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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Old West Kansas
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How vividly, when one is fairly embarked in any new enterprise, do the events of the first night impress one's imagination, and how indelibly do they fix themselves in the memory! Inside our tents all was clean and cheery, but as none of us were disposed to seek them before a late hour, we spent the evening around our campfires. Excitement, for the time, had overmastered our sense of fatigue. The Professor's notes were out, and, with his feet to the fire and a box for a desk, he looked more like the Arkansas traveler writing home, than the learned savan committing to paper the latest secrets wrung from nature. The remainder of our party were scattered promiscuously around the fire, some seated on logs and boxes, the others outstretched upon the grass.

Tammany Sachem was the first to break the silence. "Fellow citizens," he exclaimed, "let's vagabondize!" Now, with our alderman, vagabondizing meant storytelling, an accomplishment which we consider the especial forte of vagabonds.

We all hailed this proposition gladly, for Buffalo Bill, stretched there before the fire, had much of plain lore stored in his active brain that we wished to draw out, and we at once seized the opportunity to ask about the black pacer we had seen during the afternoon, and his weird story of the bloody saddle.

From Bill's narrative we gathered the following: Something over a year before the era of our expedition a train of government wagons left Fort Hays destined for Fort Harker, and the Indians being troublesome, some twenty soldiers were sent in the wagons, as a guard. A few hours later there passed through Hays City a man from the mountains riding a powerful black stallion, while his family, consisting of a young wife and her brother, occupied a covered wagon which followed close behind. The stranger determined to take advantage of the protection afforded by the government train, and the little party pushed out after it over the plains. The day was a sultry one in midsummer, the sun pouring down its flood of heat on the desolate surface of the expanse that spread away on all sides. The long train, a full mile from front to rear, dragged its slow length sluggishly along, the mules sleepily following the trail, while the teamsters and soldiers dozed in the covered wagons. A driver, who happened to be awake, saw in the distance a beautiful mirage, and in it, as he looked, strange objects, like mounted men, were bobbing up and down. But then he had often seen weeds and other small objects similarly transformed, by these wonderful illusions of the plains, and even he forgot the bobbing shadows and dozed away again on his seat.

But there was danger near. Stealthily out of the mirage, and bending low in their saddles, rode a painted band of savages, hiding their advance in a ravine. Their purpose was to strike and cut off the rear of the train, the length of which promised unusual success to their undertaking, as the white men were too much scattered to oppose any resistance to a sudden onset. At length, nearly the entire train had filed by, and the foremost of the last half dozen wagons approached the ravine. At the signal, out from it burst the troop of red horsemen, and crossed the road like a dash of dust from the hand of a hurricane, every savage spreading his blanket and uttering the war whoop. The startled teams fled in stampede over the plains, dragging the wagons after them. Some of the drivers were thrown out and others jumped. Two or three were killed, and by the time the other teams and the guards had taken the alarm, and turned back for a rescue, the savages had cut the traces of the frightened mules, and were on the return with them to their distant villages. Instead of stopping the animals to release them from the wagons, the Indians urged them to wilder speed, and leaning from their saddles, cut the fastenings at full run. Among the booty taken, was a valuable race horse and fifteen hundred dollars in greenbacks, belonging to an officer who was on his way from New Mexico to the East.

Meanwhile, our friend, the owner of the black pacer, with his outfit, was moving quietly along two or three miles in the rear, entirely unaware of affairs at the front. Some of the savages, while escaping with the booty, espied him, and coveting the noble animal which he rode, they made a detour and surprised him as he sat jogging along a hundred yards or so ahead of the wagon containing his wife and brother-in-law. Though mortally wounded at their first volley, with the desperate effort of a dying man he clung to the saddle for a hundred yards or more, and then rolled upon the prairie a lifeless corpse. Frantic with terror, the horse dashed through the circle of Indians that surrounded him, and fled. The savages, probably fearing longer delay, did not pursue, nor even attack the wagon, and the black pacer was not seen again for some months, when at length some hunters discovered him, freed from saddle and bridle, the leader of the wild herd.

Buffalo Bill gave us quite an insight into some of the mysteries of plain craft. When you are alone, and a party of Indians are discovered, never let them approach you. If in the saddle, and escape or concealment is impossible, dismount, and motion them back with your gun. It shows coolness, and these fellows never like to get within rifle range, when a firm hand is at the trigger. If there is any water near, try and reach it, for then, if worst comes to worst, you can stand a siege. The savages of the plains are always anxious to get at close quarters before developing hostility. Unless very greatly in the majority, and with some unusual incentive to attack, they will not approach a rifle guard. Were they as well supplied with breech-loading guns as with pistols, the case would be different, of course. Bill was the hero of many Indian battles, and had fought savages in all ways and at all hours, on horseback and on foot, at night and in daytime alike.

As an amusing illustration of the savage abhorrence of long-range guns, I beg the reader's indulgence for introducing an anecdote which I afterward heard narrated by an officer who participated in the affair. Major A---- was sent out from Fort Hays with a company of men on an Indian scout, and, when near a tributary of the south fork of the Solomon, the savages appeared in force, and a fight commenced, which continued until dark. Several soldiers were wounded and two killed. As the Indians were evidently increasing in numbers, after nightfall a squad was dispatched to the fort for ambulances and reinforcements. Only six men could be spared, and these were sent off with a light field-piece in charge. Soon after crossing the Saline, a strong band of Indians was discovered half a mile off reconnoitering. A shell was sent screaming toward them, but the aim was too high, and it burst a short distance beyond them. Nevertheless, the effect was instantaneous; the savages vanished, nor stood upon the order of their going. During the next ten miles this scene was repeated three times, the stand-point on each occasion being removed further and further away. The last shot was a remarkably long one, and the shell burst directly in their faces. Not only did they disappear for good, but the whole investing force, on receiving their report, fled likewise.

Talking thus about Indians, under the gloom of the trees, seemed in some unaccountable way to suggest the idea of witches to the mind of Pythagoras. Perhaps, in accordance with his pet theory of development, he was cogitating whether, ages ago, the red man's family horse might not have been a broomstick. At any rate, he suddenly gave a new turn to the conversation by asking Shamus why, when the dogs pointed the witch-hazel during our quail hunt at Topeka, he had affirmed that the canine race could see spirits and witches which to mortal eyes were invisible. Now, the Dobeen had been bred on an Irish moor, where the whole air is woven, like a Gobelin tapestry, full of dreams of the marvelous, and where whenever an unusual object is noticed by moonlight, the frightened peasant, instead of stopping a moment to investigate the cause, rushes shivering to his hut to tell of the fearful _phookas_ he has seen. He was very superstitious, and we had often been amused at his evasions, when, as sometimes happened, his faith conflicted with our commands. The time might be near when such peculiarities would prove troublesome instead of amusing, and it was well, therefore, that we should get a peep at the foundations of our cook's faith, and perhaps that portion of it which related to our friends, the dogs, would be especially entertaining. Moreover, we had had so much of the red man that we were glad to welcome an Irish witch to our first camp-fire. Dobeen's narrative was substantially as follows, though I can not attempt to clothe it in his exact language, and still less in the rich brogue which yet clung to him after years of ups and downs in "Ameriky."

"Dogs can study out many things better than men can," said Shamus, in his most impressive manner. "Before I left old Ireland for America, I had a dashing beast, with as much wit as any boy in the country. He could poach a rabbit and steal a bird from under the gamekeeper's nose, an' give the swatest howl of warnin' whenever a bailiff came into them parts."

Sachem suggested that these were rather remarkable habits for a dog connected with the great house of Dobeen.

"But yez must know he was only a pup when my fortunes went by," responded Shamus, "and he learnt these tricks afterward. Ah, but he was a smart chap! Couldn't he smell bailiffs afore ever they came near, an' see all the witches and ghosts, too, by second sight! He wouldn't never go near the O'Shea's house, that had a haunted room, though pretty Mary, the house-girl, often coaxed at him with the nicest bits of meat."

Sachem thought that perhaps the animal's second sight might have shown him that stray shot from pretty Mary's master, aimed at a vagabond, might perhaps hit the vagabond's dog.

"I wasn't a vagabond them times," retorted Shamus, quickly, yet with entire good humor, "and sorry for it I am that the name could ever belong to me since. And please, Mr. Sachem, don't be after interruptin' again. Some people wonder why the dogs bark at the new moon an' howl under the windows afore a death. In the one matter, your honors, they see the witches on a broomstick, ridin' roun' the sky, an' gatherin' ripe moon-beams for their death-mixtures an' brain blights. Many a man in our grandfathers' time--yes, an' now-a-days too--sleepin' under the full moon, has had his brains addled by the unwholesome powder falling from the witches' aprons. Wise men call it comet dust. And why shouldn't a dog that has grown up to mind his duty of watchin' the family, howl when he sees Death sittin' on the window sill, a starin' within, and preparin' to snatch some darlint away? Ah, but their second sight is a wonderful gift though!

"The name of my dog, your honors, was Goblin, an' he came to us in a queer sort of way, just like a goblin should. There was a hard storm along the coast, an' the next mornin' a broken yawl drifted in, half full of water, with a dead man washin' about in it, an' a half-drowned pup squattin' on the back seat. Me an' my cousin buried the man, an' the other beast I brought up. May be there was somethin' in this distress that he got into so young that he couldn't outgrow. Even the priest used to notice it, and say the poor creature had a sort of touch of the melancholy; an' sure, he never was a joyful dog. Smart an' true he was, but, faith, he wasn't never happy; yez might pat him to pieces, an' get never a wag of the tail for it. He delighted in wakes and buryins, an' when a neighborin' gamekeeper died, he howled for a whole day an' a night, though the man had shot at him twenty times. Mighty few men, your honors, with a dozen slugs in their skin, would have stood on the edge of a man's grave that shot them, an' mourned when the earth rattled on the box the way Goblin, poor beast, did then. Ah, nobody knows what dogs can see with their wonderful second sight. That beast thought an' studied out things better than half the men ye'll find; an' it's my belief that dogs did so before, an' they have done it since, an' they always will."

"You are right, Dobeen," said the Professor. "Put a wise dog, and a foolish, vicious master together. The brute exhibits more tenderness and thoughtfulness than the man. In the latter, even the mantle of our largest charity is insufficient to cover his multitude of sins, while the skin of his faithful animal wraps nothing but honest virtue. The dog, having once suffered from poison, avoids tempting pieces of meat thenceforward, when proffered by strange hands, but the man steeps his brain in poison again and again--or as often as he can lay hold of it. While grasping the deadly thing, he sees, stretching out from the bar room door, a down grade road, with open graves at the end, and frightened madmen, chased by the blue devils and murder and misery, rushing madly toward them. These swallow their victims, as the hatches of a prison ship do the galley slave, and close upon them to give them up only when the jailer, the angel of the resurrection, shall unlock the tombs, and calls their occupants to judgment. Does the sight appall and bring him to his senses? No, he crowds among the terrors, and takes to his bosom the same venomous serpent that he has seen sting so many thousands to death before him. And yet people give to the brute's wisdom the name of instinct, and call man's madness wisdom."

"But, your honors," interposed Dobeen, "I shall be after losing my dog entirely, unless yez lave off interruptin' me, an' let me finish my story."

"Go on, Shamus, go on!" we all cried with one breath.

"Well, then, when Goblin came to me in his infancy, he wore a silver collar with his name all beautifully engraved on it. May be the dead man in the boat had been bringing him from some strange land to the childer at home, and thinking how the odd name would please them all, when the shadows were darting around his hearth. And so Goblin howled his way through the world, till one full moon eve, when every bog was shinin' as if the peat was silver. Such times, any way in old Ireland, your honors, the air is full of unwholesome spirits. This was good as a wake for Goblin, and I can just hear him now the way he cried and howled that night! He kept both eyes fixed on the moon, and no mortal man, livin' or dead, will ever know what he saw, but when he howled out worse nor common that night, it meant, may be, that some witch, uglier than the rest, had just whisked across the shinin' sky. Just at midnight, I was waked out of a swate sleep by the quietness without, the way a miller is when his mill stops. I looked out of the window at the dog where he sat, an', faith, the dog wasn't there at all! Just then I heard a despairin' sort of howl, away up in the air above the trees, an' by that token I knew the witches had Goblin. Next mornin', one of the lads livin' convanient to us told me he had heard the same cry in the middle of the night, the cry, your honors, of the poor beast as the witches carried him off. Afore the week was out, Goblin's collar was found on the gamekeeper's grave; that was all--not a hair else of him was ever seen in old Ireland."

As Shamus concluded his veracious narrative he looked around upon us with an air of triumph, as if satisfied that even Sachem dare not now dispute the second sight of the canine race.

That worthy took occasion to declare on the instant, however, that the nearest neighbor was fully justified in playing the witch. If any thing could destroy the happiness of human beings, as well as of the broom-riding beldams, it would be the howling of worthless curs at night. He himself had often been in at the death of vagabond cats and dogs engaged in moon-worship. The outbursts of Goblin had simply been silenced in an outburst of popular indignation.

BUREAU OF ILLUSTRATION NY._SMASHING A CHEYENNE BLACK KETTLE.

 

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