Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/94

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
84
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ing effects of our artificial indoor existence, in overheated, overfurnished rooms, at luxurious, appetite-destroying tables, and longs for and if possible obtains for himself, during at least a few weeks out of the year, a life mainly on horseback or afoot, at the oar or in the surf; a fine savage hunger, appeased by few and plain dishes ; an apotheosis of sleep on a bed of balsam in the tent, or in a hammock under the stars!

So much being granted, it is to be remembered that the Indian can give the white man innumerable "points" on the manner and method of "camping out." Instinctively, or perhaps we should say because of generations of training, he knows the best way to do everything. He is never careless, bungling, or ignorant; but deliberate, systematic, and exact to a degree which is the despair of the uninstructed pale-face. He shrinks neither from danger nor exertion in the pursuit of his ends, yet he never for a moment submits to unnecessary discomfort.

In the Dakota lodge we have the perfection of a canvas house, as was practically admitted when it was made the model for the Sibley army tent, now in such general use. Of course, the original lodge of tanned buffalo-hide was warmer and more durable and more completely water-proof; but even now that this is unattainable, the conical tent of the Dakotas remains the best that has been devised. I have tried them all, and nothing would induce me to use any other. It is more roomy and convenient and a thousand times prettier, because of its circular form, than a "wall-tent," besides being less liable to blow over in a high wind. It is perfectly ventilated as well as warmed by the central fire with its opening above; and the chimney-flaps, which are regulated according to the direction of the wind, carry off all the smoke. It can be turned in a few moments into a cool, shady awning in hot weather, and instantly made almost storm-proof in case of a sud-en thunder-shower. The women are adepts at making and breaking camp in the shortest possible time. I have ridden into camp in a cold, drenching rain, at dark and almost as soon as I had contrived with stiffened limbs to dismount from my pony, remove the saddle and bridle, and picket him out, the tepee would be up, beds arranged, a fire made, water fetched, and supper under way —in short, the height of cozy comfort awaiting me.

The men are equally apt at calculating distances, predicting weather, selecting a camping-ground, discovering water in unlikely places, tracking men or animals —in short, in every variety of woodcraft and plainscraft. Both men and women know how to make available a hundred products of nature of which no white man has ever learned the use. They can build a fire in a treeless country, obtain food from the barren wastes in unexpected forms —it may be of a small land-turtle or hidden water-