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The last big herd of buffalo ever seen in the valley of the Oxhide visited their ancient feeding-grounds during that same spring of 1869, when Joe hunted wild horses on the Cimarron with the Pawnees.

One morning, shortly after his return to Errolstrath, an immense number of the shaggy ruminants came tearing across the Smoky Hill, below the fort. They rushed up toward the soldiers' barracks, and dashed wildly through the post, over the parade-ground, and on toward the Oxhide.

In a moment the whole garrison was in full chase, enlisted men and officers, and a fusillade ensued, which sounded at a distance like a general engagement of troops. The firing was heard on the Oxhide, and several of the Pawnees who happened to be out on the highest bluffs saw the herd coming. One of their number hurried to their camp and notified the other warriors, who immediately mounted their ponies and got ready for the chase. Joe and Rob were hunting rabbits with their hounds that morning on an elevated plateau, and they, too, saw the cloud of dust raised by the great herd, as it came thundering through the Smoky Hill bottom. Forgetting all about rabbits and everything else, they rushed to the house for their guns. In a few moments they joined the Indians, who were coming at a breakneck gait toward the on-rushing mass. The buffalo, wild with fear and excitement at their proximity to the cabins of the settlers, were on a general stampede.

When buffalo are stampeded, they become absolutely blind, and rush without any aim into anything that is in their path. Some of the frightened beasts that now had reached Errolstrath ranche, dashed through the front yard, leaping over fences and gates as easily as a greyhound. In their mad career they knocked down the milk-pans, water-buckets, and other things that stood near the kitchen door.

Kate was standing on the wash-bench, trying to get a good look at the buffalo as they came tearing along, and before she was aware of the fact, she found herself sprawling on the ground. An old bull that was separated from the rest of the herd had come dashing round the corner of the house, and striking the end of the bench with his leg, sent Kate headlong. She picked herself up unhurt, and rushed into the house, almost as badly scared as when the Cheyennes had swooped down on her.

She gathered her wits in a moment, and with her mother and sister stood on the back veranda, where they could all see the herd now far up on the hills, and still running in their madness. The Indians, soldiers, and officers were shooting at the frenzied beasts as they ran among them, regardless of consequences. Now and then they toppled one of the huge animals over, but the white men in their excitement missed oftener than they hit, while the Pawnees rarely failed to bring down their game.

The party on the porch at Errolstrath watched the herd and hunters until nothing but a cloud of dust could be seen far in the distance, yet the yelling of the Pawnees could still be faintly heard long after the buffalo had vanished from sight.

By noon, Indians and whites slowly retraced their course down to the creek bottom, the Pawnees going to their camp, the soldiers to the fort, and the boys, Joe and Rob, home.

"How many of the buffalo were killed after all that terrible yelling and shooting?" asked their mother.

"Well, not nearly as many as ought to have been," answered Joe. "I never saw such a mixed-up mess in all my life. Enough cartridges were used to have killed five hundred, but the men from the fort were as excited as the buffalo, and they didn't hit an animal once in a hundred shots, and then when they did, half the time the ball struck them where it had no more effect than if you had hit them with a stick!

"The Pawnees killed more than all the others; they got twenty-five, and have gone to camp for ponies to pack the meat on. I don't think that fifty buffaloes were killed in all. I got two, both of 'em cows, and I must take the wagon out and haul 'em in. We will have enough meat to last us a long while, but we shall have to smoke most of it."

"Where did the herd go?" inquired Kate.

"Most of the animals kept right on toward the east, while some of them turned round and travelled south. I suspect that the settlers on Plum Creek flats will have a good time with them, as a part of the herd that went south was headed for there. I tell you," continued Joe, "you've got to keep a clear head on your shoulders when you go after buffalo. Most of those fellows from Fort Harker are recruits, and are fresh from the East; they never saw a buffalo before, and I don't wonder they were excited."

"I never saw so many rattlesnakes," said Rob, "as I did on that big stony prairie where we killed the majority of the buffalo. I guess I counted fifty if I did one. I think that the stamping of the buffalo must have frightened them out of their holes."

"It's very lucky that the rattlesnakes out here are not so venomous as those back East," said Mrs. Thompson; "more than twenty persons have been bitten by them in the neighborhood since we've lived here, and a little whiskey soon cures it."

"Do you remember, Gert," said Kate, "when you nearly sat down on one that was curled up on that stump you were going to take for a seat in the woods last autumn, and he rattled just in time?"

"I guess I do," answered her sister. "There's one thing I like about a rattlesnake: he always gives you good warning that he is around. He doesn't ever take you unawares, like some animals, a bull dog for instance, that says nothing, and takes hold of you before you know it."

"Their skins make pretty belts and hatbands," said Rob. "The cowboys on the big cattle ranches kill hundreds of them while they are out herding, and tan the skins to put around their hats. I saw a whole set of jewelry that was made out of the rattles and mounted with gold wire. One of the boys was going to send it to Texas to his sister."

"Well, they may be odd," said Mrs. Thompson, "but I certainly shouldn't like to wear them."

"I like the furs of animals better than anything for ornament, either to wear or to have in my room," said Kate. "I guess it would make a city girl envious to see my chamber with all its beautiful skins that Joe and Rob have given me. One of these days I mean to have papa send some of those otter and beaver skins to Kansas City, and get them made up into a cape and muff."

"He will," said her mother. "I was telling your father only the other day when we were up in your room, that it was a pity so many magnificent skins should be tacked around the walls, and lying on the floor, just for ornament, when there are enough there to make us all a set of winter furs. He said he would send them off in a few days, so I think you will have your wish gratified before long."

The boys were sent with the wagon to bring back the meat of the two cows that Joe had killed, and about noon they returned. The robes were very fine ones. Joe asked the Pawnees to tan them for him, and when they were finished, which would be in about a week, he intended to make them a present to his father and mother for their bedroom.

The buffalo meat was cut up that evening, by Mr. Thompson, and on the next day was smoked with corn-cobs, which are always used for that purpose out West.

While getting the meat ready, Mr. Thompson told the boys that he wouldn't be at all surprised if, when they wanted buffalo again, they would have to go miles away for them, as the country was becoming so thickly settled that the herds might never come as far east as the Oxhide. "Of course," continued he, "the antelope will remain with us a long time yet, but even they will become scarcer each year, and then they, too, will disappear, for it seems that the great ruminants of the plains cannot live with the white man as they can with the savages. The latter have no permanent home, but congregate in temporary villages in the winter, and as soon as spring opens, they are off again, living on horseback and depending upon the chase for their existence. It has ever been so with the Indian since the landing of the Pilgrims, in 1620. The white man has dogged their footsteps as they themselves follow the deer. One of the facetious old bishops of New England, I forgot his name now, said: 'The Puritans, when they landed on Plymouth Rock, first fell upon _their knees_, and then upon the _aboriginees_!' It appears to be the fate of the red men to vanish before the onward march of the whites."

"I feel sorry for the Indians, father," said Joe. "I tell you it would have made you almost weep to hear White Wolf, that night we camped on the Walnut, relate in his sorrowful manner how powerful his tribe once was, before the white man took their lands away from them."

"I have a warm spot in my heart for the Indian," said Mr. Thompson, "but it is their fate, I suppose, and cannot be helped. You cannot civilize the old ones, and the only hope is in taking the rising generation away from their tribal affiliations when young, and teaching them to live like the whites."