Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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ends joining the river. They shouted "Captain," and then gave me to
understand that they wished to speak with me. I went out, accompanied by
Trusty, with my large gun loaded with slugs on my arm, and found that
the men belonged to a tribe of friendly Delaware Indians, whose chief I
knew, and who had several times camped in the very neighbourhood and
paid me a visit.

They told me they had encamped several miles down the river, where they
had arrived on the last evening; their chief had sent them to tell me
that the prairie fire on the previous morning had been caused by the
negligence of his men, but that it had spread against their will, and
had not been purposely caused. Then they asked whether the chief would
be allowed to visit me, and rode back to camp after I had appointed his
visit for the morrow.

The next morning at about seven o'clock the chief of the Delawares duly
rode up with three of his men. They bound their horses by lassos to
pickets which they drove into the ground, carried their baggage into the
fort, and accepted my invitation to enter the house, where our parlour
and kitchen were. Delawares have always been on the most friendly terms
with the United States Government, fought on their side against England
in the War of Liberation, and have assumed a number of customs from the
whites. They have, as their property, a district of land on the Kansas,
where their villages are situated, and their squaws, children, and old
people carry on agriculture and cattle breeding, while the men, with
some of the squaws, hunt in the desert for nine months of the year.

The Delawares are generally good-looking; the men tall and well-built,
with expressive, marked features, aquiline noses, large dark eyes, long
black hair, and not a very reddish-brown complexion. The women are
small, but neat and pretty, and in spite of their darker hue, produce a
pleasing impression through their regular sharply-cut features, dark
curly hair, and brilliant coal-black eyes. They dress themselves with
some degree of taste. Their clothes consist of gaily-painted deer-hide,
ornamented with beads, and the gayest calicoes, which they obtain from
the Government trading posts by bartering peltry for them.

After our guests had taken their places, I lit a pipe, and handed it to
the chief, who, after taking some twenty pulls at it, passed it to his
next man, and so it went from hand to hand, or rather, from mouth to
mouth, till it returned to me. During this ceremony of the pipe of peace
not a word was spoken, but the chief now broke the silence. After
puffing out a portion of the swallowed smoke in a dense cloud from his
lips and nostrils, he told me they were the best friends of the white
men, and would remain so, and intended to stay for some weeks in the
neighbourhood for the purpose of hunting. I assured them that we
entertained the same feelings toward them, and that I intended to pay
them a return visit at their camp.

After this dinner was served up, which they greatly enjoyed. They
behaved with great propriety at it, were acquainted with the use of
knives and forks, and it could be seen by their conduct that they
frequently came into contact with white men. After dinner the chief
imparted to me, that his people wished to have a deal with me, and swap
tanned deer and antelope skins for powder, lead, and flints. I told him
I should be delighted, and should expect them in the afternoon. One of
them, who called himself "Black Tiger," pleased me remarkably. He was a
young, good-looking man, of about eighteen, tall, thin, with an open,
kindly face, and displayed great animation and conversational powers for
an Indian. He spoke English very well, and seemed much attached to me,
which he repeatedly told me, and at last displayed more fully by
expressing a wish to remain with me. I took it for a joke, laughed, and
told him that in that case I would build him a house for himself and
give him everything he wished to have.

They then rode away, after indicating the position of the sun when they
intended to return in the afternoon for the purpose of making the
barter. At about 4 P.M., some twenty Delawares dismounted in front of
the fort, and displayed their wares on the prairie. No tribe prepares
hides so finely as this one, and I was very glad to obtain a number of
them for use by myself and my men, as we made our clothes out of them,
and were unable to prepare them so handsomely ourselves. The exchange
was soon arranged to mutual satisfaction, although I had given but
little powder, lead, flints, and pressed tobacco in proportion. The
chief was presented with a small portion of the above articles, as is
the custom on such occasions, and then the whole party followed me into
the fort, where I regaled them with coffee and bread.

When they prepared to depart, the chief told me that one of his men,
Black Tiger, would stop with me, as I had offered to build him a house
and give him everything he required. He would in return be a very good
friend to me, and he (the chief) would hear on his return in the
following year whether he remained a Delaware. I saw now that it was no
jest, and replied that I would be a good friend to him as to all the
Delawares. On parting I gave him the assurance that I would visit them
next morning at their camp. Black Tiger remained behind in great
delight, carried his saddle and pack into the fort, placed his long
rifle and hunting pouch in the parlour, and then came to me begging I
would build him the promised house. I intimated to him that this would
take some time, but in the meanwhile I would give him a handsome tent. I
fetched a very large white and red striped marquee and asked him where I
should put it up for him. He pointed out a spot at the eastern end of
the fence under an elm-tree on the slope over the river, and when I told
him that I locked the fort gate at night, he laughed, and replied that
in that case he would shut up his house too.

He was quite beside himself with joy when the handsome tent was up, and
the long red, white, and blue American pennant floated over it. He now
refused to have another house, as this one was much finer than mine. A
trench was dug round the tent to carry off the rain water, and the
ground inside was covered with some buffalo hides, after which Tiger
carried in his baggage and weapons, quite delighted with his house. In
order to delight him even more, I hung upon the tent-post a
looking-glass, put in a chair, and gave my young friend a gay coloured
silk handkerchief, with which he bound his fine black hair on the right
side of his head, and let the end hang over his shoulder. After supper
my new guest went to his tent, and when we closed the fort, a merry fire
was still blazing before it, behind which he sat on his stool and smoked
a short pipe which I had also given him.

The next morning, almost before sunrise, I went to Tiger and saw him
turning some spits at the fire, on which he had placed the breast of a
turkey, while by his side lay another young cock which, as he said, he
had fetched for me. He had been hunting on the other side of the river,
to which he had crossed in my canoe. An hour after he came to breakfast
with me, and enjoyed it heartily, especially the milk and bread. Then he
went to his tent, and slept till I called him to ride with me to the
camp of his tribe.

I had mounted Czar, and one of my men the cream-colour, when my young
Tiger rode up to us in full costume. The lower part of his face, from
the corners of his mouth to the ear-tips, was painted pure red with
vermilion; from this a black stripe ran to the eyes, while the edges of
the eyelids were again thickly daubed with vermilion. His hair, fastened
with the silk handkerchief, hung over his shoulders, and in front of his
chest he had hung from a leathern thong the looking-glass from his tent,
which completely covered it. He glowed with pride and joy, and was of
opinion that his brothers in camp would stare when they saw him with
these splendid things.

Tiger was mounted on a magnificent piebald, with an enormous black mane
and tail. The saddle was of wood, and home manufacture, and from it hung
two large wooden stirrups by leathern straps. Over the saddle lay a
shaggy buffalo hide, under which the tomahawk, fastened to the saddle
bow, and a rolled-up lasso peeped out. The bridle was composed of
leathern straps fastened under the horse's jaw with a slipknot, and
vermilion dyed strips of deerhide were plaited in the mane. The long
single rifle hung downwards over Tiger's left shoulder, while he laid
his powerful forearm on the stock. A small medicine bag of beaver skin
hung on his right side, and on the strap passing over his right shoulder
a number of strips of shaggy buffalo hide were fastened as a rest for
the rifle. The young rider's dress consisted of leathern breeches
adorned on the sides with a delicate fringe of the same material, and
fastened at top by a strap to the short leathern petticoat that was
gathered round his hips, and decorated with very long fringe. On his
feet he had deerhide mocassins, round his neck was a collar of very
large white beads, very finely cut out of shells, and round his arms was
a number of polished brass rings. He sat his horse nobly, and turned his
flashing black eyes in all directions.

We soon reached the Delaware camp, hobbled our horses in the grass close
by, and went up to the chief, who was lying at his fire, in front of
his great buffalo hide tent, and being served with food by his two young
squaws. Without rising, he invited us to sit down by his side and smoke
the pipe of peace with him, while he silently gazed in admiration at
Black Tiger. The camp consisted of some forty tents, of white buffalo
hides, erected under clumps of trees on the river bank, and before which
an equal number of fires was burning. From the trees around hung a
number of skins of every description, stretched out to dry in the sun,
while men, women, and children lay round the fire and were eating their
dinner. A heap of dogs were running about the camp, while some hundred
horses and mules were grazing around. We sat down on a buffalo hide by
the chief's fire, and he at once told us about his journey which he had
made in spring in the Rocky Mountains; he wished to remain during the
winter in the south, and next spring pay a visit to his home on the
Kansas. He described in a very animated way the hunts he had made there,
and the bloody fights with hostile tribes; gave me a very attractive
description of the mountains, rivers, and valleys of those parts, and
remarked, with a slightly jealous look, that I occupied the best land. I
answered him that this land was free as before to friendly Indians like
the Delawares: the latter could sleep the more tranquilly, because I
only pursued the foes of my Indian friends, and had cast my bullets
solely for them. This speech produced a very good effect upon my red
friend, and with a cordial laugh, he took my hand in his two and shook
it with an expression of the most hearty and sincere friendliness. Soon
after he said a few words to one of his squaws, and one of his little
ones, about four years of age, came out of the tent soon after, dragging
an enormous tanned, exquisitely painted buffalo hide, which he presented
to me, while his father nodded kindly.

While we were sitting thus cosily together, several of the Indians in
the other tents prepared to go hunting, mounted their horses, called
their dogs, and rode off; while others got their fishing tackle ready,
or sported with the girls at the fire. Two young squaws went out in
front of the camp followed by several youths, and stood side by side to
try their speed in running. They were sixteen or seventeen years of age,
gracefully built and really pretty; they only wore their leathern
fringed petticoat, a couple of long red strips of leather round their
hanging black hair, with beads on their neck and brass rings round their
pretty arms. With their brilliant fiery eyes they waited, dancing on
their little feet, laughing and teasing each other, for the signal to
start, and the two goddesses of the desert glided like lightning through
the short grass, scarce touching the ground with the tip of their feet,
while their long hair, with the red streamers, flew out behind them. Far
away on the prairie stood the tree, which they touched almost
simultaneously, and they darted back with a laugh that displayed their
pearly teeth. I involuntarily rose at the sight of these pretty
creatures, and was surprised at myself, for years had elapsed since a
female glance had melted the ice of my heart. I looked for a long time
at these graceful little savages, as they teased each other and bounded
about with the most pleasing movements; then I once more assured the
chief of my friendship, and rode back to the fort.

The young Indian was already quite at home and always in good spirits. I
was thoroughly acquainted with the character of these men, who had grown
up in a state of independence, and knew that my only way of keeping him
was by gradually accustoming him to the minor pleasures of civilized
life, while at the same time avoiding everything that might lessen his
liberty, such as he enjoyed in the nomadic life of his tribe. Eating
played a great part in this - coffee, milk, bread, eggs, cheese, and
butter were delicacies which he heartily enjoyed, and he soon grew
accustomed to them. Whenever his hunting permitted it, he was rarely
absent from meals. At times he disappeared, struck his tent, and we saw
nothing of him for several days; at others, he stopped at home, and
hardly crossed the river to shoot a turkey or deer. It was an
incalculable advantage to have a trustworthy Indian with me, as any
hostilities against me affected him and consequently his tribe, and
would be avenged by the latter. The Delawares are the most respected
among the savage western hordes, as they have better weapons and more
weight with the United States Government than all the rest. Hence, I
regarded this chance enlistment as very fortunate, and was resolved to
make every effort to retain my guest as long as I could. Among other
amusements, which I strove to procure him, was chessplaying, which he
soon learnt and passionately loved. He became so excited that he would
spring up and dance about as if mad, and would frequently play far into
the night.

If by chance any of my horses or mules got loose and bolted, Tiger was
soon galloping after them, and drove them home; it was the same with my
milch kine when they did not come to be milked at the regular hour. In
smoking meat, plaiting lassos, tanning hides, &c., he was very useful to
me, and he very often accompanied me on my hunting excursions, when he
proved a pleasant companion and famous adjunct. Shooting with shot guns
was something new to Tiger, and afforded him great amusement; and as the
clouds of passenger pigeons had arrived to devour our abundant mast
crop, we frequently went across to the forest in the evening when the
birds were settling, sent our shot among them, and brought down

It is incredible in what countless numbers these pigeons fly, I remember
on several occasions watching from the fort their flight over the
forest, when they flew in a line from one end of the horizon to the
other, almost uninterruptedly for two hours. In the woods where they
settle to devour the mast, in a few weeks not an acorn is literally to
be found, and at the spots where they rest at night many trees do not
retain a single leaf on their branches, because the latter are broken by
the birds settling on them in masses. In those parts of America where
pig breeding is carried on extensively, these birds are regarded as a
plague, as they entirely eat up the mast in a very short time. The
pigeons are very good eating, but we who had such an abundance of large
game only followed these smaller varieties for fun, and it is a rarity
to find a shot gun on the border.

Our horses had enjoyed a rather long rest, when I one morning rode
across the river with Tiger to the northern prairies for the purpose of
procuring fresh meat. We had been an hour under way when we reached a
stream, which winds through the prairie to the Leone and is densely
overgrown on both banks with birch bushes. The stream through its
windings forms here almost an island, as it flows past again only a few
yards from its own bed. I saw from a distance a remarkably fat buffalo
in the young fresh grass of this island, and on the other side in the
prairie a herd of about four hundred of these animals. I dismounted
behind the birches, and left Tiger with the horses; then I sprang
through the stream, and crawled on my stomach through the grass toward
the buffalo, Trusty following me exactly in the same way. The buffalo
continued to graze, and did not seem to notice me at all. The sun burnt
fiercely, although the breeze was very fresh, and I became frightfully
hot on this march. The buffalo was one of the largest bulls in the herd,
and seemed to have selected this luxuriant spot for itself; it
frequently looked across to its friends, and drove away with its huge
fat tail and horns the flies which on this day were most troublesome.
Not far from it grew an old mosquito-tree, the only one on this round,
rather large meadow, and a very long, strong, but withered branch grew
horizontally out of its trunk about four feet from the ground.

I was near enough to shoot with certainty, but the buffalo was turned
from me, and I was obliged to wait till it moved before I could kill it.
I lay for a long time motionless with Trusty behind me, whose head I
pressed down to the ground. At last the bull started round, as the flies
had probably given it too fierce a sting, and exposed its whole
enormous side to me. I aimed just behind the shoulder-blade, and as soon
as I had fired laid myself flat on the ground. The buffalo darted round
several times looking for its enemy, but then tottered against the tree,
where it leant against the withered branch to keep itself from falling,
while it burst into a fearful roar and rolled its enormous head. I gave
Trusty a nod, and with a few leaps he was in front of the buffalo and
pinned it by the nose. I had just reloaded when the bushes parted on the
other side of the meadow at a hundred points, the whole herd of
buffaloes dashed through and galloped towards me. They had heard the
complaints of their lord and Trusty's furious barking, and hurried up to
help their comrade. I stood quite exposed, and expected that on seeing
me they would take to flight, but they dashed on straight towards me.
The foremost of the herd were only thirty paces from me when I took out
my white pocket-handkerchief and waved it in the air. The ranks now
broke, and the terrified animals dashed past me on the right and left;
upon which I sent two bullets after them, which certainly went home, but
were carried away by the wounded. Tiger at this moment came through the
bushes with the horses, and said to me, laughingly, that if I had not
had the handkerchief the herd would certainly have run over me. We went
up to the shot buffalo, while our horses grazed near us, paunched it,
and then put up a number of white rags we had brought for the purpose,
and fastened to sticks, and laid a white cloth over it to keep off the
carrion crows. Then we mounted our horses for the purpose of riding home
and fetching the meat in the mule cart.

We were in our saddles when a herd of about 400 buffaloes appeared on a
rise in the prairie, halted in a long point, and stared at us in
amazement. The distance was scarce 300 yards. Tiger looked at me with a
smile, and cried "Alligator Creek," while pointing to the herd. I made
him a sign to ride on, and we were soon galloping behind the flying
buffaloes, which pressed close together and thundered on ahead of us in
a cloud of dust. Tiger's clear hunting yell urged the terrified monsters
to a more rapid flight, and in ten minutes we approached a swampy stream
which crossed the prairie obliquely, and which we had christened
"Alligator Creek," from the number of those animals in it. The banks
were very steep and above twelve feet high, the water almost dried up,
and the deep bed only contained black thick mud.

The dense mass hastened before us towards the banks of the river bed,
and rushed down into the swampy bottom with deafening roars and grunts.
Buffalo after buffalo fell into the ravine till we pulled up on the bank
above them and laughed at their confusion and the efforts with which
they ascended the other bank all coated with mud. I fancied that at
least one half must break their necks, but not one of them remained in
the mud. They forced their way to the other bank atop of each other, and
sprang, apparently at least, quite unhurt up it. I had dismounted and
shot a fat cow, which had borne a calf this year and hence was very
plump. The cows only drop one calf every two years, and for this reason
it is the more inexplicable that the number of these animals is not more
rapidly reduced by the great destruction that takes place among them.
The cow followed the herd but a short distance, and then fell dead on
the prairie. We were obliged to go a long way up the bank before we
could find a low path by which to cross, but soon reached the cow, put
up rags round it, but left the paunching to my people, as we did not
care to dirty ourselves with the mud that covered it.

We now rode the shortest way to the forest on the Leone, and again
crossed the stream on which I had shot the bull about three miles below
the spot where it lay. We passed through the thick bushes out into the
prairie, but Trusty did not follow us. He trotted down the stream,
stopped every now and then, looked up to me and gave his deep bark. I
looked at him curiously, for I knew that he was on some track, when all
at once he disappeared in the bushes and stopped. I gave Czar, whom the
well-known voice had rendered impatient, his head, and soon reached the
bushes among which Trusty was baying, with a revolver in my hand. I
turned Czar into a gap between the bushes, when suddenly the shaggy head
of a furious buffalo rose above the bank within a yard of me. My
startled horse swerved, and cleared the bushes by a tremendous leap,
while the monster dashed past me with a roar and galloped across the
prairie. I soon got out of the bush, however, and went after it, while
Tiger came to meet me. I was close behind the bull, when Tiger flew past
it and gave it a bullet from his long rifle near the neck. The buffalo
followed the piebald with terrible fury, dyeing the prairie with its
blood, when I darted past it and gave it a bullet from my revolver
behind the shoulder-blade, which lamed its left fore leg. Trusty now
attacked it in the flank, and it stood at bay, holding its head close to
the ground, with its nose between its fore feet, and holding one of its
short sharp horns against the dog. The buffalo stood motionless with its
tail erect, while Trusty sprang barking before it, waiting for the
moment when it should raise its head. But its hour had arrived. I rode
within twenty yards, and shot it through the heart: it fell lifeless.

It was one of the bulls I had wounded in the morning, when they hurried
to the assistance of their comrade: feeling bad it had gone to the water
to cool itself, and Trusty had followed its trail to the spot. We put up
rags round this one too, and rode sharply to the fort, whence I sent off
two of my men with the cart and two mules, accompanied by Tiger. They
returned late at night, and brought a heavy load of meat home, which we
cut up and salted the next morning. Of the three hides, they only
brought the one shot first, which was employed in making a very long

Hunting occupied us pleasantly through the autumn, and Tiger grew more
and more used to our mode of life: it became rare for him to remain away
several days without our knowing what had become of him; he also took
greater pleasure in domestic jobs, and applied himself to them more
frequently than at the first period of his stay with us. He learned to
milk the cows, and readily helped in it as he was so fond of milk, as
well as in making vinegar, which he also liked much, and which is made
of the large wild grapes with which the prairie thickets are covered.
For this purpose I had two large empty whisky casks fetched from the
settlement, and this year our vinegar turned out first-rate. Previously
we had made it in smaller quantities of mulberries, plums, or honey,
which was not half so agreeable as that made of grapes.

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 12 of 35)