Building A Cabin
: Far Past The Frontier
By reason of having been the first to see the strange foot-prints, and
having come upon them, too, in the gray light of the early morning, when
alone in the forest solitudes, John found it hard to shake off the dread
with which they filled him. On the other hand, Ree was bright and chipper
as a squirrel in the nutting season. He reasoned that the discovery of
the tracks was fortunate, rather than otherwise, for it proved that their
mysterious enemy was still hovering on their trail and gave them an
opportunity of finding out who the wretch might be. And they now knew
that they must be constantly on their guard, while except for the
discovery, they might have become careless and fallen easy victims to
their sneaking foe.
So he cheered John up, and loud and clear the sounds of their axes rang
out in the crisp, delightful air of the woods. Both boys threw off their
coats as the healthful perspiration came to their faces and hands, and
their vigor and strength seemed to grow rather than decrease as they
worked. They had been careful to keep their axes sharp, and the chips
flew almost in showers.
The trees selected for cutting were those from five to eight inches in
diameter, whose trunks were firm and straight. The lads would be able to
handle logs of this size, while larger ones would give them trouble,
especially as they no longer had a horse to draw them to the cabin site.
The work would be hard at best, but no more than the boys had expected,
and the hearty good will with which they set about the task before them,
promised its speedy accomplishment in spite of obstacles.
For mutual safety the boys remained near one another as they worked, and
timber was so plentiful that their progress was not interfered with by
this arrangement. Their rifles were within reach, and their eyes and ears
The hour of noon brought a brief but pleasant rest, and the afternoon
slipped quickly away. As supper time drew near, John, having had only a
cold lunch at noon, was becoming very hungry and was about to mention
that fact, when, instead, he suddenly seized his rifle and sprang behind
a tree. At the same instant Ree did likewise.
"As sure as shooting I heard some one cough!" exclaimed John in an
"I heard a footstep," Ree quietly answered.
"Ho ho!" It was Tom Fish who called, and coming forward, he confessed
that he had been trying the boys' watchfulness by trying to steal up to
them without being discovered. He was decidedly surprised to find them so
quick to detect his approach, for he had scarcely come within gun shot.
Tom declared to John, however, that he had not coughed, saying it must
have been John's alert instinct which told him that some one was drawing
near, and made him imagine he heard such a sound. The boys did not agree
with him, however, for he also undertook to say that Ree had not heard a
footstep at all, but being keenly alive to detect the approach of anyone,
had imagined he heard a noise before he really did, all through that
peculiar sense which he called instinct.
"But anyway it's a good thing for you, Tom Fish, that you hollered when
you did," said John. "I was just on the point of giving you a dose of
these lead pills that you are so everlastingly talking about!"
Tom's face lengthened. "You don't want to be too quick with your pill
box, boy," said he. "You want to see what an' who you're shootin' at.
Great Snakes, now! What if ye had peppered away at me?"
"Well, don't come creeping up like a sneaking Mingo then," laughed John,
and Ree, who knew that John had not seen Tom until after he called, and
had been really frightened, joined in his chum's merriment.
"But tell us what you found, Tom," urged Ree.
"Well, I'll tell ye," Tom slowly and very soberly answered, "I don't know
what to make of it. Them tracks was made by a redskin an' they came
straight to the camp along the trail we made yesterday. Then after
leaving here, they strike off an' go straight to the little lake across
from the Delaware town, an' there they stop. It's plain as kin be, that
some varmint from that there town has been spyin' on us. Now was it the
same critter as killed the horse, or wa'n't it? An' if it was, was that
critter the Buffalo chap? An' what was he hangin' 'round here ag'in for
These questions furnished an abundance of material for conversation
during the evening meal, but no definite answers were agreed upon. Ree
would not admit that they were in danger from the Delawares, though he
agreed that Big Buffalo was a bad Indian. He was quite sure, however,
that Big Buffalo had not shot old Jerry, for the Indian was at the head
of the party of savages he had encountered the morning after the horse
was shot, and had plainly been surprised to see any white person so far
But these arguments did not satisfy Tom Fish, nor was John at all sure
that Ree was right.
After supper Tom said he must go back for a deer which he had killed in
the morning, a couple of miles from camp, and which he had hung up beyond
the reach of the wolves, until his return. But he had made a short cut in
coming back to camp and so had not secured the venison.
John jokingly cautioned him to let them know when he approached the camp
in returning, lest he be mistaken for the prowler, and Tom most soberly
promised he would, and was at great pains to do so; for he was always at
a loss to understand the younger of the two friends, and could not be
sure whether he was in sober earnest or only joking, no matter what was
The night passed without incident. Tom did more than his share of guard
duty, but it became apparent next day that he did not like to wield an
axe. He said he would go out for some fresh "provender" and "sort o' earn
his keep" that way.
So while Fish went hunting, the boys toiled away. They could not complain
because Tom helped so little with the cabin, for they had no right to
expect it of him; they were thankful indeed, to have him keep the larder
well supplied and to let him sleep during the day, for he took the part
of sentinel a large part of every night. This gave the boys opportunity
to secure a good rest and to rise each morning eager to continue the task
Their faithful efforts were rapidly being rewarded and in due time the
logs for the cabin were all ready. These were chopped into lengths with a
view to making their dwelling 12 by 14 feet--no longer than the average
bedroom of modern houses, but affording all the space necessary, and
being the easier to keep warm by reason of being compact.
No time was spent on "fancy work," as John called it, at that time. A
floor and other improvements could be added later. For the main thing to
be accomplished was to get a secure shelter ready as soon as possible.
The Indian summer was long since gone, and though there were still warm,
pleasant days now and then, cold rains and snow came frequently. No
matter what the weather, however, the work went on, though hands and
faces were cut and scratched by the brush and chapped by the raw winds.
"Ree, you are a perfect fright," said John with a laugh, one day. "If
people from home were to see you now, they would say you would be lucky
to find a scare-crow which would trade places with you. And your
hair--why, it almost reaches your shoulders!"
Ree smiled but did not at once reply. Then, looking up, he said: "Old
boy, we are going back to Connecticut some day, but the time is a long
way off. If we go with whole skins and with money in our pockets, it will
be an easy matter to get into good clothes and to get our hair cut. What
you want to do, is to watch out that some Indian barber does not cut that
long hair of yours, rather closer than you like."
It was so seldom that Ree joked, and he spoke now in so droll a way, that
Tom Fish laughed boisterously. It had been long since the boys had heard
him so merry; for, though he never mentioned that subject, the
remembrance of the scalp Big Buffalo had carried, seemed always on his
spirits, bearing him down to a melancholy, unnatural mood.
They did not understand it then; they did not know.
When the time came to raise the cabin--that is, to fit the logs in place
one upon another, after they had been dragged and rolled to the summit of
the mound, to be in readiness, Tom's help was found most valuable, and
both Ree and John appreciated his work. But notwithstanding, they would
have been better pleased had he not remained with them. He had shown so
much ill-feeling toward the Indians who had come about from time to time,
that there was reason to believe he would commit some rash act which
would make trouble for all.
They could not tell Tom they did not trust him. They could not tell him
to go. Ree's repeated cautions that they must avoid getting into
difficulty with the redskins, were the only hints that could be given.
Capt. Pipe himself and a large number of his braves visited the camp when
the cabin was nearly finished, to make the settlement for the land the
boys had engaged to buy. The young pioneers had twice sent word to him by
Indians who were passing, that they wished to make their payment and
enter into a final agreement, and he had at last sent messengers to say
that he would visit them on a certain day. On the day before Capt. Pipe's
expected visit Ree and John went hunting to secure an abundance of meat
for a feast for their guests. It was the first day they had spent away
from the hard work on their cabin, except for Sundays when they bathed
and gave their clothes needed attention, and no two boys ever enjoyed a
holiday more. There was some snow--not enough to make walking difficult,
but really an advantage to the young hunters, for it showed them the
numerous tracks of the game they sought.
To this day, men, who have heard the stories handed down from generation
to generation, of the hunters' paradise in what is now the Northern part
of Ohio, in the years before 1800, delight to tell of the abundance of
choicest game found in the valley of the Cuyahoga and about the small
lakes in its vicinity, and Ree and John were in that very locality years
before the white man's axe had opened up the country to general
settlement, driving the deer, the bear and wolves and all kindred animals
Little wonder is it that these hardy pioneer boys were constantly
reminding themselves that they must pass by many fine opportunities for a
good shot, because of the necessity of saving their powder and bullets
for actual use; there must be no shooting except when there was a good
chance of securing game of some value.
Little wonder is it, that, even under these circumstances, Ree, by the
middle of the afternoon, had secured a deer and three turkeys besides a
big rabbit which he caught in his hands as it sprang from its burrow
beneath a fallen tree-top. And John had also shot a deer and had killed
their first bear--a half-grown cub which, late in finding quarters for
its long winter's sleep, rose on its hind legs, growling savagely, as the
boys came suddenly upon it, in passing around a great boulder in the
In good time on a certain Tuesday in December, Capt. Pipe and his party
arrived. Some of the braves were inclined to be very frolicsome and it
was necessary to watch that they did not get their hands on property
which was not their own.
But their chief was all dignity. He seemed to take a fancy to Ree, who
was scarcely less dignified than himself,--being so grave and quiet in
his deportment, indeed, that a doughty warrior who had made up his mind
to challenge him to wrestle, had not the courage to suggest the contest.
The business of the day sat lightly on John's mind, however, and he was
full of antics as any of the redskins. It resulted in his being
challenged to wrestle, and he was laid on his back in short order. Then
he remembered Ree's advice at the time he wrestled at the Delaware town,
and making use of it, threw his man after a most clever and spirited
But the great feature of the day, in John's estimation, was the foot race
in which he defeated a young Indian known to be one of the best runners
of the tribe, winning a beautiful pair of leggings which Big Buffalo put
up in a wager. It was a short-distance race and he realized that in a
longer run the Indian would have defeated him; it made him decide to
practice running long distances. He might wish to outrun the redskins to
save his scalp, some day.
Tom Fish sat silent and alone, a little apart from all the others, during
the whole time. He eyed Big Buffalo sharply when no one save Ree observed
him, but the gruesome scalp no longer hung at the Indian's belt.
Fishing Bird was there and seemed especially friendly, though, not being
a sub-chief, as was Big Buffalo, he did not pretend to any special
dignity, but enjoyed himself in sports with the other young Indians and
When at last the Delawares settled down to business, there was a great
deal of talk before an agreement was reached, that the boys should have a
tract embracing about 200 acres, which the Indians marked off, in
exchange for three red blankets and a bolt of blue cloth. It was a rather
dear price, John thought, but Ree declared it was a bargain, for they
secured just the land they wanted. Moreover, they retained the friendship
of the Indians, and even though they should be obliged to pay for the
land a second time to the United States government or the State of
Connecticut, they could well afford to do so, under these circumstances.
There was general hand-shaking as the Delawares went away, though Tom
Fish discreetly disappeared for the time, vowing he would give his hand
to "no bloody varmint."
The Indians insisted that the young "Long Knives" (Ree and John) should
return their visit the second day following, for a ratification of the
bargain they had made. This the boys regretted, as it would probably
delay the completion of their cabin; but they were obliged to accept the
invitation, and did so.
The next day, Wednesday, however, work on their rude dwelling was
resumed, and Tom Fish turned in and helped like a good fellow. A
fire-place and chimney had already been built of flat stones from along
the margin of the river, and this day, so industriously did all apply
themselves, that the roof and door were finished and the cabin
practically completed except for the improvements to be added from time
Words can hardly express the boys' pleasure as they built a fire for the
first time in the big fire-place and found that their chimney did its
work admirably. Without loss of time they at once moved into their new
house from the brush shack in which their home had been; and by the
cheerful fire light, as the night came on, they placed their things in as
orderly a manner as possible, and found themselves quite comfortable,
though much remained to be done, the chinking of the walls being the
chief task unfinished.
Notwithstanding how the wind crept in at the open cracks until this work
should be done, the boys were happy as they cooked and ate their supper
in their new home. The ripple and murmur of the river as it splashed on
the shore or washed over half-hidden stones, rose to them from the foot
of the mound, and was like sweet music in their ears. The wind gently
tossed the branches of the trees in harmony with the water's sound, and
the howling of wolves far off somewhere in the darkness, made the feeling
of security which the stout cabin walls gave all the more pleasing. Their
prowling foe had not been about since the first night of their arrival,
and they felt entirely safe.
"I guess I'll turn in, then," said John, after trying in vain to brighten
up Tom Fish and get him to telling stories; and he was soon asleep on the
bed of leaves he had made in a corner.
Ree, having had no chance to read since leaving home, resolved to improve
this opportunity. He got his "Pilgrim's Progress" from a chest, and
settled himself before the fire.
All the evening Tom had sat in silence beside the big chimney, but soon
he leaned over, and placing one big hand on Ree's knee, said in a low
"I've been wantin' to tell ye somethin', Ree; it's about that thar scalp
that has upset me so ever since I seen it."