Anyone who has prospected around through the mountains in those days [the early 1860s] came in contact with hostile Indians, more or less, and I had several experiences of that kind. One in which I took a deep interest, is perhaps more a story of a mule than of Indians, though they make a good background. The mule that I owned was a good sized animal with unlimited powers of endurance apparently, and was better than a watchdog so far as Indians or bears were concerned: could detect the approach of either for quite a distance and had the useful habit of running into camp immediately, so we had warning that one or the other was around. This particular mule was an innocent-looking animal and very gentle when not frightened and yet I never had confidence enough in him to approach him from the rear, for he had a marvelous quickness in elevating his hind feet and an accuracy in judging distance that was surprising, and would buck a little sometimes. He was, however, averse to making rapid progress while under the saddle. A mere switch seemed to excite his mirth and would perhaps be answered by a little flip of the tail; but he could move as I will now relate.
Far in the Rocky mountains one day I left the party I was with early in the morning on the mule to try and get some fresh meat and hunted all day nearly without result. I was skirting along the higher peaks of the mountains but going in the general direction the party was traveling. It was not thought there were any Indians in the neighborhood, but it seems there was a party of braves hunting game on the opposite side of the valley, which was narrow in places and widened out occasionally, through which the road ran, who were not averse to taking a scalp if it came handy. About 4 o’clock I concluded to ride down to the road and join the party, who were about ten miles distant, and started for a long backbone or ridge running down that I thought would be good traveling. As a precaution I dismounted and looked over before riding up to the top. I could see both ways for quite a distance, and about half a mile, perhaps, coming on our trail, I saw a number of Indians traveling slow. As it would not do for me to let the Indians get between me and the party, I started down the side of the ridge, keeping that between us, but I knew that they would see me from the ridge where the road ran across it.
I tied myself on with a rope around the mule so that in case I was shot the mule could take me to camp, and I would not fall into the hands of the Indians. The hill was precipitous in places and the mule resented my efforts to hurry, so that when I finally reached the road the Indians were not farther away than a quarter of a mile. My fear was that among them there would be some fast ponies that would overtake me in a short race, but I knew that in a long race that could not be done, unless the mule was shot. I reached the road just about the time the Indians arrived at the top of the ridge and saw me. I was urging my animal but could not induce him to go faster than a slow lope. The road ran at a slight angle from the Indians so I could see them. Ahead, it went down hill for a quarter of a mile, then up a long slope. And just as I expected, three or four of the Indians gained on me fast until they must have been within a couple of hundred yards; they were shooting and yelling, but were poorly armed and did no damage. I did not want to shoot back because, although I had a good rifle and a good six-shooter, they were both muzzle-loaders. I thought best to wait ’til they got close, as I could not reload easily.
About this time the mule woke up; I had done him an injustice in thinking an Indian pony could approach him; he gave a snort and struck out with a speed that was astounding, and, looking back at the Indians, their horses seemed to be hobbled from the way we were leaving them. When we reached the top of the slope the Indians were fully a quarter of a mile behind and losing ground all the time. I tried to stop the mule so I could shoot back, but he paid no attention whatever to my pulling on the reins. I might as well have tried to stop a locomotive with a tow string. I could only use one hand though, as I held the gun with the other and it was bobbing around in great shape. This John Gilpin gait was kept up until we reached camp, up hill and down, all the same. I have always been grateful to the mule for that ride, but have often regretted our differences of opinion about stopping at the top of the slope. I thought at the time there were at least a hundred Indians, but I am not so sure about that now, as I did not think of counting them, but I am positive there were as many as five. My impression is that there was very little difference between the mule’s state of mind and my own the first few hundred yards, still I do not recall noticing that his hair stood on end. — Alonzo L. Richardson

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