Edward Ellis.

The Boy Hunters of Kentucky

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In this manner he had gone a third of the distance when he became sure that something was following him. He stopped several times and looked back, but could see nothing. His quick ear, however, had caught the soft footfall in the trail, which left no doubt that either a man or an animal was dogging his footsteps.

It is hard to think of a more trying situation than that of Jack Gedney, for, aware as he was that some danger threatened, he did not know its nature.

His first belief was that it was an Indian who was trying to steal upon him. The stealth which marked its movements led him to think so, for few would have been as quick as the lad to learn its presence.

But, whatever it might be, the young hunter determined that it should not find him unprepared. He brought his gun around in front, where he could grasp it with both hands, softly raised the hammer, and then stood for a full minute as rigid as the trunk of one of the trees beside him. His head was turned sideways, so that he could look in both directions. He neither saw nor heard anything.

Then he ran lightly and rapidly for full a hundred feet, stopping short again, and using his eyes and ears to the utmost. This time he not only heard, but saw something.

The same soft "pit-a-pat" struck his ear, but to his amazement it came from a point in front. While he was looking he caught the shadowy glimpse of some animal as it whisked over a part of the trail where a few rays of moonlight struck its body.

It was as large as a big dog, with a longer body and a sweeping tail. It was trotting not towards, but away from Jack, who decided at once that it was the wild beast known in the American forests as a panther, but called on the frontier a "painter."

There could be no doubt that he meant to make a supper off the young Kentuckian, for there are not many meals more tempting to such a creature than a plump boy about a dozen years old.

"If you capture me you've got to have a fight," muttered sturdy Jack Gedney, pressing his lips together and shaking his head; "but I wish the sun was shining, so that I could have a fair chance at you."

The panther was circling around the lad, gradually drawing nearer, and on the watch to leap upon him as soon as he dared to approach close enough to make the spring. The boy knew all about the treacherous animals, for he had been with his father when they were killed, and he had shot one within the preceding three months. But on all those occasions they had the daylight to help make their aim certain.

"He may get pretty close to me before I know it," thought Jack, "though he will have hard work to do it; but I don't think he can land on my shoulders at the first jump."

The boy now walked as lightly and as fast as he could. He varied his gait, for if he advanced at a regular pace the panther would have less trouble in securing his intended victim. Jack therefore advanced slowly, then stopped, and then ran with all the speed he could for fifty or sixty steps.

When he paused the third time after such a spurt, he had reached the log lying across the stream in the little hollow of which I have already spoken.

Here the trees were so scant that the whole space was lit up by the moonlight, and a small object could be seen quite clearly.

You may be sure that before stepping upon the rude bridge Jack peered long and earnestly in every direction. The tall columns of trees rose to view on each side of the stream, whose soft murmur mingled with the deep moaning of the woods, which comes to us in the night like the hollow roar of the distant ocean.

"Well, I don't mean to wait here all night," concluded Jack, stepping on the smaller end of the trunk, and beginning to pick his way to the other side; "I am ready to meet the painter whenever he wants to see me, but-"

The boy had advanced only three steps when the beast trotted rapidly from the gloom on the other shore, sprang upon the trunk of the tree which supported Jack Gedney, and lashing his tail and growling savagely, came straight towards him.

The panther did not trot after landing on the trunk, but crouched low, and moved slowly like a cat when about to spring on its prey.

Instead of retreating, as Jack was inclined at first to do, in order to get a more secure footing, he brought his gun to his shoulder, and aiming at a point midway between the glaring eye-balls, let fly at the instant the panther gathered his muscles for the leap meant to land him on the shoulders of the lad.

As it was, the beast did leave the log, but instead of bounding forward, he went straight up in the air, to a height as it seemed of six or eight feet, with a resounding screech, falling across the trunk, from which, after scratching, and clawing, and snarling for a few seconds, he rolled with a splash into the water, still struggling furiously, and scattering the spray upon both shores.

"I don't think you'll try to stop any more peaceable Kentucky boys on their way home at night-"

The lad had no more than spoken these words when a warning growl caused him to turn his head. There, no more than a dozen feet distant, and stealthily approaching, was a second panther-no doubt the mate of the first. And poor Jack Gedney's new rifle was empty!


While Jack Gedney stood on the fallen tree which spanned the stream, watching the panther's dying struggles in the water below, he suddenly learned that its mate was creeping upon him from the rear.

Jack did not stand still, but the next instant ran across the log to the solid ground on the other side. There he faced about, and began re-loading his rifle with the utmost haste, for you will admit that he had no time to lose.

The young hunter did not lose sight of the brute for a moment while hurrying the charge into the barrel of his weapon. He expected to be attacked before he could ram the bullet home, and he meant in such an event to club his gun, and using the butt once on the skull of his foe, draw his hunting knife from his inner pocket, and then have it out with him.

You will conclude that this was a big contract for a boy only twelve years old. So it was indeed, but, like a young pioneer, he had learned to depend on Heaven and himself, and he awaited the trial with as much coolness as his father could have done, even though he knew that the chances were ten to one against winning in a fight against such a muscular and ferocious beast.

The panther came forward on its slow, soft walk, until one paw rested on the log along which the lad had run only a moment before.

The animal formed an interesting figure as, placing the second paw beside the other on the log, he pushed his head forward, so as to peer over at the dark body drifting down stream. The action of the beast lifted his front so that his back sloped down towards his tail, which for the moment was motionless. The shoulder-blades were shoved in two lumps above the line of the neck, which, because of the nose thrust forward, looked unusually long.

Jack Gedney poured the powder from his horn into the palm of his left hand at the moment the panther rested both paws on the log. He noted the pause of the beast, and his heart leaped with the hope that there was a possibility of getting his gun loaded in time. Leaning his rifle far over, so as to make an inclined plane, he rapidly brought it up to the perpendicular as the black, sand-like particles streamed down the barrel.

Next he whipped out a bullet and the little square piece of greased cloth, shoving both into the muzzle of the weapon. Still the panther peered over the log at his lifeless mate.

As the loading of the weapon progressed Jack could hardly control his excitement. He snatched out the ramrod with such violence that it fell from his hand. Like a flash he stooped, caught it up, and began shoving the bullet down the tight-fitting bore of his gun.

He saw the panther move. With a fierce jamb the bullet was stopped by the thimbleful of powder nestling in the bottom of the barrel. Jack made sure the ball was pressed home when he snatched out the ramrod and let it fall to the ground: no time now to put it back in its place.

Only one more step-to pour the priming into the pan of his weapon. Jack's hands trembled as he drew back the iron jaw which gripped the flint, and dashed some powder into the cavity prepared for it. He was overrunning with hope.

The panther, as if satisfied with the last sight of his mate drifting down stream, turned his head and looked at the sturdy boy at the other end of the log. He slowly lashed his tail, and growled savagely, his looks and manners seeming to say-

"So you're the young gentleman who has just shot my mate! Such being the case, it is my duty to put it out of your power ever to do anything of the kind again. I am now going to eat you!"

All four feet were on the bridge, and the frightful beast took a couple of steps towards his victim. Then a resounding screech broke the stillness of the night, and the animal, leaping straight up in air, rolled back into the water, hardly making another struggle, for the second bullet of Jack Gedney had entered his neck and passed straight through his heart.

Stooping to the ground, the youth picked up his ramrod, and, without moving from the spot, re-charged his weapon. He did so with as much coolness as when firing a match with Mr. Burton and his boys.

"I don't think there are any more painters near," was his thought; "but I am ready for them if they will come one at a time, and far enough apart to give me a chance to load up."

And resting his gun on his shoulder, he took to the path, and walked steadily homeward.

His father and mother had just sat down to the supper table as he entered. The table was of the simplest make, and was without any cloth covering. Several pine boards rested on four legs-one at each corner-but it was as clean as it could be, and the pewter tea-pot and few dishes shone brightly enough to serve for mirrors. The bread was of dark colour, but sweet and light, and the bacon might not suit delicate palates, but those who ate of it did so with a relish as great as though it were roast turkey.

Mr. Gedney took turns with his wife and boy in asking a blessing upon each meal of which they partook. He nodded to Jack to signify that it was his turn, and the boy, closing his eyes, and reverently bending his head, begged in a few simple words the blessing of God upon the bounty which He had given them.

"Well," said the father in his cheery voice, as the meal began, "have you and the boys left any game in the woods for other folk?"

"Will and George had some work to do to-day, and their father could not spare them. But they promised to go with me on a hunt to-morrow."

"How have you spent the day?" asked the mother.

"I helped the boys until near night, and then started for home."

"Then you haven't had much chance to try your gun?" was the inquiring remark of the father.

"Not as much as I hoped, but we had a shooting match after dinner."

"A shooting match? How did you succeed?"

"Mr. Burton beat me."

"He is one of the finest shots in the West; he has actually beaten me once or twice! How about the boys?"

"They have never beaten me," was the smiling answer of Jack.

"Nor must they or any one else beat you," added Mr. Gedney, with a warning shake of his head. "But haven't you brought down any game?"

"Well, I shot a couple of painters on my way home," replied Jack, in the most indifferent manner, as he buried his big sound teeth into a slice of bread and butter.

"Did you kill them both?" asked the mother between her sips of tea.

"Both are so dead that they couldn't be any deader," was the reply of Jack.

"After supper you can tell us about it," said the father, showing no more interest than if they were talking about the "barking" of a couple of squirrels.

Now, brave and cool as was Jack Gedney, he felt some pride in his exploit, for it is not often that one is able to kill two such fierce animals as the American panther without receiving a scratch himself. But he was not the boy to force his story upon his friends, and so he finished his meal, and finally sat down by the broad, cheerful fireplace.

Opposite to him was his father, smoking his pipe, and his mother, having cleared away the supper things, took up her knitting for the evening. The only light came from the blazing logs on the hearth. This was enough to fill the large room, and render a candle or lamp unnecessary. The plain calico curtains were not drawn across the narrow windows, and the latch-string was left hanging outside, so that any one who chose could enter without knocking.

Jack waited until asked by his father to tell how it was he came to kill two "painters." Then he gave the story as it has been given to you.

The mother did not stop her knitting during the narration, nor did the father cease to smoke in his deliberate way, nor ask any question until it was finished. Then he made some natural inquiries, and remarked that he did not see how Jack could have done better than he did.

After this the conversation took a general turn, and lasted perhaps a couple of hours. Finally, the latch-string was drawn in, a chapter read from the Bible, prayer offered up by the father, after which the little family went to bed.


The next morning was a perfect day for the young hunters. The sun shone brightly from the unclouded sky, and the air was crisp and keen with the breath of autumn. The experienced eye of the father told him that there was not likely to be any change very soon, and in his mild way he congratulated his son on the prospect of the pleasant hunt that was before him and his young friends.

The agreement with the latter was that they were to wait at their home for Jack, when the three would start into the interior on a hunt that was likely to last two, if not more, days. Mr. Gedney was not one of those who thought his boy was too young to work. There were always a number of small jobs known in the West as "chores," which it was the duty of Jack to attend to, and which he dared not slight.

Thus it came about that, although the boy rose at an unusually early hour, and his mother hurried his morning meal for him, yet when he started eastward along the path leading to his friends, the sun was creeping above the horizon.

The preparations for the journey were few. All the bullets that were likely to be needed had been made by Mr. Gedney himself several days before; the powder-horn was filled, and nothing was lacking in that line. Then Jack, like his father, always carried a flint and steel with him, so as to be able to start a fire when he wanted it. (The lucifer match was not invented until a good many years after.) Then he had a pinch of mixed pepper and salt, wrapped in a piece of paper, and meant to be used in seasoning the game which they ate. A few other knick-knacks were stowed away in his inner pocket, and, kissing his parents "good-bye," he entered the path at the other end of the clearing, and walked briskly towards the home of his young friends.

When he reached the crossing where he shot the panthers the night before, he naturally looked for the carcases of the animals. They were not in sight, having been carried away by the current.

"They've got mighty sharp claws," Jack said to himself, as he looked down at the scratches in the wood made by the beast before it dropped into the water. "It was well for me that I was able to shoot that other fellow before he could pounce upon me."

On the other side of the stream was a small area in the path, where the ground was so spongy that it showed any light imprint upon it. Jack looked at the impression left by his own heavy shoe, and then uttered an expression of astonishment.

And well he might do so, for there, beside the imprint of his shoe, was that of an Indian moccasin (or foot covering), made, too, since Jack had passed that way the evening before.

"Ah, ha," he muttered, looking keenly about him, "there are Indians not far off; I wonder whether they are Shawnees, Hurons, Wyandots, Pottawatomies, or what? Are they hunting for scalps or wild game?"

It would seem that the most natural thing for the boy to do under such circumstances was to turn back home and tell his father about the discovery he had made; but Jack had no thought of that; he had started out for a hunt, and he was not going to let such a trifle as a few prowling Indians turn him back. The young hunter noticed that the toe of the moccasin pointed eastward-that is, in the direction he himself was travelling.

"Maybe the boys have seen something of him," was his thought, as he pushed along the path; "he may be some friendly warrior who has stopped to ask for something to eat."

Jack Gedney had not walked twenty steps beyond the bridge when he heard a fierce threshing among the trees and undergrowth, which he knew was made by an animal in its frenzied flight. The next moment a noble-looking buck broke cover on his right, less than a hundred feet away, and bounded straight across the path in front of the boy, whose trusty rifle was at his shoulder on the instant.

As the animal turned his broad side towards Jack the latter sent a bullet behind the fore-leg, at the point where it was sure to tear its way clean through the heart, and shatter bone and muscle as it skimmed into the woods beyond.

The buck took two more of his tremendous bounds, as if he were unhurt, and he might have gone still farther had he not crashed straight against the trunk of a tree, from which he recoiled, and sank to the ground limp and lifeless.

Jack started to run towards his prize, but recalling the warning of his father, checked himself, and re-loaded his gun before leaving the path. This was soon done, and then he broke into a trot which quickly took him to the side of the prize.

The young hunter's eyes sparkled.

"He's one of the finest animals I ever saw. Hallo! – "

He was looking at the tiny red orifice where his bullet had entered, and from which the life current was flowing, when he saw the feathered tip of an Indian arrow just under the fore part of the buck. Seizing the front legs, he rolled the animal over on the other side.

As he did so he saw that an arrow had been driven into the side of the deer, close to where his bullet had come out.

The wound thus made must have been mortal, though, as you may know, it is almost impossible to fire a shot that will instantly bring down one of these animals.

There could be but one meaning to this-an Indian had shot the buck before Jack fired at it.

"Of course he will claim it," thought the young hunter; "but I am not sure that it belongs to him, for from the way the deer was running it looked as if he was not going to give up for a long time, if indeed he would have fallen at all. But we shall soon know."

The cause of the last remark was the sight of the Indian who doubtless fired the arrow. Jack, on looking at him, saw with pleasure that he was not a full-grown warrior, but a boy who could not have been much older than himself.

The young Indian wore the fringed hunting shirt, leggings, and beaded moccasins of his people, had a row of beads around his neck, a quiver of arrows over his left shoulder, and a long bow in his left hand. In the belt which clasped the waist of his deer-skin hunting shirt were thrust a tomahawk and hunting knife, so that he was as fully armed as most of his people.

The face was broad, with high cheek-bones, small twinkling bead-like eyes, broad thick nose, and retreating chin, the whole daubed with greasy yellow, red, and black paint, in the shape of circles, dots, and all sorts of hideous devices for which room could be found.

From a glance at the colours used in the dress of the Indian and on his countenance, Jack formed the conclusion that he belonged to the Wyandot tribe, many of whom he had met.

The young Indian must have believed he was a terrible-looking fellow, and that no white lad dare dispute him, for he strode along like one who knows he is master, and stopping a few steps away, pointed down at the smitten buck.

"He mine," he muttered, in good English; "me shoot him."

"So I see," calmly remarked Jack. "And I shot him too."

As he spoke he pointed to the place where the ball had left the body, close to the entrance of the arrow. The Indian stooped down, and with some dexterity pushed the latter through the body of the deer, drawing it out on the other side. The head of such a missile, as you can well see, is so fashioned that it cannot be drawn back after being driven into any body.

Rising to his feet, the young Wyandot restored the shaft to its place in his quiver, and repeated his remark:

"He mine; me shoot him with arrow."

Now there was no cause for Jack Gedney having a dispute with the Indian. The latter was welcome to the game, for Jack could do nothing with it, unless to run back home and tell his father to come and claim it. It was within convenient reach, but rather than give the time that this would take, the youth would have preferred to lose several such deer.

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