An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (Colonel W. F. Cody)
Buffalo Bill (William Frederick Cody)
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Kevin O'Hare, Beth Trapaga and the Online Distributed
[Illustration: BUFFALO BILL--COL. WILLIAM F. CODY]
AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BUFFALO BILL
(COLONEL W.F. CODY)
by Cosmopolitan Book Corporation
Farrar & Rinehart Incorporated
On Murray Hill, New York
Printed in the U.S.A. by
Quinn & Boden Company, Inc.
Dedicated to My Nephew and Niece,
George Cody Goodman, Anna Bond Goodman,
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Buffalo Bill--Col. William F. Cody. _Frontispiece_
He Shoved a Pistol in the Man's Face and Said: "I'm Calling the Hand
That's in Your Hat"
Chief Satanta Passed the Peace-Pipe to General Sherman and Said: "My
Great White Brothers"
Winning My Name--"Buffalo Bill"
It Was No Time for Argument. I Fired and Killed Him
Pursued by Fifteen Bloodthirsty Indians, I Had a Running Fight of
A Shower of Arrows Rained on Our Dead Mules from the Closing Circle of
Stage-Coach Driving Was Full of Hair-Raising Adventures
I am about to take the back-trail through the Old West--the West that I
knew and loved. All my life it has been a pleasure to show its
beauties, its marvels and its possibilities to those who, under my
guidance, saw it for the first time.
Now, going back over the ground, looking at it through the eyes of
memory, it will be a still greater pleasure to take with me the many
readers of this book. And if, in following me through some of the
exciting scenes of the old days, meeting some of the brave men who made
its stirring history, and listening to my camp-fire tales of the
buffalo, the Indian, the stage-coach and the pony-express, their
interest in this vast land of my youth, should be awakened, I should
feel richly repaid.
The Indian, tamed, educated and inspired with a taste for white collars
and moving-pictures, is as numerous as ever, but not so picturesque. On
the little tracts of his great inheritance allotted him by civilization
he is working out his own manifest destiny.
The buffalo has gone. Gone also is the stagecoach whose progress his
pilgrimages often used to interrupt. Gone is the pony express, whose
marvelous efficiency could compete with the wind, but not with the
harnessed lightning flashed over the telegraph wires. Gone are the very
bone-gatherers who laboriously collected the bleaching relics of the
great herds that once dotted the prairies.
But the West of the old times, with its strong characters, its stern
battles and its tremendous stretches of loneliness, can never be
blotted from my mind. Nor can it, I hope, be blotted from the memory of
the American people, to whom it has now become a priceless possession.
It has been my privilege to spend my working years on the frontier. I
have known and served with commanders like Sherman, Sheridan, Miles,
Custer and A.A. Carr--men who would be leaders in any army in any age.
I have known and helped to fight with many of the most notable of the
Frontiersmen good and bad, gunmen as well as inspired prophets of the
future, have been my camp companions. Thus, I know the country of which
I am about to write as few men now living have known it.
Recently, in the hope of giving permanent form to the history of the
Plains, I staged many of the Indian battles for the films. Through the
courtesy of the War and Interior Departments I had the help of the
soldiers and the Indians.
Now that this work has been done I am again in the saddle and at your
service for what I trust will be a pleasant and perhaps instructive
journey over the old trails. We shall omit the hazards and the
hardships, but often we shall leave the iron roads over which the
Pullman rolls and, back in the hills, see the painted Indians winding
up the draws, or watch the more savage Mormon Danites swoop down on the
wagon-train. In my later years I have brought the West to the
East--under a tent. Now I hope to bring the people of the East and of
the New West to the Old West, and possibly here and there to supply new
material for history.
I shall try to vary the journey, for frequent changes of scenes are
grateful to travelers. I shall show you some of the humors as well as
the excitements of the frontier. And our last halting-place will be at
sunrise--the sunrise of the New West, with its waving grain-fields,
fenced flocks and splendid cities, drawing upon the mountains for the
water to make it fertile, and upon the whole world for men to make it
I was born on a farm near Leclair, Scott County, Iowa, February 26,
1846. My father, Isaac Cody, had emigrated to what was then a frontier
State. He and his people, as well as my mother, had all dwelt in Ohio.
I remember that there were Indians all about us, looking savage enough
as they slouched about the village streets or loped along the roads on
their ponies. But they bore no hostility toward anything save work and
soap and water.
We were comfortable and fairly prosperous on the little farm. My
mother, whose maiden name was Mary Ann Leacock, took an active part in
the life of the neighborhood. An education was scarce in those days.
Even school teachers did not always possess it. Mother's education was
far beyond the average, and the local school board used to require all
applicants for teachers' position to be examined by her before they
were entrusted with the tender intellects of the pioneer children.
But the love of adventure was in father's blood. The railroad--the only
one I had ever seen--extended as far as Port Byron, Illinois, just
across the Mississippi. When the discovery of gold in California in
1849 set the whole country wild, this railroad began to bring the
Argonauts, bound for the long overland wagon journey across the Plains.
Naturally father caught the excitement. In 1850 he made a start, but it
was abandoned--why I never knew. But after that he was not content with
Iowa. In 1853 our farm and most of our goods and chattels were
converted into money. And in 1854 we all set out for Kansas, which was
soon to be opened for settlers as a Territory.
Two wagons carried our household goods. A carriage was provided for my
mother and sisters. Father had a trading-wagon built, and stocked it
with red blankets, beads, and other goods with which to tempt the
Indians. My only brother had been killed by a fall from a horse, so I
was second in command, and proud I was of the job.
My uncle Elijah kept a general store at Weston, Missouri, just across
the Kansas line. He was a large exporter of hemp as well as a trader.
Also he was a slave-owner.
Weston was our first objective. Father had determined to take up a
claim in Kansas and to begin a new life in this stirring country. Had
he foreseen the dreadful consequences to himself and to his family of
this decision we might have remained in Iowa, in which case perhaps I
might have grown up an Iowa farmer, though that now seems impossible.
Thirty days of a journey that was a constant delight to me brought us
to Weston, where we left the freight-wagons and mother and my sisters
in the care of my uncle.
To my great joy father took me with him on his first trip into
Kansas--where he was to pick out his claim and incidentally to trade
with the Indians from our wagon. I shall never forget the thrill that
ran through me when father, pointing to the block-house at Fort
"Son, you now see a real military fort for the first time in your
life." And a real fort it was. Cavalry--or dragoons as they called them
then--were engaged in saber drill, their swords flashing in the
sunlight. Artillery was rumbling over the parade ground. Infantry was
marching and wheeling. About the Post were men dressed all in buckskin
with coonskin caps or broad-brimmed slouch hats--real Westerners of
whom I had dreamed. Indians of all sorts were loafing about--all
friendly, but a new and different kind of Indians from any I had
seen--Kickapoos, Possawatomies, Delawares, Choctaws, and other tribes,
of which I had often heard. Everything I saw fascinated me.
These drills at the Fort were no fancy dress-parades. They meant
business. A thousand miles to the west the Mormons were running things
in Utah with a high hand. No one at Fort Leavenworth doubted that these
very troops would soon be on their way to determine whether Brigham
Young or the United States Government should be supreme there.
To the north and west the hostile Indians, constantly irritated by the
encroachments of the white man, had become a growing menace. The
block-houses I beheld were evidences of preparedness against this
danger. And in that day the rumblings of the coming struggle over
slavery could already be heard. Kansas--very soon afterward "Bleeding
Kansas"--was destined to be an early battleground. And we were soon to
know something of its tragedies.
Free-soil men and pro-slavery men were then ready to rush across the
border the minute it was opened for settlement. Father was a Free-soil
man. His brother Elijah who, as I have said, was a slave-owner, was a
believer in the extension of slavery into the new territory.
Knowing that the soldiers I saw today might next week be on their way
to battle made my eyes big with excitement. I could have stayed there
forever. But father had other plans, and we were soon on our way. With
our trading-wagon we climbed a hill--later named Sheridan's Ridge for
General Philip Sheridan. From its summit we had a view of Salt Creek
Valley, the most beautiful valley I have ever seen. In this valley lay
our future home.
The hill was very steep, and I remember we had to "lock" or chain the
wagon-wheels as we descended. We made camp in the valley. The next day
father began trading with the Indians, who were so pleased with the
bargains he had to offer that they sent their friends back to us when
they departed. One of the first trades he made was for a little pony
for me--a four-year-old--which I was told I should have to break
myself. I named him Prince. I had a couple of hard falls, but I made up
my mind I was going to ride that pony or bust, and--I did not bust.
The next evening, looking over toward the west, I saw a truly frontier
sight--a line of trappers winding down the hillside with their pack
animals. My mother had often told me of the trappers searching the
distant mountains for fur-bearing animals and living a life of
fascinating adventure. Here they were in reality.
While some of the men prepared the skins, others built a fire and began
to get a meal. I watched them cook the dried venison, and was filled
with wonder at their method of making bread, which was to wrap the
dough about a stick and hold it over the coals till it was ready to
eat. You can imagine my rapture when one of them--a pleasant-faced
youth--looked up, and catching sight of me, invited me to share the
Boys are always hungry, but I was especially hungry for such a meal as
that. After it was over I hurried to camp and told my father all that
had passed. At his request I brought the young trapper who had been so
kind to me over to our camp, and there he had a long talk with father,
telling him of his adventures by land and sea in all parts of the
He said that he looked forward with great interest to his arrival in
Weston, as he expected to meet an uncle, Elijah Cody. He had seen none
of his people for many years.
"If Elijah Cody is your uncle, I am too," said my father. "You must be
the long-lost Horace Billings."
Father had guessed right. Horace had wandered long ago from the Ohio
home and none of his family knew of his whereabouts. He had been to
South America and to California, joining a band of trappers on the
Columbia River and coming with them back across the Plains.
When I showed him my pony he offered to help break him for me. With
very little trouble he rode the peppery little creature this way and
that, and at last when he circled back to camp I found the animal had
In the days that followed Horace gave me many useful lessons as a
horseman. He was the prettiest rider I had ever seen. There had been a
stampede of horses from the Fort, and a reward of ten dollars a head
had been offered for all animals brought in. That was easy money for
Horace. I would gallop along at his side as he chased the fugitive
horses. He had a long, plaited lariat which settled surely over the
neck of the brute he was after. Then, putting a "della walt" on the
pommel of his saddle, he would check his own mount and bring his
captive to a sudden standstill. He caught and brought in five horses
the first day, and must have captured twenty-five within the next few
days, earning a sum of money which was almost a small fortune in that
Meanwhile the Territory had been opened for settlement. Our claim, over
which the Great Salt Lake trail for California passed, had been taken
up, and as soon as father and I, assisted by men he hired, could get
our log cabin up, the family came on from Weston. The cabin was a
primitive affair. There was no floor at first. But gradually we built a
floor and partitions, and made it habitable. I spent all my spare time
picking up the Kickapoo tongue from the Indian children in the
neighborhood, and listening with both ears to the tales of the wide
The great freighting firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell was then sending
its twenty-five wagon trains out from the Plains to carry supplies to
the soldiers at the frontier forts. Leavenworth was the firm's
headquarters. Russell stayed on the books, and Majors was the operating
man on the Plains. The trains were wonderful to me, each wagon with its
six yoke of oxen, wagon-masters, extra hands, assistants, bull-whackers
and cavayard driver following with herds of extra oxen. I began at
once making the acquaintance of the men, and by the end of 1854 I knew
Up to this time, while bad blood existed between the Free-soilers and
the pro-slavery men, it had not become a killing game. The pro-slavery
Missourians were in the great majority. They harassed the Free-soilers
considerably and committed many petty persecutions, but no blood was
shed. Father's brother, Elijah, who kept the store at Weston, was known
to be a pro-slavery man, and for a time it was taken for granted that
father held the same views. But he was never at any pains to hide his
own opinions, being a man who was afraid of nothing. John Brown of
Ossawatomie, later hanged, for the Harper's Ferry raid, at Charlestown,
Va., was his friend. So were Colonel Jim Lane and many other
Abolitionists. He went to their houses openly, and they came to his. He
worked hard with the men he had hired, cutting the wild hay and
cordwood to sell to the Fort, and planting sod corn under the newly
turned sod of the farm. He also made a garden, plowing and harrowing
the soil and breaking up the sods by hitching horses to branching trees
and drawing them over the ground. He minded his own business and
avoided all the factional disputes with which the neighborhood
In June, 1856, when I was ten years old, father went to the Fort to
collect his pay for hay and wood he had sold there. I accompanied him
on my pony. On our return we saw a crowd of drunken horsemen in front
of Riveley's trading-post--as stores were called on the frontier. There
were many men in the crowd and they were all drunk, yelling and
shooting their pistols in the air. They caught sight of us immediately
and a few of them advanced toward us as we rode up. Father expected
trouble, but he was not a man to turn back. We rode quietly up to them,
and were about to continue on past when one of them yelled:
"There's that abolition cuss now. Git him up here and make him declar'
"Git off that hoss, Cody!" shouted another.
By this time more than a dozen men were crowding about father, cursing
and abusing him. Soon they tore him from his horse. One of them rolled
a drygoods box from the store.
"Now," he said, "git up on that thar box, and tell us whar' ye stand."
Standing on the box, father looked at the ringleaders with no sign of
"I am not ashamed of my views," he said, quietly. "I am not an
Abolitionist, and never have been. I think it is better to let slavery
alone in the States where it is now. But I am not at all afraid to tell
you that I am opposed to its extension, and that I believe that it
should be kept out of Kansas."
His speech was followed by a wild yell of derision. Men began crowding
around him, cursing and shaking their fists. One of them, whom I
recognized as Charlie Dunn, an employee of my Uncle Elijah, worked his
way through the crowd, and jumped up on the box directly behind father.
I saw the gleam of a knife. The next instant, without a groan, father
fell forward stabbed in the back. Somehow I got off my pony and ran to
his assistance, catching him as he fell. His weight overbore me but I
eased him as he came to the ground.
Dunn was still standing, knife in hand, seeking a chance for another
"Look out, ye'll stab the kid!" somebody yelled. Another man, with a
vestige of decency, restrained the murderer. Riveley came out of the
store. There was a little breaking up of the crowd. Dunn was got away.
What happened to him later I shall tell you in another chapter.
With the help of a friend I got father into a wagon, when the crowd had
gone. I held his head in my lap during the ride home. I believed he was
mortally wounded. He had been stabbed down through the kidneys, leaving
an ugly wound. But he did not die of it--then. Mother nursed him
carefully and had he been spared further persecution, he might have
survived. But this was only the beginning.
The pro-slavers waited a few days, and finding there was no move to
molest them, grew bold. They announced that they were coming to our
house to finish their work.
One night we heard that a party was organized to carry out this
purpose. As quietly as possible mother helped take father out into the
sod corn, which then grew tall and thick close about the cabin. She put
a shawl round him and a sun-bonnet on his head to disguise him as he
was taken out.
There in the sod corn we made him a bed of hay and blankets and there
we kept him for days, carrying food to him by night. These were anxious
days for my mother and her little family. My first real work as a scout
began then, for I had to keep constantly on the watch for raids by the
ruffians, who had now sworn that father must die.
As soon as he was able to walk we decided that he must be got away.
Twenty-five miles distant, at Grasshopper Falls, were a party of his
friends. There he hoped one day to plant a colony. With the help of a
few friends we moved him thither one night, but word of his whereabouts
soon reached his enemies.
I kept constantly on the alert, and, hearing that a party had set out
to murder him at the Falls, I got into the saddle and sped out to warn
At a ford on the way I ran into the gang, who had stopped to water
As I galloped past, one of them yelled: "There's Cody's kid now on his
way to warn his father. Stop, you, and tell us where your old man is."
A pistol shot, to terrify me into obedience, accompanied the command. I
may have been terrified, but it was not into obedience. I got out of
there like a shot, and though they rode hard on my trail my pony was
too fast for them. My warning was in time.
We got father as quickly as we could to Lawrence, which was an
abolition stronghold, and where he was safe for the time being. He
gradually got back a part of his strength, enough of it at any rate to
enable him to take part in the repulse of a raid of Missourians who
came over to burn Lawrence and lynch the Abolitionists. They were
driven back across the Missouri River by the Lawrence men, who trapped
them into an ambush and so frightened them that for the present they
rode on their raids no more.
When father returned to Salt Creek Valley the persecutions began again.
The gangsters drove off all our stock and killed all our pigs and even
the chickens. One night Judge Sharpe, a disreputable old alcoholic who
had been elected a justice of the peace, came to the house and demanded
a meal. Mother, trembling for the safety of her husband, who lay sick
upstairs, hastened to get it for him. As the old scoundrel sat waiting
he caught sight of me.
"Look yere, kid," he shouted, "ye see this knife?"
He drew a long, wicked bowie. "Well, I'm going to sharpen that to
finish up the job that Charlie Dunn began the other day." And scowling
horribly at me he began whetting the knife on a stone he picked up from
Now, I knew something about a gun, and there was a gun handy. It was
upstairs, and I lost no time in getting it. Sitting on the stairs I
cocked it and held it across my knees. I am sure that I should have
shot him had he attempted to come up those stairs.
He didn't test my shooting ability, however. He got even with me by
taking my beloved pony, Prince, when he left. Mother pleaded with him
to leave it, for it was the only animal we had, but she might as well
have pleaded with a wildcat.
We had now been reduced to utter destitution. Our only food was what
rabbits and birds I could trap and catch with the help of our faithful
old dog Turk, and the sod corn which we grated into flour. Father could
be of no service to us. His presence, in fact, was merely a menace. So,
with the help of Brown, Jim Lane and other Free-soilers, he made his
way back to Ohio and began recruiting for his Grasshopper Falls colony.
He returned to us in the spring of '57 mortally ill. The wound
inflicted by Dunn had at last fulfilled the murderer's purpose. Father
died in the little log-house, the first man to shed his blood in the
fight against the extension of slavery into the Northern Territories.
I was eleven years old, and the only man of the family. I made up my
mind to be a breadwinner.
At that time the Fort was full of warlike preparations. A great number
of troops were being assembled to send against the Mormons. Trouble had
been long expected. United States Judges and Federal officers sent to
the Territory of Utah had been flouted. Some of them never dared take
their seats. Those who did asked assistance. Congress at last decided
to give it to them. General Harney was to command the expedition. Col.
Albert Sidney Johnston, afterward killed at Shiloh, where he fought on
the Confederate side, was in charge of the expedition to which the
earliest trains were to be sent.
Many of the soldiers had already pushed on ahead. Russell, Majors &
Waddell were awarded the contract for taking them supplies and beef
cattle. The supplies were forwarded in the long trains of twenty-five
wagons, of which I have told you. The cattle were driven after the
soldiers, the herds often falling many miles behind them.
I watched these great preparations eagerly, and it occurred to me that
I ought to have a share in them. I went to Mr. Majors, whom I always
called Uncle Aleck, and asked him for a job. I told him of our
situation, and that I needed it very badly for the support of my mother
"But you're only a boy, Billy," he objected. "What can you do?"
"I can ride as well as a man," I said. "I could drive cavayard,
couldn't I?" Driving cavayard is herding the extra cattle that follow
the wagon train.
Mr. Majors agreed that I could do this, and consented to employ me. I
was to receive a man's wages, forty dollars a month and food, and the
wages were to be paid to my mother while I was gone. With forty dollars
a month she would be able to support her daughters and my baby brother
in comfort. Before I was allowed to go to work Uncle Aleck handed me
the oath which every one of his employees must sign. I did my best to
live up to its provisions, but I am afraid that the profanity clause at
least was occasionally violated by some of the bull-whackers. Here is
"We, the undersigned wagon-masters, assistants, teamsters and all
other employees of the firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell, do hereby
sign that we will not swear, drink whisky, play cards or be cruel
to dumb beasts in any way, shape or form.
(Signed) "WILLIAM FREDERICK X CODY."
I signed it with my mark, for I could not write then. After
administering this ironclad oath Mr. Majors gave each man a Testament.
My first job was that of accompanying a herd of cattle destined for
beef for the troops that had gone on ahead. Bill McCarthy, boss of the
outfit, was a typical Westerner, rough but courageous, and with plenty
of experience on the frontier.
We progressed peacefully enough till we made Plum Creek, thirty-six
miles west of Fort Kearney, on the South Platte. The trip had been full
of excitement for me. The camp life was rough, the bacon often rusty
and the flour moldy, but the hard work gave us big appetites. Plainsmen
learn not to be particular.
I remember that on some of our trips we obtained such "luxuries" as
dried apples and beans as part of our supplies. We could only have
these once every two or three days, and their presence in the mess was
always a glad occasion.
We were nooning at Plum Creek, the cattle spread out over the prairie
to graze in charge of two herders. Suddenly there was a sharp Bang!
Bang! Bang! and a thunder of hoofs.
"Indians! They've shot the herders and stampeded the cattle!" cried
McCarthy. "Get under the banks of the river, boys--use 'em for a
We obeyed orders quickly. The Platte, a wide, shallow, muddy stream,
flows under banks which vary from five to thirty feet in height. Behind
them we were in much the position of European soldiers in a trench. We
had our guns, and if the Indians showed over the bank could have made
it hot for them.
McCarthy told us to keep together and to make our way down the river to
Fort Kearney, the nearest refuge. It was a long and wearying journey,
but our lives depended on keeping along the river bed. Often we would
have to wade the stream which, while knee-deep to the men, was
well-nigh waist-deep to me. Gradually I fell behind, and when night
came I was dragging one weary step after another--dog-tired but still
clinging to my old Mississippi Yaeger rifle, a short muzzle-loader
which carried a ball and two buckshot.
Darkness came, and I still toiled along. The men ahead were almost out
of hearing. Presently the moon rose, dead ahead of me. And painted
boldly across its face was the black figure of an Indian. There could
be no mistaking him for a white man. He wore the war-bonnet of the
Sioux, and at his shoulder was a rifle, pointed at someone in the
bottom below him. I knew well enough that in another second he would
drop one of my friends. So I raised my Yaeger and fired. I saw the
figure collapse, and heard it come tumbling thirty feet down the bank,
landing with a splash in the water.
McCarthy and the rest of the party, hearing the shot, came back in a
"What is it?" asked McCarthy, when he came up to me.
"I don't know," I said. "Whatever it is, it is down there in the
McCarthy ran over to the brave. "Hi!" he cried. "Little Billy's killed
an Indian all by himself!"
Not caring to meet any of this gentleman's friends we pushed on still
faster toward Fort Kearney, which we reached about daylight. We were
given food and sent to bed, while the soldiers set out to look for our
slain comrades and to try to recover our cattle.
Soldiers from Fort Leavenworth found the herders, killed and mutilated
in the Indian fashion. But the cattle had been stampeded among the
buffalo and it was impossible to recover a single head.
We were taken back to Leavenworth on one of the returning freight
wagon-trains. The news of my exploit was noised about and made me the
envy of all the boys of the neighborhood. The Leavenworth _Times_,
published by D.B. Anthony, sent a reporter to get the story of the
adventure, and in it my name was printed for the first time as the
youngest Indian slayer of the Plains.
I was persuaded now that I was destined to lead a life on the Plains.
The two months that our ill-fated expedition had consumed had not
discouraged me. Once more I applied to Mr. Majors for a job.
"You seem to have a reputation as a frontiersman, Billy," he said; "I
guess I'll have to give yon another chance." He turned me over to Lew
Simpson, who was boss of a twenty-five wagon-train just starting with
supplies for General Albert Sidney Johnston's army, which was then on
its way to Great Salt Lake to fight the Mormons, whose Destroying
Angels, or Danites, were engaged in many outrages on Gentile
Simpson appeared to be glad to have me. "We need Indian fighters,
Billy," he told me, and giving me a mule to ride assigned me to a job
as cavayard driver.
Our long train, twenty-five wagons in a line, each with its six yoke of
oxen, rolled slowly out of Leavenworth over the western trail.
Wagon-master assistants, bull-whackers--thirty men in all not to
mention the cavayard driver--it was an imposing sight. This was to be a
long journey, clear to the Utah country, and I eagerly looked forward
to new adventures.
The first of these came suddenly. We were strung out over the trail
near the Platte, about twenty miles from the scene of the Indian attack
on McCarthy's outfit, watching the buffalo scattered to right and left
of us, when we heard two or three shots, fired in rapid succession.
Before we could find out who fired them, down upon us came a herd of
buffalo, charging in a furious stampede. There was no time to do
anything but jump behind our wagons. The light mess-wagon was drawn by
six yoke of Texas steers which instantly became part of the stampede,
tearing away over the prairie with the buffalo, our wagon following
along behind. The other wagons were too heavy for the steers to gallop
away with; otherwise the whole outfit would have gone.
I remember that one big bull came galloping down between two yoke of
oxen, tearing away the gooseneck and the heavy chain with each lowered
horn. I can still see him as he rushed away with these remarkable
decorations dangling from either side. Whether or not his new ornaments
excited the admiration of his fellows when the herd came to a stand
later in the day, I can only guess.
The descent of the buffalo upon us lasted only a few minutes, but so
much damage was done that three days were required to repair it before
we could move on. We managed to secure our mess-wagon, again, which was
lucky, for it contained all our provender.
We learned afterward that the stampede had been caused by a returning
party of California gold-seekers, whose shots into the herd had been
our first warning of what was coming. Twice before we neared the Mormon
country we were attacked by Indians. The army was so far ahead that
they had become bold. We beat off the attacks, but lost two men.
It was white men, however, not Indians, who were to prove our most
dangerous enemies. Arriving near Green River we were nooning on a ridge
about a mile and a half from a little creek, Halm's Fork, where the
stock were driven to water. This was a hundred and fifteen miles east
of Salt Lake City, and well within the limits of the Mormon country.
Most of the outfit had driven the cattle to the creek, a mile and a
half distant, and were returning slowly, while the animals grazed along
the way back to camp. I was with them. We were out of sight of the
As we rose the hill a big bearded man, mounted and surrounded by a
party of armed followers, rode up to our wagon-master.
"Throw up your hands, Simpson!" said the leader, who knew Simpson's
name and his position.
Simpson was a brave man, but the strangers had the drop and up went his
hands. At the same time we saw that the wagons were surrounded by
several hundred men, all mounted and armed, and the teamsters all
rounded up in a bunch. We knew that we had fallen into the hands of the
Mormon Danites, or Destroying Angels, the ruffians who perpetrated the
dreadful Mountain Meadows Massacre of the same year. The leader was Lot
Smith, one of the bravest and most determined of the whole crowd.
"Now, Simpson," he said, "we are going to be kind to you. You can have
one wagon with the cattle to draw it. Get into it all the provisions
and blankets you can carry, and turn right round and go back to the
Missouri River. You're headed in the wrong direction."
"Can we have our guns?" asked Simpson.
"Not a gun."
"Not a six-shooter. Nothing but food and blankets."
"How are we going to protect ourselves on the way?"
"That's your business. We're doing you a favor to spare your lives."
All Simpson's protests were in vain. There were thirty of us against
several hundred of them. Mormons stood over us while we loaded a wagon
till it sagged with provisions, clothing and blankets. They had taken
away every rifle and every pistol we possessed. Ordering us to hike for
the East, and informing us that we would be shot down if we attempted
to turn back, they watched us depart.
When we had moved a little way off we saw a blaze against the sky
behind us, and knew that our wagon-train had been fired. The greasy
bacon made thick black smoke and a bright-red flame, and for a long
time the fire burned, till nothing was left but the iron bolts and
axles and tires.
Smith's party, which had been sent out to keep all supplies from
reaching Johnston's army, had burned two other wagon-trains that same
day, as we afterward learned. The wagons were all completely consumed,
and for the next few years the Mormons would ride out to the scenes to
get the iron that was left in the ashes.
Turned adrift on the desert with not a weapon to defend ourselves was
hardly a pleasant prospect. It meant a walk of a thousand miles home to
Leavenworth. The wagon was loaded to its full capacity. There was
nothing to do but walk. I was not yet twelve years old, but I had to
walk with the rest the full thousand miles, and we made nearly thirty
miles a day.
Fortunately we were not molested by Indians. From passing wagon-trains
we got a few rifles, all they could spare, and with these we were able
to kill game for fresh meat. I wore out three pairs of moccasins on
that journey, and learned then that the thicker are the soles of your
shoes, the easier are your feet on a long walk over rough ground.
After a month of hard travel we reached Leavenworth. I set out at once
for the log-cabin home, whistling as I walked, and the first to welcome
me was my old dog Turk, who came tearing toward me and almost knocked
me down in his eagerness. I am sure my mother and sisters were mighty
glad to see me. They had feared that I might never return.
My next journey over the Plains was begun under what, to me, were very
exciting circumstances. I spent the winter of '57-'58 at school. My
mother was anxious about my education. But the master of the frontier
school wore out several armfuls of hazel switches in a vain effort to
interest me in the "three R's."
I kept thinking of my short but adventurous past. And as soon as
another opportunity offered to return to it I seized it eagerly.
That spring my former boss, Lew Simpson, was busily organizing a
"lightning bull team" for his employers, Russell, Majors & Waddell.
Albert Sidney Johnston's soldiers, then moving West, needed supplies,
and needed them in a hurry. Thus far the mule was the reindeer of draft
animals, and mule trains were forming to hurry the needful supplies to
But Simpson had great faith in the bull. A picked bull train, he
allowed, could beat a mule train all hollow on a long haul. All he
wanted was a chance to prove it.
His employers gave him the chance. For several weeks he had been
picking his animals for the outfit. And now he was to begin what is
perhaps the most remarkable race ever made across the Plains.
A mule train was to start a week after Simpson's lightning bulls began
their westward course. Whichever outfit got to Fort Laramie first would
be the winner. No more excitement could have been occasioned had the
contestants been a reindeer and a jack-rabbit. To my infinite delight
Simpson let me join his party.
My thousand-mile tramp over the Plains had cured me of the walking
habit and I was glad to find that this time I was to have a horse to
ride--part of the way, anyhow. I was to be an extra hand--which meant
that by turns I was to be a bull-whacker, driver and general-utility
I remember that our start was a big event. Men, women and children
watched our chosen animals amble out of Salt Creek. The "mule
skinners," busy with preparations for their own departure, stopped work
to jeer us.
"We'll ketch you in a couple of days or so!" yelled Tom Stewart, boss
of the mule outfit.
But Simpson only grinned. Jeers couldn't shake his confidence either in
himself or his long-horned motive power.
We made the first hundred and fifty miles easily. I was glad to be a
plainsman once more, and took a lively interest in everything that went
forward. We were really making speed, too, which added to the
excitement. The ordinary bull team could do about fifteen miles a day.
Under Simpson's command his specially selected bulls were doing
twenty-five, and doing it right along.
But one day, while we were nooning about one hundred and fifty miles on
the way, one of the boys shouted: "Here come the mules!"
Presently Stewart's train came shambling up, and a joyful lot the "mule
skinners" were at what they believed their victory.
But it was a short-lived victory. At the end of the next three hundred
miles we found them, trying to cross the Platte, and making heavy work
of it. The grass fodder had told on the mules. Supplies from other
sources were now exhausted. There were no farms, no traders, no grain
to be had. The race had become a race of endurance, and the strongest
stomachs were destined to be the winners.
Stewart made a bad job of the crossing. The river was high, and his
mules quickly mired down in the quicksand. The more they pawed the
deeper they went.
Simpson picked a place for crossing below the ford Stewart had chosen.
He put enough bulls on a wagon to insure its easy progress, and the
bulls wallowed through the sand on their round bellies, using their
legs as paddles.
Steward pulled ahead again after he had crossed the river, but soon his
mules grew too feeble to make anything like their normal speed. We
passed them for good and all a few days farther on, and were far ahead
when we reached the North Platte.
Thus ended a race that I shall never forget. Since that time the
stage-coach has outdistanced the bull team, the pony express has swept
past the stage-coach, the locomotive has done in an hour what the
prairie schooner did in three or four days. Soon the aeroplane will be
racing with the automobile for the cross-country record.
But the bull team and the mule team were the continental carriers of
that day, and I am very glad that I took part--on the winning side--in
a race between them.
We soon began meeting parties of soldiers, and lightening our loads by
issuing supplies to them. When at last we reacted Fort Laramie, the
outfit was ordered to Fort Walback, located in Cheyenne Pass,
twenty-five miles from where Cheyenne stands today, and ninety miles
from Fort Laramie.
This was in the very heart of the Indian country. Our animals were to
haul in plows, tools and whatever was necessary in the constructing of
the new fort then building. The wagon-beds were taken from the wagons
to enable the hauling of greater loads. The beds were piled up at Fort
Laramie, and I was assigned to watch them. It was here that I had
abundant time and opportunity to study the West at first hand.
Heretofore I had been on the march. Now I was on fixed post with plenty
of time for observation.
Fort Laramie was an old frontier post, such as has not existed for many
years. Nearby, three or four thousand Sioux, Northern Cheyennes and
Northern Arapahoes were encamped, most of them spending much of the
time at the post. Laramie had been established by a fur-trading company
in 1834. In 1840 or thereabouts the Government bought it and made it a
military post. It had become the most famous meeting-place of the
Plains. Here the greatest Indian councils were held, and here also came
the most celebrated of the Indian fighters, men whose names had long
been known to me, but whom I never dared hope to see.
Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Baker, Richards and other of the celebrated
hunters, trappers and Indian fighters were as familiar about the post
as are bankers in Wall Street. All these men fascinated me, especially
Carson, a small, dapper, quiet man whom everybody held in profound
I used to sit for hours and watch him and the others talk to the
Indians in the sign language. Without a sound they would carry on long
and interesting conversations, tell stories, inquire about game and
trails, and discuss pretty much everything that men find worth
I was naturally desirous of mastering this mysterious medium of speech,
and began my education in it with far more interest than I had given to
the "three R's" back at Salt Creek. My wagon-beds became splendid
playhouses for the Indian children from the villages, who are very much
like other children, despite their red skins.
I joined them in their games, and from them picked up a fair working
knowledge of the Sioux language. The acquaintance I formed here was to
save my scalp and life later, but I little suspected it then.
I spent the summer of '58 in and about Laramie. I was getting to be a
big, husky boy now, and felt that I had entered on what was to be my
career--as indeed I had.
In January, '59, Simpson was ordered back to Missouri as brigade
train-master of three wagon-trains, traveling a day apart. Because of
much travel the grass along the regular trail was eaten so close that
the feed for the bulls was scanty.
Instead of following the trail down the South Platte, therefore,
Simpson picked a new route along the North Platte. There was no road,
but the grass was still long, and forage for the cattle was necessary.
We had accomplished about half our journey with no sign of hostile
Indians. Then one day, as Simpson, George Woods and I were riding ahead
to overtake the lead train, a party of Sioux bore down on us, plainly
intent on mischief. There was little time to act. No cover of any kind
was to be had. For us three, even with our rifles, to have stood up
against the Sioux in the open would have been suicide. Simpson had been
trained to think quickly. Swinging the three mules so that they formed
a triangle, he drew his six-shooter and dropped them where they stood.
"Now there's a little cover, boys," he said, and we all made ready for
Our plan of defense was now made for us. First rifles, then, at closer
quarters, revolvers. If it came to a hand-to-hand conflict we had our
knives as a last resort.
The Sioux drew up when they saw how quickly Simpson's wit had built a
barricade for us. Then the arrows began to fly and among them spattered
a few bullets. We were as sparing as possible with our shots. Most of
them told. I had already learned how to use a rifle, and was glad
indeed that I had. If ever a boy stood in need of that kind of
preparedness I did.
Down came the Indians, with the blood-curdling yell which is always a
feature of their military strategy. We waited till they got well within
range. Then at Simpson's order we fired. Three ponies galloped
riderless over the prairie, and our besiegers hesitated, then wheeled,
and rode out of range. But our rest was short. Back they came. Again we
fired, and had the good fortune to stop three more of them.
Simpson patted me encouragingly on the shoulder. "You're all right,
Billy!" he said, and his praise was music to my ears.
By this time our poor dead mules, who had given their lives for ours,
were stuck full of arrows. Woods had been winged in the shoulder.
Simpson, carefully examining the wound, expressed his belief that the
arrow which inflicted it had not been poisoned.
[Illustration: A SHOWER OF ARROWS RAINED ON OUR DEAD MULES FROM THE
CLOSING CIRCLE OF RED-MEN]
But we had little time to worry about that or anything else. Our
enemies were still circling, just out of range. Here and there when
they grew incautious we dropped a man or a pony. But we were still
heavily outnumbered. They knew it and we knew it. Unless help came it
was only a question of time till it was all over.
Daylight came and they still held off. Eagerly we looked to the
westward, but no wagon-train appeared. We began to fear that something
had happened to our friends, when, suddenly one of the Indians jumped
up, and with every evidence of excitement signaled to the others. In an
instant they were all mounted.
"They hear the crack of the bull-whip," said Woods.
He was right. Without another glance in our direction the Sioux
galloped away toward the foot-hills, and as they disappeared we heard
the welcome snap of the long bull-whip, and saw the first of our wagons
coming up the trail. In that day, however, the plainsman was delivered
out of one peril only to be plunged into another. His days seldom
dragged for want of excitement.
When we got to Leavenworth, Simpson sent three of us ahead with the
train-book record of the men's time, so that their money would be ready
for them when they arrived at Leavenworth.
Our boss's admonition to ride only at night and to lie under cover in
daytime was hardly needed. We cared for no more Indian adventures just
We made fairly good progress till we got to the Little Blue, in
Colorado. It was an uncomfortable journey, finding our way by the stars
at night and lying all day in such shelters as were to be found. But
the inconvenience of it was far preferable to being made targets for
We were sheltered one night from one of the fearful prairie blizzards
that make fall and winter terrible. We had found a gulley washed out by
an autumn storm, and it afforded a little protection against the wind.
Looking down the ravine I saw ponies moving. I knew there were Indians
near, and we looked about for a hiding-place.
At the head of the ravine I had noticed a cave-like hollow. I signaled
to the two men to follow me, and soon we were snug in a safe
hiding-place. As we were settling down to rest one of the men lit his
pipe. As the cave was illuminated by the glow of the match there was a
wild yell. I thought all the Indians in the world had jumped us. But
the yell had come from my companions.
We were in the exact center of the most grew-some collection of human
skulls and bones I have ever seen. Bones were strewn on the floor of
the cave like driftwood. Skulls were grinning at us from every corner
of the darkness. We had stumbled into a big grave where some of the
Indians had hidden their dead away from the wolves after a battle. It
may be that none of us were superstitious, but we got out of there in a
hurry, and braved the peril of the storm and the Indians as best we
I was a rich boy when I got to Leavenworth. I had nearly a thousand
dollars to turn over to my mother as soon as I should draw my pay.
After a joyful reunion with the family I hitched up a pair of ponies,
and drove her over so that she could witness this pleasing ceremony. As
we were driving home, I heard her sobbing, and was deeply concerned,
for this seemed to me no occasion for tears. I was quick to ask the
reason, and her answer made me serious.
"You couldn't even write your name, Willie," she said. "You couldn't
sign the payroll. To think my boy cannot so much as write his name!"
I thought that over all the way home, and determined it should never
In Uncle Aleck Majors' book, "Seventy Years on the Frontier," he
relates how on every wagon-sheet and wagon-bed, on every tree and barn
door, he used to find the name "William F. Cody" in a large, uncertain
scrawl. Those were my writing lessons, and I took them daily until I
had my signature plastered pretty well over the whole of Salt Creek
I went to school for a time after that, and at last began really to
take an interest in education. But the Pike's Peak gold rush took me
with it. I could never resist the call of the trail. With another boy
who knew as little of gold-mining as I did we hired out with a
bull-train for Denver, then called Aurora.
We each had fifty dollars when we got to the gold country, and with it
we bought an elaborate outfit. But there was no mining to be done save
by expensive machinery, and we had our labor for our pains. At last,
both of us strapped, we got work as timber cutters, which lasted only
until we found it would take us a week to fell a tree. At last we hired
out once more as bull-whackers. That job we understood, and at it we
earned enough money to take us home.
We hired a carpenter to build us a boat, loaded it with grub and
supplies, and started gayly down the Platte for home. But the bad luck
of that trip held steadily. The boat was overturned in swift and
shallow water, and we were stranded, wet and helpless, on the bank,
many miles from home or anywhere else.
Then a miracle happened. Along the trail we heard the familiar crack of
a bull-whip, and when the train came up we found it was the same with
which we had enlisted for the outward journey, returning to Denver with
mining machinery. Among this machinery was a big steam-boiler, the
first to be taken into Colorado. On the way out the outfit had been
jumped by Indians. The wagon boss, knowing the red man's fear of
cannon, had swung the great boiler around so that it had appeared to
point at them. Never was so big a cannon. Even the 42-centimeter
howitzers of today could not compare with it. The Indians took one look
at it, then departed that part of the country as fast as their ponies
We stuck with the train into Denver and back home again, and glad we
were to retire from gold-mining.
Soon after my return to Salt Creek Valley I decided on another and, I
thought, a better way to make a fortune for myself and my family.
During my stay in and about Fort Laramie I had seen much of the Indian
traders, and accompanied them on a number of expeditions. Their
business was to sell to the Indians various things they needed, chiefly
guns and ammunition, and to take in return the current Indian coin,
which consisted of furs.
With the supplies bought by the money I had earned on the trip with
Simpson, mother and my sisters were fairly comfortable. I felt that I
should be able to embark in the fur business on my own account--not as
a trader but as a trapper.
With my friend Dave Harrington as a companion I set out. Harrington was
older than I, and had trapped before in the Rockies. I was sure that
with my knowledge of the Plains and his of the ways of the fur-bearing
animals, we should form an excellent partnership, as in truth we did.
We bought a yoke of oxen, a wagon-sheet, wagon, traps of all sorts, and
strychnine with which to poison wolves. Also we laid in a supply of
grub--no luxuries, but coffee, flour, bacon and everything that we
actually needed to sustain life.
We headed west, and about two hundred miles from home we struck Prairie
Creek, where we found abundant signs of beaver, mink, otter and other
fur-bearing animals. No Indians had troubled us, and we felt safe in
establishing headquarters here and beginning work. The first task was
to build a dugout in a hillside, which we roofed with brush, long
grass, and finally dirt, making everything snug and cozy. A little
fireplace in the wall served as both furnace and kitchen. Outside we
built a corral for the oxen, which completed our camp.
Our trapping was successful from the start, and we were sure that
prosperity was at last in sight.
We set our steel traps along the "runs" used by the animals, taking
great care to hide our tracks, and give the game no indication of the
presence of an enemy. The pelts began to pile up in our shack. Most of
the day we were busy at the traps, or skinning and salting the hides,
and at night we would sit by our little fire and swap experiences till
we fell asleep. Always there was the wail of the coyotes and the cries
of other animals without, but as long as we saw no Indians we were not
One night, just as we were dozing off, we heard a tremendous commotion
in the corral. Harrington grabbed his gun and hurried out. He was just
in time to see a big bear throw one of our oxen and proceed with the
work of butchering him.
He fired, and the bear, slightly wounded, left the ox and turned his
attention to his assailant. He was leaping at my partner, growling
savagely when I, gun in hand, rounded the corner of the shack. I took
the best aim I could get in the dark, and the bear, which was within a
few feet of my friend, rolled over dead.
Making sure that he was past harming us we turned our attention to the
poor bull, but he was too far gone to recover, and another bullet put
him out of his misery.
We were now left without a team, and two hundred miles from home. But
wealth in the shape of pelts was accumulating about us, and we
determined to stick it out till spring. Then one of us could go to the
nearest settlement for a teammate for our remaining steer, while the
other stayed in charge of the camp.
This plan had to be carried out far sooner than we expected. A few days
later we espied a herd of elk, which meant plentiful and excellent
meat. We at once started in pursuit. Creeping stealthily along toward
them, keeping out of sight, and awaiting an opportunity to get a good
shot, I slipped on a stone in the creek bed.
"Snap!" went something and looking down I saw my foot hanging useless.
I had broken my leg just above the ankle and my present career as a
fur-trapper had ended.
I was very miserable when Harrington came up. I urged him to shoot me
as he had the ox, but he laughingly replied that that would hardly do.
"I'll bring you out all right!" he said. "I owe you a life anyway for
saving me from that bear. I learned a little something about surgery
when I was in Illinois, and I guess I can fix you up."
He got me back to camp after a long and painful hour and with a
wagon-bow, which he made into a splint, set the fracture. But our
enterprise was at an end. Help would have to be found now, and before
spring. One man and a cripple could never get through the winter.
It was determined that Harrington must go for this needful assistance
just as soon as possible. He placed me on our little bunk, with plenty
of blankets to cover me. All our provisions he put within my reach. A
cup was lashed to a long sapling, and Harrington made a hole in the
side of the dugout so that I could reach this cup out to a snow-bank
for my water supply.
Lastly he cut a great pile of wood and heaped it near the fire. Without
leaving the bunk I could thus do a little cooking, keep the fire up,
and eat and sleep. It was not a situation that I would have chosen, but
there was nothing else to do.
The nearest settlement was a hundred and twenty-five miles distant.
Harrington figured that he could make the round trip in twenty days. My
supplies were ample to last that long. I urged him to start as soon as
possible, that he might the sooner return with a new yoke of oxen. Then
I could be hauled out to where medical attendance was to be had.
I watched him start off afoot, and my heart was heavy. But soon I
stopped thinking of my pain and began to find ways and means to cure my
loneliness. We had brought with us a number of books, and these I read
through most of my waking hours. But the days grew longer and longer
for all that. Every morning when I woke I cut a notch in a long stick
to mark its coming. I had cut twelve of these notches when one morning
I was awakened from a sound sleep by the touch of a hand on my
Instantly concluding that Harrington had returned, I was about to cry
out in delight when I caught a glimpse of a war-bonnet, surmounting the
ugly, painted face of a Sioux brave.
The brilliant colors that had been smeared on his visage told me more
forcibly than words could have done that his tribe was on the warpath.
It was a decidedly unpleasant discovery for me.
While he was asking me in the Sioux language what I was doing there,
and how many more were in the party, other braves began crowding
through the door till the little dugout was packed as full of Sioux
warriors as it could hold.
Outside I could hear the stamping of horses and the voices of more
warriors. I made up my mind it was all over but the scalping.
And then a stately old brave worked his way through the crowd and came
toward my bunk. It was plain from the deference accorded him by the
others that he was a chief. And as soon as I set eyes on him I
recognized him as old Rain-in-the-Face, whom I had often seen and
talked with at Fort Laramie, and whose children taught me the Sioux
language as we played about the wagon-beds together. Among these
children was the son who succeeded to the name of Rain-in-the-Face, and
who years later, it is asserted, killed General George A. Custer in the
massacre of the Little Big Horn.
I showed the chief my broken leg, and asked him if he did not remember
me. He replied that he did. I asked him if he intended to kill the boy
who had been his children's playmate. He consulted with his warriors,
who had begun busily to loot the cabin. After a long parley the old man
told me that my life would be spared, but my gun and pistol and all my
provisions would be regarded as the spoils of the war.
Vainly I pointed out that he might as well kill me as leave me without
food or the means to defend myself against wolves. He said that his
young men had granted a great deal in consenting to spare my life. As
for food, he pointed to the carcass of a deer that hung from the wall.
The next morning they mounted their ponies and galloped away. I was
glad enough to see them go. I knew that my life had hung by a thread
while I had been their involuntary host. Only my friendship with the
children of old Rain-in-the-Face had saved me.
But, even with the Indians gone, I was in a desperate situation. As
they had taken all my matches I had to keep the fire going
continuously. This meant that I could not sleep long at a time, the
lack of rest soon began to tell on me. I would cut slices from the deer
carcass with my knife, and holding it over the fire with a long stick,
cook it, eating it without salt. Coffee I must do without altogether.
The second day after the departure of the Indians a great snow fell.
The drifts blocked the doorway and covered the windows. It lay to a
depth of several feet on the roof over my head. My woodpile was covered
by the snow that drifted in and it was with great difficulty that I
could get enough wood to keep my little fire going. And on that fire
depended my life. Worse than all these troubles was the knowledge that
the heavy snow would be sure to delay Harrington.
I would lie there, day after day, a prey to all sorts of dark
imaginings. I fancied him killed by Indians on the trail, or snowbound
and starving on the Plains. Each morning my notches on my calendar
stick were made. Gradually their number grew till at last the twentieth
was duly cut. But no Harrington came.
The wolves, smelling meat within, had now begun to gather round in
increasing numbers. They made the night hideous with their howlings,
and pawed and scratched and dug at the snow by the doorway, determined
to come in and make a meal of everything the dugout contained, myself
How I endured it I do not know. But the Plains teach men and boys
fortitude. Many and many a time as I lay there I resolved that if I
should ever be spared to go back to my home and friends, the frontier
should know me no more.
It was on the twenty-ninth day, as marked on stick, when I had about
given up hope, that I heard a cheerful voice shouting "Whoa!" and
recognized it as the voice of Harrington. A criminal on the scafford
with the noose about his neck and the trap sagging underneath his feet
could not have welcomed a pardon more eagerly than I welcomed my
deliverance out of this torture-chamber.
I could make no effort to open the door for him. But I found voice to
answer him when he cried "Hello, Billy!" and in response to his
question assured him that I was all right. He soon cleared a passageway
through the snow, and stood beside me.
"I never expected to see you alive again," he said; "I had a terrible
trip. I didn't think I should ever get through--caught in the snowstorm
and laid up for three days. The cattle wandered away and I came within
an ace of losing them altogether. When I got started again the snow was
so deep I couldn't make much headway."
"Well, you're here," I said, giving him a hug.
Harrington had made a trip few men could have made. He had risked his
life to save mine. All alone he had brought a yoke of oxen over a
country where the trails were all obscured and the blinding snow made
every added mile more perilous.
I was still unable to walk, and he had to do all the work of packing up
for the trip home. In a few days he had loaded the pelts on board the
wagon, covered it with the wagon-sheet we had used in the dugout, and
made me a comfortable bed inside. We had three hundred beaver and one
hundred otter skins to show for our work. That meant a lot of money
when we should get them to the settlements.
On the eighth day of the journey home we reached a ranch on the
Republican River, where we rested for a couple of days. Then we went on
to the ranch where Harrington had obtained his cattle and paid for the
yoke with twenty-five beaver skins, the equivalent of a hundred dollars
At the end of twenty days' travel we reached Salt Creek Valley, where I
was welcomed by my mother and sisters as one returned from the dead.
So grateful was my mother to Harrington for what he had done for me
that she insisted on his making his home with us. This he decided to
do, and took charge of our farm. The next spring, this man, who had
safely weathered the most perilous of journeys over the Plains, caught
cold while setting out some trees and fell ill. We brought a doctor
from Lawrence, and did everything in our power to save him, but in a
week he died. The loss of a member of our own family could not have
affected us more.
I was now in my fifteenth year and possessed of a growing appetite for
adventure. A very few months had so dulled the memory of my sufferings
in the dugout that I had forgotten all about my resolve to forsake the
frontier forever. I looked about me for something new and still more
I was not long in finding it. In April, 1860, the firm of Russell,
Majors & Waddell organized the wonderful "Pony Express," the most
picturesque messenger-service that this country has ever seen. The
route was from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, a
distance of two thousand miles, across the Plains, over a dreary
stretch of sagebrush and alkali desert, and through two great mountain
The system was really a relay race against time. Stations were built at
intervals averaging fifteen miles apart. A rider's route covered three
stations, with an exchange of horses at each, so that he was expected
at the beginning to cover close to forty-five miles--a good ride when
one must average fifteen miles an hour.
The firm undertaking the enterprise had been busy for some time picking
the best ponies to be had for money, and the lightest, most wiry and
most experienced riders. This was a life that appealed to me, and I
struck for a job. I was pretty young in years, but I had already earned
a reputation for coming safe out of perilous adventures, and I was
Naturally our equipment was the very lightest. The messages which we
carried were written on the thinnest paper to be found. These we
carried in a waterproof pouch, slung under our arms. We wore only such
clothing as was absolutely necessary.
The first trip of the Pony Express was made in ten days--an average of
two hundred miles a day. But we soon began stretching our riders and
making better time. Soon we shortened the time to eight days. President
Buchanan's last Presidential message in December, 1860, was carried in
eight days. President Lincoln's inaugural, the following March, took
only seven days and seventeen hours for the journey between St. Joseph
We soon got used to the work. When it became apparent to the men in
charge that the boys could do better than forty-five miles a day the
stretches were lengthened. The pay of the rider was from $100 to $125 a
month. It was announced that the further a man rode the better would be
his pay. That put speed and endurance into all of us.
Stern necessity often compelled us to lengthen our day's work even
beyond our desires. In the hostile Indian country, riders were
frequently shot. In such an event the man whose relief had been killed
had to ride on to the next station, doing two men's ride. Road-agents
were another menace, and often they proved as deadly as the Indians.
In stretching my own route I found myself getting further and further
west. Finally I was riding well into the foothills of the Rockies.
Still further west my route was pushed. Soon I rode from Red Buttes to
Sweetwater, a distance of seventy-six miles. Road-agents and Indians
infested this country. I never was quite sure when I started out when I
should reach my destination, or whether I should never reach it at all.
One day I galloped into the station at Three Crossings to find that my
relief had been killed in a drunken row the night before. There was no
one to take his place. His route was eighty-five miles across country
to the west. I had no time to think it over. Selecting a good pony out
of the stables I was soon on my way.
I arrived at Rocky Ridge, the end of the new route, on schedule time,
and turning back came on to Red Buttes, my starting-place. The round
trip was 320 miles, and I made it in twenty-one hours and forty
Excitement was plentiful during my two years' service as a Pony Express
rider. One day as I was leaving Horse Creek, a party of fifteen Indians
jammed me in a sand ravine eight miles west of the station. They fired
at me repeatedly, but my luck held, and I went unscathed. My mount was
a California roan pony, the fastest in the stables. I dug the spurs
into his sides, and, lying flat on his back, I kept straight on for
Sweetwater Bridge eleven miles distant. A turn back to Horse Creek
might have brought me more speedily to shelter, but I did not dare risk
The Indians came on behind, riding with all the speed they could put
into their horses, but my pony drew rapidly ahead. I had a lead of two
miles when I reached the station. There I found I could get no new
pony. The stock-tender had been killed by the Indians during the night.
All his ponies had been stolen and driven off. I kept on, therefore, to
Plonts Station, twelve miles further along, riding the same pony--a
ride of twenty-four miles on one mount. At Plonts I told the people
what had happened at Sweetwater Bridge. Then, with a fresh horse, I
finished my route without further adventure.
[Illustration: PURSUED BY FIFTEEN BLOODTHIRSTY INDIANS, I HAD A RUNNING
FIGHT OF ELEVEN MILES]
About the middle of September the Indians became very troublesome on
the line of the stage along the Sweetwater, between Split Rock and
Three Crossings. A stage had been robbed and two passengers killed
outright. Lem Flowers, the driver, was badly wounded. The thievish
redskins also drove stock repeatedly from the stations. They were
continually lying in wait for passing stages and Pony Express riders.
It was useless to keep the Express going until these depredations could
be stopped. A lay-off of six weeks was ordered, and our time was our
While we were thus idle a party was organized to carry the war into the
Indians' own country, and teach them that the white man's property must
be let alone. This party I joined.
Stage-drivers, express-riders, stock-tenders and ranchmen, forty in
number, composed this party. All were well armed; all were good shots,
and brave, determined men. "Wild Bill" Hickock, another of the Western
gunmen of whom I shall have something to tell later, was captain of the
expedition. He had come recently to our division as a stage-driver and
had the experience and courage necessary to that kind of leadership.
Twenty miles out from Sweetwater Bridge, at the head of Horse Creek, we
found an Indian trail running north toward Powder River. We could see
that the horses had been recently shod, conclusive proof that they were
our stolen stock. We pushed on as fast as we could along the trail to
the Powder, thence down this stream to within forty miles of where old
Fort Reno now stands. Farther on, at Crazy Woman's Fork, we saw
evidence that another party had joined our quarry. The trail was newly
made. The Indians could be hardly more than twenty-four hours ahead of
us. And plainly there was a lot of them.
When we reached Clear Creek, another tributary of the Powder, we saw
horses grazing on the opposite bank. Horses meant Indians. Never before
had the redskins been followed so far into their own country. Not
dreaming that they would be pursued they had failed to put out scouts.
We quickly got the "lay" of their camp, and held a council to decide on
how to attack them. We knew that they outnumbered us three to
one--perhaps more. Without strategy, all we would get for our long
chase would be the loss of our scalps.
"Wild Bill," who did not know the meaning of fear, made our plan for
us. We were to wait till nightfall, and then, after creeping up as
close as possible on the camp, make a grand ride right through it, open
a general fire upon them, and stampede their horses.
It was a plan that called for nerve, but we were full of spirit, and
the more danger there was in an enterprise the more we relished it. At
our captain's signal we rushed pell-mell through their camp. Had we
dropped from the clouds the Indians could not have been more
astonished. At the sound of our shots they scattered in every
direction, yelling warnings to each other as they fled.
Once clear of the camp we circled to the south and came back to make
sure that we had done a thorough job. A few parting shots stampeded the
stragglers. Then, with one hundred captured ponies--most, if not all of
them, stolen from the Express and State stations--we rode back to
The recovered horses were placed on the road again, and the Express was
resumed. Slade, who was greatly pleased with our exploit, now assigned
me as special or supernumerary rider. Thereafter while I was with him I
had a comparatively easy time of it, riding only now and then, and
having plenty of opportunity for seeking after the new adventures in
which I delighted.
Alf Slade, stage-line superintendent, frontiersman, and dare-devil
fighting man, was one of the far-famed gunmen of the Plains. These were
a race of men bred by the perils and hard conditions of Western life.
They became man-killers first from stern necessity. In that day the man
who was not quick on the trigger had little chance with the outlaws
among whom he had to live. Slade and "Wild Bill," with both of whom I
became closely associated, were men of nerve and courage. But both,
having earned the reputation of gun-fighters, became too eager to live
up to it. Eventually both became outlaws.
Slade, though always a dangerous man, and extremely rough in his
manner, never failed to treat me with kindness. Sober, he was cool and
self-possessed, but never a man to be trifled with. Drunk, he was a
living fury. His services to the company for which he worked were of
high value. He was easily the best superintendent on the line. But his
habit of man-killing at last resulted in his execution.
Another man who gained even greater notoriety than Slade was "Wild
Bill" Hickock, a tall, yellow-haired giant who had done splendid
service as a scout in the western sector of the Civil War.
"Wild Bill" I had known since 1857. He and I shared the pleasure of
walking a thousand miles to the Missouri River, after the bull-train in
which we both were employed had been burned by Lot Smith, the Mormon
raider. Afterward we rode the Pony Express together.
While an express rider, Bill had the fight with the McCandless gang
which will always form an interesting chapter in the history of the
Coming into his swing station at Rock Creek one day, Bill failed to
arouse any one with his shouts for a fresh mount. This was a certain
indication of trouble. It was the stock-tender's business to be on hand
with a relief pony the instant the rider came in. The Pony Express did
not tolerate delays.
Galloping into the yard, Bill dismounted and hurried to the stable. In
the door he saw the stock-tender lying dead, and at the same instant a
woman's screams rang from the cabin near by. Turning about, Bill found
himself face to face with a ruffian who was rushing from the house,
brandishing a six-shooter. He asked no questions, but pulled one of the
two guns he carried and fired. No sooner had the man fallen, however,
than a second, also armed, came out of the house. Hickock disposed of
this fellow also, and then entered the place, where four others opened
a fusillade on him.
Although the room was thick with smoke, and Bill had to use extreme
care to avoid hitting the woman, who was screaming in the corner, he
managed to kill two of his assailants with his revolvers and to ward
off a blow with a rifle a third had leveled at him.
The blow knocked the weapon from his hand, but his knife was still left
him, and with it he put the man with the rifle out of the way. His
troubles were not at an end, however. Another man came climbing in the
window to avenge his fellow gangsters. Bill reached for a rifle which
lay on the floor and shot first.
When he took count a few minutes later he discovered that he had killed
five men and wounded a sixth, who escaped in the thick of the fight.
The woman, who had been knocked unconscious by one of the desperadoes,
was soon revived. She was the stock-tender's wife, and had been
attacked the by gang as soon as they had slain her husband.
The passengers of the Overland stage, which rolled in as Bill was
reviving the terrified woman, were given a view of Western life which
none of them ever forgot.
Bill was the hero of the occasion, and a real hero he was, for probably
never has a man won such a victory against such terrific odds in all
the history of the war against the ruffians of the West.
It was at Springfield, Missouri, that Bill had his celebrated fight
with Dave Tutt. The fight put an end to Tutt's career. I was a personal
witness to another of his gun exploits, in which, though the chances
were all against him, he protected his own life and incidentally his
money. An inveterate poker player, he got into a game in Springfield
with big players and for high stakes. Sitting by the table, I noticed
that he seemed sleepy and inattentive. So I kept a close watch on the
other fellows. Presently I observed that one of his opponents was
occasionally dropping a card in his hat, which he held in his lap,
until a number of cards had been laid away for future use in the game.
The pot had gone around several times and was steadily raised by some
of the players, Bill staying right along, though he still seemed to be
The bets kept rising. At last the man with the hatful of cards picked a
hand out of his reserves, put the hat on his head and raised Bill two
hundred dollars. Bill came back with a raise of two hundred, and as the
other covered it he quietly shoved a pistol into his face and observed:
"I am calling the hand that is in your hat!"
[Illustration: HE SHOVED A PISTOL IN THE MAN'S FACE AND SAID "I'M
CALLING THE HAND THAT'S IN YOUR HAT"]
Gathering in the pot with his left hand, he held the pistol with his
right and inquired if any of the players had any objections to offer.
They hastened to reply that they had no objections whatever and we went
away from there.
"Bill," I said, when we were well outside the place, "I had been
noticing that fellow's play right along, but I thought you hadn't. I
was going to get into the game myself if he beat you out of that
"Billy," replied Hickock, "I don't want you ever to learn it, but that
is one of my favorite poker tricks. It always wins against crooked
Not all of the gunmen of the West began straight. Some of them--many,
in fact--were thieves and murderers from the beginning. Such were the
members of the McCandless gang, which Hickock disposed of so
thoroughly. All along the stage route were robbers and man-killers far
more vicious than the Indians. Very early in my career as a
frontiersman I had an encounter with a party of these from which I was
extremely fortunate to escape with my life.
I employed the leisure afforded me by my assignment as an extra rider
in hunting excursions, in which I took a keen delight. I was returning
home empty-handed from a bear hunt, when night overtook me in a lonely
spot near a mountain stream. I had killed two sage-hens and built a
little fire over which to broil them before my night's rest.
Suddenly I heard a horse whinny farther up the stream. Thinking
instantly of Indians, I ran quickly to my own horse to prevent him from
answering the call, and thus revealing my presence.
Filled with uneasiness as to who and what my human neighbors might be,
I resaddled my horse, and, leaving him tied where I could reach him in
a hurry if need be, made my way up-stream to reconnoiter. As I came
around a bend I received an unpleasant shock. Not one horse, but
fifteen horses, were grazing just ahead of me.
On the opposite side of the creek a light shone high up the mountain
bank--a light from the window of a dugout. I drew near very cautiously
till I came within, sound of voices within the place, and discovered
that its occupants were conversing in my own language. That relieved
me. I knew the strangers to be white men. I supposed them to be
trappers, and, walking boldly to the door, I knocked.
Instantly the voices ceased. There ensued absolute silence for a space,
and then came-whisperings, and sounds of men quietly moving about the
"Who's there?" called someone.
"A friend and a white man," I replied.
The door opened, and a big, ugly-looking fellow stood before me.
"Come in," he ordered.
I accepted the invitation with hesitation, but there was nothing else
to do. To retreat would have meant pursuit and probably death.
Eight of the most villainous-appearing ruffians I have ever set eyes
upon sat about the dugout as I entered. Two of them I recognized at
once as teamsters who had been employed by Simpson a few months before.
Both had been charged with murdering a ranchman and stealing his
horses. Simpson had promptly discharged them, and it was supposed that
they had left the country.
I gave them no sign of recognition. I was laying my plans to get out of
there as speedily as possible. I was now practically certain that I had
uncovered the hiding-place of a gang of horse-thieves who could have no
possible reason to feel anything but hostility toward an honest man.
The leader of the gang swaggered toward me and inquired menacingly:
"Where are you going, young man, and who's with you?"
"I am entirely alone," I returned. "I left Horseshoe Station this
morning for a bear hunt. Not finding any bears, I was going to camp out
till morning. I heard one of your horses whinnying, and came up to your
"Where is your horse?"
"I left him down the creek."
They proposed going for the horse, which was my only means of getting
rid of their unwelcome society. I tried strategy to forestall them.
"I'll go and get him," I said. "I'll leave my gun here."
This, I fancied, would convince them that I intended to return, but it
"Jim and I will go with you," said one of the thieves. "You can leave
your gun here if you want to. You won't need it."
I saw that if I was to get away at all I would have to be extremely
alert. These were old hands, and were not to be easily fooled. I felt
it safer, however, to trust myself with two men than with six, so I
volunteered to show the precious pair where I had left the horse, and
led them to my camp.
The animal was secured, and as one of the men started to lead him up
the stream I picked up the two sage-hens I had intended for my evening
meal. The more closely we approached the dugout the less I liked the
prospect of reentering it. One plan of escape had failed. I was sure
the ruffians had no intention of permitting me to leave them and inform
the stage people of their presence in the country.
One more plan suggested itself to me, and I lost no time in trying it.
Dropping one of the sage-hens, I asked the man behind me to pick it up.
As he was groping for it in the darkness, I pulled one of my Colt's
revolvers, and hit him a terrific blow over the head. He dropped to the
Wheeling about, I saw that the other man, hearing the fall, had turned,
his hand upon his revolver. It was no time for argument. I fired and
killed him. Then, leaping on my horse, I dug the spurs into his sides,
and back down the trail we went, over the rocks and rough ground toward
[Illustration: IT WAS NO TIME FOR ARGUMENT. I FIRED, AND KILLED HIM]
My peril was far from past. At the sound of the shot the six men in the
dugout tumbled forth in hot haste. They stopped an instant at the scene
of the shooting, possibly to revive the man I had stunned and to learn
from him what had happened.
They were too wise to mount their horses, knowing that, afoot, they
could make better time over the rocky country than I could on
horseback. Steadily I heard them gaining, and soon made up my mind that
if I was to evade them at all I must abandon my horse.
Jumping off, I gave him a smart slap with the butt of my revolver which
sent him down the valley. I turned and began to scramble up the
I had climbed hardly forty feet when I heard them pass, following the
sound of my horse's feet. I dodged behind a tree as they went by, and
when I heard them firing farther down the trail I worked my way up the
It was twenty-five miles to Horseshoe Station, and very hard traveling
the first part of the way. But I got to the station, just before
daylight, weary and footsore, but exceedingly thankful.
Tired as I was, I woke up the men at the station and told them of my
adventure. Slade himself led the party that set out to capture my
former hosts, and I went along, though nearly beat out.
Twenty of us, after a brisk ride, reached the dugout at ten o'clock in
the morning. But the thieves had gone. We found a newly made grave
where they had buried the man I had to kill, and a trail leading
southwest toward Denver. That was all. But my adventure at least
resulted in clearing the country of horse-thieves. Once the gang had
gone, no more depredations occurred for a long time.
After a year's absence from home I began to long to see my mother and
sisters again. In June, 1861, I got a pass over the stage-line, and
returned to Leavenworth. The first rumblings of the great struggle that
was soon to be known as the Civil War were already reverberating
throughout the North; Sumter had been fired upon in April of that year.
Kansas, as every schoolboy knows, was previously the bloody scene of
some of the earliest conflicts.
My mother's sympathies were strongly with the Union. She knew that war
was bound to come, but so confident was she in the strength of the
Federal Government that she devoutly believed that the struggle could
not last longer than six months at the utmost.
Fort Leavenworth and the town of Leavenworth were still important
outfitting posts for the soldiers in the West and Southwest. The fort
was strongly garrisoned by regular troops. Volunteers were undergoing
training. Many of my boyhood friends were enlisting. I was eager to
But I was still the breadwinner of the family, the sole support of my
sisters and my invalid mother. Not because of this, but because of her
love for me, my mother exacted from me a promise that I would not
enlist for the war while she lived.
But during the summer of 1861 a purely local company, know as the
Red-Legged Scouts, and commanded by Captain Bill Tuff, was organized.
This I felt I could join without breaking my promise not to enlist for
the war, and join it I did. The Red-Legged Scouts, while they
cooeperated with the regular army along the borders of Missouri, had for
their specific duty the protection of Kansas against raiders like
Quantrell, and such bandits as the James Boys, the Younger Brothers,
and other desperadoes who conducted a guerrilla warfare against Union
We had plenty to do. The guerrillas were daring fellows and kept us
busy. They robbed banks, raided villages, burned buildings, and looted
and plundered wherever there was loot or plunder to be had.
But Tuff was the same kind of a fighting man as they, and working in a
better cause. With his scouts he put the fear of the law into the
hearts of the guerrillas, and they notably decreased their depredations
Whenever and wherever we found that the scattered bands were getting
together for a general raid we would at once notify the regulars at
Fort Scott or Fort Leavenworth to be ready for them. Quantrell once
managed to collect a thousand men in a hurry, and to raid and sack
Lawrence before the troops could head them off. But when we got on
their trail they were driven speedily back into Missouri.
In the meantime we took care that little mischief was done by the gangs
headed by the James Boys and the Youngers, who operated in Quantrell's
wake and in small bands.
In the spring of '63 I left the Red-Legged Scouts to serve the Federal
Government as guide and scout with the Ninth Kansas Cavalry. The Kiowas
and Comanches were giving trouble along the old Santa Fe trail and
among the settlements of western Kansas. The Ninth Kansas were sent to
tame them and to protect immigrants and settlers.
This was work that I well understood. We had a lively summer, for the
Indians kept things stirring, but after a summer of hard fighting we
made them understand that the Great White Chief was a power that the
Indians had better not irritate. November, '63, I returned with the
command to Leavenworth. I had money in my pockets, for my pay had been
$150 a month, and I was able to lay in an abundant supply of provisions
for my family.
On the twenty-third day of December my mother passed away. Her life had
been an extremely hard one, but she had borne up bravely under poverty
and privation, supplying with her own teaching the education that the
frontier schools could not give her children, and by her Christian
example setting them all on a straight road through life.
Border ruffians killed her husband, almost within sight of her home.
She passed months in terror and distress and, until I became old enough
to provide for her, often suffered from direst poverty. Yet she never
complained for herself; her only thoughts being for her children and
the sufferings that were visited upon them because of their necessary
upbringing in a rough and wild country.
My sister Julia was now married to Al Goodman, a fine and capable young
man, and I was free to follow the promptings of an adventurous nature
and go where my companions were fighting. In January, 1864, the Seventh
Kansas Volunteers came to Leavenworth from the South, where they had
been fighting since the early years of the war. Among them I found many
of my old friends and schoolmates. I was no longer under promise not to
take part in the war and I enlisted as a private.
In March of that year the regiment was embarked on steamboats and sent
to Memphis, Tennessee, where we joined the command of General A.J.
Smith. General Smith was organizing an army to fight the illiterate but
brilliant Confederate General Forrest, who was then making a great deal
of trouble in southern Tennessee.
While we were mobilizing near Memphis, Colonel Herrick of our regiment
recommended me to General Smith for membership in a picked corps to be
used for duty as scouts, messengers, and dispatch carriers. Colonel
Herrick recounted my history as a plainsman, which convinced the
commander that I would be useful in this special line of duty.
When I reported to General Smith, he invited me into his tent and
inquired minutely into my life as a scout.
"You ought to be able to render me valuable service," he said.
When I replied that I should be only too glad to do so, he got out a
map of Tennessee, and on it showed me where he believed General
Forrest's command to be located. His best information was that the
Confederate commander was then in the neighborhood of Okolona,
Mississippi, about two hundred miles south, of Memphis.
He instructed me to disguise myself as a Tennessee boy, to provide
myself with a farm horse from the stock in the camp, and to try to
locate Forrest's main command. Having accomplished this, I was to
gather all the information possible concerning the enemy's strength in
men and equipment and defenses, and to make my way back as speedily as
General Smith expected to start south the following morning, and he
showed me on the map the wagon road he planned to follow, so that I
might know where to find him on my return. He told me before we parted
that the mission on which he was sending me was exceedingly dangerous.
"If you are captured," he said, "you will be shot as a spy."
To this I replied that my Indian scouting trips had been equally
dangerous, as capture meant torture and death, yet I had always
willingly undertaken them.
"Do you think you can find Forrest's army?" he said. "Well, if you
can't find an army as big as that you're a mighty poor scout," he said
General Smith then turned me over to the man who was in charge of what
was called "the refuge herd," from which I found a mount built on the
lines of the average Tennessee farm horse. This man also provided me
with a suit of farmer's clothing, for which I exchanged my new soldier
uniform, and a bag of provisions. Leading me about a mile from camp, he
left me with the warning:
"Look out, young fellow. You're taking a dangerous trip." Then we shook
hands and I began my journey.
I had studied carefully the map General Smith had shown me, and had a
fairly accurate idea of the direction I was supposed to take. Following
a wagon road that led to the south, I made nearly sixty miles the first
night. The mare I had chosen proved a good traveler.
When morning came I saw a big plantation, with the owner's and negroes'
houses, just ahead of me. I was anxious to learn how my disguise was
going to work, and therefore rode boldly up to the house of the
overseer and asked if I could get rest and some sort of breakfast.
In response to his inquiries I said I was a Tennesseean and on my way
to Holly Springs. I used my best imitation of the Southern dialect,
which I can still use on occasion, and it was perfectly successful. I
was given breakfast, my mare was fed, and I slept most of the day in a
haystack, taking up my journey again immediately after dinner.
Thereafter I had confidence in my disguise, and, while making no effort
to fall into conversation with people, I did not put myself out to
evade anyone whom I met. None of those with whom I talked suspected me
of being a Northern spy.
At the end of a few days I saw that I was near a large body of troops.
It was in the morning after a hard day-and-night ride. Fearing to
approach the outposts looking weary and fagged out, I rested for an
hour, and then rode up and accosted one of them. To his challenge I
said I was a country boy, and had come in to see the soldiers. My
father and brother, I said, were fighting with Forrest, and I was
almost persuaded to enlist myself.
My story satisfied the guard and I was passed. A little farther on I
obtained permission to pasture my horse with a herd of animals
belonging to the Confederates and, afoot, I proceeded to the camp of
the soldiers. By acting the part of the rural Tennesseean, making
little purchases from the negro food-stands, and staring open-mouthed
at all the camp life, I picked up a great deal of information without
once falling under suspicion.
The question now uppermost in my mind was how I was going to get away.
Toward evening I returned to the pasture, saddled my mare and rode to
the picket line where I had entered. Here, to my dismay, I discovered
that the outposts had been recently changed.
But I used the same story that had gained admission for me. In a sack
tied to my saddle were the food supplies I had bought from the negroes
during the day. These, I explained to the outposts, were intended as
presents for my mother and sisters back on the farm. They examined the
sack, and, finding nothing contraband in it, allowed me to pass.
I now made all possible speed northward, keeping out of sight of houses
and of strangers. On the second day I passed several detachments of
Forrest's troops, but my training as a scout enabled me to keep them
from seeing me.
Though my mare had proven herself an animal of splendid endurance, I
had to stop and rest her occasionally. At such times I kept closely
hidden. It was on the second morning after leaving Forrest's command
that I sighted the advance guard of Smith's army. They halted me when I
rode up, and for a time I had more trouble with them than I had had
with any of Forrest's men. I was not alarmed, however, and when the
captain told me that he would have to send me to the rear, I surprised
him by asking to see General Smith.
"Are you anxious to see a big, fighting general?" he asked in
"Yes," I said. "I hear that General Smith can whip Forrest, and I would
like to see any man who can do that."
Without any promises I was sent to the rear, and presently I noticed
General Smith, who, however, failed to recognize me.
I managed, however, to draw near to him and ask him if I might speak to
him for a moment.
Believing me to be a Confederate prisoner, he assented, and when I had
saluted I said:
"General, I am Billy Cody, the man you sent out to the Confederate
"Report back to your charge," said the general to the officer who had
me in custody. "I will take care of this man."
My commander was much pleased with my report, which proved to be
extremely accurate and valuable. The disguise he had failed to
penetrate did not deceive my comrades of the Ninth Kansas, and when I
passed them they all called me by name and asked me where I had been.
But my news was for my superior officers, and I did not need the
warning Colonel Herrick gave me to keep my mouth shut while among the
General Smith, to whom I later made a full detailed report, had spoken
highly of my work to Colonel Herrick, who was gratified to know that
his choice of a scout had been justified by results.
It was not long before the whole command knew of my return, but beyond
the fact that I had been on a scouting expedition, and had brought back
information much desired by the commander, they knew nothing of my
journey. The next morning, still riding the same mare and still wearing
my Tennessee clothes, I rode out with the entire command in the
direction of Forrest's army.
Before I had traveled five miles I had been pointed out to the entire
command, and cheers greeted me on every side. As soon as an opportunity
offered I got word with the general and asked if he had any further
special orders for me.
"Just keep around," he said; "I may need you later on."
"But I am a scout," I told him, "and the place for a scout is ahead of
the army, getting information."
"Go ahead," he replied, "and if you see anything that I ought to know
about come back and tell me."
Delighted to be a scout once more, I made my way forward. The general
had given orders that I was to be allowed to pass in and out the lines
at will, so that I was no longer hampered by the activities of my own
friends. I had hardly got beyond the sound of the troops when I saw a
beautiful plantation house, on the porch of which was a handsome old
lady and her two attractive daughters.
They were greatly alarmed when I came up, and asked if I didn't know
that the Yankee army would be along in a few minutes and that my life
was in peril. All their own men folks, they said, were in hiding in the
"Don't you sit here," begged the old lady, when I had seated myself on
the porch to sip a glass of milk for which I had asked her. "The Yankee
troops will go right through this house. They will break up the piano
and every stick of furniture, and leave the place in ruins. You are
sure to be killed or taken prisoner."
By this time the advance guard was coming up the road. General Smith
passed as I was standing on the porch. I saw that he had noticed me,
though he gave no sign of having done so. As more troops passed, men
began leaving their companies and rushing toward the house. I walked
out and ordered them away in the name of the general. They all knew who
I was, and obeyed, much to the astonishment of the old lady and her
Turning to my hostess, I said:
"Madam, I can't keep them out of your chicken-house or your smoke-house
or your storerooms, but I can keep them out of your home, and I will."
I remained on the porch till the entire command had passed. Nothing was
molested. Much pleased, but still puzzled, the old lady was now
convinced that I was no Tennessee lad, but a sure-enough Yankee, and
one with a remarkable amount of influence. When I asked for a little
something to eat in return for what I had done, the best there was in
the house was spread before me.
My hostess urged me to eat as speedily as possible, and be on my way.
Her men folks, she said, would soon return from the timber, and if they
learned that I was a Yank would shoot me on the spot. As she was
speaking the back door was pushed open and three men rushed in. The old
lady leaped between them and me.
"Don't shoot him!" she cried. "He has protected our property and our
lives." But the men had no murderous intentions.
"Give him all he wants to eat," said the eldest, "and we will see that
he gets back to the Yankee lines in safety. We saw him from the
treetops turn away the Yanks as he stood on the porch."
While I finished my meal they put all manner of questions to me, being
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