The comedy of man survives the tragedy of man. — G. K. Chesterton

Antoine of Oregon - James Otis




Careless Travelers

When I proposed that watch be set around the encampment during the night, every man, even including John Mitchell, protested, saying it was a needless precaution, that they were all needing sleep, and there was no reason why any should stand guard when they could look around on every hand and make certain there was no one near to do them harm.

One of the women asked me if there might be any danger from wild beasts, and when I told her we had not yet come into that part of the country where such game were found, every member of the company believed I was only trying to show myself as the commander.

I heard one of the men say grumblingly to another, that he was not minded to put himself under the orders of a boy who took pleasure in displaying his authority even to the extent of making them stand needless watch.

[Illustration] from Antoine of Oregon by James Otis

Never had I seen my father make camp, even though no more than two miles from a fort or a settlement, without carefully hobbling his horses, rounding up the cattle, if he had any, and stationing a picket guard, insisting that those on duty remain awake during every hour of the night.

Now, however, these people from Indiana, who knew nothing whatsoever of traveling in the wilderness, claimed to have a better idea of how camp should be guarded than did I, who had already traversed the Oregon trail twice, and I so far lost my temper as to make no reply, saying to myself that if they were inclined to take desperate chances, the loss would be theirs, not mine.

Mayhap if we had been farther along the trail among the mountains, where the danger would be greater if we lost all our animals, then for my mother's sake I might have insisted strongly that the orders which I gave should be obeyed.

As I have said, however, I held my peace, while those foolish people lay down to sleep in their tents, or in the wagon bodies, believing they were safe beyond any possible chance of danger simply because of being no more than seventeen miles from Independence.

I must say to John Mitchell's credit that he outfitted me as he would have done an older guide, and set apart for my especial use one of the small canvas tents.

Believing that my mother would have more comfort by herself than if she shared a bed in one of the larger tents, or in one of the wagons where so many must sleep, I proposed that she use my camp, and we two laid ourselves down that night feeling uncomfortable in mind, for she understood quite as well as did I that we were taking great chances at the outset of the journey.

I had hobbled Napoleon securely, as you can well fancy. In addition to that I had made him fast to a picket pin firmly driven into the ground so there might be no danger of his straying too far away.

It was not a simple matter to enjoy the resting time, because of the weight of responsibility which was upon me.

Even though John Mitchell's people were not inclined to obey such orders as I saw fit to give, yet I knew that in event of trouble they would cast all the blame on my shoulders, and not until a full hour had passed were my eyes closed in slumber.