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that surrounds it.

And this is how the fairy rings are made !

Perhaps the finest of all the bisons or buffaloes are
those w r hich inhabit the country now known as Dakota,
where, fifty or sixty years ago, dwelt the Sioux Indians, a
nation of mighty hunters. The animals are very useful
for many purposes, and while their skins are of great
value as beds or coverings, the flesh forms the principal
food of the tribe. The hunting is almost always done 'on
horseback, and the first thing necessary is to catch one
of the small breed of horses which formerly roamed in
bands over the prairies. This little creature it never
grows much larger than a pony is carefully trained for
some years in racing and jumping and other exercises, and
in the end is able to outrun any other wild animal to be
found on these western plains.

Sometimes it happens or did, fifty or sixty years ago
that for a long time together no buffaloes will pass along a
certain tract of country, and then the Indians of the
district suffer from famine, and are even in danger of
dying of starvation. Then what joy in the camp when a
scout comes in one day with the news that a herd of
buffaloes are grazing not many miles off. In a moment a
hundred young ' braves ' have thrown aside their shields and
every other heavy thing they have about them, especially
any part of their dress that might be a hindrance in run-
ning for no one knows how a buffalo hunt may end.



Armed only with a bow and five or six arrows, or else
with long lances, they mount their strong and swift little
horses, and dash off at full speed to the grazing ground
of the buffaloes.

As the hunters draw near the herd they divide into
two parties, so as to surround the animals completely.
If the buffaloes were to form in line and charge the enemy
their great strength and bulk might tell, and they would
stand a good chance of getting through. But, instead,


they lose their heads and are thrown into confusion ; they
tumble over each other, and cannot get up again, and the
Indians close in, and, galloping past, plunge the lance or
aim the arrow straight at the heart, and the buffalo falls
dead where he stands.

If the Indian is hunting alone he carefully chooses
some large fat bull, and manages to separate him from
the rest by heading him off in the opposite direction. The
horse knows quite well what its master wants, and when
the buffalo is well away, gallops close to it on the right


side so that, at the moment of passing, the rider can turn
in his saddle and aim at the shoulder. Directly the
horse feels that his master has had time to give the death-
blow he sheers off at once, without giving a chance for a
second shot, for horses are- very nervous and timid
creatures, and have a very keen sense of possible danger.

If the hunters are many, and the herd a large one,
there are sure to be a number of accidents both to men
and horses, and indeed the thick dust often makes it
difficult to see clearly till it is too late. Often, too, both
men and horses get so excited that they forget their
prudence, and at last have to fling themselves from their
horses and trust to their own legs, or save themselves
only by tearing off the buffalo skin which forms a waist-
belt, and dashing it over the eyes of the buffalo.

"When a great hunt of this kind is over and it is
wonderful how short a time it lasts the Indians lead
their horses through the battlefield, drawing out their
arrows from their dead prey, and seeing by the private
marks on the arrows themselves how much of the spoil
belongs to each man. This business settled, a council is
called, and the hunters seat themselves in a ring on the
ground, smoking their long, gaily decorated pipes. Then,
men and horses having had a rest, they ride quietly back
to the encampment.

The first thing to be done on reaching the village is
to choose out some of the braves to inform the chief of
the success of the expedition how many buffaloes have
been killed, and how many horses or men have been lost.
Next, all the women and children are sent off to bring
back the meat, and a hard task it is, for they have to skin
the animals and cut them up, besides carrying them
home, and it seems as if the weaker ones might die on
the way.

In the winter, when the Indian is in need of meat, he
has to trust to his own cunning to get it, for in the colder
parts of the country the horse cannot be used at all for


hunting. So out he goes on his snow-shoes, which
prevent his sinking into the drifts, piled up by the wind
to a great depth in the hollow places. The huge buffalo,
which has no snow-shoes, comes thoughtlessly down
from feeding on the grass tracts which the wind has
blown bare, and flounders straight in. Once there he
cannot get out again, and the Indian comes up and
plunges his lance right into his heart, so that he is dead
in a moment. Then his skin, always in its best condition
during the winter, is sold to traders in fur, and the parts
of the flesh which the hunter does not want, or cannot
carry away, are left to the wolves. 1

1 All this was true years ago. Now, for want of Game Laws,
buffaloes are nearly extinct.




THEKE is perhaps no animal in the world so useful to
man as the reindeer, at least none that can be put to
so many uses. The flesh of a sheep is eaten, and its
wool is woven into cloth ; but then we should never think
of harnessing a sheep even to a baby-carriage. A camel
serves, in the desert, the purpose of a van and of a riding
horse in one, and his hair makes warm and light garments ;
but he would give us a very nasty dinner, and the same
may be said of some other useful creatures. A reindeer,
however, is good to eat, and makes an excellent steed ; its
milk is nourishing ; the softer parts of its horns, when
properly prepared, are considered a delicacy ; the bones
are turned to account as tools ; the sinews are twisted
into thread, and, all the long winter, the skin and hair
keep the dwellers in the far north snug and warm. Take
away the reindeer, and the inhabitants of every country
north of latitude 60 sometimes even south of it would
feel as helpless as we should in England if there were
no more sheep or cows !

Reindeers live, by choice, on the slopes of mountains,
and require no better food than the moss, or little Alpine
plants, which they find growing in the crevices of the
rock. Sometimes, in very cold places, or when the
winter is particularly severe, they take shelter in the
forests ; but when spring is in the air once more, out they
come in great herds, thin and sore from the bites of
newly awakened insects, and wander away in search of


fresher pasture. In August and September, when the
sun has grown too strong for them, they seek the shade
of the woods again.

In their wild state reindeer are great travellers, and as
they are very strong, and excellent swimmers, they go im-
mense distances, especially the reindeer of North America,
who will cross the ice to Greenland in the early part of
the year, and stay there till the end of October, when
they come back to their old quarters. They are most
sociable creatures, and are never happy unless they have
three or four hundred companions, while herds of a
thousand have sometimes been counted. The females
and calves always are placed in front, and the big bucks
bring up the rear, to see that nobody falls out of the
ranks from weakness.

We are accustomed to think of a reindeer as having
thick brownish hair, but this is only partly true of him.
Like many animals that live in the north, the colour of
the hair is different in winter from what it is in summer.
Twice a year the reindeer changes his coat, and the
immense thick covering which has been so comfortable
all through the fierce cold, begins to fall in early spring
and a short hair to take its place, so that by the time
summer comes, he is nice and cool, and looks quite
another creature from what he did in the winter. As the
days shorten and grow frosty, the coat becomes longer and
closer, and by the time the first snow falls the deer is
quite prepared to meet it.

Though reindeer prefer mountain-sides when they
can get them, their broad and wide-cleft hoofs are well
adapted for the lowlands of the north of Europe and of
America, which are a morass in summer and a snow-field
in winter. Here are to be seen whole herds of them,
either walking with a regular rapid step, or else going
at a quick trot ; but in either case always making a
peculiar crackling noise with their feet. They have an
extraordinarily acute sense of smell, and full detect a

B B 2


man at a distance of five or six hundred paces, and as
their eyes are as good as their ears, the huntsman has
much ado to get up to them. They are dainty in their food,
choosing out only the most delicate of the Alpine plants,
and their skins cannot be as tough as they look, for they
are very sensitive to the bites of mosquitoes, gnats, and
particularly of midges. Reindeer are very cautious, as
many hunters have found to their cost, and mistrustful of
men ; but are ready to be friendly with any cows or horses
they may come across, which must make the task of
taming them a great deal easier. They have their regular
hours for meals too, and early in the mornings and late
in the evenings may be seen going out for their breakfasts
and suppers, which, in summer, consist, in the highlands,
of the leaves and flowers of the snow-ranunculus, reindeer
sorrel, a favourite kind of grass, and, better than all, the
young shoots of the dwarf birch. In the afternoons they
lie down and rest, and choose for their place of repose a
patch of snow, or a glacier if one is at hand.

In order to tame a reindeer, you must catch him when
he is very young, and even then it is no use to expect him
to become as friendly as a cow or a horse. He always
has something half wild about him, which peeps out every
now and then when you least expect it, and often when
it is extremely inconvenient. The tame reindeer is his
master's pride and stay, his joy and his riches, and often
his torment too ! A Laplander who owns a herd of a few
hundred reindeer thinks himself the happiest man on
earth, and would not change lots with anybody. Yet,
after all, it almost seems as if he belonged to the reindeer,
and not that the reindeer belonged to him ! Where they
choose to go, he must follow, and neither marshy ground,
nor seas, nor rivers, nor anything else, make any differ-
ence to them. For months he spends his life in the open
air, bitten by insects all the summer, and by frost ah 1 the
winter, for he continually finds himself in places where
no wood is te be got, so he cannot have even the comfort


of a fire. Food and water are not always to be had either,
and sometimes, in the end, he becomes almost as much a
wild animal as the reindeer themselves. When he eats,
he eats strange things ; as for washing, he never thinks
about that at all. His sole companion is his dog, with
whom he shares whatever he has ; but all his hard-
ships seem light, for are they not suffered for his beloved

In Norway and Lapland great herds of reindeer may
be seen, during the summer, wandering along the banks of
rivers, or making for the mountains, returning with the
approach of winter to their old quarters. With the first
snow-fall they are safe under shelter, for this is the time
when wolves are most to be feared. In the spring they
are let loose again, and are driven carefully to some spot
which is freer from midges than the rest. And so life goes
on from year to ye;,r.

Reindeer herding is by no means so easy as it looks,
and it would be quite impossible, even to a Lapp, if it
were not for the help of dogs, who are part of the
family. They are small creatures, hardly so big as a Spitz,
and very thin, with close compact hair all over their
bodies. These dogs are very obedient, and understand
every movement of their master's eyelid. They will not
only keep the herd together on land, but follow them into
a river, or across an arm of the sea. It is they who rescue
the weaklings in danger of drowning, after their winter's
fast, and in the autumn, when the reindeer have grown
strong from good living, drive the herd back again through
the bay.

A herd of reindeer on the march is a beautiful sight
to see. They go quickly along, faster than any other
domestic animal, and are kept together by the herdsman
and his dogs, who are untiring in their efforts to bring up

When a good stretch of pasture is found, the Lapps
build a fold, into which the reindeer are driven every


evening, so that the work of the milkers may be lightened.
These folds are made of the stems of birches placed close
together and strengthened with cross pieces and strong
props. They are about seven feet high, and have two
wide doors. At milking-time, which the dogs know as
well as the men, the animals are driven inside by their
faithful guardians, and milking begins busily. The young
ones are generally left outside to graze or play, under the
watchful eyes of the dogs, who see that they do not
wander too far away. Inside the fold the noise is really
deafening. The reindeer run to and fro, giving loud
cries and throwing their heads about; which, as their
horns are very big, is not pleasant for the milkers. Any one
walking that way would be struck, first, with the souncl of
the movement and commotion going on in the enclosure,
and this would most likely be followed in a few minutes
by a crackling noise, as if a hundred electric batteries
were at work at once.

In the middle of the fold are thick tree trunks to which
the reindeer which have to be milked are fastened, for
without these they would not stand still one single instant.
The milkers have a thong which can be thrown round
the neck or over the horns of the animal, and this is
drawn closer till it is tied by a slip noose over the
creature's mouth, so as to prevent it from biting. Then
the ends are made secure to the milking block, and the
milking begins at last the animal all the while
struggling hard to get free. But the Lapps know how
to manage them, and only draw the cord tighter over
the nose, so that the creatures are bound in self-defence
to remain quiet. The milk flows into a sort of large
bowl with handles, but the Lapps are both careless
and dirty in their ways, and not only waste a great
deal of the milk, but leave so many hairs in it that it is
necessary to strain it through a cloth before it can be
drunk. However, the milk itself is very good, and as
thick as cream, and makes excellent cheese. The milking


once over, the doors are opened, and the animals
scamper out joyously.

Still, altogether, the life of the owner of a herd of
reindeer cannot be said to be an idle one. He is always
on the tramp, always on the watch ; he suffers thirst and
hunger, cold and fatigue, and it is very lucky he is in
general so well satisfied with his lot, and thinks himself
the most fortunate man in the world.



CROCODILES are found in nearly every large river all over
the tropics ; they are of immense length, sometimes
reaching as much as twenty feet and upwards, and are
covered with a thick, scaly hide which renders them
almost invulnerable. Not only is their throat very large,
but it is capable of expansion, so that a crocodile can
with ease swallow a small person or animal whole, though,
in the case of a larger victim, its snapping jaws and immense
teeth can bite through a human bone, or any equally hard
obstacle, as clean and sharp as though it had been cut
with a knife. These huge teeth are sixty- eight in number,
thirty-four in each jaw. They are very long and sharp, and
those of the upper and lower jaws interlock, so that woe
betide any person seized upon by them ; there is no
possibility of escape, or, if by good fortune he be rescued,
he will certainly leave a limb behind him in the jaws of
the devourer.

It is a mistake to suppose, as many persons do, that
the crocodile immediately consumes its victim ; in the
case of email animals, such as dogs and fawns, this may
be so. Large animals, however, when seized, are dragged
beneath the surface of the water, held there till drowned,
then borne off to some favourite hiding-place, there to be
eaten at leisure. The fore-feet of the crocodile are
shaped much like a short human hand, armed in place
of fingers with five long horny claws, which hold the
prey whilst tearing it with the teeth.


The time when it is most dangerous to enter the water
on account of these greedy monsters is towards sunset,
for then the fish come to the shallow water to feed, and the
crocodiles come to prey on them ; they may be seen
dashing furiously like huge pike after the larger fish, who
often leap several feet out of the water in the vain hope
of evading their pursuer.

Their cunning is only equalled by their ferocity, and
nothing daunts them, not even the sight of a large steamer
passing quickly through the water, from the deck of which
they will even snatch any person heedless enough to place
himself within their reach. This happened more than once
on Sir Samuel Baker's explorations of the White Nile. A
sailor, seated on deck dangling his feet over the side of
the vessel within half a yard of the water, was seized and
carried off so swiftly, that, though a hundred men were
present, nothing more was ever seen or heard of him.
Another sailor, who was seated on the rudder washing
himself, was borne off just as suddenly in the sight of all
his comrades.

The troops were in the habit of bathing in a small
dock, which had been made for the accommodation of one
of the steamers, and was connected with the river by a
canal thirty yards long and only three feet deep. This
was considered a perfectly safe bathing place, and free
from the intrusions of crocodiles. One evening, however,
the captain was absent from muster, and as it was known
that he had gone to bathe at this basin, search was
immediately made there for him. His clothes and red fez
alone being found on the bank, a number of men went
into the water in search of his body, which was not long in
being discovered. One leg being broken in several places
proved unmistakably that it was the work of a crocodile,
who would doubtless soon have returned to devour his
victim. Some months after this catastrophe another
occurred in the same canal, occasioned, it was supposed,
by the same monster, though there were no actual proofs


of the fact. As Sir Samuel and Lady Baker were sitting
out of doors enjoying the comparative coolness of the
evening, a man rushed frantically past the sentries
throwing himself on the ground at Sir Samuel's feet,
grasped him by the legs. As soon as he could find breath
he gasped out, ' Sai'd ! Said is gone ! taken from my side
this moment. We were wading together across the canal
by the dock where Eeis Mahomet was killed, when a
crocodile rushed like a steamer from the river, seized Sai'd,
and went off with him.' Assistance was quickly on the
spot, but all trace of the unhappy Said had completely
disappeared, and not even a ripple on the surface of the
water bore witness to the melancholy fact.

Another man belonging to the same expedition was
less unfortunate. While gathering watercress he had
his arm bitten off, and was only saved from utter de-
struction by his comrades holding tightly on to him.

Yet another man was seized by the leg while helping
to push a vessel off a sand bank. He, too, was saved by
the help of the soldiers engaged on the same work, but
with the loss of his leg.

From this formidable description, a tug-of-war be-
tween a crocodile and a cow would seem a very unequal
contest, and certain to go in favour of the crocodile. But
on the only occasion that such a thing is known to have
taken place, the cow came off with flying colours. She
was one of three large cows, with immense powerful
horns, brought by Sir Samuel Baker to Gondokoro, on the
White Nile. Being different from, and much handsomer
than, the small, active, cattle of that district, they were
looked upon with great admiration by the natives.
When Sir Samuel was obliged to depart into the interior
of Africa, he entrusted the three cows to the care of a
neighbouring chief, who, while responsible for their safety,
enjoyed the use of the milk. Upon Sir Samuel's return
to Gondokoro, after an absence of two years, he found not
only that the cows were in good health, but that one of


them had become an object of great veneration to the
tribes. Every morning her horns were wreathed with
fresh flowers, and she had become the sheik or chief-
tainess of all the herds, for she had performed the
remarkable feat of having caught a crocodile.

It had happened in this way : she had gone to drink
at the river, at a place where the banks sloped gradually
down to the water's edge. While she drank, a large
crocodile came out and seized her by the nose, with the
intention of dragging her down to the water, and there
drowning her, according to crocodile custom. Far from
this, however, for once he found that he had met his
match. The cow being heavy and strong, and the slope
of the bank gradual, she succeeded in dragging the
crocodile out of the water, and as the creature would not
let go its hold, and the cow was equally determined and
more powerful, they gradually receded several yards from
the water's edge. The natives attracted by the bellowing
of the cow, rushed to the rescue, and soon put an end
to the combat by despatching the crocodile with their
spears. Its head was kept as a trophy, and the cow
became a heroine for life.

A bullock on another occasion was less fortunate, or,
perhaps, less plucky and determined ; a crocodile having
succeeded in dragging it into the water, several times, in
its struggles, its body was seen to appear above the
surface, its head being held down by its captor. At
length nothing was visible but its tail, writhing and
twisting convulsively in the air, like a snake, till at length
that too ceased to move, and disappeared. Presently the
dead body rose to the surface, and was seen to float,
while the triumphant crocodile swam alongside, contem-
plating its victim with satisfaction.




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Online LibraryAndrew LangThe red book of animal stories → online text (page 22 of 22)