THREE MONTHS AMONG THE INDIANS (Part 1 of 2)
Written by Ole T. Nystel, of Meridian, Texas
THE author of this work, Ole Tergerson Nystel, was born in Henderson county, Texas January 4. 1853. My parents immigrated from Norway, Europe, to this State (Texas) in the year 1848, first settling in the above mentioned county. Here my mother died at the age of 28, I was 6 years old. Father then moved to Van Zandt county, this State, where we resided during the late civil war, removing to Bosque county in 1866, the place of my present home. My father followed farming for a livelihood, and like most. Norwegian immigrants, possessed but little means, and being in a strange country, depending solely upon his daily labor for a support, it required the strictest economy to furnish even the necessaries of life for his family, consisting of himself, wife and three children— myself and two sisters, I being the older of the three. So I took my first lessons in the school of adversity, if enduring hardships and privations may be so called. But perhaps it was best as it develops traits and characteristics that are much needed in our battle of life.
Norwegian immigrants. as indeed most all immigrants from the Old World, on coming to this country, or in going to any new country, settle together, forming colonies„ thereby preventing to some extent that feeling of isolation and homesickness which, more or less in the case with all foreigners, for the feeling of loneliness is never as complete as when surrounded by people speaking a strange tongue in which we can take no part, neither to give or receive a word of encouragement or expression of kindness and sympathy. So to gratify the desire of our social natures as well as for mutual assistance, we sought out our countrymen on coming to America.
The Norwegians. like the Germans. are an eminently social people. Are never so happy, as a rule, as when at their gatherings for any festive occasion. Feasting, song and dance being their delight, they entering into these amusements with a zest but few other people manifest. But I do not wish to convey the Idea that they are unfitted for serious thought I was merely giving a prominent characteristic. But I am diverging.
Now, as to myself, my youth was spent as most country lads of the poorer class, in helping to make a support for the family. In disposition, I was headstrong, self-willed and mischievous, though, withal, I think, kind at heart. I do not think there was anything low, cunning or cruel in my nature, my mischief generally taking the form of jokes, pranks, etc., for the purpose of having fun, the result of youth, good health and exuberant spirits. As an instance, when very young I had some calves for playfellows and when I lacked one I would yoke myself up to complete the team.
My first serious !rouble was the death of my mother, which occurred in the eighth year of my age, of whom I was very fond. But I was too young to realize my great loss, than which there is none greater. She besought my father on her death-bed to look after me carefully, as I was so wilful, and prayed that God might guide me in the way of righteousness. My welfare seemed to be the burden of ber thoughts. I suppose she thought that I, being a boy, was exposed to more snares and pitfalls than my sisters.
All this had but little effect upon me then, but the time has since come in which I have felt its full power. And I would here earnestly impress all parents to pray for their children daily, for we have the promise that "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much," Jas. 5:16; and again, we are commanded to "pray without ceasing,' 1st Thess. 5:17. We never know when a kind word, a sympathetic look or an affectionate tear may reach the heart. Parents, pray for your children.
Captured By The Indians
Time passes on with no particular incident In my life worth noticing until I reach the fourteenth year of my age, when an event occurred which had a marked effect upon my after life. It sobered my thoughts and gave a more reflective cast to my mind.
I wish to remark here that many seeming troubles and afflictions are but blessings in disguise, as my experience in this case has fully demonstrated, showing the truthfulness of Paul's language "that all things work together for good to them that love God." Rom. 8:28. There is an All-seeing One who guides us—our helmsman, if we will but commit ourselves to His care. And as the poet has It: "There is a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough hew them as we may.”
“When about fourteen, a neighbor of ours, Mr. Carl Quested named, stopped at my father's on his way to a cedar brake to chop and haul some poles. He wanted my assistance which was readily granted, although I was needed at home to drop corn, my father having commenced to plant that morning. It was the 20th of March, 1867, and the day was rather warm for the time of year. as I remember well, for everything connected with that day and a few months thereafter is indelibly stamped upon my memory. We started out and soon reached our destination about five miles distant, among the hills and mountains, surrounded by dense thickets of cedar and other scrubby growth.
I was at the wagon and Mr. Quested had gone off about fifty steps to commence work, when I heard a noise, and on looking up I saw two Indians, made hideous with war paint. At about the same time they saw me, and giving a few blood-curdling yells, started towards me. It appeared to my excited imagination that they were devils who had come for me and really thought I could see great streams of fire issuing from their mouths. Having been taught that the ‘devil would get me' if I was not good, and having been described to me in such a horrible light, it Is not very strange after all that I felt as I did, under the circumstances. But I take occasion here to enter my hearty protest against making such erroneous impressions upon the minds of the young. But to return, I really thought doomsday had come. I started to run, and had got about forty yards when an arrow pierced my right leg, passing entirely through the flesh part, just above the knee, which still bears marks of the wound. At this I fell, and one of them leveled a pistol at me and motioned me to come to him which I was not long in obeying. My companion started to run about the same time I did. In his course there was a bluff about twenty feet high, but on reaching it he never stopped to measure the dIstance—he had no time for his pursuers were close at his heels. He leaped at once down the precipice, landing safely below, none the worse save a few scratches and bruises. During the chase he was fired at several times, one shot taking effect in his right arm. I never knew his fate until I was liberated, but I supposed from their broken English and gestures that he escaped, which on any return home was happy to know was so.
Mr. Quested told rre afterwards that a third Indian ran to intercept him, but fear lending additional speed to his heels he finally escaped. Still he says one Indian could easily have caught him, but as he still held to his axe he was afraid to get in such close quarters for fear the axe be used on him, and the brush was so thick he could not shoot to any advantage, and so let him go. He did not stop until he had run about four miles, arriving back with nothing but his underclothing on, and they torn and bloody, the axe still in hand. His bloody condition and wild, excited appearance greatly alarmed those to whom he returned, but it was all soon explained and a party started in pursuit to rescue me, but to no avail, though they were close to us sometimes, camping one night only a half a mile away from us as I have learned, but soon lost our track and turned back.
The Indians who took me in charge, led me off to their camp about forty yards distant where they had a fire. There were six in the party, three of whom were engaged in cooking a meal, consisting of broiled horse flesh and crackers. They had Just killed a horse the carcass of which was lying nearby, the choice portions being cut out for steak. I was offered some but refused it. They then offered me a cracker and when I extended my hand to take it, one interfered by saying brokenly that I got enough of that at home, when it was withdrawn.
It is needless for me to say that I was almost scared out of my senses, but tried to retain my self-possession as much as possible. Seeing that I was In captivity, I tried to decoy them down into the settlement by giving them to understand as best I could by words and signs that there were plenty of horses in that direction, they could get, but they would shake their heads as if they understood I was trying to get them into danger.
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On The March.
Comanches! Dreaded name. Synonym of all that is cruel and barbarous. What terror that name Inspires along the defenseless frontier. And it was amongst these monsters In human shape that I had fallen a helpless victim. By this time I was suffering severely from my wound, but to this they paid no heed nor applied anything to alleviate the pain, but after a day or two when it had gotten thoroughly sore, they would carry it through a process of twisting and wrenching every now and then. I suppose to increase my already excruciating pain. They would kick and knock me about just for pastime it seemed, whip my bare back until it was perfectly bloody, with frequent repetitions fire their pistols held so close to my head that the rips and powder would fly in my face, producing powder burns and bruises, until I was very much disfigured. In fact, I was used so roughly that when I got loose from them my head was a solid sore, and the scab had risen above my hair. Oh! horrible condition. The Lord deliver any of my countrymen or anyone else as to that matter, from ever being brought into It as I was. But I must return to the march.
After finishing their meal of horse flesh and crackers they went to one side and held a consultation in regard to myself, this I knew from their gestures. The result was, I was committed to the care of one of their number. We then left camps for the journey, but before starting they took off my overshirt and gave it to one of the party. I was placed upon a poor, bony horse without a saddle, and you can imagine better than I can describe my discomfort. We took a northwesterly course as they were then on their homeward march. They avoided the public highways, skulking through the brush to prevent being seen.
We had traveled atout three miles when we came upon a man and his son by the name of Fine who were hunting a horse that had been stolen by these Indians. When they saw us they ran to a live oak thicket nearby, tying their mules and concealing themselves in the dense brush. The Indians immediately surrounded the thicket and commenced firing into the brush. They both finally escaped, but the old gentlemen received a wound in his hand or arm.
The Indians took the mules which were tied and we resumed our march. Just before sundown, we came upon a negro man with a wagon. He saw us when a half a mile off and came running toward us begging for his life. At first they seemed disposed to heed his petition, but the thirst for blood triumphed over their better nature, and amidst his cries for mercy they stabbed him to the heart. He sank to the ground without a groan, save the death-rattle in the throat. One of them then pierced him through with his spear, it coming out at his breast. They left him unscalped and showed by signs and grunts their disgust for such a scalp, and pointed to my head as if to show by contrast the difference: and that to possess such a one would give them great pleasure.
They commanded me to laugh at this horrible deed, but you can imagine what a sickly effort it was, thinking every moment that my time would come next. However, they seemed satisfied with the effort for the time being sparing me, as I supposed, for some future occasion.
They killed a calf before starting again, cut off some of the flesh and ate it raw, offering me some, which I refused, not having any appetite especially for such food as that. On starting they placed the calf-skin on my horse. the flesh side up, for me to ride on. which I had cause to regret as the future will disclose.
One of the savages now detached himself from the others and struck out diagonally across the country, towards what are now known as the Twin Mountains, Hamilton county. He returned about dark with the loss of an eye. I did not know how it happened then, but afterwards learned that he had killed another negro, and I suppose lost It during the encounter.
That night we made a short halt till the moon rose. In the meantime it had turned very cold, and while here they took off the remainder of my clothing, shoes. stockings and all, leaving nothing at all, and in their place gave me old man Quested's overcoat which he had left upon the ground where I was captured. This left my legs perfectly bare, and so they wrapped them up with the calf skin on which I had been riding, the flesh side next to me.
The moon rising, we started at once, going at a trot or gallop, which we had kept up from the first, day and night. We traveled this way continuously until the fifth night, and during all this time I was never off my horse, except as I was lifted from one horse to another to rest the horse, having ridden with the flesh part of the calf hide next to my skin as mentioned above, which, while no doubt a great protection from the cold, yet when taken off, brought my skin with it.
In the afternoon of the fifth day we came to a mountain, which, from the description of the country as now surveyed and divided, must be in Stonewall county, this state, where the Indians had some arms, a tent, blankets, etc., concealed which we took with us.
A Night In A Cave.
On the filth night we stopped and went into camp for the first time since I was captured. They erected the tent for their own benefit it seemed, as I was denied entrance. They knew there was no danger of my getting away by leaving me out during the night since I was dismantled, for my wound was too severe. I could not walk, and though I had to get wood, water, etc., I could only do so by crawling and pushing it before me on the ground. It became very cold during the night having commenced to sleet and snow. I was almost numb and stiff from cold, having no protection but the old overcoat before mentioned. What should I do? I must find shelter or freeze, that was certain. So on looking around I saw an embankment near the tent and went down to it and found a small cave which I entered. I found my new quarters comparatively comfortable. I lay down against something warm and hairy, perhaps some wild animal, I never investigated. I was soon asleep from which I did not awake until late the following day.
I heard some commotion in the camp which aroused me, and on coming out I discovered that my dusky companions were gone, the last one disappearing just as I came out. I went into the tent and sat down to await their return, for as I supposed they were looking for me. They soon returned from their fruitless search, and on entering the tent and seeing me, they appeared mystified, not knowing from whence I came, and made signs as to where I had been. Being always ready to answer a question on the spur of the moment when I understood what they wanted, and seeing that the snow had filled up my tracks or path made in coming into the tent, so that they could not tell where I came from; I pointed up indicating that I had been to heaven. At this they showed signs of wonder and amazement, making quite a demonstration in their way. As they are very superstitious and ready to delegate anything not easily accounted for to the supernatural, this may have been of unmeasured advantage to me, as it doubtless made them believe that I was under the protection of the divine Spirit. However, it seemed that they easily forgot such Impressions and would return to their acts of cruelty.
We soon mounted and were on the march again, this being the sixth day of my captivity. We traveled all that day and camped at night again, as they now considered themselves out of danger of their pursuers. That night they allowed me to sleep In the tent, as I suppose they did not want me to make another ascension.
The next day we were up and off early as usual. Late In the day after traveling hard we came upon a pond of water, and stopped to water our horses. The mule I was riding being very thirsty and tired was slow about getting through taking his water and did not want to start when the others were ready. They punched it in the sides, but all to no avail, when finally one of the savages become so angry that he drew his pistol, placing it close to the mule's ear and fired. The mule dropped, and I also on my head in the water and mud. They dragged me out and threw me on another horse with no more ado than if I had been a sack of corn. In a little while my coat was frozen to me but I dare not complain.
Read Part 2 of this story here.
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