Lascelles Wraxall.

The Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier online

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numerous harem out to breakfast on the prairie; and two pigs hurried
with their farrows towards the river, for the purpose of going to the

After breakfast I saddled the cream-colour, for which the saddle girths
had grown much too tight, and rode with one of my men and Trusty to the
other side of the river, towards the old buffalo path that led to the
prairie; we reached the skirt of the wood, and had not ridden far
through it when Trusty, who was ahead, stopped and looked up at me. I
dismounted and perceived a number of footsteps made by mocassins. A
little farther on the grass was trampled down by a great number of
horses' hoofs. My foreboding was then confirmed. The entire Indian tribe
had laid wait for me in the woods, and I should certainly have fallen a
victim to their treachery if my good star had not warned me of their
design. I silently thanked my guardian angel, who had already led me
through so many dangers, and rode back to the fort, which I reached
shortly before noon, with a very fat deer I had shot on passing through
the wood, and which hung across my comrade's saddle.

A few days' rest at home did me a wonderful deal of good; and I felt
remarkably comfortable. In the afternoon I swung in a hammock in the
verandah before my house, smoking a cigar; and in the evening I sat till
a late hour in a rocking chair in my neatly furnished room, and sang to
the guitar songs from the past days of youth and passion. My house
consisted of but one large room, whose walls and ceiling were covered
with the finest dark-haired buffalo hides, while a carpet of smooth
summer deer hides enlivened the floor. Over my bed was the skin of a
splendid spotted jaguar, and in front of it was spread a coal-black bear
skin, on which Trusty slept. The walls were adorned with excellent
oil-paintings; among them being a very fine specimen of Murillo; and
from the ceiling hung a lamp, which, throwing its faint light on the
dark walls, produced a weak but pleasant illumination. On the table in
front of the glass stood two large orange-hued gourds filled with water,
in which stood splendid bouquets of magnolias, which spread their
vanilla perfume through the whole room; close by was a glass case
containing my firearms; and on all the walls were displayed the most
splendid antlers of our common deer, the giant deer, elks, moose, and
antelopes. A collection of good engravings, a small library, and my
drawing apparatus, completed the furniture of this asylum, to which I
frequently retired when I returned home from a long tour, covered with
dust and blood, and was beginning to grow tired of this rough, savage
mode of life. At such times I looked out the clothes of
civilization - the tail coat and polished boots; and Trusty in his
amazement would not take his eyes off me, as if he were afraid that I
should at last become quite another man. Although this metamorphosis may
appear so ridiculous, it had something about it most soothing and
pleasant for me. I then occupied myself for some days with reading,
answering my letters, drawing, and music; after which I again donned my
deer-hide suit, and threw myself into the arms of nature with my
faithful companions.

I had been at home for about a week, had only hunted close to the fort,
and in addition to domestic arrangements, occupied myself principally
with fishing, for which purpose I fastened a strong cord across the
stream, on which were a number of lines and hooks hanging baited in the
water. A small bell in the middle of the cord informed us when a fish or
turtle was tugging at it, and we fetched them ashore with the canoe. We
only cared for large fish, and it was no rarity for us to pull up
cat-fish and buffalo-fish weighing thirty pounds, trout of twelve, and
turtles of forty pounds.

Early one morning I was engaged in shoeing Czar's forefeet, as I always
kept a stock of shoes and nails by me, after which I returned to my room
to write letters, as I intended to send one of my men in a few days with
commissions to the nearest settlement. I had been writing about half an
hour, with Trusty lying under the table in the middle of the room, when
the door opened, and I of course expected it was one of my own people.
Trusty, however, sprang up barking, from under the table, and pulled me
down as I tried to hold him back by the tail. In an instant the furious
animal leaped at the throat of a stranger dressed in leather, who came
into the room with a long Kentucky rifle, pulled him down, and would
certainly have killed him in a few minutes, if I had not thrust my hands
between the dog's jaws and forced them open, though his teeth were
buried deep in my fingers.

With all my strength I lay on the desperate dog, and my men dragged the
stranger out of the door, while I was scarce able to hold back the
animal, which leaped up madly at the closed door. I hurried out to the
stranger, in whom I recognised a bee-hunter, who had paid me a visit
about a year previously. He was seriously hurt, though not mortally, as
it seemed. I at once took him into the house, continually applied cold
bandages and nursed him as well as I could during the four days he
remained with me. Then I discharged him, after stocking him amply with
powder and ball, coffee and salt, needles, thread, and other articles,
and begging him, when he next visited me, to knock at my door first. I
was very anxious not to have these bee-hunters against me, as they might
prove even more dangerous than savages. They are generally scape-gallows
from the States, and live in the desert with their horse and rifle by
hunting, and collecting honey and wax, the former of which they pack in
fresh-sewn deer hides, and carry it with the wax and peltry to the
Indian settlements for the purpose of selling or swapping. He left me
perfectly contented, and with assurances of gratitude and friendship,
and I was very glad to get rid of this unbidden guest.

One evening, as the sun was setting, I felt a necessity of hearing the
crack of my rifle. Czar had fattened up again, and Trusty was anxiously
awaiting the day when I should recover from my indolence. I rode down
the river to a small pond on the prairie, which was filled with rain
water in the winter and retained it till far into the summer. Strangely
enough, all animals prefer this water to any other, and will go a long
distance to drink it. I led Czar into the bushes, threw his bridle over
a branch, and sat down on the edge of the forest upon the roots of an
old oak, waiting for the game that might come to water.

It was growing dark when a herd of deer came across the prairie and
posted themselves on a hill behind the pond. They were all rather large,
but one of them had antlers far larger than the rest. After a short halt
they advanced up to the water hole, with the big deer at their head. It
had drunk, and was raising its head with the mighty antlers, when I
pulled the trigger, and the bullet struck behind the shoulder blade. He
ran away from the other deer to a broad, rather deep ravine, formed by
the torrents, and which gradually grew narrower. I mounted Czar after
reloading, and rode after the deer, which suddenly rose before me and
leaped up the steep wall of the ravine. It was already very dark, and I
was afraid of losing the deer, hence I called Trusty to follow it.
Nothing could please him better; he ran after it up the wall, and
pursued it into the prairie with loud barking. As the spot was too steep
for me, I ran back, and when I reached the prairie lower down I saw the
deer proceeding towards the woods, and two dogs instead of one following
it. I gave Czar the reins, in order to cut the deer off; but Trusty
caught it at the moment, and the supposed second dog, an enormous white
wolf, attacked my dog. All three lay atop of each other, when I leaped
from my horse within shot, and hurried to the scene of action. The wolf
noticed me and tried to bolt, but Trusty held it tightly, and I ran
within ten paces of them. The two animals were leaping up savagely at
each other, when my bullet passed through the wolf's side, and Trusty
settled it. The deer, which had thirty tines, had got up again, but soon
fell on a leap from Trusty, and I killed it. I then rode home, fetched a
two-wheeled cart drawn by a mule, drove out with one of my men, and
brought back the deer and the wolf, whose skin, though not so fine as in
winter, still made an excellent carpet under our dining-table.

There was nothing to do now in the fields, whence we seldom went there,
and our visits were limited to one of us crossing the river at daybreak
in a canoe hollowed out of a monstrous poplar, and walking round the
field with a fowling piece, in order to put a check to the countless
squirrels which sprang over the fence to reach the forest at daybreak,
partly because they did great damage to the young maize, partly because
they supplied an excellent dish for breakfast. Another animal which we
killed in these walks was the racoon, which also injured the maize, and
inhabited our forests in incredible numbers. We merely shot it because
it injured the maize, for its flesh is uneatable. Its skin, though
highly valued in Europe, fetches no price among us. It visits the fields
at night, clambers up the maize stalks, nibbles a few seeds out of a
cob, and then runs to another plant. The result is that the gnawed cobs
rot and die.

I was taking this walk one morning round the field, when I saw on the
railings at the hinder end several whole stalks hanging, and found one
on the ground in the forest. I went into the field and found large
spaces where all the stalks had been pulled up and carried off, but
could not recognise a trail on the soil, which was thickly overgrown
with weeds and grass. I followed the trail into the forest, and found at
no great distance from the first maize stalk a footprint on the ground,
which seemed made only with the heel, and which I took for a mocassin.
The maize, however, was not ripe yet, and not even large enough for
boiling, and hence it seemed to me improbable that Indians had carried
off the plants. I sought farther, and soon found a quite distinct
enormous bear's footprint, which indicated the thief more clearly. When
evening came, I and one of my men seated ourselves in the maize with
Trusty on a couple of chairs we carried there. I had my large
double-barrel loaded with pistol bullets, and my comrade a double rifle.
We sat for a long time, as the moon shone now and then; but at length we
grew tired of waiting, and I got up to go home, but at the same moment
fancied I could hear the crackling of drift wood. I fell back on my
chair; at the same moment the railing in front of me grew dark, and
almost immediately Bruin appeared with his broad chest, and peered about
in all directions. Piff! paff! I let fly both barrels at him; he
disappeared behind the railing, and we could hear him dashing through
the wood. We went home, and on the next morning at daybreak we followed
the trail along which Trusty led us to the dead bear, which had only run
a mile. Its fat and meat fully compensated for the damage it had
effected in the field.

It was the summer season, and the heat was growing very oppressive.
Hence I carefully avoided hunting buffalo, for fear of tiring my horse
too much, and restricted myself to supplying our wants with deer,
turkeys, and antelopes in the vicinity; but our supply of salted and
smoked meat was at an end, and I resolved to go after buffalo on a day
which was not quite so hot. Trusty had run himself lame in following
deer recently, as his feet had grown soft through doing nothing, so I
left him at home and rode down the river on Czar early one morning.

About ten miles from home I saw from the wood whose skirt I was
following, a small herd of about twenty buffalo bulls grazing on an
elevation on the prairie. I hid my rifle in a bush that I might ride
more easily, took a revolver from my belt, and went cautiously under the
hill as near as I could to the animals. Suddenly they saw me, broke into
a gallop, and tried to escape; I went after them, and though I had to
ride over many stony broken places in the bottom on the other side, I
soon caught them up, and fired a bullet behind the shoulder blade of a
fat old bull; it at once went slower, remained behind the herd, and bled
profusely from the mouth and nostrils, but still galloped on, as I did
by its side a short distance off.

At a spot where a valley entered the prairie, I shot ahead, and, as I
expected, it turned aside into the bottom. It was in a very bad state,
and I awaited it to turn at bay any moment, when I would kill it with
another shot; still it kept up its speed, and I, tired of the chase,
rode up behind to kill it with a shot from a short distance. I had
hardly risen in the right stirrup, however, and leant over to fire, when
the bull turned with lightning speed, drove his horn under the stirrup,
and hurled me such a height in the air, that, on looking down from
above, I could see Czar dash off frantically and fall in the tall grass.

In an instant I sprang on my legs again, and three paces from me stood
the monster with its head on the ground, braying furiously, and stamping
its fore feet. It was nearly all over, but still I held my revolver
pointed between the bull's little blood-red eyes, and waited like a
statue for the moment when it charged, to send a bullet through its
shaggy forehead. But it was in too bad a state, and hence turned away a
few minutes after and went round me; the mortal spot was now exposed, I
fired, and the bull fell dead; I then ran up the nearest hillock,
through the tall grass, where I arrived greatly fatigued, and looked
about for Czar, whom I saw in the distance flying over the prairie with
his snow-white tail fluttering in the breeze.

I felt terribly frightened at this sight, for this region was rarely
free from wild horses, and I was well aware that if Czar once got among
them he would be eternally lost to me. I was looking after him in
desperation, when I noticed in front of him a long black line apparently
coming towards me; I looked through my telescope, and recognised a herd
of buffalo which, aroused by some cause, were galloping towards my horse
in a long line; Czar stopped, raising his head high in the air, then
turned and came straight towards me with flying mane; I collected all my
strength to reach one of the highest spots around that lay in the course
of my terrified horse. He dashed through the last bottom over the
trailing grass, dragging the tiger skin after him which hung down on one
side of the saddle.

On hearing my cry he stopped and recognised me, ran to me, and stood
trembling all over by my side, while timidly looking round at the
pursuing column. With one bound I was on his back, and felt myself once
more lord of the desert. The buffaloes halted on the nearest elevation,
looked at me for some minutes, and then dashed into the bottom on the
right. I then rode back to my buffalo, broke it up, hung its tongue and
fillet on the saddle, and started home, fetching my rifle as I passed. I
reached the fort at noon, saddled the cream-colour after we had drunk
coffee, and then went out with the cart, to fetch the very fat meat of
my vanquished foe. It was then cut into long thin strips, and packed
into a cask with alternate layers of salt; after it had lain thus for a
few days it was put up on long sticks, and hung over a very smoky fire
in the burning sun, when in a few hours it became dry enough to be
carried into the smoke-house, where it kept good for a very long time.

One morning my men were busily engaged in hanging up the dried meat in
the smoke-house, when one of them came running up to me and informed me
that a herd of buffaloes was coming up close to the garden on the river.
I seized my rifle and darted out, shouting to my men to keep back the
dogs, but to let them all loose when I waved my handkerchief. I ran out
of the fort, and in a stooping posture along a prairie hollow, in order
to get before the buffaloes, which were marching two and two in a long
row up from the river to the prairie, and lay down in the long grass
under an elevation for which they were steering. I had been lying there
but a few minutes when the first bulls appeared on the heights, and I
shot one of them, though without showing myself. The buffalo stopped,
sank on its knees, and fell over, while the others gathered round it,
looked at it for a long time, and then tried to make it get up by
pushing it with their horns. If you do not show yourself, you can in
this way kill a great number of these animals, as they are not
frightened by the sound of a rifle.

After reloading I rose on one knee and shot a second, which I hit in the
knee, however, instead of behind the shoulder. I saw that it had noticed
me, for it turned round, and, with its head down, dashed upon me from
the heights. I sprung up and waved my handkerchief, and then threw
myself full length in a narrow gully, while the hunting cry of my people
in the fort reached my ear, and I recognised Trusty's voice among my

I heard the thunder of the savage bull approaching me, as it made the
ground shake under me, and I looked up, expecting every minute to see
the monster leap over me; but when it was within about twenty yards of
me it stopped with a terrible roar, as it had lost me, and now saw my
dogs dashing up the valley like unchained furies. Prince Albert, one of
my young bloodhounds, was the foremost, and behind him came Lady Elsler,
his bitch, both equally fast and courageous. They dashed past me. I
rose, and now came Trusty with his mouth wide open, furious that another
dog should dare to assault the enemy before him. My hunting-cry echoed
far over the prairie, where the two bloodhounds hung by the thick hide
of the infuriated buffalo on its wounded side, while Trusty pinned its
monstrous muzzle, in which he buried his fangs, which never loosed their

The buffalo fell back a few paces, and then rose, with Trusty still
hanging to its snout, on its colossal hind legs, snorting furiously. I
could not shoot on account of the dog, and the raging brute dashed over
the prairie, holding Trusty in the air, who only every now and then was
able to touch the ground with his feet. Ere long, however, the whole
pack had caught up the fugitives, and the brave dogs hung like leeches
from the buffalo's shaggy coat. Still it dashed on with them toward the
river, at a spot where the bank was forty feet high.

I looked after them with terror, for there was no doubt but that the
buffalo would dash over, and in that case most of my dogs, and Trusty
more especially, would be buried beneath it. A few more leaps, and they
would have reached the precipice, but at this moment the monster rose in
the air and turned over, covered by my dogs. It roared and raged, till
the sound echoed through the forest, but was unable to get on its
forelegs again, because Trusty kept its head pinned down to the ground.
I could hardly breathe when I reached the buffalo: I held my rifle to
its broad forehead, and sent a bullet through its hard skull. The fight
was at an end, and Trusty came up to me, panting and wagging his tail,
while he looked up to me as much as to say that it had been a tough job.
He limped a little, and Leo, a very brave dog, had a considerable wound
between the ribs, but none of the others were hurt.

We returned to the fort, and were preparing to fetch the meat in the
cart, when we saw a horseman coming down the river, who soon dismounted
at the gate, and walked up to me with a pleasant good morning, and shook
my hand. He was indubitably the handsomest man I had ever seen, and the
beauty of his form was heightened by his tight-fitting and neatly-made
leathern dress. He was scarce twenty years of age, above six feet high,
with a small head, long neck, broad retreating shoulders, a full chest,
a very small waist, and muscular though handsomely-shaped legs, which
were supported by very delicate ankles and feet, almost too small for
his height. His lofty forehead was surrounded by black shining silky
locks, and beneath his sharply-cut black eyebrows his blue eyes shone
with a calmness and decision, but also with a kindliness, that it was
impossible to offer him an unfavourable reception. His black silky beard
passed under his straight nobly-formed nose round his smiling,
partly-opened mouth, between whose cherry lips two rows of transparent
white teeth were visible, and heightened the white complexion of his
oval face and the fresh ruddiness of his cheeks. Thus this god of the
desert stood before me with a grace and propriety such as are rarely met
with in the gouty circles of high society; and I thought to myself that
his appearance would attract attention and respect, in spite of the
leathern garb, among the nobility of the Old World.

Without asking him who he was, I gave him the hearty welcome which his
amiability claimed, led him to the dining-room, had his luggage brought
into the fort, and his horse put in a stall and supplied with maize
leaves. Then a breakfast was set before my guest, and after begging him,
in the old Spanish fashion, to make my house his home, I apologized for
being obliged to leave him a little while, as I had shot some buffaloes
close by, which I wanted to get home.

"Will you allow me to assist you? I am a good hand at it," was his
reply. He had soon finished his breakfast, and went with me out of the
fort to the river bank where the buffalo lay. Although I had introduced
Trusty to the stranger, the dog still pressed between him and me, which
he noticed and remarked.

"You have a fine hound there, who has grown up in the desert. I have
heard of him before. He is no friend of bee-hunters, and yet he does not
seem savage with me."

I begged him not to touch Trusty, as he might misunderstand it, and we
soon reached my quarry. The stranger, whose name was Warden, as he told
me, laid aside his leathern jacket, which was tastily ornamented with
fringe, turned up his shirt-sleeves, displaying thus his finely formed
muscular and white arms, and drew a splendid hunting-knife from its
sheath. We set to work together in skinning the buffalo, in which
operation Warden displayed a remarkable skill, then broke it up, and
while my people carried the meat to the fort we proceeded to the other
buffalo higher up the prairie, and prepared it in the same way for

While we were engaged in skinning this animal, Warden remarked he was
surprised at my using rifles of so large a bore, as it was a settled
fact that the long Kentucky rifles, one of which he carried, produced
much greater effect with small bullets. I contradicted this assertion,
and an argument ensued, as neither would give up his opinion. Warden
offered a wager, and staked his rifle against one of mine, which I
accepted. We cut off the buffalo's head with the skin attached to it,
and had it carried to the fort with the meat, in order to try our rifles
on it. It was noon when we got back. We cleaned ourselves and enjoyed
our dinner, a buffalo fillet roasted on the spit, and some of the

After drinking coffee and smoking a cigar, we carried the buffalo head
outside the fort, put it in front of an oak, pressed a piece of white
paper on the forehead, and then walked eighty paces back, I shot first,
and my bullet passed through the paper into the head, and an inch deep
into the oak. Warden fired next, and also sent his bullet into the piece
of paper, but there was no trace of the bullet on the tree behind the
head. We removed the skin from the skull and found Warden's bullet
lodged under it, close to the hole which mine had made. Warden at once
allowed the bet lost, but at the same time requested me to sell him a
gun, as he could not exist without one. I naturally laughed, as my only
object in the matter was conviction, and the bet had only been a joke.
Warden, however, shot with surprising accuracy at one hundred yards with
his rifle, which was four feet and a half long, the whole weight resting
on the left hand in front; but his ball rarely passed through a deer,
except when he was close to it.

After supper, while we were lying on the grass on the river bank, my
guest told me that he was a native of Missouri, the son of a farmer, but
had been compelled by unfortunate circumstances to quit home, and had
been living for five years as a desert hunter. At first he remained on
the frontiers of his own State, but the cold winters had continually
driven him to the south, until he at last got so far down to a country

Online LibraryLascelles WraxallThe Backwoodsman; Or, Life on the Indian Frontier → online text (page 9 of 35)