced
him to court so burdensome an alliance. As may well be conceived,
these repeated instances of high-handed dealing sufficiently
exasperated us. In this case, indeed, the men who joined us were all
that could be desired; rude indeed in manner, but frank, manly, and
intelligent. To tell them we could not travel with them was of
course out of the question. I merely reminded Kearsley that if his
oxen could not keep up with our mules he must expect to be left
behind, as we could not consent to be further delayed on the journey;
but he immediately replied, that his oxen "SHOULD keep up; and if
they couldn't, why he allowed that he'd find out how to make 'em!"
Having availed myself of what satisfaction could be derived from
giving R. to understand my opinion of his conduct, I returned to our
side of the camp.
On the next day, as it chanced, our English companions broke the
axle-tree of their wagon, and down came the whole cumbrous machine
lumbering into the bed of a brook! Here was a day's work cut out for
us. Meanwhile, our emigrant associates kept on their way, and so
vigorously did they urge forward their powerful oxen that, with the
broken axle-tree and other calamities, it was full a week before we
overtook them; when at length we discovered them, one afternoon,
crawling quietly along the sandy brink of the Platte. But meanwhile
various incidents occurred to ourselves.
It was probable that at this stage of our journey the Pawnees would
attempt to rob us. We began therefore to stand guard in turn,
dividing the night into three watches, and appointing two men for
each. Delorier and I held guard together. We did not march with
military precision to and fro before the tents; our discipline was by
no means so stringent and rigid. We wrapped ourselves in our
blankets, and sat down by the fire; and Delorier, combining his
culinary functions with his duties as sentinel, employed himself in
boiling the head of an antelope for our morning's repast. Yet we
were models of vigilance in comparison with some of the party; for
the ordinary practice of the guard was to establish himself in the
most comfortable posture he could; lay his rifle on the ground, and
enveloping his nose in the blanket, meditate on his mistress, or
whatever subject best pleased him. This is all well enough when
among Indians who do not habitually proceed further in their
hostility than robbing travelers of their horses and mules, though,
indeed, a Pawnee's forebearance is not always to be trusted; but in
certain regions farther to the west, the guard must beware how he
exposes his person to the light of the fire, lest perchance some
keen-eyed skulking marksman should let fly a bullet or an arrow from
amid the darkness.
Among various tales that circulated around our camp fire was a rather
curious one, told by Boisverd, and not inappropriate here. Boisverd
was trapping with several companions on the skirts of the Blackfoot
country. The man on guard, well knowing that it behooved him to put
forth his utmost precaution, kept aloof from the firelight, and sat
watching intently on all sides. At length he was aware of a dark,
crouching figure, stealing noiselessly into the circle of the light.
He hastily cocked his rifle, but the sharp click of the lock caught
the ear of Blackfoot, whose senses were all on the alert. Raising
his arrow, already fitted to the string, he shot in the direction of
the sound. So sure was his aim that he drove it through the throat
of the unfortunate guard, and then, with a loud yell, bounded from
the camp.
As I looked at the partner of my watch, puffing and blowing over his
fire, it occurred to me that he might not prove the most efficient
auxiliary in time of trouble.
"Delorier," said I, "would you run away if the Pawnees should fire at
"Ah! oui, oui, monsieur!" he replied very decisively.
I did not doubt the fact, but was a little surprised at the frankness
of the confession.
At this instant a most whimsical variety of voices--barks, howls,
yelps, and whines--all mingled as it were together, sounded from the
prairie, not far off, as if a whole conclave of wolves of every age
and sex were assembled there. Delorier looked up from his work with
a laugh, and began to imitate this curious medley of sounds with a
most ludicrous accuracy. At this they were repeated with redoubled
emphasis, the musician being apparently indignant at the successful
efforts of a rival. They all proceeded from the throat of one little
wolf, not larger than a spaniel, seated by himself at some distance.
He was of the species called the prairie wolf; a grim-visaged, but
harmless little brute, whose worst propensity is creeping among
horses and gnawing the ropes of raw hide by which they are picketed
around the camp. But other beasts roam the prairies, far more
formidable in aspect and in character. These are the large white and
gray wolves, whose deep howl we heard at intervals from far and near.
At last I fell into a doze, and, awakening from it, found Delorier
fast asleep. Scandalized by this breach of discipline, I was about
to stimulate his vigilance by stirring him with the stock of my
rifle; but compassion prevailing, I determined to let him sleep
awhile, and then to arouse him, and administer a suitable reproof for
such a forgetfulness of duty. Now and then I walked the rounds among
the silent horses, to see that all was right. The night was chill,
damp, and dark, the dank grass bending under the icy dewdrops. At
the distance of a rod or two the tents were invisible, and nothing
could be seen but the obscure figures of the horses, deeply
breathing, and restlessly starting as they slept, or still slowly
champing the grass. Far off, beyond the black outline of the
prairie, there was a ruddy light, gradually increasing, like the glow
of a conflagration; until at length the broad disk of the moon,
blood-red, and vastly magnified by the vapors, rose slowly upon the
darkness, flecked by one or two little clouds, and as the light
poured over the gloomy plain, a fierce and stern howl, close at hand,
seemed to greet it as an unwelcome intruder. There was something
impressive and awful in the place and the hour; for I and the beasts
were all that had consciousness for many a league around.
Some days elapsed, and brought us near the Platte. Two men on
horseback approached us one morning, and we watched them with the
curiosity and interest that, upon the solitude of the plains, such an
encounter always excites. They were evidently whites, from their
mode of riding, though, contrary to the usage of that region, neither
of them carried a rifle.
"Fools!" remarked Henry Chatillon, "to ride that way on the prairie;
Pawnee find them--then they catch it!"
Pawnee HAD found them, and they had come very near "catching it";
indeed, nothing saved them from trouble but the approach of our
party. Shaw and I knew one of them; a man named Turner, whom we had
seen at Westport. He and his companion belonged to an emigrant party
encamped a few miles in advance, and had returned to look for some
stray oxen, leaving their rifles, with characteristic rashness or
ignorance behind them. Their neglect had nearly cost them dear; for
just before we came up, half a dozen Indians approached, and seeing
them apparently defenseless, one of the rascals seized the bridle of
Turner's fine horse, and ordered him to dismount. Turner was wholly
unarmed; but the other jerked a little revolving pistol out of his
pocket, at which the Pawnee recoiled; and just then some of our men
appearing in the distance, the whole party whipped their rugged
little horses, and made off. In no way daunted, Turner foolishly
persisted in going forward.
Long after leaving him, and late this afternoon, in the midst of a
gloomy and barren prairie, we came suddenly upon the great Pawnee
trail, leading from their villages on the Platte to their war and
hunting grounds to the southward. Here every summer pass the motley
concourse; thousands of savages, men, women, and children, horses and
mules, laden with their weapons and implements, and an innumerable
multitude of unruly wolfish dogs, who have not acquired the civilized
accomplishment of barking, but howl like their wild cousins of the
The permanent winter villages of the Pawnees stand on the lower
Platte, but throughout the summer the greater part of the inhabitants
are wandering over the plains, a treacherous cowardly banditti, who
by a thousand acts of pillage and murder have deserved summary
chastisement at the hands of government. Last year a Dakota warrior
performed a signal exploit at one of these villages. He approached
it alone in the middle of a dark night, and clambering up the outside
of one of the lodges which are in the form of a half-sphere, he
looked in at the round hole made at the top for the escape of smoke.
The dusky light from the smoldering embers showed him the forms of
the sleeping inmates; and dropping lightly through the opening, he
unsheathed his knife, and stirring the fire coolly selected his
victims. One by one he stabbed and scalped them, when a child
suddenly awoke and screamed. He rushed from the lodge, yelled a
Sioux war-cry, shouted his name in triumph and defiance, and in a
moment had darted out upon the dark prairie, leaving the whole
village behind him in a tumult, with the howling and baying of dogs,
the screams of women and the yells of the enraged warriors.
Our friend Kearsley, as we learned on rejoining him, signalized
himself by a less bloody achievement. He and his men were good
woodsmen, and well skilled in the use of the rifle, but found
themselves wholly out of their element on the prairie. None of them
had ever seen a buffalo and they had very vague conceptions of his
nature and appearance. On the day after they reached the Platte,
looking toward a distant swell, they beheld a multitude of little
black specks in motion upon its surface.
"Take your rifles, boys," said Kearslcy, "and we'll have fresh meat
for supper." This inducement was quite sufficient. The ten men left
their wagons and set out in hot haste, some on horseback and some on
foot, in pursuit of the supposed buffalo. Meanwhile a high grassy
ridge shut the game from view; but mounting it after half an hour's
running and riding, they found themselves suddenly confronted by
about thirty mounted Pawnees! The amazement and consternation were
mutual. Having nothing but their bows and arrows, the Indians
thought their hour was come, and the fate that they were no doubt
conscious of richly deserving about to overtake them. So they began,
one and all, to shout forth the most cordial salutations of
friendship, running up with extreme earnestness to shake hands with
the Missourians, who were as much rejoiced as they were to escape the
expected conflict.
A low undulating line of sand-hills bounded the horizon before us.
That day we rode ten consecutive hours, and it was dusk before we
entered the hollows and gorges of these gloomy little hills. At
length we gained the summit, and the long expected valley of the
Platte lay before us. We all drew rein, and, gathering in a knot on
the crest of the hill, sat joyfully looking down upon the prospect.
It was right welcome; strange too, and striking to the imagination,
and yet it had not one picturesque or beautiful feature; nor had it
any of the features of grandeur, other than its vast extent, its
solitude, and its wilderness. For league after league a plain as
level as a frozen lake was outspread beneath us; here and there the
Platte, divided into a dozen threadlike sluices, was traversing it,
and an occasional clump of wood, rising in the midst like a shadowy
island, relieved the monotony of the waste. No living thing was
moving throughout the vast landscape, except the lizards that darted
over the sand and through the rank grass and prickly-pear just at our
feet. And yet stern and wild associations gave a singular interest
to the view; for here each man lives by the strength of his arm and
the valor of his heart. Here society is reduced to its original
elements, the whole fabric of art and conventionality is struck
rudely to pieces, and men find themselves suddenly brought back to
the wants and resources of their original natures.
We had passed the more toilsome and monotonous part of the journey;
but four hundred miles still intervened between us and Fort Laramie;
and to reach that point cost us the travel of three additional weeks.
During the whole of this time we were passing up the center of a long
narrow sandy plain, reaching like an outstretched belt nearly to the
Rocky Mountains. Two lines of sand-hills, broken often into the
wildest and most fantastic forms, flanked the valley at the distance
of a mile or two on the right and left; while beyond them lay a
barren, trackless waste--The Great American Desert--extending for
hundreds of miles to the Arkansas on the one side, and the Missouri
on the other. Before us and behind us, the level monotony of the
plain was unbroken as far as the eye could reach. Sometimes it
glared in the sun, an expanse of hot, bare sand; sometimes it was
veiled by long coarse grass. Huge skulls and whitening bones of
buffalo were scattered everywhere; the ground was tracked by myriads
of them, and often covered with the circular indentations where the
bulls had wallowed in the hot weather. From every gorge and ravine,
opening from the hills, descended deep, well-worn paths, where the
buffalo issue twice a day in regular procession down to drink in the
Platte. The river itself runs through the midst, a thin sheet of
rapid, turbid water, half a mile wide, and scarce two feet deep. Its
low banks for the most part without a bush or a tree, are of loose
sand, with which the stream is so charged that it grates on the teeth
in drinking. The naked landscape is, of itself, dreary and
monotonous enough, and yet the wild beasts and wild men that frequent
the valley of the Platte make it a scene of interest and excitement
to the traveler. Of those who have journeyed there, scarce one,
perhaps, fails to look back with fond regret to his horse and his
Early in the morning after we reached the Platte, a long procession
of squalid savages approached our camp. Each was on foot, leading
his horse by a rope of bull-hide. His attire consisted merely of a
scanty cincture and an old buffalo robe, tattered and begrimed by
use, which hung over his shoulders. His head was close shaven,
except a ridge of hair reaching over the crown from the center of the
forehead, very much like the long bristles on the back of a hyena,
and he carried his bow and arrows in his hand, while his meager
little horse was laden with dried buffalo meat, the produce of his
hunting. Such were the first specimens that we met--and very
indifferent ones they were--of the genuine savages of the prairie.
They were the Pawnees whom Kearsley had encountered the day before,
and belonged to a large hunting party known to be ranging the prairie
in the vicinity. They strode rapidly past, within a furlong of our
tents, not pausing or looking toward us, after the manner of Indians
when meditating mischief or conscious of ill-desert. I went out and
met them; and had an amicable conference with the chief, presenting
him with half a pound of tobacco, at which unmerited bounty he
expressed much gratification. These fellows, or some of their
companions had committed a dastardly outrage upon an emigrant party
in advance of us. Two men, out on horseback at a distance, were
seized by them, but lashing their horses, they broke loose and fled.
At this the Pawnees raised the yell and shot at them, transfixing the
hindermost through the back with several arrows, while his companion
galloped away and brought in the news to his party. The panicstricken
emigrants remained for several days in camp, not daring even
to send out in quest of the dead body.
The reader will recollect Turner, the man whose narrow escape was
mentioned not long since. We heard that the men, whom the entreaties
of his wife induced to go in search of him, found him leisurely
driving along his recovered oxen, and whistling in utter contempt of
the Pawnee nation. His party was encamped within two miles of us;
but we passed them that morning, while the men were driving in the
oxen, and the women packing their domestic utensils and their
numerous offspring in the spacious patriarchal wagons. As we looked
back we saw their caravan dragging its slow length along the plain;
wearily toiling on its way, to found new empires in the West.
Our New England climate is mild and equable compared with that of the
Platte. This very morning, for instance, was close and sultry, the
sun rising with a faint oppressive heat; when suddenly darkness
gathered in the west, and a furious blast of sleet and hail drove
full in our faces, icy cold, and urged with such demoniac vehemence
that it felt like a storm of needles. It was curious to see the
horses; they faced about in extreme displeasure, holding their tails
like whipped dogs, and shivering as the angry gusts, howling louder
than a concert of wolves, swept over us. Wright's long train of
mules came sweeping round before the storm like a flight of brown
snowbirds driven by a winter tempest. Thus we all remained
stationary for some minutes, crouching close to our horses' necks,
much too surly to speak, though once the captain looked up from
between the collars of his coat, his face blood-red, and the muscles
of his mouth contracted by the cold into a most ludicrous grin of
agony. He grumbled something that sounded like a curse, directed as
we believed, against the unhappy hour when he had first thought of
leaving home. The thing was too good to last long; and the instant
the puffs of wind subsided we erected our tents, and remained in camp
for the rest of a gloomy and lowering day. The emigrants also
encamped near at hand. We, being first on the ground, had
appropriated all the wood within reach; so that our fire alone blazed
cheerfully. Around it soon gathered a group of uncouth figures,
shivering in the drizzling rain. Conspicuous among them were two or
three of the half-savage men who spend their reckless lives in
trapping among the Rocky Mountains, or in trading for the Fur Company
in the Indian villages. They were all of Canadian extraction; their
hard, weather-beaten faces and bushy mustaches looked out from
beneath the hoods of their white capotes with a bad and brutish
expression, as if their owner might be the willing agent of any
villainy. And such in fact is the character of many of these men.
On the day following we overtook Kearsley's wagons, and
thenceforward, for a week or two, we were fellow-travelers. One good
effect, at least, resulted from the alliance; it materially
diminished the serious fatigue of standing guard; for the party being
now more numerous, there were longer intervals between each man's
turns of duty.
Four days on the Platte, and yet no buffalo! Last year's signs of
them were provokingly abundant; and wood being extremely scarce, we
found an admirable substitute in bois de vache, which burns exactly
like peat, producing no unpleasant effects. The wagons one morning
had left the camp; Shaw and I were already on horseback, but Henry
Chatillon still sat cross-legged by the dead embers of the fire,
playing pensively with the lock of his rifle, while his sturdy
Wyandotte pony stood quietly behind him, looking over his head. At
last he got up, patted the neck of the pony (whom, from an
exaggerated appreciation of his merits, he had christened "Five
Hundred Dollar"), and then mounted with a melancholy air.
"What is it, Henry?"
"Ah, I feel lonesome; I never been here before; but I see away yonder
over the buttes, and down there on the prairie, black--all black with
In the afternoon he and I left the party in search of an antelope;
until at the distance of a mile or two on the right, the tall white
wagons and the little black specks of horsemen were just visible, so
slowly advancing that they seemed motionless; and far on the left
rose the broken line of scorched, desolate sand-hills. The vast
plain waved with tall rank grass that swept our horses' bellies; it
swayed to and fro in billows with the light breeze, and far and near
antelope and wolves were moving through it, the hairy backs of the
latter alternately appearing and disappearing as they bounded
awkwardly along; while the antelope, with the simple curiosity
peculiar to them, would often approach as closely, their little horns
and white throats just visible above the grass tops, as they gazed
eagerly at us with their round black eyes.
I dismounted, and amused myself with firing at the wolves. Henry
attentively scrutinized the surrounding landscape; at length he gave
a shout, and called on me to mount again, pointing in the direction
of the sand-hills. A mile and a half from us, two minute black
specks slowly traversed the face of one of the bare glaring
declivities, and disappeared behind the summit. "Let us go!" cried
Henry, belaboring the sides of Five Hundred Dollar; and I following
in his wake, we galloped rapidly through the rank grass toward the
base of the hills.
From one of their openings descended a deep ravine, widening as it
issued on the prairie. We entered it, and galloping up, in a moment
were surrounded by the bleak sand-hills. Half of their steep sides
were bare; the rest were scantily clothed with clumps of grass, and
various uncouth plants, conspicuous among which appeared the reptilelike
prickly-pear. They were gashed with numberless ravines; and as
the sky had suddenly darkened, and a cold gusty wind arisen, the
strange shrubs and the dreary hills looked doubly wild and desolate.
But Henry's face was all eagerness. He tore off a little hair from
the piece of buffalo robe under his saddle, and threw it up, to show
the course of the wind. It blew directly before us. The game were
therefore to windward, and it was necessary to make our best speed to
get around them.
We scrambled from this ravine, and galloping away through the
hollows, soon found another, winding like a snake among the hills,
and so deep that it completely concealed us. We rode up the bottom
of it, glancing through the shrubbery at its edge, till Henry
abruptly jerked his rein, and slid out of his saddle. Full a quarter
of a mile distant, on the outline of the farthest hill, a long
procession of buffalo were walking, in Indian file, with the utmost
gravity and deliberation; then more appeared, clambering from a
hollow not far off, and ascending, one behind the other, the grassy
slope of another hill; then a shaggy head and a pair of short broken
horns appeared issuing out of a ravine close at hand, and with a
slow, stately step, one by one, the enormous brutes came into view,
taking their way across the valley, wholly unconscious of an enemy.
In a moment Henry was worming his way, lying flat on the ground,
through grass and prickly-pears, toward his unsuspecting victims. He
had with him both my rifle and his own. He was soon out of sight,
and still the buffalo kept issuing into the valley. For a long time
all was silent. I sat holding his horse, and wondering what he was
about, when suddenly, in rapid succession, came the sharp reports of
the two rifles, and the whole line of buffalo, quickening their pace
into a clumsy trot, gradually disappeared over the ridge of the hill.
Henry rose to his feet, and stood looking after them.
"You have missed them," said I.
"Yes," said Henry; "let us go." He descended into the ravine, loaded
the rifles, and mounted his horse.
We rode up the hill after the buffalo. The herd was out of sight
when we reached the top, but lying on the grass not far off, was one
quite lifeless, and another violently struggling in the death agony.
"You see I miss him!" remarked Henry. He had fired from a distance
of more than a hundred and fifty yards, and both balls had passed
through the lungs--the true mark in shooting buffalo.
The darkness increased, and a driving storm came on. Tying our
horses to the horns of the victims, Henry began the bloody work of
dissection, slashing away with the science of a connoisseur, while I
vainly endeavored to imitate him. Old Hendrick recoiled with horror
and indignation when I endeavored to tie the meat to the strings of
raw hide, always carried for this purpose, dangling at the back of
the saddle. After some difficulty we overcame his scruples; and
heavily burdened with the more eligible portions of the buffalo, we
set out on our return. Scarcely had we emerged from the labyrinth of
gorges and ravines, and issued upon the open prairie, when the
pricking sleet came driving, gust upon gust, directly in our faces.
It was strangely dark, though wanting still an hour of sunset. The
freezing storm soon penetrated to the skin, but the uneasy trot of
our heavy-gaited horses kept us warm enough, as we forced them
unwillingly in the teeth of the sleet and rain, by the powerful
suasion of our Indian whips. The prairie in this place was hard and
level. A flourishing colony of prairie dogs had burrowed into it in
every direction, and the little mounds of fresh earth around their
holes were about as numerous as the hills in a cornfield; but not a
yelp was to be heard; not the nose of a single citizen was visible;
all had retired to the depths of their burrows, and we envied them
their dry and comfortable habitations. An hour's hard riding showed
us our tent dimly looming through the storm, one side puffed out by
the force of the wind, and the other collapsed in proportion, while
the disconsolate horses stood shivering close around, and the wind
kept up a dismal whistling in the boughs of three old half-dead trees
above. Shaw, like a patriarch, sat on his saddle in the entrance,
with a pipe in his mouth, and his arms folded, contemplating, with
cool satisfaction, the piles of meat that we flung on the ground
before him. A dark and dreary night succeeded; but the sun rose with
heat so sultry and languid that the captain excused himself on that
account from waylaying an old buffalo bull, who with stupid gravity
was walking over the prairie to drink at the river. So much for the
climate of the Platte!
But it was not the weather alone that had produced this sudden
abatement of the sportsmanlike zeal which the captain had always
professed. He had been out on the afternoon before, together with
several members of his party; but their hunting was attended with no
other result than the loss of one of their best horses, severely
injured by Sorel, in vainly chasing a wounded bull. The captain,
whose ideas of hard riding were all derived from transatlantic
sources, expressed the utmost amazement at the feats of Sorel, who
went leaping ravines, and dashing at full speed up and down the sides
of precipitous hills, lashing his horse with the recklessness of a
Rocky Mountain rider. Unfortunately for the poor animal he was the
property of R., against whom Sorel entertained an unbounded aversion.
The captain himself, it seemed, had also attempted to "run" a
buffalo, but though a good and practiced horseman, he had soon given
over the attempt, being astonished and utterly disgusted at the
nature of the ground he was required to ride over.
Nothing unusual occurred on that day; but on the following morning
Henry Chatillon, looking over the oceanlike expanse, saw near the
foot of the distant hills something that looked like a band of
buffalo. He was not sure, he said, but at all events, if they were
buffalo, there was a fine chance for a race. Shaw and I at once
determined to try the speed of our horses.
"Come, captain; we'll see which can ride hardest, a Yankee or an
But the captain maintained a grave and austere countenance. He
mounted his led horse, however, though very slowly; and we set out at
a trot. The game appeared about three miles distant. As we
proceeded the captain made various remarks of doubt and indecision;
and at length declared he would have nothing to do with such a
breakneck business; protesting that he had ridden plenty of steeplechases
in his day, but he never knew what riding was till he found
himself behind a band of buffalo day before yesterday. "I am
convinced," said the captain, "that, 'running' is out of the
question.* Take my advice now and don't attempt it. It's dangerous,
and of no use at all."
*The method of hunting called "running" consists in attacking the
buffalo on horseback and shooting him with bullets or arrows when at
full-speed. In "approaching," the hunter conceals himself and crawls
on the ground toward the game, or lies in wait to kill them.
"Then why did you come out with us? What do you mean to do?"
"I shall 'approach,'" replied the captain.
"You don't mean to 'approach' with your pistols, do you? We have all
of us left our rifles in the wagons."
The captain seemed staggered at the suggestion. In his
characteristic indecision, at setting out, pistols, rifles, "running"
and "approaching" were mingled in an inextricable medley in his
brain. He trotted on in silence between us for a while; but at
length he dropped behind and slowly walked his horse back to rejoin
the party. Shaw and I kept on; when lo! as we advanced, the band of
buffalo were transformed into certain clumps of tall bushes, dotting
the prairie for a considerable distance. At this ludicrous
termination of our chase, we followed the example of our late ally,
and turned back toward the party. We were skirting the brink of a
deep ravine, when we saw Henry and the broad-chested pony coming
toward us at a gallop.
"Here's old Papin and Frederic, down from Fort Laramie!" shouted
Henry, long before he came up. We had for some days expected this
encounter. Papin was the bourgeois of Fort Laramie. He had come
down the river with the buffalo robes and the beaver, the produce of
the last winter's trading. I had among our baggage a letter which I
wished to commit to their hands; so requesting Henry to detain the
boats if he could until my return, I set out after the wagons. They
were about four miles in advance. In half an hour I overtook them,
got the letter, trotted back upon the trail, and looking carefully,
as I rode, saw a patch of broken, storm-blasted trees, and moving
near them some little black specks like men and horses. Arriving at
the place, I found a strange assembly. The boats, eleven in number,
deep-laden with the skins, hugged close to the shore, to escape being
borne down by the swift current. The rowers, swarthy ignoble
Mexicans, turned their brutish faces upward to look, as I reached the
bank. Papin sat in the middle of one of the boats upon the canvas
covering that protected the robes. He was a stout, robust fellow,
with a little gray eye, that had a peculiarly sly twinkle.
"Frederic" also stretched his tall rawboned proportions close by the
bourgeois, and "mountain-men" completed the group; some lounging in
the boats, some strolling on shore; some attired in gayly painted
buffalo robes, like Indian dandies; some with hair saturated with red
paint, and beplastered with glue to their temples; and one bedaubed
with vermilion upon his forehead and each cheek. They were a mongrel
race; yet the French blood seemed to predominate; in a few, indeed,
might be seen the black snaky eye of the Indian half-breed, and one
and all, they seemed to aim at assimilating themselves to their
savage associates.
I shook hands with the bourgeois, and delivered the letter; then the
boats swung round into the stream and floated away. They had reason
for haste, for already the voyage from Fort Laramie had occupied a
full month, and the river was growing daily more shallow. Fifty
times a day the boats had been aground, indeed; those who navigate
the Platte invariably spend half their time upon sand-bars. Two of
these boats, the property of private traders, afterward separating
from the rest, got hopelessly involved in the shallows, not very far
from the Pawnee villages, and were soon surrounded by a swarm of the
inhabitants. They carried off everything that they considered
valuable, including most of the robes; and amused themselves by tying
up the men left on guard and soundly whipping them with sticks.
We encamped that night upon the bank of the river. Among the
emigrants there was an overgrown boy, some eighteen years old, with a
head as round and about as large as a pumpkin, and fever-and-ague
fits had dyed his face of a corresponding color. He wore an old
white hat, tied under his chin with a handkerchief; his body was
short and stout, but his legs of disproportioned and appalling
length. I observed him at sunset, breasting the hill with gigantic
strides, and standing against the sky on the summit, like a colossal
pair of tongs. In a moment after we heard him screaming frantically
behind the ridge, and nothing doubting that he was in the clutches of
Indians or grizzly bears, some of the party caught up their rifles
and ran to the rescue. His outcries, however, proved but an
ebullition of joyous excitement; he had chased two little wolf pups
to their burrow, and he was on his knees, grubbing away like a dog at
the mouth of the hole, to get at them.
Before morning he caused more serious disquiet in the camp. It was
his turn to hold the middle guard; but no sooner was he called up,
than he coolly arranged a pair of saddle-bags under a wagon, laid his
head upon them, closed his eyes, opened his mouth and fell asleep.
The guard on our side of the camp, thinking it no part of his duty to
look after the cattle of the emigrants, contented himself with
watching our own horses and mules; the wolves, he said, were
unusually noisy; but still no mischief was anticipated until the sun
rose, and not a hoof or horn was in sight! The cattle were gone!
While Tom was quietly slumbering, the wolves had driven them away.
Then we reaped the fruits of R.'s precious plan of traveling in
company with emigrants. To leave them in their distress was not to
be thought of, and we felt bound to wait until the cattle could be
searched for, and, if possible, recovered. But the reader may be
curious to know what punishment awaited the faithless Tom. By the
wholesome law of the prairie, he who falls asleep on guard is
condemned to walk all day leading his horse by the bridle, and we
found much fault with our companions for not enforcing such a
sentence on the offender. Nevertheless had he been of our party, I
have no doubt he would in like manner have escaped scot-free. But
the emigrants went farther than mere forebearance; they decreed that
since Tom couldn't stand guard without falling asleep, he shouldn't
stand guard at all, and henceforward his slumbers were unbroken.
Establishing such a premium on drowsiness could have no very
beneficial effect upon the vigilance of our sentinels; for it is far
from agreeable, after riding from sunrise to sunset, to feel your
slumbers interrupted by the butt of a rifle nudging your side, and a
sleepy voice growling in your ear that you must get up, to shiver and
freeze for three weary hours at midnight.
"Buffalo! buffalo!" It was but a grim old bull, roaming the prairie
by himself in misanthropic seclusion; but there might be more behind
the hills. Dreading the monotony and languor of the camp, Shaw and I
saddled our horses, buckled our holsters in their places, and set out
with Henry Chatillon in search of the game. Henry, not intending to
take part in the chase, but merely conducting us, carried his rifle
with him, while we left ours behind as incumbrances. We rode for
some five or six miles, and saw no living thing but wolves, snakes,
and prairie dogs.
"This won't do at all," said Shaw.
"What won't do?"
"There's no wood about here to make a litter for the wounded man; I
have an idea that one of us will need something of the sort before
the day is over."
There was some foundation for such an apprehension, for the ground
was none of the best for a race, and grew worse continually as we
proceeded; indeed it soon became desperately bad, consisting of
abrupt hills and deep hollows, cut by frequent ravines not easy to
pass. At length, a mile in advance, we saw a band of bulls. Some
were scattered grazing over a green declivity, while the rest were
crowded more densely together in the wide hollow below. Making a
circuit to keep out of sight, we rode toward them until we ascended a
hill within a furlong of them, beyond which nothing intervened that
could possibly screen us from their view. We dismounted behind the
ridge just out of sight, drew our saddle-girths, examined our
pistols, and mounting again rode over the hill, and descended at a
canter toward them, bending close to our horses' necks. Instantly
they took the alarm; those on the hill descended; those below
gathered into a mass, and the whole got in motion, shouldering each
other along at a clumsy gallop. We followed, spurring our horses to
full speed; and as the herd rushed, crowding and trampling in terror
through an opening in the hills, we were close at their heels, half
suffocated by the clouds of dust. But as we drew near, their alarm
and speed increased; our horses showed signs of the utmost fear,
bounding violently aside as we approached, and refusing to enter
among the herd. The buffalo now broke into several small bodies,
scampering over the hills in different directions, and I lost sight
of Shaw; neither of us knew where the other had gone. Old Pontiac
ran like a frantic elephant up hill and down hill, his ponderous
hoofs striking the prairie like sledge-hammers. He showed a curious
mixture of eagerness and terror, straining to overtake the panicstricken
herd, but constantly recoiling in dismay as we drew near.
The fugitives, indeed, offered no very attractive spectacle, with
their enormous size and weight, their shaggy manes and the tattered
remnants of their last winter's hair covering their backs in
irregular shreds and patches, and flying off in the wind as they ran.
At length I urged my horse close behind a bull, and after trying in
vain, by blows and spurring, to bring him alongside, I shot a bullet
into the buffalo from this disadvantageous position. At the report,
Pontiac swerved so much that I was again thrown a little behind the
game. The bullet, entering too much in the rear, failed to disable
the bull, for a buffalo requires to be shot at particular points, or
he will certainly escape. The herd ran up a hill, and I followed in
pursuit. As Pontiac rushed headlong down on the other side, I saw
Shaw and Henry descending the hollow on the right, at a leisurely
gallop; and in front, the buffalo were just disappearing behind the
crest of the next hill, their short tails erect, and their hoofs
twinkling through a cloud of dust.
At that moment, I heard Shaw and Henry shouting to me; but the
muscles of a stronger arm than mine could not have checked at once
the furious course of Pontiac, whose mouth was as insensible as
leather. Added to this, I rode him that morning with a common
snaffle, having the day before, for the benefit of my other horse,
unbuckled from my bridle the curb which I ordinarily used. A
stronger and hardier brute never trod the prairie; but the novel
sight of the buffalo filled him with terror, and when at full speed
he was almost incontrollable. Gaining the top of the ridge, I saw
nothing of the buffalo; they had all vanished amid the intricacies of
the hills and hollows. Reloading my pistols, in the best way I
could, I galloped on until I saw them again scuttling along at the
base of the hill, their panic somewhat abated. Down went old Pontiac
among them, scattering them to the right and left, and then we had
another long chase. About a dozen bulls were before us, scouring
over the hills, rushing down the declivities with tremendous weight
and impetuosity, and then laboring with a weary gallop upward. Still
Pontiac, in spite of spurring and beating, would not close with them.
One bull at length fell a little behind the rest, and by dint of much
effort I urged my horse within six or eight yards of his side. His
back was darkened with sweat; he was panting heavily, while his
tongue lolled out a foot from his jaws. Gradually I came up abreast
of him, urging Pontiac with leg and rein nearer to his side, then
suddenly he did what buffalo in such circumstances will always do; he
slackened his gallop, and turning toward us, with an aspect of
mingled rage and distress, lowered his huge shaggy head for a charge.
Pontiac with a snort, leaped aside in terror, nearly throwing me to
the ground, as I was wholly unprepared for such an evolution. I
raised my pistol in a passion to strike him on the head, but thinking
better of it fired the bullet after the bull, who had resumed his
flight, then drew rein and determined to rejoin my companions. It
was high time. The breath blew hard from Pontiac's nostrils, and the
sweat rolled in big drops down his sides; I myself felt as if
drenched in warm water. Pledging myself (and I redeemed the pledge)
to take my revenge at a future opportunity, I looked round for some
indications to show me where I was, and what course I ought to
pursue; I might as well have looked for landmarks in the midst of the
ocean. How many miles I had run or in what direction, I had no idea;
and around me the prairie was rolling in steep swells and pitches,
without a single distinctive feature to guide me. I had a little
compass hung at my neck; and ignorant that the Platte at this point
diverged considerably from its easterly course, I thought that by
keeping to the northward I should certainly reach it. So I turned
and rode about two hours in that direction. The prairie changed as I
advanced, softening away into easier undulations, but nothing like
the Platte appeared, nor any sign of a human being; the same wild
endless expanse lay around me still; and to all appearance I was as
far from my object as ever. I began now to consider myself in danger
of being lost; and therefore, reining in my horse, summoned the
scanty share of woodcraft that I possessed (if that term he
applicable upon the prairie) to extricate me. Looking round, it
occurred to me that the buffalo might prove my best guides. I soon
found one of the paths made by them in their passage to the river; it
ran nearly at right angles to my course; but turning my horse's head
in the direction it indicated, his freer gait and erected ears
assured me that I was right.
But in the meantime my ride had been by no means a solitary one. The
whole face of the country was dotted far and wide with countless
hundreds of buffalo. They trooped along in files and columns, bulls
cows, and calves, on the green faces of the declivities in front.
They scrambled away over the hills to the right and left; and far
off, the pale blue swells in the extreme distance were dotted with
innumerable specks. Sometimes I surprised shaggy old bulls grazing
alone, or sleeping behind the ridges I ascended. They would leap up
at my approach, stare stupidly at me through their tangled manes, and
then gallop heavily away. The antelope were very numerous; and as
they are always bold when in the neighborhood of buffalo, they would
approach quite near to look at me, gazing intently with their great
round eyes, then suddenly leap aside, and stretch lightly away over
the prairie, as swiftly as a racehorse. Squalid, ruffianlike wolves
sneaked through the hollows and sandy ravines. Several times I
passed through villages of prairie dogs, who sat, each at the mouth
of his burrow, holding his paws before him in a supplicating
attitude, and yelping away most vehemently, energetically whisking
his little tail with every squeaking cry he uttered. Prairie dogs
are not fastidious in their choice of companions; various long,
checkered snakes were sunning themselves in the midst of the village,
and demure little gray owls, with a large white ring around each eye,
were perched side by side with the rightful inhabitants. The prairie
teemed with life. Again and again I looked toward the crowded
hillsides, and was sure I saw horsemen; and riding near, with a
mixture of hope and dread, for Indians were abroad, I found them
transformed into a group of buffalo. There was nothing in human
shape amid all this vast congregation of brute forms.
When I turned down the buffalo path, the prairie seemed changed; only
a wolf or two glided past at intervals, like conscious felons, never
looking to the right or left. Being now free from anxiety, I was at
leisure to observe minutely the objects around me; and here, for the
first time, I noticed insects wholly different from any of the
varieties found farther to the eastward. Gaudy butterflies fluttered
about my horse's head; strangely formed beetles, glittering with
metallic luster, were crawling upon plants that I had never seen
before; multitudes of lizards, too, were darting like lightning over
the sand.
I had run to a great distance from the river. It cost me a long ride
on the buffalo path before I saw from the ridge of a sand-hill the
pale surface of the Platte glistening in the midst of its desert
valleys, and the faint outline of the hills beyond waving along the
sky. From where I stood, not a tree nor a bush nor a living thing
was visible throughout the whole extent of the sun-scorched
landscape. In half an hour I came upon the trail, not far from the
river; and seeing that the party had not yet passed, I turned
eastward to meet them, old Pontiac's long swinging trot again
assuring me that I was right in doing so. Having been slightly ill
on leaving camp in the morning six or seven hours of rough riding had
fatigued me extremely. I soon stopped, therefore; flung my saddle on
the ground, and with my head resting on it, and my horse's trail-rope
tied loosely to my arm, lay waiting the arrival of the party,
speculating meanwhile on the extent of the injuries Pontiac had
received. At length the white wagon coverings rose from the verge of
the plain. By a singular coincidence, almost at the same moment two
horsemen appeared coming down from the hills. They were Shaw and
Henry, who had searched for me a while in the morning, but well
knowing the futility of the attempt in such a broken country, had
placed themselves on the top of the highest hill they could find, and
picketing their horses near them, as a signal to me, had laid down
and fallen asleep. The stray cattle had been recovered, as the
emigrants told us, about noon. Before sunset, we pushed forward
eight miles farther.
JUNE 7, 1846.--Four men are missing; R., Sorel and two emigrants.
They set out this morning after buffalo, and have not yet made their
appearance; whether killed or lost, we cannot tell.
I find the above in my notebook, and well remember the council held
on the occasion. Our fire was the scene of it; or the palpable
superiority of Henry Chatillon's experience and skill made him the
resort of the whole camp upon every question of difficulty. He was
molding bullets at the fire, when the captain drew near, with a
perturbed and care-worn expression of countenance, faithfully
reflected on the heavy features of Jack, who followed close behind.
Then emigrants came straggling from their wagons toward the common
center; various suggestions were made to account for the absence of
the four men, and one or two of the emigrants declared that when out
after the cattle they had seen Indians dogging them, and crawling
like wolves along the ridges of the hills. At this time the captain
slowly shook his head with double gravity, and solemnly remarked:
"It's a serious thing to be traveling through this cursed
wilderness"; an opinion in which Jack immediately expressed a
thorough coincidence. Henry would not commit himself by declaring
any positive opinion.
"Maybe he only follow the buffalo too far; maybe Indian kill him;
maybe he got lost; I cannot tell!"
With this the auditors were obliged to rest content; the emigrants,
not in the least alarmed, though curious to know what had become of
their comrades, walked back to their wagons and the captain betook
himself pensively to his tent. Shaw and I followed his example.
"It will be a bad thing for our plans," said he as we entered, "if
these fellows don't get back safe. The captain is as helpless on the
prairie as a child. We shall have to take him and his brother in
tow; they will hang on us like lead."
"The prairie is a strange place," said I. "A month ago I should have
thought it rather a startling affair to have an acquaintance ride out
in the morning and lose his scalp before night, but here it seems the
most natural thing in the world; not that I believe that R. has lost
his yet."
If a man is constitutionally liable to nervous apprehensions, a tour
on the distant prairies would prove the best prescription; for though
when in the neighborhood of the Rocky Mountains he may at times find
himself placed in circumstances of some danger, I believe that few
ever breathe that reckless atmosphere without becoming almost
indifferent to any evil chance that may befall themselves or their
Shaw had a propensity for luxurious indulgence. He spread his
blanket with the utmost accuracy on the ground, picked up the sticks
and stones that he thought might interfere with his comfort, adjusted
his saddle to serve as a pillow, and composed himself for his night's
rest. I had the first guard that evening; so, taking my rifle, I
went out of the tent. It was perfectly dark. A brisk wind blew down
from the hills, and the sparks from the fire were streaming over the
prairie. One of the emigrants, named Morton, was my companion; and
laying our rifles on the grass, we sat down together by the fire.
Morton was a Kentuckian, an athletic fellow, with a fine intelligent
face, and in his manners and conversation he showed the essential
characteristics of a gentleman. Our conversation turned on the
pioneers of his gallant native State. The three hours of our watch
dragged away at last, and we went to call up the relief.
R.'s guard succeeded mine. He was absent; but the captain, anxious
lest the camp should be left defenseless, had volunteered to stand in
his place; so I went to wake him up. There was no occasion for it,
for the captain had been awake since nightfall. A fire was blazing
outside of the tent, and by the light which struck through the
canvas, I saw him and Jack lying on their backs, with their eyes wide
open. The captain responded instantly to my call; he jumped up,
seized the double-barreled rifle, and came out of the tent with an
air of solemn determination, as if about to devote himself to the
safety of the party. I went and lay down, not doubting that for the
next three hours our slumbers would be guarded with sufficient
On the 8th of June, at eleven o'clock, we reached the South Fork of
the Platte, at the usual fording place. For league upon league the
desert uniformity of the prospect was almost unbroken; the hills were
dotted with little tufts of shriveled grass, but betwixt these the
white sand was glaring in the sun; and the channel of the river,
almost on a level with the plain, was but one great sand-bed, about
half a mile wide. It was covered with water, but so scantily that
the bottom was scarcely hidden; for, wide as it is, the average depth
of the Platte does not at this point exceed a foot and a half.
Stopping near its bank, we gathered bois de vache, and made a meal of
buffalo meat. Far off, on the other side, was a green meadow, where
we could see the white tents and wagons of an emigrant camp; and just
opposite to us we could discern a group of men and animals at the
water's edge. Four or five horsemen soon entered the river, and in
ten minutes had waded across and clambered up the loose sand-bank.
They were ill-looking fellows, thin and swarthy, with care-worn,
anxious faces and lips rigidly compressed. They had good cause for
anxiety; it was three days since they first encamped here, and on the
night of their arrival they had lost 123 of their best cattle, driven
off by the wolves, through the neglect of the man on guard. This
discouraging and alarming calamity was not the first that had
overtaken them. Since leaving the settlements, they had met with
nothing but misfortune. Some of their party had died; one man had
been killed by the Pawnees; and about a week before, they had been
plundered by the Dakotas of all their best horses, the wretched
animals on which our visitors were mounted being the only ones that
were left. They had encamped, they told us, near sunset, by the side
of the Platte, and their oxen were scattered over the meadow, while
the band of horses were feeding a little farther off. Suddenly the
ridges of the hills were alive with a swarm of mounted Indians, at
least six hundred in number, who, with a tremendous yell, came
pouring down toward the camp, rushing up within a few rods, to the
great terror of the emigrants; but suddenly wheeling, they swept
around the band of horses, and in five minutes had disappeared with
their prey through the openings of the hills.
As these emigrants were telling their story, we saw four other men
approaching. They proved to be R. and his companions, who had
encountered no mischance of any kind, but had only wandered too far
in pursuit of the game. They said they had seen no Indians, but only
"millions of buffalo"; and both R. and Sorel had meat dangling behind
their saddles.
The emigrants re-crossed the river, and we prepared to follow. First
the heavy ox-wagons plunged down the bank, and dragged slowly over
the sand-beds; sometimes the hoofs of the oxen were scarcely wetted
by the thin sheet of water; and the next moment the river would be
boiling against their sides, and eddying fiercely around the wheels.
Inch by inch they receded from the shore, dwindling every moment,
until at length they seemed to be floating far in the very middle of
the river. A more critical experiment awaited us; for our little
mule-cart was but ill-fitted for the passage of so swift a stream.
We watched it with anxiety till it seemed to be a little motionless
white speck in the midst of the waters; and it WAS motionless, for it
had stuck fast in a quicksand. The little mules were losing their
footing, the wheels were sinking deeper and deeper, and the water
began to rise through the bottom and drench the goods within. All of
us who had remained on the hither bank galloped to the rescue; the
men jumped into the water, adding their strength to that of the
mules, until by much effort the cart was extricated, and conveyed in
safety across.
As we gained the other bank, a rough group of men surrounded us.
They were not robust, nor large of frame, yet they had an aspect of
hardy endurance. Finding at home no scope for their fiery energies,
they had betaken themselves to the prairie; and in them seemed to be
revived, with redoubled force, that fierce spirit which impelled
their ancestors, scarce more lawless than themselves, from the German
forests, to inundate Europe and break to pieces the Roman empire. A
fortnight afterward this unfortunate party passed Fort Laramie, while
we were there. Not one of their missing oxen had been recovered,
though they had remained encamped a week in search of them; and they
had been compelled to abandon a great part of their baggage and
provisions, and yoke cows and heifers to their wagons to carry them
forward upon their journey, the most toilsome and hazardous part of
which lay still before them.
It is worth noticing that on the Platte one may sometimes see the
shattered wrecks of ancient claw-footed tables, well waxed and
rubbed, or massive bureaus of carved oak. These, many of them no
doubt the relics of ancestral prosperity in the colonial time, must
have encountered strange vicissitudes. Imported, perhaps, originally
from England; then, with the declining fortunes of their owners,
borne across the Alleghenies to the remote wilderness of Ohio or
Kentucky; then to Illinois or Missouri; and now at last fondly stowed
away in the family wagon for the interminable journey to Oregon. But
the stern privations of the way are little anticipated. The
cherished relic is soon flung out to scorch and crack upon the hot
We resumed our journey; but we had gone scarcely a mile, when R.
called out from the rear:
"We'll camp here."
"Why do you want to camp? Look at the sun. It is not three o'clock
"We'll camp here!"
This was the only reply vouchsafed. Delorier was in advance with his
cart. Seeing the mule-wagon wheeling from the track, he began to
turn his own team in the same direction.
"Go on, Delorier," and the little cart advanced again. As we rode
on, we soon heard the wagon of our confederates creaking and jolting
on behind us, and the driver, Wright, discharging a furious volley of
oaths against his mules; no doubt venting upon them the wrath which
he dared not direct against a more appropriate object.
Something of this sort had frequently occurred. Our English friend
was by no means partial to us, and we thought we discovered in his
conduct a deliberate intention to thwart and annoy us, especially by
retarding the movements of the party, which he knew that we, being
Yankees, were anxious to quicken. Therefore, he would insist on
encamping at all unseasonable hours, saying that fifteen miles was a
sufficient day's journey. Finding our wishes systematically
disregarded, we took the direction of affairs into our own hands.
Keeping always in advance, to the inexpressible indignation of R., we
encamped at what time and place we thought proper, not much caring
whether the rest chose to follow or not. They always did so,
however, pitching their tents near ours, with sullen and wrathful
Traveling together on these agreeable terms did not suit our tastes;
for some time we had meditated a separation. The connection with
this party had cost us various delays and inconveniences; and the
glaring want of courtesy and good sense displayed by their virtual
leader did not dispose us to bear these annoyances with much
patience. We resolved to leave camp early in the morning, and push
forward as rapidly as possible for Fort Laramie, which we hoped to
reach, by hard traveling, in four or five days. The captain soon
trotted up between us, and we explained our intentions.
"A very extraordinary proceeding, upon my word!" he remarked. Then
he began to enlarge upon the enormity of the design. The most
prominent impression in his mind evidently was that we were acting a
base and treacherous part in deserting his party, in what he
considered a very dangerous stage of the journey. To palliate the
atrocity of our conduct, we ventured to suggest that we were only
four in number while his party still included sixteen men; and as,
moreover, we were to go forward and they were to follow, at least a
full proportion of the perils he apprehended would fall upon us. But
the austerity of the captain's features would not relax. "A very
extraordinary proceeding, gentlemen!" and repeating this, he rode off
to confer with his principal.
By good luck, we found a meadow of fresh grass, and a large pool of
rain-water in the midst of it. We encamped here at sunset. Plenty
of buffalo skulls were lying around, bleaching in the sun; and
sprinkled thickly among the grass was a great variety of strange
flowers. I had nothing else to do, and so gathering a handful, I sat
down on a buffalo skull to study them. Although the offspring of a
wilderness, their texture was frail and delicate, and their colors
extremely rich; pure white, dark blue, and a transparent crimson.
One traveling in this country seldom has leisure to think of anything
but the stern features of the scenery and its accompaniments, or the
practical details of each day's journey. Like them, he and his
thoughts grow hard and rough. But now these flowers suddenly
awakened a train of associations as alien to the rude scene around me
as they were themselves; and for the moment my thoughts went back to
New England. A throng of fair and well-remembered faces rose,
vividly as life, before me. "There are good things," thought I, "in
the savage life, but what can it offer to replace those powerful and
ennobling influences that can reach unimpaired over more than three
thousand miles of mountains, forests and deserts?"
Before sunrise on the next morning our tent was down; we harnessed
our best horses to the cart and left the camp. But first we shook
hands with our friends the emigrants, who sincerely wished us a safe
journey, though some others of the party might easily have been
consoled had we encountered an Indian war party on the way. The
captain and his brother were standing on the top of a hill, wrapped
in their plaids, like spirits of the mist, keeping an anxious eye on
the band of horses below. We waved adieu to them as we rode off the
ground. The captain replied with a salutation of the utmost dignity,
which Jack tried to imitate; but being little practiced in the
gestures of polite society, his effort was not a very successful one.
In five minutes we had gained the foot of the hills, but here we came
to a stop. Old Hendrick was in the shafts, and being the very
incarnation of perverse and brutish obstinacy, he utterly refused to
move. Delorier lashed and swore till he was tired, but Hendrick
stood like a rock, grumbling to himself and looking askance at his
enemy, until he saw a favorable opportunity to take his revenge, when
he struck out under the shaft with such cool malignity of intention
that Delorier only escaped the blow by a sudden skip into the air,
such as no one but a Frenchman could achieve. Shaw and he then
joined forces, and lashed on both sides at once. The brute stood
still for a while till he could bear it no longer, when all at once
he began to kick and plunge till he threatened the utter demolition
of the cart and harness. We glanced back at the camp, which was in
full sight. Our companions, inspired by emulation, were leveling
their tents and driving in their cattle and horses.
"Take the horse out," said I.
I took the saddle from Pontiac and put it upon Hendrick; the former
was harnessed to the cart in an instant. "Avance donc!" cried
Delorier. Pontiac strode up the hill, twitching the little cart
after him as if it were a feather's weight; and though, as we gained
the top, we saw the wagons of our deserted comrades just getting into
motion, we had little fear that they could overtake us. Leaving the
trail, we struck directly across the country, and took the shortest
cut to reach the main stream of the Platte. A deep ravine suddenly
intercepted us. We skirted its sides until we found them less
abrupt, and then plunged through the best way we could. Passing
behind the sandy ravines called "Ash Hollow," we stopped for a short
nooning at the side of a pool of rain-water; but soon resumed our
journey, and some hours before sunset were descending the ravines and
gorges opening downward upon the Platte to the west of Ash Hollow.
Our horses waded to the fetlock in sand; the sun scorched like fire,
and the air swarmed with sand-flies and mosquitoes.
At last we gained the Platte. Following it for about five miles, we
saw, just as the sun was sinking, a great meadow, dotted with
hundreds of cattle, and beyond them an emigrant encampment. A party
of about a dozen came out to meet us, looking upon us at first with
cold and suspicious faces. Seeing four men, different in appearance
and equipment from themselves, emerging from the hills, they had
taken us for the van of the much-dreaded Mormons, whom they were very
apprehensive of encountering. We made known our true character, and
then they greeted us cordially. They expressed much surprise that so
small a party should venture to traverse that region, though in fact
such attempts are not unfrequently made by trappers and Indian
traders. We rode with them to their camp. The wagons, some fifty in
number, with here and there a tent intervening, were arranged as
usual in a circle; in the area within the best horses were picketed,
and the whole circumference was glowing with the dusky light of the
fires, displaying the forms of the women and children who were
crowded around them. This patriarchal scene was curious and striking
enough; but we made our escape from the place with all possible
dispatch, being tormented by the intrusive curiosity of the men who
crowded around us. Yankee curiosity was nothing to theirs. They
demanded our names, where we came from, where we were going, and what
was our business. The last query was particularly embarrassing;
since traveling in that country, or indeed anywhere, from any other
motive than gain, was an idea of which they took no cognizance. Yet
they were fine-looking fellows, with an air of frankness, generosity,
and even courtesy, having come from one of the least barbarous of the
frontier counties.
We passed about a mile beyond them, and encamped. Being too few in
number to stand guard without excessive fatigue, we extinguished our
fire, lest it should attract the notice of wandering Indians; and
picketing our horses close around us, slept undisturbed till morning.
For three days we traveled without interruption, and on the evening
of the third encamped by the well-known spring on Scott's Bluff.
Henry Chatillon and I rode out in the morning, and descending the
western side of the Bluff, were crossing the plain beyond. Something
that seemed to me a file of buffalo came into view, descending the
hills several miles before us. But Henry reined in his horse, and
keenly peering across the prairie with a better and more practiced
eye, soon discovered its real nature. "Indians!" he said. "Old
Smoke's lodges, I b'lieve. Come! let us go! Wah! get up, now, Five
Hundred Dollar!" And laying on the lash with good will, he galloped
forward, and I rode by his side. Not long after, a black speck
became visible on the prairie, full two miles off. It grew larger
and larger; it assumed the form of a man and horse; and soon we could
discern a naked Indian, careering at full gallop toward us. When
within a furlong he wheeled his horse in a wide circle, and made him
describe various mystic figures upon the prairie; and Henry
immediately compelled Five Hundred Dollar to execute similar
evolutions. "It IS Old Smoke's village," said he, interpreting these
signals; "didn't I say so?"
As the Indian approached we stopped to wait for him, when suddenly he
vanished, sinking, as it were, into the earth. He had come upon one
of the deep ravines that everywhere intersect these prairies. In an
instant the rough head of his horse stretched upward from the edge
and the rider and steed came scrambling out, and hounded up to us; a
sudden jerk of the rein brought the wild panting horse to a full
stop. Then followed the needful formality of shaking hands. I
forget our visitor's name. He was a young fellow, of no note in his
nation; yet in his person and equipments he was a good specimen of a
Dakota warrior in his ordinary traveling dress. Like most of his
people, he was nearly six feet high; lithely and gracefully, yet
strongly proportioned; and with a skin singularly clear and delicate.
He wore no paint; his head was bare; and his long hair was gathered
in a clump behind, to the top of which was attached transversely,
both by way of ornament and of talisman, the mystic whistle, made of
the wingbone of the war eagle, and endowed with various magic
virtues. From the back of his head descended a line of glittering
brass plates, tapering from the size of a doubloon to that of a halfdime,
a cumbrous ornament, in high vogue among the Dakotas, and for
which they pay the traders a most extravagant price; his chest and
arms were naked, the buffalo robe, worn over them when at rest, had
fallen about his waist, and was confined there by a belt. This, with
the gay moccasins on his feet, completed his attire. For arms he
carried a quiver of dogskin at his back, and a rude but powerful bow
in his hand. His horse had no bridle; a cord of hair, lashed around
his jaw, served in place of one. The saddle was of most singular
construction; it was made of wood covered with raw hide, and both
pommel and cantle rose perpendicularly full eighteen inches, so that
the warrior was wedged firmly in his seat, whence nothing could
dislodge him but the bursting of the girths.
Advancing with our new companion, we found more of his people seated
in a circle on the top of a hill; while a rude procession came
straggling down the neighboring hollow, men, women, and children,
with horses dragging the lodge-poles behind them. All that morning,
as we moved forward, tall savages were stalking silently about us.
At noon we reached Horse Creek; and as we waded through the shallow
water, we saw a wild and striking scene. The main body of the
Indians had arrived before us. On the farther bank stood a large and
strong man, nearly naked, holding a white horse by a long cord, and
eyeing us as we approached. This was the chief, whom Henry called
"Old Smoke." Just behind him his youngest and favorite squaw sat
astride of a fine mule; it was covered with caparisons of whitened
skins, garnished with blue and white beads, and fringed with little
ornaments of metal that tinkled with every movement of the animal.
The girl had a light clear complexion, enlivened by a spot of
vermilion on each cheek; she smiled, not to say grinned, upon us,
showing two gleaming rows of white teeth. In her hand, she carried
the tall lance of her unchivalrous lord, fluttering with feathers;
his round white shield hung at the side of her mule; and his pipe was
slung at her back. Her dress was a tunic of deerskin, made
beautifully white by means of a species of clay found on the prairie,
and ornamented with beads, arrayed in figures more gay than tasteful,
and with long fringes at all the seams. Not far from the chief stood
a group of stately figures, their white buffalo robes thrown over
their shoulders, gazing coldly upon us; and in the rear, for several
acres, the ground was covered with a temporary encampment; men,
women, and children swarmed like bees; hundreds of dogs, of all sizes
and colors, ran restlessly about; and, close at hand, the wide
shallow stream was alive with boys, girls, and young squaws,
splashing, screaming, and laughing in the water. At the same time a
long train of emigrant wagons were crossing the creek, and dragging
on in their slow, heavy procession, passed the encampment of the
people whom they and their descendants, in the space of a century,
are to sweep from the face of the earth.
The encampment itself was merely a temporary one during the heat of
the day. None of the lodges were erected; but their heavy leather
coverings, and the long poles used to support them, were scattered
everywhere around, among weapons, domestic utensils, and the rude
harness of mules and horses. The squaws of each lazy warrior had
made him a shelter from the sun, by stretching a few buffalo robes,
or the corner of a lodge-covering upon poles; and here he sat in the
shade, with a favorite young squaw, perhaps, at his side, glittering
with all imaginable trinkets. Before him stood the insignia of his
rank as a warrior, his white shield of bull-hide, his medicine bag,
his bow and quiver, his lance and his pipe, raised aloft on a tripod
of three poles. Except the dogs, the most active and noisy tenants
of the camp were the old women, ugly as Macbeth's witches, with their
hair streaming loose in the wind, and nothing but the tattered
fragment of an old buffalo robe to hide their shriveled wiry limbs.
The day of their favoritism passed two generations ago; now the
heaviest labors of the camp devolved upon them; they were to harness
the horses, pitch the lodges, dress the buffalo robes, and bring in
meat for the hunters. With the cracked voices of these hags, the
clamor of dogs, the shouting and laughing of children and girls, and
the listless tranquillity of the warriors, the whole scene had an
effect too lively and picturesque ever to be forgotten.
We stopped not far from the Indian camp, and having invited some of
the chiefs and warriors to dinner, placed before them a sumptuous
repast of biscuit and coffee. Squatted in a half circle on the
ground, they soon disposed of it. As we rode forward on the
afternoon journey, several of our late guests accompanied us. Among
the rest was a huge bloated savage of more than three hundred pounds'
weight, christened La Cochon, in consideration of his preposterous
dimensions and certain corresponding traits of his character. "The
Hog" bestrode a little white pony, scarce able to bear up under the
enormous burden, though, by way of keeping up the necessary stimulus,
the rider kept both feet in constant motion, playing alternately
against his ribs. The old man was not a chief; he never had ambition
enough to become one; he was not a warrior nor a hunter, for he was
too fat and lazy: but he was the richest man in the whole village.
Riches among the Dakotas consist in horses, and of these The Hog had
accumulated more than thirty. He had already ten times as many as he
wanted, yet still his appetite for horses was insatiable. Trotting
up to me he shook me by the hand, and gave me to understand that he
was a very devoted friend; and then he began a series of most earnest
signs and gesticulations, his oily countenance radiant with smiles,
and his little eyes peeping out with a cunning twinkle from between
the masses of flesh that almost obscured them. Knowing nothing at
that time of the sign language of the Indians, I could only guess at
his meaning. So I called on Henry to explain it.
The Hog, it seems, was anxious to conclude a matrimonial bargain. He
said he had a very pretty daughter in his lodge, whom he would give
me, if I would give him my horse. These flattering overtures I chose
to reject; at which The Hog, still laughing with undiminished good
humor, gathered his robe about his shoulders, and rode away.
Where we encamped that night, an arm of the Platte ran between high
bluffs; it was turbid and swift as heretofore, but trees were growing
on its crumbling banks, and there was a nook of grass between the
water and the hill. Just before entering this place, we saw the
emigrants encamping at two or three miles' distance on the right;
while the whole Indian rabble were pouring down the neighboring hill
in hope of the same sort of entertainment which they had experienced
from us. In the savage landscape before our camp, nothing but the
rushing of the Platte broke the silence. Through the ragged boughs
of the trees, dilapidated and half dead, we saw the sun setting in
crimson behind the peaks of the Black Hills; the restless bosom of
the river was suffused with red; our white tent was tinged with it,
and the sterile bluffs, up to the rocks that crowned them, partook of
the same fiery hue. It soon passed away; no light remained, but that
from our fire, blazing high among the dusky trees and bushes. We lay
around it wrapped in our blankets, smoking and conversing until a
late hour, and then withdrew to our tent.
We crossed a sun-scorched plain on the next morning; the line of old
cotton-wood trees that fringed the bank of the Platte forming its
extreme verge. Nestled apparently close beneath them, we could
discern in the distance something like a building. As we came
nearer, it assumed form and dimensions, and proved to be a rough
structure of logs. It was a little trading fort, belonging to two
private traders; and originally intended, like all the forts of the
country, to form a hollow square, with rooms for lodging and storage
opening upon the area within. Only two sides of it had been
completed; the place was now as ill-fitted for the purposes of
defense as any of those little log-houses, which upon our constantly
shifting frontier have been so often successfully maintained against
overwhelming odds of Indians. Two lodges were pitched close to the
fort; the sun beat scorching upon the logs; no living thing was
stirring except one old squaw, who thrust her round head from the
opening of the nearest lodge, and three or four stout young pups, who
were peeping with looks of eager inquiry from under the covering. In
a moment a door opened, and a little, swarthy black-eyed Frenchman
came out. His dress was rather singular; his black curling hair was
parted in the middle of his head, and fell below his shoulders; he
wore a tight frock of smoked deerskin, very gayly ornamented with
figures worked in dyed porcupine quills. His moccasins and leggings
were also gaudily adorned in the same manner; and the latter had in
addition a line of long fringes, reaching down the seams. The small
frame of Richard, for by this name Henry made him known to us, was in
the highest degree athletic and vigorous. There was no superfluity,
and indeed there seldom is among the active white men of this
country, but every limb was compact and hard; every sinew had its
full tone and elasticity, and the whole man wore an air of mingled
hardihood and buoyancy.
Richard committed our horses to a Navahoe slave, a mean looking
fellow taken prisoner on the Mexican frontier; and, relieving us of
our rifles with ready politeness, led the way into the principal
apartment of his establishment. This was a room ten feet square.
The walls and floor were of black mud, and the roof of rough timber;
there was a huge fireplace made of four flat rocks, picked up on the
prairie. An Indian bow and otter-skin quiver, several gaudy articles
of Rocky Mountain finery, an Indian medicine bag, and a pipe and
tobacco pouch, garnished the walls, and rifles rested in a corner.
There was no furniture except a sort of rough settle covered with
buffalo robes, upon which lolled a tall half-breed, with his hair
glued in masses upon each temple, and saturated with vermilion. Two
or three more "mountain men" sat cross-legged on the floor. Their
attire was not unlike that of Richard himself; but the most striking
figure of the group was a naked Indian boy of sixteen, with a
handsome face, and light, active proportions, who sat in an easy
posture in the corner near the door. Not one of his limbs moved the
breadth of a hair; his eye was fixed immovably, not on any person
present, but, as it appeared, on the projecting corner of the
fireplace opposite to him.
On these prairies the custom of smoking with friends is seldom
omitted, whether among Indians or whites. The pipe, therefore, was
taken from the wall, and its great red bowl crammed with the tobacco
and shongsasha, mixed in suitable proportions. Then it passed round
the circle, each man inhaling a few whiffs and handing it to his
neighbor. Having spent half an hour here, we took our leave; first
inviting our new friends to drink a cup of coffee with us at our
camp, a mile farther up the river. By this time, as the reader may
conceive, we had grown rather shabby; our clothes had burst into rags
and tatters; and what was worse, we had very little means of
renovation. Fort Laramie was but seven miles before us. Being
totally averse to appearing in such plight among any society that
could boast an approximation to the civilized, we soon stopped by the
river to make our toilet in the best way we could. We hung up small
looking-glasses against the trees and shaved, an operation neglected
for six weeks; we performed our ablutions in the Platte, though the
utility of such a proceeding was questionable, the water looking
exactly like a cup of chocolate, and the banks consisting of the
softest and richest yellow mud, so that we were obliged, as a
preliminary, to build a cause-way of stout branches and twigs.
Having also put on radiant moccasins, procured from a squaw of
Richard's establishment, and made what other improvements our narrow
circumstances allowed, we took our seats on the grass with a feeling
of greatly increased respectability, to wait the arrival of our
guests. They came; the banquet was concluded, and the pipe smoked.
Bidding them adieu, we turned our horses' heads toward the fort.
An hour elapsed. The barren hills closed across our front, and we
could see no farther; until having surmounted them, a rapid stream
appeared at the foot of the descent, running into the Platte; beyond
was a green meadow, dotted with bushes, and in the midst of these, at
the point where the two rivers joined, were the low clay walls of a
fort. This was not Fort Laramie, but another post of less recent
date, which having sunk before its successful competitor was now
deserted and ruinous. A moment after the hills, seeming to draw
apart as we advanced, disclosed Fort Laramie itself, its high
bastions and perpendicular walls of clay crowning an eminence on the
left beyond the stream, while behind stretched a line of arid and
desolate ridges, and behind these again, towering aloft seven
thousand feet, arose the grim Black Hills.
We tried to ford Laramie Creek at a point nearly opposite the fort,
but the stream, swollen with the rains in the mountains, was too
rapid. We passed up along its bank to find a better crossing place.
Men gathered on the wall to look at us. "There's Bordeaux!" called
Henry, his face brightening as he recognized his acquaintance; "him
there with the spyglass; and there's old Vaskiss, and Tucker, and
May; and, by George! there's Cimoneau!" This Cimoneau was Henry's
fast friend, and the only man in the country who could rival him in
We soon found a ford. Henry led the way, the pony approaching the
bank with a countenance of cool indifference, bracing his feet and
sliding into the stream with the most unmoved composure.
At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
And the water broke o'er the saddle-bow
We followed; the water boiled against our saddles, but our horses
bore us easily through. The unfortunate little mules came near going
down with the current, cart and all; and we watched them with some
solicitude scrambling over the loose round stones at the bottom, and
bracing stoutly against the stream. All landed safely at last; we
crossed a little plain, descended a hollow, and riding up a steep
bank found ourselves before the gateway of Fort Laramie, under the
impending blockhouse erected above it to defend the entrance.
Looking back, after the expiration of a year, upon Fort Laramie and
its inmates, they seem less like a reality than like some fanciful
picture of the olden time; so different was the scene from any which
this tamer side of the world can present. Tall Indians, enveloped in
their white buffalo robes, were striding across the area or reclining
at full length on the low roofs of the buildings which inclosed it.
Numerous squaws, gayly bedizened, sat grouped in front of the
apartments they occupied; their mongrel offspring, restless and
vociferous, rambled in every direction through the fort; and the
trappers, traders, and ENGAGES of the establishment were busy at
their labor or their amusements.
We were met at the gate, but by no means cordially welcomed. Indeed,
we seemed objects of some distrust and suspicion until Henry
Chatillon explained that we were not traders, and we, in
confirmation, handed to the bourgeois a letter of introduction from
his principals. He took it, turned it upside down, and tried hard to
read it; but his literary attainments not being adequate to the task,
he applied for relief to the clerk, a sleek, smiling Frenchman, named
Montalon. The letter read, Bordeaux (the bourgeois) seemed gradually
to awaken to a sense of what was expected of him. Though not
deficient in hospitable intentions, he was wholly unaccustomed to act
as master of ceremonies. Discarding all formalities of reception, he
did not honor us with a single word, but walked swiftly across the
area, while we followed in some admiration to a railing and a flight
of steps opposite the entrance. He signed to us that we had better
fasten our horses to the railing; then he walked up the steps,
tramped along a rude balcony, and kicking open a door displayed a
large room, rather more elaborately finished than a barn. For
furniture it had a rough bedstead, but no bed; two chairs, a chest of
drawers, a tin pail to hold water, and a board to cut tobacco upon.
A brass crucifix hung on the wall, and close at hand a recent scalp,
with hair full a yard long, was suspended from a nail. I shall again
have occasion to mention this dismal trophy, its history being
connected with that of our subsequent proceedings.
This apartment, the best in Fort Laramie, was that usually occupied
by the legitimate bourgeois, Papin; in whose absence the command
devolved upon Bordeaux. The latter, a stout, bluff little fellow,
much inflated by a sense of his new authority, began to roar for
buffalo robes. These being brought and spread upon the floor formed
our beds; much better ones than we had of late been accustomed to.
Our arrangements made, we stepped out to the balcony to take a more
leisurely survey of the long looked-for haven at which we had arrived
at last. Beneath us was the square area surrounded by little rooms,
or rather cells, which opened upon it. These were devoted to various
purposes, but served chiefly for the accommodation of the men
employed at the fort, or of the equally numerous squaws, whom they
were allowed to maintain in it. Opposite to us rose the blockhouse
above the gateway; it was adorned with a figure which even now haunts
my memory; a horse at full speed, daubed upon the boards with red
paint, and exhibiting a degree of skill which might rival that
displayed by the Indians in executing similar designs upon their
robes and lodges. A busy scene was enacting in the area. The wagons
of Vaskiss, an old trader, were about to set out for a remote post in
the mountains, and the Canadians were going through their
preparations with all possible bustle, while here and there an Indian
stood looking on with imperturbable gravity.
Fort Laramie is one of the posts established by the American Fur
Company, who well-nigh monopolize the Indian trade of this whole
region. Here their officials rule with an absolute sway; the arm of
the United States has little force; for when we were there, the
extreme outposts of her troops were about seven hundred miles to the
eastward. The little fort is built of bricks dried in the sun, and
externally is of an oblong form, with bastions of clay, in the form
of ordinary blockhouses, at two of the corners. The walls are about
fifteen feet high, and surmounted by a slender palisade. The roofs
of the apartments within, which are built close against the walls,
serve the purpose of a banquette. Within, the fort is divided by a
partition; on one side is the square area surrounded by the
storerooms, offices, and apartments of the inmates; on the other is
the corral, a narrow place, encompassed by the high clay walls, where
at night, or in presence of dangerous Indians, the horses and mules
of the fort are crowded for safe-keeping. The main entrance has two
gates, with an arched passage intervening. A little square window,
quite high above the ground, opens laterally from an adjoining
chamber into this passage; so that when the inner gate is closed and
barred, a person without may still hold communication with those
within through this narrow aperture. This obviates the necessity of
admitting suspicious Indians, for purposes of trading, into the body
of the fort; for when danger is apprehended, the inner gate is shut
fast, and all traffic is carried on by means of the little window.
This precaution, though highly necessary at some of the company's
posts, is now seldom resorted to at Fort Laramie; where, though men
are frequently killed in its neighborhood, no apprehensions are now
entertained of any general designs of hostility from the Indians.
We did not long enjoy our new quarters undisturbed. The door was
silently pushed open, and two eyeballs and a visage as black as night
looked in upon us; then a red arm and shoulder intruded themselves,
and a tall Indian, gliding in, shook us by the hand, grunted his
salutation, and sat down on the floor. Others followed, with faces
of the natural hue; and letting fall their heavy robes from their
shoulders, they took their seats, quite at ease, in a semicircle
before us. The pipe was now to be lighted and passed round from one
to another; and this was the only entertainment that at present they
expected from us. These visitors were fathers, brothers, or other
relatives of the squaws in the fort, where they were permitted to
remain, loitering about in perfect idleness. All those who smoked
with us were men of standing and repute. Two or three others dropped
in also; young fellows who neither by their years nor their exploits
were entitled to rank with the old men and warriors, and who, abashed
in the presence of their superiors, stood aloof, never withdrawing
their eyes from us. Their cheeks were adorned with vermilion, their
ears with pendants of shell, and their necks with beads. Never yet
having signalized themselves as hunters, or performed the honorable
exploit of killing a man, they were held in slight esteem, and were
diffident and bashful in proportion. Certain formidable
inconveniences attended this influx of visitors. They were bent on
inspecting everything in the room; our equipments and our dress alike
underwent their scrutiny; for though the contrary has been carelessly
asserted, few beings have more curiosity than Indians in regard to
subjects within their ordinary range of thought. As to other
matters, indeed, they seemed utterly indifferent. They will not
trouble themselves to inquire into what they cannot comprehend, but
are quite contented to place their hands over their mouths in token
of wonder, and exclaim that it is "great medicine." With this
comprehensive solution, an Indian never is at a loss. He never
launches forth into speculation and conjecture; his reason moves in
its beaten track. His soul is dormant; and no exertions of the
missionaries, Jesuit or Puritan, of the Old World or of the New, have
as yet availed to rouse it.
As we were looking, at sunset, from the wall, upon the wild and
desolate plains that surround the fort, we observed a cluster of
strange objects like scaffolds rising in the distance against the red
western sky. They bore aloft some singular looking burdens; and at
their foot glimmered something white like bones. This was the place
of sepulture of some Dakota chiefs, whose remains their people are
fond of placing in the vicinity of the fort, in the hope that they
may thus be protected from violation at the hands of their enemies.
Yet it has happened more than once, and quite recently, that war
parties of the Crow Indians, ranging through the country, have thrown
the bodies from the scaffolds, and broken them to pieces amid the
yells of the Dakotas, who remained pent up in the fort, too few to
defend the honored relics from insult. The white objects upon the
ground were buffalo skulls, arranged in the mystic circle commonly
seen at Indian places of sepulture upon the prairie.
We soon discovered, in the twilight, a band of fifty or sixty horses
approaching the fort. These were the animals belonging to the
establishment; who having been sent out to feed, under the care of
armed guards, in the meadows below, were now being driven into the
corral for the night. A little gate opened into this inclosure; by
the side of it stood one of the guards, an old Canadian, with gray
bushy eyebrows, and a dragoon pistol stuck into his belt; while his
comrade, mounted on horseback, his rifle laid across the saddle in
front of him, and his long hair blowing before his swarthy face, rode
at the rear of the disorderly troop, urging them up the ascent. In a
moment the narrow corral was thronged with the half-wild horses,
kicking, biting, and crowding restlessly together.
The discordant jingling of a bell, rung by a Canadian in the area,
summoned us to supper. This sumptuous repast was served on a rough
table in one of the lower apartments of the fort, and consisted of
cakes of bread and dried buffalo meat--an excellent thing for
strengthening the teeth. At this meal were seated the bourgeois and
superior dignitaries of the establishment, among whom Henry Chatillon
was worthily included. No sooner was it finished, than the table was
spread a second time (the luxury of bread being now, however,
omitted), for the benefit of certain hunters and trappers of an
inferior standing; while the ordinary Canadian ENGAGES were regaled
on dried meat in one of their lodging rooms. By way of illustrating
the domestic economy of Fort Laramie, it may not be amiss to
introduce in this place a story current among the men when we were
There was an old man named Pierre, whose duty it was to bring the
meat from the storeroom for the men. Old Pierre, in the kindness of
his heart, used to select the fattest and the best pieces for his
companions. This did not long escape the keen-eyed bourgeois, who
was greatly disturbed at such improvidence, and cast about for some
means to stop it. At last he hit on a plan that exactly suited him.
At the side of the meat-room, and separated from it by a clay
partition, was another compartment, used for the storage of furs. It
had no other communication with the fort, except through a square
hole in the partition; and of course it was perfectly dark. One
evening the bourgeois, watching for a moment when no one observed
him, dodged into the meat-room, clambered through the hole, and
ensconced himself among the furs and buffalo robes. Soon after, old
Pierre came in with his lantern; and, muttering to himself, began to
pull over the bales of meat, and select the best pieces, as usual.
But suddenly a hollow and sepulchral voice proceeded from the inner
apartment: "Pierre! Pierre! Let that fat meat alone! Take nothing
but lean!" Pierre dropped his lantern, and bolted out into the fort,
screaming, in an agony of terror, that the devil was in the
storeroom; but tripping on the threshold, he pitched over upon the
gravel, and lay senseless, stunned by the fall. The Canadians ran
out to the rescue. Some lifted the unlucky Pierre; and others,
making an extempore crucifix out of two sticks, were proceeding to
attack the devil in his stronghold, when the bourgeois, with a crestfallen
countenance, appeared at the door. To add to the bourgeois'
mortification, he was obliged to explain the whole stratagem to
Pierre, in order to bring the latter to his senses.
We were sitting, on the following morning, in the passage-way between
the gates, conversing with the traders Vaskiss and May. These two
men, together with our sleek friend, the clerk Montalon, were, I
believe, the only persons then in the fort who could read and write.
May was telling a curious story about the traveler Catlin, when an
ugly, diminutive Indian, wretchedly mounted, came up at a gallop, and
rode past us into the fort. On being questioned, he said that
Smoke's village was close at hand. Accordingly only a few minutes
elapsed before the hills beyond the river were covered with a
disorderly swarm of savages, on horseback and on foot. May finished
his story; and by that time the whole array had descended to Laramie
Creek, and commenced crossing it in a mass. I walked down to the
bank. The stream is wide, and was then between three and four feet
deep, with a very swift current. For several rods the water was
alive with dogs, horses, and Indians. The long poles used in
erecting the lodges are carried by the horses, being fastened by the
heavier end, two or three on each side, to a rude sort of pack
saddle, while the other end drags on the ground. About a foot behind
the horse, a kind of large basket or pannier is suspended between the
poles, and firmly lashed in its place on the back of the horse are
piled various articles of luggage; the basket also is well filled
with domestic utensils, or, quite as often, with a litter of puppies,
a brood of small children, or a superannuated old man. Numbers of
these curious vehicles, called, in the bastard language of the
country travaux were now splashing together through the stream.
Among them swam countless dogs, often burdened with miniature
travaux; and dashing forward on horseback through the throng came the
superbly formed warriors, the slender figure of some lynx-eyed boy,
clinging fast behind them. The women sat perched on the pack
saddles, adding not a little to the load of the already overburdened
horses. The confusion was prodigious. The dogs yelled and howled in
chorus; the puppies in the travaux set up a dismal whine as the water
invaded their comfortable retreat; the little black-eyed children,
from one year of age upward, clung fast with both hands to the edge
of their basket, and looked over in alarm at the water rushing so
near them, sputtering and making wry mouths as it splashed against
their faces. Some of the dogs, encumbered by their loads, were
carried down by the current, yelping piteously; and the old squaws
would rush into the water, seize their favorites by the neck, and
drag them out. As each horse gained the bank, he scrambled up as he
could. Stray horses and colts came among the rest, often breaking
away at full speed through the crowd, followed by the old hags,
screaming after their fashion on all occasions of excitement. Buxom
young squaws, blooming in all the charms of vermilion, stood here and
there on the bank, holding aloft their master's lance, as a signal to
collect the scattered portions of his household. In a few moments
the crowd melted away; each family, with its horses and equipage,
filing off to the plain at the rear of the fort; and here, in the
space of half an hour, arose sixty or seventy of their tapering
lodges. Their horses were feeding by hundreds over the surrounding
prairie, and their dogs were roaming everywhere. The fort was full
of men, and the children were whooping and yelling incessantly under
the walls.
These newcomers were scarcely arrived, when Bordeaux was running
across the fort, shouting to his squaw to bring him his spyglass.
The obedient Marie, the very model of a squaw, produced the
instrument, and Bordeaux hurried with it up to the wall. Pointing it
to the eastward, he exclaimed, with an oath, that the families were
coming. But a few moments elapsed before the heavy caravan of the
emigrant wagons could be seen, steadily advancing from the hills.
They gained the river, and without turning or pausing plunged in;
they passed through, and slowly ascending the opposing bank, kept
directly on their way past the fort and the Indian village, until,
gaining a spot a quarter of a mile distant, they wheeled into a
circle. For some time our tranquillity was undisturbed. The
emigrants were preparing their encampment; but no sooner was this
accomplished than Fort Laramie was fairly taken by storm. A crowd of
broad-brimmed hats, thin visages, and staring eyes appeared suddenly
at the gate. Tall awkward men, in brown homespun; women with
cadaverous faces and long lank figures came thronging in together,
and, as if inspired by the very demon of curiosity, ransacked every
nook and corner of the fort. Dismayed at this invasion, we withdrew
in all speed to our chamber, vainly hoping that it might prove an
inviolable sanctuary. The emigrants prosecuted their investigations
with untiring vigor. They penetrated the rooms or rather dens,
inhabited by the astonished squaws. They explored the apartments of
the men, and even that of Marie and the bourgeois. At last a
numerous deputation appeared at our door, but were immediately
expelled. Being totally devoid of any sense of delicacy or
propriety, they seemed resolved to search every mystery to the
Having at length satisfied their curiosity, they next proceeded to
business. The men occupied themselves in procuring supplies for
their onward journey; either buying them with money or giving in
exchange superfluous articles of their own.
The emigrants felt a violent prejudice against the French Indians, as
they called the trappers and traders. They thought, and with some
justice, that these men bore them no good will. Many of them were
firmly persuaded that the French were instigating the Indians to
attack and cut them off. On visiting the encampment we were at once
struck with the extraordinary perplexity and indecision that
prevailed among the emigrants. They seemed like men totally out of
their elements; bewildered and amazed, like a troop of school-boys
lost in the woods. It was impossible to be long among them without
being conscious of the high and bold spirit with which most of them
were animated. But the FOREST is the home of the backwoodsman. On
the remote prairie he is totally at a loss. He differs much from the
genuine "mountain man," the wild prairie hunter, as a Canadian
voyageur, paddling his canoe on the rapids of the Ottawa, differs
from an American sailor among the storms of Cape Horn. Still my
companion and I were somewhat at a loss to account for this perturbed
state of mind. It could not be cowardice; these men were of the same
stock with the volunteers of Monterey and Buena Vista. Yet, for the
most part, they were the rudest and most ignorant of the frontier
population; they knew absolutely nothing of the country and its
inhabitants; they had already experienced much misfortune, and
apprehended more; they had seen nothing of mankind, and had never put
their own resources to the test.
A full proportion of suspicion fell upon us. Being strangers we were
looked upon as enemies. Having occasion for a supply of lead and a
few other necessary articles, we used to go over to the emigrant
camps to obtain them. After some hesitation, some dubious glances,
and fumbling of the hands in the pockets, the terms would be agreed
upon, the price tendered, and the emigrant would go off to bring the
article in question. After waiting until our patience gave out, we
would go in search of him, and find him seated on the tongue of his
"Well, stranger," he would observe, as he saw us approach, "I reckon
I won't trade!"
Some friend of his followed him from the scene of the bargain and
suggested in his ear, that clearly we meant to cheat him, and he had
better have nothing to do with us.
This timorous mood of the emigrants was doubly unfortunate, as it
exposed them to real danger. Assume, in the presence of Indians a
bold bearing, self-confident yet vigilant, and you will find them
tolerably safe neighbors. But your safety depends on the respect and
fear you are able to inspire. If you betray timidity or indecision,
you convert them from that moment into insidious and dangerous
enemies. The Dakotas saw clearly enough the perturbation of the
emigrants and instantly availed themselves of it. They became
extremely insolent and exacting in their demands. It has become an
established custom with them to go to the camp of every party, at it
arrives in succession at the fort, and demand a feast. Smoke's
village had come with the express design, having made several days'
journey with no other object than that of enjoying a cup of coffee
and two or three biscuits. So the "feast" was demanded, and the
emigrants dared not refuse it.
One evening, about sunset, the village was deserted. We met old men,
warriors, squaws, and children in gay attire, trooping off to the
encampment, with faces of anticipation; and, arriving here, they
seated themselves in a semicircle. Smoke occupied the center, with
his warriors on either hand; the young men and boys next succeeded,
and the squaws and children formed the horns of the crescent. The
biscuit and coffee were most promptly dispatched, the emigrants
staring open-mouthed at their savage guests. With each new emigrant
party that arrived at Fort Laramie this scene was renewed; and every
day the Indians grew more rapacious and presumptuous. One evening
they broke to pieces, out of mere wantonness, the cups from which
they had been feasted; and this so exasperated the emigrants that
many of them seized their rifles and could scarcely be restrained
from firing on the insolent mob of Indians. Before we left the
country this dangerous spirit on the part of the Dakota had mounted
to a yet higher pitch. They began openly to threaten the emigrants
with destruction, and actually fired upon one or two parties of
whites. A military force and military law are urgently called for in
that perilous region; and unless troops are speedily stationed at
Fort Laramie, or elsewhere in the neighborhood, both the emigrants
and other travelers will be exposed to most imminent risks.
The Ogallalla, the Brules, and other western bands of the Dakota, are
thorough savages, unchanged by any contact with civilization. Not
one of them can speak a European tongue, or has ever visited an
American settlement. Until within a year or two, when the emigrants
began to pass through their country on the way to Oregon, they had
seen no whites except the handful employed about the Fur Company's
posts. They esteemed them a wise people, inferior only to
themselves, living in leather lodges, like their own, and subsisting
on buffalo. But when the swarm of MENEASKA, with their oxen and
wagons, began to invade them, their astonishment was unbounded. They
could scarcely believe that the earth contained such a multitude of
white men. Their wonder is now giving way to indignation; and the
result, unless vigilantly guarded against, may be lamentable in the
But to glance at the interior of a lodge. Shaw and I used often to
visit them. Indeed, we spent most of our evenings in the Indian
village; Shaw's assumption of the medical character giving us a fair
pretext. As a sample of the rest I will describe one of these
visits. The sun had just set, and the horses were driven into the
corral. The Prairie Cock, a noted beau, came in at the gate with a
bevy of young girls, with whom he began to dance in the area, leading
them round and round in a circle, while he jerked up from his chest a
succession of monotonous sounds, to which they kept time in a rueful
chant. Outside the gate boys and young men were idly frolicking; and
close by, looking grimly upon them, stood a warrior in his robe, with
his face painted jet-black, in token that he had lately taken a
Pawnee scalp. Passing these, the tall dark lodges rose between us
and the red western sky. We repaired at once to the lodge of Old
Smoke himself. It was by no means better than the others; indeed, it
was rather shabby; for in this democratic community, the chief never
assumes superior state. Smoke sat cross-legged on a buffalo robe,
and his grunt of salutation as we entered was unusually cordial, out
of respect no doubt to Shaw's medical character. Seated around the
lodge were several squaws, and an abundance of children. The
complaint of Shaw's patients was, for the most part, a severe
inflammation of the eyes, occasioned by exposure to the sun, a
species of disorder which he treated with some success. He had
brought with him a homeopathic medicine chest, and was, I presume,
the first who introduced that harmless system of treatment among the
Ogallalla. No sooner had a robe been spread at the head of the lodge
for our accommodation, and we had seated ourselves upon it, than a
patient made her appearance; the chief's daughter herself, who, to do
her justice, was the best-looking girl in the village. Being on
excellent terms with the physician, she placed herself readily under
his hands, and submitted with a good grace to his applications,
laughing in his face during the whole process, for a squaw hardly
knows how to smile. This case dispatched, another of a different
kind succeeded. A hideous, emaciated old woman sat in the darkest
corner of the lodge rocking to and fro with pain and hiding her eyes
from the light by pressing the palms of both hands against her face.
At Smoke's command, she came forward, very unwillingly, and exhibited
a pair of eyes that had nearly disappeared from excess of
inflammation. No sooner had the doctor fastened his grips upon her
than she set up a dismal moaning, and writhed so in his grasp that he
lost all patience, but being resolved to carry his point, he
succeeded at last in applying his favorite remedies.
"It is strange," he said, when the operation was finished, "that I
forgot to bring any Spanish flies with me; we must have something
here to answer for a counter-irritant!"
So, in the absence of better, he seized upon a red-hot brand from the
fire, and clapped it against the temple of the old squaw, who set up
an unearthly howl, at which the rest of the family broke out into a
During these medical operations Smoke's eldest squaw entered the
lodge, with a sort of stone mallet in her hand. I had observed some
time before a litter of well-grown black puppies, comfortably nestled
among some buffalo robes at one side; but this newcomer speedily
disturbed their enjoyment; for seizing one of them by the hind paw,
she dragged him out, and carrying him to the entrance of the lodge,
hammered him on the head till she killed him. Being quite conscious
to what this preparation tended, I looked through a hole in the back
of the lodge to see the next steps of the process. The squaw,
holding the puppy by the legs, was swinging him to and fro through
the blaze of a fire, until the hair was singed off. This done, she
unsheathed her knife and cut him into small pieces, which she dropped
into a kettle to boil. In a few moments a large wooden dish was set
before us, filled with this delicate preparation. We felt conscious
of the honor. A dog-feast is the greatest compliment a Dakota can
offer to his guest; and knowing that to refuse eating would be an
affront, we attacked the little dog and devoured him before the eyes
of his unconscious parent. Smoke in the meantime was preparing his
great pipe. It was lighted when we had finished our repast, and we
passed it from one to another till the bowl was empty. This done, we
took our leave without further ceremony, knocked at the gate of the
fort, and after making ourselves known were admitted.
One morning, about a week after reaching Fort Laramie, we were
holding our customary Indian levee, when a bustle in the area below
announced a new arrival; and looking down from our balcony, I saw a
familiar red beard and mustache in the gateway. They belonged to the
captain, who with his party had just crossed the stream. We met him
on the stairs as he came up, and congratulated him on the safe
arrival of himself and his devoted companions. But he remembered our
treachery, and was grave and dignified accordingly; a tendency which
increased as he observed on our part a disposition to laugh at him.
After remaining an hour or two at the fort he rode away with his
friends, and we have heard nothing of him since. As for R., he kept
carefully aloof. It was but too evident that we had the unhappiness
to have forfeited the kind regards of our London fellow-traveler.
The summer of 1846 was a season of much warlike excitement among all
the western bands of the Dakota. In 1845 they encountered great
reverses. Many war parties had been sent out; some of them had been
totally cut off, and others had returned broken and disheartened, so
that the whole nation was in mourning. Among the rest, ten warriors
had gone to the Snake country, led by the son of a prominent
Ogallalla chief, called The Whirlwind. In passing over Laramie
Plains they encountered a superior number of their enemies, were
surrounded, and killed to a man. Having performed this exploit the
Snakes became alarmed, dreading the resentment of the Dakota, and
they hastened therefore to signify their wish for peace by sending
the scalp of the slain partisan, together with a small parcel of
tobacco attached, to his tribesmen and relations. They had employed
old Vaskiss, the trader, as their messenger, and the scalp was the
same that hung in our room at the fort. But The Whirlwind proved
inexorable. Though his character hardly corresponds with his name,
he is nevertheless an Indian, and hates the Snakes with his whole
soul. Long before the scalp arrived he had made his preparations for
revenge. He sent messengers with presents and tobacco to all the
Dakota within three hundred miles, proposing a grand combination to
chastise the Snakes, and naming a place and time of rendezvous. The
plan was readily adopted and at this moment many villages, probably
embracing in the whole five or six thousand souls, were slowly
creeping over the prairies and tending towards the common center at
La Bonte's Camp, on the Platte. Here their war-like rites were to be
celebrated with more than ordinary solemnity, and a thousand
warriors, as it was said, were to set out for the enemy country. The
characteristic result of this preparation will appear in the sequel.
I was greatly rejoiced to hear of it. I had come into the country
almost exclusively with a view of observing the Indian character.
Having from childhood felt a curiosity on this subject, and having
failed completely to gratify it by reading, I resolved to have
recourse to observation. I wished to satisfy myself with regard to
the position of the Indians among the races of men; the vices and the
virtues that have sprung from their innate character and from their
modes of life, their government, their superstitions, and their
domestic situation. To accomplish my purpose it was necessary to
live in the midst of them, and become, as it were, one of them. I
proposed to join a village and make myself an inmate of one of their
lodges; and henceforward this narrative, so far as I am concerned,
will be chiefly a record of the progress of this design apparently so
easy of accomplishment, and the unexpected impediments that opposed
We resolved on no account to miss the rendezvous at La Bonte's Camp.
Our plan was to leave Delorier at the fort, in charge of our equipage
and the better part of our horses, while we took with us nothing but
our weapons and the worst animals we had. In all probability
jealousies and quarrels would arise among so many hordes of fierce
impulsive savages, congregated together under no common head, and
many of them strangers, from remote prairies and mountains. We were
bound in common prudence to be cautious how we excited any feeling of
cupidity. This was our plan, but unhappily we were not destined to
visit La Bonte's Camp in this manner; for one morning a young Indian
came to the fort and brought us evil tidings. The newcomer was a
dandy of the first water. His ugly face was painted with vermilion;
on his head fluttered the tail of a prairie cock (a large species of
pheasant, not found, as I have heard, eastward of the Rocky
Mountains); in his ears were hung pendants of shell, and a flaming
red blanket was wrapped around him. He carried a dragoon sword in
his hand, solely for display, since the knife, the arrow, and the
rifle are the arbiters of every prairie fight; but no one in this
country goes abroad unarmed, the dandy carried a bow and arrows in an
otter-skin quiver at his back. In this guise, and bestriding his
yellow horse with an air of extreme dignity, The Horse, for that was
his name, rode in at the gate, turning neither to the right nor the
left, but casting glances askance at the groups of squaws who, with
their mongrel progeny, were sitting in the sun before their doors.
The evil tidings brought by The Horse were of the following import:
The squaw of Henry Chatillon, a woman with whom he had been connected
for years by the strongest ties which in that country exist between
the sexes, was dangerously ill. She and her children were in the
village of The Whirlwind, at the distance of a few days' journey.
Henry was anxious to see the woman before she died, and provide for
the safety and support of his children, of whom he was extremely
fond. To have refused him this would have been gross inhumanity. We
abandoned our plan of joining Smoke's village, and of proceeding with
it to the rendezvous, and determined to meet The Whirlwind, and go in
his company.
I had been slightly ill for several weeks, but on the third night
after reaching Fort Laramie a violent pain awoke me, and I found
myself attacked by the same disorder that occasioned such heavy
losses to the army on the Rio Grande. In a day and a half I was
reduced to extreme weakness, so that I could not walk without pain
and effort. Having within that time taken six grains of opium,
without the least beneficial effect, and having no medical adviser,
nor any choice of diet, I resolved to throw myself upon Providence
for recovery, using, without regard to the disorder, any portion of
strength that might remain to me. So on the 20th of June we set out
from Fort Laramie to meet The Whirlwind's village. Though aided by
the high-bowed "mountain saddle," I could scarcely keep my seat on
horseback. Before we left the fort we hired another man, a longhaired
Canadian, with a face like an owl's, contrasting oddly enough
with Delorier's mercurial countenance. This was not the only reenforcement
to our party. A vagrant Indian trader, named Reynal,
joined us, together with his squaw Margot, and her two nephews, our
dandy friend, The Horse, and his younger brother, The Hail Storm.
Thus accompanied, we betook ourselves to the prairie, leaving the
beaten trail, and passing over the desolate hills that flank the
bottoms of Laramie Creek. In all, Indians and whites, we counted
eight men and one woman.
Reynal, the trader, the image of sleek and selfish complacency,
carried The Horse's dragoon sword in his hand, delighting apparently
in this useless parade; for, from spending half his life among
Indians, he had caught not only their habits but their ideas.
Margot, a female animal of more than two hundred pounds' weight, was
couched in the basket of a travail, such as I have before described;
besides her ponderous bulk, various domestic utensils were attached
to the vehicle, and she was leading by a trail-rope a packhorse, who
carried the covering of Reynal's lodge. Delorier walked briskly by
the side of the cart, and Raymond came behind, swearing at the spare
horses, which it was his business to drive. The restless young
Indians, their quivers at their backs, and their bows in their hand,
galloped over the hills, often starting a wolf or an antelope from
the thick growth of wild-sage bushes. Shaw and I were in keeping
with the rest of the rude cavalcade, having in the absence of other
clothing adopted the buckskin attire of the trappers. Henry
Chatillon rode in advance of the whole. Thus we passed hill after
hill and hollow after hollow, a country arid, broken and so parched
by the sun that none of the plants familiar to our more favored soil
would flourish upon it, though there were multitudes of strange
medicinal herbs, more especially the absanth, which covered every
declivity, and cacti were hanging like reptiles at the edges of every
ravine. At length we ascended a high hill, our horses treading upon
pebbles of flint, agate, and rough jasper, until, gaining the top, we
looked down on the wild bottoms of Laramie Creek, which far below us
wound like a writhing snake from side to side of the narrow interval,
amid a growth of shattered cotton-wood and ash trees. Lines of tall
cliffs, white as chalk, shut in this green strip of woods and meadow
land, into which we descended and encamped for the night. In the
morning we passed a wide grassy plain by the river; there was a grove
in front, and beneath its shadows the ruins of an old trading fort of
logs. The grove bloomed with myriads of wild roses, with their sweet
perfume fraught with recollections of home. As we emerged from the
trees, a rattlesnake, as large as a man's arm, and more than four
feet long, lay coiled on a rock, fiercely rattling and hissing at us;
a gray hare, double the size of those in New England, leaped up from
the tall ferns; curlew were screaming over our heads, and a whole
host of little prairie dogs sat yelping at us at the mouths of their
burrows on the dry plain beyond. Suddenly an antelope leaped up from
the wild-sage bushes, gazed eagerly at us, and then, erecting his
white tail, stretched away like a greyhound. The two Indian boys
found a white wolf, as large as a calf in a hollow, and giving a
sharp yell, they galloped after him; but the wolf leaped into the
stream and swam across. Then came the crack of a rifle, the bullet
whistling harmlessly over his head, as he scrambled up the steep
declivity, rattling down stones and earth into the water below.
Advancing a little, we beheld on the farther bank of the stream, a
spectacle not common even in that region; for, emerging from among
the trees, a herd of some two hundred elk came out upon the meadow,
their antlers clattering as they walked forward in dense throng.
Seeing us, they broke into a run, rushing across the opening and
disappearing among the trees and scattered groves. On our left was a
barren prairie, stretching to the horizon; on our right, a deep gulf,
with Laramie Creek at the bottom. We found ourselves at length at
the edge of a steep descent; a narrow valley, with long rank grass
and scattered trees stretching before us for a mile or more along the
course of the stream. Reaching the farther end, we stopped and
encamped. An old huge cotton-wood tree spread its branches
horizontally over our tent. Laramie Creek, circling before our camp,
half inclosed us; it swept along the bottom of a line of tall white
cliffs that looked down on us from the farther bank. There were
dense copses on our right; the cliffs, too, were half hidden by
shrubbery, though behind us a few cotton-wood trees, dotting the
green prairie, alone impeded the view, and friend or enemy could be
discerned in that direction at a mile's distance. Here we resolved
to remain and await the arrival of The Whirlwind, who would certainly
pass this way in his progress toward La Bonte's Camp. To go in
search of him was not expedient, both on account of the broken and
impracticable nature of the country and the uncertainty of his
position and movements; besides, our horses were almost worn out, and
I was in no condition to travel. We had good grass, good water,
tolerable fish from the stream, and plenty of smaller game, such as
antelope and deer, though no buffalo. There was one little drawback
to our satisfaction--a certain extensive tract of bushes and dried
grass, just behind us, which it was by no means advisable to enter,
since it sheltered a numerous brood of rattlesnakes. Henry Chatillon
again dispatched The Horse to the village, with a message to his
squaw that she and her relatives should leave the rest and push on as
rapidly as possible to our camp.
Our daily routine soon became as regular as that of a well-ordered
household. The weather-beaten old tree was in the center; our rifles
generally rested against its vast trunk, and our saddles were flung
on the ground around it; its distorted roots were so twisted as to
form one or two convenient arm-chairs, where we could sit in the
shade and read or smoke; but meal-times became, on the whole, the
most interesting hours of the day, and a bountiful provision was made
for them. An antelope or a deer usually swung from a stout bough,
and haunches were suspended against the trunk. That camp is
daguerreotyped on my memory; the old tree, the white tent, with Shaw
sleeping in the shadow of it, and Reynal's miserable lodge close by
the bank of the stream. It was a wretched oven-shaped structure,
made of begrimed and tattered buffalo hides stretched over a frame of
poles; one side was open, and at the side of the opening hung the
powder horn and bullet pouch of the owner, together with his long red
pipe, and a rich quiver of otterskin, with a bow and arrows; for
Reynal, an Indian in most things but color, chose to hunt buffalo
with these primitive weapons. In the darkness of this cavern-like
habitation, might be discerned Madame Margot, her overgrown bulk
stowed away among her domestic implements, furs, robes, blankets, and
painted cases of PAR' FLECHE, in which dried meat is kept. Here she
sat from sunrise to sunset, a bloated impersonation of gluttony and
laziness, while her affectionate proprietor was smoking, or begging
petty gifts from us, or telling lies concerning his own achievements,
or perchance engaged in the more profitable occupation of cooking
some preparation of prairie delicacies. Reynal was an adept at this
work; he and Delorier have joined forces and are hard at work
together over the fire, while Raymond spreads, by way of tablecloth,
a buffalo hide, carefully whitened with pipeclay, on the grass before
the tent. Here, with ostentatious display, he arranges the teacups
and plates; and then, creeping on all fours like a dog, he thrusts
his head in at the opening of the tent. For a moment we see his
round owlish eyes rolling wildly, as if the idea he came to
communicate had suddenly escaped him; then collecting his scattered
thoughts, as if by an effort, he informs us that supper is ready, and
instantly withdraws.
When sunset came, and at that hour the wild and desolate scene would
assume a new aspect, the horses were driven in. They had been
grazing all day in the neighboring meadow, but now they were picketed
close about the camp. As the prairie darkened we sat and conversed
around the fire, until becoming drowsy we spread our saddles on the
ground, wrapped our blankets around us and lay down. We never placed
a guard, having by this time become too indolent; but Henry Chatillon
folded his loaded rifle in the same blanket with himself, observing
that he always took it to bed with him when he camped in that place.
Henry was too bold a man to use such a precaution without good cause.
We had a hint now and then that our situation was none of the safest;
several Crow war parties were known to be in the vicinity, and one of
them, that passed here some time before, had peeled the bark from a
neighboring tree, and engraved upon the white wood certain
hieroglyphics, to signify that they had invaded the territories of
their enemies, the Dakota, and set them at defiance. One morning a
thick mist covered the whole country. Shaw and Henry went out to
ride, and soon came back with a startling piece of intelligence; they
had found within rifle-shot of our camp the recent trail of about
thirty horsemen. They could not be whites, and they could not be
Dakota, since we knew no such parties to be in the neighborhood;
therefore they must be Crows. Thanks to that friendly mist, we had
escaped a hard battle; they would inevitably have attacked us and our
Indian companions had they seen our camp. Whatever doubts we might
have entertained, were quite removed a day or two after, by two or
three Dakota, who came to us with an account of having hidden in a
ravine on that very morning, from whence they saw and counted the
Crows; they said that they followed them, carefully keeping out of
sight, as they passed up Chugwater; that here the Crows discovered
five dead bodies of Dakota, placed according to the national custom
in trees, and flinging them to the ground, they held their guns
against them and blew them to atoms.
If our camp were not altogether safe, still it was comfortable
enough; at least it was so to Shaw, for I was tormented with illness
and vexed by the delay in the accomplishment of my designs. When a
respite in my disorder gave me some returning strength, I rode out
well-armed upon the prairie, or bathed with Shaw in the stream, or
waged a petty warfare with the inhabitants of a neighborhood prairiedog
village. Around our fire at night we employed ourselves in
inveighing against the fickleness and inconstancy of Indians, and
execrating The Whirlwind and all his village. At last the thing grew
"To-morrow morning," said I, "I will start for the fort, and see if I
can hear any news there." Late that evening, when the fire had sunk
low, and all the camp were asleep, a loud cry sounded from the
darkness. Henry started up, recognized the voice, replied to it, and
our dandy friend, The Horse, rode in among us, just returned from his
mission to the village. He coolly picketed his mare, without saying
a word, sat down by the fire and began to eat, but his imperturbable
philosophy was too much for our patience. Where was the village?
about fifty miles south of us; it was moving slowly and would not
arrive in less than a week; and where was Henry's squaw? coming as
fast as she could with Mahto-Tatonka, and the rest of her brothers,
but she would never reach us, for she was dying, and asking every
moment for Henry. Henry's manly face became clouded and downcast; he
said that if we were willing he would go in the morning to find her,
at which Shaw offered to accompany him.
We saddled our horses at sunrise. Reynal protested vehemently
against being left alone, with nobody but the two Canadians and the
young Indians, when enemies were in the neighborhood. Disregarding
his complaints, we left him, and coming to the mouth of Chugwater,
separated, Shaw and Henry turning to the right, up the bank of the
stream, while I made for the fort.
Taking leave for a while of my friend and the unfortunate squaw, I
will relate by way of episode what I saw and did at Fort Laramie. It
was not more than eighteen miles distant, and I reached it in three
hours; a shriveled little figure, wrapped from head to foot in a
dingy white Canadian capote, stood in the gateway, holding by a cord
of bull's hide a shaggy wild horse, which he had lately caught. His
sharp prominent features, and his little keen snakelike eyes, looked
out from beneath the shadowy hood of the capote, which was drawn over
his head exactly like the cowl of a Capuchin friar. His face was
extremely thin and like an old piece of leather, and his mouth spread
from ear to ear. Extending his long wiry hand, he welcomed me with
something more cordial than the ordinary cold salute of an Indian,
for we were excellent friends. He had made an exchange of horses to
our mutual advantage; and Paul, thinking himself well-treated, had
declared everywhere that the white man had a good heart. He was a
Dakota from the Missouri, a reputed son of the half-breed
interpreter, Pierre Dorion, so often mentioned in Irving's "Astoria."
He said that he was going to Richard's trading house to sell his
horse to some emigrants who were encamped there, and asked me to go
with him. We forded the stream together, Paul dragging his wild
charge behind him. As we passed over the sandy plains beyond, he
grew quite communicative. Paul was a cosmopolitan in his way; he had
been to the settlements of the whites, and visited in peace and war
most of the tribes within the range of a thousand miles. He spoke a
jargon of French and another of English, yet nevertheless he was a
thorough Indian; and as he told of the bloody deeds of his own people
against their enemies, his little eye would glitter with a fierce
luster. He told how the Dakota exterminated a village of the Hohays
on the Upper Missouri, slaughtering men, women, and children; and how
an overwhelming force of them cut off sixteen of the brave Delawares,
who fought like wolves to the last, amid the throng of their enemies.
He told me also another story, which I did not believe until I had it
confirmed from so many independent sources that no room was left for
doubt. I am tempted to introduce it here.
Six years ago a fellow named Jim Beckwith, a mongrel of French,
American, and negro blood, was trading for the Fur Company, in a very
large village of the Crows. Jim Beckwith was last summer at St.
Louis. He is a ruffian of the first stamp; bloody and treacherous,
without honor or honesty; such at least is the character he bears
upon the prairie. Yet in his case all the standard rules of
character fail, for though he will stab a man in his sleep, he will
also perform most desperate acts of daring; such, for instance, as
the following: While he was in the Crow village, a Blackfoot war
party, between thirty and forty in number came stealing through the
country, killing stragglers and carrying off horses. The Crow
warriors got upon their trail and pressed them so closely that they
could not escape, at which the Blackfeet, throwing up a semicircular
breastwork of logs at the foot of a precipice, coolly awaited their
approach. The logs and sticks, piled four or five high, protected
them in front. The Crows might have swept over the breastwork and
exterminated their enemies; but though out-numbering them tenfold,
they did not dream of storming the little fortification. Such a
proceeding would be altogether repugnant to their notions of warfare.
Whooping and yelling, and jumping from side to side like devils
incarnate, they showered bullets and arrows upon the logs; not a
Blackfoot was hurt, but several Crows, in spite of their leaping and
dodging, were shot down. In this childish manner the fight went on
for an hour or two. Now and then a Crow warrior in an ecstasy of
valor and vainglory would scream forth his war song, boasting himself
the bravest and greatest of mankind, and grasping his hatchet, would
rush up and strike it upon the breastwork, and then as he retreated
to his companions, fall dead under a shower of arrows; yet no
combined attack seemed to be dreamed of. The Blackfeet remained
secure in their intrenchment. At last Jim Beckwith lost patience.
"You are all fools and old women," he said to the Crows; "come with
me, if any of you are brave enough, and I will show you how to
He threw off his trapper's frock of buckskin and stripped himself
naked like the Indians themselves. He left his rifle on the ground,
and taking in his hand a small light hatchet, he ran over the prairie
to the right, concealed by a hollow from the eyes of the Blackfeet.
Then climbing up the rocks, he gained the top of the precipice behind
them. Forty or fifty young Crow warriors followed him. By the cries
and whoops that rose from below he knew that the Blackfeet were just
beneath him; and running forward, he leaped down the rock into the
midst of them. As he fell he caught one by the long loose hair and
dragging him down tomahawked him; then grasping another by the belt
at his waist, he struck him also a stunning blow, and gaining his
feet, shouted the Crow war-cry. He swung his hatchet so fiercely
around him that the astonished Blackfeet bore back and gave him room.
He might, had he chosen, have leaped over the breastwork and escaped;
but this was not necessary, for with devilish yells the Crow warriors
came dropping in quick succession over the rock among their enemies.
The main body of the Crows, too, answered the cry from the front and
rushed up simultaneously. The convulsive struggle within the
breastwork was frightful; for an instant the Blackfeet fought and
yelled like pent-up tigers; but the butchery was soon complete, and
the mangled bodies lay piled up together under the precipice. Not a
Blackfoot made his escape.
As Paul finished his story we came in sight of Richard's Fort. It
stood in the middle of the plain; a disorderly crowd of men around
it, and an emigrant camp a little in front.
"Now, Paul," said I, "where are your Winnicongew lodges?"
"Not come yet," said Paul, "maybe come to-morrow."
Two large villages of a band of Dakota had come three hundred miles
from the Missouri, to join in the war, and they were expected to
reach Richard's that morning. There was as yet no sign of their
approach; so pushing through a noisy, drunken crowd, I entered an
apartment of logs and mud, the largest in the fort; it was full of
men of various races and complexions, all more or less drunk. A
company of California emigrants, it seemed, had made the discovery at
this late day that they had encumbered themselves with too many
supplies for their journey. A part, therefore, they had thrown away
or sold at great loss to the traders, but had determined to get rid
of their copious stock of Missouri whisky, by drinking it on the
spot. Here were maudlin squaws stretched on piles of buffalo robes;
squalid Mexicans, armed with bows and arrows; Indians sedately drunk;
long-haired Canadians and trappers, and American backwoodsmen in
brown homespun, the well-beloved pistol and bowie knife displayed
openly at their sides. In the middle of the room a tall, lank man,
with a dingy broadcloth coat, was haranguing the company in the style
of the stump orator. With one hand he sawed the air, and with the
other clutched firmly a brown jug of whisky, which he applied every
moment to his lips, forgetting that he had drained the contents long
ago. Richard formally introduced me to this personage, who was no
less a man than Colonel R., once the leader of the party. Instantly
the colonel seizing me, in the absence of buttons by the leather
fringes of my frock, began to define his position. His men, he said,
had mutinied and deposed him; but still he exercised over them the
influence of a superior mind; in all but the name he was yet their
chief. As the colonel spoke, I looked round on the wild assemblage,
and could not help thinking that he was but ill qualified to conduct
such men across the desert to California. Conspicuous among the rest
stood three tail young men, grandsons of Daniel Boone. They had
clearly inherited the adventurous character of that prince of
pioneers; but I saw no signs of the quiet and tranquil spirit that so
remarkably distinguished him.
Fearful was the fate that months after overtook some of the members
of that party. General Kearny, on his late return from California,
brought in the account how they were interrupted by the deep snows
among the mountains, and maddened by cold and hunger fed upon each
other's flesh.
I got tired of the confusion. "Come, Paul," said I, "we will be
off." Paul sat in the sun, under the wall of the fort. He jumped
up, mounted, and we rode toward Fort Laramie. When we reached it, a
man came out of the gate with a pack at his back and a rifle on his
shoulder; others were gathering about him, shaking him by the hand, as
if taking leave. I thought it a strange thing that a man should set
out alone and on foot for the prairie. I soon got an explanation.
Perrault--this, if I recollect right was the Canadian's name--had
quarreled with the bourgeois, and the fort was too hot to hold him.
Bordeaux, inflated with his transient authority, had abused him, and
received a blow in return. The men then sprang at each other, and
grappled in the middle of the fort. Bordeaux was down in an instant,
at the mercy of the incensed Canadian; had not an old Indian, the
brother of his squaw, seized hold of his antagonist, he would have
fared ill. Perrault broke loose from the old Indian, and both the
white men ran to their rooms for their guns; but when Bordeaux,
looking from his door, saw the Canadian, gun in hand, standing in the
area and calling on him to come out and fight, his heart failed him;
he chose to remain where he was. In vain the old Indian, scandalized
by his brother-in-law's cowardice, called upon him to go upon the
prairie and fight it out in the white man's manner; and Bordeaux's
own squaw, equally incensed, screamed to her lord and master that he
was a dog and an old woman. It all availed nothing. Bordeaux's
prudence got the better of his valor, and he would not stir.
Perrault stood showering approbrious epithets at the recent
bourgeois. Growing tired of this, he made up a pack of dried meat,
and slinging it at his back, set out alone for Fort Pierre on the
Missouri, a distance of three hundred miles, over a desert country
full of hostile Indians.
I remained in the fort that night. In the morning, as I was coming
out from breakfast, conversing with a trader named McCluskey, I saw a
strange Indian leaning against the side of the gate. He was a tall,
strong man, with heavy features.
"Who is he?" I asked. "That's The Whirlwind," said McCluskey. "He
is the fellow that made all this stir about the war. It's always the
way with the Sioux; they never stop cutting each other's throats;
it's all they are fit for; instead of sitting in their lodges, and
getting robes to trade with us in the winter. If this war goes on,
we'll make a poor trade of it next season, I reckon."
And this was the opinion of all the traders, who were vehemently
opposed to the war, from the serious injury that it must occasion to
their interests. The Whirlwind left his village the day before to
make a visit to the fort. His warlike ardor had abated not a little
since he first conceived the design of avenging his son's death. The
long and complicated preparations for the expedition were too much
for his fickle, inconstant disposition. That morning Bordeaux
fastened upon him, made him presents and told him that if he went to
war he would destroy his horses and kill no buffalo to trade with the
white men; in short, that he was a fool to think of such a thing, and
had better make up his mind to sit quietly in his lodge and smoke his
pipe, like a wise man. The Whirlwind's purpose was evidently shaken;
he had become tired, like a child, of his favorite plan. Bordeaux
exultingly predicted that he would not go to war. My philanthropy at
that time was no match for my curiosity, and I was vexed at the
possibility that after all I might lose the rare opportunity of
seeing the formidable ceremonies of war. The Whirlwind, however, had
merely thrown the firebrand; the conflagration was become general.
All the western bands of the Dakota were bent on war; and as I heard
from McCluskey, six large villages already gathered on a little
stream, forty miles distant, were daily calling to the Great Spirit
to aid them in their enterprise. McCluskey had just left and
represented them as on their way to La Bonte's Camp, which they would
THERE. I did not like this condition, for buffalo this season were
rare in the neighborhood. There were also the two Minnicongew
villages that I mentioned before; but about noon, an Indian came from
Richard's Fort with the news that they were quarreling, breaking up,
and dispersing. So much for the whisky of the emigrants! Finding
themselves unable to drink the whole, they had sold the residue to
these Indians, and it needed no prophet to foretell the results; a
spark dropped into a powder magazine would not have produced a
quicker effect. Instantly the old jealousies and rivalries and
smothered feuds that exist in an Indian village broke out into
furious quarrels. They forgot the warlike enterprise that had
already brought them three hundred miles. They seemed like
ungoverned children inflamed with the fiercest passions of men.
Several of them were stabbed in the drunken tumult; and in the
morning they scattered and moved back toward the Missouri in small
parties. I feared that, after all, the long-projected meeting and
the ceremonies that were to attend it might never take place, and I
should lose so admirable an opportunity of seeing the Indian under
his most fearful and characteristic aspect; however, in foregoing
this, I should avoid a very fair probability of being plundered and
stripped, and, it might be, stabbed or shot into the bargain.
Consoling myself with this reflection, I prepared to carry the news,
such as it was, to the camp.
I caught my horse, and to my vexation found he had lost a shoe and
broken his tender white hoof against the rocks. Horses are shod at
Fort Laramie at the moderate rate of three dollars a foot; so I tied
Hendrick to a beam in the corral, and summoned Roubidou, the
blacksmith. Roubidou, with the hoof between his knees, was at work
with hammer and file, and I was inspecting the process, when a
strange voice addressed me.
Two more gone under! Well, there is more of us left yet. Here's
Jean Gars and me off to the mountains to-morrow. Our turn will come
next, I suppose. It's a hard life, anyhow!"
I looked up and saw a little man, not much more than five feet high,
but of very square and strong proportions. In appearance he was
particularly dingy; for his old buckskin frock was black and polished
with time and grease, and his belt, knife, pouch, and powder-horn
appeared to have seen the roughest service. The first joint of each
foot was entirely gone, having been frozen off several winters
before, and his moccasins were curtailed in proportion. His whole
appearance and equipment bespoke the "free trapper." He had a round
ruddy face, animated with a spirit of carelessness and gayety not at
all in accordance with the words he had just spoken.
"Two more gone," said I; "what do you mean by that?"
"Oh," said he, "the Arapahoes have just killed two of us in the
mountains. Old Bull-Tail has come to tell us. They stabbed one
behind his back, and shot the other with his own rifle. That's the
way we live here! I mean to give up trapping after this year. My
squaw says she wants a pacing horse and some red ribbons; I'll make
enough beaver to get them for her, and then I'm done! I'll go below
and live on a farm."
"Your bones will dry on the prairie, Rouleau!" said another trapper,
who was standing by; a strong, brutal-looking fellow, with a face as
surly as a bull-dog's.
Rouleau only laughed, and began to hum a tune and shuffle a dance on
his stumps of feet.
"You'll see us, before long, passing up our way," said the other man.
"Well," said I, "stop and take a cup of coffee with us"; and as it
was quite late in the afternoon, I prepared to leave the fort at
As I rode out, a train of emigrant wagons was passing across the
stream. "Whar are ye goin' stranger?" Thus I was saluted by two or
three voices at once.
"About eighteen miles up the creek."
"It's mighty late to be going that far! Make haste, ye'd better, and
keep a bright lookout for Indians!"
I thought the advice too good to be neglected. Fording the stream, I
passed at a round trot over the plains beyond. But "the more haste,
the worse speed." I proved the truth in the proverb by the time I
reached the hills three miles from the fort. The trail was faintly
marked, and riding forward with more rapidity than caution, I lost
sight of it. I kept on in a direct line, guided by Laramie Creek,
which I could see at intervals darkly glistening in the evening sun,
at the bottom of the woody gulf on my right. Half an hour before
sunset I came upon its banks. There was something exciting in the
wild solitude of the place. An antelope sprang suddenly from the
sagebushes before me. As he leaped gracefully not thirty yards
before my horse, I fired, and instantly he spun round and fell.
Quite sure of him, I walked my horse toward him, leisurely reloading
my rifle, when to my surprise he sprang up and trotted rapidly away
on three legs into the dark recesses of the hills, whither I had no
time to follow. Ten minutes after, I was passing along the bottom of
a deep valley, and chancing to look behind me, I saw in the dim light
that something was following. Supposing it to be wolf, I slid from
my seat and sat down behind my horse to shoot it; but as it came up,
I saw by its motions that it was another antelope. It approached
within a hundred yards, arched its graceful neck, and gazed intently.
I leveled at the white spot on its chest, and was about to fire when
it started off, ran first to one side and then to the other, like a
vessel tacking against a wind, and at last stretched away at full
speed. Then it stopped again, looked curiously behind it, and
trotted up as before; but not so boldly, for it soon paused and stood
gazing at me. I fired; it leaped upward and fell upon its tracks.
Measuring the distance, I found it 204 paces. When I stood by his
side, the antelope turned his expiring eye upward. It was like a
beautiful woman's, dark and rich. "Fortunate that I am in a hurry,"
thought I; "I might be troubled with remorse, if I had time for it."
Cutting the animal up, not in the most skilled manner, I hung the
meat at the back of my saddle, and rode on again. The hills (I could
not remember one of them) closed around me. "It is too late,"
thought I, "to go forward. I will stay here to-night, and look for
the path in the morning." As a last effort, however, I ascended a
high hill, from which, to my great satisfaction, I could see Laramie
Creek stretching before me, twisting from side to side amid ragged
patches of timber; and far off, close beneath the shadows of the
trees, the ruins of the old trading fort were visible. I reached
them at twilight. It was far from pleasant, in that uncertain light,
to be pushing through the dense trees and shrubbery of the grove
beyond. I listened anxiously for the footfall of man or beast.
Nothing was stirring but one harmless brown bird, chirping among the
branches. I was glad when I gained the open prairie once more, where
I could see if anything approached. When I came to the mouth of
Chugwater, it was totally dark. Slackening the reins, I let my horse
take his own course. He trotted on with unerring instinct, and by
nine o'clock was scrambling down the steep ascent into the meadows
where we were encamped. While I was looking in vain for the light of
the fire, Hendrick, with keener perceptions, gave a loud neigh, which
was immediately answered in a shrill note from the distance. In a
moment I was hailed from the darkness by the voice of Reynal, who had
come out, rifle in hand, to see who was approaching.
He, with his squaw, the two Canadians and the Indian boys, were the
sole inmates of the camp, Shaw and Henry Chatillon being still
absent. At noon of the following day they came back, their horses
looking none the better for the journey. Henry seemed dejected. The
woman was dead, and his children must henceforward be exposed,
without a protector, to the hardships and vicissitudes of Indian
life. Even in the midst of his grief he had not forgotten his
attachment to his bourgeois, for he had procured among his Indian
relatives two beautifully ornamented buffalo robes, which he spread
on the ground as a present to us.
Shaw lighted his pipe, and told me in a few words the history of his
journey. When I went to the fort they left me, as I mentioned, at
the mouth of Chugwater. They followed the course of the little
stream all day, traversing a desolate and barren country. Several
times they came upon the fresh traces of a large war party--the same,
no doubt, from whom we had so narrowly escaped an attack. At an hour
before sunset, without encountering a human being by the way, they
came upon the lodges of the squaw and her brothers, who, in
compliance with Henry's message, had left the Indian village in order
to join us at our camp. The lodges were already pitched, five in
number, by the side of the stream. The woman lay in one of them,
reduced to a mere skeleton. For some time she had been unable to
move or speak. Indeed, nothing had kept her alive but the hope of
seeing Henry, to whom she was strongly and faithfully attached. No
sooner did he enter the lodge than she revived, and conversed with
him the greater part of the night. Early in the morning she was
lifted into a travail, and the whole party set out toward our camp.
There were but five warriors; the rest were women and children. The
whole were in great alarm at the proximity of the Crow war party, who
would certainly have destroyed them without mercy had they met. They
had advanced only a mile or two, when they discerned a horseman, far
off, on the edge of the horizon. They all stopped, gathering
together in the greatest anxiety, from which they did not recover
until long after the horseman disappeared; then they set out again.
Henry was riding with Shaw a few rods in advance of the Indians, when
Mahto-Tatonka, a younger brother of the woman, hastily called after
them. Turning back, they found all the Indians crowded around the
travail in which the woman was lying. They reached her just in time
to hear the death-rattle in her throat. In a moment she lay dead in
the basket of the vehicle. A complete stillness succeeded; then the
Indians raised in concert their cries of lamentation over the corpse,
and among them Shaw clearly distinguished those strange sounds
resembling the word "Halleluyah," which together with some other
accidental coincidences has given rise to the absurd theory that the
Indians are descended from the ten lost tribes of Israel.
The Indian usage required that Henry, as well as the other relatives
of the woman, should make valuable presents, to be placed by the side
of the body at its last resting place. Leaving the Indians, he and
Shaw set out for the camp and reached it, as we have seen, by hard
pushing, at about noon. Having obtained the necessary articles, they
immediately returned. It was very late and quite dark when they
again reached the lodges. They were all placed in a deep hollow
among the dreary hills. Four of them were just visible through the
gloom, but the fifth and largest was illuminated by the ruddy blaze
of a fire within, glowing through the half-transparent covering of
raw hides. There was a perfect stillness as they approached. The
lodges seemed without a tenant. Not a living thing was stirring--
there was something awful in the scene. They rode up to the entrance
of the lodge, and there was no sound but the tramp of their horses.
A squaw came out and took charge of the animals, without speaking a
word. Entering, they found the lodge crowded with Indians; a fire
was burning in the midst, and the mourners encircled it in a triple
row. Room was made for the newcomers at the head of the lodge, a
robe spread for them to sit upon, and a pipe lighted and handed to
them in perfect silence. Thus they passed the greater part of the
night. At times the fire would subside into a heap of embers, until
the dark figures seated around it were scarcely visible; then a squaw
would drop upon it a piece of buffalo-fat, and a bright flame,
instantly springing up, would reveal of a sudden the crowd of wild
faces, motionless as bronze. The silence continued unbroken. It was
a relief to Shaw when daylight returned and he could escape from this
house of mourning. He and Henry prepared to return homeward; first,
however, they placed the presents they had brought near the body of
the squaw, which, most gaudily attired, remained in a sitting posture
in one of the lodges. A fine horse was picketed not far off,
destined to be killed that morning for the service of her spirit, for
the woman was lame, and could not travel on foot over the dismal
prairies to the villages of the dead. Food, too, was provided, and
household implements, for her use upon this last journey.
Henry left her to the care of her relatives, and came immediately
with Shaw to the camp. It was some time before he entirely recovered
from his dejection.
Reynal heard guns fired one day, at the distance of a mile or two
from the camp. He grew nervous instantly. Visions of Crow war
parties began to haunt his imagination; and when we returned (for we
were all absent), he renewed his complaints about being left alone
with the Canadians and the squaw. The day after, the cause of the
alarm appeared. Four trappers, one called Moran, another Saraphin,
and the others nicknamed "Rouleau" and "Jean Gras," came to our camp
and joined us. They it was who fired the guns and disturbed the
dreams of our confederate Reynal. They soon encamped by our side.
Their rifles, dingy and battered with hard service, rested with ours
against the old tree; their strong rude saddles, their buffalo robes,
their traps, and the few rough and simple articles of their traveling
equipment, were piled near our tent. Their mountain horses were
turned to graze in the meadow among our own; and the men themselves,
no less rough and hardy, used to lie half the day in the shade of our
tree lolling on the grass, lazily smoking, and telling stories of
their adventures; and I defy the annals of chivalry to furnish the
record of a life more wild and perilous than that of a Rocky Mountain
With this efficient re-enforcement the agitation of Reynal's nerves
subsided. He began to conceive a sort of attachment to our old
camping ground; yet it was time to change our quarters, since
remaining too long on one spot must lead to certain unpleasant
results not to be borne with unless in a case of dire necessity. The
grass no longer presented a smooth surface of turf; it was trampled
into mud and clay. So we removed to another old tree, larger yet,
that grew by the river side at a furlong's distance. Its trunk was
full six feet in diameter; on one side it was marked by a party of
Indians with various inexplicable hieroglyphics, commemorating some
warlike enterprise, and aloft among the branches were the remains of
a scaffolding, where dead bodies had once been deposited, after the
Indian manner.
"There comes Bull-Bear," said Henry Chatillon, as we sat on the grass
at dinner. Looking up, we saw several horsemen coming over the
neighboring hill, and in a moment four stately young men rode up and
dismounted. One of them was Bull-Bear, or Mahto-Tatonka, a compound
name which he inherited from his father, the most powerful chief in
the Ogallalla band. One of his brothers and two other young men
accompanied him. We shook hands with the visitors, and when we had
finished our meal--for this is the orthodox manner of entertaining
Indians, even the best of them--we handed to each a tin cup of coffee
and a biscuit, at which they ejaculated from the bottom of their
throats, 'How! how!" a monosyllable by which an Indian contrives to
express half the emotions that he is susceptible of. Then we lighted
the pipe, and passed it to them as they squatted on the ground.
"Where is the village?"
"There," said Mahto-Tatonka, pointing southward; "it will come in two
"Will they go to the war?"
No man is a philanthropist on the prairie. We welcomed this news
most cordially, and congratulated ourselves that Bordeaux's
interested efforts to divert The Whirlwind from his congenial
vocation of bloodshed had failed of success, and that no additional
obstacles would interpose between us and our plan of repairing to the
rendezvous at La Bonte's Camp.
For that and several succeeding days, Mahto-Tatonka and his friends
remained our guests. They devoured the relics of our meals; they
filled the pipe for us and also helped us to smoke it. Sometimes
they stretched themselves side by side in the shade, indulging in
raillery and practical jokes ill becoming the dignity of brave and
aspiring warriors, such as two of them in reality were.
Two days dragged away, and on the morning of the third we hoped
confidently to see the Indian village. It did not come; so we rode
out to look for it. In place of the eight hundred Indians we
expected, we met one solitary savage riding toward us over the
prairie, who told us that the Indians had changed their plans, and
would not come within three days; still he persisted that they were
going to the war. Taking along with us this messenger of evil
tidings, we retraced our footsteps to the camp, amusing ourselves by
the way with execrating Indian inconstancy. When we came in sight of
our little white tent under the big tree, we saw that it no longer
stood alone. A huge old lodge was erected close by its side,
discolored by rain and storms, rotted with age, with the uncouth
figures of horses and men, and outstretched hands that were painted
upon it, well-nigh obliterated. The long poles which supported this
squalid habitation thrust themselves rakishly out from its pointed
top, and over its entrance were suspended a "medicine-pipe" and
various other implements of the magic art. While we were yet at a
distance, we observed a greatly increased population of various
colors and dimensions, swarming around our quiet encampment. Moran,
the trapper, having been absent for a day or two, had returned, it
seemed, bringing all his family with him. He had taken to himself a
wife for whom he had paid the established price of one horse. This
looks cheap at first sight, but in truth the purchase of a squaw is a
transaction which no man should enter into without mature
deliberation, since it involves not only the payment of the first
price, but the formidable burden of feeding and supporting a
rapacious horde of the bride's relatives, who hold themselves
entitled to feed upon the indiscreet white man. They gather round
like leeches, and drain him of all he has.
Moran, like Reynal, had not allied himself to an aristocratic circle.
His relatives occupied but a contemptible position in Ogallalla
society; for among those wild democrats of the prairie, as among us,
there are virtual distinctions of rank and place; though this great
advantage they have over us, that wealth has no part in determining
such distinctions. Moran's partner was not the most beautiful of her
sex, and he had the exceedingly bad taste to array her in an old
calico gown bought from an emigrant woman, instead of the neat and
graceful tunic of whitened deerskin worn ordinarily by the squaws.
The moving spirit of the establishment, in more senses than one, was
a hideous old hag of eighty. Human imagination never conceived
hobgoblin or witch more ugly than she. You could count all her ribs
through the wrinkles of the leathery skin that covered them. Her
withered face more resembled an old skull than the countenance of a
living being, even to the hollow, darkened sockets, at the bottom of
which glittered her little black eyes. Her arms had dwindled away
into nothing but whipcord and wire. Her hair, half black, half gray,
hung in total neglect nearly to the ground, and her sole garment
consisted of the remnant of a discarded buffalo robe tied round her
waist with a string of hide. Yet the old squaw's meager anatomy was
wonderfully strong. She pitched the lodge, packed the horses, and
did the hardest labor of the camp. From morning till night she
bustled about the lodge, screaming like a screech-owl when anything
displeased her. Then there was her brother, a "medicine-man," or
magician, equally gaunt and sinewy with herself. His mouth spread
from ear to ear, and his appetite, as we had full occasion to learn,
was ravenous in proportion. The other inmates of the lodge were a
young bride and bridegroom; the latter one of those idle, good-for
nothing fellows who infest an Indian village as well as more
civilized communities. He was fit neither for hunting nor for war;
and one might infer as much from the stolid unmeaning expression of
his face. The happy pair had just entered upon the honeymoon. They
would stretch a buffalo robe upon poles, so as to protect them from
the fierce rays of the sun, and spreading beneath this rough canopy a
luxuriant couch of furs, would sit affectionately side by side for
half the day, though I could not discover that much conversation
passed between them. Probably they had nothing to say; for an
Indian's supply of topics for conversation is far from being copious.
There were half a dozen children, too, playing and whooping about the
camp, shooting birds with little bows and arrows, or making miniature
lodges of sticks, as children of a different complexion build houses
of blocks.
A day passed, and Indians began rapidly to come in. Parties of two
or three or more would ride up and silently seat themselves on the
grass. The fourth day came at last, when about noon horsemen
suddenly appeared into view on the summit of the neighboring ridge.
They descended, and behind them followed a wild procession, hurrying
in haste and disorder down the hill and over the plain below; horses,
mules, and dogs, heavily burdened travaux, mounted warriors, squaws
walking amid the throng, and a host of children. For a full halfhour
they continued to pour down; and keeping directly to the bend of
the stream, within a furlong of us, they soon assembled there, a dark
and confused throng, until, as if by magic, 150 tall lodges sprung
up. On a sudden the lonely plain was transformed into the site of a
miniature city. Countless horses were soon grazing over the meadows
around us, and the whole prairie was animated by restless figures
careening on horseback, or sedately stalking in their long white
robes. The Whirlwind was come at last! One question yet remained to
be answered: "Will he go to the war, in order that we, with so
respectable an escort, may pass over to the somewhat perilous
rendezvous at La Bonte's Camp?"
Still this remained in doubt. Characteristic indecision perplexed
their councils. Indians cannot act in large bodies. Though their
object be of the highest importance, they cannot combine to attain it
by a series of connected efforts. King Philip, Pontiac, and Tecumseh
all felt this to their cost. The Ogallalla once had a war chief who
could control them; but he was dead, and now they were left to the
sway of their own unsteady impulses.
This Indian village and its inhabitants will hold a prominent place
in the rest of the narrative, and perhaps it may not be amiss to
glance for an instant at the savage people of which they form a part.
The Dakota (I prefer this national designation to the unmeaning
French name, Sioux) range over a vast territory, from the river St.
Peter's to the Rocky Mountains themselves. They are divided into
several independent bands, united under no central government, and
acknowledge no common head. The same language, usages, and
superstitions form the sole bond between them. They do not unite
even in their wars. The bands of the east fight the Ojibwas on the
Upper Lakes; those of the west make incessant war upon the Snake
Indians in the Rocky Mountains. As the whole people is divided into
bands, so each band is divided into villages. Each village has a
chief, who is honored and obeyed only so far as his personal
qualities may command respect and fear. Sometimes he is a mere
nominal chief; sometimes his authority is little short of absolute,
and his fame and influence reach even beyond his own village; so that
the whole band to which he belongs is ready to acknowledge him as
their head. This was, a few years since, the case with the
Ogallalla. Courage, address, and enterprise may raise any warrior to
the highest honor, especially if he be the son of a former chief, or
a member of a numerous family, to support him and avenge his
quarrels; but when he has reached the dignity of chief, and the old
men and warriors, by a peculiar ceremony, have formally installed
him, let it not be imagined that he assumes any of the outward
semblances of rank and honor. He knows too well on how frail a
tenure he holds his station. He must conciliate his uncertain
subjects. Many a man in the village lives better, owns more squaws
and more horses, and goes better clad than he. Like the Teutonic
chiefs of old, he ingratiates himself with his young men by making
them presents, thereby often impoverishing himself. Does he fail in
gaining their favor, they will set his authority at naught, and may
desert him at any moment; for the usages of his people have provided
no sanctions by which he may enforce his authority. Very seldom does
it happen, at least among these western bands, that a chief attains
to much power, unless he is the head of a numerous family.
Frequently the village is principally made up of his relatives and
descendants, and the wandering community assumes much of the
patriarchal character. A people so loosely united, torn, too, with
ranking feuds and jealousies, can have little power or efficiency.
The western Dakota have no fixed habitations. Hunting and fighting,
they wander incessantly through summer and winter. Some are
following the herds of buffalo over the waste of prairie; others are
traversing the Black Hills, thronging on horseback and on foot
through the dark gulfs and somber gorges beneath the vast splintering
precipices, and emerging at last upon the "Parks," those beautiful
but most perilous hunting grounds. The buffalo supplies them with
almost all the necessaries of life; with habitations, food, clothing,
and fuel; with strings for their bows, with thread, cordage, and
trail-ropes for their horses, with coverings for their saddles, with
vessels to hold water, with boats to cross streams, with glue, and
with the means of purchasing all that they desire from the traders.
When the buffalo are extinct, they too must dwindle away.
War is the breath of their nostrils. Against most of the neighboring
tribes they cherish a deadly, rancorous hatred, transmitted from
father to son, and inflamed by constant aggression and retaliation.
Many times a year, in every village, the Great Spirit is called upon,
fasts are made, the war parade is celebrated, and the warriors go out
by handfuls at a time against the enemy. This fierce and evil spirit
awakens their most eager aspirations, and calls forth their greatest
energies. It is chiefly this that saves them from lethargy and utter
abasement. Without its powerful stimulus they would be like the
unwarlike tribes beyond the mountains, who are scattered among the
caves and rocks like beasts, living on roots and reptiles. These
latter have little of humanity except the form; but the proud and
ambitious Dakota warrior can sometimes boast of heroic virtues. It
is very seldom that distinction and influence are attained among them
by any other course than that of arms. Their superstition, however,
sometimes gives great power, to those among them who pretend to the
character of magicians. Their wild hearts, too, can feel the power
of oratory, and yield deference to the masters of it.
But to return. Look into our tent, or enter, if you can bear the
stifling smoke and the close atmosphere. There, wedged close
together, you will see a circle of stout warriors, passing the pipe
around, joking, telling stories, and making themselves merry, after
their fashion. We were also infested by little copper-colored naked
boys and snake-eyed girls. They would come up to us, muttering
certain words, which being interpreted conveyed the concise
invitation, "Come and eat." Then we would rise, cursing the
pertinacity of Dakota hospitality, which allowed scarcely an hour of
rest between sun and sun, and to which we were bound to do honor,
unless we would offend our entertainers. This necessity was
particularly burdensome to me, as I was scarcely able to walk, from
the effects of illness, and was of course poorly qualified to dispose
of twenty meals a day. Of these sumptuous banquets I gave a specimen
in a former chapter, where the tragical fate of the little dog was
chronicled. So bounteous an entertainment looks like an outgushing
of good will; but doubtless one-half at least of our kind hosts, had
they met us alone and unarmed on the prairie, would have robbed us of
our horses, and perchance have bestowed an arrow upon us beside.
Trust not an Indian. Let your rifle be ever in your hand. Wear next
your heart the old chivalric motto SEMPER PARATUS.
One morning we were summoned to the lodge of an old man, in good
truth the Nestor of his tribe. We found him half sitting, half
reclining on a pile of buffalo robes; his long hair, jet-black even
now, though he had seen some eighty winters, hung on either side of
his thin features. Those most conversant with Indians in their homes
will scarcely believe me when I affirm that there was dignity in his
countenance and mien. His gaunt but symmetrical frame, did not more
clearly exhibit the wreck of bygone strength, than did his dark,
wasted features, still prominent and commanding, bear the stamp of
mental energies. I recalled, as I saw him, the eloquent metaphor of
the Iroquois sachem: "I am an aged hemlock; the winds of a hundred
winters have whistled through my branches, and I am dead at the top!"
Opposite the patriarch was his nephew, the young aspirant Mahto-
Tatonka; and besides these, there were one or two women in the lodge.
The old man's story is peculiar, and singularly illustrative of a
superstitious custom that prevails in full force among many of the
Indian tribes. He was one of a powerful family, renowned for their
warlike exploits. When a very young man, he submitted to the
singular rite to which most of the tribe subject themselves before
entering upon life. He painted his face black; then seeking out a
cavern in a sequestered part of the Black Hills, he lay for several
days, fasting and praying to the Great Spirit. In the dreams and
visions produced by his weakened and excited state, he fancied like
all Indians, that he saw supernatural revelations. Again and again
the form of an antelope appeared before him. The antelope is the
graceful peace spirit of the Ogallalla; but seldom is it that such a
gentle visitor presents itself during the initiatory fasts of their
young men. The terrible grizzly bear, the divinity of war, usually
appears to fire them with martial ardor and thirst for renown. At
length the antelope spoke. He told the young dreamer that he was not
to follow the path of war; that a life of peace and tranquillity was
marked out for him; that henceforward he was to guide the people by
his counsels and protect them from the evils of their own feuds and
dissensions. Others were to gain renown by fighting the enemy; but
greatness of a different kind was in store for him.
The visions beheld during the period of this fast usually determine
the whole course of the dreamer's life, for an Indian is bound by
iron superstitions. From that time, Le Borgne, which was the only
name by which we knew him, abandoned all thoughts of war and devoted
himself to the labors of peace. He told his vision to the people.
They honored his commission and respected him in his novel capacity.
A far different man was his brother, Mahto-Tatonka, who had
transmitted his names, his features, and many of his characteristic
qualities to his son. He was the father of Henry Chatillon's squaw,
a circumstance which proved of some advantage to us, as securing for
us the friendship of a family perhaps the most distinguished and
powerful in the whole Ogallalla band. Mahto-Tatonka, in his rude
way, was a hero. No chief could vie with him in warlike renown, or
in power over his people. He had a fearless spirit, and a most
impetuous and inflexible resolution. His will was law. He was
politic and sagacious, and with true Indian craft he always
befriended the whites, well knowing that he might thus reap great
advantages for himself and his adherents. When he had resolved on
any course of conduct, he would pay to the warriors the empty
compliment of calling them together to deliberate upon it, and when
their debates were over, he would quietly state his own opinion,
which no one ever disputed. The consequences of thwarting his
imperious will were too formidable to be encountered. Woe to those
who incurred his displeasure! He would strike them or stab them on
the spot; and this act, which, if attempted by any other chief, would
instantly have cost him his life, the awe inspired by his name
enabled him to repeat again and again with impunity. In a community
where, from immemorial time, no man has acknowledged any law but his
own will, Mahto-Tatonka, by the force of his dauntless resolution,
raised himself to power little short of despotic. His haughty career
came at last to an end. He had a host of enemies only waiting for
their opportunity of revenge, and our old friend Smoke, in
particular, together with all his kinsmen, hated him most cordially.
Smoke sat one day in his lodge in the midst of his own village, when
Mahto-Tatonka entered it alone, and approaching the dwelling of his
enemy, called on him in a loud voice to come out, if he were a man,
and fight. Smoke would not move. At this, Mahto-Tatonka proclaimed
him a coward and an old woman, and striding close to the entrance of
the lodge, stabbed the chief's best horse, which was picketed there.
Smoke was daunted, and even this insult failed to call him forth.
Mahto-Tatonka moved haughtily away; all made way for him, but his
hour of reckoning was near.
One hot day, five or six years ago, numerous lodges of Smoke's
kinsmen were gathered around some of the Fur Company's men, who were
trading in various articles with them, whisky among the rest. Mahto-
Tatonka was also there with a few of his people. As he lay in his
own lodge, a fray arose between his adherents and the kinsmen of his
enemy. The war-whoop was raised, bullets and arrows began to fly,
and the camp was in confusion. The chief sprang up, and rushing in a
fury from the lodge shouted to the combatants on both sides to cease.
Instantly--for the attack was preconcerted--came the reports of two
or three guns, and the twanging of a dozen bows, and the savage hero,
mortally wounded, pitched forward headlong to the ground. Rouleau
was present, and told me the particulars. The tumult became general,
and was not quelled until several had fallen on both sides. When we
were in the country the feud between the two families was still
rankling, and not likely soon to cease.
Thus died Mahto-Tatonka, but he left behind him a goodly army of
descendants, to perpetuate his renown and avenge his fate. Besides
daughters he had thirty sons, a number which need not stagger the
credulity of those who are best acquainted with Indian usages and
practices. We saw many of them, all marked by the same dark
complexion and the same peculiar cast of features. Of these our
visitor, young Mahto-Tatonka, was the eldest, and some reported him
as likely to succeed to his father's honors. Though he appeared not
more than twenty-one years old, he had oftener struck the enemy, and
stolen more horses and more squaws than any young man in the village.
We of the civilized world are not apt to attach much credit to the
latter species of exploits; but horse-stealing is well known as an
avenue to distinction on the prairies, and the other kind of
depredation is esteemed equally meritorious. Not that the act can
confer fame from its own intrinsic merits. Any one can steal a
squaw, and if he chooses afterward to make an adequate present to her
rightful proprietor, the easy husband for the most part rests
content, his vengeance falls asleep, and all danger from that quarter
is averted. Yet this is esteemed but a pitiful and mean-spirited
transaction. The danger is averted, but the glory of the achievement
also is lost. Mahto-Tatonka proceeded after a more gallant and
dashing fashion. Out of several dozen squaws whom he had stolen, he
could boast that he had never paid for one, but snapping his fingers
in the face of the injured husband, had defied the extremity of his
indignation, and no one yet had dared to lay the finger of violence
upon him. He was following close in the footsteps of his father.
The young men and the young squaws, each in their way, admired him.
The one would always follow him to war, and he was esteemed to have
unrivaled charm in the eyes of the other. Perhaps his impunity may
excite some wonder. An arrow shot from a ravine, a stab given in the
dark, require no great valor, and are especially suited to the Indian
genius; but Mahto-Tatonka had a strong protection. It was not alone
his courage and audacious will that enabled him to career so
dashingly among his compeers. His enemies did not forget that he was
one of thirty warlike brethren, all growing up to manhood. Should
they wreak their anger upon him, many keen eyes would be ever upon
them, many fierce hearts would thirst for their blood. The avenger
would dog their footsteps everywhere. To kill Mahto-Tatonka would be
no better than an act of suicide.
Though he found such favor in the eyes of the fair, he was no dandy.
As among us those of highest worth and breeding are most simple in
manner and attire, so our aspiring young friend was indifferent to
the gaudy trappings and ornaments of his companions. He was content
to rest his chances of success upon his own warlike merits. He never
arrayed himself in gaudy blanket and glittering necklaces, but left
his statue-like form, limbed like an Apollo of bronze, to win its way
to favor. His voice was singularly deep and strong. It sounded from
his chest like the deep notes of an organ. Yet after all, he was but
an Indian. See him as he lies there in the sun before our tent,
kicking his heels in the air and cracking jokes with his brother.
Does he look like a hero? See him now in the hour of his glory, when
at sunset the whole village empties itself to behold him, for tomorrow
their favorite young partisan goes out against the enemy. His
superb headdress is adorned with a crest of the war eagle's feathers,
rising in a waving ridge above his brow, and sweeping far behind him.
His round white shield hangs at his breast, with feathers radiating
from the center like a star. His quiver is at his back; his tall
lance in his hand, the iron point flashing against the declining sun,
while the long scalp-locks of his enemies flutter from the shaft.
Thus, gorgeous as a champion in his panoply, he rides round and round
within the great circle of lodges, balancing with a graceful buoyancy
to the free movements of his war horse, while with a sedate brow he
sings his song to the Great Spirit. Young rival warriors look
askance at him; vermilion-cheeked girls gaze in admiration, boys
whoop and scream in a thrill of delight, and old women yell forth his
name and proclaim his praises from lodge to lodge.
Mahto-Tatonka, to come back to him, was the best of all our Indian
friends. Hour after hour and day after day, when swarms of savages
of every age, sex, and degree beset our camp, he would lie in our
tent, his lynx eye ever open to guard our property from pillage.
The Whirlwind invited us one day to his lodge. The feast was
finished, and the pipe began to circulate. It was a remarkably large
and fine one, and I expressed my admiration of its form and
"If the Meneaska likes the pipe," asked The Whirlwind, "why does he
not keep it?"
Such a pipe among the Ogallalla is valued at the price of a horse. A
princely gift, thinks the reader, and worthy of a chieftain and a
warrior. The Whirlwind's generosity rose to no such pitch. He gave
me the pipe, confidently expecting that I in return should make him a
present of equal or superior value. This is the implied condition of
every gift among the Indians as among the Orientals, and should it
not be complied with the present is usually reclaimed by the giver.
So I arranged upon a gaudy calico handkerchief, an assortment of
vermilion, tobacco, knives, and gunpowder, and summoning the chief to
camp, assured him of my friendship and begged his acceptance of a
slight token of it. Ejaculating HOW! HOW! he folded up the offerings
and withdrew to his lodge.
Several days passed and we and the Indians remained encamped side by
side. They could not decide whether or not to go to war. Toward
evening, scores of them would surround our tent, a picturesque group.
Late one afternoon a party of them mounted on horseback came suddenly
in sight from behind some clumps of bushes that lined the bank of the
stream, leading with them a mule, on whose back was a wretched negro,
only sustained in his seat by the high pommel and cantle of the
Indian saddle. His cheeks were withered and shrunken in the hollow
of his jaws; his eyes were unnaturally dilated, and his lips seemed
shriveled and drawn back from his teeth like those of a corpse. When
they brought him up before our tent, and lifted him from the saddle,
he could not walk or stand, but he crawled a short distance, and with
a look of utter misery sat down on the grass. All the children and
women came pouring out of the lodges round us, and with screams and
cries made a close circle about him, while he sat supporting himself
with his hands, and looking from side to side with a vacant stare.
The wretch was starving to death! For thirty-three days he had
wandered alone on the prairie, without weapon of any kind; without
shoes, moccasins, or any other clothing than an old jacket and
pantaloons; without intelligence and skill to guide his course, or
any knowledge of the productions of the prairie. All this time he
had subsisted on crickets and lizards, wild onions, and three eggs
which he found in the nest of a prairie dove. He had not seen a
human being. Utterly bewildered in the boundless, hopeless desert
that stretched around him, offering to his inexperienced eye no mark
by which to direct his course, he had walked on in despair till he
could walk no longer, and then crawled on his knees until the bone
was laid bare. He chose the night for his traveling, lying down by
day to sleep in the glaring sun, always dreaming, as he said, of the
broth and corn cake he used to eat under his old master's shed in
Missouri. Every man in the camp, both white and red, was astonished
at his wonderful escape not only from starvation but from the grizzly
bears which abound in that neighborhood, and the wolves which howled
around him every night.
Reynal recognized him the moment the Indians brought him in. He had
run away from his master about a year before and joined the party of
M. Richard, who was then leaving the frontier for the mountains. He
had lived with Richard ever since, until in the end of May he with
Reynal and several other men went out in search of some stray horses,
when he got separated from the rest in a storm, and had never been
heard of up to this time. Knowing his inexperience and helplessness,
no one dreamed that he could still be living. The Indians had found
him lying exhausted on the ground.
As he sat there with the Indians gazing silently on him, his haggard
face and glazed eye were disgusting to look upon. Delorier made him
a bowl of gruel, but he suffered it to remain untasted before him.
At length he languidly raised the spoon to his lips; again he did so,
and again; and then his appetite seemed suddenly inflamed into
madness, for he seized the bowl, swallowed all its contents in a few
seconds, and eagerly demanded meat. This we refused, telling him to
wait until morning, but he begged so eagerly that we gave him a small
piece, which he devoured, tearing it like a dog. He said he must
have more. We told him that his life was in danger if he ate so
immoderately at first. He assented, and said he knew he was a fool
to do so, but he must have meat. This we absolutely refused, to the
great indignation of the senseless squaws, who, when we were not
watching him, would slyly bring dried meat and POMMES BLANCHES, and
place them on the ground by his side. Still this was not enough for
him. When it grew dark he contrived to creep away between the legs
of the horses and crawl over to the Indian village, about a furlong
down the stream. Here he fed to his heart's content, and was brought
back again in the morning, when Jean Gras, the trapper, put him on
horseback and carried him to the fort. He managed to survive the
effects of his insane greediness, and though slightly deranged when
we left this part of the country, he was otherwise in tolerable
health, and expressed his firm conviction that nothing could ever
kill him.
When the sun was yet an hour high, it was a gay scene in the village.
The warriors stalked sedately among the lodges, or along the margin
of the streams, or walked out to visit the bands of horses that were
feeding over the prairie. Half the village population deserted the
close and heated lodges and betook themselves to the water; and here
you might see boys and girls and young squaws splashing, swimming,
and diving beneath the afternoon sun, with merry laughter and
screaming. But when the sun was just resting above the broken peaks,
and the purple mountains threw their prolonged shadows for miles over
the prairie; when our grim old tree, lighted by the horizontal rays,
assumed an aspect of peaceful repose, such as one loves after scenes
of tumult and excitement; and when the whole landscape of swelling
plains and scattered groves was softened into a tranquil beauty, then
our encampment presented a striking spectacle. Could Salvator Rosa
have transferred it to his canvas, it would have added new renown to
his pencil. Savage figures surrounded our tent, with quivers at
their backs, and guns, lances, or tomahawks in their hands. Some sat
on horseback, motionless as equestrian statues, their arms crossed on
their breasts, their eyes fixed in a steady unwavering gaze upon us.
Some stood erect, wrapped from head to foot in their long white robes
of buffalo hide. Some sat together on the grass, holding their
shaggy horses by a rope, with their broad dark busts exposed to view
as they suffered their robes to fall from their shoulders. Others
again stood carelessly among the throng, with nothing to conceal the
matchless symmetry of their forms; and I do not exaggerate when I say
that only on the prairie and in the Vatican have I seen such
faultless models of the human figure. See that warrior standing by
the tree, towering six feet and a half in stature. Your eyes may
trace the whole of his graceful and majestic height, and discover no
defect or blemish. With his free and noble attitude, with the bow in
his hand, and the quiver at his back, he might seem, but for his
face, the Pythian Apollo himself. Such a figure rose before the
imagination of West, when on first seeing the Belvidere in the
Vatican, he exclaimed, "By God, a Mohawk!"
When the sky darkened and the stars began to appear; when the prairie
was involved in gloom and the horses were driven in and secured
around the camp, the crowd began to melt away. Fires gleamed around,
duskily revealing the rough trappers and the graceful Indians. One
of the families near us would always be gathered about a bright
blaze, that displayed the shadowy dimensions of their lodge, and sent
its lights far up among the masses of foliage above, gilding the dead
and ragged branches. Withered witchlike hags flitted around the
blaze, and here for hour after hour sat a circle of children and
young girls, laughing and talking, their round merry faces glowing in
the ruddy light. We could hear the monotonous notes of the drum from
the Indian village, with the chant of the war song, deadened in the
distance, and the long chorus of quavering yells, where the war dance
was going on in the largest lodge. For several nights, too, we could
hear wild and mournful cries, rising and dying away like the
melancholy voice of a wolf. They came from the sisters and female
relatives of Mahto-Tatonka, who were gashing their limbs with knives,
and bewailing the death of Henry Chatillon's squaw. The hour would
grow late before all retired to rest in the camp. Then the embers of
the fires would be glowing dimly, the men would be stretched in their
blankets on the ground, and nothing could be heard but the restless
motions of the crowded horses.
I recall these scenes with a mixed feeling of pleasure and pain. At
this time I was so reduced by illness that I could seldom walk
without reeling like a drunken man, and when I rose from my seat upon
the ground the landscape suddenly grew dim before my eyes, the trees
and lodges seemed to sway to and fro, and the prairie to rise and
fall like the swells of the ocean. Such a state of things is by no
means enviable anywhere. In a country where a man's life may at any
moment depend on the strength of his arm, or it may be on the
activity of his legs, it is more particularly inconvenient. Medical
assistance of course there was none; neither had I the means of
pursuing a system of diet; and sleeping on a damp ground, with an
occasional drenching from a shower, would hardly be recommended as
beneficial. I sometimes suffered the extremity of languor and
exhaustion, and though at the time I felt no apprehensions of the
final result, I have since learned that my situation was a critical
Besides other formidable inconveniences I owe it in a great measure
to the remote effects of that unlucky disorder that from deficient
eyesight I am compelled to employ the pen of another in taking down
this narrative from my lips; and I have learned very effectually that
a violent attack of dysentery on the prairie is a thing too serious
for a joke. I tried repose and a very sparing diet. For a long
time, with exemplary patience, I lounged about the camp, or at the
utmost staggered over to the Indian village, and walked faint and
dizzy among the lodges. It would not do, and I bethought me of
starvation. During five days I sustained life on one small biscuit a
day. At the end of that time I was weaker than before, but the
disorder seemed shaken in its stronghold and very gradually I began
to resume a less rigid diet. No sooner had I done so than the same
detested symptoms revisited me; my old enemy resumed his pertinacious
assaults, yet not with his former violence or constancy, and though
before I regained any fair portion of my ordinary strength weeks had
elapsed, and months passed before the disorder left me, yet thanks to
old habits of activity, and a merciful Providence, I was able to
sustain myself against it.
I used to lie languid and dreamy before our tent and muse on the past
and the future, and when most overcome with lassitude, my eyes turned
always toward the distant Black Hills. There is a spirit of energy
and vigor in mountains, and they impart it to all who approach their
presence. At that time I did not know how many dark superstitions
and gloomy legends are associated with those mountains in the minds
of the Indians, but I felt an eager desire to penetrate their hidden
recesses, to explore the awful chasms and precipices, the black
torrents, the silent forests, that I fancied were concealed there.
A Canadian came from Fort Laramie, and brought a curious piece of
intelligence. A trapper, fresh from the mountains, had become
enamored of a Missouri damsel belonging to a family who with other
emigrants had been for some days encamped in the neighborhood of the
fort. If bravery be the most potent charm to win the favor of the
fair, then no wooer could be more irresistible than a Rocky Mountain
trapper. In the present instance, the suit was not urged in vain.
The lovers concerted a scheme, which they proceeded to carry into
effect with all possible dispatch. The emigrant party left the fort,
and on the next succeeding night but one encamped as usual, and
placed a guard. A little after midnight the enamored trapper drew
near, mounted on a strong horse and leading another by the bridle.
Fastening both animals to a tree, he stealthily moved toward the
wagons, as if he were approaching a band of buffalo. Eluding the
vigilance of the guard, who was probably half asleep, he met his
mistress by appointment at the outskirts of the camp, mounted her on
his spare horse, and made off with her through the darkness. The
sequel of the adventure did not reach our ears, and we never learned
how the imprudent fair one liked an Indian lodge for a dwelling, and
a reckless trapper for a bridegroom.
At length The Whirlwind and his warriors determined to move. They
had resolved after all their preparations not to go to the rendezvous
at La Bonte's Camp, but to pass through the Black Hills and spend a
few weeks in hunting the buffalo on the other side, until they had
killed enough to furnish them with a stock of provisions and with
hides to make their lodges for the next season. This done, they were
to send out a small independent war party against the enemy. Their
final determination left us in some embarrassment. Should we go to
La Bonte's Camp, it was not impossible that the other villages would
prove as vacillating and indecisive as The Whirlwinds, and that no
assembly whatever would take place. Our old companion Reynal had
conceived a liking for us, or rather for our biscuit and coffee, and
for the occasional small presents which we made him. He was very
anxious that we should go with the village which he himself intended
to accompany. He declared he was certain that no Indians would meet
at the rendezvous, and said moreover that it would be easy to convey
our cart and baggage through the Black Hills. In saying this, he
told as usual an egregious falsehood. Neither he nor any white man
with us had ever seen the difficult and obscure defiles through which
the Indians intended to make their way. I passed them afterward, and
had much ado to force my distressed horse along the narrow ravines,
and through chasms where daylight could scarcely penetrate. Our cart
might as easily have been conveyed over the summit of Pike's Peak.
Anticipating the difficulties and uncertainties of an attempt to
visit the rendezvous, we recalled the old proverb about "A bird in
the hand," and decided to follow the village.
Both camps, the Indians' and our own, broke up on the morning of the
1st of July. I was so weak that the aid of a potent auxiliary, a
spoonful of whisky swallowed at short intervals, alone enabled me to
sit on my hardy little mare Pauline through the short journey of that
day. For half a mile before us and half a mile behind, the prairie
was covered far and wide with the moving throng of savages. The
barren, broken plain stretched away to the right and left, and far in
front rose the gloomy precipitous ridge of the Black Hills. We
pushed forward to the head of the scattered column, passing the
burdened travaux, the heavily laden pack horses, the gaunt old women
on foot, the gay young squaws on horseback, the restless children
running among the crowd, old men striding along in their white
buffalo robes, and groups of young warriors mounted on their best
horses. Henry Chatillon, looking backward over the distant prairie,
exclaimed suddenly that a horseman was approaching, and in truth we
could just discern a small black speck slowly moving over the face of
a distant swell, like a fly creeping on a wall. It rapidly grew
larger as it approached.
"White man, I b'lieve," said Henry; "look how he ride! Indian never
ride that way. Yes; he got rifle on the saddle before him."
The horseman disappeared in a hollow of the prairie, but we soon saw
him again, and as he came riding at a gallop toward us through the
crowd of Indians, his long hair streaming in the wind behind him, we
recognized the ruddy face and old buckskin frock of Jean Gras the
trapper. He was just arrived from Fort Laramie, where he had been on
a visit, and said he had a message for us. A trader named Bisonette,
one of Henry's friends, was lately come from the settlements, and
intended to go with a party of men to La Bonte's Camp, where, as Jean
Gras assured us, ten or twelve villages of Indians would certainly
assemble. Bisonette desired that we would cross over and meet him
there, and promised that his men should protect our horses and
baggage while we went among the Indians. Shaw and I stopped our
horses and held a council, and in an evil hour resolved to go.
For the rest of that day's journey our course and that of the Indians
was the same. In less than an hour we came to where the high barren
prairie terminated, sinking down abruptly in steep descent; and
standing on these heights, we saw below us a great level meadow.
Laramie Creek bounded it on the left, sweeping along in the shadow of
the declivities, and passing with its shallow and rapid current just
below us. We sat on horseback, waiting and looking on, while the
whole savage array went pouring past us, hurrying down the descent
and spreading themselves over the meadow below. In a few moments the
plain was swarming with the moving multitude, some just visible, like
specks in the distance, others still passing on, pressing down, and
fording the stream with bustle and confusion. On the edge of the
heights sat half a dozen of the elder warriors, gravely smoking and
looking down with unmoved faces on the wild and striking spectacle.
Up went the lodges in a circle on the margin of the stream. For the
sake of quiet we pitched our tent among some trees at half a mile's
distance. In the afternoon we were in the village. The day was a
glorious one, and the whole camp seemed lively and animated in
sympathy. Groups of children and young girls were laughing gayly on
the outside of the lodges. The shields, the lances, and the bows
were removed from the tall tripods on which they usually hung before
the dwellings of their owners. The warriors were mounting their
horses, and one by one riding away over the prairie toward the
neighboring hills.
Shaw and I sat on the grass near the lodge of Reynal. An old woman,
with true Indian hospitality, brought a bowl of boiled venison and
placed it before us. We amused ourselves with watching half a dozen
young squaws who were playing together and chasing each other in and
out of one of the lodges. Suddenly the wild yell of the war-whoop
came pealing from the hills. A crowd of horsemen appeared, rushing
down their sides and riding at full speed toward the village, each
warrior's long hair flying behind him in the wind like a ship's
streamer. As they approached, the confused throng assumed a regular
order, and entering two by two, they circled round the area at full
gallop, each warrior singing his war song as he rode. Some of their
dresses were splendid. They wore superb crests of feathers and close
tunics of antelope skins, fringed with the scalp-locks of their
enemies; their shields too were often fluttering with the war eagle's
feathers. All had bows and arrows at their back; some carried long
lances, and a few were armed with guns. The White Shield, their
partisan, rode in gorgeous attire at their head, mounted on a blackand-
white horse. Mahto-Tatonka and his brothers took no part in this
parade, for they were in mourning for their sister, and were all
sitting in their lodges, their bodies bedaubed from head to foot with
white clay, and a lock of hair cut from each of their foreheads.
The warriors circled three times round the village; and as each
distinguished champion passed, the old women would scream out his
name in honor of his bravery, and to incite the emulation of the
younger warriors. Little urchins, not two years old, followed the
warlike pageant with glittering eyes, and looked with eager wonder
and admiration at those whose honors were proclaimed by the public
voice of the village. Thus early is the lesson of war instilled into
the mind of an Indian, and such are the stimulants which incite his
thirst for martial renown.
The procession rode out of the village as it had entered it, and in
half an hour all the warriors had returned again, dropping quietly
in, singly or in parties of two or three.
As the sun rose next morning we looked across the meadow, and could
see the lodges leveled and the Indians gathering together in
preparation to leave the camp. Their course lay to the westward. We
turned toward the north with our men, the four trappers following us,
with the Indian family of Moran. We traveled until night. I
suffered not a little from pain and weakness. We encamped among some
trees by the side of a little brook, and here during the whole of the
next day we lay waiting for Bisonette, but no Bisonette appeared.
Here also two of our trapper friends left us, and set out for the
Rocky Mountains. On the second morning, despairing of Bisonette's
arrival we resumed our journey, traversing a forlorn and dreary
monotony of sun-scorched plains, where no living thing appeared save
here and there an antelope flying before us like the wind. When noon
came we saw an unwonted and most welcome sight; a rich and luxuriant
growth of trees, marking the course of a little stream called
Horseshoe Creek. We turned gladly toward it. There were lofty and
spreading trees, standing widely asunder, and supporting a thick
canopy of leaves, above a surface of rich, tall grass. The stream
ran swiftly, as clear as crystal, through the bosom of the wood,
sparkling over its bed of white sand and darkening again as it
entered a deep cavern of leaves and boughs. I was thoroughly
exhausted, and flung myself on the ground, scarcely able to move.
All that afternoon I lay in the shade by the side of the stream, and
those bright woods and sparkling waters are associated in my mind
with recollections of lassitude and utter prostration. When night
came I sat down by the fire, longing, with an intensity of which at
this moment I can hardly conceive, for some powerful stimulant.
In the morning as glorious a sun rose upon us as ever animated that
desolate wilderness. We advanced and soon were surrounded by tall
bare hills, overspread from top to bottom with prickly-pears and
other cacti, that seemed like clinging reptiles. A plain, flat and
hard, and with scarcely the vestige of grass, lay before us, and a
line of tall misshapen trees bounded the onward view. There was no
sight or sound of man or beast, or any living thing, although behind
those trees was the long-looked-for place of rendezvous, where we
fondly hoped to have found the Indians congregated by thousands. We
looked and listened anxiously. We pushed forward with our best
speed, and forced our horses through the trees. There were copses of
some extent beyond, with a scanty stream creeping through their
midst; and as we pressed through the yielding branches, deer sprang
up to the right and left. At length we caught a glimpse of the
prairie beyond. Soon we emerged upon it, and saw, not a plain
covered with encampments and swarming with life, but a vast unbroken
desert stretching away before us league upon league, without a bush
or a tree or anything that had life. We drew rein and gave to the
winds our sentiments concerning the whole aboriginal race of America.
Our journey was in vain and much worse than in vain. For myself, I
was vexed and disappointed beyond measure; as I well knew that a
slight aggravation of my disorder would render this false step
irrevocable, and make it quite impossible to accomplish effectively
the design which had led me an arduous journey of between three and
four thousand miles. To fortify myself as well as I could against
such a contingency, I resolved that I would not under any
circumstances attempt to leave the country until my object was
completely gained.
And where were the Indians? They were assembled in great numbers at
a spot about twenty miles distant, and there at that very moment they
were engaged in their warlike ceremonies. The scarcity of buffalo in
the vicinity of La Bonte's Camp, which would render their supply of
provisions scanty and precarious, had probably prevented them from
assembling there; but of all this we knew nothing until some weeks
Shaw lashed his horse and galloped forward, I, though much more vexed
than he, was not strong enough to adopt this convenient vent to my
feelings; so I followed at a quiet pace, but in no quiet mood. We
rode up to a solitary old tree, which seemed the only place fit for
encampment. Half its branches were dead, and the rest were so
scantily furnished with leaves that they cast but a meager and
wretched shade, and the old twisted trunk alone furnished sufficient
protection from the sun. We threw down our saddles in the strip of
shadow that it cast, and sat down upon them. In silent indignation
we remained smoking for an hour or more, shifting our saddles with
the shifting shadow, for the sun was intolerably hot.
At last we had reached La Bonte's Camp, toward which our eyes had
turned so long. Of all weary hours, those that passed between noon
and sunset of the day when we arrived there may bear away the palm of
exquisite discomfort. I lay under the tree reflecting on what course
to pursue, watching the shadows which seemed never to move, and the
sun which remained fixed in the sky, and hoping every moment to see
the men and horses of Bisonette emerging from the woods. Shaw and
Henry had ridden out on a scouting expedition, and did not return
until the sun was setting. There was nothing very cheering in their
faces nor in the news they brought.
"We have been ten miles from here," said Shaw. "We climbed the
highest butte we could find, and could not see a buffalo or Indian;
nothing but prairie for twenty miles around us."
Henry's horse was quite disabled by clambering up and down the sides
of ravines, and Shaw's was severely fatigued.
After supper that evening, as we sat around the fire, I proposed to
Shaw to wait one day longer in hopes of Bisonette's arrival, and if
he should not come to send Delorier with the cart and baggage back to
Fort Laramie, while we ourselves followed The Whirlwind's village and
attempted to overtake it as it passed the mountains. Shaw, not
having the same motive for hunting Indians that I had, was averse to
the plan; I therefore resolved to go alone. This design I adopted
very unwillingly, for I knew that in the present state of my health
the attempt would be extremely unpleasant, and, as I considered,
hazardous. I hoped that Bisonette would appear in the course of the
following day, and bring us some information by which to direct our
course, and enable me to accomplish my purpose by means less
The rifle of Henry Chatillon was necessary for the subsistence of the
party in my absence; so I called Raymond, and ordered him to prepare
to set out with me. Raymond rolled his eyes vacantly about, but at
length, having succeeded in grappling with the idea, he withdrew to
his bed under the cart. He was a heavy-molded fellow, with a broad
face exactly like an owl's, expressing the most impenetrable
stupidity and entire self-confidence. As for his good qualities, he
had a sort of stubborn fidelity, an insensibility to danger, and a
kind of instinct or sagacity, which sometimes led him right, where
better heads than his were at a loss. Besides this, he knew very
well how to handle a rifle and picket a horse.
Through the following day the sun glared down upon us with a
pitiless, penetrating heat. The distant blue prairie seemed
quivering under it. The lodge of our Indian associates was baking in
the rays, and our rifles, as they leaned against the tree, were too
hot for the touch. There was a dead silence through our camp and all
around it, unbroken except by the hum of gnats and mosquitoes. The
men, resting their foreheads on their arms, were sleeping under the
cart. The Indians kept close within their lodge except the newly
married pair, who were seated together under an awning of buffalo
robes, and the old conjurer, who, with his hard, emaciated face and
gaunt ribs, was perched aloft like a turkey-buzzard among the dead
branches of an old tree, constantly on the lookout for enemies. He
would have made a capital shot. A rifle bullet, skillfully planted,
would have brought him tumbling to the ground. Surely, I thought,
there could be no more harm in shooting such a hideous old villain,
to see how ugly he would look when he was dead, than in shooting the
detestable vulture which he resembled. We dined, and then Shaw
saddled his horse.
"I will ride back," said he, "to Horseshoe Creek, and see if
Bisonette is there."
"I would go with you," I answered, "but I must reserve all the
strength I have."
The afternoon dragged away at last. I occupied myself in cleaning my
rifle and pistols, and making other preparations for the journey.
After supper, Henry Chatillon and I lay by the fire, discussing the
properties of that admirable weapon, the rifle, in the use of which
he could fairly outrival Leatherstocking himself.
It was late before I wrapped myself in my blanket and lay down for
the night, with my head on my saddle. Shaw had not returned, but
this gave no uneasiness, for we presumed that he had fallen in with
Bisonette, and was spending the night with him. For a day or two
past I had gained in strength and health, but about midnight an
attack of pain awoke me, and for some hours I felt no inclination to
sleep. The moon was quivering on the broad breast of the Platte;
nothing could be heard except those low inexplicable sounds, like
whisperings and footsteps, which no one who has spent the night alone
amid deserts and forests will be at a loss to understand. As I was
falling asleep, a familiar voice, shouting from the distance, awoke
me again. A rapid step approached the camp, and Shaw on foot, with
his gun in his hand, hastily entered.
"Where's your horse?" said I, raising myself on my elbow.
"Lost!" said Shaw. "Where's Delorier?"
"There," I replied, pointing to a confused mass of blankets and
buffalo robes.
Shaw touched them with the butt of his gun, and up sprang our
faithful Canadian.
"Come, Delorier; stir up the fire, and get me something to eat."
"Where's Bisonette?" asked I.
"The Lord knows; there's nobody at Horseshoe Creek."
Shaw had gone back to the spot where we had encamped two days before,
and finding nothing there but the ashes of our fires, he had tied his
horse to the tree while he bathed in the stream. Something startled
his horse, who broke loose, and for two hours Shaw tried in vain to
catch him. Sunset approached, and it was twelve miles to camp. So
he abandoned the attempt, and set out on foot to join us. The
greater part of his perilous and solitary work was performed in
darkness. His moccasins were worn to tatters and his feet severely
lacerated. He sat down to eat, however, with the usual equanimity of
his temper not at all disturbed by his misfortune, and my last
recollection before falling asleep was of Shaw, seated cross-legged
before the fire, smoking his pipe. The horse, I may as well mention
here, was found the next morning by Henry Chatillon.
When I awoke again there was a fresh damp smell in the air, a gray
twilight involved the prairie, and above its eastern verge was a
streak of cold red sky. I called to the men, and in a moment a fire
was blazing brightly in the dim morning light, and breakfast was
getting ready. We sat down together on the grass, to the last
civilized meal which Raymond and I were destined to enjoy for some
"Now, bring in the horses."
My little mare Pauline was soon standing by the fire. She was a
fleet, hardy, and gentle animal, christened after Paul Dorion, from
whom I had procured her in exchange for Pontiac. She did not look as
if equipped for a morning pleasure ride. In front of the black,
high-bowed mountain saddle, holsters, with heavy pistols, were
fastened. A pair of saddle bags, a blanket tightly rolled, a small
parcel of Indian presents tied up in a buffalo skin, a leather bag of
flour, and a smaller one of tea were all secured behind, and a long
trail-rope was wound round her neck. Raymond had a strong black
mule, equipped in a similar manner. We crammed our powder-horns to
the throat, and mounted.
"I will meet you at Fort Laramie on the 1st of August," said I to
"That is," replied he, "if we don't meet before that. I think I
shall follow after you in a day or two."
This in fact he attempted, and he would have succeeded if he had not
encountered obstacles against which his resolute spirit was of no
avail. Two days after I left him he sent Delorier to the fort with
the cart and baggage, and set out for the mountains with Henry
Chatillon; but a tremendons thunderstorm had deluged the prairie, and
nearly obliterated not only our trail but that of the Indians
themselves. They followed along the base of the mountains, at a loss
in which direction to go. They encamped there, and in the morning
Shaw found himself poisoned by ivy in such a manner that it was
impossible for him to travel. So they turned back reluctantly toward
Fort Laramie. Shaw's limbs were swollen to double their usual size,
and he rode in great pain. They encamped again within twenty miles
of the fort, and reached it early on the following morning. Shaw lay
serionsly ill for a week, and remained at the fort till I rejoined
him some time after.
To return to my own story. We shook hands with our friends, rode out
upon the prairie, and clambering the sandy hollows that were
channeled in the sides of the hills gained the high plains above. If
a curse had been pronounced upon the land it could not have worn an
aspect of more dreary and forlorn barrenness. There were abrupt
broken hills, deep hollows, and wide plains; but all alike glared
with an insupportable whiteness under the burning sun. The country,
as if parched by the heat, had cracked into innumerable fissures and
ravines, that not a little impeded our progress. Their steep sides
were white and raw, and along the bottom we several times discovered
the broad tracks of the terrific grizzly bear, nowhere more abundant
than in this region. The ridges of the hills were hard as rock, and
strewn with pebbles of flint and coarse red jasper; looking from
them, there was nothing to relieve the desert uniformity of the
prospect, save here and there a pine-tree clinging at the edge of a
ravine, and stretching out its rough, shaggy arms. Under the
scorching heat these melancholy trees diffused their peculiar
resinous odor through the sultry air. There was something in it, as
I approached them, that recalled old associations; the pine-clad
mountains of New England, traversed in days of health and buoyancy,
rose like a reality before my fancy. In passing that arid waste I
was goaded with a morbid thirst produced by my disorder, and I
thought with a longing desire on the crystal treasure poured in such
wasteful profusion from our thousand hills. Shutting my eyes, I more
than half believed that I heard the deep plunging and gurgling of
waters in the bowels of the shaded rocks. I could see their dark ice
glittering far down amid the crevices, and the cold drops trickling
from the long green mosses.
When noon came, we found a little stream, with a few trees and
bushes; and here we rested for an hour. Then we traveled on, guided
by the sun, until, just before sunset, we reached another stream,
called Bitter Cotton-wood Creek. A thick growth of bushes and old
storm-beaten trees grew at intervals along its bank. Near the foot
of one of the trees we flung down our saddles, and hobbling our
horses turned them loose to feed. The little stream was clear and
swift, and ran musically on its white sands. Small water birds were
splashing in the shallows, and filling the air with their cries and
flutterings. The sun was just sinking among gold and crimson clouds
behind Mount Laramie. I well remember how I lay upon a log by the
margin of the water, and watched the restless motions of the little
fish in a deep still nook below. Strange to say, I seemed to have
gained strength since the morning, and almost felt a sense of
returning health.
We built our fire. Night came, and the wolves began to howl. One
deep voice commenced, and it was answered in awful responses from the
hills, the plains, and the woods along the stream above and below us.
Such sounds need not and do not disturb one's sleep upon the prairie.
We picketed the mare and the mule close at our feet, and did not wake
until daylight. Then we turned them loose, still hobbled, to feed
for an hour before starting. We were getting ready our morning's
meal, when Raymond saw an antelope at half a mile's distance, and
said he would go and shoot it.
"Your business," said. I, "is to look after the animals. I am too
weak to do much, if anything happens to them, and you must keep
within sight of the camp."
Raymond promised, and set out with his rifle in his hand. The
animals had passed across the stream, and were feeding among the long
grass on the other side, much tormented by the attacks of the
numerous large green-headed flies. As I watched them, I saw them go
down into a hollow, and as several minutes elapsed without their
reappearing, I waded through the stream to look after them. To my
vexation and alarm I discovered them at a great distance, galloping
away at full speed, Pauline in advance, with her hobbles broken, and
the mule, still fettered, following with awkward leaps. I fired my
rifle and shouted to recall Raymond. In a moment he came running
through the stream, with a red handkerchief bound round his head. I
pointed to the fugitives, and ordered him to pursue them. Muttering
a "Sacre!" between his teeth, he set out at full speed, still
swinging his rifle in his hand. I walked up to the top of a hill,
and looking away over the prairie, could just distinguish the
runaways, still at full gallop. Returning to the fire, I sat down at
the foot of a tree. Wearily and anxiously hour after hour passed
away. The old loose bark dangling from the trunk behind me flapped
to and fro in the wind, and the mosquitoes kept up their incessant
drowsy humming; but other than this, there was no sight nor sound of
life throughout the burning landscape. The sun rose higher and
higher, until the shadows fell almost perpendicularly, and I knew
that it must be noon. It seemed scarcely possible that the animals
could be recovered. If they were not, my situation was one of
serious difficulty. Shaw, when I left him had decided to move that
morning, but whither he had not determined. To look for him would be
a vain attempt. Fort Laramie was forty miles distant, and I could
not walk a mile without great effort. Not then having learned the
sound philosophy of yielding to disproportionate obstacles, I
resolved to continue in any event the pursuit of the Indians. Only
one plan occurred to me; this was to send Raymond to the fort with an
order for more horses, while I remained on the spot, awaiting his
return, which might take place within three days. But the adoption
of this resolution did not wholly allay my anxiety, for it involved
both uncertainty and danger. To remain stationary and alone for
three days, in a country full of dangerous Indians, was not the most
flattering of prospects; and protracted as my Indian hunt must be by
such delay, it was not easy to foretell its ultimate result.
Revolving these matters, I grew hungry; and as our stock of
provisions, except four or five pounds of flour, was by this time
exhausted, I left the camp to see what game I could find. Nothing
could be seen except four or five large curlew, which, with their
loud screaming, were wheeling over my head, and now and then
alighting upon the prairie. I shot two of them, and was about
returning, when a startling sight caught my eye. A small, dark
object, like a human head, suddenly appeared, and vanished among the
thick hushes along the stream below. In that country every stranger
is a suspected enemy. Instinctively I threw forward the muzzle of my
rifle. In a moment the bushes were violently shaken, two heads, but
not human heads, protruded, and to my great joy I recognized the
downcast, disconsolate countenance of the black mule and the yellow
visage of Pauline. Raymond came upon the mule, pale and haggard,
complaining of a fiery pain in his chest. I took charge of the
animals while he kneeled down by the side of the stream to drink. He
had kept the runaways in sight as far as the Side Fork of Laramie
Creek, a distance of more than ten miles; and here with great
difficulty he had succeeded in catching them. I saw that he was
unarmed, and asked him what he had done with his rifle. It had
encumbered him in his pursuit, and he had dropped it on the prairie,
thinking that he could find it on his return; but in this he had
failed. The loss might prove a very formidable one. I was too much
rejoiced however at the recovery of the animals to think much about
it; and having made some tea for Raymond in a tin vessel which we had
brought with us, I told him that I would give him two hours for
resting before we set out again. He had eaten nothing that day; but
having no appetite, he lay down immediately to sleep. I picketed the
animals among the richest grass that I could find, and made fires of
green wood to protect them from the flies; then sitting down again by
the tree, I watched the slow movements of the sun, begrudging every
moment that passed.
The time I had mentioned expired, and I awoke Raymond. We saddled
and set out again, but first we went in search of the lost rifle, and
in the course of an hour Raymond was fortunate enough to find it.
Then we turned westward, and moved over the hills and hollows at a
slow pace toward the Black Hills. The heat no longer tormented us,
for a cloud was before the sun. Yet that day shall never be marked
with white in my calendar. The air began to grow fresh and cool, the
distant mountains frowned more gloomily, there was a low muttering of
thunder, and dense black masses of cloud rose heavily behind the
broken peaks. At first they were gayly fringed with silver by the
afternoon sun, but soon the thick blackness overspread the whole sky,
and the desert around us was wrapped in deep gloom. I scarcely
heeded it at the time, but now I cannot but feel that there was an
awful sublimity in the hoarse murmuring of the thunder, in the somber
shadows that involved the mountains and the plain. The storm broke.
It came upon us with a zigzag blinding flash, with a terrific crash
of thunder, and with a hurricane that howled over the prairie,
dashing floods of water against us. Raymond looked round, and cursed
the merciless elements. There seemed no shelter near, but we
discerned at length a deep ravine gashed in the level prairie, and
saw half way down its side an old pine tree, whose rough horizontal
boughs formed a sort of penthouse against the tempest. We found a
practicable passage, and hastily descending, fastened our animals to
some large loose stones at the bottom; then climbing up, we drew our
blankets over our heads, and seated ourselves close beneath the old
tree. Perhaps I was no competent judge of time, but it seemed to me
that we were sitting there a full hour, while around us poured a
deluge of rain, through which the rocks on the opposite side of the
gulf were barely visible. The first burst of the tempest soon
subsided, but the rain poured steadily. At length Raymond grew
impatient, and scrambling out of the ravine, he gained the level
prairie above.
"What does the weather look like?" asked I, from my seat under the
"It looks bad," he answered; "dark all around," and again he
descended and sat down by my side. Some ten minutes elapsed.
"Go up again," said I, "and take another look;" and he clambered up
the precipice. "Well, how is it?"
"Just the same, only I see one little bright spot over the top of the
The rain by this time had begun to abate; and going down to the
bottom of the ravine, we loosened the animals, who were standing up
to their knees in water. Leading them up the rocky throat of the
ravine, we reached the plain above. "Am I," I thought to myself,
"the same man who a few months since, was seated, a quiet student of
BELLES-LETTRES, in a cushioned arm-chair by a sea-coal fire?"
All around us was obscurity; but the bright spot above the
mountaintops grew wider and ruddier, until at length the clouds drew
apart, and a flood of sunbeams poured down from heaven, streaming
along the precipices, and involving them in a thin blue haze, as soft
and lovely as that which wraps the Apennines on an evening in spring.
Rapidly the clouds were broken and scattered, like routed legions of
evil spirits. The plain lay basking in sunbeams around us; a rainbow
arched the desert from north to south, and far in front a line of
woods seemed inviting us to refreshment and repose. When we reached
them, they were glistening with prismatic dewdrops, and enlivened by
the song and flutterings of a hundred birds. Strange winged insects,
benumbed by the rain, were clinging to the leaves and the bark of the
Raymond kindled a fire with great difficulty. The animals turned
eagerly to feed on the soft rich grass, while I, wrapping myself in
my blanket, lay down and gazed on the evening landscape. The
mountains, whose stern features had lowered upon us with so gloomy
and awful a frown, now seemed lighted up with a serene, benignant
smile, and the green waving undulations of the plain were gladdened
with the rich sunshine. Wet, ill, and wearied as I was, my spirit
grew lighter at the view, and I drew from it an augury of good for my
future prospects.
When morning came, Raymond awoke, coughing violently, though I had
apparently received no injury. We mounted, crossed the little
stream, pushed through the trees, and began our journey over the
plain beyond. And now, as we rode slowly along, we looked anxiously
on every hand for traces of the Indians, not doubting that the
village had passed somewhere in that vicinity; but the scanty
shriveled grass was not more than three or four inches high, and the
ground was of such unyielding hardness that a host might have marched
over it and left scarcely a trace of its passage. Up hill and down
hill, and clambering through ravines, we continued our journey. As
we were skirting the foot of a hill I saw Raymond, who was some rods
in advance, suddenly jerking the reins of his mule. Sliding from his
seat, and running in a crouching posture up a hollow, he disappeared;
and then in an instant I heard the sharp quick crack of his rifle. A
wounded antelope came running on three legs over the hill. I lashed
Pauline and made after him. My fleet little mare soon brought me by
his side, and after leaping and bounding for a few moments in vain,
he stood still, as if despairing of escape. His glistening eyes
turned up toward my face with so piteous a look that it was with
feelings of infinite compunction that I shot him through the head
with a pistol. Raymond skinned and cut him up, and we hung the
forequarters to our saddles, much rejoiced that our exhausted stock
of provisions was renewed in such good time.
Gaining the top of a hill, we could see along the cloudy verge of the
prairie before us lines of trees and shadowy groves that marked the
course of Laramie Creek. Some time before noon we reached its banks
and began anxiously to search them for footprints of the Indians. We
followed the stream for several miles, now on the shore and now
wading in the water, scrutinizing every sand-bar and every muddy
bank. So long was the search that we began to fear that we had left
the trail undiscovered behind us. At length I heard Raymond
shouting, and saw him jump from his mule to examine some object under
the shelving bank. I rode up to his side. It was the clear and
palpable impression of an Indian moccasin. Encouraged by this we
continued our search, and at last some appearances on a soft surface
of earth not far from the shore attracted my eye; and going to
examine them I found half a dozen tracks, some made by men and some
by children. Just then Raymond observed across the stream the mouth
of a small branch entering it from the south. He forded the water,
rode in at the opening, and in a moment I heard him shouting again,
so I passed over and joined him. The little branch had a broad sandy
bed, along which the water trickled in a scanty stream; and on either
bank the bushes were so close that the view was completely
intercepted. I found Raymond stooping over the footprints of three
or four horses. Proceeding we found those of a man, then those of a
child, then those of more horses; and at last the bushes on each bank
were beaten down and broken, and the sand plowed up with a multitude
of footsteps, and scored across with the furrows made by the lodgepoles
that had been dragged through. It was now certain that we had
found the trail. I pushed through the bushes, and at a little
distance on the prairie beyond found the ashes of a hundred and fifty
lodge fires, with bones and pieces of buffalo robes scattered around
them, and in some instances the pickets to which horses had been
secured still standing in the ground. Elated by our success we
selected a convenient tree, and turning the animals loose, prepared
to make a meal from the fat haunch of our victim.
Hardship and exposure had thriven with me wonderfully. I had gained
both health and strength since leaving La Bonte's Camp. Raymond and
I made a hearty meal together in high spirits, for we rashly presumed
that having found one end of the trail we should have little
difficulty in reaching the other. But when the animals were led in
we found that our old ill luck had not ceased to follow us close. As
I was saddling Pauline I saw that her eye was as dull as lead, and
the hue of her yellow coat visibly darkened. I placed my foot in the
stirrup to mount, when instantly she staggered and fell flat on her
side. Gaining her feet with an effort she stood by the fire with a
drooping head. Whether she had been bitten by a snake or poisoned by
some noxious plant or attacked by a sudden disorder, it was hard to
say; but at all events her sickness was sufficiently ill-timed and
unfortunate. I succeeded in a second attempt to mount her, and with
a slow pace we moved forward on the trail of the Indians. It led us
up a hill and over a dreary plain; and here, to our great
mortification, the traces almost disappeared, for the ground was hard
as adamant; and if its flinty surface had ever retained the print of
a hoof, the marks had been washed away by the deluge of yesterday.
An Indian village, in its disorderly march, is scattered over the
prairie, often to the width of full half a mile; so that its trail is
nowhere clearly marked, and the task of following it is made doubly
wearisome and difficult. By good fortune plenty of large ant-hills,
a yard or more in diameter, were scattered over the plain, and these
were frequently broken by the footprints of men and horses, and
marked by traces of the lodge-poles. The succulent leaves of the
prickly-pear, also bruised from the same causes, helped a little to
guide us; so inch by inch we moved along. Often we lost the trail
altogether, and then would recover it again, but late in the
afternoon we found ourselves totally at fault. We stood alone
without clew to guide us. The broken plain expanded for league after
league around us, and in front the long dark ridge of mountains was
stretching from north to south. Mount Laramie, a little on our
right, towered high above the rest and from a dark valley just beyond
one of its lower declivities, we discerned volumes of white smoke
slowly rolling up into the clear air.
"I think," said Raymond, "some Indians must be there. Perhaps we had
better go." But this plan was not rashly to be adopted, and we
determined still to continue our search after the lost trail. Our
good stars prompted us to this decision, for we afterward had reason
to believe, from information given us by the Indians, that the smoke
was raised as a decoy by a Crow war party.
Evening was coming on, and there was no wood or water nearer than the
foot of the mountains. So thither we turned, directing our course
toward the point where Laramie Creek issues forth upon the prairie.
When we reached it the bare tops of the mountains were still
brightened with sunshine. The little river was breaking with a
vehement and angry current from its dark prison. There was something
in the near vicinity of the mountains, in the loud surging of the
rapids, wonderfully cheering and exhilarating; for although once as
familiar as home itself, they had been for months strangers to my
experience. There was a rich grass-plot by the river's bank,
surrounded by low ridges, which would effectually screen ourselves
and our fire from the sight of wandering Indians. Here among the
grass I observed numerous circles of large stones, which, as Raymond
said, were traces of a Dakota winter encampment. We lay down and did
not awake till the sun was up. A large rock projected from the
shore, and behind it the deep water was slowly eddying round and
round. The temptation was irresistible. I threw off my clothes,
leaped in, suffered myself to be borne once round with the current,
and then, seizing the strong root of a water plant, drew myself to
the shore. The effect was so invigorating and refreshing that I
mistook it for returning health. "Pauline," thought I, as I led the
little mare up to be saddled, "only thrive as I do, and you and I
will have sport yet among the buffalo beyond these mountains." But
scarcely were we mounted and on our way before the momentary glow
passed. Again I hung as usual in my seat, scarcely able to hold
myself erect.
"Look yonder," said Raymond; "you see that big hollow there; the
Indians must have gone that way, if they went anywhere about here."
We reached the gap, which was like a deep notch cut into the mountain
ridge, and here we soon discerned an ant-hill furrowed with the mark
of a lodge-pole. This was quite enough; there could be no doubt now.
As we rode on, the opening growing narrower, the Indians had been
compelled to march in closer order, and the traces became numerous
and distinct. The gap terminated in a rocky gateway, leading into a
rough passage upward, between two precipitous mountains. Here grass
and weeds were bruised to fragments by the throng that had passed
through. We moved slowly over the rocks, up the passage; and in this
toilsome manner we advanced for an hour or two, bare precipices,
hundreds of feet high, shooting up on either hand. Raymond, with his
hardy mule, was a few rods before me, when we came to the foot of an
ascent steeper than the rest, and which I trusted might prove the
highest point of the defile. Pauline strained upward for a few
yards, moaning and stumbling, and then came to a dead stop, unable to
proceed further. I dismounted, and attempted to lead her; but my own
exhausted strength soon gave out; so I loosened the trail-rope from
her neck, and tying it round my arm, crawled up on my hands and
knees. I gained the top, totally exhausted, the sweat drops
trickling from my forehead. Pauline stood like a statue by my side,
her shadow falling upon the scorching rock; and in this shade, for
there was no other, I lay for some time, scarcely able to move a
limb. All around the black crags, sharp as needles at the top, stood
glowing in the sun, without a tree, or a bush, or a blade of grass,
to cover their precipitous sides. The whole scene seemed parched
with a pitiless, insufferable heat.
After a while I could mount again, and we moved on, descending the
rocky defile on its western side. Thinking of that morning's
journey, it has sometimes seemed to me that there was something
ridiculous in my position; a man, armed to the teeth, but wholly
unable to fight, and equally so to run away, traversing a dangerous
wilderness, on a sick horse. But these thoughts were retrospective,
for at the time I was in too grave a mood to entertain a very lively
sense of the ludicrous.
Raymond's saddle-girth slipped; and while I proceeded he was stopping
behind to repair the mischief. I came to the top of a little
declivity, where a most welcome sight greeted my eye; a nook of fresh
green grass nestled among the cliffs, sunny clumps of bushes on one
side, and shaggy old pine trees leaning forward from the rocks on the
other. A shrill, familiar voice saluted me, and recalled me to days
of boyhood; that of the insect called the "locust" by New England
schoolboys, which was fast clinging among the heated boughs of the
old pine trees. Then, too, as I passed the bushes, the low sound of
falling water reached my ear. Pauline turned of her own accord, and
pushing through the boughs we found a black rock, over-arched by the
cool green canopy. An icy stream was pouring from its side into a
wide basin of white sand, from whence it had no visible outlet, but
filtered through into the soil below. While I filled a tin cup at
the spring, Pauline was eagerly plunging her head deep in the pool.
Other visitors had been there before us. All around in the soft soil
were the footprints of elk, deer, and the Rocky Mountain sheep; and
the grizzly bear too had left the recent prints of his broad foot,
with its frightful array of claws. Among these mountains was his
Soon after leaving the spring we found a little grassy plain,
encircled by the mountains, and marked, to our great joy, with all
the traces of an Indian camp. Raymond's practiced eye detected
certain signs by which he recognized the spot where Reynal's lodge
had been pitched and his horses picketed. I approached, and stood
looking at the place. Reynal and I had, I believe, hardly a feeling
in common. I disliked the fellow, and it perplexed me a good deal to
understand why I should look with so much interest on the ashes of
his fire, when between him and me there seemed no other bond of
sympathy than the slender and precarious one of a kindred race.
In half an hour from this we were clear of the mountains. There was
a plain before us, totally barren and thickly peopled in many parts
with the little prairie dogs, who sat at the mouths of their burrows
and yelped at us as we passed. The plain, as we thought, was about
six miles wide; but it cost us two hours to cross it. Then another
mountain range rose before us, grander and more wild than the last
had been. Far out of the dense shrubbery that clothed the steeps for
a thousand feet shot up black crags, all leaning one way, and
shattered by storms and thunder into grim and threatening shapes. As
we entered a narrow passage on the trail of the Indians, they
impended frightfully on one side, above our heads.
Our course was through dense woods, in the shade and twinkling
sunlight of overhanging boughs. I would I could recall to mind all
the startling combinations that presented themselves, as winding from
side to side of the passage, to avoid its obstructions, we could see,
glancing at intervals through the foliage, the awful forms of the
gigantic cliffs, that seemed at times to hem us in on the right and
on the left, before us and behind! Another scene in a few moments
greeted us; a tract of gray and sunny woods, broken into knolls and
hollows, enlivened by birds and interspersed with flowers. Among the
rest I recognized the mellow whistle of the robin, an old familiar
friend whom I had scarce expected to meet in such a place. Humblebees
too were buzzing heavily about the flowers; and of these a
species of larkspur caught my eye, more appropriate, it should seem,
to cultivated gardens than to a remote wilderness. Instantly it
recalled a multitude of dormant and delightful recollections.
Leaving behind us this spot and its associations, a sight soon
presented itself, characteristic of that warlike region. In an open
space, fenced in by high rocks, stood two Indian forts, of a square
form, rudely built of sticks and logs. They were somewhat ruinous,
having probably been constructed the year before. Each might have
contained about twenty men. Perhaps in this gloomy spot some party
had been beset by their enemies, and those scowling rocks and blasted
trees might not long since have looked down on a conflict
unchronicled and unknown. Yet if any traces of bloodshed remained
they were completely hidden by the bushes and tall rank weeds.
Gradually the mountains drew apart, and the passage expanded into a
plain, where again we found traces of an Indian encampment. There
were trees and bushes just before us, and we stopped here for an
hour's rest and refreshment. When we had finished our meal Raymond
struck fire, and lighting his pipe, sat down at the foot of a tree to
smoke. For some time I observed him puffing away with a face of
unusual solemnity. Then slowly taking the pipe from his lips, he
looked up and remarked that we had better not go any farther.
"Why not?" asked I.
He said that the country was becoming very dangerous, that we were
entering the range of the Snakes, Arapahoes and Grosventre Blackfeet,
and that if any of their wandering parties should meet us, it would
cost us our lives; but he added, with a blunt fidelity that nearly
reconciled me to his stupidity, that he would go anywhere I wished.
I told him to bring up the animals, and mounting them we proceeded
again. I confess that, as we moved forward, the prospect seemed but
a dreary and doubtful one. I would have given the world for my
ordinary elasticity of body and mind, and for a horse of such
strength and spirit as the journey required.
Closer and closer the rocks gathered round us, growing taller and
steeper, and pressing more and more upon our path. We entered at
length a defile which I never had seen rivaled. The mountain was
cracked from top to bottom, and we were creeping along the bottom of
the fissure, in dampness and gloom, with the clink of hoofs on the
loose shingly rocks, and the hoarse murmuring of a petulant brook
which kept us company. Sometimes the water, foaming among the
stones, overspread the whole narrow passage; sometimes, withdrawing
to one side, it gave us room to pass dry-shod. Looking up, we could
see a narrow ribbon of bright blue sky between the dark edges of the
opposing cliffs. This did not last long. The passage soon widened,
and sunbeams found their way down, flashing upon the black waters.
The defile would spread out to many rods in width; bushes, trees, and
flowers would spring by the side of the brook; the cliffs would be
feathered with shrubbery, that clung in every crevice, and fringed
with trees, that grew along their sunny edges. Then we would be
moving again in the darkness. The passage seemed about four miles
long, and before we reached the end of it, the unshod hoofs of our
animals were lamentably broken, and their legs cut by the sharp
stones. Issuing from the mountain we found another plain. All
around it stood a circle of lofty precipices, that seemed the
impersonation of silence and solitude. Here again the Indians had
encamped, as well they might, after passing with their women,
children and horses through the gulf behind us. In one day we had
made a journey which had cost them three to accomplish.
The only outlet to this amphitheater lay over a hill some two hundred
feet high, up which we moved with difficulty. Looking from the top,
we saw that at last we were free of the mountains. The prairie
spread before us, but so wild and broken that the view was everywhere
obstructed. Far on our left one tall hill swelled up against the
sky, on the smooth, pale green surface of which four slowly moving
black specks were discernible. They were evidently buffalo, and we
hailed the sight as a good augury; for where the buffalo were, there
too the Indians would probably be found. We hoped on that very night
to reach the village. We were anxious to do so for a double reason,
wishing to bring our wearisome journey to an end, and knowing,
moreover, that though to enter the village in broad daylight would be
a perfectly safe experiment, yet to encamp in its vicinity would be
dangerous. But as we rode on, the sun was sinking, and soon was
within half an hour of the horizon. We ascended a hill and looked
round us for a spot for our encampment. The prairie was like a
turbulent ocean, suddenly congealed when its waves were at the
highest, and it lay half in light and half in shadow, as the rich
sunshine, yellow as gold, was pouring over it. The rough bushes of
the wild sage were growing everywhere, its dull pale green
overspreading hill and hollow. Yet a little way before us, a bright
verdant line of grass was winding along the plain, and here and there
throughout its course water was glistening darkly. We went down to
it, kindled a fire, and turned our horses loose to feed. It was a
little trickling brook, that for some yards on either bank turned the
barren prairie into fertility, and here and there it spread into deep
pools, where the beaver had dammed it up.
We placed our last remaining piece of the antelope before a scanty
fire, mournfully reflecting on our exhausted stock of provisions.
Just then an enormous gray hare, peculiar to these prairies, came
jumping along, and seated himself within fifty yards to look at us.
I thoughtlessly raised my rifle to shoot him, but Raymond called out
to me not to fire for fear the report should reach the ears of the
Indians. That night for the first time we considered that the danger
to which we were exposed was of a somewhat serious character; and to
those who are unacquainted with Indians, it may seem strange that our
chief apprehensions arose from the supposed proximity of the people
whom we intended to visit. Had any straggling party of these
faithful friends caught sight of us from the hill-top, they would
probably have returned in the night to plunder us of our horses and
perhaps of our scalps. But we were on the prairie, where the GENIUS
LOCI is at war with all nervous apprehensions; and I presume that
neither Raymond nor I thought twice of the matter that evening.
While he was looking after the animals, I sat by the fire engaged in
the novel task of baking bread. The utensils were of the most simple
and primitive kind, consisting of two sticks inclining over the bed
of coals, one end thrust into the ground while the dough was twisted
in a spiral form round the other. Under such circumstances all the
epicurean in a man's nature is apt to awaken within him. I revisited
in fancy the far distant abodes of good fare, not indeed Frascati's,
or the Trois Freres Provencaux, for that were too extreme a flight;
but no other than the homely table of my old friend and host, Tom
Crawford, of the White Mountains. By a singular revulsion, Tom
himself, whom I well remember to have looked upon as the
impersonation of all that is wild and backwoodsman-like, now appeared
before me as the ministering angel of comfort and good living. Being
fatigued and drowsy I began to doze, and my thoughts, following the
same train of association, assumed another form. Half-dreaming, I
saw myself surrounded with the mountains of New England, alive with
water-falls, their black crags tinctured with milk-white mists. For
this reverie I paid a speedy penalty; for the bread was black on one
side and soft on the other.
For eight hours Raymond and I, pillowed on our saddles, lay
insensible as logs. Pauline's yellow head was stretched over me when
I awoke. I got up and examined her. Her feet indeed were bruised
and swollen by the accidents of yesterday, but her eye was brighter,
her motions livelier, and her mysterious malady had visibly abated.
We moved on, hoping within an hour to come in sight of the Indian
village; but again disappointment awaited us. The trail disappeared,
melting away upon a hard and stony plain. Raymond and I separating,
rode from side to side, scrutinizing every yard of ground, until at
length I discerned traces of the lodge-poles passing by the side of a
ridge of rocks. We began again to follow them.
"What is that black spot out there on the prairie?"
"It looks like a dead buffalo," answered Raymond.
We rode out to it, and found it to be the huge carcass of a bull
killed by the Indians as they had passed. Tangled hair and scraps of
hide were scattered all around, for the wolves had been making merry
over it, and had hollowed out the entire carcass. It was covered
with myriads of large black crickets, and from its appearance must
certainly have lain there for four or five days. The sight was a
most disheartening one, and I observed to Raymond that the Indians
might still be fifty or sixty miles before us. But he shook his
head, and replied that they dared not go so far for fear of their
enemies, the Snakes.
Soon after this we lost the trail again, and ascended a neighboring
ridge, totally at a loss. Before us lay a plain perfectly flat,
spreading on the right and left, without apparent limit, and bounded
in front by a long broken line of hills, ten or twelve miles distant.
All was open and exposed to view, yet not a buffalo nor an Indian was
"Do you see that?" said Raymond; "Now we had better turn round."
But as Raymond's bourgeois thought otherwise, we descended the hill
and began to cross the plain. We had come so far that I knew
perfectly well neither Pauline's limbs nor my own could carry me back
to Fort Laramie. I considered that the lines of expediency and
inclination tallied exactly, and that the most prudent course was to
keep forward. The ground immediately around us was thickly strewn
with the skulls and bones of buffalo, for here a year or two before
the Indians had made a "surround"; yet no living game presented
itself. At length, however, an antelope sprang up and gazed at us.
We fired together, and by a singular fatality we both missed,
although the animal stood, a fair mark, within eighty yards. This
ill success might perhaps be charged to our own eagerness, for by
this time we had no provision left except a little flour. We could
discern several small lakes, or rather extensive pools of water,
glistening in the distance. As we approached them, wolves and
antelopes bounded away through the tall grass that grew in their
vicinity, and flocks of large white plover flew screaming over their
surface. Having failed of the antelope, Raymond tried his hand at
the birds with the same ill success. The water also disappointed us.
Its muddy margin was so beaten up by the crowd of buffalo that our
timorous animals were afraid to approach. So we turned away and
moved toward the hills. The rank grass, where it was not trampled
down by the buffalo, fairly swept our horses' necks.
Again we found the same execrable barren prairie offering no clew by
which to guide our way. As we drew near the hills an opening
appeared, through which the Indians must have gone if they had passed
that way at all. Slowly we began to ascend it. I felt the most
dreary forebodings of ill success, when on looking round I could
discover neither dent of hoof, nor footprint, nor trace of lodgepole,
though the passage was encumbered by the ghastly skulls of
buffalo. We heard thunder muttering; a storm was coming on.
As we gained the top of the gap, the prospect beyond began to
disclose itself. First, we saw a long dark line of ragged clouds
upon the horizon, while above them rose the peak of the Medicine-Bow,
the vanguard of the Rocky Mountains; then little by little the plain
came into view, a vast green uniformity, forlorn and tenantless,
though Laramie Creek glistened in a waving line over its surface,
without a bush or a tree upon its banks. As yet, the round
projecting shoulder of a hill intercepted a part of the view. I rode
in advance, when suddenly I could distinguish a few dark spots on the
prairie, along the bank of the stream.
"Buffalo!" said I. Then a sudden hope flashed upon me, and eagerly
and anxiously I looked again.
"Horses!" exclaimed Raymond, with a tremendous oath, lashing his mule
forward as he spoke. More and more of the plain disclosed itself,
and in rapid succession more and more horses appeared, scattered
along the river bank, or feeding in bands over the prairie. Then,
suddenly, standing in a circle by the stream, swarming with their
savage inhabitants, we saw rising before us the tall lodges of the
Ogallalla. Never did the heart of wanderer more gladden at the sight
of home than did mine at the sight of those wild habitations!
Such a narrative as this is hardly the place for portraying the
mental features of the Indians. The same picture, slightly changed
in shade and coloring, would serve with very few exceptions for all
the tribes that lie north of the Mexican territories. But with this
striking similarity in their modes of thought, the tribes of the lake
and ocean shores, of the forests and of the plains, differ greatly in
their manner of life. Having been domesticated for several weeks
among one of the wildest of the wild hordes that roam over the remote
prairies, I had extraordinary opportunities of observing them, and I
flatter myself that a faithful picture of the scenes that passed
daily before my eyes may not be devoid of interest and value. These
men were thorough savages. Neither their manners nor their ideas
were in the slightest degree modified by contact with civilization.
They knew nothing of the power and real character of the white men,
and their children would scream in terror at the sight of me. Their
religion, their superstitions, and their prejudices were the same
that had been handed down to them from immemorial time. They fought
with the same weapons that their fathers fought with and wore the
same rude garments of skins.
Great changes are at hand in that region. With the stream of
emigration to Oregon and California, the buffalo will dwindle away,
and the large wandering communities who depend on them for support
must be broken and scattered. The Indians will soon be corrupted by
the example of the whites, abased by whisky, and overawed by military
posts; so that within a few years the traveler may pass in tolerable
security through their country. Its danger and its charm will have
disappeared together.
As soon as Raymond and I discovered the village from the gap in the
hills, we were seen in our turn; keen eyes were constantly on the
watch. As we rode down upon the plain the side of the village
nearest us was darkened with a crowd of naked figures gathering
around the lodges. Several men came forward to meet us. I could
distinguish among them the green blanket of the Frenchman Reynal.
When we came up the ceremony of shaking hands had to be gone through
with in due form, and then all were eager to know what had become of
the rest of my party. I satisfied them on this point, and we all
moved forward together toward the village.
"You've missed it," said Reynal; "if you'd been here day before
yesterday, you'd have found the whole prairie over yonder black with
buffalo as far as you could see. There were no cows, though; nothing
but bulls. We made a 'surround' every day till yesterday. See the
village there; don't that look like good living?"
In fact I could see, even at that distance, that long cords were
stretched from lodge to lodge, over which the meat, cut by the squaws
into thin sheets, was hanging to dry in the sun. I noticed too that
the village was somewhat smaller than when I had last seen it, and I
asked Reynal the cause. He said that the old Le Borgne had felt too
weak to pass over the mountains, and so had remained behind with all
his relations, including Mahto-Tatonka and his brothers. The
Whirlwind too had been unwilling to come so far, because, as Reynal
said, he was afraid. Only half a dozen lodges had adhered to him,
the main body of the village setting their chief's authority at
naught, and taking the course most agreeable to their inclinations.
"What chiefs are there in the village now?" said I.
"Well," said Reynal, "there's old Red-Water, and the Eagle-Feather,
and the Big Crow, and the Mad Wolf and the Panther, and the White
Shield, and--what's his name?--the half-breed Cheyenne."
By this time we were close to the village, and I observed that while
the greater part of the lodges were very large and neat in their
appearance, there was at one side a cluster of squalid, miserable
huts. I looked toward them, and made some remark about their
wretched appearance. But I was touching upon delicate ground.
"My squaw's relations live in those lodges," said Reynal very warmly,
"and there isn't a better set in the whole village."
"Are there any chiefs among them?" asked I.
"Chiefs?" said Reynal; "yes, plenty!"
"What are their names?" I inquired.
"Their names? Why, there's the Arrow-Head. If he isn't a chief he
ought to be one. And there's the Hail-Storm. He's nothing but a
boy, to be sure; but he's bound to be a chief one of these days!"
Just then we passed between two of the lodges, and entered the great
area of the village. Superb naked figures stood silently gazing on
"Where's the Bad Wound's lodge?" said I to Reynal.
"There, you've missed it again! The Bad Wound is away with The
Whirlwind. If you could have found him here, and gone to live in his
lodge, he would have treated you better than any man in the village.
But there's the Big Crow's lodge yonder, next to old Red-Water's.
He's a good Indian for the whites, and I advise you to go and live
with him."
"Are there many squaws and children in his lodge?" said I.
"No; only one squaw and two or three children. He keeps the rest in
a separate lodge by themselves."
So, still followed by a crowd of Indians, Raymond and I rode up to
the entrance of the Big Crow's lodge. A squaw came out immediately
and took our horses. I put aside the leather nap that covered the
low opening, and stooping, entered the Big Crow's dwelling. There I
could see the chief in the dim light, seated at one side, on a pile
of buffalo robes. He greeted me with a guttural "How, cola!" I
requested Reynal to tell him that Raymond and I were come to live
with him. The Big Crow gave another low exclamation. If the reader
thinks that we were intruding somewhat cavalierly, I beg him to
observe that every Indian in the village would have deemed himself
honored that white men should give such preference to his
The squaw spread a buffalo robe for us in the guest's place at the
head of the lodge. Our saddles were brought in, and scarcely were we
seated upon them before the place was thronged with Indians, who came
crowding in to see us. The Big Crow produced his pipe and filled it
with the mixture of tobacco and shongsasha, or red willow bark.
Round and round it passed, and a lively conversation went forward.
Meanwhile a squaw placed before the two guests a wooden bowl of
boiled buffalo meat, but unhappily this was not the only banquet
destined to be inflicted on us. Rapidly, one after another, boys and
young squaws thrust their heads in at the opening, to invite us to
various feasts in different parts of the village. For half an hour
or more we were actively engaged in passing from lodge to lodge,
tasting in each of the bowl of meat set before us, and inhaling a
whiff or two from our entertainer's pipe. A thunderstorm that had
been threatening for some time now began in good earnest. We crossed
over to Reynal's lodge, though it hardly deserved this name, for it
consisted only of a few old buffalo robes, supported on poles, and
was quite open on one side. Here we sat down, and the Indians
gathered round us.
"What is it," said I, "that makes the thunder?"
"It's my belief," said Reynal, "that it is a big stone rolling over
the sky."
"Very likely," I replied; "but I want to know what the Indians think
about it."
So he interpreted my question, which seemed to produce some doubt and
debate. There was evidently a difference of opinion. At last old
Mene-Seela, or Red-Water, who sat by himself at one side, looked up
with his withered face, and said he had always known what the thunder
was. It was a great black bird; and once he had seen it, in a dream,
swooping down from the Black Hills, with its loud roaring wings; and
when it flapped them over a lake, they struck lightning from the
"The thunder is bad," said another old man, who sat muffled in his
buffalo robe; "he killed my brother last summer."
Reynal, at my request, asked for an explanation; but the old man
remained doggedly silent, and would not look up. Some time after I
learned how the accident occurred. The man who was killed belonged
to an association which, among other mystic functions, claimed the
exclusive power and privilege of fighting the thunder. Whenever a
storm which they wished to avert was threatening, the thunderfighters
would take their bows and arrows, their guns, their magic
drum, and a sort of whistle, made out of the wingbone of the war
eagle. Thus equipped, they would run out and fire at the rising
cloud, whooping, yelling, whistling, and beating their drum, to
frighten it down again. One afternoon a heavy black cloud was coming
up, and they repaired to the top of a hill, where they brought all
their magic artillery into play against it. But the undaunted
thunder, refusing to be terrified, kept moving straight onward, and
darted out a bright flash which struck one of the party dead, as he
was in the very act of shaking his long iron-pointed lance against
it. The rest scattered and ran yelling in an ecstasy of
superstitious terror back to their lodges.
The lodge of my host Kongra-Tonga, or the Big Crow, presented a
picturesque spectacle that evening. A score or more of Indians were
seated around in a circle, their dark naked forms just visible by the
dull light of the smoldering fire in the center, the pipe glowing
brightly in the gloom as it passed from hand to hand round the lodge.
Then a squaw would drop a piece of buffalo-fat on the dull embers.
Instantly a bright glancing flame would leap up, darting its clear
light to the very apex of the tall conical structure, where the tops
of the slender poles that supported its covering of leather were
gathered together. It gilded the features of the Indians, as with
animated gestures they sat around it, telling their endless stories
of war and hunting. It displayed rude garments of skins that hung
around the lodge; the bow, quiver, and lance suspended over the
resting-place of the chief, and the rifles and powder-horns of the
two white guests. For a moment all would be bright as day; then the
flames would die away, and fitful flashes from the embers would
illumine the lodge, and then leave it in darkness. Then all the
light would wholly fade, and the lodge and all within it be involved
again in obscurity.
As I left the lodge next morning, I was saluted by howling and
yelling from all around the village, and half its canine population
rushed forth to the attack. Being as cowardly as they were
clamorous, they kept jumping around me at the distance of a few
yards, only one little cur, about ten inches long, having spirit
enough to make a direct assault. He dashed valiantly at the leather
tassel which in the Dakota fashion was trailing behind the heel of my
moccasin, and kept his hold, growling and snarling all the while,
though every step I made almost jerked him over on his back. As I
knew that the eyes of the whole village were on the watch to see if I
showed any sign of apprehension, I walked forward without looking to
the right or left, surrounded wherever I went by this magic circle of
dogs. When I came to Reynal's lodge I sat down by it, on which the
dogs dispersed growling to their respective quarters. Only one large
white one remained, who kept running about before me and showing his
teeth. I called him, but he only growled the more. I looked at him
well. He was fat and sleek; just such a dog as I wanted. "My
friend," thought I, "you shall pay for this! I will have you eaten
this very morning!"
I intended that day to give the Indians a feast, by way of conveying
a favorable impression of my character and dignity; and a white dog
is the dish which the customs of the Dakota prescribe for all
occasions of formality and importance. I consulted Reynal; he soon
discovered that an old woman in the next lodge was owner of the white
dog. I took a gaudy cotton handkerchief, and laying it on the
ground, arranged some vermilion, beads, and other trinkets upon it.
Then the old squaw was summoned. I pointed to the dog and to the
handkerchief. She gave a scream of delight, snatched up the prize,
and vanished with it into her lodge. For a few more trifles I
engaged the services of two other squaws, each of whom took the white
dog by one of his paws, and led him away behind the lodges, while he
kept looking up at them with a face of innocent surprise. Having
killed him they threw him into a fire to singe; then chopped him up
and put him into two large kettles to boil. Meanwhile I told Raymond
to fry in buffalo-fat what little flour we had left, and also to make
a kettle of tea as an additional item of the repast.
The Big Crow's squaw was set briskly at work sweeping out the lodge
for the approaching festivity. I confided to my host himself the
task of inviting the guests, thinking that I might thereby shift from
my own shoulders the odium of fancied neglect and oversight.
When feasting is in question, one hour of the day serves an Indian as
well as another. My entertainment came off about eleven o'clock. At
that hour, Reynal and Raymond walked across the area of the village,
to the admiration of the inhabitants, carrying the two kettles of
dog-meat slung on a pole between them. These they placed in the
center of the lodge, and then went back for the bread and the tea.
Meanwhile I had put on a pair of brilliant moccasins, and substituted
for my old buckskin frock a coat which I had brought with me in view
of such public occasions. I also made careful use of the razor, an
operation which no man will neglect who desires to gain the good
opinion of Indians. Thus attired, I seated myself between Reynal and
Raymond at the head of the lodge. Only a few minutes elapsed before
all the guests had come in and were seated on the ground, wedged
together in a close circle around the lodge. Each brought with him a
wooden bowl to hold his share of the repast. When all were
assembled, two of the officials called "soldiers" by the white men,
came forward with ladles made of the horn of the Rocky Mountain
sheep, and began to distribute the feast, always assigning a double
share to the old men and chiefs. The dog vanished with astonishing
celerity, and each guest turned his dish bottom upward to show that
all was gone. Then the bread was distributed in its turn, and
finally the tea. As the soldiers poured it out into the same wooden
bowls that had served for the substantial part of the meal, I thought
it had a particularly curious and uninviting color.
"Oh!" said Reynal, "there was not tea enough, so I stirred some soot
in the kettle, to make it look strong."
Fortunately an Indian's palate is not very discriminating. The tea
was well sweetened, and that was all they cared for.
Now the former part of the entertainment being concluded, the time
for speech-making was come. The Big Crow produced a flat piece of
wood on which he cut up tobacco and shongsasha, and mixed them in due
proportions. The pipes were filled and passed from hand to hand
around the company. Then I began my speech, each sentence being
interpreted by Reynal as I went on, and echoed by the whole audience
with the usual exclamations of assent and approval. As nearly as I
can recollect, it was as follows:
I had come, I told them, from a country so far distant, that at the
rate they travel, they could not reach it in a year.
"Howo how!"
"There the Meneaska were more numerous than the blades of grass on
the prairie. The squaws were far more beautiful than any they had
ever seen, and all the men were brave warriors."
"How! how! how!"
Here I was assailed by sharp twinges of conscience, for I fancied I
could perceive a fragrance of perfumery in the air, and a vision rose
before me of white kid gloves and silken mustaches with the mild and
gentle countenances of numerous fair-haired young men. But I
recovered myself and began again.
"While I was living in the Meneaska lodges, I had heard of the
Ogallalla, how great and brave a nation they were, how they loved the
whites, and how well they could hunt the buffalo and strike their
enemies. I resolved to come and see if all that I heard was true."
"How! how! how! how!"
"As I had come on horseback through the mountains, I had been able to
bring them only a very few presents."
"But I had enough tobacco to give them all a small piece. They might
smoke it, and see how much better it was than the tobacco which they
got from the traders."
"How! how! how!"
"I had plenty of powder, lead, knives, and tobacco at Fort Laramie.
These I was anxious to give them, and if any of them should come to
the fort before I went away, I would make them handsome presents."
"How! howo how! how!"
Raymond then cut up and distributed among them two or three pounds of
tobacco, and old Mene-Seela began to make a reply. It was quite
long, but the following was the pith of it:
"He had always loved the whites. They were the wisest people on
earth. He believed they could do everything, and he was always glad
when any of them came to live in the Ogallalla lodges. It was true I
had not made them many presents, but the reason of it was plain. It
was clear that I liked them, or I never should have come so far to
find their village."
Several other speeches of similar import followed, and then this more
serious matter being disposed of, there was an interval of smoking,
laughing, and conversation; but old Mene-Seela suddenly interrupted
it with a loud voice:
"Now is a good time," he said, "when all the old men and chiefs are
here together, to decide what the people shall do. We came over the
mountain to make our lodges for next year. Our old ones are good for
nothing; they are rotten and worn out. But we have been
disappointed. We have killed buffalo bulls enough, but we have found
no herds of cows, and the skins of bulls are too thick and heavy for
our squaws to make lodges of. There must be plenty of cows about the
Medicine-Bow Mountain. We ought to go there. To be sure it is
farther westward than we have ever been before, and perhaps the
Snakes will attack us, for those hunting-grounds belong to them. But
we must have new lodges at any rate; our old ones will not serve for
another year. We ought not to be afraid of the Snakes. Our warriors
are brave, and they are all ready for war. Besides, we have three
white men with their rifles to help us."
I could not help thinking that the old man relied a little too much
on the aid of allies, one of whom was a coward, another a blockhead,
and the third an invalid. This speech produced a good deal of
debate. As Reynal did not interpret what was said, I could only
judge of the meaning by the features and gestures of the speakers.
At the end of it, however, the greater number seemed to have fallen
in with Mene-Seela's opinion. A short silence followed, and then the
old man struck up a discordant chant, which I was told was a song of
thanks for the entertainment I had given them.
"Now," said he, "let us go and give the white men a chance to
So the company all dispersed into the open air, and for some time the
old chief was walking round the village, singing his song in praise
of the feast, after the usual custom of the nation.
At last the day drew to a close, and as the sun went down the horses
came trooping from the surrounding plains to be picketed before the
dwellings of their respective masters. Soon within the great circle
of lodges appeared another concentric circle of restless horses; and
here and there fires were glowing and flickering amid the gloom of
the dusky figures around them. I went over and sat by the lodge of
Reynal. The Eagle-Feather, who was a son of Mene-Seela, and brother
of my host the Big Crow, was seated there already, and I asked him if
the village would move in the morning. He shook his head, and said
that nobody could tell, for since old Mahto-Tatonka had died, the
people had been like children that did not know their own minds.
They were no better than a body without a head. So I, as well as the
Indians themselves, fell asleep that night without knowing whether we
should set out in the morning toward the country of the Snakes.
At daybreak, however, as I was coming up from the river after my
morning's ablutions, I saw that a movement was contemplated. Some of
the lodges were reduced to nothing but bare skeletons of poles; the
leather covering of others was flapping in the wind as the squaws
were pulling it off. One or two chiefs of note had resolved, it
seemed, on moving; and so having set their squaws at work, the
example was tacitly followed by the rest of the village. One by one
the lodges were sinking down in rapid succession, and where the great
circle of the village had been only a moment before, nothing now
remained but a ring of horses and Indians, crowded in confusion
together. The ruins of the lodges were spread over the ground,
together with kettles, stone mallets, great ladles of horn, buffalo
robes, and cases of painted hide, filled with dried meat. Squaws
bustled about in their busy preparations, the old hags screaming to
one another at the stretch of their leathern lungs. The shaggy
horses were patiently standing while the lodge-poles were lashed to
their sides, and the baggage piled upon their backs. The dogs, with
their tongues lolling out, lay lazily panting, and waiting for the
time of departure. Each warrior sat on the ground by the decaying
embers of his fire, unmoved amid all the confusion, while he held in
his hand the long trail-rope of his horse.
As their preparations were completed, each family moved off the
ground. The crowd was rapidly melting away. I could see them
crossing the river, and passing in quick succession along the profile
of the hill on the farther bank. When all were gone, I mounted and
set out after them, followed by Raymond, and as we gained the summit,
the whole village came in view at once, straggling away for a mile or
more over the barren plains before us. Everywhere the iron points of
lances were glittering. The sun never shone upon a more strange
array. Here were the heavy-laden pack horses, some wretched old
women leading them, and two or three children clinging to their
backs. Here were mules or ponies covered from head to tail with
gaudy trappings, and mounted by some gay young squaw, grinning
bashfulness and pleasure as the Meneaska looked at her. Boys with
miniature bows and arrows were wandering over the plains, little
naked children were running along on foot, and numberless dogs were
scampering among the feet of the horses. The young braves, gaudy
with paint and feathers, were riding in groups among the crowd, and
often galloping, two or three at once along the line, to try the
speed of their horses. Here and there you might see a rank of sturdy
pedestrians stalking along in their white buffalo robes. These were
the dignitaries of the village, the old men and warriors, to whose
age and experience that wandering democracy yielded a silent
deference. With the rough prairie and the broken hills for its
background, the restless scene was striking and picturesque beyond
description. Days and weeks made me familiar with it, but never
impaired its effect upon my fancy.
As we moved on the broken column grew yet more scattered and
disorderly, until, as we approached the foot of a hill, I saw the old
men before mentioned seating themselves in a line upon the ground, in
advance of the whole. They lighted a pipe and sat smoking, laughing,
and telling stories, while the people, stopping as they successively
came up, were soon gathered in a crowd behind them. Then the old men
rose, drew their buffalo robes over their shoulders, and strode on as
before. Gaining the top of the hill, we found a very steep declivity
before us. There was not a minute's pause. The whole descended in a
mass, amid dust and confusion. The horses braced their feet as they
slid down, women and children were screaming, dogs yelping as they
were trodden upon, while stones and earth went rolling to the bottom.
In a few moments I could see the village from the summit, spreading
again far and wide over the plain below.
At our encampment that afternoon I was attacked anew by my old
disorder. In half an hour the strength that I had been gaining for a
week past had vanished again, and I became like a man in a dream.
But at sunset I lay down in the Big Crow's lodge and slept, totally
unconscious till the morning. The first thing that awakened me was a
hoarse flapping over my head, and a sudden light that poured in upon
me. The camp was breaking up, and the squaws were moving the
covering from the lodge. I arose and shook off my blanket with the
feeling of perfect health; but scarcely had I gained my feet when a
sense of my helpless condition was once more forced upon me, and I
found myself scarcely able to stand. Raymond had brought up Pauline
and the mule, and I stooped to raise my saddle from the ground. My
strength was quite inadequate to the task. "You must saddle her,"
said I to Raymond, as I sat down again on a pile of buffalo robes:
"Et hoec etiam fortasse meminisse juvabit."
I thought, while with a painful effort I raised myself into the
saddle. Half an hour after, even the expectation that Virgil's line
expressed seemed destined to disappointment. As we were passing over
a great plain, surrounded by long broken ridges, I rode slowly in
advance of the Indians, with thoughts that wandered far from the time
and from the place. Suddenly the sky darkened, and thunder began to
mutter. Clouds were rising over the hills, as dreary and dull as the
first forebodings of an approaching calamity; and in a moment all
around was wrapped in shadow. I looked behind. The Indians had
stopped to prepare for the approaching storm, and the dark, dense
mass of savages stretched far to the right and left. Since the first
attack of my disorder the effects of rain upon me had usually been
injurious in the extreme. I had no strength to spare, having at that
moment scarcely enough to keep my seat on horseback. Then, for the
first time, it pressed upon me as a strong probability that I might
never leave those deserts. "Well," thought I to myself, "a prairie
makes quick and sharp work. Better to die here, in the saddle to the
last, than to stifle in the hot air of a sick chamber, and a thousand
times better than to drag out life, as many have done, in the
helpless inaction of lingering disease." So, drawing the buffalo
robe on which I sat over my head, I waited till the storm should
come. It broke at last with a sudden burst of fury, and passing away
as rapidly as it came, left the sky clear again. My reflections
served me no other purpose than to look back upon as a piece of
curious experience; for the rain did not produce the ill effects that
I had expected. We encamped within an hour. Having no change of
clothes, I contrived to borrow a curious kind of substitute from
Reynal: and this done, I went home, that is, to the Big Crow's lodge
to make the entire transfer that was necessary. Half a dozen squaws
were in the lodge, and one of them taking my arm held it against her
own, while a general laugh and scream of admiration were raised at
the contrast in the color of the skin.
Our encampment that afternoon was not far distant from a spur of the
Black Hills, whose ridges, bristling with fir trees, rose from the
plains a mile or two on our right. That they might move more rapidly
toward their proposed hunting-grounds, the Indians determined to
leave at this place their stock of dried meat and other superfluous
articles. Some left even their lodges, and contented themselves with
carrying a few hides to make a shelter from the sun and rain. Half
the inhabitants set out in the afternoon, with loaded pack horses,
toward the mountains. Here they suspended the dried meat upon trees,
where the wolves and grizzly bears could not get at it. All returned
at evening. Some of the young men declared that they had heard the
reports of guns among the mountains to the eastward, and many
surmises were thrown out as to the origin of these sounds. For my
part, I was in hopes that Shaw and Henry Chatillon were coming to
join us. I would have welcomed them cordially, for I had no other
companions than two brutish white men and five hundred savages. I
little suspected that at that very moment my unlucky comrade was
lying on a buffalo robe at Fort Laramie, fevered with ivy poison, and
solacing his woes with tobacco and Shakespeare.
As we moved over the plains on the next morning, several young men
were riding about the country as scouts; and at length we began to
see them occasionally on the tops of the hills, shaking their robes
as a signal that they saw buffalo. Soon after, some bulls came in
sight. Horsemen darted away in pursuit, and we could see from the
distance that one or two of the buffalo were killed. Raymond
suddenly became inspired. I looked at him as he rode by my side; his
face had actually grown intelligent!
"This is the country for me!" he said; "if I could only carry the
buffalo that are killed here every month down to St. Louis I'd make
my fortune in one winter. I'd grow as rich as old Papin, or
Mackenzie either. I call this the poor man's market. When I'm
hungry I have only got to take my rifle and go out and get better
meat than the rich folks down below can get with all their money.
You won't catch me living in St. Louis another winter."
"No," said Reynal, "you had better say that after you and your
Spanish woman almost starved to death there. What a fool you were
ever to take her to the settlements."
"Your Spanish woman?" said I; "I never heard of her before. Are you
married to her?"
"No," answered Raymond, again looking intelligent; "the priests don't
marry their women, and why should I marry mine?"
This honorable mention of the Mexican clergy introduced the subject
of religion, and I found that my two associates, in common with other
white men in the country, were as indifferent to their future welfare
as men whose lives are in constant peril are apt to be. Raymond had
never heard of the Pope. A certain bishop, who lived at Taos or at
Santa Fe, embodied his loftiest idea of an ecclesiastical dignitary.
Reynal observed that a priest had been at Fort Laramie two years ago,
on his way to the Nez Perce mission, and that he had confessed all
the men there and given them absolution. "I got a good clearing out
myself that time," said Reynal, "and I reckon that will do for me
till I go down to the settlements again."
Here he interrupted himself with an oath and exclaimed: "Look! look!
The Panther is running an antelope!"
The Panther, on his black and white horse, one of the best in the
village, came at full speed over the hill in hot pursuit of an
antelope that darted away like lightning before him. The attempt was
made in mere sport and bravado, for very few are the horses that can
for a moment compete in swiftness with this little animal. The
antelope ran down the hill toward the main body of the Indians who
were moving over the plain below. Sharp yells were given and
horsemen galloped out to intercept his flight. At this he turned
sharply to the left and scoured away with such incredible speed that
he distanced all his pursuers and even the vaunted horse of the
Panther himself. A few moments after we witnessed a more serious
sport. A shaggy buffalo bull bounded out from a neighboring hollow,
and close behind him came a slender Indian boy, riding without
stirrups or saddle and lashing his eager little horse to full speed.
Yard after yard he drew closer to his gigantic victim, though the
bull, with his short tail erect and his tongue lolling out a foot
from his foaming jaws, was straining his unwieldy strength to the
utmost. A moment more and the boy was close alongside of him. It
was our friend the Hail-Storm. He dropped the rein on his horse's
neck and jerked an arrow like lightning from the quiver at his
"I tell you," said Reynal, "that in a year's time that boy will match
the best hunter in the village. There he has given it to him! and
there goes another! You feel well, now, old bull, don't you, with
two arrows stuck in your lights? There, he has given him another!
Hear how the Hail-Storm yells when he shoots! Yes, jump at him; try
it again, old fellow! You may jump all day before you get your horns
into that pony!"
The bull sprang again and again at his assailant, but the horse kept
dodging with wonderful celerity. At length the bull followed up his
attack with a furious rush, and the Hail-Storm was put to flight, the
shaggy monster following close behind. The boy clung in his seat
like a leech, and secure in the speed of his little pony, looked
round toward us and laughed. In a moment he was again alongside of
the bull, who was now driven to complete desperation. His eyeballs
glared through his tangled mane, and the blood flew from his mouth
and nostrils. Thus, still battling with each other, the two enemies
disappeared over the hill.
Many of the Indians rode at full gallop toward the spot. We followed
at a more moderate pace, and soon saw the bull lying dead on the side
of the hill. The Indians were gathered around him, and several
knives were already at work. These little instruments were plied
with such wonderful address that the twisted sinews were cut apart,
the ponderous bones fell asunder as if by magic, and in a moment the
vast carcass was reduced to a heap of bloody ruins. The surrounding
group of savages offered no very attractive spectacle to a civilized
eye. Some were cracking the huge thigh-bones and devouring the
marrow within; others were cutting away pieces of the liver and other
approved morsels, and swallowing them on the spot with the appetite
of wolves. The faces of most of them, besmeared with blood from ear
to ear, looked grim and horrible enough. My friend the White Shield
proffered me a marrowbone, so skillfully laid open that all the rich
substance within was exposed to view at once. Another Indian held
out a large piece of the delicate lining of the paunch; but these
courteous offerings I begged leave to decline. I noticed one little
boy who was very busy with his knife about the jaws and throat of the
buffalo, from which he extracted some morsel of peculiar delicacy.
It is but fair to say that only certain parts of the animal are
considered eligible in these extempore banquets. The Indians would
look with abhorrence on anyone who should partake indiscriminately of
the newly killed carcass.
We encamped that night, and marched westward through the greater part
of the following day. On the next morning we again resumed our
journey. It was the 17th of July, unless my notebook misleads me.
At noon we stopped by some pools of rain-water, and in the afternoon
again set forward. This double movement was contrary to the usual
practice of the Indians, but all were very anxious to reach the
hunting ground, kill the necessary number of buffalo, and retreat as
soon as possible from the dangerous neighborhood. I pass by for the
present some curious incidents that occurred during these marches and
encampments. Late in the afternoon of the last-mentioned day we came
upon the banks of a little sandy stream, of which the Indians could
not tell the name; for they were very ill acquainted with that part
of the country. So parched and arid were the prairies around that
they could not supply grass enough for the horses to feed upon, and
we were compelled to move farther and farther up the stream in search
of ground for encampment. The country was much wilder than before.
The plains were gashed with ravines and broken into hollows and steep
declivities, which flanked our course, as, in long-scattered array,
the Indians advanced up the side of the stream. Mene-Seela consulted
an extraordinary oracle to instruct him where the buffalo were to be
found. When he with the other chiefs sat down on the grass to smoke
and converse, as they often did during the march, the old man picked
up one of those enormous black-and-green crickets, which the Dakota
call by a name that signifies "They who point out the buffalo." The
Root-Diggers, a wretched tribe beyond the mountains, turn them to
good account by making them into a sort of soup, pronounced by
certain unscrupulous trappers to be extremely rich. Holding the
bloated insect respectfully between his fingers and thumb, the old
Indian looked attentively at him and inquired, "Tell me, my father,
where must we go to-morrow to find the buffalo?" The cricket twisted
about his long horns in evident embarrassment. At last he pointed,
or seemed to point, them westward. Mene-Seela, dropping him gently
on the grass, laughed with great glee, and said that if we went that
way in the morning we should be sure to kill plenty of game.
Toward evening we came upon a fresh green meadow, traversed by the
stream, and deep-set among tall sterile bluffs. The Indians
descended its steep bank; and as I was at the rear, I was one of the
last to reach this point. Lances were glittering, feathers
fluttering, and the water below me was crowded with men and horses
passing through, while the meadow beyond was swarming with the
restless crowd of Indians. The sun was just setting, and poured its
softened light upon them through an opening in the hills.
I remarked to Reynal that at last we had found a good camping-ground.
"Oh, it is very good," replied he ironically; "especially if there is
a Snake war party about, and they take it into their heads to shoot
down at us from the top of these hills. It is no plan of mine,
camping in such a hole as this!"
The Indians also seemed apprehensive. High up on the top of the
tallest bluff, conspicuous in the bright evening sunlight, sat a
naked warrior on horseback, looking around, as it seemed, over the
neighboring country; and Raymond told me that many of the young men
had gone out in different directions as scouts.
The shadows had reached to the very summit of the bluffs before the
lodges were erected and the village reduced again to quiet and order.
A cry was suddenly raised, and men, women, and children came running
out with animated faces, and looked eagerly through the opening on
the hills by which the stream entered from the westward. I could
discern afar off some dark, heavy masses, passing over the sides of a
low hill. They disappeared, and then others followed. These were
bands of buffalo cows. The hunting-ground was reached at last, and
everything promised well for the morrow's sport. Being fatigued and
exhausted, I went and lay down in Kongra-Tonga's lodge, when Raymond
thrust in his head, and called upon me to come and see some sport. A
number of Indians were gathered, laughing, along the line of lodges
on the western side of the village, and at some distance, I could
plainly see in the twilight two huge black monsters stalking, heavily
and solemnly, directly toward us. They were buffalo bulls. The wind
blew from them to the village, and such was their blindness and
stupidity that they were advancing upon the enemy without the least
consciousness of his presence. Raymond told me that two men had
hidden themselves with guns in a ravine about twenty yards in front
of us. The two bulls walked slowly on, heavily swinging from side to
side in their peculiar gait of stupid dignity. They approached
within four or five rods of the ravine where the Indians lay in
ambush. Here at last they seemed conscious that something was wrong,
for they both stopped and stood perfectly still, without looking
either to the right or to the left. Nothing of them was to be seen
but two huge black masses of shaggy mane, with horns, eyes, and nose
in the center, and a pair of hoofs visible at the bottom. At last
the more intelligent of them seemed to have concluded that it was
time to retire. Very slowly, and with an air of the gravest and most
majestic deliberation, he began to turn round, as if he were
revolving on a pivot. Little by little his ugly brown side was
exposed to view. A white smoke sprang out, as it were from the
ground; a sharp report came with it. The old bull gave a very
undignified jump and galloped off. At this his comrade wheeled about
with considerable expedition. The other Indian shot at him from the
ravine, and then both the bulls were running away at full speed,
while half the juvenile population of the village raised a yell and
ran after them. The first bull was soon stopped, and while the crowd
stood looking at him at a respectable distance, he reeled and rolled
over on his side. The other, wounded in a less vital part, galloped
away to the hills and escaped.
In half an hour it was totally dark. I lay down to sleep, and ill as
I was, there was something very animating in the prospect of the
general hunt that was to take place on the morrow.
Long before daybreak the Indians broke up their camp. The women of
Mene-Seela's lodge were as usual among the first that were ready for
departure, and I found the old man himself sitting by the embers of
the decayed fire, over which he was warming his withered fingers, as
the morning was very chilly and damp. The preparations for moving
were even more confused and disorderly than usual. While some
families were leaving the ground the lodges of others were still
standing untouched. At this old Mene-Seela grew impatient, and
walking out to the middle of the village stood with his robe wrapped
close around him, and harangued the people in a loud, sharp voice.
Now, he said, when they were on an enemy's hunting-grounds, was not
the time to behave like children; they ought to be more active and
united than ever. His speech had some effect. The delinquents took
down their lodges and loaded their pack horses; and when the sun
rose, the last of the men, women, and children had left the deserted
This movement was made merely for the purpose of finding a better and
safer position. So we advanced only three or four miles up the
little stream, before each family assumed its relative place in the
great ring of the village, and all around the squaws were actively at
work in preparing the camp. But not a single warrior dismounted from
his horse. All the men that morning were mounted on inferior
animals, leading their best horses by a cord, or confiding them to
the care of boys. In small parties they began to leave the ground
and ride rapidly away over the plains to the westward. I had taken
no food that morning, and not being at all ambitious of further
abstinence, I went into my host's lodge, which his squaws had erected
with wonderful celerity, and sat down in the center, as a gentle hint
that I was hungry. A wooden bowl was soon set before me, filled with
the nutritious preparation of dried meat called pemmican by the
northern voyagers and wasna by the Dakota. Taking a handful to break
my fast upon, I left the lodge just in time to see the last band of
hunters disappear over the ridge of the neighboring hill. I mounted
Pauline and galloped in pursuit, riding rather by the balance than by
any muscular strength that remained to me. From the top of the hill
I could overlook a wide extent of desolate and unbroken prairie, over
which, far and near, little parties of naked horsemen were rapidly
passing. I soon came up to the nearest, and we had not ridden a mile
before all were united into one large and compact body. All was
haste and eagerness. Each hunter was whipping on his horse, as if
anxious to be the first to reach the game. In such movements among
the Indians this is always more or less the case; but it was
especially so in the present instance, because the head chief of the
village was absent, and there were but few "soldiers," a sort of
Indian police, who among their other functions usually assumed the
direction of a buffalo hunt. No man turned to the right hand or to
the left. We rode at a swift canter straight forward, uphill and
downhill, and through the stiff, obstinate growth of the endless
wild-sage bushes. For an hour and a half the same red shoulders, the
same long black hair rose and fell with the motion of the horses
before me. Very little was said, though once I observed an old man
severely reproving Raymond for having left his rifle behind him, when
there was some probability of encountering an enemy before the day
was over. As we galloped across a plain thickly set with sagebushes,
the foremost riders vanished suddenly from sight, as if diving into
the earth. The arid soil was cracked into a deep ravine. Down we
all went in succession and galloped in a line along the bottom, until
we found a point where, one by one, the horses could scramble out.
Soon after we came upon a wide shallow stream, and as we rode swiftly
over the hard sand-beds and through the thin sheets of rippling
water, many of the savage horsemen threw themselves to the ground,
knelt on the sand, snatched a hasty draught, and leaping back again
to their seats, galloped on again as before.
Meanwhile scouts kept in advance of the party; and now we began to
see them on the ridge of the hills, waving their robes in token that
buffalo were visible. These however proved to be nothing more than
old straggling bulls, feeding upon the neighboring plains, who would
stare for a moment at the hostile array and then gallop clumsily off.
At length we could discern several of these scouts making their
signals to us at once; no longer waving their robes boldly from the
top of the hill, but standing lower down, so that they could not be
seen from the plains beyond. Game worth pursuing had evidently been
discovered. The excited Indians now urged forward their tired horses
even more rapidly than before. Pauline, who was still sick and
jaded, began to groan heavily; and her yellow sides were darkened
with sweat. As we were crowding together over a lower intervening
hill, I heard Reynal and Raymond shouting to me from the left; and
looking in that direction, I saw them riding away behind a party of
about twenty mean-looking Indians. These were the relatives of
Reynal's squaw Margot, who, not wishing to take part in the general
hunt, were riding toward a distant hollow, where they could discern a
small band of buffalo which they meant to appropriate to themselves.
I answered to the call by ordering Raymond to turn back and follow
me. He reluctantly obeyed, though Reynal, who had relied on his
assistance in skinning, cutting up, and carrying to camp the buffalo
that he and his party should kill, loudly protested and declared that
we should see no sport if we went with the rest of the Indians.
Followed by Raymond I pursued the main body of hunters, while Reynal
in a great rage whipped his horse over the hill after his ragamuffin
relatives. The Indians, still about a hundred in number, rode in a
dense body at some distance in advance. They galloped forward, and a
cloud of dust was flying in the wind behind them. I could not
overtake them until they had stopped on the side of the hill where
the scouts were standing. Here, each hunter sprang in haste from the
tired animal which he had ridden, and leaped upon the fresh horse
that he had brought with him. There was not a saddle or a bridle in
the whole party. A piece of buffalo robe girthed over the horse's
back served in the place of the one, and a cord of twisted hair
lashed firmly round his lower jaw answered for the other. Eagle
feathers were dangling from every mane and tail, as insignia of
courage and speed. As for the rider, he wore no other clothing than
a light cincture at his waist, and a pair of moccasins. He had a
heavy whip, with a handle of solid elk-horn, and a lash of knotted
bull-hide, fastened to his wrist by an ornamental band. His bow was
in his hand, and his quiver of otter or panther skin hung at his
shoulder. Thus equipped, some thirty of the hunters galloped away
toward the left, in order to make a circuit under cover of the hills,
that the buffalo might be assailed on both sides at once. The rest
impatiently waited until time enough had elapsed for their companions
to reach the required position. Then riding upward in a body, we
gained the ridge of the hill, and for the first time came in sight of
the buffalo on the plain beyond.
They were a band of cows, four or five hundred in number, who were
crowded together near the bank of a wide stream that was soaking
across the sand-beds of the valley. This was a large circular basin,
sun-scorched and broken, scantily covered with herbage and
encompassed with high barren hills, from an opening in which we could
see our allies galloping out upon the plain. The wind blew from that
direction. The buffalo were aware of their approach, and had begun
to move, though very slowly and in a compact mass. I have no further
recollection of seeing the game until we were in the midst of them,
for as we descended the hill other objects engrossed my attention.
Numerous old bulls were scattered over the plain, and ungallantly
deserting their charge at our approach, began to wade and plunge
through the treacherous quick-sands or the stream, and gallop away
toward the hills. One old veteran was struggling behind all the rest
with one of his forelegs, which had been broken by some accident,
dangling about uselessly at his side. His appearance, as he went
shambling along on three legs, was so ludicrous that I could not help
pausing for a moment to look at him. As I came near, he would try to
rush upon me, nearly throwing himself down at every awkward attempt.
Looking up, I saw the whole body of Indians full a hundred yards in
advance. I lashed Pauline in pursuit and reached them just in time,
for as we mingled among them, each hunter, as if by a common impulse,
violently struck his horse, each horse sprang forward convulsively,
and scattering in the charge in order to assail the entire herd at
once, we all rushed headlong upon the buffalo. We were among them in
an instant. Amid the trampling and the yells I could see their dark
figures running hither and thither through clouds of dust, and the
horsemen darting in pursuit. While we were charging on one side, our
companions had attacked the bewildered and panic-stricken herd on the
other. The uproar and confusion lasted but for a moment. The dust
cleared away, and the buffalo could be seen scattering as from a
common center, flying over the plain singly, or in long files and
small compact bodies, while behind each followed the Indians, lashing
their horses to furious speed, forcing them close upon their prey,
and yelling as they launched arrow after arrow into their sides. The
large black carcasses were strewn thickly over the ground. Here and
there wounded buffalo were standing, their bleeding sides feathered
with arrows; and as I rode past them their eyes would glare, they
would bristle like gigantic cats, and feebly attempt to rush up and
gore my horse.
I left camp that morning with a philosophic resolution. Neither I
nor my horse were at that time fit for such sport, and I had
determined to remain a quiet spectator; but amid the rush of horses
and buffalo, the uproar and the dust, I found it impossible to sit
still; and as four or five buffalo ran past me in a line, I drove
Pauline in pursuit. We went plunging close at their heels through
the water and the quick-sands, and clambering the bank, chased them
through the wild-sage bushes that covered the rising ground beyond.
But neither her native spirit nor the blows of the knotted bull-hide
could supply the place of poor Pauline's exhausted strength. We
could not gain an inch upon the poor fugitives. At last, however,
they came full upon a ravine too wide to leap over; and as this
compelled them to turn abruptly to the left, I contrived to get
within ten or twelve yards of the hindmost. At this she faced about,
bristled angrily, and made a show of charging. I shot at her with a
large holster pistol, and hit her somewhere in the neck. Down she
tumbled into the ravine, whither her companions had descended before
her. I saw their dark backs appearing and disappearing as they
galloped along the bottom; then, one by one, they came scrambling out
on the other side and ran off as before, the wounded animal following
with unabated speed.
Turning back, I saw Raymond coming on his black mule to meet me; and
as we rode over the field together, we counted dozens of carcasses
lying on the plain, in the ravines and on the sandy bed of the
stream. Far away in the distance, horses and buffalo were still
scouring along, with little clouds of dust rising behind them; and
over the sides of the hills we could see long files of the frightened
animals rapidly ascending. The hunters began to return. The boys,
who had held the horses behind the hill, made their appearance, and
the work of flaying and cutting up began in earnest all over the
field. I noticed my host Kongra-Tonga beyond the stream, just
alighting by the side of a cow which he had killed. Riding up to him
I found him in the act of drawing out an arrow, which, with the
exception of the notch at the end, had entirely disappeared in the
animal. I asked him to give it to me, and I still retain it as a
proof, though by no means the most striking one that could be
offered, of the force and dexterity with which the Indians discharge
their arrows.
The hides and meat were piled upon the horses, and the hunters began
to leave the ground. Raymond and I, too, getting tired of the scene,
set out for the village, riding straight across the intervening
desert. There was no path, and as far as I could see, no landmarks
sufficient to guide us; but Raymond seemed to have an instinctive
perception of the point on the horizon toward which we ought to
direct our course. Antelope were bounding on all sides, and as is
always the case in the presence of buffalo, they seemed to have lost
their natural shyness and timidity. Bands of them would run lightly
up the rocky declivities, and stand gazing down upon us from the
summit. At length we could distinguish the tall white rocks and the
old pine trees that, as we well remembered, were just above the site
of the encampment. Still, we could see nothing of the village itself
until, ascending a grassy hill, we found the circle of lodges, dingy
with storms and smoke, standing on the plain at our very feet.
I entered the lodge of my host. His squaw instantly brought me food
and water, and spread a buffalo robe for me to lie upon; and being
much fatigued, I lay down and fell asleep. In about an hour the
entrance of Kongra-Tonga, with his arms smeared with blood to the
elbows, awoke me. He sat down in his usual seat on the left side of
the lodge. His squaw gave him a vessel of water for washing, set
before him a bowl of boiled meat, and as he was eating pulled off his
bloody moccasins and placed fresh ones on his feet; then
outstretching his limbs, my host composed himself to sleep.
And now the hunters, two or three at a time, began to come rapidly
in, and each, consigning his horses to the squaws, entered his lodge
with the air of a man whose day's work was done. The squaws flung
down the load from the burdened horses, and vast piles of meat and
hides were soon accumulated before every lodge. By this time it was
darkening fast, and the whole village was illumined by the glare of
fires blazing all around. All the squaws and children were gathered
about the piles of meat, exploring them in search of the daintiest
portions. Some of these they roasted on sticks before the fires, but
often they dispensed with this superfluous operation. Late into the
night the fires were still glowing upon the groups of feasters
engaged in this savage banquet around them.
Several hunters sat down by the fire in Kongra-Tonga's lodge to talk
over the day's exploits. Among the rest, Mene-Seela came in. Though
he must have seen full eighty winters, he had taken an active share
in the day's sport. He boasted that he had killed two cows that
morning, and would have killed a third if the dust had not blinded
him so that he had to drop his bow and arrows and press both hands
against his eyes to stop the pain. The firelight fell upon his
wrinkled face and shriveled figure as he sat telling his story with
such inimitable gesticulation that every man in the lodge broke into
a laugh.
Old Mene-Seela was one of the few Indians in the village with whom I
would have trusted myself alone without suspicion, and the only one
from whom I would have received a gift or a service without the
certainty that it proceeded from an interested motive. He was a
great friend to the whites. He liked to be in their society, and was
very vain of the favors he had received from them. He told me one
afternoon, as we were sitting together in his son's lodge, that he
considered the beaver and the whites the wisest people on earth;
indeed, he was convinced they were the same; and an incident which
had happened to him long before had assured him of this. So he began
the following story, and as the pipe passed in turn to him, Reynal
availed himself of these interruptions to translate what had
preceded. But the old man accompanied his words with such admirable
pantomime that translation was hardly necessary.
He said that when he was very young, and had never yet seen a white
man, he and three or four of his companions were out on a beaver
hunt, and he crawled into a large beaver lodge, to examine what was
there. Sometimes he was creeping on his hands and knees, sometimes
he was obliged to swim, and sometimes to lie flat on his face and
drag himself along. In this way he crawled a great distance
underground. It was very dark, cold and close, so that at last he
was almost suffocated, and fell into a swoon. When he began to
recover, he could just distinguish the voices of his companions
outside, who had given him up for lost, and were singing his death
song. At first he could see nothing, but soon he discerned something
white before him, and at length plainly distinguished three people,
entirely white; one man and two women, sitting at the edge of a black
pool of water. He became alarmed and thought it high time to
retreat. Having succeeded, after great trouble, in reaching daylight
again, he went straight to the spot directly above the pool of water
where he had seen the three mysterious beings. Here he beat a hole
with his war club in the ground, and sat down to watch. In a moment
the nose of an old male beaver appeared at the opening. Mene-Seela
instantly seized him and dragged him up, when two other beavers, both
females, thrust out their heads, and these he served in the same way.
"These," continued the old man, "must have been the three white
people whom I saw sitting at the edge of the water."
Mene-Seela was the grand depository of the legends and traditions of
the village. I succeeded, however, in getting from him only a few
fragments. Like all Indians, he was excessively superstitious, and
continually saw some reason for withholding his stories. "It is a
bad thing," he would say, "to tell the tales in summer. Stay with us
till next winter, and I will tell you everything I know; but now our
war parties are going out, and our young men will be killed if I sit
down to tell stories before the frost begins."
But to leave this digression. We remained encamped on this spot five
days, during three of which the hunters were at work incessantly, and
immense quantities of meat and hides were brought in. Great alarm,
however, prevailed in the village. All were on the alert. The young
men were ranging through the country as scouts, and the old men paid
careful attention to omens and prodigies, and especially to their
dreams. In order to convey to the enemy (who, if they were in the
neighborhood, must inevitably have known of our presence) the
impression that we were constantly on the watch, piles of sticks and
stones were erected on all the surrounding hills, in such a manner as
to appear at a distance like sentinels. Often, even to this hour,
that scene will rise before my mind like a visible reality: the tall
white rocks; the old pine trees on their summits; the sandy stream
that ran along their bases and half encircled the village; and the
wild-sage bushes, with their dull green hue and their medicinal odor,
that covered all the neighboring declivities. Hour after hour the
squaws would pass and repass with their vessels of water between the
stream and the lodges. For the most part no one was to be seen in
the camp but women and children, two or three super-annuated old men,
and a few lazy and worthless young ones. These, together with the
dogs, now grown fat and good-natured with the abundance in the camp,
were its only tenants. Still it presented a busy and bustling scene.
In all quarters the meat, hung on cords of hide, was drying in the
sun, and around the lodges the squaws, young and old, were laboring
on the fresh hides that were stretched upon the ground, scraping the
hair from one side and the still adhering flesh from the other, and
rubbing into them the brains of the buffalo, in order to render them
soft and pliant.
In mercy to myself and my horse, I never went out with the hunters
after the first day. Of late, however, I had been gaining strength
rapidly, as was always the case upon every respite of my disorder. I
was soon able to walk with ease. Raymond and I would go out upon the
neighboring prairies to shoot antelope, or sometimes to assail
straggling buffalo, on foot, an attempt in which we met with rather
indifferent success. To kill a bull with a rifle-ball is a difficult
art, in the secret of which I was as yet very imperfectly initiated.
As I came out of Kongra-Tonga's lodge one morning, Reynal called to
me from the opposite side of the village, and asked me over to
breakfast. The breakfast was a substantial one. It consisted of the
rich, juicy hump-ribs of a fat cow; a repast absolutely unrivaled.
It was roasting before the fire, impaled upon a stout stick, which
Reynal took up and planted in the ground before his lodge; when he,
with Raymond and myself, taking our seats around it, unsheathed our
knives and assailed it with good will. It spite of all medical
experience, this solid fare, without bread or salt, seemed to agree
with me admirably.
"We shall have strangers here before night," said Reynal.
"How do you know that?" I asked.
"I dreamed so. I am as good at dreaming as an Indian. There is the
Hail-Storm; he dreamed the same thing, and he and his crony, the
Rabbit, have gone out on discovery."
I laughed at Reynal for his credulity, went over to my host's lodge,
took down my rifle, walked out a mile or two on the prairie, saw an
old bull standing alone, crawled up a ravine, shot him and saw him
escape. Then, quite exhausted and rather ill-humored, I walked back
to the village. By a strange coincidence, Reynal's prediction had
been verified; for the first persons whom I saw were the two
trappers, Rouleau and Saraphin, coming to meet me. These men, as the
reader may possibly recollect, had left our party about a fortnight
before. They had been trapping for a while among the Black Hills,
and were now on their way to the Rocky Mountains, intending in a day
or two to set out for the neighboring Medicine Bow. They were not
the most elegant or refined of companions, yet they made a very
welcome addition to the limited society of the village. For the rest
of that day we lay smoking and talking in Reynal's lodge. This
indeed was no better than a little hut, made of hides stretched on
poles, and entirely open in front. It was well carpeted with soft
buffalo robes, and here we remained, sheltered from the sun,
surrounded by various domestic utensils of Madame Margot's household.
All was quiet in the village. Though the hunters had not gone out
that day, they lay sleeping in their lodges, and most of the women
were silently engaged in their heavy tasks. A few young men were
playing a lazy game of ball in the center of the village; and when
they became tired, some girls supplied their place with a more
boisterous sport. At a little distance, among the lodges, some
children and half-grown squaws were playfully tossing up one of their
number in a buffalo robe, an exact counterpart of the ancient pastime
from which Sancho Panza suffered so much. Farther out on the
prairie, a host of little naked boys were roaming about, engaged in
various rough games, or pursuing birds and ground-squirrels with
their bows and arrows; and woe to the unhappy little animals that
fell into their merciless, torture-loving hands! A squaw from the
next lodge, a notable active housewife named Weah Washtay, or the
Good Woman, brought us a large bowl of wasna, and went into an
ecstasy of delight when I presented her with a green glass ring, such
as I usually wore with a view to similar occasions.
The sun went down and half the sky was growing fiery red, reflected
on the little stream as it wound away among the sagebushes. Some
young men left the village, and soon returned, driving in before them
all the horses, hundreds in number, and of every size, age, and
color. The hunters came out, and each securing those that belonged
to him, examined their condition, and tied them fast by long cords to
stakes driven in front of his lodge. It was half an hour before the
bustle subsided and tranquillity was restored again. By this time it
was nearly dark. Kettles were hung over the blazing fires, around
which the squaws were gathered with their children, laughing and
talking merrily. A circle of a different kind was formed in the
center of the village. This was composed of the old men and warriors
of repute, who with their white buffalo robes drawn close around
their shoulders, sat together, and as the pipe passed from hand to
hand, their conversation had not a particle of the gravity and
reserve usually ascribed to Indians. I sat down with them as usual.
I had in my hand half a dozen squibs and serpents, which I had made
one day when encamped upon Laramie Creek, out of gunpowder and
charcoal, and the leaves of "Fremont's Expedition," rolled round a
stout lead pencil. I waited till I contrived to get hold of the
large piece of burning BOIS DE VACHE which the Indians kept by them
on the ground for lighting their pipes. With this I lighted all the
fireworks at once, and tossed them whizzing and sputtering into the
air, over the heads of the company. They all jumped up and ran off
with yelps of astonishment and consternation. After a moment or two,
they ventured to come back one by one, and some of the boldest,
picking up the cases of burnt paper that were scattered about,
examined them with eager curiosity to discover their mysterious
secret. From that time forward I enjoyed great repute as a "firemedicine."
The camp was filled with the low hum of cheerful voices. There were
other sounds, however, of a very different kind, for from a large
lodge, lighted up like a gigantic lantern by the blazing fire within,
came a chorus of dismal cries and wailings, long drawn out, like the
howling of wolves, and a woman, almost naked, was crouching close
outside, crying violently, and gashing her legs with a knife till
they were covered with blood. Just a year before, a young man
belonging to this family had gone out with a war party and had been
slain by the enemy, and his relatives were thus lamenting his loss.
Still other sounds might be heard; loud earnest cries often repeated
from amid the gloom, at a distance beyond the village. They
proceeded from some young men who, being about to set out in a few
days on a warlike expedition, were standing at the top of a hill,
calling on the Great Spirit to aid them in their enterprise. While I
was listening, Rouleau, with a laugh on his careless face, called to
me and directed my attention to another quarter. In front of the
lodge where Weah Washtay lived another squaw was standing, angrily
scolding an old yellow dog, who lay on the ground with his nose
resting between his paws, and his eyes turned sleepily up to her
face, as if he were pretending to give respectful attention, but
resolved to fall asleep as soon as it was all over.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself!" said the old woman. "I have
fed you well, and taken care of you ever since you were small and
blind, and could only crawl about and squeal a little, instead of
howling as you do now. When you grew old, I said you were a good
dog. You were strong and gentle when the load was put on your back,
and you never ran among the feet of the horses when we were all
traveling together over the prairie. But you had a bad heart!
Whenever a rabbit jumped out of the bushes, you were always the first
to run after him and lead away all the other dogs behind you. You
ought to have known that it was very dangerous to act so. When you
had got far out on the prairie, and no one was near to help you,
perhaps a wolf would jump out of the ravine; and then what could you
do? You would certainly have been killed, for no dog can fight well
with a load on his back. Only three days ago you ran off in that
way, and turned over the bag of wooden pins with which I used to
fasten up the front of the lodge. Look up there, and you will see
that it is all flapping open. And now to-night you have stolen a
great piece of fat meat which was roasting before the fire for my
children. I tell you, you have a bad heart, and you must die!"
So saying, the squaw went into the lodge, and coming out with a large
stone mallet, killed the unfortunate dog at one blow. This speech is
worthy of notice as illustrating a curious characteristic of the
Indians: the ascribing intelligence and a power of understanding
speech to the inferior animals, to whom, indeed, according to many of
their traditions, they are linked in close affinity, and they even
claim the honor of a lineal descent from bears, wolves, deer, or
As it grew late, and the crowded population began to disappear, I too
walked across the village to the lodge of my host, Kongra-Tonga. As
I entered I saw him, by the flickering blaze of the fire in the
center, reclining half asleep in his usual place. His couch was by
no means an uncomfortable one. It consisted of soft buffalo robes
laid together on the ground, and a pillow made of whitened deerskin
stuffed with feathers and ornamented with beads. At his back was a
light framework of poles and slender reeds, against which he could
lean with ease when in a sitting posture; and at the top of it, just
above his head, his bow and quiver were hanging. His squaw, a
laughing, broad-faced woman, apparently had not yet completed her
domestic arrangements, for she was bustling about the lodge, pulling
over the utensils and the bales of dried meats that were ranged
carefully round it. Unhappily, she and her partner were not the only
tenants of the dwelling, for half a dozen children were scattered
about, sleeping in every imaginable posture. My saddle was in its
place at the head of the lodge and a buffalo robe was spread on the
ground before it. Wrapping myself in my blanket I lay down, but had
I not been extremely fatigued the noise in the next lodge would have
prevented my sleeping. There was the monotonous thumping of the
Indian drum, mixed with occasional sharp yells, and a chorus chanted
by twenty voices. A grand scene of gambling was going forward with
all the appropriate formalities. The players were staking on the
chance issue of the game their ornaments, their horses, and as the
excitement rose, their garments, and even their weapons, for
desperate gambling is not confined to the hells of Paris. The men of
the plains and the forests no less resort to it as a violent but
grateful relief to the tedious monotony of their lives, which
alternate between fierce excitement and listless inaction. I fell
asleep with the dull notes of the drum still sounding on my ear, but
these furious orgies lasted without intermission till daylight. I
was soon awakened by one of the children crawling over me, while
another larger one was tugging at my blanket and nestling himself in
a very disagreeable proximity. I immediately repelled these advances
by punching the heads of these miniature savages with a short stick
which I always kept by me for the purpose; and as sleeping half the
day and eating much more than is good for them makes them extremely
restless, this operation usually had to be repeated four or five
times in the course of the night. My host himself was the author of
another most formidable annoyance. All these Indians, and he among
the rest, think themselves bound to the constant performance of
certain acts as the condition on which their success in life depends,
whether in war, love, hunting, or any other employment. These
"medicines," as they are called in that country, which are usually
communicated in dreams, are often absurd enough. Some Indians will
strike the butt of the pipe against the ground every time they smoke;
others will insist that everything they say shall be interpreted by
contraries; and Shaw once met an old man who conceived that all would
be lost unless he compelled every white man he met to drink a bowl of
cold water. My host was particularly unfortunate in his allotment.
The Great Spirit had told him in a dream that he must sing a certain
song in the middle of every night; and regularly at about twelve
o'clock his dismal monotonous chanting would awaken me, and I would
see him seated bolt upright on his couch, going through his dolorous
performances with a most business-like air. There were other voices
of the night still more inharmonious. Twice or thrice, between
sunset and dawn, all the dogs in the village, and there were hundreds
of them, would bay and yelp in chorus; a most horrible clamor,
resembling no sound that I have ever heard, except perhaps the
frightful howling of wolves that we used sometimes to hear long
afterward when descending the Arkansas on the trail of General
Kearny's army. The canine uproar is, if possible, more discordant
than that of the wolves. Heard at a distance, slowly rising on the
night, it has a strange unearthly effect, and would fearfully haunt
the dreams of a nervous man; but when you are sleeping in the midst
of it the din is outrageous. One long loud howl from the next lodge
perhaps begins it, and voice after voice takes up the sound till it
passes around the whole circumference of the village, and the air is
filled with confused and discordant cries, at once fierce and
mournful. It lasts but for a moment and then dies away into silence.
Morning came, and Kongra-Tonga, mounting his horse, rode out with the
hunters. It may not be amiss to glance at him for an instant in his
domestic character of husband and father. Both he and his squaw,
like most other Indians, were very fond of their children, whom they
indulged to excess, and never punished, except in extreme cases when
they would throw a bowl of cold water over them. Their offspring
became sufficiently undutiful and disobedient under this system of
education, which tends not a little to foster that wild idea of
liberty and utter intolerance of restraint which lie at the very
foundation of the Indian character. It would be hard to find a
fonder father than Kongra-Tonga. There was one urchin in particular,
rather less than two feet high, to whom he was exceedingly attached;
and sometimes spreading a buffalo robe in the lodge, he would seat
himself upon it, place his small favorite upright before him, and
chant in a low tone some of the words used as an accompaniment to the
war dance. The little fellow, who could just manage to balance
himself by stretching out both arms, would lift his feet and turn
slowly round and round in time to his father's music, while my host
would laugh with delight, and look smiling up into my face to see if
I were admiring this precocious performance of his offspring. In his
capacity of husband he was somewhat less exemplary. The squaw who
lived in the lodge with him had been his partner for many years. She
took good care of his children and his household concerns. He liked
her well enough, and as far as I could see they never quarreled; but
all his warmer affections were reserved for younger and more recent
favorites. Of these he had at present only one, who lived in a lodge
apart from his own. One day while in his camp he became displeased
with her, pushed her out, threw after her her ornaments, dresses, and
everything she had, and told her to go home to her father. Having
consummated this summary divorce, for which he could show good
reasons, he came back, seated himself in his usual place, and began
to smoke with an air of utmost tranquillity and self-satisfaction.
I was sitting in the lodge with him on that very afternoon, when I
felt some curiosity to learn the history of the numerous scars that
appeared on his naked body. Of some of them, however, I did not
venture to inquire, for I already understood their origin. Each of
his arms was marked as if deeply gashed with a knife at regular
intervals, and there were other scars also, of a different character,
on his back and on either breast. They were the traces of those
formidable tortures which these Indians, in common with a few other
tribes, inflict upon themselves at certain seasons; in part, it may
be, to gain the glory of courage and endurance, but chiefly as an act
of self-sacrifice to secure the favor of the Great Spirit. The scars
upon the breast and back were produced by running through the flesh
strong splints of wood, to which ponderous buffalo-skulls are
fastened by cords of hide, and the wretch runs forward with all his
strength, assisted by two companions, who take hold of each arm,
until the flesh tears apart and the heavy loads are left behind.
Others of Kongra-Tonga's scars were the result of accidents; but he
had many which he received in war. He was one of the most noted
warriors in the village. In the course of his life he had slain as
he boasted to me, fourteen men, and though, like other Indians, he
was a great braggart and utterly regardless of truth, yet in this
statement common report bore him out. Being much flattered by my
inquiries he told me tale after tale, true or false, of his warlike
exploits; and there was one among the rest illustrating the worst
features of the Indian character too well for me to omit. Pointing
out of the opening of the lodge toward the Medicine-Bow Mountain, not
manv miles distant he said that he was there a few summers ago with a
war party of his young men. Here they found two Snake Indians,
hunting. They shot one of them with arrows and chased the other up
the side of the mountain till they surrounded him on a level place,
and Kongra-Tonga himself, jumping forward among the trees, seized him
by the arm. Two of his young men then ran up and held him fast while
he scalped him alive. Then they built a great fire, and cutting the
tendons of their captive's wrists and feet, threw him in, and held
him down with long poles until he was burnt to death. He garnished
his story with a great many descriptive particulars much too
revolting to mention. His features were remarkably mild and open,
without the fierceness of expression common among these Indians; and
as he detailed these devilish cruelties, he looked up into my face
with the same air of earnest simplicity which a little child would
wear in relating to its mother some anecdote of its youthful
Old Mene-Seela's lodge could offer another illustration of the
ferocity of Indian warfare. A bright-eyed, active little boy was
living there. He had belonged to a village of the Gros-Ventre
Blackfeet, a small but bloody and treacherous band, in close alliance
with the Arapahoes. About a year before, Kongra-Tonga and a party of
warriors had found about twenty lodges of these Indians upon the
plains a little to the eastward of our present camp; and surrounding
them in the night, they butchered men, women, and children without
mercy, preserving only this little boy alive. He was adopted into
the old man's family, and was now fast becoming identified with the
Ogallalla children, among whom he mingled on equal terms. There was
also a Crow warrior in the village, a man of gigantic stature and
most symmetrical proportions. Having been taken prisoner many years
before and adopted by a squaw in place of a son whom she had lost, he
had forgotten his old national antipathies, and was now both in act
and inclination an Ogallalla.
It will be remembered that the scheme of the grand warlike
combination against the Snake and Crow Indians originated in this
village; and though this plan had fallen to the ground, the embers of
the martial ardor continued to glow brightly. Eleven young men had
prepared themselves to go out against the enemy. The fourth day of
our stay in this camp was fixed upon for their departure. At the
head of this party was a well-built active little Indian, called the
White Shield, whom I had always noticed for the great neatness of his
dress and appearance. His lodge too, though not a large one, was the
best in the village, his squaw was one of the prettiest girls, and
altogether his dwelling presented a complete model of an Ogallalla
domestic establishment. I was often a visitor there, for the White
Shield being rather partial to white men, used to invite me to
continual feasts at all hours of the day. Once when the substantial
part of the entertainment was concluded, and he and I were seated
cross-legged on a buffalo robe smoking together very amicably, he
took down his warlike equipments, which were hanging around the
lodge, and displayed them with great pride and self-importance.
Among the rest was a most superb headdress of feathers. Taking this
from its case, he put it on and stood before me, as if conscious of
the gallant air which it gave to his dark face and his vigorous,
graceful figure. He told me that upon it were the feathers of three
war-eagles, equal in value to the same number of good horses. He
took up also a shield gayly painted and hung with feathers. The
effect of these barbaric ornaments was admirable, for they were
arranged with no little skill and taste. His quiver was made of the
spotted skin of a small panther, such as are common among the Black
Hills, from which the tail and distended claws were still allowed to
hang. The White Shield concluded his entertainment in a manner
characteristic of an Indian. He begged of me a little powder and
ball, for he had a gun as well as bow and arrows; but this I was
obliged to refuse, because I had scarcely enough for my own use.
Making him, however, a parting present of a paper of vermilion, I
left him apparently quite contented.
Unhappily on the next morning the White Shield took cold and was
attacked with a violent inflammation of the throat. Immediately he
seemed to lose all spirit, and though before no warrior in the
village had borne himself more proudly, he now moped about from lodge
to lodge with a forlorn and dejected air. At length he came and sat
down, close wrapped in his robe, before the lodge of Reynal, but when
he found that neither he nor I knew how to relieve him, he arose and
stalked over to one of the medicine-men of the village. This old
imposter thumped him for some time with both fists, howled and yelped
over him, and beat a drum close to his ear to expel the evil spirit
that had taken possession of him. This vigorous treatment failing of
the desired effect, the White Shield withdrew to his own lodge, where
he lay disconsolate for some hours. Making his appearance once more
in the afternoon, he again took his seat on the ground before
Reynal's lodge, holding his throat with his hand. For some time he
sat perfectly silent with his eyes fixed mournfully on the ground.
At last he began to speak in a low tone:
"I am a brave man," he said; "all the young men think me a great
warrior, and ten of them are ready to go with me to the war. I will
go and show them the enemy. Last summer the Snakes killed my
brother. I cannot live unless I revenge his death. To-morrow we
will set out and I will take their scalps."
The White Shield, as he expressed this resolution, seemed to have
lost all the accustomed fire and spirit of his look, and hung his
head as if in a fit of despondency.
As I was sitting that evening at one of the fires, I saw him arrayed
in his splendid war dress, his cheeks painted with vermilion, leading
his favorite war horse to the front of his lodge. He mounted and
rode round the village, singing his war song in a loud hoarse voice
amid the shrill acclamations of the women. Then dismounting, he
remained for some minutes prostrate upon the ground, as if in an act
of supplication. On the following morning I looked in vain for the
departure of the warriors. All was quiet in the village until late
in the forenoon, when the White Shield, issuing from his lodge, came
and seated himself in his old place before us. Reynal asked him why
he had not gone out to find the enemy.
"I cannot go," answered the White Shield in a dejected voice. "I
have given my war arrows to the Meneaska."
"You have only given him two of your arrows," said Reynal. "If you
ask him, he will give them back again."
For some time the White Shield said nothing. At last he spoke in a
gloomy tone:
"One of my young men has had bad dreams. The spirits of the dead
came and threw stones at him in his sleep."
If such a dream had actually taken place it might have broken up this
or any other war party, but both Reynal and I were convinced at the
time that it was a mere fabrication to excuse his remaining at home.
The White Shield was a warrior of noted prowess. Very probably, he
would have received a mortal wound without a show of pain, and
endured without flinching the worst tortures that an enemy could
inflict upon him. The whole power of an Indian's nature would be
summoned to encounter such a trial; every influence of his education
from childhood would have prepared him for it; the cause of his
suffering would have been visibly and palpably before him, and his
spirit would rise to set his enemy at defiance, and gain the highest
glory of a warrior by meeting death with fortitude. But when he
feels himself attacked by a mysterious evil, before whose insidious
assaults his manhood is wasted, and his strength drained away, when
he can see no enemy to resist and defy, the boldest warrior falls
prostrate at once. He believes that a bad spirit has taken
possession of him, or that he is the victim of some charm. When
suffering from a protracted disorder, an Indian will often abandon
himself to his supposed destiny, pine away and die, the victim of his
own imagination. The same effect will often follow from a series of
calamities, or a long run of ill success, and the sufferer has been
known to ride into the midst of an enemy's camp, or attack a grizzly
bear single-handed, to get rid of a life which he supposed to lie
under the doom of misfortune.
Thus after all his fasting, dreaming, and calling upon the Great
Spirit, the White Shield's war party was pitifully broken up.
In speaking of the Indians, I have almost forgotten two bold
adventurers of another race, the trappers Rouleau and Saraphin.
These men were bent on a most hazardous enterprise. A day's journey
to the westward was the country over which the Arapahoes are
accustomed to range, and for which the two trappers were on the point
of setting out. These Arapahoes, of whom Shaw and I afterward fell
in with a large village, are ferocious barbarians, of a most brutal
and wolfish aspect, and of late they had declared themselves enemies
to the whites, and threatened death to the first who should venture
within their territory. The occasion of the declaration was as
In the previous spring, 1845, Colonel Kearny left Fort Leavenworth
with several companies of dragoons, and marching with extraordinary
celerity reached Fort Laramie, whence he passed along the foot of the
mountains to Bent's Fort and then, turning eastward again, returned
to the point from whence he set out. While at Fort Larantie, he sent
a part of his command as far westward as Sweetwater, while he himself
remained at the fort, and dispatched messages to the surrounding
Indians to meet him there in council. Then for the first time the
tribes of that vicinity saw the white warriors, and, as might have
been expected, they were lost in astonishment at their regular order,
their gay attire, the completeness of their martial equipment, and
the great size and power of their horses. Among the rest, the
Arapahoes came in considerable numbers to the fort. They had lately
committed numerous acts of outrage, and Colonel Kearny threatened
that if they killed any more white men he would turn loose his
dragoons upon them, and annihilate their whole nation. In the
evening, to add effect to his speech, he ordered a howitzer to be
fired and a rocket to be thrown up. Many of the Arapahoes fell
prostrate on the ground, while others ran screaming with amazement
and terror. On the following day they withdrew to their mountains,
confounded with awe at the appearance of the dragoons, at their big
gun which went off twice at one shot, and the fiery messenger which
they had sent up to the Great Spirit. For many months they remained
quiet, and did no further mischief. At length, just before we came
into the country, one of them, by an act of the basest treachery,
killed two white men, Boot and May, who were trapping among the
mountains. For this act it was impossible to discover a motive. It
seemed to spring from one of those inexplicable impulses which often
actuate Indians and appear no better than the mere outbreaks of
native ferocity. No sooner was the murder committed than the whole
tribe were in extreme consternation. They expected every day that
the avenging dragoons would arrive, little thinking that a desert of
nine hundred miles in extent lay between the latter and their
mountain fastnesses. A large deputation of them came to Fort
Laramie, bringing a valuable present of horses, in compensation for
the lives of the murdered men. These Bordeaux refused to accept.
They then asked him if he would be satisfied with their delivering up
the murderer himself; but he declined this offer also. The Arapahoes
went back more terrified than ever. Weeks passed away, and still no
dragoons appeared. A result followed which all those best acquainted
with Indians had predicted. They conceived that fear had prevented
Bordeaux from accepting their gifts, and that they had nothing to
apprehend from the vengeance of the whites. From terror they rose to
the height of insolence and presumption. They called the white men
cowards and old women; and a friendly Dakota came to Fort Laramie and
reported that they were determined to kill the first of the white
dogs whom they could lay hands on.
Had a military officer, intrusted with suitable powers, been
stationed at Fort Laramie, and having accepted the offer of the
Arapahoes to deliver up the murderer, had ordered him to be
immediately led out and shot, in presence of his tribe, they would
have been awed into tranquillity, and much danger and calamity
averted; but now the neighborhood of the Medicine-Bow Mountain and
the region beyond it was a scene of extreme peril. Old Mene-Seela, a
true friend of the whites, and many other of the Indians gathered
about the two trappers, and vainly endeavored to turn them from their
purpose; but Rouleau and Saraphin only laughed at the danger. On the
morning preceding that on which they were to leave the camp, we could
all discern faint white columns of smoke rising against the dark base
of the Medicine-Bow. Scouts were out immediately, and reported that
these proceeded from an Arapahoe camp, abandoned only a few hours
before. Still the two trappers continued their preparations for
Saraphin was a tall, powerful fellow, with a sullen and sinister
countenance. His rifle had very probably drawn other blood than that
of buffalo or even Indians. Rouleau had a broad ruddy face marked
with as few traces of thought or care as a child's. His figure was
remarkably square and strong, but the first joints of both his feet
were frozen off, and his horse had lately thrown and trampled upon
him, by which he had been severely injured in the chest. But nothing
could check his inveterate propensity for laughter and gayety. He
went all day rolling about the camp on his stumps of feet, talking
and singing and frolicking with the Indian women, as they were
engaged at their work. In fact Rouleau had an unlucky partiality for
squaws. He always had one whom he must needs bedizen with beads,
ribbons, and all the finery of an Indian wardrobe; and though he was
of course obliged to leave her behind him during his expeditions, yet
this hazardous necessity did not at all trouble him, for his
disposition was the very reverse of jealous. If at any time he had
not lavished the whole of the precarious profits of his vocation upon
his dark favorite, he always devoted the rest to feasting his
comrades. If liquor was not to be had--and this was usually the
case--strong coffee was substituted. As the men of that region are
by no means remarkable for providence or self-restraint, whatever was
set before them on these occasions, however extravagant in price, or
enormous in quantity, was sure to be disposed of at one sitting.
Like other trappers, Rouleau's life was one of contrast and variety.
It was only at certain seasons, and for a limited time, that he was
absent on his expeditions. For the rest of the year he would be
lounging about the fort, or encamped with his friends in its
vicinity, lazily hunting or enjoying all the luxury of inaction; but
when once in pursnit of beaver, he was involved in extreme privations
and desperate perils. When in the midst of his game and his enemies,
hand and foot, eye and ear, are incessantly active. Frequently he
must content himself with devouring his evening meal uncooked, lest
the light of his fire should attract the eyes of some wandering
Indian; and sometimes having made his rude repast, he must leave his
fire still blazing, and withdraw to a distance under cover of the
darkness, that his disappointed enemy, drawn thither by the light,
may find his victim gone, and be unable to trace his footsteps in the
gloom. This is the life led by scores of men in the Rocky Mountains
and their vicinity. I once met a trapper whose breast was marked
with the scars of six bullets and arrows, one of his arms broken by a
shot and one of his knees shattered; yet still, with the undaunted
mettle of New England, from which part of the country he had come, he
continued to follow his perilous occupation. To some of the children
of cities it may seem strange that men with no object in view should
continue to follow a life of such hardship and desperate adventure;
yet there is a mysterious, restless charm in the basilisk eye of
danger, and few men perhaps remain long in that wild region without
learning to love peril for its own sake, and to laugh carelessly in
the face of death.
On the last day of our stay in this camp, the trappers were ready for
departure. When in the Black Hills they had caught seven beaver, and
they now left their skins in charge of Reynal, to be kept until their
return. Their strong, gaunt horses were equipped with rusty Spanish
bits and rude Mexican saddles, to which wooden stirrups were
attached, while a buffalo robe was rolled up behind them, and a
bundle of beaver traps slung at the pommel. These, together with
their rifles, their knives, their powder-horns and bullet-pouches,
flint and steel and a tincup, composed their whole traveling
equipment. They shook hands with us and rode away; Saraphin with his
grim countenance, like a surly bulldog's, was in advance; but
Rouleau, clambering gayly into his seat, kicked his horse's sides,
flourished his whip in the air, and trotted briskly over the prairie,
trolling forth a Canadian song at the top of his lungs. Reynal
looked after them with his face of brutal selfishness.
"Well," he said, "if they are killed, I shall have the beaver.
They'll fetch me fifty dollars at the fort, anyhow."
This was the last I saw of them.
We had been for five days in the hunting camp, and the meat, which
all this time had hung drying in the sun, was now fit for
transportation. Buffalo hides also had been procured in sufficient
quantities for making the next season's lodges; but it remained to
provide the long slender poles on which they were to be supported.
These were only to be had among the tall pine woods of the Black
Hills, and in that direction therefore our next move was to be made.
It is worthy of notice that amid the general abundance which during
this time had prevailed in the camp there were no instances of
individual privation; for although the hide and the tongue of the
buffalo belong by exclusive right to the hunter who has killed it,
yet anyone else is equally entitled to help himself from the rest of
the carcass. Thus, the weak, the aged, and even the indolent come in
for a share of the spoils, and many a helpless old woman, who would
otherwise perish from starvation, is sustained in profuse abundance.
On the 25th of July, late in the afternoon, the camp broke up, with
the usual tumult and confusion, and we were all moving once more, on
horseback and on foot, over the plains. We advanced, however, but a
few miles. The old men, who during the whole march had been stoutly
striding along on foot in front of the people, now seated themselves
in a circle on the ground, while all the families, erecting their
lodges in the prescribed order around them, formed the usual great
circle of the camp; meanwhile these village patriarchs sat smoking
and talking. I threw my bridle to Raymond, and sat down as usual
along with them. There was none of that reserve and apparent dignity
which an Indian always assumes when in council, or in the presence of
white men whom he distrusts. The party, on the contrary, was an
extremely merry one; and as in a social circle of a quite different
character, "if there was not much wit, there was at least a great
deal of laughter."
When the first pipe was smoked out, I rose and withdrew to the lodge
of my host. Here I was stooping, in the act of taking off my powderhorn
and bullet-pouch, when suddenly, and close at hand, pealing loud
and shrill, and in right good earnest, came the terrific yell of the
war-whoop. Kongra-Tonga's squaw snatched up her youngest child, and
ran out of the lodge. I followed, and found the whole village in
confusion, resounding with cries and yells. The circle of old men in
the center had vanished. The warriors with glittering eyes came
darting, their weapons in their hands, out of the low opening of the
lodges, and running with wild yells toward the farther end of the
village. Advancing a few rods in that direction, I saw a crowd in
furious agitation, while others ran up on every side to add to the
confusion. Just then I distinguished the voices of Raymond and
Reynal, shouting to me from a distance, and looking back, I saw the
latter with his rifle in his hand, standing on the farther bank of a
little stream that ran along the outskirts of the camp. He was
calling to Raymond and myself to come over and join him, and Raymond,
with his usual deliberate gait and stolid countenance, was already
moving in that direction.
This was clearly the wisest course, unless we wished to involve
ourselves in the fray; so I turned to go, but just then a pair of
eyes, gleaming like a snake's, and an aged familiar countenance was
thrust from the opening of a neighboring lodge, and out bolted old
Mene-Seela, full of fight, clutching his bow and arrows in one hand
and his knife in the other. At that instant he tripped and fell
sprawling on his face, while his weapons flew scattering away in
every direction. The women with loud screams were hurrying with
their children in their arms to place them out of danger, and I
observed some hastening to prevent mischief, by carrying away all the
weapons they could lay hands on. On a rising ground close to the
camp stood a line of old women singing a medicine song to allay the
tumult. As I approached the side of the brook I heard gun-shots
behind me, and turning back, I saw that the crowd had separated into
two lines of naked warriors confronting each other at a respectful
distance, and yelling and jumping about to dodge the shot of their
adversaries, while they discharged bullets and arrows against each
other. At the same time certain sharp, humming sounds in the air
over my head, like the flight of beetles on a summer evening, warned
me that the danger was not wholly confined to the immediate scene of
the fray. So wading through the brook, I joined Reynal and Raymond,
and we sat down on the grass, in the posture of an armed neutrality,
to watch the result.
Happily it may be for ourselves, though quite contrary to our
expectation, the disturbance was quelled almost as soon as it had
commenced. When I looked again, the combatants were once more
mingled together in a mass. Though yells sounded, occasionally from
the throng, the firing had entirely ceased, and I observed five or
six persons moving busily about, as if acting the part of
peacemakers. One of the village heralds or criers proclaimed in a
loud voice something which my two companions were too much engrossed
in their own observations to translate for me. The crowd began to
disperse, though many a deep-set black eye still glittered with an
unnatural luster, as the warriors slowly withdrew to their lodges.
This fortunate suppression of the disturbance was owing to a few of
the old men, less pugnacious than Mene-Seela, who boldly ran in
between the combatants and aided by some of the "soldiers," or Indian
police, succeeded in effecting their object.
It seemed very strange to me that although many arrows and bullets
were discharged, no one was mortally hurt, and I could only account
for this by the fact that both the marksman and the object of his aim
were leaping about incessantly during the whole time. By far the
greater part of the villagers had joined in the fray, for although
there were not more than a dozen guns in the whole camp, I heard at
least eight or ten shots fired.
In a quarter of an hour all was comparatively quiet. A large circle
of warriors were again seated in the center of the village, but this
time I did not venture to join them, because I could see that the
pipe, contrary to the usual order, was passing from the left hand to
the right around the circle, a sure sign that a "medicine-smoke" of
reconciliation was going forward, and that a white man would be an
unwelcome intruder. When I again entered the still agitated camp it
was nearly dark, and mournful cries, howls and wailings resounded
from many female voices. Whether these had any connection with the
late disturbance, or were merely lamentations for relatives slain in
some former war expeditions, I could not distinctly ascertain.
To inquire too closely into the cause of the quarrel was by no means
prudent, and it was not until some time after that I discovered what
had given rise to it. Among the Dakota there are many associations,
or fraternities, connected with the purposes of their superstitions,
their warfare, or their social life. There was one called "The
Arrow-Breakers," now in a great measure disbanded and dispersed. In
the village there were, however, four men belonging to it,
distinguished by the peculiar arrangement of their hair, which rose
in a high bristling mass above their foreheads, adding greatly to
their apparent height, and giving them a most ferocious appearance.
The principal among them was the Mad Wolf, a warrior of remarkable
size and strength, great courage, and the fierceness of a demon. I
had always looked upon him as the most dangerous man in the village;
and though he often invited me to feasts, I never entered his lodge
unarmed. The Mad Wolf had taken a fancy to a fine horse belonging to
another Indian, who was called the Tall Bear; and anxious to get the
animal into his possession, he made the owner a present of another
horse nearly equal in value. According to the customs of the Dakota,
the acceptance of this gift involved a sort of obligation to make an
equitable return; and the Tall Bear well understood that the other
had in view the obtaining of his favorite buffalo horse. He however
accepted the present without a word of thanks, and having picketed
the horse before his lodge, he suffered day after day to pass without
making the expected return. The Mad Wolf grew impatient and angry;
and at last, seeing that his bounty was not likely to produce the
desired return, he resolved to reclaim it. So this evening, as soon
as the village was encamped, he went to the lodge of the Tall Bear,
seized upon the horse that he had given him, and led him away. At
this the Tall Bear broke into one of those fits of sullen rage not
uncommon among the Indians. He ran up to the unfortunate horse, and
gave him three mortals stabs with his knife. Quick as lightning the
Mad Wolf drew his bow to its utmost tension, and held the arrow
quivering close to the breast of his adversary. The Tall Bear, as
the Indians who were near him said, stood with his bloody knife in
his hand, facing the assailant with the utmost calmness. Some of his
friends and relatives, seeing his danger, ran hastily to his
assistance. The remaining three Arrow-Breakers, on the other hand,
came to the aid of their associate. Many of their friends joined
them, the war-cry was raised on a sudden, and the tumult became
The "soldiers," who lent their timely aid in putting it down, are by
far the most important executive functionaries in an Indian village.
The office is one of considerable honor, being confided only to men
of courage and repute. They derive their authority from the old men
and chief warriors of the village, who elect them in councils
occasionally convened for the purpose, and thus can exercise a degree
of authority which no one else in the village would dare to assume.
While very few Ogallalla chiefs could venture without instant
jeopardy of their lives to strike or lay hands upon the meanest of
their people, the "soldiers" in the discharge of their appropriate
functions, have full license to make use of these and similar acts of
We traveled eastward for two days, and then the gloomy ridges of the
Black Hills rose up before us. The village passed along for some
miles beneath their declivities, trailing out to a great length over
the arid prairie, or winding at times among small detached hills or
distorted shapes. Turning sharply to the left, we entered a wide
defile of the mountains, down the bottom of which a brook came
winding, lined with tall grass and dense copses, amid which were
hidden many beaver dams and lodges. We passed along between two
lines of high precipices and rocks, piled in utter disorder one upon
another, and with scarcely a tree, a bush, or a clump of grass to
veil their nakedness. The restless Indian boys were wandering along
their edges and clambering up and down their rugged sides, and
sometimes a group of them would stand on the verge of a cliff and
look down on the array as it passed in review beneath them. As we
advanced, the passage grew more narrow; then it suddenly expanded
into a round grassy meadow, completely encompassed by mountains; and
here the families stopped as they came up in turn, and the camp rose
like magic.
The lodges were hardly erected when, with their usual precipitation,
the Indians set about accomplishing the object that had brought them
there; that is, the obtaining poles for supporting their new lodges.
Half the population, men, women and boys, mounted their horses and
set out for the interior of the mountains. As they rode at full
gallop over the shingly rocks and into the dark opening of the defile
beyond, I thought I had never read or dreamed of a more strange or
picturesque cavalcade. We passed between precipices more than a
thousand feet high, sharp and splintering at the tops, their sides
beetling over the defile or descending in abrupt declivities,
bristling with black fir trees. On our left they rose close to us
like a wall, but on the right a winding brook with a narrow strip of
marshy soil intervened. The stream was clogged with old beaver dams,
and spread frequently into wide pools. There were thick bushes and
many dead and blasted trees along its course, though frequently
nothing remained but stumps cut close to the ground by the beaver,
and marked with the sharp chisel-like teeth of those indefatigable
laborers. Sometimes we were driving among trees, and then emerging
upon open spots, over which, Indian-like, all galloped at full speed.
As Pauline bounded over the rocks I felt her saddle-girth slipping,
and alighted to draw it tighter; when the whole array swept past me
in a moment, the women with their gaudy ornaments tinkling as they
rode, the men whooping, and laughing, and lashing forward their
horses. Two black-tailed deer bounded away among the rocks; Raymond
shot at them from horseback; the sharp report of his rifle was
answered by another equally sharp from the opposing cliffs, and then
the echoes, leaping in rapid succession from side to side, died away
rattling far amid the mountains.
After having ridden in this manner for six or eight miles, the
appearance of the scene began to change, and all the declivities
around us were covered with forests of tall, slender pine trees. The
Indians began to fall off to the right and left, and dispersed with
their hatchets and knives among these woods, to cut the poles which
they had come to seek. Soon I was left almost alone; but in the deep
stillness of those lonely mountains, the stroke of hatchets and the
sound of voices might be heard from far and near.
Reynal, who imitated the Indians in their habits as well as the worst
features of their character, had killed buffalo enough to make a
lodge for himself and his squaw, and now he was eager to get the
poles necessary to complete it. He asked me to let Raymond go with
him and assist in the work. I assented, and the two men immediately
entered the thickest part of the wood. Having left my horse in
Raymond's keeping, I began to climb the mountain. I was weak and
weary and made slow progress, often pausing to rest, but after an
hour had elapsed, I gained a height, whence the little valley out of
which I had climbed seemed like a deep, dark gulf, though the
inaccessible peak of the mountain was still towering to a much
greater distance above. Objects familiar from childhood surrounded
me; crags and rocks, a black and sullen brook that gurgled with a
hollow voice deep among the crevices, a wood of mossy distorted trees
and prostrate trunks flung down by age and storms, scattered among
the rocks, or damming the foaming waters of the little brook. The
objects were the same, yet they were thrown into a wilder and more
startling scene, for the black crags and the savage trees assumed a
grim and threatening aspect, and close across the valley the opposing
mountain confronted me, rising from the gulf for thousands of feet,
with its bare pinnacles and its ragged covering of pines. Yet the
scene was not without its milder features. As I ascended, I found
frequent little grassy terraces, and there was one of these close at
hand, across which the brook was stealing, beneath the shade of
scattered trees that seemed artificially planted. Here I made a
welcome discovery, no other than a bed of strawberries, with their
white flowers and their red fruit, close nestled among the grass by
the side of the brook, and I sat down by them, hailing them as old
acquaintances; for among those lonely and perilous mountains they
awakened delicious associations of the gardens and peaceful homes of
far-distant New England.
Yet wild as they were, these mountains were thickly peopled. As I
climbed farther, I found the broad dusty paths made by the elk, as
they filed across the mountainside. The grass on all the terraces
was trampled down by deer; there were numerous tracks of wolves, and
in some of the rougher and more precipitous parts of the ascent, I
found foot-prints different from any that I had ever seen, and which
I took to be those of the Rocky Mountain sheep. I sat down upon a
rock; there was a perfect stillness. No wind was stirring, and not
even an insect could be heard. I recollected the danger of becoming
lost in such a place, and therefore I fixed my eye upon one of the
tallest pinnacles of the opposite mountain. It rose sheer upright
from the woods below, and by an extraordinary freak of nature
sustained aloft on its very summit a large loose rock. Such a
landmark could never be mistaken, and feeling once more secure, I
began again to move forward. A white wolf jumped up from among some
bushes, and leaped clumsily away; but he stopped for a moment, and
turned back his keen eye and his grim bristling muzzle. I longed to
take his scalp and carry it back with me, as an appropriate trophy of
the Black Hills, but before I could fire, he was gone among the
rocks. Soon I heard a rustling sound, with a cracking of twigs at a
little distance, and saw moving above the tall bushes the branching
antlers of an elk. I was in the midst of a hunter's paradise.
Such are the Black Hills, as I found them in July; but they wear a
different garb when winter sets in, when the broad boughs of the fir
tree are bent to the ground by the load of snow, and the dark
mountains are whitened with it. At that season the mountaintrappers,
returned from their autumn expeditions, often build their
rude cabins in the midst of these solitudes, and live in abundance
and luxury on the game that harbors there. I have heard them relate,
how with their tawny mistresses, and perhaps a few young Indian
companions, they have spent months in total seclusion. They would
dig pitfalls, and set traps for the white wolves, the sables, and the
martens, and though through the whole night the awful chorus of the
wolves would resound from the frozen mountains around them, yet
within their massive walls of logs they would lie in careless ease
and comfort before the blazing fire, and in the morning shoot the elk
and the deer from their very door.
The camp was full of the newly-cut lodge-poles; some, already
prepared, were stacked together, white and glistening, to dry and
harden in the sun; others were lying on the ground, and the squaws,
the boys, and even some of the warriors were busily at work peeling
off the bark and paring them with their knives to the proper
dimensions. Most of the hides obtained at the last camp were dressed
and scraped thin enough for use, and many of the squaws were engaged
in fitting them together and sewing them with sinews, to form the
coverings for the lodges. Men were wandering among the bushes that
lined the brook along the margin of the camp, cutting sticks of red
willow, or shongsasha, the bark of which, mixed with tobacco, they
use for smoking. Reynal's squaw was hard at work with her awl and
buffalo sinews upon her lodge, while her proprietor, having just
finished an enormous breakfast of meat, was smoking a social pipe
along with Raymond and myself. He proposed at length that we should
go out on a hunt. "Go to the Big Crow's lodge," said he, "and get
your rifle. I'll bet the gray Wyandotte pony against your mare that
we start an elk or a black-tailed deer, or likely as not, a bighorn,
before we are two miles out of camp. I'll take my squaw's old yellow
horse; you can't whip her more than four miles an hour, but she is as
good for the mountains as a mule."
I mounted the black mule which Raymond usually rode. She was a very
fine and powerful animal, gentle and manageable enough by nature; but
of late her temper had been soured by misfortune. About a week
before I had chanced to offend some one of the Indians, who out of
revenge went secretly into the meadow and gave her a severe stab in
the haunch with his knife. The wound, though partially healed, still
galled her extremely, and made her even more perverse and obstinate
than the rest of her species.
The morning was a glorious one, and I was in better health than I had
been at any time for the last two months. Though a strong frame and
well compacted sinews had borne me through hitherto, it was long
since I had been in a condition to feel the exhilaration of the fresh
mountain wind and the gay sunshine that brightened the crags and
trees. We left the little valley and ascended a rocky hollow in the
mountain. Very soon we were out of sight of the camp, and of every
living thing, man, beast, bird, or insect. I had never before,
except on foot, passed over such execrable ground, and I desire never
to repeat the experiment. The black mule grew indignant, and even
the redoubtable yellow horse stumbled every moment, and kept groaning
to himself as he cut his feet and legs among the sharp rocks.
It was a scene of silence and desolation. Little was visible except
beetling crags and the bare shingly sides of the mountains, relieved
by scarcely a trace of vegetation. At length, however, we came upon
a forest tract, and had no sooner done so than we heartily wished
ourselves back among the rocks again; for we were on a steep descent,
among trees so thick that we could see scarcely a rod in any
If one is anxious to place himself in a situation where the hazardous
and the ludicrous are combined in about equal proportions, let him
get upon a vicious mule, with a snaffle bit, and try to drive her
through the woods down a slope of 45 degrees. Let him have on a long
rifle, a buckskin frock with long fringes, and a head of long hair.
These latter appendages will be caught every moment and twitched away
in small portions by the twigs, which will also whip him smartly
across the face, while the large branches above thump him on the
head. His mule, if she be a true one, will alternately stop short
and dive violently forward, and his position upon her back will be
somewhat diversified and extraordinary. At one time he will clasp
her affectionately, to avoid the blow of a bough overhead; at
another, he will throw himself back and fling his knee forward
against the side of her neck, to keep it from being crushed between
the rough bark of a tree and the equally unyielding ribs of the
animal herself. Reynal was cursing incessantly during the whole way
down. Neither of us had the remotest idea where we were going; and
though I have seen rough riding, I shall always retain an evil
recollection of that five minutes' scramble.
At last we left our troubles behind us, emerging into the channel of
a brook that circled along the foot of the descent; and here, turning
joyfully to the left, we rode in luxury and ease over the white
pebbles and the rippling water, shaded from the glaring sun by an
overarching green transparency. These halcyon moments were of short
duration. The friendly brook, turning sharply to one side, went
brawling and foaming down the rocky hill into an abyss, which, as far
as we could discern, had no bottom; so once more we betook ourselves
to the detested woods. When next we came forth from their dancing
shadow and sunlight, we found ourselves standing in the broad glare
of day, on a high jutting point of the mountain. Before us stretched
a long, wide, desert valley, winding away far amid the mountains. No
civilized eye but mine had ever looked upon that virgin waste.
Reynal was gazing intently; he began to speak at last:
"Many a time, when I was with the Indians, I have been hunting for
gold all through the Black Hills. There's plenty of it here; you may
be certain of that. I have dreamed about it fifty times, and I never
dreamed yet but what it came true. Look over yonder at those black
rocks piled up against that other big rock. Don't it look as if
there might be something there? It won't do for a white man to be
rummagmg too much about these mountains; the Indians say they are
full of bad spirits; and I believe myself that it's no good luck to
be hunting about here after gold. Well, for all that, I would like
to have one of these fellows up here, from down below, to go about
with his witch-hazel rod, and I'll guarantee that it would not be
long before he would light on a gold mine. Never mind; we'll let the
gold alone for to-day. Look at those trees down below us in the
hollow; we'll go down there, and I reckon we'll get a black-tailed
But Reynal's predictions were not verified. We passed mountain after
mountain, and valley after valley; we explored deep ravines; yet
still to my companion's vexation and evident surprise, no game could
be found. So, in the absence of better, we resolved to go out on the
plains and look for an antelope. With this view we began to pass
down a narrow valley, the bottom of which was covered with the stiff
wild-sage bushes and marked with deep paths, made by the buffalo,
who, for some inexplicable reason, are accustomed to penetrate, in
their long grave processions, deep among the gorges of these sterile
Reynal's eye was ranging incessantly among the rocks and along the
edges of the black precipices, in hopes of discovering the mountain
sheep peering down upon us in fancied security from that giddy
elevation. Nothing was visible for some time. At length we both
detected something in motion near the foot of one of the mountains,
and in a moment afterward a black-tailed deer, with his spreading
antlers, stood gazing at us from the top of a rock, and then, slowly
turning away, disappeared behind it. In an instant Reynal was out of
his saddle, and running toward the spot. I, being too weak to
follow, sat holding his horse and waiting the result. I lost sight
of him, then heard the report of his rifle, deadened among the rocks,
and finally saw him reappear, with a surly look that plainly betrayed
his ill success. Again we moved forward down the long valley, when
soon after we came full upon what seemed a wide and very shallow
ditch, incrusted at the bottom with white clay, dried and cracked in
the sun. Under this fair outside, Reynal's eye detected the signs of
lurking mischief. He called me to stop, and then alighting, picked
up a stone and threw it into the ditch. To my utter amazement it
fell with a dull splash, breaking at once through the thin crust, and
spattering round the hole a yellowish creamy fluid, into which it
sank and disappeared. A stick, five or six feet long lay on the
ground, and with this we sounded the insidious abyss close to its
edge. It was just possible to touch the bottom. Places like this
are numerous among the Rocky Mountains. The buffalo, in his blind
and heedless walk, often plunges into them unawares. Down he sinks;
one snort of terror, one convulsive struggle, and the slime calmly
flows above his shaggy head, the languid undulations of its sleek and
placid surface alone betraying how the powerful monster writhes in
his death-throes below.
We found after some trouble a point where we could pass the abyss,
and now the valley began to open upon the plains which spread to the
horizon before us. On one of their distant swells we discerned three
or four black specks, which Reynal pronounced to be buffalo.
"Come," said he, "we must get one of them. My squaw wants more
sinews to finish her lodge with, and I want some glue myself."
He immediately put the yellow horse at such a gallop as he was
capable of executing, while I set spurs to the mule, who soon far
outran her plebeian rival. When we had galloped a mile or more, a
large rabbit, by ill luck, sprang up just under the feet of the mule,
who bounded violently aside in full career. Weakened as I was, I was
flung forcibly to the ground, and my rifle, falling close to my head,
went off with a shock. Its sharp spiteful report rang for some
moments in my ear. Being slightly stunned, I lay for an instant
motionless, and Reynal, supposing me to be shot, rode up and began to
curse the mule. Soon recovering myself, I rose, picked up the rifle
and anxiously examined it. It was badly injured. The stock was
cracked, and the main screw broken, so that the lock had to be tied
in its place with a string; yet happily it was not rendered totally
unserviceable. I wiped it out, reloaded it, and handing it to
Reynal, who meanwhile had caught the mule and led her up to me, I
mounted again. No sooner had I done so, than the brute began to rear
and plunge with extreme violence; but being now well prepared for
her, and free from incumbrance, I soon reduced her to submission.
Then taking the rifle again from Reynal, we galloped forward as
We were now free of the mountain and riding far out on the broad
prairie. The buffalo were still some two miles in advance of us.
When we came near them, we stopped where a gentle swell of the plain
concealed us from their view, and while I held his horse Reynal ran
forward with his rifle, till I lost sight of him beyond the rising
ground. A few minutes elapsed; I heard the report of his piece, and
saw the buffalo running away at full speed on the right, and
immediately after, the hunter himself unsuccessful as before, came up
and mounted his horse in excessive ill-humor. He cursed the Black
Hills and the buffalo, swore that he was a good hunter, which indeed
was true, and that he had never been out before among those mountains
without killing two or three deer at least.
We now turned toward the distant encampment. As we rode along,
antelope in considerable numbers were flying lightly in all
directions over the plain, but not one of them would stand and be
shot at. When we reached the foot of the mountain ridge that lay
between us and the village, we were too impatient to take the smooth
and circuitous route; so turning short to the left, we drove our
wearied animals directly upward among the rocks. Still more antelope
were leaping about among these flinty hillsides. Each of us shot at
one, though from a great distance, and each missed his mark. At
length we reached the summit of the last ridge. Looking down, we saw
the bustling camp in the valley at our feet, and ingloriously
descended to it. As we rode among the lodges, the Indians looked in
vain for the fresh meat that should have hung behind our saddles, and
the squaws uttered various suppressed ejaculations, to the great
indignation of Reynal. Our mortification was increased when we rode
up to his lodge. Here we saw his young Indian relative, the Hail-
Storm, his light graceful figure on the ground in an easy attitude,
while with his friend the Rabbit, who sat by his side, he was making
an abundant meal from a wooden bowl of wasna, which the squaw had
placed between them. Near him lay the fresh skin of a female elk,
which he had just killed among the mountains, only a mile or two from
the camp. No doubt the boy's heart was elated with triumph, but he
betrayed no sign of it. He even seemed totally unconscious of our
approach, and his handsome face had all the tranquillity of Indian
self-control; a self-control which prevents the exhibition of
emotion, without restraining the emotion itself. It was about two
months since I had known the Hail-Storm, and within that time his
character had remarkably developed. When I first saw him, he was
just emerging from the habits and feelings of the boy into the
ambition of the hunter and warrior. He had lately killed his first
deer, and this had excited his aspirations after distinction. Since
that time he had been continually in search of game, and no young
hunter in the village had been so active or so fortunate as he. It
will perhaps be remembered how fearlessly he attacked the buffalo
bull, as we were moving toward our camp at the Medicine-Bow Mountain.
All this success had produced a marked change in his character. As I
first remembered him he always shunned the society of the young
squaws, and was extremely bashful and sheepish in their presence; but
now, in the confidence of his own reputation, he began to assume the
airs and the arts of a man of gallantry. He wore his red blanket
dashingly over his left shoulder, painted his cheeks every day with
vermilion, and hung pendants of shells in his ears. If I observed
aright, he met with very good success in his new pursuits; still the
Hail-Storm had much to accomplish before he attained the full
standing of a warrior. Gallantly as he began to bear himself among
the women and girls, he still was timid and abashed in the presence
of the chiefs and old men; for he had never yet killed a man, or
stricken the dead body of an enemy in battle. I have no doubt that
the handsome smooth-faced boy burned with keen desire to flash his
maiden scalping-knife, and I would not have encamped alone with him
without watching his movements with a distrustful eye.
His elder brother, the Horse, was of a different character. He was
nothing but a lazy dandy. He knew very well how to hunt, but
preferred to live by the hunting of others. He had no appetite for
distinction, and the Hail-Storm, though a few years younger than he,
already surpassed him in reputation. He had a dark and ugly face,
and he passed a great part of his time in adorning it with vermilion,
and contemplating it by means of a little pocket looking-glass which
I gave him. As for the rest of the day, he divided it between eating
and sleeping, and sitting in the sun on the outside of a lodge. Here
he would remain for hour after hour, arrayed in all his finery, with
an old dragoon's sword in his hand, and evidently flattering himself
that he was the center of attraction to the eyes of the surrounding
squaws. Yet he sat looking straight forward with a face of the
utmost gravity, as if wrapped in profound meditation, and it was only
by the occasional sidelong glances which he shot at his supposed
admirers that one could detect the true course of his thoughts.
Both he and his brother may represent a class in the Indian
community; neither should the Hail-Storm's friend, the Rabbit, be
passed by without notice. The Hail-Storm and he were inseparable;
they ate, slept, and hunted together, and shared with one another
almost all that they possessed. If there be anything that deserves
to be called romantic in the Indian character, it is to be sought for
in friendships such as this, which are quite common among many of the
prairie tribes.
Slowly, hour after hour, that weary afternoon dragged away. I lay in
Reynal's lodge, overcome by the listless torpor that pervaded the
whole encampment. The day's work was finished, or if it were not,
the inhabitants had resolved not to finish it at all, and all were
dozing quietly within the shelter of the lodges. A profound
lethargy, the very spirit of indolence, seemed to have sunk upon the
village. Now and then I could hear the low laughter of some girl
from within a neighboring lodge, or the small shrill voices of a few
restless children, who alone were moving in the deserted area. The
spirit of the place infected me; I could not even think
consecutively; I was fit only for musing and reverie, when at last,
like the rest, I fell asleep.
When evening came and the fires were lighted round the lodges, a
select family circle convened in the neighborhood of Reynal's
domicile. It was composed entirely of his squaw's relatives, a mean
and ignoble clan, among whom none but the Hail-Storm held forth any
promise of future distinction. Even his protests were rendered not a
little dubious by the character of the family, less however from any
principle of aristocratic distinction than from the want of powerful
supporters to assist him in his undertakings, and help to avenge his
quarrels. Raymond and I sat down along with them. There were eight
or ten men gathered around the fire, together with about as many
women, old and young, some of whom were tolerably good-looking. As
the pipe passed round among the men, a lively conversation went
forward, more merry than delicate, and at length two or three of the
elder women (for the girls were somewhat diffident and bashful) began
to assail Raymond with various pungent witticisms. Some of the men
took part and an old squaw concluded by bestowing on him a ludicrous
nick name, at which a general laugh followed at his expense. Raymond
grinned and giggled, and made several futile attempts at repartee.
Knowing the impolicy and even danger of suffering myself to be placed
in a ludicrous light among the Indians, I maintained a rigid
inflexible countenance, and wholly escaped their sallies.
In the morning I found, to my great disgust, that the camp was to
retain its position for another day. I dreaded its languor and
monotony, and to escape it, I set out to explore the surrounding
mountains. I was accompanied by a faithful friend, my rifle, the
only friend indeed on whose prompt assistance in time of trouble I
could implicitly rely. Most of the Indians in the village, it is
true, professed good-will toward the whites, but the experience of
others and my own observation had taught me the extreme folly of
confidence, and the utter impossibility of foreseeing to what sudden
acts the strange unbridled impulses of an Indian may urge him. When
among this people danger is never so near as when you are unprepared
for it, never so remote as when you are armed and on the alert to
meet it any moment. Nothing offers so strong a temptation to their
ferocious instincts as the appearance of timidity, weakness, or
Many deep and gloomy gorges, choked with trees and bushes, opened
from the sides of the hills, which were shaggy with forests wherever
the rocks permitted vegetation to spring. A great number of Indians
were stalking along the edges of the woods, and boys were whooping
and laughing on the mountain-sides, practicing eye and hand, and
indulging their destructive propensities by following birds and small
animals and killing them with their little bows and arrows. There
was one glen, stretching up between steep cliffs far into the bosom
of the mountain. I began to ascend along its bottom, pushing my way
onward among the rocks, trees, and bushes that obstructed it. A
slender thread of water trickled along its center, which since
issuing from the heart of its native rock could scarcely have been
warmed or gladdened by a ray of sunshine. After advancing for some
time, I conceived myself to be entirely alone; but coming to a part
of the glen in a great measure free of trees and undergrowth, I saw
at some distance the black head and red shoulders of an Indian among
the bushes above. The reader need not prepare himself for a
startling adventure, for I have none to relate. The head and
shoulders belonged to Mene-Seela, my best friend in the village. As
I had approached noiselessly with my moccasined feet, the old man was
quite unconscious of my presence; and turning to a point where I
could gain an unobstructed view of him, I saw him seated alone,
immovable as a statue, among the rocks and trees. His face was
turned upward, and his eyes seemed riveted on a pine tree springing
from a cleft in the precipice above. The crest of the pine was
swaying to and fro in the wind, and its long limbs waved slowly up
and down, as if the tree had life. Looking for a while at the old
man, I was satisfied that he was engaged in an act of worship or
prayer, or communion of some kind with a supernatural being. I
longed to penetrate his thoughts, but I could do nothing more than
conjecture and speculate. I knew that though the intellect of an
Indian can embrace the idea of an all-wise, all-powerful Spirit, the
supreme Ruler of the universe, yet his mind will not always ascend
into communion with a being that seems to him so vast, remote, and
incomprehensible; and when danger threatens, when his hopes are
broken, when the black wing of sorrow overshadows him, he is prone to
turn for relief to some inferior agency, less removed from the
ordinary scope of his faculties. He has a guardian spirit, on whom
he relies for succor and guidance. To him all nature is instinct
with mystic influence. Among those mountains not a wild beast was
prowling, a bird singing, or a leaf fluttering, that might not tend
to direct his destiny or give warning of what was in store for him;
and he watches the world of nature around him as the astrologer
watches the stars. So closely is he linked with it that his guardian
spirit, no unsubstantial creation of the fancy, is usually embodied
in the form of some living thing--a bear, a wolf, an eagle, or a
serpent; and Mene-Seela, as he gazed intently on the old pine tree,
might believe it to inshrine the fancied guide and protector of his
Whatever was passing in the mind of the old man, it was no part of
sense or of delicacy to disturb him. Silently retracing my
footsteps, I descended the glen until I came to a point where I could
climb the steep precipices that shut it in, and gain the side of the
mountain. Looking up, I saw a tall peak rising among the woods.
Something impelled me to climb; I had not felt for many a day such
strength and elasticity of limb. An hour and a half of slow and
often intermittent labor brought me to the very summit; and emerging
from the dark shadows of the rocks and pines, I stepped forth into
the light, and walking along the sunny verge of a precipice, seated
myself on its extreme point. Looking between the mountain peaks to
the westward, the pale blue prairie was stretching to the farthest
horizon like a serene and tranquil ocean. The surrounding mountains
were in themselves sufficiently striking and impressive, but this
contrast gave redoubled effect to their stern features.
When I took leave of Shaw at La Bonte's Camp, I promised that I would
meet him at Fort Laramie on the 1st of August. That day, according
to my reckoning, was now close at hand. It was impossible, at best,
to fulfill my engagement exactly, and my meeting with him must have
been postponed until many days after the appointed time, had not the
plans of the Indians very well coincided with my own. They too,
intended to pass the mountains and move toward the fort. To do so at
this point was impossible, because there was no opening; and in order
to find a passage we were obliged to go twelve or fourteen miles
southward. Late in the afternoon the camp got in motion, defiling
back through the mountains along the same narrow passage by which
they had entered. I rode in company with three or four young Indians
at the rear, and the moving swarm stretched before me, in the ruddy
light of sunset, or in the deep shadow of the mountains far beyond my
sight. It was an ill-omened spot they chose to encamp upon. When
they were there just a year before, a war party of ten men, led by
The Whirlwind's son, had gone out against the enemy, and not one had
ever returned. This was the immediate cause of this season's warlike
preparations. I was not a little astonished when I came to the camp,
at the confusion of horrible sounds with which it was filled; howls,
shrieks, and wailings were heard from all the women present, many of
whom not content with this exhibition of grief for the loss of their
friends and relatives, were gashing their legs deeply with knives. A
warrior in the village, who had lost a brother in the expedition;
chose another mode of displaying his sorrow. The Indians, who,
though often rapacious, are utterly devoid of avarice, are accustomed
in times of mourning, or on other solemn occasions, to give away the
whole of their possessions, and reduce themselves to nakedness and
want. The warrior in question led his two best horses into the
center of the village, and gave them away to his friends; upon which
songs and acclamations in praise of his generosity mingled with the
cries of the women.
On the next morning we entered once more among the mountains. There
was nothing in their appearance either grand or picturesque, though
they were desolate to the last degree, being mere piles of black and
broken rocks, without trees or vegetation of any kind. As we passed
among them along a wide valley, I noticed Raymond riding by the side
of a younger squaw, to whom he was addressing various insinuating
compliments. All the old squaws in the neighborhood watched his
proceedings in great admiration, and the girl herself would turn
aside her head and laugh. Just then the old mule thought proper to
display her vicious pranks; she began to rear and plunge most
furiously. Raymond was an excellent rider, and at first he stuck
fast in his seat; but the moment after, I saw the mule's hind-legs
flourishing in the air, and my unlucky follower pitching head
foremost over her ears. There was a burst of screams and laughter
from all the women, in which his mistress herself took part, and
Raymond was instantly assailed by such a shower of witticisms, that
he was glad to ride forward out of hearing.
Not long after, as I rode near him, I heard him shouting to me. He
was pointing toward a detached rocky hill that stood in the middle of
the valley before us, and from behind it a long file of elk came out
at full speed and entered an opening in the side of the mountain.
They had scarcely disappeared when whoops and exclamations came from
fifty voices around me. The young men leaped from their horses,
flung down their heavy buffalo robes, and ran at full speed toward
the foot of the nearest mountain. Reynal also broke away at a gallop
in the same direction, "Come on! come on!" he called to us. "Do you
see that band of bighorn up yonder? If there's one of them, there's
a hundred!"
In fact, near the summit of the mountain, I could see a large number
of small white objects, moving rapidly upward among the precipices,
while others were filing along its rocky profile. Anxious to see the
sport, I galloped forward, and entering a passage in the side of the
mountain, ascended the loose rocks as far as my horse could carry me.
Here I fastened her to an old pine tree that stood alone, scorching
in the sun. At that moment Raymond called to me from the right that
another band of sheep was close at hand in that direction. I ran up
to the top of the opening, which gave me a full view into the rocky
gorge beyond; and here I plainly saw some fifty or sixty sheep,
almost within rifle-shot, clattering upward among the rocks, and
endeavoring, after their usual custom, to reach the highest point.
The naked Indians bounded up lightly in pursuit. In a moment the
game and hunters disappeared. Nothing could be seen or heard but the
occasional report of a gun, more and more distant, reverberating
among the rocks.
I turned to descend, and as I did so I could see the valley below
alive with Indians passing rapidly through it, on horseback and on
foot. A little farther on, all were stopping as they came up; the
camp was preparing, and the lodges rising. I descended to this spot,
and soon after Reynal and Raymond returned. They bore between them a
sheep which they had pelted to death with stones from the edge of a
ravine, along the bottom of which it was attempting to escape. One
by one the hunters came dropping in; yet such is the activity of the
Rocky Mountain sheep that, although sixty or seventy men were out in
pursuit, not more than half a dozen animals were killed. Of these
only one was a full-grown male. He had a pair of horns twisted like
a ram's, the dimensions of which were almost beyond belief. I have
seen among the Indians ladles with long handles, capable of
containing more than a quart, cut from such horns.
There is something peculiarly interesting in the character and habits
of the mountain sheep, whose chosen retreats are above the region of
vegetation and storms, and who leap among the giddy precipices of
their aerial home as actively as the antelope skims over the prairies
Through the whole of the next morning we were moving forward, among
the hills. On the following day the heights gathered around us, and
the passage of the mountains began in earnest. Before the village
left its camping ground, I set forward in company with the Eagle-
Feather, a man of powerful frame, but of bad and sinister face. His
son, a light-limbed boy, rode with us, and another Indian, named the
Panther, was also of the party. Leaving the village out of sight
behind us, we rode together up a rocky defile. After a while,
however, the Eagle-Feather discovered in the distance some appearance
of game, and set off with his son in pursuit of it, while I went
forward with the Panther. This was a mere NOM DE GUERRE; for, like
many Indians, he concealed his real name out of some superstitious
notion. He was a very noble looking fellow. As he suffered his
ornamented buffalo robe to fall into folds about his loins, his
stately and graceful figure was fully displayed; and while he sat his
horse in an easy attitude, the long feathers of the prairie cock
fluttering from the crown of his head, he seemed the very model of a
wild prairie-rider. He had not the same features as those of other
Indians. Unless his handsome face greatly belied him, he was free
from the jealousy, suspicion, and malignant cunning of his people.
For the most part, a civilized white man can discover but very few
points of sympathy between his own nature and that of an Indian.
With every disposition to do justice to their good qualities, he must
be conscious that an impassable gulf lies between him and his red
brethren of the prairie. Nay, so alien to himself do they appear
that, having breathed for a few months or a few weeks the air of this
region, he begins to look upon them as a troublesome and dangerous
species of wild beast, and, if expedient, he could shoot them with as
little compunction as they themselves would experience after
performing the same office upon him. Yet, in the countenance of the
Panther, I gladly read that there were at least some points of
sympathy between him and me. We were excellent friends, and as we
rode forward together through rocky passages, deep dells, and little
barren plains, he occupied himself very zealously in teaching me the
Dakota language. After a while, we came to a little grassy recess,
where some gooseberry bushes were growing at the foot of a rock; and
these offered such temptation to my companion, that he gave over his
instruction, and stopped so long to gather the fruit that before we
were in motion again the van of the village came in view. An old
woman appeared, leading down her pack horse among the rocks above.
Savage after savage followed, and the little dell was soon crowded
with the throng.
That morning's march was one not easily to be forgotten. It led us
through a sublime waste, a wilderness of mountains and pine forests,
over which the spirit of loneliness and silence seemed brooding.
Above and below little could be seen but the same dark green foliage.
It overspread the valleys, and the mountains were clothed with it
from the black rocks that crowned their summits to the impetuous
streams that circled round their base. Scenery like this, it might
seem, could have no very cheering effect on the mind of a sick man
(for to-day my disease had again assailed me) in the midst of a horde
of savages; but if the reader has ever wandered, with a true hunter's
spirit, among the forests of Maine, or the more picturesque solitudes
of the Adirondack Mountains, he will understand how the somber woods
and mountains around me might have awakened any other feelings than
those of gloom. In truth they recalled gladdening recollections of
similar scenes in a distant and far different land. After we had
been advancing for several hours through passages always narrow,
often obstructed and difficult, I saw at a little distance on our
right a narrow opening between two high wooded precipices. All
within seemed darkness and mystery. In the mood in which I found
myself something strongly impelled me to enter. Passing over the
intervening space I guided my horse through the rocky portal, and as
I did so instinctively drew the covering from my rifle, half
expecting that some unknown evil lay in ambush within those dreary
recesses. The place was shut in among tall cliffs, and so deeply
shadowed by a host of old pine trees that, though the sun shone
bright on the side of the mountain, nothing but a dim twilight could
penetrate within. As far as I could see it had no tenants except a
few hawks and owls, who, dismayed at my intrusion, flapped hoarsely
away among the shaggy branches. I moved forward, determined to
explore the mystery to the bottom, and soon became involved among the
pines. The genius of the place exercised a strange influence upon my
mind. Its faculties were stimulated into extraordinary activity, and
as I passed along many half-forgotten incidents, and the images of
persons and things far distant, rose rapidly before me with
surprising distinctness. In that perilous wilderness, eight hundred
miles removed beyond the faintest vestige of civilization, the scenes
of another hemisphere, the seat of ancient refinement, passed before
me more like a succession of vivid paintings than any mere dreams of
the fancy. I saw the church of St. Peter's illumined on the evening
of Easter Day, the whole majestic pile, from the cross to the
foundation stone, penciled in fire and shedding a radiance, like the
serene light of the moon, on the sea of upturned faces below. I saw
the peak of Mount Etna towering above its inky mantle of clouds and
lightly curling its wreaths of milk-white smoke against the soft sky
flushed with the Sicilian sunset. I saw also the gloomy vaulted
passages and the narrow cells of the Passionist convent where I once
had sojourned for a few days with the fanatical monks, its pale,
stern inmates in their robes of black, and the grated window from
whence I could look out, a forbidden indulgence, upon the melancholy
Coliseum and the crumbling ruins of the Etennal City. The mighty
glaciers of the Splugen too rose before me, gleaming in the sun like
polished silver, and those terrible solitudes, the birthplace of the
Rhine, where bursting from the bowels of its native mountains, it
lashes and foams down the rocky abyss into the little valley of
Andeer. These recollections, and many more, crowded upon me, until
remembering that it was hardly wise to remain long in such a place, I
mounted again and retraced my steps. Issuing from between the rocks
I saw a few rods before me the men, women, and children, dogs and
horses, still filing slowly across the little glen. A bare round
hill rose directly above them. I rode to the top, and from this
point I could look down on the savage procession as it passed just
beneath my feet, and far on the left I could see its thin and broken
line, visible only at intervals, stretching away for miles among the
mountains. On the farthest ridge horsemen were still descending like
mere specks in the distance.
I remained on the hill until all had passed, and then, descending,
followed after them. A little farther on I found a very small
meadow, set deeply among steep mountains; and here the whole village
had encamped. The little spot was crowded with the confused and
disorderly host. Some of the lodges were already completely
prepared, or the squaws perhaps were busy in drawing the heavy
coverings of skin over the bare poles. Others were as yet mere
skeletons, while others still--poles, covering, and all--lay
scattered in complete disorder on the ground among buffalo robes,
bales of meat, domestic utensils, harness, and weapons. Squaws were
screaming to one another, horses rearing and plunging dogs yelping,
eager to be disburdened of their loads, while the fluttering of
feathers and the gleam of barbaric ornaments added liveliness to the
scene. The small children ran about amid the crowd, while many of
the boys were scrambling among the overhanging rocks, and standing,
with their little bows in their hands, looking down upon a restless
throng. In contrast with the general confusion, a circle of old men
and warriors sat in the midst, smoking in profound indifference and
tranquillity. The disorder at length subsided. The horses were
driven away to feed along the adjacent valley, and the camp assumed
an air of listless repose. It was scarcely past noon; a vast white
canopy of smoke from a burning forest to the eastward overhung the
place, and partially obscured the sun; yet the heat was almost
insupportable. The lodges stood crowded together without order in
the narrow space. Each was a perfect hothouse, within which the lazy
proprietor lay sleeping. The camp was silent as death. Nothing
stirred except now and then an old woman passing from lodge to lodge.
The girls and young men sat together in groups under the pine trees
upon the surrounding heights. The dogs lay panting on the ground,
too lazy even to growl at the white man. At the entrance of the
meadow there was a cold spring among the rocks, completely
overshadowed by tall trees and dense undergrowth. In this cold and
shady retreat a number of girls were assembled, sitting together on
rocks and fallen logs, discussing the latest gossip of the village,
or laughing and throwing water with their hands at the intruding
Meneaska. The minutes seemed lengthened into hours. I lay for a
long time under a tree, studying the Ogallalla tongue, with the
zealous instructions of my friend the Panther. When we were both
tired of this I went and lay down by the side of a deep, clear pool
formed by the water of the spring. A shoal of little fishes of about
a pin's length were playing in it, sporting together, as it seemed,
very amicably; but on closer observation, I saw that they were
engaged in a cannibal warfare among themselves. Now and then a small
one would fall a victim, and immediately disappear down the maw of
his voracious conqueror. Every moment, however, the tyrant of the
pool, a monster about three inches long, with staring goggle eyes,
would slowly issue forth with quivering fins and tail from under the
shelving bank. The small fry at this would suspend their
hostilities, and scatter in a panic at the appearance of overwhelming
"Soft-hearted philanthropists," thought I, "may sigh long for their
peaceful millennium; for from minnows up to men, life is an incessant
Evening approached at last, the tall mountain-tops around were still
gay and bright in sunshine, while our deep glen was completely
shadowed. I left the camp and ascended a neighboring hill, whose
rocky summit commanded a wide view over the surrounding wilderness.
The sun was still glaring through the stiff pines on the ridge of the
western mountain. In a moment he was gone, and as the landscape
rapidly darkened, I turned again toward the village. As I descended
the hill, the howling of wolves and the barking of foxes came up out
of the dim woods from far and near. The camp was glowing with a
multitude of fires, and alive with dusky naked figures, whose tall
shadows flitted among the surroundings crags.
I found a circle of smokers seated in their usual place; that is, on
the ground before the lodge of a certain warrior, who seemed to be
generally known for his social qualities. I sat down to smoke a
parting pipe with my savage friends. That day was the 1st of August,
on which I had promised to meet Shaw at Fort Laramie. The Fort was
less than two days' journey distant, and that my friend need not
suffer anxiety on my account, I resolved to push forward as rapidly
as possible to the place of meeting. I went to look after the Hail-
Storm, and having found him, I offered him a handful of hawks'-bells
and a paper of vermilion, on condition that he would guide me in the
morning through the mountains within sight of Laramie Creek.
The Hail-Storm ejaculated "How!" and accepted the gift. Nothing more
was said on either side; the matter was settled, and I lay down to
sleep in Kongra-Tonga's lodge.
Long before daylight Raymond shook me by the shoulder.
"Everything is ready," he said.
I went out. The morning was chill, damp, and dark; and the whole
camp seemed asleep. The Hail-Storm sat on horseback before the
lodge, and my mare Pauline and the mule which Raymond rode were
picketed near it. We saddled and made our other arrangements for the
journey, but before these were completed the camp began to stir, and
the lodge-coverings fluttered and rustled as the squaws pulled them
down in preparation for departure. Just as the light began to appear
we left the ground, passing up through a narrow opening among the
rocks which led eastward out of the meadow. Gaining the top of this
passage, I turned round and sat looking back upon the camp, dimly
visible in the gray light of the morning. All was alive with the
bustle of preparation. I turned away, half unwilling to take a final
leave of my savage associates. We turned to the right, passing among
the rocks and pine trees so dark that for a while we could scarcely
see our way. The country in front was wild and broken, half hill,
half plain, partly open and partly covered with woods of pine and
oak. Barriers of lofty mountains encompassed it; the woods were
fresh and cool in the early morning; the peaks of the mountains were
wreathed with mist, and sluggish vapors were entangled among the
forests upon their sides. At length the black pinnacle of the
tallest mountain was tipped with gold by the rising sun. About that
time the Hail-Storm, who rode in front gave a low exclamation. Some
large animal leaped up from among the bushes, and an elk, as I
thought, his horns thrown back over his neck, darted past us across
the open space, and bounded like a mad thing away among the adjoining
pines. Raymond was soon out of his saddle, but before he could fire,
the animal was full two hundred yards distant. The ball struck its
mark, though much too low for mortal effect. The elk, however,
wheeled in its flight, and ran at full speed among the trees, nearly
at right angles to his former course. I fired and broke his
shoulder; still he moved on, limping down into the neighboring woody
hollow, whither the young Indian followed and killed him. When we
reached the spot we discovered him to be no elk, but a black-tailed
deer, an animal nearly twice the size of the common deer, and quite
unknown to the East. We began to cut him up; the reports of the
rifles had reached the ears of the Indians, and before our task was
finished several of them came to the spot. Leaving the hide of the
deer to the Hail-Storm, we hung as much of the meat as we wanted
behind our saddles, left the rest to the Indians, and resumed our
journey. Meanwhile the village was on its way, and had gone so far
that to get in advance of it was impossible. Therefore we directed
our course so as to strike its line of march at the nearest point.
In a short time, through the dark trunks of the pines, we could see
the figures of the Indians as they passed. Once more we were among
them. They were moving with even more than their usual
precipitation, crowded close together in a narrow pass between rocks
and old pine trees. We were on the eastern descent of the mountain,
and soon came to a rough and difficult defile, leading down a very
steep declivity. The whole swarm poured down together, filling the
rocky passageway like some turbulent mountain stream. The mountains
before us were on fire, and had been so for weeks. The view in front
was obscured by a vast dim sea of smoke and vapor, while on either
hand the tall cliffs, bearing aloft their crest of pines, thrust
their heads boldly through it, and the sharp pinnacles and broken
ridges of the mountains beyond them were faintly traceable as through
a veil. The scene in itself was most grand and imposing, but with
the savage multitude, the armed warriors, the naked children, the
gayly appareled girls, pouring impetuously down the heights, it would
have formed a noble subject for a painter, and only the pen of a
Scott could have done it justice in description.
We passed over a burnt tract where the ground was hot beneath the
horses' feet, and between the blazing sides of two mountains. Before
long we had descended to a softer region, where we found a succession
of little valleys watered by a stream, along the borders of which
grew abundance of wild gooseberries and currants, and the children
and many of the men straggled from the line of march to gather them
as we passed along. Descending still farther, the view changed
rapidly. The burning mountains were behind us, and through the open
valleys in front we could see the ocean-like prairie, stretching
beyond the sight. After passing through a line of trees that skirted
the brook, the Indians filed out upon the plains. I was thirsty and
knelt down by the little stream to drink. As I mounted again I very
carelessly left my rifle among the grass, and my thoughts being
otherwise absorbed, I rode for some distance before discovering its
absence. As the reader may conceive, I lost no time in turning about
and galloping back in search of it. Passing the line of Indians, I
watched every warrior as he rode by me at a canter, and at length
discovered my rifle in the hands of one of them, who, on my
approaching to claim it, immediately gave it up. Having no other
means of acknowledging the obligation, I took off one of my spurs and
gave it to him. He was greatly delighted, looking upon it as a
distinguished mark of favor, and immediately held out his foot for me
to buckle it on. As soon as I had done so, he struck it with force
into the side of his horse, who gave a violent leap. The Indian
laughed and spurred harder than before. At this the horse shot away
like an arrow, amid the screams and laughter of the squaws, and the
ejaculations of the men, who exclaimed: "Washtay!--Good!" at the
potent effect of my gift. The Indian had no saddle, and nothing in
place of a bridle except a leather string tied round the horse's jaw.
The animal was of course wholly uncontrollable, and stretched away at
full speed over the prairie, till he and his rider vanished behind a
distant swell. I never saw the man again, but I presume no harm came
to him. An Indian on horseback has more lives than a cat.
The village encamped on a scorching prairie, close to the foot of the
mountains. The beat was most intense and penetrating. The coverings
of the lodges were raised a foot or more from the ground, in order to
procure some circulation of air; and Reynal thought proper to lay
aside his trapper's dress of buckskin and assume the very scanty
costume of an Indian. Thus elegantly attired, he stretched himself
in his lodge on a buffalo robe, alternately cursing the heat and
puffing at the pipe which he and I passed between us. There was
present also a select circle of Indian friends and relatives. A
small boiled puppy was served up as a parting feast, to which was
added, by way of dessert, a wooden bowl of gooseberries, from the
"Look there," said Reynal, pointing out of the opening of his lodge;
"do you see that line of buttes about fifteen miles off? Well, now,
do you see that farthest one, with the white speck on the face of it?
Do you think you ever saw it before?"
"It looks to me," said I, "like the hill that we were camped under
when we were on Laramie Creek, six or eight weeks ago."
"You've hit it," answered Reynal.
"Go and bring in the animals, Raymond," said I: "we'll camp there tonight,
and start for the Fort in the morning."
The mare and the mule were soon before the lodge. We saddled them,
and in the meantime a number of Indians collected about us. The
virtues of Pauline, my strong, fleet, and hardy little mare, were
well known in camp, and several of the visitors were mounted upon
good horses which they had brought me as presents. I promptly
declined their offers, since accepting them would have involved the
necessity of transferring poor Pauline into their barbarous hands.
We took leave of Reynal, but not of the Indians, who are accustomed
to dispense with such superfluous ceremonies. Leaving the camp we
rode straight over the prairie toward the white-faced bluff, whose
pale ridges swelled gently against the horizon, like a cloud. An
Indian went with us, whose name I forget, though the ugliness of his
face and the ghastly width of his mouth dwell vividly in my
recollection. The antelope were numerous, but we did not heed them.
We rode directly toward our destination, over the arid plains and
barren hills, until, late in the afternoon, half spent with heat,
thirst, and fatigue, we saw a gladdening sight; the long line of
trees and the deep gulf that mark the course of Laramie Creek.
Passing through the growth of huge dilapidated old cottonwood trees
that bordered the creek, we rode across to the other side.
The rapid and foaming waters were filled with fish playing and
splashing in the shallows. As we gained the farther bank, our horses
turned eagerly to drink, and we, kneeling on the sand, followed their
example. We had not gone far before the scene began to grow
"We are getting near home, Raymond," said I.
There stood the Big Tree under which we had encamped so long; there
were the white cliffs that used to look down upon our tent when it
stood at the bend of the creek; there was the meadow in which our
horses had grazed for weeks, and a little farther on, the prairie-dog
village where I had beguiled many a languid hour in persecuting the
unfortunate inhabitants.
"We are going to catch it now," said Raymond, turning his broad,
vacant face up toward the sky.
In truth, the landscape, the cliffs and the meadow, the stream and
the groves were darkening fast. Black masses of cloud were swelling
up in the south, and the thunder was growling ominously.
"We will camp here," I said, pointing to a dense grove of trees lower
down the stream. Raymond and I turned toward it, but the Indian
stopped and called earnestly after us. When we demanded what was the
matter, he said that the ghosts of two warriors were always among
those trees, and that if we slept there, they would scream and throw
stones at us all night, and perhaps steal our horses before morning.
Thinking it as well to humor him, we left behind us the haunt of
these extraordinary ghosts, and passed on toward Chugwater, riding at
full gallop, for the big drops began to patter down. Soon we came in
sight of the poplar saplings that grew about the mouth of the little
stream. We leaped to the ground, threw off our saddles, turned our
horses loose, and drawing our knives, began to slash among the bushes
to cut twigs and branches for making a shelter against the rain.
Bending down the taller saplings as they grew, we piled the young
shoots upon them; and thus made a convenient penthouse, but all our
labor was useless. The storm scarcely touched us. Half a mile on
our right the rain was pouring down like a cataract, and the thunder
roared over the prairie like a battery of cannon; while we by good
fortune received only a few heavy drops from the skirt of the passing
cloud. The weather cleared and the sun set gloriously. Sitting
close under our leafy canopy, we proceeded to discuss a substantial
meal of wasna which Weah-Washtay had given me. The Indian had
brought with him his pipe and a bag of shongsasha; so before lying
down to sleep, we sat for some time smoking together. Previously,
however, our wide-mouthed friend had taken the precaution of
carefully examining the neighborhood. He reported that eight men,
counting them on his fingers, had been encamped there not long
before. Bisonette, Paul Dorion, Antoine Le Rouge, Richardson, and
four others, whose names he could not tell. All this proved strictly
correct. By what instinct he had arrived at such accurate
conclusions, I am utterly at a loss to divine.
It was still quite dark when I awoke and called Raymond. The Indian
was already gone, having chosen to go on before us to the Fort.
Setting out after him, we rode for some time in complete darkness,
and when the sun at length rose, glowing like a fiery ball of copper,
we were ten miles distant from the Fort. At length, from the broken
summit of a tall sandy bluff we could see Fort Laramie, miles before
us, standing by the side of the stream like a little gray speck in
the midst of the bounding desolation. I stopped my horse, and sat
for a moment looking down upon it. It seemed to me the very center
of comfort and civilization. We were not long in approaching it, for
we rode at speed the greater part of the way. Laramie Creek still
intervened between us and the friendly walls. Entering the water at
the point where we had struck upon the bank, we raised our feet to
the saddle behind us, and thus, kneeling as it were on horseback,
passed dry-shod through the swift current. As we rode up the bank, a
number of men appeared in the gateway. Three of them came forward to
meet us. In a moment I distinguished Shaw; Henry Chatillon followed
with his face of manly simplicity and frankness, and Delorier came
last, with a broad grin of welcome. The meeting was not on either
side one of mere ceremony. For my own part, the change was a most
agreeable one from the society of savages and men little better than
savages, to that of my gallant and high-minded companion and our
noble-hearted guide. My appearance was equally gratifying to Shaw,
who was beginning to entertain some very uncomfortable surmises
concerning me.
Bordeaux greeted me very cordially, and shouted to the cook. This
functionary was a new acquisition, having lately come from Fort
Pierre with the trading wagons. Whatever skill he might have
boasted, he had not the most promising materials to exercise it upon.
He set before me, however, a breakfast of biscuit, coffee, and salt
pork. It seemed like a new phase of existence, to be seated once
more on a bench, with a knife and fork, a plate and teacup, and
something resembling a table before me. The coffee seemed delicious,
and the bread was a most welcome novelty, since for three weeks I had
eaten scarcely anything but meat, and that for the most part without
salt. The meal also had the relish of good company, for opposite to
me sat Shaw in elegant dishabille. If one is anxious thoroughly to
appreciate the value of a congenial companion, he has only to spend a
few weeks by himself in an Ogallalla village. And if he can contrive
to add to his seclusion a debilitating and somewhat critical illness,
his perceptions upon this subject will be rendered considerably more
Shaw had been upward of two weeks at the Fort. I found him
established in his old quarters, a large apartment usually occupied
by the absent bourgeois. In one corner was a soft and luxuriant pile
of excellent buffalo robes, and here I lay down. Shaw brought me
three books.
"Here," said he, "is your Shakespeare and Byron, and here is the Old
Testament, which has as much poetry in it as the other two put
I chose the worst of the three, and for the greater part of that day
lay on the buffalo robes, fairly reveling in the creations of that
resplendent genius which has achieved no more signal triumph than
that of half beguiling us to forget the pitiful and unmanly character
of its possessor.
On the day of my arrival at Fort Laramie, Shaw and I were lounging on
two buffalo robes in the large apartment hospitably assigned to us;
Henry Chatillon also was present, busy about the harness and weapons,
which had been brought into the room, and two or three Indians were
crouching on the floor, eyeing us with their fixed, unwavering gaze.
"I have been well off here," said Shaw, "in all respects but one;
there is no good shongsasha to be had for love or money."
I gave him a small leather bag containing some of excellent quality,
which I had brought from the Black Hills.
"Now, Henry," said he, "hand me Papin's chopping-board, or give it to
that Indian, and let him cut the mixture; they understand it better
than any white man."
The Indian, without saying a word, mixed the bark and the tobacco in
due proportions, filled the pipe and lighted it. This done, my
companion and I proceeded to deliberate on our future course of
proceeding; first, however, Shaw acquainted me with some incidents
which had occurred at the fort during my absence.
About a week previous four men had arrived from beyond the mountains;
Sublette, Reddick, and two others. Just before reaching the Fort
they had met a large party of Indians, chiefly young men. All of
them belonged to the village of our old friend Smoke, who, with his
whole band of adherents, professed the greatest friendship for the
whites. The travelers therefore approached, and began to converse
without the least suspicion. Suddenly, however, their bridles were
violently seized and they were ordered to dismount. Instead of
complying, they struck their horses with full force, and broke away
from the Indians. As they galloped off they heard a yell behind
them, mixed with a burst of derisive laughter, and the reports of
several guns. None of them were hurt though Reddick's bridle rein
was cut by a bullet within an inch of his hand. After this taste of
Indian hostility they felt for the moment no disposition to encounter
further risks. They intended to pursue the route southward along the
foot of the mountains to Bent's Fort; and as our plans coincided with
theirs, they proposed to join forces. Finding, however, that I did
not return, they grew impatient of inaction, forgot their late
escape, and set out without us, promising to wait our arrival at
Bent's Fort. From thence we were to make the long journey to the
settlements in company, as the path was not a little dangerous, being
infested by hostile Pawnees and Comanches.
We expected, on reaching Bent's Fort, to find there still another reenforcement.
A young Kentuckian of the true Kentucky blood,
generous, impetuous, and a gentleman withal, had come out to the
mountains with Russel's party of California emigrants. One of his
chief objects, as he gave out, was to kill an Indian; an exploit
which he afterwards succeeded in achieving, much to the jeopardy of
ourselves and others who had to pass through the country of the dead
Pawnee's enraged relatives. Having become disgusted with his
emigrant associates he left them, and had some time before set out
with a party of companions for the head of the Arkansas. He sent us
previously a letter, intimating that he would wait until we arrived
at Bent's Fort, and accompany us thence to the settlements. When,
however, he came to the Fort, he found there a party of forty men
about to make the homeward journey. He wisely preferred to avail
himself of so strong an escort. Mr. Sublette and his companions also
set out, in order to overtake this company; so that on reaching
Bent's Fort, some six weeks after, we found ourselves deserted by our
allies and thrown once more upon our own resources.
But I am anticipating. When, before leaving the settlement we had
made inquiries concerning this part of the country of General Kearny,
Mr. Mackenzie, Captain Wyeth, and others well acquainted with it,
they had all advised us by no means to attempt this southward journey
with fewer than fifteen or twenty men. The danger consists in the
chance of encountering Indian war parties. Sometimes throughout the
whole length of the journey (a distance of 350 miles) one does not
meet a single human being; frequently, however, the route is beset by
Arapahoes and other unfriendly tribes; in which case the scalp of the
adventurer is in imminent peril. As to the escort of fifteen or
twenty men, such a force of whites could at that time scarcely be
collected by the whole country; and had the case been otherwise, the
expense of securing them, together with the necessary number of
horses, would have been extremely heavy. We had resolved, however,
upon pursuing this southward course. There were, indeed, two other
routes from Fort Laramie; but both of these were less interesting,
and neither was free from danger. Being unable therefore to procure
the fifteen or twenty men recommended, we determined to set out with
those we had already in our employ, Henry Chatillon, Delorier, and
Raymond. The men themselves made no objection, nor would they have
made any had the journey been more dangerous; for Henry was without
fear, and the other two without thought.
Shaw and I were much better fitted for this mode of traveling than we
had been on betaking ourselves to the prairies for the first time a
few months before. The daily routine had ceased to be a novelty.
All the details of the journey and the camp had become familiar to
us. We had seen life under a new aspect; the human biped had been
reduced to his primitive condition. We had lived without law to
protect, a roof to shelter, or garment of cloth to cover us. One of
us at least had been without bread, and without salt to season his
food. Our idea of what is indispensable to human existence and
enjoyment had been wonderfully curtailed, and a horse, a rifle, and a
knife seemed to make up the whole of life's necessaries. For these
once obtained, together with the skill to use them, all else that is
essential would follow in their train, and a host of luxuries
besides. One other lesson our short prairie experience had taught
us; that of profound contentment in the present, and utter contempt
for what the future might bring forth.
These principles established, we prepared to leave Fort Laramie. On
the fourth day of August, early in the afternoon, we bade a final
adieu to its hospitable gateway. Again Shaw and I were riding side
by side on the prairie. For the first fifty miles we had companions
with us; Troche, a little trapper, and Rouville, a nondescript in the
employ of the Fur Company, who were going to join the trader
Bisonette at his encampment near the head of Horse Creek. We rode
only six or eight miles that afternoon before we came to a little
brook traversing the barren prairie. All along its course grew
copses of young wild-cherry trees, loaded with ripe fruit, and almost
concealing the gliding thread of water with their dense growth, while
on each side rose swells of rich green grass. Here we encamped; and
being much too indolent to pitch our tent, we flung our saddles on
the ground, spread a pair of buffalo robes, lay down upon them, and
began to smoke. Meanwhile, Delorier busied himself with his hissing
frying-pan, and Raymond stood guard over the band of grazing horses.
Delorier had an active assistant in Rouville, who professed great
skill in the culinary art, and seizing upon a fork, began to lend his
zealous aid in making ready supper. Indeed, according to his own
belief, Rouville was a man of universal knowledge, and he lost no
opportunity to display his manifold accomplishments. He had been a
circus-rider at St. Louis, and once he rode round Fort Laramie on his
head, to the utter bewilderment of all the Indians. He was also
noted as the wit of the Fort; and as he had considerable humor and
abundant vivacity, he contributed more that night to the liveliness
of the camp than all the rest of the party put together. At one
instant he would be kneeling by Delorier, instructing him in the true
method of frying antelope steaks, then he would come and seat himself
at our side, dilating upon the orthodox fashion of braiding up a
horse's tail, telling apocryphal stories how he had killed a buffalo
bull with a knife, having first cut off his tail when at full speed,
or relating whimsical anecdotes of the bourgeois Papin. At last he
snatched up a volume of Shakespeare that was lying on the grass, and
halted and stumbled through a line or two to prove that he could
read. He went gamboling about the camp, chattering like some
frolicsome ape; and whatever he was doing at one moment, the
presumption was a sure one that he would not be doing it the next.
His companion Troche sat silently on the grass, not speaking a word,
but keeping a vigilant eye on a very ugly little Utah squaw, of whom
he was extremely jealous.
On the next day we traveled farther, crossing the wide sterile basin
called Goche's Hole. Toward night we became involved among deep
ravines; and being also unable to find water, our journey was
protracted to a very late hour. On the next morning we had to pass a
long line of bluffs, whose raw sides, wrought upon by rains and
storms, were of a ghastly whiteness most oppressive to the sight. As
we ascended a gap in these hills, the way was marked by huge footprints,
like those of a human giant. They were the track of the
grizzly bear; and on the previous day also we had seen abundance of
them along the dry channels of the streams we had passed.
Immediately after this we were crossing a barren plain, spreading in
long and gentle undulations to the horizon. Though the sun was
bright, there was a light haze in the atmosphere. The distant hills
assumed strange, distorted forms, and the edge of the horizon was
continually changing its aspect. Shaw and I were riding together,
and Henry Chatillon was alone, a few rods before us; he stopped his
horse suddenly, and turning round with the peculiar eager and earnest
expression which he always wore when excited, he called to us to come
forward. We galloped to his side. Henry pointed toward a black
speck on the gray swell of the prairie, apparently about a mile off.
"It must be a bear," said he; "come, now, we shall all have some
sport. Better fun to fight him than to fight an old buffalo bull;
grizzly bear so strong and smart."
So we all galloped forward together, prepared for a hard fight; for
these bears, though clumsy in appearance and extremely large, are
incredibly fierce and active. The swell of the prairie concealed the
black object from our view. Immediately after it appeared again.
But now it seemed quite near to us; and as we looked at it in
astonishment, it suddenly separated into two parts, each of which
took wing and flew away. We stopped our horses and looked round at
Henry, whose face exhibited a curious mixture of mirth and
mortification. His hawk's eye had been so completely deceived by the
peculiar atmosphere that he had mistaken two large crows at the
distance of fifty rods for a grizzly bear a mile off. To the
journey's end Henry never heard the last of the grizzly bear with
In the afternoon we came to the foot of a considerable hill. As we
ascended it Rouville began to ask questions concerning our conditions
and prospects at home, and Shaw was edifying him with a minute
account of an imaginary wife and child, to which he listened with
implicit faith. Reaching the top of the hill we saw the windings of
Horse Creek on the plains below us, and a little on the left we could
distinguish the camp of Bisonette among the trees and copses along
the course of the stream. Rouville's face assumed just then a most
ludicrously blank expression. We inquired what was the matter, when
it appeared that Bisonette had sent him from this place to Fort
Laramie with the sole object of bringing back a supply of tobacco.
Our rattle-brain friend, from the time of his reaching the Fort up to
the present moment, had entirely forgotten the object of his journey,
and had ridden a dangerous hundred miles for nothing. Descending to
Horse Creek we forded it, and on the opposite bank a solitary Indian
sat on horseback under a tree. He said nothing, but turned and led
the way toward the camp. Bisonette had made choice of an admirable
position. The stream, with its thick growth of trees, inclosed on
three sides a wide green meadow, where about forty Dakota lodges were
pitched in a circle, and beyond them half a dozen lodges of the
friendly Cheyenne. Bisonette himself lived in the Indian manner.
Riding up to his lodge, we found him seated at the head of it,
surrounded by various appliances of comfort not common on the
prairie. His squaw was near him, and rosy children were scrambling
about in printed-calico gowns; Paul Dorion also, with his leathery
face and old white capote, was seated in the lodge, together with
Antoine Le Rouge, a half-breed Pawnee, Sibille, a trader, and several
other white men.
"It will do you no harm," said Bisonette, "to stay here with us for a
day or two, before you start for the Pueblo."
We accepted the invitation, and pitched our tent on a rising ground
above the camp and close to the edge of the trees. Bisonette soon
invited us to a feast, and we suffered abundance of the same sort of
attention from his Indian associates. The reader may possibly
recollect that when I joined the Indian village, beyond the Black
Hills, I found that a few families were absent, having declined to
pass the mountains along with the rest. The Indians in Bisonette's
camp consisted of these very families, and many of them came to me
that evening to inquire after their relatives and friends. They were
not a little mortified to learn that while they, from their own
timidity and indolence, were almost in a starving condition, the rest
of the village had provided their lodges for the next season, laid in
a great stock of provisions, and were living in abundance and luxury.
Bisonette's companions had been sustaining themselves for some time
on wild cherries, which the squaws pounded up, stones and all, and
spread on buffalo robes, to dry in the sun; they were then eaten
without further preparation, or used as an ingredient in various
delectable compounds.
On the next day the camp was in commotion with a new arrival. A
single Indian had come with his family the whole way from the
Arkansas. As he passed among the lodges he put on an expression of
unusual dignity and importance, and gave out that he had brought
great news to tell the whites. Soon after the squaws had erected his
lodge, he sent his little son to invite all the white men, and all
the most distinguished Indians, to a feast. The guests arrived and
sat wedged together, shoulder to shoulder, within the hot and
suffocating lodge. The Stabber, for that was our entertainer's name,
had killed an old buffalo bull on his way. This veteran's boiled
tripe, tougher than leather, formed the main item of the repast. For
the rest, it consisted of wild cherries and grease boiled together in
a large copper kettle. The feast was distributed, and for a moment
all was silent, strenuous exertion; then each guest, with one or two
exceptions, however, turned his wooden dish bottom upward to prove
that he had done full justice to his entertainer's hospitality. The
Stabber next produced his chopping board, on which he prepared the
mixture for smoking, and filled several pipes, which circulated among
the company. This done, he seated himself upright on his couch, and
began with much gesticulation to tell his story. I will not repeat
his childish jargon. It was so entangled, like the greater part of
an Indian's stories, with absurd and contradictory details, that it
was almost impossible to disengage from it a single particle of
truth. All that we could gather was the following:
He had been on the Arkansas, and there he had seen six great war
parties of whites. He had never believed before that the whole world
contained half so many white men. They all had large horses, long
knives, and short rifles, and some of them were attired alike in the
most splendid war dresses he had ever seen. From this account it was
clear that bodies of dragoons and perhaps also of volunteer cavalry
had been passing up the Arkansas. The Stabber had also seen a great
many of the white lodges of the Meneaska, drawn by their long-horned
buffalo. These could be nothing else than covered ox-wagons used no
doubt in transporting stores for the troops. Soon after seeing this,
our host had met an Indian who had lately come from among the
Comanches. The latter had told him that all the Mexicans had gone
out to a great buffalo hunt. That the Americans had hid themselves
in a ravine. When the Mexicans had shot away all their arrows, the
Americans had fired their guns, raised their war-whoop, rushed out,
and killed them all. We could only infer from this that war had been
declared with Mexico, and a battle fought in which the Americans were
victorious. When, some weeks after, we arrived at the Pueblo, we
heard of General Kearny's march up the Arkansas and of General
Taylor's victories at Matamoras.
As the sun was setting that evening a great crowd gathered on the
plain by the side of our tent, to try the speed of their horses.
These were of every shape, size, and color. Some came from
California, some from the States, some from among the mountains, and
some from the wild bands of the prairie. They were of every hue--
white, black, red, and gray, or mottled and clouded with a strange
variety of colors. They all had a wild and startled look, very
different from the staid and sober aspect of a well-bred city steed.
Those most noted for swiftness and spirit were decorated with eaglefeathers
dangling from their manes and tails. Fifty or sixty Dakotas
were present, wrapped from head to foot in their heavy robes of
whitened hide. There were also a considerable number of the
Cheyenne, many of whom wore gaudy Mexican ponchos swathed around
their shoulders, but leaving the right arm bare. Mingled among the
crowd of Indians were a number of Canadians, chiefly in the employ of
Bisonette; men, whose home is in the wilderness, and who love the
camp fire better than the domestic hearth. They are contented and
happy in the midst of hardship, privation, and danger. Their
cheerfulness and gayety is irrepressible, and no people on earth
understand better how "to daff the world aside and bid it pass."
Besides these, were two or three half-breeds, a race of rather
extraordinary composition, being according to the common saying half
Indian, half white man, and half devil. Antoine Le Rouge was the
most conspicuous among them, with his loose pantaloons and his
fluttering calico skirt. A handkerchief was bound round his head to
confine his black snaky hair, and his small eyes twinkled beneath it,
with a mischievous luster. He had a fine cream-colored horse whose
speed he must needs try along with the rest. So he threw off the
rude high-peaked saddle, and substituting a piece of buffalo robe,
leaped lightly into his seat. The space was cleared, the word was
given, and he and his Indian rival darted out like lightning from
among the crowd, each stretching forward over his horse's neck and
plying his heavy Indian whip with might and main. A moment, and both
were lost in the gloom; but Antoine soon came riding back victorious,
exultingly patting the neck of his quivering and panting horse.
About midnight, as I lay asleep, wrapped in a buffalo robe on the
ground by the side of our cart, Raymond came up and woke me.
Something he said, was going forward which I would like to see.
Looking down into camp I saw, on the farther side of it, a great
number of Indians gathered around a fire, the bright glare of which
made them visible through the thick darkness; while from the midst of
them proceeded a loud, measured chant which would have killed
Paganini outright, broken occasionally by a burst of sharp yells. I
gathered the robe around me, for the night was cold, and walked down
to the spot. The dark throng of Indians was so dense that they
almost intercepted the light of the flame. As I was pushing among
them with but little ceremony, a chief interposed himself, and I was
given to understand that a white man must not approach the scene of
their solemnities too closely. By passing round to the other side,
where there was a little opening in the crowd, I could see clearly
what was going forward, without intruding my unhallowed presence into
the inner circle. The society of the "Strong Hearts" were engaged in
one of their dances. The Strong Hearts are a warlike association,
comprising men of both the Dakota and Cheyenne nations, and entirely
composed, or supposed to be so, of young braves of the highest
mettle. Its fundamental principle is the admirable one of never
retreating from any enterprise once commenced. All these Indian
associations have a tutelary spirit. That of the Strong Hearts is
embodied in the fox, an animal which a white man would hardly have
selected for a similar purpose, though his subtle and cautious
character agrees well enough with an Indian's notions of what is
honorable in warfare. The dancers were circling round and round the
fire, each figure brightly illumined at one moment by the yellow
light, and at the next drawn in blackest shadow as it passed between
the flame and the spectator. They would imitate with the most
ludicrous exactness the motions and the voice of their sly patron the
fox. Then a startling yell would be given. Many other warriors
would leap into the ring, and with faces upturned toward the starless
sky, they would all stamp, and whoop, and brandish their weapons like
so many frantic devils.
Until the next afternoon we were still remaining with Bisonette. My
companion and I with our three attendants then left his camp for the
Pueblo, a distance of three hundred miles, and we supposed the
journey would occupy about a fortnight. During this time we all
earnestly hoped that we might not meet a single human being, for
should we encounter any, they would in all probability be enemies,
ferocious robbers and murderers, in whose eyes our rifles would be
our only passports. For the first two days nothing worth mentioning
took place. On the third morning, however, an untoward incident
occurred. We were encamped by the side of a little brook in an
extensive hollow of the plain. Delorier was up long before daylight,
and before he began to prepare breakfast he turned loose all the
horses, as in duty bound. There was a cold mist clinging close to
the ground, and by the time the rest of us were awake the animals
were invisible. It was only after a long and anxious search that we
could discover by their tracks the direction they had taken. They
had all set off for Fort Laramie, following the guidance of a
mutinous old mule, and though many of them were hobbled they had
driven three miles before they could be overtaken and driven back.
For the following two or three days we were passing over an arid
desert. The only vegetation was a few tufts of short grass, dried
and shriveled by the heat. There was an abundance of strange insects
and reptiles. Huge crickets, black and bottle green, and wingless
grasshoppers of the most extravagant dimensions, were tumbling about
our horses' feet, and lizards without numbers were darting like
lightning among the tufts of grass. The most curious animal,
however, was that commonly called the horned frog. I caught one of
them and consigned him to the care of Delorier, who tied him up in a
moccasin. About a month after this I examined the prisoner's
condition, and finding him still lively and active, I provided him
with a cage of buffalo hide, which was hung up in the cart. In this
manner he arrived safely at the settlements. From thence he traveled
the whole way to Boston packed closely in a trunk, being regaled with
fresh air regularly every night. When he reached his destination he
was deposited under a glass case, where he sat for some months in
great tranquillity and composure, alternately dilating and
contracting his white throat to the admiration of his visitors. At
length, one morning, about the middle of winter, he gave up the
ghost. His death was attributed to starvation, a very probable
conclusion, since for six months he had taken no food whatever,
though the sympathy of his juvenile admirers had tempted his palate
with a great variety of delicacies. We found also animals of a
somewhat larger growth. The number of prairie dogs was absolutely
astounding. Frequently the hard and dry prairie would be thickly
covered, for many miles together, with the little mounds which they
make around the mouth of their burrows, and small squeaking voices
yelping at us as we passed along. The noses of the inhabitants would
be just visible at the mouth of their holes, but no sooner was their
curiosity satisfied than they would instantly vanish. Some of the
bolder dogs--though in fact they are no dogs at all, but little
marmots rather smaller than a rabbit--would sit yelping at us on the
top of their mounds, jerking their tails emphatically with every
shrill cry they uttered. As the danger grew nearer they would wheel
about, toss their heels into the air, and dive in a twinkling down
into their burrows. Toward sunset, and especially if rain were
threatening, the whole community would make their appearance above
ground. We would see them gathered in large knots around the burrow
of some favorite citizen. There they would all sit erect, their
tails spread out on the ground, and their paws hanging down before
their white breasts, chattering and squeaking with the utmost
vivacity upon some topic of common interest, while the proprietor of
the burrow, with his head just visible on the top of his mound, would
sit looking down with a complacent countenance on the enjoyment of
his guests. Meanwhile, others would be running about from burrow to
burrow, as if on some errand of the last importance to their
subterranean commonwealth. The snakes were apparently the prairie
dog's worst enemies, at least I think too well of the latter to
suppose that they associate on friendly terms with these slimy
intruders, who may be seen at all times basking among their holes,
into which they always retreat when disturbed. Small owls, with wise
and grave countenances, also make their abode with the prairie dogs,
though on what terms they live together I could never ascertain. The
manners and customs, the political and domestic economy of these
little marmots is worthy of closer attention than one is able to give
when pushing by forced marches through their country, with his
thoughts engrossed by objects of greater moment.
On the fifth day after leaving Bisonette's camp we saw late in the
afternoon what we supposed to be a considerable stream, but on our
approaching it we found to our mortification nothing but a dry bed of
sand into which all the water had sunk and disappeared. We
separated, some riding in one direction and some in another along its
course. Still we found no traces of water, not even so much as a wet
spot in the sand. The old cotton-wood trees that grew along the
bank, lamentably abused by lightning and tempest, were withering with
the drought, and on the dead limbs, at the summit of the tallest,
half a dozen crows were hoarsely cawing like birds of evil omen as
they were. We had no alternative but to keep on. There was no water
nearer than the South Fork of the Platte, about ten miles distant.
We moved forward, angry and silent, over a desert as flat as the
outspread ocean.
The sky had been obscured since the morning by thin mists and vapors,
but now vast piles of clouds were gathered together in the west.
They rose to a great height above the horizon, and looking up toward
them I distinguished one mass darker than the rest and of a peculiar
conical form. I happened to look again and still could see it as
before. At some moments it was dimly seen, at others its outline was
sharp and distinct; but while the clouds around it were shifting,
changing, and dissolving away, it still towered aloft in the midst of
them, fixed and immovable. It must, thought I, be the summit of a
mountain, and yet its heights staggered me. My conclusion was right,
however. It was Long's Peak, once believed to be one of the highest
of the Rocky Mountain chain, though more recent discoveries have
proved the contrary. The thickening gloom soon hid it from view and
we never saw it again, for on the following day and for some time
after, the air was so full of mist that the view of distant objects
was entirely intercepted.
It grew very late. Turning from our direct course we made for the
river at its nearest point, though in the utter darkness it was not
easy to direct our way with much precision. Raymond rode on one side
and Henry on the other. We could hear each of them shouting that he
had come upon a deep ravine. We steered at random between Scylla and
Charybdis, and soon after became, as it seemed, inextricably involved
with deep chasms all around us, while the darkness was such that we
could not see a rod in any direction. We partially extricated
ourselves by scrambling, cart and all, through a shallow ravine. We
came next to a steep descent down which we plunged without well
knowing what was at the bottom. There was a great crackling of
sticks and dry twigs. Over our heads were certain large shadowy
objects, and in front something like the faint gleaming of a dark
sheet of water. Raymond ran his horse against a tree; Henry
alighted, and feeling on the ground declared that there was grass
enough for the horses. Before taking off his saddle each man led his
own horses down to the water in the best way he could. Then
picketing two or three of the evil-disposed we turned the rest loose
and lay down among the dry sticks to sleep. In the morning we found
ourselves close to the South Fork of the Platte on a spot surrounded
by bushes and rank grass. Compensating ourselves with a hearty
breakfast for the ill fare of the previous night, we set forward
again on our journey. When only two or three rods from the camp I
saw Shaw stop his mule, level his gun, and after a long aim fire at
some object in the grass. Delorier next jumped forward and began to
dance about, belaboring the unseen enemy with a whip. Then he
stooped down and drew out of the grass by the neck an enormous
rattlesnake, with his head completely shattered by Shaw's bullet. As
Delorier held him out at arm's length with an exulting grin his tail,
which still kept slowly writhing about, almost touched the ground,
and the body in the largest part was as thick as a stout man's arm.
He had fourteen rattles, but the end of his tail was blunted, as if
he could once have boasted of many more. From this time till we
reached the Pueblo we killed at least four or five of these snakes
every day as they lay coiled and rattling on the hot sand. Shaw was
the St. Patrick of the party, and whenever he or any one else killed
a snake he always pulled off his tail and stored it away in his
bullet-pouch, which was soon crammed with an edifying collection of
rattles, great and small. Delorier, with his whip, also came in for
a share of the praise. A day or two after this he triumphantly
produced a small snake about a span and a half long, with one infant
rattle at the end of his tail.
We forded the South Fork of the Platte. On its farther bank were the
traces of a very large camp of Arapahoes. The ashes of some three
hundred fires were visible among the scattered trees, together with
the remains of sweating lodges, and all the other appurtenances of a
permanent camp. The place however had been for some months deserted.
A few miles farther on we found more recent signs of Indians; the
trail of two or three lodges, which had evidently passed the day
before, where every foot-print was perfectly distinct in the dry,
dusty soil. We noticed in particular the track of one moccasin, upon
the sole of which its economical proprietor had placed a large patch.
These signs gave us but little uneasiness, as the number of the
warriors scarcely exceeded that of our own party. At noon we rested
under the walls of a large fort, built in these solitudes some years
since by M. St. Vrain. It was now abandoned and fast falling into
ruin. The walls of unbaked bricks were cracked from top to bottom.
Our horses recoiled in terror from the neglected entrance, where the
heavy gates were torn from their hinges and flung down. The area
within was overgrown with weeds, and the long ranges of apartments,
once occupied by the motley concourse of traders, Canadians, and
squaws, were now miserably dilapidated. Twelve miles further on,
near the spot where we encamped, were the remains of still another
fort, standing in melancholy desertion and neglect.
Early on the following morning we made a startling discovery. We
passed close by a large deserted encampment of Arapahoes. There were
about fifty fires still smouldering on the ground, and it was evident
from numerous signs that the Indians must have left the place within
two hours of our reaching it. Their trail crossed our own at right
angles, and led in the direction of a line of hills half a mile on
our left. There were women and children in the party, which would
have greatly diminished the danger of encountering them. Henry
Chatillon examined the encampment and the trail with a very
professional and businesslike air.
"Supposing we had met them, Henry?" said I.
"Why," said he, "we hold out our hands to them, and give them all
we've got; they take away everything, and then I believe they no kill
us. Perhaps," added he, looking up with a quiet, unchanged face,
"perhaps we no let them rob us. Maybe before they come near, we have
a chance to get into a ravine, or under the bank of the river; then,
you know, we fight them."
About noon on that day we reached Cherry Creek. Here was a great
abundance of wild cherries, plums, gooseberries, and currants. The
stream, however, like most of the others which we passed, was dried
up with the heat, and we had to dig holes in the sand to find water
for ourselves and our horses. Two days after, we left the banks of
the creek which we had been following for some time, and began to
cross the high dividing ridge which separates the waters of the
Platte from those of the Arkansas. The scenery was altogether
changed. In place of the burning plains we were passing now through
rough and savage glens and among hills crowned with a dreary growth
of pines. We encamped among these solitudes on the night of the 16th
of August. A tempest was threatening. The sun went down among
volumes of jet-black cloud, edged with a bloody red. But in spite of
these portentous signs, we neglected to put up the tent, and being
extremely fatigued, lay down on the ground and fell asleep. The
storm broke about midnight, and we erected the tent amid darkness and
confusion. In the morning all was fair again, and Pike's Peak, white
with snow, was towering above the wilderness afar off.
We pushed through an extensive tract of pine woods. Large black
squirrels were leaping among the branches. From the farther edge of
this forest we saw the prairie again, hollowed out before us into a
vast basin, and about a mile in front we could discern a little black
speck moving upon its surface. It could be nothing but a buffalo.
Henry primed his rifle afresh and galloped forward. To the left of
the animal was a low rocky mound, of which Henry availed himself in
making his approach. After a short time we heard the faint report of
the rifle. The bull, mortally wounded from a distance of nearly
three hundred yards, ran wildly round and round in a circle. Shaw
and I then galloped forward, and passing him as he ran, foaming with
rage and pain, we discharged our pistols into his side. Once or
twice he rushed furiously upon us, but his strength was rapidly
exhausted. Down he fell on his knees. For one instant he glared up
at his enemies with burning eyes through his black tangled mane, and
then rolled over on his side. Though gaunt and thin, he was larger
and heavier than the largest ox. Foam and blood flew together from
his nostrils as he lay bellowing and pawing the ground, tearing up
grass and earth with his hoofs. His sides rose and fell like a vast
pair of bellows, the blood spouting up in jets from the bullet-holes.
Suddenly his glaring eyes became like a lifeless jelly. He lay
motionless on the ground. Henry stooped over him, and making an
incision with his knife, pronounced the meat too rank and tough for
use; so, disappointed in our hopes of an addition to our stock of
provisions, we rode away and left the carcass to the wolves.
In the afternoon we saw the mountains rising like a gigantic wall at
no great distance on our right. "Des sauvages! des sauvages!"
exclaimed Delorier, looking round with a frightened face, and
pointing with his whip toward the foot of the mountains. In fact, we
could see at a distance a number of little black specks, like
horsemen in rapid motion. Henry Chatillon, with Shaw and myself,
galloped toward them to reconnoiter, when to our amusement we saw the
supposed Arapahoes resolved into the black tops of some pine trees
which grew along a ravine. The summits of these pines, just visible
above the verge of the prairie, and seeming to move as we ourselves
were advancing, looked exactly like a line of horsemen.
We encamped among ravines and hollows, through which a little brook
was foaming angrily. Before sunrise in the morning the snow-covered
mountains were beautifully tinged with a delicate rose color. A
noble spectacle awaited us as we moved forward. Six or eight miles
on our right, Pike's Peak and his giant brethren rose out of the
level prairie, as if springing from the bed of the ocean. From their
summits down to the plain below they were involved in a mantle of
clouds, in restless motion, as if urged by strong winds. For one
instant some snowy peak, towering in awful solitude, would be
disclosed to view. As the clouds broke along the mountain, we could
see the dreary forests, the tremendous precipices, the white patches
of snow, the gulfs and chasms as black as night, all revealed for an
instant, and then disappearing from the view. One could not but
recall the stanza of "Childe Harold":
Morn dawns, and with it stern Albania's hills,
Dark Suli's rocks, and Pindus' inland peak,
Robed half in mist, bedewed with snowy rills,
Array'd in many a dun and purple streak,
Arise; and, as the clouds along them break,
Disclose the dwelling of the mountaineer:
Here roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak,
Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear,
And gathering storms around convulse the closing year.
Every line save one of this description was more than verified here.
There were no "dwellings of the mountaineer" among these heights.
Fierce savages, restlessly wandering through summer and winter, alone
invade them. "Their hand is against every man, and every man's hand
against them."
On the day after, we had left the mountains at some distance. A
black cloud descended upon them, and a tremendous explosion of
thunder followed, reverberating among the precipices. In a few
moments everything grew black and the rain poured down like a
cataract. We got under an old cotton-wood tree which stood by the
side of a stream, and waited there till the rage of the torrent had
The clouds opened at the point where they first had gathered, and the
whole sublime congregation of mountains was bathed at once in warm
sunshine. They seemed more like some luxurious vision of Eastern
romance than like a reality of that wilderness; all were melted
together into a soft delicious blue, as voluptuous as the sky of
Naples or the transparent sea that washes the sunny cliffs of Capri.
On the left the whole sky was still of an inky blackness; but two
concentric rainbows stood in brilliant relief against it, while far
in front the ragged cloud still streamed before the wind, and the
retreating thunder muttered angrily.
Through that afternoon and the next morning we were passing down the
banks of the stream called La Fontaine qui Bouille, from the boiling
spring whose waters flow into it. When we stopped at noon, we were
within six or eight miles of the Pueblo. Setting out again, we found
by the fresh tracks that a horseman had just been out to reconnoiter
us; he had circled half round the camp, and then galloped back full
speed for the Pueblo. What made him so shy of us we could not
conceive. After an hour's ride we reached the edge of a hill, from
which a welcome sight greeted us. The Arkansas ran along the valley
below, among woods and groves, and closely nestled in the midst of
wide cornfields and green meadows where cattle were grazing rose the
low mud walls of the Pueblo.
We approached the gate of the Pueblo. It was a wretched species of
fort of most primitive construction, being nothing more than a large
square inclosure, surrounded by a wall of mud, miserably cracked and
dilapidated. The slender pickets that surmounted it were half broken
down, and the gate dangled on its wooden hinges so loosely, that to
open or shut it seemed likely to fling it down altogether. Two or
three squalid Mexicans, with their broad hats, and their vile faces
overgrown with hair, were lounging about the bank of the river in
front of it. They disappeared as they saw us approach; and as we
rode up to the gate a light active little figure came out to meet us.
It was our old friend Richard. He had come from Fort Laramie on a
trading expedition to Taos; but finding, when he reached the Pueblo,
that the war would prevent his going farther, he was quietly waiting
till the conquest of the country should allow him to proceed. He
seemed to consider himself bound to do the honors of the place.
Shaking us warmly by the hands, he led the way into the area.
Here we saw his large Santa Fe wagons standing together. A few
squaws and Spanish women, and a few Mexicans, as mean and miserable
as the place itself, were lazily sauntering about. Richard conducted
us to the state apartment of the Pueblo, a small mud room, very
neatly finished, considering the material, and garnished with a
crucifix, a looking-glass, a picture of the Virgin, and a rusty horse
pistol. There were no chairs, but instead of them a number of chests
and boxes ranged about the room. There was another room beyond, less
sumptuously decorated, and here three or four Spanish girls, one of
them very pretty, were baking cakes at a mud fireplace in the corner.
They brought out a poncho, which they spread upon the floor by way of
table-cloth. A supper, which seemed to us luxurious, was soon laid
out upon it, and folded buffalo robes were placed around it to
receive the guests. Two or three Americans, besides ourselves, were
present. We sat down Turkish fashion, and began to inquire the news.
Richard told us that, about three weeks before, General Kearny's army
had left Bent's Fort to march against Santa Fe; that when last heard
from they were approaching the mountainous defiles that led to the
city. One of the Americans produced a dingy newspaper, containing an
account of the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. While we
were discussing these matters, the doorway was darkened by a tall,
shambling fellow, who stood with his hands in his pockets taking a
leisurely survey of the premises before he entered. He wore brown
homespun pantaloons, much too short for his legs, and a pistol and
bowie knife stuck in his belt. His head and one eye were enveloped
in a huge bandage of white linen. Having completed his observations,
he came slouching in and sat down on a chest. Eight or ten more of
the same stamp followed, and very coolly arranging themselves about
the room, began to stare at the company. Shaw and I looked at each
other. We were forcibly reminded of the Oregon emigrants, though
these unwelcome visitors had a certain glitter of the eye, and a
compression of the lips, which distinguished them from our old
acquaintances of the prairie. They began to catechise us at once,
inquiring whence we had come, what we meant to do next, and what were
our future prospects in life.
The man with the bandaged head had met with an untoward accident a
few days before. He was going down to the river to bring water, and
was pushing through the young willows which covered the low ground,
when he came unawares upon a grizzly bear, which, having just eaten a
buffalo bull, had lain down to sleep off the meal. The bear rose on
his hind legs, and gave the intruder such a blow with his paw that he
laid his forehead entirely bare, clawed off the front of his scalp,
and narrowly missed one of his eyes. Fortunately he was not in a
very pugnacious mood, being surfeited with his late meal. The man's
companions, who were close behind, raised a shout and the bear walked
away, crushing down the willows in his leisurely retreat.
These men belonged to a party of Mormons, who, out of a well-grounded
fear of the other emigrants, had postponed leaving the settlements
until all the rest were gone. On account of this delay they did not
reach Fort Laramie until it was too late to continue their journey to
California. Hearing that there was good land at the head of the
Arkansas, they crossed over under the guidance of Richard, and were
now preparing to spend the winter at a spot about half a mile from
the Pueblo.
When we took leave of Richard, it was near sunset. Passing out of
the gate, we could look down the little valley of the Arkansas; a
beautiful scene, and doubly so to our eyes, so long accustomed to
deserts and mountains. Tall woods lined the river, with green
meadows on either hand; and high bluffs, quietly basking in the
sunlight, flanked the narrow valley. A Mexican on horseback was
driving a herd of cattle toward the gate, and our little white tent,
which the men had pitched under a large tree in the meadow, made a
very pleasing feature in the scene. When we reached it, we found
that Richard had sent a Mexican to bring us an abundant supply of
green corn and vegetables, and invite us to help ourselves to
whatever we wished from the fields around the Pueblo.
The inhabitants were in daily apprehensions of an inroad from more
formidable consumers than ourselves. Every year at the time when the
corn begins to ripen, the Arapahoes, to the number of several
thousands, come and encamp around the Pueblo. The handful of white
men, who are entirely at the mercy of this swarm of barbarians,
choose to make a merit of necessity; they come forward very
cordially, shake them by the hand, and intimate that the harvest is
entirely at their disposal. The Arapahoes take them at their word,
help themselves most liberally, and usually turn their horses into
the cornfields afterward. They have the foresight, however, to leave
enough of the crops untouched to serve as an inducement for planting
the fields again for their benefit in the next spring.
The human race in this part of the world is separated into three
divisions, arranged in the order of their merits; white men, Indians,
and Mexicans; to the latter of whom the honorable title of "whites"
is by no means conceded.
In spite of the warm sunset of that evening the next morning was a
dreary and cheerless one. It rained steadily, clouds resting upon
the very treetops. We crossed the river to visit the Mormon
settlement. As we passed through the water, several trappers on
horseback entered it from the other side. Their buckskin frocks were
soaked through by the rain, and clung fast to their limbs with a most
clammy and uncomfortable look. The water was trickling down their
faces, and dropping from the ends of their rifles, and from the traps
which each carried at the pommel of his saddle. Horses and all, they
had a most disconsolate and woebegone appearance, which we could not
help laughing at, forgetting how often we ourselves had been in a
similar plight.
After half an hour's riding we saw the white wagons of the Mormons
drawn up among the trees. Axes were sounding, trees were falling,
and log-huts going up along the edge of the woods and upon the
adjoining meadow. As we came up the Mormons left their work and
seated themselves on the timber around us, when they began earnestly
to discuss points of theology, complain of the ill-usage they had
received from the "Gentiles," and sound a lamentation over the loss
of their great temple at Nauvoo. After remaining with them an hour
we rode back to our camp, happy that the settlements had been
delivered from the presence of such blind and desperate fanatics.
On the morning after this we left the Pueblo for Bent's Fort. The
conduct of Raymond had lately been less satisfactory than before, and
we had discharged him as soon as we arrived at the former place; so
that the party, ourselves included, was now reduced to four. There
was some uncertainty as to our future course. The trail between
Bent's Fort and the settlements, a distance computed at six hundred
miles, was at this time in a dangerous state; for since the passage
of General Kearny's army, great numbers of hostile Indians, chiefly
Pawnees and Comanches, had gathered about some parts of it. A little
after this time they became so numerous and audacious, that scarcely
a single party, however large, passed between the fort and the
frontier without some token of their hostility. The newspapers of
the time sufficiently display this state of things. Many men were
killed, and great numbers of horses and mules carried off. Not long
since I met with the gentleman, who, during the autumn, came from
Santa Fe to Bent's Fort, when he found a party of seventy men, who
thought themselves too weak to go down to the settlements alone, and
were waiting there for a re-enforcement. Though this excessive
timidity fully proves the ignorance and credulity of the men, it may
also evince the state of alarm which prevailed in the country. When
we were there in the month of August, the danger had not become so
great. There was nothing very attractive in the neighborhood. We
supposed, moreover, that we might wait there half the winter without
finding any party to go down with us; for Mr. Sublette and the others
whom we had relied upon had, as Richard told us, already left Bent's
Fort. Thus far on our journey Fortune had kindly befriended us. We
resolved therefore to take advantage of her gracious mood and
trusting for a continuance of her favors, to set out with Henry and
Delorier, and run the gauntlet of the Indians in the best way we
Bent's Fort stands on the river, about seventy-five miles below the
Pueblo. At noon of the third day we arrived within three or four
miles of it, pitched our tent under a tree, hung our looking-glasses
against its trunk and having made our primitive toilet, rode toward
the fort. We soon came in sight of it, for it is visible from a
considerable distance, standing with its high clay walls in the midst
of the scorching plains. It seemed as if a swarm of locusts had
invaded the country. The grass for miles around was cropped close by
the horses of General Kearny's soldiery. When we came to the fort,
we found that not only had the horses eaten up the grass, but their
owners had made away with the stores of the little trading post; so
that we had great difficulty in procuring the few articles which we
required for our homeward journey. The army was gone, the life and
bustle passed away, and the fort was a scene of dull and lazy
tranquillity. A few invalid officers and soldiers sauntered about
the area, which was oppressively hot; for the glaring sun was
reflected down upon it from the high white walls around. The
proprietors were absent, and we were received by Mr. Holt, who had
been left in charge of the fort. He invited us to dinner, where, to
our admiration, we found a table laid with a white cloth, with
castors in the center and chairs placed around it. This unwonted
repast concluded, we rode back to our camp.
Here, as we lay smoking round the fire after supper, we saw through
the dusk three men approaching from the direction of the fort. They
rode up and seated themselves near us on the ground. The foremost
was a tall, well-formed man, with a face and manner such as inspire
confidence at once. He wore a broad hat of felt, slouching and
tattered, and the rest of his attire consisted of a frock and
leggings of buckskin, rubbed with the yellow clay found among the
mountains. At the heel of one of his moccasins was buckled a huge
iron spur, with a rowel five or six inches in diameter. His horse,
who stood quietly looking over his head, had a rude Mexican saddle,
covered with a shaggy bearskin, and furnished with a pair of wooden
stirrups of most preposterous size. The next man was a sprightly,
active little fellow, about five feet and a quarter high, but very
strong and compact. His face was swarthy as a Mexican's and covered
with a close, curly black beard. An old greasy calico handkerchief
was tied round his head, and his close buckskin dress was blackened
and polished by grease and hard service. The last who came up was a
large strong man, dressed in the coarse homespun of the frontiers,
who dragged his long limbs over the ground as if he were too lazy for
the effort. He had a sleepy gray eye, a retreating chin, an open
mouth and a protruding upper lip, which gave him an air of exquisite
indolence and helplessness. He was armed with an old United States
yager, which redoubtable weapon, though he could never hit his mark
with it, he was accustomed to cherish as the very sovereign of
The first two men belonged to a party who had just come from
California with a large band of horses, which they had disposed of at
Bent's Fort. Munroe, the taller of the two, was from Iowa. He was
an excellent fellow, open, warm-hearted and intelligent. Jim Gurney,
the short man, was a Boston sailor, who had come in a trading vessel
to California, and taken the fancy to return across the continent.
The journey had already made him an expert "mountain man," and he
presented the extraordinary phenomenon of a sailor who understood how
to manage a horse. The third of our visitors named Ellis, was a
Missourian, who had come out with a party of Oregon emigrants, but
having got as far as Bridge's Fort, he had fallen home-sick, or as
Jim averred, love-sick--and Ellis was just the man to be balked in a
love adventure. He thought proper to join the California men and
return homeward in their company.
They now requested that they might unite with our party, and make the
journey to the settlements in company with us. We readily assented,
for we liked the appearance of the first two men, and were very glad
to gain so efficient a re-enforcement. We told them to meet us on
the next evening at a spot on the river side, about six miles below
the fort. Having smoked a pipe together, our new allies left us, and
we lay down to sleep.
The next morning, having directed Delorier to repair with his cart to
the place of meeting, we came again to the fort to make some
arrangements for the journey. After completing these we sat down
under a sort of perch, to smoke with some Cheyenne Indians whom we
found there. In a few minutes we saw an extraordinary little figure
approach us in a military dress. He had a small, round countenance,
garnished about the eyes with the kind of wrinkles commonly known as
crow's feet and surrounded by an abundant crop of red curls, with a
little cap resting on the top of them. Altogether, he had the look
of a man more conversant with mint juleps and oyster suppers than
with the hardships of prairie service. He came up to us and
entreated that we would take him home to the settlements, saying that
unless he went with us he should have to stay all winter at the fort.
We liked our petitioner's appearance so little that we excused
ourselves from complying with his request. At this he begged us so
hard to take pity on him, looked so disconsolate, and told so
lamentable a story that at last we consented, though not without many
The rugged Anglo-Saxon of our new recruit's real name proved utterly
unmanageable on the lips of our French attendants, and Henry
Chatillon, after various abortive attempts to pronounce it, one day
coolly christened him Tete Rouge, in honor of his red curls. He had
at different times been clerk of a Mississippi steamboat, and agent
in a trading establishment at Nauvoo, besides filling various other
capacities, in all of which he had seen much more of "life" than was
good for him. In the spring, thinking that a summer's campaign would
be an agreeable recreation, he had joined a company of St. Louis
"There were three of us," said Tete Rouge, "me and Bill Stevens and
John Hopkins. We thought we would just go out with the army, and
when we had conquered the country, we would get discharged and take
our pay, you know, and go down to Mexico. They say there is plenty
of fun going on there. Then we could go back to New Orleans by way
of Vera Cruz."
But Tete Rouge, like many a stouter volunteer, had reckoned without
his host. Fighting Mexicans was a less amusing occupation than he
had supposed, and his pleasure trip was disagreeably interrupted by
brain fever, which attacked him when about halfway to Bent's Fort.
He jolted along through the rest of the journey in a baggage wagon.
When they came to the fort he was taken out and left there, together
with the rest of the sick. Bent's Fort does not supply the best
accommodations for an invalid. Tete Rouge's sick chamber was a
little mud room, where he and a companion attacked by the same
disease were laid together, with nothing but a buffalo robe between
them and the ground. The assistant surgeon's deputy visited them
once a day and brought them each a huge dose of calomel, the only
medicine, according to his surviving victim, which he was acquainted
Tete Rouge woke one morning, and turning to his companion, saw his
eyes fixed upon the beams above with the glassy stare of a dead man.
At this the unfortunate volunteer lost his senses outright. In spite
of the doctor, however, he eventually recovered; though between the
brain fever and the calomel, his mind, originally none of the
strongest, was so much shaken that it had not quite recovered its
balance when we came to the fort. In spite of the poor fellow's
tragic story, there was something so ludicrous in his appearance, and
the whimsical contrast between his military dress and his most
unmilitary demeanor, that we could not help smiling at them. We
asked him if he had a gun. He said they had taken it from him during
his illness, and he had not seen it since; "but perhaps," he
observed, looking at me with a beseeching air, "you will lend me one
of your big pistols if we should meet with any Indians." I next
inquired if he had a horse; he declared he had a magnificent one, and
at Shaw's request a Mexican led him in for inspection. He exhibited
the outline of a good horse, but his eyes were sunk in the sockets,
and every one of his ribs could be counted. There were certain marks
too about his shoulders, which could be accounted for by the
circumstance, that during Tete Rouge's illness, his companions had
seized upon the insulted charger, and harnessed him to a cannon along
with the draft horses. To Tete Rouge's astonishment we recommended
him by all means to exchange the horse, if he could, for a mule.
Fortunately the people at the fort were so anxious to get rid of him
that they were willing to make some sacrifice to effect the object,
and he succeeded in getting a tolerable mule in exchange for the
broken-down steed.
A man soon appeared at the gate, leading in the mule by a cord which
he placed in the hands of Tete Rouge, who, being somewhat afraid of
his new acquisition, tried various flatteries and blandishments to
induce her to come forward. The mule, knowing that she was expected
to advance, stopped short in consequence, and stood fast as a rock,
looking straight forward with immovable composure. Being stimulated
by a blow from behind she consented to move, and walked nearly to the
other side of the fort before she stopped again. Hearing the bystanders
laugh, Tete Rouge plucked up spirit and tugged hard at the
rope. The mule jerked backward, spun herself round, and made a dash
for the gate. Tete Rouge, who clung manfully to the rope, went
whisking through the air for a few rods, when he let go and stood
with his mouth open, staring after the mule, who galloped away over
the prairie. She was soon caught and brought back by a Mexican, who
mounted a horse and went in pursuit of her with his lasso.
Having thus displayed his capacity for prairie travel, Tete Rouge
proceeded to supply himself with provisions for the journey, and with
this view he applied to a quartermaster's assistant who was in the
fort. This official had a face as sour as vinegar, being in a state
of chronic indignation because he had been left behind the army. He
was as anxious as the rest to get rid of Tete Rouge. So, producing a
rusty key, he opened a low door which led to a half-subterranean
apartment, into which the two disappeared together. After some time
they came out again, Tete Rouge greatly embarrassed by a multiplicity
of paper parcels containing the different articles of his forty days'
rations. They were consigned to the care of Delorier, who about that
time passed by with the cart on his way to the appointed place of
meeting with Munroe and his companions.
We next urged Tete Rouge to provide himself, if he could, with a gun.
He accordingly made earnest appeals to the charity of various persons
in the fort, but totally without success, a circumstance which did
not greatly disturb us, since in the event of a skirmish he would be
much more apt to do mischief to himself or his friends than to the
enemy. When all these arrangements were completed we saddled our
horses and were preparing to leave the fort, when looking round we
discovered that our new associate was in fresh trouble. A man was
holding the mule for him in the middle of the fort, while he tried to
put the saddle on her back, but she kept stepping sideways and moving
round and round in a circle until he was almost in despair. It
required some assistance before all his difficulties could be
overcome. At length he clambered into the black war saddle on which
he was to have carried terror into the ranks of the Mexicans.
"Get up," said Tete Rouge, "come now, go along, will you."
The mule walked deliberately forward out of the gate. Her recent
conduct had inspired him with so much awe that he never dared to
touch her with his whip. We trotted forward toward the place of
meeting, but before he had gone far we saw that Tete Rouge's mule,
who perfectly understood her rider, had stopped and was quietly
grazing, in spite of his protestations, at some distance behind. So
getting behind him, we drove him and the contumacious mule before us,
until we could see through the twilight the gleaming of a distant
fire. Munroe, Jim, and Ellis were lying around it; their saddles,
packs, and weapons were scattered about and their horses picketed
near them. Delorier was there too with our little cart. Another
fire was soon blazing high. We invited our new allies to take a cup
of coffee with us. When both the others had gone over to their side
of the camp, Jim Gurney still stood by the blaze, puffing hard at his
little black pipe, as short and weather-beaten as himself.
"Well!" he said, "here are eight of us; we'll call it six--for them
two boobies, Ellis over yonder, and that new man of yours, won't
count for anything. We'll get through well enough, never fear for
that, unless the Comanches happen to get foul of us."
We began our journey for the frontier settlements on the 27th of
August, and certainly a more ragamuffin cavalcade never was seen on
the banks of the Upper Arkansas. Of the large and fine horses with
which we had left the frontier in the spring, not one remained; we
had supplied their place with the rough breed of the prairie, as
hardy as mules and almost as ugly; we had also with us a number of
the latter detestable animals. In spite of their strength and
hardihood, several of the band were already worn down by hard service
and hard fare, and as none of them were shod, they were fast becoming
foot-sore. Every horse and mule had a cord of twisted bull-hide
coiled around his neck, which by no means added to the beauty of his
appearance. Our saddles and all our equipments were by this time
lamentably worn and battered, and our weapons had become dull and
rusty. The dress of the riders fully corresponded with the
dilapidated furniture of our horses, and of the whole party none made
a more disreputable appearance than my friend and I. Shaw had for an
upper garment an old red flannel shirt, flying open in front and
belted around him like a frock; while I, in absence of other
clothing, was attired in a time-worn suit of leather.
Thus, happy and careless as so many beggars, we crept slowly from day
to day along the monotonous banks of the Arkansas. Tete Rouge gave
constant trouble, for he could never catch his mule, saddle her, or
indeed do anything else without assistance. Every day he had some
new ailment, real or imaginary, to complain of. At one moment he
would be woebegone and disconsolate, and the next he would be visited
with a violent flow of spirits, to which he could only give vent by
incessant laughing, whistling, and telling stories. When other
resources failed, we used to amuse ourselves by tormenting him; a
fair compensation for the trouble he cost us. Tete Rouge rather
enjoyed being laughed at, for he was an odd compound of weakness,
eccentricity, and good-nature. He made a figure worthy of a painter
as he paced along before us, perched on the back of his mule, and
enveloped in a huge buffalo-robe coat, which some charitable person
had given him at the fort. This extraordinary garment, which would
have contained two men of his size, he chose, for some reason best
known to himself, to wear inside out, and he never took it off, even
in the hottest weather. It was fluttering all over with seams and
tatters, and the hide was so old and rotten that it broke out every
day in a new place. Just at the top of it a large pile of red curls
was visible, with his little cap set jauntily upon one side, to give
him a military air. His seat in the saddle was no less remarkable
than his person and equipment. He pressed one leg close against his
mule's side, and thrust the other out at an angle of 45 degrees. His
pantaloons were decorated with a military red stripe, of which he was
extremely vain; but being much too short, the whole length of his
boots was usually visible below them. His blanket, loosely rolled up
into a large bundle, dangled at the back of his saddle, where he
carried it tied with a string. Four or five times a day it would
fall to the ground. Every few minutes he would drop his pipe, his
knife, his flint and steel, or a piece of tobacco, and have to
scramble down to pick them up. In doing this he would contrive to
get in everybody's way; and as the most of the party were by no means
remarkable for a fastidious choice of language, a storm of anathemas
would be showered upon him, half in earnest and half in jest, until
Tete Rouge would declare that there was no comfort in life, and that
he never saw such fellows before.
Only a day or two after leaving Bent's Fort Henry Chatillon rode
forward to hunt, and took Ellis along with him. After they had been
some time absent we saw them coming down the hill, driving three
dragoon-horses, which had escaped from their owners on the march, or
perhaps had given out and been abandoned. One of them was in
tolerable condition, but the others were much emaciated and severely
bitten by the wolves. Reduced as they were we carried two of them to
the settlements, and Henry exchanged the third with the Arapahoes for
an excellent mule.
On the day after, when we had stopped to rest at noon, a long train
of Santa Fe wagons came up and trailed slowly past us in their
picturesque procession. They belonged to a trader named Magoffin,
whose brother, with a number of other men, came over and sat down
around us on the grass. The news they brought was not of the most
pleasing complexion. According to their accounts, the trail below
was in a very dangerous state. They had repeatedly detected Indians
prowling at night around their camps; and the large party which had
left Bent's Fort a few weeks previous to our own departure had been
attacked, and a man named Swan, from Massachusetts, had been killed.
His companions had buried the body; but when Magoffin found his
grave, which was near a place called the Caches, the Indians had dug
up and scalped him, and the wolves had shockingly mangled his
remains. As an offset to this intelligence, they gave us the welcome
information that the buffalo were numerous at a few days' journey
On the next afternoon, as we moved along the bank of the river, we
saw the white tops of wagons on the horizon. It was some hours
before we met them, when they proved to be a train of clumsy oxwagons,
quite different from the rakish vehicles of the Santa Fe
traders, and loaded with government stores for the troops. They all
stopped, and the drivers gathered around us in a crowd. I thought
that the whole frontier might have been ransacked in vain to furnish
men worse fitted to meet the dangers of the prairie. Many of them
were mere boys, fresh from the plow, and devoid of knowledge and
experience. In respect to the state of the trail, they confirmed all
that the Santa Fe men had told us. In passing between the Pawnee
Fork and the Caches, their sentinels had fired every night at real or
imaginary Indians. They said also that Ewing, a young Kentuckian in
the party that had gone down before us, had shot an Indian who was
prowling at evening about the camp. Some of them advised us to turn
back, and others to hasten forward as fast as we could; but they all
seemed in such a state of feverish anxiety, and so little capable of
cool judgment, that we attached slight weight to what they said.
They next gave us a more definite piece of intelligence; a large
village of Arapahoes was encamped on the river below. They
represented them to be quite friendly; but some distinction was to be
made between a party of thirty men, traveling with oxen, which are of
no value in an Indian's eyes and a mere handful like ourselves, with
a tempting band of mules and horses. This story of the Arapahoes
therefore caused us some anxiety.
Just after leaving the government wagons, as Shaw and I were riding
along a narrow passage between the river bank and a rough hill that
pressed close upon it, we heard Tete Rouge's voice behind us.
"Hallo!" he called out; "I say, stop the cart just for a minute, will
"What's the matter, Tete?" asked Shaw, as he came riding up to us
with a grin of exultation. He had a bottle of molasses in one hand,
and a large bundle of hides on the saddle before him, containing, as
he triumphantly informed us, sugar, biscuits, coffee, and rice.
These supplies he had obtained by a stratagem on which he greatly
plumed himself, and he was extremely vexed and astonished that we did
not fall in with his views of the matter. He had told Coates, the
master-wagoner, that the commissary at the fort had given him an
order for sick-rations, directed to the master of any government
train which he might meet upon the road. This order he had
unfortunately lost, but he hoped that the rations would not be
refused on that account, as he was suffering from coarse fare and
needed them very much. As soon as he came to camp that night Tete
Rouge repaired to the box at the back of the cart, where Delorier
used to keep his culinary apparatus, took possession of a saucepan,
and after building a little fire of his own, set to work preparing a
meal out of his ill-gotten booty. This done, he seized on a tin
plate and spoon, and sat down under the cart to regale himself. His
preliminary repast did not at all prejudice his subsequent exertions
at supper; where, in spite of his miniature dimensions, he made a
better figure than any of us. Indeed, about this time his appetite
grew quite voracious. He began to thrive wonderfully. His small
body visibly expanded, and his cheeks, which when we first took him
were rather yellow and cadaverous, now dilated in a wonderful manner,
and became ruddy in proportion. Tete Rouge, in short, began to
appear like another man.
Early in the afternoon of the next day, looking along the edge of the
horizon in front, we saw that at one point it was faintly marked with
pale indentations, like the teeth of a saw. The lodges of the
Arapahoes, rising between us and the sky, caused this singular
appearance. It wanted still two or three hours of sunset when we
came opposite their camp. There were full two hundred lodges
standing in the midst of a grassy meadow at some distance beyond the
river, while for a mile around and on either bank of the Arkansas
were scattered some fifteen hundred horses and mules grazing together
in bands, or wandering singly about the prairie. The whole were
visible at once, for the vast expanse was unbroken by hills, and
there was not a tree or a bush to intercept the view.
Here and there walked an Indian, engaged in watching the horses. No
sooner did we see them than Tete Rouge begged Delorier to stop the
cart and hand him his little military jacket, which was stowed away
there. In this he instantly invested himself, having for once laid
the old buffalo coat aside, assumed a most martial posture in the
saddle, set his cap over his left eye with an air of defiance, and
earnestly entreated that somebody would lend him a gun or a pistol
only for half an hour. Being called upon to explain these remarkable
proceedings, Tete Rouge observed that he knew from experience what
effect the presence of a military man in his uniform always had upon
the mind of an Indian, and he thought the Arapahoes ought to know
that there was a soldier in the party.
Meeting Arapahoes here on the Arkansas was a very different thing
from meeting the same Indians among their native mountains. There
was another circumstance in our favor. General Kearny had seen them
a few weeks before, as he came up the river with his army, and
renewing his threats of the previous year, he told them that if they
ever again touched the hair of a white man's head he would
exterminate their nation. This placed them for the time in an
admirable frame of mind, and the effect of his menaces had not yet
disappeared. I was anxious to see the village and its inhabitants.
We thought it also our best policy to visit them openly, as if
unsuspicious of any hostile design; and Shaw and I, with Henry
Chatillon, prepared to cross the river. The rest of the party
meanwhile moved forward as fast as they could, in order to get as far
as possible from our suspicious neighbors before night came on.
The Arkansas at this point, and for several hundred miles below, is
nothing but a broad sand-bed, over which a few scanty threads of
water are swiftly gliding, now and then expanding into wide shallows.
At several places, during the autumn, the water sinks into the sand
and disappears altogether. At this season, were it not for the
numerous quicksands, the river might be forded almost anywhere
without difficulty, though its channel is often a quarter of a mile
wide. Our horses jumped down the bank, and wading through the water,
or galloping freely over the hard sand-beds, soon reached the other
side. Here, as we were pushing through the tall grass, we saw
several Indians not far off; one of them waited until we came up, and
stood for some moments in perfect silence before us, looking at us
askance with his little snakelike eyes. Henry explained by signs
what we wanted, and the Indian, gathering his buffalo robe about his
shoulders, led the way toward the village without speaking a word.
The language of the Arapahoes is so difficult, and its pronunciations
so harsh and guttural, that no white man, it is said, has ever been
able to master it. Even Maxwell the trader, who has been most among
them, is compelled to resort to the curious sign language common to
most of the prairie tribes. With this Henry Chatillon was perfectly
Approaching the village, we found the ground all around it strewn
with great piles of waste buffalo meat in incredible quantities. The
lodges were pitched in a very wide circle. They resembled those of
the Dakota in everything but cleanliness and neatness. Passing
between two of them, we entered the great circular area of the camp,
and instantly hundreds of Indians, men, women and children, came
flocking out of their habitations to look at us; at the same time,
the dogs all around the village set up a fearful baying. Our Indian
guide walked toward the lodge of the chief. Here we dismounted; and
loosening the trail-ropes from our horses' necks, held them securely,
and sat down before the entrance, with our rifles laid across our
laps. The chief came out and shook us by the hand. He was a meanlooking
fellow, very tall, thin-visaged, and sinewy, like the rest of
the nation, and with scarcely a vestige of clothing. We had not been
seated half a minute before a multitude of Indians came crowding
around us from every part of the village, and we were shut in by a
dense wall of savage faces. Some of the Indians crouched around us
on the ground; others again sat behind them; others, stooping, looked
over their heads; while many more stood crowded behind, stretching
themselves upward, and peering over each other's shoulders, to get a
view of us. I looked in vain among this multitude of faces to
discover one manly or generous expression; all were wolfish,
sinister, and malignant, and their complexions, as well as their
features, unlike those of the Dakota, were exceedingly bad. The
chief, who sat close to the entrance, called to a squaw within the
lodge, who soon came out and placed a wooden bowl of meat before us.
To our surprise, however, no pipe was offered. Having tasted of the
meat as a matter of form, I began to open a bundle of presents--
tobacco, knives, vermilion, and other articles which I had brought
with me. At this there was a grin on every countenance in the
rapacious crowd; their eyes began to glitter, and long thin arms were
eagerly stretched toward us on all sides to receive the gifts.
The Arapahoes set great value upon their shields, which they transmit
carefully from father to son. I wished to get one of them; and
displaying a large piece of scarlet cloth, together with some tobacco
and a knife, I offered them to any one who would bring me what I
wanted. After some delay a tolerable shield was produced. They were
very anxious to know what we meant to do with it, and Henry told them
that we were going to fight their enemies, the Pawnees. This
instantly produced a visible impression in our favor, which was
increased by the distribution of the presents. Among these was a
large paper of awls, a gift appropriate to the women; and as we were
anxious to see the beauties of the Arapahoe village Henry requested
that they might be called to receive them. A warrior gave a shout as
if he were calling a pack of dogs together. The squaws, young and
old, hags of eighty and girls of sixteen, came running with screams
and laughter out of the lodges; and as the men gave way for them they
gathered round us and stretched out their arms, grinning with
delight, their native ugliness considerably enhanced by the
excitement of the moment.
Mounting our horses, which during the whole interview we had held
close to us, we prepared to leave the Arapahoes. The crowd fell back
on each side and stood looking on. When we were half across the camp
an idea occurred to us. The Pawnees were probably in the
neighborhood of the Caches; we might tell the Arapahoes of this and
instigate them to send down a war party and cut them off, while we
ourselves could remain behind for a while and hunt the buffalo. At
first thought this plan of setting our enemies to destroy one another
seemed to us a masterpiece of policy; but we immediately recollected
that should we meet the Arapahoe warriors on the river below they
might prove quite as dangerous as the Pawnees themselves. So
rejecting our plan as soon as it presented itself, we passed out of
the village on the farther side. We urged our horses rapidly through
the tall grass which rose to their necks. Several Indians were
walking through it at a distance, their heads just visible above its
waving surface. It bore a kind of seed as sweet and nutritious as
oats; and our hungry horses, in spite of whip and rein, could not
resist the temptation of snatching at this unwonted luxury as we
passed along. When about a mile from the village I turned and looked
back over the undulating ocean of grass. The sun was just set; the
western sky was all in a glow, and sharply defined against it, on the
extreme verge of the plain, stood the numerous lodges of the Arapahoe
Reaching the bank of the river, we followed it for some distance
farther, until we discerned through the twilight the white covering
of our little cart on the opposite bank. When we reached it we found
a considerable number of Indians there before us. Four or five of
them were seated in a row upon the ground, looking like so many halfstarved
vultures. Tete Rouge, in his uniform, was holding a close
colloquy with another by the side of the cart. His gesticulations,
his attempts at sign-making, and the contortions of his countenance,
were most ludicrous; and finding all these of no avail, he tried to
make the Indian understand him by repeating English words very loudly
and distinctly again and again. The Indian sat with his eye fixed
steadily upon him, and in spite of the rigid immobility of his
features, it was clear at a glance that he perfectly understood his
military companion's character and thoroughly despised him. The
exhibition was more amusing than politic, and Tete Rouge was directed
to finish what he had to say as soon as possible. Thus rebuked, he
crept under the cart and sat down there; Henry Chatillon stopped to
look at him in his retirement, and remarked in his quiet manner that
an Indian would kill ten such men and laugh all the time.
One by one our visitors rose and stalked away. As the darkness
thickened we were saluted by dismal sounds. The wolves are
incredibly numerous in this part of the country, and the offal around
the Arapahoe camp had drawn such multitudes of them together that
several hundred were howling in concert in our immediate
neighborhood. There was an island in the river, or rather an oasis
in the midst of the sands at about the distance of a gunshot, and
here they seemed gathered in the greatest numbers. A horrible
discord of low mournful wailings, mingled with ferocious howls, arose
from it incessantly for several hours after sunset. We could
distinctly see the wolves running about the prairie within a few rods
of our fire, or bounding over the sand-beds of the river and
splashing through the water. There was not the slightest danger to
be feared from them, for they are the greatest cowards on the
In respect to the human wolves in our neighborhood, we felt much less
at our ease. We seldom erected our tent except in bad weather, and
that night each man spread his buffalo robe upon the ground with his
loaded rifle laid at his side or clasped in his arms. Our horses
were picketed so close around us that one of them repeatedly stepped
over me as I lay. We were not in the habit of placing a guard, but
every man that night was anxious and watchful; there was little sound
sleeping in camp, and some one of the party was on his feet during
the greater part of the time. For myself, I lay alternately waking
and dozing until midnight. Tete Rouge was reposing close to the
river bank, and about this time, when half asleep and half awake, I
was conscious that he shifted his position and crept on all-fours
under the cart. Soon after I fell into a sound sleep from which I
was aroused by a hand shaking me by the shoulder. Looking up, I saw
Tete Rouge stooping over me with his face quite pale and his eyes
dilated to their utmost expansion.
"What's the matter?" said I.
Tete Rouge declared that as he lay on the river bank, something
caught his eye which excited his suspicions. So creeping under the
cart for safety's sake he sat there and watched, when he saw two
Indians, wrapped in white robes, creep up the bank, seize upon two
horses and lead them off. He looked so frightened, and told his
story in such a disconnected manner, that I did not believe him, and
was unwilling to alarm the party. Still it might be true, and in
that case the matter required instant attention. There would be no
time for examination, and so directing Tete Rouge to show me which
way the Indians had gone, I took my rifle, in obedience to a
thoughtless impulse, and left the camp. I followed the river back
for two or three hundred yards, listening and looking anxiously on
every side. In the dark prairie on the right I could discern nothing
to excite alarm; and in the dusky bed of the river, a wolf was
bounding along in a manner which no Indian could imitate. I returned
to the camp, and when within sight of it, saw that the whole party
was aroused. Shaw called out to me that he had counted the horses,
and that every one of them was in his place. Tete Rouge, being
examined as to what he had seen, only repeated his former story with
many asseverations, and insisted that two horses were certainly
carried off. At this Jim Gurney declared that he was crazy; Tete
Rouge indignantly denied the charge, on which Jim appealed to us. As
we declined to give our judgment on so delicate a matter, the dispute
grew hot between Tete Rouge and his accuser, until he was directed to
go to bed and not alarm the camp again if he saw the whole Arapahoe
village coming.
The country before us was now thronged with buffalo, and a sketch of
the manner of hunting them will not be out of place. There are two
methods commonly practiced, "running" and "approaching." The chase
on horseback, which goes by the name of "running," is the more
violent and dashing mode of the two. Indeed, of all American wild
sports, this is the wildest. Once among the buffalo, the hunter,
unless long use has made him familiar with the situation, dashes
forward in utter recklessness and self-abandonment. He thinks of
nothing, cares for nothing but the game; his mind is stimulated to
the highest pitch, yet intensely concentrated on one object. In the
midst of the flying herd, where the uproar and the dust are thickest,
it never wavers for a moment; he drops the rein and abandons his
horse to his furious career; he levels his gun, the report sounds
faint amid the thunder of the buffalo; and when his wounded enemy
leaps in vain fury upon him, his heart thrills with a feeling like
the fierce delight of the battlefield. A practiced and skillful
hunter, well mounted, will sometimes kill five or six cows in a
single chase, loading his gun again and again as his horse rushes
through the tumult. An exploit like this is quite beyond the
capacities of a novice. In attacking a small band of buffalo, or in
separating a single animal from the herd and assailing it apart from
the rest, there is less excitement and less danger. With a bold and
well trained horse the hunter may ride so close to the buffalo that
as they gallop side by side he may reach over and touch him with his
hand; nor is there much danger in this as long as the buffalo's
strength and breath continue unabated; but when he becomes tired and
can no longer run at ease, when his tongue lolls out and foam flies
from his jaws, then the hunter had better keep at a more respectful
distance; the distressed brute may turn upon him at any instant; and
especially at the moment when he fires his gun. The wounded buffalo
springs at his enemy; the horse leaps violently aside; and then the
hunter has need of a tenacious seat in the saddle, for if he is
thrown to the ground there is no hope for him. When he sees his
attack defeated the buffalo resumes his flight, but if the shot be
well directed he soon stops; for a few moments he stands still, then
totters and falls heavily upon the prairie.
The chief difficulty in running buffalo, as it seems to me, is that
of loading the gun or pistol at full gallop. Many hunters for
convenience' sake carry three or four bullets in the mouth; the
powder is poured down the muzzle of the piece, the bullet dropped in
after it, the stock struck hard upon the pommel of the saddle, and
the work is done. The danger of this method is obvious. Should the
blow on the pommel fail to send the bullet home, or should the
latter, in the act of aiming, start from its place and roll toward
the muzzle, the gun would probably burst in discharging. Many a
shattered hand and worse casualties besides have been the result of
such an accident. To obviate it, some hunters make use of a ramrod,
usually hung by a string from the neck, but this materially increases
the difficulty of loading. The bows and arrows which the Indians use
in running buffalo have many advantages over fire arms, and even
white men occasionally employ them.
The danger of the chase arises not so much from the onset of the
wounded animal as from the nature of the ground which the hunter must
ride over. The prairie does not always present a smooth, level, and
uniform surface; very often it is broken with hills and hollows,
intersected by ravines, and in the remoter parts studded by the stiff
wild-sage bushes. The most formidable obstructions, however, are the
burrows of wild animals, wolves, badgers, and particularly prairie
dogs, with whose holes the ground for a very great extent is
frequently honeycombed. In the blindness of the chase the hunter
rushes over it unconscious of danger; his horse, at full career,
thrusts his leg deep into one of the burrows; the bone snaps, the
rider is hurled forward to the ground and probably killed. Yet
accidents in buffalo running happen less frequently than one would
suppose; in the recklessness of the chase, the hunter enjoys all the
impunity of a drunken man, and may ride in safety over the gullies
and declivities where, should he attempt to pass in his sober senses,
he would infallibly break his neck.
The method of "approaching," being practiced on foot, has many
advantages over that of "running"; in the former, one neither breaks
down his horse nor endangers his own life; instead of yielding to
excitement he must be cool, collected, and watchful; he must
understand the buffalo, observe the features of the country and the
course of the wind, and be well skilled, moreover, in using the
rifle. The buffalo are strange animals; sometimes they are so stupid
and infatuated that a man may walk up to them in full sight on the
open prairie, and even shoot several of their number before the rest
will think it necessary to retreat. Again at another moment they
will be so shy and wary, that in order to approach them the utmost
skill, experience, and judgment are necessary. Kit Carson, I
believe, stands pre-eminent in running buffalo; in approaching, no
man living can bear away the palm from Henry Chatillon.
To resume the story: After Tete Rouge had alarmed the camp, no
further disturbance occurred during the night. The Arapahoes did not
attempt mischief, or if they did the wakefulness of the party
deterred them from effecting their purpose. The next day was one of
activity and excitement, for about ten o'clock the men in advance
shouted the gladdening cry of "Buffalo, buffalo!" and in the hollow
of the prairie just below us, a band of bulls were grazing. The
temptation was irresistible, and Shaw and I rode down upon them. We
were badly mounted on our traveling horses, but by hard lashing we
overtook them, and Shaw, running alongside of a bull, shot into him
both balls of his double-barreled gun. Looking round as I galloped
past, I saw the bull in his mortal fury rushing again and again upon
his antagonist, whose horse constantly leaped aside, and avoided the
onset. My chase was more protracted, but at length I ran close to
the bull and killed him with my pistols. Cutting off the tails of
our victims by way of trophy, we rejoined the party in about a
quarter of an hour after we left it. Again and again that morning
rang out the same welcome cry of "Buffalo, buffalo!" Every few
moments in the broad meadows along the river, we would see bands of
bulls, who, raising their shaggy heads, would gaze in stupid
amazement at the approaching horsemen, and then breaking into a
clumsy gallop, would file off in a long line across the trail in
front, toward the rising prairie on the left. At noon, the whole
plain before us was alive with thousands of buffalo--bulls, cows, and
calves--all moving rapidly as we drew near; and far-off beyond the
river the swelling prairie was darkened with them to the very
horizon. The party was in gayer spirits than ever. We stopped for a
nooning near a grove of trees by the river side.
"Tongues and hump ribs to-morrow," said Shaw, looking with contempt
at the venison steaks which Delorier placed before us. Our meal
finished, we lay down under a temporary awning to sleep. A shout
from Henry Chatillon aroused us, and we saw him standing on the
cartwheel stretching his tall figure to its full height while he
looked toward the prairie beyond the river. Following the direction
of his eyes we could clearly distinguish a large dark object, like
the black shadow of a cloud, passing rapidly over swell after swell
of the distant plain; behind it followed another of similar
appearance though smaller. Its motion was more rapid, and it drew
closer and closer to the first. It was the hunters of the Arapahoe
camp pursuing a band of buffalo. Shaw and I hastily sought and
saddled our best horses, and went plunging through sand and water to
the farther bank. We were too late. The hunters had already mingled
with the herd, and the work of slaughter was nearly over. When we
reached the ground we found it strewn far and near with numberless
black carcasses, while the remnants of the herd, scattered in all
directions, were flying away in terror, and the Indians still rushing
in pursuit. Many of the hunters, however, remained upon the spot,
and among the rest was our yesterday's acquaintance, the chief of the
village. He had alighted by the side of a cow, into which he had
shot five or six arrows, and his squaw, who had followed him on
horseback to the hunt, was giving him a draught of water out of a
canteen, purchased or plundered from some volunteer soldier.
Recrossing the river we overtook the party, who were already on their
We had scarcely gone a mile when an imposing spectacle presented
itself. From the river bank on the right, away over the swelling
prairie on the left, and in front as far as we could see, extended
one vast host of buffalo. The outskirts of the herd were within a
quarter of a mile. In many parts they were crowded so densely
together that in the distance their rounded backs presented a surface
of uniform blackness; but elsewhere they were more scattered, and
from amid the multitude rose little columns of dust where the buffalo
were rolling on the ground. Here and there a great confusion was
perceptible, where a battle was going forward among the bulls. We
could distinctly see them rushing against each other, and hear the
clattering of their horns and their hoarse bellowing. Shaw was
riding at some distance in advance, with Henry Chatillon; I saw him
stop and draw the leather covering from his gun. Indeed, with such a
sight before us, but one thing could be thought of. That morning I
had used pistols in the chase. I had now a mind to try the virtue of
a gun. Delorier had one, and I rode up to the side of the cart;
there he sat under the white covering, biting his pipe between his
teeth and grinning with excitement.
"Lend me your gun, Delorier," said I.
"Oui, monsieur, oui," said Delorier, tugging with might and main to
stop the mule, which seemed obstinately bent on going forward. Then
everything but his moccasins disappeared as he crawled into the cart
and pulled at the gun to extricate it.
"Is it loaded?" I asked.
"Oui, bien charge; you'll kill, mon bourgeois; yes, you'll kill--
c'est un bon fusil."
I handed him my rifle and rode forward to Shaw.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
"Come on," said I.
"Keep down that hollow," said Henry, "and then they won't see you
till you get close to them."
The hollow was a kind of ravine very wide and shallow; it ran
obliquely toward the buffalo, and we rode at a canter along the
bottom until it became too shallow, when we bent close to our horses'
necks, and then finding that it could no longer conceal us, came out
of it and rode directly toward the herd. It was within gunshot;
before its outskirts, numerous grizzly old bulls were scattered,
holding guard over their females. They glared at us in anger and
astonishment, walked toward us a few yards, and then turning slowly
round retreated at a trot which afterward broke into a clumsy gallop.
In an instant the main body caught the alarm. The buffalo began to
crowd away from the point toward which we were approaching, and a gap
was opened in the side of the herd. We entered it, still restraining
our excited horses. Every instant the tumult was thickening. The
buffalo, pressing together in large bodies, crowded away from us on
every hand. In front and on either side we could see dark columns
and masses, half hidden by clouds of dust, rushing along in terror
and confusion, and hear the tramp and clattering of ten thousand
hoofs. That countless multitude of powerful brutes, ignorant of
their own strength, were flying in a panic from the approach of two
feeble horsemen. To remain quiet longer was impossible.
"Take that band on the left," said Shaw; "I'll take these in front."
He sprang off, and I saw no more of him. A heavy Indian whip was
fastened by a band to my wrist; I swung it into the air and lashed my
horse's flank with all the strength of my arm. Away she darted,
stretching close to the ground. I could see nothing but a cloud of
dust before me, but I knew that it concealed a band of many hundreds
of buffalo. In a moment I was in the midst of the cloud, half
suffocated by the dust and stunned by the trampling of the flying
herd; but I was drunk with the chase and cared for nothing but the
buffalo. Very soon a long dark mass became visible, looming through
the dust; then I could distinguish each bulky carcass, the hoofs
flying out beneath, the short tails held rigidly erect. In a moment
I was so close that I could have touched them with my gun. Suddenly,
to my utter amazement, the hoofs were jerked upward, the tails
flourished in the air, and amid a cloud of dust the buffalo seemed to
sink into the earth before me. One vivid impression of that instant
remains upon my mind. I remember looking down upon the backs of
several buffalo dimly visible through the dust. We had run unawares
upon a ravine. At that moment I was not the most accurate judge of
depth and width, but when I passed it on my return, I found it about
twelve feet deep and not quite twice as wide at the bottom. It was
impossible to stop; I would have done so gladly if I could; so, half
sliding, half plunging, down went the little mare. I believe she
came down on her knees in the loose sand at the bottom; I was pitched
forward violently against her neck and nearly thrown over her head
among the buffalo, who amid dust and confusion came tumbling in all
around. The mare was on her feet in an instant and scrambling like a
cat up the opposite side. I thought for a moment that she would have
fallen back and crushed me, but with a violent effort she clambered
out and gained the hard prairie above. Glancing back I saw the huge
head of a bull clinging as it were by the forefeet at the edge of the
dusty gulf. At length I was fairly among the buffalo. They were
less densely crowded than before, and I could see nothing but bulls,
who always run at the rear of the herd. As I passed amid them they
would lower their heads, and turning as they ran, attempt to gore my
horse; but as they were already at full speed there was no force in
their onset, and as Pauline ran faster than they, they were always
thrown behind her in the effort. I soon began to distinguish cows
amid the throng. One just in front of me seemed to my liking, and I
pushed close to her side. Dropping the reins I fired, holding the
muzzle of the gun within a foot of her shoulder. Quick as lightning
she sprang at Pauline; the little mare dodged the attack, and I lost
sight of the wounded animal amid the tumultuous crowd. Immediately
after I selected another, and urging forward Pauline, shot into her
both pistols in succession. For a while I kept her in view, but in
attempting to load my gun, lost sight of her also in the confusion.
Believing her to be mortally wounded and unable to keep up with the
herd, I checked my horse. The crowd rushed onward. The dust and
tumult passed away, and on the prairie, far behind the rest, I saw a
solitary buffalo galloping heavily. In a moment I and my victim were
running side by side. My firearms were all empty, and I had in my
pouch nothing but rifle bullets, too large for the pistols and too
small for the gun. I loaded the latter, however, but as often as I
leveled it to fire, the little bullets would roll out of the muzzle
and the gun returned only a faint report like a squib, as the powder
harmlessly exploded. I galloped in front of the buffalo and
attempted to turn her back; but her eyes glared, her mane bristled,
and lowering her head, she rushed at me with astonishing fierceness
and activity. Again and again I rode before her, and again and again
she repeated her furious charge. But little Pauline was in her
element. She dodged her enemy at every rush, until at length the
buffalo stood still, exhausted with her own efforts; she panted, and
her tongue hung lolling from her jaws.
Riding to a little distance I alighted, thinking to gather a handful
of dry grass to serve the purpose of wadding, and load the gun at my
leisure. No sooner were my feet on the ground than the buffalo came
bounding in such a rage toward me that I jumped back again into the
saddle with all possible dispatch. After waiting a few minutes more,
I made an attempt to ride up and stab her with my knife; but the
experiment proved such as no wise man would repeat. At length,
bethinking me of the fringes at the seams of my buckskin pantaloons,
I jerked off a few of them, and reloading my gun, forced them down
the barrel to keep the bullet in its place; then approaching, I shot
the wounded buffalo through the heart. Sinking to her knees, she
rolled over lifeless on the prairie. To my astonishment, I found
that instead of a fat cow I had been slaughtering a stout yearling
bull. No longer wondering at the fierceness he had shown, I opened
his throat and cutting out his tongue, tied it at the back of my
saddle. My mistake was one which a more experienced eye than mine
might easily make in the dust and confusion of such a chase.
Then for the first time I had leisure to look at the scene around me.
The prairie in front was darkened with the retreating multitude, and
on the other hand the buffalo came filing up in endless unbroken
columns from the low plains upon the river. The Arkansas was three
or four miles distant. I turned and moved slowly toward it. A long
time passed before, far down in the distance, I distinguished the
white covering of the cart and the little black specks of horsemen
before and behind it. Drawing near, I recognized Shaw's elegant
tunic, the red flannel shirt, conspicuous far off. I overtook the
party, and asked him what success he had met with. He had assailed a
fat cow, shot her with two bullets, and mortally wounded her. But
neither of us were prepared for the chase that afternoon, and Shaw,
like myself, had no spare bullets in his pouch; so he abandoned the
disabled animal to Henry Chatillon, who followed, dispatched her with
his rifle, and loaded his horse with her meat.
We encamped close to the river. The night was dark, and as we lay
down we could hear mingled with the howling of wolves the hoarse
bellowing of the buffalo, like the ocean beating upon a distant
No one in the camp was more active than Jim Gurney, and no one half
so lazy as Ellis. Between these two there was a great antipathy.
Ellis never stirred in the morning until he was compelled to, but Jim
was always on his feet before daybreak; and this morning as usual the
sound of his voice awakened the party.
"Get up, you booby! up with you now, you're fit for nothing but
eating and sleeping. Stop your grumbling and come out of that
buffalo robe or I'll pull it off for you."
Jim's words were interspersed with numerous expletives, which gave
them great additional effect. Ellis drawled out something in a nasal
tone from among the folds of his buffalo robe; then slowly disengaged
himself, rose into sitting posture, stretched his long arms, yawned
hideously, and finally, raising his tall person erect, stood staring
round him to all the four quarters of the horizon. Delorier's fire
was soon blazing, and the horses and mules, loosened from their
pickets, were feeding in the neighboring meadow. When we sat down to
breakfast the prairie was still in the dusky light of morning; and as
the sun rose we were mounted and on our way again.
"A white buffalo!" exclaimed Munroe.
"I'll have that fellow," said Shaw, "if I run my horse to death after
He threw the cover of his gun to Delorier and galloped out upon the
"Stop, Mr. Shaw, stop!" called out Henry Chatillon, "you'll run down
your horse for nothing; it's only a white ox."
But Shaw was already out of hearing. The ox, who had no doubt
strayed away from some of the government wagon trains, was standing
beneath some low hills which bounded the plain in the distance. Not
far from him a band of veritable buffalo bulls were grazing; and
startled at Shaw's approach, they all broke into a run, and went
scrambling up the hillsides to gain the high prairie above. One of
them in his haste and terror involved himself in a fatal catastrophe.
Along the foot of the hills was a narrow strip of deep marshy soil,
into which the bull plunged and hopelessly entangled himself. We all
rode up to the spot. The huge carcass was half sunk in the mud,
which flowed to his very chin, and his shaggy mane was outspread upon
the surface. As we came near the bull began to struggle with
convulsive strength; he writhed to and fro, and in the energy of his
fright and desperation would lift himself for a moment half out of
the slough, while the reluctant mire returned a sucking sound as he
strained to drag his limbs from its tenacious depths. We stimulated
his exertions by getting behind him and twisting his tail; nothing
would do. There was clearly no hope for him. After every effort his
heaving sides were more deeply imbedded and the mire almost
overflowed his nostrils; he lay still at length, and looking round at
us with a furious eye, seemed to resign himself to his fate. Ellis
slowly dismounted, and deliberately leveling his boasted yager, shot
the old bull through the heart; then he lazily climbed back again to
his seat, pluming himself no doubt on having actually killed a
buffalo. That day the invincible yager drew blood for the first and
last time during the whole journey.
The morning was a bright and gay one, and the air so clear that on
the farthest horizon the outline of the pale blue prairie was sharply
drawn against the sky. Shaw felt in the mood for hunting; he rode in
advance of the party, and before long we saw a file of bulls
galloping at full speed upon a vast green swell of the prairie at
some distance in front. Shaw came scouring along behind them,
arrayed in his red shirt, which looked very well in the distance; he
gained fast on the fugitives, and as the foremost bull was
disappearing behind the summit of the swell, we saw him in the act of
assailing the hindmost; a smoke sprang from the muzzle of his gun,
and floated away before the wind like a little white cloud; the bull
turned upon him, and just then the rising ground concealed them both
from view.
We were moving forward until about noon, when we stopped by the side
of the Arkansas. At that moment Shaw appeared riding slowly down the
side of a distant hill; his horse was tired and jaded, and when he
threw his saddle upon the ground, I observed that the tails of two
bulls were dangling behind it. No sooner were the horses turned
loose to feed than Henry, asking Munroe to go with him, took his
rifle and walked quietly away. Shaw, Tete Rouge, and I sat down by
the side of the cart to discuss the dinner which Delorier placed
before us; we had scarcely finished when we saw Munroe walking toward
us along the river bank. Henry, he said, had killed four fat cows,
and had sent him back for horses to bring in the meat. Shaw took a
horse for himself and another for Henry, and he and Munroe left the
camp together. After a short absence all three of them came back,
their horses loaded with the choicest parts of the meat; we kept two
of the cows for ourselves and gave the others to Munroe and his
companions. Delorier seated himself on the grass before the pile of
meat, and worked industriously for some time to cut it into thin
broad sheets for drying. This is no easy matter, but Delorier had
all the skill of an Indian squaw. Long before night cords of raw
hide were stretched around the camp, and the meat was hung upon them
to dry in the sunshine and pure air of the prairie. Our California
companions were less successful at the work; but they accomplished it
after their own fashion, and their side of the camp was soon
garnished in the same manner as our own.
We meant to remain at this place long enough to prepare provisions
for our journey to the frontier, which as we supposed might occupy
about a month. Had the distance been twice as great and the party
ten times as large, the unerring rifle of Henry Chatillon would have
supplied meat enough for the whole within two days; we were obliged
to remain, however, until it should be dry enough for transportation;
so we erected our tent and made the other arrangements for a
permanent camp. The California men, who had no such shelter,
contented themselves with arranging their packs on the grass around
their fire. In the meantime we had nothing to do but amuse
ourselves. Our tent was within a rod of the river, if the broad
sand-beds, with a scanty stream of water coursing here and there
along their surface, deserve to be dignified with the name of river.
The vast flat plains on either side were almost on a level with the
sand-beds, and they were bounded in the distance by low, monotonous
hills, parallel to the course of the Arkansas. All was one expanse
of grass; there was no wood in view, except some trees and stunted
bushes upon two islands which rose from amid the wet sands of the
river. Yet far from being dull and tame this boundless scene was
often a wild and animated one; for twice a day, at sunrise and at
noon, the buffalo came issuing from the hills, slowly advancing in
their grave processions to drink at the river. All our amusements
were too at their expense. Except an elephant, I have seen no animal
that can surpass a buffalo bull in size and strength, and the world
may be searched in vain to find anything of a more ugly and ferocious
aspect. At first sight of him every feeling of sympathy vanishes; no
man who has not experienced it can understand with what keen relish
one inflicts his death wound, with what profound contentment of mind
he beholds him fall. The cows are much smaller and of a gentler
appearance, as becomes their sex. While in this camp we forebore to
attack them, leaving to Henry Chatillon, who could better judge their
fatness and good quality, the task of killing such as we wanted for
use; but against the bulls we waged an unrelenting war. Thousands of
them might be slaughtered without causing any detriment to the
species, for their numbers greatly exceed those of the cows; it is
the hides of the latter alone which are used for purpose of commerce
and for making the lodges of the Indians; and the destruction among
them is therefore altogether disproportioned.
Our horses were tired, and we now usually hunted on foot. The wide,
flat sand-beds of the Arkansas, as the reader will remember, lay
close by the side of our camp. While we were lying on the grass
after dinner, smoking, conversing, or laughing at Tete Rouge, one of
us would look up and observe, far out on the plains beyond the river,
certain black objects slowly approaching. He would inhale a parting
whiff from the pipe, then rising lazily, take his rifle, which leaned
against the cart, throw over his shoulder the strap of his pouch and
powder-horn, and with his moccasins in his hand walk quietly across
the sand toward the opposite side of the river. This was very easy;
for though the sands were about a quarter of a mile wide, the water
was nowhere more than two feet deep. The farther bank was about four
or five feet high, and quite perpendicular, being cut away by the
water in spring. Tall grass grew along its edge. Putting it aside
with his hand, and cautiously looking through it, the hunter can
discern the huge shaggy back of the buffalo slowly swaying to and
fro, as with his clumsy swinging gait he advances toward the water.
The buffalo have regular paths by which they come down to drink.
Seeing at a glance along which of these his intended victim is
moving, the hunter crouches under the bank within fifteen or twenty
yards, it may be, of the point where the path enters the river. Here
he sits down quietly on the sand. Listening intently, he hears the
heavy monotonous tread of the approaching bull. The moment after he
sees a motion among the long weeds and grass just at the spot where
the path is channeled through the bank. An enormous black head is
thrust out, the horns just visible amid the mass of tangled mane.
Half sliding, half plunging, down comes the buffalo upon the riverbed
below. He steps out in full sight upon the sands. Just before
him a runnel of water is gliding, and he bends his head to drink.
You may hear the water as it gurgles down his capacious throat. He
raises his head, and the drops trickle from his wet beard. He stands
with an air of stupid abstraction, unconscious of the lurking danger.
Noiselessly the hunter cocks his rifle. As he sits upon the sand,
his knee is raised, and his elbow rests upon it, that he may level
his heavy weapon with a steadier aim. The stock is at his shoulder;
his eye ranges along the barrel. Still he is in no haste to fire.
The bull, with slow deliberation, begins his march over the sands to
the other side. He advances his foreleg, and exposes to view a small
spot, denuded of hair, just behind the point of his shoulder; upon
this the hunter brings the sight of his rifle to bear; lightly and
delicately his finger presses upon the hair-trigger. Quick as
thought the spiteful crack of the rifle responds to his slight touch,
and instantly in the middle of the bare spot appears a small red dot.
The buffalo shivers; death has overtaken him, he cannot tell from
whence; still he does not fall, but walks heavily forward, as if
nothing had happened. Yet before he has advanced far out upon the
sand, you see him stop; he totters; his knees bend under him, and his
head sinks forward to the ground. Then his whole vast bulk sways to
one side; he rolls over on the sand, and dies with a scarcely
perceptible struggle.
Waylaying the buffalo in this manner, and shooting them as they come
to water, is the easiest and laziest method of hunting them. They
may also be approached by crawling up ravines, or behind hills, or
even over the open prairie. This is often surprisingly easy; but at
other times it requires the utmost skill of the most experienced
hunter. Henry Chatillon was a man of extraordinary strength and
hardihood; but I have seen him return to camp quite exhausted with
his efforts, his limbs scratched and wounded, and his buckskin dress
stuck full of the thorns of the prickly-pear among which he had been
crawling. Sometimes he would lay flat upon his face, and drag
himself along in this position for many rods together.
On the second day of our stay at this place, Henry went out for an
afternoon hunt. Shaw and I remained in camp until, observing some
bulls approaching the water upon the other side of the river, we
crossed over to attack them. They were so near, however, that before
we could get under cover of the bank our appearance as we walked over
the sands alarmed them. Turning round before coming within gunshot,
they began to move off to the right in a direction parallel to the
river. I climbed up the bank and ran after them. They were walking
swiftly, and before I could come within gunshot distance they slowly
wheeled about and faced toward me. Before they had turned far enough
to see me I had fallen flat on my face. For a moment they stood and
stared at the strange object upon the grass; then turning away, again
they walked on as before; and I, rising immediately, ran once more in
pursuit. Again they wheeled about, and again I fell prostrate.
Repeating this three or four times, I came at length within a hundred
yards of the fugitives, and as I saw them turning again I sat down
and leveled my rifle. The one in the center was the largest I had
ever seen. I shot him behind the shoulder. His two companions ran
off. He attempted to follow, but soon came to a stand, and at length
lay down as quietly as an ox chewing the cud. Cautiously approaching
him, I saw by his dull and jellylike eye that he was dead.
When I began the chase, the prairie was almost tenantless; but a
great multitude of buffalo had suddenly thronged upon it, and looking
up, I saw within fifty rods a heavy, dark column stretching to the
right and left as far as I could see. I walked toward them. My
approach did not alarm them in the least. The column itself
consisted entirely of cows and calves, but a great many old bulls
were ranging about the prairie on its flank, and as I drew near they
faced toward me with such a shaggy and ferocious look that I thought
it best to proceed no farther. Indeed I was already within close
rifle-shot of the column, and I sat down on the ground to watch their
movements. Sometimes the whole would stand still, their heads all
facing one way; then they would trot forward, as if by a common
impulse, their hoofs and horns clattering together as they moved. I
soon began to hear at a distance on the left the sharp reports of a
rifle, again and again repeated; and not long after, dull and heavy
sounds succeeded, which I recognized as the familiar voice of Shaw's
double-barreled gun. When Henry's rifle was at work there was always
meat to be brought in. I went back across the river for a horse, and
returning, reached the spot where the hunters were standing. The
buffalo were visible on the distant prairie. The living had
retreated from the ground, but ten or twelve carcasses were scattered
in various directions. Henry, knife in hand, was stooping over a
dead cow, cutting away the best and fattest of the meat.
When Shaw left me he had walked down for some distance under the
river bank to find another bull. At length he saw the plains covered
with the host of buffalo, and soon after heard the crack of Henry's
rifle. Ascending the bank, he crawled through the grass, which for a
rod or two from the river was very high and rank. He had not crawled
far before to his astonishment he saw Henry standing erect upon the
prairie, almost surrounded by the buffalo. Henry was in his
appropriate element. Nelson, on the deck of the Victory, hardly felt
a prouder sense of mastery than he. Quite unconscious that any one
was looking at him, he stood at the full height of his tall, strong
figure, one hand resting upon his side, and the other arm leaning
carelessly on the muzzle of his rifle. His eyes were ranging over
the singular assemblage around him. Now and then he would select
such a cow as suited him, level his rifle, and shoot her dead; then
quietly reloading, he would resume his former position. The buffalo
seemed no more to regard his presence than if he were one of
themselves; the bulls were bellowing and butting at each other, or
else rolling about in the dust. A group of buffalo would gather
about the carcass of a dead cow, snuffing at her wounds; and
sometimes they would come behind those that had not yet fallen, and
endeavor to push them from the spot. Now and then some old bull
would face toward Henry with an air of stupid amazement, but none
seemed inclined to attack or fly from him. For some time Shaw lay
among the grass, looking in surprise at this extraordinary sight; at
length he crawled cautiously forward, and spoke in a low voice to
Henry, who told him to rise and come on. Still the buffalo showed no
sign of fear; they remained gathered about their dead companions.
Henry had already killed as many cows as we wanted for use, and Shaw,
kneeling behind one of the carcasses, shot five bulls before the rest
thought it necessary to disperse.
The frequent stupidity and infatuation of the buffalo seems the more
remarkable from the contrast it offers to their wildness and wariness
at other times. Henry knew all their peculiarities; he had studied
them as a scholar studies his books, and he derived quite as much
pleasure from the occupation. The buffalo were a kind of companions
to him, and, as he said, he never felt alone when they were about
him. He took great pride in his skill in hunting. Henry was one of
the most modest of men; yet, in the simplicity and frankness of his
character, it was quite clear that he looked upon his pre-eminence in
this respect as a thing too palpable and well established ever to be
disputed. But whatever may have been his estimate of his own skill,
it was rather below than above that which others placed upon it. The
only time that I ever saw a shade of scorn darken his face was when
two volunteer soldiers, who had just killed a buffalo for the first
time, undertook to instruct him as to the best method of
"approaching." To borrow an illustration from an opposite side of
life, an Eton boy might as well have sought to enlighten Porson on
the formation of a Greek verb, or a Fleet Street shopkeeper to
instruct Chesterfield concerning a point of etiquette. Henry always
seemed to think that he had a sort of prescriptive right to the
buffalo, and to look upon them as something belonging peculiarly to
himself. Nothing excited his indignation so much as any wanton
destruction committed among the cows, and in his view shooting a calf
was a cardinal sin.
Henry Chatillon and Tete Rouge were of the same age; that is, about
thirty. Henry was twice as large, and fully six times as strong as
Tete Rouge. Henry's face was roughened by winds and storms; Tete
Rouge's was bloated by sherry cobblers and brandy toddy. Henry
talked of Indians and buffalo; Tete Rouge of theaters and oyster
cellars. Henry had led a life of hardship and privation; Tete Rouge
never had a whim which he would not gratify at the first moment he
was able. Henry moreover was the most disinterested man I ever saw;
while Tete Rouge, though equally good-natured in his way, cared for
nobody but himself. Yet we would not have lost him on any account;
he admirably served the purpose of a jester in a feudal castle; our
camp would have been lifeless without him. For the past week he had
fattened in a most amazing manner; and indeed this was not at all
surprising, since his appetite was most inordinate. He was eating
from morning till night; half the time he would be at work cooking
some private repast for himself, and he paid a visit to the coffeepot
eight or ten times a day. His rueful and disconsolate face
became jovial and rubicund, his eyes stood out like a lobster's, and
his spirits, which before were sunk to the depths of despondency,
were now elated in proportion; all day he was singing, whistling,
laughing, and telling stories. Being mortally afraid of Jim Gurney,
he kept close in the neighborhood of our tent. As he had seen an
abundance of low dissipated life, and had a considerable fund of
humor, his anecdotes were extremely amusing, especially since he
never hesitated to place himself in a ludicrous point of view,
provided he could raise a laugh by doing so. Tete Rouge, however,
was sometimes rather troublesome; he had an inveterate habit of
pilfering provisions at all times of the day. He set ridicule at
utter defiance; and being without a particle of self-respect, he
would never have given over his tricks, even if they had drawn upon
him the scorn of the whole party. Now and then, indeed, something
worse than laughter fell to his share; on these occasions he would
exhibit much contrition, but half an hour after we would generally
observe him stealing round to the box at the back of the cart and
slyly making off with the provisions which Delorier had laid by for
supper. He was very fond of smoking; but having no tobacco of his
own, we used to provide him with as much as he wanted, a small piece
at a time. At first we gave him half a pound together, but this
experiment proved an entire failure, for he invariably lost not only
the tobacco, but the knife intrusted to him for cutting it, and a few
minutes after he would come to us with many apologies and beg for
We had been two days at this camp, and some of the meat was nearly
fit for transportation, when a storm came suddenly upon us. About
sunset the whole sky grew as black as ink, and the long grass at the
river's edge bent and rose mournfully with the first gusts of the
approaching hurricane. Munroe and his two companions brought their
guns and placed them under cover of our tent. Having no shelter for
themselves, they built a fire of driftwood that might have defied a
cataract, and wrapped in their buffalo robes, sat on the ground
around it to bide the fury of the storm. Delorier ensconced himself
under the cover of the cart. Shaw and I, together with Henry and
Tete Rouge, crowded into the little tent; but first of all the dried
meat was piled together, and well protected by buffalo robes pinned
firmly to the ground. About nine o'clock the storm broke, amid
absolute darkness; it blew a gale, and torrents of rain roared over
the boundless expanse of open prairie. Our tent was filled with mist
and spray beating through the canvas, and saturating everything
within. We could only distinguish each other at short intervals by
the dazzling flash of lightning, which displayed the whole waste
around us with its momentary glare. We had our fears for the tent;
but for an hour or two it stood fast, until at length the cap gave
way before a furious blast; the pole tore through the top, and in an
instant we were half suffocated by the cold and dripping folds of the
canvas, which fell down upon us. Seizing upon our guns, we placed
them erect, in order to lift the saturated cloth above our heads. In
this disagreeable situation, involved among wet blankets and buffalo
robes, we spent several hours of the night during which the storm
would not abate for a moment, but pelted down above our heads with
merciless fury. Before long the ground beneath us became soaked with
moisture, and the water gathered there in a pool two or three inches
deep; so that for a considerable part of the night we were partially
immersed in a cold bath. In spite of all this, Tete Rouge's flow of
spirits did not desert him for an instant, he laughed, whistled, and
sung in defiance of the storm, and that night he paid off the long
arrears of ridicule which he owed us. While we lay in silence,
enduring the infliction with what philosophy we could muster, Tete
Rouge, who was intoxicated with animal spirits, was cracking jokes at
our expense by the hour together. At about three o'clock in the
morning, "preferring the tyranny of the open night" to such a
wretched shelter, we crawled out from beneath the fallen canvas. The
wind had abated, but the rain fell steadily. The fire of the
California men still blazed amid the darkness, and we joined them as
they sat around it. We made ready some hot coffee by way of
refreshment; but when some of the party sought to replenish their
cups, it was found that Tete Rouge, having disposed of his own share,
had privately abstracted the coffee-pot and drank up the rest of the
contents out of the spout.
In the morning, to our great joy, an unclouded sun rose upon the
prairie. We presented rather a laughable appearance, for the cold
and clammy buckskin, saturated with water, clung fast to our limbs;
the light wind and warm sunshine soon dried them again, and then we
were all incased in armor of intolerable rigidity. Roaming all day
over the prairie and shooting two or three bulls, were scarcely
enough to restore the stiffened leather to its usual pliancy.
Besides Henry Chatillon, Shaw and I were the only hunters in the
party. Munroe this morning made an attempt to run a buffalo, but his
horse could not come up to the game. Shaw went out with him, and
being better mounted soon found himself in the midst of the herd.
Seeing nothing but cows and calves around him, he checked his horse.
An old bull came galloping on the open prairie at some distance
behind, and turning, Shaw rode across his path, leveling his gun as
he passed, and shooting him through the shoulder into the heart. The
heavy bullets of Shaw's double-barreled gun made wild work wherever
they struck.
A great flock of buzzards were usually soaring about a few trees that
stood on the island just below our camp. Throughout the whole of
yesterday we had noticed an eagle among them; to-day he was still
there; and Tete Rouge, declaring that he would kill the bird of
America, borrowed Delorier's gun and set out on his unpatriotic
mission. As might have been expected, the eagle suffered no great
harm at his hands. He soon returned, saying that he could not find
him, but had shot a buzzard instead. Being required to produce the
bird in proof of his assertion he said he believed he was not quite
dead, but he must be hurt, from the swiftness with which he flew off.
"If you want," said Tete Rouge, "I'll go and get one of his feathers;
I knocked off plenty of them when I shot him."
Just opposite our camp was another island covered with bushes, and
behind it was a deep pool of water, while two or three considerable
streams course'd over the sand not far off. I was bathing at this
place in the afternoon when a white wolf, larger than the largest
Newfoundland dog, ran out from behind the point of the island, and
galloped leisurely over the sand not half a stone's throw distant. I
could plainly see his red eyes and the bristles about his snout; he
was an ugly scoundrel, with a bushy tail, large head, and a most
repulsive countenance. Having neither rifle to shoot nor stone to
pelt him with, I was looking eagerly after some missile for his
benefit, when the report of a gun came from the camp, and the ball
threw up the sand just beyond him; at this he gave a slight jump, and
stretched away so swiftly that he soon dwindled into a mere speck on
the distant sand-beds. The number of carcasses that by this time
were lying about the prairie all around us summoned the wolves from
every quarter; the spot where Shaw and Henry had hunted together soon
became their favorite resort, for here about a dozen dead buffalo
were fermenting under the hot sun. I used often to go over the river
and watch them at their meal; by lying under the bank it was easy to
get a full view of them. Three different kinds were present; there
were the white wolves and the gray wolves, both extremely large, and
besides these the small prairie wolves, not much bigger than
spaniels. They would howl and fight in a crowd around a single
carcass, yet they were so watchful, and their senses so acute, that I
never was able to crawl within a fair shooting distance; whenever I
attempted it, they would all scatter at once and glide silently away
through the tall grass. The air above this spot was always full of
buzzards or black vultures; whenever the wolves left a carcass they
would descend upon it, and cover it so densely that a rifle-bullet
shot at random among the gormandizing crowd would generally strike
down two or three of them. These birds would now be sailing by
scores just about our camp, their broad black wings seeming half
transparent as they expanded them against the bright sky. The wolves
and the buzzards thickened about us with every hour, and two or three
eagles also came into the feast. I killed a bull within rifle-shot
of the camp; that night the wolves made a fearful howling close at
hand, and in the morning the carcass was completely hollowed out by
these voracious feeders.
After we had remained four days at this camp we prepared to leave it.
We had for our own part about five hundred pounds of dried meat, and
the California men had prepared some three hundred more; this
consisted of the fattest and choicest parts of eight or nine cows, a
very small quantity only being taken from each, and the rest
abandoned to the wolves. The pack animals were laden, the horses
were saddled, and the mules harnessed to the cart. Even Tete Rouge
was ready at last, and slowly moving from the ground, we resumed our
journey eastward. When we had advanced about a mile, Shaw missed a
valuable hunting knife and turned back in search of it, thinking that
he had left it at the camp. He approached the place cautiously,
fearful that Indians might be lurking about, for a deserted camp is
dangerous to return to. He saw no enemy, but the scene was a wild
and dreary one; the prairie was overshadowed by dull, leaden clouds,
for the day was dark and gloomy. The ashes of the fires were still
smoking by the river side; the grass around them was trampled down by
men and horses, and strewn with all the litter of a camp. Our
departure had been a gathering signal to the birds and beasts of
prey; Shaw assured me that literally dozens of wolves were prowling
about the smoldering fires, while multitudes were roaming over the
prairie around; they all fled as he approached, some running over the
sand-beds and some over the grassy plains. The vultures in great
clouds were soaring overhead, and the dead bull near the camp was
completely blackened by the flock that had alighted upon it; they
flapped their broad wings, and stretched upward their crested heads
and long skinny necks, fearing to remain, yet reluctant to leave
their disgusting feast. As he searched about the fires he saw the
wolves seated on the distant hills waiting for his departure. Having
looked in vain for his knife, he mounted again, and left the wolves
and the vultures to banquet freely upon the carrion of the camp.
In the summer of 1846 the wild and lonely banks of the Upper Arkansas
beheld for the first time the passage of an army. General Kearny, on
his march to Santa Fe, adopted this route in preference to the old
trail of the Cimarron. When we came down the main body of the troops
had already passed on; Price's Missouri regiment, however, was still
on the way, having left the frontier much later than the rest; and
about this time we began to meet them moving along the trail, one or
two companies at a time. No men ever embarked upon a military
expedition with a greater love for the work before them than the
Missourians; but if discipline and subordination be the criterion of
merit, these soldiers were worthless indeed. Yet when their exploits
have rung through all America, it would be absurd to deny that they
were excellent irregular troops. Their victories were gained in the
teeth of every established precedent of warfare; they were owing to a
singular combination of military qualities in the men themselves.
Without discipline or a spirit of subordination, they knew how to
keep their ranks and act as one man. Doniphan's regiment marched
through New Mexico more like a band of free companions than like the
paid soldiers of a modern government. When General Taylor
complimented Doniphan on his success at Sacramento and elsewhere, the
colonel's reply very well illustrates the relations which subsisted
between the officers and men of his command:
"I don't know anything of the maneuvers. The boys kept coming to me,
to let them charge; and when I saw a good opportunity, I told them
they might go. They were off like a shot, and that's all I know
about it."
The backwoods lawyer was better fitted to conciliate the good-will
than to command the obedience of his men. There were many serving
under him, who both from character and education could better have
held command than he.
At the battle of Sacramento his frontiersmen fought under every
possible disadvantage. The Mexicans had chosen their own position;
they were drawn up across the valley that led to their native city of
Chihuahua; their whole front was covered by intrenchments and
defended by batteries of heavy cannon; they outnumbered the invaders
five to one. An eagle flew over the Americans, and a deep murmur
rose along their lines. The enemy's batteries opened; long they
remained under fire, but when at length the word was given, they
shouted and ran forward. In one of the divisions, when midway to the
enemy, a drunken officer ordered a halt; the exasperated men
hesitated to obey.
"Forward, boys!" cried a private from the ranks; and the Americans,
rushing like tigers upon the enemy, bounded over the breastwork.
Four hundred Mexicans were slain upon the spot and the rest fled,
scattering over the plain like sheep. The standards, cannon, and
baggage were taken, and among the rest a wagon laden with cords,
which the Mexicans, in the fullness of their confidence, had made
ready for tying the American prisoners.
Doniphan's volunteers, who gained this victory, passed up with the
main army; but Price's soldiers, whom we now met, were men from the
same neighborhood, precisely similar in character, manner, and
appearance. One forenoon, as we were descending upon a very wide
meadow, where we meant to rest for an hour or two, we saw a dark body
of horsemen approaching at a distance. In order to find water, we
were obliged to turn aside to the river bank, a full half mile from
the trail. Here we put up a kind of awning, and spreading buffalo
robes on the ground, Shaw and I sat down to smoke beneath it.
"We are going to catch it now," said Shaw; "look at those fellows,
there'll be no peace for us here."
And in good truth about half the volunteers had straggled away from
the line of march, and were riding over the meadow toward us.
"How are you?" said the first who came up, alighting from his horse
and throwing himself upon the ground. The rest followed close, and a
score of them soon gathered about us, some lying at full length and
some sitting on horseback. They all belonged to a company raised in
St. Louis. There were some ruffian faces among them, and some
haggard with debauchery; but on the whole they were extremely goodlooking
men, superior beyond measure to the ordinary rank and file of
an army. Except that they were booted to the knees, they wore their
belts and military trappings over the ordinary dress of citizens.
Besides their swords and holster pistols, they carried slung from
their saddles the excellent Springfield carbines, loaded at the
breech. They inquired the character of our party, and were anxious
to know the prospect of killing buffalo, and the chance that their
horses would stand the journey to Santa Fe. All this was well
enough, but a moment after a worse visitation came upon us.
"How are you, strangers? whar are you going and whar are you from?"
said a fellow, who came trotting up with an old straw hat on his
head. He was dressed in the coarsest brown homespun cloth. His face
was rather sallow from fever-and-ague, and his tall figure, though
strong and sinewy was quite thin, and had besides an angular look,
which, together with his boorish seat on horseback, gave him an
appearance anything but graceful. Plenty more of the same stamp were
close behind him. Their company was raised in one of the frontier
counties, and we soon had abundant evidence of their rustic breeding;
dozens of them came crowding round, pushing between our first
visitors and staring at us with unabashed faces.
"Are you the captain?" asked one fellow.
"What's your business out here?" asked another.
"Whar do you live when you're at home?" said a third.
"I reckon you're traders," surmised a fourth; and to crown the whole,
one of them came confidentially to my side and inquired in a low
voice, "What's your partner's name?"
As each newcomer repeated the same questions, the nuisance became
intolerable. Our military visitors were soon disgusted at the
concise nature of our replies, and we could overhear them muttering
curses against us. While we sat smoking, not in the best imaginable
humor, Tete Rouge's tongue was never idle. He never forgot his
military character, and during the whole interview he was incessantly
busy among his fellow-soldiers. At length we placed him on the
ground before us, and told him that he might play the part of
spokesman for the whole. Tete Rouge was delighted, and we soon had
the satisfaction of seeing him talk and gabble at such a rate that
the torrent of questions was in a great measure diverted from us. A
little while after, to our amazement, we saw a large cannon with four
horses come lumbering up behind the crowd; and the driver, who was
perched on one of the animals, stretching his neck so as to look over
the rest of the men, called out:
"Whar are you from, and what's your business?"
The captain of one of the companies was among our visitors, drawn by
the same curiosity that had attracted his men. Unless their faces
belied them, not a few in the crowd might with great advantage have
changed places with their commander.
"Well, men," said he, lazily rising from the ground where he had been
lounging, "it's getting late, I reckon we had better be moving."
"I shan't start yet anyhow," said one fellow, who was lying half
asleep with his head resting on his arm.
"Don't be in a hurry, captain," added the lieutenant.
"Well, have it your own way, we'll wait a while longer," replied the
obsequious commander.
At length however our visitors went straggling away as they had come,
and we, to our great relief, were left alone again.
No one can deny the intrepid bravery of these men, their intelligence
and the bold frankness of their character, free from all that is mean
and sordid. Yet for the moment the extreme roughness of their
manners half inclines one to forget their heroic qualities. Most of
them seem without the least perception of delicacy or propriety,
though among them individuals may be found in whose manners there is
a plain courtesy, while their features bespeak a gallant spirit equal
to any enterprise.
No one was more relieved than Delorier by the departure of the
volunteers; for dinner was getting colder every moment. He spread a
well-whitened buffalo hide upon the grass, placed in the middle the
juicy hump of a fat cow, ranged around it the tin plates and cups,
and then acquainted us that all was ready. Tete Rouge, with his
usual alacrity on such occasions, was the first to take his seat. In
his former capacity of steamboat clerk, he had learned to prefix the
honorary MISTER to everybody's name, whether of high or low degree;
so Jim Gurney was Mr. Gurney, Henry was Mr. Henry, and even Delorier,
for the first time in his life, heard himself addressed as Mr.
Delorier. This did not prevent his conceiving a violent enmity
against Tete Rouge, who, in his futile though praiseworthy attempts
to make himself useful used always to intermeddle with cooking the
dinners. Delorier's disposition knew no medium between smiles and
sunshine and a downright tornado of wrath; he said nothing to Tete
Rouge, but his wrongs rankled in his breast. Tete Rouge had taken
his place at dinner; it was his happiest moment; he sat enveloped in
the old buffalo coat, sleeves turned up in preparation for the work,
and his short legs crossed on the grass before him; he had a cup of
coffee by his side and his knife ready in his hand and while he
looked upon the fat hump ribs, his eyes dilated with anticipation.
Delorier sat just opposite to him, and the rest of us by this time
had taken our seats.
"How is this, Delorier? You haven't given us bread enough."
At this Delorier's placid face flew instantly into a paroxysm of
contortions. He grinned with wrath, chattered, gesticulated, and
hurled forth a volley of incoherent words in broken English at the
astonished Tete Rouge. It was just possible to make out that he was
accusing him of having stolen and eaten four large cakes which had
been laid by for dinner. Tete Rouge, utterly confounded at this
sudden attack, stared at Delorier for a moment in dumb amazement,
with mouth and eyes wide open. At last he found speech, and
protested that the accusation was false; and that he could not
conceive how he had offended Mr. Delorier, or provoked him to use
such ungentlemanly expressions. The tempest of words raged with such
fury that nothing else could be heard. But Tete Rouge, from his
greater command of English, had a manifest advantage over Delorier,
who after sputtering and grimacing for a while, found his words quite
inadequate to the expression of his wrath. He jumped up and
vanished, jerking out between his teeth one furious sacre enfant de
grace, a Canadian title of honor, made doubly emphatic by being
usually applied together with a cut of the whip to refractory mules
and horses.
The next morning we saw an old buffalo escorting his cow with two
small calves over the prairie. Close behind came four or five large
white wolves, sneaking stealthily through the long meadow-grass, and
watching for the moment when one of the children should chance to lag
behind his parents. The old bull kept well on his guard, and faced
about now and then to keep the prowling ruffians at a distance.
As we approached our nooning place, we saw five or six buffalo
standing at the very summit of a tall bluff. Trotting forward to the
spot where we meant to stop, I flung off my saddle and turned my
horse loose. By making a circuit under cover of some rising ground,
I reached the foot of the bluff unnoticed, and climbed up its steep
side. Lying under the brow of the declivity, I prepared to fire at
the buffalo, who stood on the flat surface about not five yards
distant. Perhaps I was too hasty, for the gleaming rifle-barrel
leveled over the edge caught their notice; they turned and ran.
Close as they were, it was impossible to kill them when in that
position, and stepping upon the summit I pursued them over the high
arid tableland. It was extremely rugged and broken; a great sandy
ravine was channeled through it, with smaller ravines entering on
each side like tributary streams. The buffalo scattered, and I soon
lost sight of most of them as they scuttled away through the sandy
chasms; a bull and a cow alone kept in view. For a while they ran
along the edge of the great ravine, appearing and disappearing as
they dived into some chasm and again emerged from it. At last they
stretched out upon the broad prairie, a plain nearly flat and almost
devoid of verdure, for every short grass-blade was dried and
shriveled by the glaring sun. Now and then the old bull would face
toward me; whenever he did so I fell to the ground and lay
motionless. In this manner I chased them for about two miles, until
at length I heard in front a deep hoarse bellowing. A moment after a
band of about a hundred bulls, before hidden by a slight swell of the
plain, came at once into view. The fugitives ran toward them.
Instead of mingling with the band, as I expected, they passed
directly through, and continued their flight. At this I gave up the
chase, and kneeling down, crawled to within gunshot of the bulls, and
with panting breath and trickling brow sat down on the ground to
watch them; my presence did not disturb them in the least. They were
not feeding, for, indeed, there was nothing to eat; but they seemed
to have chosen the parched and scorching desert as the scene of their
amusements. Some were rolling on the ground amid a cloud of dust;
others, with a hoarse rumbling bellow, were butting their large heads
together, while many stood motionless, as if quite inanimate. Except
their monstrous growth of tangled grizzly mane, they had no hair; for
their old coat had fallen off in the spring, and their new one had
not as yet appeared. Sometimes an old bull would step forward, and
gaze at me with a grim and stupid countenance; then he would turn and
butt his next neighbor; then he would lie down and roll over in the
dirt, kicking his hoofs in the air. When satisfied with this
amusement he would jerk his head and shoulders upward, and resting on
his forelegs stare at me in this position, half blinded by his mane,
and his face covered with dirt; then up he would spring upon allfours,
and shake his dusty sides; turning half round, he would stand
with his beard touching the ground, in an attitude of profound
abstraction, as if reflecting on his puerile conduct. "You are too
ugly to live," thought I; and aiming at the ugliest, I shot three of
them in succession. The rest were not at all discomposed at this;
they kept on bellowing and butting and rolling on the ground as
before. Henry Chatillon always cautioned us to keep perfectly quiet
in the presence of a wounded buffalo, for any movement is apt to
excite him to make an attack; so I sat still upon the ground, loading
and firing with as little motion as possible. While I was thus
employed, a spectator made his appearance; a little antelope came
running up with remarkable gentleness to within fifty yards; and
there it stood, its slender neck arched, its small horns thrown back,
and its large dark eyes gazing on me with a look of eager curiosity.
By the side of the shaggy and brutish monsters before me, it seemed
like some lovely young girl wandering near a den of robbers or a nest
of bearded pirates. The buffalo looked uglier than ever. "Here goes
for another of you," thought I, feeling in my pouch for a percussion
cap. Not a percussion cap was there. My good rifle was useless as
an old iron bar. One of the wounded bulls had not yet fallen, and I
waited for some time, hoping every moment that his strength would
fail him. He still stood firm, looking grimly at me, and
disregarding Henry's advice I rose and walked away. Many of the
bulls turned and looked at me, but the wounded brute made no attack.
I soon came upon a deep ravine which would give me shelter in case of
emergency; so I turned round and threw a stone at the bulls. They
received it with the utmost indifference. Feeling myself insulted at
their refusal to be frightened, I swung my hat, shouted, and made a
show of running toward them; at this they crowded together and
galloped off, leaving their dead and wounded upon the field. As I
moved toward the camp I saw the last survivor totter and fall dead.
My speed in returning was wonderfully quickened by the reflection
that the Pawnees were abroad, and that I was defenseless in case of
meeting with an enemy. I saw no living thing, however, except two or
three squalid old bulls scrambling among the sand-hills that flanked
the great ravine. When I reached camp the party was nearly ready for
the afternoon move.
We encamped that evening at a short distance from the river bank.
About midnight, as we all lay asleep on the ground, the man nearest
to me gently reaching out his hand, touched my shoulder, and
cautioned me at the same time not to move. It was bright starlight.
Opening my eyes and slightly turning I saw a large white wolf moving
stealthily around the embers of our fire, with his nose close to the
ground. Disengaging my hand from the blanket, I drew the cover from
my rifle, which lay close at my side; the motion alarmed the wolf,
and with long leaps he bounded out of the camp. Jumping up, I fired
after him when he was about thirty yards distant; the melancholy hum
of the bullet sounded far away through the night. At the sharp
report, so suddenly breaking upon the stillness, all the men sprang
"You've killed him," said one of them.
"No, I haven't," said I; "there he goes, running along the river.
"Then there's two of them. Don't you see that one lying out yonder?"
We went to it, and instead of a dead white wolf found the bleached
skull of a buffalo. I had missed my mark, and what was worse, had
grossly violated a standing law of the prairie. When in a dangerous
part of the country, it is considered highly imprudent to fire a gun
after encamping, lest the report should reach the ears of the
The horses were saddled in the morning, and the last man had lighted
his pipe at the dying ashes of the fire. The beauty of the day
enlivened us all. Even Ellis felt its influence, and occasionally
made a remark as we rode along, and Jim Gurney told endless stories
of his cruisings in the United States service. The buffalo were
abundant, and at length a large band of them went running up the
hills on the left.
"Do you see them buffalo?" said Ellis, "now I'll bet any man I'll go
and kill one with my yager."
And leaving his horse to follow on with the party, he strode up the
hill after them. Henry looked at us with his peculiar humorous
expression, and proposed that we should follow Ellis to see how he
would kill a fat cow. As soon as he was out of sight we rode up the
hill after him, and waited behind a little ridge till we heard the
report of the unfailing yager. Mounting to the top, we saw Ellis
clutching his favorite weapon with both hands, and staring after the
buffalo, who one and all were galloping off at full speed. As we
descended the hill we saw the party straggling along the trail below.
When we joined them, another scene of amateur hunting awaited us. I
forgot to say that when we met the volunteers Tete Rouge had obtained
a horse from one of them, in exchange for his mule, whom he feared
and detested. The horse he christened James. James, though not
worth so much as the mule, was a large and strong animal. Tete Rouge
was very proud of his new acquisition, and suddenly became ambitious
to run a buffalo with him. At his request, I lent him my pistols,
though not without great misgivings, since when Tete Rouge hunted
buffalo the pursuer was in more danger than the pursued. He hung the
holsters at his saddle bow; and now, as we passed along, a band of
bulls left their grazing in the meadow and galloped in a long file
across the trail in front.
"Now's your chance, Tete; come, let's see you kill a bull." Thus
urged, the hunter cried, "Get up!" and James, obedient to the signal,
cantered deliberately forward at an abominably uneasy gait. Tete
Rouge, as we contemplated him from behind; made a most remarkable
figure. He still wore the old buffalo coat; his blanket, which was
tied in a loose bundle behind his saddle, went jolting from one side
to the other, and a large tin canteen half full of water, which hung
from his pommel, was jerked about his leg in a manner which greatly
embarrassed him.
"Let out your horse, man; lay on your whip!" we called out to him.
The buffalo were getting farther off at every instant. James, being
ambitious to mend his pace, tugged hard at the rein, and one of his
rider's boots escaped from the stirrup.
"Woa! I say, woa!" cried Tete Rouge, in great perturbation, and
after much effort James' progress was arrested. The hunter came
trotting back to the party, disgusted with buffalo running, and he
was received with overwhelming congratulations.
"Too good a chance to lose," said Shaw, pointing to another band of
bulls on the left. We lashed our horses and galloped upon them.
Shaw killed one with each barrel of his gun. I separated another
from the herd and shot him. The small bullet of the rifled pistol,
striking too far back, did not immediately take effect, and the bull
ran on with unabated speed. Again and again I snapped the remaining
pistol at him. I primed it afresh three or four times, and each time
it missed fire, for the touch-hole was clogged up. Returning it to
the holster, I began to load the empty pistol, still galloping by the
side of the bull. By this time he was grown desperate. The foam
flew from his jaws and his tongue lolled out. Before the pistol was
loaded he sprang upon me, and followed up his attack with a furious
rush. The only alternative was to run away or be killed. I took to
flight, and the bull, bristling with fury, pursued me closely. The
pistol was soon ready, and then looking back, I saw his head five or
six yards behind my horse's tail. To fire at it would be useless,
for a bullet flattens against the adamantine skull of a buffalo bull.
Inclining my body to the left, I turned my horse in that direction as
sharply as his speed would permit. The bull, rushing blindly on with
great force and weight, did not turn so quickly. As I looked back,
his neck and shoulders were exposed to view; turning in the saddle, I
shot a bullet through them obliquely into his vitals. He gave over
the chase and soon fell to the ground. An English tourist represents
a situation like this as one of imminent danger; this is a great
mistake; the bull never pursues long, and the horse must be wretched
indeed that cannot keep out of his way for two or three minutes.
We were now come to a part of the country where we were bound in
common prudence to use every possible precaution. We mounted guard
at night, each man standing in his turn; and no one ever slept
without drawing his rifle close to his side or folding it with him in
his blanket. One morning our vigilance was stimulated by our finding
traces of a large Comanche encampment. Fortunately for us, however,
it had been abandoned nearly a week. On the next evening we found
the ashes of a recent fire, which gave us at the time some
uneasiness. At length we reached the Caches, a place of dangerous
repute; and it had a most dangerous appearance, consisting of sandhills
everywhere broken by ravines and deep chasms. Here we found
the grave of Swan, killed at this place, probably by the Pawnees, two
or three weeks before. His remains, more than once violated by the
Indians and the wolves, were suffered at length to remain undisturbed
in their wild burial place.
For several days we met detached companies of Price's regiment.
Horses would often break loose at night from their camps. One
afternoon we picked up three of these stragglers quietly grazing
along the river. After we came to camp that evening, Jim Gurney
brought news that more of them were in sight. It was nearly dark,
and a cold, drizzling rain had set in; but we all turned out, and
after an hour's chase nine horses were caught and brought in. One of
them was equipped with saddle and bridle; pistols were hanging at the
pommel of the saddle, a carbine was slung at its side, and a blanket
rolled up behind it. In the morning, glorying in our valuable prize,
we resumed our journey, and our cavalcade presented a much more
imposing appearance than ever before. We kept on till the afternoon,
when, far behind, three horsemen appeared on the horizon. Coming on
at a hand-gallop, they soon overtook us, and claimed all the horses
as belonging to themselves and others of their company. They were of
course given up, very much to the mortification of Ellis and Jim
Our own horses now showed signs of fatigue, and we resolved to give
them half a day's rest. We stopped at noon at a grassy spot by the
river. After dinner Shaw and Henry went out to hunt; and while the
men lounged about the camp, I lay down to read in the shadow of the
cart. Looking up, I saw a bull grazing alone on the prairie more
than a mile distant. I was tired of reading, and taking my rifle I
walked toward him. As I came near, I crawled upon the ground until I
approached to within a hundred yards; here I sat down upon the grass
and waited till he should turn himself into a proper position to
receive his death-wound. He was a grim old veteran. His loves and
his battles were over for that season, and now, gaunt and war-worn,
he had withdrawn from the herd to graze by himself and recruit his
exhausted strength. He was miserably emaciated; his mane was all in
tatters; his hide was bare and rough as an elephant's, and covered
with dried patches of the mud in which he had been wallowing. He
showed all his ribs whenever he moved. He looked like some grizzly
old ruffian grown gray in blood and violence, and scowling on all the
world from his misanthropic seclusion. The old savage looked up when
I first approached, and gave me a fierce stare; then he fell to
grazing again with an air of contemptuous indifference. The moment
after, as if suddenly recollecting himself, he threw up his head,
faced quickly about, and to my amazement came at a rapid trot
directly toward me. I was strongly impelled to get up and run, but
this would have been very dangerous. Sitting quite still I aimed, as
he came on, at the thin part of the skull above the nose. After he
had passed over about three-quarters of the distance between us, I
was on the point of firing, when, to my great satisfaction, he
stopped short. I had full opportunity of studying his countenance;
his whole front was covered with a huge mass of coarse matted hair,
which hung so low that nothing but his two forefeet were visible
beneath it; his short thick horns were blunted and split to the very
roots in his various battles, and across his nose and forehead were
two or three large white scars, which gave him a grim and at the same
time a whimsical appearance. It seemed to me that he stood there
motionless for a full quarter of an hour, looking at me through the
tangled locks of his mane. For my part, I remained as quiet as he,
and looked quite as hard; I felt greatly inclined to come to term
with him. "My friend," thought I, "if you'll let me off, I'll let
you off." At length he seemed to have abandoned any hostile design.
Very slowly and deliberately he began to turn about; little by little
his side came into view, all be-plastered with mud. It was a
tempting sight. I forgot my prudent intentions, and fired my rifle;
a pistol would have served at that distance. Round spun old bull
like a top, and away he galloped over the prairie. He ran some
distance, and even ascended a considerable hill, before he lay down
and died. After shooting another bull among the hills, I went back
to camp.
At noon, on the 14th of September, a very large Santa Fe caravan came
up. The plain was covered with the long files of their white-topped
wagons, the close black carriages in which the traders travel and
sleep, large droves of animals, and men on horseback and on foot.
They all stopped on the meadow near us. Our diminutive cart and
handful of men made but an insignificant figure by the side of their
wide and bustling camp. Tete Rouge went over to visit them, and soon
came back with half a dozen biscuits in one hand and a bottle of
brandy in the other. I inquired where he got them. "Oh," said Tete
Rouge, "I know some of the traders. Dr. Dobbs is there besides." I
asked who Dr. Dobbs might be. "One of our St. Louis doctors,"
replied Tete Rouge. For two days past I had been severely attacked
by the same disorder which had so greatly reduced my strength when at
the mountains; at this time I was suffering not a little from the
sudden pain and weakness which it occasioned. Tete Rouge, in answer
to my inquiries, declared that Dr. Dobbs was a physician of the first
standing. Without at all believing him, I resolved to consult this
eminent practitioner. Walking over to the camp, I found him lying
sound asleep under one of the wagons. He offered in his own person
but an indifferent specimen of his skill, for it was five months
since I had seen so cadaverous a face.
His hat had fallen off, and his yellow hair was all in disorder; one
of his arms supplied the place of a pillow; his pantaloons were
wrinkled halfway up to his knees, and he was covered with little bits
of grass and straw, upon which he had rolled in his uneasy slumber.
A Mexican stood near, and I made him a sign that he should touch the
doctor. Up sprang the learned Dobbs, and, sitting upright, rubbed
his eyes and looked about him in great bewilderment. I regretted the
necessity of disturbing him, and said I had come to ask professional
advice. "Your system, sir, is in a disordered state," said he
solemnly, after a short examination.
I inquired what might be the particular species of disorder.
"Evidently a morbid action of the liver," replied the medical man; "I
will give you a prescription."
Repairing to the back of one of the covered wagons, he scrambled in;
for a moment I could see nothing of him but his boots. At length he
produced a box which he had extracted from some dark recess within,
and opening it, he presented me with a folded paper of some size.
"What is it?" said I. "Calomel," said the doctor.
Under the circumstances I would have taken almost anything. There
was not enough to do me much harm, and it might possibly do good; so
at camp that night I took the poison instead of supper.
That camp is worthy of notice. The traders warned us not to follow
the main trail along the river, "unless," as one of them observed,
"you want to have your throats cut!" The river at this place makes a
bend; and a smaller trail, known as the Ridge-path, leads directly
across the prairie from point to point, a distance of sixty or
seventy miles.
We followed this trail, and after traveling seven or eight miles, we
came to a small stream, where we encamped. Our position was not
chosen with much forethought or military skill. The water was in a
deep hollow, with steep, high banks; on the grassy bottom of this
hollow we picketed our horses, while we ourselves encamped upon the
barren prairie just above. The opportunity was admirable either for
driving off our horses or attacking us. After dark, as Tete Rouge
was sitting at supper, we observed him pointing with a face of
speechless horror over the shoulder of Henry, who was opposite to
him. Aloof amid the darkness appeared a gigantic black apparition;
solemnly swaying to and fro, it advanced steadily upon us. Henry,
half vexed and half amused, jumped up, spread out his arms, and
shouted. The invader was an old buffalo bull, who with
characteristic stupidity, was walking directly into camp. It cost
some shouting and swinging of hats before we could bring him first to
a halt and then to a rapid retreat.
That night the moon was full and bright; but as the black clouds
chased rapidly over it, we were at one moment in light and at the
next in darkness. As the evening advanced, a thunderstorm came up;
it struck us with such violence that the tent would have been blown
over if we had not interposed the cart to break the force of the
wind. At length it subsided to a steady rain. I lay awake through
nearly the whole night, listening to its dull patter upon the canvas
above. The moisture, which filled the tent and trickled from
everything in it, did not add to the comfort of the situation. About
twelve o'clock Shaw went out to stand guard amid the rain and pitch
darkness. Munroe, the most vigilant as well as one of the bravest
among us, was also on the alert. When about two hours had passed,
Shaw came silently in, and touching Henry, called him in a low quick
voice to come out. "What is it?" I asked. "Indians, I believe,"
whispered Shaw; "but lie still; I'll call you if there's a fight."
He and Henry went out together. I took the cover from my rifle, put
a fresh percussion cap upon it, and then, being in much pain, lay
down again. In about five minutes Shaw came in again. "All right,"
he said, as he lay down to sleep. Henry was now standing guard in
his place. He told me in the morning the particulars of the alarm.
Munroe' s watchful eye discovered some dark objects down in the
hollow, among the horses, like men creeping on all fours. Lying flat
on their faces, he and Shaw crawled to the edge of the bank, and were
soon convinced that what they saw were Indians. Shaw silently
withdrew to call Henry, and they all lay watching in the same
position. Henry's eye is of the best on the prairie. He detected
after a while the true nature of the moving objects; they were
nothing but wolves creeping among the horses.
It is very singular that when picketed near a camp horses seldom show
any fear of such an intrusion. The wolves appear to have no other
object than that of gnawing the trail-ropes of raw hide by which the
animals are secured. Several times in the course of the journey my
horse's trail-rope was bitten in two by these nocturnal visitors.
The next day was extremely hot, and we rode from morning till night
without seeing a tree or a bush or a drop of water. Our horses and
mules suffered much more than we, but as sunset approached they
pricked up their ears and mended their pace. Water was not far off.
When we came to the descent of the broad shallowy valley where it
lay, an unlooked-for sight awaited us. The stream glistened at the
bottom, and along its banks were pitched a multitude of tents, while
hundreds of cattle were feeding over the meadows. Bodies of troops,
both horse and foot, and long trains of wagons with men, women, and
children, were moving over the opposite ridge and descending the
broad declivity in front. These were the Mormon battalion in the
service of government, together with a considerable number of
Missouri volunteers. The Mormons were to be paid off in California,
and they were allowed to bring with them their families and property.
There was something very striking in the half-military, halfpatriarchal
appearance of these armed fanatics, thus on their way
with their wives and children, to found, if might be, a Mormon empire
in California. We were much more astonished than pleased at the
sight before us. In order to find an unoccupied camping ground, we
were obliged to pass a quarter of a mile up the stream, and here we
were soon beset by a swarm of Mormons and Missourians. The United
States officer in command of the whole came also to visit us, and
remained some time at our camp.
In the morning the country was covered with mist. We were always
early risers, but before we were ready the voices of men driving in
the cattle sounded all around us. As we passed above their camp, we
saw through the obscurity that the tents were falling and the ranks
rapidly forming; and mingled with the cries of women and children,
the rolling of the Mormon drums and the clear blast of their trumpets
sounded through the mist.
From that time to the journey's end, we met almost every day long
trains of government wagons, laden with stores for the troops and
crawling at a snail's pace toward Santa Fe.
Tete Rouge had a mortal antipathy to danger, but on a foraging
expedition one evening, he achieved an adventure more perilous than
had yet befallen any man in the party. The night after we left the
Ridge-path we encamped close to the river. At sunset we saw a train
of wagons encamping on the trail about three miles off; and though we
saw them distinctly, our little cart, as it afterward proved,
entirely escaped their view. For some days Tete Rouge had been
longing eagerly after a dram of whisky. So, resolving to improve the
present opportunity, he mounted his horse James, slung his canteen
over his shoulder, and set forth in search of his favorite liquor.
Some hours passed without his returning. We thought that he was
lost, or perhaps that some stray Indian had snapped him up. While
the rest fell asleep I remained on guard. Late at night a tremulous
voice saluted me from the darkness, and Tete Rouge and James soon
became visible, advancing toward the camp. Tete Rouge was in much
agitation and big with some important tidings. Sitting down on the
shaft of the cart, he told the following story:
When he left the camp he had no idea, he said, how late it was. By
the time he approached the wagoners it was perfectly dark; and as he
saw them all sitting around their fires within the circle of wagons,
their guns laid by their sides, he thought he might as well give
warning of his approach, in order to prevent a disagreeable mistake.
Raising his voice to the highest pitch, he screamed out in prolonged
accents, "Camp, ahoy!" This eccentric salutation produced anything
but the desired result. Hearing such hideous sounds proceeding from
the outer darkness, the wagoners thought that the whole Pawnee nation
were about to break in and take their scalps. Up they sprang staring
with terror. Each man snatched his gun; some stood behind the
wagons; some threw themselves flat on the ground, and in an instant
twenty cocked muskets were leveled full at the horrified Tete Rouge,
who just then began to be visible through the darkness.
"Thar they come," cried the master wagoner, "fire, fire! shoot that
"No, no!" screamed Tete Rouge, in an ecstasy of fright; "don't fire,
don't! I'm a friend, I'm an American citizen!"
"You're a friend, be you?" cried a gruff voice from the wagons; "then
what are you yelling out thar for, like a wild Injun. Come along up
here if you're a man."
"Keep your guns p'inted at him," added the master wagoner, "maybe
he's a decoy, like."
Tete Rouge in utter bewilderment made his approach, with the gaping
muzzles of the muskets still before his eyes. He succeeded at last
in explaining his character and situation, and the Missourians
admitted him into camp. He got no whisky; but as he represented
himself as a great invalid, and suffering much from coarse fare, they
made up a contribution for him of rice, biscuit, and sugar from their
own rations.
In the morning at breakfast, Tete Rouge once more related this story.
We hardly knew how much of it to believe, though after some crossquestioning
we failed to discover any flaw in the narrative. Passing
by the wagoner's camp, they confirmed Tete Rouge's account in every
"I wouldn't have been in that feller's place," said one of them, "for
the biggest heap of money in Missouri."
To Tete Rouge's great wrath they expressed a firm conviction that he
was crazy. We left them after giving them the advice not to trouble
themselves about war-whoops in future, since they would be apt to
feel an Indian's arrow before they heard his voice.
A day or two after, we had an adventure of another sort with a party
of wagoners. Henry and I rode forward to hunt. After that day there
was no probability that we should meet with buffalo, and we were
anxious to kill one for the sake of fresh meat. They were so wild
that we hunted all the morning in vain, but at noon as we approached
Cow Creek we saw a large band feeding near its margin. Cow Creek is
densely lined with trees which intercept the view beyond, and it
runs, as we afterward found, at the bottom of a deep trench. We
approached by riding along the bottom of a ravine. When we were near
enough, I held the horses while Henry crept toward the buffalo. I
saw him take his seat within shooting distance, prepare his rifle,
and look about to select his victim. The death of a fat cow was
certain, when suddenly a great smoke arose from the bed of the Creek
with a rattling volley of musketry. A score of long-legged
Missourians leaped out from among the trees and ran after the
buffalo, who one and all took to their heels and vanished. These
fellows had crawled up the bed of the Creek to within a hundred yards
of the buffalo. Never was there a fairer chance for a shot. They
were good marksmen; all cracked away at once, and yet not a buffalo
fell. In fact, the animal is so tenacious of life that it requires
no little knowledge of anatomy to kill it, and it is very seldom that
a novice succeeds in his first attempt at approaching. The balked
Missourians were excessively mortified, especially when Henry told
them if they had kept quiet he would have killed meat enough in ten
minutes to feed their whole party. Our friends, who were at no great
distance, hearing such a formidable fusillade, thought the Indians
had fired the volley for our benefit. Shaw came galloping on to
reconnoiter and learn if we were yet in the land of the living.
At Cow Creek we found the very welcome novelty of ripe grapes and
plums, which grew there in abundance. At the Little Arkansas, not
much farther on, we saw the last buffalo, a miserable old bull,
roaming over the prairie alone and melancholy.
From this time forward the character of the country was changing
every day. We had left behind us the great arid deserts, meagerly
covered by the tufted buffalo grass, with its pale green hue, and its
short shriveled blades. The plains before us were carpeted with rich
and verdant herbage sprinkled with flowers. In place of buffalo we
found plenty of prairie hens, and we bagged them by dozens without
leaving the trail. In three or four days we saw before us the broad
woods and the emerald meadows of Council Grove, a scene of striking
luxuriance and beauty. It seemed like a new sensation as we rode
beneath the resounding archs of these noble woods. The trees were
ash, oak, elm, maple, and hickory, their mighty limbs deeply
overshadowing the path, while enormous grape vines were entwined
among them, purple with fruit. The shouts of our scattered party,
and now and then a report of a rifle, rang amid the breathing
stillness of the forest. We rode forth again with regret into the
broad light of the open prairie. Little more than a hundred miles
now separated us from the frontier settlements. The whole
intervening country was a succession of verdant prairies, rising in
broad swells and relieved by trees clustering like an oasis around
some spring, or following the course of a stream along some fertile
hollow. These are the prairies of the poet and the novelist. We had
left danger behind us. Nothing was to be feared from the Indians of
this region, the Sacs and Foxes, the Kansas and the Osages. We had
met with signal good fortune. Although for five months we had been
traveling with an insufficient force through a country where we were
at any moment liable to depredation, not a single animal had been
stolen from us, and our only loss had been one old mule bitten to
death by a rattlesnake. Three weeks after we reached the frontier
the Pawnees and the Comanches began a regular series of hostilities
on the Arkansas trail, killing men and driving off horses. They
attacked, without exception, every party, large or small, that passed
during the next six months.
Diamond Spring, Rock Creek, Elder Grove, and other camping places
besides, were passed all in quick succession. At Rock Creek we found
a train of government provision wagons, under the charge of an
emaciated old man in his seventy-first year. Some restless American
devil had driven him into the wilderness at a time when he should
have been seated at his fireside with his grandchildren on his knees.
I am convinced that he never returned; he was complaining that night
of a disease, the wasting effects of which upon a younger and
stronger man, I myself had proved from severe experience. Long ere
this no doubt the wolves have howled their moonlight carnival over
the old man's attenuated remains.
Not long after we came to a small trail leading to Fort Leavenworth,
distant but one day's journey. Tete Rouge here took leave of us. He
was anxious to go to the fort in order to receive payment for his
valuable military services. So he and his horse James, after bidding
an affectionate farewell, set out together, taking with them as much
provision as they could conveniently carry, including a large
quantity of brown sugar. On a cheerless rainy evening we came to our
last encamping ground. Some pigs belonging to a Shawnee farmer were
grunting and rooting at the edge of the grove.
"I wonder how fresh pork tastes," murmured one of the party, and more
than one voice murmured in response. The fiat went forth, "That pig
must die," and a rifle was leveled forthwith at the countenance of
the plumpest porker. Just then a wagon train, with some twenty
Missourians, came out from among the trees. The marksman suspended
his aim, deeming it inexpedient under the circumstances to consummate
the deed of blood.
In the morning we made our toilet as well as circumstances would
permit, and that is saying but very little. In spite of the dreary
rain of yesterday, there never was a brighter and gayer autumnal
morning than that on which we returned to the settlements. We were
passing through the country of the half-civilized Shawanoes. It was
a beautiful alternation of fertile plains and groves, whose foliage
was just tinged with the hues of autumn, while close beneath them
rested the neat log-houses of the Indian farmers. Every field and
meadow bespoke the exuberant fertility of the soil. The maize stood
rustling in the wind, matured and dry, its shining yellow ears thrust
out between the gaping husks. Squashes and enormous yellow pumpkins
lay basking in the sun in the midst of their brown and shriveled
leaves. Robins and blackbirds flew about the fences; and everything
in short betokened our near approach to home and civilization. The
forests that border on the Missouri soon rose before us, and we
entered the wide tract of shrubbery which forms their outskirts. We
had passed the same road on our outward journey in the spring, but
its aspect was totally changed. The young wild apple trees, then
flushed with their fragrant blossoms, were now hung thickly with
ruddy fruit. Tall grass flourished by the roadside in place of the
tender shoots just peeping from the warm and oozy soil. The vines
were laden with dark purple grapes, and the slender twigs of the
maple, then tasseled with their clusters of small red flowers, now
hung out a gorgeous display of leaves stained by the frost with
burning crimson. On every side we saw the tokens of maturity and
decay where all had before been fresh and beautiful. We entered the
forest, and ourselves and our horses were checkered, as we passed
along, by the bright spots of sunlight that fell between the opening
boughs. On either side the dark rich masses of foliage almost
excluded the sun, though here and there its rays could find their way
down, striking through the broad leaves and lighting them with a pure
transparent green. Squirrels barked at us from the trees; coveys of
young partridges ran rustling over the leaves below, and the golden
oriole, the blue jay, and the flaming red-bird darted among the
shadowy branches. We hailed these sights and sounds of beauty by no
means with an unmingled pleasure. Many and powerful as were the
attractions which drew us toward the settlements, we looked back even
at that moment with an eager longing toward the wilderness of
prairies and mountains behind us. For myself I had suffered more
that summer from illness than ever before in my life, and yet to this
hour I cannot recall those savage scenes and savage men without a
strong desire again to visit them.
At length, for the first time during about half a year, we saw the
roof of a white man's dwelling between the opening trees. A few
moments after we were riding over the miserable log bridge that leads
into the center of Westport. Westport had beheld strange scenes, but
a rougher looking troop than ours, with our worn equipments and
broken-down horses, was never seen even there. We passed the wellremembered
tavern, Boone's grocery and old Vogel's dram shop, and
encamped on a meadow beyond. Here we were soon visited by a number
of people who came to purchase our horses and equipage. This matter
disposed of, we hired a wagon and drove on to Kansas Landing. Here
we were again received under the hospitable roof of our old friend
Colonel Chick, and seated on his porch we looked down once more on
the eddies of the Missouri.
Delorier made his appearance in the morning, strangely transformed by
the assistance of a hat, a coat, and a razor. His little log-house
was among the woods not far off. It seemed he had meditated giving a
ball on the occasion of his return, and had consulted Henry Chatillon
as to whether it would do to invite his bourgeois. Henry expressed
his entire conviction that we would not take it amiss, and the
invitation was now proffered, accordingly, Delorier adding as a
special inducement that Antoine Lejeunesse was to play the fiddle.
We told him we would certainly come, but before the evening arrived a
steamboat, which came down from Fort Leavenworth, prevented our being
present at the expected festivities. Delorier was on the rock at the
landing place, waiting to take leave of us.
"Adieu! mes bourgeois; adieu! adieu!" he cried out as the boat pulled
off; "when you go another time to de Rocky Montagnes I will go with
you; yes, I will go!"
He accompanied this patronizing assurance by jumping about swinging
his hat, and grinning from ear to ear. As the boat rounded a distant
point, the last object that met our eyes was Delorier still lifting
his hat and skipping about the rock. We had taken leave of Munroe
and Jim Gurney at Westport, and Henry Chatillon went down in the boat
with us.
The passage to St. Louis occupied eight days, during about a third of
which we were fast aground on sand-bars. We passed the steamer
Amelia crowded with a roaring crew of disbanded volunteers, swearing,
drinking, gambling, and fighting. At length one evening we reached
the crowded levee of St. Louis. Repairing to the Planters' House, we
caused diligent search to be made for our trunks, which after some
time were discovered stowed away in the farthest corner of the
storeroom. In the morning we hardly recognized each other; a frock
of broadcloth had supplanted the frock of buckskin; well-fitted
pantaloons took the place of the Indian leggings, and polished boots
were substituted for the gaudy moccasins.
After we had been several days at St. Louis we heard news of Tete
Rouge. He had contrived to reach Fort Leavenworth, where he had
found the paymaster and received his money. As a boat was just ready
to start for St. Louis, he went on board and engaged his passage.
This done, he immediately got drunk on shore, and the boat went off
without him. It was some days before another opportunity occurred,
and meanwhile the sutler's stores furnished him with abundant means
of keeping up his spirits. Another steamboat came at last, the clerk
of which happened to be a friend of his, and by the advice of some
charitable person on shore he persuaded Tete Rouge to remain on
board, intending to detain him there until the boat should leave the
fort. At first Tete Rouge was well contented with this arrangement,
but on applying for a dram, the barkeeper, at the clerk's
instigation, refused to let him have it. Finding them both
inflexible in spite of his entreaties, he became desperate and made
his escape from the boat. The clerk found him after a long search in
one of the barracks; a circle of dragoons stood contemplating him as
he lay on the floor, maudlin drunk and crying dismally. With the
help of one of them the clerk pushed him on board, and our informant,
who came down in the same boat, declares that he remained in great
despondency during the whole passage. As we left St. Louis soon
after his arrival, we did not see the worthless, good-natured little
vagabond again.
On the evening before our departure Henry Chatillon came to our rooms
at the Planters' House to take leave of us. No one who met him in
the streets of St. Louis would have taken him for a hunter fresh from
the Rocky Mountains. He was very neatly and simply dressed in a suit
of dark cloth; for although, since his sixteenth year, he had
scarcely been for a month together among the abodes of men, he had a
native good taste and a sense of propriety which always led him to
pay great attention to his personal appearance. His tall athletic
figure, with its easy flexible motions, appeared to advantage in his
present dress; and his fine face, though roughened by a thousand
storms, was not at all out of keeping with it. We took leave of him
with much regret; and unless his changing features, as he shook us by
the hand, belied him, the feeling on his part was no less than on
ours. Shaw had given him a horse at Westport. My rifle, which he
had always been fond of using, as it was an excellent piece, much
better than his own, is now in his hands, and perhaps at this moment
its sharp voice is startling the echoes of the Rocky Mountains. On
the next morning we left town, and after a fortnight of railroads and
steamboat we saw once more the familiar features of home.

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