William Frederick Cody.

An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (Colonel W. F. Cody) online

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their scalps on such a venture. But I went higher and higher in my
offers, till at last a liveryman figured that a hundred dollars was
sufficient reward for the risk, and, hitching up his team, told me to
come along.

After an intensely cold drive we reached the Agency, where I hurried
into the trader's store to thaw out by his stove. I had hardly arrived
before the trader came in and told me that Major McLaughlin, the Indian
agent, wanted to see me. News travels very fast in the Indian country,
especially in war times. Someone about the Post who had seen me driving
in had hurried to headquarters to inform the agent that Buffalo Bill
had arrived by way of reënforcements.

As soon as I got my chilled blood into circulation I went to the
major's quarters, and informed him of the purpose of my visit. We were
old friends, and he was very glad to see me, but he was much concerned
on learning what I intended to do.

"That is impossible!" he said. "The Sioux are threatening a great war.
At this very moment we do not know when the Indians here at the Agency
may rise. We can take care of our own situation, for we have four
troops of cavalry here, but we cannot permit you to go to Sitting
Bull's camp. Not only would you be killed before you got halfway there,
but your presence in the country would precipitate hostilities for
which we are not in the least prepared. I'm sorry, Cody, but it can't
be done."

More fully to persuade me of the truth of what he said he took me to
the quarters of Colonel Brown, the commander of the troops at the
Agency, and asked him to talk to me. Brown listened to my statement of
what I proposed and shook his head.

"I've heard of you, Cody, and of your nerve, but this is more than even
you can do. Sitting Bull's camp is forty miles away, and the country
between here and there is swarming with Indians all ready to go on the
warpath, and wholly beyond the sway of reason. I cannot permit you to
make this attempt."

"Do you hear, Cody?" said McLaughlin. "The only thing for you to do is
to stay all night with us and then return to the railroad. Even that
will be risky enough, even for you." "But go you must," added Brown.
"The Agency is under martial law, and I cannot permit you to remain any
longer than tomorrow morning."

There was no arguing with these men. So I resorted to my credentials.
Taking General Miles's card from my pocket, I laid it before Colonel

"What does this mean?" he demanded, and passed the card to McLaughlin.

"It looks like orders," said McLaughlin.

"Yes," said Brown, "and I can't disobey them."

Just then Captain Fatchett, an old friend of mine, came into the
quarters, and Brown turned me over to him for entertainment until I
should formulate my plans for my visit to Sitting Bull. I had never
served with the Eighth Cavalry to which the companies at the Post
belonged, but I had many friends among the officers, and spent a very
pleasant afternoon and evening talking over old times, and getting
information about the present situation.

After guard-mount the next morning I told Colonel Brown that I did not
think I would require an escort for my visit, as the presence of a
number of armed men in the Indian country would be sure to start the
trouble it was our purpose to avoid, or to delay as long as possible.
The man who had driven me over was anxious to return at once, so I
asked for a light spring-wagon and a team of mules.

"Wait an hour or two," said the colonel, "and I'll send the
quartermaster to you."

I waited, and he employed the time, as I afterward learned, in
telegraphing to General Miles, to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs,
to the Secretary of the Interior, and to President Harrison. He
informed all of them that I was there, insisting on going to Sitting
Bull's camp, and that such an errand would not only result in my death,
but would precipitate the outbreak then brewing, and for which he was
not at all prepared. He besought all of them to instruct me to return
to Mandan.

While he waited for replies to his dispatches I hunted about the camp
for someone who knew just where Sitting Bull was located and how to get
there. I also wanted a first-class interpreter, as I would have matters
to discuss with Sitting Bull beyond his mastery of English or mine of
Sioux to express. At last I found a man who agreed to go with me as
guide for five hundred dollars, which I promised him without a protest.
Then I went over to the post-trader's store and bought all manner of
presents which I knew would be acceptable to Sitting Bull, his squaw,
and his children.

When I returned to Colonel Brown's quarters he endeavored once more to
put me off. But I would not be put off. I informed him that I had
explicit orders from General Miles as to my mission, and that if he
interfered with me he was violating the orders of his commanding
officer and running into very serious trouble.

At last he reluctantly sent for the quartermaster, and ordered him to
have a span of good mules hitched to a light spring-wagon.

The wagon was driven to the post-trader's store, where I found my guide
and interpreter, and loaded aboard the presents I had bought for the
old warrior. With plenty of robes to keep out the intense cold, we
started out on our journey, a little apprehensive, but fully determined
to go through with it. Five or six miles from the Post we met three men
in a wagon driving toward the Agency. They told us that Sitting Bull's
camp had been lately moved, and that it was now further down the river.
I knew that if the old man was really on the warpath he would be moving
up the river, not down, so I felt considerably reassured.

When we had proceeded a few miles further we heard a yell behind us,
and, looking back, saw a rider approaching at full speed. This proved
to be one of Major McLaughlin's Indian scouts. He bore a telegram


The order for the detention of Sitting Bull has been rescinded.
You are hereby ordered to return to Chicago and report to General


That ended my mission to Sitting Bull. I still believe I could have got
safely through the country, though there were plenty of chances that I
would be killed or wounded in the attempt.

I returned to the Post, turned back my presents at a loss to myself,
and paid the interpreter fifty dollars for his day's work. He was very
glad to have the fifty and a whole skin, for he could not figure how
the five hundred would be of much help to him if he had been stretched
out on the Plains with an Indian bullet through him.

I was supplied with conveyance back to Mandan by Colonel Brown and took
my departure the next morning. Afterward, in Indianapolis, President
Harrison informed me that he had allowed himself to be persuaded
against my mission in opposition to his own judgment, and said he was
very sorry that he had not allowed me to proceed.

It developed afterward that the people who had moved the President to
interfere consisted of a party of philanthropists who advanced the
argument that my visit would precipitate a war in which Sitting Bull
would be killed, and it was to spare the life of this man that I was

The result of the President's order was that the Ghost Dance War
followed very shortly, and with it came the death of Sitting Bull.

I found that General Miles knew exactly why I had been turned back from
my trip to Sitting Bull. But he was a soldier, and made no criticism of
the order of a superior. General Miles was glad to hear that I had been
made a brigadier-general, but he was still more pleased with the fact
that I knew so many Indians at the Agency.

"You can get around among them," he said, "and learn their intentions
better than any other man I know."

I remained with General Miles until the final surrender of the North
American Indians to the United States Government after three hundred
years of warfare.

This surrender was made to Miles, then lieutenant-general of the army,
and it was eminently fitting that a man who had so ably conducted the
fight of the white race against them and had dealt with them so justly
and honorably should have received their surrender.

With that event ended one of the most picturesque phases of Western
life - Indian fighting. It was with that that I was identified from my
youth to my middle age, and in the time I spent on the Plains, Indian
warfare reached its greatest severity and its highest development.


In the preceding chapters I have sketched briefly some of the most
interesting of my adventures on the Plains. It has been necessary to
omit much that I would like to have told. For twenty years my life was
one of almost continuous excitement, and to tell the whole story would
require many volumes.

It was because of my great interest in the West, and my belief that its
development would be assisted by the interest I could awaken in others,
that I decided to bring the West to the East through the medium of the
Wild West Show. How greatly I was to succeed in this venture I had no
idea when it first occurred to me. As I have told you, I had already
appeared in a small Western show, and was the first man to bring
Indians to the East and exhibit them. But the theater was too small to
give any real impression of what Western life was like. Only in an
arena where horses could be ridden at full gallop, where lassos could
be thrown, and pistols and guns fired without frightening the audience
half to death, could such a thing be attempted.

After getting together a remarkable collection of Indians, cowboys,
Indian ponies, stage-coach drivers, and other typical denizens of my
own country under canvas I found myself almost immediately prosperous.

We showed in the principal cities of the country, and everywhere the
novelty of the exhibition drew great crowds. As owner and principal
actor in the enterprise I met the leading citizens of the United States
socially, and never lost an opportunity to "talk up" the Western
country, which I believed to have a wonderful future. I worked hard on
the program of the entertainment, taking care to make it realistic in
every detail. The wigwam village, the Indian war-dance, the chant of
the Great Spirit as it was sung on the Plains, the rise and fall of the
famous tribes, were all pictured accurately.

It was not an easy thing to do. Sometimes I had to send men on journeys
of more than a hundred miles to get the right kind of war-bonnets, or
to make correct copies of the tepees peculiar to a particular tribe. It
was my effort, in depicting the West, to depict it as it was. I was
much gratified in after years to find that scientists who had carefully
studied the Indians, their traditions and habits, gave me credit for
making very valuable contributions to the sum of human knowledge of the
American native.

The first presentation of my show was given in May, 1883, at Omaha,
which I had then chosen as my home. From there we made our first summer
tour, visiting practically every important city in the country.

For my grand entrance I made a spectacle which comprised the most
picturesque features of Western life. Sioux, Arapahoes, Brulés, and
Cheyennes in war-paint and feathers led the van, shrieking their
war-whoops and waving the weapons with which they were armed in a
manner to inspire both terror and admiration in the tenderfoot

Next came cowboys and soldiers, all clad exactly as they were when
engaged in their campaigns against the Indians, and lumbering along in
the rear were the old stage-coaches which carried the settlers to the
West in the days before the railroad made the journey easy and

I am sure the people enjoyed this spectacle, for they flocked in crowds
to see it. I know I enjoyed it. There was never a day when, looking
back over the red and white men in my cavalcade, I did not know the
thrill of the trail, and feel a little sorry that my Western adventures
would thereafter have to be lived in spectacles.

Without desiring to dim the glory of any individual I can truthfully
state that the expression "rough riders," which afterward became so
famous, was my own coinage. As I rode out at the front of my parade I
would bow to the audience, circled about on the circus benches, and
shout at the top of my voice:

"Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to introduce you to the rough riders
of the world!"

For three years we toured the United States with great success. One day
an Englishman, whose name I never learned, came to see me after the

"That is a wonderful performance," he told me. "Here in America it
meets with great appreciation, but you have no idea what a sensation it
would be in the Old World, where such things are unheard of."

That set me to thinking. In a few days, after spending hours together
considering the matter, I had made up my mind that Europe should have
an opportunity to study America as nearly at first-hand as possible
through the medium of my entertainment.

Details were soon arranged. In March, 1886, I chartered the steamer
_State of Nebraska_, loaded my Indians, cowboys, horses, and
stage-coaches on board, and set sail for another continent.

It was a strange voyage. The Indians had never been to sea before, and
had never dreamed that such an expanse of water existed on the planet.
They would stand at the rail, after the first days of seasickness were
over, gazing out across the waves, and trying to descry something that
looked like land, or a tree, or anything that seemed familiar and like
home. Then they would shake their heads disconsolately and go below, to
brood and muse and be an extremely unhappy and forlorn lot of savages.
The joy that seized them when at last they came in sight of land, and
were assured that we did not intend to keep on sailing till we fell
over the edge of the earth, was something worth looking at.

At Gravesend we sighted a tug flying the American colors, and when the
band on board responded to our cheers with "The Star-Spangled Banner"
even the Indians tried to sing. Our band replied with "Yankee Doodle,"
and as we moved toward port there was more noise on board than I had
ever heard in any battle on the Plains.

When the landing was made the members of the party were sent in special
coaches to London. Crowds stared at us from every station. The guards
on the train were a little afraid of the solemn and surly-looking
Indians, but they were a friendly and jovial crowd, and when they had
recovered from their own fright at the strange surroundings they were
soon on good terms with the Britishers.

Major John M. Burke, who was my lifetime associate in the show
business, had made all arrangements for housing the big troupe. We went
to work at our leisure with our preparations to astonish the British
public, and succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The big London
amphitheater, a third of a mile in circumference, was just the place
for such an exhibition. The artist's brush was employed on lavish scale
to reproduce the scenery of the Western Plains. I was busy for many
days with preparations, and when our spectacle was finally given it was
received with such a burst of enthusiasm as I had never witnessed

The show began, after the grand entry, with the hour of dawn on the
Plains. Wild animals were scattered about. Within their tents were the
Indians sleeping. As the dawn deepened the Indians came out of their
tents and went through one of their solemn and impressive war-dances.
While this was going on the British audience held its breath. You could
have heard a whisper in almost any part of the arena.

Then in came a courier to announce the neighborhood of a hostile tribe.
Instantly there was a wild scramble for mounts and weapons. The enemy
rushed in, and for ten minutes there was a sham battle which filled the
place with noise and confusion. This battle was copied as exactly as it
could be copied from one of the scrimmages in which I had taken part in
my first days as a scout. Then we gave them a buffalo hunt, in which I
had a hand, and did a little fancy shooting. As a finish there was a
Wild Western cyclone, and a whole Indian village was blown out of
existence for the delectation of the English audience.

The initial performance was given before the Prince and Princess of
Wales, afterward King Edward and his Queen, and their suite. At the
close of the program the Prince and Princess, at their own request,
were introduced to all the leading members of the company, including
many of the Indians. When the cowgirls of the show were presented to
the Princess they stepped forward and offered their hands, which were
taken and well shaken in true democratic fashion.

Red Shirt, the most important chief in the outfit, was highly pleased
when he learned that a princess was to visit him in his camp. He had
the Indian gift of oratory, and he replied to her greeting with a long
and eloquent speech, in which his gestures, if not his words, expressed
plainly the honor he felt in receiving so distinguished a lady. The
fact that he referred to Alexandria as a squaw did not seem to mar her

That the Prince was really pleased with the exhibition was shown by the
fact that he made an immediate report of it to his mother. Shortly
thereafter I received a command from Queen Victoria to appear before

This troubled me a good deal - not that I was not more than eager to
obey this flattering command, but that I was totally at a loss how to
take my show to any of the great residences occupied by Her Majesty.

Finally, after many cautious inquiries, I discovered that she would be
willing to visit the show if a special box was prepared for her. This
we did to the best of our ability. The box was placed upon a dais
covered with crimson velvet and handsomely decorated. When the Queen
arrived I met her at the door of the box, with my sombrero in my hand
and welcomed her to "the Wild West of America."

One of the first acts in the performance was to carry the flag to the
front. This was done by a soldier. Walking around the arena, he offered
the Stars and Stripes as an emblem of the friendship of America to all
the world. On this occasion he carried the flag directly to the royal
box, and dipped it three times before the Queen.

Absolute silence fell over the great throng. Then the Queen rose and
saluted the flag with a bow, her suite following her example. There was
a wild cheer from everyone in the show, Indians included, and soon all
the audience was on its feet, cheering and waving flags and

This gave us a fine start and we never put on a better performance.
When it was all over Her Majesty sent for me, and paid me many
compliments as well as to my country and the West. I found her a most
gracious and charming woman, with none of the haughtiness which I had
supposed was inseparable from a person of such exalted rank. My
subsequent experiences with royalty convinced me that there is more
real democracy among the rulers of the countries of Europe than you
will find among the petty officials of a village.

It was interesting to watch old Red Shirt when he was presented to the
Queen. He clearly felt that this was a ceremony between one ruler and
another, and the dignity with which he went through the introduction
was wonderful to behold. One would have thought to watch him that most
of his life was spent in introductions to kings and queens, and that he
was really a little bored with the effort required to go through with
them. A second command from the Queen resulted in an exhibition before
a number of her royal guests, including the Kings of Saxony, Denmark,
and Greece, the Queen of the Belgians, and the Crown Prince of Austria.

The Deadwood coach, one of the features of the show, was of particular
interest to my royal guests. This was a coach with a history. It was
built in Concord, N.H., and sent by water to San Francisco to run over
a route infested with road-agents. A number of times it was held up and
robbed. Finally, both driver and passengers were killed and the coach
abandoned on the trail. It remained for a long time a derelict, but was
afterward brought into San Francisco by an old stage-driver and placed
on the Overland trail.

As it worked its way East over the Overland route its old luck held
steadily. Again were driver and passengers massacred; again it was
abandoned. At last, when it was "hoodooed" all over the West and no
independent driver or company would have anything to do with it I
discovered it, bought it, and used it for my show.

One of the incidents of my program, as all who have seen it will
remember, was an Indian attack on this coach. The royal visitors wanted
a real taste of Western life - insisted on it, in fact, and the Kings of
Denmark, Greece, Saxony, and the Crown Prince of Austria climbed to the
box with me.

I had secretly instructed the Indians to throw a little real energy
into their pursuit of the coach, and they followed my instructions
rather more completely than I expected. The coach was surrounded by a
demoniac band of shooting and shouting Indians. Blank cartridges were
discharged at perilously close proximity to the rulers of four great
nations. Looking around to quiet my followers, I saw that the guests of
the occasion were a trifle pale, but they were all of them game, and
came out of the affair far less scared than were the absolutely
terrified members of the royal suites, who sat in their boxes and wrung
their hands in wild alarm.

In recognition of this performance the Prince of Wales sent me a
souvenir consisting of a feathered crest, outlined in diamonds, with
the words "Ich dien" worked in jewels underneath. A note in the
Prince's own hand expressed the pleasure of his guests in the
entertainment I had provided for them.

After a tour of the principal cities we returned to America, proud of
our success, and well rewarded in purse for our effort.

The welcome to America was almost as elaborate as that from England. I
quote from the description of it printed in the New York _World_:

The harbor probably has never witnessed a more picturesque scene
than that of yesterday, when the _Persian Monarch_ steamed up from
Quarantine. Buffalo Bill stood on the captain's bridge, his tall
and striking figure clearly outlined, and his long hair waving in
the wind; the gaily painted and blanketed Indians leaned over the
ship's rail; the flags of all nations fluttered from the masts and
connecting cables. The cowboy band played "Yankee Doodle" with a
vim and enthusiasm which faintly indicated the joy felt by
everybody connected with the "Wild West" over the sight of home.

Shortly after my arrival I was much pleased by the receipt of the
following letter:


_Dear Sir_ - In common with all your countrymen, I want to let you
know that I am not only gratified but proud of your management and
success. So far as I can make out, you have been modest, graceful,
and dignified in all you have done to illustrate the history of
civilization on this continent during the past century. I am
especially pleased with the compliment paid you by the Prince of
Wales, who rode with you in the Deadwood coach while it was
attacked by Indians and rescued by cowboys. Such things did occur
in our days, but they never will again.

As nearly as I can estimate, there were in 1865 about nine and
one-half million of buffaloes on the Plains between the Missouri
River and the Rocky Mountains; all are now gone, killed for their
meat, their skins, and their bones. This seems like desecration,
cruelty, and murder, yet they have been replaced by twice as many
cattle. At that date there were about 165,000 Pawnees, Sioux,
Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, who depended upon these buffaloes for
their yearly food. They, too, have gone, but they have been
replaced by twice or thrice as many white men and women, who have
made the earth to blossom as the rose, and who can be counted,
taxed, and governed by the laws of Nature and civilization. This
change has been salutary, and will go on to the end. You have
caught one epoch of this country's history, and have illustrated it
in the very heart of the modern world - London - and I want you to
feel that on this side of the water we appreciate it.

This drama must end; days, years, and centuries follow fast; even

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Online LibraryWilliam Frederick CodyAn Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (Colonel W. F. Cody) → online text (page 18 of 19)