It grew very late. Turning from our direct course we made for the river at its nearest point, though in the utter darkness it was not easy to direct our way with much precision. Raymond rode on one side and Henry on the other. We could hear each of them shouting that he had come upon a deep ravine. We steered at random between Scylla and Charybdis, and soon after became, as it seemed, inextricably involved with deep chasms all around us, while the darkness was such that we could not see a rod in any direction. We partially extricated ourselves by scrambling, cart and all, through a shallow ravine. We came next to a steep descent down which we plunged without well knowing what was at the bottom. There was a great crackling of sticks and dry twigs. Over our heads were certain large shadowy objects, and in front something like the faint gleaming of a dark sheet of water. Raymond ran his horse against a tree; Henry alighted, and feeling on the ground declared that there was grass enough for the horses. Before taking off his saddle each man led his own horses down to the water in the best way he could. Then picketing two or three of the evil-disposed we turned the rest loose and lay down among the dry sticks to sleep. In the morning we found ourselves close to the South Fork of the Platte on a spot surrounded by bushes and rank grass. Compensating ourselves with a hearty breakfast for the ill fare of the previous night, we set forward again on our journey. When only two or three rods from the camp I saw Shaw stop his mule, level his gun, and after a long aim fire at some object in the grass. Delorier next jumped forward and began to dance about, belaboring the unseen enemy with a whip. Then he stooped down and drew out of the grass by the neck an enormous rattlesnake, with his head completely shattered by Shaw's bullet. As Delorier held him out at arm's length with an exulting grin his tail, which still kept slowly writhing about, almost touched the ground, and the body in the largest part was as thick as a stout man's arm. He had fourteen rattles, but the end of his tail was blunted, as if he could once have boasted of many more. From this time till we reached the Pueblo we killed at least four or five of these snakes every day as they lay coiled and rattling on the hot sand. Shaw was the St. Patrick of the party, and whenever he or any one else killed a snake he always pulled off his tail and stored it away in his bullet-pouch, which was soon crammed with an edifying collection of rattles, great and small. Delorier, with his whip, also came in for a share of the praise. A day or two after this he triumphantly produced a small snake about a span and a half long, with one infant rattle at the end of his tail.
We forded the South Fork of the Platte. On its farther bank were the traces of a very large camp of Arapahoes. The ashes of some three hundred fires were visible among the scattered trees, together with the remains of sweating lodges, and all the other appurtenances of a permanent camp. The place however had been for some months deserted. A few miles farther on we found more recent signs of Indians; the trail of two or three lodges, which had evidently passed the day before, where every foot-print was perfectly distinct in the dry, dusty soil. We noticed in particular the track of one moccasin, upon the sole of which its economical proprietor had placed a large patch. These signs gave us but little uneasiness, as the number of the warriors scarcely exceeded that of our own party. At noon we rested under the walls of a large fort, built in these solitudes some years since by M. St. Vrain. It was now abandoned and fast falling into ruin. The walls of unbaked bricks were cracked from top to bottom. Our horses recoiled in terror from the neglected entrance, where the heavy gates were torn from their hinges and flung down. The area within was overgrown with weeds, and the long ranges of apartments, once occupied by the motley concourse of traders, Canadians, and squaws, were now miserably dilapidated. Twelve miles further on, near the spot where we encamped, were the remains of still another fort, standing in melancholy desertion and neglect.
Early on the following morning we made a startling discovery. We passed close by a large deserted encampment of Arapahoes. There were about fifty fires still smouldering on the ground, and it was evident from numerous signs that the Indians must have left the place within two hours of our reaching it. Their trail crossed our own at right angles, and led in the direction of a line of hills half a mile on our left. There were women and children in the party, which would have greatly diminished the danger of encountering them. Henry Chatillon examined the encampment and the trail with a very professional and businesslike air.
"Supposing we had met them, Henry?" said I.
"Why," said he, "we hold out our hands to them, and give them all we've got; they take away everything, and then I believe they no kill us. Perhaps," added he, looking up with a quiet, unchanged face, "perhaps we no let them rob us. Maybe before they come near, we have a chance to get into a ravine, or under the bank of the river; then, you know, we fight them."
About noon on that day we reached Cherry Creek. Here was a great abundance of wild cherries, plums, gooseberries, and currants. The stream, however, like most of the others which we passed, was dried up with the heat, and we had to dig holes in the sand to find water for ourselves and our horses. Two days after, we left the banks of the creek which we had been following for some time, and began to cross the high dividing ridge which separates the waters of the Platte from those of the Arkansas. The scenery was altogether changed. In place of the burning plains we were passing now through rough and savage glens and among hills crowned with a dreary growth of pines. We encamped among these solitudes on the night of the 16th of August. A tempest was threatening. The sun went down among volumes of jet-black cloud, edged with a bloody red. But in spite of these portentous signs, we neglected to put up the tent, and being extremely fatigued, lay down on the ground and fell asleep. The storm broke about midnight, and we erected the tent amid darkness and confusion. In the morning all was fair again, and Pike's Peak, white with snow, was towering above the wilderness afar off.
We pushed through an extensive tract of pine woods. Large black squirrels were leaping among the branches. From the farther edge of this forest we saw the prairie again, hollowed out before us into a vast basin, and about a mile in front we could discern a little black speck moving upon its surface. It could be nothing but a buffalo. Henry primed his rifle afresh and galloped forward. To the left of the animal was a low rocky mound, of which Henry availed himself in making his approach. After a short time we heard the faint report of the rifle. The bull, mortally wounded from a distance of nearly three hundred yards, ran wildly round and round in a circle. Shaw and I then galloped forward, and passing him as he ran, foaming with rage and pain, we discharged our pistols into his side. Once or twice he rushed furiously upon us, but his strength was rapidly exhausted. Down he fell on his knees. For one instant he glared up at his enemies with burning eyes through his black tangled mane, and then rolled over on his side. Though gaunt and thin, he was larger and heavier than the largest ox. Foam and blood flew together from his nostrils as he lay bellowing and pawing the ground, tearing up grass and earth with his hoofs. His sides rose and fell like a vast pair of bellows, the blood spouting up in jets from the bullet-holes. Suddenly his glaring eyes became like a lifeless jelly. He lay motionless on the ground. Henry stooped over him, and making an incision with his knife, pronounced the meat too rank and tough for use; so, disappointed in our hopes of an addition to our stock of provisions, we rode away and left the carcass to the wolves.
In the afternoon we saw the mountains rising like a gigantic wall at no great distance on our right. "Des sauvages! des sauvages!" exclaimed Delorier, looking round with a frightened face, and pointing with his whip toward the foot of the mountains. In fact, we could see at a distance a number of little black specks, like horsemen in rapid motion. Henry Chatillon, with Shaw and myself, galloped toward them to reconnoiter, when to our amusement we saw the supposed Arapahoes resolved into the black tops of some pine trees which grew along a ravine. The summits of these pines, just visible above the verge of the prairie, and seeming to move as we ourselves were advancing, looked exactly like a line of horsemen.
We encamped among ravines and hollows, through which a little brook was foaming angrily. Before sunrise in the morning the snow-covered mountains were beautifully tinged with a delicate rose color. A noble spectacle awaited us as we moved forward. Six or eight miles on our right, Pike's Peak and his giant brethren rose out of the level prairie, as if springing from the bed of the ocean. From their summits down to the plain below they were involved in a mantle of clouds, in restless motion, as if urged by strong winds. For one instant some snowy peak, towering in awful solitude, would be disclosed to view. As the clouds broke along the mountain, we could see the dreary forests, the tremendous precipices, the white patches of snow, the gulfs and chasms as black as night, all revealed for an instant, and then disappearing from the view. One could not but recall the stanza of "Childe Harold":
Morn dawns, and with it stern Albania's hills, Dark Suli's rocks, and Pindus' inland peak, Robed half in mist, bedewed with snowy rills, Array'd in many a dun and purple streak, Arise; and, as the clouds along them break, Disclose the dwelling of the mountaineer: Here roams the wolf, the eagle whets his beak, Birds, beasts of prey, and wilder men appear, And gathering storms around convulse the closing year.
Every line save one of this description was more than verified here. There were no "dwellings of the mountaineer" among these heights. Fierce savages, restlessly wandering through summer and winter, alone invade them. "Their hand is against every man, and every man's hand against them."
On the day after, we had left the mountains at some distance. A black cloud descended upon them, and a tremendous explosion of thunder followed, reverberating among the precipices. In a few moments everything grew black and the rain poured down like a cataract. We got under an old cotton-wood tree which stood by the side of a stream, and waited there till the rage of the torrent had passed.
The clouds opened at the point where they first had gathered, and the whole sublime congregation of mountains was bathed at once in warm sunshine. They seemed more like some luxurious vision of Eastern romance than like a reality of that wilderness; all were melted together into a soft delicious blue, as voluptuous as the sky of Naples or the transparent sea that washes the sunny cliffs of Capri. On the left the whole sky was still of an inky blackness; but two concentric rainbows stood in brilliant relief against it, while far in front the ragged cloud still streamed before the wind, and the retreating thunder muttered angrily.
Through that afternoon and the next morning we were passing down the banks of the stream called La Fontaine qui Bouille, from the boiling spring whose waters flow into it. When we stopped at noon, we were within six or eight miles of the Pueblo. Setting out again, we found by the fresh tracks that a horseman had just been out to reconnoiter us; he had circled half round the camp, and then galloped back full speed for the Pueblo. What made him so shy of us we could not conceive. After an hour's ride we reached the edge of a hill, from which a welcome sight greeted us. The Arkansas ran along the valley below, among woods and groves, and closely nestled in the midst of wide cornfields and green meadows where cattle were grazing rose the low mud walls of the Pueblo.
THE PUEBLO AND BENT'S FORT
We approached the gate of the Pueblo. It was a wretched species of fort of most primitive construction, being nothing more than a large square inclosure, surrounded by a wall of mud, miserably cracked and dilapidated. The slender pickets that surmounted it were half broken down, and the gate dangled on its wooden hinges so loosely, that to open or shut it seemed likely to fling it down altogether. Two or three squalid Mexicans, with their broad hats, and their vile faces overgrown with hair, were lounging about the bank of the river in front of it. They disappeared as they saw us approach; and as we rode up to the gate a light active little figure came out to meet us. It was our old friend Richard. He had come from Fort Laramie on a trading expedition to Taos; but finding, when he reached the Pueblo, that the war would prevent his going farther, he was quietly waiting till the conquest of the country should allow him to proceed. He seemed to consider himself bound to do the honors of the place. Shaking us warmly by the hands, he led the way into the area.
Here we saw his large Santa Fe wagons standing together. A few squaws and Spanish women, and a few Mexicans, as mean and miserable as the place itself, were lazily sauntering about. Richard conducted us to the state apartment of the Pueblo, a small mud room, very neatly finished, considering the material, and garnished with a crucifix, a looking-glass, a picture of the Virgin, and a rusty horse pistol. There were no chairs, but instead of them a number of chests and boxes ranged about the room. There was another room beyond, less sumptuously decorated, and here three or four Spanish girls, one of them very pretty, were baking cakes at a mud fireplace in the corner. They brought out a poncho, which they spread upon the floor by way of table-cloth. A supper, which seemed to us luxurious, was soon laid out upon it, and folded buffalo robes were placed around it to receive the guests. Two or three Americans, besides ourselves, were present. We sat down Turkish fashion, and began to inquire the news. Richard told us that, about three weeks before, General Kearny's army had left Bent's Fort to march against Santa Fe; that when last heard from they were approaching the mountainous defiles that led to the city. One of the Americans produced a dingy newspaper, containing an account of the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma. While we were discussing these matters, the doorway was darkened by a tall, shambling fellow, who stood with his hands in his pockets taking a leisurely survey of the premises before he entered. He wore brown homespun pantaloons, much too short for his legs, and a pistol and bowie knife stuck in his belt. His head and one eye were enveloped in a huge bandage of white linen. Having completed his observations, he came slouching in and sat down on a chest. Eight or ten more of the same stamp followed, and very coolly arranging themselves about the room, began to stare at the company. Shaw and I looked at each other. We were forcibly reminded of the Oregon emigrants, though these unwelcome visitors had a certain glitter of the eye, and a compression of the lips, which distinguished them from our old acquaintances of the prairie. They began to catechise us at once, inquiring whence we had come, what we meant to do next, and what were our future prospects in life.
The man with the bandaged head had met with an untoward accident a few days before. He was going down to the river to bring water, and was pushing through the young willows which covered the low ground, when he came unawares upon a grizzly bear, which, having just eaten a buffalo bull, had lain down to sleep off the meal. The bear rose on his hind legs, and gave the intruder such a blow with his paw that he laid his forehead entirely bare, clawed off the front of his scalp, and narrowly missed one of his eyes. Fortunately he was not in a very pugnacious mood, being surfeited with his late meal. The man's companions, who were close behind, raised a shout and the bear walked away, crushing down the willows in his leisurely retreat.
These men belonged to a party of Mormons, who, out of a well-grounded fear of the other emigrants, had postponed leaving the settlements until all the rest were gone. On account of this delay they did not reach Fort Laramie until it was too late to continue their journey to California. Hearing that there was good land at the head of the Arkansas, they crossed over under the guidance of Richard, and were now preparing to spend the winter at a spot about half a mile from the Pueblo.
When we took leave of Richard, it was near sunset. Passing out of the gate, we could look down the little valley of the Arkansas; a beautiful scene, and doubly so to our eyes, so long accustomed to deserts and mountains. Tall woods lined the river, with green meadows on either hand; and high bluffs, quietly basking in the sunlight, flanked the narrow valley. A Mexican on horseback was driving a herd of cattle toward the gate, and our little white tent, which the men had pitched under a large tree in the meadow, made a very pleasing feature in the scene. When we reached it, we found that Richard had sent a Mexican to bring us an abundant supply of green corn and vegetables, and invite us to help ourselves to whatever we wished from the fields around the Pueblo.
The inhabitants were in daily apprehensions of an inroad from more formidable consumers than ourselves. Every year at the time when the corn begins to ripen, the Arapahoes, to the number of several thousands, come and encamp around the Pueblo. The handful of white men, who are entirely at the mercy of this swarm of barbarians, choose to make a merit of necessity; they come forward very cordially, shake them by the hand, and intimate that the harvest is entirely at their disposal. The Arapahoes take them at their word, help themselves most liberally, and usually turn their horses into the cornfields afterward. They have the foresight, however, to leave enough of the crops untouched to serve as an inducement for planting the fields again for their benefit in the next spring.
The human race in this part of the world is separated into three divisions, arranged in the order of their merits; white men, Indians, and Mexicans; to the latter of whom the honorable title of "whites" is by no means conceded.
In spite of the warm sunset of that evening the next morning was a dreary and cheerless one. It rained steadily, clouds resting upon the very treetops. We crossed the river to visit the Mormon settlement. As we passed through the water, several trappers on horseback entered it from the other side. Their buckskin frocks were soaked through by the rain, and clung fast to their limbs with a most clammy and uncomfortable look. The water was trickling down their faces, and dropping from the ends of their rifles, and from the traps which each carried at the pommel of his saddle. Horses and all, they had a most disconsolate and woebegone appearance, which we could not help laughing at, forgetting how often we ourselves had been in a similar plight.
After half an hour's riding we saw the white wagons of the Mormons drawn up among the trees. Axes were sounding, trees were falling, and log-huts going up along the edge of the woods and upon the adjoining meadow. As we came up the Mormons left their work and seated themselves on the timber around us, when they began earnestly to discuss points of theology, complain of the ill-usage they had received from the "Gentiles," and sound a lamentation over the loss of their great temple at Nauvoo. After remaining with them an hour we rode back to our camp, happy that the settlements had been delivered from the presence of such blind and desperate fanatics.
On the morning after this we left the Pueblo for Bent's Fort. The conduct of Raymond had lately been less satisfactory than before, and we had discharged him as soon as we arrived at the former place; so that the party, ourselves included, was now reduced to four. There was some uncertainty as to our future course. The trail between Bent's Fort and the settlements, a distance computed at six hundred miles, was at this time in a dangerous state; for since the passage of General Kearny's army, great numbers of hostile Indians, chiefly Pawnees and Comanches, had gathered about some parts of it. A little after this time they became so numerous and audacious, that scarcely a single party, however large, passed between the fort and the frontier without some token of their hostility. The newspapers of the time sufficiently display this state of things. Many men were killed, and great numbers of horses and mules carried off. Not long since I met with the gentleman, who, during the autumn, came from Santa Fe to Bent's Fort, when he found a party of seventy men, who thought themselves too weak to go down to the settlements alone, and were waiting there for a re-enforcement. Though this excessive timidity fully proves the ignorance and credulity of the men, it may also evince the state of alarm which prevailed in the country. When we were there in the month of August, the danger had not become so great. There was nothing very attractive in the neighborhood. We supposed, moreover, that we might wait there half the winter without finding any party to go down with us; for Mr. Sublette and the others whom we had relied upon had, as Richard told us, already left Bent's Fort. Thus far on our journey Fortune had kindly befriended us. We resolved therefore to take advantage of her gracious mood and trusting for a continuance of her favors, to set out with Henry and Delorier, and run the gauntlet of the Indians in the best way we could.
Bent's Fort stands on the river, about seventy-five miles below the Pueblo. At noon of the third day we arrived within three or four miles of it, pitched our tent under a tree, hung our looking-glasses against its trunk and having made our primitive toilet, rode toward the fort. We soon came in sight of it, for it is visible from a considerable distance, standing with its high clay walls in the midst of the scorching plains. It seemed as if a swarm of locusts had invaded the country. The grass for miles around was cropped close by the horses of General Kearny's soldiery. When we came to the fort, we found that not only had the horses eaten up the grass, but their owners had made away with the stores of the little trading post; so that we had great difficulty in procuring the few articles which we required for our homeward journey. The army was gone, the life and bustle passed away, and the fort was a scene of dull and lazy tranquillity. A few invalid officers and soldiers sauntered about the area, which was oppressively hot; for the glaring sun was reflected down upon it from the high white walls around. The proprietors were absent, and we were received by Mr. Holt, who had been left in charge of the fort. He invited us to dinner, where, to our admiration, we found a table laid with a white cloth, with castors in the center and chairs placed around it. This unwonted repast concluded, we rode back to our camp.
Here, as we lay smoking round the fire after supper, we saw through the dusk three men approaching from the direction of the fort. They rode up and seated themselves near us on the ground. The foremost was a tall, well-formed man, with a face and manner such as inspire confidence at once. He wore a broad hat of felt, slouching and tattered, and the rest of his attire consisted of a frock and leggings of buckskin, rubbed with the yellow clay found among the mountains. At the heel of one of his moccasins was buckled a huge iron spur, with a rowel five or six inches in diameter. His horse, who stood quietly looking over his head, had a rude Mexican saddle, covered with a shaggy bearskin, and furnished with a pair of wooden stirrups of most preposterous size. The next man was a sprightly, active little fellow, about five feet and a quarter high, but very strong and compact. His face was swarthy as a Mexican's and covered with a close, curly black beard. An old greasy calico handkerchief was tied round his head, and his close buckskin dress was blackened and polished by grease and hard service. The last who came up was a large strong man, dressed in the coarse homespun of the frontiers, who dragged his long limbs over the ground as if he were too lazy for the effort. He had a sleepy gray eye, a retreating chin, an open mouth and a protruding upper lip, which gave him an air of exquisite indolence and helplessness. He was armed with an old United States yager, which redoubtable weapon, though he could never hit his mark with it, he was accustomed to cherish as the very sovereign of firearms.
The first two men belonged to a party who had just come from California with a large band of horses, which they had disposed of at Bent's Fort. Munroe, the taller of the two, was from Iowa. He was an excellent fellow, open, warm-hearted and intelligent. Jim Gurney, the short man, was a Boston sailor, who had come in a trading vessel to California, and taken the fancy to return across the continent. The journey had already made him an expert "mountain man," and he presented the extraordinary phenomenon of a sailor who understood how to manage a horse. The third of our visitors named Ellis, was a Missourian, who had come out with a party of Oregon emigrants, but having got as far as Bridge's Fort, he had fallen home-sick, or as Jim averred, love-sick—and Ellis was just the man to be balked in a love adventure. He thought proper to join the California men and return homeward in their company.
They now requested that they might unite with our party, and make the journey to the settlements in company with us. We readily assented, for we liked the appearance of the first two men, and were very glad to gain so efficient a re-enforcement. We told them to meet us on the next evening at a spot on the river side, about six miles below the fort. Having smoked a pipe together, our new allies left us, and we lay down to sleep.
TETE ROUGE, THE VOLUNTEER
The next morning, having directed Delorier to repair with his cart to the place of meeting, we came again to the fort to make some arrangements for the journey. After completing these we sat down under a sort of perch, to smoke with some Cheyenne Indians whom we found there. In a few minutes we saw an extraordinary little figure approach us in a military dress. He had a small, round countenance, garnished about the eyes with the kind of wrinkles commonly known as crow's feet and surrounded by an abundant crop of red curls, with a little cap resting on the top of them. Altogether, he had the look of a man more conversant with mint juleps and oyster suppers than with the hardships of prairie service. He came up to us and entreated that we would take him home to the settlements, saying that unless he went with us he should have to stay all winter at the fort. We liked our petitioner's appearance so little that we excused ourselves from complying with his request. At this he begged us so hard to take pity on him, looked so disconsolate, and told so lamentable a story that at last we consented, though not without many misgivings.
The rugged Anglo-Saxon of our new recruit's real name proved utterly unmanageable on the lips of our French attendants, and Henry Chatillon, after various abortive attempts to pronounce it, one day coolly christened him Tete Rouge, in honor of his red curls. He had at different times been clerk of a Mississippi steamboat, and agent in a trading establishment at Nauvoo, besides filling various other capacities, in all of which he had seen much more of "life" than was good for him. In the spring, thinking that a summer's campaign would be an agreeable recreation, he had joined a company of St. Louis volunteers.
"There were three of us," said Tete Rouge, "me and Bill Stevens and John Hopkins. We thought we would just go out with the army, and when we had conquered the country, we would get discharged and take our pay, you know, and go down to Mexico. They say there is plenty of fun going on there. Then we could go back to New Orleans by way of Vera Cruz."
But Tete Rouge, like many a stouter volunteer, had reckoned without his host. Fighting Mexicans was a less amusing occupation than he had supposed, and his pleasure trip was disagreeably interrupted by brain fever, which attacked him when about halfway to Bent's Fort. He jolted along through the rest of the journey in a baggage wagon. When they came to the fort he was taken out and left there, together with the rest of the sick. Bent's Fort does not supply the best accommodations for an invalid. Tete Rouge's sick chamber was a little mud room, where he and a companion attacked by the same disease were laid together, with nothing but a buffalo robe between them and the ground. The assistant surgeon's deputy visited them once a day and brought them each a huge dose of calomel, the only medicine, according to his surviving victim, which he was acquainted with.
Tete Rouge woke one morning, and turning to his companion, saw his eyes fixed upon the beams above with the glassy stare of a dead man. At this the unfortunate volunteer lost his senses outright. In spite of the doctor, however, he eventually recovered; though between the brain fever and the calomel, his mind, originally none of the strongest, was so much shaken that it had not quite recovered its balance when we came to the fort. In spite of the poor fellow's tragic story, there was something so ludicrous in his appearance, and the whimsical contrast between his military dress and his most unmilitary demeanor, that we could not help smiling at them. We asked him if he had a gun. He said they had taken it from him during his illness, and he had not seen it since; "but perhaps," he observed, looking at me with a beseeching air, "you will lend me one of your big pistols if we should meet with any Indians." I next inquired if he had a horse; he declared he had a magnificent one, and at Shaw's request a Mexican led him in for inspection. He exhibited the outline of a good horse, but his eyes were sunk in the sockets, and every one of his ribs could be counted. There were certain marks too about his shoulders, which could be accounted for by the circumstance, that during Tete Rouge's illness, his companions had seized upon the insulted charger, and harnessed him to a cannon along with the draft horses. To Tete Rouge's astonishment we recommended him by all means to exchange the horse, if he could, for a mule. Fortunately the people at the fort were so anxious to get rid of him that they were willing to make some sacrifice to effect the object, and he succeeded in getting a tolerable mule in exchange for the broken-down steed.
A man soon appeared at the gate, leading in the mule by a cord which he placed in the hands of Tete Rouge, who, being somewhat afraid of his new acquisition, tried various flatteries and blandishments to induce her to come forward. The mule, knowing that she was expected to advance, stopped short in consequence, and stood fast as a rock, looking straight forward with immovable composure. Being stimulated by a blow from behind she consented to move, and walked nearly to the other side of the fort before she stopped again. Hearing the by-standers laugh, Tete Rouge plucked up spirit and tugged hard at the rope. The mule jerked backward, spun herself round, and made a dash for the gate. Tete Rouge, who clung manfully to the rope, went whisking through the air for a few rods, when he let go and stood with his mouth open, staring after the mule, who galloped away over the prairie. She was soon caught and brought back by a Mexican, who mounted a horse and went in pursuit of her with his lasso.
Having thus displayed his capacity for prairie travel, Tete Rouge proceeded to supply himself with provisions for the journey, and with this view he applied to a quartermaster's assistant who was in the fort. This official had a face as sour as vinegar, being in a state of chronic indignation because he had been left behind the army. He was as anxious as the rest to get rid of Tete Rouge. So, producing a rusty key, he opened a low door which led to a half-subterranean apartment, into which the two disappeared together. After some time they came out again, Tete Rouge greatly embarrassed by a multiplicity of paper parcels containing the different articles of his forty days' rations. They were consigned to the care of Delorier, who about that time passed by with the cart on his way to the appointed place of meeting with Munroe and his companions.
We next urged Tete Rouge to provide himself, if he could, with a gun. He accordingly made earnest appeals to the charity of various persons in the fort, but totally without success, a circumstance which did not greatly disturb us, since in the event of a skirmish he would be much more apt to do mischief to himself or his friends than to the enemy. When all these arrangements were completed we saddled our horses and were preparing to leave the fort, when looking round we discovered that our new associate was in fresh trouble. A man was holding the mule for him in the middle of the fort, while he tried to put the saddle on her back, but she kept stepping sideways and moving round and round in a circle until he was almost in despair. It required some assistance before all his difficulties could be overcome. At length he clambered into the black war saddle on which he was to have carried terror into the ranks of the Mexicans.
"Get up," said Tete Rouge, "come now, go along, will you."
The mule walked deliberately forward out of the gate. Her recent conduct had inspired him with so much awe that he never dared to touch her with his whip. We trotted forward toward the place of meeting, but before he had gone far we saw that Tete Rouge's mule, who perfectly understood her rider, had stopped and was quietly grazing, in spite of his protestations, at some distance behind. So getting behind him, we drove him and the contumacious mule before us, until we could see through the twilight the gleaming of a distant fire. Munroe, Jim, and Ellis were lying around it; their saddles, packs, and weapons were scattered about and their horses picketed near them. Delorier was there too with our little cart. Another fire was soon blazing high. We invited our new allies to take a cup of coffee with us. When both the others had gone over to their side of the camp, Jim Gurney still stood by the blaze, puffing hard at his little black pipe, as short and weather-beaten as himself.
"Well!" he said, "here are eight of us; we'll call it six—for them two boobies, Ellis over yonder, and that new man of yours, won't count for anything. We'll get through well enough, never fear for that, unless the Comanches happen to get foul of us."
We began our journey for the frontier settlements on the 27th of August, and certainly a more ragamuffin cavalcade never was seen on the banks of the Upper Arkansas. Of the large and fine horses with which we had left the frontier in the spring, not one remained; we had supplied their place with the rough breed of the prairie, as hardy as mules and almost as ugly; we had also with us a number of the latter detestable animals. In spite of their strength and hardihood, several of the band were already worn down by hard service and hard fare, and as none of them were shod, they were fast becoming foot-sore. Every horse and mule had a cord of twisted bull-hide coiled around his neck, which by no means added to the beauty of his appearance. Our saddles and all our equipments were by this time lamentably worn and battered, and our weapons had become dull and rusty. The dress of the riders fully corresponded with the dilapidated furniture of our horses, and of the whole party none made a more disreputable appearance than my friend and I. Shaw had for an upper garment an old red flannel shirt, flying open in front and belted around him like a frock; while I, in absence of other clothing, was attired in a time-worn suit of leather.
Thus, happy and careless as so many beggars, we crept slowly from day to day along the monotonous banks of the Arkansas. Tete Rouge gave constant trouble, for he could never catch his mule, saddle her, or indeed do anything else without assistance. Every day he had some new ailment, real or imaginary, to complain of. At one moment he would be woebegone and disconsolate, and the next he would be visited with a violent flow of spirits, to which he could only give vent by incessant laughing, whistling, and telling stories. When other resources failed, we used to amuse ourselves by tormenting him; a fair compensation for the trouble he cost us. Tete Rouge rather enjoyed being laughed at, for he was an odd compound of weakness, eccentricity, and good-nature. He made a figure worthy of a painter as he paced along before us, perched on the back of his mule, and enveloped in a huge buffalo-robe coat, which some charitable person had given him at the fort. This extraordinary garment, which would have contained two men of his size, he chose, for some reason best known to himself, to wear inside out, and he never took it off, even in the hottest weather. It was fluttering all over with seams and tatters, and the hide was so old and rotten that it broke out every day in a new place. Just at the top of it a large pile of red curls was visible, with his little cap set jauntily upon one side, to give him a military air. His seat in the saddle was no less remarkable than his person and equipment. He pressed one leg close against his mule's side, and thrust the other out at an angle of 45 degrees. His pantaloons were decorated with a military red stripe, of which he was extremely vain; but being much too short, the whole length of his boots was usually visible below them. His blanket, loosely rolled up into a large bundle, dangled at the back of his saddle, where he carried it tied with a string. Four or five times a day it would fall to the ground. Every few minutes he would drop his pipe, his knife, his flint and steel, or a piece of tobacco, and have to scramble down to pick them up. In doing this he would contrive to get in everybody's way; and as the most of the party were by no means remarkable for a fastidious choice of language, a storm of anathemas would be showered upon him, half in earnest and half in jest, until Tete Rouge would declare that there was no comfort in life, and that he never saw such fellows before.
Only a day or two after leaving Bent's Fort Henry Chatillon rode forward to hunt, and took Ellis along with him. After they had been some time absent we saw them coming down the hill, driving three dragoon-horses, which had escaped from their owners on the march, or perhaps had given out and been abandoned. One of them was in tolerable condition, but the others were much emaciated and severely bitten by the wolves. Reduced as they were we carried two of them to the settlements, and Henry exchanged the third with the Arapahoes for an excellent mule.
On the day after, when we had stopped to rest at noon, a long train of Santa Fe wagons came up and trailed slowly past us in their picturesque procession. They belonged to a trader named Magoffin, whose brother, with a number of other men, came over and sat down around us on the grass. The news they brought was not of the most pleasing complexion. According to their accounts, the trail below was in a very dangerous state. They had repeatedly detected Indians prowling at night around their camps; and the large party which had left Bent's Fort a few weeks previous to our own departure had been attacked, and a man named Swan, from Massachusetts, had been killed. His companions had buried the body; but when Magoffin found his grave, which was near a place called the Caches, the Indians had dug up and scalped him, and the wolves had shockingly mangled his remains. As an offset to this intelligence, they gave us the welcome information that the buffalo were numerous at a few days' journey below.
On the next afternoon, as we moved along the bank of the river, we saw the white tops of wagons on the horizon. It was some hours before we met them, when they proved to be a train of clumsy ox-wagons, quite different from the rakish vehicles of the Santa Fe traders, and loaded with government stores for the troops. They all stopped, and the drivers gathered around us in a crowd. I thought that the whole frontier might have been ransacked in vain to furnish men worse fitted to meet the dangers of the prairie. Many of them were mere boys, fresh from the plow, and devoid of knowledge and experience. In respect to the state of the trail, they confirmed all that the Santa Fe men had told us. In passing between the Pawnee Fork and the Caches, their sentinels had fired every night at real or imaginary Indians. They said also that Ewing, a young Kentuckian in the party that had gone down before us, had shot an Indian who was prowling at evening about the camp. Some of them advised us to turn back, and others to hasten forward as fast as we could; but they all seemed in such a state of feverish anxiety, and so little capable of cool judgment, that we attached slight weight to what they said. They next gave us a more definite piece of intelligence; a large village of Arapahoes was encamped on the river below. They represented them to be quite friendly; but some distinction was to be made between a party of thirty men, traveling with oxen, which are of no value in an Indian's eyes and a mere handful like ourselves, with a tempting band of mules and horses. This story of the Arapahoes therefore caused us some anxiety.
Just after leaving the government wagons, as Shaw and I were riding along a narrow passage between the river bank and a rough hill that pressed close upon it, we heard Tete Rouge's voice behind us. "Hallo!" he called out; "I say, stop the cart just for a minute, will you?"
"What's the matter, Tete?" asked Shaw, as he came riding up to us with a grin of exultation. He had a bottle of molasses in one hand, and a large bundle of hides on the saddle before him, containing, as he triumphantly informed us, sugar, biscuits, coffee, and rice. These supplies he had obtained by a stratagem on which he greatly plumed himself, and he was extremely vexed and astonished that we did not fall in with his views of the matter. He had told Coates, the master-wagoner, that the commissary at the fort had given him an order for sick-rations, directed to the master of any government train which he might meet upon the road. This order he had unfortunately lost, but he hoped that the rations would not be refused on that account, as he was suffering from coarse fare and needed them very much. As soon as he came to camp that night Tete Rouge repaired to the box at the back of the cart, where Delorier used to keep his culinary apparatus, took possession of a saucepan, and after building a little fire of his own, set to work preparing a meal out of his ill-gotten booty. This done, he seized on a tin plate and spoon, and sat down under the cart to regale himself. His preliminary repast did not at all prejudice his subsequent exertions at supper; where, in spite of his miniature dimensions, he made a better figure than any of us. Indeed, about this time his appetite grew quite voracious. He began to thrive wonderfully. His small body visibly expanded, and his cheeks, which when we first took him were rather yellow and cadaverous, now dilated in a wonderful manner, and became ruddy in proportion. Tete Rouge, in short, began to appear like another man.
Early in the afternoon of the next day, looking along the edge of the horizon in front, we saw that at one point it was faintly marked with pale indentations, like the teeth of a saw. The lodges of the Arapahoes, rising between us and the sky, caused this singular appearance. It wanted still two or three hours of sunset when we came opposite their camp. There were full two hundred lodges standing in the midst of a grassy meadow at some distance beyond the river, while for a mile around and on either bank of the Arkansas were scattered some fifteen hundred horses and mules grazing together in bands, or wandering singly about the prairie. The whole were visible at once, for the vast expanse was unbroken by hills, and there was not a tree or a bush to intercept the view.
Here and there walked an Indian, engaged in watching the horses. No sooner did we see them than Tete Rouge begged Delorier to stop the cart and hand him his little military jacket, which was stowed away there. In this he instantly invested himself, having for once laid the old buffalo coat aside, assumed a most martial posture in the saddle, set his cap over his left eye with an air of defiance, and earnestly entreated that somebody would lend him a gun or a pistol only for half an hour. Being called upon to explain these remarkable proceedings, Tete Rouge observed that he knew from experience what effect the presence of a military man in his uniform always had upon the mind of an Indian, and he thought the Arapahoes ought to know that there was a soldier in the party.
Meeting Arapahoes here on the Arkansas was a very different thing from meeting the same Indians among their native mountains. There was another circumstance in our favor. General Kearny had seen them a few weeks before, as he came up the river with his army, and renewing his threats of the previous year, he told them that if they ever again touched the hair of a white man's head he would exterminate their nation. This placed them for the time in an admirable frame of mind, and the effect of his menaces had not yet disappeared. I was anxious to see the village and its inhabitants. We thought it also our best policy to visit them openly, as if unsuspicious of any hostile design; and Shaw and I, with Henry Chatillon, prepared to cross the river. The rest of the party meanwhile moved forward as fast as they could, in order to get as far as possible from our suspicious neighbors before night came on.
The Arkansas at this point, and for several hundred miles below, is nothing but a broad sand-bed, over which a few scanty threads of water are swiftly gliding, now and then expanding into wide shallows. At several places, during the autumn, the water sinks into the sand and disappears altogether. At this season, were it not for the numerous quicksands, the river might be forded almost anywhere without difficulty, though its channel is often a quarter of a mile wide. Our horses jumped down the bank, and wading through the water, or galloping freely over the hard sand-beds, soon reached the other side. Here, as we were pushing through the tall grass, we saw several Indians not far off; one of them waited until we came up, and stood for some moments in perfect silence before us, looking at us askance with his little snakelike eyes. Henry explained by signs what we wanted, and the Indian, gathering his buffalo robe about his shoulders, led the way toward the village without speaking a word.
The language of the Arapahoes is so difficult, and its pronunciations so harsh and guttural, that no white man, it is said, has ever been able to master it. Even Maxwell the trader, who has been most among them, is compelled to resort to the curious sign language common to most of the prairie tribes. With this Henry Chatillon was perfectly acquainted.
Approaching the village, we found the ground all around it strewn with great piles of waste buffalo meat in incredible quantities. The lodges were pitched in a very wide circle. They resembled those of the Dakota in everything but cleanliness and neatness. Passing between two of them, we entered the great circular area of the camp, and instantly hundreds of Indians, men, women and children, came flocking out of their habitations to look at us; at the same time, the dogs all around the village set up a fearful baying. Our Indian guide walked toward the lodge of the chief. Here we dismounted; and loosening the trail-ropes from our horses' necks, held them securely, and sat down before the entrance, with our rifles laid across our laps. The chief came out and shook us by the hand. He was a mean-looking fellow, very tall, thin-visaged, and sinewy, like the rest of the nation, and with scarcely a vestige of clothing. We had not been seated half a minute before a multitude of Indians came crowding around us from every part of the village, and we were shut in by a dense wall of savage faces. Some of the Indians crouched around us on the ground; others again sat behind them; others, stooping, looked over their heads; while many more stood crowded behind, stretching themselves upward, and peering over each other's shoulders, to get a view of us. I looked in vain among this multitude of faces to discover one manly or generous expression; all were wolfish, sinister, and malignant, and their complexions, as well as their features, unlike those of the Dakota, were exceedingly bad. The chief, who sat close to the entrance, called to a squaw within the lodge, who soon came out and placed a wooden bowl of meat before us. To our surprise, however, no pipe was offered. Having tasted of the meat as a matter of form, I began to open a bundle of presents—tobacco, knives, vermilion, and other articles which I had brought with me. At this there was a grin on every countenance in the rapacious crowd; their eyes began to glitter, and long thin arms were eagerly stretched toward us on all sides to receive the gifts.
The Arapahoes set great value upon their shields, which they transmit carefully from father to son. I wished to get one of them; and displaying a large piece of scarlet cloth, together with some tobacco and a knife, I offered them to any one who would bring me what I wanted. After some delay a tolerable shield was produced. They were very anxious to know what we meant to do with it, and Henry told them that we were going to fight their enemies, the Pawnees. This instantly produced a visible impression in our favor, which was increased by the distribution of the presents. Among these was a large paper of awls, a gift appropriate to the women; and as we were anxious to see the beauties of the Arapahoe village Henry requested that they might be called to receive them. A warrior gave a shout as if he were calling a pack of dogs together. The squaws, young and old, hags of eighty and girls of sixteen, came running with screams and laughter out of the lodges; and as the men gave way for them they gathered round us and stretched out their arms, grinning with delight, their native ugliness considerably enhanced by the excitement of the moment.
Mounting our horses, which during the whole interview we had held close to us, we prepared to leave the Arapahoes. The crowd fell back on each side and stood looking on. When we were half across the camp an idea occurred to us. The Pawnees were probably in the neighborhood of the Caches; we might tell the Arapahoes of this and instigate them to send down a war party and cut them off, while we ourselves could remain behind for a while and hunt the buffalo. At first thought this plan of setting our enemies to destroy one another seemed to us a masterpiece of policy; but we immediately recollected that should we meet the Arapahoe warriors on the river below they might prove quite as dangerous as the Pawnees themselves. So rejecting our plan as soon as it presented itself, we passed out of the village on the farther side. We urged our horses rapidly through the tall grass which rose to their necks. Several Indians were walking through it at a distance, their heads just visible above its waving surface. It bore a kind of seed as sweet and nutritious as oats; and our hungry horses, in spite of whip and rein, could not resist the temptation of snatching at this unwonted luxury as we passed along. When about a mile from the village I turned and looked back over the undulating ocean of grass. The sun was just set; the western sky was all in a glow, and sharply defined against it, on the extreme verge of the plain, stood the numerous lodges of the Arapahoe camp.
Reaching the bank of the river, we followed it for some distance farther, until we discerned through the twilight the white covering of our little cart on the opposite bank. When we reached it we found a considerable number of Indians there before us. Four or five of them were seated in a row upon the ground, looking like so many half-starved vultures. Tete Rouge, in his uniform, was holding a close colloquy with another by the side of the cart. His gesticulations, his attempts at sign-making, and the contortions of his countenance, were most ludicrous; and finding all these of no avail, he tried to make the Indian understand him by repeating English words very loudly and distinctly again and again. The Indian sat with his eye fixed steadily upon him, and in spite of the rigid immobility of his features, it was clear at a glance that he perfectly understood his military companion's character and thoroughly despised him. The exhibition was more amusing than politic, and Tete Rouge was directed to finish what he had to say as soon as possible. Thus rebuked, he crept under the cart and sat down there; Henry Chatillon stopped to look at him in his retirement, and remarked in his quiet manner that an Indian would kill ten such men and laugh all the time.
One by one our visitors rose and stalked away. As the darkness thickened we were saluted by dismal sounds. The wolves are incredibly numerous in this part of the country, and the offal around the Arapahoe camp had drawn such multitudes of them together that several hundred were howling in concert in our immediate neighborhood. There was an island in the river, or rather an oasis in the midst of the sands at about the distance of a gunshot, and here they seemed gathered in the greatest numbers. A horrible discord of low mournful wailings, mingled with ferocious howls, arose from it incessantly for several hours after sunset. We could distinctly see the wolves running about the prairie within a few rods of our fire, or bounding over the sand-beds of the river and splashing through the water. There was not the slightest danger to be feared from them, for they are the greatest cowards on the prairie.
In respect to the human wolves in our neighborhood, we felt much less at our ease. We seldom erected our tent except in bad weather, and that night each man spread his buffalo robe upon the ground with his loaded rifle laid at his side or clasped in his arms. Our horses were picketed so close around us that one of them repeatedly stepped over me as I lay. We were not in the habit of placing a guard, but every man that night was anxious and watchful; there was little sound sleeping in camp, and some one of the party was on his feet during the greater part of the time. For myself, I lay alternately waking and dozing until midnight. Tete Rouge was reposing close to the river bank, and about this time, when half asleep and half awake, I was conscious that he shifted his position and crept on all-fours under the cart. Soon after I fell into a sound sleep from which I was aroused by a hand shaking me by the shoulder. Looking up, I saw Tete Rouge stooping over me with his face quite pale and his eyes dilated to their utmost expansion.
"What's the matter?" said I.
Tete Rouge declared that as he lay on the river bank, something caught his eye which excited his suspicions. So creeping under the cart for safety's sake he sat there and watched, when he saw two Indians, wrapped in white robes, creep up the bank, seize upon two horses and lead them off. He looked so frightened, and told his story in such a disconnected manner, that I did not believe him, and was unwilling to alarm the party. Still it might be true, and in that case the matter required instant attention. There would be no time for examination, and so directing Tete Rouge to show me which way the Indians had gone, I took my rifle, in obedience to a thoughtless impulse, and left the camp. I followed the river back for two or three hundred yards, listening and looking anxiously on every side. In the dark prairie on the right I could discern nothing to excite alarm; and in the dusky bed of the river, a wolf was bounding along in a manner which no Indian could imitate. I returned to the camp, and when within sight of it, saw that the whole party was aroused. Shaw called out to me that he had counted the horses, and that every one of them was in his place. Tete Rouge, being examined as to what he had seen, only repeated his former story with many asseverations, and insisted that two horses were certainly carried off. At this Jim Gurney declared that he was crazy; Tete Rouge indignantly denied the charge, on which Jim appealed to us. As we declined to give our judgment on so delicate a matter, the dispute grew hot between Tete Rouge and his accuser, until he was directed to go to bed and not alarm the camp again if he saw the whole Arapahoe village coming.
The country before us was now thronged with buffalo, and a sketch of the manner of hunting them will not be out of place. There are two methods commonly practiced, "running" and "approaching." The chase on horseback, which goes by the name of "running," is the more violent and dashing mode of the two. Indeed, of all American wild sports, this is the wildest. Once among the buffalo, the hunter, unless long use has made him familiar with the situation, dashes forward in utter recklessness and self-abandonment. He thinks of nothing, cares for nothing but the game; his mind is stimulated to the highest pitch, yet intensely concentrated on one object. In the midst of the flying herd, where the uproar and the dust are thickest, it never wavers for a moment; he drops the rein and abandons his horse to his furious career; he levels his gun, the report sounds faint amid the thunder of the buffalo; and when his wounded enemy leaps in vain fury upon him, his heart thrills with a feeling like the fierce delight of the battlefield. A practiced and skillful hunter, well mounted, will sometimes kill five or six cows in a single chase, loading his gun again and again as his horse rushes through the tumult. An exploit like this is quite beyond the capacities of a novice. In attacking a small band of buffalo, or in separating a single animal from the herd and assailing it apart from the rest, there is less excitement and less danger. With a bold and well trained horse the hunter may ride so close to the buffalo that as they gallop side by side he may reach over and touch him with his hand; nor is there much danger in this as long as the buffalo's strength and breath continue unabated; but when he becomes tired and can no longer run at ease, when his tongue lolls out and foam flies from his jaws, then the hunter had better keep at a more respectful distance; the distressed brute may turn upon him at any instant; and especially at the moment when he fires his gun. The wounded buffalo springs at his enemy; the horse leaps violently aside; and then the hunter has need of a tenacious seat in the saddle, for if he is thrown to the ground there is no hope for him. When he sees his attack defeated the buffalo resumes his flight, but if the shot be well directed he soon stops; for a few moments he stands still, then totters and falls heavily upon the prairie.
The chief difficulty in running buffalo, as it seems to me, is that of loading the gun or pistol at full gallop. Many hunters for convenience' sake carry three or four bullets in the mouth; the powder is poured down the muzzle of the piece, the bullet dropped in after it, the stock struck hard upon the pommel of the saddle, and the work is done. The danger of this method is obvious. Should the blow on the pommel fail to send the bullet home, or should the latter, in the act of aiming, start from its place and roll toward the muzzle, the gun would probably burst in discharging. Many a shattered hand and worse casualties besides have been the result of such an accident. To obviate it, some hunters make use of a ramrod, usually hung by a string from the neck, but this materially increases the difficulty of loading. The bows and arrows which the Indians use in running buffalo have many advantages over fire arms, and even white men occasionally employ them.
The danger of the chase arises not so much from the onset of the wounded animal as from the nature of the ground which the hunter must ride over. The prairie does not always present a smooth, level, and uniform surface; very often it is broken with hills and hollows, intersected by ravines, and in the remoter parts studded by the stiff wild-sage bushes. The most formidable obstructions, however, are the burrows of wild animals, wolves, badgers, and particularly prairie dogs, with whose holes the ground for a very great extent is frequently honeycombed. In the blindness of the chase the hunter rushes over it unconscious of danger; his horse, at full career, thrusts his leg deep into one of the burrows; the bone snaps, the rider is hurled forward to the ground and probably killed. Yet accidents in buffalo running happen less frequently than one would suppose; in the recklessness of the chase, the hunter enjoys all the impunity of a drunken man, and may ride in safety over the gullies and declivities where, should he attempt to pass in his sober senses, he would infallibly break his neck.
The method of "approaching," being practiced on foot, has many advantages over that of "running"; in the former, one neither breaks down his horse nor endangers his own life; instead of yielding to excitement he must be cool, collected, and watchful; he must understand the buffalo, observe the features of the country and the course of the wind, and be well skilled, moreover, in using the rifle. The buffalo are strange animals; sometimes they are so stupid and infatuated that a man may walk up to them in full sight on the open prairie, and even shoot several of their number before the rest will think it necessary to retreat. Again at another moment they will be so shy and wary, that in order to approach them the utmost skill, experience, and judgment are necessary. Kit Carson, I believe, stands pre-eminent in running buffalo; in approaching, no man living can bear away the palm from Henry Chatillon.
To resume the story: After Tete Rouge had alarmed the camp, no further disturbance occurred during the night. The Arapahoes did not attempt mischief, or if they did the wakefulness of the party deterred them from effecting their purpose. The next day was one of activity and excitement, for about ten o'clock the men in advance shouted the gladdening cry of "Buffalo, buffalo!" and in the hollow of the prairie just below us, a band of bulls were grazing. The temptation was irresistible, and Shaw and I rode down upon them. We were badly mounted on our traveling horses, but by hard lashing we overtook them, and Shaw, running alongside of a bull, shot into him both balls of his double-barreled gun. Looking round as I galloped past, I saw the bull in his mortal fury rushing again and again upon his antagonist, whose horse constantly leaped aside, and avoided the onset. My chase was more protracted, but at length I ran close to the bull and killed him with my pistols. Cutting off the tails of our victims by way of trophy, we rejoined the party in about a quarter of an hour after we left it. Again and again that morning rang out the same welcome cry of "Buffalo, buffalo!" Every few moments in the broad meadows along the river, we would see bands of bulls, who, raising their shaggy heads, would gaze in stupid amazement at the approaching horsemen, and then breaking into a clumsy gallop, would file off in a long line across the trail in front, toward the rising prairie on the left. At noon, the whole plain before us was alive with thousands of buffalo—bulls, cows, and calves—all moving rapidly as we drew near; and far-off beyond the river the swelling prairie was darkened with them to the very horizon. The party was in gayer spirits than ever. We stopped for a nooning near a grove of trees by the river side.
"Tongues and hump ribs to-morrow," said Shaw, looking with contempt at the venison steaks which Delorier placed before us. Our meal finished, we lay down under a temporary awning to sleep. A shout from Henry Chatillon aroused us, and we saw him standing on the cartwheel stretching his tall figure to its full height while he looked toward the prairie beyond the river. Following the direction of his eyes we could clearly distinguish a large dark object, like the black shadow of a cloud, passing rapidly over swell after swell of the distant plain; behind it followed another of similar appearance though smaller. Its motion was more rapid, and it drew closer and closer to the first. It was the hunters of the Arapahoe camp pursuing a band of buffalo. Shaw and I hastily sought and saddled our best horses, and went plunging through sand and water to the farther bank. We were too late. The hunters had already mingled with the herd, and the work of slaughter was nearly over. When we reached the ground we found it strewn far and near with numberless black carcasses, while the remnants of the herd, scattered in all directions, were flying away in terror, and the Indians still rushing in pursuit. Many of the hunters, however, remained upon the spot, and among the rest was our yesterday's acquaintance, the chief of the village. He had alighted by the side of a cow, into which he had shot five or six arrows, and his squaw, who had followed him on horseback to the hunt, was giving him a draught of water out of a canteen, purchased or plundered from some volunteer soldier. Recrossing the river we overtook the party, who were already on their way.
We had scarcely gone a mile when an imposing spectacle presented itself. From the river bank on the right, away over the swelling prairie on the left, and in front as far as we could see, extended one vast host of buffalo. The outskirts of the herd were within a quarter of a mile. In many parts they were crowded so densely together that in the distance their rounded backs presented a surface of uniform blackness; but elsewhere they were more scattered, and from amid the multitude rose little columns of dust where the buffalo were rolling on the ground. Here and there a great confusion was perceptible, where a battle was going forward among the bulls. We could distinctly see them rushing against each other, and hear the clattering of their horns and their hoarse bellowing. Shaw was riding at some distance in advance, with Henry Chatillon; I saw him stop and draw the leather covering from his gun. Indeed, with such a sight before us, but one thing could be thought of. That morning I had used pistols in the chase. I had now a mind to try the virtue of a gun. Delorier had one, and I rode up to the side of the cart; there he sat under the white covering, biting his pipe between his teeth and grinning with excitement.
"Lend me your gun, Delorier," said I.
"Oui, monsieur, oui," said Delorier, tugging with might and main to stop the mule, which seemed obstinately bent on going forward. Then everything but his moccasins disappeared as he crawled into the cart and pulled at the gun to extricate it.
"Is it loaded?" I asked.
"Oui, bien charge; you'll kill, mon bourgeois; yes, you'll kill—c'est un bon fusil."
I handed him my rifle and rode forward to Shaw.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
"Come on," said I.
"Keep down that hollow," said Henry, "and then they won't see you till you get close to them."
The hollow was a kind of ravine very wide and shallow; it ran obliquely toward the buffalo, and we rode at a canter along the bottom until it became too shallow, when we bent close to our horses' necks, and then finding that it could no longer conceal us, came out of it and rode directly toward the herd. It was within gunshot; before its outskirts, numerous grizzly old bulls were scattered, holding guard over their females. They glared at us in anger and astonishment, walked toward us a few yards, and then turning slowly round retreated at a trot which afterward broke into a clumsy gallop. In an instant the main body caught the alarm. The buffalo began to crowd away from the point toward which we were approaching, and a gap was opened in the side of the herd. We entered it, still restraining our excited horses. Every instant the tumult was thickening. The buffalo, pressing together in large bodies, crowded away from us on every hand. In front and on either side we could see dark columns and masses, half hidden by clouds of dust, rushing along in terror and confusion, and hear the tramp and clattering of ten thousand hoofs. That countless multitude of powerful brutes, ignorant of their own strength, were flying in a panic from the approach of two feeble horsemen. To remain quiet longer was impossible.
"Take that band on the left," said Shaw; "I'll take these in front."
He sprang off, and I saw no more of him. A heavy Indian whip was fastened by a band to my wrist; I swung it into the air and lashed my horse's flank with all the strength of my arm. Away she darted, stretching close to the ground. I could see nothing but a cloud of dust before me, but I knew that it concealed a band of many hundreds of buffalo. In a moment I was in the midst of the cloud, half suffocated by the dust and stunned by the trampling of the flying herd; but I was drunk with the chase and cared for nothing but the buffalo. Very soon a long dark mass became visible, looming through the dust; then I could distinguish each bulky carcass, the hoofs flying out beneath, the short tails held rigidly erect. In a moment I was so close that I could have touched them with my gun. Suddenly, to my utter amazement, the hoofs were jerked upward, the tails flourished in the air, and amid a cloud of dust the buffalo seemed to sink into the earth before me. One vivid impression of that instant remains upon my mind. I remember looking down upon the backs of several buffalo dimly visible through the dust. We had run unawares upon a ravine. At that moment I was not the most accurate judge of depth and width, but when I passed it on my return, I found it about twelve feet deep and not quite twice as wide at the bottom. It was impossible to stop; I would have done so gladly if I could; so, half sliding, half plunging, down went the little mare. I believe she came down on her knees in the loose sand at the bottom; I was pitched forward violently against her neck and nearly thrown over her head among the buffalo, who amid dust and confusion came tumbling in all around. The mare was on her feet in an instant and scrambling like a cat up the opposite side. I thought for a moment that she would have fallen back and crushed me, but with a violent effort she clambered out and gained the hard prairie above. Glancing back I saw the huge head of a bull clinging as it were by the forefeet at the edge of the dusty gulf. At length I was fairly among the buffalo. They were less densely crowded than before, and I could see nothing but bulls, who always run at the rear of the herd. As I passed amid them they would lower their heads, and turning as they ran, attempt to gore my horse; but as they were already at full speed there was no force in their onset, and as Pauline ran faster than they, they were always thrown behind her in the effort. I soon began to distinguish cows amid the throng. One just in front of me seemed to my liking, and I pushed close to her side. Dropping the reins I fired, holding the muzzle of the gun within a foot of her shoulder. Quick as lightning she sprang at Pauline; the little mare dodged the attack, and I lost sight of the wounded animal amid the tumultuous crowd. Immediately after I selected another, and urging forward Pauline, shot into her both pistols in succession. For a while I kept her in view, but in attempting to load my gun, lost sight of her also in the confusion. Believing her to be mortally wounded and unable to keep up with the herd, I checked my horse. The crowd rushed onward. The dust and tumult passed away, and on the prairie, far behind the rest, I saw a solitary buffalo galloping heavily. In a moment I and my victim were running side by side. My firearms were all empty, and I had in my pouch nothing but rifle bullets, too large for the pistols and too small for the gun. I loaded the latter, however, but as often as I leveled it to fire, the little bullets would roll out of the muzzle and the gun returned only a faint report like a squib, as the powder harmlessly exploded. I galloped in front of the buffalo and attempted to turn her back; but her eyes glared, her mane bristled, and lowering her head, she rushed at me with astonishing fierceness and activity. Again and again I rode before her, and again and again she repeated her furious charge. But little Pauline was in her element. She dodged her enemy at every rush, until at length the buffalo stood still, exhausted with her own efforts; she panted, and her tongue hung lolling from her jaws.
Riding to a little distance I alighted, thinking to gather a handful of dry grass to serve the purpose of wadding, and load the gun at my leisure. No sooner were my feet on the ground than the buffalo came bounding in such a rage toward me that I jumped back again into the saddle with all possible dispatch. After waiting a few minutes more, I made an attempt to ride up and stab her with my knife; but the experiment proved such as no wise man would repeat. At length, bethinking me of the fringes at the seams of my buckskin pantaloons, I jerked off a few of them, and reloading my gun, forced them down the barrel to keep the bullet in its place; then approaching, I shot the wounded buffalo through the heart. Sinking to her knees, she rolled over lifeless on the prairie. To my astonishment, I found that instead of a fat cow I had been slaughtering a stout yearling bull. No longer wondering at the fierceness he had shown, I opened his throat and cutting out his tongue, tied it at the back of my saddle. My mistake was one which a more experienced eye than mine might easily make in the dust and confusion of such a chase.
Then for the first time I had leisure to look at the scene around me. The prairie in front was darkened with the retreating multitude, and on the other hand the buffalo came filing up in endless unbroken columns from the low plains upon the river. The Arkansas was three or four miles distant. I turned and moved slowly toward it. A long time passed before, far down in the distance, I distinguished the white covering of the cart and the little black specks of horsemen before and behind it. Drawing near, I recognized Shaw's elegant tunic, the red flannel shirt, conspicuous far off. I overtook the party, and asked him what success he had met with. He had assailed a fat cow, shot her with two bullets, and mortally wounded her. But neither of us were prepared for the chase that afternoon, and Shaw, like myself, had no spare bullets in his pouch; so he abandoned the disabled animal to Henry Chatillon, who followed, dispatched her with his rifle, and loaded his horse with her meat.
We encamped close to the river. The night was dark, and as we lay down we could hear mingled with the howling of wolves the hoarse bellowing of the buffalo, like the ocean beating upon a distant coast.
THE BUFFALO CAMP
No one in the camp was more active than Jim Gurney, and no one half so lazy as Ellis. Between these two there was a great antipathy. Ellis never stirred in the morning until he was compelled to, but Jim was always on his feet before daybreak; and this morning as usual the sound of his voice awakened the party.
"Get up, you booby! up with you now, you're fit for nothing but eating and sleeping. Stop your grumbling and come out of that buffalo robe or I'll pull it off for you."
Jim's words were interspersed with numerous expletives, which gave them great additional effect. Ellis drawled out something in a nasal tone from among the folds of his buffalo robe; then slowly disengaged himself, rose into sitting posture, stretched his long arms, yawned hideously, and finally, raising his tall person erect, stood staring round him to all the four quarters of the horizon. Delorier's fire was soon blazing, and the horses and mules, loosened from their pickets, were feeding in the neighboring meadow. When we sat down to breakfast the prairie was still in the dusky light of morning; and as the sun rose we were mounted and on our way again.
"A white buffalo!" exclaimed Munroe.
"I'll have that fellow," said Shaw, "if I run my horse to death after him."
He threw the cover of his gun to Delorier and galloped out upon the prairie.
"Stop, Mr. Shaw, stop!" called out Henry Chatillon, "you'll run down your horse for nothing; it's only a white ox."
But Shaw was already out of hearing. The ox, who had no doubt strayed away from some of the government wagon trains, was standing beneath some low hills which bounded the plain in the distance. Not far from him a band of veritable buffalo bulls were grazing; and startled at Shaw's approach, they all broke into a run, and went scrambling up the hillsides to gain the high prairie above. One of them in his haste and terror involved himself in a fatal catastrophe. Along the foot of the hills was a narrow strip of deep marshy soil, into which the bull plunged and hopelessly entangled himself. We all rode up to the spot. The huge carcass was half sunk in the mud, which flowed to his very chin, and his shaggy mane was outspread upon the surface. As we came near the bull began to struggle with convulsive strength; he writhed to and fro, and in the energy of his fright and desperation would lift himself for a moment half out of the slough, while the reluctant mire returned a sucking sound as he strained to drag his limbs from its tenacious depths. We stimulated his exertions by getting behind him and twisting his tail; nothing would do. There was clearly no hope for him. After every effort his heaving sides were more deeply imbedded and the mire almost overflowed his nostrils; he lay still at length, and looking round at us with a furious eye, seemed to resign himself to his fate. Ellis slowly dismounted, and deliberately leveling his boasted yager, shot the old bull through the heart; then he lazily climbed back again to his seat, pluming himself no doubt on having actually killed a buffalo. That day the invincible yager drew blood for the first and last time during the whole journey.
The morning was a bright and gay one, and the air so clear that on the farthest horizon the outline of the pale blue prairie was sharply drawn against the sky. Shaw felt in the mood for hunting; he rode in advance of the party, and before long we saw a file of bulls galloping at full speed upon a vast green swell of the prairie at some distance in front. Shaw came scouring along behind them, arrayed in his red shirt, which looked very well in the distance; he gained fast on the fugitives, and as the foremost bull was disappearing behind the summit of the swell, we saw him in the act of assailing the hindmost; a smoke sprang from the muzzle of his gun, and floated away before the wind like a little white cloud; the bull turned upon him, and just then the rising ground concealed them both from view.
We were moving forward until about noon, when we stopped by the side of the Arkansas. At that moment Shaw appeared riding slowly down the side of a distant hill; his horse was tired and jaded, and when he threw his saddle upon the ground, I observed that the tails of two bulls were dangling behind it. No sooner were the horses turned loose to feed than Henry, asking Munroe to go with him, took his rifle and walked quietly away. Shaw, Tete Rouge, and I sat down by the side of the cart to discuss the dinner which Delorier placed before us; we had scarcely finished when we saw Munroe walking toward us along the river bank. Henry, he said, had killed four fat cows, and had sent him back for horses to bring in the meat. Shaw took a horse for himself and another for Henry, and he and Munroe left the camp together. After a short absence all three of them came back, their horses loaded with the choicest parts of the meat; we kept two of the cows for ourselves and gave the others to Munroe and his companions. Delorier seated himself on the grass before the pile of meat, and worked industriously for some time to cut it into thin broad sheets for drying. This is no easy matter, but Delorier had all the skill of an Indian squaw. Long before night cords of raw hide were stretched around the camp, and the meat was hung upon them to dry in the sunshine and pure air of the prairie. Our California companions were less successful at the work; but they accomplished it after their own fashion, and their side of the camp was soon garnished in the same manner as our own.
We meant to remain at this place long enough to prepare provisions for our journey to the frontier, which as we supposed might occupy about a month. Had the distance been twice as great and the party ten times as large, the unerring rifle of Henry Chatillon would have supplied meat enough for the whole within two days; we were obliged to remain, however, until it should be dry enough for transportation; so we erected our tent and made the other arrangements for a permanent camp. The California men, who had no such shelter, contented themselves with arranging their packs on the grass around their fire. In the meantime we had nothing to do but amuse ourselves. Our tent was within a rod of the river, if the broad sand-beds, with a scanty stream of water coursing here and there along their surface, deserve to be dignified with the name of river. The vast flat plains on either side were almost on a level with the sand-beds, and they were bounded in the distance by low, monotonous hills, parallel to the course of the Arkansas. All was one expanse of grass; there was no wood in view, except some trees and stunted bushes upon two islands which rose from amid the wet sands of the river. Yet far from being dull and tame this boundless scene was often a wild and animated one; for twice a day, at sunrise and at noon, the buffalo came issuing from the hills, slowly advancing in their grave processions to drink at the river. All our amusements were too at their expense. Except an elephant, I have seen no animal that can surpass a buffalo bull in size and strength, and the world may be searched in vain to find anything of a more ugly and ferocious aspect. At first sight of him every feeling of sympathy vanishes; no man who has not experienced it can understand with what keen relish one inflicts his death wound, with what profound contentment of mind he beholds him fall. The cows are much smaller and of a gentler appearance, as becomes their sex. While in this camp we forebore to attack them, leaving to Henry Chatillon, who could better judge their fatness and good quality, the task of killing such as we wanted for use; but against the bulls we waged an unrelenting war. Thousands of them might be slaughtered without causing any detriment to the species, for their numbers greatly exceed those of the cows; it is the hides of the latter alone which are used for purpose of commerce and for making the lodges of the Indians; and the destruction among them is therefore altogether disproportioned.
Our horses were tired, and we now usually hunted on foot. The wide, flat sand-beds of the Arkansas, as the reader will remember, lay close by the side of our camp. While we were lying on the grass after dinner, smoking, conversing, or laughing at Tete Rouge, one of us would look up and observe, far out on the plains beyond the river, certain black objects slowly approaching. He would inhale a parting whiff from the pipe, then rising lazily, take his rifle, which leaned against the cart, throw over his shoulder the strap of his pouch and powder-horn, and with his moccasins in his hand walk quietly across the sand toward the opposite side of the river. This was very easy; for though the sands were about a quarter of a mile wide, the water was nowhere more than two feet deep. The farther bank was about four or five feet high, and quite perpendicular, being cut away by the water in spring. Tall grass grew along its edge. Putting it aside with his hand, and cautiously looking through it, the hunter can discern the huge shaggy back of the buffalo slowly swaying to and fro, as with his clumsy swinging gait he advances toward the water. The buffalo have regular paths by which they come down to drink. Seeing at a glance along which of these his intended victim is moving, the hunter crouches under the bank within fifteen or twenty yards, it may be, of the point where the path enters the river. Here he sits down quietly on the sand. Listening intently, he hears the heavy monotonous tread of the approaching bull. The moment after he sees a motion among the long weeds and grass just at the spot where the path is channeled through the bank. An enormous black head is thrust out, the horns just visible amid the mass of tangled mane. Half sliding, half plunging, down comes the buffalo upon the river-bed below. He steps out in full sight upon the sands. Just before him a runnel of water is gliding, and he bends his head to drink. You may hear the water as it gurgles down his capacious throat. He raises his head, and the drops trickle from his wet beard. He stands with an air of stupid abstraction, unconscious of the lurking danger. Noiselessly the hunter cocks his rifle. As he sits upon the sand, his knee is raised, and his elbow rests upon it, that he may level his heavy weapon with a steadier aim. The stock is at his shoulder; his eye ranges along the barrel. Still he is in no haste to fire. The bull, with slow deliberation, begins his march over the sands to the other side. He advances his foreleg, and exposes to view a small spot, denuded of hair, just behind the point of his shoulder; upon this the hunter brings the sight of his rifle to bear; lightly and delicately his finger presses upon the hair-trigger. Quick as thought the spiteful crack of the rifle responds to his slight touch, and instantly in the middle of the bare spot appears a small red dot. The buffalo shivers; death has overtaken him, he cannot tell from whence; still he does not fall, but walks heavily forward, as if nothing had happened. Yet before he has advanced far out upon the sand, you see him stop; he totters; his knees bend under him, and his head sinks forward to the ground. Then his whole vast bulk sways to one side; he rolls over on the sand, and dies with a scarcely perceptible struggle.