Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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hire out the majority at very low wages; land was too high in price
there, so he preferred taking up Government land here and submitting to
the privations and dangers of a life on the border. He now proposed to
inspect the land, then return and send on John with fifty negroes, so as
to get a maize crop ready, while he would follow in autumn with his
family and five hundred slaves. I was very glad to have such neighbours,
so I gladly offered him my services in showing him as much fine land as
he wanted close to mine.

My guests rested for a few days and amused themselves with inspecting my
farm and arrangements, and making small hunting trips in the vicinity,
in which old Mr. Lasar eagerly joined. It is true that he shot deer and
turkeys with his large fowling-piece loaded with swan shot, through
which many a head escaped him, and I reproached him for doing so, as I
considered this shameful butchery. He allowed his fault, but said that
no other weapon was employed in shooting where he came from, but when he
came out to join me, he would also introduce the rifle.

After my guests had rested sufficiently, I rode with them over to the
Mustang river, passed through its woods and followed its course
southward to its junction with the Rio Grande. Here we turned back up
the stream, and rode along the forest to our morning track, so that the
strangers had ample opportunity for examining the land on both sides of
the river. Mr. Lasar was much pleased, and at once decided on this land,
as it fully satisfied all his wishes. We reached home at a late hour,
and Lasar was so perfectly contented that he proposed returning home at
once; but I urged him to look at other land to the north of me, for
which tour we made our necessary preparations on the next day. On the
third morning we rode up the Leone to the spot where my border line
crossed it two miles from the fort. From this point to the source of
the river lay very fine land too, although the woods were not so
extensive as lower down it.

We spent the night at the wellhead, and then rode northwards to Turkey
Creek, in which tour we found a great deal of land well adapted for
ploughing, although the smaller quantity would have rendered it better
suited for small settlers. Still the country here aroused Mr. Lasar's
admiration, and he declared that before two years had passed it should
be all occupied by friends of his from Alabama. I reminded him of the
human skulls and bones, which I had shown him at the sources of the
Leone, belonging to settlers murdered by the Indians, who had come from
Georgia, and only enjoyed the pleasures of a border life for a few
months. He said, however, that so many families must arrive
simultaneously as would hold the Indians within bounds. For his own part
he decided on Mustang River, and on reaching the fort again, he rested
two more days with me, which we employed in talking over and settling
everything. On this occasion I proposed to hire of him twelve negroes
whom he could send with his son, for I wanted to begin cotton planting.
He agreed most willingly, as, when he settled, he would require a good
many things of me, such as maize, pigs, cows, fowls, tallow, bear's
grease, &c., and we could deduct their value from the rent. On the third
morning I accompanied my guests some distance and then rode home with
the brightest prospects for the future.

A most unexpected event brightened my hopes for the future even more. A
few days after Lasar's departure a party of seven Comanche Indians came
riding up the river, armed with unstrung bows, and no lances. They rode
up to the fence, and one of them shouted - "Captain, good friend," and I
went out to them and asked what they wanted. One of them spoke English
very well, and appeared to me a Mexican, who had probably been stolen by
them in childhood and had since lived among them. He said that the chief
of all the Comanches, Pahajuka (the man in love) had sent them to ask
me whether he might come and make a friendship with me? He had heard
that I was a good friend to other Indians, and wished me to become his
friend as well. The message greatly surprised me, as hitherto, when I
had come in contact with men of this nation, we had used our weapons. My
first feeling was a suspicion that they wished to effect by treachery
what they had not been able to do by arms: still I would not entirely
repulse them, and said that if they were speaking to me with one tongue,
and desired my friendship, I would readily give it to them; but if they
were double-tongued I would become still more their enemy, and in that
case they would not be able to sleep peacefully in these parts.

I told them at the same time that I should expect their chief on the
next morning, on which their speaker intimated that their tribe were
encamped a long way off, and Pahajuka had sent them down from there, but
when the sun rose for the tenth time he would be here. I promised to
wait for him on the appointed morning, and then the savages rode away
and soon disappeared behind the last hill on the prairie. Whatever might
be the results of the impending conference, I was resolved to make every
effort to produce, if possible, more pleasant relations between myself
and the Comanches, as by far the greater number of Indians who visited
our country belonged to this nation, and the incessant hostilities with
them became the more annoying to me in proportion as my cattle and
property became augmented.

It was now winter, and in addition to our domestic tasks, we principally
employed our time in hunting bears, as I greatly needed their grease on
the arrival of the expected new settlers and could sell it very
profitably. For the sake of fun we also went out singly at night to
shoot deer by the system of pan-hunting, so usual in the Eastern States,
but which I rarely employed, although it is remarkably productive. This
hunt is effected on horseback: the sportsman carries over his left
shoulder a stout stick about six feet in length, to the upper end of
which a frying-pan with a high rim is fastened. In this pan he lays some
small-cut pieces of pine-wood, which, when kindled, burn for a long time
with a very bright flame, and allow him distinctly to see every object
for a long distance, while himself seeing nothing of the fire behind his

Deer, antelopes, and other animals when they see the moving fire, hurry
up to it in order to satisfy their curiosity. The hunter can see the
animal's eyes glistening at a distance of eighty yards, while he is
scarce visible himself. He rides nearer up to distinguish the body more
clearly, but generally contents himself with the eyes, which he takes as
his mark, and discharges his rifle at them. Owing to the light which
falls from behind on the barrel and the back of the sight, a most
careful aim can be taken, and as a rule you can ride up to within thirty
or forty yards of the animal. Even after the shot I have seen the unhit
animals only run a few yards and then stop curiously, so that I have
been able to give them a second barrel. Over the horse's hind-quarters a
large wet blanket or hide is laid to protect it from the sparks or coals
that might fall out of the pan. It is the easiest way of killing game,
and in places not thickly covered with wood this mode of hunting
promises an extraordinary charm, through the wondrous illumination which
the fire produces on the green, flower-clad foliage. A whole forest may
be depopulated in this way, and hence I regard it as quite unworthy of a
true sportsman.

For all that, we now and then went pan-hunting for the sake of the fun,
but never shot till we could plainly distinguish the animal, which
prevented any butchery. In the old States, where people only care about
killing the game, this mode of hunting is almost exclusively employed,
and in those regions where game still exists, you rarely enter a
planter's house without seeing a pan behind the door. Very frequently,
though, in those inhabited districts, the nightly sportsman is
disagreeably undeceived by the yell of agony from his own steer, mule
or horse, which he has attracted from its pasture by its fire, for the
flashing eyes do not tell the nature of the animal. I remember going one
night on foot, with the pan on my shoulder, round my field to check the
deer, which were doing great damage to my beans. Suddenly I saw a pair
of large eyes gleaming before me which slowly approached and constantly
became larger and more fiery. They came slowly along the fence to me,
and seemed such a height from the ground that I could not imagine to
what fabulously large animal they belonged. They stopped, but I did not
know whether at a distance of twenty or fifty yards. I fired, heard
something dash across the field, and the eyes disappeared. The next
morning I went with Trusty to the spot where I had fired, and we soon
found a dead lynx, which had come toward me in the darkness walking on
the fence. In those parts, where the cattle graze at liberty, this sport
is consequently most dangerous, as you run as much chance of killing
your best horse as a deer or tiger-cat.

We also had great fun this winter in destroying the wolves, which we
pursued in every possible way, as they were very dangerous to my cattle.
The easiest way of killing them is poisoning with strychnine, but I did
not employ it near my house through fear of hurting my dogs. For this
object we always rode some miles away, threw a fresh deer-paunch on the
ground, and trailed it after us by a long rope. Thus we rode past the
wood out into the prairie, where we pulled up the paunch at a spot which
displayed little grass, and then scattered the little lumps of poisoned
meat. This was always done in the evening, and on the next morning we
rode back to the spot, where we found the dead wolves lying about, which
rarely went a hundred yards from the spot where they devoured the meat.

It caused us greater pleasure, however, to capture them in traps, a
quantity of which we always had set round the fort. They were made in
the following way: - Four stout posts were driven into the ground,
forming a square of about four feet, and inside of them other longer
posts were laid till they formed walls about three feet in height: we
then drove four more posts into the angles of the walls, and fastened
them securely to those outside. In these chests we placed a flooring, so
that the captured animal could not escape by scratching up the ground,
and on the top of the cage a cover, weighed down in front by large
stones. The other end of the cover was fastened to the trap with very
strong withes, and the forepart was raised, a prop was placed under it,
which fell at a slight touch, and caused the cover to shut. At night we
trailed a fresh deer-paunch from a long distance to the trap, threw meat
in, then dragged it to the next trap, and so on till all were baited. We
caught a great many wolves in this way, which we often took home alive
and let the dogs hunt them to death on the prairie. In order to take
them alive out of the trap we used an iron fork, which we struck into
the ground over the wolf's neck, and then pressed its head down till we
had fastened its feet. It is remarkable what an innate dislike dogs
entertain for these animals. Frequently when I had killed one of them,
whose skin was not worth taking home, I merely cut off its nose and
threw it on the ground near the fort, upon which all my dogs gathered
round and kept up the most fearful barking for hours.

At length the day arrived on which the chief of the Comanches had
appointed his visit, and at about 7 A.M. three of these savages came up
to the fort to inform me that their leader was encamped half-an-hour's
distance off in the woods of the Leone, and expected me there. I asked
Tiger's advice, and he advised me to ride out, as the Comanches meant
honestly. I therefore saddled and rode, accompanied by Tiger, one of my
colonists, and Trusty, out to the Indians, and told them they could ride
on and I would follow. We soon reached the spot where Pahajuka was
encamped, and I noticed to my satisfaction that only a squaw and a
single man were seated at his fire.

I dismounted, left my man with the horses, and walked up to the chief,
who now rose and folded me in his arms twice. Then his squaw came to me
and evidenced her friendship in the same way. Pahajuka was a man of
about sixty years of age, of middle height, plump, and possessing a very
pleasant, kindly appearance. He was entirely dressed in deer-hide, had
very fine beads round his neck, and in his raven black hair he had
fastened a tail of plaited buffalo hair five feet in length, on which a
dozen round silver plates, four inches in width, were fastened. He wore
this tail hanging over his right arm, and it seemed to me as if this
ornament was only worn on solemn occasions, as I never saw it again,
though I met this savage frequently. The squaw was a powerful, stout,
extremely pleasant matron, who appeared to take a great interest in
establishing friendly relations between us. She was very talkative, and
the interpreter could scarce keep pace with her tongue.

After the first explanations why they desired my friendship, the squaw
fetched several sorts of dried meat in leathern bags, spread them on a
buffalo hide, and begged me to take the meal of friendship with them.
Tiger, too, sat down, and my other companion was obliged to do the same.
It tasted very poor to us, whose tongues were spoiled by the culinary
art; still we did our best, and the same with the pipe, which Pahajuka
sent round afterwards. When these forms had been gone through, the old
squaw packed up her traps again on her mule, and mounted it, while the
chief seated himself on a similar animal, which was of very rare beauty.

We now rode, followed by the Indians, to the fort, where the latter
camped outside, while Pahajuka and his squaw sat down in our parlour. I
had coffee and pastry served up to them, both of which it seemed they
had taken before, and they disposed of them heartily. Then I gave them
both a pipe and tobacco, and then the conversation began, in which the
interpreter's services were greatly called upon. They told me that
before I came into these parts, the Comanches had always been able to
sleep here quietly, and their children and cattle had grown fat; but
since I had been here, their hearts had always beaten with terror, and
they were unable to sleep at their fire at night. They now wished to
make peace with me, and when they came to me, carry their weapons into
my house, and fold their arms, so that their cattle might graze in
peace, and their children grow fat.

After this affair had been long discussed, and all possible assurances
of friendship given on both sides, I turned the conversation to my
guests, and heard that Pahajuka was supreme chief of the whole Comanche
nation, and his wife a person of importance in all consultations. The
old lady was very sensible and really amiable. She moved with a great
deal of gracefulness, and was constantly in the merriest temper. She
laughed and joked with her husband as if she were a young girl, and if
he reproached her for it by a serious look, she turned laughingly to me,
and asked me if she looked so old as not to be allowed a joke? At dinner
the two old people behaved very properly, although they could not quite
manage to eat with a knife and fork, and frequently helped with their
fingers. They enjoyed everything excessively, and said they would take
with them a bit from each dish. I was curious whether they would sleep
in the fort or prefer the camp of their people. The evening came, and
after we had supped, and food had been given the Indians outside, I
prepared a bed for the old couple in the parlour, put up two tallow
candles for them, and told them when one was burnt out to light the
other, as candles delighted them uncommonly. Then I intimated to them
that I always closed the fort at night, as they must tell their Indians.
They were quite satisfied and lay down on the unusual bed, laughing and

I chained up all the dogs during the night to prevent any disturbance of
the peace, and was awakened at a very early hour by my new friends
rapping at my door. They had both slept famously, and assured me that
ere long all the chiefs of their nation would come to make friendship
with me, and wherever Comanches lived, I could now ride and lie down to
sleep in safety. The old people had something so honest in their manner,
that I no longer doubted the truth of the sentiments they expressed; and
though I never carelessly trusted to the honesty of isolated Indians of
this tribe, the assurance of the couple was confirmed, and I was never
again engaged in hostilities with these people.

My guests remained three days with me, after which I dismissed them with
numerous trifling presents, consisting of articles of clothing, coloured
handkerchiefs, tobacco, a couple of blankets, small hand-glasses, &c. I
accompanied them on their first day's journey, slept with them that
night, and then took leave with promises of a speedy meeting. Afterwards
they visited me regularly several times a year, and as they had
predicted, all the tribes of their nation came in turn to make peace
with me, and their example was followed by others, such as the
Mescaleros, Kioways, Shawnees, &c.





A few months had passed since my Alabama friends left me, and I had
heard nothing more of them, when one morning the watchman told me, with
great joy, that a long train of men, draught cattle, and carts was
coming down the river. I soon recognised through my glass young Lasar
and his cousin Henry, surrounded by a large number of negroes. The train
moved very slowly onwards, and did not stop before the fort for some
hours, when I greeted the new-comers most heartily. John had sixty odd
strong negroes with him, twelve of whom were intended for me; and
brought stores and tools with him on five large waggons, each drawn by
six oxen. He had made the journey by steamer, _vi√Ґ_ New Orleans, and
partly on the Rio Grande. When they landed he bought the draught cattle,
and had reached me without any accident. I kept them a few days with me
to let them rest, and then proceeded with them across to Mustang River,
where they camped on the ground selected by Mr. Lasar.

They chose for their maize-field a spot in the advance woods, where the
soil was rich and loose, and the trouble of blazing the trees and
ploughing round them was saved. The negroes advanced in their job with
almost incredible rapidity, and in a short time a field of some hundred
acres was cleared, ploughed, and fenced. Up to that time, the negroes
lay at nights under tents or in their carts, but now they built
blockhouses and put up fences, in which the mules and horses rested at
night. John rode over to me regularly to spend the night with me, and on
Sunday we hunted in the neighbourhood. He was a good shot, laid aside
the shot-gun for the rifle and pistols, and soon learned to use these
weapons excellently.

My life from this time underwent a change. I had twelve negroes at my
disposal, and must so employ them as not only to get their hire out of
them, but also attain the object for which I had hired them, namely,
making a profit. With this the careless, happy life which had surrounded
me for years, far from humanity, was at an end, and the god of gold,
with his thousand sufferings, hatefulnesses, and sorrows, began to
establish his despotic rule even here. I now made a second extensive
field which was sown with maize, by the side of my old one, while in the
latter I planted cotton, as this plant does not flourish in new ground.
I took young oxen from the pasturage and forced them into the strange
yoke. My mules, which had hitherto only fetched at rare intervals our
few wants from the settlements, were now attached to the plough at
daybreak, and forced with the whip to toil till sunset. My colonists had
so much to do all day that they went to bed at an early hour, and we no
longer sat, as of yore, cozily round the table, talking and jesting
about the unimportant events which had occurred during the day. In a
word, the whole colony felt the change. Peace had departed and made room
for the restless activity of civilization. Tiger did not like the
change, although I carefully avoided everything which might render his
residence among us less agreeable. He was now obliged to ride out
hunting alone, while we required far more meat than before. Still I
frequently tore myself away and went with him for three or four days
into the desert, in order to recall past times, if only temporarily.
Summer arrived with a rich harvest, and with it again fresh,
uninterrupted toil. My neighbours had also been rewarded for their
exertions by an immense maize crop, and employed the late summer in
building larger houses for the reception of Lasar and his family.
Strangers came to prospect the land in our neighbourhood, and all went
away contented with an assurance that they would soon settle here.
Among them were many unpleasant characters, but I consoled myself with
the thought that they would not become near neighbours of mine, for I
possessed all the forest land down the river, so far as it was suitable
for cultivation, and up stream Lasar had purchased a large district
adjoining my frontier. They could not settle on the open prairie without
water or wood, and hence they must proceed to the streams farther north,
where I was tolerably out of their reach.

In autumn, Mr. Lasar arrived with his wife, two daughters, and a younger
son, and brought with him about five hundred negroes, a number of fine
horses and splendid cattle. Our social circumstances thus advanced a
stage. This highly educated and amiable family offered me pleasures
which appeared to me quite new and attractive, and I did not reflect
that I had bidden farewell to them some few years back through sheer
weariness. The deer-hide dress was now frequently changed for the
costume of former days, the razors looked up, an old negress hired who
knew how to wash and iron, and imperceptibly many long-forgotten follies
and considerations crept into our simple, natural life. Civilization,
however, had set its foot in our paradise once for all, and nothing was
able to oppose its rapid advance.

The winter brought several large planters to Mustang River, above
Lasar's estate, and the land toward the northern rivers was occupied by
others, while to the south of us the settlements of the Rio Grande also
increased. All these new-comers were persons who occupied large
districts, by which the disagreeable small neighbourhood was avoided.
Still a few squatters had already settled here and there on the less
valuable small lots between our estates, and among them were some most
unsatisfactory persons.

One Sunday morning I was riding several miles above the fort through the
woods in the direction of the Leone. I had thrown the reins on Czar's
neck and was no great distance from the river bank, when Trusty stopped
and looked round to me with a growl. I called him back and rode slowly
up the small elevation whence I could look down at the river. To my
surprise, I saw there a pretty young woman, with a man's arm round her
waist, sitting on the bank, where they had made coffee over a small
fire, and were now comfortably drinking it. Not far from them a powerful
horse was grazing, and close by stood a two-wheeled cart, which
contained some household articles and provisions. The long single rifle
lay by the man's side, and a couple of deer legs and a turkey were
hanging on the tree behind him. "Hilloh, sir, you are on Indian
territory!" I shouted to the stranger, and he hurriedly leaped up rifle
in hand, but I rode up to him with a smile, and blamed his recklessness,
remarking that if I had been an Indian he would no longer be among the

I was surprised at the beauty of the female, whose raven shining hair
formed an admirable contrast with the deep carmine of her cheeks and
lips, and the transparent alabaster of her delicate skin. She also rose
and looked at me with her large blue eyes, from under her long lashes. A
loose, light dress was fastened round her waist by a red silk
handkerchief, and advantageously displayed her tall graceful figure, and
little feet thrust into light shoes of deer-hide. I asked whither they
were going, and if they were acquainted with the country? The stranger
said that he intended to settle in the neighbourhood: he had followed
the wagon trail of the planter who had settled on the Mustang, and was

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 17 of 35)