THE LIFE OF HON. WILLIAM F. CODY
KNOWN AS BUFFALO BILL
THE FAMOUS HUNTER, SCOUT AND GUIDE.
To GENERAL PHILIP H. SHERIDAN, THIS BOOK IS MOST RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED BY THE AUTHOR.
The life and adventures of Hon. William F. Cody—Buffalo Bill—as told by himself, make up a narrative which reads more like romance than reality, and which in many respects will prove a valuable contribution to the records of our Western frontier history. While no literary excellence is claimed for the narrative, it has the greater merit of being truthful, and is verified in such a manner that no one can doubt its veracity. The frequent reference to such military men as Generals Sheridan, Carr, Merritt, Crook, Terry, Colonel Royal, and other officers under whom Mr. Cody served as scout and guide at different times and in various sections of the frontier, during the numerous Indian campaigns of the last ten or twelve years, affords ample proof of his genuineness as a thoroughbred scout.
There is no humbug or braggadocio about Buffalo Bill. He is known far and wide, and his reputation has been earned honestly and by hard work. By a combination of circumstances he was educated to the life of a plainsman from his youth up; and not the least interesting portion of his career is that of his early life, passed as it was in Kansas during the eventful and troubleous times connected with the settlement of that state. Spending much time in the saddle, while a mere boy he crossed the plains many times in company with bull-trains; on some of these trips he met with thrilling adventures and had several hairbreadth escapes from death at the hands of Indians. Then, for a while, he was dashing over the plains as a pony-express rider. Soon afterwards, mounted on the high seat of an overland stagecoach, he was driving a six-in-hand team. We next hear of him cracking the bull-whacker's whip, and commanding a wagon-train through a wild and dangerous country to the far West. During the civil war he enlisted as a private, and became a scout with the Union army; since the war he has been employed as hunter, trapper, guide, scout and actor. As a buffalo hunter he has no superior; as a trailer of Indians he has no equal. For many years he has taken an active part in all the principal Indian campaigns on the Western frontier, and as a scout and guide he has rendered inestimable services to the various expeditions which he accompanied.
During his life on the plains he not only had many exciting adventures himself, but he became associated with many of the other noted plainsmen, and in his narrative he frequently refers to them and relates many interesting incidents and thrilling events connected with them. He has had a fertile field from which to produce this volume, and has frequently found it necessary to condense the facts in order to embody the most interesting events of his life. The following from a letter written by General E. A. Carr, of the Fifth Cavalry, now commanding Fort McPherson, speaks for itself:
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"I first met Mr. Cody, October 22d, 1868, at Buffalo Station, on the Kansas Pacific railroad, in Kansas. He was scout and guide for the seven companies of the Fifth Cavalry, then under Colonel Royal, and of which I was ordered to take the command.
"From his services with my command, steadily in the field for nine months, from October, 1868, to July, 1869, and at subsequent times, I am qualified to bear testimony to his qualities and character.
"He was very modest and unassuming. I did not know for a long time how good a title he had to the appellation, 'Buffalo Bill.' I am apt to discount the claims of scouts, as they will occasionally exaggerate; and when I found one who said nothing about himself, I did not think much of him, till I had proved him. He is a natural gentleman in his manners as well as in character, and has none of the roughness of the typical frontiersman. He can take his own part when required, but I have never heard of his using a knife or a pistol, or engaging in a quarrel where it could be avoided. His personal strength and activity are such that he can hardly meet a man whom he cannot handle, and his temper and disposition are so good that no one has reason to quarrel with him.
"His eye-sight is better than a good field glass; he is the best trailer I ever heard of; and also the best judge of the 'lay of country,'—that is, he is able to tell what kind of country is ahead, so as to know how to act. He is a perfect judge of distance, and always ready to tell correctly how many miles it is to water, or to any place, or how many miles have been marched.
"Mr. Cody seemed never to tire and was always ready to go, in the darkest night or the worst weather, and usually volunteered, knowing what the emergency required. His trailing, when following Indians or looking for stray animals or game, is simply wonderful. He is a most extraordinary hunter. I could not believe that a man could be certain to shoot antelope running till I had seen him do it so often.
"In a fight Mr. Cody is never noisy, obstreperous or excited. In fact, I never hardly noticed him in a fight, unless I happened to want him, or he had something to report, when he was always in the right place, and his information was always valuable and reliable.
"During the winter of 1868, we encountered hardships and exposure in terrific snow storms, sleet, etc., etc. On one occasion, that winter, Mr. Cody showed his quality by quietly offering to go with some dispatches to General Sheridan, across a dangerous region, where another principal scout was reluctant to risk himself.
"On the 13th of May, 1869, he was in the fight at Elephant Rock, Kansas, and trailed the Indians till the 16th, when we got another fight out of them on Spring Creek, in Nebraska, and scattered them after following them one hundred and fifty miles in three days. It was at Spring Creek where Cody was ahead of the command about three miles, with the advance guard of forty men, when two hundred Indians suddenly surrounded them. Our men, dismounted and formed in a circle, holding their horses, firing and slowly retreating. They all, to this day, speak of Cody's coolness and bravery. This was the Dog Soldier band which captured Mrs. Alderdice and Mrs. Weichel in Kansas. They strangled Mrs. Alderdice's baby, killed Mrs. Weichel's husband, and took a great deal of property and stock from different persons. We got on their trail again, June 28th, and followed it nearly two hundred miles, till we struck the Indians on Sunday, July 11th, 1869, at Summit Spring. The Indians, as soon as they saw us coming, killed Mrs. Alderdice with a hatchet, and shot Mrs. Weichel, but fortunately not fatally, and she was saved.
"Mr. Cody has since served with me as post guide and scout at Fort McPherson, where he frequently distinguished himself.
"In the summer of 1876, Cody went with me to the Black Hills region where he killed Yellow-Hand. Afterwards he was with the Big Horn and Yellowstone expedition. I consider that his services to the country and the army by trailing, finding and fighting Indians, and thus protecting the frontier settlers, and by guiding commands over the best and most practicable routes, have been far beyond the compensation he has received. His friends of the Fifth Cavalry are all glad that he is in a lucrative business, and hope that he may live long and prosper. Personally, I feel under obligations to him for assistance in my campaigns which no other man could, or would, have rendered. Of course I wish him, and his, every success."
E. A. CARR, Lt. Col. 5th Cav., Brev. Maj. Gen'l U. S. Army. FORT McPHERSON, NEBRASKA, July 3d, 1878
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Buffalo Bill is now an actor, and is meeting with success. He owns a large and valuable farm adjoining the town of North Platte, Nebraska, and there his family live in ease and comfort. He has also an extensive cattle ranch on the Dismal river, sixty-five miles north of North Platte, his partner being Major Frank North, the old commander of the celebrated Pawnee scouts. While many events of his career are known to the public, yet the reader will find in this narrative much that will be entirely new and intensely interesting to both young and old.
THE AUTHOR, PORTRAIT, ON STEEL
SAMUEL'S FATAL ACCIDENT
BILLINGS AS A BOCARRO
BILLINGS RIDING LITTLE GRAY
STAKING OUT LOTS
MY FATHER STABBED
MY FATHER'S ESCAPE
LIFE OR DEATH
TWO TO ONE
KILLING MY FIRST INDIAN
A PRAIRIE SCHOONER
WILD BILL (PORTRAIT)
HOLDING THE FORT
CAMPING IN A SEPULCHRE
RAFTING OS THE PLATTE
RIDING PONY EXPRESS
SAVED BY CHIEF RAIN IN-THE-FACE
ATTACK ON STAGE COACH
ALF. SLADE KILLING THE DRIVER
THE HORSE THIEVES DEN
MY ESCAPE FROM THE HORSE THIEVES
BOB SCOTT'S FAMOUS COACH HIDE
"NEARLY EVERY MAN HAD TWO HORSES"
WILD BILL AND THE OUTLAWS
WILD BILL'S DUEL
GENERAL GEO. A. CUSTER (Portrait)
TONGUES AND TENDERLOINS
THE INDIAN HORSE THIEVES
THE MAN WHO FIRED THE GUN
"DOWN WENT HIS HORSE"
THE FIRE SIGNAL
KIT CARSON (Portrait)
A GOOD HORSE
A BIG JOKE
AMBUSHING THE INDIANS
DELIVERING DISPATCHES TO GENERAL SHERIDAN
THE TWO TRAMPS
GEN'L PHIL. SHERIDAN (PORTRAIT)
BATTLE ON THE ARICKAREE
BRINGING MEAT INTO CAMP
GENERAL E. A. CARR (PORTRAIT)
A CRACK SHOT
A HARD CROWD
CAMPING IN THE SNOW
A WELCOME VISITOR
THE RECAPTURE OF BEVINS
ROBBING A STAGE COACH
THE KILLING OF TALL BULL
AN OLD BONE
A WEDDING CEREMONY
A RIDE FOR LIFE
PRAIRIE DOG VILLAGE
FINDING THE REMAINS OF THE BUCK PARTY
SPOTTED TAIL (PORTRAIT)
GRAND DUKE ALEXIS (PORTRAIT)
TWO-LANCE KILLING A BUFFALO
AN EMBARRASSING SITUATION?
TEXAS JACK (PORTRAIT)
STUDYING THE PARTS
BEHIND THE FOOTLIGHTS
LEARNING THE GAME
A DUEL WITH CHIEF YELLOW HAND
SCOUTING ON A STEAMBOAT
ONE OF THE TROUPE
Early Days in Iowa—A Brother's Death—The Family Move to a New Country—Incidents on the Road—The Horse Race—Our "Little Gray" Victorious—A Pleasant Acquaintance—Uncle Elijah Cody—Our New Home—My Ponies.
Dress Parade at Fort Leavenworth—The Beautiful Salt Creek Valley—The Mormon Emigrants—The Wagon Trains—The Cholera—A Lively Scene—My First Sight of Indians—"Dolly" and "Prince"—A Long-Lost Relative Turns up—Adventurous Career of Horace Billings—His Splendid Horsemanship—Catching Wild Horses.
BOY DAYS IN KANSAS.
My Indian Acquaintances—An Indian Barbecue—Beginning of the Kansas Troubles—An Indiscreet Speech by my Father, who is Stabbed for his Boldness—Persecutions at the Hands of the Missourians—A Strategic Escape—A Battle at Hickory Point—A Plan to Kill Father is Defeated by Myself—He is Elected to the Lecompton Legislature—I Enter the Employ of William Russell—Herding Cattle—A Plot to Blow Up our House—A Drunken Missourian on the War-Path.
At School—My First Love Scrape—I Punish my Rival, and then Run Away—My First Trip Across the Plains—Steve Gobel and I are Friends once more—Death of my Father—I Start for Salt Lake—Our Wagon Train Surprised by Indians, who Drive us off, and Capture our Outfit—I Kill my First Indian—Our Return to Leavenworth—I am Interviewed by a Newspaper Reporter, who gives me a Good "Send-Off."
My Second Trip Across the Plains—The Salt Lake Trail—Wild Bill—He Protects me from the Assault of a Bully—A Buffalo Hunt—Our Wagon Train Stampeded by Buffaloes—We are Taken Prisoners by the Mormons—We Proceed to Fort Bridger.
A Dreary Winter At Fort Bridger—Short Rations—Mule Steaks—Homeward Bound in the Spring—A Square Meal—Corraled by Indians—A Mule Barricade—We Hold the Fort—Home Again—Off for the West—Trapping on the Chugwater And Laramie Rivers—We go to Sleep In a Human Grave—A Horrifying Discovery—A Jollification at Oak Grove Ranch—Home Once More—I go to School—The Pike's Peak Gold Excitement—Down the Platte River on a Raft—I Become a Pony Express Rider.
ACCIDENTS AND ESCAPES.
Trapping on Prairie Dog Creek—An Accident whereby we Lose one of our Oxen—I Fall and Break my Leg—Left Alone in Camp—Unwelcome Visitors—A Party of Hostile Sioux Call upon me and Make Themselves at Home—Old Rain-in-the-Face Saves my Life—Snow-Bound-A Dreary Imprisonment—Return of my Partner—A Joyful Meeting—We Pull Out for Home—Harrington Dies.
ADVENTURES ON THE OVERLAND ROAD.
Introduction to Alf. Slade—He Employs me as a Pony Express Rider—I Make a Long Ride—Indians Attack an Overland Stage Coach—Wild Bill Leads a Successful Expedition against the Indians—A Grand Jollification at Sweetwater Bridge—Slade Kills a Stage Driver—The End of the Spree—A Bear Hunt—I fall among Horse Thieves—My Escape—I Guide a Party to Capture the Gang.
Bob Scott, the Stage Driver—The Story of the Most Reckless Piece of Stage Driving that ever Occurred on the Overland Road.
The Civil War—Jayhawking—Wild Bill's Fight with the McCandless Gang of Desperadoes—I become Wild Bill's Assistant Wagon-Master—We Lose our Last Dollar on a Horse Race—He becomes a Government Scout—He has a Duel at Springfield.
Scouting against the Indians in the Kiowa and Comanche country—The Red-Legged Scouts—A Trip to Denver—Death of my Mother—I Awake one Morning to Find myself a Soldier—I am put on Detached Service as a Scout—The Chase after Price—An Unexpected Meeting with Wild Bill—An Unpleasant Situation—Wild Bill's Escape from the Southern Lines—The Charge upon Price's Army—We return to Springfield.
I Fall in Love—A Successful Courting Expedition—I am Married—The Happiest Event of my Life—Our Trip up the Missouri River—The Bushwhackers Come after me—I become Landlord of a Hotel—Off for the Plains once more—Scouting on the Frontier for the Government—A Ride with General Custer—An Expedition from Fort Hays has a Lively Chase after Indians—Cholera in Camp.
A Town Lot Speculation—"A Big Thing"—I become Half-Owner of a City—Corner Lots Reserved—Rome's Rapid Rise—We consider ourselves Millionaires—Dr. Webb—Hays City—We Regard ourselves as Paupers—A Race with Indians—Captain Graham's Scout after the Indians.
EARNING A TITLE.
Hunting for the Kansas Pacific—How I got my Name of "Buffalo Bill"—The Indians give me a Lively Chase—They get a Dose of their own Medicine—Another Adventure—Scotty and myself Corraled by Indians—A Fire Signal brings Assistance—Kit Carson.
CHAMPION BUFFALO KILLER.
A Buffalo Killing Match with Billy Comstock—An Excursion party from St. Louis come out to Witness the Sport—I win the Match, and am declared the Champion Buffalo Killer of the Plains.
Scouting—Captured by Indians—A Strategic Escape—A Hot Pursuit—The Indians led into an Ambush—Old Satanta's Tricks and Threats—Excitement at Fort Larned—Herders and Wood-Choppers Killed by the Indians—A Perilous Ride—I get into the wrong Pew—Safe, arrival at Fort Hays—Interview with General Sheridan—My ride to Fort Dodge—I return to Fort Larned—My Mule gets away from me—A long Walk—The Mule Passes In his Chips.
General Sheridan appoints me Guide and Chief of Scouts of the Fifth Cavalry—The Dog Soldiers—General Forsyth's Fight on the Arickaree Fork.
Arrival of the Fifth Cavalry at Fort Hays—Out on a Scout—A little Skirmish with Indians—A Buffalo Hunt—A False Alarm in camp—A Scout on the Beaver—The Supply Camp is Surprised—Arrival of General Carr—The new Lieutenant and his Reception—Another Indian Hunt—An Engagement—A Crack Shot—I have a little Indian fight of my own—Return to Fort Wallace—While hunting Buffaloes with a small Party, we are Attacked by Fifty Indians.
A TOUGH TIME.
A Winter's Campaign in the Canadian River Country—Searching for Penrose's Command—A Heavy Snow-Storm—Taking the Wagon Train down a Mountain Side—Camp Turkey—Darkey Deserters from Penrose's Command—Starvation in Penrose's Camp—We reach the Command with Timely Relief—Wild Bill—A Beer Jollification—Hunting Antelopes—Return to Fort Lyon.
AN EXCITING CHASE.
A Difficulty with a Quartermaster's Agent—I give him a Severe Pounding—Stormy Interview with General Bankhead and Captain Laufer—I put another "Head" on the Quartermaster's Agent—I am Arrested—In the Guard-House—General Bankhead Releases me—A Hunt after Horse Thieves—Their Capture—Escape of Bevins—His Recapture—Escape of Williams—Bevins Breaks Out of Jail—His Subsequent Career.
A MILITARY EXPEDITION.
The Fifth Cavalry is Ordered to the Department of the Platte—Liquids vs. Solids—A Skirmish with the Indians—Arrival at Fort McPherson—Appointed Chief of Scouts—Major Frank North and the Pawnee Scouts—Belden the White Chief—The Shooting Match—Review of the Pawnee Scouts—An Expedition against the Indians—"Buckskin Joe."
A DESPERATE FIGHT.
Pawnees vs. Siouxs—We strike a Large Trail—The Print of a Woman's Shoe—The Summit Springs Fight—A Successful Charge—Capture of the Indian Village—Rescue of a White Woman—One hundred and forty Indians Killed—I kill Tall Bull and Capture his Swift Steed—The Command proceeds to Fort Sedgwick—Powder Face—A Scout after Indian Horse-Thieves—"Ned Buntline"—"Tall Bull" as a Racer—Powder Face wins a Race without a Rider—An Expedition to the Niobrara—An Indian Tradition.
I make my Home at Fort McPherson—Arrival of my Family—Hunting and Horse Racing—An Indian Raid—Powder Face Stolen—A Lively Chase—An Expedition to the Republican River Country—General Duncan—A Skirmish with the Indians—A Stern Chase—An Addition to my Family—Kit Carson Cody—I am made a Justice of the Peace—A Case of Replevin—I perform a Marriage Ceremony—Professor Marsh's Fossil-Hunting Expedition.
The Grand Hunt of General Sheridan, James Gordon Bennett, and other Distinguished Gentlemen—From Fort McPherson to Fort Hays—Incidents of the Trip—"Ten Days on the Plains"—General Carr's Hunting Expedition—A Joke on McCarthy—A Search for the Remains of Buck's Surveying Party, who had been Murdered by the Indians.
HUNTING WITH A GRAND DUKE.
The Grand Duke Alexis Hunt—Selection of a Camp—I Visit Spotted Tail's Camp—The Grand Duke and Party arrive at Camp Alexis—Spotted Tail's Indians give a Dance—The Hunt—Alexis Kills his First Buffalo—Champagne—The Duke Kills another Buffalo—More Champagne—End of the Hunt—Departure of the Duke and his Party.
My Visit in the East—Reception in Chicago—Arrival in New York—I am well Entertained by my old Hunting Friends—I View the Sights of the Metropolis—Ned Buntline—The Play of "Buffalo Bill"—I am Called Upon to make a Speech—A Visit to my Relatives—Return to the West.
Arrival of the Third Cavalry at Fort McPherson—A Scout after Indians—A Desperate Fight with Thirteen Indians—A Hunt with the Earl of Dunraven—A Hunt with a Chicago Party—Milligan's Bravery—Neville—I am Elected to the Nebraska Legislature.
I resolve to go upon the Stage—I resign my Seat in the Legislature—Texas Jack—"The Scouts of the Plains"—A Crowded House—A Happy Thought—A Brilliant Debut—A Tour of the Country.
The Theatrical Season of 1873-74—Wild Bill and his Tricks—He Leaves us at Rochester—He becomes a "Star"—A Bogus "Wild Bill "—A Hunt with Thomas P. Medley, an English gentleman—A Scout on the Powder River and in the Big Horn Country—California Joe—Theatrical Tour of 1874 and 1875—Death of my son, Kit Carson Cody.
A RETURN TO THE PLAINS.
The Sioux Campaign of 1876—I am appointed Guide and Chief of Scouts of the Fifth Cavalry—An Engagement with eight hundred Cheyennes—A Duel with Yellow Hand—Generals Terry and Crook meet, and cooperate Together.
Scouting on a Steamboat—Captain Grant Marsh—A Trip down the Yellowstone River—Acting as Dispatch Carrier—I Return East and open my Theatrical Season with a New Play—Immense Audiences—I go into the Cattle Business in company with Major Prank North—My Home at North Platte.
A Cattle "Round-up"—A Visit to My Family in our New Home—A Visit from my Sisters—I go to Denver—Buying more Cattle—Pawnee and Nez-Perces Indians Engaged for a Theatrical Tour—The Season of 1878-79—An experience in Washington—Home Once More.
THE LIFE OF HON. WILLIAM F. CODY
My debut upon the world's stage occurred on February 26th, 1845. The scene of this first important event in my adventurous career, being in Scott county, in the State of Iowa. My parents, Isaac and Mary Ann Cody, who were numbered among the pioneers of Iowa, gave to me the name of William Frederick. I was the fourth child in the family. Martha and Julia, my sisters, and Samuel my brother, had preceded me, and the children who came after me were Eliza, Nellie, Mary, and Charles, born in the order named.
At the time of my birth the family resided on a farm which they called "Napsinekee Place,"—an Indian name—and here the first six or seven years of my childhood were spent. When I was about seven years old my father moved the family to the little town of LeClair, located on the bank of the Mississippi, fifteen miles above the city of Davenport. Even at that early age my adventurous spirit led me into all sorts of mischief and danger, and when I look back upon my childhood's days I often wonder that I did not get drowned while swimming or sailing, or my neck broken while I was stealing apples in the neighboring orchards.
I well remember one day that I went sailing with two other boys; in a few minutes we found ourselves in the middle of the Mississippi; becoming frightened at the situation we lost our presence of mind, as well as our oars. We at once set up a chorus of pitiful yells, when a man, who fortunately heard us, came to our rescue with a canoe and towed us ashore. We had stolen the boat, and our trouble did not end until we had each received a merited whipping, which impressed the incident vividly upon my mind. I recollect several occasions when I was nearly eaten up by a large and savage dog, which acted as custodian of an orchard and also of a melon patch, which I frequently visited. Once, as I was climbing over the fence with a hatful of apples, this dog, which had started for me, caught me by the seat of the pantaloons, and while I clung to the top of the fence he literally tore them from my legs, but fortunately did not touch my flesh. I got away with the apples, however, by tumbling over to the opposite side of the fence with them.
It was at LeClair that I acquired my first experience as an equestrian. Somehow or other I had managed to corner a horse near a fence, and had climbed upon his back. The next moment the horse got his back up and hoisted me into the air, I fell violently to the ground, striking upon my side in such a way as to severely wrench and strain my arm, from the effects of which I did not recover for some time. I abandoned the art of horsemanship for a while, and was induced after considerable persuasion to turn my attention to letters—my A, B, C's—which were taught me at the village school.
My father at this time was running a stage line, between Chicago and Davenport, no railroads then having been built west of Chicago. In 1849 he got the California fever and made up his mind to cross the great plains—which were then and for years afterwards called the American Desert—to the Pacific coast. He got ready a complete outfit and started with quite a party. After proceeding a few miles, all but my father, and greatly to his disappointment, changed their minds for some reason and abandoned the enterprise. They all returned home, and soon afterwards father moved his family out to Walnut Grove Farm, in Scott county.
While living there I was sent to school, more for the purpose of being kept out of mischief than to learn anything. Much of my time was spent in trapping quails, which were very plentiful. I greatly enjoyed studying the habits of the little birds, and in devising traps to take them in. I was most successful with the common figure "4" trap which I could build myself. Thus I think it was that I acquired my love for hunting. I visited the quail traps twice a day, morning and evening, and as I had now become quite a good rider I was allowed to have one of the farm horses to carry me over my route. Many a jolly ride I had and many a boyish prank was perpetrated after getting well away from and out of the sight of home with the horse.
There was one event which occurred in my childhood, which I cannot recall without a feeling of sadness. It was the death of my brother Samuel, who was accidentally killed in his twelfth year.
My father at the time, being considerable of a politician as well as a farmer, was attending a political convention; for he was well known in those days as an old line Whig. He had been a member of the Iowa legislature, was a Justice of the Peace, and had held other offices. He was an excellent stump speaker and was often called upon to canvass the country round about for different candidates. The convention which he was attending at the time of the accident was being held at a cross-road tavern called "Sherman's," about a mile away.
Samuel and I had gone out together on horseback for the cows. He rode a vicious mare, which mother had told him time and again not to ride, as it had an ugly disposition. We were passing the school house just as the children were being dismissed, when Samuel undertook to give an exhibition of his horsemanship, he being a good rider for a boy. The mare, Betsy, became unmanageable, reared and fell backward upon him, injuring him internally. He was picked up and carried amid great excitement to the house of a neighbor.
I at once set out with my horse at the top of his speed for my father, and informed him of Samuel's mishap. He took the horse and returned immediately. When I arrived at Mr. Burns' house, where my brother was, I found my father, mother and sisters there, all weeping bitterly at Samuel's bedside. A physician, after examining him, pronounced his injuries to be of a fatal character. He died the next morning.
My brother was a great favorite with everybody, and his death cast a gloom upon the whole neighborhood. It was a great blow to all of the family, and especially to father who seemed to be almost heart broken over it.
Father had been greatly disappointed at the failure of his California expedition, and still desired to move to some new country. The death of Samuel no doubt increased this desire, and he determined to emigrate. Accordingly, early in the spring of 1852, he disposed of his farm, and late in March we took our departure for Kansas, which was then an unsettled territory. Our outfit consisted of one carriage, three wagons and some fine blooded horses. The carriage was occupied by my mother and sisters. Thus we left our Iowa home.
Father had a brother, Elijah Cody, living at Weston, Platte county, Missouri. He was the leading merchant of the place. As the town was located near the Kansas line father determined to visit him, and thither our journey was directed. Our route lay across Iowa and Missouri, and the trip proved of interest to all of us, and especially to me. There was something new to be seen at nearly every turn of the road. At night the family generally "put up" at hotels or cross-road taverns along the way.
One day as we were proceeding on our way, we were met by a horseman who wanted to sell his horse, or trade-him for another. He said the horse had been captured wild in California; that he was a runner and a racer; that he had been sold by his different owners on account of his great desire to run away when taking part in a race.
The stranger seemed to be very frank in his statements, and appeared to be very anxious to get rid of the animal, and as we were going to Kansas where there would be plenty of room for the horse to run as far as he pleased, father concluded to make a trade for him; so an exchange of animals was easily and satisfactorily effected.
The new horse being a small gray, we named him "Little Gray."
An opportunity of testing the racing qualities of the horse was soon afforded. One day we drove into a small Missouri town or hamlet which lay on our route, where the farmers from the surrounding country were congregated for the purpose of having a holiday—the principal amusement being horse-racing. Father had no trouble in arranging a race for Little Gray, and selected one of his teamsters to ride him.
The Missourians matched their fastest horse against him and were confident of cleaning out "the emigrant," as they called father. They were a hard looking crowd. They wore their pantaloons in their boots; their hair was long, bushy and untrimmed; their faces had evidently never made the acquaintance of a razor. They seemed determined to win the race by fair means or foul. They did a great deal of swearing, and swaggered about in rather a ruffianly style.
All these incidents attracted my attention—everything being new to me—and became firmly impressed upon my memory. My father, being unaccustomed to the ways of such rough people, acted very cautiously; and as they were all very anxious to bet on their own horse, he could not be induced to wager a very large sum on Little Gray, as he was afraid of foul play.
"Wa-al, now, stranger," exclaimed one of the crowd, "what kind o' critter have you got anyhow, as how you're afraid to back him up very heavy?"
"I'll bet five to one agin the emergrant's, gray," said another.
"I'm betting the same way. I'll go yer five hundred dollars agin a hundred that the gray nag gits left behind. Do I hear any man who wants to come agin me on them yer terms?" shouted still another.
"Hi! yer boys, give the stranger a chance. Don't scare him out of his boots," said a man who evidently was afraid that my father might back out.
Father had but little to say, however, and would not venture more than fifty dollars on the result of the race.
"Gentlemen, I am only racing my horse for sport," said he, "and am only betting enough to make it interesting. I have never seen Little Gray run, and therefore don't know what he can do;" at the same time he was confident that his horse would come in the winner, as he had chosen an excellent rider for him.
Finally all the preliminaries of the contest were arranged. The judges were chosen and the money was deposited in the hands of a stake-holder. The race was to be a single dash, of a mile. The horses were brought side by side and mounted by their riders.
At the signal—"One, two, three, go!"—off they started like a flash. The Missouri horse took the lead for the first quarter of a mile; at the half-mile, however, he began to weaken. The Missourians shouted themselves hoarse in urging their horse, but all to no avail. The Little Gray passed him and continued to leave him farther and farther behind, easily winning the race.
The affair created a great deal of enthusiasm; but the race was conducted with honor and fairness, which was quite an agreeable surprise to my father, who soon found the Missourians to be at heart very clever men—thus showing that outside appearances are sometimes very deceptive; they nearly all came up and congratulated him on his success, asked him why he had not bet more money on the race, and wanted to buy Little Gray.
"Gentlemen," said he, "when I drove up here and arranged for this race, I felt confident that my horse would win it. I was among entire strangers, and therefore I only bet a small amount. I was afraid that you would cheat me in some way or other. I see now that I was mistaken, as I have found you to be honorable men."
"Wa-all, you could have broke me" said the man who wanted to bet the five hundred dollars to one hundred, "for that there nag o' yourn looks no more like a runner nor I do."
During our stay in the place they treated us very kindly, and continued to try to purchase Little Gray. My father, however, remained firm in his determination not to part with him.
The next place of interest which we reached, after resuming our journey, was within twenty miles of Weston. We had been stopping at farm houses along the road, and could not get anything to eat in the shape of bread, except corn bread, of which all had become heartily tired. As we were driving along, we saw in the distance a large and handsome brick residence. Father said: "They probably have white bread there."
We drove up to the house and learned that it was owned and occupied by Mrs. Burns; mother of a well-known lawyer of that name, who is now living in Leavenworth. She was a wealthy lady, and gave us to understand in a pleasant way, that she did not entertain travelers. My father, in the course of the conversation with her, said: "Do you know Elijah Cody?"
"Indeed, I do," said she; "he frequently visits us, and we visit him; we are the best of friends."
"He is a brother of mine," said father.
"Is it possible!" she exclaimed; "Why, you must remain here all night. Have your family come into the house at once. You must not go another step today."
The kind invitation was accepted, and we remained there over night. As father had predicted, we found plenty of white bread at this house, and it proved quite a luxurious treat.
My curiosity was considerably aroused by the many negroes which I saw about the premises, as I had scarcely ever seen any colored people, the few, being on the steamboats as they passed up and down the Mississippi river.
The next day my father and mother drove over to Weston in a carriage, and returned with my Uncle Elijah. We then all proceeded to his house, and as Kansas was not yet open for settlement as a territory, we remained there a few days, while father crossed over into Kansas on a prospecting tour. He visited the Kickapoo agency—five miles above Weston—on the Kansas side of the Missouri river. He became acquainted with the agent, and made arrangements to establish himself there as an Indian trader. He then returned to Weston and located the family on one of Elijah Cody's farms, three miles from town, where we were to remain until Kansas should be thrown open for settlement. After completing these arrangements, he established a trading post at Salt Creek Valley, in Kansas, four miles from the Kickapoo agency.
One day, after he had been absent some little time, he came home and said that he had bought two ponies for me, and that next morning he would take me over into Kansas. This was pleasant news, as I had been very anxious to go there with him, and the fact that I was now the owner of two ponies made me feel very proud. That night I could not sleep a wink. In the morning I was up long before the sun, and after an early breakfast, father and I started out on our trip. Crossing the Missouri river at the Rialto Ferry, we landed in Kansas and passed along to Fort Leavenworth, four miles distant.
General Harney was in command at Fort Leavenworth at the time of our visit, and a regiment of cavalry was stationed there. They were having a dress parade when we rode up, and as this was the first time that I had ever seen any soldiers, I thought it was a grand sight. I shall never forget it, especially the manoeuvres on horseback.
After witnessing the parade we resumed our journey. On the way to my father's trading camp we had to cross over a high hill known as Salt Creek Hill, from the top of which we looked down upon the most beautiful valley I have ever seen. It was about twelve miles long and five miles wide. The different tributaries of Salt Creek came down from the range of hills at the southwest. At the foot of the valley another small river—Plum Creek, also flowed. The bluffs fringed with trees, clad in their full foliage, added greatly to the picturesqueness of the scene.
While this beautiful valley greatly interested me, yet the most novel sight, of an entirely different character, which met my enraptured gaze, was the vast number of white-covered wagons, or "prairie-schooners," which were encamped along the different streams. I asked my father what they were and where they were going; he explained to me that they were emigrant wagons bound for Utah and California.
At that time the Mormon and California trails ran through this valley, which was always selected as a camping place. There were at least one thousand wagons in the valley, and their white covers lent a pleasing contrast to the green grass. The cattle were quietly grazing near the wagons, while the emigrants were either resting or attending to camp duties.
A large number of the wagons, as I learned from my father, belonged to Majors & Russell, the great government freighters. They had several trains there, each consisting of twenty-five wagons, heavily loaded with government supplies. They were all camped and corraled in a circle.
While we were viewing this scene, a long wagon train came pulling up the hill, bound out from Fort Leavenworth to some distant frontier post. The cattle were wild and the men were whipping them fearfully, the loud reports of the bull-whips sounding like gun-shots. They were "doubling-up," and some of the wagons were being drawn by fifteen yokes of oxen. I remember asking my father a great many questions, and he explained to me all about the freighting business across the great plains, and told me about the different government posts.
Pointing over to the army of wagons camped below us, he showed me which were the Mormons' and which were the Californians', and said that we must steer clear of the former as the cholera was raging among them. Five hundred had died that spring—1853—and the grave-yard was daily increasing its dimensions. The unfortunate people had been overtaken by the dreadful disease, and had been compelled to halt on their journey until it abated.
While we were looking at the Mormons they were holding a funeral service over the remains of some of their number who had died. Their old cemetery is yet indicated by various land-marks, which, however, with the few remaining head-boards, are fast disappearing.
We passed on through this "Valley of Death," as it might then have been very appropriately called, and after riding for some time, my father pointed out a large hill and showed me his camp, which afterwards became our home.
There was another trading-post near by, which was conducted by Mr. M.P. Rively, who had a store built, partly frame, and partly of logs. We stopped at this establishment for a while, and found perhaps a hundred men, women and children gathered there, engaged in trading and gossipping. The men had huge pistols and knives in their belts; their pantaloons were tucked in their boots; and they wore large broad-rimmed hats.
To me they appeared like a lot of cut-throat pirates who had come ashore for a lark. It was the first time I had ever seen men carrying pistols and knives, and they looked like a very dangerous crowd. Some were buying articles of merchandise; others were talking about the cholera, the various camps, and matters of interest; while others were drinking whisky freely and becoming intoxicated. It was a busy and an exciting scene, and Rively appeared to be doing a rushing trade.
At some little distance from the store I noticed a small party of dark-skinned and rather fantastically dressed people, whom I ascertained were Indians, and as I had never before seen a real live Indian, I was much interested in them. I went over and endeavored to talk to them, but our conversation was very limited.
That evening we reached our camp, which was located two miles west of Rively's. The first thing I did was to hunt up my ponies, and from my father's description of them, I had no difficulty in finding them. They were lariated in the grass and I immediately ran up to them supposing them to be gentle animals. I was greatly mistaken, however, as they snorted and jumped away from me, and would not allow me to come near them.
My father, who was standing not far distant, informed me that the ponies were not yet broken. I was somewhat disappointed at this; and thereupon he and one of his men caught one of the animals and bridled her, then putting me on her back, led her around, greatly to my delight. I kept petting her so much that she soon allowed me to approach her. She was a beautiful bay, and I named her "Dolly;" the other pony was a sorrel, and I called him "Prince."
In the evening some Indians visited the camp—which as yet consisted only of tents, though some logs had been cut preparatory to building houses—and exchanged their furs for clothing, sugar and tobacco. Father had not learned their language, and therefore communicated with them by means of signs. We had our supper by the camp-fire, and that night was the first time I ever camped out and slept upon the ground.
The day had been an eventful one to me, for all the incidents were full of excitement and romance to my youthful mind, and I think no apology is needed for mentioning so many of the little circumstances, which so greatly interested me in my childhood's days, and which no doubt had a great influence in shaping my course in after years. My love of hunting and scouting, and life on the plains generally, was the result of my early surroundings.
The next morning father visited the Kickapoo agency, taking me along. He rode a horse, and putting me on my pony "Dolly," led the animal all the way. He seemed anxious to break me in, as well as the pony, and I greatly enjoyed this, my first day's ride on a Kansas prairie.
At the Kickapoo village I saw hundreds of Indians, some of whom were living in lodges, but the majority occupied log cabins. The agent resided in a double-hewed log house, one of the apartments of which was used as a school for the Indians. The agency store was opposite this structure.
All the buildings were whitewashed, and looked neat and clean. The Kickapoos were very friendly Indians, and we spent much of our time among them, looking about and studying their habits.
After a while we returned to our own camp, and just as we arrived there, we saw a drove of horses—there were three or four hundred in all—approaching from the west, over the California trail. They were being driven by seven or eight mounted men, wearing sombreros, and dressed in buckskin, with their lariats dangling from their saddles, and they were followed by two or three pack-mules or horses. They went into camp a little below us on the bank of the stream.
Presently one of the men walked out towards our camp, and my father called to me to come and see a genuine Western man; he was about six feet two inches tall, was well built, and had a light, springy and wiry step. He wore a broad-brimmed California hat, and was dressed in a complete suit of buckskin, beautifully trimmed and beaded. He saluted us, and father invited him to sit down, which he did. After a few moments conversation, he turned to me and said:
"Little one, I see you are working with your ponies. They are wild yet."
I had been petting Dolly and trying to break her, when my father called me to come and look at the Californian.
"Yes," I replied, "and one of them never has been ridden."
"Well, I'll ride him for you;" and springing lightly to his feet, he continued: "come on. Where is the animal?"
Accordingly we all went to the place where Prince was lariated. The stranger untied the rope from the picket pin, and taking a half-loop around the pony's nose, he jumped on his back.
In a moment he was flying over the prairie, the untamed steed rearing and pitching every once in a while in his efforts to throw his rider; but the man was not unseated. He was evidently an experienced horseman. I watched his every movement. I was unconsciously taking another lesson in the practical education which has served me so well through my life.
The Californian rode the pony until it was completely mastered, then coming up to me, jumped to the ground, handed me the rope, and said:
"Here's your pony. He's all right now."
I led Prince away, while father and the stranger sat down in the shade of a tent, and began talking about the latter's horsemanship, which father considered very remarkable.
"Oh, that's nothing; I was raised on horseback," said the Californian; "I ran away from home when a boy, went to sea, and finally landed in the Sandwich Islands, where I fell in with a circus, with which I remained two years. During that time I became a celebrated bare-back rider. I then went to California, being attracted there by the gold excitement, the news of which had reached the Islands. I did not go to mining, however, but went to work as a bocarro-catching and breaking wild horses, great numbers of which were roaming through California. Last summer we caught this herd that we have brought with us across the plains, and are taking it to the States to sell. I came with the outfit, as it gave me a good opportunity to visit my relatives, who live at Cleveland, Ohio. I also had an uncle over at Weston, across the river, when I ran away, and to-morrow I am going to visit the town to see if he is there yet."
"I am acquainted in Weston," said father, "and perhaps I can tell you about your uncle. What is his name?"
"Elijah Cody," said the Californian.
"Elijah Cody!" exclaimed father, in great surprise; "why Elijah Cody is my brother. I am Isaac Cody. Who are you?"
"My name is Horace Billings," was the reply.
"And you are my nephew. You are the son of my sister Sophia."
Both men sprang to their feet and began shaking hands in the heartiest manner possible.
The next moment father called me, and said: "Come here, my son. Here is some one you want to know."
As I approached he introduced us. "Horace, this is my only son. We call him little Billy;" and turning to me said: "Billy, my boy, this is a cousin of yours, Horace Billings, whom you've often heard me speak of."
Horace Billings had never been heard of from the day he ran away from home, and his relatives had frequently wondered what had become of him. His appearance, therefore, in our camp in the guise of a Californian was somewhat of a mystery to me, and I could hardly comprehend it until I had heard his adventurous story and learned the accidental manner in which he and father had made themselves known to each other.
Neither father nor myself would be satisfied until he had given us a full account of his wanderings and adventures, which were very exciting to me.
Late in the afternoon and just before the sun sank to rest, the conversation again turned upon horses and horsemanship. Father told Billings all about Little Gray, and his great fault of running away. Billings laughed and said Little Gray could not run away with him.
After supper he went out to look at the horse, which was picketed in the grass. Surveying the animal carefully, he untied the lariat and slipped a running noose over his nose; then giving a light bound, he was on his back in a second, and away went the horse and his rider, circling round and round on the prairie. Billings managed him by the rope alone, and convinced him that he was his master. When half a mile away, the horse started for camp at the top of his speed. Billings stood straight up on his back, and thus rode him into camp. As he passed us he jumped to the ground, allowed the horse to run to the full length of the lariat, when he threw him a complete somersault.
"That's a pretty good horse," said Billings.
"Yes, he's a California horse; he was captured there wild," replied father. The exhibition of horsemanship given by Billings on this occasion was really wonderful, and was the most skillful and daring feat of the kind that I ever witnessed. The remainder of the evening was spent around the camp, and Horace, who remained there, entertained us with several interesting chapters of his experiences.
Next morning he walked over to his own camp, but soon returned, mounted on a beautiful horse, with a handsome saddle, bridle and lariat. I thought he was a magnificent looking man. I envied his appearance, and my ambition just then was to become as skillful a horseman as he was. He had rigged himself out in his best style in order to make a good impression on his uncle at Weston, whither father and I accompanied him on horseback.
He was cordially received by Uncle Elijah, who paid him every possible attention, and gave me a handsome saddle and bridle for my pony, and in the evening when we rode out to the farm to see my mother and sisters, I started ahead to show them my present, as well as to tell them who was coming. They were delighted to see the long-lost Horace, and invited him to remain with us. When we returned to camp next day, Horace settled up with the proprietor of the horses, having concluded to make his home with us for that summer at least.
Father employed him in cutting house logs and building houses, but this work not being adapted to his tastes, he soon gave it up, and obtained government employment in catching United States horses. During the previous spring the government herd had stampeded from Fort Leavenworth, and between two and three hundred of the horses were running at large over the Kansas prairies, and had become quite wild. A reward of ten dollars was offered for every one of the horses that was captured and delivered to the quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth. This kind of work of course just suited the roaming disposition of Billings, especially as it was similar to that in which he had been engaged in California. The horses had to be caught with a lasso, with which he was very expert. He borrowed Little Gray, who was fleet enough for the wildest of the runaways, and then he at once began his horse hunting.
Everything that he did, I wanted to do. He was a sort of hero in my eyes, and I wished to follow in his footsteps. At my request and with father's consent, he took me with him, and many a wild and perilous chase he led me over the prairie. I made rapid advances in the art of horsemanship, for I could have had no better teacher than Horace Billings. He also taught me how to throw the lasso, which, though it was a difficult thing to learn, I finally became, quite skillful in.
Whenever Horace caught one of the horses which acted obstinately, and would not be led, he immediately threw him to the ground, put a saddle and bridle on him, and gave me Little Gray to take care of. He would then mount the captive horse and ride him into Fort Leavenworth. I spent two months with Horace in this way, until at last no more of the horses were to be found. By this time I had become a remarkably good rider for a youth, and had brought both of my ponies under easy control.
Horace returned to assist father in hauling logs, which were being used in building a dwelling for the family who had moved over from Missouri. One day a team did not work to suit him, and he gave the horses a cruel beating. This greatly displeased father, who took him to task for it. Horace's anger flew up in a moment; throwing down the lines he hurried to the house, and began packing up his traps. That same day he hired out to a Mormon train, and bidding us all good-bye started for Salt Lake, driving six yokes of oxen.
BOY DAYS IN KANSAS.
During the summer of 1853 we lived in our little log house, and father continued to trade with the Indians, who became very friendly; hardly a day passed without a social visit from them. I spent a great deal of time with the Indian boys, who taught me how to shoot with the bow and arrow, at which I became quite expert. I also took part in all their sports, and learned to talk the Kickapoo language to some extent.
Father desired to express his friendship for these Indians, and accordingly arranged a grand barbecue for them. He invited them all to be present on a certain day, which they were; he then presented them with two fat beeves, to be killed and cooked in the various Indian styles. Mother made several large boilers full of coffee, which she gave to them, together with sugar and bread. There were about two hundred Indians in attendance at the feast, and they all enjoyed and appreciated it. In the evening they had one of their grand fantastic war dances, which greatly amused me, it being the first sight of the kind I had ever witnessed.
My Uncle Elijah and quite a large number of gentlemen and ladies came over from Weston to attend the entertainment. The Indians returned to their homes well satisfied.
My uncle at that time owned a trading post at Silver Lake, in the Pottawattamie country, on the Kansas river, and he arranged an excursion to that place. Among the party were several ladies from Weston, and father, mother and myself. Mr. McMeekan, my uncle's superintendent, who had come to Weston for supplies, conducted the party to the post.
The trip across the prairies was a delightful one, and we remained at the post several days. Father and one or two of the men went on to Fort Riley to view the country, and upon their return my uncle entertained the Pottawattamie Indians with a barbecue similar to the one given by father to the Kickapoos.
During the latter part of the summer father filled a hay contract at Fort Leavenworth. I passed much of my time among the campers, and spent days and days in riding over the country with Mr. William Russell, who was engaged in the freighting business and who seemed to take a considerable interest in me. In this way I became acquainted with many wagon-masters, hunters and teamsters, and learned a great deal about the business of handling cattle and mules.
It was an excellent school for me, and I acquired a great deal of practical knowledge, which afterwards I found to be of invaluable service, for it was not long before I became employed by Majors & Russell, remaining with them in different capacities, for several years.
The winter of 1853-54 was spent by father at our little prairie home in cutting house logs and fence rails, which he intended to use on his farm, as soon as the bill for the opening of the territory for settlement should pass. This bill, which was called the "Enabling act of Kansas territory," was passed in April, 1854, and father immediately pre-empted the claim on which we were living.
The summer of that year was an exciting period in the history of the new territory. Thousands and thousands of people, seeking new homes, flocked thither, a large number of the emigrants coming over from adjoining states. The Missourians, some of them, would come laden with bottles of whisky, and after drinking the liquor would drive the bottles into the ground to mark their land claims, not waiting to put up any buildings.
The Missourians, mostly, were pro-slavery men, and held enthusiastic meetings at which they expressed their desire that Kansas should be a slave state and did not hesitate to declare their determination to make it so. Rively's store was the headquarters for these men, and there they held their meetings.
At first they thought father would coincide with them on account of his brother Elijah being a Missourian, but in this they were greatly mistaken. At one of their gatherings, when there were about one hundred of the reckless men present, my father, who happened also to be there, was called upon for a speech. After considerable urging, he mounted the box and began speaking, as nearly as I can recollect, as follows:
"Gentlemen and Fellow-citizens: You have called upon me for a speech, and I have accepted your invitation rather against my will, as my views may not accord with the sentiments of the rest of this assembly. My remarks, at this time, will be brief and to the point. The question before us to-day is, shall the territory of Kansas be a free or a slave state. The question of slavery in itself is a broad one, and one which I do not care at this time and place to discuss at length. I apprehend that your motive in calling upon me is to have me express my sentiments in regard to the introduction of slavery into Kansas. I shall gratify your wishes in that respect. I was one of the pioneers of the State of Iowa, and aided in its settlement when it was a territory, and helped to organize it as a state.
"Gentlemen, I voted that it should be a white state—that negroes, whether free or slave, should never be allowed to locate within its limits; and, gentlemen, I say to you now, and I say it boldly, that I propose to exert all my power in making Kansas the same kind of a state as Iowa. I believe in letting slavery remain as it now exists, and I shall always oppose its further extension. These are my sentiments, gentlemen and let me tell you—"
He never finished this sentence, or his speech. His expressions were anything but acceptable to the rough-looking crowd, whose ire had been gradually rising to fever heat, and at this point they hooted and hissed him, and shouted, "You black abolitionist, shut up!" "Get down from that box!" "Kill him!" "Shoot him!" and so on. Father, however, maintained his position on the dry-goods box, notwithstanding the excitement and the numerous invitations to step down, until a hot-headed pro-slavery man, who was in the employ of my Uncle Elijah, crowded up and said: "Get off that box, you black abolitionist, or I'll pull you off."
Father paid but little attention to him, and attempted to resume his speech, intending doubtless to explain his position and endeavor to somewhat pacify the angry crowd. But the fellow jumped up on the box, and pulling out a huge bowie knife, stabbed father twice, who reeled and fell to the ground. The man sprang after him, and would have ended his life then and there, had not some of the better men in the crowd interfered in time to prevent him from carrying out his murderous intention.
The excitement was intense, and another assault would probably have been made on my father, had not Rively hurriedly carried him to his home. There was no doctor within any reasonable distance, and father at once requested that he be conveyed in the carriage to his brother Elijah's house in Weston. My mother and a driver accordingly went there with him, where his wounds were dressed. He remained in Weston several weeks before he was able to stir about again, but he never fully recovered from the wounds, which eventually proved the cause of his death.
My uncle of course at once discharged the ruffian from his employ. The man afterwards became a noted desperado, and was quite conspicuous in the Kansas war.
My father's indiscreet speech at Rively's brought upon our family all of the misfortunes and difficulties which from that time on befell us. As soon as he was able to attend to his business again, the Missourians began to harass him in every possible way, and kept it up with hardly a moment's cessation. Kickapoo City, as it was called, a small town that had sprung into existence seven miles up the river from Fort Leavenworth, became the hot-bed of the pro-slavery doctrine and the headquarters of its advocates. Here was really the beginning of the Kansas troubles. My father, who had shed the first blood in the cause of the freedom of Kansas, was notified, upon his return to his trading post, to leave the territory, and he was threatened with death by hanging or shooting, if he dared to remain.
One night a body of armed men, mounted on horses, rode up to our house and surrounded it. Knowing what they had come for, and seeing that there would be but little chance for him in an encounter with them, father determined to make his escape by a little stratagem. Hastily disguising himself in mother's bonnet and shawl, he boldly walked out of the house and proceeded towards the corn-field. The darkness proved a great protection, as the horsemen, between whom he passed, were unable to detect him in his disguise; supposing him to be a woman, they neither halted him nor followed him, and he passed safely on into the corn-field, where he concealed himself.
The horsemen soon dismounted and inquired for father; mother very truthfully told them that he was away. They were not satisfied with her statement, however, and they at once made a thorough search of the house. They raved and swore when they could not find him, and threatened him with death whenever they should catch him. I am sure if they had captured him that night, they would have killed him. They carried off nearly everything of value in the house and about the premises; then going to the pasture, they drove off all the horses; my pony Prince afterward succeeding in breaking away from them and came back home. Father lay secreted in the corn-field for three days, as there were men in the vicinity who were watching for him all the time; he finally made his escape, and reached Fort Leavenworth in safety, whither the pro-slavery men did not dare to follow him.
While he was staying at Fort Leavenworth, he heard that Jim Lane, Captain Cleveland and Captain Chandler were on their way from Indiana to Kansas with a body of Free State men, between two and three hundred strong. They were to cross the Missouri river near Doniphan, between Leavenworth and Nebraska City; their destination being Lawrence. Father determined to join them, and took passage on a steamboat which was going up the river. Having reached the place of crossing, he made himself known to the leaders of the party, by whom he was most cordially received.
The pro-slavery men, hearing of the approach of the Free State party, resolved to drive them out of the territory. The two parties met at Hickory Point, where a severe battle was fought, several being killed; the victory resulted in favor of the Free State men, who passed on to Lawrence without much further opposition. My father finally left them, and seeing that he could no longer live at home, went to Grasshopper Falls, thirty-five miles west of Leavenworth; there he began the erection of a saw-mill.
While he was thus engaged we learned from one of our hired workmen at home, that the pro-slavery men had laid another plan to kill him, and were on their way to Grasshopper Falls to carry out their intention. Mother at once started me off on Prince to warn father of the coming danger. When I had gone about seven miles I suddenly came upon a party of men, who were camped at the crossing of Stranger Creek. As I passed along I heard one of them, who recognized me, say, "That's the son of the old abolitionist we are after;" and the next moment I was commanded to halt.
Instead of stopping I instantly started my pony on a run, and on looking back I saw that I was being pursued by three or four of the party, who had mounted their horses, no doubt supposing that they could easily capture me. It was very fortunate that I had heard the remark about my being "the son of the abolitionist," for then I knew in an instant that they were en route to Grasshopper Falls to murder my father. I at once saw the importance of my escaping and warning father in time. It was a matter of life or death to him. So I urged Prince to his utmost speed, feeling that upon him and myself depended a human life—a life that was dearer to me than that of any other man in the world. I led my pursuers a lively chase for four or five miles; finally, when they saw they could not catch me, they returned to their camp. I kept straight on to Grasshopper Falls, arriving there in ample time to inform him of the approach of his old enemies.
That same night father and I rode to Lawrence, which had become the headquarters of the Free State men. There he met Jim Lane and several other leading characters, who were then organizing what was known as the Lecompton Legislature.
Father was elected as a member of that body, and took an active part in organizing the first legislature of Kansas, under Governor Reeder, who, by the way, was a Free State man and a great friend of father's.
About this time agents were being sent to the East to induce emigrants to locate in Kansas, and father was sent as one of these agents to Ohio. After the legislature had been organized at Lawrence, he departed for Ohio and was absent several months.
A few days after he had gone, I started for home by the way of Fort Leavenworth, accompanied by two men, who were going to the fort on business. As we were crossing a stream called Little Stranger, we were fired upon by some unknown party; one of my companions, whose name has escaped my memory, was killed. The other man and myself put spurs to our horses and made a dash for our lives. We succeeded in making our escape, though a farewell shot or two was sent after us. At Fort Leavenworth I parted company with my companion, and reached home without any further adventure.
My mother and sisters, who had not heard of my father or myself since I had been sent to warn him of his danger, had become very anxious and uneasy about us, and were uncertain as to whether we were dead or alive. I received a warm welcome home, and as I entered the house, mother seemed to read from the expression of my countenance that father was safe; of course the very first question she asked was as to his whereabouts, and in reply I handed her a long letter from him which explained everything. Mother blessed me again and again for having saved his life.
While father was absent in Ohio, we were almost daily visited by some of the pro-slavery men, who helped themselves to anything they saw fit, and frequently compelled my mother and sisters to cook for them, and to otherwise submit to a great deal of bad treatment. Hardly a day passed without some of them inquiring "where the old man was," saying they would kill him on sight. Thus we passed the summer of 1854, remaining at our home notwithstanding the unpleasant surroundings, as mother had made up her mind not to be driven out of the country. My uncle and other friends advised her to leave Kansas and move to Missouri, because they did not consider our lives safe, as we lived so near the headquarters of the pro-slavery men, who had sworn vengeance upon father.
Nothing, however, could persuade mother to change her determination. She said that the pro-slavery men had taken everything except the land and the little home, and she proposed to remain there as long as she lived, happen what might. Our only friends in Salt Creek valley were two families; one named Lawrence, the other Hathaway, and the peaceable Indians, who occasionally visited us. My uncle, living in Missouri and being somewhat in fear of the pro-slavery men, could not assist us much, beyond expressing his sympathy and sending us provisions.
In the winter of 1854-55 father returned from Ohio, but as soon as his old enemies learned that he was with us, they again compelled him to leave. He proceeded to Lawrence, and there spent the winter in attending the Lecompton Legislature. The remainder of the year he passed mostly at Grasshopper Falls, where he completed his saw-mill. He occasionally visited home under cover of the night, and in the most secret manner; virtually carrying his life in his hand.
In the spring of this year (1855) a pro-slavery party came to our house to search for father; not finding him, they departed, taking with them my pony, Prince. I shall never forget the man who stole that pony. He afterwards rose from the low level of a horse thief to the high dignity of a justice of the peace, and I think still lives at Kickapoo. The loss of my faithful pony nearly broke my heart and bankrupted me in business, as I had nothing to ride.
One day, soon afterwards, I met my old friend, Mr. Russell, to whom I related all my troubles, and his generous heart was touched by my story. "Billy, my boy," said he, "cheer up, and come to Leavenworth, and I'll employ you. I'll give you twenty-five dollars a month to herd cattle."
I accepted the offer, and heartily thanking him, hurried home to obtain mother's consent. She refused to let me go, and all my pleading was in vain. Young as I was—being then only in my tenth year, my ideas and knowledge of the world, however, being far in advance of my age—I determined to run away from home. Mr. Russell's offer of twenty-five dollars a month was a temptation which I could not resist. The remuneration for my services seemed very large to me, and I accordingly stole away and walked to Leavenworth.
Mr. Badger, one of Mr. Russell's superintendents, immediately sent me out, mounted on a little gray mule, to herd cattle. I worked at this for two months, and then came into Leavenworth. I had not been home during all this time, but mother had learned from Mr. Russell where I was, and she no longer felt uneasy, as he had advised her to let me remain in his employ. He assured her that I was all right, and said that when the herd came in he would allow me to make a visit home.
Upon my arrival in Leavenworth with the herd of cattle, Mr. Russell instructed his book-keeper, Mr. Byers, to pay me my wages, amounting to fifty dollars. Byers gave me the sum all in half-dollar pieces. I put the bright silver coins into a sack, which I tied to my mule, and started home, thinking myself a millionaire. This money I gave to mother, who had already forgiven me for running away.
Thus began my service for the firm of Russell & Majors, afterwards Russell, Majors & Waddell, with whom I spent seven years of my life in different capacities—such as cavallard-driver, wagon-master, pony express rider and driver. I continued to work for Mr. Russell during the rest of the summer of 1855, and in the winter of 1855-56 I attended school.
Father, who still continued to secretly visit home, was anxious to have his children receive as much of an education as possible, under the adverse circumstances surrounding us, and he employed a teacher, Miss Jennie Lyons, to come to our house and teach. My mother was well educated—more so than my father—and it used to worry her a great deal because her children could not receive better educational advantages. However, the little school at home got along exceedingly well, and we all made rapid advances in our studies, as Miss Lyons was an excellent teacher. She afterwards married a gentleman named Hook, who became the first mayor of Cheyenne, where she now lives.
The Kansas troubles reached their highest pitch in the spring of 1856, and our family continued to be harassed as much as ever by our old enemies. I cannot now recollect one-half of the serious difficulties that we had to encounter; but I very distinctly remember one incident well worth relating. I came home one night on a visit from Leavenworth, being accompanied by a fellow-herder—a young man. During the night we heard a noise outside of the house, and soon the dogs began barking loudly. We looked out to ascertain the cause of the disturbance, and saw that the house was surrounded by a party of men. Mother had become accustomed to such occurrences, and on this occasion she seemed to be master of the situation from the start. Opening a window, she coolly sang out, in a firm tone of voice: "Who are you? What do you want here?"
"We are after that old abolition husband of yours," was the answer from one of the crowd.
"He is not in this house, and has not been here for a long time," said my mother.
"That's a lie! We know he is in the house, and we are bound to have him," said the spokesman of the party.
I afterwards learned they had mistaken the herder, who had ridden home with me, for my father for whom they had been watching.
"My husband is not at home," emphatically repeated my heroic mother—for if there ever was a heroine she certainly was one—"but the house is full of armed men," continued she, "and I'll give you just two minutes to get out of the yard; if you are not out by the end of that time I shall order them to fire on you."
She withdrew from the window for a few moments and hurriedly instructed the herder to call aloud certain names—any that he might think of—just as if the house was full of men to whom he was giving orders. He followed her directions to the very letter. He could not have done it any better had he rehearsed the act a dozen times.
The party outside heard him, as it was intended they should, and they supposed that my mother really had quite a force at her command. While this little by play was being enacted, she stepped to the open window again and said:
"John Green, you and your friends had better go away or the men will surely fire on you."
At this, point the herder, myself and my sisters commenced stamping on the floor in imitation of a squad of soldiers, and the herder issued his orders in a loud voice to his imaginary troops, who were apparently approaching the window preparatory to firing a volley at the enemy. This little stratagem proved eminently successful. The cowardly villains began retreating, and then my mother fired an old gun into the air which greatly accelerated their speed, causing them to break and run. They soon disappeared from view in the darkness.
The next morning we accidentally discovered that they had intended to blow up the house. Upon going into the cellar which had been left open on one side, we found two kegs of powder together with a fuse secreted there. It only required a lighted match to have sent us into eternity. My mother's presence of mind, which had never yet deserted her in any trying situation, had saved our lives.
Shortly after this affair, I came home again on a visit and found father there sick with fever, and confined to his bed. One day my old enemy rode up to the house on my pony Prince, which he had stolen from me.
"What is your business here to-day?" asked mother.
"I am looking for the old man," he replied. "I am going to search the house, and if I find him I am going to kill him. Here, you girls," said he, addressing my sisters, "get me some dinner, and get it quick, too, for I am as hungry as a wolf."
"Very well; pray be seated, and we'll get you something to eat," said one of my sisters, without exhibiting the least sign of fear.
He sat down, and while they were preparing a dinner for him, he took out a big knife and sharpened it on a whetstone, repeating his threat of searching the house and killing my father.
I had witnessed the whole proceeding, and heard the threats, and I determined that the man should never go up stairs where father was lying in bed, unable to rise. Taking a double-barreled pistol which I had recently bought, I went to the head of the stairs, cocked the weapon, and waited for the ruffian to come up, determined, that the moment he set foot on the steps I would kill him. I was relieved, however, from the stern necessity, as he did not make his appearance.
The brute was considerably intoxicated when he came to the house, and the longer he sat still the more his brain became muddled with liquor, and he actually forgot what he had come there for. After he had eaten his dinner, he mounted his horse and rode off, and it was a fortunate thing for him that he did.
Father soon recovered and returned to Grasshopper Falls, while I resumed my cattle herding.
In July, 1856, the people living in the vicinity of our home—feeling the necessity of more extensive educational facilities for their children than they had yet had—started a subscription school in a little log cabin on the bank of the creek, which for a while proved quite a success. My mother being very anxious to have me attend this school, I acceded to her oft-repeated wishes, and returning home, I became a pupil of the institution. I made considerable progress in my studies—such as they were—and was getting along very well in every other respect, until I became involved in my first love affair.
Like all school-boys, I had a sweetheart with whom I was "dead in love"—in a juvenile way. Her name was Mary Hyatt. Of course I had a rival, Stephen Gobel, a boy about three years my senior—the "bully" of the school. He was terribly jealous, and sought in every way to revenge himself upon me for having won the childish affections of sweet little Mary.
The boys of the school used to build play-houses or arbors among the trees and bushes for their sweethearts. I had built a play-house for Mary, when Steve, as we called him, leveled it to the ground. We immediately had a very lively fight, in which I got badly beaten. The teacher heard of our quarrel and whipped us both. This made matters worse than ever, as I had received two thrashings to Steve's one; I smothered my angry feelings as much as possible under the humiliating circumstances, and during the afternoon recess built another play-house, thinking that Gobel would not dare to destroy a second one; but I was mistaken, for he pushed the whole structure over at the first opportunity. I came up to him just as he finished the job, and said:
"Steve Gobel, the next time you do that, I'll hurt you." And I meant it, too; but he laughed and called me names.
At recess, next morning, I began the construction of still another playhouse, and when I had it about two-thirds finished, Steve slyly sneaked up to the spot and tipped the whole thing over. I jumped for him with the quickness of a cat, and clutching him by the throat for a moment I had the advantage of him. But he was too strong for me, and soon had me on the ground and was beating me severely. While away from home I had someway come into possession of a very small pocket dagger, which I had carried about with me in its sheath, using it in place of a knife. During the struggle this fell from my pocket, and my hand by accident rested upon it as it lay upon the ground. Exasperated beyond measure at Steve's persistence in destroying my play-houses, and smarting under his blows, I forgot myself for the moment, grasped the dagger and unthinkingly thrust it into Steve's thigh. Had it been larger it would probably have injured him severely; as it was, it made a small wound, sufficient to cause the blood to flow freely and Steve to cry out in affright:
"I am killed! O, I am killed!"
The school children all rushed to the spot and were terrified at the scene.
"What's the matter?" asked one.
"Bill Cody has killed Steve Gobel," replied another.
The uproar reached the teacher's ear, and I now saw him approaching, with vengeance in his eye and a big club in his hand. I knew that he was coming to interview me. I was dreadfully frightened at what I had done, and undecided whether to run away or to remain and take the consequences; but the sight of that flag-staff in the school teacher's hand was too much for me. I no longer hesitated, but started off like a deer. The teacher followed in hot pursuit, but soon became convinced that he could not catch me, and gave up the chase. I kept on running, until I reached one of Russell, Major & Waddell's freight trains which I had noticed going over the hill for the west. Fortunately for me I knew the wagon-master, John Willis, and as soon as I recovered my breath I told him what had happened.
"Served him right, Billy," said he, "and what's more, we'll go over and clean out the teacher."
"Oh, no; don't do that," said I, for I was afraid that I might fall into the hands of the wounded boy's friends, who I knew would soon be looking for me.
"Well, Billy, come along with me; I am bound for Fort Kearney; the trip will take me forty days. I want you for a cavallard driver."
"All right," I replied, "but I must go home and tell mother about it, and get some clothes."
"Well then, to-night after we make our camp, I'll go back with you."
The affray broke up the school for the rest of the day as the excitement was too much for the children. Late in the afternoon, after the train had moved on some considerable distance, I saw Steve's father, his brother Frank, and one of the neighbors rapidly approaching.
"Mr. Willis, there comes old Gobel, with Frank and somebody else, and they are after me—what am I going to do?" I asked.
"Let 'em come," said he, "they can't take you if I've got anything to say about it, and I rather think I have. Get into one of the wagons—keep quiet and lay low. I'll manage this little job. Don't you fret a bit about it."
I obeyed his orders and felt much easier.
Old Gobel, Frank and the neighbor soon came up and inquired for me.
"He's around here somewhere," said Mr. Willis.
"We want him," said Gobel; "he stabbed my son a little while ago, and I want to arrest him."
"Well, you can't get him; that settles it; so you needn't waste any of your time around here," said Willis.
Gobel continued to talk for a few minutes, but getting no greater satisfaction, the trio returned home.
When night came, Willis accompanied me on horseback to my home. Mother, who had anxiously searched for me everywhere—being afraid that something had befallen me at the hands of the Gobels—was delighted to see me, notwithstanding the difficulty in which I had become involved. I at once told her that at present I was afraid to remain at home, and had accordingly made up my mind to absent myself for a few weeks or months—at least until the excitement should die out. Mr. Willis said to her that he would take me to Fort Kearney with him, and see that I was properly cared for, and would bring me back safely in forty days.
Mother at first seriously objected to my going on this trip fearing I would fall into the hands of Indians. Her fears, however, were soon overcome, and she concluded to let me go. She fixed me up a big bundle of clothing and gave me a quilt. Kissing her and my sisters a fond farewell, I started off on my first trip across the plains, and with a light heart too, notwithstanding my trouble of a few hours before.
The trip proved a most enjoyable one to me, although no incidents worthy of note occurred on the way. On my return from Fort Kearney I was paid off the same as the rest of the employees. The remainder of the summer and fall I spent in herding cattle and working for Russell, Majors & Waddell.
I finally ventured home—not without some fear, however, of the Gobel family—and was delighted to learn that during my absence mother had had an interview with Mr. Gobel, and having settled the difficulty with him, the two families had become friends again, and I may state, incidentally, that they ever after remained so. I have since often met Stephen Gobel, and we have had many a laugh together over our love affair and the affray at the school-house. Mary Hyatt, the innocent cause of the whole difficulty, is now married and living in Chicago. Thus ended my first love scrape.
In the winter of 1856-57 my father, in company with a man named J.C. Boles, went to Cleveland, Ohio, and organized a colony of about thirty families, whom they brought to Kansas and located on the Grasshopper. Several of these families still reside there.
It was during this winter that father, after his return from Cleveland, caught a severe cold. This, in connection with the wound he had received at Rively's—from which he had never entirely recovered—affected him seriously, and in April, 1857, he died at home from kidney disease.
This sad event left my mother and the family in poor circumstances, and I determined to follow the plains for a livelihood for them and myself. I had no difficulty in obtaining work under my old employers, and in May, 1857, I started for Salt Lake City with a herd of beef cattle, in charge of Frank and Bill McCarthy, for General Albert Sidney Johnson's army, which was then being sent across the plains to fight the Mormons.
Nothing occurred to interrupt our journey until we reached Plum Creek, on the South Platte river, thirty-five miles west of Old Fort Kearney. We had made a morning drive and had camped for dinner. The wagon-masters and a majority of the men had gone to sleep under the mess wagons; the cattle were being guarded by three men, and the cook was preparing dinner. No one had any idea that Indians were anywhere near us. The first warning we had that they were infesting that part of the country was the firing of shots and the whoops and yells from a party of them, who, catching us napping, gave us a most unwelcome surprise. All the men jumped to their feet and seized their guns. They saw with astonishment the cattle running in every direction, they having been stampeded by the Indians, who had shot and killed the three men who were on day-herd duty, and the red devils were now charging down upon the rest of us.
I then thought of mother's fears of my falling into the hands of the Indians, and I had about made up my mind that such was to be my fate; but when I saw how coolly and determinedly the McCarthy brothers were conducting themselves and giving orders to the little band, I became convinced that we would "stand the Indians off," as the saying is. Our men were all well armed with Colt's revolvers and Mississippi yagers, which last, carried a bullet, and two buckshots.
The McCarthy boys, at the proper moment, gave orders to fire upon the advancing enemy. The volley checked them, although they returned the compliment, and shot one of our party through the leg. Frank McCarthy then sang out, "Boys, make a break for the slough yonder, and we can then have the bank for a breast-work."
We made a run for the slough which was only a short distance off, and succeeded in safely reaching it, bringing with us the wounded man. The bank proved to be a very effective breast-work, affording us good protection. We had been there but a short time when Frank McCarthy, seeing that the longer we were corraled the worse it would be for us, said:
"Well, boys, we'll try to make our way back to Fort Kearney by wading in the river and keeping the bank for a breast-work."
We all agreed that this was the best plan, and we accordingly proceeded down the river several miles in this way, managing to keep the Indians at a safe distance with our guns, until the slough made a junction with the main Platte river. From there down we found the river at times quite deep, and in order to carry the wounded man along with us we constructed a raft of poles for his accommodation, and in this way he was transported.
Occasionally the water would be too deep for us to wade, and we were obliged to put our weapons on the raft and swim. The Indians followed us pretty close, and were continually watching for an opportunity to get a good range and give us a raking fire. Covering ourselves by keeping well under the bank, we pushed ahead as rapidly as possible, and made pretty good progress, the night finding us still on the way and our enemies still on our track.
I being the youngest and smallest of the party, became somewhat tired, and without noticing it I had fallen behind the others for some little distance. It was about ten o'clock and we were keeping very quiet and hugging close to the bank, when I happened to look up to the moon-lit sky and saw the plumed head of an Indian peeping over the bank. Instead of hurrying ahead and alarming the men in a quiet way, I instantly aimed my gun at the head and fired. The report rang out sharp and loud on the night air, and was immediately followed by an Indian whoop, and the next moment about six feet of dead Indian came tumbling into the river. I was not only overcome with astonishment, but was badly scared, as I could hardly realize what I had done. I expected to see the whole force of Indians come down upon us. While I was standing thus bewildered, the men, who had heard the shot and the war-whoop and had seen the Indian take a tumble, came rushing back.
"Who fired that shot?" cried Frank McCarthy.
"I did," replied I, rather proudly, as my confidence returned and I saw the men coming up.
"Yes, and little Billy has killed an Indian stone-dead—too dead to skin," said one of the men, who had approached nearer than the rest, and had almost stumbled upon the corpse. From that time forward I became a hero and an Indian killer. This was, of course, the first Indian I had ever shot, and as I was not then more than eleven years of age, my exploit created quite a sensation.
The other Indians, upon learning what had happened to their "advance guard," set up a terrible howling, and fired several volleys at us, but without doing any injury, as we were so well protected by the bank. We resumed our journey down the river, and traveled all night long. Just before daylight, Frank McCarthy crawled out over the bank and discovered that we were only five miles from Fort Kearney, which post we reached in safety in about two hours,—shortly after reveille—bringing the wounded man with us. It was indeed a relief to us all to feel that once more we were safe.