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THE THUNDERING HERD
Bennie Anderson sat on the lee side of the prairie schooner, watching the dancing camp fire and listening to the howling of the coyotes.
Four months before, the Anderson family, consisting of Mr. 6 and Mrs. Anderson, Thomas, a boy of nine years, and the solitary
watcher by the camp fire, named Benjamin, aged eleven years, had said good-bye to Indiana.
Ill luck had always followed the Andersons in that state, and Bennie's father had said that perhaps a change of scene would 10 also change their luck. So nearly all their belongings had been
packed into the canvas-covered wagon, two dilapidated mules hitched to it, the old cow tied behind; and with the dog following beneath the wagon, they had left the tumble-down cabin and the
Indiana homestead, and had started for the frontier beyond the 15 Mississippi.
Mr. Anderson was an old hunter, and as there were two rifles in the wagon, not to mention an old shotgun, there was usually plenty of fresh duck or prairie chicken to eat. Among the most
cherished possessions was a very good field glass, which had been 20 the property of an uncle who had used it in the Civil War. This
glass proved to be their best ally upon the great plains, where the stretches of smooth land are so vast, and the distances so great, that the naked eye is wholly inadequate to the demands made
upon it, especially if one wants to see all the wild life upon the 25 plains as Bennie did.
The modest Anderson caravan had not journeyed far into the Missouri Bad Lands, at right angles to the old Oregon Trail, which so many adventurers had followed before and have since,
before the signs of buffaloes became plentiful, although the boys 30 did not at first recognize them. It was not until late September
or early October, however, that the Andersons saw purfaloes in any numbers. Hitherto, there had been an occasional lonely bison feeding in some coulee, but they now began to see them in larger numbers.
The jolting wagon by this time had pounded its weary way s over the plains and through the Bad Lands and the desert-like
portions of the prairies, where there was nothing but sagebrush and sprawling cactus, until they had reached a point near the northwest corner of Missouri.
It was not an infrequent sight to see upon the slope of a dis10 tant swell a dozen buffaloes peacefully grazing, like domestic
cattle. They usually made off at a slow trot whenever the wagon got within a few hundred yards of them. Not knowing much of the habits or disposition of the bison, Mr. Anderson said that they
would not attempt to kill any at present even for meat, as deer 15 and other game were plentiful.
So they journeyed along without molesting the bison that they saw, satisfied to let them alone, if they were in turn let alone. This amicable arrangement might have held good until they
reached their journey's end, in the heart of Kansas, had not some20 thing happened that made the killing of a few bison the price of
safety to the party. This was an event that no one of the emigrants ever forgot as long as he lived, and an incident that filled one night as full of excitement and peril as it could well hold.
They had been traveling for two days over a nearly unbroken 26 stretch of slightly undulating prairie. The summer sun had
baked the earth till it was hard and lifeless. Every tuft of grass was burned to a crisp. Even the sagebrush that grew in all the sandy spots seemed parched by the shimmering heat. The sky
was a bright, intense blue, and each night the sunset was red and 30 the afterglow partially obscured by a cloud of dust.
The watercourses and the cottonwoods were half a day's journey apart, and an intolerable thirst was over all the landscape.
The second day of this trying desert-like prairie stretch of their journey was just drawing to a close when they noted upon 35 the northern horizon what at first seemed to be a cloud of smoke.
At the thought of a prairie fire upon such a parched area as these plains, a horrible fear seized upon the little party, and Mr. Anderson hurried to the top of the nearest swell to learn if their worst fears were true.
On mounting the eminence, he discovered that the cloud extended from the east to the west as far as the eye could reach. 6 It certainly was not smoke, but each minute it grew in density
and volume, like a menace, something dark and foreboding that would engulf them.
Presently as he watched, he thought he heard a low rumbling, like the first indistinct sounds of thunder, and putting his ear to 10 the ground in Indian fashion, he could hear the rumbling plainly.
It was like the approach of a mighty earthquake, only it traveled much more slowly; like the rumbling of the surf; like the voice of the sea, or the hurricane, heard at a distance.
Again the anxious man scanned the dark, ominous-looking 15 cloud, that now belted half the horizon, and this time he thought
that he discerned dark particles like tiny dancing motes in the cloud. Then as he gazed, the specks grew larger, like gnats or small flies, close to where the horizon line should have been. Here
and there were clouds of the dark specks, like swarms of busy 20 insects. But what a myriad there was. In some places they fairly darkened the cloud.
Then in a flash the truth dawned upon the incredulous man, leaving him gasping with astonishment and quaking with fear.
All these tiny specks upon the horizon line were buffaloes. A 25 mighty host stretching from east to west as far as the eye could
reach, and to the north God only knew how far. Like an avalanche that rushes upon its way, unmindful of man and human life; pitiless as fate, and as remorseless as all the primeval
forces of nature, the Thundering Herd was rolling down upon 30 them.
For a few seconds he gazed, fascinated and held to the spot by his very fear and the wonder of it all. Darker and darker grew the cloud. Plainer and plainer the headlong rush of the
countless host was seen, while the rumbling of their thousands of 35 hoofs, which at first had been like distant thunder, now swelled
to the volume of a rapidly approaching hurricane. The solid earth was felt to vibrate and rock, to tremble and quake.
Mr. Anderson waited to see no more, but fled back to his family, whose escape from this sea of hoofs now seemed to him almost hopeless. The boys hurried to meet him, their faces pale
with fright, for even the rest of the family now realized that some 6 great danger was swooping down upon them.
Mr. Anderson made his plan of escape as he ran. To think of fleeing was out of the question. Their slow-moving schooner would be overtaken in almost no time. There was no cañon, no
coulee in which to take refuge; no butte to which they might flee; lo not even a tree or a rock behind which they might crouch, and
thus be partly shielded. Out in the open the danger must be met, with nothing but the shelter of the wagon to keep off the grinding hoofs, and only the muzzles of their three guns to stand between them and annihilation when the crash came.
Hastily they turned the wagon about, with its hind end toward the herd. The mules were unhitched from the pole and each hitched to the front wheel. A rope was also passed through the side strap of the harness of each mule, and he was fastened to
the hind wheel of the wagon, so that he could not swing about 20 and be across the tide when this sea of buffaloes should strike them.
This kept the mules with their heels toward the herd, thus securing the additional aid of a mule's heels on guard at each side of the wagon. Old Brindle was secured to the pole of the wagon,
where the mules had been. The wheels were blocked. What 25 furniture the wagon contained was piled up behind to help make
a barricade. When all had been made as snug as possible, the family crawled under the wagon and awaited results. The muzzles of the two rifles were held in readiness for an emergency at
either side of the wagon, while Mrs. Anderson had the shotgun in ng readiness to reinforce the garrison should they need more loaded weapons at a moment's notice.
Nearer and nearer came the Thundering Herd, while the vibrations in the solid earth grew with each passing second. The
clouds of dust shut out the light of the setting sun, and made a $5 dark pall over all the landscape, which was like the descending of the mantle of death.
Bennie gritted his teeth together and tried hard not to let the muzzle of his rifle shake as he pointed it out between the spokes of the hind wheel on his side of the wagon.
On came the terrible battalions of galloping hoofs, the massive heads and black beards of mighty bulls glowering through the 5 clouds of dust. Each second the pounding of their hoofs swelled
in volume, and each second the vibrations of the solid earth became more pronounced. Like the smoke of a great conflagration, the dust-clouds settled over the prairies until the crouching,
trembling human beings, so impotent in this vast mad rush of 10 wild beasts, could see the frontlets of the bulls but a few rods away.
But almost before they had time to realize it, the mad, galloping, pushing, steaming, snorting herd was all about them, pounding
by so close that the coats of the nearest bulls brushed the sides 15 of the mules.
At first they seemed to turn out a bit for the wagon, but presently a bunch of buffaloes, more compact than the rest of the herd, was seen bearing down upon them as though they were
charging the schooner, although they probably did not even 20 notice it.
“Ready with your rifle, Bennie,” called Mr. Anderson, and father and son both cocked their guns. When the bunch was almost upon them, both fired, and a mighty bull fell kicking
against the back of the wagon, but his kicks were not of long 25 duration, for at this short range the rifles did fearful execution.
There was no respite, however, for close behind the fallen bull came more, and Mr. Anderson reached for the shotgun, and piled another bull upon the first, although he had to finish him with a
Colt's revolver, which was destined to stand them in much better 30 stead than the guns.
It was with difficulty that the muzzle-loading rifles could be loaded while lying down in the cramped position under the wagon, but the Colt's revolver, which was a forty-four and just as effec
tive at this short range as a rifle, could be readily reloaded, and 25 Mrs. Anderson kept its five chambers full.
Old Abe, the mule upon the right side of the wagon, now took his turn in the fray, for a bull galloped too close to him, raking