Stories of American Life and Adventure - Edward Eggleston

Loretto and His Wife

In old times white men had not made settlements in the country near the Rocky Mountains. Tribes of Indians fought one another over that whole region. A few bold white men, fond of wild life, lived there, in order to hunt and trap the animals that bear furs. But they themselves were always in danger of being hunted by the Indians.

The Indians called Blackfeet and those called Crows were at war; They stole each other's horses at every chance, and the Indians of each tribe were always seeking to kill those of the other.

In one of their attacks on the Blackfeet, the Crows carried off an Indian girl. One of the bold trappers of the Rocky Mountains was a Mexican. His name was Loretto. He visited a Crow village once, and saw this girl. He fell in love with the captive, and bought her from the Crows. Whether he paid for her in horses or in beaver skins, I do not know. But from a slave of the enemies of her tribe she was changed to the wife of a white man who loved her.

Loretto was hired to trap for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. This company bought furs from the Indians of the Far West. They sent large parties to the mountains every year with guns, knives, hatchets, blankets, and other things, which they traded to the Indians for skins.

Loretto was marching over the plains with a party of trappers belonging to this company. He had his young Blackfoot wife and his baby with him. The white men were much afraid of the Blackfoot Indians. The company that Loretto was with examined every ravine that they passed, for fear that the Indians would surprise them.

One day a band of the Blackfoot tribe appeared on the prairie, but they kept near some rocks to which they could easily retire. They made signs of friendship. The trappers also made friendly signs. Then the Blackfeet sent out a party with a pipe of peace. The white men sent out a party to meet them. They smoked the pipe in the open ground between the two companies. This is the Indian way of making peace.

Of course, Loretto's wife was much interested in the Blackfeet. They were her own people. It had been a long time since she had seen one of them. She looked closely at the company smoking together, and saw that one of them was her brother. She handed the child to Loretto. Then she rushed out to the place where the treaty was going on, and her brother threw his arms about her with the greatest affection.

[Illustration] from American Life and Adventure by Edward Eggleston

But just at that moment, Bridger, the captain of the white men, rode out where the pipe was being smoked. He had his rifle across the pommel of his saddle. The chief of the Blackfeet came up to shake hands with him. Bridger was afraid the chief meant to hurt him, so he slyly cocked his rifle. The chief heard the click, and seized the gun. He bent it downwards, and the gun went off, shooting a bullet into the ground. The chief took the gun and knocked Bridger off his horse with it. Then he mounted Bridger's horse and galloped back to his Indians. Indians and white men now got behind the rocks and trees which were not far away, and began to shoot at each other.

Loretto's wife was carried away by her tribe. In vain she struggled to get free, and begged to be allowed to go back to her husband and child. The Indians would not let her go.

Loretto saw her struggles, and heard her cries. He took his child, and ran to the Indians with it. He handed the child to its mother. The Indian bullets and arrows were flying all about him.

The chief saw him carry the child across the open ground, and his heart was touched. It was a noble action.

He said to Loretto, "You are crazy to go into such danger, but go back in peace; you shall not be hurt."

Loretto begged to be allowed to take his wife with him, but her brother would not let her go, and the chief now began to look angry.

"The girl belongs to her tribe," he said. "She shall not go back."

Loretto wanted to stay with his wife, but she begged him to go back, lest he should be killed on the spot. At last he left her, and went back to the white men.

Night came on, and the Indians drew off. Not much harm had been done to anybody.

Loretto could not be happy without his wife. A few months later, he settled his accounts with the Fur Company and went away. He went boldly into one of the villages of the savage Blackfeet. Here he found his wife, and staid with her.

When the white men made peace with the Blackfeet, they set up a trading house among them. Loretto joined the traders. They were glad to have him, because he could speak the language of the tribe.