“Well,” said Mr. Stuart, “when you bring the horses, you shall have the ammunition, but not before.” The Indians saw by his determined tone, that all further entreaty would be unavailing, so they desisted, with a good-humored laugh, and went off exceedingly well freighted, both within and without, promising to be back again in the course of a fortnight.
No sooner were they out of hearing, than the luckless travellers held another council. The security of their cabin was at an end and with it all their dreams of a quiet and cozy winter. They were between two fires. On one side were their old enemies, the Crows; on the other side, the Arapahays, no less dangerous freebooters. As to the moderation of this war party, they considered it assumed, to put them off their guard against some more favorable opportunity for a surprisal. It was determined, therefore, not to await their return, but to abandon, with all speed, this dangerous neighborhood. From the accounts of their recent visitors, they were led to believe, though erroneously, that they were upon the Quicourt, or Rapid River. They proposed now to keep along it to its confluence with the Missouri; but, should they be prevented by the rigors of the season from proceeding so far, at least to reach a part of the river where they might be able to construct canoes of greater strength and durability than those of buffalo skins.
Accordingly, on the 13th of December, they bade adieu, with many a regret, to their comfortable quarters where for five weeks they had been indulging the sweets of repose, of plenty, and of fancied security. They were still accompanied by their veteran pack-horse, which the Arapahays had omitted to steal, either because they intended to steal him on their return, or because they thought him not worth stealing.
Rough Wintry Travelling—Hills and Plains.—Snow and Ice.— Disappearance of Game.—A Vast Dreary Plain.—A. Second Halt for the Winter.—Another Wigwam.—New Year’s Feast.—Buffalo Humps, Tongues, and Marrow-Bones.—Return of Spring.—Launch of Canoes.—Bad Navigation.—Pedestrian March.—Vast Prairies.—Deserted Camps.—Pawnee Squaws.—An Otto Indian.—News of War.—Voyage Down the Platte and the Missouri.—Reception at Fort Osage.—Arrival at St. Louis.
The interval of comfort and repose which the party had enjoyed in their wigwam, rendered the renewal of their fatigues intolerable for the first two or three days. The snow lay deep, and was slightly frozen on the surface, but not sufficiently to bear their weight. Their feet became sore by breaking through the crust, and their limbs weary by floundering on without firm foothold. So exhausted and dispirited were they, that they began to think it would be better to remain and run the risk of being killed by the Indians, than to drag on thus painfully, with the probability of perishing by the way. Their miserable horse fared no better than themselves, having for the first day or two no other fodder than the ends of willow twigs, and the bark of the cotton-wood tree.