11- Hints of Trouble

From time to time Indians came into our camp or rode past us as we traveled. We soon grew accustomed to seeing them. At first they came into our camps with a great show of friendliness, but as time went on, their actions changed. As we passed from Pawnee country into the land of the Sioux, we found them growing sullen.

Instead of a too-great desire to shake hands, they refused to talk. As their arrogance increased, I noticed the men gathering in groups in the evening, talking earnestly. The scout and Mr. Daily were usually in the center of these grave-looking groups. I noticed, too, that the small trains, which at first had camped with us only occasionally, now stayed with us all the time, or, as I heard a man say, joined some other big train. We grew to watching the hills across the Platte very steadily. It was from there that we feared a raid.

One evening the captain called all the men together to talk the matter over. It happened that they were grouped near our wagons and we heard the consultation. The scout was talking when Florence and I climbed onto the dashboard of a wagon in the seat of which Carrie was sitting.

"I learned today," Mr. George was saying, "that a bunch of whites evidently rebels, are hanging around them. They are stirring them up. We will have to travel more closely together and every man must keep his gun handy. Arm every boy who is big enough to handle a gun. Every gun counts if there is trouble." In one of the small trains traveling with us just then was a little pompous man who never stopped talking. He had made a joke of himself to us all. Now he was determined to be heard. The men talked steadily on planning their defense, and he tried again and again to gain the floor. "My modus operandi would be," he began, but no one heard him. "My modus operandi - " The men talked on. He strutted around to the other side of the group. "My modus operandi is - " still the men, their attention fixed on their leaders, did not hear him. Again and again he began, always in the same way, his chest puffed out, his lips pursed, as he stepped about trying to get a hearing. He was so funny that Carrie and Florence and I were almost in hysterics laughing. It was hard, too, when anything so funny was going on, to be quiet with our laughing.

"Oh," Carrie said, "I wish I could ask him if he learned that from the back of the spelling book." His "modus operandi" was not explained that evening, nor ever, to my knowledge. From time to time, all the way to Laramie, we saw the little man and he was always funny.

One evening a man came to our tent and asked, "Mr. Vanderburgh, may I use your telescope a moment? I think I see some buffalo across the river." Father brought out his glass and the man squinted through it. "Yes," he said, "there's quite a bunch." He handed back the glass.

Father looked a moment, then handed the telescope to one of the group that had gathered, eager for a glimpse of the first buffalo we had seen on the plains. We were ahead of the bison migration so we saw very few of them on the trip. "Wish I could get one," a man said. "It wouldn't take long and we'd like mighty well to get some meat."

Mr. Daily said, "No, it won't do. We can't risk hunting now. The Indians are not acting right."

As the glass was passing from one to another, the men trying to determine the size of the herd, the funny pompous little man who's "modus operandi" we had never learned, strutted up. "Just let me have a look," he said. "I can count them if any man can."

He put his eye to the glass, the other eye squinted shut, and began to count, "One, two, three." A man who was holding the cap of the telescope slipped it over the end of the glass. Undisturbed the little man counted, "Four, five, six. There's some more coming over the hill." He dropped the glass and the man slipped the cap out of sight. "Did you fellows see that big bunch or were you too blind?" He began to count again and the man slipped the cap back. "Seven, eight, nine," he went on. The men crowded around, complimenting him on his eyesight, all the time keeping the lens carefully covered. Overjoyed at being the center of attraction, he continued counting the buffalo and describing them to the highly entertained group about him. Twenty-five or more he saw. At last he handed the glass to Father, saying, "Call me any time you want someone with eyes," and well satisfied with himself, he strutted away, the only man who could see more than five buffalo.

12: An Indian's Breakfast - Return to Index