Very cautiously Carson and his men approached, availing themselves of every opportunity of concealment, creeping for a long distance upon their hands and knees. Having arrived within half gunshot they gazed upon a very singular spectacle, and one which would have been very alarming to any men but those accustomed to the perils of the wilderness.
A large number of Indian warriors, painted, plumed and decorated in the highest style of savage taste, were celebrating what they deemed a victory over the white men. Their camp was in a beautiful grove, on what would be called an undulating prairie. There was some broken ground which facilitated the approach of the trappers. The nine horses they had stolen were tethered in some rich grass, at a short distance from the encampment. The Indians had erected two large huts, or wigwams, which, in their caution, they had constructed partially as forts into which they could retreat and protect themselves should they be attacked.
The large fires were burning hotly. At these fires they had roasted two horses, and had feasted to satiety. They were now dancing franticly around these fires, brandishing their weapons, shouting their rude songs of defiance and exultation, interspersed with occasional bursts of the shrill and piercing war-whoop. The savages outnumbered the trappers many to one. They were also armed with rifles and had learned how to use them skillfully. Thus, in view of a battle, the odds seemed fearfully against the trappers.
It was a dark night in January, and a piercing winter wind swept the prairie. Even savage muscles will get weary in the frenzied dance, and the continuously repeated war-whoop will exhaust the most stentorian lungs. Carson ordered his men to remain perfectly quiet in their concealment. As they had but a scanty allowance of clothing, they suffered much from the intense cold. Soon after midnight the savages threw themselves down around the fires and most of them were soon soundly asleep.
Kit Carson then, with five of his companions, cautiously crept towards the horses, drew out the picket-pins and led them a short distance to a place of concealment nearer their own camp. Several of the party were then in favor of returning, with their recovered property, as rapidly as possible. They would have several hours advantage of the savages, and they thought it not advisable to provoke a conflict with foes outnumbering them, and who were also armed with rifles.
But Mr. Carson said, “our horses are exhausted. We cannot travel fast. We shall certainly be pursued. The Indians can judge from our trail how few we are in numbers. They are perfectly acquainted with the country. They can select their point of attack. With their large numbers they can surround us. First they will shoot our horses. Then we shall be on foot and at their mercy. We now can take them by surprise. Our only safety consists in so weakening them, and appalling them by the vehemence of our attack, that they will have no heart to renew the conflict.”