Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

"Big Jim" Challenges a Buffalo Bull:

"Oct. 17th.... During our course the bottoms upon either side presented one dense, interminable band of buffalo, far as the eye could reach.  The whole prairie pictured a living mass, moved by impulsive dread, as the breeze heralded our approach, and the countless multitude made way before and on either hand.

Ever and anon, an old bull would linger, as if to intimidate, and not unfrequently venture within gun-shot.  One fellow, in particular, passed sidelong, for a mile or more, stopping at intervals to gaze upon us, shaking his shaggy head in defiance, as much as to say, "you dare not come near!"

Big Jim saw this, and his pride was wounded.  The bull, in his opinion, had challenged the whole party, and there was no one stout-hearted enough to accept it.  

Here was a chance for a full display of his bravery and skill.  Ever since we had reached the buffalo range, his proud spirit had yearned to become the death of some one of these terrible monsters, that he might relate the deed of perilous exploit to wondering posterity, and incite the rising generation to emulate his noble achievement. 

But, alas, for the fadeless laurels he might otherwise have won, in an evil hour his rifle had been sacrificed for the extermination of a huge, venomous serpent.  He did the deed at one fell blow; brave, but unfortunate!  Yet he had one consolation amid his troubles, no victory is ever gained without some loss to the conquerors.

Still, he needed his gun, for without it how was he to avenge the foul insult the savage beast of the prairie was even now hurling in the very face of the shrinking crowd?  Something must be done.

With these cogitations, an idea struck him, he could borrow a rifle; so, advancing to a comrade, he exclaimed:

"Do lend me your rifle one minute!"

"Yes, Jim" was the ready reply. "But see you don't break it over the first paltry little snake you come across!"

"That's a lie. 'Twas a big rattle-snake I broke mine over.'Twasn't a little snake!"

Thus vindicating his assaulted reputation, he took the gun and hastened to prostrate the impudent barbarian inviting attack.

Jim looked at the bull, and the bull looked at Jim, shaking his head, and throwing the loose sand from beneath him high into the air with his feet, and goring the ground with his horns of burnished ebony.  If the creature had looked terrible before, he now looked fourfold more so, in Jim's estimation.

Thinking caution the parent of safety, our hero was unwilling to venture further, and so, prostrating himself at full length behind a clustre of absinthe, he planted his battery, having his high-crowned hat for a rest, and blazed away at the bull's head.

The hardened wretch stood the shot without flinching.  Looking for a moment at the spot from whence the strange salute had proceeded, and again shaking his head and snorting with scorn, he wheeled and slowly trotted off.

Eager to get a second trial to finish the work so nobly begun, our hero commenced pursuit.  Seeing him advancing, the bull thought it time to show his heels, and in a few minutes was lost in the distance.  

The courageous Nimrod now, for the first time, bethought him of his hat, which, in the ardor of his bold charge, he had left at the spot chosen as his stand to hurl death and distraction to the naughty bull.  He hastened to regain it--but no hat could be found; the winds had borne it far away over the prairie, to be worn out in search of a wearer, and the unlucky bravo, hatless, rejoined the caravan.  Here the truth at once flashed upon the minds of the waggish clique, that had hitherto proved his sore annoyance, and they began anew:

"Now that beats me, clear out! How came you to give the bull your hat and leave yourself bare-headed?  That's another wrinkle!"

"It's no such thing," said Jim.  "The wind took it away; and it's none of your business neither.  I paid for it!"

"True.  But what did the wind want with your hat? Sure, if it needed a foot-ball to toss over the prairies, it would have taken your head, the lightest of the two!"

"You're a fool!" retorted Jim, indignantly.

"There, now.  That's the time you cotcht it, my boy.  Why, fellows, Mr. Jeems took off his hat, out of pure politeness, to win the good opinion of the bull.  He were right.  Didn't you see how the gentleman-cow bowed and scraped in turn.  Why, he throw'd the dirt clean over his back, not to be outdone in good breeding!  Ah, but the pesky wind!  While Mr. Jeems were showing his brotten up, what had it to do, but to snatch his hat and run off with it!  Mr. Jeems are not fool! and the feller what says he am, (I want you all to understand me; Mr. Jeems have been most shamefully abused and misused, and I can whip the chaps what's done it, provided they'll let me; I say, then, I want you all to understand me!)  Mr. Jeems are no fool, and the man what says he am--is--(I can't think of words bad enough,)--is--is, as near the mark as though he'd drove centre!"

"Aye.  Jim's right.  You are all a pack of dough-heads to make fun of him in the way you do.  Suppose you'd be struck comical!  Then what'd ye think of yourselves!"

"Poor Jim.  Shoot grass, kill horse, break gun, burn shoe, scorch foot, and go bare-headed! Wat him mean?"

"I say, Jim.  When're going a hunting again?--'Case I want to go 'long too!""

The above passage is from Rufus Sage in Rocky Mountain Life.   

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"Big Jim" 2nd Adventure on Guard Duty
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