From The Wit and Humor of America, edited by Marshall P. Wilder, Volume IV, New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls and Company, 1911; pp. 742-748.
A DESPERATE RACE
BY J. F. KELLEY
Some years ago, I was one of a convivial party that met in the principal hotel in the town of Columbus, Ohio, the seat of government of the Buckeye state.
It was a winter’s evening, when all without was bleak and stormy and all within were blithe and gay, — when song and story made the circuit of the festive board, filling up the chasms of life with mirth and laughter.
We had met for the express purpose of making a night of it, and the pious intention was duly and most religiously carried out. The Legislature was in session in that town, and not a few of the worthy legislators were present upon this occasion.
One of these worthies I will name, as he not only took a big swath in the evening’s entertainment, but he was a man more generally known than our worthy President, James K. Polk. That man was the famous Captain Riley, whose “Narrative” of suffering and adventures is pretty generally known all over the civilized world. Captain Riley was a fine, fat, good-humored joker, who at the period of my story was the representative of the Dayton district, and lived near that little city when at home. Well, Captain Riley had amused the company with many of his far-famed and singular adventures, which, being mostly told before and read by millions of people that have seen his book, I will not attempt to repeat.
Many were the stories and adventures told by the company, 743 when it came to the turn of a well-known gentleman who represented the Cincinnati district. As Mr. —— is yet among the living, and perhaps not disposed to be the subject of a joke or story, I do not feel at liberty to give his name. Mr. —— was a slow believer of other men’s adventures, and, at the same time, much disposed to magnify himself into a marvellous hero whenever the opportunity offered. As Captain Riley wound up one of his truthful though really marvellous adventures, Mr. —— coolly remarked that the captain’s story was all very well, but it did not begin to compare with an adventure that he had, “once upon a time,” on the Ohio, below the present city of Cincinnati.
“Let’s have it!” — “Let’s have it!” resounded from all hands.
“Well, gentlemen,” said the Senator, clearing his voice for action and knocking the ashes from his cigar against the arm of his chair, — “gentlemen, I am not in the habit of spinning yarns of marvellous or fictitious matters; and therefore it is scarcely necessary to affirm upon the responsibility of my reputation, gentlemen, that what I am about to tell you I most solemnly proclaim to be truth, and —”
“Oh, never mind that: go on, Mr. ——,” chimed the party.
“Well gentlemen, in 18— I came down the Ohio river, and settled at Losanti, now called Cincinnati. It was at that time but a little settlement of some twenty or thirty log and frame cabins, and where now stand the Broadway Hotel and blocks of stores and dwelling-houses, was the cottage and corn-patch of old Mr. ——, the tailor, who, by the bye, bought that land for the making of a coat for one of the settlers. Well, I put up my cabin, with the aid of my neighbors, and put in a patch of corn and potatoes, 744 about where the Fly Market now stands, and set about improving my lot, house, etc.
“Occasionally I took up my rifle and started off with my dog down the river, to look up a little deer or bar meat, then very plenty along the river. The blasted red-skins were lurking about and hovering around the settlement, and every once in a while picked off some of our neighbors or stole our cattle or horses. I hated the red demons, and made no bones of peppering the blasted sarpents whenever I got a sight of them. In fact, the red rascals had a dread of me, and had laid a good many traps to get my scalp, but I wasn’t to be catched napping. No, no, gentlemen, I was too well up to ’em for that.
“Well, I started off one morning, pretty early, to take a hunt, and traveled a long way down the river, over the bottoms and hills, but couldn’t find no bar nor deer. About four o’clock in the afternoon I made tracks for the settlement again. By and by I sees a buck just ahead of me, walking leisurely down the river. I slipped up, with my faithful old dog close in my rear, to within clever shooting-distance, and just as the buck stuck his nose in the drink I drew a bead upon his top-knot, and over he tumbled, and splurged and bounded a while, when I came up and relieved him by cutting his wizen——”
“Well, but what had that to do with an adventure?”
“Hold on a bit, if you please, gentlemen; by Jove, it had a great deal to do with it. For, while I was busy skinning the hind-quarters of the buck, and stowing way the kidney-fat in my hunting-shirt, I heard a noise like the breaking of brush under a moccasin up ‘the bottom.’ My dog heard it, and started up to reconnoiter, and I lost no time in reloading my rifle. I had hardly got my priming out before my dog raised a howl and broke through 745 the brush toward me with his tail down, as he was not used to doing unless there were wolves, painters (panthers), or Injins about.
“I picked up my knife, and took up my line of march in a skulking trot up the river. The frequent gullies on the lower bank made it tedious traveling there, so I scrabbled up to the upper bank, which was pretty well covered with buckeye and sycamore, and very little underbrush. One peep below discovered to me three as big and strapping red rascals, gentlemen, as you ever clapped poor eyes on! Yes, there they came, not above six hundred yards in my rear, shouting and yelling like hounds, and coming after me like all possessed.”
“Well,” said an old woodsman, sitting at the table, “you took a tree, of course.”
“Did I? No, gentlemen, I took no tree just then, but I took to my heels like sixty, and it was just as much as my old dog could do to keep up with me. I run until the whoops of my red-skins grew fainter and fainter behind me, and, clean out of wind, I ventured to look behind me, and there came one single red whelp, puffing and blowing, not three hundred yards in my rear. He had got on to a piece of bottom where the trees were small and scarce. ‘Now,’ thinks I, ‘old fellow, I’ll have you.’ So I turned off at a pace sufficient to let my follower gain on me, and when he had got just about near enough I wheeled and fired, and down I brought him, dead as a door-nail, at a hundred and twenty yards!”
“Then you skelp’d (scalped) him immediately?” said the backwoodsman.
“Very clear of it, gentlemen; for by the time I got my rifle loaded, here came the other two red-skins, shouting and whooping close on me, and away I broke again like a quarter-horse. I was now about five miles from the 746 settlement, and it was getting toward sunset. I ran till my wind began to be pretty short, when I took a look back, and there they came, snorting like mad buffaloes, one about two or three hundred yards ahead of the other: so I acted possum again until the foremost Injin got pretty well up, and I wheeled and fired at the very moment he was ‘drawing a bead’ on me: he fell head over stomach into the dirt, and up came the last one!”
“So you laid for him, and —” gasped several.
“No,” continued the “member,” “I didn’t lay for him, I hadn’t time to load, so I laid my legs to ground and started again. I heard every bound he made after me. I ran and ran until the fire flew out of my eyes, and the old dog’s tongue hung out of his mouth a quarter of a yard long!”
“Phe-e-e-e-w!” whistled somebody.
“Fact, gentleman. Well, what I was to do I didn’t know: rifle empty, no big trees about, and a murdering red Indian not three hundred yards in my rear; and what was worse, just then it occurred to me that I was not a great ways from a big creek (now called Mill Creek), and there I should be pinned at last.
“Just at this juncture, I struck my toe against a root, and down I tumbled, and my old dog over me. Before I could scrabble up —”
“The Indian fired!” gasped the old woodsman.
“He did, gentleman, and I felt the ball strike me under the shoulder; but that didn’t seem to put any embargo upon my locomotion, for as soon as I got up I took off again, quite freshened by my fall! I heard the red-skin close behind me coming booming on, and every minute I expected to have his tomahawk dashed into my head or shoulders.
“Something kind of cool began to trickle down my legs into my boots —”747
“Blood, eh? For the shot the varmint gin you,” said the old woodsman, in a great state of excitement.
“I thought so,” said the Senator; “but what do you think it was?”
Not being blood, we were all puzzled to know what the blazes it could be; when Riley observed, —
“I suppose you had —”
“Melted the deer-fat which I had stuck in the breast of my hunting-shirt, and the grease was running down my leg until my feet got so greasy that my heavy boots flew off, and one, hitting the dog, nearly knocked his brains out.”
We all grinned, which the “member” noticing, observed, —
“I hope, gentlemen, no man here will presume to think I’m exaggerating?”
“Oh, certainly not! Go on, Mr. ——,” we all chimed in.
“Well, the ground under my feet was soft, and, being relieved of my heavy boots, I put off with double-quick time, and, seeing the creek about half a mile off, I ventured to look over my shoulder to see what kind of chance there was to hold up and load. The red-skin was coming jogging along, pretty well blowed out, about five hundred yards in the rear. Thinks I, ‘Here goes to load, anyhow.’ So at it I went: in went the powder, and, putting on my patch, down went the ball about half-way, and off snapped my ramrod!”
“Thunder and lightning!” shouted the old woodsman, who was worked up to the top-notch in the “member’s” story.
“Good gracious! wasn’t I in a pickle! There was the red whelp within two hundred yards of me, pacing along and loading up his rifle as he came! I jerked out the broken ramrod, dashed it away, and started on, priming 748 up as I cantered off, determined to turn and give the red-skin a blast, anyhow, as soon as I reached the creek.
“I was now within a hundred yards of the creek, could see the smoke from the settlement chimneys. A few more jumps, and I was by the creek. The Indian was close upon me: he gave a whoop, and I raised my rifle: on he came, knowing that I had broken my ramrod and my load not down: another whoop! whoop! and he was within fifty yards of me. I pulled trigger, and —”
“And killed him?” chuckled Riley.
“No, sir! I missed fire!”
“And the red-skin —” shouted the old woodsman, in a frenzy of excitement.
“Fired and killed me!”
The screams and shouts that followed this finale brought landlord Noble, servants and hostlers running up stairs to see if the house was on fire!