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Mark Twain > A Horse's Tale > Chapter I

A Horse's Tale

Chapter I


I am Buffalo Bill's horse. I have spent my life under his saddle -
with him in it, too, and he is good for two hundred pounds, without
his clothes; and there is no telling how much he does weigh when he
is out on the war-path and has his batteries belted on. He is over
six feet, is young, hasn't an ounce of waste flesh, is straight,
graceful, springy in his motions, quick as a cat, and has a
handsome face, and black hair dangling down on his shoulders, and
is beautiful to look at; and nobody is braver than he is, and
nobody is stronger, except myself. Yes, a person that doubts that
he is fine to see should see him in his beaded buck-skins, on my
back and his rifle peeping above his shoulder, chasing a hostile
trail, with me going like the wind and his hair streaming out
behind from the shelter of his broad slouch. Yes, he is a sight to
look at then - and I'm part of it myself.

I am his favorite horse, out of dozens. Big as he is, I have
carried him eighty-one miles between nightfall and sunrise on the
scout; and I am good for fifty, day in and day out, and all the
time. I am not large, but I am built on a business basis. I have
carried him thousands and thousands of miles on scout duty for the
army, and there's not a gorge, nor a pass, nor a valley, nor a
fort, nor a trading post, nor a buffalo-range in the whole sweep of
the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains that we don't know as well
as we know the bugle-calls. He is Chief of Scouts to the Army of
the Frontier, and it makes us very important. In such a position
as I hold in the military service one needs to be of good family
and possess an education much above the common to be worthy of the
place. I am the best-educated horse outside of the hippodrome,
everybody says, and the best-mannered. It may be so, it is not for
me to say; modesty is the best policy, I think. Buffalo Bill
taught me the most of what I know, my mother taught me much, and I
taught myself the rest. Lay a row of moccasins before me - Pawnee,
Sioux, Shoshone, Cheyenne, Blackfoot, and as many other tribes as
you please - and I can name the tribe every moccasin belongs to by
the make of it. Name it in horse-talk, and could do it in American
if I had speech.

I know some of the Indian signs - the signs they make with their
hands, and by signal-fires at night and columns of smoke by day.
Buffalo Bill taught me how to drag wounded soldiers out of the line
of fire with my teeth; and I've done it, too; at least I've dragged
HIM out of the battle when he was wounded. And not just once, but
twice. Yes, I know a lot of things. I remember forms, and gaits,
and faces; and you can't disguise a person that's done me a
kindness so that I won't know him thereafter wherever I find him.
I know the art of searching for a trail, and I know the stale track
from the fresh. I can keep a trail all by myself, with Buffalo
Bill asleep in the saddle; ask him - he will tell you so. Many a
time, when he has ridden all night, he has said to me at dawn,
"Take the watch, Boy; if the trail freshens, call me." Then he
goes to sleep. He knows he can trust me, because I have a
reputation. A scout horse that has a reputation does not play with

My mother was all American - no alkali-spider about HER, I can tell
you; she was of the best blood of Kentucky, the bluest Blue-grass
aristocracy, very proud and acrimonious - or maybe it is
ceremonious. I don't know which it is. But it is no matter; size
is the main thing about a word, and that one's up to standard. She
spent her military life as colonel of the Tenth Dragoons, and saw a
deal of rough service - distinguished service it was, too. I mean,
she CARRIED the Colonel; but it's all the same. Where would he be
without his horse? He wouldn't arrive. It takes two to make a
colonel of dragoons. She was a fine dragoon horse, but never got
above that. She was strong enough for the scout service, and had
the endurance, too, but she couldn't quite come up to the speed
required; a scout horse has to have steel in his muscle and
lightning in his blood.

My father was a bronco. Nothing as to lineage - that is, nothing
as to recent lineage - but plenty good enough when you go a good
way back. When Professor Marsh was out here hunting bones for the
chapel of Yale University he found skeletons of horses no bigger
than a fox, bedded in the rocks, and he said they were ancestors of
my father. My mother heard him say it; and he said those skeletons
were two million years old, which astonished her and made her
Kentucky pretensions look small and pretty antiphonal, not to say
oblique. Let me see. . . . I used to know the meaning of those
words, but . . . well, it was years ago, and 'tisn't as vivid now
as it was when they were fresh. That sort of words doesn't keep,
in the kind of climate we have out here. Professor Marsh said
those skeletons were fossils. So that makes me part blue grass and
part fossil; if there is any older or better stock, you will have
to look for it among the Four Hundred, I reckon. I am satisfied
with it. And am a happy horse, too, though born out of wedlock.

And now we are back at Fort Paxton once more, after a forty-day
scout, away up as far as the Big Horn. Everything quiet. Crows
and Blackfeet squabbling - as usual - but no outbreaks, and
settlers feeling fairly easy.

The Seventh Cavalry still in garrison, here; also the Ninth
Dragoons, two artillery companies, and some infantry. All glad to
see me, including General Alison, commandant. The officers' ladies
and children well, and called upon me - with sugar. Colonel Drake,
Seventh Cavalry, said some pleasant things; Mrs. Drake was very
complimentary; also Captain and Mrs. Marsh, Company B, Seventh
Cavalry; also the Chaplain, who is always kind and pleasant to me,
because I kicked the lungs out of a trader once. It was Tommy
Drake and Fanny Marsh that furnished the sugar - nice children, the
nicest at the post, I think.

That poor orphan child is on her way from France - everybody is
full of the subject. Her father was General Alison's brother;
married a beautiful young Spanish lady ten years ago, and has never
been in America since. They lived in Spain a year or two, then
went to France. Both died some months ago. This little girl that
is coming is the only child. General Alison is glad to have her.
He has never seen her. He is a very nice old bachelor, but is an
old bachelor just the same and isn't more than about a year this
side of retirement by age limit; and so what does he know about
taking care of a little maid nine years old? If I could have her
it would be another matter, for I know all about children, and they
adore me. Buffalo Bill will tell you so himself.

I have some of this news from over-hearing the garrison-gossip, the
rest of it I got from Potter, the General's dog. Potter is the
great Dane. He is privileged, all over the post, like Shekels, the
Seventh Cavalry's dog, and visits everybody's quarters and picks up
everything that is going, in the way of news. Potter has no
imagination, and no great deal of culture, perhaps, but he has a
historical mind and a good memory, and so he is the person I depend
upon mainly to post me up when I get back from a scout. That is,
if Shekels is out on depredation and I can't get hold of him.

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