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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Adventures Of Captain Bonneville - Chapter 11
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The Adventures Of Captain Bonneville - Chapter 11 Post by :phx8549 Category :Nonfictions Author :Washington Irving Date :July 2011 Read :2431

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The Adventures Of Captain Bonneville - Chapter 11

CHAPTER 11

Rival trapping parties Manoeuvring A desperate game Vanderburgh
and the Blackfeet Deserted camp fire A dark defile An Indian
ambush A fierce melee Fatal consequences Fitzpatrick and
Bridger Trappers precautions Meeting with the Blackfeet More
fighting Anecdote of a young Mexican and an Indian girl.


WHILE Captain Bonneville and his men are sojourning among the Nez
Perces, on Salmon River, we will inquire after the fortunes of
those doughty rivals of the Rocky Mountains and American Fur
Companies, who started off for the trapping grounds to the
north-northwest.

Fitzpatrick and Bridger, of the former company, as we have
already shown, having received their supplies, had taken the
lead, and hoped to have the first sweep of the hunting grounds.
Vanderburgh and Dripps, however, the two resident partners of the
opposite company, by extraordinary exertions were enabled soon to
put themselves upon their traces, and pressed forward with such
speed as to overtake them just as they had reached the heart of
the beaver country. In fact, being ignorant of the best trapping
grounds, it was their object to follow on, and profit by the
superior knowledge of the other party.

Nothing could equal the chagrin of Fitzpatrick and Bridger at
being dogged by their inexperienced rivals, especially after
their offer to divide the country with them. They tried in every
way to blind and baffle them; to steal a march upon them, or lead
them on a wrong scent; but all in vain. Vanderburgh made up by
activity and intelligence for his ignorance of the country; was
always wary, always on the alert; discovered every movement of
his rivals, however secret and was not to be eluded or misled.

Fitzpatrick and his colleague now lost all patience; since the
others persisted in following them, they determined to give them
an unprofitable chase, and to sacrifice the hunting season rather
than share the products with their rivals. They accordingly took
up their line of march down the course of the Missouri, keeping
the main Blackfoot trail, and tramping doggedly forward, without
stopping to set a single trap. The others beat the hoof after
them for some time, but by degrees began to perceive that they
were on a wild-goose chase, and getting into a country perfectly
barren to the trapper. They now came to a halt, and be-thought
themselves how to make up for lost time, and improve the
remainder of the season. It was thought best to divide their
forces and try different trapping grounds. While Dripps went in
one direction, Vanderburgh, with about fifty men, proceeded in
another. The latter, in his headlong march had got into the very
heart of the Blackfoot country, yet seems to have been
unconscious of his danger. As his scouts were out one day, they
came upon the traces of a recent band of savages. There were the
deserted fires still smoking, surrounded by the carcasses of
buffaloes just killed. It was evident a party of Blackfeet had
been frightened from their hunting camp, and had retreated,
probably to seek reinforcements. The scouts hastened back to the
camp, and told Vanderburgh what they had seen. He made light of
the alarm, and, taking nine men with him, galloped off to
reconnoitre for himself. He found the deserted hunting camp just
as they had represented it; there lay the carcasses of buffaloes,
partly dismembered; there were the smouldering fires, still
sending up their wreaths of smoke; everything bore traces of
recent and hasty retreat; and gave reason to believe that the
savages were still lurking in the neighborhood. With heedless
daring, Vanderburgh put himself upon their trail, to trace them
to their place of concealment: It led him over prairies, and
through skirts of woodland, until it entered a dark and dangerous
ravine. Vanderburgh pushed in, without hesitation, followed by
his little band. They soon found themselves in a gloomy dell,
between steep banks overhung with trees, where the profound
silence was only broken by the tramp of their own horses.

Suddenly the horrid war-whoop burst on their ears, mingled with
the sharp report of rifles, and a legion of savages sprang from
their concealments, yelling, and shaking their buffalo robes to
frighten the horses. Vanderburgh's horse fell, mortally wounded
by the first discharge. In his fall he pinned his rider to the
ground, who called in vain upon his men to assist in extricating
him. One was shot down scalped a few paces distant; most of the
others were severely wounded, and sought their safety in flight.
The savages approached to dispatch the unfortunate leader, as he
lay struggling beneath his horse.. He had still his rifle in his
hand and his pistols in his belt. The first savage that advanced
received the contents of the rifle in his breast, and fell dead
upon the spot; but before Vanderburgh could draw a pistol, a blow
from a tomahawk laid him prostrate, and he was dispatched by
repeated wounds.

Such was the fate of Major Henry Vanderburgh, one of the best and
worthiest leaders of the American Fur Company, who by his manly
bearing and dauntless courage is said to have made himself
universally popular among the bold-hearted rovers of the
wilderness.

Those of the little band who escaped fled in consternation to the
camp, and spread direful reports of the force and ferocity of the
enemy. The party, being without a head, were in complete
confusion and dismay, and made a precipitate retreat, without
attempting to recover the remains of their butchered leader. They
made no halt until they reached the encampment of the Pends
Oreilles, or Hanging-ears, where they offered a reward for the
recovery of the body, but without success; it never could be
found.

In the meantime Fitzpatrick and Bridger, of the Rocky Mountain
Company, fared but little better than their rivals. In their
eagerness to mislead them they betrayed themselves into danger,
and got into a region infested with the Blackfeet. They soon
found that foes were on the watch for them; but they were
experienced in Indian warfare, and not to be surprised at night,
nor drawn into an ambush in the daytime. As the evening advanced,
the horses were all brought in and picketed, and a guard was
stationed round the camp. At the earliest streak of day one of
the leaders would mount his horse, and gallop off full speed for
about half a mile; then look round for Indian trails, to
ascertain whether there had been any lurkers round the camp;
returning slowly, he would reconnoitre every ravine and thicket
where there might be an ambush. This done, he would gallop off in
an opposite direction and repeat the same scrutiny. Finding all
things safe, the horses would be turned loose to graze, but
always under the eye of a guard.

A caution equally vigilant was observed in the march, on
approaching any defile or place where an enemy might lie in wait;
and scouts were always kept in the advance, or along the ridges
and rising grounds on the flanks.

At length, one day, a large band of Blackfeet appeared in the
open field, but in the vicinity of rocks and cliffs. They kept at
a wary distance, but made friendly signs. The trappers replied in
the same way, but likewise kept aloof. A small party of Indians
now advanced, bearing the pipe of peace; they were met by an
equal number of white men, and they formed a group midway between
the two bands, where the pipe was circulated from hand to hand,
and smoked with all due ceremony. An instance of natural
affection took place at this pacific meeting. Among the free
trappers in the Rocky Mountain band was a spirited young Mexican
named Loretto, who, in the course of his wanderings, had ransomed
a beautiful Blackfoot girl from a band of Crows by whom she had
been captured. He made her his wife, after the Indian style, and
she had followed his fortunes ever since, with the most devoted
affection.

Among the Blackfeet warriors who advanced with the calumet of
peace she recognized a brother. Leaving her infant with Loretto
she rushed forward and threw herself upon her brother's neck, who
clasped his long-lost sister to his heart with a warmth of
affection but little compatible with the reputed stoicism of the
savage.

While this scene was taking place, Bridger left the main body of
trappers and rode slowly toward the group of smokers, with his
rifle resting across the pommel of his saddle. The chief of the
Blackfeet stepped forward to meet him. From some unfortunate
feeling of distrust Bridger cocked his rifle just as the chief
was extending his hand in friendship. The quick ear of the savage
caught the click of the lock; in a twinkling he grasped the
barrel, forced the muzzle downward, and the contents were
discharged into the earth at his feet. His next movement was to
wrest the weapon from the hand of Bridger and fell him with it to
the earth. He might have found this no easy task had not the
unfortunate leader received two arrows in his back during the
struggle.

The chief now sprang into the vacant saddle and galloped off to
his band. A wild hurry-skurry scene ensued; each party took to
the banks, the rocks and trees, to gain favorable positions, and
an irregular firing was kept up on either side, without much
effect. The Indian girl had been hurried off by her people at the
outbreak of the affray. She would have returned, through the
dangers of the fight, to her husband and her child, but was
prevented by her brother. The young Mexican saw her struggles and
her agony, and heard her piercing cries. With a generous impulse
he caught up the child in his arms, rushed forward, regardless of
Indian shaft or rifle, and placed it in safety upon her bosom.
Even the savage heart of the Blackfoot chief was reached by this
noble deed. He pronounced Loretto a madman for his temerity, but
bade him depart in peace. The young Mexican hesitated; he urged
to have his wife restored to him, but her brother interfered, and
the countenance of the chief grew dark. The girl, he said,
belonged to his tribe-she must remain with her people. Loretto
would still have lingered, but his wife implored him to depart,
lest his life should be endangered. It was with the greatest
reluctance that he returned to his companions.

The approach of night put an end to the skirmishing fire of the
adverse parties, and the savages drew off without renewing their
hostilities. We cannot but remark that both in this affair and
that of Pierre's Hole the affray commenced by a hostile act on
the part of white men at the moment when the Indian warrior was
extending the hand of amity. In neither instance, as far as
circumstances have been stated to us by different persons, do we
see any reason to suspect the savage chiefs of perfidy in their
overtures of friendship. They advanced in the confiding way usual
among Indians when they bear the pipe of peace, and consider
themselves sacred from attack. If we violate the sanctity of this
ceremonial, by any hostile movement on our part, it is we who
incur the charge of faithlessness; and we doubt not that in both
these instances the white men have been considered by the
Blackfeet as the aggressors, and have, in consequence, been held
up as men not to be trusted.

A word to conclude the romantic incident of Loretto and his
Indian bride. A few months subsequent to the event just related,
the young Mexican settled his accounts with the Rocky Mountain
Company, and obtained his discharge. He then left his comrades
and set off to rejoin his wife and child among her people; and we
understand that, at the time we are writing these pages, he
resides at a trading-house established of late by the American
Fur Company in the Blackfoot country, where he acts as an
interpreter, and has his Indian girl with him.

Content of CHAPTER 11 (Washington Irving's book: The Adventures of Captain Bonneville)

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