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ARCHIVES (1877 -1887)

THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES
OF BUFFALO BILL

 

CHAPTER III
ACCIDENTS AND ESCAPES

My restless, roaming spirit would not allow me to remain at home very long, and in November, after the recovery of my mother, I went up the Republican river and its tributaries on a trapping expedition in company with Dave Harrington. Our outfit consisted of one wagon and a yoke of oxen for the transportation of provisions, traps and other necessaries. We began trapping near Junction City, Kansas, and then proceeded up the Republican River to the mouth of Prairie Dog Creek, where we found plenty of beavers.

Having seen no signs of Indians thus far, we felt comparatively safe. We were catching a large number of beavers and were prospering finely, when one of our oxen, having become rather poor, slipped and fell upon the ice, dislocating his hip, so that we had to shoot him to end his misery. This left us without a team; but we cared little for that, however, as we had made up our minds to remain there till spring, but it was decided that one of us should go to the nearest settlement and get a yoke of oxen with which to haul our wagon into some place of safety where we could leave it.

We would probably have pulled through the winter all right had it not been for a very serious accident which befell me just at that time. Spying a herd of elk, we started in pursuit of them, and creeping up towards them as slyly as possible, while going around the bend of a sharp bluff or bank of the creek I slipped and broke my leg just above the ankle. Notwithstanding the great pain I was suffering, Harrington could not help laughing when I urged him to shoot me, as he had the ox, and thus end my misery. He told me to "brace up," and that he would bring me out "all right." "I am not much of a surgeon," said he, "but I can fix that leg of yours, even if I haven't got a diploma."

He succeeded in getting me back to camp, which was only a few yards from the creek, and then he set the fracture as well as he knew how and made me as comfortable as was possible under the circumstances. We then discussed the situation, which, to say the least, looked pretty blue. Knowing that, owing to our mishaps, we could not do anything more that winter, and as l dreaded the idea of lying there on my back with a broken leg for weeks, and perhaps months, I prevailed upon Harrington to go to the nearest settlement &emdash;about one hundred and twenty-five miles distant &emdash;to obtain a yoke of cattle and then come back for me.

This he consented to do; but before leaving he gathered plenty of wood, and as the ground was covered with snow, I would have no difficulty in getting water if I had a fire. There was plenty of fresh meat and other provisions in the "dug-out," so that I had no fears of starvation. The "dug-out," which we had built immediately after we had determined to remain there all winter, was a cosy hole in the ground, covered with poles, grass and sod, with a fire-place in one end.

Harrington thought it would take him twenty days or more to make the round trip; but being well provided for &emdash;for this length of time &emdash;I urged him to go at once. Bidding me goodbye, he started on foot. After his departure, each day, as it came and went, seemed to grow longer to me as I lay there helpless and alone. I made a note of each day, so as to know the time when I might expect him back.

 

A DESPERATE SITUATION.
On the twelfth day after Harrington had left me I was awakened from a sound sleep by some one touching me upon the shoulder. I looked up and was astonished to see an Indian warrior standing at my side. His face was hideously daubed with paint which told me more forcibly than words could have done that he was on the war-path. He spoke to me in broken English and Sioux mixed, and I understood him to ask what I was doing there, and how many there were with me.

By this time the little dug-out was nearly filled with other Indians, who had been peeping in at the door, and I could hear voices of still more outside as well as the stamping of horses. I began to think that my time had come, as the saying is, when into the cabin stepped an elderly Indian, whom I readily recognised as old Rain-in-the-Face, a Sioux chief from the vicinity of Fort Laramie. I rose up as well as I could and showed him my broken leg. I told him where I had seen him, and asked him if he remembered me. He replied that he knew me well, and that I used to come to his lodge at Fort Laramie to visit him. I then managed to make him understand that I was there alone and having broken my leg, I had sent my partner off for a team to take me away. I asked him if his young men intended to kill me, and he answered that was what they had proposed to do, but he would see what they had to say.

The Indians then talked among themselves for a few minutes, and upon the conclusion of the consultation, old Rain-in-the-Face turned to me and gave me to understand that as I was yet a "papoose," or a very young man, they would not take my life. But one of his men who had no fire-arms wanted my gun and pistol. I implored old Rain-in-the-Face to be allowed to keep the weapons, or at least one of them, as I needed something with which to keep the wolves away. He replied that as his young men were out on the war path, he had induced them to spare my life; but he could not prevent them from taking whatever else they wanted.

They unsaddled their horses as if to remain there for some time, and sure enough they stayed the remainder of the day and all night. They built a fire in the dug-out and cooked a lot of my provisions, helping themselves to everything as if they owned it. However, they were polite enough to give me some of the food after they had cooked it. It was a sumptuous feast that they had, and they seemed to relish it as if it were the best layout they had had for many a long day. They took all my sugar and coffee, and left me only some meat and a small quantity of flour, a little salt and some baking-powder. They also robbed me of such cooking utensils as they wished; then bidding me good-bye, early in the morning, they mounted their ponies and rode off to the south, evidently bent on some murdering and thieving expedition.

I was glad enough to see them leave, as my life had undoubtedly hung by a thread during their presence. I am confident that had it not been for my youth and the timely recognition and interference of old Rain-in-the-Face they would have killed me without any hesitation or ceremony.

The second day after the Indians left it began snowing, and for three long and weary days the snow continued to fall thick and fast. It blocked the door-way and covered the dug-out to the depth of several feet, so that I became a snow-bound prisoner. My wood was mostly under the snow, and it was with great difficulty that I could get enough to start a fire with. My prospects were gloomy indeed. I had just faced death at the hands of the Indians, and now I was in danger of losing my life from starvation and cold. I knew that the heavy snow would surely delay Harrington on his return; and I feared that he might have perished in the storm, or that some other accident might have befallen him. Perhaps some wandering band of Indians had surprised and killed him.

I was continually thinking of all these possibilities, and I must say that my outlook seemed desperate. At last the twentieth day arrived &emdash;the day on which Harrington was to return &emdash;and I counted the hours from morning till night but the day passed away with no signs of Harrington. The wolves made the night hideous with their howls; they gathered around the dug-out; ran over the roof; and pawed and scratched as if trying to get in.

Several days and nights thus wore away, the monotony all the time becoming greater, until at last it became almost unendurable. Some days I would go without any fire at all, and eat raw frozen meat and melt snow in my mouth for water. I became almost convinced that Harrington had been caught in the storm and had been buried under the snow, or was lost. Many a time during that dreary period of uncertainty I made up my mind that if I ever got out of that place alive I would abandon the plains and the life of a trapper forever. I had nearly given up all hopes of leaving the dug-out alive.

 

A JOYOUS MEETING.
It was on the twenty-ninth day, while I was lying thus despondently thinking and wondering, that I heard the cheerful sound of Harrington's voice as he came slowly up the creek, yelling, "whoa! haw!"to his cattle. A criminal on the scaffold, with the noose around his neck, the trap about to be sprung, and receiving a pardon just at the last moment, thus giving him a new lease of life, could not have been more grateful than I was at that time. It was useless for me to try to force the door open, as the snow had completely blockaded it, and I therefore anxiously awaited Harrington's arrival.

"Hello! Billy!" he sang out in a loud voice as he came up, he evidently being uncertain as to my being alive.

"All right, Dave," was my reply.

"Well, old boy, you're alive, are you?" said he.

"Yes; and that's about all. I've had a tough siege of it since you've been away, and I came pretty nearly passing in my chips. I began to think you never would get here, as I was afraid you had been snowed under," said I.

He soon cleared away the snow from the entrance and opening the door he came in. I don't think there ever was a more welcome visitor than he was. I remember that I was so glad to see him that I put my arms around his neck and hugged him for five minutes; never shall I forget faithful Dave Harrington.

"Well, Billy, my boy, I hardly expected to see you alive again," said Harrington, as soon as I had given him an opportunity to draw his breath; "I had a terrible trip of it,and I didn't think I ever would get through. I was caught in the snowstorm, and was laid up for three days. The cattle wandered away, and I came within an ace of losing them altogether. When I got started again the snow was so deep that it prevented me from making much headway. But as I had left you here I was bound to come through, or die in the attempt."

Again I flung my arms around Dave's neck and gave him a hug that would have done honor to a grizzly bear. My gratitude was thus much more forcibly expressed than it could have been by words. Harrington understood this, and seemed to appreciate it. The tears of joy rolled down my cheeks, and it was impossible for me to restrain them. When my life had been threatened by the Indians I had not felt half so miserable as when I lay in the dug-out thinking I was destined to die a slow death by starvation and cold. The Indians would have made short work of it, and would have given me little or no time to think of my fate.

I questioned Harrington as to his trip, and learned all the details. He had passed through hardships which but few men could have endured. Noble fellow, that he was. He had risked his own life to save mine.

After he had finished his story, every word of which I had listened to with eager interest, I related to him my own experiences, in which he became no less interested. He expressed great astonishment that the Indians had not killed me, and he considered it one of the luckiest and most remarkable escapes he had ever heard of. It amused me, however, to see him get very angry when I told him that they had taken my gun and pistol and had used up our provisions. "But never mind, Billy," said he, "we can stand it till the snow goes off, which will not be long, and then we will pull our wagon back to the settlements."

 

THE RETURN AND DEATH OF HARRtNGTON
A few days afterwards Harrington gathered up our traps, and cleaned the snow out of the wagon. Covering it with the sheet which we had used in the dug-out, he made a comfortable bed inside, and helped me into it. We had been quite successful in trapping, having caught three hundred beavers and one hundred otters, the skins of which Harrington loaded on the wagon. We then pulled out for the settlements, making good headway, as the snow had nearly disappeared, having been blown or melted away, so that we had no difficulty in finding a road. On the eighth day out we came to a farmer's house, or ranch, on the Republican river, where we stopped and rested for two days, and then went on to the ranch where Harrington had obtained the yoke of cattle. We gave the owner of the team twenty-five beaver skins, equal to $60, for the use of the cattle, and he let us have them until we reached Junction City, sending his boy with us to bring them back

At Junction City we sold our wagon and furs and went with a government mule train to Leavenworth &emdash;arriving there in March, 1860. I was just able to get around on crutches when I got into Leavenworth, and it was several months after that before I entirely recovered the use of my leg.

During the winter I had often talked to Harrington about my mother and sisters, and had invited him to go home with me in the spring. I now renewed the invitation, which he accepted, and accompanied me home. When I related to mother my adventures and told her how Harrington had saved my life, she thanked him again and again. I never saw a more grateful woman than she was. She asked him to always make his home with us, as she never could reward him sufficiently for what he had done for her darling boy, as she called me. Harrington concluded to remain with us through the summer and farm mother's land. But alas! the uncertainty of life. The coming of death when least expected was strikingly illustrated in his case. During the latter part of April he went to a nursery for some trees, and while coming home late at night he caught a severe cold and was taken seriously sick, with lung fever. Mother did everything in her power for him. She could not have done more had he been her own son, but notwithstanding her motherly care and attention, and the skill of a physician from Leavenworth, he rapidly grew worse. It seemed hard, indeed, to think that a great strong man like Harrington, who had braved the storms and endured the other hardships of the plains all winter long, should, during the warm and beautiful days of spring, when surrounded by friends and the comforts of a good home, be fatally stricken down. But such was his fate. He died one week from the day on which he was taken sick. We all mourned his loss as we would that of a loved son or brother, as he was one of the truest, bravest, and best of friends. Amid sorrow and tears we laid him away to rest in a picturesque spot on Pilot Knob. His death cast a gloom over our household, and it was a long time before it was entirely dispelled. I felt very lonely without Harrington, and I soon wished for a change of scene again.

 

The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill Continued

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