With the Indians in the Rockies.
James Willard Schultz.
Grades 4 - 6 / Ages 9 - 11.
The men who surrounded us were tall and powerfully built. For what seemed to me an endless time, they sat silently staring, and noting every detail of our outfit. There was something ominous in their behavior; there came to me an almost uncontrollable impulse to make a move of some kind. It was their leader who broke the suspense, "In-is-saht!" (Dismount!) he commanded, in Blackfoot, and we reluctantly obeyed.
At that they all got off their horses, and then at word from the chief, each crowding and pushing to be first, they stripped us of everything we had. One man got my rifle; another the ammunition; another snatched off my belt, with its knife, and the little pouch containing flint, steel, and punk, while the chief and another, who seemed to be a great warrior, seized the ropes of our horses. And there we were, stripped of everything that we possessed except the clothes we stood in.
At that the chief broke out laughing, and so did the rest. Finally, commanding silence, he said to us, in very poor Blackfoot:-
"As you are only boys, we will not kill you. Return to your chief, and tell him that we keep our beaver for ourselves, just as the plains people keep the buffalo for themselves. Now go."
There was nothing to do but obey him, and we started. One man followed us a few steps, and struck Pitamakan several blows across the back with his whip. At that my friend broke out crying; not because of the pain, but because of the terrible humiliation. To be struck by any one was the greatest of all insults; and my friend was powerless to resist it.
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 1912, this story is set in the American mid-west during pioneer times. In 1856, when Thomas was thirteen, his parents died of smallpox, and he left St. Louis for the Missouri wilderness to live with his fur-trading uncle. He befriended a Blackfoot boy named Pitamakan and was allowed to go hunting with him and his band. One day, when they were trapping beaver, Thomas and Pitamakan veered off into Kootenay territory and were surprised by hostile Kootenays, who stole their horses, furs, and survival gear and left them with just the clothes on their backs (see excerpt above). This is the basis for the rest of this endurance tale as the two boys, armed only with Pitamakan's Indian know-how, fend for themselves through the winter and make their way back home.
Although they have many harrowing escapes, the sheer wordiness of the telling distances the reader and brings the excitement level down. Based on actual experiences of the author's youth, the story reads more like a reminiscence for adults than a piece of fiction for young people. The detailed explanations of hunting techniques, skinning and tanning hides, constructing shelter, and so on seem like a how-to on wilderness survival rather than an integral part of the story. This is especially true when Schultz interrupts the descriptions with asides such as: "It is commonly believed that the Indians used the leg tendons of animals for bow-cords . . . , but this is a mistake, the only ones they took were the back sinews." And further, on the same page: ". . . those of a buffalo bull, for instance, are nearly three feet long, three or four inches wide . . ."
In all, the dated writing style will mean this adventure story will appeal to a limited audience among today's readers.
Recommended with reservations.
Alison Mews is Coordinator at the Centre for Instructional Services at the Faculty of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
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