When we got outside the store door again

“Now, men,” said old Tom as we gathered around the mess box for
breakfast next morning, “we want to get an early start for we’ve got a
big drive before us. It’s only about thirty-eight miles from here to
Fort Larned, but that’s too much to do with a load in one day; an’ we
can’t divide the distance equally because there’s no water anywhere
nigh the half-way p’int. By takin’ the river road we could get water to
camp at the half-way station, but that route, by way of the mouth of
Pawnee Fork, would take us four miles out of our way, an’ part of it’s
a sandy, heavy road for the team. So I’ve concluded it’ll be best for
us to go the main road by Pawnee Rock an’ camp at Ash Creek. That’ll
make about twenty-nine miles for to-day’s drive, an’ then we’ll only
have nine miles to-morrow mornin’ to knock off to reach the fort. We
can easy do that by the middle of the forenoon, an’ have the rest of
the day to look up some old acquaintances there an’ make some inquiries
about the best p’int over on Walnut to locate our winter camp an’ how
best to get there. Ef French Dave, the interpreter, is at Larned he’ll
tell us all we want to know about it. If Wild Bill was here, he’d go
right along an’ guide us to a snug place for our camp, ’cause he knows
every foot o’ the ground. It’s all open prairie from Pawnee to Walnut,
an’ once we get across Pawnee Fork we can’t miss it ef we just follow
the buffalo trails.”

We rolled out from Big Bend by sunrise, made a short stop at Rath’s
ranch to renew old acquaintance with Charley, and in the evening camped
at the crossing of Ash Creek, a small stream with a little timber along
its banks.

We reached Fort Larned by ten o’clock next morning. I left Tom and Jack
to inquire for mail, while I went to the adjutant’s office to report
our arrival and destination; after which I rejoined the outfit at the
sutler’s.

“Well, now, men,” said old Tom, gathering up the mail matter and
putting it away in the wagon, “we must first hunt a camp, an’ then
we can spend the rest of the day reading our papers an’ letters an’
rounding up old acquaintances about the garrison an’ getting ready to
go on to Walnut Creek in the mornin’. I’m told that we can get pretty
good grass by crossin’ the creek here an’ going half a mile up on the
other side. We’ll go an’ make camp an’ eat dinner, an’ then, leaving
one man to take care o’ camp, the others can come back and take in the
garrison.”

A little crowd of idlers had gathered around our team. A soldier
volunteered to guide us to a good crossing and camp, and we soon had
our animals turned out and tent pitched, and, while Tom and Jack were
getting the dinner, at their request I overhauled first the letters and
then the papers, reading to my comrades the most interesting items as I
came to them.

The papers and magazines were full of exciting and interesting news
concerning the progress of the war, then just getting under good
headway. Of letters we got but few, the most interesting of which to
me was one from the girl I had left behind me and another from the old
storekeeper and postmaster back at the camp where we had encountered
the jayhawkers.

The storekeeper informed us that no inquiry had been made for the black
horse, and he did not think it likely that there would be as he had
learned that Tucker and his gang had stolen many of their best horses
from over the border in Missouri and the black horse was probably one
of them.

He also informed us that, following out the plan suggested by Tom,
his neighbor had trailed the jayhawkers to their new camp down on the
Neosho River, near Emporia; that a few days after we left a company of
cavalry had arrived from Fort Leavenworth, in answer to the letter he
had written to the commander of the department, looking for the gang
of outlaws, and the man who had followed them and located their camp
guided the soldiers to the jayhawkers’ new layout, where the cavalrymen
succeeded in surrounding and capturing the whole gang and taking them
as prisoners to Fort Leavenworth.

“Well, who’s going to mind camp, an’ who’s going over to the fort?”
said Jack when dinner was over.

“We’ll draw straws for it,” said Tom decisively. “Peck, you prepare the
straws, two long ones an’ a short one, an’ the man who gets the short
one stays.”

I did as directed. Tom and Jack drew the long straws, and I got left.

“Well, rack out now, you fellows, and I’ll have a good time reading the
papers while you’re gone,” said I, trying to console myself for the
lonesome afternoon I expected to have.

But I was not left alone long, for presently a couple of strolling
soldiers from the garrison dropped in, and we passed some time in
exchanging information, I giving them the latest news from the
settlements, and they telling the gossip of Fort Larned and vicinity.

We had not been out of sight of herds of buffalo since we had entered
the range till we crossed Pawnee Fork, but here, near the fort, where
they had probably been hunted more than elsewhere, they were scarce,
though this was about the centre of their range east and west. The
soldiers said that a few miles out in any direction we would find them
numerous again.

To my comrades and me the country about Fort Larned was familiar
ground. As already stated, our company–K of the old First Cavalry,
afterward changed to Fourth Cavalry–had built and occupied the
original military post, called “Camp Alert,” in the adjoining bend
of the creek, below Fort Larned, in the fall of ’59, when the Kiowas
were on the war-path. During that winter we had been stationed there,
escorting the Santa Fé mails and giving what protection we could to
travel on the roads to New Mexico and the Pike’s Peak gold region. By
the following spring (1860), the War Department had ordered a permanent
post established at or near “Camp Alert,” to be called Fort Larned.
This post was built by the two companies of Second Infantry that were
sent to relieve us, while we, joining Major Sedgwick’s command from
Fort Riley, went on the Kiowa expedition.

My two years of hard service along the Arkansas gave me an interest in
everything that had happened in this part of the country, and I kept my
soldier visitors plied with questions about persons and events until
the approach of sunset warned them to return to the post to prepare for
dress parade.

Tom and Jack remained at the garrison till after dress parade and then
joined me in time for the supper which I had prepared.

In narrating the results of his inquiries at the post Tom said:

“As we had all been pretty well acquainted with Weisselbaum when he
used to keep the little store in Ogden, near Fort Riley, before he got
to be sutler of this post, I thought I would first call on him an’
renew old acquaintance. When I tried to remind him who I was an’ the
many times I had been in his store at Ogden an’ bought goods of him he
couldn’t remember me at all. An’ then I asked him if he remembered Jack
an’ Peck, tellin’ him that you was both here with me an’ the object of
our trip an’ so forth, but he couldn’t recall either of us an’ looked
at me kind of suspicious like, as though he was afraid I was goin’ to
ask him to credit me for a plug of tobacco or something of that kind.

“To set him straight on that point I called for a couple of cigars, an’
in paying for ’em I managed to show several greenbacks, an’, my, what a
change come over his countenance when he saw that money! The sight of
them greenbacks at once refreshed his recollection.

“He suggested that we should leave our surplus money in his safe, and I
believe it’s a good scheme, for we’ll have no use for money over on the
Walnut, where we’re going, an’ we might lose it. Peck might go over to
the store now, takin’ Jack along for a witness, an’ deposit our money
with the sutler an’ take a receipt for it; an’ if we have occasion to
draw any of it out at any time it can be entered on the back of the
receipt. Savvy?”

We “savvied” and agreed to Tom’s plan.

“Weisselbaum told me,” continued the old man, “where to find ‘French
Dave,’ an’ Dave told me that it’s all plain sailing an’ about twenty
miles from here over to Walnut in the nearest direction, straight
north; an’ there’ll be no rough ground to get over except the head of
Ash Creek, an’ there ain’t much there. He says by bearin’ a little to
the west of north we’ll miss the breaks of Ash Creek an’ strike Walnut
about the mouth of a little creek putting into Walnut from the south,
where there’s a snug place for a well-sheltered winter camp, with
timber on the north an’ west; an’ I think that’s just about the kind of
a layout we want to find.”

“What does Dave say about the Kiowas?” I asked.

“He says they’re peaceable so far, ‘but always keep your eye skinned,’
sez he, ‘whenever Satank or Satanta, with their bands, come around.’
But of course we knew that.”

Jack and I hurried over to the sutler’s store, where we were very
affably received by Weisselbaum, who shook us warmly by the hands and
now had no difficulty in remembering us. We made our deposit, took his
receipt, and returned to camp. After reporting to Tom the result of our
trip, Jack remarked:

“Well, I don’t know of any surer winnin’ game than a post sutler’s job.
It’ll beat four aces an’ a six-shooter.”

“Right you are, my lad,” chipped in Tom. “It’s a sure shot–dead open
an’ shut. Better’n a goldmine, for there’s little risk an’ small
loss compared with the profits; for the post sutler on the frontier
just rakes in the money of officers, soldiers, citizens, Injuns,
an’ everybody. Besides havin’ a monopoly of all trade on the post
reservation, he generally has the inside track on forage contracts an’
the like.”

“Do you mind old Rich, the sutler at Fort Leavenworth?” asked Jack,
“an’ the dead oodles of money he rakes in all the time? An’ he’s been
sutler there so long, too, he must be as rich as the Rothschilds.
A queer duck is old Rich,” he continued reflectively, “or ‘Kernel’
Rich, I should have said, for when you call him ‘Kernel,’ specially if
you salute him along with it, it pleases him all over an’ raises his
opinion of himself about five hundred per cent.”

“Yes,” replied Tom, “I remember one time when several of us soldiers
were a-standing around old Rich’s store door, an’ among the lot was
Bob Chambers, of F Company. You know Bob always had his cheek with
him. Well, while we were a-talking, Bill Shutts come out of the store
a-grumbling an’ a-cussing. ‘What’s the matter, Shutts?’ asked Bob.
‘Why, I’m expectin’ a letter from home,’ says Bill, ‘an’ when I asked
that old galoot if there was a letter for me, the old fellow wouldn’t
look–never even asked me my name–but just says, crabbed like, says
he: “No, nothin’ for you.” ‘Now,’ says Bill, ‘I’ll bet two dollars an’
sixty-five cents that there’s a letter in there right now for William
Shutts, Esquire, from Dresden, O., but I can’t get it.’

“‘Why, man,’ says Bob Chambers, ‘where’ve you been all this time that
you ain’t got acquainted with that estimable old gentleman, Kernel
Rich? You ain’t onto the combination, that’s all. Now, I’ll bet you the
drinks for the crowd, down at old mother Bangs’s, that I’ll go in the
store an’ ask the kernel for a letter, an’ although I ain’t expecting
one, an’ would be surprised if I got one, the old kernel’ll rush flying
’round behind the counter a-trying to find me a letter. Now, lemme show
you how it’s done,’ sez Bob, a-buttonin’ up his jacket an’ a-cockin’
his fatigue cap up on three hairs.

“We all followed him into the store to see the performance. The old
kernel was pacin’ the floor. By a ‘left-front-into-line’ movement Bob
swung himself into position in front of the kernel, halted, come to
‘attention,’ bringing his heels together with a crack, an’ raised his
right hand to the peak of his cap as he asked: ‘Kernel, is there any
letter in the office for me, sir?’

“Well, say–you ought to have seen the smile that come over old Rich’s
phiz as he fell all over himself getting ’round behind the counter,
asking as he went: ‘What’s the name, my man?’ ‘Robert Chambers, of F
Company, sir,’ says Bob, still standing to ‘attention.’

“Well, sir, the old kernel shuffled those letters over two or three
times a-tryin’ his level best to dig up one for Chambers, an’
seemed awfully sorry when he had to say, as he put them back in the
pigeonhole: ‘No, nothing for you to-day, Chambers.’ An’ he was so sorry
to disappoint Bob that he reached over on the shelf an’ handed out a
plug of tobacco, as he added, sort of regretful-like: ‘But there’s some
of the best navy tobacco you ever smacked your lips over.’ ‘No doubt
of it, kernel, for when you recommend a thing it’s bound to be first
class, but unfortunately I’m dead broke,’ says Chambers. ‘Oh, take it
along,’ says the old man, as he pushed the plug across the counter;
‘you can hand me the money next pay-day.’ An’ he was so pleased with
Bob’s blarney that he never even chalked it down to him; an’ I’m dead
sure that Chambers didn’t remind him of it when pay-day come, for Bob
wasn’t built that way.

“As we started out of the store, Bob says over his shoulder like for
old Rich to hear, ‘Kernel Rich is one of the finest old gentlemen I
ever knew.’

“When we got outside the store door again, Bill Shutts remarked, as he
gazed at Chambers in honest admiration ‘Well, old pard, if I had your
cheek I’d never work another lick.’ ‘It’s all done by a slight turn of
the wrist, as the magician says,’ said Bob; ‘anybody can do it that
knows how. Now, let me tell you how to get that letter of yours. Just
go over to the quarters an’ wash your face an’ hands for a disguise,
black your boots, button up your jacket, brace up, an’ look brave; and
then go back to the store–by that time the old man’s forgot you ever
asked for a letter–then execute a flank movement on him, like I did;
be sure to salute an’ call him kernel, an’ you’ll get a letter if he
has to write you one.’

“An’ by following Bob’s advice Bill got his letter; an’ it tickled him
so’t he called us together, an’ we went down to old mother Bangs’s, an’
he set up the drinks on it, ’cause he said that trick that Bob learnt
him was worth a whole lot, if not more.”

Next morning at breakfast I said:

“How was it, Tom, that when we were buying our outfit at Leavenworth we
forgot to get a compass? That is a pretty useful thing in travelling
across the prairie, where there is no road or trail to follow?”

“Well,” replied Tom, “it would be handy to have a compass, but we
haven’t got one and so we’ll have to do the next best thing, and thank
the Lord I have a good watch to run our course by.”

“What!” I exclaimed. “Do you mean that you can tell the points of the
compass by a watch?” And Jack chimed in: “I never heard of the like.”

“If you live long enough, young fellows, you may find out that there
are some other things you never heard of. Look here, I’ll explain to
you how it’s done,” and Tom pulled his big silver watch out of his
pocket, opened it, and put it on the table.

“You turn the watch so that the hour-hand points to the sun; then
measure just half-way to the figure twelve on the dial in the shortest
direction, and that will be south. Of course, the opposite point will
be north, and you can tell east or west.

“If you get it firmly fixed in your mind that, with the hour-hand of a
watch pointing to the sun, half-way between that and the figure twelve
in the shortest direction on the dial is south, you can always get the
points of the compass when the sun is shining.”

“Whoever taught you that watch trick, Tom?” I asked.

“First Lieutenant James E. B. Stuart, late of G Company, First Cavalry,
and now an officer in the rebel army, learnt me that once when I was
out on a scout with him in the mountains and we got lost,” answered
Tom. “It was cloudy and we wandered about in every direction except
the right one, as lost men will do. After a while the sun came out for
a little while and I saw Jeb halt, take out his watch, and look at
the sun. Then he said: ‘Now, I have got it. The trail is off in this
direction,’ pointing with his right hand, while he held the watch in
the left. Then he called to me: ‘Come here, sergeant, and I will show
you how to tell north and south by a watch. It may be useful to you
some day.’ And then he explained it to me, and many’s the time it has
been useful.”

By the time we had everything packed up after breakfast and the team
strung out, the sun was up and we started north.

[Illustration: _Where Old Fort Larned Stood_]

We ran a fairly straight line, bearing a little to the west, to the
head of Ash Creek, which we found here to be only a prairie hollow
destitute of water and timber. Before reaching Ash Creek we had begun
to see plenty of buffalo in every direction except toward Fort Larned.

On reaching the high prairie north of Ash Creek we could see away to
the north the distant line of timber that marked the course of Walnut
Creek. A heavy body of timber was seen right ahead, and in line with
our course, that Tom rightly conjectured was at the mouth of the little
creek emptying into the Walnut, where French Dave had told him we would
find a suitable location for a winter camp. Toward this we directed our
course.

It was but little past noon when we reached the edge of the timber
near the junction of the little branch and Walnut Creek, and we found
here an ideal spot for our purpose–a snug camp and good hunting and
trapping ground.

“We’ll camp here for the night,” said Tom as he dismounted, “an’
to-morrow we’ll look the neighborhood over thoroughly an’ decide where
to pitch our permanent layout.”

As we had found no water on the road we had made this drive from Pawnee
Fork without our usual halt for noon and decided to have our dinner and
supper in one about the middle of the afternoon. After turning out the
stock, bringing wood and water, and pitching the tent, while Tom was
preparing the meal, Jack and I separately rambled off to do a little
exploring of our immediate neighborhood. In doing so I found a prairie
ravine, not far from our camp, in which there was considerable standing
water at a distance of about three hundred yards from the timber on
Walnut Creek. I wondered at this water, but on following the ravine
down to the creek I discovered a beaver dam built across the creek, in
which a number of the dome-shaped huts were standing, and saw other
evidences of the presence of a populous colony of these industrious
animals. The water I had seen up the ravine was backwater caused by the
dam.

At Tom’s call of “grub pile” I hurried back to camp to acquaint my
comrades with my discovery, only to learn that Jack had found the
beaver dam before I had and, having rushed back to the wagon, was now
busy getting out our steel traps preparatory to setting them for beaver.

As we sat around the mess-chest eating, Tom, between mouthfuls,
explained his ideas about the establishing of our winter camp.

“This big timber here is in the right place to shelter us from the
northwest winds. We must also remember that we’ve got to protect
ourselves and stock against a surprise by hostile Injuns. I ain’t
looking for trouble of that kind, but it’s always best to be prepared
for such emergencies. So I think it’ll be best to move out to the
bank of that ravine Peck spoke about, say two or three hundred yards
from the timber, which will still furnish us good protection from
the northwesters. In case of hostilities the water in the ravine
can’t be cut off from us. Into the banks of that ravine we’ll dig our
dugouts–one for ourselves, on one side, and a stable for the stock on
the other side, opposite and facing each other. We’ll cut and split
some slabs in the timber and lay a sort of a floor across the ravine,
for a gangway, and it’ll be as handy as a pocket in a shirt.

“Now, Peck, while Jack goes to set his traps for beaver, suppose you
saddle up Black Prince and go out and kill a buffalo calf or yearling
and bring in a quarter or so of fresh meat. And, as there’s plenty
of time yet before night, while you’re at it you may as well make a
complete circuit of the camp, say about a mile or two out, and see if
there’s anybody or any sign of anybody in this neighborhood besides
ourselves.”

“Tom,” I said, “I believe it would be better for me to go out and kill
a yearling first and bring in some meat and then take a ride around
the country afterward; for if I kill the yearling first and leave the
carcass till I make the circuit of the camp the wolves will get away
with the meat before I get back to it; and if I make the round first
before killing our meat I’ll be scaring all the near buffalo away.”

“You’re right,” replied the old man; “do as you say. I’m glad to see
that you do a little thinking of your own once in a while.”

“And I believe I can kill two birds with one stone,” I continued, “by
taking some strychnine along and baiting the remains of the yearling
after I cut off the hind quarters, and in the morning I’ll have a few
coyotes to skin to give us a start in business.”

“That’s a good idea, too; but don’t fool away too much time, for I want
you to make that round of the neighborhood before night.”

As I got our package of strychnine out of the wagon, opened it, and
took out one of the phials to put in my pocket, Tom suggested:

“You’d better open that bottle here an’ put in a little water to
dissolve the crystals; you’ll find it’s easier to handle in liquid than
in crystals, and also more savin’.”

Tom’s suggestion was a good one and I did as he advised. Then hanging
the hatchet and field-glass to my saddle, I mounted and rode away.

Crossing the creek just below the beaver dam, where Jack was already
looking out locations for his traps, I rode through the timber to look
for the most convenient band of buffalo, and espied one that suited my
purpose about a mile down the prairie bottom, strung out in single file
on the trail, coming in to the creek for water.

Recrossing the creek so as to keep out of their sight behind the
timber, I rode down to a point that would intercept them and prepared
to await my game. The place I had chosen to wait for them was an old
buffalo crossing, the converging trails, deeply worn in the banks on
either side, showing that it was much used. They would have to pass me
here, and, again recrossing the creek to the north side, I rode down
into the timber, tied my horse behind some bushes, and returned afoot
to the crossing, being careful not to give the buffalo my wind.

Soon they passed me, went on down, drank, and climbed the hills on the
other side of the stream. As the young cattle filed past me I selected
a yearling and, as he came opposite, shot him, and he dropped dead in
the trail. The rest gave a jump or two and went on. I cut off the hind
quarters and with some trouble put them on Prince.

Then stripping back the skin from the fore quarters, I applied my
solution of strychnine, a few drops here and there over the meat and
entrails, and left them for wolf bait.

Having left my meat at camp, I rode away on my scout, reaching camp
again about sunset.

Just after we finished supper the howling of a pack of coyotes–which
we seldom noticed–prompted me to exclaim:

“Make the most of your time, my lads, for if you happen to scent that
bait I put out for you I’ll be skinning some of you in the morning.”

The howling and barking of wolves was such familiar music to us
that it seldom provoked remark, for we had scarcely passed a night
since entering the buffalo range that we had not been serenaded by
the shrill, discordant notes of the coyote, varied occasionally by
the deeper bass of the big, gray buffalo wolves, or “lobos,” as the
Mexicans call them.

Next morning Jack and I hurried through the work of watering and
changing the animals to fresh grass, while Tom prepared breakfast. We
were impatient to be off, and after the meal, taking our rifles in
addition to revolvers, we started out to our respective tasks, Jack
afoot and I on Black Prince.

As I approached my wolf baits I disturbed a couple of coyotes–probably
late comers that had but recently found the carcass, for they certainly
gave no evidence of the effects of strychnine as they loped off on the
prairie a little way and there sat on their haunches licking their
chops and watching me as though reluctant to leave their feast.

I tied Prince a few rods away from the bait, of which but little
remained, while I walked about through the tall grass, looking up
the dead wolves, three of which I noticed lying by the bait before
dismounting. On looking about I found five more, at varying distances
from the carcass, none of them more than a hundred yards away. Some of
them were still warm.

I put down the rifle, drew my knife, and went to work. Having had
considerable experience in skinning wolves, I was quite expert at it
and soon had the eight pelts stripped off the dead coyotes and rolled
up together ready for tying on behind my saddle.

The process of skinning was simple. I turned the wolf on his back and
with the point of my knife split the skin from the point of the chin
down the throat and belly to the root of the tail; then split the
inside of each leg from the foot to an intersection of the first, or
belly cut; then stripped back the skin from belly, legs, and sides. The
tail was then slipped off the bone whole, without splitting, in this
way: strip the skin of the tail away from the bone for about an inch
at the root; then slip a split stick over the bone, take an end of the
stick in each hand, clamping the bone tightly, and give a jerk toward
the end of the tail. The bone slips out of its skin as if it were
greased.

When it came to tying the skins on behind the saddle, Prince objected
very strongly, and I was compelled to blindfold him before I could
accomplish the job. After I had mounted, Prince was still nervous,
but by coaxing and talking kindly to him I soon got him reconciled to
carrying the burden.

When I reached camp I found Jack jubilating over three fine beavers
which he had carried up from the creek. He was grumbling because he
had not put out more traps.

“Time enough,” said Tom consolingly. “We’ve now found out that there’s
plenty of ’em there and can wait awhile. Their fur’ll be getting
heavier an’ better all the time.”

He and Jack were finishing skinning the third one as I dismounted and
threw down my batch of coyote pelts.

“How many did you get?” asked Jack.

“Only eight,” I replied. “If I’d had time to have killed and poisoned
three or four buffalo in different directions out around camp I’d ‘a’
got as many as the horse could carry.”

“Time enough for the wolves, too, by and by,” said Tom.

“Now, men,” said Tom after we had discussed beaver and how to catch
them, “while you were out I went over to the ravine and found a good
place for our dugouts and measured and staked off the ground where
we’ll dig ’em. After dinner we can move camp over there close to the
work. And while I’m getting the grub ready you two can water the horses
and mules and be a-making a lot of little pins to peg your skins down
to dry.”

After dinner we moved camp close to the bank of the ravine, where Tom
had marked out the ground for our winter quarters. On the opposite bank
he had staked out a site for a larger dugout for a stable. The ravine
here was narrow, and by a good jump we could clear the water that
occupied its bottom. On top of the banks the ground for some distance
around was smooth and level, bearing no other vegetation but the short,
nutritious buffalo-grass.

Pitching our tent in a convenient place for our work, we turned out
the stock, picketing the gray mare and Prince. Tom was to ride the
“buckskin” bronco to look for a hay-field.

Jack and I soon had our coyote and beaver pelts stretched and pegged
down on a smooth piece of ground.

“I’ll try to get back,” said Tom as he mounted Vinegar, “in time
for you men to go and put out your baits for the night; and in the
meantime, while you’re resting, you may as well get out the pick and
shovel and turn yourselves loose on them dugouts, just to see if you’ve
forgot how to work. You’d better begin on the horses’ stable and we’ll
try to finish that up first, for if a ‘norther’ should catch us the
stock’d be in a bad fix for shelter, while our tent’d shelter us, all
right.”

In a couple of hours Tom returned, reporting that he had found, in a
bend of the creek just below us, a large bottom that would afford us
all the hay we would want.

“Now, men,” he said as he unsaddled and turned out the bronco, “we’ve
got lots to do that’s pressing us, and, as the wolf poisoning and
beaver trapping ain’t pressing and won’t suffer any loss by waiting
a few days, I’ve been thinking that we’d better let the pelts go for
a while and put in all our time at haymaking and digging till we get
everything made snug for cold weather.”

Tom’s suggestion seemed so reasonable that we agreed with him and
decided to let the pelts alone for a while.

Tom got his scythe out of the wagon and “hung” it and then went down to
the timber to make a couple of wooden hay-forks. When he had returned
from the timber with his wooden forks he remarked as he sat down and
began whittling the prongs to points and otherwise smoothing them up
with his knife:

“While I was at it I cut a lot of poles for a hay frame to put on top
of the wagon-box to haul hay on; and I also cut some poles to lay on
the ground under our freight when we unload the wagon.”

Later in the day we unloaded the wagon, piling the contents on the
poles inside the sideboards, which we had taken off together, leaving
the bows on them. After the goods were thus piled up the wagon-sheet
was stretched over the bows and securely tied down and the load was
thus protected from the weather.

Tired and very hungry after our hard day’s work, we devoured our supper
and, after agreeing to devote the next day to digging and haymaking,
were soon sound asleep.

After breakfast next morning Tom shouldered the scythe and his rifle
and set out for the hay-field.

When we had cleared away the breakfast dishes Jack chose the
pick-and-shovel work and was soon making the dirt fly out of the hole
on the other side of the ravine, while I set to making a hay frame of
crossed poles on top of the wagon-box, notched and lashed together and
held in place by strips of rawhide cut from the skin on the yearling
buffalo quarters. Now and then on the still morning air, although about
a mile away, we could hear the “whick-whack” as Tom whetted his scythe.

At nine o’clock Jack went to the hay-field to help Tom, while I put on
the dinner, to which I called them by flag at noon. In the afternoon
they returned to their haymaking, and by evening they had a nice lot of
hay in cocks which would do to haul and stack next day. After finishing
the hay frame I worked at digging in the dugout.

Buffalo were to be seen on the prairie all about us, and now and then
a few antelope made their appearance, but we were too busy to spare
the time to go out and kill any. Flocks of water-fowl–wild geese,
brants, ducks, and sand-hill cranes–were seen and heard flying over
and sometimes alighted in the pond formed by the beaver dam, and also
seemed to come down at a point several miles down the creek, which
indicated that there was a body of water there.

In the evening when the men had returned from the hay-field we all
stood for a while looking down the valley and remarking on the
appearance of civilization imparted to the scene by the distant flat
dotted over with cocks of hay. But in the morning at daylight, on again
looking in that direction, we were filled with indignation to see that
during the night a herd of buffalo had preempted our hay-field and had
trampled, horned, and scattered all the nice cocks in every direction,
and were now bedded on the ground, probably chewing their cuds in total
indifference to our rights after almost destroying the previous day’s
work of our haymakers.

“I’ll make wolf bait of one of ’em for spite, so I will,” said Jack as
he seized a rifle and started down the hollow to get a shot.

“Don’t kill more’n one, Jack, just enough to scare them off,” suggested
Tom as the irate Irishman sneaked off down the ravine, “for we don’t
want our hay ground littered up with dead buffalo and dead wolf
carcasses.”

For some minutes Tom and I stood watching the buffalo to see what
the Irishman would do for them. They were all lying down in apparent
perfect contentment except one large bull. We kept our eyes on the
big bull and after a time saw the huge beast drop, and immediately
afterward the report of the rifle reached our ears. The rest of the
buffalo jumped to their feet in alarm at the sound of the shot, but,
instead of running away, stood staring at the timber from whence Jack
had fired; and had he desired to do so he could probably have remained
in concealment and shot several more, for the buffalo do not readily
take the hint of danger till they can see the enemy. Presently we
saw the herd stampede, and at the same time our Irishman made his
appearance, running out of the timber shouting and firing another shot
over them to give them a good scare.

“Our hay’s ruined entirely,” he said as he put away his rifle and sat
down to breakfast, “scattered all about and tramped over. Even what we
left in the windrows is all horned and tossed about. We may be able to
rake up some of it, but it’ll be hardly worth the effort. But I took me
satisfaction out of that big fellow–I got a good broadside shot at him
and must have shot him through the heart, for he dropped in his tracks.
Peck had better go down there this evening and put some poison on the
carcass, and be taking a few wolf pelts, too, while we’re a-haymaking.”

“Well,” said Tom, “we’ll have to stand these night-prowling buffalo off
some way, and I think the best way will be for Peck to mount one of the
horses just before night and ride ’round the neighborhood and drive
off any herds that seem to be heading toward our hay-field. I wouldn’t
kill any more of them at present, for we can’t spare the time to do
much wolf skinning, but just stampede them and stand them off for a
few days till we get our hay cut and hauled; then you may go for them,
and the wolves, too. We don’t often have occasion to take the hide off
a buffalo, but I’ve been thinking it would be a good scheme to skin a
few of the first ones we kill till we get hides enough to lay over the
timbers on top of our dugouts before we throw the dirt on, to keep the
fine dirt from sifting down on the inside; so, Peck, you may as well
take the hide off this one and bring it up to camp when you go down
there to poison the meat for wolf bait.

“While Jack and I are mowing to-day you can look out a suitable place
along up the ravine here above camp where we can make a crossing, and
dig down the banks a little, throwing the dirt into the hollow so’s we
can cross the wagon over; and while we’re hauling hay we’ll just leave
the wagon over on the other side of the draw. We’ll stack the hay, as
we haul it, on the bank, close up to the stable so’s it’ll be handy.

“And, mind you, that at no time and under no circumstances must the
camp guard leave camp.”

“Have you seen any fresh signs, Tom, that make you think there’s
Indians about?” I asked.

“Not a thing, but I want to keep you ‘minded with the idea that in
this country ‘eternal vigilance is the price of life, liberty, and
the pursuit of happiness,’ as the Bible says. We know how tricky
Injuns are, and, although we’ve seen no fresh signs, a prowling party
is likely to drop onto us any time; and just think what a fix we’d
be in if they should happen to get into our camp and all hands away.
How completely they’d have the drop on us! I’m not scared of them,
nor trying to scare you, but we’ve got to keep our eyes peeled and be
prepared all the time.”

[Illustration: _Camp of the Wolf Hunters_]

“All right,” I replied with an air of more confidence than I really
felt, “I guess Found and I will be able to take care of camp.”

“Of course,” continued Tom reassuringly, “all Injuns ain’t hostile, but
we’ve got to keep on the safe side; and if a party of them approaches
our camp at any time, even if they profess to be friendly, we must
stand them off and never allow more than a few–just what we feel sure
we can handle–to come into camp at a time; and even then, always keep
your eyes on them and your arms and cartridges handy.”

Leaving me with these cheerful subjects for thought, the two men
proceeded to their work.

After they left I moved our horses and mules across the ravine where
the dog and I could guard them on one side, while on the other the two
haymakers would be some protection. During the forenoon I worked at the
banks of the gulch, a little above our tent, to make a crossing for the
wagon.

In searching for the place for a crossing for the wagon I discovered a
little spring of water trickling out of the bank a few steps above our
dugouts. It was only a weak vein, but by digging a pit under it, in
which we planted an empty barrel, we made a reservoir that furnished us
an abundance of good water.

The discovery and improvement of this little spring made our camp an
ideal one. At first we had expected to use backwater from the beaver
dam, but we soon realized that the trash from our camp might render
this water unfit for drinking and cooking; and but for finding the
spring we should have been obliged to carry water from the creek, which
would have been laborious and inconvenient.

When an occasional rain or melting snow flushed out the trash in the
ravine we could use that water for our stock for a few days, but at
other times we watered them at the creek.

I felt more confidence in the protection afforded by our shepherd dog
than in all the measures we were taking for the safety of our outfit.
With the natural instinct of his breed, Found spent most of his time
out with the stock, always selecting a position on some elevation
between our animals and camp where he could see all that was going on
in our neighborhood; and I was satisfied that neither friend nor foe
could approach without his giving notice.

At noon when the men came in to dinner they reported that they had
raked up a good load of the hay that had been scattered, and in the
afternoon they took the mules and wagon with them and Tom brought the
first load to camp on returning in the evening, while Jack remained and
began skinning the dead buffalo. When I joined him we soon stripped the
hide off, applied the strychnine to the carcass, and left it for the
wolves.

“First come, first served, will be the rule here to-night,” I remarked
as we started to camp. “The first wolves to reach the bait will
probably get laid out before they have time to get half a feed, while
those that come later may not get strychnine enough to give them a
bellyache.”

“How many do you expect to find in the morning?” asked Jack.

“Oh, about eight or ten for the first night will be a pretty fair haul;
but by to-morrow night I’ll poison the bait again, and by that time it
ought to catch more–maybe as many as twelve or fifteen–for the scent
of the dead buffalo will then attract them from a greater distance.”

I did even better than I anticipated, for next morning I found thirteen
dead wolves lying around the bait awaiting my skinning knife. Jack
remained in camp until I had skinned the wolves, brought in the pelts
and pegged them down to dry, after which he took the team and went out
to the hay-field where Tom was mowing.

The dead buffalo only lasted for three nights’ baiting, by which time I
had taken nearly fifty pelts, some big gray wolves but mostly coyotes
and little yellow foxes. We killed no more buffalo for wolf baits until
the more important work was done.

Our haymakers were now making a good showing, bringing in and stacking
a load at noon and another at night, and in a week we had stacked as
much hay as we should need.

While doing duty as camp guard, I had put in all my spare time throwing
dirt out of our stable dugout and had the excavation about completed.
While Jack and I were doing a little trimming up inside and cutting a
doorway through the wall of dirt on the side next the ravine, Tom had
gone into the timber and cut and split a lot of poles and slabs to
support the roof of dirt.

First putting a small log, twenty-four feet long, on the brink of each
side of the excavation, to serve as “plates” to rest the roof timbers
on, we then laid twelve-foot slabs and poles across from side to side,
as closely as they would fit, covering the larger crevices with brush.

“Now,” said Tom, stepping back to take an observation of our work when
we had reached this point, “ef we had buffalo-skins enough to cover
it, to keep the fine dirt from sifting through, we’d be ready to go to
throwing the dirt on an’ soon have the horses’ stable finished up so’s
we could go to work on our own quarters.”

“Well, we can soon get them,” I replied. “In the morning Jack and I
will go out and kill a few buffalo and bring in the hides, and by
to-morrow night we can have this dugout about completed.”

Next morning the Irishman and I saddled up and started out to secure
the hides. We could have killed what we needed out of the first band
we struck, but, as I wished to use the carcasses for wolf baits, we
decided to distribute the baits at different points about the camp and
not less than a mile from it.

We killed and skinned six bulls, making a complete circuit of our camp,
and by noon had returned with the hides.

After dinner we spread enough of them over the roof timbers to
completely cover them and then set to work shovelling on the dirt,
making quite a mound of it. This finished our stable, except for the
mangers and feed-boxes inside and making a door of some kind to close
up the opening we had cut through the bank. This last Tom made next day
by a frame of poles on which was tacked a buffalo-hide. This door was
hung on rawhide hinges.

“Now, men,” said the old man as we topped out the dirt roof and
smoothed it up, “we’ve a snug shelter here for our stock in case of
need, but, of course, we won’t put ’em into it till we have to. As long
as it’s fair they’ll do better out on the buffalo-grass, as they’ve
been doing. Our stable, hay, an’ grain will be our reserve for stormy
weather or when the grass is covered with snow. We must still work
hard till we get our own winter quarters finished up, an’ then let the
weather turn loose–we’ll be ready for it.”

Toward evening I made the round of the buffalo carcasses and poisoned
them for the night’s catch of wolves.

As we gathered around the supper table in the evening I suggested:

“As I expect a big job of wolf skinning in the morning, I guess I’ll
need help, and maybe I had as well take Jack along with me and be
breaking him in.”

“All right,” replied the Irishman, “if Tom says so, I’m your
huckleberry. How many skins are you going to get this haul?”

“Well, I don’t know, but, putting it low, I ought to find at least
five or six around each bait, and maybe twice that many, so you see,
skinning, bringing in, and pegging down thirty-five or forty wolf pelts
is no small job.”

“Well, it’ll take the two of you the whole forenoon,” said Tom
ruefully, “but the wolfskins must be taken care of–that’s what we’re
here for. Still, I’m mighty anxious to get the other dugout done, so I
guess you’d better not kill any more buffalo for bait unless we need
some more of their skins to cover our dugout. These six will keep you
a-poisoning and a-skinning for at least three or four days to come,
and all of that time there’ll not be much done on the dugout, for part
of my time’ll be taken up doing the cooking an’ camp work. But go ahead
with your wolf killing, for every pelt cured is as good as six bits or
a dollar in pocket at the least calculation.”

After an early breakfast next morning Jack and I mounted and started.
We found fully as big a job as I had anticipated, for the night’s catch
yielded us over fifty wolfskins. It took us most of the morning, brisk
work, to get them all gathered in, and our horses were so well loaded
with the hides that we had to walk and lead them back to camp. Jack
proved an apt pupil at wolf skinning and soon could snatch a hide off
as quickly as I.

When we reached camp with our loads we found that Tom, with his usual
foresight, had whittled us out a good lot of pegs, which greatly
assisted us in disposing of the pelts, and we soon had them stretched
and pegged down, flesh side up, on a smooth piece of ground near the
tent where we had already started a drying yard.

Each evening, while there was anything left for a wolf bait of the
buffalo we had recently killed, I made the round, poisoning the flesh,
and next morning Jack and I visited the baits, skinned the dead wolves,
brought in the pelts, and pegged them down. This generally “spoiled”
the forenoon, while the afternoon would be spent in digging our
dugout; but, as our winter quarters were to be only about half the size
of the stable, we soon had the new excavation finished.

After putting the roof timbers on our dugout we placed the stove in
its corner, put on the extra joints of pipe provided for the purpose,
extending it up through an opening in the slabs, and plastered a lot
of mud around the pipe to prevent it setting fire to the timbers. Then
spreading buffalo-hides over the timbers, we heaped up the earth on it,
as we had on the other one, and our winter residence was ready for its
furniture and tenants.

Our ten-foot-square room was rather cramped quarters to hold us and all
that we had designed to put in it, and we found it necessary still to
use the tent to store such of our plunder as would not need protection
from the cold.

Without giving any reason, Tom insisted on moving the tent up as close
against the rear side of the pile of dirt that constituted the roof
of our dugout as we could get it. I suspected then that this was one
of his strategic plans, and a few days later my surmise was verified
when we found him at work digging a tunnel from the dugout room to the
centre of the tent. By this underground connection we could go from one
place to the other without being exposed and, if necessary, could use
the tent as a lookout station.

On the evening that we moved into the dugout, as we sat down to our
first meal in winter quarters, Tom remarked with evident satisfaction:

“Now, men, we’ve got things in shape so that we’re ready for a cold
snap, snow-storm, or norther ef one chances to come this way. From now
on we can take it easier. There will be a lot of trimming an’ tidying
up to do about camp yet for several days, an’ while I’m putting on the
finishing touches you two can light out and go to poisoning wolves an’
trapping beaver or hunting any other game that you can find. You ought
to explore the neighborhood for ten or twelve miles around in every
direction. It’s about time, too, for one of us to take a trip over to
the fort to get our mail an’ find out what’s going on in the world.”

“Well, Tom, what are the orders for to-morrow?” said I.

“Why, you an’ Jack had better go out an’ kill a few more buffalo for
baits an’ Jack can set his traps for some more beaver. You might both
of you ride up or down the creek for a few miles now and then, to learn
the country like an’ maybe pick up an antelope or some wild geese or
ducks, to make a change in our bill of fare. An’ about to-morrow or
next day or the day after, when I get things pretty well shaped up
about camp, I think I’ll ride over to the fort an’ get our mail an’ see
what’s going on in the United States.”

“In a little while,” remarked Jack, “if our luck holds out, we’ll be
gettin’ a big lot of wolfskins dried. How are we going to stow ’em away
to take care of ’em till spring?”

“Well,” replied Tom, “in a few days I’ll rig up a lever to press ’em
with, an’ then as fast as we get a hundred or so dried we’ll put fifty
of ’em in a pile, press ’em down tight, an’ tie ’em in bales with
rawhide strips an’ then store the bales away in the tent.”

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