Famous Men of the Santa Fe Trail

Jim Baker’s opinions of the wild Indians of the Great Plains and the mountains were very decided: “That they are the most onsartinist varmints in all creation, an’ I reckon thar not more’n half human; for you never seed a human, arter you’d fed an’ treated him to the best fixin’s in your lodge, jis turn round and steal all your horses, or ary other thing he could lay his hands on. No, not adzactly. He would feel kind o’ grateful and ask you to spread a blanket in his lodge ef you ever came his way. But the Injin don’t care shucks for you, and is ready to do you a lot of mischief as soon as he quits your feed. No, Cap.,” he said to Marcy when relating this, “it’s not the right way to make ’em gifts to buy a peace; but ef I war gov’nor of these United States, I’ll tell what I’d do. I’d invite ’em all to a big feast, and make ’em think I wanted to have a talk; and as soon as I got ’em together, I’d light in and raise the har of half of ’em, and then t’other half would be mighty glad to make terms that would stick. That’s the way I’d make a treaty with the dog’oned red-bellied varmints; and as sure as you’re born, Cap., that’s the only way.”

The general, when he first met Baker, inquired of him if he had traveled much over the settlements of the United States before he came to the mountains; to which he said: “Right smart, right smart, Cap.” He then asked whether he had visited New York or New Orleans. “No, I hasn’t, Cap., but I’ll tell you whar I have been. I’ve been mighty nigh all over four counties in the State of Illinois!”

He was very fond of his Indian wife and children and usually treated them kindly; only when he was in liquor did he at all maltreat them.

Once he came over into New Mexico, where General Marcy was stationed at the time and determined that for the time being he would cast aside his leggings, moccasins, and other mountain dress, and wear a civilized wardrobe. Accordingly, he fitted himself out with one. When Marcy met him shortly after he had donned the strange clothes, he had undergone such an entire change that the general remarked he should hardly have known him. He did not take kindly to this, and said: “Consarn these store boots, Cap.; they choke my feet like h—l.” It was the first time in 20 years that he had worn anything on his feet but moccasins and they were not ready for the torture inflicted by breaking in a new pair of absurdly fitting boots. He soon threw them away and resumed the softer foot-gear of the mountains.

Baker was a famous bear hunter and had been at the death of many a grizzly. On one occasion he was setting his traps with a comrade on the headwaters of the Arkansas River when they suddenly met two young grizzly bears about the size of full-grown dogs. Baker remarked to his friend that if they could “light in and kill the varmints ” with their knives, it would be a big thing to boast of. They both accordingly laid aside their rifles and “lit in,” Baker attacking one and his comrade the other. The bears immediately raised themselves on their haunches and were ready for the encounter. Baker ran around, endeavoring to get in a blow from behind with his long knife; but the young brute he had tackled was too quick for him, and turned as he went around so as always to confront him face to face. He knew if he came within reach of his claws, that although young, he could inflict a formidable wound; moreover, he was in fear that the howls of the cubs would bring the infuriated mother to their rescue when the hunters’ chances of getting away would be slim. These thoughts floated hurriedly through his mind and made him desirous to end the fight as soon as he could. He made many vicious lunges at the bear, but the animal invariably warded them off with his strong forelegs like a boxer. This kind of tactics, however, cost the lively beast several severe cuts on his shoulders, which made him the more furious. At length he took the offensive, and with his mouth frothing with rage, bounded toward Baker, who caught and wrestled with him, succeeding in giving him a death-wound under the ribs.

While all this was going on, his comrade had been furiously engaged with the other bear, and by this time had become greatly exhausted, with the odds decidedly against him. He entreated Baker to come to his assistance at once, which he did; but much to his astonishment, as soon as he entered the second contest his comrade ran off, leaving him to fight the battle alone. He was, however, again victorious, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing his two antagonists stretched out in front of him, but as he expressed it, ” I made my mind up I’d never fight nary nother grizzly without a good shootin’-iron in my paws.”

He established a little store at the crossing of Green River, and had for some time been doing a fair business in trafficking with the emigrants and trading with the Indians; but shortly a Frenchman came to the same locality and set up a rival establishment, which, of course, divided the limited trade, and naturally reduced the income of Baker’s business.

This engendered a bitter feeling of hostility, which soon culminated in a cessation of all social intercourse between the two men. About this time General Marcy arrived there on his way to California, and he described the situation of affairs:

“I found Baker standing in his door, with a revolver loaded and cocked in each hand, very drunk and immensely excited. I dismounted and asked him the cause of all this disturbance. He answered: ‘That thar yaller-bellied, toad-eatin’ Parly Voo, over thar, an’ me, we’ve been havin’ a small chance of a scrimmage today. The sneakin’ polecat, I’ll raise his har yet, ef he don’t quit these diggins’!’

“It seems that they had an altercation in the morning, which ended in a challenge when they ran to their cabins, seized their revolvers, and from the doors, which were only about a hundred yards from each other, fired. Then they retired to their cabins, took a drink of whiskey, reloaded their revolvers, and again renewed the combat. This strange duel had been going on for several hours when I arrived, but, fortunately for them, the whiskey had such an effect on their nerves that their aim was very unsteady, and none of the shots had as yet taken effect.

“I took away Baker’s revolvers, telling him how ashamed I was to find a man of his usually good sense making such a fool of himself. He gave in quietly, saying that he knew I was his friend, but did not think I would wish to have him take insults from a cowardly Frenchman.

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