New Perspectives on THE WEST
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Archives of THE WEST
Episode One
(to 1806)
Episode Two
(1806 to 1848)
Episode Three
(1848 to 1856)
Episode Four
(1856 to 1868)
Episode Five
(1868 to 1874)
Episode Six
(1874 to 1877)
Episode Seven
(1877 to 1887)
Episode Eight
(1887 to 1914)

ARCHIVES (1877 -1887)



As the warm days of summer approached I longed for the cool air of the mountains; and to the mountains I determined to go. After engaging a man to take care of the farm, I proceeded to Leavenworth and there met my old wagon-master and friend, Lewis Simpson, who was fitting out a train at Atchison and loading it with supplies for the Overland Stage Company, of which Mr. Russell, my old employer, was one of the proprietors. Simpson was going with this train to Fort Laramie and points further west.

"Come along with me, Billy," said he, "I'll give you a good lay-out. I want you with me."

"I don't know that I would like to go so far west as that again," I replied, "but I do want to ride the pony express once more; there's some life in that."

"Yes, that's so; but it will soon shake the life out of you," said he. "However, if that's what you've got your mind set on, you had better come to Atchison with me and see Mr. Russell, who I'm pretty certain will give you a situation."

I replied that I would do that. I then went home and informed mother of my intention, and as her health was very poor I had great difficulty in obtaining her consent. I finally convinced her that as I was of no use on the farm, it would be better and more profitable for me to return to the plains. So after giving her all the money I had earned by trapping, I bade her goodbye and set out for Atchison.

I met Mr. Russell there and asked him for employment as a pony express -rider; he gave me a letter to Mr. Slade, who was then the stage agent for the division extending from Julesburg to Rocky Ridge. Slade had his headquarters at Horseshoe Station, thirty-six miles west of Fort Laramie, and I made the trip thither in company with Simpson and his train.

Almost the very first person I saw after dismounting from my horse was Slade. I walked up to him and presented Mr. Russell's letter, which he hastily opened and read. With a sweeping glance of his eye he took my measure from head to foot, and then said:&emdash;

"My boy, you are too young for a pony express-rider. It takes men for that business "

"I rode two months last year on Bill Trotter's division, sir, and filled the bill then; and I think I am better able to ride now," said I.

"What ! are you the boy that was riding there, and was called the youngest rider on the road ?"

"I am the same boy," I replied, confident that everything was now all right for me.

"I have heard of you before. You are a year or so older now, and I think you can stand it. I'll give you a trial anyhow and if you weaken you can come back to Horse Shoe Station and tend stock."

That ended our first interview. The next day he assigned me to duty on the road from Red Buttes on the North Platte, to the Three Crossings of the Sweetwater &emdash;a distance of seventy-six miles &emdash;a nd I began riding at once. It was a long piece of road, but I was equal to the undertaking; and soon afterwards had an opportunity to exhibit my power of endurance as a pony express-rider.

One day when I galloped into Three Crossings, my home station, I found that the rider who was expected to take the trip out on my arrival, had gotten into a drunken row the night before and been killed. This left that division without a rider and as it was very difficult to engage men for the service in that uninhabited region, the superintendent requested me to make the trip until another rider could be secured. The distance to the next station, Rocky Ridge, was eighty-five miles and through a very bad and dangerous country, but the emergency was great and I concluded to try it. I therefore started promptly from Three Crossings without more than a moment's rest and pushed on with usual rapidity, entering every relay station on time and accomplishing the round trip of three hundred and twenty-two miles back to Red Buttes without a single mishap and on time. This stands on the records as being the longest pony express journey ever made.


A week after making this trip, and while passing over the route again, I was jumped by a band of Sioux Indians who dashed out from a sand ravine nine miles west of Horse creek. They were armed with pistols and gave me a close call with several bullets, but it fortunately happened that I was mounted on the fleetest horse belonging to the Express Company, and one that was possessed of remarkable endurance. Being cut off from retreat back to Horse Shoe, I put spurs to my horse, and lying flat on his back, kept straight for Sweetwater, the next station, which I reached without accident, having distanced my pursuers. Upon reaching that place, however, I found a sorry condition of affairs, as the Indians had made a raid on the station the morning of my adventure with them, and after killing the stock-tender had driven off all the horses, so that I was unable to get a remount. I therefore continued on to Ploutz's Station &emdash;twelve miles further &emdash;thus making twenty-four miles straight run with one horse. I told the people at Ploutz's what had happened at Sweetwater Bridge, and with a fresh horse went on and finished the trip without any further adventure.


About the middle of September the Indians became very troublesome on the line of the stage road along the Sweetwater. Between Split Rock and Three Crossings they robbed a stage, killed the driver and two passengers, and badly wounded Lieut. Flowers, the assistant division agent. The red-skinned thieves also drove off the stock from the different stations, and were continually lying in wait for the passing stages and pony express riders, so that we had to take many desperate chances in running the gauntlet.

The Indians had now become so bad and had stolen so much stock that it was decided to stop the pony express for at least six weeks, and to run the stages only occasionally during that period; in fact, it would have been almost impossible to have continued the enterprise much longer without restocking the line.

While we were thus nearly all lying idle, a party was organized to go out and search for stolen stock. This party was composed of stage-drivers, express-riders, stock-tenders, and ranchmen &emdash;forty of them altogether &emdash;and they were well-armed and well-mounted. They were mostly men who had undergone all kinds of hardships and braved every danger, and they were ready and anxious to "tackle " any number of Indians. Wild Bill (who had been driving stage on the road and had recently come down to our division) was elected captain of the company.

It was supposed that the stolen stock had been taken to the head of Powder river and vicinity, and the party, of which I was a member, started out for that section in high hopes of success.

Twenty miles out from Sweetwater Bridges at the head of Horse creek, we found an Indian trail running north towards Powder river, and we could see by the tracks that most of the horses had been recently shod and were undoubtedly our stolen stage-stock. Pushing rapidly forwards we followed this trail to Powder river; thence down this stream to within about forty miles of the spot where old Fort Reno now stands. Here the trail took a more westerly course along the foot of the mountains, leading eventually to Crazy Woman's fork &emdash;a tributary of Powder river. At this point we discovered that the party whom we were trailing had been joined by another band of Indians, and judging from the fresh appearance of the trail, the united body could not have left this spot more than twenty-four hours before.


Being aware that we were now in the heart of the hostile country and might at any moment find more Indians than we had "lost," we advanced with more caution than usual and kept a sharp lookout. As we were approaching Clear creek, another tributary of Powder river, we discovered Indians on the opposite side of the creek, some three miles distant; at least we saw horses grazing which was a sure sign that there were Indians there.

The Indians thinking themselves in comparative safety &emdash;never before having been followed so far into their own country by white men &emdash;had neglected to put out any scouts. They had no idea that there were any white men in that part of the country. We got the lay of their camp, and then held a council to consider and mature a plan for capturing it. We knew full well that the Indians would outnumber us at least three to one, and perhaps more. Upon the advice and suggestion of Wild Bill, it was finally decided that we should wait until it was nearly dark, and then, after creeping as close to them as possible, make a dash through their camp, open a general fire on them, and then stampede the horses.

This plan, at the proper time, was most successfully executed. The dash upon the enemy was a complete surprise to them. They were so overcome with astonishment that they did not know what to make of it. We could not have astounded them any more had we dropped down into their camp from the clouds. They did not recover from the surprise of this sudden charge until after we had ridden pellmell through their camp and got away with our own horses as well as theirs. We at once circled the horses around towards the south, and after getting them on the south side of Clear creek, some twenty of our men &emdash;just as the darkness was coming on &emdash;rode back and gave the Indians a few parting shots. We then took up our line of march for Sweetwater Bridge, where we arrived four days afterwards with all our own horses and about one hundred captured Indian ponies.


The expedition had proved a grand success, and the event was celebrated in the usual manner &emdash;by a grand spree. The only store at Sweetwater Bridge did a rushing business for several days. The returned stock-hunters drank and gambled and fought. The Indian ponies, which had been distributed among the captors, passed from hand to hand at almost every deal of the cards. There seemed to be no limit to the rioting and carousing; revelry reigned supreme. On the third day of the orgie, Slade, who had heard the news, came up to the bridge and took a hand in the "fun," as it was called. To add some variation and excitement to the occasion, Slade got into a quarrel with a stage-driver and shot him, killing him almost instantly.

The "boys " became so elated as well as "elevated " over their success against the Indians that most of them were in favor of going back and cleaning out the whole Indian race. One old driver especially, Dan Smith, was eager to open a war on all the hostile nations, and had the drinking been continued another week he certainly would have undertaken the job, single-handed and alone. The spree finally came to an end; the men sobered down and abandoned the idea of again invading the hostile country. The recovered horses were replaced on the road and the stages and pony express again began running on time.

Slade, having taken a great fancy to me, said: "Billy, I want you to come down to my headquarters, and I'll make you a sort of supernumerary rider, and send you out only when it is necessary."


I accepted the offer and went with him down to Horseshoe, where I had a comparatively easy time of it. I had always been fond of hunting, and I now had a good opportunity to gratify my ambition in that direction, as I had plenty of spare time on my hands. In this connection I will relate one of my bear-hunting adventures. One day, when I had nothing else to do, I saddled up an extra pony express horse, and arming myself with a good rifle and pair of revolvers, struck out for the foot-hills of Laramie Peak for a bear-hunt. Riding carelessly along, and breathing the cool and bracing autumn air which came down from the mountains, I felt as only a man can feel who is roaming over the prairies of the far West, well armed and mounted on a fleet and gallant steed. The perfect freedom which he enjoys is in itself a refreshing stimulant to the mind as well as to the body. Such indeed were my feelings on this beautiful day as I rode up the valley of the Horseshoe. Occasionally I scared up a flock of sage-hens or a jack-rabbit. Antelopes and deer were alntost always in sight in any direction, but as they were not the kind of game I was after on that day I passed them by and kept on towards the higher mountains. The further I rode the rougher and wilder became the country, and I knew that I was approaching the haunts of the bear. I did not discover any, however, although I saw plenty of tracks in the snow.

About two o'clock in the afternoon, my horse having become tired, and myself being rather weary, I shot a sage-hen and, dismounting, I unsaddled my horse and tied him to a small tree, where he could easily feed on the mountain grass. I then built a little fire, and broiling the chicken and seasoning it with salt and pepper, which I had obtained from my saddle-bags, I soon sat down to a "genuine square meal," which I greatly relished.

After resting for a couple of hours, I remounted and resumed my upward trip to the mountain, having made up my mind to camp out that night rather than go back without a bear, which my friends knew I had gone out for. As the days were growing short, night soon came on, and I looked around for a suitable camping place. While thus engaged, I scared up a flock of sage-hens, two of which I shot, intending to have one for supper and the other for breakfast.

By this time it was becoming quite dark, and I rode down to one of the little mountain streams, where I found an open place in the timber suitable for a camp. I dismounted, and after unsaddling my horse and hitching him to a tree, I prepared to start a fire. Just then I was startled by hearing a horse whinnying further up the stream. It was quite a surprise to me, and I immediately ran to my animal to keep him from answering, as horses usually do in such cases. I thought that the strange horse might belong to some roaming band of Indians, as I knew of no white men being in that portion of the country at that time. I was certain that the owner of the strange horse could not be far distant, and I was very anxious to find out who my neighbor was, before letting him know that I was in his vicinity. I therefore resaddled my horse, and leaving him tied so that I could easily reach him I took my gun and started out on a scouting expedition up the stream. I had gone about four hundred yards when, in a bend of the stream, I discovered ten or fifteen horses grazing.


On the opposite side of the creek, a light was shining high up the mountain bank. Approaching the mysterious spot as cautiously as possible, and when within a few yards of the light &emdash;which I discovered came from a dug-out in the mountain side &emdash;I heard voices, and soon I was able to distinguish the words, as they proved to be in my own language. Then I knew that the occupants of the dug-out, whence the voices proceeded, were white men. Thinking that they might be a party of trappers, I boldly walked up to the door and knocked for admission. The voices instantly ceased, and for a moment a death-like silence reigned inside. Then there seemed to follow a kind of hurried whispering &emdash;a sort of consultation &emdash;and then some one called out:&emdash;

"Who's there?"

"A friend and a white man," I replied.

The door opened, and a big, ugly-looking fellow stepped forth and said:&emdash;

"Come in."

I accepted the invitation with some degree of fear and hesitation, which I endeavored to conceal, as I saw that it was too late to back out, and that it would never do to weaken at that point, whether they were friends or foes. Upon entering the dug-out my eyes fell upon eight as rough and villainous looking men as I ever saw in my life. Two of them I instantly recognised as teamsters who had been driving in Lew Simpson's train, a few months before, and had been discharged.

They were charged with the murdering and robbing of a ranchman; and having stolen his horses it was supposed that they had left the country. I gave them no signs of recognition however, deeming it advisable to let them remain in ignorance as to who I was. It was a hard crowd, and I concluded that the sooner I could get away from them the better it would be for me. I felt confident that they were a band of horse-thieves.

"Where are you going, young man; and who's with you?" asked one of the men who appeared to be the leader of the gang.

"I am entirely alone. I left Horseshoe Station this morning for a bear-hunt, and not finding any bears, I had determined to camp out for the night and wait till morning," said I; "and just as I was going into camp, a few hundred yards down the creek I heard one of your horses whinnying, and then I came to your camp."

I was thus explicit in my statement in order, if possible, to satisfy the cut-throats that I was not spying upon them, but that my intrusion was entirely accidental.

"Where's your horse?" demanded the boss thief.

"I left him down the creek," I answered.


They proposed going after the horse, but I thought that that would never do, as it would leave me without any means of escape, and I accordingly said, in hopes to throw them off the track, "Captain, I'll leave my gun here and go down and get my horse, and come back and stay all night."

I said this in as cheerful and as careless a manner as possible, so as not to arouse their suspicions in any way or lead them to think that I was aware of their true character. I hated to part with my gun, but my suggestion of leaving it was a part of the plan of escape which I had arranged. If they have the gun, thought I, they will surely believe that I intend to come back. But this little game did not work at all, as one of the desperadoes spoke up and said:&emdash;

"Jim and I will go down with you after your horse, and you can leave your gun here all the same, as you'll not need it."

"All right," I replied, for I could certainly have said nothing else. It became evident to me that it would be better to trust myself with two men than with the whole party. It was apparent from this time on I would have to be on the alert for some good opportunity to give them the slip.

"Come along," said one of them, and together we went down the creek, and soon came to the spot where my horse was tied. One of the men unhitched the animal and said: "I'll lead the horse."

"Very well," said I, "I've got a couple of sage-hens here. Lead on."

I picked up the sage-hens, which I had killed a few hours before, and followed the man who was leading the horse, while his companion brought up the rear. The nearer we approached the dug-out the more I dreaded the idea of going back among the villainous cut-throats. My first plan of escape having failed, I now determined upon another. I had both of my revolvers with me, the thieves not having thought it necessary to search me. It was now quite dark, and I purposely dropped one of the sage-hens, and asked the man behind me to pick it up. While he was hunting for it on the ground, I quickly pulled out one of my Colt's revolvers and struck him a tremendous blow on the back of the head, knocking him senseless to the ground. I then instantly wheeled around, and saw that the man ahead, who was only a few feet distant, had heard the blow and had turned to see what was the matter, his hand upon his revolver. We faced each other at about the same instant, but before he could fire, as he tried to do, I shot him dead in his tracks. Then jumping on my horse, I rode down the creek as fast as possible, through the darkness and over the rough ground and rocks.

The other outlaws in the dug-out, having heard the shot which I had fired, knew there was trouble, and they all came rushing down the creek. I suppose by the time they reached the man whom I had knocked down, that he had recovered and hurriedly told them of what had happened. They did not stay with the man whom I had shot, but came on in hot pursuit of me. They were not mounted, and were making better time down the rough mountain than I was on horseback. From time to time I heard them gradually gaining on me.

At last they had come so near that I saw that I must abandon my horse. So I jumped to the ground, and gave him a hard flap with the butt of one of my revolvers, which started him on down the valley, while I scrambled up the mountain side. I had not ascended more than forty feet when I heard my pursuers coming closer and closer; I quickly hid behind a large pine tree, and in a few moments they all rushed by me, being led on by the rattling footsteps of my horse, which they heard ahead of them. Soon they began firing in the direction of the horse, as they no doubt supposed I was still seated on his back. As soon as they had passed me I climbed further up the steep mountain, and knowing that I had given them the slip, and feeling certain I could keep out of their way, I at once struck out for Horseshoe Station, which was twenty-five miles distant. I had hard traveling at first but upon reaching lower and better ground I made good headway, walking all night and getting into the station just before daylight, &emdash;foot-sore, weary, and generally played out.

I immediately waked up the men of the station and told them of my adventure. Slade himself happened to be there, and he at once organized a party to go out in pursuit of the horse thieves Shortly after daylight twenty well armed stage-drivers, stocktenders and ranchmen were galloping in the direction of the dug-out. Of course I went along with the party, notwithstanding I was very tired and had had hardly any rest at all. We had a brisk ride, and arrived in the immediate vicinity of the thieves'rendezvous at about ten o'clock in the morning. We approached the dug-out cautiously, but upon getting in close proximity to it we could discover no horses in sight. We could see the door of the dug-out standing wide open, and we then marched up to the place. No one was inside and the general appearance of everything indicated that the place had been deserted &emdash;that the birds bad flown. Such, indeed, proved to be the case.

We found a new-made grave, where they had evidently buried the man whom I had shot. We made a thorough search of the whole vicinity, and finally found their trail going southeast in the direction of Denver. As it would have been useless to follow them, we rode back to the station; and thus ended my eventful bear-hunt. We had no more trouble for some time from horse-thieves after that.

During the winter of 1860 and the spring of 1861 I remained at Horseshoe, occasionally riding pony express and taking care of stock, but meeting with no adventure worthy to be recorded.


The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill Continued

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