D. W. (David W.) Belisle.

The American family Robinson; or, The adventures of a family lost in the great desert of the West online

. (page 11 of 20)
Online LibraryD. W. (David W.) BelisleThe American family Robinson; or, The adventures of a family lost in the great desert of the West → online text (page 11 of 20)
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tomahawk, he set out one day, more for the sport
than anything else. Aftei proceeding about seven
miles over a broad, heavily wooded valley without
any signs of the desired game he began to think he
was too far in the mountains from a prairie for
them, and was about to retrace his steps when a
rustling at a little distance attracted his attention.


Going thither, as he approached, a wolf darted up
from the spot, and with a few leaps was out of
sight. The chief soon saw he had been feeding on
a wild horse that had died of old age and looked
as though it had lain there some days. However
the sight seemed to excite him, and after marking
the trees to designate his course, he closely scanned
the tracks around and then started farther down
the valley at a rapid pace.

After travelling some ten miles farther, he had
the satisfaction to come up with the drove. They
were not feeding, but some were laying down,
others standing leisurely around, evidently una-
ware of the proximity of the chief, who divesting
himself of all his weapons but the lasso, with
exceeding caution crawled along the ground with-
out rustling the leaves or branches until within
throw of the nearest, which was a young brown
colt of great beauty and graceful proportions.

Winding one end of the lasso around his wrist,
he gently raised himself. The lasso whirled above
the colt, and the next instant closed around its
throat. The rest of the horses with a snort
darted away, leaving the terrified colt plunging and
rearing with the Indian who had sprung on its
back, where he now clung with perfect security.
Seeing its companions flying down the valley it too
leaped away after them making fearful jumps
over brooks and logs for many miles, every few
minutes rearing and plunging in its mad endeavors


to free itself from its burthen, until covered with
foam and trembling in every limb it paused, and
turning its head gazed wildly and terrified on the
chief, who smoothed it gently as he spoke to it
mildly, and then holding the lasso tight in his
hand, slipped off its back. Feeling the burthen
removed it attempted to escape, but being still held
it was soon subdued and induced to follow the
chief. The colt seemed to understand that it was
a captive, for its manner became subdued and quiet
under the hands of its captor who viewed its sym-
metrical proportions with the eye of a connoiseur.
The chief actually laughed aloud at his success.
He had now a horse, it was so like old times, and
with this he could pursue the herd until he caught
others, when he had it perfectly trained. Satisfied
with his day's hunt, he followed the tracks of the
herd back, sometimes riding, then again walking,
as the fancy struck him, until he reached the temple
about sunset, where he and his prize were greeted
with every demonstration of joy.

With a grave, dignified countenance he led the
colt to where Jane stood, an I placing a halter,
which he had tied around its neck in place of the
lasso, in Jane's hand, he said :

" Whirlwind's gift to the antelope," and walk-
ing away left the young girl in possession of his
noble love-token.

Puzzled and blushing at her awkward position.
Jane turned to her uncle an imploring look, who



amused and laughing, came forward and catching
her by the arms, seated her on her prize.

" Ride her round a few minutes, the chief
expects it," he whispered in her ear. Obeying
him, she walked it back and forth before them a
few times, then slipping off placed the halter in
her uncle's hand.

" Here chief," said the trapper, " Jane is well
pleased with your present and desires you to take
good care of it for her, and will never be better
pleased than when she sees you on its back."

The chief, with a gratified look, led away the
colt, and fastening it to a sapling, took a skin
from which he cut a long stout halter so that it
could have the range of a few rods, and fastening
it left it to feed on the wild grass and herbage

"Look here, uncle," said Sidney, as the chief
walked away, "I wish I was dead or well, I don't
particularly care which."

" Why, boy, what is in the wind now ? Why
the rest of us are trying to make out something
good of a bad business, while you are fretting and
fuming like a caged liun. Be easy, boy, and if
you cannot be easy, do as we do, and be as easy as
you can."

" It is well enough to say be easy, crippled,
helpless, and obliged to eat of the things the rest
of you bring in ; to sit here all day long and be
pitied, while that black rascal "


" Hold ! hold ! not another word like that,"
said the trapper, sternly. "We are too much
indebted to as noble a heart as ever beat, for a
return like this. What matters it, then, that his
ways and complexion are not like ours ? His
father was my father's friend, as well as my own ;
and him I have known from earliest boyhood, and
to this hour have never km vvn him guilty of a
mean or dishonest act."

" What greater, more dastardly act of meanness
could he perpetrate, than stealing away the heart
of that young girl , or are you so blind you cannot
see through his manoeuvring?"

" Sidney, you are not yourself to-night," said
the trapper, " I am convinced of that, and I do
wrong to chide you : sickness and suffering, toil
and privation have unnerved you. When you are
well, you will see things clearer than you do now.
Come, I must take you in, the night dew is falling
fast and cold around us. I see and know all that
is going on, and understand the chief much better
than you do. Trust in my management of the
affair, and you will have no cause to complain at
last, however appearances at times may be against

The chief was now as contented and happy as
if he had never known other scenes than those that
lay around him. The lodge, as he called their
abode, was filled with fruit, venison, skins and furs;
the antelope accepted his offering, and a half-tamed,


high mettled colt was at his command, on which,
sometimes for a whole day, he went dashing madly
through the forest, a piece of hide around the colt's
neck his only accoutrements. Then he was in his ele-
ment and free, with the fresh mountain air fanning
his dusky brow, infusing into his stalwart frame
new life and vigor.

Snow now began to fall, and the fierce northern
winds swept through the forests, creaking the
leafless limbs of the trees as they swayed them to
and fro, anon rending them in twain, and scatter-
ing the fragments over the white mantled earth.
The wanderers now spent most of their time within
the temple, by their glowing fire that blazed so
cheerfully, the window and door closed tightly by
skins, shutting out the cold air. Here they amused
themselves in recounting past scenes, and strange
wild legends with which they had become familiar.
Without a written language, the Indian preserves
his national and domestic history solely by oral
instruction, handed down from father to son. Thus
every tribe has its own legends, while many vague
traditions of national history are peculiar to the
whole of the North American Indians without
regard to tribe.

They had been kept within the tent for many
days by a series of storms, and their stock of fresh
meats had become quite exhausted, when Howe and
the chief announced their determination to go on
a hunt for game. They could not take the colt, as


in the deep snow it would make more trouble than
it would be of service to them. Telling the child-
ren to be of good cheer, and keep up a good fire,
they launched forth, protected from the cold by
the thick, warm fur garments they had manufac-
tured for themselves, and armed with their bows
and arrows they had made also, they gaily took
the way down the valley as the one where game
was generally most abundant. A pair of par-
tridges, a wild turkey, and an antelope, were soon
brought down; but as it was early in the day, and
they were only warmed in the sport, they hung
these on a sapling, and proceeded on.

"I tell you what, chief," said the trapper, "I
am in for a buck. They are never so fat and
tender as now, and I intend to have the plumpest,
nicest venison steak for supper there is in this
forest, if I have to work for it. There are signs
of them about, and a little further down we shall
find where they have been browsing, if I am not

"My brother is right," said the chief; "yonder
they have passed, and their trail is still fresh ixi
the snow. There are many of them, and our wigwam
will again be full of fat venison. Hist, yonder
they are ; they will see us if we do not move with
great caution. You take the circuit round that
clump of spruce to the right, and I will keep
farther down to the left."

Warily they made their way until within shot if


them, when they discharged their arrows, and one
fine doe selected by the chief, fell, shot through
the heart. Howe was not so fortunate, he having
selected a noble buck, who bounded away with the
arrow sticking in his side, but from the quantity
of blood that flowed from his wound, staining the
snow, they knew he could not run far. Hanging
up the doe after dressing it, they set out to recover
the buck, which they expected to find dead not far
off. In this they were mistaken : he led them
many miles before he gave out, and by the time he
was dressed, and they were ready for returning,
the sun had passed the meridian.

They had not retraced their steps more than
half a mile, when a wailing sound was faintly heard
from a thicket a few rods distant. They paused in
a listening attitude. Again came the sound like
the wail of a young Cviild.


"A panther," said Howe, "he wants some of
our venison, perhaps a bite of us. Let us on or
we shall have to fight."

Again it was heard now louder, and then fol-
lowed a heavy sob and groan.

"No panther," said the chief throwing down his
load and making for the thicket. Howe began to
think so too, and was following, when the chief,
with a cry of surprise, disappeared beneath in the
thicket. Howe hastened forward, and there on
the bare ground which she had cleared of snow lay
a young squaw with a papoose but a few yearg


old huddled in her arms which she was vainly
endeavoring to shield from the cold. They were
terribly emaciated, with the seal of gaunt famine in
their sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. The mother's
limbs were frost bitten and entirely benumbed with

"Lost," said the chief; " she has been lost like
us in these interminable wilds."

" We must save her," said the trapper. " Wrap
her in that skin from the venison while I build a
fire to warm her by and cook her some meat. Poor
thing, she looks as though she was nearly dead
with hunger and cold. She is human, see the
tears in her eyes as she hugs that little thing closer
in her arms. Bless me but it makes a child of me
poor thing ! poor thing !"

Gathering some wood, the trapper soon had a large
place cleared from snow, and a fire was quickly
kindled, in the fierce heat of which some of their
slices of steaks were held a few minutes then given
to the famished woman. Eagerly seizing them she
held one to the mouth of the child, when it seized
it and commenced sucking the juicy food with
great voracity, while the rest disappeared with a
rapidity that astonished even the chief, who was so
rarely astonished at anything.

"I would like to know who she is and where she
came from," said Howe. "Ask her if you can
make her understand."

But she could not understand them, nor could


they her. She told them by signs that she had
been wandering a long while and could not find
her home, and begged them not to leave her there
to die.

"That we will not, chief; you stay with the
woman and I will take a load of venison home and
return with the colt for the woman to ride on, for
she is too weak to travel."

The squaw looked her thanks while she pressed
her child to her bosom as if she would " say we
shall still live perhaps to see home and kindred
when the snows melt from the hills "


jane's reception of the Indian woman Whirlwind's indifference
Condition of the party Sidney begins to use his broken arm
Their health They cannot calculate the day nor month The
chief imagines he has found the locality of the Arapahoes hunt-
ing grounds He becomes enamored of Jane The party troubled
about it Howe explains his experience in love matters A re-
connoitre suggested Edward joins them Deer chased by a wild
man The chief lassoes him A desperate struggle The wild
man captured and taken into camp Things in the camp, &c.

THE young mother and her babe received a
warm welcome from Jane, whose tender heart
ached as she scanned the half frozen, emaciated
beings before her ; and even repining Sidney was
forced to acknowledge that his sufferings had been
nothing in comparison to those the mother and
babe had endured. A few weeks spent under the
hands of their gentle nurse had a wonderful effect


in their condition, and the babe, especially, had
regained its infantile merriment, and played at
rough and tumble on the soft skins before the fire
like any other child of two years, as the squaw
reckoned its age. It was very lively and frolic-
some, and served to make merry many an hour

that otherwise would have lagged heavily on their
17 N


nanas Not so its mother ; she had regained her
strength, but no effort could bring back the smile
to her lip or chase the look of sadness from her
brow. She had, from the first, exhibited great
signs of fear of the chief, and did she catch his eye
resting on her she would hurriedly gather her child
in her arms, and with a wild look of terror cower
away into the corner of the room farthest from him
she could get, and there sit murmuring in wailing
tones to the babe nestling in her arms.

The chief, after the first day of her rescue >
exhibited perfect indifference to her presence, and
rarely gave her a glance ; but they had noticed
that when his eye did rest on her or the child it
had a peculiar exulting savage glitter seen at no
other times, for his eye usually had a mild express-
ion, and they had known him to exhibit disinter-
ested humane acts that set at defiance the supposi-
tion that he was devoid of sensibility.

This was a new phase in the character of the
Indian, and one that highly amazed the young
people. As for Howe, though he did sometimes
open his eyes with wonder, it did not interest him,
and he never spoke to them of the "by play" that
was every day growing more interesting to the
younger ones, and becoming a great torture to the
young mother. Jane, who was daily becoming
more and more attached to her guests, used every
art in her power to inspire her with more confi-
dence, aud at the same time assure her of the


kindness and friendship of the chief, but without
success. She was equally silent as to what tribe
she belonged ; for, though she had learned to
use many words correctly in expressing her wants,
she never seemed to learn any to express the past
with regard to herself, except that she was lost,
and could not find her way home. Jane had made
her and the babe clothing before she had recovered
her strength ; but, though it was as neatly done as
that she herself wore, the squaw had, as soon as
she was able to move around, taken some skins,
and had manufactured a suit for herself and child,
that was really pretty, so neatly was it done. This
finished, she made one also for Jane, presenting
it to her with gestures of gratitude for the kind-
ness she and her babe had received at her bene-
factress' hands.

Jane looked really much better when adorned in
the handiwork of the young squaw, than she did
in her own, for the suits they had on when carried
off by the Indians, had been worn and torn to
shreds in their wanderings, and they were all
dressed in skins dried with the fur on, having been
made soft and pliable under the skilful hands of
Howe and the chief

It was now midwinter, and the valley was cov-
ered with a mantle of snov, but not as deep as
they had anticipated it would be. They found
they were partly defended from the storms, by a spur
curving round to the principal range of mountain^


giving the valley the form of a horse shoe three
high, precipitous sides breaking the storms of win!
and snow, so as to make it really a very desirable
situation. And a most fortunate one it was to the
wanderers, the trapper often declaring, that if heevei
reached home again, he would conduct the whole
family to the spot, as it would not only make a
desirable farm, but afford rare facilities for hunting
and trapping, which desideratum was of the utmost
importance to both Howe and Mr. Duncan.

It is really surprising to one reared in the lap
of luxury, how little is actually necessary to sup-
port the human body healthfully. Take these wan-
derers, for instance, utterly debarred from procur-
ing the simplest products of civilization, entirely
thrown on such resources as savages are called to
practice to sustain life and health, yet they have
not only surmounted great obstacles, but are
undaunted by those that lay before them, and have
actually made themselves comfortable. Simple
as their abode and fare were, nay, even extremely
rude, yet they experienced a satislaction and enjoy-
ment when they retraced their wanderings since
they were carried away captives, and the feeling
of thankfulness for their wonderful escape from
the savage cannibals, begat one of contentment in
their present lot. It is true, they were fortunate
in having found and occupied the building in ruins,
as it afforded them a more secure shelter than they
could have built, with the small complement of


tools they possessed, yet it is a safe venture to
conclude, that had they not discovered them, they
would have made themselves an abode that would
have shielded them from wet and cold.

There were four rooms in the temple, two only of
which had been cleared. They had often been in
the others, but as they had no use for them, they
were left unmolested. The goat an4 the kid were
stabled nightly in the hall, but as she had become
so tame as to return at nightfall, she was allowed
to roam at pleasure through the day. Following
her instinct, she sought her food among the crags
and defiles of the mountains, thus relieving them
from the trouble of providing for her. When the
snow first began to cover the ground in early win-
ter, it caused them much anxiety as to how she
was to be provided for until spring. Her milk was
of too much importance to think of killing her, or
turning her loose to run wild again, and she was
at first tethered so as to prevent her wandering
away. This was relinquished after a while, when
they saw she returned of her own accord.

The colt caused them more trouble. Recently
captured, they did not dare to turn it loose to
seek food as they did the goat ; and the only
way left for them, was to tether it in the thickets
of maple and basswood the young tender growth
of which the wild prairie horses are very fond of.
These thickets were usually studded with a luxuri-
ant undergrowth of small shrubs and evergreens


that were very nutritious, and of which the fat
condition of the wild horses, buffaloes, deer, ante-
lope, mountain sheep, and goats that feed thereon,
is sufficient proof. Often in the winter, plats of
grass may be found in patches sheltered from the
storms; but the chief dependences for food of the
multitudes of" cattle that roam through the western
wilds, is the luxuriant growth of shrubs that spring
up uncropped in the summer, as the cattle then
prefer the tender grass on the prairies.

Sidney, to his great satisfaction, now began
to use his arm without the slightest difficulty,
and with his strength his spirits resumed their
wonted healthful vigor, greatly to the relief of the
trapper and Ja,ne, who had been under the neces-
sity of keeping a watch over him to prevent his
coming to a rupture with the chief. He was now
active, and only laughed heartily at what had
annoyed him before, and tormented Jane unmerci-
fully on the conquest she had made.

They were all in excellent health, and only
waited with impatience for the winter to break up,
so that they could resume their journey in safety
in search of home. One thing alone grieved them
the evident increasing terror with which Mahnewe,
the Indian mother, regarded the chief. In order
to free her as much from his presence as possible,
Howe had proposed long hunts, by going to the
forest at early dawn, and not returning until even-
ing. They enjoyed the sport, as it not only placed


Mahnewe at ease, but they gained a perfect knowl-
edge of the surrounding country, which was of
much importance to them, as well as kept their
larder supplied with abundance of game.

They had lost the day and month ; and now
their only guide was the fluctuations of the
weather, of which, fortunately for themselves,
they were good observers, and could calculate
within half a month of the time at any season of
the year. About the middle of February, as they
calculated time, Howe and the chief went out
one morning for a hunt, and following the valley
down a mile or two, crossed the stream, and
ascending a knoll, stood on its summit, survey-
ing the country around them. The trees being
shorn of their foliage, gave them an uninterrupted
view of the broad valley, with its barrier of
hills, and peak rising above peak, until they
towered up and seemed almost to pierce the

" I do not think, it would be safe for us to cross
this mountain," said the trapper. " Our homes, I
do not think, are in that direction. We must have
been deceived in our course."

"Yonder," said the chief, pointing down the
valley, " are the hunting grounds of the Arapahoes.
Far away, over a broad prairie, four days' journey,
the warriors of Wirlwind follow another chief to
battle, and listen to him in council, as they were
Wont to their lost chief, whose death song they


have sung amidst the wail of the squaws. Yet
Whirlwind does not grieve. He has found another
squaw, fleeter than the antelope, more graceful
than the fawn, whose voice is like the singing
birds, and face fairer than imagery of the spirit land.
Let my brother go to his home, but Whirlwind's
home is where the antelope is, he will live and die
with her."

" Pshaw ! chief. You will be as much the chief
of your people when you return as ever. Probably
they have supposed you dead and elected another
chief ; still, according to your customs, if you
return, the authority would be by universal acclam-
mation, given back into your hands. As for that
other little matter, why the child is too young to
talk of it. Our first great object is to find our
way out of this scrape, and the ?^est will then come
natural enough."

" Whirlwind will hunt the deer and beaver here:
this is his home ; he is not a child, but a warrior,
and can wait for the antelope," said the chief in a
tone of decision not to be mistaken.

" I can tell you, chief," said Howe, " we will find
our way out, and bring the whole family here.
This place will exactly suit Jane's father, and then
you know she would be so much more contented if
they were here ?" he added.

The chief regarded the speaker with an inquiring
glance for a moment, then said: "Whirlwind is
not to be played with When the antelope says


she will go with him, he will take her, if she is
hemmed in with arrows."

" Whirlwind, I will be plain with you," said
Howe, " for I know you are noble, generous, and
brave. Jane is not my child, and is not mine to
dispose of; but as she has no other guardian here,
I will protect her until once more restored to her
family. You must wait until then, and if her


family consent, and she desires it, I shall make no
objections. Perhaps by that time your love fit
will be over, and you will not want her. There is
Mahnewe, why don't you make love to her?"

" The eagle mates not with the owl, nor the
Arapahoe with the Snake," retorted the savage

" Oh ! well, just as you like ; yet I think she is
rather pretty. Come, chief, you cannot help but

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Online LibraryD. W. (David W.) BelisleThe American family Robinson; or, The adventures of a family lost in the great desert of the West → online text (page 11 of 20)