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 4 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 4 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wind will shift and blow the fire in another direc-
tion. We must hope for the best, doing everything
in our power for our safety. N )w go ; give the
horses and mules a loose rein."


And away over the plain the cavalcade went,
followed by the wagon as fast as the oxen could
travel, but the progress they made was slow in
comparison to that of the fire. On it came, and
on went the cattle, goaded by the drivers at first,
but at last catching sight of the heavy, rolling
wave of fire that was sweeping towards them, they
started into a gallop, frightened and seeming to
comprehend the danger that menaced them. Mr.
Duncan saw his wife and children gain the Sand
Hills in safety, and then the smoke and half con-
sumed grass filled the air, hiding the rescued from
view as the burning wave swept toward them, mad-
dening the oxen and making the stout hearts of
the pioneers quail, as the burning fragments eddy-
ing through the air, fell thick and fast among
them. Prairie dogs, in droves went howling past,
wolves and panthers laying their bodies close to
the ground in their rapid leaps, heeded not each
other, and even an antelope joined in the flight
unmolested, from their common foe. Innumerable
prairie fowls filled the air with their cries ; but,
above every other sound arose the roar and crack-
ling of the scorching billowy mass, as on, still on
it came, now rising until its seething flame seemed
to touch the sky, then falling a moment only to
rise the next still higher

A prairie on fire is a sublime spectacle, which
those who have had the good fortune to see, in a
place of safety, will not soon forget. But a hor


rible ordeal it is for those who are overtaken by
the raging flame ; for, if the grass is dry, with a
slight breeze to fan the flame, it travels with the
speed of a whirlwind.

Mr. Duncan could not abandon his noble beasts
in the extremity, for he knew if left to themselves,
unaccustomed to the ground, they would lose them-
selves, and ensure their destruction ; but, in keep-
ing by their sides, encouraging them by his pres-
ence and urging them on, he still hoped to save
them, although half blinded with smoke and the
hot air that surrounded them. Howe had charge
of one of the teams, and Sidney the other, who,
following the example of Mr. Duncan, stood their
ground bravely, resolving to share the fate of their

Mrs. Duncan and the children, from their hill
of refuge, saw with terror the fearful and unequal
race on the plain below, until they were entirely
enveloped in smoke, and then their suspense was
harrowing till a puff of wind lifted the smoky
cloud, which it occasionally would, giving them for
an instant a glimpse of their friends, as on they
came towards them in their headlong career. Eut,
as nearer, still nearer came the flames, the cloud
became too dense to be lifted by the wind, and all
was one circling, eddying wave, hiding every ob-
ject from view. A few moments of suspense, dur-
ing which no words were spoken, and then bursting
through the cloud came their noble oxen, their


tongues dry and blackened and hanging from their
mouths, their hair scorched from their sides, and
the wagon covers on fire, while the drivers feeling
they were safe sank on the sand, half way up the
hill from exhaustion.

Mrs. Duncan, and the children, were soon by the


wagons, tearing off the covers, and by so doing,
saved the contents from burning. Then pouring
water over and down the the throats of their ex-
hausted oxen, they were soon able to breathe freely.
In the meantime, by Mrs. Duncan's direction,
Anne had taken a basin of water and bathed the
faces and hands of the drivers, so that they were,
though quite exhausted, very comfortable. The
lire rolled past them without reaching them further,
and finally, after having spent itself died away,
leaving the broad prairie that was at noon so hea-
vily covered with verdure, a blackened plain.

" This is a pretty fix for us to get in, Duncan,"
said Howe, as the fire rolling away, left them clear
of smoke, and gave them a full view of their posi-
tion. "Here we are," he continued, "every drop
of water spent, without a blade of grass around us,
begrimmed with soot and smoke, looking worse than
any Indians I ever saw."

"' We ought to be thankful," said Mr. Duncan,
"that no lives are lost. We have escaped better
than we had reason to hope, placed as we were."

u To be sure we have escaped ourselves, but see
what a pitiable plight our oxen are in. They will


not be able to draw another load in a week, at
least ; and what are we to do in the meantime ?"

" I declare, uncle, I think you have the horrors ;
for whoever before saw you at a loss for an expe-
dient under any circumstances ?" said Jane, with
a merry twinkle in her eye ; for this was a pecu-
liar phase in her uncle's character, to hold up to
others the worst side of any circumstance, while
at the same time he was taking active measures
to remedy it. So in this instance : for he had
already made arrangements to reconnoitre the forest,
that lay west of the Sand Hills, not over two and
a half miles distant. Accordingly, mounting one
horse, with Lewis on the other, they galloped over
the plain, and striking the forest at the nearest
point, they found it dry, destitute of grass, arid
totally unfit for a- camping ground. Taking a cir-
cuit in a southerly direction, where the surface
seemed more broken, they found they were on
higher ground, and as they rode on, the thick un-
dergrowth all the while growing more dense, en-
couraged them to proceed ; for which they were
rewarded by striking a small brooklet of pure
water, whose banks were lined with rich grasses,
sheltered by tall trees that grew on either side.
Here he resolved the camp should be pitched, and
lighting a fire to mark the place, they galloped
back to the Sand Hills. To remove the heavy
wagons was no easy task, as the oxen were only
able to walk without a burthen.


Ihf re were two pairs of mules and one of horses,
And these being hitched to one of the wagons, were
taken to the place designated by the stream, and
then brought back for another until all the wagons
were on the ground, which the last reached about
ten at night. In the meantime, Mrs. Duncan had
walked thither with the children, Mr. Duncan, with
the other boys, driving the oxen a little way at a
time, and at last reached the camp ground as the
last wagon came up.


62 TH E AV A N c EB ERS; OB,


Preparing a Supper Heavy Storm The Place of their Encamp-
ment Strangling Indians seen Apprehensions of an Attack-
Preparations of defence A friendly Indian approaches Warns
them of their danger Approach of the Crows A Fight The
Camp Attacked Capture of Five in the Camp The Pursuit
Recovery of some of the Captured The pursuit Continued
Tabagauches meet the Crows, and defeat them They are dis-
covered Encampment.

TiPvED and sleepy, our travelers provided them-
selves with supper, having pitched their tents, and
laid down to court sleep the great restorer for body
and mind. The sky was cloudless betokening a clear
night; and presuming on this they had not re-covered
their wagons, intending to leave it until they had
slept off their fatigue. But in this, even Howe had
something to learn. People under such circum-
stances should presume on nothing, but make every-
thing sure, for at one hour they are not certain that
the next will find them secure. It did not them, for
they had slumbered scarcely three hours, when the
whistling winds and creaking of their tent poles
aroused them from their slumbers. Springing from
their beds they were almost blinded by the lightnings'
glare, as flash followed flash, in quick succession,
each accompanied by a deafening pea) of thunder


chat reverberated portentiously through the forest.
Mr. Duncan hastened into the open air. The sky
was overcast with fleecy clouds, while from the
northwest came slowly up a dark heavy cloud
stretching over the whole of that part of the sky.
As higher and higher it rose, louder grew the thun-
der, and more vivid the lightning, the wind sweep-
ing round in angry blasts until it seemed as if
every element in nature was in commotion.

Immediately every hand was brought in requi-
sition to fasten the tent poles more securely, and
by the time it was accomplished, the storm, with
all its fury burst upon them, while they were strain-
ing every nerve to fasten the tarpauling covers on
the wagons to protect the contents from the storm,
should the rain penetrate the tent. The cover on
Mrs. Duncan's wagon they had succeeded in fast-
ening, and were proceeding to the next, when a
terrible crash was heard near them, that shook the

"There is high wind to-night," said Howe.
"It must have taken more than ordinary force to
have blown down that tree there goes another
crash ! what a fearful night it is !"

" The smoke from the burning prairie has formed
itself in clouds, which, becoming overcharged with
moisture, are discharging themselves," remarked
Mr. Duncan.

U A glorious cooling we shall get, after being
nearly baked," remarked Sidney.


"Oh ' what is that !" cried Mrs. Duncan, as a
heavy body fell against the tent, crushing it as if it
had been a feather.

But no one could answer, for in a twinkling their
light was out, and the rain in torrents pouring in
upon their water-proof wagons. The whole family
had taken refuge in Mrs. Duncan's wagon, after
having secured the covers in their proper places ;
and it is well they did, or they would have been
deluged in an instant ; for it seemed as if the hea-
vens had opened their windows, and were pouring
from thence a flood of water. They could only
catch a glimmering of the mischief done to their
tent by the flashes of lightning ; but they saw
enough to ascertain that a tree had fallen across
it, and had crushed one of the wagons beneath its
weight. They had escaped unhurt, being buried
beneath the falling canvass by its splitting in the
centre. Gradually the storm spent itself, and by
morning, but a few flitting clouds were seen above
the horizon.

Less stouter hearts than those of our pioneers
would have been dismayed at the destruction which
had been going on in the night, and which the
light revealed. Their tent, rent in a dozen pieces,
one of the wagons badly broken, and everything
out of the wagons saturated with water. Right
manfully, however, they went to work. The tent
was spread where the sun would fall upon it, and
everything that had been wet during the night,


together with the blackened suits that went through
the fiery ordeal the day before, were taken to the
brook-side by Mrs. Duncan and Jane, and very
soon were waving in spotless purity from the bushes
where they had been hung to dry, giving the
scenery around the encampment a home-like ap-

The place of their encampment was a lovely
spot : but truly refreshing after their tiresome jour-
ney over the prairie ; and though their first night
was exceedingly uncomfortable, it was owing to the
warring elements, and not to any fault of the place.
Before the night again set in, busy hands had been
at the tent, and once more it reared its conical
shaped head among the forest trees, but bearing
marks in its numerous patches, of the tempest that
had raged so fiercely through the past night.

Day after day wore away, and still the cattle
exhibited a great deal of lassitude, so much so, as
to preclude the possibility of moving on. This
was no great annoyance to the travelers, as it was
early in the summer, and their only object was to
find a place that would suit them for a permanent
settlement, before cold weather set in, which they
were sure of not effecting, should they be detained
a month in their present encampment. Besides,
their camp being in a lovely valley, on the borders
of a clear stream, surrounded by everything that
could make the lordly groves enchanting, game of

almost every kind abounded, to which they paid
6 * E


particular attention, as their stock of dried meat
and roasted ribs, broiled stakes, and savory soups,
could testify.

Howe's time was spent, when not following
game, in giving the boys lessons in distinguishing
one kind of game from another by signs before
they were near enough to see it ; and then the
best mode of bringing it down and disposing of it.
They practised shooting at a target, with both gun
and bow, hurling a knife or tomahawk, and hand-
ling the Indian's war club daily. Mrs. Duncan's
tent bore more the semblance of a large room in a
thriving farmer's house, than a temporary camp in
the wilderness, so homelike was its appearance.
A cupboard made by standing two boards perpen-
dicular, with elects nailed across, in which were
laid the shelves, held her crockery and tinware ; a
temporary table, made in equally as primitive a
style, but now covered with a table cloth, stood
at one side, while at the left, was a barrel covered
also by a white cloth, on which was set a dressing
glass, the top wreathed with mountain laurel,"and
wild flowers, and placed in that post of honor by
little Anne, who was sure to renew it every day.
Camp stools stood around the tent, while the whole
surface of the ground in the tent was matted with
dried buffalo skins, making it free from dampness,
and not altogether uncomely in appearance.

Mrs. Duncan, had ever been noted for a love of
orderly household arangements, and now, as ever,


they developed themselves in a thousand little
comforts that she had thoughtfully stowed away ;
and now that they were needed, added essentially to
their comfort and pleasure. Hardly an article was
desired that she did not produce from some corner,
its whereabouts unknown to the rest of the family,
until wanted ; and when she one day brought out an
old familiar boot-jack, one being wished for, Mr.
Duncan said he believed she was in possession of
Aladin's lamp.

They often saw around their camp a straggling
Indian of the friendly tribes, to whom some of them
were known. But this was not always to continue,
for a few had been spies, that had carried to their
tribes an account of the emigrants, their heavily
loaded wagons containing a coveted prize, and the
owners too few to protect it from any great force
against them. Some of these were " Crows," a
tribe noted for treachery, and others " Arapa-
hoes," in "whose professions of friendship Howe
and Mr. Duncan had great confidence. They were
under no apprehension of being molested, and re-
tired every night as usual, with the precaution of
a single guard. Everything went on as usual for
a week, when they were aroused with caution, and
armed by Howe, who was sentinel that night,
who said he saw things in the forest that, at the
least, looked very suspicious. Nothing transpired,
however, to confirm his suspicions until daylight,
when Howe cautiously reconnoitered the ground


around. He discovered traces where they had
been, but so artfully had they covered their trail,
that, without the tact of detecting it, possessed by
the trapper, it would have passed unobserved, for
the rest of the travelers declared they could see

" Their designs are against us; their approach-
ing and then returing without coming into camp,
proves it a certainty," remarked Howe, after satis-
fying himself that they had not only been there
and gone away, but were anxious to obliterate all
traces of their presence.

" We must not be taken by surprise," replied
Mr. Duncan. " Courage has more effect in sub-
duing an Indian than even a ball. However, I do
not apprehend that they really intend to make an
assault on us."

" Perhaps not," said Howe, " but they act very
suspiciously, prowling about like beasts. Why don't
they show themselves, if friendly ? But," he con-
tinued, " if they want to skulk about, and pounce
upon us, let them take the consequences, our rifles
do not miss fire."

" We had better use great precaution about wan-
dering from camp, for a fsw days, or they will
carry all off while we are away. Perhaps it is
only a straggling war party returning home, and
in a few days we will be rid of them."

That night they retired, but Howe was too sus-
picious of treachery to all:>w any one else to be


sentinel but himself, and as he had slept a while
during the day, he was equal to the self-imposed
task. As the shades deepened, his practised ear
detected sounds that others would have thought
little of, but which he considered, unmistakably to
be produced by the stealthy tread of Indians. Aa
hour after hour went by, shadows were flitting from
tree to tree, and then Howe knew for a certainty
that the camp was surrounded by hostile foes.

Stealthily every one in the camp was awakened,
and armed with rifles, with the exception of Benny
and Anne, who were placed in a secure position.
Mrs. Duncan and Jane could handle a rifle with as
much precision as was necessary to protect them-
selves in an emergency. Mr. Duncan and Howe,
disposed their little band so as to bring their arms
to bear on three different points from which they
were certain, in case of an attack, the foe would
come, by the moving figures in the shadows but
dimly seen, but which could be traced by keeping
the eye intently fixed upon them.

"Make no movement or noise," was the order,
" but at the first sound from the savages, every one
be ready to fire ; probably when they find their fire
anticipated, they will retreat, if not, give them an-
other volley on the moment." They had stood in
this position for half an hour, when a single savage
stept from behind a tree, advanced a yard or two
into the open glade that lay for a few rods around,
and divesting himself of his tomahawk, scalping


knife, bow and arrows, laid them on the ground,
and after pointing at them, as if to draw attention
to them, advanced with finger on his lip towards
the camp.

Howe had observed his movements, but when he
saw him lay down his arms and come towards
them, he felt certain the Indian desired a confer-
ence. Duncan thought it a ruse to draw some of
them from the camp where the ambushed Indians
could make a sure target of them.

" I agree with you that it is not safe to go out
of the camp, but there can be no harm in letting
the savage in. He is unarmed, and at the first
appearance of hostility, he must be dispatched,"
replied Howe.

" If he enters the camp to-night, he must not
return until daylight," said Mr. Duncan.

u Certainly not ! Hark ! he is close to us ; see,
he pauses : what can he mean ?"

" Arapahoe ! white man's friend," distinctly they
heard him pronounce.

"What are you doing here, then?" said Howe,
" don't you see I could shoot you like a dog, that
comes stealing around, as if afraid of daylight ?'

" The son of the ' Great Medicine' would not
hurt Whirlwind," replied the Indian.

" Ha ! Whirlwind, what are you doing here,
you are indeed, safe," said Howe, lowering the
barrel of his rifle.

"Whirlwind, returning to his village with his


braves, found a snake encircling his white brother's
wigwam, and has crept within the circle to save
them," returned the Indian.

" What is that you say ? are tnere other Indians
beside your own, about ?"

" The hills are dark with ' Crows,' who stand
ready at the sound of the war-whoop, to sweep
down on my brothers, drink their blood, and steal
their goods."

" Perhaps it is not so easily accomplished," said
Howe, "you know we are no cowards, to give
our lives and property without striking a blow to
save them."

"My brothers are a handful, the Crows cover
the hills ; but my warriors, though but few, are
brave arid will fight for their white brothers."

" If things are as bad as you represent, this is
very kind of you ; but, how are we to know that
the ' Crows' are around in large numbers to attack


us :

" The tongue of Whirlwind is not forked ; he
cannot lie;" returned the Indian proudly.

" I know it, Whirlwind, I know you are true, as
well as brave. The danger forced the thought,
though I really did not doubt your truth for a mo-
ment. I will take your advice, Whirlwind. What
is the most effectual mode of protecting ourselves ?"

" My white brothers will guard their camp, and
should the Crows press us too hard, help to repel
them," said the Indian, and by his tone, he evi-


dently had not forgotten the suspicion cast upon hia

" You do not intend to stand the brunt of the
fight, do you?" said Howe. "No, Whirlwind, I
can't allow that."

" The braves of the Arapahoes have, for many
moons longed to meet the ' Crows' in battle ; now,
surely, my white brother will not go between them."

" I certainly shall not consent to any blood being
shed," interposed Mr. Duncan, "without provoca-
tion. We wish to be on friendly terms with all
the tribes, and will not do anything that will have
a tendency to irritate them."

" Yonder, the Crows, in numbers, await the signal
of their chief, to drink the blood of my brothers,
and carry their wives and children prisoners to
their wigwams ; when this is done, it will be too
late to strike a blow. But it shall not be ; see,
yonder in the thicket, a hundred Arapahoe war-
riors are panting for the onset. The children of
the ' Great Medicine' shall be saved. They are in
Whirlwind's hunting grounds, and he will pro-
tect them." So saying, the irritated Chieftain
turned on his heel, and strode away, pausing to
collect his arms, when he disappeared in the

A council was immediately held in camp ; but
before any decision was determined upon, a denf-
ening war-whoop was heard from the hills, at the
same moment the battle-cry of the Ajrapahoes broke


from the thickets around the camp. Then a charge

was heard and the combatants' yells, shrieks and


groans were mingled with the fierce war-whoop, as
the Indians rushed on each other. The Crows
astounded to find they were confronted by their
deadly foes, at first broke and retreated ; but the
taunting jibes of the Arapahoes as they pressed on
them aroused the demon in their natures, and turn-
ing, they charged on their pursuers, driving them
back before them, towards the camp, at the same
moment making the forest re-echo their cry of vic-
tory. Howe heard the hoarse note, as it swelled
fiercely on the air, and springing from the camp,
cried, " Come ! now is our time : follow me !" and
dashing into the forest, followed by Mr. Duncan,
Sidney and Lewis, he met the retreating Arapahoes
who, encouraged by this timely assistance, faced
about, and the rifles of the pioneers telling with
fearful effect, caused the Crows to fly with terror ;
and as their pursuers loaded running, the constant
volleys prevented the Crows rallying, and in a few
minutes the whole band was either killed, wounded
or dispersed through the forest.

" Back to your camp, there is trouble t\iere,"
cried Whirlwind, " my braves will pursue the
Crows," and calling a dozen warriors to his side,
he bade them follow on with him after the pioneers.

When the Crows gave the cry of victory, about
a dozen of them rushed through to secure tke whites
prisoners, and having been unobserved by tha


Arapahoes, or our pioneers, when they heard their
own tribe a second time driven back, they deter
mined to carry them off as first intended, hoping to
secrete themselves before the victors returned.

With varying sensations of hope and dismay,
Mrs. Duncan heard the combatants advance, re-
treat, advance again, and at last retreat, followed
by their rescuers, and at the moment when she sup-
posed they were freed from danger, the swarthy
robbers burst into her camp, and were in the act of
seizing her when the sharp crack of a rifle was
heard, and the foremost savage leaped in the air with
a hoarse yell, and fell dead at her feet. Martin had
saved his mother, for stepping back on the instant,
she raised her rifle and another fell beneath her
aim ; at the same moment Jane's rifle disabled an-
other ; but the savages closed so fast around them
that they were disarmed and overpowered, their
hands bound and they were hurried away over the

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 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 4 of 20)