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engage themselves anew to some
spirits changed hands through broad prairies between the Misthe trading åt exorbitant prices. sissippi and the Black Hills Between gambling and other would be waving in expanses of dissipation they were speedily golden grain ; when the shriek cleaned out, and had either to of the engine would replace the
scream of the eagle in the cañons trading company or borrow an of the Rockies spanned by girder outfit for the next free expedi- bridges; and when the mountion on usurious terms.
Yet, on tain torrents of Nevada or Idaho second thoughts, considering the
would be dammed to drive risks they ran, no terms could stamping machinery among the well be deemed excessive. So shafts and adits of busy mining far as we remember, the only townships? The trappers have member of the fraternity who gone, and have been succeeded retired to die peaceably with a in their turn by gold-seekers, competence was the celebrated road agents, and cowboys alKit Carson. For Bent, who most as lawless. Were they to made his pile, went under in come back, they would be in a the massacre at Taos. And changed and uncongenial world; Kit, who was as famous a guide a world in which the liberty of as he was a fighter, was a man the free and independent hunter of altogether exceptional genius, would be perpetually in conflict and of still more exceptional with obnoxious and newfangled strength of will. For few could laws; a world where the wiping refuse to drink or gamble when out of a red varmint, far from the discourtesy was taken as the being as much a matter of merit challenge to a duel.
as setting the heel on a rattleThese trappers were the last snake's head, would lead to a men to be addicted to seeing trial that might end in a halter; visions or dreaming dreams. a world where the friendly knifeBut could any one of them thrust that clenched a heated have projected his spirit into argument might mean penal the future, seeking to emulate seclusion on the silent system. the wizards or medicine-men of Nevertheless they would chiefly the Sioux or Blackfeet, he would have themselves to thank, for assuredly, in his own emphatic they mainly contributed to language, have declared that changes they would have dehell was full of such doings. plored. What trapper of fifty years
We have told in a former ago could have imagined a time article? how the fur trade of when the countless herds of the the North had been virtually buffalo would be exterminated; monopolised by the rival Canawhen the Indians who had dian Companies, till Astor subsisted on them would have pushed his enterprise by land followed in their tracks, trans- and sea to the headquarters he ferring the chase to their happy established on the Columbia hunting - grounds; when the estuary. In the war between
See • Blackwood's Magazine' for October 1898.
Britain and America Fort Astor into regions where boats were passed into English hands, and to be abandoned, and where changed its name to Fort George. their mounted parties, surThe North-West Company had rounded by dangers and threatraced him to his goal, and re-ened by surprises, must depend mained after his ejection to reap entirely on themselves. Hence the fruits of his labours. They they had to engage men of a did not enjoy the lucrative very different stamp, and remonopoly for long. The Hud- cruits were to be found in son Bay Company followed fast abundance among the restless on their heels, and, after some spirits of the frontier. years of ruinous competition, Henry of the Missouri Comthe impoverished partners of pany had crossed the Rockies the North-West sued for peace, in 1808, and we have described and the associations were amal- the frightful sufferings and gamated.
The predominant hardships endured by Astor's partner gave the name to the overlandexpedition to the mouth new society; but though it of the Columbia. When Astor's traded under the title of Hud- enterprise had come to grief, son Bay, it is noteworthy that the experiences of his pioneerits agents were always known ing parties, notwithstanding the to the mountain men as the profitable trade they had opened, North - Westers. The Hudson acted rather as a deterrent Bayers were foreigners from than as encouragement. The the Far North; the North- superstitions which had Westers were neighbours, so hanced the terrors of the Rockto speak, who had latterly en- ies may have been dispelled, but listed their services. For the the material obstacles seemed Hudson Bay Company had more formidable than before. originally traded in regions For a dozen of years the Amerstudded with lakes or inland ican fur-traders confined their seas, and traversed in every operations to the Eastern waterdirection by water - channels. shed; nor had they any imConsequently their wares had mediate inducement to go farbeen transported by boats, and ther. Their daring hunters were for the most part their employés the first to explore the head were Canadian
voyageurs. These waters of the Missouri, the men were familiar with the pad- Yellowstone, and the shallow dle, and prided themselves on Platte, with the innumerable their skill in navigating broken tributaries of the streams flowwater or shooting the rapids. ing towards the Mississippi. It But they never pretended to was the golden age of the trapreadiness with the rifle, and per: he had dollars for the were little to be relied upon in gathering, and as to profusion a scrimmage with the savages. of game, he was in a paradise. The North-Westers, in extend- Countless buffalo swarmed on ing their ventures to the south the plains in the periodical of the Great Lakes and the migrations; he gorged himself west of the Mississippi, struck on the choicest fresh meat when
the hunts were in full swing, per was being stalked by skulk
If he were not and jerked strips of the flesh ing enemies. for future use. When the buf- transfixed when bending over falo failed, there were antelope his work by an arrow
from an on the prairie, and black- or ambush, there was the probawhite - tailed deer in every bility that
the trap for the wooded bottom. But the big beaver might prove a snare for game only supplied his larder, himself.
When he came back for he did not trouble himself next morning to see what his to dress the bulky buffalo robes luck was, the enemy might be which afterwards became a prof- lying in wait to take him unitable article of trade.
His awares. business was the trapping of The mystery is how any one the beaver, and in these days of these men escaped. The each beaver-plew of full-grown country to the west of the animal or “kitten” fetched six Rockies was in possession of to eight dollars overhead. The warlike tribes, who naturally beavers had multiplied undis- resented intrusion on their huntturbed from time immemorial; ing-grounds. Sioux, Blackfeet, indeed some of the Red men and the sneaking Crows, who who believed in transmigration had an exceptional reputation of souls claimed kindred with as thieves and horse - stealers, those solemn amphibious archi were always at feud among tects. Their dams were to be themselves, and consequently seen in every rivulet; they left ever on the alert. They threw their “sign” on the bank of out mounted pickets in all dieach sandy creek ; in some
some rections from their villages and places there were populous settle- encampments, whose business ments beneath lakes of their it was to observe and report own formation. The beavers any signs of hostile movement. were plentiful enough ;
enough; the A thread of smoke seen in the trouble was to trap them. And distance attracted attention at nothing gives a better idea of once, and a startled deer or the imperturbable coolness of a fluttered water - fowl was the trappers. They had pa- enough to invite close investitiently to puzzle out the “sign,' gation. It was impossible that and note the spot where the a troop of white men, careless animal took to treading the about the trail they left, which shallows. There the trap was indeed they could in no case to be set, and with every sort cover, should elude observation. of deliberate precaution. No The rather that, while the Inanimal is more warily sagacious; dians smothered their fires, or his suspicion is instinctive, and dispensed with them altogether, his keenness of scent almost pre- when within possible touch of ternatural. Details had to be an enemy, the trappers would carefully attended to; and haste bivouac round a blazing pile or carelessness was fatal to suc- when fuel in sufficient quantity cess. Yet all the time there was forthcoming, was every chance that the trap- of fiery cloud flashing far and
near was a sort of contemptu- war - whoop; the picket - ropes ous challenge to the Redskins were cut, the beasts were stamto come on. It seldom pleased peded, and the baffled hunters them to come on in these cir were left to go afoot. Such cumstances. The Indian had mishaps were at first excepa superstition against attacks tional : when they did happen, in the dark. Moreover, he knew the assailants were generally that the whites kept their eyes out of temper and reckless on skinned. The men lay around returning discomfited from some with feet radiating to the fire, unsuccessful raid. Besides, the each with his rifle ready to his trappers were for the most part hand. A guard was told off accompanied by traders, and to look after the horses, and the Indians let the cavalcade sentinels were regularly, though go by as much from policy as irregularly, set. For it need from prudence. They had no hardly be said they did not desire to scare away the men stand at attention to be shot who brought them powder and at, or pace to and fro with fire-water for barter. But when disciplined precision. They were those flying expeditions began anywhere or everywhere: they to cross the mountains, and to were lying flat on their bellies, open markets on the Pacific with eyes peering keenly out slope, the tribes who held the into the darkness; or they were passes saw matters in a differcrawling and taking advantage ent light. Now that there was of each scrap of cover, pausing competition, it struck them it from time to time to listen with was cheaper to plunder the carears pricked like the coyote's. avan than to trade with it, and, The first intimation the prowl- ambushed among the rocks of ing marauder might have of gorges and cañons, they could their proximity would probably shoot down their embarrassed be the gun-flash that heralded victims with small personal risk. a bullet in the body. If any. It was only after a few surprises thing could screw up the In- of the kind that the partisans, dians' courage to a nocturnal as they were called, who led the onset, it was the irresistible trapping bands, began to learn temptation of a haul of horse- some rude principles of military flesh. The animals were se- strategy. They threw out adcured and picketed somewhat vance-guards, they crowned the apart from the fire and the heights with scouts, and threaded main body; and if there were the defiles in relative security. an attack, it was sure to be But it was when the band delivered in storm or rain and broke up, and the members were fitful moonlight, when the howl- detached to hunt in couples, ing of the wind drowned other that the danger and romance sounds, and the rain might have of desperate adventure really disarmed the vigilance of the began. Often absolutely ignorguard or soaked the priming ant of the country, armed only of the rifles. Then the slumber- with the long single barrel and ing camp was roused by the a knife, bound to bring back a
certain quantity of fur or to be “The view was wild and dismal in beggared and discredited, they the extreme. Looking back, the whole were left entirely to their own
country was covered with a thick
carpet of snow, but eastward it was devices. Weighted with traps seen only in patches here and there. and ammunition, they went Before me lay the main chain of the mounted, and had led horses Rocky Mountains, Pike's Peak lifting
its head far above the rest. or pack-mules to
carry peltries. Their animals were of Rugged peaks and ridges, snow-clad course an encumbrance and ad- gorges filled with broken rocks, every: ditional source of danger. They where met the eye. To the eastward had sometimes to pick their way
the mountains gradually smoothed among precipices where the away into detached spurs and broken
spurs, until they met the vast prairies, mountain sheep could scarcely which stretched far as the eye could find a footing, and to forage as reach, and far beyond,-a sea of seemthey could on stony wastes, ing barrenness, vast and dismal. A which towards winter
hurricane of wind was blowing at the buried deep in the snow-drifts. the sandy prairies like the smoke of a
time, and clouds of dust swept along If the horses came to grief the million bonfires. On the mountainfurs must be abandoned, and all top it roared and raved through the the trapper's sufferings were pines, filling the air with snow and bootless. Had he
broken branches, and piling it in huge
drifts against the trees. The perfect he might have skulked in the solitude of this vast wildness was thickets and hoped to elude the appalling. . On all sides of me, savages. With a train of beasts broken ridges and chasms and ravines, his trail was conspicuous, and
with masses of piled-up rock and p
rooted trees, with clouds of drifting we repeat that it is a matter of
snow flying through the air, and the marvel how any of those adven- hurricane's roar battling through the turers escaped.
forest at my feet, added to the wildEven had those regions been
ness of the scene, which was unrelieved unpeopled, the rugged character
by the slightest vestige of animal or
human life.” of the country and the cruel severity of the winters would The allusion to the absence have made existence impossible of animal life is suggestive. to ordinary men. The trappers The trapper and the traderhave left no written remin- who had loaded up, perhaps, iscences, but one who shared with a little
little maize lived their perils as an amateur has mainly by their guns. Before described a scene he witnessed, such a storm as is described, in an interlude between storms the game would desert a district of snow and sleet, when crossing and shift to more sheltered rethe high dividing ridge between treats. Then it was a case of the valleys of the Rio del Norte absolute starvation, unless the and the Arkansas. He had wanderer had an unexpected picked himself up after being stroke of luck. We may imagfairly knocked off his feet by a ine the solitary wayfarer stagblast that met him on the crest. gering forward with failing He had scrambled up, leading strength, his head bowed to the his horse, with the pack-mules blast which pierced his very trailing behind :
marrow, ravenous with hunger,