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- Tales of Aztlan - 2/17 -


Many children did I see, but they had not the rosy cheeks of German children. And I met the strongest of all beasts on earth and tracked him to his native lair; and there, in the sacred groves of the Illini, I worried him sorely, and as David did unto Goliath, so did I unto him; and sundown come, I slew him. And for three-score days and ten the smoke of battle scented the balmy air.

The young ladles laughed heartily and said that never before had they been so delightfully entertained, and they gave me sweets and nice things to eat, and said they hoped I might stay with them forever and a day. We exchanged confidences, and they warned me to beware of the landlord, who had been known to rob people. They advised me to secrete my money, if perchance I had any. I thanked them kindly, replying that I had only one dollar in my purse. This was true, but I did not tell them that I had sewed a large sum in banknotes and some German silver into my kite's tail when I set out on my journey to the West.

I complimented these charming girls on their good fortune to be in the service of so generous a gentleman as their landlord seemed to be; for I saw that they wore very fine dresses and had many jewels. "Why, you little greenie," said Miss Rose, "he does not pay us high wages." "Oh, I see, how romantic! how nice!" exclaimed I. "You do as the ladies in the good old time of chivalry, when knights donned their colors and sallied forth to battle with lions and tigers. You crave largesse, and the gentlemen favor you with money and jewels." Then the youngest girl laughed and said, "Oh, you pore, innicent bairn, and how do yez ken all this? and how did yez know that Misther Payterson kapes a tiger at all, at all, begorra!" Another young lady said, "Dutchy, I reckon yore daddy is a right smart cunning old fox!" "Madame," replied I, indignantly, "my father is no fox, but a minister of the Gospel." "Oh, this bye is the son of a praste," screamed the loveliest girl in all Missouri. "Indade, I misthrusted the little scamp. Och! oh and where is me brooch? I thought all the time the little divvil was afther something. Thieves! Murther!" Confusion in pandemonium now reigned supreme. For one precious moment the air seemed full of long-legged stockings and delicate hands and purses. Luckily, the brooch was found and peace restored at once. And Rose said, "Oh, girls, how could you!" and she begged my pardon and said they did not mean it. And then I made myself very useful and agreeable to these lovely maids, lacing their shoes and dusting their chamber, and right gallantly did I serve them until evening.

After supper reappeared my evil genius in the person of the landlord, who took me out to the woodshed. "Dutchy, I have decided to adopt you as my only son; have you ever bucked a wood saw?" said he, and a sardonic leer distorted his evil features. After I recovered sufficiently from the shock, I answered indignantly, "Sir, know ye not that I have pledged my service to the vestal virgins of yon temple?" "Ha! Ha!" laughed the villain, "get busy now, son, and if by morning this wood has not been cut, you will go minus your breakfast." Thereupon he locked me in.

Caught as a rat in a trap, I had no alternative but to comply with this man's outrageous demands. Despairingly I plied that abominable instrument of torture, the national bucksaw of America. This is the only American institution I could never accustom myself to. I have endured bucking bronchos in New Mexico, I have bucked the tiger in Arizona, but to buck a wood-saw--perish the thought! Sore and weary, I lay down in a corner of the shed on some hay and fell asleep. I dreamed that I heard screams of women, mingled with song and laughter, and through it all the noise of music and dancing. Then the dream changed into a horrible nightmare in the shape of a big sawhorse which kicked at me and threatened me with hard labor.

Toward morning, when the door was opened and a drunken ruffian entered, I awoke from my troubled slumbers. "Hi, Dutchy, and have yez any tin?" he threatened. "Kind sir," I replied, "when I departed for the West I left all my wealth behind me." Verily, now I was proving myself the worthy scion of valiant men, who had laid aside hauberk, sword, and lance, taken up the Bible and stole, and thenceforth fought only with the weapon of Samson, the strong!

"And so yez are, by special appointment, chamberlain to the gurruls by day, and ivver sawing wood at nighttime! Bedad! I'll shpile the thrick for Misther Payterson, the thaving baste, and take this little greenhorn out of his clutches and sind him about his business." With these words, he opened the door for me and I escaped.

Farewell, lovely maids of Kansas and Missouri! If mayhap this writing comes to you, oh, let us meet again; my heart yearns to greet you and your granddaughters. For surely, though it seems to me as yesterday, the blossoms of forty summers have fallen in our path and whitened our hair.

CHAPTER II. PERILOUS JOURNEY

After several days I arrived at the end of my railway journey, Junction City, without delay or accident. The trip was not lacking in interesting details. The monotony of the never ending prairie was at times enlivened by herds of buffalo and antelope. On one occasion they delayed our train for several hours. An enormous herd of thousands upon thousands of buffalo crossed the railroad track in front of our train. Bellowing, crowding, and pushing, they were not unlike the billows of an angry sea as it crashes and foams over the submerged rocks of a dangerous coast. Their rear guard was made up of wolves, large and small. They followed the herd stealthily, taking advantage of every hillock and tuft of buffalo grass to hide themselves. The gray wolf or lobo, larger and heavier than any dog, and adorned with a bushy tall was a fierce-looking animal, to be sure. The smaller ones were called coyotes or prairie wolves, and are larger than foxes and of a gray-brown color. These are the scavengers of the plains, and divide their prey with the vultures of the air.

At times we passed through villages of the prairie dog, consisting of numberless little mounds, with their owners sitting erect on top. When alarmed, they would yelp and dive into their lairs in the earth. These little rodents share their habitations with a funny-looking little owl and the rattlesnake. I believe, however, that the snake is not there as a welcome visitor, but comes in the role of a self-appointed assessor and tax gatherer. I picked up and adopted a little bulldog which had been either abandoned on the cars or lost by its owner, not then thinking that this little Cerberus, as I called it, should later prove, on one occasion, to be my true and only friend when I was in dire distress and in the extremity of peril.

The town of Junction City, which numbered less than a score of buildings and tents, was in a turmoil of excitement, resembling a nest of disturbed hornets. Several hundred angry-looking men crowded the only street, every one armed to the teeth. The great majority were dark- skinned Mexicans, but here and there I noticed the American frontiersman, the professional buffalo hunter and scout. These were men of proved courage, and I observed that the Mexicans avoided looking them squarely In the face; and when meeting on the public thoroughfare, they invariably gave them precedence of passage.

I found opportunity to hire out to a pleasant-looking young Mexican as driver of a little two-mule provision wagon. In this manner I earned my passage across the plains. Don Jose Lopez, that was his name, said that I need not do much actual work, as he would have his peons attend to the care of the mules and have them harness up as well. He also told me that we would have to delay our departure until every team present in the town had its cumulation of cargo. They dared not travel singly, he said, for the Indians were very hostile. In consequence whereof our departure was delayed for six weeks. I camped with the Mexicans and accustomed myself very soon to their mode of living. The fact that I understood their language and spoke it quite well was a never-ending surprise and mystery to them. I took dally walks over the prairie to the junction of two creeks, a short distance from the town, bathed and whiled away the time with target practice, and soon became very proficient in the use of firearms.

The banks of these little streams would have made a delightful picnic ground, covered as they were by a luxuriant growth of grasses and bushes and some large trees also, mostly of the cottonwood variety. But there were no families of ladies and children here to enjoy the lovely spot. A feeling of intense uneasiness seemed to pervade the very air and a weird presentiment of impending horror covered the prairie as with a ghostly shroud. The specter of a wronged, persecuted race ever haunted the white man's conscience. In vain did the red man breast the rising tide of civilization. In their sacred tepees, their medicine men invoked the aid of their great Spirit and they were answered.

The Spirit sent them for an ally, an army of grasshoppers, which darkened the sun by its countless numbers. It impeded the progress of the iron horse, but not for long. Then he sent them continued drouth, but the pale face heeded not. "Onward, westward ever, the star of empire took its course."

We camped out on the prairie within a short distance and in full sight of the town. I made the acquaintance of a merchant, Mr. Samuel Dreifuss, who kept a little store of general merchandise. This gentleman liked to converse with me in the German tongue and was very kind to me, even offering to employ me at a liberal salary, which I, of course, thankfully declined. One morning after breakfast I went to this store to purchase an article of apparel. The door was unlocked and I entered, but found no one present. I waited a while, and as Mr. Dreifuss did not appear, I knocked at the bedroom door, which was connected with the store. Receiving no response to my knocks, I opened the door and entered. There was poor Mr. Dreifuss lying stone dead on his couch. I knew that he was dead, for his hands were cold and clammy to the touch. I was struck with astonishment. The day before had I spoken to him, when he appeared to be hale and hearty. There were some ugly, black spots on his face, and I thought that it was very queer. I did not see any marks of violence on his person and nothing unusual about the premises. I looked around carefully, as a boy is apt to do when something puzzles him. Then I thought I would go up-town and tell about this strange circumstance.

The store was the first building met with in the town if a person came from the railway station. As I went toward the next house, which was a short distance away, I was hailed by a tall, broad-shouldered man with long hair, who commanded me to halt. I kept right on, however, meaning to tell him about my gruesome discovery. As I advanced toward him he retreated, and I called to him to have no fear, as I did not intend to shoot. The big man shook with laughter and cried, "Hold, boy, stop there a minute until I tell you something. They say that 'Wild Bill' never feared man, but I fear you, a mere boy. Did you come out of that store?" "Yes, sir," I said. "And did you see the Jew?" "Yes, sir," I answered; "Mr. Dreifuss is dead." "How do you know that?" he questioned. "His hands feel cold as ice," I said, "and there is a black spot on his nose." Again the man laughed and said, "Do you know what killed him?" "I do not know, sir," I answered, "but I was going uptown to inquire." "Well," said the scout, "Mr. Dreifuss had the cholera." "That's too bad," said I; "let us go back and see if we can be of any assistance." "No, you


Tales of Aztlan - 2/17

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