Life among the Apaches/Chapter 18
Dangerous Hunting at the Bosque.—Dr. McNulty's Adventure.—Don Carlos and his Indians.—Mr. Descourtis' Adventure.—Nah-kah-yen and Nah-tanh.—Hunting a Lion.—The Indian and the Panther.—Combat Between a Bear and a Lion.—The Result.—Beavers.—Apache Love of Torturing.—Gallant Indian.—A Wounded Apache to be Dreaded.
Among the Apaches under my charge were a number highly renowned as hunters. Those men seemed to possess a peculiar sagacity for this business, and whenever I indulged in a hunt I invariably took one or more of them with me. The Pecos for twenty-five miles about the Bosque Redondo is fringed for a half mile in depth, on both sides, with gigantic cotton-wood trees, or rather it was, for I have since learned that they were nearly all destroyed in furnishing fuel to the numerous body of Indians collected at Fort Sumner, and for the garrison at that place; and in consequence of the scarcity now existing, the fort and Reservation have either been abandoned by this time, or soon will be, as the Indian Department has already taken steps to locate the Reservation on a more favorable location.
The cotton-woods and the dense undergrowth of shrubbery, which produced many kinds of wild berries, and large fields of wild sun-flowers, abounding with and a species of very superior turtle, which is abundant in that part of the Pecos river. I have had as many as seven live wild turkeys in my corral at one time, and quite as many dead ones dressed and hanging up. On public days, such as New Year, Christmas, Fourth of July, and sometimes on Sundays, my company were fully supplied with good things from my private larder. But hunting was somewhat of a dangerous pastime in that vicinity. Prowling bands of hostile Apaches, Navajoes and Comanches were at any time liable to be met, and it was safe practice, when double-barreled guns were used, to place a dozen well-fitting balls in one's pouch and a goodly quantity of heavy buck-shot. Besides, what are known as Californian lions, were very plentiful, while catamounts, panthers, grizzly bears, and even jaguars were by no means uncommon. The Apaches never ventured out unless in sufficient force to resist an ordinary attack, until they had resided there some time and had made themselves perfect masters of the situation. On the other hand, the Comanches, with whom the Bosque Redondo had formerly been a chosen hunting ground, gradually but reluctantly withdrew, when they found out that the Apaches were numerous and would be protected by our troops.seeds, render the Bosque Redondo a favorite abode with wild turkeys, which existed there in great numbers, and were exceedingly fat and fine flavored. My Apache friends kept my larder lavishly supplied with turkeys, grouse, deer, bear and antelope hams,
Soon after our first arrival at that spot—then a howling wilderness, ninety miles distant from the nearest habitation—a commission of engineers, headed by Col. A. L. Anderson, was sent down to the Bosque, for the purpose of selecting a site for a permanent fort, to be called Fort Sumner, with the view of establishing a large Indian Reservation there, and erecting a valuable advance post on the line of approach from Texas. Among our visitors was Dr. J. M. McNulty, then Medical Director for New Mexico and Arizona, and probably the most popular officer in the "Column from California." The Doctor and myself had long been acquainted, and I was proud to have the privilege of showing him some little attention; but his visit came near being attended with fatal results, to him at least. When we left Albuquerque for the Bosque Redondo, Gen. Carleton supplied us with five semi-civilized Indians from a town about eighteen miles distant from Santa Fé, the name of which has escaped my memory. The chief of the tribe was named Don Carlos, a man about fifty-five years of age short, thick-set and resolute. He had visited Washington, New York, Philadelphia, and other Eastern cities, and had an exalted opinion of the American people. Dr. McNulty, learning that wild turkeys abounded in the immediate vicinity, determined to go on a hunt for some of those delicate birds, and took one of Don Carlos' Indians as a guide. As the distance to be traveled was not more than a mile and a half, they waited until within half an hour of sundown, and then repaired to the roosting place. The birds were fast gathering upon the tree, and the Doctor determined to wait a little until they got quiet, when he perceived that a band of hostile Indians were as eagerly watching him as he the turkeys. His guide also became cognizant of the fact about the same time, and both turned their horses to recross the river and gain our side for, be it known, that the banks of the Pecos are from ten to twenty-five feet perpendicular descent, and that crossings are only found at rare intervals and the Doctor, having crossed, was compelled to seek the same ford for his return. The Apaches, for they were of that tribe, perceiving his intention, made a bold and concerted effort to cut him off, but the Doctor succeeded in foiling their plan, and returned safely to camp much faster than he had gone. His ardor to obtain wild turkeys of his own killing at the Bosque Redondo was considerably cooled by this adventure.
Another more serious, but very laughable, adventure occurred on a turkey hunt a few days afterward. My First Lieutenant, Mr. Descourtis, was exceedingly fond of the chase, and he joined me about that time, after nearly nine months absence from his company, in obedience to very strict orders from Gen. Carleton. One evening he determined to go and shoot some wild turkeys, and engaged one of the Indians of Don Carlos. About an hour after their departure the guide came back howling with pain, and declared that Descourtis had shot him. Upon examination it was found that his posteriors were fully pitted with small shot, and upon the return of Mr. Descourtis, which occurred about five minutes later, that officer stated that his gun had gone off accidentally and shot the Indian. The wounds were painful, but by no means dangerous, and under the skillful treatment of Dr. Gwyther, Post Surgeon, were healed in a few days. The Indian subsequently said, that on arriving at the ground he perceived a band of hostile Apaches or Navajoes, and warned Mr. Descourtis of their presence; but he failed to discover them. The guide then told him that he would not risk his life for a turkey or two, and started to leave him, when Mr. Descourtis became enraged and shot him. I cannot pretend to decide between the two, but it is certain that Mr. Descourtis brought back no turkeys, and the Indian fetched a whole load of shot in his carcass, and both came home as fast as their horses would carry them; but the Indian's animal having received a liberal supply of the same pellets in his rear, came much the quicker. This event greatly disgusted Don Carlos and his people, and it was only with infinite trouble, during the time that the guide was under surgical treatment, that I could persuade the old man to remain and fulfill his contract. None of them could ever be induced to approach Descourtis again.
Among the Apaches was one who particularly outshone the rest in the chase. He was a young man of about twenty-seven years, named Nah-kah-yen, or the "Keen Sighted," a reputation to which he was fully entitled. This man's knowledge of woodcraft, and the habits of animals, was really wonderful. He could not only perceive an object so distant as to be almost in visible, but could distinguish the particular species. Nah-kah-yen was of medium height, well formed and as active as a panther. He was a sort of dandy among them, being always the best dressed, and paid great attention to his hair, which was always kept well combed and oiled. His long scalp lock was an especial object of attention, and highly ornamented with small silver plates, made into little round shields—buttons, beads, feathers and tinsel. Another of my most trusted favorites was a grim old warrior named Nah-tanh, or the "Corn Flower," commonly called Chato by the Mexicans, on account of his large nose which had been broken and flattened by the kick of a horse. Nah-tanh was much esteemed in his tribe, both as a warrior and judicious counselor. He was about forty years old, weighed about two hundred pounds; broad and deep-chested, very powerful and very grave—scarcely ever deigning to smile. His decision in reference to the qualities of a horse or a weapon was considered final. He had been one of the most dreaded scourges in the country, but having surrendered he professed his determination to abide by his promise, and during the whole term of my service in New Mexico he kept his word faithfully. His imperturbable coolness and profound sagacity, especially on a bear or lion hunt, proved very serviceable.
After killing an animal I would give the skin to the Apaches to have it dressed for me, and they turned me out some elegant deer, lion and beaver skins, softly dressed, with the fur perfectly preserved. Having discovered the tracks of a very large lion along the river-bottom, I summoned Nah-kah-yen and Nah-tanh to accompany me on the hunt for his majesty. Both were eager, and we started about ten o'clock a. m. I showed them the trail, which they examined carefully for a few moments, and then concluded that the animal had a haunt in a jungle about five miles below. Without pretending to follow up the tracks we struck off into the clear prairie, and went down stream until opposite the jungle, when we separated, each one taking a side of what we supposed to be the animal's lair, and at a signal we approached together. At that place the Pecos is about eight feet deep for a couple of hundred yards, when it shoals again to one, two and three feet, the river being much wider. The jungle was neared with caution, and it being about midday, there was good reason to suppose that the lion was taking his rest after a night's rambles. One large cotton-wood tree flung its branches out wider than the rest, while its top overlooked its surrounding comrades. It grew on the very bank of the river, and overhung the jungle. Nah-tanh dismounted from his horse, which was left free, and being perfectly broken, remained quiet where he was left; he then climbed the tree referred to and crawled out on a large limb, until he was directly over the water and could get a fair view of the supposed lair.
The Californian lion and the panther are both cowardly animals, and will rarely stand at bay, even when wounded; but there are exceptional cases, and sometimes they will become the attacking parties. While Nah-tanh was endeavoring to penetrate the secrets of the thicket, he was summoned by Nah-kah-yen to look out for himself, and gazing in the direction pointed out, we saw a large panther crouching on another limb, not more than fifteen feet from Nah-tanh, and evidently bent on trying titles with my friend. In an instant Nah-kah-yen raised his rifle and took a rapid shot at the beast, but the ball only inflicted a slight flesh wound and made him hasten his motions, for in another moment he made his spring toward Nah-tanh. That wary Apache was not to be so easily caught, for the instant that the panther left the limb on which he had been crouching Nah-tanh dropped from his into the water some thirty feet, and disappeared under the surface, nor did he rise again until he had reached the friendly shelter of the bank, out of his enemy's sight. The panther landed on the spot so suddenly vacated, and gazed anxiously down into the depths below, cracking his tail against his sides and clawing great pieces of the bark from the limb. By this time Nah-kah-yen had reloaded, and I had come up with my breech-loading carbine and two heavy Colt's revolvers. We both took good aim and brought the beast from his high perch. We soon hauled his carcass to land and stripped him of his hide. It was an enormous specimen, measuring nearly seven feet from the tip of his tail to the end of his nose. I brought his skin to California with me as a souvenir of the occurrence, and subsequently made it a present to Philip Martinetti. When Nah-tanh surveyed the lifeless body of his late antagonist, he smiled grimly and said: "Tagoon-ya-dah; shis Inday to-dah ishan;" which means—"Fool; an Apache is no food for you."
We were about to return home, when our attention was attracted by a terrible noise in a rocky cañon, about four hundred yards lower down the river. Hastily remounting, we galloped to the place, and after having dismounted, approached the cañon with caution. Suddenly we came upon a very exciting and interesting scene. A very large lion, probably the one of which we were in pursuit, was engaged in deadly conflict with a well-developed brown bear. The lion was crouched down about twelve feet from bruin, and the bear was standing erect on his hind legs, his forearms protruded, and his back against a large rock. His cries were piercing, and to them we owed the pleasure of being present at the combat, which quickly began. The lion watched his adversary with intense gaze, his long and sinewy tail working and twisting like a large wounded serpent. His formidable claws occasionally grappled the rocks and gravel, and every now and then he would exhibit his terrible teeth and utter a low but significant growl. Having reached the sticking point, the lion leaped forward with a fearful rush and grappled the bear. Then commenced the most frightful cries from both fur, dust and blood flew from each combatant in quantities; biting, tearing and hugging were indulged without stint. After about two minutes of this terrific strife, the lion suddenly released himself and sprang away. Each animal then commenced to lick its wounds, the lion having re-occupied his former position in front of the bear, and evidently bent on "fighting it out on that line if it took all summer." The bear was decidedly anxious to get away, but did not dare turn his back on his more agile adversary. After some ten minutes spent in licking their wounds and repairing damages, the lion reassumed the offensive, and the bear again placed himself on the defensive. The same scene was repeated, but this time the lion had succeeded in tearing open the bear's back and drawing his vitals through the gap. The bear fell dead, and the lion hauled off once more to lick his wounds. Having taken breath, he leisurely proceeded to haul the bear's carcass down into the cañon and bury it with leaves, sand and other debris. Just then I heard the crack of a rifle, and the late conqueror tumbled over on his side dead, beside the body of his late foe, having received a rifle ball just back of the ear from the weapon of Nah-tanh, who had by no means forgotten his own recent encounter. This beast measured seven feet seven inches and a half from the end of his nose to the tip of his tail. His skin I also preserved, and afterward presented it to Major (now General) H. D. Whalen, then commanding Fort Sumner. As we had more than we could carry, Nah-kah-yen was dispatched to the Apache camp to bring some pack horses, and squaws to cut up the meat and take it to camp, for the Apaches are rather fond of lion and panther meat, but seldom touch that of the bear. This was sport enough for one day, and after discovering a couple of fine turkey roosts, we returned home, quite elated with the result of our hunt.
Beavers were quite plentiful on the Pecos, about Fort Sumner, and we used to enjoy shooting them on fine moonlight nights. The Apaches have a great regard for the beaver, which they aver to be by far the most sagacious and intelligent of animals. The Pecos beavers are very large, and in midwinter have an unusually thick, heavy and soft fur. Their tails, roasted in ashes, make a capital dish, and are much esteemed, but rather too fat and musky for most stomachs. The Apaches brought me quite a number of young ones, about a week old, but milk was difficult to obtain, and I only succeeded in raising one until it got to be three months old and able to care for itself, when I released the poor thing by returning it to its tribe. It had become quite a pet, and would perform several little tricks with ease. As it was brought up among human beings, it possessed none of the native fear of man which is so strongly characteristic of its race, and it is quite probable that the poor little fellow subsequently fell a victim to misplaced confidence, although I carried it six miles below camp, where there was a large beaver dam, before restoring it to freedom.
The quality of mercy is unknown among the Apaches. They frequently take birds and animals alive, but invariably give them to their children to torture. A warrior is seized with delight when his son exhibits superior skill in this way. He looks on approvingly and makes occasional suggestions to the aspiring youth. The squaws are especially pleased with the precociousness of their children in the art of torturing. Even their horses are not spared, and their dogs may truly be said to lead "dogs' lives." What we call chivalry is also unknown to the Apache, who regards it as sheer folly and useless risk of life; yet there are instances of self-sacrifice and heroic devotion which would be second to none recorded in history, were it not for the fact that in each case the hero was mortally wounded before he displayed remarkable bravery for the safety of others. A badly wounded Indian is much more dangerous than one who is not. Feeling that he cannot escape, his first object is to kill as many of his foes as possible, and protect his own people to the last gasp. I have seen a single Apache, stationed at the narrow entrance to a defile, receive four carbine balls through the breast before he sank on his knees, and every time the cavalry charged that man would keep back the horses by dashing a red blanket in their faces. By this heroism and wonderful tenacity of life he saved some sixty or seventy of his people, who gained time to retreat amidst inaccessible rocks. He was only finished by receiving a pistol ball through the brain, and continued fighting, single-handed, until finally dispatched. His bow and quiver of arrows are now in the rooms of the California Pioneers.