says, 'I ain't ketched a beaver in a hell of a while.
Don't see no sign neither, lately. But I'll pay ye
them other forty-five hides if it takes me the rest
of my life to trap 'em.' An' it will take him full
that long, most likely. I'd as lief hev a mortgage
on a band of antelope as Andy Gray's note. That
was a good hoss, that roan."
The fire was making a strange noise. Singing,
Dad called it. "It's fixin' fer a storm, son," he
said. "An' that will jest suit them Blackfeet. I'm
goin' to turn in."
Dad's snoring pestered me that night. I couldn't
go to sleep. Near midnight clouds covered the
stars I'd been watching through the smoke-hole and
a wind come up and shook the lodge. It was grow-
ing colder, too, and I tucked my blanket closer about
me; but I couldn't go to sleep. I thought of the
Injin camp and the moonlit lodges and Red Robe's
daughter for hours. And twice above the wind I
heered the voice of the horned owl over the river.
The morning broke with a sky full of running
clouds and a cold wind that cut like all get out.
While I was building a fire in the lodge Mac come
in from the Injin camp; and after breakfast Bill
went out with Jake and Alex to fetch in the meat.
But the wolves had got it, and they had to kill more ;
so it was late in the afternoon when they come in
Mac and I he'ped Dad get things ready for the
feast, and spent nigh all the morning cutting up
meat and spreading what we had, including more
than half a keg of molasses and some sugar. I
hated to see it go. But we didn't have much be-
sides meat to spread, noway.
It was nigh noon when Dad says, "Son, you an'
Mac best go down to the village an' rustle up some
kittles. It'll take a-plenty I cal'late."
I was glad to go. Mac would call at the lodges
and ask fer kettles, I thought. I'd see Red Robe's
But Mac didn't do that. He straddled a hoss and
172 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
rode about the village calling for kettles to use at
the feast, and the women brought them and put
them in a pile and went away. I never saw so
many kettles before. There was big ones and little
ones, and all of them made of brass. Mac begun
to pick out the biggest ones; and I was looking for
the girl and wondering if her mother had fetched a
My eyes lit on a little hoss staked in front of a
lodge nearby. Both his ears was cut off, or froze
off, making him look wild and curious. He was
only half -broke and ornery as all get out and snorty.
All of a sudden while I was looking at him, the wind
blew a wolf -skin from a willow bush smack against
his heels. He whistled like a white-tail buck deer
and tore away with the wolf -skin right after him,
lickety-split. Suddenly he turned sharp around a
big painted lodge and the stake he was dragging
ketched under the lodge-skin. It ripped and come
down, like a passel of poles in a big bag. A child
screamed, muffled, like, and smoke and a whirling
blur of white ashes hid the pile. Mac and I started
to run towards the wreck. An Injin, coiling his lar-
iat, dashed past us on the trail of the runaway hoss,
his heels drumming a tattoo on his pony's sides.
Lodge-doors raised and heads was thrust out, some-
times more than one to a door; and there was a
heap of laughing and banter back and forth. Some
women hurried down towards the overturned lodge
to he'p. But we got there ahead of them.
Two women was standing by it with flecks of
feathery-white ashes in their black hair. There
was four small children clinging to the older wo-
man's dress, but she wa'n't noticing them. She
was telling all the world what she thought of hoss-
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 173
creation, in a shrill voice. The other was laughing
fit to kill herse'f, clutching a shiny brass kettle
under her arm; but when she turned her face to-
wards us, I felt like I'd been ketched at some ornery
trick. It was her Red Robe's daughter.
The laugh went out of her eyes quicker'n scat.
She handed the kettle to Mac, and bending over,
begun to pull the ground pegs that held the lodge-
skin down, as though there wa'n't a second to lose.
I'd never seen a face change so quick. When she
handed Mac the kettle there was a startled, half-
frightened, look in her eyes, distrustful, like, that
made me feel the stockade was the place for me.
But I stooped and ketched hold of a peg and pulled
it. "I will he'p you," I said in Cree.
She flashed a glance out of the corner of her eye,
and one big braid of her hair slipping over her
shoulder to the ground, she ketched it up and tossed
it back. We both reached for the same peg and our
hands touched. She pulled hers away like she was
bit. Mac laughed, and she run to the nearest lodge
There was plenty of other he'p now, and Mac and
I went back to the pile of kettles.
"That's her, Mac," I says. "What's her name?
Red Robe's girl, I mean."
"His nam' Bluebird, dat wan. Ca-skee-tah-coo-
pe-asis. You lak dat gal? Hee's dam good gal,
Bluebird, you bat !"
"Yes, I like her, Mac," I says. "But she's afraid
of me. Let's us visit Red Robe's lodge sometime
"Mebby," he says, stringing a lot of kettlebails
on his arms. "Mebby Blackfeet, she's comin' to-
night mebby no."
174 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
"How old is she, Mac?" I asked, loading myse'f
up with kettles.
"HI don't know, me. Mebby eighteen snow is
gone now; bout dat. Hee's dam good gal, Blue-
I was sorry the feast was to be that night. I
wanted to see Bluebird by her own fire. I was glad
her father's lodge was painted, proving that Red
Robe was a medicine-man, or a man of importance,
in the Cree tribe. I would pay him a visit as soon
as I could. I made up my mind to that.
The feast was ready before dark, and Dad spread
mighty nigh all the extras we had. But we didn't
have much besides meat. Everybody and every-
thing on the plains lived on meat, except the brutes
we lived on, ourse'fs. They and the beaver ate no
meat; but all the rest was killers like ourse'fs. I
hated to see the molasses go. There was nigh half
a keg of it; but there wa'n't a smidgen left after
that night, nor any sugar.
"Well," said Dad, at sundown, "the trap is set.
Fetch 'em on, Mac."
Mac got on a hoss and rode down through the
village singing out our invitation to come to the
feast. He didn't forget to tell how good and great
we was, and I thought he went pretty far in his
praises, but that is their way.
Directly they commenced to come in and the
stockade to fill up. They sat on both sides of the
long fire where about seventy-five steaming kettles
was hanging or setting on coals on its edge, sending
up the smell of fat buffalo meat. They was all
dressed up, and some of the clothes and ornaments
they wore was beautiful to look at. You wouldn't
believe what they can do with porcupine quills and
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 175
the quills of bird-feathers. Their bullet pouches
looked too fine for use and their head-dresses, made
mostly of eagle feathers young birds, at that,
which show a lot of white on them was a sight in
the firelight. There was a heap of finery there and
I knowed it took a lot of work to make it. Not
many things was alike. Nobody copied his neigh-
bor, but had, or tried to have, a rig of his own ; and
some of the designs in the quill work was too won-
derful for me to describe. I just set down and
looked at them. And when it got darker they
Dad made a little talk, and then we set out the
kettles and they went at it. Dad was jolly and
moving a kettle here and there, went on talking in
English. "A herd of b'iled buffalo would last this
outfit about as long as a fried hummin'-bird would
feed a pack o* hounds," he says, and sat down by
How they slicked up the kettles! In no time at
all they was empty and every drop of syrup gone.
After which the smoking commenced, and the
Dad presented the Chief with a whole keg of
powder, some flints, and a quart of bullets. Cracky !
but that pleased the Injins. The Chief called
twenty braves by name and when they rose and
stood before him, he counted out a handful of bul-
lets for each, besides filling a lot of empty powder-
horns from the keg of powder Dad had given him.
I never saw more happiness over a present than
over that powder and lead.
And the Chief didn't forget his men who was
with the pony-herd, but made a speech asking us to
remember their service while we was feasting, to
176 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
save meat for them. Dad said it would be done,
and Bill put ten kettles of meat on the fire to boil
against their coming.
We was sparing with our tobacco, but at the end
Dad give the Chief a present of nigh two pounds.
The Chief divided it among his headmen, and they
in turn whacked up with others. Nobody held out
or was stingy or mean. Everybody got part of the
presents; except the blankets, and a share in them
It was fixing to storm by the time they left, tak-
ing with them the empty kettles. I was glad when
we'd shut the stockade gate. From there I could
see the fires shining through the lodges among the
trees; and in less than ten minutes after our com-
pany had left us, a drum was beating in the village
and a strange chanted song come to us on the wind.
We barred the gate and went back to the lodge.
Dad lit his pipe. The firelight flickered on the wall
in zig-zag patterns and nobody spoke for a spell.
The sound of the drum and the chant down in the
village had layed hold of us. Dad was restless and
showed it. The wind was growing stronger and
sleet was beginning to patter on the lodge-skin. A
white weasel stuck his head inside near me, his
wicked, beady little eyes blinking at the firelight a
moment, before he vanished like a shadow.
Suddenly Mac stood up and bent forward, his
hand behind his ear. "By gar," he said, "jist me,
HFrn 'ear de shot, mebby!"
We sat still, like we was cut out of stone ; but no
sound come to us above the howl of the wind. Mac
swung his bow and quiver of arrows over his
shoulder and sat down again with his rifle across
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 177
"Hark!" Dad half rose, as the lodge door was
jerked up and a painted face looked in, followed by
a naked arm that clutched the hair of a bloody
"By gar!" whispered Mac, springing up. "Me,
HFm 'ear de shot, sure. Dey're 'ere, de Black-
The lodge door dropped and the painted face and
the scalp vanished. We heered the boom of hoofs
on the frozen ground. It was the pony-band of the
Crees, together with our own hosses and mules,
racing past with the Injin herders behind them.
We rushed out and down to the open gate. The
village was astir. I could hear men calling to each
other, making ready to corral the coming hosses. I
couldn't see ten feet before me; and the wind was
fearful strong and chill.
"I cal'late this here is more our rucus than it is
the Cree's," says Dad. "They won't come to the
stockade to fight, noway. We'd best go down an*
make our fight along with 'em."
So we untied our war-hosses that had been kept
inside the stockade since the night we read the
Britishers' letter, and went down to the village.
Every fire was out, but the sleet had froze to the
lodges so that they looked like white, sharp-pointed
patches standing upright in the dark. Injins was
going this way and that and women talking fast
and herding their children back into the dark
lodges. In two big rope-corrals the hosses was mill-
ing and tramping. I could hear the smack of kicks
and the click of teeth as stallion met stallion inside
the raw-hide ropes, and I reckoned there would be
some broken legs among them. It seemed that
everybody was doing something roping hosses or
178 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
hurrying in or out of lodges, though with all the
stir there wa'n't any confusion or foolishness. The
village looked spooky and unreal, with the big,
snow-streaked lodges marking the rim of a circle
that was plumb broke and blotted out here and
there when the wind whirled the snow in the air.
Over in the center I made out a big corral or I
thought it was a corral full of stock. Just then
a man passed us, hurrying along with his hoss. He
was headed that way and we followed him.
What I'd thought was a corral was more than a
hundred braves, with the Chief, standing by their
hosses, ready to ride in a jiffy. The storm fretted
the animals and they pawed and stirred about, ner-
vous and wanting to move; but nobody complained
or made a fuss. Dad and the Chief begun to talk
in signs, and Mac, who was by me, told me what
they said, though I knowed most of it myse'f . The
Chief said that a strong party of Crees was out on
the plains and that scouts was everywhere waiting
for the Blackfeet, who he didn't think would fight
till daybreak. Now and then a scout come in and
went out again. And the hours dragged slower'n
all get out. The wind shook the branches of the big
trees over the river till they rattled like a passel of
dry bones, and my fingers fairly stuck to my rifle-
barrel, it was so bitter cold. When the owPs voice
come over the river above the storm, Mac edged
closer to my side and says in a voice that shook
with superstition, "Dat's bad, dat howl. HI don'
lak por heem mak' talk jist now, me." He glanced
cautious over his shoulder, and still speaking in
English, whispered, "Hinjin no lakum howl talk
lak dat. She's stop dere long tarn now, dat howl.
He turned his back to me, squatting in the snow,
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 179
as a drum in Black Bear's lodge commenced beat-
ing. To-tum, to-tum, to-tum, wilder'n a wolf, but
solemn and deep as a mountain lake, the drumming
beats rose and fell with the wind. "Bear, where
are you? Hi-yah! Bear, listen. Ho-yah! Bear,
great Medicine-man of the Crees; Bear, mighty,
great Medicine-man of the Crees ! Hi-yah ! Ho-yah !
Hi-yah!" It was Black Bear's voice, chanting in a
high-pitched key, the song of the Bear. Mac bowed
his head ; and a stiffening silence fell on us. Cracky !
It was worse'n the owl. I was prickling all over
in spite of the cold.
Suddenly the drum stopped. I could hear the
limbs on the trees across the river rattle. Then the
old medicine-man begun to pray to the Bear:
"Lend us your strength, Wah-ki-oose ! Give
our warriors power to slay those who made war
upon our fathers! Hear me! Hear me! Hear
me and be with us !" His voice shook with earnest-
ness. The men, crowded together and waiting for
the fight, seemed to be held closer by the grip of the
prayer. My muscles tightened more. I wanted the
row to commence. But the wind shrieked, and like
it was jeering at Black Bear's earnestness, the
owl's voice come again from over the icy water.
Mac stood up and with his hand tense on my
arm, whispered, "By gar ! dat's bad wan, dat howl !
Somebody is die now. Somebody dat is 'ere wid
us, beeg warrior!" But directly his hand slipped
from my arm and his body straightened. "Well,
can' be help',"he said. "Do de bes' we kin, by gar !"
I heered a shot, faint and far off. It sounded
like a whip-lash. Dad swung onto Eagle and pulled
up beside me. "The ball is open, son," he said.
"Stay close to me. I might want to say something
to you in confidence."
We was off, crossing the Marias, when the queer-
ness of his words come to me. "Ain't you feeling
good, Dad?" I asked him.
"Fit as a fiddle, son; fit as a fiddle. But stay
close," he says.
And I tried to do it. Our party divided and
spread out like a fan, all the trappers staying with
the Chief's men. We turned slightly towards the
north and up the stream, while Left Hand with
nigh fifty braves headed in the direction of the
Teton. It was breaking day, and the north wind
was whipping its way over the plains, sharp as a
knife. The snow had nigh quit falling, but the
sky was black with running clouds. I heered shots,
a passel of them, and saw three riderless hosses go
by on the run. We met several wounded warriors
two afoot and more on hossback coming back
towards the village, but only one or two of our
party stopped to he'p them. We rode fast towards
what was going on ahead.
All of a sudden in the dim light, we saw nigh
forty Crees, dismounted and fighting like fury,
with more'n a hundred Blackfeet riding 'round
them and closing in on them at every turn. The
Crees was answering every war-whoop of their ene-
mies, and whenever a Blackfoot saddle was emp-
tied, they jeered and danced about like crazy men.
But they was in a mighty bad fix. We lashed our
hosses, but they didn't seem to go fast. I felt like
it would all be over with before we got there.
But the Blackfeet was so keen to wipe them out
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 181
that they didn't see us, or if they did, they didn't
quit. When we wa'n't two hundred yards away,
they charged straight at the Crees and rode them
down. But directly we met up with them; and I
lost Dad in the rucus. When the Blackfeet turned
to run for it, I saw him again. He was riding
lickety-split after an Injin on a bay hoss. Left
Hand was coming up with his party, and the tables
was turned for good.
Away we went in the face of the wind. I thrilled
with the wildness of it. Now and then a Cree
would pull up and get down to scalp a Blackf oot or
turn out to catch a hoss ; but we crowded them hard,
till the Chief called a halt. I'll never forget the
light that was in his eyes. It would have made an
old dog-wolf look behind him, I tell you !
I begun to look for Dad. Where could he be?
Bin wa'n't in sight neither. A fear layed hold of
me. I'd plumb forget to stay by Dad in the fight
never thought of it after the Blackfeet turned to
run. I asked this one and that one. But nobody
had seen him. They was excited and all talking
at once. Left Hand said Dad wa'n't hit or he would
have knowed it; but my heart was like lead as we
The women met us and took their dead. Nine in
all. They gashed theirse'fs with knives and tore
their hair from their heads in handfuls and their
wailing was dreadful to hear. But the warriors
hung many fresh scalps in their lodges and rode
about the village singing war-songs; while the wo-
men wailed and the dogs howled. The confusion
and it was confusion now that the fight was over
was enough to unsettle a person. I started for the
stockade to find Dad.
182 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
On the way I met him. He was afoot. His face
was white and his lips was blue and drawn. I got
down off my hoss. A lump come into my throat.
"Are you hit, Dad?" I asked, my voice shaking like
a scared girl's.
"Yes, son, they got me. I knowed they would,
someway. Let's be jiggin'. Where's Bill?" he says.
We turned back to the stockade. I hadn't seen
any one of our own party, not one, and I went wab-
bly all over. "Bill will be along directly, Dad," I
says, hoping he'd forget.
In the lodge he sat down and asked for water.
He drank hungrily and then stretched himse'f on a
robe. "Better build a little fire, son. An' ye'll find
some paper an' a quill an' ink in that black mule's
pack by the door," he says. "I'll want ye to put
down in writin' some things I want to say."
If a giant had clutched me by the throat I couldn't
have choked up worse. But I kindled a fire and got
out the things he wanted.
"Here we go, son," he says when the fire crackled
up good. "Mouth of the Marias River. Put that
down, son; and date it December twentieth, or
twenty-fifth, eighteen twenty-two."
I wrote it down at the top of a sheet of paper,
looking up when I'd finished.
"I, Washington Lamkin," he says, "bein' in my
right mind an' knowin* I'm about to die "
"No, Dad !" I says. "Ye can't die ! Where are ye
"Son," he says, "I'm bleedin' inside, bad. An
arrow got me in the charge. I pulled it out, but
I'm goin' under. Now hush an' put down what I
say. bein' about to die got that?"
"Yes," I says; but my eyes was hot and blurred.
I wished Bill and Mac would come in.
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 183
" want to tell all concerned that I shot an'
killed Caley Byers at Dan's Clearin' "
"How could that be true ! You think you're he'p-
ing me," I says. "Oh, Dad, I didn't shoot Caley "
"Son, I'm he'pin' the truth by tellin' it. Put it
down like I say. nigh Coon Creek Crossin' on
July sixth of this year, eighteen twenty-two. An'
thet I done it fer causes well known in Kentucky
where both me an' him was born. Knowin' myse'f
to be dyin', I'm glad I done it. Amen.
"This confession will also serve as an order on
Shipman and Company of St. Louis to pay over to
my pardner, Elijah Mounts, nine-hundred dollars
that they are keeping for me, to have as his own.
An' know all men that Elijah Mounts, my pardner
is to have an' own "
Mac burst into the lodge. "Bill, she's die hon de
Hinjin fight!" he cried. Then, seeing Dad, his
voice sunk to a whisper. "Oh, by gar! Me, HI'm
bad sorry now, me."
Dad smiled and raised up on his elbow. For a
minute he didn't speak, and his eyes was far-away
and rested, like. "We hev been pardners fer more'n
ten years," he said softly, "an' we've both gone
under together. Amen."
Then he layed down. "Mac," he said, even, and
sure as ever, "git Alex an' Jake as quick's ye kin."
Mac hurried back to the village, and Dad, as
though he hadn't been interrupted, went on : "
the outfit of hosses an' mules an' all goods an' arms
belongin' to me an' my ol' pardner, Bill Hanks, him
bein* dead without kin. Amen. I'll sign it, son."
And he wrote "Washington Lamkin" under what
I'd put down.
"Gi* me another drink of water, son. Best quit
184 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
this life, if ye kin. I never could ; but we're all hell-
bent to advise others to do what we cain't do our-
se'fs. Son, I saw ye when ye pulled off yer boot to
git out the kernel o' co'n that day in Dan's Clearin'.
An* agin I saw ye when ye come back with the grist.
I was waitin' behind a down-tree to collect a debt
from Caley Byers. Caley Byers was a snake that
needed killin' ; but he left our parts an' 'twas years
afore I located him. Every word that or nigger
told about him an* the Sessionses was true, an* Lucy
Ann Sessions was blood-kin to me. That fool squir-
rel that barked at me made ye cur'ous, an' I was
some feered ye'd come over to me. But ye didn't."
He turned over on his side and was quiet a spell.
My mind had took in what he'd said. But it didn't
seem to feel it. It seemed like I'd knowed he killed
Caley Byers for a hundred years.
When he spoke again his voice shook a little and
wa'n't so strong. "Son," he says, "ye're a boy yit;
an' if ye do the thing thet's in yer mind, ye kin
never go back to the States. I don't say it's wrong
to do it, but society hes made trails thet every-
body must f oiler, or the mob will hoot. Custom, in
its frills an' furbelows, is a heap like a bell-mare to
the mob; an' bogs of cussedness don't keep it from
follerin' wherever she leads. The blood of the
human race'll mix, but the deer an' the antelope
won't cross. When the blood of the whiteman is
mixed with thet of the red people, the get is an
Injin in most ways ; an' they might as well look f er
chiny plates at an Injin feast as charity among the
kind of their fathers. We're a bad lot a mighty
bad lot, in some ways, son."
Mac raised the lodge door and come in, with
Alex and Jake. "Howdy," said Dad, lifting his
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 185
hand a little. "Sign this paper, or make yer marks
on it, as witnesses, both of ye, Alex an* Jake. An*
Mac see thet the boy don't git into bad company.
He'll pay ye what I owe ye.
"Hear me, son?"
"Yes, Dad," I says; but I couldn't look at him to
"I want ye to bury me here, but not inside the
stockade, boys," he says, after I'd give him another
drink, my hands shaking nigh as weak as him.
"I don't want no fence around me. I want to lay
out where all the wild kind kin walk over me an*
around me without suspectin' that an ornery ol'
killer is there. Fix me so's the wolves won't scatter
my bones, an' ye better put Bill in with me. He was
a good pardner ; none better."
He quit talking sudden and turned over. I took
hold of his hand and he pressed mine. "I'm goin'
across now, son; goin' under at last. It's gettin'
dark, like, an' chill."
He didn't speak again but let my hand go and
folded his arms across his breast and closed his
eyes. I couldn't keep the tears back no longer. I
knowed he was dead and that his spirit had gone
out on the wind to the great wild plains he'd loved
so long and well. I covered my head with a buifalo
robe and tried to keep back any sounds of sobs, that