IN due time the Fifth Cavalry reached Fort McPherson, which became its headquarters while they were fitting out a new expedition to go into the Republican River country. At this time General Carr recommended to General Augur, who was in command of the Department, that Will be made chief of scouts in the Department of the Platte.
Will's fancy had been so taken by the scenery along the line of march that he proceeded to explore the country around McPherson, the result being a determination to make his future home in the Platte Valley.
Shortly after reaching the fort, the scouts' division of the Fifth Cavalry was reinforced by Major Frank North and three companies of the celebrated Pawnee scouts. These became the most interesting and amusing objects in camp, partly on account of their race, but mainly because of the bizarre dress fashions they affected. My brother, in his autobiography, describes the appearance presented by these scouts during a review of the command by Brigadier-General Duncan.
The regiment made a fine showing, the men being well drilled and thoroughly versed in tactics. The Pawnees also showed up well on drill, but their full-dress uniforms were calculated to excite even the army horses to laughter. Regular cavalry suits had been furnished them, but no two of the Pawnees seemed to agree as to the correct manner in which the various articles should be worn. As they lined up for dress parade, some of them wore heavy overcoats, others discarded even pantaloons, content with a breech-clout. Some wore large black hats, with brass accouterments, others were bareheaded. Many wore the pantaloons, but declined the shirts, while a few of the more original cut the seats from the pantaloons, leaving only leggins. Half of them were without boots or moccasins, but wore the clinking spurs with manifest pride.
They were a quaint and curious lot, but drilled remarkably well for Indians, and obeyed orders. They were devoted to their white chief, Major North, who spoke Pawnee like a native, and they were very proud of their position in the United States army. Good soldiers they made, too-hard riders, crack shots, and desperate fighters.
At the close of the parade and review referred to, the officers and the ladies attended an Indian dance, given by the Pawnees, which climaxed a rather exciting day.
The following morning an expedition moved back to the Republican River, to curb the high spirits of a band of Sioux, who had grown boldly troublesome. This was the sort of service the Pawnees welcomed, as they and the Sioux were hereditary enemies.
At the journey's end, camp was made at the mouth of the Beaver, and the Sioux were heard from within the hour. A party of them raided the mules that had been taken to the river, and the alarm was given by a herder, who dashed into camp with an arrow sticking in his shoulder.
Will did not wait to saddle his horse, but the Pawnees were as quick as he, and both of them rather surprised the Sioux, who did not expect such a swift response. Especially were they surprised to find themselves confronted by their tribal foe, the Pawnee, and they fell back hastily, closely pressed by Will and his red allies. A running fight was kept up for fifteen miles, and when many of the Sioux had been stretched upon the plain and the others scattered, the pursuing party returned to camp.
Will himself, on a fine horse, had been somewhat chagrined at being passed in the chase by a Pawnee on an inferior-looking steed. Upon inquiring of Major North, he found that the swifter horse was, like his own, government property. The Pawnee was much attached to his mount, but he was also fond of tobacco, and a few pieces of that commodity, supplemented by some other articles, induced him to exchange horses. Will named his new charge "Buckskin Joe," and rode him for four years. Joe proved a worthy successor to Brigham for speed, endurance, and intelligence.
This was the first adventure that Will and the Pawnees had pursued together, and they emerged with an increased esteem for each other. Not long afterward, Will's skill as a buffalo-hunter raised the admiration of the Indians to enthusiasm.
Twenty Pawnees that circled around one herd of buffaloes killed only twenty-two, and when the next herd came in view Will asked Major North to keep the Indians in the background while he showed them a thing or two. Buckskin Joe was a capital buffalo-hunter, and so well did he perform his part that Will brought down thirty-six, about one at every shot.
The Pawnees were delighted. They held it considerable of an achievement to kill two or three of the monarchs of the plains at a single run, and Will's feat dazzled them. He was at once pronounced a great chief, and ever after occupied a high place in their regard.
Moving up the Republican River, the troops went into camp on Black Tail Deer Fork. Scarcely were the tents pitched when a band of Indians were seen sweeping toward them at full speed, singing, yelling, and waving lances. The camp was alive in an instant, but the Pawnees, instead of preparing for defense, began to sing and yell in unison with the advancing braves. "Those are some of our own Indians," said Major North; "they've had a fight, and are bringing in the scalps."
And so it proved. The Pawnees reported a skirmish with the Sioux, in which a few of the latter had been killed.
The next day the regiment set forth upon the trail of the Sioux. They traveled rapidly, and plainly gained ground.
At every camp the print of a woman's shoe was noted among the tracks of mocassined feet. The band evidently had a white captive in tow, and General Carr, selecting the best horses, ordered a forced march, the wagon-trains to follow as rapidly as possible. Will, with six Pawnees, was to go ahead and locate the hostiles, and send back word, so that a plan of attack might be arranged before the Indian village was reached.
This village the scouts discovered among the sandhills at Summit Springs, a few miles from the South Platte River; and while the Pawnees remained to watch, Will returned to General Carr with the news.
There was suppressed excitement all along the line, as officers and men prepared for what promised to be a lively scrimmage. The troops moved forward by a circuitous route, and reached a hill overlooking the hostile camp without their presence being dreamed of by the red men.
The bugler was ordered to sound the charge, but he was trembling with excitement, and unable to blow a note.
"Sound the charge, man!" ordered General Carr a second time; but the unhappy wight could scarcely hold his horn, much less blow it. Quartermaster Hays snatched the instrument from the flustered man's hands, and as the call rang out loud and clear the troops rushed to the attack.
Taken wholly by surprise, the Indian village went to pieces in a twinkling. A few of the Sioux mounted and rode forward to repel the assault, but they turned back in half a minute, while those that were not mounted scattered for the foothills hard by. The cavalry swept through the village like a prairie fire, and pursued the flying Indians until darkness put an end to the chase.
By the next morning the bugler had grown calm enough to sound "Boots and Saddles!" and General Carr split his force into companies, as it was discovered that the Indians had divided. Each company was to follow a separate trail.
Will made one of a band of two hundred, and for two days they dogged the red man's footsteps. At sunrise of the third day the trail ran into another, showing that the Sioux had reunited their forces. This was serious for the little company of regulars, but they went ahead, eager for a meeting with the savages.
They had not long to wait. The sun was scarcely an hour high when some six hundred Sioux were espied riding in close ranks along the bank of the Platte. The Indians discovered the troops at the same moment, and at once gave battle. The Indian is not a coward, though he frequently declines combat if the odds are not largely in his favor.
In this engagement the Sioux outnumbered the soldiers three to one, and the latter fell back slowly until they reached a ravine. Here they tethered their horses and waited the course of Indian events, which, as usual, came in circular form. The Sioux surrounded the regulars, and finding them comparatively few in number, made a gallant charge.
But bows and arrows are futile against powder and ball, and the warriors reeled back from a scathing fire, leaving a score of their number dead.
Another charge, another repulse; and then a council of war. This lasted an hour, and evidently evolved a brilliant stratagem, for the Sioux divided into two bands, and while one made a show of withdrawing, the other circled around and around the position where the soldiers lay.
At a point in this revolving belt of redskins rode a well-mounted, handsome warrior, plainly a chief. It had been Will's experience that to lay low a chief was half the battle when fighting Indians, but this particular mogul kept just out of rifle-shot. There are, however, as many ways of killing an Indian as of killing a cat; so Will crawled on hands and knees along the ravine to a point which he thought would be within range of the chief when next he swung around the circle.
The calculation was close enough, and when the warrior came loping along, slacking his pace to cross the ravine, Will rose and fired.
It was a good four hundred yards, but the warrior pitched from his seat, and his pony ran down the ravine into the ranks of the soldiers, who were so elated over the success of the shot that they voted the animal to Will as a trophy.
The fallen warrior was Tall Bull, one of the ablest chiefs the Sioux ever had. His death so disheartened his braves that they at once retreated.
A union of General Carr's scattered forces followed, and a few days later an engagement took place in which three hundred warriors and a large number of ponies were captured. Some white captives were released, and several hundred squaws made prisoners.
Among these latter was the amiable widow of Tall Bull, who, far from cherishing animosity against Will as the slayer of her spouse, took pride in the fact that he had fallen under the fire of so great a warrior as "Pa-has-ka," Long-haired Chief, by which name our scout was known among the Indians.