'The plan was carried out, as you will see. I went with them, and for two years I did not see a white man. This was in August 1854. I was just about twelve years old at the time.'
At age 12 Elijah Nicholas Wilson ran away from his family. Fighting off the constraints of his Mormon upbringing he found a new home with a Shoshone Indian tribe. Under their guidance, particularly of the Great Chief Washakie, he learned how to live and survive in the wild lands of the far west. When Elijah turned fourteen, to prevent reprisals against his tribe for his 'abduction,' he returned to his white family. He then worked as a Pony Express rider, stagecoach driver, trapper, translator, hostler, Indian agent, and whatever else was required to support himself and his family.
Elijah Wilson was known as 'Yagaiki' when among the Shoshones, and in his later years as Uncle Nick when entertaining young children with his adventurous exploits. The White Indian Boy is his story.
AS WINTER BEGAN TO break up, we got ready to move to the spring hunting grounds, but when we rounded up our horses, we found that about fifty head of the best ones were missing. The Crow Indians had stolen them. Our Indians found their trail and followed them, but the Crows had so much the start that our braves could not overtake them. We never recovered our animals. Among the lost horses were six that belonged to mother and eleven of Washakie's horses. My little pinto was not missing, for I had kept him close to camp with the horses we had used during the winter.
Our Indians were angry. They declared that they would get even with the Crows before another winter had passed. And I suppose they did it, for the two tribes were constantly stealing from each other. The Crows would steal every horse they could from the Shoshones; and our Indians would do the same with them. It was as fair for one tribe as it was for the other. They would fight, too, every time they met. Each tribe was always on the watch to get the advantage over the other; so we were in a constant state of excitement, and war dances were going on all the time.
When we left our winter camp, we started south. After two days' travel, we joined another large Indian camp, and kept with them during our wanderings the rest of the summer.
For three or four more days we all traveled south again. The game was plentiful here, elk, deer, antelope, and buffalo, so we camped for several days and stocked up with fresh meat. Then we took up the trail again, this time going east till we came to a beautiful lake that was fairly alive with fish. Oh, how I did catch them!
It was a great game country, too. We could see buffaloes at any time and in any direction that we looked. There were herds of antelope over the flats. I had great fun running them. Washakie said that I was riding my horse too much, that he was getting thin. He told me to turn the pony out, and he would give me another horse. I was very glad to let my little pinto have a rest and get fat again.
The horse that Washakie gave me was a pretty roan, three years old, and partly broken. When the chief saw how well I managed my new horse, he said that I might break some other young horses for him to pay for the roan. That just suited me, for I liked the excitement of training wild horses. The Indian ponies were small, especially the colts that he wanted broken. I wanted to get right at it, but he said that I must wait till they got fat, so that they could buck harder.
At this time we were not far from the Crow country. There was a dispute between the tribes about the boundary line that divided our hunting grounds from theirs. One day some of our hunters came rushing to camp badly scared. They said that the Crows were right on us. I never saw such excitement in my life. Everybody in camp was running about and talking excitedly. The bucks were getting ready to fight; the horses were rounded up and driven into camp. It was a great mix up - horses, squaws, dogs, papooses, tepees, and bucks all jumbled together.
The War Chief ordered the young warriors to go out and meet the Crows. The old men were left to guard camp. I started to get my horse.
"If I am going to fight," I said, "I want my pinto pony."
Mother stopped me, "Here, you little dunce," she said, "you are not going to fight. You couldn't fight anything. I don't believe there is going to be a fight anyway. I have had too many such Crow scares."
I wondered whether the Crows had wings like the crows in our country. She said that they were Indians like the Shoshones.
By this time the squaws had everything packed and ready to fling on to the horses that were standing about with their saddles on. The old bucks were gathered in small groups here and there talking all at the same time. But the excitement soon passed over; for the warriors came back after a little while to tell us that it was not Crows at all but a herd of buffaloes that had caused the scare. I was rather disappointed, for I wanted to see some fun. I began to think that they were cowards - the whole bunch of them. But they were not. The next day a band of about fifty young warriors left for some place. I could not find out where they were going, but they seemed to mean business.
For a while after this scare everything passed off peacefully. We fished and chased antelope, and one day I went with Washakie up into the mountains to kill elk. We had not gone far till we saw a large herd of these animals lying down. Leaving our horses, we crept up close to them. Washakie had a good gun, and at his first shot he hit a big cow elk. She ran about a minute before she fell. The chief told me to slip up and shoot her in the neck with my arrows till she was dead, then to cut her throat so that she would bleed freely; and to stay there till he came back. Well, I crept up as close as I dared, and shot every arrow I had at her. Then I climbed a tree. I guess she was dead before I shot her, but I was not sure, for I was afraid to go up near enough to see. Washakie followed the herd that ran down the canyon.
I stayed up the tree for some time, then came down quietly and went up to the elk and threw sticks at her, but she did not move, so I plucked up courage and cut her throat. She had been dead so long that she did not bleed a bit.
I waited and waited for Washakie to come back. After a while I began to get scared. I thought that the bears would smell the elk and finding me there would eat me up, so I put off to where we had left our horses; but I could not find them. Then I started back to the elk, but I could not find it. I was so bewildered that I did not know what to do. The timber was thick, and I was getting more scared all the time. I tried again to find our horses and failed. By this time the sun had gone down, and it was very gloomy among the trees. I climbed another tree and waited for a long time. I was afraid to call for fear of bringing a bear on to me.
Afterwards, I learned that I had not left the elk long before Washakie came and took the entrails out of it, and as he did not see my horse, he thought that I had gone to camp. Before following the elk, he had tied my horse to a tree, but it had broken loose and run away. When Washakie reached camp, some Indians told him that they had seen my horse loose with the saddle on. He did not know what to do. Mother was frantic. She started right out to hunt me, and a big band of Indians followed her.
A little while after dark I heard the strange noise they were making. I thought the Crows were after me; so I kept quiet, but pretty soon I heard someone calling - "Yagaki! Yagaki!" Then I knew that it was one of our Indians, so I answered him. In a little while there was a crackling of brush right under my tree.
"Where were you?" he shouted.
"Here I am," I said.
"What were you doing up there?" he asked.
"Looking for my horse."
"Well, you won't find him up there," he said. "Come down here."
I minded him in a hurry.
"Now, get on behind me," he said; "the whole tribe is looking for you, and your poor mother is nearly crazy about you. It would be better for her if someone would kill you, and I have a notion to do it. It would save her lots of trouble."
When he got out of the timber, he began to halloo just as loud as he could to let the rest know that I was found. Then I could hear the Indians yelling all through the woods. We reached camp before mother came in, and I wanted to go back to look for her, but Hanabi would not let me. She said that I might get lost again; that I had given mother trouble enough for one night.
It was not long before mother came. She grabbed me in her arms and said, "Yagaki, Yagaki, where have you been? I was afraid a bear had eaten you." She talked and cried for almost an hour. She blamed Washakie for leaving me alone and said that I should never go off with him again; she would keep me close to her.
The next morning I went with mother and another squaw to get the elk. Washakie asked me if I thought I could find it. I told him that I knew I could, so we started, and I led them right to it. As we were skinning the elk, mother said that I had spoiled the skin by shooting it so full of holes. But the meat was fat and tender.
About ten days after this our band of young warriors came back. They had captured thirty-two head of horses, but one of our Indians had been killed in the skirmish they had with the Crows. One of the band told me all about their raid. He said that they went over to the headwaters of the Missouri River - Sogwobipa, the Indians called it. There they found a small band of Crow Indians, but the Crows had seen them first, and were ready for them. Just after dark our Indians tried to run off a band of Crow horses they had seen, but they were met with a shower of arrows and a few bullets which killed one of their party and wounded five or six of their horses. One horse was so badly crippled that he could not travel, so the rider jumped on to the horse belonging to the dead Indian and they all broke back as fast as their horses could carry them. They were chased by the Crows all night, but they finally made their escape.
A few days after this as they were going through a range of mountains, they came suddenly upon a small band of Crows, killed two of them and took all their horses. They thought the whole tribe of Crows was following them, so they...