BY MRS. HARRIET S. MACMURPHY
He glanced from the letter in his hand to the Indian woman sitting in the door of the skin tipi, and the papoose on the ground beside her, then down the river, his eyes moving on, like the waters, and seeing some vision of his brain, far distant. After a time his gaze came back and rested upon the woman and her babe again.
"If I could take the child," he murmured.
The squaw watched him furtively while she drew the deer sinew through the pieces of skin from which she was fashioning a moccasin. She understood, although spoken in English, the words he was scarce conscious of uttering, and, startled out of her Indian instinct of assumed inattention, looked at him with wide-opened eyes, trying to fathom a matter hardly comprehended but of great moment to her.
"Take the child" - where, and for what? Was he going to leave and sail down the great river to the St. Louis whence came all traders and the soldiers on the boats? Going away again as he had come to her many seasons ago? "Take the child," her child and his? Her mouth closed firmly, her eyes darkened and narrowed, as she stooped suddenly and lifted the child to her lap; and the Indian mother's cunning and watchfulness were aroused and pitted against the white father's love of his child.
Fort Atkinson was the most western post of the line established by President Monroe in 1819, after the Louisiana Purchase, to maintain the authority of the United States against Indian turbulence and British aggression, and had been in existence about four years before our story opens.
Here had been stationed the Sixth U. S. Infantry, who had wearily tramped for two months the banks of the Missouri river and dragged their boats after them, a distance of nearly a thousand miles of river travel to reach this post in the wilderness. Not a white man then occupied what is now the state of Iowa, except Julien Dubuque and a score or so of French traders.307
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Not a road was to be found nor a vehicle to traverse it. But one or two boats other than keel boats and barges had ever overcome the swift current of the great Missouri thus far.
The Santa Fe trail, that wound over the hills west of the fort, connected them with the Mexican Spanish civilization of the Southwest, and the great rivers with their unsettled land far away on the Atlantic seaboard.
Seventy-five years ago these soldiers dropped the ropes with which they had dragged the barges and keel boats and themselves thither, and picking up spade and shovel, dug foundations, molded and burned brick, cut down trees, and built barracks for themselves and the three detachments of artillery who terrified the red-men with the mysterious shells which dropped down amongst them and burst in such a frightful manner.
They numbered about twelve hundred men, and the bricks they molded and the cellars they dug still remain to tell of the Fort Atkinson that was, beside whose ruins now stands the little village of Fort Calhoun, sixteen miles north of Omaha on the Missouri river.
Dr. Gale, whom we have thus seen considering a question of great importance both to himself and to the Indian woman with whom he seems to have some relation, was the surgeon of the Sixth Infantry, an Englishman, short, thick-set, and evidently of good birth, although the marks of his rough life and rather dissolute habits obscured it in some degree.
The point where Fort Atkinson was built was the noted "Council Bluff" at which Lewis and Clark held the Indian council famous in the first annals of western explorations, and it still remains a rendezvous for the various tribes of Indians, the "Ottoes, Pawnees, 'Mahas, Ayeaways, and Sioux," attracted thither by the soldiers and the trading posts, and secure from each others' attacks on this neutral ground.
Shortly after the troops were located here an Ayeaway (Iowa) chief and his band pitched their tents near the fort. The daughter of this chief was named Nikumi; she was young and had not been inured to the hard tasks which usually fell to the squaws, so her figure was straight, her eyes bright, and her manner showed somewhat the dignity of her position.
Not a white woman was there within a radius of five hundred miles except a few married ones belonging to the fort; was it
strange that Dr. Gale, the younger son of an English family who had left civilization for a life of adventure in the New World, and who seemed destined to dwell away from all women of his own race, should woo this Indian princess and make her his wife? He had chosen the best of her race, for all who remember her in after years speak of her dignified carriage, her well-formed profile, and her strength of will and purpose, so remarkable among Indian women.
For four years she had been his wife, and the child she had just seized and held in her arms as if she would never let her go, was their child, little Mary, as her father named her, perhaps from his own name, Marion.
But now this union, which her unknowing mind had never surmised might not be for all time, and his, alas, too knowing one had carelessly assumed while it should be his pleasure, was about to be severed.
A boat had come up the river and brought mail from Chariton or La Charette, as the Frenchmen originally named it, several hundred miles below, and the point to which mail for this fort was sent.
These uncertain arrivals of news from the outside world made important epochs in the life of the past. The few papers and letters were handled as if they had been gold, and the contents were read and reread until almost worn out. For Dr. Gale came a bulky letter or package of letters tied together and sealed over the string with a circle of red wax. There was no envelope, as we have now, but each letter was written so as to leave a blank space after folding for the superscription, and the postage was at least twenty-five cents on the three letters so tied together. The postmark of the outer one was New York City; it was from a law firm and informed Dr. Marion F. Gale, surgeon of the Sixth Infantry, stationed at Fort Atkinson, the "camp on the Missouri river," that the accompanying letters had been received by them from a firm of London solicitors, and begging to call his attention to the same. His attention being most effectually called thereto elicited first that Messrs. Shadwell & Fitch of London desired them to ascertain the whereabouts of Marion F. Gale, late of Ipswich, England, and now supposed to be serving in the U. S. army in the capacity of surgeon, and convey to him the accompanying information, being
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still further to the effect that by a sudden death of James Burton Gale, who died without male issue, he, Marion F. Gale, being next of kin, was heir to the estate of Burton Towers, Ipswich, England. Last came a letter from the widow of his brother, telling him the particulars of his brother's death.
Ten years before he had left home with a hundred pounds in his pocket and his profession, to make himself a career in the new country.
There were two brothers older than he, one of them married, and there seemed little prospect that he would ever become proprietor of Burton Towers; but they, who lived apparently in security, were gone, and he who had traversed the riverway of an unknown and unsettled country, among Indians and wild animals, was alive and well to take their place.
He thought of the change, back to the quiet life of an English country squire, after these ten years of the free life of the plains, and the soldiers and the Indians. The hunting of the buffalo, the bear, and the elk exchanged for the tame brush after a wild fox, or the shooting of a few partridges.
But the family instinct was strong, after all, and his eye gleamed as he saw the old stone house, with its gables and towers, its glorious lawns and broad driveway with the elms meeting overhead. Oh, it would satisfy that part of his nature well to go back as its master. This vision it was that had filled his eyes as they looked so far away. But then they came back again and rested on Nikumi and the child.
A certain kind of love had been begotten in his heart for the Indian maiden by her devotion to him, although he had taken her without a scruple at the thought of leaving her when circumstances called him away. But now he felt a faint twinge of the heart as he realized that the time had come, and a stronger one when he thought that he must part with the child. "But why need I do it?" he soliloquized. "I can take the child with me and have her educated in a manner to fit her for my daughter; if she is as bright as her mother, education and environment will fit her to fill any position in life, but with Nikumi it is too late to begin, and she has no white blood to temper the wildness of the Indian. I will take the child."
Not a care for the mother love and rights. "Only a squaw." What rights had she compared with this English gentleman who
had taken her from her tribe, and now would cast her back again and take away her child? But ah, my English gentleman, you reckoned without your ordinary sagacity when you settled that point without taking into consideration the mother love and the Indian cunning and watchfulness, their heritage from generations of warfare with each other.
"What have you got?" she asked in the flowing syllables of the Indian tongue, for like the majority of Indians, though she understood much English she never, to the end of her days, deigned to speak it.
"Some words from my friends in the far-away country over the waters, Nikumi," he answered. "My brother is dead."
"Ah, and you are sad. You will go there to that land?" she said.
"I don't know, Nikumi; I may have to go over, for there is much land and houses and fields to be cared for. I am going down to see Sarpy, now. He came up on the boat today."
She watched him as he strode off down past the cattle station towards the fort. In the summer time her love of her native life asserted itself, and she left the log quarters which Dr. Gale provided for her, and occupied a tipi, or tent of skins, down among the cottonwoods and willows of the bottom lands where portions of her tribe were generally to be found. When he passed out of sight she took her baby and went to a tipi a short distance from hers, where a stalwart buck lay on a shaggy buffalo robe on the shady side, smoking a pipe of kinnikinick, and playing with some young dogs. She spoke with him a few minutes.
He ceased playing with the dogs, sat up and listened, and finally with a nod of assent to some request of hers started off towards the fort. She followed shortly after and glided about from the post store to the laundresses' quarters, stopping here and there where groups of soldiers were gathered, and listening attentively to their talk about the news that had come by the boats.
She learned that these boats were to be loaded with furs from Sarpy's trading post and go back to St. Louis in a few days. In the meantime the young buck, who was her brother, had gone by her directions to Sarpy's trading post, just below the fort. She had told him what she knew and surmised; that the "palefaced medicine man," as the Indians called him, had received a paper from his friends across the great waters towards the
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rising sun which told his brother was dead, and that he might have to go there to care for the houses and lands his brother had left; that she had heard him say "If I could take the child," and she feared he might take her papoose away; "and he shall not," she said passionately. "I must know what he will do. Go you and listen if the medicine man talks with Sarpy; watch him closely and find out all."
He had followed the Indian trail which skirted along the edge of the high bluffs on the eastern boundary of the fort, and reached the trading post from the north. Going in he uttered the single word "tobac," and while the clerk was handing it out to him he glanced around in the aimless, stolid Indian manner, as if looking over the blankets and skins hung against the logs. Back at the further, or southwest, corner of the store, near a window, and partially screened by a rude desk made of a box set upon a table and partitioned into piegon-holes, sat two men. One of them was Dr. Gale, the other, Peter A. Sarpy.
To the ears of most readers the name will convey no particular impression; if a resident of Nebraska it would call to mind the fact that a county in that state was named Sarpy, and the reader might have a hazy consciousness that an early settler had borne that name; but in the days of this story and for thirty years later it meant power and fame. The agent of the American Fur Company in that section, Peter A. Sarpy's word was law; to him belonged the trading posts, or so it was believed; he commanded the voyageurs who cordelled the boats and they obeyed. Every winter he went down the great river before it was frozen over, to St. Louis, and every spring his boats came up after the ice had broken up, and before the great mountain rise came on in June, with new goods that were anxiously looked for, and eagerly seized in exchange for the buffalo robes, the beaver, mink, otter, and deer skins that had been collected through the winter. He was of French parentage, a small man, with the nervous activity of his race; the brightest of black eyes; careful of his dress, even in the wilds; the polish of the gentleman always apparent in his punctilious greeting to everyone; but making the air blue with his ejaculations if his orders were disobeyed or his ire aroused. Famous the length of the river for his bravery and determination, he was a man well fitted to push
actively the interests of the company of which he was the agent as well as a member.
The Indian passed noiselessly out and going around to the side of the building seated himself upon the ground, and pulling his long pipe from the folds of his blanket, filled it with the "tobac," rested it on the ground, and leisurely began to smoke. It was no unusual thing for the Indians thus to sit round the post, and no one took any notice of him, nor in fact that he was very near the open window, just out of the range of vision of the two men sitting within.
"So upon me devolves the succession of the estate of Burton Towers," Gale was saying to Sarpy, "and my sister-in-law writes that some one is imperatively needed to look after the estate as there is no male member of the family left in England."
"And you will leave your wild life of the prairies to go back to the tame existence of rural English life? Egad, I don't believe I could stand it even to be master of the beautiful demesnes which belong to my family. Power is sweet, but Mon Dieu, the narrowness, the conventionalities, the tameness of existence!"
"No worse than the tameness of this cursed fort for the last year or two. It was very well at first when the country was new to us and the Indians showed some fight that gave us a little excitement, but now we've exhausted all the resources, and an English squire, even, will be a great improvement. You've some change, you know. St. Louis in winter gives you a variety.
"What are you going to do with Nikumi and Mary?"
"That's what I want to talk to you about. I find I'm fonder of the child than I thought, and indeed it gives my heartstrings a bit of a wrench to leave Nikumi behind; but to take her is out of the question. Mary, however, I can educate; she is bright enough to profit by it, and young enough to make an English woman of. I believe I shall try to get her away quietly, and take her with me."
"You ought to have lived here long enough to have some knowledge of the Indians, but I'm damned if I think you are smart enough to get that child away from its mother," said Sarpy.
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"Well, I'll try it, anyway. The worst trouble I apprehend is getting away myself at so short notice. When do your boats go down again?"
"In about a week."
"To leave the troops without any surgeon is rather risky, but they're pretty healthy at this season, and young Carver has been studying with me considerably, and can take my place for a short time. If I succeed in getting leave of absence to go on to Washington, Atkinson will probably send some one up from St. Louis as soon as possible. I shall have to get leave of absence from Leavenworth here, and then again from Atkinson at St. Louis. Then I can send in my resignation after I arrive at Philadelphia. All this beside the intermediate hardships and delays in reaching there."
To the Indian outside much of this was unintelligible, but he heard and understood perfectly "I think I shall try to get her away from her mother and take her with me," and later the reply that the boats would go down in about a week.
That was sufficient for him, and he arose, gathered up his blanket that had dropped down from his shoulders, slipped the pipe into his belt which held it around his waist, and then his moccasined feet trod the narrow trail, one over the other, the great toe straight in a line with the instep, giving the peculiar gait for which the Indian is famous.
He found Nikumi back at her tipi; the kettle was hung from the tripod of three sticks aver the fire, and a savory smell arose which he sniffed with pleasure as he approached, for Nikumi was favored above her tribe in the supplies which she received from the camp, and which included great luxuries to the Indians. Nikumi was very generous to her relatives and friends, and often shared with them the pot which she had varied from the original Indian dish of similar origin by diligently observing the methods of the camp cooks.
She had learned to use dishes, too, and bringing forth two bowls, some spoons, and a tin cup, ladled some of the savory mixture into them, for she had evidently learned the same lesson as her white sisters: when you would get the best service from a man, feed him well.
On the present site of Fort Atkinson may be found, wherever the ground is plowed over or the piles of bricks and depressions
that mark the cellars of the buildings are overhauled, a profusion of old buttons, fragments of firearms, cannon balls and shells, and many pieces of delf. A quaint old antiquarian who lives there has a large collection of them which he shows with delight.
Who knows but that some of the fragments are pieces of Nikumi's bowl, for as her brother told her of Gale's words to Sarpy, her face added to its bronze hue an indescribable grayish tinge, and starting suddenly, the bowl fell from her hand, striking the stones which formed a circle for the fire, and broke into fragments. She forgot to eat, and a rapid flow of words from her lips was accompanied by gestures that almost spoke. They should keep strict watch of the loading of the boats, she said, and of the voyageurs in charge of them, and when they saw signs of departure of them, she would take the child and go - and she pointed, but spoke no word. He must make a little cave in the hillside, and cover it with trees and boughs, and she would provide food. When the white medicine man had gone he could tell her by a strip of red tied in the branch of a tree like a bird, which could be seen down the ravine from her hiding place, and she would be found again in her tipi as if she had never been absent. He grunted assent at well as satisfaction at the innumerable bowls of soup, and then stretched himself comfortably and pulled out his pipe.
Meanwhile little Mary, the heroine of this intrigue, was eating soup and sucking a bone contentedly. Would she be an Indian or an English maiden? She was an Indian one now, and happy, too. And Nikumi? She had come to her white husband and remained with him contented and happy. He had been good to her in the main, although he swore at her and abused her sometimes when he got drunk or played at cards too long, but he was better than the braves were to their squaws, and she did not have to work as they did; she had wood and food and she could buy at the trading post the blankets and the strouding, and the gay red cloths, and the beads with which the squaws delighted to adorn their necks and to stitch with deer sinew into their moccasins. She had lived each day unconscious that there might not be a tomorrow like it. But it had dropped from the skies, this sudden knowledge that had changed everything.
Had she had no child she would doubtless have mourned si-
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lently for the man who had come and taken her life to be lived beside his and then left her worse than alone; but the greater blow had deadened the force of the lesser, and only her outraged mother love cried out.
She sat on the buffalo robe inside the tipi and watched the child rolling about outside with the little fat puppy, hugging it one moment, savagely spatting it over the eyes the next. She had no right to rebel; an Indian did what he would with his squaw, how much more a white man, and to any decree concerning herself she would doubtless have submitted silently, but to lose her child -that she would not do, and she knew how to save it.
All unconscious of this intrigue, Gale made his preparations for departure, and it was soon known through the camp that he was about to go to the "states."
He had taken pains to conceal the fact of his intended final departure for England.
He secretly made arrangements with the man who acted as cook for the boats to take charge of little Mary until they got to St. Louis, where they could get a servant, and going down the river would take but a few days.
Gale's condition of mind was not to be envied during the interval before he started. He scarcely felt the injustice to Nikumi in thus leaving her, but he could not quite reconcile with even his weak sense of her rights that he should take the child away from her, and yet he fully intended to do so. He spent much of the time with Nikumi at her summer residence, the tipi, and she treated him with the same gentle deference and quiet submissiveness that were usual to her, so completely deceiving him that he did not once surmise she knew anything of his plans. The last two or three days he occupied himself in packing a case of articles of various kinds that he had accumulated: an Indian pipe of the famous red pipestone of the Sioux country, with its long flat stem of wood cut out in various designs and decorated with feathers and bits of metal; moccasins of deer skin, handsomely beaded and trimmed with fringes, some of them made by Nikumi's own hands; specimens of the strange Mexican cloths woven from the plumage of birds, brought by the trading Mexicans up the Santa Fe trail; a pair of their beautiful blankets, one robe, a few very fine furs, among them
black bear skin of immense size, a little mat woven of the perfumed grasses, which the Indians could find but the white man never, some of the nose and ear rings worn by the squaws.
Nikumi came to his quarters while he was taking these things down from the walls and shelves where she had always cared for them with so much pride. In answer to her inquiring gaze he said: "I go Nikumi, to the far eastern land, and these I shall take with me to show my friends what we had that is beautiful in the land of the Indian and the buffalo, that they wish to know all about." "And when will you return to Nikumi and Mary?" "I can not tell; I hope before many moons; will you grieve to have me go Nikumi?" "Nikumi will look every day to the rising sun and ask the Great Spirit to send her pale-faced medicine man back safely to her and the child." He put his arms about her with a strange spasm of heart relenting, realizing for a moment the wrong he was purposing to commit. But ah, the stronger taking advantage of the weaker. The strong race using for their own pleasure the weak one. "Ye that are strong ought to help the weak." He also prepared at Sarpy's trading post, and by his advice, a smaller package of such things as would be desirable for little Mary's welfare and comfort.
It was greatly lacking in the articles we should consider necessary these times, but when we realize that every piece of merchandise which reached this far away post had to be transported thousands of miles by river it is matter of wonder how much there was.
The morning of the day before the boats were to start he occupied himself with some last preparations, giving Nikumi a number of articles that she had used around his quarters to take to her tipi, and telling her he would leave money with Sarpy so that she might get what was necessary for herself and Mary. In the afternoon he went down to the post and did not return to the quarters until late, where he supped at the mess table and then went in the direction of Nikumi's tent. He had devised, he thought, a cunning plan to get Nikumi to go the next morning for some fresh leaves of a shrub which she often procured for him to mix in his tobacco, and of which he was very fond; and after her departure he would make for the boat and embark hastily with little Mary, whom he would keep. Resolving the broaching of his plan as he approached the tipi, he did not notice
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that it failed to show the usual signs of habitation until he drew near when he observed that the kettle hanging from the tripod over the circle of stones had no fire beneath it, and no steam issuing from it, no dogs were playing about, and there was no sign of Nikumi and little Mary. He began to look about for them; the flap of skin usually fastened up to form a doorway was dropped down; he put it up and stooping, entered the tipi. It was almost entirely empty; the skins which had formed the beds were gone; the dishes seemed to be there, but the food of which he knew she always kept a supply, was all gone, and there were no signs of the articles of clothing belonging to them. Sarpy's words come to him, "I'm damned if I think you are smart enough to get the child away from its mother," and he knew that Nikumi had outwitted him. He should never see mother or child again.
He turned and traced angrily the narrow trail to Sarpy's. Striding in and down the low, dingy, fur odorous room to the rear where Sarpy sat lazily smoking his pipe he exclaimed, "You were right, Sarpy, Nikumi has gone with the child." Sarpy took his pipe from his mouth slowly, "Well I'm sorry you are disappointed, but it will be better for you and the child, too; she would have grieved herself to death, and worried you almost to the verge of lunacy first, and you would have had the burden on your conscience of Nikumi unhappy, and all for no good." "But I'll not give her up. I had set my heart on it; I shall start a search party for her at once." "And much good it will do you. There isn't a soldier in your camp that can find what an Indian chooses to hide, if it is not more than six feet away from him. You will only inform the camp of your design and of the fact that a squaw has outwitted you."
Gale knew too well the truth of his statement, but he paced up and down the building angrily for some time, determining at each turn towards the door to start out at the head of a search party, but turning again with an oath toward the rear as the futility of it all was forced upon him.
Sarpy regarded him quietly, a half smile in his eyes. He understood the conflict of feelings, the pain at leaving Nikumi, not very great, but enough to cause him some discomfort; the now added pain of separation from the child, also; the chagrin at being outwitted by a squaw, and one who had always seemed
so submissive, and whom he had not dreamed possessed so much acuteness; the English obstinacy aroused by antagonism, all struggling against his knowledge that he could do nothing. Sarpy in his place would have invoked all the spirits of the darker regions, but he probably would never have put himself in a like predicament. To his class, seekers of fortunes in the New World, the Indian was simply a source of revenue and pleasure, treated fairly well to be sure, because that was the better policy; while it suited their convenience to use them they did so; when the need was supplied they cast them off; possibly Gale, if he analyzed the situation at all, thought the same, but under the present circumstances, a different set of emotions dominated him. Nikumi, superior to her tribe, had inspired inconveniently deep feelings, and he found his fatherly love a factor he had not counted on.
At last he approached Sarpy, and throwing himself in a chair, took out one of the two great soothers of man's woes, his pipe, lighted it and proceeded to mingle its smoke with that of Sarpy's. "I suppose I shall have to give it up, but I'm damned if I can submit to it with equanimity, yet; outwitted by an apparently innocent and submissive squaw, I suppose two months from now I'll be thanking my lucky stars that I'm not saddled with a brat of an Indian, and at intervals thereafter shall be falling upon my knees, and repeating the operation. But I'm blessed if I can see it so now."
"Yes it will be better for you as well as the others, and as soon as you get away from here you will view it very differently," said Sarpy.
And Nikumi in her cave dug into the bluff, held her baby tight in her arms, and listened to every sound, while she watched by aid of the rude but cunningly devised dark lantern, the reptiles and insects which crawled about, moving only to dispatch a snake or two that were venomous.
Could Gale have seen her would he have relented and left the child to her? Has it been the history of the union of the stronger and weaker races that the stronger have given up their desires?
"You will have to look out for Mary, too, Sarpy, as you have promised to do for Nikumi. I haven't any more money to leave with you at present, but I will send you some from England.
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I don't want her to grow up without any, education at all, and have to slave and toil as squaws do generally, nor Nikumi either." "I'll see to them," said Sarpy, briefly, "there isn't much chance for education unless they keep up the post here and she be permitted to learn with the white children; for I don't suppose Nikumi will ever let her go away to school as Fontenelle sends his boys, but she shall have what education she can get and Nikumi shall not be obliged to go back to her tribe for support as long as I am here," and the smoke of the Frenchman's and Englishman's pipes ascended to ratify this compact.
The next day at sunrise the boats dropped swiftly down the river. A figure at the stern of one of them watched until the last sign of the landing place faded in the early morning light.
Dr. Gale had played a, brief part in the settlement of a new country from which he now disappeared as if he had never been.
In after years only the few who belonged to that early settlement remembered that Mary was his child, and told of it sometimes, when they recounted the adventurous life of those early days. A young man listened to these reminiscences from the lips of the strange, irascible, but warm hearted Frenchman, and treasured them in memory. Hence this true tale. Nikumi released from her reptile inhabited cave by the little red bird in the tree down the ravine, came back to her tipi. She had kept her child but she had lost her lover and her life. How should she take it up again? She had been always quiet and little given to the chatter and laughter of the young squaws; she was only a little more quiet now, and Mary's lot was decided; she would always be an Indian woman.
One day Sarpy came to her and told her that Gale had left money for her and she was to come to the fort for what she wished. And after a time it came to pass that Sarpy took her to wife as Gale had done. Perhaps that was in his mind when he looked at Gale with a smile in his eyes; but Nikumi would not listen to him till she had waited long, and until Sarpy told her and she heard from others that Gale would never come again. And she was his faithful wife for many years, occupying always, because of her inherent dignity and real womanliness, a position high in the estimation both of the white and the red men. Many tales are told of her life with Sarpy, how at one
time she carried him miles on her back when he was stricken with fever in the mountains, until she brought him to aid and, safety. Another time when he had given orders that no more goods should be given her from the post (she was always very liberal to her relatives and he wished to check it) she quietly picked up two or three bolts of calico, and walking to the river bank, threw them in; a second armful followed, and then the enemy capitulated. And still another time when Sarpy had bought a beautiful black mare, "Starlight," to minister to the pleasure of a designing English widow, she one day quietly appeared when the horse was driven round by Sarpy's black servant, and ordered it taken to the stable, and enforced the order, too. But this is another story.
In later years, as Sarpy's dominion ceased with the gradual decline of the fur company, and he spent much of his time in St. Louis, Nikumi lived with Mary, who had married an Indian like herself, with a mixture of white blood in his veins, although he was French, and who occupied a prominent position in one of the tribes to whom was given a distinct reservation. From this mixture of English, French, and Indian bloods has arisen a family which stands at the head of their tribe, and one member who is known throughout this country. It is worthy of notice, too, that with one exception it has been the women of the family who have shown the qualities which gave them preëminence.
Nikumi died March 23, 1888, at the home of her daughter Mary; but her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren live to show that sometimes the mixture of races tends to development of the virtues, and not, as has been so often said, of the vices of both races.
THE HEROINE OF THE JULES-SLADE TRAGEDY
BY MRS. HARRIET S. MACMURPHY
Our two weeks' ride over Iowa prairies was ended and we had reached our new home in Nebraska. I sat in the buggy, a child of twelve, with my three-year-old brother beside me, on the eastern bank of the Missouri river, while father went down where the ferry boat lay, to make ready for our crossing.
In the doorway of a log cabin near by stood a young girl two or three years older than I. We gazed at each other shyly. She was bare-headed and bare-footed, her cheeks tanned, and her abundant black hair roughened with the wind, but her eyes were dark and her figure had the grace of untrammeled out door life. To my girl's standard she did not appeal, and I had not then the faintest conception of the romance and tragedy of which she was the heroine.
We gazed at each other until father gave the signal for me to drive down on the clumsy raft-like boat behind the covered half-wagon half-carriage that held the other members of our family, which I did in fear and trembling that did not cease until we had swung in and out as the boat strained at the rope to which it was attached, the waters of the "Old Muddy," the like of which I had never seen before, straining and drawing it down with the current, and a fresh spasm of fear was added as we reached the far shore and dropped off the boat with a thud down into the soft bank. We had reached Decatur, our future Nebraska home, adjoining the Indian reservation with its thousand Omahas.
For a long time I did not know anything further of the girl of the log cabin by the river side, only that they told us the family were named Keyou and the men were boatmen and fishermen and ran the ferry. This first chapter of my little story opened in the spring of 1863.
Six years later my girlhood's romance brought marriage with my home-coming soldier, who in his first days in the territory of Nebraska had passed through many of the romantic events322
HEROINE OF JULES-SLADE TRAGEDY
that a life among the Indians would bring, among them clerking in a trading post with one "Billy" Becksted, now the husband of my maiden of the riverside log cabin. And Billy and John always continued the comradeship of the free, happy, prairie hunting life, riding the "buckskin" ponies with which they began life together, although they came together from very different walks of life.
And I learned of my husband that "Addie," as we had learned to call her, young as she was when first I saw her, had been the wife of a Frenchman named Jules, after whom the town of Julesburg (Colorado) is named, and his dreadful death at the hands of one Slade was one of the stock stories of the plains well known to every early settler.
Billy and Addie after a time drifted away from Decatur down the river and we lost sight of them.
We, too, left the home town and became residents of Plattsmouth.
One day my husband, returning from a trip in the country said, "I ran across Billy and Addie Becksted today and they were so glad to see me that Addie put her arms round me and kissed me, with tears in her eyes." Later we learned with sorrow that Billy was drinking and then that he had come down to Plattsmouth and tried to find my husband, who was out of town and had gone back home and when almost there had taken a dose of morphine, and they had found him unconscious and dying near their log cabin under the bluffs half a mile above the Bellevue station. And my husband really mourned that he had not been at home, perhaps to have kept good-hearted Billy from his woeful fate. After a time Addie married Elton, a brother of Billy's, and one Sunday I persuaded my husband to go down to them in their cabin under the bluffs.
"I have always wanted to get Addie to tell me her story of her life with Jules," I said.
"I don't believe you can get her to talk about it," said Mae, "she never speaks of it, Elton says."
We went, and they were delighted to see us, killed the fatted chicken and gathered for us some of the wild berries that grew in the bluffs, and then as we sat under the trees with the bluff towering above us, I asked her for the story of her girlhood's days out on the plains, when only a single house that sheltered
NEBRASKA PIONEER REMINISCENCES
three or four people was her home, and not another for many miles.
"I was just a child," she said, "and Jules was more like my father than my husband. But there were few women in the country in those days and Jules said to my parents that he would take good care of me, and so they gave me to him, and they went on to Denver. He had a man and his wife to take care of the place and do the work, and I just did whatever I wanted to. We were on the great trail to California and Pike's Peak and trains would come by and purchase supplies from us, so I did not get lonesome. Jules had had some trouble with a man named Slade a few years before and had shot Slade, but had taken him to Denver and put him in a hospital and paid to have him cared for and Slade and he had made it all up, my husband thought. Slade's ranch was further west and on the other side of his ranch Jules had another ranch with cattle on, and one day he started off with two or three men to bring some of the cattle back. He had been told that Slade had threatened to kill him but he did not believe it, although he went armed and with good men, he thought. This time he did not take me along as he had the cattle to drive. When he got near Slade's place Slade and his gang came down on Jules and his men, shouting and shooting, drove off Jules' men, took him and carried him to Slade's ranch. One of Jules' men followed them and saw them tie Jules up to a great box and then Slade stood a ways off with his rifle and shot at Jules, just missing his ear or his neck or his hand that was stretched out and tied; sometimes hitting him just enough to draw the blood. He kept this up all the rest of the day and then towards night he fired a shot that killed him. The boys who were with Jules came back to us and told us what had been done. We were so frightened we did not know what to do at first, for we expected every minute that Slade and his gang would come and kill us. They did come the next day and carried off a lot of the stuff we had in the trading post but did not do any harm to us. The man and his wife that were with us and the boys then got a team together and put enough stuff into the wagon to do us until we could get to Denver. All the rest and the cattle I guess Slade got. Jules had money in some bank in Denver, he had always said, but we never could find it. I found my folks and after a
HEROINE OF JULES-SLADE TRAGEDY
while we came back here where we had lived before we went to Denver."
She told her story in the simplest commonplace manner, but it did not need any addition of word or gesture to paint on my memory for all time the pathos beneath.
A girl of fourteen, happy and care-free under the protection of her father husband one day, putting him in the place of father, and mother, trusting to him, and suddenly standing beside the rude trading post way out on the treeless spaces of the trail that seemed to come from solitude and lead away to it again, and listening to the story of the frightened cow-boy on his broncho whose almost unintelligible words finally made her understand that her protector, the kind man she had learned to love, had died a death so horrible it would make the strongest man shudder. And with only three or four frightened, irresponsible people to save her, perhaps from a similar or worse fate? But the women of the plains had but little childhood, and must act the part that came to them no matter what it might be.
Afterward she told me more of her strange life with Jules, of his fatherly, protecting care of her, of his good heart, of the trouble with Slade, which was Slade's fault in the first place, and it was plain to see the ideal that had always been cherished way down in her subconsciousness of the man who played such an eventful but brief part in her life. It was a wrong, perhaps, but natural feeling to have when I found by after reading of annals of the plains that Slade died the death that such a fiendish nature should have suffered.
Addie Becksted still lives in a little cabin down among the hills about Bellevue, her children and grandchildren about her, and still bears traces of the beauty that was hers as a girl. She is only about ten miles distant from Omaha but has not visited it for years.
When I go to see her, as I do occasionally, she puts her arms about me and kisses me on the cheek. And her still bright brown eyes look the affection of all the years and events that we have known together.
It is well worth while to have these humble friends who have lived through the pioneer days with us.
© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller