Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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one, for MacDonnell, put it on one of the captured horses which appeared
good-tempered and safe, and covered it with a buffalo hide, a large
quantity of which we also found, then we lifted our suffering friend on
the horse. Tiger marched ahead of us, leading the mare behind us by a
lasso and followed by all the Indian horses, while we rode behind and
drove on the laggards. Thus we rode slowly to the south, and camped at
sunset in a narrow strip of wood on a stream, where we found good
pasture for the numerous horses. We merely fastened up the leading mare
and our own cattle near the fire. MacDonnell rapidly recovered; the ride
had done him good, and he was now able to walk again. We made him a soft
bed by the side of the fire, and he told us the chief events of his

No sooner had the savages seized the three young men in the field than
they bound them, lifted them over the fence, and then carried them to
their horses. Here three Indians took them before them, and the whole
band flew out of the wood into the prairie, where the savages soon
halted and went off in different directions. MacDonnell was taken off to
the right with ten horsemen, while Lyons followed the path, and Clifton
was carried to the left. The savages rode without halting all that day
and the next night with MacDonnell, without giving him water or food,
until they allowed their horses to graze for a few hours the next
morning, when they gave him some roast meat. Then they hurried on with
him again, and only stopped to water their horses, until the latter,
toward evening, refused to go any farther, in spite of the incessant
blows. They unsaddled in a wood by a stream, and roasted meat at a fire,
after laying him with his feet bound among the bushes. His hands had
swollen through the bonds, and pained him terribly, but his complaints
and groans were unheeded by the cannibals, and it was only after long
entreaty that they gave him a drink of water. Toward morning, they rode
on, and reached in a few hours a river, on whose bank they unsaddled in
a thick wood, and rested with the utmost carelessness, while he was
placed with his back against a tree near the fire.

Soon after, another troop of Indians came up, and MacDonnell recognised
the man who had given orders at the outset, and whom he took for the
chief. He was now wearing a portion of Lyons' clothes and had put on his
boots. This savage brought his horse to the fire, and to his horror,
MacDonnell saw the severed limbs of his unhappy companion hanging from
the saddle, which the Indians now unfastened and threw near the fire.
The savages then gathered together and the chief placed bits of the
flesh of the unfortunate Lyons on spits and devoured them when roasted.
The Indians seemed to pay no attention to MacDonnell, but to listen to
every sound, and several times the chief laid his ear on the ground in
order to hear more distinctly. Ere long, other Indians arrived, and at
noon the last of them with Clifton. He looked at MacDonnell inquiringly,
but neither had the heart to utter a word. Clifton's feet were also
bound, and he was placed against a tree, while all the savages lay
around the fire and talked with much animation, pointing first to Mac
and then to Clifton. At last the chief stretched out his hand toward
Clifton and said several words in a commanding voice, upon which several
men leaped up, carried the prisoner to a tree a little lower down the
wood, and fastened him to it in a standing position with leathern
thongs. Most of the young Indians, in the meanwhile, assembled with bows
and arrows about fifty yards from Clifton, and awaited the chief's
signal to commence firing. The signal was given, and the first arrow was
buried in the entrails of the unhappy victim, whose cries of agony made
the forest ring. Thus one fired after the other, till Clifton's whole
body was pierced with arrows and his head hung down. Upon which the
chief leapt up, swung his tomahawk over his head, and hurled it at the
murdered man. It flew into the tree close to Clifton's head and remained
imbedded. The chief went up to Clifton, plucked the hatchet out of the
tree, and buried it deeply in the unhappy man's skull. After this the
cannibals fell upon the corpse, which they cut up and each carried a
piece to the fire. MacDonnell witnessed the whole fearful scene, and now
the chief came up to him and said something he did not understand, while
pointing to the north, whence Mac assumed that the same fate awaited him
farther on in that direction. The savages started again ere long and
rode by shorter stages to the camp where we surprised them, and where
they had arrived but a few hours before us.

This description had recalled to Mac's mind all the scenes of horror,
and he fell back exhausted on his bed. We restored him with a little
wine-and-water, and begged him to hold his tongue and rest while we got
supper ready and looked after the horses. During the night we posted
four sentries and lit up the Indian horses with large fires. It passed
without disturbance, and the next morning we continued our progress to
the south. We now made but short marches, as our own horses were very
tired, but the captured ones were so exhausted that we could hardly
drive them on with long sticks. We on several occasions unsaddled at
noon because we found good pasturage on water, and rested till the next
morning, so that we might not have to spend the night at a worse spot.

[Illustration: THE TORTURE. _p. 422._]

One evening we found ourselves in the middle of an open prairie, on
which only isolated mosquito trees could be seen, and camped at a spot
where there were several ponds, and an old fallen mosquito-tree lay,
which, judging from the fire marks, had offered burning materials to
earlier travellers across this plain. The nearest woods to the south lay
on the remotest horizon on the San Saba Mountains, and we did not
calculate on reaching them till the next day. We lay in a hollow of the
prairie, between two small elevations, and fastened our riding-horses
and the leading mare to lassos driven into the ground, while the
captured horses grazed on the bottom. The evening was splendid, and as
Mac was all right again, we were in the best spirits. After supper the
conversation turned on the captured horses, and we resolved to throw
dice for them. The mare was allotted to me without throwing, as I gave
up my chance of all the rest. Ere long all the horses had owners.
Antonio and Lambert resolved to try theirs the next morning, as they
were not very well mounted, and everybody praised the good qualities of
his horse, and expounded how the animals must be treated and ridden to
make first-raters of them. Thus the night arrived, during which we again
posted sentries on the nearest mounds, but it passed without any alarm.
Day dawned; we blew up our fire and got breakfast ready, while the
horses were grazing around us. The sun rose while we were lying
carelessly on our buffalo robes round the fire and drinking coffee, when
suddenly a fearful yell reached our ears over the next height, and a
band of thirty horse Indians thundered down the hill-side towards us,
waving in one hand their buffalo-robes over their heads, shaking in the
other tin pots, gourds, and buffalo-bladders filled with pebbles, and
uttering the strangest and most awful yells. In an instant the troop
passed us, and dashed right through our fire and camp. They went over us
like a tornado, and our terrified horses, which had torn themselves
loose, dashed over the prairie in front of them, trailing the broken
lassos after them. Before we had seized our rifles, the Indians were so
far off that the bullets we sent after them produced no effect, and we
silently stared after them till they disappeared from sight over the
last rising ground on the prairie. We asked each other, with our eyes,
what was to be done, but no one was yet able to speak, the fright and
the heavy loss had fallen upon us too unexpectedly, and it was long ere
we could think of the immediate future: at length all eyes were turned
to me, as if I could help them. This confidence restored my power of
speech, and I told my companions in misfortune that I was able to lead
them home without horses, and that MacDonnell's life was worth more than
our animals.

I had hardly spoken to this effect, when Königstein shouted to me, and
pointed in the direction where the horses had disappeared; and though it
was so far off, I recognised Czar and the cream colour flying over the
prairie, pursued by five Indians. I ran towards them as fast as my legs
would carry me, and fired a bullet at the Indians long out of range, but
which they must have heard "pinging," for they gave up their pursuit and
merely fired a few harmless arrows after the horses, which now dashed up
to me and stopped panting and snorting. Czar came up to me and laid his
head on my shoulders while looking round in wild terror after his
pursuers. I led him into camp, where both the horses were greeted with
loud shouts of joy. We now held a grand council, and soon agreed to
cache our baggage in a hollow near at hand, cover it with turf, and then
start for home on foot, in which, of course, we could only cover short
distances; at the same time we arranged that Mr. Lasar should ride the
cream colour, and Mac Czar, while we also packed our food on the

The whole day passed before we had cached our baggage, so that we slept
another night at this inhospitable spot. The next morning we saddled and
packed, and after carefully taking the direction of the nearest tree
with the compass, we began our wearisome journey. On reaching the tree
we blazed it with a knife, and then started for another, and so on,
carefully marking each, so that we might be able to find our way back to
our traps from tree to tree. The road to the San Saba Mountains through
the tall prairie grass was one of the unpleasantest I ever followed.
There, however, the ground, though hilly and stony, was still adapted
for human feet, and we soon grew accustomed to walking. Tiger had not a
word to say for himself, he was revolving vengeance on the Lepans, who
had stolen his faithful piebald, and swore that the Delawares should
take many of their scalps in return.

After several weeks of unspeakable fatigue and privation, we at length
arrived one evening at Widow White's, who received us with great
cordiality and delight. We at once sent her son to the Fort to fetch
riding horses for all of us, as we had had quite enough walking, and
stopped the while with our kind hostess. Late the next evening the
long-looked-for horses arrived from the Leone; we let them rest for the
night, and on the next morning said good-bye to the widow, and started
for home, which we reached at an early hour and found horses there for
Lasar and his companions to carry them at once to Mustang River. The
loss of Lasar's handsome horse and of John's mare again caused fresh
sorrow in the family, with whom they had been favourites; but I
willingly put up with the loss of my two horses and mules, and
considered myself remarkably fortunate in recovering Czar and the cream
colour. The last lesson which we gave the Mescaleros seemed to have had
an intimidating effect on the Indians generally, as we neither saw nor
heard anything of them for several months.

Tiger, during this period, rode a splendid black horse of mine, which I
had been always obliged to leave at home, as it was too timid and
impetuous for hunting purposes. Now that it was ridden daily, it became
a first-rate horse, and Tiger often said that it was better than his
piebald. Great was my surprise when Tiger knocked me up early one
morning, and on going out of my house I saw the piebald quietly
grazing: on waking Tiger had found it tied up in front of his tent, and
told me that the Lepans were frightened, because his tribe would come in
the autumn and learn their hostile behaviour. With a sad look he
remarked that he would now be obliged to give me back the black horse,
he supposed, and was quite beside himself with joy when I told him that
I made him a present of it.

In the course of the summer friendly Indians visited me, but never
stopped long, and gave me to understand that I lived too much among the
white men. It would be much better for me to move nearer to them and
then they would visit me more frequently. Thus arrived one evening just
before sunset my old friend Pahajuka, accompanied by his good old squaw,
and his granddaughter, and a few Comanches. The joy of the old folk was
great, and they said that had not the white men blocked the road to me,
they would willingly stay some time with me, but as it was we were daily
more separated. Tahtoweja said nothing, but her black eyes plainly
expressed that she too felt happy at being with me again. She could not
in her silent admiration gaze sufficiently at the decorations of my
room; and for hours she would gaze at the pictures on the walls, or turn
over the sketches in my portfolio, when business prevented me from being
with her. Music seemed to be her delight, and she often came late at
night into the gallery and begged me to play the guitar, when she seemed
to fall into a happy dreamy state and entirely forget the world. She too
begged me to come away from among the pale faces and settle nearer to
them: the Comanches loved me more than they did. The people remained
some weeks with me, but one morning they came into my room, and the old
lady said with tears, that this was the last visit they would pay me, as
the road to me was growing too narrow. I was obliged to promise them a
visit at the parts where the buffalo still grazed, and the antelopes and
stags had not so many feet as here.

After breakfast I saddled Czar and rode with my guests to the mountain
springs, where we spent the night, and the next morning we took leave of
one another. I promised to join them the next winter on the Puerco, when
a great council of the Comanches was to take place. They often looked
with tears in their eyes in the direction of the Fort: then they offered
me their hand once again and rode off, never again to cross the
threshold of my house, to which they were so attached.

Tiger too seemed dissatisfied at the new settlements, and could not
understand how people could have an objection to his pulling down the
fences and riding across the fields to save distance. They had also
forbidden him taking dry corn leaves for his horse out of the stacks, or
fastening his piebald to the grand stockade in front of the house, while
he went in to beg a drink of water. What I had long foreseen happened,
he was beginning to feel the trammels of civilization and wrestled
against them, while its comforts still attracted him. Shortly after
Pahajuka's departure Tiger's tribe arrived in the neighbourhood of the
Fort, and the chief paid me a visit with several of his warriors. He
told me that Tiger wished to go home with them, in order to see his
relations and return to me in the following spring. Though I felt sorry
for it, I saw that he could not remain much longer in our settlement
without parting from us on unfriendly terms: hence I offered no
objection, and on the day of their departure I accompanied them as far
as Widow White's, as I wanted to pay a visit to Mac on Mustang River. I
took a hearty farewell of Tiger, as I was really attached to him, and he
was obliged to promise me a visit ere long.

The next day I rode to MacDonnell's, when I found everything prospering.
His field had produced a rich maize crop, and was now covered with
beans, potatoes, melons, gourds, &c. His orchard already contained fine
young trees; his garden supplied him and his negroes with magnificent
vegetables. The yard round his house was crowded with poultry of every
description, and the interior of his blockhouse was very neat and tidy.
A large new patchwork quilt was thrown on his bed; over the mantelpiece
was a handsome looking-glass, and by its side hung the framed portraits
of three men, which are very frequently found in frontier houses, and by
which the Americans do not pay themselves the worst compliment. They
represent the greatest, the best, and the most useful men of our
century - Washington, Alexander von Humboldt and Liebig.

The now frequently traversed road from Turkey Creek to the Leone
shortened the distance between the two rivers much, as the greater
portion of it could be galloped over. I reached the Fort again at an
early hour, and helped Königstein in his preparations for a start on the
next morning. He was going with Antonio, Lambert, and several pack
animals to fetch our saddles and traps, which we cached after the loss
of our cattle in the prairie to the north of the San Saba Mountains.

Although we are still living on the frontier of the desert, we have now
in front of us a line of settlements facing the Indians, which keep off
us the ordinary dangers of a frontier life; and we are rarely reminded
by the personal appearance of these savages in our vicinity, that their
hunting-grounds are not a great distance from us.


Transcriber's Note

Illustrations have been moved near the relevant section of the text.

I have used "=" in the text to denote use of an ornamental font.

The square brackets before page numbers in illustrations have been

Inconsistencies have been retained in capitalization, punctuation,
spelling, hyphenation and grammar, except where indicated in the
list below:

- Period added after "use" on Page 25
- Period added after "p" on image following Page 26
- "ree" changed to "tree" on Page 56
- Period removed after "valley" on Page 91
- "splended" changed to "splendid" on Page 100
- "roar sand" changed to "roars and" on Page 147
- Period added after "MOUNTAINS" on Page 151
- "apple-grey" changed to "dapple-grey" on Page 215
- "He" added before "was" on Page 230
- "backs everal" changed to "back several" on Page 257
- "unbeams" changed to "sunbeams" on Page 278
- "Norte" changed to "Norté" on Page 364
- "lianas" changed to "llianas" on Page 370
- "Macdonnell" changed to "MacDonnell" on Page 419
- Comma removed after "We" on Page 422
- Period added after "TORTURE" on Page 422
- "Macdonnell's" changed to "MacDonnell's" on Page 424
- "Macdonnell's" changed to "MacDonnell's" on Page 427

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