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The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman, Jr.

Part 2 out of 7

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"Delorier," said I, "would you run away if the Pawnees should fire at

"Ah! oui, oui, monsieur!" he replied very decisively.

I did not doubt the fact, but was a little surprised at the frankness
of the confession.

At this instant a most whimsical variety of voices--barks, howls,
yelps, and whines--all mingled as it were together, sounded from the
prairie, not far off, as if a whole conclave of wolves of every age
and sex were assembled there. Delorier looked up from his work with
a laugh, and began to imitate this curious medley of sounds with a
most ludicrous accuracy. At this they were repeated with redoubled
emphasis, the musician being apparently indignant at the successful
efforts of a rival. They all proceeded from the throat of one little
wolf, not larger than a spaniel, seated by himself at some distance.
He was of the species called the prairie wolf; a grim-visaged, but
harmless little brute, whose worst propensity is creeping among
horses and gnawing the ropes of raw hide by which they are picketed
around the camp. But other beasts roam the prairies, far more
formidable in aspect and in character. These are the large white and
gray wolves, whose deep howl we heard at intervals from far and near.

At last I fell into a doze, and, awakening from it, found Delorier
fast asleep. Scandalized by this breach of discipline, I was about
to stimulate his vigilance by stirring him with the stock of my
rifle; but compassion prevailing, I determined to let him sleep
awhile, and then to arouse him, and administer a suitable reproof for
such a forgetfulness of duty. Now and then I walked the rounds among
the silent horses, to see that all was right. The night was chill,
damp, and dark, the dank grass bending under the icy dewdrops. At
the distance of a rod or two the tents were invisible, and nothing
could be seen but the obscure figures of the horses, deeply
breathing, and restlessly starting as they slept, or still slowly
champing the grass. Far off, beyond the black outline of the
prairie, there was a ruddy light, gradually increasing, like the glow
of a conflagration; until at length the broad disk of the moon,
blood-red, and vastly magnified by the vapors, rose slowly upon the
darkness, flecked by one or two little clouds, and as the light
poured over the gloomy plain, a fierce and stern howl, close at hand,
seemed to greet it as an unwelcome intruder. There was something
impressive and awful in the place and the hour; for I and the beasts
were all that had consciousness for many a league around.

Some days elapsed, and brought us near the Platte. Two men on
horseback approached us one morning, and we watched them with the
curiosity and interest that, upon the solitude of the plains, such an
encounter always excites. They were evidently whites, from their
mode of riding, though, contrary to the usage of that region, neither
of them carried a rifle.

"Fools!" remarked Henry Chatillon, "to ride that way on the prairie;
Pawnee find them--then they catch it!"

Pawnee HAD found them, and they had come very near "catching it";
indeed, nothing saved them from trouble but the approach of our
party. Shaw and I knew one of them; a man named Turner, whom we had
seen at Westport. He and his companion belonged to an emigrant party
encamped a few miles in advance, and had returned to look for some
stray oxen, leaving their rifles, with characteristic rashness or
ignorance behind them. Their neglect had nearly cost them dear; for
just before we came up, half a dozen Indians approached, and seeing
them apparently defenseless, one of the rascals seized the bridle of
Turner's fine horse, and ordered him to dismount. Turner was wholly
unarmed; but the other jerked a little revolving pistol out of his
pocket, at which the Pawnee recoiled; and just then some of our men
appearing in the distance, the whole party whipped their rugged
little horses, and made off. In no way daunted, Turner foolishly
persisted in going forward.

Long after leaving him, and late this afternoon, in the midst of a
gloomy and barren prairie, we came suddenly upon the great Pawnee
trail, leading from their villages on the Platte to their war and
hunting grounds to the southward. Here every summer pass the motley
concourse; thousands of savages, men, women, and children, horses and
mules, laden with their weapons and implements, and an innumerable
multitude of unruly wolfish dogs, who have not acquired the civilized
accomplishment of barking, but howl like their wild cousins of the

The permanent winter villages of the Pawnees stand on the lower
Platte, but throughout the summer the greater part of the inhabitants
are wandering over the plains, a treacherous cowardly banditti, who
by a thousand acts of pillage and murder have deserved summary
chastisement at the hands of government. Last year a Dakota warrior
performed a signal exploit at one of these villages. He approached
it alone in the middle of a dark night, and clambering up the outside
of one of the lodges which are in the form of a half-sphere, he
looked in at the round hole made at the top for the escape of smoke.
The dusky light from the smoldering embers showed him the forms of
the sleeping inmates; and dropping lightly through the opening, he
unsheathed his knife, and stirring the fire coolly selected his
victims. One by one he stabbed and scalped them, when a child
suddenly awoke and screamed. He rushed from the lodge, yelled a
Sioux war-cry, shouted his name in triumph and defiance, and in a
moment had darted out upon the dark prairie, leaving the whole
village behind him in a tumult, with the howling and baying of dogs,
the screams of women and the yells of the enraged warriors.

Our friend Kearsley, as we learned on rejoining him, signalized
himself by a less bloody achievement. He and his men were good
woodsmen, and well skilled in the use of the rifle, but found
themselves wholly out of their element on the prairie. None of them
had ever seen a buffalo and they had very vague conceptions of his
nature and appearance. On the day after they reached the Platte,
looking toward a distant swell, they beheld a multitude of little
black specks in motion upon its surface.

"Take your rifles, boys," said Kearslcy, "and we'll have fresh meat
for supper." This inducement was quite sufficient. The ten men left
their wagons and set out in hot haste, some on horseback and some on
foot, in pursuit of the supposed buffalo. Meanwhile a high grassy
ridge shut the game from view; but mounting it after half an hour's
running and riding, they found themselves suddenly confronted by
about thirty mounted Pawnees! The amazement and consternation were
mutual. Having nothing but their bows and arrows, the Indians
thought their hour was come, and the fate that they were no doubt
conscious of richly deserving about to overtake them. So they began,
one and all, to shout forth the most cordial salutations of
friendship, running up with extreme earnestness to shake hands with
the Missourians, who were as much rejoiced as they were to escape the
expected conflict.

A low undulating line of sand-hills bounded the horizon before us.
That day we rode ten consecutive hours, and it was dusk before we
entered the hollows and gorges of these gloomy little hills. At
length we gained the summit, and the long expected valley of the
Platte lay before us. We all drew rein, and, gathering in a knot on
the crest of the hill, sat joyfully looking down upon the prospect.
It was right welcome; strange too, and striking to the imagination,
and yet it had not one picturesque or beautiful feature; nor had it
any of the features of grandeur, other than its vast extent, its
solitude, and its wilderness. For league after league a plain as
level as a frozen lake was outspread beneath us; here and there the
Platte, divided into a dozen threadlike sluices, was traversing it,
and an occasional clump of wood, rising in the midst like a shadowy
island, relieved the monotony of the waste. No living thing was
moving throughout the vast landscape, except the lizards that darted
over the sand and through the rank grass and prickly-pear just at our
feet. And yet stern and wild associations gave a singular interest
to the view; for here each man lives by the strength of his arm and
the valor of his heart. Here society is reduced to its original
elements, the whole fabric of art and conventionality is struck
rudely to pieces, and men find themselves suddenly brought back to
the wants and resources of their original natures.

We had passed the more toilsome and monotonous part of the journey;
but four hundred miles still intervened between us and Fort Laramie;
and to reach that point cost us the travel of three additional weeks.
During the whole of this time we were passing up the center of a long
narrow sandy plain, reaching like an outstretched belt nearly to the
Rocky Mountains. Two lines of sand-hills, broken often into the
wildest and most fantastic forms, flanked the valley at the distance
of a mile or two on the right and left; while beyond them lay a
barren, trackless waste--The Great American Desert--extending for
hundreds of miles to the Arkansas on the one side, and the Missouri
on the other. Before us and behind us, the level monotony of the
plain was unbroken as far as the eye could reach. Sometimes it
glared in the sun, an expanse of hot, bare sand; sometimes it was
veiled by long coarse grass. Huge skulls and whitening bones of
buffalo were scattered everywhere; the ground was tracked by myriads
of them, and often covered with the circular indentations where the
bulls had wallowed in the hot weather. From every gorge and ravine,
opening from the hills, descended deep, well-worn paths, where the
buffalo issue twice a day in regular procession down to drink in the
Platte. The river itself runs through the midst, a thin sheet of
rapid, turbid water, half a mile wide, and scarce two feet deep. Its
low banks for the most part without a bush or a tree, are of loose
sand, with which the stream is so charged that it grates on the teeth
in drinking. The naked landscape is, of itself, dreary and
monotonous enough, and yet the wild beasts and wild men that frequent
the valley of the Platte make it a scene of interest and excitement
to the traveler. Of those who have journeyed there, scarce one,
perhaps, fails to look back with fond regret to his horse and his

Early in the morning after we reached the Platte, a long procession
of squalid savages approached our camp. Each was on foot, leading
his horse by a rope of bull-hide. His attire consisted merely of a
scanty cincture and an old buffalo robe, tattered and begrimed by
use, which hung over his shoulders. His head was close shaven,
except a ridge of hair reaching over the crown from the center of the
forehead, very much like the long bristles on the back of a hyena,
and he carried his bow and arrows in his hand, while his meager
little horse was laden with dried buffalo meat, the produce of his
hunting. Such were the first specimens that we met--and very
indifferent ones they were--of the genuine savages of the prairie.

They were the Pawnees whom Kearsley had encountered the day before,
and belonged to a large hunting party known to be ranging the prairie
in the vicinity. They strode rapidly past, within a furlong of our
tents, not pausing or looking toward us, after the manner of Indians
when meditating mischief or conscious of ill-desert. I went out and
met them; and had an amicable conference with the chief, presenting
him with half a pound of tobacco, at which unmerited bounty he
expressed much gratification. These fellows, or some of their
companions had committed a dastardly outrage upon an emigrant party
in advance of us. Two men, out on horseback at a distance, were
seized by them, but lashing their horses, they broke loose and fled.
At this the Pawnees raised the yell and shot at them, transfixing the
hindermost through the back with several arrows, while his companion
galloped away and brought in the news to his party. The panic-
stricken emigrants remained for several days in camp, not daring even
to send out in quest of the dead body.

The reader will recollect Turner, the man whose narrow escape was
mentioned not long since. We heard that the men, whom the entreaties
of his wife induced to go in search of him, found him leisurely
driving along his recovered oxen, and whistling in utter contempt of
the Pawnee nation. His party was encamped within two miles of us;
but we passed them that morning, while the men were driving in the
oxen, and the women packing their domestic utensils and their
numerous offspring in the spacious patriarchal wagons. As we looked
back we saw their caravan dragging its slow length along the plain;
wearily toiling on its way, to found new empires in the West.

Our New England climate is mild and equable compared with that of the
Platte. This very morning, for instance, was close and sultry, the
sun rising with a faint oppressive heat; when suddenly darkness
gathered in the west, and a furious blast of sleet and hail drove
full in our faces, icy cold, and urged with such demoniac vehemence
that it felt like a storm of needles. It was curious to see the
horses; they faced about in extreme displeasure, holding their tails
like whipped dogs, and shivering as the angry gusts, howling louder
than a concert of wolves, swept over us. Wright's long train of
mules came sweeping round before the storm like a flight of brown
snowbirds driven by a winter tempest. Thus we all remained
stationary for some minutes, crouching close to our horses' necks,
much too surly to speak, though once the captain looked up from
between the collars of his coat, his face blood-red, and the muscles
of his mouth contracted by the cold into a most ludicrous grin of
agony. He grumbled something that sounded like a curse, directed as
we believed, against the unhappy hour when he had first thought of
leaving home. The thing was too good to last long; and the instant
the puffs of wind subsided we erected our tents, and remained in camp
for the rest of a gloomy and lowering day. The emigrants also
encamped near at hand. We, being first on the ground, had
appropriated all the wood within reach; so that our fire alone blazed
cheerfully. Around it soon gathered a group of uncouth figures,
shivering in the drizzling rain. Conspicuous among them were two or
three of the half-savage men who spend their reckless lives in
trapping among the Rocky Mountains, or in trading for the Fur Company
in the Indian villages. They were all of Canadian extraction; their
hard, weather-beaten faces and bushy mustaches looked out from
beneath the hoods of their white capotes with a bad and brutish
expression, as if their owner might be the willing agent of any
villainy. And such in fact is the character of many of these men.

On the day following we overtook Kearsley's wagons, and
thenceforward, for a week or two, we were fellow-travelers. One good
effect, at least, resulted from the alliance; it materially
diminished the serious fatigue of standing guard; for the party being
now more numerous, there were longer intervals between each man's
turns of duty.



Four days on the Platte, and yet no buffalo! Last year's signs of
them were provokingly abundant; and wood being extremely scarce, we
found an admirable substitute in bois de vache, which burns exactly
like peat, producing no unpleasant effects. The wagons one morning
had left the camp; Shaw and I were already on horseback, but Henry
Chatillon still sat cross-legged by the dead embers of the fire,
playing pensively with the lock of his rifle, while his sturdy
Wyandotte pony stood quietly behind him, looking over his head. At
last he got up, patted the neck of the pony (whom, from an
exaggerated appreciation of his merits, he had christened "Five
Hundred Dollar"), and then mounted with a melancholy air.

"What is it, Henry?"

"Ah, I feel lonesome; I never been here before; but I see away yonder
over the buttes, and down there on the prairie, black--all black with

In the afternoon he and I left the party in search of an antelope;
until at the distance of a mile or two on the right, the tall white
wagons and the little black specks of horsemen were just visible, so
slowly advancing that they seemed motionless; and far on the left
rose the broken line of scorched, desolate sand-hills. The vast
plain waved with tall rank grass that swept our horses' bellies; it
swayed to and fro in billows with the light breeze, and far and near
antelope and wolves were moving through it, the hairy backs of the
latter alternately appearing and disappearing as they bounded
awkwardly along; while the antelope, with the simple curiosity
peculiar to them, would often approach as closely, their little horns
and white throats just visible above the grass tops, as they gazed
eagerly at us with their round black eyes.

I dismounted, and amused myself with firing at the wolves. Henry
attentively scrutinized the surrounding landscape; at length he gave
a shout, and called on me to mount again, pointing in the direction
of the sand-hills. A mile and a half from us, two minute black
specks slowly traversed the face of one of the bare glaring
declivities, and disappeared behind the summit. "Let us go!" cried
Henry, belaboring the sides of Five Hundred Dollar; and I following
in his wake, we galloped rapidly through the rank grass toward the
base of the hills.

From one of their openings descended a deep ravine, widening as it
issued on the prairie. We entered it, and galloping up, in a moment
were surrounded by the bleak sand-hills. Half of their steep sides
were bare; the rest were scantily clothed with clumps of grass, and
various uncouth plants, conspicuous among which appeared the reptile-
like prickly-pear. They were gashed with numberless ravines; and as
the sky had suddenly darkened, and a cold gusty wind arisen, the
strange shrubs and the dreary hills looked doubly wild and desolate.
But Henry's face was all eagerness. He tore off a little hair from
the piece of buffalo robe under his saddle, and threw it up, to show
the course of the wind. It blew directly before us. The game were
therefore to windward, and it was necessary to make our best speed to
get around them.

We scrambled from this ravine, and galloping away through the
hollows, soon found another, winding like a snake among the hills,
and so deep that it completely concealed us. We rode up the bottom
of it, glancing through the shrubbery at its edge, till Henry
abruptly jerked his rein, and slid out of his saddle. Full a quarter
of a mile distant, on the outline of the farthest hill, a long
procession of buffalo were walking, in Indian file, with the utmost
gravity and deliberation; then more appeared, clambering from a
hollow not far off, and ascending, one behind the other, the grassy
slope of another hill; then a shaggy head and a pair of short broken
horns appeared issuing out of a ravine close at hand, and with a
slow, stately step, one by one, the enormous brutes came into view,
taking their way across the valley, wholly unconscious of an enemy.
In a moment Henry was worming his way, lying flat on the ground,
through grass and prickly-pears, toward his unsuspecting victims. He
had with him both my rifle and his own. He was soon out of sight,
and still the buffalo kept issuing into the valley. For a long time
all was silent. I sat holding his horse, and wondering what he was
about, when suddenly, in rapid succession, came the sharp reports of
the two rifles, and the whole line of buffalo, quickening their pace
into a clumsy trot, gradually disappeared over the ridge of the hill.
Henry rose to his feet, and stood looking after them.

"You have missed them," said I.

"Yes," said Henry; "let us go." He descended into the ravine, loaded
the rifles, and mounted his horse.

We rode up the hill after the buffalo. The herd was out of sight
when we reached the top, but lying on the grass not far off, was one
quite lifeless, and another violently struggling in the death agony.

"You see I miss him!" remarked Henry. He had fired from a distance
of more than a hundred and fifty yards, and both balls had passed
through the lungs--the true mark in shooting buffalo.

The darkness increased, and a driving storm came on. Tying our
horses to the horns of the victims, Henry began the bloody work of
dissection, slashing away with the science of a connoisseur, while I
vainly endeavored to imitate him. Old Hendrick recoiled with horror
and indignation when I endeavored to tie the meat to the strings of
raw hide, always carried for this purpose, dangling at the back of
the saddle. After some difficulty we overcame his scruples; and
heavily burdened with the more eligible portions of the buffalo, we
set out on our return. Scarcely had we emerged from the labyrinth of
gorges and ravines, and issued upon the open prairie, when the
pricking sleet came driving, gust upon gust, directly in our faces.
It was strangely dark, though wanting still an hour of sunset. The
freezing storm soon penetrated to the skin, but the uneasy trot of
our heavy-gaited horses kept us warm enough, as we forced them
unwillingly in the teeth of the sleet and rain, by the powerful
suasion of our Indian whips. The prairie in this place was hard and
level. A flourishing colony of prairie dogs had burrowed into it in
every direction, and the little mounds of fresh earth around their
holes were about as numerous as the hills in a cornfield; but not a
yelp was to be heard; not the nose of a single citizen was visible;
all had retired to the depths of their burrows, and we envied them
their dry and comfortable habitations. An hour's hard riding showed
us our tent dimly looming through the storm, one side puffed out by
the force of the wind, and the other collapsed in proportion, while
the disconsolate horses stood shivering close around, and the wind
kept up a dismal whistling in the boughs of three old half-dead trees
above. Shaw, like a patriarch, sat on his saddle in the entrance,
with a pipe in his mouth, and his arms folded, contemplating, with
cool satisfaction, the piles of meat that we flung on the ground
before him. A dark and dreary night succeeded; but the sun rose with
heat so sultry and languid that the captain excused himself on that
account from waylaying an old buffalo bull, who with stupid gravity
was walking over the prairie to drink at the river. So much for the
climate of the Platte!

But it was not the weather alone that had produced this sudden
abatement of the sportsmanlike zeal which the captain had always
professed. He had been out on the afternoon before, together with
several members of his party; but their hunting was attended with no
other result than the loss of one of their best horses, severely
injured by Sorel, in vainly chasing a wounded bull. The captain,
whose ideas of hard riding were all derived from transatlantic
sources, expressed the utmost amazement at the feats of Sorel, who
went leaping ravines, and dashing at full speed up and down the sides
of precipitous hills, lashing his horse with the recklessness of a
Rocky Mountain rider. Unfortunately for the poor animal he was the
property of R., against whom Sorel entertained an unbounded aversion.
The captain himself, it seemed, had also attempted to "run" a
buffalo, but though a good and practiced horseman, he had soon given
over the attempt, being astonished and utterly disgusted at the
nature of the ground he was required to ride over.

Nothing unusual occurred on that day; but on the following morning
Henry Chatillon, looking over the oceanlike expanse, saw near the
foot of the distant hills something that looked like a band of
buffalo. He was not sure, he said, but at all events, if they were
buffalo, there was a fine chance for a race. Shaw and I at once
determined to try the speed of our horses.

"Come, captain; we'll see which can ride hardest, a Yankee or an

But the captain maintained a grave and austere countenance. He
mounted his led horse, however, though very slowly; and we set out at
a trot. The game appeared about three miles distant. As we
proceeded the captain made various remarks of doubt and indecision;
and at length declared he would have nothing to do with such a
breakneck business; protesting that he had ridden plenty of steeple-
chases in his day, but he never knew what riding was till he found
himself behind a band of buffalo day before yesterday. "I am
convinced," said the captain, "that, 'running' is out of the
question.* Take my advice now and don't attempt it. It's dangerous,
and of no use at all."

*The method of hunting called "running" consists in attacking the
buffalo on horseback and shooting him with bullets or arrows when at
full-speed. In "approaching," the hunter conceals himself and crawls
on the ground toward the game, or lies in wait to kill them.

"Then why did you come out with us? What do you mean to do?"

"I shall 'approach,'" replied the captain.

"You don't mean to 'approach' with your pistols, do you? We have all
of us left our rifles in the wagons."

The captain seemed staggered at the suggestion. In his
characteristic indecision, at setting out, pistols, rifles, "running"
and "approaching" were mingled in an inextricable medley in his
brain. He trotted on in silence between us for a while; but at
length he dropped behind and slowly walked his horse back to rejoin
the party. Shaw and I kept on; when lo! as we advanced, the band of
buffalo were transformed into certain clumps of tall bushes, dotting
the prairie for a considerable distance. At this ludicrous
termination of our chase, we followed the example of our late ally,
and turned back toward the party. We were skirting the brink of a
deep ravine, when we saw Henry and the broad-chested pony coming
toward us at a gallop.

"Here's old Papin and Frederic, down from Fort Laramie!" shouted
Henry, long before he came up. We had for some days expected this
encounter. Papin was the bourgeois of Fort Laramie. He had come
down the river with the buffalo robes and the beaver, the produce of
the last winter's trading. I had among our baggage a letter which I
wished to commit to their hands; so requesting Henry to detain the
boats if he could until my return, I set out after the wagons. They
were about four miles in advance. In half an hour I overtook them,
got the letter, trotted back upon the trail, and looking carefully,
as I rode, saw a patch of broken, storm-blasted trees, and moving
near them some little black specks like men and horses. Arriving at
the place, I found a strange assembly. The boats, eleven in number,
deep-laden with the skins, hugged close to the shore, to escape being
borne down by the swift current. The rowers, swarthy ignoble
Mexicans, turned their brutish faces upward to look, as I reached the
bank. Papin sat in the middle of one of the boats upon the canvas
covering that protected the robes. He was a stout, robust fellow,
with a little gray eye, that had a peculiarly sly twinkle.
"Frederic" also stretched his tall rawboned proportions close by the
bourgeois, and "mountain-men" completed the group; some lounging in
the boats, some strolling on shore; some attired in gayly painted
buffalo robes, like Indian dandies; some with hair saturated with red
paint, and beplastered with glue to their temples; and one bedaubed
with vermilion upon his forehead and each cheek. They were a mongrel
race; yet the French blood seemed to predominate; in a few, indeed,
might be seen the black snaky eye of the Indian half-breed, and one
and all, they seemed to aim at assimilating themselves to their
savage associates.

I shook hands with the bourgeois, and delivered the letter; then the
boats swung round into the stream and floated away. They had reason
for haste, for already the voyage from Fort Laramie had occupied a
full month, and the river was growing daily more shallow. Fifty
times a day the boats had been aground, indeed; those who navigate
the Platte invariably spend half their time upon sand-bars. Two of
these boats, the property of private traders, afterward separating
from the rest, got hopelessly involved in the shallows, not very far
from the Pawnee villages, and were soon surrounded by a swarm of the
inhabitants. They carried off everything that they considered
valuable, including most of the robes; and amused themselves by tying
up the men left on guard and soundly whipping them with sticks.

We encamped that night upon the bank of the river. Among the
emigrants there was an overgrown boy, some eighteen years old, with a
head as round and about as large as a pumpkin, and fever-and-ague
fits had dyed his face of a corresponding color. He wore an old
white hat, tied under his chin with a handkerchief; his body was
short and stout, but his legs of disproportioned and appalling
length. I observed him at sunset, breasting the hill with gigantic
strides, and standing against the sky on the summit, like a colossal
pair of tongs. In a moment after we heard him screaming frantically
behind the ridge, and nothing doubting that he was in the clutches of
Indians or grizzly bears, some of the party caught up their rifles
and ran to the rescue. His outcries, however, proved but an
ebullition of joyous excitement; he had chased two little wolf pups
to their burrow, and he was on his knees, grubbing away like a dog at
the mouth of the hole, to get at them.

Before morning he caused more serious disquiet in the camp. It was
his turn to hold the middle guard; but no sooner was he called up,
than he coolly arranged a pair of saddle-bags under a wagon, laid his
head upon them, closed his eyes, opened his mouth and fell asleep.
The guard on our side of the camp, thinking it no part of his duty to
look after the cattle of the emigrants, contented himself with
watching our own horses and mules; the wolves, he said, were
unusually noisy; but still no mischief was anticipated until the sun
rose, and not a hoof or horn was in sight! The cattle were gone!
While Tom was quietly slumbering, the wolves had driven them away.

Then we reaped the fruits of R.'s precious plan of traveling in
company with emigrants. To leave them in their distress was not to
be thought of, and we felt bound to wait until the cattle could be
searched for, and, if possible, recovered. But the reader may be
curious to know what punishment awaited the faithless Tom. By the
wholesome law of the prairie, he who falls asleep on guard is
condemned to walk all day leading his horse by the bridle, and we
found much fault with our companions for not enforcing such a
sentence on the offender. Nevertheless had he been of our party, I
have no doubt he would in like manner have escaped scot-free. But
the emigrants went farther than mere forebearance; they decreed that
since Tom couldn't stand guard without falling asleep, he shouldn't
stand guard at all, and henceforward his slumbers were unbroken.
Establishing such a premium on drowsiness could have no very
beneficial effect upon the vigilance of our sentinels; for it is far
from agreeable, after riding from sunrise to sunset, to feel your
slumbers interrupted by the butt of a rifle nudging your side, and a
sleepy voice growling in your ear that you must get up, to shiver and
freeze for three weary hours at midnight.

"Buffalo! buffalo!" It was but a grim old bull, roaming the prairie
by himself in misanthropic seclusion; but there might be more behind
the hills. Dreading the monotony and languor of the camp, Shaw and I
saddled our horses, buckled our holsters in their places, and set out
with Henry Chatillon in search of the game. Henry, not intending to
take part in the chase, but merely conducting us, carried his rifle
with him, while we left ours behind as incumbrances. We rode for
some five or six miles, and saw no living thing but wolves, snakes,
and prairie dogs.

"This won't do at all," said Shaw.

"What won't do?"

"There's no wood about here to make a litter for the wounded man; I
have an idea that one of us will need something of the sort before
the day is over."

There was some foundation for such an apprehension, for the ground
was none of the best for a race, and grew worse continually as we
proceeded; indeed it soon became desperately bad, consisting of
abrupt hills and deep hollows, cut by frequent ravines not easy to
pass. At length, a mile in advance, we saw a band of bulls. Some
were scattered grazing over a green declivity, while the rest were
crowded more densely together in the wide hollow below. Making a
circuit to keep out of sight, we rode toward them until we ascended a
hill within a furlong of them, beyond which nothing intervened that
could possibly screen us from their view. We dismounted behind the
ridge just out of sight, drew our saddle-girths, examined our
pistols, and mounting again rode over the hill, and descended at a
canter toward them, bending close to our horses' necks. Instantly
they took the alarm; those on the hill descended; those below
gathered into a mass, and the whole got in motion, shouldering each
other along at a clumsy gallop. We followed, spurring our horses to
full speed; and as the herd rushed, crowding and trampling in terror
through an opening in the hills, we were close at their heels, half
suffocated by the clouds of dust. But as we drew near, their alarm
and speed increased; our horses showed signs of the utmost fear,
bounding violently aside as we approached, and refusing to enter
among the herd. The buffalo now broke into several small bodies,
scampering over the hills in different directions, and I lost sight
of Shaw; neither of us knew where the other had gone. Old Pontiac
ran like a frantic elephant up hill and down hill, his ponderous
hoofs striking the prairie like sledge-hammers. He showed a curious
mixture of eagerness and terror, straining to overtake the panic-
stricken herd, but constantly recoiling in dismay as we drew near.
The fugitives, indeed, offered no very attractive spectacle, with
their enormous size and weight, their shaggy manes and the tattered
remnants of their last winter's hair covering their backs in
irregular shreds and patches, and flying off in the wind as they ran.
At length I urged my horse close behind a bull, and after trying in
vain, by blows and spurring, to bring him alongside, I shot a bullet
into the buffalo from this disadvantageous position. At the report,
Pontiac swerved so much that I was again thrown a little behind the
game. The bullet, entering too much in the rear, failed to disable
the bull, for a buffalo requires to be shot at particular points, or
he will certainly escape. The herd ran up a hill, and I followed in
pursuit. As Pontiac rushed headlong down on the other side, I saw
Shaw and Henry descending the hollow on the right, at a leisurely
gallop; and in front, the buffalo were just disappearing behind the
crest of the next hill, their short tails erect, and their hoofs
twinkling through a cloud of dust.

At that moment, I heard Shaw and Henry shouting to me; but the
muscles of a stronger arm than mine could not have checked at once
the furious course of Pontiac, whose mouth was as insensible as
leather. Added to this, I rode him that morning with a common
snaffle, having the day before, for the benefit of my other horse,
unbuckled from my bridle the curb which I ordinarily used. A
stronger and hardier brute never trod the prairie; but the novel
sight of the buffalo filled him with terror, and when at full speed
he was almost incontrollable. Gaining the top of the ridge, I saw
nothing of the buffalo; they had all vanished amid the intricacies of
the hills and hollows. Reloading my pistols, in the best way I
could, I galloped on until I saw them again scuttling along at the
base of the hill, their panic somewhat abated. Down went old Pontiac
among them, scattering them to the right and left, and then we had
another long chase. About a dozen bulls were before us, scouring
over the hills, rushing down the declivities with tremendous weight
and impetuosity, and then laboring with a weary gallop upward. Still
Pontiac, in spite of spurring and beating, would not close with them.
One bull at length fell a little behind the rest, and by dint of much
effort I urged my horse within six or eight yards of his side. His
back was darkened with sweat; he was panting heavily, while his
tongue lolled out a foot from his jaws. Gradually I came up abreast
of him, urging Pontiac with leg and rein nearer to his side, then
suddenly he did what buffalo in such circumstances will always do; he
slackened his gallop, and turning toward us, with an aspect of
mingled rage and distress, lowered his huge shaggy head for a charge.
Pontiac with a snort, leaped aside in terror, nearly throwing me to
the ground, as I was wholly unprepared for such an evolution. I
raised my pistol in a passion to strike him on the head, but thinking
better of it fired the bullet after the bull, who had resumed his
flight, then drew rein and determined to rejoin my companions. It
was high time. The breath blew hard from Pontiac's nostrils, and the
sweat rolled in big drops down his sides; I myself felt as if
drenched in warm water. Pledging myself (and I redeemed the pledge)
to take my revenge at a future opportunity, I looked round for some
indications to show me where I was, and what course I ought to
pursue; I might as well have looked for landmarks in the midst of the
ocean. How many miles I had run or in what direction, I had no idea;
and around me the prairie was rolling in steep swells and pitches,
without a single distinctive feature to guide me. I had a little
compass hung at my neck; and ignorant that the Platte at this point
diverged considerably from its easterly course, I thought that by
keeping to the northward I should certainly reach it. So I turned
and rode about two hours in that direction. The prairie changed as I
advanced, softening away into easier undulations, but nothing like
the Platte appeared, nor any sign of a human being; the same wild
endless expanse lay around me still; and to all appearance I was as
far from my object as ever. I began now to consider myself in danger
of being lost; and therefore, reining in my horse, summoned the
scanty share of woodcraft that I possessed (if that term he
applicable upon the prairie) to extricate me. Looking round, it
occurred to me that the buffalo might prove my best guides. I soon
found one of the paths made by them in their passage to the river; it
ran nearly at right angles to my course; but turning my horse's head
in the direction it indicated, his freer gait and erected ears
assured me that I was right.

But in the meantime my ride had been by no means a solitary one. The
whole face of the country was dotted far and wide with countless
hundreds of buffalo. They trooped along in files and columns, bulls
cows, and calves, on the green faces of the declivities in front.
They scrambled away over the hills to the right and left; and far
off, the pale blue swells in the extreme distance were dotted with
innumerable specks. Sometimes I surprised shaggy old bulls grazing
alone, or sleeping behind the ridges I ascended. They would leap up
at my approach, stare stupidly at me through their tangled manes, and
then gallop heavily away. The antelope were very numerous; and as
they are always bold when in the neighborhood of buffalo, they would
approach quite near to look at me, gazing intently with their great
round eyes, then suddenly leap aside, and stretch lightly away over
the prairie, as swiftly as a racehorse. Squalid, ruffianlike wolves
sneaked through the hollows and sandy ravines. Several times I
passed through villages of prairie dogs, who sat, each at the mouth
of his burrow, holding his paws before him in a supplicating
attitude, and yelping away most vehemently, energetically whisking
his little tail with every squeaking cry he uttered. Prairie dogs
are not fastidious in their choice of companions; various long,
checkered snakes were sunning themselves in the midst of the village,
and demure little gray owls, with a large white ring around each eye,
were perched side by side with the rightful inhabitants. The prairie
teemed with life. Again and again I looked toward the crowded
hillsides, and was sure I saw horsemen; and riding near, with a
mixture of hope and dread, for Indians were abroad, I found them
transformed into a group of buffalo. There was nothing in human
shape amid all this vast congregation of brute forms.

When I turned down the buffalo path, the prairie seemed changed; only
a wolf or two glided past at intervals, like conscious felons, never
looking to the right or left. Being now free from anxiety, I was at
leisure to observe minutely the objects around me; and here, for the
first time, I noticed insects wholly different from any of the
varieties found farther to the eastward. Gaudy butterflies fluttered
about my horse's head; strangely formed beetles, glittering with
metallic luster, were crawling upon plants that I had never seen
before; multitudes of lizards, too, were darting like lightning over
the sand.

I had run to a great distance from the river. It cost me a long ride
on the buffalo path before I saw from the ridge of a sand-hill the
pale surface of the Platte glistening in the midst of its desert
valleys, and the faint outline of the hills beyond waving along the
sky. From where I stood, not a tree nor a bush nor a living thing
was visible throughout the whole extent of the sun-scorched
landscape. In half an hour I came upon the trail, not far from the
river; and seeing that the party had not yet passed, I turned
eastward to meet them, old Pontiac's long swinging trot again
assuring me that I was right in doing so. Having been slightly ill
on leaving camp in the morning six or seven hours of rough riding had
fatigued me extremely. I soon stopped, therefore; flung my saddle on
the ground, and with my head resting on it, and my horse's trail-rope
tied loosely to my arm, lay waiting the arrival of the party,
speculating meanwhile on the extent of the injuries Pontiac had
received. At length the white wagon coverings rose from the verge of
the plain. By a singular coincidence, almost at the same moment two
horsemen appeared coming down from the hills. They were Shaw and
Henry, who had searched for me a while in the morning, but well
knowing the futility of the attempt in such a broken country, had
placed themselves on the top of the highest hill they could find, and
picketing their horses near them, as a signal to me, had laid down
and fallen asleep. The stray cattle had been recovered, as the
emigrants told us, about noon. Before sunset, we pushed forward
eight miles farther.

JUNE 7, 1846.--Four men are missing; R., Sorel and two emigrants.
They set out this morning after buffalo, and have not yet made their
appearance; whether killed or lost, we cannot tell.

I find the above in my notebook, and well remember the council held
on the occasion. Our fire was the scene of it; or the palpable
superiority of Henry Chatillon's experience and skill made him the
resort of the whole camp upon every question of difficulty. He was
molding bullets at the fire, when the captain drew near, with a
perturbed and care-worn expression of countenance, faithfully
reflected on the heavy features of Jack, who followed close behind.
Then emigrants came straggling from their wagons toward the common
center; various suggestions were made to account for the absence of
the four men, and one or two of the emigrants declared that when out
after the cattle they had seen Indians dogging them, and crawling
like wolves along the ridges of the hills. At this time the captain
slowly shook his head with double gravity, and solemnly remarked:

"It's a serious thing to be traveling through this cursed
wilderness"; an opinion in which Jack immediately expressed a
thorough coincidence. Henry would not commit himself by declaring
any positive opinion.

"Maybe he only follow the buffalo too far; maybe Indian kill him;
maybe he got lost; I cannot tell!"

With this the auditors were obliged to rest content; the emigrants,
not in the least alarmed, though curious to know what had become of
their comrades, walked back to their wagons and the captain betook
himself pensively to his tent. Shaw and I followed his example.

"It will be a bad thing for our plans," said he as we entered, "if
these fellows don't get back safe. The captain is as helpless on the
prairie as a child. We shall have to take him and his brother in
tow; they will hang on us like lead."

"The prairie is a strange place," said I. "A month ago I should have
thought it rather a startling affair to have an acquaintance ride out
in the morning and lose his scalp before night, but here it seems the
most natural thing in the world; not that I believe that R. has lost
his yet."

If a man is constitutionally liable to nervous apprehensions, a tour
on the distant prairies would prove the best prescription; for though
when in the neighborhood of the Rocky Mountains he may at times find
himself placed in circumstances of some danger, I believe that few
ever breathe that reckless atmosphere without becoming almost
indifferent to any evil chance that may befall themselves or their

Shaw had a propensity for luxurious indulgence. He spread his
blanket with the utmost accuracy on the ground, picked up the sticks
and stones that he thought might interfere with his comfort, adjusted
his saddle to serve as a pillow, and composed himself for his night's
rest. I had the first guard that evening; so, taking my rifle, I
went out of the tent. It was perfectly dark. A brisk wind blew down
from the hills, and the sparks from the fire were streaming over the
prairie. One of the emigrants, named Morton, was my companion; and
laying our rifles on the grass, we sat down together by the fire.
Morton was a Kentuckian, an athletic fellow, with a fine intelligent
face, and in his manners and conversation he showed the essential
characteristics of a gentleman. Our conversation turned on the
pioneers of his gallant native State. The three hours of our watch
dragged away at last, and we went to call up the relief.

R.'s guard succeeded mine. He was absent; but the captain, anxious
lest the camp should be left defenseless, had volunteered to stand in
his place; so I went to wake him up. There was no occasion for it,
for the captain had been awake since nightfall. A fire was blazing
outside of the tent, and by the light which struck through the
canvas, I saw him and Jack lying on their backs, with their eyes wide
open. The captain responded instantly to my call; he jumped up,
seized the double-barreled rifle, and came out of the tent with an
air of solemn determination, as if about to devote himself to the
safety of the party. I went and lay down, not doubting that for the
next three hours our slumbers would be guarded with sufficient



On the 8th of June, at eleven o'clock, we reached the South Fork of
the Platte, at the usual fording place. For league upon league the
desert uniformity of the prospect was almost unbroken; the hills were
dotted with little tufts of shriveled grass, but betwixt these the
white sand was glaring in the sun; and the channel of the river,
almost on a level with the plain, was but one great sand-bed, about
half a mile wide. It was covered with water, but so scantily that
the bottom was scarcely hidden; for, wide as it is, the average depth
of the Platte does not at this point exceed a foot and a half.
Stopping near its bank, we gathered bois de vache, and made a meal of
buffalo meat. Far off, on the other side, was a green meadow, where
we could see the white tents and wagons of an emigrant camp; and just
opposite to us we could discern a group of men and animals at the
water's edge. Four or five horsemen soon entered the river, and in
ten minutes had waded across and clambered up the loose sand-bank.
They were ill-looking fellows, thin and swarthy, with care-worn,
anxious faces and lips rigidly compressed. They had good cause for
anxiety; it was three days since they first encamped here, and on the
night of their arrival they had lost 123 of their best cattle, driven
off by the wolves, through the neglect of the man on guard. This
discouraging and alarming calamity was not the first that had
overtaken them. Since leaving the settlements, they had met with
nothing but misfortune. Some of their party had died; one man had
been killed by the Pawnees; and about a week before, they had been
plundered by the Dakotas of all their best horses, the wretched
animals on which our visitors were mounted being the only ones that
were left. They had encamped, they told us, near sunset, by the side
of the Platte, and their oxen were scattered over the meadow, while
the band of horses were feeding a little farther off. Suddenly the
ridges of the hills were alive with a swarm of mounted Indians, at
least six hundred in number, who, with a tremendous yell, came
pouring down toward the camp, rushing up within a few rods, to the
great terror of the emigrants; but suddenly wheeling, they swept
around the band of horses, and in five minutes had disappeared with
their prey through the openings of the hills.

As these emigrants were telling their story, we saw four other men
approaching. They proved to be R. and his companions, who had
encountered no mischance of any kind, but had only wandered too far
in pursuit of the game. They said they had seen no Indians, but only
"millions of buffalo"; and both R. and Sorel had meat dangling behind
their saddles.

The emigrants re-crossed the river, and we prepared to follow. First
the heavy ox-wagons plunged down the bank, and dragged slowly over
the sand-beds; sometimes the hoofs of the oxen were scarcely wetted
by the thin sheet of water; and the next moment the river would be
boiling against their sides, and eddying fiercely around the wheels.
Inch by inch they receded from the shore, dwindling every moment,
until at length they seemed to be floating far in the very middle of
the river. A more critical experiment awaited us; for our little
mule-cart was but ill-fitted for the passage of so swift a stream.
We watched it with anxiety till it seemed to be a little motionless
white speck in the midst of the waters; and it WAS motionless, for it
had stuck fast in a quicksand. The little mules were losing their
footing, the wheels were sinking deeper and deeper, and the water
began to rise through the bottom and drench the goods within. All of
us who had remained on the hither bank galloped to the rescue; the
men jumped into the water, adding their strength to that of the
mules, until by much effort the cart was extricated, and conveyed in
safety across.

As we gained the other bank, a rough group of men surrounded us.
They were not robust, nor large of frame, yet they had an aspect of
hardy endurance. Finding at home no scope for their fiery energies,
they had betaken themselves to the prairie; and in them seemed to be
revived, with redoubled force, that fierce spirit which impelled
their ancestors, scarce more lawless than themselves, from the German
forests, to inundate Europe and break to pieces the Roman empire. A
fortnight afterward this unfortunate party passed Fort Laramie, while
we were there. Not one of their missing oxen had been recovered,
though they had remained encamped a week in search of them; and they
had been compelled to abandon a great part of their baggage and
provisions, and yoke cows and heifers to their wagons to carry them
forward upon their journey, the most toilsome and hazardous part of
which lay still before them.

It is worth noticing that on the Platte one may sometimes see the
shattered wrecks of ancient claw-footed tables, well waxed and
rubbed, or massive bureaus of carved oak. These, many of them no
doubt the relics of ancestral prosperity in the colonial time, must
have encountered strange vicissitudes. Imported, perhaps, originally
from England; then, with the declining fortunes of their owners,
borne across the Alleghenies to the remote wilderness of Ohio or
Kentucky; then to Illinois or Missouri; and now at last fondly stowed
away in the family wagon for the interminable journey to Oregon. But
the stern privations of the way are little anticipated. The
cherished relic is soon flung out to scorch and crack upon the hot

We resumed our journey; but we had gone scarcely a mile, when R.
called out from the rear:

"We'll camp here."

"Why do you want to camp? Look at the sun. It is not three o'clock

"We'll camp here!"

This was the only reply vouchsafed. Delorier was in advance with his
cart. Seeing the mule-wagon wheeling from the track, he began to
turn his own team in the same direction.

"Go on, Delorier," and the little cart advanced again. As we rode
on, we soon heard the wagon of our confederates creaking and jolting
on behind us, and the driver, Wright, discharging a furious volley of
oaths against his mules; no doubt venting upon them the wrath which
he dared not direct against a more appropriate object.

Something of this sort had frequently occurred. Our English friend
was by no means partial to us, and we thought we discovered in his
conduct a deliberate intention to thwart and annoy us, especially by
retarding the movements of the party, which he knew that we, being
Yankees, were anxious to quicken. Therefore, he would insist on
encamping at all unseasonable hours, saying that fifteen miles was a
sufficient day's journey. Finding our wishes systematically
disregarded, we took the direction of affairs into our own hands.
Keeping always in advance, to the inexpressible indignation of R., we
encamped at what time and place we thought proper, not much caring
whether the rest chose to follow or not. They always did so,
however, pitching their tents near ours, with sullen and wrathful

Traveling together on these agreeable terms did not suit our tastes;
for some time we had meditated a separation. The connection with
this party had cost us various delays and inconveniences; and the
glaring want of courtesy and good sense displayed by their virtual
leader did not dispose us to bear these annoyances with much
patience. We resolved to leave camp early in the morning, and push
forward as rapidly as possible for Fort Laramie, which we hoped to
reach, by hard traveling, in four or five days. The captain soon
trotted up between us, and we explained our intentions.

"A very extraordinary proceeding, upon my word!" he remarked. Then
he began to enlarge upon the enormity of the design. The most
prominent impression in his mind evidently was that we were acting a
base and treacherous part in deserting his party, in what he
considered a very dangerous stage of the journey. To palliate the
atrocity of our conduct, we ventured to suggest that we were only
four in number while his party still included sixteen men; and as,
moreover, we were to go forward and they were to follow, at least a
full proportion of the perils he apprehended would fall upon us. But
the austerity of the captain's features would not relax. "A very
extraordinary proceeding, gentlemen!" and repeating this, he rode off
to confer with his principal.

By good luck, we found a meadow of fresh grass, and a large pool of
rain-water in the midst of it. We encamped here at sunset. Plenty
of buffalo skulls were lying around, bleaching in the sun; and
sprinkled thickly among the grass was a great variety of strange
flowers. I had nothing else to do, and so gathering a handful, I sat
down on a buffalo skull to study them. Although the offspring of a
wilderness, their texture was frail and delicate, and their colors
extremely rich; pure white, dark blue, and a transparent crimson.
One traveling in this country seldom has leisure to think of anything
but the stern features of the scenery and its accompaniments, or the
practical details of each day's journey. Like them, he and his
thoughts grow hard and rough. But now these flowers suddenly
awakened a train of associations as alien to the rude scene around me
as they were themselves; and for the moment my thoughts went back to
New England. A throng of fair and well-remembered faces rose,
vividly as life, before me. "There are good things," thought I, "in
the savage life, but what can it offer to replace those powerful and
ennobling influences that can reach unimpaired over more than three
thousand miles of mountains, forests and deserts?"

Before sunrise on the next morning our tent was down; we harnessed
our best horses to the cart and left the camp. But first we shook
hands with our friends the emigrants, who sincerely wished us a safe
journey, though some others of the party might easily have been
consoled had we encountered an Indian war party on the way. The
captain and his brother were standing on the top of a hill, wrapped
in their plaids, like spirits of the mist, keeping an anxious eye on
the band of horses below. We waved adieu to them as we rode off the
ground. The captain replied with a salutation of the utmost dignity,
which Jack tried to imitate; but being little practiced in the
gestures of polite society, his effort was not a very successful one.

In five minutes we had gained the foot of the hills, but here we came
to a stop. Old Hendrick was in the shafts, and being the very
incarnation of perverse and brutish obstinacy, he utterly refused to
move. Delorier lashed and swore till he was tired, but Hendrick
stood like a rock, grumbling to himself and looking askance at his
enemy, until he saw a favorable opportunity to take his revenge, when
he struck out under the shaft with such cool malignity of intention
that Delorier only escaped the blow by a sudden skip into the air,
such as no one but a Frenchman could achieve. Shaw and he then
joined forces, and lashed on both sides at once. The brute stood
still for a while till he could bear it no longer, when all at once
he began to kick and plunge till he threatened the utter demolition
of the cart and harness. We glanced back at the camp, which was in
full sight. Our companions, inspired by emulation, were leveling
their tents and driving in their cattle and horses.

"Take the horse out," said I.

I took the saddle from Pontiac and put it upon Hendrick; the former
was harnessed to the cart in an instant. "Avance donc!" cried
Delorier. Pontiac strode up the hill, twitching the little cart
after him as if it were a feather's weight; and though, as we gained
the top, we saw the wagons of our deserted comrades just getting into
motion, we had little fear that they could overtake us. Leaving the
trail, we struck directly across the country, and took the shortest
cut to reach the main stream of the Platte. A deep ravine suddenly
intercepted us. We skirted its sides until we found them less
abrupt, and then plunged through the best way we could. Passing
behind the sandy ravines called "Ash Hollow," we stopped for a short
nooning at the side of a pool of rain-water; but soon resumed our
journey, and some hours before sunset were descending the ravines and
gorges opening downward upon the Platte to the west of Ash Hollow.
Our horses waded to the fetlock in sand; the sun scorched like fire,
and the air swarmed with sand-flies and mosquitoes.

At last we gained the Platte. Following it for about five miles, we
saw, just as the sun was sinking, a great meadow, dotted with
hundreds of cattle, and beyond them an emigrant encampment. A party
of about a dozen came out to meet us, looking upon us at first with
cold and suspicious faces. Seeing four men, different in appearance
and equipment from themselves, emerging from the hills, they had
taken us for the van of the much-dreaded Mormons, whom they were very
apprehensive of encountering. We made known our true character, and
then they greeted us cordially. They expressed much surprise that so
small a party should venture to traverse that region, though in fact
such attempts are not unfrequently made by trappers and Indian
traders. We rode with them to their camp. The wagons, some fifty in
number, with here and there a tent intervening, were arranged as
usual in a circle; in the area within the best horses were picketed,
and the whole circumference was glowing with the dusky light of the
fires, displaying the forms of the women and children who were
crowded around them. This patriarchal scene was curious and striking
enough; but we made our escape from the place with all possible
dispatch, being tormented by the intrusive curiosity of the men who
crowded around us. Yankee curiosity was nothing to theirs. They
demanded our names, where we came from, where we were going, and what
was our business. The last query was particularly embarrassing;
since traveling in that country, or indeed anywhere, from any other
motive than gain, was an idea of which they took no cognizance. Yet
they were fine-looking fellows, with an air of frankness, generosity,
and even courtesy, having come from one of the least barbarous of the
frontier counties.

We passed about a mile beyond them, and encamped. Being too few in
number to stand guard without excessive fatigue, we extinguished our
fire, lest it should attract the notice of wandering Indians; and
picketing our horses close around us, slept undisturbed till morning.
For three days we traveled without interruption, and on the evening
of the third encamped by the well-known spring on Scott's Bluff.

Henry Chatillon and I rode out in the morning, and descending the
western side of the Bluff, were crossing the plain beyond. Something
that seemed to me a file of buffalo came into view, descending the
hills several miles before us. But Henry reined in his horse, and
keenly peering across the prairie with a better and more practiced
eye, soon discovered its real nature. "Indians!" he said. "Old
Smoke's lodges, I b'lieve. Come! let us go! Wah! get up, now, Five
Hundred Dollar!" And laying on the lash with good will, he galloped
forward, and I rode by his side. Not long after, a black speck
became visible on the prairie, full two miles off. It grew larger
and larger; it assumed the form of a man and horse; and soon we could
discern a naked Indian, careering at full gallop toward us. When
within a furlong he wheeled his horse in a wide circle, and made him
describe various mystic figures upon the prairie; and Henry
immediately compelled Five Hundred Dollar to execute similar
evolutions. "It IS Old Smoke's village," said he, interpreting these
signals; "didn't I say so?"

As the Indian approached we stopped to wait for him, when suddenly he
vanished, sinking, as it were, into the earth. He had come upon one
of the deep ravines that everywhere intersect these prairies. In an
instant the rough head of his horse stretched upward from the edge
and the rider and steed came scrambling out, and hounded up to us; a
sudden jerk of the rein brought the wild panting horse to a full
stop. Then followed the needful formality of shaking hands. I
forget our visitor's name. He was a young fellow, of no note in his
nation; yet in his person and equipments he was a good specimen of a
Dakota warrior in his ordinary traveling dress. Like most of his
people, he was nearly six feet high; lithely and gracefully, yet
strongly proportioned; and with a skin singularly clear and delicate.
He wore no paint; his head was bare; and his long hair was gathered
in a clump behind, to the top of which was attached transversely,
both by way of ornament and of talisman, the mystic whistle, made of
the wingbone of the war eagle, and endowed with various magic
virtues. From the back of his head descended a line of glittering
brass plates, tapering from the size of a doubloon to that of a half-
dime, a cumbrous ornament, in high vogue among the Dakotas, and for
which they pay the traders a most extravagant price; his chest and
arms were naked, the buffalo robe, worn over them when at rest, had
fallen about his waist, and was confined there by a belt. This, with
the gay moccasins on his feet, completed his attire. For arms he
carried a quiver of dogskin at his back, and a rude but powerful bow
in his hand. His horse had no bridle; a cord of hair, lashed around
his jaw, served in place of one. The saddle was of most singular
construction; it was made of wood covered with raw hide, and both
pommel and cantle rose perpendicularly full eighteen inches, so that
the warrior was wedged firmly in his seat, whence nothing could
dislodge him but the bursting of the girths.

Advancing with our new companion, we found more of his people seated
in a circle on the top of a hill; while a rude procession came
straggling down the neighboring hollow, men, women, and children,
with horses dragging the lodge-poles behind them. All that morning,
as we moved forward, tall savages were stalking silently about us.
At noon we reached Horse Creek; and as we waded through the shallow
water, we saw a wild and striking scene. The main body of the
Indians had arrived before us. On the farther bank stood a large and
strong man, nearly naked, holding a white horse by a long cord, and
eyeing us as we approached. This was the chief, whom Henry called
"Old Smoke." Just behind him his youngest and favorite squaw sat
astride of a fine mule; it was covered with caparisons of whitened
skins, garnished with blue and white beads, and fringed with little
ornaments of metal that tinkled with every movement of the animal.
The girl had a light clear complexion, enlivened by a spot of
vermilion on each cheek; she smiled, not to say grinned, upon us,
showing two gleaming rows of white teeth. In her hand, she carried
the tall lance of her unchivalrous lord, fluttering with feathers;
his round white shield hung at the side of her mule; and his pipe was
slung at her back. Her dress was a tunic of deerskin, made
beautifully white by means of a species of clay found on the prairie,
and ornamented with beads, arrayed in figures more gay than tasteful,
and with long fringes at all the seams. Not far from the chief stood
a group of stately figures, their white buffalo robes thrown over
their shoulders, gazing coldly upon us; and in the rear, for several
acres, the ground was covered with a temporary encampment; men,
women, and children swarmed like bees; hundreds of dogs, of all sizes
and colors, ran restlessly about; and, close at hand, the wide
shallow stream was alive with boys, girls, and young squaws,
splashing, screaming, and laughing in the water. At the same time a
long train of emigrant wagons were crossing the creek, and dragging
on in their slow, heavy procession, passed the encampment of the
people whom they and their descendants, in the space of a century,
are to sweep from the face of the earth.

The encampment itself was merely a temporary one during the heat of
the day. None of the lodges were erected; but their heavy leather
coverings, and the long poles used to support them, were scattered
everywhere around, among weapons, domestic utensils, and the rude
harness of mules and horses. The squaws of each lazy warrior had
made him a shelter from the sun, by stretching a few buffalo robes,
or the corner of a lodge-covering upon poles; and here he sat in the
shade, with a favorite young squaw, perhaps, at his side, glittering
with all imaginable trinkets. Before him stood the insignia of his
rank as a warrior, his white shield of bull-hide, his medicine bag,
his bow and quiver, his lance and his pipe, raised aloft on a tripod
of three poles. Except the dogs, the most active and noisy tenants
of the camp were the old women, ugly as Macbeth's witches, with their
hair streaming loose in the wind, and nothing but the tattered
fragment of an old buffalo robe to hide their shriveled wiry limbs.
The day of their favoritism passed two generations ago; now the
heaviest labors of the camp devolved upon them; they were to harness
the horses, pitch the lodges, dress the buffalo robes, and bring in
meat for the hunters. With the cracked voices of these hags, the
clamor of dogs, the shouting and laughing of children and girls, and
the listless tranquillity of the warriors, the whole scene had an
effect too lively and picturesque ever to be forgotten.

We stopped not far from the Indian camp, and having invited some of
the chiefs and warriors to dinner, placed before them a sumptuous
repast of biscuit and coffee. Squatted in a half circle on the
ground, they soon disposed of it. As we rode forward on the
afternoon journey, several of our late guests accompanied us. Among
the rest was a huge bloated savage of more than three hundred pounds'
weight, christened La Cochon, in consideration of his preposterous
dimensions and certain corresponding traits of his character. "The
Hog" bestrode a little white pony, scarce able to bear up under the
enormous burden, though, by way of keeping up the necessary stimulus,
the rider kept both feet in constant motion, playing alternately
against his ribs. The old man was not a chief; he never had ambition
enough to become one; he was not a warrior nor a hunter, for he was
too fat and lazy: but he was the richest man in the whole village.
Riches among the Dakotas consist in horses, and of these The Hog had
accumulated more than thirty. He had already ten times as many as he
wanted, yet still his appetite for horses was insatiable. Trotting
up to me he shook me by the hand, and gave me to understand that he
was a very devoted friend; and then he began a series of most earnest
signs and gesticulations, his oily countenance radiant with smiles,
and his little eyes peeping out with a cunning twinkle from between
the masses of flesh that almost obscured them. Knowing nothing at
that time of the sign language of the Indians, I could only guess at
his meaning. So I called on Henry to explain it.

The Hog, it seems, was anxious to conclude a matrimonial bargain. He
said he had a very pretty daughter in his lodge, whom he would give
me, if I would give him my horse. These flattering overtures I chose
to reject; at which The Hog, still laughing with undiminished good
humor, gathered his robe about his shoulders, and rode away.

Where we encamped that night, an arm of the Platte ran between high
bluffs; it was turbid and swift as heretofore, but trees were growing
on its crumbling banks, and there was a nook of grass between the
water and the hill. Just before entering this place, we saw the
emigrants encamping at two or three miles' distance on the right;
while the whole Indian rabble were pouring down the neighboring hill
in hope of the same sort of entertainment which they had experienced
from us. In the savage landscape before our camp, nothing but the
rushing of the Platte broke the silence. Through the ragged boughs
of the trees, dilapidated and half dead, we saw the sun setting in
crimson behind the peaks of the Black Hills; the restless bosom of
the river was suffused with red; our white tent was tinged with it,
and the sterile bluffs, up to the rocks that crowned them, partook of
the same fiery hue. It soon passed away; no light remained, but that
from our fire, blazing high among the dusky trees and bushes. We lay
around it wrapped in our blankets, smoking and conversing until a
late hour, and then withdrew to our tent.

We crossed a sun-scorched plain on the next morning; the line of old
cotton-wood trees that fringed the bank of the Platte forming its
extreme verge. Nestled apparently close beneath them, we could
discern in the distance something like a building. As we came
nearer, it assumed form and dimensions, and proved to be a rough
structure of logs. It was a little trading fort, belonging to two
private traders; and originally intended, like all the forts of the
country, to form a hollow square, with rooms for lodging and storage
opening upon the area within. Only two sides of it had been
completed; the place was now as ill-fitted for the purposes of
defense as any of those little log-houses, which upon our constantly
shifting frontier have been so often successfully maintained against
overwhelming odds of Indians. Two lodges were pitched close to the
fort; the sun beat scorching upon the logs; no living thing was
stirring except one old squaw, who thrust her round head from the
opening of the nearest lodge, and three or four stout young pups, who
were peeping with looks of eager inquiry from under the covering. In
a moment a door opened, and a little, swarthy black-eyed Frenchman
came out. His dress was rather singular; his black curling hair was
parted in the middle of his head, and fell below his shoulders; he
wore a tight frock of smoked deerskin, very gayly ornamented with
figures worked in dyed porcupine quills. His moccasins and leggings
were also gaudily adorned in the same manner; and the latter had in
addition a line of long fringes, reaching down the seams. The small
frame of Richard, for by this name Henry made him known to us, was in
the highest degree athletic and vigorous. There was no superfluity,
and indeed there seldom is among the active white men of this
country, but every limb was compact and hard; every sinew had its
full tone and elasticity, and the whole man wore an air of mingled
hardihood and buoyancy.

Richard committed our horses to a Navahoe slave, a mean looking
fellow taken prisoner on the Mexican frontier; and, relieving us of
our rifles with ready politeness, led the way into the principal
apartment of his establishment. This was a room ten feet square.
The walls and floor were of black mud, and the roof of rough timber;
there was a huge fireplace made of four flat rocks, picked up on the
prairie. An Indian bow and otter-skin quiver, several gaudy articles
of Rocky Mountain finery, an Indian medicine bag, and a pipe and
tobacco pouch, garnished the walls, and rifles rested in a corner.
There was no furniture except a sort of rough settle covered with
buffalo robes, upon which lolled a tall half-breed, with his hair
glued in masses upon each temple, and saturated with vermilion. Two
or three more "mountain men" sat cross-legged on the floor. Their
attire was not unlike that of Richard himself; but the most striking
figure of the group was a naked Indian boy of sixteen, with a
handsome face, and light, active proportions, who sat in an easy
posture in the corner near the door. Not one of his limbs moved the
breadth of a hair; his eye was fixed immovably, not on any person
present, but, as it appeared, on the projecting corner of the
fireplace opposite to him.

On these prairies the custom of smoking with friends is seldom
omitted, whether among Indians or whites. The pipe, therefore, was
taken from the wall, and its great red bowl crammed with the tobacco
and shongsasha, mixed in suitable proportions. Then it passed round
the circle, each man inhaling a few whiffs and handing it to his
neighbor. Having spent half an hour here, we took our leave; first
inviting our new friends to drink a cup of coffee with us at our
camp, a mile farther up the river. By this time, as the reader may
conceive, we had grown rather shabby; our clothes had burst into rags
and tatters; and what was worse, we had very little means of
renovation. Fort Laramie was but seven miles before us. Being
totally averse to appearing in such plight among any society that
could boast an approximation to the civilized, we soon stopped by the
river to make our toilet in the best way we could. We hung up small
looking-glasses against the trees and shaved, an operation neglected
for six weeks; we performed our ablutions in the Platte, though the
utility of such a proceeding was questionable, the water looking
exactly like a cup of chocolate, and the banks consisting of the
softest and richest yellow mud, so that we were obliged, as a
preliminary, to build a cause-way of stout branches and twigs.
Having also put on radiant moccasins, procured from a squaw of
Richard's establishment, and made what other improvements our narrow
circumstances allowed, we took our seats on the grass with a feeling
of greatly increased respectability, to wait the arrival of our
guests. They came; the banquet was concluded, and the pipe smoked.
Bidding them adieu, we turned our horses' heads toward the fort.

An hour elapsed. The barren hills closed across our front, and we
could see no farther; until having surmounted them, a rapid stream
appeared at the foot of the descent, running into the Platte; beyond
was a green meadow, dotted with bushes, and in the midst of these, at
the point where the two rivers joined, were the low clay walls of a
fort. This was not Fort Laramie, but another post of less recent
date, which having sunk before its successful competitor was now
deserted and ruinous. A moment after the hills, seeming to draw
apart as we advanced, disclosed Fort Laramie itself, its high
bastions and perpendicular walls of clay crowning an eminence on the
left beyond the stream, while behind stretched a line of arid and
desolate ridges, and behind these again, towering aloft seven
thousand feet, arose the grim Black Hills.

We tried to ford Laramie Creek at a point nearly opposite the fort,
but the stream, swollen with the rains in the mountains, was too
rapid. We passed up along its bank to find a better crossing place.
Men gathered on the wall to look at us. "There's Bordeaux!" called
Henry, his face brightening as he recognized his acquaintance; "him
there with the spyglass; and there's old Vaskiss, and Tucker, and
May; and, by George! there's Cimoneau!" This Cimoneau was Henry's
fast friend, and the only man in the country who could rival him in

We soon found a ford. Henry led the way, the pony approaching the
bank with a countenance of cool indifference, bracing his feet and
sliding into the stream with the most unmoved composure.

At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
And the water broke o'er the saddle-bow

We followed; the water boiled against our saddles, but our horses
bore us easily through. The unfortunate little mules came near going
down with the current, cart and all; and we watched them with some
solicitude scrambling over the loose round stones at the bottom, and
bracing stoutly against the stream. All landed safely at last; we
crossed a little plain, descended a hollow, and riding up a steep
bank found ourselves before the gateway of Fort Laramie, under the
impending blockhouse erected above it to defend the entrance.



Looking back, after the expiration of a year, upon Fort Laramie and
its inmates, they seem less like a reality than like some fanciful
picture of the olden time; so different was the scene from any which
this tamer side of the world can present. Tall Indians, enveloped in
their white buffalo robes, were striding across the area or reclining
at full length on the low roofs of the buildings which inclosed it.
Numerous squaws, gayly bedizened, sat grouped in front of the
apartments they occupied; their mongrel offspring, restless and
vociferous, rambled in every direction through the fort; and the
trappers, traders, and ENGAGES of the establishment were busy at
their labor or their amusements.

We were met at the gate, but by no means cordially welcomed. Indeed,
we seemed objects of some distrust and suspicion until Henry
Chatillon explained that we were not traders, and we, in
confirmation, handed to the bourgeois a letter of introduction from
his principals. He took it, turned it upside down, and tried hard to
read it; but his literary attainments not being adequate to the task,
he applied for relief to the clerk, a sleek, smiling Frenchman, named
Montalon. The letter read, Bordeaux (the bourgeois) seemed gradually
to awaken to a sense of what was expected of him. Though not
deficient in hospitable intentions, he was wholly unaccustomed to act
as master of ceremonies. Discarding all formalities of reception, he
did not honor us with a single word, but walked swiftly across the
area, while we followed in some admiration to a railing and a flight
of steps opposite the entrance. He signed to us that we had better
fasten our horses to the railing; then he walked up the steps,
tramped along a rude balcony, and kicking open a door displayed a
large room, rather more elaborately finished than a barn. For
furniture it had a rough bedstead, but no bed; two chairs, a chest of
drawers, a tin pail to hold water, and a board to cut tobacco upon.
A brass crucifix hung on the wall, and close at hand a recent scalp,
with hair full a yard long, was suspended from a nail. I shall again
have occasion to mention this dismal trophy, its history being
connected with that of our subsequent proceedings.

This apartment, the best in Fort Laramie, was that usually occupied
by the legitimate bourgeois, Papin; in whose absence the command
devolved upon Bordeaux. The latter, a stout, bluff little fellow,
much inflated by a sense of his new authority, began to roar for
buffalo robes. These being brought and spread upon the floor formed
our beds; much better ones than we had of late been accustomed to.
Our arrangements made, we stepped out to the balcony to take a more
leisurely survey of the long looked-for haven at which we had arrived
at last. Beneath us was the square area surrounded by little rooms,
or rather cells, which opened upon it. These were devoted to various
purposes, but served chiefly for the accommodation of the men
employed at the fort, or of the equally numerous squaws, whom they
were allowed to maintain in it. Opposite to us rose the blockhouse
above the gateway; it was adorned with a figure which even now haunts
my memory; a horse at full speed, daubed upon the boards with red
paint, and exhibiting a degree of skill which might rival that
displayed by the Indians in executing similar designs upon their
robes and lodges. A busy scene was enacting in the area. The wagons
of Vaskiss, an old trader, were about to set out for a remote post in
the mountains, and the Canadians were going through their
preparations with all possible bustle, while here and there an Indian
stood looking on with imperturbable gravity.

Fort Laramie is one of the posts established by the American Fur
Company, who well-nigh monopolize the Indian trade of this whole
region. Here their officials rule with an absolute sway; the arm of
the United States has little force; for when we were there, the
extreme outposts of her troops were about seven hundred miles to the
eastward. The little fort is built of bricks dried in the sun, and
externally is of an oblong form, with bastions of clay, in the form
of ordinary blockhouses, at two of the corners. The walls are about
fifteen feet high, and surmounted by a slender palisade. The roofs
of the apartments within, which are built close against the walls,
serve the purpose of a banquette. Within, the fort is divided by a
partition; on one side is the square area surrounded by the
storerooms, offices, and apartments of the inmates; on the other is
the corral, a narrow place, encompassed by the high clay walls, where
at night, or in presence of dangerous Indians, the horses and mules
of the fort are crowded for safe-keeping. The main entrance has two
gates, with an arched passage intervening. A little square window,
quite high above the ground, opens laterally from an adjoining
chamber into this passage; so that when the inner gate is closed and
barred, a person without may still hold communication with those
within through this narrow aperture. This obviates the necessity of
admitting suspicious Indians, for purposes of trading, into the body
of the fort; for when danger is apprehended, the inner gate is shut
fast, and all traffic is carried on by means of the little window.
This precaution, though highly necessary at some of the company's
posts, is now seldom resorted to at Fort Laramie; where, though men
are frequently killed in its neighborhood, no apprehensions are now
entertained of any general designs of hostility from the Indians.

We did not long enjoy our new quarters undisturbed. The door was
silently pushed open, and two eyeballs and a visage as black as night
looked in upon us; then a red arm and shoulder intruded themselves,
and a tall Indian, gliding in, shook us by the hand, grunted his
salutation, and sat down on the floor. Others followed, with faces
of the natural hue; and letting fall their heavy robes from their
shoulders, they took their seats, quite at ease, in a semicircle
before us. The pipe was now to be lighted and passed round from one
to another; and this was the only entertainment that at present they
expected from us. These visitors were fathers, brothers, or other
relatives of the squaws in the fort, where they were permitted to
remain, loitering about in perfect idleness. All those who smoked
with us were men of standing and repute. Two or three others dropped
in also; young fellows who neither by their years nor their exploits
were entitled to rank with the old men and warriors, and who, abashed
in the presence of their superiors, stood aloof, never withdrawing
their eyes from us. Their cheeks were adorned with vermilion, their
ears with pendants of shell, and their necks with beads. Never yet
having signalized themselves as hunters, or performed the honorable
exploit of killing a man, they were held in slight esteem, and were
diffident and bashful in proportion. Certain formidable
inconveniences attended this influx of visitors. They were bent on
inspecting everything in the room; our equipments and our dress alike
underwent their scrutiny; for though the contrary has been carelessly
asserted, few beings have more curiosity than Indians in regard to
subjects within their ordinary range of thought. As to other
matters, indeed, they seemed utterly indifferent. They will not
trouble themselves to inquire into what they cannot comprehend, but
are quite contented to place their hands over their mouths in token
of wonder, and exclaim that it is "great medicine." With this
comprehensive solution, an Indian never is at a loss. He never
launches forth into speculation and conjecture; his reason moves in
its beaten track. His soul is dormant; and no exertions of the
missionaries, Jesuit or Puritan, of the Old World or of the New, have
as yet availed to rouse it.

As we were looking, at sunset, from the wall, upon the wild and
desolate plains that surround the fort, we observed a cluster of
strange objects like scaffolds rising in the distance against the red
western sky. They bore aloft some singular looking burdens; and at
their foot glimmered something white like bones. This was the place
of sepulture of some Dakota chiefs, whose remains their people are
fond of placing in the vicinity of the fort, in the hope that they
may thus be protected from violation at the hands of their enemies.
Yet it has happened more than once, and quite recently, that war
parties of the Crow Indians, ranging through the country, have thrown
the bodies from the scaffolds, and broken them to pieces amid the
yells of the Dakotas, who remained pent up in the fort, too few to
defend the honored relics from insult. The white objects upon the
ground were buffalo skulls, arranged in the mystic circle commonly
seen at Indian places of sepulture upon the prairie.

We soon discovered, in the twilight, a band of fifty or sixty horses
approaching the fort. These were the animals belonging to the
establishment; who having been sent out to feed, under the care of
armed guards, in the meadows below, were now being driven into the
corral for the night. A little gate opened into this inclosure; by
the side of it stood one of the guards, an old Canadian, with gray
bushy eyebrows, and a dragoon pistol stuck into his belt; while his
comrade, mounted on horseback, his rifle laid across the saddle in
front of him, and his long hair blowing before his swarthy face, rode
at the rear of the disorderly troop, urging them up the ascent. In a
moment the narrow corral was thronged with the half-wild horses,
kicking, biting, and crowding restlessly together.

The discordant jingling of a bell, rung by a Canadian in the area,
summoned us to supper. This sumptuous repast was served on a rough
table in one of the lower apartments of the fort, and consisted of
cakes of bread and dried buffalo meat--an excellent thing for
strengthening the teeth. At this meal were seated the bourgeois and
superior dignitaries of the establishment, among whom Henry Chatillon
was worthily included. No sooner was it finished, than the table was
spread a second time (the luxury of bread being now, however,
omitted), for the benefit of certain hunters and trappers of an
inferior standing; while the ordinary Canadian ENGAGES were regaled
on dried meat in one of their lodging rooms. By way of illustrating
the domestic economy of Fort Laramie, it may not be amiss to
introduce in this place a story current among the men when we were

There was an old man named Pierre, whose duty it was to bring the
meat from the storeroom for the men. Old Pierre, in the kindness of
his heart, used to select the fattest and the best pieces for his
companions. This did not long escape the keen-eyed bourgeois, who
was greatly disturbed at such improvidence, and cast about for some
means to stop it. At last he hit on a plan that exactly suited him.
At the side of the meat-room, and separated from it by a clay
partition, was another compartment, used for the storage of furs. It
had no other communication with the fort, except through a square
hole in the partition; and of course it was perfectly dark. One
evening the bourgeois, watching for a moment when no one observed
him, dodged into the meat-room, clambered through the hole, and
ensconced himself among the furs and buffalo robes. Soon after, old
Pierre came in with his lantern; and, muttering to himself, began to
pull over the bales of meat, and select the best pieces, as usual.
But suddenly a hollow and sepulchral voice proceeded from the inner
apartment: "Pierre! Pierre! Let that fat meat alone! Take nothing
but lean!" Pierre dropped his lantern, and bolted out into the fort,
screaming, in an agony of terror, that the devil was in the
storeroom; but tripping on the threshold, he pitched over upon the
gravel, and lay senseless, stunned by the fall. The Canadians ran
out to the rescue. Some lifted the unlucky Pierre; and others,
making an extempore crucifix out of two sticks, were proceeding to
attack the devil in his stronghold, when the bourgeois, with a crest-
fallen countenance, appeared at the door. To add to the bourgeois'
mortification, he was obliged to explain the whole stratagem to
Pierre, in order to bring the latter to his senses.

We were sitting, on the following morning, in the passage-way between
the gates, conversing with the traders Vaskiss and May. These two
men, together with our sleek friend, the clerk Montalon, were, I
believe, the only persons then in the fort who could read and write.
May was telling a curious story about the traveler Catlin, when an
ugly, diminutive Indian, wretchedly mounted, came up at a gallop, and
rode past us into the fort. On being questioned, he said that
Smoke's village was close at hand. Accordingly only a few minutes
elapsed before the hills beyond the river were covered with a
disorderly swarm of savages, on horseback and on foot. May finished
his story; and by that time the whole array had descended to Laramie
Creek, and commenced crossing it in a mass. I walked down to the
bank. The stream is wide, and was then between three and four feet
deep, with a very swift current. For several rods the water was
alive with dogs, horses, and Indians. The long poles used in
erecting the lodges are carried by the horses, being fastened by the
heavier end, two or three on each side, to a rude sort of pack
saddle, while the other end drags on the ground. About a foot behind
the horse, a kind of large basket or pannier is suspended between the
poles, and firmly lashed in its place on the back of the horse are
piled various articles of luggage; the basket also is well filled
with domestic utensils, or, quite as often, with a litter of puppies,
a brood of small children, or a superannuated old man. Numbers of
these curious vehicles, called, in the bastard language of the
country travaux were now splashing together through the stream.
Among them swam countless dogs, often burdened with miniature
travaux; and dashing forward on horseback through the throng came the
superbly formed warriors, the slender figure of some lynx-eyed boy,
clinging fast behind them. The women sat perched on the pack
saddles, adding not a little to the load of the already overburdened
horses. The confusion was prodigious. The dogs yelled and howled in
chorus; the puppies in the travaux set up a dismal whine as the water
invaded their comfortable retreat; the little black-eyed children,
from one year of age upward, clung fast with both hands to the edge
of their basket, and looked over in alarm at the water rushing so
near them, sputtering and making wry mouths as it splashed against
their faces. Some of the dogs, encumbered by their loads, were
carried down by the current, yelping piteously; and the old squaws
would rush into the water, seize their favorites by the neck, and
drag them out. As each horse gained the bank, he scrambled up as he
could. Stray horses and colts came among the rest, often breaking
away at full speed through the crowd, followed by the old hags,
screaming after their fashion on all occasions of excitement. Buxom
young squaws, blooming in all the charms of vermilion, stood here and
there on the bank, holding aloft their master's lance, as a signal to
collect the scattered portions of his household. In a few moments
the crowd melted away; each family, with its horses and equipage,
filing off to the plain at the rear of the fort; and here, in the
space of half an hour, arose sixty or seventy of their tapering
lodges. Their horses were feeding by hundreds over the surrounding
prairie, and their dogs were roaming everywhere. The fort was full
of men, and the children were whooping and yelling incessantly under
the walls.

These newcomers were scarcely arrived, when Bordeaux was running
across the fort, shouting to his squaw to bring him his spyglass.
The obedient Marie, the very model of a squaw, produced the
instrument, and Bordeaux hurried with it up to the wall. Pointing it
to the eastward, he exclaimed, with an oath, that the families were
coming. But a few moments elapsed before the heavy caravan of the
emigrant wagons could be seen, steadily advancing from the hills.
They gained the river, and without turning or pausing plunged in;
they passed through, and slowly ascending the opposing bank, kept
directly on their way past the fort and the Indian village, until,
gaining a spot a quarter of a mile distant, they wheeled into a
circle. For some time our tranquillity was undisturbed. The
emigrants were preparing their encampment; but no sooner was this
accomplished than Fort Laramie was fairly taken by storm. A crowd of
broad-brimmed hats, thin visages, and staring eyes appeared suddenly
at the gate. Tall awkward men, in brown homespun; women with
cadaverous faces and long lank figures came thronging in together,
and, as if inspired by the very demon of curiosity, ransacked every
nook and corner of the fort. Dismayed at this invasion, we withdrew
in all speed to our chamber, vainly hoping that it might prove an
inviolable sanctuary. The emigrants prosecuted their investigations
with untiring vigor. They penetrated the rooms or rather dens,
inhabited by the astonished squaws. They explored the apartments of
the men, and even that of Marie and the bourgeois. At last a
numerous deputation appeared at our door, but were immediately
expelled. Being totally devoid of any sense of delicacy or
propriety, they seemed resolved to search every mystery to the

Having at length satisfied their curiosity, they next proceeded to
business. The men occupied themselves in procuring supplies for
their onward journey; either buying them with money or giving in
exchange superfluous articles of their own.

The emigrants felt a violent prejudice against the French Indians, as
they called the trappers and traders. They thought, and with some
justice, that these men bore them no good will. Many of them were
firmly persuaded that the French were instigating the Indians to
attack and cut them off. On visiting the encampment we were at once
struck with the extraordinary perplexity and indecision that
prevailed among the emigrants. They seemed like men totally out of
their elements; bewildered and amazed, like a troop of school-boys
lost in the woods. It was impossible to be long among them without
being conscious of the high and bold spirit with which most of them
were animated. But the FOREST is the home of the backwoodsman. On
the remote prairie he is totally at a loss. He differs much from the
genuine "mountain man," the wild prairie hunter, as a Canadian
voyageur, paddling his canoe on the rapids of the Ottawa, differs
from an American sailor among the storms of Cape Horn. Still my
companion and I were somewhat at a loss to account for this perturbed
state of mind. It could not be cowardice; these men were of the same
stock with the volunteers of Monterey and Buena Vista. Yet, for the
most part, they were the rudest and most ignorant of the frontier
population; they knew absolutely nothing of the country and its
inhabitants; they had already experienced much misfortune, and
apprehended more; they had seen nothing of mankind, and had never put
their own resources to the test.

A full proportion of suspicion fell upon us. Being strangers we were
looked upon as enemies. Having occasion for a supply of lead and a
few other necessary articles, we used to go over to the emigrant
camps to obtain them. After some hesitation, some dubious glances,
and fumbling of the hands in the pockets, the terms would be agreed
upon, the price tendered, and the emigrant would go off to bring the
article in question. After waiting until our patience gave out, we
would go in search of him, and find him seated on the tongue of his

"Well, stranger," he would observe, as he saw us approach, "I reckon
I won't trade!"

Some friend of his followed him from the scene of the bargain and
suggested in his ear, that clearly we meant to cheat him, and he had
better have nothing to do with us.

This timorous mood of the emigrants was doubly unfortunate, as it
exposed them to real danger. Assume, in the presence of Indians a
bold bearing, self-confident yet vigilant, and you will find them
tolerably safe neighbors. But your safety depends on the respect and
fear you are able to inspire. If you betray timidity or indecision,
you convert them from that moment into insidious and dangerous
enemies. The Dakotas saw clearly enough the perturbation of the
emigrants and instantly availed themselves of it. They became
extremely insolent and exacting in their demands. It has become an
established custom with them to go to the camp of every party, at it
arrives in succession at the fort, and demand a feast. Smoke's
village had come with the express design, having made several days'
journey with no other object than that of enjoying a cup of coffee
and two or three biscuits. So the "feast" was demanded, and the
emigrants dared not refuse it.

One evening, about sunset, the village was deserted. We met old men,
warriors, squaws, and children in gay attire, trooping off to the
encampment, with faces of anticipation; and, arriving here, they
seated themselves in a semicircle. Smoke occupied the center, with
his warriors on either hand; the young men and boys next succeeded,
and the squaws and children formed the horns of the crescent. The
biscuit and coffee were most promptly dispatched, the emigrants
staring open-mouthed at their savage guests. With each new emigrant
party that arrived at Fort Laramie this scene was renewed; and every
day the Indians grew more rapacious and presumptuous. One evening
they broke to pieces, out of mere wantonness, the cups from which
they had been feasted; and this so exasperated the emigrants that
many of them seized their rifles and could scarcely be restrained
from firing on the insolent mob of Indians. Before we left the
country this dangerous spirit on the part of the Dakota had mounted
to a yet higher pitch. They began openly to threaten the emigrants
with destruction, and actually fired upon one or two parties of
whites. A military force and military law are urgently called for in
that perilous region; and unless troops are speedily stationed at
Fort Laramie, or elsewhere in the neighborhood, both the emigrants
and other travelers will be exposed to most imminent risks.

The Ogallalla, the Brules, and other western bands of the Dakota, are
thorough savages, unchanged by any contact with civilization. Not
one of them can speak a European tongue, or has ever visited an
American settlement. Until within a year or two, when the emigrants
began to pass through their country on the way to Oregon, they had
seen no whites except the handful employed about the Fur Company's
posts. They esteemed them a wise people, inferior only to
themselves, living in leather lodges, like their own, and subsisting
on buffalo. But when the swarm of MENEASKA, with their oxen and
wagons, began to invade them, their astonishment was unbounded. They
could scarcely believe that the earth contained such a multitude of
white men. Their wonder is now giving way to indignation; and the
result, unless vigilantly guarded against, may be lamentable in the

But to glance at the interior of a lodge. Shaw and I used often to
visit them. Indeed, we spent most of our evenings in the Indian
village; Shaw's assumption of the medical character giving us a fair
pretext. As a sample of the rest I will describe one of these
visits. The sun had just set, and the horses were driven into the
corral. The Prairie Cock, a noted beau, came in at the gate with a
bevy of young girls, with whom he began to dance in the area, leading
them round and round in a circle, while he jerked up from his chest a
succession of monotonous sounds, to which they kept time in a rueful
chant. Outside the gate boys and young men were idly frolicking; and
close by, looking grimly upon them, stood a warrior in his robe, with
his face painted jet-black, in token that he had lately taken a
Pawnee scalp. Passing these, the tall dark lodges rose between us
and the red western sky. We repaired at once to the lodge of Old
Smoke himself. It was by no means better than the others; indeed, it
was rather shabby; for in this democratic community, the chief never
assumes superior state. Smoke sat cross-legged on a buffalo robe,
and his grunt of salutation as we entered was unusually cordial, out
of respect no doubt to Shaw's medical character. Seated around the
lodge were several squaws, and an abundance of children. The
complaint of Shaw's patients was, for the most part, a severe
inflammation of the eyes, occasioned by exposure to the sun, a
species of disorder which he treated with some success. He had
brought with him a homeopathic medicine chest, and was, I presume,
the first who introduced that harmless system of treatment among the
Ogallalla. No sooner had a robe been spread at the head of the lodge
for our accommodation, and we had seated ourselves upon it, than a
patient made her appearance; the chief's daughter herself, who, to do
her justice, was the best-looking girl in the village. Being on
excellent terms with the physician, she placed herself readily under
his hands, and submitted with a good grace to his applications,
laughing in his face during the whole process, for a squaw hardly
knows how to smile. This case dispatched, another of a different
kind succeeded. A hideous, emaciated old woman sat in the darkest
corner of the lodge rocking to and fro with pain and hiding her eyes
from the light by pressing the palms of both hands against her face.
At Smoke's command, she came forward, very unwillingly, and exhibited
a pair of eyes that had nearly disappeared from excess of
inflammation. No sooner had the doctor fastened his grips upon her
than she set up a dismal moaning, and writhed so in his grasp that he
lost all patience, but being resolved to carry his point, he
succeeded at last in applying his favorite remedies.

"It is strange," he said, when the operation was finished, "that I
forgot to bring any Spanish flies with me; we must have something
here to answer for a counter-irritant!"

So, in the absence of better, he seized upon a red-hot brand from the
fire, and clapped it against the temple of the old squaw, who set up
an unearthly howl, at which the rest of the family broke out into a

During these medical operations Smoke's eldest squaw entered the
lodge, with a sort of stone mallet in her hand. I had observed some
time before a litter of well-grown black puppies, comfortably nestled
among some buffalo robes at one side; but this newcomer speedily
disturbed their enjoyment; for seizing one of them by the hind paw,
she dragged him out, and carrying him to the entrance of the lodge,
hammered him on the head till she killed him. Being quite conscious
to what this preparation tended, I looked through a hole in the back
of the lodge to see the next steps of the process. The squaw,
holding the puppy by the legs, was swinging him to and fro through
the blaze of a fire, until the hair was singed off. This done, she
unsheathed her knife and cut him into small pieces, which she dropped
into a kettle to boil. In a few moments a large wooden dish was set
before us, filled with this delicate preparation. We felt conscious
of the honor. A dog-feast is the greatest compliment a Dakota can
offer to his guest; and knowing that to refuse eating would be an
affront, we attacked the little dog and devoured him before the eyes
of his unconscious parent. Smoke in the meantime was preparing his
great pipe. It was lighted when we had finished our repast, and we
passed it from one to another till the bowl was empty. This done, we
took our leave without further ceremony, knocked at the gate of the
fort, and after making ourselves known were admitted.

One morning, about a week after reaching Fort Laramie, we were
holding our customary Indian levee, when a bustle in the area below
announced a new arrival; and looking down from our balcony, I saw a
familiar red beard and mustache in the gateway. They belonged to the
captain, who with his party had just crossed the stream. We met him
on the stairs as he came up, and congratulated him on the safe
arrival of himself and his devoted companions. But he remembered our
treachery, and was grave and dignified accordingly; a tendency which
increased as he observed on our part a disposition to laugh at him.
After remaining an hour or two at the fort he rode away with his
friends, and we have heard nothing of him since. As for R., he kept
carefully aloof. It was but too evident that we had the unhappiness
to have forfeited the kind regards of our London fellow-traveler.



The summer of 1846 was a season of much warlike excitement among all
the western bands of the Dakota. In 1845 they encountered great
reverses. Many war parties had been sent out; some of them had been
totally cut off, and others had returned broken and disheartened, so
that the whole nation was in mourning. Among the rest, ten warriors
had gone to the Snake country, led by the son of a prominent
Ogallalla chief, called The Whirlwind. In passing over Laramie
Plains they encountered a superior number of their enemies, were
surrounded, and killed to a man. Having performed this exploit the
Snakes became alarmed, dreading the resentment of the Dakota, and
they hastened therefore to signify their wish for peace by sending
the scalp of the slain partisan, together with a small parcel of
tobacco attached, to his tribesmen and relations. They had employed
old Vaskiss, the trader, as their messenger, and the scalp was the
same that hung in our room at the fort. But The Whirlwind proved
inexorable. Though his character hardly corresponds with his name,
he is nevertheless an Indian, and hates the Snakes with his whole
soul. Long before the scalp arrived he had made his preparations for
revenge. He sent messengers with presents and tobacco to all the
Dakota within three hundred miles, proposing a grand combination to
chastise the Snakes, and naming a place and time of rendezvous. The
plan was readily adopted and at this moment many villages, probably
embracing in the whole five or six thousand souls, were slowly
creeping over the prairies and tending towards the common center at
La Bonte's Camp, on the Platte. Here their war-like rites were to be
celebrated with more than ordinary solemnity, and a thousand
warriors, as it was said, were to set out for the enemy country. The
characteristic result of this preparation will appear in the sequel.

I was greatly rejoiced to hear of it. I had come into the country
almost exclusively with a view of observing the Indian character.
Having from childhood felt a curiosity on this subject, and having
failed completely to gratify it by reading, I resolved to have
recourse to observation. I wished to satisfy myself with regard to
the position of the Indians among the races of men; the vices and the
virtues that have sprung from their innate character and from their
modes of life, their government, their superstitions, and their
domestic situation. To accomplish my purpose it was necessary to
live in the midst of them, and become, as it were, one of them. I
proposed to join a village and make myself an inmate of one of their
lodges; and henceforward this narrative, so far as I am concerned,
will be chiefly a record of the progress of this design apparently so
easy of accomplishment, and the unexpected impediments that opposed

We resolved on no account to miss the rendezvous at La Bonte's Camp.
Our plan was to leave Delorier at the fort, in charge of our equipage
and the better part of our horses, while we took with us nothing but
our weapons and the worst animals we had. In all probability
jealousies and quarrels would arise among so many hordes of fierce
impulsive savages, congregated together under no common head, and
many of them strangers, from remote prairies and mountains. We were
bound in common prudence to be cautious how we excited any feeling of
cupidity. This was our plan, but unhappily we were not destined to
visit La Bonte's Camp in this manner; for one morning a young Indian
came to the fort and brought us evil tidings. The newcomer was a
dandy of the first water. His ugly face was painted with vermilion;
on his head fluttered the tail of a prairie cock (a large species of
pheasant, not found, as I have heard, eastward of the Rocky
Mountains); in his ears were hung pendants of shell, and a flaming
red blanket was wrapped around him. He carried a dragoon sword in
his hand, solely for display, since the knife, the arrow, and the
rifle are the arbiters of every prairie fight; but no one in this
country goes abroad unarmed, the dandy carried a bow and arrows in an
otter-skin quiver at his back. In this guise, and bestriding his
yellow horse with an air of extreme dignity, The Horse, for that was
his name, rode in at the gate, turning neither to the right nor the
left, but casting glances askance at the groups of squaws who, with
their mongrel progeny, were sitting in the sun before their doors.
The evil tidings brought by The Horse were of the following import:
The squaw of Henry Chatillon, a woman with whom he had been connected
for years by the strongest ties which in that country exist between
the sexes, was dangerously ill. She and her children were in the
village of The Whirlwind, at the distance of a few days' journey.
Henry was anxious to see the woman before she died, and provide for
the safety and support of his children, of whom he was extremely
fond. To have refused him this would have been gross inhumanity. We
abandoned our plan of joining Smoke's village, and of proceeding with
it to the rendezvous, and determined to meet The Whirlwind, and go in
his company.

I had been slightly ill for several weeks, but on the third night
after reaching Fort Laramie a violent pain awoke me, and I found
myself attacked by the same disorder that occasioned such heavy
losses to the army on the Rio Grande. In a day and a half I was
reduced to extreme weakness, so that I could not walk without pain
and effort. Having within that time taken six grains of opium,
without the least beneficial effect, and having no medical adviser,
nor any choice of diet, I resolved to throw myself upon Providence
for recovery, using, without regard to the disorder, any portion of
strength that might remain to me. So on the 20th of June we set out
from Fort Laramie to meet The Whirlwind's village. Though aided by
the high-bowed "mountain saddle," I could scarcely keep my seat on
horseback. Before we left the fort we hired another man, a long-
haired Canadian, with a face like an owl's, contrasting oddly enough
with Delorier's mercurial countenance. This was not the only re-
enforcement to our party. A vagrant Indian trader, named Reynal,
joined us, together with his squaw Margot, and her two nephews, our
dandy friend, The Horse, and his younger brother, The Hail Storm.
Thus accompanied, we betook ourselves to the prairie, leaving the
beaten trail, and passing over the desolate hills that flank the
bottoms of Laramie Creek. In all, Indians and whites, we counted
eight men and one woman.

Reynal, the trader, the image of sleek and selfish complacency,
carried The Horse's dragoon sword in his hand, delighting apparently
in this useless parade; for, from spending half his life among
Indians, he had caught not only their habits but their ideas.
Margot, a female animal of more than two hundred pounds' weight, was
couched in the basket of a travail, such as I have before described;
besides her ponderous bulk, various domestic utensils were attached
to the vehicle, and she was leading by a trail-rope a packhorse, who
carried the covering of Reynal's lodge. Delorier walked briskly by
the side of the cart, and Raymond came behind, swearing at the spare
horses, which it was his business to drive. The restless young
Indians, their quivers at their backs, and their bows in their hand,
galloped over the hills, often starting a wolf or an antelope from
the thick growth of wild-sage bushes. Shaw and I were in keeping
with the rest of the rude cavalcade, having in the absence of other
clothing adopted the buckskin attire of the trappers. Henry
Chatillon rode in advance of the whole. Thus we passed hill after
hill and hollow after hollow, a country arid, broken and so parched
by the sun that none of the plants familiar to our more favored soil
would flourish upon it, though there were multitudes of strange
medicinal herbs, more especially the absanth, which covered every
declivity, and cacti were hanging like reptiles at the edges of every
ravine. At length we ascended a high hill, our horses treading upon
pebbles of flint, agate, and rough jasper, until, gaining the top, we
looked down on the wild bottoms of Laramie Creek, which far below us
wound like a writhing snake from side to side of the narrow interval,
amid a growth of shattered cotton-wood and ash trees. Lines of tall
cliffs, white as chalk, shut in this green strip of woods and meadow
land, into which we descended and encamped for the night. In the
morning we passed a wide grassy plain by the river; there was a grove
in front, and beneath its shadows the ruins of an old trading fort of
logs. The grove bloomed with myriads of wild roses, with their sweet
perfume fraught with recollections of home. As we emerged from the
trees, a rattlesnake, as large as a man's arm, and more than four
feet long, lay coiled on a rock, fiercely rattling and hissing at us;
a gray hare, double the size of those in New England, leaped up from
the tall ferns; curlew were screaming over our heads, and a whole
host of little prairie dogs sat yelping at us at the mouths of their
burrows on the dry plain beyond. Suddenly an antelope leaped up from
the wild-sage bushes, gazed eagerly at us, and then, erecting his
white tail, stretched away like a greyhound. The two Indian boys
found a white wolf, as large as a calf in a hollow, and giving a
sharp yell, they galloped after him; but the wolf leaped into the
stream and swam across. Then came the crack of a rifle, the bullet
whistling harmlessly over his head, as he scrambled up the steep
declivity, rattling down stones and earth into the water below.
Advancing a little, we beheld on the farther bank of the stream, a
spectacle not common even in that region; for, emerging from among
the trees, a herd of some two hundred elk came out upon the meadow,
their antlers clattering as they walked forward in dense throng.
Seeing us, they broke into a run, rushing across the opening and
disappearing among the trees and scattered groves. On our left was a
barren prairie, stretching to the horizon; on our right, a deep gulf,
with Laramie Creek at the bottom. We found ourselves at length at
the edge of a steep descent; a narrow valley, with long rank grass
and scattered trees stretching before us for a mile or more along the
course of the stream. Reaching the farther end, we stopped and
encamped. An old huge cotton-wood tree spread its branches
horizontally over our tent. Laramie Creek, circling before our camp,
half inclosed us; it swept along the bottom of a line of tall white
cliffs that looked down on us from the farther bank. There were
dense copses on our right; the cliffs, too, were half hidden by
shrubbery, though behind us a few cotton-wood trees, dotting the
green prairie, alone impeded the view, and friend or enemy could be
discerned in that direction at a mile's distance. Here we resolved
to remain and await the arrival of The Whirlwind, who would certainly
pass this way in his progress toward La Bonte's Camp. To go in
search of him was not expedient, both on account of the broken and
impracticable nature of the country and the uncertainty of his
position and movements; besides, our horses were almost worn out, and
I was in no condition to travel. We had good grass, good water,

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