The Camp at Jack Morrow's - John Smith's Story - The Soldiers' Suggestion
I WAS lying on the prairie at midnight, all alone, with my head in the saddle, about midway between General Mitchell's ambulance and my company, each about fifty yards distant, thinking of the strange events of the day, and wondering what the Indians would do next. Captain O'Brien was about one hundred feet from me, going to sleep with Lieutenant Rankin. I had taken a final look at the bright, beautiful moon, and had about got into a doze when along came Ben Gallagher and "John Smith," leading their horses. Ben Gallagher went to his saddle-pockets and pulled out a yellow earthen bottle made in the form of a book, and labeled on the back "History of the War." It had an aperture and cork at the top, and held about a quart. He handed it to me; I examined it and read a page or two. John Smith said, "Let's camp with Lieutenant Ware." So they both took their saddles off, spread their blankets near me, took their horses to the picket-rope, tied them, and came back. Gallagher and Smith began alternately taking little chapters from the "History of the War," and finally they lay down on the ground near me, and we looked up at the moon and were about to go to sleep. The whisky had loosened up the tongue of "John Smith," and as we lay there on the wild flat prairie, out in that wild flat country, with our heads near together in our saddles, and while the wolves out in the hills were howling, Smith told the following story, of which I made full notes at the time, and which I can remember now as well as if it were told yesterday, so profound was the impression it made.
I will repeat practically what John Smith said, in his own talk, as I put it down afterwards:
"After I graduated at Yale College I thought that literature was what I wanted to follow, and I tried my hand on a newspaper in Iowa, but finally determined to go West and as everybody was striking out for Pike's Peak -- it was 'Pike's Peak or Bust' -- I concluded to try Pike's Peak, and if I didn't like it I would go on through to California. I got to Omaha, and finally got in with a train; I had some horses, and I went along with the train, paying my bills for myself and my horses. I got right awful sick, and they thought I was going to die, I didn't know what I was about; thought so too; didn't much care what happened, and they left me at a ranch not far from Gilmans'. And I surprised them all by finally getting well, but I had been sick a long time, lost everything, and I didn't get well very fast. There were Indians around all the time. I heard them talk, and sort of picked up the language. I had studied Latin and Greek and French, and knew something of the other languages, and I found it wasn't difficult for me to pick up the Cheyenne language, and the Sioux. I finally got well so I could ride a horse, but I didn't have a cent left. Somebody got my horses, and I got cared for. Don't know exactly how it was arranged, but I was very much scared about myself. I didn't get my strength back very fast, and I was afraid to do anything much. I went up to Gilmans' one day, and Gilman asked me if I didn't want to go over on Red Willow Creek and trade with the Indians some for him. After negotiations, finding out that Gilman would furnish me a half-breed interpreter, and give me a good show on the profits, I went over there, and I picked up their language right off, both the verbal and the sign, and made myself agreeable to all the chiefs, and did pretty well. Gilman was pleased, and I kept going backwards and forwards, and I made Gilman a whole lot of money, and made something for myself. After I had been with the Indians for a while I got a big disgust on with civilized life, concluded there wasn't much to it, and that I would rather live like an Indian than a white man. I had a talk with Gilman, and Gilman was so satisfied with my work that he offered to back me right along as a sort of partner. Well, I got sort of stuck on Indian life, thought I would rather be an Indian, and I married the daughter of the chief in the band there on the Red Willow. He wasn't the head of the Cheyennes, but he was the head of that band. And I got a nice teepee (tent), and some horses and dogs and two children, one of them a boy and the oldest a girl, and I was considered one of the band. When there was anything to come up, they asked me what I thought about it, and I never tried to become chief, nor anything of that kind, and consequently I didn't have any trouble with any ambitious Indian; I was living there all right until they tried to get the Cheyennes into this war. I saw there was going to be a whole lot of trouble. Indians from the south came up there, and things got distracted. They called a large meeting down near the mouth of Red Willow where our camp then was, and there came in Cheyennes from down below. The meeting was a big meeting. We had a big bonfire, and the young bucks were all talking war, and I didn't know exactly what to do. My wife told me that there was going to be trouble, and that if I wasn't careful some of them would shoot me. One evening at a big camp-fire there was an Indian who said he was a Kioway. I don't know whether he was or not. He was an Indian that spoke a different dialect from any that I knew of, but he could talk Cheyenne as plain as anybody, and he talked long and loud. He had set up a post near the fire, like a fence-post, and he had put a soldier's hat on it, that had the brass cross-sabers and trimmings of a cavalry soldier's hat. He would talk and get excited, and with his tomahawk he would chop into this hat on the post. I tilted up the corner of the tent and listened to all of it, and my wife went out to listen better. I saw the uproar getting greater and greater, and some of the young bucks got excited, and went to shooting their guns into the air. My wife went and got a pony as if leading it out to grass, and took it outside of camp up in the brush, and put a saddle and bridle on it and told me to find it. Then she told me to slip out, and get on it and skip, while she went and sat down near the scene, and watched what was going on. I thought things might cool down, but the spasm grew worse, and they got to howling and yelling and singing war-songs, and everybody was around the camp-fire. I kissed my two children good-by, little half-breeds, but mighty pretty for Indians; I slid out and got onto that horse and rode. I struck for Cottonwood Canyon. It is a pretty long trip, but I rode pretty fast, and I got up to the head breaks about dawn, when right up out of the grass in front of me rose two Cheyenne Indians, both of them with bows and arrows, and I didn't have a gun. I was a refugee. I didn't dare have a gun. They took me prisoner; I said to myself, 'Now my time has come.' They asked me where I was going, and I told them that I was going down to Cottonwood Canyon to get some ammunition, supplies and whisky. My pony was plumb used up, and they made me get off, and one of them said, 'Come with us,' and I said, 'No,' I wanted to go down and get my staff. Then the Cheyenne drew an arrow up to its head, and punched it up against me, and I, of course, knew if he let go of the bow-string the arrow would go right through me. I supposed they would take me down to the canyon, tie me up to a tree, build a fire around me, and have some fun. I had to go, but I kept thinking, and watching for something to do in the way of an escape, when all at once they stopped, and one of them went into some bushes and pulled out a little keg of Indian whisky. Then I saw that they both had been drinking, and that their actions were due to drink. The whisky was awful stuff, made out of alcohol, water, red pepper and molasses, and these two Indians had got this keg hidden up in the breaks at the head of Cottonwood Canyon, and were having a great time. One of them had a big tin cup, and he filled it plum full, and handed it to me to drink. I said to him that it would kill me, that I couldn't drink it; and they told me that I must drink it, and I took a sip. Then they told me to go on drinking; then they would draw arrows each one up to its head, and with the bow thus drawn, punch me with the sharp point of the arrow. They would punch me in the ribs with it, they would punch me in the neck with it. I knew if they would relax just a little and the arrow was released I was a dead man. I said to myself, they're going to get me drunk and then roast me. I would take a sip and they would laugh in a diabolical manner, and draw the arrow up again to the full, and punch me with it and say, 'Drink.' Well, I kept sipping, and expostulating, but it wouldn't do. I concluded I would rather be roasted drunk than sober. One of them would laugh and howl as he watched the other one punch me with drawn arrow, and they would take turns at this, and take turns at laughing. Well, I don't know, but I guess I drank it all up. I bade myself good-by, and farewell, and did it more than once. I know I kept sipping and they kept prodding me with drawn arrows. I remember falling to the ground, and trying to get up, and I remember those fellows dancing around, shouting and having fun, while I was thinking my end had come.
"Well, sir, I wasn't hurt. I woke up with hardly any clothes on. They took my moccasins and my coat, but when I woke up the sun was shining down on me, hot and blistering, and I didn't know where I was, and I didn't know whether I was dead or alive, and such a raging thirst and fever I never had. My head was bursting wide open, and my mouth all dry and crisp. My tongue was rough like shark-skin. I tried to get up, but fell over, and it sort of began to dawn on me that I was alive. There was nobody around, and I couldn't tell where I was, and I finally saw the depressions of the ground, and I made up my mind that I must find water. I went stumbling down the grade, and every once in a while I would fall over, and lie there, and after a while I would get up, and I thought I would choke to death, and never find any water. From time to time I went on down and would fail, and have a momentary lapse of memory, and finally I struck a little muddy pool, and I went into it, and drank and vomited, and drank and rolled over in the water and mud, and lay there. Then I got out, and went farther down, but I went mighty slow, and every once in a while I would strike another little pool full of alkali and trash, and I would go into it, and roll in the mud and rub my hair with the water and mud, trying to ease my headache, and finally I got down to where there was some water that was drinkable, and then I began to revive. Finally I struck a place where I just lay down in the water and went to sleep, and I kept waking up; and that's the way I went down to Cottonwood Canyon. I got up from one of those mud-holes where I had rolled and slept all night, and then went down to the camp where you first saw me, which accounts for the horrible appearance that I made. I had, I guess, drank a quart of that whisky; it was a wonder it did not kill me. (Note. -- "John Smith's" first appearance at our camp will be found in Chapter 13.)
"Now, in fact, I wasn't in the danger I thought I was in. These Cheyennes had been out on an expedition to get some whisky, and didn't know what was going on in the village. I thought they bad been sent ahead to intercept me, but as a matter of fact they didn't know anything about what was going on. They were having some private fun with me. That was an Indian way of having some fun. But I never expected to get through without being tied up to a tree and burned. I have not been back, couldn't get back, but I would like to see those two children, and have no doubt that I will. My Indian wife is all right, first-class for an Indian, but I got about through with my wanting to live the life of an Indian."
The next day one of the men of my company, as I was riding alongside of him, said to me: "I believe I know that John Smith. I used to live in Ottumwa, Iowa, and there was a fellow came on there from Yale College, and cut a good deal of a swell, and edited a newspaper, and got in a woman scrape, and skipped the town. I have forgotten his name. It was several years ago, but it wasn't John Smith, and I believe he is the same fellow." To this I made no reply, except to say: "You are so liable to be mistaken that you hadn't better say anything about it; you may have a controversy and this man will call you out, and you will have to shoot him or he will shoot you. I don't care about losing any of my men, and I guess you hadn't better say anything about it at the present." He did not know John Smith's story, as told to me in the moonlight. I never found out Smith's true name.