The Oregon Trail: sketches of prairie and Rocky-Mountain life eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 384 pages of information about The Oregon Trail.

CHAPTER IX

SCENES AT FORT LARAMIE

Looking back, after the expiration of a year, upon Fort Laramie and its inmates, they seem less like a reality than like some fanciful picture of the olden time; so different was the scene from any which this tamer side of the world can present.  Tall Indians, enveloped in their white buffalo robes, were striding across the area or reclining at full length on the low roofs of the buildings which inclosed it.  Numerous squaws, gayly bedizened, sat grouped in front of the apartments they occupied; their mongrel offspring, restless and vociferous, rambled in every direction through the fort; and the trappers, traders, and engages of the establishment were busy at their labor or their amusements.

We were met at the gate, but by no means cordially welcomed.  Indeed, we seemed objects of some distrust and suspicion until Henry Chatillon explained that we were not traders, and we, in confirmation, handed to the bourgeois a letter of introduction from his principals.  He took it, turned it upside down, and tried hard to read it; but his literary attainments not being adequate to the task, he applied for relief to the clerk, a sleek, smiling Frenchman, named Montalon.  The letter read, Bordeaux (the bourgeois) seemed gradually to awaken to a sense of what was expected of him.  Though not deficient in hospitable intentions, he was wholly unaccustomed to act as master of ceremonies.  Discarding all formalities of reception, he did not honor us with a single word, but walked swiftly across the area, while we followed in some admiration to a railing and a flight of steps opposite the entrance.  He signed to us that we had better fasten our horses to the railing; then he walked up the steps, tramped along a rude balcony, and kicking open a door displayed a large room, rather more elaborately finished than a barn.  For furniture it had a rough bedstead, but no bed; two chairs, a chest of drawers, a tin pail to hold water, and a board to cut tobacco upon.  A brass crucifix hung on the wall, and close at hand a recent scalp, with hair full a yard long, was suspended from a nail.  I shall again have occasion to mention this dismal trophy, its history being connected with that of our subsequent proceedings.

This apartment, the best in Fort Laramie, was that usually occupied by the legitimate bourgeois, Papin; in whose absence the command devolved upon Bordeaux.  The latter, a stout, bluff little fellow, much inflated by a sense of his new authority, began to roar for buffalo robes.  These being brought and spread upon the floor formed our beds; much better ones than we had of late been accustomed to.  Our arrangements made, we stepped out to the balcony to take a more leisurely survey of the long looked-for haven at which we had arrived at last.  Beneath us was the square area surrounded by little rooms, or rather cells, which

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The Oregon Trail: sketches of prairie and Rocky-Mountain life from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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