Print
Category: The Border and the Buffalo
Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

We moved that day down the river about ten miles. We camped in a hackberry and elm grove, at the mouth of a big coulée. This term is used more in the Dakotas than in Texas, meaning ravine, draw, cañon, arroyo,—all these terms being nearly synonymous. It was an ideal camping-ground. Plenty of wood, water, grass, and protection from storms.

I commenced at once to make myself useful. Buck and his father's family camped separately. Each outfit had a good tent; Buck's tent was ten by twelve feet, his father's, twelve by fourteen feet. Simpson lived with Mr. Wood, senior. Buck and his wife lived alone. Buck invited me to make my home with him, which invitation I gladly accepted.

The first thing in order was unhitching the team; the harness was hung over each front wheel, collars hung on the front hounds of the wagon. Then the grass scalped off where the camp-fire was to be, when not using the cook-stove. Wood was to be gathered, the camp-fire built, water brought, the cooking utensils and mess box placed near the fire, Mrs. Wood getting the meals and Buck and I putting up the tent, carrying in the bedding, leveling the rough places, and making down the beds.

This was the universal custom when camping. And the sun had not yet gone down when supper was eaten. I walked up onto a little hill, just back of our camp, where I had a good view back up the coulée, to the north. I was not more than one hundred yards from camp, and after looking a little bit to make sure, I said in a strong voice that "I believed I saw five thousand buffalo." Buck, his father, and George, all came up with their guns; and as they looked and ejaculated I thought my estimate very considerate. The old gent said there were ten thousand in sight, this minute, not counting those in the gulches and ravines that we could not see.

After looking at them a short time we all went down to camp and held a council. Buck said if I would stay with him he would make a killing as long as it would pay to stay; said he would give me 30 cents apiece for all the buffaloes I would skin and peg out. That is to say: after the hides were brought into camp and little holes cut through them around the outer edge and pegs about six inches long, sharpened at one end and driven into the ground through the holes, commencing the work by first driving three pegs at the neck end of the hide, then going to the tail end, and pulling on the hide to a proper degree and driving two pegs, one on each side of the tail, then soon all around it, stretching the hide in a proper and uniform shape. I told him I would stay with him indefinitely if I could get to where I could get some clothes, a gun, and plenty of tobacco.

I omitted, previously, to state that I was an inveterate chewer and smoker at the time; and what made the last day of my pilgrimage to the Adobe Walls worse was, that I ran out of both chewing and smoking tobacco. I told Mr. Wood so the morning that I came to them; told him "how I had missed my tobacco the day before." He gave me a piece, and said they nearly all used it, and had plenty of it. But it did not taste natural to me until this evening.

I now briefly gave the party my antecedents, and when I came to that part, and had related it, of the last few days' experience, they acted toward me more like father, mother, brothers and sisters than mere chance acquaintances.

George Simpson said: "I'll tell you what we will do: let's hunt here a few days until the bulk of these buffalo pass, then you and I will take two of the horses, some coffee, salt, and a little flour, and go back and get your gun and outfit." All of which was agreed to.

That night I slept soundly, and was awakened next morning by the crowing of the roosters. Each family had a coop of chickens. I got up feeling well refreshed.

After building the camp-fire, Buck and his wife came out of the tent. We all helped to get the breakfast, and soon after eating it was light enough to see the horses, which we soon had the harness on. We unloaded the wagon and hitched the team to it. Then, with a steel, a ripping-knife and a skinning-knife, together with an old Enfield rifle, I drove up the coulée behind Buck, who was on horseback, carrying a 50-caliber Sharp's rifle, a belt buckled around his waist containing thirty-two cartridges, besides a dozen loose ones in his coat pocket.

After going about a half-mile he rode down from a little rise he had gone upon, and waited for me to come up to him. When I came up he said: "Now drive on to yonder plum thicket, and go up on the bench to the left of it and wait and watch for me." I did so, and when I got there I saw that the buffaloes were in about the same position as they were the night before, only there were not so many. What breeze there was came from the northeast. I afterward learned much more about buffaloes than I knew then.

I had not waited long until I heard that loud and boom-like report of the "big fifty," that I was to hear more or less of for the next three years. Again I heard it; then about two miles west of where this report came from, pealed out the same deep roar and it came from George Simpson's big fifty. Then from Buck in front of me I heard again the loud detonating sound, and I saw the smoke as it floated away in the air to the southwest, and then for half an hour or more a desultory firing was kept up by both guns. The sound from Buck's gun was much more distinct than from George's, the former being much closer, and more on a line with the air-current.

After about three-quarters of an hour Buck rode upon an eminence in front of me, and waved his hat. I started toward him, and there was not a buffalo in sight; they had all hurried back over the divide toward Wolf creek,—the same creek where seven months after I picked up the brass kettle that verdigris-poisoned me.

Coming up to where Buck was, he informed me that he had killed sixteen buffalo. I was thrilled with delight; whereas, in less than four months I looked upon such things as a matter of course.

Following Buck, and driving nearly half a mile further, we came to the first carcass. One of the horses in the team was so frightened at sight and scent of the dead animal that we had much trouble to manage him. He was flighty and nervous, so much so that we had to unhitch and tie him to the wagon while I skinned the first buffalo. But before we got them all skinned we could drive up to the side of a carcass, and he would pay no attention to it. We thought that the quiet, sedate manner in which his mate acted had made him ashamed of himself.

Buck had skinned a few buffaloes in Colorado, and to me at that time he seemed like an expert. But in four months I could double-discount him. I would not attempt to tell the different positions and attitudes I placed myself in that day. Suffice to say, I got the hides off from ten of them, and when we got to camp, about four o'clock in the evening, I was so stiff and sore I could hardly get out of the wagon. While I was skinning the first buffalo, Buck rode out in the direction where George Simpson had been shooting and got back a little after I had started in on the second one.

These carcasses were strung out at even intervals for half a mile, in the direction that all the others went, viz., northeast. Some had turned to right and left of the line of travel. Buck skinned two of the carcasses while I was taking the hide from one. He would ride over the breaks of the coulée and be gone for an hour or so and come back and skin two more, then off again in some other direction. And when I was skinning my tenth carcass he came back and skinned the two remaining ones.

We took the hump from both sides of the hump ribs, of all the carcasses. In taking out the hump we inserted the knife at the coupling of the loin, cutting forward down the lower side, as far forward as the perpendicular ribs ran; then, starting at the loin again, would cut down on the upper side; then, taking hold of the end of the piece, would cut and hold off a little, running the knife as before, down the upper side,—thus taking out a strip from a full-grown animal about three feet long and widening and being thicker as it went forward, and near the front of the hump ribs it would as a rule be ten or twelve inches wide and four or five inches thick. When first taken out and when hung up for a couple of days with the big end down, it became shrunken, or "set," as we termed it. It also became tender and brittle, with no taint. The front end had a streak of lean and fat alternating, and when fried in tallow made a feast for the gods.

I had left the camp that morning without taking any drinking-water with me, and was very thirsty nearly all day, which seemed to contribute toward weakening me. But by quenching my thirst, lying down a few minutes, then eating a hearty meal, with strong coffee, and by stretching and working my arms and lower limbs, I was ready for the pegging-out of the hides, and before it was too dark to see how to strike a peg I had the sixteen hides pegged out and three dollars earned before going to bed, for the ten buffaloes that I had skinned and pegged out.

We reloaded the empty shells from the day's shooting, fifty-one in all, or a little over an average of three shots to the animal. Some were killed with one shot, some two, some three, and one with five shots. Others went off with the herd, carrying lead in their bodies.

Each hunter carried in his ammunition-box a reloading outfit, consisting of bullet molds, primer extractor, swedge, tamper, patch-paper, and lubricator. After reloading the shells we went to bed and to sleep.

I awoke the next morning rested, and eager for the hunt. I had thought when coming in with the hides to the camp the evening before that I would have to give up the job. But if anything I was now more anxious than ever to go on the hunt. Buck and his father went up on the little hill to look the country over, while I was hitching up the team. When they came back they reported that a few buffaloes were, in sight, in scattering bands, and that a few were close to camp. Buck advised me to not hitch up at present and said: "I wish you would cut four strong forks and four cross-arms [giving me the dimensions], drive the forks into the ground here [indicating the place], and when we come into camp to-night I'll fasten a hide inside the frame and we will have a vat to salt the humps in so we can dry them."

Alas! for plans. Before I had gotten quite through the work assigned me, I heard shooting up the coulée, five or six shots in rapid succession.

A short interval and boom! boom! again; and when he had fired about twenty rounds, at longer or shorter intervals, here there came down and out of the coulée, about thirty head of old stub-horn bulls, going at their lumbering, nodding gait, passing to within 100 feet of where our camp was.

I was near the wagon; the Enfield was in the front end of it, and the cartridge-belt around my waist. I hurried for the gun, put in a cartridge, and ran out toward them, dropping my right knee on the ground, took aim at the leader, and gave him a paunch shot ranging forward. Then I saw the rear of the herd was being followed by one with its right front leg broken and flapping. I aimed at him at the regulation place that I had heard Buck, George and the old man Wood say was the proper place to hit a buffalo with a side shot, which would be a place anywhere inside of a circle as large as a cowboy's hat, just back of the shoulder blade. And here was where I plunked him, and in much less time than it takes to tell it, the pale, frothy blood blubbered out of his nostrils, he made a few lurches and fell over—dead.

By this time the one I had "paunched" fell out to the left and stopped, while the rest seemed to increase their speed, with that characteristic motion, loping and bowing their great foreheads, their chin mops of long hair fairly sweeping the ground as their heads came down, in their up-and-down motion. They all passed on out of range of the Enfield, and the first one I had shot lay down on his hunkers and died in that position.

Soon Buck came riding out of the coulée and reported that he had killed four buffaloes and broken one's leg that had got away.

"Not much he didn't," said his wife; "Mr. Cook killed him with the old needle-gun," which term was used to designate all trap-door breech-blocks, "and another besides," she added. He had not yet seen the carcasses, although they were lying in plain sight on the short grass, the farthest one not more than 200 yards away.

When he saw them and me with the old gun yet in my hands, he said, "Well, I'll be darned! I've threatened to throw that old gun away several times, but I'm glad, now, I didn't."

We took the team and drove up the coulée to where the first bull had been killed, keeping the other three he had killed in sight. As we passed them Buck remarked that "these old stub-horns are harder to skin than cows," which we had the day before, "and I thought I'd help you with them, as I saw that you were pretty near played out yesterday."

Before we got the first hide off, we heard someone calling. Upon looking up we saw the women and children running toward us. We grabbed our guns and ran toward them, they still coming on. When we met them they were badly frightened, and told us that "the camp was full of Indians."

Buck said to me, "You go with the folks back of the wagon in the rough ground and I will try to find out what this means."

I said, "No, I will not; these are your own blood relations. You have the best gun and the most ammunition. You can make a better fight for them than I can. I'll go and see what this means myself."

Accordingly, I started off in the direction of camp, thinking that the women were "panicky." I could not bring myself to believe that there were war parties out at that time of the year.

I had not gone far when I met two soldiers of the Fourth United States cavalry riding rapidly up the coulée. The first thing one of them said, was: "Where are those women and children? Did you see them?"

My answer was, "Yes, boys, they are at such a place about now," pointing in the direction. One of them dismounted, saying, "Here,—you get on this horse, and go with this man and bring them to camp, for there is more danger where they are than in camp."

The other soldier and I hurried on until within about 300 yards of the broken ground, when I pulled up and said:

"Don't let's rush in there; for there is a man with them and he has a fifty-caliber Sharp's and lots of ammunition. They are comparative strangers to me; and if we lope in there one of us might get hurt before they could take us for friends. You stay where you are; I'll ride on slowly a little farther, and halloo and try and attract their attention toward me."

He replied: "All right; that is best."

I rode forward about 100 yards and hallooed, "O, Buck, Buck!"

"You-pee!" came back the response. Then he, the women and children, filed out of the broken ground and came on. The soldier then rode up, dismounted, and, walking along beside the whole party, explained the condition of affairs.

By the time we got to where Buck and I had left the team, the soldier who gave me his horse was there. We hitched up, all piled into the wagon, and went to camp. Mr. Wood and Simpson did not get in till near dark, bringing in twenty-one hides.

Arriving at camp, we met a sergeant and six more soldiers, making nine soldiers in all. I then learned from the non-commissioned officer that there had been an order issued from the War Department a few months before, that military escorts would be furnished to all Indian hunting parties in the future.

This was for two purposes: one to see that no overt act would be perpetrated by the Indians against settlers and other hunters, and _vice versa_; and that this was a "Kiowa hunting party," mostly young bloods, old men, and the whole squaw outfit. But some of the worst of the warriors were held as hostages at Fort Sill.

We all knew that the past summer had been a busy one with hunters, soldiers, and Indians.

It was the Indian war of 1874. It was the year that that Spartan band of buffalo hunters, at the Adobe Walls, withstood the siege of all the able-bodied warriors of the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa and Comanche tribes. It was that summer, on the Washita divide, that a mere apology, in point of numbers, of an escort and train guard resisted, charge after charge, with blood-curdling yells, more than a thousand of the best warriors of the southern wild Indians. It was that summer that the then Captain, Adna R. Chaffee, who had worked his way up from a private soldier, step by step, for heroic and meritorious conduct, to the position he then held, made his famous battle-field speech, near the breaks of the Red river, when he was confronted with a horde of painted, war-bonneted red-devils under old Nigger Horse. He halted his company, fronted them, right-dressed them, and said:

"Forward, boys! Charge them, and if any of you are killed I'll promote you to corporal."

It was in this country that Lieutenant Elliott was killed, and in whose honor Fort Elliott was named. It was the summer of the first big general slaughter by an army, as it were, of bold, venturesome hunters, making buffalo-hides a specialty for commercial purposes.

Was it any wonder that the Indians were mad? And this same ground that we were camping on was a portion of the Kiowas' favorite hunting-grounds. Here their ancestors had followed the chase for ages gone by.

The sergeant informed us that there was a company of the Fourth Cavalry with these Indians, with two commissioned officers. They had broken camp that morning very early, as they wished to go down the river to the mouth of White Deer that day, and not make two camps. They had crossed the Canadian river that morning about three miles above us, having come in from the south the day before; and that runners had come in the night before, who had been out scouting for good hunting, and had reported that the White Deer country was alive with the game they were hunting. He also said that it was customary in moving the big camp from place to place for a detail of soldiers to go ahead and the main escort to bring up the rear. He and his party had been assigned that duty for that day.

But Quirt Whip and his band of Indians had got ahead of them while they were getting a quicksanded horse out of the river, and when Quirt Whip came along to our camp, so Quirt Whip told him, the women and children all fled. So he sent an interpreter back hastily to tell what had happened, and he and his men had hastened on as fast as they could.

I asked the sergeant why the interpreter did not call out to the women and assure them there was no danger.

"Because," said he, "he was dressed like the rest and is a quarter-breed, three-quarters of it being on the Indian side; and he is totally devoid of intuition, and how in h——l he can talk two languages is beyond my comprehension."

I was silenced. The sergeant sent two men ahead to overtake Quirt Whip and travel with them to the White Deer camp. All the time our conversation was being carried on the Indians were passing our camp, about 100 yards south of it, going in an easterly direction. It was the first travois[1] (travoy) outfit I had ever seen,—but by no means the last, as I will relate and describe later on.

[1] TRAVOIS (from the French). A contrivance of two poles lashed at one end to each side of a pony, the other ends trailing on the ground. A sort of sack made from skins or canvas, is lashed to the cross-bars connecting the two poles. On this travois is carried the camp equipage, and sometimes a sick or wounded person.

Just as the last of the Indians were passing by and the other soldiers were near, the sergeant and his men started on and were but a little way off, when suddenly he wheeled around, galloped back to the command, dismounted, and saluted the officers, who were all quite near us. He seemed to be making an oral report, adding many gestures to it, and pointing toward us and in other directions. He then remounted and rode on in the direction his comrades had taken.

The command turned, left-obliqued, came up to within a few steps of Mr. Wood senior's tent, and dismounted where we were all at the time. The first lieutenant was the spokesman. He was as straight as an arrow, well proportioned, about six feet high, and about forty-five years old. He commenced by making a courteous bow to the ladies, saying:

"Glad to meet you, ladies, but sorry to find you here. How do you do, men? You people have had quite a shake-up. Where did you come from and where are you intending to go?"

Mrs. Wood, Sr., being a ready talker, briefly told him who they were; where they came from; where they were finally going to; and that the intention was to secure homes for all of them near Fort Elliott, if the country there suited them; and wound up by telling him we were short two men, her husband and her daughter-in-law's brother; that they had gained one man to their party at the Adobe Walls. He had been lost several days, with nothing to eat, and was with them temporarily. She told him that she expected her husband and George any time, and that for her part buffalo-hunting had lost its charms for her; that she would not pass through such a mental strain and physical exertion again, as she had that morning, for all the buffalo-hides on the whole range.

The officer then said, addressing himself more to Buck and myself: "This is no place for these women and children. Strong men can generally come through all right, in an Indian country; and that is what this is at present. The Cheyennes and Arapahoes hunt north of here; the Comanches are hunting south of here; they, or these Kiowas, and a small party of young men, could slip out of their camp, and in the absence of you men murder these women and children, for it is in their hearts to do it. They look upon you as trespassers on their hunting-grounds. I will leave a guard here of five of my troopers; and when the other two men come in I want you all to come with them to my camp. Be sure and break this camp by tomorrow morning and follow us."

With that he turned around and said: "Sergeant, detail five men with their bedding and rations, and instruct them to remain with these people and bring them to my camp tomorrow."

Mrs. Wood said, "No, you don't need any rations; we will do their cooking and furnish the provisions ourselves."

The Lieutenant doffed his hat to her, said "Thank you, madam," and was gone with his men of blue.

Buck and I went out and skinned our buffaloes; brought in and pegged out the hides. We helped his father and George do the same when they came in.

The next morning we all pulled out and went to White Deer, stopped our wagons close to the soldiers' tents, and pitched our tents.

The next morning I went to the officer's tent and told him that the men wished to go back after the hides.

He said: "I'll tell you; I have been thinking about you people. It is about eight miles from here to the military trail from Fort Dodge to Fort Elliott. There is less danger along that trail than where you were. There were several Kiowas killed and wounded at the old Adobe Walls last summer. Night before last, where we camped, they held a kind of mourning powwow, because white hunters had killed their people. Now you folks unload your wagons and go back after the hides, take them onto the trail and spread them out; then come back here and get your outfit. In three more days, I will move down to the Antelope hills, and camp just over the boundary line in the Indian Territory, leaving you people on the military trail, shifting all responsibility for your welfare."

That being a mandate, we governed ourselves accordingly. After we were in camp a few days near the government trail, and about three miles south of the Canadian river, we learned that there was a way-station about a mile and a half north of the river crossing, and that the proprietor kept hunters' supplies and bought hides.

Buck and I rode over to the place and found we were at the Springer ranch. It was built on the block-house, stockade, Indian frontier plan. It faced south towards the river. A square pit six by six feet and six feet deep had been dug inside the building. Then from it, leading south, was a trench running outside fifty feet, where was dug a circular pit ten feet in diameter and five feet deep. This and the trench were cribbed over and the dirt tamped down over it. The circular pit was portholed all around. Also, from the pit inside the block-house there was a trench running to the corral and stable. The stockade being loopholed made the whole place so impregnable that a few cool, determined men could make it impossible for the allied tribes to take it without artillery.

We traded our hides to Springer for provisions, ammunition, etc. Here I was fortunate enough to get me two fair suits of underwear, stockings, boots, and such necessaries as I was in need of.

Springer told us he thought there was no danger of the Indians bothering us before spring; thought we were perfectly safe to go anywhere except to cross the one-hundredth meridian, which was the line between the Indian Territory and the Panhandle of Texas. He said: "If you are caught over the line you will be arrested by some deputy United States Marshal and put to lots of trouble." But we had no desire to go that way at the time.

The next day we hauled over to Springer all the hides we had on hand, receiving $2.50 for the old bull-hides, $3 for the choice robe cow-hides, and $1.75 each for all the others.

Buck and I found a place four miles southwest of the Springer ranch, about two hundred yards from the river, on the south side, and at the mouth of a dry sand creek, where there was a large grove of cottonwood timber, and in the sand creek at the south end of the grove were several holes of fresh water. Here we decided to build a log cabin, it being the first house built on the South Canadian river, in the Panhandle of Texas, inhabited by a pale-face family. While cutting the logs and building this cabin, we occasionally killed a straggling buffalo, until we had on hand the day we moved into the house (which we were more than two weeks in building), thirty-one hides.

These we hauled to Springer, and while there we met a party of regular buffalo-hunters. They informed us that the great mass of the buffaloes was south of the Red river, and that there would be no profitable buffalo-hunting here until the next May or June. Here I was fortunate enough to buy of one of these hunters a Sharp's 44-caliber rifle, reloading outfit, belt, and 150 shells. The man had used the gun only a short time, and seventy-five of the shells had never been loaded. I got the gun and his interest in the entire buffalo range for thirty-six dollars, he having met with the misfortune of shooting himself seriously, but not fatally, in the right side with the same gun which proved a "hoodoo" to me as the hunters afterwards sometimes remarked. It was an elegant fine-sighted gun, with buckhorn sights.

Wild turkeys were plentiful all about our cabin, and were so tame that it was no trouble at all to kill them in daytime, and in bright moonlight nights one could get up close to their roosts, and by getting them between the hunter and the moon, they were frequently shot from the trees.

On the north side of the river from the cabin, and a half-mile or so from the river was quite a grove of persimmon trees, some of them twenty-five or thirty feet high, and some with trunks eight inches in diameter. About the time we first commenced the building of the cabin the fruit must have been in its prime, but when we found them they were nearly gone.

This particular morning that we found it we had crossed the river on horseback and were riding north toward the hills to look for chance buffalo, when Buck's attention was attracted toward the grove, which was on our left about two hundred yards from us.

"Look! look! See how that tree shakes." We stopped, and presently saw a violent trembling or shaking of another tree some little distance from the first. "John," said he, "that's a 'simmon grove and that's a bear in there."

We had seen bear-tracks along the river-bars several times while building the cabin. He told me to keep around the right of the grove between it and the hills.

Said he: "I'll keep to the left between it and the river; we will ride slow, and if he breaks out you play it to him. You can shoot off Barney [the horse I was riding] all right. He stands good; I've killed many a deer off from him up on the Picket Wire."

When we parted he said: "Now, John, let's be careful, and don't let's shoot one another."

I rode quartering toward the grove, and on my left I caught sight of a bear with its head from me. I stopped, cocked my gun, had my trigger finger inside the trigger guard, and was raising the gun to take aim, when old Barney gave a snort, whirled so quickly that I and the gun both went off, the bullet presumably striking the ground just a little ahead of me, and for the next twenty or more minutes it was the most exciting, busy and laughable hunts for game I ever experienced.

I had fallen forward on my face. The muzzle of the gun struck the ground first and got sand in it. I was on my feet instantly, and picked up the gun; threw down the breech-block, and soon had aim. Then I saw that Buck was riding up rapidly between myself and the grove, and quite close to it. I rushed forward, and, crossing Buck's track in behind his horse, I got a good shot at the bear and broke his back. There was no underbrush in the grove, and what grass there was literally tramped down, and one could see clear through the grove from any direction.

At report of the gun Buck turned his horse around, and just as I shot the second time he shot at another bear that had broken from cover and was running for the hills. My second shot killed the bear that I was after. Buck's first shot went wild.

Seeing that the first bear was safe, I ran on north through the scattering trees; but before I had gotten to the north end of the persimmon grove, Buck had fired twice more, and when I came in full view of the bear it was nearly three hundred yards away and going north, with Buck a close second. He would stop and shoot about every one hundred yards; but could not get his horse to run onto the bear. Every time he would get up anywise close to it his horse would shy off.

After running and shooting four or five times this way he flanked his horse to the right and put him to his full speed. After passing the bear he circled in toward him. They were then nearly a mile off, and close to the hills. When he got as close as he thought he could get the horse to the bear, he checked up and dismounted; dropping one knee to the ground, he fired, and as he afterwards told me he was not over eight yards from Bruin.

The moment Buck dismounted his horse bolted, and struck for the cabin. When the horse passed near me he was straining every muscle to its fullest tension. The saddle stirrups were flapping and seeming to keep time to the motion. I only took a hurried glance at "Doc," as the horse was called, as he passed by, then looking toward the bear and Buck, saw they were both coming toward me. Just behind in the edge of the persimmon grove there was a tree that forked. About six feet from there another one was leaning considerably grown up through the fork. I retreated to this place and got up in the crotch and by leaning my back against one of the forks and with both feet on the leaning tree, which was about five inches in diameter, my weight would press it down solid in the crotch, which gave me fair footing; then by peering out through the small limbs and twigs I could observe all that was going on.

The bear was nearly a quarter of a mile ahead of Buck, and was going along leisurely, and every now and then would look back. Buck was in a kind of dog-trot, and every few rods would stop, shoot, and come on. When the bear was about one hundred and fifty yards from the grove he turned a little to the right, which pleased me, for I had begun to get uneasy for fear a spent ball from the pursuer's gun might hit me. As the animal turned I noticed his tongue was lolling, and that he was badly wounded. I pointed the gun toward him, and, watching to get the best chance, I shot through twigs and all. At the crack of the gun the bear turned east and got on a line between Buck and me.

He had now gained on the wounded animal so much that he was not more than two hundred yards behind it. He called out, "Don't shoot!" I answered back, "Don't you shoot!" The bear was then going very slowly, and Buck now coming as fast as he could trot.

By the time he had come up to within a hundred feet of it it had passed out of line of me, when I said, "Here I am, Buck, in a tree. I think it safe for you to shoot now. The twigs are so thick I can't get a bead on him."

As the report of the gun died away the bear lay down and gave up the struggle. Whether from the last shot or pure exhaustion from loss of blood from its other wounds, we were not able to say. I got down out of my perch and we both met by the dead bear.

Buck asked, "Where is Barney?"

I asked, "Where is Doc?"

Here we were, both afoot and the river between us and the cabin. The sight and scent of the bears had thrown both horses in a panic, and it was sheer fright that had caused them to bolt. We decided to skin the bears, hang the hides and meat up in the trees, go down opposite the cabin, and call for Mrs. Wood to bring the horses over to us.

The bears were the common black species which were frequently found in that region. South of there, in the Brazos river breaks, they were very numerous. The two were in fine condition, a male and female, and would weigh something like six hundred pounds for the male and five hundred pounds for the female.

After dressing them we started for the river. As we were approaching and nearly opposite the camp, we saw Mrs. Wood riding up to the bank from the home side. She was riding the horse we had left in camp. She crossed over to us, and told us that "Barney" and "Doc" were both scared, and trembled so that she could not lead them. Said she knew where we were all the time by the shooting, and thought she would bring Dave over to us so we could ford the river. Wood and his wife crossed over; then he came back for me, and soon we were at the cabin.

After washing the blood from our hands we went to the saddle-horses, and soon calmed their fears. Then, mounting them, we led Dave, took ropes along to pack with, and went back for our meat and hides. When we again got near the place Doc and Barney snorted and shied and trembled from fear,—so much so that we were compelled to go back toward the river and fasten them to some bushes.

But Dave, good old sensible Dave, had no fear whatever. We led him right up to the carcasses, and packed the hides and such of the meat as we cared to take. Then Buck sent me on ahead to loosen and get on one of the saddle-horses, and to hold the other until he came along.

When I commenced to untie them they snorted, jerked, and trembled violently; but I finally succeeded in getting them both loose. Mounting Barney, I held Doc by the bridle-rein. When they saw Buck, Dave and the pack coming they held their heads high, and stared at the outfit until they came too close for them to stand it any longer when instantly they bolted again. Soon I had to let go of Doc's rein, and away he went for home. I circled Barney around the pack twice, he shying off all the time.

Finally Buck said: "Let me get on him, John; there is no sense in his acting that way. When we get to camp I'll teach him and Doc both to pack bear-hides."

I dismounted and traveled on toward camp with faithful old Dave. Buck struck out for home, and when I and Dave came to the river I led him down the bank and started him across. The water was near three feet deep for about fifty feet; then it shallowed down to a mere nothing on the south side.

The weather was then, and for the past three weeks had been, bright and pleasant. But the water was cold. So I sat down on the bank to wait for Buck to come back. Sensible old Dave went on into camp. The river-bottom from the river to within about five rods of camp was covered with thick buck-brush, plum, and scattering cottonwood. Just as Dave was coming out of this thicket Wood was starting in, and when the horses saw him and the pack they flew the track as usual, and he let them shy off and around, being in a hurry to get me across the river, which was soon done.

I have dwelt at some length on this incident, for two reasons: one is to dispose of the idea that bears hibernate, or go into their holes and cave up in winter and never come out until spring; the other, as I had been told in boyhood, that all horses would tremble and run at sight or scent of bear. We talked of this a good deal at the time. It surprised me when Buck intimated that those trees were being shaken by bears, the time then being after mid-December. Buck informed me that in that climate it was so near spring and the weather being fine, it was only natural for them to be out if they had "holed up" at all; and he doubted that they had done so, saying that "in Arkansas he had known them to be out every month of the year."

We both felt sorry for Barney and Doc, they were so badly frightened and could not help it.

Wood had been feeding his horses a quart of oats apiece every night, as he claimed that would accustom them to camp, so that no matter where he roamed, the horses would always feel at home where the camp was. We spread a bear-hide down on the ground, where we fed the horses and poured out their feed as usual that evening, on a tarpaulin close by the hide; but the two would not come to it. Dave walked up and helped himself to his share. We then took up the rest of the oats and repeated this until the fourth evening, when the other two ventured up and ate their grain. In a few days' time they would both allow us to place the hides on their backs. Seemingly all fear had gone.

At the time we decided to build our cabin Mr. Wood, senior, and Simpson decided that they would pull on to Fort Elliott and get all the information they could about the country in general and the Sweet Water country in particular; and if they could find what they wanted near the garrison they would locate, and consider hunting afterward. We all bade each other a hearty good-by, they taking the trail for the fort.

We heard nothing of or from them until a few days after we killed the bears. The day we heard of them we had all been away from the cabin. All had gone on horseback, and we had ridden south from camp and gone up on the divide between the Canadian and Washita rivers.

We had killed and skinned the only two buffaloes we had seen. I made the remark, as we were on our road home, that I thought that we were "in a poor locality for even stragglers."

Buck said: "Yes; and if fair hunting doesn't show up pretty soon, I'll begin to think that there will be no hunting here until June, as we were told at Springer's; and maybe we'd better put south."

As we came in sight of the cabin, we saw a covered wagon drawn up in front of the door. We were all delighted, excited, and speculated as to whom it could be, and what it meant. We were soon enlightened, for on coming up to the cabin, we were met by George Simpson and Virginia, she that was formerly Virginia Wood, but now Mrs. Simpson.

This couple the day before had been married at Fort Elliott, by the post adjutant. They had taken their wedding tour in a two-horse Bain wagon, over the virgin soil of the Panhandle of Texas, to our humble but hospitable abode, to spend their honeymoon. So I was in the presence of the first couple that was married in the Panhandle.

That evening, around our fireside, I began to get some idea of the magnitude of the slaughter of poor Lo's commissary. George told us of having been at the fort, where there was a large, well-stocked sutler's store, and that at a place called Sweet Water, on the Sweet Water creek, three miles below the fort, Charles Roth and Bob Wright had a large store, carrying all kinds of hunters' supplies, and they had acres of high piles of hides; that it was a wild and woolly place, having a large dance-hall, two restaurants, three saloons, small and large hunting outfits coming and going; generally, from ten to fifteen outfits there nearly every day; that the great masses of buffalo were south of the Red river, fifty miles south of there, and still moving south; that they would keep going gradually south, until by ancient custom they turned north; that they were expected to be back there in May on their way north; that all the hunters were going to follow the herds to Red, Pease, and Brazos rivers.

He said that the story of my being lost was a general subject of talk among the hunters and soldiers, and that it had been exaggerated and told in different versions so that he could hardly get them to accept the facts as I had told them in detail to the Wood family. One story was, that I had been gone twenty days, with nothing to eat. He informed us that old man Wood had located a place near the head of Gageby creek, ten miles northeast of Fort Elliott, and was cutting logs to build a house; and that he wanted Buck and me to come and get land by him, help build his house, and start the building-up of a community.

So we talked the matter over for two days, and then pulled out for Gageby, in due time arriving there and looking the country over for a few days.

George Simpson and myself fitted out to go and find the Mexican camp, and the people I had come from New Mexico with. I was anxious to get a War Department map before going back to the Owa Sula or Blue Water. So Buck and I rode to the fort. As is a rule at military frontier posts, we reported at the adjutant's office and registered our names, whence we came, and whither destined. When I asked for the map the commanding officer, who was present, asked what I wanted it for. I told him "I had made the mistake of being lost between the Blue Water and the Adobe Walls;" and before I could proceed with the reason why I wanted the map he called me inside the railing that partitioned off the office from the waiting-room, and said:

"Be seated. Now tell us all about that affair. We have heard different stories. Now I want it at first hand."

After commencing at the time I left my father's house in Johnson county, Kansas, I detailed my movements up to the time I was in his presence. I finished by telling him that so far as the gun, bedding and clothing that I had at the Mexican camp were concerned, I was not particular about them. But I had some papers in the outfit that were valuable. He asked me the nature of them. I told him that my grandfather, Jacob Cook, was a soldier in the Mexican War, and for his services was awarded one-third of a league of land; that he had located it in Nueces county, Texas; that he died at Matagorda Bay, of yellow fever, while on his way home after the war with Mexico; that all the papers pertaining to the land belonging to him, consisting of 1496 acres, fell to my father; that he had placed those papers in my hands for my own use.

The commander arose, and stretching himself, said: "A straightforward story, sir; sounds like a book. Adjutant, furnish this man with a map, with instructions to return it as soon as he makes his trip, and to report any water he may find not marked on the map."

Before we left the office an undersized Mexican came in, and in broken English engaged the adjutant in conversation.

The adjutant said: "Oh, by the way, Theodosia [the Mexican's name], your home is at La Glorieta; do you know Anton Romero?"

"Yes, his son Manuel is here now, at the sutler's store."

I stepped up to the Mexican, who was a government scout and guide, and I said: "Come and show him to me."

Theodosia, Buck and I went to the store. At sight of me the young fellow stood for a moment in doubt and amazement; then hurried up to me and gave me the Mexican hug; and how he did unravel his lingo, laughing and crying both at once.

Theodosia interpreted his words to me in this wise: "I am so glad. My father is in distress about you. He would never have let you leave our camp alone. We hunted you for three days; father will be so glad now."

I asked the scout to find out where the camp was now: "En donde es el campo?" (Where is your camp?)

He said it was on the Palo Juan; that we could go and come in two days; that the hunting gave out on the Blue Water; and that they had come on toward the fort, hoping to find better hunting; and also that he had come in the night before to get some ammunition, and to find out if anyone had seen the Americano who left their camp.

To make a long story short, I made arrangements with Manuel to go back and report that he had found me, and for him and his father to come the next day and bring my outfit.

Buck went back to his camp on the Gageby. I rode Doc to the quartermaster's corral; and as I dismounted I recognized the familiar face of Jack Callahan, who had been a six-mule-team wagonmaster during the rebellion, whom I well remembered in Arkansas. It took but a few words for him to remember me. But as I had grown to full manhood, with beard on my face, he did not at first recognize me. I was made welcome and at home.

The next evening after dark, Theodosia came and told me that Romero and son were there, and were going into camp back of the sutler's store. I at once hastened to them, and the joy that Romero expressed at sight of me was genuine. For he had not only been very friendly with me, but he was troubled in mind for my safety. He had my gun, my wardrobe and bedding, and I was missing. He did not know what might have happened. But the saints had been good to him, and the Virgin Mary was smiling. He did not want to be suspected of having murdered me, such an act having been done for less value than a Winchester gun and a few duds. The next morning I had Theodosia go with me to Romero and his son's camp. And after they got my roll of bedding, war-bag and gun out of their wagon, I asked them what I owed them, from the time I came to their place at La Glorieta until this time.

Romero said: "No! No! hombre-man; you owe me nothing. You all the time helped in camp; here are all your things. I shot away all your cartridges but two; how much shall I pay you for them?"

I picked up my Winchester and belt and placed them in his hands, saying, "Romero, these are yours."

"No, no," he said; but when I insisted and told him about my other gun, before spoken of, he thanked me, saying, as he patted the stock of the Winchester, "I'll keep it as long as I live, and it shall never go out of my family." Then, after a general talk of half an hour or so, we each went his way.

I had heard of the professed friendship, the insincerity, the treachery, the thieving propensities of the New-Mexican, until, if I had allowed my prejudices to govern me, as some did, I should be calling them a race of blanketed thieves. Of course there were, and are yet, many of that class among the New-Mexicans, but it was not the rule, according to my experience.

Farewell, Romero! Although your color is cinnamon, and you may have Spanish, Navajo, or even Apache blood in your veins, you treated me white all the same.

After reporting to the post adjutant and handing him the map, I left for Sweet Water, and there I met the real genuine hide-hunters, who followed this as an exclusive business. Several outfits were camped on the creek, and with them I put in the remainder of the day and evening, picking up information, taking items, and asking some questions. Every hunter kept open camp. Hospitality was unbounded. Every man seemed to carry his heart upon his sleeve. It was here this day that I met the greatest of all buffalo-slayers. He was fitting out to make the first southern hunt that had yet been made by the so-called northern hunters in the Pease and Brazos rivers country; and he offered me twenty-five cents per hide for skinning buffaloes. Another man, from northern Kansas, had engaged to go with him. They intended to start in four or five days. I told him I would like to go back to Gageby and talk with the Wood outfit before agreeing to engage with him. Thereupon it was agreed that I would let him know in two or three days what answer to make him.

The next morning I rode over to Gageby, reaching there before noon. I had thought the matter all out, and felt that I was to be a member of that army of hunters that were to exterminate within the next three years the countless herds of the American bison.

We were all camped together at this time, and that night I stated the case something like this: "Now you people are all different from me. You have more of a community interest; mine is a range interest. It is immediate funds that I need, and to get the quickest results it is to my interest to follow the buffaloes." They all agreed with me, but said if I would stay with them till spring I would get all the hunting I wanted, but that I must decide for myself.

So, early the next morning, Buchanan Wood made me a tender of the money for the number of the hides I had skinned, and some I had not, while I had been with him. I told him that I hoped I could not be so ungrateful for the many favors I had received from their hands, and insisted that it was I who owed them money; to which they nearly all in a chorus said: "Oh, no! not to the Woods."

I felt that they were my benefactors. They had treated me just as a member of their family from start to finish. Their hospitality was as broad as the prairies we traveled over; they were kind to one another, and considerate of the stranger within their gates.

They were a common people, of rather rough exterior, but imbued with Christian principles. They were a strong type of the backwoodsman, and had not one personal trait of selfishness among them.

I had arranged with Buck, the night before, to take me to Sweet Water. When we were ready to start I parted from these Good Samaritans of the wilderness with no little reluctance. There were no limpy dishrag handshakes. It was a cordial grasp of the hand and looking me straight in the eyes; from the old man to the least child, it was "Good-by, John."

Mrs. Wood said: "Now, John, if you come back with the buffaloes next summer, you must come and see us; for right here is where we will be if the Indians don't scare us away."

Buck and I went to Elliott first, to get my bedding and clothes to take to Sweet Water. While there I went to the sutler's store and bought a useful present for each member of each family, and sent them back by Buck, as tokens of my regard for them.

Arriving at Sweet Water, James Buchanan Wood and I parted, and I never saw him again. Good-by, Buck; you were one of Nature's noblemen.

I reported to the famous hunter before alluded to. He was a six-footer, built like a greyhound, supple as a cat, a man of unusual vitality, long-winded in the chase, and an unerring shot at game. His name was Charles Hart. He was a Union ex-soldier, captured at the battle of Shiloh, and lived through the horrors of Andersonville prison. He was in the habit of getting on periodical sprees, at which time his imagination would run riot.

The man from northern Kansas was also a Union ex-soldier, named Warren Dockum. If the reader will look on the map of Texas, made some few years after this time, he will see marked on a tributary of White Cañon, Dockum's Ranch, where he located in 1877, two years after I first met him.

A man named Hadley was to accompany us with a freight team. He had six yoke of oxen and a heavy freight wagon.

Then there was Cyrus Reed, and his brother-in-law, Frank Williamson, a green, gawky boy, seventeen years old. These, with myself, completed the number in our outfit. We had two two-horse teams hitched to light wagons, on starting out. One of these teams hauled the provisions and camp outfit, which consisted of one medium and one large-sized Dutch oven, three large frying-pans, two coffee-pots, two camp-kettles, bread-pans, coffee-mill, tin cups, plates, knives, forks, spoons, pot-hooks, a meat-broiler, shovel, spades, axes, mess-box, etc. The other one hauled our bedding, ammunition, two extra guns, grindstone, war sacks, and what reading-matter we had and could get.

Before leaving, I went to the fort and made the rounds of the garrison, with a sack, and begged and received nearly all the sack would hold of newspapers and magazines. The soldiers' and officers' wives seemed glad to get rid of them, and we were only too glad to get them.

We left the Sweet Water with enough provisions to last us three months. We had 250 pounds of St. Louis shot-tower lead in bars done up in 25-pound sacks; 4000 primers, three 25-pound cans of Dupont powder, and one 6-pound can. This description would be the basis for all hunting outfits complete, which would vary in the size of the crew, larger or smaller, and the length of time they expected to be away from supplies.

We left the Sweet Water a few days after New Year's Day, 1875, starting up Graham creek; when at its head, we veered a little southwest until we crossed the north fork of Red river. Here we took and kept as near a due south course as we could get our wagons over. We traveled five days continuously, now and then killing and skinning a few straggling buffaloes that were handy on our route. These hides we put in the freight wagon and every night we spread them on the ground.

The sixth day we lay over in camp, to rest the stock; and the next day we pulled up onto the Pease river divide, and got a view of the rear of the great countless mass of buffaloes.

That night we camped on a tributary of Pease river, where there were five other hunting outfits, which had come from Sweet Water ahead of us, but had kept a few miles east of our route. These outfits can be named in this order, and like our own followed these animals to the last: "Carr & Causey," "Joe Freed's," "John Godey's," "Uncle Joe Horde," "Hiram Bickerdyke." "Hi," as we always afterward called him, was a son of Mother Bickerdyke, the famous army nurse, during the Civil War, and who was looked upon by the soldiers she campaigned with as a ministering angel.

That evening there was a general discussion in regard to the main subject in hunters' minds. Colorado had passed stringent laws that were practically prohibitory against buffalo-killing; the Legislature of Kansas did the same; the Indian Territory was patrolled by United States marshals. And all the venturesome hunters from eastern Colorado, western Kansas, the Platte, Solomon and Republican rivers country came to Texas to follow the chase for buffalo-hides.

The Texas Legislature, while we were here among the herds, to destroy them, was in session at Austin, with a bill drawn up for their protection. General Phil. Sheridan was then in command of the military department of the Southwest, with headquarters at San Antonio. When he heard of the nature of the Texas bill for the protection of the buffaloes, he went to Austin, and, appearing before the joint assembly of the House and Senate, so the story goes, told them that they were making a sentimental mistake by legislating in the interest of the buffalo. He told them that instead of stopping the hunters they ought to give them a hearty, unanimous vote of thanks, and appropriate a sufficient sum of money to strike and present to each one a medal of bronze, with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged Indian on the other.

He said: "These men have done in the last two years and will do more in the next year, to settle the vexed Indian question, than the entire regular army has done in the last thirty years. They are destroying the Indians' commissary; and it is a well-known fact that an army losing its base of supplies is placed at a great disadvantage. Send them powder and lead, if you will; but, for the sake of a lasting peace, let them kill, skin, and sell until the buffaloes are exterminated. Then your prairies can be covered with speckled cattle, and the festive cowboy, who follows the hunter as a second forerunner of an advanced civilization."

His words had the desired effect, and for the next three years the American bison traveled through a hail of lead.

The next morning our outfit pulled out south, and that day we caught up with and passed through many straggling bands of these solemn-looking but doomed animals. And thus we traveled by easy stages four days more.

Arriving on the breaks of the Salt fork of the Brazos river, we realized that we were in the midst of that vast sea of animals that caused us gladness and sorrow, joy, trouble and anxiety, but independence, for the succeeding three years. We drove down from the divide, and, finding a fresh spring of water, went into camp at this place. We decided to scout the country around for a suitable place for a permanent camp.

About four miles to the west and south we found an ideal hunters' camp: plenty of fresh water, good grass, and wood in abundance. Here we made headquarters until April. This was a broken decomposed "mica" or "isinglass" (gypsum) region, along the breaks of the streams. We were twenty-five miles west of the one-hundredth meridian, in plain view of the Kiowa peak to our east and the Double Mountain to our south. We were in a veritable hunters' paradise. There were buffalo, antelope, deer, and as one of the party remarked, "turkey until further orders."

I had killed wild turkeys in southwest Missouri, also in southeastern Kansas, and had always looked upon them as a wary game bird. But here, turkey, turkey! Manifesting at all times and places a total indifference to our presence. At first we killed some of them, but after cooking and attempting to eat them we gave it up. Their meat was bitter and sickening, from eating china-berries (the fruit of _Sapindus marginatus_, or soapberry trees). So we passed and repassed them; and they did the same, and paid no attention whatever to us.

Just below our camp there was a large turkey-roost, where they gathered in at night by thousands. They came in droves from all points of the compass.

Deer were simply too easy to find; for they were ever present. The same with antelope, bear, panther, mountain lion or cougar, raccoon, polecat, swift coyotes and wolves—they were all here.

And at times I asked myself: "What would you do, John R. Cook, if you had been a child of this wonderfully prolific game region, your ancestors, back through countless ages, according to traditional history, having roamed these vast solitudes as free as the air they breathed? What would you do if some outside interloper should come in and start a ruthless slaughter upon the very soil you had grown from childhood upon, and that you believed you alone had all the rights by occupancy that could possibly be given one? Yes, what would you do?"

But there are two sides to the question. It is simply a case of the survival of the fittest. Too late to stop and moralize now. And sentiment must have no part in our thoughts from this time on. We must have these 3361 hides that this region is to and did furnish us inside of three months, within a radius of eight miles from this main camp. So at it we went. And Hart, whom we will hereafter call Charlie, started out, and in two hours had killed sixty-three bison.

powered by social2s