In The Heart Of The Rockies
G. A. Henty
Part 3 out of 6
"Well, Leaping Horse, which way would you advise us to take, then?"
"Go straight back to canon, ride down there, cross river, go up
mountains other side, pass them north of Union Peak, come down on upper
water Big Wind River. From there little way on to Green River. Leaping
Horse never been there, but has heard. One long day's ride from here, go
to upper waters of Green River."
"That sounds good," Jerry Curtis said. "If we could once strike the
Green we should be out of the 'Rappahoe country altogether. I have known
two or three men who have been up the Green nearly to its head, and
there is good hunting and a good many beaver in the side streams. I
should not have thought it would have come anywhere like as near as
this, but I don't doubt the chief is right."
"Union Peak," the chief said, pointing to a crag rising among a tumble
of hills to the south.
"Are you sure, chief?"
The Indian nodded. "Forty, fifty miles away," he said. "Leaping Horse
has been to upper waters of Green River, seen the peak from other side."
"That settles it, then," Harry said. "That is our course, there cannot
be a doubt. I should never have proposed the other if I had had an idea
that we were within sixty or seventy miles of the Green River. And you
think we had better take the canon you came up by, chief?"
The Indian nodded. "If go down through forest may be ambushed. Open
ground from here back to canon. 'Rappahoes most in front. Think we go
that way, not think we go back. Get good start. Once across river follow
up little stream among hills other side, that the way to pass. If
'Rappahoes follow us we fight them."
"Yes, we shall have them at an advantage there, for they would have to
come up under our fire, and there are sure to be places where half a
dozen men could keep fifty at bay. Very well, chief, that is settled.
When do you think we had better start?"
"When gets dark," the chief replied. "No lose time, more Indian come
every hour. Keep fire burning well, 'Rappahoes think we camp here. Take
horses a little way off and mount beyond light of fire."
"You think they will be watching us?"
"Sure to watch. First ride north half an hour, then turn and ride to
canon. If spies see us go off take word to friends we gone north. Too
dark to follow trail. They think they catch us easy to-morrow, and take
up trail in morning; but too late then, we cross river before that."
There was a general murmur of assent. The thought of being constantly
watched, and suddenly attacked when least expecting it, made them feel
restless, and the thought of early action was pleasant to them.
"You don't think that there are any spies watching us now, uncle, do
"Not close, Tom; they would know better than that. They could see us
miles away if we were to mount and ride off, and it is only when it gets
dark that they would venture to crawl up, for if one were sighted in the
daytime he would not have a ghost of a chance of getting away, for we
could ride him down sartin."
"Well, I reckon we may as well take a sleep," Sam Hicks said. "You lie
down for one, anyhow, Harry, for you watched last evening. We will toss
up which of us keeps awake."
"Leaping Horse will keep watch," the chief said quietly. "No fear of
Indians, but better to watch."
Knowing the power of the red-skins to keep awake for an almost unlimited
time, none of the others thought of refusing the offer, and in a few
minutes all were sound asleep. Towards sunset they were on their feet
again. Another meal was cooked and eaten, then as it became dusk the
horses were gathered fifty yards away, and Hunting Dog and Tom took
their places beside them.
"Keep your eyes open and your rifle handy, Tom," his uncle said. "It is
like enough that some young brave, anxious to distinguish himself, may
crawl up with the intention of stampeding the ponies, though I don't
think he would attempt it till he thought most of us were asleep. Still,
there is no saying."
The watch was undisturbed, and soon it became so dark that objects could
no longer be seen fifty yards away. Tom began to feel nervous. Every
tuft of ground, every little bush seemed to him to take the form of a
crawling Indian, and he felt a great sense of relief when he saw the
figures round the fire rise and walk towards him.
"I am glad you have come, uncle," he said frankly; "I began to feel very
uncomfortable several times. It seemed to me that some of the bushes
"That is just what I thought you would be feeling, Tom. But it was just
as well that your first watch should be a short one, without much chance
of an ambush being on foot; and I knew that if your eyes deceived you,
Hunting Dog was there. Next time you won't feel so nervous; that sort of
thing soon passes off."
A fresh armful of brushwood had been thrown on to the fire before the
men left it, and long after they had ridden away they could see the
flames mounting high. After riding north for a quarter of an hour they
changed their route and passed round, leaving the fire half a mile on
their right. The light of the stars was quite sufficient for them to
travel by, and after four hours' journey the chief, who was riding
"Not far from canon now. Listen."
A very faint murmur came to their ears, so faint that had not his
attention been drawn to it Tom would not have noticed it at all.
"What is that noise?" he asked.
"That is the stream down in the canon," his uncle replied. "How far are
we from the head, chief?"
"Not far, must ride slow."
They proceeded at a walk, changing their course a little towards the
east. Hunting Dog went on ahead, and in a quarter of an hour they heard
his signal, the cry of an owl. It arose from a point still further east,
and quickening their pace, in a few minutes they came up to the young
Indian, who was standing by his horse at the edge of a steep descent, at
the bottom of which Tom could see a stream of water.
"It looks very steep," Jerry said.
"Steep, but smooth," the Indian replied. "Came up here with horses this
All dismounted, and Tom went up to his horse's head. "That won't do,
Tom. Never go before a horse down a steep place where you can't see your
way, always drive it before you."
There was some trouble in getting the horses to commence the descent,
but after a short time the chief's pony set the example; and tucking its
hind legs under it until it sat down on its haunches, began to slide
down, while the other animals, after staring into the darkness with ears
laid back and snorting with fear, were half-persuaded, half-forced to
follow its example, and the men went down after them. The descent was
not so steep as in the darkness it looked, and the depth was not over
fifty feet. As soon as they reached the bottom they mounted again, and
the chief leading the way, they rode down the canon. At first they were
able to proceed at a fair pace, but as the sides grew higher and more
precipitous the darkness became more dense, and they were obliged to
pick their way with great caution among the boulders that strewed the
bottom of the ravine. Several times they had to dismount in order to get
the horses over heavy falls, and it was four hours from the time they
entered the canon before they approached its mouth. When they entered
the little wood where they had first left the horses, the chief said,
"Make fire, cook food here. Leaping Horse and Hunting Dog go on and
scout, maybe 'Rappahoes left watch in valley."
"Very well, chief. It is seven hours since we started; I think the
horses will be all the better for an hour's rest, and I am sure we shall
be the better of a feed. Besides, when we are once out of this hole we
may have to travel fast."
"You don't think it likely that the 'Rappahoes are on the look-out for
us at the entrance?" Tom asked, as the Indians moved away.
"Not likely at all, Tom. Still, as they might reckon that if we gave
their searching party the slip we must come down again by the river or
through this canon, they may have left a party or sent down word to some
of their villages to keep a watch in the valley."
It was more than an hour before the Indians returned.
"No 'Rappahoes in valley," the chief said, as he seated himself by the
fire and began without loss of time to eat the meat they had cooked in
readiness. "Better be going soon, must cross river and get on before
light come; have seen fires, Indian villages up on hillsides. When light
comes and 'Rappahoes find trail they come back quick."
"You may bet your boots they will, chief," Sam Hicks said. "They will be
a pretty mad crowd when they make out that we have come down again by
the canon. As soon as they see which way we have headed some of them
will make a bee-line down here in hopes of cutting us off at the mouth,
but by the time they are here we shall be half-way up the hill."
The Indian made no reply, but he and Hunting Dog ate their meal
steadily, and as soon as they had finished rose to their feet, and
saying "Time to go" went out to fetch in their horses.
"I don't think the chief is as confident we shall get off without a
fight as Sam seemed to be," Tom said to his uncle.
"There is never any saying what an Indian thinks, Tom, even when he has
fallen into white man's ways, as Leaping Horse has done. It may be that
the sight of the fires he made out on the opposite hills has troubled
him. It will be light before we are far up on the side, and we may be
made out by some of the varmint there. They are always restless. Go into
an Indian village when you will, you will find some of them smoking by
the fire. Their ears are so 'tarnal sharp, they can hear sounds that
would never catch our ears, not at half the distance. The clink of a
couple of pans together, or a stone set rolling by a horse's tread, were
it ever so faint, would bring them on their feet directly, especially
now they know that a war-party is out."
The march was again resumed. Passing through the narrowest part of the
canon they issued out into the valley and made for the river. Some time
was lost here, for Sam Hicks, who was leading one of the pack-ponies,
was carried down several hundred yards by the stream, and with
difficulty effected his landing. The horse's load shifted and had to be
repacked. As soon as this was done they followed the river down for two
miles till they came upon a stream running into it from the southwest.
"You think this is the stream we have to follow, chief?"
"Must be him, no other came in on this side for a long way; right line
They turned up by the stream, and after riding a mile found themselves
entering a mountain gorge. It was not a canon but a steep, narrow
valley. They picked their way with the greatest caution for some time,
then the two Indians stopped simultaneously.
"What is the matter, chief?" Harry, who was riding next to them,
Harry sniffed the air.
"I can't say I smell it, chief, but if you say you do that settles it.
Where do you think it comes from?"
"Up valley; wind light, but comes that way. Indian village up here."
"Well, so much the worse for the Indian village if it interferes with
us," Harry said grimly; "there is one thing certain, we have got to go
through. Probably most of the braves are away up in the hills."
They now went on with redoubled caution. The chief gave his bridle to
Hunting Dog and went forward on foot. A hundred yards farther the valley
made a sharp turn and then widened out considerably, and the glow of a
fire was visible among some trees standing on the hillside some fifty
feet above the level of the stream. The chief looked at the sky; a faint
light was breaking, and without pausing he continued to lead the way.
They passed under the Indian encampment, and had got a few yards higher
when the pony Sam Hicks was leading gave a sharp neigh.
"Darn its old ears!" Tom heard Jerry growl. Harry at the same moment put
his horse to a trot, and the others following clattered up the valley,
knowing that concealment was no longer of any use; indeed, an answering
neigh from above and hurried shouts were heard, followed a moment
afterwards by a loud yell as an Indian running through the trees caught
sight of them in the moonlight.
"We are in for it now, Tom; that is, if there are men enough in the
village to attack us."
The horses broke into a gallop. They had gone but fifty yards when a
rifle-shot was heard from behind, and Tom felt a shock as the ball
struck his saddle. Almost immediately another shot was fired abreast of
him, and an Indian yell rose loudly behind them. A moment later Leaping
Horse with a shout of triumph bounded down the rocks and leapt on to his
horse. Four or five more shots were fired from behind, but none of them
were hit. A hundred yards farther they were in shelter of a belt of
trees that extended down to the stream. As they entered it Harry looked
back. He could now see the hills beyond the main valley.
"Look, chief!" he exclaimed. "The varmint up there are signalling far
off above the timber-line."
Bright tongues of fire could be seen, two close together and one a short
distance to the left.
"What does that mean, uncle?" Tom asked, as the chief gave a short
exclamation of surprise and anger.
"It means, lad, that the red-skins have been sharper than we gave them
credit for. When their spies brought them news that we had started they
must have come down to the fire and followed our trail at once with
torches, before we had got above an hour or two away. No doubt it was
slow work, but they must have found where we changed our course, and
made out that we were making for the head of the canon. I expect most of
them lost no time in following the trail farther, but rode straight for
the head of the canon, and like enough they weren't half an hour behind
us when we came out. The others rode to the edge of the plateau and set
those fires alight."
"But what do they mean, uncle?"
"They are a warning to all the villages that we have headed back, you
may be sure of that, though I can't say what the message is, for every
tribe has its own signals, but it will have set them on the watch up and
down the valley; and like enough the signal has been repeated somewhere
at a point where it can be seen straight down the Big Wind Valley. The
shooting will tell them all which way we are making, and if the
'Rappahoes have come out of the canon, as I reckon they have, they need
lose no more time in looking for our trail. I reckon in half an hour we
shall have a hundred or so of the varmint after us. I only hope there are
no more villages upon this line. I don't so much care about the fellows
who are following us, we are sure to find some place where we can make a
stand, but it would be awkward if we find our way barred."
"But if there is no one in front, uncle, I should think we might be able
to keep ahead. Our horses are as good as they are likely to have."
"You and Jerry might be able to, Tom, for you have got hold of two
first-rate ponies; but the Indians' are nothing out of the way, and our
ponies ain't in it with you; besides, they and the pack-horses have all
been doing hard work for the last week with none too much food, and many
of the 'Rappahoes will be on fresh horses. I expect we have got some
very tall climbing to do before we get up to the pass, and we have got
to do our fighting before we get there."
The ground rose steeply, and was encumbered by fallen stones and
boulders, and it was not long before the pack-horses began to show signs
of distress, while those ridden by Harry and his two comrades were
drawing their breath in short gasps. After emerging from the trees the
ravine had run in almost a straight line for more than half a mile, and
just as they reached the end of this stretch a yell was heard down the
valley. Looking back they saw eight or ten mounted Indians emerging from
the wood at the lower end.
"That is a signal," Harry exclaimed, as four rifles were fired in quick
succession. "Well, we have got a bit of a start of them, and they won't
venture to attack us until some more come up. We had better take it a
bit quietly, chief, or our horses will give out. I expect we sha'n't be
long before we come upon a place where we can make a stand."
The Seneca looked round at the horses. "You, Sam, Ben and pack-horses go
on till you get to place where can fight. We four wait here; got good
horses, and can ride on. We stop them here for a bit."
"That would be best. I don't like being out of it, but we will do our
No more words were necessary. Harry and his two mates rode on at a
slower pace than before, while the two Indians, Jerry, and Tom
dismounted, left their horses beyond the turn, and then coming back took
up their positions behind four large boulders. The Indians had noticed
their returning figures, for they suddenly drew up their horses and
gathered together in consultation.
"Draw your bullet, Tom," Jerry said, "and drop in half a charge more
powder; I reckon that piece of yours will send a bullet among them with
the help of a good charge. Allow a bit above that top notch for extra,
elevation. It's a good big mark, and you ought to be able to plump a
bullet among them."
Tom followed the instructions, and then resting the barrel on the top of
the boulder took a steady aim and fired. There was a sudden stir among
the group of Indians. A horse reared high in the air, almost unseating
its rider, and then they all rode off at the top of their speed, and
halted two or three hundred yards lower down the valley. The Senecas
uttered a grunt of approval.
"That was a good shot, Tom, though I wish you had hit one of the
red-skins instead of his critter. Still, it will give them a good
lesson, and make them mighty keerful. They won't care about showing
their ugly heads within range of a piece that will carry five hundred
A quarter of an hour passed without any movement on the part of the
Indians. Then a large party of horsemen appeared from the trees below,
and were greeted by them with a yell of satisfaction.
"There must be well-nigh fifty of them," Jerry said. "I reckon it's the
party that came down the hill. They must have picked up a good many
others by the way. Now the fun is going to begin."
After five minutes' consultation some twenty of the Indians dismounted,
and dividing into two parties ascended the slopes of the valley and
began to move forward, taking advantage of every stone and bush, so that
it was but occasionally that a glimpse of one of their bodies was
"They are going to skirmish up to us," Jerry said, "till they are near
enough to make it hot for us if we show a head above the rocks to fire.
As soon as they can do that, the others will charge. I think they are
not more than four hundred yards off now, Tom. That is within your
range, so you may as well begin to show them that we are awake. If you
can bring one down it will check their pace."
Tom had just noticed three Indians run behind a clump of bushes, and he
now levelled his rifle so that it bore on a spot a foot on one side of
it. Half a minute later an Indian appeared at the bush and began to run
forward. Tom pressed the trigger. The Indian ran a few steps, and then
fell forward on his face.
"Bravo, Plumb-centre!" Jerry shouted. "We said that you would do the
rifle credit, Tom, and Billy the Scout could not have done better
"Young white man make great hunter," the chief remarked approvingly.
"Got good eye and steady hand."
The lesson had its effect. The Indian advance was no longer rapid, but
was conducted with the greatest caution, and it was only occasionally
that a glimpse could be caught of a dusky figure passing from rock to
rock. When they came within three hundred yards the two Indians and
Jerry also opened fire. One fell to a shot from the chief, but neither
of the others hit their marks. Tom indeed did not fire again, the
movements of the Indians being so rapid that they were gone before he
could bring his sight to bear upon any of them.
"Go now," the chief said. "'Rappahoes fire soon; run quick."
It was but a few yards to shelter. As they dashed across the intervening
space two or three Indian rifles rang out, but the rest of the
assailants had been too much occupied in sheltering themselves and
looking for the next spot to make for, to keep an eye upon the
defenders, and the hastily-fired shots all missed. A moment later the
party mounted their horses and rode up the ravine, the yells of the
Indians ringing in their ears.
[Illustration: "A Moment Later The Indian Fell Forward On His Face."]
"We have gained half an hour anyhow," Jerry said, as they galloped up
the ravine, "and I reckon by the time we overtake them we shall find
them stowed away in some place where it will puzzle the red-skins to
dislodge us. The varmint will fight hard if they are cornered, but they
ain't good at advancing when there are a few rifle-tubes, in the hands
of white men, pointing at them, and they have had a lesson now that we
The ravine continued to narrow. The stream had become a mere rivulet,
and they were high up on the hillside.
"I begin to be afeared there ain't no place for making a stand." Here he
was interrupted by an angry growl, as a great bear suddenly rose to his
feet behind a rock.
"You may thank your stars that we are too busy to attend to you," Jerry
said, as they rode past within a few yards of it. "That is a grizzly,
Tom; and an awkward beast you would have found him if you had come upon
him by yourself without your shooting-iron. He is a big one too, and his
skin would have been worth money down in the settlements. Ah, there they
The ravine made an abrupt turn to the west, and high up on its side they
saw their three companions with the five horses climbing up the
"How ever did they get up there?" Jerry exclaimed.
"Found Indian trail," the chief said. "Let my brothers keep their eyes
They rode on slowly now, examining every foot of the steep hillside.
Presently Hunting Dog, who was ahead, uttered an exclamation. Between
two great boulders there was a track, evidently a good deal used.
"Let Hunting Dog go first," the chief said. "Leaping Horse will follow
the white men."
"I reckon that this is the great Indian trail over the pass," Jerry said
to Tom, who preceded him. "I have heard there ain't no way over the
mountains atween that pass by Fremont's Buttes and the pass by this
peak, which they calls Union Peak, and the red-skins must travel by this
when they go down to hunt buffalo on the Green River. It is a wonder
Harry struck on it."
"Leaping Horse told him to keep his eyes open," the chief said from the
rear. "He knew that Indian trail led up this valley."
"Jee-rusalem! but it's a steep road," Jerry said presently. "I am
dog-goned if I can guess how the red-skins ever discovered it. I expect
they must have tracked some game up it, and followed to see where it
The trail wound about in a wonderful way. Sometimes it went horizontally
along narrow ledges, then there was a bit of steep climbing, where they
had to lead their horses; then it wound back again, and sometimes even
descended for a distance to avoid a projecting crag.
"Ah! would ye, yer varmint?" Jerry exclaimed, as a shot rang out from
the valley below and a bullet flattened itself against a rock within a
foot or two of his head. The shot was followed by a loud yell from
below, as a crowd of mounted Indians rode at full gallop round the angle
of the ravine.
"Hurry on, Hunting Dog, and get round the next corner, for we are
regular targets here."
A few yards farther a turn of the path took them out of sight of the
Indians, but not before a score of bullets came whistling up from below.
"The varmint have been riding too fast to shoot straight, I reckon. It
will be our turn directly."
Just as he spoke the chief called upon them to dismount. They threw
their bridles on their horses' necks, and descending to the ledge they
had just left, lay down on it.
"Get your revolver out, Tom, before you shoot," Jerry said. "They will
be off before you have time to load your rifle again."
The Indians were some four hundred feet below them, and were talking
excitedly, evidently hesitating whether to follow up the trail. The four
rifles cracked almost together. Two Indians fell, and the plunging of
two horses showed that they were hit. In an instant the whole mass were
on their way down the valley, followed by bullet after bullet from the
revolvers which Leaping Horse as well as the whites carried. Anything
like accurate aim was impossible, and no Indian was seen to fall, but it
was probable that some of the bullets had taken effect among the crowded
"Go on quiet now," Leaping Horse said, rising to his feet. "'Rappahoes
not follow any farther. One man with this"--and he touched his
revolver--"keep back whole tribe here."
Half an hour later they joined the party who had halted at the top of
"It air too bad our being out of it," Ben said. "I hope you have given
some of the varmint grist."
"Only five or six of them," Jerry replied regretfully, "counting in the
one Leaping Horse shot at the village. Tom here did a big shot, and
brought one down in his tracks at a good four hundred yards--as neat a
shot as ever I saw fired. The chief he accounted for another; then
atween us we wiped out two down below; and I reckon some of the others
are carrying some of our lead away. Waal, I think we have shook them off
at last any how. I suppose there ain't, no other road they can come up
here by, chief?"
"Leaping Horse only heard of one trail."
"You may bet your life there ain't another," Harry remarked. "They would
never have used such a dog-goned road as this if there had been any
other way of going up."
"Camp here," the chief said. "Long journey over pass, too much cold.
Keep watch here at head of trail."
"That is a very good plan. I have heard that the pass is over nine
thousand feet above the sea, and it would never do to have to camp up
there. Besides, I have been looking at the sky, and I don't much like
its appearance. Look over there to the north."
There were, indeed, evident signs of an approaching change in the
weather. On the previous day every peak and jagged crest stood out hard
and distinct in the clear air. Now all the higher summits were hidden by
a bank of white cloud.
"Snow" the Indian said gravely; "winter coming."
"That is just what I thought, chief. At any rate we know where we are
here, and there is brushwood to be gathered not far down the trail; and
even if we are shut up here we can manage well enough for a day or two.
These early snows don't lie long, but to be caught in a snow-storm
higher up would be a sight worse than fighting with red-skins."
From the spot where they were now standing at the edge of the ravine the
ground sloped very steeply up for some hundreds of feet, and then steep
crags rose in an unbroken wall; but from the view they had had of the
country from the other side they knew that behind this wall rose a range
of lofty summits. The Indian trail ran along close to the edge of the
ravine. The chief looked round earnestly.
"No good place to camp," he said. "Wind blow down hills, horses not able
to stand against it. Heap snow tumble down from there," and he pointed
upwards. "Carry everything down below."
"Well, if you think we had better push on, let us do so, chief."
The Indian shook his head and pointed to the clouds again. "See," he
said; "storm come very soon."
Even in the last two or three minutes a change was perceptible. The
upper edge of the clouds seemed to be suddenly broken up. Long streamers
spread out like signal flags of danger. Masses of clouds seemed to be
wrenched off and to fly with great rapidity for a short distance; some
of them sinking a little, floated back until they again formed a part of
the mountain cap, while others sped onwards towards the south.
"No time," the chief repeated earnestly; "must look for camp quick." He
spoke in the Indian tongue to Hunting Dog, and the two stood on a point
where the ground jutted out, and closely examined the ravine up whose
side they had climbed. The chief pointed farther along, and Hunting Dog
started at a run along the Indian trail. A few hundred yards farther he
paused and looked down, moved a few steps farther, and then disappeared
from sight. In three or four minutes he returned and held up his arms.
"Come," the chief said, and taking his horse's rein led it along the
path. The others followed his example, glad, indeed, to be in motion.
Five minutes before they had been bathed in perspiration from their
climb up the cliff; now they were conscious of the extraordinary change
of temperature that had suddenly set in, and each had snatched a blanket
from behind his saddle and wrapped it round him. They soon reached the
spot where Hunting Dog was standing, and looked down. Some thirty feet
below there was a sort of split in the face of the cliff, a wall of rock
rising to within four or five feet of the level of the edge of the
ravine. At one end it touched the face of the rock, at the other it was
ten or twelve feet from it, the space between being in the form of a
long wedge, which was completely filled up with trees and brushwood. A
ledge ran down from the point where Hunting Dog was standing to the
mouth of the fissure.
"Jee-rusalem, chief!" Ben exclaimed. "That air just made for us--we
could not have found a better, not if we had sarched for a year. But I
reckon we shall have to clear the place a bit before we take the
Two axes were taken from one of the pack-horses.
"Don't cut away the bigger stuff, Ben," Harry said as his two mates
proceeded down the ledge, "their heads will shelter us from the snow a
bit; and only clear away the bushes enough to give room for the horses
and us, and leave those standing across the entrance to make a screen.
While you are doing it we will fetch in as much more wood and grass as
we can get hold of before the snow begins to fall."
The horses were left standing while the men scattered along the top of
the ravine, and by the time Ben shouted that they were ready, a
considerable pile of brushwood and a heap of coarse grass had been
collected. The horses were then led down one by one, unsaddled, and
packed together in two lines, having beyond them a great pile of the
bushes that had been cut away.
"I am dog-goned if this ain't the best shelter I ever struck upon,"
Jerry said. "We could not have fixed upon a better if we had had it
built special," the others cordially agreed.
The place they occupied was of some twelve feet square. On either side
was a perpendicular wall of rock; beyond were the horses; while at the
entrance the bush, from three to four feet high, had been left standing;
above them stretched a canopy of foliage. Enough dry wood had been
collected to start a fire.
"Don't make it too big. Jerry, we don't want to scorch up our roof,"
Harry Wade said. "Well, I reckon we have got enough fuel here for a
week, for there is what you cut down and what we brought, and all that
is left standing beyond the horses; and with the leaves and the grass
the ponies should be able to hold out as long as the fuel lasts. We are
short of meat, but we have plenty of flour; and as for water, we can
Buffalo rugs were laid down on each side by the rock walls, and on these
they took their seats and lighted their pipes.
"I have been wanting a smoke pretty bad," Jerry said; "I ain't had one
since we halted in that there canon. Hello, here it comes!"
As he spoke a fierce gust of wind swayed the foliage overhead and sent
the smoke, that had before risen quietly upwards, whirling round the
recess; then for a moment all was quiet again; then came another and a
stronger gust, rising and gathering in power and laden with fine
particles of snow. A thick darkness fell, and Harry threw some more wood
on the fire to make a blaze. But loud as was the gale outside, the air
in the shelter was hardly moved, and there was but a slight rustling of
the leaves overhead. Thicker and thicker flew the snow flakes in the air
outside, and yet none seemed to fall through the leaves.
"I am dog-goned if I can make this out," Sam Hicks said. "We are as
quiet here as if we were in a stone house, and one would think there was
a copper-plated roof overhead. It don't seem nat'ral."
The others were also looking up with an air of puzzled surprise, not
unmingled with uneasiness. Harry went to the entrance and looked out
over the breastwork of bushes. "Look here, Sam," he said.
"Why, Harry, it looks to me as if it were snowing up instead of down,"
the miner said as he joined him.
"That is just it. You see, we are in the elbow of the valley and are
looking straight down it, into the eye of the wind. It comes rushing up
the valley and meets this steep wall on its way, and pushed on by the
wind behind has to go somewhere, and so it is driven almost straight up
here and over the hilltops behind us. So you see the snow is carried up
instead of falling, and this rock outside us shoots it clear up over the
path we were following above. As long as the wind keeps north, I reckon
we sha'n't be troubled by the snow in here."
The explanation seemed satisfactory, and there was a general feeling of
"I remember reading," Tom said, as the others took their seats again,
"that people can stand on the edge of a cliff, facing a gale, without
feeling any wind. For the wind that strikes the cliff rushes up with
such force that it forms a sort of wall. Of course, it soon beats down
again, and not many yards back you can feel the gale as strongly as
anywhere else. But just at the edge the air is perfectly still."
The miners looked at Tom as if they thought that he was making a joke at
their expense. But his uncle said:
"Yes, I can quite believe that. You see, it is something like a
waterfall; you can stand right under that, for the force shoots it
outwards, and I reckon it is the same sort of thing here." The chief
nodded gravely. He too had been surprised at the lull in their shelter
when the storm was raging so furiously outside, but Harry's illustration
of the action of rushing water enlightened him more than his first
explanation had done.
"But water ain't wind, Harry," Ben said.
"It is like water in many ways, Ben. You don't see it, but you can feel
it just the same. If you stand behind a tree or round a corner it rushes
past you, and you are in a sort of eddy, just as you would be if it was
a river that was moving alongside of you. Wind acts just the same way as
water. If it had been a big river coming along the valley at the same
rate as the wind it would rush up the rocks some distance and then sweep
round and race up the valley; but wind being light instead of being
heavy is able to rush straight up the hill till it gets right over the
"Waal, if you say it is all right I suppose it is. Anyhow, it's a good
thing for us, and I don't care how long it goes on in the same way. I
reckoned that before morning we should have those branches breaking down
on us with the weight of snow; now I see we are like to have a quiet
"I won't answer for that, Ben; it is early in the day yet, and there is
no saying how the wind may be blowing before to-morrow morning. Anyhow,
now we have time we may as well get some of those bundles of bushes that
we brought down, and pile them so as to thicken the shelter of these
bushes and lighten it a bit. If we do that, and hang a couple of
blankets inside of them, it will give us a good shelter even if the wind
works round, and will help to keep us warm. For though we haven't got
wind or snow in here, we have got cold."
"You bet," Jerry agreed; "it is a regular blizzard. And although I don't
say as it is too cold sitting here by the fire, it won't cost us
anything to make the place a bit warmer."
Accordingly the bundles of wood they had gathered were brought out, and
with these the screen of bush was thickened, and raised to a height of
five feet; and when this was hung inside with a couple of blankets, it
was agreed that they could get through the storm comfortably even if it
lasted for a month.
They cooked their last chunk of deer's flesh, after having first
prepared some bread and put it in the baking pot among the embers, and
made some tea from the water in the skins. When they had eaten their
meal they covered themselves up in buffalo robes and blankets, and
lighted their pipes. There was, however, but little talk, for the noise
of the tempest was so great, that it was necessary to raise the voice
almost to a shout to be heard, and it was not long before they were all
For hours there was no stir in the shelter, save when a horse pawed the
ground impatiently, or when Hunting Dog rose two or three times to put
fresh sticks on the fire. It seemed to Tom when he woke that it ought to
be nearly morning. He took out his watch, and by the light of the fire
made out to his surprise that it was but ten o'clock. The turmoil of the
wind seemed to him to be as loud as before, and he pulled the blankets
over his shoulder again and was soon sound asleep. When he next woke, it
was with the sensation of coldness in the face, and sitting up he saw
that the blankets and the ground were covered with a thick coating of
fine snow. There was a faint light in addition to that given by the
embers of the fire, and he knew that morning was breaking. His movement
disturbed his uncle, who was lying next him. He sat up and at once
aroused the others.
"Wake up, mates," he said; "we have had somewhere about eighteen hours'
sleep, and day is breaking."
In a minute all were astir. The snow was first shaken off the blankets,
and then Harry, taking a shovel, cleared the floor. Jerry took the
largest cooking-pot, and saying to Tom, "You bring that horse-bucket
along," pushed his way out through a small gap that had been left in the
screen of bushes. The wind had gone down a good deal, though it was
still blowing strongly. The snow had drifted against the entrance, and
formed a steep bank there; from this they filled the pot and bucket,
pressing the snow down. Tom was glad to get back again within the
shelter, for the cold outside was intense. The fire was already burning
brightly, and the pot and a frying-pan were placed over it, and kept
replenished with snow as fast as their contents melted. "We must keep on
at this," Harry said, "there is not a drop left in the skins, and the
horses must have water."
As soon as enough had melted it was poured into the kettle. There was
some bacon among the trappers' stores, as they had calculated that they
would not be able to hunt until out of Big Wind Valley and far up among
the forests beyond. The frying-pan was now utilized for its proper work,
while the pail was placed close enough to the fire to thaw its contents,
without risking injury to it. Within an hour of breakfast being finished
enough snow had been thawed to give the horses half a bucket of water
each. In each pail a couple of pounds of flour had been stirred to help
out what nourishment could be obtained from the leaves, and from the
small modicum of grass given to each animal.
"It will be a big journey over the pass, anyhow," Harry had said. "Now
that we are making tracks for the settlements we need not be sparing of
the flour; indeed, the lighter we are the better."
The day did not pass so pleasantly as that preceding it, for the air was
filled with fine snow that blew in at the entrance and found its way
between the leaves overhead; while from time to time the snow
accumulating there came down with a crash, calling forth much strong
language from the man on whom it happened to fall, and shouts of
laughter from his comrades. The party was indeed a merry one. They had
failed altogether in the objects of their expedition, but they had
escaped without a scratch from the Indians, and had inflicted some
damage upon them; and their luck in finding so snug a shelter in such a
storm far more than counterbalanced their disappointment at their
"Have you often been caught in the snow, uncle?"
"You bet, Tom; me and the chief here were mighty nigh rubbed out three
years ago. I was prospecting among the Ute hills, while Leaping Horse
was doing the hunting for us both. It was in the middle of winter; the
snow was deep on the ground in the valleys and on the tops of the hills,
but there was plenty of bare rock on the hillside, so I was able to go
on with my work. While as for hunting, the cold drove the big-horns down
from the heights where they feed in summer, and the chief often got a
shot at them; and they are good eating, I can tell you.
"We hadn't much fear of red-skins, for they ain't fond of cold and in
winter move their lodges down to the most sheltered valleys and live
mostly on dried meat. When they want a change they can always get a bear
or maybe a deer in the woods. We were camped in a grove of pines in a
valley and were snug enough. One day I had struck what I thought was the
richest vein I had ever come on. I got my pockets full of bits of quartz
with the gold sticking thick in it, and you may bet I went down to the
camp in high glee. A quarter of a mile before I got there I saw Leaping
Horse coming to meet me at a lope. It didn't want telling that there was
something wrong. As soon as he came up he said 'Utes.' 'Many of them,
chief?' I asked. He held up his open hands twice.
"'Twenty of them,' I said; 'that is pretty bad. How far are they away?'
He said he had seen them coming over a crest on the other side of the
valley. 'Then we have got to git,' I said, 'there ain't no doubt about
that. What the 'tarnal do the varmint do here?' 'War-party,' the chief
said. 'Indian hunter must have come across our trail and taken word back
to the lodges.' The place where he had met me was among a lot of rocks
that had rolled down. There had been no snow for a fortnight, and of
course the red-skins would see our tracks everywhere, going and coming
from the camp. We were on foot that time, though we had a pack-horse to
carry our outfit. Of course they would get that and everything at the
camp. I did not think much of the loss, the point was how were we to
save our scalps? We had sat down behind a rock as soon as he had joined
me. Just then a yell came from the direction of our camp, and we knew
that the red-skins had found it. 'They won't be able to follow your
trail here, chief, will they?' He shook his head. 'Trail everywhere, not
know which was the last.' We could see the grove where the camp was, and
of course they could see the rocks, and it was sartin that if we had
made off up the hill they would have been after us in a squirrel's jump;
so there was nothing to do but to lie quiet until it was dark. We got in
among the boulders, and lay down where we could watch the grove through
"'I don't see a sign of them,' I said. 'You would have thought they
would have been out in search of us.'
"'No search,' the chief said. 'No good look for us, not know where we
have gone to. Hide up in grove. Think we come back, and then catch us.'
"So it turned out. Not a sign of them was to be seen, and after that
first yell everything was as quiet as death. In a couple of hours it got
dark, and as soon as it did we were off. We talked matters over, you may
be sure. There weren't no denying we were cornered. There we were
without an ounce of flour or a bite of meat. The chief had caught up a
couple of buffalo rugs as soon as he sighted the red-skins. That gave us
just a chance, but it wasn't more. In the morning the red-skins would
know we had either sighted them or come on their trail, and would be
scattering all over the country in search of us. We agreed that we must
travel a good way apart, though keeping each other in sight. They would
have noticed that the trails were all single, and if they came upon two
together going straight away from the camp, would know for sure it was
us making off.
"You may think that with so many tracks as we had made in the fortnight
we had been there, they would not have an idea which was made the first
day and which was made the last, but that ain't so. In the first place,
the snow was packed hard, and the footprints were very slight. Then,
even when it is always freezing there is an evaporation of the snow, and
the footprints would gradually disappear; besides that, the wind on most
days had been blowing a little, and though the drift does not count for
much on packed snow, a fine dust is blown along, and if the prints don't
get altogether covered there is enough drift in them to show which are
old ones and which are fresh. We both knew that they could not make much
mistake about it, and that they would be pretty sure to hit on the trail
I had made in the morning when I went out, and on that of the chief to
the rocks, and following mine back to the same place would guess that we
had cached there till it was dark.
"I could have done that myself; one can read such a trail as that like a
printed book. The worst of it was, there were no getting out of the
valley without leaving sign. On the bare hillsides and among the rocks
we could travel safe enough, but above them was everywhere snow, and do
what we would there would be no hiding our trail. We agreed that the
only thing was to cross the snow as quick as possible, to keep on the
bare rock whenever we got a chance, and wherever we struck wood, and to
double sometimes one way sometimes another, so as to give the red-skins
plenty of work to do to follow our trail. We walked all that night, and
right on the next day till early in the afternoon. Then we lay down and
slept till sunset, and then walked again all night. We did not see any
game. If we had we should have shot, for we knew the red-skins must be a
long way behind. When we stopped in the morning we were not so very far
from the camp we had started from, for if we had pushed straight back to
the settlements we should have been caught sure, for the Utes would have
been certain to have sent off a party that way to watch the valleys we
should have had to pass through. We lay down among some trees and slept
for a few hours and then set out to hunt, for we had been two days
without food, and I was beginning to feel that I must have a meal.
"We had not gone far when we came across the track of a black bear. We
both felt certain that the trail was not many hours old. We followed it
for two miles, and found it went up to a slide of rocks; they had come
down from a cliff some years before, for there were bushes growing among
them. As a rule a black bear will always leave you alone if you leave
him, and hasn't much fight in him at the best; so up we went, thinking
we were sure of our bear-steak without much trouble in getting it. I was
ahead, and had just climbed up on to a big rock, when, from a bush in
front, the bear came out at me with a growl. I expect it had cubs
somewhere, I had just time to take a shot from the hip and then he was
on me, and gave me a blow on the shoulder that ripped the flesh down to
"But that was not the worst, for the blow sent me over the edge, and I
fell seven or eight feet down among the sharp rocks. I heard the chief's
rifle go off, and it was some time after that before I saw or heard
anything more. When I came to I found he had carried me down to the foot
of the slide and laid me there. He was cutting up some sticks when I
opened my eyes. 'Have you got the bear, Leaping Horse?'
"'The bear is dead,' he said. 'My brother is badly hurt.'
"'Oh, never mind the hurt,' I said, 'so that we have got him. What are
you doing, chief? You are not going to make a fire here, are you?'
"'My brother's leg is broken,' he said. 'I am cutting some sticks to
keep it straight.'
"That brought me round to my senses, as you may guess. To break one's
leg up in the mountains is bad at any time, but when it is in the middle
of winter, and you have got a tribe of red-skins at your heels, it means
you have got to go under. I sat up and looked at my leg. Sure enough,
the left one was snapt like a pipe-stem, about half-way between the knee
and the ankle. 'Why, chief,' I said, 'it would have been a sight better
if you had put a bullet through my head as I lay up there. I should have
known nothing about it.'
"'The Utes have not got my white brother yet.'
"'No,' said I, 'but it won't be long before they have me; maybe it will
be this afternoon, and maybe to-morrow morning.' The chief said nothing,
but went on with his work. When he had got five or six sticks about
three feet long and as many about a foot, and had cut them so that they
each had one flat side, he took off his buckskin shirt, and working
round the bottom of it cut a thong about an inch wide and five or six
yards long. Then he knelt down and got the bone in the right position,
and then with what help I could give him put on the splints and bandaged
them tightly, a long one and a short one alternately. The long ones he
bandaged above the knee as well as below, so that the whole leg was
stiff. I felt pretty faint by the time it was done, and Leaping Horse
said, 'Want food; my white brother will lie quiet, Leaping Horse will
soon get him some.'
"He set to work and soon had a fire going, and then went up to the rocks
and came down again with the bear's hams and about half his hide. It was
not long before he had some slices cooked, and I can tell you I felt
better by the time we had finished. We had not said much to each other,
but I had been thinking all the time, and when we had done I said, 'Now,
chief, I know that you will be wanting to stay with me, but I ain't
going to have it. You know as well as I do that the Utes will be here
to-morrow at latest, and there ain't more chance of my getting away from
them than there is of my flying. It would be just throwing away your
scalp if you were to stop here, and it would not do me a bit of good,
and would fret me considerable. Now before you start I will get you to
put me somewhere up among those stones where I can make a good fight of
it. You shall light a fire by the side of me, and put a store of wood
within reach and a few pounds of bear's flesh. I will keep them off as
long as I can with the rifle, then there will be five shots with my
Colt. I will keep the last barrel for myself; I ain't going to let the
Utes amuse themselves by torturing me for a few hours before they finish
me. Then you make straight away for the settlements; they won't be so
hot after you when they have once got me. The next time you go near
Denver you can go and tell Pete Hoskings how it all came about.'
"'My white brother is weak with the pain,' the chief said quietly; 'he
is talking foolishly. He knows that Leaping Horse will stay with his
friend. He will go and look for a place.' Without listening to what I
had to say he took up his rifle and went up the valley, which was a
steep one. He was away better than half an hour and then came back.
'Leaping Horse found a place,' he said, 'where he and his brother can
make a good fight. Straight Harry get on his friend's back.' It was
clear that there weren't no use talking to him. He lifted me up on to my
feet, then he got me well up on to his back, as if I had been a sack of
coal, and went off with me, striding along pretty near as quick as if I
had not been there. It might have been half a mile, when he turned up a
narrow ravine that was little more than a cleft in the rock that rose
almost straight up from the valley. It did not go in very far, for there
had been a slide, and it was blocked up by a pile of rocks and earth,
forty or fifty feet high. It was a big job even for the chief to get me
up to the top of them. The snow had drifted down thick into the ravine,
and it was a nasty place to climb even for a man who had got nothing but
his rifle on his shoulder. However, he got me up safely, and laid me
down just over the crest. He had put my buffalo robe over my shoulders
before starting, and he rolled me up in this and said, 'Leaping Horse
will go and fetch rifles and bear-meat,' and he set straight off and
left me there by myself."
A BAD TIME
"Even to me," Harry went on, after refilling and lighting his pipe, "it
did not seem long before the chief was back. He brought a heavy load,
for besides the rifles and bear's flesh he carried on his back a big
faggot of brushwood. After laying that down he searched among the rocks,
and presently set to work to dig out the snow and earth between two big
blocks, and was not long before he scooped out with his tomahawk a hole
big enough for the two of us to lie in comfortably. He laid the
bear's-skin down in this, then he carried me to it and helped me in and
then put the robes over me; and a snugger place you would not want to
"It was about ten feet below the level of the crest of the heap of
rocks, and of course on the upper side, so that directly the red-skins
made their appearance he could help me up to the top. That the two of us
could keep the Utes back I did not doubt; we had our rifles, and the
chief carried a revolver as well as I did. After they had once caught a
glimpse of the sort of place we were on, I did not think they would
venture into the ravine, for they would have lost a dozen men before
they got to the mound. I had looked round while the chief was away, and
I saw that a hundred yards or so higher up, the ravine came to an end,
the sides closing in, so there was no fear of our being attacked from
there. What I was afraid of was that the Indians might be able to get up
above and shoot down on us, though whether they could or not depended on
the nature of the ground above, and of course I could not see beyond the
edge of the rocks.
"But even if they could not get up in the daylight, they could crawl up
at night and finish us, or they could camp down at the mouth of the
ravine and starve us out, for there was no chance of our climbing the
sides, even if my leg had been all right. I was mighty sorry for the
chief. He had just thrown his life away, and it must come to the same in
the end, as far as I was concerned. Even now he could get away if he
chose, but I knew well enough it weren't any good talking to him. So I
lay there, just listening for the crack of his rifle above. He would
bring down the first man that came in, sartin, and there would be plenty
of time after that to get me up beside him, for they would be sure to
have a long talk before they made any move. I did not expect them until
late in the afternoon, and hoped it might be getting dark before they
got down into the valley. There had been a big wind sweeping down it
since the snow had fallen, and though it had drifted deep along the
sides, the bottom was for the most part bare. I noticed that the chief
had picked his way carefully, and guessed that, as they would have no
reason for thinking we were near, they might not take up the trail till
morning. Of course they would find our fire and the dead bear, or all
that there was left of him, and they would fancy we had only stopped to
take a meal and had gone on again. They would see by the fire that we
had left pretty early in the day. I heard nothing of the chief until it
began to get dark; then he came down to me.
"'Leaping Horse will go out and scout,' he said. 'If Utes not come soon,
will come back here; if they come, will watch down at mouth of valley
till he sees Utes go to sleep.' 'Well, chief,' I said; 'at any rate you
may as well take this robe; one is enough to sleep with in this hole,
and I shall be as snug as a beaver wrapped up in mine. Half your hunting
shirt is gone, and you will find it mighty cold standing out there.'
"In an hour he came back again. 'Utes come,' he said. 'Have just lighted
fire and going to cook. No come tonight. Leaping Horse has good news for
his brother. There are no stars.'
"That is good news indeed,' I said. 'If it does but come on to snow
to-night we may carry our scalps back to the settlement yet.'
"'Leaping Horse can feel snow in the air,' he said. 'If it snows before
morning, good; if not, the Utes will tell their children how many lives
the scalps of the Englishman and the Seneca cost.'
"The chief lay down beside me. I did not get much sleep, for my leg was
hurting me mightily. From time to time he crawled out, and each time he
returned saying, 'No snow.' I had begun to fear that when it came it
would be too late. It could not have been long before daybreak when he
said, as he crawled in: 'The Great Manitou has sent snow. My brother can
sleep in peace.' An hour later I raised myself up a bit and looked out.
It was light now. The air was full of fine snow, and the earth the chief
had scraped out was already covered thickly. I could see as much as
that, though the chief had, when he came in for the last time, drawn the
faggot in after him. I wondered at the time why he did it, but I saw
now. As soon as the snow had fallen a little more it would hide up
altogether the entrance to our hole. Hour after hour passed, and it
became impossible to get even a peep out, for the snow had fallen so
thickly on the leafy end of the brushwood, which was outward, that it
had entirely shut us in. All day the snow kept on, as we could tell from
the lessening light, and by two o'clock only a faint twilight made its
"'How long do you think we shall be imprisoned here, chief?' I asked.
"'Must not hurry,' he replied. 'There are trees up the valley, and the
Utes may make their camp there and stay till the storm is over. No use
to go out till my brother can walk. Wait till snow is over; then stay
two or three days to give time for Utes to go away. Got bear's flesh to
eat; warm in here, melt snow.' This was true enough, for I was feeling
it downright hot. Just before night came on the chief pushed the end of
his ramrod through the snow and looked out along the hole.
"'Snow very strong,' he said. 'When it is dark can go out if wish.'
"There is not much to tell about the next five days. The snow kept
falling steadily, and each evening after dark the chief went outside for
a short time to smoke his pipe, while I sat at the entrance and smoked
mine, and was glad enough to get a little fresh air. As soon as he came
in again the faggot was drawn back to its place, and we were imprisoned
for another twenty-four hours. One gets pretty tired after a time of
eating raw bear's flesh and drinking snow-water, and you bet I was
pretty glad when the chief, after looking out through a peephole, said
that the snow had stopped falling and the sun was shining. About the
middle of that day he said suddenly: 'I hear voices.'
"It was some time before I heard anything, but I presently made them
out, though the snow muffled them a good deal. They did not seem far
off, and a minute or two later they ceased. We lay there two days
longer, and then even the chief was of opinion that they would have
moved off. My own idea was that they had started the first afternoon
after the snow had stopped falling.
"'Leaping Horse will go out to scout as soon as it is dark,' he said.
'Go to mouth of ravine. If Utes are in wood he will see their fires and
come back again. Not likely come up here again and find his traces.'
"That is what I had been saying for the last two days, for after some of
them had been up, and had satisfied themselves that there was no one in
the gully, they would not be likely to come through the snow again. When
the chief returned after an hour's absence, he told me that the Utes had
all gone. 'Fire cold,' he said; 'gone many hours. Leaping Horse has
brought some dry wood up from their hearth. Can light fire now.' You may
guess it was not long before we had a fire blazing in front of our den,
and I never knew how good bear-steak really was till that evening.
"The next morning the chief took off the splints and rebandaged my leg,
this time putting on a long strip of the bear's skin, which he had
worked until it was perfectly soft while we had been waiting there. Over
this he put on the splints again, and for the first time since that bear
had knocked me off the rock I felt at ease. We stayed there another
fortnight, by the end of which time the bones seemed to have knit pretty
fairly. However, I had made myself a good strong crutch from a straight
branch with a fork at the end, that the chief had cut for me, and I had
lashed a wad of bear's skin in the fork to make it easy. Then we
started, making short journeys at first, but getting longer every day as
I became accustomed to the crutch, and at the end of a week I was able
to throw it aside.
"We never saw a sign of an Indian trail all the way down to the
settlements, and by the time we got there I was ready to start on a
journey again. The chief found plenty of game on the way down, and I
have never had as much as a twinge in my leg since. So you see this
affair ain't a circumstance in comparison. Since then the chief and I
have always hunted together, and the word brother ain't only a mode of
speaking with us;" and he held out his hand to the Seneca, who gravely
placed his own in it.
"That war a tight corner, Harry, and no blamed mistake. Did you ever
find out whether they could have got on the top to shoot down on you?"
"Yes, the chief went up the day after the Utes had left. It was level up
there, and they could have sat on the edge and fired down upon us, and
wiped us out without our having a show."
"And you have never since been to that place you struck the day the Utes
came down, Harry?" Jerry asked. "I have heard you talk of a place you
knew of, just at the edge of the bad lands, off the Utah hills. Were
Harry nodded. "I have never been there since. I went with a party into
Nevada the next spring, and last year the Utes were all the time upon
the war-path. I had meant to go down this fall, but the Utes were too
lively, so I struck up here instead; but I mean to go next spring
whether they are quiet or not, and to take my chances, and find out
whether it is only good on the surface and peters out to nothing when
you get in, or whether it is a real strong lode. Ben and Sam, and of
course the chief, will go with me, and Tom here, now he has come out,
and if you like to come we shall be all glad."
"You may count me in," Jerry said, "and I thank you for the offer. I
have had dog-goned bad luck for some time, and I reckon it is about time
it was over. How are you going to share?"
"We have settled that. The chief and I take two shares each as
discoverers. You four will take one share each."
"That is fair enough, Harry. Those are mining terms, and after your
nearly getting rubbed out in finding it, if you and the chief had each
taken three shares there would have been nothing for us to grunt at.
They are a 'tarnal bad lot are the Utes. I reckon they are bad by
nature, but the Mormons have made them worse. There ain't no doubt it's
they who set them on to attack the caravans. They could see from the
first that if this was going to be the main route west there would be so
many coming along, and a lot perhaps settle there, that the Gentiles, as
they call the rest of us, would get too strong for them. What they have
been most afeard of is, that a lot of gold or silver should be found up
in the hills, and that would soon put a stop to the Mormon business.
They have been wise enough to tell the red-skins that if men came in and
found gold there would be such a lot come that the hunting would be all
spoilt. There is no doubt that in some of the attacks made on the
caravans there have been sham Indians mixed up with the real ones.
Red-skins are bad enough, but they are good men by the side of
scoundrels who are false to their colour, and who use Indians to kill
whites. That is one reason I want to see this railway go on till it
jines that on the other side. It will be bad for game, and I reckon in a
few years the last buffalo will be wiped out, but I will forgive it
that, so that it does but break up the Saints as they call themselves,
though I reckon there is about as little of the saint among them as you
will find if you search all creation."
"Right you are, Jerry," Sam Hicks said. "They pretty nigh wiped me out
once, and if Uncle Sam ever takes to fighting them you may bet that I am
in it, and won't ask for no pay."
"How did it come about, Sam?" Jerry asked. "I dunno as I have ever heard
you tell that story."
"Waal, I had been a good bit farther east, and had been doing some
scouting with the troops, who had been giving a lesson to the red-skins
there, that it was best for them to let up on plundering the caravans
going west. We had done the job, and I jined a caravan coming this way.
It was the usual crowd, eastern farmers going to settle west, miners,
and such like. Among them was two waggons, which kept mostly as far
apart from the others as they could. They was in charge of two fellows
who dressed in store clothes, and had a sanctimonious look about them.
There was an old man and a couple of old women, and two or three boys
and some gals. They did not talk much with the rest, but it got about
that they were not going farther than Salt Lake City, and we had not
much difficulty in reckoning them up as Mormons. There ain't no law
perviding for the shooting of Mormons without some sort of excuse, and
as the people kept to themselves and did not interfere with no one,
nothing much was said agin them. On a v'yage like that across the
plains, folks has themselves to attend to, and plenty to do both on the
march and in camp, so no one troubles about any one else's business.
"I hadn't no call to either, but I happened to go out near their waggons
one evening, and saw two or three bright-looking maids among them, and
it riled me to think that they was going to be handed over to some rich
old elder with perhaps a dozen other wives, and I used to feel as it
would be a satisfaction to pump some lead into them sleek-looking
scoundrels who had them in charge. I did not expect that the gals had
any idea what was in store for them. I know them Mormons when they goes
out to get what they call converts, preaches a lot about the prophet,
and a good deal about the comforts they would have in Utah. So much land
for nothing, and so much help to set them up, and all that kind of
thing, but mighty little about polygamy and the chance of their being
handed over to some man old enough to be their father, and without their
having any say in the matter. Howsoever, I did not see as I could
interfere, and if I wanted to interfere I could not have done it;
because all those women believed what they had been taught, and if I a
stranger, and an ill-looking one at that, was to tell them the contrary,
they wouldn't believe a word what I had said. So we went on till we got
within four or five days' journey of Salt Lake City, then one morning,
just as the teams were being hitched up, two fellows rode into camp.
"As we were in Utah now, there weren't nothing curious about that, but I
reckoned them up as two as hard-looking cusses as I had come across for
a long time. After asking a question or two they rode to the Mormon
waggons, and instead of starting with the rest, the cattle was taken out
and they stopped behind. Waal, I thought I would wait for a bit and see
what they were arter. It weren't no consarn of mine noways, but I knew I
could catch up the waggons if I started in the afternoon, and I
concluded that I would just wait; so I sat by the fire and smoked. When
the caravan had gone on the Mormons hitched up their cattle again. They
were not very far away from where I was sitting, and I could see one of
the men in black pointing to me as he talked with the two chaps who had
just jined them. With that the fellow walked across to where I was
"'Going to camp here?' says he.
"'Waal,' I says, 'I dunno, as I haven't made up my mind about it. Maybe
I shall, maybe I sha'n't.'
"'I allow it would be better for you to move on.'
"'And I allow,' says I, 'it would be better for you to attend to your
"'Look here,' says he, 'I hear as you have been a-spying about them
"'Then,' says I, 'whosoever told you that, is an all-fired liar, and you
tell him so from me.'
"I had got my hand on the butt of my Colt, and the fellow weakened.
"'Waal,' he said, 'I have given you warning, that is all.'
"'All right,' says I, 'I don't care none for your warnings; and I would
rather anyhow be shot down by white skunks dressed up as red-skins, than
I would have a hand in helping to fool a lot of innercent women.'
"He swore pretty bad at this, but I could see as he wasn't real grit,
and he went off to the waggons. There was considerable talk when he got
there, but as the Mormons must have known as I had been a scout, and had
brought a lot of meat into the camp on the way, and as the chap that
came across must have seen my rifle lying handy beside me, I guess they
allowed that I had better be left alone. So a bit later the waggons
started, and as I expected they would, went up a side valley instead of
going on by the caravan route. The fellow had riz my dander, and after
sitting for a bit I made up my mind I would go after 'em. I had no
particular motive, it wur just out of cussedness. I was not going to be
bluffed from going whar I chose. This air a free country, and I had as
much right to go up that valley as they had."
"I should have thought yer had had more common sense, Sam Hicks," Jerry
said reproachfully, "than to go a-mixing yourself up in a business in
which you had no sort of consarn. Ef one of them women had asked you to
help her, or if you had thought she was being taken away agin her will,
you or any other man would have had a right to take a hand in the game;
but as it was, you war just fooling with your life to interfere with
them Mormons in their own country."
"That is so, Jerry, and I ain't a word to say agin it. It war just a
piece of cussedness, and I have asked myself forty-eleven times since,
what on arth made me make such a blame fool of myself. Afore that fellow
came over to bluff me I hadn't no thought of following the waggons, but
arter that I felt somehow as if he dared me to do it. I reckoned I was
more nor a match for the two fellows who just jined them, and as for the
greasy-faced chaps in black, I did not count them in, one way or the
other. I had no thought of getting the gals away, nor of getting into
any muss with them if they left me alone. It was just that I had got a
right to go up that valley or any other, and I was not going to be
bluffed out of it. So I took up my shooting-iron, strapped my blanket
over my shoulder, and started. They war maybe a mile away when I turned
into the valley. I wasn't hungry for a fight, so I didn't keep up the
middle, but just skirted along at the foot of the hill where it did not
seem likely as they would see me. I did not get any closer to them, and
only caught sight of them now and then.
"As far as I could make out there was only one horseman with them, and I
reckoned the other was gone on ahead; looking for a camping-ground
maybe, or going on to one of the Mormon farms to tell them to get things
ready there. What I reckoned on doing, so far as I reckoned at all, was
to scout up to them as soon as it got dark and listen to their talk, and
try to find out for certain whether the women war goin' willing. Then I
thought as I would walk straight up to their fires and just bluff those
four men as they tried to bluff me. Waal, they went on until late in the
afternoon, unhitched the cattle, and camped. I waited for a bit, and now
that I war cooled down and could look at the thing reasonable, I allowed
to myself that I had showed up as a blamed fool, and I had pretty well
made up my mind to take back tracks and go down the valley, when I heard
the sound of some horses coming down fast from the camp.
"Then the thought that I was a 'tarnal fool came to me pretty strong,
you bet. One of those fellows had ridden on and brought down some of the
Regulators, as we used to call them in the mining camps, but I believe
the Mormons call them Destroying Angels, though there is mighty little
of angels about them. I hoped now that they had not caught sight of me
during the day, and that the band were going right down to the waggon
camp; but as I had not taken any particular pains to hide myself, I
reckoned they must have made me out. It war pretty nigh dark, and as I
took cover behind a bush I could scarce see them as they rode along.
They went down about two hundred yards and then stopped, and I could
hear some of them dismount.
"'You are sure we are far enough?' one said.
"'Yes; I can swear he was higher up than this when we saw him just
before we camped.'
"'If you two fellows hadn't been the worst kind of curs,' a man said
angrily, 'you would have hidden up as soon as you made out he was
following you and shot him as he came along.'
"'I told you,' another voice said, 'that the man is an Indian fighter,
and a dead shot. Suppose we had missed him.'
"'You could not have missed him if you had waited till he was close to
you before you fired; then you might have chucked him in among the
bushes and there would have been an end of it, and we should have been
saved a twenty-mile ride. Now then, look sharp for him and search every
bush. Between us and Johnson's party above we are sure to catch him.'
"I didn't see that, though I did wish the rocks behind had not been so
'tarnal steep. I could have made my way up in the daylight, though even
then it would have been a tough job, but without light enough to see the
lay of the ledges and the best places for getting from one to another,
it was a business I didn't care about. I was just thinking of making
across to the other side of the valley when some horsemen came galloping
"'You stop here, brother Ephraim, and keep your ears well open, as well
as your eyes. You stop fifty yards higher up, Hiram, and the others at
the same distance apart. When the men among the rocks come abreast of
you, Ephraim, ride on and take your place at the other end of the line.
You do the same, Hiram, and so all in turn; I will ride up and down.'
"It was clear they meant business, and I was doubting whether I would
take my chance of hiding or make for the cliff, when I saw a light
coming dancing down from the camp, and knew it was a chap on horseback
with a torch. As he came up the man who had spoken before said: 'How
many torches have you got, brother Williams?'
"'A dozen of them.'
"'Give me six, and take the other six down to the men below. That is
right, I will light one from yours.'
"You may guess that settled me. I had got to git at once, so I began to
crawl off towards the foot of the cliffs. By the time I had got there,
there war six torches burning a hundred yards below, and the men who
carried them were searching every bush and prying under every rock.
Along the middle of the valley six other torches were burning fifty
yards apart. There was one advantage, the torches were pitch-pine and
gave a fairish light, but not so much as tarred rope would have done;
but it was enough for me to be able to make out the face of the cliff,
and I saw a break by which I could get up for a good bit anyhow. It was
where a torrent came down when the snows were melting, and as soon as I
had got to the bottom I made straight up. There were rocks piled at its
foot, and I got to the top of these without being seen.
"I hadn't got a dozen feet higher when my foot set a boulder rolling,
and down it went with a crash. There were shouts below, but I did not
stop to listen to what they said, but put up the bed of the torrent at a
two-forty gait. A shot rang out, and another and another, but I was
getting now above the light of their torches. A hundred feet higher I
came to a stand-still, for the rock rose right up in front of me, and
the water had here come down from above in a fall. This made it a tight
place, you bet. There war no ledge as I could see that I could get
along, and I should have to go down a good bit afore I got to one. They
kept on firing from below, but I felt pretty sure that they could not
see me, for I could hear the bullets striking high against the face of
the rock that had stopped me.
"You may bet I was careful how I went down again, and I took my time,
for I could see that the men with the torches had halted at the foot of
the heap of rocks below, not caring much, I expect, to begin to mount,
while the horsemen kept on firing, hoping to hear my body come rolling
down; besides, they must have known that with their torches they made a
pretty sure mark for me. At last I got down to the ledge. It war a
narrow one, and for a few yards I had to walk with my face to the rock
and my arms spread out, and that, when I knew that at any moment they
might make me out, and their bullets come singing up, warn't by no means
pleasant. In a few yards the ledge got wider and there was room enough
on it for me to lie down. I crawled along for a good bit, and then sat
down with my back against the rock and reckoned the matter up. All the
torches war gathered round where I had gone up. Four more men had come
down from the camp on horseback, and five or six on foot with torches
were running down the valley. They had been searching for me among the
bushes higher up, and when they heard the firing had started down to
jine the others. The leader was shouting to the men to climb up after
me, but the men didn't seem to see it.
"'What's the use?' I heard one fellow say; 'he must be chock-full of
bullets long ago. We will go up and find his carcass in the morning.'
"'But suppose he is not dead, you fool.'
"'Well, if he ain't dead he would just pick us off one after another as
we went up with torches.'
"'Well, put your torches out, then. Here, I will go first if you are
afraid,' and he jumped from his horse.
"You can bet your boots that my fingers itched to put a bullet into him.
But it warn't to be done; I did not know how far the ledge went or
whether there might be any way of getting off it, and now I had once got
out of their sight it would have been chucking away my life to let them
know whar I lay. So I got up again and walked on a bit farther. I came
on a place where the rock had crumbled enough for me to be able to get
up on to the next ledge, and after a lot of climbing up and down I got
to the top in about two hours, and then struck across the hills and came
down at eight o'clock next morning on to the caravan track. I hid up
till evening in case they should come down after me, and next morning I
came up to the caravan just as they were hitching the teams up for a
"You got out of that better than you deserved," Harry said. "I wouldn't
have believed that any man would have played such a fool's trick as to
go meddling with the Mormons in their own country without any kind of
reason. It war worse than childishness."
The other two miners assented vigorously, and Sam said: "Waal, you can't
think more meanly of me over that business than I do of myself. I have
never been able to make out why I did it, and you may bet it ain't often
I tells the story. It war a dog-goned piece of foolishness, and, as
Harry says, I didn't desarve to get out of it as I did. Still, it ain't
made me feel any kind of love for Mormons. When about two hundred shots
have been fired at a man it makes him feel kinder like as if he war
going to pay some of them back when he gets the chance, and you may bet
I mean to."
The exclamation was elicited by the fall of a heavy mass of snow on to
the fire, over which the kettle had just begun to boil. The tripod from
which it hung was knocked over. A cloud of steam filled the place, and
the party all sprung to their feet to avoid being scalded.
"It might have waited a few minutes longer," Jerry grumbled, "then we
should have had our tea comfortable. Now the fire is out and the water
is spilt, and we have got to fetch in some more snow; that is the last
lot there was melted."
"It is all in the day's work, Jerry," Harry said cheerfully, "and it is
just as well we should have something to do. I will fetch the snow in if
the rest of you will clear the hearth again. It is a nuisance about the
snow, but we agreed that there is no help for it, and we may thank our
stars it is no worse."
It was not long before the fire was blazing again, but it took some time
before water was boiling and tea made, still longer before the bread
which had been soddened by the water from the kettle was fit to eat. By
this time it was dark. When the meal was over they all turned in for the
night. Tom was just going off to sleep, when he was roused by Leaping
Dog suddenly throwing off his buffalo robe and springing to his feet
with his rifle in his hand.
"Hist!" he said in a low tone. "Something comes!"
The men all seized their rifles and listened intently. Presently they
heard a soft step on the snow outside, then there was a snuffing sound.
"B'ar!" the Indian said.
A moment later a great head reared itself over the bushes at the
entrance. Five rifles rang out, the two Indians reserving their fire;
the report was followed by the dull sound of a heavy fall outside.
"Wait a moment," Harry said sharply, as the others were preparing to
rush out, "let us make sure he is dead."
"He is dead enough," Jerry said. "I reckon even a grizzly cannot walk
off with five bullets in his head."
Harry looked over the screen. "Yes, he is dead enough; anyhow he looks
so. Waal, this is a piece of luck." They all stepped out on to the
"Is it a grizzly, uncle?" Tom asked excitedly.
"He is a grizzly, sure enough. You don't want to see his colour to know
that. Look at his size."
"Why, he is as big as a cow."
"Ay, lad, and a big cow too. You go in and make up the fire while we cut
off enough meat for supper."
The fact that they had eaten a meal but half an hour before, went for
nothing; slices of bear-meat were soon frizzling, and as hearty a meal
was eaten as if no food had been tasted since the previous day. The men
were in the highest spirits; the fact that they were out of meat had
been the greatest drawback to the prospect of being shut up for perhaps
a week, for badly-baked bread is but a poor diet to men accustomed to
live almost exclusively upon meat.
"What brought the bear down here?" Tom asked.
"Curiosity at first perhaps, and then hunger," his uncle replied. "I
expect he was going along on the path above when he saw the light among
the leaves, and then no doubt he smelt the bread, and perhaps us and the
horses, and came down to see what he could get.
"Curiosity is a bad fault, Tom. You have had two lessons in that this
evening. Bear in mind that in this part of the world the safest plan is
always to attend strictly to your own business."
All thought of sleep was for the present dissipated; their pipes were
again lighted, and it was midnight before they lay down. In the morning
the bear was with some difficulty skinned and cut up, the joints being
left outside to freeze through. The snow still fell steadily, but the
wind had almost died down. Sallying out they cut five or six long poles,
and with some difficulty fixed these from above across from the cliff to
the outstanding rock, pushed the bear's-skin across them, and lashed it
there, its bulk being sufficient to cover the space above the fire and a
considerable portion of their dwelling room.
After breakfast snow was again melted for the horses, and the work for
the day thus done they seated themselves contentedly round the fire.
"You don't think, chief," Harry asked, "that there is any chance of the
'Rappahoes taking it into their heads to come up to have a look round?"
"Indians keep in lodges, no like cold; they think we have gone on over
pass. If weather gets fine perhaps they come to look for our guns and
packs. They think sure we die in snow-storm when we up in pass. When
snow stops falling, we make no more fire; but path from valley all shut
up by snow now."
"Yes, I don't think anyone would try to climb it till the sun has
cleared the track; it was a pretty bad place when we came up," Harry
said. "I don't say that men on foot could not make their way up; but as
you say, the red-skins are not likely to try it until the weather has
cleared a bit, though I don't say that they wouldn't if they knew we
were camped here close to the top."
"What noise is that?" Tom asked. "I have heard it several times before,
but not so loud as that."
"Snow-slide," Leaping Horse said. "Snow come down from mountains; break
off trees, roll rocks down. Bad place all along here."
"Yes. I saw that you looked up at the hills behind there before you
looked over the edge here, chief," Ben Gulston said, "and I reckoned
that you had snow-slides in your mind. I thought myself that it was like
enough the snow might come tumbling over the edge of that high wall and
then come scooting down over where we war, and there would have been no
sort of show for us if we had been camped whar the trail goes along."
"Leaping Horse has heard from his red brothers with whom he has spoken
that trail from top of valley very bad when snow falls. Many Indians
stopping too long at fort, to trade goods, have been swept away by
snow-slides when caught in storm here."
"I thought it looked a bad place," Harry remarked. "There ain't no
fooling with a snow-slide anyway. I have come across bones once or twice
lying scattered about in snug-looking valleys--bones of horses and men,
and it was easy to see they had been killed by a snow-slide coming down
on them. Rocks were heaped about among them, some of the bones were
smashed. They had been hunting or trapping, and sheltered up in a valley
when the storm came on and the slide had fallen on them, and there they
had laid till the sun melted the snow in summer, when the coyotes and
the vultures would soon clean the bones." He broke off suddenly; there
was a dull sound, and at the same moment a distinct vibration of the
ground, then a rustling murmur mingled with a rumbling as of a waggon
passing over a rocky ground.
"There is another one," Jerry exclaimed, "and it is somewhere just above
us. Keep your backs to the wall, boys."
[Illustration: "There Is Another Avalanche, Keep Your Backs To The Wall,
Louder and louder grew the sound; the tremor of the earth increased, the
horses neighed with fright, the men stood with their backs against the
rock next to the hill. Suddenly the light was darkened as a vast mass of
snow mingled with rocks of all sizes leapt like a torrent over the edge
of the cliff, the impetus carrying it over the outer wall of their
shelter and down into the ravine. There was a mighty sound of the
crashing of trees, mingled with a thumping and rolling of the rocks as
they clashed against the side of the ravine and went leaping down into
the valley. The ground shook with a continuous tremor, and then the
light returned as suddenly as it had been cut off, and a few seconds
later a dead stillness succeeded the deafening roar from below. The
passage of the avalanche overhead had lasted but a minute, though to the
men standing below it the time had seemed vastly longer. Instinctively
they had pressed themselves against the rock, almost holding their
breath, and expecting momentarily that one of the boulders in its
passage would strike the top of the outside wall and fall in fragments
among them. The silence that followed was unbroken for some seconds, and
then Sam Hicks stepped a pace forward.
"Jee-rusalem!" he said, "that was a close call. I don't know how you
felt, boys, but it seemed as if all the sand had gone out of me, and I
weakened so that my knees have not done shaking yet."
The men, accustomed as they were to danger, were all equally affected.
Tom felt relieved to see that the others all looked pale and shaken, for
he was conscious that he had been in a terrible fright, and that his
legs would scarcely support his weight.
"I am glad to hear you say so, Sam, for I was in an awful funk; but I
should not have said so if you hadn't spoken."
"You needn't be ashamed of that, Tom," his uncle put in. "You showed
plenty of pluck when we were in trouble with the red-skins, but I am
sure there was not one of us that did not weaken when that snow-slide
shot over us; and none of us need be ashamed to say so. A man with good
grit will brace up, keep his head cool and his fingers steady on the
trigger to the last, though he knows that he has come to the end of his
journey and has got to go down; but it is when there is nothing to do,
no fight to be made, when you are as helpless as a child and have no
sort of show, that the grit runs out of your boots. I have fought
red-skins and Mexicans a score of times; I have been in a dozen shooting
scrapes in saloons at the diggings; but I don't know that I ever felt so
scared as I did just now. Ben, there is a jar of whisky in our outfit;
we agreed we would not touch it unless one of us got hurt or ill, but I
think a drop of medicine all round now wouldn't be out of place."
There was a general assent. "But before we take it," he went on, "we
will take off our hats and say 'Thank God' for having taken us safe
through this thing. If He had put this shelter here for us express, He
could not have planted it better for us, and the least we can do is to
thank Him for having pulled us through it safe."
The men all took off their hats, and stood silent for a minute or two
with bent heads. When they had replaced their hats Ben Gulston went to
the corner where the pack-saddles and packs were piled, took out a small
keg, and poured out some whisky for each of the white men. The others
drank it straight; Tom mixed some water with his, and felt a good deal
better after drinking it. Ben did not offer it to the Indians, neither
of whom would touch spirits on any occasion.
"It is a good friend and a bad enemy," Harry said as he tossed off his
portion. "As a rule there ain't no doubt that one is better without it;
but there is no better medicine to carry about with you. I have seen
many a life saved by a bottle of whisky. Taken after the bite of a
rattlesnake, it is as good a thing as there is. In case of fever, and
when a man is just tired out after a twenty-four hours' tramp, a drop of
it will put new life into him for a bit. But I don't say as it hasn't
killed a sight more than it has cured. It is at the bottom of pretty
nigh every shooting scrape in the camps, and has been the ruin of
hundreds of good men who would have done well if they could but have
kept from it."
"But you ain't a temperance man yourself, Harry?"
"No, Sam; but then, thank God, I am master of the liquor, and not the
liquor of me. I can take a glass, or perhaps two, without wanting more.
Though I have made a fool of myself in many ways since I have come out
here, no man can say he ever saw me drunk; if liquor were to get the
better of me once, I would swear off for the rest of my life. Don't you
ever take to it, Tom; that is, not to get so as to like to go on
drinking it. In our life we often have to go for months without it, and
a man has got to be very careful when he goes down to the settlements,
else it would be sure to get over him."
"I don't care for it at all, uncle."
"See you don't get to care for it, Tom. There are plenty start as you
do, and before they have been out here long they do get to like it, and
from that day they are never any good. It is a big temptation. A man has
been hunting or trapping, or fossicking for gold in the hills for
months, and he comes down to a fort or town and he meets a lot of mates.
One says 'Have a drink?' and another asks you, and it is mighty hard to
be always saying 'no'; and there ain't much to do in these places but to
drink or to gamble. A man here ain't so much to be blamed as folks who
live in comfortable houses, and have got wives and families and decent
places of amusement, and books and all that sort of thing, if they take
to drink or gambling. I have not any right to preach, for if I don't
drink I do gamble; that is, I have done; though I swore off that when I
got the letter telling me that your father had gone. Then I thought what
a fool I had made of myself for years. Why, if I had kept all the gold I
had dug I could go home now and live comfortably for the rest of my
life, and have a home for my nieces, as I ought to have. However, I have
done with it now. And I am mighty glad it was the cards and not drink
that took my dust, for it is a great deal easier to give up cards than
it is to give up liquor when you have once taken to it. Now let us talk
of something else; I vote we take a turn up on to the trail, and see
what the snow-slide has done."
Throwing the buffalo robes round their shoulders the party went outside.
The air was too thick with snow to enable them to perceive from the
platform the destruction it had wrought in the valley below, but upon
ascending the path to the level above, the track of the avalanche was
plainly marked indeed. For the width of a hundred yards, the white
mantle of snow, that covered the slope up to the point where the wall of
cliff rose abruptly, had been cleared away as if with a mighty broom.
Every rock and boulder lying upon it had been swept off, and the surface
of the bare rock lay flat, and unbroken by even a tuft of grass. They
walked along the edge until they looked down upon their shelter. The
bear's hide was still in its place, sloping like a pent-house roof, from
its upper side two or three inches below the edge of the rock, to the
other wall three feet lower. It was, however, stripped of its hair, as
cleanly as if it had been shorn off with a razor, by the friction of the
snow that had shot down along it.
"That is the blamedest odd thing I ever saw," Sam Hicks said. "I wonder
the weight of the snow didn't break it in."
"I expect it just shot over it, Sam," Harry said. "It must have been
travelling so mighty fast that the whole mass jumped across, only just
rubbing the skin. Of course the boulders and stones must have gone clean
over. That shows what a narrow escape we have had; for if that outer
rock had been a foot or so higher, the skin would have caved in, and our
place would have been filled chock up with snow in a moment. Waal, we
may as well turn in again, for I feel cold to the bones already."
On the evening of the fifth day the snow ceased falling, and next
morning the sky was clear and bright. Preparations were at once made for
a start. A batch of bread had been baked on the previous evening. Some
buckets of hot gruel were given to the horses, a meal was hastily eaten,
the horses saddled and the packs arranged, and before the sun had been
up half an hour they were on their way. The usual stillness of the
mountains was broken by a variety of sounds. From the valley at their
feet came up sharp reports, as a limb of a tree, or sometimes the tree
itself, broke beneath the weight of the snow. A dull rumbling sound,
echoing from hill to hill, told of the falls of avalanches. Scarcely had
the echoes of one ceased, than they began again in a fresh quarter. The
journey was toilsome in the extreme, for the horses' hoofs sank deep in
the freshly-fallen snow, rendering their progress exceedingly slow.
"If we had been sure that this weather would hold, chief, it would have
been better to have waited a few days before making our start, for by
that time the snow would have been hard enough to travel on."
The chief shook his head. "Winter coming for good," he said, waving his
hand towards the range of snowy summits to the north. "Clouds there
still; if stop, not able to cross pass till next summer."
"That is so; we agreed as to that yesterday, and that if we don't get
over now the chances are we shall never get over at all. Yet, it is a
pity we can't wait a few days for a crust to form on the snow."
Twice in the course of the next hour avalanches came down from the hills
above them; the first sweeping down into the valley a quarter of a mile
behind them, the next but two or three hundred yards ahead of them.
Scarcely a word was spoken from end to end of the line. They travelled
in Indian file, and each horse stepped in the footprints of its
predecessor. Every few hundred yards they changed places, for the labour
of the first horse was very much heavier than of those following. At the
end of an hour the men drew together for a consultation. There was a
wide break in the line of cliffs, and a valley ran nearly due south.
"What do you think, chief? This confounded snow has covered up all signs
of the trail, and we have got to find our own way. There is no doubt
this valley below is running a deal too much to the west, and that the
trail must strike off somewhere south. It looks to me as if that were a
likely valley through the cliff. There is no hiding the fact that if we
take the wrong turn we are all gone coons."
"Leaping Horse knows no more than his brother," the chief said gravely.
"He knows the pass is on the western side of the great peak. The great
peak lies there," and he pointed a little to the west of the break in
the hills up which they were looking.
"It may be that we must cross the hills into another valley, or perhaps
this will turn west presently."
"I tell you what, Harry," Sam Hicks said, "my opinion is, that our best
plan by a long chalk will be to go back to our last place and to stop
there for a bit. We have got b'ar's flesh enough for another fortnight,
and we may kill some more game afore that is done. Ef this is but a
spell of snow it may melt enough in another ten days for us to make out
the trail and follow it. Ef, as the chief thinks, we have got winter
right down on us, we must wait till the snow crust hardens ef it is a
month or double. Anything is better than going on like this. What with
this soft snow and these 'tarnal snow-slides, there ain't no more chance
of our getting over that pass in one day's journey, than there air in
our flying right down to Salt Lake City. Ef the worst comes to the
worst, I tell yer I would rather go back and take our chance of
following the Big Wind River down, and fighting the red-skins, than I
would of crossing over these dog-goned hills."
The other three men were of the same opinion.
"Well, what do you say, chief?" Harry asked the Indian.
"Leaping Horse thinks that the trail will not be found until next
summer," the chief replied quietly. "Heap of hills in front and heap of
snow. If snow-storm catch us in the hills no find way anywhere. Leaping
Horse is ready to do whatever his white brother thinks."
"Well, I am with the others," Harry said. "I don't like the look of
those clouds. They are quiet enough now, but they may begin to shift any
time, and, as you say, if we are caught in a snow-storm on the hills
there is an end of us. I think Sam is right. Even if we have to rustle
all through the winter in that hut there, I would rather face it than
That settled it. The horses' heads were turned, and they retraced their
steps until they reached the shelter. The bear's-skin had been left
where it was, the fire was soon set going, and there was a general
feeling of satisfaction as they laid out the robes and blankets again.
"Look here, boys," Harry said, "this is not going to be a holiday time,
you bet. We have got to make this place a sight snugger than it is now,
for, I tell you, when the winter sets in in earnest, it will be cold
enough here to freeze a buffalo solid in an hour. We have got to set to
work to make a roof all over this place, and we have got to hunt to lay
in a big stock of meat. We have got to get a big store of food for the
horses, for we must be mighty careful with our flour now. We can wait a
fortnight to see how things go, but if it is clear then that we have got
to fight it out here through the winter, we must shoot the pack-ponies
at once, and I reckon the others will all have to go later. However, we
will give them a chance as long as we can."
"Take them down into the valley," the chief said. "All Indian horses."
"Ah, I didn't think of that, chief. Yes, they are accustomed to rustle
for their living, and they may make a shift to hold on down there. I
don't think there is much fear of Indians coming up."
"No Indians," Leaping Horse said. "Indians go away when winter set in.
Some go to forest, some go to lodges right down valley. No stop up here
in mountains. When winter comes plenty game--big-horn, wapiti."
"Ah, that is a more cheerful look-out, chief. If we can get plenty of
meat we can manage without flour, and can go down and give the ponies a
pail of hot gruel once a week, which will help them to keep life
together. The first thing, I take it, is to cut some poles for the roof.
I am afraid we shall have to go down to the bottom for them."
"Waal, we needn't begin that till to-morrow," Sam Hicks said. "If we had
them, we have got no skins to cover them."
"Cut brushwood," Indian said. "First put plenty of brushwood on poles,
then put skins over."
"Yes, that is the plan, chief. Well, if we get down there we shall have
to take our shovels and clear the snow off some of the narrow ledges. If
we do that we can lead one of the horses down to pack the poles up
The chief went out on to the platform. "No use clear snow now. Clouds
moving. In two hours snow fall again."
The others joined him outside. "I reckon you are right, chief," Jerry
said. "It is mighty lucky we didn't go on. It can't be much worse here
than it was before."
At three in the afternoon it began to snow heavily again. There was less
wind than there had been on the previous occasion, and the snow drifted
through the entrance less than before. Just as they were turning in for
the night an ominous crack was heard above. All leapt from their
blankets, and looking up they could see by the light of the fire that
the poles supporting the skin were all bent in a curve downwards.
"Jee-rusalem!" Sam Hicks exclaimed, "the whole outfit will be coming
down on us."
"That it will, Sam. You see, there is no wind as there was before, and
one of our jobs will be keeping the roof clear of snow. Turn out, boys;
we must get rid of it somehow."
They at once set to work to lash two poles, some eight feet long, to the
handles of the shovels, and as soon as this was done they all turned
out. On reaching the edge of the ravine above the roof, they first
cleared away the snow down to the rock so as to have firm standing, and
then proceeded to shovel the snow off the surface of the skin. It was
easier work than they expected, for as soon as it was touched it slid
down the incline, and in a very few minutes the whole was cleared off.
"I think that is good until morning now," Harry said. "As long as the
snow lasts we shall have to do it every few hours. Directly we get a
spell of fine weather we must put some more poles under it to strengthen
For six days the snow continued to fall without intermission. At
daybreak, at mid-day, and the last thing before they turned in at night
the snow was cleared off the hide. With this exception they did not stir
out of the shelter. They had also each day to clear out the inner
portion of the fissure, as the snow now frequently broke through the
trees in masses, startling the horses, and keeping them in a state of
restlessness. The sixth day it stopped snowing, and the next morning the
sky was bright and clear. The whole party at once started out, two of
them taking shovels, and the rest brooms that they had made during the
long hours of their confinement. By the middle of the day they had
cleared the path down into the valley, and on their way back to dinner
each carried up a large bundle of faggots.
The meal was cooked and eaten hastily, and the whole of the horses were
then led down into the valley. Here a couple of dozen stout poles for
the roof were cut by the whites, the two Indians at once going up the
valley in search of game. In half an hour two rifle-shots were heard,
and presently Hunting Dog ran in with the news that they had killed two
wapiti. Jerry and Sam Hicks at once went off with him, leading two
horses, and presently returned with the dead deer fastened across their
"They are very like pictures I have seen of moose," Tom said to his
uncle as he examined the great stags.
"New-comers often call them moose, Tom; but there is a difference
between them, though what the difference is I cannot tell you, for I
have never hunted moose. I believe the wapiti are peculiar to the West.
They often go in great herds of three or four hundreds together."
"The chief says there are a great many of them up the valley," Jerry put
in. "They made off when he fired, but I could see their foot-tracks
myself all about. He says they have been driven down here by the storm
for shelter. He has gone round with the lad to head them back."
"That is good news, Jerry. The meat we have got already will last some
time, but it is as well to lay in a good stock, and we want the skins
badly to make our roof. You had better lead these horses to the foot of
the path, and then we will all take our post behind trees across the
An hour later they heard the reports of two rifles a long way up the
valley, and all stood in readiness. A few minutes later there was a dull
trampling sound, and almost directly afterwards a herd of wapiti came
along at a heavy trot, ploughing their way but slowly through the snow.
"Don't use your revolvers, boys," Harry had said, "except to finish off
a stag you have wounded with your rifle. The chance is all against your
bringing them down, and the poor brutes would only get away to die."
One after another the rifles rang out. Tom and his uncle both had the
satisfaction of seeing the stags they had aimed at, plunge forward
before they had gone many yards farther, and roll over dead. The other
three had each hit the animal they aimed at, but as these kept on their
course they dashed out in pursuit, firing their Colts, which in their
hands were as deadly weapons as a rifle, and the three stags all fell,
although one got nearly half a mile down the valley before he succumbed.
A carcass was hoisted on to each of the horses' backs, and the loaded
animals were then led up the track.
"Shall I wait until the Indians come back, uncle, and tell them why you
have gone up?"
"There is no occasion for that, Tom; they would hear the shots, and will
have guessed what has happened."
The poles were divided among the men and carried up to the top of the
path, and laid down just above the shelter. Harry and Sam Hicks at once
proceeded to cut them up into proper lengths, while the others skinned
and cut up the deer. A number of thongs were cut from one of the hides
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