Monday, May 21, 2018

The Scouts

“Indians raised from childhood to this heighted awareness of the world around them, were a treasure trove of clues to the wilderness. A white man could learn from the Indian, in a crude example, that lodgepole furrows through the hoofprints of a band of ponies signified Indians on the move with their women and children, rather than a raiding party. But reading sign could be far more subtle. In one instance, an Indian examining a trail that appeared fresh realized that it had been made two days earlier, sometime before 8 a.m. The clue was grains of sand stuck to the grass where horse hoofs had flattened it to the ground. For the sand to have adhered, the grass must have been damp and the most recent dew had occurred two days earlier. The Indian concluded that the horse had passed that day, before the sun had burned off the moisture. In another case, what seemed to be a bear track to a white man was shown by his Indian guide to have been made by blades of grass, bent by the wind to sculpt the loose sand into a shape that resembled a bear-paw print. Such distinctions were critical to a man in the wild. Someone who confused grass marks with bear tracks and vice versa could end up as a meal for a bear—or without a bear for a meal.”

An absurdly entertaining volume in the Time-Life: The Old West series authored by Keith Wheeler. It is a lavishly illustrated survey of some of the iconic frontier scouts from Kit Carson to Al Sieber with side-journeys to spend time with some lesser known but no less accomplished scouts such as Jack Crawford, the Poet-Scout and noted tee-totaler.

Western history aficionados will find much to enjoy and Western fiction fans will no doubt enjoy the glimpse into the lives and minds of some of these legends.

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