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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 these marauders.

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 uninjured.

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 denouement.

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 forest-craft.

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 pig-pens.

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 disadvantage.

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 undergrowth.

This cowardly conduct of the wolves taught their fair pursuers to underestimate the ferocious nature of the beasts, as we shall hereafter see.

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 ladder.

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 trapped.

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 signifying strength.

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 following account:

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 fainting.

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 question.

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 tree.

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 far west.

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 and mountain.

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 Greezly!"

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 diameter.

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 tenacity.

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 urging.

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 adventure:—

"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 forest.

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 situation.

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