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Category: The Ranche On The Oxhide
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The Pawnees camped on the Oxhide that autumn earlier than usual, as one of the boys of the tribe had said they would.

The band arrived the first week in September, and Joe was again in his element. He spent every spare moment in the camp, but, much to his regret, learned that his old friend Yellow Calf was dead; he had died about a month before of sheer wearing out. He was nearer ninety than eighty, which he had given as his age to Joe. One of the younger of the principal men had been made chief in his place. He had been with the band every season when they camped on the creek, and also was a firm friend to Joe, so the boy had lost nothing except the presence of the old fellow who thought so much of him.

One morning about the middle of April while the Indians were still on the Oxhide, and Joe as usual was in the camp, a warrior came in and reported a large herd of antelope on the Smoky Hill bottom; he said there were at least eight hundred of them. He proposed to Joe that they should go after them, and the boy agreed without any hesitation.

The chief told them they had better take about half a dozen of the men with them; for if the antelope were out on the open prairie, they could not get near enough to them without a great deal of trouble. If they had some one to drive the herd toward them while they hid themselves in the tall grass, they could entice a number within range by using the usual strategy.

Joe and the Indian, whose name was the White Wolf, started, taking with them seven men of the band as drivers. When they got out into the opening beyond the timber on the Oxhide, they discovered the large herd unsuspiciously grazing about two miles away.

The seven Indians were then ordered to make a détour far beyond the animals, at least a mile from the far side of them, while Joe and White Wolf secreted themselves in a large patch of bunch-grass. This was out on the prairie about a hundred rods distant from the timber, and was pointed to by White Wolf so that his men would understand exactly what was required of them.

Joe and the Indian who had remained behind with him, then walked leisurely toward the bunch of tall grass. They had plenty of time to prepare themselves, as it would take at least an hour before the Indians could get beyond the herd to move it.

On the way to the prairie Joe had stopped at the ranch, to borrow the Spencer carbine for White Wolf, while he took his little Ballard rifle, that was only good for about a hundred and fifty yards, while the Spencer would carry a ball five hundred.

They reached their hiding-place in plenty of time, for they lay there fully fifteen minutes before they saw a commotion among the antelope. The herd were observed to raise their heads as if they winded danger, and then making a few of their characteristic stiff-legged bounds, they stood alert as if preparing for flight.

Joe knew by this that the animals had been startled by the Indians, though he could not see a sign of one of them.

The herd at first ran as swiftly as they could in an easterly direction, then they began to slacken their pace, and a few, having recovered their courage, commenced to nibble gingerly at the short buffalo grass again. At this juncture White Wolf tied a white rag around his head, and, standing on his knees, began to sway his body backward and forward with a steady oscillating motion. Presently the antelope saw him, and a few of them stopped short to gaze at the strange object.

In a few moments four or five of the inquisitive creatures moved slowly forward again, still attracted by the swaying white figure of the savage, which so excited their curiosity. Presently, as they came closer and closer, Joe told White Wolf not to fire until they came within range of his little gun. Soon the proper distance was attained, and Joe, drawing up his piece, said:--

"Now, White Wolf, fire away!"

Their pieces were discharged simultaneously; it seemed like a single shot, so accurately had the triggers been pulled together. Two of the graceful creatures rolled over on their sides, one White Wolf's, instantly killed, while Joe's was sprawling out, every limb quivering like an aspen leaf.

Both hunters dropped their guns and started out to cut the throats of their game, Joe was in the act of placing his hand on the neck of the one he had fired at, when, to his surprise, it jumped to its feet and ran off to join its not faraway companions, and the astonished boy never saw it again!

Which was the more surprised, the boy or the antelope, it would be difficult to determine. He turned to the savage, who was bewildered, too, and asked him what in the world was the cause of the animal's recovery after he had shot him.

"I aimed at his heart as he stood broadside toward me," said Joe, "and I don't know what it means."

"You only grazed him," answered White Wolf. "We Indians often catch wild horses in that way, when we can't get them in any other." Of course, they conversed in the Pawnee tongue, for the savage did not understand a word of English.

"Oh! I know what you mean, White Wolf," said Joe. "I just grazed his spinal cord with the ball; it paralyzed him for a moment, that's all. Yellow Calf told me how the Pawnees used to catch wild horses in that way, down on the Cimarron bottom, when the tribe lived on the Republican River."

"I'm soon going down there with some of my warriors. A Kaw brave told me the other day that there are a good many wild horses there yet; will you go, too?" asked White Wolf of his young friend.

"I'll go if my father and mother are willing, and I guess they will be," replied Joe. "I should so like to see a herd of wild horses. I have seen nearly all the other animals that live on the plains and in the timber, but have never seen wild horses, because they don't range as far east as Oxhide Creek. There are lots of them in Nebraska though, farther north, Mr. Tucker says."

As the prairie was too level for the hunters to hope to get near the antelope again, now that they had discharged their pieces, and as the other Indians were coming up to them, they decided to go back.

One of White Wolf's men packed the dead antelope on his horse, and they all rode slowly toward Errolstrath. When they arrived there, White Wolf insisted that Joe take half of the game. To this at first the boy did not agree, but as the chief insisted so persistently, he finally consented. So the antelope was divided fairly, one portion was carried into the house, and the other to the Indian camp down the creek.

At dinner Joe told his father that White Wolf was going to the Cimarron bottom in a few days to try to capture some wild horses which, so he learned from one of his Kaw friends, were roaming on the salt marshes of that region, and that the chief wanted him to go with him.

Mr. Thompson said that he had not the slightest objection now that the war was over and there was nothing to be feared from the savages, but he told Joe that if any animals were captured, he ought to be entitled to a share.

"I have made that all right with White Wolf already, father," said Joe. "He agrees to give me as great a proportion as his other warriors are entitled to. He hopes to capture at least one apiece, as the Kaw who told him about the herd said there were three or four hundred of them down there."

As soon as dinner was over, Joe jumped on his pony and loped off to the Indian camp to tell White Wolf that he could go to hunt wild horses with the band.

The chief said that he was glad of it, and that they would start by the first of the week. It was now Thursday, and that would give them all plenty of time to make ready. He told Joe that he would let him have a pony out of his herd, so that he could save his own the hard trip, for there would be severe work for all the ponies.

Joe started back to the ranche, and when he arrived at the foot of Haystack Mound, on the side of it farthest from the corral, he saw a squadron of sand-hill cranes circling around near the ground, and as he knew they were going to alight, he pulled up his pony. After turning loose his animal, which he knew would run right to the corral, he hid himself in the plum bushes which grew all over the bottom, to watch the strange antics of those curious birds.

They dance a regular cotillion when on the ground. They chassez backward and forward, and waltz around, keeping time in a rude sort of way as they go through the mazes of their weird movements.

Presently they all came fluttering down, about forty of them, and immediately began their laughable capers. Joe had witnessed their performance a hundred times, but he could never resist looking at it again whenever the opportunity offered. They danced for more than half an hour, and then seeming to have enjoyed themselves sufficiently, they took flight, and soon were but as a wreath of dark blue far up in the sky.

Joe returned to the house, and puttered around until supper was ready. At the table he told of his stopping at Haystack Mound to witness the antics of a flock of cranes that had alighted on the sand knoll near there, and said he could sit and look at them all day.

Of course all the family had witnessed the performance of the cranes often, for in the season scarcely a day passed that a flock did not make its appearance somewhere on the ranche.

Kate said, "I used to watch them on the Canadian when I was in the Indian village, and they were about the only things that I laughed at while there. After I had been there about a month and had got pretty well acquainted, one of the boys gave me a young crane for a pet. He became so tame that he would follow me all over the village.

"I kept him three months, when one morning, as I was walking down to the river with him, I saw him suddenly stop, put his head on one side, look up at the sky, and running a few steps, fly away. I watched him until he was out of sight. It was a flock of his own species that he had seen, and I did not even begin to hear their croaking until he was far out of sight."

 

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