DURING the revolutionary struggles of the Lone Star republic, Texas was a great magnet, toward which were irresistibly attracted, from every portion of the Union, men of physical courage and restless appetite for adventure. This race of men, collected from all parts of the country, had much in common. By a principle of natural selection, they were all kindred spirits. War, adventure, scouting, Indian fighting were their pleasures. What to other men were tragedy, was to them comedy. When taken prisoners by the Mexicans, they drew the black beans, which doomed them to military execution within ten minutes, with the same light, airy demeanor with which they would have thrown dice for drinks or flirted with a Mexican maid. Strange, wild fellows they were, often of gigantic structure, shaggy as lions, and not less brave. Such were the men who, in the wars between Texas and Mexico, and later between the United States and Mexico, formed those historic bands of scouts known as "Texas Rangers."
Among the restless fellows who were drawn to Texas by the very troubles which drove other people from the State was Nelson Lee, a young man born and raised near Watertown, New York. He had volunteered for the Black Hawk war, but his company was scourged by small-pox while on their way to the front, and before the men recovered, poor old Black Hawk had been captured and deposed from his chieftaincy. Disappointed in this, young Lee took up a seafaring life. Tiring of this, he, in 1839, resolved to abandon the sea, and cast his fortunes among the fierce Texans. The state at that time, as will be remembered, was an independent republic but a bloody border warfare raged incessantly with Mexico. Perhaps less with the notion of reconquering Texas than with annoying her people and gathering plunder, Mexican bandits were continually crossing the border and falling upon some remote and unsuspecting settlement like destroying devils, and then retreating as rapidly as they advanced. Of course, the Texans retaliated in the bloodiest manner.
For the purpose of protecting the settlers from these raids, as well as punishing the Mexicans, there came into existence bands of scouts, or bushwhackers, employed by the Texas government at a dollar a day, and known as the, "Texan Rangers." Lee, finding no other employment so congenial or so profitable, soon enlisted in one of these companies, under Captain Cameron. The Ranger was usually dressed in buckskin, with a cap made from the fur of a wild-cat. Three or four revolvers and as many bowie knives were thrust through his belt, and a short rifle was thrown across his arm. The most important part of his equipment was a horse of great speed and endurance, on which a journey of eighty miles could be readily made between sunrise and sunset.
Lee's first taste of warfare was a fight with a band of Comanche Indians, who worried the settlements quite as much as the Mexicans. He was green at the business, but won the respect of his companions by his boldness, even if he did little execution. When, after a two hour's fight the Indians to flight, they left a deep impression on the mind of the young Ranger. A month or two afterward Lee and fifteen companions, under command of Ben McCullough, were sent out on a scout. Falling in with the trail of seven hundred Comanches, the little party of spies remained a respectful distance and shadowed their movements. The Rangers were compelled to behold from afar the sack and burning of the village of Lindville. Meanwhile a call had been sent for re-enforcements, who never let the enemy get out of their sight, were joined by recruits numbering three hundred men. The object of an attack was not merely to punish the Indians, but to rescue seven white women, who had been taken captive. These latter were rightly conjectured to be in the rear of the camp with the old men. One detachment was to move around to the rear and release the women, while the men fought from the front.
The first company arrived within view of their victims. The Indians observed them at the same instant. In a moment the red devils could be seen running toward the foot of a tree where sat the seven captive women. The Rangers heard despairing shrieks and saw the waving of white arms in the air, in the frenzy of supplication. Above the heads of the crowd could be seen tomahawks rising and falling. Horrified at the sight, the men rode at full speed into the Indian camp. The murderers had fled, leaving behind the corpses of five of their prisoners. In their hurry they failed to dispatch the two remaining women. These were rescued by the Rangers with tender gallantry.
While this was taking place Lee, fighting with the other detachment, received a bullet in his left arm, causing him to drop his bridle rein. His spirited horse sprang forward, directly in the midst of the Indians. Perceiving their comrade's danger, the Rangers threw themselves upon the Indians, and in a hand to hand conflict almost exterminated their foes. A little later Lee joined a company of Rangers, under the famous Jack Hays, at San Antonio.
In the intervals between scouting expeditions against the Mexicans, the Rangers occupied themselves with hunting and watching for Indians trails. One morning, while eating breakfast in their camp, on a short point of land at the intersection of Walker's Creek, and the Guadaloupe River, the men discovered two Indians on the top of a high hill, near where they were encamped. It was evident that the men were in a trap. Hays called them together, and in a few ringing words explained the peril, then ordered them to follow him. He took his way directly up the hill toward the Indians, who were still watching the Rangers' movements with eager scrutiny. When half-way up the ascent, the savages suddenly disappeared. The same instant Hays wheeled his horse sharply to the right, and, followed by his men, swept around the side of the mountain at the top of his speed.
The Indian camp, containing two hundred warriors, was taken completely by surprise. They fought boldly, but at a disadvantage. At the first charge of the Rangers one of them, known as Big Sam Taylor, received an arrow through his cheek and neck. Failing to withdraw it he broke it off, and fought through the entire engagement with the cruel shaft through his flesh. Later in the fight, when the dead Indians were heaped thickly upon the ground, Hays discovered a wounded chief, and resolved to take him captive. As the white man approached, he perceived a quick movement on the part of the Indian, and jumped aside. At the same moment an arrow sped from the bow of a fallen red man, and, missing Hays, buried itself in the throbbing heart of a Ranger named Mott. Even when assailed by several of his enemies, the stern old warrior, in spite of his broken leg, fought like a lion, beating off his foes again and again, until a pistol ball ended his struggles. When the battle was over, the Rangers found three of their men dead and four wounded. Of the Indians ninety corpses lay of the ground in the majesty of death.
On the way back to San Antonio after this fight, Lee dismounted with the rest one evening on the bank of a small stream. As his feet struck the ground, he heard a loud rattle in the grass, and instantly felt a fearful pain in his right leg. He was bitten by a rattlesnake. A Spaniard in the party sprang forward, killed the monster snake, and quickly cutting pieces of flesh from its wriggling body, applied them to the wound. Lee says he could feel them draw. The prompt treatment saved his life.
Arriving near San Antonio, the Rangers were enraged to find the town in the possession of a band of Mexican guerrillas. Entering the place at night, the Rangers surrounded a house where large numbers of the enemy were enjoying themselves in a grand fandango. A horrible fight ensued, which freed the town from the band of ruffians.
On one occasion, Lee left his magnificent horse, the Black Prince, at the town of Seguin. After an absence of some days he returned, to find that Indians had taken nearly every horse in the village, including the noble animal which he loved better than his life. Lee and a party of friends, mounted on mules, set out to make a reprisal. They traveled nearly all day, without success, when a black speck was discovered far away on the prairie. It attracted attention, and every eye was strained to watch the object. It grew larger. It came nearer. In time it was seen to move. A little later, it assumed the outline of an animal. Two men declared that it was a horse. This conjecture proved correct. The animal, without rein or rider, was coming toward them at the top of its speed. In a little while the Black Prince, with mane and tail flying, eyes ablaze, nostrils distended, his black coat covered with flecks of white foam, dashed into the camp and, panting for breath, stopped by his owner's side. He had broken from his captors and traveled more than a hundred miles to rejoin his master.
One day Lee met Hays in San Antonio, and learned that Christopher Rublo, in boyhood, a vicious vagabond, in manhood a desperate villain, had been in the town as a spy for the Mexicans. He was suspected to have gone to the mission of San Juan, nine miles down the river. A band of twenty Rangers galloped to the place. The great gates swung open, and Lee and the rest entered. Rublo concealed himself behind the gates and attempted to escape, but fell into a ditch and was captured. He was taken to San Antonio, the people of which demanded the execution of the ruffian.
Jack Hays, however, declared that Lee and his fellow Rangers should conduct the prisoner to the town of Seguin, which was entitled to deal with him as its citizens wished, on account of Rublo's outrages with them. The dispute over this question well-nigh involved the fiery Texans in a fight.
In the afternoon, Rublo and his fellow-villain, called the Ranchero, were brought out, placed upon horses, and marched from the town between files of shaggy Rangers. The arguments of the San Antonio people, that they would be in great danger if the Rangers left them to take the two prisoners to Seguin, contained great truth. In this emergency the fertile mind of Hays devised a stratagem.
After leaving San Antonio and following the road toward Seguin till after nightfall, Lee and a companion named Escue, in whose special charge the two prisoners were, gradually fell to the rear of the Rangers, and then, under cover of darkness, turned sharply to the right, abandoning all roads and trails, and, with their two captives, struck out into the open plain. Meanwhile, the main body of Rangers wheeled about and marched back to San Antonio. Lee and his companion wrapped themselves and their prisoners in dark buffalo skins to avoid observation by the Mexican horsemen who were scouring the country, and hurried across the plain through a blinding rain.
Sometime after midnight a halt was called. Lee took Rublo from his pony, bound him hand and foot, and, with cocked pistol in hand, sat down by his side. The desperado knew that, unless he escaped, the outraged citizens of Seguin would, on the next day, take his life. Lee says that, for his part, he was perfectly well aware that, if Rublo should escape from him, the same citizens of Seguin would take his own life for permitting the escape. With this understanding, let us proceed.
Escue, who had charge of the Ranchero, selected a spot for passing the night some rods from Lee. His prisoner covered himself up with buffalo skins, and apparently fell into a deep sleep. Escue tied the halter of his horse to his ankle, believing this would keep him awake. In spite of this he went to sleep. The cunning Ranchero slipped out of his bonds, carefully arranged his hat among the buffalo skins, so that to the casual eye he was seen to be still lying there, took the halter off of Escue's horse and tied it to the limb of a tree, mounted and rode away.
In the morning Lee discovered a band of Mexicans approaching. The moment was critical. Escue's own horse was gone. The one left by the Ranchero was a broken down animal, useless for escape. The pony on which Rublo was mounted was a good one. Lee instantly made up his mind. He drew his revolver, shot his prisoner through the heart, yelled to Escue to mount the pony from which the lifeless desperado had fallen, and the two men began their flight, in which they were successful.
Lee and Escue brought word to San Antonio of the approach of the Mexicans. The Rangers fought a hard battle on the banks of Salado Creek. This invasion of the Mexicans, under General Woll, raised a popular clamor for a counter expedition against Mexico.
In the fall of 1842 the government of Texas gave a reluctant consent for the expedition. Twelve or fifteen hundred men, "renegades, refugees from justice, adventures of all sorts, ready for any enterprise that afforded a reasonable prospect of excitement and plunder, dare-devils, afraid of nothing under the sun," assembled at San Antonio. General Somerville, who was placed in command, proved to be incompetent. He delayed marching for two months. Great numbers of the recruits deserted. When, finally, the Rio Grande was reached, various reasons induced Somerville to order a retreat of the expedition. Three hundred men, of which Lee was one, refused to obey. Somerville and the rest returned to their homes, but these bold fellows determined to push on into the enemy's country.
On the 23d of December, 1842, about two o'clock in the morning, the three hundred Rangers entered the town of Mier, and commenced a street fight in the darkness with the Mexican troops. Some of the Rangers, with crowbars and picks, were busily engaged in breaking openings through the stone walls of the buildings, and thus making their way toward the square, where the Mexicans were posted. The fight lasted many hours. In this battle Big Foot Wallace, whose adventures we detail hereafter, had a narrow escape. In one of the charges he followed a party of retreating Mexicans too far. They suddenly turned upon him, and in a flash surrounded him, rendering escape apparently impossible. He made a lunge at an opening in the circle of enemies, threw one man down, and, receiving a bayonet-thrust through his left arm, succeeded in escaping.
At two o'clock in the afternoon there was a cessation of hostilities. The Mexicans sent out a flag of truce. For reasons never fully understood a surrender was made by the Texans. Both Lee and Wallace agree that this was a mistake.
At the moment of the surrender, Lee, with ten companions, occupied a house at some distance from the main body. Noticing that the firing had ceased, Lee slipped out into the street to a point where he commanded a view of the Square, and discovered the Texans marching up and laying down their arms. Hurrying back to his comrades, he explained the situation in a few short words, announced his determination to die rather than be taken to a Mexican prison, and suiting the act to the word, leaped through a back window. He found himself in a large garden, arid discovering a clump of high weeds, he crawled into their midst, remaining there till nightfall.
As soon as he felt safe in so doing, he left his hiding-place, stealthily made his way out of the town, and in half an hour found himself alone in the darkness on the banks of the rushing Rio Grande. Arranging his clothes in a bundle, and carrying his rifle, he plunged into the river. For a long time he swam. It seemed impossible to reach the opposite shore. Just as his strength was about to give way completely, Lee discovered the outline of the land. Putting forth all remaining strength, he managed to reach it only to find a perpendicular bluff, affording him not the slightest point of support. After a few faint and ineffectual struggles to clamber out of the water, he fell back into the waves, and floated hopelessly and helplessly down the tide.
At last he came within reach of a tree, which had been blown down and extended over the water. By means of this he clambered on to the shore, only to find himself in the midst of the prickly pear, of which the needle-like thorns lacerated his bleeding feet and limbs at every step. Exercising all the time in order to resist the cold of a stiff norther, he passed a miserable night.
In the morning, the unhappy man discovered a column of smoke apparently rising from a camp fire about a mile away. He at once made his way to the spot, crawling through the grass, and discovered two Mexican herdsmen, one a youth, the other a man of forty years.
Lee had pluck, and knew the Mexican character thoroughly. The two herdsmen were eating their breakfast. Near by stood their guns and ammunition. With an unloaded revolver in one hand, and a bowie knife in the other, the Ranger sprang out of the bushes and shouted for the Mexicans to surrender. The terrified herdsmen at once fell on their knees with a prayer for mercy.
Having compelled the youth to bind the man hand and foot, and having secured their guns and ammunition, Lee calmly proceeded to devour the breakfast which the herdsmen had prepared for themselves. Refreshed by the food, he proceeded to talk the situation over with his friends, and told them, that if they would guide him to a certain trail, he would set them free. The bargain was struck. After a three days' journey, during which time he did not suffer himself to sleep a moment, Lee found himself in a region where he no longer needed a guide. He took one of the Mexicans' guns, placed it at the foot of a tree with a lot of ammunition, called their attention particularly to the spot, and then ordered them to proceed as before. When the party had marched five miles from the spot where the gun had been left, Lee turned his prisoners loose, telling them that the gun and ammunition were to enable them to kill game on their way back. Lee made his way home without trouble.
Lee took an active part in the war of the United States with Mexico. His adventures during this war we will not here relate. He subsequently engaged in the cattle business, and in 1855 joined with a company of men in an enterprise, the object of which was to purchase a large drove of mules and drive them overland to the San Francisco market.
Among the articles which Lee purchased as an equipment for this trip was an enormous silver watch. It contained an alarm of remarkable noise and duration, which could be regulated to go off at any moment, and while ringing the alarm, the watch would actually move across a table.
The company was made up and commenced its march, large purchases of mules being made from time to time, and the easy journeys day by day gradually carrying them far beyond the boundaries of the settlements. On the evening of the 2d of April they were encamped in a beautiful valley. The hunters brought in some capital game, and a neighboring stream furnished lovely trout. After an abundant meal the men one by one went to sleep. Lee was on watch till midnight, when he was relieved. At that hour there were no indications of danger. The only sound which disturbed the profound silence of nature, was the irregular tinkle of the horses' bells.
Lee had been asleep but a short time when he was roused by a fearful shriek. He sprang to his feet only to discover that the camp was full of painted Indians who were killing the white men one after another. Lee had taken but a swift glance at the scene of horror, lit up by the dull glow of the dying campfire, when a lasso was thrown over his head, and he was jerked violently to the ground. A moment later several Indians sprang upon him and bound him. Three others besides Lee, named Thomas Martin, Stewart, and Aikens, escaped the massacre, and were bound similarly to Lee.
In removing Lee's clothing, one of the Indians discovered the silver watch which we have mentioned. The savage was delighted at the bright toy. While regarding it with the greatest curiosity, the minute-hand reached half-past three. At that instant the alarm went off. The savage was dumfounded as the thing roared and rattled for two minutes. Frightened beyond measure, he held the thing at arm's length, seemingly too much paralyzed by fear to let it drop, and looked away from it with an expression of sickly horror on his face. The other Indians quickly gathered about him. When the alarm ceased they began an unintelligible jabber. The first Indian pointed repeatedly to Lee, and finally the crowd of savages came toward him, and offered him the watch, with various gestures indicating that they wanted to hear it go off again.
The Ranger saw his advantage. His hands were unbound. He took the watch and, with many ceremonies and great solemnity, regulated it, so that in a few moments it went off again. After this the Indians had a long consultation. From their frequent gestures toward the sky, Lee divined that they regarded it as something supernatural and himself as some sort of a prophet.
When morning broke, the chief put the watch carefully away, and the Indians gave their attention once more to the white men's camp. The corpses of the poor fellows who had been murdered in their sleep were horribly mutilated. Some had arms and hands chopped off; some were disemboweled; some had their tongues drawn out and sharp sticks thrust through them. Toward the four men who were yet alive, the Indians behaved frightfully, flourishing tomahawks about their heads and pressing the blades of glittering knives against their throats as if unable to resist the fierce passion for murder.
At last the four prisoners were blindfolded and bound on the backs of mules. These animals were unbridled, and were left to follow the bell-mare at their own sweet will. At times the mules would knock their blindfolded riders against trees, inflicting fearful wounds. Each accident of this sort made the whole party of Indians yell with delight.
As evening approached, the hideous Comanches selected a camping-ground. A supper was made from horseflesh. When the Indians had satisfied their own hunger, they tossed chunks of frying meat at the prisoners. These fiery bits, on which the fat was often ablaze, instead of being caught in their mouths, fell on the naked legs of the white men, burning them severely. The prisoners were put to bed in a peculiar fashion. They were laid on their backs on the ground, their hands and feet extended as widely as possible, and fastened stiffly with buffalo thongs to four stakes conveniently driven in the ground. To say that they were unable to move hand or foot is to speak the literal truth. For several days they continued on their journey, butted against trees by the rascally mules, burnt with hot horse-flesh, and staked out at night in the fashion indicated.
Lee kept his thoughts busy, reflecting how he might take advantage of the incident of the watch. By the he reached the Indian village he had matured in his own mind a unique system of theology, which he determined to teach the Indians if possible. The sun, as the Indians already believed, was God. The watch, in Lee's new theology, was the brother of the sun, and on most intimate terms with him. The revolution of the hands each day, Lee determined to make the Indians believe had a mysterious and sympathetic connection with the movement of the sun. Finally, it remained to convince the savages that Lee himself was the Great Spirit of the watch, and that if any thing happened either to him or to it, it would also destroy the sun.
Lee was taken to the house of the chief. Ordinarily a prisoner was the chief object of attention in the village. But on this occasion the watch was the favorite by heavy odds. A council was called. The watch was brought forth. After long and vociferous speeches the Indian sages pointed significantly to Lee and to the watch, desiring him to make it sound the alarm. Lee, pious fraud as he was, kneeled down, put up his hands toward the sun, as if in the attitude of prayer, then worked with the watch, pretending to persuade it to go, and finally rose to his feet shook his head solemnly, and pointed to the sun as if to indicate that the celestial being prevented the watch from going off.
Later in the day Lee, who was rapidly rising in importance in popular opinion, was taken by a strong guard to a spot outside of the village, where a large crowd had already assembled. Here he found his friends Martin, Stewart, and Aikens, each drawn up and tied to pairs of posts, planted three feet apart. Some terrible ceremony was taking place. The Indians formed in a circle about the wretched men and deliberately scalped Stewart and Martin. Then they took sharp arrow-heads and made gashes in the bodies of the two men. This "they continued until every inch of the bodies of the unhappy men was haggled and hacked and scarified and covered with clotted blood." The two men screamed out in their agony, begging that they might be put to death. Lee and Aikens, sickened beyond measure, shut their eyes to keep out the horrid sight. The Indians did not neglect to pull their hair and flourish knives and hatchets about their heads as if to impress them that the fate of Stewart and Martin would shortly be theirs.
After two hours of torture the ring of warriors stopped dancing, formed closely about Stewart and Martin, and, at an appointed signal, a score of tomahawks were buried in the brain of each prisoner. When the scene of slaughter was ended, Lee and Aikens were separated.
From this time on he longed only for death. One day his bonds were removed. Hoping only to exasperate his captors into killing him outright, he picked up a club and tried to kill the nearest Indian. Instead of attaining the desired result, he found the savages only laughed at him. Not a day passed that the Indians did not beseech Lee to make the watch go off. Through all these requests he maintained a sullen and obstinate refusal.
One day Aikens was unexpectedly brought into the tent where Lee was kept, and the two men had a talk. Aikens, who was thoroughly familiar with Indian character and customs, told Lee that he himself was shortly to be put to death, but that he believed that Lee might yet escape through the instrumentality of the watch, if, instead of being sullen and stubborn, he would comply with the Indians' wishes, and exert himself to win their favor.
Lee took the advice. In time he was adopted into the tribe. He had long since lost sight of Aikens, and indeed never learned his fate. Little by little, Lee won their confidence, and acquired more and more liberty. He was allowed no weapons, but was permitted to walk about the village.
One day, Lee was suddenly ordered to mount a big mule, and follow Big Wolf, the chief. A band of warriors accompanied them. They traveled all day. At evening, Lee hastened to cook Big Wolf's supper. He had, indeed, for a long time, been his servant. During this whole period, the chief never took a mouthful of food until after Lee had tasted it, a precaution against poison.
At the close of the second day, they reached the village of the great chief, Spotted Leopard. Lee took an instinctive dislike to this chief and his people. Among the latter, however, was one who was his friend. She was Kianceta, the Weasel. Of her Lee speaks with enthusiam [sic]. She was of slender and beautiful figure, graceful and dignified. Her weird costume, with its gay embroidery and bead work, was partly obscured by her coal black hair, which fell in luxuriant profusion halfway to the ground.
But Kianceta's spirit was even fairer than her form. "She sympathized with the poor captive, when others laughed at him. She sat down by his side and looked up sorrowfully into his face, when the young savages of the village beat him with stones and sticks. A hundred times she stood between him and those who threatened harm; gave him corn when others had it not; attended him when sick, casting red-hot stones into a trough of water to make him a steam bath, and wrapping him with thick buffalo skins, until his cold was broken up and his health restored."
In spite of the charms of Kianceta, Lee furtively watched his chances for escape. A half mile from the village was a dark, wooded ravine, which if he could reach Lee believed escape to be possible. After many nights passed in planning, he resolved on the attempt. With the knife which he was at this time permitted to carry he cut up some strips of venison to serve him as food in his flight, and concealed the bundle of them in a log. One midnight, when the village was asleep, and Spotted Leopard snored loudly, on his royal couch, Lee slipped quietly from the tent, made his way quietly to the log where his venison was hidden, secured the precious pack and started to leave the village. He had reached the outer row of wigwams, when he was startled by the growl of a big dog, which confronted him, showing his white teeth.
In a moment the bark was caught up and answered by another cur at the farther end of the village. Others still disturbed the midnight air with fierce barks and lugubrious howls. On they came, one after another, with growls and snarls, to the spot where poor Lee stood, half dead with fright. It was but a moment from the time when the first dog discovered him until he found himself surrounded on all sides by barking curs.
Another danger also appeared. The village was roused by the unusual disturbance among the dogs, and sleepy warriors could be heard, one after another, from their wigwams, cursing the dogs, and telling them to lie down. Lee no longer thought of flight, but only of avoiding discovery. He crawled back to his tent and lay down, bitterly disappointed at his failure.
Still he did not give up. Days and weeks rolled by before he matured another plan. Although he was ordered not to go beyond the boundaries of the village, he disregarded the command, and ventured out from day to day, each time going a little farther. At first he was often told to go back. Then his disobedience was less and less noticed. Finally no one interfered with him at all.
One evening, just at dark, he started of in a slow, careless walk toward the ravine. He had gone a considerable distance when three warriors suddenly confronted him. He pretended to be cutting a stick from some bushes on which to cook his master's meat. The trick was too thin. The suspicions of the Indians were aroused. They seized him roughly by the arm and marched him back to the village. They reported the occurrence to Spotted Leopard. A long and earnest consultation was had, at the close of which the chief came out, seized Lee, and jerked him forcibly into the wigwam. After binding the runaway, hand and foot, the Indian rolled up his leggins and deliberately slashed a sharp knife across the muscle on the front of his leg just below the knee. This surgical operation was designed to cripple Lee, so escape would be impossible. The white man was kept tied for two weeks. Every day Spotted Leopard would seize his leg and work it back and forth, breaking open the wound anew. Eventually the limb healed, but was permanently stiff.
From time to time, Lee accompanied Spotted Leopard and his people on long hunts around the headwaters of the Guadaloupe. Once they had a fierce battle with the Apaches. Lee prayed that the Comanches might be whipped, but in this he was disappointed. On another occasion, they were visited by a friendly tribe, with a chief named Rolling Thunder. This Indian was naturally reverent. He was more fond of worshiping the sun on his knees than of dancing the war-dance. Such a character is unusual among the Indians. Lee was called out to give an exhibition with his watch, which he did, with marked effect, the pious Rolling Thunder ascribing every thing wonderful to some supernatural power.
Another party of Indians, on another occasion, encamped near them. In the afternoon Lee noticed an unusual stir among Spotted Leopard's people, which ended in the whole party's moving down toward the neighboring camp of the strangers. Lee felt something unusual was going to happen. Breathless with suspense, he listened. Presently a human voice rang out through the air in one awful scream of agony. At intervals it was repeated, growing feebler and feebler. An hour or two later, some Indians came after Lee, and took him through the strangers' camp. Scattered around he saw torn fragments of the uniform of a United States soldier. A few steps farther on, Lee saw the remains of the soldier. A stick had been thrust under his heel cords, and he had been hung up head downward, until at last, bleeding from many wounds, he gave up the ghost. No doubt be had been captured near some army post.
One day Lee discovered three white women captives of another band of the same tribe. It was months before he could speak to them. At last, on the occasion of a great feast and dance he was enabled to do so. They were English by birth. A Mormon missionary had induced them to leave their home, and, with a party of two hundred others, come to America. After a long voyage from England, they had landed at Indianola, on Matagorda Bay. From that point, their way lay overland to the Great Salt Lake. On the journey through the mountains many of the teams gave out. The party became separated. The Indians became troublesome, and finally captured large numbers, among whom were these three women. Lee felt a burning interest in this story of the misfortunes of these poor creatures, compared to which his own, inasmuch as he was at best an adventurer, were trifling.
After their capture the men were massacred. Mrs. Haskin's infant child was seized by an Indian, a hole cut under its chin, and then hung on the sharp limb of a tree, and left until death should relieve it. The three women were the common drudges of the camp. The elder, the mother of the others, becoming too feeble to work, was, soon after Lee met her, put to death by torture.
The pious Rolling Thunder made visits of increasing frequency to Spotted Leopard, which resulted at last in a change of masters for Lee. The chief use which Rolling Thunder made of his new captive was to make him describe the wonders of the world and of civilization.
Before long he invited Lee to choose a wife. To this the white man assented, and, after a careful inspection of the entire tribe, chose a young and slender squaw, rather dirty but good-looking, known as the Sleek Otter. The marriage resulted happily, and Lee received increased privileges.
During Lee's residence with this tribe two young warriors, who had a fierce quarrel of long standing, which the council had again and again attempted to settle, determined to fight the matter to the death. Both men were athletic and powerful. They met in the center of a ring, and their left arms, as far up as the elbow, were lashed together with buffalo hide so firmly that there was no possibility of the men breaking away from each other. In the right hand of each was placed a hunting knife with a sharp blade nine inches long. The brothers of the combatants stood at a little distance, similarly armed.
At a given signal the two men raised their bright blades in air, then brought them down suddenly. In an instant they were again uplifted, no longer bright, but crimsoned with blood. For a minute the knives rose and fell incessantly, the men struggling with fury. "At length a mortal thrust by one was followed by a fierce blow from the other, gashing through the side of the neck, from which the purple tide of life spouted up in a wide, high arch, when both fell lifeless to the ground." Had either survived, the brother of the other would have at once put him to death.
Lee took many trips with Rolling Thunder, but on no occasion did the chief sleep alone with him in the tent. At last they took a three days' journey together without a companion toward the village, three days' journey to the north. While at this place the chief got drunk, and on the way home was exceedingly thirsty. After a long search a little pool of water was discovered. He ordered Lee to get him a drink in his hunting horn. The latter being unable to do this without scooping up considerable mud, the thirsty Indian sprang from his horse, threw down his rifle, and lying flat on the ground, drank eagerly from the pool. On the spur of the moment, as Lee's eye caught sight of a hatchet hanging on the Indian's saddle, a fearful thought burst upon him. In a moment the idea was put into execution. Snatching the hatchet, he bent over, and deliberately buried it in the Indian's head.
It was the work of a moment to seize the dead chief's gun and knife, mount his horse, and, leading the mule which he had himself ridden, dash away across the country. It was a lonely journey through a lonely wilderness, across rocky ridges, and along dark ravines. Late at night he paused for the first time. His only resource in the way of food was to kill the mule. Building a small fire he prepared himself a meal from the meat. Though refreshed by eating, a new horror presented itself. The blood and smell of the animal was scented by wild beasts, which crashed through the forest with horrid cries throughout the night.
At the end of fifty-six days' travel, Lee fell in with some Mexican traders, and, more dead than alive, was kindly cared for. When he had sufficiently recovered he left Texas, having had enough of life as a Ranger.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh
Heroes of the Long Star State
Nelson Lee, the Texan Ranger
Created November 19, 2001
Web design and graphics by Kathy Leigh