Down the Arkansas River

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In the summer of 1846 the wild and lonely banks of the Upper Arkansas beheld for the first time the passage of an army. General Kearny, on his march to Santa Fe, adopted this route in preference to the old trail of the Cimarron. When we came down the main body of the troops had already passed on; Price’s Missouri regiment, however, was still on the way, having left the frontier much later than the rest; and about this time we began to meet them moving along the trail, one or two companies at a time. No men ever embarked upon a military expedition with a greater love for the work before them than the Missourians; but if discipline and subordination be the criterion of merit, these soldiers were worthless indeed. Yet when their exploits have rung through all America, it would be absurd to deny that they were excellent irregular troops. Their victories were gained in the teeth of every established precedent of warfare; they were owing to a singular combination of military qualities in the men themselves. Without discipline or a spirit of subordination, they knew how to keep their ranks and act as one man. Doniphan’s regiment marched through New Mexico more like a band of free companions than like the paid soldiers of a modern government. When General Taylor complimented Doniphan on his success at Sacramento and elsewhere, the colonel’s reply very well illustrates the relations which subsisted between the officers and men of his command:

“I don’t know anything of the maneuvers. The boys kept coming to me, to let them charge; and when I saw a good opportunity, I told them they might go. They were off like a shot, and that’s all I know about it.”

The backwoods lawyer was better fitted to conciliate the good-will than to command the obedience of his men. There were many serving under him, who both from character and education could better have held command than he.

At the battle of Sacramento his frontiersmen fought under every possible disadvantage. The Mexicans had chosen their own position; they were drawn up across the valley that led to their native city of Chihuahua; their whole front was covered by intrenchments and defended by batteries of heavy cannon; they outnumbered the invaders five to one. An eagle flew over the Americans, and a deep murmur rose along their lines. The enemy’s batteries opened; long they remained under fire, but when at length the word was given, they shouted and ran forward. In one of the divisions, when midway to the enemy, a drunken officer ordered a halt; the exasperated men hesitated to obey.

“Forward, boys!” cried a private from the ranks; and the Americans, rushing like tigers upon the enemy, bounded over the breastwork. Four hundred Mexicans were slain upon the spot and the rest fled, scattering over the plain like sheep. The standards, cannon, and baggage were taken, and among the rest a wagon laden with cords, which the Mexicans, in the fullness of their confidence, had made ready for tying the American prisoners.

Doniphan’s volunteers, who gained this victory, passed up with the main army; but Price’s soldiers, whom we now met, were men from the same neighborhood, precisely similar in character, manner, and appearance. One forenoon, as we were descending upon a very wide meadow, where we meant to rest for an hour or two, we saw a dark body of horsemen approaching at a distance. In order to find water, we were obliged to turn aside to the river bank, a full half mile from the trail. Here we put up a kind of awning, and spreading buffalo robes on the ground, Shaw and I sat down to smoke beneath it.

“We are going to catch it now,” said Shaw; “look at those fellows, there’ll be no peace for us here.”

And in good truth about half the volunteers had straggled away from the line of march, and were riding over the meadow toward us.

“How are you?” said the first who came up, alighting from his horse and throwing himself upon the ground. The rest followed close, and a score of them soon gathered about us, some lying at full length and some sitting on horseback. They all belonged to a company raised in St. Louis. There were some ruffian faces among them, and some haggard with debauchery; but on the whole they were extremely good-looking men, superior beyond measure to the ordinary rank and file of an army. Except that they were booted to the knees, they wore their belts and military trappings over the ordinary dress of citizens. Besides their swords and holster pistols, they carried slung from their saddles the excellent Springfield carbines, loaded at the breech. They inquired the character of our party, and were anxious to know the prospect of killing buffalo, and the chance that their horses would stand the journey to Santa Fe. All this was well enough, but a moment after a worse visitation came upon us.

“How are you, strangers? whar are you going and whar are you from?” said a fellow, who came trotting up with an old straw hat on his head. He was dressed in the coarsest brown homespun cloth. His face was rather sallow from fever-and-ague, and his tall figure, though strong and sinewy was quite thin, and had besides an angular look, which, together with his boorish seat on horseback, gave him an appearance anything but graceful. Plenty more of the same stamp were close behind him. Their company was raised in one of the frontier counties, and we soon had abundant evidence of their rustic breeding; dozens of them came crowding round, pushing between our first visitors and staring at us with unabashed faces.

“Are you the captain?” asked one fellow.

“What’s your business out here?” asked another.

“Whar do you live when you’re at home?” said a third.

“I reckon you’re traders,” surmised a fourth; and to crown the whole, one of them came confidentially to my side and inquired in a low voice, “What’s your partner’s name?”

As each newcomer repeated the same questions, the nuisance became intolerable. Our military visitors were soon disgusted at the concise nature of our replies, and we could overhear them muttering curses against us. While we sat smoking, not in the best imaginable humor, Tete Rouge’s tongue was never idle. He never forgot his military character, and during the whole interview he was incessantly busy among his fellow-soldiers. At length we placed him on the ground before us, and told him that he might play the part of spokesman for the whole. Tete Rouge was delighted, and we soon had the satisfaction of seeing him talk and gabble at such a rate that the torrent of questions was in a great measure diverted from us. A little while after, to our amazement, we saw a large cannon with four horses come lumbering up behind the crowd; and the driver, who was perched on one of the animals, stretching his neck so as to look over the rest of the men, called out:

“Whar are you from, and what’s your business?”

The captain of one of the companies was among our visitors, drawn by the same curiosity that had attracted his men. Unless their faces belied them, not a few in the crowd might with great advantage have changed places with their commander.

“Well, men,” said he, lazily rising from the ground where he had been lounging, “it’s getting late, I reckon we had better be moving.”

“I shan’t start yet anyhow,” said one fellow, who was lying half asleep with his head resting on his arm.

“Don’t be in a hurry, captain,” added the lieutenant.

“Well, have it your own way, we’ll wait a while longer,” replied the obsequious commander.

At length however our visitors went straggling away as they had come, and we, to our great relief, were left alone again.

No one can deny the intrepid bravery of these men, their intelligence and the bold frankness of their character, free from all that is mean and sordid. Yet for the moment the extreme roughness of their manners half inclines one to forget their heroic qualities. Most of them seem without the least perception of delicacy or propriety, though among them individuals may be found in whose manners there is a plain courtesy, while their features bespeak a gallant spirit equal to any enterprise.

No one was more relieved than Delorier by the departure of the volunteers; for dinner was getting colder every moment. He spread a well-whitened buffalo hide upon the grass, placed in the middle the juicy hump of a fat cow, ranged around it the tin plates and cups, and then acquainted us that all was ready. Tete Rouge, with his usual alacrity on such occasions, was the first to take his seat. In his former capacity of steamboat clerk, he had learned to prefix the honorary MISTER to everybody’s name, whether of high or low degree; so Jim Gurney was Mr. Gurney, Henry was Mr. Henry, and even Delorier, for the first time in his life, heard himself addressed as Mr. Delorier. This did not prevent his conceiving a violent enmity against Tete Rouge, who, in his futile though praiseworthy attempts to make himself useful used always to intermeddle with cooking the dinners. Delorier’s disposition knew no medium between smiles and sunshine and a downright tornado of wrath; he said nothing to Tete Rouge, but his wrongs rankled in his breast. Tete Rouge had taken his place at dinner; it was his happiest moment; he sat enveloped in the old buffalo coat, sleeves turned up in preparation for the work, and his short legs crossed on the grass before him; he had a cup of coffee by his side and his knife ready in his hand and while he looked upon the fat hump ribs, his eyes dilated with anticipation. Delorier sat just opposite to him, and the rest of us by this time had taken our seats.

“How is this, Delorier? You haven’t given us bread enough.”

At this Delorier’s placid face flew instantly into a paroxysm of contortions. He grinned with wrath, chattered, gesticulated, and hurled forth a volley of incoherent words in broken English at the astonished Tete Rouge. It was just possible to make out that he was accusing him of having stolen and eaten four large cakes which had been laid by for dinner. Tete Rouge, utterly confounded at this sudden attack, stared at Delorier for a moment in dumb amazement, with mouth and eyes wide open. At last he found speech, and protested that the accusation was false; and that he could not conceive how he had offended Mr. Delorier, or provoked him to use such ungentlemanly expressions. The tempest of words raged with such fury that nothing else could be heard. But Tete Rouge, from his greater command of English, had a manifest advantage over Delorier, who after sputtering and grimacing for a while, found his words quite inadequate to the expression of his wrath. He jumped up and vanished, jerking out between his teeth one furious sacre enfant de grace, a Canadian title of honor, made doubly emphatic by being usually applied together with a cut of the whip to refractory mules and horses.

The next morning we saw an old buffalo escorting his cow with two small calves over the prairie. Close behind came four or five large white wolves, sneaking stealthily through the long meadow-grass, and watching for the moment when one of the children should chance to lag behind his parents. The old bull kept well on his guard, and faced about now and then to keep the prowling ruffians at a distance.

As we approached our nooning place, we saw five or six buffalo standing at the very summit of a tall bluff. Trotting forward to the spot where we meant to stop, I flung off my saddle and turned my horse loose. By making a circuit under cover of some rising ground, I reached the foot of the bluff unnoticed, and climbed up its steep side. Lying under the brow of the declivity, I prepared to fire at the buffalo, who stood on the flat surface about not five yards distant. Perhaps I was too hasty, for the gleaming rifle-barrel leveled over the edge caught their notice; they turned and ran. Close as they were, it was impossible to kill them when in that position, and stepping upon the summit I pursued them over the high arid tableland. It was extremely rugged and broken; a great sandy ravine was channeled through it, with smaller ravines entering on each side like tributary streams. The buffalo scattered, and I soon lost sight of most of them as they scuttled away through the sandy chasms; a bull and a cow alone kept in view. For a while they ran along the edge of the great ravine, appearing and disappearing as they dived into some chasm and again emerged from it. At last they stretched out upon the broad prairie, a plain nearly flat and almost devoid of verdure, for every short grass-blade was dried and shriveled by the glaring sun. Now and then the old bull would face toward me; whenever he did so I fell to the ground and lay motionless. In this manner I chased them for about two miles, until at length I heard in front a deep hoarse bellowing. A moment after a band of about a hundred bulls, before hidden by a slight swell of the plain, came at once into view. The fugitives ran toward them. Instead of mingling with the band, as I expected, they passed directly through, and continued their flight. At this I gave up the chase, and kneeling down, crawled to within gunshot of the bulls, and with panting breath and trickling brow sat down on the ground to watch them; my presence did not disturb them in the least. They were not feeding, for, indeed, there was nothing to eat; but they seemed to have chosen the parched and scorching desert as the scene of their amusements. Some were rolling on the ground amid a cloud of dust; others, with a hoarse rumbling bellow, were butting their large heads together, while many stood motionless, as if quite inanimate. Except their monstrous growth of tangled grizzly mane, they had no hair; for their old coat had fallen off in the spring, and their new one had not as yet appeared. Sometimes an old bull would step forward, and gaze at me with a grim and stupid countenance; then he would turn and butt his next neighbor; then he would lie down and roll over in the dirt, kicking his hoofs in the air. When satisfied with this amusement he would jerk his head and shoulders upward, and resting on his forelegs stare at me in this position, half blinded by his mane, and his face covered with dirt; then up he would spring upon all-fours, and shake his dusty sides; turning half round, he would stand with his beard touching the ground, in an attitude of profound abstraction, as if reflecting on his puerile conduct. “You are too ugly to live,” thought I; and aiming at the ugliest, I shot three of them in succession. The rest were not at all discomposed at this; they kept on bellowing and butting and rolling on the ground as before. Henry Chatillon always cautioned us to keep perfectly quiet in the presence of a wounded buffalo, for any movement is apt to excite him to make an attack; so I sat still upon the ground, loading and firing with as little motion as possible. While I was thus employed, a spectator made his appearance; a little antelope came running up with remarkable gentleness to within fifty yards; and there it stood, its slender neck arched, its small horns thrown back, and its large dark eyes gazing on me with a look of eager curiosity. By the side of the shaggy and brutish monsters before me, it seemed like some lovely young girl wandering near a den of robbers or a nest of bearded pirates. The buffalo looked uglier than ever. “Here goes for another of you,” thought I, feeling in my pouch for a percussion cap. Not a percussion cap was there. My good rifle was useless as an old iron bar. One of the wounded bulls had not yet fallen, and I waited for some time, hoping every moment that his strength would fail him. He still stood firm, looking grimly at me, and disregarding Henry’s advice I rose and walked away. Many of the bulls turned and looked at me, but the wounded brute made no attack. I soon came upon a deep ravine which would give me shelter in case of emergency; so I turned round and threw a stone at the bulls. They received it with the utmost indifference. Feeling myself insulted at their refusal to be frightened, I swung my hat, shouted, and made a show of running toward them; at this they crowded together and galloped off, leaving their dead and wounded upon the field. As I moved toward the camp I saw the last survivor totter and fall dead. My speed in returning was wonderfully quickened by the reflection that the Pawnees were abroad, and that I was defenseless in case of meeting with an enemy. I saw no living thing, however, except two or three squalid old bulls scrambling among the sand-hills that flanked the great ravine. When I reached camp the party was nearly ready for the afternoon move.

We encamped that evening at a short distance from the river bank. About midnight, as we all lay asleep on the ground, the man nearest to me gently reaching out his hand, touched my shoulder, and cautioned me at the same time not to move. It was bright starlight. Opening my eyes and slightly turning I saw a large white wolf moving stealthily around the embers of our fire, with his nose close to the ground. Disengaging my hand from the blanket, I drew the cover from my rifle, which lay close at my side; the motion alarmed the wolf, and with long leaps he bounded out of the camp. Jumping up, I fired after him when he was about thirty yards distant; the melancholy hum of the bullet sounded far away through the night. At the sharp report, so suddenly breaking upon the stillness, all the men sprang up.

“You’ve killed him,” said one of them.

“No, I haven’t,” said I; “there he goes, running along the river.

“Then there’s two of them. Don’t you see that one lying out yonder?”

We went to it, and instead of a dead white wolf found the bleached skull of a buffalo. I had missed my mark, and what was worse, had grossly violated a standing law of the prairie. When in a dangerous part of the country, it is considered highly imprudent to fire a gun after encamping, lest the report should reach the ears of the Indians.

The horses were saddled in the morning, and the last man had lighted his pipe at the dying ashes of the fire. The beauty of the day enlivened us all. Even Ellis felt its influence, and occasionally made a remark as we rode along, and Jim Gurney told endless stories of his cruisings in the United States service. The buffalo were abundant, and at length a large band of them went running up the hills on the left.

“Do you see them buffalo?” said Ellis, “now I’ll bet any man I’ll go and kill one with my yager.”

And leaving his horse to follow on with the party, he strode up the hill after them. Henry looked at us with his peculiar humorous expression, and proposed that we should follow Ellis to see how he would kill a fat cow. As soon as he was out of sight we rode up the hill after him, and waited behind a little ridge till we heard the report of the unfailing yager. Mounting to the top, we saw Ellis clutching his favorite weapon with both hands, and staring after the buffalo, who one and all were galloping off at full speed. As we descended the hill we saw the party straggling along the trail below. When we joined them, another scene of amateur hunting awaited us. I forgot to say that when we met the volunteers Tete Rouge had obtained a horse from one of them, in exchange for his mule, whom he feared and detested. The horse he christened James. James, though not worth so much as the mule, was a large and strong animal. Tete Rouge was very proud of his new acquisition, and suddenly became ambitious to run a buffalo with him. At his request, I lent him my pistols, though not without great misgivings, since when Tete Rouge hunted buffalo the pursuer was in more danger than the pursued. He hung the holsters at his saddle bow; and now, as we passed along, a band of bulls left their grazing in the meadow and galloped in a long file across the trail in front.

“Now’s your chance, Tete; come, let’s see you kill a bull.” Thus urged, the hunter cried, “Get up!” and James, obedient to the signal, cantered deliberately forward at an abominably uneasy gait. Tete Rouge, as we contemplated him from behind; made a most remarkable figure. He still wore the old buffalo coat; his blanket, which was tied in a loose bundle behind his saddle, went jolting from one side to the other, and a large tin canteen half full of water, which hung from his pommel, was jerked about his leg in a manner which greatly embarrassed him.

“Let out your horse, man; lay on your whip!” we called out to him. The buffalo were getting farther off at every instant. James, being ambitious to mend his pace, tugged hard at the rein, and one of his rider’s boots escaped from the stirrup.

“Woa! I say, woa!” cried Tete Rouge, in great perturbation, and after much effort James’ progress was arrested. The hunter came trotting back to the party, disgusted with buffalo running, and he was received with overwhelming congratulations.

“Too good a chance to lose,” said Shaw, pointing to another band of bulls on the left. We lashed our horses and galloped upon them. Shaw killed one with each barrel of his gun. I separated another from the herd and shot him. The small bullet of the rifled pistol, striking too far back, did not immediately take effect, and the bull ran on with unabated speed. Again and again I snapped the remaining pistol at him. I primed it afresh three or four times, and each time it missed fire, for the touch-hole was clogged up. Returning it to the holster, I began to load the empty pistol, still galloping by the side of the bull. By this time he was grown desperate. The foam flew from his jaws and his tongue lolled out. Before the pistol was loaded he sprang upon me, and followed up his attack with a furious rush. The only alternative was to run away or be killed. I took to flight, and the bull, bristling with fury, pursued me closely. The pistol was soon ready, and then looking back, I saw his head five or six yards behind my horse’s tail. To fire at it would be useless, for a bullet flattens against the adamantine skull of a buffalo bull. Inclining my body to the left, I turned my horse in that direction as sharply as his speed would permit. The bull, rushing blindly on with great force and weight, did not turn so quickly. As I looked back, his neck and shoulders were exposed to view; turning in the saddle, I shot a bullet through them obliquely into his vitals. He gave over the chase and soon fell to the ground. An English tourist represents a situation like this as one of imminent danger; this is a great mistake; the bull never pursues long, and the horse must be wretched indeed that cannot keep out of his way for two or three minutes.

We were now come to a part of the country where we were bound in common prudence to use every possible precaution. We mounted guard at night, each man standing in his turn; and no one ever slept without drawing his rifle close to his side or folding it with him in his blanket. One morning our vigilance was stimulated by our finding traces of a large Comanche encampment. Fortunately for us, however, it had been abandoned nearly a week. On the next evening we found the ashes of a recent fire, which gave us at the time some uneasiness. At length we reached the Caches, a place of dangerous repute; and it had a most dangerous appearance, consisting of sand-hills everywhere broken by ravines and deep chasms. Here we found the grave of Swan, killed at this place, probably by the Pawnees, two or three weeks before. His remains, more than once violated by the Indians and the wolves, were suffered at length to remain undisturbed in their wild burial place.

For several days we met detached companies of Price’s regiment. Horses would often break loose at night from their camps. One afternoon we picked up three of these stragglers quietly grazing along the river. After we came to camp that evening, Jim Gurney brought news that more of them were in sight. It was nearly dark, and a cold, drizzling rain had set in; but we all turned out, and after an hour’s chase nine horses were caught and brought in. One of them was equipped with saddle and bridle; pistols were hanging at the pommel of the saddle, a carbine was slung at its side, and a blanket rolled up behind it. In the morning, glorying in our valuable prize, we resumed our journey, and our cavalcade presented a much more imposing appearance than ever before. We kept on till the afternoon, when, far behind, three horsemen appeared on the horizon. Coming on at a hand-gallop, they soon overtook us, and claimed all the horses as belonging to themselves and others of their company. They were of course given up, very much to the mortification of Ellis and Jim Gurney.

Our own horses now showed signs of fatigue, and we resolved to give them half a day’s rest. We stopped at noon at a grassy spot by the river. After dinner Shaw and Henry went out to hunt; and while the men lounged about the camp, I lay down to read in the shadow of the cart. Looking up, I saw a bull grazing alone on the prairie more than a mile distant. I was tired of reading, and taking my rifle I walked toward him. As I came near, I crawled upon the ground until I approached to within a hundred yards; here I sat down upon the grass and waited till he should turn himself into a proper position to receive his death-wound. He was a grim old veteran. His loves and his battles were over for that season, and now, gaunt and war-worn, he had withdrawn from the herd to graze by himself and recruit his exhausted strength. He was miserably emaciated; his mane was all in tatters; his hide was bare and rough as an elephant’s, and covered with dried patches of the mud in which he had been wallowing. He showed all his ribs whenever he moved. He looked like some grizzly old ruffian grown gray in blood and violence, and scowling on all the world from his misanthropic seclusion. The old savage looked up when I first approached, and gave me a fierce stare; then he fell to grazing again with an air of contemptuous indifference. The moment after, as if suddenly recollecting himself, he threw up his head, faced quickly about, and to my amazement came at a rapid trot directly toward me. I was strongly impelled to get up and run, but this would have been very dangerous. Sitting quite still I aimed, as he came on, at the thin part of the skull above the nose. After he had passed over about three-quarters of the distance between us, I was on the point of firing, when, to my great satisfaction, he stopped short. I had full opportunity of studying his countenance; his whole front was covered with a huge mass of coarse matted hair, which hung so low that nothing but his two forefeet were visible beneath it; his short thick horns were blunted and split to the very roots in his various battles, and across his nose and forehead were two or three large white scars, which gave him a grim and at the same time a whimsical appearance. It seemed to me that he stood there motionless for a full quarter of an hour, looking at me through the tangled locks of his mane. For my part, I remained as quiet as he, and looked quite as hard; I felt greatly inclined to come to term with him. “My friend,” thought I, “if you’ll let me off, I’ll let you off.” At length he seemed to have abandoned any hostile design. Very slowly and deliberately he began to turn about; little by little his side came into view, all be-plastered with mud. It was a tempting sight. I forgot my prudent intentions, and fired my rifle; a pistol would have served at that distance. Round spun old bull like a top, and away he galloped over the prairie. He ran some distance, and even ascended a considerable hill, before he lay down and died. After shooting another bull among the hills, I went back to camp.

At noon, on the 14th of September, a very large Santa Fe caravan came up. The plain was covered with the long files of their white-topped wagons, the close black carriages in which the traders travel and sleep, large droves of animals, and men on horseback and on foot. They all stopped on the meadow near us. Our diminutive cart and handful of men made but an insignificant figure by the side of their wide and bustling camp. Tete Rouge went over to visit them, and soon came back with half a dozen biscuits in one hand and a bottle of brandy in the other. I inquired where he got them. “Oh,” said Tete Rouge, “I know some of the traders. Dr. Dobbs is there besides.” I asked who Dr. Dobbs might be. “One of our St. Louis doctors,” replied Tete Rouge. For two days past I had been severely attacked by the same disorder which had so greatly reduced my strength when at the mountains; at this time I was suffering not a little from the sudden pain and weakness which it occasioned. Tete Rouge, in answer to my inquiries, declared that Dr. Dobbs was a physician of the first standing. Without at all believing him, I resolved to consult this eminent practitioner. Walking over to the camp, I found him lying sound asleep under one of the wagons. He offered in his own person but an indifferent specimen of his skill, for it was five months since I had seen so cadaverous a face.

His hat had fallen off, and his yellow hair was all in disorder; one of his arms supplied the place of a pillow; his pantaloons were wrinkled halfway up to his knees, and he was covered with little bits of grass and straw, upon which he had rolled in his uneasy slumber. A Mexican stood near, and I made him a sign that he should touch the doctor. Up sprang the learned Dobbs, and, sitting upright, rubbed his eyes and looked about him in great bewilderment. I regretted the necessity of disturbing him, and said I had come to ask professional advice. “Your system, sir, is in a disordered state,” said he solemnly, after a short examination.

I inquired what might be the particular species of disorder.

“Evidently a morbid action of the liver,” replied the medical man; “I will give you a prescription.”

Repairing to the back of one of the covered wagons, he scrambled in; for a moment I could see nothing of him but his boots. At length he produced a box which he had extracted from some dark recess within, and opening it, he presented me with a folded paper of some size. “What is it?” said I. “Calomel,” said the doctor.

Under the circumstances I would have taken almost anything. There was not enough to do me much harm, and it might possibly do good; so at camp that night I took the poison instead of supper.

That camp is worthy of notice. The traders warned us not to follow the main trail along the river, “unless,” as one of them observed, “you want to have your throats cut!” The river at this place makes a bend; and a smaller trail, known as the Ridge-path, leads directly across the prairie from point to point, a distance of sixty or seventy miles.

We followed this trail, and after traveling seven or eight miles, we came to a small stream, where we encamped. Our position was not chosen with much forethought or military skill. The water was in a deep hollow, with steep, high banks; on the grassy bottom of this hollow we picketed our horses, while we ourselves encamped upon the barren prairie just above. The opportunity was admirable either for driving off our horses or attacking us. After dark, as Tete Rouge was sitting at supper, we observed him pointing with a face of speechless horror over the shoulder of Henry, who was opposite to him. Aloof amid the darkness appeared a gigantic black apparition; solemnly swaying to and fro, it advanced steadily upon us. Henry, half vexed and half amused, jumped up, spread out his arms, and shouted. The invader was an old buffalo bull, who with characteristic stupidity, was walking directly into camp. It cost some shouting and swinging of hats before we could bring him first to a halt and then to a rapid retreat.

That night the moon was full and bright; but as the black clouds chased rapidly over it, we were at one moment in light and at the next in darkness. As the evening advanced, a thunderstorm came up; it struck us with such violence that the tent would have been blown over if we had not interposed the cart to break the force of the wind. At length it subsided to a steady rain. I lay awake through nearly the whole night, listening to its dull patter upon the canvas above. The moisture, which filled the tent and trickled from everything in it, did not add to the comfort of the situation. About twelve o’clock Shaw went out to stand guard amid the rain and pitch darkness. Munroe, the most vigilant as well as one of the bravest among us, was also on the alert. When about two hours had passed, Shaw came silently in, and touching Henry, called him in a low quick voice to come out. “What is it?” I asked. “Indians, I believe,” whispered Shaw; “but lie still; I’ll call you if there’s a fight.”

He and Henry went out together. I took the cover from my rifle, put a fresh percussion cap upon it, and then, being in much pain, lay down again. In about five minutes Shaw came in again. “All right,” he said, as he lay down to sleep. Henry was now standing guard in his place. He told me in the morning the particulars of the alarm. Munroe’ s watchful eye discovered some dark objects down in the hollow, among the horses, like men creeping on all fours. Lying flat on their faces, he and Shaw crawled to the edge of the bank, and were soon convinced that what they saw were Indians. Shaw silently withdrew to call Henry, and they all lay watching in the same position. Henry’s eye is of the best on the prairie. He detected after a while the true nature of the moving objects; they were nothing but wolves creeping among the horses.

It is very singular that when picketed near a camp horses seldom show any fear of such an intrusion. The wolves appear to have no other object than that of gnawing the trail-ropes of raw hide by which the animals are secured. Several times in the course of the journey my horse’s trail-rope was bitten in two by these nocturnal visitors.



MLA Source Citation:

AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 21 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/oregon/arkansas-river.htm - Last updated on Sep 20th, 2013


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