down near Bill. "Let's git outside an* set in the
shade of the lodge." And he picked up the saddle
and his tools and we moved out, him and me. Bill
raised up, too, but he only picked up a stick of fire-
wood and propped up the lodgeskin higher from the
ground and then stretched himse'f again.
"What are we goin' to do fer a camp-keeper,
Dad?" he says, wiping his forehead with his
"We must look around," Dad answered, poking
his awl into the leather of the saddle. "It'll be hard
to find another man like Joe. He was a mighty
good skinner and flesher, Joe was."
"Couldn't double up with Jake and Alex's men, I
reckon?" suggested Bill, like he knowed Dad would
object, which he did.
"No," he says. " 'Tain't good style to be beholden
to others. We'll look around keerful, keepin' our
eyes open an' our mouths shet. We don't want
them that's lookin' too hard fer a job. Them kind
is ginerally small potatoes." Then after he'd set
with the saddle in his lap for nigh an hour, he says,
"Son, we'll hev to move agin, I reckon. The sun's
a-workin' 'round here."
And so we moved, Dad and I, while Bill dozed
on the buffalo robe, until the store was out of sight
behind the lodge. We didn't see Fink and Carpen-
ter coming nor even hear them, until they stood
before us, Mike with a tin cup in one hand and his
other arm around Carpenter's neck. Stopping, he
bowed low to Dad and me.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," he says. "Me an'
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 125
Carpenter's made it all up, an* we've come over to
tell ye. Ain't we, pardner?"
"Yes," Carpenter says, glancing queer at Dad.
"Take a drink then," says Fink, swinging round
the cup and slopping the liquor.
Carpenter took the cup and drank. Then he give
it back to Fink, who also took a drink. His eyes
was red and he swayed a little on his feet and begun
to hiccup between his words. "We drink from the
same cup, me an' my ol' pardner," he says, slapping
Carpenter on the back. "Yes, sir, an' the same robe
covers us both, like it orter do." He staggered and
spilled nigh all the rest of the liquor, but straight-
ening himse'f and looking at Carpenter like he
didn't see him, he says: "Say! let's show 'em how
our confidence is after our little squabble, hey?
Let's let's s-shoot this here damned cup off'n each
other's heads at seven seventy yards, jes jest to
show 'em, hey?" His bleary eyes was leering at
Carpenter now, daring him, like. Carpenter smiled,
looking at Dad kinder helpless. He wa'n't drunk;
an' somehow I knowed Mike wa'n't so far gone as
"Men," says Dad, sticking the awl in the ground
beside him. "Ye're in liquor, an' hands ain't none
too stiddy then, ner eyes. Better go slow."
Fink scowled ornery. "Liquor never stopped me
an' my pardner from drawin' a bead," he says.
"Let's show 'em, Carpenter," he urged.
Then Carpenter put his foot into it. "Who'll
shoot first?" he says, like he didn't want Mike to
think he was afraid.
"We'll sky a copper, an' the winner'll shoot first,"
says Mike, digging into his pocket. He brought
out a penny an' tossed it high.
126 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
"Heads!" calls Carpenter, as the coin was going
"An' tails she lies !" laughed Mike, bending over
the penny that fell near my feet. "See f er yerse'f ,"
And sure enough, it was tails.
"Ha, ha, ha!" Fink begun to laugh. "Come on,
all of ye. Everybody outside the gate, an* we'll
show ye what confidence between pardners is like.
Come on, Dad. Down the saddle! Come an* see
if liquor's dimmed my eyes!"
He was in high spirits, and I noticed he wa'n't
hiccuping no more, nor staggering neither, as we
went along. For we was all following him towards
the gate like it was the only thing to do. "I'll go
an* git the cup filled agin, boys," he says, and run
into the store as we passed. And everybody in the
Post joined the party, eager like folks is to see a
Talbot come out and fell in beside Carpenter.
They begun to talk low, but so's I heered part of
what they was saying. Directly Mike rushed past
us to head the procession; and when he got by,
holding the cup of liquor in front of him, Carpen-
ter said: "Talbot, I want ye to hev my rifle, pow-
der horn, pouch, an' pistol. I believe Mike will kill
Talbot stopped still and I had to walk on ; but I
heered him pleading, "Don't be a fool an' let him
shoot ye down !"
But Carpenter took hold of Talbot's arm and
started with him to follow us outside the gate. I
tried to get to tell Dad what I'd heered; but Fink
was with him, and I couldn't.
No sooner had we strung out of the gate than
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 127
Fink shut it on its creaking hinges and saying, "All
ready!" he handed Carpenter the cup, about half
full, shook hands with him, paced off seventy yards,
and turned and faced him.
My knees felt like they did when I run onto the
rattlesnake before the fight. Carpenter stepped
away from Talbot, stooped and picked up a charred
stick from an old lodge-fire, and blackened a little
spot on the cup. Then he set the cup square on his
He wa'n't ten feet from me; nor any of us, for
we was all in a bunch. "All right Mike, let her go !"
he calls. And Fink raised his rifle.
My muscles tightened awful. The muzzle didn't
wobble, and I watched to see it flash. But Fink
lowered it, and I loosened up some. "Stand still,
Carpenter," he calls. "Don't spill that liquor. I'll
be wantin' a drink in a holy minute !"
And his rifle went up again and flashed.
Carpenter pitched forward on his face. Talbot
run to him and rolled him over. There was a bullet-
hole plumb in the middle of his forehead.
"You've spilled that liquor, an' I need it," called
Mike, dropping the butt of his gun to the ground.
"You've killed him!" cried Talbot hoarsely. His
hands was clenched till his knuckles was white.
"The hell I have! I drawed as fine a bead on
that cup as I ever did in my life. Damn that gun !"
Mike bent his head, blowing his breath into the
barrel of his rifle to rid it of smoke, and begun to
"Come, son, let's be jiggin'," whispered Dad.
And we turned away. "I was afeered to stay
there," he said. "Afeered I might mess things up
more if I did, mebby."
128 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
That's all he said till we got back to the lodge
where he picked up Joe's saddle again and begun
to work at it. I set down beside him, but there
wa'n't no use telling him what I'd heered now. I
was numbed all over anyway couldn't think of
anything but Carpenter with the tin cup on his
head, ten feet from me. I'd even heered the bullet
hit him plain.
"Best not to think about it, son," says Dad, after
we'd been setting there a spell. He cut a raw-hide
thong with his knife, slow, like. "Jest drive it out
of yer camp. It's like a skunk an' ain't fit to asso-
ciate with nohow," he says, threading the thong
through a hole he'd made with his awl. He begun
to hum a tune; but I knowed his mind wa'n't on it,
nor his work, neither ; and directly he says : "Crime
itse'f punishes crime, an' all debts are paid by all
men. A day don't count, nor a year. The score
will come even; it's plumb bound to. Reach! me
that awl again, son."
I gave him the awl. And then I saw the men
trooping in through the gate, "They're coming
back," I says.
"Yes; more liquor, I reckon. An* Bill's with
'em," he says, getting up and carrying the saddle
into the lodge.
In a little while they was singing over at the
store. And when more than an hour had gone by
and Bill didn't come, Dad says, "Son, jest you slip
over yonder an' hang around a little spell. Don't
say nothin' to nobody; not even Bill. But jest ha'nt
him, like. 'Twill be a reminder, mebby, an' better'n
f er me to go, I reckon."
I found Bill right away, leaning against the wall
across the room from the counter where Fink and
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 129
the rest was drinking. I slipped over to him and
squatted down with my back against the logs, doing
as Dad told me. Then I saw Talbot, alone over in
the corner. He was watching Fink like a cat; and
I took to watching him.
Mike was spelling his name and pounding the
counter with his fist. Suddenly he saw Talbot, and
his eyes narrowed and looked cunning and mean as
a coyote's. "I say my name is M-I-C-K-E
P-H-I-N-C-K, Mike Fink!" he says, leering at Tal-
bot. "An* there's more dirty, white-livered cowards
in this Post than would patch hell a mile. 7 kin
lick 'em any of 'em! I say I kin lick any white
man, Injin, er Frenchman in the house, er any-
where ! I want to fight ! I'm Mike Fink, an' I kin
out-shoot any "
Talbot was close to his side in a second. "That
was a wild shot ye made this afternoon !" he hissed
through his teeth.
Fink jumped back, bumping over a Frenchman.
"I killed that skunk a-purpose a-purpose, you
damned fool !" he yelled, his face white with rage.
A pistol flashed in Talbot's hand, not a foot from
Mike's heart and he went down.
I stood up. Talbot bent over Mike in the powder
smoke. "You snake," he hissed, looking down at
him with the pistol in his hand. "You low-down
snake ! I killed ye with his pistol Carpenter's own
pistol! Do ye hear me, damn ye?"
I can smell that powder-smoke yet and see him
bending over Mike Fink with the pistol in his hand.
When the men had fallen back he was gone.
Bill and I went to the lodge. I felt glad all over,
and I ain't ashamed to say it.
But we never saw Talbot again, any of us. He
130 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
must have been afraid of trouble over killing Fink,
although he need not. Anyhow, he slipped out of
the stockade and away; and that fall was drowned
while trying to cross a river. And so all three pard-
ners died with their boots on. And I had liked
Carpenter maybe by comparing him with the
The next morning we did some trading on our
own account. Dad paid ten dollars f er a spade that
a person could buy at Coon Creek fer sixty cents,
easy. We bought a sawed-off scatter-gun from a
trapper who was going down the river, in the
mackinaw, besides. Dad said it would be good
medicine in a night attack at close quarters, and I
reckoned it would.
In the afternoon there was some hoss-racing up
the river a piece between some of the men at the
Post and In j ins. I wanted to see it and mighty nigh
decided to go with Bill who started early with some
more men; but Dad said he'd stay and tinker the
rigging and I didn't want to leave him behind, so
I didn't go.
It was nigh sundown when Bill come back. Dad
was cooking supper just outside the lodge, broiling
some fat buffalo steaks on willow coals. I watched
him lay green willows on the coals, some one way
and some another, crosswise of the first. Then he
spread the steaks on the sticks and salted them
plenty. The meat sizzled and wrinkled and smelled
mighty good; and in no time he took hold of the
two outer sticks and flopped it over. It was
browned in squares, like, and fairly bubbling with
its own fat. The green willow sticks didn't even
start to burn, and Dad said the bark would flavor
the meat. He took pains with it, I tell you, and
was right busy, squatting before the hot coals with
one knee on the ground and both hands tending to
three big steaks.
132 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
Bill's mouth fairly watered when he smelled the
meat. "Ho! pardner," he laughed. "I'm wolfish
an' kin spot fat cow a mile off."
"He'p yerse'f," says Dad, handing him over a
dripping steak on the willows, right off the coals.
"I saw Kenneth McLeod today ; an' if ye're agree-
able I reckon I could git him fer our camp-tender,"
said Bill, taking the steak. "I didn't say nothin' to
him thought I'd wait. He's a breed, but I knowed
his father down below, an' he was a good man. His
mother's a Cree woman," he says.
"I'm agreeable if ye know him," Dad told him.
"His Injin blood ain't no bar with me. Git him
if ye reckon he's fit."
Cracky ! the meat was good. Dad got up and cut
two more steaks and spread them on the coals; but
the fire wa'n't so good as it had been.
"McLeod told me he was with the Crees above
here," says Bill, taking a drink of water in great
gulps. "I'll see him tomorrow. 'Tain't far to the
village, most likely," he says.
"No," says Dad, turning the meat again, "Red
Robe told me the Crees was camped about an hour's
ride up the Yellowstone. Must be a right smart
village of 'em to be where they are. Ye'd better
ride out an' see McLeod in the mornin', Bill. Jake
an* Alex oughter be here now, mighty quick."
Red Robe. That was the name of the girl's
father the girl I'd seen in the store. I wanted to
see her again. And long after Dad and Bill was
asleep that night I thought about her and wondered
if Dad would plague me if I went with Bill. The
longer I thought about going the more I wanted to
see her, and before I went to sleep I'd decided I'd
go anyway, even if Dad did poke fun at me. I'd
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 133
never seen a big Injin village, and now I had a
I waked up just at day and built a fire. Then I
went down to the river and took a swim. By the
time I got back with a kettle of water Dad and Bill
was up, and Dad said, "Conscience troublin' ye,
"Nope," I says. "I thought I'd go 'long with Bill
and see the Injin village, so being awake I turned
"Shoo!" he laughs, "I wouldn't let it keep me
awake, less it was a hostile village. But mebby it's
only a red blanket that's pesterin', son." He said
it low so I knowed Bill didn't hear it.
But I was glad I'd out with it anyway. It was
settled, and I felt better. So while Dad was down
at the river I told Bill I was going with him. "All
right," he says. "I'll send an Injin out fer a couple
Before the sun was up we rode out of the gate
and up the river. It was a still morning, and going
to fetch in a hot day. We passed the herders with
our hosses and mules. Eagle, Dad's white gelding,
was fat and as sleek as an ivy leaf, and my hoss
that was Joe's war-pony looked good, too; and so
did all the stock, for that matter.
Directly I saw an Injin on top of a knoll beyond
us. He was waving a robe over his head. After-
wards he dropped it, picked it up, and dropped it
again. "He's tellin' the village we're comin'," says
Bill. "It's early yit an' most likely the hunters are
still in camp."
We passed close to the foot of the knoll, not see-
ing the Injin any more; and riding around a point
of timber, we come in sight of the village more
134 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
than a hundred lodges in a grove of big trees by the
river. The sun was coming up, and there was just
enough breeze to stir the leaves on the tall cotton-
woods. The lodges was pitched in a big circle with
their doors faced to the rising sun skin-lodges all
shaped alike, though not all of a size. Some of
them, half hidden by the bushes, looked far away
and kind of make-believes in the circle that reached
from the river's bank to the outer edge of the
grove. Some was painted queer-like, with funny
looking animals on them. You could tell what
every animal was intended to represent, and some
of them was mighty well done. I never saw so
many dogs cur-dogs that looked like wolves; and
fine hosses was staked here and there in the village,
fat and sleek as butter. I knowed right away they
was picked buffalo-runners, and war-ponies kept
handy in case of trouble.
We rode into the village between two fine lodges.
When we stopped and got down, just inside, I saw
a dozen groups of men sitting in the shade under
the trees, off to our right. Directly a tall, oldish
man got up in the group nearest to us andi said
something to another man. Then he got up. He
was a half-breed. They both come over to where
we was standing and the old man said, "How,"
right agreeable. He said something to the half-
breed, and directly the breed says, "De Chief, she's
want you por tell heem wat you want."
Bill says, "Tell the Chief I'm wantin' to talk to
The fellow didn't know who he meant at first, but
directly after Bill described McLeod, he under-
"Hees nam' Kap-sah-sik Mo-ca-mon; Leetle
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 135
Knife," he says, and he repeated to the Chief what
The Chief his name was Big Bear said some-
thing to the breed, and the fellow untied a pony
near us and, straddling him quicker'n lightning,
rode about the village, calling out something in
Cree. It was all in one tone of voice and sounded
wild as all get out to me then.
I couldn't see a woman anywhere, though I
looked. I could catch glimpses of their faces peep-
ing from under the lodge-skins that was raised
from the ground so that the breeze could pass
under; but none of them come out. There was
plenty of children hid behind the lodges and trees.
They stole shy glances at us now and again; but
they was quiet, and whenever they caught us look-
ing at them, drew back like shadows, plumb out of
sight. I was hoping some to see the girl that had
been trading at the store; but you'd hardly know
there was a woman in the village, and I gave It up.
Directly here come seven men, the breed leading
them. They was headmen and members of the
Council. The girl's father was one of them. They
spread two robes and we all knelt down on them.
Then Red Robe filled a big stone pipe and after he'd
got it going good, handed it to the Chief. The old
Chief was mighty solemn with it, and you could see
he was in earnest, the way he handled it before he
passed it to us. We all smoked it the Injins and
Bill and me.
I was wondering which was MoLeod and looked
them all over while Bill talked. He told the story
of our trip up the river our fight, and how Joe got
killed in English, talking to nobody in particular;
but everybody listened whether they understood or
136 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
not. That was the first time I knowed that an
Injin will always let you have your say till you're
plumb through. Bill wound up by saying he wanted
McLeod to go with us and that we would pay him
thirty dollars a month.
You would have thought McLeod would answer
then, but he didn't. As soon as Bill had finished,
Red Robe filled the pipe again out of a mighty
pretty pouch and we smoked. It was queer to me
then ; but I've found there are fewer mistakes made
by smoking between an important question and an
When the pipe had been plumb around, a smallish
man across from the Chief begun to speak in Cree.
I reckoned he was re-telling everything Bill had
said, for the Chief and the other men listened, and
now and again one would say "Ho !" or "Ahh !" but
never interrupted till the smallish man was done
talking. Then we smoked again, slow as ever, and
when we'd done that the Chief talked and after him
everybody had a say. When the last had spoken,
the little man got up and shook hands with Bill. He
was Kap-sah-sik Mo-ca-mon, Little Knife, Kenneth
"HI'll go, me," he said.
And right away I liked him. He was as quick
and sure in his movements as a cat, and would look
you right in the eye.
"You'll want two hosses," says Bill, "an* we'd
like fer ye to come in as soon's ye kin, f er we want
to make winter quarters."
McLeod squatted on the robe. "Tomorrow, me,
HI'm come wid two 'orse," he said. And Red Robe
filled and lit the pipe.
I begun to figure which was Red Robe's lodge and
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 137
made up my mind to watch which one he went into
when we got through ; but directly the smoking was
finished Bill says, "Well, Lige, I reckon we're done
here." And I couldn't think of any excuse to hin-
der us going.
It was nigh noon when we got back to the Post,
and Dad was tickled plenty. Alex and Jake had
come in, and we'd hired Mac in Joe's place. Dad
was alone in the lodge, though, for Alex and Jake
and their skinners was over at the store. "The
boys'll want to spree a little, an' mind yer promise,
Bill," says Dad, hoisting up the lodgeskin to let the
breeze come in.
"I'm done, Dad," Bill says, like he didn't want to
"They want to trap as far up as the Marias," Dad
went on like he didn't notice he'd made Bill peevish.
"I think it's a good idee; but that's the Blackfoot
country. They'll be eight of us with their skin-
ners, though, an' we orter be able to make out if
"I'm agreeable," says Bill, all smoothed again.
And Dad and him talked about the Blackfoot coun-
try. Dad had been there once and almost got
It was nigh sundown and the breeze felt good,
coming down the river from towards the moun-
tains, when Jake and Alex and their skinners come
back to the lodge. I listened to them talk, figuring
some on liking our new pardners; though they
wa'n't exactly pardners but a separate outfit by
themse'fs, which had joined us for strength. At
last Alex says, "All right, Dad. It's the upper
country then, and nigh the Marias. We'll be ready,
me an' Jake, day after tomorrow at daybreak. Let's
us all go over an' take a little liquor?"
138 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
"No," says Dad, "we're through, but you boys
Bill watched them head fer the store like he
wanted mightily to go, but begun to unroll his bed.
And in a little while we had all done the same.
Somehow, I knowed I'd like Alex Beasley. I
could see good nature in his blue eyes. He was tall,
and fair as Dad, and his hair was right curly and
hung around his shoulders in fluffs. He wa'n't over
thirty I reckoned, but account of a bullet in his
leg, he walked with a limp which made him appear
some older than he was.
His pardner, Jake Abernathy, was stockier and
darker and not so tall. He was mighty round-
shouldered said he got that way dodgin' truck his
step-mother throwed at him when he was a boy
and his arms was longer than usual. Alex and
Jake had been pardners for eight years, and they
got along better'n most men do.
Their skinners, Tom Ferguson and Sandy Ander-
son was cousins, alike in many ways, but different
most in talking. Tom was always at it and Sandy
had little to say.
I saw right away that Dad and Bill liked them
all; and so did I, especially Alex.
The next morning after breakfast Bill went out
to look at our stock while Dad and I worked at odd
chores that needed doing pack-rigging, mostly. I
run onto Bill's flat keg, and found it was nigh half
full yet. "I don't believe Bill's touched a drop of
his liquor since we camped with Fink and his
party," I says.
"It's queer, son," laughed Dad. "Bill loves liquor,
but somehow he kin torment himse'f by packin'
that keg an' never tetch it. Let him get where
LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER 139
liquor's fer sale, an' he'll trade his ammunition fer
it. It uster bother me, havin' him pack that keg,
but I never think of it no more, even in the Injin
country. Bill jest packs that keg to spite himse'f.
I hear ye're hankerin' to learn Cree, son."
I'd told Bill I wanted to learn Cree. "I would
like to," I says. I saw he was smiling, so I says,
"What's the joke? I don't see none."
"Nor me," he says, serious, like, "nor me."
Then he says, "I never did see Bill right riled
but once." I thought he'd changed the subject; but
he went on: "That was the day I met up with him
first. I was camped down on the Cheyenne, when
one mornin' 1 a man rode up to my fire an' got down.
His hoss was blowin' a-plenty, an' I sez to him,
'Must be lookin' fer somebody er leavin' the coun-
" 'I be,' he sez, madder'n a gut-shot bear. 'A lit-
tle black Frenchman's run off with my woman,' he
sez. 'I been tryin' to overhaul 'em, but they've lit
out fer her people, an* I "can't lick the whole tribe;
an' besides she ain't worth it, noway.' He squatted
by my fire warmin' his fingers. 'I wouldn't minded
him takin' the woman/ he growled, after a bit, 'but
the skunk's a low-down thief. He went an' packed
off my cookin' outfit with her. I'm plumb afoot
fer a f ryin' pan, by the Lord !'
"Then he saw how funny it sounded an' we
laughed, me an* him. That was nigh ten years ago.
She was a Cree woman."
He turned a pack-saddle over and looked at the
cinches. "Hev ye seen that roan war-hoss of
Alex's?" he says. "He's a wonderful fine animal."
"No," I says, "I haven't, but I will, likely."
His story was told for my benefit, I knowed. He
140 LIGE MOUNTS: FREE TRAPPER
wanted to keep me away from the girl. I didn't
know why then; but afterwards when we was in
bad trouble I understood, and saw he was only be-
ing fair. I he'ped him sew a ripped breeching
without neither of us saying a word, and by and by
Bill brought McLeod in.
Nobody could he'p liking Mac. He was small and