Loretto and his Wife by Edward Eggleston
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.
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
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.