Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
Indian Signs And Getting Lost
“What do you mean when you say Indian signs, Mr. Clark?”
“Pretty near anything that shows there’s Injuns round: a moccasin track, a smell of smoke, a twig bent, a village, one stone a-top of another or a white settlement scalped and burned–they all are Injun signs. They all mean something, and the Injuns read them an’ make them, too, jest as you would writing.”
“You remember the other day you told us three smokes meant you were coming back with scalps.”
“Well, no; it don’t har’ly mean that. It means ’Good news’–that is, with some tribes. Different tribes uses ’em different.”
“Well, what does one smoke mean?”
“As a rule just simply ’Camp is here_’”
“And two smokes?”
“Two smokes means ’Trouble_’–may mean, ’I am lost.’_”
“I’ll remember that; double for trouble.”
“Three means good news. There’s luck in odd numbers.”
“And what is four?”
“Well, it ain’t har’ly ever used. If I seen four smokes in camp I’d know something big was on–maybe a Grand Council.”
“Well, if you saw five smokes what would you think?”
“I’d think some blame fool was settin’ the hull place a-blaze,” Caleb replied with the sniff end of a laugh.
“Just now you said one stone on another was a sign. What does it mean?”
“Course I can’t speak for all Injuns. Some has it for one thing an’ some for another, but usually in the West two stones or ’Buffalo chips’ settin’ one on the other means ’This is the trail’; and a little stone at the left of the two would mean ’Here we turned off to the left’; and at the other side, ’Here we turned to the right.’ Three stones settin’ one on top of another means, ’This is sure enough the trail,’ ’Special’ or ’Particular’ or ’Look out’; an’ a pile of stones just throwed together means ’We camped here ’cause some one was sick.’ They’d be the stones used for giving the sick one a steam bath.”
“Well, what would they do if there were no stones?”
“Ye mean in the woods?”
“Yes, or smooth prairie.”
“Well, I pretty near forget, it’s so long ago, but le’s see now,” and Yan worried Caleb and Caleb threshed his memory till they got out a general scheme, or Indian code, though Caleb was careful to say that “some Injuns done it differently.”
[Illustration: INDIAN SIGNS]
Yan must needs set about making a signal fire at once, and was disappointed to find that a hundred yards away the smoke could not be seen above the tree-tops, till Caleb showed him the difference between a clear fire and a smoke or smudge fire.
“Begin with a clear fire to get the heat, then smother it with green grass and rotten wood. There, now you see the difference,” and a great crooked, angling pillar of smoke rolled upward as soon as the grass and punk began to sizzle in the glow of embers.
“I bet ye kin see that ten miles away if ye’r on a high place to look for it.”
“I bet I could see it twenty miles,” chirped in Guy.
“Mr. Clark, were you ever lost?” continued the tireless asker.
“Why, course I was, an’ more than once. Every one that goes in the woods is bound to get lost once in awhile.”
“What–do the Indians?”
“Of course! Why not? They’re human, an’ I tell you when you hear a man brag that he never was lost, I know he never was far from his mother’s apron string. Every one is bound to get lost, but the real woodsman gets out all right; that’s the difference.”
“Well, what would you do if you got lost?”
“Depends on where. If it was a country that I didn’t know, and I had friends in camp, after I’d tried my best I’d jest set right down and make two smoke fires. ’Course, if I was alone I’d try to make a bee line in the likeliest direction, an’ this is easy to make if ye kin see the sun and stars, but stormy weather ’tain’t possible. No man kin do it, an’ if ye don’t know the country ye have to follow some stream; but I’m sorry for ye if ever ye have to do that, for it’s the worst walking on earth. It will surely bring ye out some place–that is, it will keep ye from walking in a circle–but ye can’t make more than four or five miles a day on it.”
[Illustration: “The Two Smokes"]
“Can’t you get your direction from moss on the tree trunks?”
“_Naw! Jest try it an’ see; moss on the north side of a tree and rock; biggest branches on the south of a trunk; top of a Hemlock pointing to east; the biggest rings of growth on the south side of a stump, an’ so on. It fits a tree standin’ out by itself in the open–the biggest ring is in the south, but it don’t fit a tree on the south side of an opening; then the biggest rings is on the north. If ye have a compass in hand it’s all kind o’ half true–that is, just a little bit true; but it ain’t true; it’s on’y a big lie, when ye’r scared out o’ your wits an’ needin’ to know. I never seen but one good compass plant, an’ that was the prairie Golden Rod. Get a bunch of them in the open and the most of them point north, but under cover of taller truck they jest point every which way for Sunday.
“If ye find a beaten game trail, ye follow that an it’ll bring ye to water–that is, if ye go the right way, an’ that ye know by its gettin’ stronger. If it’s peterin’ out, ye’r goin’ in the wrong direction. A flock of Ducks or a Loon going over is sure to be pointing for water. Y’re safe to follow.
“If ye have a Dog or a Horse with ye he kin bring ye home all right. Never knew them to fail but oncet, an’ that was a fool Horse; there is sech oncet in awhile, though there’s more fool Dogs.
“But come right down to it, the compass is the safest thing. The sun and stars is next, an’ if ye know your friends will come ye’r best plan is to set right down and make two smoke fires, keep them a-going, holler every little while, and keep calm. Ye won’t come to no harm unless ye’r a blame fool, an’ such ought to stay to hum, where they’ll be nursed.”