Little Moccasin's Ride On The Thunder-horse
: AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES
: Boys And Girls Bookshelf
BY COLONEL GUIDO ILGES
"Little Moccasin" was, at the time we speak of, fourteen years old, and
about as mischievous a boy as could be found anywhere in the Big Horn
mountains. Unlike his comrades of the same age, who had already killed
buffaloes and stolen horses from the white men and the Crow Indians,
with whom Moccasin's tribe, the Uncapapas, were at war, he preferred to
lie under a shady
tree in the summer, or around the camp-fire in winter,
listening to the conversation of the old men and women, instead of going
upon expeditions with the warriors and the hunters.
The Uncapapas were a very powerful and numerous tribe of the great Sioux
Nation, and before Uncle Sam's soldiers captured and removed them, and
before the Northern Pacific Railroad entered the territory of Montana,
they occupied the beautiful valleys of the Rosebud, Big and Little
Horn, Powder and Redstone rivers, all of which empty into the grand
Yellowstone Valley. In those days, before the white man had set foot
upon these grounds, there was plenty of game, such as buffalo, elk,
antelope, deer, and bear; and, as the Uncapapas were great hunters and
good shots, the camp of Indians to which Little Moccasin belonged always
had plenty of meat to eat and plenty of robes and hides to sell and
trade for horses and guns, for powder and ball, for sugar and coffee,
and for paint and flour. Little Moccasin showed more appetite than any
other Indian in camp. In fact, he was always hungry, and used to eat at
all hours, day and night. Buffalo meat he liked the best, particularly
the part taken from the hump, which is so tender that it almost melts in
When Indian boys have had a hearty dinner of good meat, they generally
feel very happy and very lively. When hungry, they are sad and dull.
This was probably the reason why Little Moccasin was always so full of
mischief, and always inventing tricks to play upon the other boys. He
was a precocious and observing youngster, full of quaint and original
ideas--never at a loss for expedients.
But he was once made to feel very sorry for having played a trick, and I
must tell my young readers how it happened.
"Running Antelope," one of the great warriors and the most noted orator
of the tribe, had returned from a hunt, and Mrs. Antelope was frying for
him a nice buffalo steak--about as large as two big fists--over the
coals. Little Moccasin, who lived in the next street of tents, smelled
the feast, and concluded that he would have some of it. In the darkness
of the night he slowly and carefully crawled toward the spot, where
Mistress Antelope sat holding in one hand a long stick, at the end of
which the steak was frying. Little Moccasin watched her closely, and
seeing that she frequently placed her other hand upon the ground beside
her and leaned upon it for support, he soon formed a plan for making her
drop the steak.
He had once or twice in his life seen a pin, but he had never owned one,
and he could not have known what use is sometimes made of them by bad
white boys. He had noticed, however, that some of the leaves of the
larger varieties of the prickly-pear cactus-plant are covered with many
thorns, as long and as sharp as an ordinary pin.
So when Mrs. Antelope again sat down and looked at the meat to see if it
was done, he slyly placed half-a-dozen of the cactus leaves upon the
very spot of ground upon which Mrs. Antelope had before rested her left
Then the young mischief crawled noiselessly into the shade and waited
for his opportunity, which came immediately.
When the unsuspecting Mrs. Antelope again leaned upon the ground, and
felt the sharp points of the cactus leaves, she uttered a scream, and
dropped from her other hand the stick and the steak, thinking only of
relief from the sharp pain.
Then, on the instant, the young rascal seized the stick and tried to run
away with it. But Running Antelope caught him by his long hair, and gave
him a severe whipping, declaring that he was a good-for-nothing boy, and
calling him a "coffee-cooler" and a "squaw."
The other boys, hearing the rumpus, came running up to see the fun, and
they laughed and danced over poor Little Moccasin's distress. Often
afterward they called him "coffee-cooler"; which meant that he was
cowardly and faint-hearted, and that he preferred staying in camp around
the fire, drinking coffee, to taking part in the manly sports of hunting
and stealing expeditions.
The night after the whipping, Little Moccasin could not sleep. The
disgrace of the whipping and the name applied to him were too much for
his vanity. He even lost his appetite, and refused some very nice
prairie-dog stew which his mother offered him.
He was thinking of something else. He must do something brave--perform
some great deed which no other Indian had ever performed--in order to
remove this stain upon his character.
But what should it be? Should he go out alone and kill a bear? He had
never fired a gun, and was afraid that the bear might eat him. Should he
attack the Crow camp single-handed? No, no--not he; they would catch him
and scalp him alive.
All night long he was thinking and planning; but when daylight came, he
had reached no conclusion. He must wait for the Great Spirit to give him
During the following day he refused all food and kept drawing his belt
tighter and tighter around his waist every hour, till, by evening, he
had reached the last notch. This method of appeasing the pangs of
hunger, adopted by the Indians when they have nothing to eat, is said to
be very effective.
In a week's time Little Moccasin had grown almost as thin as a
bean-pole, but no inspiration had yet revealed what he could do to
About this time a roving band of Cheyennes, who had been down to the
mouth of the Little Missouri, and beyond, entered the camp upon a
friendly visit. Feasting and dancing were kept up day and night, in
honor of the guests; but Little Moccasin lay hidden in the woods nearly
all the time.
During the night of the second day of their stay, he quietly stole to
the rear of the great council-tepee, to listen to the pow-wow then going
on. Perhaps he would there learn some words of wisdom which would give
him an idea how to carry out his great undertaking.
After "Black Catfish," the great Cheyenne warrior, had related in the
flowery language of his tribe some reminiscences of his many fights and
brave deeds, "Strong Heart" spoke. Then there was silence for many
minutes, during which the pipe of peace made the rounds, each warrior
taking two or three puffs, blowing the smoke through the nose, pointing
toward heaven and then handing the pipe to his left-hand neighbor.
"Strong Heart," "Crazy Dog," "Bow-String," "Dog-Fox," and "Smooth
Elkhorn" spoke of the country they had just passed through.
Then again the pipe of peace was handed round, amid profound silence.
"Black Pipe," who was bent and withered with the wear and exposure of
seventy-nine winters, and who trembled like some leafless tree shaken by
the wind, but who was sound in mind and memory, then told the Uncapapas,
for the first time, of the approach of a great number of white men, who
were measuring the ground with long chains, and who were being followed
by "Thundering Horses," and "Houses on Wheels." (He was referring to the
surveying parties of the Northern Pacific Railway Company, who were just
then at work on the crossing of the Little Missouri.)
With heart beating wildly, Little Moccasin listened to this strange
story and then retired to his own blankets in his father's tepee.
Now he had found the opportunity he so long had sought! He would go
across the mountains, all by himself, look at the thundering horses and
the houses on wheels. He then would know more than any one in the tribe,
and return to the camp,--a hero!
At early morn, having provided himself with a bow and a quiver full of
arrows, without informing any one of his plan he stole out of camp,
and, running at full speed, crossed the nearest mountain to the East.
Allowing himself little time for rest, pushing forward by day and night,
and after fording many of the smaller mountain-streams, on the evening
of the third day of his travel he came upon what he believed to be a
well-traveled road. But--how strange!--there were two endless iron rails
lying side by side upon the ground. Such a curious sight he had never
beheld. There were also large poles, with glass caps, and connected by
wire, standing along the roadside. What could all this mean?
Poor Little Moccasin's brain became so bewildered that he hardly noticed
the approach of a freight-train drawn by the "Thundering Horse."
There was a shrill, long-drawn whistle, and immense clouds of black
smoke; and the Thundering Horse was sniffing and snorting at a great
rate, emitting from its nostrils large streams of steaming vapor.
Besides all this, the earth, in the neighborhood of where Little
Moccasin stood, shook and trembled as if in great fear; and to him the
terrible noises the horse made were perfectly appalling.
Gradually the snorts, and the puffing, and the terrible noise lessened,
until, all at once, they entirely ceased. The train had come to a
stand-still at a watering tank, where the Thundering Horse was given its
The rear car, or "House on Wheels," as old Black Pipe had called it,
stood in close proximity to Little Moccasin,--who, in his bewilderment
and fright at the sight of these strange moving houses, had been unable
to move a step.
But as no harm had come to him from the terrible monster, Moccasin's
heart, which had sunk down to the region of his toes, began to rise
again; and the curiosity inherent in every Indian boy mastered fear.
He moved up, and down, and around the great House on Wheels; then he
touched it in many places, first with the tip-end of one finger, and
finally with both hands. If he could only detach a small piece from the
house to take back to camp with him as a trophy and as a proof of his
daring achievement! But it was too solid, and all made of heavy wood and
At the rear end of the train there was a ladder, which the now brave
Little Moccasin ascended with the quickness of a squirrel to see what
there was on top.
It was gradually growing dark, and suddenly he saw (as he really
believed) the full moon approaching him. He did not know that it was the
headlight of a locomotive coming from the opposite direction.
Absorbed in this new and glorious sight, he did not notice the starting
of his own car, until it was too late, for, while the car moved, he
dared not let go his hold upon the brake-wheel.
There he was, being carried with lightning speed into a far-off, unknown
country, over bridges, by the sides of deep ravines, and along the
slopes of steep mountains.
But the Thundering Horse never tired nor grew thirsty again during the
At last, soon after the break of day, there came the same shrill whistle
which had frightened him so much on the previous day; and, soon after,
the train stopped at Miles City.
But, unfortunately for our little hero, there were a great many white
people in sight; and he was compelled to lie flat upon the roof of his
car, in order to escape notice. He had heard so much of the cruelty of
the white men that he dared not trust himself among them.
Soon they started again, and Little Moccasin was compelled to proceed on
his involuntary journey, which took him away from home and into unknown
At noon, the cars stopped on the open prairie to let Thundering Horse
drink again. Quickly, and without being detected by any of the trainmen,
he dropped to the ground from his high and perilous position. Then the
train left him--all alone in an unknown country.
Alone? Not exactly; for, within a few minutes, half-a-dozen Crow
Indians, mounted on swift ponies, are by his side, and are lashing him
with whips and lassoes.
He has fallen into the hands of the deadliest enemies of his tribe, and
has been recognized by the cut of his hair and the shape of his
When they tired of their sport in beating poor Little Moccasin so
cruelly, they dismounted and tied his hands behind his back.
Then they sat down upon the ground to have a smoke and to deliberate
about the treatment of the captive.
During the very severe whipping, and while they were tying his hands,
though it gave him great pain, Little Moccasin never uttered a groan.
Indian-like, he had made up his mind to "die game," and not to give his
enemies the satisfaction of gloating over his sufferings. This, as will
be seen, saved his life.
The leader of the Crows, "Iron Bull," was in favor of burning the hated
Uncapapa at a stake, then and there; but "Spotted Eagle," "Blind Owl,"
and "Hungry Wolf" called attention to the youth and bravery of the
captive, who had endured the lashing without any sign of fear. Then the
two other Crows took the same view. This decided poor Moccasin's fate;
and he understood it all, although he did not speak the Crow language,
for he was a great sign-talker, and had watched them very closely during
Blind Owl, who seemed the most kind-hearted of the party, lifted the boy
upon his pony, Blind Owl himself getting up in front, and they rode at
full speed westward to their large encampment, where they arrived after
Little Moccasin was then relieved of his bonds, which had benumbed his
hands during the long ride, and a large dish of boiled meat was given to
him. This, in his famished condition, he relished very much. An old
squaw, one of the wives of Blind Owl, and a Sioux captive, took pity on
him, and gave him a warm place with plenty of blankets in her own tepee,
where he enjoyed a good rest.
During his stay with the Crows, Little Moccasin was made to do the work
which usually falls to the lot of the squaws; and which was imposed upon
him as a punishment upon a brave enemy, designed to break his proud
spirit. He was treated as a slave, made to haul wood and draw water, do
the cooking, and clean game. Many of the Crow boys wanted to kill him,
but his foster-mother, "Old Looking-Glass," protected him; and, besides,
they feared that the soldiers of Fort Custer might hear of it, if he was
killed, and punish them.
Many weeks thus passed, and the poor little captive grew more despondent
and weaker in body every day. Often his foster-mother would talk to him
in his own language, and tell him to be of good cheer; but he was
terribly homesick and longed to get back to the mountains on the
Rosebud, to tell the story of his daring and become the hero which he
had started out to be.
One night, after everybody had gone to sleep in camp, and the fires had
gone out, Old Looking-Glass, who had seemed to be soundly sleeping,
approached his bed and gently touched his face. Looking up, he saw that
she held a forefinger pressed against her lips, intimating that he must
keep silence, and that she was beckoning him to go outside.
There she soon joined him; then, putting her arm around his neck, she
hastened out of the camp and across the nearest hills.
When they had gone about five miles away from camp, they came upon a
pretty little mouse-colored pony, which Old Looking-Glass had hidden
there for Little Moccasin on the previous day.
She made him mount the pony, which she called "Blue Wing," and bade him
fly toward the rising sun, where he would find white people who would
protect and take care of him.
Old Looking-Glass then kissed Little Moccasin upon both cheeks and the
forehead, while the tears ran down her wrinkled face; she also folded
her hands upon her breast and looking up to the heavens, said a prayer,
in which she asked the Great Spirit to protect and save the poor boy in
After she had whispered some indistinct words into the ear of Blue Wing
(who seemed to understand her, for he nodded his head approvingly), she
bade Little Moccasin be off, and advised him not to rest this side of
the white man's settlement, as the Crows would soon discover his
absence, and would follow him on their fleetest ponies.
"But Blue Wing will save you! He can outrun them all!"
These were her parting words, as he galloped away.
In a short time the sun rose over the nearest hill, and Little Moccasin
then knew that he was going in the right direction. He felt very happy
to be free again, although sorry to leave behind his kind-hearted
foster-mother, Looking-Glass. He made up his mind that after a few
years, when he had grown big and become a warrior, he would go and
capture her from the hated Crows and take her to his own tepee.
He was so happy in this thought that he had not noticed how swiftly time
passed, and that already the sun stood over his head; neither had he
urged Blue Wing to run his swiftest; but that good little animal kept up
a steady dog-trot, without, as yet, showing the least sign of being
But what was the sudden noise which was heard behind him? Quickly he
turned his head, and, to his horror, he beheld about fifty mounted Crows
coming toward him at a run, and swinging in their hands guns, pistols,
clubs, and knives!
His old enemy, Iron Bull, was in advance, and under his right arm he
carried a long lance, with which he intended to spear Little Moccasin,
as a cruel boy spears a bug with a pin.
Moccasin's heart stood still for a moment with fear; he knew that this
time they would surely kill him if caught. He seemed to have lost all
power of action.
Nearer and nearer came Iron Bull, shouting at the top of his voice.
But Blue Wing now seemed to understand the danger of Moccasin's
situation; he pricked up his ears, snorted a few times, made several
short jumps, to fully arouse Moccasin, who remained paralyzed with fear,
and then, like a bird, fairly flew over the prairie, as if his little
hoofs were not touching the ground.
Little Moccasin, too, was now awakened to his peril, and he patted and
encouraged Blue Wing; while, from time to time, he looked back over his
shoulder to watch the approach of Iron Bull.
Thus they went, on and on; over ditches and streams, rocks and hills,
through gulches and valleys. Blue Wing was doing nobly, but the pace
could not last forever.
Iron Bull was now only about five hundred yards behind and gaining on
Little Moccasin felt the cold sweat pouring down his face. He had no
fire-arm, or he would have stopped to shoot at Iron Bull.
Blue Wing's whole body seemed to tremble beneath his young rider, as if
the pony was making a last desperate effort, before giving up from
Unfortunately, Little Moccasin did not know how to pray, or he might
have found some comfort and help thereby; but in those moments, when a
terrible death was so near to him, he did the next best thing: he
thought of his mother and his father, of his little sisters and
brothers, and also of Looking-Glass, his kind old foster-mother.
Then he felt better and was imbued with fresh courage. He again looked
back, gave one loud, defiant yell at Iron Bull, and then went out of
sight over some high ground.
Ki-yi-yi-yi! There is the railroad station just in front, only about
three hundred yards away. He sees white men around the buildings, who
will protect him.
At this moment Blue Wing utters one deep groan, stumbles, and falls to
the ground. Fortunately, though, Little Moccasin has received no hurt.
He jumps up, and runs toward the station as fast as his weary legs can
At this very moment Iron Bull with several of his braves came in sight
again, and, realizing the helpless condition of the boy, they all gave a
shout of joy, thinking that in a few minutes they would capture and kill
him. But their shouting had been heard by some of the white men, who at
once concluded to protect the boy, if he deserved aid.
Little Moccasin and Iron Bull reached the door of the station-building
at nearly the same moment; but the former had time enough to dart inside
and hide under the table of the telegraph operator.
When Iron Bull and several other Crows rushed in to pull the boy from
underneath the table, the operator quickly took from the table-drawer a
revolver, and with it drove the murderous Crows from the premises.
Then the boy had to tell his story, and he was believed. All took pity
upon his forlorn condition, and his brave flight made them his friends.
In the evening Blue Wing came up to where Little Moccasin was resting
and awaiting the arrival of the next train, which was to take him back
to his own home.
Little Moccasin threw his arms affectionately around Blue Wing's neck,
vowing that they never would part again in life.
Then they both were put aboard a lightning express train, which look
them to within a short distance of the old camp on the Rosebud.
When Little Moccasin arrived at his father's tepee, riding beautiful
Blue Wing, now rested and frisky, the whole camp flocked around him; and
when he told them of his great daring, of his capture and his escape,
Running Antelope, the big warrior of the Uncapapas and the most noted
orator of the tribe, proclaimed him a true hero, and then and there
begged his pardon for having called him a "coffee-cooler." In the
evening Little Moccasin was honored by a great feast and the name of
"Rushing Lightning," Wakee-watakeepee, was bestowed upon him--and by
that name he is known to this day.