GREAT CAMANCHEE VILLAGE.
WE are again at rest, and I am with subjects rude and almost infinite around me, for my pen and my brush. The little band of dragoons are encamped by a fine spring of cool water, within half a mile of the principal town of the Camanchees, and in the midst of a bustling and wild scene, I assure you; and before I proceed to give an account of things and scenes that are about me, I must return for a few moments to the place where I left the Reader, at the encampment at False Washita, and rapidly travel with him over the country that lies between that place and the Camanchee Village, where I am now writing.
On the morning after my last Letter was written, the sound and efficient part of the regiment was in motion at nine o'clock. And with them, my friend "Joe" and I, with our provisions laid in, and all snugly arranged on our packhorse, which we alternately led or drove between us.
Our course was about due West, on the divide between the Washita and Red Rivers, with our faces looking towards the Rocky Mountains. The country over which we passed from day to day, was inimitably beautiful; being the whole way one continuous prairie of green fields, with occasional clusters of timber and shrubbery, just enough for the uses of cultivating-man, and for the pleasure of his eyes to dwell upon. The regiment was rather more than half on the move, consisting of 250 men, instead of 200 as I predicted in my Letter from that place. All seemed gay and buoyant at the fresh start, which all trusted was to liberate us from the fatal miasma which we conceived was hovering about the mouth of the False Washita. We advanced on happily, and met with no trouble until the second night of our encampment, in the midst of which we were thrown into (as printers would say,) in an instant of the most appalling alarm and confusion. We were encamped on a beautiful prairie, where we were every hour apprehensive of the lurking enemy. And in the dead of night, when all seemed to be sound asleep and quiet, the instant sound and flash of a gun within a few paces of us ! and then the most horrid and frightful groans that instantly followed it, brought us all upon our hands and knees in an instant, and our affrighted horses (which were breaking their lassos,) in full speed and fury over our heads, with the frightful and mingled din of snorting, and cries of "Indians! Indians! Pawnees!" &c., which rang from every part of our little encampment ! In a few moments the excitement was chiefly over, and silence restored; when we could hear the trampling hoofs of the horses, which were making off in all directions, (not unlike a drove of swine that once ran into the sea, when they mere possessed of devils); and leaving hut now and then an individual quadruped hanging at its stake within our little camp. The mode of our encampment was, uniformly in four lines, forming a square of fifteen or twenty rods in diameter. Upon these lines our saddles and packs were all laid, at the distance of five feet from each other; and each man, after grazing his horse, had it fastened with a rope or laso, to a stake driven in the ground at a little distance from his feet; thus enclosing the horses all within the square, for the convenience of securing them in case of attack or alarm. In this way we laid encamped, when we were awakened by the alarm that I have just mentioned; and our horses affrighted, dashed out of the camp, and over the heads of their masters in the desperate "Stampedo".
After an instant preparation for battle, and a little recovery from the fright, which was soon effected by waiting a few moments in vain, for the enemy to come on;-a general explanation took place, which brought all to our legs again, and convinced us that there was no decided obstacle, as yet, to our reaching the Camanchee towns; and after that, "sweet home", and the arms of our wives and dear little children, provided we could ever overtake and recover our horses, which had swept off in fifty directions, and with impetus enough to ensure us employment for a day or two to come.
At the proper moment for it to be made, there was a general enquiry for the cause of this Teal misfortune, when it was ascertained to have originated in the following manner. A "raw recruit", who was standing as one of the sentinels on that night, saw, as he says "he supposed", an Indian creeping out of a bunch of bushes a few paces in front of him, upon whom he leveled his rifle; and as the poor creature did not "advance and give the countersign" at his call, nor any answer at all, he "let off!" And popped a bullet through the heart of a poor dragoon horse, which had strayed away on the night before, and had faithfully followed our trail all the day, and was now, with a beastly misgiving, coming up, and slowly poking through a little thicket of bushes into camp, to join its comrades, in servitude again! The sudden shock of a gun, and the most appalling groans of this poor dying animal, in the dead of night, and so close upon the heels of sweet sleep, created a long vibration of nerves, and a day of great perplexity and toil which followed, as we had to retrace our steps twenty miles or more, in pursuit of affrighted horses; of which some fifteen or twenty took up wild and free life upon the prairies, to which they were abandoned, as they could not be found. After a detention of two days in consequence of this disaster, we took up the line of march again, and pursued our course with vigour and success, over a continuation of green fields, enamelled with wild flowers, and pleasingly relieved with patches and groves of timber.
On the fourth day of our march, we discovered many fresh signs of buffaloes; and at last, immense herds of them grazing on the distant hills. Indian trails were daily growing fresh, and their smokes were seen in various directions ahead of us. And on the same day at noon, we discovered a large party at several miles distance, sitting on their horses and looking at us. From the glistening of the blades of their lances, which were blazing as they turned them in the sun, it was at first thought that they were Mexican cavalry, who might have been apprized of our approach into their country, and had advanced to contest the point with us. On drawing a little nearer, however, and$canning them closer with our spy-glasses, they were soon ascertained to be a war-party of Camanchees, on the look out for their enemies.
The regiment was called to a halt, and the requisite preparations made and orders issued, we advanced in a direct line towards them until we had approached to within two or three miles of them, when they suddenly disappeared over the hill, and soon after shewed themselves on another mound farther off and in a different direction. The course of the regiment was then changed, and another advance towards them was commenced, and as before, they disappeared and shewed themselves in another direction. After several such efforts which proved ineffectual, Col. Dodge ordered the command to halt, while he rode forward with a few of his staff, and an ensign carrying a white flag. I joined this advance, and the Indians stood their ground until we had come within half a mile of them, and could distinctly observe all their numbers and movements. We then came to a halt, and the white flag was sent a little in advance, and waved as a signal for them to approach; at which one of their party galloped out in advance of the war-party, on a milk white horse, carrying a piece of white buffalo akin on the point of his long lance in reply to our flag.
This moment was the commencement of one of the most thrilling and beautiful scenes I ever witnessed. All eyes, both from his own party and ours, were fixed upon the manoeuvres of this gallant little fellow, and he well knew it.
The distance between the two parties was perhaps half a mile, and that a beautiful and gently sloping prairie; over which he was for the space of a quarter of an hour, reining and spurring his maddened horse, and gradually approaching us by tacking to the right and the left, like a vessel beating against the wind. He at length came prancing and leaping along till he met the flag of the regiment, when he leaned his spear for a moment against it, looking the bearer full in the face, when he wheeled his horse, and dashed up to Col. Dodge, with his extended hand, which was instantly grasped and shaken. We all had him by the hand in a moment, and the rest of the party seeing him received in this friendly manner, instead of being sacrificed, as they undoubtedly expected, started under "full whip" in a direct line towards us, and in a moment gathered, like a black cloud, around us! The regiment then moved up in regular order, and a general shake of the hand ensued, which was accomplished by each warrior riding along the ranks, and shaking the hand of every one as he passed. This necessary form took up considerable time, and during the whole operation, my eyes were fixed upon the gallant and wonderful appearance of the little fellow who bore us the white flag on the point of his lance. He rode a fine and spirited wild horse, which was as white as the drifted snow, with an exuberant mane, and its long and bushy tail sweeping the ground. In his hand he tightly drew the reins upon a heavy Spanish bit, and at every jump, plunged into the animal's sides, till they were in a gore of blood, a huge pair of spurs, plundered, no doubt, from the Spaniards in their border wars, which are continually waged on the Mexican frontiers. The eyes of this noble little steed seemed to be squeezed out of its head; and its fright, and its agitation had brought out upon its skin a perspiration that was fretted into a white foam and lather. The warrior's quiver was slung on the warrior's back, and his bow grasped in his left hand, ready for instant use, if called for. His shield was on his arm, and across his thigh, in a beautiful cover of buckskin, his gun was slung--and in his right hand his lance of fourteen feet in length.
Thus armed and equipped was this dashing cavalier; and nearly in the same manner, all the rest of the party; and very many of them leading an extra horse, which we soon learned was the favourite war-horse; and from which circumstances altogether, we soon understood that they were a war-party in search of their enemy.
After a shake of the hand, we dismounted, and the pipe was lit, and passed around. And then a "talk" was held, in which me were aided by a Spaniard we luckily had with us, who could converse with one of the Camanchees, who spoke some Spanish.
Colonel Dodge explained to them the friendly motives with which we were penetrating their country--that we were sent by the President to reach their villages -- to see the chiefs of the Camanchees and Pawnee Picts -- to shake hands with them, and to smoke the pipe of peace, and to establish an acquaintance, and consequently a system of trade that would be beneficial to both.
They listened attentively, and perfectly appreciated; and taking Colonel Dodge at his word, relying with confidence in what he told them; they informed us that their great town was within a few days' march, and pointing in the direction -- offered to abandon their war-excursion, and turn about and escort us to it, which they did in perfect good faith. We were on the march in the afternoon of that day, and from day to day they busily led us on, over hill and dale, encamping by the side of us at night, and resuming the march in the morning.
During this march, over one of the most lovely and picturesque countries in the world, we had enough continually to amuse and excite us. The whole country seemed at times to be alive with buffaloes, and bands of wild horses.
We had with us about thirty Osage and Cherokee, Seneca and Delaware Indians, employed as guides and hunters for the regiment; and with the war-party of ninety or a hundred Camanchees, we formed a most picturesque appearance while passing over the green fields, and consequently, sad havoc amongst the herds of buffaloes, which we were almost hourly passing. We were now out of the influence and reach of bread stuffs, and subsisted ourselves on buffaloes' meat altogether; and the Indians of the different tribes, emulous to shew their skill in the chase, and prove the mettle of their horses, took infinite pleasure in dashing into every herd, that we approached; by which means, the regiment was abundantly supplied from day to day with fresh meat.
In one of those spirited scenes when the regiment were on the march, and the Indians with their bows and arrows were closely plying a band of these affrighted animals, they made a bolt through the line of the dragoons, and a complete breach, through which the whole herd passed, upsetting horses and riders in the most amusing manner, and receiving such shots as came from those guns and pistols that were aimed, and not fired off Into the empty air.
The buffaloes are very blind animals, and owing, probably in a great measure, to the profuse locks that hang over their eyes; they run chiefly by the nose, and follow in the tracks of each other, seemingly heedless of what is about them; and of course, easily disposed to rush in a mass, and the whole tribe or gang to pass in the tracks of those that have first led the way.
The tract of country over which we passed, between the False Washita and this place, is stocked, not only with buffaloes, but with numerous bands of wild horses, many of which we saw every day. There is no other animal on the prairies so wild and so sagacious as the horse; and none other so difficult to come up with. 80 remarkably keen is their eye, that they will generally run "at the sight", when they are a mile distant; being, no doubt, able to distinguish the character of the enemy that is approaching when at that distance; and when in motion, will seldom stop short of three or four miles. I made many attempts to approach them by stealth, when they were grazing and playing their gambols, without ever having been more than once able to succeed. In this instance, I left my horse, and with my friend Chadwick, skulked through a ravine for a couple of miles; until we were at length brought within gun-shot of a fine herd of them, when I used my pencil for some time, while we were under cover of a little hedge of bushes which effectually screened us from their view. In the herd we saw all the colours, nearly, that can be seen in a kennel of English hounds. Some were milk white, some jet black -- others were sorrel, and bay, and cream colour -- many were of an iron grey; and others were pied, containing a variety of colours on the same animal. Their manes were very profuse, and hanging in the wildest confusion over their necks and faces -- and their long tails swept the ground.
After we had satisfied our curiosity in looking at these proud and playful animals, we agreed that we would try the experiment of "creasing" one, as it is termed in this country; which is done by shooting them through the gristle on the top of the neck, which stuns them so that they fall, and are secured with the hobbies on the feet; after which they rise again without fatal injury. This is a practice often resorted to by expert hunters, with good rifles, who are not able to take them in any other way. My friend Joe and I were armed on this occasion, each with a light fowling-piece, which have not quite the preciseness in throwing a bullet that a rifle has; and having both leveled our pieces at the withers of a noble, fine-looking iron prey, we pulled trigger, and the poor creature fell, and the rest of the herd were out of sight in a moment. We advanced speedily to him, and had the most inexpressible mortification of finding, that we never had thought of hobbles or halters, to secure him -- and in a few moments more, had the still greater mortification, and even anguish, to find that one of our shots had broken the poor creature's neck, and that he was quite dead.
The laments of poor Chadwick for the wicked folly of destroying this noble animal, were such as I never shall forget; and so guilty did we feel that we agreed that when we joined the regiment, we should boast of all the rest of our hunting feats, but never make mention of this.
The usual mode of taking the wild horses, is, by throwing the laso, whilst pursuing them at full speed, and dropping a noose over their necks, by which their speed is soon checked, and they are "choked down." The laso is a thong of rawhide, some ten or fifteen yards in length, twisted or braided, with a noose fixed at the end of it; which, when the coil of the laso is thrown out, drops with great certainty over the neck of the animal, which is soon conquered.
The Indian, when he starts for a wild horse, mounts one of the fleetest he can get, and coiling his laso on his arm, starts off under the "full whip", till he can enter the band, when he soon gets it over the neck of one of the number; when he instantly dismounts, leaving his own horse, and runs as fast as he can, letting the laso pass out gradually and carefully through his hands, until the horse falls for want of breath, and lies helpless on the ground; at which time the Indian advances slowly towards the horse's head, keeping his laso tight upon its neck, until he fastens a pair of hobbles on the animal's two forefeet, and also loosens the laso (giving the horse chance to breathe), and gives it a noose around the under jaw, by which he gets great power over the affrighted animal, which is rearing and plunging when it gets breath; and by which, as he advances, hand over hand, towards the horse's nose, he is able to hold it down and prevent it from throwing itself over on its back, at the hazard of its limbs. By this means he gradually advances, until he is able to place his hand on the animal's nose, and over its eyes; and at length to breathe in its nostrils, when it soon becomes docile and conquered; so that he has little else to do than to remove the hobbles from its feet, and lead or ride it into camp.
This ''breaking down" or taming, however, is not without the most desperate trial on the part of the horse, which rears and plunges in every possible way to effect its escape, until its power is exhausted, and it becomes covered with foam; and at last yields to the power of man, and becomes his willing slave for the rest of its life. By this very rigid treatment, the poor animal seems to be so completely conquered, that it makes no further struggle for its freedom; but submits quietly ever after, and is led or rode away with very little difficulty. Great care is taken, however, in this and in subsequent treatment, not to subdue the spirit of the animal, which is carefully preserved and kept up, although they use them with great severity; being, generally speaking, cruel masters.
The wild horse of these regions is a small, but very powerful animal; with an exceedingly prominent eye, sharp nose, high nostril, small feet and delicate leg; and undoubtedly, have sprung from a stock introduced by the Spaniards, at the time of the invasion of Mexico; which having strayed off upon the prairies, have run wild, and stocked the plains from this to Lake Winnipeg, two or three thousand miles to the North.
This useful animal has been of great service to the Indians living on these vast plains, enabling them to take their game more easily, to carry their burthens, &c.; and no doubt, render them better and handier service than if they were of a larger and heavier breed. Vast numbers of them are also killed for food by the Indians. They subsist themselves both in winter and summer by biting at the grass, which they can always get in sufficient quantities for their food.
Whilst on our march we met with many droves of these beautiful animals, and several times had the opportunity of seeing the Indians pursue them, and take them with the laso. The first successful instance of the kind was effected by one of our guides and hunters, by the name of Beatte, a Frenchman, whose parents had lived nearly their whole lives in the Osage village; and who, himself had been reared from infancy amongst them; and in a continual life. Of Indian modes and amusements, had acquired all the skill and tact of his Indian teachers, and probably a little more ; for he is reputed, without exception, the best hunter in these Western regions.
This instance took Place one day whilst the regiment was at its usual halt of an hour, in the middle of the day.
When the bugle sounded for a halt, and all were dismounted, Beatte and several others of the hunters asked permission of Col. Dodge to pursue a drove of horses which were then in sight, at a distance of a mile or more from us. The permission was given, and they started off, and by following a ravine, approached near to the unsuspecting animals, when they broke upon them and pursued them for several miles in full view of the regiment. Several of us had good glasses, with which we could plainly see every movement and every manoeuvre. After a race of two or three miles, Beatte was seen with his wild horse down, and the band and the other hunters rapidly leaving him.
Seeing him in this condition, I galloped off to him as rapidly as possible, and had the satisfaction of seeing the whole operation of "breaking down", and bringing in the wild animal; and in another drawing, I have given a fair representation of the mode by which it was done. When he had conquered the horse in this way, his brother, who was one of the unsuccessful ones in the chase, came, riding back, and leading up the horse, of Beatte which he had left behind, and after staying with us a few minutes, assisted Beatte in leading his conquered wild horse towards the regiment, where it was satisfactorily examined and commented upon, as it was trembling and covered with white foam, until the bugle sounded the signal for marching, when all mounted; and with the rest, Beatte, astride of his wild horse, which had a buffalo skin girted on its back, and a halter, with a cruel noose around the under jaw. In this manner the command resumed its march, and Beatte astride of his wild horse, on which he rode quietly and without difficulty, until night; the whole thing, the capture, and breaking, all having been accomplished within the space of one hour, our usual and daily halt at midday.
Several others of these animals were caught in a similar manner during our march, by others of our hunters, affording us satisfactory instances of this most extraordinary and almost unaccountable feat.
The horses that were caught were by no means very valuable specimens, being rather of an ordinary quality; and I saw to my perfect satisfaction, that the finest of these droves can never be obtained in this way, as they take the lead at once, when they are pursued, and in a few moments will be sees half a mile or more ahead of the bulk of the drove, which they are leading off. There is not a doubt but there are many very fine and valuable horses amongst these herds; but it is impossible for the Indian or other hunter to take them, unless it be done by "creasing" them, as I have before described; which is often done, but always destroys the spirit and character of the animal.
After many hard and tedious days of travel, we were at last told by our Camanchee guides that we were near their village; and having led us to the top of a gently rising elevation on the prairie, they pointed to their village at several miles distance, in the midst of one of the most enchanting valleys that human eyes ever looked upon. The general course of the valley is from N. W. to S. E., of several miles in width, with a magnificent range of mountains rising in distance beyond; it being, without doubt, a huge "spur" of the Rocky Mountains, composed entirely of a reddish granite or gneis, corresponding with the other links of this stupendous chain. In the midst of this lovely valley, we could just discern amongst the scattering shrubbery that lined the banks of the watercourses, the tops of the Camanchee wigwams, and the smoke curling above them. The valley, for a mile distant about the village, seemed speckled with horses and mules that were grazing in it. The chiefs of the war-party requested the regiment to halt, until they could ride in, and inform their people who were coming. We then dismounted for an hour or so; when we could see them busily running and catching their horses; and at length, several hundreds of their braves and warriors came out at full speed to welcome us, and forming in a line in front of us, as we were again mounted, presented a formidable and pleasing appearance. As they wheeled their horses, they very rapidly formed in a line, and "dressed" like well-disciplined cavalry. The regiment was drawn up in three columns, with a line formed in front, by Colonel Dodge and his staff, in which rank my friend Chadwick and I were also paraded; when we had a fine view of the whole manoeuvre, which was picturesque and thrilling in the extreme.
In the centre of our advance was stationed a white flag, and the Indians answered to it with one which they sent forward and planted by the side of it.
The two lines were thus drawn up, face to face, within twenty or thirty yards of each other, as inveterate foes that never had met; and, to the everlasting credit of the Camanchees, whom the world had always looked upon as murderous and hostile, they had all come out in this manner, with their heads uncovered, and without a weapon of any kind, to meet a war-party bristling with arms, and trespassing to the middle of their country. They had every reason to look upon us as their natural enemy, as they have been in the habit of estimating all pale faces; and yet, instead of arms or defenses, or even of frowns, they galloped out and looked us in our faces, without an expression of fear or dismay, and evidently with expressions of joy and impatient pleasure, to shake us by the hand, on the bare assertion of Colonel Dodge, which had been made to the chiefs, that "we came to see them on a friendly visit."
After we had sat and gazed at each other in this way for some half an hour or so, the head chief of the band came galloping up to Colonel Dodge, and having shaken him by the hand, he passed on to the other officers in turn, and then rode alongside of the different columns, shaking hands with every dragoon in the regiment; he was followed in this by his principal chiefs and braves, which altogether took up nearly an hour longer, when the Indians retreated slowly towards their village, escorting us to the banks of a fine clear stream, and a good spring of fresh water, half a mile from their village, which they designated as a suitable place for our encampment, and we were soon bivouacked at the place from which I am now scribbling.
No sooner were we encamped here (or, in other words, as soon as our things were thrown upon the ground,) Major Mason, Lieutenant Wheelock, Captain Brown, Captain Duncan, my friend Chadwick and myself, galloped off to the village, and through it in the greatest impatience to the prairies, where there were at least three thousand horses and mules grazing; all of us eager and impatient to see and to appropriate the splendid Arabian horses, which we had so often heard were owned by the Camanchee warriors. We galloped around busily, and glanced our eyes rapidly over them; and all soon returned to the camp, quite "crest fallen" and satisfied, that, although there were some tolerable nags amongst this medley group of all colours and all shapes, the beautiful Arabian we had so often heard of at the East, as belonging to the Camanchees, must either be a great ways further South than this, or else it must be a horse of the imagination.
The Camanchee horses are generally small, all of them being of the wild breed, and a very tough and serviceable animal; and from what I can learn here of the chiefs, there are yet, farther South, and nearer the Mexican borders, some of the noblest animals in use of the chiefs, yet I do not know that we have any more reason to rely upon this information, than that which had made our horse-jockeys that we have with us, to run almost crazy for the possession of those we were to find at this place. Amongst the immense herds we found grazing here, one-third perhaps are mules, which are much more valuable than the horses.
Of the horses, the officers and men have purchased a number of the best, by giving a very inferior blanket and butcher's knife, costing in all about four dollars! These horses in our cities at the East, independent of the name, putting them upon their merits alone, would be worth from eighty to one hundred dollars each, and not more.
A vast many of such could be bought on such terms, and are hourly brought into camp for sale. If we had goods to trade for them, and means of getting them home, a great profit could be made, which can easily be learned from the following transaction that took place yesterday. A fine looking Indian was hanging about my tent very closely for several days, and continually scanning an old and half-worn cotton umbrella, which I carried over me to keep off the sun, as I was suffering with fever and ague, and at last proposed to purchase it of me, with a very neat limbed and pretty pied horse which he was riding. He proposed at first, that I should give him a knife and the umbrella, but as I was not disposed for the trade (the umbrella being so useful an article to me, that I did not know how to Part with it, not knowing whether there was another in the regiment); he came a second time, and offered me the horse for the umbrella alone, which offer I still rejected; and he went back to the village, and soon returned with another hone of a much better duality, supposing that I had not valued the former one equal to the umbrella.
With this he endeavoured to push the trade, and after I had with great difficulty made him understand that I was sick, and could not part with it, he turned and rode back towards the village, and in a short time returned again with one of the largest and finest mules I ever saw, proposing that, which I also rejected; when he disappeared again.
In a few moments my friend Captain Duncan, in whose hospitable tent I was quartered, came in, and the circumstance being related to him, started up some warm jockey feelings, which he was thoroughly possessed of, when he instantly sprang upon his feet, and exclaimed, "d-----mn the fellow! Where is he gone? Here, Gosset! Get my old umbrella out of the pack, I rolled it up with my wiper and the flying-pan-get it as quick as lightning!" With it in his hand, the worthy Captain soon overtook the young man, and escorted him into the village, and returned in a short time-not with the mule, but with the second horse that had been offered to me.
Though they appeared to be near the river, I found it half a day's journey to travel to and from them; they being several miles from the river. On ascending them I found them to be two or three hundred feet high, and rising on their sides at an angle of 45 degrees; and on their tops, in some places, for half a mile in length, perfectly level, with a green turf, and corresponding exactly with the tabular hills spoken of above the Mandans. I therein said, that I should visit these hills on my way down the river; and I am fully convinced, from close examination, that they are a part of the same original superstratum, which therein described, though seven or eight hundred miles separated from them. They agree exactly in character, and also in the materials of which they are composed; and I believe, that some unaccountable gorge where waters has swept away the intervening earth, leaving these solitary and isolated, though incontrovertible evidences, that the summit level of all this great valley has at one time been where the level surface of these hills now is, two or three hundred feet above what is now generally denominated the summit level.
The mouth of the Platte, is a beautiful scene, and no doubt will be the site of a large and flourishing town, soon after Indian titles shall have been extinguished to the lands in these regions, which will be done within a very few years. The Platte is a long and powerful stream, pouring in from the Rocky Mountains and joining with the Missouri at this place.
In this voyage, as in all others that. I have performed, I kept my journal, but I have not room, it will be seen, to insert more than an occasional extract from it for my present purpose. In this voyage, Ba'tiste and Bogard were my constant companions; and we ah had our rides, and used them often. We often went ashore amongst the herds of buffaloes, and were obliged to do so for our daily food. We lived the whole way on buffaloes' flesh and venison -- we had no bread; but laid in a good stock of coffee and sugar. These, however, from an unforeseen accident availed us but little; as on the second or third day of our voyage, after we had taken our coffee on the shore, and Ba'tiste and Bogard had gone in pursuit of a herd of buffaloes, I took it in my head to have an extra very fine dish of coffee to myself, as the fire was fine. For this purpose, I added more coffee-grounds to the pot, and placed it on the fire, which I sat watching, when I saw a fine buffalo cow wending her way leisurely over the hills, but a little distance from me, for whom I started at once, with my ride trailed in my hand; and after creeping, and running, and heading, and all that, for half an hour, without getting a shot at her; I came back to the encampment, where I found my two men with meat enough, but in the most uncontrollable rage, for my coffee had all boiled out, and the coffee-pot was melted to Pieces!
This was truly a deplorable accident, and one that could in no effectual way be remedied. We afterwards botched up a mess or two of it in our frying-pan, but to little purpose, and then abandoned it to Bogard alone, who thank fully received the dry coffee-grounds and sugar, at his meals, which he soon entirely demolished.
We met immense numbers of buffaloes in the early part of our voyage and used to land our canoe almost every hour in the day; and oftentimes all together approach the unsuspecting herds, through some deep and hidden ravine within a few rods of them, and at the word, "pull trigger" each of us bring down our victim.
In one instance, near the mouth of White River, we met the most immense herd crossing the Missouri River -- and from an imprudence got our boat into imminent danger amongst them, from which we were highly delighted to make our escape. It was in the midst of the "running season", and we had heard the ''roaring" (as it is called) of the herd, when we were several miles from them. When we came in sight, we were actually terrified at the immense numbers that were streaming down the green hills on one side of the river, and galloping up and over the bluffs on the other. The river was filled, and In parts blackened, with their heads and horns, as they were swimming about, following up their objects, and making desperate battle whilst they were swimming.
I deemed it imprudent for our canoe to be dodging amongst them, and ran it ashore for a few hours, where we laid, waiting for the opportunity of seeing the river clear; but we waited in vain. Their numbers, however, got somewhat diminished at last, and we pushed off, and successfully made our way amongst them. From the immense numbers that had passed the river at that place, they had torn down the prairie bank of fifteen feet in height, so as to form a sort of road or landing-place, where they all in succession clambered up. Many in their turmoil had been wafted below this landing, and unable to regain it against the swiftness of the current, had fastened themselves along in crowds, hugging close to the high bank under which they were standing. As we were drifting by these, and supposing ourselves out of danger, I drew up my ride and shot one of them in the head, which tumbled into the water, and brought with him a hundred others, which plunged in, and in a moment were swimming about our canoe, and placing it in great danger. No attack was made upon us, and in the confusion the poor beasts knew not, perhaps, the enemy that was amongst them; but we were liable to be sunk by them, as they were furiously looking and climbing on to each other. I rose in my canoe, and by my gestures and hallooing, kept them from coming in contact with us, until we were out of their reach.
This was one of the instances that I formerly spoke of, where thousands and tens of thousands of these animals congregate in the running season, and move about from East and West, or wherever accident or circumstances may lead them. In this grand crusade, no one can know the numbers that may have made the ford within a few days; nor in their blinded fury in such scenes, would feeble man be much respected.
During the remainder of that day we paddled onward, and passed many of their carcases floating on the current, or lodged on the heads of islands and sand-bars. And, in the vicinity of, and not far below the grand turmoil, we passed several that were mired in the quicksand near the shores; some: were standing fast and half immersed; whilst others were nearly out of sight, and gasping for the last breath; others were standing with all legs fast, and one half of their bodies above the water, and their heads sunk under it, where they had evidently remained several days; and flocks of ravens and crows were covering their backs, and picking the flesh from their dead bodies.
So much of the Upper Missouri and its modes, at present; though I have much more in store for some future occasion.
Fort Leavenworth, which is on the Lower Missouri, being below the mouth of the Platte, is the nucleus of another neighborhood of Indians, amongst whom I am to commence my labours, and of whom I shall soon be enabled to give some account. So, for the present, Adieu.