Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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and exquisitely painted; her finely-formed long neck was adorned by a
necklace of white beads, and on her plump, graceful arms she had a
number of polished brass rings. Her father, Pahajuka's son, so the old
squaw told us, was shot in a foray in Mexico, and the old people had
adopted her as their daughter. I was sorry that I had nothing with me to
make her a present of, but I promised her lots of pretty things if she
would visit me at home with the old folks, and the latter promised to do

The moon was up, and my guests rose to mount their mules, in which I
assisted the squaw. I wished to accompany them to their camp. They rode
in front and I followed with their daughter Tahtoweja (Antelope) along
the skirt of the wood, and reached the camp not long after them, which
consisted of some forty large tents of white buffalo hides, which were
put up in two long rows and formed a wide street, on both sides of which
the fires were burning in front of the tents. Pahajuka dismounted in the
middle of this street, and his squaw was leading his horses away when I
reached the first tents with the young Indian girl, and the old chief's
thundering voice rolled along the camp, while he walked quickly up and
down the tents with the most animated gestures. My companion pulled me
back by the hand when I was going up to him, and led me aside behind
the first tent, where she sat down and peeped round it at him, while I
noticed that all the Indians had crept into their tents and only popped
their heads out. For half an hour the old fellow stormed up and down the
camp, during which time no other sound was heard, and not one of the
Indians ventured to come out of the tents. All at once he came up to me
as calmly and pleasantly as if he had not uttered an angry word, took me
by the hand, and led me to his fire, where I was obliged to sit down. He
told me he had been giving his people a reproof for the impudence with
which they had forced themselves into my camp, so that they might learn
how to behave with white friends. I remained with them a long while, and
listened to the animated, sensible stories of the old squaw, which were
at times interrupted by a reproving look from Pahajuka, when he fancied
she was more lively than propriety admitted, and that her remarks
slightly wandered from the literal truth; then, however, she bent over
him, laughingly pressed his head to her bosom, and patted him on the
back with her hand till he freed himself from her affection.

Tahtoweja too became more lively, took part in the conversation, and
laughingly supported the old lady in her amicable dispute with Pahajuka.
At the same time she became quite impatient when the interpreter did not
express her remarks quickly enough, and tried by signs and gestures to
make up for his omissions or incorrect rendering. Her language was quick
and fiery, her large eyes, in which the flame of our fire was mirrored,
flashed with the stream of her eloquence, and her little hands or
fingers sought to render her meaning clearer, and in all these movements
there was extraordinary power, decision, and grace. So soon, however, as
she ceased speaking, she sat motionless, looking down or attentively
listening to the remarks of her foster parents, while her dark eyes were
fixed on them. She sat slightly back from the fire, so that the outline
of her dark form was blended with the obscure background, and the small
fire only lit up her eyes and her beautiful teeth when speaking, by
which her appearance acquired a peculiar and mysterious charm.

It was late, and except our little party there was not an open eye in
camp. I got up, offered my hand to my hosts, wished them good night, and
when I put my hand to Tahtoweja she sprang up and laughing pointed in
the direction of my camp, that she would accompany me, and at the same
time gave the old squaw an inquiring glance. The latter nodded her
assent, adding that she would accompany me too, but her feet were no
longer so light as those of Antelope, and so the latter passed her
graceful arm through mine and walked with me along the forest through
the dewy grass. The distance was only a few hundred yards, and when we
turned round the angle of the wood our camp was blazing brightly, and
lit up my still waking comrades who were sitting round it smoking. Here
Tahtoweja stopped, pressed my hands kindly while wishing me good night,
and flew through the light mist back to her camp.

The next morning before daybreak Pahajuka with his squaw and pretty
daughter joined us. The latter ran up to me with the pleasantest morning
greeting, took the pipe from my mouth, and placing it between her cherry
lips, sat down among tiger skins by the fire, making me a sign to do the
same. We prepared as good a breakfast as our means allowed in honour of
our guests, served up the last of our biscuit and handed round
afterwards some Madeira which I owed to the kindness of Lord S - - .
After our friends had enjoyed themselves thoroughly, they returned to
their camp to prepare for a start, for, as Pahajuka told me, they wished
on this day to reach the northern arm of Canadian River, between which
and the stream on which we now were, no water was to be found. I went
across with them to see the large tents loaded, while my comrades packed
our animals, for, as our road ran in the same direction. I wished to
accompany our savage friends. When we arrived in camp we found perfect
quietude there, the various families were lying round the fires in front
of the tents engaged in breakfasting, while the children were amusing
themselves in the long tent street with shooting arrows, throwing
stones, wrestling, and running races, in which they were observed,
praised or blamed by their parents. Pahajuka stopped at the first tent
and shouted a few words I did not understand, upon hearing which all the
squaws hurriedly rose and set to work striking the large tents. The
latter are about fourteen feet high, pointed at the top, and some twenty
feet in diameter on the ground. There are openings above on the sides
which can be pulled open in the direction of the wind to let the smoke
out when the weather is cold and the fire is lit in the middle of the
tent. The buffalo hides of which the tents are composed are tanned
white, and adorned inside and out with paintings. They are very thickly
sewn so that no rain can penetrate, and in winter when the fire is
burning the interior is very warm and cozy.

In a quarter of an hour all the tents had disappeared, and at the spot
where they had stood lay bundles bound with straps. The squaws came up
with the horses and mules, hung on each side of them a very long tent
pole which was allowed to trail behind, and a few feet from the end
fastened cross bars, on which they placed the tents, buffalo hides,
cooking utensils, and all their traps, and then seated either themselves
or their children atop, while others mounted horses or mules, and took
two or three or even four children up with them. While the girls and
squaws were performing this operation the warriors lay smoking round the
fire, and only rose when their horses and weapons were brought to them.
In less than half an hour everything was ready for a start, and one of
the Indians took some firebrands of musquito wood, which keeps alight
for a very long time, and rode ahead of the party southward, while I,
accompanied by Pahajuka, his squaw, and Tahtoweja, returned to my camp
and mounted Czar, and we then followed the Indians.

It was a glorious day: the sharp breeze rendered the heat endurable,
while clouds every now and then obscured the sun. We rode sharply on
without a check, as the distance to the appointed camping-place was over
sixty miles. Still our horses did not object to it, as we followed the
track of the Indians, and their numerous cattle formed a smooth road,
and they often made the last ride at the head of the file, so as not to
fatigue individual horses too much. Our road ran over an open prairie,
and the sky line soon formed the horizon. The grass around us glittered
in the darkest green, which in the distance grew lighter and lighter,
till at the extreme point of sight it melted away into the blue colour
of the sky. Flowers of the most varied hues sprang up out of the rich
verdure, and for a long distance dyed various spots on the prairie with
their prevailing colour. Pahajuka and his squaw trotted in front of us
on their capital mules, while Tahtoweja kept her stag-like little pony
at an amble by my side, and took all possible trouble to keep up a
conversation with me by means of signs. On her saddle lay several folded
hides, on which she sat like a cushion, and her little feet were thrust
into wooden stirrups on either side of her horse's neck. She frequently
swung her small, graceful leather-woven whip over her horse's head, and
spoke to it in her sweet voice, while pulling up its head with the

Without resting we rode the whole day, and had only now and then
opportunity to water our horses at standing pools, till the sun sank
beneath the western prairie, and we could scarce recognise to the south
the blue outline of the woods on Canadian River. Darkness very rapidly
spread over the plain around us, while the sky was still red over the
departed sun, and in the east a pale yellow patch on the horizon
announced the rising moon. Our horses had fallen into a swinging walk,
when the new light appeared above the prairie and rose like a glowing
ball above us, while the clouds were gradually lit up by its silvery
light. A fiery shower of fire-flies glistened over the extensive plain,
and in front of us lightning flashes in the distant southern heavens
every now and then displayed to us the dark contour of the forest which
we were approaching. It was not far from ten o'clock when we unloaded
our wearied animals on the skirt of the forest near the long-looked for
river, and camped close to our savage friends. After supper no long time
was granted to conversation, for each soon sought his bed to rest after
the exertions of the ride. The next morning Pahajuka, his squaw, and
daughter, again shared our breakfast, and then prepared to go on, while
we resolved to rest for the day. The two old people were very sorry at
being obliged to leave us, but promised, without fail, to come to my
house after the great council on Puerco River and remain some time.
Tahtoweja tried by laughing to hide the tears which glistened in her
long lashes as I helped her on her pony and bade her good-bye. She gave
me a small leathern pocket very artistically worked in beads which hung
from her belt, while she was unable for her sobs to utter the words she
wished to say. She pointed to my eyes, then to the parcel in my hand,
laid her little hand on her heart, and said - Tahtoweja. Once again she
offered me her hand, and then hastened to join her grandparents, who
were already leading the file behind the fire-bearer.

Carrying fire from one camp to the other appears to be a custom peculiar
to most of the savage tribes in this country. They halt on the last
elevation, whence they can look back at the deserted spot, lay a still
smoking brand on the ground, wave a farewell across, and then try, by
swinging and blowing the brand, to keep it alight as long as possible:
on a long ride they naturally do not bring it burning into the new camp.

We halted this day on the northern Canadian River in order to rest our
cattle, which had the most splendid pasture here, and the next morning
marched south again. Toward evening we reached a spring which ran out of
a low range of hills. Here we found a pleasant camping spot, and
followed the course of this stream on the following day to the Southern
Canadian River, on whose bank we unsaddled, after crossing it with much
difficulty. From this point we altered our course, as we went up stream,
in order to reach its springs, the southernmost of which well up in the
Sacramento Mountains, at the point where the latter form a low pass
which separates them from the mountain chain which runs parallel with
the Puerco river, in nearly a southern direction, to the San Saba
Mountains, and form an extensive rich valley between themselves and the
former river. On the western side of the Puerco, between it and the Rio
Grande, with which it also runs parallel, again rise large ranges,
forming beautiful valleys toward both rivers, until the former river
falls into the Rio Grande at the western end of the San Saba Mountains.
All these rich regions on both sides of the Puerco as far as the Rio
Grande and the western settlements in Texas, the Comanches and
Mescaleros regard as their property, and only tolerate there a few of
the civilized tribes, such as the Delawares, Kickapoos, &c., because
they fear them, and do not care to be engaged in war with them.

This district is indubitably by far the finest in the whole of the
States, as regards richness of soil and climate, as here tropical and
northern vegetation are blended. The banana, the cocoa-nut, the orange,
the plum, the apple, and the cherry flourish, and vines spread over all
the woods: the soil in the valleys is extraordinarily rich and
productive during the whole year. The pasturage is incomparable, and
cannot be equalled in the whole world: it is covered with the splendid
musquito grass, which remains green and juicy in winter as in summer,
and sooner or later these valleys will support as many domestic animals
instead of the countless herds of wild creatures now living there. The
climate is magnificent; the great summer heat is rendered endurable by
the cooling winds from the Gulf of Mexico, while the winter has no long
lasting rain, and a very slight frost is only felt rarely, just before
daybreak. There is no visible cause for diseases, as there are no
swamps, and the forests as well as the prairies consist of undulating
land, from which the water left by heavy showers or inundations of the
rivers quickly recedes. The region is abundantly traversed by the
clearest streams, which well up in the neighbouring granite mountains,
and through their remarkably rapid fall render it an easy task to
irrigate the surrounding land should ever a drought occur. The great
variety of plains, hills, mountains, and the most luxuriant vegetation
in the virgin forests as well as on the plains, impart to these regions
remarkable picturesque attractions which are heightened by the
transparency of the atmosphere, the dark blue sky, and the peculiar
light effects.

Our road now ran along the south side of the Canadian River to the west,
and in a few days the Sacramento Mountains rose before us. We reached an
affluent of this river, on which some miles farther up the iron stone
was said to lie with which Tiger told us the god of hunting had killed a
Weico. As it would not take us very far out of our course if we rode to
it, I requested Tiger to lead us to it. Before sunset we reached a
prairie, round which the little wooded stream ran in a semicircle, and
saw in the centre of it the stone rising about three feet out of the
short grass. It was a meteorite of enormous size; its circumference on
the plane measured twelve feet, and it did not rest on rock; it must
have sunk a great distance into the ground, although the latter is
excessively hard on the prairie. It had considerable magnetic power, was
of a dark rust colour, and so hard that it cost us great difficulty to
knock off a few splinters with the back of our axes. It is certainly the
largest stone of this sort in existence - at least the largest I know are
much smaller, and it would repay the trouble and expense to fetch it
from this desert and convey it to some museum.

We slept here for the night, and had to hear several times the story of
the Weico who was slain with this stone. The next morning we left the
river, marching westward along the mountains, and camped again on the
banks of Canadian River. For about a week we followed this course, to
the spurs of the Sacramento Mountains, where we left the river, and went
along the former to the south, until in a fortnight we reached the
sources of the Red River, which flow from the eastern slopes of these
mountains. We rode up them to their source among the granite rocks,
where we found at a considerable height a splendid camping place, on
which we found the remains of several Indian camps, made by foot
Indians, who do not carry large tents with them. They consisted of long
thin sticks, four or six of which were crossed and had both ends stuck
in the ground; over these sticks they hang skins, and thus obtain a
decent shelter against rain and cold. A much-trodden path led on the
north side of this stream to the camp, and from here ran up to the
saddle of the hill, and thence, as Owl and Tiger told us, down it to the
south, over the San Saba range, to the sources of the Rio de las Mires,
which stream falls into the Gulf of Mexico at Corpus Christi. This is
one of the oldest connecting paths of the Indians between the northern
lands of the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf, and proves by the depth it is
worn in the rock that it has been used since the earliest period by
these wanderers as well as the four-footed denizens of the desert.

The springs at which we camped welled up under immense granite crags,
which rose in terraces, and formed in front of them a small basin in
which they collected and flowed in a rivulet through the plain on which
our cattle were grazing, and thence to the wide prairies which we had
recently crossed. Around us lay large masses of rock, which had probably
fallen from the heights, between which the path wound upwards. On the
east we gazed at the immense plains through which Canadian River marked
its course by the rich woods that overshadowed it, and at our feet we
looked into savage gorges, from which here and there small patches of
grass and scrub peeped out, and a few enormous cypresses raised their
gigantic branches, inviting the wanderer in these deserts to enjoy a
fresh draught in their shade, as these noble trees only flourish in the
vicinity of water.

Day had scarce broken on the next morning, when we prepared breakfast,
and the sun had not risen over the eastern horizon, and the valleys were
still covered with mist, when we were already mounted and going up the
path, to take advantage of the cool of the morning, as during the day we
might calculate on great heat upon these barren rocks. The morning was
splendid. The fresh, cool mountain breeze refreshed us, and every plant,
every blade of grass between the rocks seemed to enjoy the treat. We had
ascended a considerable height when the sun spread its beams over the
earth. Our path ascended from hill to hill, till at about ten o'clock we
reached a barren table-land, which in some parts was broad and others
narrow, and overshadowed by crags. The landscape on either side of us
was remarkably fine, and frequently the crags in our immediate vicinity
offered very pretty pictures. When we drew near the western slopes, we
looked down into luxuriant valleys on both sides of the Puerco, as far
as the hilly range which divided that river from the Rio Grande, or a
distance of from 150 to 200 miles. Farther south, in the valley on this
side of the river, was an isolated mountain, whose peak ascended to the
clouds, and which the Indians called the Guadaloupe Mountain. When our
road ran nearer the eastern slopes, or the plateau along which we were
riding became narrower, our eyes rested on the rich grasslands to the
south of the river in the vicinity of the Salt Lake we had passed on our
journey, as well as on the numerous streams which spring up on the
eastern side of our mountains, and flow, some to the Brazos, others to
the Colorado. It was now very hot, however, in spite of the violent
breeze; but a rest without any shade could not refresh us. The stony
strata along which we rode, and which at times were deeply trodden in,
reflected the sunbeams and rendered the heat almost unendurable; our
animals dripped with perspiration, and trotted on with hanging heads, as
if anxious to get away from this glowing surface. Nowhere, however, did
we see a spot to receive us in its shade, as the sun was vertical, and
the few lofty rocks we passed cast no shadow. No path ran on either side
downwards, which might afford us hopes of reaching water, and the few
cypresses which indicated it to us were too far down in the bottoms for
us to attempt to get to them. Our cattle became more and more tired, and
at last hardly able to move, when the sun had sunk a long way on the
western horizon. We halted several times in the shadow of large rocks to
let our cattle breathe, and gave them the juicy pear-shaped fruit of the
cactus, which grew here abundantly, and they eagerly devoured it. My
comrades also ate them contrary to my advice, and several of them became
very unwell in consequence. Such a rest could not do us much good, and
so we continually urged our horses on, till after passing about sunset
between tremendous crags, we found a broad path, which soon wound down
the eastern slope, when about a mile farther on we saw a copse of low
cypresses. With great delight we accepted their invitation, and followed
the path which ran into a small glen, where we found good grass and
splendid spring-water.

Here, too, we found the traces of several Indian camps, some of which
seemed to be quite recent. The few halting-places in the vicinity of
this mountain path are well known to the savages who go over these
mountains, and are used by them like hotels by travellers in the
civilized world. We kept up a large fire during the night, as we here
heard for the first time the howls of the jaguars rising from the valley
to us, so soon as darkness lay over the earth. We allowed our cattle to
graze till far into the night, when they lay down, and we brought them
near our fire and slept quietly till dawn.

The sun had scarce risen, when we left this spot and hastened back to
the road across the ridge. Our cattle walked quickly along the path in
the cool morning breeze, and at about nine o'clock Guadaloupe hills lay
to the north-west, while the western mountains on the opposite side of
the Puerco opened, and allowed us a view through a broad pass of the Rio
Grande and Paso del Norté. This is the only easily accessible pass
through the Cordilleras, through which, too, ere many years elapse, the
locomotive will snort from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Between this
pass and the mountains on which we were standing, stretched out the rich
green valleys on both sides of the Puerco, and through it we saw in the
extreme distance the blue contour of the mountain ranges beyond the Rio
Grande. Though it was so grand up here, we longed to be down below on
the banks of the Puerco, and resolved to seize the first opportunity of
descending afforded us by a direct path. During the whole day, however,
we only found indistinct traces where buffaloes had descended the
western slopes, till at about four P.M. we found a very practicable
path, which crossed ours from east to west, and which we went down. It
was at places so steep that we were obliged to lead our horses, and the
latter slipped down on their hind-quarters after us: then again it wound
round crags, past precipices, and between isolated peaks, up hill and
down, until about sunset we reached, greatly fatigued, a rivulet, upon
which our cattle greedily fell. The path ran down from the spring, and
we followed it for about half an hour, till about nightfall we reached a
small leafy coppice, in which we camped. Tiger and Owl were of opinion
that the path led down to the valley, as it ran past the springs, and
because a path corresponding with it had run down the eastern side of
the mountains.

The next morning we ate our last meat at a very early breakfast, and
Tiger saddled his horse to make certain whither the path ran, and also
to try and shoot a deer or an antelope, of which there were large
numbers on these mountains. During this time we wished to let our cattle
graze and recover, as they greatly needed rest; and in the event of our
being obliged to ride back to the ridge, we wished to halt here till the
next day. The sun had just risen when Tiger left us. We lay in the shade
of the closely-growing elms and poplars, and were drinking coffee at
noon, as Tiger had not yet returned, when we suddenly heard the
footsteps of a horse beneath us, and directly after saw the piebald come
round the precipice. Our surprise was great, however, on seeing that the
horse's handsome white seemed dyed quite red on the neck and breast, and
Tiger too, when he drew nearer, was quite bloody. I hurried toward him,

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 29 of 35)