Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

interests; they had sheltered from the halter and the pistol hunted acquaintances, whose only crime was the possession of property which the jayhawkers found valuable. For the last three days of our stay at Comstock's, a very interesting man was visiting there. Jean Baptiste Moncrévié, the Indian interpreter, is sixtyeight years of age, yet looks scarcely over fifty; full of French grace, fire, and vivacity, grafted with American humor. He was educated in Paris, married, came over to this country to make his way in one of the professions, lost his wife in her first childbed, and became insane. He recovered his sanity after a protracted period, but the energy of his life was gone. He had no further ambition; the thought of succeeding in the world was a mockery to a man who had lost the world's highest success. To get away from old associations, he went West with Audubon, and became so well acquainted with frontier life that at the close of the ornithological tour he determined to stay among the Indians. He is now perfectly conversant with six different Indian languages, —the Sioux, Pawnee, Arapahoe, Blackfeet, Crow, and Flathead. He furnished me with some vocabularies, valuable not only in the practical, but the philological point of view. All the material which we procured in this specialty, during our entire tour, we forwarded to Mr. George Gibbs, of the Smithsonian, whose book on the Indian languages must only be worthy of the opportunities he has enjoyed, and the erudition he possesses, to be the most complete dictionary, grammar, and comparative philology of savage speech ever issued in any country. Moncrévić's stories amused us much. I never heard a man describe an Indian “soldier-feast” as comically as he did. For the benefit of the uninitiated, let me say that this happy banquet consists of a series of the most frightful messes which ever entered a witch cauldron. For instance, there will be a ragout of dog, flavored with mud and sole-leather; a soup of lizards, pig-gristle, and wild onions; an enormous salmis of old mule and sunflower leaves. Your host is most generous with his provender. He heaps your plate with the nauseous delicacies until you sit aghast. If you cannot eat your portion, you are technically said to be “killed,” and have to buy some other convive to eat it for you with a valuable present. One elastic Indian of long practice will sometimes eat two other men's portions beside his own, and feel no more inconvenience from them than an anaconda from a goat au naturel. Moncrévié had once to pay the most valuable horse he had, to get his mess eaten by a Sioux brave. As these are debts of honor, the most capacious glutton goes to a soldier-feast with all the avidity felt by a gray Wall Street bull for a “corner” in Harlem. Nowhere on our travels did we find better opportunities for studying Western tree-formations than along the banks of the Little Blue. The varied structure of the cotton-woods was a perpetual surprise to us. They seem by their heart-shaped leaf to be near relations of the poplar family; but they have none of that tribe's stiff, unyielding individuality. The poplar, especially the Lombardy, is the Mr. Dombey of our sylva, but there is nothing of the starched-shirt-collar school in the attitudes or expressions of the cotton-woods. They are protean in their simulations. One whose butt we used for our rifle-target, about forty rods from Comstock's door, passed for a magnificent white-oak until we got near enough to examine its foliage; and everywhere in the neighborhood these mimetic trees wore the mien of the elm, the ash, or the hickory. Nature on the Plains, like the poet Saadi, has but a limited vocabulary, yet makes a wonderfully polytoned music with her scant material. It was about eleven o'clock on the night of May 30th, that we broke away from the cordial grasp of our friends and entertainers, to resume our places in the Overland Coach. To give some idea of the cheapness of board and the generosity of soul existing in the Comstock ranch, I will chronicle that our bill amounted to twenty-five cents a meal for the days spent in-doors, nothing at all for our lodging, as little for the share of transportation and edibles which we had enjoyed during our hunt; and that for the days elapsing between our return from the Republican and our resumption of the road, we could only obtain the privilege of squaring our account by depositing the debt as a concealed keepsake in Frank's and Mary's hands, and running away before they discovered what it was. We were fortunate enough to find our favorite box-seats unoccupied, and mounted to them with great satisfaction, thus avoiding the dreadful grudge which is created in the minds of a stageful of insides, by new-comers entering at an inhuman hour, with a proposition to re-sort their heads and legs. For the first forty miles our road lay along the Little Blue. The light-and-shade effects on its dense fringe of foliage, and occasional glimpses of its gliding water, were well worthy of an artist's enthusiasm. Every turn of the road brought us into some new loveliness: some deep embowered dell, scented with the ethereal spice of the wild grape-vine; some lofty bluff leaving us just space to pass by a dug-way between it and the river (one such place, called the Narrows, awakens some anxiety in the breasts of travellers who have not been case-hardened to danger farther west); some broad stretch of rolling plain, where the distances were vague and mystical, - and ours was the only living spot in the great solitude. Our first driver told us that Munger, on his way back to Atchison from the ranch, had run down, with his buggy, drawn by Nig and Ben, a pair of young antelope kids a fortnight old, captured them, and carried them home with him in triumph That was indeed a buggy superior to its birth. What tales it will have to relate, when it finally gets invalided among the veteran stage-coaches in that Chelsea of vehicles, a wagon-shed how their venerable doors will open with astonishment at a buggy that has hunted buffalo and captured antelope During the night we accomplished three stations, Little Blue, Liberty Farm, and Lone Tree. We rode at the average Overland Stage rate of a little over one hundred miles in twenty-four hours. Our second driver was a fine-looking young fellow who interested us much. A year before, he had been at the very bottom of the pit of drunkenness, as apparently hopeless a case as existed on the road. From that horror his good angel had brought him up once more to his perfect manhood; and now he refused the proffer of liquor from one of the passengers, with an earnest “O no no, I thank you,” which only seemed brusque to those who did not know his history, and contained in it the significance of a whole youth of misery. Many times afterward, on stage-boxes between Nebraska and California, I thought of that handsome young face, hoping to Heaven that its frank brown eyes might be beclouded by death before liquor should redim them. He impressed me as a soul whose inhabiting devil would be no common fiend. His face was so written with the possibilities of extreme feeling that it haunted one like Guido’s “Beatrice.” It grew light enough, before we reached the breakfast station at Thirty-two Mile Creek, for us to see at wide distances apart several ranch houses and corrals, one at least of which was steadily inhabited. This appeared at our crossing of Pawnee Creek, a shallow affluent of the Blue. Here, too, we found real pathos in the sight of a rudely inclosed little grave-yard, containing one large and one small headstone. Even in this loneliness a man might be left still more alone! The country in general was as uninhabited as we saw it about Comstock's. Antelope abounded on all sides, scouring out of sight from within easy rifle-shot at every turn of our road. The day before, a hunter had shot an elk on the river bottom, but a few miles from Thirty-two Mile Creek, so large that he had to return to his camp, and send back a wagon for him. The journey from Thirty-two Mile Creek to Fort Kearney (a distance of thirty-five miles) disclosed to us increasing barrenness in the soil, accompanied by a corresponding change in the zone of the flora. Cactuses became a prominent feature on all the hot sand dunes; a peculiar desert species of the Asclepias here and there began showing itself; and wherever the arid ground yielded any herbage, the succulent grass of the Little Blue region was replaced by the short,

« ZurückWeiter »