The Man that draws the Handcart
by Edward Eggleston
George Northrup was but a boy of fifteen when his father died. Having
nothing to keep him at home, he went to the Indian country, which at
that time was in Minnesota. He had a boyish notion that he could go
through to the Pacific Ocean by making his way from one tribe to
another. When he was eighteen years old, a few years before the Civil
War, he tried to make this journey. He loaded his provisions into a
handcart, and took a big dog along for company. For thirty-six days he
did not see anybody, or hear any voice but his own. Then he found paths
made by Indian war parties. He knew, that, if one of these parties
should find him, he would be killed.
One morning he found all his food stolen from his handcart. Either
Indians or wolves had taken it. He now saw how foolish his boyish plan
had been. He turned back, and at last reached a trading post, almost
starved to death. For days he had had little to eat except such frogs
as he could catch.
After this the Indians always called him
As he grew older, he became a famous trapper and guide. He knew all
about the habits of animals. He could shoot with a better aim than any
Indian or any other white man on the frontier. He often walked eighty
miles in a day across the prairie. He could manage the Indians as no
other man could.
This strange young man lived among rough and wicked men. But he never
drank or swore, or did anything that anybody could have thought wrong.
He never even smoked, as other men about him did, but he lived his own
life in his own way. Everybody loved him for his gentleness. Everybody
admired him for his courage and manliness. All the spare money he got
he spent for good books.
When winter time came, he would sometimes hire other trappers, who did
not know the country so well as he did, to work for him. He would go
away beyond the settlements and set up a camp. He would teach the other
men how to trap. When spring came, he would bring many furs into the
settlement. One winter he camped in the country of the Yankton Indians.
He had six men with him. The Yanktons were wild Indians, and Northrup
was in some danger. But he had a friend among the Indians, a chief
called by a good long name, Taw-ton-wash-tah.
But all the Yanktons were not friendly to the white men. There was one
chief whose name was Old-man. He got together a party to go and rob
Northrup and drive him away. Taw-ton-wash-tah tried to keep these
Indians from going, but he could not do it.
Northrup did not know that a party had been sent out against him. His
men went on with their trapping, while George went hunting to get food
for them. They had only a small bag of flour, and this they did not
eat. They kept the flour for a time that might come in which they could
not find any animals to kill for meat.
One day George followed the tracks of an elk. He overtook it six miles
from his camp. He crept up to it and shot it. Then he loaded his gun,
so as to be ready for anything that might happen. While he was skinning
the elk, he looked up and saw the heads of Indians coming up over a
little hill. He quickly jumped into the bushes. He saw that there were
thirteen Indians in the party. He put his hand on his bullet pouch, and
knew by the feeling of it that there were fifteen bullets in the bag.
"Every bullet must bring down an Indian," he said to himself.
One of the Indians called out in his own language, "Is
George quickly replied in their language, "Stop! If any man comes one
step nearer, I will kill him. Tell me whether this is a war party or a
One of the Indians stepped out in front and fired off both barrels of
his gun. This was a sign of friendship.
Northrup did not think this offer of peace worth much; but, if he
refused it, he would have to fight against thirteen Indians. He could
only accept it by firing off both barrels of his gun. This would leave
him with his gun unloaded.
But he slipped the cap off one barrel of his gun. Then he fired the
other barrel, and brought down the hammer of the one from which he had
taken the cap, so as to make it seem that that barrel of his gun was
empty. Then he slyly slipped the cap back on his gun, so as to have one
barrel ready for use.
He went with the Indians to their camp, where he was a kind of
prisoner, but he managed to load the empty barrel of his gun by going
behind a tree where the Indians could not see him.
He knew that the Indians would try to get to his camp before he did. As
his men did not know how to manage Indians, the Indians could steal
everything in the camp. If they should take his provisions, George and
his men might starve on the prairies, which were covered with snow.
So George made up his mind that he must get to his camp before the
Indians, or lose his life in trying.
He said to the chief, "Old-man, I am going home."
He did not wait for an answer, but started along the trail leading to
his camp. He expected the Indians to shoot him, but they only fell into
line and marched behind him.
George knew that if the Indians got into the camp with him, they would
find everything scattered about. Before he could get things together,
they would steal most of them. So he tried once more what he could do
by boldness. He turned and said to the chief, "My men are new men. They
do not know Indians. If you should go in with me, they might shoot. It
is better that I should go in first, and tell them that you come as
Old-man said "Ho," which is the way that a Yankton has of saying "All
Northrup went into the camp, and gathered everything together in one
place, and told his men to keep watch over the things. The Indians
staid about the camp two days, trying to get a chance to rob the white
men, but Northrup kept his eye on them. Once he found one of his men
without a gun.
"Where is your gun?" he said.
"The Indians are sitting on it," said the man. "They will not give it
George found several Indians sitting on the gun. He took hold of the
gun and looked at the Indians. They all got up. It seemed that they
could not help doing what he wanted them to do. Northrup gave the gun
back to its owner, and told him not to let it go out of his hands
George had a fine double-barreled rifle. An English gentleman whose
guide he had been had sent him this gun from London. When he was in his
tent one day, he heard the Indians on the outside of it disputing who
should have his gun. He knew by this that they meant to kill him.
George patted his rifle as though it had been an old friend, and said,
"Well, old gun, whoever gets you will have to be quick." After that his
hand was always on his gun, and his eye was always on the Indians.
He asked his men where the sack of flour was.
"Old-man has it," said one of his men.
To let the chief keep the flour was to run the risk of starving, but
Northrup knew that if he took it away there might be a battle. He
stepped up to the chief and took the bag of flour from his side and
started away without saying a word.
"Man-that-draws-the-handcart," said the chief angrily, "bring back my
George stopped, and opened his coat. He pointed toward his heart and
"Old-man, if you want to kill me, shoot me, but you shall not take away
my flour and leave me to starve."
"Very well," said the chief sternly, "then,
Man-that-draws-the-handcart, you shall go south."
In the language of these Indians, to go south means to die. They think
the soul journeys to the southward after death. Old-man meant to say
that Northrup should die.
"You shall go South!"
"Very well," said George, looking the Indian in the eye, "I will go
south, then; but if I go south, you shall go with me, and just as many
more as I can take. Remember, Old-man, you must go south if I do."
Old-man knew Northrup very well. He knew that if anybody tried to kill
him, George's sure aim would be taken at Old-man first of all. George
had also told all of his men to shoot the chief if there should be any
After lingering for two days, the Indians stole a bag of chopped
buffalo meat, or pemmican, and an old gun. With these they went off,
and George hurried away to a better camping place, where they could not
find him again.