Chief of Scouts
Part 3 out of 5
We got an early start in the morning, and we landed at our camping place
about four o'clock in the evening, and I think there were as many as
twenty invited us to take supper with them that night. The last one was
from four young girls, who came to us together. One of them told Jim
that she wanted him and Mr. Drannan to come to their tent right away, as
supper was waiting. Jim answered that we didn't want any supper but told
her that if she would invite us to breakfast next morning and would
promise there would be enough to eat to fill us both for three or four
days, we would be glad to come and eat.
She answered, "All right, Mr. Bridger, I will get up before day and get
to cooking, so I shall be sure and have enough for you at least."
Jim and I now went to the tent of the people who had invited us first,
as had been our custom all through the journey. These were elderly
people who had one son and one daughter, both grown to man and
womanhood. While we were at supper the older woman asked how much bread
we could carry with us. Jim said we would like enough to last us three
or four days, and he thought three loaves like the ones on the spread
would be enough.
She said, "Why, Mr. Bridger, everybody is making bread, and cooking meat
for you to take with you."
Jim said, "Why, my good woman, we can kill all the meat we want as we
need it, and three loaves of bread is all we can carry on our horses
with our other stuff."
The first thing in the morning the girls we had promised to eat
breakfast with were after us to come to their tent, and we found a fine
meal waiting for us.
Jim said, "Now ladies, you know that in going back, Will and I have to
go over a very dangerous road, and we won't have time to cook in the
next three or four days, so we calculate to eat enough to last us till
we get to the Sink of the Humboldt, and that will take us three or four
days, so in our accepting your invitation to take our last breakfast on
this trip with you we may make you twice glad."
The elder woman smiled and told the girls they had better be frying some
more meat. Jim looked around the spread and told the girls he guessed
they had better wait till we had eaten what was before u, before they
cooked more, and there certainly was enough food before us for as many
more as sat around it, and although it was spread on a cloth laid on the
ground, I have never partaken of a breakfast served on the finest table
that tasted as good as that one did that morning.
We had almost finished eating when the elder lady said, "Girls, pass
that cake around."
Jim said, "Is there cake too? I'm not used to eating cake, only on
Sunday mornings, and this is Saturday."
I told the girls that Jim hadn't seen any cake since we left Fort
Kerney, and that if she wanted any left for themselves they had better
not pass the plate. She answered, "There is aplenty, and I have a great
big cake for you to take to eat on the road."
Jim said, "That won't do at all, for Will will want to stay in camp all
the time and eat cake until it is all gone."
As soon as breakfast was over, we caught our horses and began packing.
We each had two saddle horses, and we had one pack horse between us.
When we were leading up our horses, Jim said, "This is the worst job of
all, for all these women have a lot of grub cooked for us to take along,
and plagued take it, we have no room on the pack horses to put it. What
shall we do?"
I said, "We will take what we can pack, Jim, and we can thank the ladies
for their kindness, and tell them we are sorry we can't take all they
would give us, and then we can mount and be off."
Jim said, "That sounds easy."
When we were packing, sure enough, every one of the elder women and some
of the girls brought something for us to take with us to eat. Jim told
them that we were a thousand times obliged to them all, but we could not
take anything but a few loaves of bread, and then, as was usual, in his
joking way he said with a glance at me, "I know, Will feels bad to leave
that cake, and he will dream of seeing cakes for a week, but I can't
indulge him this time."
When Jim had done speaking, one of the girls, that we had taken
breakfast with handed him a small sack, and told him not to open it
until we camped that night. At this moment Mr. Tullock, came to us and
said, "Here, my friends, is a recommendation, and I think every grown
person in the train has signed their name to both of them, and all the
company have asked me to say a few words for them. If either or both of
you ever come to California, we want you to find some of us and make
your home with us as long as you wish, for you will always find a warm
welcome with any of this company."
I had been acquainted with Jim Bridger several years and this was the
first time I had ever seen him overcome with feeling. His voice shook so
he could hardly thank the people for their kind words and when it came
to shaking hands and biding them good bye, he almost lost his speech.
But it was over at last and we mounted our horses and left them. For
the first ten miles I don't think Jim spoke ten words. Finally he said,
"Well they were a good crowd of people, weren't they Will? If I ever go
to California and can find any of them, I mean to stay all night with
them, for it would be like visiting brother or sister."
We now began to calculate where we should camp that night. I said,
"Let's make a dry camp tonight, we can fill our canteen, and water our
horses at a stream that crosses the trail, and then we can ride on till
dark. In doing this way we will avoid the Indians and will not have to
guard against them in the night, for the Indians invariably camp near
We made a long ride that day and picked a nice place to camp that night.
As soon as we had unsaddled and unpacked our horses, I said, "Jim, I
will stake the horses if you will make a fire." When I came back from
attending to the horses, Jim said, "Look here, Will, see what them girls
gave me, but I guess they meant it for you."
And he showed me the sack which the girls had given him as we were
leaving them that morning. I looked into it and saw two large cakes and
a good-sized piece of roasted Elk calf. The reader may imagine how good
this nice food looked to two hungry men, and we surely did justice to
it. When we were eating, Jim made the remark that it would be many a
long day before we met with such a company again as those we had left
that morning. He said, "In nearly all large companies there are cranks,
either men or women, and sometimes both, but all that outfit were
perfect ladies and gentlemen, and they all seemed to want to do what was
right, and the men were all brave and the women were sensible."
The next morning we pulled out early, and we made good progress for five
days, making dry camps every night. Nothing occurred to disturb us until
we reached the Sink of the Humboldt. Here were Indian signs in every
direction. We knew we would be in the heart of the Ute country for the
next hundred miles, so we decided to do our traveling in the night and
lay over and rest in the daytime.
We picked our camping places off the trail, where we thought the Indians
would not be likely to discover us. The second night after we left the
Sink of the Humboldt, we crossed a little stream called Sand Creek, and
just off to the right of the trail we saw what we thought must have been
five hundred Indians in camp. Most of them were laying around asleep,
but a few were sitting at the fire smoking, and we succeeded in riding
past them without their noticing us. After we had got entirely away from
their camp fires, Jim said, "Will, we are the luckiest chaps that ever
crossed the plains, for if them Indians had seen us, they would have
filled our hides full of arrows just to get our horses, and I think we
had better keep on traveling in the night until we strike Black's Fork,
then we will be pretty near out of the Utes country."
When we got to Lone Tree on Black's Fork we lay over one day to let our
horses rest and to get rested ourselves.
It was a little before sunrise that morning when we reached Lone Tree. I
said to Jim, "Are you hungry?" He replied that he was too hungry to tell
I answered, "All right, you take care of the horses, and I will get an
Antelope and we will have a fine breakfast."
Jim said, "Well, don't disappoint me, Will, for I am in the right shape
to eat a half an Antelope."
I took my gun and went up on a little ridge and looked over, and not a
quarter of a mile from me I saw a large band of Antelope, and I saw that
they were feeding directly towards me. I hid myself in a little bunch of
sage brush and waited until they fed up to within fifty yards of me. I
then fired and brought down a little two-year-old buck. I took him up,
threw him over my shoulder, and went back to Camp as fast as I could go.
When I reached there, Jim had a fire burning, and in a few minutes we
had the meat cooking. Jim made the remark that we had enough to do to
keep us busy all day, for when we were not eating, we must be sleeping,
for he was about as hungry as he ever was and so sleepy that he did not
dare to sit down for fear he would fall asleep without his breakfast.
After we had enjoyed a very hearty meal of meat and bread, for we ate
the last piece of bread that the ladies had given us that morning, we
smoked our pipes a few moments, and then we spread our blankets on the
ground under the only tree in ten miles of us, and we were soon lost to
everything in a sleep that lasted until near night. I did at least. When
I awoke I found Jim cooking meat for supper. When he saw that I was
awake, he said, "Come, Will, get up. We have had our sleep. Now we will
have our supper."
While we were eating, I asked Jim if we could make Green River tomorrow.
He said, "Yes, we must get out of here tomorrow morning by daylight.
Our horses will be well rested as we ourselves will be. We want to make
Green River tomorrow night and Rock Springs the next night. I consider
it is about eighty miles to Rock Springs from here, and we ought to make
it in two days."
The next morning we were up bright and early and were on our journey as
soon as we could see the trail. Nothing happened to disturb us, and we
reached Green River just before sunset. We crossed the river and went
into camp just above the Ford. We had just got our horses staked out
when we heard whips snapping and people's voices shouting.
Jim listened a moment and said, "What in thunder does that mean?"
I answered, "I think it is an emigrant train coming." Jim said, "By
jove if that is so, we will have to move from here and stake our horses
somewhere else, for no doubt they will want to camp right here, and if
there is much of a train, they will take all the room in this little
In a few minutes they hove in sight. Jim said, "Now, let's get to one
side and see if they have any system about their camping, and then we
will know whether it is worth while for us to apply for a job or not."
They did not seem to know that they were near a river by the way they
acted. Some of them would leave their wagons and run down to the stream
and run back again and talk with the others. Finally they discovered Jim
and me, and about twenty of the men came to where we were sitting. We
had started a fire and were waiting for it to get hot enough to cook our
meat for our supper, and it was certainly very amusing to watch their
faces. They looked at us as if they thought us wild men. We learned
afterwards that they had never seen anyone dressed in Buck Skin before.
After staring at us a while, one of them, an old man, said, "Where in
creation are you two men from?"
Jim answered, "We have just come from Sacramento Valley, California."
And did you come all the way alone?
Jim answered, "Yes sir, we did."
"Did you see any Indians?" he inquired.
Jim said, "Yes, about a thousand, I think."
"Did they try to kill you?"
"Oh, no," Jim said. "They were asleep when we saw them."
"Why, they told us back at Fort Kerney that the Indians never slept day
or night," the old man said.
Jim answered that they slept a little at night sometimes, and that was
the time we took to travel. We had traveled nearly all the way from
California to this place after night, and in some places where we
traveled over, the Indians were as thick as jack rabbits.
One of the men then inquired when we went to California.
Jim answered, "We left Fort Kerney about eight weeks ago and piloted
the biggest train of emigrants across the plains that has ever gone to
California, and we did not lose a person or a head of stock, but we got
a good many Indian scalps on the way."
One of the men then said, "Ain't you Jim Bridger and Will Drannan that
the commander at the Fort told us about?"
Jim replied, "That is who we are."
One of them then asked if we would pilot another train to California.
Jim answered, "I don't know. The Indians are getting so dog goned thick
that there is no fun in the job, but you folks go and get your supper,
and let us eat ours. We are dog goned hungry, for we haven't had a bite
since day-break this morning. You can come back here after supper, and
we will talk to you."
By this time there must have been a hundred men standing around us, but
when Jim told them that we wanted to eat our supper, they all scattered.
After they had left us, Jim said, "You get supper, Will, and I will go
and see whether there is any system about this outfit or not, and if
supper is ready before I get back, don't wait for me, for I may not get
back in half an hour or more."
I had got my meat on the fire and was just making the coffee when a
number of women, I should think about a dozen of them, came near me and
stopped and gazed at me. I bid them good evening and asked them to have
supper with me. One of them answered, "No, I came to ask you to come and
eat supper with us. My father sent me to invite you."
I thanked her and told her that as my own supper was nearly ready, I
would eat at my own camp. I had taken my Buck-skin coat off and laid it
on our pack. One of the women asked me if she could look at it. I told
her that she could if she wished to.
While they were looking at the coat and exclaiming over its beauty (it
was heavily embroidered with beads and porcupine quills, and was an odd
looking garment to one not accustomed to seeing the clothing of the
frontiers men), a couple of girls came running to me, saying, "Father
wants you to come and eat supper with us, Mr. Bridger is eating now." So
I took the meat and coffee off the fire and put my coat on and went with
them. When I got in speaking distance of Jim, I said, "I thought you
told me to cook supper." Jim answered, "I know I did Will, but we didn't
have any fried onions, and these folks have, so I thought we would eat
here and save our supper."
The people all laughed at Jim being so saving, and then the old man
asked what we would charge to pilot the train through to California. Jim
asked, "How many wagons have you in this outfit?"
He answered that he was not sure, but he thought there were about a
hundred and thirty-five.
"How many men are there in the train?" The old man said, "Oh, dog gone
it, I can't tell."
Jim said, "Have you got no Captain?"
The old man answered, "Why no, we haven't any use for a Captain."
Jim then said, "Well, I don't suppose they have any use for a commander
over at the Fort then. Suppose the Indians should make an attack on them
over there, and there was no Commander there, what do you think the
soldiers would do? I will tell you what would happen. The most of the
soldiers would be scalped, and it is the same way with a train of
emigrants if the Indians attack them and they have no leader or what we
call a Captain; they will all be scalped and in a mighty short time too.
Now you call the men together and come to our camp, and we will talk
this matter over, and then we will see if we can make a bargain with the
In a few minutes it seemed as if all the men and women of the train were
standing around our camp.
Jim said to them, "I want some man who is a good reader to read this
letter to the company."
And he held up one of the letters of recommendation given us by the
people of the train we had left a few days before. A middle-aged man
came forward and said, "I reckon I can read it; I am a school teacher by
profession, and I am used to reading all kinds of handwriting."
He took the letter, stepped up on a log and in a clear, loud voice read
it to the company. After he had finished reading it, the man handed the
letter back to Jim with the remark that it was a fine recommendation and
gave a character few men could claim.
Jim now told the emigrants that before we took charge of a train he
always had the men of the train select a committee from their number,
and this committee had the entire charge of the business in making
arrangements with us and all other matters that might take place on the
trip. "Now if you want us to pilot this train across to California, get
together and select your committee, and they can come to us and we will
It was now nearly eleven o'clock at night, so Jim told the people that
we had traveled a long distance that day and were very tired, and he
thought we had better not make any bargain that night. We would go to
our rest, and in the morning they could tell us what they had decided
on. Next morning Jim and I were up very early, and so were the most of
the emigrants. We were building a fire to get our breakfast when one of
the emigrants came to us and invited us to take breakfast with him. He
said there had been a committee selected, that the men talked the matter
over after they left us the night before, and they chose five men to
make arrangements with us. "But as we did not go to bed until nearly
morning, I don't think they are all up yet," he said, smiling.
We went with him and found breakfast waiting for us. After we had
finished, two of the men came to us and said they were two of the five
who had been appointed to do business with us, and that the other three
would meet us at our camp in a few minutes. So Jim and I went back to
our camp, and in a very short time the five men were with us. One of
them asked us how much we would charge to pilot them to California. Jim
said, "How many wagons have you?"
He said, "We have ninety here now, and there will be twenty more here by
Jim asked, "How many men are there in the company?" They said they did
not know for certain but thought there would be about a hundred and
ninety. Jim said that we would take them across to California for five
dollars a day, which would be two dollars and a half for each of us.
"Providing you will promise to obey our orders in all things pertaining
to the protection of the train and also give us two days to drill the
teamsters and the scouts, but we will have to move on one day from here,
as there is no ground here that is fit to drill on."
One of the committee said, "We will give you an answer in twenty
minutes," and they went back to their camp, which was a hundred yards or
more from ours. Jim and I caught our horses and were saddling them when
the committee came back to us and told us we could consider ourselves
I now spoke for the first time, Jim having done all the talking before.
I said, "I want you men to select ten good men who own their horses. I
prefer young men who are good horsemen, for I want them to assist me in
doing scout work."
This seemed to surprise the men. One of them asked, what the young men
would have to do. Jim now spoke up in his joking way and said, "They
will find enough to do before we get to California. For example I will
show you what Will and his scouts have done on our last trip across." At
the same time he was untying the sack that held the Indian scalps we had
taken on our last trip to California. When he emptied the sack it
was amusing to us to see their faces. Their first expression was of
surprise, and the next was of horror. Jim took up one of the scalps and
shook it out and said, "Taking these is one of the things you young men
may have to do," and he continued, "These scalps which seem to give you
men the horrors to look at now, will be worth more than money to all the
people of this train, for they will save the lives of all of you, and
that is more than money could do in an attack by the Indians."
Some of the men wanted to know in what way the scalps would save them.
Jim answered, "Let us get on the road to our next camping ground, and I
will explain everything in regard to the protection of the train when we
get to drilling."
In a short time every thing was on the move, and we reached our place
to camp about four o'clock in the afternoon. Jim commenced to put the
numbers on the wagons as soon as we landed in camp in order to get to
drilling as early as possible in the morning. We had been in camp but a
short time when one of the committee men came to me and said, "We have
selected your men, Mr. Drannan. Come out, and I will introduce them to
you, and you can see if they would suit you, and if they do, you can
tell them what you want them to do."
We went outside the corral, and we found the ten men there with their
horses. I asked them if they all had rifles and pistols. They said they
had. I next asked them if they had ever practiced shooting off their
horses' backs, and they all said no, nor had ever heard of such a way
of shooting. I then said, "Now boys, it is too late in the evening to
commence practicing, but I want you all to meet me here after breakfast
in the morning, and have your horses and guns and pistols with you, and
you may make up your mind to do a hard day's work tomorrow."
That evening Jim and I had a talk by ourselves in regard to how much
time we should take to drill the men. Jim said, "Will, do you think you
can drill your men in one day so they will know enough to risk starting
out day after tomorrow?"
I answered, "I think I can, Jim."
He thought a moment and then said, "I don't like to hurry you in
training your men, Will, but you know it is getting late in the season,
and we have a long road to travel after we get these emigrants through
to California in order to get back home to Taos before the winter sets
in, and I have no doubt Kit will be looking for us long before we get
I said, "Jim, this will be my last trip as a pilot for emigrants."
Jim laughed and answered, "I thought this kind of business just suited
you, Will, for you are a favorite with the girls, especially when you
bring in scalps."
I answered, "The girls are all right, Jim, but there is too much
responsibility in such an undertaking, and besides, it is impossible to
Jim answered, "There is a good deal of truth in what you say, Will. It
is not an easy job to please so many people all at once. We will hurry
this trip through as quick as possible and get them off our hands."
The next morning I was up early and met the men who were to be trained
to make scouts. We went to a little grove of timber about a quarter of
a mile from camp. I selected a small tree, probably a foot through,
dismounted and made a crossmark with my knife. I then asked the boys, if
they thought they could hit that cross with their guns or pistols with
their horses on the dead run. One of them said, "No, I don't know as I
could hit it with my horse standing still."
I answered, "But that is just what I must teach you to do if you are
ever to make a scout to guard against Indians or fight them. I will
mount my horse and go back to that little bunch of brush," and I pointed
to a bunch of brush that was perhaps a little more than a hundred yards
from the tree, "and all of you men follow me."
When we reached the brush, I turned my horse's head towards the tree I
had marked, and I then said, "Now boys, I am going to put my horse down
to his best speed, and I want you all to follow me and keep as close to
me as you can, and each man look out for his own horse when I commence
to shoot. At the same time keep your eyes on me, for I want each one
of you to take his turn in doing as I do, and I want you to repeat the
thing until you can hit the mark as I shall do."
I now started my horse at full speed, and before I had got to the tree
I had fired my second shot, and both balls struck near the cross, but I
was surprised, and I will not deny also amused, to see the way the boys
were trying to stop their horses; they were running in every direction
and appeared to be nearly frightened to death, and apparently their
riders had no control over them, but finally they checked them and rode
back to where I stood.
I said, "Boys, you certainly have your horses trained to run from the
Indians if you can't stop to fight them."
One of the boys said, "I never saw my horse act the fool as he has done
I said, "Now, which one of you are going to try it again first? Don't
all speak at once."
It was some minutes before anyone answered. At last one of them said, "I
will try it. Shall we all come down together as we did with you?"
I told him, "No, I want you to all to try it single-handed once and then
we will try it in groups of three, but if you are afraid you cannot
manage your horse, I will ride beside you."
He answered, "No, I have got to break him in to it, and I might as well
do it at the start."
So the others got out of his way, and he rode to the brush, wheeled his
horse, put the spurs to him and came at full speed. When within fifty
feet of the tree he fired his rifle and missed the tree but pulled
his pistol and made a good shot, and he did not have much trouble in
stopping his horse this time.
When he rode back to us, I showed him the hole where the bullet struck
it and told him he had done exceptionally well.
He said, "Can't I give it another trial?"
I said, "Not now. Best let everyone have a try first."
I saw that they were a little encouraged by the first one's success, so
I said, "Who comes next?"
One of them said, "I reckon it is me next," and he was on his horse in
a twinkle and off for the brush. This man was in a little too much of a
hurry; he shot too soon and missed the tree, which scared his horse, and
he turned and ran in an opposite direction, and the rider had all he
could do to attend to him so he did not fire his pistol at all. When he
came back the boys had a laugh on him.
He said, "All right, see that the balance of you does better."
They all gave it a trial, and out of the ten men only three hit the mark
with either rifle or pistol. Before we got through practicing, there
must have been as many as a hundred men from the camp watching the
performance. After each man had tried singly, I formed them in squads of
three, and they were more successful that way than they were alone from
the fact that their horses were getting used to the report of the guns.
The reader will understand that the drilling was done more for the
benefit of the horses than it was for the men, for many times if the
horses were unmanageable when in a fight with the Indians, the rider was
in a great deal more danger of being killed than he would have if he
could manage his horse.
As it was getting near noon I called it off until after dinner. When we
were near the corral going back to camp, I pointed to a large log that
was laying on the ground and told the boys to meet me there on foot,
and I would put them through another kind of a drill, which was more
essential for them to know than the one we had been practicing. One of
them said, "What can it be?"
I answered, "It is to learn to signal to each other without speaking
when you are in danger."
After dinner I had a talk with Jim in regard to how he was succeeding in
drilling his teamsters. He said they were doing fine and would be ready
to pull out in the morning. He said, "Will, these are not such people to
handle as the last train we drilled."
I said, "What makes you think so, Jim?"
He answered, "There are a few in this outfit who do not believe there
will be trouble with the Indians."
I answered, "Well, Jim, these are of the class that will not obey
orders, and they will get the worst of it, and no one can blame us."
When I went to meet the boys, they were all standing or sitting on the
fallen tree, waiting for me. I asked if they had ever heard a Coyote
howl. They said not until they heard them on this trip. Then I explained
to them, that the Indians were so used to hearing the Coyotes howl
that they took no notice of that kind of a noise day or night, so we
frontiers-men always used the bark or howl of a Coyote as a signal to
call each other together in times of danger. I then gave a howl that the
boys said no Coyote could beat, and in a couple of hours I had them all
drilled so they could mimic the Coyotes very well.
We went back to camp, got our horses, and put in the afternoon in
shooting at targets on horse back. Before we separated that evening, I
told the men what position I wanted each one of them to take when the
train was ready to move in the morning. I also told them they must
always meet me at the head of the train before we started the train
every morning to get their instructions for the day. Every one of the
ten seemed to be willing and ready to obey everything I asked them to
All was in readiness for the start on the road the next morning, and
we pulled out in good season. Every thing worked smoothly for the next
three days, and then we were in the Ute country, and there were also a
great many Buffalo scattered all through the country. I had seen some
signs of Indians, but up to this time I had seen only one small band of
them, and they were going in the opposite direction from the one we were
The evening of the third day, after we had eaten our supper, about
twenty men came to where Jim and I were sitting on a log having a smoke
and a private talk together.
One of them who seemed to be the leader said, "We want some Buffalo
meat, and we propose to go out and get some tomorrow. Now what do you
think about it?"
[Illustration: They raced around us in a circle.]
Jim said, "Which way do you think of going?" Pointing to the south, he
said, "We think of going down into those low hills not more than eight
or ten miles from the trail."
Jim answered, "I have no doubt you would find Buffalo and maybe kill
some, but I have grave doubt of your ever getting back alive."
The man said, "Do you think we would get lost?"
Jim answered, "Yes, I think you would, if the Indians shoot you full of
arrows and take your scalp off."
He answered, "We have got to find some Indians before they have a chance
to scalp us, and I don't believe there is an Indian out there, and we
are going hunting in the morning."
Jim answered, "All right, do just as you darned please, but I will tell
you this just here and now. When you go a half a mile from the train
without our consent, you will be out from under our protection, and we
shall not hold ourselves responsible for your lives."
They turned away from us, saying, "We will take the chances; we want
some Buffalo meat, and we are going to get it."
The next morning when the train pulled out twenty-three men left us,
mounted on their horses with their guns all in trim for a Buffalo hunt,
and four out of the twenty three was all we ever saw again either dead
We pulled out, and everything moved on nicely all day. I saw a great
deal of Indian sign at various places during the day. About the middle
of the afternoon one of the scouts reported that he saw a band of
Indians off to the south. As soon as he reported this to me, I went with
him to the top of a high ridge where we could see all over the country,
and sure enough, there was a small band of Indians some two or three
miles south of our trail.
After watching them a few minutes, I saw that they were going from us,
so I knew that we were in no danger from that band.
We had to make an early camp that evening on account of water. It was
one of my duties to ride ahead of the train and look the country over
for signs of Indians to select a safe camping ground for each night,
although Jim and I always talked over the best place to camp the coming
night before we struck out in the morning.
That night I did not get in until Jim had the wagons all corralled. Jim
came to me as soon as I rode in and said, "Will, have you seen anything
of the men that went hunting this morning?"
I answered, "I neither saw or heard anything of them since I saw them
ride away this morning, but I will call my scouts together and ask them
if they have seen them during the day."
When I inquired of the men, I learned that they had not seen or heard of
them and had not even heard the report of a gun all day.
We had just finished eating supper that night when one of the committee
men came to us and said, "Don't you think you had better send out some
men to look for the party that went a hunting?"
Jim said, "I told those men not to go away from the train, that there
was danger of their losing their scalps if they left us, and I also told
them that if they went a half a mile from the train I should not be
responsible for them dead or alive. They answered that they did not
believe there was an Indian in the country, and that they would take the
chances anyway, and more than that, I would not know where to go to hunt
for them any more than you would, for the country for miles around is
like this, and I would be willing to bet anything that you will never
see them all again."
Dusk was settling down, and as the night came on and the hunters did not
come in, the excitement grew more intense. About twenty men came to me
and inquired if I knew what kind of a country the hunters would be apt
to go into. I answered that if they kept the course which they said they
intended to go, it would lead them to the Buffalo country and also into
the heart of the Indian country. One of them then asked me if I would
be willing to try to find the absent men if I had enough men with me to
I answered, "Why, my friends, it would be like hunting for a needle in
a haystack. You certainly do not understand the ways of the Indians. If
the Indians have killed those men, they will take the bodies with them
if they have to carry them a hundred miles. They will take them to their
village and spend two or three days in having a scalp dance, so you will
see how useless it would be to try to find them, and what is more to be
thought of, if we should stay here two or three days we should in all
probability be attacked by the Utes ourselves, and there is no knowing
how many of the people would be killed, or how much other damage would
It was getting towards bed time when four women came to me with their
faces swollen with tears. One of them said, "Mr. Drannan, do you think
our husbands have been killed by the Indians?"
I answered, "That is a question I can not answer, but I will say that I
hope they have not; they may have lost their course and in that way have
escaped the Indians."
While I was talking with the women, I heard the tramp of horses' feet
coming towards camp on the trail.
I said, "Listen, perhaps they are coming now." and we went to meet
the coming horsemen. There were four of them, and one of them was the
husband of the woman I had been talking to. When they came up to us, he
jumped off his horse and, clasping his wife in his arms he said, "Oh
Mary, I never expected to see you again."
In a few minutes everybody in camp was standing around those four men,
and they surely had a dreadful story to tell. They said, they did not
know how far they had ridden that morning when they sighted a band of
Buffalo in a little valley. They fired at them and killed four; they
dismounted and turned their horses loose and went to skinning their
Buffalo and had the hides nearly off of them when, without a sound to
warn them of danger, the Indians pounced upon them, and of all the
yelling and shouting that ever greeted any one's ears, that was the
worst they had ever heard, and the arrows flew as thick as hail.
"One of them struck me here," and he pulled up his pants and showed us a
ragged wound in the calf of his leg. After we had looked at the wounded
leg, he continued his story. He said, "As soon as I heard the first
yell, I ran for my horse and was fortunate in catching him. I think the
reason of we four being so lucky in getting away was that we were a
little distance from the others. We were off at one side, and we four
were working on one Buffalo, and lucky for us our horses were feeding
close to us. I do not believe that one of the other men caught his horse
as their horses were quite a distance from them, and the Indians were
between the men and their horses. The last I saw of them was their
hopeless struggle against the flying Indians' arrows.
"We had mounted and had run a hundred or two hundred yards when we saw
that four or five Indians were after us. They chased us two or three
miles. It seemed that our horses could outrun theirs, and they gave up
the chase, but in the confusion we had lost our course, and we did not
know which direction to take, and we have been all the rest of the day
trying to find the train, and we are just about worn but, and we are
hungry enough to eat anything, at least I am."
As it happened, Jim Bridger was standing near me when the man was
talking. The man turned and said to him, "Mr. Bridger, I hope all the
people of this train will listen to your advice from this night until we
reach the end of our journey. If we four men had done as you told us to
do, we would not have suffered what we have today, and the nineteen, who
I have no doubt have been scalped by the savages, would have been alive
and well tonight. There is no one to blame but ourselves. You warned us,
but we thought we knew more than you did, and the dreadful fate that
overtook the most of the company shows how little we knew what we were
doing in putting our judgment in opposition to men whose lives have been
spent in learning the crafty nature of the Red-men."
Jim answered, "I always know what I am saying when I give advice, and I
knew what would be liable to happen to you if you left the protection of
the train. This is the third case of this kind which has happened since
Will and I have been piloting emigrants across the plains to California,
and I hope it will be the last."
There was but little sleep in camp that night. Out of the nineteen men
that were killed, twelve of them were the heads of families, and the
cries of the widows and orphaned children were very distressing for Jim
and me to hear, although we were blameless. The next morning just after
breakfast the committee of five men came to Jim and me and said they
wanted to have a private talk with us.
Jim said, "All right," and we all went outside the corral. When we were
alone by ourselves, one of them said, "I want to have your opinion with
regard to hunting for the bodies of the men who are lost. Do you think
it possible to find their bodies if they were killed?"
Jim said, "No, I do not. In the first place, we do not know where to
look. In the second place, the Indians may have carried them fifty or
seventy-five miles from where they killed them. In the third place, we
do not know where the Indian village is or in what direction to look for
it, and if we should find the Indian camp, they may be so strong that we
would not dare to attack them, so you will see at once how useless it
would be for us to attempt to do anything in regard to finding their
One of the committee said, "Well, so you propose to pull out and go on?"
Jim said, "Yes, that is what I propose doing. For the next four hundred
miles we shall be in the worst Indian country in the West, and I want to
get this train through it as quickly as I possibly can."
The man answered, "It seems cruel to do it, but I suppose we must give
orders to get ready to move."
Jim replied, "Yes, we must be moving at once, for I cannot risk the
lives of the living to hunt for those who are dead."
We were on the road in less than an hour, the committee having told the
friends of the lost men what the consequences would be if they resisted
the idea of moving, and also the utter uselessness of trying to find
their friends dead or alive.
When the train was already to move, Jim rode down the whole length of
the wagons and told each man that he wanted every one of them to have
their guns and pistols loaded and ready for immediate action, for, he
told them, "We cannot tell at what minute we may be attacked by the
Indians, and if your guns were not ready for use, you would have a slim
chance of saving your own lives or the lives of those dependent on you."
Everyone seemed to understand the situation better than they ever had
before and promised to do as we had asked them to do. Everything moved
on satisfactory until about two o'clock in the afternoon, when one of
the scouts from the north side reported that a big band of Indians was
coming directly towards us. I spurred my horse to a run, and when we
reached a little ridge about a half a mile from the trail, I could see
them myself, and I could see that they were all warriors, for there
were no squaws or children with them, and I thought they would number a
I sent my companion back to tell Jim what was in prospect for a
fight, and to be sure and have the Indian scalps hung up in the most
conspicuous places. I watched the Indians until they had got within a
half a mile of the trail, where they all stopped and huddled together
for several minutes. I decided they were planning the attack, for when
they started, they went directly for the train, which fact convinced me
that the Indians had had a scout out as well as I had, and that he had
been a little sharper than I was.
I now signaled for all the scouts to get to the train at once, and the
reader can rest assured that not one of them including myself was long
in getting there.
We found everything in readiness to receive the Indians. We rode inside
the corral of wagons and dismounted. I told my men to follow me. We went
to the head of the train, which was but a short distance. I placed eight
men under two wagons, four to a wagon, and took the other two with me to
the next wagon. I told them to lay flat on the ground, and when I cried
"fire" for each one to shoot and to be sure that he got his Indian.
When the savages got in sight of the wagons, they were probably a
hundred and fifty yards from them, and to my surprise they all stopped.
I had forgotten the scalps that Jim had hung up, but of course the sight
of them hanging on the top of the wagons stopped them, but they did not
stop longer than a few minutes. Then they began circling around the
wagons. I could see that there were two war chiefs with the outfit. I
knew this by their dress, for a war Chief always wears what is called a
bonnet. It is made of feathers taken from the wings and tails of eagles
and reaches from their head almost to their heels.
When they started to circle around the wagons, I said to the boys who
were with me under the wagon, "Now you watch that old red sinner who has
the lead. I am going to shoot at him, but I do not know as I can hit
him, he is so far away, but if I can get him we have won the battle."
They answered, "Fire away, and if you miss we will try our hand at him."
I drew a bead at the top of his head, and when the gun cracked I saw
that I had hit him. One of the boys cried, "You have hit him," and at
that moment he swayed and tumbled from his horse. The report of my gun
seemed to be a signal for the whole train to fire, and for the next
minute the noise of the guns was terrific. While they all did not hit an
Indian, they did fairly well for men in an Indian battle for the first
time. There were forty-two dead Indians left on the ground, and as the
report of the last gun died away, the Indians turned their horses and
fled in the opposite direction, and I ran to the old Chief to get his
I had just finished taking his scalp after taking his bonnet off when
Jim Bridger and quite a crowd of the other men came running up to me.
Jim said, "Did you do that, Will?" I answered, "I did," and then one of
the boys who were with me under the wagon said, "Mr. Drannan sure shot
him, for he told us to see him get him, and at the report of his gun,
Mr. big Chief went to the Indians' happy hunting grounds."
Jim slapped me on the back and said, "That is the best shot you ever
made, Will, for that bonnet and that scalp will protect this train from
here to California without another shot being fired." I said, "You can
have this bonnet to use for a scare crow, Jim, but be sure and take good
care of it, for I want to keep it as a memento of this trip."
I then asked Jim if he were going to take the scalps off of the other
dead Indians. He said, "No, we have scalps enough now to protect the
train, and that is all we want. Besides, we haven't time; we must go on
to our camping ground, we have fifty or sixty miles to drive before we
can camp for the night."
As we were pulling out, I said to the scouts, "We are in the Buffalo
country, and there will be no more trouble with the Indians; let us try
to get some fresh meat for supper." I knew that we would camp near a
little stream a few miles from where we had the fight, and also that it
was a great feeding ground for Buffalo at this time of the year. When
we were within a quarter of a mile of the stream, where we were to camp
that night, we saw that the valley was covered with Buffalo. I sent all
but one of the men down a little ravine to the valley. I told them to
dismount and tie their horses just before they got to the valley and to
crawl down and each one get behind a tree at the edge of the valley, and
I and the other men would go around to the head of the valley and scare
the Buffalo, and they would run down to where they were in hiding. I
told the men to be sure and not shoot until the Buffalo started to run,
and then to shoot all they could get with their guns, and when they had
emptied them to use their pistols.
"Let us give the women and children a surprise tonight in giving them
all the fresh Buffalo meat they can eat."
Myself and companion rode around to the head of the valley, and when we
reached the top of the ridge, we looked down and saw hundreds of Buffalo
feeding. We spurred our horses to a run, and in a moment we were in the
midst of them, and it certainly was a grand sight to see that immense
herd on the stampede, as they all rushed down to the outlet where the
boys were waiting for them. In a few moments we heard the report of
guns, and we knew that the other boys, were getting the meat for supper.
I told my comrade to pick out his Buffalo and I would pick mine, and I
said to him, "Now don't shoot until you get near the other boys, and if
you want to kill him quick, shoot him through the kidneys." When I had
reached the mouth of the valley where the Buffalo had crowded together
in one big mass, I chose a two-year-old heifer, rode up to her side
and shot her through her kidneys, and she fell at my horse's feet with
hardly a struggle. I pulled my pistol and shot another one and broke its
neck. My comrade had picked a big cow, and she was the fattest Buffalo
I ever saw killed. The other boys had killed twelve, and we got three,
making fifteen in all, and what was best of all, the Buffalo all
lay near to where Jim had corralled the wagons. As the wagons were
corralled, I went to one of the committee and told him that my scouts
and I had killed fifteen Buffalo and asked him to send some of the
men of the train to help dress them and to divide the meat so all the
emigrants could have some fresh meat for their supper, and in a short
time I saw men and women with their arms full of meat, hurrying to their
Jim and I were sitting on a wagon tongue talking as we usually did every
evening when two little girls came running to us and said their papa
wanted us to come and eat supper with them. We went with the children to
their father's tent, and we found an appetizing meal waiting for us. Jim
and I had not tasted any fresh meat since starting out with this train
of emigrants at Green river. When we sat down, Jim said, "Lady, I am
afraid you will be sorry that you invited Will and me to supper, for you
may not have meat enough to go around. We have not had any fresh meat in
a dog's age, and we are big meat eaters any time." She answered, "Oh,
don't be uneasy. I have two pans full on the fire cooking now. I know
how much it takes to fill up hungry men, and you two are not the only
hungry men around this camp, and you may be sure we appreciate the feast
you planned to surprise us with"; and she turned to me with a smile.
"You see, Mr. Drannan, the boys told me all about your suggesting the
I answered that the meal she had set before us would pay for more than I
had done. Her husband said, "It has surely been a great benefit to all
the people of the train, for we were all suffering for fresh meat, and
you don't know how much we appreciate your thoughtfulness in providing
it for us."
As I left the tent where I had supper, about a dozen middle-aged ladies
came to me and said, "We would like to see that pretty thing you took
off that Indian."
I did not know what they meant by "A pretty thing" until Jim said, "Why,
Will, they want to see that war bonnet you took with the old chief's
I went to our pack and got the bonnet and gave it to them, and for the
next two hours that Indian adornment was the talk of the camp. It was
carried from tent to tent, examined by nearly everyone, old and young,
in the whole emigrant train, and it was a curiosity to any white person,
and still more so to those not used to the Indians' way of adorning
Jim explained to the emigrants why this piece of Indian dress in our
possession would be a protection to them in case of an attack on us
by the Indians; he said, "The Indians have no fear of being killed in
battle. Their great dread is of being scalped. They believe that if
their scalps are taken off their heads in this world, they will not be
revived in the next, or what they call the "Happy Hunting grounds of the
Indians," where they will dwell with the great spirit forever, and if
they should see this bonnet which none but a great chief can wear they
will think we must be powerful to have got it and will keep away from
us, fearing they may share the fate themselves."
Jim told the emigrants to be ready for an early start in the morning,
and then we separated for the night, the emigrants going to their tents
and Jim and I to lay our blankets under a tree.
Next morning after we had a hearty breakfast of cornbread and Buffalo
steak, Jim said, "Now, men and women, Will gave you all a treat in
Buffalo meat last night, but if all goes well, and we meet with nothing
to detain us, in one week from tonight I will give you a treat that will
An old lady answered, "You must be mistaken, Mr. Bridger, for nothing
could taste better then the chunk of meat I broiled over the fire last
Jim laughed and said, he would own up to the last night's supper being
extra good but asked how she thought Mountain Trout would taste. She
said she did not know, as she had never tasted any; Jim said, "Well,
you will know in a week from tonight, and you will say that my treat is
better than Will's, for Mountain trout is the best fish that ever swam
in the water."
We were on the road soon after sunrise the next morning, and everything
went well for the next three days. The third day's travel brought us
to Humboldt Well. As we were going into camp, I discovered a band of
Indians coming directly for the train. I notified Jim at once, and he
soon had the train corralled, and the chief's bonnet hung high above the
Indian scalps so all the Indians could see it. The savages seemed to
discover the bonnet and the scalps as soon as they saw the train, for
they stopped and came no nearer, and after gazing at the decorations on
the wagons a few moments they wheeled their horses and galloped away in
the same direction they had come, and we saw no more of them. As soon as
the Indians disappeared Jim slapped his hands and said, "Didn't I tell
you the effect that bonnet would have on the Red Skins? And I don't
think we will have to shoot another Indian on this trip, for they will
not get close enough to us for us to get a show to hit them."
The second day from this camp we reached Truckey river, and it happened
to be Saturday, and Jim told the emigrants that this was the place where
he proposed to outdo Will in the way of a treat and told them that
everyone who could catch a grasshopper could have a mess of fish for
supper, as the river was swarming with the speckled beauties, and it
was really amusing to see the old of both sexes as well as the children
running in every direction, catching the little hopping insects.
Everyone seemed to be of one mind, what they were going to have for the
evening meal, for they were all on the margin of the river, and Jim and
I staid with the wagons and watched the crowd which was great amusement
for us, for they were all so excited. But our fun did not last long. In
a few minutes the crowd commenced to come back with their bands full of
fish; one woman passed us with two little girls. She had about a dozen
fish, and the children had their hands full too. She said, "Come, Mr.
Bridger, I want you and Mr. Drannan to eat supper with us tonight, and
after we get through I will tell you which treat is the best, Buffalo or
Jim told her she hadn't got half enough fish for him, not reckoning the
members of her own family. She said, "Don't you be uneasy about not
having enough. My man will come back in a few minutes, and he will have
enough to make out the supper, I reckon."
We went with her to her tent and helped to clean the fish, and it was
not long before the appetizing meal was ready. While Jim and I were
cleaning the fish that the woman and children had caught, the man came
back, and he had fifteen of the handsomest trout I had ever seen on a
string. He greeted us with a laugh and said this was the first stream he
had ever seen where a man could take a long-handled shovel and pitch out
all the fish he had a mind to. "It is wonderful to think of the amount
of fish that has been taken out of that stream, and they would not be
missed if we wanted more."
Jim said, "If you could stay here and fish a week, they would be just
as thick when you got through as they are now, and will be until the
spawning season is over."
That night Jim suggested that we get up a party and go over on Truckee
Meadows and kill some Antelope tomorrow.
I said, "All right, Jim, that is the greatest feeding ground for
Antelope of any I have seen. I will go and speak to my scouts now, and
we may get a party so we can start early in the morning."
I hunted my men up and told them what Jim and I thought of doing, and
they were delighted with the idea. They said that every man in the
outfit that owned a horse and gun would be glad to go with us. I told
them to see everyone that they thought would like to or could go and for
them to meet us at the head of the corral right after breakfast in the
Next morning Jim and I went to the place agreed upon. We were mounted
and had our guns all ready for business, and in a few minutes there were
forty-three men all mounted and anxious to go with us on the hunt for
Jim told them that the hunting ground was eight or ten miles away from
camp, and he said, "I will guarantee that you will see a thousand
Antelope today. Now we will all travel together until we begin to see
The place called Truckee Meadows was about twenty miles long and ten
miles wide and very level and covered with the tallest sage brush in all
the country around and with an abundance of fine grass. We crossed the
Truckee river just below where the city of Reno now stands, and then
we struck out south east, Jim and I taking the lead and the others
When we were about five miles from camp, I discovered a band of
Antelope. They were probably a half a mile from us, and they were
feeding in a northeasterly direction. I called Jim's attention to them
at once. After he got a good look at them, he said, "I will bet my old
hat that there is a thousand Antelope in that band."
We stopped our horses and waited for all the crowd to come up to us, and
Jim pointed to the Antelope, saying, "There is your game. Did you ever
see a prettier sight? Now my friends, I want every one of you to have an
Antelope across your saddle when we go back to camp. It don't make any
difference who kills it so we all have an Antelope."
Jim then turned to me and said, "Will, do you see that open ridge
yonder?" and he pointed to a low ridge about a mile from us right in the
direction towards which the Antelope were feeding. I told him, yes, I
saw it. He then said, "I will take all the men but you and two others,
and I will station them all along on that little ridge at the edge of
sage brush. Now, Will, you pick out your two men and ride clear around
the south end of the band, and when they start to run towards us, crowd
them as hard as you can, but give us time to locate before you start the
My men and I rode probably a mile and a half before we got around the
herd, and it looked to us as if the whole valley was covered with
Antelope. I told the men not to shoot at first, but to give a whoop or
two to get them started and then to crowd them for all they were worth,
and when the Antelope got to the open ridge to shoot.
In a few minutes, after we started the herd of Antelope, we heard the
guns of Jim and his men, and it sounded as if they kept up a continual
fire. When we struck the opening, I told the boys to get all the
Antelope they could, and we had a plenty to choose from, for there were
hundreds in the herd ahead of us. I fired my rifle and knocked one down,
and then I pulled my pistol and got another. Just then I heard someone
shouting at the top of his voice just ahead of me. I looked to see who
it was and saw Jim Bridger, shaking his hat at me. I held up my horse so
I could hear what he said. He cried, "For pity's sake, Will, don't kill
any more Antelope, for we have more now than we can carry to camp."
I called my men to me, and we rode to where Jim and his men were waiting
for us. Jim said, "Will, I have been in the Antelope country twenty
years most of the time, and I never saw so many Antelope together at
one time as I saw here this morning; why, there must be fifty or
seventy-five laying around here at this minute, that we have shot, and
you would not miss them out of the herd."
One of the men said, "It did not need any skill with the rifle, that
hunt, for a blind man could not help hitting one of them, for as far as
I could see, there was a mass of Antelope."
Every man now went to work skinning and getting the meat ready to carry
to camp. My two companions and myself put two Antelopes on each of our
horses and started on ahead of the others, and although it was five
miles and we walked all the way, we got back to camp a few minutes
before they did.
As soon as they saw us, the women came to meet us and wanted to see what
we had on our horses. As I threw one of the Antelopes off the horse, a
middle aged woman said, "Mr. Drannan, can I have a piece of this one?
My little girls have just picked some wild onions, and I can make some
hash, and I want you and Mr. Bridger to come and take dinner with us
I told her to help herself, that I brought the meat to camp for all of
them to eat as far as it would go. Her husband came at that moment with
a knife and skinned a portion of the Antelope and cut out what she
wanted. By this time the other hunters began coming in, and everyone was
getting fresh meat for their dinner, and by the way they acted I thought
they enjoyed the Antelope fully as well as they had the Buffalo.
While we ate dinner, I asked Jim how many Antelope were killed by the
whole party. He answered. "Why, dog gone it, I forgot to count them,
but I know this much. Pretty near all of the men brought two across his
saddle, and I will bet that it was the biggest Antelope hunt that was
ever in this country before. Why, Will, the Antelope came along so thick
at one time that a man could have killed them with rocks."
If the reader will stop to think a moment, I think he will be surprised
at the great change that has taken place in that country in fifty years.
At that time there was not a white family living within two hundred
miles of this place, and if there had been any one brave enough to tell
us that in a few years this would be a settled country, we would have
thought he was insane. And just think, this very spot where the wild
Antelope roamed in countless numbers fifty-five years ago is today
Nevada's most prosperous farming country and is worth from fifty to one
hundred dollars an acre, and the city of Reno, now a flourishing town of
several thousand inhabitants stands on the very spot where we camped and
had the Antelope hunt, and I have been told by reliable people that the
whole country from the city of Reno to Honey Lake is thickly settled,
and that cities and villages and thriving farms now cover the ground
where at the time I am speaking of there was nothing but wild animals,
and what was worse to contend with, wild savages lurking in the thick
sage brush which covered the ground for hundreds of miles, and I am also
told that the whole country around Honey Lake is a thriving farming
country, but at the time I am speaking of, we did not have an idea that
it would ever be settled up with Whites or used for anything but a
feeding ground for wild animals. If we had been told at that time that a
railroad would pass through the place where the city of Reno now stands,
we would have thought the one who told us such a wild, improbable story
to be a fit subject for a straight jacket.
We pulled out of there early Monday morning; we took the trail up Long
Valley towards Honey Lake, which we reached on the evening of the third
day. Nothing occurred to disturb us during this time. As soon as we went
into camp that evening the emigrants got out their fishing tackle and
went to the lake. Some of them caught some fish, but many of them came
back disappointed. None had the luck they'd had at Truckee river. Still,
the most of us had some fish for supper that night.
While we were at supper, Jim told the people that they were through
catching trout, that the next fish we had would be salmon. They said
they had never heard of that kind and asked what it looked like. Jim
told them that the meat of some kinds of salmon was as red as beef,
while another kind was pink, and still another kind was yellow, and
they were considered the finest fish that swim in the water, and he
continued, "I have seen them so thick in the spring in some of the
streams in California that it was difficult to ride my horse through
them without mashing them, and they ran against the horse's legs and
frightened him so that he was as eager to get away from them as they
were of him."
An old man presently asked how large a salmon usually was, to which Jim
answered, "Well, they run in weight from ten to fifty pounds, but I have
seldom seen one as small as ten pounds, and they are very fat when they
are going upstream to spawn, but when they are coming down they are so
poor they can scarcely swim."
We left Honey Lake in the morning, and the third day from there we
struck the Sacramento valley, and we now told the emigrants that they
had no further use for our services, that their road was perfectly safe
from this point to Sacramento city.
Two of the committee came to us and said, "As this is Saturday we will
camp here until Monday, and we want you two men to stay with us, for the
women want to fix up something for you to eat on your way back."
Jim answered that we would stay with them over Sunday and take a rest,
for we had a long and tiresome journey before us, but it must be
understood that we did not want the women to go to cooking for us, for
all we could take with us was a few loaves of bread, enough to last us
a few days. Our meat we could get as we wanted it, which would be our
principal food on the trip, as it always was when we were alone.
Sunday was a very pleasant, restful day to us. All the emigrants seemed
to vie with each other in being social. Among the company was a man and
wife by the name of Dent; these two came to us and said that they were
going to make their home in Sacramento city and were going into business
there, and they wanted us if we ever came there to come to them and
make their home ours as long as we wished to stay, for, said they, "We
appreciate what you have done for us on this journey we have passed
through. Besides the protection you have given us, the Buffalo and
Antelope meat you have shown us how to get and have helped to get has
been worth more money to us than all we have paid you to pilot us to
We thanked them for their kind offer and good opinion of us but
disclaimed having done anything but our duty by them.
Monday morning Jim and I were about the first to be astir. We caught
our horses and had them saddled by the time breakfast was ready, and we
accepted the first invitation offered us to eat. While we were eating,
our hostess said she had baked two loaves of bread for us to take with
us, and that she had roasted the last piece of Antelope that she had and
wanted us to take that too. We took the food this lady had prepared for
us and went to our horses, but before we reached them we saw the women
coming from every direction with bread and cake. Jim said, "Will, let's
fill this sack with bread and cake if they insist on giving it to us and
then get away as soon as possible."
As Jim made this remark, it was very amusing to see how every woman
tried to get her package in the sack first, but it would not begin to
hold half that was brought. As soon as the sack was full, Jim said, "Now
ladies, we can take no more, so be kind to us in letting us get away."
By the time we had our pack fixed on our pack horses' backs, every man
and woman and all the children were around us to bid us farewell and
good speed on our journey back to Taos, New Mexico.
We had shaken hands with probably a hundred or more when Jim sprang upon
his horse all at once, saying, "Now friends, we will consider we have
all shaken hands," and he took off his hat and, waving it to the
assembled crowd, gathered up his reins and galloped away, and I followed
suit. But as long as we were in hearing distance we could hear, "Good
bye, good bye," floating on the wind. As the sight of the train faded in
the distance, we waved our hats for the last time.
For the next two days everything went smoothly with Jim and me, which
brought us to Honey Lake. The night we reached Honey Lake, we camped in
a little grove of timber near a pearling stream of cool, sparkling water
about a half a mile south of the trail.
We had eaten our supper and were about to spread our blankets and turn
in for the night when we heard a dog bark close to our camp, but it
was too dark to see him. Jim said, "Don't that beat any thing you ever
We listened a moment, and then it was a howl, and then in a moment he
barked again. Jim said, "You stay in camp, Will, and I will take my gun
and see what is the matter."
In a moment Jim called, "I see him." I waited about an hour before Jim
came back and was beginning to feel anxious about him. When I heard his
footsteps, he said, "I followed that dog nearly a mile, and then I found
the cause of his howling, and what do you think it was?" I answered,
"Jim, I have no idea," to which he said, "Well, I will tell you. I found
the body of a dead man laying on his blanket just as if he was laying
down to rest. I did not get near the dog until I had discovered the
body, and then he was very friendly with me, and came and whined, and
wagged his tail, as if he knew me. I looked all around, but I could find
nothing but the body laying on the blanket. I could not see that there
had been a fire, and I saw no signs of a horse or anything else, and the
strange part of it is that, although the dog was so friendly with me, I
could not coax him away from the body which I suppose was his master."
I asked Jim what he thought it was best to do. He answered, "What can we
do, Will? We have no tools to dig a grave with, and the body is laying
among the rocks, and I expect that dog will stay beside it and starve to
"Wouldn't it be a good idea to go to the place in the morning and pile
rocks on the body to keep the wolves and other wild animals from
eating it up?" Jim said, "Yes, we will do that, and we will shoot some
jack-rabbits and leave them with the dog, so he can have something to
eat for a few days anyhow."
On the way over to the place where the body lay, we killed three rabbits
and threw them to the dog, and he ate them as if he was nearly starved,
and I have always thought that his master died of starvation, as he had
no gun or pistol with which to kill anything to eat, and Jim thought
that he must have got lost from some emigrant train and wandered around
until he was too weak to go farther and lay down and died with no one
but his faithful dog to watch over him in his last moments.
We covered him up with stones and brush the best we could and left him
and the poor dog together, although we tried every way we could to tempt
the animal away. The faithful dog would not leave his master's body.
After trying persuasion until we saw it was no use, Jim said, "Let's put
a rope around his neck and lead him off." I answered, "No, Jim, if he
will not be coaxed away, it would not be right to force him to leave his
dead master." Jim said, "It seems too bad to leave him to starve, but
you are right, Will," and so we left him, and we never saw him again.
Saddened with the experience of the morning, we mounted our horses and
struck for the trail. We had nothing more to disturb us for the next
three days. About the middle of the afternoon of the third day we were
riding along slowly, talking about where we should camp that night, when
Jim happened to look off to the south, and he saw a band of Indians
about a mile from us, and they were coming directly towards us, but we
could not tell whether they had seen us or not. Jim said, "Let's put
spurs to our horses and see if we can get away from them Red devils
without a fight with them."
We put our horses to a run and had kept them going this gate for five or
six miles when we came to the top of a little ridge, and in looking back
we saw the Indians about a half a mile in the rear and coming as fast as
their horses could carry them.
Jim said, "Will, we are in for it now, and we must find a place where we
can defend ourselves."
At that moment I saw a little bunch of timber a few hundred yards ahead
of us. I pointed to it and said to Jim, "Let's get in there and show
them our war bonnet and scalps, and maybe that will save us from having
a fight with the Red imps."
Jim laughed and said, "Why dog gone it, Will, I forgot all about your
war bonnet. Sure, that will be the very thing to do."
We had reached the timber while we talked. We now dismounted and tied
our horses, and in less time than one could think we had the war bonnet
and scalps dangling from the trees all around our horses. We had
scarcely got ready for them when the Red Skins were in sight. They raced
around us in a circle but did not come in gun shot of us. They went
through this performance a few times and then stopped and took a good
look at our decorations, and then they wheeled their horses and left in
the direction they had come from, and that was the last we saw of that
bunch of Indians.
We waited a few minutes to be sure that all was clear, and then we
mounted again and rode about two miles before we found water so we could
camp for the night. When we were eating our supper that night, Jim said,
"Will, I don't think you realize what a benefit those scalps and that
bonnet is to us; if I were you, I would never part with that bonnet as
long as you are in the Indian country. This being a Ute bonnet, the
Comanches will offer you all kinds of prices for it, but if I were you I
would not sell it at any price."
I answered, "Jim, I am going to keep that bonnet for two reasons. One
is for the protection of my own scalp and the other is to keep in
remembrance my last trip in company with you as a pilot across the
plains to California."
Jim looked at me a moment and then said, "Will, you don't pretend to say
that you will never take any more trips with me."
I answered, "Yes Jim, I mean what I say. This is my last trip as a pilot
Jim did not answer for a few moments, and then he said, "Who will go
with me next year Willie? I thought the pilot business just suited you."
I answered, "In some respects I do like it, and in others I dislike it
very much. You know yourself how impossible it is to please everybody.
There are so many of the people who come from the east that don't think
there is any more danger of the Indians than there is of the Whites, and
you know Jim that is the class of people who will always get us into
trouble. See what those nineteen smart alecks did for us on this last
trip. Do you think if they had known any thing of Indian trickery they
would have left our protection to go hunting in the very heart of the
Indian country? And if we had not been firm with the rest of those
people the whole outfit would have been scalped and then we would have
had to bear the blame."
Jim answered, "There is more truth than poetry in all you say Will, but
maybe you will change your mind when spring comes."
We had a peaceful night's sleep and pulled out on the road bright and
early the next morning. We left the main trail and took a south east
course and crossed the extreme southern portion, of what is now the
state of Utah. We traveled hundreds of miles in this country without
seeing a human being.
A year ago I passed through this same country in a comfortable seat in
a railroad car, and it would be difficult for me to make the people of
this day understand the feelings that I experienced when in looking from
the car window I saw the changes that fifty-five years have made in what
was a wild, rough wilderness, inhabited by Buffaloes, Antelopes, Coyotes
and savage men.
We kept on through this section of country until we struck the Colorado
river, which we crossed just below the mouth of Green river, and a few
days' travel brought us into the northwest part of what is now New
The country which is now New Mexico was at the time of which I am
writing considered perfectly worthless. It is a rolling, hilly country
with smooth, level valleys between the hills and is proving to be very
fertile and is settling as fast as any part of the west.
There was nothing more to trouble us, and we made good progress on our
journey, and in ten days from the time we left the Colorado river we
reached Taos, New Mexico, which was the end of our journey, and tired
and worn with the long hours in the saddle and the anxiety of mind which
we had experienced in all the long months since we left there in the
spring, we were glad to get there and rest a few days and to feel that
we were free with no responsibility.
[Illustration: The mother bear ran to the dead cub and pawed it with her
We found Uncle Kit and his family all well and glad to see us. It was
late in the afternoon when we got there, and we spent the remainder of
the day and evening in recounting our summer's experience for Uncle
Kit's benefit, who was a very interested listener to all that had
befallen us since we parted from him in the spring.
While we ate supper, Jim told Uncle Kit of the fight with the Indians
in which I killed the old chief and took his scalp and war bonnet, an
account which amused Uncle Kit very much, and later in the evening he
insisted on my undoing my pack and showing the bonnet to him.
After he had examined it, he said, "Will, I always knew that you would
make an Indian fighter since that night when you were not fifteen years
old and showed such bravery in showing me the two scalps of the Indians
you had killed that morning all by yourself. But little did I think that
you would have the honor of killing a Ute Chief and capturing his war
bonnet. There will be many times when that bonnet will be as much
protection to you as a whole regiment of soldiers would be," and turning
to Jim, Carson said, "Bridger, don't you think my Willie must have been
an apt pupil and does me great honor for the instruction I gave him?"
Jim answered, "Yes, Kit, I certainly do, and if you had seen him tested
as I have the past summer, you would not need to ask me that question."
Uncle Kit patted me on the back and told Jim that he did not need to see
his boy's bravery tested, for he always took it for granted that Willie
would stand any test.
The next morning, Uncle Kit and Bridger commenced to lay their plans for
the winter's trapping. I heard Uncle Kit say, "Bridger, we have got
to get down to Bent's Fort right away; here it is in the last days of
September, and you know that when the fall of the year comes, them
trappers are like a fish out of water, and if we don't get to the Fort
soon, Bent and Roubidoux will fit them out and send them out trapping on
their own hooks."
Jim answered, "That is true, Kit, and the quicker we go the better it
will be for us."
On the fifth day after we arrived at Taos from California, we were on
the road to Bent's Fort with twenty-two pack horses besides our saddle
horses. Uncle Kit, my old comrade Jonnie West and a Mexican boy by the
name of Juan accompanied us.
We reached Bent's Fort in safety without having any trouble on the way.
The evening we got to the Fort it seemed to me that there were more
trappers than I had ever seen together at one time before, and they all
huddled around Carson and Bridger. Uncle Kit told them all that he would
talk business with them in the morning. When supper was ready that
evening, Col. Bent invited all of us to take supper with him. We
accepted the invitation, and while we were at the table, a runner came
with a note to Uncle Kit from Capt. McKee, asking Carson to send all the
men he could muster to join him at Rocky Ford to escort a government
train to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
According to the Capt's. note Carson had only twenty-four hours to
gather his men and get to Rocky Ford. When Uncle Kit read the note so
unexpectedly brought him, it seemed to upset and confuse him. He said,
"My God, I can't go," and then he read the note aloud. When he had
finished reading. Col. Bent said, "I will go out and see how many men
will volunteer to go." After Col. Bent left the room, Uncle Kit said to
me, "Willie, will you take charge of the men if Col. Bent can raise a
company? I know you can handle them as well as I could."
I answered, "Yes sir, I will do any thing you think is best."
In a short time Col. Bent came back and said he had found twenty seven
men who were willing to go, and that every man had his own horse and a
gun and a pistol, "but who will take the command of the company? Do you
intend to go yourself Carson?"
Uncle Kit said, "No, I do not, but Willie here," and he touched my
shoulder, "will take my place and do as well as I could."
Col. Bent said, "Well, come with me, Will, and I will introduce you to
When we went outside, all the twenty-seven men were there waiting for
us. Col. Bent said to them, "Now, gentlemen, I have brought you a leader
in Mr. William Drannan. He will have charge of you until you reach Rocky
I then told the men to furnish themselves with four day's ration and
also to take blankets to use at night, and to be ready to take the trail
at sun rise in the morning. They all promised to be ready at the time I
specified, and we separated for the night.
I found Uncle Kit in the dining room writing a letter to Capt. McKee. He
gave the letter to me, saying, "Give this letter to Capt. McKee, and if
you want to go to Santa Fe with him, do so, or if you had rather be with
me, you will find Jim and me on the Cache-La-Poudre; just suit yourself,
Willie, in regard to this matter, and I shall be satisfied."
The next morning we were up and on the road by the time the sun was up.
We rode hard until about eleven o'clock, when we dismounted, staked our
horses out to grass and ate our luncheon. We let our horses feed about
an hour, and then we mounted and were on the road again. A little before
sunset we came in sight of Rocky Ford. As soon as I saw where we were, I
pointed it out to the boys, and said, "There is Rocky Ford, and we are
ahead of time."
We had ridden but a short distance when one of the boys remarked, "We
are not much in the lead, for there comes Capt. McKee's company just
across the river," and as we reached the Ford, Capt. McKee and his men
were crossing. So we both met on time. I had never met Capt. McKee but
knew him from the fact that he was in the lead of his men.
I rode up to him and saluted and asked if this was Capt. McKee. He said
it was. I told my name at the same time I gave him Carson's letter.
He read the letter and then said, "Let us go into camp. My men and
horses are tired, and we will talk business after we have had supper."
We rode perhaps a quarter of a mile from the Ford, where we could get
plenty of sage brush to make fires, dismounted and staked our horses out
to grass, and it was not long until our meal was ready to eat. As soon
as the meal was over, the Captain came to me and inquired if I had ever
been over this country before. I told him I had a number of times. He
said, "I am a stranger in this country; will you please tell me where
the main body of the Comanches are at this time of the year?"
I told him that the main body of the Comanche tribe was at least a
hundred miles down the river.
"They go down there to shoot the Buffalo as they cross the river on
their winter's feeding ground. You will find the Indians very numerous
all through that part of the country. Sometimes there are from two to
three hundred wigwams in one village, and the Indians will stay there
for nearly a month yet before they go farther south."
The Capt. then asked if I was acquainted with any of the Comanche
Chiefs. I told him that I was, and that I had traded with pretty near
all of them.
"The Comanches are all great friends with Kit Carson, and as I have
visited them and traded with them in company with him, they extend their
friendship to me."
The Capt. thought a moment and then said, "I am mighty afraid that we
are going to have trouble with the Comanches from the fact that that
Government train is at least two hundred miles from here, and there are
forty wagons in it, and they have no escort, only their drivers and
herders, and I am weak myself; you see, I have only twenty men with me.
Five days before I received this order, I sent all of my men, except the
twenty with me, to Fort Worth, Texas to protect the settlers in that
country as the Comanches are on the war path there, and the few men we
have with us now will not be as much as a drop in a bucket as far as
protecting the train is concerned if the Comanches attack it."
I answered, "Captain, if we can reach the train before the Indians do, I
believe we can get the train through to Santa Fe without firing a gun."
This seemed to surprise him, for he looked at me as though I was insane
in making such a remark and said, "What do you mean, young man?"
I answered: "Capt. McKee, all the Comanche tribe know me, and they also
know that I have for several years been closely associated with Kit
Carson, and they think that all Kit Carson does or says is right, for
they both love him and fear him, and they have the same feeling for the
boy Carson raised, and furthermore I have in this pack," and I pointed
to my pack which was laying on the ground near me, "more protection, in
my estimation, than a hundred soldiers would be to the train."
He said, "Explain what you mean, for I do not understand."
I then unrolled my pack and, taking out the Indian scalps and the Ute
Chief's war bonnet, I showed them to him and told him how I had used
them to protect an emigrant train when I only had twelve men to help me
that were of any use in a fight with the Indians.
I said, "Now, Captain, you must know that the Indians have no fear of
death, but they do dread to lose their scalps after they are killed, as
they think there will be no chance for a scalpless Indian to enter the
Happy Hunting ground. So if we reach the train before the Indians get
there and fear they will attack it when they do, all we have to do is to
hang these scalps up in a prominent place and put the Chief's war bonnet
high above them all, and there will be no need of a fight or chance for
one, for the Indians will not come near enough to be shot at, for they
will fear that they will share the same fate that befell the Indians
that these scalps belonged to."
Capt. McKee then asked me if I were willing to go on and assist him in
this way until the train reached Santa Fe, and he said, "I am quite sure
your plan in using the scalps and bonnet for protection with the Indians
will prove a success, for I know how superstitious the Indians are about
being scalped, and I am also sure that we have not sufficient men to
save the train from the Indians without some other means is used."
I then asked the Capt. who would pay me and my men for our time if we
went with him. His answer was "The Government pays me and will pay you
and the men with you, and if we have a chance to test your plan and it
proves a success, I will see that you have double pay."
Everything being understood and arranged to the satisfaction of all
hands, we separated and turned in for the night.
Next morning we were all up in good season and got an early start on the
Late that evening just before we went into camp we saw a few Buffalo
feeding near the river. I asked the Capt. where he was going to camp
that night. He pointed to a little ravine about a half a mile from us,
and answered, "We will camp on that ravine." I said, "Take my pack on
your saddle in front of you, and I will kill a calf for supper."
He took my pack, saying, "All right, we surely will enjoy some fresh
meat," and the company moved on, and I struck out to kill the Buffalo. I
rode around the herd so if they became frightened they would run towards
the place where we were to camp. They saw me before I had got in gun
shot of them and started to run directly towards where the Capt. had
gone into camp.
As soon as I saw the direction they were taking, I commenced to shout to
the men at the camp to look out, for the Buffalo were coming, and they
did not get the news any too quick before the Buffalos were there. The
men grabbed their guns and commenced shooting, and that was all that
saved the camp from being overrun with Buffalo. They shot down three
calves and two heifers right in camp.
The boys had the laugh on me for several days. When anything was said
about getting fresh meat, some of them would say, "Will can go and drive
it into camp, and we will shoot it," and the Capt. would laugh and say
he reckoned that was a good way to save me from packing it.
I do not think I ever saw men enjoy a meal more than these did that
night. We had all ridden hard that day and had only a light lunch at
midday, so we were all very hungry and young and hearty and just at the
time of life when food tastes best, and every one of us knew how to
broil Buffalo meat over sage brush fire.
The next morning the Capt. told the men to all cut enough meat from the
Buffalos to last until the next day and to put it in their packs, for,
he said, "We may not meet with as good luck again as we did today, and
if we take the meat with us we will be provided for anyway."
We were on the road early in the morning and traveled without stopping
until noon, and we saw numerous small bands of Buffalo all along the
way. We stopped on the bank of a little pearling stream of cold water,
where there was plenty of grass for the horses, and ate our luncheon and
rested about an hour. We were about ready to continue our journey when I
discovered a small band of Indians coming up the trail.
I sang out to the Capt., "There come some of our neighbors." He looked
at them and said, "Boys, mount your horses and be ready, for we are
going to have fun right here." I said, "Hold on, Capt., and let me see
if I can't settle this thing without a fight." He said, "How will you do
it?" I said, "I believe I know all those Indians, but I will ride down
and meet them and see, and if I am acquainted with them we will have no
trouble with them."
Capt. McKee said, "Won't you be taking a desperate chance, Mr. Drannan,
in going to meet those savages when you are not sure whether you know
them or not?" I said, "I am not afraid to go to meet them, but if
anything is wrong, I will signal to you by raising my hat, and if I do
so you must charge at once, but if I give no signal you may be sure
everything is all right."
I started my horse at full speed down the narrow valley to meet the
approaching Indian band. When I was within a hundred yards of them,
they recognized me, and they all began crying, "Hi-yar-hi-yar," which
translated into English means, "How do-yo-do," and in a few minutes,
they were all swarming around me, each one trying to shake my hand
first. I shook hands with all, and I then asked them where they were
going. The Chief told me that they were going to their village, which
was on the opposite side of the river. We had passed their village a few
hours before, but owing to the timber being so thick we did not notice
it. They wanted to know when I was coming to trade for Buffalo robes
with them. I told them I would come in four months. This seemed to
please them well, and they said they would have a plenty of robes to
trade for knives and rings and beads.
I rode back with my Indian friends to the camp. On the way I told the
chief where I was going, and that the white men he saw in the camp were
my friends and were going with me. Not knowing any of the men in the
camp, the Indians passed on without stopping, as is their custom when
they are not on the war path.
When the last Indian had passed the camp, Capt. McKee ordered the men to
mount, and we continued our journey.
When we were under way the Capt. rode to my side and said, "Mr. Drannan,
will you tell me how it is that you have such a control over those
Indians? Why, I would not have ridden to meet that savage band for
anything that you could have offered me, for I should have considered
doing such a thing equal to committing suicide, and I know I should not
have come out alive."
I said, "Very true, Capt. I don't think you would. But there is this
difference between your going to meet them and my doing so. You are a
stranger to them, and a member of the white race, which they hate. They,
not knowing who you are, are suspicious of your being on their hunting
grounds, but in my case I have known them all for years and have
accompanied them many times to their village. Whom they trust, although
he be a "pale face," they have confidence in, as they have in me. So
they are all my friends, and when I told the Chief that you and all the
company were my friends and were going with me, he or any of his braves
had no wish to trouble you."
Capt. McKee looked at me as if he thought me something hardly human
while I explained why I was not afraid of the Indians who had just
passed, and in a moment after I had ceased speaking he said, "Can you
control all of the Comanche tribe the same as you did the band which has
just passed us?" I answered, "I certainly think I can if I have my way
about it." He answered, "If that is so, the United States Government
will be under great obligation to you." "The obligation is nothing to me
Capt., but if the men will obey my instruction I think I can pilot
the train through to Santa Fe without their having to fire a shot," I
replied. The Capt. said, "I am not acquainted with the wagon master, so
I can not say what he will do, but I will give you my word that my men
will do as you instruct them, and as soon as we meet the train I will
have a talk with the wagon master and try to influence him to submit to
being directed by you."
The third day from this place we met the train at a place called Horse
Shoe Bend. We saw a number of bands of Indians and passed several Indian
villages on the way, but we did not come into contact with any of them.
The train was just corralling for the night when we met them, and the
most discouraged-acting men I ever saw were in that train. The wagon
master told us that the Indians had attacked the train the day before
and killed five of his men, and he said, "If this had been anything
but a Government train, I should have turned around and gone back, and
Capt., you haven't half men enough to protect this train through the
Comanche country; we have just struck the edge of it, and the Comanches
are the largest and most hostile tribe in the west, and you see that
I lost five of my herders in the Kiawah country, and they are a small
tribe beside the Comanches."
Capt. McKee then told the wagon master what he had seen me do with a
band of Comanche warriors, and also told him what I said I could do for
the train if I had the control of the men and they would obey me.
The wagon master turned and looked at me a moment as if he was measuring
me and then said, "Young man, do you pretend to say that you know all of
the Comanche tribe?"
I answered, "No, sir, I do not know them all, but they all know me, and
there are hundreds of them that are particular friends of mine, and if
you are acquainted with the Indian character, you know that when an
Indian professes to be a friend he is a friend indeed, and there is no
limit to what he will do for you."
He then asked how I proposed to handle the train and the men. I
answered, "I want the men to ride beside the wagons, and in the rear of
them with a half a dozen just a little ahead of the teams, and I will
ride alone from a quarter to a half a mile ahead, and if the men in the
rear or those on the side see any Indians advancing on the train, I want
them to notify me at once, for I want to talk with the Indians before
they get to the train, no matter whether there are a few or many of
The wagon master said, "I don't see anything to find fault with
your plans," and turning to McKee he asked what he thought of the
arrangement. Capt. McKee answered, "All that I find fault with is the
desperate chances Mr. Drannan will take in going out to meet the savages
all by himself." I said, "Capt., there is where you make a mistake. My
safety lies in my going out to meet the Indians alone, and I will assure
you and the other gentlemen that there will not be a gun fired if I can
get to the Indians before they get to the train."
At this moment the cook said supper was ready, and it did not take long
for me at least to get to eating it, for I was very hungry.
The wagon master, the Capt. and I messed together. The Capt. asked me
what I thought about putting out picket guards that night. I told him
that I did not think it necessary tonight, but further on the road it
might be advisable.
We had a quiet night's rest, and everybody seemed cheerful in the
morning, and we were on the road quite early. Before we started, I asked
the wagon master how many miles he traveled in a day, and if he stopped
at noon. He answered that he was four or five days behind time now and
would like to make twenty miles a day if he could, and he thought it
would not be advisable to stop at noon while we were in the Comanche
country, but when we got clear of the Indians probably he would lay over
a day or two, and let the teams have a rest.
Everything moved on pleasantly all that day. We did not see an Indian,
but towards evening we saw large bands of Buffalo all going south. That
night when we had got settled into camp, I told the Capt. that I would
take a ride five or six miles up the valley and see if I could find any
Indians' village or see any Indians and for them not to be uneasy about
me or look for me until they saw me.
I had ridden perhaps three miles when I saw a large band of Indians just
going into camp. They were about a half a mile from our trail right on
the bank of the Arkansas river. I knew that they were a hunting party
because their squaws and papooses were with them, which is never the
case if the warriors are on the war path.
I rode down among them, and as soon as the squaws saw me they commenced
to cry, "Hi-yar-hi-yar," and ran to me with extended hands, and they all
asked together if I had come to trade rings and beads. When I told them
that I would come again in four months and trade with them, they laughed
and said in their own language that they would have many Buffalo robes
ready to trade with me. As I was talking with the squaws, an Indian came
to me, one that I had known for quite a while, and invited me to his
wigwam to take supper with him and stay all night. I explained to him
that I could not accept his invitation that time and told him what I was
doing, and where I was going, but that I would return in four months and
would bring a plenty of knives and rings and beads to trade for Buffalo
This seemed to please him very much.
I bid them all good bye and went back to camp. It was rather late and
supper was over, but the cook had saved some for me. While I was eating,
Capt. McKee and the wagon master came to see me. The Capt. asked what I
had seen while I was gone. I said, "Capt., I saw enough Indian squaws to
keep me shaking hands for twenty minutes, and besides the squaws I saw
four or five hundred warriors and shook hands with a good many of them
and was invited to eat supper and pass the night with one of the Chiefs,
but I declined to do either, although I would have been more than
The Capt. asked where the Indians were, and I told him. He asked how far
from our trail their village was. I told him between half and a quarter
of a mile. He said, "Have we got to pass in full view of that Indian
village?" I answered, "Yes, sir, that is the only road that leads from
here to Santa Fe." "And do you believe that we can pass them in the
morning without being attacked by them?" he asked. I said, "Capt., if
the men will obey my instructions, there will be no danger when we
strike out in the morning. We will all travel in the same order as we
did today, except that I shall not ride so far in advance of the train,
and if the Indians start to come towards the train, I will ride out and
meet them, and the train must keep right on, as if nothing had occurred,
and I will hold the Indians until the train is out of sight, and then I
will leave them and overtake you."
The Capt. said, "All right, Mr. Drannan, we will do as you have
directed, and if you succeed in this venture, I shall know that you have
the control over the Indians that you thought you had."
The wagon master said that he would not feel very easy until we had
passed and were out of sight of the Indians and their village, and I
believe he spoke the truth, for he was up and had everything ready. We
were on the road by sunrise. When we were nearly opposite the Indian
village, the squaws discovered us and came running towards us in droves.
I rode out and met them and had a general hand-shaking with them, and
they wanted me to assure them that I was coming in four months to trade
with them and wanted me to go and look at some of the robes they had
dressed, which I did, and in doing so, I saw something that I had never
seen before nor have I since. It was a white Buffalo skin, and the
animal must have been a half-grown cow judging from the size of the
skin. It was the prettiest thing of the kind that I had ever seen, or
ever have since. When I was looking at the beautiful thing, I asked the
Indian that I thought it belonged to how much he would take for it. He
said it was not his, that it was his squaw's. I asked her what her price
would be, and she answered, "One string of beads." I told her to save it
for me and in four months I would come back and bring the beads to her
and take the robe. I was so interested in looking at the robes and
talking with the Indians that time passed without notice, and the first
thing I thought about it, in looking at my watch I found it was nearly
noon. I now bid the Indians good bye, mounted my horse and started to
overtake the train. When I caught up with them, I found that the Capt.
was feeling very uneasy about me, and the wagon master thought the
Indians had taken me captive.
When I rode to the Capt's. side, he said, "This settles it. I have been
fighting the Indians for several years, and I must admit now that I
don't know anything about them, and I will confess that I was like "the
Missouri"; I had to be shown before I believed. But having seen like
them, I am satisfied that you knew what you were talking about. After
the experience of this morning, I cannot doubt that through your
friendship with the Red skins we shall get through to Santa Fe in safety
without having any trouble with them."
That evening when we went into camp, the Capt. and the wagon master came
to me. The Capt. said, "Mr. Drannan, you are so well acquainted with the
Comanche Indians, perhaps you can tell us where we shall pass their main
village and where the Indians are likely to be the most numerous." I
answered, "This is an unusually late fall, and the Buffalo are as a
consequence unusually late in going south and are more scattered than
they would be earlier in the season, and I do not think we will pass the
Comanches' main village under forty miles from here. You must understand
that the Comanches' main village is always near where the largest herd
of Buffalo cross the river, and from this on we will travel as we have
been doing; I will take the lead five or six miles in advance of the
train so that if we come on to a band of Indians or a small village I
can meet them and have a talk with them before the train gets up to
them, and Capt., I want you and the other men to keep a close look out,
and if any of you see any Indians coming towards the train from any
direction, send a runner after me at once, for I want to meet the
Indians before they get to the train."
The next morning we pulled out early, and we traveled without
interruption all day, and we did not see an Indian and but very few
That night we camped on a little stream called Cotton Wood Creek. There
was fine water and the best of grass for the stock. That evening I told
the Capt. and the wagon boss that the three main Buffalo crossings were
within thirty miles of us, and we would probably have more trouble with
the Buffalos than we would with the Indians. "At this time of the year
it is no uncommon thing to see a herd of Buffalo from eight to ten miles
long, and from a half to a mile wide, and if we meet with such a herd,
all we can do is to stop and wait until they pass, for we could no more
get through them than we could fly over them, and, Capt., we now have
two dangers to avoid. The Indians and Buffalos. If you see a band of
Buffalo coming and I am not with you, have the wagon master corral the
train as quickly as possible, and as close as he can get them together.
I have considerable influence with the Indians, but I have none with the
Buffalos, so we must give the latter their own way and a plenty of room,
or they will tramp the train under their feet and us with it."
We were on the road in good season the next morning, and every thing
went smoothly until about eleven o'clock in the morning, when I saw a
large band of Buffalo coming from the north and heading directly for the
river. I rode back and met the train and told the wagon master that
he must corral the train at once, and he did not have time to get it
corralled too soon before the herd was near us, and I will say I had
seen a great many large herds of Buffalo before and have since that time
but never saw anything that equaled this herd. We waited until three
o'clock in the afternoon before we could move on our journey, and after
they had all passed us, one could see nothing but a black moving mass as
far as the eyes could see.
I asked the Capt. how many Buffalos he thought there were in that band.
He answered, "I think the number would run into millions. How many
Buffalos would it take to cover a half a mile square?"
I thought a moment and answered, "That is a difficult question to
answer, Capt. The way they were crowded together here I believe there
would be a hundred thousand on every half a mile square."
Capt. McKee said, "Yes, and on some of the half a mile square there
would be more than that number. I was in Texas nine years, and I saw a
great many bands of Buffalo in that time, but I had no idea that they
ever traveled in such immense bodies as the one that passed us today."
We proceeded but a short distance that afternoon but made an early camp
on account of water. While we were at supper, I was amused at some of
the remarks made by the teamsters. One of them said, "Boys, if I live
to get home, you will never catch me any farther west than the state of
Missouri again. Who would live in such a country as this is? Good for
nothing but Indians, Buffalos, and Coyotes, and any of the three is
liable to kill you if you get out among them." And another said, "How in
creation are we going to get home? If this train don't go back, we are
sure in for it."
The wagon boss said, "Boys, I should not think you would want to go back
over this country again." One of them said, "How would we live?" He
answered, "Why, you could go and live with the Indians, and then you
could have Buffalo meat to eat and hear the Coyotes howl all the time."
This remark made a laugh, but I noticed one of the teamsters wiped his
eyes on his coat sleeve and got up and left the crowd, and I saw the
tears running down his cheeks. After he had gone, one of the other
drivers said, "I pity John, for he thinks he will never see his
sweetheart again. It was to get money to settle down with that brought
him out here, and now he is afraid that he will never get back, and
I believe he will go crazy if he don't get to see his girl in a few
The boss said, "It is too bad, and I will go and see if I can console
When we were ready to strike the trail the next morning, I told the
Capt. that I thought we would pass the Comanches' main village that day.
Said I, "If it is late in the afternoon when we pass the Indian camp,
it will be best to drive on four or five miles before you stop for the
night, and do not pay any attention to me, for very likely I shall be in
the middle of the camp, talking with the Chief."
I struck out, and I had not ridden more than eight miles when in looking
off to the south I saw the Indian village. It was about a mile from the
trail on the bank of the Arkansas river. I turned my horse and went for
the village. When I was about halfway there, I met a number of young
bucks, and they all knew me. After I had shaken hands with them, I asked
where the old Chief's wigwam was, and they all went with me and showed
me where it was. As soon as I struck the edge of the village, every buck
and squaw commenced to shout and shake their hands at me. When I got to
the Chief's wigwam I dismounted, and as he came out to meet me I offered
my hand, which is always customary when one visits an Indian, be he
Chief or warrior.
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