Malachite’s Big Hole
Bill Williams Blackfoot Adventure:
As recounted by Walter Williams, a descendent of John Williams in Favour.
“Onct I war a-trappin’ on the heads o’ the Yellowstone. Spring it war, en beaver a-runnin’ and me a-makin’ em come. Most three plews I’d a-taken. With nary a Injun sign thyar about and no trapper t’ bother, I got sorto’ keerless in my doin’s en onct when I war out two days en when I fetched camp arter dark I was powerful gant, en hungry as a wolf in winter. First off I keered for ol’ Flopear, that war my mule, and Santyfee, that war my hoss; then I builded me a fire. I knowed I hadn’t orter, I knowed it right then. I war a-cookin’ beaver tails. Jest as I’d a-blistered one en war a-retchin’ fer it out o’ th’ fire I heered a noise, en then mos’t about to run over me en tramp me war three Injuns. I could feel my har being lifted and war nigh to goin’ under, jest like yer kill a fat buffalo. Them war Blackfeet en mor’n likely had been a-spyin’ me fer days. Thyar I war and nary time to git my shootin’ iron, Fetchem, en no chanct ter fight them varmints. Thar was a piece o’ brush alongside th’ river about a rifle shot distance, en this child tuk fer them willows. All I had war my har en my possibles en my toothpicker here.”
Old Bill drew his long butcher knife from his belt and ran his thumb along the blade. Then he took a small stone from the pouch he always carried, knocked the ashes from his pipe, put it away, and began to whet the knife, already as keen as a razor.
“Them Injuns jes’ kep’ comin’, en this old hoss only touched the ground a time or two, fer I didn’t aim ter let them Injuns rub me out. Them bucks fetched me twict, onct in the shoulder and onct in the thigh, but I made them willows. Injuns air all the same some ways; they don’t hanker ter take no chances, and alluz aim ter jump yer without yer lookin’. Them dogs didn’dt foller me fur, cuz they aimed to get me by spyin’. It sure would a taken mor’n them Injuns ter get me in them willows with th’ dark all settled down. John [Bill Williams brother] I cached, I did. Them arrers hadn’t o’ done no great sight o’ harm ‘cept in the meat o’ my leg en I butched it out. Th’ t’other only cut my shirt a little-th’ buckskin stopped her. I slipt a’ past ‘em en tuk to th’ hills afore mornin’. Then I war safe. I laid up two days and nights. It was a long piece from rendezvoo and I sez, ‘Bill, them consarned Injuns hain’t any call on them three plews o’ beaver.’ I callated my hoss and mule would be treated Injun fashion. The more I thunk about it, the madder I got at them consarned Injuns. Why, that mule and hoss knowed mor’n a white man. Then one o’ them bucks had my Fetchem-that gun war the out-shootest gun ary a man ever drew a bead on. ‘Wagh, Bill,’ sez I, ‘mix yer medicine, mix it powerful, make her good en strong.’ I tuk them Injuns’ trail and follered th’ sign. It was plenty easy. Cage [one of Bill’s nephews] hyar could o’ follered Old Flopear’s track. Yer could see it plain as ther brush along th’ water. Them Injuns had all my peltries en things, en didn’t travel no great country ary day. I warn’t in no hurry cuz my leg war swelled. I tell ya, John, it war poor eatin’ with no meat en nuthin ter make it come, only berries, en I kilt a snake and getched a few birds’ aigs. With thet arrer hole in my leg en a gant belly I tell yer I war all set fer them Injuns en I aimed to make ‘em go under. In four days I spied ‘em. They never knowed it fer I kep’ cached th’ hul time. Long the next arternoon they kilt a fat buffalo cow in a park en turned to en et near all of it. “That,’ sez I, ‘air powerful good medicine fer yer old timer.’ Injuns sleep right smart arter eatin’ fat buffalo, en all that fleece, en rump en good cow, I knowed comin’ good doin’s fer me. John, I had ter be keerful, cuz old Flopear war worser’n a pasel o’dogs when it come ter knowin I wuz around. I didn’t let her git th’ wind o’ me. She’d a spoilt it ef she had a smelt me. She could smell better’n a wolf. I tuk my time en spied out th’ lay. Arter dark I eazed up on them Injuns, every consarned one o’ em sound asleep, with their feet ter th’ dead fire.”
Here the old mountain man raised up from a squatting position on the floor, put his whetstone away in his sack, and with his butcher knife in his hand, took on a crouching position. He looked as lithe as the wild animal they had killed that afternoon. Every muscle was tense, and his eyes shone like a cat’s eyes in the semidarkness of the room. The light from the logs burning on the hearth cast their long shadows on the wall, and the red of the flaming embers flashed and reflected from the long shining blade of the knife he carried in his hand. The group about the room was tense with excitement.
“Thar they war, like snakes full o’ prairie dog-meaner than any snakes thet I had ever heerd tell of.”
Old Bill took two short steps forward, and then knelt and with his knife made a sharp cut, and with the other hand a movement as if covering something.
“I cut his throat and topped the grunt.”
Here he dropped his voice, as if muttering to himself.
“Then I sez, ‘Thyar one Blackfoot that’ll nary steal no more peltries from ye.’”
Stealthily rising again to a crouching position, Old Bill moved across the room about three feet to one side; he raised his long knife in the air, and plunged it down towards the floor, at the same time almost hissing.
“Nother rubbed out, en a clean cut twixt th’ ribs. Nary Blackfoot buck can shoot an arrer into me and set me afoot. Not this child.”
Old Bill, then apparently looking toward the third Indian. Twice went through the quick round motion with his hand and knife, as if cutting the scalp and then yanking it off.
“I sculped ‘em. I did, en that air Injun never knowed what had come o’ the other two.”
Old Bill rose up and then resumed his narrative.
“I steered the coals in the’ fire ter get a little light, then I kicks that air buck square in th’ belly. I fetched ‘im a powerful kick.”
Old Bill drew back and made a vicious kick; he went through the pantomime of shaking his knife and the scalps in the face of the imaginary savage, standing over him like a grim messenger of death.
“When that air buck seen this yar toothpicker, all bloody, en them sculps, en then seen them Injuns sculped en gone under, en me a-standing there a-shaken’ blood in his face en a pintin’ at ‘im a-wavin’ them sculps at ‘im, he let out a yell worser’n a painter. Yer could o’ heerd ‘im clean to Middl’ Park, en he war up en gone quicker’n an antelope on the dead run.”
Old Bill resumed his squatting position, replaced his butcher knife in his belt, and began to refill his pipe. Immediately a flood of questions followed. His brother John said, “What did you do then, Bill?”
“Well, John,” said Old Bill, “I war a powerful gant, en I finished up that cow en flung the bones at them two good Injuns. Then I got old Flopear en Santyfee, packed up my peltries, gave Old Fetchem a bear hug, en left that air country.”
“But Uncle Bill,” chimed in little Cage, “Why did you let that Injun go, why didn’t yer kill ‘im?”
Old Bill looked first surprised at the asking of such a foolish question, and then recognizing the immature years of Cage, said, “Ef I’d a kilt that Injun, Cage, thyar wouldn’t a been nobody left ter tell them Blackfeet how them bucks had gone under nor who’d a rubbed ‘em out.”