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Later in the day, we learned the only way to hunt antelope with unvarying success. It is an old Indian method, and the white men on the Plains have learned as much adroitness in it as their exemplars. The antelope is not afraid of horses; and by walking in the cover of his saddle-animal, the hunter can get quite near a flock without being discovered, provided he approaches against the wind. If the wind blows from him, it is astonishing how quickly their scent warns them of him, without the least aid from their eyes. Having got as near them as he dares in this way, he throws the coil of his lariat down from the saddle-horn, crouches and pickets his horse with a sharp stake, always carried with him for the purpose. Lying in the grass, he ties his bright colored bandanna (a strip of white cloth will answer, faule de mieuw) to a tall sunflower stalk, his ramrod, or a stick of any kind. If still too far off to attract his game, he crawls low on his hands and knees, dragging his rifle by his side, until he reaches a spot of such prominence that they would be sure to see him in an instant if he stood up. There he quietly lies down again on his stomach, and lifts his extemporized flag as high as he can reach. The antelopes see it, stop browsing, raise their heads, and peer forward with bulging eyes, but show no signs of fright. The flag is for a moment dropped out of sight into the grass. The beautiful creatures lower their noses, and attempt to resume their dinner. But there is something on their minds. After one or two distrait pulls at the sweet grass-roots, their heads are again lifted, and again they peer earnestly forward. Up goes the flag once more, and this time perhaps with a slow waving motion. The antelopes' curiosity is now thor
oughly excited. For an instant they pause irresolutely, then make two or three hesitating steps in advance, snuffing as they go. Again the flag is lowered. They turn to each other, and seem to be holding a parley. Their inevitable conclusion is that they will pursue their reconnoissance, and see what strange bird that is fluttering above the grass. When the flag is once more lifted, they advance again, and finally, unless the wind shifts, or the recumbent hunter finds his patience ebbing, come up almost within pistol-shot of his ambush. Crack goes his rifle; and he must be a poor shot indeed if one of the beautiful quarries before him does not turn a summerset and tumble headlong. I have known a single rifle-ball do the business for two antelopes, where they stood in range. If now the hunter does not discover himself, one at least of the remaining antelopes is often easily bagged. The survivors dart away for a moment from the side of their fallen comrade, but do not go far, often return, and nearly always stand still, to satisfy their own curiosity, within easy rifle-shot of the hunter. But unless he actually needs the meat at once, or can avail himself of it before it spoils, the thorough-going hunter of the Plains is too chivalrous and merciful (to say nothing of economy, in a country where game is as plenty as at creation) to slaughter a beautiful animal for which, despite his own rough exterior, he has a true, even poetical, admiration. I never found a hunter on the Plains (I am not including boy-tourists and foreign emigrants) who would not blush to emulate Gordon Cummings. About six miles south of the spot where we encountered our first antelope, we saw our first buffaloes. John Gilbert, the wariest hunter of the whole party, rode alongside of our buggy, and quietly pointed to eight or ten scattered black dots on a divide, nearly three miles away, to our right. Our glasses revealed their character; and I should be almost ashamed to let an old hunter know what a fever of enthusiasm that far-off glance communicated to my blood. It was such a strange jumble of feeling to remember operas, National Academy pictures, and the crowd on Broadway, so close on the heels of these grand old giants, who own the monarchy of the Continent's freest wilderness. I felt as happy as a green boy, and trembled all over. Buffaloes — indubitable buffaloes—feeding on that vast, sunny, fenceless mead, in as matter-of-fact and bovine a manner as any New England farmer's cows on one of Coleman's or Shattuck's elm-dotted pasture-lots. They were too far away to take any notice of us, and proved to be only the outposts of the herd,—the extreme advance of venerable bulls, pushed across the Republican to reconnoitre.
Just after we saw the buffaloes, I had a remarkable instance of John Gilbert's delicate Indian training as a guide. We had been steering all the morning, since we left the Blue, by the points of compass, but following the main divides for the sake of a good track as closely as we could without inconvenient aberration from the ford on the Republican, for which we had been making. The ground now began rising before us, and we came to a place where the divide forked. We had not yet seen the Republican, nor the timber which marked its first bottom. It became a question to us which way we should turn, east or west, as nothing more entirely without landmarks than the Plains out of sight of timber can well be imagined.