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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




WE passed Fort Laramie in the night, and on the seventh
morning out we found ourselves in the Black Hills,
with Laramie Peak at our elbow (apparently) looming vast
and solitary—a deep, dark, rich indigo blue in hue, so portentously
did the old colossus frown under his beetling
brows of storm-cloud. He was thirty or forty miles away, in
reality, but he only seemed removed a little beyond the low
ridge at our right. We breakfasted at Horse-Shoe Station,
six hundred and seventy-six miles out from St. Joseph. We
had now reached a hostile Indian country, and during the
afternoon we passed Laparelle Station, and enjoyed great discomfort
all the time we were in the neighborhood, being
aware that many of the trees we dashed by at arm's length
concealed a lurking Indian or two. During the preceding
night an ambushed savage had sent a bullet through the pony-rider's
jacket, but he had ridden on, just the same, because
pony-riders were not allowed to stop and inquire into such
things except when killed. As long as they had life enough
left in them they had to stick to the horse and ride, even if
the Indians had been waiting for them a week, and were entirely
out of patience. About two hours and a half before we
arrived at Laparelle Station, the keeper in charge of it had
fired four times at an Indian, but he said with an injured air
that the Indian had “skipped around so's to spile everything
—and ammunition's blamed skurse, too.” The most natural


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 076. In-line image of a man riding a white horse and waving over his shoulder.]
inference conveyed by his manner of speaking was, that in
“skipping around,” the Indian had taken an unfair advantage.
The coach we were
in had a neat hole
through its front—
a reminiscence of
its last trip through
this region. The
bullet that made
it wounded the
driver slightly, but
he did not mind it
much. He said the
place to keep a man
“huffy” was down
on the Southern
Overland, among
the Apaches, before
the company
moved the stage-line
up on the northern route. He said the Apaches used to
annoy him all the time down there, and that he came as near
as anything to starving to death in the midst of abundance,
because they kept him so leaky with bullet holes that he
“couldn't hold his vittles.” This person's statement were
not generally believed.

We shut the blinds down very tightly that first night in
the hostile Indian country, and lay on our arms. We slept
on them some, but most of the time we only lay on them.
We did not talk much, but kept quiet and listened. It was
an inky-black night, and occasionally rainy. We were among
woods and rocks, hills and gorges—so shut in, in fact, that
when we peeped through a chink in a curtain, we could discern
nothing. The driver and conductor on top were still,
too, or only spoke at long intervals, in low tones, as is the
way of men in the midst of invisible dangers. We listened
to rain-drops pattering on the roof; and the grinding of the


Page 77
wheels through the muddy gravel; and the low wailing of the
wind; and all the time we had that absurd sense upon us, inseparable
from travel at night in a close-curtained vehicle, the
sense of remaining perfectly still in one place, notwithstanding
the jolting and swaying of the vehicle, the trampling of
the horses, and the grinding of the wheels. We listened a
long time, with intent faculties and bated breath; every time
one of us would relax, and draw a long sigh of relief and
start to say something, a comrade would be sure to utter a
sudden “Hark!” and instantly the experimenter was rigid
and listening again. So the tiresome minutes and decades of
minutes dragged away, until at last our tense forms filmed
over with a dulled consciousness, and we slept, if one might
call such a condition by so strong a name—for it was a sleep
set with a hair-trigger. It was a sleep seething and teeming
with a weird and distressful confusion of shreds and fag-ends
of dreams—a sleep that was a chaos. Presently, dreams and
sleep and the sullen hush of the night were startled by a ringing
report, and cloven by such a long, wild, agonizing shriek!
Then we heard—ten steps from the stage—

“Help! help! help!” [It was our driver's voice.]

“Kill him! Kill him like a dog!”

“I'm being murdered! Will no man lend me a pistol?”

“Look out! head him off! head him off!”

[Two pistol shots; a confusion of voices and the trampling
of many feet, as if a crowd were closing and surging together
around some object; several heavy, dull blows, as with a club;
a voice that said appealingly, “Don't, gentlemen, please don't
—I'm a dead man!” Then a fainter groan, and another blow,
and away sped the stage into the darkness, and left the grisly
mystery behind us.]

What a startle it was! Eight seconds would amply cover
the time it occupied—maybe even five would do it. We
only had time to plunge at a curtain and unbuckle and unbutton
part of it in an awkward and hindering flurry, when our
whip cracked sharply overhead, and we went rumbling and
thundering away, down a mountain “grade.”


Page 78

We fed on that mystery the rest of the night—what was
left of it, for it was waning fast. It had to remain a present
mystery, for all we could get from the conductor in answer to
our hails was something that sounded, through the clatter of
the wheels, like “Tell you in the morning!”

So we lit our pipes and opened the corner of a curtain for a
chimney, and lay there in the dark, listening to each other's
story of how he first felt and how many thousand Indians he
first thought had hurled themselves upon us, and what his
remembrance of the subsequent sounds was, and the order of
their occurrence. And we theorized, too, but there was never
a theory that would account for our driver's voice being out
there, nor yet account for his Indian murderers talking such
good English, if they were Indians.

So we chatted and smoked the rest of the night comfortably
away, our boding anxiety being somehow marvelously
dissipated by the real presence of something to be anxious

We never did get much satisfaction about that dark occurrence.
All that we could make out of the odds and ends of
the information we gathered in the morning, was that the
disturbance occurred at a station; that we changed drivers
there, and that the driver that got off there had been talking
roughly about some of the outlaws that infested the region
(“for there wasn't a man around there but had a price on his
head and didn't dare show himself in the settlements,” the
conductor said); he had talked roughly about these characters,
and ought to have “drove up there with his pistol cocked and
ready on the seat alongside of him, and begun business himself,
because any softy would know they would be laying for

That was all we could gather, and we could see that neither
the conductor nor the new driver were much concerned
about the matter. They plainly had little respect for a man who
would deliver offensive opinions of people and then be so simple
as to come into their presence unprepared to “back his judgment,”
as they pleasantly phrased the killing of any fellow-being


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who did not like said opinions. And likewise they plainly had a
contempt for the man's poor discretion in venturing to rouse
the wrath of such utterly reckless wild beasts as those outlaws
—and the conductor added:

“I tell you it's as much as Slade himself wants to do!”

This remark created an entire revolution in my curiosity.
I cared nothing now about the Indians, and even lost interest
in the murdered driver. There was such magic in that name,
Slade! Day or night, now, I stood always ready to drop any
subject in hand, to listen to something new about Slade and
his ghastly exploits. Even before we got to Overland City,
we had begun to hear about Slade and his “division” (for he
was a “division-agent”) on the Overland; and from the hour
we had left Overland City we had heard drivers and conductors
talk about only three things—“Californy,” the Nevada
silver mines, and this desperado Slade. And a deal the most
of the talk was about Slade. We had gradually come to have
a realizing sense of the fact that Slade was a man whose heart
and hands and soul were steeped in the blood of offenders
against his dignity; a man who awfully avenged all injuries,
affronts, insults or slights, of whatever kind—on the spot if he
could, years afterward if lack of earlier opportunity compelled
it; a man whose hate tortured him day and night till vengeance
appeased it—and not an ordinary vengeance either,
but his enemy's absolute death—nothing less; a man whose
face would light up with a terrible joy when he surprised a
foe and had him at a disadvantage. A high and efficient
servant of the Overland, an outlaw among outlaws and yet
their relentless scourge, Slade was at once the most bloody,
the most dangerous and the most valuable citizen that inhabited
the savage fastnesses of the mountains.