Cow-Country by B.M. Bower
Chapter Three: Some Indian Lore
Buddy knew Indians as he knew cattle, horses, rattlesnakes and storms--by having them mixed in with his everyday life. He couldn't tell you where or when he had learned that Indians are tricky. Perhaps his first ideas on that subject were gleaned from the friendly tribes who lived along the Chisolm Trail and used to visit the chuck-wagon, their blankets held close around them and their eyes glancing everywhere while they grinned and talked and pointed--and ate. Buddy used to sit in the chuck-wagon, out of harm's way, and watch them eat.
Step-and-a-Half had a way of entertaining Indians which never failed to interest Buddy, however often he witnessed it. When Step-and-a-Half glimpsed Indians coming afar off, he would take his dishpan and dump into it whatever scraps of food were left over from the preceding meal. He used to say that Indians could smell grub as far as a buzzard can smell a dead carcase, and Buddy believed it, for they always arrived at meal time or shortly afterwards. Step-and-a-Half would make a stew, if there were scraps enough. If the gleanings were small, he would use the dishwater--he was a frugal man--and with that for the start-off he would make soup, which the Indians gulped down with great relish and many gurgly sounds.
Buddy watched them eat what he called pig-dinner. When Step- and-a-Half was not looking he saw them steal whatever their dirty brown hands could readily snatch and hide under their blankets. So he knew from very early experience that Indians were not to be trusted.
Once, when he had again strayed too far from camp, some Indians riding that way saw him, and one leaned and lifted him from the ground and rode off with him. Buddy did not struggle much. He saved his breath for the long, shrill yell of cow-country. Twice he yodled before the Indian clapped a hand over his mouth.
Father and some of the cowboys heard and came after, riding hard and shooting as they came. Buddy's pink apron fluttered a signal flag in the arms of his captor, and so it happened that the bullets whistled close to that particular Indian. He gathered a handful of calico between Buddy's shoulders, held him aloft like a puppy, leaned far over and deposited him on the ground.
Buddy rolled over twice and got up, a little dizzy and very indignant, and shouted to father, "Shoot a sunsyguns!"
From that time Buddy added hatred to his distrust of Indians.
From the time when he was four until he was thirteen Buddy's life contained enough thrills to keep a movie-mad boy of to- day sitting on the edge of his seat gasping enviously through many a reel, but to Buddy it was all rather humdrum and monotonous.
What he wanted to do was to get out and hunt buffalo. Just herding horses, and watching out for Indians, and killing rattlesnakes was what any boy in the country would be doing. Still, Buddy himself achieved now and then a thrill.
There was one day, when he stood heedlessly on a ridge looking for a dozen head of lost horses in the draws below. It was all very well to explain missing horses by the conjecture that the Injuns must have got them, but Buddy happened to miss old Rattler with the others. Rattler had come north with the trail herd, and he was wise beyond the wisdom of most horses. He would drive cattle out of the brush without a rider to guide him, if only you put a saddle on him. He had helped Buddy to mount his back--when Buddy was much smaller than now--by lowering his head until Buddy straddled it, and then lifting it so that Buddy slid down his neck and over his withers to his back. Even now Buddy sometimes mounted that way when no one was looking. Many other lovable traits had Rattler, and to lose him would be a tragedy to the family.
So Buddy was on the ridge, scanning all the deep little washes and draws, when a bullet ping-g-ged over his head. Buddy caught the bridle reins and pulled his horse into the shelter of rocks, untied his rifle from the saddle and crept back to reconnoitre. It was the first time he had ever been shot at--except in the army posts, when the Indians had "broken out",--and the aim then was generally directed toward his vicinity rather than his person.
An Indian on a horse presently appeared cautiously from cover, and Buddy, trembling with excitement, shot wild; but not so wild that the Indian could afford to scoff and ride closer. After another ineffectual shot at Buddy, he whipped his horse down the ridge, and made for Bannock creek.
Buddy at thirteen knew more of the wiles of Indians than does the hardiest Indian fighter on the screen to-day. Father had warned him never to chase an Indian into cover, where others would probably be waiting for him. So he stayed where he was, pretty well hidden in the rocks, and let the bullets he himself had "run" in father's bullet-mold follow the enemy to the fringe of bushes. His last shot knocked the Indian off his horse--or so it looked to Buddy. He waited for a long time, watching the brush and thinking what a fool that Indian was to imagine Buddy would follow him down there. After a while he saw the Indian's horse climbing the slope across the creek. There was no rider.
Buddy rode home without the missing horses, and did not tell anyone about the Indian, though his thoughts would not leave the subject.
He wondered what mother would think of it. Mother's interests seemed mostly confined to teaching Buddy and Dulcie what they were deprived of learning in schools, and to play the piano-- a wonderful old square piano that had come all the way from Scotland to the Tomahawk ranch, the very frontier of the West.
Mother was a wonderful woman, with a soft voice and a slight Scotch accent, and wit; and a knowledge of things which were little known in the wilderness. Buddy never dreamed then how strangely culture was mixed with pure savagery in his life. To him the secret regret that he had not dared ride into the bushes to scalp the Indian he believed he had shot, and the fact that his hands were straining at the full chords of the anvil chorus on that very evening, was not even to be considered unusual. Still, certain strains of that classic were always afterward associated in his mind with the shooting of the Indian--if he had really shot him.
While he counted the time with a conscientious regard for the rests, he debated the wisdom of telling mother, and decided that perhaps he had better keep that matter to himself, like a man.