University of New Mexico.

New Mexico historical review (Volume 17) online

. (page 29 of 33)
Online LibraryUniversity of New MexicoNew Mexico historical review (Volume 17) → online text (page 29 of 33)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


cavalry swords, which to judge from their polish, had not
been their property very long. Undoubtedly they had been
captured in a recent predatory raid. For the rest they were
armed to the teeth. An enormous, wolflike hound followed
at their heels.

At our approach they shouted "Cheyenne." They
seemed to be peacably inclined. But from the very first they
aroused our suspicions, for they resembled the Kiowas more
than any other tribe, these being the thievish rabble that
have an especial hankering for robbing and murdering pale
faces.

When they came near they began at once to beg in the
most insolent manner. First of all they asked for whiskey.
Of course, we refused their demand, and when they made as
if they were going to grip our horses by the reins, we
threatened them with our guns. Sullenly they let us pass,
but at a distance of some fifty steps they were following us,
and with not the best intentions in the world, as appeared
quite obvious.

Moellhausen, whom the presence of these ruffians
seemed to annoy almost beyond endurance, asked my per-
mission to send a bullet through their heads. This I refused
to grant in emphatic terms. At this point, however, I must
let my young friend take up the thread of the story.

ADVENTURES IN THE GREAT AMERICAN DESERT
BY MOELLHAUSEN

My proposal (explains the latter) to kill the two ras-
cals, was foolhardy when viewed in the light of future
events. Moreover it was unjust as will be seen when the
two sides, the one affecting the red man, the other the pale
face, have been given a just and equitable consideration.

At this moment, however, my lust to kill was born
partly out of my utter ignorance and inexperience in dealing



304 NEW MEXCO HISTORICAL REVIEW

with the Indians, and for the rest because I had become em-
bittered against them as being to blame for all the misfor-
tunes that had befallen us.

And how childish and inconsiderate this feeling was,
after all! How superficially I had adjudged their attitude
toward the whites ! How short-sighted my views with refer-
ence to the relations between the two races.

Here was a people hunted, persecuted, killed as one
would kill wild beasts, on their own soil, in their own native
land which they had inherited from their fathers. Here
they had to bear untold wrongs too cruel for words that
would describe their horror.

Was it not indeed most natural that they should regard
every one of these as an intruder, an oppressor, an enemy?
Why should they not view every white man with suspicion?
Why, indeed, with any feeling less intense than quenchless
hatred?

Mindful as they must be of the outrages they had per-
petrated against his own race, why should he not seek to
avenge them whenever he had an opportunity to do so?

Whosoever utters imprecations against this vengeful
and irreconcilable spirit of the Indian race is utterly oblivi-
ous of the uncalledfor and execrable vindictiveness of the
whites who demand in retaliation for the stealing of a single
horse the sacrifice of many human victims.

"Thou shalt not steal!" says the self-styled civilized
white man to the aborigines. In the same breath he plans
on robbing the ignorant child of nature of his home, of the
honor of his wife and daughter. He extinguishes in the
red man's breast every spark of hospitality, destroys all faith
in such preachments. He kills in him all potential good. He
arouses his blackest passions.

"Thou shalt not kill !" commands the white man's God,
and this white man's law the missionary reads to the un-
tutored savage. Yet for a single murder committed by the
latter entire tribes are destroyed with savage ruthlessness.

"Nowhere is a human being so utterly despised on
account of his color, if it is not white as by this in all other
respects so generous and noble race, the Anglo-Saxons,"
interrupted the duke my spoken reflections.

"The people who break out in coarse and cruel excesses
against the copper-skinned race and the African as well;
who deny that they are susceptible to civilizing influences ;
who, it would seem, are stubbornly bent on rooting them out
to the last individual these are not aware that they expose



ADVENTURES IN THE AMERICAN DESERT 305

their own ignorance, their lack of consistency and justice.
They are not capable, in fact, of recognizing the true causes
which led in the first place to these evils which by now have
become so deeply rooted that they are past repair or cure."

The idea of shooting down the two Indians, was, there-
fore, turned down by the disgusted duke with the question,
"By what right do you presume to kill human beings whose
superior you are only by reason of your better weapons?"

"The right of the stronger," I answered coolly, "and
the desire to rid myself of their sinister company."

"Even in the wilderness," interrupted the duke, "one
should surely shed blood only in self-defense, even though
the principle that might is right is, to my deep regret, still
recognized as law.

"And you do not really believe that these two savages
are the only ones in the vicinity? Do you suppose that we
would survive their death a single day if their murder could
be traced to our door, as it surely would?"

I did not reply. Riding alongside of the wagon I
reflected whether, under circumstances as they were, it
would be after all such a great misfortune to be scalped in a
respectable manner.

The two Indians were following us from afar.

When we saw their band draw near (continues the duke
in his journal) there was nothing to do but to await the
turn of events with calmness. For iron nerve is often the
only way by which one is able to pull himself out of a critical
situation when confronted by a band of savages on the
warpath.

From a rise in the plain we were able to survey the low
ground ahead off us. Along this level terrain we saw a
body of fourteen or fifteen warriors coming toward us. All
were afoot, well-armed with cavalry sabres, carbines, rifles,
bows and tomahawks. They were for the most part young
bucks, in their exterior the exact replicas of the ones I have
described.

Just as on a former occasion, I commanded them to halt,
and permitted them after an exchange of the customary
signs of peace to approach us.

At first they feigned peaceable intentions. They
wanted to look at my weapons and demanded brandy and
victuals, neither of which I deemed feasible to give them
inasmuch as we now had no other meats but bacon which the
Indians of the West hold in utter contempt.



306 NEW MEXCO HISTORICAL REVIEW

Gradually they grew aggressive, even insolent. The
situation became tense.

Just as I was going to utter an angry protest one of the
two rascals who had first come to intrude on our course
uttered a hideous cry and rushed at us. Quick as thought
itself the rest of the band threw aside their loose outer cov-
ering and raised their weapons with the obvious intention
of killing us instantly.

The attack was made so suddenly and from all direc-
tions that we were unable to use our firearms. To be sure,
we tried to break through the human wall with our horses,
but they saw this simultaneously. One of the bucks sprang
in front of the team and struck the near horse on the head
with his tomahawk so that the poor beast sank on its knees
stunned by the blow. It rose instinctively, but was unable
for the moment to advance a step. A few days later it
died as a result of the cruel stroke.

We now felt that we were completely in their power.
In front of each of us were six or seven of the blood-thirsty
horde. I had seized my double-barrelled rifle; but hardly
was it in my hands when they snatched it away. One of
them aimed its mouth at my head. They also took the short
sword with which I was wont to give a slain animal the
coup de grace ; and when I was going to reach for my trusty
pistol they seized it also and tore it from my grasp.

With these weapons in their possession they grew more
impudent. They dragged me from the wagon, jerked off
my Mexican serape and my cap. At a signal they cocked
their guns and bent their bows directly at my head. My
own double-barrelled rifle and another gun touched my
breast, and one of the younger savages held his bent bow
with the arrow almost touching my right eye.

They give Moellhausen and me to understand that our
lives were forfeited because we were Yankees and therefore
their deadly foes, and that they must have our scalps.

I smiled in disdain at their threats and preserved the
utmost calm. I told them that I was a Washi. Coolly I
pointed at them with my ten fingers and cried, "Squaw-
men !" With undisguised contempt I counted them, pointing
my finger toward them, one at a time, until I had reached
the last of them, then at Moellhausen and myself. Then I
said with a sweep of the hand, "Fifteen." Pointing to my
companion and myself, I said, "Two."

"You are cowards! Squaw-men! Two brave white



ADVENTURES IN THE AMERICAN DESERT 307

warriors are not to be cast down by fear of such odds
against them."

I must state here that, while the word "Yankee" meant
utmost abomination to them, that of "Washi" stood for
"French Creole" or "Canadian/" a name which they held in
high respect and affection. In fact, all foreigners not Yan-
kees are considered to be Washis.

This attitude of mine had an immediate effect. All
weapons were lowered. All our stolen belongings were
restored in a quiet, orderly manner, even to the most insig-
nificant objects. The leader, who was the coolest and most
reasonable among them, brought me my cap and serape with
quiet dignity. There was a youth who had disappeared dur-
ing the melee with my highly prized pistol. To make amends
for this the young chieftain brought a fine six-chambered
revolver and laid it in the wagon. Then he pointed to a dead
buffalo some distance away, whereupon the little band took
their leave with many protestations and gestures of friend-
ship.

(During the attack on the duke, Moellhausen received
similar treatment. It may interest the reader to have his
own report of this encounter.)

MOELLHAUSEN'S ACCOUNT OF THE ENCOUNTER WITH
THE INDIANS

I myself (he writes) felt the fists of an Indian in my
neckcloth. He twisted it so tightly that my breath came only
in short gasps. Thus he held me, my body bent away from
my horse. All this time carbines and arrows were touch-
ing my breast and my forehead. These were held rigid,
motionless as only Indians are able to hold them. This was
my situation. I had the firm belief that my life was for-
feited, and that it was only a matter of seconds when my
soul would take its flight into the Great Beyond. In that
extremity, I was even amused to see two Indians release
their bows, then carefully, deliberately draw the arrows
across their wet tongue, then put them across the bow once
more, to make sure that nothing should halt their passage
through my heart and brain.

The whole affair was of shorter duration than I am
taking time to describe. They had even emptied both my
saddle bags of their contents while the upper part of my
body was balancing on the arms of the savage.

Among the things they had taken was my leather brief-
case which was full of sketches of landscapes, Indians, buf-
faloes, and hunting-scenes. I believe that the sight of the



308 NEW MEXCO HISTORICAL REVIEW

pictures made an impression on the redskins that led to our
salvation. The sketch-book I never came to see again. In
the same manner did I lose my neckerchief. The Indian
who had carressed my throat so ungently within its strang-
ling hold had it in his hand the last time I saw it.

"Dumme Kerle!" 1 scolded the duke in anger when he
felt himself freed from the rough grip of a number of
hands intent on murder. And "Tumme Kels ! Tumme Kels !"
repeated the Indians, as well as they were able, the words
that seemed to please their ears.

Just as we were ready to leave the scene of our recent
encounter, the young chieftain pointed toward a dead buf-
falo some two hundred paces down the road, with a gesture
that we could help ourselves to as much of the flesh as we
might wish to take.

Both of us acknowledged our gratitude for this mark of
generosity with signs of sincere appreciation. Then, once
more in possession of our liberty and our belongings, we
urged our horses into a trot.

"We just barely saved our scalps this time," said the
duke with a hearty laugh as he drew his fingers through
his tangled locks. And I, too, raised my hand automatically
toward the scalp lock of my head which quite unexpectedly
was still in its proper place. I looked back toward the band
of Indians that were now squatted down on the ground just
where we had quitted them. They were looking intently at
some object.

I immediately examined my saddle-bags and became
aware that my sketch book was missing. I now no longer
doubted what had been the reason for our almost miracu-
lous deliverance. In their superstition they recognized
something of magic in these pictures. And since this magic
had undoubtedly proceeded from us it was a foregone con-
clusion that we were medicine-men, wherefore our lives were
held sacred. 2



1. Certain it is, according to Paul Wilhelm's graphic account, that the Indians
had become entirely convinced that they were dealing wtih Washis, and not with
Yankees, i. e., Anglo-Saxon Americans. It is hardly likely that there was time enough
in the brief encounter to permit those Indians who opposed the duke, especially their
chief, to have even a glance at the sketch-book. And it was this latter, the chief, who
decided favorably the outcome for the two travellers. The Translator.

2. It is hardly necessary to observe that Mr. Moellhausen was evidently unable
to survey the scene in which Duke Paul Wilhelm played the chief role. Had he been
able to witness what had passed between the Indians and that intrepid, masterful
principal in the little drama he might have been considerably less impressed with the
significance of the sketch-book as it affected the happy solution of their terrible
predicament.



ADVENTURES IN THE AMERICAN DESERT 309

It was not easy to reconcile myself to the loss of my
cherished notes and sketches. But, after all, there was no
little consolation in the thought that they had helped us out
of a situation that had so nearly ended in a tragedy.

I firmly believed (continues Moellhausen) that the
duke would send me back for the sketch-book as he had done
on that former occasion for the knife. Nor can I deny at
all that this time I would have resisted such a naive demand
more resolutely, for the memory of the unfriendly bullet was
still too fresh in my mind.

About three hundred paces from the Indians we came
upon the slain buflalo. Its body was still warm, so that it
could not have been killed more than an hour before. Indeed
it had the appearance as if the hunters had been disturbed
in their task of cutting up the carcass by our arrival on the
scene.

The duke turned off the road and drove our wagon close
to the dead animal, whereupon we continued the work begun
by the Indians without further delay. And rarely, I believe,
did two people handle knife and axe with the zeal that we
manifested, cutting off as we did one great chunk after
another and throwing the coveted flesh into the wagon.
Luckily the Indians had left the most desirable portions
untouched, so that we were able to provide ourselves with a
supply of meat that was tender and juicy.

Meanwhile the savages were still squatted down in the
same place. They seemed to be engaged in matters of seri-
ous import. Nor did they appear to be inclined to molest us
any further. It is hardly necessary to add that we had no
particular desire to incommode them, even with our protes-
tations of gratitude for their generosity.

As soon as we had stowed away as much of the buffalo
meat as we could find room for we drove onward. We would
have been in the best of spirits had not the wounded horse
shown unmistakable signs of total prostration. We travelled
till late that evening before making camp. With the fra-
grant roast meat before us we forgot the hopelessness of our
situation.

(Here the duke takes up the thread of the story once
more.)

During the next few days we proceeded down the river
with a violent north-east wind that checked our progress
considerably. The valley was bordered by low, wave-like,
grasscovered hills. The nights were starlit, and during the
day we were warmed by the autumn sun. Up to this time



310 NEW MEXCO HISTORICAL REVIEW

we had been encountering large buffalo-herds and small
bands of antelope ; but gradually the former grew less fre-
quent, until, now as we were nearing Fort Kearney, we had
left the last of them behind us. The grass was still beauti-
ful, and there were tracks and other signs of small detach-
ments of buffaloes from larger herds here and there in
evidence, even as far as the Little Blue. One could no longer
depend upon finding any, however, even by going out on a
special hunt for them. At the close of the fourth day after
our encounter with the last Indian band we arrived at the
homestead of that hospitable American, Mr. Boots. I decided
to stop over for a day of rest. I improved this as an oppor-
tunity for purchasing the supplies necessary for the rest of
the journey to Kansastown. A large amount of maize for
the horses was also bought. For this cereal is more
peculiarly suited for horses and all other domestic animals
than any other I know of.

Mr. Boots assisted us in the making of repairs on the
wagon and harnesses. Since Mr. Moellhausen felt indis-
posed again he was unable to render any assistance in these
necessary tasks.

While we were here as guests of Mr. Boots, a number of
Pawnees from the great horde (grand Pawnees) came there,
good-looking young people with pleasant smiling faces, all
naked except for a buffalo robe thrown over their shoulders.

One of these, Nika-Paki, or Charlie for short, was a
really nice, well-mannered, good-looking young fellow. He
spoke English quite fluently; for he had been brought up
among the whites. He wanted to go along with us to St.
Louis. Mr. Moellhausen, who at this time was still an
enthusiast for this type of Indian, had already started at
his hobby, the proselyting business.

I did not interfere as I did not wish to offend him. How-
ever, I did secretly all I could to thwart his efforts. Indians,
it must be said, are rarely useful on a journey as they dislike
any kind of work. In fact, they can often prove very
annoying.

That evening the Pawnees gathered about the warm
stove for their evening meal which they evidently relished
very much. It consisted of hot bread, bacon, potatoes, and
coffee.

These roving Indians have become a veritable plague to
the whites, for they are persistent beggars. They always
demand food, and they are habitually inclined to thievery.
With all my precautions I, too, had to make this experience
again.



ADVENTURES IN THE AMERICAN DESERT 311

The young bucks had caught a wolf whom they had
chased with hounds and tortured to death. It was a loath-
some spectacle. The animal had long hair and a face like
a fox. It was 3% feet long from tip to top and about two
feet tall.

In the morning, after half a day of rest, we broke camp
in order to reach our next stopping place, Fort Kearney,
three miles away. A mighty prairie fire was raging toward
the east, on the left bank of the La Platte which we had been
following since our last encounter with the Indians.

The commanding officer of the fort drove out to meet me
and offered me provisions. These I had to decline inasmuch
as I had provided myself with a sufficient supply at the
store of Mr. Boots.

Many Pawnees came up and greeted me. They were
very friendly, for some of them recognized me. After a
brief visit with these simple-hearted children of nature we
drove on. The way led over a flat plain where the grass was
abundant. When we were about six miles east of the fort,
we struck camp at the side of the road. There was no
water near by. The night was beautiful, but the prairie
fire encircled the entire horizon and the smoke formed clouds
of mist grotesque shapes and of somber colors.

The next morning I had driven about six miles farther
on when I saw several small bands of Pawnees walking
toward me rather briskly. A few only were mounted. All
were showing in their dress and woe-begone expression the
signs of utmost want and suffering. They bore only bows
and arrows which was ample proof of their pitiful condition.

It is just such classes of Indians as these that become
positive plagues to travellers on long expeditions such as I
was engaged in. They can become a menace to life unless
the white man possesses the necessary tact and resoluteness,
two attributes which are essential to him when he is con-
fronted by such savages on a lonely highway. It seems im-
possible to get rid of the rabble when they stop one with
their insistent even insolent demands for food or clothing
or money, and more than all, for fire-water.

But I made a virtue of necessity and distributed a hand-
ful of small silver coins among them. With these they
seemed to content themselves.

There are occasions when the Indian rises to heights
of courage, chivalry, generosity and self-denial, to lofty
knighthood even. He is generally fearless in battle and
proud in defeat.



312 NEW MEXCO HISTORICAL REVIEW

Then again one may find him childish and timid as a
woman, when he can descend to whimpering cowardice,
when he is unashamed of acts so low that they would brand
males of any other race with the ineradicable mark of out-
casts.

A group of this type it was that approached me on this
occasion. They claimed that the Sioux had slain two of
their squaws, and that they needed firearms and powder
and lead in order to avenge the wrong. Instead of coming
to me as entreaters, they demanded these things in a most
insolent manner.

When I replied that I was returning from the Far West
and that my supplies were barely sufficient for the home-
ward journey, they made a show of climbing into my wagon.
I immediately drew my revolver, the gift of the chieftain
I had encountered near the junction of the Platte forks and
cocked it, giving them a clear proof of my inflexible deter-
mination. I laughed in their faces, and it is almost unbeliev-
able how their attitude changed in a moment to abject
cringing cowardice.

What a contrast between these and the Pawnees of
Cooper's portrayal!



At last, when I saw more and more small bands come
up to me, I grew desperate and decided to drive the twelve
miles back to Fort Kearney and ask the commanding officer
for a escort until we should find ourselves out of reach of
this rabble.

An old chieftain, of an appearance that inspired trust,
came up to me, expressing sorrow over this resolution. He
tried to make me understand through signs and words that I
should turn in the direction of the great encampment which
was about to break up. There the great chiefs would pro-
tect me and give me safe conduct. Other elderly warriors
joined him and gave me their kindest assurances.

Thus it went on until more and more armed savages
were drawing a tight cordon about my wagon. These latter
were younger and would not listen to their elders. These
grew unbearably insolent and made as if they would pull
Moellhausen from his horse and me myself out of the wagon.

Just then came on a handsome big black horse a
knightly figure, supple and almost fair of face, with the fea-
tures of a Greek demigod. A magnificent mantle of scarlet
red clothed him, held together by rosettes of hammered
silver. Underneath this he wore a blue jacket that harmon-



ADVENTURES IN THE AMERICAN DESERT 313

ized uncommonly well with the brilliant red of the outer
covering.

But instead of showing any inclination to help me he
looked at me in undisguised hostility. He pointed with his
rifle toward the river, six miles distant for what reason I
was unable to find out. Then he had some of his followers
grasp the horse by the bits. At the same time he loosened
a heavy whip from his saddle and struck them several times
unmercifully across the head.

As this is a token of grossest insult, I grew furious and
was about to aim my revolver which I still was holding in
my hand, all cocked, intending to blow off the top of his
head. This would have been easy to do as the insolent sav-
ages had not even deemed it worth the trouble to relieve me
of this firearm.

But in a flash I became mindful of Moellhausen who,
after all, was a ward of mine, and who would inevitably be



Online LibraryUniversity of New MexicoNew Mexico historical review (Volume 17) → online text (page 29 of 33)