LAST OF THE GREAT SCOUTS
The Life Story of William F. Cody ["Buffalo Bill"]
by Helen Cody Wetmore
LAST OF THE GREAT SCOUTS
THE LIFE STORY OF COL. WILLIAM F. CODY "BUFFALO BILL"
AS TOLD BY HIS SISTER HELEN CODY WETMORE
TO THE MEMORY OF A MOTHER WHOSE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER STILL LIVES A HALLOWED INFLUENCE
GENEALOGY OF BUFFALO BILL.
The following genealogical sketch was compiled in 1897. The crest is copied from John Rooney's "Genealogical History of Irish Families."
It is not generally known that genuine royal blood courses in Colonel Cody's veins. He is a lineal descendant of Milesius, king of Spain, that famous monarch whose three sons, Heber, Heremon, and Ir, founded the first dynasty in Ireland, about the beginning of the Christian era. The Cody family comes through the line of Heremon. The original name was Tireach, which signifies "The Rocks." Muiredach Tireach, one of the first of this line, and son of Fiacha Straivetine, was crowned king of Ireland, Anno Domini 320. Another of the line became king of Connaught, Anno Domini 701. The possessions of the Sept were located in the present counties of Clare, Galway, and Mayo. The names Connaught-Gallway, after centuries, gradually contracted to Connallway, Connellway, Connelly, Conly, Cory, Coddy, Coidy, and Cody, and is clearly shown by ancient indentures still traceable among existing records. On the maternal side, Colonel Cody can, without difficulty, follow his lineage to the best blood of England. Several of the Cody family emigrated to America in 1747, settling in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The name is frequently mentioned in Revolutionary history. Colonel Cody is a member of the Cody family of Revolutionary fame. Like the other Spanish-Irish families, the Codys have their proof of ancestry in the form of a crest, the one which Colonel Cody is entitled to use being printed herewith. The lion signifies Spanish origin. It is the same figure that forms a part of the royal coat-of-arms of Spain to this day—Castile and Leon. The arm and cross denote that the descent is through the line of Heremon, whose posterity were among the first to follow the cross, as a symbol of their adherence to the Christian faith.
In presenting this volume to the public the writer has a twofold purpose. For a number of years there has been an increasing demand for an authentic biography of "Buffalo Bill," and in response, many books of varying value have been submitted; yet no one of them has borne the hall-mark of veracious history. Naturally, there were incidents in Colonel Cody's life—more especially in the earlier years—that could be given only by those with whom he had grown up from childhood. For many incidents of his later life I am indebted to his own and others' accounts. I desire to acknowledge obligation to General P. H. Sheridan, Colonel Inman, Colonel Ingraham, and my brother for valuable assistance furnished by Sheridan's Memoirs, "The Santa Fe Trail," "The Great Salt Lake Trail," "Buffalo Bill's Autobiography," and "Stories from the Life of Buffalo Bill."
A second reason that prompted the writing of my brother's life-story is purely personal. The sobriquet of "Buffalo Bill" has conveyed to many people an impression of his personality that is far removed from the facts. They have pictured in fancy a rough frontier character, without tenderness and true nobility. But in very truth has the poet sung:
"The bravest are the tenderest— The loving are the daring."
The public knows my brother as boy Indian-slayer, a champion buffalo-hunter, a brave soldier, a daring scout, an intrepid frontiersman, and a famous exhibitor. It is only fair to him that a glimpse be given of the parts he played behind the scenes—devotion to a widowed mother, that pushed the boy so early upon a stage of ceaseless action, continued care and tenderness displayed in later years, and the generous thoughtfulness of manhood's prime.
Thus a part of my pleasant task has been to enable the public to see my brother through his sister's eyes—eyes that have seen truly if kindly. If I have been tempted into praise where simple narrative might to the reader seem all that was required, if I have seemed to exaggerate in any of my history's details, I may say that I am not conscious of having set down more than "a plain, unvarnished tale." Embarrassed with riches of fact, I have had no thought of fiction. H. C. W.
CODYVIEW, DULUTH, MINNESOTA, February 26, 1899.
LAST OF THE GREAT SCOUTS.
CHAPTER I. — THE OLD HOMESTEAD IN IOWA.
A PLEASANT, roomy farm-house, set in the sunlight against a background of cool, green wood and mottled meadow—this is the picture that my earliest memories frame for me. To this home my parents, Isaac and Mary Cody, had moved soon after their marriage.
The place was known as the Scott farm, and was situated in Scott County, Iowa, near the historic little town of Le Clair, where, but a few years before, a village of the Fox Indians had been located; where Black Hawk and his thousand warriors had assembled for their last war-dance; where the marquee of General Scott was erected, and the treaty with the Sacs and Foxes drawn up; and where, in obedience to the Sac chief's terms, Antoine Le Clair, the famous half-breed Indian scholar and interpreter, had built his cabin, and given to the place his name. Here, in this atmosphere of pioneer struggle and Indian warfare—in the farm-house in the dancing sunshine, with the background of wood and meadow—my brother, William Frederick Cody, was born, on the 26th day of February, 1846.
Of the good, old-fashioned sort was our family, numbering five daughters and two sons—Martha, Samuel, Julia, William, Eliza, Helen, and May. Samuel, a lad of unusual beauty of face and nature, was killed through an unhappy accident before he was yet fourteen.
He was riding "Betsy Baker," a mare well known among old settlers in Iowa as one of speed and pedigree, yet displaying at times a most malevolent temper, accompanied by Will, who, though only seven years of age, yet sat his pony with the ease and grace that distinguished the veteran rider of the future. Presently Betsy Baker became fractious, and sought to throw her rider. In vain did she rear and plunge; he kept his saddle. Then, seemingly, she gave up the fight, and Samuel cried, in boyish exultation:
"Ah, Betsy Baker, you didn't quite come it that time!"
His last words! As if she knew her rider was a careless victor off his guard, the mare reared suddenly and flung herself upon her back, crushing the daring boy beneath her.
Though to us younger children our brother Samuel was but a shadowy memory, in him had centered our parents' fondest hopes and aims. These, naturally, were transferred to the younger, now the only son, and the hope that mother, especially, held for him was strangely stimulated by the remembrance of the mystic divination of a soothsayer in the years agone. My mother was a woman of too much intelligence and force of character to nourish an average superstition; but prophecies fulfilled will temper, though they may not shake, the smiling unbelief of the most hard-headed skeptic. Mother's moderate skepticism was not proof against the strange fulfillment of one prophecy, which fell out in this wise:
To a Southern city, which my mother visited when a girl, there came a celebrated fortune-teller, and led by curiosity, my mother and my aunt one day made two of the crowd that thronged the sibyl's drawing-rooms.
Both received with laughing incredulity the prophecy that my aunt and the two children with her would be dead in a fortnight; but the dread augury was fulfilled to the letter. All three were stricken with yellow fever, and died within less than the time set. This startling confirmation of the soothsayer's divining powers not unnaturally affected my mother's belief in that part of the prophecy relating to herself that "she would meet her future husband on the steamboat by which she expected to return home; that she would be married to him in a year, and bear three sons, of whom only the second would live, but that the name of this son would be known all over the world, and would one day be that of the President of the United States." The first part of this prophecy was verified, and Samuel's death was another link in the curious chain of circumstances. Was it, then, strange that mother looked with unusual hope upon her second son?
That 'tis good fortune for a boy to be only brother to five sisters is open to question. The older girls petted Will; the younger regarded him as a superior being; while to all it seemed so fit and proper that the promise of the stars concerning his future should be fulfilled that never for a moment did we weaken in our belief that great things were in store for our only brother. We looked for the prophecy's complete fulfillment, and with childish veneration regarded Will as one destined to sit in the executive's chair.
My mother, always somewhat delicate, was so affected in health by the shock of Samuel's death that a change of scene was advised. The California gold craze was then at its height, and father caught the fever, though in a mild form; for he had prospered as a farmer, and we not only had a comfortable home, but were in easy circumstances. Influenced in part by a desire to improve mother's health, and in part, no doubt, by the golden day-dreams that lured so many Argonauts Pacificward, he disposed of his farm, and bade us prepare for a Western journey. Before his plans were completed he fell in with certain disappointed gold-seekers returning from the Coast, and impressed by their representations, decided in favor of Kansas instead of California.
Father had very extravagant ideas regarding vehicles and horses, and such a passion for equestrian display, that we often found ourselves with a stable full of thoroughbreds and an empty cupboard. For our Western migration we had, in addition to three prairie-schooners, a large family carriage, drawn by a span of fine horses in silver-mounted harness. This carriage had been made to order in the East, upholstered in the finest leather, polished and varnished as though for a royal progress. Mother and we girls found it more comfortable riding than the springless prairie-schooners.
Brother Will constituted himself an armed escort, and rode proudly alongside on his pony, his gun slung across the pommel of his saddle, and the dog Turk bringing up the rear.
To him this Western trip thrilled with possible Indian skirmishes and other stirring adventures, though of the real dangers that lay in our path he did not dream. For him, therefore, the first week of our travels held no great interest, for we were constantly chancing upon settlers and farm-houses, in which the night might be passed; but with every mile the settlers grew fewer and farther between; until one day Will whispered to us, in great glee: "I heard father tell mother that he expected we should have to camp to-night. Now we'll have some fun!"
Will's hope was well founded. Shortly before nightfall we reached a stream that demanded a ferry-boat for its crossing, and as the nearest dwelling was a dozen miles away, it was decided that we should camp by the stream-side. The family was first sent across the ferry, and upon the eight-year-old lad of the house father placed the responsibility of selecting the ground on which to pitch the tents.
My brother's career forcibly illustrates the fact that environment plays as large a part as heredity in shaping character. Perhaps his love for the free life of the plains is a heritage derived from some long-gone ancestor; but there can be no doubt that to the earlier experiences of which I am writing he owed his ability as a scout. The faculty for obtaining water, striking trails, and finding desirable camping-grounds in him seemed almost instinct.
The tents being pitched upon a satisfactory site, Will called to Turk, the dog, and rifle in hand, set forth in search of game for supper. He was successful beyond his fondest hopes. He had looked only for small game, but scarcely had he put the camp behind him when Turk gave a signaling yelp, and out of the bushes bounded a magnificent deer. Nearly every hunter will confess to "buck fever" at sight of his first deer, so it is not strange that a boy of Will's age should have stood immovable, staring dazedly at the graceful animal until it vanished from sight. Turk gave chase, but soon trotted back, and barked reproachfully at his young master. But Will presently had an opportunity to recover Turk's good opinion, for the dog, after darting away, with another signaling yelp fetched another fine stag within gun range. This time the young hunter, mastering his nerves, took aim with steady hand, and brought down his first deer.
On the following Sabbath we were encamped by another deep, swift-running stream. After being wearied and overheated by a rabbit chase, Turk attempted to swim across this little river, but was chilled, and would have perished had not Will rushed to the rescue. The ferryman saw the boy struggling with the dog in the water, and started after him with his boat. But Will reached the bank without assistance.
"I've hearn of dogs saving children, but this is the first time I ever hearn of a child saving a dog from drowning," ejaculated the ferryman. "How old be you?"
"Eight, going on nine," answered Will.
"You're a big boy for your age," said the man. "But it's a wonder you didn't sink with that load; he's a big old fellow," referring to Turk, who, standing on three feet, was vigorously shaking the water from his coat. Will at once knelt down beside him, and taking the uplifted foot in his hands, remarked: "He must have sprained one of his legs when he fell over that log; he doesn't whine like your common curs when they get hurt."
"He's blooded stock, then," said the man. "What kind of dog do you call him?"
"He's an Ulm dog," said Will.
"I never heard tell of that kind of dog before."
"Did you ever hear of a tiger-mastiff, German mastiff, boar-hound, great Dane? Turk's all of them together."
"Well," said the ferryman, "you're a pretty smart little fellow, and got lots of grit. You ought to make your mark in the world. But right now you had better get into some dry clothes." And on the invitation of the ferryman, Will and the limping dog got into the boat, and were taken back to camp.
Turk played so conspicuous and important a part in our early lives that he deserves a brief description. He was a large and powerful animal of the breed of dogs anciently used in Germany in hunting the wild boars. Later the dogs were imported into England, where they were particularly valued by people desiring a strong, brave watch-dog. When specially trained, they are more fierce and active than the English mastiff. Naturally they are not as fond of the water as the spaniel, the stag-hound, or the Newfoundland, though they are the king of dogs on land. Not alone Will, but the rest of the family, regarded Turk as the best of his kind, and he well deserved the veneration he inspired. His fidelity and almost human intelligence were time and again the means of saving life and property; ever faithful, loyal, and ready to lay down his life, if need be, in our service.
Outlaws and desperadoes were always to be met with on Western trails in those rugged days, and more than once Turk's constant vigilance warned father in time to prevent attacks from suspicious night prowlers. The attachment which had grown up between Turk and his young master was but the natural love of boys for their dogs intensified. Will at that time estimated dogs as in later years he did men, the qualities which he found to admire in Turk being vigilance, strength, courage, and constancy. With men, as with dogs, he is not lavishly demonstrative; rarely pats them on the back. But deeds of merit do not escape his notice or want his appreciation. The patience, unselfishness, and true nobility observed in this faithful canine friend of his boyhood days have many times proved to be lacking in creatures endowed with a soul; yet he has never lost faith in mankind, or in the ultimate destiny of his race. This I conceive to be a characteristic of all great men.
This trip was memorable for all of us, perhaps especially so for brother Will, for it comprehended not only his first deer, but his first negro.
As we drew near the Missouri line we came upon a comfortable farm-house, at which father made inquiry concerning a lodging for the night. A widow lived there, and the information that father was brother to Elijah Cody, of Platte County, Missouri, won us a cordial welcome and the hospitality of her home.
We were yet in the road, waiting father's report, when our startled vision and childish imagination took in a seeming apparition, which glided from the bushes by the wayside.
It proved a full-blooded African, with thick lips, woolly hair, enormous feet, and scant attire. To all except mother this was a new revelation of humanity, and we stared in wild-eyed wonder; even Turk was surprised into silence. At this point father rejoined us, to share in mother's amusement, and to break the spell for us by pleasantly addressing the negro, who returned a respectful answer, accompanied by an ample grin. He was a slave on the widow's plantation.
Reassured by the grin, Will offered his hand, and tasted the joy of being addressed as "Massa" in the talk that followed. It was with difficulty that we prevailed upon "Masse" to come to supper.
After a refreshing night's sleep we went on our way, and in a few days reached my uncle's home. A rest was welcome, as the journey had been long and toilsome, despite the fact that it had been enlivened by many interesting incidents, and was thoroughly enjoyed by all of the family.
CHAPTER II. — WILL'S FIRST INDIAN.
MY uncle's home was in Weston, Platte County, Missouri, at that time the large city of the West. As father desired to get settled again as soon as possible, he left us at Weston, and crossed the Missouri River on a prospecting tour, accompanied by Will and a guide. More than one day went by in the quest for a desirable location, and one morning Will, wearied in the reconnoissance, was left asleep at the night's camping-place, while father and the guide rode away for the day's exploring.
When Will opened his eyes they fell upon the most interesting object that the world just then could offer him—an Indian!
The "noble red man," as he has been poetically termed by people who have but known him from afar, was in the act of mounting Will's horse, while near by stood his own, a miserable, scrawny beast.
Will's boyish dreams were now a reality; he looked upon his first Indian. Here, too, was a "buck"—not a graceful, vanishing deer, but a dirty redskin, who seemingly was in some hurry to be gone. Without a trace of "buck fever," Will jumped up, rifle in hand, and demanded:
"Here, what are you doing with my horse?"
The Indian regarded the lad with contemptuous composure.
"Me swap horses with paleface boy," said he.
The red man was fully armed, and Will did not know whether his father and the guide were within call or not; but to suffer the Indian to ride away with Uncle Elijah's fine horse was to forfeit his father's confidence and shake his mother's and sisters' belief in the family hero; so he put a bold face upon the matter, and remarked carelessly, as if discussing a genuine transaction:
"No; I won't swap."
"Paleface boy fool!" returned the Indian, serenely.
Now this was scarcely the main point at issue, so Will contented himself with replying, quietly but firmly:
"You cannot take my horse."
The Indian condescended to temporize. "Paleface horse no good," said he.
"Good enough for me," replied Will, smiling despite the gravity of the situation. The Indian shone rather as a liar than a judge of horseflesh. "Good enough for me; so you can take your old rack of bones and go."
Much to Will's surprise, the red man dropped the rein, flung himself upon his own pony, and made off. And down fell "Lo the poor Indian" from the exalted niche that he had filled in Will's esteem, for while it was bad in a copper hero to steal horses, it was worse to flee from a boy not yet in his teens. But a few moments later Lo went back to his lofty pedestal, for Will heard the guide's voice, and realized that it was the sight of a man, and not the threats of a boy, that had sent the Indian about his business—if he had any.
The guide had returned to escort Will to the spot which father, after a search of nearly a week, had discovered, and where he had decided to locate our home. It was in Salt Creek Valley, a fertile blue-grass region, sheltered by an amphitheater range of hills. The old Salt Lake trail traversed this valley. There were at this time two great highways of Western travel, the Santa Fe and the Salt Lake trails; later the Oregon trail came into prominence. Of these the oldest and most historic was the Santa Fe trail, the route followed by explorers three hundred years ago. It had been used by Indian tribes from time, to white men, immemorial. At the beginning of this century it was first used as an artery of commerce. Over it Zebulon Pike made his well-known Western trip, and from it radiated his explorations. The trail lay some distance south of Leavenworth. It ran westward, dipping slightly to the south until the Arkansas River was reached; then, following the course of this stream to Bent's Fort, it crossed the river and turned sharply to the south. It went through Raton Pass, and below Las Vegas it turned west to Santa Fe.
Exploration along the line of the Salt Lake trail began also with this century. It became a beaten highway at the time of the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo to their present place of abode. The trail crossed the Missouri River at Leavenworth, and ran northerly to the Platte, touching that stream at Fort Kearny. With a few variations it paralleled the Platte to its junction with the Sweetwater, and left this river valley to run through South Pass to big Sandy Creek, turning south to follow this little stream. At Fort Bridger it turned westward again, passed Echo Canon, and a few miles farther on ran into Salt Lake City. Over this trail journeyed thousands of gold-hunters toward California, hopeful and high-spirited on the westerly way, disappointed and depressed, the large majority of them, on the back track. Freighting outfits, cattle trains, emigrants—nearly all the western travel—followed this track across the new land. A man named Rively, with the gift of grasping the advantage of location, had obtained permission to establish a trading-post on this trail three miles beyond the Missouri, and as proximity to this depot of supplies was a manifest convenience, father's selection of a claim only two miles distant was a wise one.
The Kansas-Nebraska Bill, which provided for the organizing of those two territories and opened them for settlement, was passed in May. 1854. This bill directly opposed the Missouri Compromise, which restricted slavery to all territory south of 36'0 30" north latitude. A clause in the new bill provided that the settlers should decide for themselves whether the new territories were to be free or slave states. Already hundreds of settlers were camped upon the banks of the Missouri, waiting the passage of the bill before entering and acquiring possession of the land. Across the curtain of the night ran a broad ribbon of dancing camp-fires, stretching for miles along the bank of the river.
None too soon had father fixed upon his claim. The act allowing settlers to enter was passed in less than a week afterward. Besides the pioneers intending actual settlement, a great rush was made into the territories by members of both political parties. These became the gladiators, with Kansas the arena, for a bitter, bloody contest between those desiring and those opposing the extension of slave territory.
Having already decided upon his location, father was among the first, after the bill was passed, to file a claim and procure the necessary papers, and shortly afterward he had a transient abiding-place prepared for us. Whatever mother may have thought of the one-roomed cabin, whose chinks let in the sun by day and the moon and stars by night, and whose carpet was nature's greenest velvet, life in it was a perennial picnic for the children. Meantime father was at work on our permanent home, and before the summer fled we were domiciled in a large double-log house—rough and primitive, but solid and comfort-breeding.
This same autumn held an episode so deeply graven in my memory that time has not blurred a dine of it. Jane, our faithful maid of all work, who went with us to our Western home, had little time to play the governess. Household duties claimed her every waking hour, as mother was delicate, and the family a large one; so Turk officiated as both guardian and playmate of the children.
One golden September day Eliza and I set out after wild flowers, accompanied by Turk and mother's caution not to stray too far, as wild beasts, 'twas said, lurked in the neighboring forest; but the prettiest flowers were always just beyond, and we wandered afield until we reached a fringe of timber half a mile from the house, where we tarried under the trees. Meantime mother grew alarmed, and Will was dispatched after the absent tots.
Turk, as we recalled, had sought to put a check upon our wanderings, and when we entered the woods his restlessness increased. Suddenly he began to paw up the carpet of dry leaves, and a few moments later the shrill scream of a panther echoed through the forest aisles.
Eliza was barely six years old, and I was not yet four. We clung to each other in voiceless terror. Then from afar came a familiar whistle—Will's call to his dog. That heartened us, babes as we were, for was not our brother our reliance in every emergency? Rescue was at hand; but Turk continued tearing up the leaves, after signaling his master with a loud bark. Then, pulling at our dresses, he indicated the refuge he had dug for us. Here we lay down, and the dog covered us with the leaves, dragging to the heap, as a further screen, a large dead branch. Then, with the heart of a lion, he put himself on guard.
From our leafy covert we could see the panther's tawny form come gliding through the brush. He saw Turk, and crouched for a spring. This came as an arrow, but Turk dodged it; and then, with a scream such as I never heard from dog before or since, our defender hurled himself upon the foe.
Turk was powerful, and his courage was flawless, but he was no match for the panther. In a few moments the faithful dog lay stunned and bleeding from one stroke of the forest-rover's steel-shod paw. The cruel beast had scented other prey, and dismissing Turk, he paced to and fro, seeking to locate us. We scarcely dared to breathe, and every throb of our frightened little hearts was a prayer that Will would come to us in time.
At last the panther's roving eyes rested upon our inadequate hiding-place, and as he crouched for the deadly leap we hid our faces.
But Turk had arisen. Wounded as he was, he yet made one last heroic effort to save us by again directing the panther's attention to himself.
The helpless, hopeless ordeal of agony was broken by a rifle's sharp report. The panther fell, shot through the heart, and out from the screen of leaves rushed two hysterical little girls, with pallid faces drowned in tears, who clung about a brother's neck and were shielded in his arms.
Will, himself but a child, caressed and soothed us in a most paternal fashion; and when the stone of sobs was passed we turned to Turk. Happily his injuries were not fatal, and he whined feebly when his master reached him.
"Bravo! Good dog!" cried Will. "You saved them, Turk! You saved them!" And kneeling beside our faithful friend, he put his arms about the shaggy neck.
Dear old Turk! If there be a land beyond the sky for such as thou, may the snuggest corner and best of bones be thy reward!
CHAPTER III. — THE SHADOW OF PARTISAN STRIFE.
OWING to the conditions, already spoken of, under which Kansas was settled, all classes were represented in its population. Honest, thrifty farmers and well-to-do traders leavened a lump of shiftless ne'er-do-wells, lawless adventurers, and vagabonds of all sorts and conditions. If father at times questioned the wisdom of coming to this new and untried land, he kept his own counsel, and set a brave face against the future.
He had been prominent in political circles in Iowa, and had filled positions of public trust; but he had no wish to become involved in the partisan strife that raged in Kansas. He was a Free Soil man, and there were but two others in that section who did not believe in slavery. For a year he kept his political views to himself; but it became rumored about that he was an able public speaker, and the pro-slavery men naturally ascribed to him the same opinions as those held by his brother Elijah, a pronounced pro-slavery man; so they regarded father as a promising leader in their cause. He had avoided the issue, and had skillfully contrived to escape declaring for one side or the other, but on the scroll of his destiny it was written that he should be one of the first victims offered on the sacrificial altar of the struggle for human liberty.
The post-trader's was a popular rendezvous for all the settlers round. It was a day in the summer of '55 that father visited the store, accompanied, as usual, by Will and Turk. Among the crowd, which was noisy and excited, he noted a number of desperadoes in the pro-slavery faction, and noted, too, that Uncle Elijah and our two Free Soil neighbors, Mr. Hathaway and Mr. Lawrence, were present.
Father's appearance was greeted by a clamor for a speech. To speak before that audience was to take his life in his hands; yet in spite of his excuses he was forced to the chair.
It was written! There was no escape! Father walked steadily to the dry-goods box which served as a rostrum. As he passed Mr. Hathaway, the good old man plucked him by the sleeve and begged him to serve out platitudes to the crowd, and to screen his real sentiments.
But father was not a man that dealt in platitudes.
"Friends," said he, quietly, as he faced his audience and drew himself to his full height,—"friends, you are mistaken in your man. I am sorry to disappoint you. I have no wish to quarrel with you. But you have forced me to speak, and I can do no less than declare my real convictions. I am, and always have been, opposed to slavery. It is an institution that not only degrades the slave, but brutalizes the slave-holder, and I pledge you my word that I shall use my best endeavors—yes, that I shall lay down my life, if need be—to keep this curse from finding lodgment upon Kansas soil. It is enough that the fairest portions of our land are already infected with this blight. May it spread no farther. All my energy and my ability shall swell the effort to bring in Kansas as a Free Soil state."
Up to this point the crowd had been so dumfounded by his temerity that they kept an astonished silence. Now the storm broke. The rumble of angry voices swelled into a roar of fury. An angry mob surrounded the speaker. Several desperadoes leaped forward with deadly intent, and one, Charles Dunn by name, drove his knife to the hilt into the body of the brave man who dared thus openly to avow his principles.
As father fell, Will sprang to him, and turning to the murderous assailant, cried out in boyhood's fury:
"You have killed my father! When I'm a man I'll kill you!"
The crowd slunk away, believing father dead. The deed appalled them; they were not yet hardened to the lawlessness that was so soon to put the state to blush.
Mr. Hathaway and Will then carried father to a hiding-place in the long grass by the wayside. The crowd dispersed so slowly that dusk came on before the coast was clear. At length, supported by Will, father dragged his way homeward, marking his tortured progress with a trail of blood.
This path was afterward referred to in the early history of Kansas as "The Cody Bloody Trail."
It was such wild scenes as these that left their impress on the youth and fashioned the Cody of later years—cool in emergency, fertile in resource, swift in decision, dashing and intrepid when the time for action came.
Our troubles were but begun. Father's convalescence was long and tedious; he never recovered fully. His enemies believed him dead, and for a while we kept the secret guarded; but as soon as he was able to be about persecution began.
About a month after the tragedy at Rively's, Will ran in one evening with the warning that a band of horsemen were approaching. Suspecting trouble, mother put some of her own clothes about father, gave him a pail, and bade him hide in the cornfield. He walked boldly from the house, and sheltered by the gathering dusk, succeeded in passing the horsemen unchallenged. The latter rode up to the house and dismounted.
"Where's Cody?" asked the leader. He was informed that father was not at home.
"Lucky for him!" was the frankly brutal rejoinder. "We'll make sure work of the killing next time."
Disappointed in their main intention, the marauders revenged themselves in their own peculiar way by looting the house of every article that took their fancy; then they sat down with the announced purpose of waiting the return of their prospective victim.
Fearing the effect of the night air upon father, though it was yet summer, mother made a sign to Will, who slipped from the room, and guided by Turk, carried blankets to the cornfield, returning before his absence had been remarked. The ruffians soon tired of waiting, and rode away, after warning mother of the brave deed they purposed to perform. Father came in for the night, returning to his covert with the dawn.
In expectation of some such raid, we had secreted a good stock of provisions; but as soon as the day was up Will was dispatched to Rively's store to reconnoiter, under pretext of buying groceries. Keeping eyes and ears open, he learned that father's enemies were on the watch for him; so the cornfield must remain his screen. After several days, the exposure and anxiety told on his strength. He decided to leave home and go to Fort Leavenworth, four miles distant. When night fell he returned to the house, packed a few needed articles, and bade us farewell. Will urged that he ride Prince, but he regarded his journey as safer afoot. It was a sad parting. None of us knew whether we should ever again see our father.
"I hope," he said to mother, "that these clouds will soon pass away, and that we may have a happy home once more." Then, placing his hands on Will's head, "You will have to be the man of the house until my return," he said. "But I know I can trust my boy to watch over his mother and sisters."
With such responsibilities placed upon his shoulders, such confidence reposed in him, small wonder that Will should grow a man in thought and feeling before he grew to be one in years.
Father reached Fort Leavenworth in safety, but the quarrel between the pro-slavery party and the Free Soilers waxed more bitter, and he decided that security lay farther on; so he took passage on an up-river boat to Doniphan, twenty miles distant. This was then a mere landing-place, but he found a small band of men in camp cooking supper. They were part of Colonel Jim Lane's command, some three hundred strong, on their way West from Indiana.
Colonel Lane was an interesting character. He had been a friend to Elijah Lovejoy, who was killed, in 1836, for maintaining an anti-slavery newspaper in Illinois. The Kansas contest speedily developed the fact that the actual settlers sent from the North by the emigrant-aid societies would enable the Free State party to outnumber the ruffians sent in by the Southerners; and when the pro-slavery men were driven to substituting bullets for ballots, Colonel Lane recruited a band of hardy men to protect the anti-slavery settlers, and incidentally to avenge the murder of Lovejoy.
The meeting of father and Lane's men was a meeting of friends, and he chose to cast his lot with theirs. Shortly afterward he took part in "The Battle of Hickory Point," in which the pro-slavery men were defeated with heavy loss; and thenceforward the name of Jim Lane was a terror to the lawless and a wall of protection to our family.
The storm and stress of battle had drawn heavily on what little strength was left to father, and relying for safety upon the proximity of Colonel Lane and his men, he returned to us secretly by night, and was at once prostrated on a bed of sickness.
This proved a serious strain upon our delicate mother, for during father's absence a little brother had been added to our home, and not only had she, in addition to the care of Baby Charlie, the nursing of a sick man, but she was constantly harassed by apprehensions for his safety as well.
CHAPTER IV. — PERSECUTION CONTINUES.
MOTHER'S fears were well grounded. A few days after father had returned home, a man named Sharpe, who disgraced the small office of justice of the peace, rode up to our house, very much the worse for liquor, and informed mother that his errand was to "search the house for that abolition husband of yours." The intoxicated ruffian then demanded something to eat. While mother, with a show of hospitality, was preparing supper for him, the amiable Mr. Sharpe killed time in sharpening his bowie-knife on the sole of his shoe.
"That," said he to Will, who stood watching him, "that's to cut the heart out of that Free State father of yours!" And he tested the edge with brutally suggestive care.
Will's comment was to take down his rifle and place himself on the staircase leading up to father's room. There was trouble in that quarter for Mr. Sharpe, if he attempted to ascend those stairs.
But the justice, as mother surmised, had no notion that father was at home, else he would not have come alone. He ate heartily of the supper, which Will hoped would choke him, and passing from drowsiness to drunken slumber, soon tumbled from his chair. This so confused him that he forgot his pretended errand, and shambled out of the house. He was not so drunk that he could not tell a good bit of horseflesh, and he straightway took a fancy to Prince, the pet pony of the family. An unwritten plank in the platform of the pro-slavery men was that the Free Soil party had no rights they were bound to respect, and Sharpe remarked to Will, with a malicious grin:
"That's a nice pony of yours, sonny. Guess I'll take him along with me." And he proceeded to exchange the saddle from the back of his own horse to that of Prince.
"You old coward!" muttered Will, bursting with wrath. "I'll get even with you some day."
The justice was a tall, burly fellow, and he cut so ridiculous a figure as he rode away on Prince's back, his heels almost touching the ground, that Will laughed outright as he thought of a plan to save his pony.
A shrill whistle brought Turk to the scene, and receiving his cue, the dog proceeded to give Sharpe a very bad five minutes. He would nip at one of the dangling legs, spring back out of reach of the whip with a triumphant bark, then repeat the performance with the other leg. This little comedy had a delighted spectator in Will, who had followed at a safe distance. Just as Sharpe made one extra effort to reach Turk, the boy whistled a signal to Prince, who responded with a bound that dumped his rider in the dust. Here Turk stood over him and showed his teeth.
"Call off your dog, bub!" the justice shouted to Will, "and you may keep your little sheep, for he's no good, anyway."
"That's a bargain!" cried Will, restored to good humor; and helping the vanquished foe upon his own steed, he assured him that he need not fear Turk so long as he kept his word. Sharpe departed, but we were far from being rid of him.
About a fortnight later we were enjoying an evening with father, who was now able to come downstairs. He was seated in a big arm-chair before the open fire, with his family gathered round him, by his side our frail, beautiful mother, with Baby Charlie on her knee, Martha and Julia, with their sewing, and Will, back of mother's chair, tenderly smoothing the hair from her brow, while he related spiritedly some new escapade of Turk. Suddenly he checked his narrative, listened for a space, and announced:
"There are some men riding on the road toward the house. We'd better be ready for trouble."
Mother, equal to every emergency, hurriedly disposed her slender forces for defense. Martha and Julia were directed to help father to bed; that done, to repair to the unfurnished front room above stairs; Will was instructed to call the hired man and Jane, who was almost as large and quite as strong as the average man; and the three were armed and given their cue. They were all handy with their weapons, but mother sought to win by strategy, if possible. She bade the older girls don heavy boots, and gave them further instructions. By this time the horsemen had reached the gate. Their leader was the redoubtable Justice Sharpe. He rode up to the door, and rapped with the but of his riding-whip. Mother threw up the window overhead.
"Who's there? and what do you want?" she demanded.
"We want that old abolition husband of yours, and, dead or alive, we mean to have him!"
"All right, Mr. Sharpe," was the steady answer. "I'll ask Colonel Lane and his men to wait on you."
The hired man, who had served in the Mexican War, here gave a sharp word of command, which was responded to by trampling of heavy boots upon the bare floor. Then, calling a halt, the pretended Colonel Lane advanced to the window, and shouted to the horsemen:
"Set foot inside that gate and my men will fire on you!"
Sharpe, an arrant coward, had retreated at the first sound of a man's voice, and after a short parley with his nonplused companions, he led them away—outwitted by a woman.
As a sort of consolation prize, Sharpe again made off with Prince; but Will's sorrow in the morning was short-lived, for the sagacious little creature slipped his halter and came flying home before the forenoon was half spent.
After this experience, father decided that, for our sakes as well as for his own, he must again leave home, and as soon as he recovered a measure of his strength he went to Grasshopper Falls, thirty-five miles west of Leavenworth. Here he erected a sawmill, and hoped that he had put so many miles between him and his enemies that he might be allowed to pursue a peaceful occupation. He made us occasional visits, so timing his journey that he reached home after nightfall, and left again before the sun was up.
One day when we were looking forward to one of these visits, our good friend Mr. Hathaway made his appearance about eleven o'clock.
"It is too bad to be the bearer of ill tidings," said he, "but the news of your husband's expected visit has been noised about in some way, and another plot to kill him is afoot. Some of his enemies are camped at Big Stranger's Creek, and intend to shoot him as he passes there."
Then followed a long and anxious consultation, which ended without any plan of rescue.
All of which had been overheard by Will, who was confined to his bed with an attack of ague. In him, he decided, lay the only hope for father's safety; so, dressing, he presented his fever-flushed face to mother. As he held out a handkerchief, "Tie it tight around my head, mother," said he; "then it won't ache so hard."
A remonstrance against his getting out of bed brought out the fact that he contemplated riding to Grasshopper Falls!
He was almost too weak to stand, a storm threatened, and thirty miles lay between him and father; yet he was not to be dissuaded from his undertaking. So Julia and Martha saddled Prince and helped the ague-racked courier to his saddle.
The plunge into the open air and the excitement of the start encouraged Will to believe that he could hold out. As he settled down to his long, hard ride he reflected that it was not yet noon, and that father would not set out until late in the day. Prince seemed to discern that something extraordinary was afoot, and swung along at a swift, steady gait.
Big Stranger's Creek cut the road half-way to the Falls, and Will approached it before the afternoon was half gone. The lowering sky darkened the highway, and he hoped to pass the ambush unrecognized; but as he came up to the stream he made out a camp and campers, one of whom called out carelessly to him as he passed:
"Are you all right on the goose?"—the cant phrase of the pro-slavery men.
"Never rode a goose in my life, gentlemen," was the reply.
"That's Cody's boy!" shouted another voice; and the word "Halt!" rang out just as Will had galloped safely past the camp.
Will's answer was to drive the spurs into Prince and dart ahead, followed by a rain of bullets. He was now well out of range, and the pony still strong and fleet.
The chase was on, and in the thrill of it Will forgot his weakness. A new strength came with the rush of air and the ring of hoofs, and "I'll reach the Falls in time!" was his heartening thought, as pursurer and pursued sped through the forests, clattered over bridges, and galloped up hill and down.
Then broke the long-impending storm, and the hard road became the bed of a muddy stream. The pursuit was abandoned, and this stimulus removed, Will felt the chills and weakness coming on again. He was drenched to the skin, and it was an effort to keep his saddle, but he set his teeth firmly in his resolve to accomplish his heroic purpose.
At last! A welcome light gleamed between the crystal bars of the rain. His mission was accomplished.
His ride had been longer by ten miles than that famous gallop of the friend of his after years—Phil Sheridan. Like Sheridan, he reached the goal in time, for father was just mounting his horse.
But the ride proved too much for his strength, and Will collapsed. Father started with him, a few days later, for Topeka, which was headquarters for the Free State party.
Father acquainted mother of their safety, and explained that he had gone to Topeka because he feared his life was no longer safe at Grasshopper Falls.
Party strife in Kansas was now at its height. Thousands came into the territory from adjacent slave states simply to vote, and the pro-slavery party elected a legislature, whose first meeting was held at Le Compton. This election the Free Soilers declared illegal, because of fraudulent voting, and assembling at Topeka in the winter of 1855-56, they framed a constitution excluding slavery, and organized a rival government. Of this first Free-Soil Legislature father was a member.
Thenceforth war was the order of the day, and in the fall of 1856 a military governor was appointed, with full authority to maintain law and order in Kansas.
Recognizing the good work effected by the emigrant-aid societies, and realizing that in a still larger Northern emigration to Kansas lay the only hope of its admission as a free state, father went to Ohio in the following spring, to labor for the salvation of the territory he had chosen for his home. Here his natural gift of oratory had free play, and as the result of his work on the stump he brought back to Kansas sixty families, the most of whom settled in the vicinity of Grasshopper Falls, now Valley Falls.
This meant busy times for us, for with that magnificent disregard for practical matters that characterizes many men of otherwise great gifts, father had invited each separate family to make headquarters at his home until other arrangements could be perfected. As a result, our house overflowed, while the land about us was dotted with tents; but these melted away, as one by one the families selected claims and put up cabins.
Among the other settlers was Judge Delahay, who, with his family, located at Leavenworth, and began the publishing of the first abolition newspaper in Kansas. The appointing of the military governor was the means of restoring comparative tranquillity; but hundreds of outrages were committed, and the judge and his newspaper came in for a share of suffering. The printing-office was broken into, and the type and press thrown into the Missouri River. Undaunted, the judge procured a new press, and the paper continued.
A semi-quiet now reigned in the territory; father resumed work at the sawmill, and we looked forward to a peaceful home and the joy of being once more permanently united. But it was not to be. The knife wound had injured father's lung. With care and nursing it might have healed, but constant suffering attended on the life that persecution had led him, and in the spring of '57 he again came home, and took to his bed for the last time.
All that could be was done, but nothing availed. After a very short illness he passed away—one of the first martyrs in the cause of freedom in Kansas.
The land of his adoption became his last, long resting-place. His remains now lie on Pilot Knob, which overlooks the beautiful city of Leavenworth. His death was regretted even by his enemies, who could not help but grant a tribute of respect to a man who had been upright, just, and generous to friend and foe.
CHAPTER V. — THE "BOY EXTRA."
AT this sorrowful period mother was herself almost at death's door with consumption, but far from sinking under the blow, she faced the new conditions with a steadfast calm, realizing that should she, too, be taken, her children would be left without a protector, and at the mercy of the enemies whose malignity had brought their father to an untimely end. Her indomitable will opposed her bodily weakness. "I will not die," she told herself, "until the welfare of my children is assured." She was needed, for our persecution continued.
Hardly was the funeral over when a trumped-up claim for a thousand dollars, for lumber and supplies, was entered against our estate. Mother knew the claim was fictitious, as all the bills had been settled, but the business had been transacted through the agency of Uncle Elijah, and father had neglected to secure the receipts. In those bitter, troublous days it too often happened that brother turned against brother, and Elijah retained his fealty to his party at the expense of his dead brother's family.
This fresh affliction but added fuel to the flame of mother's energy. Our home was paid for, but father's business had been made so broken and irregular that our financial resources were of the slenderest, and should this unjust claim for a thousand dollars be allowed, we would be homeless.
The result of mother's study of the situation was, "If I had the ready money, I should fight the claim."
"You fight the claim, and I'll get the money," Will replied.
Mother smiled, but Will continued:
"Russell, Majors & Waddell will give me work. Jim Willis says I am capable of filling the position of 'extra.' If you'll go with me and ask Mr. Majors for a job, I'm sure he'll give me one."
Russell, Majors & Waddell were overland freighters and contractors, with headquarters at Leavenworth. To Will's suggestion mother entered a demurrer, but finally yielded before his insistence. Mr. Majors had known father, and was more than willing to aid us, but Will's youth was an objection not lightly overridden.
"What can a boy of your age do?" he asked, kindly.
"I can ride, shoot, and herd cattle," said Will; "but I'd rather be an 'extra' on one of your trains.'
"But that is a man's work, and is dangerous besides." Mr. Majors hesitated. "But I'll let you try it one trip, and if you do a man's work, I'll give you a man's pay."
So Will's name was put on the company roll, and he signed a pledge that illustrates better than a description the character and disposition of Mr. Majors.
"I, William F. Cody," it read, "do hereby solemnly swear, before the great and living God, that during my engagement with, and while I am in the employ of, Russell, Majors & Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language, that I will not quarrel or fight with any other employee of the firm, and that in every respect I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers. So help me God!"
Mr Majors employed many wild and reckless men, but the language of the pledge penetrated to the better nature of them all. They endeavored, with varying success, to live up to its conditions, although most of them held that driving a bull-team constituted extenuating circumstances for an occasional expletive.
The pledge lightened mother's heart; she knew that Will would keep his word; she felt, too, that a man that required such a pledge of his employees was worthy of their confidence and esteem.
The train was to start in a day, and all of us were busy with the preparations for Will's two months' trip. The moment of parting came, and it was a trying ordeal for mother, so recently bereaved of husband. Will sought to soothe her, but the younger sisters had better success, for with tears in our eyes we crowded about him, imploring him to "run if he saw any Indians."
'Tis but a step from tears to smiles; the situation was relieved, and Will launched his life bark amid adieus of hope and confidence and love. His fortitude lasted only till he was out of sight of the house; but youth is elastic, the plains lay before him, and mother and sisters were to be helped; so he presented a cheerful face to his employers.
That night the bed of the "boy extra" was a blanket under a wagon; but he slept soundly, and was ready when the train started with the dawn.
The "bull-train" took its name from the fact that each of the thirty-five wagons making up a full train was hauled by several yoke of oxen, driven by one man, known as a bullwhacker. This functionary's whip cracked like a rifle, and could be heard about as far. The wagons resembled the ordinary prairie-schooner, but were larger and more strongly built; they were protected from the weather by a double covering of heavy canvas, and had a freight capacity of seven thousand pounds.
Besides the bullwhackers there were cavallard drivers (who cared for the loose cattle), night herders, and sundry extra hands, all under the charge of a chief wagon-master, termed the wagon-boss, his lieutenants being the boss of the cattle train and the assistant wagon-master. The men were disposed in messes, each providing its own wood and water, doing its own cooking, and washing up its own tin dinner service, while one man in each division stood guard. Special duties were assigned to the "extras," and Will's was to ride up and down the train delivering orders. This suited his fancy to a dot, for the oxen were snail-gaited, and to plod at their heels was dull work. Kipling tells us it is quite impossible to "hustle the East"; it were as easy, as Will discovered, to hustle a bull-train.
From the outset the "boy extra" was a favorite with the men. They liked his pluck in undertaking such work, and when it was seen that he took pride in executing orders promptly, he became a favorite with the bosses as well. In part his work was play to him; he welcomed an order as a break in the monotony of the daily march, and hailed the opportunity of a gallop on a good horse.
The world of Will's fancy was bounded by the hazy rim where plain and sky converge, and when the first day's journey was done, and he had staked out and cared for his horse, he watched with fascinated eyes the strange and striking picture limned against the black hills and the sweeping stretch of darkening prairie. Everything was animation; the bullwhackers unhitching and disposing of their teams, the herders staking out the cattle, and—not the least interesting—the mess cooks preparing the evening meal at the crackling camp-fires, with the huge, canvas-covered wagons encircling them like ghostly sentinels; the ponies and oxen blinking stupidly as the flames stampeded the shadows in which they were enveloped; and more weird than all, the buckskin-clad bullwhackers, squatted around the fire, their beards glowing red in its light, their faces drawn in strange black and yellow lines, while the spiked grasses shot tall and sword-like over them.
It was wonderful—that first night of the "boy extra."
But Will discovered that life on the plains is not all a supper under the stars when the sparks fly upward; it has its hardships and privations. There were days, as the wagons dragged their slow lengths along, when the clouds obscured the sky and the wind whistled dismally; days when torrents fell and swelled the streams that must be crossed, and when the mud lay ankle-deep; days when the cattle stampeded, and the round-up meant long, extra hours of heavy work; and, hardest but most needed work of all, the eternal vigil 'gainst an Indian attack.
Will did not share the anxiety of his companions. To him a brush with Indians would prove that boyhood's dreams sometimes come true, and in imagination he anticipated the glory of a first encounter with the "noble red man," after the fashion of the heroes in the hair-lifting Western tales he had read. He was soon to learn, as many another has learned, that the Indian of real Life is vastly different from the Indian of fiction. He refuses to "bite the dust" at sight of a paleface, and a dozen of them have been known to hold their own against as many white men.
Some twenty miles west of Fort Kearny a halt was made for dinner at the bank of a creek that emptied into the Platte River. No signs of Indians had been observed, and there was no thought of special danger. Nevertheless, three men were constantly on guard. Many of the trainmen were asleep under the wagons while waiting dinner, and Will was watching the maneuvers of the cook in his mess. Suddenly a score of shots rang out from the direction of a neighboring thicket, succeeded by a chorus of savage yells.
Will saw the three men on the lookout drop in their tracks, and saw the Indians divide, one wing stampeding the cattle, the other charging down upon the camp.
The trainmen were old frontiersmen, and although taken wholly by surprise, they lined up swiftly in battle array behind the wagons, with the bosses, Bill and Frank McCarthy, at their head, and the "boy extra" under the direction of the wagon-master.
A well-placed volley of rifle-balls checked the Indians, and they wheeled and rode away, after sending in a scattering cloud of arrows, which wounded several of the trainmen. The decision of a hasty council of war was, that a defensive stand would be useless, as the Indians outnumbered the whites ten to one, and red reinforcements were constantly coming up, until it seemed to Will as if the prairie were alive with them. The only hope of safety lay in the shelter of the creek's high bank, so a run was made for it. The Indians charged again, with the usual accompaniment of whoops, yells, and flying arrows; but the trainmen had reached the creek, and from behind its natural breastwork maintained a rifle fire that drove the foe back out of range.
To follow the creek and river to Fort Kearny was not accounted much of a chance for escape, but it was the only avenue that lay open; so, with a parting volley to deceive the besiegers into thinking that the fort was still held, the perilous and difficult journey was begun.
The Indians quickly penetrated the ruse, and another charge had to be repulsed. Besides the tiresome work of wading, there were wounded men to help along, and a ceaseless watch to keep against another rush of the reds. It was a trying ordeal for a man, doubly so for a boy like Will; but he was encouraged to coolness and endurance by a few words from Frank McCarthy, who remarked, admiringly, "Well, Billy, you didn't scare worth a cent."
After a few miles of wading the little party issued out upon the Platte River. By this time the wounded men were so exhausted that a halt was called to improvise a raft. On this the sufferers were placed, and three or four men detailed to shove it before them. In consideration of his youth, Will was urged to get upon the raft, but he declined, saying that he was not wounded, and that if the stream got too deep for him to wade, he could swim. This was more than some of the men could do, and they, too, had to be assisted over the deep places.
Thus wore the long and weary hours away, and though the men, who knew how hard a trip it was, often asked, "How goes it, Billy?" he uttered no word of complaint.
But half a day's wading, without rest or food, gradually weighted his heels, and little by little he lagged behind his companions. The moon came out and silvered tree and river, but the silent, plodding band had no eyes for the glory of the landscape.
Will had fallen behind some twenty rods, but in a moment fatigue was forgotten, the blood jumped in his veins, for just ahead of him the moonlight fell upon the feathered head-dress of an Indian chief, who was peering over the bank. Motionless, he watched the head, shoulders, and body of the brave come into view. The Indian supposed the entire party ahead, and Will made no move until the savage bent his bow.
Then he realized, with a thumping heart, that death must come to one of his comrades or the Indian.
Even in direst necessity it is a fearful thing to deliberately take a human life, but Will had no time for hesitation. There was a shot, and the Indian rolled down the bank into the river.
His expiring yell was answered by others. The reds were not far away. Frank McCarthy, missing Will, stationed guards, and ran back to look for him. He found the lad hauling the dead warrior ashore, and seizing his hand, cried out: "Well done, my boy; you've killed your first Indian, and done it like a man!"
Will wanted to stop and bury the body, but being assured that it was not only an uncustomary courtesy, but in this case quite impossible, he hastened on. As they came up with the waiting group McCarthy called out:
"Pards, little Billy has killed his first redskin!"
The announcement was greeted with cheers, which grated on Will's ears, for his heart was sick, and the cheers seemed strangely out of place.
Little time, however, was afforded for sentiment of any sort. Enraged at the death of their scout, the Indians made a final charge, which was repulsed, like the others, and after this Bill McCarthy took the lead, with Frank at the rear, to prevent further straggling of the forces.
It was a haggard-faced band that came up to Fort Kearny with the dawn. The wounded men were left at the post, while the others returned to the wrecked bull-train under escort of a body of troops. They hoped to make some salvage, but the cattle had either been driven away or had joined one of the numerous herds of buffalo; the wagons and their freight had been burned, and there was nothing to do but bury the three pickets, whose scalped and mutilated bodies were stretched where they had fallen.
Then the troops and trainmen parted company, the former to undertake a bootless quest for the red marauders, the latter to return to Leavenworth, their occupation gone. The government held itself responsible for the depredations of its wards, and the loss of the wagons and cattle was assumed at Washington.
CHAPTER VI. — FAMILY DEFENDER AND HOUSEHOLD TEASE.
THE fame to which Byron woke one historic morning was no more unexpected to him than that which now greeted Will. The trainmen had not been over-modest in their accounts of his pluck; and when a newspaper reporter lent the magic of his imagination to the plain narrative, it became quite a story, headed in display type, "The Boy Indian Slayer."
But Will was speedily concerned with other than his own affairs, for as soon as his position with the freighters was assured, mother engaged a lawyer to fight the claim against our estate. This legal light was John C. Douglass, then unknown, unhonored, and unsung, but talented and enterprising notwithstanding. He had just settled in Leavenworth, and he could scarcely have found a better case with which to storm the heights of fame—the dead father, the sick mother, the helpless children, and relentless persecution, in one scale; in the other, an eleven-year-old boy doing a man's work to earn the money needed to combat the family's enemies. Douglass put his whole strength into the case.
He knew as well as we that our cause was weak; it hung by a single thread—a missing witness, Mr. Barnhart. This man had acted as bookkeeper when the bills were paid, but he had been sent away, and the prosecution—or persecution—had thus far succeeded in keeping his where-abouts a secret. To every place where he was likely to be Lawyer Douglass had written; but we were as much in the dark as ever when the morning for the trial of the suit arrived.
The case had excited much interest, and the court-room was crowded, many persons having been drawn thither by a curiosity to look upon "The Boy Indian Slayer." There was a cheerful unanimity of opinion upon the utter hopelessness of the Cody side of the case. Not only were prominent and wealthy men arrayed against us, but our young and inexperienced lawyer faced the heaviest legal guns of the Leavenworth bar. Our only witnesses were a frail woman and a girl of eighteen, though by their side, with his head held high, was the family protector, our brave young brother. Against us were might and malignity; upon our side, right and the high courage with which Christianity steels the soul of a believer. Mother had faith that the invisible forces of the universe were fighting for our cause.
She and Martha swore to the fact that all the bills had been settled; and after the opposition had rested its case, Lawyer Douglass arose for the defense. His was a magnificent plea for the rights of the widow and the orphan, and was conceded to be one of the finest speeches ever heard in a Kansas court-room; but though all were moved by our counsel's eloquence—some unto tears by the pathos of it—though the justice of our cause was freely admitted throughout the court-room, our best friends feared the verdict.
But the climax was as stunning to our enemies as it was unexpected. As Lawyer Douglass finished his last ringing period, the missing witness, Mr. Barnhart, hurried into the court-room. He had started for Leavenworth upon the first intimation that his presence there was needed, and had reached it just in time. He took the stand, swore to his certain knowledge that the bills in question had been paid, and the jury, without leaving their seats, returned a verdict for the defense.
Then rose cheer upon cheer, as our friends crowded about us and offered their congratulations. Our home was saved, and Lawyer Douglass had won a reputation for eloquence and sterling worth that stood undimmed through all his long and prosperous career.
The next ripple on the current of our lives was sister Martha's wedding day. Possessed of remarkable beauty, she had become a belle, and as young ladies were scarce in Kansas at that time, she was the toast of all our country round. But her choice had fallen on a man unworthy of her. Of his antecedents we knew nothing; of his present life little more, save that he was fair in appearance and seemingly prosperous. In the sanction of the union Will stood aloof. Joined to a native intuition were the sharpened faculties of a lad that lived beyond his years. Almost unerring in his insight, he disliked the object of our sister's choice so thoroughly that he refused to be a witness of the nuptials. This dislike we attributed to jealousy, as brother and sister worshiped each other, but the sequel proved a sad corroboration of his views.
Nature seemed to join her protest to Will's silent antagonism. A terrific thunder-storm came up with the noon hour of the wedding. So deep and sullen were the clouds that we were obliged to light the candles. When the wedding pair took their places before Hymen's altar, a crash of thunder rocked the house and set the casements rattling.
The couple had their home awaiting them in Leavenworth, and departed almost immediately after the ceremony.
The cares and responsibilities laid upon our brother's shoulders did not quench his boyish spirits and love of fun. Not Buffalo Bill's! He gave us a jack-o'-lantern scare once upon a time, which I don't believe any of us will ever forget. We had never seen that weird species of pumpkin, and Will embroidered a blood-and-thunder narrative.
"The pumpkins all rise up out of the ground," said he, "on fire, with the devil's eyes, and their mouths open, like blood-red lions, and grab you, and go under the earth. You better look out!"
"That ain't so!" all of us little girls cried; "you know it's a fib. Ain't it, mother?" and we ran as usual to mother.
"Will, you mustn't tell the children such tales. Of course they're just fibs," said mother.
"So there!" we cried, in triumph. But Will had a "so there" answer for us a few nights later. We were coming home late one evening, and found the gate guarded by mad-looking yellow things, all afire, and grinning hideously like real live men in the moon dropped down from the sky.
"Jack-o'-lanterns!" screamed Eliza, grabbing May by the hand, and starting to run. I began to say my prayers, of course, and cry for mother. All at once the heads moved! Even Turk's tail shot between his legs, and he howled in fright. We saw the devil's eyes, the blood-red lion's mouths, and all the rest, and set up such a chorus of wild yells that the whole household rushed to our rescue. While we were panting out our story, we heard Will snickering behind the door.
"So there, smarties! You'll believe what I tell you next time. You bet—ter—had!"
But he liked best to invade our play-room and "work magic" on our dolls. Mother had set aside one apartment in our large log house for a play-room, and here each one of our doll families dwelt in peace and harmony, when Will wasn't around. But there was tragedy whenever he came near. He would scalp the mother dolls, and tie their babies to the bedposts, and would storm into their pasteboard-box houses at night, after we had fixed them all in order, and put the families to standing on their heads. He was a dreadful tease. It was in this play-room that the germ of his Wild West took life. He formed us into a regular little company—Turk and the baby, too—and would start us in marching order for the woods. He made us stick horses and wooden tomahawks, spears, and horsehair strings, so that we could be cowboys, Indians, bullwhackers, and cavalrymen. All the scenes of his first freighting trip were acted out in the woods of Salt Creek Valley. We had stages, robbers, "hold-ups," and most ferocious Indian battles.
Will was always the "principal scalper," however, and we had few of our feathers left after he was on the warpath. We were so little we couldn't reach his feathers. He always wore two long shiny ones, which had been the special pride of our black rooster, and when he threw a piece of an old blanket gotten from the Leavenworth barracks around his shoulders, we considered him a very fine general indeed.
All of us were obedient to the letter on "show days," and scarcely ever said "Now, stop," or "I'll tell mother on you!" But during one of these exciting performances Will came to a short stop.
"I believe I'll run a show when I get to be a man," said he.
"That fortune lady said you'd got to be President of the United States," said Eliza.
"How could ze presiman won a show?" asked May.
"How could that old fortune-teller know what I'm going to be?" Will would answer, disdainfully. "I rather guess I can have a show, in spite of all the fortune-tellers in the country. I'll tell you right now, girls, I don't propose to be President, but I do mean to have a show!"
Such temerity in disputing one's destiny was appalling; and though our ideas of destiny were rather vague, we could grasp one dreadful fact: Will had refused to be President of the United States! So we ran crying to mother, and burying our faces in her lap, sobbed out: "Oh, mother! Will says he ain't going to be President. Don't he have to be?"
Still, in spite of Will's fine scorn of fortune-tellers, the prophecy concerning his future must have been sometimes in his mind. This was shown in an episode that the writer is in duty bound, as a veracious chronicler, to set down.
Our neighbor, Mr. Hathaway, had a son, Eugene, of about Will's age, and the two were fast friends. One day, when Will was visiting at Eugene's house, the boys introduced themselves to a barrel of hard cider. Temperance sentiment had not progressed far enough to bring hard cider under the ban, and Mr. Hathaway had lately pressed out a quantity of the old-fashioned beverage. The boys, supposing it a harmless drink, took all they desired—much more than they could carry. They were in a deplorable condition when Mr. Hathaway found them; and much distressed, the good old man put Eugene to bed and brought Will home.
The family hero returned to us with a flourish of trumpets. He stood up in the wagon and sang and shouted; and when Mr. Hathaway reproved him, "Don't talk to me," was his lofty rejoinder. "You forget that I am to be President of the United States."
There is compensation for everything. Will never touched cider again; and never again could he lord it over his still admiring but no longer docile sisters. If he undertook to boss or tease us more than to our fancy, we would subdue him with an imitation of his grandiloquent, "You forget that I am to be President of the United States." Indeed, so severe was this retaliation that we seldom saw him the rest of the day.
But he got even with us when "preacher day" came around.
Like "Little Breeches" father, Will never did go in much on religion, and when the ministers assembled for "quarterly meeting" at our house, we never knew what to expect from him. Mother was a Methodist, and as our log house was larger than the others in the valley, it fell to our lot to entertain the preachers often. We kept our preparations on the quiet when Will was home, but he always managed to find out what was up, and then trouble began. His first move was to "sick" Turk on the yellow-legged chickens. They were our best ones, and the only thing we had for the ministers to eat. Then Will would come stalking in:
"Say, mother, just saw all the yellow-legged chickens a-scooting up the road. Methodist preachers must be in the wind, for the old hens are flying like sixty!"
"Now, Will, you call Turk off, and round up those chickens right away."
"Catch meself!" And Will would dance around and tease so he nearly drove us all distracted. It was with the greatest difficulty that mother could finally prevail upon him to round up the chickens. That done, he would tie up the pump-handle, milk the cows dry, strew the path to the gate with burrs and thistles, and stick up a sign, "Thorney is the path and stickery the way that leedith unto the kingdom of heaven. Amen!"
Then when mother had put a nice clean valance, freshly starched and ruffled, around the big four-poster bed in the sitting-room, Will would daub it up with smearcase, and just before the preachers arrived, sneak in under it, and wait for prayers.
Mother always desired us to file in quietly, but we couldn't pass the bed without our legs being pinched; so we "hollered," but were afraid to tell mother the reason before the ministers. We had to bear it, but we snickered ourselves when the man Will called "Elder Green Persimmon," because when he prayed his mouth went inside out, came mincing into the room, and as he passed the valance and got a pinch, jerked out a sour-grape sneeze:
"Mercy on us! I thought I was bitten by that fierce dog of yours, Mrs. Cody; but it must have been a burr."
Then the "experiences" would begin. Will always listened quietly, until the folks began telling how wicked they had been before they got religion; then he would burst in with a vigorous "Amen!"
The elders did not know Will's voice; so they would get warmed up by degree as the amens came thicker and faster. When he had worked them all up to a red-hot pitch, Will would start that awful snort of his that always made us double up with giggles, and with a loud cockle-doodle-doo! would bolt from the bed like a lightning flash and make for the window.
So "preacher day," as Will always called it, became the torment of our lives.
To tell the truth, Will always was teasing us, but if he crooked his finger at us we would bawl. We bawled and squalled from morning till night. Yet we fairly worshiped him, and cried harder when he went away than when he was home.
CHAPTER VII. — INDIAN ENCOUNTER AND SCHOOL-DAY INCIDENTS.
WILL was not long at home. The Mormons, who were settled in Utah, rebelled when the government, objecting to the quality of justice meted out by Brigham Young, sent a federal judge to the territory. Troops, under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston, were dispatched to quell the insurrection, and Russell, Majors & Waddell contracted to transport stores and beef cattle to the army massing against the Mormons in the fall of 1857. The train was a large one, better prepared against such an attack as routed the McCarthy brothers earlier in the summer; yet its fate was the same.
Will was assigned to duty as "extra" under Lew Simpson, an experienced wagon-master, and was subject to his orders only. There was the double danger of Mormons and Indians, so the pay was good. Forty dollars a month in gold looked like a large sum to an eleven-year-old.
Will's second departure was quite as tragic as the first. We girls, as before, were loud in our wailings, and offered to forgive him the depredations in the doll-house and all his teasings, if only he would not go away and be scalped by the Indians. Mother said little, but her anxious look, as she recalled the perils of the former trip, spoke volumes. He carried with him the memory of the open-mouthed admiration of little Charlie, to whom "Brother Will" was the greatest hero in the world. Turk's grief at the parting was not a whit less than ours, and the faithful old fellow seemed to realize that in Will's absence the duty of the family protector devolved on him; so he made no attempt to follow Will beyond the gate.
The train made good progress, and more than half the journey to Fort Bridger was accomplished without a setback. When the Rockies were reached, a noon halt was made near Green River, and here the men were surrounded and overcome by a large force of Danites, the "Avenging Angels" of the Mormon Church, who had "stolen the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in." These were responsible for the atrocious Mountain Meadow Massacre, in June of this same year, though the wily "Saints" had planned to place the odium of an unprovoked murder of innocent women and children upon the Indians, who had enough to answer for, and in this instance were but the tools of the Mormon Church. Brigham Young repudiated his accomplice, and allowed John D. Lee to become the scapegoat. The dying statement of this man is as pathetic as Cardinal Wolsey's arraignment of Henry VIII.
"A victim must be had," said he, "and I am that victim. For thirty years I studied to make Brigham Young's will my law. See now what I have come to this day. I have been sacrificed in a cowardly, dastardly manner. I do not fear death. I cannot go to a worse place than I am now in."
John D. Lee deserved his fate, but Brigham Young was none the less a coward.
The Danites spared the lives of the trainmen, but they made sad havoc of the supplies. These they knew to be intended for the use of the army opposed to Brigham Young. They carried off all the stores they could handle, drove with them or stampeded the cattle, and burned the wagons. The trainmen were permitted to retain one wagon and team, with just enough supplies to last them to army headquarters.
It was a disheartened, discomfited band that reached Fort Bridger. The information that two other trains had been destroyed added to their discouragement, for that meant that they, in common with the other trainmen and the soldiers at the fort, must subsist on short rations for the winter. There were nearly four hundred of these trainmen, and it was so late in the season that they had no choice but to remain where they were until spring opened.
It was an irksome winter. The men at the fort hauled their firewood two miles; as the provisions dwindled, one by one the oxen were slaughtered, and when this food supply was exhausted, starvation reared its gaunt form. Happily the freighters got word of the situation, and a relief team reached the fort before the spring was fairly opened.
As soon as practicable the return journey was undertaken. At Fort Laramie two large trains were put in charge of Lew Simpson, as brigade wagon-master, and Will was installed as courier between the two caravans, which traveled twenty miles apart—plenty of elbow room for camping and foraging.
One morning, Simpson, George Woods, and Will, who were in the rear train, set out for the forward one, mounted upon mules, and armed, as the trainmen always were, with rifle, knife, and a brace of revolvers. About half of the twenty miles had been told off when the trio saw a band of Indians emerge from a clump of trees half a mile away and sweep toward them. Flight with the mules was useless; resistance promised hardly more success, as the Indians numbered a full half-hundred: but surrender was death and mutilation.
"Shoot the mules, boys!" ordered Simpson, and five minutes later two men and a boy looked grimly over a still palpitating barricade.
The defense was simple; rifles at range, revolvers for close quarters, knives at the last. The chief, easily distinguished by his feathered head-dress, was assigned to Will. Already his close shooting was the pride of the frontiersmen. Simpson's coolness steadied the lad, who realized that the situation was desperate.
The Indians came on with the rush and scream of the March wind. "Fire!" said Simpson, and three ponies galloped riderless as the smoke curled from three rifle barrels.
Dismayed by the fall of their chief, the redskins wheeled and rode out of range. Will gave a sigh of relief.
"Load up again, Billy!" smiled Simpson. "They'll soon be back."
"They've only three or four rifles," said Woods. There had been little lead in the cloud of arrows.
"Here they come!" warned Simpson, and the trio ran their rifles out over the dead mules.
Three more riderless ponies; but the Indians kept on, supposing they had drawn the total fire of the whites. A revolver fusillade undeceived them, and the charging column wavered and broke for cover.
Simpson patted Will on the shoulder as they reloaded. "You're a game one, Billy!" said he.
"You bet he is," echoed Woods, coolly drawing an arrow from his shoulder. "How is that, Lew—poisoned?"
Will waited breathless for the decision, and his relief was as great as Woods's when Simpson, after a critical scrutiny, answered "No."
The wound was hastily dressed, and the little company gave an undivided attention to the foe, who were circling around their quarry, hanging to the off sides of their ponies and firing under them. With a touch of the grim humor that plain life breeds, Will declared that the mules were veritable pincushions, so full of arrows were they stuck.
The besieged maintained a return fire, dropping pony after pony, and occasionally a rider. This proved expensive sport to the Indians, and the whole party finally withdrew from range.
There was a long breathing spell, which the trio improved by strengthening their defense, digging up the dirt with their knives and piling it upon the mules. It was tedious work, but preferable to inactivity and cramped quarters.
Two hours went by, and the plan of the enemy was disclosed. A light breeze arose, and the Indians fired the prairie. Luckily the grass near the trail was short, and though the heat was intense and the smoke stifling, the barricade held off the flame. Simpson had kept a close watch, and presently gave the order to fire. A volley went through the smoke and blaze, and the yell that followed proved that it was not wasted. This last ruse failing, the Indians settled down to their favorite game—waiting.
A thin line of them circled out of range; ponies were picketed and tents pitched; night fell, and the stars shot out.
As Woods was wounded, he was excused from guard duty, Will and Simpson keeping watch in turn. Will took the first vigil, and, tired though he was, experienced no difficulty in keeping awake, but he went soundly to sleep the moment he was relieved. He was wakened by a dream that Turk was barking to him, and vaguely alarmed, he sat up to find Simpson sleeping across his rifle.
The midnight hush was unbroken, and the darkness lay thick upon the plain, but shapes blacker than night hovered near, and Will laid his hand on Simpson's shoulder.
The latter was instantly alive, and Woods was wakened. A faint click went away on the night breeze, and a moment later three jets of flame carried warning to the up-creeping foe that the whites were both alive and on the alert.
There was no more sleep within the barricade. The dawn grew into day, and anxious eyes scanned the trail for reinforcements—coming surely, but on what heavy and slow-turning wheels!
Noon came and passed. The anxious eyes questioned one another. Had the rear train been overcome by a larger band of savages? But suddenly half a dozen of the Indians were seen to spring up with gestures of excitement, and spread the alarm around the circle.
"They hear the cracking of the bull-whips," said Simpson.
The Indians who had seen the first team pass, and had assumed that Simpson and his companions were straggling members of it, did not expect another train so soon. There was "mounting in hot haste," and the Indians rode away in one bunch for the distant foothills, just as the first ox-team broke into view.
And never was there fairer picture to more appreciative eyes than those same lumbering, clumsy animals, and never sweeter music than the harsh staccato of the bullwhips.
When hunger was appeased, and Woods's wound properly dressed, Will, for the second time, found himself a hero among the plainsmen. His nerve and coolness were dwelt upon by Simpson, and to the dream that waked him in season was ascribed the continued life on earth of the little company. Will, however, was disposed to allow Turk the full credit for the service.
The remainder of the trip was devoid of special incident, and as Will neared home he hurried on in advance of the train. His heart beat high as he thought of the dear faces awaiting him, unconscious that he was so near.
But the home toward which he was hastening with beating heart and winged heels was shadowed by a great grief. Sister Martha's married life, though brief, had amply justified her brother's estimate of the man into whose hands she had given her life. She was taken suddenly ill, and it was not until several months later that Will learned that the cause of her sickness was the knowledge that had come to her of the faithless nature of her husband. The revelation was made through the visit of one of Mr. C——'s creditors, who, angered at a refusal to liquidate a debt, accused Mr. C——of being a bigamist, and threatened to set the law upon him. The blow was fatal to one of Martha's pure and affectionate nature, already crushed by neglect and cruelty. All that night she was delirious, and her one thought was "Willie," and the danger he was in—not alone the physical danger, but the moral and spiritual peril that she feared lay in association with rough and reckless men. She moaned and tossed, and uttered incoherent cries; but as the morning broke the storm went down, and the anxious watchers fancied that she slept. Suddenly she sat up, the light of reason again shining in her eyes, and with a joyous cry, "Tell mother Willie's saved! Willie's saved!" she fell back on her pillow, and her spirit passed away. On her face was the peace that the world can neither give nor take away. The veil of the Unknown had been drawn aside for a space. She had "sent her soul through the Invisible," and it had found the light that lit the last weary steps through the Valley of the Shadow.
Mr. C—— had moved from Leavenworth to Johnson County, twenty-five miles away, and as there were neither telegraph nor mail facilities, he had the body sent home, himself accompanying it. Thus our first knowledge of Martha's sickness came when her lifeless clay was borne across our threshold, the threshold that, less than a year before, she had crossed a bright and bonny bride. Dazed by the shock, we longed for Will's return before we must lay his idolized sister forever in her narrow cell.
All of the family, Mr. C—— included, were gathered in the sitting-room, sad and silent, when Turk suddenly raised his head, listened a second, and bounded out of doors.
"Will is coming!" cried mother, and we all ran to the door. Turk was racing up the long hill, at the top of which was a moving speck that the dog knew to be his master. His keen ears had caught the familiar whistle half a mile away.
When Turk had manifested his joy at the meeting, he prepared Will for the bereavement that awaited him; he put his head down and emitted a long and repeated wail. Will's first thought was for mother, and he fairly ran down the hill. The girls met him some distance from the house, and sobbed out the sad news.
And when he had listened, the lad that had passed unflinching through two Indian fights, broke down, and sobbed with the rest of us.
"Did that rascal, C——, have anything to do with her death?" he asked, when the first passion of grief was over.
Julia, who knew no better at the time, replied that Mr. C——was the kindest of husbands, and was crushed with sorrow at his loss; but spite of the assurance, Will, when he reached the house, had neither look nor word for him. He just put his arms about mother's neck, and mingled his grief with her words of sympathy and love.
Martha was shortly after laid by father's side, and as we stood weeping in that awful moment when the last spadeful of earth completes the sepulture, Will, no longer master of himself, stepped up before Mr. C——:
"Murderer," he said, "one day you shall answer to me for the death of her who lies there!"
When Will next presented himself at Mr. Majors's office, he was told that his services had been wholly satisfactory, and that he could have work at any time he desired. This was gratifying, but a sweeter pleasure was to lay his winter's wages in mother's lap. Through his help, and her business ability, our pecuniary affairs were in good condition. We were comfortably situated, and as Salt Creek Valley now boasted of a schoolhouse, mother wished Will to enter school. He was so young when he came West that his school-days had been few; nor was the prospect of adding to their number alluring. After the excitement of life on the plains, going to school was dull work; but Will realized that there was a world beyond the prairie's horizon, and he entered school, determined to do honest work.
Our first teacher was of the good, old-fashioned sort. He taught because he had to live. He had no love for his work, and knew nothing of children. The one motto he lived up to was, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." As Will was a regular Tartar in the schoolroom, he, more than all the other scholars, made him put his smarting theory into practice. Almost every afternoon was attended with the dramatic attempt to switch Will. The schoolroom was separated into two grand divisions, "the boys on teacher's side," and those "on the Cody side." The teacher would send his pets out to get switches, and part of our division—we girls, of course—would begin to weep; while those who had spunk would spit on their hands, clench their fists, and "dare 'em to bring them switches in!" Those were hot times in old Salt Creek Valley!