Last of the Great Scouts The Life Story of William F. Cody ["Buffalo Bill" Cody]
Helen Cody Wetmore
Part 3 out of 5
The stage line was another of the Western enterprises projected
by Russell, Majors & Waddell. When gold was discovered on
Pike's Peak there was no method of traversing the great Western
plain except by plodding ox-team, mule-pack, or stagecoach.
A semi-monthly stage line ran from St. Joseph to Salt Lake City,
but it was poorlyequipped and very tedious, oftentimes twenty-one
days being required to make the trip. The senior member
of the firm, in partnership with John S. Jones, of Missouri,
established a new line between the Missouri River and Denver,
at that time a straggling mining hamlet. One thousand Kentucky
mules were bought, with a sufficient number of coaches to
insure a daily run each way. The trip was made in six days,
which necessitated travel at the rate of a hundred miles a day.
The first stage reached Denver on May 17, 1859. It was accounted
a remarkable achievement, and the line was pronounced a great success.
In one way it was; but the expense of equipping it had
been enormous, and the new line could not meet its obligations.
To save the credit of their senior partner, Russell, Majors &
Waddell were obliged to come to the rescue. They bought up
all the outstanding obligations, and also the rival stage line
between St. Joseph and Salt Lake City. They consolidated the two,
and thereby hoped to put the Overland stage route on a paying basis.
St. Joseph now became the starting-point of the united lines.
From there the road went to Fort Kearny, and followed
the old Salt Lake trail, already described in these pages.
After leaving Salt Lake it passed through Camp Floyd,
Ruby Valley, Carson City, Placerville, and Folsom, and ended
in Sacramento. The distance from St. Joseph to Sacramento
by this old stage route was nearly nineteen hundred miles.
The time required by mail contracts and the government schedule
was nineteen days. The trip was frequently made in fifteen,
but there were so many causes for detention that the limit was
more often reached. Each two hundred and fifty miles of road
was designated a "division," and was in charge of an agent,
who hadgreat authority in his own jurisdiction. He was commonly
a man of more than ordinary intelligence, and all matters pertaining
to his division were entirely under his control. He hired and
discharged employee, purchased horses, mules, harness, and food,
and attended to their distribution at the different stations.
He superintended the erection of all buildings,
had charge of the water supply, and he was the paymaster.
There was also a man known as the conductor, whose route was almost
coincident with that of the agent. He sat with the driver,
and often rode the whole two hundred and fifty miles of his division
without any rest or sleep, except what he could catch sitting
on the top of the flying coach. The coach itself was a roomy,
swaying vehicle, swung on thorough-braces instead of springs.
It always had a six-horse or six-mule team to draw it,
and the speed was nerve-breaking. Passengers were allowed
twenty-five pounds of baggage, and that, with the mail, express,
and the passengers themselves, was in charge of the conductor.
The Overland stagecoaches were operated at a loss until 1862.
In March of that year Russell, Majors & Waddell transferred
the whole outfit to Ben Holliday. Here was a typical frontiersman,
of great individuality and character. At the time he took
charge of the route the United States mail was given to it.
This put the line on a sound financial basis, as the
government spent $800,000 yearly in transporting the mail
to San Francisco. Will reported for duty the morning after
his talk with Trotter, and when he mounted the stage-box
and gathered the reins over the six spirited horses,
the passengers were assured of an expert driver. His run was from
Fort Kearny to Plum Creek. The country was sharply familiar.
It was the scene of his first encounter with Indians. A long
and lonely ride it was, and a dismal one when the weather
turned cold; but it meant a hundred and fifty dollars a month;
and each pay day brought him nearer to St. Louis.
Indian signs there had been right along, but they were only signs
until one bleak day in November. He pulled out of Plum Creek
with a sharp warning ringing in his ears. Indians were on
the war-path, and trouble was more likely than not ahead.
Lieutenant Flowers, assistant division agent, was on the box
with him, and within the coach were six well-armed passengers.
Half the run had been covered, when Will's experienced eye detected
the promised red men. Before him lay a stream which must be forded.
The creek was densely fringed with underbrush, and along this the Indians
were skulking, expecting to cut the stage off at the only possible crossing.
Perhaps this is a good place to say a word concerning the seemingly
extraordinary fortune that has stood by Will in his adventures.
Not only have his own many escapes been of the hairbreadth sort,
but he has arrived on the scene of danger at just the right moment
to rescue others from extinction. Of course, an element of luck has
entered into these affairs, but for the most part they simply proved
the old saying that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
Will had studied the plains as an astronomer studies the heavens.
The slightest disarrangement of the natural order of things caught his eye.
With the astronomer, it is a comet or an asteroid appearing upon
a field whose every object has long since been placed and studied;
with Will, it was a feathered headdress where there should have been
but tree, or rock, or grass; a moving figure where nature should
have been inanimate.
When seen, those things were calculated as the astronomer
calculates the motion of the objects that he studies.
A planet will arrive at a given place at a certain time;
an Indian will reach a ford in a stream in about so many minutes.
If there be time to cross before him, it is a matter of hard driving;
if the odds are with the Indian, that is another matter.
A less experienced observer than Will would not have seen the skulking
redskins; a less skilled frontiersman would not have apprehended their design;
a less expert driver would not have taken the running chance for life;
a less accurate marksman would not have picked off an Indian with a rifle
while shooting from the top of a swinging, jerking stagecoach.
Will did not hesitate. A warning shout to the passengers,
and the whip was laid on, and off went the horses full speed.
Seeing that they had been discovered, the Indians came
out into the open, and ran their ponies for the ford,
but the stage was there full five hundred yards before them.
It was characteristic of their driver that the horses were
suffered to pause at the creek long enough to get a swallow
of water; then, refreshed, they were off at full speed again.
The coach, creaking in every joint, rocked like a captive balloon,
the unhappy passengers were hurled from one side of the vehicle to the other,
flung into one another's laps, and occasionally, when some uncommon obstacle
sought to check the flying coach, their heads collided with its roof.
The Indians menaced them without, cracked skulls seemed their fate within.
Will plied the whip relentlessly, and so nobly did the powerful
horses respond that the Indians gained but slowly on them.
There were some fifty redskins in the band, but Will assumed that
if he could reach the relay station, the two stock-tenders there,
with himself, Lieutenant Flowers, and the passengers, would be
more than a match for the marauders.
When the pursuers drew within fair rifle range, Will handed the reins
to the lieutenant, swung round in his seat, and fired at the chief.
"There," shouted one of the passengers, "that fellow with the feathers
is shot!" and another fusillade from the coach interior drove holes
in the air.
The relay station was now hard by, and attracted by the firing,
the stock-tenders came forth to take a hand in the engagement.
Disheartened by the fall of their chief, the Indians weakened
at the sign of reinforcements, and gave up the pursuit.
Lieutenant Flowers and two of the passengers were wounded, but Will could
not repress a smile at the excited assurance of one of his fares that they
(the passengers) had "killed one Indian and driven the rest back."
The stock-tenders smiled also, but said nothing. It would have been
too bad to spoil such a good story.
The gravest fears for the safety of the coach had been expressed when it
was known that the reds were on the war-path; it was not thought possible
that it could get through unharmed, and troops were sent out to scour
the country. These, while too late to render service in the adventure
just related, did good work during the remainder of the winter.
The Indians were thoroughly subdued, and Will saw no more of them.
There was no other adventure of special note until February. Just before Will
started on his run, Trotter took him to one side and advised him that a small
fortune was going by the coach that day, and extra vigilance was urged,
as the existence of the treasure might have become known.
"I'll do the best I can," said Will; and he had scarcely driven
away when he suspected the two ill-favored passengers he carried.
The sudden calling away of the conductor, whereby he was left alone,
was a suspicious circumstance. He properly decided that it would
be wiser for him to hold up his passengers than to let them
hold up him, and he proceeded to take time by the forelock.
He stopped the coach, jumped down, and examined the harness
as if something was wrong; then he stepped to the coach door
and asked his passengers to hand him a rope that was inside.
As they complied, they looked into the barrels of two cocked revolvers.
"Hands up!" said Will.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded one of the pair,
as their arms were raised.
"Thought I'd come in first--that's all," was the answer.
The other was not without appreciation of humor.
"You're a cute one, youngster," said he, "but you'll find more'n your match
down the road, or I miss my guess."
"I'll look after that when I get to it," said Will. "Will you oblige
me by tying your friend's hands? Thank you. Now throw out your guns.
That all? All right. Let me see your hands."
When both outlaws had been securely trussed up and proven
to be disarmed, the journey was resumed. The remark dropped
by one of the pair was evidence that they were part of the gang.
He must reach the relay station before the attack.
If he could do that, he had a plan for farther on.
The relay station was not far away, and was safely reached.
The prisoners were turned over to the stock-tenders, and then
Will disposed of the treasure against future molestation.
He cut open one of the cushions of the coach, taking out part
of the filling, and in the cavity thus made stored everything
of value, including his own watch and pocketbook; then the filling
was replaced and the hole smoothed to a natural appearance.
If there were more in the gang, he looked for them at the ford where
the Indians had sought to cut him off, and he was not disappointed.
As he drew near the growth of willows that bordered the road,
half a dozen men with menacing rifles stepped out.
"Halt, or you're a dead man!" was the conventional salutation,
in this case graciously received.
"Well, what do you want?" asked Will.
"The boodle you carry. Fork it over!"
"Gentlemen," said Will, smiling, "this is a case where it takes
a thief to catch a thief."
"What's that?" cried one of the outlaws, his feelings outraged
by the frank description.
"Not that I'm the thief," continued Will, "but your pals were
one too many for you this time."
"Did they rob you?" howled the gang in chorus, shocked by such depravity
on the part of their comrades.
"If there's anything left in the coach worth having, don't hesitate
to take it," offered Will, pleasantly.
"Where's your strong-box?" demanded the outlaws, loath to believe
there was no honor among thieves.
Will drew it forth and exposed its melancholy emptiness.
The profanity that ensued was positively shocking.
"Where did they hold you up?" demanded the leader of the gang.
"Eight or nine miles back. You'll find some straw in the road.
You can have that, too."
"Were there horses to meet them?"
"On foot the last I saw them."
"Then we can catch 'em, boys," shouted the leader, hope upspringing
in his breast. "Come, let's be off!"
They started for the willows on the jump, and presently returned,
spurring their horses.
"Give them my regards!" shouted Will. But only the thud! thud!
of horsehoofs answered him. Retribution was sweeping like a hawk
upon its prey.
Will pushed along to the end of his run, and handed over his
trust undisturbed. Fearing that his ruse might have been discovered,
he put the "extra vigilance" urged by Trotter into the return trip,
but the trail was deserted. He picked up the prisoners at the relay
station and carried them to Fort Kearny. If their companions were
to discover the sorry trick played upon them, they would have demanded
his life as a sacrifice.
At the end of this exciting trip he found a letter from
Miss Frederici awaiting him. She urged him to give up the wild
life he was leading, return East, and find another calling.
This was precisely what Will himself had in mind, and persuasion
was not needed. In his reply he asked that the wedding-day be set,
and then he handed Trotter his resignation from the lofty perch
of a stage-driver.
"I don't like to let you go," objected Trotter.
"But," said Will, "I took the job only in order to save enough
money to get married on."
"In that case," said Trotter, "I have nothing to do but wish you joy."
WILL AS A BENEDICT.
WHEN Will reached home, he found another letter from Miss Frederici, who,
agreeably to his request, had fixed the wedding-day, March 6, 1866.
The wedding ceremony was quietly performed at the home of the bride,
and the large number of friends that witnessed it united in declaring
that no handsomer couple ever bowed for Hymen's benediction.
The bridal journey was a trip to Leavenworth on a Missouri steamer.
At that time there was much travel by these boats, and their equipment
was first-class. They were sumptuously fitted out, the table was excellent,
and except when sectional animosities disturbed the serenity of their decks,
a trip on one of them was a very pleasant excursion.
The young benedict soon discovered, however, that in war times
the "trail of the serpent" is liable to be over all things;
even a wedding journey is not exempt from the baneful influence
of sectional animosity. A party of excursionists on board
the steamer manifested so extreme an interest in the bridal couple
that Louise retired to a stateroom to escape their rudeness.
After her withdrawal, Will entered into conversation with a gentleman
from Indiana, who had been very polite to him, and asked him
if he knew the reason for the insolence of the excursion party.
The gentleman hesitated a moment, and then answered:
"To tell the truth, Mr. Cody, these men are Missourians,
and say they recognize you as one of Jennison's Jayhawkers;
that you were an enemy of the South, and are, therefore,
an enemy of theirs."
Will answered, steadily: "I was a soldier during the war, and a scout in the
Union army, but I had some experience of Southern chivalry before that time."
And he related to the Indianian some of the incidents of the early Kansas
border warfare, in which he and his father had played so prominent a part.
The next day the insolent behavior was continued. Will was much
inclined to resent it, but his wife pleaded so earnestly with him
to take no notice of it that he ignored it.
In the afternoon, when the boat landed at a lonely spot to wood up,
the Missourians seemed greatly excited, and all gathered on the guards
and anxiously scanned the riverbank.
The roustabouts were just about to make the boat fast, when a party of
armed horsemen dashed out of the woods and galloped toward the landing.
The captain thought the boat was to be attacked, and hastily gave
orders to back out, calling the crew on board at the same time.
These orders the negroes lost no time in obeying, as they often suffered
severely at the hands of these reckless marauders. The leader of the
horsemen rode rapidly up, firing at random. As he neared the steamer
he called out, "Where is that Kansas Jayhawker? We have come for him."
The other men caught sight of Will, and one of them cried, "We know you,
Bill Cody." But they were too late. Already the steamer was backing
away from the shore, dragging her gang-plank through the water;
the negro roustabouts were too much terrified to pull it in.
When the attacking party saw their plans were frustrated, and that they
were balked of their prey, they gave vent to their disappointment
in yells of rage. A random volley was fired at the retreating steamer,
but it soon got out of range, and continued on its way up the river.
Will had prepared himself for the worst; he stood, revolver in hand,
at the head of the steps, ready to dispute the way with his foes.
There was also a party of old soldiers on board, six or eight in number;
they were dressed in civilians' garb, and Will knew nothing of them;
but when they heard of their comrade's predicament, they hastily
prepared to back up the young scout. Happily the danger
was averted, and their services were not called into requisition.
The remainder of the trip was made without unpleasant incident.
It was afterward learned that as soon as the Missourians
became aware of the presence of the Union scout on board,
they telegraphed ahead to the James and Younger brothers that Will
was aboard the boat, and asked to have a party meet it at this
secluded landing, and capture and carry off the young soldier.
Will feared that Louise might be somewhat disheartened
by such an occurrence on the bridal trip, but the welcome
accorded the young couple on their arrival at Leavenworth was
flattering enough to make amends for all unpleasant incidents.
The young wife found that her husband numbered his friends
by the score in his own home; and in the grand reception tendered
them he was the lion of the hour.
Entreated by Louise to abandon the plains and pursue a vocation along
more peaceful paths, Will conceived the idea of taking up the business
in which mother had won financial success--that of landlord.
The house she had built was purchased after her death by Dr. Crook,
a surgeon in the Seventh Kansas Regiment. It was now for rent,
which fact no doubt decided Will in his choice of an occupation.
It was good to live again under the roof that had sheltered his mother
in her last days; it was good to see the young wife amid the old scenes.
So Will turned boniface, and invited May and me to make our home with him.
There was a baby in Julia's home, and it had so wound itself
around May's heartstrings that she could not be enticed away;
but there was never anybody who could supplant Will in my heart;
so I gladly accepted his invitation.
Thoreau has somewhere drawn a sympathetic portrait of the Landlord, who is
supposed to radiate hospitality as the sun throws off heat--as its own reward--
and who feeds and lodges men purely from a love of the creatures.
Yet even such a landlord, if he is to continue long in business, must have
an eye to profit, and make up in one corner what he parts with in another.
Now, Will radiated hospitality, and his reputation as a lover of his fellowman
got so widely abroad that travelers without money and without price would
go miles out of their way to put up at his tavern. Socially, he was an
irreproachable landlord; financially, his shortcomings were deplorable.
And then the life of an innkeeper, while not without its joys
and opportunities to love one's fellowman, is somewhat prosaic,
and our guests oftentimes remarked an absent, far-away expression
in the eyes of Landlord Cody. He was thinking of the plains.
Louise also remarked that expression, and the sympathy she felt
for his yearnings was accentuated by an examination of the books
of the hostelry at the close of the first six months' business.
Half smiling, half tearful, she consented to his return to
his Western life.
Will disposed of the house and settled his affairs, and when all
the bills were paid, and Sister Lou and I cozily ensconced in a little
home at Leavenworth, we found that Will's generous thought for our
comfort through the winter had left him on the beach financially.
He had planned a freighting trip on his own account, but the acquiring
of a team, wagon, and the rest of the outfit presented a knotty
problem when he counted over the few dollars left on hand.
For the first time I saw disappointment and discouragement
written on his face, and I was sorely distressed, for he had
never denied me a desire that he could gratify, and it was partly
on my account that he was not in better financial condition.
I was not yet sixteen; it would be two years more before I
could have a say as to the disposition of my own money,
yet something must be done at once.
I decided to lay the matter before Lawyer Douglass. Surely he
could suggest some plan whereby I might assist my brother.
I had a half-matured plan of my own, but I was assured that Will
would not listen to it.
Mr. Douglass had been the legal adviser of the family since he won
our first lawsuit, years before. We considered the problem from
every side, and the lawyer suggested that Mr. Buckley, an old friend
of the family, had a team and wagon for sale; they were strong
and serviceable, and just the thing that Will would likely want.
I was a minor, but if Mr. Buckley was willing to accept me as security
for the property, there would be no difficulty in making the transfer.
Mr. Buckley proved entirely agreeable to the proposition.
Will could have the outfit in return for his note with my indorsement.
That disposed of, the question of freight to put into the wagon arose.
I thought of another old friend of the family, M. E. Albright,
a wholesale grocer in Leavenworth. Would he trust Will for a load
of supplies? He would.
Thus everything was arranged satisfactorily, and I hastened
home to not the easiest task--to prevail upon Will to accept
assistance at the hands of the little sister who, not so long ago,
had employed his aid in the matter of a pair of shoes.
But Will could really do nothing save accept, and proud and happy,
he sallied forth one day as an individual freighter, though not
a very formidable rival of Russell, Majors & Waddell.
Alas for enterprises started on borrowed capital! How many of them end
in disaster, leaving their projectors not only penniless, but in debt.
Our young frontiersman, whose life had been spent in protecting the property
of others, was powerless to save his own. Wagon, horses, and freight were
all captured by Indians, and their owner barely escaped with his life.
From a safe covert he watched the redskins plunge him into bankruptcy.
It took him several years to recover, and he has often remarked that
the responsibility of his first business venture on borrowed capital
aged him prematurely.
The nearest station to the scene of this disaster was Junction City,
and thither he tramped, in the hope of retrieving his fortunes.
There he met Colonel Hickok, and in the pleasure of the greeting
forgot his business ruin for a space. The story of his marriage
and his stirring adventures as a landlord and lover of his fellowman
were first to be related, and when these were commented upon, and his
old friend had learned, too, of the wreck of the freighting enterprise,
there came the usual inquiry:
"And now, do you know of a job with some money in it?"
"There isn't exactly a fortune in it," said Wild Bill, "but I'm scouting
for Uncle Sam at Fort Ellsworth. The commandant needs more scouts,
and I can vouch for you as a good one."
"All right," said Will, always quick in decision; "I'll go along with you,
and apply for a job at once."
He was pleased to have Colonel Hickok's recommendation, but it turned
out that he did not need it, as his own reputation had preceded him.
The commandant of the fort was glad to add him to the force.
The territory he had to scout over lay between Forts Ellsworth and Fletcher,
and he alternated between those points throughout the winter.
It was at Fort Fletcher, in the spring of 1867, that he fell
in with the dashing General Custer, and the friendship established
between them was ended only by the death of the general at the head
of his gallant three hundred.
This spring was an exceedingly wet one, and the fort, which lay upon
the bank of Big Creek, was so damaged by floods that it was abandoned.
A new fort was erected, some distance to the westward, on the south
fork of the creek, and was named Fort Hayes.
Returning one day from an extended scouting trip, Will discovered signs
indicating that Indians in considerable force were in the neighborhood.
He at once pushed forward at all speed to report the news, when a second
discovery took the wind out of his sails; the hostiles were between him
and the fort.
At that moment a party of horsemen broke into view,
and seeing they were white men, Will waited their approach.
The little band proved to be General Custer and an escort of ten,
en route from Fort Ellsworth to Fort Hayes.
Informed by Will that they were cut off by Indians, and that the only hope
of escape lay in a rapid flank movement, Custer's reply was a terse:
"Lead on, scout, and we'll follow."
Will wheeled, clapped spurs to his horse, and dashed away,
with the others close behind. All hands were sufficiently versed
in Indian warfare to appreciate the seriousness of their position.
They pursued a roundabout trail, and reached the fort without seeing
a hostile, but learned from the reports of others that their escape
had been a narrow one.
Custer was on his way to Larned, sixty miles distant, and he needed a guide.
He requested that Will be assigned to the position, so pleased was he by
the service already rendered.
"The very man I proposed to send with you, General," said the commandant,
who knew well the keen desire of the Indians to get at "Yellow Hair,"
as they called Custer. "Cody knows this part of the country like a book;
he is up to all the Indian games, and he is as full of resources as a nut
is of meat."
At daybreak the start was made, and it was planned to cover the sixty
miles before nightfall. Will was mounted on a mouse-colored mule,
to which he was much attached, and in which he had every confidence.
Custer, however, was disposed to regard the lowly steed in some disdain.
"Do you think, Cody, that mule can set the pace to reach Larned
in a day?" he asked.
"When you get to Larned, General," smiled Will, "the mule and I
will be with you."
Custer said no more for a while, but the pace he set was eloquent,
and the mouse-colored mule had to run under "forced draught" to keep
up with the procession. It was a killing pace, too, for the horses,
which did not possess the staying power of the mule. Will was half
regretting that he had ridden the animal, and was wondering how he could
crowd on another pound or two of steam, when, suddenly glancing
at Custer, he caught a gleam of mischief in the general's eye.
Plainly the latter was seeking to compel an acknowledgment of error,
but Will only patted the mouse-colored flanks.
Fifteen miles were told off; Custer's thoroughbred horse was still in
fine fettle, but the mule had got the second of its three or four winds,
and was ready for a century run.
"Can you push along a little faster, General?" asked Will, slyly.
"If that mule of yours can stand it, go ahead," was the reply.
To the general's surprise, the long-eared animal did go ahead,
and when the party got into the hills, and the traveling grew heavy,
it set a pace that seriously annoyed the general's thoroughbred.
Fifteen miles more were pounded out, and a halt was called for luncheon.
The horses needed the rest, but the mouse-colored mule wore an
impatient expression. Having got its third wind, it wanted to use it.
"Well, General," said Will, when they swung off on the trail again,
"what do you think of my mount?"
Custer laughed. "It's not very handsome," said he, "but it
seems to know what it's about, and so does the rider.
You're a fine guide, Cody. Like the Indian, you seem to go
by instinct, rather than by trails and landmarks."
The praise of Custer was sweeter to the young scout than that of any
other officer on the plains would have been.
At just four o'clock the mouse-colored mule jogged into Fort Larned
and waved a triumphant pair of ears. A short distance behind rode Custer,
on a thoroughly tired thoroughbred, while the escort was strung along
the trail for a mile back.
"Cody," laughed the general, "that remarkable quadruped of yours
looks equal to a return trip. Our horses are pretty well fagged out,
but we have made a quick trip and a good one. You brought us 'cross
country straight as the crow flies, and that's the sort of service
I appreciate. Any time you're in need of work, report to me.
I'll see that you're kept busy."
It was Custer's intention to remain at Fort Larned for some time, and Will,
knowing that he was needed at Hayes, tarried only for supper and a short rest
before starting back.
When night fell, he proceeded warily. On the way out he had directed
Custer's attention to signs denoting the near-by presence of a small
band of mounted Indians.
Suddenly a distant light flashed into view, but before he could
check his mule it had vanished. He rode back a few paces,
and the light reappeared. Evidently it was visible through
some narrow space, and the matter called for investigation.
Will dismounted, hitched his mule, and went forward.
After he had covered half a mile, he found himself between two sandhills,
the pass leading into a little hollow, within which were a large
number of Indians camped around the fire whose light he had followed.
The ponies were in the background.
Will's position was somewhat ticklish, as, without a doubt, an Indian sentinel
was posted in the pass; yet it was his duty, as he understood it, to obtain
a measurably accurate estimate of the number of warriors in the band.
Himself a very Indian in stealth, he drew nearer the camp-fire, when suddenly
there rang out upon the night air--not a rifle-shot, but the unearthly braying
of his mule.
Even in the daylight, amid scenes of peace and tranquillity, the voice
of a mule falls short of the not enchanting music of the bagpipe.
At night in the wilderness, when every nerve is keyed up to the
snapping-point, the sound is simply appalling.
Will was startled, naturally, but the Indians were thrown into
dire confusion. They smothered the campfires and scattered for cover,
while a sentinel sprang up from behind a rock not twenty feet from Will,
and was off like a deer.
The scout held his ground till he had made a good guess at the number
of Indians in the party; then he ran for his mule, whose voice,
raised in seeming protest, guided him unerringly.
As he neared the animal he saw that two mounted Indians had laid hold of it,
and were trying to induce it to follow them; but the mule, true to tradition
and its master, stubbornly refused to budge a foot.
It was a comical tableau, but Will realized that it was but a step
from farce to tragedy. A rifle-shot dropped one of the Indians,
and the other darted off into the darkness.
Another bray from the mule, this time a paean of triumph, as Will jumped
into the saddle, with an arrow from the bow of the wounded Indian through
his coat-sleeve. He declined to return the fire of the wounded wretch,
and rode away into the timber, while all around the sound of Indians
in pursuit came to his ears.
"Now, my mouse-colored friend," said Will, "if you win this race
your name is Custer."
The mule seemed to understand; at all events, it settled down to work
that combined the speed of a racer with the endurance of a buffalo.
The Indians shortly abandoned the pursuit, as they could not see their game.
Will reached Fort Hayes in the early morning, to report
the safe arrival of Custer at Larned and the discovery of
the Indian band, which he estimated at two hundred braves.
The mule received "honorable mention" in his report, and was
brevetted a thoroughbred.
The colonel prepared to dispatch troops against the Indians,
and requested Will to guide the expedition, if he were
sufficiently rested, adding, with a smile:
"You may ride your mule if you like."
"No, thank you," laughed Will. "It isn't safe, sir, to hunt Indians
with an animal that carries a brass-band attachment."
Captain George A. Armes, of the Tenth Cavalry, was to command
the expedition, which comprised a troop of colored cavalry and a howitzer.
As the command lined up for the start, a courier on a foam-splashed horse
rode up with the news that the workmen on the Kansas Pacific Railroad
had been attacked by Indians, six of them killed, and over a hundred
horses and mules and a quantity of stores stolen.
The troops rode away, the colored boys panting for a chance at the redskins,
and Captain Armes more than willing to gratify them.
At nightfall the command made camp near the Saline River,
at which point it was expected to find the Indians. Before dawn
they were in the saddle again, riding straight across country,
regardless of trails, until the river was come up with.
Will's judgment was again verified by the discovery of a
large camp of hostiles on the opposite bank of the stream.
The warriors were as quick of eye, and as they greatly
outnumbered the soldiers, and were emboldened by the success
of their late exploit, they did not wait the attack, but came
charging across the river.
They were nearly a mile distant, and Captain Armes had time to plant
the howitzer on a little rise of ground. Twenty men were left to handle it.
The rest of the command advanced to the combat.
They were just at the point of attack when a fierce yelling was heard
in the rear, and the captain discovered that his retreat to the gun
was cut off by another band of reds, and that he was between two fires.
His only course was to repulse the enemy in front. If this were done,
and the colored gunners did not flee before the overwhelming numbers,
he might unite his forces by another charge.
The warriors came on with their usual impetuosity, whooping and screaming,
but they met such a raking fire from the disciplined troops that they
fell back in disorder. Just then the men at the howitzer opened fire.
The effect of this field-piece on the children of the plains was magical--
almost ludicrous. A veritable stampede followed.
"Follow me!" shouted Captain Armes, galloping in pursuit; but in their
eagerness to give chase the troops fell into such disorder that a bugle-blast
recalled them before any further damage was done the flying foe.
The Indians kept right along, however; they were pretty badly frightened.
Captain Armes was somewhat chagrined that he had no prisoners, but there
was consolation in taking back nearly all the horses that had been stolen.
These were found picketed at the camp across the river, where likely they
had been forgotten by the Indians in their flight.
Shortly after this, Will tried his hand at land speculation.
During one of his scouting trips to Fort Harker, he visited
Ellsworth, a new settlement, three miles from the fort.
There he met a man named Rose, who had a grading contract
for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, near Fort Hayes. Rose had
bought land at a point through which the railroad was to run,
and proposed staking it out as a town, but he needed a partner
in the enterprise.
The site was a good one. Big Creek was hard by, and it was
near enough to the fort to afford settlers reasonable security
against Indian raids. Will regarded the enterprise favorably.
Besides the money sent home each month, he had put by a small sum,
and this he invested in the partnership with Rose.
The town site was surveyed and staked off into lots; a cabin was erected,
and stocked with such goods as are needed on the frontier, and the budding
metropolis was weighted with the classic name of Rome.
As an encouragement to settlers, a lot was offered to any one
that would agree to erect a building. The proprietors, of course,
reserved the choicest lots.
Rome boomed. Two hundred cabins went up in less than sixty days.
Mr. Rose and Will shook hands and complimented each other on their penetration
and business sagacity. They were coming millionaires, they said.
Alas! they were but babes in the woods.
One day Dr. W. E. Webb alighted in Rome. He was a gentleman of most
amiable exterior, and when he entered the store of Rose & Cody
they prepared to dispose of a large bill of goods. But Dr. Webb
was not buying groceries. He chatted a while about the weather
and Rome, and then suggested that the firm needed a third partner.
But this was the last thing the prospective millionaires had in mind,
and the suggestion of their visitor was mildly but firmly waived.
Dr. Webb was not a gentleman to insist upon a suggestion.
He was locating towns for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, he said,
and as Rome was well started, he disliked to interfere with it;
but, really, the company must have a show.
Neither Mr. Rose nor Will had had experience with the power
of a big corporation, and satisfied that they had the only good
site for a town in that vicinity, they declared that the railroad
could not help itself.
Dr. Webb smiled pleasantly, and not without compassion.
"Look out for yourselves," said he, as he took his leave.
And within sight of Rome he located a new town. The citizens
of Rome were given to understand that the railroad shops would
be built at the new settlement, and that there was really nothing
to prevent it becoming the metropolis of Kansas.
Rome became a wilderness. Its citizens stampeded to the new town,
and Mr. Rose and Will revised their estimate of their penetration
and business sagacity.
Meantime, the home in Leavenworth had been gladdened by the birth
of a little daughter, whom her father named Arta. As it was impossible
for Will to return for some months, it was planned that the mother,
the baby,, and I should make a visit to the St. Louis home.
This was accomplished safely; and while the grandparents were
enraptured with the baby, I was enjoying the delight of a first visit
to a large city.
While the new town of Rome was regarded as an assured success by Will,
he had journeyed to St. Louis after his wife and little one.
They proceeded with him to the cozy cabin home he had fitted up,
while I went back to Leavenworth.
After the fall of Rome the little frontier home was no longer
the desirable residence that Will's dreams had pictured it,
and as Rome passed into oblivion the little family returned
to St. Louis.
HOW THE SOBRIQUET OF "BUFFALO BILL" WAS WON.
IN frontier days a man had but to ask for work to get it.
There was enough and to spare for every one. The work that paid
best was the kind that suited Will, it mattered not how hard
or dangerous it might be.
At the time Rome fell, the work on the Kansas Pacific Railroad was
pushing forward at a rapid rate, and the junior member of the once
prosperous firm of Rose & Cody saw a new field of activity open for him--
that of buffalo-hunting. Twelve hundred men were employed on
the railroad construction, and Goddard Brothers, who had undertaken
to board the vast crew, were hard pressed to obtain fresh meat.
To supply this indispensable, buffalo-hunters were employed,
and as Will was known to be an expert buffalo-slayer,
Goddard Brothers were glad to add him to their "commissary staff."
His contract with them called for en average of twelve buffaloes daily,
for which he was to receive five hundred dollars a month. It was
"good pay," the desired feature, but the work was hard and hazardous.
He must first scour the country for his game, with a good prospect
always of finding Indians instead of buffalo; then, when the game
was shot, he must oversee its cutting and dressing, and look after
the wagons that transported it to the camp where the workmen messed.
It was while working under this contract that he acquired the sobriquet
of "Buffalo Bill." It clung to him ever after, and he wore it with
more pride than he would have done the title of prince or grand duke.
Probably there are thousands of people to-day who know him by
that name only.
At the outset he procured a trained buffalo-hunting horse,
which went by the unconventional name of "Brigham," and
from the government he obtained an improved breech-loading
needle-gun, which, in testimony of its murderous qualities,
he named "Lucretia Borgia."
Buffaloes were usually plentiful enough, but there were times when
the camp supply of meat ran short. During one of these dull spells,
when the company was pressed for horses, Brigham was hitched to a scraper.
One can imagine his indignation. A racer dragging a street-car would
have no more just cause for rebellion than a buffalo-hunter tied to a work
implement in the company of stupid horses that never had a thought above
a plow, a hay-rake, or a scraper. Brigham expostulated, and in such
plain language, that Will, laughing, was on the point of unhitching him,
when a cry went up--the equivalent of a whaler's "There she blows!"--
that a herd of buffaloes was coming over the hill.
Brigham and the scraper parted company instantly, and Will
mounted him bareback, the saddle being at the camp, a mile away.
Shouting an order to the men to follow him with a wagon to take
back the meat, he galloped toward the game.
There were other hunters that day. Five officers rode out from
the neighboring fort, and joined Will while waiting for the buffaloes
to come up. They were recent arrivals in that part of the country,
and their shoulder-straps indicated that one was a captain and the others
were lieutenants. They did not know "Buffalo Bill." They saw nothing
but a good-looking young fellow, in the dress of a working man,
astride a not handsome horse, which had a blind bridle and no saddle.
It was not a formidable-looking hunting outfit, and the captain was
disposed to be a trifle patronizing.
"Hello!" he called out. "I see you're after the same game we are."
"Yes, sir," returned Will. "Our camp's out of fresh meat."
The officer ran a critical eye over Brigham. "Do you expect to run
down a buffalo with a horse like that?" said he.
"Why," said Will, innocently, "are buffaloes pretty speedy?"
"Speedy? It takes a fast horse to overhaul those animals on the open prairie."
"Does it?" said Will; and the officer did not see the twinkle in his eye.
Nothing amuses a man more than to be instructed on a matter that he
knows thoroughly, and concerning which his instructor knows nothing.
Probably every one of the officers had yet to shoot his first buffalo.
"Come along with us," offered the captain, graciously. "We're going
to kill a few for sport, and all we care for are the tongues and a chunk
of the tenderloin; you can have the rest."
"Thank you," said Will. "I'll follow along."
There were eleven buffaloes in the herd, and the officers started
after them as if they had a sure thing on the entire number.
Will noticed that the game was pointed toward a creek,
and understanding "the nature of the beast," started for the water,
to head them off.
As the herd went past him, with the military quintet five hundred
yards in the rear, he gave Brigham's blind bridle a twitch, and in
a few jumps the trained hunter was at the side of the rear buffalo;
Lucretia Borgia spoke, and the buffalo fell dead. Without even a
bridle signal, Brigham was promptly at the side of the next buffalo,
not ten feet away, and this, too, fell at the first shot.
The maneuver was repeated until the last buffalo went down.
Twelve shots had been fired; then Brigham, who never wasted
his strength, stopped. The officers had not had even a shot at the game.
Astonishment was written on their faces as they rode up.
"Gentlemen," said Will, courteously, as he dismounted, "allow me to present
you with eleven tongues and as much of the tenderloin as you wish."
"By Jove!" exclaimed the captain, "I never saw anything like that before.
Who are you, anyway?"
"Bill Cody's my name."
"Well, Bill Cody, you know how to kill buffalo, and that horse of yours
has some good running points, after all."
"One or two," smiled Will.
Captain Graham--as his name proved to be--and his companions
were a trifle sore over missing even the opportunity of a shot,
but they professed to be more than repaid for their disappointment
by witnessing a feat they had not supposed possible in a white man--
hunting buffalo without a saddle, bridle, or reins. Will explained
that Brigham knew more about the business than most two-legged hunters.
All the rider was expected to do was to shoot the buffalo.
If the first shot failed, Brigham allowed another; if this,
too, failed, Brigham lost patience, and was as likely as not to drop
the matter then and there.
It was this episode that fastened the name of "Buffalo Bill"
upon Will, and learning of it, the friends of Billy Comstock,
chief of scouts at Fort Wallace, filed a protest.
Comstock, they said, was Cody's superior as a buffalo hunter.
So a match was arranged to determine whether it should be
"Buffalo Bill" Cody or "Buffalo Bill" Comstock.
The hunting-ground was fixed near Sheridan, Kansas, and quite
a crowd of spectators was attracted by the news of the contest.
Officers, soldiers, plainsmen, and railroadmen took a day off
to see the sport, and one excursion party, including many ladies,
among them Louise, came up from St. Louis.
Referees were appointed to follow each man and keep a tally
of the buffaloes slain. Comstock was mounted on his
favorite horse, and carried a Henry rifle of large caliber.
Brigham and Lucretia went with Will. The two hunters rode side
by side until the first herd was sighted and the word given,
when off they dashed to the attack, separating to the right and left.
In this first trial Will killed thirty-eight and Comstock
twenty-three. They had ridden miles, and the carcasses
of the dead buffaloes were strung all over the prairie.
Luncheon was served at noon, and scarcely was it over when another
herd was sighted, composed mainly of cows with their calves.
The damage to this herd was eighteen and fourteen, in favor of Cody.
In those days the prairies were alive with buffaloes, and a third
herd put in an appearance before the rifle-barrels were cooled.
In order to give Brigham a share of the glory, Will pulled off
saddle and bridle, and advanced bareback to the slaughter.
That closed the contest. Score, sixty-nine to forty-eight. Comstock's
friends surrendered, and Cody was dubbed "Champion Buffalo Hunter
of the Plains."
The heads of the buffaloes that fell in this hunt were mounted
by the Kansas Pacific Company, and distributed about the country,
as advertisements of the region the new road was traversing.
Meanwhile, Will continued hunting for the Kansas Pacific contractors,
and during the year and a half that he supplied them with fresh
meat he killed four thousand two hundred and eighty buffaloes.
But when the railroad reached Sheridan it was decided to build no
farther at that time, and Will was obliged to look for other work.
The Indians had again become so troublesome that a general war
threatened all along the border, and General P. H. Sheridan came
West to personally direct operations. He took up his quarters
at Fort Leavenworth, but the Indian depredations becoming
more widespread, he transferred his quarters to Fort Hayes,
then the terminus of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. Will was then
in the employ of the quartermaster's department at Fort Larned,
but was sent with an important dispatch to General Sheridan
announcing that the Indians near Larned were preparing to decamp.
The distance between Larned and Hayes was sixty-five miles,
through a section infested with Indians, but Will tackled it,
and reached the commanding General without mishap.
Shortly afterward it became necessary to send dispatches
from Fort Hayes to Fort Dodge. Ninety-five miles of country
lay between, and every mile of it was dangerous ground.
Fort Dodge was surrounded by Indians, and three scouts had
lately been killed while trying to get dispatches through,
but Will's confidence in himself or his destiny was unshakable,
and he volunteered to take the dispatches, as far, at least,
as the Indians would let him.
"It is a dangerous undertaking," said General Sheridan, "but it
is most important that the dispatches should go through; so, if you
are willing to risk it, take the best horse you can find,
and the sooner you start the better."
Within an hour the scout was in the saddle. At the outset Will
permitted his horse to set his own pace, for in case of pursuit
he should want the animal fresh enough to at least hold his own.
But no pursuit materialized, and when the dawn came up he had
covered seventy miles, and reached a station on Coon Creek,
manned by colored troops. Here he delivered a letter to Major Cox,
the officer in command, and after eating breakfast, took a fresh horse,
and resumed his journey before the sun was above the plain.
Fort Dodge was reached, the dispatches delivered by nine o'clock,
and Will turned in for a needed sleep. When he awoke, he was assured
by John Austin, chief of the scouts at Dodge, that his coming
through unharmed from Fort Hayes was little short of a miracle.
He was also assured that a journey to his own headquarters,
Fort Larned, would be even more ticklish than his late ride,
as the hostiles were especially thick in that direction.
But the officer in command at Dodge desired to send dispatches
to Larned, and as none of the other scouts were willing to take them,
Will volunteered his services.
"Larned's my headquarters," said he, "and I must go there anyway;
so if you'll give me a good horse, I'll take your dispatches."
"We haven't a decent horse left," said the officer; "but you can take
your pick of some fine government mules."
Will made a gesture of despair. Another race on mule-back with Indians
was not an inviting prospect. There were very few mules like unto
his quondam mouse-colored mount. But he succumbed to the inevitable,
picked out the most enterprising looking mule in the bunch, and set forth.
And neither he nor the mule guessed what was in store for each of them.
At Coon Creek Will dismounted for a drink of water, and the mule embraced
the opportunity to pull away, and start alone on the wagon-trail
to Larned. Will did not suspect that he should have any trouble
in overtaking the capricious beast, but at the end of a mile he was
somewhat concerned. He had threatened and entreated, raged and cajoled.
'Twas all wasted. The mule was as deaf to prayer as to objurgation.
It browsed contentedly along the even tenor of its way, so near and yet so far
from the young man, who, like "panting time, toil'd after it in vain."
And Larned much more than twenty miles away.
What the poet calls "the golden exhalations of the dawn"
began to warm the gray of the plain. The sun was in the roots
of the grass. Four miles away the lights of Larned twinkled.
The only blot on a fair landscape was the mule--in the middle distance.
But there was a wicked gleam in the eye of the footsore young
man in the foreground.
Boom! The sunrise gun at the fort. The mule threw back
its head, waved its ears, and poured forth a song of triumph,
a loud, exultant bray.
Crack! Will's rifle. Down went the mule. It had made the fatal mistake
of gloating over its villainy. Never again would it jeopardize the life
of a rider.
It had been a thirty-five-mile walk, and every bone in Will's body ached.
His shot alarmed the garrison, but he was soon on the ground
with the explanation; and after turning over his dispatches,
he sought his bed.
During the day General Hazen returned, under escort, from Fort Harker,
with dispatches for Sheridan, and Will offered to be the bearer of them.
An army mule was suggested, but he declined to again put his life
in the keeping of such an animal. A good horse was selected,
and the journey made without incident.
General Sheridan was roused at daylight to receive the scout's report
and praised Will warmly for having undertaken and safely accomplished
three such long and dangerous rides.
"In all," says General Sheridan, in his Memoirs, "Cody rode
three hundred and fifty miles in less than sixty hours,
and such an exhibition of endurance and courage was more than
enough to convince me that his services would be extremely
valuable in the campaign; so I retained him at Fort Hayes until
the battalion of Fifth Cavalry arrived, and then made him chief
of scouts for that regiment."
SATANTA, CHIEF OF THE KIOWAS.
WITHIN plain view of Fort Larned lay a large camp of Kiowas
and Comanches. They were not yet bedaubed with war paint,
but they were as restless as panthers in a cage, and it was only
a matter of days when they would whoop and howl with the loudest.
The principal chief of the Kiowas was Satanta, a powerful
and resourceful warrior, who, because of remarkable talents for
speech-making, was called "The Orator of the Plains." Satanta was
short and bullet-headed. Hatred for the whites swelled every
square inch of his breast, but he had the deep cunning
of his people, with some especially fine points of treachery
learned from dealings with dishonest agents and traders.
There probably never was an Indian so depraved that he could not
be corrupted further by association with a rascally white man.
When the Kiowas were friendly with the government, Satanta received
a guest with all the magnificence the tribe afforded. A carpet was spread
for the white man to sit upon, and a folding board was set up for a table.
The question of expense never intruded.
Individually, too, Satanta put on a great deal of style.
Had the opportunity come to him, he would have worn a silk hat
with a sack-coat, or a dress suit in the afternoon. As it was,
he produced some startling effects with blankets and feathers.
It was part of General Hazen's mission to Fort Larned to patch up a treaty
with the outraged Kiowas and Comanches, if it could be brought about.
On one warm August morning, the general set out for Fort Zarah,
on a tour of inspection. Zarah was on the Arkansas, in what is now
Barton County, Kansas. An early start was made, as it was desired to cover
the thirty miles by noon. The general rode in a four-mule army ambulance,
with an escort of ten foot soldiers, in a four-mule escort wagon.
After dinner at Zarah the general went on to Fort Harker, leaving orders
for the scout and soldiers to return to Larned on the following day.
But as there was nothing to do at Fort Zarah, Will determined to return
at once; so he trimmed the sails of his mule-ship, and squared
away for Larned.
The first half of the journey was without incident, but when
Pawnee Rock was reached, events began to crowd one another.
Some forty Indians rode out from behind the rock and
surrounded the scout.
"How? How?" they cried, as they drew near, and offered their hands
for the white man's salutation.
The braves were in war paint, and intended mischief;
but there was nothing to be lost by returning their greeting,
so Will extended his hand.
One warrior seized it and gave it a violent jerk; another caught
the mule's bridle; a third pulled the revolvers from the holsters;
a fourth snatched the rifle from across the saddle; while a fifth,
for a climax, dealt Will a blow on the head with a tomahawk that
nearly stunned him.
Then the band started for the Arkansas River, lashing the mule,
singing, yelling, and whooping. For one supposed to be stolid
and taciturn, the Indian makes a good deal of noise at times.
Across the river was a vast throng of warriors, who had finally decided
to go on the war-path. Will and his captors forded the shallow stream,
and the prisoner was conducted before the chiefs of the tribe,
with some of whom he was acquainted.
His head throbbed from the tomahawking, but his wits were still
in working order, and when asked by Satanta where he had been,
he replied that he had been out searching for "whoa-haws."
He knew that the Indians had been promised a herd of "whoa-haws,"
as they termed cattle, and he knew, too, that the herd had not arrived,
and that the Indians had been out of meat for several weeks;
hence he hoped to enlist Satanta's sympathetic interest.
He succeeded. Satanta was vastly interested. Where were the cattle?
Oh, a few miles back. Will had been sent forward to notify the Indians
that an army of sirloin steaks was advancing upon them.
Satanta was much pleased, and the other chiefs were likewise interested.
Did General Hazen say the cattle were for them? Was there a chance
that the scout was mistaken?
Not a chance; and with becoming dignity Will demanded a reason
for the rough treatment he had received.
Oh, that was all a joke, Satanta explained. The Indians who had
captured the white chief were young and frisky. They wished
to see whether he was brave. They were simply testing him.
It was sport--just a joke.
Will did not offer to argue the matter. No doubt an excellent test
of a man's courage is to hit him over the head with a tomahawk.
If he lives through it, he is brave as Agamemnon. But Will
insisted mildly that it was a rough way to treat friends;
whereupon Satanta read the riot act to his high-spirited young men,
and bade them return the captured weapons to the scout.
The next question was, were there soldiers with the cattle?
Certainly, replied Will; a large party of soldiers were escorting the
succulent sirloins. This intelligence necessitated another consultation.
Evidently hostilities must be postponed until after the cattle had arrived.
Would Will drive the cattle to them? He would be delighted to.
Did he desire that the chief's young men should accompany him?
No, indeed. The soldiers, also, were high-spirited, and they might test
the bravery of the chief's young men by shooting large holes in them.
It would be much better if the scout returned alone.
Satanta agreed with him, and Will recrossed the river
without molestation; but, glancing over his shoulder, he noted
a party of ten or fifteen young braves slowly following him.
Satanta was an extremely cautious chieftain.
Will rode leisurely up the gentle slope of the river's bank,
but when he had put the ridge between him and the Indian camp
he pointed his mule westward, toward Fort Larned, and set it going
at its best pace. When the Indians reached the top of the ridge,
from where they could scan the valley, in which the advancing
cattle were supposed to be, there was not a horn to be seen,
and the scout was flying in an opposite direction.
They gave chase, but the mule had a good start, and when it got its
second wind--always necessary in a mule--the Indian ponies gained but slowly.
When Ash Creek, six miles from Larned, was reached, the race was about even,
but two miles farther on, the Indians were uncomfortably close behind.
The sunset gun at the fort boomed a cynical welcome to the man four
miles away, flying toward it for his life.
At Pawnee Fork, two miles from the fort, the Indians had crept up to within
five hundred yards. But here, on the farther bank of the stream, Will came
upon a government wagon containing half a dozen soldiers and Denver Jim,
a well-known scout.
The team was driven among the trees, and the men hid themselves in
the bushes, and when the Indians came along they were warmly received.
Two of the reds were killed; the others wheeled and rode back in safety.
In 1868 General Sheridan had taken command of all the troops in the field.
He arranged what is known as the winter expeditions against
the Kiowas, Comanches, Southern Cheyennes, and Arapahoes. He personally
commanded the expedition which left Fort Dodge, with General Custer
as chief of cavalry. General Penrose started for Fort Lyon, Colorado,
and General Eugene A. Carr was ordered from the Republican River country,
with the Fifth Cavalry, to Fort Wallace, Kansas. Will at this
time had a company of forty scouts with General Carr's command.
He was ordered by General Sheridan, when leaving Fort Lyon, to follow
the trail of General Penrose's command until it was overtaken.
General Carr was to proceed to Fort Lyon, and follow on the trail
of General Penrose, who had started from there three weeks before, when,
as Carr ranked Penrose, he would then take command of both expeditions.
It was the 21st of November when Carr's expedition left Fort Lyon. The second
day out they encountered a terrible snow-storm and blizzard in a place
they christened "Freeze Out Canon," by which name it is still known.
As Penrose had only a pack-train and no heavy wagons, and the ground was
covered with snow, it was a very difficult matter to follow his trail.
But taking his general course, they finally came up with him on the south
fork of the Canadian River, where they found him and his soldiers
in a sorry plight, subsisting wholly on buffalo-meat. Their animals
had all frozen to death.
General Carr made what is known as a supply camp, leaving
Penrose's command and some of his own disabled stock therein.
Taking with him the Fifth Cavalry and the best horses and pack-mules,
he started south toward the main fork of the Canadian River,
looking for the Indians. He was gone from the supply camp
thirty days, but could not locate the main band of Indians,
as they were farther to the east, where General Sheridan had
located them, and had sent General Custer in to fight them,
which he did, in what is known as the great battle of Wichita.
They had a very severe winter, and returned in March to Fort Lyon, Colorado.
In the spring of 1869, the Fifth Cavalry, ordered to the Department
of the Platte, took up the line of march for Fort McPherson, Nebraska.
It was a large command, including seventy-six wagons for stores,
ambulance wagons, and pack-mules. Those chief in authority were
Colonel Royal (afterward superseded by General Carr), Major Brown,
and Captain Sweetman.
The average distance covered daily was only ten miles, and when
the troops reached the Solomon River there was no fresh meat in camp.
Colonel Royal asked Will to look up some game.
"All right, sir," said Will. "Will you send a couple of wagons
along to fetch in the meat?"
"We'll send for the game, Cody, when there's some game to send for,"
curtly replied the colonel.
That settled the matter, surely, and Will rode away, a trifle
ruffled in temper.
He was not long in rounding up a herd of seven buffaloes, and he headed them
straight for camp. As he drew near the lines, he rode alongside his game,
and brought down one after another, until only an old bull remained.
This he killed in almost the center of the camp.
The charge of the buffaloes had nearly stampeded the picketed horses,
and Colonel Royal, who, with the other officers, had watched
the hunt, demanded, somewhat angrily:
"What does this mean, Cody?"
"Why," said Will, "I thought, sir, I'd save you the trouble of sending
after the game."
The colonel smiled, though perhaps the other officers enjoyed
the joke more than he.
At the north fork of the Beaver, Will discovered a large and fresh
Indian trail. The tracks were scattered all over the valley,
showing that a large village had recently passed that way.
Will estimated that at least four hundred lodges were represented;
that would mean from twenty-five hundred to three thousand warriors,
squaws, and children.
When General Carr (who had taken the command) got the news, he followed
down a ravine to Beaver Creek, and here the regiment went into camp.
Lieutenant Ward and a dozen men were detailed to accompany Will on
a reconnoissance. They followed Beaver Creek for twelve miles, and then
the lieutenant and the scout climbed a knoll for a survey of the country.
One glance took in a large Indian village some three miles distant.
Thousands of ponies were picketed out, and small bands of warriors
were seen returning from the hunt, laden with buffalo-meat.
"I think, Lieutenant," said Will, "that we have important business at camp."
"I agree with you," said Ward. "The quicker we get out of here, the better."
When they rejoined the men at the foot of the hill, Ward dispatched
a courier to General Carr, the purpose of the lieutenant being to follow
slowly and meet the troops which he knew would be sent forward.
The courier rode away at a gallop, but in a few moments
came riding back, with three Indians at his horse's heels.
The little company charged the warriors, who turned and fled
for the village.
"Lieutenant," said Will, "give me that note." And as it was passed over,
he clapped spurs to his horse and started for the camp.
He had proceeded but a short distance when he came upon another
party of Indians, returning to the village with buffalo-meat.
Without stopping, he fired a long-range shot at them, and while
they hesitated, puzzled by the action, he galloped past.
The warriors were not long in recovering from their surprise,
and cutting loose their meat, followed; but their ponies were tired
from a long hunt, and Will's fresh horse ran away from them.
When General Carr received the lieutenant's dispatch, he ordered the bugler
to sound the inspiring "Boots and Saddles," and, while two companies remained
to guard the wagons, the rest of the troops hastened against the Indians.
Three miles out they were joined by Lieutenant Ward's company,
and five miles more brought them within sight of a huge mass
of mounted Indians advancing up the creek. These warriors
were covering the retreat of their squaws, who were packing up
and getting ready for hasty flight.
General Carr ordered a charge on the red line. If it were broken,
the cavalry was to continue, and surround the village.
The movement was successfully executed, but one officer misunderstood
the order, and, charging on the left wing of the hostiles,
was speedily hemmed in by some three hundred redskins.
Reinforcements were dispatched to his relief, but the plan
of battle was spoiled, and the remainder of the afternoon was
spent in contesting the ground with the Indians, who fought for
their lodges, squaws, and children with desperate and dogged courage.
When night came on, the wagon-trains, which had been ordered to follow,
had not put in an appearance, and, though the regiment went back
to look for them, it was nine o'clock before they were reached.
Camp was broken at daybreak, and the pursuit began, but not
an Indian was in sight. All the day the trail was followed.
There was evidence that the Indians had abandoned everything
that might hinder their flight. That night the regiment camped
on the banks of the Republican, and the next morning caught
a distant glimpse of the foe.
About eleven o'clock a charge was made by three hundred mounted warriors,
but they were repulsed with considerable loss, and when they discovered
that defeat was certain, they evaded further pursuit by breaking
up into companies and scattering to all points of the compass.
A large number of ponies were collected as trophies of this expedition.
WILL MADE CHIEF OF SCOUTS.
IN due time the Fifth Cavalry reached Fort McPherson,
which became its headquarters while they were fitting out
a new expedition to go into the Republican River country.
At this time General Carr recommended to General Augur,
who was in command of the Department, that Will be made chief
of scouts in the Department of the Platte.
Will's fancy had been so taken by the scenery along the line of march
that he proceeded to explore the country around McPherson, the result
being a determination to make his future home in the Platte Valley.
Shortly after reaching the fort, the scouts' division of
the Fifth Cavalry was reinforced by Major Frank North
and three companies of the celebrated Pawnee scouts.
These became the most interesting and amusing objects in camp,
partly on account of their race, but mainly because of the bizarre
dress fashions they affected. My brother, in his autobiography,
describes the appearance presented by these scouts during
a review of the command by Brigadier-General Duncan.
The regiment made a fine showing, the men being well drilled
and thoroughly versed in tactics. The Pawnees also showed up well
on drill, but their full dress uniforms were calculated to excite
even the army horses to laughter. Regular cavalry suits had been
furnished them, but no two of the Pawnees seemed to agree as to
the correct manner in which the various articles should be worn.
As they lined up for dress parade, some of them wore heavy overcoats,
others discarded even pantaloons, content with a breech-clout. Some wore
large black hats, with brass accouterments, others were bareheaded.
Many wore the pantaloons, but declined the shirts, while a few of the more
original cut the seats from the pantaloons, leaving only leggings.
Half of them were without boots or moccasins, but wore the clinking
spurs with manifest pride.
They were a quaint and curious lot, but drilled remarkably well for Indians,
and obeyed orders. They were devoted to their white chief, Major North,
who spoke Pawnee like a native, and they were very proud of their position
in the United States army. Good soldiers they made, too--hard riders,
crack shots, and desperate fighters.
At the close of the parade and review referred to, the officers
and the ladies attended an Indian dance, given by the Pawnees,
which climaxed a rather exciting day.
The following morning an expedition moved back to the Republican River, to
curb the high spirits of a band of Sioux, who had grown boldly troublesome.
This was the sort of service the Pawnees welcomed, as they and the Sioux
were hereditary enemies.
At the journey's end, camp was made at the mouth of the Beaver,
and the Sioux were heard from within the hour. A party of them
raided the mules that had been taken to the river, and the alarm
was given by a herder, who dashed into camp with an arrow sticking
in his shoulder.
Will did not wait to saddle his horse, but the Pawnees were as quick
as he, and both of them rather surprised the Sioux, who did not expect
such a swift response. Especially were they surprised to find
themselves confronted by their tribal foe, the Pawnee, and they
fell back hastily, closely pressed by Will and his red allies.
A running fight was kept up for fifteen miles, and when many of
the Sioux had been stretched upon the plain and the others scattered,
the pursuing party returned to camp.
Will himself, on a fine horse, had been somewhat chagrined at being
passed in the chase by a Pawnee on an inferior-looking steed.
Upon inquiring of Major North, he found that the swifter horse was,
like his own, government property. The Pawnee was much attached
to his mount, but he was also fond of tobacco, and a few pieces
of that commodity, supplemented by some other articles, induced him
to exchange horses. Will named his new charge "Buckskin Joe,"
and rode him for four years. Joe proved a worthy successor to Brigham
for speed, endurance, and intelligence.
This was the first adventure that Will and the Pawnees had pursued
together, and they emerged with an increased esteem for each other.
Not long afterward, Will's skill as a buffalo-hunter raised the admiration
of the Indians to enthusiasm.
Twenty Pawnees that circled around one herd of buffaloes killed only
twenty-two, and when the next herd came in view Will asked Major North
to keep the Indians in the background while he showed them a thing or two.
Buckskin Joe was a capital buffalo-hunter, and so well did he perform
his part that Will brought down thirty-six, about one at every shot.
The Pawnees were delighted. They held it considerable of an achievement
to kill two or three of the monarchs of the plains at a single run,
and Will's feat dazzled them. He was at once pronounced a great chief,
and ever after occupied a high place in their regard.
Moving up the Republican River, the troops went into camp on
Black Tail Deer Fork. Scarcely were the tents pitched when a
band of Indians were seen sweeping toward them at full speed,
singing, yelling, and waving lances. The camp was alive in
an instant, but the Pawnees, instead of preparing for defense,
began to sing and yell in unison with the advancing braves.
"Those are some of our own Indians," said Major North;
"they've had a fight, and are bringing in the scalps."
And so it proved. The Pawnees reported a skirmish with the Sioux,
in which a few of the latter had been killed.
The next day the regiment set forth upon the trail of
the Sioux. They traveled rapidly, and plainly gained ground.
At every camp the print of a woman's shoe was noted among the tracks
of moccasined feet. The band evidently had a white captive in tow,
and General Carr, selecting the best horses, ordered a forced march,
the wagon-trains to follow as rapidly as possible. Will, with six Pawnees,
was to go ahead and locate the hostiles, and send back word, so that a plan
of attack might be arranged before the Indian village was reached.
This village the scouts discovered among the sand-hills at Summit Springs,
a few miles from the South Platte River; and while the Pawnees remained
to watch, Will returned to General Carr with the news.
There was suppressed excitement all along the line, as officers
and men prepared for what promised to be a lively scrimmage.
The troops moved forward by a circuitous route, and reached
a hill overlooking the hostile camp without their presence
being dreamed of by the red men.
The bugler was ordered to sound the charge, but he was trembling
with excitement, and unable to blow a note.
"Sound the charge, man!" ordered General Carr a second time;
but the unhappy wight could scarcely hold his horn, much less blow it.
Quartermaster Hays snatched the instrument from the flustered
man's hands, and as the call rang out loud and clear the troops
rushed to the attack.
Taken wholly by surprise, the Indian village went to pieces in a twinkling.
A few of the Sioux mounted and rode forward to repel the assault,
but they turned back in half a minute, while those that were not mounted
scattered for the foothills hard by. The cavalry swept through the village
like a prairie fire, and pursued the flying Indians until darkness put
an end to the chase.
By the next morning the bugler had grown calm enough to sound
"Boots and Saddles!" and General Carr split his force
into companies, as it was discovered that the Indians had divided.
Each company was to follow a separate trail.
Will made one of a band of two hundred, and for two days they dogged
the red man's footsteps. At sunrise of the third day the trail ran
into another, showing that the Sioux had reunited their forces.
This was serious for the little company of regulars, but they went ahead,
eager for a meeting with the savages.
They had not long to wait. The sun was scarcely an hour
high when some six hundred Sioux were espied riding in close
ranks along the bank of the Platte. The Indians discovered
the troops at the same moment, and at once gave battle.
The Indian is not a coward, though he frequently declines combat
if the odds are not largely in his favor.
In this engagement the Sioux outnumbered the soldiers three to one,
and the latter fell back slowly until they reached a ravine.
Here they tethered their horses and waited the course
of Indian events, which, as usual, came in circular form.
The Sioux surrounded the regulars, and finding them comparatively
few in number, made a gallant charge.
But bows and arrows are futile against powder and ball, and the warriors
reeled back from a scathing fire, leaving a score of their number dead.
Another charge, another repulse; and then a council of war.
This lasted an hour, and evidently evolved a brilliant stratagem,
for the Sioux divided into two bands, and while one made a show
of withdrawing, the other circled around and around the position
where the soldiers lay.
At a point in this revolving belt of redskins rode a well-mounted,
handsome warrior, plainly a chief. It had been Will's experience
that to lay low a chief was half the battle when fighting Indians,
but this particular mogul kept just out of rifle-shot. There are,
however, as many ways of killing an Indian as of killing a cat;
so Will crawled on hands and knees along the ravine to a point
which he thought would be within range of the chief when next he swung
around the circle.
The calculation was close enough, and when the warrior came loping along,
slacking his pace to cross the ravine, Will rose and fired.
It was a good four hundred yards, but the warrior pitched from his seat,
and his pony ran down the ravine into the ranks of the soldiers,
who were so elated over the success of the shot that they voted
the animal to Will as a trophy.
The fallen warrior was Tall Bull, one of the ablest chiefs
the Sioux ever had. His death so disheartened his braves
that they at once retreated.
A union of General Carr's scattered forces followed,
and a few days later an engagement took place in which three
hundred warriors and a large number of ponies were captured.
Some white captives were released, and several hundred
squaws made prisoners.
Among these latter was the amiable widow of Tall Bull, who, far from
cherishing animosity against Will as the slayer of her spouse,
took pride in the fact that he had fallen under the fire of so great
a warrior as "Pahaska," Long-haired Chief, by which name our scout
was known among the Indians.
ARMY LIFE AT FORT M'PHERSON.
IN the spring of 1870 Will proceeded to put into effect
the determination of the previous year--to establish a home
in the lovely country of the westerly Platte. After preparing
quarters wherein his family might be comfortable, he obtained
a leave of absence and departed for St. Louis to fetch his wife
and daughter Arta, now a beautiful child of three.
The fame of "Buffalo Bill" had extended far beyond the plains, and during his
month's sojourn in St. Louis he was the object of a great deal of attention.
When the family prepared to depart for the frontier home, my sister-in-law
wrote to me to ask if I did not wish to accompany them. I should have
been delighted to accept the invitation, but at that especial time there
were strong attractions for me in my childhood's home; besides, I felt
that sister May, who had not enjoyed the pleasure of the St. Louis trip,
was entitled to the Western jaunt.
So May made a visit to McPherson, and a delightful time she had,
though she was at first inclined to quarrel with the severe
discipline of army life. Will ranked with the officers,
and as a result May's social companions were limited to the two
daughters of General Augur, who were also on a visit to the fort.
To compensate for the shortage of feminine society, however,
there were a number of young unmarried officers.
Every day had its curious or enlivening incident, and May's
letters to me were filled with accounts of the gayety of life
at an army post. After several months I was invited to join her.
She was enthusiastic over a proposed buffalo-hunt, as she
desired to take part in one before her return to Leavenworth,
and wished me to enjoy the sport with her.
In accepting the invitation I fixed a certain day for my arrival
at McPherson, but I was delayed in my journey, and did not reach
the fort until three days after the date set. May was much disturbed.
She had allowed me three days for recuperation from the journey,
and I had arrived on the eve of the buffalo-hunt. Naturally, I was too
fatigued to rave over buffaloes, and I objected to joining the hunt;
and I was encouraged in my objecting by the discovery that my brother
was away on a scouting trip.
"You don't think of going buffalo-hunting without Will, do you?"
I asked May.
"Why," said she, "we can never tell when he will be in camp and when away;
he's off scouting nearly all the time. And we can't get up a buffalo-hunt
on five minutes' notice; we must plan ahead. Our party is all ready
to start, and there's a reporter here from an Omaha paper to write it up.
We can't put it off, and you must go."
After that, of course, there was nothing more to be said,
and when the hunting-party set forth I made one of it.
A gay party it was. For men, there were a number of officers, and the
newspaper man, Dr. Frank Powell, now of La Crosser for women, the wives
of two of the officers, the daughters of General Augur, May, and myself.
There was sunshine, laughter, and incessant chatter, and when one is young and
fond of horseback-riding, and a handsome young officer rides by one's side,
physical fatigue is apt to vanish for a time.
The fort was soon nothing but a break in the sky-line, and
with a sense almost of awe I looked for the first time upon
the great American Desert. To our left, as we rode eastward,
ran the swift and shallow Platte, dotted with green-garbed islands.
This river Washington Irving called "the most magnificent
and the most useless of streams" "The islands," he wrote,
"have the appearance of a labyrinth of groves floating on the waters.
Their extraordinary position gives an air of youth and loveliness
to the whole scene. If to this be added the undulations of the river,
the waving of the verdure, the alternations of light and shade,
and the purity of the atmosphere, some idea may be formed
of the pleasing sensations which the traveler experiences on
beholding a scene that seems to have started fresh from the hands
of the Creator."
In sharp contrast was the sandy plain over which we rode.
On this grew the short, stubby buffalo-grass, the dust-colored
sage-brush, and cactus in rank profusion. Over to the right,
perhaps a mile away, a long range of foothills ran down
to the horizon, with here and there the great canons,
through which entrance was effected to the upland country,
each canon bearing a historical or legendary name.
To my eyes the picture was as beautiful as it was novel.
As far as one could see there was no sign of human habitation.
It was one vast, untenanted waste, with the touch of infinity
the ocean wears.
As we began to get into the foothills, one of our equestriennes narrowly
escaped a fall. Her horse dropped a foot into a prairie-dog's hole,
and came to an abrupt stop. The foot was extricated, and I was instructed
in the dangers that beset the prairie voyager in these blind traps
of the plain.
The trail had been ascending at a gentle grade, and we had
a slight change of scene--desert hill instead of desert plain.
The sand-hills rose in tiers before us, and I was informed
that they were formed ages ago by the action of water.
What was hard, dry ground to our horses' hoofs was once the bottom
of the sea.
I was much interested in the geology of my environments;
much more so than I should have been had I been told that
those strange, weird hills were the haunt of the red man,
who was on the war-path, and looking constantly for scalps.
But these unpleasant facts were not touched upon by the officers,
and in blissful ignorance we pursued the tenor of our way.
We were obliged to ride a great distance before we sighted
any game, and after twenty miles had been gone over,
my temporarily forgotten weariness began to reassert itself.
Dr. Powell proposed that the ladies should do the shooting,
but my interest in the hunt had waned. It had been several
years since I had ridden a horse, and after the first few
miles I was not in a suitable frame of mind or body to enjoy
the most exciting hunt.
A herd of buffaloes finally came into view, and the party
was instantly alive. One old bull was a little apart from
the others of the herd, and was singled out for the first attack.
As we drew within range, a rifle was given to May, with explicit
directions as to its handling. The buffalo has but one vulnerable spot,
and it is next to impossible for a novice to make a fatal shot.
May fired, and perhaps her shot might be called a good one,
for the animal was struck: but it was only wounded and infuriated,
and dropping its shaggy head, it rushed toward us. The officers fusilladed
the mountain of flesh, succeeding only in rousing it to added fury.
Another rifle was handed to May, and Dr. Powell directed its aim;
but terrified by the near presence of the charging bull,
May discharged it at random.
Although this is strictly a narrative of facts, exercising the privilege
of the novelist, we leave our present heroine in her perilous position,
and return, for a space, to the fort.
Will returned from his scouting trip shortly after the departure
of the hunting party, and his first query was:
"Is Nellie here?"
"Come and gone," replied his wife; and she informed him of the manner
in which I had been carried off on the long-talked-of buffalo-hunt.
Whereupon Will gave way to one of his rare fits of passion.
The scouting trip had been long and arduous, he was tired and hungry,
but also keenly anxious for our safety. He knew what we were ignorant of--
that should we come clear of the not insignificant dangers attendant upon
a buffalo-hunt, there remained the possibility of capture by Indians.
"I must go after them at once," said he; and off he went, without thought
of rest or food. He did take time, however, to visit the officers'
quarters and pour a vial of wrath upon the bewildered head of the inferior
who occupied the place of the absent commandant.
"Didn't you know," cried Will, "that my continued absence meant
danger in the air? Fine idea, to let a party of ladies go beyond
the fort on such a foolhardy expedition before I had assured you it
was safe to do so! Understand, if any harm comes to my sisters,
I'll hold the government responsible!"
With which tremendous threat he mounted the swiftest horse in camp and rode
away before the astonished officer had recovered from his surprise.
He was able to track us over the sand-hills, and reached us,
in accepted hero fashion, in the very nick of time.
The maddened bull buffalo was charging on May,
unchecked by a peppering fire from the guns of the officers.
All hands were so absorbed by the intense excitement of the
moment that the sound of approaching hoof-beats was unnoted.
But I heard, from behind us, the crack of a rifle, and saw
the buffalo fall dead almost at our feet.
The ill-humor of our rescuer dampened the ardor of the welcome
we gave him. The long ride on an empty stomach had not smoothed
a ripple of his ruffled temper, and we were all properly lectured.
We were ordered back to the fort at once, and the command
was of such a nature that no one thought of disputing it.
The only question was, whether we could make the fort before
being cut off by Indians. There was no time to be wasted,
even in cutting meat from the tongue of the fallen buffalo.
Will showed us the shortest cut for home, and himself zigzagged
ahead of us, on the watch for a danger signal.
For my part, I was so worn out that I would as soon be captured
by Indians, if they would agree to provide me with a wigwam
wherein I might lie down and rest; but no Indians appeared.
Five miles from the fort was the ranch of a wealthy bachelor,
and at May's request a halt was here called. It was thought that
the owner of the ranch might take pity upon my deplorable condition,
and provide some sort of vehicle to convey the ladies the remainder
of the journey.
We were heartily welcomed, and our bachelor host made us extremely
comfortable in his cozy apartments, while he ordered supper for the party.
Will considered that we were within the safety zone, so he continued
on to the fort to obtain his postponed rest; and after supper the ladies
rode to the fort in a carriage.
The next day's Omaha paper contained an account of the hunt
from Dr. Powell's graphic pen, and in it May Cody received
all the glory of the shot that laid the buffalo low.
Newspaper men are usually ready to sacrifice exact facts
to an innate sense of the picturesque.
At this time the fort was somewhat concerned over numerous petty crimes
among the civilians, and General Emory, now chief in authority at the post,
requested the county commissioners to appoint Will a justice of the peace.
This was done, much to the dismay of the new Justice, who, as he phrased it,
"knew no more of law than a mule knows of singing." But he was compelled
to bear the blushing honors thrust upon him, and his sign was posted In
a conspicuous place:
| WILLIAM F. CODY, |
| JUSTICE OF THE PEACE. |
Almost the first thing he was called upon to do in his new
capacity was to perform a wedding ceremony. Cold sweat stood upon
his brow as he implored our aid in this desperate emergency.
The big law book with which he had been equipped at his
installation was ransacked in vain for the needed information.
The Bible was examined more diligently, perhaps, than it had
ever been by him before, but the Good Book was as unresponsive
as the legal tome. "Remember your own wedding ceremony,"
was our advice "Follow that as nearly as possible."
But he shook his head despondently The cool-headed scout
and Indian fighter was dismayed, and the dignity of the law
trembled in the balance.
To put an edge on the crisis, nearly the entire fort attended
the wedding. All is well, said we, as we watched the justice take
his place before the bridal pair with not a sign of trepidation.
At the outset his conducting of the ceremony was irreproachable,
and we were secretly congratulating ourselves upon his success,
when our ears were startled by the announcement:
"Whom God and Buffalo Bill hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
So far as I am informed, no man has attempted it.
Before May returned home, Will became the very proud father of a son.
He had now three children, a second daughter, Orra, having been born two
years before. The first boy of the family was the object of the undivided
interest of the post for a time, and names by the dozen were suggested.
Major North offered Kit Carson as an appropriate name for the son of a great
scout and buffalo-hunter, and this was finally settled on.
My first touch of real anxiety came with an order to Will
to report at headquarters for assignment to duty.
The country was alive with Indians, the officer in command
informed him, and this intelligence filled me with dread.
My sister-in-law had grown accustomed to her husband's excursions
into danger-land, and accepted such sallies as incidents of
his position. Later, I, too, learned this stoical philosophy,
but at first my anxiety was so keen that Will laughed at me.
"Don't worry," said he; "the Indians won't visit the fort to-night.
There's no danger of them scalping you."
"But," said I, "it is for you, not for myself, that I am afraid.
It is horrible to think of you going out alone among those foothills,
which swarm with Indians."
The fort was on the prairie, but the distant foothills stretched away
interminably, and these furnished favorite lurking-places for the redskins.
Will drew me to a window, and pointed out the third tier of hills,
some twelve or fifteen miles away.
"I would advise you," said he, "to go to bed and sleep,
but if you insist on keeping awake and worrying, I will kindle
a blaze on top of that hill at midnight. Watch closely.
I can send up only one flash, for there will be Indian eyes
unclosed as well as yours."
One may imagine with what a beating heart I stared into the darkness
when the hour of twelve drew on. The night was a veil that hid
a thousand terrors, but a gauzy veil, to my excited fancy,
behind which passed a host of shadowy horsemen with uptossing lances.
How could a man ride alone into such a gloomy, terror-haunted domain?
The knights of old, who sallied forth in search of dismal ogres
and noxious dragons, were not of stouter heart, and they breasted
only fancied perils.
Twelve o'clock! The night had a thousand eyes, but they did not pierce
the darkness of the foothills.
Ah! A thin ribbon of light curled upward for an instant, then vanished.
Will was safe thus far. But there were many hours--and the darkest--
before the dawn, and I carried to my bed the larger share of my forebodings.
Next day the scout came home to report the exact location
of the hostile-Sioux. The troops, ready for instant action,
were hurled against them, and the Indians were thoroughly thrashed.
A large number of chiefs were captured, among them "Red Shirt,"
an interesting redskin, who afterward traveled with the "Wild West."
Captive chiefs were always esteemed of great interest by the ladies
of the fort. To me the braves taken in the last raid were remarkable
mainly for economy of apparel and sulkiness of demeanor.
This same fall the fort was visited by a gentleman introduced as
Colonel Judson, though the public knows him better as "Ned Buntline,"
the story-writer. He desired to accompany the scouts on a certain
proposed trip, and Major Brown informed Will that the ulterior motive
of the author was to project Buffalo Bill into a novel as hero.
"Now, I'd look pretty in a novel, wouldn't I?" said Will,
sarcastically and blushingly.
"Yes, I think you would," returned the major, eying the other's
splendid proportions critically.
Whereupon the scout blushed again, and doffed his sombrero in acknowledgment
of the compliment, for--
" 'Tis pleasant, sure, to see one's name in print;
A book's a book, although there's nothing in't."
A retired naval officer, Ned Buntline wore a black undress military suit.
His face was bronzed and rugged, determined yet kindly; he walked
with a slight limp, and carried a cane. He shook Will's hand cordially
when they were introduced, and expressed great pleasure in the meeting.
This was the genesis of a friendship destined to work great changes
in Buffalo Bill's career.
During the scouting expedition that followed, the party chanced upon
an enormous bone, which the surgeon pronounced the femur of a human body.
Will understood the Indian tongues well enough to be in part possession
of their traditions, and he related the Sioux legend of the flood.
It was taught by the wise men of this tribe that the earth was originally
peopled by giants, who were fully three times the size of modern men.
They were so swift and powerful that they could run alongside a buffalo,
take the animal under one arm, and tear off a leg, and eat it as they ran.
So vainglorious were they because of their own size and strength that they
denied the existence of a Creator. When it lightened, they proclaimed
their superiority to the lightning; when it thundered, they laughed.
This displeased the Great Spirit, and to rebuke their arrogance
he sent a great rain upon the earth. The valleys filled with water,
and the giants retreated to the hills. The water crept up
the hills, and the giants sought safety on the highest mountains.
Still the rain continued, the waters rose, and the giants,
having no other refuge, were drowned.
The Great Spirit profited by his former mistake. When the waters subsided,
he made a new race of men, but he made them smaller and less strong.
This tradition has been handed down from Sioux father to Sioux son
since earliest ages. It shows, at least, as the legends of all races do,
that the story of the Deluge is history common to all the world.
Another interesting Indian tradition bears evidence of a later origin.
The Great Spirit, they say, once formed a man of clay, and he was
placed in the furnace to bake, but he was subjected to the heat
too long a time, and came out burnt. Of him came the negro race.
At another trial the Great Spirit feared the second clay man
might also burn, and he was not left in the furnace long enough.
Of him came the paleface man. The Great Spirit was now in a position
to do perfect work, and the third clay man was left in the furnace
neither too long nor too short a time; he emerged a masterpiece,
the _ne plus ultra_ of creation--the noble red man.
PA-HAS-KA, THE LONG-HAIRED CHIEF.
ALTHOUGH the glory of killing the buffalo on our hunt was accredited
to sister May, to me the episode proved of much more moment.
In the spring of 1871 I was married to Mr. Jester, the bachelor ranchman
at whose place we had tarried on our hurried return to the fort.
His house had a rough exterior, but was substantial and commodious,
and before I entered it, a bride, it was refitted in a style
almost luxurious. I returned to Leavenworth to prepare for the wedding,
which took place at the home of an old friend, Thomas Plowman,
his daughter Emma having been my chum in girlhood.
In our home near McPherson we were five miles "in the country."
Nature in primitive wildness encompassed us, but life's song never ran
into a monotone. The prairie is never dull when one watches it from day
to day for signs of Indians. Yet we were not especially concerned,
as we were near enough to the fort to reach it on short notice,
and besides our home there was another house where the ranchmen lived.
With these I had little to do. My especial factotum was a negro boy,
whose chief duty was to saddle my horse and bring it to the door,
attend me upon my rides, and minister to my comfort generally.
Poor little chap! He was one of the first of the Indians' victims.
Early one morning John, as he was called, was sent out alone to look
after the cattle. During breakfast the clatter of hoofs was heard,
and Will rode up to inform us that the Indians were on the war-path
and massed in force just beyond our ranch. Back of Will were
the troops, and we were advised to ride at once to the fort.
Hastily packing a few valuables, we took refuge at McPherson,
and remained there until the troops returned with the news that all
danger was over.
Upon our return to the ranch we found that the cattle had been driven away,
and poor little John was picked up dead on the skirts of the foothills.
The redskins had apparently started to scalp him, but had desisted.
Perhaps they thought his wool would not make a desirable trophy, perhaps they
were frightened away. At all events, the poor child's scalp was left to him,
though the mark of the knife was plain.
Shortly after this episode, some capitalists from the East
visited my husband. One of them, Mr. Bent, owned a large
share in the cattle-ranches. He desired to visit this ranch,
and the whole party planned a hunt at the same time.
As there were no banking facilities on the frontier, drafts or
bills of exchange would have been of no use; so the money
designed for Western investment had been brought along in cash.
To carry this on the proposed trip was too great a risk, and I
was asked banteringly to act as banker. I consented readily,
but imagine my perturbation when twenty-five thousand
dollars in bank-notes were counted out and left in my care.
I had never had the responsibility of so large a sum of money before,
and compared to me the man with the elephant on his hands had
a tranquil time of it. After considering various methods for
secreting the money, I decided for the hair mattress on my bed.
This I ripped open, inserted the envelope containing the bank-notes,
and sewed up the slit. No one was aware of my trust, and I
regarded it safe.
A few mornings later I ordered my pony and rode away to visit
my nearest neighbor, a Mrs. Erickson, purposing later to ride
to the fort and spend the day with Lou, my sister-in-law.
When I reached Mrs. Erickson's house, that good woman came
out in great excitement to greet me.
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