"Mary! Look!" Laura cried. Mary looked and saw them, too.
They were tall, thin, fierce-looking men. Their skin was brownish-red. Their heads seemed to go up to a peak, and the peak was a tuft of hair that stood straight up and ended in feathers. Their eyes were black and still and glittering, like snake's eyes.
They came closer and closer. Then they went out of sight, on the other side of the house."
Pa is ready to make the bedstead when Ma tells him they are out of meat for dinner. So he leans the wood against the wall, takes his gun, and heads out across the prairie. Poor Jack is tied up so he can't tag along and spoil the hunting.
Laura and Mary feel very sorry for Jack, but Pa told them not to let him off the chain. They spend the morning out petting him and trying to make him feel better, but Jack is too sad. But suddenly Jack stands up with a fierce growl, the hair on his neck standing straight up.
Laura looks over her shoulder and sees two Indians approaching. They walk by the girls and go to the other side of the cabin. Laura and Mary wait for them to pass by the other side, but when they don't reappear, the girls realize that the Indians are in the cabin with Ma and Baby Carrie.
Laura wants to do something to help Ma, and she is about to let Jack off the chain when Mary reminds her that Pa said not to.
"But Pa didn't know the Indians would come...." Laura argues.
"He said not to," said Mary, almost crying.
It is hard, but Laura knows she must obey Pa, even though she is scared. The two girls know they must help Ma, so they run across the yard and slip into the house. Laura runs towards Ma, but then she smells a horrible smell and sees the Indians. She ducks behind the wood that Pa had left leaning against the wall.
From there she can watch the Indians as they quietly eat the cornbread Ma had made them. She sees that they are wearing black and white striped animal skins around their waists. Laura knows those are skunk skins. That is what is making the smell.
After the Indians have eaten, they say something to Ma in their own language and softly walk out of the cabin on their bare feet. Ma lets out a big sigh and hugs Laura and Mary.
When Pa comes home he has a rabbit and two prairie hens for dinner. He skins the rabbit and tells the girls he will salt the pelt and peg it to the side of the house. Then a lucky little girl would get a warm fur hat for winter.
During dinner, everyone tells Pa about their adventure. Laura says that if they had turned Jack loose, he would have eaten those Indians right up. Pa turns to Laura and says in a dreadful voice, "Did you even think of letting Jack loose?"
Laura can't speak, but Mary pipes up, "Yes, Pa."
Pa sighs and says to the girls in a terrible voice, "After this you girls remember to always do as you're told. Don't you even think of disobeying me. Do you hear?"
"Yes, Pa." Laura and Mary whisper.
First of all, let me clarify that it is not my intention to slur any race in this chapter. While it is written from Laura's perspective, a young, impressionable white girl, I am sure that the native tribes had their own choice descriptions to make about the white settlers. In sum, there was a certain lack of political correctness on both sides of the aisle in those days.
Now that I've got that out of the way....I read this chapter with growing horror at the obvious project. Of course, I could have taken the easy way out and made corn bread, but you can't take a chapter this exciting and turn it into a corn bread recipe.
No, the natural project would be to skin a skunk.
I wouldn't even have to kill one myself, because it is the time of year when a young skunk's thoughts turn to love, and the roads are littered with unlucky romantic swains and swainlets. But could I sacrifice so much, even for my literary dedication?
As it turns out, no.
There are limits, even for me, and smelling like a skunk for several weeks is well within the limits of "Ain't Gonna Happen". So the next best thing I could think of was to find a friendly taxidermist and skin something else.
I searched around a little bit. We are in a heavy hunting area, so there are a few guys to choose from, but each one had his own niche. The first one I talked to only does skulls anymore. Well, that was no help to my mission, but he gave me the name of a man in Dagmar who does other taxidermy work.
I called Ralph Summers up and found that he doesn't do skins anymore either, but he still does head mounts. To do a head mount, you have to prepare the head and shoulders of the animal the same way as any animal skin, and he just so happened to have a couple of deer skins that he was going to be working on the very next day.
"'Come on, Mary and Laura!" Pa said. "We'll skin that rabbit and dress the prairie hens while that cornbread bakes. Hurry! I'm hungry as a wolf."
They sat on the woodpile in the wind and sunshine and watched Pa work with his hunting knife. The big rabbit was shot through the eye, and the prairie hens' heads were shot clean away. They never knew what hit them, Pa said."
Alas, the animals had been skinned in the field, so I missed that lovely process, but once in the shop the hide had to be cleaned. All the fat and muscle had to be trimmed off with a knife and the the last, tiny pieces had to be scraped off with a scalpel. You can use a draw knife to clean the hide, but Mr. Summers prefers the knife and scalpel method.
Tiggy was so fortunate to be available as my assistant. She's been bugging me about being a guest helper on this blog, but I'm not sure she expected her debut to be on "Taxidermy Day". Que sera, sera. Be careful what you wish for.
|Holding a salted hide.|
|Back from the tannery.|
Voila! A beautiful deer mount ready to be the bane of some wife's existence.
|The finished work.|
It's a nice, clean process for the hunter. After the initial skinning (and let's face it, if you're going to hunt and eat stuff, you're not that squeamish), he doesn't see it again until it's respectably hanging on the wall, staring at him with a glassy, slightly-reproachful gaze. But the middle stages are not so pretty. I know this.
Yes, that's me. Aproned up in protective gear covered with bits and pieces of a previous badger, according to my host. I brought my own gloves, thank you very much. This vegetarian prefers to keep blood and guts at a distance. I'm holding a very sharp, very business-like knife that is used to trim the fat and muscle from a skin. If you're Mr. Summers, that is. For me, it's used to hack comically and ineffectively at the unyielding flesh.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. First a video where our experienced host demonstrates the art of fleshing. So quick. So easy.
Not so with me, my little friend. I was afraid of slicing through the skin and making a hole in someone's prize deer skin, but I needn't have worried. That knife wasn't going anywhere for me. It didn't help that I was completely grossed out by the cold, clammy, stretchy dead thing in front of me.
Tiggy did a little better than I did, but she was still pathetic compared to our host's example. I guess there is something to be said for 30 years of experience working with everything from reindeer to African Cape Buffalo.
After the first, rough cleaning of a skin, you get to the finer work. I didn't actually work with the scalpel. Somehow, after watching me flail away with the big knife, Mr. Summers failed to offer me a chance with the scalpel. But we did get to see the skin he was trimming up. It gets completely turned inside out. Did you know that deers' ears can turn inside out? Well, they can, and it is a very unattractive look, let me assure you.