"Dad, I ain't been fair with you," I says. "When
the officer took me up I thought you was goin' to
turn agin me. I I'd a-swore I saw you wink at
him there by the store."
He chuckled and slapped my knee. "Son," he
says, "suspicion's a cur-dog an' bristles at shad-
ders. Mebby some dust or somethin' blowed in my
And away I went, feeling better and whiter right
away, but not very clear in my mind.
The wind and rain was out of the west, and I
couldn't see much farther'n the pony's ears, it was
so dark. I was headed west; and there wa'n't any
trouble to stay that way, only it was hard on my
face. But as long as the rain and wind kept me
bending my head for shelter I knowed I was riding
like Dad told me to, due west. And I was riding
fast. Splashety-splash ! through puddles in the
road for a spell, and then, to keep the wind and go
west, leaving the trail and cutting across the coun-
At first I passed a few lodges lit up with fires
inside, and once a cur-dog run out and barked sharp
as I shot past. The pony shied and mighty nigh
spilled me, but I hung on and got straightened up
again. Then there was nothing after that, only
the dark and the rain.
After a while I got used to it, and I begun to
think. I saw right away that I hadn't been fair
with my hoss, and I pulled him down to mighty
nigh a walk.
I was running away. All of a sudden that come
rompin' into my head, and I didn't like it. I hadn't
done nothing to run for. And Aunt Lib'd be wor-
ried and fret again worse'n ever. I mighty nigh
turned around. Of course I figured folks'd reckon
I did kill Caley Byers, because I'd run away. The
officer'd tell it, and tell folks about being hit, too, if
he wa'n't killed by the blow he got. And he might
even think 'twas me that hit him. Yes, I reckoned
he might think that, if he lived to think at all. I
couldn't say that it wa'n't me that hit him, for that
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 47
would let Dad into the mess, and what he'd done
was done to he'p me. To tell on him would be
lower down than a sheep-killing shepherd-dog so I
shut that clean out of my reckoning. If I turned
back and give myse'f up I'd have to let Dad know
it or he'd be looking for me all the way up the river;
and I knowed he wa'n't the kind that would let me
take the blame of hitting the officer. If he owned
up to it himse'f , then he'd be in bad trouble account
of me. If he hadn't done what he did I'd sure be in
jail for something I didn't do, and with no proof I
didn't do it. There wa'n't no way but to run. And
that's the way I settled it. I felt better, and whip-
ped up a bit.
The rain had mighty nigh quit, and the wind, too,
for that matter. But it was still dark as all get
out. At last I saw a blacker streak off to my right
and figured it was timber, so I knowed the river
was over there. I kept out of the timber, though,
and never stopped nor broke a trot, after I whipped
up that time when I settled what I'd best do.
By and by the sky showed day was coming, and
the wind freshened again. But I didn't need it
now, for I knowed as soon's 'twas light enough I'd
see the river. And sure enough, when day come
on, there it was. I rode into a grove where the
trees was thick and where there was an open park,
not far from the water. The cottonwoods was
plenty and thick all about it, and I was sure nobody
could see me from the trail. It was more'n a hun-
dred yards back, and I'd crossed it coming into the
I got down and took off the saddle. The pony
wa'n't het up none, nor tired. I never saw any-
thing like it. Soon's I got the saddle off and staked
48 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
him, down he went and rolled and rolled. Then, up
he got and shook himse'f like a wet dog and went
to eating the grass like he was afraid we wa'n't
going to stay but a minute. Cracky ! I was proud
of that little hoss, and I patted his neck and told
him so; but he didn't skip a mouthful of grass.
I got out my sack of dried meat and slipped up
on a knoll-like place where it was sunny and I
could dry out and eat while the little hoss was rest-
ing and filling up. It turned out to be a fine morn-
ing, and when the sun got warm the timber steamed
and so did my clothes. I was feeling fine. I could
see the river winding through timbered patches
and meadow-places partly covered now with water.
Drift logs was coming down, and I wondered how
far up they'd been when the river washed them off
bars or banks, or up-rooted them off its shores; for
some of them had green tops and was alive. It
was a mighty big river as big, it seemed to me, as
the Mississippi at St. Louis and I could follow its
course for miles and miles by the fringe of timber
and the bluffs. Sometimes a bluff would seem to be
standing right crosswise of the stream, like it was
disputing its way the way it would most likely
have come if it hadn't been for the bluff.
Somehow, that fetched my trouble back. I
hadn't wanted to go like I did. I was forced into
it by things I couldn't handle and had no hand in
making neither. Mebby the river had easy sailing
farther up and could go straight the way it wanted
to go the way I wanted to go but the river was
coming down to St. Louis, and I was going up
stream and away running away, at that. I got to
fretting again. But when I remembered how Dad
believed I was doing right, I felt better and got to
watching the drift logs again.
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 49
All of a sudden I saw the smoke of a camp fire,
flimsy and thin, and blue as a clematis flower,
come trailing out through the tops of the trees on a
bend 'way up the river. I figured the fire was
fresh-built by the way the smoke climbed up in the
still air. I wondered if anybody was after me and
had got past that far; but Shucks! they wouldn't
have made camp, noway, if they was after a body.
So I went back to watching the drift logs.
It was mighty nigh noon and hot. I moved into
the shade, for my clothes was dry and the sun was
uncomfortable. You can stand it when you're mov-
ing, but to sit still and roast is too much. I hadn't
much more'n got fixed when I heard singing. Di-
rectly I saw two big mackinaw boats coming down
the river. Cracky! I slipped down past the little
hoss and found me a place in the bushes close to the
river where I could see better. And along they
come, piled with bales of fur and buffalo robes and
dried meat. Their crews was singing French
songs and was happy as young kittens. There was
plenty of color about their heads and waists; but
the silks was soiled and the sashes black with
grease and dirt. And I knowed they'd buy new
ones the minute they got to St. Louis most likely
before they ate or washed up.
In a minute they was past ; and the though^ come
to me that their journey was mighty nigh ended.
That took hold of me; for St. Louis wa'n't far off
not half far enough, so I saddled up and lit out.
I made up my mind if I didn't see anybody com-
ing by the next afternoon, I'd stop and hide out to
wait for Dad.
I crossed the trail twice that afternoon, and it
was well-worn and plain, but I didn't follow it
50 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
not once. Along in the afternoon I caught the flash
of a red blanket over near where I knowed the trail
to be, and once I heered a hoss whinny. When I
listened, he whinnied again but farther down the
river, so I knowed whoever was riding wa'n't look-
ing for me. And I figured the rider wa'n't alone,
but with a passel of loose hosses, because a lone
hoss don't often whinny. So I figured it was In j ins
and kept going.
A little after that I heered hosses again heaps
of them, and saw a big band of In j ins going along
the trail. I could just see them through the trees
and brush; but there must have been more'n fifty,
all headed for St. Louis. I reckoned white folks
mostly traveled by river and only the In j ins used
the trail. I wondered why Dad did but I was sure
he knowed what he was about.
The sun was getting down pretty well, and I was
glad for two reasons I hadn't seen anybody look-
ing for me, and it was cooler. At last it begun to
darken up; but the sky was clear and I stayed off
of the trail and kept going, not fast, but a trot the
pony liked a right smart gait, if kept up stiddy.
I could see the pony was tiring some, but I didn't
stop till I see it was getting day again. Then I
rode into another grove quite a ways from the trail
but not far from the river, and staked the hoss.
He rolled and begun to eat right away like he was
used to it Cracky ! I'd seen hosses, but none like
I got out my meat sack and filled up, but was
tired out and layed down by a big drift log that
high water had left some time when there was
mighty nigh a flood. That's the last I knowed till
I felt the sunlight on my face.
I sat up. For a minute I didn't know where I
"Good afternoon, son."
Cracky! I jumped up, and there was Dad, sit-
ting on the log with that old long rifle across his
I was plumb ashamed. "How'd you find me?
How long you been here?" I says, brushing off my
He begun to laugh, that inside kind of his.
"Find ye!" he says, sarcastic like. "Why you're
as easy to locate as a dead hoss in August. I been
waitin' for ye to hev yer nap out fer more'n an
hour. Son, ye're keerless ; but ye'll git over it soon.
If ye don't, yer hair'll be adornin' some Injin's belt
in the country we're headin' for. Eat a bite now,
an' we'll be a-jiggin'. I reckon it's best to let old
Bill an' the camp-keeper fetch up the outfit. Bill
overtook us last night, so I thought I'd best look ye
up. I'll saddle yer hoss while ye eat a bite. Then
we'll be jiggin'."
He'd fetched some corn bread and give it to me.
When we started, after a little, he turned into the
trail. "We'll foller it," he says. "We kin travel
faster, an' there ain't much danger, for if trouble
comes, it must hit old Bill first. He'll find a way
to turn it back, or send us word it's comin' towards
us. I cal'late to make a p'int above here a piece
where we can rest the hosses for a night. Then
we'll go on a few days more, an' wait fer the out-
fit to come along."
52 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
It was good to be with Dad. I wa'n't worried
any more. Seemed as though I'd knowed him all
my life. I was sure ashamed of myse'f for think-
ing he'd turned against me that time in St. Louis
and I did wish he hadn't caught me asleep. That
"How old be ye, son?" he asked me after a spell.
"Nineteen next month," I said.
"Nope," I says. "My father an' mother's both
dead. I been livin' with my mother's sister, nigh
Coon Creek Crossin* since I was a little feller."
"Where was ye born?"
"Kentucky," I says.
"So was I, son. An' I'm fifty-seven."
"Dad," I says, riding close up, "do you reckon I
can get to write a letter back?"
"Well, I cal'late it could be done from the Fort
when we git to it. But that's the Ashley-Henry
Post at the mouth of the Yellowstone, an' a long
ways yit. They ain't no danger of 'em takin' ye
up as long's ye stay up the river, noway. Rest
I bet I'd write that letter the first chance I got.
I was beginning to think of Aunt Lib again. She'd
be fretting now, I knowed. Mebby by now, or to
morrow, anyway, she'd hear what happened to the
officer and mebby believe I done it. And suppose
she'd think I'd done the other killed Caley Byers.
But I was dead sure she'd never believe that not
if Joshua Moulds swore to it on a stack of Bibles
higher'n he was.
But I reckoned I couldn't ever go back now. I
hadn't thought about that before.
"Dad," I says, directly, "I can't figure Caley
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 53
Byers is killed; but if he is, they'll likely find out
who killed him, 'cause murder will out, I've always
"I've heered it lots o* times, too," he says, filling
his pipe out of a quill-worked pouch. "An* mebby
it's true; but I never believed it," he says. "Kil-
lin's are mighty bad things, mostly, but o* course
all of 'em ain't murders no more'n all Injins are
We pulled up so's he could light his pipe, and
when he'd got out his flint and steel and got fire he
says: "In the country where we're headin' for
every man makes his own laws, an' while some of
'em's bad ones, it's sartin that any well-balanced
human knows mighty well when he's treadin' on
other folks' rights an' when he's doin' dirty work.
Though jest knowin' it don't keep 'em off always.
I figger a man that stays right with himse'f giner-
ally respects the rights of others and don't bother
his neighbors. But neighbors, the best of 'em, will
crowd, sometimes, if ye let 'em. Crowdin' " he says,
"is a heap like a louse: give it liberty, an' first ye
know ye hev to go at it an' make a cleanin'. Never
crowd, son, 'less ye intend to play the last card in
yer hand even if ye know somebody's liable to hev
to set up with ye fer a spell, afterwards."
I knowed he was right. And I made up my
mind I never would crowd, 'less I had it to do, and
But I'd always heered that murder would out,
and believed it. Now Dad said he didn't believe it,
and that set me to thinking. If it didn't out, then
how'd folks ever know I didn't kill Caley Byers?
Then I says, "Well, mostly, I believe murder does
54 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
out. If it don't I'm in a bad fix, 'cause Caley Byers
and I wa'n't friends, and maybe folks knowed it."
"Shoo! if we killed all the folks we didn't like
the American trappers an' traders wouldn't be
bothered none with Hudson's Bay men, I cal'late.
No call to worry 'bout that, son, none 'tall."
I reckoned he was only trying to he'p me stop
fretting. Then like lightning a thought that nigh
took my breath away come to me. Mebby he
thought I did kill Caley Byers, and all the time he
did know murder would out. I looked up at him
quick, and felt the blood hot on my ears. But he
was looking ahead on the trail, and there wa'n't a
thing like I was afraid of in his eyes. I couldn't
make it out noway ; but I couldn't leave it like that.
"Dad," I says, in a minute, "I've heered a yarn
about Caley Byers, and there was a woman in it,"
I says. "It come up from the South with an old
nigger that died at Coon Creek a nigger that be-
longed to Caley Byers."
He pulled up to a walk. "Tell me the yarn," he
"It ain't much to tell," I says, "but it seems like
there was an old family named Sessions that had
lived on a big plantation since before the war and
generations before Caley Byers' father come there
and bought a piece of bottom land that joined
theirs and went to raising hosses. The Sessionses
was a big family, and quality folks that didn't have
any use for the Byerses, for some reason that
started early after they'd become neighbors.
"Anyway, Caley run plumb wild with the hosses,
traveling with them and racing with them and
spending money like all get out, till he was talked
about a heap. And he hated the Sessionses like
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 55
p'ison all but Lucy Ann, the youngest girl, who
liked him. She was mighty afraid her father
would find it out, and she used to meet Caley of
nights fer a spell. Then one day they was both
gone. Nobody knowed where, till old man Ses-
sions got a letter from York State. Lucy Ann was
mighty sick and Caley Byers had run off and left
her with only a note that said for her to go back
home and learn her folks to respect their neigh-
bors. That's what the old nigger told, nigh as I
can remember," I says.
"Folks knowed the yarn and talked about it, did
they?" he says, putting away his pipe.
"Yes," I told him. "Women folks, and men.
But they never knowed any more than what I've
told, I reckon."
"No, likely not," he says. Then, directly, like
he'd plumb settled it in his mind, he says, "That's
it, son. Some of his old neighbors got him, and
likely he'd lived too long, as it was. There ain't
no call to worry, son; none 'tall. They cain't pes-
ter ye as long as we stay up the river, an' by the
time we get back it's likely they'll know more about
it. If they don't, and pester ye, I'll stand by ye.
I never did quit a pardner yet, son, noway."
I felt better. I was sure now he didn't think it
was me killed Caley Byers; and he'd mighty nigh
admitted that murder would out. So I dropped it
and says, "Do the Hudson's Bay men trouble
"Yes, they do," he says. "They are stealin' this
territory, or tryin' to. They keep the Blackfeet
agin' us. I'm sure of that. They're Britishers,
too, an' belong over the line, but they don't stay
there; an' there'll be trouble over it yit."
56 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
Trouble ! It seemed like it was to be found every-
where. I thought of my own again. "Dad," I
says, "do you reckon you killed that officer?"
"Shoo ! no. His head'll be sore f er a day or such
a matter, that's all. I didn't go fer to kill him, no-
way Yonder's a turkey! Kill him, son, an* we'll
hev him fer supper."
I got down off my hoss, an* was drawing a bead
on the neck down close to his breast, when Dad
whispers, "Head or no meat, son head or no meat,"
and I pulled down on the gobbler's old red head
mighty careful. Bow! she went. And I see right
away I'd done it slick. But Dad didn't say any-
thing. He just got down and picked up the turkey
while I was loading up.
We only took the best part of him and then went
on again. The country was changing some, I could
see, and the river, when we was near it, was pret-
tier'n ever. There was heaps of ducks and wild
geese in nigh every bend, and I begun to spot big
nests in trees old snags of trees, mostly. They
was built of good-sized sticks and looked rough and
ornery. Dad said they was goose nests. At first
I thought he was joking me, but he wa'n't. He
never did joke that way, never. He said the nests
was likely built by fish-hawks, mostly, but that the
geese took them over and used them. I'd never
heered of geese nesting in trees. It didn't sound
just right; so I asked him how in the nation the
young goslings got out of the nests without killing
theirse'fs. He said the old goose packed them out
when the time come. And that's the truth. I've
seen them do it many a time since then. And all
the way up the river we saw the nests in the old
lone snags along the river banks. I figured it out
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 57
why the geese nested in the trees, and 'twas plain
and good sense. The varmi'ts bothered a heap on
the ground, and aside from eagles nothing's got any
business in the air with an old wild goose. They're
smart's a whip, too.
It was after sundown when Dad left the trail.
He headed straight north from it and the river for
a spell. Then he turned into a thick grove of quak-
ing aspens where there was a cold spring of water
and a mighty snug place to camp, and got down.
"Git a fire goin', son," he said. "I'll stake the
hosses. Then we'll eat."
Dad fixed the turkey finer'n any I'd ever tasted,
and it didn't take him any time at all. I ate all I
could hold and felt fine, and sleepy as all time. Dad
went out to look at the hosses before he laid down,
and I never saw nor heered him come back. I was
sound asleep by the time he got out to them, I
But I dreamt a heap. Aunt Lib was fretting all
through my dreams and Caley Byers and Bugle and
Joshua Moulds was all tangled up, so there wa'n't no
sense to them nothing straight or connected, like.
I heered Dad get up once and slip out to see if the
hosses was all right, but I never heered him come
back. He always got up and snooped around the
hosses every night like it was a habit, and I reck-
oned it was.
It wa'n't quite day when he kindled the fire, and
I got up and fetched in the hosses while he got
ready a bite to eat. In no time, we was back on
the trail, sailing along on the little Injin trot the
hosses liked and could keep up for a coon's age.
We didn't stop till 'way after noon. I killed an-
other turkey the only one we'd seen that day. We
58 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
was out of the turkey country, Dad said, and it was
the last we saw. Dad cooked it good, and we had
him for supper. But I was plumb tired again and
went right to sleep and slept good till morning,
when we was off again on the same old trot.
The country was a heap different now. Trees
was getting scarcer and scarcer and the river wa'n't
quite so big and was some swifter and not so
muddy. Dad said he reckoned we could make the
place he figured on stopping at to wait for the out-
fit, if we traveled right smart. And we did ; though
it was plumb dark when we got there. Dad staked
the hosses and we just ate a cold snack and went to
sleep without any fuss of fixing things.
Dad was up and gone when I woke, and it was
quite a spell before he come back. I got a fire go-
ing and slipped out to the river and shot a goose for
breakfast. He was tougher'n all get out, but we
managed to eat him, or part of him. Then Dad and
I made a brush-lodge down by the river in the pret-
tiest spot there was, and begun to wait for the out-
fit to come. We set around in the shade and smoked
and talked. Dad talked to me right sociable all the
time. He told one story after another, and it wa'n't
long before I knowed Captain Lewis and Captain
Clark hadn't lied in that book of Biddle's. He
wouldn't talk much about Injin fights brushes, he
called them. But he'd had a lot of them, I could
see. He'd been on the plains for years and years
and said he couldn't see any change yet. That
made me glad. I was afraid I was too late to see
them like they ought to be. I said so, and that
tickled him a-plenty.
That evening Dad slipped out and fetched in a
deer and we had a big feast. I slept hard and was
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 59
plumb rested when morning come, and Dad was
humming to himse'f like he felt mighty fit, too.
Along towards noon here comes two big macki-
naws down the river, loaded like the ones I saw the
first day. The crew was singing, too, like the other
fellows, and I watched them sail past without hid-
Then the next afternoon along come a keel-boat.
She was going up the river, creeping close to the
other shore like she was having a hard time with
the current. Thirty men was towing her by a long
thick rope, and they was singing like birds. It
was a monster boat, more'n seventy feet long and
loaded down, with trade goods and high wines, Dad
said. There was a spar up near the boat's prow,
and the tow-line was made fast to its top. Then
the line was passed from that down and through
an iron ring tied to a short piece of rope right in
her bow before it went ashore to the men. It was
a queer rig, and a queer way of handling a boat, I
thought. But she went along steady to the French
tunes, and I watched her till she went out of sight
around the bend above camp. It looked like a hard
job to pull a big heavy boat loaded with freight up
the river; but everybody appeared happy about it.
"Do they always sing that way, Dad?" I asked him,
after the boat was gone and only the tune was scal-
lowaggin' back through the trees.
"Mighty apt to sing when they've got the breath
to do it, son," he says. "But they're a bunch of old
women in a fight, mostly. One of 'em's worth two
or three of our kind on the river, but when it comes
to burnin' powder, they won't stand without hitch-
in'. They're a people by themse'fs, them fellers,
an' they git along with the In j ins a heap better 'n
60 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
most folks does, too. Give 'em an axe or a canoe-
paddle or a pole, an* they can work circles around
us, but we beat 'em all holler when guns bark."
There was nothing to do only look at the river
and watch the logs coming down after that; but I
didn't tire of it. Nobody come along the trail either
way, until late in the afternoon of the fourth day,
when here come our outfit ten loaded mules and
three loose hosses, besides the ones the men was
Cracky ! I never did see such a sight. Here they
come stringing along one behind the other in the
trail and loaded down with goods. Some had big,
bulky loads and some had little, or none at all, it
looked like. Some of the packs was round and
others was lumpy and looked lop-sided, though they
wa'n't because they balanced. I could see that they
did when the hosses walked. First come Bill, then
a mare, then the mules, and last Joe, the camp-
tender. It was a sight. Here and there an axe
handle showed, or the barrel of a trade-gun poked
out from under a mantle; and all was rocking even
and swinging light and fine, as the mules followed
up the trail behind Bill and the mare. The loads