But Sublette, with wealth and power, and the privileges of a Booshway, had hastened
to secure her for himself; and Meek had to look and long from afar off, until, in the year
of which we are writing, Milton Sublette was forced to leave the mountains and repair to
an eastern city for surgical aid; having received a very troublesome wound in the leg,
which was only cured at last by amputation.
Whether it was the act of a gay Lothario, or whether the law of divorce is even more
easy in the mountains than in Indiana, we have always judiciously refrained from
inquiring; but this we do know, upon the word of Meek himself, no sooner was Milton's
back turned, than his friend so insinuated himself into the good graces of his Isabel, as
Sublette was wont to name the lovely Umentucken, that she consented to join her
fortunes to those of the handsome young trapper without even the ceremony of serving
a notice on her former lord. As their season of bliss only extended over one brief year,
this chapter shall be entirely devoted to recording such facts as have been imparted to
us concerning this free trapper's wife.
"She was the most beautiful Indian woman I ever saw," says Meek: " and when she was mounted on her dapple gray horse, which cost me three hundred dollars, she made a fine show. She wore a skirt of beautiful blue broadcloth, and a bodice and leggins of scarlet cloth, of the very finest make. Her hair was braided and fell over her shoulders, a scarlet silk handkerchief, tied on hood fashion, covered her head; and the finest embroidered moccasins her feet. She rode like all the Indian women, astride, and carried on one side of the saddle the tomahawk for war, and on the other the pipe of peace.
"The name of her horse was " All Fours." His accoutrements were as fine as his rider's.
The saddle, crupper, and bust girths cost one hundred and fifty dollars; the bridle fifty
dollars; and the musk-a-moots fifty dollars more. All these articles were ornamented
with fine cut glass beads, porcupine quills, and hawk's bells, that tinkled at every step.
Her blankets were of scarlet and blue, and of the finest quality. Such was the outfit of
the trapper's wife, Umentucken, Tukutey Undenwatsy, the Lamb of the Mountains."
Although Umentucken was beautiful, and had a name signifying gentleness, she was
not without a will and a spirit of her own, when the occasion demanded it. While the
camp was on the Yellowstone River, in the summer of 1835, a party of women left it to
go in search of berries, which were often dried and stored for winter use by the Indian
women. Umentucken accompanied this party, which was attacked by a band of
Blackfeet, some of the squaws being taken prisoners. But Umentucken saved herself
by fight, and by swimming the Yellowstone while a hundred guns were leveled on her,
the bullets whistling about her ears.
At another time she distinguished herself in camp by a quarrel with one of the trappers,
in which she came off with flying colors. The trapper was a big, bullying Irish man
named O'Fallen, who had purchased two prisoners from the Snake Indians, to be kept
in a state of slavery, after the manner of the savages. The prisoners were Utes, or
Utahs, who soon contrived to escape. O'Fallen, imagining that Umentucken had
liberated them, threatened to whip her, and armed himself with a horsewhip for that
purpose. On hearing of these threats Umentucken repaired to her lodge, and also
armed herself, but with a pistol. When O'Fallen approached, the whole camp looking on
to see the event, Umentucken slipped out at the back of the lodge and coming around
confronted him before he could enter.
"Coward !" she cried. " You would whip the wife of Meek. He is not here to defend me;
not here to kill you. But I shall do that for myself," and with that she presented the pistol
to his head. O'Fallen taken by surprise, and having every reason to believe she would
keep her word, and kill him on the spot, was obliged not only to apologize, but to beg to
have his life spared. This Umentucken consented to do on condition of his sufficiently
humbling himself, which he did in a very shame-faced manner; and a shout then went
up from the whole camp--"hurrah for the Mountain Lamb !" for nothing more delights a
mountaineer than a show of pluck, especially in an unlooked for quarter.
The Indian wives of the trappers were often in great peril, as well as their lords.
Whenever it was convenient they followed them on their long marches through
dangerous countries. But if the trapper was only going out for a few days, or if the
march before him was more than usually dangerous, the wife remained with the main
During this year of which we are writing, a considerable party had been out on Powder
River hunting buffalo, taking their wives along with them. When on the return, just
before reaching camp, Umentucken was missed from the cavalcade. She had fallen
behind, and been taken prisoner by a party of twelve Crow Indians. As soon as she
was missed, a volunteer party mounted their buffalo horses in such haste that they
waited not for saddle or bridle, but snatched only a halter, and started back in pursuit.
They had not run a very long distance when they discovered poor Umentucken in the
midst of her jubilant captors, who were delighting their eyes with gazing at her fine
feathers, and promising themselves very soon to pluck the gay bird, and appropriate
her trinkets to their own use.
Their delight was premature. Swift on their heels came an avenging, as well as a
saving spirit. Meek, at the head of his six comrades, no sooner espied the drooping,
form of the Lamb, than he urged his horse to the top of its speed. The horse was a
spirited creature, that seeing something wrong in all these hasty maneuvers, took fright
and adding terror to good will, ran with the speed of madness right in amongst the
startled Crows, who doubtless regarded as a great " medicine " so fearless a warrior. It
was now too late to be prudent, and Meek began the battle by yelling and firing, taking
care to hit his Indian. The other trappers, emulating the bold example of their leader,
dashed into the melee and a chance medley fight was carried on, in which Umentucken
escaped, and another Crow bit the dust. Finding that they were getting the worst of the
fight, the Indians at length took to flight, and the trappers returned to camp rejoicing,
and complimenting Meek on his gallantry in attacking the Crows single-handed.
"I took their compliments quite naturally," says Meek, " nor did I think it war worth while
to explain to them that I couldn't hold my horse."
The Indians are lordly and tyrannical in their treatment of women, thinking it no shame
to beat them cruelly; even taking the liberty of striking other women than those
belonging to their own families. While the camp was traveling through the Crow country
in the spring of 1836, a party of that nation paid a visit to Bridger, bringing skins to
trade for blankets and ammunition. The bargaining went on quite pleasantly for some
time; but one of the braves who was promenading about camp inspecting whatever
came in his way, chanced to strike Umentucken with a whip he carried in his hand, by
way of displaying his superiority to squaws in general, and trappers' wives in particular.
It was an unlucky blow for the brave, for in another instant he rolled on the ground, shot
dead by a bullet from Meek's gun.
At this rash act the camp was in confusion. Yells from the Crows, who took the act as a
signal for war; hasty questions, and cries of command; arming and shooting. It was
some time before the case could be explained or understood. The Crows had two or
three of their party shot; the whites also lost a man. After the unpremeditated fight was
over, and the Crows departed not thoroughly satisfied with the explanation, Bridger
went round to Meek's lodge.
"Well, you raised a hell of a row in camp; " said the commander, rolling out his deep
bass voice in the slow monotonous tones which mountain men very quickly acquire
from the Indians.
"Very sorry, Bridger; but couldn't help it. No devil of an Indian shall strike Meek's wife."
"But you got a man killed."
"Sorry for the man; couldn't help it, though, Bridger."
And in truth it was too late to mend the matter. Fearing, however, that the Crows would
attempt to avenge themselves for the losses they had sustained, Bridger hurried his
camp forward, and got out of their neighborhood as quickly as possible.
So much for the female element in the camp of the Rocky Mountain trapper. Woman, it
is said, has held the apple of discord, from mother Eve to Umentucken, and in
consonance with this theory, Bridger, doubtless, considered the latter as the primal
cause of the unfortunate " row in camp," rather than the brutality of the Crow, or the
imprudence of Meek.
But Umentucken's career was nearly run. In the following summer she met her death by a Bannack arrow; dying like a warrior, although living she was only a woman.