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   Chapter 5 THE FAME OF THE TRAPPER

Scouting with Kit Carson By Everett T. Tomlinson Characters: 10348

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


In response to Reuben's startling questions both men halted and looked keenly in the direction in which he was pointing.

"Is that where your camp was?" inquired Rat.

"It looks like it," replied Reuben quietly as he hastened toward the spot he had discovered on the plains. Both were silent until they arrived at the place they were seeking. Then, after a hasty inspection, Reuben said quickly: "This is where Jean and I camped last night."

"Are you sure?"

"I know it is," said Reuben positively after further investigation.

"Where is your friend now?"

"That's what I should like to know, myself," responded Reuben, as he peered intently about him in all directions.

"What are you going to do about it?" inquired Rat after a brief silence.

"It's strange where Jean could have gone," said Reuben slowly, almost as if he was unconscious of the presence of his companion. "He isn't a man likely to be drawn into trouble. I have been wondering if the redskins got him."

"If they did they carried him off."

"But there are no signs of any scuffle," protested Reuben, as once more he examined the ground around where the fire had been.

"He may not have put up any fight."

"You don't know Jean," said Reuben positively. "It's strange. The ponies are gone. There isn't a sign of the packs, and Jean isn't to be seen anywhere."

"What are you goin' to do about it?" repeated Rat. "You know I can't stay here forever. I've got to look after my own job. I usually find that if I ever have anything or get anything done it is because Rat True looks after it. Ever noticed that, boy?"

"I wonder where Jean can be," repeated Reuben, almost as if he had not heard the inquiry of the giant.

"Maybe if you stay here long enough he will show up. That's what my father used to tell me about the cows. He told me if I would take my milkin' pail and go out and sit down in the middle of the pasture, pretty soon the cows would all come up and ask me to milk them. So I'm thinkin' it may be a good thing for you to sit down here, and perhaps your friend, if there is such a friend, will come back."

"What do you mean?" demanded Reuben quickly, as he turned and faced his companion. "Don't you think Jean was here?"

"That's what you say; I have your word for it."

Reuben's cheeks slowly flushed, but he wisely controlled his anger and did not respond to the implied unbelief of the huge Rat.

"I told you I couldn't stay here all day," continued Rat. "Now will you go back with me to the place where we started, or do you want to go on alone? I shan't let you have that pony if you don't go back with me, and if you do go I want you to understand right now that we part company when we get back to the gorge."

Still Reuben did not respond to the rough declaration, for he was yet uncertain what his best course would be.

"Come, make up your mind," called Rat, as he turned his horse about so that he faced the direction from which they had come.

"I'm going back with you," said Reuben quietly.

"All right, then, come along."

Together the two men departed from the camp, but they had not gone far before Rat insisted upon drawing his young companion into conversation.

"You was tellin' about Kit Carson a spell ago," he suggested.

"Yes."

"Well, what about him? What is his name anyway? What does 'Kit' stand for?"

"Christopher."

"And they call him Kit for short?"

"Yes."

"Same as they call me Rat instead of Erastus."

"I didn't know but Rat was your real name," said Reuben.

"It is," laughed Rat, "only it isn't all there is of it when my mother speaks to me. Speaking of Kit Carson, you say you have seen him?"

"Lots of times."

"Did you ever talk to him?"

"Yes."

"Tell me about him."

Instantly Reuben's face lighted and it was evident that the request of his companion was one that touched a responsive chord.

"He's the greatest man I ever saw," he declared enthusiastically.

"The biggest?"

"No, I didn't say biggest, I said greatest."

"What's the difference?" roared Rat.

"I cannot explain it to you," said Reuben truthfully, for his feeling toward the boastful Erastus was rapidly becoming one of disgust. The man was so blatant and boastful that the reaction had taken place which led Reuben to believe that he was not all that he claimed to be.

"Where did he come from?" inquired Rat.

"He told me he was born in Kentucky, but that his father moved to the backwoods of Missouri when Kit was a little fellow."

"How old is he?"

"I don't know. I think he is about twenty-five or six."

"Quite an old man, isn't he?" laughed Rat. "Do you think he could throw me?"

"Yes," said Reuben quietly.

"That's a good one!" roared Rat. "I could take him in my hands and crack him the way I would a stick. I am told he is a little fellow."

"Yes, he isn't very large," acknowledged Reuben. "He isn't much taller than I am, and he is light. His voice is as soft as a girl's. Any one might think when he first saw him that he was the most peaceful fellow in the county."

"Isn't he?"

"He never picks a quarrel, but anybody who picked a quarrel with him would w

ish that he had grabbed a grizzly instead of the quiet, peaceable little Kit Carson."

"Tell me some more about him," suggested Rat.

"I don't know that I know very much. I have talked with him and asked him a good many times to tell me about his adventures, but he is very modest."

"Your modest men are always cowards. They don't say anything, because they are afraid."

"It's plain you don't know Kit Carson. He told me that when he was fifteen years old his father 'prenticed him to a harness-maker. That was a good trade, but such a quick, nimble fellow as Kit couldn't work at it very long. He did stay his full two years, though, and learned the trade, but when his time was out he decided that he would become a trapper. That was what he had always wanted to be. He told me that when he was a little fellow one of the trappers that had come in with his skins let him pull the trigger of his gun. That was the first time Kit had ever fired a rifle, but he wanted to keep at it, he liked it so well, and pretty soon he not only learned to shoot, but he became the best shot in the neighbourhood. The Indians all liked him and they told him a great many things about the woods and the animals that live there. You see, when his father first went into Howard County all the settlers had to live in a log fort for a while, that had guards on the lookout for the Indians day and night. That was a part of Kit's work when he was a little chap. He got so that he knew the war-whoops of every tribe and almost every redskin. My father used to say that if Kit Carson did so well in his harness-making, which he didn't like, he wondered what he would do when he found some work that he enjoyed."

"Did he go to trapping right away?"

"He was on the lookout all the time, and pretty soon he went to the leader of a party that was going to start for Santa Fé. You see, then there were no trails marked out over the plains. That was a good while ago-in 1826."

"And I wish there wasn't any now," suggested Rat. "In those days they tried to hide the trails, and now they try to make 'em plain. The redskins know every time a party starts with their traps, and wherever you find game you find Indians there, too."

"Yes. Kit Carson told me some stories of how parties of Indians surrounded the trappers or traders and took their guns and horses away from them and either tomahawked the men or left them to starve. But every man in Kit Carson's party was well armed, had a good horse, and was up to all the tricks of the Indians. I have seen them start out, every man wearing a deerskin suit, and some of the men all dressed up with bead embroidery, and the fringes of their shirts dyed half a dozen different colours. They had pack mules to carry the traps, and when they all started they marched in Indian fashion, single file. They took turns in going ahead, for the ones that went first had to break the way for the others. Then, there was a bugler at the head of the line. If any of the men strayed away while they were hunting, the bugle was to let them know where the main line was."

"That's all very pretty," said Rat. "I have heard a good many stories about Kit Carson, but I'm wonderin' if he has any nerve."

"I know he has," said Reuben quickly. "On that first trip one of the men in the party had an accident. He shot himself in the arm. Pretty soon the others decided that the only way for the poor chap to save his life was to have his arm cut off. I don't know whether or not Kit Carson did the job, but I know that he helped. They used a razor, a saw, and a redhot wagon-bolt."

"Did the man get over it?" demanded Rat boisterously.

"Yes. And he kept on with the others. He forded the rivers and climbed the mountains and followed along an Indian trail, over the track that the buffaloes had made, and never once dropped behind. When the party finally got to Santa Fé Kit Carson decided that he would not go back to Missouri, so he pushed on alone to Taos. That was eighty miles from Santa Fé. You know that is a trading station for trappers?"

"So I have heard," assented Rat.

"Well, there wasn't much in that place for Kit. He said the little, narrow streets had mud huts along their sides and that water was pretty scarce, but he always liked Taos, because it was there that he met Kincade."

"Who's he?"

"Didn't you ever hear of Kincade? Why, he was one of the biggest trappers that ever got a skin in the Rocky Mountains. He knew all about the wild beasts and the places where the beaver dams were, and he knew where the Indians that troubled the trappers were likely to be found."

"He knew a lot, didn't he?" laughed Rat.

"Yes, he did. Kit Carson says he did. But what he liked best of all was that he knew Spanish, and he taught Kit how to speak it. He stayed there until spring, and then he decided that he would go back home and start out trapping on his own account. So he joined a party of trappers that were going East and started to go home, but he hadn't gone halfway across the prairies before he met some more trappers that were on their way to Santa Fé, and what they said to him made him change his plans."

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