The Life of Hon. William F. Cody
William F. Cody
Part 2 out of 6
In the summer of 1857, Russell, Majors & Waddell were sending a great
many trains across the plains to Salt Lake with supplies for General
Johnston's army. Men were in great demand, and the company was paying
teamsters forty dollars per month in gold. An old and reliable
wagon-master, named Lewis Simpson--who had taken a great fancy to me, and
who, by the way, was one of the best wagon-masters that ever ran a bull
train--was loading a train for the company, and was about to start out
with it for Salt Lake. He asked me to go along as an "extra hand." The
high wages that were being paid were a great inducement to me, and the
position of an "extra hand" was a pleasant one. All that I would have to
do would be to take the place of any man who became sick, and drive his
wagon until he recovered. I would have my own mule to ride, and to a
certain extent I would be a minor boss.
My mother was very much opposed to my taking this long trip, as I would
be absent nearly a year, and there was a possibility that something
might arise to prevent me from ever coming back, as we could not often
tell how the Mormon difficulty would terminate. Then again, owing to the
Indians, a journey over the plains in those days was a perilous
undertaking. She said that as I had recently returned from the plains,
and had had a narrow escape from death at the hands of the Indians, she
did not want me to risk my life a second time. I told her that inasmuch
as I had determined to follow the plains for an occupation, nothing
could now stop me from going on this trip, and if it became necessary I
would run away.
Seeing that it was impossible to keep me at home, she reluctantly gave
her consent, but not until she had called upon Mr. Russell and Mr.
Simpson in regard to the matter, and had obtained from the latter
gentleman his promise that I should be well taken care of, if we had to
winter in the mountains. She did not like the appearance of Simpson, and
upon inquiry she learned, to her dismay, that he was a desperate
character, and that on nearly every trip he had made across the plains he
had killed some one. Such a man, she thought, was not a fit master or
companion for her son, and she was very anxious to have me go with some
other wagon-master; but I still insisted upon remaining with Simpson.
"Madam, I can assure you that Lew. Simpson is one of the most reliable
wagon-masters on the plains," said Mr. Russell, "and he has taken a great
fancy to Billy. If your boy is bound to go, he can go with no better man.
No one will dare to impose on him while he is with Lew. Simpson, whom I
will instruct to take good care of the boy. Upon reaching Fort Laramie,
Billy can, if he wishes, exchange places with some fresh man coming back
on a returning train, and thus come home without making the whole trip."
This seemed to satisfy mother, and then she had a long talk with Simpson
himself, imploring him not to forget his promise to take good care of her
precious boy. He promised everything that she asked. Thus, after much
trouble, I became one of the members of Simpson's train. Before taking
our departure, I arranged with Russell, Majors & Waddell that when my pay
should fall due it should be paid over to mother.
As a matter of interest to the general reader, it may be well in this
connection to give a brief description of a freight train. The wagons
used in those days by Russell, Majors & Waddell were known as the "J.
Murphy wagons," made at St. Louis specially for the plains business. They
were very large and were strongly built, being capable of carrying seven
thousand pounds of freight each. The wagon-boxes were very
commodious--being as large as the rooms of an ordinary house--and were
covered with two heavy canvas sheets to protect the merchandise from the
rain. These wagons were generally sent out from Leavenworth, each loaded
with six thousand pounds of freight, and each drawn by several yokes of
oxen in charge of one driver. A train consisted of twenty-five wagons,
all in charge of one man, who was known as the wagon-master. The second
man in command was the assistant wagon-master; then came the "extra
hand," next the night herder; and lastly, the cavallard driver, whose
duty it was to drive the lame and loose cattle. There were thirty-one men
all told in a train. The men did their own cooking, being divided into
messes of seven. One man cooked, another brought wood and water, another
stood guard, and so on, each having some duty to perform while getting
meals. All were heavily armed with Colt's pistols and Mississippi yagers,
and every one always had his weapons handy so as to be prepared for any
The wagon-master, in the language of the plains, was called the
"bull-wagon boss"; the teamsters were known as "bull-whackers"; and the
whole train was denominated a "bull-outfit." Everything at that time was
called an "outfit." The men of the plains were always full of droll
humor and exciting stories of their own experiences, and many an hour I
spent in listening to the recitals of thrilling adventures and
Russell, Majors & Waddell had in their employ two hundred and fifty
trains, composed of 6,250 wagons, 75,000 oxen, and about eight thousand
men; their business reaching to all the government frontier posts in the
north and west, to which they transported supplies, and they also carried
freight as far south as New Mexico.
[Illustration: A PRAIRIE SCHOONER.]
The trail to Salt Lake ran through Kansas to the northwest, crossing the
Big Blue river, then over the Big and Little Sandy, coming into Nebraska
near the Big Sandy. The next stream of any importance was the Little
Blue, along which the trail ran for sixty miles; then crossed a range of
sand-hills and struck the Platte river ten miles below Old Fort Kearney;
thence the course lay up the South Platte to the old Ash Hollow Crossing,
thence eighteen miles across to the North Platte--near the mouth of the
Blue Water, where General Harney had his great battle in 1855 with the
Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. From this point the North Platte was
followed, passing Court House Rock, Chimney Bock and Scott's Bluffs, and
then on to Fort Laramie, where the Laramie River was crossed. Still
following the North Platte for some considerable distance, the trail
crossed this river at old Richard's Bridge, and followed it up to the
celebrated Red Buttes--crossing the Willow creeks to the Sweet Water,
passing the great Independence Rock and the Devil's gate, up to the Three
Crossings of the Sweet Water, thence past the Cold Springs, where, three
feet under the sod, on the hottest day of summer, ice can be found;
thence to the Hot Springs and the Rocky Ridge, and through the Rocky
Mountains and Echo Canon, and thence on to the Great Salt Lake valley.
We had started on our trip with everything in good shape, following
the above described trail. During the first week or two out, I became
well acquainted with most of the train men, and with one in
particular, who became a life-long and intimate friend of mine. His
real name was James B. Hickok; he afterwards became famous as "Wild
Bill, the Scout of the Plains"--though why he was so called I never
could ascertain--and from this time forward I shall refer to him by
his popular nickname. He was ten years my senior--a tall, handsome,
magnificently built and powerful young fellow, who could out-run,
out-jump and out-fight any man in the train. He was generally admitted
to be the best man physically, in the employ of Russell, Majors &
Waddell; and of his bravery there was not a doubt. General Custer, in
his "Life on the Plains," thus speaks of Wild Bill:
* * * * *
"Among the white scouts were numbered some of the most noted of their
class. The most prominent man among them was 'Wild Bill,' whose highly
varied career was made the subject of an illustrated sketch in one of the
popular monthly periodicals a few years ago. 'Wild Bill' was a strange
character, just the one which a novelist might gloat over. He was a
plains-man in every sense of the word, yet unlike any other of his class.
In person he was about six feet and one inch in height, straight as the
straightest of the warriors whose implacable foe he was. He had broad
shoulders, well-formed chest and limbs, and a face strikingly handsome; a
sharp, clear blue eye, which stared you straight in the face when in
conversation; a finely shaped nose, inclined to be aquiline; a
well-turned mouth, with lips only partially concealed by a handsome
moustache. His hair and complexion were those of the perfect blonde. The
former was worn in uncut ringlets, falling carelessly over his powerfully
formed shoulders. Add to this figure a costume blending the immaculate
neatness of the dandy with the extravagant taste and style of the
frontiersman, and you have Wild Bill.... Whether on foot or on horseback,
he was one of the most perfect types of physical manhood I ever saw.
"Of his courage there could be no question; it had been brought to the
test on too many occasions to admit of a doubt. His skill in the use of
the pistol and rifle was unerring; while his deportment was exactly the
opposite of what might be expected from a man of his surroundings. It was
entirely free from all bluster or bravado. He seldom spoke himself unless
requested to do so. His conversation, strange to say, never bordered
either on the vulgar or blasphemous. His influence among the frontiersmen
was unbounded, his word was law; and many are the personal quarrels and
disturbances which he has checked among his comrades by his simple
announcement that 'This has gone far enough,'--if need be followed by the
ominous warning that when persisted in or renewed the quarreler 'must
settle it with me.'
"Wild Bill was anything but a quarrelsome man; yet no one but him could
enumerate the many conflicts in which he had been engaged, and which had
almost always resulted in the death of his adversary. I have a personal
knowledge of at least half a dozen men whom he had at various times
killed, one of these being at the time a member of my command. Others had
been severely wounded, yet he always escaped unhurt.
"On the plains every man openly carries his belt with its invariable
appendages, knife and revolver--often two of the latter. Wild Bill always
carried two handsome ivory-handled revolvers of the large size; he was
never seen without them.... Yet in all the many affairs of this kind in
which Wild Bill has performed a part, and which have come to my
knowledge, there was not a single instance in which the verdict of twelve
fair-minded men would not have been pronounced in his favor."
* * * * *
[Illustration: WILD BILL.]
Such is the faithful picture of Wild Bill as drawn by General Custer, who
was a close observer and student of personal character, and under whom
Wild Bill served as a scout.
The circumstances under which I first made his acquaintance and learned
to know him well and to appreciate his manly character and
kind-heartedness, were these. One of the teamsters in Lew. Simpson's
train was a surly, overbearing fellow, and took particular delight in
bullying and tyrannizing over me, and one day while we were at dinner he
asked me to do something for him. I did not start at once, and he gave me
a slap in the face with the back of his hand,--knocking me off an
ox-yoke on which I was sitting, and sending me sprawling on the ground.
Jumping to my feet I picked up a camp kettle full of boiling coffee which
was setting on the fire, and threw it at him. I hit him in the face, and
the hot coffee gave him a severe scalding. He sprang for me with the
ferocity of a tiger, and would undoubtedly have torn me to pieces, had it
not been for the timely interference of my new-found friend, Wild Bill,
who knocked the man down. As soon as he recovered himself, he demanded of
Wild Bill what business it was of his that he should "put in his oar."
"It's my business to protect that boy, or anybody else, from being
unmercifully abused, kicked and cuffed, and I'll whip any man who tries
it on," said Wild Bill; "and if you ever again lay a hand on that
boy--little Billy there--I'll give you such a pounding that you won't get
over it for a month of Sundays." From that time forward Wild Bill was my
protector and intimate friend, and the friendship thus begun continued
until his death.
Nothing transpired on the trip to delay or give us any trouble whatever,
until the train struck the South Platte river. One day we camped on the
same ground where the Indians had surprised the cattle herd, in charge of
the McCarty brothers. It was with difficulty that we discovered any
traces of anybody ever having camped there before, the only landmark
being the single grave, now covered with grass, in which we had buried
the three men who had been killed. The country was alive with buffaloes.
Vast herds of these monarchs of the plains were roaming all around us,
and we laid over one day for a grand hunt. Besides killing quite a
number of buffaloes, and having a day of rare sport, we captured ten or
twelve head of cattle, they being a portion of the herd which had been
stampeded by the Indians, two months before. The next day we pulled out
of camp, and the train was strung out to a considerable length along the
road which ran near the foot of the sand-hills, two miles from the river.
Between the road and the river we saw a large herd of buffaloes grazing
quietly, they having been down to the stream for a drink.
Just at this time we observed a party of returning Californians coming
from the West. They, too, noticed the buffalo herd, and in another moment
they were dashing down upon them, urging their steeds to the greatest
speed. The buffalo herd stampeded at once, and broke for the hills; so
hotly were they pursued by the hunters that about five hundred of them
rushed through our train pell-mell, frightening both men and oxen. Some
of the wagons were turned clear round, and many of the terrified oxen
attempted to run to the hills, with the heavy wagons attached to them.
Others turned around so short that they broke the wagon tongues off.
Nearly all the teams got entangled in their gearing, and became wild and
unruly, so that the perplexed drivers were unable to manage them.
The buffaloes, the cattle, and the drivers, were soon running in every
direction, and the excitement upset nearly everybody and everything. Many
of the cattle broke their yokes and stampeded. One big buffalo bull
became entangled in one of the heavy wagon-chains, and it is a fact that
in his desperate efforts to free himself, he not only actually snapped
the strong chain in two, but broke the ox-yoke to which it was attached,
and the last seen of him he was running towards the hills with it hanging
from his horns. A dozen other equally remarkable incidents happened
during the short time that the frantic buffaloes were playing havoc with
our train, and when they had got through and left us, our outfit was very
badly crippled and scattered. This caused us to go into camp and spend a
day in replacing the broken tongues, and repairing other damages, and
gathering up our scattered ox-teams.
The next day we rolled out of camp, and proceeded on our way towards the
setting sun. Everything ran along smoothly with us from that point until
we came within about eighteen miles of Green river, in the Rocky
mountains--where we camped at noon. At this place we had to drive our
cattle about a mile and a half to a creek to water them. Simpson, his
assistant, George Woods and myself, accompanied by the usual number of
guards, drove the cattle over to the creek, and while on our way back to
camp, we suddenly observed a party of twenty horsemen rapidly approaching
us. We were not yet in view of our wagons, as a rise of ground
intervened, and therefore we could not signal the train-men in case of
any unexpected danger befalling us. We had no suspicion, however, that we
were about to be trapped, as the strangers were white men. When they had
come up to us, one of the party, who evidently was the leader, rode out
in front and said:
"How are you, Mr. Simpson?"
"You've got the best of me, sir," said Simpson, who did not know him.
"Well, I rather think I have," coolly replied the stranger, whose words
conveyed a double meaning, as we soon learned. We had all come to a halt
by this time, and the strange horsemen had surrounded us. They were all
armed with double-barreled shot guns, rifles and revolvers. We also were
armed with revolvers, but we had had no idea of danger, and these men,
much to our surprise, had "got the drop" on us, and had covered us with
their weapons, so that we were completely at their mercy. The whole
movement of corraling us was done so quietly and quickly that it was
accomplished before we knew it.
"I'll trouble you for your six shooters, gentlemen," now said the
"I'll give 'em to you in a way you don't want," replied Simpson.
The next moment three guns were leveled at Simpson. "If you make a move
you're a dead man," said the leader.
Simpson saw that he was taken at a great disadvantage, and thinking it
advisable not to risk the lives of the party by any rash act on his
part, he said: "I see now that you have the best of me, but who are
"I am Joe Smith," was the reply.
"What! the leader of the Danites?" asked Simpson.
"You are correct," said Smith, for he it was.
"Yes," said Simpson, "I know you now; you are a spying scoundrel."
Simpson had good reason for calling him this and applying to him a much
more opprobrious epithet, for only a short time before this, Joe Smith
had visited our train in the disguise of a teamster, and had remained
with us two days. He suddenly disappeared, no one knowing where he had
gone or why he had come among us. But it was all explained to us now that
he had returned with his Mormon Danites. After they had disarmed us,
Simpson asked, "Well, Smith, what are you going to do with us?"
"Ride back with us and I'll soon show you," said Smith.
We had no idea of the surprise which awaited us. As we came upon the top
of the ridge, from which we could view our camp, we were astonished to
see the remainder of the train men disarmed and stationed in a group and
surrounded by another squad of Danites, while other Mormons were
searching our wagons for such articles as they wanted.
"How is this?" inquired Simpson. "How did you surprise my camp without a
struggle? I can't understand it."
"Easily enough," said Smith; "your men were all asleep under the
wagons, except the cooks, who saw us coming and took us for returning
Californians or emigrants, and paid no attention to us until we rode up
and surrounded your train. With our arms covering the men, we woke
them up, and told them that all they had to do was to walk out and drop
their pistols--which they saw was the best thing they could do under
circumstances over which they had no control--and you can just bet
they did it."
"And what do you propose to do with us now?" asked Simpson.
"I intend to burn your train," said he; "you are loaded with supplies
and ammunition for Sidney Johnson, and as I have no way to convey the
stuff to my own people, I'll see that it does not reach the United
"Are you going to turn us adrift here?" asked Simpson, who was anxious to
learn what was to become of himself and his men.
"No; I hardly am as bad as that. I'll give you enough provisions to last
you until you can reach Fort Bridger," replied Smith; "and as soon as
your cooks can get the stuff out of the wagons, you can start."
"On foot?" was the laconic inquiry of Simpson.
"Yes sir," was the equally short reply.
"Smith, that's too rough on us men. Put yourself in our place and see how
you would like it," said Simpson; "you can well afford to give us at
least one wagon and six yokes of oxen to convey us and our clothing and
provisions to Fort Bridger. You're a brute if you don't do this."
"Well," said Smith, after consulting a minute or two with some of his
company, "I'll do that much for you."
The cattle and the wagon were brought up according to his orders, and the
clothing and provisions were loaded on.
"Now you can go," said Smith, after everything had been arranged.
"Joe Smith, I think you are a mean coward to set us afloat in a hostile
country, without giving us our arms," said Simpson, who had once before
asked for the weapons, and had had his request denied.
Smith, after further consultation with his comrades, said: "Simpson,
you are too brave a man to be turned adrift here without any means of
defense. You shall have your revolvers and guns." Our weapons were
accordingly handed over to Simpson, and we at once started for Fort
Bridger, knowing that it would be useless to attempt the recapture of
When we had traveled about two miles we saw the smoke arising from our
old camp. The Mormons after taking what goods they wanted and could carry
off, had set fire to the wagons, many of which were loaded with bacon,
lard, hard-tack, and other provisions, which made a very hot, fierce
fire, and the smoke to roll up in dense clouds. Some of the wagons were
loaded with ammunition, and it was not long before loud explosions
followed in rapid succession. We waited and witnessed the burning of the
train, and then pushed on to Fort Bridger. Arriving at this post, we
learned that two other trains had been captured and destroyed in the same
way, by the Mormons. This made seventy-five wagon loads, or 450,000
pounds of supplies, mostly provisions, which never reached General
Johnson's command, to which they had been consigned.
As it was getting very late in the fall, we were compelled to winter at
Fort Bridger; and a long, tedious winter it was. There were a great many
troops there, and about four hundred of Russell, Majors & Waddell's
employees. These men were all organized into militia companies, which
were officered by the wagon-masters. Some lived in tents, others in
cabins. It was known that our supplies would run short during the winter,
and so all the men at the post were put on three-quarter rations to begin
with; before long they were reduced to one-half rations, and finally to
one-quarter rations. We were forced to kill our poor worn-out cattle for
beef. They were actually so poor that we had to prop them up to shoot
them down. At last we fell back on the mules, which were killed and
served up in good style. Many a poor, unsuspecting government mule passed
in his chips that winter in order to keep the soldiers and bull-whackers
It was really a serious state of affairs. The wood for the post was
obtained from the mountains, but having no longer any cattle or mules to
transport it, the men were obliged to haul it themselves. Long lariats
were tied to the wagons, and twenty men manning each, they were pulled to
and from the mountains. Notwithstanding all these hardships, the men
seemed to be contented and to enjoy themselves.
The winter finally passed away, and early in the spring, as soon as we
could travel, the civil employees of the government, with the teamsters
and freighters, started for the Missouri river; the Johnson expedition
having been abandoned. On the way down we stopped at Fort Laramie, and
there met a supply train bound westward. Of course we all had a square
meal once more, consisting of hard tack, bacon, coffee and beans. I can
honestly say that I thought it was the best meal I had ever eaten; at
least I relished it more than any other, and I think the rest of the
party did the same.
On leaving Fort Laramie, Simpson was made brigade wagon-master, and was
put in charge of two large trains, with about four hundred extra men, who
were bound for Fort Leavenworth. When we came to Ash Hollow, instead of
taking the usual trail over to the South Platte, Simpson concluded to
follow the North Platte down to its junction with the South Platte. The
two trains were traveling about fifteen miles apart, when one morning
while Simpson was with the rear train, he told his assistant
wagon-master, George Woods and myself to saddle up our mules, as he
wanted us to go with him and overtake the head train.
We started off at about eleven o'clock, and had ridden about seven miles
when--while we were on a big plateau, back of Cedar Bluffs--we suddenly
discovered a band of Indians coming out of the head of a ravine, half a
mile distant, and charging down upon us at full speed. I thought that our
end had come this time, sure. Simpson, however, took in the situation in
a moment, and knowing that it would be impossible to escape by running
our played-out mules, he adopted a bolder and much better plan. He jumped
from his own mule, and told us to dismount also. He then shot the three
animals, and as they fell to the ground he cut their throats to stop
their kicking. He then jerked them into the shape of a triangle, and
ordered us inside of the barricade.
All this was but the work of a few moments, yet it was not done any too
soon, for the Indians had got within three hundred yards of us, and were
still advancing, and uttering their demoniacal yells or war-whoops. There
were forty of the red-skins and only three of us. We were each armed
with a Mississippi yager and two Colt's revolvers.
"Get ready for them with your guns, and when they come within fifty
yards, aim low, blaze away and bring down your man!"
Such was the quick command of Simpson. The words had hardly escaped from
his mouth, when the three yagers almost simultaneously belched forth
their contents. We then seized our revolvers and opened a lively fire on
the enemy, at short range, which checked their advance. Then we looked
over our little barricade to ascertain what effect our fire had produced,
and were much gratified at seeing three dead Indians and one horse lying
on the ground. Only two or three of the Indians, it seemed, had
fire-arms. It must be remembered that in those days every Indian did not
own a needle gun or a Winchester rifle, as they now do. Their principal
weapons were their bows and arrows.
Seeing that they could not take our little fortification, or drive us
from it, they circled around us several times, shooting their arrows at
us. One of the arrows struck George Wood in the left shoulder, inflicting
only a slight wound, however, and several lodged in the bodies of the
dead mules; otherwise they did us no harm.
The Indians finally galloped off to a safe distance, where our bullets
could not reach them, and seemed to be holding a council. This was a
lucky move for us, for it gave us an opportunity to reload our guns and
pistols, and prepare for the next charge of the enemy. During the brief
cessation of hostilities, Simpson extracted the arrow from Wood's
shoulder, and put an immense quid of tobacco on the wound. Wood was then
ready for business again.
[Illustration: HOLDING THE FORT.]
The Indians did not give us a very long rest, for with, another desperate
charge, as if to ride over us, they came dashing towards the mule
barricade. We gave them a hot reception from our yagers and revolvers.
They could not stand, or understand, the rapidly repeating fire of the
revolvers, and we again checked them. They circled around us once more
and gave us a few parting shots as they rode off, leaving behind them
another dead Indian and a horse.
For two hours afterwards they did not seem to be doing anything but
holding a council. We made good use of this time by digging up the ground
inside the barricade with our knives and throwing the loose earth around
and over the mules, and we soon had a very respectable fortification. We
were not troubled any more that day, but during the night the cunning
rascals tried to burn us out by setting fire to the prairie. The buffalo
grass was so short that the fire did not trouble us much, but the smoke
concealed the Indians from our view, and they thought that they could
approach close to us without being seen. We were aware of this, and kept
a sharp look-out, being prepared all the time to receive them. They
finally abandoned the idea of surprising us.
Next morning, bright and early, they gave us one more grand charge, and
again we "stood them off." They then rode away half a mile or so, and
formed a circle around us. Each man dismounted and sat down, as if to
wait and starve us out. They had evidently seen the advance train pass on
the morning of the previous day, and believed that we belonged to that
outfit and were trying to overtake it; they had no idea that another
train was on its way after us.
Our hopes of escape from this unpleasant and perilous situation now
depended upon the arrival of the rear train, and when we saw that the
Indians were going to besiege us instead of renewing their attacks, we
felt rather confident of receiving timely assistance. We had expected
that the train would be along late in the afternoon of the previous day,
and as the morning wore away we were somewhat anxious and uneasy, at its
At last, about ten o'clock, we began to hear in the distance the loud and
sharp reports of the big bull-whips, which were handled with great
dexterity by the teamsters, and cracked like rifle shots. These were as
welcome sounds to us as were the notes of the bag-pipes to the beseiged
garrison at Lucknow, when the reinforcements were coming up and the
pipers were heard playing, "The Campbells are Coming." In a few moments
we saw the lead or head wagon coming slowly over the ridge, which had
concealed the train from our view, and soon the whole outfit made its
appearance. The Indians observed the approaching train, and assembling in
a group they held a short consultation. They then charged upon us once
more, for the last time, and as they turned and dashed away over the
prairie, we sent our farewell shots rattling after them. The teamsters,
seeing the Indians and hearing the shots, came rushing forward to our
assistance, but by the time they reached us the red-skins had almost
disappeared from view. The teamsters eagerly asked us a hundred questions
concerning our fight, admired our fort and praised our pluck. Simpson's
remarkable presence of mind in planning the defense was the general topic
of conversation among all the men.
When the teams came up we obtained some water and bandages with which to
dress Wood's wound, which had become quite inflamed and painful, and we
then put him into one of the wagons. Simpson and myself obtained a
remount, bade good-bye to our dead mules which had served us so well, and
after collecting the ornaments and other plunder from the dead Indians,
we left their bodies and bones to bleach on the prairie. The train moved
on again and we had no other adventures, except several exciting buffalo
hunts on the South Platte, near Plum Creek.
We arrived at Fort Leavenworth about the middle of July, 1858, when I
immediately visited home. I found mother in very poor health, as she was
suffering from asthma. My oldest sister, Martha, had, during my absence,
been married to John Crane, and was living at Leavenworth.
During the winter at Fort Bridger I had frequently talked with Wild Bill
about my family, and as I had become greatly attached to him I asked him
to come and make a visit at our house, which he promised to do. So one
day, shortly after our return from Fort Bridger, he accompanied me home
from Leavenworth. My mother and sisters, who had heard so much about him
from me, were delighted to see him and he spent several weeks at our
place. They did everything possible to repay him for his kindness to me.
Ever afterwards, when he was at or near Leavenworth, Wild Bill came out
to our house to see the family, whether I was at home or not, and he
always received a most cordial reception. His mother and sisters lived in
Illinois, and he used to call our house his home, as he did not have one
of his own.
I had been home only about a month, after returning from Fort Bridger,
when I again started out with another train, going this time as
assistant wagon-master under Buck Bomer. We went safely through to Fort
Laramie, which was our destination, and from there we were ordered to
take a load of supplies to a new post called Fort Wallach, which was
being established at Cheyenne Pass. We made this trip and got back to
Fort Laramie about November 1st. I then quit the employ of Russell,
Majors & Waddell, and joined a party of trappers who were sent out by
the post trader, Mr. Ward, to trap on the streams of the Chugwater and
Laramie for beaver, otter, and other fur animals, and also to poison
wolves for their pelts. We were out two months, but as the expedition
did not prove very profitable, and was rather dangerous on account of
the Indians, we abandoned the enterprise and came into Fort Laramie in
the latter part of December.
Being anxious to return to the Missouri river, I joined with two others,
named Scott and Charley, who were also desirous of going East on a visit,
bought three ponies and a pack-mule, and we started out together. We made
rapid progress on our journey, and nothing worthy of note happened until
one afternoon, along the banks of the Little Blue River, we spied a band
of Indians hunting on the opposite side of the stream, three miles away.
We did not escape their notice, and they gave us a lively chase for two
hours, but they could find no good crossing, and as evening came on we
finally got away from them.
We traveled until late in the night; when upon discovering a low, deep
ravine which we thought would make a comfortable and safe camping-place,
we stopped for a rest. In searching for a good place to make our beds, I
found a hole, and I called to my companions that I had found a fine place
for a nest. One of the party was to stand guard while the others slept.
Scott took the first watch, while Charley and I made a bed in the hole.
While clearing out the place we felt something rough, but as it was dark
we could not make out what it was. At any rate we concluded that it was
bones or sticks of wood; we thought perhaps it might be the bones of some
animal which had fallen in there and died. These bones, for such they
really proved to be, we pushed one side and then we lay down. But
Charley, being an inveterate smoker, could not resist the temptation of
indulging in a smoke before going to sleep. So he sat up and struck a
match to light his old pipe. Our subterranean bed-chamber was thus
illuminated for a moment or two; I sprang to my feet in an instant for a
ghastly and horrifying sight was revealed to us. Eight or ten human
skeletons lay scattered upon the ground.
The light of the match died out, but we had seen enough to convince us
that we were in a large grave, into which, perhaps, some unfortunate
emigrants, who had been killed by the Indians, had been thrown; or,
perhaps, seeking refuge there, they had been corraled and then killed on
the spot. If such was the case, they had met the fate of thousands of
others, whose friends have never heard of them since they left their
eastern homes to seek their fortunes in the Far West. However, we did not
care to investigate this mystery any further, but we hustled out of that
chamber of death and informed Scott of our discovery. Most of the
plains-men are very superstitious, and we were no exception to the
general rule. We surely thought that this incident was an evil omen, and
that we would be killed if we remained there any longer.
[Illustration: CAMPING IN A SEPULCHRE.]
"Let us dig out of here quicker than we can say Jack Robinson," said
Scott; and we began to "dig out" at once. We saddled our animals and
hurriedly pushed forward through the darkness, traveling several miles
before we again went into camp. Next morning it was snowing fiercely,
but we proceeded as best we could, and that night we succeeded in
reaching Oak Grove ranch, which had been built during the summer. We
here obtained comfortable accommodations and plenty to eat and
drink--especially the latter.
Scott and Charley were great lovers and consumers of "tanglefoot," and
they soon got gloriously drunk, keeping it up for three days, during
which time they gambled with the ranchmen, who got away with all their
money; but little they cared for that, as they had their spree. They
finally sobered up, and we resumed our journey, urging our jaded animals
as much as they could stand, until we struck Marysville, on the Big Blue.
From this place to Leavenworth we secured first-rate accommodations along
the road, as the country had become pretty well settled.
It was in February, 1859, that I got home. As there was now a good school
in the neighborhood, taught by Mr. Divinny, my mother wished me to attend
it, and I did so for two months and a half--the longest period of
schooling that I ever received at any one time in my life. As soon as the
spring came and the grass began growing, I became uneasy and
discontented, and again longed for the free and open life of the plains.
The Pike's Peak gold excitement was then at its height, and everybody was
rushing to the new gold diggings. I caught the gold-fever myself, and
joined a party bound for the new town of Auraria, on Cherry Creek,
afterwards called Denver, in honor of the then governor of Kansas. On
arriving at Auraria we pushed on to the gold streams in the mountains,
passing up through Golden Gate, and over Guy Hill, and thence on to
Black Hawk. We prospected for two months, but as none of us knew anything
about mining we met with very poor success, and we finally concluded that
prospecting for gold was not our forte. We accordingly abandoned the
enterprise and turned our faces eastward once more.
[Illustration: RAFTING ON THE PLATTE.]
When we struck the Platte River, the happy thought of constructing a
small raft--which would float us clear to the Missouri and thence down to
Leavenworth--entered our heads, and we accordingly carried out the plan.
Upon the completion of the raft we stocked it with provisions, and "set
sail" down the stream. It was a light craft and a jolly crew, and all was
smooth sailing for four or five days.
When we got near old Julesburg, we met with a serious mishap. Our raft
ran into an eddy, and quick as lightning went to pieces, throwing us all
into the stream, which was so deep that we had to swim ashore. We lost
everything we had, which greatly discouraged us, and we thereupon
abandoned the idea of rafting it any farther. We then walked over to
Julesburg, which was only a few miles distant. This ranch, which became a
somewhat famous spot, had been established by "Old Jules," a Frenchman,
who was afterwards killed by the notorious Alf. Slade.
The great pony express, about which so much has been said and written,
was at that time just being started. The line was being stocked with
horses and put into good running condition. At Julesburg I met Mr. George
Chrisman, the leading wagon-master of Russell, Majors & Waddell, who had
always been a good friend to me. He had bought out "Old Jules," and was
then the owner of Julesburg ranch, and the agent of the pony express
line. He hired me at once as a pony express rider, but as I was so young
he thought I would not be able to stand the fierce riding which was
required of the messengers. He knew, however, that I had been raised in
the saddle--that I felt more at home there than in any other place--and
as he saw that I was confident that I could stand the racket, and could
ride as far and endure it as well as some of the older riders, he gave me
a short route of forty-five miles, with the stations fifteen miles apart,
and three changes of horses. I was required to make fifteen miles an
hour, including the changes of horses. I was fortunate in getting
well-broken animals, and being so light, I easily made my forty-five
miles on time on my first trip out, and ever afterwards.
I wrote to mother and told her how well I liked the exciting life of a
pony express rider. She replied, and begged of me to give it up, as it
would surely kill me. She was right about this, as fifteen miles an hour
on horseback would, in a short time, shake any man "all to pieces"; and
there were but very few, if any, riders who could stand it for any great
length of time. Nevertheless, I stuck to it for two months, and then,
upon receiving a letter informing me that my mother was very sick, I gave
it up and went back to the old home in Salt Creek Valley.
ACCIDENTS AN0 ESCAPES.
My restless, roaming spirit would not allow me to remain at home very
long, and in November, after the recovery of my mother, I went up the
Republican River and its tributaries on a trapping expedition in company
with Dave Harrington. Our outfit consisted of one wagon and a yoke of
oxen for the transportation of provisions, traps, and other necessaries.
We began trapping near Junction City, Kansas, and then proceeded up the
Republican River to the mouth of Prairie Dog Creek, where we found plenty
Having seen no signs of Indians thus far, we felt comparatively safe. We
were catching a large number of beavers and were prospering finely, when
one of our oxen, having become rather poor, slipped and fell upon the
ice, dislocating his hip, so that we had to shoot him to end his misery.
This left us without a team; but we cared little for that, however, as we
had made up our minds to remain there till spring, when, and it was
decided, that one of us should go to the nearest settlement and get a
yoke of oxen with which to haul our wagon into some place of safety where
we could leave it.
We would probably have pulled through the winter all right had it not
been for a very serious accident which befell me just at that time.
Spying a herd of elk, we started in pursuit of them, and creeping up
towards them as slyly as possible, while going around the bend of a sharp
bluff or bank of the creek I slipped and broke my leg just above the
ankle. Notwithstanding the great pain I was suffering, Harrington could
not help laughing when I urged him to shoot me, as he had the ox, and
thus end my misery. He told me to "brace up," and that he would bring me
out "all right." "I am not much of a surgeon," said he, "but I can fix
that leg of yours, even if I haven't got a diploma."
He succeeded in getting me back to camp, which was only a few yards from
the creek, and then he set the fracture as well as he knew how, and made
me as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances. We then
discussed the situation, which to say the least, looked pretty blue.
Knowing that, owing to our mishaps, we could not do anything more that
winter, and as I dreaded the idea of lying there on my back with a broken
leg for weeks, and perhaps months, I prevailed upon Harrington to go the
nearest settlement--about 125 miles distant--to obtain a yoke of cattle,
and then come back for me.
This he consented to do; but before leaving he gathered plenty of wood,
and as the ground was covered with snow, I would have no difficulty in
getting water if I had a fire. There was plenty of fresh meat and other
provisions in the "dug-out," so that I had no fears of starvation. The
"dugout," which we had built immediately after we had determined to
remain there all winter, was a very cosy hole in the ground, covered with
poles, grass and sod, with a fireplace in one end.
Harrington thought it would take him twenty days or more to make the
round trip; but being well provided for--for this length of time--I
urged him to go at once. Bidding me good-bye he started on foot. After
his departure, each day, as it came and went, seemed to grow longer to me
as I lay there helpless and alone. I made a note of each day, so as to
know the time when I might expect him back.
[Illustration: SAVED BY CHIEF RAIN-IN-THE-FACE.]
On the twelfth day after Harrington left me, I was awakened from a sound
sleep by some one touching me upon the shoulder. I looked up and was
astonished to see an Indian warrior standing at my side. His face was
hideously daubed with paint, which told me more forcibly than words could
have done that he was on the war-path. He spoke to me in broken English
and Sioux mixed, and I understood him to ask what I was doing there, and
how many there were with me.
By this time the little dug-out was nearly filled with other Indians, who
had been peeping in at the door, and I could hear voices of still more
outside as well as the stamping of horses. I began to think that my time
had come, as the saying is, when into the cabin stepped an elderly
Indian, whom I readily recognized as old Rain-in-the-Face, a Sioux chief
from the vicinity of Fort Laramie. I rose up as well as I could and
showed him my broken leg. I told him where I had seen him, and asked him
if he remembered me. He replied that he knew me well, and that I used to
come to his lodge at Fort Laramie to visit him. I then managed to make
him understand that I was there alone and having broken my leg, I had
sent my partner off for a team to take me away. I asked him if his young
men intended to kill me, and he answered, that was what they had proposed
to do, but he would see what they had to say.
The Indians then talked among themselves for a few minutes, and upon the
conclusion of the consultation, old Rain-in-the-Face turned to me and
gave me to understand that as I was yet a "papoose," or a very young man,
they would not take my life. But one of his men, who had no fire-arms,
wanted my gun and pistol. I implored old Rain-in-the-Face to be allowed
to keep the weapons, or at least one of them, as I needed something with
which to keep the wolves away. He replied that as his young men were out
on the war path, he had induced them to spare my life; but he could not
prevent them from taking what ever else they wanted.
They unsaddled their horses as if to remain there for some time, and sure
enough they stayed the remainder of the day and all night. They built a
fire in the dug-out and cooked a lot of my provisions, helping themselves
to everything as if they owned it. However, they were polite enough to
give me some of the food after they had cooked it. It was a sumptuous
feast that they had, and they seemed to relish it as if it was the best
lay-out they had had for many a long day. They took all my sugar and
coffee, and left me only some meat and a small quantity of flour, a
little salt and some baking powder. They also robbed me of such cooking
utensils as they wished; then bidding me good-bye, early in the morning,
they mounted their ponies and rode off to the south, evidently bent on
some murdering and thieving expedition.
I was glad enough to see them leave, as my life had undoubtedly hung by a
thread during their presence. I am confident that had it not been for my
youth and the timely recognition and interference of old Rain-in-the-Face
they would have killed me without any hesitation or ceremony.
The second day after they had gone it began snowing, and for three long
and weary days the snow continued to fall thick and fast. It blocked the
door-way and covered the dug-out to the depth of several feet, so that I
became a snowbound prisoner. My wood was mostly under the snow, and it
was with great difficulty that I could get enough to start a fire with.
My prospects were gloomy indeed. I had just faced death at the hands of
the Indians, and now I was in danger of losing my life from starvation
and cold. I knew that the heavy snow would surely delay Harrington on his
return; and I feared that he might have perished in the storm, or that
some other accident might have befallen him. Perhaps some wandering band
of Indians had run across him and killed him.
I was continually thinking of all these possibilities, and I must say
that my outlook seemed desperate. At last the twentieth day
arrived--the day on which Harrington was to return--and I counted the
tours from morning till night, but the day passed away with no signs of
Harrington. The wolves made the night hideous with their howls; they
gathered around the dug-out; ran over the roof; and pawed and scratched
as if trying to get in.
Several days and nights thus wore away, the monotony all the time
becoming greater, until at last it became almost unendurable. Some days I
would go without any fire at all, and eat raw frozen meat and melt snow
in my mouth for water. I became almost convinced that Harrington had been
caught in the storm and had been buried under the snow, or was lost. Many
a time during that dreary period of uncertainty, I made up my mind that
if I ever got out of that place alive, I would abandon the plains and the
life of a trapper forever. I had nearly given up all hopes of leaving the
It was on the twenty-ninth day, while I was lying thus despondently
thinking and wondering, that I heard the cheerful sound of Harrington's
voice as he came slowly up the creek, yelling, "whoa! haw!" to his
cattle. A criminal on the scaffold, with the noose around his neck, the
trap about to be sprung, and receiving a pardon just at the last moment,
thus giving him a new lease of life, could not have been more grateful
than I was at that time. It was useless for me to try to force the door
open, as the snow had completely blockaded it, and I therefore anxiously
awaited Harrington's arrival.
"Hello! Billy!" he sang out in a loud voice as he came up, he evidently
being uncertain as to my being alive.
"All right, Dave," was my reply.
"Well, old boy, you're alive, are you?" said he.
"Yes; and that's about all. I've had a tough siege of it since you've
been away, and I came pretty nearly passing in my chips. I began to
think you never would get here, as I was afraid you had been snowed
under," said I.
He soon cleared away the snow from the entrance, and opening the door he
came in. I don't think there ever was a more welcome visitor than he was.
I remember that I was so glad to see him that I put my arms around his
neck and hugged him for five minutes; never shall I forget faithful Dave
"Well, Billy, my boy, I hardly expected to see you alive again," said
Harrington, as soon as I had given him an opportunity to draw his breath;
"I had a terrible trip of it, and I didn't think I ever would get
through. I was caught in the snow-storm, and was laid up for three days.
The cattle wandered away, and I came within an ace of losing them
altogether. When I got started again the snow was so deep that it
prevented me from making much headway. But as I had left you here I was
bound to come through, or die in the attempt."
Again I flung my arms around Dave's neck and gave him a hug that would
have done honor to a grizzly bear. My gratitude was thus much more
forcibly expressed than it could have been by words. Harrington
understood this, and seemed to appreciate it. The tears of joy rolled
down my cheeks, and it was impossible for me to restrain them. When my
life had been threatened by the Indians I had not felt half so miserable
as when I lay in the dug-out thinking I was destined to die a slow death
by starvation and cold. The Indians would have made short work of it, and
would have given me little or no time to think of my fate.
I questioned Harrington as to his trip, and learned all the details. He
had passed through hardships which but few men could have endured. Noble
fellow, that he was. He had risked his own life to save mine.
After he had finished his story, every word of which I had listened to
with eager interest, I related to him my own experiences, in which he
became no less interested. He expressed great astonishment that the
Indians had not killed me, and he considered it one of the luckiest and
most remarkable escapes he had ever heard of. It amused me, however, to
see him get very angry when I told him that they had taken my gun and
pistol and had used up our provisions. "But never mind, Billy," said he,
"we can stand it till the snow goes off, which will not be long, and then
we will pull our wagon back to the settlements."
A few days afterwards Harrington gathered up our traps, and cleaned the
snow out of the wagon. Covering it with the sheet which we had used in
the dug-out, he made a comfortable bed inside, and helped me into it. We
had been quite successful in trapping, having caught three hundred
beavers and one hundred otters, the skins of which Harrington loaded on
the wagon. We then pulled out for the settlements, making good headway,
as the snow had nearly disappeared, having been blown or melted away, so
that we had no difficulty in finding a road. On the eighth day out we
came to a farmer's house, or ranch, on the Republican River, where we
stopped and rested for two days, and then went on to the ranch where
Harrington had obtained the yoke of cattle. We gave the owner of the team
twenty-five beaver skins, equal to $60, for the use of the cattle, and he
let us have them until we reached Junction City, sending his boy with us
to bring them back.
At Junction City we sold our wagon and furs and went with a government
mule train to Leavenworth--arriving there in March, 1860. I was just able
to get around on crutches when I got into Leavenworth, and it was several
months after that before I entirely recovered the use of my leg.
During the winter I had often talked to Harrington about my mother and
sisters, and had invited him to go home with me in the spring. I now
renewed the invitation, which he accepted, and accompanied me home. When
I related to mother my adventures and told her how Harrington had saved
my life, she thanked him again and again. I never saw a more grateful
woman than she was. She asked him to always make his home with us, as she
never could reward him sufficiently for what he had done for her darling
boy, as she called me. Harrington concluded to remain with us through the
summer and farm mother's land. But alas! the uncertainty of life. The
coming of death when least expected was strikingly illustrated in his
case. During the latter part of April he went to a nursery for some
trees, and while coming home late at night he caught a severe cold and
was taken seriously sick, with lung fever. Mother did everything in her
power for him. She could not have done more had he been her own son, but
notwithstanding her motherly care and attention, and the skill of a
physician from Leavenworth, he rapidly grew worse. It seemed hard,
indeed, to think that a great strong man like Harrington, who had braved
the storms, and endured the other hardships of the plains all winter
long, should, during the warm and beautiful days of spring, when
surrounded by friends and the comforts of a good home, be fatally
stricken down. But such was his fate. He died one week from the day on
which he was taken sick. We all mourned his loss as we would that of a
loved son or brother, as he was one of the truest, bravest, and best of
friends. Amid sorrow and tears we laid him away to rest in a picturesque
spot on Pilot Knob. His death cast a gloom over our household, and it was
a long time before it was entirely dispelled. I felt very lonely without
Harrington, and I soon wished for a change of scene again.
ADVENTURES ON THE OVERLAND ROAD.
As the warm days of summer approached I longed for the cool air of the
mountains; and to the mountains I determined to go. After engaging a man
to take care of the farm, I proceeded to Leavenworth and there met my old
wagon-master and friend, Lewis Simpson, who was fitting out a train at
Atchison and loading it with supplies for the Overland Stage Company, of
which Mr. Russell, my old employer, was one of the proprietors. Simpson
was going with this train to Fort Laramie and points further west.
"Come along with me, Billy," said he, "I'll give you a good lay-out. I
want you with me."
"I don't know that I would like to go as far west as that again,"
replied I, "but I do want to ride the pony express once more; there's
some life in that."
"Yes, that's so; but it will soon shake the life out of you," said he.
"However, if that's what you've got your mind set on, you had better come
to Atchison with me and see Mr. Russell, who I'm pretty certain, will
give you a situation."
I replied that I would do that. I then went home and informed mother of
my intention, and as her health was very poor I had great difficulty in
obtaining her consent. I finally convinced her that as I was of no use on
the farm, it would be better and more profitable for me to return to the
plains. So after giving her all the money I had earned by trapping, I
bade her good-bye and set out for Atchison.
I met Mr. Russell there and asked him for employment as a pony
express-rider; he gave me a letter to Mr. Slade, who was then the stage
agent for the division extending from Julesburg to Rocky Ridge. Slade
had his headquarters at Horseshoe Station, thirty-six miles west of
Fort Laramie and I made the trip thither in company with Simpson and
Almost the very first person I saw after dismounting from my horse was
Slade. I walked up to him and presented Mr. Russell's letter, which he
hastily opened and read. With a sweeping glance of his eye he took my
measure from head to foot, and then said:
"My boy, you are too young for a pony express-rider. It takes men for
"I rode two months last year on Bill Trotter's division, sir, and filled
the bill then; and I think I am better able to ride now," said I.
"What! are you the boy that was riding there, and was called the youngest
rider on the road?"
"I am the same boy," I replied, confident that everything was now all
right for me.
"I have heard of you before. You are a year or so older now, and I think
you can stand it. I'll give you a trial anyhow and if you weaken you can
come back to Horseshoe Station and tend stock."
That ended our first interview. The next day he assigned me to duty on
the road from Red Buttes on the North Platte, to the Three Crossings of
the Sweetwater--a distance of seventy-six miles--and I began riding at
once. It was a long piece of road, but I was equal to the undertaking;
and soon afterwards had an opportunity to exhibit my power of endurance
as a pony express rider.
One day when I galloped into Three Crossings, my home station, I found
that the rider who was expected to take the trip out on my arrival, had
got into a drunken row the night before and had been killed; and that
there was no one to fill his place. I did not hesitate for a moment to
undertake an extra ride of eighty-five miles to Rocky Ridge, and I
arrived at the latter place on time. I then turned back and rode to Red
Buttes, my starting place, accomplishing on the round trip a distance of
[Illustration: I IMMEDIATELY CHANGED HORSES]
Slade heard of this feat of mine, and one day as he was passing on a
coach he sang out to me, "My boy, you're a brick, and no mistake. That
was a good run you made when you rode your own and Miller's routes, and
I'll see that you get extra pay for it."
Slade, although rough at times and always a dangerous character--having
killed many a man--was always kind to me. During the two years that I
worked for him as pony express-rider and stage-driver, he never spoke an
angry word to me.
As I was leaving Horse Creek one day, a party of fifteen Indians "jumped
me" in a sand ravine about a mile west of the station. They fired at me
repeatedly, but missed their mark. I was mounted on a roan California
horse--the fleetest steed I had. Putting spurs and whip to him, and lying
flat on his back, I kept straight on for Sweetwater Bridge--eleven miles
distant--instead of trying to turn back to Horse Creek. The Indians came
on in hot pursuit, but my horse soon got away from them, and ran into the
station two miles ahead of them. The stock-tender had been killed there
that morning, and all the stock had been driven off by the Indians, and
as I was therefore unable to change horses, I continued on to Ploutz's
Station--twelve miles further--thus making twenty-four miles straight run
with one horse. I told the people at Ploutz's what had happened at
Sweetwater Bridge, and with a fresh horse went on and finished the trip
without any further adventure.
[Illustration: ATTACK ON STAGE COACH.]
About the middle of September the Indians became very troublesome on the
line of the stage road along the Sweetwater. Between Split Rock and Three
Crossings they robbed a stage, killed the driver and two passengers, and
badly wounded Lieut. Flowers, the assistant division agent. The
red-skinned thieves also drove off the stock from the different stations,
and were continually lying in wait for the passing stages and pony
express-riders, so that we had to take many desperate chances in running
The Indians had now become so bad and had stolen so much stock that it
was decided to stop the pony express for at least six weeks, and to run
the stages but occasionally during that period; in fact, it would have
been almost impossible to have run the enterprise much longer without
restocking the line.
While we were thus nearly all lying idle, a party was organized to go
out and search for stolen stock. This party was composed of
stage-drivers, express-riders, stock-tenders, and ranchmen--forty of them
altogether--and they were well-armed and well-mounted. They were mostly
men who had undergone all kinds of hardships and braved every danger, and
they were ready and anxious to "tackle" any number of Indians. Wild Bill
(who had been driving stage on the road and had recently come down to our
division) was elected captain of the company.
It was supposed that the stolen stock had been taken to the head of
Powder River and vicinity, and the party, of which I was a member,
started out for that section in high hopes of success.
Twenty miles out from Sweetwater Bridge, at the head of Horse Creek, we
found an Indian trail running north towards Powder River, and we could
see by the tracks that most of the horses had been recently shod and were
undoubtedly our stolen stage stock. Pushing rapidly forward, we followed
this trail to Powder River; thence down this stream to within about forty
miles of the spot where old Fort Reno now stands. Here the trail took a
more westerly course along the foot of the mountains, leading eventually
to Crazy Woman's Fork--a tributary of Powder River. At this point we
discovered that the party whom we were trailing had been joined by
another band of Indians, and, judging from the fresh appearance of the
trail, the united body could not have left this spot more than
twenty-four hours before.
Being aware that we were now in the heart of the hostile country and that
we might at any moment find more Indians than we had "lost," we advanced
with more caution than usual, and kept a sharp lookout. As we were
approaching Clear Creek, another tributary of Powder river, we discovered
Indians on the opposite side of the creek, some three miles distant; at
least we saw horses grazing, which was a sure sign that there were
The Indians thinking themselves in comparative safety--never before
having been followed so far into their own country by white men--had
neglected to put out any scouts. They had no idea that there were any
white men in that part of the country. We got the lay of their camp, and
then held a council to consider and mature a plan for capturing it. We
knew full well that the Indians would outnumber us at least three to one,
and perhaps more. Upon the advice and suggestion of Wild Bill, it was
finally decided that we should wait until it was nearly dark, and then,
after creeping as close to them as possible, make a dash through their
camp, open a general fire on them, and stampede the horses.
This plan, at the proper time, was most successfully executed. The dash
upon the enemy was a complete surprise to them. They were so overcome
with astonishment that they did not know what to make of it. We could not
have astonished them any more if we had dropped down into their camp from
the clouds. They did not recover from the surprise of this sudden charge
until after we had ridden pell-mell through their camp and got away with
our own horses as well as theirs. We at once circled the horses around
towards the south, and after getting them on the south side of Clear
Creek, some twenty of our men--just as the darkness was coming on--rode
back and gave the Indians a few parting shots. We then took up our line
of march for Sweetwater Bridge, where we arrived four days afterwards
with all of our own horses and about one hundred captured Indian ponies.
The expedition had proved a grand success, and the event was celebrated
in the usual manner--by a grand spree. The only store at Sweetwater
Bridge did a rushing business for several days. The returned
stock-hunters drank, and gambled and fought. The Indian ponies, which had
been distributed among the captors, passed from hand to hand at almost
every deal of the cards. There seemed to be no limit to the rioting, and
carousing; revelry reigned supreme. On the third day of the orgie, Slade,
who had heard the news, came up to the bridge and took a hand in the
"fun," as it was called. To add some variation and excitement to the
occasion, Slade got in to a quarrel with a stage-driver and shot him,
killing him almost instantly.
[Illustration: ALF. SLADE KILLING THE DRIVER.]
The "boys" became so elated as well as "elevated" over their success
against the Indians, that most of them were in favor of going back and
cleaning out the whole Indian race. One old driver especially, Dan Smith,
was eager to open a war on all the hostile nations, and had the drinking
been continued another week he certainly would have undertaken the job,
single-handed and alone. The spree finally came to an end; the men
sobered down and abandoned the idea of again invading the hostile
country. The recovered horses were replaced on the road, and the stages
and pony express were again running on time.
Slade, having taken a great fancy to me, said: "Billy, I want you to come
down to my headquarters, and I'll make you a sort of supernumerary rider,
and send you out only when it is necessary." I accepted the offer, and
went with him down to Horseshoe, where I had a comparatively easy time of
it. I had always been fond of hunting, and I now had a good opportunity
to gratify my ambition in that direction, as I had plenty of spare time
on my hands. In this connection I will relate one of my bear-hunting
adventures. One day, when I had nothing else to do, I saddled up an extra
pony express horse, and arming myself with a good rifle and pair of
revolvers, struck out for the foot hills of Laramie Peak for a bear-hunt.
Riding carelessly along, and breathing the cool and bracing autumn air
which came down from the mountains, I felt as only a man can feel who is
roaming over the prairies of the far West, well armed, and mounted on a
fleet and gallant steed. The perfect freedom which he enjoys is in itself
a refreshing stimulant to the mind as well as to the body. Such indeed
were my feelings on this beautiful day, as I rode up the valley of the
Horseshoe. Occasionally I scared up a flock of sage-hens or a
jack-rabbit. Antelopes and deer were almost always in sight in any
direction, but as they were not the kind of game I was after, on that
day, I passed them by, and kept on towards the higher mountains. The
further I rode the rougher and wilder became the country, and I knew that
I was approaching the haunts of the bear. I did not discover any,
however, although I saw plenty of tracks in the snow.
About two o'clock in the afternoon, my horse having become tired, and
myself being rather weary, I shot a sage-hen, and dismounting, I
unsaddled my horse and tied him to a small tree, where he could easily
feed on the mountain grass. I then built a little fire, and broiling the
chicken and seasoning it with salt and pepper, which I had obtained from
my saddle-bags, I soon sat down to a "genuine square meal," which I
After resting for a couple of hours, I remounted and resumed my upward
trip to the mountains, having made up my mind to camp out that night
rather than go back without a bear, which my friends knew I had gone out
for. As the days were growing short, night soon came on, and I looked
around for a suitable camping place. While thus engaged, I scared up a
flock of sage-hens, two of which I shot, intending to have one for supper
and the other for breakfast.
By this time it was becoming quite dark, and I rode down to one of the
little mountain streams, where I found an open place in the timber
suitable for a camp. I dismounted, and after unsaddling my horse and
hitching him to a tree, I prepared to start a fire. Just then I was
startled by hearing a horse whinnying further up the stream. It was
quite a surprise to me, and I immediately ran to my animal to keep him
from answering, as horses usually do in such cases. I thought that the
strange horse might belong to some roaming band of Indians, as I knew of
no white men being in that portion of the country at that time. I was
certain that the owner of the strange horse could not be far distant,
and I was very anxious to find out who my neighbor was, before letting
him know that I was in his vicinity. I therefore re-saddled my horse,
and leaving him tied so that I could easily reach him I took my gun and
started out on a scouting expedition up the stream. I had gone about
four hundred yards when, in a bend of the stream, I discovered ten or
fifteen horses grazing.
On the opposite side of the creek a light was shining high up the
mountain bank. Approaching the mysterious spot as cautiously as possible,
and when within a few yards of the light--which I discovered came from a
dug-out in the mountain side--I heard voices, and soon I was able
distinguish the words, as they proved to be in my own language. Then I
knew that the occupants of the dug-out, whence the voices proceeded, were
white men. Thinking that they might be a party of trappers, I boldly
walked up to the door and knocked for admission. The voices instantly
ceased, and for a moment a deathlike silence reigned inside. Then there
seemed to follow a kind of hurried whispering--a sort of
consultation--and then some one called out: "Who's there?"
"A friend and a white man," I replied.
The door opened, and a big, ugly-looking fellow stepped, forth and said:
I accepted the invitation with some degree of fear and hesitation, which
I endeavored to conceal, as I saw that it was too late to back out, and
that it would never do to weaken at that point, whether they were friends
or foes. Upon entering the dug-out my eyes fell upon eight as rough and
villainous looking men as I ever saw in my life. Two of them I instantly
recognized as teamsters who had been driving in Lew Simpson's train, a
few months before, and had been discharged.
They were charged with the murdering and robbing of a ranchman; and
having stolen his horses it was supposed that they had left the country.
I gave them no signs of recognition however, deeming it advisable to let
them remain in ignorance as to who I was. It was a hard crowd, and I
concluded that the sooner I could get away from them the better it would
be for me. I felt confident that they were a band of horse-thieves.
"Where are you going, young man; and who's with you?" asked one of the
men who appeared to be the leader of the gang.
"I am entirely alone. I left Horseshoe station this morning for a bear
hunt, and not finding any bears, I had determined to camp out for the
night and wait till morning," said I; "and just as I was going into camp,
a few hundred yards down the creek, I heard one of your horses whinnying,
and then I came up to your camp."
[Illustration: THE HORSE THIEVES' DEN.]
I was thus explicit in my statement in order, if possible to satisfy the
cut-throats that I was not spying upon them, but that my intrusion was
"Where's your horse?" demanded the boss thief.
"I left him down the creek," I answered.
They proposed going after the horse, but I thought that that would never
do, as it would leave me without any means of escape, and I accordingly
said, in hopes to throw them off the track, "Captain, I'll leave my gun
here and go down and get my horse, and come back and stay all night."
I said this in as cheerful and as careless a manner as possible, so as
not to arouse their suspicions in any way, or lead them to think that I
was aware of their true character. I hated to part with my gun, but my
suggestion of leaving it was a part of the plan of escape which I had
arranged. If they have the gun, thought I, they would surely believe that
I intended to come back. But this little game did not work at all, as one
of the desperadoes spoke up and said:
"Jim and I will go down with you after your horse, and you can leave your
gun here all the same, as you'll not need it."
"All right," I replied, for I could certainly have said nothing else.
It became evident to me that it would be better to trust myself with
two men than with the whole party. It was apparent that from this time
on, I would have to be on the alert for some good opportunity to give
them the slip.
"Come along," said one of them, and together we went down the creek, and
soon came to the spot where my horse was tied. One of the men unhitched
the animal and said: "I'll lead the horse."
"Very well," said I, "I've got a couple of sage-hens here. Lead on."
I picked up the sage-hens, which I had killed a few hours before, and
followed the man who was leading the horse, while his companion brought
up the rear. The nearer we approached the dug-out the more I dreaded the
idea of going back among the villainous cut-throats.
My first plan of escape having failed, I now determined upon another.
[Illustration: MY ESCAPE FROM THE HORSE THIEVES.]
I had both of my revolvers with me, the thieves not having thought it
necessary to search me. It was now quite dark, and I purposely dropped
one of the sage-hens, and asked the man behind me to pick it up. While he
was hunting for it on the ground, I quickly pulled out one of my Colt's
revolvers and struck him a tremendous blow on the back of the head,
knocking him senseless to the ground. I then instantly wheeled around,
and saw that the man ahead who was only a few feet distant, had heard the
blow and had turned to see what was the matter, his hand upon his
revolver. We faced each other at about the same instant, but before he
could fire, as he tried to do, I shot him dead in his tracks. Then
jumping on my horse, I rode down the creek as fast as possible, through
the darkness and over the rough ground and rocks.
The other outlaws in the dug-out, having heard the shot which I had
fired, knew there was trouble, and they all came rushing down the creek.
I suppose, by the time they reached the man whom I had knocked down,
that he had recovered and hurriedly told them of what had happened. They
did not stay with the man whom I had shot, but came on in hot pursuit of
me. They were not mounted, and were making better time down the rough
canon than I was on horseback. From time to time I heard them gradually
gaining on me.
At last they had come so near that I saw that I must abandon my horse. So
I jumped to the ground, and gave him a hard slap with the butt of one of
my revolvers, which started him on down the valley, while I scrambled up
the mountain side. I had not ascended more than forty feet when I heard
my pursuers coming closer and closer; I quickly hid behind a large pine
tree, and in a few moments they all rushed by me, being led on by the
rattling footsteps of my horse, which they heard ahead of them. Soon I
heard them firing at random at the horse, as they no doubt supposed I was
still seated on his back. As soon as they had passed me I climbed further
up the steep mountain, and knowing that I had given them the slip, and
feeling certain that I could keep out of their way, I at once struck out
for Horseshoe station, which was twenty-five miles distant. I had hard
traveling at first, but upon reaching lower and better ground, I made
good headway, walking all night and getting into the station just before
daylight,--foot-sore, weary, and generally played out.
I immediately waked up the men of the station and told them of my
adventure. Slade himself happened to be there, and he at once organized
a party to go out and hunt up the horse-thieves. Shortly after daylight
twenty well-armed stage-drivers, stock-tenders and ranchmen were
galloping in the direction of the dug-out. Of course I went along with
the party, notwithstanding I was very tired and had had hardly any rest
at all. We had a brisk ride, and arrived in the immediate vicinity of
the thieve's rendezvous at about ten o'clock in the morning. We
approached the dug-out cautiously, but upon getting in close proximity
to it we could discover no horses in sight. We could see the door of the
dug-out standing wide open, and we then marched up to the place. No one
was inside, and the general appearance of everything indicated that the
place had been deserted--that the birds had flown. Such, indeed, proved
to be the case.
We found a new-made grave, where they had evidently buried the man whom I
had shot. We made a thorough search of the whole vicinity, and finally
found their trail going southeast in the direction of Denver. As it would
have been useless to follow them, we rode back to the station; and thus
ended my eventful bear-hunt. We had no more trouble for some time from
horse-thieves after that.
During the winter of 1860 and the spring of 1861 I remained at Horseshoe,
occasionally riding pony express and taking care of stock.
It was in the spring of 1861, while I was at Horseshoe, that the
eastern-bound coach came in one day loaded down with passengers and
baggage, and stopped for dinner; Horseshoe being a regular dinner
station as well as a home station. The passengers consisted of six
Englishmen, and they had been continually grumbling about the slow time
that was being made by the stages, saying that the farther they got East
the slower they went.
"These blarsted 'eathens don't know hanything habout staging, hany-'ow,"
remarked one of them.
"Blarst me bloody heyes! they cawn't stage in this country as we do in
Hingland, you know," said another.
Their remarks were overheard by Bob Scott, who was to drive the coach
from Horseshoe to Fort Laramie, and he determined to give them
satisfaction before they got over his route. Scott was known to be the
best reinsman and the most expert driver on the whole line of the road.
He was a very gentlemanly fellow in his general appearance and conduct,
but at times he would become a reckless dare-devil, and would take more
desperate chances than any other driver. He delighted in driving wild
teams on the darkest nights, over a mountain road, and had thus become
the hero of many a thrilling adventure.
It happened on this day he was to drive a team of six pony express
horses, which had been only partially broken in as a stage team. As the
stock-tenders were hitching them up, Bob, who was standing by, said,
"I'll show them Englishmen that we 'blarsted heathens' do know something
about staging in this country." We all knew from Bob's looks that
something was up.
It required several men to hitch up this frisky team, as a man had to
hold on to each one of the horses by the bits, while they were stringing
them out. The Englishmen came out from dinner, and were delighted to see
the horses prancing and pawing as if anxious to start.
"Ha! my deah fellah, now we will 'ave a fine ride this hafternoon," said
one of them.
"By Jove! those are the kind of 'orses they hought to 'ave on hall the
teams," remarked another.
"Are you the lad who is going to drive to-day?" asked another of Bob.
"Yes, gentlemen," answered Bob, "I'll show you how we stage it in
Bob mounted the box, gathered the lines, and pulling the horses strongly
by the bits, he sang out to the Englishmen, "All aboard!" Bob's companion
on the box was Capt. Cricket; a little fellow who was the messenger of
the coach. After everybody was seated, Bob told the stock-tenders to
"turn 'em loose."
We, who were standing around to see the stage start out, expected it
would go off at a lively rate. We were considerably surprised, therefore,
when, after the horses had made a few lively jumps, Bob put on the big
California brakes and brought them down to a walk. The road, for a
distance of four miles, gradually rose to the top of a hill, and all the
way up this ascent, Bob held the impatient team in check.
"Blarst your heyes, driver, why don't you let them go?" exclaimed one of
the passengers, who had all along been expecting a very brisk ride. Every
once in a while they would ask him some such question, but he paid no
attention to them. At last he reached the top of the hill, and then he
suddenly flung three of the lines on the left side of the team, and the
other three on the right side. He then began "playing the silk to
them,"--that is to say, he began to lash them unmercifully. The team
started off like a streak of lightning, so to speak, without a single
rein being held by the driver. Bob cried out to the Englishmen, saying,
"Hold on, gentlemen, and I'll give you a lively ride, and show you how
to stage it in the Rocky Mountains."
[Illustration: BOB SCOTT'S FAMOUS COACH RIDE.]
His next movement was to pull the lamps out of the sockets and throw them
at the leaders. The glass broke upon their backs and nearly set them
wild, but being so accustomed to running the road, they never once left
the track, and went flying on down the grade towards the next station,
eight miles distant, the coach bouncing over the loose stones and small
obstacles, and surging from side to side, as an eggshell would in the
rapids of Niagara. Not satisfied with the break-neck rate at which they
were traveling, Bob pulled out his revolver and fired in rapid
succession, at the same time yelling in a demoniacal manner.
By this time the Englishmen had become thoroughly frightened, as they saw
the lines flying wildly in every direction and the team running away.
They did not know whether to jump out or remain in the coach. Bob would
occasionally look down from his seat, and, seeing their frightened faces,
would ask, "Well, how do you like staging in this country now?" The
Englishmen stuck to the coach, probably thinking it would be better to do
so than to take the chances of breaking their necks by jumping.
As the flying team was nearing the station, the stock tender saw that
they were running away and that the driver had no control over them
whatever. Being aware that the pony express horses were accustomed to
running right into the stable on arriving at the station, he threw open
the large folding doors, which would just allow the passage of the team
and coach into the stable. The horses, sure enough, made for the open
doorway. Capt. Cricket, the messenger, and Scott got down in the boot of
the coach to save themselves from colliding with the top of the stable
door. The coach would probably have passed through into the stable
without any serious damage had it not been for the bar or threshold that
was stretched across the ground to fasten the doors to. This bar was a
small log, and the front wheels struck it with such force that the coach
was thrown up high enough to strike the upper portion of the door frame.
The top of the coach was completely torn off, and one of the passenger's
arms was broken. This was the only serious injury that was done; though
it was a matter of surprise to all, that any of the travelers escaped.
The coach was backed out, when the running gear was found to be as good
as ever. The top was soon patched up, a change of team was made, and Bob
Scott, mounting the box as if nothing had happened, took the reins in
hand, and shouted, "All aboard!" The Englishmen, however, had had enough
of Bob Scott, and not one of the party was willing to risk his life with
him again. They said that he was drunk, or crazy or both, and that they
would report him and have him discharged for what he had already done.
Bob waited a few minutes to give them an opportunity to take their seats
in the coach, but they told him most emphatically that he could drive on
without them, as they intended to wait there for the next stage. Their
traps were taken off, and Bob drove away without a single passenger. He
made his usual time into Fort Laramie, which was the end of his run. The
Englishmen came through on the next day's coach, and proceeded on to
Atchison, where they reported Bob to the superintendent of the line, who,
however, paid little or no attention to the matter, as Bob remained on
the road. Such is the story of the liveliest and most reckless piece of
stage-driving that ever occurred on the Overland stage road.
Having been away from home nearly a year, and having occasionally heard
of my mother's poor health, I determined to make her a visit; so
procuring a pass over the road, I went to Leavenworth, arriving there
about June 1st, 1861, going from there home. The civil war had broken
out, and excitement ran high in that part of the country. My mother, of
course, was a strong Union woman, and had such great confidence in the
government that she believed the war would not last over six months.
Leavenworth at that time was quite an important outfitting post for the
West and Southwest, and the fort there was garrisoned by a large number
of troops. While in the city one day I met several of the old, as well as
the young men, who had been members of the Free State party all through
the Kansas troubles, and who had, like our family, lost everything at the
hands of the Missourians. They now thought a good opportunity offered to
retaliate and get even with their persecutors, as they were all
considered to be secessionists. That they were all secessionists,
however, was not true, as all of them did not sympathize with the South.
But the Free State men, myself among them, took it for granted that as
Missouri was a slave state the inhabitants must all be secessionists, and
therefore our enemies. A man by the name of Chandler proposed that we
organize an independent company for the purpose of invading Missouri and
making war on its people on our own responsibility. He at once went about
it in a very quiet way, and succeeded in inducing twenty-five men to join
him in the hazardous enterprise. Having a longing and revengeful desire
to retaliate upon the Missourians for the brutal manner in which they had
treated and robbed my family, I became a member of Chandler's company.
His plan was that we should leave our homes in parties of not more than
two or three together, and meet at a certain point near Westport,
Missouri, on a fixed day. His instructions were carried out to the
letter, and we met at the rendezvous at the appointed time. Chandler had
been there some days before us, and, thoroughly disguised, had been
looking around the country for the whereabouts of all the best horses. He
directed us to secretly visit certain farms and collect all the horses
possible, and bring them together the next night. This we did, and upon
reassembling it was found that nearly every man had two horses. We
immediately struck out for the Kansas line, which we crossed at an Indian
ferry on the Kansas river, above Wyandotte, and as soon as we had set
foot upon Kansas soil we separated with the understanding; that we were
to meet one week from that day at Leavenworth.
[Illustration: NEARLY EVERY MAN HAD TWO HORSES.]
Some of the parties boldly took their confiscated horses into
Leavenworth, while others rode them to their homes. This action may look
to the reader like horse-stealing, and some people might not hesitate to
call it by that name; but Chandler plausibly maintained that we were only
getting back our own, or the equivalent, from the Missourians, and as the
government was waging war against the South, it was perfectly square and
honest, and we had a good right to do it. So we didn't let our
consciences trouble us very much.
We continued to make similar raids upon the Missourians off and on during
the summer, and occasionally we had running fights with them; none of the
skirmishes, however, amounting to much.
The government officials hearing of our operations, put detectives upon
our track, and several of the party were arrested. My mother, upon
learning that I was engaged in this business, told me it was neither
honorable nor right, and she would not for a moment countenance any such
proceedings. Consequently I abandoned the jay-hawking enterprise, for
such it really was.
About this time the government bought from Jones and Cartwright several
ox-trains, which were sent to Rolla, Missouri, all being put in charge of
my old and gallant friend, Wild Bill, who had just become the hero of the
day, on account of a terrible fight which he had had with a gang of
desperadoes and outlaws, who infested the border under the leadership of
the then notorious Jake McCandless. In this fight he had killed
McCandless and three of his men.
The affair occurred while Wild Bill was riding the pony express in
The custom with the express riders, when within half a mile of a
station, was either to begin shouting or blowing a horn in order to
notify the stock tender of his approach, and to have a fresh horse
already saddled for him on his arrival, so that he could go right on
without a moment's delay.
One day, as Wild Bill neared Rock Creek station, where he was to change
horses, he began shouting as usual at the proper distance; but the
stock-tender, who had been married only a short time and had his wife
living with him at the station, did not make his accustomed appearance.
Wild Bill galloped up and instead of finding the stock-tender ready for
him with a fresh horse, he discovered him lying across the stable door
with the blood oozing from a bullet-hole in his head. The man was dead,
and it was evident that he had been killed only a few moments before.
In a second Wild Bill jumped from his horse, and looking in the direction
of the house he saw a man coming towards him. The approaching man fired
on him at once, but missed his aim. Quick as lightning Wild Bill pulled
his revolver and returned the fire. The stranger fell dead, shot through
"Bill, Bill! Help! Help! save me!" Such was the cry that Bill now heard.
It was the shrill and pitiful voice of the dead stock-tender's wife, and
it came from a window of the house. She had heard the exchange of shots,
and knew that Wild Bill had arrived.
He dashed over the dead body of the villain whom he had killed, and just
as he sprang into the door of the house, he saw two powerful men
assaulting the woman. One of the desperadoes was in the act of striking
her with the butt end of a revolver, and while his arm was still raised,
Bill sent a ball crashing through his skull, killing him instantly. Two
other men now came rushing from an adjoining room, and Bill, seeing that
the odds were three to one against him, jumped into a corner, and then
firing, he killed another of the villains. Before he could shoot again
the remaining two men closed in upon him, one of whom had drawn a large
bowie knife. Bill wrenched the knife from his grasp and drove it through
the heart of the outlaw.
[Illustration: WILD BILL AND THE OUTLAWS.]
The fifth and last man now grabbed Bill by the throat, and held him at
arm's length, but it was only for a moment, as Bill raised his own
powerful right arm and struck his antagonist's left arm such a terrible
blow that he broke it. The disabled desperado, seeing that he was no
longer a match for Bill, jumped through the door, and mounting a horse he
succeeded in making his escape--being the sole survivor of the Jake
Wild Bill remained at the station with the terrified woman until the
stage came along, and he then consigned her to the care of the driver.
Mounting his horse he at once galloped off, and soon disappeared in the
distance, making up for lost time.
This was the exploit that was on everybody's tongue and in every
newspaper. It was one of the most remarkable and desperate hand to hand
encounters that has ever taken place on the border.
I happened to meet Wild Bill at Leavenworth as he was about to depart for
Rolla; he wished me to take charge of the government trains as a sort of
assistant under him, and I gladly accepted the offer. Arriving at Rolla,
we loaded the trains with freight and took them to Springfield, Missouri.
On our return to Rolla we heard a great deal of talk about the
approaching fall races at St. Louis, and Wild Bill having brought a fast
running horse from the mountains, determined to take him to that city and
match him against some of the high-flyers there; and down to St. Louis we
went with this running horse, placing our hopes very high on him.
Wild Bill had no difficulty in making up a race for him. All the money
that he and I had we put up on the mountain runner, and as we thought we
had a sure thing, we also bet the horse against $250. I rode the horse
myself, but nevertheless, our sure thing, like many another sure thing,
proved a total failure, and we came out of that race minus the horse and
every dollar we had in the world.
Before the race it had been "make or break" with us, and we got "broke."
We were "busted" in the largest city we had ever been in, and it is no
exaggeration to say that we felt mighty blue.
On the morning after the race we went to the military headquarters, where
Bill succeeded in securing an engagement for himself as a government
scout, but I being so young failed in obtaining similar employment. Wild
Bill, however, raised some money, by borrowing it from a friend, and then
buying me a steamboat ticket he sent me back to Leavenworth, while he
went to Springfield, which place he made his headquarters while scouting
in southeastern Missouri.
One night, after he had returned from a scouting expedition, he took a
hand in a game of poker, and in the course of the game he became involved
in a quarrel with Dave Tutt, a professional gambler, about a watch which
he had won from Tutt, who would not give it up.
Bill told him he had won it fairly, and that he proposed to have it;
furthermore, he declared his intention of carrying the watch across the
street next morning to military headquarters, at which place he had to
report at nine o'clock.
Tutt replied that he would himself carry the watch across the street at
nine o'clock, and no other man would do it.
Bill then said to Tutt that if he attempted anything of the kind, he
would kill him.
A challenge to a duel had virtually been given and accepted, and
everybody knew that the two men meant business. At nine o'clock the next
morning, Tutt started to cross the street. Wild Bill, who was standing on
the opposite side, told him to stop. At that moment Tutt, who was
carrying his revolver in his hand, fired at Bill but missed him. Bill
quickly pulled out his revolver and returned the fire, hitting Tutt
squarely in the forehead and killing him instantly.
Quite a number of Tutt's friends were standing in the vicinity, having
assembled to witness the duel, and Bill, as soon as Tutt fell to the
ground, turned to them and asked if any one of them wanted to take it up
for Tutt; if so, he would accommodate any of them then and there. But
none of them cared to stand in front of Wild Bill to be shot at by him.
Nothing of course was ever done to Bill for the killing of Tutt.
In the fall of 1861 I made a trip to Fort Larned, Kansas, carrying
military dispatches, and in the winter I accompanied George Long through
the country, and assisted him in buying horses for the government.
The next spring, 1862, an expedition against the Indians was organized,
consisting of a volunteer regiment, the Ninth Kansas, under Colonel
Clark. This expedition, which I had joined in the capacity of guide and
scout, proceeded to the Kiowa and Comanche country, on the Arkansas
river, along which stream we scouted all summer between Fort Lyon and
Fort Larned, on the old Santa Fe trail. We had several engagements with
the Indians, but they were of no great importance.
In the winter of 1862, I became one of the "Red Legged Scouts,"--a
company of scouts commanded by Captain Tuff. Among its members were some
of the most noted Kansas Rangers, such as Red Clark, the St. Clair
brothers, Jack Harvey, an old pony express-rider named Johnny Fry, and
many other well known frontiersmen. Our field of operations was confined
mostly to the Arkansas country and southwestern Missouri. We had many a
lively skirmish with the bushwhackers and Younger brothers, and when we
were not hunting them, we were generally employed in carrying dispatches
between Forts Dodge, Gibson, Leavenworth, and other posts. Whenever we
were in Leavenworth we had a very festive time. We usually attended all
the balls in full force, and "ran things" to suit ourselves. Thus I
passed the winter of 1862 and the spring of 1863.
Subsequently I engaged to conduct a small train to Denver for some
merchants, and on reaching that place in September, I received a letter
stating that my mother was not expected to live. I hastened home, and
found her dangerously ill. She grew gradually worse, and at last, on the
22d of November, 1863, she died. Thus passed away a loving and
affectionate mother and a noble, brave, good and loyal woman. That I
loved her above all other persons, no one who has read these
reminiscences can for a moment doubt.
Previous to this said event my sister Julia had been married to a
gentleman named J.A. Goodman, and they now came to reside at our
house and take charge of the children, as my mother had desired that
they should not be separated. Mr. Goodman became the guardian of the
I soon left the home now rendered gloomy by the absence of her whom I had
so tenderly loved, and going to Leavenworth I entered upon a dissolute
and reckless life--to my shame be it said--and associated with gamblers,
drunkards, and bad characters generally. I continued my dissipation about
two months, and was becoming a very "hard case." About this time the
Seventh Kansas regiment, known as "Jennison's Jay-hawkers," returned from
the war, and re-enlisted and re-organized as veterans. Among them I met
quite a number of my old comrades and neighbors, who tried to induce me
to enlist and go south with them. I had no idea of doing anything of the
kind; but one day, after having been under the influence of bad whisky, I
awoke to find myself a soldier in the Seventh Kansas. I did not remember
how or when I had enlisted, but I saw I was in for it, and that it would
not do for me to endeavor to back out.
In the spring of 1864 the regiment was ordered to Tennessee, and we got
into Memphis just about the time that General Sturgis was so badly
whipped by General Forrest. General A. J. Smith re-organized the army to
operate against Forrest, and after marching to Tupalo, Mississippi, we
had an engagement with him and defeated him. This kind of fighting was
all new to me, being entirely different from any in which I had ever
before engaged. I soon became a non-commissioned officer, and was put on
detached service as a scout.
After skirmishing around the country with the rest of the army for some
little time, our regiment returned to Memphis, but was immediately
ordered to Cape Girardeau, in Missouri, as a confederate force under
General Price was then raiding that state. The command of which my
regiment was a part hurried to the front to intercept Price, and our
first fight with him occurred at Pilot Knob. From that time for nearly
six weeks we fought or skirmished every day.
I was still acting as a scout, when one day I rode ahead of the command,
some considerable distance, to pick up all possible information
concerning Price's movements. I was dressed in gray clothes, or Missouri
jeans, and on riding up to a farm-house and entering, I saw a man, also
dressed in gray costume, sitting at a table eating bread and milk. He
looked up as I entered, and startled me by saying:
"You little rascal, what are you doing in those 'secesh' clothes?" Judge
of my surprise when I recognized in the stranger my old friend and
partner, Wild Bill, disguised as a Confederate officer.
"I ask you the same question, sir," said I without the least hesitation.
"Hush! sit down and have some bread and milk, and we'll talk it all over
afterwards," said he.
I accepted the invitation and partook of the refreshments. Wild Bill
paid the woman of the house, and we went out to the gate where my horse
"Billy, my boy," said he, "I am mighty glad to see you. I haven't seen or
heard of you since we got busted on that St. Louis' horse-race."
"What are you doing out here?" I asked.
"I am a scout under General McNiel. For the last few days I have been
with General Marmaduke's division of Price's army, in disguise as a
southern officer from Texas, as you see me now," said he.
"That's exactly the kind of business that I am out on to-day," said I;
"and I want to get some information concerning Price's movements."
"I'll give you all that I have;" and he then went on and told me all that
he knew regarding Price's intentions, and the number and condition of his
men. He then asked about my mother, and when he learned that she was dead
he was greatly surprised and grieved; he thought a great deal of her, for
she had treated him almost as one of her own children. He finally took
out a package, which he had concealed about his person, and handing it to
me he said:
"Here are some letters which I want you to give to General McNiel."
"All right," said I as I took them, "but where will I meet you again?"
"Never mind that," he replied; "I am getting so much valuable information
that I propose to stay a little while longer in this disguise." Thereupon
we shook hands and parted.
It is not necessary to say much concerning Price's raid in general, as
that event is a matter of recorded history. I am only relating the
incidents in which I was personally interested either as one of the
actors or as an observer.
Another interesting and I may say exciting episode happened to me a day
or two after my unexpected meeting with Wild Bill. I was riding with the
advance guard of our army, and wishing a drink of water, I stopped at a
farmhouse. There were no men about the premises, and no one excepting a
very fine and intellectual looking lady and her two daughters. They
seemed to be almost frightened to death at seeing me--a "yank"--appear
before them. I quieted their fears somewhat, and the mother then asked me
how far back the army was. When I told her it would be along shortly, she
expressed her fears that they would take everything on the premises. They
set me out a lunch and treated me rather kindly, so that I really began
to sympathize with them; for I knew that the soldiers would ransack their
house and confiscate everything they could lay their hands on. At last I
resolved to do what I could to protect them. After the generals and the
staff officers had passed by, I took it upon myself to be a sentry over
the house. When the command came along some of the men rushed up with the
intention of entering the place and carrying off all the desirable
plunder possible, and then tearing and breaking everything to pieces, as
they usually did along the line of march.
"Halt!" I shouted; "I have been placed here by the commanding officer as
a guard over this house, and no man must enter it."
This stopped the first squad; and seeing that my plan was a success, I
remained at my post during the passage of the entire command and kept out
It seemed as if the ladies could not thank me sufficiently for the
protection I had afforded them. They were perfectly aware of the fact
that I had acted without orders and entirely on my own responsibility,
and therefore they felt the more grateful. They urgently invited me to
remain a little while longer and partake of an excellent dinner which
they said they were preparing for me. I was pretty hungry about that
time, as our rations had been rather slim of late, and a good dinner was
a temptation I could not withstand, especially as it was to be served up
by such elegant ladies. While I was eating the meal, I was most agreeably
entertained by the young ladies, and before I had finished it the last of
the rear-guard must have been at least two miles from the house.
Suddenly three men entered the room, and I looked up and saw three
double-barreled shot-guns leveled straight at me. Before I could speak,
however, the mother and her daughters sprang between the men and me.
"Father! Boys! Lower your guns! You must not shoot this man," and similar
exclamations, were the cry of all three.
The guns were lowered, and then the men, who were the father and
brothers of the young ladies, were informed of what I had done for them.
It appeared that they had been concealed in the woods near by while the
army was passing, and on coming into the house and finding a Yankee
there, they determined to shoot him. Upon learning the facts, the old man
extended his hand to me, saying:
"I would not harm a hair of your head for the world; but it is best that
you stay here no longer, as your command is some distance from here now,
and you might be cut off by bushwhackers before reaching it."
Bidding them all good-bye, and with many thanks from the mother and
daughters, I mounted my horse and soon overtook the column, happy in the
thought that I had done a good deed, and with no regrets that I had saved
from pillage and destruction the home and property of a confederate and
Our command kept crowding against Price and his army until they were
pushed into the vicinity of Kansas City, where their further advance was
checked by United States troops from Kansas; and then was begun their
memorable and extraordinary retreat back into Kansas.
While both armies were drawn up in skirmish line near Fort Scott, Kansas,
two men on horseback were seen rapidly leaving the Confederate lines, and
suddenly they made a dash towards us. Instantly quick volleys were
discharged from the Confederates, who also began a pursuit, and some five
hundred shots were fired at the flying men. It was evident that they were
trying to reach our lines, but when within about a quarter of a mile of
us, one of them fell from his horse to rise no more. He had been fatally
shot. His companion galloped on unhurt, and seven companies of our
regiment charged out and met him, and checked his pursuers. The fugitive
was dressed in Confederate uniform, and as he rode into our lines I
recognized him as Wild Bill, the Union scout. He immediately sought
Generals Pleasanton and McNiel, with whom he held a consultation. He told
them that although Price made a bold showing on the front, by bringing
all his men into view, yet he was really a great deal weaker than the
appearance of his lines would indicate; and that he was then trying to
cross a difficult stream four miles from Fort Scott.
It was late in the afternoon, but General Pleasanton immediately ordered
an advance, and we charged in full force upon the rear of Price's army,
and drove it before us for two hours.
If Wild Bill could have made his successful dash into our lines earlier
in the day, the attack would have been made sooner, and greater results
might have been expected. The Confederates had suspected him of being a
spy for two or three days, and had watched him too closely to allow an
opportunity to get away from them sooner. His unfortunate companion who
had been shot, was a scout from Springfield, Missouri, whose name I
cannot now remember.
From this time on, Wild Bill and myself continued to scout together until
Price's army was driven south of the Arkansas River and the pursuit
abandoned. We then returned to Springfield, Missouri, for a rest and for
supplies, and Wild Bill and myself spent two weeks there in "having a
jolly good time," as some people would express it.
It was during the winter of 1864-65, while I was on detached service at
military headquarters, at St. Louis, that I became acquainted with a
young lady named Louisa Frederici, whom I greatly admired and in whose
charming society I spent many a pleasant hour. The war closing in
1865, I was discharged, and after a brief visit at Leavenworth I
returned to St. Louis, having made up my mind to capture the heart of
Miss Frederici, whom I now adored above any other young lady I had ever
seen. Her lovely face, her gentle disposition and her graceful manners
won my admiration and love; and I was not slow in declaring my
sentiments to her. The result was that I obtained her consent to marry
me in the near future, and when I bade her good-bye I considered myself
one of the happiest of men.
Meantime I drove a string of horses from Leavenworth to Fort Kearney,
where I met my old friend Bill Trotter, who was then division stage
agent. He employed me at once to drive stage between Kearney and Plum
Creek, the road running near the spot where I had my first Indian fight
with the McCarthy brothers, and where I killed my first Indian, nearly
nine years before. I drove stage over this route until February, 1866,
and while bounding over the cold, dreary road day after day, my thoughts
turned continually towards my promised bride, until I at last determined
to abandon staging forever, and marry and settle down. Immediately after
coming to this conclusion, I went to St. Louis, where I was most
cordially received by my sweetheart; it was arranged between us that our
wedding should take place on the 6th day of March, following.
At last the day arrived, and the wedding ceremony was performed at the
residence of the bride's parents, in the presence of a large number of
invited friends, whose hearty congratulations we received. I was
certainly to be congratulated, for I had become possessed of a lovely
and noble woman, and as I gazed upon her as she stood beside me arrayed
in her wedding costume, I indeed felt proud of her; and from that time
to this I have always thought that I made a most fortunate choice for a
An hour after the ceremony we--my bride and myself--were on board of a
Missouri river steamboat, bound for our new home in Kansas. My wife's
parents had accompanied us to the boat, and had bidden us a fond farewell
and a God-speed on our journey.
During the trip up the river several very amusing, yet awkward
incidents occurred, some of which I cannot resist relating. There
happened to be on board the boat an excursion party from Lexington,
Missouri, and those comprising it seemed to shun me, for some reason
which I could not then account for. They would point at me, and quietly
talk among themselves, and eye me very closely. Their actions seemed
very strange to me. After the boat had proceeded some little distance,
I made the acquaintance of several families from Indiana, who were _en
route_ to Kansas. A gentleman, who seemed to be the leader of these
colonists, said to me, "The people of this excursion party don't seem
to have any great love for you."
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