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A Night Adventure in Prairie Land by Jonathan F. Kelley

 

“I'll take a circuit around, and come out about the lower end of your mot,”* said I to my companion. “You remain here; lie down flat, and I'll warrant the old doe and her fawns will be found retracing their steps.”

    [*] Mot is the name given small clumps of trees or woods, found
    scattered over the prairie land of Texas.

We had started from camp about sunrise, to hunt, three of us; one, an old hunter, who, after marking out our course, giving us the lay of the land, and various admonitions as to the danger of getting too far from camp, looking out for “Injin signs,” &c., “Old Traps,” as we called him, took a tour southward, and left us. Myself and companion were each armed with rifles; his a blunt “Yeager,” by the way, and mine an Ohio piece, carrying about one hundred and twenty balls to the pound, consequently very light, and not a very sure thing for a distance over one hundred yards. It was in the fall of the year, delightful weather: our wardrobe consisted of Kentucky jean trousers, boots, straw hats, two shirts, and jean hunting shirts—all thin, to be sure, but warm and comfortable enough for a day's hunt. We trudged about until noon, firing but once, and then at an alligator in a bayou, whose coat of mail laughed to scorn our puny bullets, and, barely flirting his horny tail in contempt, he slid from his perch back into the greasy and turbid stream. Seating ourselves upon a dead cotton-wood, we made a slight repast upon some cold pone, which, moistened with a drop of “Mon'galy,” proved, I must needs confess, upon such occasions, viands as palatable as a Tremont dinner to a city gourmand. While thus quietly disposed, all of a sudden we heard a racket in our rear, which, though it startled us at first, soon apprised us that game was at hand. Dropping low, we soon saw, a few yards above us, the large antlers of a buck. He darted down the slight bluffs, followed by a doe and two well-grown fawns.

As they gained the water, and but barely stuck their noses into the drink, we both let drive at them: but, in my rising upon my knee to fire at the buck, he got wind of the courtesies I was about to tender him, and absolutely dodged my ball. I was too close to miss him; but, as he “juked”—to use an old-fashioned western word—down his head the moment he saw fire, the bullet merely made the fur fly down his neck, and, with a back bound or double somerset, he scooted quicker than uncorked thunder.

Our eyes met—we both grinned.

“Well, by King,” says my friend Mat, “that's shooting!”

“Both missed?” says I.

“Better break for camp, straight: if we should meet a greaser or Camanche here, they'd take our scalps, and beat us about the jaws with 'em!”

It was thought to bear the complexion of a joke, and we both laughed quite jocosely at it.

“Now,” says I, “old Sweetener,” loading up my rifle, “you and I can't give it up so, no how.” Tripping up a cup of the alligator fluid, we washed down our crumbs, and started. We followed the deer about two miles up the bayou; the land was low prairie bottom, ugly for walking, and our track was slow and tedious. But, approaching a suspicious place carefully and cautiously, we had another fair view of the doe and fawns, feeding and watching on the side of a broad prairie. The distance between us was quite extensive; we could not well approach within shooting distance without alarming them. The only alternative was for my friend Mat to deposit himself among the brush and stuff, and let me circumvent the critters; one of us would surely get a whack at them. I started; a slow, tedious scratch and crawl of nearly a mile got me to the windward of the deer. As I edged down along the high grass and chapperel, about a branch of the bayou, the old doe began to raise her head occasionally, and scent the air: this, as I got still nearer, she repeated more frequently, until, at length, she took the hint, and made a break down towards my friend Mat, who, sharp upon the trigger, just as the three deer got within fifty yards, raised and fired. 'Bout went the deer, making a dash for my quarters; but before getting any ways near me, down toppled one of the young 'uns. Mat had fixed its flint; but my blood was up—I was not to be fooled out of my shot in that way; and perceiving my only chance, at best, was to be a long shot, off hand, as the doe and her remaining fawn dashed by, at over eighty yards, I let her have the best I had; the bullet struck—the old doe jumped, by way of an extra, about five by thirty feet, and didn't even stop to ask permission at that. A sportsman undergoes no little excitement in peppering a few paltry pigeons, a duck or a squirrel, but when an amateur hunter gets his Ebenezer set on a real deer, bear, or flock of wild turkeys, you may safely premise it would take some capital to buy him off.

I forgot all about time and space, Mat, “Old Traps,” greasers and Injins—my whole capital was invested in the old doe, and I was after her. She was badly wounded; I thought she'd “gin eout” pretty soon, and I followed clear across the prairie. Time flew, and finally, feeling considerably fagged, and getting no further view of my deer, and being no longer able to trace the red drops she sprinkled along, I sat down, wiped the salt water from my parboiled countenance, and began to—— think I'd gone far enough for old venison. In fact, I'd gone a little too far, for the sun was setting down to his home in the Pacific, the black shades of night began to gather around the timber, and I hurried out into the prairie, to get an observation. But it was no go. I had entirely reversed the order of things, in my mind; I had lost my bearings. The evening was cloudy, with a first rate prospect of a wet night, and neither moon nor stars were to be seen.

Taking, at a hazard, the supposed back track, across the broad prairie, upon which flourished a stiff, tall grass, I plodded along, quite chilly, and my thin garments, wet from perspiration, were cold as cakes of ice to my flesh. I began to feel mad, swore some, hoped I was on the right track back to Mat and his deer, but felt satisfied there was some doubt about that. Mat had the flint and steel for raising a fire, and the meat and what bread was left at our last repast. Night came right down in the midst of my cares and tribulations. A slight drizzling rain began to fall. The stillness of a prairie is a damper to the best of spirits—the entire suspension of all noises and sounds, not even the tick of an insect to break the black, dull, dark monotony, is a wet blanket to cheerfulness. I really think the stillness of a large prairie is one of the most painful sensations of loneliness, a man ever encountered. The sombre and dreary monotony of a dungeon, is scarcely a comparison; in fact, language fails to describe the essentially double-distilled monotony of these great American grass-patches—you can't call them deserts, for at times they represent interminable flower-gardens, of the most elegant and voluptuous description.

Oh, how home and its comforts floated in my mind's eye; how I envied—not for the first time either—the unthankful inmates of even a second-rate boarding-house! A negro cabin, a shed, dog kennel, and a hoe cake, had charms, in my thoughts, just then, enough to exalt them into fit themes for the poets and painters. Having trudged along, at least three miles, in one direction, I struck a large mot, that jutted out into the prairie. Here I concluded it was best to hang up for the night. I was soaking wet—hungry and wolfish enough. My utter desperation induced me to work for an hour with some percussion caps, powder, and a piece of greased tow linen, to get a blaze of fire, Ingins or no Ingins. I began to wish I was a Camanche myself, or that the red devils would surround me, give me one bite and a drink, and I'd die happy. All of a sudden, I got sight of a blaze! Yes, a real fire loomed up in the distance! It was Mat and his deer, in luck, doing well, while I was cold as Caucasus, and hollow as a flute. I riz, stretched my stiff limbs, and struck a bee line for the light. After wading, stumbling, and tramping, until my weary legs would bear me no longer, I had the mortification to see the fire at as great a distance as when I first started. This about knocked me. I concluded to give up right in my tracks, and let myself be wet down into papier mache by the descending elements. Blessed was he that invented sleep, says Sancho Panza, but he was a better workman that invented spunk. All of a sudden I plucked up my spunk, and by a sort of martial command, ordered my limbs to duty, and marched straight for the fire in the weary distance. A steady and toilsome perseverance over brake and bush, mud, ravine, grass and water, at length brought me near the fire. And then, suspicion arose, if I fell upon a Mexican or Indian camp, the evils and perils of the night would turn up in the morning with a human barbecue, and these impressions were nearly sufficient inducement for me to go no further. It might be my friend Mat's fire, and it might not be: it wasn't very likely he would dare to raise a fire, and the more I debated, the worse complexion things bore. Involuntarily, however, I edged on up towards the fire, which was going down apparently. Coming to a bayou, I reconnoitered some time. All was quiet, save the pattering of the rain in the grass, and on the scattering lofty trees. I stood still and absorbed, watching the dying fire, for an hour or two. I was within half a mile of it; the intense darkness that usually precedes day had passed, and a murky, rainy morning was dawning. Cheerless, fatigued, and hungry beyond all mental supervision or fear, I marched point blank up to the fire, and there lay—not a tribe of Mexicans or Camanches, but my comrade Mat, fast asleep, under the lee of a huge dead and fallen cotton-wood, alongside of the fire, warm, dry, and comfortable as a bug in a rug!

I gave one shout, that would have riz the scalp lock of any red skin within ten miles, and Mat started upon his feet and snatched his “Yeager” from under the log quicker than death.

“Ho-o-o-ld yer hoss, stranger,” I yelled, “I'm only going to eat ye!”

Mat and I fraternized, quick and strong. A piece of his fawn was jerked and roasted in a giffy. After gormandizing about five pounds, and getting a few whiffs at Mat's old stone pipe, I took his nest under the log, and slept a few hours sound as a pig of lead.

Waked up, prime—stowed away a few more pounds of the fawn, and then we started for camp. Living and faring in this manner, for from three to twelve months, may give you some idea of the training the heroes of San Jacinto had.

 
 
 

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