ALTHOUGH the glory of killing the buffalo on our hunt was accredited to sister May, to me the episode proved of much more moment. In the spring of 1871 I was married to Mr. Jester, the bachelor ranchman at whose place we had tarried on our hurried return to the fort. His house had a rough exterior, but was substantial and commodious, and before I entered it, a bride, it was refitted in a style almost luxurious. I returned to Leavenworth to prepare for the wedding, which took place at the home of an old friend, Thomas Plowman, his daughter Emma having been my chum in girlhood.
In our home near McPherson we were five miles "in the country." Nature in primitive wildness encompassed us, but life's song never ran into a monotone. The prairie is never dull when one watches it from day to day for signs of Indians. Yet we were not especially concerned, as we were near enough to the fort to reach it on short notice, and besides our home there was another house where the ranchmen lived. With these I had little to do. My especial factotum was a negro boy, whose chief duty was to saddle my horse and bring it to the door, attend me upon my rides, and minister to my comfort generally. Poor little chap! He was one of the first of the Indians' victims.
Early one morning John, as he was called, was sent out alone to look after the cattle. During breakfast the clatter of hoofs was heard, and Will rode up to inform us that the Indians were on the war-path and massed in force just beyond our ranch. Back of Will were the troops, and we were advised to ride at once to the fort. Hastily packing a few valuables, we took refuge at McPherson, and remained there until the troops returned with the news that all danger was over.
Upon our return to the ranch we found that the cattle had been driven away, and poor little John was picked up dead on the skirts of the foothills. The redskins had apparently started to scalp him, but had desisted. Perhaps they thought his wool would not make a desirable trophy, perhaps they were frightened away. At all events, the poor child's scalp was left to him, though the mark of the knife was plain.
Shortly after this episode, some capitalists from t'he East visited my husband. One of them, Mr. Bent, owned a large share in the cattle-ranches. He desired to visit this ranch, and the whole party planned a hunt at the same time. As there were no banking facilities on the frontier, drafts or bills of exchange would have been of no use; so the money designed for Western investment had been brought along in cash. To carry this on the proposed trip was too great a risk, and I was asked banteringly to act as banker. I consented readily, but imagine my perturbation when twenty-five thousand dollars in bank-notes were counted out and left in my care. I had never had the responsibility of so large a sum of money before, and compared to me the man with the elephant on his hands had a tranquil time of it. After considering various methods for secreting the money, I decided for the hair mattress on my bed. This I ripped open, inserted the envelope containing the bank-notes, and sewed up the slit. No one was aware of my trust, and I regarded it safe.
A few mornings later I ordered my pony and rode away to visit my nearest neighbor, a Mrs. Erickson, purposing later to ride to the fort and spend the day with Lou, my sister-in-law. When I reached Mrs. Erickson's house, that good woman came out in great excitement to greet me.
"You must come right in, Mrs. Jester!" said she. "The foothills are filled with Indians on the warpath."
She handed me her field-glass, and directed my gaze to the trail below our ranch, over which buffaloes, cattle, and Indians passed down to the Platte. I could plainly see the warriors tramping along Indian-file, their head-feathers waving in the breeze and their blankets flapping about them as they walked. Instantly the thought of the twenty-five thousand dollars intrusted to my care flashed across my mind.
"Oh, Mrs. Erickson," I exclaimed, "I must return to the ranch immediately!"
"You must not do so, Mrs. Jester; it's as much as your life is worth to attempt it," said she.
But I thought only of the money, and notwithstanding warning and entreaty, mounted my horse and flew back on the homeward path, not even daring to look once toward the foothills. When I reached the house, I called to the overseer:
"The Indians are on the war-path, and the foot hills are full of them! Have two or three men ready to escort me to the fort by the time I have my valise packed."
"Why, Mrs. Jester," was the reply, "there are no Indians in sight."
"But there are," said I. "I saw them as plainly as I see you, and the Ericksons saw them, too."
"You have been the victim of a mirage," said the overseer. "Look! there are no Indians now in view."
I scanned the foothills closely, but there was no sign of a warrior. With my field-glasses I searched the entire rim of the horizon; it was tranquillity itself. I experienced a great relief, nevertheless. My nerves were so shaken that I could not remain at home; so I packed a valise, taking along the package of bank-notes, and visited another neighbor, a Mrs. McDonald, a dear friend of many years' standing, who lived nearer the fort.
This excellent woman was an old resident of the frontier. After she had heard my story, she related some of her own Indian experiences. When she first settled in her present home, there was no fort to which she could flee from Indian molestation, and she was often compelled to rely upon her wits to extricate her from dangerous situations. The story that especially impressed me was the following:
"One evening when I was alone," said Mrs. McDonald, "I became conscious that eyes were peering at me from the darkness outside my window. Flight was impossible, and my husband would not likely reach home for an hour or more. What should I do? A happy thought came to me. You know, perhaps, that Indians, for some reason, have a strange fear of a drunken woman, and will not molest one. I took from a closet a bottle filled with a dark-colored liquid, poured out a glassful and drank it. In a few minutes I repeated the dose, and then seemingly it began to take effect. I would try to walk across the room, staggering and nearly falling. I became uproariously 'happy.' I flung my arms above my head, lurched from side to side, sang a maudlin song, and laughed loudly and foolishly. The stratagem succeeded. One by one the shadowy faces at the window disappeared, and by the time my husband and the men returned there was not an Indian in the neighborhood. I became sober immediately. Molasses and water is not a very intoxicating beverage."
I plucked up courage to return to the ranch that evening, and shortly afterward the hunting-party rode up. When I related the story of my fright, Mr. Bent complimented me upon what he was pleased to call my courage.
"You are your brother's own sister," said he. "We'll make you banker again."
"Thank you, but I do not believe you will," said I. "I have had all the experience I wish for in the banking business in this Indian country."
Upon another occasion Indians were approaching the fort from the farther side, but as we were not regarded as in danger, no warning was sent to us. The troops sallied out after the redskins, and the cunning warriors described a circle. To hide their trail they set fire to the prairie, and the hills about us were soon ablaze. The flames spread swiftly, and the smoke rolled upon us in suffocating volume. We retreated to the river, and managed to exist by dashing water upon our faces. Here we were found by soldiers sent from the fort to warn settlers of their peril, and at their suggestion we returned to the ranch, saddled horses, and rode through the dense smoke five miles to the fort. It was the most unpleasant ride of my life.
In the preceding chapter mention was made of the finding of a remarkable bone. It became famous, and in the summer of 1871 Professor Marsh, of Yale College, brought out a party of students to search for fossils. They found a number, but were not rewarded by anything the most credulous could torture into a human relic.
This summer also witnessed an Indian campaign somewhat out of the common in several of its details. More than one volume would be required to record all the adventures Scout Cody had with the Children of the Plains, most of which had so many points in common that it is necessary to touch upon only those containing incidents out of the ordinary.
An expedition, under command of General Duncan, was fitted out for the Republican River country. Duncan was a jolly officer and a born fighter. His brother officers had a story that once on a time he had been shot in the head by a cannon-ball, and that while he was not hurt a particle, the ball glanced off and killed one of the toughest mules in the army.
Perhaps it was because the Pawnees spoke so little English, and spoke that little so badly, that General Duncan insisted upon their repeating the English call, which would be something like this : "Post Number One. Nine o'clock. All's well." The Pawnee effort to obey was so ludicrous, and provocative of such profanity (which they could express passing well), that the order was countermanded.
One afternoon Major North and Will rode ahead of the command to select a site for the night's camp. They ran into a band of some fifty Indians, and were obliged to take the back track as fast as their horses could travel. Will's whip was shot from his hand and a hole put through his hat. As they sighted the advance-guard of the command, Major North rode around in a circle -- a signal to the Pawnees that hostiles were near. Instantly the Pawnees broke ranks and dashed pell-mell to the relief of their white chief. The hostiles now took a turn at retreating, and kept it up for several miles.
The troops took up the trail on the following day, and a stern chase set in. In passing through a deserted camp the troops found an aged squaw, who had been left to die. The soldiers built a lodge for her, and she was provided with sufficient rations to last her until she reached the Indian heaven, the happy hunting-grounds. She was in no haste, however, to get to her destination, and on their return. the troops took her to the fort with them. Later she was sent to the Spotted Tail agency.
In September of 1871 General Sheridan and a party of friends arrived at the post for a grand hunt. Between him and Will existed a warm friendship, which continued to the close of the general's life. Great preparations were made for the hunt. General Emory, now commander of the fort, sent a troop of cavalry to meet the distinguished visitors at the station and escort them to the fort. Besides General Sheridan, there were in the party Leonard and Lawrence Jerome, Carroll Livingstone, James Gordon Bennett, J. G. Heckscher, General Fitzhugh, Schuyler Crosby, Dr. Asch, Mr. McCarthy, and other well-known men. When they reached the post they found the regiment drawn up on dress parade; the band struck up a martial air, the cavalry were reviewed by General Sheridan, and the formalities of the occasion were regarded as over.
It was Sheridan's request that Will should act as guide and scout for the hunting-party. One hundred troopers under Major Brown were detailed as escort, and the commissary department fairly bulged. Several ambulances were also taken along, for the comfort of those who might weary of the saddle.
Game was abundant, and rare sport was had. Buffalo, elk, and deer were everywhere, and to those of the party who were new to Western life the prairie-dog villages were objects of much interest. These villages are often of great extent. They are made up of countless burrows, and so honeycombed is the country infested by the little animals that travel after nightfall is perilous for horses. The dirt is heaped around the entrance to the burrows a foot high, and here the prairie-dogs, who are sociability itself, sit on their hind legs and gossip with one another. Owls and rattlesnakes share the underground homes with the rightful owners, and all get along together famously.
When the hunting-party returned to McPherson, its members voted Will a veritable Nimrod -- a mighty hunter, and he was abundantly thanked for his masterly guidance of the expedition.
That winter a still more distinguished party visited the post -- the Grand Duke Alexis and his friends. As many of my readers will recall, the nobleman's visit aroused much enthusiasm in this country. The East had wined and dined him to satiety, but wining and dining are common to all nations, and the Grand Duke desired to see the wild life of America -- the Indian in his tepee and the prairie monarch in his domain, as well as the hardy frontiersman, who feared neither savage warrior nor savage beast.
The Grand Duke had hunted big game in Eastern lands, and he was a capital shot. General Sheridan engineered this expedition also, and, as on the previous occasions, he relied upon Will to make it a success. The latter received word to select a good camp on Red Willow Creek, where game was plentiful, and to make all needed arrangements for the comfort and entertainment of the noble party. A special feature suggested by Sheridan for the amusement and instruction of the continental guests was an Indian war-dance and Indian buffalo-hunt. To procure this entertainment it was necessary to visit Spotted Tail, chief of the Sioux, and persuade him to bring over a hundred warriors. At this time there was peace between the Sioux and the government, and the dance idea was feasible; nevertheless, a visit to the Sioux camp was not without its dangers. Spotted Tail himself was seemingly sincere in a desire to observe the terms of the ostensible peace between his people and the authorities, but many of the other Indians would rather have had the scalp of the Long-haired Chief than a century of peace.
Will so timed his trip as to reach the Indian camp at dusk, and hitching his horse in the timber, he wrapped his blanket closely about him, so that in the gathering darkness he might easily pass for a warrior. Thus invested, he entered the village, and proceeded to the lodge of Spotted Tail.
The conference with the distinguished redskin was made smooth sailing by Agent Todd Randall, who happened to be on hand, and who acted as interpreter. The old chief felt honored by the invitation extended to him, and readily promised that in "ten sleeps" from that night he, with a hundred warriors, would be present at the white man's camp, which was to be pitched at the point where the government trail crossed Red Willow Creek.
As Spotted Tail did not repose a great amount of confidence in his high-spirited young men, he kept Will in his own lodge through the night. In the morning the chief assembled the camp, and presenting his guest, asked if his warriors knew him.
"It is Pa-ha s-ka, the Long-haired Chief!" they answered.
Whereupon Spotted Tail informed them that he had eaten bread with the Long-haired Chief, thus establishing a bond of friendship, against violating which the warriors were properly warned.
After that Will was entirely at his ease, although there were many sullen faces about him. They had long yearned for his scalp, and it was slightly irritating to find it so near and yet so far.