- Purchase/rental options available:
Manoa 16.2 (2004) 39-46
[Access article in PDF]
Galveston Bay, 1826
On their second day, Old Bull's party began to see many wolves and coyotes in the distance, slung low to the ground, throwing backward glances. The animals appeared in the midafternoon as mirages through a heat-wave gauze that rose off the plain and made things shimmer and seem not as they were. One stopped and sat on his haunches and looked behind him. He licked his chops, then looked right at Old Bull before slinking away. Something extraordinary was happening, plainly, but Old Bull was unconcerned. There were many days to cover before reaching this Great Lake he had heard so much of. They were Old Bull, Red Moon, Sandman, and Whiteshield. Other than strips of dried meat wrapped in skins and an extra horse each on a side rope, they carried no excess baggage. Their horses were lean and muscled and born to run. But this wasn't a war party or a scouting trip. This was plain-and-simple joyriding, an adventure, and who wants to be bogged down on an adventure? Privately, Old Bull thought the stories were exaggerated: days and days of water in either direction? The absolute end of the Earth? If this was true, this would surely be the very origin of their existence, he thought.
The water was very low in the Red River, and they let the horses drink after they crossed. Toward evening the antelope came—sand brown like the terrain and splotched with white—first one, then in twos and threes. Soon, Old Bull's party was surrounded front and back by the usually very skittish animal. They stopped their horses and looked in all directions. Old Bull liked the way the antelope sprang in long, graceful arcs, one after the other, like they were playing children's games. But Sandman drew and shot an arrow into one's neck right at the top of its jump. It fell on its two front legs and lay quivering in the grass. He got down and pulled out his arrow, then slit its neck with a quick jerk. He did all this calmly. Old Bull shook his head. Red Moon laughed. That damned Sandman.
Later on, Whiteshield was almost thrown from his horse when it nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. The horse dipped suddenly and reared up, but Whiteshield brought him down and calmed him, scratching the side of his neck. Old Bull told him he better watch where he was going next time. [End Page 39] They splashed through a small creek, and on the top of the next rise a grasshopper flew into Old Bull's face. He felt its scratchy little legs on his cheek and tried to flick it off, but it leapt away. Sandman pointed. Old Bull looked and saw waves of insects flying toward them, heard their wings fluttering. There were locusts, grasshoppers, crickets. The riders hid their faces against the sides of their horses and galloped through the cloud of bugs. Once past, they slowed to a lope. The horses smelled smoke, raising their heads and flaring their nostrils. Old Bull's horse sneezed sharply. Then Old Bull himself smelled it. At the top of the hill, where they could see for miles all around, they saw a fire to the west. It rose up like the bluffs of a red canyon, its flame lapping and advancing. Animals fled as it progressed—more animals than Old Bull had ever seen at one time. That night, they dozed on their pallets in a cottonwood grove, the remnants of antelope fat spitting and sizzling on embers. A strand of Red Moon's hair was caught in his lips. It went in and out as he snored. Breezes came and went, rustling leaves and making music.
The fire now behind them, they left at sunup. Sometimes they rode in a lazy zigzag, taking it easy, or abreast in an easy lope. Sandman's horse would always begin to gallop when it smelled water, and Sandman had to check him. After two days...