Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

A Battle on the Buffalo Range - Harper's

 

Between the half-breeds who form a large portion of the population of the settlements of the Northwest, along the Red River of the North, and their neighbors, the Sioux, exists a bitter enmity. Peace is seldom declared between them, and when parties of Sioux and half-breeds meet, bloody battles are the result.

Although the half-breeds are more civilized than the Indians, and live in villages, generally near the forts or trading posts, they depend largely upon buffalo-meat for their winter food, and upon buffalo-robes, for which the traders give them guns, powder, shot, blankets, tea, coffee, sugar, and other necessaries and luxuries of their life. To obtain this meat and these robes they organize grand buffalo hunts every summer and fall, each of which lasts for several months, and in which hundreds of men engage. The hunters travel from their homes to the distant hunting grounds on horseback; but they take with them long trains of very curious-looking ox-carts, in which the women and children, who go with their husbands and fathers on these long trips, ride, and in which the buffalo-meat and hides are carried home.

The ox-carts, or "Pembina buggies," as they are often called, are very strong and clumsy, and are made entirely of wood, generally by their owners. The wooden wheels, turning on the ungreased wooden axles, make the most horrible creaking and groaning; and when, as is often the case, several hundred or a thousand of these carts are in one train, the noise they make can be heard for miles.

Each cart is drawn by a single ox, attached to the rude shafts by a simple and home-made harness of rawhide, with the aid of which the patient beast draws a load of a thousand pounds for hundreds of miles, at the rate of twenty or thirty miles a day.

As they approach the buffalo range, where they expect to find their game, the hunters know that at any moment they may run across hunting parties of the Sioux, and for them they keep a sharp look-out night and day.

Some years ago a brave hunter by the name of Jean Bedell, whose home was in Pembina, joined one of these great hunting parties, taking with him his wife and their little child, a baby of but a few months old. The party to which Jean belonged was so large that they had but little fear of Indians, and did not guard against being surprised by them as carefully as usual.

One morning as the brigade broke camp, and the long line of carts moved slowly away toward Devil's Lake, which could be seen gleaming in the distance, and near which the hunters felt sure they would find buffalo, Jean Bedell found that a portion of his harness had given out, and he must stay behind and mend it. He had just finished his task, and started on after the carts, the groaning and screeching of which could still be heard in the distance, when other and more terrible sounds, borne clearly to his ear, caused him to come to a sudden halt.

The sounds that so startled him were quick shots, almost as steady as volleys of musketry, and the terrible yell with which the Sioux charges upon his enemy. Far down the valley the hunter could see sharp flashes of fire pierce the cloud of dust that hung over the train of ox-carts, and the dark mass of Sioux warriors charging down the hill-side, lashing their ponies, firing and yelling as they went.

CUT OFF.—Drawn by W. M. Cary. CUT OFF.—Drawn by W. M. Cary.

Alone, and cut off from his companions, with his wife and baby to protect, Jean Bedell had nothing to do but lie down, with his trusty rifle in hand, powder and bullets by his side, and wait, determined to sell his life as dearly as possible if worst came to worst.

For hours the hunter watched the fight, while his wife crouched in the bottom of the cart, with her baby in her arms. He could see that the carts had been formed in a semicircle, and from behind them his comrades withstood charge after charge of the Indians, who would dash up to the barrier of heavy carts, pour in a volley, and sweep away beyond rifle range, until their own guns were reloaded.

At last, late in the afternoon, the battle came to an end. The Indians, finding it impossible to drive the hunters from behind their barrier, suddenly withdrew, and taking their dead with them, disappeared over the hill down which they had dashed in the morning. They might make another attack, but for the present all was safe, and Jean Bedell might rejoin his friends. When he reached them, he found that though they were rejoiced to have driven off the hated Sioux, their joy was mingled with much sorrow, for there were many dead to be buried, and many wounded to be cared for. Among the dead were several of the little children, to whom stray bullets had found their way; and when Jean Bedell and his wife saw the poor little bodies, they were very thankful that, on account of a broken harness, their own darling baby had been kept at a safe distance from the terrible battle.