It was late in the winter, when I was fifteen years old, that I made my first trip to war. We were camped on a large river, and not far from our camp was a village of the Arapahoes.
One day I went to visit their camp, taking with me only my buffalo robe and my bow and arrows. At the camp I found a number of young men of my tribe, and I went into the lodge where they were sitting, and sat down near the door. Soon after I had entered a young man of my tribe proposed that our young men should gamble against the young men of the Arapahoes, and when they had agreed, we all left the lodge where we were sitting, and went off to that owned by Shaved-head. I followed along after the others, and when I entered the lodge I found that they were making ready to gamble. The counters were lying between the lines, ten of the sticks lying side by side, and two lying across the ten.
When all was ready, the leader of the Arapahoes threw down on the ground the bone they were to gamble with, and the leader of our young men threw down his bone, and then all the young men of both parties began to sing, and dance, and yell, each trying to bring luck to his side. Some of them danced all around the lodge, singing as hard as they could sing. After a time all sat down, and then one of the Arapahoes chose a man from his side, and called him out and told him to sit down in front of his line. The leader took up the bone, and held it up to the sun, and to the four directions, praying that his side might win, and then handed it to this man, who let the robe fall back from his shoulders, rose to his knees, and after rubbing his hands on the ground, began to pass the bone from one hand to the other. Then the leader of our party stood up, and looked over his men, to choose someone who was good at guessing. He chose a man, and called him out in front of the line, to guess in which hand the Arapahoe held the bone. Then everybody began to sing hard, and four young men pounded with sticks on a parfleche, in time to the music. Presently our man guessed and guessed right. Then our people chose a man to pass the bone for them, and when the Arapahoes guessed, they guessed wrong. So it kept on. The Arapahoes did not win one point, and our people won the game. Then the Arapahoes would play no more, and the gambling stopped. Afterward they had a dance.
It was now night. I had heard the young men talking to one another, and I knew that they were about to start off to war. After the dance was over, one of them said to the others, "Come, let us go about the camp to-night, and sing wolf songs." They did so, and I went with them. Every little while they would stop in front of some lodge and sing; and perhaps the man who owned the lodge would fill a pipe, and hold it out to them, and all would smoke; or someone would hand out a bit of tobacco, or a few arrows, or five or six bullets, or some caps, or a little powder. In this way they sang for a long time; and then, when they were tired, they went to the different lodges and slept.
The next morning I saw them making up the packs which they were to carry on their backs, and packing the dogs which they had with them to carry their moccasins. I watched them, and as I looked at them I wished that I, too, might go to war; and the more I thought about it the more I wished to go. At last I made up my mind that I would go. I had no food, and no extra moccasins, but I looked about the camp, and found some that had been thrown away, worn out; and I asked one kind-hearted woman to give me some moccasins, and she gave me three pairs. By this time the war party had started, and I followed them.
The snow still lay deep on the ground; and as we marched along, one after another, each man stepped in the tracks of the man before him. We traveled a long way, until we came to some hills, from which we could see a river; and before we got down to the river's valley we stopped on a hill, and took off our packs, and looked about and rested. After a time someone said, "Well, let us go down to the river and camp." They all started down the hill, but I remained where I was, waiting to see what they would do. You see, I did not belong to the party, and I did not know how the others felt toward me; so I was shy about doing anything; I wanted to wait and see what they did.
When the others reached the level ground near the stream they threw down their packs and began to go to work. Some of the men scraped away the snow from the ground where they were to sleep; others went off into the timber, and soon returned with loads of wood on their backs, and started fires; others brought poles with which to build lodges; others, bark from old cottonwood trees, and others, still, brush. Everyone worked hard.
Presently I grew tired of sitting alone on the hill, and went down to the others. When I reached there, I found that they were building three war lodges, and as I drew near, all the young men began to call out to me, each one asking me to come over to him. I was the littlest fellow in the party, and they all wanted me, thinking that I might bring them luck. When they called to me, they did not speak to me by my name, but called me Bear Chief, the name of one of the greatest warriors of the tribe. They were joking with me, to tease me.
When I was near the lodges I stopped, uncertain what to do, or where to go, and Gray Eyes, a man a little older than the others, walked up to me, and took me by the arm, saying: "Friend, come to our lodge. If you go to one of the others, the young men will be making fun of you all the time." I went to his lodge, and he told me to sit down near the door. This lodge was well built, warm and comfortable. They had taken many straight poles and set them up as the poles of a lodge are set up, but much closer together. Then the poles were covered with bark and brush, so as to keep out the wind; and within, all about the lodge, were good beds, with bark and brush under them, so as to keep those who were to sleep there from the snow. A good fire burned in the middle of the lodge.
When I grew warm I began to wonder what we should have to eat. We had traveled all day, and I was hungry; yet I had no food, and could see none, and there was nothing to cook with, not even a kettle. A man sitting by the fire seemed to know what was in my mind, and said to me, "Take courage, friend, soon you shall have plenty to eat." A little while after this, a man called out, saying, "If anyone has food to eat, let him get it out." When he said that, the young men began to open their packs. While they were doing this, someone cried, "The hunters are coming"; and when I looked I saw three or four men coming, each with an antelope on his back. When these men had come near to the camp, everyone rushed for them, and they threw their loads on the snow, and each man cut off meat for his lodge. Then they cut it into pieces and it was set up on green willow twigs, stuck in the ground near the fire, to roast. One of the men in our lodge said, "Let our young friend here be the first one to eat," and someone cut a piece of the short ribs of an antelope, and gave it to me. So we all ate, and were warm and comfortable. That night we slept well, lying with our feet to the fire, as people always lie in a war lodge.
The next day we traveled on. Just before we camped at night I heard the sound of guns, and someone told me that the young men were killing buffalo. Soon after we had made camp, they began to come in, some carrying loads of meat on their backs, and others dragging over the snow a big piece of buffalo hide, sewed up into a sack, and full of meat. Everyone was good-natured, and each young man was laughing and joking with his fellows, and sometimes playing tricks on them. That night a friend took a piece of buffalo hide and sewed it up, and partly dried it over the fire, and then turned it inside out, and stuffed it full of meat, and gave it to me, saying, "Here is a pack for you to carry."
We traveled on for several days; but it was not long after this that the scouts came in, and told us that they had seen signs of people, a trail where a large camp had passed along only a few days before. When I heard this I was a little frightened, for I thought to myself, "Suppose we were to be attacked, how could I run away with this big pack on my back?" But I said nothing, and no one else seemed to be afraid; all were happy because there was a chance that we might meet enemies. They laughed and talked with one another, and said what a good time we should have if there should be a fight. Nevertheless, that night the leader told the young men to bring logs out of the timber, and pile them up around the war lodges, so that if we should be attacked we might fight behind breast works. Also, he told them that if we should be attacked we must not run out of the lodges, but must stay in them, where we could fight well, and be protected and safe. Also, he said, "Everyone must be watchful; it may be that enemies are near; therefore, act accordingly."
The next morning the leader sent out two parties of scouts, to go in two directions to look for enemies. He told them where they should go, and where they should meet the main party, which was to keep on its way, traveling carefully, and out of sight.
At night, after we had reached the appointed place, and had camped there, the scouts came in, and told us that they had found the enemy, and that their camp was not far off. When the leader learned that, he said, "It will be well for us to go to-night to the camp of these enemies, and try to take their horses." The distance was not great, and after we had eaten, all set out. When we had come near to the camp, we could see in some of the lodges the fires still burning, and knew that all the people had not gone to bed. In a low place we stopped, and there put down all our things. Here the leader told us what we must do, calling out by name certain men who should go into the camp, and certain other men, younger, who should go about through the hills and gather up loose horses, and drive them to the place where we had left our packs. My name he did not speak, and I did not know what to do. While I sat there, doubtful, all the others started off. Then I made up my mind that I, too, would go into the camp, and would try to do something, and I followed the others. After a little time I overtook them, and followed along, and as we went on and drew nearer and nearer to the camp, men kept turning off to one side, until presently, when we were quite near the camp, most of them had disappeared into the darkness; but I could still see some, walking along ahead of me. Presently we reached the outer circle of the lodges, and a moment or two after that I could see none of our people. I was walking alone among the lodges. Now I was afraid, for I did not know how to act, nor what I wanted to do, and I thought that perhaps one of the enemy might see me, and see that I did not belong to his tribe, and attack me and kill me. I held my head down, and walked straight along. Not many people were about, and no one passed me. Presently I came to a lodge in which a little fire was burning, and not very far away was another lodge, in which people were singing and drumming, as if for a dance. I stopped, and looked into the first lodge. The fire was low, but still it gave some light, and I could see plainly that no one was there. Then suddenly it came to me that I would go into this lodge, and take something out of it, which should show to my friends that I, too, had been in the camp. I did not think much of the danger that someone might come in, but, stooping down, entered the lodge, and looked about. Hanging over the bed, at the back of the lodge, was a bow-case and quiver full of arrows. I stepped quickly across and took this down, and putting it under my robe, went out of the lodge, and walked back the way I had come.
As I had entered the camp I had seen horses standing, tied in front of the lodges, and now, as I was going back, I stooped down in front of a lodge, where all was dark, cut loose a horse, and walked away, leading it by its rope. No one saw me, and when I had passed beyond the furthest lodge I mounted the horse and rode along slowly. After I had gone a little further, I went faster, and soon I was at the place where we had left our things. There were many horses there, brought in by the younger men that had been looking for loose horses, and some cut loose by those who had gone into camp. Every minute other men kept coming up, and presently all were there. The young men had filled their saddle-pads with grass, and now each one chose a good horse, and mounting it drove off the herd. I had only one horse, yet my heart was glad, for it was the first I had ever taken.
For a time we rode slowly, but presently, faster; and when day had come we had gone a long way. The horses were still being driven in separate bunches, so that each man should know which were his—the ones he had taken; but soon after day broke, and there had been time for each to look over his animals, they were bunched together, and we went faster. Nevertheless, the leader said to us: "Friends, do not hurry the horses too much; they are poor, and we must not run them too hard. The horses on which the Crows will follow us are poor also, and they cannot overtake us."
We rode fast until afternoon, when we came down into the valley of a river, and there stopped to let our horses feed. Two young men with fresh horses were left behind, on top of the highest hills, to watch the trail, to see whether the enemy were following us. After we had been there for a time, and the horses had eaten, the leader called out, "Friends, the enemy are pursuing; we must hurry on the horses." In a moment we had caught our animals, and mounted, and were driving on the herd; for, far back, we could see the scouts who had been left behind coming toward us, riding fast, and making signs that people had been seen. After we had left the valley, and were among the hills, the leader left two other young men, on fresh horses, behind, to see whether the enemy crossed the river, and followed; while we went on with the horses. We rode all that night and part of the next day, and then stopped again; and that night, in the middle of the night, the scouts overtook us, and told us that the enemy had not crossed the river, where we had first slept, but had turned about there, and had gone back. "There were only a few of them," they said. "We two were almost tempted to attack them, but we had been told only to watch them, and we thought it better to do that." Four days afterward we reached our village.
I had no saddle, and when I reached the camp I was very sore and stiff from riding so long without a saddle. Nevertheless, I was pleased, for I had taken a horse that was fast, long-winded and tough; and I had taken also a fine bow and arrows, with an otter-skin case. The leader spoke to me, and told me that I had done well to go into this lodge. He said to me, "Friend, you have made a good beginning; I think that you will be a good warrior." Also, when we reached the village, my uncle praised me, and said that I had done well. He looked at the bow and the arrows, and told me that to have taken them was better than to have taken a good horse, and that he hoped that I would be able to use them in fighting with my enemies. Such was my first journey to war.