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scape, entered the cotton-wood grove, came to the very water's edge, — and found nowhere a trace of human kind.
I thought it must be a joke. The party had played some trick on me. They were punishing me for my long absence by hiding in the timber near by. But then where were the wagons? Where the horses, the wheel-tracks, — above all, where was the burnt spot left by our camp-fire?
I had to confess that this was not our camp. It needs no explanation to understand how with that confession came a full assurance of the fact that I was about as badly lost as it is possible for a man to be. If there were one place exactly like our camp, there might be fifty. And so there were. Should I go up or down the river?
I concluded on the latter course. I calculated as nearly as possible my distance from home when I reached the main herd, and found it unlikely that I could have made enough return with my tired horse to have brought me abreast of the camp again. I set off along the edge of the river timber, at the best rate my horse could travel. A mile down I was stopped by an impassable swamp, running entirely across from the foot of the bluff to the river bottom. The water vegetation in it was almost tropically rank, and its pools swarmed with ducks. I had no time or thought for shooting. I dismounted from my horse, and, finding the bluff loose and sandy ten feet up, I led him. along its slope around the marsh, in momentary danger of his falling on me, and both of us going into the bog.
We now entered a thick wood, containing some of the grandest old trees I ever saw in my life. They were mostly elms and cotton-woods, with an occasional oak, primeval in their size and luxuriance, making the ground under them black with the shadow of their dense foliage, and exhibiting tree-forms which might fill an artist with rapture. They grew entirely without underbrush, on a damp, velvety lawn of short grass, expanding their immense arms at the top of shafts a hundred feet in height, locking them together into their impenetrable roof, with graceful curves and grotesque angles, that surpassed anything in human architecture. It was one of those places continually met with in this region, which so strongly simulate human cultivation that the traveller finds it almost impossible to believe he is not in the park of some lordly demesne. To this feeling all wild animals contribute, biit -far beyond the rest, the gregarious buffalo, by making paths so like those of a well regulated country-seat that everybody exclaims at the first sight of them," Inhabited after all!" These are thoroughly well beaten, straight as a gardener could lay them out, or following the conformation of the land in curves that could not be bettered. To add to the human suggestions of the delicious grove I had entered, two such paths crossed each other in its centre. I found one of them a pleasant relief to my tired horse.
Pursuing it for half a mile, we emerged from the grove, or more properly became immersed in a thicket. Thorn-bushes hanging covered with wisps of buffalo hair recently scraped off, alternated with springy saplings, which in turn tore and flogged us, till I should have been driven back had there been any way out of the fix except forward. Patience, and an occasional use of my bowie-knife, at last hacked us out to daylight; but the view that broke on me was as little satisfactory as the thicket. A narrow rift, eight feet deep and three wide, its nearer side a moist, springy clay, opened at my feet, discharging a small stream into the river. I tied my horse for a moment, plunged down into the fissure, and drank tiU it seemed as if I should burst. Climbing up again, I surveyed the opposite bank. It was the side of the main bluff itself, thirty feet high, and slanting at an angle of little less than seventy degrees. The river had curved around to meet it past the marsh and wood which I had just traversed, cutting away the first bottom entirely. But this I did not know till afterward. I explained the nearness of the river to the precipice, by supposing that the bed of the former had fallen within the last two miles sufficiently to bring the first bottom as high above it as the bluff here appeared. Upon this, I reasoned that I must, after all, have struck the stream too far below our camp. Still, rather than turn back through the thicket, I would try crossing the rift and ascending to the top of the bluff, where I would have smooth ground for my return. The difficulty was how to get my horse over. There was no standing-room for a single pair of hoofs at the base of the bluff across the ditch. I accordingly built myself a bridge. In the first place, I flung lumps of clay from the springy side into the fissure, until I had a surface nearly enough even with the edge to receive a superstructure of sticks hacked from the thicket. On this treacherous fascine, which it took me a perspiring hour to complete, I managed to support the hind hoofs of my horse till he could dig his front ones into the bluff. I then ran before him, caught his bridle, and scaled the height, with the noble fellow scrambling up after me as deftly and almost as perpendicularly as a climbing monkey. I never saw a horse east of the Mississippi that could have comprehended and met the situation like Nig. Whoever came after us to our bridge of fascines, must have thought that a very badly educated company of beavers had been there.
I wandered for a quarter of a mile down the river. The banks grew higher and higher with every rod. I found no sign of human life anywhere, save the remains of a Sioux camp. The occupants had not been long gone; some of their lodge-poles lay in a bundle near the fire-place, and around it were still standing the crotched sticks on which they hung their pots. I had no anxiety to meet Sioux; and as the hope of encountering my companions seemed increasingly slight in this direction, I turned and began retracing my steps, leading my horse by the bridle. Poor Nig was so battered by his day's strain and hunger that I could make better time in this way than on his back.
A new misfortune now appeared to me. What scriptural writer says that trouble does not come out of the ground? He had never contemplated a series of draws, with precipitous sides, running a mile into the heart of a bluff upon whose edge he was travelling, with a tired horse, and used-up personality. Here was a trouble resulting from the ground, which might well excuse imprecation.
Did none of my readers ever get into a situation where Nature's obstacles seemed to have been created on purpose for him? I had descended one of these reentrant draws at imminent peril to my neck, and climbed the other side with a difficulty only conquered by desperation; I had made a detour of at least a mile, to get around another one, which looked absolutely untraversable; I now came to a third, with sides literally precipitous. Its walls were fifty feet high, and ran sinuously, eating about into the plain further than I could see, with numerous lateral ramifications. After several vain attempts to flank these trenches of Nature, I came back to the edge of the bluff, and considered myself. I was lost, faint, sick; my horse quite worn out, and the sun not an hour high. I was uncomfortably near the Sioux, who a few days before had taken a Colorado soldier, on a hunt from Fort Kearney and lost like myself; had robbed him of horse, ammunition, arms, all he had in the world; pulled out his beard, and left him naked as he was born, forty miles from the nearest white trapper. I made up my mind that I would descend the first practicable draw, cross the river, picket my horse, make a supper of sunflower-roots and wild onions, and camp down under my saddle-blankets, and with the returning light renew my search for our camp, along the northern and more level bank of the Republican. I was pretty sure that I could find the ford we had crossed, by hunting for our wheel-tracks. I accordingly led my horse down the nearest ramification of the great draw, and with great difficulty, for the bottom was a perfect slough, escaped from my embarrassments upon the low level of the river bank. Before I leave this entanglement of horrors, I must not omit to say that just before descending, I shot my first antelope. He was grazing on the side of a divide, quite six hundred yards off, to the naked eye appearing only a small brown spot in the sunshine. I wanted meat so badly that I never asked myself