Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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found Czar and John's mare, snorting and dragging at their bonds, while
the Indian's horse and Lasar's mule had bolted, and we heard Trusty
barking down the glen. We quickly blew up our fire, and threw fresh wood
on it; but the damage was done, and we might reckon with certainty on
the loss of one if not both beasts. We spent the rest of the night on
the watch, and just as day dawned, and we had breakfasted I rode
accompanied by Trusty, down the glen, while John and the Indian
proceeded to the mountains in search of our fugitives. Only Lasar
remained in camp, as walking through the grass was too fatiguing for
him. I followed the foot of the hills, along which ran a stream
overshadowed by yuccas, tree-like aloes, gigantic cactuses, palms and
mimosas, and had ridden about four miles, following the tracking dog,
when the latter showed me on the clayey bank on which no grass grew the
hoofmarks of our mule and the imprints of a jaguar running down to the
stream. Not long after, on riding round a projecting clump of shrubs, I
noticed in the grass Lasar's mule, and upon it an enormous jaguar, which
appeared to be asleep, as its golden-spotted body lay stretched out and
motionless. I led Czar back into the bushes, and then crept down the
stream nearer to the beast of prey, until I concealed myself within shot
in a tuft of old mimosa trees, from which I could survey it. Laying my
rifle on a low branch, I aimed at the centre of the brute's back, which
was turned toward me, as its head rested on the mule. I fired, the
jaguar sprang up, but fell on its side immediately, and while uttering
an awful roar, looked about the valley in search of its assailant. It
was unable to rise on its hind-legs, and strove to drag itself on its
forepaws to the adjacent water. I had reloaded in the meantime, and
stepped out of my hiding-place on to the grass plot. The jaguar now saw
me, its fury increased with every step I took, and dragging itself
toward me it made the hills ring with its savage roars. I walked pretty
nearly up to it, and put an end to its life with a bullet through the
head; then I went to Lasar's mule, whose belly was slit up, and one of
its legs devoured. The jaguar must have caught it up while running, for
on its croup I found numerous wounds where the beast had buried its

[Illustration: THE JAGUAR DISTURBED AT BREAKFAST. _p. 408._]

After taking the animal's skin, I rode back to camp, and bore Lasar the
sad news, which painfully affected him, as this mule was a favourite of
the whole family, and its loss the more grieved him, because it belonged
to his wife, and was always ridden by her. It was not to be helped,
however, and so when John and the Indian returned with the horse, we
started for the silver mine. Lasar saddled the Indian's horse and rode
it, while the latter walked ahead of us.

In about two hours we really arrived at an old deserted shaft, into
which we were able to go about fifty paces; then, however, it was
blocked up, and any farther advance was impossible. In it we saw a
number of scattered pieces of ore, and also found several of them under
the turf at the entrance of the shaft, which proved that a long time
must have elapsed since any works had gone on here. We took a good deal
of the ore with us, and after carefully noticing the bearings of the
place, we rode back to the valley, from time to time making a sketch of
the localities, so that we might find them again hereafter. On our
homeward road the Indian guided us on foot, so that we did not progress
so rapidly: but for all that we got back without any misadventure, and
produced great grief in Lasar's family by the announcement of the death
of the faithful mule. The old gentleman was determined to take the
requisite steps next year with the Mexican Government to buy the land on
which the silver mine was, and then set to work on it.

A few days after my return to the Fort, I was surprised by an unexpected
visit from my old acquaintance Warden, whom I had not seen for a long
time, and who declared that he could no longer resist the desire of
seeing me again. He had been living principally on the western side of
the Cordilleras, and during his perilous hunting expeditions on the Gela
and the Rio Colorado had got as far as the Gulf of California. His
powerful horse had been killed there in a skirmish with the Apaches, and
he had saved his own life under the greatest dangers, after the savages
had incessantly pursued him for several weeks. We again sat till far
into the night, and listened to the interesting stories of this daring
man who had gained nothing by all his privations, fatigue, and
frightful perils, except the recollection of them, but had thus
perfectly carried out his sole object. As before, he remained some weeks
with us; but then he felt compelled to leave this quiet life, which he
could not endure. He saddled his horse, in order to continue his
solitary life. On parting I made him a present of a brace of pistols,
for which he was most grateful, and he galloped over the prairie and
disappeared from my sight on the horizon. It was the last time I saw or
heard of him. I often asked western hunters about him, but none could
give me any news of him, and in all probability he at last met the fate,
which he seemed to desire and seek, a solitary death in the desert.





Lasar and I were occupied for several weeks on the settlement of Messrs.
Clifton and MacDonnell and a Mr. Wilson. The latter had arrived from
Georgia with a considerable fortune and numerous negroes, and the three
young men settled together on Turkey Creek, in the neighbourhood of
Widow White. We helped them by word and deed, and in a short time a very
large lot of ground was cleared and sown with maize, although it was
late in the year for it, and a large garden laid out, and the necessary
buildings erected at a spot where very recently an axe had never been
laid against a tree, or a plough had turned a furrow in the earth. The
three young men set eagerly about the heavy work which such a new
settlement demands, and were busy the whole day in the garden or the
field, or else in felling wood. While doing so, they often forgot that
they and not we were now living on the outermost Indian frontier, and
constantly went from home unarmed. They went into the woods with an axe
to fell trees, or rode without any weapons into the prairie, to drive
home their milch kine, or fetch their draught oxen. Lasar and I had
frequently blamed them for this negligence, but it was of no use, and
often when we visited them, one or the other was away from home unarmed;
while we, during the years, that we had no neighbours, when working in
the field, chained up our dogs round it, in order to be informed of the
approach of stalking Indians, and carried our rifles either on the
plough or on our backs, they ploughed and worked for days without a dog
or any other weapon but their hands. Their dwelling stood on the south
bank of the river where it joined the prairie; but they had their field
on the northern side in a wood, which extended for a considerable

At an early hour one morning they all three crossed the river with a few
negroes, in order to thin the growing maize crop, which operation is
generally performed in the morning, as you are obliged to stoop
constantly, which is very fatiguing in the hot sun. All three took their
weapons into the field, and rested them against the fence, as they
thought it too much trouble to carry them on their backs. They followed
the rows of maize, one behind the other, from one end of the field to
the other, and were again nearing the spot where they had placed their
rifles, when suddenly some fifty Indians dashed over the fence with a
loud war yell and attacked them. They could not think of flight, as the
Indians surrounded them before they could recover from their first
terror. Resistance was equally impossible, as they were quite unarmed,
and hence the sole chance of escape lay in the mercy of the barbarians
to whom they surrendered. The two negroes were accidentally at the other
end of the field, and, at the first glimpse of the Indians, leapt over
the fence into the woods, to save themselves by hiding in its recesses;
on looking round, they saw that each of the three young men was
surrounded by a party of Indians busied in tying his arms behind his
back. They ran through the wood to the river, swam across it, and on
reaching the houses, leapt with the other negroes on horses and mules,
fled with the utmost speed toward the south across the prairie, and
reached my Fort before sunset, horrified and half frightened to death.

The terrible news aroused all my people. I at once sent a negro to
Lasar's to tell him of what had happened, and at the same time beg him
to join me as speedily as possible, in order to pursue the Indians, and,
if possible, save the prisoners, during which time we made our
preparations for immediate departure. I had provisions got ready and
packed on a mule, which this time was not faithful Jack, as he had been
galled by a badly fastened saddle; after this a stock of ammunition was
laid in, and we sat down to supper, which meal we had hardly finished
when our friends from Mustang Creek, eight in number, galloped over the
prairie, led by old Lasar himself, who was fire and flame, and vowed
revenge like the youngest of us. Tiger, Antonio, Königstein, and one of
the colonists of the name of Lambert, accompanied me, and we were soon
urging our horses at full speed through the gloomy forest.

Tiger led our party, who trotted on as long as the moonlight lasted, but
then fell into a walk, and towards morning reached the deserted
blockhouses of the prisoners. We expected that the Indians would have
burnt them down, but found them uninjured, which proved to us in what
haste they must have departed with their quarry. We rode through the
river into the wood, and found the spot where the savages had lifted
their prisoners over the fence, and led them to its northern end. Here
we found the traces of numerous horses galloping in the direction of the
northern mountains. Tiger examined all the signs very carefully, and
after we had followed the trail for about an hour, dismounted and sought
about in the grass. Ere long he stretched out his arms and parted
fingers to the north and north-west, and told me that the fellows we
were pursuing had divided here, and were pursuing different routes,
which fact I was also able to recognise after a slight investigation. I
asked Tiger what we were to do, but he laughed, and joining his hands
together and pointing to the north, he stated that the Indians would
come together again on the other side of the mountains in two days.

We now followed a trail which ran along a deeply-trodden buffalo-path,
and reached before sunset a spot in a valley covered with isolated
rocks, trees, and bushes, which was bordered on both sides by steep
hills. Here Tiger suddenly stopped and leapt from his horse. I rode up
to him, and he showed me on the bare rocks that several horses had left
the track and turned off to the left down the glen. He showed me several
pebbles which had been turned over by the horses, and on the rocks the
graze of their hoofs, as well as here and there a trampled leaf or a
broken blade of grass. He followed this trail carefully, and requested
me to follow him, while making a sign to the others to remain on the
path. A few thousand yards farther on the track wound between large
masses of stone till we reached a clearing, on the other side of which
we found signs of an extinguished fire near a spring. Tiger picked up a
blackened bit of wood and showed me by rubbing it with his finger that
the wood was still wet, and hence, as it lay in the open sunshine, must
have gone out shortly before. He now begged me to call up our comrades,
so that we might rest ourselves and our tired horses here for a little
while. I rode up to them, and when we returned to Tiger, he showed us
behind the spring the shambles where one of the unhappy prisoners had
ended his life. On a large flat stone we saw a quantity of curdled,
half-dry blood, and behind it lay the entrails of a man. Round the stone
we found marks of boot-heels, which had probably belonged to the
murdered man, and had been put on by one of the savages. Our fury
against them was terrible, and we would gladly have pursued them without
resting had our horses been able to carry us, but they were too tired,
and greatly required a rest.

We supped, and slept till near day, and by dawn we were following the
trail again, along the path which we had quitted on the previous
evening. Without halting longer than was necessary, we rode hard all day
through the most impassable regions of the San Saba mountains, and
reached in the evening the prairies on their north side. We were still
on the same trail, which had been made by five or six horses, and
unsaddled when the sun had long disappeared behind the hill, and Tiger
was unable to follow the trail. We had ridden very sharply, so that our
horses would hardly touch the good fodder here offered them, and we had
no sooner watered them in an adjacent stream, than they lay down in the
grass with a long breath and fell asleep. We did not tie them up, so
that they might graze directly they awoke, but kept up a good fire the
whole night, and posted a sentinel.

At daybreak we were _en route_ again and hurrying after Tiger, who led
us along the foot of the mountains. About noon we rode through one of
the streams that flow into the Colorado, and found in the wood on its
bank a deserted camp, from which the fugitives could not be gone long,
as the bushes and weeds trampled by the horses were not dry yet. We
merely watered our horses and then urged them on, for Tiger believed
that we must catch up the Indians that same evening, as their horses
were tired and did not raise their feet high from the ground. Evening
arrived, and in the distance another forest rose out of the prairie,
which we reached with night; but our foe had gone farther on, and we
were compelled to halt again, as we could not follow their trail. Our
guide consoled us with the morrow, and said their horses could not last
out any longer. We rode the whole day, however, without seeing anything
of the Indians, save the track of their horses. About sunset we rode
into another forest, in which we hoped to find running water: we soon
halted on its bank and noticed on the other side the last camping-place
of the Indians, for several of their fires were still burning, and Tiger
said that they now supposed themselves out of danger and would not ride
so fast. We crossed the stream, in order to occupy the deserted camp,
but had scarce reached it when Tiger called to me and pointed to a young
tree, with a smooth shining bark, the lower part of which was dyed with
blood. He told me that one of the white men had been murdered here: the
Indians had tied him up to the tree and fired arrows at him, and the
bark displayed numerous marks of their points. At the height of a man
the tree was sprinkled with blood, and over it we found a deep cut,
which appeared to have been made by a tomahawk. The Indians seemed to
have come together again here, for a number of fires had been lighted,
and the trampled ground indicated a large troop of horses. We all
insisted on riding on at once, but Tiger reminded us that it was
impossible to follow the trail, and by overriding it we might easily
lose much time, and give the cannibals a chance of escape.

Our impatience had attained the highest pitch, all were ready to start,
but it was still too dark: we stood by our grazing cattle and counted
the minutes till dawn appeared, and allowed us to see the track of our
enemies once more. Then we hastened on, and joyfully greeted every
thicket in front of us, as we hoped to find the cannibals in it and be
able to take vengeance on them for our friends. Our hopes were
frequently disappointed, and the sun was approaching the western hills
when we still urged on our awfully tired horses, following the trail of
the Indian horses, which could not possibly be far from us, as their
excreta on the path plainly indicated. Once again a wood rose before us
on the prairie, but it was still so distant that we could not hope to
reach it before dark. Tiger told me that we must either ride very
sharply so as to reach the wood by daylight, or camp on this side and
approach the wood at dawn, as we should get the worst of it if we came
upon the savages in the darkness. We resolved on the former course, and
collected the last strength of our animals. Spurring and flogging we
went on at a trot or a gallop, as if certain of reaching our destination
to-day. One of our friends might possibly be saved by a few minutes'
sharp riding, and so we paid no heed to the fatigue and pace of our
horses. We rapidly approached the wood, but so did the sun the hills,
which soon spread their lengthened shadow over the plain. The country
before us became more uneven and covered with large blocks of stones,
and here and there rose an isolated clump of trees and bushes, while the
forest appeared to be half an hour's ride distant. The darker it grew
the sharper we rode, and we dashed at a gallop between the rocks toward
a patch of young oaks, with Tiger some distance ahead of us. While
galloping round some rocks I saw him suddenly turn his piebald towards
us and halt in the clump of trees, which we reached in a few minutes,
and Tiger informed us that the savages were sleeping no great distance
ahead on the barren bank of a river.

Our excitement was frightful; trembling with eagerness we fastened our
steaming horses to the long branches of the young oaks, thrust our
holster pistols in our belts, and advanced, leaving Antonio with the
horses, silently and noiselessly after Tiger, when it had been arranged
that I should give the signal for a general attack by firing first. The
moon was high but lighted us poorly; the daylight, however, had not
quite faded away when we emerged from the rocks and reached a small
knoll, over which we saw almost invisible columns of smoke rising at
various points. We spread out here in a long line, and crept up the
hill, covered by some isolated rocks. When we reached the top, we saw
the savages about thirty yards from us collected round several fires. A
deadly silence brooded over the slightly illumined landscape, which was
only broken by the rustling of the rapid stream, on whose banks the
Indians were encamped. The glow of the fires cast a dark red reflection
over the brown bodies of the reclining savages sufficient to enable us
to see them more distinctly, while the light of the moon illumined the
sights on our rifles.

All our barrels were pointed at the cannibals, and we could hear our
hearts beating, while they did not suspect the approaching vengeance,
and were most of them asleep. The wide chest of one of the ruffians was
lit up by the fire right in front of me, while he was gazing into the
ashes with his head resting on his right arm. The sight of my rifle was
pointed at his heart when I pulled trigger. At the same moment the
rifles of all my comrades cracked, and directly after we fired our
second barrels among the rising Indians, who for a moment raised their
war yell, but then fled in great confusion and dashed into the river,
beneath the fire of our revolvers and pistols. In this faintly lighted
scene of fury and terror, the long red and white striped silk
handkerchief on Tiger's head waved, the broad blade of his heavy knife
glistened in his right hand, his shrill voice filled the ears of the
cannibals with the war cry of the Delawares, and immediately after the
first shot he flew, worthy of his name, among them, and spread death
among their ranks. Trusty, too, forgot his usual obedience, and pinned
one of the savages by the throat who had fired an arrow at him; he
killed the Indian in a few minutes, and then dragged him about in the
grass, satiating his fury. In a short time the battle field was deserted
by the enemy, with the exception of two-and-twenty killed and wounded
they left on it, the latter of whom Tiger soon sent to join the former
with his tomahawk. His war axe flew from skull to skull, and with every
blow drove a soul out of its earthly tenement, after which he raised the
hair of several whom he had killed in action.

The fight was hardly over, when a familiar voice called several of our
names, especially Lasar's, mine, and Tiger's. It came from a little way
off the camp and reached us but faintly. We ran in the direction, and to
our joyful surprise found MacDonnell bound hand and foot lying on the
grass behind a rock. His bonds were quickly cut, but he was unable to
get up; we bore him to the nearest fire, blew it into a bright flame,
and now looked at the death-like face of our poor friend, who since his
captivity had endured death in a thousand shapes, and envied his two
comrades their release from torture. He was so fatigued that he was
unable to sit up. The joy at our appearance, and the fear lest we might
go away again without finding him, had given him the strength to raise
his voice, but now a greater faintness naturally set in, and he could
scarce make signs to us to give him water. The fresh draught was handed
him, then we laid him on a bed made of buffalo skin and left him to
sleep, which, with the consciousness that he was saved and among
friends, did him more good than anything else we could have offered him.
The large fire lit up the plain around us, and displayed the victims we
had sacrificed to the blood of our friends: farther on it shone on the
great number of utterly exhausted Indian horses, most of which were
lying fastened to lassos among the large stones in the grass. Although
we did not apprehend any attack from the fugitive savages, many of whom
had doubtless killed themselves by leaping off the high banks into the
river which dashed over rocks, and who too possessed no weapons that
could be dangerous to us, we still posted sentries on both sides of the
camp, and lit large fires in order to be able to watch the horses, as it
was very probable that the Indians would attempt to recover them toward
morning, after the moon had gone down. Our own horses we tied up in the
grass close to camp, and then lay down by turns to rest as far as our
state of excitement permitted it.

Morning dawned without our having been disturbed, and with the growing
light we began to survey the field of battle and investigate the details
of the events of last evening. The savages were a tribe of Mescaleros,
and as we afterwards learned the same who had made the attack on Mrs.
White a few months before. Among the dead was their chief, who had been
killed by the first shot fired, which was the principal reason why the
assailed did not offer a greater resistance, for they only discharged a
few arrows, one of which hit Trusty, while another passed through
Königstein's thigh. The weapons lay scattered about the battle-field. On
the lofty bank were distinct signs where the fugitives had leapt off it;
but we found below no signs of them on the rocks jutting out of the
river, as they had apparently fallen into the deep water between them.
For all that, there was no doubt but that many had not reached the
opposite bank alive, for the stream was too rapid for a man to swim
across it.

Our friend MacDonnell still lay motionless asleep, and we did not
disturb him. It was bright daylight when John Lasar summoned us to the
fires of the savages, where we found the roasted and partially-gnawn
bones of one of the murdered men, while Königstein discovered other
remains of the dead bodies behind a rock. At about ten o'clock,
MacDonnell woke and felt greatly strengthened; we gave him food and a
cup of wine to drink, but he was very weak and terribly excited, so that
we prohibited him from talking about his own sufferings or those of his
own comrades. About noon, we prepared to start and carry off the horses,
of which we had captured forty-six, among them being several first-rate
animals. Tiger at once sought out the leader of the troop, an old mare,
whose head and tail were hung with all sorts of ornaments, and so soon
as he led it away all the others would follow it. He bound the mare to a
tree, let loose the other horses and wound the lassos round their necks,
upon which they all collected round the old mare. We then saddled our
horses, selected the best saddle of the savages, very handsome Mexican

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 34 of 35)