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Our further conquests for that day, it was decided, could best be effected by still hunting. The guide had suggested that, if we desired to fill our wagon with meat and get back to camp before night, we might profitably adopt the practice of old hunters, who, when they pursue bison, "mean business." The new tactics consisted of infantry evolutions, and required a dismounting of the cavalry. We were to crawl up to the herds, through ravines, and from those ambuscades open fire.

A mile away buffalo were feeding in large numbers, and our men pointed out several swales into which we could sink from the surface of the plains, and, following the winding lines, find cover until emerging among the herd. But while we were still gazing at the latter, sharp and distinct against the northern horizon appeared other objects, evidently mounted men, and men in that direction meant Indians. It is wonderful how quickly one's ardor disappears, when, from being the hunter, he becomes the hunted. Our only desire now was, in Sachem's language, "a hankering arter camp," which we at once proceeded to gratify.

Back again with the remainder of our party, we felt quite safe. Indians of the plains seldom attack an armed body which is prepared for them; and then there had been no recent demonstrations of hostility. On the other hand, no massacre had yet occurred upon the frontier which was not unexpected. The whole life of many of these nomads has been a catalogue of surprises. It was Artemus Ward, I think, who knew mules that would be good for weeks, for the sake of getting a better opportunity of kicking a man. These savages will do the same for the sake of killing one.

Many an armed man, fully capable of defending himself, has thus been thrown off his guard, and sent suddenly into eternity. The cunning savage, seeing his foe prepared, approaches with signs of friendship, and cries of "How, how?"--Indian and short for "How are you?" Their extended hands meet, and as the palms touch, the pale-face shakes hands with death; for, while his fingers are held fast in that treacherous clasp, some other savage brains him from behind, or sheaths a knife in his heart, and the betrayed white, jerked forward with a fiendish laugh, kisses the grass with bloody lips. We had been repeatedly warned by our guides that, when in the minority, the only safe way to hold councils with the Indians is at rifle range. Even if bound by treaty, a knowledge that they can take your scalp without losing their own, is like binding a thief with threads of gold: the very power which should restrain, is in itself a temptation.

Our little camp soon bristled all over with defiance, a sort of mammoth porcupine presenting points at every angle for the enemy's consideration. Our animals were put safely under cover among the trees, where they could not be easily stampeded; the wagons were ranged in a crescent, forming excellent defense for our exposed side; and pockets were hurriedly filled with ammunition. As we were thus earnestly preparing for war, an entomological accident occurred. Sachem, while excitedly thrusting a handful of cartridges into Mr. Colon's pockets, suddenly drew back his hand with an expression of alarm, bringing with it a whole assortment of bugs. One of the pocket-cases of our entomologist had opened, and the inmates, imprisoned but that morning, were now swarming over our fat friend's fingers, and up his arm, which he was shaking vigorously. There they were--rare bugs and plethoric spiders, together with one lively young lizard--all clinging to the limb which had brought them rescue from their cavernous cell with more tenacity than if they had been stuck on with Spalding's glue. Poor Sachem! While he danced and fumed, and gave his opinion of bug-men generally, Mr. Colon cried--"O, my bugs, my beautiful bugs!" and grasped eagerly at his vanishing treasures. Our alderman disengaged himself at length from his noxious visitors, and meanwhile the other members of the party, having provided themselves, poured into the other pocket of the grieved naturalist a further supply of cartridges, thereby utterly annihilating the remainder of his collection.

Our preparations being concluded, and still no signs of the Indians, we sat down to dinner. Shamus was terribly agitated, and the shades of dyspepsia hovered over his cooking; but, although the coffee was muddy and the meat burned, we were in no mood to take exceptions. There was considerable determination visible on the faces of all our party. The red man was getting to be as sore a trouble to us as the black man had been to politicians, and having already lost a day on his account, we were now fully resolved to hold our ground. We had seen the savage in all the terrors of his war-paint, and felt a very comforting degree of assurance that a dozen cool-headed hunters, mostly armed with breech-loaders, possessed the odds.

At length, along the edge of the breaks beyond the Saline, a dark object appeared, followed by another and then another in rapid succession, until forty unmistakable Indians came in sight, and were bearing directly toward us, following the tracks of our wagons. Half a mile off they halted, and then we saw one big fellow ride forward alone. His form seemed a familiar one, and soon it revealed itself as that of our late friend, White Wolf. Now we had, but a few days before, in the space of four brief hours, concluded at least forty treaties of peace with this chief and his drunken braves; yet, remembering past history, we should have wanted at least as many more treaties, before taking the chances of having one of them kept, and admitting the painted heathens before us to full confidence and fellowship.

As the leader of our party, it devolved upon the Professor to go forward and meet the chief, which he promptly did, taking along our man who was acting in Cody's place as guide, to assist him in comprehending the savage's wishes. Midway between us the respective embassadors met. We heard the chief's loud "How, how?" and saw their hand-shaking, and could not help wondering what the Philosopher's class would say, could they have beheld their honored tutor officiating as a frontispiece for such a savage background.

White Wolf stated that he had been out after Pawnees; he could not find them, and so "Indian felt heap bad!" Just at this instant a loud, quick cry came from his knot of warriors, who were now manifesting the wildest excitement, lashing up their ponies, stringing their bows, and making other preparations as if for a fight. Without a word, the chief turned and ran for dear life toward his band, while the Professor and our guide wheeled and ran for dear life toward us. Seldom has the man of science made such progress as did the respected leader of our expedition then. The guide called, "Cover us with your guns!"--a command which we immediately proceeded to obey, evidently to the intense alarm of the Professor, for so completely were they covered, that I doubt if either would have escaped, had we been called upon to fire.

Our first thought had been a suspicion of treachery, but we now saw that the Cheyennes had faced toward the hills, and, following their gaze, we beheld coming down their trail, and upon the tracks of our wagon, another band of mounted Indians. It soon became clear to us that the Pawnees, the Wolf's failure to find whom had made that noble red man feel "heap bad," were coming to find him. We counted them riding along, twenty-five in all--inferior in numbers, it was true, but superior to the Cheyennes in respect to their arms, so that, upon the whole, the two forces now about to come together were not unevenly matched. The Pawnees live beyond the Platte, and for years have been friendly to the whites, even serving in the wars against the other tribes on several occasions.

What a stir there was in the late peaceful valley! The buffalo that were lately feeding along the brow of the plateau had all fled, and here right before us were sixty-five native Americans, bent upon killing each other off, directly under the eyes of their traditional destroyer, the white man. The Professor said it forcibly suggested to his mind some of the fearful gladiatorial tragedies of antiquity. Sachem responded that he wasn't much of a Roman himself, but he could say that in this show he was very glad we occupied the box-seat, the safest place anywhere around there; and we all decided that it must be a face-to-face fight, in which neither party dare run, as that would be disorganization and destruction.

It was strange to see these wild Ishmaelites of the plains warring against each other. Over the wide territory, broad enough for thousands of such pitiful tribes, they had sought out each other for a bloody duel, like two gangs of pirates in combat on mid-ocean; and, like them, if either or both were killed, the world would be all the better for it. It was clearly what would be called, on Wall street, a "brokers' war," in which, when the operators are preying on each other, outsiders are safe.

While we were looking, a wild, disagreeable shout came up from the twenty-five Pawnees, as they charged down into the valley, which was promptly responded to by fierce yells from the forty Cheyennes.

"Let it be our task to bury the dead," said the Professor, looking toward the wagon in which rested his geological spade. "It is extremely problematical whether any of these red men will go out of the valley alive."

And thus another wonderful change had come over the spirit of our dream. From being a scientific and sporting expedition, we had been suddenly metamorphosed into a gang of sextons, who, in a valley among the buffaloes, were witnessing an Indian battle, and waiting to bury the slain.

As the Pawnees came down at full gallop, the Cheyennes lashed up their ponies to meet them. Then came the crack of pistols, and a perfect storm of arrows passed and crossed each other in mid-air. As the combatants met, we could see them poking lances at each other's ribs for an instant, and then each side retreated to its starting point. Charge first was ended. We gazed over the battle-field to count the dead, but to our surprise none appeared.

FIRE ON THE PLAINS, ACCORDING TO NOVELS.

 

FIRE ON THE PLAINS, AS IT IS.

A few minutes were spent by both parties in a general overhauling of their equipment, and then another charge was made. They rode across each other's fronts and around in circles, firing their arrows and yelling like demons, and occasionally, when two combatants accidentally got close together, prodding away with lances. The oddest part of the whole terrible tragedy to us was that the charges looked when closely approaching each other, as if they were being made by two riderless bands of wild ponies.

The Indians would lie along that side of their horses which was turned away from the enemy, and fire their pistols and shoot their arrows from under the animals' necks, thus leaving exposed in the saddle only that portion of the savage anatomy which was capable of receiving the largest number of arrows with results the least possibly dangerous. I noticed one fat old fellow whose pony carried him out of the battle with two arrows sticking in the portion thus unprotected, like pins in a cushion. He still kept up his yelling, but it struck me that there was a touch of anguish in the tone, and I felt confident that he would not sit down and tell his children of the battle for some time to come.

We saw one exhibition of horsemanship which especially excited our admiration. An arrow struck a Cheyenne on the forehead, glancing off, but stunning him so with its iron point, that, after swaying in the saddle for an instant, he fell to the earth. Another of the tribe, who was following at full speed, leaned toward the ground, and checking his pony but slightly, seized the prostrate warrior by the waistband, and, flinging him across his horse in front of the saddle, rode on out of the battle.

For several hours--indeed until the sun was low in the heavens and the shadows crept into the valley--this terrible fray continued, the charging, shouting, and firing being kept up until both combatants had worked down the river so far that we could no longer see them.

It was approaching the dusk of evening when White Wolf and his band rode back. We counted them and found the original forty still alive. The chief assured us they had killed "heap Pawnees," whereupon some of us sallied forth to visit the battlefield. Three dead ponies lay there, and with a disagreeable sensation, we looked around, expecting to discover the mangled riders nearby. Not one was visible, however, nor even the least sign of their blood. The grass was not sodden with gore, nor did a single rigid arm or aboriginal toe stick up in the gathering gloom. Neither the wolves or buzzards gathered over the field, and slowly the conviction dawned upon us that Indian battles, like some other things, are not always what they seem.

As we turned again toward camp, the Professor, dragging his spade after him, suggested that, in accordance with the reputed habits of these savages, the Pawnees had perhaps carried off their dead. But at the instant, only a short distance down the river, the camp-fire of that miserable and all but annihilated band glimmered forth. It was decidedly too bold and cheerful for the use of twenty-five ghosts, and we knew then that White Wolf had lied.

That valorous chieftain we found limping around outside our wagons, with a lance-cut in one of his legs, while several of his warriors had arrow-wounds, and one a pistol-shot, none of the injuries, however, being dangerous. The Pawnees probably suffered with equal severity; and this was the sum total of the day's frightful carnage--the entire result of all the fierce display that we had witnessed.

Not long afterward, in front of a Government fort, and in plain sight of the garrison, a battle occurred between two large parties of rival tribes, about equal in numbers. Back and forth, amid furious cries and clouds of arrows, the hostile savages charged. Noon saw the affair commenced, and sunset scarcely beheld its ending. The Government report states, if my memory serves me correctly, that one Indian and two horses were killed; and a shade of doubt still exists among the witnesses whether that one unlucky warrior did not break his neck by the fall of his pony!

These savages fight on horseback, and are neither bold nor successful, except when the attacking party is overwhelming in numbers, and then the affair becomes a massacre. All this knowledge came to us afterward, but our first introduction to it was a surprise. Kind-hearted man though he was, I think the resultless ending of the battle disconcerted even the Professor. Having nerved one's self to expect horrors, it is natural to seek, on the gloomy mirror of fate, some rays of glimmering light which can be turned to advantage. I think the Professor's rays, had the contest proved as sanguinary as we first anticipated, would have found their focus in some stout cask containing a nicely-pickled Pawnee or Cheyenne _en route_ to a distant dissecting table. It would have been rather a novel way, I have always thought, of sending the untutored savage to college.

We made a requisition upon our medicine-chest and dressed the wounds of the suffering warriors. White Wolf stripped to the waist, and, exposing his broad, muscular form, exhibited thirty-six scars, where, in different battles, lances and arrows had struck him. It struck us all as a rather remarkable circumstance, though we prudently refrained from commenting upon it just then, that nearly all these scars were on his back.

The chief expressed great friendship for us, and I really believe he felt it. Sachem's stout form was especially the object of his admiration. Between these two worthies a very cordial regard seemed to be springing up, until White Wolf unluckily offered him an Indian bride and a hundred buffalo robes, if he would go with the band to its wigwams on the Arkansas--a proposition which disgusted our alderman beyond measure. Savages, sooner or later, generally scalp white sons-in-law, and it would be "heap good" for the Cheyenne to have such an opportunity always handy. Sachem declined the honor with all the dignity he could command, and carefully avoided "the match-making old heathen," as he termed him, for the remainder of the evening.

We kept early hours that night. Guard was doubled, to prevent any possible treachery, and a sleepy party laid down to rest. The Cheyennes went into camp a few hundred yards up the creek, a barely perceptible light, looking from our tents like a fire-fly, marking the spot.

When a "cold camp" is discovered on the plains, the experienced frontiersman can always determine at once whether white men or Indians made it, by the size of the ash-heap. The former, even when trying to make their fire a small one, will consume in one evening as much fuel as would last the red man a half-moon. The latter, putting together two or three buffalo chips, or as many twigs, will huddle over them when ignited, and extract warmth and heat enough for cooking from a flame that could scarcely be seen twenty yards.

The two opposing parties, which were now resting only a mile or so apart, had each tested the other's metal, and, as the sequel proved, found them foemen worthy of their _steal_. From the unconcealed fires in their respective camps, we concluded that neither side had any intention of attacking, or fear of being attacked.

It was early in the dawn of the next morning when we were startled from our slumbers by a terrific cry from Shamus, which brought all of us to our tent-doors, with rifles in hand ready to do battle, in the shortest possible time. Looking out, we beheld our cook standing near the first preparations of breakfast, and gazing with astonished eyes toward the darkness under the trees, among which we heard, or at least imagined we heard, the stealthy steps of moccasined feet. In answer to our interrogatories, Shamus stated that just as he was putting the meat in the pan, he saw the light of the fire reflected, for an instant, on a painted face peering out at him from behind a tree. "Faith, but I shaved the lad's head wid the skillet!" said Dobeen, and sure enough we found that article of culinary equipment lying at the foot of the suspected cottonwood, badly bent from contact with something, but whether that something was the bark or a painted skull is known only to that skulking Cheyenne.

We waited until broad daylight, but no further disturbance occurred, and what was strangest of all, the valley both above and below us seemed entirely destitute of either Pawnee or Cheyenne. A reconnoissance, which was made by the Professor, Mr. Colon, and our guide, developed the fact that not being able to steal any thing else, the savages had executed the difficult military maneuver of stealing away. Just before daybreak, the Pawnees had gone due north, and the Cheyennes, about the same time, due south. As White Wolf had expressed a cold-blooded intention of exterminating the remnant of his foes in the morning, the pitying stars may have taken the matter in hand and misled him; and if so, how disappointed that blood-thirsty band must have been when their path brought them into their own village, instead of the Pawnee camp! In confirmation of this astrological suggestion, I may say that while in Topeka I saw "stars," on several occasions, leading Indians in the opposite direction from that in which they wished to go.

In due time our party sat down to another plentiful breakfast, which was eaten with all the more relish because we had all that little world to ourselves again. Discussing Dobeen's apparition, we finally came to the unanimous conclusion that it was some Indian who, while his brothers stole away, had straggled behind, to pick up a keepsake. I think that hideous face among the trees never entirely ceased to haunt the chamber of Dobeen's memory. He shied as badly as did Muggs' mule, when in strange timber, and was ever afterward a warm advocate for pitching camp on the open prairie.

In justice to White Wolf, it should be stated that we afterward learned that while charging in such a mistaken direction after Pawnees that morning, he met two men from Hays City, out after buffalo meat. Finding that they were from the village which had been kind to him, he loaded their wagons with fat quarters, instead of filling their bodies with arrows, as they had first expected, and sent them home rejoicing.