Hungry Times in the Woods
by Edward Eggleston
When James Smith, or Scouwa, had been some years among the Indians, he
was in a winter camp with two of his adopted brothers. The younger of
these, with his family, went away to another place. Scouwa was left
with the older brother and his little son.
The older brother was a very wise Indian. He had thought much about
many things. He talked to his young white brother on many subjects, and
James always remembered him as a great man.
The wise Indian was now suffering from rheumatism. He could hardly move
out of his winter hut at all. But he bore it all with gentle patience.
Scouwa had to do all the hunting for himself, the old man, and the boy.
Almost the only food to be had was deer meat. From time to time Scouwa
succeeded in killing a deer. But at last there came a crust of snow.
Whenever the hunter tried to creep up to a deer, the crust would break
under his feet with a little crash, and the noise would frighten the
deer away. After a while there was no food in the cabin.
Once Scouwa hunted two days without coming back to the cabin, and with
nothing to eat. He came back at last empty-handed.
The wise Indian asked him, "What luck did you have, brother?"
"None at all," said Scouwa.
"Are you not very hungry?" asked the Indian.
"I do not feel so hungry now as I did," said the young man, "but I am
very faint and weary."
Then the lame Indian told the little boy to bring something to eat. The
boy had made a broth out of the dry old bones of foxes and wild-cats
that lay about the camp. Scouwa ate this broth eagerly, and liked it.
Then the old chief talked to Scouwa. He told him that the Great Spirit
would provide food for them. He talked in this way for some time.
At last he said, "Brother, go to sleep, and rise early in the morning
and go hunting. Be strong, and act like a man. The Great Spirit will
direct your way."
In the morning James set out early, but the deer heard his feet
breaking through the snow crust. Whenever he caught sight of them, they
were already running away. The young man now grew very hungry. He made
up his mind to escape from the Indians, and to try to reach his home in
Pennsylvania. He knew that Indian hunters would probably see him and
kill him, but he was so nearly starved that he did not care for his
He walked very fast, traveling toward the east. All at once he saw
fresh buffalo tracks. He followed these till he came in sight of the
buffaloes; then, faint as he was, he ran on ahead of the animals, and
Scouwa shoots a Buffalo.
When the buffaloes came near, he fired his gun, and killed a large
buffalo cow. He quickly kindled a fire, and cut off a piece of the
meat, which he put to roast by the fire. But he was too hungry to wait.
He took his meat away from the fire, and ate it before it was cooked.
When his hunger was satisfied, he began to think about the wise Indian
and his little boy. He could not bear to leave them to starve, so he
gave up his plan of escaping.
He hung the meat of the buffalo where the wolves could not get at it.
Then he took what he could carry, and traveled back thirteen tedious
miles through the snow.
It was moonlight when he got to the hut. The wise Indian was as
good-natured as ever. He did not let hunger make him cross. He asked
Scouwa if he were not tired. He told the little boy to make haste and
cook some meat.
"I will cook for you," said Scouwa. "Let the boy roast some meat for
The boy threw some meat on the coals, but he was so hungry that he ate
it before it was cooked. Scouwa cut some buffalo meat into thin slices,
and put the slices into a kettle to stew for the starving man. When
these had boiled awhile, he was going to take them off, but the Indian
"No, let it cook enough."
And so, hungry as he was, the wise Indian waited till the meat was well
cooked, and then ate without haste, and talked about being thankful to
the Great Spirit.
The next day Scouwa started back for another load of buffalo meat. When
he had gone five miles, he saw a tree which a bear had taken for its
winter home. The hole in the tree was far from the ground. Scouwa made
some bundles of dry, half-rotten wood. These he put on his back, and
then climbed a small tree that stood close to the one with a hole in
it. The rotten wood he touched to a burning stick from a fire he had
kindled. Then he dropped the smoking bundles of rotten wood one after
another down into the bear's den, and quickly slid to the ground again.
The bear did not like smoke. After a while he crawled out of the hole
to get breath. Scouwa shot him.
He hung the bear meat out of the reach of wolves, and carried back to
the hut all that he could take at one time. The old man and the boy
were greatly pleased when they heard that there was bear meat as well
as buffalo meat in plenty. After this they had food enough.