maybe weak from loss of blood

For the next few days we were all very busy. Tom was putting the
finishing touches on our quarters, while Jack and I were doing the
trapping, baiting, and skinning. I assisted Jack in trapping beaver and
he helped me in killing buffalo and taking care of the wolfskins.

While working at these tasks we were riding the surrounding country,
east and west, up and down the creek, and north and south in open
prairie. At a distance of about three miles down the creek, on the
north side, we found a series of connected sloughs leading off from the
creek out into the prairie bottom, through which a string of little
ponds ran for about a mile and then united with the main stream again.

These sloughs, bordered by a rank growth of rushes, made excellent
feeding-grounds for water-fowl. It was easy here to procure all the
ducks, geese, brant, and sand-hill cranes that we wished. On the
prairie were plenty of antelope, with now and then a few deer and
elk in the timber along the creek. Everywhere were seen bleached and
bleaching buffalo bones–too common a feature of the landscape to
attract more than a passing glance.

One day Jack and I had been killing some buffalo for wolf baits on the
high prairie south of our camp. We had become separated by a couple
of miles; each had killed his buffalo, and I had poisoned mine and
started to Jack, who was waiting for me to prepare his buffalo for the
wolves also. As I rode through a scattered lot of bones, where several
animals seemed to have been killed together, I noticed among the lot a
human skull. Looking more closely, I saw other human bones of the same
skeleton and those of a horse, the hoofs of which, with the shoes still
on, showed that it had not been an Indian’s horse. Bones of wolves lay
among the others.

Here, then, seemed the evidences of a past tragedy, and, wishing
to have Jack come and help to read the signs, I rode out clear of
this bone-yard, fired a shot from my rifle to attract his attention,
and then began riding around in a circle–the usual signal in such
cases–to call him to me.

He understood and galloped toward me. While he was coming I walked
about among the relics, trying to solve the mystery of which these
bones were the record. They had been somewhat scattered, by the wolves
that had picked them, but their general lay indicated pretty clearly
the relative situation of the man and animals at the time of their
death. The bones had probably not been there more than about a year.

Although somewhat mixed and scattered, the general lay of the bones
seemed to show the buffalo on one side, the horse on the other, and
the man between them. The man’s skull had a small bullet hole through
it at the temples, which sufficiently indicated the immediate cause of
his death; but whether this shot had come from an enemy or had been
self-inflicted could not be determined by the signs.

While thus trying to interpret the indications, Jack reached me.

“Here, Jack, has been a man, horse, and buffalo killed,” I said as he
halted, “and from the looks of things, I think it happened about a year
ago. Help me to read the signs. The horse was a white man’s horse, for
the hoofs, you see, have shoes on.”

“That ain’t sure proof,” replied he, “for the horse might have been
lately captured or stolen from the whites. But, hold on!” he exclaimed
after a moment’s survey of the bone-yard, as, stooping, he picked up
what proved to be the lower jaw-bone of the human skull. “This settles
it. This says he was a white man, for here’s a gold plug in one tooth.”

“Well, that settles one important point,” I replied. “But how did the
buffalo, man, and horse happen to die so close together?”

“Seems to me,” said Jack, still walking about scrutinizing the relics,
“it could have happened in only one or two ways. Either the man and
his horse have been killed by a wounded bull, an’ the bull then fell
an’ died with ’em, or–which is more likely–the man killed the buffalo
an’, while busy cutting some of the meat out, was corralled by Injuns.
How do you read it?”

“The signs disprove your first proposition, Jack,” I answered, “but
confirm the second. If it had been an accident from a wounded bull
there would be some such remains as the metallic parts of his gun or
pistol, or buttons, spurs, buckles, and so forth; but you see there’s
not a thing of that kind to be seen. If he was killed by Indians they
would have carried off all his and his horse’s equipments; and I think
that is what happened.”

“I guess you’re right,” admitted Jack. “It must have been the work of
Injuns.”

Just then he stopped and picked up an old bleached buffalo
shoulder-blade that seemed to have been carefully placed, flat side
down, on top of the weather-whitened skull of the older set of bones.
“Halloo! what’s this?” he exclaimed excitedly as he began scanning the
bone. “Here it is, Peck. This’ll tell us something about it if we can
only make out the writing. See if you can make it out.”

On the flat side of the shoulder-blade was dimly pencilled a partially
obliterated and nervously written inscription. It was without date, and
yet enough of the wording was legible to enable us to make out the
following message from the dead man:

[Illustration: Cut off and surrounded by Injens Woonded–laying between
ded hors and ded buffalow standing them off. Catriges nearly all gon
God hep me

John S. Kel Gran Mo.]

The name seemed to be something like Kelton, Kelsey, or Kelley, and
several of the other words were so imperfectly written that I had to
guess them out. We guessed the name of the town to be Granby, Missouri.

As I finished rendering my interpretation of the inscription Jack said,
as he devoutly crossed himself:

“‘God help me!’ the poor fellow said, an’ no doubt the Good Man took
pity on him an’ let him in at the gate, for the good Book do tell
us that he never was known to go back on such a prayer as that. Well,
he must have hurted some of them Injuns in the row. It would be a
satisfaction to find some sign that he got away with some of ’em; so
let’s mount an’ take a circuit ’round over the prairie for two or three
hundred yards out an’ see if we can find anything.”

[Illustration: “It must have been the work of Injuns.”]

We did so and were rewarded by finding the bones of two small horses,
probably Indian ponies that the man had shot in defending his position.

“That’s some satisfaction,” said Jack as we returned, “for it’s more’n
likely that he killed some of the Injuns, too. Well, what’ll we do
with these things?” pointing to the skull, jaw-bone, and buffalo
shoulder-blade.

“I was thinking of taking them back to camp with us,” I replied, “to
see what Tom will say.”

“Just what I was thinkin’,” said Jack, dismounting and preparing to
tie the skull and jawbone to his saddle. “I’ll carry these an’ you can
carry the shoulder-blade. You’d better carry it in your hand, an’ be
careful of it so’s not to rub out the writin’ any more, for it’s hard
enough to make out as it is.”

Of course Tom was interested in the memorials we brought and asked us
many questions about the signs we had found.

After giving him time to study the problem out, I asked:

“Well, Tom, what do you make of it?”

“It’s my guess,” he replied deliberately, holding the skull up before
him as though reading its history, “that this man was a wolf hunter,
like ourselves, an’ if so there’ll be more of this affair to be
discovered hereabouts. He had killed that buffalo for wolf bait, ’cause
if he’d been after meat he’d ‘a’ killed a younger one, or a cow, for
you say the bones showed it was a big bull. A man wouldn’t be so far
away from the Santa Fé road huntin’ buffalo without he had a camp in
this neighborhood. If he had a camp he’s had a pardner or two, an’ what
must have become of them? Their camp must have been somewheres along
the creek, not far from here. Have either of you seen any signs of such
a layout in your rambles up or down the creek?”

“No,” I answered, “but, then, neither of us has been more than about
three miles up or down.”

“Well, after this, when you go up or down the creek make your trips
extend a little farther each time till you’ve covered at least ten or
twelve miles each way; an’ by keeping your eyes peeled you may be able
to find some remains of a hunter’s camp or some sign that’ll give us
something more about this. This man came to his death about as you an’
Jack guessed it; that is, while getting ready to poison his buffalo for
wolf bait the Injuns came onto him an’ surrounded him.”

“I think,” I interrupted him to say, “that he had probably already
poisoned the buffalo, for I noticed the bones of several wolves there,
which would go to show that the wolves had died from eating the
poisoned meat of the buffalo.”

“Well, yes–likely,” returned Tom. “He put up a good fight, though,
from what you say, an’ seems to have been a man that’s had some
previous experience in that line. Did you notice any bullet hole in his
horse’s skull?”

“No. I looked for that, but there was no sign that the horse had been
shot in the head; but he might have been shot elsewhere.”

“‘Tain’t likely,” replied the old man thoughtfully, “for you say the
horse’s bones show that he died close to the buffalo, an’ the man in
between ’em, as his bones show an’ the writing on the shoulder-blade
says. He must have cut its throat. How far off from the man’s bones was
the bones of the Injun ponies that you found?”

“About three hundred yards,” I replied.

“Well, he must have had a Sharp’s rifle,[D] for a muzzle-loader
wouldn’t kill that far. But he’s had a navy pistol, too, for this shot
he give himself was a navy ball.”

And taking a navy bullet out of his pocket, Tom showed us that it would
just fit the hole in the skull.

“He’s been right-handed, too,” continued the old man, “for the ball
went in on the right side an’ come out on the left. You see, the little
hole is clean-cut on the right side but bigger an’ ragged on the left
where it come out. That tells where it went in an’ where it come out.
When he wrote that note on the old shoulder-blade he’s been getting
nervous, or maybe weak from loss of blood. It’s a pity, though, that
he didn’t set down his name an’ the town where he come from a little
plainer so’s we could write to his folks an’ let ’em know what become
of him. But, like many another poor devil that’s been wiped out by
Injuns, his people’ll never know where, when, or how he died.

“Well,” continued the old man after a pause, “I b’lieve I’ll ride over
to the fort to-morrow; an’ get our mail an’ come back next day, an’ I
guess I’ll just take them things along,” pointing to the bones, “an’
maybe some o’ the folks over there can tell me somethin’ more about
this affair. If anybody knows anything about it French Dave’ll know,
for he’s been among the Injuns a good deal an’ would be likely to have
heard something about it.”

Next day, mounted on Black Prince, Tom started for Fort Larned. He had
stowed the skull of the supposed deceased wolf hunter in a gunny sack
tied to his saddle, but the buffalo shoulder-blade he wrapped carefully
in the fur of a fox skin, to make sure that no chafing should further
obliterate the already obscure record.

These relics he intended to submit to the best sign readers to be
found about the fort, to ascertain if any light could be thrown on the
supposed tragedy.

As I was writing a letter to send in by Tom, Jack remarked: “We ought
to have a name for our camp, a place to date letters from, something
more than just ‘Camp on Walnut Creek.'”

“That wouldn’t be a bad idea,” I replied, “but what shall we call it?
The only things we see here are buffaloes, coyotes, and antelopes, with
a few prairie-dogs and rattlesnakes. How would it do to call our place
‘Camp Antelope’?”

“I think it would be more to the point,” said Jack, “to call it ‘Camp
Coyote.'”

“Well,” said Tom, “why not compromise and call it ‘Camp Coyotelope’?”

“Let it be so,” said I, and I so dated my letter, and from that time on
we spoke of our winter home as Camp Coyotelope.

Nothing unusual happened while Tom was gone. Jack tended his traps,
while I did the wolf baiting and skinning.

On the second evening, just in time for supper, Tom returned from Fort
Larned, bringing our mail, and as we gathered around the table we asked
him anxiously what he had learned about the dead man.

“A whole lot,” replied the old man between mouthfuls, “an’ not just
what I wanted to find out, either. None of ’em could make out the man’s
name or where he come from any nigher than we did. I went right to the
adjutant’s office, where I found several of the officers, an’ when I
brought out the bones an’ told ’em the story they became interested.
One officer had heard something about a party of hunters being wiped
out by the Injuns about a year ago, but he didn’t know the particulars.
That writing on the old shoulder-blade attracted ’em most, an’ each one
had to take it an’ examine it. But they couldn’t make it out.

“I suggested to the adjutant that maybe French Dave might know
something, an’ he sent an orderly for Dave right away, an’, sure
enough, the ol’ French-Canadian did know something.

“Ol’ Dave asked me: ‘Where you find ’em?’ An’ then I told him all I
knew about the matter, an’ what the signs seemed to show, an’ read to
him the writing on the shoulder-blade, for Dave can neither read nor
write. He studied awhile an’ then said: ‘Yes–mus’ be same lot. I know
’bout yother two. See ’em bones where Injuns kill ’em. No see this one
bones, but Satanta tell me ’bout it one day. Mus’ be same one.’

“The story of the affair,” continued Tom, “as I gathered it from
Dave, is about thisaway: Three wolf hunters with a wagon an’ team had
established their camp on Walnut Creek, an’ from what Dave says the
remains of that camp an’ the bones of two of the men must be down the
creek from here about five miles, on the same side we are on.

“These wolf hunters had just fairly got established when Satanta an’
about twenty of his men come along, one day, just in time to see this
fellow, whose bones you found, a-starting off on the prairie to kill
a buffalo an’ poison it for wolves. The Injuns hadn’t been seen by
the white men, an’ after this one was gone Satanta kept his men out
of sight of the wolf hunters, all except one besides himself, an’ him
an’ this one rode out in sight of the white men an’ made signs of
friendship, an’ the wolf hunters let ’em come into their camp. After
begging some grub from the white men the two Injuns made themselves
very agreeable an’ friendly, an’ by and by a few more of the Kiowas
dropped along an’ was allowed to come into the camp; for I s’pose
they seemed so friendly that the white men thought it wouldn’t look
neighborly to show any suspicion of such good Injuns.

“Satanta told Dave, bragging how slick he worked it, that when he got
these wolf hunters in a proper frame of mind an’ saw that the sign was
right, he give the word, an’ they turned loose and killed the two men
before they had time to realize the trap they’d got into.

“Then, after plundering the camp, a warrior called Lame Deer took six
others an’ started off to follow up an’ take in the man they’d seen
going away, for fear that he might somehow get wind of the affair
before coming back to camp and get away.

“They overtook him, so Satanta told Dave, just after the man had killed
a buffalo, skinned part of the hide back, an’, as the Injuns supposed,
was about to cut out some o’ the hump steak; an’, just as we made it
out by the signs, the man, seeing the desperate fix he was in, had cut
his horse’s throat to make a breastwork of his carcass on one side,
an’, with the buffalo on the other, had got down between ’em an’ give
the Injuns a rattlin’ good fight, killin’ one Kiowa, badly woundin’
another, an’ killin’ the two ponies you found the bones of.

“But they got him at last–at least he killed himself when he was down
to his last cartridge–an’ then they piled onto him an’ stripped every
stitch of clothes off his body, but, seein’ that the man had committed
suicide, their superstitions kept ’em from scalping him or mutilating
his body.

“An’, now comes a gratifying part of the proceedings, as told to Dave
by Satanta, that the signs didn’t reveal to us. When Lame Deer an’ his
party had stripped the dead man an’ his horse of all their equipments
an’ was gittin’ ready to return to Satanta’s party at the hunters’
camp, some of the Injuns concluded to cut out a big chunk of the hump
steak of the buffalo that the white man had just stripped the hide off
of an’ intended to cut out the steak himself, as they s’posed.

“But it turned out that the white man had unconsciously set a
death-trap for some of ’em; for he had already poisoned the skinned
side of the buffalo, and when the Injuns got back to the camp an’
cooked an’ eat their fresh hump steak all that eat the fresh meat was
poisoned, an’ four of ’em kicked the bucket right there.

“Well, sir, Dave says, this so scared the rest of the Injuns that,
although they had packed their ponies with a lot of the white men’s
provender, they were afraid to use any of the food, an’ so they piled
all of it into the white men’s wagon an’ set fire to it an’ burned the
whole business.

“Then, packing the bodies of their dead warriors on their ponies, they
made their way back to their main village, some miles down the creek,
a little the loser in the long run, for, although they had killed
the three white men an’ destroyed their outfit, it had cost ’em five
warriors.

“The wiping out of these wolf hunters,” Tom went on, “corroborates what
I’ve often told you, an’ what your own experience ought to teach you,
that it’s never safe to depend on the friendship of Injuns–‘specially
Kiowas. Whenever they can get a good chance at a white man, or a small
party of whites, they don’t hesitate to murder ’em–an’ ‘specially a
party of hunters, for that class they consider their natural enemies
on account of the hunters killing what the Injuns claim to be the red
man’s game.

“I left them bones with the adjutant over to the fort,” continued Tom,
“as he thought maybe somebody might come along who could throw more
light on the mystery. Then I called on Weisselbaum an’ told him we were
just a-gettin’ under good headway poisoning wolves, trapping beaver,
an’ so forth, an’ he offered to buy all our catch–wanted to make a
bargain with me right then–but I stood him off, for I think maybe we
can do better to take our skins into Leavenworth. Some of the officers
wanted to know if we couldn’t bring ’em over a saddle of antelope for
their mess whenever one of us goes over there for our mail. I guess we
can do it just as well as not an’ make a little spending money on the
side; an’, besides, it’s always a good idea to be on good terms with
the officers at the post, for we may want favors from them now an’
then.”

Since moving into our dugout we had found ourselves so much more
cramped for room than we had been in the tent that, following Tom’s
suggestion and example, we had each built himself a swinging frame of
poles with a buffalo-hide stretched over it on which to spread our
beds. During the day we kept these hanging bunks triced up to the
timbers overhead, out of the way, lowering them to within a couple of
feet of the floor to sleep in after supper each evening. We found them
a luxury compared with sleeping on the hard ground.

Next day, after Tom’s return from the fort, Jack and I rode down the
creek to look for the bones of the wolf hunters of whom French Dave
had told Tom and had little difficulty in finding them, for the burnt
remains of their little log cabin, on the prairie, a little way from
the timber, attracted us and guided us to the spot. The bones of the
two men had been scattered by the wolves, but the irons of their burnt
wagon were lying just where the fire had left them.

That their camp had been established at a reasonable distance from the
timber and otherwise well located in a defensive point of view showed
that these men had had some knowledge of the dangers to be guarded
against from hostile Indians and that they had probably been plainsmen
of experience; but, as Tom said, their fatal error was in allowing too
many Indians to come into their camp.

We were now–about the middle of December–“doing a land-office
business,” as Jack expressed it, in taking wolf pelts, gathering them
in daily about as fast as we could take care of them. Jack was doing
well also in beaver trapping, having already accumulated a lot of fine
furs.

Tom had rigged up a press by means of which we put the skins into
compact bales and stowed them away in the tent. The tunnel connecting
the dugout and tent came up into the latter right in the centre,
between the legs of the iron tripod that supported the tent-pole, and
he placed the bales of skins in a close wall all around the tent,
leaving an open space in the centre around the tripod, and I asked him
why.

“This tent,” he answered, “will be our lookout station and also our
‘bomb-proof’ in case of need.”

“The bales of fur’ll make it bullet-proof, all right,” I replied, “but
I don’t see how we can see out after you get that bank of wolfskins
piled up toward the tops of the doors.”

“When we get them up that high,” said Tom, “I intend to cut three or
four loopholes in the canvas, about big enough to look through an’
shoot out of, an’ over each hole, to keep out the weather, I’ll sew a
flap that can be tucked up or let down to suit circumstances.”

“Great head,” said Jack. “A good general was spoiled when Tom enlisted.”

“‘In time of peace, prepare for war,’ was one of George Washington’s
maxims,” said Tom, “an’ never was more sensible advice given for either
individual or nation.”

Usually Jack and I did most of the hunting and scouting around over the
adjacent country, but now and then Tom would strike out for a short
trip up or down the creek on his own account.

One day, after being out for a short time, he came hurrying back and
began to delve in the mess-chest, inquiring for a fish-hook and line
that he had seen there, declaring that he had just found a lot of fresh
otter tracks on the bank of the creek.

“Why, Tom,” asked Jack innocently, “do they catch otter with
fish-hooks?”

“No, you numskull,” replied the old man impatiently, “the fish-hook and
line is to catch fish to bait traps for the otter.

“Now, then, Jack,” continued the old man after finding his
fishing-tackle and assuring himself that it was in good condition,
“come along with me down to the beaver dam, an’ while I catch a fish or
two for bait you pull up a couple of your beaver traps an’ we’ll set
for otter.”

“Well, I guess I can spare you a couple of traps now,” replied Jack.
“I ain’t catching as many beavers lately as when I first started in.
I think I’m getting the herd pretty well thinned out. But I’ve done
pretty well at trapping, for I’ve took some thirty odd nice beaver
skins besides a few muskrats.”

A few hours later the two men returned to camp after having caught some
fish and baited and set the traps for otter, and next morning, taking
Jack with him, Tom found, on visiting his traps and fishing them up out
of the water, a fine otter fastened by a leg in each trap and drowned.
Later Tom took a number of otter skins, but they were by no means as
numerous as the beaver.

Black Prince, after he became accustomed to it, was a much better
buffalo horse than either of the mustangs, though, when two mounted
hunters went out, the buckskin bronco, Vinegar, did pretty well for
that work. The gray mare, Polly, could not be brought near enough to a
buffalo to be used as a hunter. Now and then Jack and I went afoot down
to the slough to kill some ducks or geese. Our shepherd dog Found was
a good retriever, and when we went gunning for water-fowl we generally
took him along to bring ashore any birds killed on the water.

“I want to remind you men,” said Tom one day, “that this fine weather
we’ve been having can’t, in the nature of things, last much longer.
We’re liable to have a cold rain, turning to a sleet or snow-storm, or
maybe a regular old blizzard swooping down on us now soon, an’ we must
be prepared for it. Our camp’s in pretty good shape, but we haven’t
fitted ourselves out with fur caps an’ mittens an’ other fixings to
enable us to stand the winds of winter. I propose that we put in our
spare time for the next few days a-dressing some hides, an’ then
a-cutting out and making us a good fur cap an’ pair of mittens apiece,
an’ something in the way of buffalo overshoes, too, to slip on over our
boots, an’ a wolfskin overcoat apiece.

“Now, the first thing to do is to select the hides to be used an’ flesh
’em, an’ then get out that package of alum that we brought along to
tan ’em with an’ go to dressing ’em. Those little yellow fox skins
ain’t worth much to sell, but they will be just the things for caps an’
mittens. I’ve got an old buffalo robe that we can cut up for overshoes
an’ put rawhide soles to ’em. As for myself, I’ve been thinking that
the next time I go over to the fort I’ll see if I can find enough
dressed buffalo calfskins in Weisselbaum’s stock–it’ll only take about
six or eight–to make me an overcoat; for a buffalo calfskin overcoat
is a mighty serviceable garment for winter wear.”

“You’re right, they are,” said Jack, “but I guess me an’ Peck’ll have
to put up with a coyote coat apiece for knockin’ around here this
winter, and when we get back to Leavenworth we’ll have a stylish
overcoat of beaver skins put up for next winter. What do you say, Peck?”

“I’m favorable,” I replied, “but, as this is a partnership business, of
course we’ll have to pay Tom for his interest in the beaver skins.”

“Well,” said the old man, “I’ll balance the account with you this way.
I’ll make it a stand-off, if I get otter skins enough, by having me a
fancy overcoat made of them.”

The caps, mittens, overshoes, and coats were duly made and gave us much
comfort during the storms of winter.

Game continued plenty. We often killed antelope within a few rods of
our dugout and sometimes had to turn out in the night and help the dog
drive a herd of buffalo out of camp.

Share