Read CHAPTER XII of Seven and Nine years Among the Camanches and Apaches An Autobiography , free online book, by Edwin Eastman, on


One morning we were aroused quite early, our guard informing us that the lots had been cast and the captives disposed of. We were divided into equal numbers, the home tribe retaining one half, while their visitors appropriated the remainder.

We quickly descended to the ground floor of the temple, and clustering about the door leading into the village street, awaited the final word from the chief, that was to deliver us into the hands of our new masters. On occasions like the present, the whole community was in a ferment of excitement, and crowded around us in great numbers, each more anxious than the other to have a view of the bartered captives. The Apaches seemed to be particularly anxious to take stock of their new acquisitions, and not a few scrimmages occurred between them and the Camanche women on this account. The men elbowed and the women bit and clawed at a furious rate. It might have been very amusing, but unluckily we came in for our share of the blows and objurgations. The mob pushed us against the walls of the temple so violently that we were in imminent danger of suffocation. To escape, and free ourselves from this unpleasant situation, it became necessary to exert ourselves and deal blows at the surging crowd, and in this way keep them back.

Of course, such measures on our part met with a ready response, and soon we were in the midst of a row that threatened to assume large proportions. A chief who happened to be passing at the time, dashed into the crowd and soon quelled the rioters. Had it not been for this timely assistance we should certainly have been crushed to death. After a time we were left in comparative quiet; most of the idlers betaking themselves to the various groups scattered over the plain. Some of these parties attracted quite a number of spectators, and judging from their animated gestures, something of a very interesting character was taking place. One of the Indian women informed me that they were probably gambling.

My attention was attracted to a small lodge, about one hundred yards to our right. Something of unusual moment seemed to be taking place. Warriors were seen to enter, and others would emerge and go in different directions, as if in great haste, and on urgent business. Pennants were flying from poles on the roof, and altogether the place presented a gala appearance. On inquiry, I learned that this was the council lodge, and that at the present moment, the final negotiations for our barter were being consummated. A short time afterwards, the chiefs and their attendants defiled into the street and approached us. Meantime, the number of horses that had been agreed upon as an equivalent for the captives, were brought up and delivered over to their purchasers.

Just as I was brought forth to be delivered over to the Apache chief, my glance was arrested by the figure of my husband, who stood upon the outskirts of the circle. The recognition was simultaneous, and with a cry of joy I sprang towards him, but was instantly grasped by a savage and thrown violently back among my companions. The Apache chief put a small whistle to his lips, and blowing a shrill blast, soon assembled his party. I struggled to free myself from my tormentors and rush to my husband, but my efforts were of no avail. Half fainting, and wild with the agony of this rude parting, I was taken out on the plain, where the bulk of the party were making their preparations to depart.

The pickets were drawn, lariats coiled, and the horses brought up. Every warrior had provided himself with an extra horse on which to mount his newly acquired property, but for some reason we were mounted on the horses ridden by our captors, and it was not until the next day that we made use of the “extra” horses.

The Indians rode without saddles, as is their custom when on the war trail, but the women were provided with saddles; these saddles were peculiar contrivances, and the best description of them that occurs to me, is to have the reader picture to himself an ordinary saw-buck with the top cut off, so as to leave an inverted V. There were two of these fastened together by parallel strips of wood about eighteen inches in length; this was placed on the mustang’s back, and a buffalo robe thrown over it, and fastened by a girth. Stirrups depended from the lateral sticks that kept the V’s in position. The horse’s bridles were mostly composed of hair, in some instances, however, they were of leather worked and stamped into elaborate designs; these were, no doubt, the fruits of their foray among the Mexican pueblas.

We were mounted man fashion, each riding by the side of the Indian who claimed us as his property. Farewells having been exchanged, lances were poised, bows and quivers slung, and amid a fearful uproar of voices, intermingled with the howling of dogs, we took our departure. As we passed through the village I strained my eyes to catch a glimpse of my husband, but even this poor consolation was denied me.

Passing up the valley we entered the canyon, traversing its rocky bed for a distance of several hundred yards; on entering this gloomy pass, we formed into single file, each captive falling into line immediately in the rear of her guard; this order was henceforth maintained throughout the journey. Leaving the canyon we debouched upon an arid plain, and continued our line of march along the bank of the stream. The first day’s journey was devoid of interest; we traversed long stretches of sandy plain, with scarcely any signs of vegetation, save here and there a clump of sage brush, or the wild pita plant, whose stalk towered into the air like a sign-post to guide the wanderer over these sandy wastes. The cactus and fetid creosote plant lined our path, the latter giving forth a most disagreeable odor as it was crushed beneath the horses’ hoofs. Towards night we approached the base of a mountain, and entering a grove of willows and cottonwoods, halted, and dismounting, made preparations to encamp. The horses were staked out on the prairie and allowed to crop the gramma grass. The long lances were firmly planted in the soil, and bow, quiver, and shield, deposited on the ground in close proximity, together with the buffalo robes and bear skins. After watering the stock at the small stream that ran through the grove, wood was collected and fires built.

Around these fires clustered the dusky warriors cooking the evening meal, which consisted of tasajo, and the nuts gathered from the piñón, which were roasted in the ashes. Long into the night the feasting was kept up, and as the fires languished fresh fuel was thrown on until they were blazing and crackling more cheerily than ever. The flames caused the forms of the savages to stand out in bold relief against the dark background of the surrounding gloom, and lighting up their faces displayed in all its fantastic repulsiveness, the war paint with which their bodies were bedaubed.

Early the next morning the march was resumed. Towards noon the heat became so intense as to be hardly endurable, still we pushed forward with unvarying speed. After journeying in a southerly direction for a few hours we defiled into the bed of a river and followed its course for several hundred yards, when, striking a new trail, our course was laid in a westerly direction. The character of the country underwent a complete change; instead of the sandy desert, we were now passing over a prairie clothed with verdure. At intervals we would enter dense thickets of chaparral, and then emerge into glades, that were veritable flower gardens. At evening a halt was called, but only long enough to water the horses, and partake of a hasty meal; and continuing the march we forged ahead with increased speed. I judged by the animated gestures of the Indians that we were nearing our destination; my conjectures were not ill-founded, as about midnight we entered a valley, and passing through green fields, came in view of the lodges of the Apache encampment. Our approach was heralded by the barking of dogs, and soon we were surrounded by a vast multitude of women and children, who greeted the returning braves with great enthusiasm.

We halted in the center of the village, and presently a large fire was blazing in front of the chief’s lodge, around which the warriors assembled. The captives were placed in a row to one side, and except to be stared at by the women no further attention was taken of us. Each brave seemed bent on feasting himself, and while we were left to suffer the pangs of hunger and thirst, our masters indulged in gluttony of a most riotous and bestial nature. As the night advanced more fuel was added to the fires, until they crackled and blazed with tremendous fury. It was not long before the remains of the feast were cleared away, and the Indians reassembled, each with tomahawk in one hand, and a rattle in the other; then began the scalp dance, with which these tribes always celebrate their successful forays.

A number of young women are selected who step into the ring, and holding up the recently taken scalps, begin a low chant. The braves circle round, brandishing weapons of various kinds, whilst they distort their faces and bodies into the most horrid shapes. Simultaneously jumping into the air, they come down on both feet with a blow and thrust of their weapons, while it would appear as if they were indulging in the most horrible butchery. Darting about their glaring eye-balls, as if actuated by the most fiendish passions. As the dance continues the excitement grows apace; the bystanders wave their torches and urge the actors on to renewed endeavor. The scene becomes one wild orgy, in which the lowest and most blood-thirsty passions are excited. The drums continue beating, the women shriek, men yell, dogs bark, and the whole scene becomes wild and terrible in the extreme. No description can do justice to this remarkable performance, but once seen it leaves a vivid impress on the mind that time can never efface.

The dance was continued until the stars gradually disappeared, and the gray streaks of dawn ushered in the new day. Tired, and trembling with nervous excitement, I was conducted within the lodge; and throwing myself on the ground, I sought that repose that my body and mind so much needed.