1881: Hunting with the Farmer

Before I could accomplish my plan to find accommodation in town, one day the Farmer offered to go on a hunt with him in order to shoot moose and possibly bears. Overjoyed I agreed to his plan. On December 10th, two horses were harnessed to the sleigh, which the Farmer led. At the same time, I climb onto a white mule and take the riding horse – Schkukum – on the reins. After we had covered a distance of about 13 miles through the deep snow, we set up camp by Bridger Creek at the entrance to a tributary valley. The horses are being tied up and stay close to the sleigh.

While Gottschalk and Schkukum climb up to the forest, I hike up the snowy hills, both of us following the tracks of game which are clearly visible in the snow. About half hour later, I discover very fresh tracks of a Mountain Lion right next to rabbit tracks. At first, I shiver when I realize that I could face such a dangerous opponent. But then I hold my rifle ready to shoot and go out to look for the precious game, eager to pass my first dangerous adventure. The tracks take me into a narrow gulch which is snowed in, therefore it is hard to walk into. Giant mounts of rocks often cut off the path. Cautiously I circle around every rock, following the tracks of the mountain lion. I must have walked down the valley like this for half an hour, when arriving at the exit of the gulch, I suddenly hear a noise. For a moment I stop right behind a fallen giant tree, the rifle at the ready. To my astonishment I see the Farmer coming down the forest, one-hundred steps before me. Coming closer he explains that I will hardly have any luck in finding the lion. “They run 50 miles far and are rare to get in front of the rifle”, he says. He did not shoot anything either. We locate our sleigh and prepare our dinner. Then we lay down in the buffalo hides, which next to woolen blankets make a warm and comfortable bivouac inside the sleigh. At night it starts to snow, therefore I pull the grey canvas over my head, especially because the cold was -20°C to -25°C (-4°F to -13°F).

The next day is a Sunday. This time the both of us go into the mountains by foot, but no game wants to get before our rifles. Finally, the Farmer is able to hunt down a rabbit with very white fur. In some parts the snow was so very deep that I sunk up to my chest a few times. Only with a lot of effort I was able to dig myself out with the help of my rifle. We decide that the next day we would take on the hike upstream Brackett Creek. We leave at 8 o’clock in the morning. By the old lumber mill, close to which we had camped before in the month of August, we have to shovel almost 2 m (6.5 feet) high snow or otherwise we would not be able to get the sleigh through there. Almost the whole way, about 12 miles, I had to walk on foot, leading the two horses separately behind me, one by the reins, the other on a long rope. The animals always stepped right into my footsteps – a very strenuous hike, which takes about seven hours’ time.

Close to Brackett Creek in a wide meadow we set up the sleigh and pitch a tent above it. We had cut off six straightly grown, young trunks from the forest nearby in order to use them as pillars for the tent. The horses were tied up as usual. After we had lit a fire and ate our supper, dog-tired we both crawled into the sleigh. The Farmer always knew where to find wood for a fire, since he was familiar with the camping spots of the Indians. After a good nights’ sleep, we set forth after breakfast.

The Farmer rode Schkukum again; in the course of the morning he shot at a nice moose, but missed it. In the meantime, I got into dense shrubbery where I found fresh bear tracks. After hiking and climbing for quite a while, exhausted I sit down in the snow in between low fir-trees in order to rest. Gradually, hunger carries me down the hill again. It was about three in the afternoon when I arrive back at camp at our sleigh. Left over from breakfast, I find a piece of fried meat in the snow which I eat with ravenousness. After a while I see a human stature coming towards me on the white space that stretches to the ulterior forested hill. While coming closer, I recognize a towering person, who was bareheaded and carried a sheer hatchet in his hand, heading towards my tent. I had leant my rifle against the sleigh; I went to get it. Then I tampered with it in order to have it at hand and ready to shoot at all times and without fail. The stranger yells a friendly “How do you do?”, which, of course, I return just as friendly. He then tells me that he and another hunter had been camping out close by in an old Indian hut in the forest for three weeks, without having shot anything noteworthy. He prompted me to come and visit them some time. I promised that we would. Even though he had a wild appearance and a smoke-blackened face, he made quite a good impression on me.

When Gottschalk finally came back – it was already getting dark – we prepare our meal and then locate that very hut. After we walk across the wide meadow, we cross the river, Brackett Creek, which was not frozen on this fast running point. With a few long leaps we jump through it, whereupon of course we get mighty wet. On the other waterside the path led uphill into the forest. There we already discover the hut after a few minutes. We find both hunters sitting in their camp, greeting us hospitably. We can dry our wet pants on the powerful large wood fire. The conversation centered about hunting and the prospects of game. The hunter that I already got to know in the afternoon turns out to be a Canadian of French decent. Therefore, we talk French for a while with which the Canadian was not familiar anymore. The other hunter, Jack, arranges with Gottschalk to go on a hunt together the next day. After a few hours we head back. Again we go through the river and across the snowy meadow up to our tent. Because our feet were very wet, we start a fire again to dry off pants and socks, before we go to sleep.

The next morning the Farmer and Jack ride along the 25-yard-creek, whereas I take the same route uphill like the way before. Except some fresh moose-tracks I did not come across any game whatsoever. In the afternoon I go and find the Canadian, with whom I have a long and interesting conversation until the evening hours. He told me that in 1866, thus 15 years ago, the day after Christmas, as a fifteen-year-old boy, he left Indianapolis and hired himself out in St. Louis in order to drive cattle to Helena in Montana. He was en route for about five and a half months and received 75 dollars per month as well as free boarding. In Helena he right away gained employment for haymaking on a daily wage of 8 dollars at four weeks. Then a resident sent him to Fort Benton from where he was supposed to bring back his wife on a carriage, for what he received the considerable amount of 100 dollars. That is how he had acquired about 600 dollars at the end of the eight months that he had been away from home – a small fortune. Later he bought cattle and horses, until one day all his possessions were robbed by the Indians. Just barely, he was able to save his own life. Now he made a living hunting. On August 11th he had turned 29 years old, and therefore he was only two years older than me.

Late at night the two other hunters returned. Gottschalk shot a blacktail and two moose. For the next day, a communal hunting trip was being arranged. The horses are being saddled in the early morning of the dawning day. We all mount up and take another three near horses with us for the harvested game. This time I ride Nelly and lead a second horse by the reins. After a ride of about an hour we make stop at a forested hillside. The Farmer and Jack ride ahead alone, in order to catch a moose, they had shot sick the day before. In the meantime, we, the Canadian and I, stay behind with five horses. We would wait there for many hours, which was not a pleasant task considering the fierce cold. Finally, it was already in the afternoon, the two hunters came back. We now set out with our horses in order to bring back the kill. Only after a long search, it was starting to get dark, we were able to find the two moose. The field dressing of the animals was managed by the Farmer in a relatively short period of time, whereby I gave him a hand to the best of my ability. Finally, the dressed game was loaded onto the two packing horses, and we were able to head back. Luckily a clear, starry sky was shining above us. The Farmer was familiar with the area; therefore, he navigated by the constellations. We had to climb up a steep, forested hill and go down on the other side. Very late we got to our camp. However, after we ate our dinner, we went out to go back to the Indian hut. There we stayed and passed the time chit-chatting about hunting with the other hunting fellows until after midnight. Many a hunting experience from earlier days were talked about, and since those were heavily embellished, we often laughed with great heart.

The Farmer had planned to break camp and start the return home the next day. Therefore, I went to the nearby forest in order to get an antler which I had discovered there, but now was not able to find. In the snow covered meadow I suddenly spot a mighty wolf in a distance of about one-hundred steps. It eyed me as well and slowly started walking towards the forest. It was a timber wolf, which do not hunt as a pack but rather individually, as the Farmer explained to me later. I had left my rifle at camp, therefore I was armed only with a knife that was tucked into my belt. The wolf, however, did not seem to be hungry for human flesh, and disappeared in the woods, where thereafter I saw a white rabbit quickly jumping past.

In the meantime, the Farmer had prepared the horses for the departure. The tent was broken down and stored in the sleigh along with plenty of game we brought home the night before. Around noon, we start heading back, me again in the front with two horses, one tied up on a long rope following behind me. The first hours passed fairly, but it was going rather slow. After a few hours the valley narrowed. The masses of snow often times are huge obstacles on our way. It had long gotten dark as we approach the old mill, where incredible strongholds of snow make passing through impossible. I dismount, since my feet threaten to freeze off anyway. In the dark the Farmer, who knew the area like the back of his hand, pointed me to a rising hillside behind the left side of the mountain, where I was then headed towards to. Step by step I fight my way through the snow masses, while the two horses faithfully stump behind me. For the time being, the sleigh was left behind. After about 200 steps I start going backwards in the gauge of the sleigh in the same, just walked path. That way I was making a track for the heavy loaded sleigh. Yet it was necessary to repeat this exhausting attempt of making a passable path for the sleigh. It required more than half an hour for me to go back and forth the short distance only four times. Finally, the Farmer was able to follow with the sleigh. His aim to get to the farm that very night did not find my approval. In fact, I made the suggestion to set up camp for the night in a protected spot. The strain of this last part of the way had exhausted me extremely. The Farmer, on the other hand, was leading the sleigh from his horse and was protected from the cold through a thick fur cap. Despite the prevalent dark, Gottschalk was able to find an appropriate spot for our camp in a short period of time. He recognized the spot as an old Indian camp.  At the ulterior foot of the hill, which we had climbed before, in between single trees, we soon found a few thick logs and other woods underneath the snow. Within a few minutes a funny fire was lit on which we were able to warm up our frozen limbs. The very valuable matches we had carried for cases like these, were in the rifle butt. Here they were kept dry and well-sealed. The Farmer went and got smoked buffalo-tongue, flour and sugar from the sleigh, while I got a metal can full of water from the nearby creek in order to prepare a warming coffee. First I had to crack the sheet of ice of the running waters.  Then we enjoyed the meal that consisted of buffalo-tongue and a well prepared pancake. The coffee as well is being regarded as a special pleasantness in this terrible cold. After all, in order to forget about these endured stresses and strains, Gottschalk gets a well stored bottle of brandy, whose existence he had kept a secret. Of course, we did not forget about our horses since we had brought oats along for them. Although their main food was the nutritious prairie grass, which they scratch forth from underneath the snow. Soon we laid in the sleigh in order to get a good nights’ sleep; the last one in the open.

I was able to feel the strains of the past days, which had exhausted my strengths extremely, in my limbs, when I climbed out of the sleigh in order to get the horses ready. Breakfast was prepared soon. A bright, crisp, but also quite cold winter morning greeted us when we started to head home. We were in the best mood, as the stress of the eight-day winter hunting trip were left behind. Our body performance was indeed faced with requirements to our durability from the constant, horrible cold, which are probably just as harsh during a crusade. Seven nights with an average of -20 to -25 degrees R. [Reaumur] inside the sleigh, the starry sky as a roof above us.

Starting from our camp, we now had a relatively comfortable way. The path was going along the left side of the mountain and with a jolly trot we made headway fast. From the nearby forest we cut down two pretty fir trees, which would decorate our Christmas table. Down in the valley to the right, Bridger Creek was running thither silently and leaden underneath the ice crust. We were already able to see the large rock gate of the narrow gulch, which we then turned into. Close to noon we arrived at the farm and received with a warm welcome from Mrs. Gottschalk.

translated by Julia Strehlau-Jacobs

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