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The early dawn of Wednesday morning saw us again astir. There was the same creeping of mist out of the valley to join the darkness as it fled from the plains above, and the same revealing of thousands of shaggy forms silently feeding in the distance. This time our beasts and our bodies were both in excellent condition for the chase. Joints gain and lose stiffness quickly in such a life.

One morning the hunter feels as if the mill of life, though he turn its crank ever so slowly, had broken every bone in his body; twenty-four hours later may find him elastic and buoyant, as if youth had torn away from the embrace of the dead past and was with him again in all its pristine vigor. In the present case, too, that friend of early hours and foe of sleepy eyes, the coffee bean had done its work for us grandly.

Ten horsemen comprised the strength of the party which rode out of the valley just as daylight was coming into it. One of the hostlers and a Mexican were left in camp, the remainder of our force accompanying us, with a couple of wagons to bring in the game. At his earnest solicitation, Shamus was permitted to abandon his post of duty temporarily, and go along also, with the understanding that he was to select choice pieces from the first suitable game we might bring down, and, returning to camp, be ready for our arrival with an ample dinner.

As we rode down the valley of Silver Creek, gangs of wild turkeys occasionally came out of the narrow skirt of timber, and, running along before us for short distances, re-entered it, and were lost to view again. Never having been hunted, they seemed destitute of the timidity and cunning which are the usual characteristics of this bird.

Twenty minutes' ride brought us to the Saline, the basin of which we found to be half a mile or thereabouts in width, and presenting a scene of great desolation. We were something like two hundred feet below the table-lands which came down to the narrow valley in barren canyons and masses of rock. The stream itself is narrow, with less than two feet of water running swiftly over the sands, and along its banks, at intervals, a few dwarfed cottonwood trees. Such was the Valley of the Saline at this point; yet thirty miles below, our men told us, the valley opened out into rich bottom lands, and was famous for its beauty.

While in the act of crossing, we came suddenly upon four small animals playing and fishing in the shallow water. With an exclamation of astonishment, the Professor had his glasses out in a moment. The guide informed us they were only 'coons, and such they were sure enough, with the peculiar color and distinctive rings that made it impossible, on second look, to mistake them for any thing else. Truly, Nature seemed full of eccentricities in this remarkable region. The raccoons of natural history have always affected trees, and been considered, _par excellence_, creatures of the forest. I scarcely think the Professor would have been surprised, at that moment, to know that hereabouts fish were in the habit of climbing around in bushes, or stealing corn.

When they heard us, the four little fellows scampered away a few steps, and disappeared in some holes in the bank, in executing which maneuver one of them swam a yard or two across a deep spot, making good progress. We learned from our men that small colonies of these animals are frequently found along treeless creeks on the plains, living in the banks, and fishing for a living, by grasping the minnows and frogs, as they pass over the shallow places.

From the river we directed our course toward a deep canyon which, opening toward us as if the bluff had been riven asunder by some great convulsion of Nature, at its further end reached the level of the plains, and offered us an easy ascent. Evidence of volcanic action appeared along the canyon in the form of vitrified fragments and occasional masses of lava resembling rock.

The guide called our attention to an object in the ravine some distance ahead, which was enveloped in a cloud of dust. It was a buffalo, he said, indulging in a game of bluff. This statement not appearing very clear to our non-gambling party, he explained that the old fellow was "butting against the bank, as if he was going to break it all to pieces, when in reality he had no show at all."

As we could not approach nearer without frightening him, we stood still for a few minutes and watched him. He would back fifteen or twenty yards from the bluff, paw the ground for an instant, and then fling himself headlong against the wall of earth with a tremendous force, as was abundantly testified by the great clouds of dust that would rise in the air. For a moment afterward he would continue violently hooking the soil, as if the bowels of the earth were those of an adversary. We afterward repeatedly saw bulls engaged in this exercise. It is to the buffalo what the training school is to the prize-fighter, a developing of brute force for future conflicts.

The shock of such charges as we witnessed, if made by a domestic ox, would have broken his neck. Even our bison friend finally overdid the matter. Either because his foot tripped or the blow glanced, upon one of his charges, he fell down on his fore legs, and then rolled completely over. We thought this a good time to push forward, and accordingly did so at a gallop. Whether thinking himself knocked down by a foe, or because he heard the rattling of hoofs, we could not determine, but he suddenly sprang to his feet, whirled his shaggy head into bearing upon us, then turned and set away at full speed up the canyon, toward the plains above. The order was given to ply spur and close in upon him, if possible, or he would set the herds above in motion.

It was a mad ride that we had for the next ten minutes--across beds of gravel, among huge bowlders, and once or twice over great fissures in the earth which chilled my blood as I took a sort of bird's-eye view of their depths. In a lumbering run on ahead of us went the frightened bull, his feet occasionally sending back dashes of pebbles, while behind him rattled such a clattering of hoofs that the poor brute, if he could think at all, must have imagined he had butted open the door of Hades, and was now being pursued by its inmates.

There were mishaps in this our first buffalo hunt, of course, and among them, Muggs dropped a stirrup, and was obliged to support himself afterward on one foot--an awkward matter, resulting from his inconvenient English saddle, one of the kind which compels one, half the time, to sustain the whole body by the stirrups alone. We gained upon the game steadily, though no particular member of our party excelled as leader, first one being ahead and then the other. Cynocephalus developed wonderfully, and kept well up with his better conditioned neighbors.

What a magnificent prize for the hunter rushed on before us, swinging his ponderous head from side to side, for the purpose of getting better rear views--such an ungainly and shaggy animal, a perfect marvel of magnificent disproportions! It is well enough to go to Africa and hunt lions, and describe their majestic, flowing manes; but this bison, in mad flight ahead of us, could have furnished hair and mane enough to fit out half a dozen lions. At close quarters, too, he was fully as dangerous as the king of beasts.

We were close at his heels when the level of the plain was reached, and pursuer and pursued shot out upon it together. A large herd, feeding not five hundred yards away, was speedily in full flight northward. "A stern chase is a long chase," is no less true in buffalo hunting than in nautical matters. After considerable experience in the sport, I would recommend amateurs to get as near their game as possible before starting, and then try their horses' full metal. Once by the side of the game, he can keep there to the end. And so, after a terrible chase, when at times we had almost despaired of overtaking the old fellow, we now found it easy to keep alongside.

Our bull was a huge one, even among his species, and in such moments of excitement the imagination seems to have a trick of entering the chambers of the eye, and sliding its mirrors into a sort of double focus arrangement. With blood boiling until my heart seemed to bob up and down on its surface, I found myself riding parallel with the brute, and had I never seen him afterward, would have been almost willing to make oath that his size could be represented only by throwing a covering of buffalo robes over an elephant.

Everyone in the party was firing, some having dropped their reins to use their carbines, and others yet guiding their horses with one hand, while they fired their holster revolvers with the other. Shooting from the saddle, with a horse going at full speed, needs practice to enable one to hit any thing smaller than a mammoth. You point the weapon, but at the instant your finger presses the trigger, the muzzle may be directed toward the zenith or the earth. An experienced hunter steadies his arm, not allowing it to take part in the motion of his body, no matter how rough the latter may be. But we were not experienced hunters, and so, although such exclamations as, "That told!" "Mine went through!" and "Perfectly riddled!" were almost as numerous as the bullets, it was easy to see that the flying monster remained unharmed.

From the first, Mr. Colon had fired without taking any aim whatever, and so it happened that his gun, in describing its half circle consequent upon the rising and falling motion of the horse, at length went off at the proper moment, and we heard the thud of the ball as it struck. Dropping his head into position as if for a charge, the buffalo whirled sharply to the right, and passing directly between our horses, made off toward the main herd. But he soon slowed down to a walk, and as we again came up with him, we could see the blood trickling from his nose, which he held low like a sick ox.

In the excitement of the chase, and perhaps from being well blown before coming near the buffalo, our horses had hitherto shown no fear, but now, as the old bull stood there in all his savage hugeness, and the smell of blood tainted the air, they pushed, jostled, snorted, and pranced, so that it required all our efforts to keep them from downright flight. Even Dobeen's donkey kept his rider uncertain whether his destiny was to seek the ground or abide in the saddle.

The brute stood facing us, perhaps fifty yards off, his eyes rolling wildly from pain and fury, and the blood flowing freely through his nostrils.

We were waiting patiently for him to die, when suddenly the head went into position, like a Roman battering ram, and down he came upon us. We were utterly routed. No spur was necessary to prompt the horses, and I doubt if their former owners had ever known what latent speed their hides concealed. The whole thing was so sudden there was no time for thought, and all that I can remember is a confused sort of idea that each animal was going off at a tremendous pace, with the rider devoting his energies to sticking on. After the first few jumps, we were no longer an organized company, each brute taking his own course, and carrying us, like fragments of an explosion, in different directions. A marked exception, however, was Muggs' mule, which for the only time in his life, seemed unwilling to run away. After being the first to start, and assisting the others to stampede, he stopped suddenly short, depositing his rider something like ten yards ahead of him, in a manner quite the reverse of gentle.

We did not stop running as soon as we might have done. And I here enter protest against the nonsense indulged in on one point by most of the novelists who educate people in buffalo lore. When we halted, there stood the bull not thirty yards from the spot where he had first stopped, although we had located him, throughout more than half a mile's ride but a few feet from our horses' tails, and at times had even imagined we heard his deep panting. This mortifying record would have been saved us had we known that a buffalo's charges never extend beyond a short distance. Either his adversary or his attack is speedily terminated. He does not pursue, in the "long, deep gallop" style at all. Yet I scarcely remember a single instance mentioned in those old books of western adventure, in which a buffalo's charge was for a less distance than a mile. In one case that I now recall, the race was nip and tuck between man and bison for over an hour, and the biped was finally enabled to save his life only by leaving the saddle and swinging into a tree! Such stories are simply balderdash.

As soon as possible after checking our horses, we rode back toward the wagon and the game, seeing in the former, the grinning faces of our men. The buffalo was still on his feet, but while we looked he slowly sunk to his knees, like an ox lying down to rest, and then quietly reposed on his belly, in the same attitude one sees domestic cattle assume when wishing a quiet chew of the cud. Had it not been for his bloody nose and wild eyes, he would have looked as peaceful as any bovine that ever breathed.

BUREAU OF ILLUSTRATION_GOING AFTER AMMUNITION.

Wishing to put the poor brute out of misery, we approached closer, and several of us dismounted, when a general fire was opened. Like a cat, the old fellow was on his feet again almost instantly. By a singular coincidence, our entire party just then discovered that we were out of ammunition, and in a body started for the wagon, to get some. Muggs afterward assured us that, at the time, he had just got his hand in, "so that every shot told, you know," and I have the authority of all for the deliberate statement that the bull would have been riddled before moving a foot had not the cartridges suddenly given out.

The effort of getting up had sent the mass of blood collected from inward bleeding surging out of the buffalo's nose, and, as we looked back, he was tottering feebly, and an instant afterward fell to the ground. There was no doubt now of his death, and we swarmed upon and around him. He was an immense old fellow, and his hide fairly covered with the scars of past battles. Inasmuch as this was our first trophy, it was determined to take his skin, and we forthwith seated the Professor on his great shaggy neck, with the horns forming arms for an impromptu hunter's throne. From thence he wrote upon leaves from his note-book a letter to his class at the East, which he permitted me to copy. I introduce it here, as showing that the blood of even a savan pulsates warmly amid such circumstances as now surrounded us.

 

                                            "ON A BUFFALO, IN THE } YEAR OF MY HAPPINESS, ONE.}

     "_Dear Class_--I know the staid and quiet habits that characterize all of you, and that you are not given to hard riding and buffalo hunting. Yet this prairie air, with its rich fragrance and wild freeness, would give a new circulation to the blood of each one of you. Like a gale at sea, the breeze sweeps against one's cheeks, and the great billows of land rise on every side, as mountains of troubled ocean. Why not desert the city and lose yourself for awhile in this great grand waste? Antelope are bounding and buffalo running on every side of us, while villages of prairie dogs bark at the flying herds. One grows in self-estimation after breathing this air, and, feeling that safety and life depend on his own exertions, learns to place reliance upon the powers which Nature has given him, with manly independence of artificial laws and police.

     "While I am writing, the first victim of our prowess, a magnificent specimen of the American bison, is being skinned by our suite, the robe from which, when prepared, we intend sending you. The men say it must be dressed by some of the civilized Indians on the reserves, as the white man's tanning injures the value.

       *       *       *       *       *

     "The robe is now off, and half a ton of fat meat lies exposed. We shall only take the hind quarters, a portion of the hump, and the tongue. How glad the famishing wretches in the tenement houses of the city would be for an opportunity to pick those long ribs which we leave for the wolves! His horns are somewhat battered, but we have cut them off, to supplant hooks on a future hat-rack. One of the men has just taken a large musket ball from the animal's flank. That shot must have been received years ago, as the ball is an old fashioned one and is thickly encased in fat.

     "The geological formation of the country is very interesting. I expect to examine the same more thoroughly after we have studied the animals traversing its surface. Yesterday, we had in camp a family from the Solomon, who were sufferers some months since from the fearful Indian massacre there. Their story was an exceedingly interesting one, though very sad. We shall visit them if duty calls that way. I must close. The men have thrown the skin in the wagon, flesh side up, and deposited the meat upon it, and all are now ready for further conquests.

                    "Your sincere friend and instructor,

                                                              "H----."