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On To The Siwash








From: The Last Of The Plainsmen

"Who all was doin' the talkin' last night?" asked Frank next morning,
when we were having a late breakfast. "Cause I've a joke on somebody.
Jim he talks in his sleep often, an' last night after you did finally
get settled down, Jim he up in his sleep an' says: 'Shore he's windy as
hell! Shore he's windy as hell'!"

At this cruel exposure of his subjective wanderings, Jim showed extreme
humiliation; but Frank's eyes fairly snapped with the fun he got out of
telling it. The genial foreman loved a joke. The week's stay at Oak, in
which we all became thoroughly acquainted, had presented Jim as always
the same quiet character, easy, slow, silent, lovable. In his brother
cowboy, however, we had discovered in addition to his fine, frank,
friendly spirit, an overwhelming fondness for playing tricks. This
boyish mischievousness, distinctly Arizonian, reached its acme whenever
it tended in the direction of our serious leader.

Lawson had been dispatched on some mysterious errand about which my
curiosity was all in vain. The order of the day was leisurely to get in
readiness, and pack for our journey to the Siwash on the morrow. I
watered my horse, played with the hounds, knocked about the cliffs,
returned to the cabin, and lay down on my bed. Jim's hands were white
with flour. He was kneading dough, and had several low, flat pans on
the table. Wallace and Jones strolled in, and later Frank, and they all
took various positions before the fire. I saw Frank, with the quickness
of a sleight-of-hand performer, slip one of the pans of dough on the
chair Jones had placed by the table. Jim did not see the action;
Jones's and Wallace's backs were turned to Frank, and he did not know I
was in the cabin. The conversation continued on the subject of Jones's
big bay horse, which, hobbles and all, had gotten ten miles from camp
the night before.

"Better count his ribs than his tracks," said Frank, and went on
talking as easily and naturally as if he had not been expecting a very
entertaining situation.

But no one could ever foretell Colonel Jones's actions. He showed every
intention of seating himself in the chair, then walked over to his pack
to begin searching for something or other. Wallace, however, promptly
took the seat; and what began to be funnier than strange, he did not
get up. Not unlikely this circumstance was owing to the fact that
several of the rude chairs had soft layers of old blanket tacked on
them. Whatever were Frank's internal emotions, he presented a
remarkably placid and commonplace exterior; but when Jim began to
search for the missing pan of dough, the joker slowly sagged in his
chair.

"Shore that beats hell!" said Jim. "I had three pans of dough. Could
the pup have taken one?"

Wallace rose to his feet, and the bread pan clattered to the floor,
with a clang and a clank, evidently protesting against the indignity it
had suffered. But the dough stayed with Wallace, a great white
conspicuous splotch on his corduroys. Jim, Frank and Jones all saw it
at once.

"Why--Mr. Wal--lace--you set--in the dough!" exclaimed Frank, in a
queer, strangled voice. Then he exploded, while Jim fell over the table.

It seemed that those two Arizona rangers, matured men though they were,
would die of convulsions. I laughed with them, and so did Wallace,
while he brought his one-handled bowie knife into novel use. Buffalo
Jones never cracked a smile, though he did remark about the waste of
good flour.

Frank's face was a study for a psychologist when Jim actually
apologized to Wallace for being so careless with his pans. I did not
betray Frank, but I resolved to keep a still closer watch on him. It
was partially because of this uneasy sense of his trickiness in the
fringe of my mind that I made a discovery. My sleeping-bag rested on a
raised platform in one corner, and at a favorable moment I examined the
bag. It had not been tampered with, but I noticed a string turning out
through a chink between the logs. I found it came from a thick layer of
straw under my bed, and had been tied to the end of a flatly coiled
lasso. Leaving the thing as it was, I went outside and carelessly
chased the hounds round the cabin. The string stretched along the logs
to another chink, where it returned into the cabin at a point near
where Frank slept. No great power of deduction was necessary to
acquaint me with full details of the plot to spoil my slumbers. So I
patiently awaited developments.

Lawson rode in near sundown with the carcasses of two beasts of some
species hanging over his saddle. It turned out that Jones had planned a
surprise for Wallace and me, and it could hardly have been a more
enjoyable one, considering the time and place. We knew he had a flock
of Persian sheep on the south slope of Buckskin, but had no idea it was
within striking distance of Oak. Lawson had that day hunted up the
shepherd and his sheep, to return to us with two sixty-pound Persian
lambs. We feasted at suppertime on meat which was sweet, juicy, very
tender and of as rare a flavor as that of the Rocky Mountain sheep.

My state after supper was one of huge enjoyment and with intense
interest I awaited Frank's first spar for an opening. It came
presently, in a lull of the conversation.

"Saw a big rattler run under the cabin to-day," he said, as if he were
speaking of one of Old Baldy's shoes. "I tried to get a whack at him,
but he oozed away too quick."

"Shore I seen him often," put in Jim. Good, old, honest Jim, led away
by his trickster comrade! It was very plain. So I was to be frightened
by snakes.

"These old canyon beds are ideal dens for rattle snakes," chimed in my
scientific California friend. "I have found several dens, but did not
molest them as this is a particularly dangerous time of the year to
meddle with the reptiles. Quite likely there's a den under the cabin."

While he made this remarkable statement, he had the grace to hide his
face in a huge puff of smoke. He, too, was in the plot. I waited for
Jones to come out with some ridiculous theory or fact concerning the
particular species of snake, but as he did not speak, I concluded they
had wisely left him out of the secret. After mentally debating a
moment, I decided, as it was a very harmless joke, to help Frank into
the fulfillment of his enjoyment.

"Rattlesnakes!" I exclaimed. "Heavens! I'd die if I heard one, let
alone seeing it. A big rattler jumped at me one day, and I've never
recovered from the shock."

Plainly, Frank was delighted to hear of my antipathy and my unfortunate
experience, and he proceeded to expatiate on the viciousness of
rattlesnakes, particularly those of Arizona. If I had believed the
succeeding stories, emanating from the fertile brains of those three
fellows, I should have made certain that Arizona canyons were Brazilian
jungles. Frank's parting shot, sent in a mellow, kind voice, was the
best point in the whole trick. "Now, I'd be nervous if I had a sleepin'
bag like yours, because it's just the place for a rattler to ooze into."

In the confusion and dim light of bedtime I contrived to throw the end
of my lasso over the horn of a saddle hanging on the wall, with the
intention of augmenting the noise I soon expected to create; and I
placed my automatic rifle and .38 S. and W. Special within easy reach
of my hand. Then I crawled into my bag and composed myself to listen.
Frank soon began to snore, so brazenly, so fictitiously, that I
wondered at the man's absorbed intensity in his joke; and I was at
great pains to smother in my breast a violent burst of riotous
merriment. Jones's snores, however, were real enough, and this made me
enjoy the situation all the more; because if he did not show a mild
surprise when the catastrophe fell, I would greatly miss my guess. I
knew the three wily conspirators were wide-awake. Suddenly I felt a
movement in the straw under me and a faint rustling. It was so soft, so
sinuous, that if I had not known it was the lasso, I would assuredly
have been frightened. I gave a little jump, such as one will make
quickly in bed. Then the coil ran out from under the straw. How subtly
suggestive of a snake! I made a slight outcry, a big jump, paused a
moment for effectiveness in which time Frank forgot to snore--then let
out a tremendous yell, grabbed my guns, sent twelve thundering shots
through the roof and pulled my lasso.

Crash! the saddle came down, to be followed by sounds not on Frank's
programme and certainly not calculated upon by me. But they were all
the more effective. I gathered that Lawson, who was not in the secret,
and who was a nightmare sort of sleeper anyway, had knocked over Jim's
table, with its array of pots and pans and then, unfortunately for
Jones had kicked that innocent person in the stomach.

As I lay there in my bag, the very happiest fellow in the wide world,
the sound of my mirth was as the buzz of the wings of a fly to the
mighty storm. Roar on roar filled the cabin.

When the three hypocrites recovered sufficiently from the startling
climax to calm Lawson, who swore the cabin had been attacked by
Indians; when Jones stopped roaring long enough to hear it was only a
harmless snake that had caused the trouble, we hushed to repose once
more--not, however, without hearing some trenchant remarks from the
boiling Colonel anent fun and fools, and the indubitable fact that
there was not a rattlesnake on Buckskin Mountain.

Long after this explosion had died away, I heard, or rather felt, a
mysterious shudder or tremor of the cabin, and I knew that Frank and
Jim were shaking with silent laughter. On my own score, I determined to
find if Jones, in his strange make-up, had any sense of humor, or
interest in life, or feeling, or love that did not center and hinge on
four-footed beasts. In view of the rude awakening from what, no doubt,
were pleasant dreams of wonderful white and green animals, combining
the intelligence of man and strength of brutes--a new species
creditable to his genius--I was perhaps unjust in my conviction as to
his lack of humor. And as to the other question, whether or not he had
any real human feeling for the creatures built in his own image, that
was decided very soon and unexpectedly.

The following morning, as soon as Lawson got in with the horses, we
packed and started. Rather sorry was I to bid good-by to Oak Spring.
Taking the back trail of the Stewarts, we walked the horses all day up
a slowly narrowing, ascending canyon. The hounds crossed coyote and
deer trails continually, but made no break. Sounder looked up as if to
say he associated painful reminiscences with certain kinds of tracks.
At the head of the canyon we reached timber at about the time dusk
gathered, and we located for the night. Being once again nearly nine
thousand feet high, we found the air bitterly cold, making a blazing
fire most acceptable.

In the haste to get supper we all took a hand, and some one threw upon
our tarpaulin tablecloth a tin cup of butter mixed with carbolic
acid--a concoction Jones had used to bathe the sore feet of the dogs.
Of course I got hold of this, spread a generous portion on my hot
biscuit, placed some red-hot beans on that, and began to eat like a
hungry hunter. At first I thought I was only burned. Then I recognized
the taste and burn of the acid and knew something was wrong. Picking up
the tin, I examined it, smelled the pungent odor and felt a queer numb
sense of fear. This lasted only for a moment, as I well knew the use
and power of the acid, and had not swallowed enough to hurt me. I was
about to make known my mistake in a matter-of-fact way, when it flashed
over me the accident could be made to serve a turn.

"Jones!" I cried hoarsely. "What's in this butter?"

"Lord! you haven't eaten any of that. Why, I put carbolic acid in it."

"Oh--oh--oh--I'm poisoned! I ate nearly all of it! Oh--I'm burning up!
I'm dying!" With that I began to moan and rock to and fro and hold my
stomach.

Consternation preceded shock. But in the excitement of the moment,
Wallace--who, though badly scared, retained his wits made for me with a
can of condensed milk. He threw me back with no gentle hand, and was
squeezing the life out of me to make me open my mouth, when I gave him
a jab in his side. I imagined his surprise, as this peculiar reception
of his first-aid-to-the-injured made him hold off to take a look at me,
and in this interval I contrived to whisper to him: "Joke! Joke! you
idiot! I'm only shamming. I want to see if I can scare Jones and get
even with Frank. Help me out! Cry! Get tragic!"

From that moment I shall always believe that the stage lost a great
tragedian in Wallace. With a magnificent gesture he threw the can of
condensed milk at Jones, who was so stunned he did not try to dodge.
"Thoughtless man! Murderer! it's too late!" cried Wallace, laying me
back across his knees. "It's too late. His teeth are locked. He's far
gone. Poor boy! poor boy! Who's to tell his mother?"

I could see from under my hat-brim that the solemn, hollow voice had
penetrated the cold exterior of the plainsman. He could not speak; he
clasped and unclasped his big hands in helpless fashion. Frank was as
white as a sheet. This was simply delightful to me. But the expression
of miserable, impotent distress on old Jim's sun-browned face was more
than I could stand, and I could no longer keep up the deception. Just
as Wallace cried out to Jones to pray--I wished then I had not weakened
so soon--I got up and walked to the fire.

"Jim, I'll have another biscuit, please."

His under jaw dropped, then he nervously shoveled biscuits at me. Jones
grabbed my hand and cried out with a voice that was new to me: "You can
eat? You're better? You'll get over it?"

"Sure. Why, carbolic acid never phases me. I've often used it for
rattlesnake bites. I did not tell you, but that rattler at the cabin
last night actually bit me, and I used carbolic to cure the poison."

Frank mumbled something about horses, and faded into the gloom. As for
Jones, he looked at me rather incredulously, and the absolute, almost
childish gladness he manifested because I had been snatched from the
grave, made me regret my deceit, and satisfied me forever on one score.

On awakening in the morning I found frost half an inch thick covered my
sleeping-bag, whitened the ground, and made the beautiful silver spruce
trees silver in hue as well as in name.

We were getting ready for an early start, when two riders, with
pack-horses jogging after them, came down the trail from the direction
of Oak Spring. They proved to be Jeff Clarke, the wild-horse wrangler
mentioned by the Stewarts, and his helper. They were on the way into
the breaks for a string of pintos. Clarke was a short, heavily bearded
man, of jovial aspect. He said he had met the Stewarts going into
Fredonia, and being advised of our destination, had hurried to come up
with us. As we did not know, except in a general way, where we were
making for, the meeting was a fortunate event.

Our camping site had been close to the divide made by one of the long,
wooded ridges sent off by Buckskin Mountain, and soon we were
descending again. We rode half a mile down a timbered slope, and then
out into a beautiful, flat forest of gigantic pines. Clarke informed us
it was a level bench some ten miles long, running out from the slopes
of Buckskin to face the Grand Canyon on the south, and the 'breaks of
the Siwash on the west. For two hours we rode between the stately lines
of trees, and the hoofs of the horses gave forth no sound. A long,
silvery grass, sprinkled with smiling bluebells, covered the ground,
except close under the pines, where soft red mats invited lounging and
rest. We saw numerous deer, great gray mule deer, almost as large as
elk. Jones said they had been crossed with elk once, which accounted
for their size. I did not see a stump, or a burned tree, or a windfall
during the ride.

Clarke led us to the rim of the canyon. Without any preparation--for
the giant trees hid the open sky--we rode right out to the edge of the
tremendous chasm. At first I did not seem to think; my faculties were
benumbed; only the pure sensorial instinct of the savage who sees, but
does not feel, made me take note of the abyss. Not one of our party had
ever seen the canyon from this side, and not one of us said a word. But
Clarke kept talking.

"Wild place this is hyar," he said. "Seldom any one but horse wranglers
gits over this far. I've hed a bunch of wild pintos down in a canyon
below fer two years. I reckon you can't find no better place fer camp
than right hyar. Listen. Do you hear thet rumble? Thet's Thunder Falls.
You can only see it from one place, an' thet far off, but thar's brooks
you can git at to water the hosses. Fer thet matter, you can ride up
the slopes an' git snow. If you can git snow close, it'd be better, fer
thet's an all-fired bad trail down fer water."

"Is this the cougar country the Stewarts talked about?" asked Jones.

"Reckon it is. Cougars is as thick in hyar as rabbits in a spring-hole
canyon. I'm on the way now to bring up my pintos. The cougars hev cost
me hundreds I might say thousands of dollars. I lose hosses all the
time; an' damn me, gentlemen, I've never raised a colt. This is the
greatest cougar country in the West. Look at those yellow crags! Thar's
where the cougars stay. No one ever hunted 'em. It seems to me they
can't be hunted. Deer and wild hosses by the thousand browse hyar on
the mountain in summer, an' down in the breaks in winter. The cougars
live fat. You'll find deer and wild-hoss carcasses all over this
country. You'll find lions' dens full of bones. You'll find warm deer
left for the coyotes. But whether you'll find the cougars, I can't say.
I fetched dogs in hyar, an' tried to ketch Old Tom. I've put them on
his trail an' never saw hide nor hair of them again. Jones, it's no
easy huntin' hyar."

"Well, I can see that," replied our leader. "I never hunted lions in
such a country, and never knew any one who had. We'll have to learn
how. We've the time and the dogs, all we need is the stuff in us."

"I hope you fellars git some cougars, an' I believe you will. Whatever
you do, kill Old Tom."

"We'll catch him alive. We're not on a hunt to kill cougars," said
Jones.

"What!" exclaimed Clarke, looking from Jones to us. His rugged face
wore a half-smile.

"Jones ropes cougars, an' ties them up," replied Frank.

"I'm -- -- if he'll ever rope Old Tom," burst out Clarke, ejecting a
huge quid of tobacco. "Why, man alive! it'd be the death of you to git
near thet old villain. I never seen him, but I've seen his tracks fer
five years. They're larger than any hoss tracks you ever seen. He'll
weigh over three hundred, thet old cougar. Hyar, take a look at my
man's hoss. Look at his back. See them marks? Wal, Old Tom made them,
an' he made them right in camp last fall, when we were down in the
canyon."

The mustang to which Clarke called our attention was a sleek cream and
white pinto. Upon his side and back were long regular scars, some an
inch wide, and bare of hair.

"How on earth did he get rid of the cougar?" asked Jones.

"I don't know. Perhaps he got scared of the dogs. It took thet pinto a
year to git well. Old Tom is a real lion. He'll kill a full-grown hoss
when he wants, but a yearlin' colt is his especial likin'. You're sure
to run acrost his trail, an' you'll never miss it. Wal, if I find any
cougar sign down in the canyon, I'll build two fires so as to let you
know. Though no hunter, I'm tolerably acquainted with the varmints. The
deer an' hosses are rangin' the forest slopes now, an' I think the
cougars come up over the rim rock at night an' go back in the mornin'.
Anyway, if your dogs can follow the trails, you've got sport, an'
more'n sport comin' to you. But take it from me--don't try to rope Old
Tom."

After all our disappointments in the beginning of the expedition, our
hardship on the desert, our trials with the dogs and horses, it was
real pleasure to make permanent camp with wood, water and feed at hand,
a soul-stirring, ever-changing picture before us, and the certainty
that we were in the wild lairs of the lions--among the Lords of the
Crags!

While we were unpacking, every now and then I would straighten up and
gaze out beyond. I knew the outlook was magnificent and sublime beyond
words, but as yet I had not begun to understand it. The great pine
trees, growing to the very edge of the rim, received their full quota
of appreciation from me, as did the smooth, flower-decked aisles
leading back into the forest.

The location we selected for camp was a large glade, fifty paces or
more from the precipice far enough, the cowboys averred, to keep our
traps from being sucked down by some of the whirlpool winds, native to
the spot. In the center of this glade stood a huge gnarled and blasted
old pine, that certainly by virtue of hoary locks and bent shoulders
had earned the right to stand aloof from his younger companions. Under
this tree we placed all our belongings, and then, as Frank so
felicitously expressed it, we were free to "ooze round an' see things."

I believe I had a sort of subconscious, selfish idea that some one
would steal the canyon away from me if I did not hurry to make it mine
forever; so I sneaked off, and sat under a pine growing on the very
rim. At first glance, I saw below me, seemingly miles away, a wild
chaos of red and buff mesas rising out of dark purple clefts. Beyond
these reared a long, irregular tableland, running south almost to the
extent of my vision, which I remembered Clarke had called Powell's
Plateau. I remembered, also, that he had said it was twenty miles
distant, was almost that many miles long, was connected to the mainland
of Buckskin Mountain by a very narrow wooded dip of land called the
Saddle, and that it practically shut us out of a view of the Grand
Canyon proper. If that was true, what, then, could be the name of the
canyon at my feet? Suddenly, as my gaze wandered from point to point,
it was attested by a dark, conical mountain, white-tipped, which rose
in the notch of the Saddle. What could it mean? Were there such things
as canyon mirages? Then the dim purple of its color told of its great
distance from me; and then its familiar shape told I had come into my
own again--I had found my old friend once more. For in all that plateau
there was only one snow-capped mountain--the San Francisco Peak; and
there, a hundred and fifty, perhaps two hundred miles away, far beyond
the Grand Canyon, it smiled brightly at me, as it had for days and days
across the desert.

Hearing Jones yelling for somebody or everybody, I jumped up to find a
procession heading for a point farther down the rim wall, where our
leader stood waving his arms. The excitement proved to have been caused
by cougar signs at the head of the trail where Clarke had started down.

"They're here, boys, they're here," Jones kept repeating, as he showed
us different tracks. "This sign is not so old. Boys, to-morrow we'll
get up a lion, sure as you're born. And if we do, and Sounder sees him,
then we've got a lion-dog! I'm afraid of Don. He has a fine nose; he
can run and fight, but he's been trained to deer, and maybe I can't
break him. Moze is still uncertain. If old Jude only hadn't been lamed!
She would be the best of the lot. But Sounder is our hope. I'm almost
ready to swear by him."

All this was too much for me, so I slipped off again to be alone, and
this time headed for the forest. Warm patches of sunlight, like gold,
brightened the ground; dark patches of sky, like ocean blue, gleamed
between the treetops. Hardly a rustle of wind in the fine-toothed green
branches disturbed the quiet. When I got fully out of sight of camp, I
started to run as if I were a wild Indian. My running had no aim; just
sheer mad joy of the grand old forest, the smell of pine, the wild
silence and beauty loosed the spirit in me so it had to run, and I ran
with it till the physical being failed.

While resting on a fragrant bed of pine needles, endeavoring to regain
control over a truant mind, trying to subdue the encroaching of the
natural man on the civilized man, I saw gray objects moving under the
trees. I lost them, then saw them, and presently so plainly that, with
delight on delight, I counted seventeen deer pass through an open arch
of dark green. Rising to my feet, I ran to get round a low mound. They
saw me and bounded away with prodigiously long leaps. Bringing their
forefeet together, stiff-legged under them, they bounced high, like
rubber balls, yet they were graceful.

The forest was so open that I could watch them for a long way; and as I
circled with my gaze, a glimpse of something white arrested my
attention. A light, grayish animal appeared to be tearing at an old
stump. Upon nearer view, I recognized a wolf, and he scented or sighted
me at the same moment, and loped off into the shadows of the trees.
Approaching the spot where I had marked him I found he had been feeding
from the carcass of a horse. The remains had been only partly eaten,
and were of an animal of the mustang build that had evidently been
recently killed. Frightful lacerations under the throat showed where a
lion had taken fatal hold. Deep furrows in the ground proved how the
mustang had sunk his hoofs, reared and shaken himself. I traced roughly
defined tracks fifty paces to the lee of a little bank, from which I
concluded the lion had sprung.

I gave free rein to my imagination and saw the forest dark, silent,
peopled by none but its savage denizens, The lion crept like a shadow,
crouched noiselessly down, then leaped on his sleeping or browsing
prey. The lonely night stillness split to a frantic snort and scream of
terror, and the stricken mustang with his mortal enemy upon his back,
dashed off with fierce, wild love of life. As he went he felt his foe
crawl toward his neck on claws of fire; he saw the tawny body and the
gleaming eyes; then the cruel teeth snapped with the sudden bite, and
the woodland tragedy ended.

On the spot I conceived an antipathy toward lions. It was born of the
frightful spectacle of what had once been a glossy, prancing mustang,
of the mute, sickening proof of the survival of the fittest, of the law
that levels life.

Upon telling my camp-fellows about my discovery, Jones and Wallace
walked out to see it, while Jim told me the wolf I had seen was a
"lofer," one of the giant buffalo wolves of Buckskin; and if I would
watch the carcass in the mornings and evenings, I would "shore as hell
get a plunk at him."

White pine burned in a beautiful, clear blue flame, with no smoke; and
in the center of the campfire left a golden heart. But Jones would not
have any sitting up, and hustled us off to bed, saying we would be
"blamed" glad of it in about fifteen hours. I crawled into my
sleeping-bag, made a hood of my Navajo blanket, and peeping from under
it, watched the fire and the flickering shadows. The blaze burned down
rapidly. Then the stars blinked. Arizona stars would be moons in any
other State! How serene, peaceful, august, infinite and wonderfully
bright! No breeze stirred the pines. The clear tinkle of the cowbells
on the hobbled horses rang from near and distant parts of the forest.
The prosaic bell of the meadow and the pasture brook, here, in this
environment, jingled out different notes, as clear, sweet, musical as
silver bells.





Next: Old Tom

Previous: Success And Failure



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