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Four years in the Rockies, or, The adventures of Isaac P. Rose of Shenango township, Lawrence county, Pennsylvania

Rose, Isaac P., 1815-1899
date of publication: 1884

CHAPTER XVI. IN WHICH HOWELL IS KILLED BY THE INDIANS. FIGHT WITH THE BLACKFEET.

Bridger was very much annoyed to find so large a band of hostile Indians in such close proximity to his camp. He was aware his men would be in constant danger; that, in fact, it would not be safe for any of them to go off trapping by themselves, as the savages were constantly on the alert.

A circumstance had occurred the day before Rose had joined his company, that determined Bridger to attack, and, if possible, drive the Blackfeet from the neighborhood.

Two trappers, Howell and Green, whose unfortunate love affairs, our readers will remember, had induced them to join the fur company, were trapping a few miles from camp, on the Yellowstone. As they were riding up the bank of the stream they saw six or eight Indians coming toward them. Wheeling their horses, with the intention of making for the camp, they saw another company of Indians below them; that, it fact, they were surrounded, and their only chance of escape was by the river. Forcing their horses down the steep bank, they plunged into the river and made for the opposite shore. Green slipped from the saddle and swam along beside his horse, while Howell kept his seat. The Indians commenced firing at them before they reached the opposite bank, and Howell received three shots in his back. With a groan he leaned forward on his horse, and his rifle fell from his hand into the river.

"Are you badly hurt?" inquired Green.

"I'm a dead man," exclaimed Howell, "and you had better leave me and do the best you can to save yourself."

But Green declared he would not leave him so long as there was any hope of saving him, and taking the wounded man's horse by the bridle, he forced the animals up the bank; then mounting his horse, and telling Howell to hold on with all his might, they started at full speed down the stream.

They were, however, on the wrong side of the river, and the Indians were between them and the camp, and were running down the stream with the intention of heading them off, but as their horses were good, Green and his companon were soon far enough ahead of the Indians to recross the river; but poor Howell was sinking fast, and passing through a miry place about a mile from camp, he fell off, and as Green could do him no good by staying with him, he hurried to camp in seach of assistance.

Some of the trappers returned with him at once, and Howell was brought into camp. His wounds proved mortal, and he died that night, thus terminating his unfortunate career.

Preparations were at once made to start for the Blackfeet camp in the morning, for their trapper blood was up, and they were determined to avenge the death of their companion.

There were about twenty Indian free trappers, who had attached themselves to Bridger's company, belonging to the Delaware and Shawnee tribes, and as they considered the Blackfeet their deadly foe, they were most anxious to join in the coming fray.

Two hours before the time appointed to start, the Indians were busy daubing themselves with war paint, which made them have a most hideous and ferocious appearance. They then went through with what they called the war dance, and declared themselves ready for the march, and Bridger, with about fifty of his men, started for the Yellowstone, the friendly Indians leading the way.

On arriving within sight of the Blackfeet camp, it was found they had ensconced themselves in a thick growth of cottonwood and willows, on the bank of the river, from which it seemed dangerous to attempt to move them; but the Dela wares and Shawnees were not to be so easily balked of their prey. With rifle in one hand, and tomahawk in the other, they rushed into the thicket, yelling like demons, and the Blackfeet thinking, no doubt, the whole company of trappers had charged on them, rushed down the bank into the river and swam to an island in the middle of the stream, holding their guns out of the water with one hand to keep them dry. Here they fortified themselves behind a lot of drift timber, piling the logs around them so as to form a sort of fort. The trappers and friendly Indians took their position among the clumps of bushes along the banks of the stream.

It may appear strange to our readers, yet it is nevertheless true, that the feeling experienced by the trappers, when about to make a raid on a band of hostile Indians, resembles those of our country friends when going to visit a circus. It is relaxation from their usual employment, and a good time for fun, frolic and adventure is expected. Every trapper had selected a tree or clump of bushes, within fair rifle range of their enemies and whenever a Blackfoot exposed any part of his person, a ball from one of the trapper's rifle would send the unfortunate Indian to the happy hunting grounds. These fights may be considered a regular target practice. One of the Indians would hoist a breech-cloth above the logs, and in one minute it ,would be cut down by a bullet from one of the white men's rifles, followed by shouts and yells from the trapper who witnessed the shot; and, again, a trapper would place his wolfskin cap on his ramrod, and raise it above his place of concealment, and it would soon be perforated by an Indian bullet. In this way the fight went on for several hours, with but little advantage to either party.

Mark Head, who had taken his station behind a Cottonwood stump, had, while loading his gun, stepped a little too much to one side, and received a slight wound in the fleshy part of his arm, and immediately called out, with his usual nasal drawl, "Boys, I'm shot!"

"What does he say?" inquired Lewis, who was lying behind a clump of bushes.

"He says he has shot one of the Indians," replied a trapper.

"No, I didn't, neither!" exclaimed Mark. "I said I was shot, myself." This was received with roars of laughter by his companions, who knew by his tone he was not seriously hurt.

One of the Delaware Indians swam his horse across the river to the foot of the island, and, dismounting, he crept up to within fifty yards of the fort, and climbing a large cottonwood tree, which overlooked their place of concealment, he fired three shots right in among them, killing an Indian at each shot, but the balls from the Blackfeet rifles were tearing the bark from the limb behind which he had concealed himself, and he was compelled to descend and beat a hasty retreat.

The fight continued till night, when the trappers returned to camp. The next morning they again visited the battle ground, but the Indians had departed, and Bridger was in hopes that, for a time at least, they had rid themselves of their troublesome neighbors.

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