Having filled and lighted his pipe, old Jerry began as follows:—
“There ain’t no rules, boys, that anybody kin give yer. You must have a sharp eye, a fine ear, and a still tongue;—these make your principal stock in trade.”
But I do not propose to follow old Jerry verbatim in his long talk with the boys, but shall give you merely the substance of his remarks; and here let me add, that, in addition to the above requirements, a successful trailer should possess quick perception, fertile resources, and great presence of mind.
Almost any scout knows, that, in order to overtake a party of Indians who have stampeded his stock the night previous, he should travel slowly at the first, and follow persistantly at a moderate pace, giving his animals the night to rest in, and starting at daybreak in the morning. By following this course he is pretty certain of overtaking the party on the third day, especially if they do not suspect pursuit. Then comes the time when the services of an experienced trailer are requisite to tell you the number and condition of the enemy, and how many hours have elapsed since they passed a given point; for it is necessary to remain concealed after you ascertain these facts, until you decide upon the manner of attack; for, if Indians suspect pursuit, they always scatter, and it is impossible to overtake them.
One can easily tell from the appearance of a trail, if it be made by a war-party or not, because there are no Indians who take their families along when starting on the war-path; consequently, they never carry their lodge-poles with them, which are always fastened to the sides of the animals, and the ends permitted to drag on the ground behind. If there should be no trace of these, it is safe to regard it as a war-party.
It is always easy to distinguish the track of an Indian pony from that made by a white man’s horse; for the former will be much smaller, and bear no impression of a shoe.
One of the most difficult things to accomplish in trailing is to learn to correctly ascertain the age of a trail.
If a track is very fresh, it will show moisture when the earth is turned up, which in a few hours becomes dry. If in the sand, little particles will be found running into the impression left in the ground. Should rain have fallen since the track was made, the sharp edges will have been washed away. The condition of the ordure also furnishes an indication.
I once employed as scout, a Mexican, who could tell by a single glance at a trail, by what tribe it had been made, their number, its age, and in fact every particular concerning the party, as truthfully as though he had seen them.
We were one time following an Apache trail, when we came to a ledge of bare rock. I examined it carefully, and could detect no mark of any kind; but the Mexican led us across as easily as though it had been a beaten path, without even once hesitating a moment, during the two miles over which it extended.