Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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not sufficiently tall to hide you, you make use of some large skin, such
as a wolf's, and covered with this, crawl up within range. This, however,
is always a dangerous plan, for if you are noticed by a wounded buffalo,
you run a great risk of being trampled to death by it. On these
crawling hunts, I always had Trusty a short distance behind me, who
moved through the grass quite as cautiously as myself, and when it was
necessary, I set him on, and had time to run to my horse, while Trusty
attacked the buffalo and pinned it to the spot.

I always preferred riding after buffaloes, for this is one of the most
exciting modes of hunting I am acquainted with, as it demands much skill
from the rider and agility and training on the part of the horse. Horses
that have been used to the sport for any time are extremely fond of it,
and at the sight of the buffalo become so excited that there is a
difficulty in holding them in. The revolver is the best weapon to use.
You have the great advantage with it of firing several shots without
reloading. I always carried two in my belt, which gave twelve shots, and
also two spare cylinders. I also had my double rifle with me, which lay
unfastened between me and the saddle cloth. The American revolvers are
admirably made, and carry their bullets very accurately for a hundred
yards; but at longer distances they cannot be depended on, as it is
difficult to take aim with them. It requires considerable practice to
kill a buffalo at a gallop, for you may send a dozen bullets into it,
and yet not prevent it from continuing its clumsy-looking though very
rapid progress. The buffalo's heart lies very deep in the chest behind
the shoulder-blades; it can be easily missed through the eye being
caught by the hump on the back; and besides, it requires very great
practice to hit with a pistol when going at full speed. If you shoot the
buffalo at the right spot, it drops at once, and frequently turns head
over heels. The animal is in the best condition in spring, when it has
changed its coat. At this season its head is adorned with long dark
brown locks, and its hind-quarters are covered with shining black hair.
So long as old tufts bleached by the sun are hanging about it it is not in
prime condition, and the experienced hunter never selects such a

On a spring morning - I need not add a fine one, for at this season the
blue sky rarely deserts us for more than a few hours - I rode at daybreak
down the river toward the mountains; a cold, refreshing breeze was
blowing, which had an invigorating effect upon both men and animals.
Czar was full of playfulness. He often pretended to kick at Trusty, his
dearest friend, who was trotting by his side, shook his broad neck, and
could hardly be held in. Trusty ran ahead, every now and then rolled in
the tall grass, kicked up the earth behind him, and then looked up at me
with a loud bark of delight. I too was in an excellent humour; the small
birds-of-paradise, with their long black and white tails and crimson
breasts, fluttered from bush to bush. The humming birds darted past me
like live coals, and suddenly stopped as if spell-bound in front of some
flowers, whence they sucked the honey for a few seconds with their
beaks, and then hummed off to another fragrant blossom. Countless
vultures described their regular circles over my head; above them
gleamed against the ultramarine sky the brilliant white plumage of a
silver heron, or the splendid pink of a flamingo; whilst high up in
ether the royal eagles were bathing in the sunshine. The prairie was
more beautiful this day than I had ever seen it; it was adorned by every
designation of bulbous plants, the prevailing flora in the spring.

Lost in admiration of these natural beauties, which words are powerless
to describe, I reached the hilly ground near the mountain springs; and
first learned from Czar's tugging at the bridle, and his repeated
bounds, that I had come in sight of a herd of about forty buffaloes,
that did not appear to notice me yet. Probably they were engaged with
that portion of the beauties of nature which most interested them; for,
at any rate, they all had their huge shaggy heads buried in the fresh
young grass. I was never better inclined to have a jolly chase than on
this day, and the same was the case with Czar and Trusty. I let loose
the reins, drew a revolver, and dashed among the astounded herd,
looking for a plump bull. Surprised and disturbed, these philosophers
turned their heads towards the mountains, raised their tails erect, and
started in their awkward gallop, with the exception of one old fellow,
the very one I had selected for the attack. He looked after the
fugitives for awhile, as if reproaching them with their cowardice; shook
his wild shaggy mane several times, and then dashed furiously at me with
his head down. I was so surprised at this unexpected attack that I did
not fire, but turned my horse to fly. The buffalo pursued me some
thousand yards, keeping rather close, while his companions halted, and
seemed to be admiring the chivalric deed of their knight. At length he
stopped, as he had convinced himself that he could not catch up to me,
and stamped with his long-haired front legs till the dust flew up in a
cloud around him. I turned my horse and raised my rifle, to make more
sure of hitting the bull, as his determined conduct had imbued me with
some degree of respect. I fired, and wounded him in the side a little
too far back; at the same instant he dashed ahead again, but then
thought better of it, and tried to rejoin the flying herd. I now set
Trusty on him, who soon brought him at bay, and I gave him a bullet from
the revolver. Again he rushed at me, and again fled. In this way,
pursuing and pursued in turn, I had given him five bullets, when he left
the herd in a perfect state of mania, and dashed after me. I made a
short turn with my horse; the bull rushed past; I turned Czar again
towards the buffalo; and as I passed I put a bullet through his heart at
the distance of three yards. The monster fell to the ground in a cloud
of dust, and raised up a heap of loose sand which it stained with its
dark blood.

[Illustration: AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR. _p. 27._]

To my surprise I noticed that Trusty did not come up to the fallen
buffalo, but rushed past it, loudly barking, to the thicket at the
springs, whence I saw an immense panther leap through the prickly
plants. I galloped round the ponds and saw the royal brute making
enormous leaps through the tall prairie grass toward the mountains.
Trusty was not idle either, and was close behind it. I spurred Czar,
and kept rather nearer the mountains, so as to cut off the fugitive's
retreat and drive it farther out on the plains, while my hunting cry
incessantly rang in its ears. It had galloped about a mile, when we got
rather close to it; it altered its course once more, and climbed up an
old evergreen live oak, among whose leafy branches it disappeared. I
called Trusty to heel, stopped about fifty yards from the oak to reload
my right-hand barrel, and then rode slowly round, looking for a gap in
the foliage through which to catch a glimpse of this most dangerous
animal. The leaves were very close, and I had ridden nearly round, when
I suddenly saw its eyes glaring at me from one of the main branches in
the middle of the tree. I must shoot it dead, or else it would be a very
risky enterprise; and Czar's breathing was too violent for me to fire
from his back with any certainty. I cautiously dismounted, keeping my
eye on the panther, held a revolver in my left hand, brought the bead of
my rifle to bear right between the eyes of the king of these
solitudes - and fired. With a heavy bump the panther fell from branch to
branch, and lay motionless on the ground. I kept Trusty back, waited a
few moments to see whether the jaguar was really dead, as I did not wish
to injure the beautiful skin by a second bullet unnecessarily, then
walked up and found that the bullet had passed through the left eye into
the brain. It had one of the handsomest skins I ever took; it is so
large that I can quite wrap myself up in it, and now forms my bed
coverlet. When I had finished skinning it and cut out the tusks with the
small axe I always carried in a leathern case, I rode back to my
buffalo, with the skin proudly hanging down on either side of my horse.
On getting there I led Czar through the narrow entrance into the
thicket, where I came upon a freshly killed, large deer, one of whose
legs was half eaten away. It was the last meal of the savage beast of
prey, and I was surprised it had left its quarry. The noise of the
buffalo and the horse galloping, Trusty's bass voice, and the crack of
the revolver in such close vicinity, must have appeared dangerous to
it, and it had fancied it could slip off unnoticed.

My buffalo was very plump; it supplied me and Trusty with an excellent
dinner, and for dessert I had the marrow-bones, roasted on the fire and
split open with my axe, which, when peppered and salted, are a great
delicacy. A little old brandy from my flask, mixed with the cold spring
water, was a substitute for champagne; my sofa was the body of the deer,
covered with the skin of its assassin.





Years had passed since the first establishment of my settlement, but it
was still the greatest rarity to see a strange white face among us; and
though I visited the nearest town more frequently than at the outset, it
led to no settled intercourse. I rode there several times a year, taking
to market on mules my stock of hides, wax, tallow, &c., and brought back
provisions, tools, powder, and lead. On these occasions I received the
letters which had arrived for me in the interval, posted my own, took my
packets of books forwarded from New York, and then my intercourse with
the world was at an end for six months. The mules and horses certainly
left traces during these rides in the clayey soil, but they were soon
destroyed by heavy rains or trampled by herds of passing buffaloes, and
thus hidden from the most acute eyes. Moreover, on these journeys I
never kept the same road, as I always guided myself by the compass, and
altered my course according to the seasons, as I had to pass spots which
were inundated at certain periods, and others where water at times was
very scarce. The first two-thirds of the country was a wretched sandy
region, without grass, on which stunted oaks grew here and there, very
mountainous and dry, where no one would dream of settling or undergoing
the perils of a pioneer for the sake of the land. Nearer to me no one
ventured to come, as many attempts had been made to settle on this
fertile soil, but had all turned out unhappily; the last of them
entailing the destruction of a family of nineteen persons: on my hunting
expeditions I often saw their bones bleaching in the sun. As I said, no
change had occurred in my position, save that my mode of life was safer
and more comfortable; the country alone still remained a solitude, which
no isolated visitor could enter without staking his scalp.

Hence I was greatly surprised one morning when the sentry came into my
house and informed me that a white man was riding alone along the
river, mounted on a mule, which is the most unsuitable of animals in
the Indian country. I ran with a telescope to the turret at the
south-east end of the fort, and not only found the watchman's statement
confirmed, but also that the man had not even a weapon; unless it was
hidden in two enormous packs which dangled on each side of his mule.
The rider drew nearer, at one moment emerging on the ridges, and then
disappearing again in the hollows. At length our growing curiosity was
satisfied, and a white man, a German, saluted us with an innocently
calm smile. On my asking how he had come here alone and unarmed, he
said cheerfully: - "Well, from the settlement. I was able to find your
mule-track quite easily. Mr. Jones accompanied me for a whole day, and
during the last four I have seen nobody." It soon came out that his
name was Kreger, and that he was a botanist who had come to examine the
Flora about us, which had not yet been collected. For this purpose he
brought with him two enormous bundles of blotting-paper, which hung on
his Lizzy - so he called his gallant charger - and, like woolbags in a
battery, might have protected him against Indian arrows, if he had had
any missiles to reply with; but he only had a pistol in his trowsers'
pocket, which would not go off, in spite of all the experiments we made
with it. Everybody had warned him of the danger to which he exposed
himself on his journey to me; and the last pioneer he passed, a Mr.
Jones, had tried to keep him back by force, but he had merely laughed,
and declared that an Indian could not touch him on his Lizzy.

There are men who wantonly rush into perils because danger has something
attractive for them, and who seek them in order to have an opportunity
of expending the energy they feel within them; there are others who
incur danger in order to display themselves to the world as heroes,
though their courage is not very genuine; lastly, there are men who
expose themselves calmly and delightedly to great dangers, because they
are entirely ignorant of them, and cannot be persuaded of their
existence till they are surprised and destroyed by them. Such a man was
our new acquaintance, Mr. Kreger: we all tried to make him understand
how madly he had behaved, and that it was only by a miracle he had
escaped the notice of the Redskins, which must have entailed his
inevitable death, during his long solitary journey to us, and while
sleeping at night by a large fire. He merely smiled at it all, and said
that it could not be quite so bad, while making repeated applications to
his snuff-box. As regarded his intentions of making his excursions from
my house, I told him it was impossible; because when I went out hunting
I did not waste my time over plants, and he, as no sportsman, would be a
nuisance to me; on the other hand, we could not think of letting him
wander about alone, the danger of which I confirmed by telling him
various adventures of mine. For all this, I received him hospitably;
gave him a place to sleep in, and a seat at table; showed him where to
find corn for Lizzy, where he could wash his sheets - in a word, made him
as comfortable as lay in my power.

I had long intended to explore more distant countries than those I had
visited during my sporting excursions, especially the continuation of
our plateaux to the north, and had made my arrangements for this tour,
when Mr. Kreger surprised us by his advent. On the day after his arrival
we took a walk round the fort and the garden, during which he broke off
the conversation every moment, and plucked some rare plant to put in his
herbal, which he called his cannon; and laughed at the revolver in my
belt and the rifle I carried. I told him that I intended to make a
journey, in which, if he liked to accompany me, he would be able to make
his researches, as my hunting on this trip would be restricted to my
meat supply. He was delighted, and agreed to come with me; to which I
consented on condition of his riding one of my horses, and I recommended
the mustang, whose powers of endurance I knew and tried to prove by
telling him how it came into my possession. But it was of no avail, for
none of my cattle possessed the qualities of his Lizzy; and he offered a
bet that no one could catch her. For the sake of the joke, the mustang
and the mule were soon saddled; a mosquito tree on the prairie, about
half a mile from the fort, was selected as the goal; and away we started
through the tall grass. It was really surprising how fast Lizzy went,
cocking up her rat-like tail and long ears; she accepted with pleasure
the shower of blows that fell on her, and reached the goal only twenty
yards behind me. I laughed most heartily at the amusing appearance of
our naturalist, and expressed my admiration at his mule's pace; but
remarked at the same time, that for no consideration in the world would
I ride her in the country I intended visiting, because I was well
acquainted with the obstinacy of mules, and knew that when called on to
show their speed they refuse to do so, and neither fire nor sword could
induce them. All such remarks, however, produced no change in Kreger's
invincible faith in his favourite; and, as if he had assumed a portion
of Lizzy's obstinacy through his long friendly relations with her, he
irrevocably adhered to his resolution of only entrusting his carcass to
her during the impending excursion.

Our preparations, which were very simple, occupied us about a week; they
consisted in removing Czar's shoes, and rubbing his hoofs frequently
with bear's grease, for the Indians follow the track of a shoed horse as
wolves do a deer's bleeding trail; in grinding coffee, and forcing it
into bladders, and in plaiting two new lassos, for which I fetched two
new buffalo hides, in which chase the botanist accompanied me, and felt
a pride in having given me an indubitable proof of his Lizzy's powers,
for she followed close at Czar's tail during the entire hunt. Mr. Kreger
assisted me in making the lassos. The hide is fastened tight on the
ground with wooden pegs, a very sharp knife is thrust into the centre,
and a strip about the breadth of a finger is cut, until the whole hide
is transferred into one very long line, which, though not so long as the
one with which Dido measured the ground to build Carthage on, attained a
very great length. This strip was then fastened between trees, the hair
shaved off with a knife, after which it was cut into five equal lengths,
and these were plaited into a lasso about forty feet long, which was
once more fastened between trees, with heavy weights attached to it, and
thus stretched to its fullest extent. When such a line has been dried in
the open air, it is rubbed with bear's grease, through which it always
remains soft and supple, and will resist a tremendous pull. The one made
by Mr. Kreger, though not plaited so smoothly and regularly, was useful,
and afforded him great pleasure as a perfection of his Lizzy's
equipment. One end of this lasso is fastened round the horse's neck; it
is rolled up, fastened by a loop to the saddle, undone when the animal
is grazing, and bound round a tree or bush.

The day for our start arrived, and the morning was spent in saddling our
horses and arranging our baggage in the most suitable way for both horse
and rider, a most important thing in these hot regions, for the horse's
back is easily galled, and then you are compelled to go on foot, which
is very wearisome and fatiguing in a country where there are no roads.
The naturalist at length completed his equipment of Lizzy, who looked
more like a rhinoceros than a cross between a horse and a donkey. In
front of the saddle hung the two bales of blotting paper over the large
bearskin holsters, which, in addition to two pistols I had supplied,
were crammed with biscuit, coffee, pepper and salt, snuff, &c. Over the
saddle hung two leathern bags, fastened together by a strap, on which
the rider had his seat. Behind the saddle, a frying-pan, coffee-pot, and
tin mug, produced a far from pleasing harmony at every movement of the
animal. Over the whole of this a gigantic buffalo hide was stretched,
and fastened with a surcingle round Lizzy's stout body, so that, like a
tortoise, she only displayed her head and tail, and caused a spectator
the greatest doubt as to what genus of quadruped she belonged. In order
to complete the picture, Lizzy had two enormous bushes of a summer
plant, which we call "Spanish mulberry," stuck behind her ears, as a
first-rate specific to keep the flies off. I had repeatedly told Kreger
of the absurdity of covering Lizzy with this coat of mail, in which she
would melt away. But he said that I too had a skin over my saddle, and
he wanted his to protect him at night against rain and dew. On the back
of this monster our naturalist mounted, dressed in a long reddish
homespun coat, trowsers of the same material, though rather more faded,
with Mexican spurs on his heels with wheels the size of a dollar, and a
broad-brimmed felt hat, under which his long face with the large
light-blue eyes and eternally-smiling mouth peeped out. Over his right
shoulder hung his huge botanizing case, and over his left a
double-barrelled gun of mine loaded with slugs; his hat Mr. Kreger had
also adorned with a green bush, and sitting erect in his wooden Mexican
stirrups, he swung his whip, and declared his readiness to start. I rode
Czar, and the only difference from my ordinary equipment was that I had
a bag full of provisions hung on the saddle behind me; this and a little
more powder and lead than usual, was all the extra weight Czar had to
carry, and too insignificant for him to feel. With a truly heavy heart I
bade good-bye to Trusty, and most earnestly commended him to the care of
my men. I could not take him with me to an unknown country, where I
might feel certain of getting into situations where I must trust to the
speed of my horse, and Trusty might easily get into trouble. The
firearms I left at the service of my garrison, and consisting of nearly
fifty rifles and fowling pieces, were carefully inspected. We then rode
off, and soon heard the gate of the fort bolted after us.

It was the afternoon when we rode down to the river-side and waded
through the stream. For the stranger this river is most beautiful and
charming, for at its greatest depth it is so clear, that, were it not
for its motion and the leaves, brushwood, &c., floating on it, it would
be doubtful to say whether it contained any water or not. This is
noticed more especially with horses which have to cross such a stream
for the first time; generally they object, and look down at the water,
whose depth they are unable to gauge. You see the stones at the bottom
as clearly as if there were no water, and can distinctly watch the
slightest movements of the countless fish and turtle with which the
streams in my neighbourhood swarm. At the same time the banks are
covered with the most luxurious vegetation, and the gigantic vines cross
it from the tops of the trees, and are in their turn intertwined with
other creepers so as to form a hanging wood over the darting waters.
Most of these creepers adorn the woods with a magnificent show of
flowers, and some trees are so overgrown with them, that none of their
own foliage is visible. The stream in these rivers is so violent that it
is very dangerous to ride through them, especially at spots where the
water is deep enough to reach the horse's girths, and the danger is
heightened by the extremely slippery soap stones which cover the bottom.

I rode first into the river, and Lizzy followed obediently after me,
though it cost some persuasion to make my companion refrain from riding
a few yards lower down in order to pluck some specimens of the beautiful
aquatic plants growing on the surface, for he fancied it was no depth,
while he and his Lizzy, heavily laden as they were, would have sunk, and
never reached the bank again alive. I remember, while hunting, swimming
on horseback through places where the current was extremely violent, and
carried away my dog, which reached the bank eventually, bruised by the
rocks and bleeding terribly. We reached the opposite side without any
difficulty, and followed a deep-trodden buffalo path into the forest;
which runs with a breadth of several miles along the river. After you
have been riding ever so short a time in the sun, you feel the benefit
of the gloomy and impenetrable shade of such a forest in an
extraordinary degree; the air beneath the leafy aisles seems quite
different; it is not only cool and refreshing, but appears to have been
purified in its passage through the leaves, for these forests grow on
elevated ground, where no swamps or standing waters poison the air with
the exhalations of putrified vegetable matter, as is the case on the
banks of the Mississippi and other eastern rivers of America. There is
not a more majestic or imposing sight than such a forest; trees of the
most gigantic size grow in the wildest confusion, strangest shapes, and
most varied hues, so closely together that you cannot understand where
all their roots find room. You see, perhaps, twenty varieties of the
oak, among which the burrel oak is the handsomest and largest; it is
eight feet in diameter, and its stem measures forty feet to the first
branches, while its crown attains a height of one hundred and fifty to

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 3 of 35)