Category: The Ranche On The Oxhide
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The Pawnees remained on Oxhide Creek later than usual this spring. As they wanted to go on a hunt for the wild horses on the Cimarron bottom, they had to wait until the grass grew enough to furnish pasture for their own ponies on the trip.

About the middle of April, White Wolf told his warriors that he would start in a few days. A runner was despatched to Errolstrath, to tell Joe the band would leave in a short time, and to be ready at a moment's notice. The runner said that when White Wolf started he wanted to be off very early in the morning, so as to make the Arkansas the first night.

Joe, all anxious for the exciting trip, persuaded his mother and sisters to bake up a lot of bread, and boil hard a couple of dozen eggs for him. He told them that that would be all he wanted, as they intended to depend upon the chase, Indian fashion, for everything else; and as the country they were going over was full of buffalo, antelope, and elk, they would not suffer from lack of food.

He cleaned his father's Spencer carbine, bought a box of cartridges for it, and told Kate that he intended to ride the roan which she got from the Indians and had given to him. He thought the animal was better than any the Pawnees had in their herd, though White Wolf had said that he could ride one of theirs.

The night of the third day after the runner had come to tell Joe to get ready, another one came to the ranche and said that White Wolf and the warriors would start in the morning. He told him that he had better come to the camp with him, and stay there that night, so that there would be no delay about getting off early in the morning. So Joe got his things ready, tied a couple of blankets to the cantle of his saddle, his lariat to the horn; slung his carbine over his shoulder, and buckled his belt of cartridges around his waist. He then bade good by to the family, jumped on his pony, which he had named Comanche, after the tribe which had captured Kate, and rode with the runner who had come for him, to the Pawnee camp a mile distant.

Arriving there, Joe found everything in confusion. Some of the warriors were picketing their riding animals near the tepees, allowing the loose ponies to run at large, as they will never leave the main bunch. Others were packing their wallets of par-flèche with dried meat for the journey. White Wolf was sitting in the door of his lodge, smoking his pipe and giving general directions to his warriors.

At last everything was straightened out to the satisfaction of the chief, and then all adjourned to their several tepees to make ready their arms and ropes for the work that was to be done when they reached the Cimarron.

Joe slept in the lodge of the chief that night, and before the dawn was fairly upon the world, the warriors were up, saddling their ponies, taking down their lodges, and packing their traps on the backs of the animals designated for that purpose. Then after a hastily swallowed breakfast of dried buffalo meat, at a signal from White Wolf, the party mounted, and the cavalcade rode southwest at a gentle lope, the pack animals in front, in charge of two warriors.

Joe rode alongside of White Wolf in the centre of the column, and they talked of the probability of finding the herd of wild horses on the salt marsh where they were going.

They pulled up about noon to graze their animals and to have a smoke, which is the first thing an Indian does when he halts: it is of more importance to him than eating.

The Big Bend where the Pawnees wished to cross the Arkansas was seventy-two miles from the Oxhide, near the famous Pawnee Rock, on the old Santa Fé Trail.

When the sun was about two hours high, they could see, three or four miles distant, the white contour of the sand hills which border the great silent, treeless stream, and the Indians knew that their camping-ground was near. It was to be in the timber at the mouth of the Walnut, less than two miles from the spot where they would strike the Arkansas.

Before it had grown fairly dark, the heavy timber on the Walnut was reached, and the party halted, turned their animals loose, took another smoke, and then prepared for the night.

Around the camp-fire, White Wolf and several of the oldest warriors told how that region once belonged to their tribe. Their largest village had been two hundred miles farther north, on the Republican, and many times they had come down to where they were now camped, to hunt the buffalo, or steal horses from the Cheyennes, their hereditary enemies. They told how they were once a powerful nation, but the white man had stolen their lands, and now, only a small band, they were obliged to live on a reservation set apart for them by the Government.

It was a wild region where Joe now found himself. All night long could be heard the cry of the lynx, which sounded like that of an infant. The wolves howled in the timbered recesses of the creek, but Joe slept well, rolled up in his blankets in the chief's lodge, and it was morning before he thought he had been asleep an hour.

At the first streak of dawn, the Indians were out. White Wolf said that the mouth of the Walnut used to be a favorite place for elk. They might still haunt the stream; he would send out some of his hunters, and perhaps they would have elk for their breakfast.

He selected two of the warriors, who started out on foot to see if they could find any game. Joe, of course, accompanied them. They stalked cautiously as only an Indian can--Joe had mastered the art perfectly--along the bank of the stream, not a stick breaking under their feet, nor the sound of the rustle of a dead leaf being heard, so quietly did they tread.

At last, arriving at a bend of the creek, where the timber grows the thickest, the Indian in the lead stopped abruptly, put his hand out behind him, the sign for the others to halt, and taking Joe's carbine from the boy's shoulder, got down on his belly and crawled forward as noiselessly as a snake. Suddenly he raised the gun, and seeming to take a careless aim, pulled the trigger, and immediately Joe and the other warrior saw four elk rush past them, down the prairie, and out of sight.

As he turned to Joe and the other warrior, telling them at the same time to come on, the Indian who had fired said in his own language, "We'll have elk for breakfast now."

They followed him into the timber, and there, not thirty yards from where he had stood when he fired the carbine, was an elk, about two years old, dead as a stone wall!

The work of skinning the elk did not take more than ten minutes, and it was cut up into conveniently sized pieces, and each one of the hunters packed his portion to camp, less than a mile distant.

When they arrived they found the fire burning briskly, for White Wolf and the other warriors had heard the report of the gun, and they knew that something in the shape of game had been secured, for Mazakin and Trotter, the two Indians whom the chief had sent out, were unfailing shots. The meat was soon cut into slices, and each man cut a twig fork upon which he stuck a slice, and every one became a cook for himself. Joe produced a loaf of his bread, and with water alone for drink they made an excellent meal.

When they had finished, the sun was just rising like a great molten ball out of the horizon of the far-stretching level prairie. The ponies, standing ready, were mounted, and the party moved out, crossed the Arkansas at Pawnee Rock, and continued a southwesterly course all day.

By sundown they arrived at the Cimarron, a clear, babbling stream, where the water was a little brackish, and which the Cheyennes call Ho-to-oa-oa (Buffalo).

There were no trees at this part of the Cimarron in those days, and they were obliged to pitch their camp on the sandy bank of the river. The grass was luxurious, and their animals fairly revelled in it. They soon filled themselves and lay down, as if they realized the hard work which would be their portion for the next few days.

There were plenty of fish in the river, and as Joe had thoughtfully brought some hooks and lines, he and White Wolf with two of the other warriors took dried buffalo meat for bait, and soon caught all they wanted for their supper.

The next morning they broke camp at daybreak, and rode for a grove of timber just visible in the far-distant western horizon, where White Wolf said he believed they would find some wild horses. They always take shelter at night in timber if any is to be found, and wander out on the prairie in the morning to graze.

The party arrived at the grove by two o'clock, and established their permanent camp, as they saw the unmistakable signs that a herd of wild horses made it their nightly rendezvous. Their lodges were put up in the southern edge of the grove, away from the trails of the animals.

The Indians kept very quiet all day, sitting in the shadow of their lodges, smoking and talking. They did not even build any fires, but contented themselves with their dried buffalo meat and the bread which Joe had brought, for fear of making the slightest disturbance, and thus preventing the wild horses from returning to their usual nightly resting-place. Every once in a while, either White Wolf himself or some of the other warriors would venture out of the timber and gaze long and anxiously over the vast prairie, in hope of seeing something of the bunch, which they knew was grazing somewhere not many miles away. Once the chief thought he saw in the distance, moving objects which he took for horses, for he was noted far beyond any other member of his band for his keen sight. He was right in his conjectures, for before half an hour had passed from the time he had first riveted his attention, the bunch--for such it was--had swung around, broadside to, and, approaching nearer the timber, could be counted. There were over forty animals, led by a magnificent black horse which the chief said he would try to capture.

It was a beautiful sight, and Joe stood transfixed as they kicked up their heels, and raced after one another like a group of school children, little suspecting that, before the sun went down the next evening, many of them would be ridden by the Indians who were now gazing at them so covetously.

Night seemed to be very slow in coming to the band of Pawnees, who smoked and smoked incessantly, to pass the long hours before darkness would invite the herd to seek its bed-ground. At last after dark, by the light of the crescent moon, they saw the animals, led by the coal-black stallion, cautiously walk into the timber about a mile from the Pawnee camp. When the neighing and pawing had ceased, the hunters wrapped themselves in their blankets and buffalo robes, intending to be up before it was light, and surprise the herd before it was ready to go out to graze.

The ponies were securely picketed, saddles, girths, and bridles examined, buffalo-hair lariats overhauled, and all made ready for an early start on the hard day's ride.

Long before the sun had showed the faintest indication of his coming; while the stars were still shining brilliantly, the Indians and Joe were up, and hastily breakfasting, or taking their matutinal smoke. They then mounted their ponies, and stealthily walked the animals in the direction of the slumbering bunch of wild horses.

When they had arrived within a few hundred yards of the place where the handsome creatures were still unconsciously resting, one of the Indians and Joe, who was as good as the best man among them, dismounted and crawled forward in the brush to reconnoitre. They returned in a few moments and reported to White Wolf that all was quiet, not a single horse's ear had they seen pricked up, so the animals had not as yet been warned of danger.

White Wolf then gave his orders, making such disposition of his forces as would cause the herd to be surrounded when the warriors had approached near enough to use their lassoes. So quietly did the ponies do their duty, that when the herd was awakened to hear and see their enemies almost upon them, the lassoes of several of the warriors had done their work.

As the others bounded away with astonishing speed, out of the timber and over the prairie, a spirited chase commenced. The Pawnees urged their ponies to their greatest capacity, the manes and tails of the wild horses in front were flying wildly in the air, while their hoofs were beating the hard sod, showing how tightly strung were the muscles of the frightened animals.

The Pawnees were obviously gaining upon the fugitives, quick-footed though they were. The chief came up with the leader, the splendid black stallion, and began to swing his lasso around his head, gradually enlarging the circles by permitting the rough buffalo-rope to slip gently through his fingers. A sudden movement at the same instant plunged the stallion into an increased speed, when, White Wolf thumping the flanks of his mettlesome pony, it dashed quickly forward, and the Pawnee threw his lariat with unerring skill around the neck of the black horse. The bunch was thrown into a panic, when the members of it saw their leader tumble to the ground, and wheeling round in their course, they were completely surrounded by their pursuers. At least ten were lassoed by the same number of Pawnees, including Joe, who had long ago become an expert with the rope. The remainder of the bunch not yet caught were kept together by the rest of the Indians, who were continually circling around them, so that not one escaped, and at the end of an hour the whole forty were lassoed, and tied fast by the legs. Some fifteen of them were not desirable animals, and these were turned loose again.

The business of breaking them in began when they had driven the remaining twenty-five to their camp down on the farther edge of the grove. The frightened animals, notwithstanding their fetters of rawhide, kicked up the earth, shook their heavy manes, curved their necks, and, with eyes that seemed all afire, gazed tremblingly at their captors.

As White Wolf wanted the black stallion for his own riding, he began with him. It took four of the stoutest Pawnees to hold the fiery creature by a long lasso; this had the effect of partial strangulation, which weakened and temporarily overcame the wonderful power of the spirited creature. Violent were his plunges as he tried to free himself from the grasp of his captors. His terrific leaps only served to draw the lariat tighter around his neck; his breathing became more and more difficult, and might have been heard for the eighth of a mile. His heart beat as if it would burst from his heaving chest, and his veins stood out in great ridges along his quivering flesh.

At last, overwhelmed by his agony and fear, powerless with suffocation, he fell, and for an instant lay upon the ground without sense or motion. The lariat was immediately loosened around his neck, and as consciousness returned to him, his already glazed eyes became bright again, the fresh air dilated his nostrils, and his tremendous chest rose and fell.

In ten minutes he was on his feet, but how different he appeared from the magnificent animal which had stood in all his native pride and dignity at the head of his band. He was weak, hardly able to stand, his great head drooped, and his eyes were without that natural brilliancy which had so markedly characterized them; he appeared only the ghost of his former self. Like a monarch who had been dragged from his throne, who has been scoffed at by those whom he had previously despised, he was destined to become the slave of man.

As soon as the horse somewhat recovered from his exhaustion, he was mounted by White Wolf, who kept his seat, notwithstanding the animal's terrific efforts to throw him, and forced him to run round and round in a circle. If for a moment the horse showed the slightest manifestation of flagging or obstinacy, White Wolf would give him an awful blow over the head with his heavy buffalo-hair rope. Gradually he became more passive, and in less than half an hour from the time when the chief had mounted him, he was declared broken, and was led away to be picketed with the rest of the Indian ponies.

The remaining twenty-four horses were all subjected to the same course of discipline; some giving up in a few moments, others as obstinate as was their leader. Before dark all had been sufficiently subdued to suit a savage's idea of gentleness, and the party went to bed that night elated over their wonderful success.

The next morning they started for home, camping at the same place on the Walnut. From there to the Oxhide, they made two night halts instead of one, as on their outward trip.

Joe's share of the capture was three beautiful ponies. Under the discipline of the kindness which always prevailed at Errolstrath, these were made in a few weeks almost as gentle as tame horses.

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