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Forest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier online

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the side of the animal I sought. Grasping his halter, I
threw myself upon his back ; and the next moment I was
dashing swiftly across the plain too swiftly for pursuit
to the utter chagrin of my enemies, who could only impo-
tently howl forth their rage at the loss of their best racer
and the foe they had counted as a victim. When fairly
clear of them, I turned gave a loud yell of triumph fired
my rifle in defiance and then sped onward like the wind.

" At nightfall I reach Fort Bent, where I found two of
my companions, who reported all the rest killed. But the
next day, one by one, the others dropped in all save poor
Summerfield the only victim of that day's chase to
whose memory we all sadly paid the tribute due to a com-
panion and a friend."




SOME years ago, when horse thieves, negro stealers,
gamblers, id est omne genus, were much more common in
the Arkansas country than they are to-day, a party of six
or eight borderers were one cool evening in November
collected around the bar-room fire of the Jefferson House,
in a place well known, but which it suits our purpose not
to name. They were rather a rough-looking set of fellows,
take them all in all ; and at the moment we introduce
them, were attentively listening to the wonderful exploits
of one Kelser, who was known in those parts as the leader
of a gang of bullying scoundrels though the persons to
whom he was talking, being comparative strangers, per-
mitted him the rare enjoyment of telling his story, spread-
ing his fame, and making himself a hero in a new quarter.

Winding up the detail of his sixth bloody duel and
rencounter with an oath, he added, by way of a climax :

"I'm one of them as is never afeard of anything white,

black, or red and all I want is, (displaying the hilt of his



Bowie-knife,) for anybody to show me the fellow as says I

As he spoke, he straightened himself up, bent his round,
bullet-head forward, and brought his face, with its pug
nose, thin, sneering lips, and small, black, somewhat
bloodshot eyes, to bear upon each of those present.

No one made any answer ; and each eye, if it did not
quail, at least fell before the contemptuous glance of the

"Yes," he repeated, with another oath, "I'm one of
them as is never afeard of anything, as I said afore ; and
to prove it, I'll tell ye of my fight with Dexter Rash
Dexter, as we used to call him."

And then, with the air of one perfectly satisfied that he
was a hero, which no man dared dispute, he was proceed-
ing with his story, when a tall, slender individual, in the
dress of a Northern traveler, somewhat dusty, and with a
pair of saddle-bags thrown across his arm, quietly entered
the inn.

Approaching the bar whither the landlord, who was
one of the party at the fire, immediately repaired the
stranger mildly inquired if he could be entertained for the

" Certainly, sir," returned Boniface, with a cheerful air.
" A horse, I reckon, sir ?"

The traveler nodded ; and while he proceeded to divest


himself of his overcoat, and deposit his traveling equip-
ments with the host, the latter called to a black servant,
and ordered him to attend to the gentleman's beast.

"Supper, sir?" pursued the landlord, with an eye to

Again the traveler nodded ; and perceiving the fire was
surrounded by the party already mentioned, and evidently
not wishing to intrude himself among strangers, he quietly
took his seat by a table near the wall.

Meantime he had not escaped notice as no new-comer
in such a place does ; but while most of the company
scanned him somewhat furtively, Kelser, the egotistical
hero of his own bloody exploits, angered by the interrup-
tion, stopped his narration and regarded him with a savage

" Another Yankee I'll bet high on't I" he said, in

a sneering, grating tone, intended to disconcert, irritate,
and insult the traveler.

The latter, however, seemed to take no notice of the
remark; but turning to the table, upon which there
chanced to be lying an old paper, he picked it up, as it
were mechanically, and soon appeared to be deeply ab-
sorbed in its contents.

This quiet, inoffensive proceeding served to irritate the
ruffian still more ; but contenting himself for the time by
muttering something about all Yankees being cowards, he


turned to the others, and proceeded with his story
speaking somewhat louder than usual especially when
he came to the bloody details of his narrative as if to
arrest the attention of the stranger, and impress him un-

Finding the latter was not in the least disturbed, how-
ever, Kelser closed with a tremendous oath ; and then,
turning to the landlord, who had once more joined the
party, he inquired, in a loud tone if he thought there were
any " cussed thieves amongst 'em from abroad ?"

" Hush !" returned the host, in a low, cautious tone ;
"don't go for to make a muss here, I beg of you for such
things ruin a man's house !"

" Do you want to take up on that fellow's side ?"
sneered the bully, fixing his black, snaky eyes upon the
host, with an expression that made the latter quail.

"Oh, no, Kelser I don't want to take anything up;
and so I beg you won't say nothing to him. Come ! let's
take a drink all round, and call it quits."

" In course we'll take a drink," returned the other, with
a coarse laugh ; " and as it's to be all round, why, we'll
have it all round."

Saying this, and rising as he spoke, he walked over to
the inoffensive traveler, with a swaggering air, and,
slapping him somewhat heavily on the shoulder, said,
roughly :



"How d'ye do, stranger?"

The man looked up with something like a start, and dis-
played features in striking contrast with those of his inter-
rogator. He seemed about fi ve-and-twenty years of age
had a smooth, broad, high forehead a rather Grecian
slightly effeminate, and almost beardless face, and mild,
soft, pleasant blue eyes the general expression of the
whole countenance denoting one of a naturally timid,
retiring, and unobtrusive disposition. Fixing his eyes upon
the bully rather with the air of one who did not exactly
comprehend the cause of being so rudely disturbed, than
with any thing like anger or resentment at the harsh,
unceremonious interruption he seemed to wait for the
latter to volunteer some explanation of his uncivil pro-

" I said, how d'ye do, stranger ?" repeated Kelser ; " but
you don't seem to understand the civil thing."

At this the crowd, in expectation of a quarrel, at
once started up and silently gathered around the bully
and the traveller. This seemed to startle the latter a
little ; and glancing quickly from one to the other, he
replied : %

" I am very well, if that is what you wish to know ; but
really I do not comprehend why you should be so solici-
tous about my health."

" There's a great many things that you Yankees


don't comprehend I" rejoined Kelser, witli a chuckling

" What does this mean, gentlemen ?" inquired the
traveler, turning a little pale his mild, blue eye beginning
to gleam with a strange, peculiar light at the same time
rising and glancing from one to the other, till his gaze
rested upon the troubled visage of his host. " What have
I done that any one here should seek to insult me ? Do
you permit this, sir ?" he added, addressing the innkeeper.

" He can't help himself," interposed the bully. " If
there's any body as wants to insult you, it's me ; and Bill
Kelser always does what- he likes any where, and with
any body."

" And why do you seek to quarrel with a man that
never saw or exchanged a word with you before ?" quietly
asked the stranger, his lips slightly quivering, either with
fear or suppressed anger a soft glow diffusing itself over
his whole face and the pupils of his eyes seeming to
expand, and grow dark, and gleam even more strangely
than before.

" Because I hate all you cussed Yankees ; and whenever
1 sees one of your tribe, I always feel like cutting his heart
out ! for I am one of them as never knowed what it was
to fear eyther man or devil !"

" Come I" interposed the landlord, taking the bully by
the arm " we was going to take a drink, you know !"


" Yes, I'm in for that, too !" said Kelser ; " always good
at eyther a drink or a fight, I am. You hear, stranger ?"
he continued, taking hold of the latter's arm somewhat
roughly. "You hear, don't you ? We're going to take a
drink with the landlord ; and if you can prove you're a
decent white man, we'll honor you by taking another with
you afterwards."

" I shall have no objection to treat, if the gentleman here
think I ought to do so," returned the traveler, drawing
himself up with dignified firmness, and speaking in a more
positive manner than he had yet done ; "but as for drink-
ing myself, that is something I never do."

Nothing at that moment could have pleased the bully
better than to hear the stranger refuse to drink ; for he
had long since resolved upon a quarrel with him ; first,
from natural malice; secondly, because he believed him
one to be easily disposed of; and thirdly, because he might
thus make a grand display of his fighting qualities, with
little or no risk to himself a very important consideration,
when we bear in mind that all such characters are arrant
cowards at heart.

" So you don't drink, eh ?" he said to the stranger.
" D'ye hear that, gentlemen ?" appealing to the crowd.
" Now every body round here has to drink or fight I And
so (walking up to the traveler) you've got to do one or
t'other which shall it be ?"


" I do not wish to do either," was the reply ; " but drink
I will not I"

4< Then fight you shall 1" cried the other, closing the sen-
tence with a wicked oath, and at the same time laying his
hand upon the hilt of his Bowie knife, and partly drawing
it from its sheath.

" Do you intend to murder me ? or give me a chance for
my life ?" inquired tfre stranger, with a coolness that aston-
ished those who, looking upon his fine, delicate features,
and slender figure, expected to see him shrink back in
alarm and dismay.

"Give you a chance, in course 1" retunied the bully, in
a less confident tone for he 'too had expected to see the
other succumb at once.

"Do you challenge me to a fair combat?" inquired the

In course I does," blustered Kelser; "we don't do
nothing else, in this country, but the fair thing."

The affair now began to look serious.

" Gentlemen," said the traveler, with a polite bow to the
company in general, "you know how quietly I came in
here, and how inoffensively I conducted myself afterwards ;
and you have seen how this man has ventured beyond all
rules of good breeding, and stepped out of his way to insult
and fix a quarrel upon me. Now, then, as I am a stranger
here though one who has always heard much of Southern


chivalry I wish to know how many of you will agree to
stand by and see fair play ?"

"All ! all of us !" was the almost simultaneous response.
"You shall have fair play, stranger 1"

The bully turned slightly pale, and seemed more dis-
composed and uneasy.

"I thank you, gentlemen, for convincing me, by your
offer, that you are governed by justice and honor I" pur-
sued the traveler ; " and now I will prove to you that this
man is a cowardly braggadocio, or else one of us shall not
quit this place alive ! It is understood that I am chal-
lenged to a single fight, is it not ?"

There was a general affirmative response

" The challenged party, I believe, has the choice of
weapons, time, and place ?"

Another affirmative response the bully looking still
paler and more anxious.

"Well, then, gentlemen, not being handy with the
Bowie knife, and wishing an equal chance for life, I pro-
pose to leave the result to fate, and so test the courage of
my opponent. Any man can stand up for a fight, if he
knows he has the best of it but only true courage can
coolly face uncertainty and my insulter boasts of fearing
nothing. My proposition is this : Let two pistols be
selected one be loaded and both be concealed under a
cloth upon this table. Then my fighting friend and my-


self shall draw one by lot, point the drawn one at the
heart of his foe, and pull the trigger the unarmed one
standing firm, and receiving the charge or not as Heaven
shall will I Is not this fair ?

"Perfectly fairl" coincided all except Kelser, who
demurred, and swore that nobody but a Yankee would
ever have thought of such a heathenish way of doing

" Did I not tell you he was a coward this fellow who
a few minutes ago feared neither man nor devil ?" sneered
the stranger, thus drawing a laugh from the company,
who now seemed to be all on his side.

The landlord now objected to the affair taking place in
his house but on one of the company taking him aside,
and whispering in his ear, he made no further opposition.

Accordingly, Kelser reluctantly consenting, one was
chosen to prepare the pistols, which were immediately
produced ; and in less than ten minutes they were placed
under a cloth upon the table.

" I waive all right to the first choice," said the stranger,
as he and Kelser were brought face to face in their proper

The bully, who was really very much alarmed and who
showed it in his pale face, trembling limbs, and quiver-
ing muscles at once seemed to brighten at this conces-
sion ; and thrusting his hand under the cloth, he drew forth


one of the weapons, presented it at the breast of the
other, and pulled the trigger.

It did not fire ; but the stranger, who knew not that
it was unloaded, neither blanched nor changed expres-
sion. The crowd applauded, and the bully grew ghastly-

" It is niy turn now 1" said the traveler, in a quiet, deter-
mined tone, fixing his blue eyes steadily upon the cowering
form of Kelser.

This was more than the latter could stand.

" No, I'll be if it is !" he shouted ; and instantly

drawing the other pistol, he presented it, and pulled the
trigger also.

But with a like result for neither pistol was loaded
the company having secretly resolved to test the courage
of both without bloodshed.

Throwing down the pistol with a bitter curse, amid a
universal cry of " Shame ! shame I" Kelser whipped out
his knife, and made a rush for his antagonist. But the
latter, gliding quickly around the table, suddenly stopped,
and exclaimed :

" Three times at my life and now once at yours !"

And with these ominous words he raised his arm
quickly; the next instant there was a flash, a crack, and
the bully fell heavily forward, shot through the brain.

The verdict of the jury, who sat upon the case, was justi-


fiable homicide and the blue-eyed stranger resumed his
journey as if nothing had happened.

Would you know who he is ? If we named him, we
should name one who now holds a high official position;
and for many reasons we prefer he should be known only
by those who are already cognizant of the incident we
have recorded.


A NUMBER of years ago, a man by the name of Wallace,
of Scotch descent, emigrated to Texas, and settled at a
small inland village. His family consisted of himself,
wife, daughter, and servant. This daughter, an only
child, was then about eighteen years of age, and very
beautiful of a graceful figure, regular features, dark hair,
and bright, merry, sparkling black eyes. She had received
a good education, was well accomplished, and soon became
the belle of the place. She had one fault, however a
fault common to most pretty women she was a coquette.

Among her numerous admirers was a man some thirty
years of age tall, dark, and sinister of aspect of whom
report did not speak altogether favorably. He had come
to the place a short time subsequently to the settlement of
Mr. Wallace, and located himself at the village inn, where
he gave out that he was a man of wealth. Nothing was
known of his history, and there were none who could say
he was not what he represented himself; but there were

many who believed, for various reasons, that he was a pro-


fessional gambler. He seemed to have plenty of money,
and, so far as could be seen, conducted himself in an
upright and honorable manner ; but still he was not liked ;
there was something too stern and forbidding in the man
to make him popular with the people around ; and hence
he was regarded with suspicion and distrust, and many
stories were set afloat derogatory to his moral character.
James Yaughan, for so he gave his name, seemed not in
the least disturbed by these evil reports, but continued to
conduct himself as if he believed that all were satisfied
with the report which he gave of himself.

How it was that he first became acquainted with Helen
Wallace, was not known to the gossiping portion of the
village ; but they were suddenly surprised to find him
received at the dwelling of her father as a welcome guest ;
and it was soon rumored that he was treated by Helen
herself with marked favor.

Time passed on six months glided away and still
Yaughan remained at his old quarters ; and still his visits
to the house of Mr. Wallace continued, gradually increas-
ing in frequency, until it was known that scarcely a day
passed without a meeting between him and Helen.

Meantime there were many other gentlemen who called
to see her, and whom she received with polite courtesy ;
but Yaughan, it at length became whispered about, was
the favored suitor. She did not deny herself to any ; but


he, as a general thing, was her escort wherever she went.
He frequently rode out with her alone, and almost invari-
ably accompanied her to all the balls, pic-nics, and parties
in the vicinity.

This finally settled the matter in the minds of many ;
and it was not strange that a report should go abroad,
whether true or false, that the parties were engaged to
each other for the journey of life. This Yaughan himself
did not contradict, except in a laughing way, which only
tended the more strongly to convince the others of the
truth of their conjectures.

But the persons who had made such wonderful predic-
tions concerning the future of Helen Wallace, were soon
destined to meet another surprise, which did much to
shake their faith in their own foreknowledge of events ; for
one morning it was suddenly discovered, and rapidly
spread abroad to all concerned, that James Yaughan, the
still unknown and unpopular stranger, had disappeared as
mysteriously as he came.

Eager and earnest were the inquiries set on foot, to
know what had become of him. None could tell. The
landlord of the inn, on being questioned, declared that he
had settled his account in good currency, and had stated
that business required his absence beyond which he knew
nothing except that he had departed on foot, in the
night, ostensibly for a neighboring town, to take a public


conveyance for parts unknown. The Wallaces could give
no additional information ; and Helen herself laughingly
declared that she was not his keeper, and knew not for a
certainty that he would ever return.

Some few of the more wonder-seeking gossips undertook
to raise an excitement, by stating that he had probably
been secretly dealt with, and that his body might sometime
or other mysteriously come to light ; but even this suppo-
sition, greatly to their chagrin, was speedily destroyed, by
sending parties to the town in question, where it was
found that James Yaughan mortal, and not James
Yaughan's ghost, had stipulated for a conveyance, and
had taken bodily passage to Nacogdoches. This was all
that could be gleaned, and all that could be known con-
cerning the man who had been so much talked about ; and
the rest, being simply conjecture, soon died out a natural

Three months more passed away, and Helen Wallace
was found to be just as gay and lively as ever the only
difference to note being, that she now had more suitors
than before. Among these latter there was soon numbered
one, supposed to be more of a favorite than the others, and
who, at the time of Yaughan's departure, was not known
in the village. This was a young man, some five-and-
twenty years of age, of a light complexion, prepossessing

appearance, and agreeable manners, who had recently


come into the place and opened a. shop for trade. In that
little village he was dignified by the title of merchant, and
was supposed to be well-to-do in the world, if not abso-
lutely wealthy.

Henry Cleaveland was a very different personage from,
his supposed rival, and made himself popular with all
classes. He, like all the rest, appeared to be smitten with
the charms of the gay Helen ; and this time the interested
gossips declared that he ought to be the favorite suitor, and
did all in their power to bring about " the consummation so
devoutly to be wished;" and apparently with success; for
in a few months the report went abroad that he and Helen
were engaged.

He had now become as attentive as his absent rival had
ever been ; and at length Helen herself announced that he
was the chosen one, and that a certain day, sometime yet
in the future, was fixed upon for the wedding. This was
confirmed by her own preparations for the great event, and
it was generally believed that the wedding would be a bril-
liant affair.

Not to dwell upon the matter, we may briefly state, that
the anxiously looked-for day at length arrived, and was as
auspicious of a happy ending as the believers in omens
could have wished. It was near the close of summer, and
the morning beamed as fair and beautiful as the fair and
beautiful bride herself, and the blithe birds sung as gaily


among the leafy trees as if their music had been attuned to
celebrate a day of happiness for all who heard them.

A wedding in those days, and in that section, was often-
times a more public affair than in the older and colder
regions of the North. It was a merry-making day, when
both young and old might congregate for festivity, hilarity
and joy. The residence of Mr. Wallace was decorated for
the occasion with evergreens and flowers, and his doors
were thrown open to receive the visitors of the bride elect.
Many servants were called into requisition, and long tables
were spread under arching trees around the dwelling, and
laden with substantial and fanciful viands for the enjoy-
of the guests. But one of these, more beautifully and
elegantly set out than either of the others, stood a little
apart from the rest, and was the table of honor, or the
table of the bride and her immediate friends.

As the day in question advanced toward meridian, the
clergyman appeared the bride and grooms, with their
immediate attendants, took their places and then, sur-
rounded by a large number of interested spectators, the
solemn ceremony was performed which united the happy
couple for life. After this, as soon as the many and cor-
dial gratulations were over, the bridal train led the way
to the festive board, and all were soon engaged in doing
honor to the hospitality of the provident host.

In the midst of these festivities, when the wines were


beginning to circulate, and toasts were being drank with
smiling faces, and joyousness was pervading the whole
assemblage at this time, we say, like a dark cloud cross-
ing the bright sunlight, and casting a shade of gloom over
all there suddenly appeared upon the scene the unwel-
come person of James Yaughan. Each looked at him in
surprise, and then at each other, with a sort of mysterious
wonder ; and then all who could catch a view of the face
of the happy bride, perceived that she had suddenly
become deadly pale, and slightly tremulous, as if through
secret fear.

There was no perceptible change, however, in the
appearance of the new-comer ; his features wore the same
stern, cold, forbidding, sinister aspect. With a slight nod
of recognition, he passed one after another of the different
groups, and advanced directly to the table occupied by the
bride, her relatives and attendants. Mr. Wallace arose,
and received him with a sort of constrained politeness, and
introduced him to such other of the company as he now
beheld for the first time. He bowed to each with that
same cold formality which was characteristic of the man ;

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Online LibraryEmerson BennettForest and prairie, or, Life on the frontier → online text (page 8 of 22)