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Returns to a Life on the Plains


Returns to a Life on the Plains


Excerpt from The Life of Hon. William F. Cody Known As Buffalo Bill The Famous Hunter, Scout and Guide An Autobiography, Chapter 12, A Wedding, pages 145-148.


William F. Cody


Frank E. Bliss






On my way I stopped at Junction City, where I again met my old friend Wild Bill, who was scouting for the government; his headquarters being at Fort Ellsworth, afterwards called Fort Harker. He told me that they needed more scouts at this post, and I accordingly accompanied him to that fort, where I had no difficulty in obtaining employment.

During the winter of 1866-67, I scouted between Fort Ellsworth and Fort Fletcher. In the spring of 1867 I was at Fort Fletcher, when General Custer came out to go on an Indian expedition with General Hancock. I remained at this post until it was drowned out by the heavy floods of Big Creek, on which it was located; the water rose about the fortifications and rendered the place unfit for occupancy; so the government abandoned the fort, and moved the troops and supplies to a new post—which had been named Fort Hays—located further west, on the south fork of Big Creek. It was while scouting in the vicinity of Fort Hays that I had my first ride with the dashing and gallant Custer, who had come up to the post from Fort Ellsworth with an escort of only ten men. He wanted a guide to pilot him to Fort Larned, a distance of sixty-five miles across the country.

I was ordered by the commanding officer to guide General Custer to his desired destination, and I soon received word from the General that he would start out in the morning with the intention of making the trip in one day. Early in the morning, after a good night's rest, I was on hand, mounted on my large mouse-colored mule—an animal of great endurance—and ready for the journey; when the General saw me, he said:

"Cody, I want to travel fast and go through as quickly as possible, and I don't think that mule of yours is fast enough to suit me."

"General, never mind the mule," said I, "he'll get there as soon as your horses. That mule is a good one," as I knew that the animal was better than most horses.

"Very well; go ahead, then," said he, though he looked as if he thought I would delay the party on the road.

For the first fifteen miles, until we came to the Smoky Hill River, which we were to cross, I could hardly keep the mule in advance of the General, who rode a frisky, impatient and ambitious thoroughbred steed; in fact, the whole party was finely mounted. The General repeatedly told me that the mule was "no good," and that I ought to have had a good horse. But after crossing the river and striking the sand-hills, I began letting my mule out a little, and putting the "persuaders" to him. He was soon out-traveling the horses, and by the time we had made about half the distance to Fort Larned, I occasionally had to wait for the General or some of his party, as their horses were beginning to show signs of fatigue.

"General, how about this mule, anyhow?" I asked, at last.

"Cody, you have a better vehicle than I thought you had," was his reply.

From that time on to Fort Larned I had no trouble in keeping ahead of the party. We rode into the fort at four o'clock in the afternoon with about half the escort only, the rest having lagged far behind.

General Custer thanked me for having brought him straight across the country without any trail, and said that if I were not engaged as post scout at Fort Hays he would like to have me accompany him as one of his scouts during the summer; and he added that whenever I was out of employment, if I would come to him he would find something for me to do. This was the beginning of my acquaintance with General Custer, whom I always admired as a man and as an officer.

A few days after my return to Fort Hays, the Indians made a raid on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, killing five or six men and running off about one hundred horses and mules. The news was brought to the commanding officer, who immediately ordered Major Armes, of the Tenth Cavalry—which, by the way, was a negro regiment, —with his company and one mountain howitzer, to go in pursuit of the red-skins, and I was sent along with the expedition as scout and guide. On the second day out we suddenly discovered, on the opposite side of the Saline River, about a mile distant, a large body of Indians, who were charging down upon us. Major Armes, placing the cannon on a little knoll, limbered it up and left twenty men to guard it; and then, with the rest of the command, he crossed the river to meet the Indians.

Just as he had got the men over the stream, we heard a terrific yelling and shouting in our rear, and looking back to the knoll where the cannon had been stationed, we saw the negroes, who had been left there to guard the gun, flying towards us, being pursued by about one hundred Indians; while another large party of the latter were dancing around the captured cannon, as if they had got hold of an elephant and did not know what to do with it.

Major Armes turned his command back and drove the Indians from the gun. The troops then dismounted and took position there. Quite a severe fight ensued, lasting about two hours. Five or six of the soldiers, as well as Major Armes, were wounded, and several of the horses were shot. The Indians seemed to grow thicker and thicker, as if receiving reinforcements from some large party. The colored troops, who had been bragging all the way that if they could only see some Indians "dey would blow 'em off de farm,"—which was a favorite expression of theirs,—were now singing a different tune. Every time the Indians would make a charge at us, the darkeys would cry out:

"Heah dey cum;" "Dey must be ten thousand ob 'em;" "De whole country is alive wid 'em;" "Massa Bill, does you tink we is eber agoin' to get out o' heah?" and many other similar expressions.

Major Armes, who was wounded and lying under the cannon—which, by the way, had become useless,—called me up and asked if I thought there was any show of getting back to the fort. I replied that there was.

Orders were accordingly given by Major Armes for a retreat, the cannon being left behind. During the movement several of our men were killed, but as night came and dense darkness prevailed, we succeeded in making good headway, and got into Fort Hays just at daylight next morning, in a very played-out condition.

During our absence the cholera had broken out at the post, and five or six men were dying daily. It was difficult to tell which was the greater danger—fighting Indians on the prairie, or facing the cholera in camp; but the former was decidedly the more inviting.