« PredošláPokračovať »
ROMANCE OF THE WOODS.
THE WILD HORSES OF THE WESTERN PRAIRIES.
BY T. B. THORPE,
The head waters of the Arkansas and Black rivers flow through a country abounding in singular variety, with high and broken land and level prairie. Many of these abrupt eminences spring up from the plain, run along for a few miles and again disappear in broken ridges. Standing upon one of these abrupt eminences, if it is a favourable season of the year, the eye is greeted with a sight of life, in the spring time of its existence, as beautiful and glorious as the age and decay of the old world is desolate and heart-breaking. There is a freshness in the whole scene, as vast as it is, that rests upon the new blown rose. The sun here sends its morning rays, through an atmosphere so dewy and soft that it seems to kiss the prairie flowers gently, only meeting the side of the abrupt hills with its noon-day heats. Among the prairie and broken land lives every species of game, the Antelope, the Deer, the Turkey, the Bear, and the Buffalo,—these are all found in abudance, but the most prominently attracti e object is the Wild Horse. Here the noble animal has roamed untrammelled until every trace of subjection, which marked his progenitors, has disappeared. They are now children of the wind, and only need but one more touch of freedom to mount the air. The high mettled racer, wrought up to the perfection of civilized beauty, as he steps upon the turf causes indescribable emotions of pleasure. But the animal falls incomparably behind the wild horse of the prairie, in every point where mere beauty is concerned. There is a subjection in the gait and in the eye of the "blood” that tells of slavery, while the wild horse is the very personification of the freedom of his life, and proudly and nobly indeed does he wear his honours. To stand upon the high hills that rise up from the plains in this rich country of their bome, and mark the wild horses as they exhibit their character, is one of the most interesting sights in nature. At one time browsing with all quietness and repose, cropping the grass and herbs daintily, anon starting up as if in battle array, with fierce aspect and terrible demonstrations of war. Changing in the instant, they will trot off with coquettish airs, that would, for affectation, do honour to a favourite troup of ballet girls ; then as the thought of their power comes over them, they will with lightning swiftness dash in straight lines across the plains, mingling into one mass, so obscure will they be by their flight. Changing still again, they will sweep round in graceful curves, rivalling the sportive flight of the eagle, then breaking into confusion, pursue a pell-mell course for a few moments, until suddenly some leader will strike out from the crowd, and lead off single file, thus stringing out over the plain in NO. XVIII.-VOL. III.-NEW SERIES,
lines, looking in the distance like the current of some swift-running river. Approach them nearer, and see what beanty, as well as power. That stallion, whose mane floats almost down to his knees, shakes it as a warrior of the crusades would have done bis plumes; he springs upon the turf as if his feet were dainty of the ground; and how that mare Jeaps, and paws, and springs into the air ; she would teach her colt to fly, one would think,-and then, as the sun shines obliquely on the crowd, their skins betray the well formed muscle and darken and glisten like silver and gold. The groom of the stable labours in vain for such glossiness—it is the result of health-it's nature.
The wild Indian loves the horse, herein showing his humanity, and his soul. He has his traditions, that his ancestors were once without them, and the Great Spirit is daily thanked that he now possesses the treasure. The “ happy hunting grounds” are filled with the noble animals, and the warrior, if he reposes in peace, is beside his steed, which, sacrificed on his grave, follows him in spirit to the land of the Indian's fathers. In the Indian horseman the centaur of the ancients may be said to still exist, for as he dashes across his native wilds he forms almost really part of the animal on which he rides ; without saddle or bridle, if he choses, he will spring upon the bare back, and be off with the wind. The loose parts of his dress streaming out, and mingling with the flowing mane and tail of his charger so perfectly, that they seem literally and positively one bring. Taming the wild horse forms, as may be imagined, one of the great characteristics of the distinguished Indian. Horsemanship being considered, as among enlightened nations, not only useful, but one of the splendid accomplishments. The noisy pride of exultation never rings louder in the forest than when the spirit of the untamed steed is first conquered, and his fiery impatience submits to the will of a rider.
On the banks of the “ shining river” was encamped a successful war party of the Osages. They had stolen into their enemies' country when a majority of their men were off on a hunting expedition, and with their customary warfare they had butchered every living being they had met with. The scalps taken were numerous, and many were the “ braves" who, for the first time, bravadoed over the bloody trophy, although in might once have graced the head of a young girl, or infant. Songs, dances, and exultations were rife, old men forgot their dignity, and grew gay and jocular. The women sang songs of victory, and the children emulated their sires in mimic warfare, and in the imaginary shedding of blood. It was a jubilee, and the spirit of all was for excitement. As the sun set on this animated scene, a hundred fires curled up into the air, and with their forked tongues lighted up the rude buffalo skin tent and its swarthy inhabitants, and showed off by the indistinct light the forest trees, as mysterious traceries of tremendous limbs, suspended as if by magic in the surrounding gloom.
The bustle and confusion was beyond description, but of all the sports exhibited on this occasion, none were so prominent as feats of horsemanship. Gradually as the evening wore away, every thing centered in this chivalrous amusement, and the whole scene became more than ever striking and peculiar. The animals, alarmed by the glare of torches, and the shouts of the crowd, seemed crazed and confused, at one time they trembled at the voices of their masters, at other times, starting off in the swiftest speed, as if endeavouring to escape ; all these caprices were taken advantage of by the riders, to display their skill, for at one time they would bound upon their horses' backs, like panthers, and dash off into the woods, or, if the steeds were quietly disposed, mount their backs and shame the Ducrows and Norths by their evolutions. Occasionally a horse would dash by us, apparently without rider, when suddenly there would rise up from the side opposite to the spectators, the form of an Indian, who had sustained himself by the slightest pressure of the foot on the horse's back and a hold in the mane. Another would follow at full speed, when the rider, as if suddenly paralized, would disappear, and as you involuntarily looked on the ground for his place of fall, you would hear his shrill cry ringing in the distance, as he was borne off on his steed. These feats involved some of the stratagems used in war, for the Indian cavalry, as they bear down upon their enemies, will pass them at full speed without a rider being seen ; while the fatal arrow, or lead, will fly from under the horse's neck.
In the midst of these amusements, a strong, muscular Osage came into the camp, leading by a halter one of the largest black stallions ever seen among the tribe ; be was powerfully built, his mane almost touched his knees, and his tail trailed upon the ground; his nostrils were distended to the largest diameter, and his eyes contracted and dilated like flames of fire. A more beautiful creature could not be imagined, and as he stared and snorted at the crowd, he seemed to say that the halter around his neck only confined his body, and that his spirit was still free. There were marks of the rope upon his sides and legs that showed a fierce contest had ensued, before he was thrown, so as to saddle him,and for all this severe treatment, it only rendered him patient in following his captor at the full end of his rope ; for if any nearer approaches were attempted, he resented them by the most powerful displays of anger. As the Indian led this noble animal up and down before the assembled multitude, for the double purpose of showing his beauty, and his own prowess in catching him, the cry became universal for the owner to mount him, and there was no bound to the wonder that ensued, when the most celebrated horseman of the tribe acknowledged himself incapable of “ backing" the animal before them. Twenty living men, with forms of Apollos, and the activity of the deer, offered eagerly to do it ; and one, more eager than the rest, at once approached the noble prisoner. We felt for the steed, and sympathised with the spirit that resented the mounting on his back. Held as he was, that the rider might mount him, he snorted, pawed the ground, rose into the air, and fairly yelled with rage ; and if any one really succeeded in getting into the saddle, no sooner was the rider left to his own resources, than he was thrown, or dismounted by the animal's trying to crush him, by rolling on the ground. This long continued opposition, surprising to all, by its success and endurance, heightened the wish to conquer him, and we waited with breathless impatience for the swarthy Alexander that was to conquer this modern Bucephalus. The continued trials satisfied me that the Indians were all astonished at the long resistance the horse made, for the sarcastic tone of voice ceased, as one“ brave" after another relinquished the task, and fell back into the crowd : and finally, as the last effort was made to ride the noble animal, and the usual want of success followed it, a general shout of good-natured exultation followed it, and the horse remained quietly a prisoner unconquered among bis captors.
Had it now been in our power, we would have been proud at this moment to have stepped forward and released the noble captive; we would have been delighted to have seen his heels as he bounded off among his fellows over the wild prairie ; we would have exulted in his freedom, and prayed that he might never wear the badge of laborious submission. But this pleasure was denied us.
Among those associated with the Osages, was a white hunter, wbo, from his prowess, had gained the name of the “ horse tamer.” The Indians had often spoken to me about him, and as he presented himself before the camp, at this particular time, his welcome was boisterous. The unsuccessful efforts to ride the horse before him were soon detailed, and he was challenged to make a trial himself. The hunter on this occasion, was evidently fatigued, -the pack of fresh skins he brought into the camp op his shoulders, was a mule's burthen; the torn moccasins and leggings, as well as the slow walk, all denoted a long and laborious chase.-Still, the hunter did not refuse the task; he bantered a while with words, to see how much honour there would be in riding the horse, and when he once discovered that there was so much to be gained, bis pride prompted him to accept the task.
It was with no common interest that we watched the proceedings of the “ horse tamer." The Indians, who had given up the trial in despair which the jaded hunter before me so confidently accepted, were men of powerful strength, of the most astonishing activity, and the best equestrians I ever saw, or imagined, and that they could be beaten, seemed no less than a miracle. The “ horse tamer" approached the stallion, and examined the girth of plaited hair that held the rude trapping attached to it in its place. He took hold of the pommel, which rose like a goose neck from the saddle, to see if it was firm ; then with cautious and critical care, be drew gently upon the bridal reins to see if the slip nooses at the ends which encircled the horse's snout would readily tighten, for the Osage bridal has no bit. All these things being to his satisfaction, he next proceeded to roll up an Indian blanket into a hard body, which he fastened to the long pommel of the saddle in such a way that the ends of it would firmly bind upon his thighs, if once mounted ; then, with a small deer skin thong, he tied the wooden stirrups underneath the horse, so that they could not fly above the level of the animal's belly. All preparations being ended, the tamer proceeded to mount. Four of the most powerful Indians, seized hold of the animal's bridle, and pulling his head down, held the poor stallion so firmly that he could only use his heels; but in spite of their flying about, the “ horse tamer" gained his seat, and sang out,“ let him go.”
The order was accompanied by a shout, that made welkin ring. The stallion more than ever alarmcd, gave one of his most furious efforts to throw off his burthen, but this had been anticipated, for as he threw himself, into the air, the blanket bound the rider to his seat-for the second effort, that of rolling on the ground, also failed for as the horse threw himselt on his side, the tamer landed gracefully on his foot, the deer skin thong kept the stirrups in their places, and at the next instant, as the “ galled jade” sprang to his feet, the rider went up with him. A long, hearty, and prolonged shout followed the inimitable exhibition. The wild horse, for the first time felt the possibility of defeat, his proud bearing. was already half gone, for all bis succeeding efforts were those of despair. Vain indeed were his displays of power; the tiger with his deadly hold upon the haunch of the buffalo, could not be more securely fastened to his victim, than was the tamer to bis. The rearing, pitching, shying, plunging, running and suddenly stopping, seemed all known before hand and met with a perfect guard, that displayed the most consummit judgment, and skill, in horsemanship. At last, the “ tamer" seemed tired of the cruel sport, and taking advantage of his infuriated victim, as he threw his fore feet in the air, he slipped off quietly behind him, and with a slight jerk, careened the horse over on his back, driving his head deeply into the soft turf. Stunned and confounded, the poor animal rolled upon his side, and the “tamer” threw his bridle over his neck and left him. The poor creature was completely conquered : trembling, from head to foot, and half drowned with the profuse sweet that rolled from him like foam, he cast a look of imploring despair at the crowd, and the big tear rolled down his cheeks. His spirit was completely broken.
A little coaxing brought him on his feet, the saddle was removed from his back, and the bridal from his head, and he walked slowly off, to be found by a singular law of his nature, associated with the pack horses of the tribe, and waiting for the burthens of his master. Louisiana, March, 1812.
From the New York Spirit of the Times.