Opposite of the biography, Cody talks mostly about his childhood and scouting years, describing many adventurous expeditions, and only in the last chapter mentions the Wild West Show. Mar 05, John P. Fackler jr. Great story An excellent read, one I thoroughly enjoyed. It is well written and ties in with what McCollough has written about Buffalo Bill's reception in Paris. This was an awesome book. I enjoyed reading this autobiography. It was well written and very exciting although it only covered the first part of his life. I would definitely recommend this book!!
Buffalo Bill had the gift of storytelling, that's for sure. A must-read for anyone interested in the history of the Wild West. Colorful saga of the rape of the West Oh, how colorful to have contests of who can kill the most buffalo with the short time with a rifle from a horse!
And leave most of the carcass on the grasslands. A fairly revolting personal tale of land-grabbing and waste in a very savage era. Great for historical context, but the stories are likely exaggerated and brutally racist in our current time. Fantasic Book. Well worth reading. A true and honest man of his time.
Pity society didn't take a leaf out of his book of life. He forever challenged himself. An intriguing book This is an intriguing book. The man Buffalo Bill was an interesting person. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys adventurous stories. This is the ninth book of my American history series. I finished Mark Twain's book Roughing It and it not only whet my appetite for some more Wild West material but I was also looking for a book to take me into the s. William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, lived from As a young boy my grandmother gave me old copies of a series of biographies she had.
From reading those stories at a young age I' This is the ninth book of my American history series. From reading those stories at a young age I've always been interested in the heroes of the Wild West. I accept that the term "hero" is problematic but I am merely writing casual reviews for my own remembrance for the most part. I am perhaps being generous by giving this book three stars, but giving two is simply not fair. Someday I should read a really objective, in depth, bio of Buffalo Bill because I think that Cody exaggerates some of his tales.
At the very least he sees his accomplishments through rose-colored glasses. His ingrained view of the American Indian as an enemy was probably necessary for survival in his line of work as a scout and guide in the American West at that time, but I still find it jarring today even with that knowledge. A few things that stuck out to me from this work besides all the typical "cowboy and Indian" stories are the recollections of the Pony Express such a fascinating bit of American history , further information on the character of Joseph Alfred Slade who appeared in Twain's Roughing It , and Cody's theatrical show called "Scouts of the Plains" including the humorous interactions with "Wild Bill" Hickok in that arena.
Unfortunately I did not bother to check that this book was published in when Cody was only So it naturally did not include stories about "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" the show that followed "Scouts of the Plains. Alas, I leave this book with a desire to learn even more about Buffalo Bill and to find a book to take me into the next century.
Getting a Kindle has gotten me into reading much of the 19th century it's all free, which helps pay for the Kindle. Cody's an odd bird. From the off-hand way much of the book's written and I'd presume at least partly ghost-written I tend to think it's largely truthful and later accounts by others back this up in mo Getting a Kindle has gotten me into reading much of the 19th century it's all free, which helps pay for the Kindle. From the off-hand way much of the book's written and I'd presume at least partly ghost-written I tend to think it's largely truthful and later accounts by others back this up in most cases.
An amazingly accomplished all-around-hotshot, he killed more buffalo, more effectively than probably any other "hunter"--but he gives as much credit to his horse as to himself. He admits to being so embarrassed his first time on stage that he could barely mumble a half-dozen words and vowed never to go near a theater again--yet with three years had established his own flourishing theater troupe.
He seems both deeply proud of what he's accomplished in shooting, scouting for the army and of both his mental and physical prowess--yet almost seems at time to be an observer as much as a participant. He killed Indians in a completely matter-of-fact way--yet two years after Custer's massacre, when his friends were writing poems of vengeance against the Sioux, he was hiring these Indians to join in his productions and protecting them from government intervention.
He may have had a strange ability to objectify himself. He also had a mordant sense of humor, pulling elaborate practical jokes that sometimes seemed to place himself and those around him in danger. An interesting side view is of the West as a 1,mile-wide small town, where the few white men, riding hundreds of miles, regularly meet up with "old friends" in the middle of nowhere and seem to see nothing at all strange in the encounters.
I ended up liking Buffalo Bill quite a bit, but I don't think he's someone who's really comprehensible. Which may be true of all Great Men. Really good.
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Wasn't expecting it to be so good. Cody is eloquent and the writing is full of action as well as descriptions of the "old West. This is entertaining and enlightening. Entertaining because it rattles along from one adventure to another. Buffalo Bill started work before the age of ten, seemingly doing a man's job and getting a man's pay working on "bull trains", hauling freight across dangerous Indian-infested as they said then territory. He was also a Pony Express rider. He became a famous army scout and one of the most famous "hunters" involved in the massacre of buffalo, killed frequently just for the fun of it, and h This is entertaining and enlightening.
He became a famous army scout and one of the most famous "hunters" involved in the massacre of buffalo, killed frequently just for the fun of it, and helping to bring the numbers of buffalo down from millions to the verge of extinction. He was a man of his times, thinking nothing of "lifting the hair" of Indians who were also apparently shot without a thought, or of burning the homes and possessions of Indian villages in order to drive them away from the latest bit of land that the paleface wanted - unfortunately driving them to territory the white man would want next.
When the book was written, Cody was still only in his mid-thirties but had been there, done that, and moved on to producing and acting in theatrical demonstrations of his exploits. He was obviously quite a man. Fast-paced, horrible in some ways, but part of history. It is sobering to think how recent this history was. The Wild West was not so long ago. Aug 29, Katherine rated it liked it Shelves: summer-reading. The Life and Adventures of William F. Cody, As Told by Himself, produces a picture of life in the old west. Cody's writing leaves something too be desired and the tales told, especially once he became employed in the army, were repetitive at best.
Many of his tales of hunting buffalo began and ended in the same manner, either with a successful hunt, or with a chase involving an angry band of indians. Very little is spoken of concerning his life off of the plains and the author seems to striv The Life and Adventures of William F. Very little is spoken of concerning his life off of the plains and the author seems to strive toward portraying himself as a good humored and jovial character with an adventurous spirit. All in all this was an interesting book. Check it out! Prentiss Ingraham was the most prolific writer of the nineteenth century and the nineteenth century's pre-eminent writer of popular fiction.
Mississippi born he wrote more words in fewer hours than all writers, and more words in a year than all writers including united kingdom writers at the time. He once wrote a seventy-thousand word novel in a week and even produced the manuscript of a thirty-five thousand word novel in twenty-four hours. He wrote six-hundred novels and Check it out! He wrote six-hundred novels and four-hundred novelletes. He can grip you and knew how to do it. His father, Joseph Holt Ingraham was a writer as well.
Cody, as Told by Himself by William F. Cody is pretty much what I thought it would be. Above all was Buffalo Bill a showman and this autobiography is tailored for an audience thirsting for the adventures of the now obsolete Wild West. I have read similar works by George Custer and U. Grant and I must say that they sounded more factual and realistic as this written record.
Exaggeration wouldn't be an overstatement in this book. He painted his life and adventures to impress the reading public but in doing so robbed them of a valid piece of history. It really isn't a book to remember but the man is impossible to forget. Extremely interesting first hand accounts of what it was like taming the American west. Accounts of many, many scouting trips and Indian skirmishes gets a little boring along the way. However, a good American history refresher. If you read this be sure to google and have handy a map of the American frontier that notes all of the American army forts and the major rivers.
These are a helpful reference to understand exactly where things were happening. Very well written considering he only had a fe Extremely interesting first hand accounts of what it was like taming the American west. Very well written considering he only had a few years of schooling!
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Here's the autobiography of William F. Cody, "Buffalo Bill. He details many travels across the west as a scout for the military and his supposed time in the Pony Express. Read like Nicholle Challenge - Book that satisfies a category from one of the multitude of online rea Here's the autobiography of William F.
Read like Nicholle Challenge - Book that satisfies a category from one of the multitude of online reading challenges At least it goes by fast. It's a historically inaccurate, chest-pounding, hyped up and fanciful depiction of the "wild" west. It shows as much about the intended reader and the general knowledge and gullibility of the state of the world as it does about anything that it depicts. Also it's just boring. I'll reread the Court-Martial of Daniel Boone again instead. A fascinating look into the blustering life of one of America's great iconic western figures, and a fascinating look at the mores of his times from his perspective.
I've heard it said of this autobiography that Cody exaggerated something fierce, but I didn't get that impression from his writings. Sure, definitely some. But not so much that you don't feel the record is pretty close to authentic. William F. Cody writes his autobiography in the typical 19th century style, light talky and not too deep.
But he gives a good account of his life and what he did for a living, including Pony Express, Buffalo hunter, scout, performer and other various jobs. He became so famous at the end of his life he hosted a Russian Duke and gave him a taste of a buffalo hunt on the prairie. Since Buffalo Bill is so important to the West, it was good to read his own account and I found it interesting.
Buffalo Bill may not have written this autobiography but he most likely dictated it to someone. There are so many versions of this out there and it has been revised so many times it is hard to find the truth on Buffalo Bill. The camp life was rough, the bacon often rusty and the flour moldy, but the hard work gave us big appetites. Plainsmen learn not to be particular. I remember that on some of our trips we obtained such "luxuries" as dried apples and beans as part of our supplies.
We could only have these once every two or three days, and their presence in the mess was always a glad occasion. We were nooning at Plum Creek, the cattle spread out over the prairie to graze in charge of two herders. Suddenly there was a sharp Bang! They've shot the herders and stampeded the cattle! We obeyed orders quickly. The Platte, a wide, shallow, muddy stream, flows under banks which vary from five to thirty feet in height.
Behind them we were in much the position of European soldiers in a trench. We had our guns, and if the Indians showed over the bank could have made it hot for them. McCarthy told us to keep together and to make our way down the river to Fort Kearney, the nearest refuge. It was a long and wearying journey, but our lives depended on keeping along the river bed.
Often we would have to wade the stream which, while knee-deep to the men, was well-nigh waist-deep to me. Gradually I fell behind, and when night came I was dragging one weary step after another—dog-tired but still clinging to my old Mississippi Yaeger rifle, a short muzzle-loader which carried a ball and two buckshot.
Darkness came, and I still toiled along. The men ahead were almost out of hearing. Presently the moon rose, dead ahead of me. And painted boldly across its face was the black figure of an Indian. There could be no mistaking him for a white man. He wore the war-bonnet of the Sioux, and at his shoulder was a rifle, pointed at someone in the bottom below him.
I knew well enough that in another second he would drop one of my friends. So I raised my Yaeger and fired. I saw the figure collapse, and heard it come tumbling thirty feet down the bank, landing with a splash in the water. McCarthy ran over to the brave. Not caring to meet any of this gentleman's friends we pushed on still faster toward Fort Kearney, which we reached about daylight.
We were given food and sent to bed, while the soldiers set out to look for our slain comrades and to try to recover our cattle. Soldiers from Fort Leavenworth found the herders, killed and mutilated in the Indian fashion. But the cattle had been stampeded among the buffalo and it was impossible to recover a single head. We were taken back to Leavenworth on one of the returning freight wagon-trains.
The news of my exploit was noised about and made me the envy of all the boys of the neighborhood. The Leavenworth Times , published by D. Anthony, sent a reporter to get the story of the adventure, and in it my name was printed for the first time as the youngest Indian slayer of the Plains. I was persuaded now that I was destined to lead a life on the Plains. The two months that our ill-fated expedition had consumed had not discouraged me. Once more I applied to Mr. Majors for a job. Simpson appeared to be glad to have me.
Our long train, twenty-five wagons in a line, each with its six yoke of oxen, rolled slowly out of Leavenworth over the western trail. Wagon-master assistants, bull-whackers—thirty men in all not to mention the cavayard driver—it was an imposing sight. This was to be a long journey, clear to the Utah country, and I eagerly looked forward to new adventures. The first of these came suddenly. We were strung out over the trail near the Platte, about twenty miles from the scene of the Indian attack on McCarthy's outfit, watching the buffalo scattered to right and left of us, when we heard two or three shots, fired in rapid succession.
Before we could find out who fired them, down upon us came a herd of buffalo, charging in a furious stampede. There was no time to do anything but jump behind our wagons. The light mess-wagon was drawn by six yoke of Texas steers which instantly became part of the stampede, tearing away over the prairie with the buffalo, our wagon following along behind. The other wagons were too heavy for the steers to gallop away with; otherwise the whole outfit would have gone. I remember that one big bull came galloping down between two yoke of oxen, tearing away the gooseneck and the heavy chain with each lowered horn.
I can still see him as he rushed away with these remarkable decorations dangling from either side. Whether or not his new ornaments excited the admiration of his fellows when the herd came to a stand later in the day, I can only guess. The descent of the buffalo upon us lasted only a few minutes, but so much damage was done that three days were required to repair it before we could move on.
We managed to secure our mess-wagon, again, which was lucky, for it contained all our provender. We learned afterward that the stampede had been caused by a returning party of California gold-seekers, whose shots into the herd had been our first warning of what was coming.
Twice before we neared the Mormon country we were attacked by Indians. The army was so far ahead that they had become bold. We beat off the attacks, but lost two men. It was white men, however, not Indians, who were to prove our most dangerous enemies. Arriving near Green River we were nooning on a ridge about a mile and a half from a little creek, Halm's Fork, where the stock were driven to water.
This was a hundred and fifteen miles east of Salt Lake City, and well within the limits of the Mormon country. Most of the outfit had driven the cattle to the creek, a mile and a half distant, and were returning slowly, while the animals grazed along the way back to camp. I was with them. We were out of sight of the wagons. As we rose the hill a big bearded man, mounted and surrounded by a party of armed followers, rode up to our wagon-master.
Simpson was a brave man, but the strangers had the drop and up went his hands. At the same time we saw that the wagons were surrounded by several hundred men, all mounted and armed, and the teamsters all rounded up in a bunch. We knew that we had fallen into the hands of the Mormon Danites, or Destroying Angels, the ruffians who perpetrated the dreadful Mountain Meadows Massacre of the same year.
The leader was Lot Smith, one of the bravest and most determined of the whole crowd. You can have one wagon with the cattle to draw it. Get into it all the provisions and blankets you can carry, and turn right round and go back to the Missouri River. You're headed in the wrong direction.
All Simpson's protests were in vain. There were thirty of us against several hundred of them. Mormons stood over us while we loaded a wagon till it sagged with provisions, clothing and blankets. They had taken away every rifle and every pistol we possessed. Ordering us to hike for the East, and informing us that we would be shot down if we attempted to turn back, they watched us depart.
When we had moved a little way off we saw a blaze against the sky behind us, and knew that our wagon-train had been fired. The greasy bacon made thick black smoke and a bright-red flame, and for a long time the fire burned, till nothing was left but the iron bolts and axles and tires. Smith's party, which had been sent out to keep all supplies from reaching Johnston's army, had burned two other wagon-trains that same day, as we afterward learned. The wagons were all completely consumed, and for the next few years the Mormons would ride out to the scenes to get the iron that was left in the ashes.
Turned adrift on the desert with not a weapon to defend ourselves was hardly a pleasant prospect. It meant a walk of a thousand miles home to Leavenworth. The wagon was loaded to its full capacity. There was nothing to do but walk. I was not yet twelve years old, but I had to walk with the rest the full thousand miles, and we made nearly thirty miles a day.
Fortunately we were not molested by Indians. From passing wagon-trains we got a few rifles, all they could spare, and with these we were able to kill game for fresh meat. I wore out three pairs of moccasins on that journey, and learned then that the thicker are the soles of your shoes, the easier are your feet on a long walk over rough ground. After a month of hard travel we reached Leavenworth. I set out at once for the log-cabin home, whistling as I walked, and the first to welcome me was my old dog Turk, who came tearing toward me and almost knocked me down in his eagerness.
I am sure my mother and sisters were mighty glad to see me. They had feared that I might never return. My next journey over the Plains was begun under what, to me, were very exciting circumstances. I spent the winter of ''58 at school. My mother was anxious about my education. But the master of the frontier school wore out several armfuls of hazel switches in a vain effort to interest me in the "three R's. I kept thinking of my short but adventurous past.
And as soon as another opportunity offered to return to it I seized it eagerly. Albert Sidney Johnston's soldiers, then moving West, needed supplies, and needed them in a hurry. Thus far the mule was the reindeer of draft animals, and mule trains were forming to hurry the needful supplies to the soldiers. But Simpson had great faith in the bull. A picked bull train, he allowed, could beat a mule train all hollow on a long haul. All he wanted was a chance to prove it. His employers gave him the chance. For several weeks he had been picking his animals for the outfit.
And now he was to begin what is perhaps the most remarkable race ever made across the Plains. A mule train was to start a week after Simpson's lightning bulls began their westward course. Whichever outfit got to Fort Laramie first would be the winner. No more excitement could have been occasioned had the contestants been a reindeer and a jack-rabbit. To my infinite delight Simpson let me join his party.
My thousand-mile tramp over the Plains had cured me of the walking habit and I was glad to find that this time I was to have a horse to ride—part of the way, anyhow.
Buffalo Bill's Life Story: An Autobiography
I was to be an extra hand—which meant that by turns I was to be a bull-whacker, driver and general-utility man. I remember that our start was a big event. Men, women and children watched our chosen animals amble out of Salt Creek. The "mule skinners," busy with preparations for their own departure, stopped work to jeer us. But Simpson only grinned. Jeers couldn't shake his confidence either in himself or his long-horned motive power.
We made the first hundred and fifty miles easily. I was glad to be a plainsman once more, and took a lively interest in everything that went forward. We were really making speed, too, which added to the excitement. The ordinary bull team could do about fifteen miles a day. Under Simpson's command his specially selected bulls were doing twenty-five, and doing it right along. But one day, while we were nooning about one hundred and fifty miles on the way, one of the boys shouted: "Here come the mules!
Presently Stewart's train came shambling up, and a joyful lot the "mule skinners" were at what they believed their victory. But it was a short-lived victory. At the end of the next three hundred miles we found them, trying to cross the Platte, and making heavy work of it. The grass fodder had told on the mules. Supplies from other sources were now exhausted. There were no farms, no traders, no grain to be had. The race had become a race of endurance, and the strongest stomachs were destined to be the winners. Stewart made a bad job of the crossing. The river was high, and his mules quickly mired down in the quicksand.
The more they pawed the deeper they went. Simpson picked a place for crossing below the ford Stewart had chosen. He put enough bulls on a wagon to insure its easy progress, and the bulls wallowed through the sand on their round bellies, using their legs as paddles. Steward pulled ahead again after he had crossed the river, but soon his mules grew too feeble to make anything like their normal speed. We passed them for good and all a few days farther on, and were far ahead when we reached the North Platte.
Thus ended a race that I shall never forget. Since that time the stage-coach has outdistanced the bull team, the pony express has swept past the stage-coach, the locomotive has done in an hour what the prairie schooner did in three or four days. Soon the aeroplane will be racing with the automobile for the cross-country record. But the bull team and the mule team were the continental carriers of that day, and I am very glad that I took part—on the winning side—in a race between them. We soon began meeting parties of soldiers, and lightening our loads by issuing supplies to them.
When at last we reacted Fort Laramie, the outfit was ordered to Fort Walback, located in Cheyenne Pass, twenty-five miles from where Cheyenne stands today, and ninety miles from Fort Laramie. This was in the very heart of the Indian country. Our animals were to haul in plows, tools and whatever was necessary in the constructing of the new fort then building.
The wagon-beds were taken from the wagons to enable the hauling of greater loads. The beds were piled up at Fort Laramie, and I was assigned to watch them. It was here that I had abundant time and opportunity to study the West at first hand. Heretofore I had been on the march. Now I was on fixed post with plenty of time for observation. Fort Laramie was an old frontier post, such as has not existed for many years. Nearby, three or four thousand Sioux, Northern Cheyennes and Northern Arapahoes were encamped, most of them spending much of the time at the post.
Laramie had been established by a fur-trading company in In or thereabouts the Government bought it and made it a military post. It had become the most famous meeting-place of the Plains. Here the greatest Indian councils were held, and here also came the most celebrated of the Indian fighters, men whose names had long been known to me, but whom I never dared hope to see.
Kit Carson, Jim Bridger, Baker, Richards and other of the celebrated hunters, trappers and Indian fighters were as familiar about the post as are bankers in Wall Street. All these men fascinated me, especially Carson, a small, dapper, quiet man whom everybody held in profound respect. I used to sit for hours and watch him and the others talk to the Indians in the sign language. Without a sound they would carry on long and interesting conversations, tell stories, inquire about game and trails, and discuss pretty much everything that men find worth discussing.
I was naturally desirous of mastering this mysterious medium of speech, and began my education in it with far more interest than I had given to the "three R's" back at Salt Creek. My wagon-beds became splendid playhouses for the Indian children from the villages, who are very much like other children, despite their red skins. I joined them in their games, and from them picked up a fair working knowledge of the Sioux language. The acquaintance I formed here was to save my scalp and life later, but I little suspected it then. I spent the summer of '58 in and about Laramie.
I was getting to be a big, husky boy now, and felt that I had entered on what was to be my career—as indeed I had. In January, '59, Simpson was ordered back to Missouri as brigade train-master of three wagon-trains, traveling a day apart. Because of much travel the grass along the regular trail was eaten so close that the feed for the bulls was scanty. Instead of following the trail down the South Platte, therefore, Simpson picked a new route along the North Platte.
There was no road, but the grass was still long, and forage for the cattle was necessary. We had accomplished about half our journey with no sign of hostile Indians. Then one day, as Simpson, George Woods and I were riding ahead to overtake the lead train, a party of Sioux bore down on us, plainly intent on mischief. There was little time to act.
No cover of any kind was to be had. For us three, even with our rifles, to have stood up against the Sioux in the open would have been suicide. Simpson had been trained to think quickly. Swinging the three mules so that they formed a triangle, he drew his six-shooter and dropped them where they stood. Our plan of defense was now made for us. First rifles, then, at closer quarters, revolvers. If it came to a hand-to-hand conflict we had our knives as a last resort. The Sioux drew up when they saw how quickly Simpson's wit had built a barricade for us.
Then the arrows began to fly and among them spattered a few bullets. We were as sparing as possible with our shots. Most of them told. I had already learned how to use a rifle, and was glad indeed that I had. If ever a boy stood in need of that kind of preparedness I did.
Down came the Indians, with the blood-curdling yell which is always a feature of their military strategy. We waited till they got well within range. Then at Simpson's order we fired. Three ponies galloped riderless over the prairie, and our besiegers hesitated, then wheeled, and rode out of range. But our rest was short. Back they came. Again we fired, and had the good fortune to stop three more of them. Simpson patted me encouragingly on the shoulder.
Buffalo Bill's Life Story: An Autobiography
By this time our poor dead mules, who had given their lives for ours, were stuck full of arrows. Woods had been winged in the shoulder. Simpson, carefully examining the wound, expressed his belief that the arrow which inflicted it had not been poisoned. But we had little time to worry about that or anything else.
Our enemies were still circling, just out of range. Here and there when they grew incautious we dropped a man or a pony. But we were still heavily outnumbered. They knew it and we knew it. Unless help came it was only a question of time till it was all over. Daylight came and they still held off.
Eagerly we looked to the westward, but no wagon-train appeared. We began to fear that something had happened to our friends, when, suddenly one of the Indians jumped up, and with every evidence of excitement signaled to the others. In an instant they were all mounted. He was right. Without another glance in our direction the Sioux galloped away toward the foot-hills, and as they disappeared we heard the welcome snap of the long bull-whip, and saw the first of our wagons coming up the trail.
In that day, however, the plainsman was delivered out of one peril only to be plunged into another. His days seldom dragged for want of excitement. When we got to Leavenworth, Simpson sent three of us ahead with the train-book record of the men's time, so that their money would be ready for them when they arrived at Leavenworth. Our boss's admonition to ride only at night and to lie under cover in daytime was hardly needed.
We cared for no more Indian adventures just then. We made fairly good progress till we got to the Little Blue, in Colorado. It was an uncomfortable journey, finding our way by the stars at night and lying all day in such shelters as were to be found. But the inconvenience of it was far preferable to being made targets for Indian arrows.
We were sheltered one night from one of the fearful prairie blizzards that make fall and winter terrible. We had found a gulley washed out by an autumn storm, and it afforded a little protection against the wind. Looking down the ravine I saw ponies moving. I knew there were Indians near, and we looked about for a hiding-place.
At the head of the ravine I had noticed a cave-like hollow. I signaled to the two men to follow me, and soon we were snug in a safe hiding-place. As we were settling down to rest one of the men lit his pipe. As the cave was illuminated by the glow of the match there was a wild yell.
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I thought all the Indians in the world had jumped us. But the yell had come from my companions. We were in the exact center of the most grew-some collection of human skulls and bones I have ever seen. Bones were strewn on the floor of the cave like driftwood. Skulls were grinning at us from every corner of the darkness. We had stumbled into a big grave where some of the Indians had hidden their dead away from the wolves after a battle. It may be that none of us were superstitious, but we got out of there in a hurry, and braved the peril of the storm and the Indians as best we could.
I was a rich boy when I got to Leavenworth. I had nearly a thousand dollars to turn over to my mother as soon as I should draw my pay. After a joyful reunion with the family I hitched up a pair of ponies, and drove her over so that she could witness this pleasing ceremony. As we were driving home, I heard her sobbing, and was deeply concerned, for this seemed to me no occasion for tears.
I was quick to ask the reason, and her answer made me serious. To think my boy cannot so much as write his name! In Uncle Aleck Majors' book, "Seventy Years on the Frontier," he relates how on every wagon-sheet and wagon-bed, on every tree and barn door, he used to find the name "William F. Cody" in a large, uncertain scrawl. Those were my writing lessons, and I took them daily until I had my signature plastered pretty well over the whole of Salt Creek Valley.
I went to school for a time after that, and at last began really to take an interest in education. But the Pike's Peak gold rush took me with it. I could never resist the call of the trail. With another boy who knew as little of gold-mining as I did we hired out with a bull-train for Denver, then called Aurora. We each had fifty dollars when we got to the gold country, and with it we bought an elaborate outfit. But there was no mining to be done save by expensive machinery, and we had our labor for our pains. At last, both of us strapped, we got work as timber cutters, which lasted only until we found it would take us a week to fell a tree.
At last we hired out once more as bull-whackers. That job we understood, and at it we earned enough money to take us home. We hired a carpenter to build us a boat, loaded it with grub and supplies, and started gayly down the Platte for home. But the bad luck of that trip held steadily. The boat was overturned in swift and shallow water, and we were stranded, wet and helpless, on the bank, many miles from home or anywhere else. Then a miracle happened. Along the trail we heard the familiar crack of a bull-whip, and when the train came up we found it was the same with which we had enlisted for the outward journey, returning to Denver with mining machinery.
Among this machinery was a big steam-boiler, the first to be taken into Colorado. On the way out the outfit had been jumped by Indians. The wagon boss, knowing the red man's fear of cannon, had swung the great boiler around so that it had appeared to point at them. Never was so big a cannon. Even the centimeter howitzers of today could not compare with it. The Indians took one look at it, then departed that part of the country as fast as their ponies could travel. We stuck with the train into Denver and back home again, and glad we were to retire from gold-mining.
Soon after my return to Salt Creek Valley I decided on another and, I thought, a better way to make a fortune for myself and my family. During my stay in and about Fort Laramie I had seen much of the Indian traders, and accompanied them on a number of expeditions. Their business was to sell to the Indians various things they needed, chiefly guns and ammunition, and to take in return the current Indian coin, which consisted of furs. With the supplies bought by the money I had earned on the trip with Simpson, mother and my sisters were fairly comfortable.
I felt that I should be able to embark in the fur business on my own account—not as a trader but as a trapper. With my friend Dave Harrington as a companion I set out. Harrington was older than I, and had trapped before in the Rockies. I was sure that with my knowledge of the Plains and his of the ways of the fur-bearing animals, we should form an excellent partnership, as in truth we did.
We bought a yoke of oxen, a wagon-sheet, wagon, traps of all sorts, and strychnine with which to poison wolves. Also we laid in a supply of grub—no luxuries, but coffee, flour, bacon and everything that we actually needed to sustain life. We headed west, and about two hundred miles from home we struck Prairie Creek, where we found abundant signs of beaver, mink, otter and other fur-bearing animals. No Indians had troubled us, and we felt safe in establishing headquarters here and beginning work.
The first task was to build a dugout in a hillside, which we roofed with brush, long grass, and finally dirt, making everything snug and cozy. A little fireplace in the wall served as both furnace and kitchen. Outside we built a corral for the oxen, which completed our camp. Our trapping was successful from the start, and we were sure that prosperity was at last in sight. We set our steel traps along the "runs" used by the animals, taking great care to hide our tracks, and give the game no indication of the presence of an enemy.
The pelts began to pile up in our shack. Most of the day we were busy at the traps, or skinning and salting the hides, and at night we would sit by our little fire and swap experiences till we fell asleep. Always there was the wail of the coyotes and the cries of other animals without, but as long as we saw no Indians we were not worried.
One night, just as we were dozing off, we heard a tremendous commotion in the corral. Harrington grabbed his gun and hurried out. He was just in time to see a big bear throw one of our oxen and proceed with the work of butchering him. He fired, and the bear, slightly wounded, left the ox and turned his attention to his assailant. He was leaping at my partner, growling savagely when I, gun in hand, rounded the corner of the shack. I took the best aim I could get in the dark, and the bear, which was within a few feet of my friend, rolled over dead.
Making sure that he was past harming us we turned our attention to the poor bull, but he was too far gone to recover, and another bullet put him out of his misery. We were now left without a team, and two hundred miles from home. But wealth in the shape of pelts was accumulating about us, and we determined to stick it out till spring. Then one of us could go to the nearest settlement for a teammate for our remaining steer, while the other stayed in charge of the camp. This plan had to be carried out far sooner than we expected. A few days later we espied a herd of elk, which meant plentiful and excellent meat.
We at once started in pursuit. Creeping stealthily along toward them, keeping out of sight, and awaiting an opportunity to get a good shot, I slipped on a stone in the creek bed. I had broken my leg just above the ankle and my present career as a fur-trapper had ended. I was very miserable when Harrington came up. I urged him to shoot me as he had the ox, but he laughingly replied that that would hardly do. I learned a little something about surgery when I was in Illinois, and I guess I can fix you up.
He got me back to camp after a long and painful hour and with a wagon-bow, which he made into a splint, set the fracture. But our enterprise was at an end. Help would have to be found now, and before spring. One man and a cripple could never get through the winter. It was determined that Harrington must go for this needful assistance just as soon as possible.
He placed me on our little bunk, with plenty of blankets to cover me. All our provisions he put within my reach. A cup was lashed to a long sapling, and Harrington made a hole in the side of the dugout so that I could reach this cup out to a snow-bank for my water supply. Lastly he cut a great pile of wood and heaped it near the fire. Without leaving the bunk I could thus do a little cooking, keep the fire up, and eat and sleep. It was not a situation that I would have chosen, but there was nothing else to do.
The nearest settlement was a hundred and twenty-five miles distant. Harrington figured that he could make the round trip in twenty days. My supplies were ample to last that long. I urged him to start as soon as possible, that he might the sooner return with a new yoke of oxen.
Then I could be hauled out to where medical attendance was to be had. I watched him start off afoot, and my heart was heavy. But soon I stopped thinking of my pain and began to find ways and means to cure my loneliness. We had brought with us a number of books, and these I read through most of my waking hours. But the days grew longer and longer for all that. Every morning when I woke I cut a notch in a long stick to mark its coming.
I had cut twelve of these notches when one morning I was awakened from a sound sleep by the touch of a hand on my shoulder. Instantly concluding that Harrington had returned, I was about to cry out in delight when I caught a glimpse of a war-bonnet, surmounting the ugly, painted face of a Sioux brave. The brilliant colors that had been smeared on his visage told me more forcibly than words could have done that his tribe was on the warpath. It was a decidedly unpleasant discovery for me. While he was asking me in the Sioux language what I was doing there, and how many more were in the party, other braves began crowding through the door till the little dugout was packed as full of Sioux warriors as it could hold.
Outside I could hear the stamping of horses and the voices of more warriors. I made up my mind it was all over but the scalping. And then a stately old brave worked his way through the crowd and came toward my bunk. It was plain from the deference accorded him by the others that he was a chief. And as soon as I set eyes on him I recognized him as old Rain-in-the-Face, whom I had often seen and talked with at Fort Laramie, and whose children taught me the Sioux language as we played about the wagon-beds together. Among these children was the son who succeeded to the name of Rain-in-the-Face, and who years later, it is asserted, killed General George A.
Custer in the massacre of the Little Big Horn. I showed the chief my broken leg, and asked him if he did not remember me. He replied that he did. I asked him if he intended to kill the boy who had been his children's playmate. He consulted with his warriors, who had begun busily to loot the cabin.
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After a long parley the old man told me that my life would be spared, but my gun and pistol and all my provisions would be regarded as the spoils of the war. Vainly I pointed out that he might as well kill me as leave me without food or the means to defend myself against wolves. He said that his young men had granted a great deal in consenting to spare my life.
As for food, he pointed to the carcass of a deer that hung from the wall. The next morning they mounted their ponies and galloped away. I was glad enough to see them go. I knew that my life had hung by a thread while I had been their involuntary host. Only my friendship with the children of old Rain-in-the-Face had saved me. But, even with the Indians gone, I was in a desperate situation. As they had taken all my matches I had to keep the fire going continuously. This meant that I could not sleep long at a time, the lack of rest soon began to tell on me.
I would cut slices from the deer carcass with my knife, and holding it over the fire with a long stick, cook it, eating it without salt. Coffee I must do without altogether. The second day after the departure of the Indians a great snow fell. The drifts blocked the doorway and covered the windows. It lay to a depth of several feet on the roof over my head. My woodpile was covered by the snow that drifted in and it was with great difficulty that I could get enough wood to keep my little fire going.
And on that fire depended my life. Worse than all these troubles was the knowledge that the heavy snow would be sure to delay Harrington. I would lie there, day after day, a prey to all sorts of dark imaginings. I fancied him killed by Indians on the trail, or snowbound and starving on the Plains. Each morning my notches on my calendar stick were made. Gradually their number grew till at last the twentieth was duly cut.
But no Harrington came. The wolves, smelling meat within, had now begun to gather round in increasing numbers. They made the night hideous with their howlings, and pawed and scratched and dug at the snow by the doorway, determined to come in and make a meal of everything the dugout contained, myself included. How I endured it I do not know. But the Plains teach men and boys fortitude.
Many and many a time as I lay there I resolved that if I should ever be spared to go back to my home and friends, the frontier should know me no more. It was on the twenty-ninth day, as marked on stick, when I had about given up hope, that I heard a cheerful voice shouting "Whoa! A criminal on the scafford with the noose about his neck and the trap sagging underneath his feet could not have welcomed a pardon more eagerly than I welcomed my deliverance out of this torture-chamber. I could make no effort to open the door for him. But I found voice to answer him when he cried "Hello, Billy!
He soon cleared a passageway through the snow, and stood beside me. I didn't think I should ever get through—caught in the snowstorm and laid up for three days. The cattle wandered away and I came within an ace of losing them altogether. When I got started again the snow was so deep I couldn't make much headway.
Harrington had made a trip few men could have made. He had risked his life to save mine. All alone he had brought a yoke of oxen over a country where the trails were all obscured and the blinding snow made every added mile more perilous. I was still unable to walk, and he had to do all the work of packing up for the trip home. In a few days he had loaded the pelts on board the wagon, covered it with the wagon-sheet we had used in the dugout, and made me a comfortable bed inside. We had three hundred beaver and one hundred otter skins to show for our work.
That meant a lot of money when we should get them to the settlements. On the eighth day of the journey home we reached a ranch on the Republican River, where we rested for a couple of days. Then we went on to the ranch where Harrington had obtained his cattle and paid for the yoke with twenty-five beaver skins, the equivalent of a hundred dollars in money. At the end of twenty days' travel we reached Salt Creek Valley, where I was welcomed by my mother and sisters as one returned from the dead. So grateful was my mother to Harrington for what he had done for me that she insisted on his making his home with us.
This he decided to do, and took charge of our farm. The next spring, this man, who had safely weathered the most perilous of journeys over the Plains, caught cold while setting out some trees and fell ill. We brought a doctor from Lawrence, and did everything in our power to save him, but in a week he died. The loss of a member of our own family could not have affected us more. I was now in my fifteenth year and possessed of a growing appetite for adventure.
A very few months had so dulled the memory of my sufferings in the dugout that I had forgotten all about my resolve to forsake the frontier forever. I looked about me for something new and still more exciting. I was not long in finding it. The route was from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, a distance of two thousand miles, across the Plains, over a dreary stretch of sagebrush and alkali desert, and through two great mountain ranges.
The system was really a relay race against time. Stations were built at intervals averaging fifteen miles apart. A rider's route covered three stations, with an exchange of horses at each, so that he was expected at the beginning to cover close to forty-five miles—a good ride when one must average fifteen miles an hour.
The firm undertaking the enterprise had been busy for some time picking the best ponies to be had for money, and the lightest, most wiry and most experienced riders. This was a life that appealed to me, and I struck for a job. I was pretty young in years, but I had already earned a reputation for coming safe out of perilous adventures, and I was hired. Naturally our equipment was the very lightest.
The messages which we carried were written on the thinnest paper to be found. These we carried in a waterproof pouch, slung under our arms.
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We wore only such clothing as was absolutely necessary. The first trip of the Pony Express was made in ten days—an average of two hundred miles a day. But we soon began stretching our riders and making better time. Soon we shortened the time to eight days. President Buchanan's last Presidential message in December, , was carried in eight days. President Lincoln's inaugural, the following March, took only seven days and seventeen hours for the journey between St. Joseph and Sacramento. We soon got used to the work.
When it became apparent to the men in charge that the boys could do better than forty-five miles a day the stretches were lengthened. It was announced that the further a man rode the better would be his pay. That put speed and endurance into all of us.
Stern necessity often compelled us to lengthen our day's work even beyond our desires. In the hostile Indian country, riders were frequently shot. In such an event the man whose relief had been killed had to ride on to the next station, doing two men's ride. Road-agents were another menace, and often they proved as deadly as the Indians. In stretching my own route I found myself getting further and further west. Finally I was riding well into the foothills of the Rockies. Still further west my route was pushed.
Soon I rode from Red Buttes to Sweetwater, a distance of seventy-six miles. Road-agents and Indians infested this country. I never was quite sure when I started out when I should reach my destination, or whether I should never reach it at all. One day I galloped into the station at Three Crossings to find that my relief had been killed in a drunken row the night before. There was no one to take his place. His route was eighty-five miles across country to the west.
I had no time to think it over. Selecting a good pony out of the stables I was soon on my way. I arrived at Rocky Ridge, the end of the new route, on schedule time, and turning back came on to Red Buttes, my starting-place. The round trip was miles, and I made it in twenty-one hours and forty minutes. Excitement was plentiful during my two years' service as a Pony Express rider.
One day as I was leaving Horse Creek, a party of fifteen Indians jammed me in a sand ravine eight miles west of the station. They fired at me repeatedly, but my luck held, and I went unscathed. My mount was a California roan pony, the fastest in the stables. I dug the spurs into his sides, and, lying flat on his back, I kept straight on for Sweetwater Bridge eleven miles distant. A turn back to Horse Creek might have brought me more speedily to shelter, but I did not dare risk it.
The Indians came on behind, riding with all the speed they could put into their horses, but my pony drew rapidly ahead. I had a lead of two miles when I reached the station. There I found I could get no new pony. The stock-tender had been killed by the Indians during the night. All his ponies had been stolen and driven off. I kept on, therefore, to Plonts Station, twelve miles further along, riding the same pony—a ride of twenty-four miles on one mount.
At Plonts I told the people what had happened at Sweetwater Bridge. Then, with a fresh horse, I finished my route without further adventure. About the middle of September the Indians became very troublesome on the line of the stage along the Sweetwater, between Split Rock and Three Crossings. A stage had been robbed and two passengers killed outright.
Lem Flowers, the driver, was badly wounded. The thievish redskins also drove stock repeatedly from the stations. They were continually lying in wait for passing stages and Pony Express riders. It was useless to keep the Express going until these depredations could be stopped. A lay-off of six weeks was ordered, and our time was our own. While we were thus idle a party was organized to carry the war into the Indians' own country, and teach them that the white man's property must be let alone. This party I joined. Stage-drivers, express-riders, stock-tenders and ranchmen, forty in number, composed this party.
All were well armed; all were good shots, and brave, determined men. He had come recently to our division as a stage-driver and had the experience and courage necessary to that kind of leadership. We could see that the horses had been recently shod, conclusive proof that they were our stolen stock.
We pushed on as fast as we could along the trail to the Powder, thence down this stream to within forty miles of where old Fort Reno now stands. Farther on, at Crazy Woman's Fork, we saw evidence that another party had joined our quarry. The trail was newly made. The Indians could be hardly more than twenty-four hours ahead of us. And plainly there was a lot of them. When we reached Clear Creek, another tributary of the Powder, we saw horses grazing on the opposite bank. Horses meant Indians. Never before had the redskins been followed so far into their own country.
Not dreaming that they would be pursued they had failed to put out scouts. We quickly got the "lay" of their camp, and held a council to decide on how to attack them. We knew that they outnumbered us three to one—perhaps more. Without strategy, all we would get for our long chase would be the loss of our scalps. We were to wait till nightfall, and then, after creeping up as close as possible on the camp, make a grand ride right through it, open a general fire upon them, and stampede their horses.
It was a plan that called for nerve, but we were full of spirit, and the more danger there was in an enterprise the more we relished it. At our captain's signal we rushed pell-mell through their camp. Had we dropped from the clouds the Indians could not have been more astonished. At the sound of our shots they scattered in every direction, yelling warnings to each other as they fled.
Once clear of the camp we circled to the south and came back to make sure that we had done a thorough job. A few parting shots stampeded the stragglers. Then, with one hundred captured ponies—most, if not all of them, stolen from the Express and State stations—we rode back to Sweetwater Bridge. The recovered horses were placed on the road again, and the Express was resumed. Slade, who was greatly pleased with our exploit, now assigned me as special or supernumerary rider. Thereafter while I was with him I had a comparatively easy time of it, riding only now and then, and having plenty of opportunity for seeking after the new adventures in which I delighted.
Alf Slade, stage-line superintendent, frontiersman, and dare-devil fighting man, was one of the far-famed gunmen of the Plains. These were a race of men bred by the perils and hard conditions of Western life. They became man-killers first from stern necessity. In that day the man who was not quick on the trigger had little chance with the outlaws among whom he had to live.
Slade and "Wild Bill," with both of whom I became closely associated, were men of nerve and courage. But both, having earned the reputation of gun-fighters, became too eager to live up to it. Eventually both became outlaws. Slade, though always a dangerous man, and extremely rough in his manner, never failed to treat me with kindness. Sober, he was cool and self-possessed, but never a man to be trifled with. Drunk, he was a living fury. His services to the company for which he worked were of high value.
He was easily the best superintendent on the line. But his habit of man-killing at last resulted in his execution. Another man who gained even greater notoriety than Slade was "Wild Bill" Hickock, a tall, yellow-haired giant who had done splendid service as a scout in the western sector of the Civil War. He and I shared the pleasure of walking a thousand miles to the Missouri River, after the bull-train in which we both were employed had been burned by Lot Smith, the Mormon raider. Afterward we rode the Pony Express together. While an express rider, Bill had the fight with the McCandless gang which will always form an interesting chapter in the history of the West.
Coming into his swing station at Rock Creek one day, Bill failed to arouse any one with his shouts for a fresh mount. This was a certain indication of trouble.