« FöregåendeFortsätt »
dreary and brown with the withering touch of autumn. The spectacle was such as men still young have seen in these western lands, but which no man will see again. The vast plain swarmed with the moving multitude. The tribes of the Missouri and the Yellowstone had by this time abundance of horses, the best of which were used for war and hunting, and the others as beasts of burden. These last were equipped in a peculiar manner. Several of the long poles used to frame the teepees, or lodges, were secured by one end to each side of a rude saddle, while the other end trailed on the ground. Crossbars lashed to the poles just behind the horse kept them three or four feet apart, and formed a firm support, on which was laid, compactly folded, the buffalo-skin covering of the lodge. On this, again, sat a mother with her young family, sometimes stowed for safety in a large open willow basket, with the occasional addition of some domestic pet, — such as a tame raven, a puppy, or even a small bear-cub. Other horses were laden in the same manner with wooden bowls, stone hammers, and other utensils, along with stores of dried buffalo-meat packed in cases of rawhide whitened and painted. Many of the innumerable dogs — whose manners and appearance strongly suggested their relatives the wolves, to whom, however, they bore a mortal grudge — were equipped in a similar way, with shorter poles and lighter loads. Bands of naked boys, noisy and restless, roamed the prairie, practising their bows and arrows on any small animal they might find. Gay young squaws — adorned on each cheek with a spot of ochre or red clay, and arrayed in tunics of fringed buckskin embroidered with porcupine quills — were mounted on ponies, astride like men; while lean and tattered hags — the drudges of the tribe, unkempt and hideous — scolded the lagging horses, or screeched at the disorderly dogs, with voices not unlike the yell of the great horned owl. Most of the warriors were on horseback, armed with round white shields of bull-hide, feathered lances, war-clubs, bows, and quivers filled with stone-headed arrows; while a few of the elders, wrapped in robes of buffalo-hide, stalked along in groups with a stately air, chatting, laughing, and exchanging unseemly jokes.
“We continued our march,” says La Vérendrye, “sometimes south-southwest, and now and then northwest; our numbers constantly increasing by villages of different tribes which joined us.” The variations of their course were probably due to the difficulties of the country, which grew more rugged as they advanced, with broken hills, tracts of dingy green sage-bushes, and bright, swift streams, edged with cottonwood and willow, hurrying northward to join the Yellowstone. At length, on the first of January, 1743, they saw what was probably the Bighorn Range of the Rocky Mountains, a hundred and twenty miles east of the Yellowstone Park.
1 The above descriptive particulars are drawn from repeated observation of similar scenes at a time when the primitive condition of these tribes was essentially unchanged, though with the difference that the concourse of savages counted by hundreds, and not by thousands.
A council of all the allied bands was now called, and the Frenchmen were asked to take part in it. The questions discussed were how to dispose of the women and children, and how to attack the enemy. Having settled their plans, the chiefs begged their white friends not to abandon them; and the younger of the two, the Chevalicr, consented to join the warriors, and aid them with advice, though not with arms.
The tribes of the western plains rarely go on warparties in winter, and this great expedition must have been the result of unusual exasperation. The object was to surprise the Snakes in the security of their winter camp, and strike a deadly blow, which would have been impossible in summer.
On the eighth of January the whole body stopped to encamp, choosing, no doubt, after the invariable winter custom of western Indians, a place sheltered from wind, and supplied with water and fuel. Here the squaws and children were to remain, while most of the warriors advanced against the enemy. By pegging the lower edge of the lodge-skin to the ground, and piling a ridge of stones and earth upon it to keep out the air, fastening with wooden skewers the flap of hide that covered the entrance, and keeping a constant fire, they could pass a winter endurable to Indians, though smoke, filth, vermin, bad air, the crowd, and the total absence of privacy,
would make it a purgatory to any civilized white man.
The Chevalier left his brother to watch over the baggage of the party, which was stored in the lodge of the great chief, while he himself, with his two Canadians, joined the advancing warriors. They were on horseback, marching with a certain order, and sending watchmen to reconnoitre the country from the tops of the hills.1 Their movements were 80 slow that it was twelve days before they reached the foot of the mountains, which, says La Vérendrye, “are for the most part well wooded, and seem very high.”2 He longed to climb their great snowencumbered peaks, fancying that he might then see the Pacific, and never dreaming that more than eight hundred miles of mountains and forests still lay between him and his goal.
Through the whole of the present century the villages of the Snakes were at a considerable distance west of the Bighorn Range, and some of them were even on the upper waters of the Pacific slope. It is likely that they were so in 1743, in which case the war-party would not have only reached the Bighorn Mountains, but have pushed farther on to within sight of the great Wind River Range. Be this as it may, their scouts reached the chief winter camp of the Snakes, and found it abandoned, with lodges still standing, and many household possessions left behind. The enemy had discovered their approach, and fled. Instead of encouraging the allies, this news filled them with terror, for they feared that the Snake warriors might make a circuit to the rear, and fall upon the camp where they had left their women and children. The great chief spent all his eloquence in vain, nobody would listen to him; and with characteristic fickleness they gave over the enterprise, and retreated in a panic. “Our advance was made in good order; but not so our retreat,” says the Chevalier's journal. “Everybody fled his own way. Our horses, though good, were very tired, and got little to eat.” The Chevalier was one day riding with his friend, the great chief, when, looking behind him, he missed his two French attendants. Hastening back in alarm, he found them far in the rear, quietly feeding their horses under the shelter of a clump of trees. He had scarcely joined them when he saw a party of fifteen hostile Indians stealthily creeping forward, covered by their bull-hide shields. He and his men let them approach, and then gave them a few shots; on which they immediately ran off, firearms being to them an astounding novelty.
1 At least this was done by a band of Sioux with whom the writer once traversed a part of the country ranged by these same Snakes, who had lately destroyed an entire Sioux village.
• The Bighorn Range, below the snow line, is in the main well timbered with pine, fir, oak, and juniper.