Chapter 17 Summary
At the end of one day on their camping trip, they hear their donkey braying loudly and see it kick up its hoofs and, without apparent cause, run into a thicket of tall bamboo. They follow the donkey and send the dogs to chase it without success. They are worried as they depend on the donkey to pull their new cart, but since it is getting dark, they cannot chase it.
In the morning, the father half expects to find the donkey outside their tent, but there is no sign of the animal. The father is determined to find it. He leaves his oldest son behind to guard Elizabeth and the remaining sons and takes Jack and both dogs to help him in his search.
At first, the father and Jack follow hoof marks in the soft dirt. This proves difficult after awhile because the donkey's hoof marks become mixed with those of larger animals, possibly oxen. Although the father despairs, Jack urges him to follow the prints of these larger animals. So they trudge forward and reach a hill, gaining a helpful viewpoint looking down on a herd of animals grazing in a field. As they draw nearer, the father identifies them as buffalo.
Concerned about making the herd stampede, they hold back the dogs and retreat into the woods. However, the dogs rush past them and seize a young calf by the ears. The herd, aiding the calf's mother in defending it, stamp their hooves and bellow loudly. Heads down and massive horns forward, the buffalo charge the dogs, the father, and Jack. The father must shoot the buffalo at the head of the pack. The buffalo falls dead, which checks the progress of the herd. The animals stop, sniff, then turn around and gallop across the prairie.
The father notices that the dogs still have the young calf and wants to capture it alive to increase their livestock. Jack surprises his father when he comes to the rescue with his lasso, entangling the calf's hind legs and causing the calf to fall. In this way, the buffalo becomes the family's newest possession. After tethering the buffalo, they lead the reluctant animal back to camp and tie him to the cart to take over the duties of the lost donkey.