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It was quite late in the season, towards the end of October, when the stone and log cabin was completed and ready for occupancy. The family had meanwhile lived in their big tent which they had brought with them from the Missouri River.

They had carried in their wagons bedding and blankets, a table and several chairs, enough to suffice until the arrival of their other goods, which had been stored at Leavenworth while they were hunting for a location. At the end of two months after their settlement on the Oxhide, a freight caravan arrived with their things, much of it the old-fashioned furniture from the homestead in Vermont. This caravan was en route to Fort Union, New Mexico, the trail to which military post ran along the bank of the Smoky Hill River, not more than two miles from the ranche.

Joe and Rob were constantly busy helping their father to make matters snug for the winter, building a corral for the cows, a stone stable for the horses, and a chicken house for the fowls, of which they had more than a hundred, Plymouth rocks and white leghorns, the best layers in the world. Up to that time they had not had as much time for sport as they wished for. They had been kept too busy, until long after the cold weather set in, when all the streams were frozen over and the woods were bare and brown.

A near neighbor who had taken a fancy to the bright lads when they first arrived in the country, had given them two fine greyhounds, which they named Bluey and Brutus; the former on account of his color, and the other because they had recently been interested in Shakespeare's play of "Julius Cæsar," which their father had read to them. With these magnificent animals they had lots of fun during the long months of the winter, hunting jackrabbits, digging coyotes out of their holes in the ledge above the banks of the creek, or fighting lynxes and coons in the timber.

One bright day they were out among the hills with their hounds, which had run far in advance of their young masters, when suddenly the boys' ears were startled by a terrible commotion in a wooded ravine about a hundred yards ahead of them. The dogs were barking furiously, sometimes howling in pain, and they could see the dust flying in great clouds. In a few moments all was still; the turmoil had ceased, a truce evidently having been patched up between the belligerents. The boys hurried on and presently came to a sheltered spot where the timber had been apparently blown down by a small tornado many years before; and there as they came up to it, in a triangle formed by the trunks of three fallen trees, a space about ten feet square, they saw the hounds holding a great lynx at bay! The cat was standing in the apex of the triangle, crowding her body as closely as she could against the timber so that the dogs were unable to attack her without getting a scratch from her sharp claws. Her hair was all bristling up with battle, and the dogs had evidently tried several times to drive her out of her almost impregnable position, but each attempt had ended in themselves being driven back discomfited. As soon as the hounds saw the boys, however, their courage rose, and Bluey, the oldest dog, at an encouraging "Sic 'em!" from Joe, made a sudden dash, caught the ferocious beast by the middle of the back and commenced to shake her with the awful rapidity for which he was noted, and in a few seconds she was dropped dead at Joe's feet.

Bluey first became famous as a shaker several months before his encounter with the lynx. One morning Rob got up very early for some reason, and went into the chicken house, and as soon as he entered it he saw a skunk half hidden under one of the beams of the floor. He did not dare to call Bluey, who was sleeping on a pile of hay a few feet away, for fear the animal would take the alarm and run off. So he quietly went to where the dog was, and lifting him bodily in his arms carried him to the chicken house and held his nose down to the ground so that he could see or smell the skunk. In an instant that skunk was caught up by the neck and the life shaken out of him before he could have possibly realized what was the matter with him.

"By jolly!" said Rob, a favorite ejaculation with him when he was excited, as he saw the cat lying perfectly still where Bluey had dropped him. "I say, Joe, what a set of teeth and a strong neck old Bluey must have to shake anything as he does! Why, if he could take up a man in his jaws, the fellow would stand no more chance of his life than that lynx!"

"The hound," replied Joe, "has a strong jaw and a powerful neck; but he lacks the intelligence of some other breeds. His brain is not nearly as large as that of a Newfoundland, a setter, pointer, or even a poodle. Hounds like Bluey and Brutus run by sight alone; they have no nose, and the moment they cannot see their game they are lost. You have often noticed that, Rob, when a rabbit gets away from them in the long grass or in the corn stalks. They will jump up and down, completely bewildered until they catch sight of the animal again. Now, with the other breed of hounds, they hunt by scent; the moment they get wind of anything they run with their noses close to the ground and commence to howl. The greyhound, on the contrary, makes no noise at all."

Joe skinned the lynx, assisted by Rob, and after throwing the carcass in the ravine where the battle had been fought, slowly walked back to the ranche, followed by the dogs, that kept close to their heels, tired and sore from the struggle just ended.

"Let us give the hide to Gert after we tan it, to put at the side of her bed; you know she is fond of such things," said Rob.

"All right," replied Joe. "We'll do it, and if we have good luck in getting other animals, we'll just fill her room with skins. Won't that be jolly?"

Mr. Thompson had but two teams of horses on the ranche, and they could not often be spared from work, for the mere amusement of the boys. It was a constant source of regret to them that they did not have ponies of their own. On their way home the oft-repeated subject came up again. Both Joe and Rob felt keenly that they were obliged to go where they were sent, or desired to go themselves, on foot. How to obtain the coveted little creatures was a source of continual worry to them.

"I do wish that we had ponies," began Rob for the hundredth time, "so that we could go anywhere in a hurry; don't you, Joe?"

"Father would buy them for us if he felt that he could afford it; and he means to as soon as he can see his way clear. I heard him tell mother so, several times when she wished that we had 'em," replied Joe. "Maybe," continued he, "some band of friendly Indians will come along after a while; it's nearly time for the Pawnees to start out on their annual buffalo hunt. When they come up here, we may be able to trade 'em out of a real nice pair. They are always eager for a 'swap'; so old man Tucker told me the other day, and he is an old Indian trader and fighter. He has lived on the plains and in the mountains for more than forty years; so he knows what he is talking about."

"Golly! couldn't we have lots of fun," he continued, "with old Bluey and Brutus, after jackrabbits and wolves, if we only had something to ride?"

"Couldn't we, though!" answered Rob. "I tell you, Joe, it's awful hard work to climb over these hills on foot; we can't begin to keep up with the dogs; can't get anywhere in sight of 'em. You know that, and I just bet that we lose lots of game; don't you?"

"Oh! I know it," said Joe; "for the hounds become discouraged when they find themselves so far away from us. Often, when I'm out alone with them, Brutus will come back to hunt me instead of hunting rabbits. Sometimes I can't get him to go on after Bluey; he, the old rascal is more cunning; he gets many a rabbit we never see, and eats it. That is what makes him so much fatter than Brutus, though he does twice as much running. Did you ever think of that, Rob?"

That night when the tired boys went to bed, they little dreamed that they were to have something to ride sooner than their fondest hopes had flattered them, and from an entirely different source than the Indians.

Before the sun's broad disc rose above the Harker Hills next morning, although its rays had already crimsoned the rocky crests of the buttes which bounded the little valley of the Oxhide on the west, Rob had risen without disturbing his brother. He was always an early riser; he loved the calm, beautiful hours that usher in the day, and was the first one of all the family out of bed on the ranche.

He took the tin wash basin from its hook outside of the kitchen door, and started for the spring, only a few yards away, to wash himself. Just as he arrived there, chancing to look towards the hills, he saw that the whole country, upland and bottom alike, was black with buffaloes. In his excitement, he threw down the basin, and ran back to the house as fast as his legs could carry him. He rushed into his father's room, and unceremoniously seizing him by the shoulder, waking him from a sound slumber, shook him, and shouted as loud as he was able:--

"Father, get up! Father, get up! the whole country is alive with buffaloes, and the nearest one is not a quarter of a mile away. Quick! father."

Mr. Thompson roused himself, and instantly got out of bed and dressed himself quicker than he had ever done since he had lived on the ranche. He threw on only clothes enough to cover him, for he had already caught some of his boy's enthusiasm.

He told Rob to go to the closet, bring him a dozen bullets and his powder-flask, while he commenced to wipe out the barrels of his two old-fashioned rifles and the Spencer carbine, that always hung on a set of elk antlers fastened to the wall of his bed-chamber.

As Rob had declared, the whole region was literally dark with a mighty multitude of the great shaggy monsters, grazing quietly toward the east. There were thousands in sight, and for just such a chance Mr. Thompson had been anxiously waiting to get a supply of meat for the family.

Of course, every member of the household got up as soon as Rob had ended his noisy announcement. Hurriedly dressing, they rushed out under a group of trees that grew near the door, and watched Mr. Thompson crawling cautiously round the rocks as he drew nearer and nearer to the yet unconscious herd.

In a few moments he was lost to sight, and almost immediately they saw the herd raise their heads simultaneously. The family then knew that Mr. Thompson had been discovered by the wary animals, for the alarmed buffaloes began their characteristic quick, short gallop, and the boys were fearful that their father had not gotten within range and that there would be no meat for breakfast. But at the instant they were expecting to be disappointed, the loud crack of a rifle echoed through the valley once, twice, then a short silence; three, four times.

As the sound of the discharges died away, they saw their father climb to the summit of the divide, in full view of all, and wave his hat. Then they knew he had been successful, and eagerly watched him as he came slowly down the declivity toward them.

When he had come within hailing distance he cried out that he had killed four fat cows; one for each shot. Then the boys and girls took off their hats, and, vigorously waving them, gave three hearty cheers.

Just beyond the cabin and corral, which latter was surrounded by a stone wall nearly five feet high, was a single hill whose summit was round, and to which had been given the name of Haystack Mound, because at a distance it exactly resembled a haystack. When the buffaloes had started to run eastwardly, this mound cut off some of the animals of the herd, about three hundred in all, the majority going south of it, the smaller number north, which brought them near the house. Seeing the family standing there, they suddenly turned and rushed right over the corral; the gate was open, and a few dashed through it, but the most of them leaped over the wall. The buffalo is not easily stopped by any ordinary obstacle when stampeded; he will go down a precipice, or up a steep hill; madly rushing on to his destruction, in order to get away from the common enemy, man.

Rob saw the buffaloes first as they were turned from their course by the mound, and when they began to rush over the wall of the corral and through its gate, he shouted to Joe:--

"Come, Joe, let's try to shut some of them in; maybe there are calves among them. If there are, we can keep 'em in, for the little ones can never mount that wall on the other side."

Instantly acting on the suggestion, both boys ran as fast as they could to the corral, and succeeded in closing the entrance just as the last of the herd was leaping over the far wall.

As Rob had surmised, four calves remained inside, too young to follow their mothers over the wall. Both he and Joe were nearly wild with excitement at their luck in having been able to shut the gate in time to corral the baby buffaloes. They were about to rush to the house to tell the rest of the family of their wonderful capture, when Joe chanced to look into the door of the rude shed that was used to shelter the stock in stormy weather, and saw jammed against the farther wall two animals that were too small to be full-grown buffaloes, and too large for calves. It was so dark in the corner where they were that he could not make out at first what kind of animals they had caught. He called Rob, who crawled nearer to where the beasts stood huddled against each other, trembling with fear at their strange quarters.

In another moment, as soon as Rob's eyes became used to the dim light, he came bounding out with the speed of a Comanche Indian on the war-path, and catching Joe by the shoulders was just able to gasp:--

"By jolly, Joe, they're real ponies!"

They were so astonished for a few seconds that they stood paralyzed before they ventured in the shed to take a good look at the little animals. They boldly went in, and the moment the ponies saw the boys they made a break for the outside and vainly attempted to dash over the wall. Their frantic efforts, however, were of no avail; they could not make it: they were regular prisoners, and Rob and Joe were almost out of their senses with delight.

After their excitement had somewhat subsided they went to the house and brought out all the rest of the family to see the cunning little animals. They lost all their interest in the buffalo calves now that their brightest dreams of owning ponies of their own were realized.

The diminutive beasts which the boys had so successfully corralled were sorry-looking animals enough. They were so dirty, thin, angular, and their coats so rough, so filled with sand-burrs and bull-nettles, that it was hard to determine what color they were. All the family made a guess at it. Kate said she thought they were mouse-color, while Gertrude believed they were gray. Joe thought they were brown, and Rob white. Mr. Thompson, however, who knew more about horses than his boys, told them they were bays, but it would take a few days of currying and brushing up to determine which of the family had guessed correctly. There was evidently lots of life in them, for they cavorted around the big corral, prancing like thoroughbreds.

That afternoon, when they had taken care of the buffaloes which Mr. Thompson shot, and had stretched their robes on the corral wall to cure, the ponies were roped by Mr. Thompson, who could handle a lariat with some degree of skill, and halters were put on them. They were nearly of a size, and both of the same color, so they could hardly be distinguished from each other, but on a closer examination it was discovered that one of them had a white spot on his breast. This was the only apparent difference between them, so the boys drew lots to see which should have the one with the white breast. Their father selected two straws, one shorter than the other, and holding them partly concealed so that only their ends showed, told Rob to draw first. He got the longer straw, and so became the owner of the pony with the spot of white on his breast.

In less than two weeks, through kindness and good care, they were changed into clean, sleek, beautiful bays, just as Mr. Thompson had said they would be. In a month the boys could ride them anywhere, and the acme of their happiness was reached.

The animals had strayed from some band of wild horses and had drifted along with the herd of buffaloes, as was not infrequently the case in the early days on the great plains.