Frank Bird Linderman.

On a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest online

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of the wolf leading away across the drifts.
For short spaces the tracks had been obliter-
ated by the wind; then they were visible

After breakfast he busied himself by bal-
ing some buffalo robes purchased since Le-
beau's departure, and had almost completed
the task when in the doorway Red Wolf

[31 1


"How," greeted the Indian.

"How, how," returned Joe, and Red Wolf
entered the place without further ceremony.
The Indian squatted before the fireplace,
producing his pipe, which he filled and lighted
with that ease and grace known only to the
original American; and proceeded with true
ceremony to enjoy a smoke.

Near the open door a pinto pony stood
patiently in the snow, his steam-like breath
enveloping him in a mist that blended his
form into the snow-drifts and the sparkling,
glittering shower of frost crystals that fil-
tered down with the sunbeams.

Joe paid no further attention to his visitor
until the latter had finished smoking and
from his Hudson Bay capote had drawn
forth a quart bottle and pointed to the keg.

"Two robes," said Joe in Blackfoot.

The Indian slipped through the door, re-
turning with the price of the purchase, which
he laid on the counter. Then, taking the



bottle of whiskey, he rode away through
the snow.

Joe had just returned from the room be-
hind the partition when Beaver Tail, a
brother of Red Wolf, entered the store.
The Indian traded two robes for a quart of
whiskey and at once mounted his pony and
returned to the camp. Joe took the robes
and carried them into the other room.
When he came out Standing Bear was in the
store. He was a surly fellow, and Joe had
never liked him. He was older than Red Wolf
and was reputed to be quarrelsome. But
he smiled at the trader as he offered two fine
robes for a quart from the tiny keg. Then
he rode away with the bottle as the others
had done.

Joe followed his customer to the door and
was watching the pony plough through the
snow drifts when he saw another rider com-
ing toward the post from the camp. He
was leading a pack-animal. As they passed



each other Standing Bear held up the bottle
of whiskey, but neither rider halted until
the man with the pack-horse paused before
the open door of the store. It was Red
Wolf, and he was singing merrily as he dis-

"How! "greeted Joe.

"How, how," returned the Indian who
entered the store at once. He walked
straight to the whiskey-keg and laid his hand
upon it. "How much ?" he asked.

"Two robes, one bottle," replied Joe.

"No, no," said Red Wolf, tapping the keg
anxiously. "How much ? Heap Big Medi-
cine. Always stay full. Never get empty.
How much ?"

Joe saw that trouble was not far off, but
he said in Blackfoot: "That is not a Medi-
cine Keg. It will get empty. It will not
stay full. I cannot sell the keg. I have no
more whiskey to trade. It is gone now ."



Red Wolf was not to be put off. "Heap
Big Medicine. How much ? "

Joe turned and took a fine red blanket
from the shelves and offered it to Red Wolf,
who indignantly refused the gift. He slapped
the keg angrily. "How much?" he de-
manded. His eyes were snapping fire.

"The keg is not all mine. Lebeau owns
one half. I cannot sell it until he comes
back," said Joe. "When he comes I will
ask him how much."

"You sell us tobacco when Lebeau is
gone," said Red Wolf bitterly. "You sell
us the whiskey and blankets when he is
away. If Lebeau owns one half of the keg,
he must own half of the whiskey and the
tobacco and the blankets. How much?"

"I can't sell the keg."

"Ten robes," urged Red Wolf.


"Twenty robes," pleaded the Indian.




"Twenty robes, ten horses."


"How much?" Red Wolf was breathing
heavily. He advanced a step toward the
trader. His eyes glimmered with the light
of battle. "How much?" he cried as he
jerked a knife from his belt.

Joe sprang backward and drew his six-
shooter. Red Wolf slashed at him with the
knife. Joe bent his body to avoid the
flashing blade, and his back touched the logs
of the wall. He fired.

Red Wolf fell dead at his feet.

Joe gazed at the form on the floor and, in a
daze, saw the powder-smoke float across the
room to the fireplace, where it was drawn up
and away by the draught of the great chim-
ney. Then rousing himself from his stupor,
he shut and barred the door.

The action brought back his wits, and pick-



ing up the axe he went into the back room,
where with a blow he broke the pipe connec-
tion to the whiskey barrel. The fiery liquor
spattered about the place. It crept under
the partition and down along the hewed poles
of the puncheon floor toward the open fire,
filling the room with its fumes as it came.

Grabbing a buffalo overcoat, his rifle, and
a heavy Hudson Bay blanket, Joe unbarred
and opened the door. As it swung with a
creak on its wooden hinges, admitting the
fresh air, a flash of flame enveloped the room.
The whiskey had been ignited. The store
was afire.

Joe rushed from the place and mounted
Red Wolfs pony, looking for an instant
toward the Blackfeet camp. Not an Indian
was in sight.

Then he turned the pony toward Fort
Benton and rode away.



^ir^HE Blackfeet were dancing a Throw-
* Away Dance. Every warrior must
discard some valuable possession something
that would make its loss felt to the owner
after it had been thrown away ere he could
enter the dance.

It was in June. The tender grass that
covered the plains waved in the gentlest of
evening breezes. With it there came to the
dance from the banks of the Marias River,
that sweetest of perfumes, the breath of
wild roses.

The moon was well up in the sky when the
fire was kindled in the Blackfeet village. A
crier rode out from it to call :

"All who would sacrifice; all who would
show that they are free-hearted; all who have

[38 1


horses or robes they would throw away
come from your lodges. Come to the Throw-
Away Dance of our people ! "

Throughout the village rode the crier,
pausing at intervals to give his invitation.
There was no variation in the monotonous,
chanted message, nor any demonstration
on the part of those yet within their lodges.
If they heard they gave no sign.

But when, finally, the crier returned to
the fire, the drums began their weird, mea-
sured beating, and some singers raised their
voices in strange song.

Then came the dancers, followed by most
of the people in the village. Those who were
the onlookers formed a large circle about
the fire, and into the centre near the fire
stepped several young warriors.

Some of them threw away favorite buffalo
horses. Others cast off painted robes upon
which much work had been spent. Trinkets


of all descriptions that cover savage finery
were tossed aside by the owners as they
entered the dance, and as each made his
sacrifice he spoke to the onlookers, telling
of the virtues and blessings the property he
was now discarding had brought to him.
Often the speaker would enlarge upon the
value of the goods or chattels thrown away,
and some of the dancers were humorous in
their allusions to their discarded property.

Whenever a warrior entered the circle of
dancers the drums ceased their cadence,
and the singers were silent while the brave
made his sacrifice and his speech. Each
newcomer aroused the curiosity of the watch-
ers who expectantly awaited the words that
described the extent of his voluntary loss.

Then at the conclusion of his speaking
the dance would be promptly resumed with
the additional performer, anxious to show
his talents and grace of movements.


Twenty young men had entered, and
twenty sacrifices had been made when, no
more offering to join the revel, the dance
grew mad and wild. The drums set the time
faster and yet faster. Yips and yells rent
the night as the performers stepped to the
savage music, and bent their forms nearly
to the ground in grotesque contortions.

Perspiration stood out on their foreheads
and glistened in the firelight on their naked
bodies, when suddenly the drums ceased.
There was a murmur among the people.
"It is the Sleeping Wolf," they whispered.

It was so. Sleeping Wolf, their greatest
warrior, the pride of the village, had entered
the circle had come to the dance. What
would he throw away ? Ah ! it would be a
real sacrifice that the Sleeping Wolf would
make. Listen, he speaks. S-h-h !

"Two snows have passed since we fought
our enemy, the Crows. We beat them


badly and took many scalps. We also took
several women from our enemies, the Crow
people. One was very beautiful. She be-
longed to White Badger. But we gambled
for her, and I won her from him. I made
her my wife with the others. She is young.
She is beautiful. But I throw her away/'

There was a stir among the people. A
burning log fell from its place in the fire and
a fountain of red sparks spread fan-like
toward the sky as Sleeping Wolfs eyes swept
the circle of onlookers. Pointing his finger
at a comely young woman who sat across the
fire with a group of her friends, he cried :

"Little Bird ! Crow woman ! I throw
you away ! I do not want you longer !
Never come to my lodge again ! I have

To-tum, to-tum, to-tum the dance was
instantly resumed, and the light of a wild
thing at bay came into the black eyes of



Little Bird. She brushed her face with her
hand as if to dispel a bad dream. Then she
arose and faced the group of women about
her. She was young the youngest among
them and, scorned by the man who had
taken her to wife, she turned to her house-
hold companions for pity, for sympathy;
but did not find it. The sneer she saw on
the lips of Weasel- Woman, the first wife of
Sleeping Wolf the one who sits beside him
maddened her. She turned away from
the fire, from the dance; and with her
face toward the land of the Crows disap-
peared into the night.

She heard the drums and the cries of the
dancing Blackfeet the hated Blackfeet, as
she sped away under the moon. Wolves,
like gray shadows, skulked ahead of her
and upon either side. She did not care
what might be behind. There was enough,
and she despised it hated it.

[43 ]


The sounds in the village were growing
fainter and fainter, but, scorning a backward
glance lest the moon believe that a Crow
had been humbled by the hated tribe, and
mayhap, too, the wolves, Little Bird ran,
walked, and ran again until the sun came.
Then she hid away in some bushes that grew
in a deep coulee not far from the great

Hate had spurred her footsteps, and she
was impatiently awaiting the coming of
another night that she might renew her flight
to the land of the Crows, her own people.
She would tell them all tell her brother,
Mad Bear how her husband had scorned
her before the hated tribe.

Great fluffy clouds floated over her; and
once a swift-fox came very close without
suspecting her hiding-place, as, nursing her
anger, Little Bird, the Crow woman, wished
for the dusk.



When at last the sun had gone and the
twilight began to lay its hands upon the
world she ventured out. She was without
food, and her moccasins were old. They
were going fast, but her wound was deep,
and she minded neither hunger nor half-
naked feet. So, throughout the night she
travelled; and sometimes, even after so long
a time, her thoughts lashed her into running.
When morning broke she was far from the
Blackfeet village, but yet farther from the
Crows who were near the mouth of Elk
River. She dug some roots and ate them.
Then she bathed her tired feet in the river
before hiding away to rest and wait for an-
other night.

At noon, when the sun was hot, she climbed
to the top of a high knoll in the breaks of the
Missouri to look about. They might follow
her. She would see if they were coming to
take her back. She was cautious, and it



was long before she raised herself to look
backward. No there was nothing save
some herds of buffalo on the plains to west-
ward not a living, moving thing. She
turned her face toward the east. Yes !
there were objects far away. They were not
buffalo, but they were so far off that Little
Bird could not tell if they lived and moved.
She broke a branch from a sage-brush and
stuck it into the ground. Then she stretched
herself upon the hilltop, and sighting the
suspicious objects over the stick, she watched
them breathlessly a moment. They were
moving ! They were horsemen ! She
watched and waited there in the sunlight
until the day was old.

At last she could see them plainly. It was
a war-party, and they were Crows. They
had turned toward the river at sundown
where she knew they would camp for the
night. She was not afraid now. She made



her way to the bank of the stream, and
stumbling in her eagerness, sought the hid-
ing-place of the war-party.

Before dark Little Bird was in the camp.
Her brother, Mad Bear, was chief of the
braves there. Her revenge was at hand.
Breathlessly she told of her life in the
Blackfeet village, of her marriage to Sleep-
ing Wolf, of her daily treatment and final

"I will go with you, brother," she cried.
"Oh, let me go with you, my brother. I
will lead you to the village. I, myself, will
enter the lodge of Sleeping Wolf, though he
bade me never to come there again. Come,
let us go now while the night is young, for
my heart will be upon the ground until the
Sleeping Wolf dies dies ! Come, we can
camp when it is morning and find the Black-
feet in the dark of another night."

So they started. And near the end of



another night Little Bird showed them the

"Give me your gun, brother. I know
where the fine horses are, and I will stampede
them all. I will go among them in the dark,
and they will stampede easily. Then I
will" her voice trembled with rage "then
I will return. Hold my horse until I come

Mad Bear stationed his men to await the
stampede of the horses. Little Bird took
the gun and the darkness hid her. She
crept into the Blackfeet camp. The dogs
knew her and did not break the silence.
Carefully, lest she startle a horse before her
errand was done, she stole to the lodge of
Sleeping Wolf. How well she knew it even
in the dark of night ! She paused to listen
at the door. A horse whinnied in the rope
corral, and the wind sighed in the tops of
the lodge poles.



Little Bird raised the door gently the
door of her rightful home. The deep,
measured breathing of those within told of
sleep deep sleep. She entered like a shad-
ow, and crossing the fireplace that marked
the centre of the lodge, stood beside his
sleeping form.

Pointing the gun at his face she whispered :
"Sleeping Wolf, Sleeping Wolf, I have come
back. The Crow woman has come to "

The warrior sat up. There was a blinding
flash that lighted the lodge for a second, and
the roar of the flintlock started a hundred
warriors from their beds. Dogs began to
howl, and women wailed in the darkness.
Men hurried to the lodge of Sleeping Wolf.

But he was dead, and Little Bird was
gone. So, too, were many horses.



FT'S funny lots of men deny sentiment,"

-* said Charley Russel, "but I've found
more of it in those that denied it than in
others who advertised themselves as suffer-
ing with an overburden of that virtue.

"A man don't look for a lot of sentiment
in a trapper. I mean when it applies to
the life and welfare of wild animals. Some-
times it's there, just the same.

"When I was a kid I threw in with old
Jake Hoover. Jake was a trapper a skin-
hunter, and killed deer, elk, and antelope
for the market. His cabin was in Pig Eye
Basin over in the Judith country, and you
could see deer from the door of the shack
'most any day.

"The old man would never kill a deer
that stuck about the place, and I've seen the


time when there wasn't enough grub in the
camp to bait a mousetrap, too, yet Jake
would no more think of killing one of the
deer that hung around there than he would
of taking a shot at me. Squirrels and birds
were friends of his at all times, and he often
fed them.

"One spring a ranchman traded Jake a
small pig for some elk meat, and Jake took
the pig to camp. He was little and cute, and
a nuisance about the place till Jake finally
made a pen for him. Grain was scarce, of
course, in those days, and we had to rustle
to feed that confounded rooter. But when-
ever either of us could land on a sack of
wheat we got it.

"Eat ! well I guess so. And grow ! Say !
that pig just seemed to swell up over night.
He was a great pet. When Jake would go
to the pen with food, he'd rub Jake's legs
with his head while the old fellow would


scratch his back and pet him. Let him out,
and he'd trail after Jake all day like a dog.
Sometimes we had to ride forty or fifty miles
to get grain. And money, well, we didn't
have any, but managed to trade meat for
wheat when we found it.

"Jake would look at the pig and say : ' Kid,
won't he make fine eatin' this fall ? He's
fat as a fool an' big enough to kill right now,
but we'll wait till the cold weather comes,
an' then, Zowie I we'll bat him with the axe.
We'll have grease enough to last us till
spring. I'm glad I got him.'

"One day he got out of the pen. We had
gone hunting. Of course the cabin door was
open, and the pig went inside. We were
gone two days. I wish you could have seen
that shack when we got back.

She never was very tidy, but the pig had
found the flour and the syrup and the dried
apples. Jake's best blanket was on the



floor, and it had been walloped around in the
mess for hours. A million flies had moved
in, too, an' every sticky spot on the blanket
was black with them. We were within ten
feet of the door when crash ! went the dish-

"That was when Jake cocked his rifle and
whispered: 'Bear! Lookout, Kid.'

"He slipped up to the door, and I was be-
hind him as he poked the barrel of his Win-
chester inside. Then he began to swear.

"From the middle of the damnedest wreck
you ever saw that fool pig raised his head
in welcome. He was a black pig, and flour
and syrup had gummed his face until it was
white. His eyes were ringed all around an'
you'd have sworn he had on a pair of gog-
gles. You know the way the dried apples
used to come, in a box ? Well, a round slice
with a hole in its centre had stuck fast to
his forehead.



"The pig was real glad to see us, an*
showed it, but Jake was mad.

"'That settles it. You die. You won't
see the leaves turn yeller, either. You'll be
bacon, ye Look at my blanket, Kid.'

"I was dying to laugh, but I was afraid
to. Jake might go to war if I did.

"We cleaned out the shack, and that
night we got ready for the killing. Jake got
up before daylight and built a fire.

"Tm afraid it's too warm to kill that pig
yet, Kid,' he said as I pulled on my boots.
'It's too early in the season, an' we can't
afford to lose the meat after all the hell we've
had with him. Guess we'll wait a spell.
Besides, we've got a little wheat left an' there
wouldn't be nothin' to feed it to. You bet
I won't never have another.'

"So the pig's time was extended. I felt
rather glad, for I sort of liked him, even if he
was a nuisance.



"But the wheat disappeared at last, and
we had to make another rustle. 'It's the
last time/ said Jake. Tm plumb sick of the
contract, an' as soon's this sack is gone
Zowie I we'll bat him. It's comin' to him,
ain't it ?'

"'Sure is,' I told him.

"The weather was growing sharp when the
last of the wheat was dished out. 'In the
mornin' we'll kill him,' said Jake. Til feed
him to-night an' bust his head in the mornin'/
He sharpened his knives and talked of the
feast all the evening, but I didn't like to
think of the pig at all.

"Jake turned out early. As soon as he
got his boots on he took his knives, an axe,
and the camp kettle he had always used to
feed the pig, and said: 'Come on, Kid, an'
we'll git rid of that dirty skunk before we
eat. I jest can't put it off no longer.
Wheat's all gone, an' I ain't goin' ridin' like


a madman to find feed for a dirty hawg no

"We started for the pig-pen. A pine
squirrel ran down a fir tree and came to
meet us. Jake kicked at him. 'This place
is plumb overrun with damned nuisances/
he said, an' stepped over into the pen.

"The pig was tickled to see him and be-
gan rubbing his nose on his legs. 'Get out,
damn ye,' he cried. 'Get away from me!
This ain't no friendly errand. Here, Kid,
smash him while I git some water heatin/

"'Not by a damn sight,' I said. 'He
ain't my pig.'

"Oh, come on, Kid. He's knowed me
ever since he was a little feller. We need
the meat, an' the wheat's all gone/

'"Can't help it,' I said. 'I didn't bring
him here, and I won't kill him.'

"Jake leaned the axe against the pen.
'Why, he's nothin' but a hawg, an' a low-
down one at that. Look at my blanket.'



' ' Can't help it, Jake. I can't kill him, and
I won't/

"He turned back to the cabin. I saw him
come out with his Winchester. He climbed
up the hill, and I walked away from the pen.
A half hour went by before the pig, wonder-
ing why he had not been fed, turned around.


"The pet was no more. A bullet had
entered his brain. Jake came down the
hill, leaned his rifle against a tree, and cut
the pig's throat.

"'I don't reckon he saw me er knowed
who done it, do you, Kid ? ' he said in a
low voice that shook a trifle."



PULLED an old ivory-handled six-
* shooter from its scabbard in Charley
Russel's studio one morning. I tried its
lock, for I always loved the click of an old-
time Colt .45. It wouldn't stand cocked.
The "dog" had been worn out.

Charley was busy with a canvas, and as
I stuck the gun back into its scabbard I

"That gun has seen better days."

"Yep," he replied, squatting in a chair
before his easel.

"Did I ever tell you how I came by that
gun ? No ? Well, it was the crookedest
deal I ever made. I was pretty much of a
kid then. My brother and another fellow
were camped in the Basin an* I was wranglin*
hosses for the Bear Paw Pool outfit.


"One day I rode over to see my brother,
an' hanging from an antelope's horns near
the door of the cabin I saw a six-shooter
in a brand-new scabbard. The sunlight
streamed in through the open door an' fell
full on the butt of the gun. All the colors
of a fire-opal were holding a carnival on that
six-shooter's butt. It was mother-of-pearl.
Wow ! I was stuck for keeps at its beauty.
There was nobody in the shack, and I pulled
the gun from the scabbard. It was silver-
plated and all chased with leaves and vines
in gold. My heart went out to that beauti-
ful gun, an' I fondled it, cocked it, and bal-
anced it, with a longing to own it myself.

"I grew suddenly cunning. I shoved the
gun back into its scabbard just as I heard
my brother coming around the corner of the

'"How!' he said. 'Where'd you come



"I just rode over. Been here quite a
while, though. Some shack youVe got.
An* hello ! a new gun !' I said.

"Um-hu/ he answered.
"I examined the gun again, pretending
it was a new discovery. 'Some butt on that
gun/ I said as carelessly as I could, returning
it to its scabbard. 'Where'd you get it ?'

"Sent back to the States for it last month.
Hungry ? '

"I'll cook something/ he said, an' went
out into the other room.

"I followed him.

"'How'll you trade guns ?' I asked.

'"What you got?' he said, as he cut a
steak from the ham of an antelope and laid
it on the table.

"I had just bought a good Colt .45. It
was blued and clean as a wolfs tooth, too.
I pulled it, and he took it from me.



"It's brand-new/ I told him, 'and dead

"He handed it back and cut another steak
from the antelope meat. 'Oh, I don't
know/ he said, with the air of a father about
to give something to his youngest, 'my gun's
a heap of trouble. All fancy. An' you're
a kid. If you are dead stuck on that gun

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Online LibraryFrank Bird LindermanOn a passing frontier; sketches from the Northwest → online text (page 2 of 8)