June 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 4
A search for a desecrated corpse, an encounter with a 900-pound bear, and a night of terror in Montana, 1879.
When in 1879 Andrew Garcia, a young Spanish-American trader, proposed to the eighteen-year-old Nez Perce girl ln-who-lise, he made her two promises: that they would be married properly, by a priest, and that he would lake her to find the graves of her father and sister. These relatives had been killed two years earlier in the Battle of the Big Hole, near present-day Wisdom, Montana, during the last rout of the Nez Perce Indians (see “The Last Stand of Chief Joseph” in the February, 1958, AMERICAN HERITAGE). In-who-lise’s sister had been shot to death as she ran out of their tepee, and her father had died two days later of a stomach wound, ln-who-lise was obsessed with finding their graves, for according to Nez Perce belief, the spirit of a dead person not properly buried would wander in eternal misery.
In-who-lise herself had been shot through the shoulder and clubbed in the face by a soldier’s gun as she attempted to escape. The wound healed, but one of her front teeth had been broken off by the butt of the rifle; the Pend d’Oreille Indians who took her in named her ln-who-lise, or “Broken Tooth.”
That Garcia, who was then about twenty-four, genuinely loved his Indian bride is demonstrated in this picaresque, tender, utterly ingenuous account written almost forty years later, ln-who-lise died before she was twenty, and Garcia later married three more times; but when as an old man he wrote his memoirs, what he chose to record was his early years among the Indians, and his courtship and brief marriage to the appealing Nez Perce maiden. Bennett H. Stein found the manuscript, stored in old dynamite boxes, in 1948, five years after Garcia's death in Missoula, Montana. Mr. Stein has reorganized and punctuated it, but the words themselves are Garcia’s. The following article is an excerpt from the memoir, which will be published in August by Houghton Mifflin Company under the title Tough Trip Through Paradise. Our story starts when Garcia and his bride, driving a bunch of pack horses, reach the Big Hole battlefield. —The Editors
We tried to find the grave of In-who-lise’s sister, Lucy, but our search was in vain. The sight was awful to see. Human bones were scattered through the long grass and among the willows across the creek, and on this side of the creek human bones and leering skulls were scattered around as though they had never been buried. Only the soldiers’ graves were in fair condition.
This ghastly display of Indian dead made me doubtful for the first time in my life if there is a Jesus or a God. And to make matters worse, my wife, since the time when we came to this cursed place, has been crying and calling to her dead sister’s spirit in Nez Perce Indian. There is nothing so weird or mournful in heaven, earth, or hell as a wild squaw wailing for her dead. You can hear it a long way, and it haunts you for days. As her piercing wails came and went, far and near through this beautiful still valley of death, they would come echoing back in a way that made me shiver, as though in answer to her sad appeals.
This was what In-who-lise had been telling me on our way here—that if the bad Indians and white scouts with the one-armed chief [General O.O. Howard] had found her father’s grave, they would have dug him up and scalped him and left him lying there, like they done to those at the Big Hole battlefield, and to the dead Nez Perce whenever they could find them. Nez Perce scouts, waiting behind to see what the white men were going to do, saw this happen. They saw them dig up the dead Nez Perce warriors and scalp them and leave them to rot in the sun. It was the worst thing that could happen to an Indian, because it affected his future spiritual life, making him an evil spirit in the dark forever. In-who-lise told me it was after this that some Nez Perce warriors had said they were going to kill every white man they could find and burn his tepee.
As I stood there in horror, listening to my woman’s cries of grief, I thought, no matter what she said, we would leave this hellhole of sorrow at sunrise tomorrow morning. I had enough of this place. In time In-who-lise quiets down and her wails were at an end. We went on our way back to our camp, a little way up the creek from where the Nez Perce camp had been and the Big Hole battle had been fought.
In-who-lise said, “In the morning we will follow my people’s trail from here to where my father is buried. After what I see here, I am afraid that some of the bad Injuns and white men with the one-armed chief have dug him up and scalped him. E-clew-shay [yes, surely], your woman knows it now, and can tell that this is so. Or why does her father’s spirit call and whisper in sorrow to his child from the land of the dead?”
But I had enough of dead people now, and of her crying and wailing. I tried to coax her out of going. I said, “There is no use in going back out of our way. Your father is all right. It is nearly two years since then; maybe you cannot find the place where the warriors hid his grave.” With tears in her eyes, she reminds me that I had promised her that I would help search for her father’s grave, and see that it was left in good condition. Still not wanting to go, I argued, “We have all those pack horses loaded with buffalo robes; they will be too much bother for us to pack up only to drive them there and back here again.” She said we could cache the bundles of robes and other stuff we did not need, and just take the horses with us loose.
I pointed out to her that there were plenty Indian signs around here. The Big Hole was Bannock country; some of the Bannocks might find the cache. But In-who-lise was too determined, to have me discourage her this way. She still pleads with me, saying, “Oh, my man, surely it is not with you as the old Pend d’Oreille women in the buffalo camp said—that white men are liars, evil and bad, and that I was going to be sorry for believing An-ta-lee [Garcia], with his sweet crooked tongue, that can only say sweet lies to the foolish young women in camp. A-o [yes] and that I had better watch you or I would be soon sorry that I married you. I told them they were liars; it was not so. I did not want to believe them.” With this none-too-flattering send-off from my better half, what could I do but say, “All right, since you will have it so, we will go. But we cannot start tomorrow, for we must pack all those robes and other things two or three miles away from here and find a good safe place to cache them.”
The next day, after we cached our store in the timber, we came back to camp. Having plenty of time, I asked In-who-lise some questions about the battle—where, for instance, the soldiers and white men from the Bitterroot had made their holes in the ground that prevented the Nez Perce warriors from killing them all. She pointed to the first gulch up and across the creek, not far from our tepee, saying with bitterness, “It is over there, where the white dogs stayed and made their holes in that gulch.” I wanted her to come with me and see what was there, but In-who-lise, shivering and in terror at this request, said I must not go there; that there was now only graves and evil spirits. She said I must not go over there and leave her alone when she is afraid and her heart sad.
We started on our quest early the following morning and came to the first Nez Perce camp about twelve miles beyond the battlefield. It was a harder job to find the way than In-who-lise had anticipated, because she had been wounded and in terror when she travelled here before.
But in a day and a half of travel, we came to where the third Nez Perce camp had been pitched, the one we were looking for. Then a new difficulty confronted us. I learned for the first time, after coming this far, that In-who-lise had not witnessed the burial at all. She had had to ride on with the camp when the warriors were burying Gray Eagle, her father. She had only the directions given her by the burial party, after its return to the fleeing Nez Perce band. Riding all day long with the rest of the wounded and others in the outfit, with a rifle shot through her shoulder, her face and lips swollen, she had had all she could endure without the additional ordeal of attending her father’s funeral.
At first when I heard this I could not help being mad at her lying and bringing me back in those hills on a wild-goose chase. But she insisted that she knew how to find the place. She said her father’s friends had told her the place where they buried him was in the first side gulch across the creek and up the trail from where the camp lay. Her father’s grave would be back of the second thicket of pines on the left side of the gulch. Pine saplings had been cut and planted on and around the grave, as if they were a part of the thicket. At the third thicket farther up and across the gulch would be another warrior’s grave, that of Quiel-spo (Red Heart). We decided to keep on going till we came to the mouth of that gulch and then camp, and hunt for the grave from there. We went across the creek and up the main trail. Soon coming to a side gulch that opened up to the right, we pitched our camp at its mouth. After arranging camp and having something to eat, we started up this gulch afoot, as In-who-lise said it would not be far.
That afternoon we hunted that gulch, which was about one and a half miles long. We went up and down both sides, but found nothing. There were no thickets as had been described, nothing resembling the landmarks as pictured. It could not be the place.
It was then when In-who-lise, better known to me as Susie, my Nez Perce wife, with her sad, patient face and dark, pleading eyes, realized that we had come all this distance for nothing. She just sat down in her grief, speechless.
I could see the mute despair, the growing fear in her eyes, for she had been so confident she could find the place. I knew she was seeing again the lost grave of her father, torn and desecrated by ghoulish hands, while she, after coming so far, could do nothing to perform a sacred duty and restore her father’s remains to mother earth, in accordance with the ancient rites of her people.
For several moments she sat silent. Then her pentup feelings gave away to a flood of tears. Again, as at the Big Hole battlefield, her wails of sorrow rang out up and down through this silent gulch, but this time to come back to us reverberating from the towering hills, as though the fiends of hell were laughing and mocking her grief. Standing by her side, helpless, I felt that it would not take much more to cause me to join in the mourning. Finally, I lifted her to her feet and as we stood there among those hills, I felt that I wanted to find the grave of Gray Eagle as badly as she did. I said, “Don’t cry, we will find him yet; we now must go back to camp and tomorrow we will have better luck; it must be in some other gulch.” She replied, “There is no use coming up here again; this is not the place and I was so sure it was.”
Our walk back to camp seemed a continuous funeral for us. We said nothing to each other. After I had chased the horses up the trail so they wouldn’t take the back trail in the night, keeping one of them on picket in camp, I told Susie if she had given up hope of finding her father’s grave, I had not. We would look around in some of the other gulches up the trail tomorrow. She replied rather hopelessly, “Where are you going to look now in all this big country?”
Early next morning I started out to round up the horses, and following up the trail, I came to another side gulch into which the horses had gone. I followed their trail up this gulch a short way, and soon began to wonder if this was not the gulch we were looking for. This one answered the description even to the thickets, and I was convinced that it was the right one, but I did not stop to look for the graves. Riding on up to the low summit of the hill, I found the horses, hastily rounded them up, and struck back for camp on the run. Susie must have observed something out of the ordinary from my expression, because she immediately said, “I know you have found the right place. Hurry. Eat and we will go.” I told her not to be too sure of that. I merely had found what I thought was the right gulch, but not the grave of her father. While I was eating, she saddled up her horse and in her eagerness to be off would not take time for breakfast. We were soon on our way. We rode up the trail to this gulch and soon came to the second thicket of pines. Dismounting, we tied our horses.
We had no trouble in finding the grave. It had been opened, and not by bears or wolves. The half-bleached skeleton of Gray Eagle was lying alongside the shallow pit. The pine saplings had been pulled out, and were piled at one side, with most of the needles dropped off under them, showing only too plainly that the saplings had been removed soon after the burial.
Susie saw all this, and her wailing death cry again echoed through the silent gulch and hills. “Yaw, yaw, I know now why my father’s spirit came back from the land of the dead and would not let me sleep in the night,” she cried. “It was the one-armed white chief’s bad Injun and white men scouts who done this, they pulled him out and scalped him.”
I examined the shallow pit to see if any of the trinkets or objects buried with him could be found. I scooped in the dirt with my hands, but the vandals had made a clean sweep. Nothing remained but Gray Eagle’s half-bleached skeleton with a few wisps of long hair. I could not tell if he had been scalped, but In-who-lise was sure that he had, or why had they dug him up? Also, why was most of his hair gone? He had been sewed in a blanket, In-who-lise said, and with him had been placed several articles, among them an old cap-and-ball navy six-shooter, and there were copper wire bracelets of three or four coils on his wrists.
I now proposed that we look for the grave of Red Heart and then return to camp for the axe, as I would have to make some kind of a shovel. After she got over her wailing, I succeeded in getting her started for the next thicket, about seventy-five yards above and on the opposite side of the gulch from where Gray Eagle had been buried. Arriving there, we found that Red Heart also had been disinterred. It looked as though the ones who had done this had pulled him out of the loose dirt covering him, leaving the legs partly in the grave, the shoulders leaning above on the rim of the pit. It was an awful sight to see. No pine saplings had been stuck up on this grave and Susie did not know what objects had been buried with him. Anyway, there was nothing left in sight.
Getting our saddle horses, we returned to camp. We got there just in the nick of time. A large silvertip bear, as much surprised as we were, came bounding out of the tepee. On seeing us, he greeted us with a roar of welcome, then tore off down the trail toward the old Nez Perce camp, with our dogs who had been with us up the gulch right at his heels and making the valley resound with their wolfish howls. We found that His Royal Nibs had been more than busy. A saddle of venison that In-who-lise had hung on the limb of a tree had been pulled down by the bear and only the bones remained. This gent, after satisfying his appetite on venison, had been satisfying his curiosity. On going into the tepee, we found the bear had made a roughhouse out of it. Our dried meat was scattered all over, with the ground and everything else white from our sack of flour. Lucky for us, the bear had dumped most of it on the blankets.
Leaving In-who-lise to pick up the dried meat and save what flour she could, I cut down a small tree and fashioned a crude shovel. We made our dinner on some of the dried meat the bear had left. During this time In-who-lise is very quiet. We were soon ready to start back, leaving our dogs this time to watch the camp.
Going back to Red Heart’s grave, I scooped out all the loose dirt but found nothing that might have been interred with him. Unlike the remains of Gray Eagle, no particle of hair was in evidence, indicating that scalping had been done, and that most effectively. I replaced the skeleton the best I could. In-who-lise would not touch anything about the graves. I filled in the earth and knowing that nothing would disturb the remains, I dug a small pine tree and planted it at the head. Thus we left the brave Red Heart. Going back to the other grave, I cleaned it out and laid the remains of Gray Eagle therein. Kneeling by the grave, I joined In-who-lise, fervently saying all the prayers she knew in Indian. As I filled it in, In-who-lise cried pitifully and there was a welling in my own breast and a dimness came to my eyes. Mounding the earth above all that was mortal of the once-stalwart Gray Eagle, I prepared to leave that hauntingly silent gulch. Susie and I stood by the low mound for a time, and after some coaxing, I persuaded her to return with me to camp, leaving those two lonely graves with their bones now returned to mother earth. In-who-lise softly and reverently said, “In peace at last, now roam, happy spirits, in the land of the dead.”
Going back to camp, we found everything there all right. The bear had not returned, but we still were not feeling any too good with the large grizzly in the vicinity. I told In-who-lise I was going to ride up the valley hunting for deer, as the bear had eaten up all our fresh meat. In-who-lise told me not to stay away too long, as she is now afraid to stay alone in camp with that big sim-a-hi hanging around. She knows he is a bad one and that we have not seen the last of him.
After trying to quiet her fears, I drove the horses up to the mouth of the gulch. The grass was better than in the valley, and I would be sure to find them here in the morning. Then I rode on ahead for a mile or more still following the old trail the Nez Perce had made in the valley. There were plenty of deer signs, but no deer. I only saw two woodchucks. The air was sultry, not a breath of a breeze could be felt. The heat was oppressive; all was quiet and still as death. Suddenly the sky was overcast with a mighty shadow and I could see far away in the towering hills misty black clouds obscuring the setting sun. Now there came a vivid flash of lightning out of those black clouds, accompanied by a distant rumble of thunder. Disgusted at my hunting luck, I turned my horse around and started back the way I came. Passing the mouth of the gulch, I could see our pack horses about a hundred yards away, grazing peacefully with their heads turned up the gulch, and among them some black-tailed deer—two large does with young fawns, and another young doe.
It is a curious though well-known fact that the deer family, including antelope, elk, and moose, like the company of horses or cattle and will come out of their haunts to mingle with them in a friendly way. It is then an easy matter for a mounted hunter to ride up close to them. So sitting as still as a statue in the saddle, I let my horse graze his way till close to the horses. I plugged the young doe in the neck, and the report of my rifle rang out through the gulch. The other two does, with their fawns at their heels, took off up the gulch in wild leaps and bounds. Not waiting to remove the entrails, I threw the young doe up on my saddle horse and rode into camp holding it in the saddle in front of me.
I was surprised to see that during my absence In-who-lise had been working like a good fellow rustling wood, and had enough gathered inside the tepee and outside to last a good week. We were only going to stay for the night, but In-who-lise was thinking that silvertip is going to pay us another visit before morning. When she saw the young doe I brought back to camp, she said, “When that grizzly scents that venison in camp, nothing will stop him except a bullet, after he got away with our other venison so easy.” She was going to keep a fire burning in the tepee.
In-who-lise prepared her bonfire, all ready to touch off. Since it began to drizzle, she covered the woodpile with saddle blankets. While she was doing this, I cleaned and skinned the deer, giving our dogs their share and a good-sized chunk to In-who-lise to broil over the coals for our supper. I threw a lariat over a high limb of a tree and hauled the remaining venison up to the limb, thinking, “If that bear wants that venison, this time he is going to have to climb for it, and grizzlies are too big to climb.” It was now dusk and still drizzling. I wrapped the entrails, liver, and head in the deer hide, and went up the trail a hundred yards. I bent down a good-sized sapling and fastened the whole works to it as a peace offering to the grizzly. When the sapling sprung up straight, the bundle hung too high for our dogs to reach. Still, it would be easy for the bear to bend down the sapling to get it. I could not decide what to do with my saddle horse. First I was going to picket him close to the tepee. I could cut the lariat and let him go in case of trouble, but I thought that the horse picketed in camp would only be in the way of the dogs, and more liable to get shot up than the bear. I did not think the grizzly would tackle the horse on picket outside of camp, so I took him a good seventy-five yards and picketed him extra good so that he couldn’t pull the picket pin if he smelled that bear.
By the time I got back to the tepee it was dark, and heavy rain was beginning to fall; it became a continual downpour, with fierce gusts of wind coming and going. Vicious flashes of lightning cut across the sky and lit up the night like day. The closeness of the terrific thunderclaps told us only too well that the lightning had struck nearby. This, with the heavy beating of the rain against the tepee, made us think at least that we were lucky not to be out in that storm and to have a good stout tepee to keep us warm and dry.
I cleaned both of my rifles, and loaded them and laid them down where I could get them quick and handy. The patter of the rain together with the warmth from the fire in the tepee soon makes one drowsy. Though Susie is nodding from want of sleep, she is still squatting squaw-fashion on the blankets and robes on the bed at my feet, and says she ain’t going to bed with that grizzly around and take a chance on the fire dying out. I dropped off to sleep and must have been asleep for some time, when she nudged me. I awoke to find the rain and storm had ceased. All is quiet, except for low half-whines and growls coming from our dogs outside. Susie is whispering, “Wake up. Don’t you hear the dogs? They are telling us that sim-a-hi is coming. Yaw, yaw, we should have camped some other place. Now the dogs will make him mad and he will kill both of us.” In-who-lise rakes the coals and puts wood on the fire and soon has the tepee lit up as bright as day. Grabbing the carbine, I lifted the tepee flap to look outside. A streak of light from the fire gleams past me into the dark, but all else is darkness. I could see nothing, not even the tree where the venison was hanging; I could see nothing wrong outside. I went back and sat down on the foot of the bed with In-who-lise, and it was not long till either the heat of the fire or the suspense had the sweat rolling off both of us. Then, through the still night air came snorts of terror from my saddle horse, followed by the piercing, whistling noise a wild horse makes to warn and call the others for help. And we could hear him plainly as he would stamp the ground with a forefoot, then would dash madly around in a circle the length of the lariat, trying to pull the picket pin and get away. Susie was nagging me to go outside and start the bonfire near the tepee door. I kept saying maybe the bear won’t come, to wait till he did. There would be plenty of time then. Time slowly went by, and the horse on picket was quiet again, but the dogs kept up their low moaning growls, some distance from the tepee, but no bear had showed up.
I began to get brave, and said to In-who-lise that all our scare over that bear was for nothing. I was going back to bed. If the grizzly was going to show up, he would not have taken all this time since the dogs first started to growl; he would have been here long before this. In-who-lise disputes this, saying I can go to bed if I want to, but it won’t be for long. That grizzly will come yet. He has been all this time eating the guts I had hung up on the sapling. After he is through, he will want the venison hanging in camp; a big bear like him eats plenty.
Then as though to make her words come true we heard fierce wolfish snarls and yelps from our dogs. We got the surprise of our lives when three of our younger dogs came bounding through the loose tepee flap as though they had been fired out of a catapult. They were in terror with their tails between their legs, the hair along their backs standing up like porcupine quills as they growl and snarl, looking back the way they came. The sudden appearance of the three young dogs, the way they came bounding into the tepee, did not improve my courage any. It sent my heart up in my mouth, and brought the sweat beads of despair out on my temples and forehead. I grasped the loaded carbine, my teeth beginning to chatter like I was getting the swamp ague. I carefully and cautiously peeked outside, but like before in the pitchy darkness I could see nothing. I whispered to In-who-lise to get me a good live firebrand out of the fire. Still holding the rifle, I crawled outside and pulled the saddle blankets off the pile of wood. I swung the firebrand around till it burst in flames and stuck it down in the dry leaves and twigs under the pile and quickly dodged back into the tepee. I crouched out of sight, looking out through the tepee flap, carbine in hand, with the buffalo gun lying close to my knees. Everything being wet around the pile of wood, it seemed ages before the kindlings took fire. At first from the pile there came only dense clouds of smoke that hugged the damp ground and rose up to hide even the light that gleamed for a ways outside the tepee fire. But soon there were small flames, and it was with some relief when I saw the whole pile was a crackling burst of flames. As they rose up higher, they lit up the darkness in a circle of bright light for some distance around.
My joy was short-lived when I could see the tree where the venison was hanging. What I saw under that tree was not encouraging. It must have surprised that bear as much as it did me. Anyway, the grizzly stood under the tree, large as life and twice as natural, and any fool could tell he didn’t like this a little bit. He stood his ground, all humped up ready to scrap, with the hair on his back standing up. He stood gazing and sniffing toward the bonfire, then would utter fierce growls. As In-who-lise and I crouch inside, watching all this, our terror soon changed to sighs of relief, for the bear calmly and deliberately squats his huge bulk down on his haunches, as though we were not worthy of his notice any longer. He still faced the bonfire and once in a while would lift up his head and sniff up at the venison hanging on the limb. We could see him plainly, not over seventy-five feet away, and it would be easy to plug him with the buffalo gun. The only thing that is bothering me now is whether I could lay him out for good the first shot. I did not want to wound him, since in five or six bounds, fire or no fire, we would have a mad grizzly on top of us. I decided to shoot him in the head, but as I started to raise up the gun, In-who-lise pushed the gun down. The grizzly was still sitting contented on his haunches under the tree.
We ought to have known that everything was coming along too good to be true. Suddenly I saw a flash of gray come out of the darkness behind the grizzly. It was so quick I knew it was Spe-lee, our treacherous and vicious wolf dog, mean and large as any wolf. Spe-lee in her sneaking way fears nothing that has its back turned to her. She had given the grizzly a snapping nip on his rump. The bear roared with rage, and at the same time half turning, sent his mighty paw with its long claws swishing through the air at her, but it was too late; Spe-lee was not there. This was now a busy time for the grizzly. Another wolfish form came springing at him out of the darkness. It is Kalo-o-too (Short Tail), another of our Indian dogs with all the sneaking propensities of his wolfish ancestors. Quick as a flash he nips the grizzly on the other side and disappears into the darkness quicker than he came. Spe-lee and him are resenting in their own way the grizzly running them out of camp. With surprising agility, the grizzly springs into action, crunching his teeth in rage. With an active, springy motion that was surprising for one so clumsy-looking, he hurled himself off into the darkness. It developed into a running fight between our dogs and the grizzly. The grizzly chased the whole bunch around near the tepee; one of the dogs would come dashing in between the bonfire and the tepee and would try to get inside with us. I would quickly prod him, yelping, back outside with my gun barrel. It went this way for some time; we were badly scared. In-who-lise has the carbine and I the buffalo gun, with one of us crouching on each side of the flap, the sweat pouring off us from the heat of the bonfire. To make it worse, we could plainly hear above the howls and snarls of our dogs the roars of anger from the grizzly every time a dog nipped him. Then would come the crashing and tearing as he chases after the dogs through the willows and brush on each side of the small creek behind our camp. Around and around they went, with us terror-stricken and every minute expecting the dogs and the grizzly to come crashing through the back of the tepee on top of us. We were not sorry when we saw our seven dogs go flying by, scattered, and take off up the trail toward the old Nez Perce camp, with the grizzly bounding along a few yards behind them in hot pursuit.
I whispered to In-who-lise that we are lucky them dogs for once in their lives did what was right, when they did not try to run inside the tepee with us, and that I hoped the sim-a-hi would chase them as far as the Big Hole battlefield. I ought to have known that praising the dogs and grizzly would only bring us bad luck again. My face must have turned a sickly white as I heard yelping draw nearer and nearer, leaving no doubt that the grizzly was after one of the dogs and coming back this way. In-who-lise starts to say something, but the words never left her lips. Now out of the darkness into the circle of murky light leaps one of our young dogs, howling as he comes on the dead run, and thirty feet behind him comes the grizzly. The dog makes a beeline for the bonfire, and with an acrobatic leap, jumps clear over it and lands straight as an arrow almost in the tepee door. One of his sides is bleeding badly. Howling in pain and terror, he bounds into the tepee, striking In-who-lise square in the breast, knocking her over on the flat of her back, with her head almost in the fire, her legs going up in the air. In-who-lise, as she was going over, must have pulled the trigger of the carbine. The gun went off with a loud bang, filling the tepee with powder smoke, and worse than that, the bullet came near getting me, singing by close to the back of my neck. The hot powder smoke singed a part of my hair and blackened my cheek. The dog goes by the fire and stands whining and cringing on the bed and robes, with the blood dripping down from his side where the bear had ripped him. All I can say was that hell sure broke loose in our house! At the report of the carbine, like a clap of thunder close to my face, first I thought I was shot. With a howl of terror that put the dog to shame, I forgot all about the grizzly outside, dropped my gun, and wildly clapped my hand up to my tingling ear and cheek to feel if there was blood. By this time In-who-lise had got up on her knees and was furious. She dealt the dog a smashing blow across the ribs with the butt of the carbine that made him howl worse than the raking he had got from the grizzly. The dog came crawling up behind me. This only took an instant. Feeling my ear and cheek, I realized I was not hit, but what little nerve I had before was now gone. A glance outside across the bonfire brought-the slobbers of fear running out of both corners of my mouth. I sure had to be thankful to In-who-lise for rustling all that wood and thinking about building that campfire outside. If that fire was not there, the grizzly would have made sausage meat out of us by now.
I could see him better now; he was not over twenty feet away. He must have weighed nine hundred pounds. He stood there, the incarnation of all that is powerful and terrible, his vicious eyes red, glaring with hatred and venom at us across the fire. The short, pointed ears are flattened back on his broad head. His powerful jaws open and shut, uttering vicious snarls, exposing his long yellow fangs as he crunches and snaps in his furious anger. He throws up his head, sending terrific roars of rage reverberating through the night. His unwieldy-looking body is now animated; it quivers and sways with seething life, making him terrible to behold, a monarch of the brute world in all his mighty strength. He works and braces his hind legs in unison with his powerful front legs as though he is about to spring; his front paws open and shut in their fury, tearing up the grass and ground under them with his long, sharp claws.
The loaded buffalo gun is forgotten, though still on the ground at my knee. I was petrified, as though in some horrible nightmare, unable to resist or help myself. The grizzly’s eyes are on mine, gleaming like two vivid coals of fire—compelling, penetrating. Some irresistible force in them draws and holds mine on them. There is a weird, uncontrollable fascination for me in those gleaming, bloodshot eyes and red-gaping, frothy mouth with its bared fangs.
The thousand thoughts and acts of a lifetime flashed through my mind in a furious jumble. I do not believe the man lives who could express all of this swift drama of horror. The terror I felt is not to be conveyed by pen or words. I can only say that in those few seconds that seemed ages, I paid with compound interest for all of the devilry I had ever done.
Time and again I made frantic efforts to lift up the buffalo gun, but my arms shook and my trembling hands were powerless. The gun refuses to budge and seems fastened to the ground. The grizzly has me mesmerized. My lips are now dry and feverish; my tongue refuses to move and is stuck to the roof of my mouth.
This was the hardest blow of all. My woman, now at death’s door, despises me—the only woman who before this had faith and believed in me. Her accusing eyes bore through me and bring me to my senses. I quickly pick up the gun, push the set trigger ahead, and cock the hammer.
Slowly but surely I raise the gun up to my shoulder. This time my nerves are iron; the gun does not wobble or tremble while I try to catch the grizzly between the eyes. But the flickering campfire light made the front sight dance. The grizzly, in the moments that seemed a thousand years, is still uttering his roars of rage that seemed to shake the tepee and awake the valley. He kept wagging his head from side to side, still tearing up the ground with his claws. His head was too hard a shot to take a chance on. I lowered the muzzle until the top of the burnished copper front sight gleamed like a small star through the rear sight, catching the grizzly at the base of his neck. Bracing myself and pulling the gun tight against my shoulder, a slight touch on the trigger sent Betsy Ann off with the kick of a mule and a roar that filled the tepee with smoke.
The grizzly staggered backward with a moan that seemed almost human, then reared up on his hind legs, clawing at his bleeding breast for an instant. He plunged forward, then toppled over, falling in a huddled heap, with his nose close to the campfire. His bulky form lies quiet and still across the fire from us.
Slipping in another shell, I cocked Betsy Ann and waited. Except for my heart now beating like a trip hammer, everything is still as death as I gaze exultantly at our fallen enemy. In-who-lise gets impatient; she touches me and whispers to give the grizzly a bullet in the head to make sure he is dead.
Then a slight tremor ran through the grizzly’s huddled form, and In-who-lise wrings her hands in terror, screaming, “See, the sim-a-hi is not deadl Shoot him again!” The grizzly was now moaning and gasping in pain. Slowly at first he feebly struggles, then tries to raise up his huge body off the ground. He rolls back helpless, only to try it again. Now with a mighty effort, an awful sight to behold, groaning in pain, with the blood spurting out of the gaping bullet hole in his breast, he slowly raises part way up on his front legs, swaying as in a drunken stupor, with his hind legs sticking out sideways paralyzed and helpless. His bulky form now half sits up on his haunches, with his head lying helpless on his breast. Time and again he struggles and tries to raise his head, only for it to fall back on his breast again.
I watched the grizzly with the gun cocked and ready. I could see plainly the death haze beginning to cover his bloodshot eyes, and hear the death rattle in his throat. His breath, like steam, comes wheezing, panting, thick and fast as he gasps and utters low, piteous moans of pain. The blood is still squirting out of the wound, leaving his breast a crimson red, and trickling down his front legs and dripping on the ground. The grizzly was a very sick bear.
I slowly raised the buffalo gun until the top of the front sight caught the dying grizzly between the eyes; it was with a feeling more of pity than of triumph. Pressing the trigger, Betsy Ann again went off with a roar. Without a moan, the grizzly rolled over—blood trickling out of a round hole in his forehead. A convulsive tremor ran through his body and legs as he opens and shuts his murderous claws. Then with a long sigh he stretched out in death.
A few minutes after this we stood outside viewing the bulky form. I told In-who-lise, “Here is one grizzly who will never scare the daylights out of us again.” We called the dogs to see if the grizzly had killed any of them, but it was some time before they showed up. When they came I could see that Spe-lee is limping and one side of her face is bleeding; Kalo-o-too and Ku-ton-a-can have long bleeding slashes along their sides. None of the dogs would come up to us at the campfire, on account of the dead grizzly lying there. They sat on their haunches at the edge of the light made by the fire, uttering fierce growls and sniffing over toward the dead bear.
We could now see by the grayness of the sky it would soon be daybreak. There was no use in trying to get any sleep. I put more wood on the campfire and went back in the tepee. In-who-lise, after pounding coffee berries in a rag with a rock, starts in to make coffee. She also pounded some of the dried buffalo meat that the grizzly had mauled around in the afternoon. It was as hard and tough as sole leather, but it was good stuff after it had been softened between two rocks. When the coffee was boiling, In-who-lise tried to wash the black burn off my face, but with poor success. The gun had put it in to stay till I wore it off. As she was doing this, her midnight eyes are aflame with love. Her face is wreathed in smiles of pride as she says that now I am an Indian hero. As soon as it is daylight and I go after the horses, she says she is going to cut off the grizzly’s front claws so that she can make a hero’s necklace out of them for me to wear. When the Indians see them and she tells them how bravely I killed that grizzly, they will hold a powwow and christen me Sim-a-hi-chen (Grizzly Bear). Then the men will envy me and the women will be jealous of her, that she has a man who killed a grizzly, a great honor. I had plenty doubts about my being in any hero class, still I did not dispute her. Let her dream.
We had a sumptuous repast of dried buffalo meat and straight coffee. It sure tasted good to us, who were young, had good teeth, and didn’t know any better.
When it got light enough to see for a short distance, I went to my saddle horse. I could see by the circle he cut in the ground during the night that he had run several miles at the end of the lariat, trying to pull the picket pin to get away. Coming into camp with him, he had a whiff of the dead grizzly lying in front of the tepee. With a snort of terror, he rears up and wheels around, taking me along with him. I held on with both hands. The horse dragged me along like a wooden toggle, through the grass and brush at a stagecoach clip, headed for the hills. I knew that if I let the lariat run through my bare hands, it would burn my hands to the bone. If I let the lariat go, I’d lose the horse. My chance came as the horse tried to make it around a clump of willows. Being unable to pull me around it, he finds himself hung up. I soon had him snubbed fast to the butt of the willow clump.
Hearing the racket I made cussing the horse, In-who-lise came running over. Both of us, after plenty more trouble, got him snubbed up to a small cottonwood tree about a hundred feet away from camp. While this horse was otherwise gentle enough, and thought nothing of running among or leaping over dead buffalo, still he would not stand for a bear. We tried our damnedest, but this was as close as we could get him into camp.
After the dragging I got, I was some sight to see. I had to pack my saddle from camp over to my horse, who is still snorting and rearing up on the short end of the lariat. After even more trouble, I got the saddle on him and had him cinched up.
I was now in bad humor and out to fight someone. Having no one else to fight, I lit into In-who-lise, telling her them dead Indian relations of hers up in the gulch were bad medicine—that her father’s and Red Heart’s spirits had it in for me and were out to get me because I was a white man. I blamed them for all our troubles here and even accused them of putting the devil in that grizzly’s head. In-who-lise only stood there and bore it all with downcast eyes and in silence. This hurt me worse than a tongue-lashing would have done.
I told her to cover the dead grizzly with saddle blankets and to burn some venison in the fire. We would never get the other horses back to camp if they got a whiff of the bear. Then I rode up the trail. I gave my saddle horse the rein, and he lit out at a furious lope, which just suited my humor.
As I have said, I was born down on the Rio Grande in southwest Texas and near the New Mexico line, being of Spanish-American extraction and of a people who even at that time still clung to the superstitious beliefs of the dark ages. As a kid at home, I had been taught as the gospel truth to believe in ghosts and witches in league with the devil, which could only be warded off by charms. What’s more, I had been living for the last ten months in a Pend d’Oreille buffalo camp, hearing their superstitious talk about their evil spirits of the river of death and of Indian devils that haunted certain spots, lying in wait for the unwary to do them evil.
As I drove the horses down that gulch, far away from the haunts of white men, amid those towering hills that rose up to the skies on all sides of me, my superstitious mind was fully aroused. I could not help thinking about the way things had come to pass for me ever since yesterday morning, ever since I had returned the skeletons of Gray Eagle and Red Heart to mother earth. Obviously, my well-intended acts must have done their spirits more harm than good. It seemed I was the intended victim of sinister forces. Dolefully I became convinced that there was surely something to this Indian belief that a dead scalped warrior became forever an evil spirit in the dark. Even Susie had refused to touch the skeleton of Gray Eagle, her own father. This ought to have been warning enough for me.
The more I pondered over this, the surer I became that this gulch was haunted by evil spirits. And worse still, they were out to get me! Anyone could tell by the way that grizzly acted last night that it was possessed of the devil. I would have been dead long before now, I decided, but fortunately for Susie and me, I wore tied to my neck in a small buckskin sack a potent talisman that I had got in the buffalo camp; it made me immune particularly against the machinations of any evil spirits or Indian devils that might beset my way. Though they could torment me, yet still they could not destroy me. To afford me even greater security, as those evil spirits and Indian haunts were hard to see and harder still to hit with a bullet, I had a charm of weasel skin and raven feathers tied to the trigger guard of my carbine. This was to guarantee I would hit anything I aimed at.
As I approached with the horses closer to the graves, all reverence for Gray Eagle and Red Heart vanished, to be replaced by a superstitious dread that bordered on panic. What other kind of devilry had the spirits in store for me? Would my powerful charms save me again or would the spirits get me before I could get out of this accursed gulch? As though to add to my torture, the horses in the lead, as they came up to the small pine thicket where Red Heart’s grave lay, seeing the fresh dirt mound, came to a halt. With their suspicions aroused, they refused to go past Red Heart’s grave and stood there sniffing and snorting, ready to wheel around and stampede back up the gulch. Again I sweat some, and I was not sorry to see them continue in the right direction. The rest of the bunch, with a whistling snort and shying bolt, wildly sprang past Red Heart’s grave, bucking and squealing and following the leaders. As soon as the last horse was past, I gave my saddle horse the quirt, and in a bound or two I rode wildly up behind the bunch, furiously slashing at the rear horses with my quirt. I kept them on the run. Leaping, snorting, and shying, they went past Gray Eagle’s grave, and I kept them on the dead run until they came out of the gulch and onto the main trail in the valley. None too sorry that I was leaving behind this hoodoo gulch forever, casting glances behind me, as though the devil was still after me, I sent the horses flying down the trail until I came near camp. Susie was safe and anxiously awaiting my return.
She was now as anxious to leave there as I was, and she had everything packed up for our immediate departure. So after our meager breakfast it did not take us long to pack up. Leaving the dead grizzly lying there, I headed my horse down the trail, followed by the pack horses in single file. As I was starting off, I watched Susie out of the corner of my eye, to see what she would do, now that we are leaving. After a glance or two in the direction of the gulch in which all that was once mortal of her father lay, she swung her pony around and came on behind, driving the bunch.