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warrantable intrusion on the inmost Eleusinian mysteries of gourmanderie. But I can .imagine Soyer looking down on us from some fifth sphere of the world, where he is inventing a five hundredth method of treating ambrosia, and saying with tears of still human regret, "Ah! I died too soon!"
After dinner, the artist opened his color-box, and began making a study of the antelope's head, which had been left entire for his purpose, while the two other gentlemen of our Overland party, accompanied by John Gilbert, Ansell Comstock, Butler, and myself, shouldered our guns and started for the bluff, to try stalking buffalo on foot. The afternoon was very warm, and the tramp through the grass of the riverbottom by no means easy; but the enthusiasm of a first hunt would have carried our neophytes cheerfully twice as far.
We made our way to a precipitous draw, entering the bluff at a distance of three miles from our camp, and halted at its mouth to consider our course. On all the commanding prominences of the divide was stationed a giant bull, motionless, as if carven in bronze, noting our every gesture with red, inevitable eyes. We determined to hide in the cover of some low scrubby bushes, and wait until one of these sentinels came down from his post to drink (the only calculable relaxation of his vigilance) at a neighboring puddle, which lay stagnant in a hollow of the draw. Having distributed ourselves, we waited with held breath for nearly an hour. The sentinel had forgotten us, we thought, for he began moving toward our ambush on a slow stately walk, and descended the side of the draw. We crept along behind the bushes on our hands and knees, intending to flank him, and get to the top of the bluff among the herd -without his knowledge. Just as we cnme abreast of the puddle where he stood irresolutely snuffing, with an evident suspicion weighing on his crafty mind, we looked upward at the post he had just left, and there was another bull, as large and wary as the sentry off duty. We were out-maneuvered, after all; and in revenge for our calloused knee-pans, I regret to say that we poured one simultaneous volley into the buffalo at the puddle. But even an old bull-steak, or the juicy hump and tongue, which were the only valuable part of him, were denied us by an excitement which confused our aim. Revenge must be cool to fire straight. As it was, we had the mortification of seeing him lash with his tail such inconsequential portions of his surface as we had hit at the shamefully small range of one hundred and fifty yards, and without apparent inconvenience shamble away on a leisurely cow-trot, up the draw toward his comrade.
"Cuss his tough hide!" ejaculated John Gilbert . "Why didn't we shoot for him in the first place, instead o' trying to creep round? Then we'd a' had a good tongue for supper at least . Now we hain't got nothin'."
Some one suggested that we had intended to find better game in the herd, — if we had got there.
"Ef—that's very good — ef" said John Gilbert . "Well, — we didn't. Now I don't believe in throwin' away a chance that's clost to you, for a maybe ten mile off. It's too much like Thompson's colt, that swam a rdyvin [ravine] to get a drink, 'cause he'd allays been watered on t'other side."
Both the bulls had now moved out of sight, leaving their late sentry-station unoccupied. We coneluded to move up the draw as fast as possible, and get to the top of the bluff before the panic had become general among the herd, — there to lie down out of sight, while confidence was getting restored, and finally to creep through the grass, near enough for another shot . We ran up the draw at double quick, bending as low as possible, and had nearly reached the upper debouchment, when a turn to the right uncovered us to another prominence, and there lowered another pair of vengeful red eyes, burning out of a shaggy fell of hair! We dropped down in an instant, but too late. With a leisurely step, the grim old vedette retreated in good order on the main body.
To gratify new men, whose desire to see and capture buffalo was greater than any possible belief in human experience, our frontiersmen, telling us all the while that it was useless, assisted us for three hours in twice as many repetitions of this maneuver. We might as well have attempted to surprise Grant or Napoleon. Our failures were good for us; for they taught us more of the habits of the buffalo than we could have learned at home from a course of lectures, or a monograph of many pages devoted to that animal.
Had we not learned it with our own eyes, we never could have regarded a true statement of the case as anything but a traveller's tale, and would have filed it alongside of stories about the Gyascutus, or the pelican feeding her young with blood from her own breast.
In very truth, the disposition of the buffalo troops is not surpassed by the most skillful general's arrangement of his forces. On the moment of reach
ing a new feeding-ground, they fall into an order which seems rather the result of masterly strategy and deep-laid plan than any unconscious result of mere brute instinct. If, as is the case at the season when we visited them, the cows are running with newly dropped calves, the sucklings and their mothers are • placed in the very centre of the herd. Just outside of these is a series of lines occupied by the weaned calves and yearlings. The next concentric layer consists of the young bulls, able to fight and shift pretty well for themselves, but not yet to be trusted with state secrets, or the keys of a defensive position. Outside of these come the veterans of the corps,— venerable bulls, who have crossed the Arkansas and the Platte many successive summers,— who know all the good feeding-grounds, and can exercise a general direction and supervision over the cows and the youngsters on the march for their first or second time. These form the advance of the army proper. From their ranks, by a principle of natural selection as unerring as Darwin's, come the skirmishers, who reconnoitre for the advance, and the pickets, who protect the main body. For both these functions, the very oldest and most wary bulls are chosen ; but even here a distinction is made which it is interesting to notice. I repeatedly found maimed and invalid bulls among the veterans on picket-duty, but never once among those thrown forward as skirmishers. A tacit conviction seems to exist among the buffaloes that, while age and experience are necessary for responsible posts of observation, perfect soundness of physique must accompany these to constitute the proper pioneers of a campaign. A bull, carrying in his hip the ten-years' souvenir of an ounce ball, or an arrow-head, can limp back from a sentry-post, a mile or two outside the grazing herd, in time to stampede them by intelligence of an enemy; but nothing short of perfect wind and limb consists with the duty of going five or ten miles ahead of a corps, to scent and discover pasture. I have noticed their arrangement so widely that it is no mere theory with me, arising from an admiration which insists on pushing to the extreme a parallel between human and bovine sagacity.
The bulls selected for sentry duty take up their position on all the prominences of the divide, leaving unoccupied, as we discovered on the day referred to, and always afterward, not a single point from which an approaching enemy may be commanded. The buffalo, widely different from the antelope, depends scarcely at all on his scent; but those great round eyes of his, glowing in their earnestness or anger, like balls of fiery asphaltum, possess a length of range, and an inevitability of keenness, scarcely surpassed by those of any quadruped running wild on our continent. Crouch and crawl where you may, you cannot enter the main herd without half a dozen pair of them successively, or at a time, focusing full upon you. Instant retreat of their owners follows; at first no faster than a majestic walk, but, if your pursuit be hot, with increasing gradations of speed up to the heavy cow-gallop; and then comes the stampede of the late quietly feeding herd, in a cloud of dust, and with a noise of thunder, like a general engagement.
I have said it is impossible to get by the sentries; but there is an exception for the case of a hunter, who, disguised in a wolf or antelope skin, is willing to crawl slowly, dragging a rifle, for two or three miles; or the still rarer case of one who, lying down