hard to do. I wanted to get to my own. But at
last I did. I had six big beaver, mighty fine ones,
out of ten traps. Dad said I'd done good, and I
felt mighty proud when we begun to skin them out.
Skinning out a beaver is quick work, but fleshing
a beaver hide ain't quick nor easy. That's why
fleshing is done in camp. We all turned in and
he'ped the fleshers and by dark we had the hides
sewed into willow hoops to dry. There was forty
of them in all. Bill had caught ten and joked Dad
plenty because he'd lost one.
As fast as the hides was dry enough the fleshers
took them out of the hoops, folding them fur against
fur to make room for more. They made bales of
the dry skins and hung them up in the tents away
from the damp ground. In ten days we had two
hundred and thirty beavers, just our own outfit.
And Jake and Alex had taken nearly two hundred
between them. I begun to figure my earnings and
was plumb astonished at the figures.
The weather kept fine, though the nights was
mighty sharp and clear. When we'd cleaned out
the beaver within easy travel from the stockade, we
made a little camp, Dad and Bill and I, up above the
Marias about ten miles, I reckon. We hadn't much
156 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
property in the camp so in case we was jumped
there wouldn't be anything to leave behind. Mac
come there everyday to take the beaver skins to
the stockade, so I kept practising Cree almost as
good as though we was together all the time.
Jake and Alex had moved down the Missouri,
leaving their camp-tenders at the stockade with
Mac; and among them they managed to guard the
stock and take care of the fur. But it kept them
busy; and if it was going to be a steady grind, they
couldn't have stood it.
Near the middle of December we was all in the
stockade just happened to go in at the same time
for supplies. The river hadn't yet froze over. In
the bends where there was eddies the ice would nigh
hold up a man, but where the stream was swift
there wa'n't no ice at all. Nobody had seen an In-
jin, and the buffalo grazed within sight of the stock-
ade most every day. We was having a feast and a
big talk, and it seemed good to all of us to be to-
Dad was mending a pair of moccasinsj by the
lodge-fire. "Whenever I putter with a pair of
these," he said, cutting a piece of elkskin with his
knife, "I always think of pore oP Harvey Tucker.
One night 'way down on the Platte he was mendin'
his. Twas mighty cold, an' he hed a big buffalo-
chip fire burnin'. A Pawnee buck crawled up close
to the camp an' shot through the lodge-skin at Har-
vey's shadder. The arrow went clean through him,
an' we found him settin' up straight with his awl
in one hand an' a moccasin in the other. He was
froze stiff that-a-way. "Hello, Mac ! What's goin'
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 157
The lodge door had been jerked up and the half-
breed's head stuck inside.
"Jest my seeum smoke, me."
"Nope. She's jest de smoke de camp fire, dis
wan. 'Bout two, free mile hup de Marias. Mebby
w'iteman, hees smoke."
Dad stood up. "Whitemen ! Can't be whitemen,
"Wall, mebby Hinjin," said Mac, like he knowed
it wa'n't. "But dat wan hees look lak de w'iteman."
All of us that was in the lodge went outside to
look. On the Marias a thin coil of blue smoke was
going mighty nigh straight up under the sky.
"Lige, go out and tell the guard to be ready to
run in the stock," says Dad, looking to the priming
of his rifle. "Come on, Mac."
I run out to the guard, which was Sandy and
Alex. The smoke wa'n't so plain to be seen now,
but it was there and couldn't mean nothing but a
camp of some sort. I could see Dad and Mac mak-
ing their way up the stream towards the trouble-
some smoke. I hoped they would find whitemen
friends there. We was doing so good, and I could
see a small fortune ahead if only we could hold out
Alex and Sandy had already seen the smoke be-
fore I got to them. "Too bad, Lige," Alex says,
with almost a cloud settlin' down on his good-na-
tured face. "It's a toss-up now whether we git out
with any fur."
I felt gloomy, I can tell you. It seems worse when
a fellow that always looks cheerful gets down-
hearted, like. Dad and Mac had disappeared. I
158 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
waited, watching for them to show themse'fs; but
they was hid. It must have been two hours before
Alex saw them and pointed them out.
But they didn't make no signal; seemed to be in
no hurry; and my worry begun to get less, with
them coming boldly down the Marias without no
attempt at concealment. "I'll go in," I says, "and
find out what's goin' on up yonder."
My curiosity was up and my fear gone. I run
back to the stockade reaching the lodge long before
Dad and Mac come in.
"Whitemen." That was Dad's first word.
"Whitemen; an' what's more, they're Britishers
Hudson's Bay men," he says. "They cain't he'p but
see signs of us here, an' come in. If they don't
we're jest plain lucky, boys. Better git all the fur
as nigh out o* sight as we kin. The sight of it will
only lend 'em meanness."
"How many's in the camp ?" asked Bill, beginning
to he'p Mac and Tom pack away the beaver skins.
"Only three," says Dad ; "but that proves a heap."
The lodge-fire wa'n't nigh so bright that night.
The men talked till late, but they wa'n't feeling pert.
The smoke of the other fire, up the Marias, had
plumb deadened ours. Instead of packing up for
our camps above and below the stockade we 'fixed
ourse'fs for a visit from the Britishers, which Dad
felt sure would come. Nobody slept not even Bill
and when it got daylight Mac got up and left the
Dad built the fire, and Sandy and Tom went out
to relieve Jake and Alex. When the guard got in
they said the fire had been kindled up the Marias
and the camp was still there. I was pouring the
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 159
tea when Mac come in, quick and quiet and sharp-
eyed. "She's comin' now, dem w'itemans," he said.
And Dad tidied himse'f up to meet the company.
We swallowed our breakfast in a hurry and then
went to the gate and opened it wide, firing a few
shots of welcome as they rode in. They was three
whitemen; and I couldn't see any difference be-
tween them and ourse'fs.
We went back to the lodge, the men talking to-
gether as they walked along, and Dad sent me out
to the herd with their hosses. They had only four
three saddle-hosses and a pack-animal. I hur-
ried, for I wanted to hear what the strangers had
to say. Tom wanted to talk. But I says the men
looked all right I guessed and run back.
When I raised the lodge door, they was talking
and laughing like women at a quilting bee; so I
reckoned we was going to get along.
They had some liquor and treated. I liked their
looks and ways; and all the morning they talked
open, making no secret of their plans. They wa'n't
trappers but clerks in the hire of the Hudson's Bay
Company, and their post was 'way east and north
of us over the line. They had come a long way to
pay the Blackfeet a visit and at a big risk of bad
storms. They said they tried to keep in touch with
the Blackfeet and secure their trade when possible.
I couldn't see but what that was fair. And I reckon
Bill couldn't either, for he got out his flat keg and
treated. And when we had dinner Dad opened a
little keg of maple syrup he'd bought in St. Louis.
What a night we had! And what a feast, with
every little thing that Dad had laid in for an extra
splurge. They stayed two days and nights and we
160 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
had a great time listening to their stories and tell-
ing yarns in our turn.
When they left us we rode more'n twenty miles
with them to see them off, and was mighty sorry to
have them go. Dad who had been suspicious of
them, had been won over, and give one of them a
powder-horn, all carved and thin as paper.
It wa'n't more'n noon though, when back in the
stockade, he and I was packing up a few things to
take to our camp up the Missouri, and I run onto a
"Shoo!" says Dad, "our friends must hev left
that. Fell out of their pockets, I reckon. Letters,
looks like, most of it. Reckon I'll saddle Eagle an'
Bill, curious, took the packet. "Mebby 'twouldn't
be a bad idee to see if there's a fur-list in it," he
says, looking at Dad. "I don't much like to prowl
in a mess o' private papers, but I figger them fel-
lers is enemies, or their bosses is," he says, handing
the packet over to Dad, like he'd leave it to him.
Dad rubbed his chin. " Tears like the doin's of
ornery folks," he says, "but mebby it's the right
thing to do. What say, boys?"
"Let's hev a look," says Alex. " 'Twon't hurt
'em. An* if it's honest truck in the packet, we'll be
sorry we didn't let it alone ; an* if it's something we
ought to know, we'll be glad we looked."
So, slowly, like he was handling humming-bird's
eggs, Dad undid the packet. There was letters and,
as Bill guessed, a price-list of furs. But Dad's cu-
riosity had been roused, and directly a look of dis-
gust crossed his face. He opened and spread a
letter before us, though only three of us besides
himse'f could read. The letter was dated October
1, 1822, and read:
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 161
Mr. Josiah Berkshire, Esq.
This letter will be delivered to you by an Iriquois
Indian who will faithfully return with whatever
list of goods you require for the spring trade.
With this letter is a list of prices now prevailing,
together with other information we deem impor-
We are happy to learn that you succeeded in se-
lecting a site for trading and trust that your House
will become an important one in North America.
It is most advisable that you pay a visit to the
Blackf eet before spring. Efforts are being made by
our competitors to open friendly relations with
these Indians who have, as you know, never traded
with Americans. Do not delay the visit. Make
suitable gifts to their chiefs and headmen and as-
sure them of our friendship. Endeavor to persuade
them to keep American trappers and traders out of
their country in order that we may hold their trade
I trust that the winter will pass pleasantly and
that the spring will bring trade to your new House.
"The skunks!" said Dad, with anger in his gray
eyes. "The ornery skunks! We're in fer it now.
They'll start them Blackfeet our way as soon's they
reach their village. I've always heered they did
sech things, an* now I know. They kin come an'
git their packet, but I'll shore hold out this letter."
Bill lit his pipe. "I wish they would come after
it," he said between puffs. "I'd kinder like to cook
'em another meal."
We took down the meat-racks to make room for
the stock, and when morning come we took up every
trap, so that by night we was ready for trouble.
The stock was herded close in where the grass had
been saved for an emergency.
162 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
"We kin sleep tonight, an' tomorrow night, too,
says Dad, "but after that, f er a time, I reckon we'll
sleep standin' up like a pony."
"Mac," says Bill from his bed, "did ye ever know
of the Hudson's Bay outfit tryin' to keep the In-
jins set agin us Americans?"
"Oui. HFm know dat long tarn. She's tell it
Kootenai, she's tell it Cree, jest de sam'. De Cree
she's stop hon Canada mos* hall tarn. She's comin'
'ere, de Cree, some tarn por 'unt de buffalo, fight de
Blackfeet leetle, too, mebby, mos' every year."
"Wisht they was here now," growled Bill, turn-
ing over. "A Cree village is jest what I'd like to
Mac muttered something under his breath.
"Mebby she's come, Meester Bill," he says, aloud.
And reaching fer a brand from the fire he lit his
pipe and passed it to me.
One by one those in the lodge fell asleep, while
Mac and I speaking Cree between us, fed the fire
and waited for our turn to relieve the guard. Mac
seemed to be in a queer mood, gazing fixed at the
fire and filling his pipe oftener than usual. His
spoken words was little above a whisper, and more
and more he seemed unwilling to talk ; only answer-
ing my questions with a few whispered words. At
last, feeling the mood myse'f, I fell silent, and only
the breathing of our pardners and the crackling of
the fire made sounds. I lost myse'f complete. Aunt
Lib come into my mind, and Caley Byers; and
finally Red Robe's daughter replaced them both. I
got to dreaming of her. I tried to see her face in
the fire and thought I could. I could hear her soft
voice and tried to remember what she'd said to her
father that day in the store. I begun to hope to
see her talk to her and know her. She was young
like me, and pretty, and stranger than any girl I'd
"Come." Mac touched my shoulder. It was as
tight as a fiddle string and I jumped. "It is time
for us to go," he said, picking up his rifle.
We went out into the sharp, starlit night. I had
never felt so keen before. I couldn't have slept if
I'd tried. I felt like I wanted to run, to fight, any-
thing to give me a chance to exert myse'f up to the
limit of my strength. Cracky! how queer I felt.
And when out on a knoll-top under the stars Mac
begun to sing Cree, low, like, and earnest, I fell in
with him and beat time like a war-drum with my
164 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
knife-handle on my rifle-stock. On our knees there
in the night we sung ; but I didn't know why then ;
nor that Mac was making medicine to bring the
Crees. He'd put some sort of a spell on me and
my thoughts was away in their village, as, beating
the time we sung together like full-blooded In j ins.
At last he got up and looking me full in the eyes,
his face close to my own, he says, "Mee-wah-sin ! It
is good. Ho!"
From then until day he spoke no more ; and when
the sunlight come and Sandy and Tom relieved us,
I had a feeling that the Crees wa'n't no longer on
the Yellowstone, that they wa'n't far away, and was
even moving towards us. But whether it was
Mac's singing and muttering that done it, I couldn't
tell. At last I said, "Where are the Crees now,
Mac?" as though I expected him to tell me.
"I do not know just where," he answered in Cree,
"but they are coming this way. Their village must
be on the Missouri below us."
Did you ever feel that a thing was true when
there wa'n't even the least proof of it? Well, I felt
that Mac's words was the truth just as much as I
would have believed them if he'd been with the
Crees a day before. And even now, after I've been
so long among them, I don't understand it. But I
felt relieved then; and have known such things
more than once since that December day.
They was gathering more wood and cutting more
grass when we got to the stockade. There wa'n't
any snow, but the ground was froze hard and they
dragged cottonwood logs into the enclosure with
rawhide ropes from a saddle.
"Sleepy, Lige?" asked Bill when I'd eaten my
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 165
"No," I told him. "I never felt more wide awake
in my life."
"Let's me an' you go out an' kill a buffalo or two
fer fresh meat," he says.
And so we went, Bill and I. We killed two good
cows and had started back for the travois, when
from a knoll, I saw something that held my eyes.
It was moving a long string like a snake, and far
off down the Missouri out of the breaks. I pulled
up. "What's that yonder, Bill?" I says, pointing.
"Injins, by God!" he says. "Come on!" and he
ripped away, down and up, over the rolling country.
There was somebody on the gate when we come in
sight of the stockade. "It's Mac," I says, and Bill
pulled up and begun to ride in a circle.
Directly Mac burst out, making straight for us
and lashing his pony with his rope. When he was
nigh enough to hear, Bill called, "Injins comin',
Mac ! Want ye to hev a look at 'em ! Mebby they're
Then he wheeled his hoss and we raced back to
the knoll and stopped to wait till Mac come up. I
pointed and Mac give one sharp look. "Cree, by
gar, she's come!" he said, his black eyes shining.
"Whoopee!" yelled Bill, waving his blue head-
silk, nigh wild with relief. "Let's git the boys an'
go to meet 'em in style!"
I shan't never feel happier in my life. Every-
body was talking at once in the stockade. The
hosses was caught up, and Dad painted himse'f and
Eagle. Everybody painted up and fixed his hoss
for the welcome. Then, leaving Tom and Sandy in
the stockade, we pranced out to meet the Crees,
with everybody talking and laughing like a passel
of blackbirds in the fall time.
166 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
The Injins was on our side of the river and di-
rectly we come in sight of them. But their scouts
had seen us long before and was ready for fight.
It was mighty pretty to see them get theirse'fs in
order the camp with the women and children
guarded, and skirmishers ahead. It was all done
so quick and fine that in a minute the warriors was
stripped for battle.
Dad left Eagle break into a run, yelling, "Here
we go, boys!" Alex fired his rifle; and we all did,
waving them over our heads after they was empty
and yelling like all get out.
Then a gun went off among the Injins. I saw
the puff of smoke before I heered the report. Sev-
eral braves rode out to meet us. The rest stopped
and waited. Directly the braves rode close enough
to recognize Mac. Cracky ! but they was glad to see
him. In less than two minutes we was in the mid-
dle of a passel of more'n two hundred warriors, all
jolly and wanting to be friendly.
The Chief singled out Dad right away and they
begun to talk in the sign language. Dad's hair,
sprinkled with gray like it was, marked him as a
big man with the Injins. They respect gray hair
more than we do. They hold that Manitou allows
only good men to grow gray and that gray hair is a
mark of His special favor. Dad could talk as fast
as the Chief. They was too many for me; but I
watched them right close, I tell you. I wished Mac
had stayed by me, but he'd found his family and
was lost in the crowd. I didn't get all the Chief
and Dad said, but I did understand the most of it.
Dad told the Chief that we were at war with the
Blackfeet; that they was bad people; that their
hearts was bad. He said that if we stole any of
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 167
their bosses the Crees could have them as well as
all the scalps we took. He invited the Chief to a
big feast the next night and told him to bring his
warriors with him. "There are many buffalo near
our stockade," said Dad. "It would be well if you
camped near us until spring comes. I have fin-
"We do not want war," begun the Chief, "but if
the Blackfeet come we will fight them." He said
they were always his enemies and that Dad was
right their hearts was bad. He said he would
camp near us as long as there was meat handy and
that he would come to the feast with his headmen
Cracky! but I was tickled. I begun to look for
Mac and Red Robe's daughter, but I didn't see
either of them. I even rode out of the crowd and
moved about by myse'f; but there was so many
travois and hosses and people all mixed up that I
didn't have time to find them before we started
back for the stockade, with twenty young Crees.
They was a mighty clean-looking lot, tall and thin
mostly, and lively as kittens, but careful not to
seem careless or unlike the older warriors. Some
wore weasel-skins braided in their hair and one or
two was painted, but mostly they wore good-looking
shirts and leggings like our own. Dad didn't come
along but stayed with the Chief. And Mac hadn't
turned up; so I had to go without even seeing the
girl, though I'd seen Red Robe while Dad and the
Chief was talking.
Before sundown the smoke from more than a
hundred lodges was perfuming the air down by the
river. All the hosses, the Crees' and ours was out
under double guard ; and everybody felt good again.
I can't never forget that night. I was leaning
168 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
against the open gate of the stockade looking at the
Injin camp. Dad took a place beside me. The moon
was full and her light silvered the lodges so that
the shadows of the naked cottonwood limbs that
fell on them shimmered and sparkled, like. At first
there was fires in every lodge fires that showed
through like reddish-yellow lanthorns. But one by
one they went out till mighty nigh all was dark
inside. The rippling of the Marias waters came
loud, then soft, as the breeze strengthened or les-
sened, carrying the sound to us and away again. I
fell to wondering which was Red Robe's lodge, and
couldn't he'p picking the biggest, whitest one in the
camp for the home of the girl I'd seen in the store.
Now I could get to see her again and know her
even talk to her some in her own language. Mac
would take me to visit her in the lodge. Not even
a dog was stirring in the big camp. There wa'n't a
sound by the river.
"They shore do look good, don't they son?"
I reckon I jumped. I had forgot Dad, altogether,
"Yes," I said, "they look awful good. I'm glad 1
can talk Cree some."
"I reckon you be," he chuckled. "We'll give them
Blackfeet all they want now, son if they come.
I 'most wish they would come," he sighed ; "that is,
if they fetch their friends along with 'em. We'll
hev to make that feast tomorrow, an' it will mighty
nigh clean us out; but if our friends didn't do it,
the Blackfeet would, I reckon." He moved away.
"I'm goin' to turn in, son," he said.
The moon climbed higher, and queer shadows
crept out from the lodges to hide in the brush along
the river as the silver light brightened above the
camp. The breeze had died down to nothing and
the air was so sharp it stung my ears. The shad-
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 169
ows of the cottonwoods fell in black streaks across
the water, and upon thin ice that was forming nigh
the shore. A big horned owl turned loose over the
river. His deep voice roused the echoes and in the
thin frosty air was fearful loud. Whoo-oo, who,
who! Cracky! if that camp wa'n't a spooky place,
I'm a nigger.
I was chilled through and closing the gate, I went
to the camp to get warm. Dad was fixing to mould
some bullets. He hadn't gone to bed. Nobody had.
"We'll cache a little of our stock of jimcracks an'
spread the rest," he was saying when I entered.
"At daylight we kin git in that meat an' we'll make
as big a showin' as we kin. If we git into it an'
I reckon we will we won't git no trade with the
Blackf eet noway ; so all we kin look f er is trade with
our friends the Crees, after they've hunted an' trap-
ped a spell." He put his ladle into the fire and cut
a bar of lead into pieces with his hatchet. "What a
tea-party we'll give them Blackfeet," he laughed.
"They'll wait f er a storm likely, an' it'll be a day-
light affair, I cal'late. But they'll buy in on a mess,
them fellers will, for the Crees is good fighters."
He dropped the lead into the hot ladle. It sunk,
melted, almost at once. Then he begun to mould
round balls with a quickness I'd never seen before.
"This here old world must smell awful to a good
dog," he says, as the bright shiny bullets rolled
"Why, Dad?" I says.
"Oh, I was jest thinkin' of the hidden ways of
men," he sighed. "Mostly I was thinkin' of them
three with white skins who come to us here in the
wilderness, et our meat, laughed with us, even shook
us by the hand at partin'. They wished us luck
with their lips, but while their tongues was formin'
170 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
the words they was intendin' to deal us a card from
the bottom of a filthy deck. Yes, son, I bet a good
dog smells a heap an* wonders a lot Shoo!*' he'd
burned his hand with the mould.
At last, setting the hot ladle away, he rolled the
bright bullets into a robe, and turning, asked, "Alex,
what did ye ever do with that strawberry roan hoss
ye hed last year?"
"Sold him to Andy Gray," says Alex.
"Git the money?" Dad's eyes twinkled merry,
and I was glad, someway, he'd changed the sub-
"No. Got his note though." I could see Alex
didn't want to talk about it. But Dad pretended
he didn't notice it.
"Once," he said, "Smith Terry sold Andy Gray a
yoke of cattle fer fifty beaver skins. Andy paid
five hides down; an' a year later Smith heered
where he was livin' an' rode over to see him. He
was aimin' to git the rest of them skins, fer beaver
was high that spring. Andy had got himse'f a
squaw an* hed settled down nigh to a spring of
water, 'bout forty miles from a beaver slide. He
knowed what Smith hed come fer, though, an' ad-
mitted the debt like a man. He says, 'Smith,' he