A Desperate Race
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 evening when all without was bleak and stormy, and all
within were blythe 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 expres
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 ever seen his book, I will not
attempt to repeat them.
Many were the stories and adventures told by the company, 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 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
stands the Broadway Hotel and blocks of stores and dwelling houses, was
the cottage and corn patch of old Mr. ----, a tailor, who, by the by,
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, about where the Fly Market now stands, and set about
improving my lot, house, &c.
"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
at them. In fact, the red rascals had a dread of me, and had laid a
great many traps to get my scalp, but I wasn't to be catch'd 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
travelled 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 awhile, when
I came up and relieved him by cutting his wizen--"
"Well, but what had that to do with an adventure?" said Riley.
"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 away 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 reconnoitre, 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 the brush towards me with his tail down, as he was not
used to doing unless there were wolves, painters (panthers) or Injins
"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
travelling there, so I scrabbled up to the upper bank, which was pretty
well covered with buckeye and sycamore and very little under-brush. One
peep below discovered to me three as big and strapping red rascals,
gentlemen, as you ever clapt your 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
"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
trotted 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 settlement, and it was getting towards 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 layed 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
"Phe-e-e-e-w!" whistled somebody.
"Fact! gentlemen. 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, gentlemen, 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--"
"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 legs 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?"
"O, 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 a
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 any how. 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
up as I cantered off, determined to turn and give the red skin a blast
any how, 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 killed him?" chuckled Riley.
"No, sir! I missed fire!"
"And the red skin--" shouted the old woodsman in a phrenzy of
"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