Frank McCarthy immediately reported to the commanding officer and informed him of all that had happened. The commandant at once ordered a company of cavalry and one of infantry to proceed to Plum Creek on a forced march—taking a howitzer with them—to endeavor to recapture the cattle from the Indians.
The firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell had a division agent at Kearney, and this agent mounted us on mules so that we could accompany the troops. On reaching the place where the Indians had surprised us, we found the bodies of the three men whom they had killed and scalped, and literally cut into pieces. We of course buried the remains. We caught but few of the cattle; the most of them having been driven off and stampeded with the buffaloes, there being numerous immense herds of the latter in that section of the country at that time. The Indian's trail was discovered running south towards the Republican river, and the troops followed it to the head of Plum Creek, and there abandoned it, returning to Fort Kearney without having seen a single red-skin.
The company's agent, seeing that there was no further use for us in that vicinity—as we had lost our cattle and mules—sent us back to Fort Leavenworth. The company, it is proper to state, did not have to stand the loss of the expedition, as the government held itself responsible for such depredations by the Indians.
On the day that I got into Leavenworth, sometime in July, I was interviewed for the first time in my life by a newspaper reporter, and the next morning I found my name in print as "the youngest Indian slayer on the plains." I am candid enough to admit that I felt very much elated over this notoriety. Again and again I read with eager interest the long and sensational account of our adventure. My exploit was related in a very graphic manner, and for a long time afterwards I was considerable of a hero. The reporter who had thus set me up, as I then thought, on the highest pinnacle of fame, was John Hutchinson, and I felt very grateful to him. He now lives in Wichita, Kansas.
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 emergency.
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 hair-breadth escapes.
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.
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 Rock 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."
* * * * *
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 leader.
"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 you, anyhow?"
"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 States troops."
"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 our train.
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 from starvation.
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.
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 non-arrival.
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.
"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.
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 AND 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 of beavers.
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.
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 hours 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 dug-out alive.
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 Harrington.
"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 his train.
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 that business."
"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 322 miles.
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.
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 gauntlet.
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 Indians there.
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.
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 greatly relished.
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."
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 entirely accidental.
"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.
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 thieves' 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 this country."
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."
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.
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 western Kansas.
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 the brain.
"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.
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 McCandless gang.
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.