"Oh, the spirits," he said. "It is too bad."
"If his is not true toad magic, how does he know where to make the toad run?" I said.
"You don't understand about tricks," said Badthing. "While my body slept last night I had my ghost watch Yellow Head. When the fires were out he left the camp and rode until he found the buffalo herd. It is moving this way from where he said. He had a hard ride and got back a short time ago. My ghost saw it all."
I could see the braves were ready to leave. Most had stripped down to breechclouts and moccasins despite the chill. Their hair was unadorned and some had it tied back. Their bodies and their ponies were painted with buffalo and hunting signs and some wore their particular vision symbols. Each man had his arrows marked so the skinners could return them. The women of the skinning and butchering party were going out with their horses dragging empty sleds. I wished Badthing good luck and received his blessing, noting over his shoulder that one of his horses was very lathered. As I went to my blankets, Yellow Head was conducting another ceremony. After much pipe smoke and many invokings of supernatural help, he released a raven. The raven circled and then flew to the northeast. That cinched it for most of the hunters. But it was not much of a feat. Ravens nearly always head for a big buffalo herd, as there is much for a bird to feast on in such a vicinity. I once saw a buffalo magician release two doves to fly toward a herd. The night before he had located not only the buffaloes but a pond near the herd. Doves seldom fail to fly to water in the morning.
I checked my Sharps .50 with the octagonal barrel and heavy action and breech that are vital if you are going to shoot many overcharged bullets from much range. The evening previous I had cleaned the rifle carefully and had loaded my bottleneck shells, stuffing black powder down to half an inch of the top, putting the rimmer in, tapping it with a hammer, setting the wadding on top of that, putting in a pinch more gunpowder and then the bullet. I had taken to loading a 90-grain cartridge with up to 110 grains of powder, but I insisted on doing the loading myself. You don't want an accident or a jamming when you are in a hot stand. I also took along my old Henry rifle, as I intended to join in the chase, and my pistol and Bowie knife for emergencies. Hunting buffaloes, even from horseback, can be done without too much risk, but the beasts are quite volatile when finally aroused and an emergency can be on you before you see it coming.
As we were leaving camp a scout came in and told us the herd was about 10 miles away having its morning graze in a big flat between a dry arroyo and a long low mesa. Yellow Head didn't bother to brag, he was that arrogant. Badthing didn't bother to listen, he was that angry. Charlie Otter grunted at the scout, looked at the two medicine men and grinned. We rode out and by 9 o'clock were in position.
I crawled for 20 minutes through the mesquite, sage and cactus, but I had put leather pads on my knees and elbows and the crawl was not bad except that I kept getting dirt and pebbles inside my pants. I selected a spot behind a sage thicket 200 yards from the herd, which was in a flat, upwind and slightly below me. To the rear of the herd about 700 yards from me, the blue shadow of the low mesa the scout had described fell across the hindmost buffaloes. The Quahadi were in the arroyo below and 100 yards to my left. There were 30 of them standing beside their ponies strung along the wash. I laid out my equipment and set up my forked shooting stick so near into the thicket that sage scratched my left cheek. Then I examined the herd, looking for the leaders. It was not a truly large herd, not more than 400 animals, but that was the average. Those herds of 50,000 or more that the tales are told about were never common in my experience, although I did witness a few of them.
The herd was grazing slowly and without alarm. There were a few bulls placed here and there to fend off the wolves, but inside the ring the animals grazed in bunches. The cows and calves grazed in separate bunches from the bulls as a rule. I started with the nearest bunch and decided it had two leaders, both of them old cows. I wiped off and adjusted the bone sights on the Sharps and took aim at the closest cow. There was hardly any windage to think about, which was lucky not only for the shooting but because a herd can spook quickly from no more than the shadow of a blowing cloud.
I shot her through the lungs. As the soft lead smacked into her, she took one step backwards, spewed blood from her nose and fell over dead. The other cow looked up for a second before resuming grazing, but the rest paid the dead cow no mind. I had guessed right about the leaders. What those buffaloes saw was a small puff of smoke and then their leader lay down. They did not connect those events. If the leader had started to run—as they frequently do after a heart shot, sometimes going a quarter of a mile—they all would have run with her. I reloaded and shot the other cow. At her death two more cows looked up, so I marked them for next as curious beasts can be pesty ones. It was a clean stand. Taking the nearest and then working back, changing that method only for the inquisitive, I killed 30 buffaloes and they all fell within a radius of 40 yards. They would erupt blood, stumble and flop over. One bull alone was 1,400 pounds and stood six feet high at the shoulder. So there were 30 fall hides worth about $60 to the buyers. And maybe 15,000 pounds of meat, bone, tallow, sinew and whatnot for the Quahadi.
As I looked to the next targets, a bunch near the dead ones began bawling. They started coming over to peer and sniff at the dead ones and kept up bawling louder until the bawling spread through the herd. The bawling was a grieving sound, although perhaps I thought that because I had done the killing. I kept on killing until my shoulder hurt and I had to cool the rifle barrel with a kidney of water I had brought from camp. A hot barrel swells and causes bullets to dance. By now there were 47 dead ones. The live ones tore the ground with their hoofs, milled around, shook their horns, drooled long strings of saliva and bawled at the blood and death that they could not comprehend.