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THE PRIVATEER OF THE PRAIRIES.

SURPRISING EXPERIENCES OP JOHN YOUNG NELSON.

[From Our Special Correspondent. J

London, June 21

The most remarkable book published this week, or indeed for some time, is a volume of ‘ Reminiscences of Sport and Adventure,’ by John Young Nelson, who boasts having lived for fifty years on the prairies of the Far West. During that time Nelson played many parts, and enjoyed many strange experiences. Ho has been a Mormon, a professional gambler, a guide, a trapper, a cabin boy, and an initiated Sioux. His morality (as he frankly admits) won’t bear close inspection, but his adventures are delightful, and in many cases unique. “This moiiern picaroon, this privateer of the prairie, was born” (fays a ‘Daily News’ correspondent) “in 1820 at Charleston, in Virginia. He was born with a little of the poet in him, with a great deal of the gipsy, and with all the native delight iu danger which may come from Norse blood. For Nelson is 1 Njal’s son ’; our hero bears the same family name as Skarphedin in the Saga, and as the great English sailor who ‘never saw fear,’ Iu reading his memoirs, which he reluctantly narrated to Mr llaningtun O’Reilly, Mr Nelson constantly reminds us of his probable ancestors. He has the Scandinavian love of roaming, on the endless sea of the prairie, he has the delight in danger and in war ; he has the cool, contemptuous humor of the indomitable North. His book is really the Saga of the plains; a page in the history of the conquest of the West. Mr Nelson had a, stormy youth. His father had bidden him ‘ never light a nigger ’; but if he fought he must never be defeated. At the age of eix he engaged a young negro, was being beaten, and was at the same time corrected by his parent. So ho nearly cut the negro to pieces with a bit of old iron, and was all the more diligently whacked by his parent. His early record was one of mischief and discipline. He ran away, was caught, tethered to his father’s saddle, and beaten all along the homeward route. So he ran off again, became a cabin boy, and then a waiter on board a steamer. Then, at the age of fourteen, he was a farm servant, and, like Amyas Leigh, knocked a schoolmaster down with a slate for bullying a girl. This exploit caused a new flight; ho joined a band of explorers on the plains, became a great rider and hunter, but was always haunted by love of a more lonely and uncivilised existence. The voice of the empty prairies called to him, the spirit of wandering possessed him, and he fled into the solitudes. Finding a camp of Indians (Sioux) he walked into a tent, and eat down, like a Homeric suppliant, by the hearth. Budge he would not, and the Indians were obliged to adopt him, as they did John Tanner some fifty years before. llis account of Indian life is charming. The tribes were innocent, happy children, he says, before the white man brought them poisonous whisky and gunpowder. They w’ere Communists iu one sense, for their ambition and point of honor were to be poor, not rich. At the great Sun Feast men gave all their goods away, and ou other occasions present giving was the rule. They lived well on buffalo and other game ; they were generous, honorable, but very free and easy with the Seventh Commandmen*'. In brief, theirs was Scandinavian morality of the heroic age, the ethics of Odin Nelson’s account of an Indian wooing is both comic and touching. The brave, wrapped iu his blanket, waits by the water side till the fair comes to fill her pitcher at sunset. Then he throws his blanket over her bead and his, and in this privacy ho proposes. This is repeated ten nights, and then the maiden says 1 \ es.’ The lover next sends horses to the lady’s parents, and if these arc accepted the affair is settled. When she reaches her new wigwam the bride is ‘ like ft small wild bird caught and held in the hand.’ She maintains an extraordinary reserve for about a month, and then emerges from her shyness and is full of fun. But the idyll always ended badly, and (as in John Tanner’s case) all of Mr Kelson’s brides, except his present wedded wife, eloped with members of their own race. But Nelson behaved with the calm of the Persians in Herodotus, who declared that ‘to run away with women was the part of wicked men, and to be. indifferent on the matter was the conduct of wise cues.’ Among Nelson’s adventures the most curious was his encounter with Brigham Young and the early Mormons whom he led across the plains, much suffering from their long sermons. With them he caught the first view of the Great Salt Lake, a romantic moment, for what they took to be a cloud was ‘ the summit of a perpendicular mass of rook, rising from a gigantic Jake that lay before us.’ In later days Mr Nelson allowed himself to be baptised into the Mormon Church with ns careless a heart as any' convert of Thangbrand or Olaf the Saint. Ho despised the Mormons, laughed at their faith, and loathed their bloodthirsty * destroying angels,’ but ho was one of those equable theologians who would turn Turk or Jew for a temporal paradise. He never made a fortune, though he once kept a drinking and gambling hell styled ‘ The Robber’s Roost.’ ‘ The bank always won ;’ but, when ho had sold the concern, he went back and gambled away all his gains at the very partial roulette table where he had made them. In short, except for a generous heart, a plucky spirit, and a love of the Red Man and the wild wood, Mr Nelson’s moral character is devoid of prejudice, and his theology is not remarkable for scruple. His wives have been the chief thorns in his side, and one squaw, in an hour of family affliction, gave away every article of property that she possessed. Like a heroine of Miss Rossetti’s she a’so ‘gave up beauty in her tender youth,’ cutting herself to ribbons with a knife. 11 is the Indian way of wearing mourning. Nelson’s anecdotes of Border ‘ Bersarks,’ ruffians mad with the lust of blood, are almost too dreadful to quote, and his artist has been too conscientious iu illustrating horrors. But the book has all the air of truth, and illustrates most strikingly the revival of Scandinavian barbarism in the English character wlien the wild element gets a fair chance. The stories of Yankee corruption and cruel theft from the Indians are even more discreditable to human nature than the shootings and slayings.”

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Permanent link to this item

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890824.2.38.5

Bibliographic details

THE PRIVATEER OF THE PRAIRIES., Evening Star, Issue 7994, 24 August 1889, Supplement

Word Count
1,139

THE PRIVATEER OF THE PRAIRIES. Evening Star, Issue 7994, 24 August 1889, Supplement

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