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Tahan
Chapter XIX My Brother Friend and Buckskin


ONE of the young warriors, Efawhahcho—Crazy Dog—and I became fast friends. He was a remarkable young fellow, several years older than I, and a usual doer of unusual things. When the other men sat down to gamble, he would go aside and pray. When they feasted, he would slip a piece of wood under his belt against his stomach and declare that he enjoyed it more than a stomach full of meat. In a storm when the rest of us sought shelter he would stand out in the drenching rain or driving hail listening to the voice of the thunder-bird, while fire-arrows pierced the clouds and the wind howled around him. Yet with all his oddities, he had great good-nature.

He was tall and athletic, with the tread of a cat and the heart of a lion; with eyes that could see what others could not; with ears that could hear where others were deaf.

His left eye had a most singular appearance, for it was never closed. In battle an arrow had struck in the comer of it, leaving a deep scar which kept the eyelid fixed. There was a constant sparkle in the pupil, which at times seemed to blaze as with fire. The women were afraid to look at it, for it was a magic eye, they said.

He was a sure shot, which was remarkable, for in firing he never raised the gun to his shoulder. He held the breech at his belt.

I asked him how he could take aim in that way. He put a short stick into my hand and told me to strike the pommel of my saddle with the end of it. I did so.

“That is how I aim,” he said.

He possessed a strange power over animals and could “feel” the nearness of an enemy. With this “feeling” came always a sensation like the rising of bristles between his shoulders.

Once when we were riding down a tree-covered hill —I behind him—he suddenly held up his hand in token of silence and motioned for me to turn round and go back. I did so without question. He followed.

After a while he rode up to my side, and told me that a war party of Utes were camped at the foot of the hill—that he “felt” them.

The next day we crept down afoot and found it to be as he had said.

On a hunt one day, we came upon a young buffalo calf under a shelving bank where its mother had hidden it and then gone to graze with the herd. It was lying flat on the ground, which was about the colour of itself. Efawhahcho gave it a kick, but it didn’t move. He lifted it and let it fall. It seemed only to spread out the more thinly like a robe. But for the twitching of an ear and the blinking of an eye, it looked dead. Its mother had taught it to play ’possum as a protection against enemies.

My companion finally declared he would bring it to life. He made passes over its head with his hands, whispered in its ear and blew in its face. The calf got up instantly, and followed him like a dog.

Efawhahcho had been restless for several days. He walked about in a lost way, and kept looking off across the prairie, a faraway expression on his face. When I tried to engage him in conversation he would answer absent-mindedly and abruptly.

At last I insisted upon his telling me his trouble.

"I don’t know what ails me,” he said, “I seem to want something I haven’t got.”

“I know. You want a wife,” I told him teasingly.

“You are my brother-friend. How can you make fun of me?” he asked sheepishly.

He looked all around to make sure we were out of earshot of the other men. Then

“I believe that’s just what ails me,” he agreed.

And he brightened up at the thought.

“But,” he went on, “I have never spoken love in the ear of a woman. How am I to begin?”

This was as much a conundrum to me as it was to him. Nevertheless I suggested that we might go some night and steal him a wife.

Efawhahcho at once took to the idea. So after carefully laying our plans we set off for the nearby Ute country.

Arrived there, we had no difficulty in locating a camp. We hid in the brush on a neighbouring hill and watched to find out where the women went for water. Several days passed, and we were none the wiser.

One night we crept into the camp around among the tepees. But there came no chance to seize any one of the pretty girls and carry her off. Then we decided to lie in wait by a water spring.

Accordingly, the next night at dusk found us flat on our faces near the water hole, our horses tied in the thicket near by.

As we lay there several girls came for water at different times, but always some old woman came with them.

Above the voices of children and the barking of dogs, the sound of a tom-tom and of singing floated down from the camp. Night was coming on, and we were almost ready to give up, when two girls came tripping down the hill. Still an old woman followed closely.

The girls filled their vessels and started away. One loitered.

Without warning Efawhahcho sprang up, seized her and threw his blanket over her head. It completely smothered her cries. But our captive did not give up without a struggle. The bridegroom-to-be bore witness to this in the ugly scratches that covered his face.

We had a lot of trouble getting her up on the horse, but once in the saddle, with Efawhahcho behind her, we were away, with not a Ute the wiser.

We made a brief halt the next morning. Efawhahcho lifted the girl to the ground. She sat down sullenly. Efawhahcho offered her food. She refused to eat Her language was not his, so he used the sign talk. With ungentle gestures he commanded her to obey. This made her only the more sullen. He threatened her with the lariat.

I interfered.

“That's not the way to use a woman,” I argued. “My Kiowa father used to call my mother nice names, and make her beautiful presents. Try that way with her.”

Efawhahcho sat thinking a long time. Then he took a string of beads from his neck and put it around hers.

“Mahye Gaitike,” he coaxed, “I give this to you.”

With this he got under headway, and by the time we arrived at our camp he had succeeded so well in his love making that his bride took her place in his tepee, a most obedient and dutiful wife. Mahye Gaitike—Good Woman—remained her name.

Efawhahcho and I were on the scout together one spring. Away on the edge of the Navajo country we surprised a man in the chaparral. The fellow jumped on his scrubby-looking little horse and dodged around the bushes so that even Efawhahcho could not get a shot at him.

We chased him out onto the open prairie. Here he put his horse to such a rapid pace that we were soon left far behind. After a while he halted on a little knoll and waited until we were almost within gun-shot, then sent his little animal across the prairie at a most amazing speed.

He repeated this performance several times, before we finally gave up the chase through fear of being led into a trap.

My brother-friend and I could talk of little else but the way that horse could run, until nothing would do but to possess him. Our own horses were far from being stiff-legged buffaloes, but the Navajo’s mean looking creature was brother to the wind.

We examined his track and found we could trail him easily, for his right fore hoof had a piece broken off. We tracked him to a water hole, and from our hiding place near it spied a number of Navajo quo-gans, or houses. That night we visited the herd, but the little horse was not in it.

Next morning we made a wide circuit before we picked up his trail again. All day across the desert we followed it, but not a glimpse of that horse did we get

Night after night, in camp after camp, we prowled in search of him—with no better success.

The longer the search the more eager we grew to get what we wanted.

Came a day when our stores failed us—when our supply of dried meat was exhausted; when the punk-fire in our buffalo horn died out; when our water-bottle—a buffalo’s stomach—swinging from the pommel of my saddle, was pierced by a cactus thorn, and sprung a leak.

Yet this did not swerve us from the trail. The horse we must have, we told each other.

One evening when the long shadows had faded, came the reward.

In the rear of a shack, in a little log pen, we found him. Against the pen leaned some long poles, hung with fresh sheep meat. Featherfooted we went, helped ourselves to a piece of the meat, and slipped away to our horses in the chaparral to wait for the right time to help ourselves to the horse in the pen.

At last the dogs ceased their barking and only the night noises of wild things could be heard.

Now came the question whether my brother-friend or I should go into the pen and come out with the coveted prize. The little corral was within a few feet of the shack where the owner slept, and we knew that he as well as his dogs had sharp ears.

The matter was decided with a pebble. After tossing it from one hand to the other for a while, Efawhahcho asked me to guess the one that held it The right guess gave me the right to go. I won.

I handed him my reins, tightened my belt and slipped noiselessly to the back of the quogan, my ear strained for signs of wakefulness.

From the distance came the staccato bark of a coyote, and the quavering notes of a screech owl shivered through the darkness. Not ten feet away a dog uttered a low growl, but a little whine following it, told me that the dog was asleep, dreaming perhaps of a fight with the wolves.

I crept to the pen and carefully lifted the top poles of it to the ground, fearful the while that the horse would snort and all would be lost Stooping low I caught sight of him outlined against the dull sky.

Inside, I managed to drop my lariat over his head and to spring to his back. While trying to make him jump out I made so much noise that the dogi awoke and began to bark. I heard the Navajo speak to them, and in sheer desperation I lashed the horse with the rope until he leaped the fence and we were away.

I shouted to my comrade as I passed him. A gun blazed holes into the night, but that was all.

As the distance opened up between us and the Navajo, I gave back defiant whoops which were echoed by Efawhahcho.

My new steed carried me over the ground at such a rate that I soon lost my comrade in the darkness. When I reached our camp I was nearly spent with weariness and hunger. A bit of food first, then I slept the sleep of the utterly worn from sundown till sunup.

I had been back a day before Efawhahcho came.

My ugly little horse’s makeup was one big laugh in itself. He had a short body, dun, dirty and flea-bitten; a big long head, short ewe neck, and no tail worth speaking of. His legs were long, crooked and shaggy with black stripes running around them. He was about the colour of well-smoked buckskin, so I called him Buckskin. His makeup was one big laugh, as I said, but when he showed what he could do, the ridicule quickly turned to respect.

He and I soon became true friends with an understanding of each other such as seldom occurs between man and beast I could go to sleep anywhere knowing that he would waken me if any one or thing came near. He would lie down or get up at my command, would run like the wind at a word or touch, and in time learned what I meant by the pressure of a leg on this or that side of his body.

Once he stampeded with the other horses in a hailstorm, and I feared he was lost to me forever. But with the passing of the storm he came back, and always, as long as he lived, played an important part in my life.


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