Chapter XII. The Ruins of the Old Trading-Post
 

Once more the arduous journey westward was resumed. The hills left behind, they traveled a peaceful valley where riding on horseback was a real pleasure. Small game was now sighted in plenty, and Dave and Henry brought down their full share of what was bagged. The Indians joined in the hunting with keen pleasure, and White Buffalo brought down a silver-tailed fox, the pelt of which became the envy of all the red men under him.

Having crossed a broad but shallow water course, they reached an Indian village called Badoktah, which had but recently been established by a tribe of the Shawanoes. The coming of the Shawanoes eastward into the territory of the Delawares was not liked by the latter, and White Buffalo and his men met those in the village with scant courtesy.

"The land of the Shawanoes is beyond the rolling Muskingum," said White Buffalo to Dave. "They have come hither because they know my tribes are weak. But some day we shall drive them back to the lands that are their own."

"Do they claim the land up at Lake Erie?" asked the youth.

"No, that is the land of the Wyandots and the Iroquois."

"And how far to the west do they own the land?"

"For three days' journey on foot. Then comes the land of the mighty Miamis, and to the northward the lands of the Pottawattamies, the Ottawas, and the Ojibways."

"And who occupy the lands still further westward?"

"On the mighty Father of Waters," answered the Indian chief, meaning the Mississippi, "are the Illinois, and to the northward the Kickapoos and the Sacs and Winnebagoes. Of the tribes beyond the mighty river, White Buffalo knows but little. By some they are said to be exceeding cruel, and others have told that they are dumb and paint their bodies with mud."

The village of Badoktah consisted of about thirty wigwams, made of rude skins and long poles. As was usual at all such villages, each wigwam was decorated with rough Indian pictures and writings, giving the name of the occupant, his family, and telling of his deeds in war. The wigwams were without exception exceedingly dirty, and the Shawanoes themselves were little better--offering a strong contrast to White Buffalo and his followers. Indian dogs were everywhere, many of them miserable curs, all barking viciously, and showing their teeth.

The warriors were getting ready to go out on a hunt, but they waited until their unexpected visitors had departed. One or two of them had met James Morris at the trading-post on the Kinotah, and they remembered that he had treated them well. As a consequence the Indians did what they could to make the newcomers welcome, although they showed plainly that they would have been better pleased had the Delawares not been present.

"You must come and trade with me when I have re-established myself," said James Morris to the warriors of the village. "I will treat you honestly."

They remained in the village but two hours, and then pushed forward straight for Fort Pitt.

At the time of which I write, Fort Pitt was a structure standing on the point of land where the Monongahela and the Alleghany rivers unite to form the broad Ohio. As already told, it had been named Fort Duquesne by the French, but after the surrender to General Forbes, it was re-named after William Pitt, a great leader in England. In 1759, much of the old fort was torn down by General Stanwix, who erected in its place a much larger and stronger structure, built of logs, bricks, and dirt, and well protected with a number of cannon.

When the party reached the fort, James Morris was welcomed warmly by the English officer in command. No white men had passed that way since early winter, and all in the fort were anxious to hear the latest news, and to receive the newspapers which the trader had thoughtfully brought along.

"You are very adventurous," said the commandant of the fort. "I do not know how the Shawanoes will treat you."

"Have you had any trouble?" demanded James Morris.

"Not of any consequence. Some drunken Indians came here a few weeks ago and did some shooting. But nobody was hurt, and I speedily sent the drunkards about their business."

All the whites of the party were glad to rest at the fort for several days, and White Buffalo and his men remained with them. During that time Dave and Henry met several soldiers who had been with the youths during one campaign or another.

"Glad to see you came out of the war hale and hearty," said one of the soldiers. "You are both lucky."

"We were lucky," answered Henry.

"The fall of Montreal has brought the war to a quick close," went on the soldier. "But that is not saying that the Indians won't give us plenty of trouble in the future."

"They had better not. They will get the worst of it," said Dave.

"It is some of the great chiefs who are stirring them up, Morris. If the regular run of redskins were left alone they would be peaceable enough. But the chiefs go among them and say we are stealing their hunting grounds away from them, and all that, and that gets them excited."

"Yes, I know. And, to a certain extent, what they say is true, too."

"The trouble is, the redskins won't make a fair deal. They'll sell land one year and then want it back the next," added another soldier.

"Have you seen any French traders in this vicinity?" asked Henry.

"Not since we gave orders for them to quit their trading. I reckon they feel mighty sore. Our captain told me that a few were thinking of becoming British subjects. They realize that the French hold in America is now broken for good."

The stop at Fort Pitt at an end, the party continued on its way to the Kinotah, a beautiful stream, the name of which has long since been changed. The trail was now exceedingly rough, and so narrow in spots that the pack-horses could scarcely get through. The branches of the trees hung low, so that often all had to move along on foot. The one consolation was that the weather remained fine, so that camping-out at night proved a real pleasure and a rest.

"There are not half the Indians in this neighborhood that there were three and four years ago," remarked James Morris to Barringford. "The war has thinned them out more than I expected."

"I look for big times with game," returned the old frontiersman. "It will be almost like striking a new hunting ground."

Every night a watch was kept for the possible appearance of an enemy, either two-footed or four-footed. But no man came to disturb them, and if any wild beasts were near they kept well out of sight. Once Lukins brought down a small wild-cat, but that was all.

It must be confessed that James Morris was exceedingly anxious to see how the trading-post had fared during his absence, and as soon as the rolling Kinotah was reached, he set off on a gallop along the bank of the stream, followed by Dave and Henry, leaving Barringford to advance more leisurely with the pack-train.

The river, with its clear, sparkling waters, was as beautiful as ever, but while they were still two miles from where the trading-post had been located, they noticed a change in the character of the surroundings. The heavy spring freshets had done their work, and the river banks were torn into numerous gullies and creeks, while the trunks and limbs of great trees lay in all directions. Further still, they came to a long, burnt district, which made the heart of the trader turn sick with dread.

"It is as I feared," he said sadly. "There has been a terrible burn-over here, and the district is no longer what it was."

In less than half an hour's riding over the blackened ground, they came to where the long, comfortable trading-post had been located. Only a pile of ashes, with here and there a burnt log sticking up, marked the spot, and James Morris could scarcely keep back the tears as he surveyed the ruin wrought. Tears came to Dave's eyes, and Henry shook his head.

"We'll have to go further now, won't we, father?" said Dave, after a long spell of silence. "You won't want to build here again."

"No, Dave, I'll not build here. It was a beautiful place, but it seemed fated not to thrive. We must push on to some other territory."

Dismounting, they started to poke among the ruins, thinking they might possibly turn up something of value. While they were at this task Barringford and the others appeared.

"Well, I vum!" cried the old frontiersman. "Ef this ain't jess too naturally bad fer anything! Didn't expect it like this, did ye? An' sech a handsome spot as it was, too!"

"White Buffalo's heart is sad," said the Indian chief. "He feels sore for his brother James. The great forest has fallen, and many will be the summers ere it rises again."

"You are right, White Buffalo," answered the trader. "And even when it does rise, it will not be as grand as it was before."

The party could not go into camp on the burn-over, so Sanderson took charge of the pack-train and led it along the river, where the waters flowed toward the broad Ohio. In the meantime, the Morrises and Sam Barringford dug over the ashes where the trading-post had stood.

Little of value was found, outside of a rusty pistol, two rusty hunting knives, a bullet mold, a string of wampum, and a few earthen dishes, and an hour later the searchers left the spot.

"It is too bad," said James Morris. "I loved the place dearly. But it may be we shall find another further on that is just as good."

"Let us hope it will be better," said Dave, trying to look on the cheerful side.

"Yes, let us hope it will be better," said Henry; and the others echoed the sentiment.