« ZurückWeiter »
some cow-meat. This laudable desire had been frustrated in all the hunts he had joined since the buffalo left the Arkansas this season. He liked hump and tongue very well, but naturally preferred game which he could use more economically than simply to cut out these, and leave the carcass. So he proposed, a flank movement, by which we might get nearer to the herd.
Hunger had an equal anxiety to lasso some young calves. He had been very successful in this sport several summers before, and secured some capital specimens to send East, for curiosity, or to domesticate among the ranches for breeding. I was surprised to learn how frequent was the latter practice in this region. Numbers of the settlers between Atchison and Fort Kearney had reared buffalo calves, and crossed them with domestic cattle, the hybrids proving very serviceable working-cattle, somewhat surly and unmanageable at times, but possessing greater speed and endurance than the common ox. I was further told, on excellent authority, what seemed hard of belief, and under the circumstances was impossible of tangible demonstration, that this hybrid had been found perpetuable. This is a curious fact, when we recollect how much more the cow and the buffalo differ from each other than the horse and the ass, whose mules are still sterile. I was equally anxious with Hunger to get a nice pair of calves, as we were sufficiently near railroad communication to have sent them East to await our return.
Accordingly John Gilbert and ourselves set out in a nearly southwesterly direction, leading diagonally between the main course of the Republican and a line of tall, conical mounds, called the White Rock Buttes, parallel with the river six miles further south. We had gone about three miles across a rolling country, much like the plain traversed from Comstock's, without seeing anything but the rear of thjs herd lately stampeded by us, when John Gilbert caught sight of a much larger herd, feeding a little nearer the Republican than our line of march. He proposed that we should separate, and, by alarming this herd at different points, stampede them in such confusion as to break up their order, make them spread out and open their centre to attack. Hunger looked through his field-glass, and was sure he saw calves; Thompson took a look, and beheld the cows necessarily accompanying; I saw buffalo of some description or other, which was all that was needed to make me join the rest in assent to John Gilbert's proposition.
Hunger, Thompson, and myself went to the southerly; John Gilbert alone took toward the river side, with the intention of stampeding the herd back into our hands. We had gone a little over a mile when the thundering of hoofs announced that John had succeeded, and the next minute the herd came tearing over a high divide right toward us. As they saw us, they checked their impetus; but so near us did they get that each of us might have shot his bull without difficulty, had our design been so childish and murderous. As it was, we left our rifles alone, not intending to use them again till we could use the lasso with them. Still, no calves nor cows were visible. I began to despair of ever seeing them.
As the herd reached us, it swung its front round at right angles, and made about westerly. Munger, Thompson, and I immediately rushed at it with all speed, and it separated into roughly divided detachments, one of which each of us selected to chase down. The herd was larger than any we had yet seen. It was impossible that our glasses should have deceivepl us. There were cows and calves somewhere in the herd, and this was the way to find them.
In five minutes after I had selected my squad for attack, I was entirely separated from my companions. The ground was in splendid order for running; the lay of the land as favorable; my horse had acquired his "second wind," and his enthusiasm fully equaled my own. I never knew the ecstasy of the mad gallop until now. Like young Lochinvar, "We stayed not for brake, we stopped not for stone." Some draws which we crossed, made me shudder afterward as I thought of them. Now we were plunging with headlong bounds down bluffs of caving sand, fifty feet high, and steep as a fortress glacis, while the buffalo, crazy with terror, were scrambling half-way up to the top of the opposite side. Now we were following them in the ascent, my noble Nig using his fore-hoofs more like hands than any horse I ever saw before, fairly clawing his way up, with every muscle tense through passionate emulation. Now we were on the very haunches of our game, with a fair field before us, and no end to pluck and bottom for the rest of the chase, the buffalo laboring heavily, and their immense fore-parts coming down on their hoofs with a harder shock at every jump. Now we saw a broad, slippery buffalo-wallow just in time to leap it clear; now we plunged into the very middle of one, but Nig dug himself out of the mud with one frantic tug, and kept on. Still we came closer to our buffaloes, and suddenly I heard a loud thunder of trampling behind me.
I looked over my shoulder: there in plain, sight was another herd, tearing down on our rear. As I afterward discovered, this was the herd stampeded in separate columns by Munger and Thompson, joined again after making their detour. For nearly a mile in width stretched a line of angry faces, a rolling surf of wind-blown hair, a row of quivering lanterns, burning reddish-brown. The column was as deep as the line. I quickly bethought myself: It is death to get involved in a herd if my horse stumbles. If I have both pluck and luck to ride steadily in the line of the stampede until I can insinuate myself laterally, and make a break out through the side of the herd, all may go well with me, as it has with several hunters of my acquaintance, caught in this predicament. It was death to turn back. I should be trampled and gored to death. I should be wiped out like a grease-spot, and Nig with me, for the .terror of the herd was too extreme for me to hope to restampede them, with Hunger and Thompson probably somewhere close on their rear.
All this flashed through my mind in an instant. Nig was steadily shortening the distance between me and the herd ahead. I had just made up my mind to ride as long as he would stand in the line of the stampede, when the herd before me divided into two columns to pass around a low butte I had seen before. Quick as lightning this providential move of theirs suggested the means of my salvation. I made for the mound, reached its summit, and to Nig's great disgust, though he was fearfully short-breathed, and trickling with rivulets of sweat, halted him instantly to await the rear column. I had not many minutes of anxiety. The herd saw me fifty rods off, but, as I expected, paid no more attention to me than if I had been a grass-blade. Nor could they if they would. All stampedes are alike, whether of men or animals. For the front line to swerve is to be knocked down and slain instanter. This vis a teryo gives the van a courage of despair, while it takes away^all option of movement. So the angry front line of faces saw me without fear. I had only a minute of certain life. The next would see me safe or beaten to a mummy. I dismounted, held my horse's head away from the coming herd, and faced it myself, with the rein over my arm and my rifle poised. As the herd got within a hundred yards of the mound, I delivered one steadily aimed ball at the fore-shoulder of the nearest bulL He gave a single wild jump, and began limping on three legs. I had done for him. For a few seconds, fear of his pressing comrades gave him enough extra speed to keep up with the rest; but before the line reached the foot of the mound, he had tumbled, and the whole host was rushing over him. This obstacle, and the terror of his fate, sent the first lateral panic into the hearts of the herd. Once more, as the front line came so close that I could almost have jumped my horse, on to their backs, I fired my rifle again. The ball did no damage to any but itself, flattening like putty on the thick-matted Gibraltar of one old bull's frontispiece, but it served my turn, and split the herd. They divided just in time to avoid being crowded over the mound by their rear, and in a ino-" ment I was standing on a desert island, in a sea of billowing backs, flowed around on either side by a half-mile current of crazy buffaloes.