Part 4 out of 8
were heartrending; such a manifestation of grief was never before
witnessed at the agency. A handsome fence was erected around his
grave, in the cemetery at Fort Sill, and the government ordered
a beautiful marble monument to be raised over it; but I do not know
whether it was ever done.
Kicking Bird was only forty years old at the time of his sudden
taking off, and was very wealthy for an Indian. He knew the uses
of money and was a careful saver of it. A great roll of greenbacks
was placed in his coffin, and that fact having leaked out, it was
rumoured that his grave was robbed; but the story may not have been
One of the greatest terrors of the Old Santa Fe Trail was the
half-breed Indian desperado Charles Bent. His mother was a Cheyenne
squaw, and his father the famous trader, Colonel Bent. He was born
at the base of the Rocky Mountains, and at a very early age placed
in one of the best schools that St. Louis afforded. His venerable
sire, with only a limited education himself, was determined that
his boy should profit by the culture and refinement of civilization,
so he was not allowed to return to his mountain home at Bent's Fort,
and the savage conditions under which he was born, until he had
attained his majority. He then spoke no language but English.
His mother died while he was absent at school, and his father
continued to live at the old fort, where Charles, after he had
reached the age of twenty-one, joined him.
Some Washington sentimentalist, philosophizing on the Indian character,
his knowledge being based on Cooper's novels probably, has said:
"Civilization has very marked effects upon an Indian. If he once
learns to speak English, he will soon forget all his native cunning
and pride of race." Let us see how this theory worked with Charley Bent.
As soon as the educated half-breed set his foot on his native heath
he readily found enough ambitious young bucks of his own age who
were willing to look on him as their leader. They loved him, too,
if such a thing were possible, as Fra Diavolo was loved by his wild
followers. His band was known as the "Dog-Soldiers"; a sort of a
semi-military organization, consisting of the most daring,
blood-thirsty young men of the tribe; and sometimes "squaw-men,"
that is, renegade white men married to squaws, attached themselves
to his command of cut-throats.
At the head of this collection of the worst savages, hardly ever
numbering over a hundred, Charles Bent robbed ranches, attacked
wagon-trains, overland coaches, and army caravans. He stole and
murdered indiscriminately. The history of his bloody work will
never be wholly revealed, for dead men have no tongues.
He would visit all alone, in the guise of plainsman, hunter, or
cattleman, the emigrant trains crossing the continent, always,
however, those which had only small escorts or none at all. Feigning
hunger, while his needs were being kindly furnished, he would glance
around him to learn what kind of an outfit it was; its value, its
destination, and how well guarded. Then he would take his leave with
many thanks, rejoin his band, and with it dash down on the train and
kill every human being unfortunate enough not to have escaped before
He was indefatigable in his efforts to kill off the whole corps of
army scouts. He would pass himself off as a fellow-scout, as a
deserter from some military post, or as an Indian trader, for he was
a wonderful actor, and would have achieved histrionic honours had
he chosen the stage as a profession.
He would always time his actions so as to be found apparently asleep
by a little camp-fire on the bank of Pawnee Fork, Crooked, Mulberry,
or Walnut creeks, all of which streams intercepted the trails running
north and south between the several military posts during the Indian
war, when he would seem delighted and astonished, or else simulate
suspicion. Then he would either murder the unsuspecting scout with
his own hands, or deliver him to the red fiends of his band to be
The government offered a reward of five thousand dollars for Bent's
capture, dead or alive. It was reported currently that he was at last
killed in a battle with some deputy United States marshals, and that
they received the reward; but the whole thing was manufactured out of
whole cloth, and if the marshals received the money, Uncle Sam was
most outrageously swindled.
The facts are that he died of malarial fever superinduced by a wound
received in a fight with the Kaws, near the mouth of the Walnut and
not far from Fort Zarah. His "Dog-Soldiers" were whipped by the Kaws,
and his band driven off. Bent lingered for some time and died.
New Mexico, at the breaking out of the Civil War, was abandoned by
the government at Washington, or at least so overlooked that the
charge of neglect was merited. In the report of the committee on
the Conduct of the War, under date of July 15, 1862, Brevet
Lieutenant-Colonel B. S. Roberts of the regular army, major of the
Third Cavalry, who was stationed in the Territory in 1861, says:
It appears to me to be the determination of General Thomas
not to acknowledge the service of the officers who saved
the Territory of New Mexico; and the utter neglect of the
adjutant-general's department for the last year to
communicate in any way with the commanding officer of the
department of New Mexico, or to answer his urgent appeals
for reinforcements, for money and other supplies, in
connection with his repudiation of the services of all the
army there, convinces me that he is not gratified at their
loyalty and their success in saving that Territory to
If space could be given to the story of the carefully prepared plans
of the leaders of secession for the conquest of all the territory
south of a line drawn from Maryland directly west to the Pacific
coast, in which were California, Arizona, and New Mexico, it would
reveal some startling facts, and prove beyond question that it was
the intention of Jefferson Davis to precipitate the rebellion a
decade before it actually occurred. The basis of the scheme was to
inaugurate a war between Texas--which, when admitted into the Union,
claimed all that part of New Mexico east of the Rio Grande--and the
United States, in which conflict Mississippi and some of the other
Southern States were to become participants. The plan fell flat,
because, in 1851, Mr. Davis failed of a re-election to the governorship
So confident were many of Mr. Davis' allies in regard to the
contemplated rebellion, that they boasted to their friends of the
North, upon leaving Washington, that when they met again, it would
be upon a Southern battle-field.
I have alluded incidentally to what is known as the Texas Santa Fe
Expedition, inaugurated by the President of what was then the republic
of Texas, Mirabeau B. Lamar. It was given out to the world that
it was merely one of commercial interest--to increase the trade
between the two countries; but that it was intended for the conquest
of New Mexico, no one now, in the light of history, doubts.
It resulted in disaster, and is a story well worthy the examination
of the student of American politics.
In 1861 General Twiggs commanded the military department of which
Texas was an important part. It will be remembered that he surrendered
to the Confederate government the troops, the munitions of war,
the forts, or posts as they were properly termed, and everything
pertaining to the United States army under his control. It was the
intention of the Confederacy to use this region as a military base
from which to continue its conquests westward, and capture the various
forts in New Mexico. Particularly they had their eyes upon Fort Union,
where there was an arsenal, which John B. Floyd, Secretary of War,
had taken especial care to have well stocked previously to the act
But the conspirators had reckoned without their host; they imagined
the native Mexicans would eagerly accept their overtures, and readily
support the Southern Confederacy. Mr. Davis and his coadjutors had
evidently forgotten the effect of the Texas Santa Fe Expedition,
in 1841, upon the people of the Province of New Mexico; but the
natives themselves had not. Besides the loyalty of the Mexicans,
there was a factor which the Confederate leaders had failed to
consider, which was that the majority of the American pioneers had
come from loyal States.
Of course, there were many secessionists both in Colorado and
New Mexico who were watching the progress of rebellion in eager
anticipation; and it is claimed that in Denver a rebel flag was
raised--but how true that is I do not know.
John B. Floyd, Secretary of War, was one of the leading spirits of
the Confederacy. A year before the Civil War he placed in command
of the department of New Mexico a North Carolinian, Colonel Loring,
who was in perfect sympathy with his superior, and willing to carry
out his well-defined plans. In 1861 he ordered Colonel G. B. Crittenden
on an expedition against the Apaches. This officer at once tried to
induce his troops to attach themselves to the rebel army in Texas,
but he was met with an indignant refusal by Colonel Roberts and
the regular soldiers under him. The loyal colonel told Crittenden,
in the most forcible language, that he would resist any such attempt
on his part, and reported the action of Colonel Crittenden to the
commander of the department at Santa Fe. Of course, Colonel Loring
paid no attention to the complaint of disloyalty, and then Colonel
Roberts conveyed the tidings to the commanding officers of several
military posts in the Territory, whom he knew were true to the Union,
and only one man out of nearly two thousand regular soldiers
renounced his flag. Some of the officers stationed at New Mexico
were of a different mind, and one of them, Major Lynde, commanding
Fort Filmore, surrendered to a detachment of Texans, who paroled
the enlisted men, as they firmly refused to join the rebel forces.
Upon the desertion of Colonel Loring to the Southern Confederacy,
General Edward R. S. Canby was assigned to the command of the
department; next in rank was the loyal Roberts. At this perilous
juncture in New Mexico, there were but a thousand regulars all told,
but the Territory furnished two regiments of volunteers, commanded by
officers whose names had been famous on the border for years.
Among these was Colonel Ceran St. Vrain, who had been conspicuous
in the suppression of the Mexican insurrection of 1847, fifteen years
before. Kit Carson was lieutenant-colonel; J. F. Chaves, major; and
the most prominent of the line officers Captain Albert H. Pfeiffer,
with a record as an Indian fighter equal to that of Carson.
At the same time Colorado was girding on her armour for the impending
conflict. The governor of the prosperous Territory was William Gilpin,
an old army officer, who had spent a large part of his life on the
frontier, and had accompanied Colonel Doniphan, as major of his
regiment, across the plains, on the expedition to New Mexico in 1846.
Colonel Gilpin at once responded to the pleadings of New Mexico for
help, by organizing two companies at first, quickly following with
a full regiment. This Colorado regiment was composed of as fine
material as any portion of the United States could furnish.
John P. Slough, a war Democrat and a lawyer, was its colonel.
He afterwards became chief justice of New Mexico, and was brutally
murdered in that Territory.
John M. Chivington, a strict Methodist and a presiding elder of
that church, was offered the chaplaincy, but firmly declined, and,
like many others who wore the clerical garb, he quickly doffed it
and put on the attire of a soldier; so he was made major, and his
record as a fighter was equal to the best.
The commanding general knew well the plans of the rebels as to their
intended occupation of New Mexico, and, notwithstanding the weakness
of his force, determined to frustrate them if within the limits of
possibility. To that end he concentrated his little army, comprising
a thousand regular soldiers, the two regiments of New Mexico
volunteers, two companies of Colorado troops, and a portion of the
territorial militia, at Fort Craig, on the Rio Grande, to await
the approach of the Confederate troops, under the command of
General H. H. Sibley, an old regular army officer, a native of
Louisiana, and the inventor of the comfortable tent named after him.
Sibley's brigade comprised some three thousand men, the majority
of them Texans, and he expected that many more would flock to his
standard as he moved northward. On the 19th of February, 1862,
he crossed the Rio Grande below Fort Craig, not daring to attack
Canby in his intrenched position. The Union commander, in order
to keep the Texas troops from gaining the high points overlooking
the fort, placed portions of the Fifth, Seventh, and Tenth Regulars,
together with Carson's and Pino's volunteers, on the other side of
the river. No collision occurred that day, but the next afternoon
Major Duncan, with his cavalry and Captain M'Rae's light battery,
having been sent across to reinforce the infantry, a heavy artillery
fire was immediately opened upon them by the Texans. The men under
Carson behaved splendidly, but the other volunteer regiments became
a little demoralized, and the general was compelled to call back
the force into the fort. Sibley's force, both men and animals,
suffered much from thirst, the latter stampeding, and many, wandering
into our lines, were caught by the scouts of the Union forces.
The next morning early Colonel Roberts was ordered to proceed about
seven miles up the river to keep the Texans away from the water at
a point where it was alone accessible, on account of the steepness
of the banks everywhere else.
The gallant Roberts, on arriving at the ford, planted a battery there,
and at once opened fire. This was the battle of Valverde, the details
of which, however, do not belong to this book, having been only
incidentally referred to in order to lead the reader intelligently
up to that of La Glorieta, Apache Canyon, or Pigeon's Ranch, as it
is indifferently called.
Valverde was lost to the Union troops, but never did men fight more
valiantly, with the exception of a few who did not act the part of
the true soldier. The brave M'Rae mounted one of the guns of his
battery, choosing to die rather than surrender.
General Sibley, after his doubtful victory at Valverde, continued
on to Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The old city offered no resistance
to his occupation; in fact, some of the most influential Mexicans
were pleased, their leaning being strongly toward the Southern
Confederacy; but the common people were as loyal to the Union as
those of any of the Northern States, a feeling intensified by their
hatred for the Texans on account of the expedition of conquest in
1841, twenty-one years before. They contributed of their means to
aid the United States troops, but have never received proper credit
for their action in those days of trouble in the neglected Territory.
The Confederate general was disappointed at the way in which affairs
were going, for he had based great hopes upon the defection of the
native residents; but he determined to march forward to Fort Union,
where his friend Floyd had placed such stores as were likely to be
needed in the campaign which he had designed.
From Santa Fe to Fort Union, where the arsenal was located, the road
runs through the deep, rocky gorge known as Apache Canyon. It is
one of the wildest spots in the mountains, the walls on each side
rising from one to two thousand feet above the Trail, which is within
the range of ordinary cannon from every point, and in many places
of point-blank rifle-shot. Granite rocks and sands abound, and the
hills are covered with long-leafed pine. It is a gateway which,
in the hands of a skilful engineer and one hundred resolute men,
can be made perfectly impregnable.
The Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway passes directly through
this picturesque chasm, every foot of which is classic ground, and
in the season of the mountain freshets constant care is needed to
keep its bridges in place.
At its eastern entrance is a large residence, known as Pigeon's Ranch,
from which the battle to be described derives its name, though,
as stated, it is also known as that of Apache Canyon, and La Glorieta,
the latter, perhaps, the most classical, from the range of mountains
enclosing the rent in the mighty hills.
The following detailed account of this battle I have taken from
the _History of Colorado_, an admirable work:
The sympathizers with and abettors of the Southern
Confederacy inaugurated their plans by posting handbills
in all conspicuous places between Denver and the
mining-camps, designating certain localities where the
highest prices would be paid for arms of every description,
and for powder, lead, shot, and percussion caps.
Simultaneously, a small force was collected and put under
discipline to co-operate with parties expected from Arkansas
and Texas who were to take possession, first of Colorado,
and subsequently of New Mexico, anticipating the easy
capture of the Federal troops and stores located there.
Being apprised of the movement, the governor immediately
decided to enlist a full regiment of volunteers.
John P. Slough was appointed colonel, Samuel F. Tappan
lieutenant-colonel, and John J. M. Chivington major.
Without railroads or telegraphs nearer than the Missouri
River, and wholly dependent upon the overland mail coach
for communication with the States and the authorities at
Washington, news was at least a week old when received.
Thus the troops passed the time in a condition of doubt
and extreme anxiety, until the 6th of January, 1862, when
information arrived that an invading force under General
H. H. Sibley, from San Antonio, Texas, was approaching
the southern border of New Mexico, and had already captured
Forts Fillmore and Bliss, making prisoners of their
garrisons without firing a gun, and securing all their
stock and supplies.
Immediately upon receipt of this intelligence, efforts
were made to obtain the consent of, or orders from, General
Hunter, commanding the department at Fort Leavenworth,
Kansas, for the regiment to go to the relief of General
Canby, then in command of the department of New Mexico.
On the 20th of February, orders came from General Hunter,
directing Colonel Slough and the First Regiment of Colorado
Volunteers to proceed with all possible despatch to
Fort Union, or Santa Fe, New Mexico, and report to General
Canby for service.
Two days thereafter, the command marched out of Camp Weld
two miles up the Platte River, and in due time encamped
at Pueblo, on the Arkansas River. At this point further
advices were received from Canby, stating that he had
encountered the enemy at Valverde, ten miles north of
Fort Craig, but, owing to the inefficiency of the newly
raised New Mexican volunteers, was compelled to retire.
The Texans under Sibley marched on up the Rio Grande,
levying tribute upon the inhabitants for their support.
The Colorado troops were urged to the greatest possible
haste in reaching Fort Union, where they were to unite
with such regular troops as could be concentrated at that
post, and thus aid in saving the fort and its supplies
from falling into Confederate hands. Early on the
following morning the order was given to proceed to Union
by forced marches, and it is doubtful if the same number of
men ever marched a like distance in the same length of time.
When the summit of Raton Pass was reached, another courier
from Canby met the command, who informed Colonel Slough
that the Texans had already captured Albuquerque and
Santa Fe with all the troops stationed at those places,
together with the supplies stored there, and that they
were then marching on Fort Union.
Arriving at Red River about sundown, the regiment was
drawn up in line and this information imparted to the men.
The request was then made for all who were willing to
undertake a forced march at night to step two paces to
the front, when every man advanced to the new alignment.
After a hasty supper the march was resumed, and at sunrise
the next morning they reached Maxwell's Ranch on the
Cimarron, having made sixty-four miles in less than
twenty-four hours. At ten o'clock on the second night
thereafter, the command entered Fort Union. It was there
discovered that Colonel Paul, in charge of the post, had
mined the fort, giving orders for the removal of the women
and children, and was preparing to blow up all the supplies
and march to Fort Garland or some other post to the
northward, on the first approach of the Confederates.
The troops remained at Union from the 13th to the 22d of
March, when by order of Colonel Slough they proceeded in
the direction of Santa Fe. The command consisted of
the First Colorado Volunteers; two Light Batteries,
one commanded by Captain Ritter and the other by Captain
Claflin; Ford's Company of Colorado Volunteers unattached;
two companies of the Fifth Regular Infantry; and two
companies of the Seventh United States Cavalry.
The force encamped at Bernal Springs, where Colonel Slough
determined to organize a detachment to enter Santa Fe by
night with the view of surprising the enemy, spiking his
guns, and after doing what other damage could be accomplished
without bringing on a general action, falling back on the
main body. The detachment chosen comprised sixty men each
from Companies A, D, and E of the Colorado regiment, with
Company F of the same mounted, and thirty-seven men each
from the companies of Captains Ford and Howland, and of
the Seventh Cavalry, the whole commanded by Major Chivington.
At sundown on the 25th of March it reached Kosloskie's Ranch,
where Major Chivington was informed that the enemy's pickets
were in the vicinity. He went into camp at once, and about
nine o'clock of the same evening sent out Lieutenant Nelson
of the First Colorado with thirty men of Company F, who
captured the Texan pickets while they were engaged in a game
of cards at Pigeon's Ranch, and before daylight on the
morning of the 26th, reported at camp with his prisoners.
After breakfast, the major, being apprised of the enemy's
whereabouts, proceeded cautiously, keeping his advance
guard well to the front. While passing near the summit
of the hill, the officer in command of the advance met
the Confederate advance, consisting of a first lieutenant
and thirty men, captured them without firing a gun, and
returning met the main body and turned them over to the
commanding officer. The Confederate lieutenant declared
that they had received no intimation of the advance from
Fort Union, but themselves expected to be there four days
Descending Apache Canyon for the distance of half a mile,
Chivington's force observed the approaching Texans, about
six hundred strong, with three pieces of artillery, who,
on discovering the Federals, halted, formed line and battery,
and opened fire.
Chivington drew up his cavalry as a reserve under cover,
deployed Company D under Captain Downing to the right,
and Companies A and E under Captains Wynkoop and Anthony
to the left, directing them to ascend the mountain-side
until they were above the elevation of the enemy's artillery
and thus flank him, at the same time directing Captain
Howland, he being the ranking cavalry officer, to closely
observe the enemy, and when he retreated, without further
orders to charge with the cavalry. This disposition of
the troops proved wise and successful. The Texans soon
broke battery and retreated down the canyon a mile or more,
but from some cause Captain Howland failed to charge as
ordered, which enabled the Confederates to take up a new
and strong position, where they formed battery, threw their
supports well up the sides of the mountain, and again
Chivington dismounted Captains Howland and Lord with their
regulars, leaving their horses in charge of every fourth
man, and ordered them to join Captain Downing on the left,
taking orders from him. Our skirmishers advanced, and,
flanking the enemy's supports, drove them pell-mell down
the mountain-side, when Captain Samuel Cook, with Company F,
First Colorado, having been signalled by the major, made
as gallant and successful a charge through the canyon,
through the ranks of the Confederates and back, as was
ever performed. Meanwhile, our infantry advanced rapidly;
when the enemy commenced his retreat a second time, they
were well ahead of him on the mountain-sides and poured
a galling fire into him, which thoroughly demoralized and
broke him up, compelling the entire body to seek shelter
among the rocks down the canyon and in some cabins that
stood by the wayside.
After an hour spent in collecting the prisoners, and
caring for the wounded, both Federal and Confederate,
the latter having left in killed, wounded, and prisoners
a number equal to our whole force in the field, the first
baptism by fire of our volunteers terminated. The victory
was decided and complete. Night intervening, and there
being no water in the canyon, the little command fell back
to Pigeon's Ranch, whence a courier was despatched to
Colonel Slough, advising him of the engagement and its
result, and requesting him to bring forward the main
command as rapidly as possible, as the enemy with all his
forces had moved from Santa Fe toward Fort Union.
After interring the dead and making a comfortable hospital
for the wounded, on the afternoon of the 27th Chivington
fell back to the Pecos River at Kosloskie's Ranch and
encamped. On receiving the news from Apache Canyon,
Colonel Slough put his forces in motion, and at eleven
o'clock at night of the 27th joined Chivington at Kosloskie's.
At daybreak on the 28th, the assembly was sounded, and
the entire command resumed its march. Five miles out
from their encampment Major Chivington, in command of
a detachment composed of Companies A, B, H, and E of the
First Colorado, and Captain Ford's Company unattached,
with Captain Lewis' Company of the Fifth Regular Infantry,
was ordered to take the Galisteo road, and by a detour
through the mountains to gain the enemy's rear, if possible,
at the west end of Apache Canyon, while Slough advanced
slowly with the main body to gain his front about the
same time; thus devising an attack in front and rear.
About ten o'clock, while making his way through the scrub
pine and cedar brush in the mountains, Major Chivington
and his command heard cannonading to their right, and
were thereby apprised that Colonel Slough and his men
had met the enemy. About twelve o'clock he arrived with
his men on the summit of the mountain which overlooked
the enemy's supply wagons, which had been left in the
charge of a strong guard with one piece of artillery mounted
on an elevation commanding the camp and mouth of the canyon.
With great difficulty Chivington descended the precipitous
mountain, charged, took, and spiked the gun, ran together
the enemy's supply wagons of commissary, quartermaster,
and ordnance stores, set them on fire, blew and burnt
them up, bayoneted his mules in corral, took the guard
prisoners and reascended the mountain, where about dark
he was met by Lieutenant Cobb, aide-de-camp on Colonel
Slough's staff, with the information that Slough and his
men had been defeated and had fallen back to Kosloskie's.
Upon the supposition that this information was correct,
Chivington, under the guidance of a French Catholic priest,
in the intensest darkness, with great difficulty made
his way with his command through the mountains without
a road or trail, and joined Colonel Slough about midnight.
Meanwhile, after Chivington and his detachment had left
in the morning, Colonel Slough with the main body proceeded
up the canyon, and arriving at Pigeon's Ranch, gave orders
for the troops to stack arms in the road and supply their
canteens with water, as that would be the last opportunity
before reaching the further end of Apache Canyon.
While thus supplying themselves with water and visiting
the wounded in the hospital at Pigeon's Ranch, being
entirely off their guard, they were suddenly startled by
a courier from the advance column dashing down the road
at full speed and informing them that the enemy was close
at hand. Orders were immediately given to fall in and
take arms, but before the order could be obeyed the enemy
had formed battery and commenced shelling them.
They formed as quickly as possible, the colonel ordering
Captain Downing with Company D, First Colorado Volunteers,
to advance on the left, and Captain Kerber with Company I
First Colorado, to advance on the right. In the meantime
Ritter and Claflin opened a return fire on the enemy with
their batteries. Captain Downing advanced and fought
desperately, meeting a largely superior force in point
of numbers, until he was almost overpowered and surrounded;
when, happily, Captain Wilder of Company G of the First
Colorado, with a detachment of his command, came to his
relief, and extricated him and that portion of his Company
not already slaughtered. While on the opposite side,
the right, Company I had advanced into an open space,
feeling the enemy, and ambitious of capturing his battery,
when they were surprised by a detachment which was concealed
in an arroya, and which, when Kerber and his men were
within forty feet of it, opened a galling fire upon them.
Kerber lost heavily; Lieutenant Baker, being wounded,
fell back. In the meantime the enemy masked, and made
five successive charges on our batteries, determined to
capture them as they had captured Canby's at Valverde.
At one time they were within forty yards of Slough's
batteries, their slouch hats drawn down over their faces,
and rushing on with deafening yells. It seemed inevitable
that they would make the capture, when Captain Claflin
gave the order to cease firing, and Captain Samuel Robbins
with his company, K of the First Colorado, arose from the
ground like ghosts, delivering a galling fire, charged
bayonets, and on the double-quick put the rebels to flight.
During the whole of this time the cavalry, under Captain
Howland, were held in reserve, never moving except to
fall back and keep out of danger, with the exception of
Captain Cook's men, who dismounted and fought as infantry.
From the opening of the battle to its close the odds were
against Colonel Slough and his forces; the enemy being
greatly superior in numbers, with a better armament of
artillery and equally well armed otherwise. But every inch
of ground was stubbornly contested. In no instance did
Slough's forces fall back until they were in danger of
being flanked and surrounded, and for nine hours, without
rest or refreshment, the battle raged incessantly.
At one time Claflin gave orders to double-shot his guns,
they being nothing but little brass howitzers, and he
counted, "One, two, three, four," until one of his own
carriages capsized and fell down into the gulch; from which
place Captain Samuel Robbins and his company, K, extricated
it and saved it from falling into the enemy's hands.
Having been compelled to give ground all day, Colonel Slough,
between five and six o'clock in the afternoon, issued
orders to retreat. About the same time General Sibley
received information from the rear of the destruction of
his supply trains, and ordered a flag of truce to be sent
to Colonel Slough, which did not reach him, however, until
he arrived at Kosloskie's. A truce was entered into until
nine o'clock the next morning, which was afterward extended
to twenty-four hours, and under which Sibley with his
demoralized forces fell back to Santa Fe, laying that town
under tribute to supply his forces.
The 29th was spent in burying the dead, as well as those
of the Confederates which they left on the field, and
caring for the wounded. Orders were received from General
Canby directing Colonel Slough to fall back to Fort Union,
which so incensed him that while obeying the order he
forwarded his resignation, and soon after left the command.
Thus ended the battle of La Glorieta.
The ancient range of the buffalo, according to history and tradition,
once extended from the Alleghanies to the Rocky Mountains, embracing
all that magnificent portion of North America known as the Mississippi
valley; from the frozen lakes above to the "Tierras Calientes" of
Mexico, far to the south.
It seems impossible, especially to those who have seen them, as
numerous, apparently, as the sands of the seashore, feeding on the
illimitable natural pastures of the great plains, that the buffalo
should have become almost extinct.
When I look back only twenty-five years, and recall the fact that
they roamed in immense numbers even then, as far east as Fort Harker,
in Central Kansas, a little more than two hundred miles from the
Missouri River, I ask myself, "Have they all disappeared?"
An idea may be formed of how many buffalo were killed from 1868 to
1881, a period of only thirteen years, during which time they were
indiscriminately slaughtered for their hides. In Kansas alone
there was paid out, between the dates specified, two million five
hundred thousand dollars for their bones gathered on the prairies,
to be utilized by the various carbon works of the country, principally
in St. Louis. It required about one hundred carcasses to make one
ton of bones, the price paid averaging eight dollars a ton; so the
above-quoted enormous sum represented the skeletons of over thirty-one
millions of buffalo. These figures may appear preposterous to
readers not familiar with the great plains a third of a century ago;
but to those who have seen the prairie black from horizon to horizon
with the shaggy monsters, they are not so. In the autumn of 1868
I rode with Generals Sheridan, Custer, Sully, and others, for three
consecutive days, through one continuous herd, which must have
contained millions. In the spring of 1869 the train on the Kansas
Pacific Railroad was delayed at a point between Forts Harker and
Hays, from nine o'clock in the morning until five in the afternoon,
in consequence of the passage of an immense herd of buffalo across
the track. On each side of us, and to the west as far as we could
see, our vision was only limited by the extended horizon of the flat
prairie, and the whole vast area was black with the surging mass
of affrighted buffaloes as they rushed onward to the south.
In 1868 the Union Pacific Railroad and its branch in Kansas was nearly
completed across the plains to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains,
the western limit of the buffalo range, and that year witnessed
the beginning of the wholesale and wanton slaughter of the great
ruminants, which ended only with their practical extinction seventeen
years afterward. The causes of this hecatomb of animals on the
great plains were the incursion of regular hunters into the region,
for the hides of the buffalo, and the crowds of tourists who crossed
the continent for the mere pleasure and novelty of the trip.
The latter class heartlessly killed for the excitement of the
new experience as they rode along in the cars at a low rate of speed,
often never touching a particle of the flesh of their victims,
or possessing themselves of a single robe. The former, numbering
hundreds of old frontiersmen, all expert shots, with thousands of
novices, the pioneer settlers on the public domain, just opened
under the various land laws, from beyond the Platte to far south
of the Arkansas, within transporting distance of two railroads,
day after day for years made it a lucrative business to kill for
the robes alone, a market for which had suddenly sprung up all over
On either side of the track of the two lines of railroads running
through Kansas and Nebraska, within a relatively short distance
and for nearly their whole length, the most conspicuous objects
in those days were the desiccated carcasses of the noble beasts
that had been ruthlessly slaughtered by the thoughtless and excited
passengers on their way across the continent. On the open prairie,
too, miles away from the course of legitimate travel, in some places
one could walk all day on the dead bodies of the buffaloes killed
by the hide-hunters, without stepping off them to the ground.
The best robes, in their relation to thickness of fur and lustre,
were those taken during the winter months, particularly February,
at which period the maximum of density and beauty had been reached.
Then, notwithstanding the sudden and fitful variations of temperature
incident to our mid-continent climate, the old hunters were especially
active, and accepted unusual risks to procure as many of the coveted
skins as possible. A temporary camp would be established under
the friendly shelter of some timbered stream, from which the hunters
would radiate every morning, and return at night after an arduous
day's work, to smoke their pipes and relate their varied adventures
around the fire of blazing logs.
Sometimes when far away from camp a blizzard would come down from
the north in all its fury without ten minutes' warning, and in a
few seconds the air, full of blinding snow, precluded the possibility
of finding their shelter, an attempt at which would only result
in an aimless circular march on the prairie. On such occasions,
to keep from perishing by the intense cold, they would kill a buffalo,
and, taking out its viscera, creep inside the huge cavity, enough
animal heat being retained until the storm had sufficiently abated
for them to proceed with safety to their camp.
Early in March, 1867, a party of my friends, all old buffalo hunters,
were camped in Paradise valley, then a famous rendezvous of the
animals they were after. One day when out on the range stalking,
and widely separated from each other, a terrible blizzard came up.
Three of the hunters reached their camp without much difficulty,
but he who was farthest away was fairly caught in it, and night
overtaking him, he was compelled to resort to the method described
in the preceding paragraph. Luckily, he soon came up with a
superannuated bull that had been abandoned by the herd; so he killed
him, took out his viscera and crawled inside the empty carcass, where
he lay comparatively comfortable until morning broke, when the storm
had passed over and the sun shone brightly. But when he attempted
to get out, he found himself a prisoner, the immense ribs of the
creature having frozen together, and locked him up as tightly as if
he were in a cell. Fortunately, his companions, who were searching
for him, and firing their rifles from time to time, heard him yell
in response to the discharge of their pieces, and thus discovered and
released him from the peculiar predicament into which he had fallen.
At another time, several years before the acquisition of New Mexico
by the United States, two old trappers were far up on the Arkansas
near the Trail, in the foot-hills hunting buffalo, and they, as is
generally the case, became separated. In an hour or two one of them
killed a fat young cow, and, leaving his rifle on the ground, went up
and commenced to skin her. While busily engaged in his work,
he suddenly heard right behind him a suppressed snort, and looking
around he saw to his dismay a monstrous grizzly ambling along in
that animal's characteristic gait, within a few feet of him.
In front, only a few rods away, there happened to be a clump of
scrubby pines, and he incontinently made a break for them, climbing
into the tallest in less time than it takes to tell of it. The bear
deliberately ate a hearty meal off the juicy hams of the cow,
so providentially fallen in his way, and when he had satiated himself,
instead of going away, he quietly stretched himself alongside of
the half-devoured carcass, and went to sleep, keeping one eye open,
however, on the movements of the unlucky hunter whom he had corralled
in the tree. In the early evening his partner came to the spot,
and killed the impudent bear, that, being full of tender buffalo meat,
was sluggish and unwary, and thus became an easy victim to the
unerring rifle; when the unwilling prisoner came down from his perch
in the pine, feeling sheepish enough. The last time I saw him he
told me he still had the bear's hide, which he religiously preserved
as a memento of his foolishness in separating himself from his rifle,
a thing he has never been guilty of before or since.
Kit Carson, when with Fremont on his first exploring expedition,
while hunting for the command, at some point on the Arkansas,
left a buffalo which he had just killed and partly cut up, to pursue
a large bull that came rushing by him alone. He chased his game
for nearly a quarter of a mile, not being able, however, to gain
on it rapidly, owing to the blown condition of his horse. Coming up
at length to the side of the fleeing beast, Carson fired, but at the
same instant his horse stepped into a prairie-dog hole, fell down
and threw Kit fully fifteen feet over his head. The bullet struck
the buffalo low under the shoulder, which only served to enrage him
so that the next moment the infuriated animal was pursuing Kit,
who, fortunately not much hurt, was able to run toward the river.
It was a race for life now, Carson using his nimble legs to the
utmost of their capacity, accelerated very much by the thundering,
bellowing bull bringing up the rear. For several minutes it was
nip and tuck which should reach the stream first, but Kit got there
by a scratch a little ahead. It was a big bend of the river, and
the water was deep under the bank, but it was paradise compared
with the hades plunging at his back; so Kit leaped into the water,
trusting to Providence that the bull would not follow. The trust
was well placed, for the bull did not continue the pursuit, but stood
on the bank and shook his head vehemently at the struggling hunter
who had preferred deep waves to the horns of a dilemma on shore.
Kit swam around for some time, carefully guarded by the bull, until
his position was observed by one of his companions, who attacked
the belligerent animal successfully with a forty-four slug, and then
Kit crawled out and--skinned the enemy!
He once killed five buffaloes during a single race, and used but
four balls, having dismounted and cut the bullet from the wound
of the fourth, and thus continued the chase. He it was, too, who
established his reputation as a famous hunter by shooting a buffalo
cow during an impetuous race down a steep hill, discharging his rifle
just as the animal was leaping on one of the low cedars peculiar
to the region. The ball struck a vital spot, and the dead cow
remained in the jagged branches. The Indians who were with him
on that hunt looked upon the circumstance as something beyond their
comprehension, and insisted that Kit should leave the carcass in
the tree as "Big Medicine." Katzatoa (Smoked Shield), a celebrated
chief of the Kiowas many years ago, who was over seven feet tall,
never mounted a horse when hunting the buffalo; he always ran after
them on foot and killed them with his lance.
Two Lance, another famous chief, could shoot an arrow entirely
through a buffalo while hunting on horseback. He accomplished this
remarkable feat in the presence of the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia,
who was under the care of Buffalo Bill, near Fort Hays, Kansas.
During one of Fremont's expeditions, two of his chasseurs, named
Archambeaux and La Jeunesse, had a curious adventure on a
buffalo-hunt. One of them was mounted on a mule, the other on
a horse; they came in sight of a large band of buffalo feeding upon
the open prairie about a mile distant. The mule was not fleet enough,
and the horse was too much fatigued with the day's journey, to justify
a race, and they concluded to approach the herd on foot. Dismounting
and securing the ends of their lariats in the ground, they made
a slight detour, to take advantage of the wind, and crept stealthily
in the direction of the game, approaching unperceived until within
a few hundred yards. Some old bulls forming the outer picket guard
slowly raised their heads and gazed long and dubiously at the strange
objects, when, discovering that the intruders were not wolves, but two
hunters, they gave a significant grunt, turned about as though on
pivots, and in less than no time the whole herd--bulls, cows, and
calves--were making the gravel fly over the prairie in fine style,
leaving the hunters to their discomfiture. They had scarcely
recovered from their surprise, when, to their great consternation,
they beheld the whole company of the monsters, numbering several
thousand, suddenly shape their course to where the riding animals
were picketed. The charge of the stampeded buffalo was a magnificent
one; for the buffalo, mistaking the horse and the mule for two of
their own species, came down upon them like a tornado. A small cloud
of dust arose for a moment over the spot where the hunter's animals
had been left; the black mass moved on with accelerated speed, and
in a few seconds the horizon shut them all from view. The horse
and mule, with all their trappings, saddles, bridles, and holsters,
were never seen or heard of afterward.
Buffalo Bill, in less than eighteen months, while employed as hunter
of the construction company of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, in 1867-68,
killed nearly five thousand buffalo, which were consumed by the
twelve hundred men employed in track-laying. He tells in his
autobiography of the following remarkable experience he had at one
time with his favourite horse Brigham, on an impromptu buffalo hunt:--
One day we were pushed for horses to work on our scrapers,
so I hitched up Brigham, to see how he would work. He was
not much used to that kind of labour, and I was about giving
up the idea of making a work horse of him, when one of the
men called to me that there were some buffaloes coming over
the hill. As there had been no buffaloes seen anywhere
in the vicinity of the camp for several days, we had become
rather short of meat. I immediately told one of our men
to hitch his horses to a wagon and follow me, as I was going
out after the herd, and we would bring back some fresh meat
for supper. I had no saddle, as mine had been left at camp
a mile distant, so taking the harness from Brigham I mounted
him bareback, and started out after the game, being armed
with my celebrated buffalo killer Lucretia Borgia--a newly
improved breech-loading needle-gun, which I had obtained
from the government.
While I was riding toward the buffaloes, I observed five
horsemen coming out from the fort, who had evidently seen
the buffaloes from the post, and were going out for a chase.
They proved to be some newly arrived officers in that part
of the country, and when they came up closer I could see
by the shoulder-straps that the senior was a captain,
while the others were lieutenants.
"Hello! my friend," sang out the captain; "I see you are
after the same game we are."
"Yes, sir; I saw those buffaloes coming over the hill,
and as we were about out of fresh meat I thought I would
go and get some," said I.
They scanned my cheap-looking outfit pretty closely, and
as my horse was not very prepossessing in appearance, having
on only a blind bridle, and otherwise looking like a work
horse, they evidently considered me a green hand at hunting.
"Do you expect to catch those buffaloes on that Gothic
steed?" laughingly asked the captain.
"I hope so, by pushing on the reins hard enough," was
"You'll never catch them in the world, my fine fellow,"
said the captain. "It requires a fast horse to overtake
the animals on the prairie."
"Does it?" asked I, as if I didn't know it.
"Yes; but come along with us, as we are going to kill them
more for pleasure than anything else. All we want are the
tongues and a piece of tenderloin, and you may have all
that is left," said the generous man.
"I am much obliged to you, captain, and will follow you,"
There were eleven buffaloes in the herd, and they were not
more than a mile ahead of us. The officers dashed on as if
they had a sure thing on killing them all before I could
come up with them; but I had noticed that the herd was
making toward the creek for water, and as I knew buffalo
nature, I was perfectly aware that it would be difficult
to turn them from their direct course. Thereupon, I started
toward the creek to head them off, while the officers
came up in the rear and gave chase.
The buffaloes came rushing past me not a hundred yards
distant, with the officers about three hundred yards in
the rear. Now, thought I, is the time to "get my work in,"
as they say; and I pulled off the blind bridle from my
horse, who knew as well as I did that we were out after
buffaloes, as he was a trained hunter. The moment the
bridle was off he started at the top of his speed, running
in ahead of the officers, and with a few jumps he brought me
alongside the rear buffalo. Raising old Lucretia Borgia
to my shoulder, I fired, and killed the animal at the
first shot. My horse then carried me alongside the next
one, not ten feet away, and I dropped him at the next fire.
As soon as one of the buffalo would fall, Brigham would
take me so close to the next that I could almost touch it
with my gun. In this manner I killed the eleven buffaloes
with twelve shots; and as the last animal dropped, my horse
stopped. I jumped off to the ground, knowing that he would
not leave me--it must be remembered that I had been riding
him without bridle, reins, or saddle--and, turning around
as the party of astonished officers rode up, I said to them:--
"Now, gentlemen, allow me to present to you all the tongues
and tenderloins you wish from these buffaloes."
Captain Graham, for such I soon learned was his name,
replied: "Well, I never saw the like before. Who under
the sun are you, anyhow?"
"My name is Cody," said I.
Captain Graham, who was considerable of a horseman,
greatly admired Brigham, and said: "That horse of yours
has running points."
"Yes, sir; he has not only got the points, he is a runner
and knows how to use the points," said I.
"So I noticed," said the captain.
They all finally dismounted, and we continued chatting
for some little time upon the different subjects of horses,
buffaloes, hunting, and Indians. They felt a little sore
at not getting a single shot at the buffaloes; but the way
I had killed them, they said, amply repaid them for their
disappointment. They had read of such feats in books,
but this was the first time they had ever seen anything
of the kind with their own eyes. It was the first time,
also, that they had ever witnessed or heard of a white man
running buffaloes on horseback without a saddle or bridle.
I told them that Brigham knew nearly as much about the
business as I did, and if I had twenty bridles they would
have been of no use to me, as he understood everything,
and all that he expected of me was to do the shooting.
It is a fact that Brigham would stop if a buffalo did not
fall at the first fire, so as to give me a second chance;
but if I did not kill the animal then, he would go on, as
if to say, "You are no good, and I will not fool away my
time by giving you more than two shots." Brigham was the
best horse I ever saw or owned for buffalo chasing.
At one time an old, experienced buffalo hunter was following at the
heels of a small herd with that reckless rush to which in the
excitement of the chase men abandon themselves, when a great bull
just in front of him tumbled into a ravine. The rider's horse fell
also, throwing the old hunter over his head sprawling, but with
strange accuracy right between the bull's horns! The first to
recover from the terrible shock and to regain his legs was the horse,
which ran off with wonderful alacrity several miles before he stopped.
Next the bull rose, and shook himself with an astonished air, as if
he would like to know "how that was done?" The hunter was on the
great brute's back, who, perhaps, took the affair as a good practical
joke; but he was soon pitched to the ground, as the buffalo commenced
to jump "stiff-legged," and the latter, giving the hunter one
lingering look, which he long remembered, with remarkable good nature
ran off to join his companions. Had the bull been wounded, the rider
would have been killed, as the then enraged animal would have gored
and trampled him to death.
An officer of the old regular army told me many years ago that in
crossing the plains a herd of buffalo were fired at by a twelve-pound
howitzer, the ball of which wounded and stunned an immense bull.
Nevertheless, heedless of a hundred shots that had been fired at him,
and of a bulldog belonging to one of the officers, which had fastened
himself to his lips, the enraged beast charged upon the whole troop
of dragoons, and tossed one of the horses like a feather. Bull,
horse, and rider all fell in a heap. Before the dust cleared away,
the trooper, who had hung for a moment to one of the bull's horns
by his waistband, crawled out safe, while the horse got a ball from
a rifle through his neck while in the air and two great rips in his
flank from the bull.
In 1839 Kit Carson and Hobbs were trapping with a party on the
Arkansas River, not far from Bent's Fort. Among the trappers was
a green Irishman, named O'Neil, who was quite anxious to become
proficient in hunting, and it was not long before he received his
first lesson. Every man who went out of camp after game was expected
to bring in "meat" of some kind. O'Neil said that he would agree
to the terms, and was ready one evening to start out on his first
hunt alone. He picked up his rifle and stalked after a small herd
of buffalo in plain sight on the prairie not more than five or six
hundred yards from camp.
All the trappers who were not engaged in setting their traps or
cooking supper were watching O'Neil. Presently they heard the report
of his rifle, and shortly after he came running into camp, bareheaded,
without his gun, and with a buffalo bull close upon his heels;
both going at full speed, and the Irishman shouting like a madman,--
"Here we come, by jabers. Stop us! For the love of God, stop us!"
Just as they came in among the tents, with the bull not more than
six feet in the rear of O'Neil, who was frightened out of his wits
and puffing like a locomotive, his foot caught in a tent-rope, and
over he went into a puddle of water head foremost, and in his fall
capsized several camp-kettles, some of which contained the trappers'
supper. But the buffalo did not escape so easily; for Hobbs and
Kit Carson jumped for their rifles, and dropped the animal before
he had done any further damage.
The whole outfit laughed heartily at O'Neil when he got up out of
the water, for a party of old trappers would show no mercy to any
of their companions who met with a mishap of that character; but
as he stood there with dripping clothes and face covered with mud,
his mother-wit came to his relief and he declared he had accomplished
the hunter's task: "For sure," said he, "haven't I fetched the mate
into camp? and there was no bargain whether it should be dead or alive!"
Upon Kit's asking O'Neil where his gun was,--
"Sure," said he, "that's more than I can tell you."
Next morning Carson and Hobbs took up O'Neil's tracks and the
buffalo's, and after hunting an hour or so found the Irishman's rifle,
though he had little use for it afterward, as he preferred to cook
and help around camp rather than expose his precious life fighting
A great herd of buffaloes on the plains in the early days, when one
could approach near enough without disturbing it to quietly watch
its organization and the apparent discipline which its leaders seemed
to exact, was a very curious sight. Among the striking features
of the spectacle was the apparently uniform manner in which the
immense mass of shaggy animals moved; there was constancy of action
indicating a degree of intelligence to be found only in the most
intelligent of the brute creation. Frequently the single herd was
broken up into many smaller ones, that travelled relatively close
together, each led by an independent master. Perhaps a few rods
only marked the dividing-line between them, but it was always
unmistakably plain, and each moved synchronously in the direction
in which all were going.
The leadership of a herd was attained only by hard struggles for the
place; once reached, however, the victor was immediately recognized,
and kept his authority until some new aspirant overcame him, or he
became superannuated and was driven out of the herd to meet his
inevitable fate, a prey to those ghouls of the desert, the gray wolves.
In the event of a stampede, every animal of the separate, yet
consolidated, herds rushed off together, as if they had all gone mad
at once; for the buffalo, like the Texas steer, mule, or domestic
horse, stampedes on the slightest provocation; frequently without
any assignable cause. The simplest affair, sometimes, will start
the whole herd; a prairie-dog barking at the entrance to his burrow,
a shadow of one of themselves or that of a passing cloud, is
sufficient to make them run for miles as if a real and dangerous
enemy were at their heels.
Like an army, a herd of buffaloes put out vedettes to give the alarm
in case anything beyond the ordinary occurred. These sentinels were
always to be seen in groups of four, five, or even six, at some
distance from the main body. When they perceived something approaching
that the herd should beware of or get away from, they started on
a run directly for the centre of the great mass of their peacefully
grazing congeners. Meanwhile, the young bulls were on duty as
sentinels on the edge of the main herd watching the vedettes;
the moment the latter made for the centre, the former raised their
heads, and in the peculiar manner of their species gazed all around
and sniffed the air as if they could smell both the direction and
source of the impending danger. Should there be something which their
instinct told them to guard against, the leader took his position
in front, the cows and calves crowded in the centre, while the rest
of the males gathered on the flanks and in the rear, indicating
a gallantry that might be emulated at times by the genus homo.
Generally buffalo went to their drinking-places but once a day, and
that late in the afternoon. Then they ambled along, following each
other in single file, which accounts for the many trails on the
plains, always ending at some stream or lake. They frequently
travelled twenty or thirty miles for water, so the trails leading
to it were often worn to the depth of a foot or more.
That curious depression so frequently seen on the great plains,
called a buffalo-wallow, is caused in this wise: The huge animals
paw and lick the salty, alkaline earth, and when once the sod is
broken the loose dirt drifts away under the constant action of
the wind. Then, year after year, through more pawing, licking,
rolling, and wallowing by the animals, the wind wafts more of the
soil away, and soon there is a considerable hole in the prairie.
Many an old trapper and hunter's life has been saved by following
a buffalo-trail when he was suffering from thirst. The buffalo-wallows
retain usually a great quantity of water, and they have often saved
the lives of whole companies of cavalry, both men and horses.
There was, however, a stranger and more wonderful spectacle to be seen
every recurring spring during the reign of the buffalo, soon after
the grass had started. There were circles trodden bare on the plains,
thousands, yes, millions of them, which the early travellers, who did
not divine their cause, called fairy-rings. From the first of April
until the middle of May was the wet season; you could depend upon its
recurrence almost as certainly as on the sun and moon rising at their
proper time. This was also the calving period of the buffalo, as
they, unlike our domestic cattle, only rutted during a single month;
consequently, the cows all calved during a certain time; this was the
wet month, and as there were a great many gray wolves that roamed
singly and in immense packs over the whole prairie region, the bulls,
in their regular beats, kept guard over the cows while in the act
of parturition, and drove the wolves away, walking in a ring around
the females at a short distance, and thus forming the curious circles.
In every herd at each recurring season there were always ambitious
young bulls that came to their majority, so to speak, and these were
ever ready to test their claims for the leadership, so that it may
be safely stated that a month rarely passed without a bloody battle
between them for the supremacy; though, strangely enough, the struggle
scarcely ever resulted in the death of either combatant.
Perhaps there is no animal in which maternal love is so wonderfully
developed as the buffalo cow; she is as dangerous with a calf by
her side as a she-grizzly with cubs, as all old mountaineers know.
The buffalo bull that has outlived his usefulness is one of the most
pitiable objects in the whole range of natural history. Old age
has probably been decided in the economy of buffalo life as the
unpardonable sin. Abandoned to his fate, he may be discovered,
in his dreary isolation, near some stream or lake, where it does not
tax him too severely to find good grass; for he is now feeble, and
exertion an impossibility. In this new stage of his existence he
seems to have completely lost his courage. Frightened at his own
shadow, or the rustling of a leaf, he is the very incarnation of
nervousness and suspicion. Gregarious in his habits from birth,
solitude, foreign to his whole nature, has changed him into a new
creature; and his inherent terror of the most trivial things is
intensified to such a degree that if a man were compelled to undergo
such constant alarm, it would probably drive him insane in less than
a week. Nobody ever saw one of these miserable and helplessly
forlorn creatures dying a natural death, or ever heard of such an
occurrence. The cowardly coyote and the gray wolf had already
marked him for their own; and they rarely missed their calculations.
Riding suddenly to the top of a divide once with a party of friends
in 1866, we saw standing below us in the valley an old buffalo bull,
the very picture of despair. Surrounding him were seven gray wolves
in the act of challenging him to mortal combat. The poor beast,
undoubtedly realizing the utter hopelessness of his situation,
had determined to die game. His great shaggy head, filled with burrs,
was lowered to the ground as he confronted his would-be executioners;
his tongue, black and parched, lolled out of his mouth, and he gave
utterance at intervals to a suppressed roar.
The wolves were sitting on their haunches in a semi-circle immediately
in front of the tortured beast, and every time that the fear-stricken
buffalo would give vent to his hoarsely modulated groan, the wolves
howled in concert in most mournful cadence.
After contemplating his antagonists for a few moments, the bull made
a dash at the nearest wolf, tumbling him howling over the silent
prairie; but while this diversion was going on in front, the remainder
of the pack started for his hind legs, to hamstring him. Upon this
the poor brute turned to the point of attack only to receive a
repetition of it in the same vulnerable place by the wolves, who had
as quickly turned also and fastened themselves on his heels again.
His hind quarters now streamed with blood and he began to show signs
of great physical weakness. He did not dare to lie down; that would
have been instantly fatal. By this time he had killed three of the
wolves or so maimed them that they were entirely out of the fight.
At this juncture the suffering animal was mercifully shot, and the
wolves allowed to batten on his thin and tough carcass.
Often there are serious results growing out of a stampede, either by
mules or a herd of buffalo. A portion of the Fifth United States
Infantry had a narrow escape from a buffalo stampede on the Old Trail,
in the early summer of 1866. General George A. Sykes, who commanded
the Division of Regulars in the Army of the Potomac during the
Civil War, was ordered to join his regiment, stationed in New Mexico,
and was conducting a body of recruits, with their complement of
officers, to fill up the decimated ranks of the army stationed at
the various military posts, in far-off Greaser Land.
The command numbered nearly eight hundred, including the subaltern
officers. These recruits, or the majority of them at least, were
recruits in name only; they had seen service in many a hard campaign
of the Rebellion. Some, of course, were beardless youths just out
of their teens, full of that martial ardour which induced so many
young men of the nation to follow the drum on the remote plains and
in the fastnesses of the Rocky Mountains, where the wily savages
still held almost undisputed sway, and were a constant menace to
the pioneer settlers.
One morning, when the command had just settled itself in careless
repose on the short grass of the apparently interminable prairie
at the first halt of the day's march, a short distance beyond
Fort Larned, a strange noise, like the low muttering of thunder
below the horizon, greeted the ears of the little army.
All were startled by the ominous sound, unlike anything they had
heard before on their dreary tour. The general ordered his scouts
out to learn the cause; could it be Indians? Every eye was strained
for something out of the ordinary. Even the horses of the officers
and the mules of the supply-train were infected by something that
seemed impending; they grew restless, stamped the earth, and vainly
essayed to stampede, but were prevented by their hobbles and
Presently one of the scouts returned from over the divide, and
reported to the general that an immense herd of buffalo was tearing
down toward the Trail, and from the great clouds of dust they raised,
which obscured the horizon, there must have been ten thousand of them.
The roar wafted to the command, and which seemed so mysterious,
was made by their hoofs as they rattled over the dry prairie.
The sound increased in volume rapidly, and soon a black, surging mass
was discovered bearing right down on the Trail. Behind it could be
seen a cavalcade of about five hundred Cheyennes, Comanches, and
Kiowas, who had maddened the shaggy brutes, hoping to capture the
train without an attack by forcing the frightened animals to overrun
Luckily, something caused the herd to open before it reached the
foot of the divide, and it passed in two masses, leaving the command
between, not two hundred feet from either division of the infuriated
The rage of the savages was evident when they saw that their attempt
to annihilate the troops had failed, and they rode off sullenly into
the sand hills, as the number of soldiers was too great for them
to think of charging.
Cody tells of a buffalo stampede which he witnessed in his youth
on the plains, when he was a wagon-master. The caravan was on its
way with government stores for the military posts in the mountains,
and the wagons were hauled by oxen.
The country was alive with buffalo, and besides killing
quite a number we had a rare day for sport. One morning
we pulled out of camp, and the train was strung out to a
considerable length along the Trail, which ran near the foot
of the sand hills, two miles from the river. Between the
road and the river we saw a large herd of buffalo grazing
quietly, they having been down to the stream to drink.
Just at this time we observed a party of returning
Californians coming from the west. They, too, noticed
the buffalo herd, and in another moment they were dashing
down upon them, urging their horses to their greatest speed.
The buffalo herd stampeded at once, and broke down the sides
of the hills; so hotly were they pursued by the hunters
that about five hundred of them rushed pell-mell through
our caravan, frightening both men and oxen. Some of the
wagons were turned clear around and many of the terrified
oxen attempted to run to the hills with the heavy wagons
attached to them. Others were turned around so short
that they broke the tongues off. Nearly all the teams
got entangled in their gearing and became wild and unruly,
so that the perplexed drivers were unable to manage them.
The buffalo, the cattle, and the men were soon running
in every direction, and the excitement upset everybody
and everything. Many of the oxen broke their yokes and
stampeded. One big buffalo bull became entangled in one
of the heavy wagon-chains, and it is a fact that in his
desperate efforts to free himself, he not only snapped
the strong chain in two, but broke the ox-yoke to which
it was attached, and the last seen of him he was running
toward the hills with it hanging from his horns.
Stampedes were a great source of profit to the Indians of the plains.
The Comanches were particularly expert and daring in this kind of
robbery. They even trained their horses to run from one point to
another in expectation of the coming of the trains. When a camp
was made that was nearly in range, they turned their trained animals
loose, which at once flew across the prairie, passing through the
herd and penetrating the very corrals of their victims. All of the
picketed horses and mules would endeavour to follow these decoys,
and were invariably led right into the haunts of the Indians,
who easily secured them. Young horses and mules were easily
frightened; and, in the confusion which generally ensued, great
injury was frequently done to the runaways themselves.
At times when the herd was very large, the horses scattered over
the prairie and were irrevocably lost; and such as did not become
wild fell a prey to the wolves. That fate was very frequently the
lot of stampeded horses bred in the States, they not having been
trained by a prairie life to take care of themselves. Instead of
stopping and bravely fighting off the blood-thirsty beasts, they
would run. Then the whole pack were sure to leave the bolder animals
and make for the runaways, which they seldom failed to overtake
On the Old Trail some years ago one of these stampedes occurred of
a band of government horses, in which were several valuable animals.
It was attended, however, with very little loss, through the courage
and great exertion of the men who had them in charge; many were
recovered, but none without having sustained injuries.
Hon. R. M. Wright, of Dodge City, Kansas, one of the pioneers in
the days of the Santa Fe trade, and in the settlement of the State,
has had many exciting experiences both with the savages of the great
plains, and the buffalo. In relation to the habits of the latter,
no man is better qualified to speak.
He was once owner of Fort Aubrey, a celebrated point on the Trail,
but was compelled to abandon it on account of constant persecution
by the Indians, or rather he was ordered to do so by the military
authorities. While occupying the once famous landmark, in connection
with others, had a contract to furnish hay to the government at
Fort Lyon, seventy-five miles further west. His journal, which he
kindly placed at my disposal, says:
While we were preparing to commence the work, a vast herd
of buffalo stampeded through our range one night, and
took off with them about half of our work cattle. The next
day a stage-driver and conductor on the Overland Route told
us they had seen a number of our oxen twenty-five miles east
of Aubrey, and this information gave me an idea in which
direction to hunt for the missing beasts. I immediately
started after them, while my partner took those that
remained and a few wagons and left with them for Fort Lyon.
Let me explain here that while the Indians were supposed to
be peaceable, small war-parties of young men, who could not
be controlled by their chiefs, were continually committing
depredations, and the main body of savages themselves were
very uneasy, and might be expected to break out any day.
In consequence of this unsettled state of affairs, there
had been a brisk movement among the United States troops
stationed at the various military posts, a large number of
whom were believed to be on the road from Denver to Fort Lyon.
I filled my saddle-bags with jerked buffalo, hardtack and
ground coffee, and took with me a belt of cartridges,
my rifle and six-shooter, a field-glass and my blankets,
prepared for any emergency. The first day out, I found a
few of the lost cattle, and placed them on the river-bottom,
which I continued to do as fast as I recovered them, for a
distance of about eighty-five miles down the Arkansas.
There I met a wagon-train, the drivers of which told me
that I would find several more of my oxen with a train
that had arrived at the Cimarron crossing the day before.
I came up with this train in eight or ten hours' travel
south of the river, got my cattle, and started next morning
I picked up those I had left on the Arkansas as I went
along, and after having made a very hard day's travel,
about sundown I concluded I would go into camp. I had
only fairly halted when the oxen began to drop down,
so completely tired out were they, as I believed. Just as
it was growing dark, I happened to look toward the west,
and I saw several fires on a big island, near what was
called "The Lone Tree," about a mile from where I had
determined to remain for the night.
Thinking the fires were those of the soldiers that I had
heard were on the road from Denver, and anticipating and
longing for a cup of good coffee, as I had had none for
five days, knowing, too, that the troops would be full of
news, I felt good and determined to go over to their camp.
The Arkansas was low, but the banks steep, with high,
rank grass growing to the very water's edge. I found
a buffalo-trail cut through the deep bank, narrow and
precipitous, and down this I went, arriving in a short time
within a little distance of my supposed soldiers' camp.
When I had reached the middle of another deep cut in the
bank, I looked across to the island, and, great Caesar!
saw a hundred little fires, around which an aggregation
of a thousand Indians were huddled!
I slid backwards off my horse, and by dint of great exertion,
worked him up the river-bank as quietly and quickly as
possible, then led him gently away out on the prairie.
My first impulse was not to go back to the cattle; but as
we needed them very badly, I concluded to return, put them
all on their feet, and light out mighty lively, without
making any noise. I started them, and, oh dear! I was
afraid to tread upon a weed, lest it would snap and bring
the Indians down on my trail. Until I had put several
miles between them and me, I could not rest easy for
a moment. Tired as I was, tired as were both my horse
and the cattle, I drove them twenty-five miles before
I halted. Then daylight was upon me. I was at what is
known as Chouteau's Island, a once famous place in the
days of the Old Santa Fe Trail.
Of course, I had to let the oxen and my horse rest and fill
themselves until the afternoon, and I lay down, and fell
asleep, but did not sleep long, as I thought it dangerous
to remain too near the cattle. I rose and walked up a big,
dry sand creek that opened into the river, and after I had
ascended it for a couple of miles, found the banks very
steep; in fact, they rose to a height of eighteen or twenty
feet, and were sharply cut up by narrow trails made by
The whole face of the earth was covered by buffalo, and
they were slowly grazing toward the Arkansas. All at once
they became frightened at something, and stampeded pell-mell
toward the very spot on which I stood. I quickly ran into
one of the precipitous little paths and up on the prairie,
to see what had scared them. They were making the ground
fairly tremble as their mighty multitude came rushing on
at full speed, the sound of their hoofs resembling thunder,
but in a continuous peal. It appeared to me that they must
sweep everything in their path, and for my own preservation
I rushed under the creek-bank, but on they came like a
tornado, with one old bull in the lead. He held up a second
to descend the narrow trail, and when he had got about
halfway down I let him have it; I was only a few steps from
him and over he tumbled. I don't know why I killed him;
out of pure wantonness, I expect, or perhaps I thought
it would frighten the others back. Not so, however;
they only quickened their pace, and came dashing down in
great numbers. Dozens of them stumbled and fell over the
dead bull; others fell over them. The top of the bank
was fairly swarming with them; they leaped, pitched, and
rolled down. I crouched as close to the bank as possible,
but many of them just grazed my head, knocking the sand
and gravel in great streams down my neck; indeed I was
half buried before the herd had passed over. That old bull
was the last buffalo I ever shot wantonly, excepting once,
from an ambulance while riding on the Old Trail, to please
a distinguished Englishman, who had never seen one shot;
then I did it only after his most earnest persuasion.
One day a stage-driver named Frank Harris and myself started
out after buffalo; they were scarce, for a wonder, and
we were very hungry for fresh meat. The day was fine and
we rode a long way, expecting sooner or later a bunch would
jump up, but in the afternoon, having seen none, we gave
it up and started for the ranch. Of course, we didn't
care to save our ammunition, so shot it away at everything
in sight, skunks, rattlesnakes, prairie-dogs, and gophers,
until we had only a few loads left. Suddenly an old bull
jumped up that had been lying down in one of those
sugar-loaf-shaped sand hills, whose tops are hollowed out
by the action of the wind. Harris emptied his revolver
into him, and so did I; but the old fellow sullenly stood
still there on top of the sand hill, bleeding profusely
at the nose, and yet absolutely refusing to die, although
he would repeatedly stagger and nearly tumble over.
It was getting late and we couldn't wait on him, so Harris
said: "I will dismount, creep up behind him, and cut his
hamstrings with my butcher-knife." The bull having now
lain down, Harris commenced operations, but his movement
seemed to infuse new life into the old fellow; he jumped
to his feet, his head lowered in the attitude of fight,
and away he went around the outside of the top of the
sand hill! It was a perfect circus with one ring; Harris,
who was a tall, lanky fellow, took hold of the enraged
animal's tail as he rose to his feet, and in a moment his
legs were flying higher than his head, but he did not dare
let go of his hold on the bull's tail, and around and
around they went; it was his only show for life. I could
not assist him a particle, but had to sit and hold his horse,
and be judge of the fight. I really thought that old bull
would never weaken. Finally, however, the "ring" performance
began to show symptoms of fatigue; slower and slower the
actions of the bull grew, and at last Harris succeeded
in cutting his hamstrings and the poor beast went down.
Harris said afterward, when the danger was all over, that
the only thing he feared was that perhaps the bull's tail
would pull out, and if it did, he was well aware that he
was a goner. We brought his tongue, hump, and a hindquarter
to the ranch with us, and had a glorious feast and a big
laugh that night with the boys over the ridiculous adventure.
General Richard Irving Dodge, United States army, in his work on
the big game of America, says:
It is almost impossible for a civilized being to realize
the value to the plains Indian of the buffalo. It furnished
him with home, food, clothing, bedding, horse equipment--
From 1869 to 1873 I was stationed at various posts along
the Arkansas River. Early in spring, as soon as the dry
and apparently desert prairie had begun to change its coat
of dingy brown to one of palest green, the horizon would
begin to be dotted with buffalo, single or in groups of two
or three, forerunners of the coming herd. Thick and thicker,
and in large groups they come, until by the time the grass
is well up, the whole vast landscape appears a mass of
buffalo, some individuals feeding, others lying down, but
the herd slowly moving to the northward; of their number,
it was impossible to form a conjecture.
Determined as they are to pursue their journey northward,
yet they are exceedingly cautious and timid about it,
and on any alarm rush to the southward with all speed,
until that alarm is dissipated. Especially is this the case
when any unusual object appears in their rear, and so
utterly regardless of consequences are they, that an old
plainsman will not risk a wagon-train in such a herd,
where rising ground will permit those in front to get
a good view of their rear.
In May, 1871, I drove in a buggy from old Fort Zarah
to Fort Larned, on the Arkansas River. The distance is
thirty-four miles. At least twenty-five miles of that
distance was through an immense herd. The whole country
was one mass of buffalo, apparently, and it was only when
actually among them, that the seemingly solid body was
seen to be an agglomeration of countless herds of from
fifty to two hundred animals, separated from the surrounding
herds by a greater or less space, but still separated.
The road ran along the broad valley of the Arkansas.
Some miles from Zarah a low line of hills rises from the
plain on the right, gradually increasing in height and
approaching road and river, until they culminate in
So long as I was in the broad, level valley, the herds
sullenly got out of my way, and, turning, stared stupidly
at me, some within thirty or forty yards. When, however,
I had reached a point where the hills were no more than
a mile from the road, the buffalo on the crests, seeing an
unusual object in their rear, turned, stared an instant,
then started at full speed toward me, stampeding and
bringing with them the numberless herds through which
they passed, and pouring down on me, no longer separated
but compacted into one immense mass of plunging animals,
mad with fright, irresistible as an avalanche.
The situation was by no means pleasant. There was but
one hope of escape. My horse was, fortunately, a quiet
old beast, that had rushed with me into many a herd, and
been in at the death of many a buffalo. Reining him up,
I waited until the front of the mass was within fifty yards,
then, with a few well-directed shots, dropped some of
the leaders, split the herd and sent it off in two streams
to my right and left. When all had passed me, they stopped,
apparently satisfied, though thousands were yet within
reach of my rifle. After my servant had cut out the
tongues of the fallen, I proceeded on my journey, only to
have a similar experience within a mile or two, and this
occurred so often that I reached Fort Larned with twenty-six
tongues, representing the greatest number of buffalo that
I can blame myself with having murdered in one day.
Some years, as in 1871, the buffalo appeared to move
northward in one immense column, oftentimes from twenty
to fifty miles in width, and of unknown depth from front
to rear. Other years the northward journey was made
in several parallel columns moving at the same rate and
with their numerous flankers covering a width of a hundred
or more miles.
When the food in one locality fails, they go to another,
and toward fall, when the grass of the high prairies
becomes parched by the heat and drought, they gradually
work their way back to the south, concentrating on the
rich pastures of Texas and the Indian Territory, whence,
the same instinct acting on all, they are ready to start
together again on their northward march as soon as spring
starts the grass.
Old plainsmen and the Indians aver that the buffalo never
return south; that each year's herd was composed of animals
which had never made the journey before, and would never
make it again. All admit the northern migration, that
being too pronounced for any one to dispute, but refuse
to admit the southern migration. Thousands of young calves
were caught and killed every spring that were produced
during this migration, and accompanied the herd northward;
but because the buffalo did not return south in one vast
body as they went north, it was stoutly maintained that
they did not go south at all. The plainsman could give
no reasonable hypothesis of his "No-return theory" on which
to base the origin of the vast herds which yearly made
their march northward. The Indian was, however, equal
to the occasion. Every plains Indian firmly believed that
the buffalo were produced in countless numbers in a country
under ground; that every spring the surplus swarmed,
like bees from a hive, out of the immense cave-like opening
in the region of the great Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain
of Texas. In 1879 Stone Calf, a celebrated chief, assured
me that he knew exactly where the caves were, though he had
never seen them; that the good God had provided this
means for the constant supply of food for the Indian, and
however recklessly the white men might slaughter, they could
never exterminate them. When last I saw him, the old man
was beginning to waver in this belief, and feared that
the "Bad God" had shut the entrances, and that his tribe
The old trappers and plainsmen themselves, even as early as the
beginning of the Santa Fe trade, noticed the gradual disappearance
of the buffalo, while they still existed in countless numbers.
One veteran French Canadian, an employee of the American Fur Company,
way back in the early '30's, used to mourn thus: "Mais, sacre!
les Amarican, dey go to de Missouri frontier, de buffalo he ron to
de montaigne; de trappaire wid his fusil, he follow to de Bayou
Salade, he ron again. Dans les Montaignes Espagnol, bang! bang!
toute la journee, toute la journee, go de sacre voleurs. De bison he
leave, parceque les fusils scare im vara moche, ici la de sem-sacre!"
INDIAN CUSTOMS AND LEGENDS.
Thirty-five miles before arriving at Bent's Fort, at which point
the Old Trail crossed the Arkansas, the valley widens and the prairie
falls toward the river in gentle undulations. There for many years
the three friendly tribes of plains Indians--Cheyennes, Arapahoes,
and Kiowas--established their winter villages, in order to avail
themselves of the supply of wood, to trade with the whites, and to
feed their herds of ponies on the small limbs and bark of the
cottonwood trees growing along the margin of the stream for four
or five miles. It was called Big Timbers, and was one of the most
eligible places to camp on the whole route after leaving Council Grove.
The grass, particularly on the south side of the river, was excellent;
there was an endless supply of fuel, and cool water without stint.
In the severe winters that sometimes were fruitful of blinding
blizzards, sweeping from the north in an intensity of fury that
was almost inconceivable, the buffalo too congregated there for
shelter, and to browse on the twigs of the great trees.
The once famous grove, though denuded of much of its timber, may
still be seen from the car windows as the trains hurry mountainward.
Garrard, in his _Taos Trail_, presents an interesting and amusing
account of a visit to the Cheyenne village with old John Smith,
in 1847, when the Santa Fe trade was at its height, and that with
the various tribes of savages in its golden days.
Toward the middle of the day, the village was in a great
bustle. Every squaw, child, and man had their faces
blackened--a manifestation of joy.
Pell-mell they went--men, squaws, and dogs--into the icy
river. Some hastily jerked off their leggings, and held
moccasins and dresses high out of the water. Others, too
impatient, dashed the stream from beneath their impetuous
feet, scarce taking time to draw more closely the always
worn robe. Wondering what caused all this commotion, and
looking over the river, whither the yelling, half-frantic
savages were so speedily hurrying, we saw a band of Indians
advancing toward us. As the foremost braves reined their
champing barbs on the river-bank, mingled whoops of triumph
and delight and the repeated discharge of guns filled
the air. In the hands of three were slender willow wands,
from the smaller points of which dangled as many scalps--
the single tuft of hair on each pronouncing them Pawnees.
These were raised aloft, amid unrestrained bursts of joy
from the thrice-happy, blood-thirsty throng. Children ran
to meet their fathers, sisters their brothers, girls their
lovers, returning from the scene of victorious strife;
decrepit matrons welcomed manly sons; and aged chiefs their
boys and braves. It was a scene of affection, and a proud
day in the Cheyenne annals of prowess. That small but
gallant band were relieved of their shields and lances by
tender-hearted squaws, and accompanied to their respective
homes, to repose by the lodge-fire, consume choice meat,
and to be the heroes of the family circle.
The drum at night sent forth its monotony of hollow sound,
and my Mexican Pedro and I, directed by the booming,
entered a lodge, vacated for the purpose, full of young men
and squaws, following one another in a continuous circle,
keeping the left knee stiff and bending the right with a
half-forward, half-backward step, as if they wanted to go on
and could not, accompanying it, every time the right foot
was raised, with an energetic, broken song, which, dying
away, was again and again sounded--"hay-a, hay-a, hay-a,"
they went, laying the emphasis on the first syllable.
A drum, similar to, though larger than a tambourine, covered
with parfleche, was beaten upon with a stick, producing
with the voices a sound not altogether disagreeable.
Throughout the entire night and succeeding day the voices
of the singers and heavy notes of the drum reached us,
and at night again the same dull sound lulled me to sleep.
Before daylight our lodge was filled with careless dancers,
and the drum and voices, so unpleasing to our wearied ears,
were giving us the full benefit of their compass. Smith,
whose policy it was not to be offended, bore the infliction
as best be could, and I looked on much amused. The lodge
was so full that they stood without dancing, in a circle
round the fire, and with a swaying motion of the body
kept time to their music.
During the day the young men, except the dancers, piled up
dry logs in a level open space near, for a grand demonstration.
At night, when it was fired, I folded my blanket over my
shoulders, comme les sauvages, and went out. The faces
of many girls were brilliant with vermilion; others were
blacked, their robes, leggings, and skin dresses glittering
with beads and quill-work. Rings and bracelets of shining
brass encircled their taper arms and fingers, and shells
dangled from their ears. Indeed, all the finery collectable
was piled on in barbarous profusion, though a few, in good
taste through poverty, wore a single band and but few rings,
with jetty hair parted in the middle, from the forehead
to the neck, terminating in two handsome braids.
The young men who can afford the expense trade for dollars
and silver coin of less denomination--coin as a currency
is not known among them--which they flatten thin, and fasten
to a braid of buffalo hair, attached to the crown lock,
which hangs behind, outside of the robe, and adds much to
the handsome appearance of the wearer.
The girls, numbering two hundred, fell into line together,
and the men, of whom there were two hundred and fifty,
joining, a circle was formed, which travelled around with
the same shuffling step already described. The drummers
and other musicians--twenty or twenty-five of them--marched
in a contrary direction to and from and around the fire,
inside the large ring; for at the distance kept by the
outsiders the area was one hundred and fifty feet in diameter.
The Apollonian emulators chanted the great deeds performed
by the Cheyenne warriors. As they ended, the dying strain
was caught up by the hundreds of the outside circle, who,
in fast-swelling, loud tones, poured out the burden of
their song. At this juncture the march was quickened,
the scalps of the slain were borne aloft and shaken with
wild delight, and shrill war-notes, rising above the
furious din, accelerated the pulsation and strung high
the nerves. Time-worn shields, careering in mad holders'
hands, clashed; and keen lances, once reeking in Pawnee
blood, clanged. Braves seized one another with an iron
grip, in the heat of excitement, or chimed more tenderly
in the chant, enveloped in the same robe with some maiden
as they approvingly stepped through one of their own
Thirty of the chiefs and principal men were ranged by the
pile of blazing logs. By their invitation, I sat down with
them and smoked death and its concomitant train of evils to
those audacious tribes who doubt the courage or supremacy
of the brave, the great and powerful, Cheyenne nation.
It is Indian etiquette that the first lodge a stranger enters on
visiting a village is his home as long as he remains the guest of
the tribe. It is all the same whether he be invited or not.
Upon going in, it is customary to place all your traps in the back
part, which is the most honoured spot. The proprietor always occupies
that part of his home, but invariably gives it up to a guest.
With the Cheyennes, the white man, when the tribe was at peace with
him, was ever welcome, as in the early days of the border he generally
had a supply of coffee, of which the savage is particularly fond--
Mok-ta-bo-mah-pe, as they call it. Their salutation to the stranger
coming into the presence of the owner of a lodge is "Hook-ah-hay!
Num-whit,"--"How do you do? Stay with us." Water is then handed by
a squaw, as it is supposed a traveller is thirsty after riding;
then meat, for he must be hungry, too. A pipe is offered, and
The lodge of the Cheyennes is formed of seventeen poles, about three
inches thick at the end which rests on the ground, slender in shape,
tapering symmetrically, and eighteen feet or more in length. They are
tied together at the small ends with buffalo-hide, then raised until
the frame resembles a cone, over which buffalo-skins are placed,
very skilfully fitted and made soft by having been dubbed by the
women--that is, scraped to the requisite thinness, and made supple
by rubbing with the brains of the animal that wore it. They are
sewed together with sinews of the buffalo, generally of the long
and powerful muscle that holds up the ponderous head of the shaggy
beast, a narrow strip running towards the bump. In summer the
lower edges of the skin are rolled up, and the wind blowing through,
it is a cool, shady retreat. In winter everything is closed, and I
know of no more comfortable place than a well-made Indian lodge.
The army tent known as the Sibley is modelled after it, and is the
best winter shelter for troops in the field that can be made.
Many times while the military post where I had been ordered was
in process of building, I have chosen the Sibley tent in preference
to any other domicile.
When a village is to be moved, it is an interesting sight. The young
and unfledged boys drive up the herd of ponies, and then the squaws
catch them. The women, too, take down the lodges, and, tying the
poles in two bundles, fasten them on each side of an animal, the
long ends dragging on the ground. Just behind the pony or mule,
as the case may be, a basket is placed and held there by buffalo-hide
thongs, and into these novel carriages the little children are put,
besides such traps as are not easily packed on the animal's back.
The women do all the work both in camp and when moving. They are
doomed to a hopeless bondage of slavery, the fate of their sex in
every savage race; but they accept their condition stoically, and
there is as much affection among them for their husbands and children
as I have ever witnessed among the white race. Here are two instances
of their devotion, both of which came under my personal observation,
and I could give hundreds of others.
Late in the fall of 1858, I was one of a party on the trail of a band
of Indians who had been committing some horrible murders in a
mining-camp in the northern portion of Washington Territory. On the
fourth day out, just about dusk, we struck their moccasin tracks,
which we followed all night, and surprised their camp in the gray
light of the early morning. In less than ten minutes the fight
was over, and besides the killed we captured six prisoners. Then as
the rising sun commenced to gild the peaks of the lofty range on
the west, having granted our captives half an hour to take leave
of their families, the ankles of each were bound; they were made
to kneel on the prairie, a squad of soldiers, with loaded rifles,
were drawn up eight paces in front of them, and at the instant
the signal--a white handkerchief--was dropped the savages tumbled
over on the sod a heap of corpses. The parting between the condemned
men and their young wives and children, I shall never forget.
It was the most perfect exhibition of marital and filial love that
I have ever witnessed. Such harsh measures may seem cruel and
heartless in the light of to-day, but there was none other than
martial law then in the wilderness of the Northern Pacific coast,
and the execution was a stern necessity.
The other instance was ten years later. During the Indian campaign
in the winter of 1868-69 I was riding with a party of officers and
enlisted men, south of the Arkansas, about fourty miles from Fort Dodge.
We were watching some cavalrymen unearth three or four dead warriors
who had been killed by two scouts in a fierce unequal fight a few
weeks before, and as we rode into a small ravine among the sand hills,
we suddenly came upon a rudely constructed Cheyenne lodge. Entering,
we discovered on a rough platform, fashioned of green poles, a dead
warrior in full war-dress; his shield of buffalo-hide, pipe ornamented
with eagles' feathers, and medicine bag, were lying on the ground
beside him. At his head, on her knees, with hands clasped in the
attitude of prayer, was a squaw frozen to death. Which had first
succumbed, the wounded chief, or the devoted wife in the awful cold
of that winter prairie, will never be known, but it proved her love
for the man who had perhaps beaten her a hundred times. Such tender
and sympathetic affection is characteristic of the sex everywhere,
no less with the poor savage than in the dominant white race.
To return to our description of the average Indian village: Each lodge
at the grand encampment of Big Timbers in the era of traffic with
the nomads of the great plains, owned its separate herd of ponies
and mules. In the exodus to some other favoured spot, two dozen or
more of these individual herds travelled close to each other but
never mixed, each drove devotedly following its bell-mare, as in
a pack-train. This useful animal is generally the most worthless
and wicked beast in the entire outfit.
The animals with the lodge-pole carriages go as they please,
no special care being taken to guide them, but they too instinctively
keep within sound of the leader. I will again quote Garrard for
an accurate description of the moving camp when he was with the
Cheyennes in 1847:--
The young squaws take much care of their dress and horse
equipments; they dash furiously past on wild steeds,
astrideof the high-pommelled saddles. A fancifully
coloured cover, worked with beads or porcupine quills,
making a flashy, striking appearance, extended from withers
to rump of the horse, while the riders evinced an admirable
daring, worthy of Amazons. Their dresses were made of
buckskin, high at the neck, with short sleeves, or rather
none at all, fitting loosely, and reaching obliquely to
theknee, giving a Diana look to the costume; the edges
scalloped, worked with beads, and fringed. From the knee
downward the limb was encased in a tightly fitting legging,
terminating in a neat moccasin--both handsomely wrought
with beads. On the arms were bracelets of brass, which
glittered and reflected in the radiant morning sun, adding
much to their attractions. In their pierced ears, shells
from the Pacific shore were pendent; and to complete the
picture of savage taste and profusion, their fine
complexions were eclipsed by a coat of flaming vermilion.
Many of the largest dogs were packed with a small quantity
of meat, or something not easily injured. They looked
queerly, trotting industriously under their burdens; and,
judging from a small stock of canine physiological
information, not a little of the wolf was in their
We crossed the river on our way to the new camp. The alarm
manifested by the children in the lodge-pole drays, as they
dipped in the water, was amusing. The little fellows,
holding their breath, not daring to cry, looked imploringly
at their inexorable mothers, and were encouraged by words
of approbation from their stern fathers.
After a ride of two hours we stopped, and the chiefs,
fastening their horses, collected in circles to smoke their
pipe and talk, letting their squaws unpack the animals,
pitch the lodges, build the fires, and arrange the robes.
When all was ready, these lords of creation dispersed to
their several homes, to wait until their patient and
enduring spouses prepared some food. I was provoked, nay,
angry, to see the lazy, overgrown men do nothing to help
their wives; and when the young women pulled off their
bracelets and finery to chop wood, the cup of my wrath was
full to overflowing, and, in a fit of honest indignation,
I pronounced them ungallant and savage in the true sense
of the word.
The treatment of Indian children, particularly boys, is something
startling to the gentle sentiments of refined white mothers.
The girls receive hardly any attention from their fathers. Implicit
obedience is the watchword of the lodge with them, and they are
constantly taught to appreciate their inferiority of sex. The daughter
is a mere slave; unnoticed and neglected--a mere hewer of wood and
drawer of water. With a son, it is entirely different; the father
from his birth dotes on him and manifests his affection in the most
Garrard tells of two instances that came under his observation while
staying at the chief's lodge, and at John Smith's, in the Cheyenne
village, of the discipline to which the boys are subjected.
In Vi-po-nah's lodge was his grandson, a boy six or seven
months old. Every morning his mother washed him in cold
water, and set him out in the air to make him hardy;
he would come in, perfectly nude, from his airing, about
half-frozen. How he would laugh and brighten up, as he felt
the warmth of the fire!
Smith's son Jack took a crying fit one cold night, much to
the annoyance of four or five chiefs, who had come to our
lodge to talk and smoke. In vain did the mother shake and
scold him with the severest Cheyenne words, until Smith,
provoked beyond endurance, took the squalling youngster in
his hands; he shu-ed and shouted and swore, but Jack had
gone too far to be easily pacified. He then sent for a
bucket of water from the river and poured cupful after
cupful on Jack, who stamped and screamed and bit in his
tiny rage. Notwithstanding, the icy stream slowly descended
until the bucket was emptied, another was sent for, and
again and again the cup was replenished and emptied on the
blubbering youth. At last, exhausted with exertion and
completely cooled down, he received the remaining water
in silence, and, with a few words of admonition, was
delivered over to his mother, in whose arms he stifled his
sobs, until his heartbreaking grief and cares were drowned
in sleep. What a devilish mixture Indian and American
The Indians never chastise a boy, as they think his spirit would be
broken and cowed down; instead of a warrior he would be a squaw
--a harsh epithet indicative of cowardice--and they resort to any method
but infliction of blows to subdue a refractory scion.
Before most of the lodges is a tripod of three sticks, about seven
feet in length and an inch in diameter, fastened at the top, and the
lower ends brought out, so that it stands alone. On this is hung
the shield and a small square bag of parfleche, containing pipes,
with an accompanying pendent roll of stems, carefully wrapped in
blue or red cloth, and decorated with beads and porcupine quills.
This collection is held in great veneration, for the pipe is their
only religion. Through its agency they invoke the Great Spirit;
through it they render homage to the winds, to the earth, and to
Every one has his peculiar notion on this subject; and, in passing
the pipe, one must have it presented stem downward, another the
reverse; some with the bowl resting on the ground; and as this is
a matter of great solemnity, their several fancies are respected.
Sometimes I required them to hand it to me, when smoking, in imitation
of their custom; on this, a faint smile, half mingled with respect
and pity for my folly in tampering with their sacred ceremony, would
appear on their faces, and with a slow negative shake of the head,
they would ejaculate, "I-sto-met-mah-son-ne-wah-hein"--"Pshaw!
that's foolish; don't do so."
Religion the Cheyennes have none, if, indeed, we except the respect
paid to the pipe; nor do we see any sign or vestige of spiritual
worship; except one remarkable thing--in offering the pipe, before
every fresh filling, to the sky, the earth, and the winds, the motion
made in so doing describes the form of a cross; and, in blowing the
first four whiffs, the smoke is invariably sent in the same four
directions. It is undoubtedly void of meaning in reference to
Christian worship, yet it is a superstition, founded on ancient
tradition. This tribe once lived near the head waters of the
Mississippi; and, as the early Jesuit missionaries were energetic
zealots, in the diffusion of their religious sentiments, probably to
make their faith more acceptable to the Indians, the Roman Catholic
rites were blended with the homage shown to the pipe, which custom
of offering, in the form of a cross, is still retained by them;
but as every custom is handed down by tradition merely, the true
source has been forgotten.