white wolf near the carcass, nobody'd ever knowed
what went with him, most likely."
"Well, I reckon I'll slip out an* relieve Joe," says
Dad, getting up.
I wanted to go with him, but he said, "No, turn in.
Ye'll git yer share soon enough."
When Joe come in he went right to his blankets.
I reckoned Dad had told him to. Old Bill took the
hint, too, and put his flat keg in the pack. It wa'n't
long after that till the little fire was plumb out and
Mike Fink snoring like all get out.
But I couldn't go to sleep. The story of Little
Pete wouldn't let me. All night long the awfulness
of the thing kept me turning and tossing, till I
could fairly see the man inside the dead buffalo and
hear the wolves gnawing the frozen meat in the
Besides, I heered Mike Fink stirring in the night.
I reckoned they'd got out the flat keg again, and
that pestered me, along with the other.
I must have gone to sleep just before day, for I
woke up when Dad started the fire. I didn't reckon
I'd been asleep more'n ten minutes, though. I
crawled out and went down to the river and had
a swim. That freshened me up. On the way back
I met Dad coming down with a couple of kettles, and
I turned back with him. Down by the river I says,
"Dad, is it true that a man ever gutted a buffalo and
crawled inside to save himse'f from a blizzard?"
"I'm too durned long, myse'f," he laughed, "but
I'm shore men hes done it. I've heered of it bein'
done more'n once. Pete was a little feller, and there
ain't no doubt he did it. Ye see, son, all of us hes
heered of it bein' done, an' in desperation a little
man would be apt to try it when it was an only
chance f er life. Yes, I reckon it's true Little Pete
"Are we goin' to start to-morrow, Dad?" I asked,
while he filled the kettles.
"Figgered on it," he says, "but it don't look like it
now. Bill's full, an' Fink's drunk. Must hev
drinked in the night, I reckon. Never knowed Bill
to drink in the Injin country before. I don't like
to travel that a-way. The keg's nigh half full yit,
an* if they've got to finish it, this is as good a place
as any better'n the trail. Guess we'll go out an'
move the stock a bit. They been camped here so
long the grass is nigh too short close in."
"I'll go along with you," I says, taking a kettle of
I was mighty sorry we'd met up with Mike Fink,
78 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
but I didn't say so. I knowed Dad was sorry, too.
But I reckoned he figured we needed he'p to get to
the Post, so mebby it would turn out for the best in
the end. Anyway, I figured from what Dad had
said the keg held all the liquor there was in the
We left the kettles in camp and Dad called the
men. Right away Bill got out the keg again.
Joe was on guard. He wa'n't drinking like Bill ;
but mebby it was easier for him not to, and that
makes a heap of difference. He was in the top of a
big cottonwood near the edge of the grove, where
a seat had been fixed and a way to get up.
"I see a big cloud of dust to the west," he says,
when we come under the tree.
"Buffalo," asked Dad, looking away across the
"Yes, I make out it's buffalo, an' an awful herd
of 'em, too."
"Can't make out."
"Hope not. Look scattering Joe. Me an' Lige
will move the stock, but if the buffalo's runnin' we'd
best drive the stock into the timber."
"I'll look sharp. But I don't think they're run-
nin'," says Joe.
We went on out to the stock and moved our staked
hosses, and then climbed a knoll and saw the dust
rolling up in the still morning air. The dust cloud
was miles long, and the sun, just coming up, lit on
it like a long, wide trail of gold hanging between
the ground and the blue sky. It was a curious sight,
and mighty pretty.
"They ain't runnin'," says Dad, after a spell.
"But jest the same I cal'late we'd best move the
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 79
stock into the timber. That's a whopping* big herd,
an* it's headin' too close in. The mules might stam-
pede. Git on yer hoss, an* we'll drive everything to
camp theirs an* ours. No call to take chances.
Shake yerse'f I"
When we got to the tree where Joe was, driving
the stock ahead of us, Dad called to him, "Come
down, Joe ! Lige'll take yer place."
That tickled me, and I climbed up to the seat with
my rifle. It was higher'n it looked from the ground.
I could see a long way up and down the river and out
over the plains. The men in the camp was stringing
rawhide ropes from tree to tree, in no time makin'
a rope corral three ropes high around the hosses
Then Dad come back to the tree, "Look scatterin',
son I" he called. "An* if ye should see In j ins behind
that herd, let us know it quick's ye kin. But I
reckon the herd's driftin'. Anyway, ye'll see they's
buffalo left, an' before night ye'll say so."
Then he went back to the camp and begun shaping
up and piling different, the others helping some,
The cloud of dust kept coming nearer and nearer.
I couldn't see no end to it, an' I reckoned it was
more'n half a mile wide. Directly I could hear a low
rumbling and then pretty soon I could see a black
line down under the dust. I knowed it was buffalo,
but it was just a black line without any breaks in it.
And right over it and back of it, the dust rolled up
in a cloud that kept getting bigger and bigger and
nearer and nearer.
The rumbling come on louder and louder, till I
could feel the ground tremble like an earthquake
was shaking it. Directly, here they was ! right at
80 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
the edge of the grove. I could see the leaders plain.
Their black tongues was lolling out and they looked
to be nigh winded, but kept on going straight and
steady. Then the dust hit me and hid the herd. I
reckoned they was going to skip the camp, but I
In less'n a minute I couldn't have heered a cannon
go off, nor I couldn't even think. The ground was
shaking so the tree jiggled, and I took hold of a limb
to hold on to. The noise was awful ! Horns pound-
ing against horns, hoofs clicking, and the ornery
snorting grunts worse'n a nightmare. The smell
of thousands of heated animal bodies crowded close
and going fast, come up to me with the dust. My
throat and nose was dry. I'd have given anything
for a drink of water. But to go down now was out
of the question.
Hours went by. They seemed like nights to me.
Dark come on, and still the thunder of the herd was
bad as ever. My eyes was smarting, and my tongue
was parched. I couldn't see a foot from my nose.
I wondered if there ever would come an end to that
herd. It didn't seem as though it had any. There
wa'n't any lessening of the noise. I couldn't have
told how long I'd been in the tree, if I died for it.
It must have been past midnight when I thought
the roar was falling off some. But I wa'n't sure.
My ears wa'n't dependable. They wouldn't rest,
even when I knowed the drags was going by and
the end had come, sure enough.
Cracky! My teeth gritted with sand, and my
ears thumped with the clicking and grunting and
booming of hoofs, long after I knowed they was
gone. I couldn't seem to gather myse'f to climb
down jest set there a spell, kind of numb.
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 81
All of a sudden I thought, "Mebby the herd come
through the grove !" That stirred me, and I started
down. My legs was asleep and numb, and I was
afraid I'd fall. But at last I got to the ground. The
dust was settling and I heered Dad's voice. "Drive
'em to the water," he says, and I run into camp.
"I'll take 'em !" I says. "Cracky ! I can drink that
old river plumb dry, myse'f ."
Dad come along with me. "See any buffalo, son?"
he says, brushing the dust off his sleeves.
"No," I says, "but I heered and smelled a million,
I reckon, and I don't care if I never see any."
"Shoo ! don't say that, son," he says, serious, like.
"It's the buffalo that makes livin' possible, an' I'm
glad ye know the supply ain't noways threatened
yit. Anyway, the buffalo sobered our pardners, an'
Bill's put away his keg. Besides we can't stay here
now. So I reckon mebby we'll move sooner'n I
Cracky ! I was glad.
The moonlight was just beginning to pierce the
dust, and everything looked queer and different.
Every mule had changed his color or lost it, I
mean. They was the same color as the men's
clothes. Even the leaves on the trees and bushes
was coated over with a whitish yellow. And noth-
ing on earth could have et the grass for a mile or
more, I reckon.
I took off my clothes and shook them and waded
out and sat down in the river to watch the hosses
and mules drink. Some of them waded far out, and
some drank till I thought they'd kill theirse'fs. I
washed my head and wallowed around till the stock
got tired and left. Then Dad drove them back to
the corral, and I come out and put on my clothes.
82 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
Everybody was grouchy. The herd had got on
"Boy, rustle up some wood an* we'll cook an* eat.
I'm wolfish," says Mike Fink, and I went at it and
got some wood. His eyes was red, and I knowed he
felt as touchy's a setting hen.
"We'll hev to pull out of here," he says to Dad.
"The stock won't eat the grass no more, an' we'll
have to move."
"It's mighty nigh day," says Dad. "My idee is
to cross the river soon's we kin. I figger there'll
be In j ins close to that herd."
"We kin make a short cut," says Fink. "There's
a good crossing above here a mile, an' soon's we
cross we kin strike straight for the Post an' camp
on a creek that runs into the river. We kin git to
it by four o'clock."
"I reckon the stock kin stand it," says Dad.
"They'll hev to. Joe, you start shapin' up the packs.
Lige'll he'p ye. Me an* Bill will saddle up while
ye're gettin' somelhin* ready to eat, Mike."
The moon was hanging low when we got started
up the river. The hosses was glad to get away and
was saying so, snuffling and blowing the dust out of
their noses. Fink was ahead, knowing the crossing,
and I rode with Dad. Just as the moon was drop-
ping out of sight, I saw Fink ride into the river,
followed by Bill and the mare. Then the mules
splashed in; and the pack-train, crossing the river
in the fag end of the moonlight, was mighty pretty
to see. Fink's hoss, when he got to the center where
the deep shadows of the trees on the other side fell
on the water, was nigh swimming. I lost sight of
him for a minute, but directly heered his hoofs on
the stones on the other side.
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 83
We made a good crossing and was mighty soon
out and heading across the country in the dark, for
the moon was plumb gone and the stars was fading
out for day to come. It's darker just then than any
other time just between night and coming day.
The pack train looked like lumps on the plain, and
was longer'n ever because of our new pardners'
stock strung along with ours, some packed and
some with just pack-saddles on their backs. The
wolves was howling on the other side, plenty of
them. They was following the big herd, picking up
the wounded and the weak, I reckoned.
Then morning come and there was more antelope
than ever. It was blistering hot when the sun got
up good, and the stock was tired and mighty hungry,
too. But we kept on till nigh sundown, when we
stopped on a little sluggish stream to make camp.
A double guard went out with the stock that
night, and after supper Fink climbed a knoll to
watch, too. All night long the wolves howled up
along the little stream, and it was so hot I couldn't
sleep. I didn't hear the guard come in, or the other
men go out, though, so I slept more'n I reckoned.
We was up and stirring before daylight, but made
no fire just ate a cold bite and started soon's we
could. It was going to be another blistering hot
day, and I was glad we'd started early. Mike Fink,
leading his war-hoss, was more'n a quarter ahead of
the train, and Dad and I leading our hosses, walked
nigh as far ahead of the mules as he, only to one
side, like. It was light, but not yet sunup when Dad
says, "Son, I feel shore they's Injins close. Twice
last night when I was on guard the mules smelled
'em an' was restless. Better keep yer eyes peeled
good an' keep a-lookin' scatterin'. Watch Fink, too,
always or whoever's ahead. Best drop back behind
me a bit, an' out a little so's we'll cover more
We went on ahead a piece, and I cut out farther,
feel he knowed more'n he'd told, mebby. I
looked mighty careful but couldn't see a thing not
even an antelope. Directly Dad stopped and beck-
oned and I hurried up to him. He was standing
beside a partly butchered buffalo in a little coulee.
"I was shore of it, son," he says. "The mules
was right last night. It's a wonder the Injins didn't
come at us at daybreak. Wait here till the train
comes up, an' tell the boys to look scatterin' an' keep
the stock bunched. I'm goin' ahead. But if any-
thing starts I'll come back, too."
A hot wind had sprung up with the sun. Sage
hens scurried into the sage, holding their wings
away from their bodies and their beaks wide apart.
They was so close and tame I could see their eyes
LIGE MOUNTS : FREE TRAPPER 85
and their panting throats. My mouth got dry just
looking at them, and my knees felt weak like, and
tired out. I knowed Dad expected trouble, and I
was more afraid of being afraid and showing it
than I was of In j ins. I knowed that. But the more
I thought of it, the worse I felt. When I mighty
nigh stepped on a rattlesnake, I jumped a foot high,
but right away got hold of myse'f . I wished I had
a drink of water as cold as ice.
Directly the pack-train come up. As soon's the
men saw the butchered buffalo, they tightened up,
like, and was touchy as porcupines. When we
started again Carpenter and I was on one side of
the train and Bill and Talbot on the other, Joe being
ahead with the mare, so the stock was guarded on
both sides. It was hotter'n all time. We hadn't
gone a quarter when here Dad come, lickety-split
on the white gelding.
"Jumped ! as sure as the devil's a pig I" cries Bill,
getting onto his roan. "Git on, boys!" he says.
"We're in for brush. Lige, tighten yer cinch!"
Dad pulled up short when he got close. "Gros-
ventres!" he calls. "I saw four of 'em, an' they
saw me. It's a war party, I reckon, an' their camp's
down along the river, I figure. No call to stop.
Best keep jiggin' till they jump us."
He and Bill rode out ahead and got down off their
hosses and walked. Fink, who had rode up behind
Dad, turned back as soon's he saw Dad and Bill
coming and went on with them all walking and
about one hundred yards apart and two hundred
yards ahead of us.
My mouth was dry as a powder horn and my
tongue felt like a wood-rasp in my mouth. Car-
penter begun to hum a tune.
86 LIGE MOUNTS : FREE TRAPPER
"I wish I had a drink of water," I says.
He laughed a little. "Keep cool, boy," he says.
"If ye're a rifle shot worth a scabby robe, this outfit
kin lick the whole Grosventre tribe. Yer pardners
an* mine are as good's they grow 'em. When it
starts, hold yer fire till yer ball kind draw blood.
That's what chills 'em to see every shot count."
Then he begun to hum again.
A flock of sage hens went up right from under my
feet. Cracky ! I fetched my rifle down and cocked
it before I even knowed it. My legs was prickling
like a million ants was crawling up and down my
skin, and I looked at Carpenter, fool-like.
"Don't git excited," he says. "Keep right cool.
We kin whop a whole passel of In j ins. When they
come at us we've plumb got to keep the stock
bunched, ye know. That looks like a mighty fine
rifle ye're packin', boy."
"'Tis," I says. Then I thought of something.
Suppose I got killed. They'd never know I didn't
kill Caley Byers, especially if murder didn't out.
"Mr. Carpenter," I says, "do you reckon it would
be all right for me to run ahead and tell Dad some-
thing I forgot to tell him before?"
"Yep. I'll lead yer hoss. Run on," he says.
I run ahead, making my throat dryer'n ever ; but
I says : "Dad, if anything should happen to me, will
you be sure to write to Eldin Muzzey, Coon Creek
Crossing, and tell him I didn't have no hand in
killing Caley Byers that I didn't even know he
was dead till that officer took me up in St. Louis?"
"I shore will, son," he says. "I shore will. But
keep yer nerve. We'll git through this little brush
directly an' when it starts ye'll feel a heap better."
"I wish " I started to say something, and quit.
LIGE MOUNTS : FREE TRAPPER 87
"Ye wish what, son?"
"I sure wish they'd come if they're comm'," I
"Best git back now an* he'p hold the stock. It
won't be long Here they be! Hurry back to
Dad got on the white gelding and I started to run
back. I'd seen the In j ins a whole passel of them,
off on the plains. "They're comin' !" I cried out to
Carpenter. "They're most here. And I'm blamed
glad of it!"
"Git on yer hoss," says Carpenter. "Bout forty,
I judge. Let 'em come !"
Everybody was on his hoss, but we didn't stop.
Dad and Bill and Fink, all mounted, was waiting
for us to come up. As soon's we got close they
went on again and we after them, keeping the stock
bunched up close. They was heading for a coulee.
By the time we got there the In j ins was close not
more'n three hundred yards.
When they saw us stop they turned and begun to
circle 'round us, yelling like all get out. They was
plumb naked, except for a breech clout and moc-
casins. Their hair was flying loose, and there
wa'n't a saddle nor a pad on their hosses just a
rawhide rope fast to their necks and hitched around
the lower jaw. They was riding fast and yelling
and waving buffalo robes and red blankets in a
cloud of dust to stampede our stock. It looked like
they'd sure do it. The mules was scared and
mighty nigh run off. One of them, dragging Bill,
stepped on my foot and upset me, but Joe hung onto
the bell-mare till he got her tied. Dad was behind
the buckskin mule from me. I heered him shut his
pan, so knowing he'd fresh-primed his rifle, I
88 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
primed mine. Psst ! come a ball. I felt the wind of
it and honkered down. Then another splattered
dirt on Mike Fink and went whining off like they
do when they glance.
Fink commenced to laugh and carry on to badger
the Injins. I wished he'd quit it. We was in a
bad enough fix. They was riding closer and closer.
Bill was nigh as bad, trying to tell a yarn to Car-
penter like anybody wanted to hear it now. Then
a pack-horse went down near to Joe, and I saw Dad
take a chew and kneel down, ready, like.
Mike Fink kept saying, "Don't nobody kill that
young buck on the pinto! Leave him to me! I'm
goin' ter gut-shoot him!" And Bill made out like
he wanted the young buck himse'f . They kept it up
till the Injins charged.
I saw them start straight at us ; heered the gun-
locks click ; and cut loose. Fink's rifle roared in my
ear. I jumped up to reload. The Injins had turned,
and over the smoke I saw the young brave pitching
and tossing on the ground ; so I knowed Fink's ball
was in his bowels. Four was down and two more
running away from their dead hosses, zig-zag, like
snipes fly. The young buck got up, staggered, and
fell down again, doubling up and kicking out in all
directions. And Mike Fink laughed. "Tickles ye,
don't it, young feller !" he yelled, and it didn't even
r'ile me to hear him.
While I was ramming down a ball I begun to
wonder if I'd taken aim like Carpenter had told me,
before I fired. I couldn't remember. But I knowed
one thing my scare was plumb gone, and I felt
as ornery as Mike. I half wished they'd come back.
None of us was hit, but Carpenter's best pack-
hoss was dead, and that r'iled Mike Fink more'n
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 89
ever. He run to the young buck and stabbed him
and took his scalp, tore it off, mostly. Then yelling
to dare the rest, he waved it over his head. And
Talbot yelled to he'p him.
It was like a goad-stick to the Injins. They
charged. And Fink streaked back for the coulee.
I knelt down to make a shot that would count. But
they wa'n't so brash this time. They turned off. I
didn't know if I was glad or sorry. But when I
thought they wa'n't comin', here they came again.
I cocked my rifle. Dad heered it. "Let 'em come
in close, son," he says. "Don't waste no lead." I
told him I'd wait for them. But they circled off
again and stopped out of range.
"Baah!" yelled Fink, and I yelled myse'f, and
Two was riding off from the others. Right away
Dad got up off his knee. "They've gone to git he'p,"
he says, "an' I reckon we'd best charge; then make
a run fer a place where we kin stand 'em off."
The men talked back and forth. Mike was for
charging, and so was Bill. Carpenter said he
reckoned it was as good a way as any, and that set
Mike off. He cussed and swore, and at last Car-
penter said, "I've agreed, ain't I?" and Dad said,
"Shoo ! One quarrel at a time. You boys know the
river down yonder. Pick out a place an* let Car-
penter an* Lige run fer it with the stock when the
rest of us git the Injins movin'."
He began to take off his shirt. I tried to hold him
back, but he only laughed. "Son," he says, "this
fight's won. They're afraid of our medicine. But
when they come back, them two with another passel,
no tellin' how strong they'll be, ner how hard they'll
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
He tighted the cinch on the white gelding's pad
and swung onto him, naked to the waist. Carpenter
says, "Little Pete's old camp that's a good place."
And before I knowed it they ripped away, yelling
like mad Dad and Bill and Joe, and all of them
but Carpenter and me. I held my breath. It was
five against nigh forty.
But quick's the In j ins saw them coming they run.
I couldn't believe it. I didn't know In j ins then.
Something had made them afraid of us; something
that nobody could name; and to this day I don't
know what it was. But it was medicine of some
sort. Dad had knowed it right away, and so had
Mike Fink. I saw Bill fire a shot, saw four or five
spurts of smoke from Injin guns, and then they was
over a ridge and out of sight.
"Now, boy, untie 'em." Carpenter's voice fetched
me back, like. What looked to be foolhardy on
Dad's part was on me, and I couldn't believe what
I put down my rifle and commenced to untie the
stock, not more'n half hearing Carpenter's voice
talking as he worked. " 'Taint more'n five miles,"
and "That was the best pack-hoss we had," come to
me without me caring much how far it was, nor
what hoss was killed.
We unpacked the dead animal, divided his pack
on two others, and lit out, Carpenter leading the
bell-mare, and me driving the rest as fast as I could
make them go.
We come to a coulee and Carpenter turned down
into it. It was stony but led to the river, getting
deeper as we traveled. Directly Carpenter turned
into another coulee and took that one on a lope;
so in no time we was in the prettiest little meadow
I ever saw. It was in a sharp bend of the river, and
not more'n ten feet above the water. The bluejoint
was high and down below out of rifle-shot there was
a grove of big cottonwoods. Up above for more'n
a mile there wa'n't anything ; so that nothing could
come at us without being seen.
It all popped into sight, the stock snuffling like
they was glad, and Carpenter stopped at the edge
of the bank. We both got down and unpacked,
stringing the packs in a half-circle with the open
part towards the river. We worked fast, Carpenter
92 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
talking most of the time, like we was safe and all
right ; but I couldn't care much what he was saying.
I was thinking of Dad and the others out on the
There was a little pole corral under the bank that
Carpenter figured would hold the stock, so we put
them into it and tied the mare. Then we saw that
the buckskin mule had an arrow sticking in him.
I'd never noticed it all the way from the little
coulee, and felt ashamed. We pulled it out and the
wound was bleeding bad when we climbed up the
bank to pile the packs two-high for a barricade.
I looked out over the plains. There was nothing
in sight not even a bird. I wondered what I'd
do if Dad didn't come back. Carpenter begun to
hum a tune. "What's troublin' ye?" he asked me.
"I reckon I'll go an* get a drink of water," I says.
"I plumb forgot I wanted it."
The water was mighty night clear and rippled
over a bar below the corral, where I reckoned there