By Jan Lawrence
Editor’s note: This is a continuation of an article about Susan Weaver McAbee’s crossing the Plains, which started two weeks ago in the newspaper.
Susan Weaver McAbee continues: “It was after we had continued along some distance that a rather amusing thing happened. Our band of horses were [sic] led by a bell mare. One night, Mac (Susan’s husband, John Wesley McAbee) was lying out in the open near where the bell mare was staked out. We knew the Indians were about and always placed a watchman for protection.
Mac was neatly covered by tall grass but was so situated as to be able to see all about him. At some little distance, he saw something move. It might be a bush, and it might be an Indian. He could not tell, so he waited. It was an Indian, and he watched him stealthily approach the stake, which held the bell mare. Mac believed that shooting the Indians was no way to aid the White Man’s cause, so did not shoot, even though the Indian no doubt intended to steal the band. Mac was very close to the stake towards which the Indian was approaching, in fact, directly in front of it.
As the Indian bent over to pull up the stake, Mac was up, quickly shooting: ‘What are you doing here?’ The Indian straightened up also, but so quickly as to nearly lose his balance. He recovered as quickly, though, and drew himself up, stoically facing what he evidently supposed to be a speedy trip to his Happy Hunting Ground. ‘Wigwam lost,’ he said. And Mac questioned him again. Of course, Mac did not believe him, but at any rate, he signified to the Indian that he understood him to mean he was lost. The Indian was disdainful. He replied, ‘No, Indian no lost. Wigwam lost.’ This expression flavored our speech for many days.
Mac would not kill the Indian then, nor later, though he was urgently requested to do so by the other men. He brought him a prisoner to camp, gave him something to eat, and made him lie down in front of a fire that was kept brightly burning directly in front of our own wagon. I had a big Newfoundland dog that hated Indians as he hated no other thing. Mac placed my dog to guard the Indian. And there they lay all through the night stretched out, facing each other. The Indian with his eyes closed and the dog jealously watching for the least movement.
Mac told the Indian if he moved the dog would tear him to pieces and I think the Indian believed him, for he never moved…never turned nor lifted so much as a hand the whole night. The Newfoundland gave a vicious growl at the least pretext. This may have had something to do with his passivity. I think he also knew Mac kept him covered with his rifle within the wagon, although he, too, pretended to be asleep.
The next morning Mac still refused to kill him. Instead, he gave him breakfast, food to carry with him, and told him to ‘find Wigwam.’ I can see that Indian yet. A tall fellow, powerfully built, natively clad, with such a calmness about him, as he turned his back upon us and slowly walked away into the woods. Four days after this, this same Indian, his chief, and quite a few others came up to our train.
They made offers of friendship, many speeches which we took to mean gratitude, and the chief, with much ceremony, presented Mac with such a fat and pretty pony. ‘For the White Man’s mahali, he said. Mac could not be prevailed upon to accept the pony. I whispered to him to please take it but he would not. He was afraid the pony had been trained as a decoy and would lead our horses back to his own village. Perhaps he was right. I do not know.
From One Hundred and Ten (this refers to the longitude of 110 degrees near Gallatin, Montana) we crossed and continued along the South Platte, crossing ‘The Little Blue’, a river narrow and very swift, and finally reached Fort Kearney, which is, I think, about three hundred miles from One Hundred and Ten. In the Platte we had to swim six oxen to keep our wagons from sinking in the quicksand. Although ‘The Little Blue’ was narrow, we had to ford our wagons here, too, because it was so swift. In fact, all major rivers between One Hundred and Ten and Fort Kearney had to be crossed by swimming the cattle and fording the wagons. The swimming oxen were placed in the lead, men riding on either side using long whips with which to turn them when it was impossible to do otherwise.
Author’s Note: Part three will be about Mac’s greatest loss.