Chapter Thirteen

We continued to drift west and into rugged mountain terrain. One morning our scouts rode into camp very excited. They had spotted another Indian camp not far from ours. Our Chief gathered up some warriors and rode off to spy on the camp. Hours later they all returned with smiles on their faces. The other camp was a Comanche camp and they had invited us to join them. Our Chief had accepted this gracious offer and the women were soon packing again. However, this time there was joy in their hearts.

Our camp of four hundred or so souls set up near the other camp which consisted of three or four hundred souls. Our tepees and theirs zigzagged along the sandy riverbank for a mile and a half. A rolling meadow dotted with wildflowers, stretched for miles just beyond our camps. We pastured our horses and their horses upon this open beauty. A pristine forest of towering pines surrounded the meadow.

If there was heaven on earth, this was the place. Everything a human could desire was here. A river with clean drinking water, a meadow for horses, and a forest teeming with game.

However, there was danger and Two Feathers warned Enchiposato and me of it.

"Bears live in those trees, my sons. If you see a bear, do not shoot at it. One arrow or lead ball will not likely kill it. It will only anger the bear. Get away as fast as you can and sound the alarm. We do not want a bear wandering into camp. One bear can do a lot of damage."

One morning shortly after our two camps came together there was a bear attack. Three women had gone into some bushes near the forest to collect berries. Unbeknownst to them, a bear was nearby. Perhaps, it sought berries, too.

It rose up on its hind legs and growled. Those of us on the east side of camp, heard the growls and sprang to our feet. We searched in all directions until our eyes lit upon the bear. Five warriors from our camp also spotted the bear and quickly mounted their ponies. They raced toward the bear – rifles and bows in hand – their long, loose hair flying behind them.

Enchiposato and I mounted our ponies to get a better view of the action. (All families kept a few horses staked near their tepees.)

Stalking Deer thought we were going to follow the warriors and scolded us, "Off! Off those horses!"

We assured her we were not going anywhere. We only wished to see what was happening. Finally, she relented and allowed us to remain on our horses.

Two Feathers was off on a scouting expedition so, Enchiposato and I were tasked with protecting our mother. Neither of us would have left her alone. Not when a bear was that close to camp. Enchiposato and I had our bows ready though, just in case the bear made a wild dash toward camp.

I watched the women run from the bear, their movements were frantic and desperate. One woman trailed the other two. She couldn't quite keep up. Then I realized why. Her stomach was big and round. She was with child.

My heart froze. The bear was gaining on her. One huge paw rose in the air and came down on her. The paw caught her on the shoulder and slammed her to the ground. Her two companions looked back and screamed. They hesitated, thought about going to their friend's aid, but the bear growled and took a step in their direction. That sent the women running and screaming. Their poor companion was left on the ground.

By this time, our warriors came upon the fleeing women. Two warriors extended their arms and scooped the women onto their ponies. They instantly wheeled and headed for camp. The women gripped the warriors tight around the waists and glanced back at their friend.

One big warrior rode closer to the bear and lifted his rifle.


The sound echoed across the meadow.

Three warriors now hemmed the bear in. The bear stepped back as the warriors let loose a barrage of arrows. The bear roared and swatted at the arrows as if they were stinging bees. But there were too many of them and their aim was true.

The bear started to falter. His end was near and he knew it. The three warriors drew closer and the bear made one last attempt to avenge his death. He lunged at the warrior on his left and just missed. The warrior's well-trained pony bolted out of range in the nick of time.


The big warrior fired his rifle again.

The bear swayed and lashed out with his paws. The warriors reined their ponies back and cantered out of range. Finally, with a mournful groan, the bear collapsed. The three warriors whooped and pumped the air with their weapons.

A couple of older men rode out to the wounded woman. They had a travois set up on one of the horses and carefully lifted the woman onto it. Slowly, she was dragged back to camp. Her moans tore at the hearts of all who heard them. She was a member of the other camp and I later learned that she survived her wounds, but the baby was born prematurely and only survived a few days.

The woman's husband, grateful for his wife's rescue, offered gifts to the warriors who had killed the bear. The warriors turned them all down. Their reward was the bear carcass. The spoils of it, they divided equally amongst themselves.

It was determined that the rifle shots had killed the bear, so the warrior with the rifle got the bear's claws and teeth. Indians coveted these items above just about anything else. The Indians believed they possessed great power or 'big medicine.'

The big warrior made a necklace out of the teeth and claws and wore it proudly. I had admired this warrior from afar. He carried himself with confidence and wasn't cocky like many of the other young warriors. I guessed him to be in his late twenties and he was already a battle hardened warrior. His body bore witness to this fact. A scar on his stomach told of a lance stabbing. A jagged line down his cheek spoke of a knife fight. He had told these tales around the camp fire at night. He had faced death more than once and was happy to have lived and tell the tales.

His name was Red Blanket and he was the son of our Chief. That did not mean he would be the next chief should our Chief die. The Indians would decide who they saw fit to lead them. It might be Red Blanket or it might be one of the other warriors.

After the bear attack, all the braves in both camps were anxious to hunt bears and lay claim to teeth or claws. I, however, did not have the opportunity to hunt bears that summer. Two Feathers deemed Enchiposato and me too young for such endeavors.

Still, it was a memorable summer for me. Two Feathers took Enchiposato and me on a buffalo hunt. The buffalo were the life blood of the Plains Indians and buffalo were what young braves needed to learn to kill in order to be a productive member of the tribe.

That summer, I killed my first buffalo calf and had my first brush with young love.

One morning, before daybreak, fifty hunters and about twenty squaws with mules and pack horses assembled in the camp square. The hunters checked the blankets and parfleches tied on their saddles.

Enchiposato and I did the same and smiled at each other. This was our first buffalo hunt and we were very excited. There were three or four other young boys in this group and I felt certain they were as excited as Enchiposato and me. Even the hunters were excited. It showed in the slight grin on their lips and the gleam in their eyes.

We mounted and set off just as the sun peeped above the horizon. Enchiposato and I trailed behind Two Feathers. He occasionally glanced over his shoulder at us, but mostly kept his eyes on the landscape. Searching. Always searching.

I thought he must be looking for buffalo and tried to do the same. But it was difficult to see in the predawn light and I soon gave up. I was content to just follow Two Feathers and the others.

We traveled ten miles before the scouts discovered a herd. They reported the news to, Red Blanket, the chieftain of our hunting group. Red Blanket was well acquainted with the topography of this region and led us on a long detour that brought us on the leeward side of the herd.

When we reached this place, the hunters and us boys stripped to our breechcloths. Warriors always entered a battle, or hunt, in breechcloths.

The squaws were told to wait with the mules, pack horses, and riding horses. The Indians had specifically trained horses for almost every function. War ponies were trained and used in battle. A warrior and his war pony were one of the world's most effective fighting teams and often performed as one individual. Pack horses and mules were used to transport items or people on travoises.

Buffalo horses were trained for buffalo hunts. These horses had to be fleet footed and possess a willingness to charge after a fleeing bull. Not the most comfortable of tasks and it involved a great deal of risk to both rider and pony. A hunter had to get close to a buffalo in order to kill it.

Lances, arrows, and rifles were all used to kill buffalo. The lance or arrow were the time-honored, preferred weapons, especially for one's first kill.

Red Blanket divided us into two divisions. The plan was to charge the buffalo from two sides and cut off a small group from the main herd. This small group would then be surrounded by the hunters and the killing could begin.

Each division had a leader who would give the order to charge. Our leader was Two Feathers. He led us to within a quarter of a mile of the herd and then we waited, but what a vista lay before me. A vast, open prairie with thousands, upon thousands, of buffalo grazing.

Two Feathers signaled Enchiposato, me, and the other two boys in our division to him. We gathered round him, puffing out our chests, and listened. He told us we were to hang back when the hunters charged. Our chests deflated a little at this news.

Two Feathers said, "You young braves are to watch for calves that became separated from their mothers. When the herd is charged, the buffalo will stampede. The herd instinct is strong. Mothers will run, forgetting their calves. By the time they remember, it will be too late. You young braves will be there. You will chase those calves and kill them."

Our little boy chests swelled again. We were delighted to hear this and mounted our ponies with new vigor and purpose. We readied our bows and waited for the order to charge.

Soon, the order was given and the hunters took off like a shot. They galloped toward the herd yelling and riding like demons. Two Feathers held us boys back for what seemed an eternity. Finally he gave the signal and we bolted, yelling just as the hunters had. Our ponies had not liked being held back any more than we had and they flew across the prairie with little prodding.

Far in the distance, that great mass of buffalo tore over the prairie at top speed. All those thousands of hoofs striking the ground sounded like thunder. The stampeding buffalo kicked up an enormous cloud of dust which drifted toward us and made it almost impossible to see. I slowed my pony and fought to decipher the shapes and blurs rushing past me. Which were the other young braves and which were calves?

I was loping along when a yearling calf came into view. The dust cleared a bit and it saw me. Immediately, it sensed danger and took off. I thumped my pony and gave chase. The little calf was fast, but bewildered. He ran in one direction and then the next. My pony and I kept after him and eventually wore him down.

I rode up alongside of the trotting calf, lifted my bow, and aimed at the spot behind the shoulder. The arrow sank into the calf and he twitched. He was a hardy little fellow and wandered a piece farther before he crumpled to the ground.

My heart sang with joy. I had made my first kill. I dismounted and began skinning the calf. This was hard work and I was soon sweating. The sun was high in the sky by the time I had the calf skinned and cut into small pieces. These I packed in special deerskin hides and tied them to my pony's saddle. As I was doing this, Two Feathers rode up. Enchiposato was with him and I could tell by the smile on my brother's face that he, too, had killed a calf.

Two Feathers jumped off his buffalo pony and walked over to me. His gaze lingered on my butchered calf. Then he closed his eyes, tipped his head to the sky, stretched his arms out, and breathed deeply. After this thoughtful interlude, he patted my back and said, "The Great Spirit has smiled on me today. Both my sons have killed their first buffalo. They have brought honor to me, themselves, and the tribe."

He looked me in the eyes and held the gaze. I saw a father's love shining in those dark depths. Two Feathers looked over at Enchiposato. "Both my sons will one day be great hunters and warriors."

Enchiposato and I smiled at each other and then at Two Feathers. I remember this day vividly as it was one of the happiest of my many years with the Indians.

Two Feathers and Enchiposato helped me finish packing the calf meat and then we headed back to the place where the squaws waited.

Buffalo meat and hides lay upon the ground in an area that covered half a mile. The squaws and hunters were already skinning and butchering. It took three hours to complete the task and load the mules and pack horses.

Several Indians had been thrown from their ponies during the hunt and they limped about as they worked. None were seriously hurt and endured a good-natured ribbing from their comrades for 'falling off their pony.'

We returned to camp late that afternoon. The whole camp came out to greet us. The mules and pack horses told the tale. They were loaded with hundreds of pounds of meat, hides, intestines, fat, and so forth. No part of the buffalo was wasted.

A huge feast awaited us. I had not eaten anything since that morning and was ravenous. Two Feathers, Enchiposato, and I dug in to the rich stew Stalking Deer had prepared. We ate until our stomachs hurt. I would have crawled into bed after that, but stories had to be told. The adventures of the hunt had to be shared with the entire camp. So, we gathered around the fire as the sky grew dark.

I sat beside Stalking Deer and found myself drifting off. I startled awake to find my head against her shoulder. She did not mind and put an arm around me.

Two Feathers told assembled tribe of his two sons and our kills. His voice held fatherly pride and warmed my heart. I looked around Stalking Deer to where Enchiposato sat. He was as tired as me and could barely hold his head up. But, for Two Feathers' sake, he tried to sit a little straighter and look a little more awake.

Shortly after this, Stalking Deer told us boys to go to bed, which we gladly did. That night I slept contentedly and deeply. Not all my nights would be thus, as my first taste of love would soon prove.

A/N: Thank you to all who are following and especially to those who leave a review. :)