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I worked for Uncle Sam mostly as a herder and sometimes as a packer since I came to Montana in 1876. I followed the Boys in Blue through all of the Yellowstone country and parts of the Musselshell country when they went chasing after some band of Indians that was out plundering or on horse-stealing raids. At the different forts I would see all kinds of trappers and hunters come in; wild and woolly they were, with long hair and buckskin clothes. I was young and I used to look at them with envy and dream of the day when I would be one of them and go roaming over the prairies and hills.
I ought to have known better, for I already had several runs by the Indians. But I was of the agejust coming twenty-three years oldwhen a fellow thinks that he knows it all, and in reality he doesn't. This is the time in life when a fellow ought to have a guardianone of the good old-fashioned, short-arm kind that will kick or pound the conceit out of him.
In the early part of the summer of 1878, I met at Fort Ellis a hunter and trapper named Beaver Tom. What his right name was I never knew and I never asked him. He was a middle-aged man and everyone said that he was the best beaver trapper in the Yellowstone country. He was also a good buffalo hunter, but the trouble with him was his love for whiskey. As long as he could get a drink he would hang around. He was known to travel many miles for it. I used to take pity on him and feed him sometimes. He would tell me of the fights and escapes he had with the Indians, and how him and others trapped and hunted inthePowder River and Big Horn country right in among Old Red Cloud's and Crazy Horse's bands of Sioux, who were thick as flies there. Although the Sioux killed many of the trappers, Beaver Tom had always managed to get the fur and to get away from them. He told how he had trapped and hunted along the Missouri and in the Musselshell country and of his troubles with the Blackfeet and Piegan Indians there. There was no doubt that Beaver Tom did have the experience.
It was not a hard job for him to talk me into quitting my job and going with him on a trapping and trading trip into the Musselshell country. He said that if I would furnish the outfit, he would pay me back in furs for his share. I also could buy blankets and other stuff dear to the Indian's heart and trade this stuff to them for fur and buffalo robes. Because I had to buy the stuff, the profit from trading would be mine. One of us would have to stay and watch camp, but I could hunt and go wolfing near the camp while he would be out tending to the line of traps. Beaver Tom said we would be partners in the trapping and hunting. Someday he would pay me half the cost of grub and other things we needed.
He was down and out, flat broke and he had nothing but a 45-120 Sharps buffalo gun. In taking this generous offer of his I was not very bright, for he had nothing to lose but his time and life, which was useless anyway, while I had to furnish and buy everything and take the risk of getting robbed and set afoot and maybe even killed. The only thing he was furnishing was his experience which became somewhat doubtful if he could get whiskey.
He told me in glowing words how we could profit in the Musselshell country, and that he knew where there were plenty of beaver and all kinds of buffalo and wolf. I had been in there twice with the soldiers and I knew that this was so. I also knew that there were plenty of Indians and that they would gladly rob and steal our horses if they could. Although it was bad enough, there was not as much danger of getting killed as if we went among the Sioux. So I told him I would do it.
In the year and a half I had been in Montana I worked steady as a herder and sometimes as a packer at sixty dollars plus rations. I had saved almost all my wages, and had it in gold and vouchers, something around a thousand dollars. While I was not good, still I was not bad and had one good habit if I did not have many others. I never drank whiskey. Because whiskey and gambling were about all you could spend your money for in those days, and because I had not yet learned to gamble, it was easy for me to keep my money. I was nearly always on the go with the soldiers in places where money was of no use anyway.
The corral boss and boss packer and the Boys in Blue of the 2nd Cavalry were all sorry to see me go. They said that I was a damn fool to leave and go running off through the country with that locoed whiskey soakand that I'd get killed by Indians, and that a hunter's and trapper's buck was the same as a fisherman's, a wet and hungry gut, and that was all I would get for my money. Anyhow, I quit a good job and a bunch of good friends, who, while a little rough at times, would do anything for me and always gave me more than a square deal.
I went to Bozeman to see Walter Cooper, and I told him what I had done; I asked him to fix me out the best he could. One thousand dollars wasn't much of a stake because everything was very high. He told me, "I like to sell my stuff, but I think that you are foolish and you will be sorry if you go over in Musselshell country with all them kinds of horse-stealing cutthroats and murdering Indians. They will set you afoot and you will be lucky to get away from them with your life." He gave Beaver Tom hell good and plenty for starting me on this.
Bozeman, at that time, was quite a town. Nearly all of the people who lived here had crossed the plains in prairie schooners and were of the good old-fashioned kind. They were always more than willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who was on the square. When people around town heard what I had done, they came to meCap Fridley and others, and tried to talk me out of going with Beaver Tom. They gave me good advice, saying that I had a nice little start, and if I had to quit as a herder why not take up a ranch, as there was plenty of good land.
But I was a woolly Texan from Spanish America and did not believe in doing any more work with plow or shovel than I could help. I turned down good, friendly advice that would have made me somebody and a good, respected citizen.
Little did I know that day that I was giving up all hope to be a white man againthat I was leaving the white man and his ways forever, and that I would become inoculated with the wild life of the old-time Indian and be one of them, to live and run with them, wild and free like the wild mustang, and do what few white men can dothat is to gain the respect and confidence of the Indian, and overcome the fear and mistrust that all Indians haveand not without just causeof the white man. Unscrupulous white men might make me pay dearly for saying that the Indian is one of God's creatures and is entitled to live and have a square dealsomething he never received from the white man. It is forty-three years today since I left them and tried again to be a white man. Though I now follow the white man's ways and have a good home, and many will tell you I ought to have no kick coming, still I am a leopard in a cage.
I returned to the Fort to get ready and to round up the twelve cayuses that at different times I was foolish enough to buy. They had been more bother to me than my money. Then I rustled up several condemned aparejos and fixed them up. I had a good outfit of ten pack horses and two saddle horses ready, but I had to buy all the traps, ammunition and provisions for eight months. When I got several blankets, tobacco, calico and other articles to trade to the Indians, besides the necessities, I had used up my grubstake, except two hundred and fifty dollars cash. Walter Cooper trusted me for nearly three hundred dollars. It was not yet against the law to sell Indians guns, so I picked up several needle guns (those old fellows that kick like a mule) and several hundred rounds of ammunition to fit them. I had a 73-model Winchester carbine, but I had to buy a buffalo gun. Like the Chinaman who took the largest sized boot if it was the same price as the smaller size to get more leather for the money, I bought a 45-120 caliber Sharps rifle buffalo gun, which weighed over fifteen pounds and cost seventy-five dollars, although I could have gotten a lighter 45-90 No. 13 for the same price. Anyway my stock of goods took five pack horses and the stuff for Beaver Tom and I, five more.
Included was a five-gallon keg of whiskey that Beaver Tom talked me into getting, saying that it was as necessary as it was for the sun to rise and shine. "There is nothing that will warm the cockles of an Indian's heart and gain his undying friendship like a couple of shots of good old red-eye whiskey under his belt." I was soon to learn that the cockles of Beaver Tom's own heart just loved whiskey and if he had anything to say about it the noble red man would fall short of his share.
We were set to leave in two days when three men with light pack horses rode into town. They were hunters and trappers and, when they found out we were going into the Musselshell country, they said they were also going in there to trap and hunt. "What is the matter with all of us going in there together as it would be safer from the Indians and besides there is plenty of country for all of us?" We said all right, but Beaver Tom said, "If they are trappers and hunters then I am a preacher."
They claimed that they came from that part of Utah near Green River, Wyoming. The one with the large potato nose said that his name was George Reynolds and the tall, light-complexioned fellow said he was called Al Shinnick. The third one was very dark and said his name was Davis, but the other two called him Brock, I suppose because of the smallpox pits on his face. All of them were good, large husky men and went heavily armed. Beaver Tom was suspicious of them and said, "If you fellows are trappers and hunters, where are your traps?"
They said, "There are two more men with us who have gone ahead across the divide to the Yellowstone with the traps and other stuff. They will wait for us somewhere near the mouth of the Shields River. One of them is a Frenchman who has been here before and knows all parts of the country." Anyone could see that the three of them would be bad hombres to run up against or to fool with. They did not bring very much grub, but they bought plenty of ammunition and six five-gallon kegs of whiskey.
At first Beaver Tom was certain that we ought not to trust them as they looked more and more like the road agent class, but when he saw the cargo of whiskey they were getting, he suddenly changes his mind. They gave him a couple of shots of whiskey, and told him there was plenty more where that came from. So he now swears by them and pronounces them number one true-blue trappers and hunters of the first water. Again several people in town warned me and said, "Kid, we are sorry to see you leave with that bunch and, though we don't know them or anything against them, still we don't like their looks." But as I already had bought all this stuff I said I had to go now. Besides, a fool is a fool wherever he is.
Next morning we were going to start. We planned to cross over the divide and go on to the Yellowstone. From there we would follow down the river to the Big Timber. I knew a Piegan trail there that crossed the Sweet Grass near its head and went on into the Musselshell country. I had been over this trail twice with the soldiers when they were chasing Piegan war parties which had been raiding Uncle Sam's slippery friends the Crows. That afternoon I went over to the Fort to bid good-bye to my friends the mule skinners, herders, packers and the corral and wagon bosses, and not forgetting the Boys in Blue of the 2nd Cavalry, that were good and true.