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On Wolf Mountain

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

ON the eastern slope of the Big Horn Mountains, the Mayala clan of gray wolves, they of the Steep Places, were following on the trail of a herd of elk. It was a day in late autumn. The sun had appeared for an instant, and then passed behind a bank of cold cloud. Big flakes of snow were coming down, as the lean, gray hunters threaded a long ravine, cautiously stopping at every knoll or divide to survey the outlook before continuing their uncertain pursuit.
The large Mayala wolf with his mate and their five full-grown pups had been driven away from their den on account of their depredations upon the only paleface in the Big Horn valley. It is true that, from their stand -point, he had no right to encroach upon their hunting-grounds.
For three days they had been trailing over the Big Horn Mountains, moving southeast towards Tongue River, where they believed that no man would come to disturb them. They had passed through a country full of game, but, being conscious of the pursuit of the sheepman and his party on their trail, they had not ventured to make an open hunt, nor were they stopping anywhere long enough to seek big game with success. Only an occasional rabbit or grouse had furnished them with a scanty meal.
From the Black Canon, the outlet of the Big Horn River, there unfolds a beautiful valley. Here the wild man's ponies were scattered all along the river-bottoms. In a sheltered spot his egg-shaped teepees were ranged in circular form. The Mayala family deliberately sat upon their haunches at the head of the cauon and watched the people moving, antlikc, among the lodges.
Manitoo, the largest of the five pups, was a famous runner and hunter already. He whimpered at sight of the frail homes of the wild man, and would fain have gotten to the gulches again.
The old wolf rebuked his timidity with a low growl. He had hunted many a time with one of these Red hunters as guide and companion. More than this, he knew that they often kill many buffalo and elk in one hunting, and leave much meat upon the plains for the wolf people. They respect his medicine and he respects theirs. It is quite another kind of man who is their enemy.
Plainly there was an unusual commotion in the Sioux village. Ponies were brought in, and presently all the men rode out in a southerly direction.
"Woo-o-o!" was the long howl of the old wolf. It sounded almost like a cry of joy.
"It is the buffalo-hunt! We must run to the south and watch until the hunt is ended."
Away they went, travelling in pairs and at some distance apart, for the sake of better precaution. On the south side of the mountain they stood in a row, watching hungrily the hunt of the Red men.
There was, indeed, a great herd of buffalo grazing upon the river plain surrounded by foot-hills. The hunters showed their heads on three sides of the herd, the fourth side rising abruptly to the sheer ascent of the mountain.
Now there arose in the distance a hoarse shout from hundreds of throats in unison. The trained ponies of the Indians charged upon the herd, just as the wolves them- selves had sometimes banded together for the attack in better days of their people. It was not greatly different from the first onset upon the enemy in battle. Yelling and brandishing their weapons, the Sioux converged upon the unsuspecting buffalo, who fled blindly in the only direction open to them -- straight toward the inaccessible steep !

In a breath, men and shaggy beasts were mixed in struggling confusion. Many arrows sped to their mark and dead buffalo lay scattered over the plain like big, black mounds, while the panic-stricken survivors fled down the valley of the Big Horn. In a little while the successful hunters departed with as much meat as their ponies could carry.
No sooner were they out of sight than the old wolf gave a feast-call. "Woo-o-o! woo, woo, woo!" He was sure that they had left enough meat for all the wolf people within hearing distance. Then away they all went for the hunting-ground not in regular order, as before, but each one running at his best speed. They had not gone far down the slope before they saw others coming from other hills - - their gray tribesmen of the rocks and plains.
The Mayala family came first to two large cows killed near together. There is no doubt that they were hungry, but the smell of man offends all of the animal kind. They had to pause at a distance of a few paces, as if to make sure that there would be no trick played on them. The old Mayala chief knew that the man with hair on his face has many tricks. He has a black, iron ring that is hidden under earth or snow to entrap the wolf people, and sometimes he puts medicine on the meat that tortures and kills them. Although they had seen these buffalo fall before their brothers, the wild Red men, they instinctively hesitated before taking the meat. But in the mean time there were others who came very hungry and who were, apparently, less scrupulous, for they immediately took hold of it, so that the Mayala people had to hurry to get their share.
In a short time all the meat left from the wild men's hunt had disappeared, and the wolves began grinding the soft and spongy portions of the hones. The old ones were satisfied and lay down, while the young ones, like young folks of any race, sat up pertly and gossipped or squabbled until it was time to go home.
Suddenly they all heard a distant calla gathering call. "Woo-oo-oo!" After a few minutes it came again. Every gray wolf within hearing obeyed the summons without hesitation.
Away up in the secret recesses of the Big Horn Mountains they all came by tens and hundreds to the war-meeting of the wolves. The Mayala chief and his young warriors arrived at the spot in good season. Manitoo was eager to know the reason of this great council. He was young, and had never be- fore seen such a gathering of his people.
A gaunt old wolf, with only one eye and an immensely long nose, occupied the place of honor. No human ear heard the speech of the chieftain, but we can guess what he had to say. Doubtless he spoke in defence of his country, the home of his race and that of the Red man, whom he regarded with toleration. It was altogether different with that hairy-faced man who had lately come among them to lay waste the forests and tear up the very earth about his dwelling, while his creatures devoured the herbage of the plain. It would not be strange if war were declared upon the intruder.
"Woo! woo! woo!" The word of assent came forth from the throats of all who heard the command at that wild council among the piled-up rocks, in the shivering dusk of a November evening.
The northeast wind came with a vengeance every gust swayed and bent even the mighty pines of the mountains. Soon the land became white with snow. The air was full of biting cold, and there was an awfulness about the night.
The sheepman at his lonely ranch had little warning of the storm, and he did not get half of his cows in the corral. As for the sheep, he had already rounded them up before the blizzard set in.

"My steers, I reckon, '11 find plenty of warm places for shelter," he remarked to his man. ' I kinder expect that some of my cows 'll suffer ; but the worst of it is the wolves -confound them ! The brutes been howling last night and again this cvenin' from pretty nigh every hill-top. They do say, too, as that's a sure sign of storm!"
The long log-cabin creaked dismally under the blast, and the windward windows were soon coated with snow.
' What's that, Jake ? Sounds like a lamb bleating," the worried rancher continued.
Jake forcibly pushed open the rude door and listened attentively.
' There is some trouble at the sheep-sheds, but I can't tell just what 'tis. May be only the wind rattling the loose boards," he suggested, uncertainly.
' I expect a grizzly has got in among the sheep, but I'll show him that he is at the wrong door," exclaimed Hank Simmons, with grim determination. "Get your rifle, Jake, and we'll teach whoever or whatever it may be that we are able to take care of our stock in night and storm as well as in fair weather !' '
He pushed the door open and gazed out into the darkness in his turn, but he could not see a foot over the threshold. A terrific gust of wind carried a pall of snow into the farthest corner of the cabin. But Hank was a determined fellow, and not afraid of hardship. He would spend a night in the sod stable to watch the coming of a calf, rather than run even a small chance of losing it.
Both men got into their cowhide over- coats and pulled their caps well down over their ears. Rifle in hand, they proceeded towards the sheep-corral in single file, Jake carrying the lantern. The lambs were bleating frantically, and as they approached the premises they discovered that most of the sheep were outside.
"Keep your finger on the trigger, Jake! All the wolves in the Big Horn Mountains are here!" exclaimed Hank, who was a few paces in advance.
Had they been inexperienced men - - but they were not. They were both men of nerve. "Bang! bang!" came from two rifles, through the frosty air and blinding snow.
But the voice of the guns did not have the demoralizing effect upon which they had counted. Their assailants scarcely heard the reports for the roar of the storm. Undaunted by the dim glow of the lantern, they banded together for a fresh attack. The growling, snarling, and gnashing of teeth of hundreds of great gray wolves at close quarters were enough to dismay even Hank Simmons, who had seen more than one Indian fight and hair-breadth adventure.
"Bang! bang!" they kept on firing off their pieces, now and then swinging the guns in front of them to stay the mad rush of the wild army. The lantern - light revealed the glitter of a hundred pairs of fierce' eyes and shining rows of pointed teeth.
Hank noticed a lean, gray wolf with one eye and an immense head who was fore- most in the attack. Almost abreast of him was a young wolf, whose great size and bristling hair gave him an air of ferocity.
" Hold hard, Jake, or they'll pick our bones yet!" Hank exclaimed, and the pair began to retreat. They found it all they could do to keep off the wolves, and the faithful collie who had fought beside them was caught and dragged into darkness. At last Hank pushed the door open and both men tumbled backward into the cabin.

"Shoot! shoot! They have got me!" yelled Jake. The other snatched a blazing ember from the mud chimney and struck the leading wolf dead partly within the hut.
"Gol darn them!" ejaculated Jake, as he scrambled to his feet. "That young wolf is a good one for fighting he almost jerked my right leg off!"
' Well, I'll be darned, Jake, if they haven't taken one of your boots for a trophy, ' ' Hank remarked, as he wiped the sweat from his brows, after kicking out the dead wolf and securely barring the door. 'This is the closest call I've had yet! I calculate to stand off the Injuns most any time, but these here wolves have no respect for my good rifle!"
Wazeyah, the god of storm, and the wild mob reigned outside the cabin, while the two pioneer stockmen barricaded themselves within, and with many curses left the sheep to their fate.
The attack had stampeded the flock so that they broke through the corral. What the assailants did not kill the storm destroyed. On the plateau in front of Mayaska the wolves gathered, bringing lambs, and here Manitoo put down Jake's heavy cowhide boot, for it was he who fought side by side with the one-eyed leader.
He was immediately surrounded by the others, who examined what he had brought. It was clear that Manitoo had distinguished himself, for he had stood by the leader until lie fell, and secured, besides, the only trophy
of the fight.
Now they all gave the last war-cry together. It was the greatest wolf-cry that had been heard for many years upon those mountains. Before daybreak, according to custom, the clans separated, believing that they had effectually destroyed the business of the hairy-faced intruder, and expecting by instant flight to elude his vengeance.
On the day before the attack upon the ranch, an Indian from the camp in the valley had been appointed to scout the mountains for game. He was a daring scout, and was already far up the side of the peak which overhung the Black Canon when he noticed the air growing heavy and turned his pony's head towards camp. He urged him on, but the pony was tired, and, suddenly, a blinding storm came sweeping over the mountain- side.
The Indian did not attempt to guide his intelligent beast. He merely fastened the lariat securely to his saddle and followed behind on foot, holding to the animal's tail. He could not see, but soon he felt the pony lead him down a hill. At the bottom it was warm, and the wind did not blow much there. The Indian took the saddle off and placed it in a wash-out which was almost dry. He wrapped himself in his blanket and lay down . For a long time he could feel and hear the foot-falls of his pony just above him, but at last he fell asleep.
In the morning the sun shone and the wind had subsided. The scout started for camp, knowing only the general direction, but in his windings he came by accident upon the secret place, a sort of natural cave, where the wolves had held their war meeting. The signs of such a meeting were clear to him, and explained the unusual number of wolf-tracks which he had noticed in this region on the day before. Farther down was the plateau, or wopata, where he found the carcasses of many sheep, and there lay Jake's boot upon the bloody and trampled snow !

When he reached the camp and reported these signs to his people, they received the news with satisfaction.
"The paleface," said they, "has no rights in this region. It is against our interest to allow him to come here, and our brother of the wandering foot well knows it for a men- ace to his race. He has declared war upon the sheepman, and it is good. Let us sing war-songs for the success of our brother!" The Sioux immediately despatched runners to learn the exact state of affairs upon Hank Simmons's ranch.
In the mean time the ruined sheepman had made his way to the nearest army post, which stood upon a level plateau in front of Hog's Back Mountain.
"Hello, Hank, what's the matter now?" quoth the sutler. ' You look uncommonly serious this morning. Arc the Injuns on your trail again”?
"No, but it's worse this time. The gray wolves of the Big Horn Mountains attacked my place last night and pretty near wiped us out! Every sheep is dead. They even carried off Jake Hansen's boot, and he came within one of being eaten alive. We used up every cartridge in our belts, and the bloody brutes never noticed them no more than if they were pebbles! I'm afraid the post can't help me this time," he concluded, with a deep sigh.
"Oh, the devil! You don't mean it," exclaimed the other. ' Well, I told you before to take out all the strychnine you could get hold of. We have got to rid the country of the Injuns and gray wolves before civilization will stick in this region!"
Manitoo had lost one of his brothers in the great fight, and another was badly hurt. When the war-party broke up, Manitoo lingered behind to look for his wounded brother. For the first day or two he would occasionally meet one of his relations, but as the clan started southeast towards Wolf Mountain, he was left far behind.
When he had found his brother lying helpless a little way from the last gathering of the wolf people, he licked much of the blood from his coat and urged him to rise and seek a safer place. The wounded gray with difficulty got upon his feet and followed at some distance, so that in case of danger the other could give the signal in time.
Manitoo ran nimbly along the side gulches until he found a small cave. ' Here you may stay. I will go hunting," he said, as plain as signs can speak.
It was not difficult to find meat, and a part of Hank's mutton was brought to the cave. In the morning Manitoo got up early and stretched himself. His brother did not offer to move. At last he made a feeble motion with his head, opened his eyes and looked directly at him for a moment, then closed them for the last time. A tremor passed through the body of the warrior gray, and he was still. Manitoo touched his nose gently, but there was no breath there. It was time for him to go.
When he came out of the death-cave on Plum Creek, Manitoo struck out at once for the Wolf Mountain region. His instinct told him to seek a refuge as far as possible from the place of death. As he made his way over the divide he saw no recent sign of man or of his own kinsfolk. Nevertheless, he had lingered too long for safety. The soldiers at the post had come to the aid of the sheepman, and they were hot on his trail. Perhaps his senses were less alert than usual that morning, for when he discovered the truth it was almost too late.

A long line of hairy-faced men, riding big horses and armed with rifles, galloped down the valley.
'There goes one of the gray devils!" shouted a corporal.
In another breath the awful weapons talked over his head, and Manitoo was running at top speed through a hail of bullets. It was a chase to kill, and for him a run for his life. His only chance lay in reaching the bad places. He had but two hundred paces' start. Men and dogs were gaining on him when at last he struck a deep gulch. He dodged the men around the banks, and their dogs were not experts in that kind of country.
The Sioux runners in the mean time had appeared upon a neighboring butte, and the soldiers, taking them for a war-party, had given up the chase and returned to the post. So, perhaps, after all, his brothers, the wild hunters, had saved Manitoo's life.
During the next few days the young wolf proceeded with caution, and had finally crossed the divide without meeting either friend or foe. He was now, in truth, an out- cast and a wanderer. He hunted as best he could with very little success, and grew leaner and hungrier than he had ever been before in his life. Winter was closing in with all its savage rigor, and again night and storm shut down over Wolf Mountain.
The tall pines on the hill-side sighed and moaned as a new gust of wind swept over them. The snow came faster and faster. Manitoo had now and again to change his position, where he stood huddled up under an overarching cliff. He shook and shook to free himself from the snow and icicles that clung to his long hair.
He had been following several black-tail deer into a gulch when the storm overtook him, and he sought out a spot which was somewhat protected from the wind. It was a steep place facing southward, well up on the side of Wolf Mountain.
Buffalo were plenty then, but as Manitoo was alone he had been unable to get meat. These great beasts are dangerous fighters when wounded, and unless he had some help it would be risking too much to tackle one openly. A band of wolves will attack a herd when very hungry, but as the buffalo then make a fence of themselves, the bulls facing outward, and keep the little ones inside, it is only by tiring them out and stampeding the herd that it is possible to secure one.
Still the wind blew and the snow fell fast. The pine-trees looked like wild men wrapped in their robes, and the larger ones might have passed for their cone-shaped lodges. Mani- too did not feel cold, but he was soon covered so completely that no eye of any of the wild tribes of that region could have distinguished him from a snow-clad rock or mound.
It is true that no good hunter of his tribe would willingly remain idle on such a day as that, for the prey is weakest and most easily conquered on a stormy day. But the long journey from his old home had somewhat disheartened Manitoo; he was weak from lack of food, and, more than all, depressed by a sense of his loneliness. He is as keen for the companionship of his kind as his brother the Indian, and now he longed with a great longing for a sight of the other members of the Mayala clan. Still he stood there motionless, only now and then sniffing the unsteady air, with the hope of discovering some passer-by.

Suddenly out of the gray fog and frost something emerged. Manitoo was hidden perfectly, but at that moment he detected with joy the smell of one of his own people. He sat up on his haunches awaiting the new- comer, and even gave a playful growl by way of friendly greeting.
The stranger stopped short as if frozen in her tracks, and Manitoo perceived a lovely maid of his tribe, robed in beautiful white snow over her gray coat. She understood the sign language of the handsome young man, with as nice a pair of eyes as she had ever seen in one of the wolf kind. She gave  a yelp of glad surprise and sprang aside a pace or two.
Manitoo forgot his hunger and loneliness. He forgot even the hairy-faced men with the talking weapons. He lifted his splendid, bushy tail in a rollicking manner and stepped up to her. She raised her beautiful tail coquettishly and again leaped sidewise with affected timidity.
Manitoo now threw his head back to sniff the wind, and all the hair of his back rose up in a perpendicular brush. Under other circumstances this would be construed as a sign of great irritation, but this time it indicated the height of joy.
The wild courtship was brief. Soon both were satisfied and stood face to face, both with plumy tail erect and cocked head. Manitoo teasingly raised one of his forepaws. They did not know how long they stood there, and no one else can tell. The storm troubled them not at all, and all at once they discovered that the sun was shining!
If any had chanced to be near the Antelope's Leap at that moment, he would have seen a beautiful sight. The cliff formed by the abrupt ending of a little gulch was laced with stately pines, all clad in a heavy garment of snow. They stood like shapes of beauty robed in white and jewels, all fired by the sudden bursting forth of the after- noon sun.
The wolf maiden was beautiful ! Her robe was fringed with icicles which shone brilliant- ly as she stood there a bride. The last gust of wind was like the distant dying away of the wedding march, and the murmuring pines said Amen.
It was not heard by human ear, but according to the customs of the gray wolf clan it was then and there Manitoo promised to protect and hunt for his mate during their lifetime.



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