Camp-Fire Tales From Boone & Crockett Club’s Classics Camp-Fires in the Canadian Rockies

 

Who is there who does not love a good story, told to eager and sympathetic listeners beside a generous camp-fire! Show me a man who does not, and I will show you a man whose heart is not right, whose red corpuscles are green, and whose milk of human-kindness has turned to whey.

There are chums and chums; and guides and guides. I have camped with several kinds of men—white, red, yellow, brown and black. In the lot, there have been some of the best of men, and some bad ones. One was a murderer, out of a job; and another was a donkey with a human head, freshly retired from a great army for being a fool.

I have already insinuated, however, that the composition of our party of seven—counting Kaiser—left me absolutely nothing to desire. And it was in our ideal camp, in the head of Avalanche Valley, that the spirit moved most upon the company, and the best stories were told. The surroundings were so satisfactory that as we sat by the blazing logs and loafed away the hours of storm and ante-bedtime, each camper brought forth his share of story contributions, and told them in his best style. The good stories told around that camp-fire would easily fill a volume; and I would be more than human if I could refrain from reporting here a few of them, as samples of the whole. One of the best was told by Charlie Smith, precisely as follows, concerning…

AN OUTLAW IN CAMP

“I spent the winter of 1878 at Fort Klamath, in southern Oregon, and in January I had some business at the government land-office, which then was at Lake View, ninety miles away. The trip had to be made by team, so early one morning I left Fort Klamath with a span of good horses and a light wagon. The ground was covered with snow, and as the country was sparsely settled it was necessary to haul supplies for myself and my horses, and camp on the trail.

“Late in the afternoon of the second day, I reached the lower end of Drew’s valley, and camped for the night. After unhitching my horses and feeding them, I rolled three pitch-pine logs together, and soon had a roaring fire going, over which I boiled a pot of coffee. After supper, I spread some hay on the snow, and made my bed for the night.

“When it became dark, I laid down on my blankets, to enjoy a real old camp-out smoke, and watch the flicker of my camp-fire on the pine boughs overhead.

“I had lain there for some time, and was beginning to feel sleepy, when I heard horses coming down the mountain from the west, their hoofs beating a regular tattoo on the frozen road. A few moments later, an Indian rode up to my fire. That didn’t surprise me much, for in those days, one was liable to meet an Indian at any turn in the road.

“He reined in his horse, and sprang to the ground, giving a grunt by way of salutation. He had two horses, and had been riding one and leading the other. They were both dripping with perspiration, and seemed just ready to fall in their tracks. After giving me and my outfit a sharp look, he led his ponies to one side, and tied them to a small tree. Then he came and stood by my fire, and asked me for some grass for his horses. I told him I didn’t have any grass to spare. It wouldn’t have done them any good, even if I had had a ton to give them, for they were just completely run to death. They stood up only a few minutes, and before daylight one of them was dead.

“The Indian was dressed in a buckskin shirt and leggings, and a heavy red blanket was belted around his waist. I was sitting on my blanket, and my rifle, which I always kept near me, was tucked under the edge of my bed, by my side. A cold, raw wind was blowing, and as the Indian turned about to warm himself before the fire, the wind caught the corner of his red blanket and blew it up to one side. To my perfect horror, I saw a woman’s scalp hanging from his inside belt, a white woman’s scalp, with light-colored hair over a foot long!

“I can’t begin to tell you what a feeling that sight sent through me. It was like a current of electricity; and I felt it clean down to the ends of my toes. Like a flash, I knew that that Indian was a murderer, that he had killed some settler’s wife—and probably the whole family—stolen their horses, and was being followed by somebody. Even an Indian won’t run a good pair of horses to death for just nothing.

“Without stopping for an instant to think what I was doing, I grabbed my rifle, cocked it, and brought it to bear on that Indian. “‘Lay down, or I’ll shoot you!’ I fairly yelled at him.

“I’ll never forget the look he gave me. It was such a horrible mixture of ferocity and fear. He didn’t obey the order at once, but glancing over his shoulder he said, ‘You know me?’ “I said, ‘No I don’t and I don’t want to, either.’

“‘Me Tom Savage.’

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘I don’t give a cuss how savage you are. If you don’t do as I say, I’ll fill your hide so full of holes it won’t hold baled hay; and you’d better not argue the point.’

“Seeing that I had my gun leveled square at his heart, he dropped to the ground.

“‘Now,’ I said, ‘turn your back to me, and if you attempt to get up, or turn over, or look at me tonight, I’ll kill you right where you lay.’

“After the first shock of my surprise and horror had worn off, I did some very hard thinking. I was reasonably sure someone was after him, or he would not have run his horses to death. I reasoned that he knew his mounts were done for, and his object in stopping at my camp was to raise my hair, and with my comparatively fresh horses, hit the trail again.

“I was in a mighty uncomfortable position. My better feelings naturally turned against the idea of shooting him, but all the time I was fully resolved he should not escape me. The main cause of immediate uneasiness was that those pine logs might burn out before morning, and that darkness might force me to act.

“And so I spent that long, bitter cold night—one of the longest I ever spent. Once during the night, the logs fell apart, and one of them came near rolling on the Indian. He turned over and made as if to spring to his feet. I yelled at him not to get up, but to kick the log back again; he put his feet against it and shoved it back against the other. When the fire blazed up again I laid my gun down, and put my hands under the blankets, for the wind was sharp and my bed was too far from the fire for comfort outside of blankets.

“As the night wore away, I began to grow nervous. My business was urgent, and I could not go on without doing something with that fellow. The more I thought over the matter, the more determined I was that he should not escape me. I thought of all sorts of things.

“Along about five o’clock in the morning, as I sat there watching and thinking, I noticed the Indian give a slight start, and then appear to be intently listening. I, too, strained my ears for some sound, hoping against hope that some settler would come along; for by that time I had resolved that if assistance did not come soon, I would put a ball through that murderer’s head, affix my brand, and leave him in the road.

“To my great relief I soon detected the sound of hoof-beats, coming at a sharp gallop down the hillside, from the west. As they came nearer and nearer, the Indian began to beg of me to let him go. It was the first time he had spoken to me after telling me his name in the evening; but I ordered him to lie still. In a few minutes a lieutenant and four soldiers of the regular army trotted up to my smoldering fire.

“As the officer in command dismounted, his glance fixed upon the blanketed party in front of the fire, and he took in the whole situation. He went up and poked the Indian with his foot, and as the savage turned his head and looked at him, he said to me, very cheerfully, ‘Well, stranger, you’ve got our bird here! We’ve been wanting this fellow.’

“‘Very likely, officer,’ I said, ‘and if you hadn’t showed up for another hour, a hearse would have been of more use to him than handcuffs.’

“‘Would you have executed him?’

“‘He’s got a white woman’s scalp under his blanket, and I surely would have branded him so well that he wouldn’t have been taken for a maverick. But I’m mighty glad you’ve come, just the same; and now I release all claims on him.’

“They soon had the brute in irons, and I soon had a pot of coffee boiling. While we drank our coffee, we talked. The lieutenant told me that this Indian was a Bannock, who had been ranging about Stein’s Mountain, and he was an outlaw. He had made a sneak on an isolated settler, and had murdered the whole family—man, woman and child.

“He hid in the locality for some time, but it soon got too warm for him, and he skipped out and went to the Klamath Reservation. There he hid himself among the numerous tribes living there, until one day while gambling with a Klamath Indian, he stabbed and killed him. This enraged the Indians on the Reservation, and they reported him to the agent, who sent a squad of troopers after him. In some way, he got wind of it, and with two stolen ponies he undertook to get back to his old range again.

“He was taken to Fort Klamath, tried for murder, and hanged.”

Charlie Smith is no braggart; and when he told of his deliberate resolve to execute Tom Savage for the murder of a white woman, every one of his auditors felt sure that but for the arrival of the outlaw’s pursuers, the grim death sentence that Charlie silently pronounced by the embers of his smoldering camp-fire would resolutely have been carried out.

For about the forty-fifth time, the talk and storytelling turned once more to bears. One remark led to another until John Norboe said:

“The funniest thing I ever heard of in bear-huntin’ was about old Jack Campbell, and…

THE GRIZZLY THAT FELL INTO THE FIRE

“Campbell was a bald-headed old fellow who lived a few miles above Meeker, Colorado. He was great on killin’ grizzlies, and he killed so many of ‘em that finally he wasn’t ever afraid of one, nohow. One time a feller was drivin’ along a trail, and he saw old Jack come a-runnin’ out of a thick patch o’ young jack pines, with an axe in his hand, lookin’ behind him. No, he didn’t have no gun. By the by, he then stopped, went back into the jack pines, but soon come a-runnin’ out again, just as before. Then he stopped, and blamed if he didn’t do it all over again.

“Then the feller on the trail got off his wagon, hitched his horses, and went up to see what it all meant. And what d’ye s’pose that old cuss was up to?”

Everybody gave it up.

“Well, sir, there was a grizzly bear in the middle of them jack pines, eatin’ on a dead horse; and blamed if old Jack wasn’t a-tryin’ to tease that bear into chasin’ him out into the open, where he could swing his axe, so that he could kill him—with his axe! The bear would chase him part way out, then go back to the horse.”

“Well, did he get him?”

“No. About the third trip the bear got scared, and ran off the other way. But that wasn’t what I started in to tell ye. One time old man Campbell and another feller was out in the mountains huntin’; and one night they camped right at the foot of a rock cliff about—well, I don’t know just how high it was. In the morning, old Jack got up first, built up a big log fire, and put on the coffee-pot. He had just begun to cook breakfast, when a little bit of rock fell down, and made him look up. Blamed if there wasn’t a good big grizzly standin’ on the top of the rock wall, lookin’ down over the edge, at old John cookin’ his breakfast.

“Quick as lightnin’ the old man grabs his gun, and sends a ball into the bear; and blamed if the bear didn’t come tumblin’ down, and fall plumb into the camp-fire. The coffee, an’ ashes, an’ fire jest flew; and the grizzly jest raised Cain. All that old man Campbell thought about was that good bear-skin—still on the bear—about to get burnt up! He dropped his gun, rushed up, and begun a-grabbin’ at the bear, to drag him out of the fire.

The bear was only half dead, and he grabbed, and clawed, and bit at the old man, all the time the old man was grabbin’ at him, and fightin’ with him to get him drug outen the fire before his pelt got burnt. The old man never stopped to think that without his gun in his hands the bear might up and maul him. He thought he must get the bear out first, and then finish a-killin’ him afterward.”

As John reached the point of his story, all unconsciously he acted out, in thrilling style, the frantic manner in which old John Campbell grabbed at a live grizzly, to pluck him as a brand from the burning, and save his vested rights in a twenty-dollar hide. It sent the audience off into roars, the meaning of which John mistook, for he hastened to add, “Oh, that happened, all right! Mack and me saw that bear’s hide, with a burnt patch on the back, didn’t we Mack!”

 


 

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Posted by JOMH Editor