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
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
"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
"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.
"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.