Kings of the Missouri/Chapter 6
JIM BRIDGER walked over to a small tent back of the cook-tent, pushed aside the flaps and said:
"You can come out now. Boat's gone."
The tent was seemingly filled with supplies. A barrel, empty, moved aside and from a little pen within the barricade emerged Lander and Papa Clair.
"Where's Tilton?" asked Papa.
"He and his men have started down the river in two twenty-foot dugouts. Had all I could do to keep the boys from mounting 'em. At that Long Simons heaved Tilton into the river. We shall start as soon as the keelboat is under way."
Greeted by friendly grins and much coarse humor Lander and his old friend walked to the river bank, where some thirty men were ready to start the keelboat on its long trip. Etienne was to go as master, or "patron," and as the position included the responsibilities of steersman he was now standing on top of the long cargo box with his men grouped in the bow. For the first of the trip there would be no cordelling, as several bars were to be crossed at this stretch of the river and poles could be used. Prevost waved his hand to the two new recruits and called out:
"Change your minds. Leave the mule outfit and go with me, Etienne Clair and young man. I have been sick from laughing ever since the cap'n of the Golden Queen told me how the sentry bawled out 'Deer on the starboard bow,' and they sent off the skiff to find that rascal of a Pinaud hanging from a tree. There is room for you two if you will come."
"You make me very happy with your kind words, Etienne Prevost, but I will have none of the river," replied Papa Clair.
"An' you'll git me mad, Prevost, if you try to steal my men. I need 'em," warned Bridger.
Prevost smiled and called to his crew. The men separated into two groups, each man picking up a long pole with a knob on the end. Men on the bank pushed the long craft off until its nose caught the current.
"A bas les perches!" roared Prevost, grasping the long tiller, although he would not be called on to steer so long as the polemen propelled it.
Each man brought the knob of the pole into the hollow of his shoulder and thrust the tip over the side until it found bottom. Then a St. Louis Creole started a song; the men ashore, and those on board not busily engaged, began discharging their guns. The two groups of polemen became two lines, one on each side of the boat.
Along each side of the boat extended the passe avant, or narrow runway, strongly cleated to afford a grip for the men's feet. Surging against their poles and treading on the cleats with every ounce of leg-strength the men began to force the boat from beneath their feet. To those ashore it looked as though they were walking down the runways.
As the boat began to respond to the pressure the polemen leaned so far forward as to seize the cleats with their free hands, presenting the grotesque spectacle of walking on all fours. Under such an impetus the boat conquered the muddy current, and as the driving force was equally divided held a straight course, the steersmen holding the tiller loosely.
Another volley, supplemented with much shouting, rang out from the bank, and Prevost roared his second order:
"Levez les perches!"
Up came the poles, only to drop overboard as the first order was repeated; and again the two lines of men buckled down to it with their shoulders against the knobs and their feet pushing the cleats forward. To Lander the uninitiated it was a stirring sight, not so much because of its novelty as for the romance and adventure it suggested. The men must carry the long tow-line along shores almost impassable. Whether on the move or tied up for the night there would be much danger from the Indians, especially from the Aricaras. It was destined that some of the light-hearted company would never return.
"Enough powder's been wasted, boys," called out Bridger. "Give 'em cheers and make ready to start. Come and help me get out the equipments."
Lander was soon busy handing out one pair of three-point blankets and powder and ball to each man. Finishing this task he joined Papa Clair and Bridger in assigning the mules. Each man had two, one to ride and one to lead as a pack animal. Then followed the apportionment of goods for each mule, consisting of beaver traps, guns, powder, lead, blankets, liquor in curious flat casks, and clothing. The supplies of bacon and hardtack, and several hundred pounds of corn meal, went with the commissary department, which also had charge of a score of sheep. The last were to furnish meat until the company struck the buffalo country. In addition to Bridger and Papa Clair there were forty-five men in the company.
The scene became very animated when the mules rebelled, some breaking loose and running away, others rolling and scattering their loads. Each man was responsible for his two animals and it was some time before rebels were run down and brought back.
The word to march finally was given. The course was originally a buffalo trail, then an Indian trail and now the mountain man's recognized road. A few years later it would be known as the Oregon Trail and by the plains tribes as "The Great Medicine Road." For two days it followed the Santa Fé Trail, then swung aside to the northwest and after crossing Wakarusa Creek held on for thirty miles to the Kansas.
After a few days of travel the mules became accustomed, if not reconciled, to their burdens and Bridger proceeded to instill a little military discipline. He divided the company into four divisions of nine guards each and named nine officers. Every third day, as soon as camp was made and the mules had been picketed in the middle of the encampment, an officer posted the guards. Each twenty minutes thereafter the officer would call out, "All's well," and each guard in turn was expected to answer. When a man was found asleep at his post he was ordered to give up his gun in Bridger's tent, submit to a fine, usually five dollars, and be sentenced to "three walks," that is to travel afoot for three days. Because of the growing danger from prowling Indians the guards were not permitted to move from their posts, and this rule would have made the struggle against sleep a hard one had they been required to remain on duty longer than the scheduled two and a half hours.
Lander found himself in Porker's division and he fancied the man's eyes had a cruel glint as they rested on him. He disliked the man intensely and wished most heartily he had been assigned to Long Simons' squad. However, he turned to his strange duties with a will, remembering it was Bridger and not Porker who was his boss. And there was much satisfaction in witnessing the esteem in which Bridger held Papa Clair. Papa was not required to act as captain of the guard, as the nine leaders easily looked after the four divisions.
From the start there was much about the adventure which Lander enjoyed immensely. The wildness and freedom of it all was a magnificent revelation to one who for two years had been cooped up in a store. A few minor details were irritating. He had no coffee nor sugar. The interminable bacon was occasionally varied with a piece of mutton, but mutton soon palled on his appetite. His companions encouraged him to hope for better things by repeatedly dwelling on the sumptuous feasts that would follow their first meeting with the buffalo.
All went well with Lander until after they had crossed the Big Blue, fording it near the mouth of the Little Blue. He had ceased to be suspicious of Porker's intentions.
Then came the night when his division stood the first watch.
Porker stationed his men as usual. Lander's pack mule had been possessed of the devil that day, bolting twice over the back trail and losing his load by rolling. No sooner had Lander repacked and secured the load, with his mates a long line of dots on the edge of the plain, than his riding mule viciously leaped sidewise and threw his rider in a patch of prickly pears. Exhausted by his extra exertions and thoroughly disgusted with the prickly pear Lander made camp in a disgruntled frame of mind and dog-tired when assigned to his post.
Those not on duty were smoking and singing and telling stories or grinning secretly as they listened to Bridger's enthusiastic description of the wonders of the Yellowstone country. Bridger picked Papa Clair for his audience as he had not told him the stories before. Papa was polite from his moccasins to his snowy thatch and endeavored to smother any signs of incredulity. Yet the best he could do he could not refrain at times from emitting a low:
"Name of heaven! Holy blue! Caves of war-paint! Cascades of boiling water! A basin filled with scalding water springs which spout high to the heavens! Forests turned to stone! Believe? Mon Dieu! Of course. M'sieu says it. It is enough. It is so. But it can not be any country on the surface of the globe. M'sieu must have gone through a hole and found hell!"
The shouts of laughter greeting such outbursts increased Lander's hunger for companionship. Then he discovered he was so sleepy that only by some miracle could he hope to keep awake. He would be helpless unless he walked about. He fought the minutes standing erect and found himself swaying on his feet. He dared not sit down.
As it grew darker and the camp quieted and there was no one to keep tabs on him he took to trotting round his post in a small circle and found the action did much to keep him up. Every twenty minutes Porker's voice bawled the call, and as often the men repeated it, the answer rippling in a circle about the camp.
Six times the call came and was answered, and Lander ceased his nervous pacing back and forth and became confident he could fight the remaining thirty minutes. There was no life about the camp except as the ghostly forms of gray wolves drifted near to investigate. Never had half an hour dragged out to such a miserable length. But at last came the call, and another ten minutes would see the guards free to seek their blankets.
The ten minutes passed and the relief came on with no one coming to relieve Lander. He could not understand how a mistake could have been made. He did not dare to leave his post to learn the reason; nor did he fancy yelling for the captain to come to him, thereby perhaps arousing the whole camp. Had he been sure the captain was Long Simons he would have risked finding him and explaining.
For the life of him it did not seem that he could endure another twenty minutes, and yet he was determined to hold on for that period. After the new captain called his "all's well," Lander would notice how many men answered. If nine replied besides himself it would show his relief had been posted apart from him. Instead of revealing the captain's error he would steal back to his blankets, soothed with knowing he had acted generously.
By a superhuman effort he kept his eyes open, and at last a voice called out the signal. It was not Long Simons' voice. One, two, three—nine men in all, including Lander, answered. The detail had lacked a man, and he had been held over without being warned of the necessity.
Now ire drove sleep from his mind. It seemed to be the most serious affront that could be put upon him. He tried to recall the captain's voice and identify it. He decided not to answer the next twenty-minute call. The captain would come out to see if he were asleep and he would demand an explanation and ask to be released.
Because of his increasing anger the time passed quickly.
"All's well!" called the captain, his voice sounding much nearer than it did on the first call.
The reply was made by three men, skipped Lander and after a few moments' hesitation was taken up by the fifth guard. As he had expected Lander soon heard the soft steps of some one approaching and made out a vague figure in the starlight.
"Halt!" he snapped.
"That ye, Lander?"
"I should say so. Who are you? Sounds like Rummy."
"Rummy's right," answered the captain, swaggering forward. "Why didn't ye answer my call?"
"Because I've stood one watch and am tired. I wasn't relieved. Get a man here so I can turn in."
"Like thunder! Ye'll have to stick. I'm a man shy. One of my men was kicked by a mule. An' I want to know th' real reason why ye didn't answer when ye heard me hoot. Orders says ye must."
"I've told you. Keep the post yourself. I'm going to turn in." And shouldering his rifle Lander stalked toward the camp.
"Say, ye danged greenhorn, come back here on th' jump. Sleepin' on yer post——"
"You're a liar!"
"An' darin' to tell me to stand yer watch! I'll——"
"You go plumb to the devil!" snarled Lander, resuming his way.
He believed he had been in his blankets only a minute when he was aroused by a moccasin stirring his ribs. He blinked and sat up, then leaped to his feet inarticulate from wrath. Porker stood there, glaring at him evilly.
"So ye dis'beyed orders an' quit yer post in th' Injun country, ye runt," accused Porker. "I'll make a zample of ye."
"You put up that job with Rummy. Played me for two watches, you overgrown jackass."
With a deep-throated growl Porker drew back a foot and Lander leaped aside to escape a kick.
"I'll l'arn ye to dis'bey orders, an' give me any back talk," roared Porker, rushing him.
Lander dropped his hand to his boot and pulled his knife, informing:
"I've fought your style once. Now you'll fight mine."
Nothing loath, Porker whipped out his butcher-knife and made a murderous jab. To his amazement he felt Lander's knife against his, and the steel seemed to have fingers, for the butcher-knife was sent high in the air.
"Pick it up and come back here," snarled Lander.
"By the Lord Harry! Fighting with weapons in my camp!" thundered Bridger, running between the two.
Both began explaining at once, Porker black with fury at having been disarmed. Bridger silenced them and told Porker to tell his story. Porker did so, making out a very serious case against Lander.
Bridger turned to Lander after Porker had finished and nodded for him to present his defense. Lander quickly narrated his experience. Bridger wheeled on the bully and demanded:
"You put him in to take the place of one of Rummy's men?"
"Had to, boss. One man shy, kicked by a mule."
"Why didn't you explain to him?"
"Didn't 'low there was any call to. Orders is orders an' he quit his post, leavin' it naked."
"I left Rummy there," broke in Lander.
"Porker, you'll act as guard after this. Papa Clair will take your place as captain. Lander, you quit your post without being relieved. It was your place to stick there till morning if necessary. You should have depended on me to see justice was done. You're fined ten dollars and three walks. I'll not take your gun as you may need it against Injuns."
Three days of walking decided Lander it would be better to fit into Bridger's machine than to try to be an independent cog. He also began to appreciate the virtue of placing the general good above any personal preference. He vowed he would never be sentenced to walk again. Yet very soon he was to find himself in trouble, and this time because his intentions were altruistic.
The company had been traveling along south of the Platte and now swung in close to the river. Four days after striking the river two of Bridger's hunters, who had wintered in the mountains and were now on their way to meet the outfit, brought in a load of buffalo meat. The entire company was hungry for fresh meat that was not mutton. The sheep, too, had dwindled in numbers until only Bridger and some of his right-hand men partook of it.
With the imagination of the greenhorn Lander had reveled in his anticipations of buffalo. The old timers had regaled him with descriptions of its lusciousness until his mouth watered. It did not seem as if he could wait until the meat was cooked. When it was found the buffalo chips were too green to burn and that there was no other fuel, he was foremost in foraging far and wide in search of dry sunflower stalks. By means of these the meat finally boiled and the company ravenously gathered for the feast.
As there were no dishes the cook selected a clean spot on the ground and emptied the kettle. Then the men lunged with their long butcher-knives, spearing meat with one hand and holding their little bags of salt in the other. With great zest Lander secured a promising portion but on endeavoring to bolt a morsel found it to be as tough and resilient as rubber. His teeth were strong and sharp-set by hunger but it was impossible for him to chew it, let alone to swallow it.
"Bull!" grunted Long Simons observing the collapse of Lander's hopes. "Tough old bull, too."
It was one of the great disappointments of Lander's life. He had set his heart on that first meal of buffalo steaks. Papa Clair sought to cheer him up by assuring:
"Very soon some fat cows. Ah, name of heaven! But that will be fine eating!"
"Don't tell me any more," growled Lander. "One must be a wolf to eat anything grown in this country."
They pushed on up the river to the South Platte where the company was put on the alert by a scout discovering three dead buffaloes near the confluence of the two forks.
"Injun work! We must 'a' scared 'em away before they could dress the critters," said Bridger.
Throwing out scouts on each side and far in advance they proceeded to investigate the huge carcasses. Bridger examined them carefully and was unable to find a wound.
"Boys, these fellers was killed by a bolt of lightning"," he informed. "See how they fell with their noses close together. Their jackets will do for a bull-boat. Simons, Porker and Rummy, git their hides off. Papa Clair, take some men and git some willow boughs."
In what Lander considered to be a miraculously brief period of time the framework of willow was constructed and the green hides stretched over it. The result was a huge, awkward, buoyant craft, floating the water as gently as a bubble and drawing less than ten inches of water when loaded with three tons of supplies. By aid of this the company crossed the south fork to continue up the south side of the north fork. It was an ideal boat for shallow streams like the Platte, the Cheyenne and the Niobrara, but helpless in deep water where poles could not be used, and dangerous in swift waters where snags were thick, as the covering was easily punctured.
As in other things the white man had improved on the bull-boat of the Missouri tribes, which was nearly circular in shape and propelled by paddles, every stroke causing them to revolve nearly around. This boat, so quickly put together, was twice as long as it was wide and easily controlled by polemen.
After the crossing, and when Chimney Rock came into view. Lander's zeal to be helpful got him into his second bit of trouble. In the clear atmosphere the Rock appeared to be very near, although distant two or three days' journey. Turning his pack mule over to Papa Clair, Lander rode off one side and up a low bluff to see what lay beyond. From Papa Clair he had learned that Bridger believed a large band of Indians was following the outfit. He wished to act the scout and be the first to discover the red men. Instead of Indians he beheld a large body of buffalo. The cows at this season were thin and sorry-looking creatures and poor eating, but near the edge of the herd he made out several that looked very fat. Could he take fat cow meat into camp he would indeed be a hero.
With a kick of the heel he sent the mule sliding down the north side of the bluff and made for the buffaloes. The old bull sentinels lifted their shaggy heads and bellowed a rumbling warning. The herd slowly got in motion and, by the time Lander was clear of the bluff, was in a well-organized retreat, the bulls bringing up the rear and guarding the sides most chivalrously, the cows and calves running in the middle. It was near sundown and the lateral beams of light made gorgeous play on the clouds of dust kicked up by the heavy creatures. Lander kept up the chase for a mile or more, then gave it up as useless and cursing his luck rode back to the company.
When he entered camp he was struck by the silence of the men and their averted faces. When one did look at him, especially if it were Rummy or Porker, he read keen hate in the furtive glance. Bridger sat alone before his small tent, his hands hanging limply over his knees, his brown hair brushed back, and his gray eyes frowning savagely.
"Lander, come here," he sternly called out.
Much puzzled Lander advanced and stood at attention.
"Why did you raise the buffaloes?" curtly demanded Bridger, his eyes now blazing with suppressed wrath.
"Raise the buffaloes," Lander faltered. "Why, I saw some fat cows. I wanted to kill some and bring the boys some real meat. The sheep was bad enough when we had it."
"Never mind that," interrupted Bridger. "You've been guilty of raising the buffaloes. If you was a' Injun, hunting with your tribe, an' you done that your lodge would be cut to pieces by the 'soldiers' an' your dogs killed. If it was the second time you done it you'd be beaten with clubs, perhaps killed. If you was a chief it wouldn't make any difference; for when a white or red raises the buffalo it means his people must go hungry."
"But I didn't know," cried Lander.
"A poor stomach-filler to give hungry men. Another time don't try things you don't know. Put your gun in my camp. Ten dollars fine and five walks."
As Lander slunk back among the men he found no welcome. Muttered curses were hurled at him from all sides. Only the fear of Bridger saved him from violence. Even Long Simons refused to show any good nature and grunted:
"Bridger oughter make ye keep five miles behind us. Then th' Injuns would git ye."
Lander waited for Papa Clair to give him sympathy, but the old man kept away from him. In this fashion did he learn what an unpardonable offense he had committed. Had the company been out of food his thoughtlessness might have sentenced them all to starvation.
This resentment against the man who had raised the buffalo lost none of its edge even after Lander had walked away three days of his sentence. The spectacle of him limping into camp long after the evening meal had been served won him no sympathy. Papa Clair did see to it that his coarse rations were waiting for him.
Fortunately it was not his squad's turn to take a watch until near morning. With nothing but disagreeable thoughts to occupy his mind and denied the companionship of his fellows, Lander sullenly aided in building the raft of cottonwoods on which they crossed the forks of the Laramie. They found several more hunters arrived from the mountains to announce the summer rendezvous would be held on Green River near Horse Creek. The coming of the hunters and their statement that trade would be excellent if the A. F. C. outfit did not reach the rendezvous first put Bridger in good humor. Liquor was served and a big drunk indulged in. Bridger was also elated to learn that Jim Baker, who next to Carson was destined to be most highly valued by Fremont as a scout, was due to arrive soon.
"Dern him for a bunch of foolish fancies an' beliefs in Injun magic," chuckled Bridger reminiscently. "The Snake people have filled him full of funny notions. But as a mountain man there ain't nothing in the Missouri Valley that can teach him tricks."
"I remember when he went to the mountains a boy. Went for the A. F. C. I know of no man that has stuck to the mountains so close as M'sieu Baker," added Papa Clair. "I once saw him lose nine thousand dollars at a monte-bank at a rendezvous. He was on his way to the States to buy a farm. In the morning he started back for the mountains."
Bridger announced the course would be to the Sweetwater, striking the river near Independence Rock. As this route would be a little off the Platte Lander feared lest Baker might miss the outfit and keep on traveling east. He was bold enough to say as much. Bridger eyed him in silence for a minute. Those standing by doubled up and thrust their fists into their mouths. Even Papa Clair smiled.
"For just pure, cussed, fool notions there ain't nothing west of the Mississippi that can show you anything, young man. Git lost! Old Jim Baker git lost on nothing bigger'n a continent? Run by this outfit without seeing the trail? Wal, wal, live an' learn. Only some folks must live a thousand years, I reckon. How many walks left?"
"Spend it trying to turn your thoughts on yourself. Then think of the Rocky Mountains an' try to grasp some of the things you don't seem to cotton to just now."
That last walk was undertaken in much sullenness of spirit. Instead of following the trail made by the many mules Lander deliberately swung off to one side. Owing to the increased danger from Indians Bridger had given back his rifle, and suddenly the ambition seized him to show these uncouth men that he was amply able to care for himself. He would get game and camp by himself. He would not bother to make the outfit's camp that night, but would take his time and might keep away for several days. Then he would coolly drop in on them and refuse food, explaining that he had been stuffing himself.
His plan resulted as any plainsman could have warned him. Once he quit the trail he was lost. He knew which way was west by the sun, but the western horizon was a mighty big stretch to aim at. He also knew the river was somewhere on his right, and that later it would bar his path where it flowed from the south and before swinging east to make the Missouri. But whether he was abreast of the company or had gone ahead of it he had no idea. He knew he had made excellent time as he had munched his hardtack rations and bacon as he walked. That night he camped alone from necessity.
There followed several days of lonely wanderings. His food, consisting of hardtack, was soon consumed. He managed to shoot a prairie hen but had traveled so wide of the river that he depended on buffalo wallows for water. He was hungry, but he suffered more from loneliness than from lack of food.
At last he came to a stream which he followed until it merged with another. He was at the junction of the Sweetwater and the north fork of the Platte, only he did not know it. In the south-east were the Laramie Mountains and in the north the Rattlesnake Hills. These were unnamed so far as his knowledge of them went. It was in the middle of the afternoon when he threw himself down by the stream to drink and bathe his head in the icy water. As he rested there a buffalo cow, fairly fat, clambered down from a circular mound and made for the river. By luck Lander managed to make a kill.
As a butcher he had much to learn but with the knife he was an artist. In a short time he had lifted the back fat and had the tongue cooking over a fire. He commenced to eat when the meat was but partly cooked.
"You're a devil of a feller!" remarked a voice behind him.
Flopping wildly about he beheld a white man, tanned to the color of an Indian, his hair long and unkempt, his face smothered in whiskers.
"Who might ye be, a comin' out hyar an' skeerin' all th' Injuns up into Canada by yer bold ways?"
"Have some grub. I belong with Jim Bridger's outfit. Strayed away like a fool greenhorn. Who are you?"
"Jim Baker, fresh from Green River. Reckon I'll cut off a leetle more meat an' set it to cookin'."
So this was the man who was indirectly responsible for his keeping aloof from his mates until he became lost, Lander mused. This shaggy creature was the man whose coming was so eagerly looked forward to by Bridger. Lander was disappointed. He watched Baker skilfully slice off several portions and proceed to roast them. He observed how he tossed a bit over his shoulder but did not know this was an offering to ghosts.
Baker at last satisfied his enormous appetite and produced a pipe from the bead-embroidered holder worn around his neck. Filling this and lighting it he puffed to the sky and earth and four wind gods, then abruptly inquired:
"How 'bout Injuns?"
"None round here. Ain't seen a one during my tramp. Been going it alone for four days."
"Lawd a massy! But ye be some traveler!" admired Baker. "An' ain't see' no Injuns?"
"Nothing but wolves. There's two now looking down at us from the top of the bluff behind us."
"What's th' color o' their legs?" lazily asked Baker without turning his head.
"Only their heads and shoulders show. Now they're sneaking away."
Baker became silent, seeming to forget he was not alone. Next he muttered to himself and repeated something Lander thought was gibberish, but which was a Snake charm against, evil medicine; for Baker was as superstitious as the Indians among whom he had lived.
"How'd ye git lost?" he abruptly asked.
Lander explained, adding:
"Bridger laughed at my thinking you might pass the outfit without knowing it. But here you are. The laugh will be on him."
"Most likely," gravely agreed Baker. "Ye're a queer young cuss. Can't ye see ye got ahead o' th' outfit? Meetin' me proves that. Ye walked fast, prob'ly a bit skeered. Bridger halted an' sent men back to find ye. He must be cussin' in a way that'd do a man's heart good by this time. While his men was goin' back ye swung out one side an' passed th' outfit. I suttinly want to be round when Jim lets out on ye."
Saying this Baker fished out his medicine bag and cautiously opened it, screening the act with his body. Tired of being ignored and criticized. Lander took his rifle and strolled toward the bluffs.
Baker was absorbed with his medicine and took no notice of Lander's departure until he was well under the bluff. Replacing the bag he glanced about and beheld Lander behind a boulder, his rifle aiming at two wolves. The wolves' heads were all that was visible.
"Don't shoot!" yelled Baker. "Come back here!"
He spoke too late. The rifle cracked and one of the wolves came crashing down the side of the bluff. It rolled to Lander's feet and caused him to think he had lost his senses by exposing the legs of a man.
"Good heavens!" he gasped, staggering back.
With an oath Baker ran to him, yelping:
"Wanter cook us, ye derned fool?"
"What is it?" faltered Lander, glaring at the wolf's head and body and the pair of legs.
"Injuns spyin' on us. Now that ye've salted one o' them th' hull tribe'll be here after our ha'r."
With that he ripped aside the wolfskin and revealed a warrior in full paint. One glance and he muttered:
"Sin an' mis'ry! Jest as I feared. Blackfoot! Lawdy massy, but won't they walk it to us! Wal, he's dead. Wish they all was. Git yer sculp an' we'll be pickin' out a good place to die in."
"Scalp? I—I don't want it," shuddered Lander. "I thought it was a wolf."
"Yer medicine must be mighty weak. Never right to waste ha'r. This is a prime one, too. It counts something to show a Blackfoot sculp. I'll make a feast for my medicine an' give it th' sculp."
Lander turned his head as the mountain man whipped out his knife and quickly raised the warrior's scalp lock and thrust it into his hunting shirt. Then he sounded the Snake cry of defiance.
"You'll call them down on us," remonstrated Lander.
"If they don't kill us ye'll make me die laffin'," informed Baker. "Foller me right pert. I've got a mule hid back a piece, but mules can't save us. It's for us to hole up where we can git water. Load yer rifle an' be ready to drag in th' buf'ler meat when I find a good place."
Baker scurried into the rocks near the river and found an overhanging cliff with a small alcove at its base. There they dragged the cow and collected dry buffalo chips for fuel. If closely besieged it would be impossible. Lander believed, to cover the short distance to the river without challenging death, but Baker smiled grimly and said he would guarantee a full supply of water.
"What we want to do first is to make a fire an' cook up all the meat we can. Some of it we'll jerk. Meat cured in th' sun will keep a good spell."
As he finished speaking he grabbed Lander, who was bending over the cow, and violently hurled him backward. As he did so a dozen war arrows stuck into the carcass.
"Th' derned cusses have come!" grunted Baker, dropping behind a boulder and nursing his rifle.