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- The Great Salt Lake Trail - 80/86 -
His faithful warriors had returned, but they hardly knew their beloved young chief, so changed was he. At the door of his father's lodge his brave horse fell dead, and Souk rolled over on the ground insensible.
He was carefully lifted up and laid on his own bed, where for many days he remained in a raging fever, at times delirious, and calling wildly on the name of Chaf-fa-ly-a. Little by little he recovered, and at length went about the village again, but he hardly ever spoke to any one; and for years the Brûlés and Ogallallas never visited each other.
In the early days the celebrated Kit Carson and Lucien B. Maxwell trapped on every tributary of the Platte and Yellowstone, long before they joined General Fremont's first exploring expedition as principal scouts and guides in company with Jim Bridger, Jim Baker, and others.
In the early '40's, Kit Carson as the leader, with a hundred subordinates, organized a party of trappers to operate upon the Yellowstone and its many tributaries. The Blackfeet, upon whose ground the men were to encroach, were bitter enemies of the whites, and it was well known that serious difficulties with those savages could not be avoided, so Carson prepared his plans for considerable fighting. He assigned one half his followers to the work of trapping exclusively, while the remainder were to attend to the camp duties and vigilantly guard it.
As Carson, on many previous occasions, had had tussles with the hostile Blackfeet, he was not at all disinclined to meet them again on their own ground; and as he felt doubly strong with such a large party of old mountaineers, he rather hoped that the savages would attack him, as he wished to settle some ancient scores with them.
Carson was, however, disappointed that season, and he could not at first understand why the Blackfeet had left him so severely alone; but he found out, later, that the smallpox had decimated them, and they were only too glad to retire to their mountain fastnesses, completely humbled, and hide in terror hoping to escape further attacks of the dreaded disease.
Carson and his party spent the winter in that region with the friendly Crows, passing a delightful season, with an abundance of food, living in the comfortable buffalo-skin lodges of the tribe, and joining in their many amusements.
While there was no lack of provisions for the party in the village of the kind-hearted Crows, their horses suffered greatly. The earth was covered with deep snow, and Carson and his trappers were kept busy every day gathering willow twigs and cottonwood bark to sustain the life of the animals. Great herds of buffalo, driven to the locality by the severity of the weather, and depending, too, upon the timber for their sustenance, made it even harder work to supply the horses.
On the opening of spring, Carson and his party commenced to trap again, and returning to the fruitful country of the hostile Blackfeet, they learned that the tribe had completely recovered from the visitation of the smallpox of the previous year. Some bands were camped near the trapping-ground, and were in excellent condition, spoiling for a fight with the whites.
Upon discovering the state of affairs, Carson and five of his most determined men set out on a reconnoitring expedition. They found the site of the Blackfeet village, and, hurrying back to camp, a party of forty-three was selected, with Carson as leader. The remainder were to follow on with their baggage, and if it should become necessary when they came up to the savages to assist them; Carson and his brave followers marched ahead, eager for a fight.
It did not require a very long time to overtake the savages, who had commenced to move their village; and making a sudden charge among them, Carson and his men killed ten of the savages at the first fire. The Blackfeet immediately rallied and began to retreat in good order. The whites were in excellent spirits over the result of the first dash and followed it up for more than three hours; then, their ammunition running low, their firing became less rapid, and they had to exercise the greatest caution. At this juncture the savages suspected the reason that the white men had moderated their attack, and, with most demoniacal yells, they rallied, and charged with such force that Carson and his men were obliged to retreat.
Now, in the charge of the Indians, the trappers could use their pistols with great effect, and the savages were again driven back. Again they rallied, however, and in such increased numbers that they forced Carson and his men once more to retreat.
During the last rally of the Indians, the horse of one of the trappers was killed, and fell with its whole weight on its rider. Six warriors immediately rushed forward to scalp the unfortunate man. Seeing his helpless condition, Carson rushed to his assistance, jumped from his horse, placed himself in front of his fallen companion, and shouting at the same instant for his men to rally around him, shot the foremost warrior dead with his unerring rifle.
Several of the trappers quickly responded to Carson's call, and the remaining five savages were compelled to dash off, without the coveted scalp of the fallen white man, but only two of them ever regained their places in the ranks of their brother braves, for three well-directed shots dropped them dead in their tracks.
Carson's horse had run away, so, as his comrade was now saved, he mounted behind one of the men who had come when he called for help, and rode back to the rest of his command. Then, being thoroughly exhausted, both parties ceased firing by mutual consent, each waiting for the other to renew hostilities.
While indulging in this armistice, the other trappers came up with the camp equipage. The savages showed no fear at this addition to the force of the enemy, but, calmly covering themselves among the detached rocks a little distance from the battle-ground, quietly awaited the expected onslaught.
With the fresh supply his companions had brought, Carson cautiously advanced on foot with reënforcements to dislodge the savages from their cover. The battle was renewed with increased vigour, but the whites eventually scattered the savages in all directions.
It was a complete victory for the trappers, as they had killed a great many of the Blackfeet warriors, and wounded a larger number, while their own loss aggregated but three men killed and only a few severely wounded.
Now that the battle was ended, the trappers camped on the ground where the bloody engagement occurred, buried the dead, tended the wounded, and, from that time on, pursued their vocation throughout the whole Blackfeet country without fear of molestation, so salutary had been the chastisement of the impudent savages. The latter took good care, ever afterward, to keep out of the way of the intrepid Carson, having had enough of him to last the rest of their lives.
During the battle with Carson's trappers, the Blackfeet had sent their women and children on in advance; and, when the engagement had ended, and the discomfited warriors, so much reduced in number, returned without one scalp, the big skin lodge, which had been erected for the prospective war-dance, was occupied by the wounded savages, and the hatred for the whites among the tribe was intensified to the last degree of bitterness.
After the season's ending, which had been very successful, Carson engaged himself as hunter, at the fort of the American Fur Company on the South Platte; and as game of all kinds—deer, elk, and antelope— was abundant, the duty was a delightful one.
The following spring, Carson, in conjunction with Bridger, Baker, and other famous plainsmen, trapped on all the affluents of the Platte, and camped for the following winter in the Blackfeet country, without seeing any of his enemies until spring had again made its rounds. He and his men then discovered that they were near one of the Blackfeet's greatest strongholds.
Upon this forty men, with Carson as the leader, were chosen to give them battle. They found the Indians, to the number of several hundred, and charged upon them. They met with a brave resistance, and the battle continued until darkness put an end to the fight, when both whites and savages retired. At the first sign of dawn Carson and his party prepared for a renewal of the conflict, but not an Indian was to be seen. They had fled, taking away with them their dead and wounded.
Carson and his followers returned to their camp and held a council of war, at which it was decided that as the band they had whipped would report the affair to the chiefs of the several villages, the terrible loss they had sustained would inspire all the warriors to make a united effort to wipe out the trappers. The savages knew where their camp was established, so it would be wise to prepare for another grand battle on the same ground, by looking to their defences. To that end sentinels were posted on a lofty hill near by, breastworks were thrown up under Carson's supervision, and the utmost precaution taken to guard against a surprise.
One morning the sentinel on the top of the mountain announced by signals that the Indians were on the move; but the little fortification was already completed, and the anxious trappers coolly awaited the approach of the savages.
Slowly the redskins in full war-paint gathered around the sequestered camp, and more than a thousand warriors had congregated within half a mile of the trappers' breastwork in three days.
Dressed in their fancy bonnets, and hideously bedaubed with yellow and vermilion streaks across their foreheads and on each cheek, armed with bows, tomahawks, and long lances, they presented a formidable-looking front to the small number of whites. The trappers kept cool, however; every man clutched his rifle, determined to sell his life only at fearful cost to the confident savages.
They commenced one of their horrible war-dances right in sight and hearing of the trappers, and at dawn the following day they advanced toward the little fortification, carefully prepared for a concerted attack.
Carson cautioned his men to reserve their fire until the Indians were near enough to make sure that every shot would count; but the savages, seeing how effectively the trappers had intrenched themselves, retired after firing a few harmless shots, and went into camp a mile distant. Finally they separated into two bands, leaving the whites a breathing-spell. The latter were well aware an encounter must necessarily be of a most desperate character.
The Indians had evidently recognized Carson, who had so frequently severely punished them, and they made no further attempt to molest the trappers, much to the relief of the beleaguered men.
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