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The next day was extremely hot, and we rode from morning till night without seeing a tree or a bush or a drop of water. Our horses and mules suffered much more than we, but as sunset approached they pricked up their ears and mended their pace. Water was not far off. When we came to the descent of the broad shallowy valley where it lay, an unlooked-for sight awaited us. The stream glistened at the bottom, and along its banks were pitched a multitude of tents, while hundreds of cattle were feeding over the meadows. Bodies of troops, both horse and foot, and long trains of wagons with men, women, and children, were moving over the opposite ridge and descending the broad declivity in front. These were the Mormon battalion in the service of government, together with a considerable number of Missouri volunteers. The Mormons were to be paid off in California, and they were allowed to bring with them their families and property. There was something very striking in the half-military, half-patriarchal appearance of these armed fanatics, thus on their way with their wives and children, to found, if might be, a Mormon empire in California. We were much more astonished than pleased at the sight before us. In order to find an unoccupied camping ground, we were obliged to pass a quarter of a mile up the stream, and here we were soon beset by a swarm of Mormons and Missourians. The United States officer in command of the whole came also to visit us, and remained some time at our camp.
In the morning the country was covered with mist. We were always early risers, but before we were ready the voices of men driving in the cattle sounded all around us. As we passed above their camp, we saw through the obscurity that the tents were falling and the ranks rapidly forming; and mingled with the cries of women and children, the rolling of the Mormon drums and the clear blast of their trumpets sounded through the mist.
From that time to the journey’s end, we met almost every day long trains of government wagons, laden with stores for the troops and crawling at a snail’s pace toward Santa Fe.
Tete Rouge had a mortal antipathy to danger, but on a foraging expedition one evening, he achieved an adventure more perilous than had yet befallen any man in the party. The night after we left the Ridge-path we encamped close to the river. At sunset we saw a train of wagons encamping on the trail about three miles off; and though we saw them distinctly, our little cart, as it afterward proved, entirely escaped their view. For some days Tete Rouge had been longing eagerly after a dram of whisky. So, resolving to improve the present opportunity, he mounted his horse James, slung his canteen over his shoulder, and set forth in search of his favorite liquor. Some hours passed without his returning. We thought that he was lost, or perhaps that some stray Indian had snapped him up. While the rest fell asleep I remained on guard. Late at night a tremulous voice saluted me from the darkness, and Tete Rouge and James soon became visible, advancing toward the camp. Tete Rouge was in much agitation and big with some important tidings. Sitting down on the shaft of the cart, he told the following story:
When he left the camp he had no idea, he said, how late it was. By the time he approached the wagoners it was perfectly dark; and as he saw them all sitting around their fires within the circle of wagons, their guns laid by their sides, he thought he might as well give warning of his approach, in order to prevent a disagreeable mistake. Raising his voice to the highest pitch, he screamed out in prolonged accents, “Camp, ahoy!” This eccentric salutation produced anything but the desired result. Hearing such hideous sounds proceeding from the outer darkness, the wagoners thought that the whole Pawnee nation were about to break in and take their scalps. Up they sprang staring with terror. Each man snatched his gun; some stood behind the wagons; some threw themselves flat on the ground, and in an instant twenty cocked muskets were leveled full at the horrified Tete Rouge, who just then began to be visible through the darkness.
“Thar they come,” cried the master wagoner, “fire, fire! shoot that feller.”
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“No, no!” screamed Tete Rouge, in an ecstasy of fright; “don’t fire, don’t! I’m a friend, I’m an American citizen!”
“You’re a friend, be you?” cried a gruff voice from the wagons; “then what are you yelling out thar for, like a wild Injun. Come along up here if you’re a man.”
“Keep your guns p’inted at him,” added the master wagoner, “maybe he’s a decoy, like.”
Tete Rouge in utter bewilderment made his approach, with the gaping muzzles of the muskets still before his eyes. He succeeded at last in explaining his character and situation, and the Missourians admitted him into camp. He got no whisky; but as he represented himself as a great invalid, and suffering much from coarse fare, they made up a contribution for him of rice, biscuit, and sugar from their own rations.
In the morning at breakfast, Tete Rouge once more related this story. We hardly knew how much of it to believe, though after some cross-questioning we failed to discover any flaw in the narrative. Passing by the wagoner’s camp, they confirmed Tete Rouge’s account in every particular.
“I wouldn’t have been in that feller’s place,” said one of them, “for the biggest heap of money in Missouri.”
To Tete Rouge’s great wrath they expressed a firm conviction that he was crazy. We left them after giving them the advice not to trouble themselves about war-whoops in future, since they would be apt to feel an Indian’s arrow before they heard his voice.
A day or two after, we had an adventure of another sort with a party of wagoners. Henry and I rode forward to hunt. After that day there was no probability that we should meet with buffalo, and we were anxious to kill one for the sake of fresh meat. They were so wild that we hunted all the morning in vain, but at noon as we approached Cow Creek we saw a large band feeding near its margin. Cow Creek is densely lined with trees which intercept the view beyond, and it runs, as we afterward found, at the bottom of a deep trench. We approached by riding along the bottom of a ravine. When we were near enough, I held the horses while Henry crept toward the buffalo. I saw him take his seat within shooting distance, prepare his rifle, and look about to select his victim. The death of a fat cow was certain, when suddenly a great smoke arose from the bed of the Creek with a rattling volley of musketry. A score of long-legged Missourians leaped out from among the trees and ran after the buffalo, who one and all took to their heels and vanished. These fellows had crawled up the bed of the Creek to within a hundred yards of the buffalo. Never was there a fairer chance for a shot. They were good marksmen; all cracked away at once, and yet not a buffalo fell. In fact, the animal is so tenacious of life that it requires no little knowledge of anatomy to kill it, and it is very seldom that a novice succeeds in his first attempt at approaching. The balked Missourians were excessively mortified, especially when Henry told them if they had kept quiet he would have killed meat enough in ten minutes to feed their whole party. Our friends, who were at no great distance, hearing such a formidable fusillade, thought the Indians had fired the volley for our benefit. Shaw came galloping on to reconnoiter and learn if we were yet in the land of the living.
At Cow Creek we found the very welcome novelty of ripe grapes and plums, which grew there in abundance. At the Little Arkansas, not much farther on, we saw the last buffalo, a miserable old bull, roaming over the prairie alone and melancholy.
From this time forward the character of the country was changing every day. We had left behind us the great arid deserts, meagerly covered by the tufted buffalo grass, with its pale green hue, and its short shriveled blades. The plains before us were carpeted with rich and verdant herbage sprinkled with flowers. In place of buffalo we found plenty of prairie hens, and we bagged them by dozens without leaving the trail. In three or four days we saw before us the broad woods and the emerald meadows of Council Grove, a scene of striking luxuriance and beauty. It seemed like a new sensation as we rode beneath the resounding archs of these noble woods. The trees were ash, oak, elm, maple, and hickory, their mighty limbs deeply overshadowing the path, while enormous grape vines were entwined among them, purple with fruit. The shouts of our scattered party, and now and then a report of a rifle, rang amid the breathing stillness of the forest. We rode forth again with regret into the broad light of the open prairie. Little more than a hundred miles now separated us from the frontier settlements. The whole intervening country was a succession of verdant prairies, rising in broad swells and relieved by trees clustering like an oasis around some spring, or following the course of a stream along some fertile hollow. These are the prairies of the poet and the novelist. We had left danger behind us. Nothing was to be feared from the Indians of this region, the Sacs and Foxes, the Kansas and the Osages. We had met with signal good fortune. Although for five months we had been traveling with an insufficient force through a country where we were at any moment liable to depredation, not a single animal had been stolen from us, and our only loss had been one old mule bitten to death by a rattlesnake. Three weeks after we reached the frontier the Pawnees and the Comanches began a regular series of hostilities on the Arkansas trail, killing men and driving off horses. They attacked, without exception, every party, large or small, that passed during the next six months.
Diamond Spring, Rock Creek, Elder Grove, and other camping places besides, were passed all in quick succession. At Rock Creek we found a train of government provision wagons, under the charge of an emaciated old man in his seventy-first year. Some restless American devil had driven him into the wilderness at a time when he should have been seated at his fireside with his grandchildren on his knees. I am convinced that he never returned; he was complaining that night of a disease, the wasting effects of which upon a younger and stronger man, I myself had proved from severe experience. Long ere this no doubt the wolves have howled their moonlight carnival over the old man’s attenuated remains.
Not long after we came to a small trail leading to Fort Leavenworth, distant but one day’s journey. Tete Rouge here took leave of us. He was anxious to go to the fort in order to receive payment for his valuable military services. So he and his horse James, after bidding an affectionate farewell, set out together, taking with them as much provision as they could conveniently carry, including a large quantity of brown sugar. On a cheerless rainy evening we came to our last encamping ground. Some pigs belonging to a Shawnee farmer were grunting and rooting at the edge of the grove.
“I wonder how fresh pork tastes,” murmured one of the party, and more than one voice murmured in response. The fiat went forth, “That pig must die,” and a rifle was leveled forthwith at the countenance of the plumpest porker. Just then a wagon train, with some twenty Missourians, came out from among the trees. The marksman suspended his aim, deeming it inexpedient under the circumstances to consummate the deed of blood.
In the morning we made our toilet as well as circumstances would permit, and that is saying but very little. In spite of the dreary rain of yesterday, there never was a brighter and gayer autumnal morning than that on which we returned to the settlements. We were passing through the country of the half-civilized Shawanoes. It was a beautiful alternation of fertile plains and groves, whose foliage was just tinged with the hues of autumn, while close beneath them rested the neat log-houses of the Indian farmers. Every field and meadow bespoke the exuberant fertility of the soil. The maize stood rustling in the wind, matured and dry, its shining yellow ears thrust out between the gaping husks. Squashes and enormous yellow pumpkins lay basking in the sun in the midst of their brown and shriveled leaves. Robins and blackbirds flew about the fences; and everything in short betokened our near approach to home and civilization. The forests that border on the Missouri soon rose before us, and we entered the wide tract of shrubbery which forms their outskirts. We had passed the same road on our outward journey in the spring, but its aspect was totally changed. The young wild apple trees, then flushed with their fragrant blossoms, were now hung thickly with ruddy fruit. Tall grass flourished by the roadside in place of the tender shoots just peeping from the warm and oozy soil. The vines were laden with dark purple grapes, and the slender twigs of the maple, then tasseled with their clusters of small red flowers, now hung out a gorgeous display of leaves stained by the frost with burning crimson. On every side we saw the tokens of maturity and decay where all had before been fresh and beautiful. We entered the forest, and ourselves and our horses were checkered, as we passed along, by the bright spots of sunlight that fell between the opening boughs. On either side the dark rich masses of foliage almost excluded the sun, though here and there its rays could find their way down, striking through the broad leaves and lighting them with a pure transparent green. Squirrels barked at us from the trees; coveys of young partridges ran rustling over the leaves below, and the golden oriole, the blue jay, and the flaming red-bird darted among the shadowy branches. We hailed these sights and sounds of beauty by no means with an unmingled pleasure. Many and powerful as were the attractions which drew us toward the settlements, we looked back even at that moment with an eager longing toward the wilderness of prairies and mountains behind us. For myself I had suffered more that summer from illness than ever before in my life, and yet to this hour I cannot recall those savage scenes and savage men without a strong desire again to visit them.
At length, for the first time during about half a year, we saw the roof of a white man’s dwelling between the opening trees. A few moments after we were riding over the miserable log bridge that leads into the center of Westport. Westport had beheld strange scenes, but a rougher looking troop than ours, with our worn equipments and broken-down horses, was never seen even there. We passed the well-remembered tavern, Boone’s grocery and old Vogel’s dram shop, and encamped on a meadow beyond. Here we were soon visited by a number of people who came to purchase our horses and equipage. This matter disposed of, we hired a wagon and drove on to Kansas Landing. Here we were again received under the hospitable roof of our old friend Colonel Chick, and seated on his porch we looked down once more on the eddies of the Missouri.
Delorier made his appearance in the morning, strangely transformed by the assistance of a hat, a coat, and a razor. His little log-house was among the woods not far off. It seemed he had meditated giving a ball on the occasion of his return, and had consulted Henry Chatillon as to whether it would do to invite his bourgeois. Henry expressed his entire conviction that we would not take it amiss, and the invitation was now proffered, accordingly, Delorier adding as a special inducement that Antoine Lejeunesse was to play the fiddle. We told him we would certainly come, but before the evening arrived a steamboat, which came down from Fort Leavenworth, prevented our being present at the expected festivities. Delorier was on the rock at the landing place, waiting to take leave of us.
“Adieu! mes bourgeois; adieu! adieu!” he cried out as the boat pulled off; “when you go another time to de Rocky Montagnes I will go with you; yes, I will go!”
He accompanied this patronizing assurance by jumping about swinging his hat, and grinning from ear to ear. As the boat rounded a distant point, the last object that met our eyes was Delorier still lifting his hat and skipping about the rock. We had taken leave of Munroe and Jim Gurney at Westport, and Henry Chatillon went down in the boat with us.
The passage to St. Louis occupied eight days, during about a third of which we were fast aground on sand-bars. We passed the steamer Amelia crowded with a roaring crew of disbanded volunteers, swearing, drinking, gambling, and fighting. At length one evening we reached the crowded levee of St. Louis. Repairing to the Planters’ House, we caused diligent search to be made for our trunks, which after some time were discovered stowed away in the farthest corner of the storeroom. In the morning we hardly recognized each other; a frock of broadcloth had supplanted the frock of buckskin; well-fitted pantaloons took the place of the Indian leggings, and polished boots were substituted for the gaudy moccasins.
After we had been several days at St. Louis we heard news of Tete Rouge. He had contrived to reach Fort Leavenworth, where he had found the paymaster and received his money. As a boat was just ready to start for St. Louis, he went on board and engaged his passage. This done, he immediately got drunk on shore, and the boat went off without him. It was some days before another opportunity occurred, and meanwhile the sutler’s stores furnished him with abundant means of keeping up his spirits. Another steamboat came at last, the clerk of which happened to be a friend of his, and by the advice of some charitable person on shore he persuaded Tete Rouge to remain on board, intending to detain him there until the boat should leave the fort. At first Tete Rouge was well contented with this arrangement, but on applying for a dram, the barkeeper, at the clerk’s instigation, refused to let him have it. Finding them both inflexible in spite of his entreaties, he became desperate and made his escape from the boat. The clerk found him after a long search in one of the barracks; a circle of dragoons stood contemplating him as he lay on the floor, maudlin drunk and crying dismally. With the help of one of them the clerk pushed him on board, and our informant, who came down in the same boat, declares that he remained in great despondency during the whole passage. As we left St. Louis soon after his arrival, we did not see the worthless, good-natured little vagabond again.
On the evening before our departure Henry Chatillon came to our rooms at the Planters’ House to take leave of us. No one who met him in the streets of St. Louis would have taken him for a hunter fresh from the Rocky Mountains. He was very neatly and simply dressed in a suit of dark cloth; for although, since his sixteenth year, he had scarcely been for a month together among the abodes of men, he had a native good taste and a sense of propriety which always led him to pay great attention to his personal appearance. His tall athletic figure, with its easy flexible motions, appeared to advantage in his present dress; and his fine face, though roughened by a thousand storms, was not at all out of keeping with it. We took leave of him with much regret; and unless his changing features, as he shook us by the hand, belied him, the feeling on his part was no less than on ours. Shaw had given him a horse at Westport. My rifle, which he had always been fond of using, as it was an excellent piece, much better than his own, is now in his hands, and perhaps at this moment its sharp voice is startling the echoes of the Rocky Mountains. On the next morning we left town, and after a fortnight of railroads and steamboat we saw once more the familiar features of home.