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Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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system, and there are few men so constituted as to be able
to hold out in the good work for any great length of time.

" During the few years which I spent in this manner, in
what I may call the wilderness of the "West, many events
occurred, which, could I now recall, and had I time to
relate, I believe would deeply interest you ; but I will only
give you the most remarkable one of all, and the one most
closely interwoven with my life and destiny.

" One dull, gloomy, drizzling day, during the spring of
the last year I served in the capacity I have mentioned, I
found myself, near the setting in of night, passing through
a long, dreary wood, where for miles I had not seen any
habitation. In fact, since noon of that day, I had passed
but one dwelling a poor, miserable log-hut where for
myself I had obtained rather a lunch than a meal, but had
not been able to procure any thing for my weary horse.
How far I had yet to go to reach a habitation where I
could find shelter for the night, I could not say, and in con-
sequence I began to feel quite uneasy. My horse was


fatigued and hungry, and myself cold, wet, and uncom-

" Spurring on my jaded beast, however, in the hope that
I should yet find some comfortable lodging on the way, I
rode on some two miles further, and descended into a steep,
narrow valley, through which flowed a swift mountain
stream, and across which led the narrow road I was

" It was now getting quite dark ; and as I reached the
stream and heard the gloomy murmur of its swollen waters,
and knew not if it were safe to attempt the ford, I felt quite
disheartened, and was half tempted to turn back and
encamp as best I could upon the high ground of the hill

" But looking around me, as my poor horse pricked up
his ears and uttered a pleading whinney, I espied a light a
few*rods below ; and riding down to it, I was greatly
relieved and rejoiced to find it proceeded from a neat and
comfortable dwelling, which stood back some ten or fifteen
yards from the stream, and probably as many feet above the
level of its waters.

" On knocking at the door, it was opened by a very gen-
teel looking woman, some forty-five or fifty years of age,
who, from her dress and appearance, I judged to be in deep
mourning. To my statement of who and what I was, and


my application for permission to. pass the night beneath
her roof, she replied, in a kind and gentle tone, that she
would be very happy to entertain me, if I would accept of
her humble fare.

" Procuring a lantern, and a small measure of corn for
my horse, I led him by direction to the other side of the
hill, where, after hobbling, I turned him out to graze in a
partially cleared field.

" On returning to the house, I was agreeably surprised
to find a bright and pleasant fire, a smoking supper well
under way, and, gracing the apartment with her mother, a
young lady some eighteen years of age, whom at a single
glance I considered one of the most beautiful and fascinat-
ing beings I had ever seen. She was of the medium height,
with light hair, blue eyes, and a pale, lovely face, upon
which every, noble virtue seemed to have set its seal. She
was modest, retiring, and intelligent, and her voice* was
one of great sweetness and melody. From the very first I
became deeply interested in her to me she was a delicate
flower blooming in a dreary wilderness and consequently
I became more than usually interested in the family history
as related by her mother.

" The elder lady was a widow by the name of Arlington,
who, some three years previous to the time I speak of, had,
with her husband and two children, removed from the east-
ward, and settled in the lonely place where I now found


them. Some half a mile above their dwelling, and some
two miles below what was then a small, but rather flourish-
ing village, Mr. Arlington had erected a sawmill and grist-
mill. He had just got them completed and in good work-
ing order, when, one dark, stormy night, going out to raise
the flood-gate, he had fallen into the water, been swept
down the torrent, and drowned ; the body being discovered
the next day, some two or three miles below. One of the
two children mentioned, the eldest, a son, some twenty
years of age, had taken the place of his father since his
death, and was now away at the mills ; and the other, the
daughter, Julia Arlington, was the one I have already

" ' It was on a night similar to this, Mr. Perry,' pursued
the widow, addressing me in a sad tone of deep feeling,
'that we met with that great misfortune which time can
never repair for what can compensate for the loss of a
beloved husband and kind father ? Never do I hear the
hoarse murmurs of yonder stream, amid the dark and dis-
mal watches of the night, that my mind is not borne back
to that night of all nights of suffering suspense, and that
awful realization which followed when the remains* of him
we so devotedly loved were brought here and placed before
us, as if only for one final farewell of his clay-cold form !
Oh ! the anxious hours I pass, thinking of my son ! who,

for aught I know, may come to the same untimely end !



and on nights like this, when he is compelled to be away
from home, I spend a great portion of my time in prayer-
ful anxiety; and even the presence of a stranger is most
heartily welcome, as a slight relief to the painful gloom,
though we are seldom called upon to entertain one.'

" Mrs. Arlington shed tears as she spoke, and the fair
Julia wept almost convulsively. I offered what consolation
I could ; told them to put their trust in Providence ; that
all seeming evils were for our good ; and after some further
conversation of a similar nature, and a narration in part
of my own history, I read an appropriate chapter from the
Bible, offered prayers, and retired for the night.

" The house was a small frame, a story and a half in
height, containing two or three rooms on the ground floor,
and two above one of which latter was assigned me for a
lodging, the widow and her daughter remaining below.
Being greatly wearied with my day's ride, I quickly turned
in ; and thinking of the fair Julia her bereavement, lone-
liness, and consequent desolation I soon fell asleep, to see
her again in my dreams.

" I might have slept for a couple of hours I cannot
say ; but on waking, as I did with something like a start, 1
heard the rain pouring down in torrents, and even fancied
the hoarse murmurs of the mountain stream, as it dashed
swiftly past over its rocky bed, were sounding in my


" ' Thank God for this comfortable shelter !' was my
mental prayer, and again I fell asleep.

" From this second sleep, which was more sound than
the first, I was aroused by several wild, appalling shrieks.
Starting up in bed, I was horrified, almost paralyzed, at
hearing the terrible roar and rush of heavy waters around
ine, and of feeling the whole building tremble and shake,
as if it were about to be wrenched from its foundation,
torn asunder, and scattered in fragments.

" For a few moments I knew not where I was, and could
not comprehend what had happened ; but the continuous
shrieks for help, and a fancied recognition of the voice of
Julia Arlington, brought back my recollection to the point
of retiring to rest, and then the whole truth seemed sud-
denly to flash upon me.

"And, merciful God! what a truth! what a horrible
reality ! The mountain stream had burst its former bound-
aries had ascended its banks in a wild, roaring, raging
flood had partially submerged the dwelling of my kind
hostess, and was now surging past with that terrific
power which no strength or art of man can check ; and
which, in its awful force and sublimity, seems to mock his
weakness, and tell him how frail, how helpless, how insig-
nificant he is before one single element, when guided by
the Almighty hand of Omnipotence.

"As shriek on shriek still rose above the creaking and


groaning of the swaying timbers of the dwelling above
the meanings of the blast, the plashing of the rain, and
the gurgling, rushing, surging murmurs of the angry flood
I sprung from my bed, threw on a part of my clothing,
hurried to the stairs, and commenced descending them

" When a little more than half way down, I found to my
dismay and horror, that my feet were buried in water, and
I knew that the parties below must be struggling in the
liquid element to keep themselves from drowning. Labor-
ing as I knew they must be under the most intense and
terrible excitement, they might naturally want the presence
of mind which would enable them to escape immediate
destruction by gaining the second story ; and shouting to
to them that help was at hand, I plunged boldly down-
ward into some four feet depth of water, and went knocking
about in the deep darkness among the different articles of
furniture, but struggling forward to the point whence came
the continued shrieks of fear and distress.

" Tne flood was still rising rapidly ; it appeared to me
that I could feel it gaining upon us every moment ; the
groaning and trembling house seemed about to be borne
away, or come crumbling down around us ; and I felt, if
there were indeed any salvation for us, our lives depended
upon the action of the momentous seconds which were so
rapidly bearing us to the verge of eternity.



" Happily I soon reached the widow and her daughter,
whom I found clasped in each other's arms, nearly beside
themselves with terror, but instinctively keeping their
heads above the water in which their bodies floated ; and
speaking to them some soothing words of hope which I
little felt myself, I dragged them forward, found the stairs,
and assisted them to the story above.

" By this time poor Julia Arlington had fainted ; but
the mother, with a slight revival of hope, seemed to regain
her presence of mind ; and as we both bent over her
daughter, chafing her limbs, and dashing water in her
face, till she began to show signs of returning conscious- ,
ness, she said to me, with a deep feeling of a fond and
grateful parent :

" ' May the Lord Almighty bless you for this I You
must have been providentially sent to our rescue ; for
'without your aid, I am certain we should have been
drowned below !'

" ' Alas r said I somewhat gloomily, as the rising waters
seemed to roar around us even more fearfully than ever ;
' we are not yet saved ! we are not yet saved I and the good
God alone knows what fate is in reserve for us !'

" ' God help us !' exclaimed the restored Julia, a few
minutes later, as she stood trembling and clinging to her

mother and myself, and endeavoring to peer around her in



the awful darkness : ' I fear we shall yet be swept away by
this terrible flood !'

" ' I have my fears, too I 1 I replied ; ' but we will rely
upon God's mercy, and hope to the last !'

Almost as I spoke, there came a louder creaking and
groaning then a crashing as of some breaking timbers
then a rocking to and fro, like a boat upon the waves
and then a seeming whirling and plunging downward and

" ' God help us now indeed I' I exclaimed ; 'for we are
already afloat already in the grasp of the angry flood
and should be prepared for the worst, as becometh those
who put their hope and trust in a Higher Power and a
better world !'

" I need not dwell upon that never-to-be-forgotten night.
I could not, if I would, describe our feelings of alternate
hope and despair ; our unspeakable anxieties, as we went
whirling down with the rushing tide rocking, rolling,
plunging through the seething, bubbling waters ; now strik-
ing some rock or tree with almost force enough to crush
our frail tenement ; now checked in our progress till some
feeling of hope would revive ; now torn from our moorings
and sent onward again, a frail bubble upon the bosom of a
maddened flood, till despair would awe us to silence in view
of the impending death !

" All that dark and awful night was passed in a manner


which if you cannot imagine, I have no language to

" Reaching at daylight a long, broad level, we floated
out of the main current, and made a lodgment upon rising
ground, as Noah's ark might have rested upon the summit
of Mount Ararat.

"Here we remained through the day, in painful anxiety
watching the timbers, drift-wood, and wrecks of buildings
which went floating past us and humbly thanking God
for our own wonderful preservation. Before noon the
storm had begun to abate ; and we saw the sun of that
day set gloriously in the west, with the water subsiding
around us.

"We passed another night beneath the same roof; but
on the second day we were enabled to walk forth, and
make our way to a settlement in the vicinity, where we
were hospitably received, and where the anxious mother
and sister were joined by the son and brother, whose
escape from death had been almost as miraculous as our

" In conclusion I have only to add, that the acquaintance
of two, begun amid such fearful and trying scenes, soon
deepened into a friendship, which ripened into a pure
and holy love ; and Julia Arlington is now the wife of him
who labored for her salvation through that long, dark,
terrific night of tempest, flood, and staring death."

iglt witft til

" A NUMBER of years ago," said an old settler, whom I
met on my western travels, "I took my family to Wis-
consin, and located myself in the woods, about ten miles
from the nearest settlement, and at least five from the
nearest neighbor. The country round was mostly forest ;
and wild beasts and Indians were so numerous in that
quarter, that my friends at the East, to whom I gave a
description of my locality, expressed great fears for our
safety, and said they should be less surprised to learn of
our having all been cut off, than to hear of our still being
aliye out there at the end of a couple of years.

"However, I did not feel much alarmed on my own
account and my wife was as brave as a hunter ; but then
we. had three children the oldest only ten and some-
times, when I was away from home, the sudden growl of a
bear, the howl of a wolf, or the scream of a panther,
would make me think of them, and feel quite uneasy.

"For a while, at first, the night-screeching and howling


of these wild animals alarmed the children a good deal
and sometimes my wife and me especially when we
mistook the cry of the panther for an Indian yell ; but we
soon got used to the different sounds, and then did not
mind them so much ; and after I had got a few acres
cleared around the dwelling, they generally kept more
distant at night just as if they comprehended that the
place, now in the possession of their enemies, was no
longer to be an abode for them. Besides, I now and then
shot one, which thinned them a little, and probably
frightened the others, for they gradually became less bold
and annoying.

" During the first year, I had two rather narrow escapes
once from a bear, and once from a panther; but the
most remarkable adventure of all, was the one which
happened during the second winter, and which I have
always designated as a ' Night with the Wolves. '

" One bitter cold morning the ground being deeply
covered with snow, so crusted and frozen that no feet
could sink into it I brought out the horse for my wife to
ride to C*****, the nearest settlement, where she had some
purchases to make, which she wished to attend to herself.
Besides being well muffled up in her own clothing, I
wrapped a large buffalo robe around her ; and admonish-
ing her that the woods were full of danger after dark, I


urged her to be sure and get back before sunset which, she
promised to do.

" All day long, after her departure, from some cause for
which I could not account, I felt very much depressed and
uneasy, as if something evil were going to happen ; and
when I saw the sun about half an hour high, and no signs
of my wife returning, I got out my pistols, rifle, ammuni-
tion, and hunting-knife, saddled a young and rather
skittish colt, and bidding the children keep within doors,
and the house safely locked, I mounted and rode off to
meet her, which I expected to do at every turn of the
horse-path. But at every turn I was doomed to disap-
pointment ; and when I had put mile after mile behind
me, without seeing any signs of her, I became more and
more alarmed, and dashed on still faster.

"It was just about dark when I saw the lights of
C***** gleaming in the distance ; but before I reached
the town I met my wife hastening homeward she having
been unexpectedly detained by meeting an old acquain-
tance, who had recently come on from the eastward, and
with whom she had remained to gather the news and take
supper the time passing away so quickly as to render her
belated before she was aware of it.

" I was greatly rejoiced to find her safe and unharmed
but not a little puzzled to account for my presentiment of


evil, which it appeared to me had taken place without
cause though in this respect I was greatly mistaken, as
the sequel will show.

" We now set off at a brisk trot homeward through a
dense, dark, gloomy wood, which lined our way on either
side and had safely proceeded about five miles, when we
were somewhat startled by a series of long, plaintive
howls, at a considerable distance, and in different direc-
tions, and which our experience told us were wolves,
seemingly calling and answering each other through the
great forest.

The wolves of this region were of the larger and fiercer

^species ; and though ordinarily and singly they might not

attack a human being, yet in numbers and pressed by

hunger, as they generally were at this season of the year, I

by no means felt certain that we should not be molested.

" Accordingly we quickened the pace of our horses ;
and as we hurried on, I grew every moment more uneasy
and alarmed, as I noticed that many of the sounds gradu-
ally approached us. We had just entered a deep hollow,
where a few large trees stretched their huge branches over
a dense thicket, when suddenly there arose several loud,
harsh, baying, and snarling sounds close at hand. The
next moment there was a quick rustling and thrashing
among the bushes; and then some six or eight large


wolves lean, gaunt, and maddened with hunger sprung
into the path close beside us.

" This happened so suddenly and unexpectedly, that my
Wife gave a slight scream and dropped her rein ; and the
horse, rearing and plunging at the same moment, unseated
her ; and she fell to the ground, right in the very midst of
the savage beasts, whose glaring eyes shone in the dark-
ness like so many coals of fire.

" Fortunately, her sudden fall startled the wild animals
a little ; and as they momentarily drew back, she, with rare
presence of mind, at once gathered her buffalo robe, which
she had dragged with her, in such a manner about her
person as to protect herself from the first onset of their
fangs. The next moment the ferocious animals, with the
most savage growls, sprung at her, at me, and at the two
horses simultaneously. Her's at once shook himself clear
of his foes and fled ; and mine began to rear and plunge
in such a manner that I could not make use of a single
weapon, and only by main strength keep him from running
away with me.

It was a terrible moment of exciting agony; and the
instant that I could release my feet from the stirrups, I
leaped to the ground with a yell my rifle slipping from
my hands and discharging itself by the concussion, and
my steed rushing like lightning after his flying companion
over the frozen snow.


" Luckily, I had iny loaded pistols and my knife con-
venient to iny grasp ; and scarcely conscious of what I was
doing, but thinking only that the dear mother of my little
ones lay fairly beneath some three or four of the furiously
fighting and snarling w.ild beasts, I grasped the weapons,
one in each hand, cocked them at the same instant, and,
fairly jumping into the midst of my enemies, placed the
muzzles against the heads of two that had turned to rend
me, and fired them both together.

"Both shots, thank God! took effect it could not be
otherwise and as the two wolves rolled howlingly back
in their death agonies, their starving companions, smelling
and getting a taste of their blood, and instinctively com-
prehending that they were now fairly in their power, fell
upon them with the most ravenous fury, and literally tore
them to pieces, and devoured them before my very eyes,
almost over the body of my wife, and in less, I should say,
than a minute of time.

"Ascertaining, by a few anxious inquiries, that my wife
was still alive and unharmed, I bade her remain quiet; and
picking up my rifle, I proceeded to load all my weapons
with the greatest dispatch.

"As soon as I had rammed the first ball home, I felt
tempted to shoot another of the animals; but at that
moment I heard a distant howling ; and fearing we should


soon be beset iny another pack, I reserved my fire for the
next extreme danger, and hurriedly loaded the others.

" By the time I had fairly completed this operation, our
first assailants, having nearly gorged themselves upon their
more unfortunate companions, began to slink away; but
the cries of the others at the same time growing nearer,
warned me to be upon my guard.

" I had just succeeded in getting my wife more securely
rolled in her protecting robe, as the safest thing I could do
in that extremity and myself, pistols in hand, in a defen-
sive attitude over her prostrate body when some eight or
ten more of the savage and desperate creatures made their
appearance upon the scene.

"There was a momentary pause as they came into view
and discovered me during which their eyes glared and
shone like living coals and then, with terrific growls and
snarls they began to circle round me, each moment narrow-
ing the space between us.

" Suddenly one, more daring or hungry than the others,
bounded forward, and received a shot from one of my pis-
tols directly between his eyes ; and, as he rolled back upon
the snow, a part of the others sprung upon him, as in the
case of the first.

" But I had no time to congratulate myself that I had
disposed of him ; for almost at the same instant I felt the
lacerating fangs of another in my thigh, which caused me


to shriek with pain ; and my poor wife, with an answering
shriek, believing it was all over with me, was about to get
up and face the worst ; but shouting to her not to stir, that
I was still safe, I placed my pistol against the head of my
assailant, and stretched him quivering upon the snow also.

"I still had my rifle in reserve ; and pointing that at the
fighting pack, I poured its contents among them. How
many were wounded I do not know ; but almost immedi-
ately the space around us became once more cleared of
our howling enemies some limping as they fled, and ap-
pearing to be harassed by the others.

"Again it appeared to me we had met with a won-
derful deliverance ; and though the wound in my thigh
was somewhat painful, a brief examination satisfied me
that it would not prove serious ; and I hastily proceeded
to reload my weapons my wife meantime getting upon
her feet, embracing me tenderly, and earnestly thanking
God for our preservation.

" ' Oh, the dear children !' she exclaimed, with mater-
nal tenderness ; ' little do they know how near they have
come to being made orphans, and left alone in this solitary
wilderness ! Let us hasten home to them ! Oh, let us
hasten home to them, while we have an opportunity I'

" ' We have no opportunity,' I gloomily replied. ' Hark !'
there are more of our foes in the distance do you not
hear them?'


" ' And are they coming this way, too ?' she tremblingly

"'I fear so.'

" ' Oh, great God ! what then will become of us 1' she
exclaimed ; ' for I am almost certain that we shall not both
survive a third attack. '

" ' I see but one way of escape,' said I, anxiously. ' We
must climb a tree, and remain in the branches till morning.'

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 18 of 22)