A kitchen corporal gives a first-person account of an entire battery that is drunk at night on its way to the Champagne. The lieutenant continually exclaims how drunk he is, and he tells the narrator to put out the light. The narrator notes how ironic it is that his superior worries about light in the kitchen while they are fifty kilometers from the front.
This first chapter describes two Indians rowing Nick Adams, his father, and Uncle George across a lake in the darkness. It is misty, and Nick lies in his father's arms during the journey. His father tells Nick that they are going to the Indian Camp to see a very sick woman. They reach the other side, and Uncle George gives the Indians cigars. The entire party walks to the Indian camp and enters the shanty where the sick woman lies in bed. She has been trying to have her baby for two days now, and all the old women have been trying to help her. She screams as Nick enters. In the upper bunk lies her husband with a foot very badly cut by an axe three days earlier. He smokes a pipe, and the room smells bad. Nick's father orders water boiled and explains the situation to Nick--how the woman screams from the pain of labor. He also explains to him that when babies are not born head first, they cause problems, so he now must operate on this woman.
When he begins to operate, three Indians and Uncle George hold the woman still, but she manages to bite Uncle George on the arm. Nick holds the basin for his father. After it is finished he declines to watch his father stitch the woman up, and he admits his loss of interest.
His father feels elated after the operation, talking with Uncle George about how extraordinary an operation he has just accomplished. When he attends to the father of the baby, however, he discovers that the man has cut his own throat from ear to ear with a razor and lies in his own pool of blood. The doctor (Nick's father) then orders Nick out of the shanty, but Nick has already gotten a glance. As they are leaving, the doctor apologizes to his son for putting hims\ through such a traumatic experience. Nick asks why the Indian killed himself and other things about suicide. As they travel back across the lake, the sun rises and Nick feels confident that he will never die.
In the Vignette, Hemingway portrays a war scene but draws attention to the personal experience of war rather than the violence between two militaries. Despite the close proximity of danger, the focus remains on the comically drunk lieutenant.
One of the major themes of "Indian Camp" is fatherhood. Nick's father takes him to experience the birth of a baby, but his responsibility and decision to do so are complicated by the suicide of the mother's husband. It turns into a traumatic experience for Nick, and as they leave, his father apologizes. This circumstance calls up the issue of death for Nick, which is another major theme of the chapter. Nicks asks his father about suicide and about death, but despite his father's answers, these issues do not take a real form for him. They are remote and unreal, and the chapter ends with Nick's optimistic attitude that he will never die.
The ending of the chapter embodies the main arc of the chapter, the vibrant presence of youth even amidst such a traumatic experience as the one Nick just experienced. Despite his close proximity to death, he is able to believe that he will never die. This belief is more genuine than possibly any other belief in the book. Youth therefore, triumphs in this first chapter.