Little Moccasin’s Ride On The Thunder-horse

★ Little Moccasin’s Ride On The Thunder-horse Story :

“Little Moccasin” was, at the time we speak of, fourteen years old, and about as mischievous a boy as could be found anywhere in the Big Horn mountains. Unlike his comrades of the same age, who had already killed buffaloes and stolen horses from the white men and the Crow Indians, with whom Moccasin’s tribe, the Uncapapas, were at war, he preferred to lie under a shady tree in the summer, or around the camp-fire in winter, listening to the conversation of the old men and women, instead of going upon expeditions with the warriors and the hunters.

The Uncapapas were a very powerful and numerous tribe of the great Sioux Nation, and before Uncle Sam’s soldiers captured and removed them, and before the Northern Pacific Railroad entered the territory of Montana, they occupied the beautiful valleys of the Rosebud, Big and Little Horn, Powder and Redstone rivers, all of which empty into the grand Yellowstone Valley. In those days, before the white man had set foot upon these grounds, there was plenty of game, such as buffalo, elk, antelope, deer, and bear; and, as the Uncapapas were great hunters and good shots, the camp of Indians to which Little Moccasin belonged always had plenty of meat to eat and plenty of robes and hides to sell and trade for horses and guns, for powder and ball, for sugar and coffee, and for paint and flour. Little Moccasin showed more appetite than any other Indian in camp. In fact, he was always hungry, and used to eat at all hours, day and night. Buffalo meat he liked the best, particularly the part taken from the hump, which is so tender that it almost melts in the mouth.

When Indian boys have had a hearty dinner of good meat, they generally feel very happy and very lively. When hungry, they are sad and dull.

This was probably the reason why Little Moccasin was always so full of mischief, and always inventing tricks to play upon the other boys. He was a precocious and observing youngster, full of quaint and original ideas–never at a loss for expedients.

But he was once made to feel very sorry for having played a trick, and I must tell my young readers how it happened.

“Running Antelope,” one of the great warriors and the most noted orator of the tribe, had returned from a hunt, and Mrs. Antelope was frying for him a nice buffalo steak–about as large as two big fists–over the coals. Little Moccasin, who lived in the next street of tents, smelled the feast, and concluded that he would have some of it. In the darkness of the night he slowly and carefully crawled toward the spot, where Mistress Antelope sat holding in one hand a long stick, at the end of which the steak was frying. Little Moccasin watched her closely, and seeing that she frequently placed her other hand upon the ground beside her and leaned upon it for support, he soon formed a plan for making her drop the steak.

He had once or twice in his life seen a pin, but he had never owned one, and he could not have known what use is sometimes made of them by bad white boys. He had noticed, however, that some of the leaves of the larger varieties of the prickly-pear cactus-plant are covered with many thorns, as long and as sharp as an ordinary pin.

So when Mrs. Antelope again sat down and looked at the meat to see if it was done, he slyly placed half-a-dozen of the cactus leaves upon the very spot of ground upon which Mrs. Antelope had before rested her left hand.

Then the young mischief crawled noiselessly into the shade and waited for his opportunity, which came immediately.

When the unsuspecting Mrs. Antelope again leaned upon the ground, and felt the sharp points of the cactus leaves, she uttered a scream, and dropped from her other hand the stick and the steak, thinking only of relief from the sharp pain.

Then, on the instant, the young rascal seized the stick and tried to run away with it. But Running Antelope caught him by his long hair, and gave him a severe whipping, declaring that he was a good-for-nothing boy, and calling him a “coffee-cooler” and a “squaw.”

The other boys, hearing the rumpus, came running up to see the fun, and they laughed and danced over poor Little Moccasin’s distress. Often afterward they called him “coffee-cooler”; which meant that he was cowardly and faint-hearted, and that he preferred staying in camp around the fire, drinking coffee, to taking part in the manly sports of hunting and stealing expeditions.

The night after the whipping, Little Moccasin could not sleep. The disgrace of the whipping and the name applied to him were too much for his vanity. He even lost his appetite, and refused some very nice prairie-dog stew which his mother offered him.

He was thinking of something else. He must do something brave–perform some great deed which no other Indian had ever performed–in order to remove this stain upon his character.

But what should it be? Should he go out alone and kill a bear? He had never fired a gun, and was afraid that the bear might eat him. Should he attack the Crow camp single-handed? No, no–not he; they would catch him and scalp him alive.

All night long he was thinking and planning; but when daylight came, he had reached no conclusion. He must wait for the Great Spirit to give him some ideas.

During the following day he refused all food and kept drawing his belt tighter and tighter around his waist every hour, till, by evening, he had reached the last notch. This method of appeasing the pangs of hunger, adopted by the Indians when they have nothing to eat, is said to be very effective.

In a week’s time Little Moccasin had grown almost as thin as a bean-pole, but no inspiration had yet revealed what he could do to redeem himself.

About this time a roving band of Cheyennes, who had been down to the mouth of the Little Missouri, and beyond, entered the camp upon a friendly visit. Feasting and dancing were kept up day and night, in honor of the guests; but Little Moccasin lay hidden in the woods nearly all the time.

During the night of the second day of their stay, he quietly stole to the rear of the great council-tepee, to listen to the pow-wow then going on. Perhaps he would there learn some words of wisdom which would give him an idea how to carry out his great undertaking.

After “Black Catfish,” the great Cheyenne warrior, had related in the flowery language of his tribe some reminiscences of his many fights and brave deeds, “Strong Heart” spoke. Then there was silence for many minutes, during which the pipe of peace made the rounds, each warrior taking two or three puffs, blowing the smoke through the nose, pointing toward heaven and then handing the pipe to his left-hand neighbor.

“Strong Heart,” “Crazy Dog,” “Bow-String,” “Dog-Fox,” and “Smooth Elkhorn” spoke of the country they had just passed through.

Then again the pipe of peace was handed round, amid profound silence.

“Black Pipe,” who was bent and withered with the wear and exposure of seventy-nine winters, and who trembled like some leafless tree shaken by the wind, but who was sound in mind and memory, then told the Uncapapas, for the first time, of the approach of a great number of white men, who were measuring the ground with long chains, and who were being followed by “Thundering Horses,” and “Houses on Wheels.” (He was referring to the surveying parties of the Northern Pacific Railway Company, who were just then at work on the crossing of the Little Missouri.)

With heart beating wildly, Little Moccasin listened to this strange story and then retired to his own blankets in his father’s tepee.

Now he had found the opportunity he so long had sought! He would go across the mountains, all by himself, look at the thundering horses and the houses on wheels. He then would know more than any one in the tribe, and return to the camp,–a hero!

At early morn, having provided himself with a bow and a quiver full of arrows, without informing any one of his plan he stole out of camp, and, running at full speed, crossed the nearest mountain to the East.

Allowing himself little time for rest, pushing forward by day and night, and after fording many of the smaller mountain-streams, on the evening of the third day of his travel he came upon what he believed to be a well-traveled road. But–how strange!–there were two endless iron rails lying side by side upon the ground. Such a curious sight he had never beheld. There were also large poles, with glass caps, and connected by wire, standing along the roadside. What could all this mean?

Poor Little Moccasin’s brain became so bewildered that he hardly noticed the approach of a freight-train drawn by the “Thundering Horse.”

There was a shrill, long-drawn whistle, and immense clouds of black smoke; and the Thundering Horse was sniffing and snorting at a great rate, emitting from its nostrils large streams of steaming vapor. Besides all this, the earth, in the neighborhood of where Little Moccasin stood, shook and trembled as if in great fear; and to him the terrible noises the horse made were perfectly appalling.

Gradually the snorts, and the puffing, and the terrible noise lessened, until, all at once, they entirely ceased. The train had come to a stand-still at a watering tank, where the Thundering Horse was given its drink.

The rear car, or “House on Wheels,” as old Black Pipe had called it, stood in close proximity to Little Moccasin,–who, in his bewilderment and fright at the sight of these strange moving houses, had been unable to move a step.

But as no harm had come to him from the terrible monster, Moccasin’s heart, which had sunk down to the region of his toes, began to rise again; and the curiosity inherent in every Indian boy mastered fear.

He moved up, and down, and around the great House on Wheels; then he touched it in many places, first with the tip-end of one finger, and finally with both hands. If he could only detach a small piece from the house to take back to camp with him as a trophy and as a proof of his daring achievement! But it was too solid, and all made of heavy wood and iron.

At the rear end of the train there was a ladder, which the now brave Little Moccasin ascended with the quickness of a squirrel to see what there was on top.

It was gradually growing dark, and suddenly he saw (as he really believed) the full moon approaching him. He did not know that it was the headlight of a locomotive coming from the opposite direction.

Absorbed in this new and glorious sight, he did not notice the starting of his own car, until it was too late, for, while the car moved, he dared not let go his hold upon the brake-wheel.

There he was, being carried with lightning speed into a far-off, unknown country, over bridges, by the sides of deep ravines, and along the slopes of steep mountains.

But the Thundering Horse never tired nor grew thirsty again during the entire night.

At last, soon after the break of day, there came the same shrill whistle which had frightened him so much on the previous day; and, soon after, the train stopped at Miles City.

But, unfortunately for our little hero, there were a great many white people in sight; and he was compelled to lie flat upon the roof of his car, in order to escape notice. He had heard so much of the cruelty of the white men that he dared not trust himself among them.

Soon they started again, and Little Moccasin was compelled to proceed on his involuntary journey, which took him away from home and into unknown dangers.

At noon, the cars stopped on the open prairie to let Thundering Horse drink again. Quickly, and without being detected by any of the trainmen, he dropped to the ground from his high and perilous position. Then the train left him–all alone in an unknown country.

Alone? Not exactly; for, within a few minutes, half-a-dozen Crow Indians, mounted on swift ponies, are by his side, and are lashing him with whips and lassoes.

He has fallen into the hands of the deadliest enemies of his tribe, and has been recognized by the cut of his hair and the shape of his moccasins.

When they tired of their sport in beating poor Little Moccasin so cruelly, they dismounted and tied his hands behind his back.

Then they sat down upon the ground to have a smoke and to deliberate about the treatment of the captive.

During the very severe whipping, and while they were tying his hands, though it gave him great pain, Little Moccasin never uttered a groan. Indian-like, he had made up his mind to “die game,” and not to give his enemies the satisfaction of gloating over his sufferings. This, as will be seen, saved his life.

The leader of the Crows, “Iron Bull,” was in favor of burning the hated Uncapapa at a stake, then and there; but “Spotted Eagle,” “Blind Owl,” and “Hungry Wolf” called attention to the youth and bravery of the captive, who had endured the lashing without any sign of fear. Then the two other Crows took the same view. This decided poor Moccasin’s fate; and he understood it all, although he did not speak the Crow language, for he was a great sign-talker, and had watched them very closely during their council.

Blind Owl, who seemed the most kind-hearted of the party, lifted the boy upon his pony, Blind Owl himself getting up in front, and they rode at full speed westward to their large encampment, where they arrived after sunset.

Little Moccasin was then relieved of his bonds, which had benumbed his hands during the long ride, and a large dish of boiled meat was given to him. This, in his famished condition, he relished very much. An old squaw, one of the wives of Blind Owl, and a Sioux captive, took pity on him, and gave him a warm place with plenty of blankets in her own tepee, where he enjoyed a good rest.

During his stay with the Crows, Little Moccasin was made to do the work which usually falls to the lot of the squaws; and which was imposed upon him as a punishment upon a brave enemy, designed to break his proud spirit. He was treated as a slave, made to haul wood and draw water, do the cooking, and clean game. Many of the Crow boys wanted to kill him, but his foster-mother, “Old Looking-Glass,” protected him; and, besides, they feared that the soldiers of Fort Custer might hear of it, if he was killed, and punish them.

Many weeks thus passed, and the poor little captive grew more despondent and weaker in body every day. Often his foster-mother would talk to him in his own language, and tell him to be of good cheer; but he was terribly homesick and longed to get back to the mountains on the Rosebud, to tell the story of his daring and become the hero which he had started out to be.

One night, after everybody had gone to sleep in camp, and the fires had gone out, Old Looking-Glass, who had seemed to be soundly sleeping, approached his bed and gently touched his face. Looking up, he saw that she held a forefinger pressed against her lips, intimating that he must keep silence, and that she was beckoning him to go outside.

There she soon joined him; then, putting her arm around his neck, she hastened out of the camp and across the nearest hills.

When they had gone about five miles away from camp, they came upon a pretty little mouse-colored pony, which Old Looking-Glass had hidden there for Little Moccasin on the previous day.

She made him mount the pony, which she called “Blue Wing,” and bade him fly toward the rising sun, where he would find white people who would protect and take care of him.

Old Looking-Glass then kissed Little Moccasin upon both cheeks and the forehead, while the tears ran down her wrinkled face; she also folded her hands upon her breast and looking up to the heavens, said a prayer, in which she asked the Great Spirit to protect and save the poor boy in his flight.

After she had whispered some indistinct words into the ear of Blue Wing (who seemed to understand her, for he nodded his head approvingly), she bade Little Moccasin be off, and advised him not to rest this side of the white man’s settlement, as the Crows would soon discover his absence, and would follow him on their fleetest ponies.

“But Blue Wing will save you! He can outrun them all!”

These were her parting words, as he galloped away.

In a short time the sun rose over the nearest hill, and Little Moccasin then knew that he was going in the right direction. He felt very happy to be free again, although sorry to leave behind his kind-hearted foster-mother, Looking-Glass. He made up his mind that after a few years, when he had grown big and become a warrior, he would go and capture her from the hated Crows and take her to his own tepee.

He was so happy in this thought that he had not noticed how swiftly time passed, and that already the sun stood over his head; neither had he urged Blue Wing to run his swiftest; but that good little animal kept up a steady dog-trot, without, as yet, showing the least sign of being tired.

But what was the sudden noise which was heard behind him? Quickly he turned his head, and, to his horror, he beheld about fifty mounted Crows coming toward him at a run, and swinging in their hands guns, pistols, clubs, and knives!

His old enemy, Iron Bull, was in advance, and under his right arm he carried a long lance, with which he intended to spear Little Moccasin, as a cruel boy spears a bug with a pin.

Moccasin’s heart stood still for a moment with fear; he knew that this time they would surely kill him if caught. He seemed to have lost all power of action.

Nearer and nearer came Iron Bull, shouting at the top of his voice.

But Blue Wing now seemed to understand the danger of Moccasin’s situation; he pricked up his ears, snorted a few times, made several short jumps, to fully arouse Moccasin, who remained paralyzed with fear, and then, like a bird, fairly flew over the prairie, as if his little hoofs were not touching the ground.

Little Moccasin, too, was now awakened to his peril, and he patted and encouraged Blue Wing; while, from time to time, he looked back over his shoulder to watch the approach of Iron Bull.

Thus they went, on and on; over ditches and streams, rocks and hills, through gulches and valleys. Blue Wing was doing nobly, but the pace could not last forever.

Iron Bull was now only about five hundred yards behind and gaining on him.

Little Moccasin felt the cold sweat pouring down his face. He had no fire-arm, or he would have stopped to shoot at Iron Bull.

Blue Wing’s whole body seemed to tremble beneath his young rider, as if the pony was making a last desperate effort, before giving up from exhaustion.

Unfortunately, Little Moccasin did not know how to pray, or he might have found some comfort and help thereby; but in those moments, when a terrible death was so near to him, he did the next best thing: he thought of his mother and his father, of his little sisters and brothers, and also of Looking-Glass, his kind old foster-mother.

Then he felt better and was imbued with fresh courage. He again looked back, gave one loud, defiant yell at Iron Bull, and then went out of sight over some high ground.

Ki-yi-yi-yi! There is the railroad station just in front, only about three hundred yards away. He sees white men around the buildings, who will protect him.

At this moment Blue Wing utters one deep groan, stumbles, and falls to the ground. Fortunately, though, Little Moccasin has received no hurt. He jumps up, and runs toward the station as fast as his weary legs can carry him.

At this very moment Iron Bull with several of his braves came in sight again, and, realizing the helpless condition of the boy, they all gave a shout of joy, thinking that in a few minutes they would capture and kill him. But their shouting had been heard by some of the white men, who at once concluded to protect the boy, if he deserved aid.

Little Moccasin and Iron Bull reached the door of the station-building at nearly the same moment; but the former had time enough to dart inside and hide under the table of the telegraph operator.

When Iron Bull and several other Crows rushed in to pull the boy from underneath the table, the operator quickly took from the table-drawer a revolver, and with it drove the murderous Crows from the premises.

Then the boy had to tell his story, and he was believed. All took pity upon his forlorn condition, and his brave flight made them his friends.

In the evening Blue Wing came up to where Little Moccasin was resting and awaiting the arrival of the next train, which was to take him back to his own home.

Little Moccasin threw his arms affectionately around Blue Wing’s neck, vowing that they never would part again in life.

Then they both were put aboard a lightning express train, which look them to within a short distance of the old camp on the Rosebud.

When Little Moccasin arrived at his father’s tepee, riding beautiful Blue Wing, now rested and frisky, the whole camp flocked around him; and when he told them of his great daring, of his capture and his escape, Running Antelope, the big warrior of the Uncapapas and the most noted orator of the tribe, proclaimed him a true hero, and then and there begged his pardon for having called him a “coffee-cooler.” In the evening Little Moccasin was honored by a great feast and the name of “Rushing Lightning,” Wakee-watakeepee, was bestowed upon him–and by that name he is known to this day.

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