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Tahan
Chapter XX I Become a Warrior—Epawhahcho Dies


I WAS now able to take my place as a hunter and warrior with the other men, and with my wonderful little horse, I felt that I was bigger than anything that could happen.

In the first days of my warriorhood, came a big buffalo hunt. We prepared for it as usual by an all night of prayer and left camp at daylight.

The herd was out on the plain not far away, but we all led our horses so they would be fresh for the work. I didn’t have Buckskin. I had loaned him to Efawhahcho.

It was after sunup when we arrived at the stamping ground, and the signal was given for the dash. We mounted quickly and went at the prey in a mad rush, each of us singling out his buffalo.

I picked out a nice fat bull, as the herd went lumbering off across the prairie, and was soon at his side. I sent a shot into him, and whirled my horse to avoid the expected charge.

Again I came up beside him, and again I fired, but this time I didn’t whirl soon enough. I didn’t have Buckskin to work with, and it nearly cost me my life. The buffalo charged and upset my horse and me.

The enraged animal was about to stamp my life out with his forefeet when one of the passing hunters killed him.

When I came to myself I was sitting on the prairie and wondering what had happened. I soon found out, for beside me my horse was lying, so badly gored he had been shot.

That night in the camp, the other hunters sat in the fireshine and told of their exploits.

I had no good thing to tell of myself, so I sat in the darkness with heavy heart, and heard how one of the young fellows had ridden up behind his buffalo, grabbed him by the tail, jabbed him with his knife, and had hamstrung him; how another had jumped from his horse to the back of his prey, spurred him with his knife and, after riding him a while, had driven the knife into his neck again and again until the blood spurted and he fell dead.

The recitals furnished a very entertaining evening for everybody except me.

The next day and for several days and nights, there was fun and feasting.

It was the women who brought the skins and meat into camp, and who took great pride in roasting just right the choicest bits—the luscious humps and marrow bones—for their hunter-and-warrior men.

After a hunt like this, when there was plenty of food in the camp, there was little to do but to think and dream. It was then that the warriors would meet in talk over the condition of their race, compare it with the past, and bewail its prospects for the future.

What rankled in their spirits worse than thorns in the flesh, was the way in which the white intruders had treated the Indian from the time they first set foot on the continent

“Had the paleface been fair,” they argued, “we would have been brothers. There would have been no war. Always there would have been peace, had they been just. They not only have taken our land, they have killed off the buffalo, the deer and the turkey. What is there for us to look forward to? In a little while their iron-shod horses will be trampling down the grass here where our tepees stand.”

Their faces grew sad as they thought and talked about it. They could see nothing for themselves but extermination.

But they always ended the talk by declaring they would fight to the last and die like men.

Then one by one each warrior rose and went silently away.

Our wild prairie men were real patriots, for they loved their country with a fervour that could not be surpassed.

As the years went by the buffalo became fewer and fewer, and our wide range smaller and smaller. So our raids grew more and more frequent. This, too, in spite of the fact that we were bent on keeping our tribe’s existence a secret But we always took pains, on returning from our raids, to cross the reservation of some tribe, if possible, and lose our trail in a beaten track.

Thus, I am sure that the Comanches and other tribes were blamed for the killing and plundering done by our warriors.

Our men had long wanted to make war upon the Apaches in return for what they had done to us on one occasion. When Quohahles, the Medicine Man, declared that the medicine was strong, we set out toward their country under a leader appointed by the chief.

After several days’ ride from our camp, each warrior got a stone about the size of his fist, and we put them all in a heap in a secluded spot. Then each of us promised, in case we met with defeat and were scattered, to make his way to the rock pile, remove one of the stones, and wait in hiding nearby for at least one sleep; then to throw the stone away, and take a trail previously agreed upon.

Following this custom of the prairie tribes, a separated band was able to get together again.

As we went on our way, one of the warriors in advance came galloping back to report that he had seen a bear cross our course with his head toward the wind.

This was a bad sign, for crossing the bear’s trail would surely bring us defeat and death. The sign was never known to fail.

As all of us believed the bear had come to warn us, most of us were more than willing to go bade. But not Efawhahcho.

“You who turn back are afraid to die. You are not men,” he scoffed. “As for me, I started upon this war trail as a man. I will go on. All of you who are not afraid, come!”

Five of the men paid no attention to the taunt, and went back.

“Come on,” I shouted to the others.

There was no reply.

“I will go on,” I cried. “My medicine is strong, I go if I go alone!”

Then the five who were left joined Efawhahcho and me. The leader was not among them. So I became leader and the seven of us went on towards the Apache country.

We had not gone far, that same day, when we sighted a number of Indians. They proved to be an Apache war party, and a war party we did not want to meet. We wanted to surprise their camp at night and get away with booty. But now that we were in sight of the enemy we would fight, no matter what the consequences.

The Apaches, uncertain of our intentions, halted on a ridge and stood looking at us.

We turned into a hollow, out of sight of them, dismounted, stripped, and tied our dothes to our saddles, ready for the fray. Then we rode boldly out to meet the enemy.

The Apaches greatly outnumbered us, but this did not daunt us in the least.

As we rode slowly towards them, Efawhahcho came up beside me.

“Tahan,” he said, “this is my last war-trail. You will remember your vow, my brother-friend, and when you go back to camp, tell the warriors I died like a man.”

He well knew I would do this and that I would not forget my vow, made when we became brother-friends. We pledged ourselves to everlasting friendship, to die, the one for the other, if necessary, and to avenge the death, should one of us be killed.

This was a custom of the Kiowas and also of the Dakotahs, with whom my comrade had lived a while.

When he had spoken, he gave his long war whoop, whipped his horse into a run, and sped ahead of the rest of us.

The Apaches, now aware of our intentions, came full tilt towards us. As we neared them our warriors separated. Some circled to the right, others to the left, our enemy between. We all fired at them as they passed. They kept together, turned and came at us again.

Exhilarated by the excitement of battle, I became careless of what might happen. Buckskin seemed to share my feeling. With ears laid back on his short neck he responded to the pressure of my knees, dashing to the right or left at my will, as I, with my warriors, fought the enemy almost hand to hand.

I saw Efawhahcho fall slain from his horse. It maddened me, I started after the exultant and yelling Apache who had killed my brother-friend. Several of my warriors helped me cut him off from the rest-

I pass over what followed.

But I came out with a buckskin shirt and leggings of beautifully beaded workmanship and a certain other thing with blood on one end of it dangling from my belt.

True to my vow, I had avenged my brother-friend. From that day the warriors began to call me chief.

When the Apaches were completely routed and we were assembled, we found that three of our men were slightly wounded and one other besides Efawhahcho gone on the Long Trail.


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