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The Bark Covered House
Chapter 6. How We Found Our Cattle

THE old cow always wore the bell. Early in the spring, when there were no flies or mosquitoes to drive them up the cattle sometimes wandered off. At such times, when we went to our chopping or work, we watched them, to see which way they went, and listened to the bell after they were out of sight in order that we might know which way to go after them if they didn't return. Sometimes the bell went out of hearing but I was careful to remember which way I heard it last.

Before night I would start to look for them, going in the direction I last heard them. I would go half a mile or so into the woods, then stop and listen, to see if I could hear the faintest sound of the bell. If I could not hear it I went farther in the same direction then stopped and listened again. Then if I did not hear it I took another direction, went a piece and stopped again, and if I heard the least sound of it I knew it from all other bells because I had heard it so often before.

That bell is laid up with care. I am now over fifty years old, but if the least tinkling of that bell should reach my ear I should know the sound as well as I did when I was a boy listening for it in the woods of Michigan.

When I found the cattle I would pick up a stick and throw it at them, halloo very loudly and they would start straight for home. Sometimes, in cloudy weather, I was lost and it looked to me as though they were going the wrong way, but I followed them, through black-ash swales where the water was knee-deep, sometimes nearly barefooted.

I always carried a gun, sometimes father's rifle. The deer didn't seem to be afraid of the cattle; they would stand and look at them as they passed not seeming to notice me. I would walk carefully, get behind a tree, and take pains to get a fair shot at one. When I had killed it I bent bushes and broke them partly off, every few rods, until I knew I could find the place again, then father and I would go and get the deer.

Driving the cattle home in this way I traveled hundreds of miles. There was some danger then, in going barefooted as there were some massasauga [The prairie, or Michigan variety of rattlesnake. Formerly abundant, as Nowlin notes, with the settlement of the country they have tended to disappear. They are still found in southern Michigan, however, and their possible presence is still to be reckoned with by rural dwellers and visitors.] all through the woods. As the country got cleared up they disappeared, and as there are neither rocks, ledges nor logs, under which they can hide, I have not seen one in many years.

One time the cattle strayed off and went so far I could not find them. I looked for them until nearly dark but had to return without them. I told father where I had been and that I could not hear the bell. The next morning father and I started to see if we could find them. We looked two or three days but could not find or hear anything of them. We began to think they were lost in the wilderness. However, we concluded to look one more day, so we started and went four or five miles southeast until we struck the Reed creek. (Always known as the Reed creek by us for the reason, a man by the name of Reed came with his family from the State of New York, built him a log house and lived there one summer. His family got sick, he became discouraged, and in the fall moved back to the State of New York. The place where he lived, the one summer, was about two miles south of our house and this creek is really the middle branch of the Ecorse).

There was no settlement between us and the Detroit River, a distance of six miles. We looked along the Reed creek to see if any cattle had crossed it.

While we were looking there we heard the report of a rifle close by us and hurried up. It was an Indian who had just shot a duck in the head. When we came to him father told him it was a lucky shot, a good shot to shoot it in the head. He said, "Me allers shoot head not hurt body." He took us to his wigwam, which was close by, showed us another duck with the neck nearly shot off. Whether he told the truth, or whether these two were lucky shots, I cannot tell, but one thing I do know, in regard to him, if he told us the truth he was an extraordinary man and marksman.

Around his wigwam hung from half a dozen to a dozen deer skins; they hung on poles. His family seemed to consist of his squaw and a young squaw almost grown up. Father told him we had lost our cattle, oxen and cow, and asked him if he had seen them. We had hard work to make him understand what we meant. Father said—cow—bellstrap round neck—he tried to show him, shook his hand as if jingling a bell. Then father said, oxen—spotted—white—black; he put his hand on his side and said: black-cow—bell-------noise, and then said, as nearly as we could understand, 'Ie see them day before yesterday," and he pointed in the woods to tell us which way. Father took a silver half-dollar out of his pocket, showed it to the Indian, and told him he should have it if he would show us the cattle. He wiped out his rifle, loaded it and said, "Me show." He took his rifle and wiper and started with us; we went about half mile and he showed us where he had seen them. We looked and found large ox's tracks and cow's tracks. I thought, from the size and shape of them, they were our cattle's tracks. The Indian started upon the tracks, father followed him, and I followed father. When we came to high ground, where I could hardly see a track, the Indian had no trouble in following them, and he went on a trot. I had hard work to keep up with him. I remember well how he looked, with his bowing legs, it seemed as if he were on springs. He moved like an antelope, with such ease and agility. He looked as if he hardly touched the ground.

The cattle, in feeding round, crossed their own tracks sometimes. The Indian always knew which were the last tracks. He followed all their crooks, we followed him by sight, which gave us a little the advantage, and helped us to keep in sight. He led us, crooking about in this way, for nearly two hours, when we came in hearing of the bell. I never had a harder time in the woods but once, and it was when I was older, stronger, and better able to stand a chase, that time I was following four bears, and an Indian tried to get them away. I was pleased when we got to the cattle. Father paid the Indian the half-dollar he had earned so well, and thanked him most heartily, whether he understood it or not. Father asked the Indian the way home, he said, "My house, my wigwam, which way my home?" The Indian pointed with his wiper, and showed us the way.

Father said afterward, it was strange that the Indian should know where he lived, as he had never seen him before. I never saw that Indian afterward.

The cattle were feeding on cow-slips and leeks, which grew in abundance, also on little French bogs that had just started up. We hallooed at them very sharply and they started homeward, we followed them, and that night found our cattle home again. Mother and all the children were happy to see them come, for they were our main dependence. They were called many dear names and told not to go off so far any more.


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