Gateway to the Classics: Fur Trappers of the Old West by A. M. Anderson
Fur Trappers of the Old West by  A. M. Anderson


Trailed by Indians

W OLF ANDREWS' fist caught Jim under the chin and sent him reeling to the ground. Jim was stunned by the blow. In the mist before his eyes the Indian fighter appeared like a giant, cruel and evil. Everything in camp whirled about him. And floating slowly earthward, the eagle feather spun round and round.

Wolf saw the feather, too. He grabbed at it, but missed and the feather fell to the ground. He leaned over, picked it up and stuck it into the front of his buckskin shirt. Then with a savage growl he plunged toward Jim.

It had taken Wolf only a few seconds to pick up the feather, but that was all the time Jim needed. He was on his feet and ready. He blocked Wolf's bow, and swung with all his might.


"Wolf! Jim!" a trapper shouted. "Stop it!" They paid no attention, nor did they stop fighting until they were separated. Even then, Jim held by Bill Sublette and Bastian, struggled to free himself, as two trappers led Wolf away.

During the fight General Ashley had joined the men. In the excitement they had not noticed him.

"Bridger," he said stepping forward, "if you can't get along with Wolf Andrews, then stay away from him."

"I must tell you what happened," said Jim.

"I don't listen to the quarrels of my men."

"But, General, I must tell you."

"I don't listen to the quarrels of my men," Ashley repeated. He turned and hurried toward the river.

Jim watched the general for a minute. Then he walked slowly to the campfire where Tom and a group of men were cooking breakfast.

"Come on, Jim," called Tom. "You're leaving camp with me in ten minutes. Have your gun and plenty of ammunition."

"My gun and plenty of ammunition?"

"Yes, Henry has put me in charge of a new hunting party," explained Tom. "I'm taking you and Bill Sublette with me. I'll meet you here."

Jim whistled. "Thanks, Tom. Thanks a lot."

A short time later the three hunters mounted their horses and left camp. They rode northward across the plains.

They had gone only a mile when Tom slowed his horse to a trot. He pointed to a spot ahead where the tall grass was tramped down. It was clear that horses had been hobbled there, and that Indians had camped near by.

"Bill, ride back to Major Henry," ordered Tom. "Tell him to warn the men that we have found a deserted Indian camp. Tell him to send the scouts on here with you. They can follow the Indians' trail."

Bill turned his horse about and raced away.

"Let's look around while we wait for Bill," said Tom. "This camp may have been used by peaceful braves, but," he added, "we can't be too careful."

"I think the braves are trailing our party. Maybe they are waiting to steal our horses."

"What makes you think so?"

Jim told Tom about the midnight watch and about his fight with Wolf. "And now I'm more suspicious of Wolf than ever," said Jim.

"I don't like it." Tom shook his head. "Jim, you and I are going to watch him. If he is up to something we can find out what it is."

A short time later Bill returned with the scouts. As Tom pointed out the Indian trail he said, "From the signs I would say there are about twenty braves in the party."

"Probably a small hunting party," said a scout.

"You mean a hunting party of twenty horse thieves," spoke up another.

"That's what we want to find out," laughed the leader. "Come on, boys, let's ride."

The scouts raced away. The hunters turned their horses northward. Early in the afternoon they sighted a herd of more than a thousand buffalo.

Tom explained that they must approach the herd against the wind for the buffalo had a keen sense of smell. If they rode in with the wind the buffalo would smell them and stampede. He told them how to shoot the great shaggy beasts.

"The bullet," he said, "must be aimed directly into the heart region. Now the way to do it is to ride close to the animal and aim carefully just behind the left shoulder. Take your time and don't get excited. Don't fire until your aim is true. Come on, boys, follow me."

They raced their horses along the edge of the herd. Three rifles barked and three buffalo dropped in their tracks. The herd, frightened by the gunfire, broke into a stampede.

The hunters watched the headlong flight of the herd until it disappeared. Then, laughing and joking, they began to butcher the buffalo they had killed. When they had finished they started back to join their outfit on the Missouri River.

When they reached the river they met the scouts. The scouts had followed the trail from the deserted Indian camp and had finally located the braves.

"They claim to be out on a hunt," said the scout leader.

"Have you reported to Major Henry?" asked Tom.

"Yes, I have," answered the leader. "He thinks the band is following our party. He has ordered us to keep even closer watch from now on."

"How did you get along today, Tom?" a scout asked.

"Fine," laughed Tom. "I'll make hunters out of these greenhorns yet."

Early each morning the hunters left camp. Jim and Bill had much to learn about hunting on the plains. Fortunately for them, Tom was a good teacher as well as a good hunter. He taught them how to follow trails, read signs, and to use signals.

It was a real job to kill enough game every day to feed a hundred hungry men. The teamwork of the hunters, however, made it easier. When one sighted a herd of buffalo, he signaled the others. The three guided their horses to the rear of the herd. When they were ready Tom gave the signal. They raced into position and three rifles barked.

When they hunted elk or deer they usually rode along the high, wooded bluffs of the river. As soon as they spotted a herd they slipped from their saddles and hobbled their horses. Then quietly they stalked forward until they were within rifle range.

One afternoon as the hunters were on their way back to the river Jim sighted a band of twenty Indians in the distance. Although some of the braves were mounted on Indian ponies, most of them were riding good horses. The hunters paid little attention to the horses as they knew the horse-stealing ability of the Indians. Even the snow-white horse of the chief did not seem important.

When the hunters sighted the same band the following two days, however, they were disturbed. There was no mistaking the spirited snow-white horse of the chief.

As soon as they reached camp the hunters reported to Major Henry. "I'm sure those Indians are up to something," said Tom.

"Why don't we fight them?" asked Bill.

"Indians seldom attack an alert party," replied Henry. "They depend almost entirely on surprise. Anyway we're not out here to fight Indians, Bill. We're here for just one purpose—to trap beaver."

"Couldn't the Indians be waiting for a war party to join them?" asked Jim.

"Yes, they could be, Jim. But that is the chance we must take. This is more than a question of defeating twenty braves. We are in enemy territory and we are surrounded by thousands of hostile Indians. I have fought the Indians many times, but I have never started a fight. We shall try to avoid trouble this time, but if we are attacked we will fight."

Henry turned to Tom. "Keep watching those Indians," he ordered. "Report to me each night."

Every day during the next week the hunters spotted the band of Indians. As always, the chief on the snow-white horse was with them. When the hunters tried to talk with them the Indians raced away.

"They would like to make trouble for us all right," said Tom one day as the three hunters watched the last of the band disappear over the top of a hill.

"And I still think Wolf Andrews has something to do with it," said Jim. "Don't you, Tom?"

"Yes, I do," answered Tom, "but the horses are guarded all the time. The Indians may get tired of trailing the outfit. Then, too, I think Wolf knows that we are watching him."

"He ought to know it by this time," laughed Jim. "He is the first person I look for every night, and it isn't because I'm fond of him either."

In April, when the trapping party left St. Louis, the young greenhorns expected to fight one Indian battle after another. They were disappointed that the party had reached the territory of what is now the state of North Dakota without a fight.

For awhile it seemed that the band of Indians led by the chief riding the snow-white horse might cause trouble. But now even the excitement of being trailed was gone. For the past week neither the scouts nor the hunters had seen the band of braves.

Late one afternoon in August the hunters were on their way back to join their party. As they rode along Tom said, "I wish we had spotted that band of redskins today."

"I thought you were glad they weren't trailing us," said Bill. "What are you worrying about now?"

Tom laughed a little. "Now I'm worried because we don't see them."

"I'm worried, too," said Jim. "I don't know why, but I just feel that something is wrong."

They rode on in silence. They let their horses follow the trail at a slow pace. The trail led them across the open country to a bluff overlooking the river.

About a mile downstream the approaching party could be seen. Along the west bank came the land party and the guards with the extra mules and horses. The keelboat was far out in the river.

"Well, there's our outfit," said Jim, "and I'm surely glad to see it."

"Let's ride down to meet the men," said Bill.

"That's a good idea." Tom headed his horse to a path which zigzagged down the bluff to the flat river bottom. "Follow me."

They made their way down the path and left the game they had shot during the day under a tall tree. Then, laughing and talking, they started downstream.

Suddenly Jim reined in his horse. "Indians!" he pointed. "Indians!"

Out of the west a band of screaming Indians galloped down the bluff just ahead of the land party. At a signal from the leading brave, the Indians reined in their horses and stopped. The brave rode forward to meet the trappers.

"Come on, boys," called Tom. "If this means trouble we want to be with our men."

They touched their horses lightly and raced to join their fellow trappers.

"Isn't that Wolf Andrews talking to the brave?" asked Tom as he slowed his horse down to a trot.

"Yes, it is," Jim answered.

"Let's find out what this is all about."

As they neared the two men they heard Wolf say, "Tell your chief that I am not afraid of his threats. Tell him to stop trailing us or we will fight."

"We no want to fight," replied the brave. "I tell you that before. We want guns. You promise guns long time now."

"I said to stop trailing this outfit."

"You trick us." The brave waved his tomahawk in Wolf's face. "Give us guns or we take horses."

"Andrews!" called Tom, "do you need our help?"

"No," snapped Wolf. He whirled his horse around. "Get over there with the men. I can settle this."

"Let Major Henry settle it," suggested Tom. "He is in command."

"He's on the boat so I'm in command right now. I'll handle this my own way."

"Do you know this Indian?"

"I never saw him in my life."

"You lie! You lie!" screamed the brave. "I talk to you before."

"I never saw you in my life," Wolf shouted. "Now take your braves and get out of here."

Without another word the brave headed back to the waiting Indians. Wolf kicked his horse and rode toward the land party. The hunters followed him.

The Indians shouted a war whoop. At the signal a war party of almost two hundred braves swept down the bluff. The chief, in full war dress, was in the lead. He was mounted on the handsome snow-white horse.

The attack was on. Arrows whizzed through the air.

"Get ready, men," called Wolf. He gave the order. "Fire!"

The guns of the trappers blazed.

The greenhorns were stunned by the swiftness of the attack. They were untrained and reckless. They had yet to learn the strictest law of the mountain men—to fight together. But as they recovered from their shock, they fought bravely to defend themselves and the prized horses and mules.

The Indians retreated. While they were preparing for another attack Wolf ordered the old-timers to take over the front line of defense. Jim, Bill, and a few other plucky greenhorns were with them.

Jim forgot his suspicion and distrust of Wolf. Now, in spite of himself, he admired the cool courage of the Indian fighter.

The Indians attacked again. The steady fire from the front line threw them back. But they returned. This time they circled and surrounded the trappers.

"Here's my chance to get that chief," shouted Wolf. He fired. The chief pitched forward and fell to the ground, dead. The white horse reared into the air as a wild shot hit him. The horse stumbled and fell beside his master and lay still.

When the braves saw their chief fall, they attacked with renewed fury. Slowly they gained ground.

The last attack was over in less than fifteen minutes. The Indians were gone and with them every horse and mule in the outfit. Five trappers had been killed and twenty had been wounded.

"Well, Jim," said Tom, "now we will never be able to prove that Wolf was mixed up with that band of Indians. The brave he was talking to and the chief were both killed."

"Yes," replied Jim, "and so was the trapper Wolf claimed was with him that night on guard duty."

They were interrupted as Wolf joined them. "Ashley and Henry are coming ashore," he said. "They will question us about the attack. What are you going to tell them?"

"The truth," Jim and Tom answered quickly.

"Go ahead. It's your word against mine."

As the Indian fighter walked away Tom said, "He's right, Jim. They won't believe our story."

"Why not?"

"Because his clever lies will make the truth sound ridiculous."

"Well, then I guess he wins this time."

"Yes, he wins this time," agreed Tom.

That night quiet groups of discouraged men sat around the campfires. None of them spoke. They just sat there staring into the dancing flames.

"Men," came the voice of Major Henry, "General Ashley and I want to talk to you."

When the men gathered around the two leaders Ashley said, "I do not need to tell you that our defeat is serious. You know it. But we are not turning back. We are going on."

The men cheered.

Major Henry raised his hand for silence. "We can't get to Three Forks this fall," he said. "But we'll push on to the Yellowstone River two hundred miles from here. We will fort up there for the winter. General Ashley and some men will return to St. Louis to equip another trapping party. They will meet us next fall on the Yellowstone.

"This coming spring the rest of us will head for Three Forks, the land of the beaver, and—" he paused, "the land of the Blackfeet Indians. The Blackfeet are the fiercest tribe of Indians I have ever met. They are powerful enemies and they are determined to keep us out of their country.

"Now, you greenhorns have just been through your first Indian attack. Those of you who think it was a real Indian fight should return to St. Louis • with General Ashley. Why, those horse-thieving Indians are like squaws compared to the bloody Blackfeet! I want only the men who can take plenty of action to remain with me. If you want to fall out now, raise your hands."

Not a man moved.

"Then it's settled," smiled the major. "I can't promise that you will all become good trappers—'up to beaver.' But I can promise that you will have a chance to prove your worth as mountain men."

1. Why didn't Henry attack the Indians?

2. What did the greenhorns have to learn about fighting?

3. Give your definition of teamwork.

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