« AnteriorContinuar »
inches in length, and tear everything before them. At the period I am treating of, the grizzly bear had (like some of the broken tribes of the prairies) gradually fallen back before his enemies, and was only to be found in the upland regions, in rugged fastnesses like those of the Black Hills and the Rocky Mountains. Here he lurks in caverns, or holes which he has digged in the sides of hills, or under the roots and trunks of fallen trees. Like the common bear, he is fond of fruits and meat. He is also carnivorous, and will even attack and conquer the buffalo, dragging his huge carcase to the neighbourhood of his den, that he may feast upon it at his leisure. The hunters, both white and red men, consider the bear the most heroic game, as he will receive repeated wounds without flinching.
Every day we made some new sporting excursion, and the scenery and objects, as we proceeded, gave evidence that we were advancing deeper and deeper into the domains of savage nature. Our encampments at night were often most pleasing and picturesque. On some beautiful bank, beneath spreading trees, which afforded us shelter and fuel, the tents were pitched, the fires lighted, and the meal prepared. Many a story then was told, the joke and repartee passed around, and song and catch were heard, as we gathered round the cheerful blaze of pine logs, enjoying our pipes and bowls of whisky toddy.
The pigeons were now filling the woods in vast migratory flocks. So great was the number one morning, in the vicinity of our bivouac, that we had a most splendid battue-quite a Red House day. On one occasion, when in pursuit of game, we came upon an Indian camp in an open prairie, near a small stream which ran through a deep ravine. The tents were of dressed buffalo skins, sewed together, and stretched on tapering pine poles, joined at top, but radiating at bottom, so as to form a circle capable of admitting thirty persons. After sending our guide to reconnoitre the camp, and ascertaining that, fortunately for us, it belonged to a friendly tribe of Indians, we selected some few presents, and made our way to the chief's residence. Charley Coolhurst tried to frighten us by his vivid description of the blackfeet bloodhounds, who had turned out an unfortunate beaver-trapper for a human hunt across the prairie, and who had happily escaped his pursuers by taking the water, and remaining hid under a natural raft of drift wood. Nothing daunted with this recital, and, as the Irishman says, "small blame to us," for we were out of the power of escape had we even wished it, we entered the camp. Nothing could exceed the kindness of the wanderers: they invited us to their lodges, and set food before us with true uncivilized hospitality. During the two days that we lingered at this place, our tents were continually thronged by our new allies. They were a civil, wellbehaved people, tolerably cleanly in their persons, and decorous in their habits. The men were tall, straight, and muscular, with aquiline noses, and high cheek bones. Some were in a state of nudity; others had leggings and mocassins of deer skin, with buffalo robes, which they threw gracefully over their shoulders, with all the pride of our hereditary senators, on state occasions. In a little while, however, they began to appear in more fanciful array, tricked out in the finery obtained from us. Here, might be seen a dark specimen of humanity dressed in an English shooting jacket and fancy waistcoat; there, another with a straw hat and a pair of Wellington boots; a third, with a pilot coat and a
"belcher" handkerchief round his raven hair; a fourth, sported a pair of sailor's trousers and a black opera tie-in short, they were as fine as old clothes, bright feathers, brass rings, beads of every hue, yellow ochre, and vermilion, could make them. Understanding that at some few miles' distance we were likely to have some deer shooting, we selected three of our recently-formed dark acquaintances, who were reputed to be excellent sportsmen, and proceeded upon our "dun-deer stalking." There are two kinds of antilopes in these regions: one nearly the size of the common deer, the other not much larger than a goat. Their colour is a light grey, or rather dun, slightly spotted with white, and they have small horns like those of the deer, which they never shed. Nothing can surpass the exquisite symmetry of their limbs, in which lightness, elasticity, and strength, are wonderfully combined. All the attitudes and movements of these beautiful creatures are graceful and picturesque; and they are, altogether, as fit subjects for the fanciful imaginations of the poets as the oft-sung bright-eyed gazelle of the east. Their habits are shy and capricious; they herd together in the prairies, are quick to take alarm, and bound away with a fleetness that defies pursuit. While they keep to the open plain, and trust to their speed, they are safe; but they have a prurient curiosity that often betrays them to their ruin. When they have scudded for some distance, and have left their pursuer behind, they will suddenly stop, and turn to gaze at the object of their alarm. If the pursuit is not followed up, they will, after a time, yield to their inquisitive propensities, and return to the spot from whence they have been frightened.
Charley Coolhurst, who
"Kenn'd the wiles o' dun-deer stalking,"
displayed his experience and skill in entrapping many of these animals. Taking advantage of that well-known curiosity so fatal to other little deers (I have unwittingly perpetrated a pun) from Eve to Blue Beard's wives, he hid himself in the long grass, and putting his handkerchief on the end of his ramrod, waved it gently in the air. This produced the desired effect. The antilope gazed at the mysterious object for some time at a distance, then approached timidly, pausing and reconnoitring with increased anxiety; moving round the point of attraction in a circle, but still drawing nearer and nearer, until, being within the range of the deadly rifle, the inquisitive animal fell a victim to his Paul-Pry propensities. We continued this sport for some hours, much to the delight of our Indian hunters, who decked themselves out with the horns and the hoofs of the game. Upon our return to the camp, we found it a scene of the utmost festivity. It was the anniversary of a battle that had taken place between our friends and a neighbouring tribe, in which the former had been victorious. All were equipped in their gala dresses. The chief wore a gay surcoat-a regular paletot-and leggings of the dressed skin of the antelope, embroidered with porcupine quills brilliantly dyed. A buffalo robe was thrown over his right shoulder, and across the left was slung a quiver of arrows; over his jet-black locks was a coronet, formed of the feathers of the black eagle-a bird held sacred among these warriors; and, by way of a glorious trophy,
having killed an enemy in his own territory, he was entitled to drag at his heels the skin of a fox, attached to each mocassin-a distinction he seemed not a little proud of.
Upon our reaching the tents, the pipe of peace was produced with much ceremony. The bowl was made of a species of red clay; the stem nearly six feet in length, decorated with tufts of dyed horse-hair of almost every colour. The pipe-bearer lighted the pipe, held it towards the sun, then towards the different points of the compass, after which he handed it to the chief. The latter smoked a few whiffs, then holding the bowl in his hand, and repeating some few words in the savage tongue, offered the other end to us successively. I then, in "a neat and appropriate" speech, proposed the health of the chief and his tribe, which was duly translated by the interpreter. We then made an offering of sundry small presents of beads, buttons, and tinfoil, which were gratefully received and duly acknowledged. Then commenced the war-feast and scalp dance, with martial song and savage music. Charley Coolhurst and myself took our partners, and joined in "on the light fantastic toe." A huge bowl of punch was then made by one of our voyageurs, who had been taught how to brew this grateful beverage, and mirth and good humour prevailed. The "Cool of the Evening," who had got rather excited with the hilarity of the scene and the strength of the punch, began to make desperate love to a beautiful young Indianan original belle Sauvage. Bribing the interpreter (who was what the sailors call two sheets in the wind) to translate the following pretty speech, "That the white man implored the child of the wilderness to look upon him with kindness," he received, through the same channel, as beautiful a reply as ever emanated from the lips of female, whether in an uncultivated or civilized state: "Oulamen, my husband, who is ever before my eyes, hinders me from seeing any one else." Fortunately Oulamen was absent, or the scalp of the London Assurance Company represented by Coolhurst might have adorned the devoted Indian's tent. Urging our "cool" friend to be more circumspect, we renewed the dance; and all was mirth and gaiety. The women and children gathered round us; old men who could no longer bear arms harangued the youthful warriors, exhorting them to valorous deeds. Amid a mingled sound of voices and rude music, a procession was formed, headed by the chief, who was carried in triumph very much in the manuer a popular representative is chaired in England, and was followed by his tribe, bearing banners, trophies, scalps, and painted shields. In this way the savage chivalry poured forth with hideous yells and wild war-whoops, and, more like madmen or demons broke loose, they conducted us a few miles upon our return towards the spot from whence we had first commenced our excursion.
Almost every settler who has established himself on the Missouri confidently expects that his farm will in a few years become the seat of wealth and business, and the mart for an extensive trade; and certainly the enterprising spirit of the Americans is remarkable in this State. Within the period that has elapsed since the cession of this country (part of the former Louisiana) to the Union, much more has been achieved, in every point of view, than during the preceding
years, when it was in possession of France and Spain. Towns, settlements, villages, streets, and farms have sprung up in every direction; the population has increased sevenfold; and if they are not superior in wealth to their neighbours, it is certainly to be attributed. to their want of industry, and to the passing of the greater part of their time in spirit stores, or in dancing society, according to their prevailing custom. Still there is more money among the inhabitants than in any of the Western States, and prices are demanded accordingly. Cattle that fetch in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, ten dollars per head, are sold in Missouri for nearly three times that amount; and so on in proportion. There is something very extraordinary in the strong and seemingly irresistible impulse which is bearing the American population westward. A passion for migration prevails quite apart from the mania of speculation or the desire of gain. In the inhabitants of the new States and territories more especially there is a propensitity to remove in the same direction, for which Dr. James, who writes so cleverly upon the subject, admits "it is not easy to account for." "By this habit of frequent migration it may, indeed, be well understood how a fondness is acquired for an adventurous, unsettled life; and this love of the backwoods seems native to the American, and may justly be termed a national passion. It has clearly its seat in the imagination; the result, in part, of an habitual familiarity with geographical ideas, and of associating those ideas with political magnitude. From the interest which every American takes in his government, he connects a feeling of personal importance and conscious power with the extension of its territorial domain, and he expatiates in the boundless range with all the pride of freedom. What poetry and romance are to more refined spirits, the wilderness is to him-an abstract region to which he can escape from the littleness and narrowness of the present, and find an ample field for the indefinite rovings of his mind. With Byron he can exclaim
Geography exercises over his imagination the power of the fine arts, and to his eye the map glows with all the richest colours of the canThe west is the site of futurity, and he travels in that direction in pursuit of it." That this is no exaggeration will appear from the language of Americans themselves: "The solitude and silence which reign in the colossal forests of the Missouri," remarks one of their ablest writers in the North American Review, "strongly impress a meditative mind; but it is association, imagination-it is history, prophecy, that impart to this spot a thrilling interest for every Ame rican. We have no remembrances like those which cluster about York Minster. England has no anticipations like those awakened at the junction of the Ohio with the Mississippi."
Our excursion is concluded; but we cannot take leave of Canada without expressing a hope that those beautiful provinces may make rapid strides towards the attainment of the prosperity which their soil, climate, and many other natural advantages have so eminently