Helen Cody Wetmore.

Last of the great scouts; the life story of Col. William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) online

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because of the spite of enemies, the carelessness of those


in authority, or of war's inevitable havoc, their graves to-
day are unknown, unhonored and unmarked. Every effort
was made to locate them exactly ; high officials in Kansas de-
sired to honor the first victim in the struggle for human liberty
in that state, but all search has proven unavailing.

The road leading from the cemetery forked a short distance
outside of I^eavenworth, one branch running to that city, the
other winding homeward along Government Hill. When we
reached the fork Will jumped out of the wagon.

"I can't go home when I know mother is no longer there,"
said he. "lam going to L,eavenworth to see Eugene Hatha-
way. I shall stay with him to-night."

We pitied Will he and mother had been so much to each
other and raised no objection, as we should have done had we
known the real purpose of his visit.

The next morning, therefore, we were much surprised to
see him and Eugene ride into the yard, both clothed in the
blue uniforms of United States soldiers. Overwhelmed with
grief over mother's death, it seemed more than we could bear
to see our big brother ride off to war. In our imaginations,
it was a foregone conclusion that the next act in the drama
would be the bringing home of his lifeless, bullet-riddled body,
and great was our lamentation. Among other things we threat-
ened to inform the recruiting officers that he was not yet eigh-
teen ; but he was too thoroughly in earnest to be moved by
our objections. The regiment in which he had enlisted was
already ordered to the front, and he had come home to say
good-bye ; then he rode away to the hardships, dangers and
privations of a soldier's life. The joy of action balanced the
account for him, while we were obliged to accept the usual lot
of girlhood and womanhood; the weary, anxious waiting, when
the heart is torn with uncertainty and suspense over the fate
of the loved ones who bear the brunt and burden of the day.

The order sending Will's regiment to the front was counter-
manded, and he remained for a time in Fort Leavenworth.
His western experiences were well known there, and probably


for this reason, he was selected as a bearer of military dis-
patches to Fort learned. Some of our old Pro-Slavery enemies,
who were upon the point of joining the Confederate army,
learned of Will's mission, which they thought afforded them
an excellent chance to gratify their ancient grudge against the
father, by murdering the son. The killing could be justified
on the plea of service rendered to their cause. Accordingly a
plan was made to waylay Will and capture his dispatches at a
creek he was obliged to ford.

He received warning of this plot. On such a mission the
utmost vigilance was demanded at all times, and with an am-
buscade ahead of him, he was alertness itself. His knowledge
of Indian warfare stood him in good stead now. Not a tree,
rock, or hillock escaped his keen glance. When he nearedthe
creek at which the attack was expected, he left the road and
attempted to ford the stream four or five hundred yards above
the common crossing, but found it so swollen by recent rains
that he was unable to cross, so he cautiously picked his way
back to the trail.

The assassins' camp was two or three hundred feet away
from the creek. Darkness was coming on, and he took advan-
tage of the shelter afforded by the bank, screening himself be-
hind every clump of bushes. His enemies would look for his
approach from the other direction, and he hoped to give them
the slip and pass by unseen.

When he reached the point where he could see the little
cabin where the men were probably hiding, he ran upon a
thicket in which five saddle horses were concealed.

4 'Five to one ! I don't stand much show if they see me,"
he decided as he rode quietly and slowly along, his carbine in
his hand ready for use.

" There he goes, boys ! he's at the ford ! " came a sudden
shout from the camp, followed by the crack of a rifle. Two or
three more shots rang out, and from the bound his horse gave
Will knew one bullet had reached a mark. He rode into the
water, then turned in his saddle and aimed like a flash at a man


within range. The fellow staggered and fell, and Will put
spurs to his horse, turning again only when the stream was
crossed. The men were running toward the ford, firing as
they came, and getting a warm return fire. As Will was al-
ready two or three hundred yards in advance, pursuers on foot
were not to be feared, and he knew that before they could
reach and mount their horses he would be beyond danger.
Much depended on his horse. Would the gallant beast, mor-
tally hurt, as it afterwards proved, be able to long maintain
the fierce pace he had set ? Mile upon mile was put behind be-
fore the stricken creature fell. Will shouldered the saddle and
bridle and continued on foot. He soon reached a ranch where
a fresh mount might be procured, and was shortly at Fort

After a few hours' breathing spell, he left for Fort Leaven-
worth with return dispatches. As he drew near the ford he
resumed his sharp lookout, though scarcely expecting trouble.
The planners of the ambuscade had been so certain that five
men could easily make away with one boy that there had been
no effort at disguise, and Will had recognized several of them.
He, for his part, felt certain that they would get out of that
part of the country with all dispatch ; but he employed none
the less caution in crossing the creek, and his carbine was ready
for business as he approached the camp.

The fall of his horse's hoofs evoked a faint call from one of
the buildings. It was not repeated, instead there issued hollow

It might be a trap ; again, a fellow creature might be at
death's door. Will rode a bit nearer the cabin entrance.

"Who's there? " he called.

" Come in, for the love of God ! I am dying here alone ! "
was the reply.

"Who are you?"

" Ed. Norcross."

Will jumped from his horse. This was the man he had fired
at. He entered the cabin.


' ' What is the matter ? " he asked.

" I was wounded by a bullet," moaned Norcross, " and my
Comrades deserted me."

Will was now within range of the poor fellow lying on the

11 Will Cody !" he cried.

Will dropped on his knee beside the dying man, choking
with the emotion that the memory of long years of friendship
had raised.

"My poor Ed!" he murmured. "And it was my bullet
that struck you. ' '

"It was in defense of your own life, Will," said Norcross.
"God knows I don't blame you. Don't think too hard of me.
I did everything I could to save you. It was I who sent you
warning. I hoped you might find some other trail."

"I didn't shoot with the others," continued Norcross after
a short silence. ' ' They deserted me. They said they would
send help back, but they haven't."

Will filled the empty canteen lying on the floor and re-
arranged the blanket that served as a pillow; then he offered to
dress the neglected wound. But the grey of death was already
upon the face of Norcross.

"Never mind, Will," he whispered, "it's not worth while.
Just stay with me till I die."

It was not a long vigil. Will sat beside his old friend,
moistening his pallid lips with water. In a very short time the
end came. Will disposed the stiffening limbs, crossing the
hands over the heart, and with a last backward look, went
out of the cabin.

It was his first experience in the bitterness and savagery of
war, and he set a grave and downcast face against the re-
mainder of his journey.

As he neared L,eavenworth he met the friend that had con-
veyed the dead man's warning message, and to him he com-
mitted the task of bringing home the body. His heaviness of
spirit was scarcely mitigated by the congratulations of the


commander of Fort L,eaven worth upon his pluck and re-
sources, which had saved both his life and the dispatches.

There followed another period of inaction, always irritating
to a lad of Will's restless temperament. Meantime, we at
home were having our own experiences.

We were rejoiced in great measure when sister Julia decided
that we had learned as much as might be hoped for in the
country school, and must thereafter attend the winter and
spring terms of the school at Leaven worth. The dresses she
cut for us, however, still followed the country fashion, which
has regard rather to wear than to appearance, and we had not
been a day in the city school before we discovered that our
apparel had stamped " provincial' ' upon us in plain, large
characters. In addition to this, our brother-in-law, in his
endeavor to administer the estate economically, bought each of
us a pair of coarse calf-skin shoes. To this we were quite
unused, mother having accustomed us to serviceable but pretty
ones. The author of our "extreme" mortification, totally
ignorant of the shy and sensitive nature of girls approaching
womanhood, only laughed at our protests, and in justice to
him it may be said that he really had no conception of the
torture he inflicted upon us.

We turned to Will. In every emergency he was our first
thought, and here was an emergency that taxed his powers to
an extent we did not dream of. He made answer to our letter
that he was no longer an opulent trainman, but drew only the
slender income of a soldier, and even that pittance was in
arrears. Disappointment was swallowed up in remorse. Had
we reflected how keenly he must feel his inability to help us,
we would not have sent him the letter, which at worst con-
tained only a sly suggestion of a fine opportunity to relieve
sisterly distress. All his life he had responded to our every
demand; now allegiance was due his country first. But, as
was always the way with him, he made the best of a bad mat-
ter, and we were much comforted by the receipt of the follow-
ing letter:



1 ' I am sorry that I cannot help you and furnish you with
such clothes as you wish. At this writing I am so short
of funds myself that if an entire Mississippi steamer could be
bought for ten cents I couldn't purchase the smokestack. I
will soon draw my pay, and I will send it, every cent, to you.
So brave it out, girls, a little longer. In the meantime I will
write to Al.

lovingly, Wiu<."

We were comforted, yes; but my last hope was gone, and }
grew desperate. I had never worn the obnoxious shoes pur-
chased by my guardian, and I proceeded to dispose of them
forever. I struck what I regarded as a famous bargain with
an accommodating Hebrew, and came into possession of a pair
of shiny morocco shoes, worth perhaps a third of what mine
had cost. One would say they were designed for shoes, and
they certainly looked like shoes, but as certainly they were
not wearable. Still they were of service, for the transaction
convinced my guardian that the truest economy did not lie in
the purchasing of calf-skin shoes for at least one of his charges.
And a little later he received a letter from Will, presenting our
grievances and advocating our cause. Will also sent us the
whole of his next month's pay as soon as he drew it.

In February, 1864, Sherman began his march through Mis-
sissippi. The Seventh Kansas regiment, known as " Jenni-
son's Jayhawkers," was reorganized at Fort I^eavenworth as
veterans, and sent to Memphis, Tenn., to join General A. J.
Smith's command, which was to operate against General Forrest
and cover the retreat of General Sturgis, who had been so
badly whipped by Forrest at Cross-Roads. Will was exceed-
ingly desirous of engaging in a great battle, and through
some officers with whom he was acquainted preferred a peti-
tion to be transferred to this regiment. The request was
granted, and his delight knew no bounds. He wrote to us
that his great desire was about to be gratified, that he should
soon know what a real battle was like.

He was well versed in Indian warfare, now he was ambi-


tious to learn, from experience, the superiority of civilized
strife, rather, I should say, of strife between civilized

General Smith had acquainted himself with the record made
by the young scout of the plains, and shortly after reaching
Memphis he ordered Will to report to headquarters for special

" I am anxious," said the general, "to gain reliable infor-
mation concerning the enemy's movements and position. This
can only be done by entering the Confederate camp, a line of
action, as you are aware, fraught with great danger. You
possess the needed qualities nerve, coolness, resource and I
believe you could do it."

" You mean," answered Will, quietly, "that you wish me
to go as a spy into the rebel camp. ' '

" Exactly. But you must understand the risk you run. If
you are captured you will be hanged."

" I am ready to take the chances, sir," said Will ; " ready
to go at once, if you wish."

General Smith's stern face softened into a smile at the
prompt response.

"I am sure, Cody," said he, kindly, " that if any one can
go through safely, you will. Dodging Indians on the plains
was good training for the work in hand, which demands quick
intelligence and ceaseless vigilance. I never require such
service of any one, but since you volunteer to go, take these
maps of the country to your quarters, and study them care-
fully. Return this evening for full instructions."

During the few days his regiment had been in camp, Will
had been on one or two scouting expeditions, and was some-
what familiar with the immediate environments of the Union
forces. The maps were unusually accurate, showing every lake,
river, creek and highway, and even the by-paths from planta-
tion to plantation.

Only the day before, while on a reconnaissance, Will had
captured a Confederate soidier, who proved to be an old ?.'.


quaintance, named Nat Golden. Will had served with Nat on
one of Russell, Majors & Waddell's freight trains, and at one
time had saved the young man's life, and thereby earned his
enduring friendship. Nat was born in the Bast, became in-
fected with Western fever, and ran away from home in order
to become a plainsman.

"Well, this is too bad," said Will, when he recognized his
old friend. ' ' I would rather have captured a whole regiment
than you. I don't like to take you in as a prisoner. What did
you enlist on the wrong side for, anyway?"

"The fortunes of war, Billy, my boy," laughed Nat.
"Friend shall be turned against friend, and brother against
brother, you know. You wouldn't have had me for a pris-
oner, either, if my rifle hadn't snapped, but I'm glad it did,
for I shouldn't want to be the one that shot you."

"Well, I don't want to see you strung up," said Will, "so
hand me over those papers you have, and I will turn you in as
an ordinary prisoner. ' '

Nat's face paled as he asked : "Do you think I'm a spy,

"I know it."

"Well," was the reply, "I've risked my life to obtain
these papers, but I suppose they will be taken from me any-
way, so I might as well give them up now and save my neck."

Examination showed them to be accurate maps of the loca-
tion and position of the Union army, and besides the maps,
there were papers containing much valuable information con-
cerning the number of soldiers and officers and their intended
movements. Will had not destroyed these papers, and he now
saw a way to use them to his own advantage. When he re-
ported for final instructions, therefore, at General Smith's
tent, in the evening, Will said to him :

1 ' I gathered from a statement dropped by the prisoner cap-
tured yesterday, that a Confederate spy has succeeded in mak-
ing out and carrying to the enemy a complete map of the
position of our regiment, together with some idea of the pro-
jected plan of campaign."


" Ah," said the general, " I am glad that you have put me
on my guard. I will at once change my position so that the
information will be of no value to them."

Then followed full instructions as to the duty required of
the volunteer.

" When will you set out?" asked the general.

"To-night, sir. I have procured my uniform, and have
everything prepared for an early start."

" Going to change your colors, eh?"

"Yes, for the time being, but not my principles."

The general looked at Will approvingly. "You will need all
the wit, pluck, nerve, and caution of which you are possessed
to come through this ordeal safely, ' ' said he. ' ' I believe you
can accomplish it, and I rely upon you fully. Good-bye, and
success go with you ! ' '

After a warm hand-clasp Will returned to his tent, and lay
down for a few hours' rest. By four o'clock he was in the
saddle, riding toward the Confederate lines.



N common walks of life to
play the spy is an ignoble role ;
in war it is one the noblest of
men must sometimes play,
however ungrateful the com-
mission may be.

On the battlefield, even the
timid spirit is nerved to forti-
tude sometimes to reckless
daring by the elbow touch of
comrades and the fierce exhil-
aration of the combat when
once the action is begun. For
the hour he forgets that he is
a man, with mother, wife, or sweetheart waiting for him at
home. He is an animal a noble animal fighting with the
ferocity of the tiger that has scented blood. What if he falls ?
There is a comrade by to listen to the last message, to wet his
parched lips with water, to tell him that the enemy flees, to
inspire him in a rough way, if he cannot voice the sentiment
in more exalted phrases with the sublime thought that

' ' The fittest place where man can die
Is where he dies for man. "

All that is asked of the soldier on the firing line is to present
his face to the foe, stand firm, and obey orders. If he lives he


marches home under flying banners, to the stirring music of
the " ear-piercing fife "; if he falls it is a soldier's death, and
he has a soldier's burial.

How different the lot of the spy ! He goes alone to meet
danger half way, his cheek burning from the thought that for
the nonce he wears a uniform that he abhors, and that he must
gain the good-will of his fellow-man only to betray him. He
must have nerve, address, a nimble wit, and unlimited confi-
dence in himself. A false word, a changing expression of the
eye, the slightest intimation that he is aught except what he
pretends to be, the least weakening of the tension at which his
nerves are set, and a few yards of rope and a shallow trench
await him. No elbow touch of comrades, no one to take the
last message, no sublimer thought in the last moment than
that he has done his duty. If his foe be compassionate, he
may secure the privilege of being shot rather than hanged. In
any case it is a short shrift before eternity.

Yet the work has to be done, and there must be men to do
it. There always are such men nervy fellows who swing
themselves into the saddle when their commander lifts his
hand, and riae a mad race with Death at the horse's flank
every mile of the way. These be the unknown heroes of every

It was with a full realization of the dangers confronting him
that my hero cantered away from the Union lines, his bor-
rowed uniform under his arm. As soon as he had put the out-
posts behind him, he dismounted and exchanged the blue
clothes for the grey. L,ife on the plains had bronzed his face.
For aught his complexion could tell, the ardent southern sun
might have kissed it to its present hue. Then, if ever, his
face was his fortune in good part ; but there was, too, a stout
heart under his jacket, and the light of confidence in his clear
brown eyes.

The dawn had come up when he sighted the Confederate
outposts. What lay beyond only time could reveal, but with
a last reassuring touch of the papers in his pocket, he spurred


his horse up to the first of the outlying sentinels. Promptly
the customary challenge greeted him :

"Halt! Who goes there ?"


"Dismount, friend ! Advance and give the countersign !"

"Haven't the countersign," said Will, dropping from his
horse, "but I have important information for General Forrest.
Take me to him at once. ' '

' ' Are you a Confederate soldier ? ' '

' ' Not exactly. But I have some valuable news about the
Yanks, I reckon. Better let me see the general."

"Thus far," he added to himself, "I have played the part.
The combination of ' Yank ' and ' I reckon ' ought to establish
me as a promising candidate for Confederate honors."

His story was not only plausible, but plainly and fairly told,
but caution is a child of war, and the sentinel knew his busi-
ness. The pseudo Confederate was disarmed as a necessary
preliminary, and marched between two guards to headquarters,
many curious eyes (the camp being now astir) following the

When Forrest heard the report he ordered the prisoner
brought before him. One glance at the general's handsome
but harsh face, and the young man steeled his nerves for the
encounter. There was no mercy in those cold, piercing eyes.
This first duel of wits was the one to be most dreaded. Unless
confidence were established his after work must be done at a

The general's penetrating gaze searched the young face
before him for several seconds.

"Well, sir," said he, " what do you want with me? "

Yankee-like, the reply was another question :

" You sent a man named Nat Golden into the Union lines,
did you not, sir? "

" And if I did, what then ? "

' ' He is an old friend of mine. He tried for the Union camp
to verify information that he had received, but before he


started he left certain papers with me in case he should be

' 'Ah ! ' ' said Forrest, coldly. ' ' And he was captured ? ' '

" Yes, sir, but, as I happen to know, he wasn't hanged, for
these weren't on him."

As he spoke, Will took from his pocket the papers he had
obtained from Golden, and passed them over with the remark :
' ' Golden asked me to take them to you. ' '

General Forrest was familiar with the hapless Golden' s
handwriting, and the documents were manifestly genuine.
His suspicion was not aroused.

1 ' These are important papers, ' ' said he, when he had run
Kis eye over them. " They contain valuable information, but
we may not be able to use it, as we are about to change our
location. Do you know what these papers contain ? "

" Every word," was the truthful reply. " I studied them
so that in case they were destroyed you would still have the
information from me. "

" A wise thing to do," said Forrest, approvingly. "Are
you a soldier ? ' '

""I have not as yet joined the army, but I am pretty well
acquainted with this section, and perhaps could serve you as a
scout. ' '

11 Um ! " said the general, looking the now easy-minded
young man over. " You wear our uniform."

"It's Golden' s," was the second truthful answer. "He
left it with me when he put on the blue. ' '

" And what is your name ? "

" Frederick Williams. "

Pretty near the truth. Only a final " s " and a rearrange-
ment of his given names.

' Very well," said the general, ending the audience, " you
may remain in camp. If I need you I'll send for you."

He summoned an orderly, and bade him make the volunteer
scout comfortable at the couriers' camp. Will breathed a sigh
of relief as he followed at the orderly's heels. The ordeal was
successfully passed. The rest was action.


Two days went by. In them Will picked up valuable infor-
mation here and there, drew maps, and was prepared to de-
part at the first favorable opportunity. It was about time, he
figured, that General Forrest found some scouting work for
him. That was a passport beyond the lines, and he promised
himself the outposts should see the cleanest pair of heels that
ever left unwelcome society in the rear. But, evidently, scout-
ing was a drug in the general's market, for the close of an-
other day found Will impatiently awaiting orders in the cour-
iers' quarters. This sort of inactivity was harder on the
nerves than more tangible perils, and he about made up his
mind that when he left camp it would be without orders, but

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Online LibraryHelen Cody WetmoreLast of the great scouts; the life story of Col. William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) → online text (page 8 of 21)