Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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sure that the forest was traversed by a stream, and resolved to seek the
latter ere I selected my night quarters. I followed the path with my
rifle on the saddle-bow, when suddenly my horse gave a start, and a very
old bear entered the path hardly twenty yards ahead of me, stopped, and
with its head turned from me, began nibbling at the roots of a few small
bushes. It took scarce a moment to raise my rifle and pull the trigger,
and in the next I pulled Czar round, and rode for the prairie. On
looking round, however, I perceived that the bear had only sprung a few
yards after me, and was now half sitting, half lying on the path and
showing its savage teeth. When I slowly approached it, I noticed that
its fury was heightened with every step I took, and only its inability
to rise prevented it from attacking me. I, therefore, rode close up and
sent a second bullet through its head. It was a very heavy fat bear, and
I was really sorry that I could turn it to so little account.

Not very far from this spot I found the stream, and resolved to pass the
night on its bank, as the forest on the other side seemed very
extensive, and it was doubtful whether I should find there good
provender for my horse. I watered Czar, filled my bottle, and rode back
to the bear, from which I cut a paw, the tongue, and some ribs. I then
camped in the forest at a spot where the most splendid wild oats awaited
my horse. The paw was put to cook in the ashes for the next morning, but
the ribs were to make their appearance on the supper table. A roasted
bear's rib is indubitably one of the greatest dainties which the desert
can offer the hunter, and I enjoyed it the more because I had been
riding all day and had eaten nothing since my very early breakfast. A
man soon grows used to this mode of life, which is necessary in the case
of violent exertion in the hot sun, as it is very easy to bring on a
fever by riding with a full stomach.

The night was dark and rendered the light which my fire cast upon the
dark green roof above my head all the more attractive, while the giant
brightly illumined trunks looked like pillars supporting it. I lay on my
tiger skin and amused myself with counting the blood-red funnel-shaped
flowers of the bignonia, which swung in long drooping festoons from one
tree to the other, and, lit up by my fire, resembled so many red glass
lamps. Around me a number of whip-poor-wills strove to outvie each other
in uninterruptedly uttering their name, and frequently circled round my
fire. At the same time fire-flies and huge glow-worms glistened and
flashed in all the bushes, and the rustling of the adjoining stream
supplied the music for this Italian night. My eyes gradually closed, the
pictures of dreams became more and more blended with those of reality,
until a calm sleep fell on me to strengthen and refresh me.

Day was breaking when I opened my eyes, and the scene which had so
sweetly lulled me to sleep had faded away: the fire was out, and instead
of the glow-worms a grey mist lay over the bushes, the grass around me
was very damp and the bear's black hide was silvered over with dew. From
all sides the loud chuckling of the turkeys reached me, and I felt a
tickling in my forefinger to bend it upon one of these birds: but then
I looked at the mountain of flesh which lay before me and rested my
rifle again against the tree, and went to the fire to pull the paw out
of the ashes. The fire soon burnt brightly, and dispersed the cold damp
air around me; I put coffee on and a bear's rib before the fire, led
Czar to the stream and refreshed myself and him. Then I returned to the
fire, led my horse into the oats, and paid my respects to the bear's paw
and rib. The sun was also darting his rays through the trees, when I was
ready to start and rode through the stream towards the dense forest.

I rode for about three hours in this labyrinth, passing from one buffalo
path to another, until the ground began to grow more uneven, and here
and there large masses of rock rose between the trees. I dismounted, and
was leading my horse up a narrow path by the side of a great boulder,
when I suddenly saw, on raising my head, the entire forest literally
covered with wild cattle. I returned to the rock, as a meeting with
these most dangerous animals on an impracticable path like this was not
desirable, and hanging the bridle over a branch, I again ascended the
height in order to convince myself in what direction the cattle were
going. The herd passed me bound westward, and I am certain I saw over
300 head pass. These denizens of the desert are the most savage and
dangerous animals in Western America. Like the horses of the first
Spanish settlements they are runaways, and have now entirely returned
to a state of nature. You never see a spotted or black head among them:
they are all chestnut with black extremities, and a yellow stripe down
the back, and are more lightly and gracefully built than our cattle, and
as rapid as deer. They shun man, but when startled or excited, they
attack with the most frightful courage and obstinacy, and I would sooner
defend myself on foot with a bowie knife against a black bear than with
a rifle against a furious bull of this description. I remained for about
an hour behind the rock before the last of the herd had disappeared
between the trees, after which I rode across their deeply trampled path,
and soon found myself on the edge of the forest.

From this point gradually rose a bald desolate mountain range that ran
from east to west, and whose base was covered with bad grass and a few
scattered granitic rocks. These mountains, the San Saba, are spurs of
the Rocky Mountains, which I had already noticed from the elevation,
where the granite follows on the limestone. I might calculate on
wandering about there for weeks before again reaching watered valleys.
Hence I resolved to alter my course and go farther east, until I reached
the mountains which were the source of all the streams I had lately
crossed, and return home along their base.

On this side of the forest the soil was too bad to produce good grass,
hence I looked about for a buffalo path by which I could cross it again
in a southern direction. These eternally wandering buffaloes, however,
appeared to avoid the sterile mountains, and though here and there a
lightly trodden path entered the forest, it was not open enough to be
followed by a horseman. It was already noon, and I was still on the
outside of the forest, when I noticed a tolerably beaten path in an
angle where the forest jutted out farther into the mountains. I was very
glad of it. Indescribable was the feeling of comfort when I reached the
dense shade of the first trees: I threw my leathern jacket over the
saddle, hung my hat by its side, and followed the path which ran between
the rocks that rose among the trees and led deeper into the forest.

Suddenly a sound reached my ear resembling the fall of distant water,
and the nearer I drew the more distinct it became. It was possible that
the river here took a wide curve to the foot of the mountains, and I
greeted it with delight. I soon saw that I was not mistaken, for on
turning a large rock I stood close in front of a waterfall, which
aroused my admiration both through the peculiarity of its shape and the
refreshing coolness that it spread far and wide beneath the shady trees.
A powerful mountain torrent, about thirty yards wide, fell over an
immense rock twenty feet high, down upon another rock which had been
hollowed to a depth of about three feet by the water, which had fallen
on it for centuries and formed a basin, over whose front the agitated
foaming stream dashed at a height of about forty feet over widely
scattered masses of rocks and aged trees suspended between them, while
on either side enormously lofty trees laid their thick crowns together
over the roaring cataract and repulsed the inquisitive sunbeams. I soon
stripped Czar, and hobbled him, lit a small fire, put the coffee-pot on
it, and lay down on my blanket close to the fall in order to make a
sketch of it.

When I was sufficiently rested, I went up to the basin, undressed and
leapt into the foaming water. Never in my life have I found so glorious
a bathing-place as this, which nature appeared to have made for the
express purpose. The very cold waves dashed up to an immense height, and
it was hardly possible to stand under the cataract, while behind it I
was entirely shut off from the outer world as if I were in a palace of
crystal. I remained till about five o'clock at this Diana's bath, as I
christened it, and it is known by that name to all the hunters who have
since visited it. It was too early, however, for me to camp; hence I
mounted my horse and rode up once more to bid adieu to the cataract.

Far through the forest I was followed by the roaring of the fall, till
the rustling of the river I was approaching overpowered it. At about one
hour before sunset I reached the prairie at the southern end of the
forest, and until nightfall followed its skirt in an easterly direction
till I reached a spot where the stream emerged from it. I camped here
quite concealed, and on the next day rode eastward towards the
mountains. From this point I altered my course to the south, and rode
there for several days. One afternoon, when greatly troubled by thirst,
I reached a pleasant grass valley on which several mosquito trees grew;
a fresh stream wound through the verdant bottom, and a few deer were
grazing on either bank. I dismounted to refresh myself with the eagerly
desired draught and grant my horse a little rest. A very large deer was
standing over two hundred yards off, and staring intently at me. I was
well stocked with meat, but the query whether I could hit it led me away
as it had so often done, and while sitting on the bank I fired at it.
The deer bled, ran a short distance in a circle, and then fell lifeless
on the ground. After reloading I went up to it to fetch the fillet, and
while engaged in fastening it to my saddle I noticed two foot Indians,
one armed with a rifle, the other with bow and arrows, come out from
behind some bushes and advance some twenty yards before they caught
sight of me. I saw their terror and amazement, and that one of them
crossed his arms on his breast, and laid his arms on his shoulders,
which among them is a sign of friendship. I made them a signal to be
off, and assured them of my friendly sentiments in the same way. Upon
which they described a large circle round me, and escaped from sight a
long way down the stream. I felt convinced that several of their tribe
were hunting in the vicinity, as they must have heard my shot, and would
assuredly not have emerged so carelessly from behind the bushes had they
not believed it was fired by one of their comrades. I put Czar at a
sharp amble, as the grass was not high, and hurried down into the
valley, while carefully looking round in order to escape this menacing

About sunset I reached another small stream, where I halted, lit a fire,
and prepared my supper, while Czar was enjoying his. Here I rested till
night had set in; then saddled again, filled my gourd, and rode on for
about five miles. Here I led my horse into a thicket which ran between
two steep hillocks, and remained in it during the night. It was very
probable that the Indians had informed their comrades of the presence of
a paleface, and that they had followed me to my camp-fire, but had been
unable to strike my trail in the darkness.

From this point my journey was for several days a most fatiguing and far
from pleasant one. I constantly went up and down barren, stony hills,
and found scarce grass enough to feed my horse; we also both suffered
from the want of water, which was the more perceptible on the bare,
heated rocks. I could only proceed short distances, as through the
constant marching on very hard stones Czar's feet were beginning to
swell, and though he was not lame, he put them down very gingerly. There
was certainly no lack of game, as I always met turkeys and deer in the
neighbourhood of water, and on such uneven ground it is very easy to
stalk the game. Although it may offend the feelings of the true
sportsman, I will confess that on this ride I shot several fawns for the
sake of their tender flesh: I also killed a very large jaguar, which I
attracted by imitating the cry of a complaining fawn. It leaped within
twenty yards of me ere it noticed me, but then stopped, and looked round
for its victim, swinging its long tail high up in the air. The bullet
went through its head and laid it dead. The Indians make a sort of
wooden pipe, which so admirably imitates the moan of a fawn, that every
old animal within a distance of a mile round comes dashing up, and is
startled neither by a horse nor its rider. I have seen instances where
old animals continued to advance after being missed two, three or four
times, till they lamentably fall victims to their maternal love. I
always carried such an instrument about me, as all the larger beasts of
prey can be easily attracted by it, such as bears, tigers, panthers,
wolves, lynxes, &c., and the beautifully-striped leopard cats, which are
very numerous about us, and are easily deceived by it.

I at length again reached the limestone region; but I must have been a
great deal too far east; for the mountain chain was much lower than at
the spot where I had crossed it. This view was soon confirmed when I
went down into the valley and found all the streams I crossed small and
insignificant. The country continually became more pleasant and rich,
the valleys grew broader, and the vegetation was more luxuriant than in
the desolate melancholy ravines I had been lately riding along. I daily
expected to see well-known mountains, and looked about more especially
for a very high point on a mountain chain which runs southward from
Turkey Creek to the Rio Grande, on which the Indians have built a
pyramid of large stones, either put up as a finger-post for the
wandering tribes, or as a border mark between the different

One morning I had just left camp and was riding through an extensive
prairie, when I fancied I could recognise this landmark, and convinced
myself by the aid of my glass that I was not mistaken. I felt myself at
home again, although this point was a good day's journey from my house:
still, I knew in which direction my road lay, and eagerly went along it.
About noon I reached one of those most troublesome cactus woods, which
frequently run across the prairies. The present one ran like a wall for
miles across my path. There is no chance of riding through these
thickets, as the prickly plants grow closely together. Though they are
most disagreeable to the hunter, their appearance is most attractive to
the naturalist, through the brilliant colour of the cactus flowers, and
the peculiar shape of the plants. This obstacle led me a long way from
my route, as I was obliged to ride round it for several miles.

While I was riding close along this wall, still hoping to find a free
passage, I suddenly noticed a deer, about twenty yards off, poking its
head out of the prickles, and staring at me in surprise. I raised my
rifle - Czar stopped instantly - and fired at the head, as I could not see
any more of the deer. I could distinctly see through the smoke that the
bullet smashed the right side of the deer's head, and heard it dash away
a few yards, and then fall; but it was impossible to penetrate the
prickly wall for this short distance, and reach the deer. The cactuses
were here from sixteen to seventeen feet high, and so close together
that I could not go a foot into them. Hence I was obliged to give up the
deer, and was very glad on at length reaching a narrow glade which ran
through the wood.

Late at night I rode along the bank of a river, which I took for one of
the western arms of Turkey Creek, and was forced to halt and pass the
night here by the numerous rocks that rose from the tall grass and
ferns. The next morning I passed the spot where I crossed the river with
the unfortunate Kreger by means of the trunk of the tree, and at noon
reached the camp where the storm had treated us so ill. The revived
memory of the unhappy man was very painful to me, and I hurried from the
spot, in order to get rid of the blood-stained picture of the scalped
naturalist. I now came again into my own hunting-grounds, where nearly
every tree and shrub reminded me of a fine chase, and my desire for home
and my faithful Trusty urged me on. I rode late into the night, till I
reached at ten o'clock a camping-place, where I and Czar had often
stopped before. It was evident that the sensible creature recognised his
home, and again sought the same spot to rest where he had before
stretched his beautiful limbs.

When day broke, I rose from my blanket with a feeling resembling that I
felt on my birthday when a child: but soon wretched doubts forced
themselves on me, whether I should find my little colony all right.
Czar, on this day, was washed extra clean; all the beards of the turkeys
I had shot on the tour were fastened on the bridle: the beautiful skin
of the tiger shot on the mountains was laid over the panther skin to
display it in the best way, and I then continued my ride toward the
Fort, which I hoped to reach at noon, with a joyously beating heart. The
grass, however, was so high and rendered going so fatiguing for my
horse, that I advanced but slowly, and did not reach our first
resting-place at the commencement of the tour till noon. Czar was very
hot and tired, so I did not ride on, as I had intended, but unsaddled
and boiled coffee, while the horse was reposing in the shady grass. When
the greatest heat was passed, and I had washed Czar down in the stream,
I started again homewards, and saw, as the sun was setting, my beloved
virgin forest appear above the prairie, and the two immense poplars
indicating the spot where the buffalo path that led to my settlement,
entered the forest. It was about ten miles off, so that I could
calculate on reaching home by nightfall without any great effort.

I had ridden through a small wood and had advanced into the prairie some
hundred yards, when I noticed on my left at about a mile distance, five
horse Indians emerge from a clump of oaks. Their horses were going at
what is called a dog trot, although it seemed to be increased or
diminished according to Czar's pace. I looked at them through my glass,
and saw that only two of them had bows and the other three were unarmed.
As their appearance did not cause me any apprehension, I quietly
followed my road at a gentle walk. We constantly came nearer, and I soon
saw that the Indians designed to meet me on the path. I therefore held
my horse in so that they reached the path when I was about one hundred
yards distant from them. They stopped, and when they saw that I did the
same, one of the armed men turned his horse toward me and rode a few
paces nearer. I made signs to them to go their way, and when I saw they
had no result, I leapt from my horse and raised my rifle, again
intimating to them to ride on. They now shouted to me, "Kitchi, Kitchi,
Delaware, Delaware!" the names of friendly tribes, and at the same time
made the signals of amity. I, however, signalled to them again, and
raised my rifle to my shoulder, upon which they spoke together and went
up the hill very slowly, one behind the other, till I lost sight of

The suspicions which I entertained of all Indians induced me also to
ride up the hill to see what had become of them. To my great surprise I
saw them a long distance ahead galloping across the prairie. This sudden
haste could not be explained through fear of me. It must have another
cause which I could only find in the fact that their camp was no great
distance off, and that they wished to inform their tribe of my presence,
so as to cut me off on the prairie, and lay wait for me in the woods on
the Leone. From the direction they followed, if the tribe were encamped
no great distance from the path that led into the wood, they could get
there before me, whence I soon made up my mind and galloped off to
another ford of the Leone, about twenty miles higher up. Czar galloped
nearly the whole distance, and I reached the forest before sunset. I was
now safe, for no one could pass through the wood on horseback, and the
narrow buffalo path could be easily defended. I reached the Leone,
welcomed it with heartfelt joy, and hurried down the opposite bank
toward my home. About three miles from it I had to cross a hill, whence
I could see my fort. I approached its crest with a loudly beating heart,
because I must here obtain certainty as to the fate of my settlement.

I looked across the valley, and on the other side I saw the fort
glistening through the gloom. A heavy load fell from my heart; I took my
glass, everything was quiet, the smoke rose straight from the kitchen,
and suddenly two of my dogs ran up from the river, and disappeared
through the palisades into the interior of the fort. Czar, too, knew
perfectly well that he was going home, for though I had ridden him
unusually hard, he kept up his amble, while usually when he was tired he
had a habit of stopping and biting the grass.

It had grown very dark when I rode up the last hill to my fort, and was
received by the loud barking of my dogs which dashed through the holes
in the palisades. But all their voices were overpowered by Trusty's bass
from the interior of the building. The dogs soon recognised me, and
springing up to Czar expressed their delight at my return by loud
whining. I now raised my hunting cry, which was responded to by Trusty
tugging furiously at his chain, and a hearty welcome from my garrison.
The chain of the gate fell, and Trusty flew out and up at me, so that I
was hardly able to keep my feet under his demonstrations of delight. My
three comrades received me most heartily, and strove to show how much
they were attached to me. My horses and mules raised their voices from
the interior of the fort, and Czar answered them by his friendly

When the first greeting was over, my three men asked almost
simultaneously, "but where is Mr. Kreger?" I pointed to heaven and
intimated by a short "by-and-bye," that I would tell them all about it
presently. Czar was soon liberated from his burden, rolled himself
heartily at his old place in the grass, and consoled himself with his
long absent maize-leaves, while I doffed my travelling accoutrements
indoors, and made myself comfortable by a wash and change of dress. We
were soon seated round the old table at supper, at which I refreshed
myself with a draught of fresh milk, and then I described the unhappy
fate of my companion Kreger. An almost unanimous "did I not foretell
it?" burst at the end of my narrative from the lips of my comrades, who
all felt great sympathy in the unhappy man's fate.

In spite of my weariness it had grown rather late. Hence I rose, went
out once more to Czar, who had heartily enjoyed his husked corn, and
then proceeded indoors with my faithful Trusty, who resumed his old post
on a thick bearskin with delight. But I felt so confined in my room that
I was obliged to open all the doors and windows, and lie down on a
buffalo hide on the floor, instead of resting in my bed. It is
remarkable how soon a man forgets rooms when he has been living for any
length of time in the open air, and how he feels like a fish out of
water when he returns to them.




I was the first to rise from my bed when day broke, and went forth to
enjoy the cooling breeze. Czar was not yet awake, and merely raised his
head a little from the ground, gazing at me with his glorious eyes as if
he wished to say that it was too soon to rise, and then laid his head
down on the ground again and accepted my patting without stirring. The
cream-colour whinnied and turned about till it came up to me, when it
took from my hand a piece of biscuit: the dogs leapt about me, but kept
at a respectful distance, because Trusty was by my side and none dared
venture near him. I aroused my garrison and then proceeded to the river,
whence I could survey my maize field, which glistened like a dark pine
forest, and in which a horseman would have been completely hidden; then
I went into the garden, which I found in admirable order, and in which
the most magnificent melons were ripening. When I returned to the fort
the milch cows were leaving the enclosure, and shone in the morning sun
as if they had been curry-combed. My favourite cock, Whip, called his

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 8 of 35)