THIRTY-ONE YEARS ON THE PLAINS AND IN THE MOUNTAINS
THE LAST VOICE FROM THE PLAINS. AN AUTHENTIC RECORD OF A LIFE TIME OF HUNTING, TRAPPING, SCOUTING AND INDIAN FIGHTING IN THE FAR WEST
CAPT. WILLIAM F. DRANNAN,
WHO WENT ON TO THE PLAINS WHEN FIFTEEN YEARS OLD.
In writing this preface I do so with the full knowledge that the preface of a book is rarely read, comparatively speaking, but I shall write this one just the same.
In writing this work the author has made no attempt at romance, or a great literary production, but has narrated in his own plain, blunt way, the incidents of his life as they actually occurred.
There have been so many books put upon the market, purporting to be the lives of noted frontiersmen which are only fiction, that I am moved to ask the reader to consider well before condemning this book as such.
The author starts out with the most notable events of his boyhood days, among them his troubles with an old negro virago, wherein he gets his revenge by throwing a nest of lively hornets under her feet. Then come his flight and a trip, to St. Louis, hundreds of miles on foot, his accidental meeting with that most eminent man of his class, Kit Carson, who takes the lad into his care and treats him as a kind father would a son. He then proceeds to give a minute description of his first trip on the plains, where he meets and associates with such noted plainsmen as Gen. John Charles Fremont, James Beckwith, Jim Bridger and others, and gives incidents of his association with them in scouting, trapping, hunting big game, Indian fighting, etc.
The author also gives brief sketches of the springing into existence of many of the noted cities of the West, and the incidents connected therewith that have never been written before. There is also a faithful recital of his many years of scouting for such famous Indian fighters as Gen. Crook, Gen. Connor, Col. Elliott, Gen. Wheaton and others, all of which will be of more than passing interest to those who can be entertained by the early history of the western part of our great republic.
This work also gives an insight into the lives of the hardy pioneers of the far West, and the many trials and hardships they had to undergo in blazing the trail and hewing the way to one of the grandest and most healthful regions of the United States. W. F. D.
CHICAGO, August 1st, 1899.
CHAPTER 1. A Boy Escapes a Tyrant and Pays a Debt with a Hornet's Nest—Meets Kit Carson and Becomes the Owner of a Pony and a Gun
CHAPTER 2. Beginning of an Adventurous Life—First Wild Turkey— First Buffalo—First Feast as an Honored Guest of Indians—Dog Meat
CHAPTER 3. Hunting and Trapping in South Park, Where a Boy, Unaided, Kills and Scalps Two Indians—Meeting with Fremont, the "Path-finder"
CHAPTER 4. A Winter in North Park—Running Fight with a Band of Utes for More than a Hundred Miles, Ending Hand to Hand—Victory
CHAPTER 5. On the Cache-la-Poudre—Visit from Gray Eagle, Chief of the Arapahoes.—A Bear-hunter is Hunted by the Bear—Phil, the Cannibal
CHAPTER 6. Two Boys Ride to the City of Mexico—Eleven Hundred Miles of Trial, Danger and Duty—A Gift Horse—The Wind River Mountains
CHAPTER 7. A Three Days' Battle Between the Comanches and the Utes for the Possession of a "Hunter's Paradise"—An Unseasonable Bath.
CHAPTER 8. Kit Carson Kills a Hudson Bay Company's Trapper, Who Was Spoiling for a Fight—Social Good Time with a Train of Emigrants
CHAPTER 9. Marriage of Kit Carson—The Wedding Feast—Providing Buffalo Meat, in the Original Package, for the Boarding-house at Bent's Fort
CHAPTER 10. Robber Gamblers of San Francisco—Engaged by Col. Elliott as Indian Scout—Kills and Scalps Five Indians—Promoted to Chief Scout
CHAPTER 11. A Lively Battle with Pah-Utes—Pinned to Saddle with an Arrow—Some Very Good Indians—Stuttering Captain—Beckwith Opens His Pass
CHAPTER 12—Col. Elliott Kills His First Deer, and Secures a Fine Pair of Horns as Present for His Father—Beckwith's Tavern— Society
CHAPTER 13—Something Worse than Fighting Indians Dance at Col. Elliott's—Conspicuous Suit of Buckskin I Manage to Get Back to Beckwith's
CHAPTER 14. Drilling the Detailed Scouts—-We Get Among the Utes— Four Scouts Have Not Reported Yet—Another Lively Fight—Beckwith Makes a Raise
CHAPTER 15. A Hunt on Petaluma Creek—Elk Fever Breaks Out—The Expedition to Klamath Lake—A Lively Brush with Modoc Indians
CHAPTER 16. More Fish than I Had Ever Seen at One Time—We Surprise Some Indians, Who Also Surprise Us—The Camp at Klamath Lake—I Get Another Wound and a Lot of Horses
CHAPTER 17. Discovery of Indians with Stolen Horses—We Kill the Indians and Return the Property to Its Owners—Meeting of Miners— In Society Again
CHAPTER 18. Trapping on the Gila—The Pimas Impart a Secret— Rescue of a White Girl—A Young Indian Ages—Visit to Taos—Uncle Kit Fails to Recognize Me
CHAPTER 19. A Warm Time in a Cold Country—A Band of Bannocks Chase Us Into a Storm that Saves Us—Kit Carson Slightly Wounded— Beckwith Makes a Century Run
CHAPTER 20. Carson Quits the Trail—Buffalo Robes for Ten Cents— "Pike's Peak or Bust"—The New City of Denver—"Busted"—How the News Started
CHAPTER 21. A Fight With the Sioux—Hasa, the Mexican Boy, Killed —Mixed Up With Emigrants Some More—Four New Graves—Successful Trading With the Kiowas
CHAPTER 22. A Trip to Fort Kearney—The General Endorses Us and We Pilot an Emigrant Train to California—Woman Who Thought I Was "no Gentleman"—A Camp Dance
CHAPTER 23. Bridger and West Give Christmas a High Old Welcome in Sacramento—California Gulch—Meeting with Buffalo Bill—Thirty- three Scalps with One Knife
CHAPTER 24. Face to Face with a Band of Apaches—The Death of Pinto—The Closest Call I Ever Had—A Night Escape—Back at Fort Douglas
CHAPTER 25. Three Thousand Dead Indians—A Detective from Chicago —He Goes Home with an Old Mormon's Youngest Wife and Gets into Trouble—The Flight
CHAPTER 26.—Through to Bannock—A Dance of Peace Fright of the Negroes—A Freight Train Snowed in and a Trip on Snow-shoes—Some Very Tough Road Agents
CHAPTER 27. Organization of a Vigilance Committee—End of the Notorious Slade—One Hundred Dollars for a "Crow-bait" Horse— Flour a Dollar a Pound.
CHAPTER 28. Twenty-two Thousand Dollars in Gold Dust—A Stage Robbery—Another Trip to California Meeting with Gen. Crook—Chief of Scouts
CHAPTER 29. Find Some Murdered Emigrants—We Bury the Dead and Follow and Scalp the Indians—Gen. Crook Is Pleased with the Outcome—A Mojave Blanket
CHAPTER 30. A Wicked Little Battle—Capture of One Hundred and Eighty-two Horses—Discovery of Black Canyon—Fort Yuma and the Paymaster
CHAPTER 31. To California for Horses—My Beautiful Mare, Black Bess—We Get Sixty-six Scalps and Seventy-eight Horses—A Clean Sweep
CHAPTER 32. Some Men Who Were Anxious for a Fight and Got It—Gen. Crook at Black Canyon—Bad Mistake of a Good Man—The Victims
CHAPTER 33. The Massacre at Choke Cherry Canyon—Mike Maloney Gets Into a Muss—Rescue of White Girls—Mike Gets Even with the Apaches
CHAPTER 34. Massacre of the Davis Family—A Hard Ride and Swift Retribution—A Pitiful Story—Burial of the Dead—I am Sick of the Business
CHAPTER 35. Black Bess Becomes Popular in San Francisco—A Failure as Rancher—Buying Horses in Oregon—The Klamath Marsh—Captain Jack the Modoc
CHAPTER 36. The Modoc War—Gen. Wheaton Is Held Off by the Indians—Gen. Canby Takes Command and Gets It Worse-Massacre of the Peace Commission
CHAPTER 37-The Cry of a Babe—Capture of a Bevy of Squaws— Treachery of Gen. Ross' Men in Killing Prisoners—Capture of the Modoc Chief
CHAPTER 38. Story of the Captured Braves—Why Captain Jack Deserted—Loathsome Condition of the Indian Stronghold—End of the War—Some Comments
CHAPTER 39. An Interested Boy—Execution of the Modoc Leaders— Newspaper Messengers—A Very Sudden Deputy Sheriff—A Bad Man Wound Up
CHAPTER 40. In Society Some More—A Very Tight Place—Ten Pairs of Yankee Ears—Black Bess Shakes Herself at the Right Time—Solemn Compact.
CHAPTER 41. We Locate a Small Band of Red Butchers and Send them to the Happy Hunting Grounds—Emigrants Mistake Us for Indians— George Jones Wounded
CHAPTER 42. "We Are All Surrounded"—A Bold Dash and a Bad Wound— Mrs. Davis Shows Her Gratitude—Most of My Work Now Done on Crutches
CHAPTER 43. Poor Jones Makes His Last Fight—He Died Among a Lot of the Devils He Had Slain—End of Thirty-one Years of Hunting, Trapping and Scouting
CHAPTER 44. A Grizzley Hunts the Hunter—Shooting Seals in Alaskan Waters—I Become a Seattle Hotel Keeper and the Big Fire Closes Me Out—Some Rest—The Old Scout's Lament
A BOY ESCAPES A TYRANT AND PAYS A DEBT WITH A HORNET'S NEST—MEETS KIT CARSON AND BECOMES THE OWNER OF A PONY AND A GUN.
The old saying that truth is stranger than fiction is emphasized in the life of every man whose career has been one of adventure and danger in the pursuit of a livelihood. Knowing nothing of the art of fiction and but little of any sort of literature; having been brought up in the severe school of nature, which is all truth, and having had as instructor in my calling a man who was singularly and famously truthful, truth has been my inheritance and in this book I bequeath it to my readers.
My name is William F. Drannan, and I was born on the Atlantic ocean January 30, 1832, while my parents were emigrating from France to the United States.
They settled in Tennessee, near Nashville, and lived upon a farm until I was about four years old. An epidemic of cholera prevailed in that region for some months during that time and my parents died of the dread disease, leaving myself and a little sister, seven months old, orphans.
I have never known what became of my sister, nor do I know how I came to fall into the hands of a man named Drake, having been too young at that time to remember now the causes of happenings then. However, I remained with this man, Drake, on his plantation near The Hermitage, the home of Gen. Andrew Jackson, until I was fifteen.
Drake was a bachelor who owned a large number of negro slaves, and I was brought up to the age mentioned among the negro children of the place, without schooling, but cuffed and knocked about more like a worthless puppy than as if I were a human child. I never saw the inside of a school-house, nor was I taught at home anything of value. Drake never even undertook to teach me the difference between good and evil, and my only associates were the little negro boys that belonged to Drake, or the neighbors. The only person who offered to control or correct me was an old negro woman, who so far from being the revered and beloved "Black Mammy," remembered with deep affection by many southern men and women, was simply a hideous black tyrant. She abused me shamefully, and I was punished by her not only for my own performances that displeased her, but for all the meanness done by the negro boys under her jurisdiction.
Naturally these negro boys quickly learned that they could escape punishment by falsely imputing to me all of their mischief and I was their scape-goat.
Often Drake's negro boys went over to General Jackson's plantation to play with the negro boys over there and I frequently accompanied them. One day the old General asked me why I did not go to school. But I could not tell him. I did not know why. I have known since that I was not told to go and anyone knows that a boy just growing up loose, as I was, is not likely to go to school of his own accord.
I do not propose to convey to the reader the idea that I was naturally better than other boys, on the contrary, I frequently deserved the rod when I did not get it, but more frequently received a cruel drubbing when I did not deserve it, that, too, at the hands of the old negro crone who was exceedingly violent as well as unjust. This, of course, cultivated in me a hatred against the vile creature which was little short of murderous.
However, I stayed on and bore up under my troubles as there was nothing else to do, so far as I knew then, but "grin and bear it." This until I was fifteen years old.
At this time, however ignorant, illiterate, wild as I was, a faint idea of the need of education dawned upon me. I saw other white boys going to school; I saw the difference between them and myself that education was rapidly making and I realized that I was growing up as ignorant and uncultured as the slave boys who were my only attainable companions.
Somehow I had heard of a great city called St. Louis, and little by little the determination grew upon me to reach that wonderful place in some way.
I got a few odd jobs of work, now and then, from the neighbors and in a little while I had accumulated four dollars, which seemed a great deal of money to me, and I thought I would buy about half of St. Louis, if I could only get there. And yet I decided that it would be just as well to have a few more dollars and would not leave my present home, which, bad it was, was the only one I had, until I had acquired a little more money. But coming home from work one evening I found the old negress in an unusually bad humor, even for her. She gave me a cruel thrashing just to give vent to her feelings, and that decided me to leave at once, without waiting to further improve my financial condition. I was getting to be too big a boy to be beaten around by that old wretch, and having no ties of friendship, and no one being at all interested in me, I was determined to get away before my tormentor could get another chance at me.
I would go to St. Louis, but I must get even with the old hag before starting. I did not wish to leave in debt to anyone in the neighborhood and so I cudgeled my brain to devise a means for settling old scores with my self-constituted governess.
Toward evening I wandered into a small pasture, doing my best to think how I could best pay off the black termagant with safety to myself, when with great good luck I suddenly beheld a huge hornet's nest, hanging in a bunch of shrubbery. My plan instantly and fully developed. Quickly I returned to the house and hastily gathered what little clothing I owned into a bundle, done up in my one handkerchief, an imitation of bandanna, of very loud pattern. This bundle I secreted in the barn and then hied me to the hornet's nest. Approaching the swinging home of the hornets very softly, so as not to disturb the inmates, I stuffed the entrance to the hornet castle with sassafras leaves, and taking the great sphere in my arms I bore it to a back window of the kitchen where the black beldame was vigorously at work within and contentedly droning a negro hymn.
Dark was coming on and a drizzly rain was falling. It was the spring of the year, the day had been warm and the kitchen window was open. I stole up to the open window. The woman's back was toward me. I removed the plug of sassafras leaves and hurled the hornet's nest so that it landed under the hag's skirts.
I watched the proceedings for one short moment, and then, as it was getting late, I concluded I had better be off for St. Louis. So I went away from there at the best gait I could command.
I could hear my arch-enemy screaming, and it was music to my ears that even thrills me yet, sometimes. It was a better supper than she would have given me.
I saw the negroes running from the quarters, and elsewhere, toward the kitchen, and I must beg the reader to endeavor to imagine the scene in that culinary department, as I am unable to describe it, not having waited to see it out.
But I slid for the barn, secured my bundle and started for the ancient city far away.
All night, on foot and alone, I trudged the turnpike that ran through Nashville. I arrived in that city about daylight, tired and hungry, but was too timid to stop for something to eat, notwithstanding I had my four dollars safe in my pocket, and had not eaten since noon, the day before.
I plodded along through the town and crossed the Cumberland river on a ferry-boat, and then pulled out in a northerly direction for about an hour, when I came to a farm-house. In the road in front of the house I met the proprietor who was going from his garden, opposite the house, to his breakfast.
He waited until I came up, and as I was about to pass on, he said: "Hello! my boy, where are you going so early this morning?"
I told him I was on my way to St. Louis.
"St. Louis?" he said. "I never heard of that place before. Where is it?"
I told him I thought it was in Missouri, but was not certain.
"Are you going all the way on foot, and alone?"
I answered that I was, and that I had no other way to go. With that I started on.
"Hold on," he said. "If you are going to walk that long way you had better come in and have some breakfast."
You may rest assured that I did not wait for a second invitation, for about that time I was as hungry as I had ever been in my life.
While we were eating breakfast the farmer turned to his oldest daughter and said:
"Martha, where is St. Louis?"
She told him it was in Missouri, and one of the largest towns in the South or West. "Our geography tells lots about it," she said.
I thought this was about the best meal I had ever eaten in my life, and after it was over I offered to pay for it, but the kind- hearted old man refused to take anything, saying: "Keep your money, my boy. You may need it before you get back. And on your return, stop and stay with me all night, and tell us all about St. Louis."
After thanking them, I took my little bundle, bade them good-bye, and was on my journey again. I have always regretted that I did not learn this good man's name, but I was in something of a hurry just then, for I feared that Mr. Drake might get on my trail and follow me and take me back, and I had no pressing inclination to meet old Hulda again.
I plodded along for many days, now and then looking back for Mr. Drake, but not anxious to see him; rather the reverse.
It is not necessary to lumber up this story with my trip to St. Louis. I was about six weeks on the road, the greater part of the time in Kentucky, and I had no use for my money. I could stay at almost any farm-house all night, wherever I stopped, and have a good bed and be well fed, but no one would take pay for these accommodations. When I got to Owensboro, Ky., I became acquainted by accident with the mate of a steamboat that was going to St. Louis and he allowed me to go on the boat and work my way.
The first person that I met in St Louis, that I dared to speak with, was a boy somewhat younger than myself. I asked him his name, and in broken English he replied that his name was Henry Becket.
Seeing that he was French, I began to talk to him in his own language, which was my mother tongue, and so we were quickly friends. I told him that my parents were both dead and that I had no home, and he being of a kind-hearted, sympathetic nature, invited me to go home with him, which invitation I immediately accepted.
Henry Becket's mother was a widow and they were very poor, but they were lovingly kind to me.
I told Mrs. Becket of my troubles with Mr. Drake's old negro woman; how much abuse I had suffered at her hands and the widow sympathized with me deeply. She also told me that I was welcome to stay with them until such time as I was able to get employment. So I remained with the Beckets three days, during all of which time I tried hard to get work, but without success.
On the morning of the fourth day she asked me if I had tried any of the hotels for work. I told her that I had not, so she advised me to go to some of them in my rounds.
It had not occurred to me that a boy could find anything to do about a hotel, but I took Mrs. Becket's advice, and that morning called at the American hotel, which was the first one I came to.
Quite boldly, for a green boy, I approached the person whom I was told was the proprietor and asked him if he had any work for a boy, whereupon he looked at me in what seemed a most scornful way and said very tartly:
"What kind of work do you think you could do?"
I told him I could do most anything in the way of common labor.
He gave me another half-scornful smile and said:
"I think you had better go home to your parents and go to school. That's the best place for you."
This was discouraging, but instead of explaining my position, I turned to go, and in spite of all that I could do the tears came to my eyes. Not that I cared so much for being refused employment, but for the manner in which the hotel man had spoken to me. I did not propose to give up at that, but started away, more than ever determined to find employment. I did not want to impose on the Beckets, notwithstanding that they still assured me of welcome, and moreover I wished to do something to help them, even more than myself.
I had nearly reached the door when a man who had been reading a newspaper, but was now observing me, called out:
"My boy! come here."
I went over to the corner where he was sitting and I was trying at the same time to dry away my tears.
This man asked my name, which I gave him. He then asked where my parents lived, and I told him that they died when I was four years old.
Other questions from him brought out the story of my boy-life; Drake, Gen. Jackson, the negro boys and the brutal negress; then my trip to St. Louis—but I omitted the hornet's-nest incident. I also told this kindly stranger that I had started out to make a living for myself and intended to succeed.
Then he asked me where I was staying, and I told him of the Beckets.
Seeing that this man was taking quite an interest in me, gave me courage to ask his name. He told me that his name was Kit Carson, and that by calling he was a hunter and trapper, and asked me how I would like to learn his trade.
I assured him that I was willing to do anything honorable for a living and that I thought I would very much like to be a hunter and trapper. He said he would take me with him and I was entirely delighted. Often I had wished to own a gun, but had never thought of shooting anything larger than a squirrel or rabbit. I was ready to start at once, and asked him when he would go.
Smilingly he told me not to be in a hurry, and asked me where Mrs. Becket lived. I told him as nearly as I could, and again asked when he thought we would leave St. Louis. I was fearful that he would change his mind about taking me with him. I didn't know him then so well as afterward. I came to learn that his slightest word was his bond.
But visions of Mr. Drake, an old negro woman and a hornet's nest, still haunted me and made me overanxious. I wanted to get as far out of their reach as possible and still remain on the earth.
Mr. Carson laughed in a quiet and yet much amused way and said:
"You must learn to not do anything until you are good and ready, and there are heaps of things to do before we can start out. Now let's go and see Mrs. Becket."
So I piloted him to the widow's home, which, as near as I can remember, was about four blocks from the hotel. Mr. Carson being able to speak French first-rate, had a talk with Mrs. Becket concerning me. The story she told him, corresponding with that which I had told him, he concluded that I had given him nothing but truth, and then he asked Mrs. Becket what my bill was. She replied that she had just taken me in because I was a poor boy, until such time as I could find employment, and that her charges were nothing. He then asked her how long I had been with her, and being told that it was four days, he begged her to take five dollars, which she finally accepted.
I took my little budget of clothes and tearfully bidding Mrs. Becket and Henry good-bye, started back to the hotel with my new guardian, and I was the happiest boy in the world, from that on, so long as I was a boy.
On the way back to the hotel Mr. Carson stopped with me at a store and he bought me a new suit of clothes, a hat and a pair of boots, for I was barefooted and almost bareheaded. Thus dressed I could hardly realize that I was the Will Drannan of a few hours before.
That was the first pair of boots I had ever owned. Perhaps, dear reader, you do not know what that means to a healthy boy of fifteen.
It means more than has ever been written, or ever will be.
I was now very ready to start out hunting, and on our way to the hotel I asked Mr. Carson if he did not think we could get away by morning, but he told me that to hunt I would probably need a gun, and we must wait until he could have one made for me, of proper size for a boy.
The next day we went to a gun factory and Mr. Carson gave orders concerning the weapon, after which we returned to the hotel. We remained in St. Louis about three weeks and every day seemed like an age to me. At our room in the hotel Mr. Carson would tell me stories about hunting and trapping, and notwithstanding the intense interest of the stories the days were longer, because I so much wished to be among the scenes he talked of, and my dreams at night were filled with all sorts of wonderful animals, my fancy's creation from what Mr. Carson talked about. I had never fired a gun in my life and I was unbearably impatient to get my hands on the one that was being made for me.
During the wait at St. Louis, Henry Becket was with me nearly all the time, and when we were not haunting the gun factory, we were, as much as possible, in Mr. Carson's room at the hotel, listening to stories of adventure on the plains and among the mountains.
I became, at once, very much attached to Mr. Carson and I thought there was not another man in the United States equal to him—and there never has been, in his line. Besides, since the death of my mother he was the only one who had taken the slightest interest in me, or treated me like a human being, barring, of course, the Beckets and those persons who had helped me on my long walk from Nashville to St. Louis.
Finally Mr. Carson—whom I had now learned to address as Uncle Kit—said to me, one morning, that as my gun was about completed we would make preparations to start West. So we went out to a farm, about two miles from St. Louis, to get the horses from where Uncle Kit had left them to be cared for during the winter.
We went on foot, taking a rope, or riatta, as it is called by frontiersmen, and on the way to the farm I could think or talk of nothing but my new rifle, and the buffalo, deer, antelope and other game that I would kill when I reached the plains. Uncle Kit remarked that he had forgotten to get me a saddle, but that we would not have to wait to get one made, as there were plenty of saddles that would fit me already made, and that he would buy me one when he got back to town.
When we reached the farm where the horses were, Uncle Kit pointed out a little bay pony that had both his ears cropped off at the tips, and he said:
"Now Willie, there is your pony. Catch him and climb on," at the same time handing me the riatta.
The pony being gentle I caught and mounted him at once, and by the time we had got back to town money could not have bought that little crop-eared horse from me. As will be seen, later on, I kept that pony and he was a faithful friend and servant until his tragic death, years afterward.
In two days we had a pack-train of twenty horses rigged for the trip. The cargo was mostly tobacco, blankets and beads, which Carson was taking out to trade to the Indians for robes and furs. Of course all this was novel to me as I had never seen a pack- saddle or anything associated with one.
A man named Hughes, of whom you will see much in this narrative, accompanied and assisted Uncle Kit on this trip, as he had done the season before, for besides his experience as a packer, he was a good trapper, and Uncle Kit employed him.
BEGINNING OF AN ADVENTUROUS LIFE.—FIRST WILD TURKEY.—FIRST BUFFALO.—FIRST FEAST AS AN HONORED GUEST OF INDIANS.—DOG MEAT.
It was on the morning of May 3, 1847, that we rounded up the horses and Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes began packing them.
It being the first trip of the season some of the pack-ponies were a little frisky and would try to lie down when the packs were put on them. So it became my business to look after them and keep them on their feet until all were packed.
Everything being in readiness, I shook hands, good-bye, with my much-esteemed friend, Henry Becket, who had been helping me with the pack-horses, and who also coveted my crop-eared pony, very naturally for a boy. Then we were off for a country unknown to me, except for what Uncle Kit had told me of it.
My happiness seemed to increase, if that were possible. I was unspeakably glad to get away from St. Louis before Mr. Drake had learned of my whereabouts, and up to the time of this writing I have never been back to St. Louis, or Tennessee, nor have I heard anything of Mr. Drake or my ancient enemy, the angel of Erebus.
From St. Louis we struck out westward, heading for Ft. Scott, which place is now a thriving little city in southeastern Kansas, but then the extreme out-edge of settlement.
The first day out we traveled until about 2 o'clock in the afternoon, when we came to a fine camping place with abundance of grass, wood and water.
Uncle Kit, thinking we had traveled far enough for the first day, said:
"I reckon the lad is gittin' tired, Hughes, 's well as the horses, an' I think we'd better pull up for the day."
I was glad to hear this, for I had done more riding chat day than in any one day in my life, before.
Uncle Kit told me it would be my job, on the trip as soon as my horse was unsaddled, to gather wood and start a fire, while he and Mr. Hughes unpacked the animals. So I unsaddled my horse, and by the time they had the horses unpacked I had a good fire going and plenty of water at hand for all purposes. Mr. Hughes, meantime, got out the coffee-pot and frying-pan, and soon we had a meal that I greatly enjoyed and which was the first one for me by a camp- fire.
After we had eaten, and smoked and lounged for a while, Uncle Kit asked me if I did not wish to try my rifle.
Of course I did.
So taking a piece of wood and sharpening one end that it might be driven into the ground, he took a piece of charcoal and made on the flat side of the wood a mark for me to shoot at.
"Now Willie," said Uncle Kit, "if you ever expect to be a good hunter you must learn to be a good shot, and you can't begin practicin' too soon."
I had never fired a gun, but I had made up my mind to be a mighty hunter and so started in for shooting practice with much zeal. Uncle Kit gave me few instructions about How to hold the gun, and I raised the rifle to my face and fired the first shot of my life.
I do not know how close my bullet came to that mark, nor how far it missed, for the wood was untouched. But I tried it again and with much better success, for this time I struck the stick about eight inches below the mark. This was great encouragement and from that on I could scarcely take time to eat meals in camp, in my anxiety to practice, and I was further encouraged by Uncle Kit's approval of my desire to practice.
One evening I overheard Uncle Kit say to Mr. Hughes, "That boy is going to make a dead shot afterwhile."
This gave me great faith in my future as a hunter and Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes seemed to take great delight in teaching me all the tricks of rifle marksmanship.
After we had traveled about two days we came to a belt of country where there were wild turkeys in great numbers, and on the morning of the third day out, Uncle Kit called me early, saying:
"Come Willie, jump up now, an' le's go an' see if we can't git a wild turkey for breakfast." He had heard the turkeys that morning and knew which direction to go to find them.
I rolled out and was quickly dressed and ready.
When near the turkey haunt Uncle Kit took a quill from his pocket and by a peculiar noise on the quill called the turkeys up near to him, then took aim at one, fired and killed it.
"Now Willie," he said, "do you think you can do that to-morrow morning?"
I told him that I thought if I could get close enough, and the turkeys would stand right still, I believed I could fetch one. And I desired to know if it was certain that there would be turkeys where we were to camp that night.
"Oh, yes;" said he, "thar'll be plenty of 'em for some days yit."
Early the next morning Uncle Kit called me as usual, and said, "Git up now, an' see what you can do for a turkey breakfast."
Instantly I was on my feet, Uncle Kit showed me the direction to go, loaned me his turkey-call quill, which, by the way, he had been teaching me how to use as we rode the day before.
I shouldered my rifle and had not gone far when I heard the turkeys, up the river. Then I took the quill and started my turkey tune. Directly a big old gobbler came strutting towards me and I called him up as near to me as he would come, for I wanted to make sure of him.
Uncle Kit had told me about the "buck-ague" and I knew I had it when I tried to draw a bead on that big gobbler. I had never shot at a living thing, and when I leveled my rifle it was impossible to control my nerves.
The turkey seemed to jump up and down, and appeared to me to be as big as a pony, when I looked at him along the rifle. Two or three times I tried to hold the bead on him, but could not. Now I wouldn't have missed killing him for anything, in reason, for I feared that Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes would laugh at me.
At last, however, the sights of my gun steadied long enough for me to pull the trigger, and to my great delight—and I may as well admit, surprise—Mr. Gobbler tumbled over dead when I fired, and he was so heavy as to be a good load for me to carry to camp.
Now I was filled with confidence in myself, and became eager for a shot at bigger game; antelope, deer or buffalo.
In a few days we passed Ft. Scott and then we were entirely beyond the bounds of civilization.
From that on, until we reached our destination, the only living things we saw were jack-rabbits, prairie-dogs, antelope, deer, buffalo, sage-hens and Indians, barring, of course, insects, reptiles and the like, and the little owls that live with the prairie-dogs and sit upon the mounds of the dog villages, eyeing affairs with seeming dignity and wisdom.
The owls seem to turn their heads while watching you, their bodies remaining stationary, until, it has been said, you may wring their heads off by walking around them a few times. I would not have my young friends believe, however, that this is true. It is only a very old joke of the plains.
The first herd of buffalo we saw was along a stream known as Cow Creek and which is a tributary to the Arkansas river. We could see the herd feeding along the hills in the distance.
Here was good camping ground and it was time to halt for the night. So as soon as we had decided on the spot to pitch camp, Uncle Kit directed me to go and kill a buffalo, so that we might have fresh meat for supper.
That suited me, exactly, for I was eager to get a shot at such big game.
Uncle Kit told me to follow up the ravine until opposite the herd and then climb the hill, but to be careful and not let the buffalo see me.
I followed his instructions to the dot, for I had come to believe that what Kit Carson said was law and gospel, and what he didn't know would not fill a book as large as Ayer's Almanac. I was right, too, so far as plainscraft was concerned.
Uncle Kit had also directed me to select a small buffalo to shoot at, and to surely kill it, for we were out of meat.
It so happened that when I got to the top of the hill and in sight of the herd again the first animal that seemed to present an advantageous shot was a two-year-old heifer.
I dropped flat on the ground and crawled toward her, like a snake. Once she raised her head, but the wind being in my favor, she did not discern me, but put her head down and went on feeding. I succeeded in crawling quite close enough to her, drew a bead on her and fired. At the crack of the rifle she came to the ground, "as dead as a door-nail," much to the surprise of Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes, who were watching me from a distance.
When the animal fell, I threw my hat in the air and gave a yell that would have done credit to an Apache warrior.
Uncle Kit and I dressed the buffalo and carried the meat into camp while Mr. Hughes gathered wood for the night-fires.
I could scarcely sleep that night for thinking of my buffalo, and could I have seen Henry Becket that night I would almost have stunned him with my stories of frontier life.
The novice is ever enthusiastic.
The following morning we woke up early, and off, still heading up the Arkansas river for Bent's Fort, and from here on the buffalo were numerous, and we had that sort of fresh meat until we got good and tired of it.
The second day out from Cow Creek, in the afternoon, we saw about twenty Indians coming towards us. At the word, "Indians," I could feel my hair raise on end, and many an Indian has tried to raise it since.
This was my first sight of the red man. He looked to me to be more of a black man.
Uncle Kit asked Mr. Hughes what Indians he thought they were. The reply was that he thought them to be Kiowas, and on coming up to them the surmise proved to be correct.
They were Black Buffalo, the chief of the Kiowas, and his daughter, accompanied by twenty warriors.
Black Buffalo, and indeed all the Kiowa tribe, were well acquainted with Uncle Kit and had great respect for him. So a general hand-shaking and pow-wow followed.
Carson spoke their language as well as they could, and consequently had no difficulty conversing with them.
In those days very few Indians knew a word of English, consequently all conversation with them had to be carried on in the several tribal languages or dialects, or in the jargon.
This latter was a short language composed of Indian, French and English words, and was called "Chinook." It originated with the fur traders of Astoria, Ore., and its growth was assisted by missionaries, until it became the means of communication between the whites and the Indians of the coast and interior of the vast Northwest, and even between Indians whose dialects were unknown to each other. In short it was a sort of Indian "Volapuk," and was very easily mastered. There has been a dictionary of it printed, and I have known a bright man to acquire the vocabulary in two or three days.
Black Buffalo and his little band shortly turned about and rode back to their village, which was only two miles away. But they first invited us to visit them, which we did, as not to have done so would have been a violent breach of plains etiquette, that might cause a disruption of friendship.
In the Indian village, after our horses had been unpacked and turned out to graze, Uncle Kit and Black Buffalo strolled about among the lodges or wick-i-ups, of which there were something like fifteen hundred. I followed very closely for I was mortally afraid to get fifteen feet away from Uncle Kit, in that sort of company.
Black Buffalo did us the honor, that evening, to take us to his own private wick-i-up for supper. It was a custom with this, and many other tribes of Indians, that conveyed great distinction to visitors, to kill and cook for them a nice fat dog. However, I was not then aware that I was so distinguished a guest, as indeed neither I nor Mr. Hughes would have been had we not been in the company of Kit Carson. With him we shone by reflected greatness.
While we were out on our walk about the village, Black Buffalo's cook was preparing this distinguishing feast for us.
I had kept unusually quiet all the time we were among the Indians, not even asking one question, which was very remarkable in me. For I presume that on the journey I had asked more questions to the lineal mile than any boy ever had before.
But I ate the dog in silence and liked it. Of course I had no idea what the meat was. So, Uncle Kit observing the gusto with which I was devouring dog, asked me if I knew what the meat was. I told him that I did not, but supposed it to be antelope, or buffalo. He informed me that it was neither, but good, healthy dog.
I thought he was joking, and simply replied that it was mighty good meat, even if it was dog, and gave the matter no further reflection, at the time.
The next day, when Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes assured me that it was really dog meat, we had eaten the night before, I felt very much like throwing up everything I had eaten at the village, but it was too late then.
After supper, that night in the Indian village, we had what was called a "peace smoke." The Chief selected about a dozen of his braves, and all being seated in a circle, two of our party on one side of the Chief, and Uncle Kit at his right, a pipe was lit and the Chief took one whiff, the smoke of which he blew up into the air. He then took another whiff, and turning to his chief guest, handed him the pipe, who blew a whiff into the air and the second one into the face of the host. This performance having been gone through with for each guest, the Chief then handed the pipe to the first Indian on his right, and thus it went around the circle, each Indian blowing a whiff into the air.
It was considered a great breach of etiquette to speak, or even smile, during this ceremony.
This Indian village was situated at Pawnee Rock, on the Arkansas river, in a beautiful valley, in what is now the southwest corner of Benton Co., Kan. The wick-i-ups were made of poles set on ends, gathered together at the top, and covered with buffalo skins from which the hair had been removed.
The Kiowas were, at that time, the most numerous tribe of Indians in the United States.
Early the next morning after our dog-feast and peace-smoke, our party was up and off, and I was particularly glad to get away, feeling that I would rather camp out and feed on buffalo, antelope, jack-rabbits and wild turkey than dwell in the lodges of Kiowas and be "honored" with banquets of the nicest dogs in all that region.
We took the Santa Fe trail and the buffalo were so numerous along the way that we had to take some pains to avoid them, as when they were traveling or on a stampede, nothing could turn or stop them and we would be in danger of being ground to atoms beneath their thousands of hoofs.
In two days more of travel we reached another Indian village, on another beautiful plain, in what is now Pawnee Co., Kan. Here the country was so level that one could see for miles in any direction, and the sun rising or setting, seemed to come up or go down, as a great golden disk, out of or into the earth. We could see many bands of wild horses feeding on the luxuriant grasses, and little did I think, then, that I would live to see the day when that broad and unfenced plain would be converted into homes for hundreds of the pale-faced race.
We were met on the outskirts of the village by White Horse, Chief of the Comanches, who, being an intimate friend of Uncle Kit, shook hands with us and conducted us to his own wick-i-up. There we unpacked the animals and piled up our goods, and White Horse detailed an Indian to guard the packs day and night.
After our horses had been picketed out to grass, the Chief took us into his lodge to dine with him, and here again we had boiled dog and the peace smoke.
White Horse insisted upon our being his guests until morning, it being about noon when we arrived, and as our horses were much jaded we decided to give them the advantage of such a rest.
The Comanche Chief was most exceedingly hospitable, in his way, and would not allow us to eat of our own provisions, but insisted upon our eating with him, and "trotted" out the best "grub" he had.
After breakfast the next morning our horses were brought in by the Indians, who also helped us to pack, and we struck the trail again, accompanied by White Horse and his daughter, who traveled with us all that day and camped with us at night.
That evening Uncle Kit killed a fine buffalo calf, and I thought it the best meat I had ever eaten—even better than dog.
The following morning the Chief and his daughter returned to the village, and we proceeded on our journey.
That day, riding along on my crop-eared pony, about fifty yards behind my companions, I chanced to look behind me and I saw what I thought to be a man, walking on a hill towards us, and he appeared to be at least twenty feet high. As he got further down the hill he appeared to grow shorter, until, I thought, he went down a ravine and out of sight.
I put spurs to Croppy and galloped up to Uncle Kit, and told him I had seen the tallest man on earth, declaring that the man was at least twenty feet high.
"An' you saw a man that high?" said Uncle Kit
"Indeed I did," I replied.
"Sure you saw him?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; and if you will watch you will see him come up out of the ravine, directly."
Uncle Kit, laughing, said: "It was not a man you saw, my boy, but a mirage," and he explained to me the phenomena, which I became familiar with in the years that followed.
Sometimes the mirages present to the vision what appear to be men, at other times bodies of water surrounded by trees, and often houses and whole towns. They appear before you on the dryest plains and then disappear as if the earth opened and swallowed them.
Early in June we reached Bent's Fort and met there Col. Bent and his son, Mr. Roubidoux and his son, and a man named James Bridger, of whom you will see a great deal, later on in this narrative. These men were all traders, buying furs and buffalo robes from Indians, white hunters and trappers.
We remained at Bent's Fort six weeks, and often during that time some one of the many hunters, trappers and traders, that made this place their headquarters, would ask Uncle Kit what he was going to do with that boy—meaning me. To all of which Carson would reply "I'm goin' to make a hunter and trapper of him."
During the six weeks at the fort I was out nearly every day with some of the men, and to me they gave the name of "Young Kit."
By the time we were ready to leave Bent's Fort, Young Kit became quite a rider, and Uncle Kit had been training me in the dexterous use of the rifle, shooting from my knee, lying on my back, resting the gun on my toes, lying flat on my belly, resting the gun on my hat, and in various other positions.
Having disposed of all our blankets, beads and all of the tobacco, except what was reserved for home consumption, we left Bent's Fort, crossed the Arkansas river and followed up Apishapa creek three days, when we came to the Rocky Mountains, among which we were during four days, passing Trinkara Peak then turning south toward a little Mexican village called Taos, where Uncle Kit made his home, he having a house of his own in that village.
On the morning after our arrival at Taos, Uncle Kit said to me at breakfast:
"Willie, there are a lot of Mexican boys here who would like to play with you."
Some of them were standing near in a group, gazing at me in much wonderment.
"But," continued Uncle Kit, "you will have to learn to speak their language in order to have much fun. Go with them if you wish, and tell me to-night how many words you have learned."
Then he spoke to the group of boys in their own tongue and told them I wished to play with them but couldn't speak their language, and wanted to learn.
We had a jolly time that day in many boyish games that I had never seen, and when I came home Uncle Kit asked me how many words I had learned.
"Three," I replied.
"Splendid!" he exclaimed. "'Twont be long fo' you are a fus'-class Mexican."
One evening, after we had been in Taos about two weeks, Uncle Kit told me to put on my best suit and he would take me to a fandango. I was not sure what a fandango was but was willing to experience one, just the same, and, togged out in our best, we went to the fandango, which was simply a Mexican dance. Sort of a public ball.
I looked on that night with much interest, but declined to participate further than that. I learned better in a little while, and the fandango, with the tinkle of guitars and mandolins, the clink of the cavalleros' spurs, and the laugh and beauty of the Mexican senoritas, became a great pleasure to me.
Thus began our life at the little Mexican town of Taos, the home of that great hero of the West, Kit Carson.
HUNTING AND TRAPPING IN SOUTH PARK, WHERE A BOY, UNAIDED, KILLS AND SCALPS TWO INDIANS—MEETING WITH FREMONT, THE "PATH-FINDER."
One evening in October as I was getting ready to retire for the night, Uncle Kit said to me:
"Now Willie, to-morrow you must put in the day moulding bullets, for we must begin making preparations to go trapping."
This was pleasant news to me, for I had laid around so long with nothing to do but skylark with those Mexican boys, that life was getting to be monotonous.
The reader will understand that in those early days we had only muzzle-loading guns, and for every one of those we had to have a pair of bullet-moulds the size of the rifle, and before starting out on an expedition it was necessary to mould enough bullets to last several weeks, if not the entire trip, and when you realize that almost any time we were liable to get into a "scrap" with the Indians, you can understand that it required a great number of these little leaden missiles to accommodate the red brethren, as well as to meet other uses.
That evening after I had gone to bed, Mr. Hughes said:
"Kit, what are you going to do with that boy?"
"What boy?" asked Uncle Kit, as if he were astonished.
"Why, Willie. What are you going to do with him while we are away trapping?"
"Why, take him along to help us, of course."
"Thunderation!" exclaimed Hughes; "he will only be a bother to us in the mountains."
I had been with Kit Carson three months, and this was the first time I had seen him, apparently, out of humor. But at Hughes' last remark, he said in a decidedly angry tone:
"Jim Hughes, I want you to understand that wherever I go that boy can go, too, if he likes."
Hughes seeing that Carson did not like what he had said about "that boy," turned the matter off by saying that he had only made the remark to tease the boy.
Next morning Uncle Kit started a Mexican lad out to round up the horses, and the next two days were spent in fixing up our pack- saddles preparatory for the trip.
Our horses were as fat as seals, as there was no end to the range for them in this part of the country.
All being in readiness we pulled out from Taos, four of us, Uncle Kit, Mr. Hughes, myself and a Mexican boy named Juan. The latter went along to bring our horses back home.
We crossed back over that spur of the Rocky Mountains that we had came in through, and struck the Arkansas river near where Pueblo, Colo., now stands, and from here we polled for the headwaters of that river, carefully examining every stream we came to for beaver sign.
We saw abundance of game on the trip, such as antelope, deer and buffalo.
When we had traveled up the river about two days, Uncle Kit thought it was not best to take the horses any further as the country was now too rough for them, so we spent the next two days caching our cargo.
As some may not know what a cache is, I will explain.
Cache is French for "hide." A hole is dug in the ground and the things to be hidden are put in there and covered with brush, then with dirt, then more brush and more dirt, and the whole is covered with turf, to make the surface look as natural as possible, so that it is not likely to be discovered by Indians at a distance.
We having about a thousand pounds of stores to cache, it was no small job.
On the morning of the third day in this camp, we all started out to kill some game for Juan to take back home. Mr. Hughes started out in one direction and Uncle Kit and I in the opposite. We had gone but a short distance, when, looking across a canyon, I saw a herd of some kind of animals and asked Uncle Kit what they were. He told me they were bison, and complimented me on having such good eyes.
Bison, by the way, is the distinctive name in that region for mountain buffalo, all buffalo belonging to the bison family.
We then started on a round-about way to try and get in gunshot of the herd, in which we were successful. When we had got in gunshot of them and he had pointed out the one for me to shoot at, he said:
"Now take a rest on that big rock, and when I count three, pull the trigger, and be sure that you break its neck."
The guns went off so near together that I turned and asked Uncle Kit why he didn't shoot, too, for I did not think that he had fired; but as soon as the smoke from our guns had cleared away, I saw two bison kicking their last.
After dressing the animals we returned to camp and learned that Mr. Hughes had killed two deer, which, with the two bisons, were enough to load the pack-horses.
We were now in the extreme south end of South Park, which was mostly a prairie country, except along the streams, and more or less pine trees were scattered here and there along the hillsides.
Next morning we loaded the pack-horses with the game and Juan started back home, alone, with the horses.
After we had seen him off, we rolled up our blankets and taking enough provisions to last several days, we "packed up our packs" and pulled out up the Arkansas again.
This, to me, was like breaking a colt to the saddle, only I didn't buck.
Notwithstanding I had a light pack, for I was a light subject, it was hard work for me. Mr. Hughes had been out the year before, and being a grown man, it did not worry him as it did me. However, we traveled very slowly, looking well all the time for beaver sign.
In the afternoon of the second day we came to where there was plenty of beaver sign. In fact the trees they had gnawed down were so thick that we could not travel along the river, but had to take to the hillsides.
We camped that night at the mouth of a little stream that empties into the Arkansas, and the following morning, after looking over the trapping ground, the two men selected a place to build our winter quarters, and we went to work. They worked at the cabin while I killed the game for our meat and did the cooking, my outfit being a frying-pan, a coffee-pot and a tin cup for each of us.
They were about two weeks getting our cabin, or dugout, completed. It was made by first digging out a place in the hillside, about twelve feet square, and building up the front with logs, then brush and pine boughs, and then the whole with dirt, the door was made of hewed logs, fastened together with crossed pieces by means of wooden pins, and it was hung on heavy wooden hinges.
Our winter quarters being thus completed, Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes set out one morning for the cache, intending to return that same evening. Before starting they told me to go out some time during the day and kill a small deer, that I would be able to carry to camp, and have a good lot of it cooked for supper, as they would be very hungry when they returned that night. They started sometime before daylight, and I stayed around the cabin, clearing things up and cutting wood, until about ten o'clock, then cleaned up my rifle and started out to kill the deer. It was an easy matter to find one, for they were as thick in that country as sheep on a mutton farm. But, boy-like, I wandered off up the canyon about two miles before I found a deer that just suited me, and I wanted to see the country, anyway.
At last I found a little deer that I thought about the right thing and I killed and dressed it—or rather undressed it—threw it on my shoulder and pulled for camp.
Instead of going the way I had come, I climbed out on the ridge to avoid the down timber, that was so thick in the creek bottom. When I was near the top of the ridge, I looked off a short distance and saw three Indians, on foot, going down the ridge in the direction of our dug-out.
I had often heard Uncle Kit tell how the Indians robbed the camps of trappers and that they invariably burned the cabins.
As soon as I got sight of the Indians, I dropped back over the ridge, for, luckily, they had not got sight of me. In a few seconds I did some powerful thinking, and I came to the conclusion that it would never do to let them find our dug-out, for while it would hardly burn, they might carry off our bedding, or destroy it. So I crawled up to a log, took good aim at the leader and fired, striking him just under the arm, bringing him down. The other two dropped to their knees, and looked all around, and I suppose the only thing that saved me was the wind was coming from them to me and blew the smoke from my gun down the canyon, so that they did not see where the shot came from.
I heard Uncle Kit tell of lying on his back and loading his rifle, when in a close place, so I did likewise and crawled up to my log again. The remaining two Indians, having looked all around and seeing no one, had got on their feet again, and were standing with bow and arrow in hand, each having a quiver full of arrows on his back, and if they had got sight of me that would have been the last of Young Kit. But I took aim at one of them and fired, with the same result as before. As my second Indian fell, the third one started back up the ridge, in the direction from which they had come, and if I ever saw an Indian do tall sprinting, that one did. I watched him until he was out of sight, and then loaded my gun, shouldered my deer and went to where the two Indians were lying. They were both as dead as dried herring.
I had never seen an Indian scalped, but had often heard how it was done, so I pulled my hunting-knife and took their top-nots, and again started for the dug-out, a great hunter and Indian fighter, in my own estimation.
I hung the scalps up inside the dug-out, directly in front of the door, so that Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes would see them the first thing on entering the cabin. Then I set about getting supper, all the while thinking what a mighty deed I had done in saving our cabin, which was probably true.
The two men did not return until after dark and they were very tired and hungry, having walked forty miles that day, carrying on the return trip a hundred pounds each. That is a heavy load for a man to carry twenty miles, but they did it, and it was no uncommon thing for the hardy frontiersmen of that day to perform like feats of strength and endurance.
When they pushed open the heavy log door, the scalps were almost in their faces.
"Who did this?" said Uncle Kit, as he threw his heavy pack on the dirt floor.
I told him and he was very much astonished.
"How was it, Willie?" he asked, and I told him the whole story.
While I was telling him the story, as briefly as I could, he showed more agitation than I had ever seen him exhibit.
During all the time I had been with him, he had never spoken a harsh word to me, up to this time. But while we were at supper he said to me:
"My boy, don't let me ever hear of you taking such chances again. Not that I care for you killin' the Injuns, but you took great chances for losing your own hair, for had them redskins got sight of you, by the time they had got through with you, your hide wouldn't have held corn shucks. And it's a mystery to me that they didn't see you."
The following morning after breakfast we all took a trip up the canyon, where I had gone the morning before, and we took with us twelve beaver traps that they had brought up from the cache, and these we set at different places along the stream.
After they were set Uncle Kit asked me if I thought I could find all of them again, and I said I thought I could.
"All right then," he said. "It will be your job to tend these traps, until Jim and me get the balance of the stuff packed up from the cache. Now le's go and see your Injuns."
I took them to where I had shot the two Indians, and Uncle Kit, as soon as he saw them, said:
"They are Utes, and the wust hoss-thieves on the waters of the Colorado. Willie, I'm dog-goned glad you killed 'em. I would a give the best hoss I've got to a been here with you, for I think Old Black Leg would a caught the other feller, afore he got to the top o' the mountain."
"Black Leg" was Uncle Kit's pet name for his rifle.
That night, before going to bed, Uncle Kit said we must be up early next morning, as he and Hughes would have to make another trip to the cache, and that I must tend to the traps and keep a sharp lookout for Indians "But whatever happens," he said, "don't ever be taken prisoner."
They started very early the next morning, and as soon as it was light I struck out to examine the traps. From the twelve I took nine beaver, skinned them, reset the traps, returned to the dug- out and stretched the skins.
The stretching is done by making a bow of a small willow or other pliant wood, for each hide, and then pulling the hide over it. The hides are thus left until they are dry, when the bows are taken out and the hides are packed in a frame made for that purpose, fifty in a bale.
All of this kind of work I had learned at Bent's Fort, while there, from the many trappers there. Besides, Uncle Kit had given me other lessons in the work.
Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes made a trip to the cache every other day until the stuff was all packed up to our winter quarters.
I had my hands full attending to the traps, as the men brought more of them on the second trip, and they set enough of them to make double work for me. One dozen traps is called a "string," and it is considered one man's work, ordinarily, to "tend a string."
The two men brought all the stuff up from the cache in five trips. On the day the last trip was made, I went out early, as usual, to attend to the traps, of which we had thirty-six. That morning I took twenty-three beaver, and seeing that it would be impossible for me to skin them all, I set about to carry them to the dug-out. If ever a boy worked, I did that day, and had just got through carrying them in when Uncle Kit and Mr. Hughes returned.
After we had got caught up with our work and rested a few days, Uncle Kit said one morning that we must be out early next day and get our work done so that we could go and kill some elk. "For," said he, "we have got to have meat for the winter and we must have some hides for beds."
In those days the trappers made their beds by first constructing a frame or rough bedstand, over which they stretched a green elk hide, securing that by thongs or strings cut from a green deer skin. By lying on these at once, before they are dry, they get shaped to the body and they make a first-class bed for comfort.
We were out early to the traps next morning, and the catch being somewhat smaller than usual, we got through by 11 o'clock, and after eating a "snack"—a lunch—we started on the elk hunt.
After going about four miles we jumped up a band of fifty elk, which was considered a small herd then. But we didn't get close enough to shoot any of them.
"Let 'em go," said Uncle Kit; "no doubt they will go to the quaking-asp grove, and we can git 'em to-morrow." So we returned to camp without any elk. But the next morning we went to the quaking-asp thicket, and there, sure enough, we found the same band of elk, and succeeded in killing five of them. Thus we had enough meat to last a year, if we had wanted that much, and we had skins enough for our beds and moccasins for the winter.
Now we were in no danger of starving, and from now on we could devote our whole attention to the traps.
I had to work very hard that winter, but I was much better contented than when I was with Drake and in the grasp of that old "nigger wench."
Not until now did I tell Uncle Kit of the prank I played on the black tyrant. I also told him why I was so anxious to get away from St. Louis. That it was I feared Drake would discover me and take me back to his farm and the society of his slaves.
Mr. Hughes here interrupted me to say: "Well Willie, you are safe enough from Drake and the wench, but I think by the time you get out o' here in the spring, you would much rather be with them."
I assured him, however, that he was mistaken, and that I was bent on being a hunter and trapper.
"And an Indian fighter?" he added.
"Yes, and an Indian fighter, too, if you like;" I replied.
Well, we remained at this camp all winter, not seeing a person outside of our own crowd, and to take it on the whole, it was one of the most enjoyable winters of my life. It being my first winter in the mountains, I was learning something new every day, and whenever I found the track of any wild animal that I was not acquainted with, I would report to Uncle Kit, and he would go miles with me to see the sign, and would take great pains to tell me what sort of an animal it was and all about its nature and habits.
This was one of the most successful winter's trapping he had ever had, as we were on entirely new ground, where trapping had not been done before, and, moreover, the weather was particularly favorable.
Winter began to break up about a month earlier than usual, it being toward the last days of March when the snow commenced going off. We then took a pair of blankets each, and enough provisions to last us on our trip, and started for Taos, the only kind of provisions we had left being dried elk and venison. It was an easy matter to cure meat in this style in that country, for the air is so light that meat stuck upon the top of a pole eight or ten feet high, will quickly become dried, or "jerked." Trappers seldom take enough flour and coffee to last all winter, as it made too much bulk and weight to pack so far. Sugar was almost unknown in a trapper camp.
The second day after leaving the dug-out we met Juan, the Mexican boy. He was not bringing our horses, but was carrying a letter for Uncle Kit, from Col. John C. Fremont, asking him to come to Taos, as he wished to employ him as guide for his expedition to California.
That evening, after reading the letter, Uncle Kit said: "Willie, I have got to go to California in the summer to pilot Col. Fremont through. Do you want to go along?"
I said I was perfectly willing to go anywhere that he went.
He said: "We will pass through some mighty rough country, and also through the country of the Utes. If you go, you will, no doubt, have plenty of chances to try your hand at shootin' Injuns, for them Utes are tough nuts."
That didn't scare me a bit, for I was now sixteen years' old, had killed and scalped two Indians, and had already begun to consider myself a hunter and Indian fighter from away back. Besides, when the story of my killing the two Indians got out, I came to be generally called "the boy scalper." But Uncle Kit never spoke of me in that way, for he always respected me as a father would his own son.
Now Uncle Kit was anxious to reach Taos and meet Col. Fremont, so we pushed on with all possible speed until the third day from where we met Juan with the letter, we met Col. Fremont at the crossing of the Arkansas river. He had became over-anxious and had started out to meet us.
It was late in the afternoon, so we went into camp and had supper, which consisted of dried venison and water, but for breakfast we had a change of diet, which was dried elk and water.
We learned that Col. Fremont had been detailed the summer before by the government to command an exploring expedition across the continent, and, if possible, find a better route from the "States" to California.
It leaked out that some of the trappers who did not like to have him in the neighborhood of Bent's Fort, for their own selfish motives, had misinformed him that first summer out, as to the lay of the country, hoping thereby to mislead him and his company into the mountains, where they would get snowed in and die of starvation.
Fremont and his party, consisting of twenty-eight men, had started up the Black Canyon, and they did get snowed in and had to stop for the winter.
They ran out of provisions and killed and ate some of their horses, but the other horses died of starvation and six of the men died of scurvy.
It being late when the Fremont party got into the mountains, and the snow-fall being very deep, the game went early to the lowlands and the men were forced to live on salt bacon and horse-flesh. Even that became scarce and the entire company came near perishing before spring.
In the camp with Col. Fremont that evening Uncle Kit and he made their bargain. Carson was to furnish all the horses and was to have the right to take as many extra men and horses as he liked, also the right to trade for furs and send his men and their horses back whenever he desired to do so.
After eating heartily of the dried venison and hearing Col. Fremont's story of the dreadful experiences of his party in the Black Canyon, it was bedtime, and each man rolled himself in his blankets and soon all were sleeping, as tired men can, out on the plains.
We had an early breakfast, each man's hunk of dried meat being handy, so there was really no preparation to be made, except to wash. No compulsion, however, as to that. But having distinguished company, all hands washed this morning before squatting for breakfast.
While we were eating, Fremont asked whose boy I was. Uncle Kit replied that I was his boy, and "a first-class hunter and trapper, and he shoots Injuns purty well, too." He then related the incident of my killing the two Utes.
All arrangements having been made, Uncle Kit agreeing to meet Col. Fremont at Bent's Fort in three weeks, they separated and we pushed on for Taos. On arriving there Uncle Kit hired two Mexicans to go back with Mr. Hughes to our beaver camp and get the furs, and he gave instructions to take the furs to Santa Fe and dispose of them. Uncle Kit then employed Juan and a Texan boy named John West to assist us in fitting up for our California trip. So at the end of three weeks we met Fremont at Bent's Fort as per agreement.
Fremont's company consisted of twenty-two men, and they were, beyond doubt, the worst looking set of men I ever saw. Many of them were scarcely able to walk from the effects of scurvy and they were generally knocked out.
We had taken with us from Taos a pack-train loaded with vegetables, such as potatoes, onions and the like, and after Freemont's men had associated with those vegetables for a few days, they came out fresh and smiling and were able to travel.
It was about the Middle of May, 1848, that we left Bent's Fort to hunt a new route to the golden shores of California.
The first night out we camped at Fountain Qui Bouille—pronounced Koh-boo-yah—and here a little incident occurred that created much fun for all the party except one—that was me.
As soon as we went into camp, Carson told Johnnie West and me to let Juan take our horses and for us to go out and kill some meat.
We started out in opposite directions, and I had not gone more than a quarter of a mile when I saw a small deer, which I shot, threw on my shoulder and pulled for camp. Only a few rods on the way I came to a little mound of rock about three feet high, and from it flowed a spring of the nicest looking, sparkling water I thought I had ever seen. Being very thirsty, I made a cup of my hat by pinching the rim together, dipped up some of the water and gulped it down, not waiting to see whether it was hot or cold, wet or dry. But a sudden change came over me. I felt a forthwith swelling under the waistband of my buckskin breeches, and I seemed to have an internal and infernal hurricane of gas, which in a second more came rushing through my mouth and nostrils like an eruption from Cotopaxi or Popocatapel. To say that I was frightened would be putting it mild. I rushed down the hill like mad, and fairly flew to camp and up to Uncle Kit, exclaiming as best I could, "I'm poisoned!"
"Pizened?" said Uncle Kit.
"Yes, poisoned;" and just then another rush of gas came through my nostrils.
When the men saw me running so fast they grabbed their guns, thinking the Indians were after me, and quickly surrounded me to hear what was the matter.
Uncle Kit asked me how I got poisoned, and I told him of the spring water I had drank, and asked him if he could do anything to save my life. Then there was another eruption.
Uncle Kit laughed harder than I had ever seen him, but he told me, as fast as he could, that I had drank from a soda spring and that it would not hurt me. Everybody laughed and then all went to the spring to get some of the "poisoned water," which was very good when taken in reasonable quantities and in a reasonable way.
My gun, deer and hat were all lying near the spring, and I secured them, but it was many a day before I heard the last of the "pizen- spring."
Johnnie West came in soon after, having missed all the fun, and Juan and I went with him, taking each a horse, and packed the game into camp.
I was anxious to get away from camp on that little packing trip, hoping the crowd would forget all about the soda-spring before I returned, but I hoped in vain, for when I returned they laughed at and joked me more than ever.
We traveled up the Arkansas river nearly a hundred miles, and as we neared the snow-line the deer and elk were more plentiful and we never went hungry for meat.
At Jimmie's Fork we turned to the left and followed that stream to its head, then crossed over to the Blue river, which is a tributary of the Colorado. Now we were in the Ute country, and had to keep a sharp lookout for Indians. Every evening, after making camp, Uncle Kit would climb to the top of the highest hill near us to look for Indian camps, as it was an easy matter late in the evening to discover their camps by the smoke from their fires. He used to take me along with him, and he would point out different landmarks in the country and would tell me to make close observations, as I would have to return, without him, over the same route and if I were not careful I might lose my way.
On the third day after crossing the divide, we met Tawson, chief of the Apache tribes. Tawson had never met Carson but knew him by reputation; but a number of the warriors were personally acquainted with him.
The Indians all turned about and rode back with us to their village, which was only a short distance away.
Uncle Kit being able to speak Spanish, as were all the Indians in that country, he had quite a talk with the old chief, and in the meantime he had bought all the furs the Indians had to sell.
When we were ready to start from the village, Carson said in Spanish:
"Now, Tawson, I have always been a friend to your tribe and I will tell you what I'm going to do. In about one moon I will start this boy back through your country, with the horses and two other boys- -referring to Juan and West—and if anything happens to them while passing through your country I will hold you personally responsible."
The chief having heard a great deal of Carson, knew he meant just what he said.
The third day after leaving the Apache village we reached the Colorado river, and we had a hard time finding a suitable place to cross. Finally we decided to build a raft of logs and ferry our stuff on that, and swim the horses. This we did successfully, and also cached the furs to keep them safe until my return.
As soon as we crossed the river we began to see signs of the Ute Indians, and Uncle Kit told me to keep my rifle in trim as I might need it soon.
The second day after crossing the river, about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and just as we had gone into camp, a band of about forty Indians made a dash for our horses. This was the first time I had ever heard the war-whoop, and it fairly made my hair stand on end. Some of our crowd had seen the Indians while yet a distance off, and when the men yelled "Indians! boys, Indians!" I made a bee-line for Croppy, who had by this time fed himself away about fifty yards from camp. When Col. Fremont saw me start on the run, he asked me where I was going. I told him that I was going for my pony as I didn't intend that the Utes should get him.
By the time I got to Croppy I could see the Indians coming, full tilt, and some of the men had already fired upon them. I got back to camp as fast as I could get Croppy to go, and when in a few yards of the camp, I took a rest off of his back and fired, but I missed my Indian. I reloaded as quickly as possible and laid my gun on Croppy's back again, for another shot, and just then it struck me that the reason I missed the first time was because I didn't take good aim.
Uncle Kit had always taught me that it was not the fastest shooting in an Indian fight that did the most execution, and that it was better to fire one shot with good aim than four at random.
When I went to shoot the second time, Uncle Kit was near me, and he said:
"Take good aim, Willie, before you fire."
I did take good aim and had the satisfaction of seeing the Indian tumble to the ground. But whether I killed him or some one else did, I could not say, for an absolute certainty, but I have always thought he belonged to my list.
The Indians were no match for Col. Fremont's men, being only armed with bows and arrows, and they beat a hasty retreat, closely followed for a distance by the soldiers, who, however, did not get any Indians on the run.
When the men returned to camp, and, as usual, after a scrap with Indians, were telling how many red-skins they had killed, Uncle Kit turned to me and asked how many I had got. I said, "one."
"Are you sure?" he asked.
"Well," I said, "I took a rest off of Croppy's back; with a good aim, at the crack of my rifle, the Indian came down."
The crowd went with me to where I had seen the Indian fall, and there he was, as useless for Indian work as Powhattan is.
Col. Fremont then asked the soldiers where were their dead Indians, and Uncle Kit said:
"I reckon Willie is the only one that got his man. Didn't I tell you, Colonel, that he could shoot Injuns?"
However, after looking around awhile, he found five more dead Indians, and, doubtless, more were killed but were carried away by their companions.
The only harm the Indians did our party was to wound two of Fremont's men, slightly.
This was the last trouble we had with the Utes on the trip.
The second day from this little brush we struck a village of Goshoot Indians, and there Uncle Kit bought enough furs to make out his cargo.
We went into camp here for the night, but Uncle Kit and I did not sleep much, as we were up very late as we did not expect to meet again until the next spring, and he had a great deal to tell me before we parted.
The following morning Johnnie West, Juan and I loaded up and started for Santa Fe, and Uncle Kit went on to Los Angeles with Col. Fremont, as guide.
Before I left camp that morning, Col. Fremont, unbeknown to Uncle Kit, came to me and said:
"Willie, in about a year from now I will be on my way back to St. Louis, and I will take you home with me if you would like to go. I will send you to school and make a man of you. You are too good a boy to spend your life here, in this wild country."
But I told him I was perfectly satisfied to remain with Kit Carson.
Had Uncle Kit known of that conversation I think he would have been very much displeased, and it might have caused serious trouble. Therefore I kept my own counsel and did not mention the matter to Carson.
Us boys were four weeks making the return trip to Santa Fe, and we did not see a hostile Indian on the way. I wondered much at that, but a year or two afterward Uncle Kit told me that the Apaches saw us every day and were protecting us, for he had seen Tawson on his return and the chief told him that we had gone through safe.
We arrived at Santa Fe about the first of October, and there I met Jim Hughes, who was waiting our arrival, and I was very glad to see him. I gave him a letter that Uncle Kit had sent him concerning our trapping for the coming winter.
Mr. Hughes said that he was glad that we had got back so early, for it was time we were getting into the mountains for our winter work.
I asked him if we would trap in the same place as the winter before, and he said we would not, as he had brought all the traps out to Taos, and we would go the next winter up to North Park, as he had just returned from there and knew we could put in a good winter's work, as it was new trapping ground that had not been worked, and it was a fine country, too.
Soon as we had got rid of our furs, which Mr. Hughes had sold before our arrival, we pulled out for Taos and begun operations for going to North Park.
All being in readiness in a few days thereafter, Mr. Hughes, Johnnie West and I had started for the new trapping ground, taking Juan along, again, to fetch our horses home. We had to travel over some rough country on the way, but found the North Park a fine region, with scattering pine timber on the hills and quaking-asp and willows along the streams. I have been told that this park is now owned by sheep men, and it is an excellent region for their business.
After looking around over our trapping field Mr. Hughes selected a suitable place for our winter cabin, and we fell to work building it. This time we built entirely above ground with pine logs, an unusual thing for trappers to do.
As soon as our cabin was built, Juan returned to Taos with the horses and we set into our winter's employment.
In those days hunters never wore boots or shoes, but moccasins from the tanned hides of elk. This winter we made enough gloves and moccasins to last us for two years, and each made himself a buckskin suit, out and out.
Game was very plentiful in that country, such as moose, elk and deer, and early in the winter a few mountain buffalo.
We were successful this winter, our beaver catch being nearly eight hundred. The winter was also an unusually long one, lasting until far into April.
After the snow had gone off so that we could travel, Jim Hughes, who had been our foreman, in the absence of Carson, asked me if I thought I could find the way back to Taos, which I said I could. He said that one of us would have to go and get our horses to pack the furs in on.
It was now the spring of 1849 and I was seventeen years old, but it looked to me to be a big undertaking for a boy of my age, a trip of three hundred miles, a foot and alone, with my rifle and blankets; but some one had to go, and I agreed to tackle the trip.
This was on Saturday, and as we never worked on Sundays, except to tend the traps, Mr. Hughes and Johnnie West talked the matter over and decided that before I started away we had better cache the furs and such traps as they would not use in my absence. This was done, so that in the event of their being killed by the Indians, I could find the furs on my return. It was a wise conclusion, as will be seen later on.
It was the custom of the Utes to cross over the mountains in small squads every spring and kill all the trappers they could find and take their traps and furs.
On Monday morning we all set about to cache the furs and traps that would not be used, and it took two days hard work to accomplish the task. Then I made preparations to start on my journey to Taos.
Mr. Hughes thought that as it would be a long and tedious trip, I had better rest up a day or two before starting, but I thought that as I had to make the trip I might as well begin first as last, so Wednesday morning was set as the time for my start.
A WINTER IN NORTH PARK—RUNNING FIGHT WITH A BAND OF UTES FOR MOKE THAN A HUNDRED MILES, ENDING HAND TO HAND—VICTORY.
On the day set for my departure, having had our breakfast, Mr. Hughes stepped outside of the cabin, and I was just rolling up try blankets and a piece of dried venison, and Johnnie West was sympathizing with me over the long and lonesome trip that was before me, when all of a sudden Mr. Hughes came bounding into the cabin and exclaimed.
"Get your guns and knives, boys. The Indians are upon us and we must run for our lives."
Each man sprang for his gun, and by this time the Indians were in sight of the cabin and had raised the war-whoop, which, again, raised the hair on the head of your humble servant.
We made for the top of the hill, which was about one hundred and fifty yards from the cabin, and slopped The Indians were by this time at the cabin. Johnnie West counted them and said there were twenty-seven all told.
We each fired a shot among them, but could not tell whether we killed any of them or not. We then started on the run, loading our guns as we ran, the Indians in hot pursuit of us.
After running about two miles, Johnnie West proposed that we make a stand. We stopped on a little ridge, and did not have to wait long until the Indians were in gun-shot of us.
"Now, Willie," said Mr. Hughes, "don't get excited and shoot too quick, but take good aim and be sure that you get your Indian."
As they came up, each of us selected our Indian, fired and each got his man. In a moment the smoke from our guns had cleared away, and the whole band being in sight, Mr. Hughes said:
"Let's run for our lives. There are too many of them for us." And run we did, loading as we flew.
We ran about five miles and made another stand, but not with the same success as before, for we only got one Indian.
We had a running fight all that day and made three or four stands, but could not tell how many Indians we killed, for we would fire at them and then load our guns on the run. They having nothing but loose arrows and tomahawks, we could easily keep out of danger. But they figured on running us down.
That evening near sundown, Mr. Hughes asked me, as I was a little faster on foot than the rest, to drop back far enough to count them, which I did, and found there were eleven of them still in pursuit of us.
When they saw me behind the other two they started the war-whoop and did their best to overtake me, no doubt thinking I was tired out and that the other two had left me. But they were disappointed when I ran on and overtook my friends.
We were now in sight of a large body of timber, and Mr. Hughes thought that if we could reach that by dark we might be able to dodge the Indians and get away from them.
We reached the timber just at dark and tried very hard to dodge our pursuers, but it seemed as though they could scent us like blood-hounds, for we would no more than get stopped and lie down to rest, when they would be upon us.
A number of times during the night we would build up a fire and then go a hundred yards or so from it and lie down to rest, but the redskinned devils kept close to us, and, consequently, we got but little rest during the night.
The following morning we left the timber and took to the prairie. After running some four miles we looked back and saw four Indians very near to us and gaining at every step. Johnnie West proposed that we stop and accommodate them, saying that he felt hungry and tired enough to fight any two Indians in the band. So each man selected his Indian and fired, and we succeeded in killing two of them; the remaining two hid behind some big rocks until the others came up and, again we were compelled to flee.
We ran for about two hours, when we stopped and made another fight and killed two more Indians. This was kept up until late in the afternoon, which made two days and one night that we had been chased by these savages, with not a bite to eat during the whole time, and we were getting so tired that we could scarcely raise the trot.