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Jews in the Wild West

Chapter 9.

Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West

Walnut Creek—Necessity of strict discipline—Neglect of duty—Horses stolen—Cheyenne Indians—Thieves overtaken—Watchfulness of Col. Fremont—Immense herds of Buffalo—Buffalo hunt on a large scale—Buffalo chips—Prairie dogs, Owls, &c. —Indians in camp—Raw Antelope liver.
 

THE cold was intense during our last encampment at Walnut Creek. About an hour after the midnight watch had been relieved, and while the last watch were warming their benumbed limbs before a large fire, one of the men on horse guard left his duty, and came into camp to warm himself—Col. Fremont, who was always on the "qui vive," suddenly appeared at the camp-fire. This was not unusual, that he should personally inspect the guard, but he took such times, when he was least expected-in order to see if the men did their duty properly.

The Colonel accosted the officer of the watch, and enquired if Mr. — had been relieved? He replied that he had not, but gave as an excuse, the coldness of the weather. Col. Fremont lectured the officer, and had another man immediately sent out to take his place. He was highly displeased and as a punishment, told Mr.— that he expected he "would walk," during the next day's travel. I had been relieved a short time before, and I knew how cold I was, and that it was necessary to move about continually, to keep up the circulation of the blood; under the circumstances, I thought the punishment disproportionate to the offense.

I was a novice in camp life among Indians, and was not aware of the stern necessity required for a strict guardianship of the animals; but the sequel proved, that the "slight dereliction" from duty, as I thought it, involved the most serious consequences.

At day-light, when the animals were driven in to be loaded and packed for the day's journey, five of them were missing. The camp was, in consequence, delayed, while the animals were sought; half the day was lost in an ineffectual search. Our Delawares reported having discovered moccasin prints on the snow, and at once decided they were made by Cheyenne Indians, from their peculiar form.

The next day we followed a track made by "shod horses," which convinced us we were on the right scent. The Indians do not shoe their horses.

On the "divide," near the Arkansas River, we saw one of our mules grazing, but so worn out by the hard drive, that be was unable to continue, and the Indians left him on the prairie.

It took us several days to reach the village, which was situated on the part of the Arkansas River known as Big Timber, near Mr. Bent's house.

At this village we found the rest of the animals, and some of the thieves. On examining them, they confessed that they had watched our camp during the night, for an opportunity to run off our animals, but found them guarded, until one man left his watch, and went to warm himself at the camp fire, during which time they stole five of them, and if they had had an hour longer time, they would have stolen a great many more. They went so far as to point out the very man who went to the fire.

Mr. — submitted to the walk with as good a grace as possible. We had a long journey that day, but he manfully accomplished it; and I heard him say, afterwards, that he richly deserved it.

Imagine twenty odd men, 600 miles from the frontiers, at the commencement of a severe winter, deprived of their animals, on an open prairie, surrounded by Comanches, Pawnees and other tribes of hostile Indians. I am fully convinced that but for the "watchfulness" of Col. Fremont, we should have been placed in this awkward predicament.

IMMENSE HERDS OF BUFFALO.

On the divide, between Walnut Creek and the Arkansas River, we traveled through immense herds of buffalo; at one time there could not have been fewer than two hundred thousand in sight.

All around us, as far as the eye could reach, the prairie was completely black with them; they at times impeded our progress. We stopped for more than an hour to allow a single herd to gallop, at full speed, across our path, while the whole party amused themselves with singling out particular ones, and killing them.

I essayed, at different times, to daguerreotype them while in motion, but was not successful, although I made several pictures of distant herds.

On this "divide" I saw numbers of prairie dogs, they ran to their holes on our approach; a small sized owl, most generally stood as sentinel near the hole. Our Delawares told me that the prairie dog, the owl, and the rattlesnake always congregate together—a strange trio.

The prairie after you pass Pawnee Fork, and also on the divide between Walnut Creek and the Arkansas River, is covered with a short grass, called buffalo grass.

Firewood or timber, only grows on the creek, and the artemisia entirely disappears.

We camped one night on the open prairie, without wood, near Pawnee Fork, a tributary of the Kansas. The thermometer was below freezing point, and there was no vestige of wood or timber to be seen.

I was busily engaged making my daguerreotype views of the country, over which I had to travel the next day. On looking through my camera I observed two of our men approaching over a slope, holding between them a blanket filled with something; curious to know what it was, I hailed them, and found they had been gathering "dried buffalo chips," to build a fire with. This material burns like peat, and makes a very hot fire, without much smoke, and keeps the heat a long time; a peculiar smell exhales from it while burning, not at all unpleasant. But for this material, it would be impossible to travel over certain parts of this immense country. It served us very often, not only for cooking purposes but also to warm our half frozen limbs. I have seen chips of a large size—one I had the curiosity to measure, was two feet in diameter.

Our first camp on the Arkansas was visited by a number of Indian hunters, with the product of their skill, in the use of their bows and arrows, hanging across their horses. One of them borrowed my jack-knife, and cutting a piece of the raw antelope liver, deliberately ate it. I remember the peculiar feeling this exhibition excited in my bosom. I considered the Indian little better than a cannibal, and taking back my knife, turned from him in disgust.

I got bravely over it, however, in the course of my journey, as a perusal of these pages will show.
 

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