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Wa-pee Moos-tooch
Chapter III
His First Buffalo Hunt


HORSES were not plentiful in the northern country at the time of which we write. However, White Buffalo's father had a few. And among them one of the best in the land. This horse was known in all the camp as fleet and long-winded. His name was Blackfoot. He had been taken during battle from the Blackfeet. The war party had travelled far before they came into the vicinity of the camp of the Crees, and this horse's hoofs were worn out, and smooth with the crispy grass of the southern and western plains. And when the enemy made their charge, and the Crees were defending their camp, and finally turned their enemies back, this horse was abandoned by his owner, and fell into the hands of White Buffalo's father, he being foremost in the race, and he caught the horse and took him into camp, and was rejoiced to find that when his hoofs were grown and the horse was recuperated from the long journey, that he possessed one of the best horses in the country. It was a great day when White Buffalo was told by his father:

"My son, you can ride Blackfoot today when we come to the buffalo. Come, now, let its see what you can do on the back of a horse."

White Buffalo very well knew that the horse was sure, and that if there was any fault in the hunt it would be owing to his own lack of skill or want of courage. So every boy and girl in the camp would say. But knowing White Buffalo as they did they did not prophecy any failure for him, but it was a proud morning for our young hunter when with a company of his people he rode away from the camp astride an ordinary pony, and leading Blackfoot by his side, even as men were wont to do, thus sparing their runner to the last moment. Only those who have had similar experience can imagine how the boy did feel.

"Now, then, put your saddles on your runners, and see to your girths and stirrup strings, and look to your bowstring. See that they are true and strong. Straighten your arrows, make ready your guns. Sharpen the flint. Rasp up the steel. Put fresh powder in the pail. Now, be smart!"

Thus spoke the captain of the hunt. And presently White Buffalo was on the back of the famous Blackfoot, and Blackfoot was quivering with his nerves all astrung as he looked across the plain on the familiar scene, and watched the great herd moving to and fro, and listened to the big bulls roaring like thunder, and pawing the earth, and shaping the dust pans, which seen a hundred years later are as evidence of our story. White Buffalo felt his horse gathering himself tinder him, and seeming to say, with a quiver of his powerful frame.

"Yes, White Buffalo, it is up to you to do the killing, for we verily will give you the chance. We have taken bigger men than you into the heart of the fleeing herd, and it remains to be seen whether they were better skilled than you are."

This was the challenge which rang in White Buffalo's ears as he sat that horse on that glorious morning in the early days of the last century. And now the captain of the hunt gave the signal, and the party moved towards where the dust was rolling up in clouds heavenward, for mother earth was being pounded and scraped and scratched, and she seemed to shake herself in her revolution, and left great clouds of dust in her course. Blackfoot instinctively felt the quality of the boy-man he was carrying. The noble horse had carried many men from his colthood until even now he was in his maturity and strength. He had studied human nature, and being a great horse his perceptions were also great, and today by his every move he was saying to himself, "This is no common fellow who bestrides me now."

A few canters forward, and man and horse became consonant, one felt the other, each to the very depths of his nervous being said, "Aha, we have found each other." The horse was saying, " I will run as never before. I will keep in reserve sufficient wherewith to watch badger holes and dust pans, and rough country we will charge over. I will help the noble boy to pick the fattest in the herd. I am old in this work. He is but now venturing. I will coach him. I will give him time to draw his bow and let fly his arrow." Thus Blackfoot soliloquized, and White Buffalo, feeling the elastic stepping, the free movement, the whole-souled response of his noble steed to the faintest touch of his knee or hand, to the swaying of his body and life, said to himself, "I will do my best. I will try and shoot my straightest. The Great Spirit will help me. The Evil Spirit will not withstand me. And Blackfoot and White Buffalo will make the people of our lodge proud today."

On they rode. Now it was a sharp canter, now the little company of hunters were all abreast, the captain a short distance in advance of the line. The outskirts of the herd were bounding in towards the great masses. Thousands were beginning to move quickly. Tens of thousands were all on the qui vive, and the earth seemed to tremble. The rolling, galloping, surging, stampeding mass and crash of huge life, gathering up for this race away from its strongest enemy, the puny child of feeble man. And yet, thus it has been since the commission went forth, and the great words were spoken into the ears of the beginnings of the human family: "Subdue it." Leviathan trembles at the voice of the man child. The king of the beasts stands abashed, and his courage oozes away at the glance of him born of woman. "Mind over matter"; and today this little company of northern Indians, leaving their forest homeland and venturing into the borders of the great plain, armed with only bow and quiver, and here and there a single-barreled flintlock pot-metal gun, charged forth, and tens of thousands of monster bulls and countless numbers of cows and young stock dash away with all their speed to flee the presence of this wonderful being. Now our hunters have been given the signal, and every horse is loosed. Each rider is bowed on the neck of his steed, and soon they are in the dust cloud, and close upon the herd, and the hunter starts in to pick his game. Here the great skill is manifest. Many a man could kill, but only a few could pick under the excitement and medley of the great run of the buffalo on the plain. White Buffalo felt through his whole being the excitement of the race. With his left hand he holds a bow and a couple of arrows. With his right he guides his steed, but with such a horse as Blackfoot there was little need of this. At this time ordinary bridles had not come into the great west. Lariat in the mouth and the loop of this over the neck of the horse, and the balance of its great length carefully coiled and tucked under the belt of our boy hunter. Thus man and horse are parting the herd. White Buffalo is silent, but he is sending telepathic messages to the brain of Blackfoot, and Blackfoot's little ears move back with quick assent, and his every action says, "Just let me know the one you pick; just touch me with your knee, right or left; never fear, White Buffalo. Heed not badger holes, I am looking out for them.'' And presently White Buffalo sees a magnificent animal. It is the first summer hunt, and the bulls are prime, and this great huge monster, who had caught the eye of the young hunter, is thundering away through the herd as fast as his wind and speed will let him. But already Blackfoot has noted White Buffalo's choice, and now again he sends the message to his rider. "Steady your nerve, my boy be ready, don't pull the bow until I tell you." And White Buffalo glances along the arrow to see if it is straight, and he drops his lariat upon the horses neck, and he settles his thin moccassin-covered feet with a mighty grip upon the wooden stirrup. And with every muscle and nerve tense, he waits a signal from his horse. The big bull now knows he is the picked one, and being chased, and he spurts in the race for life. But Blackfoot is coming up stride upon stride. His jump is one and one-half of that of the bull. Sometimes double is the leap of the strong elastic horse. and now he sends the signal and the boy feels the time has come. And again the message, "Pull, pull and let go." and White Buffalo pulls, and with unerring skill the arrow speeds its course, and, penetrating the hide of the huge beast, it goes on and on into the vitals of its game.

"Well done. White Buffalo." says Blackfoot. "Well done, my boy, I am proud to carry, you on my back. Pick another," and White Buffalo, exultant in the success of his first shot, as he sees the bull stagger, and the blood gushes from his nostrils in full volume. He hurriedly looks at the topography of the place. The little sloping hill, the curve of the valley, thus he marks the spot. And now again his quick eye is upon the herd, and soon he sees a better animal than the first one, and at once, with a touch of his knee, he sends his willing steed straight for his game. But now one of the other hunters has caught sight of the same big bull, and as he is near to the course of the animal's run, he thinks he can catch him and make him his prey. However, he has not reckoned with Blackfoot, for the noble horse feels that it is his chance to show speed and win the race against his fellow-horse. And away he rushes and with every jump he fills White Buffalo's heart with gladness. For he and White Buffalo are gaining fast. A few more jumps and they are abreast the rival and his rider, and the latter wisely turns for other game, as Blackfoot and White Buffalo fly past and quickly catch their second prize. Back twitches Blackfoot's ear, and White Buffalo is all ready.

If Darwin could have seen those toes grip those stirrups, and every muscle in this boy make ready to stand in order to become the more certain in his aim, he would have said:

"And it is not so long since."

Once more the bow is pulled the arrow's length, and again with a sharp, rich twang he lets it go, and as before it enters where it should, and piercing the mortal spot, does its work. And a second stronger thrill of joy and conquest stirs White Buffalo's heart and brain.

"Bravo, my young rider!" again speaks the old hunting warrior horse, and again White Buffalo looks among the thousands, and encouraged with his previous choice, becomes more critical, and looks and looks, and presently says to himself, "Ah, there is the one I want to kill." And again he touches Blackfoot with his knee, and off like an arrow from the bow speeds the self-trained willing horse after the game set before him. And now, for the third time, the signals come, "Make ready!" and White Buffalo pulls the arrow from the quiver on his back and looks along it to see if it is straight, and Blackfoot gathers speed at every jump and says:

"Now, pull your bow, let go your arrow," for Blackfoot knew vastly more of distance and of this kind of hunting than White Buffalo possibly could. Again the big bull is mortally hit, and the boy checks his steed and pulls him up, and both horse and rider watch the death throes of their kill. Soon some of the other hunters come and admire the boy's choice, and help him to straighten up the monster. This is no small task, for its requires a strong lift to straighten up and make ready for skinning and butchering one of these kings of the plain. Then White Buffalo went back to his second and first kills, and on the way met the following from the camp with the pack horses and dogs, and his people were glad when they saw the result of our hunter's first race after the great herds.


His First Big Run

When White Buffalo had turned over his killed to the women and boys who had brought the horses and dogs which were to pack the meat home, lie gave his attention to Blackfoot, whom he rubbed and wiped down and caressed as a dear friend, and talked to him and the horse understood and responded in his way. The boy was proud of the horse, the horse was proud of the boy. However, just then who should gallop up but Kenabikwawan, or Snake Skin, a boy about the same age as White Buffalo, but who had always since they were little children together tried to match and surpass White Buffalo if he could in all games in childhood, and later in trapping and hunting, but had been outclassed and left behind by White Buffalo, and because of this had grown to hate his rival. Today he had been filled with envy as he heard many speak in tones of pride and praise because of White Buffalo's manner of riding his father's horse, and the quickness and deftness of his killing the three great bulls. And now he could not help but vent his spleen upon the little group who were gathered around skinning and cutting up the large animals.

"Aha," said he, "And is this one of White Buffalo's starvelings? Where were his eyes when he had so large a herd to pick from? Anyone riding a horse like Blackfoot should kill better meat than this. Say, White Buffalo, don't let Blackfoot look this way. It will hurt his feelings to see how poor the meat is which you have killed from his back. Take your horse away, White Buffalo, or he never will let you ride him again!" Thus he mocked and jeered at White Buffalo's first kill from the back of the great running horse.

White Buffalo heard Snake Skin mocking and jeering, and, being modest, thought perhaps he had come short in his choice and pick. But just then an old hunter rode up and exclaimed as he looked at the splendid meat that was now spread on the plain:

"Woh, woh! Who killed this fat beast? I have not seen one as good for many a day." And White Buffalo's heart was cheered, and Snake Skin remounted his horse and rode away. feeling greater hatred than ever towards his fellow. There was great rejoicing in the lodges when the tidings were brought in of White Buffalo's splendid run. His friends among the boys and girls in the camp were full of our hero's exploits.

"Why," said one,  "He never missed a shot!"

Yes," said another, "He only used three arrows and killed three great bulls, and ran but a little way."

Then another fellow came running up. ''I was there I rode in to see the fun. I saw White Buffalo make the charge. Oh, how quick he picked the first bull! And the horse seemed to pick the bull at the same time. My, my! What a horse Blackfoot is! He gains speed with every jump. I saw my friend fire his first shot. I saw the bull stagger and fall aside. I saw White Buffalo pick another. Why, it was just as if I were sitting on a horse beside him. I saw Blackfoot catch him quick. Again I watched my friend pull the bow. I was too far away to see the arrow fly, but I know that the bull was hit. Soon he dropped aside. Then I knew that White Buffalo saw another. I seemed to feel the horse jump under me as Blackfoot rushed away after this one. I was riding as fast as my horse would take me to watch this glorious sport. Again I knew that my friend had shot, for I saw the great big bull stagger and drop aside. I tell you, boys, I felt happier than if I could do such deeds myself, because this was our boy chief whom we love, and who always leads us in that which is strong and brave."

And this chatter and description rang like sweet music in the ears of the father and mother, as they sat within the lodge and listened to the story of the hunt from their people. Both the horse and rider were dear to the hearts of these parents.

White Buffalo being praised was a familiar tale, but this new enterprise in which their son had been so successful, it truly filled their hearts with joy. Later on that evening older men and hunters brave and skilful dropped into their lodge, and eulogy and praise were meted out both to the horse and his youthful rider. Said one renowned hunter:

"After this, we older men must look out for this young blood who has startled us today with his pluck and skill." "Yes," said a wise old man, "We are glad to know that you, White Buffalo, will be able to lead our young men on the great plains as well as in the woods."

After the guests left that night, the father quietly spoke and said:

"I am glad, my child, that you did so well today. Your mother and I are very proud. We thank the Great Spirit for giving us a son like you are. We hope for you skill in hunting, and brave deeds in war. Keep your heart warm, my son; act friendly to everybody, and never do anything that you would be ashamed of. And now that you have shown that you are a good horseman, and did so well in your first race after buffalo on the plain. you can call Blackfoot yours."

And the boy looked up, and the father saw a full measure of gladness and joy in his son's eye. No more words passed between these happy parents and the grateful child. Thus the morning and the evening of this eventful day in the life of our hero passed away. Many days like this followed, and White Buffalo grew and waxed strong. Blackfoot was as the apple of his eye. Miles and miles he walked and ran and saved his horse for the race that was sure to come.


 


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