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Chapter II First Recollections

MY first recollection is one of hunger.

The prairie grass had taken fire and the flame, driven by a strong wind, across a wide area, chased the game before it As the tornado of flame whirled toward our village, buffalo, deer, antelope and wolf intermingled and fled in terror. The men set the grass afire to the leeward of the camp and moved our belongings into the black, burnt stretch. We were saved, but many of our horses stampeded and were lost

The supply of food in the camp being small, the only hope of escaping starvation was to reach speedily a part of the country untouched by the fire, where game could be found.

I was too young to remember much about the “Big Burning” and the forced journey across the desert. The lasting vividness of the episode is due to its repeated rehearsals, for, through long years afterwards, the people discussed it in all its horrible details.

What I do recall personally is my hunger. I need no tradition to keep keen this memory.

Under the blazing sun, without water and without food, we made our way across that black land of death, and the suffering was intense.

One day some of the young men found a buffalo. With hair singed and eyes blinded by the fire, he was staggering about with lolling tongue. He furnished easy prey and a welcome supply of meat

Another day one of our few horses became too weak to carry his load, so he made food for us. We children attempted to take one of the bones of that horse away from a half-famished dog. He sprang savagely at us and was killed in consequence. His flesh came good to the hungry people.

The days of suffering entirely exhausted several of the older men and women, and they found place upon the travois drawn by horses. One old warrior, no longer able to walk, refused to ride and begged to be left so that he would not be an encumbrance. He had lived long; enough, he said, and at such a time was content to die. So he was left behind.

There was no murmuring. The Indian’s philosophy of life teaches him to suffer without complaint, to go unflinchingly into the future, to fight to the last breath for his own, and to die without a whimper.

Many, many dead dotted that fire-blackened trail. There were no poles to make burial scaffolds, so the bodies were left on the ground where they fell.

There was no plaint from the dying, none from the living. When the men became weak of body and of heart, the women, although as weak and pinched as they, cheered them on to further endurance, until . at last the fainting feet touched a land of grass-grown hills and sparkling streams, where game abounded.

Then the camp knew once more the feasting and the singing.

Close on the trail qf the memory of the “Big Burning,” follows the acute recollection of the “Big Long Cold” when the horses froze, when the buffalo and deer perished in numbers for want of water because the Spirit of the Cold overcame the Spirit of the Heat Many, many of our people went on the Long Trail that winter.

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