Satisfied at last that we were on the right trail, the lieutenant decided to halt for a short time to feed and rest.
While Ned was strolling about the encampment, he accidentally trod upon a rattlesnake, and the venomous reptile, sounding his rattle, made a spring and fastened his teeth into the boy’s pants, just below the knee. I chanced to be looking towards him at the moment, and saw him, without the least hesitation draw his sheath-knife, and sever its head from its body, with one stroke, leaving the head hanging to the leg of his pants. I hurried towards him, but the boy was not in the least disconcerted or frightened, although he could not tell if he had been bitten or not. An examination showed that the fangs of the snake had passed through the cloth and left their imprint upon the leather of his boot-leg, without penetrating it.
[Illustration: Snake Incident.]
We all congratulated him upon his narrow escape, and Lieutenant Jackson told him that few men would have shown more nerve or presence of mind under the circumstances than he had done. Tom Pope asserted the boy was a “born Injin hunter,” and old Jerry declared that he was “willing to make a ’ception, so fur as Ned was concarned, though he’d be darned if he’d do it for t’other one; for boys like him hadn’t no bizness on the plains, no how.”
Once more mounting our horses, we emerged from the cool and grateful shade, out into the burning sunshine of the plain, when, making sure of the trail, our guides started at a brisk canter towards the north-east, followed by the entire party.
The trail was so plain and well-defined, that we were able to ride at a good round pace, which was kept up until long after the sun had set and darkness had fairly encompassed us. Finally we came to good grass, and the lieutenant ordered a halt.
Shortly after unsaddling our horses, Tom came to me, and said, “Be you pretty sure, judge, that them fellers was Comanches, that attacked you?”
I replied at once that I was.
“What makes you think so?” inquired Tom.
Up to this time I had not entertained a thought that they could be other than Comanches. Now that my reasons for the opinion had been asked, I saw that the only cause for it was the fact, that the attack had been made in the Comanche country, and so far towards the interior, that the possibility of their belonging to any other tribe had not entered my mind.
I replied, that I had no other reason for supposing them to be Comanches than the one above given.
“Well,” said Tom, “as me and Jerry was ridin’ along this arternoon, I found this ’ere thing along side ther trail, so I picked it up ter show yer.”
As he spoke, he produced an old, well-worn moccasin, which, at a glance, I recognized as having been made by the Apaches, its shape being entirely different from those manufactured or worn by any other tribe.