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ARCHIVES (1877 -1887)

THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES
OF BUFFALO BILL

 

CHAPTER VI
HOW I BECAME A SOLDIER
Early in the fall of 1861 I made a trip to Fort Larned, Kansas, carrying military dispatches, and in the winter I accompanied George Long through the country, and assisted him in buying horses for the government.

The next spring, 1862, an expedition against the Indians was organized, consisting of a volunteer regiment, the Ninth Kansas under Colonel Clark . This expedition, which I had joined in the capacity of guide and scout, proceeded to the Kiowa and Comanche country, on the Arkansas river, along which stream we scouted all summer between Fort Lyon and Fort Larned, on the old Santa Fe trail. We had several engagements with the Indians, but they were of no great importance.

In the winter of 1862, I became one of the "Red Legged Scouts," &emdash;a company of scouts commanded by Captain Tuff. Among its members were some of the most noted Kansas Rangers, such as Red Clark, the St. Clair brothers, Jack Harvey, an old pony express-rider named Johnny Fry, and many other well known frontiersmen. Our field of operations was confined mostly to the Arkansas country and Southwestern Missouri. We had many a lively skirmish with the bushwhackers and Younger brothers, and when we were not hunting them, we were generally employed in carrying dispatches between Forts Dodge, Gibson, Leavenworth and other posts. Whenever we were in Leavenworth we had a very festive time. We usually attended all the balls in full force, and "ran things" to suit ourselves. Thus I passed the winter of 1862 and the spring of 1863.

Subsequently I engaged to conduct a small train to Denver for some merchants, and on reaching that place in September, I received a letter stating that my mother was not expected to live. I hastened home, and found her dangerously ill. She grew gradually worse, and at last, on the 22d of November, 1863, she died. Thus passed away a loving and affectionate mother and a noble, brave, good and loyal woman.

Previous to this sad event my sister Julia had been married to a gentleman named J. A. Goodman, and they now came to reside at our house and take charge of the children, as my mother had desired that they should not be separated. Mr. Goodman became the guardian of the minor children.

 

WITH THE JAY-HAWKERS
I soon left the home now rendered gloomy by the absence of her whom I had so tenderly loved and going to Leavenworth I entered upon a dissolute and reckless life &emdash;to my shame be it said &emdash;and associated with gamblers, drunkards, and bad characters generally. I continued my dissipation about two months, and was becoming a very "hard case." About this time the Seventh Kansas regiment, known as "Jennison's Jayhawkers," returned from the war, and re-enlisted and reorganized as veterans. Among them I met quite a number of my old comrades and neighbors, who tried to induce me to enlist and go South with them. I had no idea of doing anything of the kind; but one day, after having been under the influence of bad whisky, I awoke to find myself a soldier in the Seventh Kansas. I did not remember how or when I had enlisted, but I saw I was in for it, and that it would not do for me to endeavor to back out.

In the spring of 1864 the regiment was ordered to Tennessee, and we got into Memphis just about the time that General Sturgis was so badly whipped by General Forrest. General A. J. Smith re-organized the army to operate against Forrest and after marching to Tupalo, Mississippi, we had an engagement with him and defeated him. This kind of fighting was all new to me, being entirely different from any in which I had ever before engaged. I soon became a non-commissioned officer, and was put on detached service as a scout.

After skirmishing around the country with the rest of the army for some little time, our regiment returned to Memphis, but was immediately ordered to Cape Giradeau, in Missouri, as a Confederate force under General Price was then raiding that State. The command of which my regiment was a par thurried to the front to intercept Price, and our first fight with him occurred at Pilot Knob. From that time for nearly six weeks we fought or skirmished every day.

 

A SINGULAR MEETING WITH WILD BILL
I was still acting as a scout, when one day I rode ahead of the command, some considerable distance, to pick up all possible information concerning Price's movements. I was dressed in gray clothes, or Missouri jeans, and on riding up to a farm house and entering I saw a man, also dressed in gray costume, sitting at a table eating bread and milk. He looked up as I entered, and startled me by saying:&emdash;

"You little rascal, what are you doing in those 'secesh' clothes?" Judge of my surprise when I recognised in the stranger my old friend and partner, Wild Bill, disguised as a Confederate officer.

"I ask you the same question, sir," said I, without the least hesitation.

"Hush! sit down and have some bread and milk, and we'll talk it all over afterwards," said he.

I accepted the invitation and partook of the refreshments. Wild Bill paid the woman of the house, and we went out to the gate where my horse was standing.

"Billy, my boy," said he "I am mighty glad to see you. tIhaven't seen or heard of you since we got busted on that St. Louis horse race."

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"I am a scout under General McNiel. For the last few days I have been with General Marmaduke's division of Price's army, in disguise as a Southern officer from Texas, as you see me now," said he.

"That's exactly the kind of business that I am out on to-day," said I; "and I want to get some information concerning Price's movements."

"I'll give you all that I have;" and he then went on and told me all that he knew regarding Price's intentions and the number and condition of his men. He then asked about my mother, and when he learned that she was dead he was greatly surprised and grieved; he thought a great deal of her, for she had treated him almost as one of her own children. He finally took out a package, which he had concealed about his person, and handing it to me he said:&emdash;

"Here are some letters which I want you to give to General McNeil."

"All right," said I as I took them, "but where will I meet you again?"

"Never mind that," he replied; "I am getting so much valuable information that I propose to stay a little while longer in this disguise." Thereupon we shook hands and parted.

It is not necessary to say much concerning Price's raid in general, as that event is a matter of recorded history. I am only relating the incidents in which I was personally interested either as one of the actors or as an observer.

 

A PLEASANT LITTLE EPISODE
Another interesting, and I may say exciting, episode happened to me a day or two after my unexpected meeting with Wild Bill. I was riding with the advance guard of our army, and wishing a drink of water, I stopped at a farm house. There were no men about the premises, and no one excepting a very fine and intellectual looking lady and her two daughters. They seemed to be almost frightened to death at seeing me &emdash;a "yank" &emdash;appear before them. I quieted their fears somewhat and the mother then asked me how far back the army was. When I told her it would be along shortly, she expressed her fears that they would take everything on the premises. They set me out a lunch and treated me very kindly, so that I really began to sympathize with them; for I knew that the soldiers would ransack their house and confiscate everything they could lay their hands on. At last I resolved to do what I could to protect them.

After the generals and the staff officers had passed by, I took it upon myself to be a sentry over the house. When the command came along some of the men rushed up with the intention of entering the place and carrying off all the desirable plunder possible, and then tearing and breaking everything to pieces, as they usually did along the line of march.

"Halt!" I shouted; "I have been placed here by the commanding officer as a guard over this house, and no man must enter it." This stopped the first squad; and seeing that my plan was a success, I remained at my post during the passage of the entire command and kept out all intruders.

It seemed as if the ladies could not thank me sufficiently for the protection I had afforded them. They were perfectly aware of the fact that I had acted without orders and entirely on my own responsibility, and therefore they felt the more grateful. They urgently invited me to remain a little while longer and partake of an excellent dinner which they said they were preparing for me. I was pretty hungry about that time, as our rations had been rather slim of late, and a good dinner was a temptation I could not withstand, especially as it was served up by such elegant ladies. While I was eating the meal I was most agreeably entertained by the young ladies, and before I finished it the last of the rear-guard was at least two miles beyond the house.

Suddenly three men entered the room, and I looked up and saw three double-barreled shot-guns leveled straight at me. Before I could speak, however, the mother and her daughters sprang between the men and me.

"Father! Boys! Lower your guns! You must not shoot this man," and similar exclamations were uttered by all three. The guns were lowered and then the men, who were the father and brothers of the young ladies, were informed of what I had done for them. It appeared that they had been concealed in the woods near by while the army was passing, and on coming into the house and finding a Yankee there, they determined to shoot him. Upon learning the facts, the old man extended his hand to me, saying:&emdash;

"I would not harm a hair of your head for the world; but it is best that you stay here no longer, as your command is some distance in advance now, and you might be cut off by bushwhackers before reaching it."

Bidding them all good-bye, and with many thanks from the mother and daughters, I mounted my horse and soon overtook the column, happy in the thought that I had done a good deed, and with no regrets that I had saved from pillage and destruction the home and property of a Confederate and his family.

Our command kept crowding against Price and his army until they were pushed into the vicinity of Kansas City, where their further advance was checked by United States troops from Kansas; and then was begun their memorable and extraordinary retreat back into Kansas.

 

A WONDERFUL ESCAPE
While both armies were drawn up in skirmish line near Fort Scott Kansas, two men on horseback were seen rapidly leaving the Confederate lines, and suddenly they made a dash towards us. Instantly quick volleys were discharged from the Confederates, who also began a pursuit, and some five hundred shots were fired at the flying men. It was evident that they were trying to reach our lines, but when within about a quarter of a mile of us, one of them fell from his horse to rise no more. He had been fatally shot. His companion galloped on unhurt, and seven companies of our regiment charged out and met him, and checked his pursuers. The fugitive was dressed in Confederate uniform, and as he rode into our lines I recognized him as Wild Bill, the Union scout. He immediately sought Generals Pleasanton and McNiel, with whom he held a consultation. He told them that although Price made a bold showing on the front, by bringing all his men into view, yet he was really a great deal weaker than the appearance of his lines would indicate; and that he was then trying to cross a difficult stream four miles from Fort Scott.

It was late in the afternoon, but General Pleasanton immediately ordered an advance, and we charged in full force upon the rear of Price's army, and drove it before us for two hours.

If Wild Bill could have made his successful dash into our lines earlier in the day, the attack would have been made sooner, and greater results might have been expected. The Confederates had suspected him of being a spy for two or three days, and had watched him too closely to allow an opportunity to get away from them sooner. His unfortunate companion who had been shot, was a scout from Springfield, Missouri, whose name I cannot now remember.

From this time on, Wild Bill and myself continued to scout together until Price's army was driven south of the Arkansas river and the pursuit abandoned.

 

The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill Continued

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