Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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whose climate agreed better with him. He remained a whole week with me,
and made himself useful during the day through his skill in making all
sorts of trifles; for instance, carvings in poplar and cypress wood,
plaiting strong tight lines of different coloured horsehair, tanning
skins, making neatly ornamental powder flasks out of buffalo horns, and
charge measures of the fangs of bears and jaguars, while in the evening
he described in a most lively manner the numerous dangers he had
fortunately escaped, and the many fights he had had with the Redskins
during the five years.

The unchanging calmness which usually covered his noble face often
deserted him when describing these scenes; his eyes flashed like daggers
in the moonlight, his brow contracted, and we could read on his
forehead that he must be a terrible foe when aroused. But these
outbursts of passion soon passed away, and the ordinary gentleness
spread once more over his features. Among the feelings reflected on
various occasions in his face, there was an unmistakeable melancholy,
which must be produced by events of his life before the period when he
bade farewell to human society, and this was proved by the fact that he
spoke reluctantly about that time, and always became silent when the
conversation was accidentally turned to it. Hence I carefully avoided
alluding to the period, for if a heavy crime lay hid in his bosom, I was
ready to excuse it; while if he was suffering undeservedly, I pitied
him, and would not augment his sorrow by unnecessarily evoking his

I would have gladly kept him with me, as he was a pleasant, attractive
companion in my solitude; but he would go, and it seemed to me as if the
tranquillity he enjoyed at my house did not permanently satisfy him, and
as if he wished to deaden memory by the wild, perilous life he led on
his hunting expeditions. I equipped him as far as lay in my power with
everything that could soothe his fatiguing life, and took a hearty leave
of him in front of the fort. He parted regretfully, and was greatly
excited when he shook my hand in farewell and mounted his powerful
horse, which he had trained like a dog. He promised to pay me another
visit soon, and galloped at such a pace over the prairie, as if he
wished thus to dispel the thoughts which had mastered him. I watched him
for a long distance, till he disappeared in a cloud of dust on the edge
of the prairie.

Some time after I learned from the bee-hunter whom Trusty received so
savagely the history of this amiable but unfortunate man, whom the
former had known as a lad in Missouri. Warden's father was the son of
one of the first families in Virginia; was educated at a first-rate
school and studied medicine. He got into bad company, turned gambler and
then highwayman, and was for some years the terror of post travellers
in North Carolina and Virginia. About this time he fell in love with a
very beautiful, fashionably educated young lady in Virginia, and ran
away with her to Missouri, which was just beginning to be colonized. He
altered his mode of life, was greatly respected by his fellow-citizens,
and in a few years sent to Congress as deputy for Missouri. Thus he
lived most creditably till his son was twelve years of age, and his
daughter was married at the age of seventeen to a farmer. One day,
however, he rode to the nearest town where a court was being held, and
for the first time during many years tasted spirits. He had scarce done
so, ere his old wicked foe seized on him again with all its might, and
he rode daily, in spite of all the prayers and representations of his
family, to the town, and returned at night in a most frightful state of

On the next court day he was about to ride again to town, when his wife
begged her son-in-law to accompany him. Warden had been drinking
already, and said he had a feeling he should be killed during the day.
He made his young son take a solemn oath to follow his murderer to the
end of the world and take his life. Then he rode off to the town, soon
became intoxicated, began quarrelling, at length began wrangling with
his son-in-law, who tried to hold him back, and drew his knife on him;
the latter defended himself, and Warden ran on his knife, and was
carried home in a dying state. Warden once again reminded his son of the
oath he had taken, and expired. The law was put in work against his
son-in-law, who fled to Indiana and lived there in concealment. Warden's
son grew up, and in his sixteenth year was the favourite of the whole
countryside, but then he took his rifle and his horse, bade good-bye to
his mother and sister, rode to Indiana, and shot his brother-in-law in
his own house. He escaped from the police with great difficulty, and
fled to the desert, where he had been living five years when he visited




The departure of the unfortunate Warden, who had fallen a victim to
passions which had not been held in restraint at an early age, was very
painful to me, and the evenings, which I generally spent alone, grew
very long, as I had before gossiped half the night away with him. Hence
I went to bed early, and followed my old habit of rising before
daybreak, I generally took my rifle, went with Trusty across the river
to the forest and watched for game. At that hour the wood was most
beautiful; the coming day drove the darkness before it through the
mighty masses of foliage, the birds aroused one another from their
sleep, owls, blinded by the morning light, darted like the last shadows
of night into the densest thickets, and deer returned home from their
nocturnal excursions through the dewy grass; the bear, startled by the
rapidly-increasing light, trotted with hoarse growls towards its secret
hiding-place, while the herons, bearing the first golden sunbeams on
their silver plumage, rose from the tall trees and passed with flapping
wing through the refreshing morning breeze.

I was cautiously walking one morning along this my favourite spot, and
inhaling the thousand perfumes which had filled the recesses of the
forest during the tranquil night, avoiding every dry branch for fear of
startling its denizens, while Trusty followed at a short distance all my
windings round the bushes and fallen trees. It had become tolerably
light, when I fancied I heard a rustling at an open spot, in the centre
of which stood several very large pecan-nut trees. I stood still for a
moment and listened, holding my breath, for a repetition of the noise.
I heard it again, like the breaking of twigs ahead of me, but in spite
of my utmost efforts could not perceive that even a leaf was moving.

Once again the same breaking and rustling reached me, and on looking up
accidentally I saw a thick black lump shining among the foliage of the
pecan-trees. I soon distinguished a young bear busily engaged in drawing
to it with its long paws the thin branches of the nut-tree, and putting
the unripe nuts in its mouth, I quickly sprang under the tree, so as to
make sure of the bear, which was about the size of a sheep; but I
remembered its mamma, who might be in the neighbourhood, and easily come
up to fetch her pet home. I stationed myself under the tree on which the
cub was, and made Trusty lie down by my side, as he was beginning to
growl, and pressing his nose against the tree.

The bear saw me, and became greatly alarmed; sprang from one branch to
the other, and looked timidly down to me. I did not move, but listened
carefully to every sound in the vicinity, while my neighbour came down
to the first floor, above my head; and, sitting among the lowest
branches, produced a cry like that of little children. It soon repeated
its wail, and I heard far away in the forest a hob, hob, hob, hob,
coming towards me. I sprang up, and placed myself behind the trees,
after again forcing Trusty's head into the grass. I distinctly
distinguished by the leaps that it was an old bear hastening to the help
of her cub. I pointed my rifle in the direction whence it was coming,
and suddenly it parted the foliage in front of me with its broad
shoulders, whereupon I gave a loud "pst." In a second the bear sat up on
its hind-quarters, and as the fire flashed from my barrel it made a
couple of leaps towards me, but was rolled over by a second bullet
through the head, while I shouted a "Down, sir!" to Trusty, who was on
the point of springing up. I drew a revolver, ran up to the old bear,
and sent a bullet through her brain, as she was still furiously hitting
out with her terrible paws.

I next reloaded my rifle, and looked up at my neighbour, who had fled to
the top of the tree, and was swinging with the branches. I called Trusty
away from under the tree, bade him lie down in the grass behind me, and
gave the cub something which brought it down like a ball, crashing
through the foliage to the ground, when I put the other barrel to its
forehead, and stopped its young bearish existence. After reloading, I
broke it up, to give Trusty his share of the spoil - the kidneys, the
only bear-meat he ever touched, unless he was very hungry. I then
hastened home, and after breakfast I went back to the forest with one of
my men and three mules, when we broke up the old bear, and carried the
meat home on two of the animals, and the cub entire on the third.

Thus several weeks passed, during which I went little beyond the
immediate vicinity of my house, in order to lay in our stock of meat
either in the morning or evening, when the heat was less oppressive.
During the day we were cutting steps in the perpendicular river-bank,
out of which a very strong spring gushed about ten feet from the top,
and in building a small dairy over it. We led the spring through wooden
troughs, in which we kept the milk and butter sweet; while we hung up on
the walls meat which remained fresh for several days. The dairy was on
the north side, so that it was very slightly exposed to the sun, whose
effects we also neutralized by a thick layer of overhanging reeds. This
spot was most agreeable in the midday heat, at which time the atmosphere
in the houses was most oppressive, while here it always remained cool
and refreshing through the ice-cold water. The spring, however, was not
so pleasant for drinking as the one I had on the side of the prairie
near the garden, from which we fetched our drinking water.

After finishing my job, most of my stores were nearly expended, and I
required a number of new tools. Hence I went myself to the nearest
settlement, sold there my stock of hides, honey, wax, and tallow, and
took home the articles I needed on my pack animals. While at the
settlement I met, at the store-keeper's with whom I was bargaining, a
Mexican lad, sixteen years of age, who had accompanied a brace of mules
brought here from Mexico for sale, and had remained as waiter at the
hotel. His name was Antonio, and he offered to go with me and stop. He
was recommended to me by an acquaintance as a first-rate horseman and
lassoer, and as he pleased me in other respects, I accepted his offer,
and he rode with me home.

Antonio's skill in riding was extraordinary; it was all the same to him
whether he had a bridle or not - whether he sat in a saddle or
bare-backed; once on the animal's back, no rearing or kicking could
throw him. I have often seen him go up to mules grazing on the prairie,
and approach them quietly, lounging round them as if seeking something
in the grass, till he was near enough to them, when with a spring he was
on the back of one of them, and the terrified creature made all sorts of
bounds and leaps to get rid of him. But it was all in vain. Antonio
responded to the mule's efforts with his monstrous spurs, which he dug
into its flanks at every volley, till he grew tired of riding, and
sprang off again with the same lightness.

He also threw the lasso with a master hand. I have frequently seen him
at full gallop catch a mule by the foot which I indicated. One day he
lassoed by the fore leg a wild cow which had joined my milch kine on the
prairie, hurled it to the ground, and so bound its four feet together
that we dragged it along to the enclosure where my cows passed the
night. Then we fastened it up to an old tree, and on the next morning
Antonio leaped on its back, cut away the rope round its head, and
galloped off into the prairie, where the cow leapt about as if mad. At
last, after a lengthened contest, she threw herself on the ground; but
Antonio stood by her side, gave her laughingly a cut with his whip, and
the awfully terrified creature galloped away to the forest.

Between the fort and the mountain spring there were always a great
number of wild horses, especially in the vicinity of a considerable
elevation on the prairie, whose highest point was covered with a small
very thick wood, where a white stallion resided with his harem. Owing to
his beauty and noble blood, the Indians revered this animal with
superstitious fear. The hunters had tried for years in vain to capture
him, and the bards of America had raised him to immortality in their
ballads and narrations. Very numerous are the wondrous tales which
spread at that day about the noble animal over the continent of America,
and even distant Europe. He was described in them as "the star of the
prairie," as "the light of the steppe," or "the white spirit of the
desert." While his titles varied so, the statements as to the position
of his kingdom varied equally. But all these were merely traditions of
the hunters of the Far West, the existence of the horse was still half
fabulous, and I believe that I am the only man capable of saying
anything on the subject from personal observation.

I have seen and admired this horse a countless number of times, as my
hunts so frequently passed in his region, and quite as often I have
yearned to possess, and revolved the means to get, him into my power.
This was one of the reasons why I took Antonio into my service, as
through him alone I had a prospect of attaining my wish. I have
frequently crawled up to the animal for miles through the tall grass
with the utmost exertions, and lain down on a small mound near him, with
the resolution of creasing him, as the hunters call it - that is to say,
sending a ball through the skin of a horse's neck, upon which it falls
as if struck dead, and you have time to hobble it before it recovers.
But when I raised the rifle on the noble creature, and had my finger on
the trigger, it seemed to me to be murder, and I could never make up my
mind to fire. I have often ridden up to him, and, so soon as he noticed
me, he came toward me, proudly raising his graceful head in the air,
with his white silky tail erect, and with a coat as white and tender as
the finest alabaster or the plumage of the silver heron, with whose
flight I have often seen him compete. He frequently came within fifty
yards of me, looking round pretty often at his flying harem, then
stopped and snorted through his dilated purple nostrils; then he trotted
round me, and would fly like an arrow over the grass to his friends, at
such a pace that no rider in the world would have made the attempt to
catch him up.

In the past winter I went to his domain with the intention of capturing
one of his children, and gave one of my men who accompanied me my rifle
and revolver, in order to make myself as light as possible. I had got no
great distance from the troop, ere the stallion noticed me, and when the
others fled, he as usual trotted toward me. I gave Czar his head, and
galloped towards him. The wild stallion reared, then turned, and dashed
after his troop and past it, in order to assume the leadership. At the
end of five miles I caught up the troop again, which consisted of about
fifty head, and selected an iron-grey mare with black mane and tail,
which appeared to be between a two and three-year old.

Had I possessed any great skill in using the lasso, I was near enough to
the mare to noose her; but as it was I could only take advantage of my
horse's greater endurance, and remained close behind the troop, up hill
and down dale, while the stallion flew from one side to the other, as if
encouraging his relatives to persevere, and this race was merely play to
him. The animals became covered with foam, their breathing grew
gradually shorter, and several left the ranks on either side, in order
to seek safety in an altered direction.

At last only four old mares and the iron-grey followed the stallion, who
as yet displayed no signs of fatigue; when suddenly the grey turned off
into a hollow, fell into a walk, and at last stopped; so that I could
ride up and throw the lasso over her head. She was so exhausted that she
could hardly breathe, and stood motionless, while the perspiration ran
down her in torrents. It was nearly a quarter of an hour ere she so far
recovered as to be able to struggle against the fetters laid on her. The
noose round her neck tightened; she fell to the ground, trembling all
over; and I leapt from my horse to open the noose, before she was quite
throttled. My companion now came up, hobbled his own horse and Czar, and
helped me to convince the mare by repeated strangulation, that she must
yield to her captivity: we made a halter out of a second lasso, while
still keeping the noose round her neck, and I dragged her after my
horse, while my companion urged her on. We thus reached home in the
evening; and in a few weeks the mare was so tame that she could be
treated precisely like my other horses: she was handsomely built,
displayed all the signs of Arab blood, and became one of my best horses.

As I said, the possibility of capturing this stallion - the pride of the
western deserts - was the reason of my engaging Antonio; and we at once
set about our preparations to carry out the task. I owned a
thorough-bred mare, Fancy, who belonged to the best blood that ever ran
on American soil. Her sire was the renowned Waggoner, who was never
beaten in speed either north or south, and for fourteen years won all
the great stakes at American races. Her dam, Blossom, was an English
thoroughbred, and had been imported to the United States from England:
she won all the stakes she was entered for in the Southern States, and
was purchased by one of the first breeders for a very large sum, that he
might become owner of her noble progeny. Fancy, then, as regards breed,
was as fine and noble as any horse that ever trod an American course,
and defeated all her rivals until I purchased her. I bought her as a
four-year old when I bade farewell to civilization, and took her with me
into the desert, where I frequently rode her, when I went out into the
prairie with greyhounds to hunt deer or kill wolves. On my ordinary
hunting trips, however, she could not take the place of Czar or the
cream-colour, as she was not so attached to me by constant riding or so
trained and familiar with a thousand dangers as they were.

The mare was now treated with very great attention, both as regards
food, and cleanliness, and exercise; she had no more grass, and the corn
given her was previously sifted. She was ridden every morning by
Antonio, and the distance she had to gallop was daily increased. Then
she was led about for half an hour, and when brought back to her stall
rubbed down till she was quite dry and cool. Toward evening she was
taken out again for half an hour's walk, and before she went to rest had
a douche or a swim in the river. In a fortnight she hardly turned a hair
after galloping several miles; she had grown thinner, but her flesh was
firmer, and her golden-brown hair so fine that every vein could be
traced under the skin. In the meanwhile, Antonio had been practising
with the lasso, and had horribly tormented my mules with this
disagreeable instrument.

The preparations lasted three weeks; after which, on a cool morning, we
left the fort: Antonio riding a mule and leading Fancy, one of my
colonists on the cream-colour, and I on Czar - in order to seek the
stallion, and, if possible, deprive him of liberty. It was one of those
days - not rare in our country - when the sky is covered with a thin
stratum of clouds, which deprive it of its glorious azure, and which,
though it does not conceal the sun, breaks the power of its beams. At
the same time there was a breeze, so that the day was more like autumn
than summer. We rode down the river, and soon saw the height emerge from
the prairie, in whose vicinity the stallion usually had his
head-quarters. Our horses were very active; Czar coquetted by the side
of his lady friend, Fancy, in his most elegant prancing movements; shook
his bit, and snorted through his moist nostrils; while turning his dark
large eyes toward the lady, Fancy, conscious of her noble breed, walked
delicately along, and carefully selected the footpaths.

While still some distance off, I noticed to the side of the wood on the
knoll a dark patch, which I recognised through my glass as horses, but
could not make certain whether it was our stallion's family. We
approached slowly, and from every new height distinguished more clearly
the shape of the animals. I had no doubt about it being the troop we
were in search of, although I could not yet notice the stallion. A broad
valley still lay between us, when we halted, and I saw through my glass
the snow-white creature rise from the grass and look across at us, while
many horses of the troop still lay on the ground around him. We rode
down into the valley, the stallion stood motionless, and gazed at us;
but when we reached the bottom, he suddenly trotted about among his
troop. All the horses lying on the grass leapt up, looked at us, formed
into a body, and dashed at a gallop over the heights.

Antonio now sprang into Fancy's saddle, gave his mule to our companion,
took the lasso in his right hand, and only waited for my signal to give
his horse her head. The stallion came toward us at a swinging trot,
while we moved forward at a fast pace and bent low over our horses'
necks. A finer picture could not be painted. He carried his small head
high, long white locks floated over his broad forehead, and his long
mane danced up and down at every step, while he raised his tail straight
out, and its long curling milk-white hairs fluttered in the breeze. His
broad back glistened as if carved out of Carrara marble, and his
powerful shoulders and thighs were supported on graceful little feet.

I rode behind Antonio. The stallion was not fifty yards from us when I
shouted to the Mexican "Forward!" and Fancy flew at such a pace toward
the stallion that she came within five yards of him ere he recovered
from his terror. The moment for his fate to be decided had arrived. He
turned round and made an enormous leap ahead, that showed me the flat of
his hind hoofs, while he held his head aside and looked back after his
pursuer. The lasso flew through the air, the noose fell over the
stallion's head, but it hung on one side of his muzzle, and the next
instant the lasso was trailing on the ground behind Fancy. The stallion
seemed to know that it was a fetter which had touched him, for he shot
away from the man like lightning. Antonio coiled up the lasso again,
and followed him over hill and vale, over grass and boulders, at full
gallop, just as the tornado darts from the mountain into the plain. Czar
was beside himself at the idea of being last, but I purposely held him
back, partly not to excite the mare, partly to save his strength. There
was still a hope that the stallion, living as he did on grass, would not
keep his wind so long as our horses, and though he was now several
hundred yards ahead, we might be able to catch him up. Up to this point,
however, we had not gained an inch upon him, and our horses were covered
with foam, though both still in good wind.

We had been following the stallion for about two hours, when he turned
off to the mountains, and flew up them with undiminished speed. The
ground now became very stony and unsafe, but he seemed to be as much at
home on it as on the soft grass-land he had just left. He reached the
summit between two steep mountains, and disappeared from our sight
behind them. We dashed past the spot where we had seen him last, but the
noble creature had reached the steep wall on the other side of the
valley when we dashed down into it.

I saw plainly that he had a difficulty in keeping at a gallop on this
steep incline. We gained a deal of ground down hill and through the
grassy valley, and reached the wall before the stallion was at the top
of it. Full of hope I could no longer remain in the background. Digging

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 10 of 35)