THE OLD SANTA FE TRAIL
COLONEL HENRY INMAN
Part 5 out of 8
In every tribe in whose country I have been stationed, which comprises
nearly all the continent excepting the extreme southwestern portion,
his pipe is the Indian's constant companion through life. It is his
messenger of peace; he pledges his friends through its stem and its
bowl, and when he is dead, it has a place in his solitary grave,
with his war-club and arrows--companions on his journey to his
long-fancied beautiful hunting-grounds. The pipe of peace is a sacred
thing; so held by all Indian nations, and kept in possession of chiefs,
to be smoked only at times of peacemaking. When the terms of treaty
have been agreed upon, this sacred emblem, the stem of which is
ornamented with eagle's quills, is brought forward, and the solemn
pledge to keep the peace is passed through the sacred stem by each
chief and warrior drawing the smoke once through it. After the
ceremony is over, the warriors of the two tribes unite in the dance,
with the pipe of peace held in the left hand of the chief and in his
other a rattle.
Thousands of years ago, the primitive savage of the American continent
carried masses of pipe-stone from the sacred quarry in Minnesota
across the vast wilderness of plains, to trade with the people of
the far Southwest, over the same route that long afterward became
the Santa Fe Trail; therefore, it will be consistent with the character
of this work to relate the history of the quarry from which all the
tribes procured their material for fashioning their pipes, and the
curious legends connected with it. I have met with the red sandstone
pipes on the remotest portions of the Pacific coast, and east, west,
north and south, in every tribe that it has been my fortune to know.
The word "Dakotah" means allied or confederated, and is the family
name now comprising some thirty bands, numbering about thirty thousand
Indians. They are generally designated Sioux, but that title is
seldom willingly acknowledged by them. It was first given to them
by the French, though its original interpretation is by no means clear.
The accepted theory, because it is the most plausible, is that it is
a corruption or rather an abbreviation of "Nadouessioux," a Chippewa
word for enemies.
Many of the Sioux are semi-civilized; some are "blanket-Indians,"
so called, but there are no longer any murderous or predatory bands,
and all save a few stragglers are on the reservations. From 1812 to
1876, more than half a century, they were the scourge of the West and
the Northwest, but another outbreak is highly improbable. They once
occupied the vast region included between the Mississippi and the
Rocky Mountains, and were always migratory in their methods of living.
Over fifty years ago, when the whites first became acquainted with
them, they were divided into nearly fifty bands of families, each with
its separate chief, but all acknowledging a superior chief to whom
they were subordinate. They were at that time the happiest and most
wealthy tribe on the continent, regarded from an Indian standpoint;
but then the great plains were stocked with buffalo and wild horses,
and that fact alone warrants the assertion of contentment and riches.
No finer-looking tribe existed; they could then muster more than
ten thousand warriors, every one of whom would measure six feet, and
all their movements were graceful and elastic.
According to their legends, they came from the Pacific and encountered
the Algonquins about the head waters of the Mississippi, where they
were held in check, a portion of them, however, pushing on through
their enemies and securing a foothold on the shores of Lake Michigan.
This bold band was called by the Chippewas Winnebagook (men-from-the-
salt-water). In their original habitat on the great northern plains
was located the celebrated "red pipe-stone quarry," a relatively
limited area, owned by all tribes, but occupied permanently by none;
a purely neutral ground--so designated by the Great Spirit--where no
war could possibly occur, and where mortal enemies might meet to
procure the material for their pipes, but the hatchet was invariably
buried during that time on the consecrated spot.
The quarry has long since passed out of the control and jurisdiction
of the Indians and is not included in any of their reservations,
though near the Sisseton agency. It is located on the summit of
the high divide between the Missouri and St. Peter's rivers in
Minnesota, at a point not far from where the ninety-seventh meridian
of longitude (from Greenwich) intersects the forty-fifth parallel
of latitude. The divide was named by the French Coteau des Prairies,
and the quarry is near its southern extremity. Not a tree or bush
could be seen from the majestic mound when I last was there, some
twenty years ago--nothing but the apparently interminable plains,
until they were lost in the deep blue of the horizon.
The luxury of smoking appears to have been known to all the tribes
on the continent in their primitive state, and they indulge in the
habit to excess; any one familiar with their life can assert that
the American savage smokes half of his time. Where so much attention
is given to a mere pleasure, it naturally follows that he would devote
his leisure and ingenuity to the construction of his pipe. The bowls
of these were, from time immemorial, made of the peculiar red stone
from the famous quarry referred to, which, until only a little over
fifty years ago, was never visited by a white man, its sanctity
forbidding any such sacrilege.
That the spot should have been visited for untold centuries by all
the Indian nations, who hid their weapons as they approached it,
under fear of the vengeance of the Great Spirit, will not seem strange
when the religion of the race is understood. One of the principal
features of the quarry is a perpendicular wall of granite about
thirty feet high, facing the west, and nearly two miles long. At the
base of the wall there is a level prairie, running parallel to it,
half a mile wide. Under this strip of land, after digging through
several slaty layers of rock, the red sandstone is found. Old graves,
fortifications, and excavations abound, all confirmatory of the
traditions clustering around the weird place.
Within a few rods of the base of the wall is a group of immense gneiss
boulders, five in number, weighing probably many hundred tons each,
and under these are two holes in which two imaginary old women reside
--the guardian spirits of the quarry--who were always consulted before
any pipe-stone could be dug up. The veneration for this group of
boulders was something wonderful; not a spear of grass was broken or
bent by his feet within sixty or seventy paces from them, where the
trembling Indian halted, and throwing gifts to them in humble
supplication, solicited permission to dig and take away the red stone
for his pipes.
Near this spot, too, on a high mound, was the "Thunder's nest," where
a very small bird sat upon her eggs during fair weather. When the
skies were rent with thunder at the approach of a storm, she was
hatching her brood, which caused the terrible commotion in the heavens.
The bird was eternal. The "medicine men" claimed that they had often
seen her, and she was about as large as a little finger. Her mate
was a serpent whose fiery tongue destroyed the young ones as soon as
they were born, and the awful noise accompanying the act darted
through the clouds.
On the wall of rocks at the quarry are thousands of inscriptions and
paintings, the totems and arms of various tribes who have visited
there; but no idea can be formed of their antiquity.
Of the various traditions of the many tribes, I here present a few.
The Great Spirit at a remote period called all the Indian nations
together at this place, and, standing on the brink of the precipice
of red-stone rock, broke from its walls a piece and fashioned a pipe
by simply turning it in his hands. He then smoked over them to the
north, the south, the east, and the west, and told them the stone
was red, that it was their flesh, that they must use it for their
pipes of peace, that it belonged to all alike, and that the war-club
and scalping-knife must never be raised on its ground. At the last
whiff of his pipe his head went into a great cloud, and the whole
surface of the ledge for miles was melted and glazed; two great ovens
were opened beneath, and two women--the guardian spirits of the place--
entered them in a blaze of fire, and they are heard there yet
answering to the conjurations of the medicine men, who consult them
when they visit the sacred place.
The legend of the Knis-te-neu's tribe (Crees), a very small band in
the British possessions, in relation to the quarry is this: In the
time of a great freshet that occurred years ago and destroyed all the
nations of the earth, every tribe of Indians assembled on the top
of the Coteau des Prairies to get out of the way of the rushing and
seething waters. When they had arrived there from all parts of the
world, the water continued to rise until it covered them completely,
forming one solid mass of drowned Indians, and their flesh was
converted by the Great Spirit into red pipe-stone; therefore, it was
always considered neutral ground, belonging to all tribes alike, and
all were to make their pipes out of it and smoke together. While they
were drowning together, a young woman, Kwaptan, a virgin, caught hold
of the foot of a very large bird that was flying over at the time,
and was carried to the top of a hill that was not far away and above
the water. There she had twins, their father being the war-eagle
that had carried her off, and her children have since peopled the
earth. The pipe-stone, which is the flesh of their ancestors,
is smoked by them as the symbol of peace, and the eagle quills
decorate the heads of their warriors.
Severed about seven or eight feet from the main wall of the quarry
by some convulsion of nature ages ago, there is an immense column
just equal in height to the wall, seven feet in diameter and
beautifully polished on its top and sides. It is called The Medicine,
or Leaping Rock, and considerable nerve is required to jump on it from
the main ledge and back again. Many an Indian's heart, in the past,
has sighed for the honour of the feat without daring to attempt it.
A few, according to the records of the tribes, have tried it with
success, and left their arrows standing up in its crevice; others
have made the leap and reached its slippery surface only to slide off,
and suffer instant death on the craggy rocks in the awful chasm below.
Every young man of the many tribes was ambitious to perform the feat,
and those who had successfully accomplished it were permitted to
boast of it all their lives.
The initial opening of the trade with New Mexico from the Missouri
River, as has been related, was not direct to Santa Fe. The limited
number of pack-trains at first passed to the north of the Raton Range,
and travelled to the Spanish settlements in the valley of Taos.
On this original Trail, where now is situated the beautiful city
of Pueblo, the second place of importance in Colorado, there was a
little Indian trading-post called "the Pueblo," from which the present
thriving place derives its name. The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe
Railroad practically follows the same route that the traders did to
reach Pueblo, as it also does that which the freight caravans later
followed from the Missouri River direct to Santa Fe.
The old Pueblo fort, as nearly as can be determined now, was built
as early as 1840, or not later than 1842, and, as one authority
asserts, by George Simpson and his associates, Barclay and Doyle.
Beckwourth claims to have been the original projector of the fort,
and to have given the general plan and its name, in which I am
inclined to believe that he is correct; perhaps Barclay, Doyle, and
Simpson were connected with him, as he states that there were other
trappers, though he mentions no names. It was a square fort of adobe,
with circular bastions at the corners, no part of the walls being
more than eight feet high. Around the inside of the plaza, or corral,
were half a dozen small rooms inhabited by as many Indian traders and
One of the earlier Indian agents, Mr. Fitzpatrick, in writing from
Bent's Fort in 1847, thus describes the old Pueblo:--
About seventy-five miles above this place, and immediately
on the Arkansas River, there is a small settlement, chiefly
composed of old trappers and hunters; the male part of it
are mostly Americans (Missourians), French Canadians, and
Mexicans. It numbers about one hundred and fifty, and of
this number about sixty men have wives, and some have two.
These wives are of various Indian tribes, as follows; viz.
Blackfeet, Assiniboines, Sioux, Arapahoes, Cheyennes,
Snakes, and Comanches. The American women are Mormons,
a party of Mormons having wintered there, and then departed
The old trappers and hunters of the Pueblo fort lived entirely upon
game, and a greater part of the year without bread. As soon as their
supply of meat was exhausted, they started to the mountains with two
or three pack-animals, and brought back in two or three days loads
of venison and buffalo.
The Arkansas at the Pueblo is a clear, rapid river about a hundred
yards wide. The bottom, which is enclosed on each side by high bluffs,
is about a quarter of a mile across. In the early days of which I
write, the margin of the stream was heavily timbered with cottonwood,
and the tourist to-day may see the remnant of the primitive great
woods, in the huge isolated trees scattered around the bottom in the
vicinity of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad station of
the charming mountain city.
On each side vast rolling prairies stretch away for hundreds of miles,
gradually ascending on the side towards the mountains, where the
highlands are sparsely covered with pinyon and cedar. The lofty banks
through which the Arkansas occasionally passes are of shale and
sandstone, rising precipitously from the water. Ascending the river
the country is wild and broken, until it enters the mountain region,
where the scenery is incomparably grand and imposing. The surrounding
prairies are naturally arid and sterile, producing but little
vegetation, and the primitive grass, though of good quality, is thin
and scarce. Now, however, under a competent system of irrigation,
the whole aspect of the landscape is changed from what it was thirty
years ago, and it has all the luxuriance of a garden.
The whole country, it is claimed, was once possessed by the Shos-shones,
or Snake Indians, of whom the Comanches of the Southern plains are
a branch; and, although many hundred miles divide their hunting-grounds,
they were once, if not the same people, tribes or bands of that great
and powerful nation. They retain a language in common, and there is
also a striking analogy in many of their religious rites and ceremonies,
in their folk-lore, and in some of their everyday customs. These
facts prove, at least, that there was at one time a very close
alliance which bound the two tribes together. Half a century ago they
were, in point of numbers, the two most powerful nations in all the
numerous aggregations of Indians in the West; the Comanches ruling
almost supreme on the Eastern plains, while the Shos-shones were the
dominant tribe in the country beyond the Rocky Mountains, and in the
mountains themselves. Once, many years ago, before the problem of the
relative strength of the various tribes was as well solved as now,
the Shos-shones were supposed to be the most powerful, and numerically
the most populous, tribe of Indians on the North American continent.
In the immediate vicinity of the old Pueblo fort at the time of its
greatest business prosperity, game was scarce; the buffalo had for
some years deserted the neighbouring prairies, but they were always
to be found in the mountain-valleys, particularly in one known as
"Bayou Salado," which forty-five years ago abounded in elk, bear,
deer, and antelope.
The fort was situated a few hundred yards above the mouth of the
"Fontaine qui Bouille" River, so called from two springs of
mineral water near its head, under Pike's Peak, about sixty miles
above its mouth.
As is the case with all the savage races of the world, the American
Indians possess hereditary legends, accounting for all the phenomena
of nature, or any occurrence which is beyond their comprehension.
The Shos-shones had the following story to account for the presence of
these wonderful springs in the midst of their favourite hunting-ground.
The two fountains, one pouring forth the sweetest water imaginable,
the other a stream as bitter as gall, are intimately connected with
the cause of the separation of the two tribes. Their legend thus runs:
Many hundreds of winters ago, when the cottonwoods on the big river
were no higher than arrows, and the prairies were crowded with game,
the red men who hunted the deer in the forests and the buffalo on the
plains all spoke the same language, and the pipe of peace breathed its
soothing cloud whenever two parties of hunters met on the boundless
It happened one day that two hunters of different nations met on the
bank of a small rivulet, to which both had resorted to quench their
thirst. A small stream of water, rising from a spring on a rock
within a few feet of the bank, trickled over it and fell splashing
into the river. One hunter sought the spring itself; the other,
tired by his exertions in the chase, threw himself at once to the
ground, and plunged his face into the running stream.
The latter had been unsuccessful in the hunt, and perhaps his bad
fortune, and the sight of the fat deer which the other threw from his
back before he drank at the crystal spring, caused a feeling of
jealousy and ill-humour to take possession of his mind. The other,
on the contrary, before he satisfied his thirst, raised in the hollow
of his hand a portion of the water, and, lifting it toward the sun,
reversed his hand, and allowed it to fall upon the ground, as a
libation to the Great Spirit, who had vouch-safed him a successful
hunt and the blessing of the refreshing water with which he was about
to quench his thirst.
This reminder that he had neglected the usual offering only increased
the feeling of envy and annoyance which filled the unsuccessful
hunter's heart. The Evil Spirit at that moment entering his body,
his temper fairly flew away, and he sought some pretence to provoke
a quarrel with the other Indian.
"Why does a stranger," he asked, rising from the stream, "drink at
the spring-head, when one to whom the fountain belongs contents
himself with the water that runs from it?"
"The Great Spirit places the cool water at the spring," answered the
other hunter, "that his children may drink it pure and undefiled.
The running water is for the beasts which scour the plains. Ausaqua
is a chief of the Shos-shones; he drinks at the head water."
"The Shos-shones is but a tribe of the Comanches," returned the other:
"Wacomish leads the whole nation. Why does a Shos-shone dare to
drink above him?"
"When the Manitou made his children, whether Shos-shone or Comanche,
Arapaho, Cheyenne, or Pawnee, he gave them buffalo to eat, and the
pure water of the fountain to quench their thirst. He said not to
one, 'Drink here,' and to another, 'Drink there'; but gave the crystal
spring to all, that all might drink."
Wacomish almost burst with rage as the other spoke; but his coward
heart prevented him from provoking an encounter with the calm Shos-shone.
The latter, made thirsty by the words he had spoken--for the Indian is
ever sparing of his tongue--again stooped down to the spring to drink,
when the subtle warrior of the Comanches suddenly threw himself upon
the kneeling hunter and, forcing his head into the bubbling water,
held him down with all his strength until his victim no longer
struggled; his stiffened limbs relaxed, and he fell forward over
the spring, drowned.
Mechanically the Comanche dragged the body a few paces from the water,
and, as soon as the head of the dead Indian was withdrawn, the spring
was suddenly and strangely disturbed. Bubbles sprang up from the
bottom, and, rising to the surface, escaped in hissing gas. A thin
vapour arose, and, gradually dissolving, displayed to the eyes of the
trembling murderer the figure of an aged Indian, whose long, snowy
hair and venerable beard, blown aside from his breast, discovered the
well-known totem of the great Wankanaga, the father of the Comanche
and Shos-shone nation.
Stretching out a war-club toward the Comanche, the figure thus
"Accursed murderer! While the blood of the brave Shos-shone cries to
the Great Spirit for vengeance, may the water of thy tribe be rank
and bitter in their throats!" Thus saying, and swinging his ponderous
war-club round his head, he dashed out the brains of the Comanche,
who fell headlong into the spring, which from that day to this remains
rank and nauseous, so that not even when half dead with thirst, can
one drink from it.
The good Wankanaga, however, to perpetuate the memory of the Shos-shone
warrior, who was renowned in his tribe for valour and nobleness of
heart, struck with the same avenging club a hard, flat rock which
overhung the rivulet, and forthwith a round clear basin opened, which
instantly filled with bubbling, sparkling water, sweet and cool.
From that day the two mighty tribes of the Shos-shones and Comanches
have remained severed and apart, although a long and bloody war
followed the treacherous murder.
The Indians regarded these wonderful springs with awe. The Arapahoes,
especially, attributed to the Spirit of the springs the power of
ordaining the success or failure of their war expeditions. As their
warriors passed by the mysterious pools when hunting their hereditary
enemies, the Utes, they never failed to bestow their votive offerings
upon the spring, in order to propitiate the Manitou of the strange
fountain, and insure a fortunate issue to their path of war. As late
as twenty-five years ago, the visitor to the place could always find
the basin of the spring filled with beads and wampum, pieces of red
cloth and knives, while the surrounding trees were hung with strips
of deerskin, cloth, and moccasins. Signs were frequently observed
in the vicinity of the waters unmistakably indicating that a war-dance
had been executed there by the Arapahoes on their way to the Valley
of Salt, occupied by the powerful Utes.
Never was there such a paradise for hunters as this lone and solitary
spot in the days when the region was known only to them and the
trappers of the great fur companies. The shelving prairie, at the
bottom of which the springs are situated, is entirely surrounded by
rugged mountains and contained two or three acres of excellent grass,
affording a safe pasture for their animals, which hardly cared to
wander from such feeding and the salt they loved to lick.
The trappers of the Rocky Mountains belonged to a genus that has
disappeared. Forty years ago there was not a hole or corner in the
vast wilderness of the far West that had not been explored by these
hardy men. From the Mississippi to the mouth of the Colorado of the
West, from the frozen regions of the north to the Gila in Mexico,
the beaver hunter has set his traps in every creek and stream.
The mountains and waters, in many instances, still retain the names
assigned them by those rude hunters, who were veritable pioneers
paving the way for the settlement of the stern country.
A trapper's camp in the old days was quite a picture, as were all its
surroundings. He did not always take the trouble to build a shelter,
unless in the winter. A couple of deerskins stretched over a willow
frame was considered sufficient to protect him from the storm.
Sometimes he contented himself with a mere "breakwind," the rocky
wall of a canyon, or large ravine. Near at hand he set up two poles,
in the crotch of which another was laid, where he kept, out of reach
of the hungry wolf and coyote, his meat, consisting of every variety
afforded by the region in which he had pitched his camp. Under cover
of the skins of the animals he had killed hung his old-fashioned
powder-horn and bullet-pouch, while his trusty rifle, carefully
defended from the damp, was always within reach of his hand. Round
his blazing fire at night his companions, if he had any, were other
trappers on the same stream; and, while engaged in cleaning their
arms, making and mending moccasins, or running bullets, they told
long yarns, until the lateness of the hour warned them to crawl under
Not far from the camp, his animals, well hobbled, fed in sight;
for nothing did a hunter dread more than a visit from horse-stealing
Indians, and to be afoot was the acme of misery.
Some hunters who had married squaws carried about with them regular
buffalo-skin lodges, which their wives took care of, according to
The old-time trappers more nearly approximated the primitive savage,
perhaps, than any other class of civilized men. Their lives being
spent in the remote wilderness of the mountains, frequently with no
other companion than Nature herself, their habits and character often
assumed a most singular cast of simplicity, mingled with ferocity,
that appeared to take its colouring from the scenes and objects which
surrounded them. Having no wants save those of nature, their sole
concern was to provide sufficient food to support life, and the
necessary clothing to protect them from the sometimes rigorous climate.
The costume of the average trapper was a hunting-shirt of dressed
buckskin, with long, fringed trousers of the same material, decorated
with porcupine quills. A flexible hat and moccasins covered his
extremities, and over his left shoulder and under his right arm hung
his powder-horn and bullet-pouch, in which he also carried flint,
steel, and other odds and ends. Round his waist he wore a belt,
in which was stuck a large knife in a sheath of buffalo-hide, made
fast to the belt by a chain or guard of steel. It also supported
a little buckskin case, which contained a whetstone, a very necessary
article; for in taking off the hides of the beaver a sharp knife was
required. His pipe-holder hung around his neck, and was generally
a gage d'amour, a triumph of squaw workmanship, wrought with beads
and porcupine quills, often made in the shape of a heart.
Necessarily keen observers of nature, they rivalled the beasts of
prey in discovering the haunts and habits of game, and in their skill
and cunning in capturing it outwitted the Indian himself. Constantly
exposed to perils of all kinds, they became callous to any feeling
of danger, and were firm friends or bitter enemies. It was a "word
and a blow," the blow often coming first. Strong, active, hardy as
bears, expert in the use of their weapons, they were just what an
uncivilized white man might be supposed to be under conditions where
he must depend upon his instincts for the support of life.
Having determined upon the locality of his trapping-ground, the hunter
started off, sometimes alone, sometimes three or four of them in
company, as soon as the breaking of the ice in the streams would
permit, if he was to go very far north. Arriving on the spot he has
selected for his permanent camp, the first thing to be done, after
he had settled himself, was to follow the windings of the creeks and
rivers, keeping a sharp lookout for "signs." If he saw a prostrate
cottonwood tree, he carefully examined it to learn whether it was
the work of beaver, and if so whether thrown for the purpose of food,
or to dam the stream. The track of the animal on the mud or sand
under the banks was also examined; if the sign was fresh, he set his
trap in the run of the animal, hiding it under water, and attaching
it by a stout chain to a picket driven in the bank, or to a bush or
tree. A float-stick was made fast to the trap by a cord a few feet
long, which, if the animal carried away the trap, would float on
the water and point out its position. The trap was baited with
"medicine," an oily substance obtained from the beaver. A stick was
dipped in this and planted over the trap, and the beaver, attracted
by the smell, put his leg into the trap and was caught.
When a beaver lodge was discovered, the trap was set at the edge of
the dam, at a point where the animal passed from deep to shoal water,
and always under the surface. Early in the morning, the hunter
mounted his mule and examined all his traps.
The beaver is exceedingly wily, and if by scent or sound or sight he
had any intimation of the presence of a trapper, he put at defiance
all efforts to capture him, consequently it was necessary to practise
great caution when in the neighbourhood of one of their lodges.
The trapper then avoided riding for fear the sound of his horse's
feet might strike dismay among the furry inhabitants under the water,
and, instead of walking on the ground, he waded in the stream, lest
he should leave a scent behind by which he might be discovered.
In the days of the great fur companies, trappers were of two kinds--
the hired hand and the free trapper. The former was hired by the
company, which supplied him with everything necessary, and paid him
a certain price for his furs and peltries. The other hunted on his
own hook, owned his animals and traps, went where he pleased, and
sold to whom he chose.
During the hunting season, regardless of the Indians, the fearless
trapper wandered far and near in search of signs. His nerves were
in a state of tension, his mind always clear, and his head cool.
His trained eye scrutinized every part of the country, and in an
instant he could detect anything that was strange. A turned leaf,
a blade of grass pressed down, the uneasiness of wild animals,
the actions of the birds, were all to him paragraphs written in
Nature's legible hand.
All the wits of the wily savage were called into play to gain an
advantage over the plucky white man; but with the resources natural
to a civilized mind, the hunter seldom failed, under equal chance,
to circumvent the cunning of the red man. Sometimes, following his
trail for weeks, the Indian watched him set his traps on some timbered
stream, and crawling up the bed of it, so that he left no tracks,
he lay in the bushes until his victim came to examine his traps.
Then, when he approached within a few feet of the ambush, whiz! flew
the home-drawn arrow, which never failed at such close quarters to
bring the unsuspecting hunter to the ground. But for one white scalp
that dangled in the smoke of an Indian's lodge, a dozen black ones,
at the end of the season, ornamented the camp-fires of the rendezvous
where the furs were sold.
In the camp, if he was a very successful hunter, all the appliances
for preparing the skins for market were at hand; if he had a squaw
for a wife, she did all the hard work, as usual. Close to the
entrance of their skin lodge was the "graining-block," a log of wood
with the bark stripped off and perfectly smooth, set obliquely in
the ground, on which the hair was removed from the deerskins which
furnished moccasins and dresses for both herself and her husband.
Then there were stretching frames on which the skins were placed to
undergo the process of "dubbing"; that is, the removal of all flesh
and fatty particles adhering to the skin. The "dubber" was made of
the stock of an elk's horn, with a piece of iron or steel inserted
in the end, forming a sharp knife. The last process the deerskin
underwent before it was soft and pliable enough for making into
garments, was the "smoking." This was effected by digging a round
hole in the ground, and lighting in it an armful of rotten wood or
punk; then sticks were planted around the hole, and their tops brought
together and tied. The skins were placed on this frame, and all
openings by which the smoke might escape being carefully stopped,
in ten or twelve hours they were thoroughly cured and ready for
The beaver was the main object of the hunter's quest; its skins were
once worth from six to eight dollars a pound; then they fell to only
one dollar, which hardly paid the expenses of traps, animals, and
equipment for the hunt, and was certainly no adequate remuneration
for the hardships, toil, and danger undergone by the trappers.
The beaver was once found in every part of North America, from Canada
to the Gulf of Mexico, but has so retired from the encroachments of
civilized man, that it is only to be met with occasionally on some
tributary to the remote mountain streams.
The old trappers always aimed to set their traps so that the beaver
would drown when taken. This was accomplished by sinking the trap
several inches under water, and driving a stake through a ring on the
end of the chain into the bottom of the creek. When the beaver finds
himself caught, he pitches and plunges about until his strength is
exhausted, when he sinks down and is drowned, but if he succeeds in
getting to the shore, he always extricates himself by gnawing off
the leg that is in the jaws of the trap.
The captured animals were skinned, and the tails, which are a great
dainty, carefully packed into camp. The skin was then stretched over
a hoop or framework of willow twigs and allowed to dry, the flesh and
fatty substance adhering being first carefully scraped off. When dry,
it was folded into a square sheet, the fur turned inwards, and the
bundle, containing twenty skins, tightly pressed and tied, was ready
for transportation. The beaver after the hide is taken off weighs
about twelve pounds, and its flesh, although a little musky, is very
fine. Its tail which is flat and oval in shape, is covered with
scales about the size of those of a salmon. It was a great delicacy
in the estimation of the old trapper; he separated it from the body,
thrust a stick in one end of it, and held it before the fire with the
scales on. In a few moments large blisters rose on the surface,
which were very easily removed. The tail was then perfectly white,
and delicious. Next to the tail the liver was another favourite of
the trapper, and when properly cooked it constituted a delightful repast.
After the season was over, or the hunter had loaded all his pack-animals,
he proceeded to the "rendezvous," where the buyers were to congregate
for the purchase of the fur, the locality of which had been agreed
upon when the hunters started out on their expedition. One of these
was at Bent's old fort and one at Pueblo; another at "Brown's Hole"
on Green River, and there were many more on the great streams and in
the mountains. There the agents of the fur companies and traders
waited for the arrival of the trappers, with such an assortment of
goods as the hardy men required, including, of course, an immense
supply of whiskey. The trappers dropped in day after day, in small
bands, packing their loads of beaver-skins, not infrequently to the
value of a thousand dollars each, the result of one hunt.
The rendezvous was frequently a continuous scene of gambling, brawling,
and fighting, so long as the improvident trapper's money lasted.
Seated around the large camp-fires, cross-legged in Indian fashion,
with a blanket or buffalo-robe spread before them, groups were playing
cards--euchre, seven-up, and poker, the regular mountain games.
The usual stakes were beaver-skins, which were current as coin.
When their fur was all gone, their horses, mules, rifles, shirts,
hunting packs, and trousers were staked. Daring professional gamblers
made the rounds of the camps, challenging each other to play for the
trapper's highest stakes--his horse, or his squaw, if he had one--and
it is told of one great time that two old trappers played for one
another's scalps! "There goes hoss and beaver," was a common mountain
expression when any severe loss was sustained, and shortly "hoss and
beaver" found their way into the pockets of the unconscionable gamblers.
Frequently a trapper would squander the entire product of his hunt,
amounting to hundreds of dollars, in a couple of hours. Then,
supplied with another outfit, he left the rendezvous for another
expedition, which had the same result time after time, although one
good hunt would have enabled him to return to the settlements and
live a life of comparative ease.
It is told of one old Canadian trapper, who had received as much as
fifteen thousand dollars for beaver during his life in the mountains,
extending over twenty years, that each season he had resolved in his
mind to go back to Canada, and with this object in view always
converted his furs into cash; but a fortnight at the rendezvous
always "cleaned him out," and at the end of the twenty years he had
not even enough credit to get a plug of tobacco.
Trading with the Indians in the primitive days of the border was just
what the word signifies in its radical interpretation--a system of
barter exclusively. No money was used in the transaction, as it was
long afterward before the savages began to learn something of the
value of currency from their connection with the sutler's and agency
stores established on reservations and at military posts on the plains
and in the mountains. In the early days, if an Indian by any chance
happened to get possession of a piece of money (only gold or silver
was recognized as a medium of exchange in the remote West), he would
immediately fashion it into some kind of an ornament with which to
adorn his person. Some tribes, however, did indulge in a sort of
currency, worthless except among themselves. This consisted of rare
shells, such as the Oligachuck, so called, of the Pacific coast
nations, used by them within my own recollection, as late as 1858.
The poor Indian, as might have been expected, was generally
outrageously swindled; in fact, I am inclined to believe, always.
I never was present on an occasion when he was not.
The savage's idea of values was very crude until the government,
in attempting to civilize and make a gentleman of him, has transformed
him into a bewildered child. Very soon after his connection with
the white trader, he learned that a gun was more valuable than a knife;
but of their relative cost to manufacture he had no idea. For these
reasons, obviously, he was always at the mercy of the unscrupulous
trader who came to his village, or met him at the rendezvous to barter
for his furs. I know that the price of every article he desired was
fixed by the trader, and never by the Indian, consequently he rarely
got the best of the bargain.
Uncle John Smith, Kit Carson, L. B. Maxwell, Uncle Dick Wooton, and
a host of other well-known Indian traders, long since dead, have
often told me that the first thing they did on entering a village
with a pack-load of trinkets to barter, in the earlier days before
the whites had encroached to any great extent, was to arrange a
schedule of prices. They would gather a large number of sticks,
each one representing an article they had brought. With these crude
symbols the Indian made himself familiar in a little while, and when
this preliminary arrangement had been completed, the trading began.
The Indian, for instance, would place a buffalo-robe on the ground;
then the trader commenced to lay down a number of the sticks,
representing what he was willing to give for the robe. The Indian
revolved the transaction in his mind until he thought he was getting
a fair equivalent according to his ideas, then the bargain was made.
It was claimed by these old traders, when they related this to me,
that the savage generally was not satisfied, always insisting upon
having more sticks placed on the pile. I suspect, however, that the
trader was ever prepared for this, and never gave more than he
originally intended. The price of that initial robe having been
determined on, it governed the price of all the rest for the whole
trade, regardless of size or fineness, for that day. What was traded
for was then placed by the Indian on one side of the lodge, and the
trader put what he was to give on the other. After prices had been
agreed upon, business went on very rapidly, and many thousand dollars'
worth of valuable furs were soon collected by the successful trader,
which he shipped to St. Louis and converted into gold.
In a few years, relatively, the Indian began to appreciate the value
of our medium of exchange and the power it gave him to secure at the
stores in the widely scattered hamlets and at the military posts on
the plains, those things he coveted, at a fairer equivalent than in
the uncertain and complicated method of direct barter. It was not
very long after the advent of the overland coaches on the Santa Fe
Trail, that our currency, even the greenbacks, had assumed a value
to the savage, which he at least partially understood. Whenever the
Indians successfully raided the stages the mail sacks were no longer
torn to pieces or thrown aside as worthless, but every letter was
carefully scrutinized for possible bills.
I well remember, when the small copper cent, with its spread eagle
upon it, was first issued, about the year 1857, how the soldiers of
a frontier garrison where I was stationed at the time palmed them off
upon the simple savages as two dollar and a half gold pieces, which
they resembled as long as they retained their brightness, and with
which the Indians were familiar, as many were received by the troops
from the paymaster every two months, the savages receiving them in
turn for horses and other things purchased of them by the soldiers.
I have known of Indians who gave nuggets of gold for common calico
shirts costing two dollars in that region and seventy-five cents in
the States, while the lump of precious metal was worth, perhaps,
five or seven dollars. As late as twenty-eight years ago, I have
traded for beautifully smoke-tanned and porcupine-embroidered
buffalo-robes for my own use, giving in exchange a mere loaf of bread
or a cupful of brown sugar.
Very early in the history of the United States, in 1786, the government,
under the authority of Congress, established a plan of trade with
the Indians. It comprised supplying all their physical wants without
profit; factories, or stations as they were called, were erected at
points that were then on the remote frontier; where factors, clerks,
and interpreters were stationed. The factors furnished goods of all
kinds to the Indians, and received from them in exchange furs and
peltries. There was an officer in charge of all these stations called
the superintendent of Indian trade, appointed by the President.
As far back as 1821, there were stations at Prairie du Chien,
Fort Edward, Fort Osage, with branches at Chicago, Green Bay in
Arkansas, on the Red River, and other places in the then far West.
These stations were movable, and changed from time to time to suit the
convenience of the Indians. In 1822 the whole system was abolished
by act of Congress, and its affairs wound up, the American Fur Company,
the Missouri Fur Company, and a host of others having by that time
become powerful. Like the great corporations of to-day, they
succeeded in supplanting the government establishments. Of course,
the Indians of the remote plains, which included all the vast region
west of the Missouri River, never had the benefits of the government
trading establishments, but were left to the tender mercies of the
old plainsmen and trappers.
Until the railroad reached the mountains, when the march of a wonderful
immigration closely followed, usurping the lands claimed by the
savages, and the latter were driven, perforce, upon reservations,
the winter camps of the Kiowas, Arapahoes, and Cheyennes were strung
along the Old Trail for miles, wherever a belt of timber on the margin
of the Arkansas, or its tributaries, could be found large enough to
furnish fuel for domestic purposes and cottonwood bark for the vast
herds of ponies in the severe snow-storms.
At these various points the Indians congregated to trade with the
whites. As stated, Bent's Fort, the Pueblo Fort, and Big Timbers
were favourite resorts, and the trappers and old hunters passed a
lively three or four months every year, indulging in the amusements
I have referred to. They were also wonderful story-tellers, and
around their camp-fires many a tale of terrible adventure with Indians
and vicious animals was nightly related.
Baptiste Brown was one of the most famous trappers. Few men had seen
more of wild life in the great prairie wilderness. He had hunted
with nearly every tribe of Indians on the plains and in the mountains,
was often at Bent's Fort, and his soul-stirring narratives made him
a most welcome guest at the camp-fire.
He lived most of his time in the Wind River Mountains, in a beautiful
little valley named after him "Brown's Hole." It has a place on the
maps to-day, and is on what was then called Prairie River, or
Sheetskadee, by the Indians; it is now known as Green River, and is
the source of the great Colorado.
The valley, which is several thousand feet above the sea-level,
is about fifteen miles in circumference, surrounded by lofty hills,
and is aptly, though not elegantly, characterized as a "hole."
The mountain-grass is of the most nutritious quality; groves of
cottonwood trees and willows are scattered through the sequestered
spot, and the river, which enters it from the north, is a magnificent
stream; in fact, it is the very ideal of a hunter's headquarters.
The temperature is very equable, and at one time, years ago, hundreds
of trappers made it their winter quarters. Indians, too, of all the
northern tribes, but more especially the Arapahoes, frequented it to
trade with the white men.
Baptiste Brown was a Canadian who spoke villanous French and worse
English; his vocabulary being largely interspersed with "enfant de
garce," "sacre," "sacre enfant," and "damn" until it was a difficult
matter to tell what he was talking about.
He was married to an Arapahoe squaw, and his strange wooing and
winning of the dusky maiden is a thrilling love-story.
Among the maidens who came with the Arapahoes, when that tribe made
a visit to "Brown's Hole" one winter for the purpose of trading with
the whites, was a young, merry, and very handsome girl, named "Unami,"
who after a few interviews completely captured Baptiste's heart.
Nothing was more common, as I have stated, than marriages between
the trappers and a beautiful redskin. Isolated absolutely from women
of his own colour, the poor mountaineer forgets he is white, which,
considering the embrowning influence of constant exposure and sunlight,
is not so marvellous after all. For a portion of the year there is
no hunting, and then idleness is the order of the day. At such times
the mountaineer visits the lodges of his dark neighbours for amusement,
and in the spirited dance many a heart is lost to the squaws.
The young trapper, like other enamoured ones of his sex in civilization,
lingers around the house of his fair sweetheart while she transforms
the soft skin of the doe into moccasins, ornamenting them richly
with glittering beads or the coloured quills of the porcupine, all
the time lightening the long hours with the plain-songs of their tribe.
It was upon an occasion of this character that Baptiste, then in the
prime of his youthful manhood, first loved the dark-eyed Arapahoe.
The course open to him was to woo and win her; but alas! savage papas
are just like fathers in the best civilization--the only difference
between them is that the former are more open and matter-of-fact,
since in savage etiquette a consideration is required in exchange
for the daughter, which belongs exclusively to the parent, and must
be of equal marketable value to the girl.
The usual method is to select your best horse, take him to the lodge
of your inamorata's parents, tie him to a tree, and walk away.
If the animal is considered a fair exchange, matters are soon settled
satisfactorily; if not, other gifts must be added.
At this juncture poor Baptiste was in a bad fix; he had disposed of
all his season's earnings for his winter's subsistence, much of which
consisted of an ample supply of whiskey and tobacco; so he had
nothing left wherewith to purchase the indispensable horse. Without
the animal no wife was to be had, and he was in a terrible predicament;
for the hunting season was long since over, and it wanted a whole
month of the time for a new starting out.
Baptiste was a very determined man, however, and he shouldered his
rifle, intent on accomplishing by a laborious prosecution of the
chase the means of winning his loved one from her parents,
notwithstanding that the elements and the times were against him.
He worked industriously, and after many days was rewarded by a goodly
supply of beavers, otters, and mink which he had trapped, besides
many a deerskin whose wearer he had shot. Returning to his lodge,
where he cached his peltry, he again started out for the forest with
hope filling his heart. Three weeks passed in indifferent success,
when one morning, having entered a deep canyon, which evidently led
out to an open prairie where he thought game might be found, while
busy cutting his way through a thicket of briers with his knife,
he suddenly came upon a little valley, where he saw what caused him
to retrace his footsteps into the thicket.
And here it is necessary to relate a custom peculiar to all Indian
tribes. No young man, though his father were the greatest chief in
the nation, can range himself among the warriors, be entitled to
enter the marriage state, or enjoy any other rights of savage
citizenship until he shall have performed some act of personal
bravery and daring, or be sprinkled with the blood of his enemies.
In the early springtime, therefore, all the young men who are of the
proper age band themselves together and take to the forest in search
--like the knight-errant of old--of adventure and danger. Having
decided upon a secluded and secret spot, they collect a number of
poles from twenty to thirty feet in length, and, lashing them together
at the small ends, form a huge conical lodge, which they cover with
grass and boughs. Inside they deposit various articles, with which
to "make medicine," or as a propitiatory offering to the Great Spirit;
generally a green buffalo head, kettles, scalps, blankets, and other
things of value, of which the most prominent and revered is the
sacred pipe. The party then enters the lodge and the first ceremony
is smoking this pipe. One of the young men fills it with tobacco and
herbs, places a coal on it from the fire that has been already
kindled in the lodge, and, taking the stem in his mouth, inhales the
smoke and expels it through his nostrils. The ground is touched with
the bowl, the four points of the compass are in turn saluted, and
with various ceremonies it makes the round of the lodge. After many
days of feasting and dancing the party is ready for a campaign, when
they abandon the lodge, and it is death for any one else to enter,
or by any means to desecrate it while its projectors are absent.
It was upon one of these mystic lodges that Baptiste had accidentally
stumbled, and strange thoughts flashed through his mind; for within
the sacred place were articles, doubtless, of value more than
sufficient to purchase the necessary horse with which he could win
the fair Unami. Baptiste was sorely tempted, but there was an
instinctive respect for religion in the minds of the old trappers,
and Brown had too much honour to think of robbing the Indian temple,
although he distinctly remembered a time when a poor white trapper,
having been robbed of his poncho at the beginning of winter, made
free with a blanket he had found in one of these Arapahoe sacred
lodges. When he was brought before the medicine men of the tribe,
charged with the sacrilege, his defence, that, having been robbed,
the Great Spirit took pity on him and pointed out the blanket and
ordered him to clothe himself, was considered good, on the theory
that the Great Spirit had an undoubted right to give away his own
property; consequently the trapper was set free.
Brown, after considering the case, was about to move away, when a hand
was laid on his shoulder, and turning round there stood before him
an Indian in full war-paint.
The greeting was friendly, for the young savage was the brother of
Baptiste's love, to whom he had given many valuable presents during
the past season.
"My white brother is very wakeful; he rises early."
Baptiste laughed, and replied: "Yes, because my lodge is empty.
If I had Unami for a wife, I would not have to get out before the sun;
and I would always have a soft seat for her brother; he will be a
The young brave shook his head gravely, as be pointed to his belt,
where not a scalp was to be seen, and said: "Five moons have gone
to sleep and the Arapahoe hatchet has not been raised. The Blackfeet
are dogs, and hide in their holes."
Without adding anything to this hint that none of the young men had
been able to fulfil their vows, the disconsolate savage led the way
to the camp of the other Arapahoes, his companions in the quest for
scalps. Baptiste was very glad to see the face of a fellow-creature
once more, and he cheerfully followed the footsteps of the young brave,
which were directed away from the medicine lodge toward the rocky
canyon which he had already travelled that morning, where in the very
centre of the dark defile, and within twenty feet of where he had
recently passed, was the camp of the disappointed band. Baptiste was
cordially received, and invited to share the meal of which the party
were about to partake, after which the pipe was passed around.
In a little while the Indians began to talk among themselves by signs,
which made Baptiste feel somewhat uncomfortable, for it was apparent
that he was the object of their interest.
They had argued that Brown's skin indicated that he belonged to the
great tribe of their natural enemies, and with the blood of a white
on their garments, they would have fulfilled the terms of their vow
to their friends and the Great Spirit.
Noticing the trend of the debate, which would lead his friend into
trouble, the brother of Unami arose, and waving his hand said:--
"The Arapahoe is a warrior; his feet outstrip the fleetest horse;
his arrow is as the lightning of the Great Spirit; he is very brave.
But a cloud is between him and the sun; he cannot see his enemy;
there is yet no scalp in his lodge. The Great Spirit is good;
he sends a victim, a man whose skin is white, but his heart is very
red; the pale-face is a brother, and his long knife is turned from
his friends, the Arapahoes; but the Great Spirit is all-powerful.
My brother"--pointing to Baptiste--"is very full of blood; he can spare
a little to stain the blankets of the young men, and his heart shall
still be warm; I have spoken."
As Baptiste expressed it: "Sacre enfant de garce; damn, de ting vas
agin my grain, but de young Arapahoe he have saved my life."
Loud acclamation followed the speech of Unami's brother, and many of
those most clamorous against the white trapper, being actuated by
the earnest desire of returning home with their vow accomplished,
when they would be received into the list of warriors, and have wives
and other honours, were unanimous in agreeing to the proposed plan.
A flint lancet was produced, Baptiste's arm was bared, and the blood
which flowed from the slight wound was carefully distributed, and
scattered over the robes of the delighted Arapahoes.
The scene which followed was quite unexpected to Baptiste, who was
only glad to escape the death to which the majority had doomed him.
The Indians, perfectly satisfied that their vow of shedding an enemy's
blood had been fulfilled, were all gratitude; and to testify that
gratitude in a substantial manner each man sought his pack, and laid
at the feet of the surprised Baptiste a rich present. One gave an
otter skin, another that of a buffalo, and so on until his wealth in
furs outstripped his most sanguine expectations from his hunt.
The brother of Unami stood passively looking on until all the others
had successively honoured his guest, when he advanced toward Baptiste,
leading by its bridle a magnificent horse, fully caparisoned, and
a large pack-mule. To refuse would have been the most flagrant breach
of Indian etiquette, and beside, Brown was too alive to the advantage
that would accrue to him to be other than very thankful.
The camp was then broken up, and the kind savages were soon lost to
Baptiste's sight as they passed down the canyon; and he, as soon as he
had gained a little strength, for he was weak from the blood he had
shed in the good cause, mounted his horse, after loading the mule
with his gifts, and made the best of his way to his lonely lodge,
where he remained several days. He then sold his furs at a good
price, as it was so early in the season, bartered for a large quantity
of knives, beads, powder, and balls, and returned to the Arapahoe
village, where the horse was considered a fair exchange for the
pretty Unami; and from that day, for over thirty years, they lived
as happy as any couple in the highest civilization.
The fate of the Pueblo, where the trappers and hunters had such good
times in the halcyon days of the border, like that which befell
nearly all the trading-posts and ranches on the Old Santa Fe Trail,
was to be partially destroyed by the savages. During the early
months of the winter of 1854, the Utes swept down through the Arkansas
valley, leaving a track of blood behind them, and frightening the
settlers so thoroughly that many left the country never to return.
The outbreak was as sudden as it was devastating. The Pueblo was
captured by the savages, and every man, woman, and child in it
murdered, with the exception of one aged Mexican, and he was so badly
wounded that he died in a few days.
His story was that the Utes came to the gates of the fort on Christmas
morning, professing the greatest friendship, and asking permission
to be allowed to come inside and hold a peace conference. All who
were in the fort at the time were Mexicans, and as their cupidity
led them to believe that they could do some advantageous trading
with the Indians, they foolishly permitted the whole band to enter.
The result was that a wholesale massacre followed. There were
seventeen persons in all quartered there, only one of whom escaped
death--the old man referred to--and a woman and her two children,
who were carried off as captives; but even she was killed before the
savages had gone a mile from the place. What became of the children
was never known; they probably met the same fate.
UNCLE JOHN SMITH.
Many of the men of the border were blunt in manners, rude in speech,
driven to the absolute liberty of the far West with better natures
shattered and hopes blasted, to seek in the exciting life of the
plainsman and mountaineer oblivion of some incidents of their youthful
days, which were better forgotten. Yet these aliens from society,
these strangers to the refinements of civilization, who would tear off
a bloody scalp even with grim smiles of satisfaction, were fine
fellows, full of the milk of human kindness, and would share their
last slapjack with a hungry stranger.
Uncle John Smith, as he was known to every trapper, trader, and
hunter from the Yellowstone to the Gila, was one of the most famous
and eccentric men of the early days. In 1826, as a boy, he ran away
from St. Louis with a party of Santa Fe traders, and so fascinated
was he with the desultory and exciting life, that he chose to sit
cross-legged, smoking the long Indian pipe, in the comfortable
buffalo-skin teepee, rather than cross legs on the broad table of
his master, a tailor to whom he had been apprenticed when he took
French leave from St. Louis.
He spent his first winter with the Blackfeet Indians, but came very
near losing his scalp in their continual quarrels, and therefore
allied himself with the more peaceable Sioux. Once while on the
trail of a horse-stealing band of Arapahoes near the head waters
of the Arkansas, the susceptible young hunter fell in love with
a very pretty Cheyenne squaw, married her, and remained true to the
object of his early affection during all his long and eventful life,
extending over a period of forty years. For many decades he lived
with his dusky wife as the Indians did, having been adopted by the
tribe. He owned a large number of horses, which constituted the
wealth of the plains Indians, upon the sale of which he depended
almost entirely for his subsistence. He became very powerful in the
Cheyenne nation; was regarded as a chief, taking an active part in
the councils, and exercising much authority. His excellent judgment
as a trader with the various bands of Indians while he was employed
by the great fur companies made his services invaluable in the
strange business complications of the remote border. Besides
understanding the Cheyenne language as well as his native tongue,
he also spoke three other Indian dialects, French, and Spanish, but
with many Western expressions that sometimes grated harshly upon
the grammatical ear.
He became a sort of autocrat on the plains and in the mountains; and
for an Indian or Mexican to attempt to effect a trade without Uncle
John Smith having something to say about it, and its conditions, was
hardly possible. The New Mexicans often came in small parties to his
Indian village, their burros packed with dry pumpkin, corn, etc.,
to trade for buffalo-robes, bearskins, meat, and ponies; and Smith,
who knew his power, exacted tribute, which was always paid. At one
time, however, when for some reason a party of strange Mexicans
refused, Uncle John harangued the people of the village, and called
the young warriors together, who emptied every sack of goods belonging
to the cowering Mexicans on the ground, Smith ordering the women and
children to help themselves, an order which was obeyed with alacrity.
The frightened Mexicans left hurriedly for El Valle de Taos, whence
they had come, crossing themselves and uttering thanks to Heaven for
having retained their scalps. This and other similar cases so
intimidated the poor Greasers, and impressed them so deeply with
a sense of Smith's power, that, ever after, his permission to trade
was craved by a special deputation of the parties, accompanied by
peace-offerings of corn, pumpkin, and pinole. At one time, when
Smith was journeying by himself a day's ride from the Cheyenne village,
he was met by a party of forty or more corn traders, who, instead of
putting such a bane to their prospects speedily out of the way,
gravely asked him if they could proceed, and offered him every third
robe they had to accompany them, which he did. Indeed, he became so
regardless of justice, in his condescension to the natives of
New Mexico, that the governor of that province offered a reward of
five hundred dollars for him alive or dead, but fear of the Cheyennes
was so prevalent that his capture was never even attempted.
During Sheridan's memorable winter campaign against the allied tribes
in 1868-69, the old man, for he was then about sixty, was my guide
and interpreter. He shared my tent and mess, a most welcome addition
to the few who sat at my table, and beguiled many a weary hour at
night, after our tedious marches through the apparently interminable
sand dunes and barren stretches of our monotonous route, with his
tales of that period, more than half a century ago, when our
mid-continent region was as little known as the topography of the
At the close of December, 1868, a few weeks after the battle of the
Washita, I was camping with my command on the bank of that historic
stream in the Indian Territory, waiting with an immense wagon-train
of supplies for the arrival of General Custer's command, the famous
Seventh Cavalry, and also the Nineteenth Kansas, which were supposed
to be lost, or wandering aimlessly somewhere in the region south of us.
I had been ordered to that point by General Sheridan, with instructions
to keep fires constantly burning on three or four of the highest
peaks in the vicinity of our camp, until the lost troops should be
guided to the spot by our signals. These signals were veritable
pillars of fire by night and pillars of cloud by day; for there was
an abundance of wood and hundreds of men ready to feed the hungry flames.
It was more than two weeks before General Custer and his famished
troopers began to straggle in. During that period of anxious waiting
we lived almost exclusively on wild turkey, and longed for nature's
meat--the buffalo; but there were none of the shaggy beasts at that
time in the vicinity, so we had to content ourselves with the birds,
of which we became heartily tired.
For several days after our arrival on the creek, the men had been
urging Uncle John to tell them another story of his early adventures;
but the old trapper was in one of his silent moods--he frequently had
them--and could not be persuaded to emerge from his shell of reticence
despite their most earnest entreaties. I knew it would be of no use
for me to press him. I could, of course, order him to any duty, and
he would promptly obey; but his tongue, like the hand of Douglas,
was his own. I knew, also, that when he got ready, which would be
when some incident of camp-life inspired him, he would be as garrulous
One evening just before supper, a party of enlisted men who had been
up the creek to catch fish, but had failed to take anything owing to
the frozen condition of the stream, returned with the skeleton of
a Cheyenne Indian which they had picked up on the battle-ground of
a month previously--one of Custer's victims in his engagement with
Black Kettle. This was the incentive Uncle John required. As he
gazed on the bleached bones of the warrior, he said: "Boys, I'm going
to tell you a good long story to-night. Them Ingin's bones has put
me in mind of it. After we've eat, if you fellows wants to hear it,
come down to headquarters tent, and I'll give it to you."
Of course word was rapidly passed from one to another, as the whole
camp was eager to hear the old trapper again. In a short time,
every man not on guard or detailed to keep up the signals on the
hills gathered around the dying embers of the cook's fire in front of
my tent; the enlisted men and teamsters in groups by themselves,
the officers a little closer in a circle, in the centre of which
Uncle John sat.
The night was cold, the sky covered with great fleecy patches,
through which the full moon, just fairly risen, appeared to be racing,
under the effect of that optical illusion caused by the rapidly
moving clouds. The coyotes had commenced their nocturnal concert
in the timbered recesses of the creek not far away, and on the
battle-field a short distance beyond, as they battened and fought
over the dead warriors and the carcasses of twelve hundred ponies
killed in that terrible slaughter by the intrepid Custer and his
troopers. The signals on the hills leaped into the crisp air like
the tongues of dragons in the myths of the ancients; in fact,
the whole aspect of the place, as we sat around the blazing logs of
our camp-fire, was weird and uncanny.
Every one was eager for the veteran guide to begin his tale; but as
I knew he could not proceed without smoking, I passed him my pouch
of Lone Jack--the brand par excellence in the army at that time.
Uncle John loaded his corn-cob, picked up a live coal, and, pressing
it down on the tobacco with his thumb, commenced to puff vigorously.
As soon as his withered old face was half hidden in a cloud of smoke,
he opened his story in his stereotyped way. I relate it just as he
told it, but divested of much of its dialect, so difficult to write:--
"Well, boys, it's a good many years ago, in June, 1845, if I don't
disremember. I was about forty-three, and had been in the mountains
and on the plains more than nineteen seasons. You see, I went out
there in 1826. There warn't no roads, nuthin' but the Santa Fe Trail,
in them days, and Ingins and varmints.
"There was four of us. Me, Bill Comstock, Dick Curtis, and Al Thorpe.
Dick was took in by the Utes two years afterwards at the foot of the
Spanish Peaks, and Al was killed by the Apaches at Pawnee Rock, in 1847.
"We'd been trapping up on Medicine Bow for more than three years
together, and had a pile of beaver, otter, mink, and other varmint's
skins cached in the hills, which we know'd was worth a heap of money;
so we concluded to take them to the river that summer. We started
from our trapping camp in April, and 'long 'bout the middle of June
reached the Arkansas, near what is know'd as Point o' Rocks. You all
know where them is on the Trail west of Fort Dodge, and how them
rocks rises up out of the prairie sudden-like. We was a travelling
'long mighty easy, for we was all afoot, and had hoofed it the whole
distance, more than six hundred miles, driving five good mules ahead
of us. Our furs was packed on four of them, and the other carried
our blankets, extry ammunition, frying-pan, coffee-pot, and what
little grub we had, for we was obliged to depend upon buffalo,
antelope, and jack-rabbits; but, boys, I tell you there was millions
of 'em in them days.
"We had just got into camp at Point o' Rocks. It was 'bout four
o'clock in the afternoon; none of us carried watches, we always
reckoned time by the sun, and could generally guess mighty close, too.
It was powerful hot, I remember. We'd hobbled our mules close to the
ledge, where the grass was good, so they couldn't be stampeded, as
we know'd we was in the Pawnee country, and they was the most ornery
Ingins on the plains. We know'd nothing that was white ever came by
that part of the Trail without having a scrimmage with the red devils.
"Well, we hadn't more than took our dinner, when them mules give
a terrible snort, and tried to break and run, getting awful oneasy
all to once. Them critters can tell when Ingins is around. They's
better than a dozen dogs. I don't know how they can tell, but they
just naturally do.
"In less than five minutes after them mules began to worry, stopped
eating, and had their ears pricked up a trying to look over the ledge
towards the river, we heard a sharp firing down on the Trail, which
didn't appear to be more than a hundred yards off. You ought to seen
us grab our rifles sudden, and run out from behind them rocks, where
we was a camping, so comfortable-like, and just going to light our
pipes for a good smoke. It didn't take us no time to get down on to
the Trail, where we seen a Mexican bull train, that we know'd must
have come from Santa Fe, and which had stopped and was trying to corral.
More than sixty painted Pawnees was a circling around the outfit,
howling as only them can howl, and pouring a shower of arrows into
the oxen. Some was shaking their buffalo-robes, trying to stampede
the critters, so they could kill the men easier.
"We lit out mighty lively, soon as we seen what was going on, and
reached the head of the train just as the last wagon, that was
furtherest down the Trail, nigh a quarter of a mile off, was cut out
by part of the band. Then we seen a man, a woman, and a little boy
jump out, and run to get shet of the Ingins what had cut out the
wagon from the rest of the train. One of the red devils killed the
man and scalped him, while the other pulled the woman up in front
of him, and rid off into the sand hills, and out of sight in a minute.
Then the one what had killed her husband started for the boy, who was
a running for the train as fast as his little legs could go. But we
was nigh enough then; and just as the Ingin was reaching down from
his pony for the kid, Al Thorpe--he was a powerful fine shot--draw'd up
his gun and took the red cuss off his critter without the paint-bedaubed
devil know'n' what struck him.
"The boy, seeing us, broke and run for where we was, and I reckon
the rest of the Ingins seen us then for the first time, too. We was
up with the train now, which was kind o' halfway corralled, and
Dick Curtis picked up the child--he warn't more than seven years old--
and throw'd him gently into one of the wagons, where he'd be out of
the way; for we know'd there was going to be considerable more
fighting before night. We know'd, too, we Americans would have to do
the heft of it, as them Mexican bull-whackers warn't much account,
nohow, except to cavort around and swear in Spanish, which they
hadn't done nothing else since we'd come up to the train; besides,
their miserable guns warn't much better than so many bows and arrows.
"We Americans talked together for a few moments as to what was best
to be did, while the Ingins all this time was keeping up a lively
fire for them. We made as strong a corral of the wagons as we could,
driving out what oxen the Mexicans had put in the one they had made,
but you can't do much with only nine wagons, nohow. Fortunately,
while we was fixing things, the red cusses suddenly retreated out of
the range of our rifles, and we first thought they had cleared out
for good. We soon discovered, however, they were only holding a
pow-wow; for in a few minutes back they come, mounted on their ponies,
with all their fixin's and fresh war-paint on.
"Then they commenced to circle around us again, coming a little
nearer--Ingin fashion--every time they rid off and back. It wasn't
long before they got in easy range, when they slung themselves on
the off-side of their ponies and let fly their arrows and balls from
under their critters' necks. Their guns warn't much 'count, being
only old English muskets what had come from the Hudson Bay Fur Company,
so they didn't do no harm that round, except to scare the Mexicans,
which commenced to cross themselves and pray and swear.
"We four Americans warn't idle when them Ingins come a charging up;
we kept our eye skinned, and whenever we could draw a bead, one of
them tumbled off his pony, you bet! When they'd come back for their
dead--we'd already killed three of them--we had a big advantage, wasted
no shots, and dropped four of them; one apiece, and you never heard
Ingins howl so. It was getting kind o' dark by this time, and the
varmints didn't seem anxious to fight any more, but went down to the
river and scooted off into the sand hills on the other side.
We waited more than half an hour for them, but as they didn't come
back, concluded we'd better light out too. We told the Mexicans to
yoke up, and as good luck would have it they found all the cattle
close by, excepting them what pulled the wagon what the Ingins had
cut out, and as it was way down the Trail, we had to abandon it;
for it was too dark to hunt it up, as we had no time to fool away.
"We put all our outfit into the train; it wasn't loaded, but going
empty to the Missouri, to fetch back a sawmill for New Mexico.
Then we made a soft bed in the middle wagon out of blankets for the
kid, and rolled out 'bout ten o'clock, meaning to put as many miles
between us and them Ingins as the oxen could stand. We four hoofed it
along for a while, then rid a piece, catching a nap now and then as
best we could, for we was monstrous tired. By daylight we'd made
fourteen miles, and was obliged to stop to let the cattle graze.
We boiled our coffee, fried some meat, and by that time the little
boy waked. He'd slept like a top all night and hadn't no supper
either; so when I went to the wagon where he was to fetch him out,
he just put them baby arms of his'n around my neck, and says,
"I tell you, boys, that nigh played me out. He had no idee, 'cause
he was too young to realize what had happened; we know'd his pa was
killed, but where his ma was, God only know'd!"
Here the old man stopped short in his narrative, made two or three
efforts as if to swallow something that would not go down, while his
eyes had a far-away look. Presently he picked up a fresh coal from
the fire, placed it on his pipe, which had gone out, then puffing
vigorously for a few seconds, until his head was again enveloped in
smoke, he continued:--
"After I'd washed the little fellow's face and hands, I gave him a
tin cup of coffee and some meat. You'd ought to seen him eat; he was
hungrier than a coyote. Then while the others was a watering and
picketing the mules, I sot down on the grass and took the kid into
my lap to have a good look at him; for until now none of us had had
"He was the purtiest child I'd ever seen; great black eyes, and
eyelashes that laid right on to his cheeks; his hair, too, was black,
and as curly as a young big-horn. I asked him what his name was, and
he says, 'Paul.' 'Hain't you got no other name?' says I to him again,
and he answered, 'Yes, sir,' for he was awful polite; I noticed that.
'Paul Dale,' says he prompt-like, and them big eyes of his'n looked
up into mine, as he says 'What be yourn?' I told him he must call me
'Uncle John,' and then he says again, as he put his arms around my
neck, his little lips all a quivering, and looking so sorrowful,
'Uncle John, where's mamma; why don't she come?'
"Boys, I don't really know what I did say. A kind o' mist came
before my eyes, and for a minute or two I didn't know nothing.
I come to in a little while, and seeing Thorpe bringing up the mules
from the river, where he'd been watering them, I says to Paul, to get
his mind on to something else besides his mother, 'Don't you want to
ride one of them mules when we pull out again?' The little fellow
jumped off my lap, clapped his hands, forgetting his trouble all at
once, child-like, and replied, 'I do, Uncle John, can I?'
"After we'd camped there 'bout three hours, the cattle full of grass
and all laying down chewing their cud, we concluded to move on and
make a few miles before it grow'd too hot, and to get further from
the Ingins, which we expected would tackle us again, as soon as they
could get back from their camp, where we felt sure they had gone for
"While the Mexicans was yoking up, me and Thorpe rigged an easy
saddle on one of the mules, out of blankets, for the kid to ride on,
and when we was all ready to pull out, I histed him on, and you never
see a youngster so tickled.
"We had to travel mighty slow; couldn't make more than eighteen miles
a day with oxen, and that was in two drives, one early in the morning,
and one in the evening when it was cool, a laying by and grazing when
it was hot. We Americans walked along the Trail, and mighty slow
walking it was; 'bout two and a half miles an hour. I kept close
to Paul, for I began to set a good deal of store by him; he seemed
to cotton to me more than he did to the rest, wanting to stick near
me most of the time as he rid on the mule. I wanted to find out
something 'bout his folks, where they'd come from; so that when we
got to Independence, perhaps I could turn him over to them as ought
to have him; though in my own mind I was ornery enough to wish I
might never find them, and he'd be obliged to stay with me. The boy
was too young to tell what I wanted to find out; all I could get out
of him was they'd been living in Santa Fe since he was a baby, and
that his papa was a preacher. I 'spect one of them missionaries
'mong the heathenish Greasers. He said they was going back to his
grandma's in the States, but he could not tell where. I couldn't
get nothing out of them Mexican bull-whackers neither--what they
know'd wasn't half as much as the kid--and I had to give it up.
"Well, we kept moving along without having any more trouble for
a week; them Ingins never following us as we 'lowed they would.
I really enjoyed the trip such as I never had before. Paul he was
so 'fectionate and smart, that he 'peared to fill a spot in my heart
what had always been hollow until then. When he'd got tired of
riding the mule or in one of the wagons, he'd come and walk along
the Trail with me, a picking flowers, chasing the prairie-owls and
such, until his little legs 'bout played out, when I'd hist him on
his mule again. When we'd go into camp, Paul, he'd run and pick up
buffalo-chips for the fire, and wanted to help all he could.
Then when it came time to go to sleep, the boy would always get under
my blankets and cuddle up close to me. He'd be sure to say his
prayers first, though; but it seemed so strange to me who hadn't
heard a prayer for thirty years. I never tried to stop him, you may
be certain of that. He'd ask God to bless his pa and ma, and wind up
with 'Bless Uncle John too.' Then I couldn't help hugging him right
up tighter; for it carried me back to Old Missouri, to the log-cabin
in the woods where I was born, and used to say 'Now I lay me,' and
'Our Father' at my ma's knee, when I was a kid like him. I tell you,
boys, there ain't nothing that will take the conceit out of a man
here on the plains, like the company of a kid what has been
brought up right.
"I reckon we'd been travelling about ten days since we left Point o'
Rocks, and was on the other side of the Big Bend of the Arkansas,
near the mouth of the Walnut, where Fort Zarah is now. We had went
into camp at sundown, close to a big spring that's there yet.
We drawed up the wagons into a corral on the edge of the river where
there wasn't no grass for quite a long stretch; we done this to kind
o' fortify ourselves, for we expected to have trouble with the Ingins
there, if anywhere, as we warn't but seventeen miles from Pawnee Rock,
the worst place on the whole Trail for them; so we picked out that
bare spot where they couldn't set fire to the prairie. It was long
after dark when we eat our supper; then we smoked our pipes, waiting
for the oxen to fill themselves, which had been driven about a mile
off where there was good grass. The Mexicans was herding them, and
when they'd eat all they could hold, and was commencing to lay down,
they was driven into the corral. Then all of us, except Comstock and
Curtis, turned in; they was to stand guard until 'bout one o'clock,
when me and Thorpe was to change places with them and stay up until
morning; for, you see, we was afraid to trust them Mexicans.
"It seemed like we hadn't been asleep more than an hour when me and
Thorpe was called to take our turn on guard. We got out of our
blankets, I putting Paul into one of the wagons, then me and Thorpe
lighted our pipes and walked around, keeping our eyes and ears open,
watching the heavy fringe of timber on the creek mighty close, I tell
you. Just as daylight was coming, we noticed that our mules, what
was tied to a wagon in the corral, was getting uneasy, a pawing and
snorting, with their long ears cocked up and looking toward the Walnut.
Before I could finish saying to Thorpe, 'Them mules smells Ingins,'
half a dozen or more of the darned cusses dashed out of the timber,
yelling and shaking their robes, which, of course, waked up the whole
camp. Me and Thorpe sent a couple of shots after them, that scattered
the devils for a minute; but we hadn't hit nary one, because it was
too dark yet to draw a bead on them. We was certain there was a good
many more of them behind the first that had charged us; so we got all
the men on the side of the corral next to the Trail. The Ingins we
know'd couldn't get behind us, on account of the river, and we was
bound to make them fight where we wanted them to, if they meant to
fight at all.
"In less than a minute, quicker than I can tell you, sure enough,
out they came again, only there was 'bout eighty of them this time.
They made a dash at once, and their arrows fell like a shower of hail
on the ground and against the wagon-sheets as the cusses swept by on
their ponies. There wasn't anybody hurt, and our turn soon came.
Just as they circled back, we poured it into them, killing six and
wounding two. You see them Mexican guns had did some work that we
didn't expect, and then we Americans felt better. Well, boys,
them varmints made four charges like that on to us before we could
get shet of them; but we killed as many as sixteen or eighteen, and
they got mighty sick of it and quit; they had only knocked over one
Mexican, and put an arrow into Thorpe's arm.
"I was amused at little Paul all the time the scrimmage was going on.
He stood up in the wagon where I'd put him, a looking out of the hole
behind where the sheet was drawed together, and every time an Ingin
was tumbled off his pony, he would clap his hands and yell, 'There
goes another one, Uncle John!'
"After their last charge, they rode off out of range, where they
stood in little bunches talking to each other, holding some sort of
a pow-wow. It riled us to see the darned cusses keep so far away
from our rifles, because we wanted to lay a few more of them out, but
was obliged to keep still and watch out for some new deviltry.
We waited there until it was plumb night, not daring to move out yet;
but we managed to boil our coffee and fry slap-jacks and meat.
"The oxen kept up a bellowing and pawing around the corral, for they
was desperate hungry and thirsty, hadn't had nothing since the night
before; yet we couldn't help them any, as we didn't know whether we
was shet of the Ingins or not. We staid, patient-like, for two or
three hours more after dark to see what the Ingins was going to do,
as while we sot round our little fire of buffalo-chips, smoking our
pipes, we could still hear the red devils a howling and chanting,
while they picked up their dead laying along the river-bottom.
"As soon as morning broke--we'd ketched a nap now and then during
the night--we got ready for another charge of the Ingins, their
favourite time being just 'bout daylight; but there warn't hide or
hair of an Ingin in sight. They'd sneaked off in the darkness long
before the first streak of dawn; had enough of fighting, I expect.
As soon as we discovered they'd all cleared out, we told the drivers
to hitch up, and while they was yoking and watering, me 'n' Curtis
and Comstock buried the dead Mexican on the bank of the river, as we
didn't want to leave his bones to be picked by the coyotes, which
was already setting on the sand hills watching and waiting for us
to break camp. By the time we'd finished our job, and piled some
rocks on his grave, so as the varmints couldn't dig him up, the train
was strung out on the Trail, and then we rolled out mighty lively
for oxen; for the critters was hungry, and we had to travel three
or four miles the other side of the Walnut, where the grass was green,
before they could feed. The oxen seen it on the hills and they
lit out almost at a trot. It was 'bout sun-up when we got there,
when we turned the animals loose, corralled, and had breakfast.
"After we'd had our smoke, all we had to do was to put in the time
until five o'clock; for we couldn't move before then, as it would be
too hot by the time the oxen got filled. Paul and me went down to
the creek fishing; there was tremendous cat in the Walnut them days,
and by noon we'd ketched five big beauties, which we took to camp and
cooked for dinner. After I'd had my smoke, Paul and me went back to
the creek, where we stretched ourselves under a good-sized box-elder
tree--there wasn't no shade nowhere else--and took a sleep, while
Comstock and Curtis went jack-rabbit hunting across the river, as we
was getting scarce of meat.
"Thorpe, who was hit in the arm with an arrow, couldn't do much but
nuss his wound; so him and the Mexicans stood guard, a looking out
for Ingins, as we didn't know but what the cusses might come back and
make another raid on us, though we really didn't expect they would
have the gall to bother us any more--least not the same outfit what
had fought us the day before. That evening, 'bout six o'clock,
we rolled out again and went into camp late, having made twelve miles,
and didn't see a sign of Ingins.
"In ten days more we got to Independence without having no more
trouble of no kind, and was surprised at our luck. At Independence
we Americans left the train, sold our furs, got a big price, too--
each of us had a shot-bag full of gold and silver, more money than
we know'd what to do with. Me, Curtis, and Thorpe concluded we'd buy
a new outfit, consisting of another six-mule wagon, and harness,
so we'd have a full team, meaning to go back to the mountains with
the first big caravan what left.
"All the folks in the settlement what seen Paul took a great fancy
to him. Some wanted to adopt him, and some said I'd ought to take
him to St. Louis and place him in an orphan asylum; but I 'lowed if
there was going to be any adopting done, I'd do it myself, 'cause
the kid seemed now just as if he was my own; besides the little
fellow I know'd loved me and didn't want me to leave him. I had
kin-folks in Independence, an old aunt, and me and Paul staid there.
She had a young gal with her, and she learned Paul out of books;
so he picked up considerable, as we had to wait more than two months
before Colonel St. Vrain's caravan was ready to start for New Mexico.
"I bought Paul a coal-black pony, and had a suit of fine buckskin
made for him out of the pelt of a black-tail deer I'd shot the winter
before on Powder River. The seams of his trousers was heavily
fringed, and with his white sombrero, a riding around town on his
pony, he looked like one of them Spanish Dons what the papers
nowadays has pictures of; only he was smarter-looking than any Don
I ever see in my life.
"It was 'bout the last of August when we pulled out from Independence.
Comstock staid with us until we got ready to go, and then lit out
for St. Louis, and I hain't never seen him since. The caravan had
seventy-five six-mule teams in it, without counting ours, loaded with
dry-goods and groceries for Mora, New Mexico, where Colonel St. Vrain,
the owner, lived and had a big store. We had no trouble with the
Ingins going back across the plains; we seen lots, to be sure,
hanging on our trail, but they never attacked us; we was too strong
"'Bout the last of September we reached Bent's Old Fort, on the
Arkansas, where the Santa Fe Trail crosses the river into New Mexico,
and we camped there the night we got to it.
"I know'd they had cows up to the fort; so just before we was ready
for supper, I took Paul and started to see if we couldn't get some
milk for our coffee. It wasn't far, and we was camped a few hundred
yards from the gate, just outside the wall. Well, we went into the
kitchen, Paul right alongside of me, and there I seen a white woman
leaning over the adobe hearth a cooking--they had always only been
squaws before. She naturally looked up to find out who was coming in,
and when she seen the kid, all at once she give a scream, dropped the
dish-cloth she had in her hand, made a break for Paul, throw'd her
arms around him, nigh upsetting me, and says, while she was a sobbing
and taking on dreadful,--
"'My boy! My boy! Then I hain't prayed and begged the good Lord
all these days and nights for nothing!' Then she kind o' choked
again, while Paul, he says, as he hung on to her,--
"'O mamma! O mamma! I know'd you'd come back! I know'd you'd
"Well, there, boys, I just walked out of that kitchen a heap faster
than I'd come into it, and shut the door. When I got outside, for
a few minutes I couldn't see nothing, I was worked up so. As soon
as I come to, I went through the gate down to camp as quick as my
legs would carry me, to tell Thorpe and Curtis that Paul had found
his ma. They wanted to know all about it, but I couldn't tell them
nothing, I was so dumfounded at the way things had turned out.
We talked among ourselves a moment, then reckoned it was the best
to go up to the fort together, and ask the woman how on earth she'd
got shet of the Ingins what had took her off, and how it come she
was cooking there. We started out and when we got into the kitchen,
there was Paul and Mrs. Dale, and you never see no people so happy.
They was just as wild as a stampeded steer; she seemed to have growed
ten years younger than when I first went up there, and as for Paul,
he was in heaven for certain.
"First we had to tell her how we'd got the kid, and how we'd learned
to love him. All the time we was telling of it, and our scrimmages
with the Ingins, she was a crying and hugging Paul as if her heart
was broke. After we'd told all we know'd, we asked her to tell us
her story, which she did, and it showed she was a woman of grit and
"She said the Ingins what had captured her took her up to their camp
on the Saw Log, a little creek north of Fort Dodge--you all know where
it is--and there she staid that night. Early in the morning they all
started for the north. She watched their ponies mighty close as
they rid along that day, so as to find out which was the fastest;
for she had made up her mind to make her escape the first chance
she got. She looked at the sun once in a while, to learn what course
they was taking; so that she could go back when she got ready, strike
the Sante Fe Trail, and get to some ranch, as she had seen several
while passing through the foot-hills of the Raton Range when she was
with the Mexican train.
"It was on the night of the fourth day after they had left Saw Log,
and had rid a long distance--was more than a hundred miles on their
journey--when she determined to try and light out. The whole camp
was fast asleep, for the Ingins was monstrous tired. She crawled
out of the lodge where she'd been put with some old squaws, and
going to where the ponies had been picketed, she took a little
iron-gray she'd had her eye on, jumped on his back, with only the
lariat for a bridle and without any saddle, not even a blanket,
took her bearings from the north star, and cautiously moved out.
She started on a walk, until she'd got 'bout four miles from camp,
and then struck a lope, keeping it up all night. By next morning
she'd made some forty miles, and then for the first time since she'd
left her lodge, pulled up and looked back, to see if any of the Ingins
was following her. When she seen there wasn't a living thing in sight,
she got off her pony, watered him out of a small branch, took a drink
herself, but not daring to rest yet, mounted her animal again and
rid on as fast as she could without wearing him out too quickly.
"Hour after hour she rid on, the pony appearing to have miraculous
endurance, until sundown. By that time she'd crossed the Saline,
the Smoky Hill, and got to the top of the divide between that river
and the Arkansas, or not more than forty miles from the Santa Fe Trail.
Then her wonderful animal seemed to weaken; she couldn't even make
him trot, and she was so nearly played out herself, she could hardly
set steady. What to do, she didn't know. The pony was barely able
to move at a slow walk. She was afraid he would drop dead under her,
and she was compelled to dismount, and in almost a minute, as soon
as she laid down on the prairie, was fast asleep.
"She had no idee how long she had slept when she woke up. The sun was
only 'bout two hours high. Then she know'd she had been unconscious
since sundown of the day before, or nigh twenty-four hours. Rubbing
her eyes, for she was kind o' bewildered, and looking around, there
she saw her pony as fresh, seemingly, as when she'd started.
He'd had plenty to eat, for the grass was good, but she'd had nothing.
She pulled a little piece of dried buffalo-meat out of her bosom,
which she'd brought along, all she could find at the lodge, and now
nibbled at that, for she was mighty hungry. She was terribly sore
and stiff too, but she mounted at once and pushed on, loping and
walking him by spells. Just at daylight she could make out the
Arkansas right in front of her in the dim gray of the early morning,
not very far off. On the west, the Raton Mountains loomed up like
a great pile of blue clouds, the sight of which cheered her; for she
know'd she would soon reach the Trail.
"It wasn't quite noon when she struck the Santa Fe Trail. When she
got there, looking to the east, she saw in the distance, not more
than three miles away, a large caravan coming, and then, almost wild
with delight, she dismounted, sot down on the grass, and waited for
it to arrive. In less than an hour, the train come up to where she
was, and as good luck would have it, it happened to be an American
outfit, going to Taos with merchandise. As soon as the master of
the caravan seen her setting on the prairie, he rid up ahead of the
wagons, and she told him her story. He was a kind-hearted man;
had the train stop right there on the bank of the river, though he
wasn't half through his day's drive, so as to make her comfortable
as possible, and give her something to eat; for she was 'bout
played out. He bought the Ingin pony, giving her thirty dollars
for it, and after she had rested for some time, the caravan moved out.
She rid in one of the wagons, on a bed of blankets, and the next
evening arrived at Bent's Old Fort. There she found women-folks,
who cared for her and nussed her; for she was dreadfully sore and
tired after her long ride. Then she was hired to cook, meaning to
work until she'd earned enough to take her back to Pennsylvany,
to her mother's, where she had started for when the Ingins attackted
"That night, after listening to her mirac'lous escape, we made up
a 'pot' for her, collecting 'bout eight hundred dollars. The master
of Colonel St. Vrain's caravan, what had come out with us, told her
he was going back again to the river in a couple of weeks, and he'd
take her and Paul in without costing her a cent; besides, she'd be
safer than with any other outfit, as his train was a big one, and
he had all American teamsters.
"Next morning the caravan went on to Mora, and after we'd bid good-by
to Mrs. Dale and Paul, before which I give the boy two hundred dollars
for himself, me, Thorpe, and Curtis pulled out with our team north
for Frenchman's Creek, and I never felt so miserable before nor since
as I did parting with the kid that morning. I hain't never seen him
since; but he must be nigh forty now. Mebby he went into the war and
was killed; mebby he got to be a general, but I hain't forgot him."
Uncle John knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and without saying
another word went into the tent. In a few moments the camp was as
quiet as a country village on Sunday, excepting the occasional howling
of a hungry wolf down in the timbered recesses of the Washita, or the
crackling and sputtering of the signal fires on the hilltops.
In a few days afterward, we were camping on Hackberry Creek, in the
Indian Territory. We had been living on wild turkey, as before for
some time, and still longed for a change. At last one of my hunters
succeeded in bagging a dozen or more quails. Late that evening,
when my cook brought the delicious little birds, beautifully spitted
and broiled on peeled willow twigs, into my tent, I passed one to
Uncle John. Much to the surprise of every one, he refused. He said,
"Boys, I don't eat no quail!"
We looked at him in astonishment; for he was somewhat of a gourmand,
and prided himself upon the "faculty," as he termed it, of being able
to eat anything, from a piece of jerked buffalo-hide to the juiciest
young antelope steak.
I remonstrated with the venerable guide; said to him, "You are making
a terrible mistake, Uncle John. Tomorrow I expect to leave here, and
as we are going directly away from the buffalo country, we don't know
when we shall strike fresh meat again. You'd better try one," and
I again proffered one of the birds.
"Boys," said he again, "I don't tech quail; I hain't eat one for
more than twenty years. One of the little cusses saved my life once,
and I swore right thar and then that I would starve first; and I have
kept my oath, though I've seen the time mighty often sence I could
a killed 'em with my quirt, when all I had to chaw on for four days
was the soles of a greasy pair of old moccasins.
"Well, boys, it's a good many years ago--in June, if I don't disremember,
1847. We was a coming in from way up in Cache le Poudre and from
Yellowstone Lake, whar we'd been a trapping for two seasons. We was
a working our way slowly back to Independence, Missouri, where we was
a going to get a new outfit. Let's see, there was me, and a man by
the name of Boyd, and Lew Thorp--Lew was a working for Colonel Boone
at the time--and two more men, whose names I disremember now, and a
nigger wench we had for a cook. We had mighty good luck, and had
a big pile of skins; and the Indians never troubled us till we got
down on Pawnee Bottom, this side of Pawnee Rock. We all of us had
mighty good ponies, but Thorp had a team and wagon, which he was
driving for Colonel Boone.
"We had went into camp on Pawnee Bottom airly in the afternoon, and
I told the boys to look out for Ingins--for I knowed ef we was to have
any trouble with them it would be somewhere in that vicinity. But we
didn't see a darned redskin that night, nor the sign of one.
"The wolves howled considerable, and come pretty close to the fire
for the bacon rinds we'd throwed away after supper.
"You see the buffalo was scurse right thar then--it was the wrong
time o' year. They generally don't get down on to the Arkansas
till about September, and when they're scurse the wolves and coyotes
are mighty sassy, and will steal a piece of bacon rind right out of
the pan, if you don't watch 'em. So we picketed our ponies a little
closer before we turned in, and we all went to sleep except one,
who sort o' kept watch on the stock.
"I was out o' my blankets mighty airly next morning, for I was kind
o' suspicious. I could always tell when Ingins was prowling around,
and I had a sort of present'ment something was going to happen
--I didn't like the way the coyotes kept yelling--so I rested kind o'
oneasy like, and was out among the ponies by the first streak o'
"About the time I could see things, I discovered three or four
buffalo grazing off on the creek bottom, about a half-mile away,
and I started for my rifle, thinking I would examine her.
"Pretty soon I seed Thorp and Boyd crawl out o' their blankets, too,
and I called their attention to the buffalo, which was still feeding
"We'd been kind o' scurse of fresh meat for a couple of weeks--ever
since we left the Platte--except a jack-rabbit or cottontail, and I
knowed the boys would be wanting to get a quarter or two of a good
fat cow, if we could find one in the herd, so that was the reason
I pointed 'em out to 'em.
"The dew, you see, was mighty heavy, and the grass in the bottom
was as wet as if it had been raining for a month, and I didn't care
to go down whar the buffalo was just then--I knowed we had plenty
of time, and as soon as the sun was up it would dry right off. So I
got on to one of the ponies and led the others down to the spring
near camp to water them while the wench was a getting breakfast, and
some o' the rest o' the outfit was a fixing the saddles and greasing
"Just as I was coming back--it had growed quite light then--I seed Boyd
and Thorp start out from camp with their rifles and make for the
buffalo; so I picketed the ponies, gets my rifle, and starts off too.
"By the time I'd reached the edge of the bottom, Thorp and Boyd was
a crawling up on to a young bull way off to the right, and I lit out
for a fat cow I seen bunched up with the rest of the herd on the left.
"The grass was mighty tall on some parts of the Arkansas bottom in them
days, and I got within easy shooting range without the herd seeing me.
"The buffalo was now between me and Thorp and Boyd, and they was
furtherest from camp. I could see them over the top of the grass
kind o' edging up to the bull, and I kept a crawling on my hands and
knees toward the cow, and when I got about a hundred and fifty yards
of her, I pulled up my rifle and drawed a bead.
"Just as I was running my eyes along the bar'l, a darned little quail
flew right out from under my feet and lit exactly on my front sight
and of course cut off my aim--we didn't shoot reckless in those days;
every shot had to tell, or a man was the laughing-stock for a month
if he missed his game.
"I shook the little critter off and brought up my rifle again when,
durn my skin, if the bird didn't light right on to the same place;
at the same time my eyes grow'd kind o' hazy-like and in a minute
I didn't know nothing.
"When I come to, the quail was gone, I heerd a couple of rifle shots,
and right in front of where the bull had stood and close to Thorp and
Boyd, half a dozen Ingins jumped up out o' the tall grass and, firing
into the two men, killed Thorp instantly and wounded Boyd.
"He and me got to camp--keeping off the Ingins, who knowed I was loaded--
when we, with the rest of the outfit, drove the red devils away.
"They was Apaches, and the fellow that shot Thorp was a half-breed
nigger and Apache. He scalped Thorp and carred off the whole upper
part of his skull with it. He got Thorp's rifle and bullet-pouch too,
and his knife.
"We buried Thorp in the bottom there, and some of the party cut their
names on the stones that they covered his body up with, to keep the
coyotes from eating up his bones.
"Boyd got on to the river with us all right, and I never heerd of him
after we separated at Booneville. We pulled out soon after the
Indians left, but we didn't get no buffalo-meat.
"You see, boys, if I'd a fired into that cow, the devils would a
had me before I could a got a patch on my ball--didn't have no
breech-loaders in them days, and it took as much judgment to know
how to load a rifle properly as it did to shoot it.
"Them Ingins knowed all that--they knowed I hadn't fired, so they
kept a respectable distance. I would a fired, but the quail saved
my life by interfering with my sight--and that's the reason I don't
eat no quail. I hain't superstitious, but I don't believe they was
meant to be eat."
Uncle John stuck to his text, I believe, until he died, and you
could never disabuse his mind of the idea that the quail lighting
on his rifle was not a special interposition of Providence.
Only four years after he told his story, in 1872, one of the newly
established settlers, living a few miles west of Larned on Pawnee
Bottom, having observed in one of his fields a singular depression,
resembling an old grave, determined to dig down and see if there was
any special cause for the strange indentation on his land.
A couple of feet below the surface he discovered several flat pieces
of stone, on one of which the words "Washington" and "J. Hildreth"
were rudely cut, also a line separating them, and underneath:
"December tenth" and "J. M., 1850." On another was carved the name
"J. H. Shell," with other characters that could not be deciphered.
On a third stone were the initials "H. R., 1847"; underneath which
was plainly cut "J. R. Boyd," and still beneath "J. R. Pring."
At the very bottom of the excavation were found the lower portion
of the skull, one or two ribs, and one of the bones of the leg of
a human being. The piece of skull was found near the centre of the
grave, for such it certainly was.
At the time of the discovery I was in Larned, and I immediately
consulted my book of notes and memoranda taken hurriedly at intervals
on the plains and in the mountains, during more than half my lifetime,
to see if I could find anything that would solve the mystery attached
to the quiet prairie-grave and its contents, and I then recalled
Uncle John Smith's story of the quail as related to me at my camp.
I also met Colonel A. G. Boone that winter in Washington; he remembered
the circumstances well. Thorp was working for him, as Smith had
said, and was killed by an Apache, who, in scalping him, tore the
half of his head away, and it was thus found mutilated, so
many years afterward.
Uncle John was in one of his garrulous moods that night, and as we
were not by any means tired of hearing the veteran trapper talk,
without much urging he told us the following tale:--
"Well, boys, thirty years ago, beaver, mink, and otter was found in
abundacious quantities on all the streams in the Rocky Mountains.
The trade in them furs was a paying business, for the little army
of us fellows called trappers. They ain't any of 'em left now,
no mor'n the animals we used to hunt. We had to move about from
place to place, just as if we was so many Ingins. Sometimes we'd
construct little cabins in the timber, or a dugout where the game
was plenty, where we'd stay maybe for a month or two, and once in
a while--though not often--a whole year.
"The Ingins was our mortal enemies; they'd get a scalp from our
fellows occasionally, but for every one they had of ours we had
a dozen of theirs.
"In the summer of 1846, there was a little half dugout, half cabin,
opposite the mouth of Frenchman's Creek, put up by Bill Thorpe,
Al Boyd, and Rube Stevens. Bill and Al was men grown, and know'd
more 'bout the prairies and timber than the Ingins themselves.
They'd hired out to the Northwest Fur Company when they was mere kids,
and kept on trapping ever since. Rube--'Little Rube' as all the
old men called him--was 'bout nineteen, and plumb dumb; he could hear
well enough though, for he wasn't born that way. When he was seventeen
his father moved from his farm in Pennsylvany, to take up a claim
in Oregon, and the whole family was compelled to cross the plains
to get there; for there wasn't no other way. While they was camped
in the Bitter-Root valley one evening, just 'bout sundown, a party
of Blackfeet surprised the outfit, and massacred all of them but Rube.
They carried him off, kept him as a slave, and, to make sure of him,
cut out his tongue at the roots. But some of the women who wasn't
quite so devilish as their husbands, and who took pity on him, went
to work and cured him of his awful wound. He was used mighty mean
by the bucks of the tribe, and made up his mind to get away from them
or kill himself; for he could not live under their harsh treatment.
After he'd been with them for mor'n a year, the tribe had a terrible
battle with the Sioux, and in the scrimmage Rube stole a pony and
lit out. He rode on night and day until he came across the cabin
of the two trappers I have told you 'bout, and they, of course,
took the poor boy in and cared for him.
"Rube was a splendid shot with the rifle, and he swore to himself
that he would never leave the prairies and do nothing for the rest
of his life but kill Ingins, who had made him a homeless orphan,
and so mutilated him.
"After Rube had been with Boyd and Thorpe a year, they was all one
day in the winter examining their traps which was scattered 'long
the stream for miles. After re-baiting them, they concluded to hunt
for meat, which was getting scarce at the cabin; they let Rube go
down to the creek where it widened out lake-like, to fish through
a hole in the ice, and Al and Bill took their rifles and hunted in
the timber for deer. They all got separated of course, Rube being
furtherest away, while Al and Bill did not wander so far from each
other that they could not be heard if one wanted his companion.
"Al shot a fat black-tail deer, and just as he was going to stoop
down to cut its throat, Bill yelled out to him:--
"'Drop everything Al, for God's sake, and let's make for the dugout;
they're coming, a whole band of Sioux!'
"'If we can get to the cabin,' replied Al, 'we can keep off the whole
nation. I wonder where Rube is? I hope he'll get here and save
"At this instant, poor Rube dashed up to them, an Ingin close upon
his tracks; he had unfortunately forgotten to take his rifle with
him when he went to the creek, and now he was at the mercy of the
savage; at least both he and his pursuer so thought. But before
the Ingin had fairly uttered his yell of exultation, Al who with
Bill had held his rifle in readiness for an emergency, lifted the
red devil off his feet, and he fell dead without ever knowing what
had struck him.
"Rube, thus delivered from a sudden death, ran at the top of his
speed with his two friends for the cabin, for, if they could reach it,
they did not fear a hundred paint-bedaubed savages.
"Luckily they arrived in time. Where they lived was part dugout and
part cabin. It was about ten feet high, and right back of it was
a big ledge of rock, which made it impossible for any one to get
into it from that side. The place had no door; they did not dare
to put one there when it was built, for they were likely to be
surprised at any moment by a prowling band, so the only entrance was
a square hole in the roof, through which one at a time had to crawl
"The boys got inside all right just as the Ingins came a yelling up.
Bill looked out of a hole in the wall and counted thirty of the
devils, and said at once: 'Off with your coats; don't let them have
anything to catch hold of but our naked bodies if they get in, and
we can handle ourselves better.'
"'Thirty to three,' said Al. 'Whew! this ain't going to be any
boy's play; we've got to fight for all there is in it, and the
chances are mightily agin us.'
"Rube he took an axe, and stood right under the hole in the roof,
so that if any of the devils got in he could brain them. In a minute
five rifles cracked; for the Ingins was pretty well armed for them
times, and their bullets rattled agin the logs like hail agin a tent.
Some of 'em was on top the roof by this time, and soon the leader of
the party, a big painted devil, thrust his ugly face into the hole;
but he had hardly got a good look before Bill dropped him by a
well-directed shot and he tumbled in on the floor.
"'You darned fool,' said Bill, as he saw the effect of his shot;
'did you think we was asleep?'
"There was one opening that served for air, and a savage, seeing
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