"OLD MUSTARD": A TALE OF THE WESTERN PIONEERS

By E. W. Frentz

When Grandmother Lane was a little girl her father came in one day and said, "Wife, it is all settled at last. I have sold the farm. Next week we will start West. There is a large company going from here, and we must try to get ready to go with them."

Little Mary, as grandmother was then called, heard the news with great delight, because she knew it would mean a long, long journey, lasting months, and carrying them into a new country, where there was never any cold weather and where great crops could be raised without much hard work, and there would always be plenty to eat. Besides, her family was not going alone, but many other families whom they knew were going at the same time, so that she would have some of her playmates with her all the way.

It was a wonderful sight when the great day came at last, and the long wagon-train set out. In all there were more than forty wagons, some drawn by four or six horses, and some by as many as eight big oxen. And such strange wagons! They were more like little houses on wheels, only instead of a roof there was a high frame overhead made of hoops, and covered with canvas, so it made a sort of tent to ride in by day, if you wished, and to sleep in at night. And from these hoops hung all sorts of things—hams and pieces of bacon, strips of dried pumpkin, pans to cook in, and clothes. Underneath the big wagon, outside, swung the great kettles, in which the larger things were cooked, and axes, and ropes and chains for pulling the wagons out when they got stuck in the mud.

To little Mary it was all new and delightful. The big wagons squeaked and groaned and swayed from side to side till the hams hanging from the frame overhead would swing back and forth like the pendulum of a clock. There were the shouts of the men to the horses and oxen, the barking of the dogs that ran along the side of the trail, the sharp cracking of the drivers' whips, and the ting-tang of the iron kettles swinging against each other. And always they were passing through places that were new and seeing things that were fresh and strange.

The wagon of Mr. Harding—that was grandmother's father—was drawn by four oxen, but of them, known as Jerry, began to show signs of sickness when they had been on the road a few days. The men gave him medicine and doctored him all they could, but he seemed to grow weaker all the time instead of better, and one morning, when they went to yoke the oxen to the wagon, they found him dead.

For a day or two they went on with only three oxen. Then Mr. Harding met a trader who was willing to sell him a pet ox that he called "Old Mustard," to take the place of Jerry.

It was a very funny-looking ox, indeed, not like any that Mary or anybody in her family had ever seen before. He had a very large, round head, with shaggy hair matted on top, and on his back was a large hump. In color he was a dirty yellow all over. That is why the trader called him Mustard.

"He isn't very pretty," said the trader, "but he is strong and good-natured, and will pull more than any ox of his size that I ever saw. Besides, he will get on with less grass and less water. He is a half-buffalo—he shows that in his huge head and shoulders. For this reason he will be worth more to you than any scout or watch-dog; he can smell Indians a mile away, and will fight them on sight." Mr. Harding did not quite like to buy so strange an animal, but he must get another ox somewhere, and so he took Old Mustard.

By the end of the first day he was very glad he had done so, for the funny-looking yellow creature took its place at the tongue of the cart and pulled steadily and well. And every day after that he did his work faithfully, and seemed never to be sick or to feel tired.

By the end of the fourth week the wagon-train had entered a country where the Indians were known to be on the war-path, and trouble was expected. They even found the remains of three partly burned wagons.

Great care was now taken to send scouts ahead during the day and to prepare the camp for defense at night.

The first thing that was done as soon as the stop was made for the night was to "park" all the wagons, as they called it. The big ox-carts were placed in a great circle and chained one to another. Sometimes the cattle were picketed outside, to graze, with men armed with guns to watch them, and sometimes they were driven inside. But always the camp-fires were built in the circle, and round them the different families gathered to cook and eat their supper.

One night, when the wagons had been parked and every one had eaten supper and gone to sleep, Old Mustard began to act very strangely. At first he tossed his head and blew hard through his nostrils; then he began to move about uneasily as far as his rope would let him, and to snort and paw the ground.

When one of the guards went near him he turned upon him a pair of eyes that were bright green and shiny. At last Mr. Harding happened to think what the trader had told him.

"Do you suppose it can be that he scents Indians?" he asked one of the other men.

"It may be," he said. "It is sure that he is excited over something. Perhaps we had better be on the safe side and wake the men."

Quietly Mr. Harding went from wagon to wagon, rousing the sleepers. He had hardly finished when Old Mustard, with a terrible roar, snapped the rope that held him, dashed to the edge of the circle, leaped a cart-tongue, and thundered away into the darkness. Almost instantly there came a scream and then the rushing charge of Indian riders.

They were met by the men of the party, now all prepared for them and protected by the circle of wagons. And finding that their attack had been discovered too soon, the Indians drew off after the first rush.

By the earliest flush of daylight a searching-party went out from camp. It came upon poor Old Mustard grazing about, and not far away lay an Indian trampled into the dust. The Indian was the foremost of the band that was quietly creeping up on the camp when Old Mustard had scented them, and not only given warning, but surprised and killed the leader.