A Dakota Boyhood


On one of my visits, as we were going by the house I noticed that there were some cattle in the yard. One of them turned around. It had a board over its face. It was my netnesis the bull. When he saw me he wheeled like a flash and came for me. Without the slightest hesitation I went up the sloping roof of the house like a wreath of mist and stayed there until the bull was out of the way. For some reason lie never bothered the Bohemian children. I still believe it would have been only a matter of time until he turned on them. That bull was not to be trusted.

Finally he decided to tear down Uncle Gene’s house. It was not very big. He came raging into the yard and began charging against it. Then he went into my aunt’s favorite flower bed bellowing und snorting. We watched him from the windows as my aunt’s flowers were being tossed skyward by his crazy pawing. He couldn’t see too well with the board over his head, and my uncle stepped out of the door with a gun in his hand, ready to do away with him if necessary, but hoping he wouldn’t have to, for the Bohemians were his friends. He picked up a goodsized cobblestone from the flower bed and, taking deliberate aim, threw it with all his strength. It hit squarely in the middle of the board on the bull’s head. The shock of the impact sent the bull sprawling on his knees; the board was split in two, and for the first time in several years the bull was able to see clearly. His eyes rolled from side to side showing the whites. He struggled to his feet just in time to receive another cobblestone in the ribs, and instead of attacking as expected, he decided to leave for home. Probably his mind was slightly blurred. My uncle told the Bohemian family of the ferocious efforts to tear down his house. This time the bull had gone too far, and he was killed. After that the prairie seemed a pleasanter and far safer place for me and, I am certain, for everyone else who lived near the Bohemian family.


The prairie always held me fascinated; it was serene at certain periods and tempestuous at others. In the late summer the threat of a cyclone was always in our minds. Many times when heavy storms came my mother took us into our cyclone cellar, but we never had a cyclone come straight over our ranch, although once a very vicious one cut a path through the countryside just north of us. The open prairie made it seem very near. I remember it as a huge bluish-black cloud in the northwest; beyond it the sky was bright and clear. The center of the great cloud began to whirl and lower from the main body. It kept lowering, lengthening, twisting, and bending this way and that until the black funnelshaped mass against the clear sky became very distinct. Then it moved swiftly toward the east, the funnel twisting and turning and getting nearer the earth until finally it touched and then clouds of dust rose around it. Shortly afterward it crossed the Jim River. Then the rain came, and it was lost to sight.


Stories were often told of the danger of Indians, and with such tales very much in mind, I recall how startled I Was when while fishing below a lonely cliff I suddenly noticed some moving shadows cast across the water at my feet. I looked up and there on the edge of the cliff stood seven or eight Indian braves silhouetted against the sky, some of them with bodies bare, others dressed in their buckskins. There was no evidence of their families and that frightened me. I was all alone and at least three miles from any house. Instead of coming down to where I was fishing, they silently disappeared. Where they went I didn’t know and I didn’t care to find out, but I decided I had fished long enough, got my pony, and rode home at the best possible speed. I looked closely all around me but didn’t see them again; probably they were on a hunting trip.

Certain groups of Indians were allowed to come back to the old hunting ground when they became too restless, and, as I have said, they often camped near our ranch. I liked that, for it gave me a chance to play with the Indian boys. They showed me how to make shafts for arrows out of the stalks of cattails. The stalks were so straight and true and, when tipped with a tiny flint arrowhead, evidently made for shooting birds, were very good. They would last a long time; besides, there were so many cattails that when one shaft was used up, another could be made in a few minutes.

One of the sports of the Indian boys which they taught me was the use of those arrows to shoot frogs as they stuck their heads out of the water. It was really quite a mark to try for, but the Indian boys were extraordinarily adept. I learned that Indians used the frogs for their soup pots, which always seemed to be simmering either inside or outside the flap of their tepees. Any passing person was welcome to stop and take a gourd of soup.

All Indians who came to their old hunting ground without leave would be found, and the soldiers would come and urge them to return to the reservation. In most cases it was done very amicably—they seemed satisfied after a few days of hunting.

I had so often heard people say that the poor Indians would be driven into the Pacific Ocean that one day it sparked in my mind the idea for an equestrian statue— The End of the Trail . The buffalo nickel was also the product of those early years.