Saturday, 17 September 2011

life with the apaches and comanches part five

Footsore and weary I wandered over the prairie, straining my eyes in every direction in the vain hope of beholding the white-topped wagons of the train.
 My late involuntary journey had borne me far to the southward; and, although my rapid progress had given me but little opportunity for observation, still I was convinced that the direction in which I had traveled was likely to bring me in the track of the prairie caravans. I was not without apprehension of again falling in with my late captors, and hardly knew whether I dreaded or desired it; fully realizing that I had nothing to look forward to in that event but torture and death.
 Still I felt that to see once again the sweet face of my beloved I would risk every peril, even though I was helpless to aid her, and to witness her sufferings would only add to the poignant anguish that tortured me. Racked by these thoughts, and with a despairing heart, I walked steadily on. The day was now far spent, and I was beginning to experience the pangs of hunger, for I had eaten nothing since early morning; but I suffered far 

more from thirst, and for hours searched eagerly for water; scanning the horizon in every direction for a sight of the fringe-like foliage, of the cottonwood trees. Stiff and sore from my confinement of the night previous, and suffering intensely from the wound on my head, which had been entirely neglected, my progress grew slower, and when night settled over the prairie my search was still unsuccessful; and without food, water, or shelter, I sank exhausted to the earth. After a time sleep gave me a welcome oblivion; but my rest was disturbed by troubled dreams, and the dawn found me but little refreshed.
It was barely daylight when I again started. I felt weak and dizzy; and the conviction, forced itself upon me that I must find food and water before many hours, or perish—my life depended on my finding water—and notwithstanding my intense suffering, it was absolutely necessary to push forward in my search. My thoughts were momentarily diverted by a number of graceful animals that were advancing towards me; when within about two hundred yards, they became affrighted and wheeling around scampered away, running toward a clump of trees not far distant; entering this grove, they disappeared from sight.pegaso
 I had heard many tales about this graceful little animal, the antelope; and among other things remembered, that to the weary and thirsty hunter traversing these boundless plains, their presence was a sure indication that water was not far distant; if these tales were true

why then there was every probability that I might slake my burning thirst, which now had become agonizing torture, from some rivulet within the recesses of that wood; animated by this thought I limped on with renewed energy. What had seemed so near to my vision was in reality quite distant, as I found in my endeavor to reach it; for the sun had begun to decline behind the horizon when I reached the belt of timber. Entering this leafy solitude, I had not advanced many steps when my ears were gladdened by the sound of running water. With an exclamation of joy I ran to the banks of the arroyo
 (as by this name these little streams are called), and, falling on my knees, was drinking with that intense eagerness that is known only by those who, like myself, have felt the delirium of thirst
I was about to rise refreshed, when my gaze was riveted by a reflected image on the bosom of the creek that curdled the blood in my veins, and paralyzed me with terror; it was the image of a hideous Indian, bending over me with uplifted hand grasping a long, gleaming knife. I jumped up with a terrified scream, only to find myself in the rough grasp of a brawny savage, and completely at his mercy. With a malicious leer he motioned me to accompany him. Feeling sick at heart, and drooping under the weight of my new misfortune, I was led through the tangled undergrowth, and after a walk of about fifteen minutes, we emerged into a small clearing, where I 
found myself in the midst of a large party of Indians. My advent created no little excitement, and I was soon the centre of a circle of curious savages, who were more persistent than pleasing in their attentions. I saw at once that I had again fallen into the hands of the same party by whom I was first captured; for among those who clustered around me, I recognized the old chief who had directed the attack upon us. He approached me in a menacing manner, and uttered some words in the Indian tongue. From his gestures I could guess at his meaning, and understood that he was threatening me for my supposed attempt to escape. He then gave some order, and I was instantly seized and conducted to the foot of a large tree; my guards then bound me with a lariat and left me to my own reflections.
My first thought was of my wife; and as I had managed to place myself in a sitting posture against the tree, I was enabled to observe all that was passing, and to scan closely the groups around the camp fires. A few moments satisfied me that if in the camp, she was not visible; and left me a prey to many horrid imaginings.
The savages were mostly seated around the fires, roasting meat over the embers and eating it greedily, an occupation of which they never seemed to tire; some were renewing the paint upon their bodies, and the grotesque striping and mottling showed in fantastic hues in the red and glaring light; some were
smoking curious looking pipes of carved stones; all were chattering, laughing and gesticulating like so many children. For a brief period I contemplated this wild scene with interest; but it soon grew monotonous, and my mind painfully reverted to my perilous position
In satisfying the greater desire for water, I had for a time forgotten my craving for food, but it now returned upon me with redoubled force. The Indians had evidently forgotten that even prisoners must eat, and I concluded that it was best to call their attention to my necessities; by a shout I attracted the attention of one of the warriors who was passing near me, and when he approached, I succeeded by gestures in making him understand my wants. Uttering a guttural ugh! and slapping his stomach he walked away, but returned in a few moments with a huge chunk of half cooked buffalo meat which he threw down before me, and unbinding my hands motioned me to eat. I did not need a second invitation, but fell to at once, and devoured it with such voracity, that my Indian friend seemed both astonished and amused. When I had finished he brought me water in a gourd, and again securing my hands, bound me fast to the tree and left me once more to myself.
Fatigued by the hardships of the last two days, I soon fell asleep, and knew no more until I was awakened by a rough hand grasping my shoulder, and on opening my eyes saw that it was daybreak, and
the band were preparing to move. Ten minutes later I found myself mounted on a wiry looking mustang, securely tied, and my horse led at the end of a lariat by the same Indian who had brought me food the evening previous. Looking about me, my eyes were soon gladdened by the sight of my wife, mounted behind an Indian warrior; she saw me at the same instant, and with a cry of joy strove to break her bonds and rush to my embrace; it was a vain effort, and only resulted in her receiving a blow from her savage custodian, which cowed her into silence. My feelings at this juncture can be better imagined than described; but I could do nothing but endure as best I might, and hope that a day of reckoning would yet come, in which I should bitterly avenge all the wrongs I had experienced at the hands of the brutal savage, called in books, the "noble red man." For the present, there was nothing but submission and hope.
I now saw to my surprise that we were not alone in our misfortune, many other captives, principally women and children, were with the party. From their costume I saw that they must be Mexicans, and at once concluded that the Indians had been on one of their periodical raids upon the Mexican frontier, and were on their return when they had accidentally fallen in with our little party. Evidently but a part of the band had taken part in our capture, for the attacking party were less than one hundred in number,
while I now counted over four hundred warriors. The chances of escape seemed more unlikely than ever; and my heart sank as I observed their formidable array.
I must pass briefly over the incidents of our journey for several days following. We passed through a widely diversified country, and in spite of my mental and physical sufferings, I was greatly interested in its strange scenery. We passed over wide stretches of prairie, dotted here and there by mottes of timber, rising like islands from the sea-like plain; we threaded tortuous defiles of the mountains; and crawled, rather than rode, through terrific cañons, whose perpendicular walls of many colored rock, rising to the height of thousands of feet, shrouded the narrow pass in majestic gloom. At times we suffered greatly for food and water; making one stretch of sixty miles across the desert, and reaching its border in a state or utter exhaustion.
On the seventh day after my recapture we climbed a low mountain range, and on reaching the crest saw before us a deep valley, walled in on every side by towering cliffs of milk-white-quartz; its surface was level, or nearly so; through its centre a crystal line indicated the presence of a small stream. A dense forest of pine fringed it on three sides; vast herds of horses and cattle roamed over the plain, and cropped its luxuriant herbage. The valley was elliptical in form, and measured perhaps twelve miles in length
by four or five in width; at its upper extremity a group of strange looking structures were visible, of many forms and sizes; one towering far above the rest had the appearance of a huge pyramid. From the joyful exclamations of the Indians I felt confident that our journey was nearly at an end. The tired mustangs were urged forward, and half an hour later we entered a defile, passed round the face of the cliff on a narrow ledge of rock, where two could not ride abreast, and emerged upon a platform from whence an easy descent led to the plain below. On reaching its grassy surface, the Indians set forward at full speed, uttering loud yells of delight and exultation; and we could perceive many forms hastening down the valley to meet us. The intervening space was quickly passed, and we soon stood among the strange barbaric structures which form the chief town of the Camanches.
The captives were halted before the pyramidal building, which, from its great size and peculiar appearance, I supposed to be the council house, or the dwelling of the chief. I afterwards learned that it was the temple, where they worship and sacrifice to the Sun-God; for, like all the southern Indians, descendants of the ancient Aztecs, the Camanches worship the sun and fire.
But little time however, was given me for observation or reflection. I was rudely jerked from my horse, and with the other male captives led into one of the smaller lodges. Descending a rude ladder, we were placed in an underground apartment, and after being supplied with a scanty allowance of food, were again bound and left to silence and darkness.
Again separated from my wife, and knowing but too well what treatment she would be likely to receive at the hands of the red demons, flushed with victory and spoil, I abandoned myself to the most gloomy reflections, which continued for many hours, until tardy sleep relieved me for a time from my self-imposed torture.

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