Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Chapter 23: Indian War Cry


"The drums seemed to beat in Laura's head. They seemed to beat deep inside her. The wild, fast yipping yells were worse than wolves. Something worse was coming, Laura knew it. Then it came---the Indian war-cry."

The morning after the prairie fire, Pa goes whistling out to his plowing. When he comes back for lunch, he is black with soot, but very happy. The long, prairie grass doesn't bother him. Now it is easy to break the sod.
But there is something funny going on with the Indians down in the creek bottom. Every day there are more and more Indians, and every night the noises they make get louder and louder. Pa brings Jack into the house, shuts the door, and pulls in the latch string. No one may go outside until daylight.

All night, every night Laura listens to the Indians yelling and the drums beating. One evening before he goes to bed Pa gets out his bullet mold and begins to make bullets. He melts the lead and pours it into the bullet molds. He doesn't stop until all the lead is used up and his pile of bullets is very big.

Laura and Mary lie in bed and watch him. "Why are you making so many bullets, Pa?" Mary asks.

"Oh, I have nothing else to do," Pa says. But Mary and Laura know that Pa is tired. He has worked all day and could go to bed. But instead he sits up and makes more bullets than they have ever seen him make at one time before.

Laura and Mary wonder. No Indians come to the house anymore. Pa and Ma look worried. Mr. Scott and Mr. Edwards come to the house and talk to Pa about building something called a "stockade". But when Laura asks questions, the grownups never answer them.

One night Laura sits up in bed and screams. Something woke her up. Something terrible. And then she hears it again. It is loud and terrible. It makes her feel like she is falling down forever. She screams to Pa, "What is it? What is it?"

"It's the Indian war-cry, Laura," Pa says.

Pa explains that the Indians are talking about war by yelling their terrible war cry. They dance around their fires and beat the drums and talk about war. But Pa says Laura should not feel afraid because Pa and Jack are there, and the soldiers are at Fort Gibson and Fort Dodge.

Laura still feels afraid.

The war-cry goes on and on, but once there is a new sound in the night. Closer and closer comes the sound of galloping hoof-beats. Laura looks out the window and sees a black Indian pony running past with an Indian brave on its back. Then the Indian is gone.

Pa sits up all that night, listening and watching. He listens and watches all the next day, and all night the next night. During the day the prairie is quiet and still, but no one goes outside. At night the Indians dance and yell their war-cry. 

Laura and Mary are so tired that they fall asleep sometimes, but the war-cry always wakes them up again. Pa and Jack stay awake watching, but one time during the daytime Pa is so tired that he falls asleep right while he is sitting up at the table watching. He only sleeps a moment, and then wakes back up again.

"Don't let me sleep again," he tells Ma.

That night is the worst of all. The Indians yell back and forth, getting louder and louder. Up and down the creek, the drums beat and the Indians call their war-cry. Pa says they are quarreling with each other. Just before dawn, the war cries stop and Laura falls asleep.

When Laura wakes up, Ma is cooking lunch and Pa is sitting in the open door watching a big party of Indians head across the prairie. Two large groups have already gone past while Laura slept and Pa says they have broken up the group. They will not go together to hunt the buffalo. 

There are no Indian drums that night. No war-cry to keep Carrie, Laura, and Mary awake. Everything is quiet. Even Jack sleeps soundly on the floor of the little cabin. 

The next day Pa decides it is time to go exploring. Things have been quiet for a whole night so clearly there is no danger. He is gone all day, but when he comes back he has good news for everybody.

"The Indians did fight with each other. They wanted to go on the war path and kill all the settlers in Indian territory, but the Indian brave that rode past the first night argued and convinced the Osages not to fight the settlers. The other Indians didn't want to fight the Osages, so they all left."

"That Indian brave is one good Indian," Pa says.

Thoughts: Boy, that Pa! It's a wonder he survived as long as he did. If I was Ma, I surely would have clanged him up the side of the head with a frying pan long before this. And I love the parents' belief that the children would somehow fail to notice the whole "warring nation" thing going on next door. Let's just not talk about it so they won't worry. There are some things I am glad modern life has helped to change.

But what to do for this chapter?

North Dakota is rather free of wars right now. 

I mean, Canada isn't exactly a hotbed of aggression at the moment. And Minnesota and Montana have been at peace with us for many years now. Like...forever. Has ANYONE ever been mad at North Dakota? Even if there was any conflict, I'm pretty much a peace-lovin' gal myself, so can't say that war appeals to me as a hobby choice.

"One evening Pa took his bullet-mold from the box under the bed."

However, it just so happens that I know a dedicated practitioner of the ancient art of the mountain man. Someone who would be able to guide me through the old-fashioned process of lead bullet pouring. Thankfully, these mountain man-types are usually very happy to have someone take an interest in their craft and I was able to spend a fun afternoon learning about bullet-making.


Lown Schipman runs Mountain Man Fishing from his home. The local tire shop provides him with buckets of wheel weights that he melts down and turns into fishing weights and handmade lures to be sold in the nearest fishing town. 


Each time he gets a fresh bucket, the tire weights are cleaned and melted down into lead bars.


 After that, it is time to melt and pour. First the molds are heated over the melting pot for a while. If the mold is too cool, the molten metal won't have time to fill the whole cavity before it hardens. Once the mold is hot it goes under the pot, you pull the lever on the side, and out pours the lead.

Definitely a big improvement on the old by-the-fireplace method.


But the fishing weights are just for business. This mountain man also has bullet molds for pleasure---and of course he has the muzzle-loading gun to match each mold.

When I was there, he was making bullets for a .44 pistol.

I think.

I am not a mountain man, so it's like a foreign language to me.


"Pa sat for a long time on the hearth, melting lead and making bullets."

After watching him demonstrate his craft it was my turn. Nothing intimidating at all about plunking my butt down to handle molten metal. Nope, all in a days work for this girl.
Yeah.


The bullet molds are smaller than the fishing weight molds and you have to put the mold right up to the spigot of the melting pot. This means you can't see how full the mold is getting. I was worried that the lead would overflow, but it just goes to the top of the mold and stops. Unless you take the mold away while the lever is still down, it's not going to spill.

In fact, the lead hardens a little and you have to break it away from the pot.


The bullet is cool enough to leave the mold almost as soon as it is poured. When you hit the top of the mold to release it, it knocks the excess off and leaves a nice, round bullet behind.

Lown could do it in one quick tap, but I had to flail away at the mold several times to knock the top piece of the mold loose.


 "Laura and Mary lay awake and watched Pa. He had never made so many bullets at one time before."


Beautiful! My very own home-made bullets! I had planned to fire some of them off today, but sadly, that didn't work out this visit. The fact that it was snowing and no one wanted to go outside might have had something to do with it. And mountain man thought he may be, Lown is not down with shooting in his living room.

Actually, Lown might be, but Mrs. Mountain Man would definitely have something to say about it if he ever tried.



But he did show me the pistol my bullets are used for and how it is loaded. I don't want to get too technical, but it involves bullets, powder, and firing caps. The hammer of the gun hits the cap, which makes a spark, which lights the gun powder, which explodes, which propels the bullet from the chamber.

Pretty amazing, actually.


As I learned about different bullets, guns, and how each one functioned, I was thankful I had the luxury of being mildly interested in a scientific chain reaction and not dependent on it for my survival! The thought of those chunks of lead ripping through my flesh, causing pain, damage, and death is not the most pleasant one.

Far better to use it for target practice and pleasure shooting.

I'm just glad I have that option!

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