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- The Great Salt Lake Trail - 5/86 -
blasts and occasional storms. They suffered, also, from scarcity of water, having frequently to use melted snow; this, with the want of pasturage, reduced their old packhorse sadly. They saw many tracks of buffalo, and some few bulls, which, however, got the wind of them and scampered off.
On the 26th of October, they changed their course to the northeast, toward a wooded ravine in a mountain. At a small distance from its base, to their great joy, they discovered an abundant stream, running between willowed banks. Here they halted for the night. Ben Jones having luckily trapped a beaver and killed two buffalo bulls, they remained there the next day, feasting, reposing, and allowing their jaded horse to rest from his labours.
Pursuing the course of this stream for about twenty miles, they came to where it forced a passage through a range of hills, covered with cedars, into an extensive low country, affording excellent pasturage to numerous herds of buffalo. Here they killed three cows, which were the first they had been able to get, having heretofore had to content themselves with bull-beef, which at this season of the year is very poor. The hump meat and tongues afforded them a repast fit for an epicure.
It was now late in the season and they were convinced it would be suicidal to continue their journey on foot, as still many hundred miles lay before them to the Missouri River. The absorbing question now was where to choose a suitable wintering place; they happened the next day to come upon a bend of the river which appeared to be just the spot they were seeking. Here was a beautiful low point of land, covered by cottonwood, and surrounded by a thick growth of willow, which yielded both shelter and fuel, as well as material for building. The river swept by in a strong current about a hundred and fifty yards wide. To the southeast were mountains of moderate height, the nearest about two miles off, but the whole chain ranging to the east, south, and southwest, as far as the eye could reach. Their summits were crowned with extensive tracts of pitch-pine, checkered with small patches of the quivering aspen. Lower down were thick forests of firs and red cedars, growing out in many places from the very fissures of the rocks. The mountains were broken and precipitous, with huge bluffs protruding from among the forests. Their rocky recesses and beetling cliffs afforded retreats to innumerable flocks of the bighorn, while their woody summits and ravines abounded with bears and black-tailed deer. These, with the numerous herds of buffalo that ranged the lower grounds along the river, promised the travellers abundant cheer in their winter quarters.
On the 2d of November, they pitched their camp for the winter on the woody point, and their first thought was to obtain a supply of provisions. Ben Jones and the two Canadians accordingly sallied forth, accompanied by two other members of the party, leaving but one to watch the camp. Their hunting was uncommonly successful. In the course of two days they killed thirty-two buffaloes, and collected their meat on the margin of a small brook, about a mile distant. Fortunately the river was frozen over, so that the meat was easily transported to the encampment. On a succeeding day a herd of buffalo came trampling through the woody bottom on the river banks, and fifteen more were killed.
It was soon discovered, however, that there was game of a more dangerous nature in their neighbourhood. On one occasion Mr. Crooks wandered about a mile from camp, and had ascended a small hill commanding a view of the river; he was without his rifle, a rare circumstance, for in these wild regions, where one may at any moment meet a wild animal or a hostile Indian, it is customary never to stir out from the camp unarmed. The hill where he stood overlooked the spot where the killing of the buffalo had taken place. As he was gazing around, his eye was caught by an object below, moving directly toward him. To his dismay he discovered it to be a she grizzly with two cubs. There was no tree at hand into which he could climb, and to run would only be to invite pursuit, as he would soon be overtaken. He threw himself on the ground, therefore, and lay motionless, watching the movements of the animal with intense anxiety. It continued to advance until at the foot of the hill, where it turned, and made into the woods, having probably gorged itself with buffalo flesh. Mr. Crooks made all possible haste back to camp, rejoicing at his escape, and determined never to stir out again without his rifle. A few days afterwards a grizzly bear was shot at a short distance from camp by Mr. Miller.
As the slaughter of so many buffaloes had provided the party with beef for the winter, even if they met with no further supply, they now set to work with heart and hand to build a comfortable shelter. In a little while the woody promontory rang with the unwonted sound of the axe. Some of its lofty trees were laid low, and by the second evening the cabin was complete. It was eight feet wide, and eighteen feet long. The walls were six feet high, and the whole was covered with buffalo-skins. The fireplace was in the centre, and the smoke found its way out by a hole in the roof.
The hunters were next sent out to procure deerskins for garments, moccasins, and other purposes. They made the mountains echo with their rifles, and, in the course of two days' hunting, killed twenty-eight bighorn and black-tailed deer.
The party now revelled in abundance. After all they had suffered from hunger, cold, fatigue, and watchfulness; after all their perils from treacherous and savage men, they exulted in the snugness and security of their isolated cabin, hidden, as they thought, even from the prying eyes of Indian scouts, and stored with creature comforts. They looked forward to a winter of peace and quietness; of roasting, broiling, and boiling, feasting upon venison, mountain mutton, bear's meat, marrow-bones, buffalo humps, and other hunters' dainties; of dozing and reposing around their fire, gossiping over past dangers and adventures, telling long hunting stories—until spring should return; when they would make canoes of buffalo-skins, and float down the river.
From such halcyon dreams they were startled one morning, at daybreak, by a savage yell, and jumped for their rifles. The yell was repeated by two or three voices. Cautiously peeping out, they beheld, to their dismay, several Indian warriors among the trees, all armed and painted in warlike style, evidently bent on some hostile purpose.
Miller changed countenance as he regarded them. “We are in trouble,” said he, “these are some of the rascally Arapahoes that robbed me last year.” Not a word was uttered by the rest of the party; they silently slung their powder-horns, ball-pouches, and prepared themselves for battle. M'Lellan, who had taken his gun to pieces the evening before, put it together in all haste. He proposed that they should break out the clay from between the logs, so as to be able to fire upon the enemy.
“Not yet,” replied Stuart; “it will not do to show fear or distrust; we must first hold a parley. Some one must go out and meet them as a friend.”
Who was to undertake the task? It was full of peril, as the envoy might be shot down at the threshold.
“The leader of a party,” said Miller, “always takes the advance.”
“Good!” replied Stuart; “I am ready.” He immediately went forth; one of the Canadians followed him; the rest of the party remained in garrison, to keep the savages in check.
Stuart advanced, holding his rifle in one hand and extending the other to the savage who appeared to be the chief. The latter stepped forward and took it; his men followed his example, and all shook hands with Stuart, in token of friendship. They now explained their errand. They were a war-party of Arapahoe braves. Their village lay on a stream several days' journey to the eastward. It had been attacked and ravaged during their absence by a band of Crows, who had carried off several of their women and most of their horses. They were in quest of vengeance. For sixteen days they had been tracking the Crows about the mountains, but had not yet come upon them. In the meantime they had met with scarcely any game, and were half famished. About two days previously they had heard the report of firearms among the mountains, and on searching in the direction of the sound, had come to a place where a deer had been killed. They had followed the trail and it had brought them to the cabin.
Mr. Stuart now invited the chief and another, who appeared to be his lieutenant, into the cabin, but made signs that no one else was to enter. The rest halted at the door and others came straggling up, until the whole party, to the number of twenty-three, were gathered in front. They were armed with bows and arrows, tomahawks, scalping-knives, and a few had guns. All were painted and dressed for war, having a savage and fierce appearance. Mr. Miller recognized among them some of the very fellows who had robbed him the preceding year, and put his comrades on their guard. Every man stood ready to resist the first act of hostility, but the savages conducted themselves peaceably, and showed none of that swaggering arrogance which a war-party is apt to assume.
On entering the cabin, the chief and his lieutenant cast a wistful look at the rafters, hung with venison and buffalo meat. Mr. Stuart made a merit of necessity, and invited them to help themselves. They did not wait to be pressed. The beams were soon eased of their burden; venison and beef were passed out to the crew before the door, and a scene of gormandizing commenced which few can imagine who have not witnessed the gastronomical powers of an Indian after an interval of fasting. This was kept up throughout the day; they paused now and then, it is true, for a brief interval, but only to renew the charge with fresh ardour. The chief and the lieutenant surpassed all the rest in the vigour and perseverance of their attacks; as if, from their station, they were bound to signalize themselves in all onslaughts. Mr. Stuart kept them well supplied with choice bits, for it was his policy to overfeed them, and keep them from leaving the cabin, where they served as hostages for the good conduct of their followers. Once only in the course of the day did the chief sally forth. Mr. Stuart and one of the men accompanied him, armed with their rifles, but without betraying any distrust. He soon returned, and renewed his attack upon the larder. In a word, he and his worthy coadjutor, the lieutenant, ate until they were both stupefied.
Toward evening the Indians made their preparations for the night according to the practice of war-parties. Those outside of the cabin threw up two breastworks, into which they retired at a tolerably early hour, and slept like overfed hounds. As to the chief and his lieutenant, they slept inside, and in the course of the night they got up two or three times to eat. The travellers took turns, one at a time, to mount guard until morning. Scarcely had the day dawned when the gormandizing was renewed by the whole band, and carried on with surprising vigour until ten o'clock, when all prepared to depart. They had still six days' journey to make, they said, before they could come up with the Crows, who, they understood, were encamped on a river to the north. Their way lay through a hungry country where there was no game; they would, moreover, have but little time to hunt; they therefore craved a small supply of provisions for the journey. Mr. Stuart again, invited them to help themselves. They did so with
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