Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

. (page 31 of 35)
Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 31 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

not our cattle been so fatigued. It was very late ere we thought of
lying down to rest, and even then the conversation was carried on for a
long time. After the old fashion the turkeys announced to us that day
was breaking. On this occasion, however, we did not shoot any, but each
breakfasted quickly and got ready for going home. A little more
attention was paid this day to our costume; although we could not make
much of it with the greatest skill, still we looked altogether tidier
when we left camp, and each galloped on to be the first. I was obliged
to hint that we still had a long way to go, and ought not to begin with
galloping. The journey to-day seemed very long to us, although our
horses advanced sturdily, as if they too noticed that we were going
home. At about ten o'clock we made a half-way halt and let our cattle
rest for a few hours, while we lit a fire at the same spot where we had
made coffee at the beginning of our journey, and drank it again: at
about two o'clock, however, we saddled and spread over the baggage of
the mules the finest jaguar skins, above which the two splendid stags'
heads were displayed.

We were still busy with our horses, when suddenly Jack kicked up behind,
gave a few springs, and then trotted along the path that led to the
Leone. He would not be deprived of the pleasure of being first, for so
soon as we approached him he doubled his pace, and even galloped when it
appeared necessary. All our cattle now plainly showed that they knew
they were near home, and could not be held in. Long before sunset we
passed through the wood on the Leone, and entered the prairie below the
Fort, where we fired all our shots. We were greeted from the Fort in the
same way, and its inhabitants ran out to meet us and overwhelm us with
congratulations. Everything was as before, except that another good
harvest had been got in, that horses, cattle, pigs, and dogs had
multiplied, and that numerous new settlers had arrived both north and

John was impatient to get home, and left me no time to change my
clothes, as I wished to accompany him. I therefore saddled Fancy, left
Königstein to look after Czar and Trusty, and rode with my companion
toward Mustang River. From a distance we could see that the Lasars had
built a large new house with glass windows and galleries, whose
whitewashed walls glistened through the gloom. We had reloaded and
announced our return to our friends some distance off. Soon after we saw
white handkerchiefs waving, light dresses hurrying out of the garden
gate, and old and young, black and white, hurried to meet us and
welcomed us with expressions of joy and congratulations. I had to
apologize for my dress and retire, but I was obliged to stay to supper,
which meal we took under the verandah, and after it we sat in the garden
before the house, where the perfumes of splendid flowers surrounded us,
which, illumined by the moonbeams, formed graceful groups around us. The
bottles went so rapidly the while, that I thought it advisable to seek
my homeward road before I had any difficulty in finding it.

It was about midnight when I reached the Fort, where I found everybody
up and also cheered by wine, for I had ordered Königstein, when I rode
away, to give them a treat. I, however, soon sought my bed-room with
Trusty, and slept with open doors and windows till the sun stood high
in the heavens. I hastened down to the river, and after a bathe the old
trunks were opened and the garb of olden times was taken out.

Some weeks passed ere I was quite at home again; all the works looked
after, others to be undertaken arranged, and repairs and improvements
carried out. I frequently came across the Lasars; visited, with the old
gentleman, the new settlers in the neighbourhood; consulted with him
about making roads and bridges, and was appealed to by him in any
important undertakings in his private affairs. Although we now felt no
alarm about the Indians coming to the numerous new settlements, their
friendly visits now grew wearisome and disagreeable. Every moment a new
tribe arrived, of whom we had scarce heard, to make friendship with us
and receive presents. Something must be given them, else we ran a risk
that they would take it out on our cattle, or fire the prairie when a
violent wind was blowing, or take some other revenge which would do more
injury than the value of the presents. They no longer ventured on open
hostilities within range of our settlements; to such only the more
distant squatters were exposed, who lived nearer to the desert.

Shortly after our return, arrived a Mr. White, from Virginia, with his
wife, two sons of twelve and fourteen years of age, and two younger
daughters. He applied to Lasar and myself to show him a good bit of land
on which he could settle. The people pleased us, they were friendly and
honest, lived on good terms together, as we noticed on our frequent
visits to their camp on the Leone, and were the right sort to defy such
a mode of life. Lasar and I resolved to take them under our wing, and
induced them to settle at our old camping place on Turkey Creek, for
which purpose we set out early one morning with them, Lasar ordering
twenty negroes to come with us and prepare an abode for the new-comers.
We built for them there in a few days a neat double blockhouse, that is
to say, two houses about twenty yards apart, over which and the space
between one long roof was thrown. Then we surrounded the house with a
palisade, in which they could lock their cattle at night, and fitted for
them a lot of wood, with which they could fence in a garden. Lasar gave
them a handsome cow, and I gave them a breeding sow, some fowls, and
maize to eat and to sow for the coming spring. White was one of those
resolute, unswerving men, who, after struggling for a long time with
misfortune in the civilized world, turn their attention to the western
deserts, where they try to extort from fate what has been refused to
them elsewhere. With his peculiar energy and restless execution of
everything he had once undertaken, he set to work in his new home, in
order, as soon as possible, to lay the foundation of his own and his
family's future prosperity; but unfortunately he was only able to see
the foundation, for the garden was hardly fenced in and the maize field
taken in hand, ere he fell ill, and a violent fever carried him off in a
few days. His eldest son, Charles, rode over to me to bring me the
melancholy news, and tell me that his mother wished to speak to me. I
rode across the next morning with Königstein and a negro. The widow was
sitting inconsolably by the side of her dead husband, without any plan
for the future; and on my entrance pointed - with sobs, and unable to
utter a word - to the dead body. I at once ordered the negro to dig a
grave, and buried the poor fellow; after which I sat down by the widow's
side, and tried to give her some consolation by offering her my
assistance. I proposed to her to settle near me till her sons were old
enough to look after their present farm. But she was of opinion that
they were able to do so already, although not strong enough to do the
heavy field work, such as clearing the land from bushes and trees as
well as felling and clearing the wood itself. If this could be done for
her, she would not leave the spot, as her lads could plough and use the
pick, while both fired a rifle as well as any frontierman; and she, too,
if it came to the point, knew how to use her husband's fowling-piece. I
made every possible objection to her plan of living here alone, but
promised my help and Lasar's if she insisted on adhering to it.

The next morning I said good-bye to the woman, who was determined to
stop here, and promised to send her help to prepare her garden and
fence, and bring her a few trifles for her comfort. I got home at an
early hour, and rode in the evening to Lasar's to tell him what had
happened. The old gentleman at once declared that he would send John off
the next morning with the requisite number of slaves to arrange
everything for the widow, and all the members of the family vied with
each other in displaying their sympathy by sending articles of clothing
and stores of every description. In a week everything was in order at
White's - the garden was laid out, and a field of five acres prepared for
planting with maize, beans, gourds, and potatoes. The best varieties of
vegetables were sown in the garden, and seeds of all sorts given to the
widow. The woman had for the present only to keep the garden in order,
while the sons procured game, which they could shoot at times from their
own door, for all her other wants were amply supplied. Thus peace and
contentment soon returned to this house, and the love of her children
restored Mrs. White the activity and determination which the loss of her
husband had palsied. Dawn found her busy with domestic duties - cleaning
the rooms, dressing her daughters, milking the cows, preparing
breakfast, salting and drying game, in short, with all sorts of
occupations; after that she was seen sitting in the shadow of the roof
between the houses, cleansing and spinning cotton to make clothes for
her children, while the two little girls sported around her, and the
sons were busy in the garden or hunting close at hand. She could recall
them at any moment by sounding an immense cow-horn which hung in the
passage between the two houses, near the door of the keeping-room.

Shortly after peace had settled down again on this solitary abode, the
widow was seated as usual in the cool passage with her daughters, while
her second son, Ben, had gone to the spring to fetch water, and Charles
had gone into the neighbouring wood with his rifle. All at once the very
sharp dogs which guarded the family made an unusual disturbance and ran
barking across the yard that surrounded the house. Mrs. White jumped up
and saw several Indians standing in front of the nearest wood, and then
retire into it again directly after. She seized the horn, sounded it
with all her might, then ran into the room and took down her deceased
husband's fowling-piece that was loaded with slugs, with a resolution
and courage such as has grown almost entirely strange to the feminine
sex in civilization, and is only found on rare occasions on its
outermost frontier on this continent. In a few minutes Ben ran up and
found his mother already behind the palisade with the gun in her hand.
"Quick, Ben, your rifle!" she cried to her twelve year old son; "but
don't forget your bullet, boy;" and then blew the horn again. The dogs
now came in again, and Mrs. White closed the hole in the fence through
which they passed. All at once a frightful yell was heard from the wood,
and from its gloom sprang a swarm of some thirty red-skinned fiends, who
dashed over the grass toward the house with an awful war-cry. "Don't
fire, Ben, till I have loaded again!" Mrs. White cried, and then rapidly
discharged both barrels, sending some forty leaden pellets among the
charging horde. The effect of the two shots at hardly fifty yards
distance was so tremendous that the horde darted in all directions as if
struck by lightning, and eight remained on the grass while the others
ran howling to the wood. "Fire, Ben!" Mrs. White cried to her son, who
had thrust his rifle through the palisades, while she poured a handful
of slugs down her gun, and placed two cotton wads upon them. Ben fired
into the thickest of the fugitives, and one of them fell with his feet
in the air, while the yells of the others filled the air. "I have hit,
mother," the boy said, as he poured fresh powder down the barrel.
"Bravo, Ben! but where is Charles? He ought to have been here by this
time, as he has not been gone long. Run into the house and have a look
at Fanny and Bessie, but come back again directly." Thus Mrs. White
called to her son while she was hurriedly making cotton wads, which she
moistened with her lips, and threw back her long raven hair which hung
over her shoulders. "Mother, Charles is coming with Kitty!" Ben cried,
as he ran out of the house and hurried to the hind part of the fence to
open the gate for their cow Kitty, which was trotting over the grass in
front of Charles. The latter had heard the horn and the shots and yells
of the Indians as he hurried home, had come across Kitty, and had driven
her home.

Everything was quiet, and the Indians did not make the slightest sound.
Charles and his mother secured the two fence gates with logs of wood,
and then the mother went to her young children, leaving her sons orders
to call her if they saw anything of the Indians. The day passed without
the savages making a fresh attack on the settlement; but the greater on
that account grew the widow's alarm, lest they should take advantage of
the night to satiate their vengeance. Toward evening, she bade her sons
lie down and sleep, so that they could keep awake during the night,
while she kept guard in front of the house. The sun set and darkness was
lying over the country, when Mrs. White and her two sons took their
places behind the palisade, and carefully surveyed the open prairie. It
was about nine o'clock, when they saw the light of a fire coming through
the wood, rapidly grow larger, and presently appear on its outermost
edge. Again the fearful yell was raised, with which the savages always
accompany their attack, and the light moved from the forest over the
grass. A dark object moved across the plain toward the house, and the
light shone out on both sides of it. The object slowly drew nearer, and
Mrs. White soon saw that it was a framework of bushes behind which the
Indians were concealed, and pushing it before them. This leafy wall had
advanced within twenty yards, when Charley and Ben fired at it, and the
groans of the wounded were distinctly heard amid the yells of the
assailants. For all that, the wall moved slowly forward, and in a few
minutes leaned against the corner of the palisade, after which flames
suddenly darted up and set the fence on fire. The savages had brought a
heap of dry wood with them behind the screen, piled it up against the
palisade and kindled it, after which they ran back about forty yards and
lay down flat in the grass.

The space behind the fence round the house was now so brilliantly
illumined that Mrs. White feared lest the savages might fire arrows
through the palisades at her boys; hence she retired with them into the
house, and went up under the roof, whither she took her daughters, too,
while the dogs ran furiously along the palisade. Then she raised several
of the shingles with which the roof was covered, and placed others under
them, so that she could survey the brilliantly-lighted prairie, where
she saw the Indians lying in the short grass. At the same instant,
however, sparks fell down from the roof, for the savages had fired a
number of burning arrows, which set fire to the dry shingle roof of
cedar-wood. An inhuman yell of joy from the savages greeted the first
flash of the flames, which soon ascended with a crackling sound.
"Charles, the axe!" Mrs. White shrieked to her son, while she thrust her
double-barrel through the roof and fired at a group of savages lying
together in the grass, who doubtless fancied themselves safe from the
besieged. The unhurt men leaped up with a yell and darted back to the
wood, while the second barrel was fired after them, and again brought
down several. Charles handed his mother the axe, with which she soon
made a hole in the roof and pulled out the blazing shingles, so that the
fire was extinguished in a few moments. Then she ran with axe and gun
down into the yard, reloaded, and checked the fire at the palisades,
which, as there was no wind, spread very slowly and was speedily put
out. The corner of the palisade was certainly burnt down, and there was
a large opening in it, while outside a large heap of burning coals
remained from the fire. Mrs. White, with her sons' help, pulled the
small cart which had conveyed their little property hither into the
opening, and then filled up all the gaps with logs of firewood. The
night was passed under arms, and when dawn lit up the country the heroic
woman looked out of the roof at the battle-field in front of her
fortress without being able to see a trace of Indians. The savages had
carried off the corpses of their comrades in the darkness, and had
probably departed with them in the night to let them rest with their
fathers; for the Indians take the dead bodies of their friends with them
and carry them hundreds of miles to the burial-place of the tribe.

Late on the following night the barking of my dogs awoke me, and when I
shouted out of the fort, asking who was there, Charles White announced
himself and told me what had happened. I had his wearied horse looked
after, gave him a bed, and early next morning rode with him to Lasar, to
consult with the latter what was to be done. This humane man soon formed
a resolution, and told me he would let a faithful old negro, who was not
of much use to him, live at Mrs. White's. He could sow a bit of land
with cotton, the proceeds of which would be his own, and the family
would have a protector in him, as he was an excellent shot and a
fearless, determined man. Within an hour, we were mounted and rode past
my fort, in order to fetch Owl and Tiger. We arrived in the evening at
White's, where we saw the damage done by the savages, and then heard the
story from Mrs. White's own lips, on which occasion she praised Ben's
bravery, who during the narration stood by his mother's side with her
arm thrown round him. The woman was most grateful for our kindness and
sympathy, and said that, with the help of the old negro, Primus, she
would withstand a whole Indian tribe. Primus remained there, and this
settlement was really never again disquieted by Indians. It was,
however, less the presence of the negro that made them refrain from
hostilities, than Mrs. White's heroic defence. At a later date, Indians
told me that the aggressors were Mescaleros, and Mrs. White fired so
many bullets among them all at once, as if the storm-god had been
scattering a hail-storm on the earth. Since then an Indian was hardly
ever seen there. Such atrocities often happened at the outermost
settlements, while very possibly the same Indians who committed them
came to us as friends and were dismissed with presents and assurances of





Shortly after the occurrence on Turkey Creek, I was sitting one
afternoon in the verandah before my house and drinking coffee, when I
saw a long way down the prairie a cloud of dust coming down the river.
Curious as to who it could be, I went into the house and fetched my
telescope. I saw three Indians on horseback, a man in front, and two
squaws following him. They rode very fast, in spite of the great heat,
and soon came up the hill to the Fort. I went out to them, and all three
came through the palisade gate, and pulled up in front of my house. The
warrior leapt from his horse, while the two girls remained seated on
theirs. He told me in English that a tribe of Indians wished to make
friendship with me, and the chief had sent to inquire whether he would
be allowed to pay me a visit with his people. I asked him to what nation
they belonged, which question appeared, as it seemed, to be disagreeable
to him, and he passed it over in silence. He then said something to the
two girls which I did not understand, and then told me they were
Mescaleros, but not of those who made the attack on Mrs. White. The
chief of the latter was no good friend of the white men; but the father
of these two girls was a very good friend, and hence he wished to come
and tell me so himself. I replied, that I should be glad to see him
here, and invited the girls to drink coffee with me, which invitation
they did not at once accept, but, with their elbows resting on their
horses' necks, gazed at me curiously, and then took side glances through
the open door of my house at the interior. I offered them cigars, and
took a lucifer match out of my box, the lighting of which surprised them
immensely. I lighted my cigar at it first, and then handed it to them,
and they loudly expressed their satisfaction at the excellence of the
tobacco. I then took a drink of coffee, and handed the cup to one of the
girls, who first examined it curiously all round, and then raised it to
her lips to taste the contents. She had scarce tasted it, however, when
she emptied the cup at a draught, and gave it back to me, with an
intimation that I should give her sister some. I gave her a full cup,
too; she emptied it at a draught and asked for more, so that in a few
minutes my whole supply of coffee was expended. I gave them cakes, which
they ate with equal appetite, and then went into the house to fetch a
bottle of sweet Spanish wine. I poured out a glass, tasted, and handed
it to one of the Indian girls, but she declined it, and after saying a
few words to the man, their glances lost the calmness and merriment
which they had gradually assumed.

I emptied the glass and placed it on the table, without again offering
them wine, but handed them a light for their cigars, which had gone out.
After a while the man asked me whether it was fire-water the bottle
contained, and when I replied in the negative, and assured him it was
capital wine, he said that one of the girls wished to taste it. I filled
the glass, put it to my lips, and handed it to her on the horse: she
raised it to her lips rather timidly, but drank the wine off at a
draught so soon as she had once tasted it. Her eyes beamed with joy, and
as she sat up on her horse, and passed her hand from her neck over her
breast and stomach, she said, with an expression of delight, "Bueno,"
and handed me the glass back with a sign to give her some more. I filled
it again, but gave it to her sister, who was looking on silently but
eagerly. She, too, liked the wine, and emptied the glass, which I set on
the table. At this moment both girls leapt from their horses, gave the
bridles to the Indian with a disdainful gesture, while one of them told
him imperiously to take the horses to graze; I at least concluded so
from the gestures with which she accompanied her words, and from his at
once going off with the horses. The speaker then turned to me with a
most gracious smile, and, after throwing a contemptuous glance at the
man, said to me "Mexicano," and now it became clear to me that he was a
slave, probably stolen by this Indian tribe when a boy.

The two young savages now ran up to the verandah in front of my house,
and I saw for the first time properly what remarkably pretty visitors I
had; for both girls had been so crouching on their horses that but
little of their figure could be seen. The one who seemed to me the
younger, was very tall, slim, and most beautifully formed; her shape was
elegant, but round and full, and her bones so delicate, that the
comparison between horse and deer involuntarily occurred to me; her
hands and feet, like those of all Indians, were very small, and so
gracefully shaped that the white colour was not missed. On
proportionately broad shoulders and a plump, round neck, she carried her
head freely, and her demeanour proved that she was perfectly well
satisfied with herself. Her glossy black silky hair hung, fastened
together on the left side of her head with a strip of vermilion leather,
for a length of four feet over her shoulders, and on the top of the red
fillet floated by the side of her head a round bush of countless
feathers of the most brilliant colours, which heaved up and down at
every movement. Her fine lofty forehead was adorned by sharply-cut,
glistening eyebrows, beneath which black eyes flashed; but their wild
expression was toned down by the shadow of long eyelashes, and only in
moments of excitement did the passionate look return to them. The small,
pretty nose turned up slightly at the end, and gave a saucy look to the
face, while the laughing, fresh, half-parted mouth, with its full cherry
lips, cut in the shape of a Cupid's bow, heightened the expression. When
the laughing lips parted they displayed the most beautiful and regular
teeth, and in the peach-coloured cheeks were two deep dimples. At the
same time her mien was elegant, her movements were rapid but graceful,
and her whole appearance was full of young life, unchecked and wild,
but attractive and pleasant. Her dark colour passed easily from light
brown to olive, and announced that under it dwelt those warm feelings

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 31 of 35)