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The allied tribes of the plains, now thoroughly whipped into subjection by the gallant Sheridan and his intrepid subordinates, Custer and Sully, went sullenly to the reservations recently established by the Government in the Indian Territory, and "white-winged Peace" once more spread her pinions over the fair land of Kansas.

The settlers could go from one village to another with perfect immunity from sudden attacks by savages hidden in some ambush on the trails, so the state made phenomenal strides toward a greater civilization.

Crops were enormous in their results when the virgin soil was turned to the sun, but the wolves, especially in the vicinity of Errolstrath, seemed to increase with the prodigality of Jonah's gourd. They became so persistent in their nightly depredations at the ranches, that only by a concentrated effort of the neighborhood to exterminate them could stock-raising be made profitable.

A few days after Colonel Keogh's visit to Errolstrath on that happy Thanksgiving when Kate had come back safely to her home, an orderly from Fort Harker dismounted in front of the house, bearing a note to Joe from General Custer. It stated that the General proposed to hunt the wolves the day after to-morrow, and desired him to invite Mr. Tucker, the old trapper, and as many more of the neighbors who were good shots, as would like to go. He wanted the party to meet him at the mouth of the Oxhide as early as seven o'clock. From this point he intended to go to the general rendezvous of the beasts in the limestone region, down the Smoky Hill.

As soon as dinner was over at Errolstrath, Joe saddled his pony, and started for Mr. Tucker's ranche three miles away, to invite him to come over to stay all night and join Custer and the others of the party on the morning of the hunt.

Rob was at the same time told by his father to get his pony and deliver General Custer's invitation to as many of the neighbors as he could reach, and return by sundown. He left promptly on his mission, but went in a direction exactly opposite from that of his brother.

When he had loped along about a mile up the Oxhide, his attention was attracted by a curious noise which seemed to come from the bank of the stream. He rode his pony through the brush toward the strange sound, and what was his surprise to see two snakes fighting right on the extreme edge of the water where the bank was only just above its level. One of the reptiles was a black water-snake, and the other a bull-snake nearly twice as thick round as his opponent, but not quite as long. The bull-snake had his tail firmly wrapped around a sunflower stalk, and the other had his attached to a big weed. Each had hold of the other by the middle and was trying to pull in an opposite direction. It was evidently the intention of the black snake to drag his antagonist into the water and drown him, for he is a good swimmer, while the bull is not, and the latter was just as determined that his enemy should not get him into the stream.

They were both stretched to their utmost tension, and as Rob said, when he told about them on his return, he expected every moment to see them break in two; for both were drawn out as thin as a clothes-line. At last the hold of the bull-snake gave way, and the impetus, like the snapping of a whip, threw them both into the water. Now the black snake had a decided advantage, for he was in his element, and he immediately exerted every muscle to draw his antagonist's head under. Finally, after a severe struggle he succeeded in holding him there for a few moments, and when he let go, the bull-snake's dead body rose to the surface. Then the black snake gave a few shakes to his tail and darted off under the water, apparently not the least injured by his death-struggle with his larger antagonist.

Both boys returned to Errolstrath before sundown, and as it was Rob's month to take care of the cows and milk them, he went promptly about his business. Joe, after taking Mr. Tucker's horse to the stable, and feeding the other stock, returned to the house, and sat in the big room, talking to his guest for half an hour, until supper was announced.

Supper being cleared away, all adjourned to the sitting-room again, and the boys and girls proposed that the old trapper should relate some more of his experiences in the Rocky Mountains, when he was a young man; a request with which he cheerfully complied whenever he passed a night at Errolstrath.

After all were comfortably seated in their accustomed places, Rob told of his adventure with the two snakes on the bank of the Oxhide, when Joe, after his brother had finished, remarking that coincidences were curious, stated that he, too, that same afternoon, had had an adventure with three snakes--one more than Rob.

"When I reached the broad military road to Fort Sill," said he, "at the crossing of Mud Creek, I noticed some distance down the trail a terrible commotion. The dust was flying as if it had been twisted around by a whirlwind, and by looking steadily I could see something moving on the bare earth, where the grass is all worn off the road. I rode slowly up to the moving object, ready for any emergency, when I discovered three bull-snakes, two of them of immense size, the third one not so large. They had a half-grown cottontail among them, and were fighting bravely for the sole possession of the little creature, which was already nearly dead. I thought I would stay to see the fun, so I whipped the smaller one, and one of the larger of the reptiles away. They went hissing into the grass, as I applied my riding-whip to them pretty lively. Then I sat still on my pony to watch the single snake enjoy the meal I had so opportunely provided for him.

"Presently he began to wind his long body around the rabbit, and I could hear the bones of the poor thing crack as the muscular pressure was applied. He then gradually unfolded himself, turned his head toward the muzzle of his prey, dislocated his jaws, and commenced to take in the rabbit.

"Little by little the rabbit, which was much larger than the snake's body, disappeared, until it was entirely enveloped by the reptile. Then he coolly reset his jaws, and after a series of hisses--perhaps he was thanking me for my kindness in interfering on his behalf--he crawled away into the thick grass. I let him go, Mr. Tucker; for we never kill a bull-snake, they are such good hunters for gophers, mice, and even rabbits, which are becoming such a nuisance here. I saw several wolves, of course; you can't go a mile anywhere without seeing them, but as I carried no gun with me I did not try to interview any of them."

"I expect to have a good time the day after to-morrow," said the old trapper, "and it will recall some of my own experiences with them years ago."

"Oh, do tell us about it!" said Kate; "I just love hunting adventures."

"All right, Kate; you have grown into a kind of savage since your life with the Indians, eh?"

"I heard lots of wonderful stories from the warriors when they sat around the fire at night, but they told such abominable yarns that I didn't believe them. They can stretch a thing pretty well, I tell you," answered Kate.

"Begin, please, Mr. Tucker," said Rob, who was as interested as any of the family.

"Well, then," said he, "I will tell you of the brave deed of a Mexican, which occurred a good many years ago, when I was down in Southern California.

"He was a native, and named Amador Sanchez, well known in the Sierra Nevadas as a brave and successful hunter. He had a terrible fight with one of those great shaggy, gray mountain wolves. The struggle lasted for several hours, and ended by both combatants being laid prostrate on the ground. They were so completely exhausted as to be unable to reach each other from want of sheer physical strength. In that condition they passed one whole night. On the following morning, when the Mexican had recovered sufficiently to be able to creep to his shaggy antagonist, he found him dead.

"The terrible conflict grew out of the Mexican's daring attempt to save the life of a boy who was about to be torn to pieces when the Mexican attacked the wolf.

"At one time the wolf had the youth under him in such a way that it was impossible for Sanchez to plant a ball in any vital organ without imperilling the boy's life. Nothing daunted, however, with both revolver and rifle, he succeeded in lodging several bullets in other parts of the savage beast. Still the enraged brute clung to the unfortunate child, using every endeavor to tear him to pieces and horribly mangling every part of his body. At this juncture, the brave Mexican hunter could no longer refrain from active effort. He dropped his pistols and rifle, drew his sheath-knife and slung-shot; then winding his blanket around his left arm to protect it, he rushed in and compelled the animal to turn upon him, and so gave the boy a chance to escape.

"Wounds were freely given and returned, but the wary Sanchez fought with much dexterity and determination. The wolf finally became so mad with rage and pain, that he closed in upon the Mexican and threw him headlong upon the ground, where he remained almost senseless for a few moments before recovering his breath.

"Instead of following up his advantage, the beast, doubtless believing his enemy dead, because he did not move, commenced to examine and lick his own bleeding wounds. The spirit of the intrepid Mexican, however, was up, and he determined to conquer the wolf or die.

"Early in the struggle, by a blow from his slung-shot, Sanchez had succeeded in breaking the brute's lower jaw, and that was unquestionably the fortunate wound which eventually gave the victory to the Mexican.

"Sanchez renewed the fight as soon as he felt himself sufficiently rested, and, by adopting some curious tactics, in which he was materially assisted by a clump of trees, he succeeded in putting some heavy blows with his knife right into its vitals. At this, the wolf was aroused again to an unendurable madness, and, gathering himself for one grand effort, he bit at the Mexican's head and once more felled him to the earth. From this final attack, and his previous loss of blood, the brave man fainted dead away. How long he remained in that state he could not tell; but when he became conscious again, he found that the victory was on his side, for the wolf had breathed his last.

"The poor boy, as soon as the battle was decided, as he supposed at the cost of his friend's life, started for the village, arriving there late the following afternoon. Upon hearing his story, a party of well-armed men immediately went to the scene of the struggle, to bury their brave comrade. They were guided by the boy, who was able to ride a pony.

"Arriving at the spot about midnight, they found Sanchez in a most pitiful condition. His flesh was terribly mangled, his clothes were torn to ribbons, and his back and shoulders were one mass of lacerated wounds, inflicted by the sharp teeth and claws of the wolf.

"Although he received the most delicate care and assistance at the hospital from those noble women, the Sisters of Charity, it was many weeks before he was able to resume his occupation of hunting. Even then he owed his life to his wonderful recuperative powers and his iron constitution."

"What a terrible time he must have had," said Kate. "The gray wolf is an awful animal to be attacked by. Do you know that they very frequently go mad, and then many savages are bitten, and die a horrible death from hydrophobia? One of the warriors was bitten while I was down in the Indian village. He had a hand-to-hand tussle with the wolf, and although he was only slightly bitten, he died raving."

"Yes, they are bad brutes to deal with," said the old trapper, "particularly those huge fellows that hunt in packs; a man has not the slightest chance with them. I know that in Oregon, about twelve years ago, the mail rider for the military posts of Forts Dallas and Simcoe was caught in the mountains by a pack of them, and nothing of him or his animal was found excepting the letter sack, the hoofs of his horse, and some buttons, with other portions of the rider's clothing."

"Have you ever had a personal encounter with any of the terrible beasts?" inquired Mrs. Thompson.

"Oh, yes!" replied the old man. "I'll tell you all about it."

"In 1856, I tried to ranche it in the central portion of Washington Territory. I had no neighbor nearer than thirty miles. I was a little lonesome at first, because it was really the first time I had been without partners, and I saw my neighbors but once in a whole year.

"I remember that I started to visit John Elliott. I felt that I needed company, and he and I had trapped together some years before, and were well acquainted.

"Towards evening, I started for my thirty-mile walk. It was in December, and of course, cool, with a magnificent full moon to light my trail through the deep forest and over the prairie.

"I had gone about two miles, I think, and as I neared a small lake, and was tramping along the edge of the water with my rifle carelessly swinging in my left hand, I suddenly heard a growl that startled me, and stopping at once, I saw a great wolf standing with his paw buried in the carcass of a red deer, and his mouth full of its flesh. The brute was not chewing, for his jaws were motionless, and he looked at me as if deciding which was the better meal for him, that which he had under his feet, or I. He was an immense animal. I don't think I have ever seen a larger wolf. If I had left him alone and gone about my business, he would not have troubled me. They are generally cowards, and will run at the sight of man, unless provoked or cornered, or are running in packs, when they will fight to the death.

"I, like the fool that I was, raised my rifle, took a quick aim at him, and pulled the trigger. He jumped at the instant I fired, and although I aimed at his heart, I missed it and hit him in the upper part of the fore leg. Then with his mouth wide open, showing his white teeth, and the froth running down the sides of his cheeks in his rage, he came for me with a howl, which I thought was answered by about fifty more in the timber.

"It didn't take me ten seconds to get up into the fork of an oak tree which stood only a few feet away. By the time I was safely settled in my seat, there were four more of the great grizzled beasts right under me, smacking their chops and whining as if their mouths watered for a taste of my flesh. If I could have talked to them in their own way, I would have suggested that they go and feast off of the deer which still lay intact.

"Then, as I could not make them go away by mere suggestions, I loaded my rifle and shot one of them as dead as the deer. That made more food for the others, as they will eat each other under certain circumstances, but that particular time was not one of them. I didn't blame them, for the brute I had killed was a long, gaunt, miserably thin, mangy-looking creature that seemed as if he had not had anything to eat for a month.

"The refuge I had sought from the ravenous beasts was but a sapling, and I expected it every moment to break with my weight. Presently, I heard the crotch begin to split, and letting my rifle drop, I was quick enough to catch my arms and legs around the trunk of the tree, and hold on for life until I could draw my knife and shove it into my belt ready for use.

"Having accomplished this, I watched my chance, and if there ever was such a scared wolf as the one round whose back I wound my arms when I fell, I'd like to see him!

"We rolled on the ground together, and the other three just backed off to watch the fight, and a pretty moonlight tussle it was. He got my body under him at last, and I thought I was done for.

"I felt a little faint when he sunk his teeth into me, but he didn't seem to like the hold he had, so he pulled his teeth out of me, tore my coat, shirt, and flesh, then seized my fur cap and shook it for a moment, which was a lucky mistake for me on his part. I felt his wet lips on my forehead, and had just time to let go my hold on his throat and clutch my knife, when he seized my cap again and made an attempt to swallow it. His throat was in no condition to get it down, however, for my knife-blade was through his jugular, and the point of it in his spinal marrow, and in another minute he was dead wolf!

"I bled considerably when I got up, but I wasn't weakened a bit. The whole affair had occurred in half a minute, and I was ready for the other three, who now all attacked me together. I caught up my rifle and struck one of them across the nose and floored him. As he picked himself up I seized him by the hind foot and fell upon him. If the first wolf was frightened when I tumbled on him from the tree, this one was more so. I can never forget the awful howl he gave as I stood up on my feet again, and swinging him into the air, struck one of the remaining two a terrible blow with his body.

"The first one I had wounded was scared at the novel fight, and tucking his tail between his legs, vanished into the woods, and I was left with only two on my hands. I caught up one of them as I had caught the other, and his comrade took to his heels and was soon out of sight.

"The one I held by the heels, I swung twice around my head and then let him fly. The centrifugal force, as they used to call it at college, forced out his wind, and his scream, as he shot through the air, was diabolical. He went fully a rod into the water, and his howl only stopped when he struck it. I was weak and faint now from the tremendous exertion. The beast came up again, and struck out for the shore. When he reached it, he did not dare to approach me, but stood there as if petrified.

"At last he began to move off. I followed him slowly, and saw that he was getting tired. Presently he stopped again and tried to climb on the top of a shelving rock, but he was very weak, and just as he was making the attempt a second time, I raised my rifle and sent a bullet into his heart.

"I was now rid of all my foes, but too weak to walk much further, so I went back to my cabin and gave up my proposed visit until I was recovered from my wounds."

"Well," said Joe, "that beats my fight with the panther. We sha'n't have any such trouble on the day after tomorrow, though, for we shall have a big enough party to fight a whole mountain full of them."

It was long after ten o'clock when Mr. Tucker had finished the thrilling story of his fight, and then the family all retired--some of them to dream of wolves, bears, and panthers perhaps.