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Tahan
Chapter VII The Indian Boy’s Sports


THE Indian boy’s sports are suggested by the narratives of the men and by the things he expects to do when he comes to the age and strength of a hunter and warrior. He plays at what he will do in earnest when he becomes a man. So the first thing he plays at, is how to make a living—the last thing the white boy undertakes.

Among our earliest sports was the hunt for prairie dogs, which we played were bear or deer, and the game of “Hunt the Buffalo.” In the latter, a number of the boys would go away out upon the prairie in the morning, taking along provisions of some kind, usually a piece of dried or boiled meat. These boys were the buffaloes! Another company were the hunters. The game was to catch the buffaloes and capture the provisions, when the successful hunters would have a feast together.

We were engaged in this sport one day when I was one of the hunters. We had gone a distance of perhaps four or five miles when I had an adventure which came near costing me my life.

Creeping through the weeds and grass I came upon a buffalo-wallow. In it was an old shaggy bull which had been hooked out of the herd.

A heroic idea took possession of me. I would kill the old fellow and make a name to be sounded loudly through the camp. So, selecting a sharp-barbed arrow, I crept up within a few feet of my quarry.

In my conceit and eagerness to distinguish myself, I did not stop to consider that, with my puny strength, it would be impossible to drive an arrow far enough into a buffalo’s side to kill him. I discovered it, however, a few moments later.

I knew where to aim—just behind the left shoulder. Rising to one knee, I fitted the arrow to the string and drawing it back to the head, I let it go.

With a grunt the buffalo jumped up. So did I.

He was stung enough to make him curious to find out what the thing was that had disturbed his repose. When he caught sight of me, he evidently made up his mind I was the thing. For a moment we gazed at each other. Then I stood not upon the order of my going, but went at once. If ever a boy wished for wings I was that boy.

The creek was a little distance away, and there lay safety. I glanced over my shoulder at my pursuer. He was as high as a mountain. His eyes were coals of fire, each as big a6 the moon. In my flight my little rag of a blanket slipped off my shoulders. He stopped to fight it This gave me time. I gained the bank of the creek and flung myself down into the top of a tree.

The buffalo, who, doubtless, had enjoyed the chase far more than I had, galloped on down the trail, in evident disgust.

After a while, some of our young men who were riding back to the camp, passed near me. I signalled to them, hurriedly told of the adventure, and pointed out down the valley the course the old straggler had taken. He had not long to enjoy the memory of the chase, for he soon fell victim to the arrows of the grown-ups I had set upon his tracks.

The hunters took me into camp, and told the story— not of how I had hunted the buffalo, but of how the buffalo had hunted me—at which there was a great laugh, and with common consent they called me Gwah-tahe-lam-khe-ah, or Boy-Chased-by-a-Buffalo.

Unquestionably I had made a name to be sounded loudly through the camp!

One of the chief delights of us boys was the war game.

We painted our faces red and yellow streaked with black, and tied on our heads tufts of buffalo hair for imitation scalp-locks. This was to keep safe the real scalp-locks and yet give the victors their tokens of conquest. Dividing into two parties, each with its chief, and armed with our bows and blunt-headed arrows, we then disappeared into the bushes and woods for the battle. It was not always bloodless.

Once, while engaged in this always exciting sport, I saw a boy of the other side in a clump of bushes.

“Hah!” I exulted, “his scalp shall dangle at my belt before this battle is over. To-night I will dance around it in the fireshine, and tell of my victory.”

Creeping up behind a log, so as to get a quick shot at him, I poked my head above it, arrow-notch to bowstring.

No sooner did my head appear than another boy who had been watching me, let fly his arrow. It struck me near my right eye. The blood blinded me. But according to the rules of the game, I could not so much as lift my hand to wipe it away. I must act as though dead. My enemy with an exultant whoop dashed up and took my “scalp.”

And that night I had another humiliation—seeing my “scalp” tied to a pole, the victor holding it aloft as he danced around in the firelight and boastfully told of his victory, while the other members of his “tribe” shouted in chorus at every pause in the recital of the story.

Another one of our favourite sports was to lasso and ride the wildest horses of the herd.

On horseback we cut out and roped an unbroken mustang. To mount him was a much harder thing to do. Once in a while one of us was thrown, but the rider was always ready for another trial.

At the age of eight or nine we began to herd the horses.

At night we brought the best and fleetest close to camp to picket them in readiness for emergency.

Often while engaged in the duty of herding, a contest with the ropes took place. A boy was caught and jerked from his horse, or the animal thrown. Then his rider struck out afoot for the bushes, were we could not use the lasso.

We learned to ride on the side of the horse, clinging to his mane or to a rope around his neck, with nothing but one foot showing above his back; to leap to the ground, still clinging to the mane, and to remount the horse on the run.

One of our sports was to take a supposedly wounded comrade from the field. As he lay flat upon the ground, a horseman rode up on either side of him, grasped legs or arms and dragged or carried him to a considerable distance. Or two riders dropped a robe to him. He would clutch it, roll on top of it and be hauled away.

In this manner many a warrior fallen in battle, has been saved by his comrades from capture or death.

We had “boxing” matches. In these any number of us could take part at the same time.

We chose sides, and each side formed a line, facing the other ten or fifteen feet apart At the word, each line rushed forward until within three or four feet of the other. Then every boy jumped into the air and whirled and kicked backwards at his antagonist in the opposing line. This was repeated until one side or the other was knocked down. Sometimes a foot landed against the stomach of an opponent who did not whirl quick enough. But this taught the victim to be quicker next time.

And we had wrestling matches.

One of our best wrestlers was a white captive who had blue eyes and hair white as thistledown. From exposure to sun and wind his skin was as dark as that of any Indian, and this in contrast with the long white hair floating down over his shoulders, gave him a most unique appearance. We called him White Hair. He was fond of wrestling, and with his fine physical mould was well fitted for it.

One day there came a young wrestler—Kheabone— with several of his companions, to visit our camp. Our young men made a match between him and our champion. So great was their confidence in White Hair’s ability that they staked on him nearly everything they possessed. On Kheabone the visitors did likewise.

The whole village gathered to witness the match. It was to consist of two falls out of three, of the style which might be called “catch-as-catch-can.”

The two youths faced each other, stripped to the breech-clout. The Indian was the taller; the white boy the more muscular. On the whole they were pretty evenly matched.

Began the contest. They rushed together, each seeking an advantageous hold. Their supple bodies twisted, bent and writhed. Kheabone was the quicker; White Hair the stronger. Strength, however, did not avail against the marvelous dexterity with which the Redskin wriggled out of his antagonist’s grasp and by a grapevine twist of the leg, laid the white champion on his back for the first fall.

The next was White Hair’s victory, after much manoeuvring and display of agility.

For the third time they grappled.

Every trick known to either was tried without effect. Finally, to our intense surprise, White Hair tore himself from the embrace of the Indian and darted away across the prairie with the speed of an antelope, the Redskin hard after him.

Our hearts sank. White Hair had the heart of a coyote.

Suddenly, as Kheabone gained on him, White Hair stopped, and with a whirling duck, caught his pursuer round the legs, tossed him clear over his head, pounced upon him like a panther and pinned him to the ground.

Kheabone and his friends were not satisfied. They had little left to wager, but they would bet everything, even to their moccasins, upon the Redskin’s ability to beat the White-haired one in a fight

The challenge was accepted. Our young men covered their bets. Kheabone laid a knife, a gun, a bow and arrows on the ground in a row at the feet of White Hair. He could have his choice of weapons. Our champion held up his fists.

“I fight with these,” he said.

Kheabone, after some hesitation, held up his fists and declared that babies and girls fought with their hands, but that he would accommodate the White Head.

Nearby was the bank of the stream, at the bottom of which, some fifteen feet sheer down, was thin black mud of an unguessed depth. On the edge of this bank White Hair took his stand in readiness.

“Knock him over the bank into the mud/' whispered Kheabone’s advisers.

The Indian approached White Hair on the run, with fist high in the air. When near enough, he lunged, throwing his body with the blow.

White Hair side-stepped, and Kheabone plunged headfirst over the bank into the mud. He sank to his middle, his legs waving like mullein-stalks in a whirlwind, in his endeavour to extricate himself.

His friends hauled him out and washed the oozy slime out of his eyes and ears.

The drollness of the thing struck us with such force that we screamed in laughter, rolled on the ground, pulled up grass and threw it into the air and shouted. Anyone with the belief that Indians never laugh should have witnessed that scene.

Kheabone was wild with anger. It was not fair, he declared. He had been tricked and he wanted satisfaction. He seized a gun and went hunting for White Hair, who had vanished.

The victors arrayed themselves in the trophies they had won on the match, mounted their horses, and shouting lustily the name of White Hair, circled round the crest-fallen visitors, who sat together almost naked.

Tiring of their sport, they gave back nearly all of the stuff they had won, and when Kheabone returned from his unsuccessful hunt, they mollified him, found White Hair and made peace between the two.

We always enjoyed our sports whole-heartedly, even though our life was full of hardships and uncertainties. When we left our tepees in the morning, there were many chances for our scalps to be drying before the lodge of an enemy ere the sun walked down over the edge of the world. But this thought never troubled us.

One of the most interesting captives among the Kiowas was a Mexican boy. The Apaches captured him in New Mexico. The Kiowas took a fancy to him and traded a blind mule and two buffalo robes for him. His name was Andrez Martinez. But as the Kiowas were unable to pronounce the name Andrez, they called him Andele. As the boy grew up he became completely Indianized. He forgot his name, his identity, and the fact that he was a captive, and he became one of the fiercest warriors of the tribe, making many raids into Texas. He was discovered by a missionary and sent back to his people. But he returned to the Kiowas, married a white woman, and became a useful man among the Indians.


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