« AnteriorContinuar »
mountain. Looking up, I saw a tall peak rising among the woods. Something impelled me to climb; I had not felt for many a day such strength and elasticity of limb. An hour and a half of slow and often intermitted labor brought me to the very summit; and emerging from the dark shadows of the rocks and pines, I stepped forth into the light, and walking along the sunny verge of a precipice, seated myself on its extreme point, half a mile aloft in air. A wilderness of mountains lay around me, their ridges bristling with rocky pinnacles, avalanches of rock thrown around their bases and their sides thinly clothed with a tattered and squalid covering of stunted woods. There were black chasms, deep clefts and ravines, where the precipices had split asunder, and here and there, in the midst of the desolation, small green glens and valleys, deeply embosomed among the savage heights. In the largest of these I could discern, like small spots upon the meadow, the encampment of the wild and mysterious people with whom I was associated. Looking between the mountain peaks to the westward, the pale blue prairie was stretching to the farthest horizon like a serene and tranquil ocean. The surrounding mountains were in themselves sufficiently striking and impressive, but this contrast gave redoubled effect to their stern features.
PASSAGE OF THE MOUNTAINS
Dear Nature is the kindest mother still,
WHEN I took leave of Shaw at La Bonté's camp, I promised that I would meet him at Fort Laramie on the first of August. That day, according to my reckoning, was now close at hand. It was impossible, at best, to fulfil my engagement exactly, and my meeting with him must have been postponed until many days after the appointed time, had not the plans of the Indians very well coincided with my own. They, too, intended to pass the mountains and move toward the fort. To do so at this point was impossible, because there was no opening; and in order to find a passage we were obliged to go twelve or fourteen miles to the southward. Late in the afternoon the camp got in motion, defiling back
through the mountains along the same passage by which they had entered. I rode in company with three or four young Indians at the rear, and the moving swarm stretched before me, in the ruddy light of sunset, or in the deep shadow of the mountains far beyond my sight. It was an illomened spot that they chose to encamp upon.
When they were there just a year before, a war party of ten men, led by The Whirlwind's
out against the enemy, and not one had ever returned. This, as perhaps the reader will recollect, was the immediate cause of this season's warlike preparations. I was not a little astonished when I came to the camp, at the confusion of horrible sounds with which it was filled; howls, shrieks, and wailings were heard from all the women present, many of whom, not content with this exhibition of grief for the loss of their friends and relatives, were gashing their legs deeply with knives. A warrior in the village, who had lost a brother in the expedition, chose another mode of displaying his sorrow. These people who, though often rapacious, are utterly devoid of avarice, are accustomed in times of mourning, or on other solemn occasions, to give away the whole of their possessions, and reduce themselves to nakedness and want. The warrior in question led his two best horses into the center of the village, and gave them away to his friends; upon which songs and acclamations in praise of his generosity mingled with the cries of the women.
On the next morning we entered once more among the mountains. There was nothing in their appearance either grand or picturesque, though they were desolate to the last degree, being mere piles of black and broken rocks, without trees or vegetation of any kind. As we passed among them along a wide valley, I noticed Raymond riding by the side of a young squaw, to whom he was addressing various insinuating compliments. All the old squaws in the neighborhood watched his proceedings in great admiration, and the girl herself would turn aside her head and laugh with pleasure and embarrassment. Just then the old mule thought proper to display her vicious pranks; she began to rear and plunge most furiously. Raymond was an excellent rider, and at first he stuck fast in his seat; but the moment after, I saw the mule's hind-legs flourishing in the air, and my unlucky follower pitching head foremost over her ears. There was a burst of screams and laughter from all the women, in which his mistress herself took part, and Raymond was instantly assailed by such a shower of witticisms, that he was glad to ride forward out of hearing
Not long after, as I rode near him, I heard him shouting to me. He was pointing toward a detached rocky hill that stood in the middle of the valley before us, and from behind it a long file of elk came out at full speed and entered an opening in the side of the mountain. They had scarcely disappeared when whoops and exclamations came from fifty
voices around me. The young men leaped from their horses, flung down their heavy buffalo robes, and ran at full speed toward the foot of the nearest mountain. Reynal also broke away at a gallop in the same direction, “Come on! come on!” he called to us. “ Do you see that band of bighorn up yonder? If there's one of them, there's a hundred!"
In fact, near the summit of the mountain, I could see a large number of small white objects, moving rapidly upward among the precipices, while others were filing along its rocky profile. Anxious to see the sport, I galloped forward, and entering a passage in the side of the mountain, ascended among the loose rocks as far as my horse could carry me. Here I fastened her to an old pine tree that stood alone, scorching in the sun on the mountain-side. At that moment Raymond called to me from the right that another band of sheep was close at hand in that direction. I ran up to the top of the opening, which gave me a full view into the rocky gorge beyond; and here I plainly saw some fifty or sixty sheep, almost within rifle-shot, clattering upward among the rocks, and endeavoring, after their usual custom, to reach the highest summit. The naked Indians bounded up lightly in pursuit. In a moment the game and hunters disappeared. Nothing could be seen or heard but the occasional report of a gun, more and more distant, reverberating among the mountains.
I turned to descend, and as I did so I could see the