|The Burgess Animal Book for Children|
|by Thornton Burgess|
|To answer Peter Rabbit’s questions about his relatives, Old Mother Nature holds a school for the animals every day at sun-up for a month. Encouraging the animals to notice the differences between them and to offer their observa-tions of animal behavior, Old Mother Nature helps them all gain a greater understanding of the mammals of North America. Starting with the animals close to home, the school moves in ever-widening circles to encompass the animals of the far west and the extreme north, as well. A fine introduction to mammals for students in the primary grades. Ages 6-9 |
THUNDERFOOT, FLEETFOOT AND LONGCOAT
 "WHO remembers the name of the order to which all members of the
Deer family belong?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"I remember what it means, but not the name," spoke up Happy Jack
Squirrel. "It means hoofed."
"It is Un—Un-Ungu—" began Peter Rabbit and then stopped. For
the life of him he couldn't think of the rest.
"Ungulata," Old Mother Nature finished for him. "And Happy Jack
has the meaning right. It is the order to which all hoofed animals
belong. There are several families in the order, one of which you
already have learned about—the Deer family. Now comes the family
of Cattle and Sheep. It is called the Bovidae family, and the
biggest and most important member is Thunderfoot the Bison,
commonly called Buffalo.
"Thunderfoot is more closely related to Bossy,
 Farmer Brown's Cow,
than are the members of the Deer family, for he has true horns, not
antlers. These are hollow and are not dropped each year, but are
carried through life. Mrs. Thunderfoot has them also. The horns
grow out from the sides of the forehead and then curve upward and
inward, and are smooth and sharp. They are never branched.
"Thunderfoot is a great, heavy fellow the size of Farmer Brown's
Ox, and has a great hump on his shoulders. He carries his head
low and from his throat hangs a great beard. His head is large
and is so covered with thick, curly hair that it appears much
larger than it really is. His tail is rather short and ends in a
tassel of hair. The hair on his body and hind quarters is short
and light brown, but on his shoulders and neck and his fore legs
to the knees it is long and shaggy, dark brown above and almost
"He must be a queer looking fellow," spoke up Chatterer the
"He is," replied Old Mother Nature. "The front half of him looks
so much bigger than the rear half that it almost seems as if they
didn't belong together."
"What does he eat?" asked Jumper the Hare.
"Grass," replied Old Mother Nature promptly. "He grazes just as
does Bossy. When the weather
 becomes hot his thick coat, although
much of it has been shed, becomes most uncomfortable. Also he is
tormented by flies. Then he delights in rolling in mud until he
is plastered with it from head to feet.
"Many years ago there were more Bison than any other large animal
in this country, and they were found in nearly all parts of it.
Some lived in the woods and were called Wood Buffaloes, but the
greatest number lived on the great plains and prairies, where the
grass was plentiful. I have told you about the great herd of
Barren Ground Caribou, but this is nothing to the great herds of
Bison that used to move north or south, according to the season,
across the great prairies. In the fall they moved south. In the
spring they moved north, following the new grass as it appeared.
When they galloped, the noise of their feet was like thunder.
"But the hunters with terrible guns came and killed them for their
skins, killed them by hundreds of thousands, and in just a few years
those great herds became only a memory. Thunderfoot, once Lord of
the Prairies, was driven out of all his great kingdom, and the Bison,
from being the most numerous of all large animals, is to-day reduced
to just a few hundreds, and most of these are kept in parks by man.
Barely in time did
 man make laws to protect Thunderfoot. Without
this protection he would not exist to-day.
"A close neighbor of Thunderfoot's in the days when he was Lord
of the Prairies was Fleetfoot the Antelope. Fleetfoot is about
the size of a small Deer, and in his graceful appearance reminds
one of Lightfoot, for he has the same trim body and long slim legs.
He is built for speed and looks it. From just a glance at him you
would know him for a runner just as surely as a look at Jumper the
Hare would tell you that he must travel in great bounds. The truth
is, Fleetfoot is the fastest runner among all my children in this
country. Not one can keep up with him in a race.
Unless rigidly protected this
beautiful animal will soon become extinct.
"Fleetfoot's coat is a light yellowish-brown on the back and white
underneath. His forehead is brown and the sides of his face white.
His throat and under side of his neck are white, crossed by two bands
of brown. His hoofs, horns and eyes are black, and there is a black
spot under each ear. Near the end of his nose he is also black, and
down the back of his neck is a black line of stiff longer hairs. A
large white patch surrounds his short tail. Who remembers what I
told you about Antelope Jack, the big Jack Hare of the Southwest?"
"I do!" cried Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare together.
 "What was it, Jumper?" asked Old Mother Nature.
"You said that he has a way of making the white of his sides seem
to grow so that he seems almost all white, and can signal his
friends in this way," replied Jumper.
"Quite right," replied Old Mother Nature. "I am glad to find that
you remember so well. Fleetfoot does the same thing with this
white patch around his tail. The hairs are quite long and he can
make them spread out so that that white patch becomes much larger,
and when he is running it can be seen flashing in the sun long after
he is so far away that nothing else of him can be seen. His eyes
are wonderfully keen, so by means of these white patches he and his
friends can signal each other when they are far apart.
"Fleetfoot has true horns, but they are unlike any other horns in
that they are shed every year, just like the antlers of the Deer
family. They grow straight up just over the eyes, are rather short,
and fork. One branch is much shorter than the other, and the longer
one is turned over at the end like a hook. From these horns he gets
the name of Pronghorn.
"When running from danger he carries his head low and makes long
leaps. When not frightened he trots and holds his head high and
 He prefers flat open country, and there is no more
beautiful sight on all the great plains of the West than a band of
Fleetfoot and his friends. He is social and likes the company of
his own kind.
"The time was when these beautiful creatures were almost as numerous
as the Bison, but like the latter they have been killed until now
there is real danger that unless man protects them better than he
is doing there will come a day when the last Antelope will be killed,
and one of the most beautiful and interesting of all my children will
be but a memory."
There was a note of great sadness in Old Mother Nature's voice.
For a few minutes no one spoke. All were thinking of the terrible
thing that had happened at the hands of man to the great hosts of
two of the finest animals in all this great land, the Bison and
Antelope, and there was bitterness in the heart of each one, for
there was not one there who did not himself have cause to fear man.
Old Mother Nature was the first to break the silence. "Now," said
she, "I will tell you of the oddest member of the Cattle and Sheep
family. It is Longcoat the Musk Ox, and he appears to belong
wholly neither to the Cattle nor the Sheep branch of the family,
but to both. He connects the two branches in appearance, reminding
 somewhat of a small Bison and at the same time having things
about him very like a Sheep.
He is related to both cattle
and sheep and his home is in the Arctic regions.
"Longcoat the Musk Ox lives in the Farthest North, the land of snow
and ice. He has been found very near the Arctic Ocean, and how he
finds enough to eat in the long winter is a mystery to those who
know that snow-covered land. He is a heavily built, round-bodied
animal with short, stout legs, shoulders so high that they form a
hump, a low-hung head and sheeplike face, heavy horns which are
flat and broad at the base and meet at the center of the forehead,
sweeping down on each side of the head and then turning up in sharp
points. His tail is so short that it is hidden in the long hair
which covers him.
"This hair is so long that it hangs down on each side so that often
it touches the snow and hides his legs nearly down to his feet. In
color it is very dark-brown, almost black, and on his sides is
straight. But on his shoulders it is curly. In the middle of the
back is a patch of shorter dull-gray hair.
"Underneath this coat of long hair is another coat of woolly, fine
light-brown hair, so close that neither cold nor rain can get through
it. It is this warm coat that makes it possible for him to live in
that terribly cold region. He is about twice as heavy as a big Deer.
At times he gives off a musky
 odor, and it is from this that he gets
his name of Musk Ox.
"Longcoat is seldom found alone, but usually with a band of his
friends. This is partly for protection from his worst enemies, the
Wolves. When the latter appear, Longcoat and his friends form a
circle with their heads out, and it is only a desperately hungry
Wolf that will try to break through that line of sharp-pointed horns.
"In rough, rocky country he is as sure-footed as a Sheep. In the
short summer of that region he finds plenty to eat, but in winter he
has to paw away the snow to get at the moss and other plants buried
beneath it. Practically all other animals living so far North have
white coats, but Longcoat retains his dark coat the year through.
"My, how time flies! This is all for to-day. To-morrow I will
tell you of two wonderful mountain climbers who go with ease where
even man cannot follow."
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