Last of the Great Scouts The Life Story of William F. Cody ["Buffalo Bill" Cody]
Helen Cody Wetmore
Part 4 out of 5
"You must come right in, Mrs. Jester!" said she.
"The foothills are filled with Indians on the warpath."
She handed me her field-glasses, and directed my gaze to the trail
below our ranch, over which buffaloes, cattle, and Indians passed
down to the Platte. I could plainly see the warriors tramping
along Indian-file, their head-feathers waving in the breeze
and their blankets flapping about them as they walked.
Instantly the thought of the twenty-five thousand dollars
intrusted to my care flashed across my mind.
"Oh, Mrs. Erickson," I exclaimed, "I must return to the ranch immediately!"
"You must not do so, Mrs. Jester; it's as much as your life is worth
to attempt it," said she.
But I thought only of the money, and notwithstanding warning
and entreaty, mounted my horse and flew back on the homeward path,
not even daring to look once toward the foothills.
When I reached the house, I called to the overseer:
"The Indians are on the war-path, and the foothills are full of them!
Have two or three men ready to escort me to the fort by the time I
have my valise packed."
"Why, Mrs. Jester," was the reply, "there are no Indians in sight."
"But there are," said I. "I saw them as plainly as I see you,
and the Ericksons saw them, too."
"You have been the victim of a mirage," said the overseer.
"Look! there are no Indians now in view."
I scanned the foothills closely, but there was no sign of a warrior.
With my field-glasses I searched the entire rim of the horizon;
it was tranquillity itself. I experienced a great relief, nevertheless.
My nerves were so shaken that I could not remain at home;
so I packed a valise, taking along the package of bank-notes,
and visited another neighbor, a Mrs. McDonald, a dear friend
of many years' standing, who lived nearer the fort.
This excellent woman was an old resident of the frontier. After she
had heard my story, she related some of her own Indian experiences.
When she first settled in her present home, there was no fort to which
she could flee from Indian molestation, and she was often compelled
to rely upon her wits to extricate her from dangerous situations.
The story that especially impressed me was the following:
"One evening when I was alone," said Mrs. McDonald, "I became conscious
that eyes were peering at me from the darkness outside my window.
Flight was impossible, and my husband would not likely reach
home for an hour or more. What should I do? A happy thought
came to me. You know, perhaps, that Indians, for some reason,
have a strange fear of a drunken woman, and will not molest one.
I took from a closet a bottle filled with a dark-colored liquid,
poured out a glassful and drank it. In a few minutes I
repeated the dose, and then seemingly it began to take effect.
I would try to walk across the room, staggering and nearly falling.
I became uproariously `happy.' I flung my arms above
my head, lurched from side to side, sang a maudlin song,
and laughed loudly and foolishly. The stratagem succeeded.
One by one the shadowy faces at the window disappeared,
and by the time my husband and the men returned there was not
an Indian in the neighborhood. I became sober immediately.
Molasses and water is not a very intoxicating beverage."
I plucked up courage to return to the ranch that evening,
and shortly afterward the hunting-party rode up.
When I related the story of my fright, Mr. Bent complimented
me upon what he was pleased to call my courage.
"You are your brother's own sister," said he. "We'll make
you banker again."
"Thank you, but I do not believe you will," said I. "I have
had all the experience I wish for in the banking business
in this Indian country."
Upon another occasion Indians were approaching the fort from the farther side,
but as we were not regarded as in danger, no warning was sent to us.
The troops sallied out after the redskins, and the cunning warriors
described a circle. To hide their trail they set fire to the prairie,
and the hills about us were soon ablaze. The flames spread swiftly,
and the smoke rolled upon us in suffocating volume. We retreated
to the river, and managed to exist by dashing water upon our faces.
Here we were found by soldiers sent from the fort to warn settlers
of their peril, and at their suggestion we returned to the ranch,
saddled horses, and rode through the dense smoke five miles to the fort.
It was the most unpleasant ride of my life.
In the preceding chapter mention was made of the finding of a
remarkable bone. It became famous, and in the summer of 1871 Professor Marsh,
of Yale College, brought out a party of students to search for fossils.
They found a number, but were not rewarded by anything the most credulous
could torture into a human relic.
This summer also witnessed an Indian campaign somewhat out of the common
in several of its details. More than one volume would be required to
record all the adventures Scout Cody had with the Children of the Plains,
most of which had so many points in common that it is necessary to touch
upon only those containing incidents out of the ordinary.
An expedition, under command of General Duncan, was fitted out for the
Republican River country. Duncan was a jolly officer and a born fighter.
His brother officers had a story that once on a time he had been shot
in the head by a cannon-ball, and that while he was not hurt a particle,
the ball glanced off and killed one of the toughest mules in the army.
Perhaps it was because the Pawnees spoke so little English,
and spoke that little so badly, that General Duncan insisted
upon their repeating the English call, which would be something
like this: "Post Number One. Nine o'clock. All's well."
The Pawnee effort to obey was so ludicrous, and provocative
of such profanity (which they could express passing well),
that the order was countermanded.
One afternoon Major North and Will rode ahead of the command to select
a site for the night's camp. They ran into a band of some fifty Indians,
and were obliged to take the back track as fast as their horses could travel.
Will's whip was shot from his hand and a hole put through his hat.
As they sighted the advance-guard of the command, Major North rode
around in a circle--a signal to the Pawnees that hostiles were near.
Instantly the Pawnees broke ranks and dashed pell-mell to the relief
of their white chief. The hostiles now took a turn at retreating,
and kept it up for several miles.
The troops took up the trail on the following day, and a stern chase set in.
In passing through a deserted camp the troops found an aged squaw, who had
been left to die. The soldiers built a lodge for her, and she was provided
with sufficient rations to last her until she reached the Indian heaven,
the happy hunting-grounds. She was in no haste, however, to get to her
destination, and on their return the troops took her to the fort with them.
Later she was sent to the Spotted Tail agency.
In September of 1871 General Sheridan and a party of friends
arrived at the post for a grand hunt. Between him and Will existed
a warm friendship, which continued to the close of the general's life.
Great preparations were made for the hunt. General Emory,
now commander of the fort, sent a troop of cavalry to meet the
distinguished visitors at the station and escort them to the fort.
Besides General Sheridan, there were in the party Leonard
and Lawrence Jerome, Carroll Livingstone, James Gordon Bennett,
J. G. Heckscher, General Fitzhugh, Schuyler Crosby, Dr. Asch, Mr. McCarthy,
and other well-known men. When they reached the post they found
the regiment drawn up on dress parade; the band struck up a martial air,
the cavalry were reviewed by General Sheridan, and the formalities
of the occasion were regarded as over.
It was Sheridan's request that Will should act as guide and scout
for the hunting-party. One hundred troopers under Major Brown were
detailed as escort, and the commissary department fairly bulged.
Several ambulances were also taken along, for the comfort of those
who might weary of the saddle.
Game was abundant, and rare sport was had. Buffalo, elk, and deer
were everywhere, and to those of the party who were new to Western
life the prairie-dog villages were objects of much interest.
These villages are often of great extent. They are made up of
countless burrows, and so honeycombed is the country infested by
the little animals that travel after nightfall is perilous for horses.
The dirt is heaped around the entrance to the burrows a foot high,
and here the prairie-dogs, who are sociability itself, sit on their
hind legs and gossip with one another. Owls and rattlesnakes
share the underground homes with the rightful owners, and all get
along together famously.
When the hunting-party returned to McPherson its members voted
Will a veritable Nimrod--a mighty hunter, and he was abundantly
thanked for his masterly guidance of the expedition.
That winter a still more distinguished party visited the post--
the Grand Duke Alexis and his friends. As many of my readers will recall,
the nobleman's visit aroused much enthusiasm in this country.
The East had wined and dined him to satiety, but wining and dining
are common to all nations, and the Grand Duke desired to see the wild
life of America--the Indian in his tepee and the prairie monarch
in his domain, as well as the hardy frontiersman, who feared neither
savage warrior nor savage beast.
The Grand Duke had hunted big game in Eastern lands, and he was a
capital shot. General Sheridan engineered this expedition also, and,
as on the previous occasion, he relied upon Will to make it a success.
The latter received word to select a good camp on Red Willow Creek,
where game was plentiful, and to make all needed arrangements
for the comfort and entertainment of the noble party. A special
feature suggested by Sheridan for the amusement and instruction of
the continental guests was an Indian war-dance and Indian buffalo-hunt.
To procure this entertainment it was necessary to visit Spotted Tail,
chief of the Sioux, and persuade him to bring over a hundred warriors.
At this time there was peace between the Sioux and the government,
and the dance idea was feasible; nevertheless, a visit to the Sioux
camp was not without its dangers. Spotted Tail himself was seemingly
sincere in a desire to observe the terms of the ostensible peace
between his people and the authorities, but many of the other Indians
would rather have had the scalp of the Long-haired Chief than a
century of peace.
Will so timed his trip as to reach the Indian camp at dusk, and hitching
his horse in the timber, he wrapped his blanket closely about him,
so that in the gathering darkness he might easily pass for a warrior.
Thus invested, he entered the village, and proceeded to the lodge
of Spotted Tail.
The conference with the distinguished redskin was made smooth sailing by
Agent Todd Randall, who happened to be on hand, and who acted as interpreter.
The old chief felt honored by the invitation extended to him, and readily
promised that in "ten sleeps" from that night he, with a hundred warriors,
would be present at the white man's camp, which was to be pitched at the point
where the government trail crossed Red Willow Creek.
As Spotted Tail did not repose a great amount of confidence in his
high-spirited young men, he kept Will in his own lodge through the night.
In the morning the chief assembled the camp, and presenting his guest,
asked if his warriors knew him.
"It is Pa-has-ka, the Long-haired Chief!" they answered.
Whereupon Spotted Tail informed them that he had eaten bread
with the Long-haired Chief, thus establishing a bond of friendship,
against violating which the warriors were properly warned.
After that Will was entirely at his ease, although there were many
sullen faces about him. They had long yearned for his scalp,
and it was slightly irritating to find it so near and yet so far.
THE HUNT OF THE GRAND DUKE ALEXIS.
A SPECIAL train brought the Grand Duke Alexis and party to North Platte
on January 12, 1872. Will was presented to the illustrious
visitor by General Sheridan, and was much interested in him.
He was also pleased to note that General Custer made one of the party.
Will had made all the arrangements, and had everything complete
when the train pulled in. As soon as the Grand Duke and party
had breakfasted, they filed out to get their horses or to find
seats in the ambulances. All who were mounted were arranged
according to rank. Will had sent one of his guides ahead,
while he was to remain behind to see that nothing was left undone.
Just as they were to start, the conductor of the Grand Duke's train
came up to Will and said that Mr. Thompson had not received a horse.
"What Thompson?" asked Will. "Why, Mr. Frank Thompson, who has charge
of the Grand Duke's train." Will looked over the list of names sent
him by General Sheridan of those who would require saddle-horses,
but failed to find that of Mr. Thompson. However, he did not wish
to have Mr. Thompson or any one else left out. He had following him,
as he always did, his celebrated war-horse, "Buckskin Joe." This horse
was not a very prepossessing "insect." He was buckskin in color,
and rather a sorry-looking animal, but he was known all over the frontier
as the greatest long-distance and best buffalo-horse living.
Will had never allowed any one but himself to ride this horse,
but as he had no other there at the time, he got a saddle and bridle,
had it put on old Buckskin Joe, and told Mr. Thompson he could
ride him until he got where he could get him another. This horse
looked so different from the beautiful animals the rest of the party
were supplied with that Mr. Thompson thought it rather discourteous
to mount him in such fashion. However, he got on, and Will told him
to follow up, as he wanted to go ahead to where the general was.
As Mr. Thompson rode past the wagons and ambulances he noticed
the teamsters pointing at him, and thinking the men were guying him,
rode up to one of them, and said, "Am I not riding this horse all right?"
Mr. Thompson felt some personal pride in his horsemanship,
as he was a Pennsylvania fox-hunter.
The driver replied, "Yes, sir; you ride all right."
"Well, then," said Thompson, "it must be this horse you are guying."
The teamster replied:
"Guying that horse? Not in a thousand years!"
"Well, then, why am I such a conspicuous object?"
"Why, sir, are you not the king?"
"The king? Why did you take me for the king?"
"Because you are riding that horse. I guess you don't know what horse you
are riding, do you? Nobody gets to ride that horse but Buffalo Bill. So when
we all saw you riding him we supposed that of course you were the king,
for that horse, sir, is Buckskin Joe."
Thompson had heard General Sheridan telling about Buckskin Joe
on the way out, and how Buffalo Bill had once run him eighty
miles when the Indians were after him. Thompson told Will
afterward that he grew about four feet when he found out
that he was riding that most celebrated horse of the plains.
He at once galloped ahead to overtake Will and thank him
most heartily for allowing him the honor of such a mount.
Will told him that he was going to let the Grand Duke kill his first
buffalo on Buckskin Joe. "Well," replied Thompson, "I want to ask
one favor of you. Let me also kill a buffalo on this horse."
Will replied that nothing would afford him greater pleasure.
Buckskin Joe was covered with glory on this memorable hunt, as both
the Grand Duke of Russia and Mr. Frank Thompson, later president
of the Pennsylvania Railroad, killed their first buffalo mounted
on his back, and my brother ascribes to old Joe the acquisition
of Mr. Frank Thompson's name to his list of life friendships.
This hunt was an unqualified success, nothing occurring to mar
one day of it.
Spotted Tail was true to his promise. He and his hundred braves were on hand,
shining in the full glory of war paint and feathers, and the war-dance
they performed was of extraordinary interest to the Grand Duke
and his friends. The outlandish contortions and grimaces of the Indians,
their leaps and crouchings, their fiendish yells and whoops, made up
a barbaric jangle of picture and sound not soon to be forgotten.
To the European visitors the scene was picturesque rather than ghastly,
but it was not a pleasing spectacle to the old Indian fighters looking on.
There were too many suggestions of bloodshed and massacre in the past,
and of bloodshed and massacre yet to come.
The Indian buffalo-hunt followed the Terpsichorean revelry, and all
could enjoy the skill and strength displayed by the red huntsmen.
One warrior, Two-Lance by name, performed a feat that no other living
Indian could do; he sent an arrow entirely through the body of a bull
running at full speed.
General Sheridan desired that the Grand Duke should carry away
with him a knowledge of every phase of life on the frontier,
and when the visitors were ready to drive to the railroad station,
Will was requested to illustrate, for their edification,
the manner in which a stagecoach and six were driven over
the Rocky Mountains.
Will was delighted at the idea; so was Alexis at the outset,
as he had little idea of what was in store for him.
The Grand Duke and the general were seated in a closed carriage
drawn by six horses, and were cautioned to fasten their hats
securely on their heads, and to hang onto the carriage;
then Will climbed to the driver's seat.
"Just imagine," said he to his passengers, "that fifty Indians are after us."
And off went the horses, with a jump that nearly spilled the occupants
of the coach into the road.
The three miles to the station were covered in just ten minutes,
and the Grand Duke had the ride of his life. The carriage tossed
like a ship in a gale, and no crew ever clung to a life-line with
more desperate grip than did Will's passengers to their seats.
Had the fifty Indians of the driver's fancy been whooping behind,
he would not have plied the whip more industriously,
or been deafer to the groans and ejaculations of his fares.
When the carriage finally drew up with another teeth-shaking jerk,
and Will, sombrero in hand, opened the coach door to inquire of
his Highness how he had enjoyed the ride, the Grand Duke replied,
with suspicious enthusiasm:
"I would not have missed it for a large sum of money; but rather than
repeat it, I would return to Russia via Alaska, swim Bering Strait,
and finish my journey on one of your government mules."
This ride completed a trip which the noble party pronounced satisfactory
in every detail. The Grand Duke invited Will into his private car,
where he received the thanks of the company for his zeal and skill as pilot
of a hunting-party. He was also invited by Alexis to visit him at his palace
should he ever make a journey to Russia, and was, moreover, the recipient
of a number of valuable souvenirs.
At that time Will had very little thought of crossing the seas,
but he did decide to visit the East, whither he had more than
once journeyed in fancy. The Indians were comparatively quiet,
and he readily obtained a leave of absence.
The first stopping-place was Chicago, where he was entertained by
General Sheridan; thence he went to New York, to be kindly received
by James Gordon Bennett, Leonard and Lawrence Jerome, J. G. Heckscher,
and others, who, it will be recalled, were members of the hunting-party
of the preceding year. Ned Buntline also rendered his sojourn in
the metropolis pleasant in many ways. The author had carried out his
intention of writing a story of Western life with Scout Cody for the hero,
and the result, having been dramatized, was doing a flourishing business
at one of the great city's theaters. Will made one of a party that attended
a performance of the play one evening, and it was shortly whispered
about the house that "Buffalo Bill" himself was in the audience.
It is customary to call for the author of a play, and no doubt
the author of this play had been summoned before the footlights
in due course, but on this night the audience demanded the hero.
To respond to the call was an ordeal for which Will was unprepared;
but there was no getting out of it, and he faced a storm of applause.
The manager of the performance, enterprising like all of his profession,
offered Will five hundred dollars a week to remain in New York and play
the part of "Buffalo Bill," but the offer was declined with thanks.
During his stay in the city Will was made the guest of honor at
sundry luncheons and dinners given by his wealthy entertainers.
He found considerable trouble in keeping his appointments at first,
but soon caught on to the to him unreasonable hours at which
New Yorkers dined, supped, and breakfasted. The sense of his
social obligations lay so heavily on his mind that he resolved
to balance accounts with a dinner at which he should be the host.
An inventory of cash on hand discovered the sum of fifty dollars
that might be devoted to playing Lucullus. Surely that would more
than pay for all that ten or a dozen men could eat at one meal.
"However," he said to himself, "I don't care if it takes the whole fifty.
It's all in a lifetime, anyway."
In all confidence he hied him to Delmonico's, at which famous
restaurant he had incurred a large share of his social obligations.
He ordered the finest dinner that could be prepared for a party
of twelve, and set as date the night preceding his departure for
the West. The guests were invited with genuine Western hospitality.
His friends had been kind to him, and he desired to show them
that a man of the West could not only appreciate such things,
but return them.
The dinner was a thorough success. Not an invited guest was absent.
The conversation sparkled. Quip and repartee shot across the "festive board,"
and all went merry as a dinner-bell. The host was satisfied,
and proud withal. The next morning he approached Delmonico's cashier
with an air of reckless prodigality.
"My bill, please," said he, and when he got it, he looked
hard at it for several minutes. It dawned on him gradually
that his fifty dollars would about pay for one plate.
As he confided to us afterward, that little slip of paper
frightened him more than could the prospect of a combat
single-handed with a whole tribe of Sioux Indians.
Unsophisticated Will! There was, as he discovered, a wonderful difference
between a dinner at Delmonico's and a dinner on the plains. For the one,
the four corners of the earth are drawn upon to provide the bill of fare;
for the other, all one needs is an ounce of lead and a charge of powder,
a bundle of fagots and a match.
But it would never do to permit the restaurant cashier to suspect that
the royal entertainer of the night before was astonished at his bill;
so he requested that the account be forwarded to his hotel, and sought
the open air, where he might breathe more freely.
There was but one man in New York to whom he felt he could turn
in his dilemma, and that was Ned Buntline. One who could invent
plots for stories, and extricate his characters from all sorts
of embarrassing situations, should be able to invent a method of
escape from so comparatively simple a perplexity as a tavern bill.
Will's confidence in the wits of his friend was not unfounded.
His first great financial panic was safely weathered, but how it
was done I do not know to this day.
One of Will's main reasons for visiting the East was to look up our only
living relatives on mother's side--Colonel Henry R. Guss and family,
of Westchester, Pennsylvania. Mother's sister, who had married this
gentleman, was not living, and we had never met him or any of his family.
Ned Buntline accompanied Will on his trip to Westchester.
To those who have passed through the experience of waiting
in a strange drawing-room for the coming of relatives
one has never seen, and of whose personality one has but
the vaguest idea, there is the uncertainty of the reception.
Will it be frank and hearty, or reserved and doubtful?
During the few minutes succeeding the giving of his and Buntline's
cards to the servant, Will rather wished that the elegant
reception-room might be metamorphosed into the Western prairie.
But presently the entrance to the parlor was brightened by
the loveliest girl he had ever looked upon, and following her
walked a courtly, elegant gentleman. These were Cousin Lizzie
and Uncle Henry. There was no doubt of the quality of the welcome;
it was most cordial, and Will enjoyed a delightful visit with
his relatives. For his cousin he conceived an instant affection.
The love he had held for his mother--the purest and strongest
of his affections--became the heritage of this beautiful girl.
THE Fifth Cavalry at Fort McPherson had been ordered to Arizona,
and was replaced by the Third Cavalry under command of
General Reynolds. Upon Will's return to McPherson he was at once
obliged to take the field to look for Indians that had raided
the station during his absence and carried off a considerable
number of horses. Captain Meinhold and Lieutenant Lawson
commanded the company dispatched to recover the stolen property.
Will acted as guide, and had as an assistant T. B. Omohundro,
better known by his frontier name of "Texas Jack."
Will was not long in finding Indian tracks, and accompanied
by six men, he went forward to locate the redskin camp.
They had proceeded but a short distance when they sighted a small party
of Indians, with horses grazing. There were just thirteen Indians--
an unlucky number--and Will feared that they might discover
the scouting party should it attempt to return to the main command.
He had but to question his companions to find them ready to follow
wheresoever he might lead, and they moved cautiously toward
the Indian camp.
At the proper moment the seven rushed upon the unsuspecting
warriors, who sprang for their horses and gave battle.
But the rattle of the rifles brought Captain Meinhold to the scene,
and when the Indians saw the reinforcements coming up they
turned and fled. Six of their number were dead on the plain,
and nearly all of the stolen horses were recovered.
One soldier was killed, and this was one of the few occasions
when Will received a wound.
And now once more was the versatile plainsman called upon
to enact a new role. Returning from a long scout in the fall
of 1872, he found that his friends had made him a candidate
for the Nebraska legislature from the twenty-sixth district.
He had never thought seriously of politics, and had a
well-defined doubt of his fitness as a law-maker. He made
no campaign, but was elected by a flattering majority.
He was now privileged to prefix the title "Honorable" to his name,
and later this was supplanted by "Colonel"--a title won
in the Nebraska National Guard, and which he claims is much
better suited to his attainments.
Will, unlike his father, had no taste for politics or for political honors.
I recall one answer--so characteristic of the man--to some friends
who were urging him to enter the political arena. "No," said he,
"politics are by far too deep for me. I think I can hold my own in any
fair and no foul fight; but politics seem to me all foul and no fair.
I thank you, my friends, but I must decline to set out on this trail,
which I know has more cactus burs to the square inch than any I ever
followed on the plains."
Meantime Ned Buntline had been nurturing an ambitious project.
He had been much impressed by the fine appearance made by Will
in the New York theater, and was confident that a fortune awaited
the scout if he would consent to enter the theatrical profession.
He conceived the idea of writing a drama entitled "The Scout
of the Plains," in which Will was to assume the title role
and shine as a star of the first magnitude. The bait he dangled
was that the play should be made up entirely of frontier scenes,
which would not only entertain the public, but instruct it.
The bait was nibbled at, and finally swallowed, but there was a proviso
that Wild Bill and Texas Jack must first be won over to act as "pards"
in the enterprise. He telegraphed his two friends that he needed their
aid in an important business matter, and went to Chicago to meet them.
He was well assured that if he had given them an inkling of the nature
of the "business matter," neither would put in an appearance; but he relied
on Ned Buntline's persuasive powers, which were well developed.
There had never been a time when Wild Bill and Texas Jack declined to follow
Will's lead, and on a certain morning the trio presented themselves at
the Palmer House in Chicago for an interview with Colonel Judson.
The author could scarcely restrain his delight. All three of
the scouts were men of fine physique and dashing appearance.
It was very possible that they had one or two things to learn
about acting, but their inexperience would be more than balanced
by their reputation and personal appearance, and the knowledge
that they were enacting on the stage mock scenes of what to them
had oft been stern reality.
"Don't shoot, pards!" began Will, when the conference opened.
"I guess, Judson," he continued, after vainly trying to find
a diplomatic explanation, "you'd better tell them what we want."
Buntline opened with enthusiasm, but he did not kindle
Wild Bill and Texas Jack, who looked as if they might at any
moment grab their sombreros and stampede for the frontier.
Will turned the scale.
"We're bound to make a fortune at it," said he. "Try it for a while, anyway."
The upshot of a long discussion was that the scouts gave a reluctant
consent to a much-dreaded venture. Will made one stipulation.
"If the Indians get on the rampage," said he, "we must be allowed
leave of absence to go back and settle them."
"All right, boys," said Buntline; "that shall be put in the contract.
And if you're called back into the army to fight redskins,
I'll go with you."
This reply established the author firmly in the esteem of the scouts.
The play was written in four hours (most playwrights allow themselves
at least a week), and the actor-scouts received their "parts."
Buntline engaged a company to support the stellar trio, and the play
was widely advertised.
When the critical "first night" arrived, none of the scouts
knew a line of his part, but each had acquired all
the varieties of stage fright known to the profession.
Buntline had hinted to them the possibility of something
of the sort, but they had not realized to what a condition
of abject dismay a man may be reduced by the sight of a few
hundred inoffensive people in front of a theater curtain.
It would have done them no good to have told them (as is the truth)
that many experienced actors have touches of stage fright,
as well as the unfortunate novice. All three declared
that they would rather face a band of war-painted Indians,
or undertake to check a herd of stampeding buffaloes, than face
the peaceful-looking audience that was waiting to criticise
their Thespian efforts.
Like almost all amateurs, they insisted on peering through
the peep-holes in the curtain, which augmented their nervousness,
and if the persuasive Colonel Judson had not been at their elbows,
reminding them that he, also, was to take part in the play,
it is more than likely they would have slipped quietly out at
the stage door and bought railway passage to the West.
Presently the curtain rolled up, and the audience applauded
encouragingly as three quaking six-footers, clad in buckskin,
made their first bow before the footlights.
I have said that Will did not know a line of his part,
nor did he when the time to make his opening speech arrived.
It had been faithfully memorized, but oozed from his mind like the
courage from Bob Acres's finger-tips. "Evidently," thought Buntline,
who was on the stage with him, "he needs time to recover."
So he asked carelessly:
"What have you been about lately, Bill?"
This gave "The Scout of the Plains" an inspiration.
In glancing over the audience, he had recognized in one of
the boxes a wealthy gentleman named Milligan, whom he had once
guided on a big hunt near McPherson. The expedition had been
written up by the Chicago papers, and the incidents of it
were well known.
"I've been out on a hunt with Milligan," replied Will,
and the house came down. Milligan was quite popular,
but had been the butt of innumerable jokes because of his
alleged scare over the Indians. The applause and laughter
that greeted the sally stocked the scout with confidence,
but confidence is of no use if one has forgotten his part.
It became manifest to the playwright-actor that he would have
to prepare another play in place of the one he had expected
to perform, and that he must prepare it on the spot.
"Tell us about it, Bill," said he, and the prompter groaned.
One of the pleasures of frontier life consists in telling stories
around the camp-fire. A man who ranks as a good frontiersman is
pretty sure to be a good raconteur. Will was at ease immediately,
and proceeded to relate the story of Milligan's hunt in his own words.
That it was amusing was attested by the frequent rounds of applause.
The prompter, with a commendable desire to get things running smoothly,
tried again and again to give Will his cue, but even cues had been forgotten.
The dialogue of that performance must have been delightfully absurd.
Neither Texas Jack nor Wild Bill was able to utter a line of his part
during the entire evening. In the Indian scenes, however, they scored
a great success; here was work that did not need to be painfully memorized,
and the mock red men were slain at an astonishing rate.
Financially the play proved all that its projectors could
ask for. Artistically--well, the critics had a great deal of fun
with the hapless dramatist. The professionals in the company
had played their parts acceptably, and, oddly enough, the scouts
were let down gently in the criticisms; but the critics had no
means of knowing that the stars of the piece had provided their
own dialogue, and poor Ned Buntline was plastered with ridicule.
It had got out that the play was written in four hours,
and in mentioning this fact, one paper wondered, with delicate
sarcasm, what the dramatist had been doing all that time.
Buntline had played the part of "Gale Durg," who met death
in the second act, and a second paper, commenting on this,
suggested that it would have been a happy consummation
had the death occurred before the play was written.
A third critic pronounced it a drama that might be begun
in the middle and played both ways, or played backward,
quite as well as the way in which it had been written.
However, nothing succeeds like success. A number of managers
offered to take hold of the company, and others asked for entrance
to the enterprise as partners. Ned Buntline took his medicine
from the critics with a smiling face, for "let him laugh who wins."
The scouts soon got over their stage fright, in the course of time were
able to remember their parts, and did fully their share toward making
the play as much of a success artistically as it was financially.
From Chicago the company went to St. Louis, thence to Cincinnati and
other large cities, and everywhere drew large and appreciative houses.
When the season closed, in Boston, and Will had made his preparations
to return to Nebraska, an English gentleman named Medley,
presented himself, with a request that the scout act as guide
on a big hunt and camping trip through Western territory.
The pay offered was liberal--a thousand dollars a month and expenses--
and Will accepted the offer. He spent that summer in his old occupation,
and the ensuing winter continued his tour as a star of the drama.
Wild Bill and Texas Jack consented again to "support" him,
but the second season proved too much for the patience of the former,
and he attempted to break through the contract he had signed
for the season. The manager, of course, refused to release him,
but Wild Bill conceived the notion that under certain circumstances
the company would be glad to get rid of him.
That night he put his plan into execution by discharging his blank cartridges
so near the legs of the dead Indians on the stage that the startled "supers"
came to life with more realistic yells than had accompanied their deaths.
This was a bit of "business" not called for in the play-book, and while
the audience was vastly entertained, the management withheld its approval.
Will was delegated to expostulate with the reckless Indian-slayer;
but Wild Bill remarked calmly that he "hadn't hurt the fellows any,"
and he continued to indulge in his innocent pastime.
Severe measures were next resorted to. He was informed that he must
stop shooting the Indians after they were dead, or leave the company.
This was what Wild Bill had hoped for, and when the curtain went up on
the next performance he was to be seen in the audience, enjoying the play
for the first time since he had been mixed up with it.
Will sympathized with his former "support," but he had a duty to perform,
and faithfully endeavored to persuade the recreant actor to return to
the company. Persuasion went for nothing, so the contract was annulled,
and Wild Bill returned to his beloved plains.
The next season Will removed his family to Rochester, and organized
a theatrical company of his own. There was too much artificiality
about stage life to suit one that had been accustomed to stern reality,
and he sought to do away with this as much as possible by introducing
into his own company a band of real Indians. The season of 1875-76
opened brilliantly; the company played to crowded houses, and Will
made a large financial success.
One night in April, when the season was nearing its close, a telegram
was handed to him, just as he was about to step upon the stage.
It was from his wife, and summoned him to Rochester, to the bedside
of his only son, Kit Carson Cody. He consulted with his manager,
and it was arranged that after the first act he should be excused,
that he might catch the train.
That first act was a miserable experience, though the audience did not
suspect that the actor's heart was almost stopped by fear and anxiety.
He caught his train, and the manager, John Burke, an actor of much experience,
played out the part.
It was, too, a miserable ride to Rochester, filled up with the gloomiest
of forebodings, heightened by memories of every incident in the precious
little life now in danger.
Kit was a handsome child, with striking features and curly hair.
His mother always dressed him in the finest clothes, and tempted by these
combined attractions, gypsies had carried him away the previous summer.
But Kit was the son of a scout, and his young eyes were sharp.
He marked the trail followed by his captors, and at the first opportunity
gave them the slip and got safely home, exclaiming as he toddled into
the sobbing family circle, "I tumed back adain, mama; don't cry."
Despite his anxiety, Will smiled at the recollection of the season
when his little son had been a regular visitor at the theater.
The little fellow knew that the most important feature of a dramatic
performance, from a management's point of view, is a large audience.
He watched the seats fill in keen anxiety, and the moment the curtain
rose and his father appeared on the stage, he would make a trumpet of his
little hands, and shout from his box, "Good house, papa!" The audience
learned to expect and enjoy this bit of by-play between father and son.
His duty performed, Kit settled himself in his seat, and gave himself
up to undisturbed enjoyment of the play.
When Will reached Rochester he found his son still alive, though beyond
the reach of medical aid. He was burning up with fever, but still conscious,
and the little arms were joyfully lifted to clasp around his father's neck.
He lingered during the next day and into the night, but the end came, and Will
faced a great sorrow of his life. He had built fond hopes for his son,
and in a breath they had been swept away. His boyhood musings over the
prophecy of the fortune-teller had taken a turn when his own boy was born.
It might be Kit's destiny to become President of the United States;
it was not his own. Now, hope and fear had vanished together, the fabric
of the dream had dissolved, and left "not a rack behind."
Little Kit was laid to rest in Mount Hope Cemetery, April 24, 1876.
He is not dead, but sleeping; not lost, but gone before.
He has joined the innumerable company of the white-souled throng
in the regions of the blest. He has gone to aid my mother
in her mission unfulfilled--that of turning heavenward the eyes
of those that loved them so dearly here on earth.
THE GOVERNMENT'S INDIAN POLICY.
VERY glad was the sad-hearted father that the theatrical season was so
nearly over. The mummeries of stage life were more distasteful to him than
ever when he returned to his company with his crushing grief fresh upon him.
He played nightly to crowded houses, but it was plain that his heart
was not in his work. A letter from Colonel Mills, informing him
that his services were needed in the army, came as a welcome relief.
He canceled his few remaining dates, and disbanded his company with
a substantial remuneration.
This was the spring of the Centennial year. It has also been
called the "Custer year," for during that summer the gallant
general and his heroic Three Hundred fell in their unequal
contest with Sitting Bull and his warriors.
Sitting Bull was one of the ablest chiefs and fighters the Sioux nation
ever produced. He got his name from the fact that once when he had shot
a buffalo he sprang astride of it to skin it, and the wounded bull rose
on its haunches with the Indian on its back. He combined native Indian
cunning with the strategy and finesse needed to make a great general,
and his ability as a leader was conceded alike by red and white man.
A dangerous man at best, the wrongs his people had suffered roused all
his Indian cruelty, vindictiveness, hatred, and thirst for revenge.
The Sioux war of 1876 had its origin, like most of its predecessors
and successors, in an act of injustice on the part of the United States
government and a violation of treaty rights.
In 1868 a treaty had been made with the Sioux, by which the Black Hills
country was reserved for their exclusive use, no settling by white
men to be allowed. In 1874 gold was discovered, and the usual gold
fever was followed by a rush of whites into the Indian country.
The Sioux naturally resented the intrusion, and instead of attempting
to placate them, to the end that the treaty might be revised,
the government sent General Custer into the Black Hills with instructions
to intimidate the Indians into submission. But Custer was too wise,
too familiar with Indian nature, to adhere to his instructions
to the letter. Under cover of a flag of truce a council was arranged.
At this gathering coffee, sugar, and bacon were distributed among the Indians,
and along with those commodities Custer handed around some advice.
This was to the effect that it would be to the advantage of the
Sioux if they permitted the miners to occupy the gold country.
The coffee, sugar, and bacon were accepted thankfully by Lo, but no nation,
tribe, or individual since the world began has ever welcomed advice.
It was thrown away on Lo. He received it with such an air of indifference
and in such a stoical silence that General Custer had no hope his
mission had succeeded.
In 1875 General Crook was sent into the Hills to make a farcical
demonstration of the government's desire to maintain good faith,
but no one was deceived, the Indians least of all. In August Custer City
was laid out, and in two weeks its population numbered six hundred.
General Crook drove out the inhabitants, and as he marched triumphantly
out of one end of the village the people marched in again at the other.
The result of this continued bad faith was inevitable;
everywhere the Sioux rose in arms. Strange as it might seem to one
who has not followed the government's remarkable Indian policy,
it had dispensed firearms to the Indians with a generous hand.
The government's Indian policy, condensed, was to stock
the red man with rifles and cartridges, and then provide him
with a first-class reason for using them against the whites.
During May, June, and July of that year the Sioux had received 1,120
Remington and Winchester rifles and 13,000 rounds of patent ammunition.
During that year they received several thousand stands of arms
and more than a million rounds of ammunition, and for three years
before that they had been regularly supplied with weapons.
The Sioux uprising of 1876 was expensive for the government.
One does not have to go far to find the explanation.
Will expected to join General Crook, but on reaching Chicago he found
that General Carr was still in command of the Fifth Cavalry,
and had sent a request that Will return to his old regiment.
Carr was at Cheyenne; thither Will hastened at once. He was met
at the station by Captain Charles King, the well-known author,
and later serving as brigadier-general at Manila, then adjutant
of the regiment. As the pair rode into camp the cry went up,
"Here comes Buffalo Bill!" Three ringing cheers expressed
the delight of the troopers over his return to his old command,
and Will was equally delighted to meet his quondam companions.
He was appointed guide and chief of scouts, and the regiment proceeded
to Laramie. From there they were ordered into the Black Hills country,
and Colonel Merritt replaced General Carr.
The incidents of Custer's fight and fall are so well known
that it is not necessary to repeat them here. It was a better
fight than the famous charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava,
for not one of the three hundred came forth from the "jaws of death."
As at Balaklava, "some one had blundered," not once, but many times,
and Custer's command discharged the entire debt with their lifeblood.
When the news of the tragedy reached the main army,
preparations were made to move against the Indians in force.
The Fifth Cavalry was instructed to cut off, if possible,
eight hundred Cheyenne warriors on their way to join the Sioux,
and Colonel Wesley Merritt, with five hundred men, hastened to Hat,
or War-Bonnet, Creek, purposing to reach the trail before
the Indians could do so. The creek was reached on the 17th
of July, and at daylight the following morning Will rode forth
to ascertain whether the Cheyennes had crossed the trail.
They had not, but that very day the scout discerned the warriors
coming up from the south.
Colonel Merritt ordered his men to mount their horses, but to remain
out of sight, while he, with his adjutant, Charles King, accompanied Will
on a tour of observation. The Cheyennes came directly toward the troops,
and presently fifteen or twenty of them dashed off to the west along
the trail the army had followed the night before. Through his glass
Colonel Merritt remarked two soldiers on the trail, doubtless couriers
with dispatches, and these the Indians manifestly designed to cut off.
Will suggested that it would be well to wait until the warriors were on
the point of charging the couriers, when, if the colonel were willing,
he would take a party of picked men and cut off the hostile delegation
from the main body, which was just coming over the divide.
The colonel acquiesced, and Will, galloping back to camp,
returned with fifteen men. The couriers were some four hundred
yards away, and their Indian pursuers two hundred behind them.
Colonel Merritt gave the word to charge, and Will and his men
skurried toward the redskins.
In the skirmish that ensued three Indians were killed.
The rest started for the main band of warriors, who had halted
to watch the fight, but they were so hotly pursued by the soldiers
that they turned at a point half a mile distant from Colonel Merritt,
and another skirmish took place.
Here something a little out of the usual occurred--a challenge to a duel.
A warrior, whose decorations and war-bonnet proclaimed him a chief,
rode out in front of his men, and called out in his own tongue,
which Will could understand:
"I know you, Pa-has-ka! Come and fight me, if you want to fight!"
Will rode forward fifty yards, and the warrior advanced a like distance.
The two rifles spoke, and the Indian's horse fell; but at the same
moment Will's horse stumbled into a gopher-hole and threw its rider.
Both duelists were instantly on their feet, confronting each other across
a space of not more than twenty paces. They fired again simultaneously,
and though Will was unhurt, the Indian fell dead.
The duel over, some two hundred warriors dashed up to recover the chieftain's
body and to avenge his death. It was now Colonel Merritt's turn to move.
He dispatched a company of soldiers to Will's aid, and then ordered
the whole regiment to the charge. As the soldiers advanced, Will swung
the Indian's topknot and war-bonnet which he had secured, and shouted,
"The first scalp for Custer!"
The Indians made a stubborn resistance, but as they found this useless,
began a retreat toward Red Cloud agency, whence they had come.
The retreat continued for thirty-five miles, the troops following
into the agency. The fighting blood of the Fifth was at fever heat,
and they were ready to encounter the thousands of warriors
at the agency should they exhibit a desire for battle.
But they manifested no such desire.
Will learned that the name of the chief he had killed that morning
was "Yellow Hand." He was the son of "Cut Nose," a leading spirit
among the Cheyennes. This old chieftain offered Will four mules
if he would return the war-bonnet and accouterments worn by the young
warrior and captured in the fight, but Will did not grant the request,
much as he pitied Cut Nose in his grief.
The Fifth Cavalry on the following morning started on its march to join
General Crook's command in the Big Horn Mountains. The two commands
united forces on the 3d of August, and marched to the confluence
of the Powder River with the Yellowstone. Here General Miles met them,
to report that no Indians had crossed the stream.
No other fight occurred; but Will made himself useful
in his capacity of scout. There were many long, hard rides,
carrying dispatches that no one else would volunteer to bear.
When he was assured that the fighting was all over,
he took passage, in September, on the steamer "Far West,"
and sailed down the Missouri.
People in the Eastern States were wonderfully interested in
the stirring events on the frontier, and Will conceived the idea
of putting the incidents of the Sioux war upon the stage.
Upon his return to Rochester he had a play written for
his purpose, organized a company, and opened his season.
Previously he had paid a flying visit to Red Cloud agency,
and induced a number of Sioux Indians to take part in his drama.
The red men had no such painful experience as Wild Bill and
Texas Jack. All they were expected to do in the way of acting
was what came natural to them. Their part was to introduce a bit
of "local color," to give a war-dance, take part in a skirmish,
or exhibit themselves in some typical Indian fashion.
At the close of this season Will bought a large tract of land
near North Platte, and started a cattle-ranch. He already
owned one some distance to the northward, in partnership
with Major North, the leader of the Pawnee scouts.
Their friendship had strengthened since their first meeting,
ten years before.
In this new ranch Will takes great pride. He has added to its area
until it now covers seven thousand acres, and he has developed
its resources to the utmost. Twenty-five hundred acres are devoted
to alfalfa and twenty-five hundred sown to corn. One of the features
of interest to visitors is a wooded park, containing a number
of deer and young buffaloes. Near the park is a beautiful lake.
In the center of the broad tract of land stands the picturesque
building known as "Scout's Rest Ranch," which, seen from the foothills,
has the appearance of an old castle.
The ranch is one of the most beautiful spots that one can imagine,
and is, besides, an object-lesson in the value of scientific
investigation and experiment joined with persistence and perseverance.
When Will bought the property he was an enthusiastic believer
in the possibilities of Nebraska development. His brother-in-law,
Mr. Goodman, was put in charge of the place.
The whole Platte Valley formed part of the district once miscalled
the Great American Desert. It was an idea commonly accepted, but,
as the sequel proved, erroneous, that lack of moisture was the cause
of lack of vegetation. An irrigating ditch was constructed on
the ranch, trees were planted, and it was hoped that with such an
abundance of moisture they would spring up like weeds. Vain hope!
There was "water, water everywhere," but not a tree would grow.
Will visited his old Kansas home, and the sight of tall and stately
trees filled him with a desire to transport some of this beauty
to his Nebraska ranch.
"I'd give five hundred dollars," said he, "for every tree I
had like that in Nebraska!"
Impressed by the proprietor's enthusiasm for arboreal development,
Mr. Goodman began investigation and experiment. It took him but a
short time to acquire a knowledge of the deficiencies of the soil,
and this done, the bigger half of the problem was solved.
Indian legend tells us that this part of our country was once an inland sea.
There is authority for the statement that to-day it is a vast
subterranean reservoir, and the conditions warrant the assertion.
The soil in all the region has a depth only of from one to three feet,
while underlying the shallow arable deposit is one immense bedrock,
varying in thickness, the average being from three to six feet.
Everywhere water may be tapped by digging through the thin soil and
boring through the rock formation. The country gained its reputation
as a desert, not from lack of moisture, but from lack of soil.
In the pockets of the foothills, where a greater depth of soil had accumulated
from the washings of the slopes above, beautiful little groves of trees
might be found, and the islands of the Platte River were heavily wooded.
Everywhere else was a treeless waste.
The philosophy of the transformation from sea to plain
is not fully understood. The most tenable theory yet
advanced is that the bedrock is an alkaline deposit, left by
the waters in a gradually widening and deepening margin.
On this the prairie wind sifted its accumulation of dust,
and the rain washed down its quota from the bank above.
In the slow process of countless years the rock formation
extended over the whole sea; the alluvial deposit deepened;
seeds lodged in it, and the buffalo-grass and sage-brush began
to grow, their yearly decay adding to the ever-thickening
layer of soil.
Having learned the secret of the earth, Mr. Goodman devoted himself
to the study of the trees. He investigated those varieties
having lateral roots, to determine which would flourish best in a
shallow soil. He experimented, he failed, and he tried again.
All things come round to him who will but work. Many experiments
succeeded the first, and many failures followed in their train.
But at last, like Archimedes, he could cry "Eureka! I have found it!"
In a very short time he had the ranch charmingly laid out with rows
of cottonwoods, box-elder, and other members of the tree family.
The ranch looked like an oasis in the desert, and neighbors inquired into
the secret of the magic that had worked so marvelous a transformation.
The streets of North Platte are now beautiful with trees, and adjoining
farms grow many more. It is "Scout's Rest Ranch," however, that is
pointed out with pride to travelers on the Union Pacific Railroad.
Mindful of his resolve to one day have a residence in North Platte, Will
purchased the site on which his first residence was erected.
His family had sojourned in Rochester for several years,
and when they returned to the West the new home was built according
to the wishes and under the supervision of the wife and mother.
To the dwelling was given the name "Welcome Wigwam."
IT was during this period of his life that my brother's first literary venture
was made. As the reader has seen, his school-days were few in number,
and as he told Mr. Majors, in signing his first contract with him,
he could use a rifle better than a pen. A life of constant action on
the frontier does not leave a man much time for acquiring an education;
so it is no great wonder that the first sketch Will wrote for publication
was destitute of punctuation and short of capitals in many places.
His attention was directed to these shortcomings, but Western life had
cultivated a disdain for petty things.
"Life is too short," said he, "to make big letters when small ones will do;
and as for punctuation, if my readers don't know enough to take their breath
without those little marks, they'll have to lose it, that's all."
But in spite of his jesting, it was characteristic of him
that when he undertook anything he wished to do it well.
He now had leisure for study, and he used it to such good advantage
that he was soon able to send to the publishers a clean manuscript,
grammatical, and well spelled, capitalized, and punctuated.
The publishers appreciated the improvement, though they had sought
after his work in its crude state, and paid good prices for it.
Our author would never consent to write anything except actual scenes
from border life. As a sop to the Cerberus of sensationalism,
he did occasionally condescend to heighten his effects by exaggeration.
In sending one story to the publisher he wrote:
"I am sorry to have to lie so outrageously in this yarn. My hero has
killed more Indians on one war-trail than I have killed in all my life.
But I understand this is what is expected in border tales.
If you think the revolver and bowie-knife are used too freely,
you may cut out a fatal shot or stab wherever you deem it wise."
Even this story, which one accustomed to border life confessed
to be exaggerated, fell far short of the sensational and
blood-curdling tales usually written, and was published exactly
as the author wrote it.
During the summer of 1877 I paid a visit to our relatives
in Westchester, Pennsylvania. My husband had lost all his wealth
before his death, and I was obliged to rely upon my brother for support.
To meet a widespread demand, Will this summer wrote his autobiography.
It was published at Hartford, Connecticut, and I, anxious to do something
for myself, took the general agency of the book for the state of Ohio,
spending a part of the summer there in pushing its sale. But I soon
tired of a business life, and turning over the agency to other hands,
went from Cleveland to visit Will at his new home in North Platte,
where there were a number of other guests at the time.
Besides his cattle-ranch in the vicinity of North Platte, Will had another
ranch on the Dismal River, sixty-five miles north, touching the Dakota line.
One day he remarked to us:
"I'm sorry to leave you to your own resources for a few days,
but I must take a run up to my ranch on Dismal River."
Not since our early Kansas trip had I had an experience in camping out,
and in those days I was almost too young to appreciate it; but it had left
me with a keen desire to try it again.
"Let us all go with you, Will," I exclaimed. "We can camp out on the road."
Our friends added their approval, and Will fell in with the
suggestion at once.
"There's no reason why you can't go if you wish to," said he.
Will owned numerous conveyances, and was able to provide ways and
means to carry us all comfortably. Lou and the two little girls,
Arta and Orra, rode in an open phaeton. There were covered carriages,
surreys, and a variety of turn-outs to transport the invited guests.
Several prominent citizens of North Platte were invited to join the party,
and when our arrangements were completed we numbered twenty-five.
Will took a caterer along, and made ample provisions for the inner
man and woman. We knew, from long experience, that a camping trip
without an abundance of food is rather a dreary affair.
All of us except Will were out for pleasure solely, and we found time
to enjoy ourselves even during the first day's ride of twenty-five miles.
As we looked around at the new and wild scenes while the tents were pitched
for the night, Will led the ladies of the party to a tree, saying:
"You are the first white women whose feet have trod this region.
Carve your names here, and celebrate the event."
After a good night's rest and a bounteous breakfast, we set
out in high spirits, and were soon far out in the foothills.
One who has never seen these peculiar formations can have but
little idea of them. On every side, as far as the eye can see,
undulations of earth stretch away like the waves of the ocean,
and on them no vegetation flourishes save buffalo-grass,
sage-brush, and the cactus, blooming but thorny.
The second day I rode horseback, in company with Will and one or two
others of the party, over a constant succession of hill and vale;
we mounted an elevation and descended its farther side, only to be
confronted by another hill. The horseback party was somewhat
in advance of those in carriages.
From the top of one hill Will scanned the country with his
field-glass, and remarked that some deer were headed our way,
and that we should have fresh venison for dinner.
He directed us to ride down into the valley and tarry there,
so that we might not startle the timid animals, while he
continued part way up the hill and halted in position to get
a good shot at the first one that came over the knoll.
A fawn presently bounded into view, and Will brought his rifle
to his shoulder; but much to our surprise, instead of firing,
dropped the weapon to his side. Another fawn passed him before
he fired, and as the little creature fell we rode up to Will
and began chaffing him unmercifully, one gentleman remarking:
"It is difficult to believe we are in the presence of the crack
shot of America, when we see him allow two deer to pass by before
he brings one down."
But to the laughing and chaffing Will answered not a word, and recalling
the childish story I had heard of his buck fever, I wondered if, at this
late date, it were possible for him to have another attack of that kind.
The deer was handed over to the commissary department, and we rode on.
"Will, what was the matter with you just now?" I asked him, privately.
"Why didn't you shoot that first deer; did you have another attack like you
had when you were a little boy?"
He rode along in silence for a few moments, and then turned to me
with the query:
"Did you ever look into a deer's eyes?" And as I replied that I
had not, he continued:
"Every one has his little weakness; mine is a deer's eye.
I don't want you to say anything about it to your friends,
for they would laugh more than ever, but the fact is I have
never yet been able to shoot a deer if it looked me in the eye.
With a buffalo, or a bear, or an Indian, it is different.
But a deer has the eye of a trusting child, soft, gentle, and confiding.
No one but a brute could shoot a deer if he caught that look.
The first that came over the knoll looked straight at me;
I let it go by, and did not look at the second until I was sure
it had passed me."
He seemed somewhat ashamed of his soft-heartedness; yet to me
it was but one of many little incidents that revealed a side
of his nature the rough life of the frontier had not corrupted.
Will expected to reach the Dismal River on the third day, and at noon of it
he remarked that he had better ride ahead and give notice of our coming,
for the man who looked after the ranch had his wife with him, and she would
likely be dismayed at the thought of preparing supper for so large a crowd
on a minute's notice.
Sister Julia's son, Will Goodman, a lad of fifteen, was of our party,
and he offered to be the courier.
"Are you sure you know the way?" asked his uncle.
"Oh, yes," was the confident response; "you know I have been
over the road with you before, and I know just how to go."
"Well, tell me how you would go."
Young Will described the trail so accurately that his uncle concluded
it would be safe for him to undertake the trip, and the lad rode ahead,
happy and important.
It was late in the afternoon when we reached the ranch;
and the greeting of the overseer was:
"Well, well; what's all this?"
"Didn't you know we were coming?" asked Will, quickly.
"Hasn't Will Goodman been here?" The ranchman shook his head.
"Haven't seen him, sir," he replied, "since he was here with you before."
"Well, he'll be along," said Will, quietly; but I detected
a ring of anxiety in his voice. "Go into the house and make
yourselves comfortable," he added. "It will be some time
before a meal can be prepared for such a supper party."
We entered the house, but he remained outside, and mounting the stile
that served as a gate, examined the nearer hills with his glass.
There was no sign of Will, Jr.; so the ranchman was directed to
dispatch five or six men in as many directions to search for the boy,
and as they hastened away on their mission Will remained on the stile,
running his fingers every few minutes through the hair over
his forehead--a characteristic action with him when worried.
Thinking I might reassure him, I came out and chided him gently
for what I was pleased to regard as his needless anxiety.
It was impossible for Willie to lose his way very long,
I explained, without knowing anything about my subject.
"See how far you can look over these hills. It is not as if
he were in the woods," said I.
Will looked at me steadily and pityingly for a moment.
"Go back in the house, Nell," said he, with a touch of impatience;
"you don't know what you are talking about."
That was true enough, but when I returned obediently to the house
I repeated my opinion that worry over the absent boy was needless,
for it would be difficult, I declared, for one to lose himself
where the range of vision was so extensive as it was from the top
of one of these foothills.
"But suppose," said one of the party, "that you were in the valley behind
one of the foothills--what then?"
This led to an animated discussion as to the danger of getting lost
in this long-range locality, and in the midst of it Will walked in,
his equanimity quite restored.
"It's all right," said he; "I can see the youngster coming along."
We flocked to the stile, and discovered a moving speck in the distance.
Looked at through the field-glasses, it proved to be the belated courier.
Then we appealed to Will to settle the question that had
been under discussion.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he answered, impressively, "if one of you were lost
among these foothills, and a whole regiment started out in search of you,
the chances are ten to one that you would starve to death, to say the least,
before you could be found."
To find the way with ease and locate the trail unerringly
over an endless and monotonous succession of hills
identical in appearance is an ability the Indian possesses,
but few are the white men that can imitate the aborigine.
I learned afterward that it was accounted one of Will's great
accomplishments as a scout that he was perfectly at home among
the frozen waves of the prairie ocean.
When the laggard arrived, and was pressed for particulars, he declared
he had traveled eight or ten miles when he found that he was off the trail.
"I thought I was lost," said he; "but after considering the matter I
decided that I had one chance--that was to go back over my own tracks.
The marks of my horse's hoofs led me out on the main trail, and your tracks
were so fresh that I had no further trouble."
"Pretty good," said Will, patting the boy's shoulder. "Pretty good.
You have some of the Cody blood in you, that's plain."
The next day was passed in looking over the ranch, and the day
following we visited, at Will's solicitation, a spot that
he had named "The Garden of the Gods." Our thoughtful host
had sent ranchmen ahead to prepare the place for our reception,
and we were as surprised and delighted as he could desire.
A patch on the river's brink was filled with tall and stately
trees and luxuriant shrubs, laden with fruits and flowers,
while birds of every hue nested and sang about us.
It was a miniature paradise in the midst of a desert of sage-brush
and buffalo-grass. The interspaces of the grove were covered
with rich green grass, and in one of these nature-carpeted
nooks the workmen, under Will's direction, had put up an arbor,
with rustic seats and table. Herein we ate our luncheon,
and every sense was pleasured.
As it was not likely that the women of the party would ever
see the place again, so remote was it from civilization,
belonging to the as yet uninhabited part of the Western plains,
we decided to explore it, in the hope of finding something
that would serve as a souvenir. We had not gone far when we
found ourselves out of Eden and in the desert that surrounded it,
but it was the desert that held our great discovery.
On an isolated elevation stood a lone, tall tree, in the topmost
branches of which reposed what seemed to be a large package.
As soon as our imaginations got fairly to work the package
became the hidden treasure of some prairie bandit,
and while two of the party returned for our masculine forces
the rest of us kept guard over the cachet in the treetop.
Will came up with the others, and when we pointed out to him
the supposed chest of gold he smiled, saying that he was sorry
to dissipate the hopes which the ladies had built in the tree,
but that they were not gazing upon anything of intrinsic value,
but on the open sepulcher of some departed brave.
"It is a wonder," he remarked, laughingly, "you women didn't
catch on to the skeleton in that closet."
As we retraced our steps, somewhat crestfallen, we listened to the tale
of another of the red man's superstitions.
When some great chief, who particularly distinguishes himself on the
war-path, loses his life on the battle-field without losing his scalp,
he is regarded as especially favored by the Great Spirit. A more exalted
sepulcher than mother earth is deemed fitting for such a warrior.
Accordingly he is wrapped in his blanket-shroud, and, in his war paint
and feathers and with his weapons by his side, he is placed in the top
of the highest tree in the neighborhood, the spot thenceforth being sacred
against intrusion for a certain number of moons. At the end of that period
messengers are dispatched to ascertain if the remains have been disturbed.
If they have not, the departed is esteemed a spirit chief, who, in the happy
hunting-grounds, intercedes for and leads on to sure victory the warriors
who trusted to his leadership in the material world.
We bade a reluctant adieu to the idyllic retreat, and threw it many a backward
glance as we took our way over the desert that stretched between us and
the ranch. Here another night was passed, and then we set out for home.
The brief sojourn "near to Nature's heart" had been a delightful experience,
holding for many of us the charm of novelty, and for all recreation
and pleasant comradeship.
With the opening of the theatrical season Will returned to the stage,
and his histrionic career continued for five years longer.
As an actor he achieved a certain kind of success.
He played in every large city of the United States, always to
crowded houses, and was everywhere received with enthusiasm.
There was no doubt of his financial success, whatever criticisms
might be passed on the artistic side of his performance.
It was his personality and reputation that interested his audiences.
They did not expect the art of Sir Henry Irving, and you may
be sure that they did not receive it.
Will never enjoyed this part of his career; he endured it simply because
it was the means to an end. He had not forgotten his boyish dream--
his resolve that he would one day present to the world an exhibition
that would give a realistic picture of life in the Far West,
depicting its dangers and privations, as well as its picturesque phases.
His first theatrical season had shown him how favorably such an exhibition
would be received, and his long-cherished ambition began to take shape.
He knew that an enormous amount of money would be needed, and to acquire
such a sum he lived for many years behind the footlights.
I was present in a Leavenworth theater during one of his last performances--
one in which he played the part of a loving swain to a would-be
charming lassie. When the curtain fell on the last act I went behind
the scenes, in company with a party of friends, and congratulated
the star upon his excellent acting.
"Oh, Nellie," he groaned, "don't say anything about it.
If heaven will forgive me this foolishness, I promise to quit
it forever when this season is over."
That was the way he felt about the stage, so far as his part
in it was concerned. He was a fish out of water The feeble
pretensions to a stern reality, and the mock dangers exploited,
could not but fail to seem trivial to one who had lived
the very scenes depicted.
FIRST VISIT TO THE VALLEY OF THE BIG HORN.
MY brother was again bereaved in 1880 by the death of his little
daughter Orra. At her own request, Orra's body was interred in Rochester,
in beautiful Mount Hope Cemetery, by the side of little Kit Carson.
But joy follows upon sadness, and the summer before Will spent his last
season on the stage was a memorable one for him. It marked the birth
of another daughter, who was christened Irma. This daughter is the very
apple of her father's eye; to her he gives the affection that is her due,
and round her clings the halo of the tender memories of the other two
that have departed this life.
This year, 1882, was also the one in which Will paid his first visit
to the valley of the Big Horn. He had often traversed the outskirts
of that region, and heard incredible tales from Indians and trappers
of its wonders and beauties, but he had yet to explore it himself.
In his early experience as Pony Express rider, California Joe had
related to him the first story he had heard of the enchanted basin,
and in 1875, when he was in charge of a large body of Arapahoe Indians
that had been permitted to leave their reservation for a big hunt,
he obtained more details.
The agent warned Will that some of the Indians were dissatisfied,
and might attempt to escape, but to all appearances,
though he watched them sharply, they were entirely content.
Game was plentiful, the weather fine, and nothing seemed omitted
from the red man's happiness.
One night about twelve o'clock Will was aroused by an Indian guide,
who informed him that a party of some two hundred Arapahoes had
started away some two hours before, and were on a journey northward.
The red man does not wear his heart upon his sleeve for government daws
to peck at. One knows what he proposes to do after he has done it.
The red man is conspicuously among the things that are not always
what they seem.
Pursuit was immediately set on foot, and the entire body
of truant warriors were brought back without bloodshed.
One of them, a young warrior, came to Will's tent to beg for tobacco.
The Indian--as all know who have made his acquaintance--
has no difficulty in reconciling begging with his native dignity.
To work may be beneath him, to beg is a different matter,
and there is frequently a delightful hauteur about his mendicancy.
In this respect he is not unlike some of his white brothers.
Will gave the young chief the desired tobacco, and then questioned
him closely concerning the attempted escape.
"Surely," said he, "you cannot find a more beautiful spot than this.
The streams are full of fish, the grazing is good, the game is plentiful,
and the weather is fine. What more could you desire?"
The Indian drew himself up. His face grew eager, and his eyes
were full of longing as he answered, by the interpreter:
"The land to the north and west is the land of plenty.
There the buffalo grows larger; and his coat is darker.
There the bu-yu (antelope) comes in droves, while here there
are but few. There the whole region is covered with the short,
curly grass our ponies like. There grow the wild plums that are
good for my people in summer and winter. There are the springs
of the Great Medicine Man, Tel-ya-ki-y. To bathe in them gives
new life; to drink them cures every bodily ill.
"In the mountains beyond the river of the blue water there
is gold and silver, the metals that the white man loves.
There lives the eagle, whose feathers the Indian must have
to make his war-bonnet. There, too, the sun shines always.
"It is the Ijis (heaven) of the red man. My heart cries for it.
The hearts of my people are not happy when away from the Eithity Tugala."
The Indian folded his arms across his breast, and his eyes looked
yearningly toward the country whose delights he had so vividly pictured;
then he turned and walked sorrowfully away. The white man's
government shut him out from the possession of his earthly paradise.
Will learned upon further inquiry that Eithity Tugala was the Indian
name of the Big Horn Basin.
In the summer of 1882 Will's party of exploration left the cars
at Cheyenne, and struck out from this point with horses and pack-mules.
Will's eyes becoming inflamed, he was obliged to bandage them, and turn
the guidance of the party over to a man known as "Ready." For days
he traveled in a blinded state, and though his eyes slowly bettered,
he did not remove the bandage until the Big Horn Basin was reached.
They had paused for the midday siesta, and Reddy inquired whether it
would not be safe to uncover the afflicted eyes, adding that he thought
Will "would enjoy looking around a bit."
Off came the bandage, and I shall quote Will's own words to describe
the scene that met his delighted gaze:
"To my right stretched a towering range of snow-capped mountains,
broken here and there into minarets, obelisks, and spires.
Between me and this range of lofty peaks a long irregular line
of stately cottonwoods told me a stream wound its way beneath.
The rainbow-tinted carpet under me was formed of innumerable
brilliant-hued wild flowers; it spread about me in every direction,
and sloped gracefully to the stream. Game of every kind
played on the turf, and bright-hued birds flitted over it.
It was a scene no mortal can satisfactorily describe.
At such a moment a man, no matter what his creed, sees the hand
of the mighty Maker of the universe majestically displayed
in the beauty of nature; he becomes sensibly conscious, too,
of his own littleness. I uttered no word for very awe;
I looked upon one of nature's masterpieces.
"Instantly my heart went out to my sorrowful Arapahoe friend of 1875.
He had not exaggerated; he had scarcely done the scene justice.
He spoke of it as the Ijis, the heaven of the red man. I regarded it then,
and still regard it, as the Mecca of all appreciative humanity."
To the west of the Big Horn Basin, Hart Mountain rises abruptly
from the Shoshone River. It is covered with grassy slopes and
deep ravines; perpendicular rocks of every hue rise in various
places and are fringed with evergreens. Beyond this mountain,
in the distance, towers the hoary head of Table Mountain. Five miles
to the southwest the mountains recede some distance from the river,
and from its bank Castle Rock rises in solitary grandeur.
As its name indicates, it has the appearance of a castle,
with towers, turrets, bastions, and balconies.
Grand as is the western view, the chief beauty lies in the south.
Here the Carter Mountain lies along the entire distance, and the grassy
spaces on its side furnish pasturage for the deer, antelope, and mountain
sheep that abound in this favored region. Fine timber, too, grows on its
rugged slopes; jagged, picturesque rock-forms are seen in all directions,
and numerous cold springs send up their welcome nectar.
It is among the foothills nestling at the base of this mountain
that Will has chosen the site of his future permanent residence.
Here there are many little lakes, two of which are named Irma
and Arta, in honor of his daughters. Here he owns a ranch of forty
thousand acres, but the home proper will comprise a tract of four
hundred and eighty acres. The two lakes referred to are in this tract,
and near them Will proposes to erect a palatial residence.
To him, as he has said, it is the Mecca of earth, and thither
he hastens the moment he is free from duty and obligation.
In that enchanted region he forgets for a little season the cares
and responsibilities of life.
A curious legend is told of one of the lakes that lie on the border
of this valley. It is small--half a mile long and a quarter wide--
but its depth is fathomless. It is bordered and shadowed
by tall and stately pines, quaking-asp and birch trees,
and its waters are pure and ice-cold the year round.
They are medicinal, too, and as yet almost unknown to white men.
Will heard the legend of the lake from the lips of an
old Cheyenne warrior.
"It was the custom of my tribe," said the Indian, "to assemble around this
lake once every month, at the hour of midnight, when the moon is at its full.
Soon after midnight a canoe filled with the specters of departed Cheyenne
warriors shot out from the eastern side of the lake and crossed rapidly
to the western border; there it suddenly disappeared.
"Never a word or sound escaped from the specters in the canoe.
They sat rigid and silent, and swiftly plied their oars.
All attempts to get a word from them were in vain.
"So plainly were the canoe and its occupants seen that the features
of the warriors were readily distinguished, and relatives and
friends were recognized."
For years, according to the legend, the regular monthly trip was made,
and always from the eastern to the western border of the lake.
In 1876 it suddenly ceased, and the Indians were much alarmed.
A party of them camped on the bank of the lake, and watchers
were appointed for every night. It was fancied that the
ghostly boatmen had changed the date of their excursion.
But in three months there was no sign of canoe or canoeists,
and this was regarded as an omen of evil.
At a council of the medicine men, chiefs, and wiseacres of the tribe it
was decided that the canoeing trip had been a signal from the Great Spirit--
the canoe had proceeded from east to west, the course always followed
by the red man. The specters had been sent from the Happy Hunting-Grounds
to indicate that the tribe should move farther west, and the sudden
disappearance of the monthly signal was augured to mean the extinction
of the race.
Once when Will was standing on the border of this lake a Sioux
warrior came up to him. This man was unusually intelligent,
and desired that his children should be educated.
He sent his two sons to Carlisle, and himself took great pains
to learn the white man's religious beliefs, though he still
clung to his old savage customs and superstitions.
A short time before he talked with Will large companies of Indians
had made pilgrimages to join one large conclave, for the purpose
of celebrating the Messiah, or "Ghost Dance." Like all
religious celebrations among savage people, it was accompanied
by the grossest excesses and most revolting immoralities.
As it was not known what serious happening these large gatherings
might portend, the President, at the request of many people,
sent troops to disperse the Indians. The Indians resisted,
and blood was spilled, among the slain being the sons of the Indian
who stood by the side of the haunted lake.
"It is written in the Great Book of the white man," said the old chief
to Will, "that the Great Spirit--the Nan-tan-in-chor--is to come to him again
on earth. The white men in the big villages go to their council-lodges
(churches) and talk about the time of his coming. Some say one time,
some say another, but they all know the time will come, for it is written
in the Great Book. It is the great and good among the white men that go
to these council-lodges, and those that do not go say, `It is well;
we believe as they believe; He will come.' It is written in the Great Book
of the white man that all the human beings on earth are the children
of the one Great Spirit. He provides and cares for them. All he asks
in return is that his children obey him, that they be good to one another,
that they judge not one another, and that they do not kill or steal.
Have I spoken truly the words of the white man's Book?"
Will bowed his head, somewhat surprised at the tone of the old
chief's conversation. The other continued:
"The red man, too, has a Great Book. You have never seen it;
no white man has ever seen it; it is hidden here." He pressed his hand
against his heart. "The teachings of the two books are the same.
What the Great Spirit says to the white man, the Nan-tan-in-chor
says to the red man. We, too, go to our council-lodges to talk of
the second coming. We have our ceremony, as the white man has his.
The white man is solemn, sorrowful; the red man is happy and glad.
We dance and are joyful, and the white man sends soldiers to shoot us down.
Does their Great Spirit tell them to do this?
"In the big city (Washington) where I have been, there is another
big book (the Federal Constitution), which says the white man
shall not interfere with the religious liberty of another.
And yet they come out to our country and kill us when we show
our joy to Nan-tan-in-chor.
"We rejoice over his second coming; the white man mourns, but he sends
his soldiers to kill us in our rejoicing. Bah! The white man is false.
I return to my people, and to the customs and habits of my forefathers.
I am an Indian!"
The old chief strode away with the dignity of a red Caesar, and Will,
alone by the lake, reflected that every question has two sides to it.
The one the red man has held in the case of the commonwealth versus
the Indian has ever been the tragic side.
TOUR OF GREAT BRITAIN.
IT was not until the spring of 1883 that Will was able to put into execution
his long-cherished plan--to present to the public an exhibition which should
delineate in throbbing and realistic color, not only the wild life of America,
but the actual history of the West, as it was lived for, fought for, died for,
by Indians, pioneers, and soldiers.
The wigwam village; the Indian war-dance; the chant to the Great Spirit
as it was sung over the plains; the rise and fall of the famous tribes;
the "Forward, march!" of soldiers, and the building of frontier posts;
the life of scouts and trappers; the hunt of the buffalo; the coming of
the first settlers; their slow, perilous progress in the prairie schooners
over the vast and desolate plains; the period of the Deadwood stage and
the Pony Express; the making of homes in the face of fire and Indian massacre;
United States cavalry on the firing-line, "Death to the Sioux!"--these are
the great historic pictures of the Wild West, stirring, genuine, heroic.
It was a magnificent plan on a magnificent scale, and it achieved
instant success. The adventurous phases of Western life never fail
to quicken the pulse of the East.
An exhibition which embodied so much of the historic and picturesque,
which resurrected a whole half-century of dead and dying events,
events the most thrilling and dramatic in American history,
naturally stirred up the interest of the entire country.
The actors, too, were historic characters--no weakling imitators,
but men of sand and grit, who had lived every inch of the
life they pictured.
The first presentation was given in May, 1883, at Omaha, Nebraska,
the state Will had chosen for his home. Since then it has visited
nearly every large city on the civilized globe, and has been viewed
by countless thousands--men, women, and children of every nationality.
It will long hold a place in history.
The "grand entrance" alone has never failed to chain the interest
of the onlooker. The furious galloping of the Indian braves--
Sioux, Arapahoe, Brule, and Cheyenne, all in war paint
and feathers; the free dash of the Mexicans and cowboys,
as they follow the Indians into line at break-neck speed;
the black-bearded Cossacks of the Czar's light cavalry;
the Riffian Arabs on their desert thoroughbreds; a cohort from the
"Queen's Own" Lancers; troopers from the German Emperor's bodyguard;
chasseurs and cuirassiers from the crack cavalry regiments
of European standing armies; detachments from the United States
cavalry and artillery; South American gauchos; Cuban veterans;
Porto Ricans; Hawaiians; again frontiersmen, rough riders,
Texas rangers--all plunging with dash and spirit into the open,
each company followed by its chieftain and its flag; forming into a
solid square, tremulous with color; then a quicker note to the music;
the galloping hoofs of another horse, the finest of them all,
and "Buffalo Bill," riding with the wonderful ease and stately
grace which only he who is "born to the saddle" can ever attain,
enters under the flash of the lime-light, and sweeping off
his sombrero, holds his head high, and with a ring of pride
in his voice, advances before his great audience and exclaims:
"Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to introduce to you a congress
of the rough riders of the world."
As a child I wept over his disregard of the larger sphere predicted by
the soothsayer; as a woman, I rejoice that he was true to his own ideals,
for he sits his horse with a natural grace much better suited to the saddle
than to the Presidential chair.
From the very beginning the "Wild West" was an immense success.
Three years were spent in traveling over the United States;
then Will conceived the idea of visiting England, and exhibiting
to the mother race the wild side of the child's life. This plan
entailed enormous expense, but it was carried out successfully.
Still true to the state of his adoption, Will chartered the steamer "State
of Nebraska," and on March 31, 1886 a living freight from the picturesque
New World began its voyage to the Old.
At Gravesend, England, the first sight to meet the eyes of
the watchers on the steamer was a tug flying American colors.
Three ringing cheers saluted the beautiful emblem, and the band
on the tug responded with "The Star-Spangled Banner." Not to
be outdone, the cowboy band on the "State of Nebraska"
struck up "Yankee Doodle." The tug had been chartered by a
company of Englishmen for the purpose of welcoming the novel
American combination to British soil.
When the landing was made, the members of the Wild West company
entered special coaches and were whirled toward London. Then even
the stolidity of the Indians was not proof against sights
so little resembling those to which they had been accustomed,
and they showed their pleasure and appreciation by frequent
repetition of the red man's characteristic grunt.
Major John M. Burke had made the needed arrangements for
housing the big show, and preparations on a gigantic scale
were rapidly pushed to please an impatient London public.
More effort was made to produce spectacular effects
in the London amphitheater than is possible where a merely
temporary staging is erected for one day's exhibition.
The arena was a third of a mile in circumference, and provided
accommodation for forty thousand spectators. Here, as at Manchester,
where another great amphitheater was erected in the fall,
to serve as winter quarters, the artist's brush was called
on to furnish illusions.
The English exhibited an eager interest in every feature
of the exhibition--the Indian war-dances, the bucking broncho,
speedily subjected by the valorous cowboy, and the stagecoach
attacked by Indians and rescued by United States troops.
The Indian village on the plains was also an object of dramatic
interest to the English public. The artist had counterfeited
the plains successfully.
It is the hour of dawn. Scattered about the plains are various
wild animals. Within their tents the Indians are sleeping.
Sunrise, and a friendly Indian tribe comes to visit the wakening warriors.
A friendly dance is executed, at the close of which a courier
rushes in to announce the approach of a hostile tribe.
These follow almost at the courier's heels, and a sham battle occurs,
which affords a good idea of the barbarity of Indian warfare.
The victors celebrate their triumph with a wild war-dance.
A Puritan scene follows. The landing of the Pilgrims is shown,
and the rescue of John Smith by Pocahontas. This affords opportunity
for delineating many interesting Indian customs on festive celebrations,
such as weddings and feast-days.
Again the prairie. A buffalo-lick is shown. The shaggy monsters
come down to drink, and in pursuit of them is "Buffalo Bill,"
mounted on his good horse "Charlie." He has been acting
as guide for an emigrant party, which soon appears.
Camp-fires are lighted, supper is eaten, and the camp sinks
into slumber with the dwindling of the fires. Then comes a fine
bit of stage illusion. A red glow is seen in the distance,
faint at first, but slowly deepening and broadening.
It creeps along the whole horizon, and the camp is awakened
by the alarming intelligence that the prairie is on fire.
The emigrants rush out, and heroically seek to fight back
the rushing, roaring flames. Wild animals, driven by
the flames, dash through the camp, and a stampede follows.
This scene was extremely realistic.
A cyclone was also simulated, and a whole village blown out of existence.
The "Wild West" was received with enthusiasm, not only by the
general public, but by royalty. Gladstone made a call upon Will,
in company with the Marquis of Lorne, and in return a lunch
was tendered to the "Grand Old Man" by the American visitors.
In an after-dinner speech, the English statesman spoke in the
warmest terms of America. He thanked Will for the good he was
doing in presenting to the English public a picture of the wild
life of the Western continent, which served to illustrate
the difficulties encountered by a sister nation in its onward
march of civilization.
The initial performance was before a royal party comprising the Prince and
Princess of Wales and suite. At the close of the exhibition the royal guests,
at their own request, were presented to the members of the company.
Unprepared for this contingency, Will had forgotten to coach the performers
in the correct method of saluting royalty, and when the girl shots of
the company were presented to the Princess of Wales, they stepped forward
in true democratic fashion and cordially offered their hands to the lovely
woman who had honored them.
According to English usage, the Princess extends the hand, palm down,
to favored guests, and these reverently touch the finger-tips and lift
the hand to their lips. Perhaps the spontaneity of the American girls'
welcome was esteemed a pleasing variety to the established custom.
At all events, her Highness, true to her breeding, appeared not
to notice any breach of etiquette, but took the proffered hands
and shook them cordially.
The Indian camp was also visited, and Red Shirt, the great chief, was,
like every one else, delighted with the Princess. Through an interpreter
the Prince expressed his pleasure over the performance of the braves,
headed by their great chief, and the Princess bade him welcome
to England. Red Shirt had the Indian gift of oratory, and he replied,
in the unimpassioned speech for which the race is noted, that it made
his heart glad to hear such kind words from the Great White Chief
and his beautiful squaw.
During the round the Prince stopped in at Will's private quarters,
and took much interest in his souvenirs, being especially pleased
with a magnificent gold-hilted sword, presented to Will by officers
of the United States army in recognition of his services as scout.
This was not the only time the exhibition was honored by the visit
of royalty. That the Prince of Wales was sincere in his expression
of enjoyment of the exhibition was evidenced by the report
that he carried to his mother, and shortly afterward a command
came from Queen Victoria that the big show appear before her.
It was plainly impossible to take the "Wild West" to court;
the next best thing was to construct a special box for the use
of her Majesty. This box was placed upon a dais covered
with crimson velvet trimmings, and was superbly decorated.
When the Queen arrived and was driven around to the royal box,
Will stepped forward as she dismounted, and doffing his sombrero,
made a low courtesy to the sovereign lady of Great Britain.
"Welcome, your Majesty," said he, "to the Wild West of America!"
One of the first acts in the performance is to carry the flag to the front.
This is done by a soldier, and is introduced to the spectators as an
emblem of a nation desirous of peace and friendship with all the world.
On this occasion it was borne directly before the Queen's box,
and dipped three times in honor of her Majesty. The action of
the Queen surprised the company and the vast throng of spectators.
Rising, she saluted the American flag with a bow, and her suite
followed her example, the gentlemen removing their hats.
Will acknowledged the courtesy by waving his sombrero about his head,
and his delighted company with one accord gave three ringing cheers
that made the arena echo, assuring the spectators of the healthy
condition of the lungs of the American visitors.
The Queen's complaisance put the entire company on their mettle,
and the performance was given magnificently. At the close
Queen Victoria asked to have Will presented to her, and paid him
so many compliments as almost to bring a blush to his bronzed cheek.
Red Shirt was also presented, and informed her Majesty that he had come
across the Great Water solely to see her, and his heart was glad.
This polite speech discovered a streak in Indian nature that,
properly cultivated, would fit the red man to shine as a courtier
or politician. Red Shirt walked away with the insouciance
of a king dismissing an audience, and some of the squaws came
to display papooses to the Great White Lady. These children
of nature were not the least awed by the honor done them.
They blinked at her Majesty as if the presence of queens was
an incident of their everyday existence.
A second command from the Queen resulted in another exhibition before a number
of her royal guests. The kings of Saxony, Denmark, and Greece, the Queen
of the Belgians, and the Crown Prince of Austria, with others of lesser rank,
illumined this occasion.
The Deadwood coach was peculiarly honored. This is a coach
with a history. It was built in Concord, New Hampshire, and sent
to the Pacific Coast to run over a trail infested by road agents.
A number of times was it held up and the passengers robbed, and finally
both driver and passengers were killed and the coach abandoned on
the trail, as no one could be found who would undertake to drive it.
It remained derelict for a long time, but was at last brought into
San Francisco by an old stage-driver and placed on the Overland trail.
It gradually worked its way eastward to the Deadwood route, and on
this line figured in a number of encounters with Indians. Again were
driver and passengers massacred, and again was the coach abandoned.
Will ran across it on one of his scouting expeditions, and recognizing
its value as an adjunct to his exhibition, purchased it.
Thereafter the tragedies it figured in were of the mock variety.
One of the incidents of the Wild West, as all remember, is an Indian
attack on the Deadwood coach. The royal visitors wished to put themselves
in the place of the traveling public in the Western regions of America;
so the four potentates of Denmark, Saxony, Greece, and Austria became
the passengers, and the Prince of Wales sat on the box with Will. The Indians
had been secretly instructed to "whoop 'em up" on this interesting occasion,
and they followed energetically the letter of their instructions.
The coach was surrounded by a demoniac band, and the blank cartridges
were discharged in such close proximity to the coach windows that the
passengers could easily imagine themselves to be actual Western travelers.
Rumor hath it that they sought refuge under the seats, and probably no
one would blame them if they did; but it is only rumor, and not history.
When the wild ride was over, the Prince of Wales, who admires the American
national game of poker, turned to the driver with the remark:
"Colonel, did you ever hold four kings like that before?"
"I have held four kings more than once," was the prompt reply;
"but, your Highness, I never held four kings and the royal joker before."
The Prince laughed heartily; but Will's sympathy went out to him
when he found that he was obliged to explain his joke in four
different languages to the passengers.
In recognition of this performance, the Prince of Wales sent
Will a handsome souvenir. It consisted of his feathered crest,
outlined in diamonds, and bearing the motto "_Ich dien_,"
worked in jewels underneath. An accompanying note expressed
the pleasure of the royal visitors over the novel exhibition.
Upon another occasion the Princess of Wales visited the show incognito,
first advising Will of her intention; and at the close of the performance
assured him that she had spent a delightful evening.
The set performances of the "Wild West" were punctuated by
social entertainments. James G. Blaine, Chauncey M. Depew, Murat Halstead,
and other prominent Americans were in London at the time, and in their honor
Will issued invitations to a rib-roast breakfast prepared in Indian style.
Fully one hundred guests gathered in the "Wild West's" dining-tent at nine
o'clock of June 10, 1887. Besides the novel decorations of the tent,
it was interesting to watch the Indian cooks putting the finishing
touches to their roasts. A hole had been dug in the ground, a large
tripod erected over it, and upon this the ribs of beef were suspended.
The fire was of logs, burned down to a bed of glowing coals, and over these
the meat was turned around and around until it was cooked to a nicety.
This method of open-air cooking over wood imparts to the meat a flavor
that can be given to it in no other way.
The breakfast was unconventional. Part of the bill of fare
was hominy, "Wild West" pudding, popcorn, and peanuts.
The Indians squatted on the straw at the end of the dining-tables,
and ate from their fingers or speared the meat with long white sticks.
The striking contrast of table manners was an interesting
object-lesson in the progress of civilization.
The breakfast was a novelty to the Americans who partook of it,
and they enjoyed it thoroughly.
Will was made a social lion during his stay in London, being dined
and feted upon various occasions. Only a man of the most rugged
health could have endured the strain of his daily performances
united with his social obligations.
The London season was triumphantly closed with a meeting for the establishing
of a court of arbitration to settle disputes between America and England.
After leaving the English metropolis the exhibition visited Birmingham,
and thence proceeded to its winter headquarters in Manchester. Arta, Will's
elder daughter, accompanied him to England, and made a Continental tour
during the winter.
The sojourn in Manchester was another ovation. The prominent
men of the city proposed to present to Will a fine rifle,
and when the news of the plan was carried to London, a company
of noblemen, statesmen, and journalists ran down to Manchester
by special car. In acknowledgment of the honor done him, Will issued
invitations for another of his unique American entertainments.
Boston pork and beans, Maryland fried chicken, hominy, and popcorn
were served, and there were other distinctly American dishes.
An Indian rib-roast was served on tin plates, and the distinguished
guests enjoyed--or said they did--the novelty of eating it from
their fingers, in true aboriginal fashion. This remarkable meal
evoked the heartiest of toasts to the American flag, and a poem,
a parody on "Hiawatha," added luster to the occasion.
The Prince of Wales was Grand Master of the Free Masons of England,
which order presented a gold watch to Will during his stay
in Manchester. The last performance in this city was given
on May 1, 1887, and as a good by to Will the spectators united
in a rousing chorus of "For he's a jolly good fellow!"
The closing exhibition of the English season occurred at Hull,
and immediately afterward the company sailed for home on
the "Persian Monarch." An immense crowd gathered on the quay,
and shouted a cordial "bon voyage."
One sad event occurred on the homeward voyage, the death
of "Old Charlie," Will's gallant and faithful horse.
He was a half-blood Kentucky horse, and had been Will's constant and unfailing
companion for many years on the plains and in the "Wild West."
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