by George Catlin

(First published in London in 1844)

LETTER--No. 39.


UNDER the protection of the United States dragoons, I arrived at this place three days since, on my way again in search of the "Far West". How far I may this time follow the flying phantom, is uncertain. I am already again in the land of the buffaloes and the fleet-bounding antelopes; and I anticipate, with many other beating hearts, rare sport and amusement amongst the wild herds ere long.

We shall start from hence in a few days, and other epistles I may occasionally drop you from terra incognita, for such is the great expanse of country which we expect to range over; and names we are to give, and country to explore, as far as me proceed. We are, at this place, on the banks of the Red River, having Texas under our eye on the opposite bank. Our encampment is on the point of land between the Red and False Washita rivers, at their junction; and the country about us is a panorama too beautiful to be painted with a pen: it is, like most of the country in these regions, composed of prairie and timber, alternating in the most delightful shapes and proportions that the eye of a connoisseur could desire. The verdure is everywhere of the deepest green, and the plains about us are literally speckled with buffalo. We are distant from Fort Gibson about 200 miles, which distance we accomplished in ten days.

A great part of the way, the country is prairie, gracefully undulating-well watered, and continually beautified by copses and patches of timber. On our way my attention was rivetted to the tops of some of the prairie bluffs, whose summits I approached with inexpressible delight. I rode to the top of one of these noble mounds, in company with my friends Lieut. Wheelock and Joseph Chadwick, where we agreed that our horses instinctively looked and admired. They thought not of the rich herbage that was under their feet, but, with deep-drawn sighs, their necks were loftily curved, and their eyes widely stretched over the landscape that was beneath us. From this elevated spot, the horizon was bounded all around us by mountain streaks of blue, softening into azure as they vanished, and the pictured vales that intermediate lay, were deepening into green as the eye was beneath us, and winding through the waving peculiar effect, the "bold dragoons", marching in beautiful order forming a train of a mile in length. Baggage waggons and Indians (engage's) helped to lengthen the procession. From the point where we stood, the line was seen in miniature; and the undulating hills over which it was bending its way, gave it the appearance of a huge black snake gracefully gliding over a rich carpet of green.

This picturesque country of 200 miles, over which we have passed, belongs to the Creeks and Choctaws, and affords one of the richest and most desirable countries in the world for agricultural pursuits.

Scarcely a day has passed, in which we have not crossed oak ridges, of several miles in breadth, with a sandy soil and scattering timber; where the ground was almost literally covered with vines, producing the greatest profusion of delicious grapes, of five-eighths of an inch in diameter, and hanging in such endless clusters, as justly to entitle this singular and solitary wilderness to the style of a vineyard (and ready for the vintage), for many miles together.

The next hour we would be trailing through broad and verdant valleys of' green prairies, into which we had descended; and oftentimes find our progress completely arrested by hundreds of acres of small plum-trees, of four or six feet in height; so closely woven and interlocked together, as entirely to dispute our progress, and sending us several miles around; when every bush that was in sight was so loaded with the weight of its delicious wild fruit, that they were in many instances literally without leaves on their branches, and bent quite to the ground. Amongst these, and in patches, were intervening beds of wild roses, wild currants, and gooseberries. And underneath and about them, and occasionally interlocked with them, huge masses of the prickly pears, and beautiful and tempting wild flowers that sweetened the atmosphere above; whilst an occasional huge yellow rattlesnake, or a copper-head, could be seen gliding over, or basking across their vari-coloured tendrils and leaves.

On the eighth day of our march we met, for the first time, a herd of buffaloes; and being in advance of the command, in company with General Leavenworth, Colonel Dodge, and several other officers; we all had an opportunity of testing the mettle of our horses and our own tact at the wild and spirited death. The inspiration of chase took at once, and alike, with the old and the young; a beautiful plain lay before us, and we all gave spur for the onset. General Leavenworth and Colonel Dodge, with their pistols, gallantly and handsomely be labored a fat cow, and were in together at the death. I was not quite so fortunate in my selection, for tile one which I saw fit to gallant over the plain alone, of the same sex, younger and coy, led me a hard chase, and for a long time, disputed my near approach; when, at length, the full speed of my horse forced us to close company, and she desperately assaulted his shoulders with her horns. My gun was aimed, but missing its fire, the muzzle entangled in her mane, and was instantly broke in two in my hands, and fell over my shoulder. My pistols were then brought to bear upon her; and though severely wounded, she succeeded in reaching the thicket, and left me without "a deed of chivalry to boast." -- Since that day, the Indian hunters in our charge have supplied us abundantly with buffalo meat; and report says, that the country ahead of us will afford us continual sport, and an abundant supply.

We are halting here for a few days to recruit horses and men, after which the line of march will be resumed; and if the Pawnees are as near to us as we have strong reason to believe, from their recent trails and fires, it is probable that within a few days we shall "thrash" them or "get thrashed"; unless through their sagacity and fear, they elude our search by flying before us to their hiding-places.

The prevailing policy amongst the officers seems to be, that of flogging them first, and then establishing a treaty of peace. If this plan were morally right, I do not think it practicable; for, as enemies, I do not believe they will stand to meet us; but, as friends, I think we may bring them to a talk, if the proper means are adopted. We are here encamped on the ground on which Judge Martin and servant were butchered, and his son kidnaped by the Pawnees or Camanchees, but a few weeks since; and the moment they discover us in a large body, they will presume that we are relentlessly seeking for revenge, and they will probably be very shy of our approach. We are over the Washita -- the "Rubicon is passed". We are invaders of a sacred soil. We are carrying war in our front, -- and "we shall soon see, what we shall see."

The cruel fate of Judge Martin and family has been published in the papers; and it belongs to the regiment of dragoons to demand the surrender of the murderers, and get for the information of the world, some authentic account of the mode in which this horrid outrage was committed.

Judge Martin was a very respectable and independent man, living on the lower part of the Red River, and in the habit of taking his children and a couple of black men-servants with him, and a tent to live in, every summer, into these wild regions; where he pitched it upon the prairie, and spent several months in killing buffaloes and other wild game, for his own private amusement. The news came to Fort Gibson but a few weeks before we started, that he had been set upon by a party of Indians and destroyed. A detachment of troops was speedily sent to the spot, where they found his body horridly mangled, and also of one of his negroes; and it is supposed that his son, a fine boy of nine years of age, has been taken home to their villages by them. Where they still retain him, and where it is our hope to recover him.

Great praise is due to General Leavenworth for his early and unremitted efforts to facilitate the movements of the regiment of dragoons, by opening roads from Gibson and Towson to this place. We found encamped two companies of infantry from Fort Towson, who will follow in the rear of the dragoons as far as necessary, transporting with wagons, stores and supplies, and ready, at the same time, to co-operate with the dragoons in case of necessity. General Leavenworth will advance with us from this post, below far he may proceed is uncertain. We know not exactly the route which we shall take, for circumstances alone must decide that point. We shall probably reach Cantonment Leavenworth in the fall; and one thing is certain (in the opinion of one who has already seen something of Indian life and country), we shall meet with many severe privations and reach that place a jaded set of fellows, and as ragged as Jack Falstaff's famous band.

You are no doubt inquiring, who are these Pawnees, Camanchees, and Arapahoes, and why not tell us all about, them? Their history, numbers and limits are still in obscurity; nothing definite is yet known of them, but I hope I shall soon be able, to give the world a clue to them.

IF my life and health are preserved, I anticipate many a pleasing scene for my pencil, as well as incidents worth?; of reciting to the world, which I shall occasionally do, as opportunity may occur.

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