KIT CARSON'S DUEL
By Emerson Hough
"How much farther, François?" asked the leader of a little mountain
cavalcade which wound its way down a broad river valley in the heart
of the Rocky Mountains. "See, it is now noon, and the encampment
is not yet in sight. Shall we not stop and rest?"
The speaker was a tall, thin man, whose face, browned by the sun
of the plains and mountains, none the less bore a refinement almost
approaching austerity. The man accosted was leaner and browner than
himself, and wore the full costume of the Western engage of the
"M'sieu' Parker," he replied, "halways you hask how far to ze
hencampment. I do not know. In the mountain we do no hask how far.
We push on ze horse. Thass all."
"But the rendezvous—are you sure it is in this valley of the
"It is establish for ze month of August in ze valley of ze Green.
Those man of the mountain, he do not disappoint. This rendezvous
of ze year 1835, it may be ze last one for ze trappaire. But me,
François Verrier, say to you that you shall see ze rendezvous,
also ze trappaire, and ze trader, and ze Injin—hundreds of heem.
My faith! Zay shall see for ze first time ze missionaire to ze
Injin! M'sieu' Parker, you are not ze good father? Eh bien, you
shall make some little priere for those sauvages."
The thin face of Samuel Parker brightened. This land before his
view, majestic, beautiful, was as fabled and unknown as the continent
of lost Atlantis. It was a wild world, a new one. He, first to
answer that strange appeal from the wild Northwest,—that appeal
carried by the four Nez Perces Indians, who travelled in ignorance
and hope across half a continent to ask that the Book might be sent
out to them by the white man,—felt now exaltation swell within
What a meeting must be this, which he had pushed forward so eagerly
to discover! It was a gathering, as he had been well advised, not
in the name of religion or of politics, of art or science—hardly
even in the cause of commerce, although here the wild trappers and
hunters, absent from one year's end to the other in the mountains,
annually met, at some appointed spot in the Rockies, those bold
merchants who brought out to them stores of goods to trade for
furs. The trappers' rendezvous! He had heard of it a thousand tales
distorted and unreal. Truly there was work ahead. He caught up
the reins upon his horse's neck, forgot his weariness, and resumed
His followers, a score or more of horsemen and pack-train drivers,
among whom rode a short sturdy young man, the future martyr-missionary,
Marcus Whitman, moved on, browned, gaunt, dust-begrimed, yet
They had travelled for perhaps a mile or so down the valley when
the guide, riding abreast of his employer, suddenly pulled up his
horse and signed for his companion to pause.
"M'sieu'," said he, "you think I know little of zis land. Behol'!
We are harrive' zis hour."
He pointed. There, against the sky-line, on a projecting range of
the mountainside which sloped down to the edge of the valley, was
the figure of a mountain man, motionless, and evidently on guard.
"En avant!" cried François, setting heels to his horse. "V'la!
It is ze guard of ze encampment. Ride quick, mes camarades!"
The train, packhorses and all, pushed forward at a gallop, which
soon broke into a wild run—the proper gait in trapper custom for
all who arrived at the mountain rendezvous.
As they rounded the spur of rocks which had made the watch-tower
of the sentinel, the full scene burst upon their eyes. There was
a wide, sweet space in the valley, made as if for the very purpose
of the great rendezvous. A flat of green cottonwoods adjoined the
river-bank. "Benches," or natural terraces, of sweet grass rose
along the hillside a half-mile away. Hundreds of horses, picketed
or hobbled, grazed here and there. Others, favorite steeds of their
masters, stood tied at the doors of lodges, in front of which rose
long, tufted spears, in the heraldry of that land insignia of their
owner's rank. Teepees, a hundred and twoscore, skin tents of the
savage tribes and homes also of the whites, were grouped irregularly
over a space of more than half a mile. At the doors of many of
these, silent Indians sat and smoked. In the wide interspaces of
the village were many men, some of them dressed in brown buckskins,
others clad more gaudily. These passed to and fro, some on foot,
others riding furiously. Animation was in all the air.
Shouts, cries, a tumult formed of many factors filled the air.
Babel of speech rose from Frenchmen, Spaniards, Canadians, English,
Scotch, Irish, and American backwoodsmen, and Indians of half a
dozen tribes. Horses, dogs, black-haired and blanketed women, and
children of divers colors moved about continually. The gathering
was heterogeneous, conglomerate, picturesque, savage.
Samuel Parker, missionary to the Oregon tribes, and now come hither
to the mountain market of 1835 as knight-errant of the Gospel,
pulled up his horse at the edge of the encampment and gazed in
sheer amazement. His party—except Whitman, who reined in his horse
at his friend's side—passed on and joined the shouting throng.
Apparently they conveyed certain news as they rode; for now out of
the circling ranks of wild horsemen there swept toward the strangers
a group of yelling riders.
Long ribbons and waving eagle feathers streamed from the manes and
tails of their ponies. Some riders, even of the white men, wore
the great war-bonnets of the northern tribes, the long crests of
feathers sweeping back upon the croups of the rough-coated steeds
they rode. Weapons were in the hands of all. Loud speech and many
oaths were on their lips. They might well have disturbed bolder
hearts than that of a peaceful missionary.
The leader of the approaching band was a man of gigantic stature,
more than six inches above the six-feet mark. He was dark of hair
and eye; a wide mustache swept back across his face, and his heavy,
untrimmed beard, matted and sunburned at the edges, gave him an
expression savage and forbidding.
Clad in the buckskin of a mountain trapper, none the less this
personage affected a certain finery. A brilliant sash encircled
his waist, his hat bore a wide plume. At his belt hung pistols,
and in his hand was a long rifle. He pulled up his horse squatting,
its nose high in air.
"How, friend!" he cried. "Or be you friend, who come thus without
word to Bill Shunan's camp?"
"Sir," replied the missionary, "my name is Parker—Samuel Parker.
I am from far New England, and am bound upon my way to Oregon.
I have come aside from the Sublette Cutoff trail to be present at
this rendezvous. Yourself I do not know."
"What! Not know Bill Shunan, the bully of the Rockies, and the
owner of this camp? Hark ye, stranger, ye're treading on dangerous
ground. I've whipped half a dozen men to-day, and driven every
fighter of the rendezvous back into his lodge. They know Bill
Shunan, and they show him respect, as you shall yourself."
Samuel Parker made no reply, and found no way to move forward,
even had he been sure that friends awaited him in the village. The
giant went on:
"Now, what's your business, man? Ye look like no trapper nor good
mountain man. As for more Yankee traders, we've enough of them now,
and more than enough. Look ye at their packs, laid out there, half
of them not opened! The traders are robbing us mountain men at
this market. Two skins they ask for a pint of sugar, if one would
please his squaw. As much goes for a knife; and three skins for
coffee as much as you could put in a pint cup. Powder they hold as
high as gold-dust, and a blanket is worth a pair of horses. It's
robbery, and I'll have no more of it. If Jim Bridger and Bill
Williams, and their half-black Beckwourth, and Gervais, and Fraeb,
and their other offscourings of old Ashley, will not rebel against
such doings, then, for one, Bill Shunan is not afraid. My people
were French back in old Canada. It is the French who found the
Rockies, and who ought to own them! These Americans—I whip them
with switches! And so I'll whip you if ye come here as a trader
and give us no better measure than these others! Now, I say, who
The dark eye of the missionary lighted again with its hidden fire.
"I am a missionary," said he, "a man of the church, a minister
of the Gospel, as I would have said to you. I have come to this
encampment to hold divine services among you. Red men or white, we
are brethren, and we are sinners in common." The close-shut mouth,
the dull flush visible beneath the tan, the flash of the eye, all
bespoke him a man not devoid of courage. Yet his speech brought
only rage to the other.
"Minister!" he cried. "By all the saints, no unfrocked priest
shall speak words in this camp of mine! Not even a good father of
the French has been present at a rendezvous of the bully boys of
the mountains; and who are you, to come intruding at the frolic
of the trappers? I'll have no sniveling Protestant here. So get ye
gone at once!"
"Sir," said the minister, "I have ridden far, and I am not of a
mind to go back." He crowded his horse forward, the more so as he
saw approaching another band of men from the encampment. He could
only hope that they might be of a class not quite the same as this
desperado. A moment later these riders joined the group of parleyers.
"How now, what is this?" cried out the tall man who led these
newcomers. "Who's the stranger? Does he carry news from the States?"
"Back with ye, Bill Williams!" cried Shunan. "'Tis but a sniveling
preacher from the East, and I have told him he shall bring no psalms
The freshly arrived horsemen made small reply to Shunan's speech,
but bent a curious gaze upon the stranger. The latter saw at a
glance that these were no allies of the bully. Therefore he glanced
toward them as if in appeal.
Without a word a half-score of them urged their horses round him,
and separated him from Shunan's party.
"What!" cried Shunan. "You dispute me? I tell ye he will never
see the sun again if he pushes himself into this camp. What do ye
mean, you puny Yankees? Do ye want me to put ye on your death-beds,
as I have a couple of ye before to-day? Back with ye! For I say
this man shall not come into camp!"
"Shunan," broke in a quiet voice, "who gives you right to issue
The speaker was a young man, still in his twenties; and so far from
equaling in stature the giant whom he addressed, he was slight and
small, not over five feet six inches in height, although of good
shoulders and great depth of chest.
He sat a dark-brown horse, fully caparisoned in the Spanish fashion.
His garb was of buckskin, but plain and devoid of ornamentation.
A wide hat swept over his well-tanned face, and from beneath its
brim there shone the steely glance of gray-blue eyes.
Shunan, dumfounded, whirled his horse toward the speaker.
"Shunan," repeated this man, in turn urging his own horse forward,
"you've made trouble enough in the encampment. You shall no longer
act the bully here. The stranger comes in peace, and he shall be
heard here if he likes. What!" and the blue eyes flashed. "Would
you issue orders at a meeting of the free men of the mountains—the
very place in all the world where every man who comes in friendship
is made welcome? This is our country. This is our encampment. The
law of what is right shall govern here; and I take it upon myself
to say this to you!"
Silence fell upon all who heard these words. The last speaker
raised his hand as Parker would have spoken. The friends of the
young man now pressed closer about him. He did not give back, but
urged his mount still forward, until it breasted the cream-colored
horse which Shunan rode. The bully, half-sobered from his potations
by this stern situation, did not himself give back.
"Who are you?" he cried. "By what right do ye question Bill Shunan?
Would ye be the next to be whipped with switches? There is but one
end to this, boy! Are ye ready for it?"
"Have I ever been found unready?" asked the young man, quietly.
"I say again, this land is free. The stranger shall have meat and
robes at my lodge, and if he will speak, he shall have his say."
In a rage Shunan spurred forward, his hand uplifted; yet the brown
horse and its rider receded not an inch. The issue was joined.
There must now be combat!
"Not here!" cried old Bill Williams, suddenly. "Wait! Back to the
camp with ye all, and there let it be decided proper!"
This speech met with sudden approval upon both sides. An instant
later the missionary's horse was swept forward in a rush which
carried both parties, intermingled, deep into the center of the
Well toward the middle of the encampment there was a large and
irregular space left unoccupied, a sort of plaza, devoted to common
use, and employed as meeting-ground in the trading operations of
the market, or the jollifications, which occupied far more of the
time. As the riders came into this open space Shunan and his party
drew off to the right. His antagonist sought out his lodge upon
the opposite side. He was followed here by several of his warmer
friends, Williams, Bridger, Fraeb, other men of the mountains at
one time known throughout the length and breadth of the West.
"Sir," said the young man, turning toward Samuel Parker, "get you
down, and come within my house. Perhaps by this time you are used
to such. We bid you welcome. I shall return to you soon, after I
have settled this matter which has come up between me and yonder
"I beseech you!" cried the missionary, reaching out an imploring
hand. "What is it you would do? Surely you do not mean—you would
not engage in combat with this man—you do not mean bloodshed?
This—on my account—no, no! Let me go."
The quiet man whom he thus accosted made no answer at first, but
pushed back the hat from his brow and gazed upon the newcomer with
a kindly eye.
"There is but one way," said he. "Bill, see to it that our friend
has good treatment here." The man addressed took Parker by the arm
and thrust him gently within the lodge.
The young man now summoned another friend. "Gervais," he said, "go
to yonder bully, and say to him that unless his threats and boasts
cease, I shall be forced to kill him. Our bullets should be for
our enemies, but Shunan has made trouble enough; and he must go to
his lodge or meet me, man to man."
"Are ye ready for him, boy?" asked Gervais. "How is the shoulder
where you caught the Blackfoot bullet last fall? Can you handle
"I'll not trust the shoulder," was the reply, "and will not risk
the rifle." He drew a pistol from his belt and looked at the priming
of the pan. "One shot," said he; "and it must do."
"But he'll use his rifle."
"Very well. Go to him and say that I shall come mounted, like
himself, and he may be armed as he likes. No man is my superior
on horse or with any weapon. Moreover, you shall see that I do not
seek so much to kill him as to end his boasting, and to restore
the law in this camp."
Gervais sprang upon his horse and was off, calling out to others,
who drew near, the instructions which he had received. He approached
Shunan, who was now urging his horse round and round the open space
of the village, shouting defiance and uttering foul reproaches for
his antagonist, whom he announced himself eager to meet. Gervais
delivered his message.
The bully continued to crowd his horse back and forth, pulling it
up so sharply that it was thrown upon its haunches now and again
in mid-career. He waved his long rifle over his head, and issued
a general challenge to all within reach of his voice.
At this moment there rode out from the farther side of the circle
the champion of law and order. The horse which he bestrode came on
strongly and lightly, its head up. The rider had stripped off all
his accouterments, and rode a buckskin pad-saddle, Indian fashion.
About his waist was a belt, which bore no weapons. His long rifle,
at which weapon he had no master, did not rest upon the saddle
front. His hat was gone, and a handkerchief bound back his long
light hair. He rode forward lightly, easily, in confidence.
Shunan, yelling, wildly, charged at once upon him.
The young man sat erect; but when Shunan was still a score of yards
away, the brown horse leaped aside, its rider lying along its neck
as an Indian might have done, and swept round and to the rear of
The bully, fumbling with his piece, endeavored to follow. Then he
saw the pistol barrel pointing under the neck of the brown horse,
and cold terror smote his soul.
The two swept past again at full gallop, Shunan still not quite master
of his horse and weapon at the same time, for the long-barreled,
muzzle-loading rifle was difficult to manage from the back of a
plunging horse. They wheeled and passed yet again; but this time,
as they turned, they headed directly toward each other at a steady
The spectators knew that in an instant the issue would be decided.
Shunan jerked up his horse and threw his rifle sharply to his
face. His antagonist made no attempt to swerve, but instead spurred
forward sharply. The brown horse sprang breast to breast with the
cream-colored mustang. The two men were within arm's length. At
this minute there rang out two reports, almost at the same instant.
The horses sprang apart.
The slighter man was still sitting erect. He swept his hand hastily
across his temple, where he felt a stinging burn. Shunan, dazed,
sat his horse for an instant, but his rifle dropped to the ground;
and as his horse sprang forward, he himself fell, and so lay, one
arm hanging limp and the other raised in the sign of surrender.
The duel was over. The late friends of Shunan joined the riders
who now crowded into the open space from the opposite sides of the
"Did he touch ye, boy?" cried old Bill Williams.
"No, though he meant it well enough. See, there's a twist of hair
gone from the side of my head."
"He got your bullet through the hand and wrist," said Williams, as
they turned away. "His right arm's done for, for a while. You were
a bit the first with your fire, my son,"
"I know it, and I knew I had need to be. I fired at his hand, and
knew I must be a shade the first. I knew if I held true, his aim
would be thrown out."
As he spoke, he dismounted at the door of his own lodge. There
Samuel Parker met him, and cried, "Is it over? Is any one hurt?
Has there been murder done?"
"There, there, friend," said old Bill Williams, gently, "you bring
here still your Yankee way of speech. Besides, 'tis no murder unless
some one is killed, and yonder bully Shunan will only have a sore
hand for a month or so. 'Twas a lesson that was well needed for
him. See now, the camp is quiet already. Men and women may venture
out-of-doors in peace and comfort. 'Tis but the law of the mountains
you have seen, man."
"And as for the law of the Gospel," interrupted Gervais, "they
shall have that this night round the fire, if you wish to speak."
The minister gazed from one to the other with emotions new to him.
"And you, sir," he said, extending his hand to the young man who
had thus stoutly championed him, "who are you? Whom shall I thank
for this strange act—for this strange justice of the mountains,
as you call it?"
The bronzed men who stood or sat their horses near at hand gazed
from one to another, smiling, At last old Bill Williams broke out
into a laugh.
"Man," cried he, "'tis easily seen you're fresh from the States!
What, not know the best man in all the Rockies? There is but one
could have done this deed so well. We have few courts here, but
whenever we've needed a sheriff of our own we've had one, and here
he is. So you did not know Kit Carson!"