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Tahan
Chapter XXI Adventures


OUR chief kept warriors scouting around on the prairie nearly all of the time. Hence, it came about, in the autumn of this same year, that I was chosen one of two to go out toward the northeast to watch the movements of some cattlemen.

Separated from my companion, one day, I unexpectedly ran onto a bunch of cowboys. As they saw me about the same time that I caught sight of them, it was too late to retreat and too dangerous. So I decided to meet them boldly and offer signs of friendliness.

I found them a jolly lot. They took me to their camp and finally to their ranch at Paladora Canyon.

I was with them for probably three months, and with my small stock of Mexican words was soon able to hold conversation with them in a kind of jargon. It was there I learned some English, too, and it afterwards stood me in good stead.

When I left the cow-punchers and went back again to Zakatoh, he acted as though he believed I had given the white men information hurtful to his welfare and I was constantly on my guard. I determined that if I saw signs of danger from him, he shouldn’t be the one to get the first shot.

Came a day when we heard there were big doings between the Indians and soldiers at Fort Sill. So Zakatoh took our whole band near that post We made our camp on Cache Creek.

All along the stream were Kiowas, Comanches and Apaches. We mingled freely with them and found that a number of the chiefs with their bands had been rounded up by the soldiers. The chiefs were in the guardhouse and their warriors in bad humour. A big fight was a likely thing at any time, and the soldiers kept close watch.

There were heroes among those wild savages of the plains. One of the chiefs who was at Fort Sill at the time, was accused of leading a raid into Texas, where a number of white men were killed and horses run off. An officer ordered his soldiers to seize the accused. Although guiltless of the charge, he readily surrendered.

Shortly the man who had led the raid stalked majestically into the officer’s presence. It was Setayete (White Bear) a chief of most striking and noble appearance. In the fearless grandeur of his manhood, he faced the soldier and bent piercing, unflinching eyes upon his face.

“I talk straight. I am the chief who led that raid,” he proudly said. “If you take any man and hang him like a dog, take me.”

He was taken to Texas where he was tried and condemned to be hanged. While attempting to escape he was killed.

We all wondered if the Kiowas might not have been accused of making a raid which we ourselves had made, so we were careful not to let a word drop which would cause anyone to suspect us.

There were not more than six lodges of our band at this time, and no one paid us much attention. Besides it was difficult for outsiders to understand the language of the Estizeddelebe. That they all believed we had been brought in by the soldiers we knew, and we wisely allowed them to keep on thinking so.

One day there was an unusual stir at the post and we found out that the soldiers were about to start with several of the Kiowa chiefs to Texas. We found out, too, that the white men intended to hang them.

That night the Kiowa warriors mounted their horses and circled round and round singing their war songs. They rode up close to the barracks and called to the soldiers:

“Come out and fight us like men.”

In this Zakatoh and the rest of us joined. We hoped there would be a big fight.

The next morning we saw near the guardhouse a number of wagons and squad of soldiers. They were closely guarding the noted war-chief Setankyea (Sitting Bear).

When they ordered him to get into one of the wagons, he refused. The soldiers seized him and threw him in with brutal force.

About a mile from the post Setankyea rose to his feet and called to a number of his warriors who were following on horseback.

“These soldiers think they are going to take me to Texas,” he cried, “and hang me like a dog. I will show them! You young men go to your camp and say to the people that Setankyea died to-day, the first day out.”

He drew himself up proudly.

“Now I will show you how a chief can die. And I call upon Those-Above to witness that I die like a man, unafraid. But I do not go alone,” he finished fiercely, “I take with me upon the Long Trail one of these soldiers.”

At this he tore off the handcuffs, the flesh coming with them. He put his bleeding hands to his mouth. When he took them away, they held a large sharp knife.

There was a flash of the steel, a piercing war whoop and the blood spurted from the side of one of the guards sitting nearby.

Seizing the guard’s gun Setankyea snapped it at another soldier. There was no cartridge in the chamber.

The soldiers fairly riddled the chief with bullets. He fell out of the wagon to the ground and sang his death-song while the soldiers continued to send their bullets into his body. At last he gnashed his teeth, gave one long defiant whoop and fell back dead.

The old chief was half Cheyenne and had the reputation of being a Mystery Man. One of the strange things which his people believed he could do, was to cough up a big knife at will. It was in this way, they claimed, that he obtained the one with which he stabbed the soldier. How else he could have got it was as much a mystery, for the officer in charge had searched the chief before taking him from the guardhouse. [Lieutenant (later General) Pratt, of the Tenth Cavalry, was the officer. He told me many years after that he himself stripped the chief and thoroughly examined his garments; that there was no knife about him and no way for him to get one before he left the cell.]

That night our chief got us together and we speedily slipped away to the westward, taking with us several additions to our band. These were Indians who were glad to escape from the restraint of the soldiers.

Far into the southwest we went.

While crossing the Staked Plains we rode into the teeth of a terrific wind which lasted several days. So dense was the cloud of fiercely driven sand and dust it nearly stifled us. Blinded and choked we were compelled to huddle down together with our robes wrapped around our heads to keep off the stinging particles.

With several others I was lost from the main company, and but for the plains-craft of one of the older men we would have perished. He went groping along the ground, feeling of every weed and sparsely scattered grass-bunch until he found a plant, the leaves of which always point directly north and south. By it he got the points of the compass.

That country of the southwest was new and strange to nearly all of us and new emergencies frequently arose, but some one of the men always proved equal to them.

One calm evening a scout came into camp and reported the discovery of a tepee village. Looking forward to a scrimmage and booty, we quickly made our way to the place. It was in a deep rocky canyon. We cautiously neared the edge and dismounted.

As we peered down at the weather-beaten tepees, some three or four hundred yards below, we noticed there was no smoke rising from them. Stealthily we watched for the signs of life usual in an Indian village, but neither to our eyes nor to our ears did there come sight or sound of them. A strange something seemed to spread over the place, to become a part of it and to hold us in its uncanny embrace.

Silently, from behind the rocks, we peered down at the tepees in the canyon. The sun died out like a coal of fire on the edge of an ash-heap. The shadows faded into purple gloom. Stars pricked the sky with pin-holes, through which The Above-Ones looked down. The moon, a huge, pale-faced war drum, showed itself on the rim of the world and walked up the sky, sending down its soft light to uncover the jagged rocks of the canyon and bring the tepees out of the darkness like ghosts. They grew whiter and whiter, and held our eyes in strange fascination.

The silence was like that which must have been before anything was. It was so intense, so ominous, so awful, we seemed to hear it. We were scarcely able to breathe as the soundlessness settled down upon us. Our straining senses were ready to break.

Suddenly, a piercing scream, sounded far down the canyon.

As one man we dashed to our horses, sprang to their backs and sped away from the awful place.

In camp, we sat huddled together in the moonlight. talking over the strange thing, when some one noticed that Quohahles, the Medicine Man, was absent. The next day he came in. He had visited the silent village and found the skeletons of the inhabitants, who must have been carried off by a pestilence. He found also the body of a horse which had fallen over a cliff. He said the scream which had brought terror to our hearts must have been the animal’s death-cry; that once before he had heard the same kind of a cry, and it came from a dying horse.

In that strange land we crossed a desert which was so naked there was not so much as a stick of wood for a picket pin. But nevertheless, when night came, we were able to tie our horses to the ground.

Each man took his knife and dug a hole about twelve inches across at the top and twice as wide at the bottom, pulled up an armful of bunch grass, tied the end of his lariat around it, stuffed it into the hole and stamped the earth down upon it. So our horses were literally tied to holes in the ground.

It was on this desert trip that one of the men discovered huge tracks in the sand. They looked somewhat like a buffalo’s, but were of greater size. No one had ever seen anything like them. We followed them day after day, and at night thought long over them.

At last, soon after we broke camp one morning, we saw the trackmakers away out on the plain. There were two of them, great, long-legged creatures with high backs and crooked legs.

One of the older men tried to account for them through an old legend which says that the first buffaloes were light in colour and very large and that they came from a wide desert across a great water. At sight of us the creatures took fright and ran away at a rapid pace, swaying from side to side like mountains about to topple over, but undecided on which side to fall. We stood gazing at them in wonder until they disappeared in the distance.

They gave us much talk for many moons.

Years afterward I saw a circus parade in one of the great cities. Among the animals were several of these “about-to-fall-like-a-mountain buffaloes.” I learned they were camels.

Since then I have often wondered how the two we tracked ever got into the Great American Desert.


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