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Frank Bird Linderman.

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looked as though they'd been put on mighty care-
less, but I knowed they wa'n't, or they wouldn't
have balanced nor stayed. I made up my mind I'd
learn how to do it, for I knowed it was a big trick.

Directly Bill stopped at our camp. Then the
mare stopped, and every mule stopped in his tracks
when she did. Dad stepped up, and without even a
"howdy," begun to unpack, while I watched.

In a jiffy the first mule's pack was on the ground
and he was off and rolling fit to kill himse'f . Then
up walks another. Slam! his pack was off, and he



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 61

went out and rolled right in the spot where the first
had rolled. Then another and another, was un-
loaded, and so quick the mules had to wait for the
one ahead of them on the rolling-spot to get up,
before they could lay down to roll. I never did see
the beat. A body'd think there was a law against
rolling any place else but in that very spot the first
mule picked. And I reckon it is a law a mule-
law, because they never break it. I reckon a mule
would be afraid of bad luck if he didn't roll where
his partner did. I thought the first mule had away
the best of it. He could pick the rolling spot, and
if he was spiteful he could play even with an enemy
by picking out a bad place and just pretending to
roll. It was queer. Dad said burros did the same
thing said it was a jackass trait, anyway.

Everybody knowed just what to do and did it
all except me; and I looked on. In no time the
packs was all piled neat and close, but not mixed
up. I mean loads was kept separate, so their parts
could go together again without fussing to fix them
over. I soon saw the smallest looking ones was
heavier'n they seemed.

Directly the camp-keeper went off with the hosses
and mules. He staked the mare, hobbled the loose
hosses and the saddle animals, but left the mules to
run loose. It was done so quick and so slick I
couldn't see how they managed so good. Dad had
pitched in the minute they come, and now he was
wiping the sweat off' n his face and laughing.

Directly he says, "Bill, this here's the boy I was
tellin' ye 'bout. An' Lige," he says to me, "this
here's my pardner an' yours, Bill Hanks."

Bill shook hands warm, like. "Howdy," he says.
"I like yer looks. Bet me an' you gits along good."



62 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

I liked Bill soon's i saw him. And I liked him
better every day after that. He wa'n't nigh so tall
as Dad not quite so tail's me and I could see he
wa'n't so smart's Dad was, but good clean to the
bone. His face was kinder fat and his eyes was red
some ; but he was likelier to laugh than Dad. He'd
laugh sometimes when I couldn't see anything
worth while. I saw that Dad tied to him; so I
knowed right away he was better'n he looked. But
beside Dad he seemed stout and fat and not half
so quick on his feet, though he was younger, I
judged by mighty nigh ten years. His hair was
black, but grayer'n Dad's and not so long nor thick.
When he took off his head silk that night I saw he
was getting bald on the top of his head.

After a little Joe come in from taking care of
the stock. I'd seen him in Dad's lodge in St. Louis,
and I'd a-knowed him anywhere. When he come
up to the fire, Dad says, "Joe, this is Lige Mounts,
our new pardner, and, Lige Mounts, this here's Joe
Dent, our skinner an' camp-keeper."

We shook hands. Joe was a little man, and quick-
moving. He had the nicest eyes I ever see in a
man's head, except Dad's. They was blue as a
robin's egg and not one mite shifty. He was
younger'n Dad or Bill round thirty somewheres, I
judged and slender-built. He never had much to
say, speaking when he did in a voice a heap like
Dad's, quiet, like, and sure. He had a scar on his
right cheek, straight and about's wide's my little
finger. It run clean across his cheek from a mite
above his mouth. I figured I'd ask him how he got
it, but I never did. Dad said he'd never asked him,
but he reckoned it was a bullet-crease. It sure
looked like it, and I reckon 'twas, and proof that



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER



63



he'd been shot at, once, anyway, and mighty nigh
got, at that.

We had a big supper with tea and bread and
meat and corn syrup and all. Cracky ! but it tasted
good, and I filled up a-plenty. Then we smoked a
while and everybody talked all but me; and I lis-
tened. Directly Joe went out to look after the
stock, and Dad went over to the packs and when he
come back to the fire, handed me a bundle of clothes.

"I found these among my possibles an' fixin's,"
he says. "Better put 'em on in the mornin'. They'll
make ye look more like ye belonged to the outfit,
anyway."



CHAPTER VII

Cracky! I was glad to get the clothes Dad give
me. I looked them over right away, though it was
dark and I couldn't see very good. They was quill-
worked like Dad's, only not so much. I reckoned
they'd be pretty big for me ; but I knowed buckskin
kept gettin' longer and longer when you wore it, so
nobody would think anything of it, even if we met
up with anybody, which I didn't reckon on much.

It must have been nigh midnight when I got to
sleep, but I rested good after I started in to. First
I knowed it was morning, and while the men was
getting in the stock, I made out to dress up. I
popped on the leggings first. They was too long,
so I cut on* a slice round the tops. Then they was
just right. I got the whole riggin' on before Dad
come in. He was tickled, or 'peared to be. I
couldn't get the hang of the head-silk, which was
yellow, so he showed me. Then he took my old
clothes and put them in the packs. He said they
might come handy, but he didn't know what f er.

Cracky! I felt fine in those clothes free and
loose every place, and mighty pretty, too, I reck-
oned, all fringed and fine. Besides they showed
they had been wore a lot, and that suited me
exactly.

I watched the men pack, two working together,
one on the off-side and one on the nigh-side, and
the nigh-side man throwed the hitch. It made me
stare to see how fast they packed the mules, once
they was saddled. But they was mighty careful
about the saddling, I tell you. Some was saw-buck

64



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 65

saddles and some aparajos, and when they come to
one old sorrel mule they throwed a sack over his
head before they tackled him. He was ornery as
all time ; but one of the best in the lot when he was
finally packed.

I saddled my hoss and was all ready when they
was, the men having saddled their hosses before
they begun to pack the mules. So away we went.

The three loose hosses was a heap better'n the
ones the men was riding, I noticed, built fine and
full of life. One of them was white as snow and
built like a quarter-hoss. Anybody could see he
could run like all time. Then there was a roan
a fine hoss, but heavier'n the white. The other was
a bay. He was mighty nigh a perfect hoss mighty
nigh's good's the roan, I thought; but I'd never seen
a hoss like the white gelding, never, big or little.

The country kept changing, and sometimes we
was nigh the river and again we'd be quite a piece
away from it. I rode up with Dad ; and I liked to
look back and see the mules coming along on the
trail, one right behind the other, and Joe 'way back
yonder keeping them knitting along and close up.
It sure did look fine. Bill was right behind me
leading the mare. Her pack was light just knick-
knacks and clothes and light truck, but every mule'd
follow her to certain death, and her tracks was
their tracks, no matter where they led. Dad said
'twas another jackass trait. But it was a good one
like most of them is.

It was hotter 'n all time that day. But along late
in the afternoon it rained some, and that cooled
the air. Most every night I learned something new;
and every night something would start Dad or Bill
to tell a yarn. Some of them was funny, and some



66 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

wa'n't. Some was mighty bad accidents or rows.
And they talked a heap about the Hudson's Bay
Company and the ornery doings of their trappers
and traders in our territory.

Joe never talked much, but somehow I got to
liking him more every day. And many a time I
thought that three better men couldn't be found no-
where, than Dad, Bill and Joe.

We traveled day in and day out for long spells.
Then we'd rest a day or two. One morning early
in August when the men saddled up, they saddled
the three hosses with little pads, and bridled them,
too. When they started out, every man was lead-
ing a spare hoss, Dad having the white gelding.
Soon's we got strung out he says:

"From now on, son, we take no fool chances of
havin' visitors, an* nobody's to leave the pack-train
or the camp without the rest knowin' about it be-
forehand. Understand me?

I did, and said so.

"Any time now," he says, "we're liable to get into
it. We are drawin' nigh to the country where
there's always been enough trouble to go 'round, an'
if we don't find none, we'll be lucky. You'd best
ride back yonder with Joe, now, f er a spell."

I did hate to leave Dad But cracky! I was
glad we was getting to the Injin country; or I
thought I was. I rode along back and fell in be-
hind Joe with the queerest feeling a man ever had.
I was glad and sorry all mixed up, if you know
what I mean.

That night when we camped the packs was all
strung in a circle with the fire built inside it, small
and no-account. As soon's the stock was 'tended
to, Joe went on guard on a knoll where he could



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 67

see the bosses and mules and the camp, and a good
bit of the country around. Before day Dad and
Bill took their turns on the knoll; and when morn-
ing come, durned if I didn't feel off my feed, every-
body was so quiet, like, and careful.

We started out quite a bit before sunup, Dad
and Bill riding more'n a quarter ahead and far
apart, and Joe and me back with the mules. Both
Dad and Bill was leading their spare hosses, and
Joe had the extra bay saddled with his pad.

The country was all changed now all rolling
plains with trees down along the river. But that
was far away most of the time now, because of the
bad-lands, which was hummicky and rough. We
begun to see queer flat-topped hills, yellow, like, and
with now and then a scrub cedar growing on their
sides. Some of the hills was reddish, and others
bluish-gray. And there was deep coulees, all lead-
ing down into the badlands by the river, their bot-
toms stony and washed bare by melting spring
snows. And cracky! the antelope. There was
thousands of them.

As soon's the sun come it got hotter'n all time
again and the dust raised by the animals dried my
nose and throat. We kept above the coulees but
could see them running down to lose theirse'fs in
the bad lands ; or clear to the river, sometimes. Off
ahead was endless plains and knolls and little cou-
lees and bands of antelope. The antelope would
stand and watch us till we got mighty nigh to them,
then Scat! away they'd go, all white as snow be-
hind. They was pretty and slick, and how they
could run ! I'd see them start off, hundreds of them,
and first I knowed they was gone down in a coulee
'way ahead; then up they'd come on another knoll,



68 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

where they'd stand waiting till we got mighty nigh
to them, when away they'd go like all get out.

One morning when we started out, Dad and Bill
turned their regular saddle-hosses in with the pack
train with their saddles on them, and set off afoot,
leading the spare hosses with the pads on. All the
forenoon we traveled straight across the country,
paying no attention to the river or the trail. The
sun was blistering hot. Everything was parched
and dry as a bone. I wished it was sundown many
a time.

It was afternoon, about two o'clock, I reckon,
when I saw old Bill 'way up ahead, stop and get on
his roan. But I couldn't see Dad at all. "In j ins !"
says Joe right away. And a squeamish feeling
come over me quicker'n scat. "Bunch 'em up ! Bunch
'em, up! and head 'em into that coulee yonder
quick!" Joe dug his heels into his hoss's sides.
And directly we was in the little coulee and couldn't
see Bill.

"Git down and tie every mule's nose close to his
fetlock like this," and Joe begun to tie.

So did I, but was awkward. It seemed the raw-
hide ropes was bigger'n my arm and stiff as all get
out.

Joe says, "Tighten yer cinch, and look sharp !"

Right then I heered lickety-lickety-lickety ! and I
cocked my rifle. Hosses! I could hear them. Joe
heered them too. His riflelock went click-click!

Then all of a sudden something come to the rim
of the coulee. It was Dad ! and I wilted right down
just seemed to be all tuckered out.

"It's a false alarm, Joe," he says. "Git 'em
strung out again. Three whitemen's a-comin'.
They been running some buffalo up yonder, an'



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 69

when I see the dust an' the movin' herd, I thought
'twas Injins, myself, but we're in luck, I reckon.
Bill's gone to meet up with 'em."

Buffalo at last ! I forgot my scare.

When we got started again, I could see four hoss-
men coming towards us, riding fast. "Looks like
Mike Fink and his pardners that's with Bill, Joe,"
said Dad, gazing hard at the oncoming men. "I
know they wintered in these parts. That's jest
who 'tis that's Mike on the buckskin."

I never did see men so glad to meet up with folks
as this Mike Fink and his pardners was. They
shook hands all around, and was nigh tickled to
death.

Mike was fine built, about as tall as Bill. I could
see he'd be a hard man to handle in a rough-and-
tumble. He had dark hair and black eyes. I didn't
like his eyes. They wa'n't good to look at. But he
was quick on his feet. One of his pardners, Car-
penter, they called him, was about the same size as
Fink, but light complected, with pale blue eyes, and
a short neck. He was stout and slow-moving, and
I could see Fink was quicker-witted then he was.
Then there was Talbot, lean and thin, with brown
hair and awful hairy arms and hands. He was
about as tall as me, and older'n Fink or Carpenter,
a little, and not so stout. He was the quietest one
of the three, but saw most everything, with his
eyes about half -shut, at that. He had big ears, and
one of them had a notch out of it. I reckoned it had
been bit out or froze out, mebby. They didn't look
like our folks, none of them.

They wanted Dad and Bill to turn off to the river
where their camp was. They said if we would,
they'd go on with us to the Ashley-Henry Post at



70 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

the mouth of the Yellowstone. I remember Fink
said, "We need yer company, Dad. Me an* Carpen-
ter and Talbot's gittin' plumb tired of each other.
There's In j ins between here an* the Post, and we
kin help ye stand 'em off."

It was soon settled; and we headed towards the
river, careless, like, for Fink and his pardners said
the country was safe between them and their camp.

"We made a killin' today for tongues," Fink said,
"an* when we git to camp we'll feed up good. We
made a bully ketch last winter, too, but drinked
it all up at the Post this spring sold out there. We
couldn't wait," he laughed. He was full of talk
and rattled on like he was wanting to get rid of it
to somebody new. "Camp's jest around that p'int
of timber on the river," he says. "We'll ride ahead
an' git somethin' cookin'. Come on, pardners!"
And away they went, Bill with them, leaving Dad
and me together.

"That's a bad one that Mike Fink," Dad said,
after they rode away. "He's the best rifle shot I
ever see, too; but he ain't right noway. Both his
pardners is tarred with the same stick both of
'em crack shots, especially Carpenter. All of 'em'll
fight at the drop of the hat, so don't git into no
argument with 'em they're a bad lot.

"I heered Fink and Carpenter hed hed a bad row
last fall," he went on. "Seems they must hev made
it up again. They hev all been pardners f er a long
spell, an' their doin's are as ornery as they are
themse'fs. Carpenter lets Fink shoot a tin cup of
whisky off'n his head at seventy yards, and Fink
lets Carpenter do the same, each declarin' it shows
confidence between 'em. But Mike's a borned rat-
tlesnake. Once I knowed him to shoot the heel off'n



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 71

a nigger in St. Louis, 'cause he said the nigger had
a homely foot, an* couldn't wear a boot with sech
a heel, noway. He's good company, though, when
he ain't in liquor, 'an' with 'em we kin stand off a
whole passel of Injins. But I jest thought I'd tell
ye that none of 'em's the sort I tie to, ginerally.
Git up, Badger !" and he sent a rope-end cracking at
a lagging mule.

"Fink would be a bad one in a rough-and-tum-
ble," I says, wanting him to talk more, while we
was alone.

"He shore is, son; an* everybody knows him fer
one bully that will shore enough fight. He'll go in
any time, er any way. An' when he goes, he goes
to win kick, bite, gouge, er shoot. Even a knife's
a weapon with Mike Fink."

"Dad," I says, "when we get to the Fort I ain't
goin' to forget to write that letter back. I been
fretting some, account they'll think mebby I killed
Caley Byers."

"Shoo ! no they won't, son. But write the letter,
anyway. We ought to git to the Post in six or
seven days, dependin' on how long we stop at Fink's
camp."

Just then, wheel there was an awful smell.
"Something's dead nigh here," I says, looking up
the wind and feeling it was like to turn my
stomach.

"Buffalo," says Dad. "Yonder's a bunch of 'em.
Been killed fer their tongues. The wolves has got
'em pretty well cleaned up, but they do load the
breeze some, shore 'nuff."

I'd heered Fink say they'd made a killing for
tongues, but the sight of the big carcasses, plumb



72 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

wasted, seemed more'n wicked "Do they just take
the tongues, Dad?" I asked him, feeling r'iled.

"Tongues, most always hides an' tongues, at
times," he says, like he didn't want to talk about it.
But directly he says, "Does look like provokin' the
wrath of the Almighty, son; but they's millions of
'em, millions of 'em. I try not to do useless killin',
but I'm a skin-hunter, an' do heaps more'n is in
keepin* with my conscience."

He knocked the ashes out of his pipe and looked
straight at me, as though he had a notion to say
something else, but more'n half a mind not to. Then
he says : "Son, conscience is like a bird-dog pup, an'
kin be learned to forgit natural traits, 'specially
when he's runnin' with a pack of hounds. Mine's
dulled right smart, I reckon ; but the older I grow,
the less I like to kill an* the more I like to live where
there's echoes sleepin' along the streams an' danger
enough to spice the plains. To live here I hev to
foller my trade, an' it's that of a killer. But some
day I'm goin' to settle down in some pretty spot
where the mountains meet the plains, an* where the
clear, cold streams are contributin' fresh snow-
water to this here river. Then I'll hev 'em all with
me, an' jest take what I want an' need out of the
herds an' from the waters, same's the Injin did be-
fore our kind come here to learn him to he'p rob his
own land f er a few yards of bright-colored cloth, er
a blanket. There's them among the In j ins that sees
all this as plain as the rump of an antelope when
he's leaving the country, an' it's them that puts the
fight in the rest. An' they're the wise ones. It's the
ornery ones that only 1 sees the blankets an' the cloth
an' the liquor. But civilization that's what some
calls it is bound to spread, an' the Injin must be



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 73

swept before it, as well as the buffalo. There ain't
a speck of what's a-botherin* you in civilization, son.
It's as hard as old Pharaoh's heart, an' ought to be a
trapper.

"It takes the snows to soften us. Any natural
boy's a born savage, white, red, er black; an' the
ring in the nose an' the ring on the finger ain't so
mighty fer apart, noway. We men folks hev quit
wearin' 'em in our nose, an' mostly in our ears, but
we still buy 'em fer our women an' they hang 'em
in their ears yit. But jest the same we're plumb
ready to swear a man's a savage that wears 'em like
we used to, 'cause we've swore off, an* they ain't
quite ready. Yonder's the camp."

The sun was low, and a breeze had sprung up and
stirred the grass. The hosses saw the camp as soon
as we did, and perked up right away. There was
a fire going and some kettles hanging over it, and
the cooking meat smelled good.

As soon's the mules was unpacked old Bill got out
a flat keg of high wines and treated. Everybody but
Dad and me he'ped theirse'f s plenty, an' they all got
talking right fast.

I soon saw there was bad blood between Mike
Fink and Carpenter. It showed up right away after
old Bill got out his flat keg. It's curious how little
it takes to find trouble when you're looking for it
hard. After drinking two tin cups nigh full, Mike
Fink would have mistaken a "howdy" for a cuss
word, I reckon.

Carpenter emptied his cup and says, "I'll be
bread-maker, an' make some bread."

"Ye will not ! I'll tend to the fine p'ints, myse'f !"

That was Mike Fink, and his voice was high and
angry. Both of them started for our pack where the



74 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

meal was, overturning some kettles in the race.
They reached the pack together, and stood glaring
at each other like a couple of cur-dogs, neither dar-
ing to pick up the sack. Mike's fists was doubled
tight and his knuckles was white's his face.

"Now, now!" cried Talbot, springing from his
seat by a tree and running to his partners. "Now,
don't make no fight in yer own camp when there's
company 'round yer fire. Ye've made it all up once.
Let it stay that way."

He took hold of Carpenter's arm and pulled him
away a piece.

"All right, my hearty, make the damned bread !"
said Fink, spitting cotton. "I'll quit," he says. "I'm
a bully good quitter. Everybody knows that !"

He come back to the fire, grabbed up a stick, and
stirred the meat in the kettles, jabbing and poking
vicious.* A magpie come into the grove and lit on a
limb near the camp. Mike grabbed up his rifle and
cocked it. "Watch me cut the beak off'n that
damned bird yonder," he says.

Bow! The poor bird fluttered down with his
beak cut clean off next his head. It seemed to re-
lieve Mike. Something or somebody had to settle
for his temper, and the bird paid the bill. After
that he was cheerful and good-natured as anybody.

But I remembered what Dad had told me about
him. I was proud because he'd told me what he
thought about things, generally. I liked what he'd
said. It seemed to me I'd always thought the same,
only I couldn't have put it like he did. I thought
about it all a heap and I felt closer to Dad than ever
before. I reckoned if he even did settle down like
he said, I'd stick by him and settle there, too.

When Mike got r'iled over the break-making, old



LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 75

Bill had put his keg away, and I was glad. But he
got it out again that night while Joe was on guard.
It loosened tongues; and the men begun to swap
news. Dad and Bill told what they'd learned in St.
Louis, and the others told the news of the Post and
the plains, which was what I liked to hear. I felt
squeamish for fear Fink and Carpenter would get
at it again, but old Bill was careful. And I reckon
Dad had a hand in his stinginess, for he didn't offer
to treat very often.

"Where's Little Pete this season?" asked Dad,
putting a small stick on the fire.

"He's dead," said Carpenter. "Pore Little Pete
had a hard time of it crossin', too. He got into it
with the Blackfeet. They stampeded his pack
hosses first. Then Pete made a ride for it. But they
killed his pony under him. Somehow the old man
managed to hide in the sage 'till they left him. It
was late in January, an' that night a bad blizzard hit
the plains the worst we'd hed. Pete tried to make
the Post, but his foot was nigh shot away. Of
course the Injins didn't know that, or they'd got
him. They told a half-breed about the fight, an'
'lowed Little Pete had made the Post. But Teed and
Snow found what was left of him among the ribs
of a buffalo bull ten days after. The wolves hed et
pretty much of both him an' the bull. The pore little
devil must hev shot the bull an' gutted him an'
crawled inside to keep from freezin'. Most likely
the meat froze an' held him there till he froze, him-
se'f . Anyhow, they found him that a-way ten days
after the fight. It must hev been a hard crossin' f er
Little Pete."

"Shoo! shore was. How fer was he from the
Post?" asked Dad, filling his pipe.



76 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER

"Not more'n ten mile; an* if Teed hedn't seen a


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