James Watson Webb Sir William Drummond Stewart.

Altowan, or, Incidents of life and adventure in the Rocky Mountains, Volume 1 online

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the snowy pinnacles. It was on the edge of the
precipice the three sat, each occupied by his own
thoughts — the spreading branches of the pine
above them in somber repose, and the expanse
beneath growing indistinct and dark. Not a
murmur was there among those boughs, habitu-
ally the dwelling of the howling tempest. It was
so still a night, that the ear might have caught
the sound of the footfall of the Indian or the
breath of the crouching panther ; such a calm
as invites the ear to listen rather than lulls it
with the confidence of repose. The moon had
not yet risen ; and the mules, full and drowsy,
stood the dusky images of sloth. At intervals,
high in the middle air, there arose sounds like
the sighs of pent-up gales — ^now coming as if a



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ALTOWAN. 145

breeze were sweeping over the chords of some
vast ^olian harp— now like a multitude of wings,
such as those of birds which, in their migrations,
obscure the heavens. Henry, to whose woods-
man's ear the sounds seemed familiar, threw him-
self back, and gazed on the clear blue vault above ;
but not a speck was visible. It was a strange,
supernatural voice, and to a mind of romance
might have furnished food for high meditations,
though in him it produced but a desire to sleep
under influences of a nature more grand and in-
definable than he cared to examine. It was not
a sound sleep that Parfin enjoyed in his lofty
eyrie ; once or twice he started up, as he thought
he heard something move in the neighborhood
of his bed ; but turning again, he yielded to that
heavy feeling which renders it so hard to watch,
even in moments of the extremest danger. The
dark form, the cause of that slight noise, had not
remained long inactive, but rolled again toward
the couch of Parfin, giving but one turn at a time,
and then, when he had ascertained that every
thing was quiet, another. It was impossible now
to approach nearer by the same means of move-
ment, as a rock, half emerged from the turf, in-
tervened. With head close to the ground, at
the end of this lay the naked figure of him whose
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146 ALTOWAN.

every motion partook of the noiseless caution of
the tiger, with the tension of muscle and the per-
fect balance of one who knew that a flutter lost
him. He was now within reach of Parfin ; then
a breathless pause of examination succeeded^be-
fore his hand possessed itself of the horn and ball-
pouch of the sleeper ; but one part of the cord
of the powder-horn was under the arm, as if for
security, which also passed over the barrel of his
rifle. The knife of the unknown severed the
cord, and the horn and the pouch were in the
mouth of the retreating figure, which, with the
same caution, disappeared behind a tree. It was
there, that in the morning, the remains of the
ammunition were found ; the accouterments, con-
taining one ball and one charge of powder, hung
on a branch. Parfin had awoke first, let loose
the animals, gathered some of the embers of the
evening fire hato a heap, and lit his pipe. He
sat musing until the first beam of the morning sun
touched the top of the Pilot Butte^ far off* in the
plain — ^the beacon of a prairie, where twd vast
ranges of mountains bound the horizon ; and no
other guide is neces^ry to traverse the interven-
ing space. Still, unnecessary caution has given
this name to a table-shaped, isolated hill between,
the first to attract the horizontal rays that left, as



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ALTOWAN. 147

yet, the lower objects around in the dull gray of
dawn.

It is rare that a hunter so long neglects his am-
munition. Parfin sought for his by his saddle,
where he had slept ; and then, for the first time,
perceived that it was gone. Awaking his com-
panions, who lay still dreaming in their mount-
ain bed, he gave an anxious look at the horses
as he contmued his search. Perceiving that
something had disturbed him, Henry started up,
throwing off the covering from his murmuring
bed-fellow. They quickly examined their arms
and ammunition ; and as Parfin had been on the
outside of the three, his alone was touched. Just
as they had ascertained this, the missing articles
were found, and the extent of the loss ascertain-
ed. It was evident the theft was perpetrated by
some single person, and possibly was the result
of necessity. It was lucky, however, that the
other two had a plentiful supply; and all that
caused them uneasiness was, that their retreat
should be known ; they therefore, without hesi-
tation, proceeded to arrange for their departure
for Auguste's camp.



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148 ALTOWAN.



CHAPTER V.

It might have been about seven o'clock when
these three were in the little plain between the
lakes, and had already approached the harem
of Auguste ; but there was nolbright eye to wel-
come — ^no fair hand to take the rein of their steed.
The fire was out, and scarce a vestige showed
that there had been a recent habitation. There
was something strange in this; but they soon
fixed upon another spot on the opposite side, and
nearer the torrent they had crossed, where there
was a small shelf hollowed out in the hill-side.
A short ascent from the plain wound through a
thicket, and along a narrow ledge, commanded
by an open above. The spot contained sufficient
grass for a few days ; and, being a safe posi-
tion, it was now necessary to look out for some
meat, as their supplies were nearly exhausted.
Having carefully hobbled the horse and mules,
and drawn a dead tree across the road, they all
three sallied out to look from the opposite height
over the plains of the New Fork and Sandy, in
hopes of seeing some buffalo, as they preferred



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ALTO WAN. 149

hunting in the open to the risk of meeting Dig-
gers while in search of elk or deer in the woods
and passes of the mountains.

Passing over the shoulder of the hill between
the two lakes, they came upon a piece of table-
land between it and another that juts more prom-
inently toward the south. This spot, strangely
wild and sequestered, is covered with beautiful
little ponds, set in the brightest verdure, and
shadowed by the tender foliage of the birch and
the quaking ash. It was scarcely the season for
the flies, that drive the elk and deer to these cool
and secluded baths ; yet, on passing near one, a
rush through the branches was heard on the op-
posite side, and a noble hart dashed away from
his lair. He was out of shot before they could
get a fair view of him ; and having then only his
hinder parts exposed, there was no shot fired,
as the hunter and the Indian ever look upon it
as wicked to wound an animal without a chance
of getting him. So he w^t his way, nostrils to
the wind, and the mighty beams of his head, al-
ready almost at then: full growth, laid along his
back, while the hunters continued on toward that
point from which they expected to ascertain the
chance they had of getting meat that day. They
had not gone far before they saw a she-bear with
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150 ALTOWAN.

two cubs, as large as wolves, which — proba-
bly startled by the elk, as the hunters kept the
leeward side of the plain, to avoid giving the wind
— ^fled over the ridge to their right, the old one
stopping now and then to gaze on the intruders.
" She is also gone,** said Parfin. ** It is strange,"
he added, **that no one has ever killed a she-bear
with young, although many have been examined
at the period that immediately precedes the drop-
ping of their young." " I have heard something
to the same effect," answered Henry ; " but it is
scarcely reasonable to suppose a bear to be dif-
ferent from all other animals of the class, with-
out proof; all that can be made out from the
general belief is, that there has been a most suc-
cessful concealment of pregnancy, which might
be a valuable hint in some places." Parfin look-
ed at his companion a moment : " Let it be con-
cealment, let it be deviation, it is strange ; but
here we are." They had got upon a stony ridge ;
and below them lay the same view as from their
last night's camp, only nearer, and less extended.
They sat long on those piles of stone, and gazed
into the distance. It was, at last, by a small col-
umn of dust that the eye was fixed upon a spot
where, after watching a dark shadow, hovering
Uke a cloud on the praijie, it gave unequivocal



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ALTOWAN. 161

signs of a herd of bufialo moving in from the
southeast. A shout of joy broke from Henry.
Parfin remained to watch, and the other two
went back for their horses, which had to pass
along the larger lake, and then turn to the east-
ward, at the foot of the bute on which he sat.
The two bounded from block to block, and swung
from limb to limb, and never paused to rest until
they reached the little plain which they had to
cross before they mounted the ascent to their
own camp ; and in a short time Pariin saw them
coming briskly round the base of the bute.

The immovable gazer was then turned into the
fleet mountaineer ; and he sprung down the steep
side, over sharp and rugged rocks, with the un-
erring step of one to whom such paths are fa-
miliar. Henry resumed his horse, which he had
led, and Parfin was in an instant on his mule.
The calm, the consideration, the sloth were all
gone. Meat to the hungry and sport to the rov-
er were at hand. The buffalo were really on
the move, and had made some progress toward
those who were so eager to meet them. On the
last height that intervened between them and the
plain, they paused beneath the brow, and riding
gently up, took a survey of the band, which cov-
ered half a mile in length, huddled as if from



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152 ALTOWAN.

some general alarm. There is an indefinable
excitement on approaching one of these herds
onseen, waiting to burst fix>m your concealment
and rush into the chase, with banner displayed.
The animals appeared recovered fi:om their dis-
composure, and disposed to settle into tranquillity.
Some could be observed in combat, some rolling
in the dust, and the leading cow of the gang —
short of limb and shaggy like a bull — ^had low-
ered her head, and gave signs of browsing among
the short and tufted grass which is found among
the dwarf sage that covers the plains. It was a
moment of anxious suspense whether they would
approach nearer, as the westerly wind, eddying
among the low butes, prevented the hunters
making a circuit to cut them off. " Let us wait;
they have too good a start for your mules," ob-
served Henry ; " and I want to make sure of that
cow ; the d6pouillie will be worth a race.** The
horse, already winding the herd, stood with di-
lated nostrils and ears in continual movement,
sharing the suppressed emotion of his rider.
Parfin, after a silent survey of a few minutes,
exclaimed, with an oath, " They are off I** and
driving his long rowels almost to the head in
the flank of his mule, she darted round the end
of the little bute before the others, whose heads



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ALTOWAN. 158

happened to be down, were aware of the cause
of this sudden movement ; but impetus is easily
given to those ready for a start, and they were
by his side in a moment.

Something had alarmed the herd, and they
were gone in a direction which, in a ship, would
be called on a vrind — ^keeping in a slanting di-
rection from the taint, without actually turning
away from the breeze. Already three quarters
of a mile distant, the pace of the hunters ought
to be greatly increased beyond that of the buffa-
lo, in order to gain sufficiently upon them to force
one out of the crowd, or, if possible, to dash into
the middle of the herd, and shoot down one too
closely packed in to get free scope for their full
speed, which is wonderful, considering the shape
and weight of the animal. Henry found it neces-
sary to let out his willing horse, in order to get
up to the herd. There had been no rain recently,
and the dust flew in a long cloud behind ; and
as he neared the flying animals, the small gravel
flew in his face like grape-shot, so that it was
necessary to change his course, and pass along
the side of the band toward the head, where the
cow he had singled out, still kept her position —
leading with apparent ease, the straining crowd
that followed. This change produced a corre-



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164 ALTOWAN.

sponding alteration, of course, in her ; and as the
wind, now from the side, uncovered the band, he
was enabled better to watch her ; but in this op-
eration he had to run a much greater distance
than those on the other side, who had only a cut-
off to make in order to intercept the animals,
which had now taken the form of a long string
instead of a circular mass. There were two
or three shots fired from behind, but Henry did
not note the number. They had got into a rocky
and uneven space, running between two rivers,
where Parfin well remembered, that some years
before, a foreigner had killed his first cow in a
chase ; and where, his horse falling from the dan-
gerous inequality of the ground, one of the party
had nearly lost his life. He was now, however,
running clear of the herd, and not forced over
every thing by the band ; but one of those chasms
here came in the way which was much too broad
to leap, and again they headed to the right. It
was now Henry's turn to take the short cut ; and
he urged his horse to his speed ; the chasm end-
ed, and he was again thrown out ; but the ground
was now good, though a gradual descent, and
he, for the first time in his experience of buffalo
hunting, found that it pushed a good horse to
catch a cow in good condition, with plenty of



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ALTOWAN, 166

room down hill. His horse was at his best speed ;
and though he thought himself approaching, it
was not so easily, as he had ran in a poorer cow
in a crowd. At last he saw by the turn of her
head, that she was becoming sensible of his gain,
and he shouted at the prospect of speedily ending
the chase. But his was not the only shout. Au-
guste, naked, the rein on his horse's neck, a coil
of cord in his band, with his bow and arrows,
plying his shart whip on the flank of his hardy
Indian steed — hitherto concealed by the dust —
suddenly appeared, a candidate for the same
prize. A feeling of rage, such as only the hunt-
er knows when crossed in his chase, came over
Henry ; and he shouted to his heedless rival that
he did not want his help, but wished to kill his
cow single-handed. Auguste laughed, and made
a sign to go on, taking to another cow that fol-
lowed next, which was separated from the herd,
and which he found alone. Henry was now
nearly abreast of the object .of his pursuit, and
nearing her ; but she edged off at hi* approach,
and broke away in a direction after Auguste's.
It was now that he took the method which alone
succeeds with certainty in running a single cow,
unless you tire her out, and kill her at bay. He
ran his horse close behind her, and as he came



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156 ALTOWAN.

up, reaching over his horse's head, broke her
back at the first shot, narrowly escaping a fall
over her as she sank in her track. He was
quickly down and reloading his gun» when Au-
guste again came up, and, getting on her back
as she lay, stabbed her in the side. ^^ You have
yet to kill your cow ; come along,*' he said, as
he pointed to his own arrow sticking in her side,
which Henry had not before observed. He had
not seen either Auguste or her, for the dust, when
she had received this shot, and the ravine had
separated them afterward. His astonishment
therefore, was as great as his rage ; and it was
well for Auguste that he was mounted and out
of reach, still calling on Henry to follow him.
It was but a moment before a natural sense of
iustice showed him that he was wrong, and that,
in fact, Auguste had as much right to be angry
with him for attempting to take the prize to which
he now saw he had the best right. While the
cow was still in the agonies of death, he again
mounted, and sped to catch up with a portion
of the band that were not yet out of reach. An-
other cow was singled out, which appeared to
be of equal speed, but, on being pressed, she was
lost in the center of the band.
Henry now, with his blood sufficiently heated.



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ALTOWAN. 157

plunged into the thickest of the throng, jostling
some, bounding from others whose horns men-
aced his safety, against others equally dangerous ;
but still, singling out the one on which his eye
had never winked, in all the dust and danger of
the mel6e. He was now by her side ; and as
he would have fired, she, unable to tUm away,
sprang toward him, almost overthrowing his
horse, which just escaped being gored in the
charge. Turning to recover his position was a
matter of danger, as he had to cross several oth-
ers ; and there would have been an end of his
good horse and his hunting that day, had the
lunge of a huge bull, whose path he was attempt-
ing to cross, taken effect ; but another, of even
greater size, pushed on by the crowd behind,
came against his flank when rushing across his
course, and the two bulls rolled on the earth to-
gether, the horse clearing their prostrate bodies
before the others came up. Henry was now in
the wake of the cow; and rushing up to her, he
fired so close as to bum the hair on her side.

The run had been a severe one, and Henry
pulled, up, satisfied that if he had not killed the
cow of his first choice, he had got one little infe-
rior. They were on the edge of a high preci-
pice, which forms the eastern side of a rapid

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158 ALTOWAN

stream, flowing from the larger of the two lakes
we have mentioned as being near the camp of
these wanderers. The wounded cow staggered
over its edge with the clouds of dust and the dark
mass which plunged down the deep descent.
Henry pulled up on the brink ; and it was well
for him that he had delivered his shot when he
did. The band was broken, and dispersed in the
timber of the bottom, and he would, in all proba-
bility, have lost sight of the animal he pursued.
Below, near the edge of a thicket of cherry bush-
es and spruce, stood his victim, panting with
death-sickness, but turned to her foe, who de-
scended the steep by a slanting path. The eter-
nal Auguste was, however, upon him before he
reached the bottom, sliding his horse down the
side of the bank, too precipitous at that place to
descend in any other way. " Shall I finish her
for you ?" he asked, his respect for Henry in-
creased from having seen him shoot down one
cow and stop another at single shots. Henry,
whose natural temper was good and generous,
nodded assent ; and Auguste had alighted, and
stole into the thicket, while the tjhafing animal
confronted her former pursuer, who good-natur-
edly advanced to attract her attention while the
operations of Auguste were going on. At last



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ALTOWAN. 159

he emerged from behind her, with his belly on
the ground ; and while her head was turned the
other way, he waited his opportunity, and seiz-
ing her by the tail, cut one tendon, but failed in
severing the other before she threw him off, and
turned to charge into the bushes, where he had
been cast. Henry now made another advance,
the disabled animal making, at the same moment,
an ineffectual spring. Auguste again seized the
tail, and cut the remaining hock ; when, sinking
on her haunches, the exhausted victim became
an easy prey. Henry tied his horse to her horn,
and began the Operation of butchering, which,
as he only took the fleeces and depouilli^^ was
not a tedious task. Fastening the meat across
his saddle, the ends hanging down on either side
and the tongue on the pommel, he took his way
in search of his companions. Parfin, who was
an expert butcher, with the help of Jasper, had
already taken the meat of one cow ; each had
killed one, and they were soon on their way up
the side of the Fork. Avoiding the sandy road
which runs along behind the fringe of trees that
borders the lake, they reached the head, and led
their animals up the steep ascent that conducted
to their retreat.

It is not to be supposed that there had been no



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160 ALTOWAN.

discussion respecting Roallan during all tins time,
the search after whom appeared to be thus so
readily abandoned. Henry had shown Parfin
that he could hardly have followed him from the
camp without having been seen; nor could it
have been his object to shun a party, necessary
alike to guide his way and assist his project;
and they had determined to remain out until the
camp should pass them on their way round the
mountain. But had Auguste ligain stipped from
their ken? and was he to be trusted? Henry
had some doubts ; Parfin, however, said they
must either quit that side of the mountain, or
take their chance-^farther precautions were use-
less. Jasper had killed a worthies cow, but
claimed a fat one, which he could not find, though
he saw her fall. ** That," said Parfin, " is one of
those who go over the hilt and die. It must be
good living on the side they go to I" The youth
had heard the expression in the camp, and cared
not to discuss the matter farther. It was re-
solved, before going to bed, to sally out next day,
after making a horse-pen, and search for Auguste
and the horde of Chochocoes.

By early dawn, several tall pines had been
felled, arid the inclosure for the horses was com-
pleted. The roasts were taken from tiie fire;



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ALTOWAN. 161

and the delicious meat of the hump ribs furnished
them with a repast which, aided by the place, the
wild achievement, and the absence of care, was
eaten with a relish such as man nowhere else
enjoys. The table of short grass, fresh and clean,
that peradventure, had never before been trod-
den by human foot ; the crystal rill, the murmur
of falling waters, and the undying moan of the
winds in the forest shades, invited to quiet re-
pose and enjoyment. Around and below them,
lay the resources of the plains and the river, in
meat and fish ; every thing might be theirs that
necessity or luxury required — ^that the most far-
stretching desire might covet, or the most daring
enterprise obtain.

It is but seldom that the hunter of the Rocky
Mountains goes to any distance on foot. . Even
the most rugged steeps are surmounted by the
goat-like horses of the country ; and those newly
brought from the settlements, by following a mule,
are soon taught to step from block to block along
the vast piles, which having, like avalanches,
slidden off the cliff above, encumber the slope of
the mountaui side. Jasper was again left to his
own guardianship, as also the remaining mule ;
and they were to garrison the pen, should there
be any appearance of danger. The other two
03



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162 ALTOWAN.

took their way over the rocky hill that lies to the
west of the greater lake, and descended into the
deep dell through whose shadows glides a small-
er stream, where even yet, notwithstanding the
ravages of trappers, the peeled willow (the sign
of beaver) floats in the dark pools. Up the left
bank of this they prosecuted their search for the
trail of those who, they naturally supposed, fre-
quented the best pass into this recess, which con-
tained another lake, whose sides are indented
with numerous coves and concealments. It was
in vain they searched its shores where accessible,
and scanned its steeps with careful gaze from be-
neath the clump of evergreens and aspen, where
they dismounted. A beaver lodge still exists on
the margin of the lake, and the marks of bears,
in digging for roots and insects, show that the
dense forest around is not uninhabited ; but there
was no trace of the presence of man. The dis-
tant glaciers shone over the nearer range, and
the take lay still and dark behind the pine-clad
hill that lowers between it and the mid-day sun.
Lounging here was idle ; nothing showed itself
and the ^opposite side of the lake is impassable
farther west than the wooded island. " It is a
pity to lose so much good meat for these dig-



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ALTOWAN. 163

gers," observed Henry, as they turned to retrace
their way.

The horse-pen had been made with some care, .
and was tolerably secure. They ate and slept,
and at dawn turned out their animals, and sat
down to their morning meal, each with his roast


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Online LibraryJames Watson Webb Sir William Drummond StewartAltowan, or, Incidents of life and adventure in the Rocky Mountains, Volume 1 → online text (page 9 of 14)