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Adventures in the Far West

William Henry Giles Kingston

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  Adventures in the Far West, by W.H.G. Kingston.


  This is rather a short book but it is prolifically illustrated with noless than 29 pictures, most of very great interest, but in none of whichcan one make out the artist's signature. The picture of the visit ofthe witch doctor to the sick man is very memorable, and the poor man wasprobably frightened to death, rather than revived.

  A group of tough young Brits make their way to the west of NorthAmerica, where there are numerous hazards, in the form of grizzly bears,wolves, and a few tribes of Indians who definitely did not want themthere. For much of the book they are with a tribe that is veryfriendly, and thus we are able to learn much of the ways of thesepeople. But towards the end of the book our heroes take part inrescuing a wagon-train of emigrants that had been attacked by a hostiletribe, and a beautiful young lady seized and ridden away with.

  Mr Kingston's style is as excellent as ever, and we do recommend thatyou read this book, or make an audiobook from it.




  "I say, didn't you hear a cry?" exclaimed Charley Fielding, starting upfrom the camp fire at which we were seated discussing our evening mealof venison, the result of our day's hunting. He leaned forward in theattitude of listening. "I'm sure I heard it! There it is again, butwhether uttered by Redskin or four-footed beast is more than I can say."

  We all listened, but our ears were not as sharp as Charley's, for wecould hear nothing.

  "Sit down, Charley, my boy, and finish your supper. It was probablyfancy, or maybe the hoot of an owl to its mate," said our jovialcompanion, Dick Buntin, who never allowed any matter to disturb him, ifhe could help it, while engaged in stowing away his food.

  Dick had been a lieutenant in the navy, and had knocked about the worldin all climes, and seen no small amount of service. He had latelyjoined our party with Charley Fielding, a fatherless lad whom he hadtaken under his wing.

  We, that is Jack Story and myself, Tom Rushforth, had come out fromEngland together to the far west, to enjoy a few months' buffalohunting, deer stalking, grizzly and panther shooting, and beavertrapping, not to speak of the chances of an occasional brush with theRedskins, parties of whom were said to be on the war-path across theregions it was our intention to traverse, though none of us wereinclined to be turned aside by the warnings we had received to thateffect from our friends down east.

  We had been pushing on further and further west, gaining experience, andbecoming inured to the fatigues and dangers of a hunter's life. Havingtraversed Missouri and Kansas, though we had hitherto met with noadventures worthy of note, we had that evening pitched our camp in theneighbourhood of Smoky-hill fork, the waters of which, falling into theArkansas, were destined ultimately to reach the far-off Mississippi.

  We had furnished ourselves with a stout horse apiece, and four mules tocarry our stores, consisting of salt pork, beans, biscuit, coffee, and afew other necessaries, besides our spare guns, ammunition, and the meatand skins of the animals we might kill.

  Having, a little before sunset, fixed on a spot for our camp, with astream on one side, and on the other a wood, which would afford us fueland shelter from the keen night air which blew off the distantmountains, we had unsaddled and unpacked our horses and mules, the packsbeing placed so as to form a circular enclosure about eight paces indiameter.

  Our first care had been to water and hobble our animals, and then toturn them loose to graze, when we considered ourselves at liberty toattend to our own wants. Having collected a quantity of dry sticks, wehad lighted our fire in the centre of the circle, filled ourwater-kettle, and put on our meat to cook. Our next care had been toarrange our sleeping places. For this purpose we cut a quantity ofwillows which grew on the banks of the stream hard by, and we eachformed a semi-circular hut, by sticking the extremities of the osiertwigs into the ground, and bending them over so as to form a successionof arches. These were further secured by weaving a few flexible twigsalong the top and sides of the framework, thus giving it sufficientstability to support the saddle-cloths and skins with which we coveredthem. By placing our buffalo-robes within, we had thus a comfortableand warm bed-place apiece, and were better protected from the fierceststorm raging without than we should have been inside a tent or ordinaryhut.

  Though this was our usual custom when materials were to be found, whennot, we were content to wrap ourselves in our buffalo-robes, with oursaddles for pillows.

  All arrangements having been made, we sat down with keen appetites, ourbacks to our respective huts, to discuss the viands which had beencooking during the operations I have described. Dick Buntin, whogenerally performed the office of cook, had concocted a pot of coffee,having first roasted the berries in the lid of our saucepan, and then,wrapping them in a piece of deer-skin, had pounded them on a log withthe head of a hatchet. Dick was about to serve out the smoking-hotcoffee when Charley's exclamation made him stop to reply while he heldthe pot in his hand.

  "I am sure I did hear a strange sound, and it was no owl's hoot, of thatI am convinced," said Charley, still standing up, and peering out overthe dark prairie. "Just keep silence for a few minutes, and you'll hearit too before long."

  I listened, and almost directly afterwards a low mournful wail, waftedon the breeze, struck my ear. Dick and Story also acknowledged thatthey heard the sound.

  "I knew I was not mistaken," said Charley; "what can it be?"

  "An owl, or some other night-bird, as I at first thought," said Buntin."Come, hand me your mugs, or I shall have to boil up the coffee again."

  Charley resumed his seat, and we continued the pleasant occupation inwhich we were engaged. Supper over, we crept into our sleeping-places,leaving our fire blazing, not having considered it necessary as yet tokeep watch at night.

  We were generally, directly after we had stretched ourselves on theground, fast asleep, for we rose at break of day, and sometimes evenbefore it; but ere I had closed my eyes, I again heard, apparentlycoming from far off, the same sound which had attracted Charley'snotice. It appeared to me more like the howl of a wolf than the cry ofa night-bird, but I was too sleepy to pay any attention to it.

  How long I had been in a state of unconsciousness I could not tell, whenI was aroused by a chorus of howls and yelps, and, starting up, I saw anumber of animals with glaring eyes almost in our very midst.

  "Wolves, wolves!" I cried, calling to my companions at the top of myvoice.

  Before I could draw my rifle out of the hut, where I had placed it by myside, one of the brutes had seized on a large piece of venison,suspended at the end of a stick to keep it off the ground, and haddarted off with it, while the depredators were searching round for otherarticles into which they could fix their fangs.

  Our appearance greatly disconcerted them, as we shouted in chorus, andturning tail they began to decamp as fast as their legs would carrythem.

  "Bring down that fellow with the venison," I cried out.

  Charley, who had been most on the alert, had his rifle ready, and,firing, brought down the thief. Another of the pack instantly seizedthe meat and made off with it in spite of the shouts we sent after him.The wolves lost three of their number, but the rest got off with thevenison in triumph. It was a lesson to us to keep a watch at night, andmore carefully to secure our venison. We had, however, a portionremaining to serve us for breakfast next morning.

  We took good care not to let the wolves get into our camp again, but weheard the brute
s howling around and quarrelling over the carcase of oneof their companions, who had been shot but had not immediately dropped.Having driven off our unwelcome visitors, Charley and I went in searchof our horses, as we were afraid they might have been attacked. Theywere, however, well able to take care of themselves and had made theirway to the border of the stream, where we found them safe.

  In the meantime Buntin and Story dragged the carcases of the wolves wehad killed to a distance from the camp, as their skins were not worthpreserving. We all then met round the camp fire, but we soon found thatto sleep was impossible, for the wolves, having despatched their woundedcompanions, came back to feast on the others we had shot. We might havekilled numbers while so employed, but that would have only detained themlonger in our neighbourhood, and we hoped when they had picked the bonesof their friends that they would go away and leave us in peace.

  We all wished to be off as soon as possible, so while it was still darkwe caught and watered our horses; and, having cast off their hobbles andloaded the pack animals, we were in the saddle by sunrise. We rode onfor several hours, and then encamped for breakfast, allowing our horsesto graze while we went on foot in search of game. We succeeded inkilling a couple of deer and a turkey, so that we were again amplysupplied with food. Our baggage-mules being slow but sure-going animalswe were unable to make more than twenty miles a day, though at a pinchwe could accomplish thirty. We had again mounted and were movingforward. The country was covered with tall grass, five and sometimeseight feet in height, over which we could scarcely look even when onhorseback. We had ridden about a couple of miles from our lastcamping-place, when Story, the tallest of our party, exclaimed--

  "I see some objects moving to the northward. They look to me likemounted men, and are apparently coming in this direction."

  He unslung his glass, while we all pulled up and took a look in thedirection he pointed.

  "Yes, I thought so," he exclaimed; "they are Indians, though, as thereare not many of them, they are not likely to attack us; but we must beon our guard, notwithstanding."

  We consulted what was best to be done.

  "Ride steadily in the direction we are going," said Dick; "and, byshowing that we are not afraid of them, when they see our rifles theywill probably sheer off, whatever may be their present intentions. Butkeep together, my lads, and let nothing tempt us to separate."

  We followed Dick's advice; indeed, although we had no ostensible leader,he always took the post on an emergency.

  The strangers approached, moving considerably faster than we were doing.As they drew nearer, Story, who took another view of them through hisglass, announced that there were two white men of the party, thusdispelling all fears we might have entertained of an encounter. Wetherefore pulled up to wait their arrival. As they got still nearer tous, one of the white men rode forward. He was followed by several dogs.Suddenly Dick, who had been regarding him attentively, exclaimed--

  "What, Harry Armitage, my dear fellow! What has brought you here?"

  "A question much easier asked than answered, and I'll put the same toyou," said the stranger, shaking hands.

  "I came out for a change of scene, and to get further from the oceanthan I have ever before been in my life; and now let me introduce you tomy friends," said Dick. The usual forms were gone through. MrArmitage then introduced his companion as Pierre Buffet, one of the besthunters and trappers throughout the continent. The Indians, he said,had been engaged by Pierre and himself to act as guides and scouts, andto take care of the horses and baggage-mules. As our objects were thesame, before we had ridden very far we agreed to continue together, aswe should thus, in passing through territories infested by hostileIndians, be the better able to defend ourselves.

  We had reason, before long, to be thankful that our party had thus beenstrengthened. We encamped as usual; and, not forgetting the lesson wehad lately received, we set a watch so that we should not be surprised,either by wolves or Redskins. Though the former were heard howling inthe distance, we were not otherwise disturbed by them, and at dawn wewere once more in our saddles traversing the wide extending prairie, ournew associates and we exchanging accounts of the various adventures wehad met with. Armitage was not very talkative, but Dick managed to drawhim out more than could any of the rest of the party. Buffet, in hisbroken English, talked away sufficiently to make ample amends for hisemployer's taciturnity. Our midday halt was over, and we did not againintend to encamp until nightfall, at a spot described by Buffet on thebanks of a stream which ran round a rocky height on the borders of theprairie. It was, however, some distance off, and we did not expect toreach it until later in the day than usual.

  We were riding on, when I saw one of the Indians standing up in hisstirrups and looking to the northeast. Presently he called to Buntinand pointed in the same direction. The words uttered were such as tocause us no little anxiety. The prairie was on fire. The sharp eyes ofthe Indian had distinguished the wreaths of smoke which rose above thetall grass, and which I should have taken for a thick mist or cloudgathering in the horizon. The wind blew from the same quarter.

  "Messieurs, we must put our horses to their best speed," exclaimedPierre. "If the wind gets up, that fire will come on faster than we cango, and we shall all be burnt into cinders if once overtaken."

  "How far off is it?" asked Dick. "Maybe eight or ten miles, but that isas nothing. It will travel five or six miles in the hour, even withthis wind blowing--and twice as fast before a gale. On, on, messieurs,there is no time to talk about the matter, for between us and where theflames now rage, there is nothing to stop their progress."

  We needed no further urging, but driving on the mules with shouts andblows--as we had no wish to abandon them if it could be avoided--wedashed on. Every now and then I looked back to observe the progress ofthe conflagration. Dark wreaths were rising higher and higher in thesky, and below them forked flames ever and anon darted up as the firecaught the more combustible vegetation. Borne by the wind, lightpowdery ashes fell around us, while we were sensible of a strong odourof burning, which made it appear as if the enemy was already close atour heels. The grass on every side was too tall and dry to enable us--as is frequently done under such circumstances, by setting fire to theherbage--to clear a space in which we could remain while theconflagration passed by.

  Our only chance of escaping was by pushing forward. On neither side didPierre or the Indians know of any spot where we could take refuge nearerthan the one ahead. Every instant the smoke grew thicker, and we couldhear the roaring, crackling, rushing sound of the flames, though still,happily for us, far away. Prairie-hens, owls, and other birds wouldflit by, presently followed by numerous deer and buffalo; while wholepacks of wolves rushed on regardless of each other and of us, promptedby instinct to make their escape from the apprehended danger. Now abear who had been foraging on the plain ran by, eager to seek hismountain home; and I caught sight of two or more panthers springing overthe ground at a speed which would secure their safety. Here and theresmall game scampered along, frequently meeting the death they weretrying to avoid, from the feet of the larger animals; snakes wentwriggling among the grass, owls hooted, wolves yelped, and other animalsadded their cries to the terror-prompted chorus. Our chance of escapingwith our baggage-mules seemed small indeed. The hot air struck ourcheeks, as we turned round every now and then to see how near the firehad approached. The dogs kept up bravely at the feet of their masters'horse.

  "If we are to save our own skins, we must abandon our mules," cried outDick Buntin in a voice such as that with which he was wont to hail themain-top.

  "No help for it, I fear," answered Armitage; "what do you say, Pierre?"

  "Let the beasts go. _Sauve qui peut_!" answered the Canadian.

  There was no time to stop and unload the poor brutes. To have done sowould have afforded them a better chance of preserving their lives,though we must still lose our luggage.

  The word was given, the halters by wh
ich we had been dragging theanimals on were cast off; and, putting spurs into the flanks of oursteeds, we galloped forward. Our horses seemed to know their danger aswell as we did. I was just thinking of the serious consequences of afall, when down came Dick, who was leading just ahead of me with Charleyby his side. His horse had put its foot into a prairie-dog's hole.

  "Are you hurt?" I cried out.

  "No, no; go on; don't wait for me," he answered. But neither Charleynor I was inclined to do that.

  Dick was soon on his feet again, while we assisted him, in spite of whathe had said, to get up his horse. The animal's leg did not appear to bestrained, and Dick quickly again climbed into the saddle.

  "Thank you, my dear boys," he exclaimed, "it must not happen again; I ama heavy weight for my brute, and, if he comes down, you must go on andlet me shift for myself."

  We made no reply, for neither Charley nor I was inclined to desert ourbrave friend. The rest of the party had dashed by, scarcely observingwhat had taken place, the Indians taking the lead. It was impossible tocalculate how many miles we had gone. Night was coming on, making theglare to the eastward appear brighter and more terrific. The mules werestill instinctively following us, but we were distancing them fast,though we could distinguish their shrieks of terror amid the generaluproar.

  The hill for which we were making rose up before us, covered, as itappeared, by shrubs and grasses. It seemed doubtful whether it wouldafford us the safety we sought. We could scarcely hope that our horseswould carry us beyond it, for already they were giving signs of becomingexhausted. We might be preserved by taking up a position in the centreof the stream, should it be sufficiently shallow to enable us to standin it; but that was on the other side of the hill, and the fire mightsurround us before we could gain its banks. We could barely see thedark outline of the hill ahead, the darkness being increased by thecontrast of the lurid flames raging behind us. We dashed across themore open space, where the grass was for some reason of less height thanin her parts. Here many of the animals which had passed us, paralysedby fear, had halted as if expecting that they would be safe from theflames. Deer and wolves, bison, and even a huge bear--not a grizzly,however--and many smaller creatures were lying down or running round andround.

  I thought Pierre would advise our stopping here, but he shouted, "On,on! This is no place for us; de beasts soon get up and run away too!"

  We accordingly dashed forward, but every moment the heat and smell ofthe fire was increasing. The smoke, which blew around us in thickwreaths driven by the wind, was almost overpowering. This made theconflagration appear even nearer than it really was. At length, Pierreshouted out:

  "Dis way, messieurs, dis way!" and I found that we had reached the footof a rocky hill which rose abruptly out of the plain. He led us roundits base until we arrived at a part up which we could manage to drag ourhorses. Still it seemed very doubtful if we should be safe, for grasscovered the lower parts, and, as far as I could judge, shrubs and treesthe upper: still there was nothing else to be done. Throwing ourselvesfrom our horses, we continued to drag them up the height, Pierre'sshouts guiding us. I was the last but one, Dick insisting on taking thepost of danger in the rear and sending Charley and me before him. Thehorses were as eager to get up as we were, their instinct showing themthat safety was to be found near human beings. Our only fear was thatthe other animals would follow, and that we should have more companionsthan we desired. The top was soon gained, when we lost no time insetting to work to clear a space in which we could remain, by cuttingdown the grass immediately surrounding us, and then firing the rest onthe side of the hill towards which the conflagration was approaching.We next beat down the flames we had kindled, with our blankets--a hotoccupation during which we were nearly smothered by the smoke rushing inour faces. The fire burnt but slowly against the wind, which was so faran advantage.

  "We are safe now, messieurs!" exclaimed Pierre at last; and we all, inone sense, began to breathe more freely, although the feeling ofsuffocation from the smoke was trying in the extreme.

  We could now watch, more calmly than before, the progress of the fire asit rushed across the country, stretching far on either side of us, andlighting up the hills to the north and south, and the groves which grewnear them. We often speak of the scarlet line of the British troopsadvancing on the foe, and such in appearance was the fire; for we couldsee it from the heights where we stood, forming a line of a width whichit seemed possible to leap over, or at all events to dash throughwithout injury. Now it divided, as it passed some rocky spot or marshyground. Now it again united, and the flames were seen licking up thegrass which they had previously spared.

  Our poor baggage-animals caused us much anxiety. Had they escaped orfallen victims to the flames with our property, and the most valuableportion of it--the ammunition? Charley declared that he heard someominous reports, and the Indians nodded as they listened to what hesaid, and made signs to signify that the baggage had been blown up. Forsome minutes we were surrounded by a sea of flame, and had to employourselves actively in rushing here and there and extinguishing theportions which advanced close upon us, our horses in the meantimestanding perfectly still and trembling in every limb, fully alive totheir dangerous position. At length, after a few anxious hours, thefire began to die out; but here we were on the top of a rock, withoutfood or water, and with only so much powder and shot as each man carriedin his pouch. Still, we had saved our lives and our horses, and hadreason to be thankful. The spot was a bleak one to camp in, but we hadno choice. To protect ourselves from the wind, we built up a hedge ofbrushwood, and lighted a fire. Food we could not hope to obtain untilthe morning, but Pierre and one of the Indians volunteered to go down tothe river, and to bring some water in a leathern bottle which theCanadian carried at his saddle-bow. He had also saved a tin cup, butthe whole of our camp equipage had shared the fate of the mules,whatever that might be. The sky was overcast, and, as we looked outfrom our height over the prairie, one vast mass of blackness alone couldbe seen.

  After quenching the thirst produced by the smoke and heat with the waterbrought by Pierre and his companion, we lay down to sleep.

  At daylight we were on foot. The first thing to be done was toascertain the fate of the mules, and the next to obtain some game tosatisfy the cravings of hunger. Pierre and the Indians descended intothe plain for both purposes. Charley and I started off in onedirection, and Armitage and Story in another, with our guns, along therocky heights which extended away to the northward, while Dickvolunteered to look after the horses and keep our fire burning.

  We went on for some distance without falling in with any large game, andwe were unwilling to expend our powder on small birds. Charley at lastproposed that we should descend into the plain in the hopes of findingsome animals killed by the fire.

  "Very little chance of that," I remarked, "for by this time the wolveshave eaten them up. We are more likely, if we keep on, to fall in withdeer on the opposite side, where the fire has not reached."

  We accordingly crossed the ridge, and were making our way to thewestward, when we heard Armitage's dog giving tongue in the distance.

  "They have found deer, at all events, and perhaps we may be in time topick off one or two of the herd," I exclaimed.

  We scrambled along over the rocks, until we reached the brink of a lowprecipice, looking over which we caught sight of a magnificent buck witha single dog at his heels. Just then the stag stopped, and, wheelingsuddenly round, faced its pursuer. Near was a small pool which servedto protect the stag from the attack of the hound in the rear. Itappeared to us that it would have gone hard with the dog, for at anymoment the antlers of the stag might have pinned it to the ground. Weconcluded, from not hearing the other dogs, that they had gone off in adifferent direction, leaving this bold fellow--Lion, by name--to followhis chase alone.

  We crept along the rocks, keeping ourselves concealed until we had gotnear enough to take a steady aim at the stag. I agr
eed to fire first,and, should I miss, Charley was to try his skill. In the meantime thedog kept advancing and retreating, seeking for an opportunity to fly atthe stag's throat; but even then, should he succeed in fixing his fangsin the animal, he would run great risk of being knelt upon. The deerwas as watchful as the dog, and the moment the latter approached, downagain went its formidable antlers. Fearing that the deer might by somechance escape, taking a steady aim I fired. To my delight, over itrolled, when we both sprang down the rocks and ran towards it.

  While I reloaded, Charley, having beaten off the dog, examined the deerto ascertain that it was really dead. We then set to work to cut up ourprize, intending to carry back the best portions to the camp.

  While thus employed, we heard a shout and saw our companions approachingwith their dogs. They had missed the remainder of the herd, and weretoo happy in any way to obtain the deer to be jealous of our success.

  Laden with the meat, the whole of which we carried with us, we returnedto the camp, where we found Dick ready with spits for roasting it. In ashort time Pierre and the Indians returned with the report that they hadfound the mules dead, and already almost devoured by the coyotes, whiletheir cargoes had been blown up, as we feared would be the case, withthe powder they contained. They brought the spare, guns--the stocks ofwhich, however, were sadly damaged by the fire. Our camp equipage,which was very welcome, was uninjured, together with a few knives andother articles of iron.

  So serious was our loss, that it became absolutely necessary to returnto the nearest settlement to obtain fresh pack-animals and a supply ofpowder.