Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
New Perspectives on THE WEST
The Program People Places Events Resources Lesson Plans Quiz
RESOURCES
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)
FAQ
Links

ARCHIVES (1877 -1887)

THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES
OF BUFFALO BILL

 

CHAPTER XII
A HARD WINTER'S CAMPAIGN

Very soon after our fight on Beaver creek Gen. Carr received orders from Gen. Sheridan for a winter's campaign in the Canadian river country, instructing him to proceed at once to Fort Lyon, Colorado, and there to fit out for the expedition: Leaving Fort Wallace in November, 1868, we arrived at Fort Lyon in the latter part of the month without special incident, and at once began our preparations for invading the enemy's country.

General Penrose had left this post three weeks previously with a command of some three hundred men. He had taken no wagons with him and his supply train was composed only of pack mules. General Carr was ordered to follow with supplies on his trail and overtake him as soon as possible. I was particularly anxious to catch up with Penrose's command, as my old friend, Wild Bill, was among his scouts. We followed the trail very easily for the first three days, and then we were caught in Freeze-Out canyon by a fearful snow storm, which compelled us to go into camp for a day. The ground now being covered with snow, we found that it would be impossible to follow Penrose's trail any further, especially as he had left no sign to indicate the direction he was going. General Carr sent for me and said that as it was very important that we should not lose the trail, he wished that I would take some scouts with me, and while the command remained in camp, push on as far as possible and see if I could not discover come traces of Penrose or where he had camped at any time.

Accompanied by four men I started out in the blinding snow storm, taking a southerly direction. We rode twenty-four miles, and upon reaching a tributary of the Cimarron, we scouted up and down the stream for a few miles and finally found one of Penrose's old camps. It was now late in the afternoon, and as the command would come up the next day, it was not necessary for all of us to return with the information to General Carr. So riding down into a sheltered place in a bend of the creek, we built a fire and broiled some venison from a deer which we had shot during the day, and after eating a substantial meal I left the four men there, while I returned to bring up the troops.

It was eleven o'clock at night when I got back to the camp. A light was still burning in the General's tent, he having remained awake, anxiously awaiting my return. He was glad to see me, and was overjoyed at the information I brought, for he he had great fears concerning the safety of General Penrose. He roused up his cook and ordered him to get me a good hot supper, all of which I greatly appreciated. I passed the night in the General's tent, and next morning rose refreshed and prepared for a big day's work.

 

A ROUGH MARCH
The command took up its march next day for the Cimarron, and had a hard tramp of it on account of the snow having drifted to a great depth in many of the ravines, and in some places the teamsters had to shovel their way through. We arrived at the Cimarron at sundown, and went into a nice warm camp. Upon looking around next morning, we found that Penrose, having been unencumbered by wagons, had kept on the west side of the Cimarron, and the country was so rough that it was impossible for us to stay on his trail with our wagons; but knowing that he would certainly follow down the river, General Carr concluded to take the best wagon route along the stream, which I discovered to be on the east side. Before we could make any headway with our wagon train we had to leave the river and get out on the divide. We were very fortunate that day in finding a splendid road for some distance, until we were all at once brought up standing on a high table-land, overlooking a beautiful winding creek that lay far below us in the valley. The question that troubled us was how we were to get the wagons down. We were now in the foot-hills of the Rattoon mountains, and the bluff we were on was very steep.

"Cody, we're in a nice fix now," said General Carr.

"Oh, that's nothing," was my reply.

"But you can never take the train down," said he.

"Never you mind the train, General. You say you are looking for a good camp. How does that beautiful spot down in the valley suit you?" I asked him.

"That will do. I can easily descend with the cavalry, but how to get the wagons down there is a puzzler to me," said he.

"By the time you've located your camp, your wagons shall be there," said I.

"All right, Cody, I'll leave it to you, as you seem to want to be boss," he replied pleasantly. He at once ordered the command to dismount and lead the horses down the mountain-side. The wagon train was a mile in the rear, and when it came up, one of the drivers asked: "How are we going down there?"

"Run down, slide down or fall down &emdash;any way to get down," said I.

"We never can do it; it's too steep; the wagons will run over the mules," said another wagon-master.

"I guess not; the mules have got to keep out of the way," was my reply.

"I told Wilson, the chief wagon-master, to bring on his mess-wagon, which was at the head of the train, and I would try the experiment at least. Wilson drove the team and wagon to the brink of the hill, and following my directions he brought out some extra chains with which we locked both wheels on each side, and then rough-locked them. We now started the wagon down the hill. The wheel-horses &emdash;or rather the wheel-mules &emdash;were good on the hold-back, and we got along finely until we nearly reached the bottom, when the wagon crowded the mules so hard that they started on a run and galloped down into the valley and to the place where General Carr had located his camp. Three other wagons immediately followed in the same way, and in half an hour every wagon was in camp, without the least accident having occurred It was indeed an exciting sight to see the six-mule teams come straight down the mountain and finally break into a full run. At times it looked as if the wagons would turn a somersault and land on the mules.

This proved to be a lucky march for us, as far as gaining on Penrose was concerned, for the route he had taken on the west side of the stream turned out to be a bad one, and we went with our immense wagon-train as far in one day as Penrose had in seven. His command had

marched on to a plateau or high table-land so steep that not even a pack-mule could descend it, and he was obliged to retrace his steps a long ways, thus losing three days' time, as we afterwards learned.

 

A TURKEY HUNT WITH CLUBS
While in this camp we had a lively turkey hunt. The trees along the banks of the stream were literally alive with wild turkeys, and after unsaddling the horses between two and three hundred soldiers surrounded a grove of timber and had a grand turkey round-up, killing four or five hundred of the birds, with guns, clubs and stones. Of course, we had turkey in every style after this hunt &emdash;roast turkey, boiled turkey, fried turkey, "turkey on toast," and so on; and we appropriately called this place Camp Turkey.

From this point on, for several days, we had no trouble in following Penrose's trail, which led us in a southeasterly direction towards the Canadian river. No Indians were seen nor any signs of them found. One day, while riding in advance of the command, down San Francisco creek, I heard some one calling my name from a little bunch of willow brush on the opposite bank, and, upon looking closely at the spot, I saw a negro.

"Sakes alive! Massa Bill, am dat you?" askedthe man, whom I recognised as one of the colored soldiers of the Tenth cavalry. I next heard him say to some one in the brush: "Come out o' heah. Dar's Massa Buffalo Bill." Then he sang out: "Massa Bill, is you got any hawd tack?"

"Nary a hard tack; but the wagons will be along presently and then you can get all you want," said I.

"Dat's de best news I'se heerd foah sixteen long days, Massa Bill," said he.

"Where's your command? Where's General Penrose?" I asked.

"I dunno," said the darkey; "we got lost and we's been a starvin' eber since."

By this time two other negroes had emerged from their plaee of concealment. They had deserted Penrose's command &emdash;which was out of rations and nearly in a starving condition &emdash;and were trying to make their way back to Fort Lyon. General Carr concluded, from what they could tell him, that General Penrose was somewhere on Palladora creek; but we could not learn anything definite from the starved "mokes," for they knew not where they were themselves.

 

RESCUE OF A STARVING COMMAND
Having learned that General Penrose's troops were in such bad shape, General Carr ordered Major Brown to start out the next morning with two companies of cavalry and fifty pack-mules loaded with provisions, and to make all possible speed to reach and relieve the suffering soldiers. I accompanied this detachment, and on the third day out we found the half-famished soldiers camped on the Palladora. The camp presented a pitiful sight, indeed. For over two weeks the men had had only quarter rations and were now nearly starved to death. Over two hundred horses and mules were lying dead, having died from fatigue and starvation. General Penrose, fearing that General Carr would not find him, had sent back a company of the Seventh Cavalry to Fort Lyon for supplies; but no word as yet had been heard from them. The rations which Major Brown brought to the command came none too soon and were the means of saving many lives.

About the first man I saw after reaching the camp was my old, true and tried friend, Wild Bill. That night we had a jolly reunion around the camp-fires.

General Carr, upon arriving with his force, took command of all the troops, he being the senior officer and ranking General Penrose. After selecting a good camp, he unloaded the wagons and sent them back to Fort Lyon for fresh supplies. He then picked out five hundred of the best men and horses, and, taking his pack-train with him, he started south for the Canadian river, distant about forty miles, leaving the rest of the troops at the supply camp.

 

SUCCESSFUL RAID ON A BEER TRAIN
I was ordered to accompany this expedition. We struck the south fork of the Canadian river, or Rio Colorado, at a point a few miles above the old adobe walls, which at one time had composed a fort, and was the place where Kit Carson once had a big Indian fight. We were now within twelve miles of a new supply depot, called Camp Evans, which had been established for the Third Cavalry and Evans' Expedition from New Mexico. The scouts who had brought in this information also reported that they expected the arrival at Camp Evans of a bull-train from New Mexico with a large quantity of beer for the soldiers This news was grateful to Wild Bill and myself, and we determined to lie low for that beer outfit. That very evening it came along, and the beer that was destined for the soldiers at Camp Evans never reached its destination. It went straight down the thirsty throats of General Carr's command. It appears that the Mexicans living near Fort Union had manufactured the beer, and were taking it through to Camp Evans to sell to the troops, but it struck a lively market without going so far. It was sold to our boys in pint cups, and as the weather was very cold we warmed the beer by putting the ends of our picket-pins heated red hot into the cups. The result was one of the biggest beer jollifications I ever had the misfortune to attend.

One evening General Carr summoned me to his tent, and said he wished to send some scouts with dispatches to Camp Supply, which were to be forwarded from there to Sheridan. He ordered me to call the scouts together at once at his headquarters, and select the men who were to go. I asked him if I should not go myself, but he replied that he wished me to remain with the command, as he could not spare me. The distance to Camp Supply was about two hundred miles, and owing to the very cold weather it was anything but a pleasant trip. Consequently none of the scouts were anxious to undertake it. It was finally settled, however, that Wild Bill, a half-breed called Little Geary, and three other scouts should carry the dispatches, and they accordingly took their departure next day, with instructions to return to the command as soon as possible.

For several days we scouted along the Canadian river, but found no signs of Indians. General Carr then went back to his camp, and soon afterwards our wagon train came in from Fort Lyon with a fresh load of provisions. Our animals being in poor condition, we remained in different camps along San Francisco Creek and the north fork of the Canadian until Wild Bill and his scouts returned from Camp Supply.

 

A FREE FlGHT AMONG THE SCOUTS
Among the scouts of Penrose's command were fifteen Mexicans, and between them and the American scouts there had existed a feud; when General Carr took command of the expeditions &emdash;uniting it with his own &emdash;and I was made chief of all the scouts, this feud grew more intense, and the Mexicans often threatened to clean us out; but they postponed the undertaking from time to time, until one day, while we were all at the cutlery store, the long-expected fight took place, and resulted in the Mexicans getting severely beaten.

General Carr upon hearing of the row, sent for Wild Bill and myself, he having concluded, from the various statements which had been made to him, that we were the instigators of the affair. But after listening to what we had to say, he thought that the Mexicans were as much to blame as we were.

It is not to be denied that Wild Bill and myself had been partaking too freely of "tangle-foot" that evening; and General Carr said to me: "Cody, there are plenty of antelopes in the country, and you can do some hunting for the camp while we stay here."

"All right, General, I'll do it."

After that I put in my time hunting, and with splendid success, killing from fifteen to twenty antelopes a day, which kept the men well supplied with fresh meat.

At length, our horses and mules having become sufficiently recruited to travel, we returned to Fort Lyon, arriving there in March, 1869, where the command was to rest and recruit for thirty days, before proceeding to the Department of the Platte, whither it had been ordered.

 

The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill Continued

Show Autobiography Contents


The Program | People | Places | Events | Resources | Lesson Plans | Quiz
© 2001 THE WEST FILM PROJECT and WETA
Credits