hits all of a sudden....and you swear you're lookin' at heaven!
We have, day after day after day. The Rockies seem
unattainable, they look close enough to reach out and touch, but it will be
days. That is our destination and so we must push on. This is the Oregon Trail
we are travelin' in late June or early July, we have lost track of the exact
day. The main thing is that we make sure we are at the end of trail before
winter sets in. We 've heard tell that the winters come early, stay long, and
are so very fierce. We can believe that, we have experienced quick, extreme
temperature and condition changes. With a short rain the temperature can go down
drastically, it is a strange and wonderful land, beautiful but must be
respected, our very life depends on that.
We are camped this night in a grove of what we believe to be Aspen trees, we have read about those white gray trees with dark markings in guide books, (the leaves actually do appear to be quaking) but we've never seen such in Alabama, the state we use to call home. We have lost count of the miles we have traveled to come just this far. Our tent is set up facing West, which of course is the way we are headed, always West. There is a tranquil lake, a grassy-boggy meadow, and the Wind River Mountains we can see right out our door. The mountains are still white capped from the winter. Snow can come in the early summer as late as July, the altitude of 8,000 some feet and the thin cool air will not allow it to thaw.
Just as we are about to finish setting up sleeping quarters and start drooling over what ever the cook has mustered up over the fire, we look up to see two red men coming directly into our camp. These are not the first hostiles we have encountered in our many miles but are certainly closer than any we have come across so far. They clearly intend to come straight in. The trail boss we call Rimrock is apprehensive but calm, he has come prepared.
He beckons the two braves to come on in near the fire. He motions for them to sit down on the elk skin he has provided. Rimrock has brought coffee beans, beads, bullets, and a knife in a sheath to tempt them with. He talks with them in sign language and asks them in their native Shoshone tongue to except these many gifts in exchange for our safe passage thru their territory. He promises them that we will take only pronghorn antelope, buffalo, rabbit, or sage hens to feed ourselves, a party of ten.
They were very impressed with the knife and its sheath made of sheep skin, also with the beads and the ammo. The coffee beans, however, made them grimace when they tried chewing them. They spit them out in disgust and threw them back on to the middle of the elk hide. Our French cook brought them plates of food filled with slabs of meat, beans, and potatoes. Snatching the meat up with their hands, they tore it with their teeth....they ate the beans and potatoes in the same crude manner. They motioned over and over again for fire water, they were adamant, but we had none. Our trail boss knew the trouble that spirits could cause on the trail and he was smart not to allow any with us. He assured them that we had none.
The one that appeared to be the leader or the chief was dressed very handsomely. His buckskins had elaborate bead work in circles on the front just below each shoulder, with fringe at the arms and around the jagged bottom. His dark, shinny black hair was extremely long and the paint on his face was colorful but matched the fierce look in his piercing eyes.
His companion was a weary, suspicious character who wore a military cap of some sort, customized with feathers to suit his fancy. No doubt the hat was taken from some poor soldier. More than once his sharp gaze fell on me, he would utter something guttural and point in my direction, his leader seemed irritated with him on those occasions. It filled me with spine tingling fear just to know that he had even noticed me. Before the men had all sat down on the blanket, he had come to touch my hair, my guess is that he had never seen a white women's hair before, the thought filled me with pure horror, I had heard of the stories about scalps on lodge poles, but I pushed those thoughts out of my mind. We could not afford to show fear in this touchy situation.
They watched us intently from under their long hair the entire time they were eating, and then they were ready to go. They were very proud to show us their ponies, the chief road a paint, bare back and with streaks of vibrant colors painted in designs. The other brave had a gray, black beautifully mottled quarter horse, that we believe was probably taken from the same soldier the cap came from.
We felt that they left happy with what they had and they made us believe that we had safe passage thru their land. We had some confidence in our fragile relationship with them, but we knew they did not trust us, we could only hope and pray that we would get quickly and safely thru with out incident.
As we were settling down from the ordeal, we could hear horses neighing and hoofs pounding the hard, dry earth. The hair stood up on the back of my neck as I recognized the paint and the quarter horse carrying our savage dinner companions. Fear welled up in my interals. What were they coming back for?
Not one of us could breath while our trail boss was working hard to communicate with them. There was more intense sign language and then they were coming directly toward my husband and myself. The very suspicious one came forward with a pony and tried handing the reins to my husband, uttered something and pointed in my direction. Rimrock interpreted that he wanted to trade the pony for......ME! I knew better than to turn and run, the look on Mikell's face warned me to show no fear. When Mikell refused the trade, the suspicious one returned with another pony...even more insistent than before. Being refused when the brave had offered his best ponies to a man trespassing in his land sent the injuns into a angry, vile disposition. Their resentment was plain as they took those two horses, mounted their own and rushed off at a gallop. We turned to each other with foreboding.
As it became twilight, the war drums were beating more ominously. Then we felt the wind bringing the war hoops closer, still closer. We knew deep down that attack was inevitable. Outlaw Al, Rimrock and Mikell loaded every gun we had, six shooters normally loaded with five rounds were jammed with six. Scatter guns and rifles were handed out to all.
We took cover and waited for the sky to fall, and it did. All of a sudden there was gunfire coming from all around us, they were every where all at once. It was mayhem, it was hell, there were the most terrifying of sounds, screaming and war whoops, and drums beating, there seemed no end to it. Fire and muzzle blast came from everywhere.
Suddenly somehow it became apparent that there were only two of them, there was plenty enough gunfire coming from their direction, but we soon discovered from just two vicinities. The men decided to advance forward and flush them out of the aspen thicket , they motioned for the us women to stay in camp, we were glad to obliged but scared for their safety.
For what seemed like an eternity we heard ripping and running
thru the woods, then the gun fire ceased. Footsteps were coming slowly in our
direction, dear lord, whose footsteps were they??? The pitch black night cloaked
the identity of the ones coming toward us. Closer, closer, louder,
louder....just as we are about to scream with fright, the fire that we are
huddled around illuminates our husbands and comrades faces. We have survived,
and we have four more horses to add to our string. In the morning, we are
Now, are you thinking that this is a story out of an old west novel, Louis Lamour perhaps, or are you conjecturing that this could possibly be dialogue from a movie....or maybe a few pages from a pioneer wife's diary???? Well think again, this is an experience as recent as three weeks ago on our Rocky Mountain Horseback Adventure on the Oregon Trail Ride. This is only one of many encounters on a week long ride in Wyoming. Every day was a dream come true, one fun event after the other. We were slap worn out but only from riding and enjoying ourselves (certainly not from any labor because all of the cooking and moving of gear and taking care of the horses was done by Colleen, Ed and Madelyn Dabney, Francoise Osborn, Jerry Sowers, Nathan Barnes, and Cabe Lindsey. I will tell you about the personalities that made this dream vacation happen in the next article. Stay tuned for the next saga of our daring exploits! By the way, Hondo Mikell said if the injun had offered him an appaloosa, I 'd be a squaw now :-)
Gotta mosey for now!