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Category: The Ranche On The Oxhide
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That evening many of those who had acted as scouts under Captain Tucker came to Errolstrath, where, on the shady veranda they discussed their trip and the possibilities of a prolonged Indian war. The Kiowas had inaugurated hostilities by their raid on the settlements near Council Grove. General Sheridan had already established his headquarters at Fort Harker, and every preparation was going on at that post for a winter campaign against the allied tribes.

After the group on the porch had talked matters over for about two hours, they all went to their respective homes excepting old Mr. Tucker, whom the family had invited to stay all night. As it was but eight o'clock when the others left, Joe and Mr. Tucker turned to the subject of hunting big game, and the latter told some of his own adventures when he was a trapper in the Rocky Mountains many years ago. As Joe had never seen the bighorn of that region, Mr. Tucker related an adventure he once had when hunting for a pair of young ones. He was up in the Yellowstone Range, not very far from the scene of Custer's unequal battle with Sitting Bull, in which the General's entire command was annihilated by the savages.

"My camp was on the Green River," began the old man, "and one morning while I was out baiting my traps, I noticed a she bighorn that I knew would soon have little ones. I was determined to have a pair of kids, as I had a sort of a small menagerie at my camp, but it contained no bighorn. So I started to follow her trail and stay with her until her kids were born, when I intended to capture them and make pets of them.

"I followed her for about two weeks, and was sometimes compelled to creep cautiously after her in my stockinged feet. My stockings were clumsy things made of buckskin, not such stockings as you buy. One evening being so near her, and obliged to climb a steep mountain, I took out my knife and cut off all the silver trimmings of my buckskin suit, so that nothing could jingle and scare her.

"At last, after tracking her day after day, I came upon her den, where she had brought forth two kids. It was the very top of one of the tallest peaks in the Wind River Mountains, in a sort of cave about five feet deep, worn in the side of an enormous rock. When I first got a sight of the kids, they were nearly two weeks old, and were jumping and playing as all of the goat or sheep family are wont to do.

"They were alone, but their mother was on the brink of a precipice, within a hundred yards of them, carefully looking down into the valley below to see if she could discover anything hostile. They are great watchers. The old one had not seen me, and I had made a détour to the very summit of the mountain, where I could see that there was a trail which the mother used to travel in going to and from her young ones. I felt sure that once at the mouth of the cave or hole in the big rock, I might easily capture the kids, for which I had footed it so many miles and followed so many days.

"Before I reached the entrance of the den the old one caught a glimpse of me, and in an instant, filled with the courage which the maternal instinct always prompts, she was upon me and trying to get the sharp point of her crooked horns into my legs to toss me over the precipice which formed one of the walls of the mountain. The trail on which I was standing was narrow and slippery. I had left my rifle on the top of the divide, and was in a mighty tight place, for the female bighorn is almost as dangerous as a tiger when enraged and solicitous for the safety of her little ones.

"I fought off the infuriated mother with my hands and feet as well as I could, but the rage of the brute increased terribly every second. Just then she caught sight of her kids, and leaving me, she rushed toward them and ran around them several times, as if telling them she wanted them to do something in her great trouble.

"The distance from the wall of one mountain to the precipice of the other was but eight feet. Both had originally been but one mountain, but ages ago some great convulsion of nature had split them apart, and had left a huge fissure between them at least two thousand feet deep, with walls as smooth as glass.

"The old one ran back and forth from the precipice to the kids several times, showing them as plainly as if she could talk that they must make the leap to escape from their natural enemy. At last, as if the whole matter was understood, the mother flew back to the edge of the cañon, the little ones hot in her tracks, and then all three made the jump, just clearing the frightful gorge by half the length of the young ones.

"I was dumbfounded for an instant, but soon recovered my senses and went for my rifle, but the coveted animals were far out of range on the top of the twin peak. I then returned to my camp on Green River more than a hundred miles away, disgusted and worn out, and never again attempted to capture the kids of the bighorn in the fashion of my first venture."

Joe and the rest of the family, remembering Joe's scrap with the young panther, asked the old man if he had ever had any fight with one of them. He said that he had, and would tell them all about it. Then they would go to bed, as it was very late for the ranche folks to be up.

"I remember the day you had that tussle with a young panther, Joe, and I tell you that you got off mighty luckily; the chances were that the animal would have made mincemeat of you if it hadn't been for that thrust with your knife.

"The California lion, puma, or panther, as the animal is indifferently called according to locality, once had a very extensive range on the North American continent. It could be found from the Adirondacks to Patagonia, but now, like nearly all of our indigenous great mammals, is relatively scarce, and is rapidly following the sad trail of the buffalo.

"Although sometimes called a lion, he in nowise resembles either his African or Asiatic namesake. He is more nearly related to the tiger in his habits, though lion-like in color. He is the puma or American cougar of the naturalists. He is really a long-tailed cat, and the only true representative of the genus felis on the continent.

"He is a splendid fellow, too, with sleepy green eyes, skin as soft as velvet and beautifully mottled, and teeth half an inch long and sharp as razors. His paws measure four inches across, and his limbs are as finely proportioned as a sculptor could desire, while all his muscles are as brawny as a prize-fighter's. His breast is broad, and his body as flexible as a snake's. He is an active climber and generally drops or springs upon his prey from a limb where he has carefully secreted himself. Like the majority of wild beasts, he generally runs from man, excepting when cornered, or in the case of a female with kittens when suddenly met; then her motherly love presents itself as strongly as in any other animal.

"The cougar attains its greatest size in the Rocky Mountains, where its body reaches a length of four feet ten inches, and its tail from two to two and a half feet.

"The American panther has one inveterate foe, the bear. The grizzly and the panther are mortal enemies. The famous trappers I have known, such men as Kit Carson and Lucien B. Maxwell, have told me that in these animals' frequent combats, the panther generally comes out victor, and that in their early trapping days they often came across the carcass of a bear which had evidently met its death in a lively encounter with a mountain lion, as they called it.

"Carson once related a contest of that character which he had accidentally witnessed. A large deer was running at full speed, closely followed by a panther. The chase had already been a long one, for as they came nearer to where he stood, he could see both of their parched tongues hanging out of their mouths, and their bounding, though powerful, was no longer as elastic as usual. The deer having discovered in the distance a large black bear playing with her cub, stopped for a moment to sniff the air, then coming nearer, he made a bound with head extended, to ascertain whether the bear had kept her position. As the panther was closing with him, the deer wheeled sharply around, and turning almost upon its own trail, passed within thirty yards of its pursuer. The panther, not being able at once to stop his career, gave an angry growl and followed the deer again, but at a distance of some hundred yards. Hearing the growl, the bear drew her body half out of the bushes, remaining quietly on the lookout. Soon the deer again appeared, but his speed was much reduced, and as he approached the spot where the bear lay concealed, it was evident that the animal was calculating the distance with admirable precision. The panther, now expecting to seize his prey easily, followed about thirty yards behind, his eyes so intently fixed on the deer that he did not see the bear at all. Not so the bear; she was aware of the close proximity of her wicked enemy, and she cleared the briars before her and squared herself for action, when the deer with a powerful spring passed clear over her head and disappeared.

"At the moment the deer took the flying leap the panther was close upon him, and was just balancing himself for a spring, when he perceived, to his astonishment, that he was now face to face with a formidable adversary. Not in the least disposed to fly, he crouched, lashing his flanks with his long tail, while the bear, about five yards from him, remained like a statue, looking at the panther with her fierce, glaring eyes.

"They remained thus a minute: the panther agitated, and apparently undecided, and his sides heaving with exertion; the bear perfectly calm and motionless. Gradually the panther crawled backward until at the right distance for a spring; then throwing all his weight upon his hinder parts to increase his power, he darted upon the bear like lightning and forced his claws into her back. The bear then, with irresistible force, seized the panther with her two fore paws, pressing it with the weight of her body and rolling over it. Carson said that he heard a heavy grunt, a plaintive howl, a crashing of bones, and the panther was dead.

"The cub of the bear came after a few minutes to learn what was going on, examined the victim, and strutted down the hill followed by its mother, who was apparently unhurt. The old trappers used to claim that it was a common practice of the deer, when chased by the panther, to lead him to the haunt of a bear; but I won't vouch for the truth of the statement.

"I have killed several of the creatures," continued Mr. Tucker, "but never had a very serious tussle, excepting once, up in what was then called the Klikatat Valley, in Washington Territory. I had been out after elk, but had not seen any, and was going up a very narrow, rocky ravine looking for their tracks. When I arrived at the head of the little cañon, I heard a snarl. Casting my eyes in the direction of the sound, I saw, to my dismay, a she panther on a flat ledge under a clump of dwarf cedars, with three kittens alongside of her.

"The enraged beast was in the attitude of springing, when I caught sight of her. I had no time to pull my rifle to my shoulder or jump aside. The ravine was so narrow that there was not room enough between the jagged walls to raise the piece and take aim. So quick were the cat's movements that she was almost upon me, her mouth wide open and her claws unsheathed ready for business. I was calm, for I had trained myself never to become excited under danger, and just as she jumped for me I cocked my piece, stuck the muzzle down her throat, and pulled the trigger as she fell upon my shoulder.

"The shot killed her instantly, but not before she had ripped some of the flesh off my arm as she rolled to the ground. It was a remarkably close shot, and a lucky one for me too. I skinned her, but was so sore that I had to return to my camp and dress my wounds, which healed in a few days."

When the story was finished, they all went to bed. Mr. Tucker promised the boys and girls he would remain over the next day and go on a rabbit hunt which they had planned for the morning.

It proved to be a glorious day as the sun rose next morning in a cloudless sky. Breakfast was out of the way by six o'clock, and the boys saddled their buffalo ponies, as they called those which they had captured out of the herd; their sisters' ponies also were saddled. Gertrude had a very gentle animal which her father had traded for with the Pawnees, but he was blind in one eye, and she called him Bartimæus, or Barty for short. He was hard to catch, but when caught was a quiet, easily ridden animal. Kate's was an iron-gray which had been born on a neighboring ranche, and especially broken for her benefit. He was of that small breed peculiar to Texas, and his power of endurance was phenomenal. On a long journey, with only the wild grass to subsist on, they soon wear out the pampered steed of the stable.

The relation between Ginger and his young mistress was remarkable for the confidence and affection each had in and for the other. He was now five years old, and Kate had trained him herself, but had never used whip, spur, or severe curb during her long and patient training. Consequently Ginger responded cheerfully and promptly to her every command. His education had been based upon gentleness and affection. Her love for him was reciprocated in a manner bordering upon human intelligence, thus confirming the theory that kindness is more effective in subordinating the brute creation to our will than the club or kindred harsh measures.

Kate's pony had never been confined by fence or lariat; he roamed at will all over the beautiful prairie or in the timber surrounding Errolstrath. Yet day or night, in sunshine or in storm, if Kate required his services, she had only to go and call him, and if within the sound of her voice, he would come galloping up to her, neighing cheerfully. When he arrived where she stood, bridle in hand, waiting for him, he would affectionately rub his nose on her arm or shoulder, and submissively follow her to the house. If he happened to be a long way off when she went to seek him, she would jump on his bare back and ride him home. He was always rewarded on these occasions with a lump of sugar or salt, of both of which he was very fond. In the three years of their companionship neither girl nor pony had ever deceived each other: his sugar or salt was never forgotten, nor had he once failed to respond to her summons.

It made no difference when Kate wanted to go anywhere, whether she mounted Ginger bareback and bridleless, or with saddle. Under either condition she was perfectly at her ease, and he equally obedient to her voice, by which alone she frequently guided him.

He was as fleet as the wind, and more than once Kate had run down a cottontail rabbit in a spirited chase over the prairie.

She had christened him Ginger, not because there was the slightest resemblance to that spice in his color, but rather for the "spice" in his nature.

Mr. Tucker rode his favorite large roan horse, which he had brought to the ranche with him, and which had carried him so bravely on the long and wearisome trip to the Elkhorn.

The happy little party left Errolstrath about seven o'clock, followed by the old hounds Bluey and Brutus, which were as anxious as their young masters for the excitement of the impending chase.

They rode down the Oxhide under the shade of the elms which fringed its border, until they arrived at the open prairie a mile from the ranche. There the dogs were ordered ahead, and began to run, eagerly looking out for a sight of any foolish rabbit, cottontail or jack, that might be out on the level stretch of country over which the hunters were now loping.

They had not gone on half a mile before they started a big jack from his lair of bunch-grass, where, probably, he had been taking a late nap. With a characteristic bound, jumping stiff-legged for a moment, he fairly flew over the short buffalo sod, the dogs after him with every muscle strained to overtake him before he could hide in some tall weeds, or clump of plum bushes which were scattered throughout the prairie at intervals of five or six hundred yards.

Ever since they had come into possession of their ponies, Joe and Rob had trained Bluey and Brutus in such a manner that they scarcely ever failed to secure any game they hunted.

The rabbit is a very swift creature, and has a fashion, when pursued, of suddenly doubling on his own tracks. Being so much smaller than a hound, he can perform the feat a great deal quicker than a dog, and if the latter is not trained to know just what to do under such circumstances, and just how to run, the rabbit almost invariably slips away from him. Bluey and Brutus were taught not to keep close to each other when on the run after rabbits. One of them, generally the younger, when they first started out for a hunt, remained far enough away from his mate to make the turn when the rabbit did, without forging ahead of him, as the foremost hound was sure to do, by the sheer momentum of his rapid running. Then, the hound in the rear had plenty of room and time to make the turn as soon as the rabbit, and was right upon him, as close as was the head dog when he doubled on his tracks. Then the old dog would recover himself and take his place behind the one that was now ahead, ready for the same tactics whenever the rabbit made another attempt to escape by again doubling on himself. So the race was conducted until the rabbit was caught. That was effected by the dog which happened to be ahead when he came near enough to thrust his long nose under the animal's belly and toss him high in the air, catching him in his mouth as he came down.

"Admirable!" said Mr. Tucker, as Bluey, who happened to be ahead, tossed the rabbit up and caught him as he fell toward the ground. "I tell you, boys, that's as fine a piece of work as I ever saw done by any hounds I have run with. You must have taken a great deal of pains to teach them to do their work so splendidly?"

"It took a long time," said Rob, who had really given more attention to training Bluey and Brutus, than had Joe, who had spent more of his spare hours in the camp of the Pawnees. "I sometimes almost gave up, they were so stupid when I first tried to teach them, but by degrees they understood what I wanted, and now I will put them against any hounds in the settlement for doing good work."

"I must admit," said Joe, "that all they can do is to the credit of Rob; he has more patience with animals than I have, though you know, Mr. Tucker, that I am never cruel. I know that you can accomplish more with a dumb brute by kindness than you can with a whip."

By noon the hounds had caught ten rabbits--six cottontails and four jacks--and, of course, were played out when the party turned back on the trail to Errolstrath. Here they found dinner waiting for them, and they all ate heartily, the delightful exercise having made them as ravenous as coyotes. The hounds were not forgotten; they had a rabbit each for their dinner, after eating which, they went to their accustomed beds on the shady side of a haystack near the corral, and slept all the rest of the afternoon.

Mr. Tucker left for his ranche about an hour after dinner, promising to come to visit the family again soon.

The family were worried about the impending Indian war, and when three o'clock had arrived his mother sent Joe up to Fort Harker to find out if there was any news of Custer and the troops under his command, who had gone after the Kiowas.

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