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Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 online

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provender.

At length, on the fourth day, we came to an upland, or rolling prairie
as we call it, from the top of which we had a view that made our hearts
leap for joy. A lovely strip of land lay before us, bounded at the
further end by a forest of evergreen oaks, honey locusts, and catalpas.
Towards the north was a good ten mile of prairie; on the right hand a
wood of cotton-trees, and on the left the forest in which you now are.
We decided at once that we should find no better place than this to fix
ourselves; and we went back to tell Asa and the others of our discovery,
and to show them the way to it. Asa and one of his brothers returned
with us, bringing part of our traps. They were as pleased with the place
as we were, and we went back again to fetch the rest. But it was no easy
matter to bring our plunder and the women and children through the
forests and swamps. We had to cut paths through the thickets, and to
make bridges and rafts to cross the creeks and marshes. After ten days'
labour, however, and with the help of our axes, we were at our journey's
end.

We began directly clearing and cutting down trees, and in three weeks we
had built a loghouse, and were able to lie down to rest without fear of
being disturbed by the wolves or catamounts. We built two more houses,
so as to have one for each two families and then set to work to clear
the land. We had soon shaped out a couple of fields, a ten-acre one for
maize, and another half the size for tobacco. These we began to dig and
hoe; but the ground was hard, and though we all worked like slaves, we
saw there was nothing to be made of it without ploughing. A ploughshare
we had, and a plough was easily made - but horses were wanting: so Asa
and I took fifty dollars, which was all the money we had amongst us, and
set out to explore the country forty miles round, and endeavour to meet
with somebody who would sell us a couple of horses, and two or three
cows. Not a clearing or settlement did we find, however, and at last we
returned discouraged, and again began digging. On the very first day
after our return, as we were toiling away in the field, a trampling of
horses was heard, and four men mounted, and followed by a couple of
wolf-hounds, came cantering over the prairie. It struck us that this
would be a famous chance for buying a pair of horses, and Asa went to
meet them, and invited them to alight and refresh themselves. At the
same time we took our rifles, which were always lying beside us when we
worked in the fields, and advanced towards the strangers. But when they
saw our guns, they put spurs to their horses and rode off to a greater
distance. Asa called out to them not to fear, for our rifles were to use
against bears and wolves and Redskins, and not against Christian men.
Upon this, down they came again; we brought out a calabash of real
Monongahela; and after they had taken a dram, they got off their horses,
and came in and ate some venison, which the women set before them. They
were Creoles, half Spanish, half French, with a streak of the Injun; and
they spoke a sort of gibberish not easy to understand. But Asa, who had
served in Lafayette's division in the time of the war, knew French well;
and when they had eaten and drunk, he began to make a bargain with them
for two of their horses.

It was easy to see they were not the sort of men with whom decent folk
could trade. First they would, then they wouldn't: which horses did we
want, and what would we give. We offered them thirty-five dollars for
their two best horses - and a heavy price it was, for at that time money
was scarce in the settlements. They wanted forty, but at last took the
thirty-five; and after getting three parts drunk upon taffia, which they
asked for to wet the bargain as they said, they mounted two upon each of
the remaining horses and rode away.

We now got on famously with our fields, and soon sowed fifteen acres of
maize and tobacco, and then began clearing another ten-acre field. We
were one day hard at work at this, when one of my boys came running to
us, crying out, "Father! Father! The Redskins!" We snatched up our
rifles and hastened to the top of the little rising ground on which our
houses were built, and thence we saw, not Injuns, but fourteen or
fifteen Creoles, galloping towards our clearing, halloing and huzzaing
like mad. When they were within fifty yards of us, Asa stepped forward
to meet them. As soon as they saw him one of them called out, "There is
the thief! There is the man who stole my brown horse!" Asa made no
answer to this, but waited till they came nearer, when one of them rode
up to him and asked who was the chief in the settlement. "There is no
chief here," answered Asa; "we are all equals and free citizens."

"You have stolen a horse from our friend Monsieur Croupier," replied the
other. "You must give it up."

"Is that all?" said Asa quietly.

"No: you must show us by what right you hunt on this territory."

"Yes," cried half a dozen others, "we'll have no strangers on our
hunting-grounds; the bears and caguars are getting scarcer than ever,
and as for buffaloes, they are clean exterminated." And all the time
they were talking, they kept leaping and galloping about like madmen.

"The sooner the bears and caguars are killed the better," said Asa. "The
land is not for dumb brutes, but for men."

The Creoles, however, persisted that we had no right to hunt where we
were, and swore we should go away. Then Asa asked them what right they
had to send us away. This seemed to embarrass them, and they muttered
and talked together; so that it was easy to see there was no magistrate
or person in authority amongst them, but that they were a party of
fellows who had come in hopes to frighten us. At last they said they
should inform the governor, and the commandant at Natchitoches, and the
Lord knows who besides, that we had come and squatted ourselves down
here, and built houses, and cleared fields, and all without right or
permission; and that then we might look out. So Asa began to lose
patience, and told them they might all go to the devil, and that, if
they were not off soon, he should be apt to hasten their movements.

"I must have my horse back," screamed the Creole whom they called
Croupier.

"You shall," replied Asa, "both of them, if you return the
five-and-thirty dollars."

"It was only fifteen dollars," cried the lying Creole.

Upon this Asa called to us, and we stepped out from amongst the
cotton-trees, behind which we had been standing all the while; and when
the Creoles saw us, each with his rifle on his arm, they seemed rather
confused, and drew back a little.

"Here are my comrades," said Asa, "who will all bear witness, that the
horses were sold at the prices of twenty dollars for the one and
fifteen for the other. And if any one says the contrary, he says that
which is not true."

"_Larifari!_" roared Croupier. "You shan't stop here to call us liars,
and spoil our hunting-ground, and build houses on our land. His
excellency the governor shall be told of it, and the commandant at
Natchitoches, and you shall be driven away." And the other Creoles, who,
while Asa was speaking, appeared to be getting more quiet and
reasonable, now became madder than ever, and shrieked, and swore, and
galloped backwards and forwards, brandishing their fowling-pieces like
wild Injuns, and screaming out that we should leave the country, the
game wasn't too plenty for them, and suchlike. At length Asa and the
rest of us got angry, and called out to them to take themselves off or
they would be sorry for it; and when they saw us bringing our rifles to
our shoulders, they put spurs to their horses, and galloped away to a
distance of some five hundred yards. There they halted, and set up such
a screeching as almost deafened us, fired off some of their old rusty
guns, and then rode away. We all laughed at their bragging and
cowardice, except Asa, who looked thoughtful.

"I fear some harm will come of this," said he. "Those fellows will go
talking about us in their own country; and if it gets to the ears of the
governors or commanding-officers that we have settled down on their
territory, they will be sending troops to dislodge us."

Asa's words made us reflect, and we held counsel together as to what was
best to be done. I proposed that we should build a blockhouse on the
Indian mound to defend ourselves in if we were attacked.

"Yes," said Asa; but we are only six, and they may send hundreds against
us.

"Very true," said I; "but if we have a strong blockhouse on the top of
the mound, that is as good as sixty, and we could hold out against a
hundred Spanish musketeers. And it's my notion, that if we give up such
a handsome bit of ground as we have cleared here without firing a shot,
we deserve to have our rifles broken before our faces."

Asa, however, did not seem altogether satisfied. It was easy to see he
was thinking of the women and children. Then said Asa's wife, Rachel, "I
calculate," said she, "that Nathan, although he is my brother, and I
oughtn't to say it, has spoke like the son of his father, who would have
let himself be scalped ten times over before he would have given up such
an almighty beautiful piece of land. And what's more, Asa, I for one
won't go back up the omnipotent dirty Mississippi; and that's a fact."

"But if a hundred Spanish soldiers come," said Asa, "and I reckon they
will come?"

"Build the blockhouse, man, to defend yourselves; and when our people up
at Salt River and Cumberland hear that the Spaniards are quarreling with
us, I guess they won't keep their hands crossed before them."

So, seeing us all, even the women, so determined, Asa gave in to our way
of thinking, and the very same day we began the blockhouse you see
before you. The walls were all of young cypress-trees, and we would fain
have roofed it with the same wood; but the smallest of the cypresses
were five or six feet thick, and it was no easy matter to split them. So
we were obliged to use fir, which, when it is dried by a few days' sun,
burns like tinder. But we little thought when we did so, what sorrow
those cursed fir planks would bring us.

When all was ready, well and solidly nailed and hammered together, we
made a chimney, so that the women might cook if necessary, and then laid
in a good store of hams and dried bear's flesh, filled the meal and
whisky tubs, and the water-casks, and brought our plough and what we had
most valuable into the blockhouse. We then planted the palisades,
securing them strongly in the ground, and to each other, so that it
might not be easy to tear them up. We left, as you see, a space of five
yards between the stockade and the house, so that we might have room to
move about in. It would be necessary for an enemy to take the palisades
before he could do any injury to the house itself, and we reckoned that
with six good rifles in such hands as ours, it would require a pretty
many Spanish musketeers to drive us from our outer defences.

In six weeks all was ready; all our tools and rations, except what we
wanted for daily use, carried into the fort, and we stood contemplating
the work of our hands with much satisfaction. Asa was the only one who
seemed cast down.

"I've a notion," said he, "this blockhouse will be a bloody one before
long; and what's more, I guess it will be the blood of one of us that'll
redden it. I've a sort of feelin' of it, and of who it'll be."

"Pho! Asa, what notions be these! Keep a light heart, man."

And Asa seemed to cheer up again, and the next day we returned to
working in the fields; but as we were not using the horses, one of us
went every morning to patrol ten or twelve miles backwards and forwards,
just for precaution's sake. At night two of us kept watch, relieving one
another, and patrolling about the neighbourhood of our clearing.

One morning we were working in the bush and circling trees, when
Righteous rode up full gallop.

"They're coming!" cried he; "a hundred of them at least."

"Are they far off?" said Asa, quite quietly, and as if he had been
talking of a herd of deer.

"They are coming over the prairie. In less than half an hour they will
be here."

"How are they marching? With van and rear guard? In what order?"

"No order at all, but all of a heap together."

"Good!" said Asa; "they can know little about bush-fighting or
soldiering of any kind. Now then, the women into the blockhouse."

Righteous galloped up to our fort, to be there first in case the enemy
should find it out. The women soon followed, carrying what they could
with them. When we were all in the blockhouse, we pulled up the ladder,
made the gate fast, and there we were.

We felt strange at first when we found ourselves shut up inside the
palisades, and only able to look out through the slits we had left for
our rifles. We weren't used to be confined in a place, and it made us
right-down wolfish. There we remained, however, as still as mice. Scarce
a whisper was to be heard. Rachel tore up old shirts and greased them,
for wadding for the guns; we changed our flints, and fixed every thing
about the rifles properly, while the women sharpened our knives and axes
all in silence.

Nearly an hour had passed in this way when we heard a shouting and
screaming, and a few musket-shots; and we saw through our loopholes some
Spanish soldiers running backwards and forwards on the crest of the
slope on which our houses stood. Suddenly a great pillar of smoke arose,
then a second, then a third.

"God be good to us!" cried Rachel, "they are burning our houses." We
were all trembling and quite pale with rage. Harkye, stranger, when men
have been slaving and sweating for four or five months to build houses
for their wives and for the poor worms of children, and then a parcel of
devils from hell come and burn them down like maize-stalks in a
stubble-field, it is no wonder that their teeth should grind together,
and their fists clench of themselves. So it was with us; but we said
nothing, for our rage would not let us speak. But presently as we
strained our eyes through the loopholes, the Spaniards showed themselves
at the opening of the forest yonder, coming towards the blockhouse. We
tried to count them, but at first it was impossible, for they came on in
a crowd without any order. They thought lightly enough of those they
were seeking, or they would have been more prudent. However, when they
came within five hundred paces, they formed ranks, and we were able to
count them. There were eighty-two foot soldiers with muskets and
carbines, and three officers on horseback, with drawn swords in their
hands. The latter dismounted, and their example was followed by seven
other horsemen, amongst whom we recognised three of the rascally Creoles
who had brought all this trouble upon us. He they called Croupier was
among them. The other four were also Creoles, Acadians or Canadians, a
race whom we had already met with on the Upper Mississippi, fine
hunters, but wild, drunken, debauched barbarians.

The Acadians were coming on in front, and they set up a whoop when they
saw the blockhouse and stockade; but finding that we were prepared to
receive them, they retreated upon the main body. We saw them speaking to
the officers as if advising them; but the latter shook their heads, and
the soldiers continued moving on. They were in uniforms of all colours,
blue, white, and brown, but each man dirtier than his neighbour. They
marched in good order, nevertheless, the captain and officers coming on
in front, and the Acadians keeping on the flanks. The latter, however,
edged gradually off towards the cotton-trees, and presently disappeared
amongst them.

"Those are the first men to frick off," said Asa, when he saw this
manoeuvre of the Creoles. "They have steady hands and sharp eyes; but
if we once get rid of them we need not mind the others."

The Spaniards were now within an hundred yards of us.

"Shall I let fly at the thieving incendiaries?" said Righteous.

"God forbid!" replied Asa. "We will defend ourselves like men; but let
us wait till we are attacked, and the blood that is shed will lie at the
door of the aggressors."

The Spaniards now saw plainly that they would have to take the stockade
before they could get at us, and the officers seemed consulting
together.

"Halt!" cried Asa, suddenly.

"Messieurs les Americains," said the captain, looking up at our
loopholes.

"What's your pleasure?" demanded Asa.

Upon this the captain stuck a dirty pocket-handkerchief upon the point
of his sword, and laughing with his officers, moved some twenty paces
forward, followed by the troops. Thereupon Asa again shouted to him to
halt.

"This is not according to the customs of war," said he. "The flag of
truce may advance, but if it is accompanied, we fire."

It was evident that the Spaniards never dreamed of our attempting to
resist them; for there they stood in line before us, and, if we had
fired, every shot must have told. The Acadians, who kept themselves all
this time snug behind the cotton-trees, called more than once to the
captain to withdraw his men into the wood; but he only shook his head
contemptuously. When, however, he heard Asa threaten to fire, he looked
puzzled, and as if he thought it just possible we might do as we said.
He ordered his men to halt, and called out to us not to fire till he had
explained what they cane for.

"Then cut it short," cried Asa sternly. "You'd have done better to
explain before you burned down our houses, like a pack of Mohawks on the
war path."

As he spoke, three bullets whistled from the edge of the forest, and
struck the stockades within a few inches of the loophole at which he
stood. They were fired by the Creoles, who, although they could not
possibly distinguish Asa, had probably seen his rifle barrel or one of
his buttons glitter through the opening. As soon as they had fired, they
sprang behind their trees again, craning their heads forward to hear if
there was a groan or a cry. They'd have done better to have kept quiet;
for Righteous and I caught a sight of them, and let fly at the same
moment. Two of them fell and rolled from behind the trees, and we saw
that they were the Creole called Croupier, and another of our
horse-dealing friends.

When the Spanish officer heard the shots, he ran back to his men, and
shouted out "Forward! To the assault!" They came on like mad a distance
of thirty paces, and then, as if they thought we were wild-geese to be
frightened by their noise, they fired a volley against the blockhouse.

"Now then!" cried Asa, "are you loaded, Nathan and Righteous? I take the
captain - you, Nathan, the lieutenant - Righteous, the third
officer - James, the sergeant. Mark your men, and waste no powder."

The Spaniards were still some sixty yards off, but we were sure of our
mark at a hundred and sixty, and that if they had been squirrels instead
of men. We fired: the captain and lieutenant, the third officer, two
sergeants, and another man writhed for an instant upon the grass. The
next moment they stretched themselves out - dead.

All was now confusion among the musketeers, who ran in every direction.
Most of them took to the wood, but about a dozen remained and lifted up
their officers to see if there was any spark of life left in them.

"Load again, quick!" said Asa in a low voice. We did so, and six more
Spaniards tumbled over. Those who still kept their legs now ran off as
if the soles of their shoes had been of red-hot iron.

We set to work to pick out our touchholes and clean our rifles, knowing
that we might not have time later, and that a single miss-fire might
cost us all our lives. We then loaded, and began to calculate what the
Spaniards would do next. It is true they had lost their officers; but
there were five Acadians with them, and those were the men we had most
cause to fear. Meantime the vultures and turkey-buzzards had already
begun to assemble, and presently hundreds of them were circling and
hovering over the carcasses, which they as yet, however, feared to
touch.

Just then Righteous, who had the sharpest eye amongst us all, pointed to
the corner of the wood, yonder where it joins the brushwood thicket. I
made a sign to Asa, and we all looked and saw there was something
creeping and moving through the underwood. Presently we distinguished
two Acadians heading a score of Spaniards, and endeavouring, under cover
of the bushes, to steal across the open ground to the east side of the
forest.

"The Acadians for you, Nathan and Righteous, the Spaniards for us," said
Asa. The next moment two Acadians and four Spaniards lay bleeding in the
brushwood. But the bullets were scarce out of our rifles when a third
Acadian, whom we had not seen, started up. "Now's the time," shouted he,
"before they have loaded again. Follow me! we will have their blockhouse
yet." And he sprang across followed by the Spaniards. We gnashed our
teeth with rage at not having seen the Acadian.

There were still three of these fellows alive, who had now taken command
of the Spaniards. Although we had shot a score of our enemies, those who
remained were more than ten to one of us, and we were even worse off
than at first, for then they were all together, and now we had them on
each side of us. But we did not let ourselves be discouraged, although
we could not help feeling that the odds against us were fearfully great.

We now had to keep a sharp look-out; for if one of us showed himself at
a loophole, a dozen bullets rattled about his ears. There were many
shot-holes through the palisades, which were covered with white streaks
where the splinters had been torn off by the lead. The musketeers had
spread themselves all along the edge of the forest, and had learned by
experience to keep close to their cover. We now and then got a shot at
them and killed four or five, but it was slow work, and the time seemed
very long.

Suddenly the Spaniards set up a loud shout. At first we could not make
out what was the matter, but presently we heard a hissing and crackling
on the roof of the blockhouse. They had wrapped tow round their
cartridges, and one of the shots had set light to the fir-boards. Just
as we found it out, they gave three more hurras, and we saw the dry
planks beginning to flame, and the fire to spread.

"We must put that out and at once," said Asa, "if we don't wish to be
roasted alive. Some one must get up the chimney with a bucket of water.
I'll go myself."

"Let me go, Asa," said Righteous.

"You stop here. It don't matter who goes. The thing will be done in a
minute."

He put a chair on a table and got upon it, and then seizing a bar which
was fixed across the chimney to hang hams upon, he drew himself up by
his arms, and Rachel handed him a pail of water. All this time the flame
was burning brighter, and the Spaniards getting louder in their
rejoicing and hurras. Asa stood upon the bar, and raising the pail above
his head, poured the water out of the chimney upon the roof.

"More to the left, Asa," said Righteous; "the fire is strongest more to
the left."

"Tarnation seize it!" cried Asa, "I can't see. Hand me up another
pailful."

We did so; and when he had got it, he put his head out at the top of the
chimney to see where the fire was, and threw the water over the exact
spot. But at the very moment that he did so the report of a dozen
muskets was heard.

"Ha!" cried Asa in an altered voice, "I have it." And the hams and
bucket came tumbling down the chimney, and Asa after them all covered
with blood.

"In God's name, man, are you hurt?" cried Rachel.

"Hush! wife," replied Asa; "keep quiet. I have enough for the rest of my
life, which will not be long: but never mind, lads; defend yourselves
well, and don't fire two at the same man. Save your lead, for you will
want it all. Promise me that."

"Asa! my beloved Asa!" shrieked Rachel; "if you die, I shall die too."

"Silence! foolish woman; and our child, and the one yet unborn! Hark! I
hear the Spaniards! Defend yourselves, and, Nathan, be a father to my
children."

I had barely time to press his hand and make him the promise he wished.
The Spaniards, who had doubtless guessed our loss, rushed like mad
wolves up to the mound, twenty on one side, and upwards of thirty on the
other.

"Steady!" cried I. "Righteous, here with me; and you, Rachel, show
yourself worthy to be Hiram Strong's daughter, and Asa's wife; load this
rifle for me while I fire my own."

"O God! O God!" cried Rachel, "the hellhounds have murdered my Asa!"


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Online LibraryVariousBlackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, Volume 54, No. 334, August 1843 → online text (page 17 of 23)