Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

At noon we were all in camp again, fully prepared to do justice to the ample dinner of buffalo, antelope, and turkey which we found awaiting us. The Mexicans brought in the quarter of an old bull, and, according to their own story, had committed terrible slaughter on the plain above; but, as we had already learned to balance a Mexican account by a deduction of nine-tenths for overdrafts, we felt that we saw before us the result of their day's hunt.

This our first taste of bison, gave us highly exaggerated ideas of that animal's endurance. The entire flesh was surprisingly elastic--indeed, a very clever imitation of India rubber. It recoiled from our teeth with a spring, and just then I should scarcely have been surprised had I seen those buffalo which were feeding in the distance, go bounding off like immense foot-balls. My opinion in regard to buffalo meat afterward underwent a great change, but not until I had tasted the flesh of the cows and calves. Shamus, on this occasion, had devoted his culinary energies especially to the turkeys, and they were well worthy such attention. Their fat forms, nicely browned, would have tempted the veriest dyspeptic.

Just as we rose from dinner, a covered emigrant wagon was discovered approaching us, coming down the valley right on our trail. From the fact that we were off the route of overland travel, our first conjecture was that it was from Hays, with a party of hunters, or possibly with Tenacious Gripe, so far recovered as to be rejoining us. We assumed an attitude of dignified interest, prepared to develop it into friendship, or "don't want to know you" style, as occasion might require. A hale, elderly man was the driver, now walking beside his oxen. The outfit halted before our astonished camp, and as it did so two women, genuine spirits of calico and long hair, lifted a corner of the wagon cover and looked out. Both were apparently young, but one face was thin, and had that peculiar expression of being old before its time which is far more desolate than age. The other countenance was certainly good-looking and interesting--quite different, indeed, from those usually seen peeping out of emigrant wagons. Introductions are short and decisive on the plains. We liked their looks, and invited them to stop; they liked ours, and accepted. I think the Professor's dignified attitude and scholarly bearing stood us in good stead as references.

Another female developed as the wagon gave forth its load--this time a bouncing Irish girl, rosy-cheeked and active, evidently the family servant. At this latter apparition Shamus dropped one of our platters, but quickly recovering himself, began to put forth wonderful exertions to prepare a second dinner, the new comers having consented, after some hesitation, to become our guests during the nooning hour.

Before proceeding to give the reader the history of this interesting family, I ought, perhaps, to say that I do so with their express permission, the only disguise being that, at his request, the father will here be designated by his Christian name, Sydney.

These people, after an absence of about a year, were now returning from Elizabeth City, a recently-started mining town in New Mexico, to their former home, about forty miles east of our present camp, which they had left the preceding season under circumstances that were sad, indeed. About three years before, the family, then consisting of Mr. Sydney and wife, and their two daughters, had moved from Ohio to Kansas and settled on a tributary of the Solomon. Availing himself of the homestead law, Mr. Sydney took a tract of one hundred and sixty acres, and commenced improving it. One of the daughters soon married a young man to whom she had been betrothed at the East, and who at once set earnestly to work to make for himself and young wife a home in the new land. The houses of the father and the child were but half a mile apart, and, no timber intervening, each could be plainly seen from the other. For a time this little colony of two families was very happy. Having had the first choice, their farms were well situated, embracing both river and valley, and their herds, provided with rich and unlimited range, increased rapidly. Soon rumors came from below that a railroad, on its way to the Rocky Mountains, would shortly wind its way up the Solomon Valley, bringing civilization to that whole region, and daily mails within a few miles of their doors.

The second year of prosperity had nearly ended, when one morning a man from the settlements above dashed rapidly past Mr. Sydney's house, turning in his saddle to cry that the Cheyennes had been murdering people up the river, and were now sweeping on close behind him. The message of horror was scarcely ended when the dusky cloud appeared in sight, rioting in its tempest of death down the valley. Midway between home and the house of her daughter, Mrs. Sydney was overtaken by the yelling demons. In vain the agonized husband pressed forward to the rescue, firing rapidly with his carbine. She was killed before his eyes, but not scalped, the Indians evidently considering delay dangerous.

It is a fact that speaks volumes in illustration of the mingled ferocity and cowardice that characterize the wild Indians of to-day that, in all that terrible Solomon massacre, not a single armed man who used his weapon was harmed, nor was one house attacked. The victims were composed entirely of the surprised and the defenseless, overtaken at their work and on the roads.

Passing the dead body of the mother, the Cheyennes, on their wiry ponies, swept onward, like demon centaurs, toward the home of the daughter. Sitting by our fire at evening, with that dreary, fixed look which one never forgets who has once seen it, the young woman told us the story of her childless widowhood. Her face was one of those which, smitten by sorrow, are stricken until death. Once evidently comely, the smiles and warm flush had died out from it forever--just as in the lapse of centuries the colors fade from a painting. Though scarcely twenty-five, her youth was but an image of the past. She told her story in that mechanical, absent sort of manner which showed that no morning had followed the evening of that desolate day. She was still living with her dead.

"The Lord gave me then a cup so bitter," she said, "that its sting drove a mother's joy from my heart forever. I have been at peace since, because, among the dregs, I found that God had placed a diamond for me to wear when I was wedded to him. Even then I did not rebel and reproach my Maker, but I sunk down with one loud cry, and it went right along to the great white throne up there, with the spirits of my husband and my babe. I thought I could see them in the air, like two white doves flitting upward, bearing with them, as part of our sacrifice, the cry that I gave, when my heart-strings seemed to snap, and I knew that I was a widow and childless. Perhaps I was crazed for a moment, or--I do not know--perhaps my spirit really did go with them part of the way. The neighbors found me there for dead, and I remained cold, till they brought in my dear babe, my poor, mutilated babe, and placed him on my breast. His warm blood must have woke me, and I sat up, and saw them bringing John's body to lay it by me. And then the whole scene came before me again, and it seemed so stamped into my very brain, that shutting my eyes left me more alone with my murdered ones and the murderers. And I just dragged myself where I could look at the setting sun, and tried with its bright glare to burn the scene from off my vision, so that, if I went mad, there wouldn't be any memory of it left. For mad people have their memories and suffer from them, and they know it, and the very fact that they know it keeps them mad. I went through it all.

"A person dreaming is not rational, and yet may suffer so, and feel it too, as to shudder hours after waking up. There was John, running toward the house with our baby boy, and the savages yelling and whipping their ponies, trying to get between the open door and him. Alone, he could have saved himself. And our baby thought John was running for play, and was clapping his little hands and chirping at me as the savages closed around my husband. I had only time to pray five words, 'O God, save my husband!' and it did not seem an instant until I saw the poor body I loved so well lying on the ground, and they standing over, shooting their arrows into it. Baby was not killed, but thrown forward under one of the horses, and I had just taken a step or so toward him, when an Indian, who seemed to be the chief, lifted him by the dress to his saddle. I think his first intention was to carry him with them, but, seeing some of our neighbors hurrying toward us, they struck the baby with a hatchet, and hurled him to the ground. At the instant they struck him, he was looking back at me with his great blue eyes wide open and staring with fright."

And then the poor woman, having finished her story, began sobbing piteously.

The Solomon had numberless tales of these terrible massacres equally as harrowing as this, and I could fill pages of this volume with chapters of woe that terminated many a family's history. The result of these and other Indian atrocities is probably yet remembered throughout the entire country. Kansas well nigh rebelled against a government which left her unprotected. The War Department authorized vigorous measures, and the Governor of the State raised a regiment and at its head took the field. Through blows from Custar and Carr, the savages found out, at last, that the dogs of war which they let loose might return to bay at their own doors.

Two women from the Saline were carried into captivity by the Indians, and taken as wives by two of their chiefs. One day Carr, at the head of his troops, looked down into the valley upon the encampment of a band especially noted for its hostility, now lying in fancied security below him. The two white captives were in the wigwams. Suddenly, to the ears of the savages, came a murmur from the hill-side like the first whisper of a torrent.

Instantly, almost, it increased to a roar, and, as they sprung to their feet and rushed forth, the blue waves of vengeance dashed against the village, and broke in showers of leaden spray upon them. Mercy put no shield between them and that annihilating tempest. Every savage in the number was a fiend, and, as a band, they had long been the scourge of the border. Their hands were yet red with the blood of the massacres upon the Saline and Solomon, and white women toiled in the wigwams of their husbands' murderers. One of the captives, Mrs. Daley, was killed by the savages, to prevent rescue; the other was saved, and restored to her husband.

Somewhat later, two women from the Solomon were taken captive, one of them being a bride of but four months who had recently come out with her young husband from the State of New York. Custar seized some chiefs and, with noosed lariats dangling before their eyes, bade them send and have those prisoners brought in, or suffer the penalties. Indians have an unconquerable prejudice against being hung, as it prevents their spirits entering the happy hunting grounds, and the captives were promptly sent to Custar's camp. We afterward saw one of them, Mrs. Morgan, on the Solomon. What an agony must have been hers, as she came in sight of her old home, and the memory of her wrongs since leaving it, rose anew before her!

But to return to the history of our emigrants. After the murders, Mr. Sydney and his daughters abandoned their farms, and with the same wagon and oxen which two years before had brought the family out from Ohio, they started for the recently discovered mines in New Mexico. The journey was tedious, and, when at length arrived there, he found but little gold, and even less relief from his mighty sorrow. The old home, with its graves, beckoned him back, and thither he was now returning to spend his remaining days, unless, as he laconically stated, some one had "jumped the claim." Lest my readers toward the rising sun should not clearly understand the old gentleman's meaning, I ought perhaps to explain that, under existing laws, a "Homesteader" can not be absent from his land over six months at any time, without forfeiting his title, and rendering it liable to occupancy by other parties. It was already two days over the allotted period, he said. But the oxen were thin, and he finally decided to rest with us until the next morning, and then push forward.

Flora, the younger daughter, was a blooming Western girl of a thoroughly practical turn, and a counselor on whose advice the father and sister evidently relied greatly. The Professor assured me confidentially that evening, and with much more than his wonted enthusiasm on such a subject, that she preferred the language of the rocks to that of fashion plates. She had even disputed one of his statements, he said, and vanquished him by producing the proof from a well-worn scientific work--one of a dozen books carefully wrapped up and stowed away with other goods in the wagon.

A novel accomplishment which the young lady possessed was that of being an excellent rifle shot, and it afforded us all considerable merriment when she challenged Muggs to a trial of skill, and, producing a target rifle, utterly defeated him. Such a woman as that, the Professor said, was safe on the frontier; she could fight her own way and clear her vicinity of savages, whenever necessary, as well as any of us.

We did not wish our emigrant maiden aught but what she was, and were well pleased with the romance of her visit. For the nonce, she was our queen; the rough ox-wagon was her throne, and the great plains her ample domain. In sober truth, she might justly challenge our esteem and admiration. Here was one of the gentler sex willing to make divorce of happiness, that she might minister to a half-crazed father and mourning sister, and who, for their sake, chose to wander through a country which might at any moment become to them the valley of the shadow of death. In the presence of such heroism, what right had we, though bruised and tired, to complain? No wonder the Professor took early occasion to tell us that she was a noble woman, an honor to her sex.

This emigrant wagon, with its wee bit of domestic life, was a pleasant object to all of us out there on the desert, with the single exception of Alderman Sachem. That worthy member of our party avoided its vicinity, as if a plague spot had there seized upon the valley. "I did think," he exclaimed, dividing glances that were quite the reverse of complimentary between the Professor and Shamus--"I did think that we had got out of the latitude of spooning. We haven't had a digestible mouthful since they came in sight. A love-struck Irishman can neither eat, himself, or let others."

But Shamus was too happy to heed the remark; for the first time since starting, he seemed perfectly contented. An Irish girl, the like of Mary, and devoted enough to follow her old master through such adversity, seemed Dobeen's beau ideal of the lovely and lovable in the sex. The valley became for him the brightest spot upon earth. He would have been content there to court and cook, I think, during the remainder of his natural life. Mary was shy, and Shamus was bold, but it was quite apparent that both enjoyed the situation immensely.

Although the little party stayed but a day, their departure seemed to leave quite a void in the valley. The most noticeable results to us were some errors in cooking and a slackness in the prosecution of scientific investigations.

Mr. Sydney gave us a hearty invitation to visit him upon the Solomon, if our wanderings took us that way, and our prophetic souls, with a common instinct, told all of us that the Professor would recognize a call of science in that direction. By a look and a smile from a maiden, the Philosopher, deeply sunken in the primary formation, had been drawn to the surface of the modern, a result which fashionable society had more than once striven in vain to bring about. Miss Flora certainly bid fair to become a favorite pupil of his, were the opportunity only offered.

This maiden of the plains was a new character. The beautiful heroine mentioned in most Western novels as having penetrated the Indian country, is either the daughter of "once wealthy parents," or the heiress of a noble family and stolen by gypsies for reward or revenge. It was the first appearance that I could recall of a farmer's girl in a position where kidnapping Indians and a frantic lover could so easily appear, and by opportune conjunction weave the plot of a soul-harrowing romance.

Another evening in camp was spent in writing and story-telling. The fire was getting low, when Sachem rose to his feet and called to Shamus. "Dobeen," said he, "your country folks are always handy with the sticks. Let's go for wood, and have a fire that will warm up the witches on their broomsticks and send them flying off to hug the clouds." We watched the pair go out of sight. Knowing well the habits of Tammany, we all felt sure that, though he might find the load, Irish shoulders would have to bear it back to camp.

Scarcely three minutes had elapsed, when out of the timber, with garments as wet as water could make them and dripping fast, a fat form came shivering to our fire. Our alderman had taken a night bath in the creek--an adventure which he thus related in his own peculiar way:

"Below us in the woods is a big beaver pond, I don't know how deep. I seemed an hour going down, and didn't touch bottom then. I was fooled by the moon. (To be expected, though, as she's a female!) A few of her beams, thrown down through the trees, glittered on the water like drift wood. That sort of beams make poor timber for bridges, but I didn't know it then as well as I do now. One of them went from bank to bank, and I took it for a log, and got a ducking. How frightened I was, though, when my feet touched water and my body went, with a swash, right under it! I opened my mouth to shout and the water rushed in, and I was like a vessel sinking with open hatches. I took in so much, I was afraid I'd be waterlogged and never come up. I did, though, and found that rascally Irishman throwing sticks at my head, and telling me to hold on to them. I told him to do that thing himself, and finally climbed ashore."

We afterward sought out our newly-found neighbors, the beavers, finding their pond a short distance below us on the creek, and a little lower down the dam itself. Many more trees had been cut for the latter than were used in its construction, several having been abandoned when almost ready to fall. We noticed that the butts of the prostrated trees were sharpened down gradually like the point of a lead-pencil, but both ways, instead of one, so that a tree cut nearly through met from above and below at the point of breaking, like the waist of an hour glass. This dam was most interesting to all of us, since it seemed so much to resemble the work of man. In this waste place of the earth, it really seemed almost like company, and we felt a strong desire to have a friendly conference with the builders. But these had formed this reservoir for the express purpose that in its depths they might escape intrusion, and now the whole regiment of engineers seemed asleep in barracks. Still our men secured a few very fine ones by trapping.

It appeared that the beavers were a vacillating set of architects, as all the trees which stood near the water and leaned over it at all, were gnawed more or less, and many of them left when almost ready to fall. The position of the dam had evidently been determined by the tree which fell first. From the reckless manner in which they had slashed around with their teeth, it was pertinently suggested that this colony must have obtained from the beaver congress a government subsidy. Having been acquainted with the art of building before man mastered it, the beaver race also probably understood how to do it at little personal expense.

The beaver appears to be distributed in considerable numbers all over the western half of Kansas, although the spring floods sweep away their dams almost every season. Once afterward, when lost on the plains for a day, I came across a beaver dam. Several hours of anxious suspense in the solitude, fearing to meet man lest he should prove a savage, begot a strange feeling of companionship when I came in sight of the rude structure of logs. If not civilization, it was a close imitation of it, and I laid down and fell into a refreshing sleep, soothed, in the fantasies of Dreamland, with the whir of looms and hum of factory life.