was raw, open country, rugged country, and it bred a different kind of man. The
cattle that went wild in Texas became the longhorn, and ran mostly to horns and
legs because the country needed a big animal that could fight and one who could
walk three days to get water. Just so it bred the kind of man with guts and
toughness no eastern man could use.
men never discover what they’ve got inside. A man has to face up to trouble
before he knows. The kind of conniving a man could get away with back east
wouldn’t go out here. Not in those early years. You can hide that sort of
behavior in a crowd, but not in a country when there’s so few people. Not that
we didn’t have our own kinds of trickery and cheating.
Pritts was one of those who mistook liberty for license and he figured he could
get away with anything. Worst of all, he had an exaggerated idea of how big a
man he was…trouble was, he wasn’t a big man, just a mean one.
banked our money with the Express Company in Santa Fe, and then we saddled up
and started back to Purgatoire after more cattle. We had us an outfit this time.
Dapple was still my horse, and a better no man was likely to have, but each of
us now had four extra mounts and I’d felt I’d done myself proud.
first was a grulla, a mouse-colored mustang who, judging by disposition,
was sired out of a Missouri mule by a mountain lion with a sore tooth. That grulla
was the most irritating, cantankerous bit of horse flesh I ever saw, and he
could buck like a sidewinder on a red-ant hill. On the other hand he could go all
day and night over any kind of country on less grass and water than one of
Beal’s camels. My name for him was Sate, short for Satan.
was a buckskin, a desert horse used to rough going, but steady. In many ways the
most reliable horse I had. His name was Buck, like you might expect.
was a big red horse with lots of bottom. Each horse I paid for out of my own
money, although Sate they almost gave to me, glad to be rid of him, I expect.
time I straddled Sate we had us a mite of a go-around. When I came off him I was
shook up inside and had a nosebleed, but I got off when I was good and ready and
from that time on Sate knew who was wearing the pants.
fourth horse I bought from an Indian.
spent most of the day dickering with Spanish men, and this Indian sat off to one
side, watching. He was a big-framed Nez Perce from up Idaho, Montana way.
was at the corral at sunup and by noontime I’d not seen him have a bite to
a long way from home,” I said, slicing off a chunk of beef I’d had fixed for
a lunch and handed it to him.
looked at me, a long, careful look, then he accepted it. He ate slow like a
starving man who can’t eat a lot at first because his stomach shrinks up.
my grub down the middle, I gave him half, and we ate together. When we’d
finished he got up. “Come – you see horse.”
horse was a handsome animal, a roan with a splash of white with red spots on the
white, the kind of horse they call an Appaloosa. Gaunt as his owner he stood a
good sixteen hands. Looked like this Indian had come a long way on short
I swapped him my old rifle (I’d bought a .44 Henry the day before) and some
grub. I threw in my old blanket.
were out of Santa Fe when we found a spot in the bend of a creek among some
rocks. When we’d forted up they left it to me to scare up some fresh meat as
we planned to live off the country and stretch out store-bought rations.
Montana horse could move. He could get out and go, lickety-brindle, and he was
smart. We passed up antelope because no matter what folks tell you it’s the
worst kind of Rocky Mountain meat. Old-timers will tell you that cougar meat is
best. Lewis and Clark said that, and Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Uncle Dick Wooton,
Jim Baker…they all agreed.
with a bright sun over far hills, shadows lying in the folds and creases of the
country, sunlight on cottonwood leaves and sparkling on the river water…a
meadow lark calling. Montana horse and me, we sure loved it. We took off along
an old deer trail. This was higher country than before, the plateaus giving way
to long ridges crested with pines and slopes dotted with juniper or piñon.
I saw a deer…and then another. Tethering Montana horse I moved up with my
deer are easy to stalk if a man is careful on his feet and doesn’t let them
get wind of him. When deer put their heads down to graze, you can move up on
them, and you can keep moving, very quiet. When their tails start to switch
they’re going to look up, so you freeze in position. He may be looking right
at you when he looks up, and he might look a long time, but if you stand right
still, after awhile he will decide you’re a harmless tree or stump and go back
worked my way up to within fifty yards of a good big buck and then I lifted my
rifle and put a bullet behind the left foreleg. There was another deer no
further off and on my left, and as I fired at the first one I swung the rifle
just as he was taking his first jump and my bullet broke his neck as he hit
fast, I butchered those deer, loaded the choice cuts into their hides and
mounted Montana horse. When I came out of the trees a couple af miles further on
a half-dozen buffalo were running across the wind. Now no buffalo runs without
up on the edge of the trees I knew we’d be hard to see, for that roan and me
with my buckskin outfit fitted into the country like part of it. No man in this
country ever skylines himself if he can help it.
the first man to move is the first to die, so I waited. The sun was bright on
the hillside. My horse stamped a foot and switched his tail. A bee hummed around
some leaves on a bush nearby.
came in a single file, nine of them in a row. Utes, from the description I’d
heard from Cap. They came out of the trees and angled along the slope in front
most times I prefer to stand my ground and fight it out for running can make
your back a broad target, but there are times to fight and times to run and the
wise man is one who can choose the right time for each.
off, I sat still, but they were riding closer and closer to me, and if they
didn’t see me their horses would. If I tried to go back into the trees
they’d hear me.
my rifle across my saddle I said a prayer to the guardian angel of fools and
covered maybe thirty yards before they saw me. One of them must have spoken
because they all looked.
can make mistakes like anybody. If they had all turned and come at me I’d have
been fairly caught. But one Indian got too anxious and threw up his rifle and
that rifle come up, I hit the spurs to Montana horse and went away from there,
but in the split seconds before I hit him with the spurs, I fired. As I’d been
timing my horse’s steps I’d shot at the right time and I didn’t miss.
shot took out, not the Indian shooting at me but the one who seemed to be riding
the best horse. My shot was a hair ahead of his and he missed when Montana horse
took out…and I mean we really lit a shuck. There was nothing around there I
wanted and what I wanted most was distance from where I was.
that first Indian down I’d cut my sign right across their trail and now they
wanted me mighty bad, but that horse didn’t like Utes any better than I did.
He put his ears back and stretched out his tail and left there like a scared
next shot was a miss. With Montana horse traveling like he’d forgot something
in Santa Fe, there wasn’t much chance of a hit. They had all come right at me
with the shooting and I saw unless I did something drastic they had me so I
swung and charged right at the nearest Indian. He was fifty yards ahead of the
nearest Ute and which shot got his horse I don’t know, but I fired three or
four shots at him.
jumped from the horse’s side and the horse went down throwing his rider over
his head into the grass, and when I went by at a dead run I shot into that
Indian as I rode.
were messed up for a minute or two, switching directions and running into each
other, but meanwhile I rode through a small creek and was out on the open
were eight to ten miles from camp and I wasn’t about to lead these Utes full
tilt into my friends. And then I saw a buffalo wallow.
Montana horse we slid into that wallow and I hit ground and threw my shoulder
into the horse and grabbed his off foreleg, hoping to throw him, but Montana
horse seemed to know just what I wanted and he went down and rolled on his side
like he had been trained for it…which he probably had, the Nez Perce using
Appaloosas for war horses.
to one knee, the other leg stretched out ahead of me, I drew a careful bead on
the chest of the nearest Ute and squeezed off my shot.
was a minute when I believed I’d missed, and him coming right into my sights,
then his horse swung wide and dumped a dead Ute into the grass. There was a
bright stain of blood on the horse’s side as he swung away.
was warm and still. Patting Montana horse I told him, “You rest yourself, boy,
we’ll make out.”
rolled his eyes at me like he understood every word.
would never have believed that a moment ago there was shooting and killing going
on, because suddenly everything was still. The hillside was empty, those Indians
had gone into the ground faster than you would believe. Lying there, knowing any
moment might be my last, I liked the feel of the warm sun on my back, the smell
of parched brown grass and of dust.
of the Utes were down in the grass and there were six left. Six to one might
seem long odds but if a man has nerve enough and if he thinks in terms of
combat, the advantage is often against sheer numbers. Sheer numbers rob a man of
something and he begins to
depend…and in a fighting matter no man should depend. He should do what has to
be done himself.
canteen was full and I’d some jerked meat in my saddlebag, lots of fresh meat,
and plenty of ammunition.
would try to come over the rise behind me. That crest, only a couple of feet
away, masked my view of the far slope. So I had out my bowie knife and began
cutting a trench. That was a nine-inch blade, sharp enough to shave with, and I
worked faster than ever in my born days.
took me only minutes to have a trench that gave a view of the back slope, and I
looked around just in time. Four of them were coming up the slope toward me on
foot and running bent over. My shot was a miss…too quick. But they hit dirt.
Where there had been running Indians there was only grass stirring in the wind.
would be creeping on their bellies now, getting closer. Taking a chance, I
leaped up. Instantly, I spotted a crawling Indian and fired, then dropped into
my hole with bullets spearing the air where I’d been. That was something I
couldn’t try again, for now they’d be expecting.
there were high streamers of white clouds. Turning around I crawled into my
trench, and just in time. An Indian was coming up that back slope, bent over and
coming fast and I let him come. It was high time I shortened the odds against
me, so I put my rifle in position, reached down to ease my Colt for fast work in
case the others closed in at the same time. That Ute was going to reach me with
his next rush.
were down, but I doubted if more than one was actually dead. I wasn’t counting
any scalps until I had them.
loitered. Sweat trickled down my cheeks and my neck. I could smell the sweat of
my own body and the hot dust. Somewhere an eagle cried. Sweat and dust made my
skin itch, and when a big horsefly lit on Montana, my slap sounded loud in the
folks might call this adventure, but it is one thing to read of adventure
sitting in an easy chair with a cool drink at hand, and quite another thing to
be belly down in the hot dust with four, five Indians coming up the slope at you
with killing on their minds.
grasshopper flew into the grass maybe fifteen yards down slope, then took off at
once, quick and sharp. That was warning enough. Lifting the rifle I steadied it
on that spot for a quick shot, then chanced a glance over my shoulder. Just as I
looked back that Ute charged out of the grass like he was bee-stung.
guess had been right, and he came up where that grasshopper had lit. My sights
were on the middle of his chest when I squeezed off my shot and he fell in plain
me their feet made a whisper in the dry grass and rolling over I palmed my Colt
and had two shots off before I felt the slam of the bullet. The Utes vanished
and then I was alone but for a creeping numbness in my left shoulder and the
slow welling of blood.
back from the trench I felt sickish faint and plugged the hole with a
handkerchief. The bullet had gone through and I was already soaked with blood on
my left side. With bits of handkerchief I plugged the bullet hole on both sides
and knew I was in real trouble.
against the heat and sudden dizziness I fed shells into my guns. Then I took the
plug from my canteen and rinsed my mouth. It was lukewarm and brackish.
head started to throb heavily and it was an effort to move my eyebrows. The
smell of sweat and dried grass grew stronger and overhead the sky was yellow and
hot as brass. From out of an immeasurable distance a buzzard came.
I hated the smells, hated the heat, hated the buzzard circling and patient –
as it could be patient – knowing that most things die.
to the rim of the buffalo wallow my eyes searched the terrain before me, dancing
with heat waves. I tried to swallow and could not, and Tennessee and its cool
hills seemed very far away.
something like delirium I saw my mother rocking in her old chair, and Orrin
coming up from the spring with a wooden bucket full of the coldest water a man
in a dusty hole on a hot Colorado hillside with a bullet hole in me and Utes
waiting to finish the job, I suddenly remembered what day it was.
had been and hour...or had it been more? It had been at least an hour since the
last attack. Like the buzzards, all those Utes needed was time, and what is time
to an Indian?
was my birthday…today I was nineteen years old.
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