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In no other country could there have been found a region so inviting, so alluring, so fascinating, to the spirit of adventure as the Great Plains. How it gripped the imagination of young men, sons of pioneers, between the Mississippi and the Alleghanies, in those early days! How it called to them, and beckoned to them to forsake their homes and journey westward into the unknown!

Vast and undisturbed, it stretched from the British Possession to the Rio Grande. It was a natural stage on which was enacted the most picturesque and romantic drama of the nineteenth century. Its background was the Rocky Mountains, from whose towering ramparts the Plains swept down toward the east, giving an unobstructed view of the stirring panorama that for more than half a century was unrivalled for its scenes of daring and conquest.

The Plains were marvelously adapted to the needs of uncivilized people, who derived their sustenance from the bounty of the wilderness and to the heavy increase and perpetuation of the animal life upon which they subsisted. Upon its level floors, enemies or game could be seen from afar, an advantage in both warfare and hunting. The natural grasses were almost miraculously disposed to the peculiarities of soil and climate, affording the richest pasturage in the green of summer and becoming even more nutritious as the seasons advanced toward the snows of winter. This insured the presence of enormous numbers of herbivorous animals, such as the buffalo, the antelope and the deer, from which the Indian derived his principal food and fashioned his garments and his shelter. His only toil was the chase with its splendid excitement, and his only danger the onslaught of tribal enemies. The climate was healthful and invigorating. In all the world could not have been found a more delightful home for primitive men.

That the Indian should have resisted with relentless and increasing ferocity every effort to drive him from this paradise was natural and justifiable from his point of view. In those days, he felt that to go elsewhere meant starvation and death for his family and tribe. Above all, he firmly believed that the country was his, as it had been from the beginning, and that the white man was cruel, merciless and wrong in depriving him of his old home--a home that the white man did not need and would not use.

North and south across this gigantic stage the teeming animal life of the Plains, especially the buffaloes moved regularly with the procession of the equinoxes. The first grass of spring to which the Cheyennes gave the poetic name, _mah-nah-see-tah_--had scarcely made green the landscape before it was darkened with moving herds northward bound, in obedience to the primal instinct that pulses more deeply with the coming of spring. The pastures were endless, and the moist earth vibrant with the sounds of the fresh season. Everywhere wild flowers were springing from the sod. The water-holes were full, and the sandy rivers flashing in the sunshine. Clouds of water-fowl swirled and descended upon the bars, to rest in their flight to their nesting grounds. The eagle in the sky and the lark in the grass were alike free to raise their young, far from the intrusion of man. The Indians, with their women, children, dogs and ponies, moving dimly on the far-off Plains, were native to the scene, and passed unnoticed by the other denizens of the solitude.

Once more the pageant of the wilderness moved on its mysterious way, this time from north to south. The storms of spring and summer had rolled their thunder through the solitude and reddened the sky with their lightning. The rains had spent themselves. The season of creation and growth had passed. The Plains were shaggy with brown grass. Soon frost would sharpen the air, and snow come on the cold winds and whiten the earth. The buffaloes, the deer and the antelope had thicker and warmer coats; the bear was growing drowsy, and hunting his winter cave; the wild turkey flashing a finer bronze; the prairie chicken, the crane, the mallard and the goose were fat and succulent beyond other days.

Of all this domain the Indian was lord and master. There was none to dispute his sway. The stars in the sky were his night companions, and the sun his supreme benefactor by day. All were his servants. His race multiplied and was happy. Food and shelter were to be found upon every hand. The white man had not come, bringing disease and poverty.

In savagery, a more delightful existence could not be found. What joy of physical living, with strength, health and contentment in every village. There were wars, to be sure, but feats of daring appealed to the brave, and there was love of fame and honor, just as there was inside the walled cities beyond the Atlantic, where, from a comparative standpoint, men were less civilized than their western brothers who fought with bow and arrow, war club and tomahawk.

The fruitful summers were given over to idling in pleasant places--in a village beside a stream, or in the foothills of the mountains. There was singing and dancing and the telling of old tales. The women looked after the household, ever watchful of the little girls and the young women of marriageable age. The plaintive notes of the love-flute could be heard in the dusk of twilight. The warriors trained the boys and the young men in horsemanship and the use of arms, subjecting them to tests of physical endurance, even pain, that they might grow to be strong, invincible men.

There is something beyond description that clutches a man's heart and imagination in the Plains country. Whether it is the long sweep of the horizon, with its suggestion of infinity, touching upon melancholy, or that wide-arching expanse of sky, glittering by night and glorious by day, may not be determined, yet no man is ever quite his former self after he has felt deeply the bigness, the silence and the mystery of that region.

Trackless and boundless, the Great Plains at first offered to the adventurous traveler the many dangers that come from losing one's way in the wilderness. The sun and the stars were guides for direction, but not for water, wood and pasture. Travel was not made certain and continuous until countless feet and hoofs and wheels had worn trails. The making of trails is one of the most primitive acts of man, and it seems incredible that this should have been done within such recent times in this country. The most noted of all these trails was the Santa Fe Road or Trail that led to Santa Fe, New Mexico, from Westport, Mo., where it was joined by smaller highways from points in the surrounding country.

The heart swells with emotion at remembrance of the wild, free life along those old trails, and knowledge that they have vanished forever brings a feeling of deep regret. Railroads, to be sure, meet modern needs, and have changed the wilderness into gardens, but, nevertheless, beyond and above all these demands of a higher civilization, with its commerce and its feverish haste, remains the thought that something worth while has been lost, at least to those who found joy in braving dangers and in overcoming the obstacles of primitive conditions. What a living, moving, thrilling panorama stretched along the old trails! How vast the wealth that rolled past!

The end came when the Santa Fe railroad reached Raton in 1880. Thenceforward, wind and rain and the encroaching grass began their work of obliteration. Only gashed river banks and scarred hillsides guard from the destroying years the last vestiges of what once were a nation's highways. The snow-swept summits of the Spanish Peaks look down no more upon the crawling ox-trains, nor does the swart Apache watch stealthily on Rabbit Ear Mountain to see if a weakly guarded train is coming down the Santa Fe Road. There are two pretty Spanish names for Spanish Peaks--"Las Cumbres Espanolas" and "Las dos Hermanas," (The Two Sisters). The Ute name is "Wahtoya" (The Twins).