Read CHAPTER IX - BAITING A RATTLESNAKE. of The Boy Scouts in the Rockies / The Secret of the Hidden Silver Mine, free online book, by Herbert Carter, on

Of course they all hastened after the scoutmaster and Bumpus; the latter really leading the way, with a consequential way about him, as though he felt that he ought to be looked upon as master of ceremonies, by right of first discovery.

“Here’s the pole I had, when I poked him,” he remarked, picking it up as he spoke.

“But where’s the rattler?” demanded Giraffe, just as swift as that; for he was always as quick as lightning in his ways. “Show the old fraud to us, will you? Must a slipped away while you came to camp with the water.”

“Huh!” sneered Step Hen, “I’d rather believe now, Bumpus don’t know a rattler when he sees one. P’raps it was only an innocent little garter snake he was pokin’, and a locust was singin’ in a tree all the while.”

Bumpus looked furious. He had lately gained quite an envious reputation for a remarkable knowledge of woodcraft; and he was up in arms at the idea of being thus placed once more in the tenderfoot class.

“Think I don’t know a genuine rattlesnake when I see one, do you; well, what d’ye think of a feller that’d jump over a log without even lookin’, and when a common garden variety of black snake gave him a jab, he hollered that he was poisoned by a terrible rattler, and could even see his poor leg swellin’ up right before his eyes. Me not know one, when I’ve been in the Zoo reptile house down in New York, and even watched one swallow a rat! Well, I guess you’re away off, Step Hen Bingham.”

“Yes,” put in Thad just then, “and it’s too early in the day for a locust to be in the noise business; I ought to have thought of that myself, I own up. Let’s look around, boys, and locate the thing; but be mighty careful how you step. I can cure a good many things with the few little remedies I carry; but excuse me from having to tackle a regular dose of rattlesnake poison.”

“It is a bad thing, I tells ye, lads,” asserted Toby Smathers, who had come along with the rest, even the Indian boy being present. “Many’s the time, years ago, I’ve seen the Injuns getting poison from a rattler, so’s to make their war arrows more deadly. An’ I tells ye, it war worth watchin’. If so be we kin find this critter, I’ll show ye how ’twas done, if Mr. Scout Master sez so.”

“First get your rabbit, before you start to cooking him,” laughed Thad.

Just then Giraffe let out a whoop.

“Here he is, all coiled up again, and looking wicked, now, I tell you!” he called out; and the others rushed in that quarter.

“Well, he is a sorter big un for the mountains, sure enough,” admitted the guide after he had taken a look. “Wait here a bit till I come back with a piece of deer meat, and I’ll show ye how ’twas done. Keep him riled-up like, but not strikin’ too hard at that pole, or he’ll empty his pizen sack on it.”

Thad had himself heard more or less about such things; or else read of them in stories of the old-time Indians, the Iroquois, Delawares, Shawanees and other tribes who disputed the way of the early pioneers; and he was just as eager to watch the process as any of the other boys.

The rattlesnake was coiled, just as they always are when danger hovers near; because, when caught at full length, the reptile is next to harmless, since it cannot strike and make use of its only means of defense, its poison fangs.

Thad saw to it that no one approached near enough to be in any danger. Once the pole was extended by Bumpus, just to show his mates how he had been baiting the awful looking thing. Instantly that flat head sprang out toward the object; and as Bumpus adroitly drew it away, remembering the injunction of the guide, the rattlesnake, finding nothing to strike, was thrown half its length out of coil. It was almost laughable to see with what haste it managed to curl up again, and with that rattle buzzing furiously, seemed to defy anything to touch it.

Then Toby Smathers came hurrying up. He was fastening a piece of venison (which had been left over several days, and kept well in the dry mountain air,) to another long pole, which he had secured; not wishing to handle the one that had already been struck numerous times by the fangs of the snake.

“Now you’re going to have something worth while to mudge at, old feller!” cried Bumpus, as he threw his pole away, and pushed a little closer in the ring, anxious to see all that went on.

Toby was soon ready. He thrust the pole out, and all of them could hear the sound of the concussion as the reptile struck the piece of meat fastened at the end. It made most of the boys shudder just to contemplate being hit such a venomous blow with all the fury of a maddened reptile.

Again and again did Toby cause the snake to repeat the blow, turning the meat around several ways, so that it might all be impregnated by the virus.

“Now that’s about done,” he said; “and the quicker ye kill that crazy thing the easier I’ll feel. Lost a partner once when on a range tending forests for the Government, and ever since I’ve got a grudge agin rattlers.”

Thereupon Bumpus once more picked up his long pole and aimed a vicious blow at the raised head of the snake. Taking the creature fairly across the neck he sent it spinning away.

“Look out there!” shouted Giraffe, giving a hop, skip and a jump in another direction; “he may be playing possum on us! Keep clear of him, everybody; and you, Bumpus, hit him again as hard as you can. It ain’t the easiest thing agoin’ to kill a snake, let me tell you.”

Accordingly the fat scout raised his pole, and brought it down several times with might and main, on the neck of the fearful looking reptile; until finally Thad declared that it was beyond ever doing any harm again.

“And the rattle belongs to Bumpus, if he cares to claim it,” said the scoutmaster. “It isn’t a pretty thing, but then every time he looks at it, he’ll be apt to remember this occasion, and can picture the camp, the mountains, and all the rest of it.”

“Including Mike and Molly, our gentle pack mules,” added Giraffe; immediately bending down to assist Bumpus secure his prize.

“Now, you see,” said the guide, as he held up the piece of fresh venison so as to show the streaks of green, where the terrible poison had permeated it, “after they done this, the reds used to jest let the meat lie till it was old and soft, and chuck full of pizen. Then all they had to do was to push the point of an arrow into the same, and dry it in the sun. But I’m told they never do such things any more, which I take it is a good job. Thar be some things that seem too tough even for savages to use in war; and pizen is one of ’em, I reckons.”

“For goodness sake bury it, Toby!” begged Smithy, turning pale as he contemplated the object the guide was holding up. “And I surely hope we will not have the misfortune to run across any of the same breed while we’re stalking those strange big-horn sheep.”

“Not much danger, because rattlers they’s apt at this time of year to kim down to damp places, when they kin find such,” the guide explained; but at Thad’s request he did put the piece of venison underground.

“If later on some hungry wolf digs it up, why, I’m sorry for that same beast,” Giraffe remarked, as they returned once more to the camp.

“Must be near time for us to skip out,” said Step Hen, giving the scoutmaster a look of entreaty, as though imploring Thad to be merciful, and cut their waiting short.

“Five minutes yet before the half hour is gone,” declared Allan.

An exclamation from the Indian drew their attention just then. The Fox was pointing, and on following the direction of his extended brown finger the boys saw what had caught his always vigilant eyes.

Away up on the top of the cliff that towered so many hundred feet above its base several figures were moving. They were plainly men, and white men at that. No need for any one to dart into the tent, and get the field glass, in order to know who these parties were, though Thad did secure it, as he wished a closer view.

“It’s sure that Krackerjack crowd!” cried Giraffe. “Better get a move on, Aleck, and drop out of sight before they glimpse you.”

But the other shook his head.

“It’s too late for that now,” he declared. “Kracker has got a spy glass leveled at this camp right now; and he’s sure glimpsed me before this.”

And when Thad a minute later looked through the field glasses at the three who were on the cliff he saw that Aleck had spoken truly; for even then the biggest of the trio was watching them through a pair of glasses.

Now and then he would turn, to say something to one of his companions. These fellows, known as Waffles and Dickey Bird respectively, were not in the same class with the giant Kracker, with regard to size; though as to reputation, possibly they were able to run him a close race; since they were all looked upon as a pretty bad lot by the settlers and miners with whom they came in contact.

“Wonder what he thinks?” remarked Davy Jones, who seemed almost tempted to try and use his kodak on the party, only his good sense told him they would look like specks at such a great distance, and there would be no satisfaction in the picture.

“How d’ye expect they ever found that Aleck was no longer on the ledge?” asked Step Hen.

“Perhaps they may have been in camp somewhere, that gave them a view of the ledge, and looking in vain for Aleck, they hurried up to see whether he had fallen, or was climbing up someway or other,” Allan suggested.

“And the chances are, they’ll want to drop in here, now that they know he’s taken up with us?” said Giraffe.

Step Hen looked anxious.

“Say, Thad, is that agoin’ to interfere with our startin’ out on our little excursion?” he demanded.

The scoutmaster knew what was in his mind. He smiled as he replied:

“Oh! I don’t see why it should, Step Hen. Fact is, the time’s up now; and as I’ve said all I want to about taking care of yourselves, why you might as well make a start. There’ll be enough of us left behind to take care of Colonel Kracker and his friends, if so be they do chance to call on us.”

“Bring us back some nice juicy mutton, Step Hen!” called Giraffe.

“And Davy, be sure you snap ’em off in the air; we ain’t from Missouri, but we like to be shown,” added Bumpus.

“I say, Smithy, the country expects every man to do his duty, suh; and if you get your chance, I give you my word, suh, that little gun can be depended on every single time!” shouted the Southerner, Bob White.

And so, followed by the good wishes of their chums, the little party of big-horn hunters started forth, none knowing what strange events might be waiting for them among the wild uplifts of the Rockies.