Our March Into the Wilderness
BY FANNY KELLY
(First published in 1872)
The Indians left the scene of their cruel rapacity, traveling northward, chanting their monotonous war song [after having massacred our wagon train, then kidnapped myself and my five-year old, Mary, on July 12, 1864, at Box Elder, in Wyoming, as we were headed for Montana]. After a ride of two miles, through tall weeds and bushes, we left the bottom lands, and ascended some bluffs, and soon after came to a creek, which was easily forded, and where the Indians quenched their thirst. The hills beyond began to be more difficult to ascend, and the gorges seemed fearfully deep, as we looked into the black shadows unrelieved by the feeble light of the stars. In the darkness of our ride, I conceived a plan for the escape of little Mary. I whispered in her childish ear, “Mary, we are only a few miles from our camp, and the stream we have crossed you can easily wade through. I have dropped letters on the way, you know, to guide our friends in the direction we have taken; they will guide you back again, and it may be your only chance of escape from destruction. Drop gently down, and lie on the ground for a little while, to avoid being seen; then retrace your steps, and may God in mercy go with you. If I can, I will follow you.” The child, whose judgment was remarkable for her age, readily acceded to this plan; her eye brightened and her young heart throbbed as she thought of its success. Watching the opportunity, I dropped her gently, carefully, and unobserved, to the ground, and she lay there, while the Indians pursued their way, unconscious of their loss. To portray my feelings upon this separation would be impossible. The agony I suffered was indescribable. I was firmly convinced that my course was wise—that I had given her the only chance of escape within my power; yet the terrible uncertainty of what her fate might be in the way before her, was almost unbearable. I continued to think of it so deeply that at last I grew desperate, and resolved to follow her at every risk. Accordingly, watching an opportun-ity, I, too, slipped to the ground under the friendly cover of night, and the horse went on without its rider.
My plan was not successful. My flight was soon discovered, and the Indian wheeled around and rode back in my pursuit. Crouching in the undergrowth I might have escaped in the darkness, were it not for their cunning. Forming in a line of forty or fifty abreast, they actually covered the ground as they rode past me. The horses themselves were thus led to betray me, for, being frightened at my crouching form, they stopped and reared, thus informing them of my hiding place. With great presence of mind I arose the moment I found myself discovered, and relating my story, the invention of an instant, I succeeded partially in allaying their anger. I told them the child had fallen asleep and dropped from the horse; that I had endeavored to call their attention to it, but in vain; and, fearing I would be unable to find her if we rode further, I had jumped down and attempted the search alone.
The Indians used great violence toward me, assuring me that if any further attempts were made to escape, my punishment would be accordingly. They then promised to send a party out in search of the child when it became light. Poor little Mary—alone in the wilderness, a little, helpless child; who can portray her terror? With faith to trust, and courage to dare, that little trembling form through the long hours of the night kept watch. The lonely cry of the night-bird had no fear in its melancholy scream for the little wanderer who crouched amid the prairie grass. The baying of the gray wolf, as he passed the lonely watcher, might startle, but could not drive the faith from her heart. Surely God is just, and angels will guide the faltering feet to friends and home. Innocent of wrong, how could she but trust that the unseen hands of spirits would guide her from the surrounding perils!
Our March into the Wilderness, and a Scene of Terror
To take up the thread of my own narrative again, and the continuation of my journey with the savages, after the never-to-be-forgotten night when I parted with little Mary, and the attempt to escape myself, will be to entertain my reader with a sight of the dangerous and precipitous paths among the great bluffs which we had been approaching, and the dizzy, fearful heights leading over the dark abyss, or the gloomy, terrible gorge, where only an Indian dares to venture. The blackness of night, and the dread of our savage companions, added terror to this perilous ride. As we passed the little creek before we plunged into these rocky fastnesses, we had left some scattered woods along its banks. I remember looking longingly at the dim shelter of these friendly trees, and being possessed by an almost uncontrollable desire to leap from the horse and dare my fate in endeavoring to reach their protecting shade; but the Indians’ rifles behind me, and my dread of instant death, restrained me. And now my attention was attracted by the wild and terrible scenery around us, through which our fearful captors rode at ease, although it seemed impossible for man or beast to retain a footing over such craggy peaks and through such rugged ravines. The cool air and the sound of rippling water warned us of our nearness to a river; and soon the savages turned their horses down a steep declivity that, like a mighty wall, closed in the great bed of the North Platte. I saw that the river was rapid and deep, but we crossed the sands, plunged in, and braved the current.
From the child to my husband was an easy transition; indeed, when I thought of one, the other was present in my mind; and to mark the path of our retreat with the letters and papers I dropped on our way, seemed the only hope I had of his being able to come to my rescue. As the horses plunged into the swelling river I secretly dropped another letter, that, I prayed, might be a clue to the labyrinth through which we were being led; for I could see by all the Indians’ precautions, that to mislead any who should have the temerity to attempt our recovery, was the design of their movements. They had taken paths inaccessible to white men, and made their crossing at a point where it would be impossible for [wagon] trains to pass, so that they might avoid meeting emigrants. Having reached the opposite bank they separated into squads, and started in every direction, except southward, so as to mislead or confuse pursuers by the various trails. The band that surrounded and directed us kept to the northward a little by west. I tried to keep the points of compass clearly, because it seemed part of the hope that sustained me. Mr. Kelly had said that our position on the Little Box Elder was about twelve miles from Deer Creek Station, which lay to the northwest of us. Marking our present course, I tried, by calculating the distance, to keep that position in my mind, for toward it my yearning desire for help and relief turned.
After crossing the river and issuing from the bluffs we came to a bright, cool stream of water in a lovely valley, which ran through its bosom, spreading a delicious freshness all around. Brilliant flowers opened their gorgeous cups to the coming sunshine, and delicate blossoms hid themselves among the rich shrubbery and at the mossy roots of grand old trees. The awakening birds soared upward with loud and joyful melodies, and nature rejoiced at approaching day. The beauty and loveliness of the scene mocked my sleepless eyes, and despair tugged at my heart-strings; still I made superhuman efforts to appear cheerful, for my only refuge was in being submissive and practicing conciliation. My fear of them was too powerful to allow me to give way to emotion for one moment. There were sentinels stationed at different places to give the alarm, in case of any one approaching to rescue, and I afterward learned that in such a case I would have been instantly murdered.
Next morning I learned, by signs, that Indians had gone out in search of little Mary, scattering themselves over the hills, in squads. Those remaining were constantly overlooking their plunder and unrolling bundles taken from our wagons. They indulged their admiration for their spoils in loud conversation.
The Indians seemed to select, with a clear knowledge of natural beauty, such localities as seemed best fitted to suggest refreshment and repose. The scenery through which we had passed was wildly grand; it now became serenely beautiful, and to a lover of nature, with a mind free from fear and anxiety, the whole picture would have been a dream of delight.
The night of my capture, I was ordered to lie down on the ground, near a wounded Indian. A circle of them guarded me, and three fierce warriors sat near me with drawn tomahawks. Reader, imagine my feelings, after the terrible scenes of the day previous; the desolate white woman in the power of revengeful savages, not daring to speak, lest their fury should fall on my defenseless head. My great anxiety now was to preserve my sanity, which threatened to be overcome if I did not arouse myself to hope, and put aside the feeling of despair which at times stole over me. My heart was continually lifted to “Our Father,” and confidently I now began to feel that prayer would be answered, and that God would deliver me in due season. This nerved me to endure and appear submissive.
At early dawn I was aroused from my apparent slumbers by the war chief, who sent me out to catch the horses—our American horses being afraid of the savages—and as the animals were those belonging to our train, it was supposed that I could do so readily. Upon returning, my eyes were gladdened by the sight of my fellow prisoner, who was seated with her boy upon the ground, eating buffalo meat and crackers. I went immediately to her, and we conversed in low tones, telling her of my intention to escape the first opportunity. She seemed much depressed, but I endeavored to re-assure her, and bidding her hope for the best, went back to where the Indians were making ropes, and packing their goods and plunder more securely, preparatory to the succeeding march, which was commenced at an early hour of the day.
We proceeded on our journey until near noon, when we halted in a valley not far to the north of Deer Creek Station, and I met this lady again. It was a clear and beautiful valley where we rested, until the scorching rays of the sun had faded in the horizon. Being burdened with the gun, and bow and arrow of the chief, my tired arms were relieved, and I plead for the privilege of camping here all night for many reasons. One was, we might be overtaken by friends sent to rescue us, and the distance of return would be less if I should be successful in my next attempt to escape. My entreaties were unavailing; the savages were determined to go forward, and we were soon mounted and started on.
We traveled until sunset, then camped for the night in a secluded valley; we seemed to enter this valley along the base of a wall, composed of bluffs or peaks. Within these circling hills it lay, a green, cool resting place, watered by a bright sparkling stream, and pleasantly dotted with bushes and undergrowth. The moon went down early, and in the dim, uncertain starlight, the heavy bluffs seemed to shut us in on all sides, rising grimly, like guardians, over our imprisoned lines. Blankets were spread, and on these the Indians rested. I was then led out some distance in the camp, and securely fastened for the night. But before this, I remarked, to my fellow prisoner, my determination—to escape that night, if my life were the forfeit, as in every wind I fancied I could hear the voice of little Mary calling me. She entreated me not to leave her, but promising help to her should I be fortunate enough to get free, I sadly bade her good night, and went to my allotted place.
In the morning, when permitted to rise, I learned that she had disappeared. A terrible sense of isolation closed around me. No one can realize the sensation without in some measure experiencing it. I was desolate before, but now that I knew myself separated from my only white companion, the feeling increased tenfold, and seemed to weigh me down with its awful gloomy horror. In the heart of the wilderness, surrounded by creatures with whom no chord of sympathy was entertained—far from home, friends and the interests of civilized life, the attractions of society, and, above all, separated from husband and loved ones—there seemed but one glimpse of light, in all the blackness of despair, left, and that was flight. I listened to every sound, while moments appeared hours, and it seemed to me that death in its most terrible form would not be so hard to bear as the torturing agony I then endured. I murmured broken prayers. I seemed to hear the voices of my husband and child calling me, and springing forward, with a wild belief that it was real, would sink back again, overwhelmed with fresh agony. Arrangements were then made for resuming our journey, and we were soon once more on our march.
Another burden had been added to my almost worn-out frame, the leading of an unruly horse; and my arms were so full of the implements I was forced to carry, that I threw away the pipe of the old chief—a tube nearly three feet long, and given me to take care of—which was very unfortunate for me, exciting the wrath and anger of the chief to a terrible degree. Now they seemed to regard me with a suspicious aversion, and were not so kind as before. The country they passed over was high, dry, and barren. I rode one horse and led another; and when evening came they stopped to rest in a grove of great timber, where there was a dry creek bed. Water was obtained by digging in the sand, but the supply was meager, and I was allowed none. The sun began to sink, and the chief was so enraged against me, that he told me by signs that I should behold it rise no more. Grinding his teeth with wrathful anger, he made me understand that I was not to be trusted; had once tried to escape; had made them suffer the loss of my child, and that my life would be the forfeit. A large fire had been built, and they all danced around it. Night had begun to darken heavily over me, and I stood trembling and horror struck, not knowing but that the flame the savages capered about was destined to consume my tortured form. The pipe of the chief was nowhere to be found, and it was demanded of me to produce it. He used the Indian words, ” Chopa-chanopa,” uttered in a voice of thunder, accompanying them with gestures, whose meaning was too threatening to be mistaken. I looked in fear and dismay around me, utterly at a loss to know what was expected, yet dreading the consequen-ces of failing to obey. Wechela, the Indian boy, who had been so kind to me, now came up, and made the motion of puffing with his lips, to help me; and then I remembered that I had broken the pipe the day before, and thrown it away, ignorant of their veneration for the pipe, and of its value as a peace offering. The chief declar-ed that I should die for having caused the loss of his pipe. An untamed horse was brought, and they told me I would be placed on it as a target for their deadliest arrows, and the animal might then run at will, carrying my body where it would. Helpless, and almost dying with terror at my situation, I sank on a rocky seat in their midst. They were all armed, and anxiously awaited the signal. They had pistols, bows, and spears; and I noticed some stoop, and raise blazing fire-brands to frighten the pawing beast that was to bear me to death. In speechless agony I raised my soul to God! Soon it would stand before his throne, and with all the pleading passion of my sinking soul I prayed for pardon and favor in his precious blood, who had suffered for my sins, and risen on high for my justification.
In an instant a lifetime of thought condensed itself into my mind, and I could see my old home and hear my mother’s voice; and the contrast between the love I had been so ruthlessly torn from, and the hundreds of savage faces, gleaming with ferocity and excitement around me, seemed like the lights and shadows of some weird picture. But I was to die, and I desired, with all the strength of my soul, to grasp the promises of God’s mercy, and free my parting spirit from all revengeful, earthly thoughts. In what I almost felt my final breath, I prayed for my own salvation, and the forgiveness of my enemies; and remembering a purse of money which was in my pocket, knowing that it would decay with my body in the wilderness, I drew it out, and, with suffused eyes, divided it among them, though my hands were growing powerless and my sight failing. One hundred and twenty dollars in notes I gave them, telling them its value as I did so, when, to my astonishment, a change came over their faces. They laid their weapons on the ground, seemingly pleased, and anxious to understand, requesting me to explain the worth of each note clearly, by holding up my fingers. Eagerly I tried to obey, perceiving the hope their milder manner held out; but my cold hands fell powerless by my side, my tongue refused to utter a sound, and, unconsciously, I sank to the ground utterly insen-sible to objects around me. When insensibility gave way to returning feeling, I was still on the ground where I had fallen, but preparations for the deadly scene were gone, and the savages slumbered on the ground near me by the faint fire light. Crawling into a sitting posture, I surveyed the camp, and saw hundreds of sleeping forms lying in groups around, with watches set in their places, and no opportunity to escape, even if strength permitted.
Weak and trembling, I sank down, and lay silent till daybreak, when the camp was again put in motion, and, at their bidding, I mounted one horse and led another, as I had done on the day previous. This was no easy task, for the packhorse, which had not been broken, would frequently pull back so violently as to bring me to the ground, at which the chief would become fearfully angry, threatening to kill me at once. Practicing great caution, and using strong effort, I would strive to remain in the saddle to avoid the cuffs and blows received. Whenever the bridle would slip inadvertently from my hand, the chief’s blasphemous language would all be English; a sad commentary on the benefits white men confer on their savage brethren when brought into close contact. Drunkenness, profanity, and disso-lute habits are the lessons of civili-zation to the red men, and when the weapons we furnish are turned against ourselves, their edge is keen indeed. Feeling that I had forfeited the good will of the Indians, and knowing that the tenure of my life was most uncertain, I dared make no complaint, although hunger and devouring thirst tortured me.
The way still led through dry and sandy hills, upon which the sun glared down with exhausting heat, and seemed to scorch life and moisture out of all his rays fell upon. As far as my eye could reach, nothing but burning sand, and withering sage brush or thorny cactus, was to be seen. All my surroundings only served to aggravate the thirst which the terrible heat of that long day’s ride increased to frenzy. When, in famishing despair I closed my eyes, a cup of cool, delicious drink would seem to be presented to my lips, only to be cruelly withdrawn; and this torture seemed to me like the agony of the rich man, who besought Lazarus for one drop of water to cool his parched tongue.
I thought of all I had been separated from, as it seemed to me, forever, and the torment of the hour reduced me to despair. I wished to die, feeling that the pangs of dissolution could not surpass the anguish of my living death.
My voice was almost gone, and with difficulty I maintained my seat in the saddle. Turning my eyes despairingly to my captors, I uttered the word “Minne,” signifying water in their language, and kept repeating it imploringly at intervals. They seemed to hurry forward, and, just at sunset, came in sight of a grassy valley through which flowed a river, and the sight of it came like hope to my almost dying eyes. A little brook from the hills above found its way into the waters of this greater stream, and here they dismounted, and, lifting me from my horse, laid me in its shallow bed. I had become almost unconscious, and the cool, delightful element revived me.
At first I was not able to drink, but gradually my strength renewed itself, and I found relief from the indescribable pangs of thirst. The stream by which the Indians camped that night was Powder River; and here, in 1866, Fort Conner was built, which in the following year was named Fort Reno.
Another Attempt to Escape, My Life Saved by Jumping Bear
The name given to Powder River by the Indians, is “Chahalee Wacapolah.” It crosses the country east of the Big Horn Mountains, and from its banks can be seen the snowcapped Cloud Peak rising grandly from its surrounding hills. Between these ranges, that culminate in the queenly, shining crowned height that takes its name from the clouds it seems to pierce, are fertile valleys, in which game abounds, and delicious wild fruits in great variety, some of which cannot be surpassed by cultivated orchard products in the richness and flavor they possess, although they ripen in the neighborhood of everlasting snow.
In these valleys the country seems to roll in gentle slopes, presenting to the eye many elements of loveliness and future value. Powder River, which is a muddy stream, comes from the southern side of the Big Horn Mountains, and takes a southwestern course, and therefore is not a part of the bright channel that combines to feed the Missouri River from the Big Horn range.
This range of the Rocky Mountains possesses two distinct, marked features. First, there is a central or backbone range, which culminates in perpetual snow, where Cloud Peak grandly rises, as the chief of all its proud summits. Falling off gradually toward the southern valley, there are similar ranges of the Wind River Mountains beyond. Between these ranges, and varying in breadth from twelve to twenty-five miles, are fine hunting grounds, abounding in noble orchards of wild fruit of various kinds, and grapes, as well as game of the choicest kind for the huntsman. Notwithstanding its vicinity to snow, there are gentle slopes which present features of peculiar loveliness.
Several miles northwest, and following the sweep of the higher northern range, and six to eight miles outside its general base, a new country opens. Sage brush and cactus, which for nearly two hundred miles have so largely monopolized the soil, rapidly disappear. The change, though sudden, is very beautiful. One narrow divide only is crossed, and the transition about one day’s ride from the above-named river. The limpid, transparent, and noisy waters of Deer Fork are reached, and the horses have difficulty in breasting the swift current. The river is so clear that every pebble and fish is seen distinctly on the bottom, and the water so cool that ice in midsummer is no object of desire. The scenes of natural beauty, and the charms that have endeared this country to the savage, will in the future lure the emigrant seeking a home in this new and undeveloped land. This clear creek is a genuine outflow from the Big Horn Mountains, and is a type of many others, no less pure and valuable, derived from melting snow and from innumerable springs in the mountains.
Rock Creek comes next, with far less pretensions, but is similar in character. A day’s ride to the northward brings the traveler to Crazy Woman’s Fork. This ever-flowing stream receives its yellow hue from the Powder River waters, of which it is a branch. The country is scarred by countless trails of buffalo, so that what is often called the Indian trail is merely the hoofprint of these animals.
Leaving Powder River, we passed through large pine forests, and through valleys rich with beautiful grasses, with limpid springs and seemingly eternal verdure. I continued to drop papers by the way, hoping they might lead to my discovery, which would have proved fatal had any one attempted a rescue, as the Indians prefer to kill their captives rather than be forced to give them up.
It was the fifth night of my sojourn with the Indians that I found myself under the weeping willows of Clear Creek. The men, weary with travel, and glad to find so good a camping ground, lay down to sleep, leaving a sufficient guard over their captive and at the outposts. Their journey hither had been a perilous one to me, unused as I was to the rocky paths between narrow gorges and over masses of broken stone, which their Indian ponies climbed with readiness and ease. I was led to remark the difference between these ponies and American horses, who could only struggle to find their foothold over such craggy ground, while the ponies led the way, picking their steps up almost perpen-dicular steeps with burdens on their backs. Their travel after the rest at Clear Creek partook of the difficult nature of the mountain passes, and was wearisome in the extreme, and the duties imposed upon me made life almost too burdensome to be borne. I was always glad of a respite at the camping ground.
On the sixth night, I lay on a rock, under the shade of some bushes, meditating on the possibility of escape. The way was far beyond my reckoning, and the woods where they now were might be infested with wild beasts; but the prospect of getting away, and being free from the savages, closed my eyes to the terrors of starvation and ravenous animals.
Softly I rose and attempted to steal toward some growing timber; but the watchful chief did not risk his prey so carelessly, his keen eye was on me, and his iron hand grasped my wrist and drew me back.
Throwing me fiercely on the ground, he hissed a threat through his clenched teeth, which I momentarily expected him to put into execution, as I lay trembling at his feet. I felt from this time that my captivity was for life, and a dull despair took possession of me. Sleep, that balm for happier souls, brought only horrid dreams, in which a dreadful future pictured itself; and then the voices of my husband and child seemed calling me to their side, alas! in vain, for when I awoke it was to find myself in the grass of the savage camping ground, watched over by the relentless guard, and shut out from hope of home or civilized life.
My feet were covered with a pair of good shoes, and the chiefs brother-in-law gave me a pair of stockings from his stores, which I gladly accepted, never, for a moment, suspecting that, in doing thus, I was outraging a custom of the people among whom I was. The chief saw the gift, and made no remark at the time, but soon after he shot one of his brother-in-law’s horses, which he objected to in a decided manner, and a quarrel ensued.
Realizing that I was the cause of the disagreement, I tremblingly watched the contest, unable to conciliate either combatant, and dreading the wrath of both. The chief would brook no interference, nor would he offer any reparation for the wrong he had inflicted. His brother-in-law, enraged at his arrogance, drew his bow, and aimed his arrow at my heart, determined to have satisfaction for the loss of his horse. I could only cry to God for mercy, and prepare to meet the death which had long hung over my head, when a young Blackfoot, whose name was Jumping Bear, saved me from the approaching doom by dexterously snatching the bow from the savage and hurling it to the earth. He was named Jumping Bear from the almost miracu-lous dexterity of some of his feats.
This circumstance and the Indian mentioned were, in my judgment, instruments in the hand of Providence, in saving Fort Sully from the vengeance and slaughter of the Blackfeet, who had succeeded in gaining the confidence of some of the officers on the Missouri River. His activity in the attack on our train, and the energy he displayed in killing and pillaging on that occasion, notwithstanding his efforts to make me believe the contrary, forbade me to think there was any sympathy in his interference in my behalf. The Indian submitted to his intervention so far that he did not draw his bow again, and my suspense was relieved, for the time, by the gift of a horse from the chief to his brother-in-law, which calmed the fury of the wronged Indian. It happened that the animal thus given as a peace-offering was the pack horse that pulled so uncomfortably against the leading rein, and thus, in the end, I gained, by the ordeal through which I had passed, in being relieved of a most unmanageable task.
From the first, I was deprived of every ameliorating comfort that might have rendered my existence bearable. No tent was spread for me, no rug, or coverlet, offered me to lie on. The hard earth, sparsely spread with grass, furnished me a couch, and apprehension and regret deprived me of the rest my toilsome life demanded. They offered me no food, and at first I did not dare to ask for it. This was partly owing to the absence of all natural appetite, an intense weakness and craving constantly for drink being the only signs of the prolonged fast that annoyed me.
The utter hopelessness of my isolation wore on me, driving me almost to madness, and visions of husband and child haunted my brain; sometimes they were full of hope and tauntingly happy; at others, I saw them dying or dead, but always beyond my reach, and separated by the impassable barrier of my probably lifelong captivity.
In my weakened condition, the horrors of the stake, to which I felt myself borne daily nearer as they progressed on their homeward route, appeared like a horrid phantom. It had been threatened me since my first effort to escape, and I was led to believe such a punishment was the inevitable consequence of my attempt.
The terrible heat of the days continued, and the road they took was singularly barren of water. The Indians, after drinking plentifully before starting, carry little sticks in their mouths, which they chew constantly, thus creating saliva, and preventing the parching sensation I endured from the want of this knowledge.
The seventh night they entered a singular canyon, apparently well known to them, as they found horses there, which evidently had been left on a former visit. I could not but wonder at the sagacity and patience of these Indian ponies, which were content to wait their master’s coming, and browse about on the sparse herbage and meager grass.
The Indians had killed an antelope that day, and a piece of the raw flesh was allotted me for a meal. They had then traveled in a circuitous route for miles, to reach the mouth of this canyon, and entered it just after sundown. Its gloomy shade was a great relief after the heat of the sun, and it filled my sensitive mind with awe. The sun never seemed to penetrate its depths, and the damp air rose around me like the breath of a dungeon. Downward they went, as if descending into the bowels of the earth, and the sloping floor they trod was covered with red sand for perhaps the space of half a mile. Then they struck a rocky pavement, the perpendicular walls of which were of earth; but as they made another turning and entered a large space, they seemed to change to stone with projecting arches and over hanging cornices. The high walls rose above the base so as to nearly meet overhead, and, with their innumerable juttings and irregularities, had the appearance of carved columns supporting a mighty ruin. Occasionally, a faint ray of the fading light struggled with the gloom, into which they plunged deeper and deeper, and then their horses’ cautious feet would turn the bones of antelope or deer, drawn thither by the lurking wolf to feed the young in their lair. I was startled with dread at the sight, fearing that they might be human bones, with which mine would soon be mingled.
The increasing darkness had made it necessary for the Indians to carry torches, which they did, lighting up the grotesque grandeur of earth and rock through which they passed by the weird glare of their waving brands. Arriving at the spot they selected as a camping ground, they made fires, whose fantastic gleams danced upon the rocky walls, and added a magic splendor to their wondrous tracery. The ghostly grandeur of these unfrequented shades cannot be described, but their effect is marvelous. They seem to shadow forth the outline of carving and sculpture, and in the uncertain fire-light have all the effect of some old-time temple, whose art and glory will live forever, even when its classic stones are dust. Here I found water for my parched lips, which was more grateful to my weary senses than any natural phenomenon; and sinking on a moss-grown rock, near the trickling rill that sank away in the sand beyond, I found slumber in that strange, fantastic solitude. I was aroused by a whistling sound, and, gathering myself up, looked fearfully around me. Two flaming eyes seemed to pierce the darkness like a sword. I shuddered and held my breath, as a long, lithe serpent wound past me, trailing its shining length through the damp sand, and moving slowly out of sight among the dripping vines.
After that I slept no more; and when I saw the struggling light of day pierce the rocky opening above, I gladly hailed the safety of the sunshine, even though it brought sorrow, distress, and toil. When we rose in the morning, they left the canyon by the path they entered, as it seemed to have no other outlet, and then pursued their way.
From Narrative of My Captivity Among The Sioux Indians, by Fanny Kelly, 1872.
Editor’s Note: Subsequent excerpts of this descriptive narrative will appear in the Montana Pioneer, revealing details of daily life in a Sioux village of thousands and the fate Fanny Kelly and of her five-year-old, Mary.