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Chapter 9

THE ROUND-UP AT KALISPELL


Columbia Falls had heard of our adventure, and was prepared to do us honor. Automobiles awaited us on the river-bank. In a moment we were snatched from the jaws of the river and seated in the lap of luxury. If this is a mixed metaphor, it is due to the excitement of the change. With one of those swift transitions of the Northwest, we were out of the wilderness and surrounded by great yellow fields of wheat.

Cleared land or natural prairie, these valleys of the Northwest are marvelously fertile. Wheat grows an incredible number of bushels to the acre. Everything thrives. And on the very borders of the fields stands still the wilderness to be conquered, the forest to be cleared. Untold wealth is there for the man who will work and wait, land rich beyond the dreams of fertilizer. But it costs about eighty dollars an acre, I am told, to clear forest-land after it has been cut over. It is not a project, this Northwestern farming, to be undertaken on a shoestring. The wilderness must be conquered. It cannot be coaxed. And a good many hearts have been broken in making that discovery. A little money--not too little--infinite patience, cheerfulness, and red-blooded effort--these are the factors which are conquering the Northwest.

I like the Northwest. In spite of its pretensions, its large cities, its wealth, it is still peopled by essential frontiersmen. They are still pioneers--because the wilderness encroaches still so close to them. I like their downrightness, their pride in what they have achieved, their hatred of sham and affectation.

And if there is to be real progress among us in this present generation, the growth of a political and national spirit, that sturdy insistence on better things on which our pioneer forefathers founded this nation, it is likely to come, as a beginning, from these newer parts of our country. These people have built for themselves. What we in the East have inherited, they have made. They know its exact cost in blood and sweat. They value it. And they will do their best by it.

Perhaps, after all, this is the end of this particular adventure. And yet, what Western story is complete without a round-up?

There was to be a round-up the next day at Kalispell, farther south in that wonderful valley.

But there was a difficulty in the way. Our horses were Glacier Park horses. Columbia Falls was outside of Glacier Park. Kalispell was even farther outside of Glacier Park, and horses were needed badly in the Park. For last year Glacier Park had the greatest boom in its history and found the concessionnaires unprepared to take care of all the tourists. What we should do, we knew, was to deadhead our horses back into the Park as soon as they had had a little rest.

But, on the other hand, there was Kalispell and the round-up. It would make a difference of just one day. True, we could have gone to the round-up on the train. But, for two reasons, this was out of the question. First, it would not make a good story. Second, we had nothing but riding-clothes, and ours were only good to ride in and not at all to walk about in.

After a long and serious conclave, it was decided that Glacier Park would not suffer by the absence of our string for twenty-four hours more.

On the following morning, then, we set off down the white and dusty road, a gay procession, albeit somewhat ragged. Sixteen miles in the heat we rode that morning. It was when we were halfway there that one of the party--it does not matter which one--revealed that he had received a telegram from the Government demanding the immediate return of our outfit. We halted in the road and conferred.

It is notorious of Governments that they are short-sighted, detached, impersonal, aloof, and haughty. We gathered in the road, a gayly bandanaed, dusty, and highly indignant crowd, and conferred.

The telegram had been imperative. It did not request. It commanded. It unhorsed us violently at a time when it did not suit either ourselves or our riding-clothes to be unhorsed.

We conferred. We were, we said, paying two dollars and a half a day for each of those horses. Besides, we were out of adhesive tape, which is useful for holding on patches. Besides, also, we had the horses. If they wanted them, let them come and get them. Besides, this was discrimination. Ever since the Park was opened, horses had been taken out of it, either on to the Reservation or into Canada, to get about to other parts of the Park. Why should the Government pick on us?

We were very bitter and abusive, and the rest of the way I wrote mentally a dozen sarcastic telegrams. Yes; the rest of the way. Because we went on. With a round-up ahead and the Department of the Interior in the rear, we rode forward to our stolen holiday, now and then pausing, an eye back to see if we were pursued. But nothing happened; no sheriff in a buckboard drove up with a shotgun across his knees. The Government, or its representative in Glacier Park, was contenting itself with foaming at the mouth. We rode on through the sunlight, and sang as we rode.

Kalispell is a flourishing and attractive town of northwestern Montana. It is notable for many other things besides its annual round-up. But it remains dear to me for one particular reason.

My hat was done. It had no longer the spring and elasticity of youth. It was scarred with many rains and many fish-hooks. It had ceased to add its necessary jaunty touch to my costume. It detracted. In its age, I loved it, but the Family insisted cruelly on a change. So, sitting on Angel, a new one was brought me, a chirky young thing, a cowgirl affair of high felt crown and broad rim.

And, at this moment, a gentleman I had never seen before, but who is green in my memory, stepped forward and presented me with his own hat-band. It was of leather, and it bore this vigorous and inspiriting inscription: "Give 'er pep and let 'er buck."

To-day, when I am low in my mind, I take that cowgirl hat from its retreat and read its inscription: "Give 'er pep and let 'er buck." It is a whole creed.

Somewhere among my papers I have the programme of that round-up at Kalispell. It was a very fine round-up. There was a herd of buffalo; there were wild horses and long-horned Mexican steers. There was a cheering crowd. There was roping, and marvelous riding.

But my eyes were fixed on the grand-stand with a stony stare.

I am an adopted Blackfoot Indian, known in the tribe as "Pi-ta-mak-an," and only a few weeks before I had had a long conference with the chiefs of the tribe, Two Guns, White Calf (the son of old White Calf, the great chief who dropped dead in the White House during President Cleveland's administration), Medicine Owl and Curly Bear and Big Spring and Bird Plume and Wolf Plume and Bird Rattler and Bill Shute and Stabs-by-Mistake and Eagle Child and Many Tail-Feathers--and many more.

And these Indians had all promised me that, as soon as our conference was over, they were going back to the Reservation to get in their hay and work hard for the great herd which the Government had promised to give them. They were going to be good Indians.

So I stared at the grand-stand with a cold and fixed eye. For there, very many miles from where they should have been, off the Reservation without permission of the Indian agent, painted and bedecked in all the glory of their forefathers--paint, feathers, beads, strings of thimbles and little mirrors--handsome, bland, and enjoying every instant to the full in their childish hearts, were my chiefs.

During the first lull in the proceedings, a delegation came to visit me and to explain. This is what they said: First of all, they desired me to make peace with the Indian agent. He was, they considered, most unreasonable. There were many times when one could labor, and there was but one round-up. They petitioned, then, that I intercede and see that their ration-tickets were not taken away.

And even as the interpreter told me their plea, one old brave caught my hand and pointed across to the enclosure, where a few captive buffalo were grazing. I knew what it meant. These, my Blackfeet, had been the great buffalo-hunters. With bow and arrow they had followed the herds from Canada to the Far South. These chiefs had been mighty hunters. But for many years not a single buffalo had their eyes beheld. They who had lived by the buffalo were now dying with them. A few full-bloods shut away on a reservation, a few buffalo penned in a corral--children of the open spaces and of freedom, both of them, and now dying and imprisoned. For the Blackfeet are a dying people.

They had come to see the buffalo.

But they did not say so. An Indian is a stoic. He has both imagination and sentiment, but the latter he conceals. And this was the explanation they gave me for the Indian agent:--

I knew that, back in my home, when a friend asked me to come to an entertainment, I must go or that friend would be offended with me. And so it was with the Blackfeet Indians--they had been invited to this round-up, and they felt that they should come or they would hurt the feelings of those who had asked them. Therefore, would I, Pi-ta-mak-an, go to the Indian agent and make their peace for them? For, after all, summer was short and winter was coming. The old would need their ration-tickets again. And they, the braves, would promise to go back to the Reservation and get in the hay, and be all that good Indians should be.

And I, too, was as good an Indian as I knew how to be, for I scolded them all roundly and then sat down at the first possible opportunity and wrote to the agent.

And the agent? He is a very wise and kindly man, facing one of the biggest problems in our country. He gave them back their ration-tickets and wiped the slate clean, to the eternal credit of a Government that has not often to the Indian tempered justice with mercy.


Mary Roberts Rinehart

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