Gateway to the Classics: The Burgess Animal Book for Children by Thornton W. Burgess
The Burgess Animal Book for Children by  Thornton W. Burgess

Thunderfoot, Fleetfoot and Longcoat

"W HO remembers the name of the order to which all members of the Deer family belong?" asked Old Mother Nature.

"I remember what it means, but not the name," spoke up Happy Jack Squirrel. "It means hoofed."

"It is Un—Un—Ungu—" began Peter Rabbit and then stopped. For the life of him he couldn't think of the rest.

"Ungulata," Old Mother Nature finished for him. "And Happy Jack has the meaning right. It is the order to which all hoofed animals belong. There are several families in the order, one of which you already have learned about—the Deer family. Now comes the family of Cattle and Sheep. It is called the Bovidæ family, and the biggest and most important member is Thunderfoot the Bison, commonly called Buffalo.

"Thunderfoot is more closely related to Bossy, Farmer Brown's Cow, than are the members of the Deer family, for he has true horns, not antlers. These are hollow and are not dropped each year, but are carried through life. Mrs. Thunderfoot has them also. The horns grow out from the sides of the forehead and then curve upward and inward, and are smooth and sharp. They are never branched.

"Thunderfoot is a great, heavy fellow the size of Farmer Brown's Ox, and has a great hump on his shoulders. He carries his head low and from his throat hangs a great beard. His head is large and is so covered with thick, curly hair that it appears much larger than it really is. His tail is rather short and ends in a tassel of hair. The hair on his body and hind quarters is short and light brown, but on his shoulders and neck and his fore legs to the knees it is long and shaggy, dark brown above and almost black below."

"He must be a queer looking fellow," spoke up Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

"He is," replied Old Mother Nature. "The front half of him looks so much bigger than the rear half that it almost seems as if they didn't belong together."

"What does he eat?" asked Jumper the Hare.

"Grass," replied Old Mother Nature promptly. "He grazes just as does Bossy. When the weather becomes hot his thick coat, although much of it has been shed, becomes most uncomfortable. Also he is tormented by flies. Then he delights in rolling in mud until he is plastered with it from head to feet.

"Many years ago there were more Bison than any other large animal in this country, and they were found in nearly all parts of it. Some lived in the woods and were called Wood Buffaloes, but the greatest number lived on the great plains and prairies, where the grass was plentiful. I have told you about the great herd of Barren Ground Caribou, but this is nothing to the great herds of Bison that used to move north or south, according to the season, across the great prairies. In the fall they moved south. In the spring they moved north, following the new grass as it appeared. When they galloped, the noise of their feet was like thunder.

"But the hunters with terrible guns came and killed them for their skins, killed them by hundreds of thousands, and in just a few years those great herds became only a memory. Thunderfoot, once Lord of the Prairies, was driven out of all his great kingdom, and the Bison, from being the most numerous of all large animals, is to-day reduced to just a few hundreds, and most of these are kept in parks by man. Barely in time did man make laws to protect Thunderfoot. Without this protection he would not exist to-day.

"A close neighbor of Thunderfoot's in the days when he was Lord of the Prairies was Fleetfoot the Antelope. Fleetfoot is about the size of a small Deer, and in his graceful appearance reminds one of Lightfoot, for he has the same trim body and long slim legs. He is built for speed and looks it. From just a glance at him you would know him for a runner just as surely as a look at Jumper the Hare would tell you that he must travel in great bounds. The truth is, Fleetfoot is the fastest runner among all my children in this country. Not one can keep up with him in a race.


Unless rigidly protected this beautiful animal will soon become extinct.

"Fleetfoot's coat is a light yellowish-brown on the back and white underneath. His forehead is brown and the sides of his face white. His throat and under side of his neck are white, crossed by two bands of brown. His hoofs, horns and eyes are black, and there is a black spot under each ear. Near the end of his nose he is also black, and down the back of his neck is a black line of stiff longer hairs. A large white patch surrounds his short tail. Who remembers what I told you about Antelope Jack, the big Jack Hare of the Southwest?"

"I do!" cried Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare together.

"What was it, Jumper?" asked Old Mother Nature.

"You said that he has a way of making the white of his sides seem to grow so that he seems almost all white, and can signal his friends in this way," replied Jumper.

"Quite right," replied Old Mother Nature. "I am glad to find that you remember so well. Fleetfoot does the same thing with this white patch around his tail. The hairs are quite long and he can make them spread out so that that white patch becomes much larger, and when he is running it can be seen flashing in the sun long after he is so far away that nothing else of him can be seen. His eyes are wonderfully keen, so by means of these white patches he and his friends can signal each other when they are far apart.

"Fleetfoot has true horns, but they are unlike any other horns in that they are shed every year, just like the antlers of the Deer family. They grow straight up just over the eyes, are rather short, and fork. One branch is much shorter than the other, and the longer one is turned over at the end like a hook. From these horns he gets the name of Pronghorn.

"When running from danger he carries his head low and makes long leaps. When not frightened he trots and holds his head high and proudly. He prefers flat open country, and there is no more beautiful sight on all the great plains of the West than a band of Fleetfoot and his friends. He is social and likes the company of his own kind.

"The time was when these beautiful creatures were almost as numerous as the Bison, but like the latter they have been killed until now there is real danger that unless man protects them better than he is doing there will come a day when the last Antelope will be killed, and one of the most beautiful and interesting of all my children will be but a memory."

There was a note of great sadness in Old Mother Nature's voice. For a few minutes no one spoke. All were thinking of the terrible thing that had happened at the hands of man to the great hosts of two of the finest animals in all this great land, the Bison and Antelope, and there was bitterness in the heart of each one, for there was not one there who did not himself have cause to fear man.

Old Mother Nature was the first to break the silence. "Now," said she, "I will tell you of the oddest member of the Cattle and Sheep family. It is Longcoat the Musk Ox, and he appears to belong wholly neither to the Cattle nor the Sheep branch of the family, but to both. He connects the two branches in appearance, reminding one somewhat of a small Bison and at the same time having things about him very like a Sheep.


He is related to both cattle and sheep and his home is in the Arctic regions.

"Longcoat the Musk Ox lives in the Farthest North, the land of snow and ice. He has been found very near the Arctic Ocean, and how he finds enough to eat in the long winter is a mystery to those who know that snow-covered land. He is a heavily built, round-bodied animal with short, stout legs, shoulders so high that they form a hump, a low-hung head and sheeplike face, heavy horns which are flat and broad at the base and meet at the center of the forehead, sweeping down on each side of the head and then turning up in sharp points. His tail is so short that it is hidden in the long hair which covers him.

"This hair is so long that it hangs down on each side so that often it touches the snow and hides his legs nearly down to his feet. In color it is very dark—brown, almost black, and on his sides is straight. But on his shoulders it is curly. In the middle of the back is a patch of shorter dull-gray hair.

"Underneath this coat of long hair is another coat of woolly, fine light-brown hair, so close that neither cold nor rain can get through it. It is this warm coat that makes it possible for him to live in that terribly cold region. He is about twice as heavy as a big Deer. At times he gives off a musky odor, and it is from this that he gets his name of Musk Ox.

"Longcoat is seldom found alone, but usually with a band of his friends. This is partly for protection from his worst enemies, the Wolves. When the latter appear, Longcoat and his friends form a circle with their heads out, and it is only a desperately hungry Wolf that will try to break through that line of sharp-pointed horns.

"In rough, rocky country he is as sure-footed as a Sheep. In the short summer of that region he finds plenty to eat, but in winter he has to paw away the snow to get at the moss and other plants buried beneath it. Practically all other animals living so far North have white coats, but Longcoat retains his dark coat the year through.

"My, how time flies! This is all for to-day. To-morrow I will tell you of two wonderful mountain climbers who go with ease where even man cannot follow."

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