Antoine of Oregon - James Otis

Overrun by Wild Horses

It seemed as if I had hardly more than lost myself in sleep when I was aroused by a noise like distant thunder, and springing to my feet, as I had been taught to do by my father at the first suspicious sound, I stood at the door of the tent while one might have counted ten, before realizing that a herd of those wild ponies which were to be found now and then on the prairies was coming upon us.

Once before in my life had I seen horses and cattle stampeded by a herd of those little animals, and without loss of time I rushed into the open air, shouting loudly for the men to bear a hand, at the same time discharging all the chambers of my weapon.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

Unfortunately, however, I was too late to avert the evil. If we had had a single man on guard he could have given warning in time for us to have checked the rush; but as it was the ponies were within the encampment before I had emptied my weapon.

John Mitchell had not brushed the slumber from his eyelids before the ponies overran the camp and passed on at full speed, taking with them every horse, mule, ox, and cow we had among us, save only Napoleon, who would have joined in the flight had it been possible for him to do so.

"What has happened? What was it John Mitchell cried as he came running toward my tent with half a dozen of the other men at his heels, and I replied with no little bitterness in my tone:—

"A herd of wild ponies has stampeded every head of stock, except Napoleon."

"But my horse was made fast," one man cried, as if, because he had left the animal with his leading rope around a picket pin loosely driven, it would have been impossible for him to get away.

The driver of the four-mule team declared that his stock could not have been run off because he had seen to it that each animal was hitched securely, while a third insisted that we must have been visited by the Indians, who had frightened the beasts in order the better to carry them away.

I could not refrain from saying what was true:—

"If we had had but one man on guard this could not have happened. I tell you that the disturbance this night was caused by a herd of wild ponies."

"Then why do we not go in search of the stock?" John Mitchell cried, and I replied:—

"That you may do, if it please you; but I have never yet seen the man who, on foot, could come up with a hose that had joined the wild of his kind. When the morning dawns, I will do all I can to aid in gathering up the stock, but until then there is nothing to be done"

Then, with much anger in my heart because this thing had happened through sheer carelessness, I went back into my tent, nor would I have more to say to any member of the company, although no less than half a dozen men stood outside asking this question or that, all of which simply served to show their folly.