wiry and quick as a steel trap. I liked the way he
shook hands with Dad, looking up into his eyes like
he wanted him to believe he was to be counted on.
His skin was nigh as dark as any full-blood's, and
he wore rings in his ears and his hair braided like
an Injin's and only a breech-clout and leggings for
clothes. His eyes was black and sharp and he had
a mouth like Dad's straight-cut, with thin lips.
He was kind as a woman, and had mighty little to
say, himse'f, though he always looked you right in
the eyes if you talked to him. His English was
funny. At first I wanted to laugh whenever he
talked, but I got used to it, and in no time I could
talk like him, and did sometimes. I was right
friendly with him from the start because I figured
on learning Cree from him. But my liking was
genuine and grew stronger every day.
I thought I'd learn the girl's name the very first
thing; so when he and I was shaping up the packs
the next morning, getting all ready to start on the
following day, I says, "Do you know Red Robe,
"She's my honkle, Red Robe," he says, without
looking up from his work.
That give me a queer thrill. Mac was related
to her. "How does that come?" I says.
"My modder's sister's his 'oomans."
I couldn't figure that out for a minute; but di-
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 141
rectly it was plain. Mac's mother was Mrs. Red
Robe's sister. Mac was a cousin of the girl.
"What's her name, Mac?" I says.
"Go's dat you'll mean?"
"Why, Red Robe's girl," I says, remembering he
didn't know anything about me seeing her.
"She's got two, free, four, mebby five gal, Red
Robe," he says, stopping to fill his pipe. "Wan,
hees nam' Yellow Flower; nodder, hees nam' Sits-
an'-Seengs; nodder wan, hees nam' Bluebird; nod-
der wan, hees nam' "
He was stuck. His forehead puckered and he
squatted by the fire for a coal to light his pipe with.
"HI don' know hees nam dat bird is walk hon de
long lag," he says.
"Oh," I says, "snipe."
"No, no beeg wan ! Hell of a long lag, dat wan !
He's walk hon de plain an' fly. Mak' de cry, too."
"Crane sand-hill crane," I says.
"Yas, by gar! Dat's de wan. Sand-hill crane.
Wah-chee-cha, hees nam', Cree. He's mean hon de
Englis', Speerit de Mountain mebby Mountain
Ghos' som-e-ting lak dat. HI don' spick de Eng-
lis' lak de Cree or de French, me."
I saw my chance. "I wish you'd learn me to talk
Cree," I says. "Will you?"
"You bat ! Me, HI'll be glad por talk de Cree, me
an' you," he says, going back to the packs.
After that he spoke to me in Cree and then said
the same thing in English. It seemed like I could
learn Cree and remember it easy. I stuck to him
close and talked to him about Red Robe and his
We was off before the sun was up eight of us
now, with a long string of pack-animals. When I
looked ahead the pack-train looked nigh a quarter
of a mile long. It was a sight I can't never forget
several hosses and mules, then a man, then more
hosses and mules, then another man, till at last
come Mac and me. Dad was ahead with Bill and
Alex; but I was learning Cree and making a hand
The day was hot so hot we all felt glad when
night come. We'd cut straight across to strike the
Missouri at the mouth of the Musselshell, and the
country was without a tree just rolling plains, and
hotter'n all get out. The first night we made a dry
camp no water at all, but we got along without it
and pulled out mighty early in the morning. About
noon we come to water and let the stock drink, but
didn't unpack. That night we camped on good
water, and after that we wa'n't obliged to make any
I reckon 'twas late in the afternoon of the ninth
day when we struck the Missouri at the mouth of
the Musselshell. It had been a hot, dry trip days
without seeing a tree. The rivers looked mighty
good, I can tell you, and we camped there and
rested and let the stock fill up good. We was
mighty careful, though, for we was well into the
Blackf eet country and they wa'n't friendly to Amer-
icans but traded with the British. Dad told me
that the Hudson's Bay company was behind it, too.
But we didn't intend to trade any until spring, and
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 143
then, as soon as we got rid of what goods we had,
light out quick. Most every night the men talked
of the ornery ways of the Hudson's Bay traders,
Mac setting beside me listening but never taking
part in the conversation unless he was asked a ques-
We stayed in the camp a week. It was Septem-
ber and there was signs of the summer's end when
we started off up the Missouri, following the course
of the great stream as close as we could. Bad-
lands, queer country and rough, kept us far away
sometimes. Then again we was close and camped
in still cottonwood groves by the river itse'f. We
built small fires and mighty few of them, using only
dry willow or alder wood for fuel. Every day we
saw big herds of buffalo, but no Injins, although we
was always on the lookout for them night and day.
One day I saw a grizzly bear the silver-tip that
Captain Lewis called the white bear. And he did
look nigh white in the sunshine. Cracky ! he was a
big fellow, and didn't want to give the trail either.
After that we saw more and more of them as we
traveled towards the Rockies. We camped early
one day because we saw buffalo running, but al-
though we scouted around and Dad found fresh
sign of them we saw no Injins.
It was on the seventh day after leaving the Mus-
selshell that we come to the mouth of the Marias.
It's waters, swifter than the Missouri, made a fuss
in the big river when it entered, but in less than a
hundred yards was swallowed up and belonged to it.
We made camp and put out a guard before sun-
down. It was a beautiful spot, and the night come
on cool and clear as a bell. There wa'n't a sound
in the air except the rippling of the Marias waters
144 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
cutting into the Missouri in a clear streak. And
when the moon come up and its light fell on the
ripples it looked like a million silver fish was jump-
ing and playing in the middle of the stream. It
was mighty hard to believe there was trouble in
such a place ; but the low voices of the men and lit-
tle fire, even to cook, kept me reminded of it till I
got fidgety and restless as all get out.
We was up before daylight and Dad and Bill and
Alex and Jake set out to explore the country and
look for a site for our winter camp. Mac and I
was with the stock, and Tom and Sandy stayed in
camp. I could talk a good bit of Cree with Mac
now, and every day I learned more, besides the sign
talk. It was easy for me, and I liked it. Mac
wa'n't never tired nor ornery, but took pains with
me and was tickled when I learned and remembered
It was after noon when the men got in. They
had decided to cross the river and make the camp
on the Marias near its mouth. So before sundown
we was across and had piled the packs for a stand-
off in case of attack. It was a better place for the
camp than on the other side. I could see that.
And that night they decided to build a stockade.
"I reckon ye've been here before, Mac?" says
"Oui, Hl'm been 'ere planty tarn, me. De Cree
she's lak por stop 'ere. Som-e-tam Blackfeet, she's
mak de fight jist 'ere. Planty buffalo, planty bee-
vair. Good place, dis wan, por mak' de beeg, strong
"We'll shore try to make it strong," says Dad.
"An' I only hope we kin git it done before they
jump us. In the mornin' Lige an' Mac kin guard
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 145
the stock an' mebby find time to cut some grass.
The rest better jump right in an' go to cuttin' logs."
"That's the idee," agrees Alex, cheery like he al-
ways was. And they laid out the stockade, fifty by
sixty-five feet, besides a strong pole corral to join
onto it. It looked like a mighty big job; but there
was eight of us ; and in the morning we begun.
At first the sound of the axes bothered me a heap.
I was sure it could be heered a mighty long way;
but the logs had to be cut, and a lot of them. They
was ten feet long and set in the ground over two
feet on end like the stockade at the mouth of the
Yellowstone, only smaller, of course. There wa'n't
no runway, but plenty of loop-holes, and the logs
was tied by a girder pegged half way up and braced
every little bit, from it to the ground on the inside
so the logs couldn't be pushed over. Every day for
more than two weeks Mac and I guarded the stock
and cut grass while the other men worked on the
stockade. We hadn't seen an Injin; but we wa'n't
careless, and kept expecting them. Each night
Mac and I would tie up our grass and pack it in;
and each night the stockade was farther along, till
at last it was done, gate and all. It had been hard
work, especially when the men had to stand night-
guard after working all day. I felt relieved when
we was all safe inside and could build a decent fire;
for the nights was getting right sharp.
Dad had pitched his lodge and we had made it
snug for a long stay. Everybody's bed was in it,
and all the goods was piled in two tents belonging
to Alex and Jake, so there was sleeping room to
spare in the lodge.
"Now," says Dad, filling his pipe the first night
inside the stockade. "I feel we're fixed, an' before
146 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
the storms set in." He looked so satisfied and
cheerful, setting there, that I thought the job of
making the stockade was worth while. "There's
fur a-plenty, here," he says, "but I reckon we'd best
make a little killin' o' meat right away now, so we
kin dry it agin the time when it's scarce or poor or
the Blackfeet jumps us an* they shore will."
"We'll hev to make some travois, too. We'll need
'em," says Alex. "They'll be a sharp frost tonight,"
he goes on. "We kin go to trappin' mighty soon
now. But speakin' of dryin' meat; I never see a
rack of it but what I think of Tom Meek's squaw.
Remember her, Dad?"
"Reckon I do," laughs Dad, putting a stick on
the fire. "Reckon I do. She was nigh as wide as
she was long, an' full twice as heavy as she looked."
"She's dead," says Alex, interrupting.
"Yes, there ain't no doubt of it. Leastways not
in my mind, nor Bill's," says Dad, refilling his pipe,
slow. "She died a year ago last winter. Me an'
Bill was camped nigh Tom ; an' the woman took sick
along in January. It had been right warm. No
storms to speak of. She was took sudden an' bad
an' kept gittin' worse an' worse, till one night Tom
rode over to our fire. He asked us if we'd kinder
ride herd on the woman whilst he made a trip to
the Post fer some medicine; an' of course we said
we would do all we could fer her, an' we did. It
was better'n a hundred miles to the Post; an' the
next mornin' after Tom set out, a blizzard set in
a bad one the worst I'd seen in a long time.
"Me an' Bill went over to Tom's camp an' built a
fire an' cut some wood an' cooked. We hustled
around an' made the woman some tea ; but while we
was there she died. We camped right there the
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 147
next day an* the next. Then the weather moder-
ated. It got warm agin too warm. Tom hedn't
come in, an* me an* Bill reckoned he'd got lost or
froze in the blizzard, mebby. But we stayed there
in his camp, like we felt we ought to, till two more
days went an* still there wa'n't no Tom. Then me
an* Bill held a council. Something hed to be done
with the woman. So we packed her out of the
cabin an' laid her down on the plains so she'd
freeze. Night come again, but Tom didn't; so we
packed the woman back into the cabin to keep the
wolves from gittin' her in the night. That went
on for three more days an' nights packin' her out
at daylight to freeze her, an' packin' her in agin at
night to fool the wolves. Yes sir, that woman is
dead. I kin prove it by Bill."
He wa'n't laughing; but there was something
mighty funny in the way he told it, though he was
"Sioux woman, wa'n't she?" Alex says, knocking
the ashes out of his pipe.
"Nope," says Dad, "she was a Cree."
I looked at him quick, but he didn't see me, and I
couldn't make out whether he was meaning any-
thing or not. "Why didn't Tom come back?" I
"Got lost in the blizzard," he says. "Badly froze,
too ; but we hed a funeral before we 'tended to him,
"Well, anyhow," says Alex, "every time I see a
rack of drying meat, I always think of that woman.
She was the busiest meat-dryer I ever see. What
become of Tom, Dad?"
"The Rees killed him last fall him an' a man
name o' Adams. Better turn in, son," he says to
148 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
me. "It's your turn to go on guard at midnight.
You an* Mac relieve Bill an' Jake, ye know."
It didn't seem to me I'd been asleep five minutes
when Bill shook me. I got up quiet as I could and
went out of the lodge with Mac. The air was frosty
and the sky full of stars. As we come up to the
stock, Mac says, "Jake, pretty soon now, beeg storm
"How soon, Mac?" says Jake, stopping a minute
to talk, with his shoulders humped over in the chill
"Mebby she's start tomorrow. Dam beeg wan,
dat storm is comin' now."
"What makes you think that, Mac?" I asked.
"I don' know, me," he said, looking at the starry
Then Jake left us an' we was still. We rode
around the stock once before picking stands, and
after that each man was a guard by himse'f. I
could see far out over the plains in the clear night
and across the Missouri, from where I stopped.
Such nights fetched me what I wanted of the plains.
And always my love for them got stronger. I
couldn't never see how any man could be small or
ornery and live on the plains. It seemed to me
that men ought to measure up to their country,
someway, and be big like it was.
Towards morning the sky begun to cloud up and
the wind hauled around to the north. A change of
weather was coming. But how could Mac have
knowed it with the sky so full of stars?
It wa'n't growing much colder, but the wind was
raw, and I was glad when daylight come. Alex and
Sandy relieved Mac and me, and we went into the
stockade where Dad and the rest was making tra-
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 149
By ten o'clock it begun to rain, and early in the
afternoon sleet come, driven by a gale from the
north. It kept getting worse and before dark was
snowing hard so hard you couldn't see ten feet
ahead of you. The stock drifted into the cotton-
woods and the guard was glad to follow. The cold
strengthened all night, and when morning come on,
the plains was white and drifted bad. The wind
was still howling and driving sheets of snow with
a force that was hard to face. Nothing could stand
against it. Cottonwood limbs, suddenly froze,
snapped off, and even fair-sized trees was broke
down. It looked as though winter had come to stay.
That night was a hard one on the guard, and I
felt lucky because it wa'n't my turn. Dad built up
the fire in the lodge, and we was mighty snug and
comfortable, though it was bitter cold on the plains.
"Hear that wind," says Dad, tighting the guy-rope
by his side. "It's the equinoctial storm and a good
one ; but when it's spent itse'f we'll hev fine weather
fer a long spell, I cal'late. Jest as soon as it lets
up we must kill some meat. The buffalo might
drift an' leave the country. Shoo ! hear that wind,"
he says again, as a gust nigh tipped over the lodge.
Mac said, "It is a strong wind," in Cree. And I
said, "Yes ; you said it would come."
Dad perked up and says, "How's the Cree lan-
guage comin' along, son?" with his gray eyes twink-
ling, but kind, like.
"She's do good," says Mac. "She's spick de word
jist de sam' lak de Hinjin."
We sat up till after the guard was changed. (The
men was nigh froze when they come in.) Then
we went to bed ; and the wind howled till nigh day-
150 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
But in the morning all was different. The storm
had passed, though the snow was drifted in the
coulees and along the Marias. By noon the sky was
clear and blue as it ever is on a summer's day, and
the sun shining so bright it was hard on my eyes.
The snow begun to melt away. Gullies fed by the
coulees filled up with muddy water that rushed to
the Marias or the Missouri, so that by sundown the
plains was white only in spots where the heavier
drifts had been piled by the wind. The sky had
never seemed so clean and clear and blue, and when
night fell the stars come out as though there hadn't
been a storm. Mac and I stood guard from mid-
night till morning. And there never was another
such a morning.
Mebby it was comparison that made it seem so
beautiful. Anyway, under the warm sky the little
spots of snow in the coulees looked plumb out of
place. On most of the trees the leaves was yet
green; but some, on the small quaking aspens, was
yellow, and, setting their color against the blue of
the sky, made a mighty pretty picture. The yellow
seemed brighter and the blue bluer, one color work-
ing to set off the other, like. Out in the breaks
and bad lands of the Missouri where the heat of the
summer had dried and withered every bit of color
to match the plains theirse'f s, the storm had fetched
back the reds and greens and yellows of the cliffs
and clay banks, till they looked pretty again, and
unreal, like. There wa'n't a breath of breeze stir-
ring; not a cloud in the sky. It was all so still
you'd think the elements was plumb ashamed of the
way they'd cut up the day before and was doing
their best to make you forget it. An old crow, a
moving black speck against the blue sky, called
Caw ! Caw ! from over the river. And when we got
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 151
into the stockade Dad was humming a tune and
peeling willows for a meat-rack, happy as all get
"Now for the meat," he says, after Mac and I
had he'ped him f er a spell. "By the time we git it
to dryin' it'll be high time to set some traps, I
cal'late," he says.
And that was just the way it come out. We rode
out of the stockade when it was just coming day,
Dad and Mac and Bill and I, and by eight o'clock
had seen a small herd of buffalo grazing not far
from the breaks. We rode around to get wind of
them and Mac wanted to run them, but Dad ob-
jected. Mac had his bow and arrows as well as
his rifle, hoping, I reckon, that we'd run them.
We made a wide circle and got well to the leeward
of the herd. Then by leading our horses and crawl-
ing up a coulee, we got within easy range.
"Now, son," says Dad, "wait till I tell ye to cut
We settled ourse'f s, and pretty soon a cow walked
out from the herd a piece and Dad let go. She fell
to her knees, but got up and walked back into the
herd and kneeled down. Directly, out come an-
other cow, and Mac shot her, just as Dad had,
through the lights, and she poked back into the
herd and knelt like the other. Dad and Bill and
Mac kept waiting till a cow walked out, when one
of them would shoot her through the lights. And
by cracky ! directly half the herd was kneeling down
around the wounded buffalo.
"Now, son," says Dad, "get in an' pick cows.
Here we go!"
We commenced to shoot; and after a while the
herd stampeded, but not till we'd killed twelve fat
152 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
cows. I had killed three, myse'f , and saw that the
trick was a good one. If we'd commenced to kill
right off, we wouldn't have got more than two or
three ; but by shooting those cows the way they did,
the herd got the idee that they wanted to bed down,
and so we got what we wanted.
"We'll hev back-fat that'll make an Injin home-
sick," laughed Dad. "That's nice clean work, an'
not a bull among 'em," he says. "Bill, if you'll go
in f er the travois the rest of us will butcher while
ye're gone; an* ye'd better fetch an extra pack-hoes
or two. We'll need 'em."
We worked hard, I tell you, and it was after mid-
night when we got the meat to the stockade.
And then we feasted. Fat buffalo steaks, roasted
before the fire on peeled willow sticks. We spread
them with skewers and hung them on roasting-
sticks before the coals. Cracky ! how fine they was.
They'd drip and sizzle and cook, finest in the world.
I ate till I couldn't hold no more, and so did the
others choicest cuts and plenty of them. When
the guard was relieved, instead of turning in, they
took up the feast where we'd left off. It was day-
light before the camp was quiet.
The stockade was a busy place in the morning.
We cut the meat into thin strips, strung it on the
peeled willows, and hung them on the racks to dry.
We even had to make some more racks and they
stretched the whole length of the stockade. The
sun begun to do its work right away. There wa'n't
a fly to bother, and by night I could see a big dif-
ference in the color of the meat.
"Looks like an Injin village hed moved in," says
Dad, washing his hands. "Them was fat ones," he
smiled. "We'll trot out the traps now, son. An'
tomorrow me an* you will set some of 'em."
There was a white frost on the grass the next
morning and no green left on the big cottonwoods,
Their leaves had turned since the storm. Every
breeze that shook them loosed a yellow shower that
left the branches like a passel of birds to flutter
about, crazy like, and then fall sometimes on the
river, where the wind and the current sent them
hither and yon. They huddled and piled in the
willows like they wanted to stay together, but the
keen wind hunted them out mighty nigh as soon as
they'd got settled. Some of the trees was 'most
naked, and the breezes was stripping the rest as
they passed, till the groves looked ragged and cold.
All night and all day the wild geese and brant,
swan and ducks kept flying over us, making a racket
that you would have to hear to believe; and while
we was eating supper the night before, a weasel,
white as snow, had run across the stockade. "Yon-
der he goes," says Dad. "He's white, and the fur's
The traps had been marked with a file one notch
for Dad's, two for Bill's and three for mine. Alex
and Jake was to trap below the stockade on the
Missouri and we was to take the river above it.
When we started out, Bill went on ahead of Dad
and me, and I watched Dad set his ten traps. He
talked all the time, showing me how and telling me
about beaver and their ways. "'Tain't a good plan
to mix territory in trappin'," he says, while he set
his tenth trap, "but whatever's in yer traps belongs
154 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
to you accordin' to our agreement; an' to raise a
trap that ain't yer own is the lowest down job
known to free trappers." That just slipped out, but
I knowed he wanted me to remember it, though he
kept on talking without even looking up from his
"Now," he says, wiping his hands on his shirt,
"beginnin' here ye pick yer own sets, an* if they
ain't good ones, I'll tell ye, son."
I'd watched him close, and I believed I could do
it. I didn't walk ten feet before I stopped and
waded into the water to set a trap. Dad didn't
say a word while I made me a slide and a bait-
stick. He watched me every mintue but didn't find
no fault, and I set my trap. After that I set an-
other and another, Dad on the bank far enough
away so he would leave no sign, and me in the
water. Only once, when I stopped to set a trap did
he object, and I moved to another place.
When my traps was all set we went back to the
stockade. "We'll hev a heap of work for ye, Mac,"
said Dad, as we entered the lodge. "There's beaver
here a-plenty an' we'll make a good ketch."
I couldn't hardly wait for morning. The beaver
sign was everywhere along the river quaking as-
pens and cottonwoods cut down in big patches there.
You would think, to see them, that somebody was
slashing for a clearing in the bottoms along the
stream. And all the afternoon and evening I
guessed at the number I would catch in my ten
traps. Alex and Jake said the sign was plenty
down the river, too, and everybody was happy over
our good luck. I can't never forget that night. It
was as though I had made my first bet in some big
game of chance. I felt that I was at last doing my
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 155
part; that if only my traps took a decent number
of beaver, I would be satisfied with life.
I was first to get up and build a fire. It wa'n't
quite day; but I had been awake for more than an
hour before I'd turned out.
As soon as we had breakfast Dad and I set out
to visit our traps. We found he'd caught nine
beaver. He was bothered because one of his traps
was sprung and empty. I waited for him to take
out his beaver and reset his traps, though it was