User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active
 

Article Index

 

FIGHT WITH COMANCHE'S.
 
 
 
 Early in the spring of 1828, a company of young men residing in the
 vicinity of Franklin, Missouri, having heard related by a neighbour
 who had recently returned the wonderful story of a passage across
 the great plains, and the strange things to be seen in the land of
 the Greasers, determined to explore the region for themselves;
 making the trip in wagons, an innovation of a startling character,
 as heretofore only pack-animals had been employed in the limited trade
 with far-off Santa Fe.  The story of their journey can best be told
 in the words of one of the party:[19]--
 
           We had about one thousand miles to travel, and as there was
           no wagon-road in those early days across the plains to the
           mountains, we were compelled to take our chances through
           the vast wilderness, seeking the best route we could.
 
           No signs of life were visible except the innumerable buffalo
           and antelope that were constantly crossing our trail.
           We moved on slowly from day to day without any incident
           worth recording and arrived at the Arkansas; made the
           passage and entered the Great American Desert lying beyond,
           as listless, lonesome, and noiseless as a sleeping sea.
           Having neglected to carry any water with us, we were obliged
           to go withot a drop for two days and nights after leaving
           the river.  At last we reached the Cimarron, a cool,
           sparkling stream, ourselves and our animals on the point
           of perishing.  Our joy at discovering it, however, was
           short-lived.  We had scarcely quenched our thirst when
           we saw, to our dismay, a large band of Indians camped on
           its banks.  Their furtive glances at us, and significant
           looks at each other, aroused our worst suspicions, and
           we instinctively felt we were not to get away without
           serious trouble.  Contrary to our expectations, however,
           they did not offer to molest us, and we at once made up
           our minds they preferred to wait for our return, as we
           believed they had somehow learned of our intention to bring
           back from New Mexico a large herd of mules and ponies.
 
           We arrived in Santa Fe on the 20th of July, without further
           adventure, and after having our stock of goods passed
           through the custom house, were granted the privilege of
           selling them.  The majority of the party sold out in a
           very short time and started on their road to the States,
           leaving twenty-one of us behind to return later.
 
           On the first day of September, those of us who had remained
           in Santa Fe commenced our homeward journey.  We started
           with one hundred and fifty mules and horses, four wagons,
           and a large amount of silver coin.  Nothing of an eventful
           character occurred until we arrived at the Upper Cimarron
           Springs, where we intended to encamp for the night.
           But our anticipations of peaceable repose were rudely
           dispelled; for when we rode up on the summit of the hill,
           the sight that met our eyes was appalling enough to excite
           the gravest apprehensions.  It was a large camp of
           Comanches, evidently there for the purpose of robbery
           and murder.  We could neither turn back nor go on either
           side of them on account of the mountainous character of
           the country, and we realized, when too late, that we were
           in a trap.
 
           There was only one road open to us; that right through
           the camp.  Assuming the bravest look possible, and keeping
           our rifles in position for immediate action, we started
           on the perilous venture.  The chief met us with a smile
           of welcome, and said, in Spanish: "You must stay with us
           to-night.  Our young men will guard your stock, and we have
           plenty of buffalo meat."
 
           Realizing the danger of our situation, we took advantage
           of every moment of time to hurry through their camp.
           Captain Means, Ellison, and myself were a little distance
           behind the wagons, on horseback; observing that the balance
           of our men were evading them, the blood-thirsty savages
           at once threw off their masks of dissimulation and in an
           instant we knew the time for a struggle had arrived.
 
           The Indians, as we rode on, seized our bridle-reins and
           began to fire upon us.  Ellison and I put spurs to our
           horses and got away, but Captain Means, a brave man,
           was ruthlessly shot and cruelly scalped while the life-blood
           was pouring from his ghastly wounds.
 
           We succeeded in fighting them off until we had left their
           camp half a mile behind, and as darkness had settled down
           on us, we decided to go into camp ourselves.  We tied our
           gray bell-mare to a stake, and went out and jingled the
           bell, whenever any of us could do so, thus keeping the
           animals from stampeding.  We corralled our wagons for
           better protection, and the Indians kept us busy all night
           resisting their furious charges.  We all knew that death
           at our posts would be infinitely preferable to falling
           into their hands; so we resolved to sell our lives as
           dearly as possible.
 
           The next day we made but five miles; it was a continuous
           fight, and a very difficult matter to prevent their
           capturing us.  This annoyance was kept up for four days;
           they would surround us, then let up as if taking time to
           renew their strength, to suddenly charge upon us again,
           and they continued thus to harass us until we were almost
           exhausted from loss of sleep.
 
           After leaving the Cimarron, we once more emerged on the
           open plains and flattered ourselves we were well rid of
           the savages; but about twelve o'clock they came down on us
           again, uttering their demoniacal yells, which frightened
           our horses and mules so terribly, that we lost every hoof.
           A member of our party, named Hitt, in endeavouring to
           recapture some of the stolen stock, was taken by the
           savages, but luckily escaped from their clutches, after
           having been wounded in sixteen parts of his body;
           he was shot, tomahawked, and speared.  When the painted
           demons saw that one of their number had been killed by us,
           they left the field for a time, while we, taking advantage
           of the temporary lull, went back to our wagons and built
           breastworks of them, the harness, and saddles.  From noon
           until two hours in the night, when the moon went down,
           the savages were apparently confident we would soon fall
           a prey to them, and they made charge after charge upon
           our rude fortifications.
 
           Darkness was now upon us.  There were two alternatives
           before us: should we resolve to die where we were, or
           attempt to escape in the black hours of the night?
           It was a desperate situation.  Our little band looked
           the matter squarely in the face, and, after a council
           of war had been held, we determined to escape, if possible.
 
           In order to carry out our resolve, it was necessary to
           abandon the wagons, together with a large amount of silver
           coin, as it would be impossible to take all of the precious
           stuff with us in our flight; so we packed up as much of it
           as we could carry, and, bidding our hard-earned wealth
           a reluctant farewell, stepped out in the darkness like
           spectres and hurried away from the scene of death.
 
           Our proper course was easterly, but we went in a northerly
           direction in order to avoid the Indians.  We travelled
           all that night, the next day, and a portion of its night
           until we reached the Arkansas River, and, having eaten
           nothing during that whole time excepting a few prickly-pears,
           were beginning to feel weak from the weight of our burdens
           and exhaustion.  At this point we decided to lighten
           our loads by burying all of the money we had carried
           thus far, keeping only a small sum for each man.
           Proceeding to a small island in the river, our treasure,
           amounting to over ten thousand silver dollars, was cached
           in the ground between two cottonwood trees.
 
           Believing now that we were out of the usual range of
           the predatory Indians, we shot a buffalo and an antelope
           which we cooked and ate without salt or bread; but no meal
           has ever tasted better to me than that one.
 
           We continued our journey northward for three or four days
           more, when, reaching Pawnee Fork, we travelled down it for
           more than a week, arriving again on the Old Santa Fe Trail.
           Following the Trail three days, we arrived at Walnut Creek,
           then left the river again and went eastwardly to Cow Creek.
           When we reached that point, we had become so completely
           exhausted and worn out from subsisting on buffalo meat
           alone, that it seemed as if there was nothing left for
           us to do but lie down and die.  Finally it was determined
           to send five of the best-preserved men on ahead to
           Independence, two hundred miles, for the purpose of
           procuring assistance; the other fifteen to get along
           as well as they could until succour reached them.
 
           I was one of the five selected to go on in advance, and
           I shall never forget the terrible suffering we endured.
           We had no blankets, and it was getting late in the fall.
           Some of us were entirely barefooted, and our feet so sore
           that we left stains of blood at every step.  Deafness, too,
           seized upon us so intensely, occasioned by our weak
           condition, that we coud not hear the report of a gun fired
           at a distance of only a few feet.
 
           At one place two of our men laid down their arms, declaring
           they could carry them no farther, and would die if they
           did not get water.  We left them and went in search of some.
           After following a dry branch several miles, we found
           a muddy puddle from which we succeeded in getting half
           a bucket full, and, although black and thick, it was life
           for us and we guarded it with jealous eyes.  We returned
           to our comrades about daylight, and the water so refreshed
           them they were able to resume the weary march.  We travelled
           on until we arrived at the Big Blue River, in Missouri,
           on the bank of which we discovered a cabin about fifteen
           miles from Independence.  The occupants of the rude shanty
           were women, seemingly very poor, but they freely offered us
           a pot of pumpkin they were stewing.  When they first saw us,
           they were terribly frightened, because we looked more like
           skeletons than living beings.  They jumped on the bed while
           we were greedily devouring the pumpkin, but we had to
           refuse some salt meat which they had also proffered,
           as our teeth were too sore to eat it.  In a short time
           two men came to the cabin and took three of our men
           home with them.  We had subsisted for eleven days on
           one turkey, a coon, a crow, and some elm bark, with an
           occasional bunch of wild grapes, and the pictures we
           presented to these good people they will never, probably,
           forget; we had not tasted bread or salt for thirty-two days.
 
           The next day our newly found friends secured horses and
           guided us to Independence, all riding without saddles.
           One of the party had gone on to notify the citizens of
           our safety, and when we arrived general muster was going on,
           the town was crowded, and when the people looked upon us
           the most intense excitement prevailed.  All business was
           suspended; the entire population flocked around us to hear
           the remarkable story of our adventures, and to render us
           the assistance we so much needed.  We were half-naked,
           foot-sore, and haggard, presenting such a pitiable picture
           that the greatest sympathy was immediately aroused in
           our behalf.
 
           We then said that behind us on the Trail somewhere, fifteen
           comrades were struggling toward Independence, or were
           already dead from their sufferings.  In a very few minutes
           seven men with fifteen horses started out to rescue them.
 
           They were gone from Independence several days, but had the
           good fortune to find all the men just in time to save them
           from starvation and exhaustion.  Two were discovered
           a hundred miles from Independence, and the remainder
           scattered along the Trail fifty miles further in their rear.
           Not more than two of the unfortunate party were together.
           The humane rescuers seemingly brought back nothing but
           living skeletons wrapped in rags; but the good people of
           the place vied with each other in their attentions, and
           under their watchful care the sufferers rapidly recuperated.
 
           One would suppose that we had had enough of the great plains
           after our first trip; not so, however, for in the spring
           we started again on the same journey.  Major Riley, with
           four companies of regular soldiers, was detailed to escort
           the Santa Fe traders' caravans to the boundary line between
           the United States and Mexico, and we went along to recover
           the money we had buried, the command having been ordered to
           remain in camp to await our return until the 20th of October.
 
           We left Fort Leavenworth about the 10th of May, and were
           soon again on the plains.  Many of the troops had never
           seen any buffalo before, and found great sport in wantonly
           slaughtering them.  At Walnut Creek we halted to secure
           a cannon which had been thrown into that stream two seasons
           previously, and succeeded in dragging it out.  With a seine
           made of brush and grape vine, we caught more fine fish than
           we could possibly dispose of.  One morning the camp was
           thrown into the greatest state of excitement by a band of
           Indians running an enormous herd of buffalo right into us.
           The troops fired at them by platoons, killing hundreds
           of them.
 
           We marched in two columns, and formed a hollow square
           at night when we camped, in which all slept excepting
           those on guard duty.  Frequently some one would discover
           a rattlesnake or a horned toad in bed with him, and it
           did not take him a very long time to crawl out of his
           blankets!
 
           On the 10th of July, we arrived at the dividing line
           separating the two countries, and went into camp.  The next
           day Major Riley sent a squad of soldiers to escort myself
           and another of our old party, who had helped bury the
           ten thousand dollars, to find it.  It was a few miles
           further up the Arkansas than our camp, in the Mexican
           limits, and when we reached the memorable spot on the
           island,[20] we found the coin safe, but the water had
           washed the earth away, and the silver was exposed to view
           to excite the cupidity of any one passing that way;
           there were not many travellers on that lonely route in
           those days, however, and it would have been just as secure,
           probably, had we simply poured it on the ground.
 
           We put the money in sacks and deposited it with Major Riley,
           and, leaving the camp, started for Santa Fe with Captain
           Bent as leader of the traders.  We had not proceeded far
           when our advanced guard met Indians.  They turned, and when
           within two hundred yards of us, one man named Samuel Lamme
           was killed, his body being completely riddled with arrows.
           His head was cut off, and all his clothes stripped from
           his body.  We had a cannon, but the Mexicans who hauled it
           had tied it up in such a way that it could not be utilized
           in time to effect anything in the first assault; but when
           at last it was turned loose upon the Indians, they fled
           in dismay at the terrible noise.
 
           The troops at the crossing of the Arkansas, hearing the
           firing, came to our assistance.  The next morning the
           hills were covered by fully two thousand Indians, who had
           evidently congregated there for the purpose of annihilating
           us, and the coming of the soldiers was indeed fortunate;
           for as soon as the cowardly savages discovered them
           they fled.  Major Riley accompanied us on our march for
           a few days, and, seeing no more Indians, he returned to
           his camp.
 
           We travelled on for a week, then met a hundred Mexicans
           who were out on the plains hunting buffalo.  They had
           killed a great many and were drying the meat.  We waited
           until they were ready to return and then all started for
           Santa Fe together.
 
           At Rabbit-Ear Mountain the Indians had constructed
           breastworks in the brush, intending to fight it out there.
           The Mexicans were in the advance and had one of their
           number killed before discovering the enemy.  We passed
           Point of Rocks and camped on the river.  One of the
           Mexicans went out hunting and shot a huge panther;
           next morning he asked a companion to go with him and help
           skin the animal.  They saw the Indians in the brush, and
           the one who had killed the panther said to the other,
           "Now for the mountains"; but his comrade retreated,
           and was despatched by the savages almost within reach
           of the column.
 
           We now decided to change our destination, intending to go
           to Taos instead of Santa Fe, but the governor of the
           Province sent out troops to stop us, as Taos was not a
           place of entry.  The soldiers remained with us a whole week,
           until we arrived at Santa Fe, where we disposed of our goods
           and soon began to make preparations for our return trip.
 
           When we were ready to start back, seven priests and a
           number of wealthy families, comfortably fixed in carriages,
           accompanied us.  The Mexican government ordered Colonel
           Viscarra of the army, with five troops of cavalry,
           to guard us to the camp of Major Riley.
 
           We experienced no trouble until we arrived at the
           Cimarron River.  About sunset, just as we were preparing
           to camp for the night, the sentinels saw a body of a
           hundred Indians approaching; they fired at them and ran
           to camp.  Knowing they had been discovered, the Indians
           came on and made friendly overtures; but the Pueblos who
           who were with the command of Colonel Viscarra wanted to
           fight them at once, saying the fellows meant mischief.
           We declined to camp with them unless they would agree to
           give up their arms; they pretended they were willing to
           do so, when one of them put his gun at the breast of our
           interpreter and pulled the trigger.  In an instant a bloody
           scene ensued; several of Viscarra's men were killed,
           together with a number of mules.  Finally the Indians
           were whipped and tried to get away, but we chased them
           some distance and killed thirty-five.  Our friendly Pueblos
           were delighted, and proceeded to scalp the savages,
           hanging the bloody trophies on the points of their spears.
           That night they indulged in a war-dance which lasted
           until nearly morning.
 
           We were delighted to see a beautiful sunshiny day after
           the horrors of the preceding night, and continued our march
           without farther interruption, safely arriving at the camp
           on the boundary line, where Major Riley was waiting for us,
           as we supposed; but his time having expired the day before,
           he had left for Fort Leavenworth.  A courier was despatched
           to him, however, as Colonel Viscarra desired to meet the
           American commander and see his troops.  The courier overtook
           Major Riley a short distance away, and he halted for us
           to come up.  Both commands then went into camp, and spent
           several days comparing the discipline of the armies of
           the two nations, and having a general good time.
           Colonel Viscarra greatly admired our small arms, and
           took his leave in a very courteous manner.
 
           We arrived at Fort Leavenworth late in the season, and
           from there we all scattered.  I received my share of the
           money we had cached on the island, and bade my comrades
           farewell, only a few of whom I have ever seen since.
 
 Mr. Hitt in his notes of this same perilous trip says:
           When the grass had sufficiently started to insure the
           subsistence of our teams, our wagons were loaded with
           a miscellaneous assortment of merchandise and the first
           trader's caravan of wagons that ever crossed the plains
           left Independence.  Before we had travelled three weeks
           on our journey, we were one evening confronted with the
           novel fact of camping in a country where not a stick of
           wood could be found.  The grass was too green to burn,
           and we were wondering how our fire could be started
           with which to boil our coffee, or cook our bread.  One of
           our number, however, while diligently searching for
           something to utilize, suddenly discovered scattered all
           around him a large quantity of buffalo-chips, and he soon
           had an excellent fire under way, his coffee boiling and
           his bacon sizzling over the glowing coals.
 
           We arrived in Santa Fe without incident, and as ours
           was the first train of wagons that ever traversed the
           narrow streets of the quaint old town, it was, of course,
           a great curiosity to the natives.
 
           After a few days' rest, sight-seeing, and purchasing stock
           to replace our own jaded animals, preparations were made
           for the return trip.  All the money we had received for
           our goods was in gold and silver, principally the latter,
           in consequence of which, each member of the company had
           about as much as he could conveniently manage, and,
           as events turned out, much more than he could take care of.
 
           On the morning of the third day out, when we were not
           looking for the least trouble, our entire herd was
           stampeded, and we were left upon the prairie without
           as much as a single mule to pursue the fast-fleeing
           thieves.  The Mexicans and Indians had come so suddenly
           upon us, and had made such an effective dash, that we
           stood like children who had broken their toys on a stone
           at their feet.  We were so unprepared for such a stampede
           that the thieves did not approach within rifle-shot range
           of the camp to accomplish their object; few of them
           coming within sight, even.
 
           After the excitement had somewhat subsided and we began
           to realize what had been done, it was decided that while
           some should remain to guard the camp, others must go to
           Santa Fe to see if they could not recover the stock.
           The party that went to Santa Fe had no difficulty in
           recognizing the stolen animals; but when they claimed them,
           they were laughed at by the officials of the place.
           They experienced no difficulty, however, in purchasing
           the same stock for a small sum, which they at once did,
           and hurried back to camp.  By this unpleasant episode
           we learned of the stealth and treachery of the miserable
           people in whose country we were.  We, therefore, took every
           precaution to prevent a repetition of the affair, and
           kept up a vigilant guard night and day.
 
           Matters progressed very well, and when we had travelled
           some three hundred miles eastwardly, thinking we were
           out of range of any predatory bands, as we had seen no
           sign of any living thing, we relaxed our vigilance somewhat.
           One morning, just before dawn, the whole earth seemed to
           resound with the most horrible noises that ever greeted
           human ears; every blade of grass appeared to re-echo
           the horrid din.  In a few moments every man was at his post,
           rifle in hand, ready for any emergency, and almost
           immediately a large band of Indians made their appearance,
           riding within rifle-shot of the wagons.  A continuous
           battle raged for several hours, the savages discharging
           a shot, then scampering off out of range as fast as
           their ponies could carry them.  Some, more brave than
           others would venture closer to the corral, and one of these
           got the contents of an old-fashioned flint-lock musket
           in his bowels.
 
           We were careful not all to fire at the same time, and
           several of our party, who were watching the effects of
           our shots declared they could see the dust fly out of
           the robes of the Indians as the bullets struck them.
           It was learned afterward that a number of the savages
           were wounded, and that several had died.  Many were armed
           with bows and arrows only, and in order to do any execution
           were obliged to come near the corral.  The Indians soon
           discovered they were getting the worst of the fight, and,
           having run off all the stock, abandoned the conflict,
           leaving us in possession of the camp, but it can hardly
           be said masters of the situation.
 
           There we were; thirty-five pioneers upon the wild prairie,
           surrounded by a wily and terribly cruel foe, without
           transportation of any character but our own legs, and with
           five hundred miles of dangerous, trackless waste between
           us and the settlements.  We had an abundance of money,
           but the stuff was absolutely worthless for the present,
           as there was nothing we could buy with it.
 
           After the last savage had ridden away into the sand hills
           on the opposite side of the river, each one of us had a
           thrilling story to relate of his individual narrow escapes.
           Though none was killed, many received wounds, the scars
           of which they carried through life.  I was wounded six
           times.  Once was in the thigh by an arrow, and once while
           loading my rifle I had my ramrod shot off close to the
           muzzle of my piece, the ball just grazing my shoulder,
           tearing away a small portion of the skin.  Others had
           equally curious experiences, but none were seriously injured.
 
           After the excitement incident to the battle had subsided,
           the realization of our condition fully dawned upon us.
           When we were first robbed, we were only a short distance
           from Santa Fe, where our money easily procured other stock;
           now there were three hundred miles behind us to that place,
           and the picture was anything but pleasant to contemplate.
           To transport supplies for thirty-five men seemed impossible.
           Our money was now a burden greater than we could bear;
           what was to be done with it?  We would have no use for it
           on our way to the settlements, yet the idea of abandoning
           it seemed hard to accept.  A vigilant guard was kept up
           that day and night, during which time we all remained
           in camp, fearing a renewal of the attack.
 
           The next morning, as there were no apparent signs of
           the Indians, it was decided to reconnoitre the surrounding
           country in the hope of recovering a portion, at least,
           of our lost stock, which we thought might have become
           separated from the main herd.  Three men were detailed
           to stay in the old camp to guard it while the remainder,
           in squads, scoured the hills and ravines.  Not a horse
           or mule was visible anywhere; the stampede had been
           complete--not even the direction the animals had taken
           could be discovered.
 
           It was late in the afternoon when I, having left my
           companions to continue the search and returning to camp
           alone, had gotten within a mile of it, that I thought I saw
           a horse feeding upon an adjoining hill.  I at once turned
           my steps in that direction, and had proceeded but a short
           distance when three Indians jumped from their ambush in
           the grass between me and the wagons and ran after me.
           The men in camp had been watching my every movement,
           and as soon as they saw the savages were chasing me,
           they started in pursuit, running at their greatest speed
           to my rescue.
 
           The savages soon overtook me, and the first one that
           came up tackled me, but in an instant found himself flat
           on the ground.  Before he could get up, the second one
           shared the same fate.  By this time the third one arrived,
           and the two I had thrown grabbed me by the legs so that
           I could no longer handle myself, while the third one had
           a comparatively easy task in pushing me over.  Fortunately,
           my head fell toward the camp and my fast-approaching
           comrades.  The two Indians held my legs to prevent my
           rising, while the third one, who was standing over me,
           drew from his belt a tomahawk, and shrugging his head
           in his blanket, at the same time looking over his shoulder
           at my friends, with a tremendous effort and that peculiar
           grunt of all savages, plunged his hatchet, as he supposed,
           into my head, but instead of scuffling to free myself
           and rise to my feet, I merely turned my head to one side
           and the wicked weapon was buried in the ground, just
           grazing my ear.
 
           The Indian, seeing that he had missed, raised his hatchet
           and once more shrugging his head in his blanket, and
           turning to look over his other shoulder, attempted to
           strike again, but the blow was evaded by a sudden toss
           of his intended victim's head.  Not satisfied with two
           abortive trials, the third attempt must be made to brain me,
           and repeating the same motions, with a great "Ugh!" he
           seemed to put all his strength into the blow, which, like
           the others, missed, and spent its force in the earth.
           By this time the rescuing party had come near enough to
           prevent the savage from risking another effort, and he then
           addressed the other Indians in Spanish, which I understood,
           saying, "We must run or the Americans will kill us!"
           and loosening his grasp, he scampered off with his
           companions as fast as his legs could take him, hurried on
           by several pieces of lead fired from the old flintlocks
           of the traders.
 
           By sundown every man had returned to the forlorn camp,
           but not an animal had been recovered.  Then, with tired
           limbs and weary hearts, we took turns at guarding the
           wagons through the long night.  The next morning each man
           shouldered his rifle, and having had his proportion of
           the provisions and cooking utensils assigned him,
           we broke camp, and again turned to take a last look at
           the country behind us, in which we had experienced so much
           misfortune, and started on foot for our long march through
           the dangerous region ahead of us.
 
           Scarcely had we gotten out of sight of our abandoned camp,
           when one of the party, happening to turn his eyes in that
           direction, saw a large volume of smoke rising in the
           vicinity; then we knew that all of our wagons, and
           everything we had been forced to leave, were burning up.
           This proved that, although we had been unable to discover
           any signs of Indians, they had been lurking around us
           all the time, and this fact warned us to exercise the
           utmost vigilance in guarding our persons.
 
           Though our burdens were very heavy, the first few days
           were passed without anything to relieve the dreadful
           monotony of our wearisome march; but each succeeding
           twenty-four hours our loads became visibly lighter,
           as our supplies were rapidly diminishing.  It had already
           become apparent that even in the exercise of the greatest
           frugality, our stock of provisions would not last until
           we could reach the settlements, so some of the most expert
           shots were selected to hunt for game; but even in this
           they were not successful, the very birds seeming to have
           abandoned the country in its extreme desolation.
 
           After eight days' travel, despite our most rigid economy,
           an inventory showed that there was less than one hundred
           pounds of flour left.  Day after day the hunters repeated
           the same old story: "No game!"  For two weeks the allowance
           of flour to each individual was but a spoonful, stirred
           in water and taken three times a day.
 
           One afternoon, however, fortune smiled upon the weary party;
           one of the hunters returned to camp with a turkey he had
           killed.  It was soon broiling over a fire which willing
           hands had kindled, and our drooping spirits were revived
           for a while.  While the turkey was cooking, a crow flew
           over the camp, and one of the company, seizing a gun,
           despatched it, and in a few moments it, too, was sizzling
           along with the other bird.
 
           Now, in addition to the pangs of hunger, a scarcity of
           water confronted us, and one day we were compelled to
           resort to a buffalo-wallow and suck the moist clay where
           the huge animals had been stamping in the mud.  We were
           much reduced in strength, yet each day added new
           difficulties to our forlorn situation.  Some became so weak
           and exhausted that it was with the greatest effort they
           could travel at all.  To divide the company and leave
           the more feeble behind to starve, or to be murdered by
           the merciless savages, was not considered for a moment;
           but one alternative remained, and that was speedily accepted.
           As soon as a convenient camping-ground could be found,
           a halt was made, shelter established, and things made as
           comfortable as possible.  Here the weakest remained to rest,
           while some of the strongest scoured the surrounding country
           in search of game.  During this temporary halt the hunters
           were more successful than before, having killed two
           buffaloes, besides some smaller animals, in one morning.
           Again the natural dry fuel of the prairies was called
           into requisition, and juicy steak was once more broiling
           over the fire.
 
           With an abundance to eat and a few days' rest, the whole
           company revived and were enabled to renew their march
           homeward.  We were now in the buffalo range, and every day
           the hunters were fortunate enough to kill one or more of
           the immense animals, thus keeping our larder in excellent
           condition, and starvation averted.
 
           Doubting whether our good fortune in relation to food
           would continue for the remainder of our march, and our
           money becoming very cumbersome, it was decided by a majority
           that at the first good place we came to we would bury it
           and risk its being stolen by our enemies.  When not more
           than half of our journey had been accomplished, we came
           to an island in the river to which we waded, and there,
           between two large trees, dug a hole and deposited our
           treasure.  We replaced the sod over the spot, taking the
           utmost precaution to conceal every sign of having disturbed
           the ground.  Though no Indians had been seen for several
           days, a sharp lookout was kept in all directions for fear
           that some lurking savage might have been watching our
           movements.  This task finished, with much lighter burdens,
           but more anxious than ever, we again took up our march
           eastwardly, and, thus relieved, were able to carry a
           greater quantity of provisions.
 
           Having journeyed until we supposed we were within a few
           miles of the settlements, some of our number, scarcely able
           to travel, thought the best course to pursue would be to
           divide the company; one portion to press on, the weaker
           ones to proceed by easier stages, and when the advance
           arrived at the settlements, they were to send back a relief
           for those plodding on wearily behind them.  Soon a few
           who were stronger than the others reached Independence,
           Missouri, and immediately sent a party with horses to
           bring in their comrades; so, at last, all got safely to
           their homes.
 
 In the spring of 1829, Major Bennett Riley of the United States army
 was ordered with four companies of the Sixth Regular Infantry to
 march out on the Trail as the first military escort ever sent for
 the protection of the caravans of traders going and returning between
 Western Missouri and Santa Fe.  Captain Philip St. George Cooke,
 of the Dragoons, accompanied the command, and kept a faithful journal
 of the trip, from which, and the official report of Major Riley to
 the Secretary of War, I have interpolated here copious extracts.
 
 The journal of Captain Cooke states that the battalion marched
 from Fort Leavenworth, which was then called a cantonment, and,
 strange to say, had been abandoned by the Third Infantry on account
 of its unhealthiness.  It was the 5th of June that Riley crossed
 the Missouri at the cantonment, and recrossed the river again at
 a point a little above Independence, in order to avoid the Kaw,
 or Kansas, which had no ferry.
 
 After five days' marching, the command arrived at Round Grove, where
 the caravan had been ordered to rendezvous and wait for the escort.
 The number of traders aggregated about seventy-nine men, and their
 train consisted of thirty-eight wagons drawn by mules and horses,
 the former preponderating.  Five days' marching, at an average of
 fifteen miles a day, brought them to Council Grove.  Leaving the
 Grove, in a short time Cow Creek was reached, which at that date
 abounded in fish; many of which, says the journal, "weighed several
 pounds, and were caught as fast as the line could be handled."
 The captain does not describe the variety to which he refers;
 probably they were the buffalo--a species of sucker, to be found
 to-day in every considerable stream in Kansas.
 
 Having reached the Upper Valley,[21] bordered by high sand hills,
 the journal continues:
 
           From the tops of the hills, we saw far away, in almost
           every direction, mile after mile of prairie, blackened
           with buffalo.  One morning, when our march was along the
           natural meadows by the river, we passed through them for
           miles; they opened in front and closed continually in
           the rear, preserving a distance scarcely over three hundred
           paces.  On one occasion, a bull had approached within
           two hundred yards without seeing us, until he ascended
           the river bank; he stood a moment shaking his head, and
           then made a charge at the column.  Several officers
           stepped out and fired at him, two or three dogs also rushed
           to meet him; but right onward he came, snorting blood
           from mouth and nostril at every leap, and, with the speed
           of a horse and the momentum of a locomotive, dashed
           between two wagons, which the frightened oxen nearly upset;
           the dogs were at his heels and soon he came to bay, and,
           with tail erect, kicked violently for a moment, and then
           sank in death--the muscles retaining the dying rigidity
           of tension.
 
 About the middle of July, the command arrived at its destination--
 Chouteau's Island, then on the boundary line between the United States
 and New Mexico.
 
           Our orders were to march no further; and, as a protection
           to the trade, it was like the establishment of a ferry
           to the mid-channel of a river.
 
           Up to this time, traders had always used mules or horses.
           Our oxen were an experiment, and it succeeded admirably;
           they even did better when water was very scarce, which is
           an important consideration.
 
           A few hours after the departure of the trading company,
           as we enjoyed a quiet rest on a hot afternoon, we saw
           beyond the river a number of horsemen riding furiously
           toward our camp.  We all flocked out of the tents to hear
           the news, for they were soon recognized as traders.
           They stated that the caravan had been attacked, about
           six miles off in the sand hills, by an innumerable host
           of Indians; that some of their companions had been killed;
           and they had run, of course, for help.  There was not a
           moment's hesitation; the word was given, and the tents
           vanished as if by magic.  The oxen which were grazing
           near by were speedily yoked to the wagons, and into the
           river we marched.  Then I deemed myself the most unlucky
           of men; a day or two before, while eating my breakfast,
           with my coffee in a tin cup--notorious among chemists and
           campaigners for keeping it hot--it was upset into my shoe,
           and on pulling off the stocking, it so happened that the
           skin came with it.  Being thus hors de combat, I sought to
           enter the combat on a horse, which was allowed; but I was
           put in command of the rear guard to bring up the baggage
           train.  It grew late, and the wagons crossed slowly;
           for the river unluckily took that particular time to
           rise fast, and, before all were over, we had to swim it,
           and by moonlight.  We reached the encampment at one o'clock
           at night.  All was quiet, and remained so until dawn,
           when, at the sound of our bugles, the pickets reported
           they saw a number of Indians moving off.  On looking
           around us, we perceived ourselves and the caravan in the
           most unfavorable defenceless situation possible--in the
           area of a natural amphitheatre of sand hills, about fifty
           feet high, and within gun-shot all around.  There was
           the narrowest practicable entrance and outlet.
 
           We ascertained that some mounted traders, in spite of all
           remonstrance and command, had ridden on in advance, and
           when in the narrow pass beyond this spot, had been suddenly
           beset by about fifty Indians; all fled and escaped save one,
           who, mounted on a mule, was abandoned by his companions,
           overtaken, and slain.  The Indians, perhaps, equalled the
           traders in number, but notwithstanding their extraordinary
           advantage of ground, dared not attack them when they
           made a stand among their wagons; and the latter, all well
           armed, were afraid to make a single charge, which would
           have scattered their enemies like sheep.
 
           Having buried the poor fellow's body, and killed an ox for
           breakfast, we left this sand hollow, which would soon have
           been roasting hot, and advancing through the defile--of
           which we took care to occupy the commanding ground--
           proceeded to escort the traders at least one day's march
           further.
 
           When the next morning broke clear and cloudless, the command
           was confronted by one of those terrible hot winds, still
           frequent on the plains.  The oxen with lolling tongues
           were incapable of going on; the train was halted, and the
           suffering animals unyoked, but they stood motionless,
           making no attempt to graze.  Late that afternoon, the
           caravan pushed on for about ten miles, where was the
           sandy bed of a dry creek, and fortunately, not far from
           the Trail, up the stream, a pool of water and an acre
           or two of grass was discovered.  On the surface of the
           water floated thick the dead bodies of small fish, which
           the intense heat of the sun that day had killed.
 
           Arriving at this point, it was determined to march no
           further into the Mexican territory.  At the first light
           next day we were in motion to return to the river and
           the American line, and no further adventure befell us.
 
 While permanently encamped at Chouteau's Island, which is situated
 in the Arkansas River, the term of enlistment of four of the soldiers
 of Captain Cooke's command expired, and they were discharged.
 In his journal he says:
 
           Contrary to all advice they determined to return to
           Missouri.  After having marched several hundred miles
           over a prairie country, being often on high hills
           commanding a vast prospect, without seeing a human being
           or a sign of one, and, save the trail we followed, not
           the slightest indication that the country had ever been
           visited by man, it was exceedingly difficult to credit
           that lurking foes were around us, and spying our motions.
           It was so with these men; and being armed, they set out
           on the first of August on foot for the settlements.
           That same night three of the four returned.  They reported
           that, after walking about fifteen miles, they were
           surrounded by thirty mounted Indians.  A wary old soldier
           of their number succeeded in extricating them before any
           hostile act had been committed; but one of them, highly
           elated and pleased at their forbearance, insisted on
           returning among them to give them tobacco and shake hands.
           In this friendly act he was shot down.  The Indians
           stripped him in an incredibly short time, and as quickly
           dispersed to avoid a shot; and the old soldier, after
           cautioning the others to reserve their fire, fired among
           them, and probably with some effect.  Had the others done
           the same, the Indians would have rushed upon them before
           they could have reloaded.  They managed to make good
           their retreat in safety to our camp.
 
           We were instructed to wait here for the return of the
           caravan, which was expected early in October.
           Our provisions consisted of salt and half rations of flour,
           besides a reserve of fifteen days' full rations--as to the
           rest, we were dependent upon hunting.  When the buffalo
           became scarce, or the grass bad, we marched to other
           ground, thus roving up and down the river for eighty
           miles.  The first thing we did after camping was to dig
           and construct, with flour barrels, a well in front of
           each company; water was always found at the depth of
           from two to four feet varying with the corresponding
           height of the river, but clear and cool.  Next we would
           build sod fire-places; these, with network platforms of
           buffalo hide, used for smoking and drying meat, formed a
           tolerable additional defence, at least against mounted men.
 
           Hunting was a military duty, done by detail, parties of
           fifteen or twenty going out with a wagon.  Completely
           isolated, and beyond support or even communication,
           in the midst of many thousands of Indians, the utmost
           vigilance was maintained.  Officer of the guard every
           fourth night; I was always awake and generally in motion
           the whole time of duty.  Night alarms were frequent; when,
           as we all slept in our clothes, we were accustomed to
           assemble instantly, and with scarcely a word spoken,
           take our places in the grass in front of each face of
           the camp, where, however wet, we sometimes lay for hours.
 
           While encamped a few miles below Chouteau's Island, on the
           eleventh of August, an alarm was given, and we were under
           arms for an hour until daylight.  During the morning,
           Indians were seen a mile or two off, leading their horses
           through the ravines.  A captain, however, with eighteen
           men was sent across the river after buffalo, which we saw
           half a mile distant.  In his absence, a large body of
           Indians came galloping down the river, as if to charge
           the camp, but the cattle were secured in good time.
           A company, of which I was lieutenant, was ordered to
           cross the river and support the first.  We waded in some
           disorder through the quicksands and current, and just
           as we neared a dry sandbar in the middle, a volley was
           fired at us by a band of Indians, who that moment rode
           to the water's edge.  The balls whistled very near,
           but without damage; I felt an involuntary twitch of
           the neck, and wishing to return the compliment instantly,
           I stooped down, and the company fired over my head,
           with what execution was not perceived, as the Indians
           immediately retired out of our view.  This had passed
           in half a minute, and we were astonished to see, a little
           above, among some bushes on the same bar, the party we had
           been sent to support, and we heard that they had abandoned
           one of the hunters, who had been killed.  We then saw,
           on the bank we had just left, a formidable body of the
           enemy in close order, and hoping to surprise them,
           we ascended the bed of the river.  In crossing the channel
           we were up to the arm-pits, but when we emerged on the
           bank, we found that the Indians had detected the movement,
           and retreated.  Casting eyes beyond the river, I saw a
           number of the Indians riding on both sides of a wagon
           and team which had been deserted, urging the animals
           rapidly toward the hills.  At this juncture the adjutant
           sent an order to cross and recover the body of the slain
           hunter, who was an old soldier and a favourite.  He was
           brought in with an arrow still transfixing his breast,
           but his scalp was gone.
 
           On the fourteenth of October, we again marched on our
           return.  Soon after, we saw smokes arise over the distant
           hills; evidently signals, indicating to different parties
           of Indians our separation and march, but whether preparatory
           to an attack upon the Mexicans or ourselves, or rather
           our immense drove of animals, we could only guess.
 
           Our march was constantly attended by great collections
           of buffalo, which seemed to have a general muster, perhaps
           for migration.  Sometimes a hundred or two--a fragment
           from the multitude--would approach within two or three
           hundred yards of the column, and threaten a charge which
           would have proved disastrous to the mules and their drivers.
 
           Under the friendly cover of the shades of evening, on the
           eighth of November, our tatterdemalion veterans marched
           into Fort Leavenworth, and took quiet possession of the
           miserable huts and sheds left by the Third Infantry in
           the preceding May.