Yosemite > Library > Discovery > Chapter 10 >
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A General Scout—An Indian Trap—Flying Artillery—A Narrow Escape—A Tragic Scene—Fortunes of War—A Scout’s Description—Recovery from a Sudden Leap—Surrounded by Enemies.
While Captain Boling was engaged in capturing the Indians we had “treed” on the north side of the valley, scouting parties were sent out by Lieut. Chandler. They spread over the valley, and search was made in every locality that was accessible. Discovering fresh signs on a trail I had unsuccessfully followed on my first visit, I pursued the traces up to a short distance below Mirror Lake. Being alone I divided my attention between the wonders of the scenery and the tracks I was following, when suddenly I was aroused by discovering a basket of acorns lying by the trail. Seeing that it was a common carrying basket, such as was generally used by the squaws in “packing,” I at first came to the conclusion that it had been thrown off by some affrighted squaw in her haste to escape on my approach. Observing another on a trail leading toward the Talus, I felt confident that I had discovered the key to the hiding-place of the Indians we were in search of. Securing my mule with the “riata” I continued the search, and found several baskets before reaching the walls of the cliff, up which, in a kind of groove, the trail ascended. By this time I began to be suspicious, and thought that there was too much method in this distribution of acorns along the trail for frightened squaws to have made, and it now occurred to me what Sandino had said of acorns being hulled for transportation up the cliffs; and these had not been hulled!
Before reaching the Talus, I observed that the foot-prints were large, and had been made by the males, as the toes did not turn in, as was usual with the squaws; and it now began to appear to me, that the acorns were only left to lead us into some trap; for I was aware that “warriors” seldom disgraced themselves by “packing,” like squaws. Taking a look about me, I began to feel that I was venturing too far; my ambitious desire for further investigation vanished, and I hastened back down the trail. While descending, I met Lt. Gilbert of C company, with a few men. They too had discovered baskets, dropped by the “scared Indians,” and were rushing up in hot pursuit, nearly capturing me. I related my discoveries, and told the Lieutenant of my suspicions, advising him not to be too hasty in following up the “lead.” After I had pointed out some of the peculiarities of the location above us, he said with a sigh of disappointment, “By George! Doc. I believe you are right—you are more of an Indian than I am any way; I reckon we had better report this to the Captain before we go any further.” I replied, “I am now going in to report this strategy to Captain Boling, for I believe he can make some flank movement and secure the Indians, without our being caught in this trap.” But while we were descending to the trail, I seriously thought and believed, that Lt. Gilbert and his men as well as myself, had had a narrow escape. The bit of history of the rear guard of Charlemagne being destroyed by the Pyrenians flashed through my mind, and I could readily see how destructive such an attack might become.
After taking the precaution to secrete the baskets on the main trail, Lt. Gilbert, with his scouts, continued his explorations in other localities, saying as he left that he would warn all whom he might see “not to get into the trap.” I mounted my mule and rode down the valley in search of Captain Boling, and found him in an oak grove near our old camp, opposite a cliff, now known as “Hammo” (the lost arrow). I here learned the particulars of his successful capture of the five scouts of Ten-ie-ya’s band, and at his request asked them, through Sandino, who had come over with the “kitchen mules,” why they had so exposed themselves to our view. They replied that Ten-ie-ya knew of our approach before we reached the valley. That by his orders they were sent to watch our movements and report to him. That they did not think we could cross the Merced with our horses until we reached the upper fords; and therefore, when discovered, did not fear. They said that Ten-ie-ya would come in and “have a talk with the white chief when he knows we are here.”
After repeated questioning as to where their people were, and where the old chief would be found if a messenger should be sent to him, they gave us to understand that they were to meet Ten-ie-ya near To-co-ya, at the same time pointing in the direction of the “North Dome.” Captain Boling assured them that if Ten-ie-ya would come in with his people he could do so with safety. That he desired to make peace with him, and did not wish to injure any of them. The young brave was the principal spokesman, and he replied: “Ten-ie-ya will come in when he hears what has been said to us.”
Having acquired all the information it was possible to get from the Indians, Capt. Boling said that in the morning he would send a messenger to the old chief and see if he would come in. When told this the young “brave” appeared to be very anxious to be permitted to go after him, saying: “He is there now,” pointing towards the “North Dome,” “another day he will be on the ‘Skye Mountains,’ or anywhere,” meaning that his movements were uncertain.
Capt. Boling had so much confidence in his statements, that he decided to send some of the scouts to the region of the North Dome for Ten-ie-ya; but all efforts of our allies and of ourselves, failed to obtain any further clue to Ten-ie-ya’s hiding-place, for the captives said that they dare not disclose their signals or countersign, for the penalty was death, and none other would be answered or understood by their people. I here broke in upon the captain’s efforts to obtain useful knowledge from his prisoners, by telling him of the discovery of baskets of acorns found on the trail; and gave him my reasons for believing it to be a design to lead us into an ambush—that the Indians were probably on the cliff above. I volunteered the suggestion that a movement in that direction would surprise them while watching the trap set for us.
Captain Boling replied: “It is too late in the day for a job of that kind; we will wait and see if Ten-ie-ya will come in. I have made up my mind to send two of our prisoners after him, and keep the others as hostages until he comes. To make a sure thing of this, Doctor, I want you to take these two,” pointing to one of the sons and the son-in-law of Ten-ie-ya, “and go with them to the place where they have said a trail leads up the cliff to Ten-ie-ya’s hiding place. You will take care that they are not molested by any of our boys while on this trip. Take any one with you in camp, if you do not care to go along.”
Taking a small lunch to break my fast since the morning meal, I concluded to make the trip on foot; my mule having been turned loose with the heard. Arming myself, I started alone with the two prisoners which Capt. Boling had consigned to my guardianship. I kept them ahead of me on the trail, as I always did when traveling with any of that race. We passed along the westerly base of the North Dome at a rapid gait, without meeting any of my comrades, and had reached a short turn in the trail around a point of rocks, when the Indians suddenly sprang back, and jumped behind me. From their frightened manner, and cry of terror, I was not apprehensive of any treachery on their part. Involuntarily I cried out, “Hallo! what’s up now?” and stepped forward to see what had so alarmed them. Before me, stood George Fisher with his rifle leveled at us. I instantly said: “Hold on George! these Indians are under my care!” He determinedly exclaimed without change of position, “Get out of the way, Doctor, those Indians have got to die.” Just behind Fisher was Sergeant Cameron, with a man on his shoulders. As he hastily laid him on the ground, I was near enough to see that his clothing was soiled and badly torn, and that his face, hands and feet were covered with blood. His eyes were glazed and bloodshot, and it was but too evident that he had been seriously injured. From the near proximity of the basket trail, I instantly surmised they had been on the cliff above. The scene was one I shall long remember.
It seemed but a single motion for Cameron to deposit his burden and level his rifle. He ordered me to stand aside if I valued my own safety. I replied as quietly as I could, “Hold on, boys! Captain Boling sent me to guard these Indians from harm, and I shall obey orders.” I motioned the Indians to keep to my back or they would be killed. Cameron shouted: “They have almost killed Spencer, and have got to die. As he attempted to get sight, he said: “Give way, Bunnell, I don’t want to hurt you.” This I thought very condescending, and I replied with emphasis: “These Indians are under my charge, and I shall protect them. If you shoot you commit murder.” The whole transaction thus far seemingly occupied but a moment’s time, when to the surprise of us all, Spencer called my name. I moved forward a little, and said to them, “Throw up your rifles and let me come into to see Spencer.” “Come in! you are safe,” replied Fisher—still watching the Indians with a fierce determination in his manner. Spencer raised himself in a sitting position, and at a glance seemed to take in the situation of affairs, for he said: “Bunnell is right; boys, don’t shoot; mine is but the fortune of war;” and telling Cameron to call me, he again seemed to fall partly into stupor. As I again moved towards them with the Indians behind me, they with some reluctance, put up their rifles. Fisher turned his back to me as he said with sarcasm, “Come in with your friends, Doctor, and thank Spencer for their safety.” They relieved their excitement with volleys of imprecations. Cameron said that I “was a —— sight too high-toned to suit friends that had always been willing to stand by me.”
This occurrence did not destroy good feeling toward each other, for we were all good friends after the excitement had passed over.
I examined Spencer and found that, although no bones were broken, he was seriously bruised and prostrated by the shock induced by his injuries. Fisher started for camp to bring up a horse or mule to carry Spencer in. I learned that they had fallen into the trap on the “basket trail,” and that Spencer had been injured while ascending the cliff as I had suspected. He had, unfortunately, been trailed in, as I had been. The particulars Cameron related to me and in my hearing after we had arrived in camp. As the Indians represented to me that the trail they proposed to take up the cliff was but a little way up the north branch, I concluded to go on with them, and then be back in time to accompany Spencer into camp. Speaking some cheering words to Spencer I turned to leave, when Cameron said to him: “You ain’t dead yet, my boy.” Spencer held out his hand, and as he took it Cameron said, with visible emotion, but emphatic declaration: “We will pay them back for this if the chance ever comes; Doc. is decidedly too conscientious in this affair.” I escorted the Indians some way above “Mirror Lake,” where they left the trail and commenced to climb the cliff.
On my return I found that Cameron had already started with Spencer; I soon overtook them and relieved him of his burden, and from there carried Spencer into camp. We found Fisher vainly trying to catch his mule. The most of the horses were still out with the scouts, and all animals in camp had been turned loose. Sergt. Cameron, while Fisher was assisting me in the removal of Spencer’s clothing and dressing his wounds, had prepared a very comfortable bed, made of boughs, that the kind-hearted boys thoughtfully brought in; and after he was made comfortable and nourishment given him, the Sergeant related to Captain Boling the details of their adventure, which were briefly as follows: Cameron and Spencer while on their way back to camp discovered the baskets on the trail. Feeling certain that they had discovered the hiding-place of the Indians, as we had done, they concluded to make a reconnoisance of the vicinity before making a report of their discovery. Elated at their success, and unsuspicious of any unusual danger, they followed the trail that wound up the cliff, along jutting rocks that in places projected like cornices, until the converging walls forced them to a steep acclivity grooved in the smooth-worn rock. Not daunted by the difficult assent, they threw off their boots and started up the slippery gutter, when suddenly a huge mass of granite came thundering down towards them. But for a fortunate swell or prominence just above they would both have been swept into eternity; as it was, the huge rock passed over their heads; a fragment, however, struck Spencer’s rifle from his hand and hurled him fifty feet or more down the steep wall, where he lay, entirely senseless for a time, while a shower of rocks and stones was passing over him, the shape of the wall above sending them clear of his body.
Cameron was in advance, and fortunately was able to reach the shelter of a projecting rock. After the discharge, an Indian stretched himself above a detached rock, from which he had been watching his supposed victims. Cameron chanced to be looking that way, and instantly firing, dropped his man. No doubt he was killed, for the quantity of blood found afterward on the rock, was great. The echoing report of Cameron’s rifle, brought back howls of rage from a number of rocks above, as if they were alive with demons. Anticipating another discharge from their battery, Cameron descended to the spot where Spencer had fallen, and taking him in his arms, fled out of range.
After supper, the explorers having all come in, the boys gathered around the Sergeant and importuned him to give the history of his adventures. After reflectively bringing up the scene to view, he began: “We got into mighty close quarters! Come to think of it, I don’t see how we happened to let ourselves be caught in that dead-fall. I reckon we must have fooled ourselves some. The way of it was this. We went up on the south side as far as we could ride, and after rummaging around for a while, without finding anything, Spencer wanted to go up the North Cañon and get a good look at that mountain with one side split off; so I told the boys to look about for themselves, as there were no Indians in the valley. Some of them went on up the South Cañon, and the rest of us went over to the North Cañon. After crossing the upper ford, Spencer and I concluded to walk up the cañon, so we sent our animals down to graze with the herd. Spencer looked a good long while at that split mountain, and called it a ‘half dome.’ I concluded he might name it what he liked, if he would leave it and go to camp; for I was getting tired and hungry and said so. Spencer said ‘All right, we’ll go to camp.’
On our way down, as we passed that looking-glass pond, he wanted to take one more look, and told me to go ahead and he’d soon overtake me; but that I wouldn’t do, so he said: “No matter, then; I can come up some other time.” As we came on down the trail below the pond, I saw some acorns scattered by the side of the trail, and told Spencer there were Indians not far off. After looking about for a while Spencer found a basket nearly full behind some rocks, and in a little while discovered a trail leading up towards the cliff. We followed this up a piece, and soon found several baskets of acorns. I forgot about being hungry, and after talking the matter over we decided to make a sort of reconnoisance before we came in to make any report. Well, we started on up among the rocks until we got to a mighty steep place, a kind of gulch that now looked as if it had been scooped out for a stone battery. The trail up it was as steep as the roof on a meeting-house, and worn so slippery that we couldn’t get a foot-hold. I wanted to see what there was above, and took off my boots and started up. Spencer did the same and followed me. I had just got to the swell of the steepest slope, where a crack runs across the face of the wall, and was looking back to see if Spencer would make the riffle, when I heard a crash above me, and saw a rock as big as a hogshead rolling down the cliff toward us. I sprang on up behind a rock that happened to be in the right place, for there was no time to hunt for any other shelter.
I had barely reached cover when the bounding rock struck with a crash by my side, and bounded clear over Spencer, who had run across the crevice and was stooping down and steadying himself with his rifle. A piece of the big rock that was shattered into fragments and thrown in all directions, struck his rifle out of his hands, and sent him whirling and clutching down a wall fifty feet. He lodged out of sight, where in going up we had kicked off our leathers. I thought he was killed, for he did not answer when I called, and I had no chance then to go to him, for a tremendous shower of stones came rushing by me. I expected he would be terribly mangled at first, but soon noticed that the swell in the trail caused the rocks to bound clear over him onto the rocks in the valley. I looked up to see where they came from just as an Indian stuck his head above a rock. My rifle came up of its own accord. It was a quick sight, but with me they are generally the best, and as I fired that Indian jumped into the air with a yell and fell back onto the ledge. He was hit, I know, and I reckon he went west. Every rock above was soon a yelling as if alive. As I expected another discharge from their stone artillery, I slid down the trail, picked up Spencer, and “vamoused the ranche,” just as they fired another shot of rocks down after us. I did not stay to see where they struck after I was out of range, for my rifle and Spencer took about all of my attention until safely down over the rocks. While I was there resting for a moment, Fisher came up the trail. He heard me fire and had heard the rocks tumbling down the cliff. Thinking some one was in trouble, he was going to find out who it was.
“We concluded at first that Spencer was done for; for his heart beat very slow and he was quite dumpish. We had just started for camp with him, and met Bunnell going out with the two Indians. I reckon we would have sent them on a trip down where it is warmer than up there on the mountains, if Spencer hadn’t roused himself just then. He stopped the game. He called for the Doctor; but Bunnell was as stubborn as Firebaugh’s mustang and would not leave the Indians. We had to let them pass, before he would take a look at Spencer. Doc. is generally all right enough, but he was in poor business to-day. When I told him it was his own messmate, he said it didn’t matter if it were his own brother. If Captain Boling will make a shooting match and put up the other three, I’ll give my horse for the first three shots. Shooting will be cheap after that.”
I have given the substance only of Sergt. Cameron’s talk to the group around him, though but poorly imitating his style, in order to show the feeling that was aroused by Spencer’s misfortune. Spencer’s uniformly quiet and gentlemanly manners, made no enemies among rough comrades, who admired the courageous hardihood of “the little fellow,” and respected him as a man. Many expressions of sympathy were given by the scouts who gathered around our tent, on learning of his injury. For some days after the event, he could scarcely be recognized, his face was so swollen and discolored. But what Spencer seemed most to regret, was the injury to his feet and knees, which had been cruelly rasped by the coarse granite in his descent.
The injury from this cause was so great, that he was unable to make those explorations that footmen alone could accomplish. He was an enthusiastic lover of nature, an accomplished scholar and man of the world. Having spent five years in France and Germany in the study of modern languages, after having acquired a high standing here in Latin and Greek.
We thought him peculiarly gifted, and hoped for something from his pen descriptive of the Yosemite that would endure; but he could never be induced to make any effort to describe any feature of the valley, saying: “That fools only rush in where wise men stand in awe.” We were bedfellows and friends, and from this cause chiefly, perhaps, all the incidents of his accident were strongly impressed on my memory. After his full recovery his feet remained tender for a long time, and he made but one extended exploration after his accident while in the battalion.
During the camp discussion regarding my course in saving the two captives, Captain Boling and myself were amused listeners. No great pains were taken as a rule to hide one’s light under a bushel, and we were sitting not far off. The Captain said that he now comprehended the extreme anxiety of the captives to see Ten-ie-ya, as doubtless they knew of his intentions to roll rocks down on any who attempted to follow up that trail; and probably supposed we would kill them if any of us were killed. As he left our tent he remarked: “These hostages will have to stay in camp. They will not be safe outside of it, if some of the boys chance to get their eyes on them.”
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