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at a ford known to themselves, rode towards us with all the sang froid of old acquaintances. They numbered but 8 or 10, and evinced more boldness in thus coming up to our troupe, thàn is generally to be found in this debateable land. For we were now in what is called the Great Pawnee War Ground; though as far as the Pawnees are concerned, every other nation within five hundred miles considers their right to roam and fight upon its broad expanse equal to that of the Pawnees: and not only the equestrian Camanche and Kioway, but the cannibal Tenian tribes, the murderous Apaches,-the politic Arapahoes and Chiennes,—the overbearing and treacherous Grosventres and frequently the Osages and cunning Caws or Kanzas roam at intervals over its desert-like bosom, like privateers of different nations, on some great sea, in search of scalps and plunder.
The present party of privateersmen were of no hostile order, however; on the contrary, I never saw a more good natured looking old fellow than the head man or chief, who rode up to us at the head of his troupe, shaking hands all around like an acquaintance of "Auld lang syne" and grinning with all the salisfaction of a perfect connoisseur of good jokes. I did not set him down, as a full blooded savage, for his laugh was far too genuine, his manners a little too free for a natural Indian, and his features shewed too much of the northern Mexican. In his troupe were several full blooded Mexicans armed and accoutred like the balance, and it was humiliating to the civilized eye to behold them thus degraded.
This was a novel spectacle to some, but before our travels were over, we found many females as well as men and children, retained as captives among the Kioway and Camanche Indians, until time has reconciled them to their fate and made them savages like their captors.
The squaw of Old Soldier, one of the principal Kioway chiefs, was a pretty Mexican girl of twenty or thereabouts, captured by him several years since in a foray on some Hacienda between Chihuahua and Santa Fe. She retains many of her civilized manners and the "muchas gracias" which she rendered for a cup of hot coffee, which passed neglected around the circle of Kioway beauties, sounded in a tone of half-regret for her native home and friends. But I digress.
The merry old chieftain, whose sides shook when he laughed, as though they were made of choice bits of buffaloe meat, after being informed of our desire to explore his country, informed us of what we knew already; that he was very glad to see his friends, and though apparently puzzled to account for our great desire to see such scenes as the country presented, informed us that he could pilot us by a near route to the top of the barrier before us.
He also informed us during the course of his interesting conversation of signs, grunts and numerous broad grins, that the greater portion of the Kioway chivalry had gone down into Mexico, to steal as many horses and mules as they possibly could; all in the way
of amusement. Any one would have supposed, from the goodhumoured way in which the old sinner gave us this gratifying piece of intelligence, that he considered it the best of jokes.
Our Caballada was soon in motion again, and with the old joker for a pilot, and his troupe as an escort we entered a deep gorge, along the centre of which, curled the dry channel of a small ravine choked up with huge rocks fallen from the higths above, and shaded by groves of hackberry and thickets of grapevines. After toiling on through these places, for some time we reached the base of a steep hill, up whose almost perpendicular sides, our inestimable pilot funnily informed us, lay our route, gazing at our waggons with one of his contagious broad-grins, as though he were well aware of having perpetrated a good 'un. We pocketed the joke, if it was a dry one, and commenced pulling, pushing and swearing our waggons up the hill, whilst our red skinned Joe Miller pocketed the dry tobacco we gave him and with his party disappeared in the valley. After thus reaching the higland again, we travelled but a short distance over the flinty country ere another deep gorge obstructed our path and called for another deviation at right angles with the river's course.
It was nearly sunset when we attained the head of this hollow, distant some six or seven miles from the Canadian. Here, a couple of dead cottonwood trees lifted their withered boughs above the solitude, and a small quantity of water had collected in the rock at their roots. Here we camped for the night. The two trees supplied us with fuel and the rock with water.
Our tents and waggons were usually so placed as to form a kind of Coral or circle, within which we picketted our animals at night: but the present camp being in the edge of a deep hollow we pitched our tents in a semi-circle and left the other side to be protected by the defenses which nature had prepared beforehand.
The men were unusually merry and cheerful this evening and many a jovial tale and song went round whilst the meat and coffee boiled and baked upon the blazing fires. The Sindbads of the company, seemed to have drawn their inspiration from the beautiful moon which cast a pale light over the prairie, for they spun their wonderful yarns to interminable lengths, and until a late hour little knots of these story tellers and songsters, chatted and laughed around the several fires with all the glee of those who sat at the fireside of home. Finally the last story was told,-the last song was sung and the last reveller had sought his tent to wrap his body and cares in his mackinaw planket and lay his troubled head upon his soft Spanish saddle, to dream of bolsters and featherbeds if not of wealth and glory. The Guard alone, with his trusty rifle paced to and fro, with his measured step,-the mules and horses cropped the short buffaloe grass in silence, whilst the bright moon. like the ball of some far off cathedral loomed through the fleecy clouds in all her purity and brightness.
"Turn out! Turn out!" shouted the guard about midnight,and a simultaneous rush was made by the aroused camp with their guns and pistols.
In bold relief, between us and the clear sky beyond, stood a large party of mounted Indians, on the summit of a neighboring swell in the prairie not two hundred yards distant.
They stood but for a moment; for the noise of our camp, the hurrying to and fro of the men and the braying of the mules, caused their dark forms to disappear as rapidly as they came. They were doubtless on our trail, and had, in the keenness of their pursuit, forgotten their usual caution and come upon our camp before they were aware of its locality.
At their first appearance they were talking and laughing loudly and had exposed their whole force to view. "I'd like to try a shot at one of them fellows," was the careless remark of a comrade near me as he took the cap from his rifle, preparatory to returning to his tent, "It would 'a put a stop to some of their jokes, that's sartain."
No doubt but that it would; but like most of the thoughtless and wanton acts of emigrants and travelers through the Indian territories, it would certainly have engendered a bitter prejudice and caused some bloody act of retaliation. This is the law which the savage seems to hold most sacred, and though a scalp for a scalp, or even two for one, sounds oddly as a transcript for "an eye for an eye," yet the wild Indian in his barbarism looks upon it as the principal foundation and bulwark of his entire system of jurisprudence and religion.
In twenty minutes after the alarm, the camp of explorers was again wrapped in sleep; perfectly dead to glory, whilst even the unfortunate guard as he walked his rounds, became infected with the dreamy contagion which reigned around, and rubbed his heavy eyes in vain to discover, why and wherefore sundry mules choose to become alarmed and force their pickets and halters.
Morning came at last to cheer the sleepy guard,-and again the coffee-pots and camp-kettles boiled and simmered merrily on the fires of dry cottonwood and bois-de-vache.
The prairie presented the bleak and desolate appearance of yesterday, and though a merry party had been near us, the night previous, not a sign, not even a feather or a shell was to be seen of it now. The plain presented the appearance of some newly created region spread out before us in its pristine garb, long before the wants of men called for a change upon its monotonous surface, or the necessity of animals required vegetation from its bosom.
An arid, dreary land of sand and gravel,—a debateable ground between vegetation and eternal barrenness,—an arena for numerous tribes of fierce savages, and a perfect Arabia for valiant crusaders armed in the panoply of enlightened truth to contend against the arrow and lance of the heathen Bedouins who skim like antelopes over its broad bosom, untaught, untamed, uncivilized and uncon
quered. The present party of Bedouins however were uncommonly bashful for though they paid us a visit at the dead of night, they seemed quite unwilling to be seen in the light of day: not an Indian could be discovered.
Just as we began to give up all hopes of beholding our worthy visitors, and had commenced to pack up for a start, the sight of an Indian's head above a distant knoll, betokened their whereabouts; our flag of truce, an old musquito bar, was hoisted on a tent pole, and its glorious stripes unfurled to the morning breeze.
This was sufficient; every knoll and hollow around seemed alive in a moment and a host of mounted warriors, painted and equipped with bells, feathers and fringes, and all armed with fusils, lances, and bows, galloped into our camp shouting "Amigo, Kioway!"
Like the enchanted squadrons of Boabdil called forth from the bowels of Grenada by the great necromancer, no sooner was the old musquito bar waved in the air, than every flint hill around seemed to pour forth its bands of mounted Indians, to greet the strangers who travelled over their bleak dominions.
Our copperskinned acquaintances rode around the camp, shaking hands as usual and exclaiming "Amigos" and "Kioway!" apparently very much overjoyed to see us and particularly fond of tobacco. Unsaddling their horses and turning them loose in our Caballada, they sat down in a circle and after a general smoke of cigarritos, the usual preliminary in "these parts," they undertook to inform us and themselves of each other respectively, by means of the usual signs and grunts which serve as a general alphabet among most of the Prairie tribes.
We learned that their village was some eight or ten miles to the north on a small stream of good water, and that the greater portion of their young men had gone down into Mexico on a mule hunt. Also that they had been alarmed by the wonderful accounts of some straggling buffaloe eating Camanches, who had seen us en route across the prairie several days previous and had reported us as several thousand Texians invading the country.
They had been following our trail several days, under the impression that we were Texians, and had come upon our camp unexpectedly last night, as they did not think of a large party like ours camping at such a place. They had smoked a long time behind a butte on the subject of running off our animals, which, by the way, could scarcely trot, much less run, and had finally come to the sensible conclusion of first finding out who we were; as it was very far from their intentions (honest souls) to injure AmeriFor this purpose they despatched several of their most adroit spies and boldest warriors, to approach our camp and see what was to be seen.
One of these, a tall, gaunt savage, had crawled along the chasm, and ascended on that side within a distance of ten feet of several men sleeping on the outside of a tent by the fire. Seeing one of
them, awakening from his sleep, he aimed his fusil at his head with the humane intention of shooting him, but hesitating a moment, the sleeper awoke and turned his features towards fire, discovering the face of a favorite trader and an old acquaintance. It was Hatcher, our pilot, who had travelled in this country in the employ of Bent, previous to the abandonment of the old blockhouse, and who had thus become known among the Kioways. The Indian's heart told him it was wrong to shoot, for Hatcher was a friend and an American and no Texian. As a proof of these statements, the spy who had thus signalized himself pointed to a small pyramid of flints which he had erected during his nocturnal visit on the edge of the gorge, within a few yards of the very spot where Hatcher and several others had slept.
Everything being thus explained to our satisfaction and our red brethren informed of our purpose in traveling through their country, a present of tobacco was made them and an invitation tendered to a cold breakfast.
Though it smacks much of bad manners to criticise the actions of guests whom one invites to his table, I cannot refrain from mentioning at this place, the existence of a certain custom among these tribes, in which, in addition to its originality, is so handy and ingenious, that it would certainly elicit praise from the polite Count D'Orsay himself.
This is no less than that of using their thumb and fingers, (I had almost added toes,) in the demolition of the various viands placed before them.
Though we ourselves, had practised for several months, on the butcher-knife and tin-cup, we were not prepared to behold a process of this description gone through with in a manner so perfectly scientific as was done at this same Kioway breakfast.
Being much opposed to the innovation of plates, dishes and all that sort of thing,-one took the pan of bread,-another seized the meat tray,-a third attempted the destruction of an entire dish of rice and molasses, and whilst a fourth was puzzling himself as to the best means of disposing of the salt and pepper pots,the fith scalded himself in the vain effort to swallow the coffee.
The balance who had been unfortunate at grabbing looked on without a groan, and patiently waited their time; though every one who had been so fortunate to secure anything, considered himself in duty bound to demolish every particle thereof.
This was a fortunate sequel to the night's adventures, and it was good that it happened so:-for a drowsy guard and a dark night had been in the right for once. There was more coffee drank than blood shed and our Kioway friends, instead of running off our half starved mules and scalping us, generously invited us to their village on Beaver creek, and proffered their own invaluable services as pilots.
Saint Louis, January, 1851.