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The Canny Cayuse
The white man made certain his imported thoroughbred could outrun the red man’s pony, but the Indian chief was wise in the gambler’s ways
April 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 3
The manner of betting at an Indian horse race differs somewhat from allairs of the kind among white men. One man is selected as a stakeholder for all the money bets. Horses that arc wagered arc tied together and put in the care of Indian boys. Other stakes—coats, blankets, saddles, pistols, knives, and all kinds of personal effects—are thrown into a common heap and tied together.
As the starting hour approaches, two judges are elected—one white man and one Indian. (Two are required, since the horses run out, turn the stake, and come back to the starting point.) The first horse to get home is the winner. No account is made of the start, each rider depending on his shrewdness to get the advantage in this part of the race.
Indians are enthusiastic gamblers, with a certain kind of pride and, to do them justice, honor as well in conducting their races. No disputes, either about the starting or the outcome, ever arise among themselves, and seldom with white men. They take sides with their own people always and bet, when the chances are against them, from pride. The prevailing idea that they are always cool and stoical is not correct. They become very excited at horse races, but not, generally, until the race begins. While the preliminaries are being arranged they are serious, even solemnlooking fellows, and with great dignity come up with the money to bet.
Capable of dissembling, I should think they were, from the cool face of How-lish-wam-po when the money was being counted out by the hundreds in twenty-dollar gold pieces—not a few, but handfuls of twenties. One could not have detected the slightest twinkle in his eye or any other sign that he knew that Joe Crabb had stolen his horse and run him secretly. Cool, calm, earnest as if he were saying mass, this chieftain came up and handed over his money to the stake-holder, while numerous bets were being arranged between the other Indians and white men. Horses were wagered, tied together, and led away. Many a fellow had brought extras with him for the express purpose of gambling, expecting, of course, to take home twice the number in the evening.
Crabb had confided the secret of his stolen run to a few friends, advising them to place bets and win all the horses they wanted. There was no danger; he knew what he was talking about. He knew the Indian horse’s speed by time and also by trial. This thing leaked out, and was communicated from one to another. Some pretty good men who were not accustomed to betting became anxious to win a pony or two and laid wagers with the Indians.
When someone told How-lish-wam-po about the trick Crabb had played, he and his people seemed anxious to have the race come off before more betting was done. This made the white men more anxious, and they urged, boasted, and ridiculed until, in manifest desperation, the Indians began to bet again; the noble white man generously took advantage of the Indian’s hot blood and forced him to make many bets that he appeared to shun.
The horses were brought out to start, and while Crabb’s imported horse looked every inch a racer, the Indian horse stood with head down, a rough-haired, uncouth brute that appeared to be a cross between ox and horse.
The presence and appearance of the horses was the signal for another charge on the Indians and their few white friends, who, having learned about Crabb’s trick from the chief, came in sympathy to the Indians’ rescue.
Money, coats, hats, saddles, pistols, pocket knives, cattle, horses, and all kinds of property were staked on the race. The Indians, in their apparent desperation, drove up another band of ponies, and in madness wagered them also.
When the final starting time came, a pure-minded, innocent man would have felt great pity for the poor, dejected-looking Indians at the sight of their faces, now so full of anxiety; and certainly the pinto, on which they had staked so much, did not promise any hope; he stood unconcerned while his competitor was stripped of his blanket, disclosing a nice little jockey saddle and silver-mounted bridle.
His whole bearing indicated his superiority. With his thin nostrils, pointed ears, arched neck, sleek coat, and polished limbs that touched the ground with burnished steel, he disdained to stand still while his gayly dressed rider, in a blue cap, crimson jacket, and white pants tucked into boots embellished with silver-plated spurs, was being mounted. This required two or three experts to assist, so restless was this fine thoroughbred to throw dirt into the eyes of his sleepy-looking rival. The Indian horse stood unmoved, uncovered, without saddle, bridle, or anything save a small hair rope on his lower jaw; his mane and tail were unkempt, his coat rough and ill-looking.
At his right side stood a little Indian boy, with head close shaved and a blanket around him. To all appearances he was unconscious that anything unusual was expected. Meanwhile, the other rider’s horse was making furious plunges to get away.
How-lish-wam-po was in no hurry, really; indeed, things were going very much to his satisfaction. He was willing to see the other man’s horse chafe and fret—the more the better; and he cared nothing for the sponge that was used to moisten the mouth of the great racer.
Look away down the long line of white men and Indians; and on the low hills above see the crowd eager to witness the first jump!
The chief gives a quiet signal to the Indian boy. The blanket drops from the boy’s shoulders, and the yellow-skinned, gaunt-looking sprite bestrides the Indian horse, holding in his left hand the hair rope that is to serve him for a bridle and in his right a small bundle of dried willows.