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


The War Drums Roll

L ATE in the evening Jim and Wolf walked to the nearby Indian camp. Tall Bear, dressed in fine beaded doeskins and a war bonnet of eagle feathers, stood with his braves by the campfire. The flames of the fire lighted up the proud, young chief's handsome face.

"My friend," he smiled at Jim and turning to Wolf added, "I welcome you." He looked quickly back at Jim and then at Wolf again. He was no longer smiling.

"My scout here," Wolf nodded toward Jim, "tells me that you have many fur packs and that you will trade with me."

"No, I keep furs." Tall Bear folded his strong arms across his chest.

Wolf turned to Jim and said in a low voice, "I want those furs. See what you can do about it. Tell him I promise that you can trade with him. Promise anything, but get those furs." "Tall Bear," said Jim, "my captain says that I can trade with you."

"Good! Good!" Tall Bear stepped closer to Jim. "I trade with you."

Since the Indians were on the warpath, they did not have their fur packs with them. Tall Bear said that he would send some braves to get the packs which were hidden in a cache near their winter village. The village was many miles away and Tall Bear explained that it would be several days before the braves could return.

"We will wait," said Jim.

"Fine." Tall Bear bowed. "My friend, you go hunt with me in the morning?" he asked.

"I'd like to go," Jim answered. "I'll be ready after I bring in my traps and—"

"I'll go with you," interrupted Wolf.

"No,", Tall Bear's voice was sharp. "We go alone."

"I'll meet you here in the morning," spoke up Jim quickly. He felt Tall Bear's hostile manner toward Wolf and he was anxious to avoid a quarrel between them. "Good night, Tall Bear." Turning to Wolf he added, "We'll go back to our camp."

As they walked through the darkness Wolf sneered, "That redskin! He thinks because he's a chief he can insult me and get away with it. I'll show him that he can't. I'll show him."

"How?" questioned Jim. "By trying to shoot him in the back?"

Wolf, furious with anger, shouted, "That's none of your business!"

"But it is my business," replied Jim. "If you mistreat Tall Bear in any way, you'll settle with me. Do you understand?"

"How dare you tell me what to do?"

"Tall Bear is my friend. Now get this, Wolf, and get it straight. I'll not stand by and watch you try to cheat him."

Wolf laughed, but it was a scornful laugh. He strode on, leaving Jim behind.

When Jim reached camp he joined the trappers at one of the campfires. "What's the matter with Wolf?" a man asked as Jim sat down beside him.

Jim shrugged his shoulders. He made no reply.

"He's losing his grip on himself," said the man. "And that is bad for an Indian fighter."

"It certainly is," agreed another man. "Wolf has changed a lot on this trip and it worries me. I've seen other captains lose their temper. They become reckless and get their men into trouble. That's what is happening to Wolf."

Jim hesitated. He had not discussed his own troubles with the men for he felt that he could take care of himself. But now he knew that by remaining silent the lives of his fellow trappers might be in danger. He drew a deep breath.

"Wolf is trying to get even with me," he began. He told them about his quarrels with the Indian fighter and about their visit to Tall Bear's camp. "It has taken Wolf a long time to realize that he can't bluff me. But he knows it now and he is desperate. Any man who is desperate is also likely to be reckless. He will risk his own life and often the lives of others to get his own way."

"But why should he be angry at Tall Bear?" a trapper asked.

"For no reason except that Tall Bear is my friend," answered Jim. "If Wolf should mistreat him, we're headed for trouble."

"Oh, I don't think it's that serious," said a trapper. "You're just too anxious, Jim."

"I hope you're right."

In the morning Jim brought in his traps and stretched the beaver pelts. Then, mounting Wasaka, he rode to Tall Bear's camp. The chief was waiting for him. A few minutes later they were on the trail.

During the next few days Jim spent as much time as he could with the young Indian chief. They hunted and trapped together.

When the warriors returned with the fur packs Tall Bear invited the trappers to a feast. He was polite to Wolf, but it was Jim who sat in the place of honor beside the chief.

The feast and story-telling ended and the trading began. The fur packs were opened. Jim examined the furs while the Indians looked over the trading goods. The boxes of sturdy, sharp knives, small hand mirrors, yards of brightly colored cloth and many other articles filled them with delight.

Jim was fair in what he gave the braves for their furs. The Indians were pleased. They had not expected the bright glass beads which Jim had given them as small gifts to take to their squaws. But Jim understood the Indians and he knew they valued his friendly act more than the gifts.

When the trading was over Tall Bear came to Jim. "My braves and I thank you. My beads I take to my son. He papoose now. Some day he be chief."

Jim smiled. "I hope your son will like them. Now we must say good-by, Tall Bear. But we will meet again."

"We meet again."

As Jim and Wolf walked back to the trappers' camp Wolf said, "You could have had all their furs for half the goods you gave them. Why didn't you do it?"

"I've never cheated a white man," replied Jim, "and I don't intend to cheat an Indian."

"Well, I intend to get back half of the goods."

"You can't do it, Wolf," protested Jim. "Tall Bear and his braves traded with me in good faith because of your promise."

"Hang my promise!" shouted Wolf. "What do I care now that I have their furs. And as your captain I order you to tell that Indian chief to return half the goods."

"I refuse to obey your order." Jim's voice was low, but firm. "I told you once I would never carry out an order that would put the lives of my fellow trappers in danger. And that, is exactly what you are trying to do. You know, as well as I do, that the Indians will fight, if they think we tricked them."

"I guess you're right," said Wolf. "Well, we're breaking camp. Get on the trail."

A few minutes later Jim was on his way. He rode past the Indian camp and waved to the braves. Then, touching Wasaka lightly, he headed for the low hill leading to the trail.

Jim had gone only a mile or two when he heard the hoofbeats of a galloping horse behind him. He turned in his saddle and recognized the rider as one of the trappers.

"Jim!" the trapper called. "Get back to camp!"

Jim whirled his horse around. He raced back to the trapper. "What's happened?" he asked.

"It's Wolf," the man explained. "He's gone to Tall Bear's camp to demand that the Indians return half the goods. That means trouble, Jim. The men sent me on to bring you back to camp."

Jim held up his hand. "Listen," he said. From across the plains came the roll of war drums.

"You're the only man who can help us now, Jim."

"Come on, Wasaka!" Jim cried. "Come on!"

Like the wind Wasaka sped back over the trail. The war drums rolled again and Indian war whoops rang out.

Jim reached the top of the low hill overlooking the camp. He reined in Wasaka and pulled himself up in his stirrups. Near the edge of the Indians' camp he saw Tall Bear and Wolf. Tall Bear, mounted on his horse, signaled to his braves. They formed their ponies in a long line behind him and remained motionless as statues. A short distance away the trappers were standing behind a mound of boxes and fur packs.

"Tall Bear!" Jim called. "Let me talk to you."

The chief raised his hand. "My friend," he called in answer. He signaled to his braves and started to ride toward Jim. The war drums rolled softly and died away.

"It's Jim!" the cry went up among the trappers.

"I'm back just in time," Jim thought as he rode down the hill. He looked to see where Wolf was waiting. He did not see him.

A rifle shot shattered the sudden stillness. Tall Bear pitched forward in his saddle and fell to the ground, dead. The eagle feathers of his war bonnet were stained with blood.


From behind a tree a black puff of smoke betrayed the spot where the killer had stood. The braves screaming and yelling spread out to make a circle around the tree. Kicking the sides of their ponies the Indians closed in shouting their war whoops. The rays of the sun flashed from their tomahawks and long knives.

"Jim! Save me!" came Wolf's cry for help.

But it was all over for Wolf Andrews, the Indian fighter. The circle of warriors had closed in on him. When the braves spread out again, Wolf's lifeless body lay drenched in his blood.

Then like lightning the braves raced toward the trappers. The bark of the white men's guns split the air.

"How can I get to my men?" Jim asked himself. "There is only one thing to do, ride for it."

Leaning forward in his saddle he whispered, "Get going, Wasaka."

The horse obeyed. Indian arrows whizzed passed as Jim broke through the circle. The blazing guns of his own men blocked the way. But Jim did not hesitate. Straight toward his men he rode and, with Wasaka at full speed, he jumped from his saddle and fell behind the mound.

"Hold your fire, boys!" he cried. He stood up and called to the braves, "I am your friend. Do not fight my people."

The Indians stopped circling. They rode in toward Jim.

"You trick us," shouted a brave.

"No! No!" Jim dropped his rifle and stepped forward. "Let me talk to you."

"Why you trick us?" asked another brave.

"I did not trick you," answered Jim. "Believe me I am your friend. Do not blame me nor my men for the treachery of our captain. We do not want to fight you. You are all fine braves worthy to be the warriors of the great chief Tall Bear. He would not want you to fight my people."

"True! True!" shouted the braves.

"Then let us be friends."

The braves looked at one another. They held a council and at last one brave rode forward. "We do like you say."

The brave motioned to the other warriors. They rode back to their dead chief and dismounted. Sadly they carried the body of their beloved young chief to their camp.

Quietly Jim and the trappers watched them. When the braves began to sing their death song Jim bowed his head.

At last he said, "Bury Wolf," and in a low voice continued, "I'm going to Tall Bear's braves. They mourn the death of their chief, and so do I. Tall Bear was my friend."

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