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The Oregon Trail by Francis Parkman, Jr.

Part 7 out of 7

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with their wives and children, to found, if might be, a Mormon empire
in California. We were much more astonished than pleased at the
sight before us. In order to find an unoccupied camping ground, we
were obliged to pass a quarter of a mile up the stream, and here we
were soon beset by a swarm of Mormons and Missourians. The United
States officer in command of the whole came also to visit us, and
remained some time at our camp.

In the morning the country was covered with mist. We were always
early risers, but before we were ready the voices of men driving in
the cattle sounded all around us. As we passed above their camp, we
saw through the obscurity that the tents were falling and the ranks
rapidly forming; and mingled with the cries of women and children,
the rolling of the Mormon drums and the clear blast of their trumpets
sounded through the mist.

From that time to the journey's end, we met almost every day long
trains of government wagons, laden with stores for the troops and
crawling at a snail's pace toward Santa Fe.

Tete Rouge had a mortal antipathy to danger, but on a foraging
expedition one evening, he achieved an adventure more perilous than
had yet befallen any man in the party. The night after we left the
Ridge-path we encamped close to the river. At sunset we saw a train
of wagons encamping on the trail about three miles off; and though we
saw them distinctly, our little cart, as it afterward proved,
entirely escaped their view. For some days Tete Rouge had been
longing eagerly after a dram of whisky. So, resolving to improve the
present opportunity, he mounted his horse James, slung his canteen
over his shoulder, and set forth in search of his favorite liquor.
Some hours passed without his returning. We thought that he was
lost, or perhaps that some stray Indian had snapped him up. While
the rest fell asleep I remained on guard. Late at night a tremulous
voice saluted me from the darkness, and Tete Rouge and James soon
became visible, advancing toward the camp. Tete Rouge was in much
agitation and big with some important tidings. Sitting down on the
shaft of the cart, he told the following story:

When he left the camp he had no idea, he said, how late it was. By
the time he approached the wagoners it was perfectly dark; and as he
saw them all sitting around their fires within the circle of wagons,
their guns laid by their sides, he thought he might as well give
warning of his approach, in order to prevent a disagreeable mistake.
Raising his voice to the highest pitch, he screamed out in prolonged
accents, "Camp, ahoy!" This eccentric salutation produced anything
but the desired result. Hearing such hideous sounds proceeding from
the outer darkness, the wagoners thought that the whole Pawnee nation
were about to break in and take their scalps. Up they sprang staring
with terror. Each man snatched his gun; some stood behind the
wagons; some threw themselves flat on the ground, and in an instant
twenty cocked muskets were leveled full at the horrified Tete Rouge,
who just then began to be visible through the darkness.

"Thar they come," cried the master wagoner, "fire, fire! shoot that

"No, no!" screamed Tete Rouge, in an ecstasy of fright; "don't fire,
don't! I'm a friend, I'm an American citizen!"

"You're a friend, be you?" cried a gruff voice from the wagons; "then
what are you yelling out thar for, like a wild Injun. Come along up
here if you're a man."

"Keep your guns p'inted at him," added the master wagoner, "maybe
he's a decoy, like."

Tete Rouge in utter bewilderment made his approach, with the gaping
muzzles of the muskets still before his eyes. He succeeded at last
in explaining his character and situation, and the Missourians
admitted him into camp. He got no whisky; but as he represented
himself as a great invalid, and suffering much from coarse fare, they
made up a contribution for him of rice, biscuit, and sugar from their
own rations.

In the morning at breakfast, Tete Rouge once more related this story.
We hardly knew how much of it to believe, though after some cross-
questioning we failed to discover any flaw in the narrative. Passing
by the wagoner's camp, they confirmed Tete Rouge's account in every

"I wouldn't have been in that feller's place," said one of them, "for
the biggest heap of money in Missouri."

To Tete Rouge's great wrath they expressed a firm conviction that he
was crazy. We left them after giving them the advice not to trouble
themselves about war-whoops in future, since they would be apt to
feel an Indian's arrow before they heard his voice.

A day or two after, we had an adventure of another sort with a party
of wagoners. Henry and I rode forward to hunt. After that day there
was no probability that we should meet with buffalo, and we were
anxious to kill one for the sake of fresh meat. They were so wild
that we hunted all the morning in vain, but at noon as we approached
Cow Creek we saw a large band feeding near its margin. Cow Creek is
densely lined with trees which intercept the view beyond, and it
runs, as we afterward found, at the bottom of a deep trench. We
approached by riding along the bottom of a ravine. When we were near
enough, I held the horses while Henry crept toward the buffalo. I
saw him take his seat within shooting distance, prepare his rifle,
and look about to select his victim. The death of a fat cow was
certain, when suddenly a great smoke arose from the bed of the Creek
with a rattling volley of musketry. A score of long-legged
Missourians leaped out from among the trees and ran after the
buffalo, who one and all took to their heels and vanished. These
fellows had crawled up the bed of the Creek to within a hundred yards
of the buffalo. Never was there a fairer chance for a shot. They
were good marksmen; all cracked away at once, and yet not a buffalo
fell. In fact, the animal is so tenacious of life that it requires
no little knowledge of anatomy to kill it, and it is very seldom that
a novice succeeds in his first attempt at approaching. The balked
Missourians were excessively mortified, especially when Henry told
them if they had kept quiet he would have killed meat enough in ten
minutes to feed their whole party. Our friends, who were at no great
distance, hearing such a formidable fusillade, thought the Indians
had fired the volley for our benefit. Shaw came galloping on to
reconnoiter and learn if we were yet in the land of the living.

At Cow Creek we found the very welcome novelty of ripe grapes and
plums, which grew there in abundance. At the Little Arkansas, not
much farther on, we saw the last buffalo, a miserable old bull,
roaming over the prairie alone and melancholy.

From this time forward the character of the country was changing
every day. We had left behind us the great arid deserts, meagerly
covered by the tufted buffalo grass, with its pale green hue, and its
short shriveled blades. The plains before us were carpeted with rich
and verdant herbage sprinkled with flowers. In place of buffalo we
found plenty of prairie hens, and we bagged them by dozens without
leaving the trail. In three or four days we saw before us the broad
woods and the emerald meadows of Council Grove, a scene of striking
luxuriance and beauty. It seemed like a new sensation as we rode
beneath the resounding archs of these noble woods. The trees were
ash, oak, elm, maple, and hickory, their mighty limbs deeply
overshadowing the path, while enormous grape vines were entwined
among them, purple with fruit. The shouts of our scattered party,
and now and then a report of a rifle, rang amid the breathing
stillness of the forest. We rode forth again with regret into the
broad light of the open prairie. Little more than a hundred miles
now separated us from the frontier settlements. The whole
intervening country was a succession of verdant prairies, rising in
broad swells and relieved by trees clustering like an oasis around
some spring, or following the course of a stream along some fertile
hollow. These are the prairies of the poet and the novelist. We had
left danger behind us. Nothing was to be feared from the Indians of
this region, the Sacs and Foxes, the Kansas and the Osages. We had
met with signal good fortune. Although for five months we had been
traveling with an insufficient force through a country where we were
at any moment liable to depredation, not a single animal had been
stolen from us, and our only loss had been one old mule bitten to
death by a rattlesnake. Three weeks after we reached the frontier
the Pawnees and the Comanches began a regular series of hostilities
on the Arkansas trail, killing men and driving off horses. They
attacked, without exception, every party, large or small, that passed
during the next six months.

Diamond Spring, Rock Creek, Elder Grove, and other camping places
besides, were passed all in quick succession. At Rock Creek we found
a train of government provision wagons, under the charge of an
emaciated old man in his seventy-first year. Some restless American
devil had driven him into the wilderness at a time when he should
have been seated at his fireside with his grandchildren on his knees.
I am convinced that he never returned; he was complaining that night
of a disease, the wasting effects of which upon a younger and
stronger man, I myself had proved from severe experience. Long ere
this no doubt the wolves have howled their moonlight carnival over
the old man's attenuated remains.

Not long after we came to a small trail leading to Fort Leavenworth,
distant but one day's journey. Tete Rouge here took leave of us. He
was anxious to go to the fort in order to receive payment for his
valuable military services. So he and his horse James, after bidding
an affectionate farewell, set out together, taking with them as much
provision as they could conveniently carry, including a large
quantity of brown sugar. On a cheerless rainy evening we came to our
last encamping ground. Some pigs belonging to a Shawnee farmer were
grunting and rooting at the edge of the grove.

"I wonder how fresh pork tastes," murmured one of the party, and more
than one voice murmured in response. The fiat went forth, "That pig
must die," and a rifle was leveled forthwith at the countenance of
the plumpest porker. Just then a wagon train, with some twenty
Missourians, came out from among the trees. The marksman suspended
his aim, deeming it inexpedient under the circumstances to consummate
the deed of blood.

In the morning we made our toilet as well as circumstances would
permit, and that is saying but very little. In spite of the dreary
rain of yesterday, there never was a brighter and gayer autumnal
morning than that on which we returned to the settlements. We were
passing through the country of the half-civilized Shawanoes. It was
a beautiful alternation of fertile plains and groves, whose foliage
was just tinged with the hues of autumn, while close beneath them
rested the neat log-houses of the Indian farmers. Every field and
meadow bespoke the exuberant fertility of the soil. The maize stood
rustling in the wind, matured and dry, its shining yellow ears thrust
out between the gaping husks. Squashes and enormous yellow pumpkins
lay basking in the sun in the midst of their brown and shriveled
leaves. Robins and blackbirds flew about the fences; and everything
in short betokened our near approach to home and civilization. The
forests that border on the Missouri soon rose before us, and we
entered the wide tract of shrubbery which forms their outskirts. We
had passed the same road on our outward journey in the spring, but
its aspect was totally changed. The young wild apple trees, then
flushed with their fragrant blossoms, were now hung thickly with
ruddy fruit. Tall grass flourished by the roadside in place of the
tender shoots just peeping from the warm and oozy soil. The vines
were laden with dark purple grapes, and the slender twigs of the
maple, then tasseled with their clusters of small red flowers, now
hung out a gorgeous display of leaves stained by the frost with
burning crimson. On every side we saw the tokens of maturity and
decay where all had before been fresh and beautiful. We entered the
forest, and ourselves and our horses were checkered, as we passed
along, by the bright spots of sunlight that fell between the opening
boughs. On either side the dark rich masses of foliage almost
excluded the sun, though here and there its rays could find their way
down, striking through the broad leaves and lighting them with a pure
transparent green. Squirrels barked at us from the trees; coveys of
young partridges ran rustling over the leaves below, and the golden
oriole, the blue jay, and the flaming red-bird darted among the
shadowy branches. We hailed these sights and sounds of beauty by no
means with an unmingled pleasure. Many and powerful as were the
attractions which drew us toward the settlements, we looked back even
at that moment with an eager longing toward the wilderness of
prairies and mountains behind us. For myself I had suffered more
that summer from illness than ever before in my life, and yet to this
hour I cannot recall those savage scenes and savage men without a
strong desire again to visit them.

At length, for the first time during about half a year, we saw the
roof of a white man's dwelling between the opening trees. A few
moments after we were riding over the miserable log bridge that leads
into the center of Westport. Westport had beheld strange scenes, but
a rougher looking troop than ours, with our worn equipments and
broken-down horses, was never seen even there. We passed the well-
remembered tavern, Boone's grocery and old Vogel's dram shop, and
encamped on a meadow beyond. Here we were soon visited by a number
of people who came to purchase our horses and equipage. This matter
disposed of, we hired a wagon and drove on to Kansas Landing. Here
we were again received under the hospitable roof of our old friend
Colonel Chick, and seated on his porch we looked down once more on
the eddies of the Missouri.

Delorier made his appearance in the morning, strangely transformed by
the assistance of a hat, a coat, and a razor. His little log-house
was among the woods not far off. It seemed he had meditated giving a
ball on the occasion of his return, and had consulted Henry Chatillon
as to whether it would do to invite his bourgeois. Henry expressed
his entire conviction that we would not take it amiss, and the
invitation was now proffered, accordingly, Delorier adding as a
special inducement that Antoine Lejeunesse was to play the fiddle.
We told him we would certainly come, but before the evening arrived a
steamboat, which came down from Fort Leavenworth, prevented our being
present at the expected festivities. Delorier was on the rock at the
landing place, waiting to take leave of us.

"Adieu! mes bourgeois; adieu! adieu!" he cried out as the boat pulled
off; "when you go another time to de Rocky Montagnes I will go with
you; yes, I will go!"

He accompanied this patronizing assurance by jumping about swinging
his hat, and grinning from ear to ear. As the boat rounded a distant
point, the last object that met our eyes was Delorier still lifting
his hat and skipping about the rock. We had taken leave of Munroe
and Jim Gurney at Westport, and Henry Chatillon went down in the boat
with us.

The passage to St. Louis occupied eight days, during about a third of
which we were fast aground on sand-bars. We passed the steamer
Amelia crowded with a roaring crew of disbanded volunteers, swearing,
drinking, gambling, and fighting. At length one evening we reached
the crowded levee of St. Louis. Repairing to the Planters' House, we
caused diligent search to be made for our trunks, which after some
time were discovered stowed away in the farthest corner of the
storeroom. In the morning we hardly recognized each other; a frock
of broadcloth had supplanted the frock of buckskin; well-fitted
pantaloons took the place of the Indian leggings, and polished boots
were substituted for the gaudy moccasins.

After we had been several days at St. Louis we heard news of Tete
Rouge. He had contrived to reach Fort Leavenworth, where he had
found the paymaster and received his money. As a boat was just ready
to start for St. Louis, he went on board and engaged his passage.
This done, he immediately got drunk on shore, and the boat went off
without him. It was some days before another opportunity occurred,
and meanwhile the sutler's stores furnished him with abundant means
of keeping up his spirits. Another steamboat came at last, the clerk
of which happened to be a friend of his, and by the advice of some
charitable person on shore he persuaded Tete Rouge to remain on
board, intending to detain him there until the boat should leave the
fort. At first Tete Rouge was well contented with this arrangement,
but on applying for a dram, the barkeeper, at the clerk's
instigation, refused to let him have it. Finding them both
inflexible in spite of his entreaties, he became desperate and made
his escape from the boat. The clerk found him after a long search in
one of the barracks; a circle of dragoons stood contemplating him as
he lay on the floor, maudlin drunk and crying dismally. With the
help of one of them the clerk pushed him on board, and our informant,
who came down in the same boat, declares that he remained in great
despondency during the whole passage. As we left St. Louis soon
after his arrival, we did not see the worthless, good-natured little
vagabond again.

On the evening before our departure Henry Chatillon came to our rooms
at the Planters' House to take leave of us. No one who met him in
the streets of St. Louis would have taken him for a hunter fresh from
the Rocky Mountains. He was very neatly and simply dressed in a suit
of dark cloth; for although, since his sixteenth year, he had
scarcely been for a month together among the abodes of men, he had a
native good taste and a sense of propriety which always led him to
pay great attention to his personal appearance. His tall athletic
figure, with its easy flexible motions, appeared to advantage in his
present dress; and his fine face, though roughened by a thousand
storms, was not at all out of keeping with it. We took leave of him
with much regret; and unless his changing features, as he shook us by
the hand, belied him, the feeling on his part was no less than on
ours. Shaw had given him a horse at Westport. My rifle, which he
had always been fond of using, as it was an excellent piece, much
better than his own, is now in his hands, and perhaps at this moment
its sharp voice is startling the echoes of the Rocky Mountains. On
the next morning we left town, and after a fortnight of railroads and
steamboat we saw once more the familiar features of home.

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