The Christmas Reindeer  by Thornton W. Burgess

The Round-Up

S PRING came, and before the snow was gone, the fawns were born. It was a cold, cold world that those baby deer came into, but they did not seem to mind it. Those were busy days for Tuktu and Aklak, for they spent much time looking up the mother deer to see that their babies were properly taken care of. Now and then they would find a fawn that had lost its mother and then would begin a search for the mother. Little by little the snow disappeared and the big herd began to move toward the sea. It was heading toward the summer range.

Tuktu and Aklak looked forward eagerly to the summer visit to the coast—Aklak for the hunting and fishing, and Tuktu for the delight of watching the sea fowl and hunting for their eggs. Then there was the great round-up. That was always exciting. Tuktu took no part in it, but Aklak was big enough now to help. The round-up would occur soon after the herd reached the coast. Some of the herders had already gone ahead to prepare the great corral. This was simply a huge pen of brush and sticks with wings to it, so that as the grazing herd came on, it got between these wings without knowing it at first, and then kept on going until the whole herd was in the great pen, called the corral. The herders would follow and shut them in.


The families of the herders who had gone ahead were taken with them, so that the camp was made and everything ready before the arrival of the deer. The latter had not been driven, but had been allowed to take their own time, grazing as they went. But they too were eager to get to the shore, and so they had moved forward quite rapidly.

One morning Aklak came hurrying in with word that the great herd was approaching. Everybody went out to see the round-up and to help by seeing that none of the deer were allowed to get outside of the wings of the corral. The leaders of the big herd unsuspiciously came up over the brow of a little hill. It was beyond this hill that the great corral had been built, so that the deer would not see it until they were over the hill. At first, the herd was widely spread, but as they came within the wings of the great corral, the fences forced them nearer together, until as they entered the corral they were closely packed. Once inside, they began to mill, which is, as you know, to go around and around. It was a wonderful sight. It would have been still more wonderful had they had their antlers, but these had been shed and the new ones had but just started. On the farther side of the corral was a gateway opening into a very narrow passage, which grew narrower and narrower until it was just wide enough for one deer to pass through. Into this the herders turned the milling animals as fast as they could be handled. As the deer came through this narrow passage, they were counted and the ear-marks were noted. Of course, there were the ear-marks of several owners in that great herd and each kept a record of the deer bearing his ear-mark, as they came through this narrow passage called the "chute." The fawns going through with their mothers were roped as they came out of the chute and ear-marked, each one being given the ear-mark of its mother. It was very exciting.

Now, could you have sat on the corral fence and seen that great herd of animals milling within the corral, I am sure you would have held tight to your seat. You would have been quite sure that no one could go down inside without being trampled to death. But the deer people are a gentle people. More than once Tuktu or Aklak, wishing to be on the other side of the corral, walked right through the herd, the deer making way for them as they walked.

Perhaps you can guess how eagerly Tuktu watched to see if Speedfoot, that deer of her father's, which she was sure the Good Spirit had chosen, would appear in the herd. She was sure he wouldn't, but there would be no convincing Aklak until the last deer had passed through the chute. Aklak was so busy helping in the marking of the unmarked deer, that he could not watch all the deer that passed through, but you may be sure he kept as good a watch as he could.

At last, the round-up was over. All the fawns had been ear-marked. Each owner had counted his deer and knew just how much his herd had increased. As soon as there was a chance, Tuktu whispered in Aklak's ear, "I told you that Speedfoot was not in the herd. Wait now until the herd moves up to the Valley of the Good Spirit, and you will find him there."

Of course Kutok had been watching for that particular deer. It had been the pride of his heart the year before, and its disappearance had worried him. He had thought that somehow it might have been overlooked on the winter grazing grounds, but when the round-up was over, he knew that the animal was not in the herd. Then he was torn between fear and hope. His fear was that the animal had strayed from the herd and been killed by wolves. His hope was—I do not have to tell you what his hope was. It was that this summer they would find Speedfoot bearing the ear-marks of the Good Spirit. To Kutok and to Aklak it was merely a hope, but to Tuktu it was a certainty. She hadn't the least shadow of doubt, and her heart sang for joy.