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THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES
OF BUFFALO BILL

 

CHAPTER XV
A DESPERATE FIGHT
On leaving camp, the command took a westward course up the Republican, and Major North with two companies of his Pawnees and two or three companies of cavalry, under the command of Colonel Royal, made a scout to the north of the river. Shortly after we had gone into camp, on the Black Tail Deer fork, we observed a band of Indians coming over the prairie at full gallop, singing and yelling and waving their lances and long poles. At first we supposed them to be Sioux, and all was excitement for a few moments. We noticed, however, that our Pawnee Indians made no hostile demonstrations or preparations toward going out to fight them, but began swinging and yelling themselves. Captain Lute North stepped up to General Carr and said: "General, those are our men who are coming, and they have had a fight. That is the way they act when they come back from a battle and have taken any scalps."

The Pawnees came into camp on the run. Captain North calling to one of them &emdash;a sergeant &emdash;soon found out that they had run across a party of Sioux who were following a large Indian trail. These Indians had evidently been in a fight, for two or three of them had been wounded and they were conveying the injured persons on travoix. The Pawnees had "jumped" them and had killed three or four after a sharp fight, in which much ammunition was expended. Next morning the command, at an early hour, started out to take up this Indian trail which they followed for two days as rapidly as possible; it becoming evident from the many campfires which we passed that we were gaining on the Indians. Wherever they had encamped we found the print of a womanly shoe, and we concluded that they had with them some white captive. This made us all the more anxious to overtake them, and General Carr accordingly selected all his best horses, which could stand a hard run, and gave orders for the wagon train to follow as fast as possible, while he pushed ahead on a forced march. At the same time I was ordered to pick out five or six of the best Pawnees, and go on in advance of the command keeping ten or twelve miles ahead on the trail, so that when we overtook the Indians we could find out the location of their camp and send word to the troops before they came in sight, thus affording ample time to arrange a plan for the capture of the village.

After having gone about ten miles in advance of the regiment, we began to move very cautiously, as we were now evidently nearing the Indians. We looked carefully over the summits of the hills before exposing ourselves to plain view, and at last we discovered the village, encamped in the sand-hills south of the South Platte river at Summit Springs. Here I left the Pawnee scouts to keep watch, while I went back and informed General Carr that the Indians were in sight.

The general at once ordered his men to tighten their saddles and otherwise prepare for action. Soon all was excitement among the officers and soldiers, every one being anxious to charge the village. I now changed my horse for old Buckskin Joe, who had been led for me thus far, and was comparatively fresh. Acting on my suggestion, the General made a circuit to the north, believing that if the Indians had their scouts outs they would naturally be watching in the direction whence they had come. When we had passed the Indians and were between them and the Platte river, we turned toward the left and started toward the village.

By this maneuver we had avoided discovery by the Sioux scouts and we were confident of giving them a complete surprise. Keeping the command wholly out of sight, until we were within a mile of the Indians, the General halted the advance guard until all closed up, and then issued an order that, when he sounded the charge, the whole command was to rush into the village.

 

A CHARGE THROUGH THE INDIAN VILLAGE
As we halted on the top of the hill overlooking the camp of the unsuspecting Indians, General Carr called out to his bugler: "Sound the charge!" The bugler for a moment became intensely excited, and actually forgot the notes. The General again sang out: "Sound the charge !" and yet the bugler was unable to obey the command, Quartermaster Hays &emdash;who had obtained permission to accompany the expedition &emdash;was riding near the General, and comprehending the dilemma of the man, rushed up to him, jerked the bugle from his hands and sounded the charge himself in clear and distinct notes. As the troops rushed forward, he threw the bugle away, then drawing his pistols, was among the first men that entered the village.

The Indians had just driven up their horses and were preparing to make a move of the camp, when they saw the soldiers coming down upon them. A great many of them succeeded in jumping upon their ponies, and leaving everything behind them, advanced out of the village and prepared to meet the charge; but upon second thought they quickly concluded that it was useless to try to check us, and those who were mounted rapidly rode away, while the others on foot fled for safety to the neighboring hills. We went through their village, shooting right and left at everything we saw. The Pawnees, the regular soldiers and officers were all mixed up together, and the Sioux were flying in every direction.

The pursuit continued until darkness made it impossible to longer follow the Indians, who had scattered and were leading off in every direction like a brood of young quails. The expedition went into camp along the South Platte, much exhausted by so long a chase, and though very tired, every trooper seemed anxious for the morrow.

It was nearly sunrise when "boots and saddles" was sounded, breakfast having been disposed of at break of day. The command started in a most seasonable time, but finding that the trail was all broken up, it was deemed advisable to separate into companies, each to follow a different trail.

The company which I headed struck out toward the Northwest over a route indicating the march of about one hundred Indians, and followed this for nearly two days. At a short bend of the Platte a new trail was discovered leading into the one the company was following, and at this point it was evident that a junction had been made. Further along evidences of a reunion of the entire village increased, and now it began to appear that further pursuit would be somewhat hazardous, owing to the largely increased force of Indians. But there were plenty of brave men in the company and nearly all were anxious to meet the Indians, however great their numbers might be. This anxiety was appeased on the third day, when a party of about six hundred Sioux was discovered riding in close ranks near the Platte. The discovery was mutual and there was immediate preparation for battle on both sides. Owing to the overwhelming force of the Indians, extreme caution became necessary, and instead of advancing boldly the soldiers sought advantageous ground. Seeing this, the Indians became convinced that there had been a division in Gen. Carr's command and that the company before them was a fragmentary part of the expedition; they therefore assumed the aggressive, charging us until we were compelled to retire to a ravine and act on the defensive. The attack was made with such caution that the soldiers fell back without undue haste, and had ample opportunity to secure their horses in the natural pit, which was a ravine that during wet seasons formed a branch of the Platte.

 

CORRALLED BY HOSTILES
After circling about the soldiers with the view of measuring their full strength, the Indians, comprehending how small was the number, made a desperate charge from two sides, getting so near us that several of the soldiers were badly wounded by arrows. But the Indians were received with such withering fire that they fell back in confusion, leaving twenty of their warriors on the ground. Another charge resulted like the first, with heavy loss to the red-skins, which so discouraged them that they drew off and held a long council. After discussing the situation among themselves for more than an hour they separated, one body making off as though they intended to leave, but I understood their motions too well to allow the soldiers to be deceived.

The Indians that remained again began to ride in a circle around us, but maintained a safe distance, out of rifle range. Seeing an especially well mounted Indian riding at the head of a squad, passing around in the same circle more than a dozen times, I decided to take my chances for dismounting the chief (as he proved to be) and to accomplish this purpose I crawled on my hands and knees three hundred yards up the ravine, stopping at a point which I considered would be in range of the Indian when he should again make the circuit. My judgment proved correct, for soon the Indian was seen loping his pony through the grass, and as he slackened speed to cross the ravine, I rose up and fired, the aim being so well taken that the chief tumbled to the ground while his horse, after running a few hundred yards, approached the soldiers, one of whom ran out and caught hold of the long lariat attached to the bridle, and thus secured the animal. When I returned to the company, all of whom had witnessed my feat of killing an Indian at a range of fully four hundred yards, by general consent the horse of my victim was given to me.

This Indian whom I killed proved to be Tall Bull, one of the most cunning and able chiefs the Sioux ever had, and his death so affected the Indians that they at once retreated without further attempt to dislodge us.

Some days after this occurrence Gen. Carr's command was brought together again, and had an engagement with the Sioux, in which more than three hundred warriors and a large number of ponies were captured, together with several hundred squaws, among the latter being Tall Bull's widow, who told with pathetic interest how the Prairie Chief* [For many years I was known among all Northern Indians as the Prairie Chief.] had killed her husband. But instead of being moved with hatred against me, as most civilised women would have been under like circumstances, she regarded me with special favor, and esteemed it quite an honor that her husband, a great warrior himself, should have met his death at my hands.

 

MY MEETING WITH NED BUNTLINE
The expedition having succeeded in thoroughly dispersing and punishing the Sioux, Gen. Carr went into barracks at Fort Sedgwick, but we had not remained long in quarters before reports of fresh outbreaks reached us and we had therefore to remain in constant expectation of orders for moving.

One day, while we were lying at Fort Sedgwick, General Carr received a telegram from Fort McPherson stating that the Indians had made a dash on the Union Pacific railroad, derailing a freight train, from which they captured several bolts of calico and other dry goods, and had killed several section-men, besides running off some stock near O'Fallon's station; also that an expedition was going out from Fort McPherson to catch and punish the red-skins if possible. The General ordered me to accompany the expedition, and accordingly that night I proceeded by rail to McPherson station, and from thence rode on horseback to the fort. Two companies, under command of Major Brown, had been ordered out, and next morning, just as we were about to start, Major Brown said to me:

"By the way, Cody, we are going to have quite an important character with us as a guest on this scout. It's old Ned Buntline, the novelist."

Just then I noticed a gentleman, who was rather stoutly built, and who wore a blue military coat, on the left breast of which were pinned about twenty gold medals and badges of secret societies. He walked a little lame as he approached us, and I at once concluded that he was Ned Buntline.

"He has a good mark to shoot at on the left breast," said I to Major Brown, "but he looks like a soldier." As he came up, Major Brown said:

"Cody, allow me to introduce you to Colonel E. B. C. Judson, otherwise known as Ned Buntline."

"Colonel Judson, I am glad to meet you," said I; "the Major tells me that you are to accompany us on the scout."

"Yes my boy, so I am," said he: "I was to deliver a temperance lecture to-night, but no lectures for me when there is a prospect for a fight. The Major has kindly offered me a horse but I don't know how I'll stand the ride, for I haven't done any riding lately; but when I was a young man I spent several years among the fur companies of the Northwest, and was a good rider and an excellent shot."

"The Major has given you a fine horse, and you'll soon find yourself at home in the saddle," said I.

The command soon pulled out for the South Platte river, which was very wide and high, owing to recent mountain rains, and in crossing it we had to swim our horses in some places. Buntline was the first man across. We reached O'Fallon's at eleven o'clock, and in a short time I succeeded in finding the Indian trail; the party seemed to be a small one, which had come up from the south. We followed their track to the North Platte, but as they had a start of two days, Major Brown abandoned the pursuit, and returned to Fort McPherson, while I went back to Fort Sedgwick, accompanied by Buntline.

During this short scout, Buntline had asked me a great many questions, and he was determined to go out on the next expedition with me, providing he could obtain permission from the commanding officer. I introduced him to the officers &emdash;excepting those he already knew &emdash;and invited him to become my guest while he remained at the post, and gave him my pony Powder Face to ride.

 

HORSE RACING IN THE HOSTILE COUNTRY
By this time I had learned that my horse Tall Bull was a remarkably fast runner, and therefore when Lieutenant Mason, who was quite a sport and owned a racer, challenged me to a race, I immediately accepted it. We were to run our horses a single dash of half a mile for one hundred dollars a side. Several of the officers, and also Reub. Wood, the post-trader, bantered me for side bets, and I took them all until I had put up my last cent on Tall Bull.

The ground was measured off, the judges were selected, and all other preliminaries were arranged. We rode our horses ourselves, and coming up to the score nicely we let them go. I saw from the start that it would be mere play to beat the Lieutenant's horse, and therefore I held Tall Bull in check, so that none could see how fast he really could run. I easily won the race, and pocketed a snug little sum of money. Of course everybody was now talking horse. Major North remarked that if Tall Bull could beat the Pawnees' fast horse, I could break his whole command.

The next day the troops were paid off, the Pawnees with the rest, and for two or three days they did nothing but run horseraces, as all the recently captured horses had to be tested to find out the swiftest among them. Finally the Pawnees wanted to run their favorite horse against Tall Bull, and I accordingly arranged a race with them. They raised three hundred dollars and bet it on their horse, while of course I backed Tall Bull with an equal amount, and in addition took numerous side bets. The race was a single dash of a mile, and Tall Bull won it without any difficulty. I was ahead on this race about seven hundred dollars, and the horse was fast getting a reputation. Heretofore nobody would bet on him, but now he had plenty of backers.

 

THE TRICK OF POWDER-FACE.
I also made a run for my pony Powder Face against a fast pony belonging to Captain Lute North. I selected a small boy living at the post to ride Powder Face, while an Indian boy was to ride the other pony. The Pawnees as usual wanted to bet on their pony, but as I had not fully ascertained the running quali ties of Powder Face, I did not care about risking very much money on him. Had I known him as well then as I did afterwards I would have backed him for every dollar I had, for he proved to be one of the swiftest ponies I ever saw, and had evidently been kept as a racer.

The race was to be four hundred yards, and when I led the pony over the track he seemed to understand what he was there for. North and I finally put the riders on, and it was all I could do to hold the fiery little animal after the boy became seated on his back. He jumped around and made such quick movements, that the boy was not at all confident of being able to stay on him. The order to start was at last given by the judges, and as I brought Powder Face up to the score and the word "go" was given, he jumped away so quickly that he left his rider sitting on the ground; notwithstanding, he ran through and won the race without him. It was an easy victory, and after that I could get up no more races. Thus passed the time while we were at Fort Sedgwick.

General Carr having obtained a leave of absence, Colonel Royal was given the command of an expedition that was ordered to go out after the Indians, and in a few days &emdash;after having rested a couple of weeks &emdash;we set out for the Republican, having learned that there were plenty of Indians in that section of the country. At Frenchman's fork we discovered an Indian village, but did not surprise it, for its people had noticed us approaching, and were retreating when we reached their camping place. We chased them down the stream, and they finally turned to the left, went north and crossed the South Platte river five miles above Ogalalla. We pushed rapidly after them, following them across the North Platte and on through the sand hills towards the Niobrara, but as they were making much better time than we, the pursuit was abandoned.

 

AN INTERESTING INDIAN TRADITION
While we were in the sand hills, scouting the Niobrara country, the Pawnee Indians brought into camp, one night, some very large bones, one of which a surgeon of the expedition pronounced to be the thigh bone of a human being. The Indians claimed that the bones they had found were those of a person belonging to a race of people who a long time ago lived in this country: That there was once a race of men on the earth whose size was about three times that of an ordinary man, and they were so swift and powerful that they could run alongside of a buffalo, and taking the animal in one arm could tear off a leg and eat the meat as they walked. These giants denied the existence of a Great Spirit, and when they heard the thunder or saw the lightning they laughed at it and said they were greater than either. This so displeased the Great Spirit that he caused a great rain storm to come, and the water kept rising higher and higher so that it drove those proud and conceited giants from the low grounds to the hills, and thence to the mountains, but at last even the mountain tops were submerged, and then those mamnoth men were all drowned. After the flood had subsided, the Great Spirit came to the conclusion that he had made man too large and powerful, and that he would therefore correct the mistake by creating a race of men of smaller size and less strength. This is the reason, say the Indians, that modern men are small and not like the giants of old, and they claim that this story is a matter of Indian history, which has been handed down among them from time immemorial.

As we had no wagons with us at the time this large and heavy bone was found, we were obliged to leave it.

 

The Autobiography of Buffalo Bill Continued

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