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with heavily-burdened horses, was as much as could be accomplished with comfort to the travelers and their animals.
The general aspect, however, of the country through which we were traveling, was exceedingly beautiful. The little streams are fringed with a thick growth of pretty trees and bushes, and the buds are now swelling, and the leaves expanding, and the grass is starting, to “welcome back the merry spring.” The birds, too, sing joyously among them-grosbeaks, thrushes, and buntings—a merry and musical band. I am particularly fond of sallying out early in the morning, and strolling around the camp. The light breeze just bends the tall tops of the grass on the boundless prairie, the birds are commencing their matin carolings, and all nature looks fresh and beautiful. The horses of the camp are lying comfortably on their sides, and seem, by the glances which they give me in passing, to know that their hour of toil is approaching, and the patient kine are ruminating in happy unconsciousness.
One morning the scouts came in with the intelligence that they had found a large trail of white men bearing north-west. Captain Wyeth concluded that this was another caravan belonging to a rival trading company, and that it had passed them noiselessly in the course of the
night, in order to be beforehand with them in traffic with the Indian tribes through which they were passing. The party grumbled a little at the unfriendly conduct of the rival caravan in stealing a march upon them; but consoled themselves by making the reflection, that competition is the soul of commerce, and that, in the same circumstances, they would in all probability have acted in the same way. While discussing the affair at breakfast, three Indians, of a tribe called the Ottos, made their appearance. These visitors were suspected of being concerned in the loss of the three horses mentioned above; but as the crime could not be brought home to them by any kind of evidence, they were received in a friendly manner; and, as usual, the pipe of peace was smoked with them.
While these people were smoking the pipe of peace with us after breakfast, I observed that Richardson, our chief hunter--an experienced man in this country, of a tall and iron frame, and almost childlike simplicity of character, in fact, an exact counterpart of Hawkeye in his younger days—stood aloof, and refused to sit in the circle, in which it was always the custom of the old hands to join.
Feeling some curiosity to ascertain the cause of this unusual diffidence, I occasionally allowed my eyes to wander to the spot where our sturdy
bunter stood looking moodily upon us, as the calumet passed from hand to hand around the circle, and I thought I perceived him now and then cast a furtive glance at one of the Indians who sat opposite to me, and sometimes his countenance would assume an expression almost demoniacal, as though the most fierce and deadly passions were raging in his bosom.
I felt certain that hereby hung a tale, and I watched for a corresponding expression, or at least a look of consciousness, in the face of my opposite neighbor; but expression there was none.
His large features were settled in a tranquillity which nothing could disturb, and as he puffed the smoke in huge volumes from his mouth, and the fragrant vapor wreathed and curled around his head, he seemed the embodied spirit of meekness and taciturnity
The camp moved soon after, and I lost no time in overhauling Richardson, and asking an explanation of his singular conduct. "Why," said he, “that Injen that sat opposite to you is my bitterest enemy. I was once going down alone from the rendezvous with letters from St. Louis, and when I arrived on the lower part of the Platte river-just a short distance beyond us here—I fell in with about a dozen Ottos. They were known to be a friendly tribe, and I therefore felt no fear of them. I dis
mounted from my horse, and sat with them on the ground. It was in the depth of winter; the ground was covered with snow, and the river was frozen solid. While I was thinking of nothing but my dinner, which I was then about preparing, four or five of the cowards jumped on me, mastered my rifle, and held my arms fast, while they took from me my knife and tomahawk, my flint and steel, and all my ammunition. They then loosed me, and told me to be off. I begged them, for the love of God, to give me my rifle and a few loads of ammunition, or I should starve before I could reach the settlements. No; I should have nothing ; and if I did not start off immediately, they would throw me under the ice of the river. And,” continued the excited hunter, while he ground his teeth with bitter and uncontrollable rage,
" that man that sat opposite to you was the chief of them. He recognized me, and knew very well why I would not smoke with him. I tell you, sir, if ever I meet that man in any other situation than that in which I saw him this morning, I'll shoot him with as little hesitation as I would shoot a deer. Several years have passed since the perpetration of this outrage, but it is still as fresh in my memory as ever; and I again declare, that if ever an opportunity offers, I will kill that man.” “But,
Richardson, "did they take your horse also ?” “To be sure they did, and my blankets, and every thing I had, except my clothes.” how did you subsist till you reached the settlements? You had a long journey before you.” “Why, set to trappin' prairie squirrels with little nooses made out of the hairs of my
head.” I should remark that his hair was so long that it fell in heavy masses on his shoulders. c squirrels in winter, Richardson! I never heard of squirrels in winter.” “Well, but there was plenty of them, though; little white ones, that lived among the snow.' Such is a trait of human nature in these far western regions.
On the 18th of May the party reached the Platte river, one of the streams which pour their waters into the Missouri. Wolves and antelopes were abundant in the neighborhood of the river, and herons and long-billed curlews were stalking about in the shallows, searching for food. The prairie here is as level as a race-course, not the slightest undulation appearing throughout the whole extent of vision in a northerly and westerly direction; but to the eastward of the river, and about eight miles from it, was seen & range of high bluffs, or sand-banks, stretching away to the south-east till lost in the far distance. The travelers were not less struck with the solemn grandeur of the apparently-bound