Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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which are only born under a hot sun.

Though the interpreter was absent, our conversation now went on better
than before, as the eyes of the Indian girl and her gestures rendered a
dictionary quite unnecessary. She quickly disposed of another glass of
wine, and would certainly have drunk a good deal more, had I not filled
the glass again and handed it to her sister, and then locked the bottle
up in a cupboard. The sister displayed less of the passionate Indian
blood; she was quieter in her movements, and though she, too, frequently
opened her mouth to smile, she did not burst into a loud laugh, and
while the former looked all around, the eyes of the quieter girl were
fixed the more firmly on the object she was surveying. She was shorter
than her younger sister, but much plumper, more of a Titian's beauty,
had also splendid hair, arranged in the same fashion, coal-black, but
smaller flashing eyes, a graceful aquiline nose, and a smaller mouth.
Her colour was rather darker than that of her sister, and it was
doubtful whether a dazzling white or this transparent brown was the more
beautiful colour for the skin.

The name of the elder sister, who was about nineteen years of age, was
Cachakia (sparkling star), while the younger was called Pahnawhay
(fire), and had not seen more than sixteen summers. The costume of these
two savage beauties was much alike. Over their shoulders hung a
handsomely painted, costly dressed deer-hide, in the centre of which was
a long slit, through which they thrust head and neck. This mantilla was
ornamented all round with a fine long leathern fringe, to whose ends
glistening stones and shells were attached; it hung lower down before
and behind, and left the pretty round arms at liberty. Round their hips
was a petticoat, also of leather, adorned with long fringe, and
handsomely painted in colours, while the leathern trousers were also
decorated at the sides with similar fringe. Their little feet were
thrust into deer-hide shoes, also ornamented with, stones, shells, and

Pahnawhay was the first to run up into the gallery; at each step she
rose on her feet as if walking on whalebone, while Cachakia came on with
a quieter but scarce audible step. Both sate down at the table, and the
younger sister took the wine-glass and drained it, while making me signs
to give her more wine. I made her understand that she had better not
drink any more, as it might send her to sleep; but I would give them
some more before they rode away. Pahnawhay had looked for a long time
curiously at my room; at last she jumped up and ran to the door, and
leaning against the lintel, thrust her head in as far as she could. With
a loud cry of amazement she sprang back several steps, clapped her
hands, and, with a beaming face, said something to her sister, and then
ran back to the door. I went into the room, and made her a sign to
follow me; but she only took one step across the threshold, looked
around her in amazement, and then cried to her sister to come, who,
however, did not obey her. I now went to Cachakia, took her by the hand,
and led her into the room, where I made her sit down in my large
rocking-chair. The admiration and surprise of the two girls were
extraordinary; they remained for a long time motionless and silent,
looking from one object to the other, until Pahnawhay first found her
speech again. Running to my bed, she drew a red blanket from under the
jaguar skin, that served as counterpane, and hung it proudly over her
shoulders. As she had not yet noticed my large looking-glass, I led her
in front of it, and a loud cry of surprise burst from her pretty mouth.
She turned round before it, and at last ran up and from it with the most
graceful movements, while Cachakia looked at her in silence, but showed
by her flashing eyes that she would like to be in her place. I now led
her in front of the mirror, took a bright silk handkerchief from a
chair, bound it round her thick hair under the tuft of feathers, and
made her understand that it was hers. I then took another blue and
yellow one out of the chest of drawers, and fastened it round
Pahnawhay's hair, for I knew if I did not it would be all over with her
good temper.

Everything in the room was now examined, and if possible handled, and I
had to explain its use. Cachakia too became gradually more animated and
took a greater share in the conversation, always trying to make me
understand that her sister knew too little and her chatter was not
worthy of attention. Everything pleased her, and when she saw anything
she wished particularly to have, she made me understand that we would
swap, but never said what she intended to give me in exchange. Still I
could not help giving both a number of trifles, such as knives,
thimbles, needles, cotton, and sewing-silk, and I was very glad when the
negroes came and announced that the dinner I had ordered for my guests
was on the table, through which their desires took a different
direction. I conducted them to the dining-room, and was obliged to dine
with them again in order to show them the use of knife and fork, which
they, however, soon laid aside and employed their little fingers
instead. They liked everything, but the pudding most, and when coffee
and cakes were again served, it seemed as if they intended making a
separate meal of them. After dinner I gave them cigars and intended to
keep them in this room till they rode off, but they soon got up, and
after pointing round the room and saying with a dissatisfied expression,
"no bueno," they walked off straight to my house. Whether I would or no,
I was obliged to admit them, and Cachakia was now the first to nestle up
to me and point with her little hand to the wine-glass, while she looked
up at me with her sparkling black eyes and laughingly displayed two rows
of pearly teeth. I could not possibly refuse her, and when I had filled
the glass to the brim she raised the golden liquid to her lips and drank
it to the last drop. Pahnawhay also drank a glass, but then I locked the
bottle up again, and in spite of Cachakia's languishing looks and her
sister's more stormy requests I did not take it out again.

Pahnawhay had again taken the red blanket from my bed and walked round
me praising it loudly, while I was sitting by Cachakia, but she seemed
not to have the courage to ask me for it. I noticed her embarrassment,
and as I had long wished to have a dress like these girls were wearing,
I pointed when she again stood before me to the various articles of her
costume, then to the woollen blanket, and made the sign of exchange. As
if the greatest piece of good fortune had happened to her, she fell back
a step and repeated my signs inquiringly as if not believing her luck,
and when I again affirmed it, she threw off in a few moments all her
clothing, folded herself in the blanket, and stretching out her arm
under it, carefully laid her leathern dress on my bed. I was so
surprised at this instantaneous metamorphosis that at the first moment I
did not think how Cachakia would be humiliated by it; but Pahnawhay
pointed to her, and said I must give her a blanket as well. In truth the
thermometer had already fallen in the eyes of my pretty neighbour, so I
got up quickly and opened a chest in which I had several blankets, but
not a red one; however, there were five blue ones among them, which
pleased Cachakia remarkably, and in an equally short period her dress
was also lying on my bed, and she was seated, highly delighted, in the
Turkey blue blanket in my rocking chair smoking her cigar.

The sun had already set, and darkness was spreading over the landscape,
when my princesses trotted out proudly into the prairie, wrapped in
their blankets, with an assurance that they would return early the next
morning with the whole tribe. At an early hour I had a very large kettle
of coffee made and extra bread baked before the cattle were driven out
to pasture, a fat ox was driven into the enclosure, the dogs were
chained up, and I ordered my men to keep the Fort closed, as the Indians
whom I wished to enter it would be led through my house, which stood at
the south-eastern angle, and had an entrance through the palisade.

At the appointed hour we saw the party of Indians coming down the river,
and soon halt in front of my fence. I went out, received the chief with
the usual ceremony, and saluted his two daughters who on this day only
wore snow-white bran-new petticoats, painted in the brightest colours
with very considerable taste. They wore necklaces of very handsome
beads, earrings of the same material hung down on their shoulders, and
their round arms were ornamented with flashing brass rings, while a new
long tuft of feathers of the most brilliant hues was planted on the left
side of the head. They left the blankets, which had hung loosely on
their shoulders while riding, on their horses, and the latter were led
off by the Mexican slave. After this both girls, but Cachakia not so
quickly as her sister, hurried to me, and we exchanged the usual signs
of good-will in the customary fashion; they pressed my hands, wound
their pretty arms around me, and would assuredly have kissed me were not
this mark of affection quite unknown to the Indians, and would have
seemed to them highly ridiculous. After the first greetings they pointed
to their father and then to my house, saying "Vino," and making the sign
of drinking. The chief was a man of about fifty years of age, about six
feet high, with broad shoulders, and arched chest, regular handsome
features, straight nose, sharp black eyes, lofty forehead, and - a rarity
among the Indians - a heavy moustache twisted into points. He had a
haughty, imposing mien, and something very determined in his appearance,
which was however kindly and hearty, so that we fraternized in a few
moments. I proposed to lead him and his daughters to my house, but he
turned to his tribe and said something I did not understand, upon which
two men stepped out of the mob and joined us. We reached the gallery in
front of my house to which I had had all my chairs carried, in order, if
possible, to keep the interior clear for the curious guests. I made them
sit down at table, and handed the chief the pipe I had myself lighted;
he passed it to his neighbours, and so it went the round; while the two
girls swung themselves in the rocking chair or the hammock hung up in
the gallery, and smoked cigars. After the calumet of peace had passed
round, the chief informed me of the purpose of his visit, to make peace
with me, and introduced the other two Indians to me as the Chief of
Peace and the Sage in Council, in which the Mexican acted as
interpreter. Dinner was now served, the chief employing knife and fork
as I did, while the two others used their fingers. Pahnawhay had fetched
a buffalo robe out of the house and laid it on the ground, and sat upon
it with her sister to have her dinner. I handed them the plates of food,
but they returned me the knives and forks, saying it was easier work
with their fingers. They amused themselves famously on their buffalo
hide, and teazed each other with the heartiest merriment, for which
their father gave them several warnings, to which they responded with a
laugh. The chief now explained to me that many tribes of his nation
entertained hostile feelings against the white men, but he hoped they
would soon see it was to their advantage to enter into friendly
relations with them, and that his tribe from henceforth would never
commit any act of hostility against us.

We had finished dinner, and I told the chief that I now wished to give
his men their dinner, on which he rose and said that he had better be
present or else no order would be kept. We went out in front of the
palisade after I had locked my house door, unseen by the two girls, and
had the caldron of coffee, sweetened with honey and mixed with milk,
brought out, as well as the bread, which last the chief distributed
among the various families, telling them to use in coffee-drinking their
own utensils, which consisted of shells, horns, and cocoa-nuts. There
were above two hundred souls in camp, though among them all were only
forty warriors.

I now showed the chief the fat ox, which I had shut up in the cow's
milking enclosure, remarking at the same time that I intended to give
it to his people, and asked whether it should be shot now, to which he
assented. K√ґnigstein brought me a rifle and I shot the ox through the
skull, after which some of the Indians skinned and carried the joints to
camp. Ere long some thirty fires were lighted, round which the Indians
lay and roasted the meat, while constantly running to the coffee-caldron
to fill their vessels.

I was standing and admiring the appetites of these people, when Cachakia
thrust her arm through mine and affectionately tried to induce me to go
to my house with her to open the door, which, as she made me signs, she
could not manage. I told her I would wait for her father, so that he
might drink coffee with us. I walked through the groups of Indians to
him, with my young lady friend hanging tightly on my arm. These
Mescalero Indians were certainly the least civilized I had as yet seen:
their dress consisted of leathern breech-clouts fastened round their
hips, and large, strangely-painted dressed buffalo-hides. In the whole
camp, however, I found nothing emanating from white men. On all their
faces something shy, mistrustful, and savage could be noticed, which is
not generally the case with other tribes. The people were, on the
average, not very tall, but sturdy and broad-shouldered, and well fed;
the women, however, were nearly all good looking, and I do not remember
having seen so many pretty Indian girls together as in this camp. As we
walked from fire to fire, which appeared to please the savages,
Pahnawhay dashed every now and then like a young filly through the grass
to my side. It had taken too long to open the house, and she now hung on
my other arm, and pulled my beard as a punishment for having kept her
waiting so long. I told her I was waiting for her father, she could go
and bring him to my house while I went on in front with Cachakia. On
arriving, my companion could not at all understand in what way the door
was closed so tightly, and was quite surprised when I opened it with the
key. She wished to try the experiment herself, and said she would keep
the key so as to let herself in when she pleased, and it was not till I
made her understand that in that case I could not open the house without
her, that she returned it to me.

I now took my guitar from its case, and sitting down on my bed, let my
fingers stray over the strings. Cachakia stood with widely-opened eyes
and mouth before me, and became quite beside herself when I began
playing. With one leap she sat cross-legged on the bed behind me, and
peeping over my right shoulder, watched my performance. She was really
delighted at the music, attempted to play the guitar herself, and became
very angry and impatient when she could not manage it. At last Pahnawhay
arrived with her father and the two ministers: we again took our seats
in the verandah, and I ordered the coffee and cake, which my guests
tremendously enjoyed, then I gave them all cigars to smoke, after which
the chief told me that his people were well satisfied, were very good
friends of mine, and would remain so. I took him to the arms-case in my
house to let him see my weapons, about fifty first-rate implements. They
did not fail to arouse my guest's admiration, and when we returned to
the gallery I took a revolver, and at about one hundred yards put a
bullet into a young tree, not nearly so wide as a man, and then fired
the other five rounds in rapid succession. After this I placed in a few
seconds a fresh cylinder in the lieu of the discharged one and fired the
six rounds with equal rapidity, remarking the while that I could go on
firing thus uninterruptedly. This weapon excited my guest's attention in
the highest degree, and he looked at it for a long time with the
greatest astonishment, and declared with the utmost seriousness that it
was the grandest medicine he had ever seen. I made him a present of a
very pretty hunting-knife, whose handle was composed of a roe-foot
mounted with a silver shoe: his joy at it was childish, and in his
excitement he assured me that he would lift the hair of the first enemy
he conquered with it: this knife was also a great medicine.

The girls now left me no peace. I must fetch wine, which the three men
at first looked at very suspiciously, but on my assurance that it was
not fire-water, they tasted it, and drank with great satisfaction. When
I carried the bottle back to the cupboard I filled a glass and put it on
the table, making Cachakia a sign that it was for her, but at the same
time I laid my finger on my lip so that she might not let the others
know it, as I did not wish to open a fresh bottle, and this one was
nearly empty. She understood me perfectly well, and as a proof nodded to
me when I came out of the house, while a quiet smile played round her
little mouth. I returned to my seat, and she carelessly rose, walked
into my room, took the glass from the table, and gave me a nod unseen by
the others, as she slowly drank the contents. Then she walked back into
the gallery carelessly and sat down with us, like a person who is proud
at having been preferred; but she cast her eyes down, as their sparkle
might betray her.

Evening arrived; we supped, and when the moon had fully risen, went out
to the Indian camp, as the chief wished to spend the night with his men,
because the latter might be alarmed about him if he slept in the Fort
with me. We had hardly reached the first fire, when we heard a fearful
row at the other end of the camp, and the chief ran with his two
colleagues in the direction of it. I was anxious about what was going on
there, and hastened after them, accompanied by the two Indian girls. Two
young men had quarrelled, and were engaged in a violent dispute when we
came up, while the voices of the chief and his colleagues were raised to
a loud key. Suddenly, however, the two men rushed to different fires,
seized their bows and arrows, flew about a hundred yards apart into the
prairie, and in a few minutes disappeared from sight. The chief shouted
after them, but no one pursued them. The Mexican was standing not far
from us at the next fire, and I called him up to give me an explanation
of the disturbance. Pahnawhay, however, explained to me with a few very
intelligible signs, that the two young men loved the same girl, and she
had given her affection to both, upon which they quarrelled, and had run
off to kill one another. The Mexican confirmed this statement, on which
I asked why no one tried to prevent it, but I received the laughing
reply, as if the thing were self-evident, that this was impossible.

A number of Indians had by this time collected round one of the fires,
and Cachakia, taking me by the arm, drew me to it, when we saw a weeping
and loudly lamenting girl seated with her head between her knees, with
dishevelled hair almost concealing the whole of her person. This was the
sweetheart of the two jealous knights, one of whom had probably by this
time the deadly arrow in his heart. We were standing by the side of the
unhappy girl, when a frightful yell echoed far across the moonlit
prairie, the war-cry of the combatants, who had now met in open fight,
as they had not been able, probably, to discern each other by crawling
through the grass. The first note scarce reached us ere the weeping girl
sprang up, threw back her hair, and hurling back the people standing
round her, ran off with a shrill scream and disappeared. A deadly
silence set in, as everybody expected to hear at the next moment that
the fire was over; and all looking in the direction where the girl had
disappeared, seemed to be anxiously holding their breath. At this moment
the girl's piercing scream rang through the night air, and immediately
after a fearful yell that pierced the marrow, and was answered by all
the occupants of the camp pretty nearly. It seemed as if the latter had
only been waiting for this signal, for now a number of men and squaws,
some of whom held firebrands, ran off, and we could see these fires
collected into a point far away. Cachakia said to me, "He is dead," and
pressed her head down with her right hand to the left side, and closed
her eyes. We soon saw the light moving towards us, until we could at
length distinguish the separate torches, and the procession marched into
camp. Four Indians bore the bloody corpse of the murdered man to the
first fire, and laid it on the ground. I took a torch to see whether
life still remained, but the last spark had disappeared. On his left
side, near the heart, gaped three fearful wounds, which almost divided
the chest in two parts, and his hair was bound into a mass by the
curdled blood, while his head was cleft with a tomahawk. The Indians
only take a scalp when it belongs to an enemy of their tribe. He was
carried to the middle of the camp and covered with a buffalo robe. I
asked Cachakia what would become of the other man and the girl? and she
told me that the warrior must fly within four and twenty hours, and keep
away till he had made it up with the dead man's relations, or otherwise
they would take his life in return. Thus time was allowed him to fetch
his traps, and if he came into camp during the period, he would not be
molested, but after that he would be nowhere safe from them.

The chief now held a council with the relations of the dead man, which
was just ended, when the victor's sweetheart appeared, silently led his
horses to his fire, packed all his traps on them, and then went out into
the night again without a word, while no one in camp appeared to have
noticed her, although she walked openly towards the blazing fires.
Indians do not consider it any harm for a girl to be a coquette, but
they punish the infidelity of a wife, and frequently with death; but it
is more common for the husband to cut off her nose, which indulgence is
chiefly occasioned by the squaws being a portion of the husband's
fortune, as he is obliged to buy them, employs them as servants and
labourers, and can sell them again for ever, or for a time, as he
pleases. I missed in this tribe more female noses than in any other I
had seen.

In a very short time all became quiet again in camp, as if nothing
extraordinary had happened; and after I had sat for a while with the
chief, I wished him good-night, and was accompanied home by Cachakia,
which attention appears to be one of the forms of politeness on the part
of the savages; and even though the home of a parting guest is a long
way from their camp, they always accompany him to the last highest
point, whence they can look back on their camp.

Day was hardly dawned when I opened my door, and stepped out into the
gallery to greet the fresh morning. In the Indian camp all appeared to
be still resting except a few forms moving about in it. I saw through my
glass that they had with them a horse and a mule, and ere long an Indian
mounted the latter, and two others raised something that was wrapped in
a large buffalo hide up to him. Then another Indian mounted the horse,
and they went off up the river with the mule in front. I conjectured
that it was the corpse of the murdered man which the two were carrying
to the burial-place of the tribe, and found my supposition confirmed
when I entered the camp. I had another caldron of coffee and a great
quantity of maize bread carried to the camp, invited the chief, and his
two councillors of state, and his daughters to breakfast, after which he
told me that our friendship was now eternally concluded, and that he
would depart with an easy mind. I made him a number of trifling
presents, such as blankets, tobacco, looking-glasses, vermilion, &c.;
gave the daughters several keepsakes as well, and my guests quitted me
apparently remarkably well satisfied.

During the two days Owl and Tiger had not shown themselves, as the
Delawares, though not open enemies, are not on very friendly terms with
the Mescaleros, and so they went off hunting. Owl had received his wages
long before, but still remained with us, as he seemed to enjoy himself,
in which our cooking played a great part; but he now came one morning to
me, and said the time had arrived when he promised to join his family,
and so he must leave us, as he did not wish to render his friends
alarmed about his safety. He rode to Lasar's and took his leave, when he

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 32 of 35)