His friends would call him a man of tolerable disposition, capable and quiet, not given to drunkenness or behavior of poor repute. Jedidiah “Jed” Smith stood alone on the ridge overlooking his cabin in a quiet, secluded valley. He was clothed in buckskins made from deer hide, decorated in beads of bone, shell, and porcupine quill, and furs taken from an old bear. With the trappers treasured .30 caliber Hawken cradled in one arm, his eyes roamed the snow covered trees around him. It was his last chance to get a deer or an elk before he wandered down into the valley and returned to the place he would call home for the next fortnight.
His ‘wife’, Sally Two-Trees, a squaw he’d taken from up in the Bitterroot range, would like it if he came home with fresh meat for her. His horse, Jake, nickered behind him, and Jed froze. Using only his eyes, he scanned the horizon again. Jake only nickered when others were near. Exhaling slowly, he waited for the frozen vapor from his breath to clear, thankful yet again for the wolverine hood Sally had made him last year. The fur didn’t collect frost the way buckskin or bison did. Slow movement from the trees to his left, and Jed saw her approaching them. Her basket carried against one hip, full of different things she’d collected from around the woods surrounding their home. She stopped when she felt Jed’s eyes on her, and smiled when he did.
Jed was all set to sweep her off her feet and carry her down to the cabin when she pointed into a little copse of undergrowth about thirty yards from where Jed stood. Using sign, she said, “Deer, two of them.”
She smiled again when Jed nodded his understanding. Slowly reaching into his possibles bag, he removed a primer cap, and affixed it to the striking pan of the Hawken, which had already been loaded and otherwise primed for firing. He then, in one careful move, turned towards the copse as he raised the rifle to his shoulder. Blue eyes, sharp as a hawk’s yet squinted from the sun, waited for the tell tale twitch of an ear, or a tail. When the doe turned her head to look at him, Jed squeezed the trigger, and felt the rifle kick into his shoulder just as the loud report echoed down the valley.
Birds took to the air in frantic flight to get away from the noise. A yearling fawn, now motherless, ran panicked into the trees, branches cracking in front of it as it moved blindly through them. Sally was already moving towards the doe before the echo died away. Her basket still cradled against her. By the time Jed had calmed his horse and pack mule, both heavily laden with pelts, furs, and other supplies, Sally was already well into the job of cleaning the kill.
Jed approached her, and found her elbows deep inside the belly of the deer. She removed the entrails, and set aside the intestines, stomach, liver, heart, and kidneys. Very little of the animal would go to waste under her knowledgeable hands. With fingers deft from years of practice, she wove a quick basket of pine boughs, to be used only the one time, to carry the innards home in. The deer itself was dragged behind the pack mule on a travois made of pine boughs as well. The mule didn’t like being so close to the fresh blood, and Jed had to walk by it, and reassure it frequently with soft spoken words, but eventually they made it home.
The cabin itself was a ramshackle affair. Before he married, Jed used it only infrequently, for a week or two at a time throughout the year. It was logs and mud cement set in a depression in the ground. A stone chimney rose out of a fireplace across from the small door. The cabin had no windows. Up here in the Sawtooths, the weather was brutally cold come the winter months, and windows let in that cold. The only light inside the cabin came from the fire. Inside it smelled of smoke and cooking meat, pine wood and animal skins. It was a trapper’s cabin, and one Sally had turned into a home. It was here traps were fixed and clothes repaired. Hides were stretched, tanned, and made ready for sale come rendezvous. Care would be taken towards the weapons Jed carried too. Bullets were made, his guns, knives, and axes cleaned, and the time taken to make the food Jed would eat while out setting his traps and obtaining the hides that supported his way of life.
Upon entering the cabin, Sally quickly went about the work of cleaning the stomach and intestines, before she cut up the kidneys and heart to add to her stew pot. The smell of meat and vegetables cooking as she scraped the tender morsels into the pot made Jed’s stomach rumble. It has been a long time since he’d eaten a good stew, and Sally’s were among the best he’d even had. Bits of meat were cut into it along with juniper berries, cattail roots, wild onions, and then it was all flavored with herbs she collected during the year. While she tended to her jobs, Jed went back outside to tend to his horse and mule.
The animals were unpacked, unbridled, brushed, and set into a little corral that butted up against the cabin. He gave them feed and some water before picking up the deer carcass and taking it back inside. That evening was spent talking in quiet tones, in a rudimentary language the two had developed between them that consisted of sign, her native Skitswish, or Coeur D’Alene, and English. As they spoke to each other, each had jobs to do. Jed butchered the deer, and set aside the brain and hide to be used for tanning. Sally worked at her cooking, and sat near the fire as she sewed on some garment she was making.
When evening came, they retired to a bed of soft furs, in a dark corner of the cabin. Jed sighed in contentment just before turning to his wife. At rendezvous, many said that a squaw was nothing but mean, with a heart harder than granite stone. While he’d smile at them tolerantly, Jed found his opinion to be different. When she was treated kindly, with dignity and respect, he found that there was no softer pillow than a woman’s bosom, nor no warmer blanket than her loving arms. His life was as he wanted it. He was home and content, and showed his contentment by attending to his wife with kisses and hugs, which soon became more. Life was good here in the wilderness. Out where the wind blows.
© 2016, Tim Hillebrant. All rights reserved.
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