Leaving the cattle in charge of Major North, I visited Red Cloud Agency early in the fall, and secured some Sioux Indians to accompany me on my theatrical tour of 1877-78. Taking my family and the Indians with me, I went directly to Rochester. There I left my oldest daughter, Arta, at a young ladies' seminary, while my wife and youngest child traveled with me during the season.
I opened at the Bowery Theatre, New York, September 3d, 1877, with a new Border Drama entitled, "May Cody, or Lost and Won," from the pen of Major A.S. Burt, of the United States army. It was founded on the incidents of the "Mountain Meadow Massacre," and life among the Mormons. It was the best drama I had yet produced, and proved a grand success both financially and artistically. The season of 1877-78 proved to be the most profitable one I had ever had.
In February, 1878, my wife became tired of traveling, and proceeded to North Platte, Nebraska, where, on our farm adjoining the town, she personally superintended the erection of a comfortable family residence, and had it all completed when I reached there, early in May. In this house we are now living, and we hope to make it our home for many years to come.
After my arrival at North Platte, I found that the ranchmen or cattle-men, had organized a regular annual "round-up," to take place in the spring of the year.
The word "round-up" is derived from the fact that during the winter months the cattle become scattered over a vast tract of land, and the ranchmen assemble together in the spring to sort out and each secure his own stock. They form a large circle, often of a circumference of two hundred miles, and drive the cattle towards a common centre, where, all the stock being branded, each owner can readily separate his own from the general herd, and then he drives them to his own ranch.
In this cattle driving business is exhibited some most magnificent horsemanship, for the "cow-boys," as they are called, are invariably skillful and fearless horsemen—in fact only a most expert rider could be a cow-boy, as it requires the greatest dexterity and daring in the saddle to cut a wild steer out of the herd.
Major North was awaiting me, upon my arrival at North Platte, having with him our own horses and men. Other cattle owners, such as Keith and Barton, Coe and Carter, Jack Pratt, the Walker Brothers, Guy and Sim Lang, Arnold and Ritchie and a great many others with their outfits, were assembled and were ready to start on the round-up.
My old friend Dave Perry, who had presented Buckskin Joe to me, and who resided at North Platte, was most anxious to go with us for pleasure, and Frank North told him he could, and have plenty of fun, provided he would furnish his own horses, provisions and bedding, and do the usual work required of a cow-boy. This, Dave was willing to undertake. We found him to be a good fellow in camp, and excellent company.
As there is nothing but hard work on these round-ups, having to be in the saddle all day, and standing guard over the cattle at night, rain or shine, I could not possibly find out where the fun came in, that North had promised me. But it was an exciting life, and the days sped rapidly by; in six weeks we found ourselves at our own ranch on Dismal river, the round-up having proved a great success, as we had found all our cattle and driven them home.
This work being over, I proposed to spend a few weeks with my family at North Platte, for the purpose of making their better acquaintance, for my long and continued absence from home made me a comparative stranger under my own roof-tree. One great source of pleasure to me was that my wife was delighted with the home I had given her amid the prairies of the far west. Soon after my arrival, my sisters Nellie and May, came to make us a visit, and a delightful time we all had during their stay. When they left us, I accompanied them to their home in Denver, Colorado, where I passed several days visiting old friends and scenes.
Returning to Ogallala I purchased from Bill Phant, an extensive cattle drover from Texas, a herd of cattle, which I drove to my ranch on the Dismal river, after which I bade my partner and the boys good-bye, and started for the Indian Territory to procure Indians for my Dramatic Combination for the season of 1878-79.
En route to the Territory, I paid a long promised visit to my sisters, Julia—Mrs. J.A. Goodman—and Eliza—Mrs. George M. Myers—who reside in Kansas, the state which the reader will remember was my boyhood home.
Having secured my Indian actors, and along with them Mr. O. A. Burgess, a government interpreter, and Ed. A. Burgess, known as the "Boy Chief of the Pawnees," I started for Baltimore, where I organized my combination, and which was the largest troupe I had yet had on the road; opening in that city at the Opera House, under the management of Hon. John T. Ford, and then started on a southern tour, playing in Washington, Richmond and as far south as Savannah, Georgia, where we were brought to a sudden halt, owing to the yellow fever which was then cruelly raging in the beautiful cities of the "Land of the cotton and the cane."
While playing in Washington, I suddenly learned from a reporter—Washington newspaper men know everything—that my Indians were to be seized by the Government and sent back to their agency. Finding that there was foundation for the rumor, I at once sought General Carl Shurz, Secretary of the Interior, and asked him if he intended depriving me of my Indian actors. He said that he did, as the Indians were away from their reservation without leave. I answered that I had had Indians with me the year before and nothing had been said about it; but Commissioner Haight replied that the Indians were the "wards of the government," and were not allowed off of their reservation.
I told the Commissioner that the Indians were frequently off of their reservations out west, as I had a distinct remembrance of meeting them upon several occasions "on the war path," and furthermore I thought I was benefitting the Indians as well as the government, by taking them all over the United States, and giving them a correct idea of the customs, life, etc., of the pale faces, so that when they returned to their people they could make known all they had seen.
After a conversation with the Secretary of the Interior, the Commissioner concluded to allow me to retain the Indians, by appointing me Indian Agent, provided I would give the necessary bonds, and pledge myself to return them in safety to their agency—which terms I agreed to.
From Savannah, Georgia, having changed my route on account of the yellow fever, I jumped my entire company to Philadelphia, and at once continued on a north-eastern tour, having arranged with the well-known author and dramatist, Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, to write a play for me.
The drama entitled "The Knight of the Plains, or Buffalo Bill's Best Trail," was first produced at New Haven, Conn.; it has proved a great success, and I expect to play it in England, where I purpose to go next season on a theatrical tour, having been urged to do so by my many friends abroad.
After a successful tour of six weeks on the Pacific Slope, thus ending the season of 1878-79, I am at my home at North Platte, Nebraska, for the summer; and thus ends the account of my career as far as it has gone.