By William Jones
The Harvard Monthly, 29 November 1899
THE fire-fly was at play when we rode into the Kickapoo village, and the swelling, buzzing silence of dusk hanging over the lodges was broken only now and then by the yelp of a watch-dog baying to the lonely cries of a far away wolf. We found Chief Chikwamikoko with four of his men awaiting us; and after the Indians had solemnly greeted us with a grip of the hand, and they had begged of us a little tobacco, we dropped in behind them and started on a dog trot across country toward the Kickapoo Prairie where roamed the Cream Colored Stallion with his herd of wild horses. Presently a big, blood-red, hot-weather moon came peering slowly up over the verge of the eastern horizon before us; and the Indians, knowing well the range and the habits of the wild stallion, guided our course so that the Gulf winds coming away from the range kept beating continuously upon our right cheeks.
In about two hours we came out upon the top of a butte where we stopped and listened to the faintly audible whinnying of ponies off towards the south whither Chikwamikoko was pointing. At the same time, he was telling us in Kickapoo and in broken English that yonder was the Cream Colored Stallion, and, in his herd, was our black mare with six or seven other ponies which she had led astray a little more than two springs before while we were out on the round-up. The wind had begun to shift in the east. So Dick and the chief, after telling Joe, a Turkey-Track cowboy, and me what to do when the wild horses came by in the morning, struck out with the rest of the party toward the southwest; and by dropping the men one by one in relays of two to four miles apart, they encircled westward and southward the wild-horse range.
While Joe and I sat in the grass eating from our saddle pockets the breakfast we had brought along, and the yellow-breasted larks and other birds of the plains were filling the crisp air with their chirpings and their warblings, we caught a soft, faint sound of the pop of a gun somewhere off to the south. After hurriedly saddling our mounts we again lay in the grass, hiding as we waited. Ten minutes later we heard several pops in rapid succession. Presently there came a low rumble as of distant thunder which, as it came nearer, grew into a heavy, rapid, confused pounding. And then above the din of the ga-bi-ty, ga-bi-ty, ga-bi-ty tramping, sounded the fierce squealing and neighing of a pony in distress. All of a sudden the wild herd of horses closely huddled together swung into view round the western slope of the butte, a half mile southeast of us, and headed up the valley to circle the eastern and northern slopes of the butte on which Joe and I were hidden.
And there was the Cream Colored Stallion! Now in the van when the heard was to take a new course; now in the rear to beat up the laggards; and wherever a side of the herd was joggled and opened out, thither, with head close to the ground and ears lying back, plunged the stallion, nipping the ponies in the flanks, and sending them pell mell back into the herd. Seeing Joe and me galloping down the hill towards him, he wheeled sharply about, and, standing as straight as he could, he threw his flowing fore-lock and mane to the winds. But, in another second, he was away at the heels of his herd, galloping out of the valley toward the rolling plain.
By cutting across country we were able to dog the ponies for about four miles without having to go more than half that distance. Leaving them at sunrise with the next relay, we returned to our butte.
Our relays circling a range of forty miles in circumference would have kept the herd running almost twice that distance if the wild ponies had been able to stand the slow but persistent pursuit. It must have been about an hour before sunset when Joe and I saw Dick and Chikwamikoko riding side by side at a jog trot round the slope of the butte where we had first seen the wild horses. We joined them at once. Dick was leading the black mare by the rope he had lassoed her with. Her head drooped, and gray crusty streaks of salt streamed across her back and sides where she had sweated most; and the effort with which she lifted her feet showed that she was traveling on her nerves. And the rest of the strays which the Indians and Turkey-Track men drove behind the mare were completely fagged, and were easily driven.
With the black mare was a colt about fifteen months old. His heavy fore-lock, mane, and tail were as black as the coat of his mother; while the small head and ears, the short stubby neck, the small, round body, the slender legs, and everything else about him were but the Cream Colored Stallion over again. And the way he ran whinnying to and fro from his mother and the strays, and sniffing the air as he stopped to look back now and again toward the ranges he was leaving, showed that he had in him yet the fire, the spirit, and vim of his sire. It was only the beseeching whinny of this mother whenever he hung too far back that kept him with us.
When the Great Dipper was swinging low in the Northern sky, we drove our strays through the bars of the corral and shut them up for the night.
In the morning after breakfast Fanny, Dick’s little girl of eight, came skipping out to the corral that she might watch the branding of the colts. Hardly was she up on the top bar, when she screamed with a rapture of delight, “Well, well, Blacky, what a pretty wee colty you’ve come home with!”
“He’s an Injun, dearie,” chuckled Dick, kneeling at the fire he was kindling to heat the branding irons. “Bein’ sort of a chief hisself, guess we’ll have ter call ‘im Chikwamikoko.”
Before Dick knew it, Fanny was in the midst of the men who were arranging their lassos, rubbing her chubby cheeks against the rough, swuare, sun-browned face of her father and flooding him with a shower of questions and exclamations like, “An’ is he mine, all mine, an’not yourn? An’ you ain’t goin’ to burn ‘im with that ojl’ hot iron, is you now, daddy? An’—an’ I don’t like Chi—Chi—Chikamikoky. It’s kinder long, an’ it ain’t a good colty name, and’—well, o’ course I like the Kickapoo man for helpin’ you to find the ponies, but, daddy, let’s call the—the colty Chi—Chilky, eh, daddy?”
“Yes, yes, dearie,” said Dick good-naturedly, though somewhat disconcerted at seeing the men smiling with delight; and adding as he rose to his feet, “he’s yourn, an’ he’s Chiky, an’ anythin’ you wish. Skip ‘lon’ now, dearie, the broncs might run over you.”
In this way Chiky was saved that awful humiliation that comes to a wild horse in being lassoed, thrown mercilessly to the ground, having his four feet crossed and tied together, and having the sign of a turkey track burned upon his left shoulder.
And when the colts were all branded, and the bars opening into the pony pasture were let down, he and his mother plunged at the head of the herd and led it out on the open plain. For days and for nights the mother, with the colt at her side and the strays stringing behind, followed the long lines of the barb-wire fence, seeking always an opening through which she might pass and return once more to the free, boundless ranges of the Kickapoo Prairie.
As in time the strays became less restless, they adapted themselves to the pasture, which afforded them a range of two by four mines to roam about over; and mingling with the ranch ponies, they sorted themselves out into small bunches in which a ranch and a stray pony of like tastes and temperament might pair off together and exchange mutual confidences.
And the strangest of all friendships was that of Chiky and the wicked mother with Bobby, the blazed face sorrel that the ranch had turned loose to live as he pleased. The mother no doubt quickly perceived with good horse-sense that Bobby’s tales of twenty years of experience on round-ups and cattle-trails would be interesting for Chiky to hear and to know; and as Bobby was on to the fine points in bucking, in brushing bridles off his head, and in doing a hundred other wicked things which she wanted her Chiky to know, the mother found in Bobby a friend after her heart.
And on blazing, torridly hot days, the three ponies might be seen standing in the sparingly thin shade of low, stunted, black-jack oaks down by the willow creek where the ponies always came to water. Whenever one started alone to drink, along would come the other two. On returning to the stamping ground in the shade of the oaks, the ponies would take their places side by side, Chiky in between; and while the head of Bobby sleepily looked one way and that of the mother was turned in another, the two old ponies would keep their tails switching with mechanical clock-like precision so as to keep away from the faces of each other the little, black, stinging flies, and, incidentally, whisking them off Chiky, too.
In the cool of the summer evenings Bobby would bring his two friends up for salt. Bobby came for his salt to the fence which enclosed the cabins, while the mare and colt remained thirty or forty yards away, licking their salt from a barrel. Bobby had a grunting whinny, a laughing bass, when asking for his salt. And the mother and Chily, on watching Bobby paw the ground, push against the fence, and raise his whinny a degree at seeing Fanny come out with the salt in a saucer, would roll their wide-open eyes, shoot back and forth their ears, and touch noses.
“Chiky, Chiky,: Fanny would plead, holding her palm out at the colt; “please come up and get your salt with Bobby.”
But Chiky, smacking his tongue and raising his head in a very disdainful way, would roll his little black eyes at Bobby as if to say, “Well, Bobby, how much longer are you going to stay there?” Then with eyes askance, he would follow his mother a hundred yards or more away from the salt and await Bobby.
Then came that unusual summer when it rained so bountifully over all the cattle ranges of the southwest. The rain fell continuously day in and day out, and then every little dry weather creek was roaring with water rushing over its banks and bending down the tops of the willows in the direction of its current. Then we suddenly discovered Bobby and Chiky without the black mare, and very much in distress. Lonely and pathetically one behind the other they went along the wire fences, to and fro across the pasture prairies, and in and out of the old stamping places. On riding over the pasture we found the wire running across the stream had been loosened from the posts which the current had swept down stream. And coming out of the bed of the stream, just outside of the pasture, went the tracks of three ponies upon the bank. We followed the tracks southwest till we lost them.
Finally Bobby got tired of wandering about the pasture, and quit. Although Chiky rubbed his nose affectionately against Bobby’s, scratched his back for him , and switched flies away while the old hose dozed, yet he could not persuade Bobby to take another step in search of the wicked mother that had gone off without a word. Then Chiky took on very hard, and tried to find comfort among the other ponies. But there was not one among them, after all, so congenial and so companionable as Bobby; so back to Bobby he came. Every evening as usual Chiky came up with Bobby for his salt. He always stopped out at the barrel while Bobby went up to the fence; and when Fanny came towards him with outstretched hand, coaxingly saying, “Chiky, poor, lonely Chiky!” he would breathe very deeply and snort, and then, rudely turning his back on the little girl, his friend, he would trot or gallop away.
One evening of this fall when Fanny was waiting till dusk for the ponies to come up for their salt, she discovered that some one of the men had left open the bars from the pasture to the lane. While Dick was putting the bars up, the found leading through the bars and down the lane the tracks of a bigger pony over-lapping those of a smaller one. IN the morning Dick and I followed the trail of the two ponies straight into the range of the Cream Colored Stallion, but there we lost them.
In the chilly evenings that followed, Fanny used to kneel by the window facing the west, and watch the cattle that were accustomed to hang about the ranch come3 straggling up the lane into the corral. On one of those evenings wailing winds were driving the falling snow in flurries over the prairies, and mooing cattle in greater numbers came in long straggling lines up the lane into the corrals to find a mouthful of hay, and shelter under the long hay-covered booths. All of a sudden Fanny sprang to her feet and with excitement whispered to us before the fireplace, “Bobby! Oh, Chiky! Look, mamma! Quick, boys! Look! Look! Look, boys, quick!”
Sure enough, there were the two ponies coming slowly up the lane among the cattle, both covered all over with snow. When Fanny opened the door Bobby pricked up his ears, whinnied, and limped out from among the cattle up to the fence. The poor fellow’s back, hips, and flanks were covered with ugly scars as if he had been chewed by some other pony.
Chiky watched Bobby being led into the corral. When his old mate passed through the bars he began to whinny wildly and frantically. Bobby’s turning about once to answer Chiky’s call only increased the intensity of the colt’s neighing. And when Chiky saw Bobby disappear under one of the hay-covered booths, he turned and started back on a gallop out of the lane. The sight of four of us, who had one round to head him off and to drive him into the corral, standing across his way, seemed to set the fine of his wild horse nature ablaze. Bearing down upon us at full speed he scattered and bowled over cattle in his way, evaded our lassos, and made for the open plain. Stopping once or twice to look back, Chiky disappeared in the mist of the falling snow, whinnying as he went.
Two days later, I rode with Dick out on the ranges to see how the cattle had stood the storm. As we were coming home by way of the eastern fence of the pony pasture we fell, all at once, into a trail beaten in the snow by the hoofs of a single pony going back and forth over it. Following the trail down to the frozen willow creek, where the ponies in summer came to water, we suddenly came upon Chiky stretched at full length across the path. Ugly scars on the hips, on the back, and on the shoulders, scars, like Bobby’s made by the biting of a pony, disfigured his soft, smooth, cream-colored coat. His little head was turned toward the clump of stunted, black-jack oaks under which he had stood on warm summer days with Bobby and his mother.
Two coyotes squatting on the bleak, white plain a hundred or more yards away silently watched Dick and me ride off into the dusk toward camp.