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rying these to a safe retreat, a sufficient supply of firewood
on the glimmering coals so that a cloud of smoke would
continue to pass up through the opening at the top of the
tent that served as a chimney. Then I took the weapons,
including my axe and hunting knife, and laid these on top
of the woodpile, fastening the tent opening in such a way
that it must appear as if it had been done from the inside, by
the person or persons at the heart fire.

Sandy Creek was about a hundred and fifty paces away.
I ran in almost a half-circle about the tent. It had a high
bank on the other side that was thickly covered with under-
brush. It provided a safe hiding-place.

Carefully I placed my feet into the tracks which I had
left behind on my return, a short while before, from a walk
after water. Walking backwards with the minutest care
my tracks appeared as those of one who had just come from
the little creek-bottom. Even a crafty savage would be
deceived, since there would not be any particular reason to
excite suspicion that the person they had seen would attempt
to dupe them.

The creek was frozen over. The wind had blown the
ice clear of snow and it was smooth as a polished mirror. In
order not to leave any marks from the hobnails such as were
left of the soles on my shoes, I took these off. Then I walked
down the creek until there was a fringe of brushwood on the


right bank, too. Putting on my shoes again, I climbed up the
opposite bank, pushed into the brushwood, and retraced my
steps until I was opposite my water hole again. From that
point I had an excellent view of the tent. Securely ensconced
in a well-protected place of hiding, where the tall grass
could be tramped down on the snow and make a comfortable
spot on which to sit, I awaited events. The brown grass in
front of me was tall and dense so that I was able to observe
from behind it every movement of my intruders without
running the least risk of detection.

The minutes passed with infinite slowness. The strain
of waiting grew ever more tense. The effort of the walk
to the top of the hill had made me perspire. Now that the
sun was near the western brim, it had already grown con-
siderably colder. The chill caused me to shiver, caused my
teeth to chatter in spite of my most determined efforts to
refrain from it. I had been holding my double-barrelled rifle
in the crook of my left arm in order to have it in immediate
readiness the moment it was necessary to use it.

I could not endure the cold that had gripped my body as
with an armor of ice. So I left the gun in my little retreat
and stepped farther back into the bushes, where I began at
once to stamp the ground and at the same time beat my arms
and hands in a most energetic manner. My very life de-
pended on the success of these violent efforts to quicken
the flow of blood in my veins.

At last I felt warmth returning to my limbs and body
again, and now I relaxed gradually in my extreme exertions
and crawled back to my little observatory.

Now the heads of the two wanderers bobbed up from
behind the hill beyond the tent. In a few moments more they
were standing on the crest in clear outline, although the
shadows were already lengthening as the red disk behind
the two forms disappeared from view.

They were Indians. It was too far and the light too
insufficient now to make out whether they wore warpaint on
their faces. They were standing erect for only a moment,
examining the tent from their eyrie, then bent down to look
at my foot-prints. They then walked swiftly toward the
tent and when they were quite close, they threw off their

My eyes were following their slightest motions. They
carried no firearms. But they had long, powerful bows,
and the quivers which they carried at the back were well


filled with darts. The light for a few moments was perfect
for accurate observation. They actually seemed only a few
steps away.

I was unable to suppress a shiver even though my body
was warm again, when I saw them slink about the tent,
silent as shadows. There was a stillness in the air that was
almost torturing. It seemed to me that they must be hearing
the beats of my heart just as I myself could plainly hear

Now each moved the belt that carried the quiver until it
was directly in front, then raised the bow and tested the
tautness of the string. They exchanged a glance then that
seemed to express satisfaction. Their hostile, murderous
intentions could no longer be misunderstood. Under no
circumstances could I therefore allow either of them to
escape if I could prevent their return in a few days with a
whole horde of their tribesmen.

After the two had exchanged some signs, they separ-
ated. One of them followed the tracks in the direction of the
creek for a dozen paces while the other, eyes fixed on the tent
and holding a dart placed on the bowstring, was slowly, ever
so slowly, walking around the tent.

Noiselessly he had made the circuit just as his mate
came back from his inspection. He was trying to raise the
flap of the little opening, but it being fastened on the inside
with a tight knot, he gave it up.

Now they exchanged signs anew. The larger placed his
right hand against the cheek, then pointed to the curling
smoke, evidently to indicate that someone inside was sleep-
ing. Then he motioned where they should take their posi-
tion so that their missiles, dispatched through the tent walls
at right angles must pierce the heart of the sleeper without
fail. This he showed by finger movements.

A horror gripped me. Were I lying in the tent, I
would be a dead man the next moment. Only too well had
I read their signs ! "Here lives only one man. He reclines
at the hearth-fire and he is sleeping. Three, four, five arrow-
shots will finish him, and then we can make away with rich

These were their thoughts, while I, the only witness of
their treacherous designs, was squatting down in the snow
and watching their signs and gestures.

My heart was now pounding as if it would burst, and the
blood was racing through my veins as I saw the savages,
each, send four or five death-dealing arrows into the tent.


In this moment I felt plainly, oh so plainly, with what
tenacity man even in the most desperate extremity clings
to life. For I was now ready to dispatch the two fiends with
a glee that I had never thought myself capable of feeling.
I waited only for the most opportune time.

Nothing, of course, had moved within the thin leather
walls. The Indians listened intently. Cautiously they ap-
proached the tent-door. One of them laid down the bow,
gripped his tomahawk and bent down on his knees in front
of the door, while the other was standing guard a few paces
away, with drawn bow.

In the meantime I had picked out the head of the kneel-
ing figure. In the moment when he was stretching out his
hands toward the flap I drew back the hammer of my rifle.
Slight though the noise was it seemed as though the two had
heard it. They stopped short, startled, and cast their eyes
all about.

The kneeling figure now seemed for the moment the less
dangerous of the two. Hence I changed the aim so that the
naked breast of the other, who was standing ready to dis-
patch his bow into the tent as soon as the door strings had
become unfastened, now became my target.

I fired and at the very instant of firing the Indian's
sharp eyes must have discovered me. For quick as a flash
he sighted me and sprang to one side. But the bullet had
struck him after all and he fell to the ground with a shriek
that froze the marrow in my bones.

The second had jumped up. The surprise had stunned
him, and this gave me time to seize the gun that was loaded
with a charge of buck shot. This he received in the face
and throat and he fell without a sound across the body of
his groaning comrade.

Now my foes were dead and past all power to harm me.
The realization of this, far from yielding me the slightest
exultation, cast a gloom, a horror over me. I had taken
human life. I had not been the aggressor. Beyond a doubt
my deed was justifiable.

But for all this reasoning I was in a stupor, like a dod-
dering idiot. I wanted to shriek. Something within me
seemed to be at the breaking point. My remorse was un-
bearable. An hour before I had had no suspicion that any-
thing so frightful as that was impending. There was then
no blood-guilt upon my soul.

And how did I know that this was to be the only time I


would have to resort to murder ? Before rescue might come
and this was now such a remote probability that I no
longer gave it a thought how many times would I be con-
fronted with the same alternative, to slay another or to be
slain myself. My mind was groping for help, for support,
and I did not know whither to turn to find it.

By actual reckoning perhaps twenty minutes had
elapsed since I had started out of the tent to hide in ambush.
No scruples then troubled me. I deliberately planned to
defend my life as dearly as I could. It seemed the most
natural thing in the world to prepare myself for resorting
to any of these extremes in order to free myself from these

But, strangest paradox of all, while I was thus raving
about my deed and railing at myself as at an inhuman fiend,
I was reloading my rifle. Then I walked mechanically up
toward the bloody scene.

A terrible groaning escaped from the throat of the
undermost form. At first my eyes refused to turn in the
direction of the two bodies. The groaning grew more agon-
izing and it awakened me out of my stupor.

The lifeless form of the younger savage was lying prone
in front of me. The tomahawk was still gripped in his
right. The murderous buckshot had penetrated into his
throat, his eyes, his temples. The many little holes from
which the blood was still trickling had disfigured the swarthy
face so that it presented a hideous sight.

I rolled the body over so that I would not have to see
his face again and turned to the fellow that was still alive.
An older man he, with long black hair matted with blood and
almost concealing his face, all but the eyes. And from their
coal-black wells glittered into mine a fire of grimmest hate.

The bullet had entered beneath the left shoulder through
the chest. Whether with deadly effect I was unable to tell.
But the gaping, bleeding wound and the agony in his dis-
torted features and the groans and the gritting of his teeth
aroused my deepest pity. I bowed down over him and sought
to make him understand by signs and soothing words that I
must move him from the bitter cold to the fire in the tent ;
that I would wash and dress his wound and do everything in
my power to have him get well again. I would immediately
cover him with my own bedcovers and care for him tenderly
and do my best to win his friendship.

This restored my peace of mind somewhat, and I felt
confident that God would grant me this means to shrive my


soul from blood-guilt, if I could bring one of the two back to
life and strength. The old fellow made as if he understood
my good intentions. A wild joy suddenly lighted his fea-
tures as he was expressing his satisfaction through the
Indian "how, how."

Oh I was glad ! I was joyous, happy. The prospect of
saving the sufferer's life, of winning his friendship, of
having him for a companion in my awful loneliness ! Already
soothed from the coveted solace I was bustling around to see
what preparations I could make for his reception into the
tent. But before I had made much progress his ever louder
groans called me back to his side. As soon as he saw me he
pointed with the forefinger of his left hand to his right arm
which was bent under his body in a most uncomfortable
position. With signs he entreated me to release it.

I knelt down close to his side to do his bidding. Hardly
had I caught hold of the arm at the elbow when, without my
slightest suspicion, his other hand which unknown to me was
clasping a knife shot up from his body with the speed of
lightning. While his left gripped me by the shoulder he
plunged it twice with the right in the direction of my breast,
but fortunately with insufficient force.

I tried my best to parry both thrusts with my right arm
while with my left I drew, almost instinctively, my own
hunting knife that I was carrying, Indian fashion, at my
back in a belt.

My pity all gone, I now buried it twice in his bosom.
There came a slight gurgle from his throat, from the direc-
tion of his chest. A stream of blood issued from the mouth.
His body quivered, stretched out slowly as a rattle in his
throat gave the unmistakable sign that the end had come.

When I rose from the ground I felt warm blood trick-
ling down my arm, and only now did I realize that I was
wounded. In beating off the first knife-thrust that sharp
blade had opened the skin of my right arm from the palm of
the hand to the elbow. The second thrust had caught the
arm at almost the same place but did not follow it as far as
before though it made a deeper, trough-like gash.

The night that followed was the most terrible of my
whole life. Many were the times that I was beside myself
while, wrapped in my bedcovers, I was endeavoring to cool
my wound with snow.

Sleep was entirely out of the question. In an incredibly
short space of time there had, it almost seemed from no-


where, an enormous horde of wolves collected, drawn by the
scent of the freshly flowing blood.

I rose from my reclining position to put fresh wood on
the fire. This would keep me safe from them as long as I
had the strength to feed the flames.

They came ever nearer to the human shambles, howling,
snapping their jaws at one another with a ferocity that
nothing can describe. It was terrifying.

The glare of the flames was reflected in countless blood-
shot eyes. It seemed as if they were demons bent on destroy-
ing each other. The stench of their own blood now entered
into the tent to sicken me. I discharged my rifle into the
pack as often as I in my weakened condition could reload it.
But this now had little effect on the frenzied monsters.

Only a slight cessation, then the wolf -pack began anew
the vicious snapping of the teeth that would come together
like jaws of steel, and the surviving ghoulish forms that
were magnified in the steam from the sweat and gore of the
awful conflict would growl and yap and strain and tug at a
freshly fallen victim, only a moment before a comrade. They
would pull and strain and tear the body still quivering with
life. Then bones would crunch until nothing was left.

Thus passed the endless night filled with horrors so
gruesome that they far surpassed the horrors of hell the
great Dante had painted.

Even if my physical suffering had permitted me to sleep ;
if my mental state had abated from the terrors of what had
befallen during the early twilight hours ; even though certain
death was sure to follow an unguarded moment, all this was
meaningless through that death-in-life which held me in a
trance-like state through that eternity of terror.

Dawn came and the noise of the conflict subsided. Sated,
exhausted, filled with the instinctive fear that approaching
sunlight brings, the decimated brutes now vanished like
unearthly specters.

Then I arose, shivering, more dead than alive. I was
determined to drag away the two slain savages, to efface
every vestige of the gruesome spectacle. Even the dread
that the tribe from which they had come on their mission of
death would send a searching party was not so powerful as
the accusing finger that pointed to my own blood-guilt.

I sought among the shambles of the night's conflict for
the buffalo robes of the savages. They were stained with
the blood of the wolves. I spread them out, rolled a body,
horribly mangled and half -devoured on each, then dragged


them in turn to the creek. With my axe I enlarged the hole
in the ice and pushed them in the swift current of the stream
where they quickly disappeared.

The labor had been superhuman. Only the strength
given me by sheer desperation had enabled me to finish it.
When I had staggered back, my task fulfilled, I chanced to
see two small bundles tightly wrapped in smoke-tanned deer-
leather. These contained dried buffalo meat. The hateful
scent of the smoked-tanned leather had undoubtedly pre-
served them from the greed of the wolves.

In spite of my utter weariness the pangs of hunger
persisted and I tore at the food with the greed of the shark-
like brutes that had turned the night into a hell for me.
Then I must have fallen back on my rough couch into a
deathlike sleep.

It was nearly sundown when the cold and the pain from
my swollen arm aroused me. My supply of wood was nearly
gone. I must rally in spite of pain and weakness, to drag a
fresh supply to the tent before darkness prevented me from
my search.

My perseverance, even though it cost me untold agonies,
saved my life. Without a fire I could never have passed
through the night that followed. A blinding snowstorm,
more furious than any in all that terrible winter, swept down
on me from the land of ice and snow. Every moment
throughout the night the strain against the tent walls made
the poles creak and bend. Every blast was more furious
than the one before. No human being could have survived
the fearful cold without the protecting walls of the tent with
all its deplorable insufficiency.

Well it was that I had found the little bundles of meat
the savages had brought with them. I had no other food
supplies. The twin horrors of cold and hunger would have
finished me. For the storm lasted two days. My sufferings
were almost unbearable. Great frost sores covered my body.
My arms were swollen and feverish. It seemed impossible
that I would survive this new visitation. But when the
storm abated at the end of the second day the sun came out
in all its glory as if prophetic of better days.

The Christmas season was approaching. The solitude
had become almost a thing accepted, a thing of habit. Me-
chanically I performed such daily tasks as sufficed to keep


me alive. Vanished forever were all the terrors of the
wilderness, and with feelings of utter indifference I looked
forward into the future. Gone was all desire to lift the im-
penetrable veil from it. Indeed I would invariably feel a
something akin to a disagreeable disillusion whenever I
would ask myself what was to be the end of this hermit life.

Sadly my heart would then turn back to the past, when
my eyes feasted for the first time on the fairy splendor of a
Christmas-tree, around which were gathered loving, smiling

My Christmas joys were now of a different and a simple
kind. A small quantity of tea which I discovered among
some rubbish I mixed with dry willow-leaves. This was a
genuine solace to me. For with this mixture I would fill my
pipe and smoke it. Reclining against a roll of bedcovers I
would find a rare delight in the red glimmer within the little
bowl and in the fragrant smoke that I would blow in little
clouds up toward the roof of my little palace.

Then there was the chimney hole. I was able to catch
most exquisite glimpses of the star-lit heavens. The stars
were glittering and twinkling like so many Christmas
candles. Often they appeared to quiver and quake from the
cold, just as I myself. But for all that they shone down upon
me as clearly as they had been wont to do in my care-free
childhood years.

On a certain morning as I was in the act of stepping
outside I caught sight of a flock of prairie chickens that had
alighted on the branches of a tree along the banks of the
creak. My heart fairly rejoiced at the prospect of a fine
roast for Christmas day. After such long and wearying lack
of any variety whatsoever in wholesome and appetizing food,
with never a change from wolf's flesh for which I had by this
time conceived an almost overpowering distaste, it was but
natural, though perhaps ungrateful to Providence, that my
heart should constantly turn with indescribable longings to
the pictures of good things to eat.

This desire became on the instant irresistible. I took up
my shotgun, examined it and then put it away again know-
ing full well that the timid birds would never allow me to get
near enough for a charge of fine shot to be effective.

So I took up my long-barreled rifle. A fine, proud cock
was within full range of my bullet. The hunter's irresistible
greed for prey was in my blood, and I took up my position


so that it would enable me to bag two members of the wary

Of a sudden I happened to step on a small dry twig that
I had failed to notice. It crackled ever so little, but it was
loud enough to startle the timid birds and they whirred
instantly to a safe distance.

The days were going by in a soul killing monotony.
Hope and despair alternated uncounted times. I had now
cut forty three notches in my tent-pole. Six endless weeks
of suffering and privation during which death was lurking
never far from the threshold of my little refuge.

For hours through the day I would lie prone on my bed
in a state that, I might say, was the vague borderland between
slumber and waking, between dreaming and reality.

On this particular day, about the noon hour, I was re-
clining on my back, my eyes vacantly staring to a patch of
blue through the hole above me, when all of a sudden I was
startled out of my reverie by a noise like human footsteps.

With a movement as quick as flash of lightning I was
on my feet, the trusty rifle in my hand. Peeping warily
through my little hole in the tent-door, ready for any emer-
gency, a reassuring outcry which I had often heard Indians
utter on approaching our wagon struck my ear.

"Antarro how." (halloo, a friend!) it was.

At these words that sounded like sweetest music I
stepped outside. Then, in good English, I heard :

"You are in a pretty tough fix, my friend !"

Naturally I was expecting to see a white man, perhaps
a Mormon or a fur-trapper, wherefore I answered, even
before I had seen the speaker : "Welcome, my friend !"

What was my surprise and, I must add, disappointment,
to see before me instead, an Indian unspeakably dirty and
wild-looking !

He was holding a gun fully five feet long in his right,
and I gazed at him with ill-concealed disgust not a little
mingled with suspicion. Indeed I was about to raise my own
weapon, ready to forbid his nearer approach, when he
exclaimed :

"You can speak to me in English. I can understand you
very well."

"But you are an Indian," I parried, only half -convinced
of his sincerity.

"My father was a white man, but my mother was red, I


myself prefer to live as an Indian. I am of the tribe of the
Otoes. With five others of my tribe and with our squaws I
am returning from a hunting trip up the Nebraska.* Our
wigwams are on the Council Bluffs.

"The fire from your wigwam has attracted us hither.

"Our camp is located in a deep ravine about two miles
from here. Soon my comrades will join me.

"If you wish to come with me to my tent, come and
wander with us to our village on the Missouri.

"The way is far. Much snow covers the earth. We must
hasten. Our beasts are laden with much booty of the chase
and from the traps, and there will be little space for your

"Our women will lace warm moccasins on your feet.
They will provide you with leggins of deer-leather. Thus
you will not leave tracks of blood in your trail on the snow.

"Decide at once what you resolve to do. But give me to
eat first. I am hungry."

"I know the Otoes as brothers of the pale faces," I an-
swered. "I shall go with you, and be it even unto the ends of
the earth!"

After a march of four weeks we reached the village of
the Otoes. I lingered during the four months that followed
my return to civilization on a neighboring farm near a fur-
trading post. But I kept up a constant intercourse with my
Indian friends.

I remained as a brother to the tribe. Their thousand
services and kindnesses, unselfishly tendered, touched me.
They had nursed me back to robust health with tender,
unaffected solicitude. In no other way could I have recovered
from my hard experiences so completely.

Again I say, as I said to them while I pressed their
hands at parting, that I felt thrice blessed in the enjoyment

Online LibraryUniversity of New MexicoNew Mexico historical review (Volume 17) → online text (page 32 of 33)