Emerson Bennett.

Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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" ' We shall surely freeze to death there !' she replied.

'"I trust not ; but at all events, as our horses are gone,
we have no alternative. I think your buffalo robe, well
wrapped around, will protect you from the cold, as it has
done from the wolves ; and as for myself, I will endeavor
to keep warm by climbing up and down, and stamping
upon the limbs.'

" ' But why not kindle a fire ?' she quickly rejoined, her
voice suddenly animated with a hope that I was obliged to

" ' For two reasons,' I replied. ' First, because we have
not time do you not hear another hungry pack howling ?
and secondly, because we have not the materials the
loose brush and sticks being buried under the snow.'

" ' God help us, then !' groaned my wife ; ' there seems
nothing for us but death ! Oh, my poor, dear children I
May the good God grant that they be not made orphans
this night !'


"I bade her take heart and not despair; and then
selecting a large tree, whose lower limbs were broad and
thick, but above the reach of our enemies, I hastily
assisted her to a good foothold, and immediately climbed
up after her.

" We were not there a moment too soon ; for scarcely
had we got ourselves settled in a comparatively comfort-
able position, when another hungry pack of our enemies
appeared below us howling, snarling, and fighting
their up-turned eyes occasionally glowing fearfully in the

" But we were safe from their reach ; and all that long,
dismal night we remained there, listening to their dis-
cordant tones, and thinking of the dear ones at home.

" The night was intensely cold ; and in spite of all my
efforts to keep my sluggish blood in circulation, I became
so benumbed before morning, that I believe I should have
given up and perished, except for the pleading voice of my
wife, who begged me, for God's sake, to hold out, and not
leave her a widow and my children fatherless.

" Daylight came at last ; and never was morning hailed
with greater joy. Our foes now slunk away, one by one,
and left us to ourselves ; and a few minutes after their
disappearance, I got down and exercised myself violently ;
and having thus brought back a little warmth to my


system, I assisted my wife to alight, and we at once
started homeward.

" I scarcely need add that we arrived there in due time,
to find our poor, night-long terrified children almost frantic
with joy at our safe return."

MANY years ago, shortly after the triumphant conclusion
of the revolt of Texas against Mexico, all eyes seemed turned
in the direction of the newly acquired country. The South,
in particular, regarded the wonderful triumph of a handful
of hardy, free-born citizens, over the sordid and slavish hosts
of the tyrannical Mexican Government, as an ordination
of Providence that they should go in and possess the land.
Accordingly several of the States Alabama, Georgia,
Tennessee, and Western Virginia in particular ^ent com-
pany after company of stern, resolute men, with their
families and wagon-trains of household goods and chattels
far into the interior of their new, rich, and blooming

Most generally the emigrating party consisted of three
or four families, who designed settling in contiguity with
each other, for purposes of self-protection, and with a view
to the locating of villages and townships ; but occasionally
a solitary traveler, one possessing the extreme spirit of

adventure, well-mounted and well equipped, might be seen


quietly pursuing his way over the rich, rolling lands to the
westward of Nacogdoches. It is with one of the latter our
story has to do, but at a period slightly anterior to the 'fall
of the Alamo.

It was one of those soft, quiet days so peculiar to the
central regions of Texas, when the very atmosphere, loaded
with its balmy perfume, seems to incline all animated nature
to repose, that a solitary traveler was slowly wending his
way over the famous rolling red lands which stretch for
hundreds of miles beyond the river Sabine. That he had
ridden fast and far was evident from the appearance of his
horse, whose foaming flanks and drooping head evinced an
unusual degree of fatigue. It was a day, as we have said,
calculated to call forth a dreamy, reflective mood ; the sur-
rounding country was rich in all the beauties of that
delightful clime ; the glorious magnolia, the snowy cotton-
wood, the sweet-scented china, mingling with a thousand
other perfumes from the blossoming trees and draping
vines, threw their aromatic odors upon the slumbering air ;
and both horse and rider for the time seemed to relapse into
a quiescent state corresponding to the scene.

He was a man of apparently small stature, dressed in the
style peculiar to the hardy adventurers of that region. A
felt hat, with its long, broad, slouching brim, threw a quiet
shadow over his bronzed, but somewhat youthful face. His
features, though effeminate to a degree, were likewise stern


and decisive ; and a glance at his small, keen, blue eye,
would have assured any one acquainted with human nature
that he was not an individual to be molested with impunity.
He wore the usual hunting-frock of the borderers; and in a
belt beneath were thrust a couple of brace of silver-mounted
pistols, and a long, heavy, peculiarly-shaped knife, to which
he was the first to give a name that has perpetuated his
own. Trowsers of coarse stuff, with ornamented buckskin
leggings covering the tops of a pair of heavy boots, com-
pleted his attire.

The day was far advanced ; and looming up in the West
were a few black clouds, which betokened the approach of
one of those terrific storms which sometimes sweep over
that country with a desolating power. For some half an
hour the horseman quietly pursued his way, his eyes bent
upon the ground, and his mind evidently far away upon
other scenes, though still feeling the soothing influence of
the one which surrounded him. At length he reached the
bank of a small stream, where the bushes grew thick upon
either side of the road he was pursuing ; when, just as his
thirsty animal had bent his head to the water, he was sud-
denly startled by the report of a rifle ; and a tingling sen-
sation on his forehead, as the ball whizzed past, assured
him how near that moment had been to his last.

Reining up his mettlesome beast, and drawing a pistol
from his belt, he glanced quickly and nervously about him,


as if to guard himself from the attack of numbers, and then
settled his gaze for a few moments upon the point whence
the ball had been fired. He saw nothing except a thin
wreath of smoke curling among the clustered leaves, at a
distance of perhaps some twenty paces ; and not caring
longer to remain a quiet target for his invisible foe, who
might even at that moment be taking a more certain aim,
he plunged his rowels deep into the flank of his noble
horse, and, dashing through the stream and up the opposite
slope, soon cleared the thicket, and went speeding onward
like the wind.

It was now, for the first time, that he perceived the
advancing storm ; and aware from its appearance, and the
sullen, heavy booming of its still distant thunders, that it
would be one of no ordinary power, he began to experience
no little anxiety about finding a place of shelter for himself
and beast. He had ridden for hours without seeing any
sign of habitation ; and the prospect before him gave no
promise of finding one ere reaching his destination for the
day, which was still many a long league distant.

Half an hour's further hard riding, however, brought
him to an old, dilapidated building, which, from its appear-
ance, had served some early Spanish settler ; and as night
and the storm were now close upon him, he decided it
should serve him in turn, at least during the continuance
of the tempest. Riding in through what had once been


the main entrance of the building, he found himself partially
sheltered under a roof constructed by some passing traveler,
who had thrown a few saplings along the ruins, and inter-
laced them with a thatch of brush and grass. It was not
yet dark; but the night was fast setting in, assisted by .the
advancing clouds, which had rolled far up toward the
zenith, and long since veiled the sinking sun. Almost
incessant flashes 'of lightning, which descended in crinkling
chains, lit up the deepening gloom ; and each was followed
by its own peal of thunder ; which, with a few exceptional
crashes, became one almost even, continuous roar.

By this light, and what still remained of day, the traveler
could see about his place of refuge, which presented no very
cheerful aspect. A few broken stones and other rubbish
were piled up here and there ; but in one corner lay a litter
of straw, which, should the night 'prove too inclement for
his further progress, he flattered himself would serve as a
comfortable resting-place for his own weary limbs. Dis-
mounting from his horse, he tied him to one of the saplings
overhead ; and then removing the fragments from around
his feet, to guard against injury, and looking carefully to
his weapons, he deliberately sat himself down to await the

The storm broke fiercely, the wind shrieked dismally, the
lightnings flashed incessantly, the thunders crashed contin-
uously, and the rain, pouring down in torrents, soon


wetted our traveler to the skin. One, two, three, long,
dreary hours passed, and still the storm raged so furiously,
that at last, reluctantly, our hero relinquished all hopes of
pursuing his journey further for the night for even should
the tempest clear away, it was already late, and he knew
that the different streams on his route would be so swollen
as to make the fords dangerous. He therefore prepared
to encamp where he was ; and pushing a portion of the
straw together, he threw himself down upon it ; and wet
though it was and weary, wet and hungry though he was
himself he felt some little satisfaction in finding that his
long uncertainty and indecision had at last come to an end ;
and with a lingering sigh for his poor beast, which could
fare no better than its master, he soon fell into a dreamless
sleep the thought of his late narrow escape not tending
to a deeper impression upon his mind than a kind of
inward gratitude that his good fortune or a kind Provi-
dence had saved him.

The storm passed on, the rain ceased, the thunders died
away in the distance, and still the traveler slept. At
length, just as the first faint streak of day had begun to
tinge the east, he roused with a kind of start, and, raising
himself on his elbow, looked curiously about him, with the
air of one who is trying to recall events immediately pre-
ceding his state of unconsciousness. As he peered about
the old ruin, by the dim gray light feeling cold, wet and


hungry his eye fell upon his horse, which seemed to be
asleep ; and remembering how long both had fasted, and
that their fast must continue until they should reach a
settlement, he resolved to resume his journey forthwith.

As he changed his position, however, to spring to his
feet, his eye suddenly encountered the body of a man,
lying in the straw, not three feet distant. The back of the
stranger was toward our hero, and his face he could not
see ; but thinking it some one, who, like himself, had been
driven in by the storm for a night's lodging, he first looked
carefully to his weapons, and then, moving over to the
other, quietly laid his hand upon his shoulder, and said :

" Well, stranger, so we are bed-fellows, it seems !"

The man moved not, and spoke not a word.

" I say, stranger," pursued the first, giving him a hearty
shake, " I think you must be even a sounder sleeper than

Still no movement no answer.

" What ails the fellow ?" mentally queried our traveler,
as he turned his quiet companion over in the straw ; and
at the same moment the horse, aroused by his master's
voice, started to his feet, with a loud whinny. "Good
Heavens!" continued the speaker, as by the faint but
increasing light he looked upon the ghastly face of the
human form beneath him "there is something wrong

here the man is dead! Ha, murdered, as I live!" he



quickly added, with a visible shudder, as, bending more
closely over him, he discovered traces of blood upon his

There was a small hole through his vest ; and hastily
baring his breast, our traveler discovered that he had been
shot through the heart, and had probably died almost
instantly. But who had done the deed ? and for what
purpose ? He felt in his pockets, which were empty, and
reasoned that the man had been murdered for his money.
Such murders were too common in Texas at that day to
excite any great surprise ; our hero had been accustomed
to just such scenes through his whole eventful career ; but
he felt highly indignant at what he considered the bar-
barity of murdering and robbing a man, and leaving him
to decompose above ground, in a place where it was not
unlikely he would prove an annoyance to respectable
travelers. In connection with this murder, he thought of
his own narrow escape of the preceding day, and argued
that his stopping-place might be the temporary quarters
of a gang of desperadoes ; in which case prudence would
seem to advise him to be upon the road as quick as

Accordingly, he turned away from the murdered stranger,
after pushing the straw somewhat over the body, and made
a step toward his horse ; but just as he did so, his eye,
glancing through a fissure in the old ruin, fell upon two


men coming up the road, whose appearance gave no token
that they would prove any very agreeable companions.
Both carried rifles, and it was reasonable to suppose they
were otherwise armed ; and the first thought of our hero
was to mount his horse and dash away. But he was no
coward ; he had been through many a desperate struggle,
with heavy odds against him ; and there was a kind of
bitter satisfaction in thinking that one of these men might
be his amiable friend of the ambush. With the rapid
decision for which he was remarkable, he resolved to
remain, and conceal himself behind a portion of the wall,
from whence he could have a view of whatever might occur
within, should the ruffians, as he believed them to be, see
proper to enter. To locate himself in the desired position
was but the work of a moment ; and from there he found
he could both see the road and the interior of the building,
and yet not himself be exposed to a casual glance.

As his horse continued at intervals to whinny, he knew
he must soon be heard by the approaching party, and he
was anxious to see what effect this would produce upon
them. He had not long to wait; for the men were
advancing with rapid strides, and a louder whinny than
usual seemed to reach their ears ; when, stopping suddenly,
and looking hastily around them, one of the two, after an
apparently brief consultation with the other, pointed his
finger toward the building. With this they turned at once


from the road, and, gliding among some bushes, approached
the place at a quick, stealthy pace. From the change in
their position, the stranger was now in some danger of
being discovered ; but as it was not yet light enough to
distinguish objects at any considerable distance, he threw
himself flat upon the ground, to await the result ; and
this rather as a man inclined to act boldly, than as one
actuated by any feeling of fear.

It was perhaps a couple of minutes from this time, ere
the two men, issuing from a near cluster of bushes, glided
up to the main entrance and looked cautiously in.

"I say, Bill," whispered one, but loud enough for the
listener to hear, " I knows all about it now; that thar's the
hoss of a feller as I tuk a shot at yesterday ; and ef he's got
any rocks, they're our'n."

"Hush, Joe!" returned the second, in the same cautious
whisper; "he's sleeping thar, and there's no use o' our
waking him for nothing. Let's go in and do for him, and
talk arter we git his pile."

" Halves, you know !" said the other.

" Of course honor bright you know that's me, Joe ;
but I don't see no use o' our calling in the rest to share."

" Nary once, Bill this here's my game. I had the first
shot, and I've a right to it ; and ef the other hounds wants
ary persimmons, let 'em find the tree and climb for 'em."

It was apparent to our hero, from their remarks, that


these ruffians had had nothing to do individually with the
killing of the man within ; but as it was evidently their
intention to murder him, he felt none the less hostile to
them on that account.

With the last remark of the one addressed as Joe, the
two men, leaning their rifles against the wall, and drawing
their knives, glided up to what they supposed to be the
sleeper. Owing to the light being yet dim, and the body
mostly concealed in the straw, they were unable to discern
that the man was dead ; and determining to make their
work sure, and their share equal, they sprung upon him
simultaneously, and both plunged their knives up to their
hilts in his body.

"Why, hello, Joe," cried Bill, with an oath, "this here's
a dead man !"

" Why, so it is !" exclaimed the other, adding a tre-
mendous oath, which we will not repeat. " This must be
the feller as Tom shot you know he was bragging as he
had done for one on 'em but I didn't think as how the
ugly hound had left him here to trap us with. But whar's
the man as owns the hoss ?"

" Here !" said the traveler, in a tone that seemed to
freeze the blood of his hearers ; and as the two ruffians
started up and looked around, they beheld him standing
in the doorway, with one of their rifles brought to a
deadly aim.


He had seen them put aside their rifles, for the purpose
of deliberate butchery; and with a stealthy pace he had
glided around and seized them, and now had the villains at
his mercy.

" See here, stranger, don't fire ! We cave we owns up
beat at our own game and ef you'll jest let us off, you ken
take what tin we has about us."

" Fools !" returned the traveler ; " do you take me for a
common thief and robber like yourselves ? Which of you
fired at me yesterday? Speak! quick! or, by the living
God ! I .will shoot you both where you stand I"

It is impossible to convey to the reader the peculiar
sound of the voice of the speaker. It cannot be described
as either loud, fierce, or harsh, but rather as something
cold and freezing, expressive of an inflexible will, an unal-
terable determination. His eye, too that naturally small,
quiet, almost calm blue eye now seemed to gleam with a
latent fire ; while his thin lips compressed, and his whole
face expressed a calm but unalterable and deadly reso-

" That was Joe, here," replied one of the startled ruffians ;
" but he didn't mean to shoot at you I"

"No," chimed in Joe, "I was jest firing at a bird, as
you rid along."

" Liar !" hissed the other" and that lie shall be your
last !"



Scarcely were the words spoken, when crack went the
rifle, and Joe fell back upon the dead man, shot through
the brain. Throwing down the piece, the stranger caught
up the other, and quietly saying, " You will please follow
your companion," he had already brought it to an aim, and
his finger was just pressing the trigger, when, with a " For
God's sake, spare me I I have a wife and children 1" the
other threw himself down upon his knees, and held up his
hands imploringly.

"And would you have spared me?" demanded the
traveler. " No I justice claims her due your hour has
come you must die ! Your wife and children, if you have
any, will be better off without you. Too many such sneak-
ing, cowardly villains encumber the soil of Texas I Had you
the courage of a man, I would give you a chance for your
life ; but a paltry coward, above all things, I despise 1"

"I'm no coward !" cried the other, leaping to his feet;

" and the man lies as says I is I So fire away and be

to you!"

"Who are you?" inquired our hero, touched with some
little feeling of admiration for the villain, for courage
always inspired him with a certain degree of respect.

"I'm Bill Harvey, of Arkansas."

" Enough 1" was the answer : " I know you now, though
you do not remember me. You shall have a chance


for your life but you can only live through my death.
What arms have you about you ?"

"I've got nothing now 'cept this knife, or else I'd not
stood here doing nothing while you was taking sight.
But ef you knows me, as you say, I'd like to know what
you knows about me ! and ef it's all the same to you, I'd
like to know who you ar'. "

" Your foe 1" returned the other, in the same cold,
indescribable tone. " Do you ask what I know of you ? I
know you to be a liar, a gambler, a thief, a robber, and a
murderer, with the courage of a bull-dog, which is your
only redeeming trait. Nay, sir, no words ! I have no
time to waste I have been delayed too long already.
This is your chance for life : I will discharge this rifle in
the air (suiting the action to the word,) and with this
knife, (drawing the singular weapon we have before
described,) I will meet you in single combat now here
and may God have mercy on your miserable soul !"

" S'pose, then, we fight outside, whar we can see better ?"
said the other.

" Do you want a chance to run ?" sneered the stranger.

" Ef you knows Bill Harvey, you knows he never runs
whar thar's a fair fight. I did knuckle down a minute ago,
and that. was the meanest thing I ever done in my life ;
but I was tuk kinder by surprise like ; and ef ever I does


it agin, to white man or nigger, may I never see the inside
of heaven I"

" Quick, then, take your position 1" said the other ; and
he turned and walked back a few paces, in front of the
old ruin.

Harvey came out, with his knife firmly clenched in his
hand, and a look of fierce determination upon his rough,
bronzed features. He was a large, powerfully built fellow,
with black eyes, black hair, and bushy whiskers ; and as
he stook facing his small, slender, almost effeminate antago-
nist, a spectator would have argued that the latter could
have no chance to cope with him by mere physical force.
The two took their positions about ten paces apart, and
each fixed his eyes with stern, wily caution upon the other,
like two beasts of the forest preparing for an encounter.

" Are you ready ?" asked the traveler.

" Yes, ready to cut your little heart out !" rejoined Bill ;
and added, with a tremendous oath : "I'll do it too, ef you
don't get skeered and use your barkers."

Scarcely were the words uttered, when our hero darted
toward his adversary, with a sort of running bound, not
unlike that of a panther when about to leap upon its prey.
As he neared his foe, he made a feint as if to strike him ;
when the latter, throwing out a quick guard, returned a
blow, which, if it had reached its mark, would have ended
the contest in his favor.


But it did not reach its mark. With a suppleness and
agility rarely seen even among the border fighters, our hero
sprung aside, and, fairly turning the flank of his enemy,
buried his own knife to the hilt in his back. Harvey
staggered, and tried to recover himself; but quick as
lightning the knife was withdrawn and buried in his breast ;
and he fell bleeding to the ground, exclaiming :

"My God! I'm done for!"

Here the stranger coolly wiped the blood from his knife,
and, bending over his wounded foe, said, in that same cold,
freezing tone :

" Harvey, you asked my name I now see proper to
give it."

And as the wounded man fixed his eyes upon him, with
an expression of mingled pain and curiosity, while the
blood, streaming from his wounds, assured the other that
his life was fast ebbing away, he added :

"lam Colonel James Bowie of Arkansas!"

" Rather say the devil !" groaned Harvey ; and with a
sudden gleam of baffled malice, he added : " Ef I'd a
know'd your name before, I'd been better prepared for the
fight. You've kilPd me, and may my curse go with you I"
and shutting his teeth hard, and fetching a long, gasping

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 19 of 22)