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 life.

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 hid himself.

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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 himself."

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 said,

"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.