Osito by F. L. Stealey

On the lofty mountain that faced the captain's cabin the frost had already made an insidious approach, and the slender thickets of quaking ash that marked the course of each tiny torrent, now stood out in resplendent hues and shone afar off like gay ribbons running through the dark-green pines. Gorgeously, too, with scarlet, crimson and gold, gleamed the lower spurs, where the oak-brush grew in dense masses and bore beneath a blaze of color, a goodly harvest of acorns, now ripe and loosened in their cups.

It was where one of these spurs joined the parent mountain, where the oak-brush grew thickest, and, as a consequence, the acorns were most abundant, that the captain, well versed in wood-craft mysteries, had built his bear trap. For two days he had been engaged upon it, and now, as the evening drew on, he sat contemplating it with satisfaction, as a work finished and perfected.

From his station there, on the breast of the lofty mountain, the captain could scan many an acre of sombre pine forest with pleasant little parks interspersed, and here and there long slopes brown with bunch grass. He was the lord of this wild domain. And yet his sway there was not undisputed. Behind an intervening spur to the westward ran an old Indian trail long traveled by the Southern Utes in their migrations north for trading and hunting purposes. And even now, a light smoke wafted upward on the evening air, told of a band encamped on the trail on their homeward journey to the Southwest.

The captain needed not this visual token of their proximity. He had been aware of it for several days. Their calls at his cabin in the lonely little park below had been frequent, and they had been specially solicitous of his coffee, his sugar, his biscuit and other delicacies, insomuch that once or twice during his absence these ingenuous children of Nature had with primitive simplicity, entered his cabin and helped themselves without leave or stint.

However, as he knew their stay would be short, the captain bore these neighborly attentions with mild forbearance. It was guests more graceless than these who had roused his wrath.

From their secret haunts far back towards the Snowy Range the bears had come down to feast upon the ripened acorns, and so doing, had scented the captain's bacon and sugar afar off and had prowled by night about the cabin. Nay, more, three days before, the captain, having gone hurriedly away and left the door loosely fastened, upon his return had found all in confusion. Many of his eatables had vanished, his flour sack was ripped open, and, unkindest cut of all, his beloved books lay scattered about. At the first indignant glance the captain had cried out, "Utes again!" But on looking around he saw a tell-tale trail left by floury bear paws.

Hence this bear trap.

It was but a strong log pen floored with rough-hewn slabs and fitted with a ponderous movable lid made of other slabs pinned on stout cross pieces. But, satisfied with his handiwork, the captain now arose, and, prying up one end of the lid with a lever, set the trigger and baited it with a huge piece of bacon. He then piled a great quantity of rock upon the already heavy lid to further guard against the escape of any bear so unfortunate as to enter, and shouldering his axe and rifle walked homewards.

Whatever vengeful visions of captive bears he was indulging in were, however, wholly dispelled as he drew near the cabin. Before the door stood the Ute chief accompanied by two squaws. "How!" said the chieftain, with a conciliatory smile, laying one hand on his breast of bronze and extending the other as the captain approached.

"How!" returned the captain bluffly, disdaining the hand with a recollection of sundry petty thefts.

"Has the great captain seen a pappoose about his wigwam?" asked the chief, nowise abashed, in Spanish—a language which many of the Southern Utes speak as fluently as their own.

The great captain had expected a request for a biscuit; he, therefore, was naturally surprised at being asked for a baby. With an effort he mustered together his Spanish phrases and managed to reply that he had seen no pappoose.

"Me pappoose lost," said one of the squaws brokenly. And there was so much distress in her voice that the captain, forgetting instantly all about the slight depredations of his dusky neighbors, volunteered to aid them in their search for the missing child.

All that night, for it was by this time nearly dark, the hills flared with pine torches and resounded with the shrill cries of the squaws, the whoops of the warriors, the shouts of the captain; but the search was fruitless.

This adventure drove the bear-trap from its builder's mind, and it was two days before it occurred to him to go there in quest of captive bears.

Coming in view of it he immediately saw the lid was down. Hastily he approached, bent over, and peeped in. And certainly, in the whole of his adventurous life the captain was never more taken by surprise; for there, crouched in one corner, was that precious Indian infant.

Yes, true it was, that all those massive timbers, all that ponderous mass of rock, had only availed to capture one very small Ute pappoose. At the thought of it, the builder of the trap was astounded. He laughed aloud at the absurdity. In silence he threw off the rock and lid and seated himself on the edge of the open trap. Captor and captive then gazed at each other with gravity. The errant infant's attire consisted of a calico shirt of gaudy hues, a pair of little moccasins, much frayed, and a red flannel string. This last was tied about his straggling hair, which fell over his forehead like the shaggy mane of a bronco colt and veiled, but could not obscure, the brightness of his black eyes.

He did not cry; in fact, this small stoic never even whimpered, but he held the bacon, or what remained of it, clasped tightly to his breast and gazed at his captor in silence. Glancing at the bacon, the captain saw it all. Hunger had induced this wee wanderer to enter the trap, and in detaching the bait, he had sprung the trigger and was caught.

"What are you called, little one?" asked the captain at length, in a reassuring voice, speaking Spanish very slowly and distinctly.

"Osito," replied the wanderer in a small piping voice, but with the dignity of a warrior.

"Little Bear!" the captain repeated, and burst into a hearty laugh, immediately checked, however by the thought that now he had caught him, what was he to do with him? The first thing, evidently, was to feed him.

So he conducted him to the cabin and there, observing the celerity with which the lumps of sugar vanished, he saw at once that Little Bear was most aptly named. Then, sometimes leading, and sometimes carrying him, for Osito was very small, he set out for the Ute encampment.

Their approach was the signal for a mighty shout. Warriors, squaws and the younger confrères of Osito, crowded about him. A few words from the captain explained all, and Osito himself, clinging to his mother, was borne away in triumph—the hero of the hour. Yet, no—the captain was that, I believe. For as he stood in their midst with a very pleased look on his sunburnt face, the chief quieting the hubbub with a wave of his hand, advanced and stood before him. "The great captain has a good heart," he said in tones of conviction. "What can his Ute friends do to show their gratitude?"

"Nothing," said the captain, looking more pleased than ever.

"The captain has been troubled by the bears. Would it please him if they were all driven back to their dens in the great mountains towards the setting sun?"

"It would," said the captain; "can it be done?"

"It can. It shall," said the chief with emphasis. "To-morrow let the captain keep his eyes open, and as the sun sinks behind the mountain tops he shall see the bears follow also."

The chief kept his word. The next day the uproar on the hills was terrific. Frightened out of their wits, the bears forsook the acorn field and fled ingloriously to their secret haunts in the mountains to the westward.

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"WHAT ARE YOU CALLED, LITTLE ONE?" ASKED THE CAPTAIN.

In joy thereof the captain gave a great farewell feast to his red allies. It was spread under the pines in front of his cabin, and every delicacy of the season was there, from bear steaks to beaver tails. The banquet was drawing to a close, and complimentary speeches 'twixt host and guests were in order, when a procession of the squaws was seen approaching from the encampment. They drew near and headed for the captain in solemn silence. As they passed, each laid some gift at his feet—fringed leggings; beaded moccasins, bear skins, coyote skins, beaver pelts and soft robes of the mountain lion's hide—until the pile reached to the captain's shoulders. Last of all came Osito's mother and crowned the heap with a beautiful little brown bear skin. It was fancifully adorned with blue ribbons, and in the center of the tanned side there were drawn, in red pigment, the outlines of a very stolid and stoical-looking pappoose.