14: Encounters with Wild Beasts—Courage and Daring
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The inhabitants of the frontier from the earliest times have had to face
the fiercest and most ravenous wild beasts which prowl in the forests of
this continent; and the local histories of the various sections and single
settlements on our border-land abound in thrilling accounts of combats
between those pests of the forest and individual men and women.
Wolves, like the poor, were always with the frontiersmen. Bears, both black
and brown, were familiar visitors. The cougar, American lion, catamount, or
"painter" (panther), as it is variously styled, was a denizen of
every forest from Maine to Georgia, and from the St. Croix River to the
Columbia. Wild cats, and even deer, when brought to bay, proved themselves
dangerous combatants. Last, but not the least terrible in the catalogue,
comes the grizzly bear, the monarch of the rocky waste that lies between
the headwaters of the Platte and the Missouri rivers, and the sierras of
the Pacific slope.
The stories of rencontres and combats between pioneer women and
these savage rangers of the woods, are numerous and thrilling. Sometimes
they seem almost improbable, especially to such as have only known Woman as
she appears to the dwellers of our eastern cities, and in homes where
luxury and ease have softened the sex.
A story like the following, for example, as told by one of our most
veracious travelers, may be listened to with at least some degree of
incredulity by gentlemen and ladies of the lounge and easy chair. A woman
living on the Saskatchewan accompanied her husband on a hunting expedition
into the forest. He had been very successful, and having killed one more
deer than they could well carry home, he went to the house of a neighboring
settler to dispose of it, leaving his wife to take care of the rest until
his return. She sat carelessly upon the log with his hunting knife in her
hand, when she heard the breaking of branches near her, and turning round,
beheld a great bear only a few paces from her.
It was too late to retreat, and, seeing that the animal was very hungry and
determined to come to close quarters, she rose, and placed her back against
a small tree, holding her knife close to her breast, and in a straight line
with the bear.
The shaggy monster came on. She remained motionless, her eyes steadily
fixed upon her enemy's, and, as his huge arms closed around her, she slowly
drove the knife into his heart. The bear uttered a hideous cry, and sank
dead at her feet. When her husband returned, he found the courageous woman
taking the skin from the carcass of the formidable brute. "How," some of
our readers will exclaim, "can a woman possess such iron nerves as to dare
and do such a deed as this?" And yet, evidence of masculine courage and
daring, displayed by women in this and multitudes of other cases where
confronted by danger in this form, is direct and unimpeachable.
Such stories, however startling and extraordinary, become credible when we
remember the circumstances by which woman is surrounded in pioneer life,
and how those circumstances tend to strengthen the nerves and increase the
hardihood of the softer sex. Hunting is there one of the necessary
avocations, in which women often become practiced, in order to supply the
wants of existence. On our northwestern frontier, especially, female
hunters have, from the start, been noted for their courage and skill.
One of the famous huntresses of the northwest, while returning home from
the woods with a wild turkey which she had shot, unexpectedly encountered a
large moose in her path, which manifested a disposition to attack her. She
tried to avoid it, but the animal came towards her rapidly and in a furious
manner. Her rifle was unloaded, and she was obliged to take shelter behind
a tree, shifting her position from tree to tree as the brute made at her.
At length, as she fled, she picked up a pole, and quickly untying her
moccasin strings, she bound her knife to the end of the pole. Then, placing
herself in a favorable position, as the moose came up, she stabbed him
several times in the neck and breast. At last the animal, exhausted with
the loss of blood, fell. She then dispatched it, and cut out its tongue to
carry home as a trophy of victory. When they went back to the spot for the
carcass, they found the snow trampled down in a wide circle, and copiously
sprinkled with blood, which gave the place the appearance of a
battle-field. It proved to be a male of extraordinary size.
The gray wolf species, two centuries ago and later, was spread over the
Atlantic States from Maine to Georgia, and was in most newly-settled
regions a frequent and obnoxious visitor to cattle yards and sheep-folds.
We are told that the first Boston immigrants were obliged to build high and
strong fences around their live stock to keep them from the depredations of
Less bold than his European kindred, the gray wolf of North America is
still an extremely powerful and dangerous animal, as may be proved by
recalling the frequent encounters of the early settlers—both men and
women—with these prowling pests. When pinched with hunger or driven to
extremities, they will attack men or women and fight desperately, either to
satiate their appetites or to save their skins from an assailant. A great
number of stories and incidents concerning collisions between women and
these savage brutes are scattered through the local histories of our early
times, and illustrate the nerve and daring which, as we have shown, were
habitual to the women in the border settlements.
About the middle of the last century, a household in the hill country of
Georgia was greatly vexed by the frequent incursions of a large animal of
this species which prowled about the cow-yard, and carried off calves and
sheep, sometimes even venturing up to the door of the cabin. The family
consisted of a man and his wife and three daughters, all grown up. Each one
of the five had shot ineffectually at the brute, which seemed to bear a
charmed life. A strong steel trap was finally set near the calf pen, in a
stout enclosure, and in a few days the trappers were delighted to hear a
commotion in that quarter which indicated the success of their stratagem.
His wolfship, sure enough, had been caught by one of his hind legs, and was
found to be furiously gnawing at the trap and the chain which held him. The
womenkind, rejoicing in the capture of their old enemy, all entered the
enclosure and stood watching the struggles of the fierce beast, while the
father was loading his gun to dispatch it.
In one of his leaps, the staple that held the chain gave way, and the wolf
would have bounded over the fence, and made his escape to the woods, but
for the ready courage of the eldest daughter of the family, a large,
powerful woman of twenty-five. Seizing the chain, she held it firmly in
both her hands; the wolf snapped at her arms, and at last, in his
desperation, sprang at her throat with such force that he overthrew her,
but still she did not relax her grip of the chain, though the animal, in
his struggles, dragged her on the ground across the enclosure. Her father,
at this critical moment, returned with his loaded gun and dispatched the
brute. The young woman, barring a few bruises and scratches, was entirely
The speed and endurance of these animals, when in pursuit of their prey,
"With their long gallop, which can tire
The hound's deep hate, the hunter's fire,"
makes them very dangerous assailants, when ravenous with hunger. We recall,
in this connection, the thrilling story of a brave Kentucky girl, who, with
her sisters, was pursued by a pack of black wolves.
The pluck and ready wit for which the Kentucky girls have been so
celebrated is well illustrated by this adventure, which, after threatening
consequences of the most tragical nature, had finally a comical
In the year 1798, a family of Virginia emigrants settled in central
Kentucky in the midst of a dense forest, where, by the aid of three negro
men whom they had brought with them, a spacious cabin was soon erected and
a large clearing made. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Carter, three
daughters, well grown, buxom girls, full of life and fun, and a son, who,
though only fourteen years of age, was a fine rider and versed in
The country where they lived was rich and beautiful. One could ride on
horseback for miles through groves of huge forest trees, beneath which the
turf lay firm and green. Through this open wood a wagon could be driven
without difficulty; but locomotion in those days and regions was largely on
horseback. There were no roads, except between the larger settlements;
unless those passage-ways through the woods could be called roads. These
were made by cutting down a tree or clearing away the undergrowth here and
there, and "blazing" the trees along the passage by chopping off a portion
of the bark as high as a man could reach with an axe.
At that period Kentucky was a famous hunting-ground! All kinds of game
abounded in those magnificent forests and beneath that genial clime. Wild
turkeys roosted in immense flocks in the chestnut, beech, and oak trees;
pigeons by the million darkened the air; deer could be shot by any hunter
by stopping a few moments in the forest where they came to feed.
The fiercer and more ravenous beasts abounded in proportion. Bears,
catamounts, and wolves swarmed in the denser parts of the forests, and in
the winter the two last named beasts were a great annoyance to the settlers
by the boldness with which they invaded the cattle and poultry-yards and
The black wolf of the Western country was and is a very destructive and
fierce annual, hunting in large packs, which, after using every stratagem
to circumvent their prey, attacked it with great ferocity.
Like the Indian, they always endeavored to surprise their victims and
strike the mortal blow without exposing themselves to danger. They seldom
attack a man except when asleep or wounded, or otherwise taken at a
As the Carter homestead was ten miles from any settlement, it was fairly
haunted by these wild beasts, which considered the cattle, calves, colts,
sheep, and pigs of the new comers their legitimate prey.
Young Carter and his sisters having emigrated from the most populous part
of Virginia where social entertainments were frequent, found the time
during the winter months hang heavy on their hands, and as the young
ladies' favorite colts and pet lambs had often suffered from incursions of
the wolves and panthers, they amused themselves by setting traps for them
and occasionally giving them a dose of cold lead, for they were all good
shots with the rifle,—the girls as well as their brother.
Two or three years passed in the forest taught them to despise the wolves
and panthers as cowardly brutes, and the girls were not afraid to pass
through the forest at any time of the day or night. Often just at dusk,
when returning from a picnic or walk, they would see half a dozen or more
wolves prowling in the woods; the girls would run towards them screaming
and shaking their mantles, and the whole pack would scurry away through the
This cowardly conduct of the wolves taught their fair pursuers to
underestimate the ferocious nature of the beasts, as we shall hereafter
The winter of 1801 was a severe one. Heavy snows fell, and the passage
through the woods was difficult, either by reason of the snows or from the
thaws which succeeded them. Never before had the wolves been so bold and
ferocious. It happened that in the depth of this winter a merry-making was
announced to take place in the nearest settlement, ten miles distant.
The Carter girls were of course among the invited guests, for their beauty
and spirit were famed through the whole region. Their parents having
perfect confidence in the ability of the girls to take care of themselves,
and also considering that their brother was to accompany them on horseback,
Mr. Carter, the elder, ordered their house-servant, an old negro named
Hannibal, to tackle up a pair of stout roadsters to a two-seated wagon and
drive his daughters to the merry-making.
Hannibal was a fiddler of renown and that of course formed a double reason
why he should go to the ball.
The snow was not so deep as to delay the party materially. They were
determined under any circumstances to reach the scene of Christmas
festivities, where the young ladies, as well as their partners, anticipated
a "good time" in the dance, and perchance "possibilities" which
might be protracted until a late hour upon the following morning, when the
guests would disperse upon the understanding that they were to meet and
continue their amusements the same evening.
In spite of the urgent invitations of their friends that the young ladies
should pass the night at the settlement, they set out on their way home, to
which they were lighted by a full moon, whose light was reflected from the
snow and filled the air with radiance.
The girls were assisted into the old two-seated wagon, Hannibal, rolling
his eyes and showing his teeth, clambered on the front seat, placing his
fiddle in its case between his knees, and grasping the reins shouted to the
horses, which started off at a rattling pace, young Carter and an escort of
admiring cavaliers riding behind as a guard of honor.
After accompanying them on their way for three miles, the escort took leave
of them amid much doffing of hats and waving of handkerchiefs.
The wagon was passing through the dense forest which it had traversed the
night before, when a deep, mournful howl was borne to the ears of the
party. Another followed, and then a succession of similar sounds, till the
forest resounded with the bayings as if of a legion of wolves.
Upon the departure of the escort, young Carter, with youthful impetuosity
and thoughtlessness, had put spurs to his horse, a beast of blood and
mettle, and was now far in advance of the wagon, which was moving slowly
through the forest, barely lighted by the moon, which cast its beams
through the interlacing boughs.
The girls were not in the least scared by the wolfish concert. Not so
Hannibal, who rolled his eyes up and down the woods, whipped up the horses,
and uttered sundry ejaculations in the negro dialect expressive of his
alarm and apprehension on the young ladies' account.
An open space in the forest soon showed to the party a half dozen dark,
gaunt objects squatted on their haunches, whining and sniffing, directly in
the track of the wagon. They rose and ranged themselves by the side of the
road, the vehicle passing so near that Hannibal was able to give them with
his whip two or three cuts which sent them snarling to the rear.
The howling ceased, and for a few moments the girls thought their
disagreeable visitors had bid them good night. Looking back, however, one
of the girls saw a dozen or more loping stealthily behind them. They soon
reached the wagon, and one of the boldest of the pack leaped up behind and
tore away a piece of the shawl in which one of the girls was wrapped, but a
smart blow on the snout from the hand of the brave girl sent him yelping
back to his fellows.
The horses becoming frightened, tore, snorting, through the woods, lashed
by the old negro, half beside himself with terror: but the wolves only
loped the faster and grew the bolder in proportion to the speed of the
wagon. Sometimes they would throw their forepaws as high as the hind seat,
and snap at the throats of the girls, who thereupon gave their wolfships
severe buffets with their fists and thus drove them back.
The wolves were increasing in number and ferocity every moment, and but for
a happy thought of the oldest Miss Carter, the whole party would have
undoubtedly fallen a prey to the ferocious animals.
An old deserted cabin stood in the forest close to the track which they
were following. Seizing the reins from the hands of the affrighted darkey,
she guided the wagon up to the door of the cabin, and the whole party
dismounting rushed into the door. Here Miss Carter stood with a stout
stick, while the negro helped her sisters up into a loft by means of a
The pack again squatted on their haunches and whined wistfully, but were
kept at bay by the daring maiden. After her sisters had been safely housed
in the loft, with Hannibal who had in his fright quite forgotten her, she
immediately joined them and had scarcely ascended the ladder when more than
twenty of the wolves rushed pell-mell into the cabin.
The rest of the pack made an attack on the horses, which by their kicking
and plunging broke loose from the harness, and dashed homewards through the
woods followed by the yelling pack.
While this was going on, the young women recovered their equanimity, and
hearing the horses break away from their assailants, directed the negro to
close the door; which after some difficulty he succeeded in doing. Twenty
wolves were thus snugly trapped.
One of the girls soon proposed that the old fiddler should play a few tunes
to the animals, which were now whining in their cage.
The darkey accordingly took his violin, which he had clung to through all
their mad drive, and struck up "Money Musk," which he played as correctly
and in as good time as was possible under the circumstance. Soon collecting
his nerve and coolness as he went on, he scraped out his whole
répertoire of dancing tunes, "St. Patrick's day in the
morning," "The Irish Washerwoman," "Pop goes the Weasel,"
winding up with a "Breakdown and Fishers' Hornpipe."
The effect of the music, while it cheered and amused the girls in their
strange situation, seemed to have a directly contrary effect on the wolves,
who crouched, yelped, and trembled until they seemed utterly powerless and
harmless. What threatened to be a tragedy was in this way turned into
something that resembled a comedy.
By daylight Mr. Carter, with his son and two negroes, arrived on the scene,
armed to the teeth with guns and axes, and made short work with the brutes,
climbing on the roof of the cabin and descending into the loft from which
place they shot them in detail. The bounty which at that time was paid for
wolves' heads was awarded to Miss Carter by whose ingenuity the brutes were
The wild cat of this continent is said to be the lineal descendant of "the
harmless, necessary cat," which the early emigrants brought over with them
from Europe, among their other four-footed friends and companions. Certain
depraved and perverse representatives of this domestic creature took to the
woods, and, becoming outlaws from society, reverted to their original
savage state. Their offspring waxed in size and fierceness beyond their
progenitors. They became at last proverbial for their fighting qualities,
and to be able to "whip one's weight in wild cats," is a terse expression
The fecundity of this animal, as well as its predatory skill, makes it an
extremely frequent and annoying poacher on the poultry-yards of the
backwoods settlers, especially in the hill districts of the Southern
States, where the climate and the abundance of game appear to have
developed them to an uncommon size and fierceness.
Their strength and ferocity was fully tested by a settler's wife, in the
upper part of Alabama, some fifty years ago, as will appear from the
Mrs. Julia Page, a widow, with three small children, occupied a house in a
broken and well-wooded country, some miles west of the present town of
Huntsville, where the only serious annoyance and drawback was the immense
number of these animals which prowled through the woods and decimated the
poultry. Stumpy tailed, green eyed, they strolled through the clearing and
sunned themselves on the limbs of neighboring trees, blinking calmly at the
clucking hens which they marked for their prey, and even venturing to throw
suspicious glances at the infant sleeping in its cradle. Sociable in their
disposition, they appeared to even claim a kind of proprietary interest in
the premises and in the appurtenances thereof.
Shooting a dozen and trapping as many more, made little appreciable
difference in the numbers of the feline colony. The dame at last
constructed with much labor a close shed, within which her poultry were
nightly housed. This worked well for a season. But one evening a commotion
in the hennery informed her that the depredators were again at work.
Hastily seizing an axe in one hand and carrying a lighted pitch pine knot
in the other, she hurried to the scene of action, and found Grimalkin
feasting sumptuously on her plumpest pullet. The banqueters were evidently
a mother and her well-grown son, whom she was instructing in the predatory
art and practice.
The younger animal immediately clambered to the hole where it had made its
entrance, and was about to make a successful exit, when the matron,
sticking the lighted knot in the ground, struck the animal with the axe,
breaking its back and bringing it to the ground. Without an instant's
warning, the mother cat sprang upon Mrs. Page, and fastening its powerful
claws in her breast, tore savagely at her neck with its teeth.
The matron, shrieking with terror, strove with all her might to loosen the
animal's hold, but in vain. The maternal instinct had awakened all its
fierceness, and as the blood commenced to flow in streams from the deep
scratches and bites inflicted by its teeth and claws, its ferocious
appetency redoubled. It tore and bit as if nothing would appease it but the
luckless victim's death. Mrs. Page would doubtless have fallen a prey to
its savage rage, but for a happy thought which flashed across her mind in
her desperate straits.
Snatching the pine knot from the earth, she applied it to the hindquarters
of the wild cat. The flame instantly singed off the thick fur and scorched
its flesh. With a savage screech, it relaxed its hold and fell to the
ground, where she succeeded at last in dispatching the creature. It proved
to be one of the largest of its species, measuring nearly three feet from
its nose to the tip of its tail, and weighing over thirty pounds.
For many years this colony of pioneer wild cats continued to "make things
hot" for the settlers in that region, but most of them were finally
exterminated, and the remnant emigrated to some more secluded region.
The character of the common black hear is a study for the naturalist, and
the hunter. He is fierce or good natured, sullen or playful, lazy or
energetic, bold or cowardly, "all by turns and nothing long." He is the
clown of the menagerie, the laughing stock rather than the dread of the
hunter, and the abhorrence of border house-wives, owing to his intrusive
manners, his fondness for overturning beehives, and his playful familiarity
with the contents of their larders in the winter season.
Incidents are related where in consequence of these contrarieties of
bear-nature, danger and humor are singularly blended.
While the daughter of one of the early settlers of Wisconsin was wandering
in "maiden meditation," through the forest by which, her father's home was
surrounded, she was suddenly startled from her reverie by a hoarse, deep,
cavernous growl, and as she lifted her eyes, they were opened wide with
dismay and terror. Not twenty paces from her, rising on his huge iron
clawed hind feet, was a wide-mouthed, vicious looking black bear, of
unusual size, who had evidently been already "worked up," and was "spoiling
for a fight." That the bear meant mischief was plain, but the girl was a
pioneer's daughter, and her fright produced no symptoms of anything like
Bears could climb, she knew that very well; but then if she got out of his
way quickly enough he might not take the trouble to follow her.
It was the only chance, and she sprang for the nearest tree. It was of
medium size, with a rough bark and easy to climb. All the better for her,
if none the worse for the bear, and in an instant she was perched among the
lower branches. For two or three minutes the shaggy monster seemed puzzled
and as if in doubt what course he had best pursue; then he came slowly up
and began smelling and nuzzling round the roots of the tree as if to obtain
the necessary information in order to enable him to decide this important
The young woman in the tree was no coward, but little as was the hope of
being heard in that forest solitude she let her fears have their own way
and screamed loudly for help. As if aroused and provoked by the sound of
her voice, bruin began to try the bark with his foreclaws while his fierce
little eyes looked up carnivorously into the face of the maiden, and his
little tongue came twisting spirally from his half opened jaws as if he
were gloating over a choice titbit.
A neighboring settler, attracted by the cries of distress, soon reached the
scene of action. Though completely unarmed he did not hesitate to come to
close quarters with bruin, and seizing a long heavy stick he commenced to
vigorously belabor the hind quarters of the brute, who, however, only
responded to these attentions by turning his head and winking viciously at
his assailant, still pursuing his upward gymnastics in the direction of the
girl, who on her part was clambering towards the upper branches of the
The young man redoubled his blows and for a moment bruin seemed disposed to
turn and settle matters with the party in his rear, but finally to the
dismay of both the maiden and her champion, and evidently deeming his
readiest escape from attack would be to continue his ascent he resumed his
acrobatic performance and was about to place his forefeet on the lower
limbs, when his foe dropping his futile weapon, seized the stumpy tail of
the beast with his strong hands, and bracing his feet against the trunk of
the tree pulled with all his might. The girl seeing the turn that matters
had taken, immediately broke off a large limb and stoutly hammered the
bear's snout. This simultaneous attack in front and rear was too much for
bruin: with an amusing air of bewilderment he descended in a slow and
dignified manner and galloped off into the forest.
There are but few instances on record where female courage has been put to
the severe test of a hand to hand combat with grizzly bears. The most
remarkable conflict of this description is that which we will endeavor to
detail in the following narrative, which brings out in bold relief the
traits of courage, hardihood, and devotion, all displayed by woman, in most
trying and critical situations, wherein she showed herself the peer of the
stoutest and most skillful of that hardy breed of men—the hunters of the
In the summer of 1859 a party of men and women set out from Omaha, on an
exploring tour of the Platte valley, for the purpose of fixing upon some
favorable location for a settlement, which was to be the head-quarters of
an extensive cattle-farm. The leader in the expedition was Col. Ansley, a
wealthy Englishman. He was accompanied by Joseph Dagget, his agent, whose
business had carried him several times across the Rocky Mountains to
California; Mrs. Dagget and a daughter of sixteen, both of whom had crossed
the plains before with Mr. D.—two half-breeds also accompanied the party
as guides, hunters, muleteers, and men of all work.
As Mrs. Dagget is the heroine of our story, she deserves a description in
detail. Her early life had been spent in the wilds of Northern New York,
where she became versed in fishing, hunting, and wood-craft. She grew up in
that almost unbroken wilderness to more than woman's ordinary stature, and
with a masculine firmness of nerve and fiber. We need hardly add that she
was an admirable equestrienne.
At the age of seventeen she was married to Joseph Dagget, who possessed
those qualities which she was naturally most inclined to admire in a man.
The seventeen years that followed her marriage she spent with her husband
in the wilds of the North and West, where she obtained all the further
experience necessary to complete her education as a practical Woman of the
Border. It is unnecessary to state that such a woman as Mrs. Dagget was an
exceedingly useful member of frontier society. Several times she and her
husband had been the leading spirits in starting new settlements far in
advance of the main stream of immigration: after the courage and experience
of Mr. and Mrs. D. had helped on the infant settlement for a season, the
restless spirit of adventure would seize them, and selling out, they would
push on further west.
Miss Jane Dagget was a girl after her father's and mother's own heart, and
was their constant companion in their expeditions and journeys over prairie
The party started in June from Omaha, and journeyed along the north bank of
the Platte river as far as the North Fork of that stream. They were
well-mounted on blooded horses, furnished by Col. Ansley, and were followed
by four pack-mules with such baggage as the party needed, under the care of
the half-breed guides.
Two weeks sufficed to locate the ranch, after which they pursued their way
along the North Platte, as far as Fort Laramie, intending from that post to
advance northward to strike the North Fork of the Cheyenne, and following
that stream to the Missouri river, there take the steamboat back to Omaha.
This diversion in their proposed route was made at the suggestion of Col.
Ansley, who was a keen and daring sportsman, and wished to add a fight with
grizzlies to his répertoire of hunting adventures.
The first day's journey, after leaving Fort Laramie, was barren of
incident. Pursuing their route due-north over a rolling and well-grassed
country, interspersed with sandy stretches, they reached, on the evening of
the second day, some low hills, covered with thickets and small trees,
between which ran valleys thickly carpeted with grass. Here they were
preparing their camp, when one of the half-breeds cried out, "Voila
The whole party turned their eyes, and saw, sure enough, an enormous
mouse-colored grizzly sitting on his haunches beside a tree, regarding them
with strong marks of curiosity.
The half-breeds straightway began to prepare for action, after the
California fashion, that is to say, they coiled their "lariats," and rode
slowly up to the brute, who stood his ground, only edging up until his
flank nearly rested against the tree, a stout sapling some four inches in
The rest of the party stood ready with their rifles, not excepting even the
ladies. The horses snorted and trembled, while their hearts beat so loudly
that the riders could plainly hear them.
Meanwhile François, one of the half-breeds, had let slip his lasso, which
fell squarely over the head of the grizzly; then drawing it "taut," he kept
it so while he slowly walked his horse around the tree, binding the grizzly
firmly to it.
The whole party now advanced with rifles poised, ready to give the coup
de gráce to his bearship; when, with a thundering growl, another
"grizzly" came shambling swiftly out from the bushes, and made directly for
François. Before the party recovered from their surprise at this new
appearance on the scene, the brute reared up and seized François by the
leg, which he crunched and shattered.
Only one of the party dared to fire, for fear of wounding the guide; that
one was Mrs. Dagget, who, poising her carbine, would have sent a ball
through the monster's heart but for a sudden start of her high-mettled
horse. As it was, her shot only wounded the beast, which immediately left
François and dashed at our heroine, who drew a navy-revolver from her
holsters, gave the infuriated animal two more shots, and then wheeled her
horse and galloped away, making a circuit as she rode, so as to reach the
other side of the tree from which the first grizzly had now disengaged
himself, and attacking Michael, the remaining guide, had broken his horse's
leg with a blow of his paw; the horse fell, and Michael's arm was
fractured, and the bear then dashing at Col. Ansley and Mr. Dagget, put
them to flight, together with Miss Dagget. The Colonel's horse, stumbling,
threw his rider, and leaving him with a dislocated shoulder, galloped away
across the plain.
Mr. Dagget and his daughter quickly dismounted, and led the Colonel,
groaning, to a thicket, where they placed him in concealment, and then
returned to the combat. Mrs. Dagget meanwhile, having diverted both the
grizzlies by repeated shots from her revolver, also drew them after her,
away from the unfortunate half-breeds, who lay with shattered limbs on the
ground where they had first fallen. By skillfully manoeuvring her horse,
she had been completely successful in drawing her antagonists some forty
rods away. But although she had emptied her revolvers, making every shot
tell in the bodies of the grizzlies, and the blood was streaming from their
huge forms, they showed no abatement in their strength and ferocity, and it
was with an indescribable feeling of relief that she saw her husband and
daughter now advancing to her own rescue. This feeling was, however,
blended with a wife's and mother's fears lest her beloved husband and
daughter should take harm from the savage monsters.
Mr. Dagget and his daughter, having carefully reloaded their rifles, had
now crept up cautiously behind, and watching their opportunity, had planted
a ball squarely in each of the bears, just behind their fore-shoulders.
This appeared to be the finishing stroke, and the brutes stretched
themselves on the plain—to all appearance lifeless.
François and Michael were then placed in as comfortable a position as
possible; the Colonel was brought out of the thicket; the mules and stray
horses were brought back to camp; and then a consultation was held between
the Daggets as to what should be done for the sufferers. Refreshment was
given them; some attempts at rude surgery were made in the way of bandaging
and setting the broken limbs and dislocated shoulders. It was sixty miles
to Fort Laramie; the night was on them, and the best course seemed to be to
rest their jaded steeds and start for a surgeon early in the morning.
This course would have been pursued, but for another disaster, which
occurred just as they were preparing to rest for the night. Mr. Dagget,
from pure curiosity, was prompted to examine the carcasses of the bears. He
noticed that one of them had dragged itself some distance from where it
fell towards a thicket, but lay on its side as if dead. With a hunter's
curiosity, he lifted one of its forepaws to examine the position of the
death-wound, when the brute rose with a terrific growl and struck Mr.
Dagget's arm with its paw, breaking it like a pipe-stem, and then, rolling
over, groaned away its life, which it had thus far clung to with such fatal
This was too much for the equanimity of Mrs. Dagget. The moans of the
guides, with broken limbs, which had already swelled to a frightful size,
and the pain which Col. Ansley and her husband strove in vain to conceal,
were too harrowing to her woman's nature to permit her to rest quietly in
camp that night. She was not long in adopting the seemingly desperate
resolution of riding to the Fort and bringing back a nurse and surgeon.
Whispering to her daughter, she informed her of her determination, and
quickly saddling the swiftest and freshest of the horses, she led him
softly out from the camp, and, mounting, set her face southward, and
touched the horse lightly with the whip. The generous beast seemed, by
instinct, to understand his rider's errand, and bounded over the wild plain
with a kind of cheerful alacrity that rendered unnecessary any further
The sky was overcast, so that she had no stars to guide her course, and was
obliged to guess the route which the party had followed from the Fort.
By-and-by she struck a trail, which she thought she recognized as the one
over which they had come after leaving the Platte River. For four hours she
rode forward, the horse not flagging in his steady gallop. According to her
calculations, she must have made forty miles of her journey, and she was
anticipating that by the break of day she would have made the Fort, when,
turning her eyes upward to the left, she saw—through the clouds that had
rifted for the first time—the great dipper, and knew at once that instead
of riding southward, she had been riding eastward, and must be now at least
seventy miles from the Fort, instead of being within twenty miles of it, as
she had supposed.
Her horse began to show symptoms of fatigue. She slowed him to a walk as
she turned his head to the southwest, and pursued her course sluggishly
across the plains. Erelong the blackness of night faded into gray, and then
came twilight streaks, which showed her the dreary country she was passing
through. It was a vast sandy plain, thinly dotted with sage-bush and other
stunted shrubs. The sun rose bright and hot, and, until ten o'clock, she
pursued her way not faster than two miles an hour. Her horse now gave out,
and refused to move a step. She dismounted and sat down on the sand beside
a sage-bush, which partially sheltered her from the sun's rays.
We continue our narrative with Mrs. Dagget's own account of her perilous
"For nearly two hours I sat on the ground, while my poor horse feebly
staggered from bush to bush, and nibbled at the stunted herbage. I then
remounted him and pursued my way, at a snail's pace, towards the Fort. The
most serious apprehension I entertained at this moment was that of
sun-stroke, as my head was only shielded from the rays by a white
handkerchief; my hat had blown off in the conflict with the bears, and, in
my distress and anxiety to start for assistance, I had not stopped to look
for it. I felt no hunger, but a little after noon, when the burning heat of
the sun was reflected with double violence from the hot sand, and the
distant ridges of the hills, seen through the ascending vapor, seemed to
wave and fluctuate like the unsettled sea, I became faint with thirst, and
climbed a tree in hopes of seeing distant smoke or other appearance of a
human habitation. But in vain; nothing appeared all around but thick
underwood and hillocks of white sand.
"My thirst by this time became insufferable; my mouth was parched and
inflamed; a sudden dimness would frequently come over my eyes with other
symptoms of fainting; and my horse, being barely able to walk, I began
seriously to apprehend that I should perish of thirst. To relieve the
burning pain in my mouth or throat, I chewed the leaves of different
shrubs, but found them all bitter, and of no real service to me.
"A little before sunset, having reached the top of a gentle rising, I
climbed a high tree, from the topmost branches of which I cast a melancholy
look over the barren wilderness, but without discovering the most distant
trace of a human dwelling. The same dismal uniformity of shrubs and sand
everywhere presented itself, and the horizon was as level and uninterrupted
as that of the sea.
"Descending from the tree, I found my horse devouring the stubble and
brushwood with great avidity, and as I was now too faint to attempt
walking, and my horse too fatigued to carry me, I thought it but an act of
humanity, and perhaps the last I should ever have it in my power to
perform, to take off his bridle and let him shift for himself; in doing
which I was suddenly affected with sickness and giddiness, and falling upon
the sand, I felt as if the hour of death was fast approaching.
"'Here then,' thought I, after a short but ineffectual struggle,
'terminates all my hopes of being useful in my day and generation; here
must the short span of my life come to an end!' I cast (as I believed) a
last look on the surrounding scene, and whilst I reflected on the awful
change that was to take place, this world with its enjoyments seemed to
vanish from my recollection. Nature, however, at length resumed its
functions; and on recovering my senses, I found myself stretched upon the
sand, with the bridle still in my hand, and the sun just sinking behind the
trees. I now summoned all my resolution, and determined to make another
effort to prolong my existence. And as the evening was somewhat cool, I
resolved to travel as far as my limbs would carry me, in hopes of reaching
(my only resource) a watering place.
"With this view, I put the bridle on my horse, and driving him before me,
went slowly along for about an hour, when I perceived some lightning from
the northeast; a most delightful sight; for it promised rain. The darkness
and lightning increased rapidly; and in less than an hour I heard the wind
roaring among the bushes. I had already opened my mouth to receive the
refreshing drops which I expected; but I was instantly covered with a cloud
of sand, driven with such force by the wind as to give a very disagreeable
sensation to my face and arms; and I was obliged to mount my horse and stop
under a bush, to prevent being suffocated. The sand continued to fly in
amazing quantities for near an hour; after which I again set forward, and
traveled with difficulty, until ten o'clock. About this time, I was
agreeably surprised by some very vivid flashes of lightning, followed by a
few heavy drops of rain.
"In a little time the sand ceased to fly, and I alighted and spread out all
my clean clothes to collect the rain, which at length I saw would certainly
fall. For more than an hour it rained plentifully, and I quenched my thirst
by wringing and sucking my clothes. A few moments after I fell into a
profound slumber, in spite of the rain which now fell in torrents.
"The sky was clear and the sun was well up when I woke: drenched to the
skin I rose as soon as my stiffened limbs would permit, and cast a look at
the southern horizon. A line of black dots was distinctly visible, slowly
moving westward. Mounting my horse, which was now freshened by his rest and
the scanty provender which he had gathered in the night, I pushed on and
succeeded in overtaking the party which was a detachment of United States
cavalry. Before night we reached the Fort, and early next morning I
accompanied a surgeon and two attendants, with an ambulance, to the camp
where we found all as we had left them, and overjoyed at my return. When
the fractures had been reduced, and Col. Ansley's shoulder put into place,
the whole party were brought back to the Fort, quite content to wait awhile
before engaging again in a 'grizzly-bear hunt.'"
The strength of nerve and fortitude which maternal love will inspire, is
brilliantly illustrated by the story of an adventure with an American lion
which happened not long since in the remote territory of Wyoming.
A Mrs. Vredenbergh one night, during the absence of her husband, had
retired with her three children, to rest, in a chamber, on the first floor
of the cabin where she lived, when an enormous mountain-lion leaped into
the room through an open window placed at some distance from the ground for
purposes of ventilation. The brute after entering the apartment whined and
shook itself, and then lay down upon the floor in a watchful attitude with
its eyes fixed upon the bed where lay Mrs. V., almost paralyzed with fright
at this dangerous visitor. Her children were her first thought. Two of them
were in a cot beyond the bed, where she lay; the third, an infant of six
months, was reposing in its mother's arms.
Mrs. Vredenbergh remembered in an instant that perfect silence and
stillness might prevent the brute from springing upon them; and accordingly
she suppressed every breath and motion on her own part, while her children
luckily were sleeping so profoundly that their breathing could not be
heard. After a few minutes the monster began to relax the steady glare of
his great green orbs, and winked lazily, purring loudly as though in good
humor. The first powerful impulse to scream and fly to the adjoining
apartment having been repressed, the matron's heart became calmer and her
mind employed itself in devising a thousand plans for saving herself and
her children. Her husband's gun hung loaded above the head of the bed, but
it could not be reached without rising; if she woke her children she feared
her action in so doing or the noise they would make would bring the monster
upon them. She had heard that the mountain-lion could not attack human
beings when his hunger had been appeased, and from a noise she had heard in
the cow-house just after retiring, she surmised that the brute had made a
raid upon the cattle and glutted himself; this conjecture received
confirmation from the placidity of the animal's demeanor. Resting upon this
theory she finally maintained her original policy of perfect stillness,
trusting that her husband would soon return. Her greatest fear now was that
the infant might wake and cry, for she was well aware that the ferocity of
the mountain-lion is roused by nothing so quickly as the cry of a child.
A full hour passed in this manner. The moon was at its full, and from her
position on the couch, Mrs. Vredenbergh could, without turning her head,
see every motion of the creature. It lay with its head between its forepaws
in the posture assumed by the domestic cat when in a state of
semi-watchfulness, approaching to a doze. The senses of the matron were
strung to an almost painful acuteness. The moonlight streaming in at the
window was to her eyes like the glare of the sun at noonday: the ticking of
the clock on the wall fell on her ears, each tick like a sharply pointed
hammer seeming to bruise the nerve. A keen thrill ran like a knife through
her tense frame when the infant stirred and moaned in his sleep. The lion
roused himself in an instant, and fixing his eyes upon the bed came towards
it arching his back and yawning. He rubbed himself against the bedstead and
stood for a moment so near that Mrs. V. could have touched him with her
hand, then turned back and commenced pacing up and down the room. The
infant fortunately ceased its moaning and sighing gently fell back into its
slumbers; and again the beast, purring and winking, lay down and resumed
its former position.
The quick tread of the lady's husband at this moment was heard; as he put
his hand upon the latch to enter, Mrs. V. could contain herself no longer,
and uttered a series of loud shrieks. The lion, rising, bounded over the
head of Mr. Vredenbergh as he entered the cabin, and disappeared in the
The safety of the family consisted partly perhaps in the fact that the
intruder before entering the house had satiated his appetite by gorging
himself upon a calf, the remains of which were next day discovered in the
cow-house; but the preservation of herself and children was also due to the
self-control with which Mrs. Vredenbergh maintained herself in that trying
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