Emerson Bennett.

Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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and want to be a father to me. But I'm not drunk yet, and
you're not a going to be a father to me. Ain't I right,
(hie) gentlemen, eh ?'

'"Of course you are,' chorused the villanous group, with
a general laugh. ' You want no father at your age.'

" ' Ha ! ha ! ha !' laughed my friend, in drunken glee ;
1 it's funny enough, and I know you'll (hie) laugh ; but
this old fellow is my paternal progeni-(hic)-tor.> And
griping my arm in a manner to cause pain, lie began to


push me around from one to the other, remarking to each :
' I want you to know the old chap that's a father to me.'

" ' Paul,' said I sternly, attempting to force him away,
'come with me.'

" He threw me from him with force, and made use of an
insulting expression that I need not repeat.

" 'Paul liathbun,' I angrily rejoined, 'if you were sober,
that remark should cost your life or mine.'

" ' Oh, don't be afraid !' be rejoined, with a hiccough ;
1 I'm not so drunk as I look. I know exactly what I'm
saying, and hold myself responsi- (hie) -ble for it."

" Grieved, angered, and mortified, I left him abruptly,
and went out upon the guards. A furious northeaster was
blowing, bringing wintry airs to a summer clime, but they
felt delicious to my heated brow and burning temples.

" For half an hour I stood there, looking off upon the
blackness, listening to the howling wind, driving sleet,
coughing steam, and gurgling waters, but thinking that
the whole pleasure of my trip, if not of my life, would be
marred by the misfortune that had turned the brain of my
friend. Suddenly it occurred to me that it was my duty
to stand by and protect him till sober, let him be never so
insulting, and forthwith I returned to the saloon.

" I found him, as I did not wish to find him, seated at a
table, with a large pile of money before him, engaged in
playing cards with the five villanous fellows in whose com-


puny I had left him. What could result from such a
condition of affairs but his entire ruin, and the ruin per-
haps of others ? for, as I have mentioned, he was taking
down to New Orleans large sums for his friends, which
would probably be as freely staked as his own money.
And should I not, to a certain degree, be held accountable
for this loss, since I had been empowered by his father to
restrain him from the excess of ruin ? It was certainly my
duty to act, and my resolution was soon taken. Advancing
to the table, I laid my hand uDon his shoulder, and said,
calmly bSt firmly :

" 'Paul Rathbun, if you are intoxicated, this is no place
for you, and I shall take you away by force ; and if you are
sober enough to comprehend the words of a friend, permit
me to inform you, that you are in the hands of the lowest
order of Mississippi gamblers. >

" The five strangers simultaneously started to their feet ;
and the one nearest to me said, in a low, threatening tone,
fixing his eyes sullenly upon mine, as he thrust his hand
into his bosom for a weapon :

" ' Take that back, sir, and acknowledge us to be gentle-
men, or I will have your heart's blood !'

" ' Wait a moment,' said I, returning his gaze with an
unquailing eye ; ' wait a moment, and I will show you how
I recant. Now you dare not touch me, let me say what I
will, and for two reasons : first, you would lose your victim,


and a few thousands ; and secondly, what is of less conse-
quence, you would all lose your unworthy lives ; therefore,
I boldly defy you to do your worst, and deliberately repeat
here that you are gamblers and no gentlemen. 7

"These remarks were made impulsively, under the
excitement of anger, and with my hand upon a pistol,
which I intended to use should I perceive the least attempt
upon my life. What the consequences might have been,
had not Paul Rathbun interfered, I cannot say ; but he
started suddenly to his feet, and, reeling forward a step,
thus effectually covered my person with his.

" ' Gentlemen,' he said to the gamblers, ' sit down, and
don't mind this (hie) boy ! If there's to be any quarrel
with him, I'm the man for that. Don't let us spoil our
night's sport to please him. There, that's (hie) right, gen-
tlemen sit down. And now, boy,' turning to me, ' go to
bed, and don't bother (hie) yourself about matters too old
for your compre-(hic)-hension. Here/ he added, produc-
ing a large pocket-book, as I stood looking sorrowfully
into his face, considering what course was best to pursue :
' take this, Frank, and don't bother (hie) me. In there
you'll find all the money that don't belong to me ; and the
rest's my own, and I'll do as I (hie) like with it. Take
that, now, and go to bed that's a (hie) good fellow !

" I seized the pocket-book with avidity, thankful that I
could get possession of what would save my friend from


utter ruin and disgrace ; and finding I could do nothing
with him in his present condition, without resorting to
force, I left him, as it were to his fate.

" But I did not retire to bed ; it was impossible, under
the circumstances, for me to sleep ; and I spent hour after
hour in alternately clambering over the cotton-piled deck,
exposed to a cold, furious storm in standing on the
guards, dripping with rain and in walking up and down
the saloon, pitying the weakness of my friend, who still
drank and played with men who had the same regard for
him that so many wolves would have for a lamb.

One round after another of liquor was brought and
drank, pack after pack of cards disappeared under the
table, large sums of money changed hands continually, and
still my poor, demented friend, as I considered him, sat
among five human fiends, the victim of all.

"Almost wearied out with long-continued excitement
and loss of rest, I had at last taken a seat some distance
from the players, and, with my head upon my hand, was
just giving way to an overpowering somnolency, when I
was suddenly aroused, and much astonished, at hearing my
friend exclaim, in that sharp, clear, cold, determined tone
peculiar to him when carrying his point at the point of a
Bowie-knife or the muzzle of a pistol :

" 'Hold ! The first man that lays his hand on a dollar, I
will kill as I would a dog I"


"I started up, and beheld an unlooked-for tableau.
The gamblers were all upon their feet, standing around
the table, three with hands extended, as if to grasp a large
pile of money, which one hand of my friend carelessly
covered, while his other held death for the most daring in
the shape of a loaded pistol. He was still seated in his
chair, his cold, penetrating gray eye looking up unflinch-
ingly from under his massive brow, and turning delibe-
rately with his pistol from one to the other of those dark
men, whose swarthy features expressed astonishment, rage
and fear.

" ' It's a swindle !' said the boldest, suddenly, with his
hand still extended as if to grasp the money. ' You never
got them cards honest ; that money's ours, and we'll have

"'Take it!' said Paul E-athbun, quietly, without the
change of a muscle ; and with the words there came a
sharp click, as his thumb drew back the hammer of his

" By this time I was standing at his back, with a Bowie-
knife in my teeth, and a cocked and levelled pistol in
either hand.

" ' Be modest, fellows, and only claim what is your own,*
said I.

" 'Ah, Frank, are you there?' cried Paul, with anima-
tion, partly turning his head to me, though without


removing his eyes from his antagonists. 'A thousand
pardons, my dear fellow, for the way I abused and insulted
you ! So you thought I was iu liquor, eh ? Ha ! ha ! you
may be pardoned for that, considering that these shrewd
sharpers thought the same. But it was necessary to
deceive you, my boy, in order to deceive them and so
forgive me I Drunk, eh ? I tell you, old gamblers, you are
caught for once, and by a mere boy for I am only a boy ;
and so if you were to play with men, where would you be ?
It is a swindle, is it ? and no honest hand ? Look there,
Frank! four aces against four kings ! Is not that honest,
eh ? And see, my dear fellow, what those four aces won
seventeen hundred dollars all the money these rascals
have, and enough to pay our trip to New Orleans and
back. Go to, for shame ! five against one, and that one a
youth ! Do me the favor to play next with a mere child,
and never pride yourselves on being the equal of any
Southern gentleman of any age. 7

"While Paul Rathbun continued to rattle on in this
manner, sometimes addressing me and sometimes the
gamblers, several gentlemen came out of their state-rooms
and gathered around us. On learning the true state of
affairs, they greeted with a laugh the discomfited villains,
who, in attempting to fleece my friend, had themselves
been fleeced by him.

"Though at first evidently determined to fight for their


money, the gamblers soon became cowed by the appear-
ance of numbers, gradually slunk away, with crestfallen
looks, and finally left the boat at the next landing, swear-
ing vengeance.

"Paul Rathbun hugely enjoyed what he termed his
practical joke, but promised me he would never attempt
the like again.

" Poor fellow ! I believe he never did. At New Or-
leans he spent most of his downward winnings in charity,
and was suddenly recalled home by a letter from his fatheis
announcing the illness of a beloved sister. He left the
city a couple of days before me, but I arrived first at his
father's mansion. In fact he never arrived; and what
became of him is not certainly known to this day. He had
a state-room to himself on his upward trip, and one morn-
ing he was found missing, with blood on the sheet of his
berth. It is supposed he was stabbed in his sleep, and his
body thrown into the river. The murderer or murderers
rifled his baggage, and probably robbed him of a large
amount in money and jewels.

" But whether or not his death indirectly arose through
revenge of any of the parties who figured in the scenes I
have described, is a matter I have never been able to
decide. All is mystery, and will probably ever remain so.
Peace to his ashes 1"

" IT is a wild, glorious life for those who love the sports
of the chase the life of the mounted hunter on the great
prairies of the Far West!" enthusiastically exclaimed a
friend of mine, who had passed a portion of his life beyond
what was then known as the borders of civilization.

"But then it has its perils and unpleasant passages,
which sometimes make one wish himself safely at home !"
I ventured to reply.

"True, we have our storms as well as sunshine," he
rejoined ; " but all joy has its sorrow, all good has its evil,
all sweet has its bitter, else perhaps the first would pall.
Life is made up of variety and contrast ; and so a man has
more pleasure than pain, he is entitled, as things go in
this world, to lay claim to happiness. Speaking of perils,
though, by-the-by, and unpleasant passages, suppose I give
you a rather striking incident in my chequered career ?"

"By all means," said I; "the very favor I would have
asked nothing could please me better."

" Well, then, as I am one who always likes to come to




the facts, without any tedious preliminaries, suppose I
jump at once into the very heart of my story ?"

" All right proceed. "

"Well, then," pursued my friend who, by the way, was
a finely-built, athletic fellow, some thirty years of age, and
one of the best horsemen I ever saw "the incident I refer
to, occurred during a buffalo hunt on what is known as the
great prairies, up near the head waters of the Arkansas.
A party of eight of us had opened our day's sport upon a
small herd of buffaloes, and had begun the slaughter in the
regular Western fashion that is to say, by each singling
out his animal, dashing up alongside on his fiery steed,
discharging his holster pistols into the most vital part, and
so following up the cow or bull to its final fall and death,
and then immediately skinning it, taking a few select
pieces for our camp fare, rolling up the hide, strapping it
to the back of the saddle, mounting our horse, and dashing
on again as before, leaving the remainder of the carcass to
the cowardly coyotes, or small prairie wolves, which, with
an instinct like that of dogs, seldom failed to follow in our
steps, we were thus engaged, I say, and I had become
separated from all of my companions save one whose
animal, alike branching off from the herd, had taken the
same direction as mine when suddenly we were both
startled by the cry of 'Indians !' and looking behind us, we
saw, far away, some eight or ten mounted savages, bearing


down for us with all speed, with similar parties chasing
our friends in the distance, who were also scattered and
flying in every direction.

"'By heavens ! here is something more than fun !' cried
young Summerfield, my companion, in alarm, instantly
turning off from his wounded buffalo, and dashing up
alongside of me. ' What shall we do, L eland eh ?'

" 'Run or fight, I hardly know which !' said I, drawing
up my horse for a momentary consideration, and sweeping
the prairie with my eye.

" ' Let it be a run, by all means !' he returned, in an
eager, excited tone ; ' it is our only chance. 7

" ' And what chance have we then V said I, thought-
fully. ' These savages are doubtless better mounted than
we, and will soon run us down ; and it will only be fight
or death at last perhaps both. Doubtless if we were to
dismount, make a kind of breastwork of our horses, and
stand firm, the savages, after a few circles round us, a few
grand flourishes, and a fascinating display of their eques-
trian skill, would leave us to ourselves especially if, with
a careful aim, we should happen to unhorse one or two of
the most daring. Come ! what do you say ? We have
our rifles^ already loaded ; and we shall have time to load
our pistols also before they get up; and the latter will
serve us even better than the former should it come to a

close encounter. 7



"'I think we can escape by flight, Leland,' returned
Summerfield, in a nervous, agitated tone ; ' and flight is
my choice. But whatever we do, we must do quickly ; for
see ! they are coming up furiously ; and if we stand here
three minutes longer, it will be too late to choose there
will be no alternative. If these were all, I would remain
and abide the consequences ; but if we permit ourselves to
be surrounded, there is no knowing what moment the
others yonder may join this party; -and even you, san-
guine as you are, cannot hope to long withstand such

" This last remark struck me with force ; it would be
the height of folly to think of holding out against a larger
party than the one in chase ; by flight we should probably
draw them off from their companions, and thus have them
to themselves, even if it came to a fight at last ; and so I
decided for flight.

" Our conversation had been very rapid, and our halt
had not extended beyond a minute, during which time I
had constantly employed myself in sweeping the broad,
level plain with my eyes, and considering the chances of a
successful run.

"Far, far as my sight could reach, in every direction
save one, the blue horizon shut down to the level earth
the exception being a black point in the distance, not
unlike a small cloud, which I believed to be a wooded


elevation one of the lower ranges of the great Rocky
chain, thrown forward like the vanguard of an army.

" Over this plain, less than half a mile distant, but in a
direction opposite to the black point in question, our
mounted foes were swiftly advancing, yelling like demons ;
while away to the right, with horses and buffaloes mingled
in strange confusion, our scattered friends were flying in
terror, each hotly pursued by a small band of mounted
savages. It was indeed a moment of peril, and a scene
to make the hair rise with excitement, and the blood to
course swiftly through the veins.

"'On!" I shouted 'to yonder distant wood! Our
lives may depend upon our reaching that before our ene-

"And instantly setting our horses' heads in the proper
direction, we buried our rowels in their flanks, and bounded
forward like lightning, the Indians yelling even more furi-
ously as they witnessed the result of our determination,
and pressing even more eagerly forward in pursuit.

" Could we reach the point at which we aimed in
advance of our pursuers ? It was a long distance many
a long league ; but then our horses were comparatively
fresh; and though not, perhaps, all things being equal,
of the same speed and bottom as those of our foes,
yet sufficiently so, with the start we had, to give us


" 'At all events,' said I, 'we can shoot as quick, and as
far, and as certain as the best of them. '

" ' But not so many times, for they outnumber us four
to one!' returned my companion, who seemed more alarmed
than it pleased me to perceive.

" 'But once for each mark will do/ I rejoined ; 'and if
we find them gaining on us, it must be tried. These
savages are a cowardly pack, whenever they see certain
death before them ; and my word for it, if we can draw
them away from the main body, and send a couple to their
master, the rest will leave us to ourselves. Meantime let
us load our pistols, and be prepared to take advantage of
all the chances. 7

"Accordingly, casting our bridle-reins over the high
pommels of our saddles, we proceeded to put alt our
weapons in order, still spurring forward and keeping an
eye to our enemies, who were pressing rapidly on, almost
in a body, and, as I fancied, gaining on us slightly.

" We each had a brace of holster pistols, which would
carry a large ball for the distance of thirty or forty yards,
with the trueness and almost the force of a rifle ; and
having loaded these, reprimed our rifles, loosened our
knives, and thus seen every thing in order, and well dis-
posed for action, we somewhat quietly settled down, and
gave our whole attention to the race.

" On, on, we flew ! our gallant animals straining every


nerve, doing their duty nobly, and seeming as it were to
take part in our hopes and our fears ; and on came our
pursuers, at the very top of their speed, eager for our
destruction, and now and then causing us to thrill
strangely with their fierce, demoniacal yells.

" On, on, we sped minute after minute mile after
mile ; the dark spot, the haven of our hopes, rising a little
to our view, but still seeming interminably distant ; and
our savage pursuers gaining on us perceptibly, and seem-
ing to yell more triumphantly as they grew more certain
of securing their victims.

" ' Oh, my God ! we are lost, Leland I' cried poor Sum-
merfield, looking around in horror. 'Already the savages
have shortened the distance one-half ! and they will cer-
tainly be upon us before we can reach yonder wood, or
even bring it fairly into view. See ! Leland, see ! our
poor horses are blowing and foaming even now while
those of our blood-thirsty pursuers seem almost as fresh as
when we started. We can do no more ; and an hour, or
even half an hour, will bring them up to us. Ha ! those
yells again ! those horrid yells ! they know we are at their
mercy now! And such a death ! shot down butchered in
the very prime of manhood our mutilated bodies left to
the ravenous wolves our fates for ever unknown to our
friends oh, God ! it is terrible ! terrible !'

" ' But why talk or think of dying, with so many chances


of life before us ?' cried I, roused to something like anger
by what I considered the paltry fears of my companion.
'Cowards are ever dying the brave man falls but

" ' Oh, Leland,' replied Summerfield, turning upon me
the most wretched, ghastly, wo-be-gone countenance I ever
beheld ' do not blame me for what I cannot help I A
horrible presentiment is on me, that my hour is at hand ;
and I have that to live for which makes life desirable ; and
my wandering thoughts have taken in the misery my friends
will suffer when they shall discover that time brings not the
wanderer back. '

"'Pshaw!' returned I, sharply, though not a little
touched by his singular appearance and the peculiar
melancholy of his tone; 'let us think of any thing now
rather than the sentiment of a love-sick swain or a school-
girl! With such fancies in your head, the savages will
kill you, sure enough ; but if you will only be the man I
have always taken you for, you will live to go back and
tell your own story.'

" ' How can we escape what can we do ?' he dejectedly

" ' Fight ! ' said I 'just what I intended to do in the
first place. Our foes are gaining on us, as you say ; we
cannot outrun them ; there is no alternative. But we have
drawn them too far from the main body for them to get


assistance ; and now, if we act quickly, in concert, and with
determination, the day may be our own.*

" ' Tours it may be, Leland but not mine !' he rejoined ;
'for I know I shall not survive. However, do as you
think best, and I will stand by you while I do live.'

" ' See !' said I ; ' there are two of our pursuers already
some rods in advance of the others. Let us slack up
gradually so that they may suppose they are overtaking
us from our exhaustion and, when near enough to make
our aim sure, wheel suddenly and try our marksmenship.'

" ' I am ready,' replied my companion, with a melancholy
shake of his head.

" We continued on about a mile further, by which time
the foremost of our pursuers were yelling fiercely within
the distance of a hundred yards.

" ' Now is our time 1' cried I. ' Rifles ready Ihalt I
wheel ! fire !'

As the words were uttered, each was acted upon with
promptness and decision, and at the last our pieces spoke

"We were both good marksmen, and had long prac-
tised the art of shooting on horseback, even when under
full headway ; so that the result astonished us less, prob-
ably, than it did the savages ; who, not aware of our inten-
tions, were not prepared for so sudden a shot. The one
I had selected for my mark immediately fell from his beast,


with a loud yell of rage and pain ; but my companion,
being not so sure in his aim, merely lodged his ball in the
brain of the other's horse. The animal dropped suddenly,
and would probably have have seriously injured any rider
less expert than his own ; but the agile savage cleared his
back before he touched the ground, and immediately ran
howling back to his advancing comrades.

" Fearfully wild and savage were the yells with which
the Indians greeted our sudden display of heroism ; and
quickly spreading out on either side, they began to circle
round us bending over, keeping their persons concealed
behind their horses, and letting fly their arrows from under
the necks of their rushing animals.

" I now saw there would be little chance for us, if we
dismounted, as we could not guard ourselves on all sides ;
and so telling Summerfield to load up as quick as possible,
and then take a better sight than before, I proceded to do
the same we keeping our enemies at a distance, mean-
while, by a display of our pistols and occasionally dodging
our heads as an arrow whistled closer than usual past our ears.

" Just as we had succeeded in getting our rifles loaded,
primed, and brought to our shoulders, ready for the first
certain mark that should offer, one daring fellow came
swooping round on the side of my companion. The next
moment there was a flash, a crack, and the twang of a bow;
and both marksmen fell ; the Indian howling and rolling


in the dust poor Summerfield silently, alas 1 with an
arrow drove through his brain between his eyes.

" I saw at once that he was killed that his presentiment
had proved too real that I could no longer be of any ser-
vice to him and instantly I resolved to escape upon the
horse of the Indian I had shot, which was still running at
large between me and my foes.

" I had reserved my fire, and the savages knew it ; and,
warned by what had occurred, they took care to give me a
wide berth though still circling round, and sending their
arrows from a distance ; and suddenly spurring my horse
forward, my foes retreating as I advanced, I was soon by

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 7 of 22)