CHAPTER X. SCENERY ON THE TRAIL.
A great many years ago, long before any white man had looked upon the valley of the Upper Platte, the chief of the Pawnees, whose big villages extended for some distance along that river, was known as the Crouching Panther. He was one of the bravest warriors that the famous Pawnee nation had ever produced; large in stature, powerful in his strength, yet as lithe and quick as the animal from which he derived his name. He was beloved by his tribe, and none of his many warriors could compete with him for an instant in all the manly games which afford the amusements of the savages, nor with him in the chase after the buffalo or the more fleet antelope. His prowess, too, in battle was far beyond that of any of the great warriors which tradition had handed down; yet he was not envied by any, for he was of a loving and kind disposition. He was equal in feats of horsemanship to the Comanches, which nation excels in that particular over all other Plains tribes.
In the village there lived a superannuated chief, who possessed a daughter considered the handsomest maiden in all the region which was watered by the great Platte. She was as graceful as an antelope in all her movements, and, as is usual in the strange nomenclature of the savages who take their cognomens from some characteristic of their nature, she was known as the Antelope, because she more resembled that graceful animal than any other of the young maidens in her tribe. She would flit from rock to rock, when out gathering berries, or float down the stream in her birch-bark canoe, catching fish for her aged father's meals. Crouching Panther had for a long time had his eyes riveted upon the Antelope, and would often lie for hours on some high point of rock watching the youthful girl as she attended to the cares of her lodge. He never returned from a successful hunt without sending some choice portion of the buffalo or other animal he had killed to the lodge of the Antelope.
The arrangements, according to the customs of the tribe, had already been made for a wedding of the favourite young savages, when on the night preceding the ceremony a party of Sioux, the deadly hereditary enemies of the Pawnees, made a night assault upon the village, and after a terrible fight carried off a number of scalps, and many prisoners, among whom was the Antelope.
The prisoners were hurried off to one of the remote fastnesses of the Sioux up in the mountains, in the vicinity of Medicine Bow River, where, as was the custom of the Indians, they intended to sacrifice their prisoners by the worst methods of torture as ingeniously cruel as they could possibly make it.
In two days after the return of the warriors to the Sioux village was the sacrifice to be made. The friends and relatives of the Sioux who had been killed in the assault upon the Pawnees were drawn up around the unfortunate captives, who were about to be fastened to stakes and stand the terrible ordeal of death by fire, when suddenly, like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky, the terrible war-whoop of the Pawnees sounded in the ears of the now thoroughly frightened Sioux, who saw, to their dismay, a band of the dreaded Pawnees led by the intrepid Crouching Panther. Dashing down upon them, they fought their way to where the prisoners were already stoically awaiting their terrible fate, and the Crouching Panther, rushing to where the Antelope was standing, after killing half a dozen of his foes, caught her up, and throwing her before him on his saddle, dashed off with his brave little band of followers before the astonished Sioux could recover. It was not long before they recovered their presence of mind, however, and, enraged by the loss of their prisoners, immediately mounted their horses and quickly followed the daring Pawnees on the trail.
The Sioux outnumbered the Pawnees ten to one, but Crouching Panther had just that amount of courage in his nature that numbers did not stop him when bent on such a mission, and he had proceeded a great way on the trail with his warriors and the Antelope toward their native village when they were overtaken by a vastly superior force, and a terrible fight took place. Many a Sioux did the Crouching Panther send to the happy hunting-grounds, notwithstanding that he was handicapped by the living burden in front of him on his horse. He was near the rock, when he found that all his warriors, though having fought bravely, were cut down, and himself alone, death staring him in the face, or what was worse, the torture for himself and the girl with him. He jumped from his animal with the now fainting maiden in his arms, and, rushing up the mountain, followed by a dozen of his foes, sprang to the edge of the dizzy height, and stood for a moment confronting his enemies. The sun was just setting; the valley was flooded with a golden light, and he stood there with the Antelope in his arms at bay for a moment, gazing in disdain upon his pursuers. As one of the Sioux was foremost in his attempt to seize the Crouching Panther, the latter hurled his hatchet with terrible, unerring force, and buried it deep into the presumptuous savage's brain. At the same moment crying out "The spirits of a hundred Pawnee braves will accompany their great chief to the happy hunting-grounds of their fathers," he pressed close to his bosom the beautiful form of the Antelope, sprang out into the clear air, and bounding from rock to rock, the two lovers were dashed to pieces on the stony ground below.