Percy B. (Percy Bolingbroke) St. John.

The trapper's bride : a tale of the Rocky Mountains; with the rose of Ouisconsin online

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PERCY Bf ST. JOHN, 1^2- \~







A very sincere admiration of your
genius, which has so delightfully enriched the
body of modern literature, and a sense of your
kindness in bringing my name before the public
as a contributor to that able Magazine which
has enabled you to foster many a young author,
induces me to offer you this my first separate
original effort.

That you may long continue to delight not
only your countrymen, Jttit our Transatlantic
brethren, and those who enjoy your productions
in various European languages, with a constant
flow of rich romance, is the sincere desire of

Yours ever faithfully,



THE American Indians have always been a
subject of deep interest to the author of this
little volume. A residence in the wilds of
America, in the back woods of Texas, and
much study, have rendered him familiar with the
scenes and habits which he has endeavoured to
illustrate. The approbation bestowed upon
certain Indian Tales and Sketches which have
lately appeared in various periodicals* has led
to the present more serious effort. Should
it be received with any favour, the author will
endeavour at a future period to bring before
his readers sketches, scenes, and tales, illus-
trative of other phases in American life ; life
in Texas, among the wild Comanches, among
the Mandans, the Sioux, the Seminoles, and
other famous tribes of the New World.

* In Ainsworth's Magazine, in Bentley's Miscellany,
the United Service Magazine ; in Chambers's Edinburgh
Journal, and other quarters.





FEW instances exist on record of industry so inde-
fatigable in the pursuit of gain, amid dangers
and difficulties, as that offered by the American
trappers and gentlemen traders who, in the Great
Prairie wilderness, in the Rocky Mountains, on
the arid plains of Oregon, amid the perils of
the Santa Fe caravan-trade, and all the various
outlying posts of the vast interior, pursue a com-
merce which, characterised by features romantic
and striking, must ever be viewed with feelings of
interest and curiosity.

Thousands of hardy men, abandoning for ever



their native villages, and rarely, if ever, returning
within the settlements, becoming utterly averse
to the restraints of civilized life, start across the
frontier, where, either on their own account, or
in the service of some one of the more opulent
adventurers, they become beaver-hunters, trappers,
or carry on a system of barter with the Indians.
No life is more fraught with constant peril, and
no occupation can be less permanently advan-
tageous to those on whom devolves all the hard
work of this peculiar commerce. Leaving the
station where they have wintered, the trapper,
often alone, takes his departure for the mountains,
and there, during a whole season, pursues his
avocations, perhaps more than a thousand miles
from any spot inhabited by civilized man ; living
on the produce of his gun, eating buffalo and elk
meat, often half-starved, always in fear of the
treacherous Eutaws, the roving Comanche, the
wild Apache, and the root-eating Shoshonie. The
bare ground is their only bed, where, by the light
of some well-concealed fire, deep in a woody glen


overhung by willow or spruce, the lone trapper
sleeps with the wolf or panther growling within
twenty feet, and only scared from attacking him-
self and horse by the blazing fire of cedar-logs.
Hundreds perish from the arrows and tomahawks
of the red-skins, that, in the Rocky Mountains, in
.that vast, lovely, and fertile valley, called the
Bayou Salade, in the exquisite " Old Park,"
swarm by thousands ; but hundreds also escape,
and, concealing the produce of the chase in the
numerous caches known only to themselves, at the
end of the season pour down upon the trading
posts upon Fort Bent, upon Brown's Hole, upon
Vancouver ; and there, during the winter season,
swim in whiskey and float in tobacco-smoke ; or,
perhaps, wedding some loved Indian maid, settle
down into more steady members of society. These
marriages are common in the extreme, and from
the submissive and resigned nature of the Indian
female character, combined with their industry and
power of enduring labour and fatigue, the unions
are generally happy. The rude trappers find in



them obedient wives, to whom their word is law,
and who, without a murmur, take upon them-
selves all the duties of the household, and even
more than the duties. It would indeed be a diffi-
cult matter, if, under such circumstances, the
husband found much cause for complaint.

Far in the interior of the Great Prairie wilder-
ness, about six weeks' journey from the outermost
verge of civilization in the United States, and
some eighty miles from Taos, in New Mexico, is
situated Bent Fort, a trading-post on the upper
waters of the Arkansas. To this spot we must
now request the reader's attention during a brief

It was at early dawn, the gates of the fort were
not yet opened.

At no great distance from the post, and close to
the river, is a little valley, or rather ravine, the
summit of which, on each side, is skirted by a
few aged willows and certain small bushes, the
soil being inimical to anything of more generous
growth, while a short stunted grass composes the


interior of the slope. Round the mouth of the
vale grazed a number of horses and mules, con-
fined within certain limits by the lariette. Beyond
these, as the surface fell away towards the river,
might have been seen the scattered tents of an
Indian encampment, and, on nearer approach, the
voices of many children rushing forth to healthful
exercise, or to splash in the sedgy banks of the
Arkansas, would have been distinctly heard. As
yet no other movement could have been delected
within the semicircle of wigwams forming the
Eutaw camp, but on that ridge of the valley
which lay nearest to the fort stood one to whom
our attention is forcibly drawn.

Leaning his arms on his gay and polished rifle,
of slight but wiry make, stood a young man in an
attitude of deep reflection. A fringed deer-skin
frock, leggins and mocassins of the same, with a
cap of bear's fur, formed his sole attire, if we
except the various hunting accoutrements, which
in those regions are more indispensable than
gloves and stocks to gentlemen in these civilized


divisions of the universe. The face of the youth
was dark, but, brown as it was, no Indian blood
aided in tinging his complexion. The burning sun
of the plains, the chilly blasts and snows of the
loftier ranges, the constant exposure to which all
American hunters are liable, made his skin such
as to be easily mistaken for that of the aborigines ;
but Pierre Lancel was born almost within sight of
Leman Lake, a free Switzer.

Originally intended for the church, as a Roman
catholic priest, Pierre, whose soul yearned for
liberty of action, had fled from his native village,
and, by a strange fancy for one who sighed for
independence, had enlisted in one of the regiments
of a neighbouring state. Finding the musket
and drilling even more uncongenial than fasting,
prayers, and vespers, and the barracks as strict
confinement as a cell, Pierre again absconded,
and, like many hundred of his countrymen, sought
refuge in America, where his yearning for utter
freedom of action and will were again doomed to
be disappointed, as are, indeed, the expectations


of most who there seek " a crust of bread and

At length, however, his journey carried him
beyond the limits of civilization ; and now Pierre
had during four years been an independent trapper,
one of those who for months at a time wandered
through the sublime scenes of grandeur and mag-
nificence through the soft beautiful valleys the
lakes the thousand rills, rivers, and brooks the
romantic glens the gravel knolls the bluifs of
sand and limestone the ravines hundreds of feet in
depth the mighty insular mounds of earth, tow-
ering on all sides the embankment of congregated
hills deep and irregular chasms frowning pre-
cipices and hideous fractures which compose the
Rocky Mountains.

ft It is mighty disagreeable/' muttered the young
man to himself, " mighty ! Not a thing in this
wide world have I which I can call mine own,
save this rifle, and that Heaven bless the jade
I'll never part with. And ye have her I must,
though what ' swap' I am to offer, is more than I
can justly hit upon !"


The young hunter shook his head,

" These cunning devils know I will have her,
no matter what she costs me, and the price has
been made high in proportion to the strength of
my wish to have her. But I fear I may wish,
since all my earnings are long since gone, and wait
until next season I cannot. Ah me !"

It may be supposed the young man was musing
on the feared disappointment of losing a favourite
horse or mule, which having intended to purchase,
his improvidence had left him no means of so
doing. By no means r however. The subject which
occupied his thoughts was the fair daughter of the
Eutaw chief, with whom the young Swiss had
fallen deeply in love, and whom he was just then
unable to purchase. Let not the sensitive mind be
alarmed without reason. It is no new feature in
the terrible history of slavery that we are giving
publicity to. Certainly on all occasions when a
white man honoured a red-skin girl with his affec-
tion, the parents Ci guardians fixed a price upon
her possession, which price paid, the woman was


ever after the property of the purchaser. But is
it alone amid the wild Indians of the American
prairies that this custom prevails? If we look
around, we shall find the fair daughters of Europe
brought to market, not so universally, neither so s
openly and avowedly, but still bought and sold as ^
nakedly and as foully as any poor Comanche or
Eutaw maiden ever was.

When some lovely girl, blooming with fresh
youth and beauty, light joys swimming invisible
around her head and angels garlanding her way,
when this brightest of God's created things is
handed over to the hated arms of wealthy age, to
share the splendour of some golden idol, with one

foot in the grave, what is it but traffic in flesh and

blood; a dealing of mere marketing, where parents

or friends sell the very life they gave the price, a /
dowry, a settlement, a coronet?

The Indian girl is sold, perhaps for a dozen
horses, perhaps for one, by those to whom these
things are vast increase of worldly possessions.
Then are they less iniquitous than their white


co-dealers in humanity, who have not the wretched
excuse of personal advantage to urge them on, .and
behind which to shelter the awful nature of such a

But Pierre loved the Flower of the Eutaw, the
lovely young Moama : her price was a dozen horses
of the first quality, and the Swiss trapper had not
one in his possession.

" Well !" exclaimed he, after the lapse of some
few moments, " since I cannot raise the price they
ask, ma foil I'll e'en have her for nothing. It is
to be done."

Having made this heroic determination of
appropriating the lovely Moama to himself with-
out paying the value at which she was rated,
Pierre Lancel felt in a more agreeable humour
with himself, and, turning his back on the Eutaw
encampment, where he had spenr the night at a
festival, he advanced towards the fort.

Fort Bent is about a hundred and fifty feet
long and one hundred wide. The walls, of adobies
or unburnt bricks, cemented with a mortar of clay,


are six or seven feet in thickness, and about eighteen
in height. On the eastern side is a gate, with a
pair of heavy plank folding doors, while numerous
bastions, two of which are cylindrical and thirty
feet in height, with several cannon on them,
command a wide range.

Numerous offices, houses, shops, stores, a caral
for the horses, a waggon-house, covered over to
keep these huge vehicles from the action of the sun,
occupy the whole of the interior space ; the tops
of the houses, being flat and graveled over, afford
an admirable promenade during the moonlight even-
ings, without bringing the walkers within reach of
the marauders who might assail them on the out-

The men who occupy themselves in the business
of the fort are to the number of sixty; of whom a
third, with one of the partners in this half-military
half-commercial establishment, are employed in
piloting to the United States the waggons bearing
the skins, furs, buffalo-robes, &c., which have been
collected during the season, and in guarding the


fresh stock of goods which are constantly arriving
to be used in the Indian trade. The avocations of
those who remain are varied in the extreme ; one
party, starting over the sparse and distant plains,
and entering even the confines of the hilly country,
in search of elk and buffalo, supply the fort with
food; another guard the mules and horses, while
yet another, penetrating into the heart of the Indian
country, amidst the deepest wilds of the Eutaw
hills, behind Spanish Peak, and across the arid
plains lying towards Oregon, carry on a trade
with the interior tribes.

A few clerks and oversers make up the amount
of the inhabitants of this wonderful mercantile
post, wonderful in its dismal isolation, in its
immense distance from the settlements, and in the
strange appearance of its tout- ensemble when in

Pierre advanced slowly towards the fort, and by
no means taking the straight path, so that, long
ere he presented himself before the gates, business
was going on with its usual concomitants of bustle
and noise.


In front of the fort was a long piazza, and
beneath this were congregated various groups of a
singularly picturesque character.

Near the gate, seated upon mats, and smoking
their long pipes, with a view to digesting the very
rough breakfast they had just consumed, were two
men in the garb of Indian chiefs. Their mocassins
were of the most elegant and received fashion,
being profusely ornamented with beads and por-
cupine-quills 5 their trousers were of prepared
deer-skin, fringed from hip to ankle, while their
handsome hunting-shirts, of the same material,
with sleeves also fringed on the elbow-seam from
the wrist to the shoulder, and garnished with
figures made with porcupine-quills of various
colours, gave them altogether a most dashing and
striking appearance. These were the brothers
Bent, the monarchs of all they surveyed, and
true chiefs within the whole district commanded
by the fort.

Near at hand were crowds of trappers, of clerks,
of traders; while, gliding about with ghost-like


step, were seen the Indian men and women. Nu-
merous groups of children, of very doubtful com-
plexions, were playing about, adding their merry
laughter and lightsome, gladsome frolics, to the
more serious features of a scene which was re-
markable in the extreme.

As Pierre advanced slowly towards the fort,
one of the men who were lounging about the gate,
amusing themselves with a kind of employment
which is familiarly called doing nothing, broke
from the knot of idlers with whom he had pre-
viously been engaged, and made in the direction
of the Swiss trapper.

" Moriim'," exclaimed this personage. u Well,
I conclude, Peter, you're in a fix. What's the
locrum of it ? Is it hard up, or is it the galls?"

The speaker was a huge member of the vast
fraternity known in Europe as Yankees an appel-
lation justly belonging to only a small section of
the Anglo-Americans and stood six feet high.
Though his face was neither handsome nor very
agreeable, there was still an expression of good


humour and intelligence beaming across his plain
features, which prepossessed all who gazed upon
him in his favour.

Pierre, before he saw who the speaker was, was
disposed to resent the interruption ; but, raising his
eyes and recognising the speaker, his indignation
evaporated at once.

" Well, Ephraim," said he, with a lugubrious
smile, " I believe you know what it's about."

" A gall!"

" A girl, as you say ; but, Ephraim, " continued
Pierre, " you know very well I havn't an old
mule, much more a dozen horses, which is the
girl's price."

" Well!" exclaimed the huge animated mass of
mortality known as Ephraim Smith, " if that
don't take the shine out of me. Twelve hosses for
a gall, and a Ingian gall too ! my ! It don't con-
vene to the dignity of a member of our almighty
nation to cuss, or I'd be "

" Stop," cried Pierre, gravely, " you'll have one
out before you know where you are."


" Well, that's a fact, so it is," replied Ephraim ;
" but I calculate you've blotted the gall off your
slate. Twelve bosses is a chalk above you."

(t No !" said the young Swiss trapper warmly,
t( I have not. No, Ephraim, I love the girl."

" Does she love you ? though it's a persimmoon
above me what love means. She is handsum',
that's sartin; but twelve bosses, my!"

" She does love me, Ephraim," continued Pierre.

" Well !"

" And as I can't pay the price they ask, we've
made up our minds that I'll pay nothing, and have
the girl in spite of the whole tribe."

" Rale impossible," replied the tall American,

" No such thing, Ephraim ; it is to be done, and
shall be done; and, what is more, I reckon on
you as my principal friend through the whole
affair. In all Bent's fort there isn't another
could do it."

" Well, that's what I call sawder, and precious
soft sawder too, I do declare," replied the tall


trapper, with a gratified smile ; " and as to helping
a friend over a stile, why, Ephraim Smith is the
man never to say no; and he can do it; if he

" That's enough," said Pierre, with a signifi-
cant hint; "and now we'll just take and talk the
matter over. One thing however, Ephraim, I
want you to do. I must have it thought I have
given her up."

" I see three yards through a stone wall," re-
plied the tall hunter, with a wink; " and it 'ud
be a tall gratification to my feelings if you'd con-
vene to do so. A woman is never any good, but
an Ingian woman is the devil. Well, I'm a free
citizen of our everlastin' re-public, and it goes agin
the grain not to speak out ; but if it don't avail
you, mum's the word."



IT was seven days after the occurrence of the
events recorded in the last chapter. Far o'er the
southern rocky mountains, the sun was setting in
a full tide of evening glory, as two men halted near
a willow grove, where the A Integer river, com-
monly known as Foritaine-qui-bouille, falls into,
and increases, the waters of the Arkansas.

The grove was situated in a lovely valley, covered
with turf as green and short as that of any lawn, while
a clear cold brook, with pebbly bottom, and banks
clothed with shrub cedar, were adjuncts of no mean
power in rendering the scene picturesque. A sky as
free from vapour as those which have rendered Italy
so famous, a cool breeze from the cloud-capped and


snowy mountains, after a sultry day breathed fresh-
ness and new vigour through the human frame,
while the sound of the babbling stream rushing
swiftly over its stony bed spoke in soft musical
accen ts to the ear of the wearied wayfarer. Flowers
of varied hue and odour, the common dandelion,
the angelica, the black-berried elder, with little
blue and white spangles without name, diffused a
sense of beauty o'er the scene, to which the anti-
quated and decrepit willow grove imparted an air
of savage wildness, which, in its contrast, unhar-
moniously harmonized with the more gentle
charms of the locality.

As the two men came within the shelter of the
willow grove, they (as we have already stated)
halted, and looked around them with some cu-

" Them varmint has camped here," said Ephraim
Smith, for he was one of the pair, " and on this
identical spot. Thar's the locality of the fire, and
thar's the willow poles/' pointing to several long
branches of willow, thrust in the ground, and

c 2


fastened at the top with a supple bough of the
same material, " which sarved them to throw their
blankets on for wigwams. They've been gone
I reckon since morning, for the embers is jist out."

" We are on their track at all events, which
is all we require," replied Pierre Lancel ; " and
now to camp ourselves. Wood is plenty, so we
can have fire enough to keep out the cold ; but,"
added he with a grim smile, " eating I suppose
is once more out of the question."

" Well, it does look raal scaly, and that's a
fact/' continued the tall hunter; u no buffalo, no
deer ; it's all the fault of thim cussed Eutaws ;
they've driv every etarnal bit o' game out of the
country. Here's two first-rate chaps, raal moun-
tain trappers, bin two days, and never a bite, all
along a thim thieving vagabones. Well, I wish I
may be shot if I can cipher it no how. But you
raise a blaze, Pierre, and I'll skirt this are brook,
and if elk or coon, bear or wolf, be in nosing dis-
tance, we'll sup this are night."

And without another word the huge Ameri-


can trapper shouldered his rifle, and walked away
through the willow grove, despite his hunger
whistling a merry tune, until he drew near the
probable haunts of game, when his lips ceased their

Left alone, Pierre laid his rifle and other accou-
trements near at hand, and commenced preparing
the camp for the night. As usual, the spot se-
lected by the Indians was the best in the grove for
the purpose, and here accordingly the young Swiss
trapper decided upon locating himself. Being in
the very centre of a knot of bushes, they were in
great part sheltered from the wind, while the fire
would by the same means be kept from flaring in
a disagreeable manner, as well as being thus con-
cealed from the prying eyes of any marauder.

Placing a small piece of cotton in his rifle with
a charge of loose powder, and having collected a
handful of dry leaves, he discharged the gun to-
wards the ground. The cotton was thus inflamed,
and, being placed in the centre of the leaves, the
hunter moved the whole mass backwards and for-


wards, producing as much quick motion in the
wind as possible. A blaze ensued, the leaves were
deposited on the ground, and a few chips of wood
placed gently over them. Stick by stick, Pierre
increased the body of the fire, until a goodly flame
rose within the old willow grove, the spruce-boughs
and other fuel crackling merrily in that unfre-
quented spot. All around instantly fell into deep
gloom, while each small opening between the
bushes looked the entrance to some dreary cavern,
the mouth of which sparkled in the unwonted light,
while within all was inky black. A ruddy glow
gilded the old willows, and night fled from one
little spot to become only more dark elsewhere.

This part of his task executed, Pierre continued
to collect fuel for the night, a somewhat difficult
undertaking, the Eutaw Indians having made use
of almost every available piece of wood within a
moderate distance. Taking therefore his axe in
hand, Pierre ascended the slope of the ravine, and
walked towards the ford of the Arkansas, above
the spot where it is joined by Fontaine-qui-bouille,


into which stream the brook, beside which the
trappers were encamped, discharged its waters.
Here was a grove of stunted pine, where the young
Swiss hunter hoped to find a considerable supply
of dry fallen boughs.

While he is thus employed, we must give our read-
ers a brief outline of the events of the previous seven
days. The Eutaws, having concluded their traffic
with the traders at Fort Bent, and receiving no fur-
ther offer from young Pierre Lancel for the hand
of the beautiful Moama, had taken their departure
toward their native hills, with the intention of re-
turning to the fort during the following season.

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Online LibraryPercy B. (Percy Bolingbroke) St. JohnThe trapper's bride : a tale of the Rocky Mountains; with the rose of Ouisconsin → online text (page 1 of 7)