Theodore Roosevelt (18581919). A Book-Lovers Holidays in the Open. 1916.
VII WILD HUNTING COMPANIONS
IN the days when I lived and worked on a cattle-ranch, on the Little Missouri, I usually hunted alone; and, if not, my companion was one of the cow-hands, unless I was taking out a guest from the East. On some of my regular hunting trips in the Rockies I went with one or more of my ranch-handswho were valued friends and fellow workers. On others of these trips I went with men who were either temporarily, like John Willis, or permanently, like Tazewell Woody and John Goff, professional guides and hunters. In Africa I sometimes hunted with some of the settlers, and often alone or with my son Kermit; but even more frequently with either Cunningham or Tarlton, the former for many years a professional elephant hunter, and the latter by choice and preference a lion hunter. Both of them, I think I may say, became permanently my friends as the result of the trip.
Often, however, my companions were not white men, but either half-breeds and people of mixed blood or else wild natives of the wild lands over which the great game roamed. To some of these men I became really attached. Not a few of them showed a courage and loyalty and devotion to duty which would have put to shame very many civilized men. Almost all of them at times did or said things that were very interesting because of the glimpses they gave into souls that really belong to a totally different age from that in which I and my friends of civilized lands are living.
December, 1913, and January, 1914, I spent in the remote interior of Brazil, on and near various rivers which form the headwaters of the mighty Paraguay. It is still a frontier country; the province is known as the Matto Grosso, the province of the great wooded wilderness. Yet it has a civilized and Christian history which runs back for over a century. It is on the eve of striking material development, and, nevertheless, it is still primitive with a primitiveness half that of a belated Europe, half that of a savagery struggling over the border-line into an exceedingly simple civilization. Out of these diverse and conflicting elements, and with a century of comparative isolation behind it, the land has produced a far more distinctive and peculiar life than our own frontier communities ever had the chance to develop. It would be difficult to find in any country more charming and better-bred men than some of the gentlemen, the great ranchmen and the political and social leaders in city life, whose generous hospitality made me their debtor. But the ordinary folk, and especially the Caboclos, the peasantry, although with many sterling qualities, were of a type wholly different from anything to be found either in Europe or in temperate North America.
The land is largely composed of the pantanals, the flat, wide-stretching marshes through which the Paraguay and its affluents wind. Where the land is low it is covered with papyrus and water-grass; if a few feet higher, with open palm forest. It offers fine pasturage for the herds of cattle. In addition there are mountains and belts of tropic jungle and forest, and to the north rises the sandy central table-land of Brazil. There are no railroads, and no highroads of any length for wheeled vehicles. The rivers are the highways. Native boats, with palm-thatch houses and cooking-ovens of red earth on the decks, drift down them and are poled or towed up them. A few light-draft steamers, running every week or fortnight, connect the widely scattered little cities. They are quaint, picturesque little cities, without a wheeled vehicle except the water-carts. The one-story houses enclose open courtyards. The walls are thick, and the windows and doors very high, so as to let whatever coolness the night air carries fan the sleepers in their hammocks. In the bigger houses there are beds in the guest-chambers; but the hammock is really the bed; and in the inns the bedrooms have rings in the walls from which the traveller hangs the hammock he has brought with him. After nightfall the men sit at little tables under the trees in the public squares or outside the taverns, and through the open doors and windows of the houses, in the mysterious darkness, are the half-seen figures of girls and women; and stringed instruments tinkle in the still tropic night.
When Portugal still ruled Brazil, the first of these cities was founded, toward the end of the eighteenth century. At that time it could only be reached by a long voyage of peril and hardship up the Amazon and the Madeira, and then by mule back. No place in the world is now so remote from civilization as this little capital of the "Great Wilderness" then was; but its life was fervent under the torrid sky. Governors, generals, priests were there, slave-owners and gold seekers; killers of men and lovers of women. There was a palace and a cathedral and a fort, adorned with paintings and carvings. All are in ruins now; the rank vegetation of the tropics, beautiful and lethal, has covered them and twisted them asunder; for the strange little one-time capital city is dead, and those that dwelt therein have left it.
The next comers followed a route that led from the opposite direction, the south. These were the Paolistas. At São Paulo, almost under the Tropic of Cancer, the Portuguese conquerors married with the women of the native Indians, and made, first slaves, and then soldiers, of men from many Indian tribes. They all became welded together into one people, speaking Portuguese, but largely, and probably mainly, Indian by blood; and being of various martial stocks, with the morals of the viking age, they grew into a community of freebooters whose raiding expeditions, carried on with the utmost energy, daring, and ruthlessness, spread terror far and wide. Early in the nineteenth century these hardy horsemen and boatmen, searching for gold, land, and slaves, penetrated to the headwaters of the Paraguay, and with their advent began the first rude change from mere savagery to that which held within it the germ of civilization.
Two or three of the ranches at which we stopped were provided with elaborate and even handsome ranch-houses and other buildings. One of them was owned by a wealthy and cultivated native proprietor. It was fitted with much stately luxury, and some comfort. Two others were owned by foreign corporations. Among the higher employees were men from Europe and the United States, and also "orientáls," as the men of Uruguay are always calledUruguay being the "banda orientál," or eastern shore, of the Plate. These orientáls were as pure white as the Europeans and North Americans, and were of a high grade. The ordinary cow-hands on these two ranches were mostly Paraguayans, men of almost pure Indian blood, speaking the Guarani tongue, which is the real home language of the peculiar and interesting little republic which takes its name from the great river. These particular ranches were on the borders of the Bolivian country, and along this frontier the conditions as regards order and international law are much what they were on the border between England and Scotland in the sixteenth century. The man who cannot protect his own life by his own fierce and wary prowess cannot exist under such conditions, and the cow-hands must be men recklessly ready to fight for their cattle. The Paraguayans of the class who sought employment in the western interior of Brazil bore a fighting, and somewhat murderous, reputation. They were a daredevil set, and under men of masterful type they did hard and dangerous work for their employers.
The ordinary ranches where we stopped were of a different type. The houses were of one story, with thick, white walls. The few rooms were furnished only with rough tables and benches and rings for the hammocks. The unglazed windows were fitted with solid wooden shutters. Outbuildings stood near by; one perhaps for a kitchen; sheds for skinning or for the few stores; cabins in which the ranch-hands lived with their families. Palm-trees, or bananas with huge, ragged leaves, or trees unlike any familiar to our experience, might stand near by, close to the big cow corrals. On the poorer ranches the houses were nothing but log skeletons thatched with palm-leaves.
On these ranches the "camaradas," the cow-hands, in whose company we hunted, were all native Brazilians, of the same type as the men whom subsequently we took with us on our voyage of exploration down the Rio da Dúvida to the Amazon. It was a simple, primitive existence. All the industry was connected with the cattle or with cultivating the tropical vegetables and fruits of the garden. Two-wheeled ox-carts, each wheel taller than a man, carried hides and smoked flesh to the river landing where native boats, or now and then light-draft steamers, were moored. After sunset the life went on outdoors, unless it rained, until bedtime. As it grew dusk the doorways and the unglazed windows, standing open, showed only empty darkness within. The cooking was done in pots, at small fires outside. Now and then some one played a guitar or banjo; or sang strange songs, light-hearted songs of dances, melancholy songs of love or of death, songs about the feats of men and of bulls, and of famous horses; but always with something queer and barbaric as if they came from a time and a life immeasurably remote. Always the darkness shrouded from us the hot, furtive life we knew it held.
These poor country folk were on the whole a kindly, courteous race; it was pleasant to have them known as "camaradas" by the men of the upper class. They represented every shade of mixture among the three strains of Portuguese, Indian, and negro, and no color-line was drawn by the pure bloods of any of the three races. Whatever their blood, they lived alike and dressed alike. There were very curious customs among many of them, customs which were probably dying out, but which must surely have been imported from utter savagery, although they were all Christians and all spoke Portuguese. As an instance, a number of them, from out-of-the-way places, but including at least one man who was of practically pure white blood, had the edges of their front teeth filed so as to make them semicircular.
When we hunted we would leave our camp, or the ranch-house where we had slept, before dawn. The hot sun flamed red above the marshes or sent long shafts of crimson light between the palm trunks. It might be evening before we returned. The heat of the day would be spent in the shade near a pond, and often our dusky companions would then get into long conversations with us. These camaradas usually rode little stallions, but sometimes one would be mounted on a trotting ox, which was guided by a string through the nostrils. Half-starved dogs followed behind. The men carried spears, rarely firearms. Their hats and clothes, their saddles and bridles seemed on the point of falling to pieces. On their bare feet they wore rusty spurs, and the stirrups were iron rings, in which they thrust the big toe, and the toe next it. But no antic of the half-broken horse and no difficulty in the jungle trail made the slightest impression on them. They were only fairly good hunters and trailers, and when in thick forest Kermit with his compass could find his way better than they could. A few of them hunted the jaguar and also the cashada, the big peccary which goes in herds and is aggressive and truculent; but most of them let the dangerous big cat and the dangerous little hogs severely alone, and hunted only the tapir, deer, and capybara. The rare jaguars that become man-eaters, the occasional giant anacondas, the deadly poisonous snakes, and the cashadas, were all the subjects of superstitious tales. They were shy about telling these stories to persons who might laugh, but if assured of sympathy would occasionally unbend. Then they would describe how man-eating jaguars were warlocks, able to enslave the souls of those they slew; so that each murdered man thenceforth served the dreadful beast that had eaten him, guarded him from danger, and guided him to fresh victims; or they would tell a ghost-story I never quite understood, about a seemingly harmless ghost, white and without any arms, which in the night-time rode the biggest peccary of the herd. In these tales the giant ant-eater always appeared as a comic character, a figure of fun, although with a somewhat grim ability to take care of himself; it was he who would meet drunken men and embrace them with his unpleasant claws and then hurry them home.
The camaradas whom we took with us on our exploring trip were mostly drawn from among these country folk of the ranches, although two or three came from the coast towns. The two best hunters were Antonio the Pareçis, a full-blood Pareçis Indian, and Antonio Correa, an intelligent, daredevil mulatto, probably with also a dash of Indian blood. The latter, like several other of our men, had lived among the wild Indians and had adopted some of their traits, including one exceedingly odd matter of dress. Antonio the Pareçis, a kindly, faithful, stupid soul, had abandoned his tribe, come into the settlements, and married a dark mulattressthe queer result being that according to the custom of the country their children would be regarded as civilized and therefore white. Antonio Correa was one of the two best and most trustworthy men on the trip; uncomplaining, hardworking, and undaunted in time of peril.
When, during our descent of the unknown river, we reached the first rubber man's house he expressed with curious eloquence the feeling we all had at hearing around us again the voices of men and women, and knowing that the chance of utter disaster was over; instead of camping at night in the midst of dangerous rapids, while every hour of the day carried its menace, and there always loomed ahead the danger of death in any one of a dozen possible ways, from famine to fever and dysentery, and from drowning to battle with Indians. When we reached the first rubber-gatherer's store the delicacy which all our men most eagerly coveted was condensed milk, and to my amused horror they solemnly proceeded each to eat a canful of the sweet and sticky luxury.
Of all my wilder hunting companions those to whom I became most attachedalthough some of them were the wildest of allwere those Kermit and I had with us in Africa for eleven months. Disregarding a very problematical Christian, these were either Mohammedans or heathens. However, after having been in our employ a little while, and after having adopted the fez, jersey, and short trousersand, as a matter of pure pride and symbolism, bootsthey all regarded themselves as of an elevated social status, and openly looked down on the unregenerated "shenzis" or natives who were still in the kirtle-of-banana-leaves cultural stage. They represented many different tribes. Some of them were file-toothed cannibals. Many of them had come from long distances; foras philanthropists will do well to notebeing even a porter in a white man's service in British East Africa or Uganda or the Soudan, meant an amount of pay and a comfort of living and (although this, I think, was subordinate in their minds) a justness of treatment which they could by no possibility achieve in their own homes under native conditions. As for the personal attendants, the gun-bearers, tent-boys, and saises, as well as the head men and askaris, or soldiers, they felt as far above the porters as the latter did above the shenzis. The common tongue was Swahili, a negro-Arab dialect, originally spoken by the descendants, mainly negro in blood, of the Arab conquerors, traders, and slave-raiders of Zanzibar. This is a lingo found over much of central Africa. But only a few of our men were Swahilis by blood.
Of course, most of them were like children, with a grasshopper inability for continuity of thought and realization of the future. They would often act with an inconsequence that was really puzzling. Dog-like fidelity, persevered in for months, would be ended by a fit of resentment at something unknown, or by a sheer volatility which made them abandon their jobs when it was even more to their detriment than to ours. But they had certain fixed standards of honor; the porter would not abandon his load, the gun-bearer would not abandon his master when in danger from a charging beastalthough, unless a first-class man, he might at that critical moment need discipline to restrain his nervous excitability. They appreciated justice, but they were neither happy nor well behaved unless they were under authority; weakness toward them was even more ruinous than harshness and overseverity.
The personal attendants of Kermit and myself established a kind of "chief petty officers' mess" in the caravan. Not only his own boys, but mine, really cared more for Kermit than they did for me. This was partly because he spoke Swahili; partly because he could see game, follow its tracks, and walk as I could not; and partly because he exercised more strict control over his men and yet more thought and care in giving them their pleasures and rewards. I was apt to become amused and therefore too lenient in dealing with grasshopper-like failingswhich was bad for the grasshoppers themselves; and, moreover, I was apt to announce to a man who had deserved well that he should receive so many rupees at the end of the trip, which to him seemed a prophecy about the somewhat remote future, whereas Kermit gave less, but gave it in more immediate form, such as sugar or tea, and rupees to be expended in the first Indian or Swahili trader's store we met; on which occasions I would see Kermit head a solemn procession of both his followers and mine to the store, where he would superintend their purchases, not only helping them to make up vacillating minds but seeing that they were not cheated.
An exception was my head tent-boy, Ali. He had a good deal of Arab blood in him, he spoke a little English, he was really intelligent, he was an innately loyal soul, and he was keenly alive to the honor of being the foremost attendant of the head of the expedition. He was distinctly an autocrat to the second tent-boy, whose tenure was apt to be short, and he regarded Somalis with professional rivalry and distrust. He always did his work excellently, and during the eleven months he was with me I never had to correct or rebuke him, and whenever I had a bout of fever he was devotion itself. Once, while at a friend's house, his Somali stole some silver from me, after which Ali always kept my silver himself with scrupulous honesty. I still now and then get a letter from him, but as the letters are sent through some professional Hindoo scribe they are of value chiefly as tokens of affection. The last one, written in acknowledgment of a gift sent him, contained a rather long letter in Swahili, a translation into Arabic, and then a would-be translation into English, which, however, went no further than the cumulative repetition of all the expressions of ceremonious regard known to the scribe.
My head gun-bearer, named HartebeestKongonialso did his work so well that I never had to reprove him; he was cool and game, a good tracker and tireless walker. But the second gun-bearer, Gouvimali, although a cheerful and willing soul, tended to get rattled when near dangerous animals. Unless his master is really in the grip of an animal, the worst sin a gun-bearer can commit, next to running away, is to shoot the gun he is carrying; for, if the master is fit to hunt dangerous game at all, it is he who must do the killing, and, if in a tight place, he must be able to count with absolute certainty on the gun-bearer's handing him a loaded rifle when his own has been fired. On one occasion I was covering a rhino which Kermit was trying to photograph. The beast was very close and seemed about to begin hostilities. Gouvimali became very much excited and raised his rifle to shoot. I overheard Kongoni chide him, and I spoke to him sharply, but he still kept the rifle at his shoulder; whereupon I slapped his face just before shooting the rhino. This prevented his firing and brought him to his senses, but was not a sufficient punishment. The really dreadful punishment would have been to send him back to the ranks of the porters. But I wished to give him another chance; so next morning I instructed Ali that he was to be my interpreter, and that Gouvimali was to be brought up for justice before my tent. To make it impressive, Kongoni and the second tent-boy were summoned to attend, which they did with pleased anticipation. But they were not alone. All of Kermit's attendants rushed gleefully over, including his two first-class gun-bearers, his camera-bearer, the wild 'Nmwezi ex-cannibal whom he had turned into a devoted and excellent tent-boy, and the cheerful Kikuyu savage who had taken naturally to being sais for his and my little mules. The sympathies of all of them were ostentatiously against the culprit, and they were prepared for the virtuous enjoyment characteristic of the orthodox sure-of-their-salvation at a heresy trial.
Court opened with me in my camp-chair in front of the tent. Ali stood beside me, erect with gratified horror, and eager to show that he was not merely an interpreter but a prosecutor and assistant judge. Abject Gouvimali stood in front, with head hanging. The others ranged themselves in a semicircle, and filled the function of a Greek chorus. The proceedings were as follows:
I (with frowning majesty): "Tell Gouvimali he knows that I have treated him very, very well; besides his wages, I have given him tea and sugar and tobacco and a red blanket."
Ali translates with the thunderous eloquence of Cicero against Verres; Verres writhes.
Chorus (with hands raised at the thought of such magnificent generosity): "Oh, what a good Bwana!"
I (reproachfully): "Whenever I shot a lion or an elephant I gave him some silver rupees."
Ali translates this with a voice shaken by emotion over the human baseness that could forget such gifts.
Chorus (in ecstatic contemplation of my virtue): "Oh, what a generous Bwana!"
I (leaning forward toward the accused): "And yet he started to shoot at a rhinoceros the Bwana Merodadi [Dandy Master, the Master who was a dandy to shoot and ride and get game] was photographing."
Ali fairly hisses this statement; malefactor shudders.
Chorus (almost bereft of speech at the revelation of a depravity of which they had never hitherto dreamed): "Hau! W-a-u!!"
I (severe, but melancholy): "You didn't stop until I had to slap your face."
Chorus (with unctuous relish): "The Bwana ought to have beaten you!"
I: "Do you wish to become a porter again? There's a Kavirondo porter very anxious to get your job!" (Deceitfully concealing a vagueness of recollection about this aspirant, who had been pronounced worthless.)
Malefactor (overcome by suggestion of the semimythical Kavirondo rival): "Oh, Bwana, have me beaten, but keep me as gun-bearer!"
I (with regal beneficence): "Well, I'll fine you ten rupees; and if you make another break, out you go; and you're to do all Kongoni's gun-cleaning for a week." (Kongoni, endeavoring to look both austere and disinterested, pokes malefactor in back.)
Chorus (disappointed of a tragedy, but fundamentally kind-hearted): "What a merciful Bwana! And now Gouvimali will always be careful! Good Gouvimali!"
On another occasion, on the White Nile, I one day took with me, to show me game, two natives of a village near our camp. I shot a roan antelope. It was mortally wounded; one of the natives, the "shenzis," saw it fall but said nothing and slipped away to get the horns and meat for himself. Later, Kongoni became suspicious, and very acutelyfor he was not only a master of hunting craft but also possessed a sympathetic insight into the shenzi mindled us to the spot and caught the offender, and a party of the villagers, red-handed. Kongoni and Gouvimali pounced on the faithless guide, while the others scattered; and the sais, unable to resist having something to do with the fray, handed the led mule to a small naked boy, rushed forward, gave the captive a thump, and then returned to his mule. The offender was brought to camp and put under guardevidently horribly afraid we would eat him instead of the now far-gone roan. Next day Kermit got home from his hunt before I did. When I reached camp I found Kermit sitting with a book and his pipe under a great tree, in his camp-chair. The captive was tied with a string to the huge tree trunk. He sat on the ground and uttered hollow groans whenever he thought they would be effective. At nightfall we released him, keeping his knife, which we required him to redeem with a chicken; and when he returned with the chicken we bade him give it to Kongoni, to whom we owed the discovery of the roan.
In some of the wilder and more lonely camps these body-servants were my only companions, together with some shenzi porters; at others Kermit was with me, also with his tail of devoted personal attendants. Where the game swarmed and no human beings existed for many leagues round about we built circular fences of thorns to keep out beasts of prey. The porters, chanting a monotonous refrain, brought in wood to keep the watch-fires going all night. Supper was cooked and eaten. Then we sat and listened to the fierce and eager life that went on in the darkness outside. Hoofs thundered now and then, there were snortings and gruntings, occasional bellowings or roarings, or angry whinings, of fear or of cruel hunger or of savage love-making; ever there was a skipping and running of beasts unseen; for out there in the darkness a game as old as the world was being played, a game without any rules, where the forfeit was death.
Generally the wild creatures were not so close even at these lonely camps, and we did not have to guard against attack, although there were always sentries and watch-fires, and we always slept with our loaded rifles beside us. After dinner the tent-boys and gun-bearers would talk and laugh, or tell stories, or listen while one of their number, Kermit's first gun-bearer, a huge, absolutely honest, coal-black negro from south of the Victorian Lake, strummed on an odd little native harp; and one of them might improvise a song. It was usually a very simple song; perhaps about something Kermit or I had done during the day, and of how we lived far away in an unknown land across vast oceans but had come to Africa with wonderful rifles to kill lions and elephants. Once the song was merely an expression of gratified approval of the quality of the meat of an eland I had shot during the day. Once we listened to a really humorous song describing the disapproval of the women about something their husbands had done, the shrill scolding of the women being mimicked with much effect. Some of the songs dealt with traditions and experiences which I did not understand, and which were probably far more interesting than any that I did understand.
My gun-bearers accompanied me whenever I visited the native villages of the different tribes. These tribes differed widely from one another in almost every respect. In Uganda my men stood behind me when some dignified and formally polite chief or great noble came to visit me; clothed in white, and perhaps dragged in a rickshaw or riding a mule with silver trappings, while his drummer beat on the huge native drum the distinctive clan tune which, when he walked abroad, bade all take notice just who the noble was, distinguishing him from all the other great lords, each of whom also had his own especial tune. My men strode at my back when I approached the rest-houses that were made ready for me, as we walked from one to the other of the two Nyanzas; palm-thatched rest-houses before which the musicians of the local chiefs received me with drum-beat, and the hollow booming of bamboos, and rattling of gourds, and the clashing of metal on metal, and the twanging of instruments of many strings. They accompanied me to the rings of square huts, plastered with cow-dung, where the Masai herdsmen dwelt, guarding their cattle, goats, and wire-haired sheep; and to the nomad camps of the camel-owning Samburu, on thorn-covered flats from which we looked southward toward the mighty equatorial snow peak of Kenia. They stood with me to gaze at the midnight dances of the Kikuyu. They followed me among the villages of beehive huts in the lands of the naked savages along the upper Nile.
Ali always, no matter how untoward the surroundings, had things ready and comfortable for me at night when I came in. My gun-bearers trudged behind me all day long over the plains where the heat haze danced, or through the marshes, or in the twilight of the tropic forests. After dark they always guided me back to camp if there were any landmarks; but, curiously enough, if we had to steer by the stars, I had to do the guiding. They were always alert for game. They were fine trackers. They never complained. They were always at my elbows when we had to deal with some dangerous beast. It is small wonder I became attached to them. All of Kermit's and my personal attendants went with us to Cairo, whence we shipped them back to Zanzibar. They earnestly besought us to take them to America. Cairo, of course, both enchanted and cowed them. What they most enjoyed while there was when Kermit took them all out in taxis to the zoo. They were children of the wilderness; their brains were in a whirl because of the big city; it made them feel at home to see the wild things they knew, and it interested them greatly to see the other wild things which were so different from what they knew.
In the old days, on the great plains and in the Rockies, I went out occasionally with Indians or half-breeds; Kermit went after mountain-sheep in the desert with a couple of Mexican packers; and Archie, Quentin, and I, while in Arizona, travelled on one occasion with a Mexican wagon-driver and a Navajo cook (both good men), and once or twice for a day or two at a time with Navajos or Utes to act as guides or horse-herders. On a hunting trip after white goat and deer in the Canadian Rockies Archie went with a guide who turned out to be from Arizona, and who almost fell on Archie's neck with joy at meeting a compatriot from the Southwest. He was the son of a Texas ranger and a Cherokee mother, was one of a family of twenty-four childrenall native American families are not dying out, thank heaven!and was a first-class rifle-shot and hunter.
The Indians with whom I hunted were hardy, quick to see game, and good at approaching it, but were not good shots, and as trackers and readers of sign did not compare with the 'Ndorobo of the east African forests. I always became good friends with them, and when they became assured that I was sympathetic and would not laugh at them they finally grew to talk freely to me, and tell me stories and legends of goblins and ghost-beasts and of the ancient days when animals talked like men. Most of what they said I could not understand, for I did not speak their tongues; and they talked without restraint only when I sat quiet and did not interrupt them. Occasionally one who spoke English, or a half-breed, and in one case a French-Canadian who had lived long with them, translated the stories to me. They were fairy-tales and folk-talesI do not know the proper terminology. Where they dealt with the action of either men or gods they were as free from moral implication as if they came out of the Book of Judges; and throughout there was a certain inconsequence, an apparent absence of motive in what was done, and an equal absence of any feeling for the need of explanation. They were people still in the hunting stage, to whom hunting lore meant much, and many of the tales were of supernatural beasts. On the actions of these unearthly creatures might depend the success of the chase of their earthly relatives; or it might be necessary to placate them to avoid evil; or their deeds might be either beneficent or menacing without reference to what men did, whether in praise or prayer. Such beings of the other world were the spirit-bear of the Navajos; and the ghost-wolf of the Pawnees, to whom one of my troopers before Santiago, an educated, full-blood Pawnee, once suddenly alluded; and the spirit-buffaloes of whom the Sioux and the Mandans told endless stories, who came up from somewhere underground in the far north, who at night played games like those of human warriors in the daytime, who were malicious and might steal men and women, but who might also bring to the Indians the vast herds whose presence meant plenty and whose absence starvation. Almost everywhere the coyote appeared as a sharp, tricky hero, in adventures having to do with beasts and men and magic things. He played the part of Br' Rabbit in Uncle Remus.
Now and then a ghost-tale would have in it an element of horror. The northern Indians dwell in or on the borders of the vast and melancholy boreal forests, where the winter-time always brings with it the threat of famine, where any accident to the solitary wanderer may mean his death, and may mean also that his body will never be found. In the awful loneliness of that forest there are stretches as wide as many a kingdom of Europe to which for decades at a time no man ever goes. In the summer there is sunlit life in the forest; flowers bloom, birds sing, and the wind sighs through the budding branches. In the winter there is iron desolation; the bitter blasts sweep from the north, the driven ice dust sears the face, the snow lies far above a tall man's height, in their icy beds the rivers lie fixed like shining steel. It is a sombre land, where death ever lurks behind the traveller. To the Indian its recesses are haunted by dread beings malevolent to man. Around the camp-fires, when the frosts of fall were heavy, I have heard the Indians talk of the oncoming winter and of things seen at twilight and sensed after nightfall by the trapper or belated wayfarer when the cold that gripped the body began also to grip the heart. They told of the windigoes which leaped and flew through the frozen air, and left huge footprints on the snow, and drove to madness and death men by lonely camp-fires. They told of the snow-walkers; how once a moose hunter, on webbed snow-shoes, bound campward in the late afternoon saw a dim figure walking afar off on the crust of the snow parallel to him among the tree trunks; how as the afternoon waned the figure came gradually nearer, until he saw that it was shrouded in some garment which wrapped even its head; how in the gray dusk that followed the sunset it came always closer, until he could see that what should have been its face was like the snout of a wolf, and that through a crack left bare by the shroud its eyes burned evil, baleful; how his heart was palsied with the awful terror of the unknown, of the dead that was not dead; and how suddenly he came on two other men, and the thing that had dogged him turned and vanished, and they could find no footprints on the snow.
More often the story would be nothing but a story, perhaps about birds or beasts. Once I heard a Kootenai tell such a story; but he said he had heard it very far north, and that it was not a Kootenai story. It explained why the loon has small wings and why the partridges in the north turn white in winter.
It happened very long ago. In those days there was no winter and the loon had ordinary wings and flew around like a raven. One midday the partridges were having tea on a sand-point in a lake where there were small willows and blueberry bushes. The loon wished to take tea with them, but they crowed and chuckled and they would not let him. So he began to call in a very loud voice a long call, almost like the baying of a wolf; you can hear it now on the lakes. He called and he called, longer and louder. He was calling the spirit who dwells in the north, so far that no man has ever known where it is. The spirit was asleep. But the loon's medicine was very strong and he called until the spirit woke up. The spirit sent the North Wind downhe was the North Windand the snow came, and summer passed away. The partridges no longer crowed and chuckled. Some of them flew away south. The others turned white; you can see them now very far north, but in the south only on the mountains. Then the loon began to laugh, for he was very glad and proud. He laughed louder and louder; you can hear him now on the lakes. But the spirit was very angry because the loon had called him. He began to blow on the lake and he began to blow on the loon. The lake began to freeze and the loon began to dive, longer and longer. But his wings began to grow smaller. So with great difficulty, before his wings were too small, he rose and his wings beat very rapidly and he flew away south. That is why winter came and why the loon dives so well and does not fly if he can help it.
In the cane-brakes on both sides of the lower Mississippi I have hunted bear in company with the hard-riding, straight-shooting planters of the country lying behind the leveesand a gamer, more open-handedly hospitable set of men can nowhere be found. What would, abroad, be called the hunt servants were all negroes from the Black Belt, in which we were doing our hunting. These negroes of the Black Belt have never had the opportunity to develop beyond a low cultural stage. Most of those with us were kindly, hard-working men, expert in their profession. One, who handled the hounds of two Mississippi planters, was a man in many respects of really high and fine character; although in certain other respects his moral standards were too nearly those of some of the Old Testament patriarchs to be quite suitable for the present century. These black hunters possessed an extensive and on the whole accurate knowledge of the habits of the wild creatures, and yet mingled with this knowledge was a mass of firmly held nonsense about hoop-snakes, snakes with poisonous stings in their tails, and the like. Most, although not all, of them were very superstitious and easily frightened if alone at night. Their ghost-stories were sometimes to me quite senseless; I did not know enough of the workings of their minds to understand what they meant. Those stories that were understandable usually had in them something of the grotesque and the inadequate. By daylight the black hunters would themselves laugh at their own fears; and even at night, when fully believing what they were telling, they would seriously insert details that struck us as too comic for grave acceptance. The story that most insistently lingers in my mind will explain my meaning.
Back in the swamp among cypress ponds was an abandoned plantation which had the reputation of being haunted. The "big house," the planter's house, had been dismantled but was still standing in fair condition. In the neighborhood there was a powerful negro scapegrace much given to boasting that he feared no ghost; and the local judge finally offered him five dollars if he would go alone after nightfall to the house in question and stay there until sunrise. The negro accepted with the stipulation that he was to be allowed to light a lamp that had been left in the house. The storyteller, who was as black as a shoe and a good man in the swamp after bear, told the tale as follows. I cannot pretend, however, to give his exact expressions.
"Jake started after sunset. The moon was a little more than half full, and it was a sure-enough lonely walk through the cypress woods along the abandoned, overgrown road. The branches kept waving and the moonlight flickered on the ground, and Jake couldn't see anything clearly and yet could see a good deal, and strange noises came from the swamp on both sides. He was glad to get to the clearing, but it was overgrown, too. The house shone white in the moonlight, but the staring, open windows were black, and all inside was coal-black beyond the moonlight, and he didn't know whether it was empty or whether he most wished it was or wasn't empty. But he went inside and lit the lamp and put it on a table and sat down beside it. Nothing happened for a long time except that he kept hearing queer things in the swamp and sometimes something went across the clearing. At last a clock struck twelve, but he knew there wasn't any clock in the house. Just as soon as it had finished striking, a monstrous big black cat walked into the room and jumped on the table and wropped his tail three times round the lamp-chimney and said: 'Nigger, you and I is the onliest things in this house!' And Jake said: 'Mr. Black Cat, in one second you'll be the onliest thing in this house,' and he went through the window. He run hard down the road, and pretty soon there was a crashing in the underbrush and a big buck, with horns on him like a rocking-chair, came up alongside and said: 'Well, nigger, you must be losing your wind,' and he answered mighty polite: 'Mr. Buck, I ain't even begun to catch my wind,' and he sure left that buck behind. And he ran and he ran until he did lose his wind, and he sat down on a log. And there was a patter of footsteps behind and somebody came up the road and sat down on the log too. It was a white man, and he carried his head in his hand. The head spoke: 'Well, nigger, you surely can run!' and Jake he answered: 'Mr. White Man, you ain't never seen me run, and then he did run. And he came to the judge's and he beat on the door and called out: 'Judge, I'se come back; and, Judge, I don't want that five dollars!'"
The planter in connection with whose hounds the negro worked told me that this was a ghost-story that for a year had been told everywhere among the colored folk, but about all kinds of houses and people, and that the narrator didn't really believe it; but that, nevertheless, he believed enough of it to be afraid of empty houses after dark, and moreover that he had been frightened into leaving a swamp planter's pigs entirely alone by the planter's playing ghost and calling out to him at nightfall as he, the negro, was travelling a lonely road with possible innocence of motive.
Strongly contrasted with such more than half comic or grotesque ghost-stories was one told me once, not by a hunting companion but by a polished and cultivated Tahitian gentleman, a guest of Henry Adams in Washington. His creed was the creed of his present surroundings; but back of the beyond in his mind lurked old tales, and old faiths glowed with a moment's flame at certain hours under certain conditions. One evening some of those present were talking of inexplicable things that had happened on the shifting borders between life and death, between the known and the unknown; and of vampires and werewolves and the ghosts of things long gone. Suddenly the Tahitian told of an experience of his mother's when she was an imperious queen in the far-off Polynesian island. She had directed her people to build a bridge across the mouth of a stream. After dark something came out of the water and killed one of the men, and the others returned to her, saying that the spirit which dwelt in the stream was evil and would kill all of them if they persevered in their work. She answered that her own family spirit, the familiar or ghost of the family, was very strong and would protect her people if she were present. Next day, accordingly, she went down in person to superintend the building of the bridge. She took with her two little tame pigspet pigs. All went well until evening came. Then suddenly a chill gust of wind blew from the river mouth, and in a moment the workmen fled, screaming that the spirit of the water was upon them. Almost immediately afterward there was a hubbub of a totally different kind; and after listening a moment the queen spoke, telling that her spirit had arrived, had overcome the other spirit, and was chasing him. In another moment one of her girls called out that the little pigs were dead. The queen put out her hand and touched them; they were quite cold. The defeated spirit was hiding in them! But as she felt them they began to grow warm and come to life. Her familiar had followed the evil ghost into his hiding-place in the pigs, had chased him out, and slew him as he fled to the water. There was no further interruption to the building of the bridge.
The touch about the defeated spirit hiding in the pet pigs, which thereupon grew cold, and being chased out by his antagonist was thoroughly Polynesian. It was most interesting to see the cultivated man of the world suddenly go back to superstitions that marked the childhood of the race; and then he told tales of the shark god, and of many other gods, and of devils and magicians.
However, there is no lack of similar beliefs among our own people. Long ago I knew an old market gunner of eastern Long Island who shot ducks and bay-birds for a living. There was a deserted farmhouse on the edge of the marsh, handy to the shooting-grounds, which he would not enter. He insisted that once he had gone there on a gray, bitter November afternoon to escape the rain which was driving in sheets. He lit a fire in the kitchen and started to dry his soaked clothes. Suddenly, out of the storm, somebody fumbled at the latch of the door. It opened and a little old woman in gray entered. She did not look at him, and yet a chill seemed to fall on him. Nevertheless he rose and followed her as she went out into the hall. She went up the steep, narrow stairway. He went after her. She went up the still steeper little flight that went to the garret. But when he followed there was no one there. He came downstairs, put on his clothes, took up his heavy fowling-gun, and just as evening fell he started for the mainland along a road which at one point became a causeway. When he reached the causeway the light was dim; but a figure walked alongside the road on the reeds, not bending the tops; and it was a man with his throat cut from ear to ear.
However, to tell of the crooked beliefs of the men of our own race, who dwell beside the great waters or journey across the world's waste spaces, is aside from what I have to say of the wild hunting companions whose world was peopled by ghosts as real to their minds as the men and beasts with whom they were brought in touch during their daily lives.