“Jumping Rabbit’s Story” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, July 1843; pp. 20-22)
The beginning.—My earliest recollections.—My home.—My parents.—A
Kind reader, as you and I are about to take a ramble together, I beg leave to settle one or two points at the outset. In the first place, then, I shall tell you my story in a very simple, plain way; for the circumstances of my life have qualified me to speak in no other fashion. In the next place, I shall endeavor to make my story the means of giving you some useful information. I have been a wanderer over the Far West; have seen the rivers, the mountains, the valleys, the wild animals, the tribes of Indians that are there; I have crossed the Rocky Mountains, and stood upon the shore of the broad Pacific; and I have thus picked up a good deal of information. While, therefore, I shall give you an account of my adventures, I shall endeavor to make you acquainted with some matters relating to the geography, the natural history, and the manners and customs of the great West. Thus, while I shall try to amuse you, I will try also give you some little knowledge. I hope this arrangement will suit you; for if I give you cake, to which I compare tales of adventure, you should be content to take, now and then, a slice of solid bread and butter, to which I compare such useful matters as geography and natural history.
And now to begin. At the period of my earliest recollection, I must have been about six years old. My father was the living on the White river, about one hundred miles west of the Mississippi, and in what is now the state of Arkansas His house, which was only a log cabin, was four or five miles from any other white man’s dwelling. There was no town or village in that quarter; excepting a few scattered settlers here and there, the country was still uninhabited, except by native wild animals, or roving tribes of Indians.
The latter were at peace with the whites for a long period, and therefore we had no fear of them. We frequently saw parties of Indian hunters, and occasionally considerable numbers came into the region where we dwelt. They often visited our cabin, but never gave us any annoyance. But the time arrived when a change took place. We heard fearful stories of Indian massacres, and more than one family, in the region where we lived, were entirely cut off.
I remember that one night my father came home and told my mother that a party of Kickapoos had been in the neighborhood and killed every member of the family which lived nearest to us. He, of course, expected they would be upon us before morning. What was now to be done? The number of the savages was over a dozen, and it seemed quite hopeless to attempt either resistance or escape. If we were to fortify the house, we might make a brief defence, and kill a few of the enemy, but we must yield at last, and fall into the hands of our exasperated foe. If we were to fly, the savages, keen as bloodhounds in following their prey, would
soon track us out, and we should become their easy victims.
People who are brought up in quiet and secure towns, free from the dangers of the wilderness, and who only hear of adventures with the Indians, can hardly appreciate the feelings of those who are inured to every species of danger and trial. I remember the looks of my father and mother upon that fearful night, when they expected the savages to be upon their dwelling in a few hours, and to see themselves and their children become the victims of their bloody vengeance. They were brave people, and, though their countenances looked troubled, there was more of courage than fear in their faces.
There were four of us children: my brother Dick, about fourteen years old; my sister Jane, two years younger, and little Harry, a year younger than myself. The decision of our parents being to fortify the house and make the best defence in their power, we were all, except Harry, employed in the preparations. The latter was the only one who did not comprehend what was going on. While the rest of us were busy in bringing in the axes, hoes, spades, and other implements capable of being used for a deadly encounter, Harry was running about, seeming to enjoy the flurry and rejoice in the spirit of activity that animated the scene.
Everything that could be done was at last accomplished. The windows were strongly barred; the door was barricadoed; the wide-mouthed chimney, down which an Indian might easily have slid, was defended by large sticks crossed and jammed into the crevices of the stone work of the fire-place. Near the door sat our dog, Tiger; he was stretched upon his belly at full length on the floor, with his chin between his extended fore legs. He was not asleep, for it was evident that he understood that something fearful was in the wind. An erect fore-corner of his ear showed that he was listening intently; and his eye, steadily bent toward the door, betokened the expectation of danger in that direction.
My father loaded the old gun, now our chief hope, with care; he picked the flint, examined the priming, looked at his stock of powder and ball; and now, as if everything was prepared, sat down. I remember how he looked, when he now turned round and viewed my mother and us children. I remember how she looked too. My father’s lips trembled, and his eyes seemed to grow dim, for he lifted his hand and brushed it across his brow: but in a moment he looked again at his priming, glanced at old Tiger, and fixed his eye on the door and sat still. His face now became as stern as marble. My mother sat on a bench in one corner, and we children behind her upon the floor. By her side was an axe. She was very pale, and her eye turned often, first on father and then up to Heaven. Once in a while, she looked round on us, and especially upon little Harry, with a long gaze, as if it might be her last, and then a kind of shudder came over her. I think my mother was a very beautiful woman, for never in any dream has anything so like an angel visited my fancy, as my faint remembrances of my mother in that fearful hour. Her eyes were blue, her hair light, and her whole appearance soft and gentle. Never did she seem so gentle as when she looked around on us; yet, as she gazed on the axe at her side, and stole a glance around upon the defences of our little fort, her look changed, and she had the aspect of a hero.
We sat for more than an hour in breathless silence. Every ear was stretched to catch the slightest sound, until the effort became painful. At last, Tiger lifted his head and uttered a
low growl. In an instant after, he sprang to his feet, his eye glittering like fire, every muscle of his body being stretched for action. My father looked through a crevice he had left for observation. It was a clear moonlight night, and soon he saw four dusky figures gliding through the edge of the adjacent forest. He turned to mother, and said, in a firm tone, “They are coming!” She reached for the axe; I saw her fingers tremble as she grasped it. Dick, with a stout club, moved forward and stood by my father. He was a noble fellow; black-eyed, black-haired, and daring as a wild-cat. His look gave tone and courage to us all. He was stout for his years, and as he turned round to look at the group in the corner, there was something in his manner which seemed to say,—“You shall have a brave defence!”
There was silence for some time, when suddenly the most fearful yell burst upon our ears! It seemed to come from a hundred voices, and filled the forest with its terrific echoes. The scream of the panther is not so terrible as the war-cry of the savage, especially when heard at night, and by those who are exposed to his fury. Nearer and nearer came the yell, and at last we heard the enemy around our dwelling. My father, who kept his eye steady at the crevice, now slowly thrust the muzzle of his gun through the hole, and taking a deliberate aim, he fired. There was one wild yell, a heavy fall, a brisk scampering, and then a death-like silence. This continued for some time, when again the war-whoop burst from the forest, and at least a dozen savages immediately surrounded our dwelling. They encompassed it with dry leaves and branches, and set them on fire. In a few minutes the smoke began to issue into the room, and shortly the outside of our little cabin was wrapped in a sheet of flame.
Up to this time, my remembrance of the scene is very distinct; but what immediately followed, I cannot clearly recall. I have a fain recollection, or fancy, of my father, rushing out through the blaze, and struggling with a tall Indian in the flames, till they both fell exhausted and involved in the conflagration. I have a dim remembrance of my mother, bursting out through the falling timbers, carrying little Harry on her back, and leading Jane and myself through the flames. But I was suffocated with smoke and overwhelmed with the terrors of the scene. From this point my memory of that dreadful night is a blank—save one incident alone. Old Tiger and Dick went before my mother, as if they were her peculiar guard. The poor dog was dreadfully singed, for he had already had one or two deadly tussles with the Indians in the flames. The long silken hair of his ears and tail was burnt off, and the latter stuck out straight and stiff, looking actually as if it had been cooked. In that fearful hour, I remember to have thought that it had quite a ludicrous appearance.
The poor dog, however, had his senses about him, and kept with my mother and Dick, till we had proceeded a considerable distance. We were concealed from the view of the Indians by a dense cloud of smoke, that rolled between us and them. We had not gone far, however, before we were discovered, and two savages immediately pursued us. Coming up with us, they fell upon Dick, who defended himself for a time, but receiving a blow upon the head, he was laid prostrate on the earth. Tiger, half dead as he was, sprang upon his body, and stood erect for his defence. One of the savages struck him over the head, and, with a sad moan, the poor creature lay dead by the side of his master. A sickness now came over me. I tottered, and fell unconscious to the ground.—(To be continued.)
“Jumping Rabbit’s Story” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, August 1843; pp. 54-56)
I am carried to an Indian village.—The scene described.—Am insulted
by the young Indians.—They get well punished.—Painful
I do not know how long it was after the scene I have described, when I so far recovered my senses as to notice the objects around me. When my consciousness returned, I was lying on the ground, and no one appeared to be near me. I attempted to rise, and nearly got upon my feet, when I became giddy, and was obliged to sit down. I was distressed with a pain in the head and a burning thirst.
I now saw at a little distance a group of Indians, and about the same time one of them noticed me. He spoke and pointed to me, upon which an Indian woman and two children ran towards me. I held out my hands and begged them to have pity on me. The woman spoke to me, but I could not understand her. The children, who were Indians, and fierce-looking creatures, stood at a little distance for a time, as if afraid of me. Pretty soon they came nearer, and, in order to discover what kind of a creature I might be, one of them took a stick and gave me a pretty sharp poke in my back.
I writhed and groaned, for it hurt me; but this only made the young Indians laugh. The woman scolded them, however, and as the youngsters gave me another poke, she flew toward them, and aimed a blow with her hand at the head of the aggressor. It missed, however, and the two imps ran laughing to a distance. There, in safety, they stood gibbering and jeering, like two monkeys, till the woman, in a rage, set out after them; but diving into a thicket, the young rogues easily escaped and disappeared.
The woman now helped me upon my legs, and took me to a tent, around which were several Indians, mostly women and children. I noticed, also, several other tents, and knew that I was in an Indian village, or encampment. How I had been brought hither, I did not know, nor did I ever afterwards ascertain. It is probable, however, that it was by the care of the Indian woman, in whose charge I now was. She took me into a tent, and procured me some water. This refreshed me greatly, and I was soon able to take notice of the things around me.
The tent was made of dried deer-skins, and was supported by poles about twelve feet long. The whole tent was about fourteen feet across. There were in it, a few skins of bears and buffaloes, a bow and some arrows, two or three gourd-shells, a small brass kettle, a buffalo’s pate with the horns attached, a bunch of long, crooked bear’s claws, and a bundle of human scalps. These were all the articles I noticed.
After a while I felt very sleepy, and lying down, I had a long nap. When I awoke, I felt nearly well, and went to look out of the tent. There were, at least, fifty tents around, occupying a space of several acres, upon the edge of a small prairie, bordered by forests. The scene was quite lively; for two or three hundred Indians were before me,
nearly all, however, being women, children, and old men. I was afraid to go forth, and was about to creep back into the tent, when the woman before mentioned came, and taking me by the arm, led me out.
I was very soon surrounded by a host of people, and such a chattering I never heard before. A ring was formed around me, and every one seemed to have something to say. If I had been a new monster under the sun, there could not have been more wonder expressed. I imagine that they treated me very much as a parcel of Boston boys would treat a young alligator, should they happen to catch one. I looked in the faces of many of these persons, but I saw not one look of kindness. At last a boy about my own age, who had a small bow in his hand, shot an arrow at me, which, being pointed with a bit of sharp iron, entered the flesh of my arm. A moment after, two or three of the little savages set upon me, and began to tear off my clothes. They pulled me hither and thither, and in a short space I was entirely naked.
For a time, I made no resistance, for I had an idea that natural pity would teach even these creatures to spare one so helpless as myself. But finding that they had no pity, my anger began to rise; and when the boy who had shot his arrow into my arm, came up and began to pinch me, I struck him by the side of his head, and he went reeling and tumbling, like a smitten nine-pin, upon the ground. This caused a loud laugh, and I saw that a feeling of interest and respect was instantly created in my behalf by my resistance. This taught me a lesson, and instead of waiting for Indian pity and sympathy, I determined to obtain the regard of my captors by my spirit. When, therefore, the little imps set upon me again, as they soon did, they paid dearly for it. I was very strong and active for my age, and when, at last, an Indian lad, much larger than myself, came softly behind me, and gave my hair a twitch, I turned to punish him. The fellow fled and I pursued. The ring opened to give him space, and he struck into the little plain encircled by the tents. I hung close at his heels. It was a tight race, and such yells broke from the congregation of Indians as I had never imagined. The fellow went nearly across the plain, and, dodging this way and that, sought to throw me off. At length he passed round one of the tents, and returned toward the point from which we started. I followed, and finally, just as he reached the ring, I seized his hair, and gave it a jerk which made him yell like a catamount. This completely sealed my triumph. The looks of contempt around, were exchanged for those of admiration, and I was borne back to my tent with shouts of praise and exultation.
It was but a few weeks before I was at home among the Indians. I was adopted as the son of the woman who had taken care of me, in the place of one she had lost. By degrees I became accustomed to Indian sports and pastimes, and gradually learned their language. I was generally well treated after the fashion of savage life. There is little family government among these people; everything between the children is settled by strength; those principles of kindness, justice, pity and tenderness for the weak, which are so strongly inculcated among civilized people, being unknown to them. Matters are regulated very much as between animals—a herd of bisons for instance, or a pack of wolves. I had, therefore, to fight my way, and being very strong, I not only fared pretty well, but I obtained no little applause. At first, I was taunted and sneered at for being white, but I always punished such impudence, and at last those gibes ceased.
I often thought of my father and mother, my sister and brother, and longed to know their fate—for I was uncertain whether they had escaped or had perished on that fearful night in which our house had been reduced to ashes. Of these things, however, I could obtain no information. I knew too little of the Indian tongue to ask these questions, which often arose in my own mind. Sometimes, and especially at night, the thoughts of home and my kindred stole over me, and the tears would come into my eyes; but in the morning these painful thoughts would subside, and perhaps be forgotten in the pursuit of present objects.
(To be continued.)
“Jumping Rabbit’s Story” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, September 1843; pp. 65-68)
The return of our party.—Sports and festivities.
After I had been about a month in the village, a swift Indian, despatched by the warriors who had been absent on an expedition against some distant tribes, came in, and announced that the whole party were near at hand, and would enter the village the following morning. Preparations were therefore made to receive them.
All was bustle and activity, though this seemed to consist more in running about, and chattering like a set of magpies, than anything else. The children
leaped, frolicked, shouted, and fought mimic battles as well as real ones, in which they bit, scratched, kicked and pulled hair, in honor of the coming celebration. The women went about from tent to tent, talking with great animation and keeping up the hum, which might be heard at the farther extremity of the village.
Evening at last came, but there was no cessation of the excitement. The greater part of the night was spent in talking, squabbling, dancing, jumping, leaping and yelling. At length the morning came, and just as the sun was rising, and Indian, painted blue and red, carrying on his head the skin taken from the pate of a grizzly bear, was seen creeping along in the edge of the adjacent wood. He was soon followed by another, painted in a similar manner, with the horns and pate of a buffalo upon his head. Others succeeded, all of them painted and dressed in the most wild and fantastic manner, until about a hundred warriors had gathered in the thickets of the forest, close to the village.
A pause of at least half an hour ensued. All within the wood was silent, and not a trace of the savages that lurked in its bosom, could be discovered. The women, children and old men of the village had gathered in the open space encircled by the tents, where they awaited the coming spectacle in breathless expectation.
At last, a wild yell, as if a thousand demons filled the air, broke from the forest. In an instant after, the warriors started from their cover and ran toward the village with the greatest swiftness. Approaching the group of women and children, they formed themselves in a circle and began to dance in a most violent manner. They leaped, jumped, ran, brandished their weapons, screamed, chattered, and appeared more like infernal spirits than human creatures. They were all on foot except about a dozen, who were on horseback, and attired in the most fantastic manner. These rode round the circle with great swiftness, flourishing their long spears, and performing a sort of wild mimic battle.
Nothing could be more fierce and frightful than the whole scene, yet the women and children were greatly delighted, and evinced their ecstasy by uproarious acclamations. The warriors were excited by this applause to greater feats, and for about an hour they kept up their savage revel. They seemed to be as proud of their greasy paint and their savage foppery, as a well-dressed company of militia marching on a muster-day through one of our villages. A bear’s or buffalo’s pate was fully equal to a cocked hat; a rackoon’s or oppossum’s [sic] hide was equivalent to a pair of epaulettes; the bow and arrow were an offset to the sword.
But the Indian warriors had one advantage over our training-day soldiers. They had been in actual service, and carried with them evidences of their victory. Several of them bore in their hands large bundles of bloody scalps, which they had taken from their enemies, and these they flourished in the faces of the admiring spectators. It is obvious that the same vanity and foppery which are found in the fair-weather soldiers of towns and cities, belong to the savage warrior of the wilderness.
At length, the ceremony was over, and the savages dispersed themselves to their several wigwams. The next day, however, they had a great exhibition which was a kind of war-dance, in which the warriors attempted to exhibit their several battles and exploits. It was in fact a sort of pantomime, in which several of the Indians displayed great powers of mimicry. Though I was not much accustomed to these things, I un-
derstood a good deal of what the Indians meant by their performances.
One of these fellows amused me very much. He seemed to be fond of fun, and, like the clown in a circus, appeared to think more of making a laugh than anything else. It seemed from his representation, that, on one occasion, he was sent to spy out the situation of a party of Indians, whom they intended to attack. It was night, and as he was proceeding along a deer path in the forest, he chanced to see a skunk immediately before him. The creature stood still, and positively refused to stir a step.
The Indian hesitated for some time what to do, but at last he put an arrow to the bowstring, and shot the impertinent animal to the heart. The air was, however, immediately filled with the creature’s effluvia, and the Indians, whom the spy was seeking, being ever on the watch, were startled by the circumstance, and the spy himself was obliged to retreat for safety. This whole story was easily comprehended from the admirable mimicry of the actor. Nothing could exceed his drollery, except the applause of the spectators. He seemed to have the reputation of an established wag, and, like Andrews at the late Tremont Theatre, he could hardly turn his eye, or crook his finger, but the action was followed with bursts of applause.
There was one thing that characterized all the warriors, and that was a love of boasting and self-glorification. Every one represented himself as a hero and as performing the most wonderful feats of strength and valor. Boasting, I suspect, is a thing that naturally belongs to those who have little refinement, and modesty is doubtless the fruit of those finer sentiments which belong to civilization.
For several days there were sports and festivities, and every one seemed to give himself up to amusement. The warriors had brought home with them a young Indian prisoner, who was about eighteen years old. He was a fine, proud-looking fellow, and when he was brought out and encircled by all the Indians, he seemed to survey them with a kind of scorn. He was tied to a stake, and the young Indians, stationed at a certain distance, were allowed to shoot their arrows at him. Several of them hit him, and the blood trickled freely down his body. He stood unmoved, however, and seemed not to notice the wounds. The women then surrounded him, and jeered at him, making mouths, and pinching his flesh, and punching him with sharp sticks.
At last, it was determined by the warriors, to let him loose upon the prairie and give him a chance of escape. The warriors were to pursue him. If he was retaken, he was to die; if he outran his pursuers, he was to have his liberty.
The prisoner was unbound and placed at the distance of about six rods in advance of those who were to pursue him; the signal was given, and he departed. He seemed fleet as the mountain deer, and life was the wager for which he ran. He was, however, pursued by more than a dozen Indians, scarcely less lightfooted than himself. He struck across the prairie, which lay stretched out for several miles, almost as level as the sea, and in the distance, was skirted by the forest.
He kept in advance of his pursuers, who strained every nerve to overtake him. On he flew, casting an occasional glance backward. The yells broke often from his pursuers, but he was silent. It was for life that he fled, and he would not waste a breath. On he sped, and as he and his followers seemed to grow less and less in the distance, my eyes grew weary of the scene. But such was the interest that I felt for the poor fugitive
that I kept my gaze bent upon the chase for almost an hour.
The Indians seemed at last in the remote distance to be dwindled to the size of insects; they still strained every limb, though they seemed scarcely to move; they still yelled with all their might, but only an occasional faint echo reached our ears. At last, the fugitive plunged into the forest; his pursuers followed, and they were lost to the view. After the lapse of several hours, the pursuing party returned, without their prisoner. He was at liberty in the unbounded forest.
“Jumping Rabbit’s Story” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, October 1843; pp. 118-120)
Some time now passed without any remarkable event. After a hunting or war expedition, the Indian men usually spend a large part of their time in idleness. For several weeks after their return, the warriors might be seen stretched at full length in their wigwams upon the beds of skins, and often, during the day, upon the bare ground, basking in the warm sunshine.
Thus they would repose day and night, sleeping a part of the time, and dozing away the rest of the hours. When hungry, they arose and ate the meal provided for them by the women, and then returned to their rest. At this period, they seemed like mere animals, such as wolves or foxes, idly slumbering in their caves, careless of the past, the present and the future.
Once in a while these men would rouse themselves from their indolence, and spend a night in a wild war-dance, or in other sports. When excited in their amusements, they shook off their lethargy and seemed totally changed from the stupid beings which they appeared to be, a few hours before. Their black eyes would now flash with fiery excitement; their parted lips would display their white teeth; their long, black hair would stream in the wind; their hands and arms would exhibit the most animated gestures, and their whole form seemed to be animated by intense excitement. After the sport was over, these warriors would relapse into the same state of merely animal existence, as if they had no minds, no cares, no plans, no fears or hopes.
Thus some weeks passed away, but at last, it became necessary that a supply of food should be obtained. It is true that some small game was obtained by the boys, and some of the men, almost every day. This consisted of the heath hen, which resembles the partridge or pheasant of the Atlantic states; black and grey squirrels, rabbits and hares, wild turkeys, racoons, prairie dogs, &c. These creatures were abundant, and I often accompanied the young Indians in hunting them.
There were some guns and rifles in the tribe, but the chief weapons were the bow and arrow. The boys and most of the young men had no other. It was surprising to see with what precision and force the arrows were thrown. I have often seen a squirrel, perched upon the limb of an aged tree, and being nearly a hundred feet in the air, look down as if to laugh and jeer at the sportsman below; when the arrow was sent from the string, and, striking him in the head, brought him whirling and sprawling to the ground.
In these hunts I took a keen delight; and such was my enterprise and success, that I soon became rather famous as a hunter of the lesser game. My agility in pursuing a wounded bird or quadruped, and the facility with which I threaded the tangled forests, gave me the title of Jumping Rabbit, which long continued to be my name.
In these hunts, we seldom wandered to any great distance from the encampment, and rarely remained out over night. In a few instances, we were absent for two or three days, and extended our excursions to the distance of twenty or thirty miles.
I recollect that in one of these expeditions, we came to a considerable lake, entirely surrounded with dense forests. It was difficult even to peep through the woods, for the trees stood very close together, and the spaces between them were choked up with dead trunks and branches, woven and wedged together, as if the whole constituted one fabric.
With a great deal of labor, creeping and winding like serpents through the openings, we made our way through the forest, and came to the shores of the lake. Accustomed, as I then was, to nature in her wild moods, the scene that then presented itself, greatly surprised me. The forest that encir[c]led the lake, consisted, to a great extent, of lofty firs, which stood close to the water, and formed, around its whole border, what seemed to be a dark green wall, rising almost to the clouds, and thus bestowing upon the spot an aspect of the most perfect protection and seclusion.
As if won to the place by its security and repose, myriads of aquatic birds were there, some resting upon its bosom, some wading in its depths, some standing along its borders, and thousand winnowing the air above its surface. There were flocks of swans, with arching necks and snowy bosoms; multitudes of pelicans, either darting down upon their prey, or lazily digesting their food as they stood upon the rocks along the shore; and wild geese, and ducks almost without number. There was the pensive heron, standing half leg deep in the water, and patiently waiting to snap up some luckless frog or fish; there was the tall crane, with crested head, and spiteful countenance, looking keenly into the mud for his meal; and red flamingoes, standing in rows that looked like files of soldiers.
The scene presented the idea of a paradise for water-birds; a spot unknown to man, and wholly secured to the use and behoof of its feathered tenantry. The birds themselves seemed so to regard it, for such were its habits of confidence, that when we approached them, they hardly noticed us, or moved from us. We shot a few arrows among them, and killed several, but this created no general alarm. One of our party had a rifle, and taking aim at the leader of a long file of swans that glided upon the water near us, he fired, and the noble bird, uttering a faint scream, spread his wings for flight, and fell dead upon the surface. His companions rose heavily from the lake, and sweeping round and round in the air, settled again upon the water, encircling their dead companion.
Loaded with game, we now set out for our return; but this expedition was destined to be signalized by adventures. In our progress homeward, we had occasion to cross a deep valley, through which a small rivulet found its way. On the high rocky banks of this stream our party sat down to rest themselves for an hour or two, and then set forward. It happened that I had crept into the bushes and fallen asleep; and when my companions went away, not observing me, they left me soundly wrapt in repose.
They had been gone a considerable time when I was awoke by a noise, and looking up, I saw a huge grisly bear at a little distance, looking steadfastly at me. I knew that the next moment he would be upon me, and seizing my bow and arrows, I sprang forward, and at a single bound leaped over the high bank, into the stream. It was not more than forty feet in width—and I had hardly crossed it, when I heard the heavy plunge of the bear behind me. Clambering up the opposite bank with the quickness of a wild-cat, I seized upon the drooping branches of a tree, and rapidly mounted it. The fierce beast came close upon me, and seizing the boughs with its claws and teeth, tore them in a hundred pieces.
By this time, however, I had ascended beyond its reach.
The grisly bear is twice the size of the common bear, and form its savage disposition and great strength, is altogether the most dreadful beast of the American continent. But, happily for me, it does not often climb trees. I therefore felt secure. Pausing on a large limb of the tree, I looked down at my shaggy acquaintance below. He had now got over his fury, and gazing in my face with a look of the deepest interest, he seemed to think, if he did not say—“Oh how I love you!”
After sitting upon the tree for some time, I began to grow impatient to be released—but Bruin seemed to have no idea of parting with me thus. He continued for several hours, sitting upon his rump, in a kind of brown study, but occasionally looking at me. At last, growing weary, I reclined against the trunk of the tree, and my grisly jailer, as if to torment me, lay down upon the ground, and putting his nose to his tail, seemed to say that he had made up his mind to stay till I should come down. I waited for some time in silence, to see if he would not fall asleep and allow me an opportunity of escape; but the moment I moved a foot or hand, I could see his keen eye twinkle, thus showing that the sentinel was awake and watchful.
At last I got out of patience, and selecting a good arrow, I sent it fiercely at his head. It struck him over the eye, and evidently gave him great pain, for he growled terribly, and rubbed the wounded place with his huge paw; and finally he looked up at me, at the same time curling his lip and showing a set of teeth that made me shudder. I could easily understand this pantomime, and I knew it to mean something like this: “Sooner or later, my lad, you must come down, and these teeth shall take due revenge upon you.”
Night at length came—and still the beast remained at his post. I caught a little sleep, but I was too fearful of falling to the ground to get any sound repose. In the morning I heard the call of my companions, and now knew that they had missed me, and were come to find me. I answered their shout with a cry that filled the valley with echoes. The old bear seemed startled; he rose, shook his shaggy coat, and gazed wistfully around.
Directed by my voice, my friends soon drew near; and when they came to the opposite bank of the river, I told them my situation and pointed out Bruin at the foot of the tree. In a moment the rifle was levelled at my tormentor, and the ball entered his side. Stung with pain, but not mortally wounded, the monster turned towards his new enemy. Leaping into the stream, he began to swim across; but his head being exposed, several arrows were aimed at him, some of which took effect. As he ascended the rocky bank of the river, the rifle being re-loaded, was again discharged, and, the ball passing through his heart, he fell backward, and rolled with a heavy plash into the stream.
But I have wandered a little from my track. I said that the necessity of obtaining a supply of food, at last roused the men of the encampment from their repose. After making due preparation, by providing themselves with knives, bows and arrows, &c., about twenty of them departed; and as I was now a tolerably expert hunter, I was permitted to accompany the party. The events which followed will be described in the next chapter.
“Jumping Rabbit’s Story” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1843; pp. 140-143)
The buffalo hunt.
Five of our hunting party were on horseback, and the rest on foot. We proceeded over a hilly country for two days, meeting with no other game than a single deer, which was shot by one of the party, thrown across one of the horses, and carried onward. We came, at length, and carried onward. We came, at length, to the borders of an extensive prairie, which lay spread out like the sea before us. In taking a general view of its surface, it seemed to be almost perfectly level. But as we advanced, I perceived that it was undulating, like the ocean thrown into long waves by a gale of wind.
It was now late in the autumn, but the prairie was covered with a great variety of flowers, some of them exceedingly brilliant and beautiful. I hardly noticed these objects then. I was with savages, and they never perceive anything lovely in flowers, or landscapes, or nature’s fairest scenes. It might seem that those who live always in the midst of nature’s works would feel their beauty and admire them. But it is not so. The exquisite emotions excited in a refined mind by beautiful landscapes and the picturesque objects of nature, belong only to those who have enjoyed the advantages of civilization. No savage is ever either a painter or a poet. You never see these dwellers in the wilderness culling bouquets, or making wreaths of blossoms.
We held a straight course for several hours, until, at last, we reached a little dell which was covered with trees. At a distance, this appeared like an island in the sea. Here we paused, and preparations were made to remain for some days. Early on the ensuing morning, most of the party were roused and went forth in quest of game; but the only result was the killing of two or three deer. Several days now passed, but on the fifth day after our arrival we met with more stirring adventures.
Soon after the sun arose, one of the Indians announced that a herd of buffaloes was coming. We all looked in the direction to which he pointed, and, at the distance of nearly two miles, we saw an immense number of objects, seeming like small black spots on the surface of the prairie. These gradually approached us, and we could soon hear a confused noise, like the distant roar of a tempest. The Indians were immediately on the alert.
As the wind was blowing toward the herd, they were afraid that the quick scent of the buffaloes would perceive us, and that the affrighted animals would take to flight. To avoid this danger, we immediately determined to shift our position. Those who had horses mounted them and departed, and those who were on foot followed them. Some proceeded to the right and some to the left, making a wide sweep, and intending to come in upon the herd in the opposite direction.
We were not long in performing this manuvre. I shall never forget the scene that was now presented. Before us and near at hand were several thousands of these huge animals, many of them equal in size to the largest ox. They had also an aspect entirely distinct from our tame cattle. Their swarthy color, their wild, shaggy hair, their thick mane, the profusion of rough and brist-
ling hair about the face, the enormous hump upon the shoulders, together with the fierce countenance of these animals, rendered them objects at once interesting and formidable.
And if this was their appearance, taken singly, the spectacle of thousands of these huge beasts was hardly short of sublime. The whole mass were moving slowly forward. Some paused occasionally, to nip the herbage, or devour the leaves from a favorite shrub, and others sauntered on with a careless and indifferent air. But many of the bulls, and some of the rest, seemed to be almost constantly occupied in fighting.
Some were pawing the earth, and scattering the dust in the air; some were kneeling and plunging their horns into the little hillocks of earth, lowing at the same time, and seeming desirous of giving a challenge to mortal combat; some were already fighting, and, with their horns locked, were straining every nerve for the mastery; others were leaping and frisking as they went; and others were still plunging their horns into the sides of such of their brethren as came within their reach. The lowing of the herd was incessant, and came upon the ear with a deafening roar. The air was filled with confused sounds, and the earth was shaken beneath our feet by the trampling multitude.
Accustomed as I was to scenes of adventure, I was still startled at this spectacle , and, for a time, my mind was somewhat confused. My excitement was increased by an incident which immediately followed. The Indians who had accompanied me had dispersed themselves, and being upon the flank of the herd, and sheltered by the tall grass, were stealing towards their unsuspecting victims.
I had myself crouched down in a thick tuft of grass, upon one of the thousand swells of the prairie. It chanced that a buffalo of the largest size, straying a little from his companions, was coming directly towards the spot where I lay. He soon came near, and I could see his curly pate and the glistening of his eye. He came slowly, but steadily on. I had a rifle in my hand, but such was my amazement that I never thought of using it. I remained crouched upon one knee until the animal was within six feet of me.
It is impossible to describe the consternation depicted in the brute’s countenance when he first saw me. He paused for a moment; his eyeballs stood out, his nostrils expanded, and the long stiff hair upon his neck stood erect. After glaring at me for a few seconds, the creature lifted his tail into the air, and sped away with a prodigious gallop.
He had proceeded but a few rods, however, before I heard the report of a rifle, and the flying buffalo stumbled and fell to the earth, tearing up the soil in the heavy plunge. He, however, rose to his feet, and proceeded, with a staggering gallop, for about a hundred yards. He then paused, and at length stood still. I came forward, supposing that the wound was mortal, and that the creature would soon fall to the earth; but what was my surprise, on coming up with him, to discover three or four wolves standing in front of him, and evidently on the point of making an attack.
Without reflection, I discharged my rifle among them, and killed two of them. The noise directed the attention of the wounded buffalo to me, and he immediately turned upon me. I easily kept out of his way at first; but his speed increased, and I soon found it necessary to exert myself to the utmost for escape. My uncommon speed was now my only hope. The raging beast followed me at long bounds, and I was frequently obliged to throw him off by a short turn to the right or left, in order to escape from the plunge of his horns. I had already begun
to grow weary and short of breath, when I heard a loud bellow and a heavy fall to the earth. I looked around, and my pursuer lay dead upon the ground.
After a few moments, my self-possession returned. I loaded my rifle and proceeded toward the scene of action, for my companions were now at their work. I had an opportunity of seeing the manner in which the Indians on horseback attack the buffalo. I chanced to be near one of our bravest huntsmen as he assailed a bull of the largest size. The man was firmly mounted, but he had no other weapons than a bow and a quiver of arrows. The buffalo had perceived the approach of the enemy, and immediately fled at full gallop.
The hunter pursued, and, speedily coming up with the animal, he drew his arrow to the head, and plunged it between its ribs. It entered more than one half its length, but the buffalo continued its flight. Another and another arrow were speedily discharged, and all of them took effect. The last was almost entirely buried in the flank of the huge beast. Stung with agony, he wheeled suddenly round, and made a fierce plunge at the mounted horseman. The movement was sudden and rapid, but the blow was evaded by a swaying movement to the left. The impulse of the horseman carried him past the animal for a considerable distance, and the latter, apparently incapable of farther exertion, stood still.
His sides were covered with blood, and mingled foam and blood were streaming from his open mouth. He held his head down, his tongue protruded, his eyes stood out, and he shivered in every limb. At the same time, he uttered a low and plaintive bellow. The unrelenting hunter speedily turned his horse back, and again approached his prey. He paused a moment, and seemed to hesitate whether it were needful to spend another arrow; but, after a short space, he placed one upon the string. The bison watched the movement, and, at the instant it sped, uttered a terrible roar, and sprung again toward the horseman. The latter, prepared for the movement, leaped aside, and the exhausted prey rolled, with a crushing sound, to the earth. The last arrow had reached his heart.
I looked over the vast plain, and the countless herd of bisons were now in full flight; plunging, galloping, and bellowing, they swept over the plain. It is impossible to give an adequate idea of the scene. A variety of stunning sounds fell upon the ear, and the earth trembled as if shaken by an earthquake. Yet, amid this scene of confusion, the Indians seemed in their element. Mingling with the crowd of animals, their arrows flew, and their bullets sped. Those who were on foot, and those who were mounted, alike kept up with the flying herd.
Nothing could exceed the fierceness of their looks, or the animation of their actions. Their whole souls engaged in the work of death; their hair streaming in the wind, their eyes gleaming with fiery exultation, and speeding from point to point with incredible swiftness; they had an aspect of wildness, energy, and power, which words alone cannot paint. For my own share in the adventure I can say but little. I had several fair shots, but they were all without success, excepting in one instance. A buffalo calf, toward the latter part of the chase, was passing near, and I brought it down with a single ball.
I must not omit to mention one incident, that particularly attracted my attention in the midst of these scenes. From the moment the attack began, I had noticed several wolves gliding hither and thither, and seeming to watch the progress of the fight. These creatures follow the herds of bisons, and, if one of them becomes sick or wounded, they attack and devour him. They seemed now
to be quite aware that something was to be done in their behalf, and, accordingly, gathered in considerable numbers to the place where the attack was about to be made.
Several buffaloes had now been slain, and others were wounded. As I was passing along, I saw a buffalo that had received a bullet in his side, and was severely hurt. The creature seemed exhausted and incapable of flight. as if understanding the exact nature of the case, several wolves had gathered around him, and, squatting upon their haunches at a respectful distance, were waiting the moment when the animal should be sufficiently feeble to render it safe for them to make the attack. At my approach, however, the buffalo made a new effort, and galloped beyond my reach, followed, however, by his unrelenting and greedy attendants.
In about half an hour after the attack commenced, it was all over. The herd had passed on; but scattered along, for the space of three or four miles, lay no less than sixteen dead buffaloes, the fruit of our efforts. I must say, however, that the packs of wolves, which constantly hung around the buffaloes, devoured two or three that we had killed before we could secure them.
Several days were spent in skinning our game; in cutting off the best parts of the meat, and in preparations for our return. At last, having loaded our horses with the hides and a portion of the meat, and each man taking what he could carry, we set out upon our journey, and, after a laborious march, reached the settlement.
“Jumping Rabbit’s Story” (from Robert Merry’s Museum, December 1843; pp. 179-182)
If I were to give a minute account of all that happened while I was with the Indians, it would fill a large book. Perhaps I may, some time or other, give a more particular account of my adventures; but I must now condense my narrative, and give only the leading events of my life with the Indians.
I continued for nearly six years with the tribe of Kickapoos, who first made me their captive. During this period these Indians frequently shifted their abode, partly with a view to the acquisition of game, and partly to escape the neighborhood of troublesome enemies. We had occasional skirmishes with other tribes, and once a serious war with the Osages.
Small companies of white hunters and fur traders sometimes visited our camp, taking our furs, and giving us powder, ball and trinkets in return. The trade in furs became more and more an object to the tribe, and, finally, it was a part of their system to despatch some of the men every winter to the mountainous country at the west, for the purpose of killing foxes, wild-cats, and other animals, in order to obtain their skins.
I accompanied one of these parties, which consisted of eleven men. We proceeded, early in the autumn, to the Rocky Mountains, and, hearing that game was very abundant on the other side, we traversed that immense range, and found ourselves upon its western slope. We came to a river, which, it was said, emptied its waters into a great salt lake. Impelled by curiosity, we continued our ramble to the westward, and, at last, reached the shores of the Pacific.
Novelty strikes even the imagination of the savage. Our party were, therefore, not a little excited when they gazed at the boundless sea, and noticed the greenish tinge of its waters. When they tasted it, and perceived its salt and bitter flavor, they spit violently, and uttered a great many exclamations of astonishment. It was here that I first saw a ship. This was one of the Americans vessels, going to trade with the Indians on the north-west coast, and obtain their furs. She passed near us, and I could easily distinguish her sails, her ropes, and some of the men. I had often
heard of the white people, since I had been with the Indians, but nothing i had ever seen had given me such an idea of their skill and power as did this vessel.
We lingered along the shores of the Pacific for some weeks, and here we met with various tribes of Indians. Some of these were called Flat-heads, the upper part of their heads being flattened, by placing them in infancy between two boards. It may seem difficult to account for the prevalence of such a painful and unnatural custom; but we must remember that fashion governs the Indians as well as the white people. Some of the savages bore holes through their ears and noses, for the purpose of suspending jewels therein. Some submit to a burning of the flesh, in order to tattoo the skin; and those we have just mentioned compress the skull between two boards. These things are all done in compliance with fashion.
We at last returned to the Rocky Mountains, and spent the winter in the pursuit of game. We killed a number of wild sheep and wild goats, and several beautiful little antelopes. These creatures we found in small herds at the eastern foot of the mountains. They were exceedingly agile, with gentle, black eyes and mild countenances, and seemed to speed over the ground almost as swiftly as a bird could fly.
Loaded with furs of various kinds, we set out for our return. One night, as we were encamped upon the banks of a small river, we were attacked by a party of about twenty Pawnees. Two of our Indians were killed, and the rest escaped. I was myself taken prisoner, and nearly the whole of our furs fell into the hands of the assailants.
I was now taken with my new captors to the encampment of the Pawnees, a distance of five days’ journey. I submitted with apparent satisfaction to my captivity, and, making myself useful, soon acquired the favor of the people among whom I was now adopted. I had, however, no real attachment to them, and determined to seize the first favorable opportunity for my escape. Several months passed, and I began to be more reconciled to my lot, particularly as I was now regarded as a leader among the hunters of the tribe.
A plan was now set on foot for a marauding expedition against the Indians dwelling far to the westward of our present position. We had plenty of horses, and thirty of us, well mounted and equipped, set forth upon the proposed adventures. We proceeded eastward, and traversed a large extent of country, and, at last, came within the vicinity of some scattered settlements of white men.
I now discovered that it was the purpose of my companions to attack these settlements,—a circumstance which they had before concealed from me. This concealment probably arose from their knowledge that I was of white descent, and they were, perhaps, afraid that I would not join them heartily in plundering my own kindred.
At last, however, they told me their scheme. Though I had been long with the Indians, and had adopted their customs and feelings, yet I was by no means pleased with the idea of attacking these white settlements. I knew it was unsafe for me, however, to avow my scruples; for, if their suspicion was excited, they would not hesitate to send a bullet through my heart. I therefore received their proposition with apparent unconcern. Perceiving, however, the keen eyes of an old chief bent suspiciously upon me, I thought it necessary to profess an interest in the enterprise which I did not feel.
The intention of escaping from the tribe, which I had formerly cherished, now revived, and an opportunity was only wanting for me to take leave of
them forever. While I was in this state of mind, we came into the vicinity of a small white settlement, consisting of four or five houses. One of our party had been in this quarter before, and knew the situation of these dwellings. They were all scattered, and one of them he described as apart from the rest, and as likely to afford considerable plunder.
It was thought best, however, before making the attack, to gain more exact information of the present state of things among the settlers; and, with this view, it was proposed that four of us should paint and dress ourselves as Osages, and pay a visit to these white people under pretence of selling them furs. We halted in the thick forest, and made our preparations. Our party of spies then set out on foot, and proceeded to visit the houses of the white men. We found five or six log-houses built upon the borders of the White river, each of them having some cleared and cultivated lands around them.
A little higher up the stream, we came to the other house which has been before mentioned. It was larger than those we have described, and had the appearance of considerable comfort and thrift on the part of the inhabitants.
When we entered the house, we saw two women; one of them about middle age, the other about sixteen. It was now several years since I had been with the Indians, during which period I had not seen a white woman. The moment I looked on those now before me, my former associations and trains of thought revived. We addressed the oldest of the females, and asked for a cup of water. She replied, in tones of kindness and courtesy, but I thought I could perceive something of trepidation and anxiety in her manner. Her voice, also, awakened indescribable emotions in my breast.
The young lady soon brought us a pitcher of water, and, when I looked upon her, it seemed to me that I had never beheld a creature so lovely. As the man of the house was not at home, we soon departed, and, as our business was now accomplished, we proceeded straight to our companions, whose lurking-place we reached late in the evening. We communicated the information we had acquired, and it was soon resolved to make an attack upon the last house we had visited, the very next night.
The situation in which I now found myself was most painful. The deepest interest had been excited in my breast toward those whom the savages had resolved to sacrifice. The forms of the mother and daughter continually haunted my mind; and a strange fancy that it was my mother and sister whom I had seen, seized upon me. Improbable, impossible, indeed, as this seemed when I considered it calmly, there was still a conviction resting upon my heart that I was about to engage in assailing the dwelling- place of my parents, with every chance of sacrificing the lives of my kindred.
I was not long in resolving to take no part in this murderous scheme, except to baffle it. But what could be done? To escape from the savages, forever on the watch, and, doubtless, in some degree suspicious of me, was a thing by no means easily achieved. I determined, however, to make the attempt, even if it cost me my life.
It was the plan of the Indians to remain where they were till about midnight, then to proceed on horseback to the vicinity of the settlements, and, having tied the horses in some sheltered spot, to go on foot to the assault they meditated. Early the next evening, the whole party laid down for the purpose of obtaining some repose, their horses having been fastened, so as to be at command. I had taken care that my own horse should be imperfectly tied, so that I knew he would soon get loose.
In the course of an hour, and after most of the company were asleep, I heard the animal moving about. I then rose up, expressed some surprise, and remarked that my horse was loose, and that I must go and take care of him. One or two Indians, who were still awake, heard what I said, and, seeing nothing suspicious in my conduct, I was permitted to depart without interruption. I soon caught my horse, and cautiously led him away from the slumbering party. When I had gone to the distance of fifty rods, I mounted his back and plunged into the woods.
For more than a mile I took direction opposite to the houses of the settlers. Then, making a wide circuit, I turned and pursued my way toward them. Coming to the bank of the river, I was guided in my course, and ere long reached the first of those settlements which I had visited with my Indian companions. I now woke up the people in the several houses, and, in the imperfect English I was able to command, told them of the attack that was meditated.
Four men, well armed, immediately started with me for the house which was to be the first object of attack. It was nearly midnight when we arrived and roused the inmates of the house. There was no time to be lost, and immediate preparations to receive the enemy were made. In about an hour we saw their dark forms gliding out from the edge of the forest, and approaching the house. With a soft and stealthy tread they approached. Two of them seized upon a large stick of timber, and were advancing to the door, for the purpose of beating it in, when I thrust my head out ofthe window and uttered the war-whoop. The astonished Indians started back, and for a short time concealed themselves in an adjacent thicket.
I knew that they would recognize my voice, and understand that their plot was detected, and that preparations were made to repel it. I hoped, therefore, that they would retire and give up their enterprise. Such, however, was not their determination. In a short time they rallied, and, setting up the war-cry, advanced with rapid steps toward the house.
I marked the leader of the band, whom I knew to be the bravest man of the party, and, presenting my rifle, I fired. The Indian fell with a terrific scream. The rest of the party halted. There was a momentary bustle, and the savages disappeared. We continued on the watch till morning, and were then happy to discover that the enemy had carried off their wounded leader, and abandoned the enterprise that had brought them hither.
I had been too intently occupied, during the night, to think of much beside the immediate business in hand, but I now turned my eyes upon the inmates of the house. These consisted of four persons,—a husband and wife of middle age, and a son and daughter now in the flower of youth. The thought again crossed my mind that here were my parents, my brother and my sister. At last, in the conviction that this was so, I placed myself before the matron, and said, as well as I knew how, “Did you ever lose a son?”
“Yes, yes! why do you ask?” said she, looking at me with intense curiosity.
“He is here,” said I.
“You my son?” said she.
But I cannot describe the scene. It will be sufficient for the reader to know that I had the happiness this day of being restored to my family and saving them from the perils of an Indian assault.