The Life of Hon. William F. Cody
William F. Cody
Part 6 out of 6
At daylight next morning we reported on board the steamer to General
Mills, who had with him four or five companies of his regiment. We were
somewhat surprised when he asked us where our horses were, as we had not
supposed that horses would be needed if the scouting was to be done on
the steamer. He said we might need them before we got back, and thereupon
we had the animals brought on board. In a few minutes we were booming
down the river, at the rate of about twenty miles an hour.
The steamer Far West was commanded by Captain Grant Marsh, whom I found
to be a "brick." I had often heard of him, for he was and is yet one of
the best known river captains in the country. He it was who, with his
steamer the Far West, transported the wounded men from the battle of the
Little Big Horn to Fort Abraham Lincoln on the Missouri river, and on
that trip he made the fastest steamboat time on record. He was a skillful
and experienced pilot, handling his boat with remarkable dexterity.
While Richard and myself were at our stations on the pilot house, the
steamer with a full head of steam went flying past islands, around bends,
over sand bars, at a rate that was exhilarating. Presently I thought I
could see horses grazing in a distant bend of the river and I reported
the fact to General Mills, who asked Captain Marsh if he could land the
boat near a large tree which he pointed out to him.
[Illustration: SCOUTING ON A STEAMBOAT.]
"Yes, sir; I can land her there, and make her climb the tree if
necessary," said he.
On reaching the spot designated, General Mills ordered two companies
ashore, while Richard and myself were ordered to take our horses off
the boat and push out as rapidly as possible to see if there were
Indians in the vicinity. While we were getting ashore, Captain Marsh
remarked that if there was only a good heavy dew on the grass he would
shoot the steamer ashore and take us on the scout without the trouble
of leaving the boat.
It was a false alarm, however, as the objects we had seen proved to be
Indian graves. Quite a large number of braves who had probably been
killed in some battle, had been buried on scaffolds, according to the
Indian custom, and some of their clothing had been torn loose from the
bodies by the wolves and was waving in the air.
On arriving at Glendive Creek we found that Colonel Rice and his company
of the Fifth Infantry, who had been sent there by General Mills, had
built quite a good little fort with their trowel-bayonets--a weapon
which Colonel Rice was the inventor of, and which is, by the way, a very
useful implement of war, as it can be used for a shovel in throwing up
intrenchments and can be profitably utilized in several other ways. On
the day previous to our arrival, Colonel Rice had a fight with a party of
Indians, and had killed two or three of them at long range with his
The Far West was to remain at Glendive over night, and General Mills
wished to send dispatches back to General Terry at once. At his request I
took the dispatches and rode seventy-five miles that night through the
bad lands of the Yellowstone, and reached General Terry's camp next
morning, after having nearly broken my neck a dozen times or more.
There being but little prospect of any more fighting, I determined to go
East as soon as possible to organize a new "Dramatic Combination," and
have a new drama written for me, based upon the Sioux war. This I knew
would be a paying investment as the Sioux campaign had excited
considerable interest. So I started down the river on the steamer
Yellowstone _en route_ to Fort Beauford. On the same morning Generals
Terry and Crook pulled out for Powder river, to take up the old Indian
trail which we had recently left.
The steamer had proceeded down the stream about twenty miles when it was
met by another boat on its way up the river, having on board General
Whistler and some fresh troops for General Terry's command. Both boats
landed, and almost the first person I met was my old friend and partner,
Texas Jack, who had been sent out as a dispatch carrier for the _New
General Whistler, upon learning that General Terry had left the
Yellowstone, asked me to carry to him some important dispatches from
General Sheridan, and although I objected, he insisted upon my performing
this duty, saying that it would only detain me a few hours longer; as an
extra inducement he offered me the use of his own thorough-bred horse,
which was on the boat. I finally consented to go, and was soon speeding
over the rough and hilly country towards Powder river; and I delivered
the dispatches to General Terry that same evening. General Whistler's
horse, although a good animal, was not used to such hard riding, and was
far more exhausted by the journey than I was.
After I had taken a lunch, General Terry asked me if I would carry some
dispatches back to General Whistler, and I replied that I would. Captain
Smith, General Terry's aid-de-camp, offered me his horse for the trip,
and it proved to be an excellent animal; for I rode him that same night
forty miles over the bad lands in four hours, and reached General
Whistler's steamboat at one o'clock. During my absence the Indians had
made their appearance on the different hills in the vicinity, and the
troops from the boat had had several skirmishes with them. When General
Whistler had finished reading the dispatches, he said:
"Cody, I want to send information to General Terry concerning the Indians
who have been skirmishing around here all day. I have been trying all the
evening long to induce some one to carry my dispatches to him, but no one
seems willing to undertake the trip, and I have got to fall back on you.
It is asking a great deal, I know, as you have just ridden eighty miles;
but it is a case of necessity, and if you'll go, Cody, I'll see that you
are well paid for it."
"Never mind about the pay," said I, "but get your dispatches ready, and
I'll start at once."
In a few minutes he handed me the package, and mounting the same horse
which I had ridden from General Terry's camp, I struck out for my
destination. It was two o'clock in the morning when I left the boat, and
at eight o'clock I rode into General Terry's camp, just as he was about
to march--having made one hundred and twenty miles in twenty-two hours.
General Terry, after reading the dispatches, halted his command, and then
rode on and overtook General Crook, with whom he held a council; the
result was that Crook's command moved on in the direction which they had
been pursuing, while Terry's forces marched back to the Yellowstone and
crossed the river on steamboats. At the urgent request of General Terry I
accompanied the command on a scout in the direction of the Dry Fork of
the Missouri, where it was expected we would strike some Indians.
The first march out from the Yellowstone was made in the night, as we
wished to get into the hills without being discovered by the Sioux
scouts. After marching three days, a little to the east of north, we
reached the buffalo range, and discovered fresh signs of Indians, who had
evidently been killing buffaloes. General Terry now called on me to carry
dispatches to Colonel Rice, who was still camped at the mouth of Glendive
Creek, on the Yellowstone--distant about eighty miles from us.
Night had set in with a storm, and a drizzling rain was falling when, at
ten o'clock, I started on this ride through a section of country with
which I was entirely unacquainted. I traveled through the darkness a
distance of about thirty-five miles, and at daylight I rode into a
secluded spot at the head of a ravine where stood a bunch of ash trees,
and there I concluded to remain till night; for I considered it a
dangerous undertaking to cross the wide prairies in broad
daylight--especially as my horse was a poor one.
[Illustration: CLOSE QUARTERS]
I accordingly unsaddled my animal, and ate a hearty breakfast of bacon
and hard tack which I had stored in the saddle-pockets; then, after
taking a smoke, I lay down to sleep, with my saddle for a pillow. In a
few minutes I was in the land of dreams.
After sleeping some time--I can't tell how long--I was suddenly awakened
by a roaring, rumbling sound. I instantly seized my gun, sprang to my
horse, and hurriedly secreted him in the brush. Then I climbed up the
steep side of the bank and cautiously looked over the summit; in the
distance I saw a large herd of buffaloes which were being chased and
fired at by twenty or thirty Indians. Occasionally a buffalo would drop
out of the herd, but the Indians kept on until they had killed ten or
fifteen. They then turned back, and began to cut up their game.
I saddled my horse and tied him to a small tree where I could reach him
conveniently in case the Indians should discover me by finding my trail
and following it. I then crawled carefully back to the summit of the
bluff, and in a concealed position watched the Indians for two hours,
during which time they were occupied in cutting up the buffaloes and
packing the meat on their ponies. When they had finished this work they
rode off in the direction whence they had come and on the line which I
had proposed to travel. It appeared evident to me that their camp was
located somewhere between me and Glendive Creek, but I had no idea of
abandoning the trip on that account.
I waited till nightfall before resuming my journey, and then I bore off
to the east for several miles, and by making a semi-circle to avoid the
Indians, I got back on my original course, and then pushed on rapidly to
Colonel Rice's camp, which I reached just at daylight.
Colonel Rice had been fighting Indians almost every day since he had been
encamped at this point, and he was very anxious to notify General Terry
of the fact. Of course I was requested to carry his dispatches. After
remaining at Glendive a single day I started back to find General Terry,
and on the third day out I overhauled him at the head of Deer Creek while
on his way to Colonel Rice's camp. He was not, however, going in the
right direction, but bearing too far to the east, and I so informed him.
He then asked me to guide the command and I did so.
On arriving at Glendive I bade good-bye to the General and his officers
and took passage on the steamer Far West, which was on her way down the
Missouri. At Bismarck I left the steamer, and proceeded by rail to
Rochester, New York, where I met my family.
Mr. J. Clinton Hall, manager of the Rochester Opera House, was very
anxious to have me play an engagement at his theatre. I agreed to open
the season with him as soon as I had got my drama written; and I did so,
meeting with an enthusiastic reception.
My new drama was arranged for the stage by J.V. Arlington, the actor. It
was a five-act play, without head or tail, and it made no difference at
which act we commenced the performance. Before we had finished the season
several newspaper critics, I have been told, went crazy in trying to
follow the plot. It afforded us, however, ample opportunity to give a
noisy, rattling, gunpowder entertainment, and to present a succession of
scenes in the late Indian war, all of which seemed to give general
From Rochester I went to New York and played a very successful
engagement at the Grand Opera House under the management of Messrs.
Poole and Donnelly. Thence my route took me to all the principal cities
in the Eastern, Western and Middle States, and I everywhere met with
crowded houses. I then went to the Pacific Coast, against the advice of
friends who gave it as their opinion that my style of plays would not
take very well in California. I opened for an engagement of two weeks at
the Bush Street Theatre, in San Francisco, at a season when the
theatrical business was dull, and Ben DeBar and the Lingards were
playing there to empty seats. I expected to play to a slim audience on
the opening night, but instead of that I had a fourteen hundred dollar
house. Such was my success that I continued my engagement for five
weeks, and the theatre was crowded at every performance. Upon leaving
San Francisco I made a circuit of the interior towns and closed the
season at Virginia City, Nevada.
On my way East, I met my family at Denver, where they were visiting my
sisters Nellie and May who were then residing there.
Some time previously I had made arrangements to go into the cattle
business in company with my old friend, Major Frank North, and while I
was in California he had built our ranches on the South Fork of the
Dismal river, sixty-five miles north of North Platte, in Nebraska.
Proceeding to Ogalalla, the headquarters of the Texas cattle drovers, I
found Major North there awaiting me, and together we bought, branded and
drove to our ranches, our first installment of cattle. This occupied us
during the remainder of the summer.
Leaving the cattle in charge of Major North, I visited Red Cloud Agency
early in the fall, and secured some Sioux Indians to accompany me on my
theatrical tour of 1877-78. Taking my family and the Indians with me, I
went directly to Rochester. There I left my oldest daughter, Arta, at a
young ladies' seminary, while my wife and youngest child traveled with me
during the season.
I opened at the Bowery Theatre, New York, September 3d, 1877, with a new
Border Drama entitled, "May Cody, or Lost and Won," from the pen of Major
A.S. Burt, of the United States army. It was founded on the incidents of
the "Mountain Meadow Massacre," and life among the Mormons. It was the
best drama I had yet produced, and proved a grand success both
financially and artistically. The season of 1877-78 proved to be the most
profitable one I had ever had.
In February, 1878, my wife became tired of traveling, and proceeded to
North Platte, Nebraska, where, on our farm adjoining the town, she
personally superintended the erection of a comfortable family
residence, and had it all completed when I reached there, early in May.
In this house we are now living, and we hope to make it our home for
many years to come.
After my arrival at North Platte, I found that the ranchmen or
cattle-men, had organized a regular annual "round-up," to take place in
the spring of the year.
The word "round-up" is derived from the fact that during the winter
months the cattle become scattered over a vast tract of land, and the
ranchmen assemble together in the spring to sort out and each secure his
own stock. They form a large circle, often of a circumference of two
hundred miles, and drive the cattle towards a common centre, where, all
the stock being branded, each owner can readily separate his own from the
general herd, and then he drives them to his own ranch.
In this cattle driving business is exhibited some most magnificent
horsemanship, for the "cow-boys," as they are called, are invariably
skillful and fearless horsemen--in fact only a most expert rider could be
a cow-boy, as it requires the greatest dexterity and daring in the saddle
to cut a wild steer out of the herd.
Major North was awaiting me, upon my arrival at North Platte, having with
him our own horses and men. Other cattle owners, such as Keith and
Barton, Coe and Carter, Jack Pratt, the Walker Brothers, Guy and Sim
Lang, Arnold and Ritchie and a great many others with their outfits, were
assembled and were ready to start on the round-up.
My old friend Dave Perry, who had presented Buckskin Joe to me, and who
resided at North Platte, was most anxious to go with us for pleasure, and
Frank North told him he could, and have plenty of fun, provided he would
furnish his own horses, provisions and bedding, and do the usual work
required of a cow-boy. This, Dave was willing to undertake. We found him
to be a good fellow in camp, and excellent company.
As there is nothing but hard work on these round-ups, having to be in the
saddle all day, and standing guard over the cattle at night, rain or
shine, I could not possibly find out where the fun came in, that North
had promised me. But it was an exciting life, and the days sped rapidly
by; in six weeks we found ourselves at our own ranch on Dismal river, the
round-up having proved a great success, as we had found all our cattle
and driven them home.
This work being over, I proposed to spend a few weeks with my family at
North Platte, for the purpose of making their better acquaintance, for my
long and continued absence from home made me a comparative stranger under
my own roof-tree. One great source of pleasure to me was that my wife was
delighted with the home I had given her amid the prairies of the far
west. Soon after my arrival, my sisters Nellie and May, came to make us a
visit, and a delightful time we all had during their stay. When they left
us, I accompanied them to their home in Denver, Colorado, where I passed
several days visiting old friends and scenes.
Returning to Ogallala I purchased from Bill Phant, an extensive cattle
drover from Texas, a herd of cattle, which I drove to my ranch on the
Dismal river, after which I bade my partner and the boys good-bye, and
started for the Indian Territory to procure Indians for my Dramatic
Combination for the season of 1878-79.
_En route_ to the Territory, I paid a long promised visit to my sisters,
Julia--Mrs. J.A. Goodman--and Eliza--Mrs. George M. Myers--who reside in
Kansas, the state which the reader will remember was my boyhood home.
Having secured my Indian actors, and along with them Mr. O. A. Burgess, a
government interpreter, and Ed. A. Burgess, known as the "Boy Chief of
the Pawnees," I started for Baltimore, where I organized my combination,
and which was the largest troupe I had yet had on the road; opening in
that city at the Opera House, under the management of Hon. John T. Ford,
and then started on a southern tour, playing in Washington, Richmond and
as far south as Savannah, Georgia, where we were brought to a sudden
halt, owing to the yellow fever which was then cruelly raging in the
beautiful cities of the "Land of the cotton and the cane."
[Illustration: ONE OF THE TROUPE.]
While playing in Washington, I suddenly learned from a
reporter--Washington newspaper men know everything--that my Indians were
to be seized by the Government and sent back to their agency. Finding
that there was foundation for the rumor, I at once sought General Carl
Shurz, Secretary of the Interior, and asked him if he intended depriving
me of my Indian actors. He said that he did, as the Indians were away
from their reservation without leave. I answered that I had had Indians
with me the year before and nothing had been said about it; but
Commissioner Haight replied that the Indians were the "wards of the
government," and were not allowed off of their reservation.
I told the Commissioner that the Indians were frequently off of their
reservations out west, as I had a distinct remembrance of meeting them
upon several occasions "on the war path," and furthermore I thought I was
benefitting the Indians as well as the government, by taking them all
over the United States, and giving them a correct idea of the customs,
life, etc., of the pale faces, so that when they returned to their people
they could make known all they had seen.
After a conversation with the Secretary of the Interior, the Commissioner
concluded to allow me to retain the Indians, by appointing me Indian
Agent, provided I would give the necessary bonds, and pledge myself to
return them in safety to their agency--which terms I agreed to.
From Savannah, Georgia, having changed my route on account of the yellow
fever, I jumped my entire company to Philadelphia, and at once continued
on a north-eastern tour, having arranged with the well-known author and
dramatist, Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, to write a play for me.
The drama entitled "The Knight of the Plains, or Buffalo Bill's Best
Trail," was first produced at New Haven, Conn.; it has proved a great
success, and I expect to play it in England, where I purpose to go next
season on a theatrical tour, having been urged to do so by my many
After a successful tour of six weeks on the Pacific Slope, thus ending
the season of 1878-79, I am at my home at North Platte, Nebraska, for the
summer; and thus ends the account of my career as far as it has gone.
Back to Full Books