Part 4 out of 9
horses around toward the south, and after getting them on the
south side of Clear Creek, some twenty of our men—just as the
darkness was coming on—rode back and gave the Indians a few
parting shots. We then took up our line of march for
Sweetwater Bridge, where we arrived four days afterward with
all our own horses and about one hundred captured Indian ponies.
The expedition had proved a grand success, and the event was
celebrated in the usual manner—by a grand spree. The only
store at Sweetwater Bridge did a rushing business for several
days. The returned stock-hunters drank and gambled and fought.
The Indian ponies, which had been distributed among the
captors, passed from hand to hand at almost every deal of
cards. There seemed to be no limit to the rioting and
carousing; revelry reigned supreme. On the third day of the
orgy, Slade, who had heard the news, came up to the bridge and
took a hand in the “fun,” as it was called. To add some
variation and excitement to the occasion, Slade got into a
quarrel with a stage-driver and shot him, killing him almost
The boys became so elated as well as “elevated” over their
success against the Indians that most of them were in favour
of going back and cleaning out the whole Indian race. One old
driver especially, Dan Smith, was eager to open a war on all
the hostile nations, and had the drinking been continued
another week he certainly would have undertaken the job,
single-handed and alone. The spree finally came to an end;
the men sobered down and abandoned the idea of again invading
the hostile country. The recovered horses were replaced on
the road, and the stages and Pony Express again began running
Slade, having taken a great fancy to me, said, “Billy, I want
you to come down to my headquarters, and I'll make you a sort
of supernumerary rider, and send you out only when it is
I accepted the offer and went with him down to Horseshoe,
where I had a comparatively easy time of it. I had always
been fond of hunting, and I now had a good opportunity to
gratify my ambition in that direction, as I had plenty of
spare time on my hands. In this connection I will relate one
of my bear-hunting adventures. One day, when I had nothing
else to do, I saddled up an extra Pony Express horse, and,
arming myself with a good rifle and pair of revolvers,
struck out for the foot-hills of Laramie Peak for a bear-hunt.
Riding carelessly along, and breathing the cool and bracing
mountain air which came down from the slopes, I felt as only
a man can feel who is roaming over the prairies of the far
West, well armed and mounted on a fleet and gallant steed.
The perfect freedom which he enjoys is in itself a refreshing
stimulant to the mind as well as the body. Such indeed were
my feelings on this beautiful day as I rode up the valley of
the Horseshoe. Occasionally I scared up a flock of sage-hens
or a jack-rabbit. Antelopes and deer were almost always in
sight in any direction, but, as they were not the kind of
game I was after on that day, I passed them by and kept on
toward the mountains. The farther I rode the rougher and
wilder became the country, and I knew that I was approaching
the haunts of the bear. I did not discover any, however,
although I saw plenty of tracks in the snow.
About two o'clock in the afternoon, my horse having become
tired, and myself being rather weary, I shot a sage-hen, and,
dismounting, I unsaddled my horse and tied him to a small tree,
where he could easily feed on the mountain grass. I then
built a little fire, and broiling the chicken and seasoning it
with salt and pepper, which I had obtained from my saddle-bags,
I soon sat down to a “genuine square meal,” which I greatly
After resting for a couple of hours, I remounted and resumed
my upward trip to the mountain, having made up my mind to
camp out that night rather than go back without a bear, which
my friends knew I had gone out for. As the days were growing
short, night soon came on, and I looked around for a suitable
camping-place. While thus engaged, I scared up a flock of
sage-hens, two of which I shot, intending to have one for
supper and the other for breakfast.
By this time it was becoming quite dark and I rode down to one
of the little mountain streams, where I found an open place in
the timber suitable for a camp. I dismounted, and, after
unsaddling my horse and hitching him to a tree, I prepared to
start a fire. Just then I was startled by hearing a horse
whinnying farther up the stream. It was quite a surprise to me,
and I immediately ran to my animal to keep him from answering
as horses usually do in such cases. I thought that the strange
horse might belong to some roaming band of Indians, as I knew
of no white men being in that portion of the country at that
time. I was certain that the owner of the strange horse could
not be far distant, and I was very anxious to find out who my
neighbour was, before letting him know that I was in his
vicinity. I therefore resaddled my horse, and leaving him tied
so that I could easily reach him, I took my gun and started out
on a scouting expedition up the stream. I had gone about four
hundred yards when, in a bend of the stream, I discovered ten
or fifteen horses grazing. On the opposite side of the creek
a light was shining high up the mountain bank. Approaching
the mysterious spot as cautiously as possible, and when within
a few yards of the light—which I discovered came from a dugout
in the mountain side—I heard voices, and soon I was able to
distinguish the words, as they proved to be in my own language.
Then I knew that the occupants of the dugout were white men.
Thinking that they might be a party of trappers, I boldly
walked up to the door and knocked for admission. The voices
instantly ceased, and for a moment a deathlike silence reigned
inside. Then there seemed to follow a kind of hurried
whispering—a sort of consultation—and then some one called out:—
“A friend and a white man,” I replied.
The door opened, and a big ugly-looking fellow stepped forth
I accepted the invitation with some degree of fear and
hesitation, which I endeavoured to conceal, as I thought it
was too late to back out, and that it would never do to
weaken at that point, whether they were friends or foes.
Upon entering the dugout my eyes fell upon eight as rough and
villanous-looking men as I ever saw in my life. Two of them
I instantly recognized as teamsters who had been driving in
Lew Simpson's train, a few months before, and had been discharged.
They were charged with the murdering and robbing of a ranchman;
and, having stolen his horses, it was supposed that they had
left the country. I gave them no signs of recognition,
however, deeming it advisable to let them remain in ignorance
as to who I was. It was a hard crowd, and I concluded the
sooner I could get away from them the better it would be for
me. I felt confident that they were a band of horse-thieves.
“Where are you going, young man, and who's with you?” asked
one of the men, who appeared to be the leader of the gang.
“I am entirely alone. I left Horseshoe Station this morning
for a bear-hunt, and not finding any bears I had determined
to camp out for the night and wait till morning,” said I;
“and just as I was going into camp a few hundred yards down
the creek I heard one of your horses whinnying, and then I
came to your camp.”
I was thus explicit in my statement in order, if possible,
to satisfy the cut-throats that I was not spying upon them,
but that my intrusion was entirely accidental.
“Where's your horse?” demanded the boss thief.
“I left him down at the creek,” I answered.
They proposed going after the horse, but I thought that that
would never do, as it would leave me without any means of
escape, and I accordingly said, in hopes to throw them off
the track, “Captain, I'll leave my gun here and go down and
get my horse, and come back and stay all night.”
I said this in as cheerful and as careless a manner as
possible, so as not to arouse their suspicious in any way or
lead them to think that I was aware of their true character.
I hated to part with my gun, but my suggestion of leaving it
was a part of the plan of escape which I had arranged.
If they have the gun, thought I, they will surely believe that
I intend to come back. But this little game did not work at
all, as one of the desperadoes spoke up and said:—
“Jim and I will go down with you after your horse, and you can
leave your gun here all the same, as you'll not need it.”
“All right,” I replied, for I could certainly have done
nothing else. It became evident to me that it would be better
to trust myself with two men than with the whole party.
It was apparent from this time on I would have to be on the
alert for some good opportunity to give them the slip.
“Come along,” said one of them, and together we went down
the creek, and soon came to the spot where my horse was tied.
One of the men unhitched the animal, and said, “I'll lead
“Very well,” said I; “I've got a couple of sage-hens here.
I picked up the sage-hens which I had killed a few hours
before, and followed the man who was leading the horse, while
his companion brought up the rear. The nearer we approached
the dugout the more I dreaded the idea of going back among
the villanous cut-throats. My first plan of escape having
failed, I now determined upon another. I had both of my
revolvers with me, the thieves not having thought it necessary
to search me. It was now quite dark, and I purposely dropped
one of the sage-hens, and asked the man behind me to pick
it up. While he was hunting for it on the ground, I quickly
pulled out one of my Colt's revolvers and struck him a
tremendous blow on the back of the head, knocking him
senseless to the ground. I then instantly wheeled around and
saw that the man ahead, who was only a few feet distant, had
heard the blow and had turned to see what was the matter,
his hand upon his revolver. We faced each other at about the
same instant, but before he could fire, as he tried to do,
I shot him dead in his tracks. Then, jumping on my horse,
I rode down the creek as fast as possible, through the
darkness and over the rough ground and rocks.
The other outlaws in the dugout, having heard the shot which
I had fired, knew there was trouble, and they all came rushing
down the creek. I suppose by the time they reached the man
whom I had knocked down that he had recovered, and hurriedly
told them of what had happened. They did not stay with the
man whom I had shot, but came on in hot pursuit of me.
They were not mounted, and were making better time down the
rough mountain than I was on horseback. From time to time
I heard them gradually gaining on me.
At last they came so near that I saw that I must abandon my
horse. So I jumped to the ground, and gave him a hard slap
with the butt of one of my revolvers, which started him on
down the valley, while I scrambled up the mountain side.
I had not ascended more than forty feet when I heard my
pursuers coming closer and closer; I quickly hid behind a
large pine-tree, and in a few moments they all rushed by me,
being led on by the rattling footsteps of my horse, which they
heard ahead of them. Soon they began firing in the direction
of the horse, as they no doubt supposed I was still seated on
his back. As soon as they had passed me I climbed further up
the steep mountain, and knowing that I had given them the slip,
and feeling certain I could keep out of their way, I at once
struck out for Horseshoe Station, which was twenty-five miles
distant. I had very hard travelling at first, but upon
reaching lower and better ground I made good headway, walking
all night and getting into the station just before daylight
—footsore, weary, and generally played out.
I immediately waked up the men of the station and told them
of my adventure. Slade himself happened to be there, and he
at once organized a party to go out in pursuit of the
horse-thieves. Shortly after daylight twenty well-armed
stage-drivers, stock-tenders, and ranchmen were galloping in
the direction of the dugout. Of course I went along with the
party, notwithstanding that I was very tired and had had
hardly any rest at all. We had a brisk ride, and arrived in
the immediate vicinity of the thieves' rendezvous at about
ten o'clock in the morning. We approached the dugout
cautiously, but upon getting in close proximity to it we could
discover no horses in sight. We could see the door of the
dugout standing wide open, and we marched up to the place.
No one was inside, and the general appearance of everything
indicated that the place had been deserted—that the birds had
flown. Such, indeed, proved to be the case.
We found a new-made grave, where they had evidently buried
the man whom I had shot. We made a thorough search of the
whole vicinity, and finally found their trail going southeast
in the direction of Denver. As it would have been useless
to follow them, we rode back to the station; and thus ended
my eventful bear-hunt. We had no trouble for some time
A friend who was once a station agent tells two more adventures of
It had become known in some mysterious manner, past finding
out, that there was to be a large sum of money sent through
by Pony Express, and that was what the road agents were after.
After killing the other rider, and failing to get the treasure,
Cody very naturally thought that they would make another
effort to secure it; so when he reached the next relay station
he walked about a while longer than was his wont.
This was to perfect a little plan he had decided upon, which
was to take a second pair of saddle-pouches and put something
in them and leave them in sight, while those that held the
valuable express packages he folded up in his saddle-blanket
in such a way that they could not be seen unless a search
was made for them. The truth was, Cody knew that he carried
the valuable package, and it was his duty to protect it with
So with the clever scheme to outwit the road agents,
if held up, he started once more upon his flying trip.
He carried his revolver ready for instant use and flew along
the trail with every nerve strung to meet any danger which
might confront him. He had an idea where he would be halted,
if halted at all, and it was a lonesome spot in a valley,
the very place for a deed of crime.
As he drew near the spot he was on the alert, and yet when
two men suddenly stepped out from among the shrubs and
confronted him, it gave him a start in spite of his nerve.
They had him covered with rifles and brought him to a halt
with the words: “Hold! Hands up, Pony Express Bill, for we
know yer, my boy, and what yer carries.”
“I carry the express; and it's hanging for you two if you
interfere with me,” was the plucky response.
“Ah, we don't want you, Billy, unless you force us to call in
your checks; but it's what you carry we want.”
“It won't do you any good to get the pouch, for there isn't
anything valuable in it.”
“We are to be the judges of that, so throw us the valuables
or catch a bullet. Which shall it be, Billy?”
The two men stood directly in front of the pony-rider, each
one covering him with a rifle, and to resist was certain death.
So Cody began to unfasten his pouches slowly, while he said,
“Mark my words, men, you'll hang for this.”
“We'll take chances on that, Bill.”
The pouches being unfastened now, Cody raised them with one
hand, while he said in an angry tone, “If you will have them,
take them.” With this he hurled the pouches at the head of
one of them, who quickly dodged and turned to pick them up,
just as Cody fired upon the other with his revolver in his
The bullet shattered the man's arm while, driving the spurs
into the flanks of his mare, Cody rode directly over the man
who was stooping to pick up the pouches, his back turned to
The horse struck him a hard blow that knocked him down, while
he half fell on top of him, but was recovered by a touch of
the spurs and bounded on, while the daring pony-rider gave
a wild triumphant yell as he sped on like the wind.
The fallen man, though hurt, scrambled to his feet as soon
as he could, picked up his rifle, and fired after the
retreating youth, but without effect, and young Cody rode on,
arriving at the station on time, and reported what had happened.
He had, however, no time to rest, for he was compelled to
start back with his express pouches. He thus made the
remarkable ride of three hundred and twenty-four miles without
sleep, and stopping only to eat his meals, and resting then
but a few moments. For saving the express pouches he was
highly complimented by all, and years afterward he had the
satisfaction of seeing his prophecy regarding the two road
agents verified, for they were both captured and hanged by
vigilantes for their many crimes.
* * *
“There's Injun signs about, so keep your eyes open.” So said
the station-boss of the Pony Express, addressing young Cody,
who had dashed up to the cabin, his horse panting like a hound,
and the rider ready for the fifteen-mile flight to the next
relay. “I'll be on the watch, boss, you bet,” said the
pony-rider, and with a yell to his fresh pony he was off like
an arrow from a bow.
Down the trail ran the fleet pony like the wind, leaving the
station quickly out of sight, and dashing at once into the
solitude and dangers of the vast wilderness. Mountains were
upon either side, towering cliffs here and there overhung the
trail, and the wind sighed through the forest of pines like
the mourning of departed spirits. Gazing ahead, the piercing
eyes of the young rider saw every tree, bush, and rock, for
he knew but too well that a deadly foe, lurking in ambush,
might send an arrow or a bullet to his heart at any moment.
Gradually, far down the valley, his quick glance fell upon
a dark object above the bowlder directly in his trail.
He saw the object move and disappear from sight down behind
the rock. Without appearing to notice it, or checking his
speed in the slightest, he held steadily upon his way. But he
took in the situation at a glance, and saw that on each side
of the bowlder the valley inclined. Upon one side was a
fringe of heavy timber, upon the other a precipice, at the
base of which were massive rocks.
“There is an Indian behind that rock, for I saw his head,”
muttered the young rider, as his horse flew on. Did he intend
to take his chances, and dash along the trail directly by his
ambushed foe? It would seem so, for he still stuck to the trail.
A moment more and he would be within range of a bullet, when,
suddenly dashing his spurs into the pony's sides, Billy Cody
wheeled to the right, and in an oblique course headed for the
cliff. This proved to the foe in ambush that he was suspected,
if not known, and at once there came the crack of a rifle,
the puff of smoke rising above the rock where he was concealed.
At the same moment a yell went up from a score of throats, and
out of the timber on the other side of the valley darted a
number of Indians, and these rode to head off the rider.
Did he turn back and seek safety in a retreat to the station?
No! he was made of sterner stuff, and would run the gauntlet.
Out from behind the bowlder, where they had been lying in
ambush, sprang two braves in all the glory of their war-paint.
Their horses were in the timber with their comrades, and,
having failed to get a close shot at the pony-rider, they
sought to bring him down at long range with their rifles.
The bullets pattered under the hoofs of the flying pony, but
he was unhurt, and his rider pressed him to his full speed.
With set teeth, flashing eyes, and determined to do or die,
Will Cody rode on in the race for life, the Indians on foot
running swiftly toward him, and the mounted braves sweeping
down the valley at full speed.
The shots of the dismounted Indians failing to bring down the
flying pony or their human game, the mounted redskins saw that
their only chance was to overtake their prey by their speed.
One of the number, whose war-bonnet showed that he was a chief,
rode a horse that was much faster than the others, and he drew
quickly ahead. Below the valley narrowed to a pass not a
hundred yards in width, and if the pony-rider could get to
this wall ahead of his pursuers, he would be able to hold
his own along the trail in the ten-mile run to the next
But, though he saw that there was no more to fear from the
two dismounted redskins, and that he would come out well
in advance of the band on horseback, there was one who was
most dangerous. That one was the chief, whose fleet horse
was bringing him on at a terrible pace, and threatening to
reach there at the same time with the pony-rider.
Nearer and nearer the two drew toward the path, the horse of
Cody slightly ahead, and the young rider knew that a
death-struggle was at hand. He did not check his horse, but
kept his eyes alternately upon the pass and the chief.
The other Indians he did not then take into consideration.
At length that happened for which he had been looking.
When the chief saw that he would come out of the race some
thirty yards behind his foe, he seized his bow and quick as
a flash had fitted an arrow for its deadly flight. But in
that instant Cody had also acted, and a revolver had sprung
from his belt and a report followed the touching of the
trigger. A wild yell burst from the lips of the chief, and
he clutched madly at the air, reeled, and fell from his
saddle, rolling over like a ball as he struck the ground.
The death-cry of the chief was echoed by the braves coming on
down the valley, and a shower of arrows was sent after the
fugitive pony-rider. An arrow slightly wounded his horse,
but the others did no damage, and in another second Cody had
dashed into the pass well ahead of his foes. It was a hot
chase from then on until the pony-rider came within sight of
the next station, when the Indians drew off and Cody dashed
in on time, and in another minute was away on his next run.
The history of all Colonel Cody's encounters with the savages during
the time he was in the service of the Pony Express would require many
pages to recite, and as there is naturally a repetition in the manner
of all attacks and escapes in his struggles with the Indians of the
Great Plains and mountains, it would perhaps be but supererogation
to tell them all without taxing the reader's interest.
Many stories of adventure are related of those terrible times, and
at the beginning of the opening of the route across the continent it
was with difficulty that the projectors of the dangerous undertaking
found men willing to take the chances that constantly menaced the
daring riders of the lonely route.
There was an old trapper whose only cognomen among the civilized men
of the border was “Whipsaw.” Of course he must have had another, but
none ever knew of it or cared to inquire.
One day, while in his lonely camp attending to his duties, a Sioux
Indian brought to him a captive Pawnee child about two years old.
The little savage was stark naked and almost frozen. The Sioux, who
was plainly marked by a horrid scar across his face, desired to
dispose of the child to the trapper, and the latter, as was every one
of that class now vanished forever, full of pity and kind-hearted to
a fault, did not hesitate a moment, but traded a knife for the
helpless baby—all the savage asked for the little burden of humanity.
The old trapper took care of the young Pawnee, clothed him in his
rough way, encased the little feet in moccasins, and with a soft
doe-skin jacket the little fellow throve admirably under the gentle
care of his rough nurse.
When the young Pawnee had reached the age of four years the old
trapper was induced to take charge of one of the overland stations
on the line of the Pony Express. The old agent began to love the
young savage with an affection that was akin to that of a mother;
and in turn the Pawnee baby loved his white father and preserver.
As the little fellow grew in stature he evinced a most intense hatred
for all members of his own dark-skinned race. He never let an
opportunity go by when he could do them an injury, however slight.
Of course at times many of the so-called friendly Indians would visit
the station and beg tobacco from the old trapper, but on every
occasion the young Pawnee would try to do them some injury. Once,
when he was only four years old, and a party of friendly Indians as
usual had ridden up to the station, the young savage quietly crept
to where their horses were picketed, cut their lariats, and stampeded
all of them! At another time he made an attempt to kill an Indian
who had stopped for a moment at the station, but he was too little to
raise properly the rifle with which he intended to shoot him.
As it is the inherent attribute of all savages to be far in advance
of the whites in the alertness and acuteness of two or three of the
senses, the baby Pawnee was wonderfully so. He could hear the
footsteps of a bear or the scratching of a panther, or even the tramp
of a horse's hoof on the soft sod, long before the old trapper could
make out the slightest sound. He could always tell when the Pony
Express rider was approaching, miles before he was in sight, if in
the daytime, and at night many minutes before the old trapper's ears,
which were very acute also, could distinguish the slightest sound.
The boy was christened “Little Cayuse” because his ears could catch
the sound of an approaching horse's foot long before any one else.
In the middle of the night, while his white father was sound asleep
on his pallet of robes, the little Pawnee would wake him hurriedly,
saying “Cayuse, cayuse!” whenever the Pony Express was due. The rider
who was to take the place of the one nearing the station, would rise,
quickly put the saddle on his broncho, and be all ready, when the pony
arrived, to snatch the saddle-bags from him whom he was to relieve,
and in another moment dash down the trail mountainward.
It was never too cold or too warm for the handsome little savage to
get up on these occasions and give a sort of rude welcome to the
tired rider, who, although nearly worn out by his arduous duty, would
take up the baby boy and pet him a moment before he threw himself down
on his bed of robes.
The young Pawnee had a very strange love for horses. He would always
hug the animals as they came off their long trip, pat their noses, and
softly murmur, “Cayuse, cayuse.”
The precocious little savage was known to every rider on the trail
from St. Joe to Sacramento. Of course the Indians were always on the
alert to steal the horses that belonged to the stations, but where
Little Cayuse was living they never made a success of it, owing to his
vigilance. Often he saved the animals by giving the soundly sleeping
men warning of the approach of the savages who were stealthily
creeping up to stampede the animals.
The boy was better than an electric battery, for he never failed to
notify the men of the approach of anything that walked. So famous
did he become that his wonderful powers were at last known at the
headquarters of the great company, and the president sent Little
Cayuse a beautiful rifle just fitted to his stature, and before he had
reached the age of six he killed with it a great gray wolf that came
prowling around the station one evening.
One cold night, after twelve o'clock, Whipsaw happened to get out of
bed, and he found the little Pawnee sitting upright in his bed,
apparently listening intently to some sound which was perfectly
undistinguishable to other ears.
The station-boss whispered to him, “Horses?”
“No,” replied the little Pawnee, but continued looking up into his
father's face with an unmistakable air of seriousness.
“Better go to sleep,” said Whipsaw.
Little Cayuse only shook his head in the negative. The station-boss
then turned to the other men and said: “Wake up, all of you, something
is going wrong.”
“What is the matter?” inquired one of the riders as he rose.
“I don't exactly know,” replied the boss, “but Cayuse keeps listening
with them wonderful ears of his, and when I told him to go to sleep
he only shook his head, and that boy never makes a mistake.”
A candle was lighted, it was long after the express was due from
The little Pawnee looked at the men and said, “Long time—no cayuse—
They then realized what the Pawnee meant: it was nearly two o'clock,
and the rider from the East was more than two hours behind time.
The little Pawnee knew it better than any clock could have told him,
and both of the men sat up uneasy, fidgeting, for they felt that
something had gone wrong, as it was beyond the possibility for any
rider, if alive, to be so much behind the schedule time. They
anxiously waited by the dim light of their candle for the sound of
horses' feet, but their ears were not rewarded by the welcome sound.
Cayuse, who was still in his bed watching the countenances of the
white men, suddenly sprang from his bed, and, creeping cautiously out
of the door, carefully placed his ear to the ground, the men meanwhile
watching him. He then came back as cautiously as he had gone out,
and slowly creeping up to Whipsaw, merely said, “Heap cayuses!”
It was not the sound of the rider's horse whom they had so long been
expecting, but a band of predatory Sioux bent on some errand of
mischief; of that they were certain, now that the Pawnee had given
them the warning. Little Cayuse took his rifle from its peg over his
bed, and, walking to the door, peered out into the darkness. Then he
crept along the trail, his ears ever alert. The men seized their
rifles at the same moment, and followed the little savage to guard
being taken by surprise.
All around the rude cabin which constituted the station, the boss had
taken the precaution, when he first took charge, to dig a trench deep
enough to hide a man, to be used as a rifle-pit in case the occasion
It was to one of these ditches that Little Cayuse betook himself, and
the men followed the child's example, and took up a position on either
side of him. Lying there without speaking a word, even in a whisper,
the determined men and the brave little Cayuse waited for developments.
Soon the band of savage horse-thieves arrived at a kind of little
hollow in the trail, about an eighth of a mile from the door of the
station. They got off their animals and, Indian-fashion, commenced
to crawl toward the corral.
On they came, little expecting that they had been long since
discovered, and that preparation was already made for their reception.
One of them came so near the men hidden in the pit that the boss
declared he could have touched him with his rifle. The old trapper
was very much disturbed for fear that Little Cayuse would in his
childish indiscretion open fire before the proper time arrived, which
would be when the savages had entered the cabin. The child, however,
was as discreet as his elders, and although it was his initial fight
with the wily nomads of the desert, he acted as if he had thirty or
forty years of experience to back him.
The band numbered six, as brave and determined a set of cut-throats
as the great Sioux Nation ever sent out. The clouds had broken apart
a little, and the defenders of the station could count their forms
as they appeared between the diffused light of the horizon and the
roof of the cabin.
On reaching the door the Indians stopped a moment, and with their
customary caution listened for some sound to apprise them that the
inmates were sleeping. Suspecting this to be the case, they pushed
the door carefully open and entered the cabin, one after another.
Now had come the supreme moment which the boss had so patiently hoped
for! Whipsaw rose to his feet, and without saying a word to them,
his comrades, including Little Cayuse, followed him. He intended to
charge upon the savages in the cabin, although there were six to
three, for it would hardly do to count the little Pawnee in as a man.
The rider who had been waiting for the arrival of the other then
placed his rifle on the ground, and each taking their revolvers,
two apiece in their hands, ready cocked, advanced to the door.
They knew that the fight would be short and hot, so with the Pawnee
between them they arrived at the entrance. Now the Sioux evidently
heard them, and came rushing out, but it was too late! The Pony
Express men opened fire, and two of the savages bit the dust.
They returned the salute, but with such careless aim that their shots
were perfectly harmless; but as the white men fired again, two more of
the savages fell, and only two were left. The rider got a shot in
the shoulder, but he kept on with his revolver despite his pain,
while the boss, who had fired all his shots, was compelled to throw
the empty weapon into the persistent savage's face, while Little
Cayuse kept peppering the other with small shot from his rifle.
Then the Indian at whom the boss had thrown his revolver came at him
with his knife, and was getting the best of it, when Little Cayuse,
watching his chance, got up close to the savage who was about to
finish his father, and let drive into the brute's side a charge of
shot that made a hole as big as a water-bucket, and the red devil
fell without knowing what had hit him.
Both of the men were weak from loss of blood, and when they had
recovered a little, not far away in the hollow they found the horses
the savages had ridden and that of the express rider, all together.
About a mile farther down the trail they found the dead body of
the rider, shot through the head. His pony still had on the saddle
and the mail-pouch, which the Indians had not disturbed. In the
morning the men carried the remains of the unfortunate rider to the
cabin and buried it near the station, and it may be truthfully said
that if it had not been for the plucky little Pawnee, there would
have been no mourners at the funeral.
That afternoon the men dug a trench into which they threw the dead
Indians to get them out of the way, but while they were employed in
the thankless work, Little Cayuse was discovered most unmercifully
kicking and clubbing one of the dead warriors; then he took his little
rifle and cooking it emptied its contents into the prostrate body.
The boss then took the weapon away from him, but the boy cried out
to him, “See! see!”
Looking down closely into the face of the object of the boy's wrath,
he discovered by that hideous scar the fiend who had captured Little
Cayuse when a mere baby, the scar-faced Sioux from whom Whipsaw had
purchased the boy.
The employees of the Pony Express were different in character from
the ordinary plainsmen of those days. The latter as a class were
usually boisterous, indulged in profanity, and were fond of whiskey.
Russell, Majors, & Waddell were God-fearing, temperate gentlemen
themselves, and tried to engage no man who did not come up to their
own standard of morality.
There was one notable exception in the person of Jack Slade, the
station-agent at Fort Kearney, who was a desperado in the strictest
definition of the term; that is, he was a coward at heart, as all of
his class are, and brave only when every advantage was in his favour.
The number of men he killed in cold blood would probably aggregate
more than a score. One of his most damnable acts was the killing of
an old French-Canadian trapper, whose name was Jules Bernard, who
lived on a ranch on the eastern border of Colorado. While he lived
there he got into a quarrel with Slade, and the latter swore he would
kill Jules on sight. Slade waited five years for his opportunity.
The story is told by an eye-witness as follows:—
I was thirteen years old when Jules married me and took me
to his ranch at Cottonwood Springs. He had three log
buildings side by side; one contained our private apartments,
one was the store, and the other the kitchen and quarters
for the man and his wife who ran the ranch for us.
Slade was a Kentuckian, a very quiet man when sober, but
terribly ugly when drinking. He came to our store one day
fearfully drunk and swore he would shoot some d——d Frenchman
before night, at the same time reaching for his pistol.
Jules knew what he meant and sprang for his shot-gun, the only
weapon near; before Slade could bring his pistol to bear,
Jules levelled his gun and shot him in the stomach, filling it
full of fine shot. He fell, and Jules, going to him, said he
would take him to Denver and pay all his doctor-bills and
other expenses if he would shake hands. Slade agreed to this,
and Jules hitched up a team, hauled him clear to Denver, and
paid his bills there for four or five months. He came near
dying. Jules afterward heard that when Slade got well and
left Denver, he had sworn he would shoot him the first time
they met; so Jules was always ready for him.
One morning long after this Jules started for his old ranch
to get some horses and cattle that had been left there.
He had to pass by Slade's place, and knowing that Slade had
sworn to kill him, he took along a Frenchman living with us,
called Pete Gazzous, and an American named Smith. They rode
in a light wagon, and as they were all armed with rifles,
pistols, and knives, Jules thought he was well prepared to
They watched very close until they got past Slade's ranch,
but saw no signs of any one. They stopped at a spring a mile
or two beyond to water their horses, and as Jules was stooping
down to get a drink, a shot struck him in the leg and broke
it just above the knee. He called to Smith to unharness the
horses, bring him one, and help him on so that they could get
away; but the crowd was so frightened they could not stir,
and in a few moments they were surrounded by Slade and his
band of twenty-five men.
They carried Jules to the ranch, and tied him up to a
dry-goods box. Slade shot at him for a while, aiming as near
as he could without hitting him, finally shooting off one of
his ears; and then he ordered his twenty-five men to empty
the contents of their revolvers into him. They then threw his
body into a hole which they dug.
The next day a lot of Slade's men came and took away all the
goods in the trading-post; they left me about six hundred
dollars. They got three thousand dollars that Jules had when
he left, and they got the stock, I suppose. I never heard
anything about them. They said afterward that Jules had money
in the bank, but we could not find any bank-book, and if he
had one it was probably on his person. I was just a child and
did not know what to do. In a day or two a man came along who
lived on a ranch farther west; he was going to Denver for
goods; he took me, the man, and woman with him to Denver.
Slade eventually drifted into Montana, and in 1865 was hanged by the
vigilantes on suspicion of being the leader of a band of road agents.
He was living on a ranch near Virginia City at the time, and every
few days came into town outrageously drunk, alarming the people by
shooting through the streets, riding into saloons, and proclaiming
himself to be the veritable “Bad man from Bitter Creek.”
The belief that he was connected with matters worse than bad whiskey
had overstrained the patience of the long-suffering citizens.
Soon the suggestive and mysterious triangular little pieces of paper
dropped upon the sidewalks of the town, surmounted with the skull and
cross-bones, called the vigilantes to a meeting at which the death of
Slade and two of his companions was determined upon. The next morning
following the evening of the meeting, Slade came to town with his two
men, actually sober, and went into a drug-store for a prescription.
While waiting for his preparation, twelve shotguns suddenly covered
them, and they were ordered to throw up their hands. Slade complied
smilingly, but proposed to reason with them as to the absurdity of
taking him for a bad man.
The only concession granted, however, was permission to send a note
to his wife at the ranch, and an hour allowed to make his peace with
Ropes were placed around the necks of the three men, who at the end
of the allotted time were given short shrift and were soon hanging
between heaven and earth. While their bodies were swaying in the
breeze, Slade's wife suddenly appeared mounted on a fine horse, with
a cocked pistol in each hand, determined to attempt a rescue.
On observing that it was too late, she quailed before the determined
countenances of the vigilantes. She soon left the scene of the
lynching, and in a short time moved out of the country, carrying with
her, as it was believed, a large amount of the proceeds of her
In the winter of 1860 Mr. Edward Creighton, who had for many years
been engaged in constructing telegraph lines all over the United
States, determined to inaugurate a pet project he had entertained for
a long time, to build one to the Pacific Coast.
In the year above referred to, he had many consultations with the
stockholders of the Western Union, the result of which was that a
preliminary survey was decided upon. Notwithstanding that travelling
by the Overland coach was beset with great danger from attacks by
road agents and Indians, Mr. Creighton was compelled to cross the
continent by the only means of transportation; and, stopping at Salt
Lake City, he excited the interest and enlisted the support of the
great head of the Mormon Church.
It had been arranged to invite the association of the California
Telegraph Company in the enterprise, and, notwithstanding the terrors
of a midwinter journey, Mr. Creighton pressed on on horseback for
Sacramento. It was a fearful trip, but the man who made it was stout
of heart and he braved the rigours of the mountains, accomplished
his mission, and in the spring of 1861 returned to Omaha to commence
the great work. The United States, meanwhile, had granted a subsidy
of forty thousand dollars a year to the first company who should
build a line across the continent. It may well be imagined that
a great race was immediately inaugurated for heavy wagers, between
Mr. Creighton's force and that of the Californians, who were building
eastwardly, each party trying to reach Salt Lake City before the other.
Mr. Creighton had eleven hundred miles to construct, while the
California company's distance from the objective point was only four
hundred and fifty; yet the indefatigable Mr. Creighton reached Salt
Lake City with his completed line on the 17th of October, one week
ahead of his competitors.
On the 24th of the same month, but a little more than half a year
after its commencement, Mr. Creighton had established telegraphic
communication from ocean to ocean. For his remuneration he took
one hundred thousand dollars worth of the stock of the new enterprise
at about eighteen cents on the dollar. When the project was completed,
the company trebled its amount of shares and Mr. Creighton's one
hundred thousand dollars immediately enhanced to three hundred
thousand. The stock at once rose to the value of eighty-five cents,
and he sold out his original one hundred thousand dollars for eight
hundred and fifty thousand, still retaining two hundred thousand
dollars worth of stock.
With the completion of the telegraph across the continent all the
important news could be flashed from ocean to ocean in a few seconds,
so the Pony Express ceased to be necessary; the great Concord coach,
too, was limited to the mere transportation of passengers and express
matter. It was the avant courier of more rapid transit by the
palatial trains of the magnificent Union Pacific system which shod
the old trail with steel, though at the beginning of the era of the
Overland Stage such a railroad was regarded as an idle dream.
THE STAGE ROUTE TO THE PACIFIC.
The excitement caused in 1858 by the alleged discovery of gold in
the vicinity of Pike's Peak created a fever among the people of the
United States, and there was a mighty exodus from everywhere east
of the Missouri, similar to that to the Alaskan regions to-day.
The Missouri River was at that time the western terminal of the few
railroads then in existence, and there was very little probability
that they would make farther progress toward the setting sun.
The individual who had determined to start for the new, but delusive,
western mountainous El Dorado, must perforce make his wearisome
journey by slowly plodding ox-teams, pack-mules, or the lumbering
stage-coach. Such means of travel had just been inaugurated by
Mr. W. H. Russell (then the senior partner of the firm of Russell,
Majors, & Waddell) and a Mr. John S. Jones of Missouri, who conceived
the idea of putting on a line of coaches between the Missouri River
and Denver—the latter place a mere mushroom hamlet, just struggling
into existence, and whose future as yet no man could predict with any
degree of certainty.
It was a bold undertaking, for they had to purchase all their equipage
on credit, giving their notes payable in three months. One thousand
large Kentucky mules were bought, and a sufficient number of coaches
to supply the proposed route with a daily line each way.
There was already a semi-monthly line operated by Messrs. Hockaday
and Liggett, running from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Salt Lake City.
This line was poorly appointed. It consisted of a limited number of
light, cheap vehicles, with but few animals to draw them. The same
team was used for hundreds of miles, as no stations had been
established on the long route. The teams were turned out to graze,
and were obliged to stop often for that purpose. It sometimes
required twenty-one days to make the trip from St. Joseph to Salt Lake.
Under the new régime of Russell & Jones, the coaches made their daily
trips in six days to Denver, travelling about one hundred miles every
twenty-four hours. The first stage arrived in Denver on the 17th of
May, 1859, and its advent was regarded as a great success by those
who knew nothing of the immense expense attending the enterprise.
When the ninety-day notes given in payment for the outfit of the
new route became due, the money was not forthcoming, and it became
necessary for the wealthy firm of Russell, Majors, & Waddell to
meet the outstanding obligations of the delinquent Russell & Jones.
To save the credit of their senior partner the firm had to pay the
debts of the defunct concern, and take possession of all the mules,
coaches, and other belongings of the stage-line to secure themselves
for the amount they had advanced in establishing the Denver route.
In a few months the firm bought out the semi-monthly line of Hockaday
and Liggett, believing that by uniting the two companies the business
might be brought up to a paying standard, at least meet the expenses
if nothing more.
As soon as Russell, Majors, & Waddell took hold of the line, the time
between St. Joseph and Salt Lake, a distance of twelve hundred miles,
was reduced to ten days. The coach ran daily both ways, and stations
were established at distances varying from ten to fifteen miles along
the whole route.
The original trail ran up the valley of the Smoky Hill, or the Smoky
Hill Fork of the Republican, but was shortly after changed to the
valley of the Platte, and starting from St. Joseph, went on to
Fort Kearney, thence following the river to Julesburg, where it
crossed the stream. From there to Fort Laramie, to Fort Bridger,
thence to Salt Lake, through Camp Floyd, Ruby Valley, Carson City,
Placerville, and Folsom to Sacramento.
The old-line coach was a grand swinging and swaying vehicle, an
imposing cradle on wheels, and hung on thoroughbraces instead of
springs. It was drawn by six handsome horses or mules, which were
changed every ten miles on the average; and they fairly flew over the
level road. Baggage was limited to twenty-five pounds, which, with
the care of the passengers, mail, and express, was in charge of the
conductor, who was the legitimate captain of the strange craft in its
long journey across the continent. He sat beside the driver on the
box, and both of them used to sleep in their places thirty or forty
minutes at a time, while spinning along on good roads at the rate of
eight or ten miles an hour.
Over each two hundred and fifty miles of road an agent was installed,
and was invested with great authority. His geographical jurisdiction
was known as a “division,” and his duty consisted in purchasing
horses, mules, harness, and the food for both men and animals.
He distributed these things at the different stage-stations when,
according to his judgment, they needed them. He also had charge of
the erection of all buildings and the water-supply, usually wells.
He also paid the station-keepers, hostlers, drivers, and blacksmiths,
and he engaged and discharged whomsoever he pleased; in fact, he was
a great man in his division, and generally a man of more than average
The conductor's tour of duty was about the same length as the agent's,
or about two hundred and fifty miles. He sat with the driver, and
often, when necessary, rode that great distance all night and all day
without other rest or sleep than that he could obtain while in his
seat on top of the flying coach. Drivers went back over the same
route—over exactly the same length of road, and naturally became
so familiar with it that the darkest night had no terrors for them.
The distance from St. Joseph to Sacramento by the stage-coach route
was nearly nineteen hundred miles. The trip was often made in fifteen
days, but the time specified by the mail contracts, and required by
the government schedule, was limited to nineteen days. This was to
give ample allowance for possible winter storms and snows, or other
causes of detention.
The stage company had everything in their charge under the most rigid
discipline, and the system was as nearly perfect as possible.
The enterprise, financially, was a losing one for the great firm which
organized and operated it, the entire expense exceeding the receipts
by many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Messrs. Russell, Majors, &
Waddell, however, continued its operation until March, 1862, when the
whole concern was transferred to Ben Holliday.
When Holliday took charge, the United States mail was given to it and
immediately the line became a paying institution. The government
expended, in quarterly payments, eight hundred thousand dollars a year
for transporting the mails from the Missouri River to San Francisco.
It was very fortunate for the government and the people generally that
the stage-line was organized at the time it was, and kept in such
perfect condition on the Middle Route, as it was called, when the
Civil War commenced, for it would have been impossible to transport
mails on the Southern Route, previously patronized by the government.
This route ran from San Francisco via Los Angeles, El Paso, and Fort
Smith to St. Louis, and the Confederate government would not have
allowed it to run through that portion of their country during the war.
During the war there was a vast amount of business, both in mail,
express, and passengers, as it was the only practicable line between
California and the great states east of the Missouri River.
Under the indefatigable Ben Holliday his stage-coaches penetrated
every considerable mining camp in the mountains, and as the government
would not, or could not, establish post-offices at these remote points,
the stage company became their own postmasters. They conveyed letters
in their own official envelopes, first placing thereon a United States
stamp. Twenty-five cents was charged for every letter, consequently
the revenue from this source was enormous.
Occasionally on the remote plains, or in the fastnesses of the
mountains, the proprietor of a little store, where he kept a
heterogeneous assortment of such goods as were required by the hardy
miners, would constitute himself the postmaster. Of course he charged
exorbitant rates for the transmission of the mail to the nearest
regular station. It is recorded of one of these self-appointed
officials that, although he transported the mail but once a month,
he still charged twenty-five cents for each letter. He used an empty
barrel for the reception of mail. He cut a hole in the top, and
posted above it the following suggestive warning, to all who sent
letters from his place: “This is the Post-Office. Shove a quarter
through the hole with your letter. We have no use for stamps as
I carry the mail.”
The business of the old line coach increased with startling rapidity.
It aggregated an enormous sum every year. For carrying the mails
alone over the whole route, the government paid twelve hundred and
fifty thousand dollars.
The drivers of the Overland coaches received from one hundred and
fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars a month, and their keep.
Their wages were graduated by their ability and length of service.
Such large salaries were paid because of the great risk run by the
brave men, for their duty was a continuously hazardous one.
All classes of men were to be found among these drivers, from the
graduate of Yale and Harvard to the desperado deep-dyed in his
villainy. The latter sometimes enlisted in the work for the sole
purpose of robbery. The stage with its valuable load of riches and
the wealth of its passengers excited his cupidity.
It is told in the annals of those troublous times on the Old Trail,
how once, in July, 1865, a coach loaded with seven passengers and an
immense amount of gold bullion and other treasure was sacrificed to
these robbers. The passengers were all frontier men, well used to
the contingencies of that trying era; they were also aware of the
strong probability of the coach being attacked before it reached its
destination, and were prepared to repel any premeditated attempt of
that character. All were fully armed, principally with double-barrelled
guns loaded with twenty-six buckshot, a formidable charge with which
to plug a man. They were determined that their hard-earned wealth
should not be taken from them without a struggle. They watched
in turns for the first demonstration of the road agents, having
made up their minds to get the first crack at the thieves.
The driver was known as Frank Williams, and the man who occupied the
post of honour, sitting at his right on the box, was one of the
would-be robbers. On arriving at a very lonely spot on the trail,
this individual on top cried out that the robbers were upon them,
and a hurried shot was fired from the outside. At the same moment
the men inside discharged their pieces. A regular volley was then
shot at the passengers from an ambush alongside the trail, four fell
dead, another was severely wounded in three places, and one saved
his life by lying perfectly still and feigning death as the thieves
emerged from the brush to fire a second time. One of the other
passengers was mortally wounded and the other escaped uninjured by
secreting himself in the brush which fringed the trail.
It seems that the driver had purposely engaged in the service of the
company for just such an opportunity as this, and he deliberately
drove his coach into this sequestered spot where the robbers were to
attack it by appointment. It is alleged that he received his share
of the spoils, and then left the service incontinently. His ill-gotten
wealth, however, did him very little good; for he was tracked to
Denver, and hanged with that sudden promptness for which “Judge
Lynch's Court” is noted, a court that brooks no delay in the execution
of its decisions, and from which there is no appeal.
Over seventy thousand dollars was the harvest of this raid, but none
of the robbers were ever caught excepting the driver, upon whom, as
stated, a well-merited punishment was inflicted.
During the Civil War his route passed through the Sioux country, a
tribe that was at war with the whites, and as there were not enough
troops to protect the line, it was changed from South Pass to
Bridger's Pass on the Bitter Creek route, or as it was then known,
“The Cherokee Trail.”
The mail-line was often attacked by Indians, who killed the employees
and passengers, robbed and burnt the stations, and stole the stock.
Early in the year 1862 the Indians made continuous raids on the
coaches and stations between Fort Laramie and the South Pass.
In April of that year a terrible battle occurred between the
mail-stage and the Indians on the Sweetwater River near Split Rock,
or Devil's Creek. The white party consisted of nine men with two
coaches loaded with mail. They were in charge of Lem Flowers,
the division agent, and Jimmie Brown, the conductor. The Indians
began the attack at early dawn and the white men were so harassed that
they were compelled to run the two coaches alongside of each other,
pile the mail-sacks between the wheels, and throw sand over them for
breastworks. From this barricade they fought the savages the whole
day, but they lost all the stock, and six of the men were wounded.
Several Indians were killed during the fight, and when night came on
they withdrew. Under cover of the darkness the men took the front
wheels of the running-gear of the coaches, put the wounded upon them,
and, drawing it themselves, made their escape to the station of the
Three Crossings of the Sweetwater River.
One of the employees who passed over the route shortly after the fight
and visited the scene of the battle in company with the notorious
Slade, who was then division agent, says: “The coaches were still
standing as they were placed by the party in the fight, completely
riddled with bullets and arrows. Every vestige of leather straps and
cushions was stripped off, the mail-sacks cut open, their contents
thrown out, and the sacks themselves carried off. Valuable letters,
drafts, and bills for large amounts were scattered all over the ground.
This mail was gathered up by the employees, put in gunny sacks, hauled
to Julesburg, and from there forwarded to the Post-Office Department
Another memorable raid was made by the savages on the old line
mail-route on Sunday, the 7th of August, 1864. It was a simultaneous
attack on that portion of the line extending over two hundred miles
from Julesburg eastwardly to Liberty Farm, at the head of the Little
Blue River. The mail-coaches, the stations, travelling freight
caravans, ranches, and parties putting up hay were alike attacked.
Forty people were killed, many ranches and trains burned, much stock
and other property stolen and destroyed in that eventful raid.
At last the raids of the savages along the North Platte had become so
frequent, and the duty so hazardous, that it was almost impossible for
the Overland Stage Company to find drivers, although the highest wages
were offered. At this juncture W. F. Cody decided to turn stage-driver
and his services were gladly accepted.
While driving a stage between Split Rock and Three Crossings, he was
set upon by a band of several hundred Sioux. Lieutenant Flowers,
assistant division agent, sat on the box beside Cody, and there were
half a dozen passengers well armed inside. Cody gave the reins to
Flowers, applied the whip, and the passengers defended the stage in
a running fight. Arrows fell around and struck the stage like hail,
wounding the horses and dealing destruction generally, for two of the
passengers were killed and Flowers badly wounded. Cody seized the
whip from the wounded officer, applied it savagely, shouting defiance,
and drove on to Three Crossings, thus saving the stage.
The only period when the long route up the Platte Valley enjoyed an
immunity from the continuous trouble with the savages, before the
completion of the Union Pacific Railroad, was when General Albert
Sidney Johnston's army, in 1857, had been mobilized for the impending
Mormon war. More than five thousand regular soldiers, with its
large commissary trains and their complement of teamsters, all well
armed, together with batteries of artillery, in passing through the
country so intimidated the Indians, who had never before seen such an
array of their enemies, that they remained at a respectful distance
from the trail.
In the spring of 1865 the Indians seemed more determined than ever
to wage a relentless war along the line of the Overland Stage.
A regular army officer in his journal says:—
During the time when we were guarding Ben Holliday's
stage-coaches, and when attacks on them were of frequent
occurrence, I had an adventure which I think is worth relating.
I was out at one of the lower ranches, and the Indians were
very troublesome. Our guards were nearly all sick or wounded,
and the coaches had to go out insufficiently protected.
One evening the coach was late, and, as to be behind time was
a sure sign that something was wrong, we all felt very uneasy.
The drivers made it a rule to get from one station to another
on time, and if they did not arrive, parties were immediately
started out to the next ranch, ten miles below, to see what
the matter was, the stations being eight, ten, and twelve
On the particular evening in question I had got tired of
waiting, and gone over to the stable-keeper to see if we had
not better take the change horses, go down the road, and try
if we could not find the coach. It was due at the station at
eight-thirty in the evening, and it was now ten, so I was
confident it had been attacked or broken down. While we were
talking, the sentinel on the outpost, whose business it was
to look out for the stage and give notice of its approach,
signalled that the coach was coming. We all ran down the
road to meet it, and soon saw it coming slowly along with
three horses instead of four, and the driver driving very
slowly, as if he were going to a funeral, or hauling wounded.
When we came up to the coach we learned that he was indeed
both conveying a corpse and wounded. On the arrival of the
party at the ranch, Captain Hancock, who was a passenger,
related to me all that had happened, and I repeat the story
as it fell from his lips.
“We were,” said the captain, “driving along smartly in the
bottom, about four miles below, when, just as we crossed
a little ravine, some twenty Indians jumped out of the long
grass and fired on us. The first volley killed Mr. Cinnamon,
a telegraph operator, who was a passenger, on his way from
Plum Creek to some point up the river. He was riding on the
box with the driver when he received the fatal shot, and the
driver caught his body just as it was falling forward off the
coach on the rear horses. He put Cinnamon's corpse in the
front boot among the mail bags, where it now is.
“The first fire had also killed our nigh wheeler, and, as the
coach was going pretty fast at the time, the horse was dragged
a considerable distance, and his hind leg becoming fast
between the spokes of the fore wheel, his body was drawn up
against the bed of the coach and all further progress
“The driver took it very coolly, first swearing fearfully at
the Indians, toward whom he cracked his whip repeatedly,
as if flaying their naked backs, and then, having vented his
spleen, he quietly descended from his box and stripped the
harness off the dead horse.
“Meanwhile the Indians had been circling around us, firing
into the coach every few minutes, and I had got under the
wagon with my clerks, the better to be protected and to fire
at the Indians, who could be seen best from the ground as
they moved against the horizon.
“The driver tried in vain to extricate the leg of the dead
horse from the wheel, but it was firmly wedged in, and after
uniting my strength to his, I found it necessary to take my
knife and amputate the leg at the knee-joint. The body was
at length removed, and mounting the box, the driver bid us
get in, and we were off once more. One of the clerks had been
severely wounded, and, as his wound was quite painful, we had
to drive very slowly; so we were late in getting in.”
While the captain was talking, the driver came to the door
to say the coach was waiting, for on the Plains stages stop
not for accidents or dead men. I bade my friend good-night,
hoping he would not again be interrupted on his journey by
the redskins, and, the driver cracking his whip, the four
fresh bays bounded forward at a gallop, and soon carried the
coach out of sight of the valley.
Next day we buried poor Cinnamon, and sent the wounded man to
McPherson, where he could have medical attendance, and we were
pleased to learn he speedily recovered.
I rode down to where the coach had been attacked, and saw the
dead horse and the ravine from which the Indians had sprung.
The fight had evidently been a sharp one, and I could see by
the trail that the savages had followed the coach nearly to
the ranch, and then struck across toward the Republican,
never stopping, in all probability, until they reached it,
ninety miles distant.
An idea may be formed of the immense proportions to which the old
mail-line service had grown, when in November, 1866, Ben Holliday
sold out his interest to Wells, Fargo, & Company. The main line and
its branches were transferred for one million five hundred thousand
dollars in cash, and three hundred thousand dollars in the stock of
the Express Company. This vast sum only covered the animals, rolling
stock, stations, etc., but in addition to this, the Express Company
was to pay the full value of the grain, hay, and provisions on hand
at the time of the transfer, and this amounted to nearly six hundred
The old line of mail-service continued until its usefulness was
gradually usurped by the completion of the Union and Central Pacific
railroads. The coaches started daily from the eastern and western
terminals of the rapidly approaching iron trail, the gap between
them lessening until on the day of driving the last spike with the
junction of the rails the old stage-line through the Platte Valley
had vanished forever.
SCENERY ON THE TRAIL.
From the earliest westward march of civilization, the beautiful valley
of the Platte, through which the Salt Lake Trail coursed its way,
has been a grand pathway to the mountains, and thence over their
snow-capped summits to the golden shores of the Pacific Ocean.
In a little more than a third of a century, through the agency of
that grandest of civilizers, the locomotive, the charming and fertile
valley has been carved into prosperous commonwealths, whose development
from an almost desert waste is a marvellous monument to the restless
energy of the American people, and of their power to conquer the
In 1842 Lieutenant John C. Fremont travelled up the Blue, on his
first exploring expedition, and arrived in the Platte at Grand Island,
where the party separated, a portion proceeding up the North Fork
of the river, toward Laramie, and another up the South Fork.
The following year the great pathfinder ventured on a second
expedition by the way of the Kansas and Republican rivers, reaching
the Platte at the mouth of Beaver Creek.
In 1847 the Platte Valley became the highway of the Mormons in their
wonderful exodus from Illinois to Utah, and ten years later the
trails made by that remarkable sect were followed by the rush of
pioneers to the newly discovered gold fields of California.
Twelve years later, the beautiful valley was traversed by a greater
rush of adventurers than ever before in its history. In the summer
of 1850 Mr. Green Russell and his adventurous companions discovered
gold on a tributary of the Platte. The report spread so rapidly that
the greatest excitement at once developed on the frontier of Missouri,
which was then the boundary between civilization and the unknown
Far West. In the following spring the exodus to the gold fields began.
The old overland route was famed for its picturesque scenery, but as
the weary traveller slowly trod the dangerous trail, he was too often
in constant dread of attacks by the blood-thirsty savages to allow
his mind to dwell upon the details of the magnificent landscape.
To-day, however, as the same route is practically shod with iron,
the tourist, from the windows of his car on the Union Pacific,
may safely contemplate the historic valley. Its beautiful towns and
hamlets, its cultivated plains, its watercourses, its skyward-reaching
peaks, may be seen in a security which would have passed the very
dreams of a pioneer fifty years ago.
The scenery is sufficiently wild to please the most exacting, even
to-day; for its isolated buttes, rocky bluffs, lightning-splintered
gorges, foaming torrents, fantastically formed bowlders, and towering
mountains brook no change at the hands of puny man, and are as firm
as the rock itself. Under a sky that nowhere else seems to be of
such an intensely cerulean hue, the charm of the region is intensified.
Before a European ever looked upon it, the Platte Valley was for
centuries, in all probability, a gateway to the mountains.
The prehistoric mound-builders, perhaps, travelled its lonely course,
and on through the portals of the great Continental Divide, to the
southern sea. The rude, primitive savage of North America, with whom
the hairy mammoth and primeval elephant were contemporary, in a
geological epoch, whose distance in the misty past appalls, traversed
the silent trail across the continent. He packed on his back the
furs of the colder regions, where he lived. He carried copper from
the mines on the shores of Lake Superior; the horns of the moose, elk,
and deer; robes of the buffalo, the wolf, and kindred animals.
Among his merchandise were masses of red pipestone from the sacred
quarries east of the Missouri. He journeyed with these treasures to
the people of the southwest and exchanged them for what to him were
equally precious: brilliant feathers of tropical birds; valuable gems,
like the revered turquoise; rare metals; woven fabrics, and other
commodities foreign to his own wind-swept and snow-bound plains.
The Platte Valley, for untold ages, was a beautiful, awful wilderness,
thronged by stately headed elk, and the resort of vast herds of
buffalo, deer, and antelope. Until a few years ago their skulls and
bones could still be seen in some localities, scattered thick upon
the ground between the bluffs and the river. Now all the game has
vanished, excepting, perhaps, a few antelope and deer in some favoured
mountain recess, where the white man has not invaded the rocky soil
with his plough.
Until fifty years ago the whole region watered by the Platte was
regarded as a veritable desert, never to be brought under the domain
of agriculture, but forever doomed to a hopeless sterility. Its
inhabitants were a wild, merciless horde of savages, whose only aim
was murder, and an unceasing warfare against any encroachment upon
their domain by the hated palefaces.
The river is very shallow, and for that reason was called by the Otoes,
whose country embraced the region at its mouth, the Ne-bras-ka, and
re-christened the Platte by the French trappers, a term synonymous to
that given by the Indians.
The Platte River, nearly three-quarters of a century ago, was called
by Washington Irving,
The most magnificent and most useless of streams. Abstraction
made of its defects, nothing can be more pleasing than the
perspective which it presents to the eye. Its islands have
the appearance of a labyrinth of groves floating on the waters.
Their extraordinary position gives an air of youth and
loveliness to the whole scene. If to this be added the
undulations of the river, the waving of the verdure, the
alternations of light and shade, the succession of these
islands varying in form and beauty, and the purity of the
atmosphere, some idea may be formed of the pleasing sensations
which the traveller experiences on beholding a scene that
seems to have started fresh from the hands of the Creator.
The valley is wide, and once was covered with luxuriant grass and
dotted with many-coloured flowers. For a great distance along its
lower portions, the banks were fringed with a heavy growth of
cottonwood, willow, and other varieties of timber.
In its solitude at the beginning of the present century, it might
properly be claimed as the arena of the tornado and the race course
of the winds. Climatic changes, which follow the empire of the plough,
have dissipated such atmospheric phenomena as characterized the vast
wilderness in its days of absolute isolation from the march of
civilization, as they have elsewhere in the central regions of the
The revered Father De Smet, who traversed the then dreary wilderness
of the Platte Valley, as long ago as fifty-seven years, thus writes
in his letters to the bishop of St. Louis, of a tornado he witnessed:—
However, it happens sometimes, though but seldom, that the
clouds, floating with great rapidity, open currents of air
so violent as suddenly to chill the atmosphere and produce
the most destructive hailstorms. I have seen some hailstones
the size of an egg. It is dangerous to be abroad during these
storms. A Cheyenne Indian was lately struck by a hailstone,
and remained senseless for an hour.
Once as the storm raged near us, we witnessed a sublime sight.
A spiral abyss seemed to be suddenly formed in the air.
The clouds followed each other into it with great velocity,
till they attracted all objects around them, whilst such
clouds as were too large and too far distant to feel its
influence turned in an opposite direction. The noise we heard
in the air was like that of a tempest. On beholding the
conflict, we fancied that all the winds had been let loose
from the four points of the compass. It is very probable
that if it had approached nearer, the whole caravan would
have made an ascension into the clouds. The spiral column
moved majestically toward the north, and lighted on the
surface of the Platte. Then another scene was exhibited to
view. The waters, agitated by its powerful function, began
to turn round with frightful noise, and were suddenly drawn
up to the clouds in a spiral form. The column appeared to
measure a mile in height; and such was the violence of the
winds, which came down in a perpendicular direction, that in
the twinkling of an eye the trees were torn and uprooted,
and their boughs scattered in every direction. But what is
violent does not last. After a few minutes the frightful
visitation ceased. The column, not being able to sustain
the weight at its base, was dissolved almost as quickly
as it had been formed.
In proportion as we proceeded toward the source of this
wonderful river, the shades of vegetation became more gloomy,
and the brows of the mountain more craggy. Everything seemed
to wear the aspect not of decay, but of age, or rather of
The broad old Salt Lake Trail to the Rocky Mountains coincided with
the Platte River about twenty miles below the head of Grand Island.
The island used to be densely wooded, and extended for sixty or
seventy miles. The valley at that point is about seven miles wide,
and the stream itself, between one and two from bank to bank.
The South Platte was a muddy stream, and with its low banks, scattered
flat sand-bars, and pigmy islands, a melancholy river, straggling
through the centre of vast prairies, and only saved from being
impossible to find with the naked eye by its sentinel trees standing
at long distances from each other, on either side.
The Platte of the mountain region scarcely retains one characteristic
of the stream far below. Here, it is confined to a bed of rock and
sand, not more than two hundred yards wide, and its water is of
unwonted clearness and transparency. Its banks are steep and the
attrition caused at the time of spring freshets shows a deep vegetable
mould reaching far back, making the soil highly fertile. Here, too,
the river forces its way through a barrier of tablelands, forming one
of those striking peculiarities incident to mountain streams, called
by the Spaniards a cañon; that is, a narrow passage between high and
precipitous banks, formed by mountains; a common term in the language
of the mountaineers describing one of these picturesque breaks through
The scenery of the upper Platte is constantly changing, the river
presenting more the appearance of a genuine mountain stream.
Its banks are here and there heavily fringed with timber, rich grass
grows luxuriantly in the flat bottoms, and the dark bluffs which
bound them form a beautiful background, interspersed occasionally
by snow-capped peaks.
In little more than the third of a century the vast area of desert-waste
comprising the valley of the Platte, and beyond, has been transmuted
by that most effective of civilizers the railroad, into great states.
On the terra incognita there have appeared large cities and towns,
whose genesis is a marvel in the history of nations. Peace has
spread her white wings over the bloody sands of the trail, whose
sublime silence but a short time since was so often broken by the
diabolical whoop of the savage, as he wretched the reeking scalp from
the head of his enemy. Where it required many weeks of dangerous,
tedious travel to cross the weary pathway to the mountains, now, in
all the luxuriance of modern American railway service, the traveller
is whirled along at the rate of fifty miles all hour, and where it
required many days for the transmission of news, the events of the
whole civilized world, as they hourly occur, are flashed from ocean
to ocean in a few seconds.
The islands, bluffs, and isolated peaks of the trail have clustering
around them many thrilling legends, stories, and events; some of them
reaching far backward into the dim light of tradition; others having
happened within the memory of men now living. All are strangely
characteristic of the region, and are as full of poetry and pathos
as the epics of ancient Greece, whose stories are the basis of the
literature of the world to-day.
Some traveller, who has visited every picturesque spot on both
continents, has truthfully said: “No! Never need an American look
beyond his own country for the sublime and beautiful of natural
scenery.” Nowhere else on the continent is the landscape for such a
distance so varied, so distinctly picturesque, beautiful, and sublime,
as that which may be viewed from the car windows of the magnificent
trains of the Union Pacific Railway. They swiftly course over almost
the identical pathway once followed by the overland stage-coach,
the pony express, and the slowly plodding ox caravans in the days
when the possibility of a transcontinental trail of steel was regarded
as a chimera.
Less than a hundred miles from the Missouri River is the famous
Loup Fork of the Platte, once celebrated for the great Pawnee Indian
village on its south bank, where, long before the white man encroached
upon the beautiful region, that once powerful tribe lived in a sort
of barbaric splendour. This affluent was so named by the early
French-Canadian trappers because of the numerous packs of wolves that
haunted the region. Game, consisting of deer, buffalo, antelope,
turkeys, and prairie chickens, abounded, while the stream itself was
covered with ducks and geese. During the days of travel by the old
trail, at the crossing-place was a primitive ferry. The current was
always very strong, and when the fork was much swollen, dangerous.
The region watered by the Loup Fork is unsurpassed in fertility by
any other portion of the valley of the Platte. After crossing the
stream, the Union Pacific's track is a perfectly straight line, and
when the fields are golden with the harvests, the view from the train
is the most marvellous agricultural landscape to be found anywhere
on the continent.
A few miles westward, beyond Grand Island, is Wood River, a noted
landmark and camping-place for those who followed the tide of
immigration to Utah, and to the gold fields of California, in 1849.
It was always a pleasant spot, and is now a station on the Union
Pacific Railway. As the tourist crosses the bridge over the stream
in a palace car, he may look down from his window, and meditate on
the brilliancy of the present, and the misty past, with all its
adventures and suffering. The march of civilization has made
wonderful changes in fifty years. It has forced the Indians, the
buffaloes, and the antelopes away from the prairies, and in their
places comfortable homes may now be seen on the sites of old camps.
The pretty little stream still runs its race to the Platte, and
lingering near the bank at the old ford, murmurs its story of the
long ago, as the train rushes by.
After passing Grand Island, the next place of importance between the
flourishing town of Columbus and North Platte is that known as Brady's.
Brady's Island honours the memory of an old-time trapper, who was
brutally murdered by one of his partners in 1847. They were engaged
in their vocation as employees of the American Fur Company, on the
many tributaries of the Platte, and their camp at the time was on the
island that bears the unfortunate man's name. The tradition says
that the little coterie of trappers had landed there to pack their
accumulation of the season's furs for the market of St. Louis, then
the only place where they could be disposed of in the whole West.
The day when everything was about ready for embarkation down the
river to the Missouri, in a rude boat which they had constructed of
buffalo-hides drawn over a framework of poles, Brady and one of the
men were in the camp alone—the others were at work on the bank of
the stream. Brady and the one who was left in the camp that morning
were ever on bad terms with each other, and more than once had
indulged in some severe quarrels.
When the rest of their party returned to the camp preparatory to
starting, they found Brady dead, lying in a pool of his own blood.
His partner, when questioned as to the cause of his death, affirmed
that he was accidentally killed by the premature discharge of his
own rifle, which he had been carelessly handling.
The story was not believed by the men, and the cold-blooded murderer
escaped lynching by his companions only by the better judgment of the
cooler heads of some, who insisted that possibly the tale might be
true. The body of the unlucky trapper was buried near the spot where
he fell, but was soon dug up by the wolves, and his bones left to
bleach in the wintry sun. Portions of them were found eight or ten
years afterward by another party of trappers, and when they recognized
them as those of a human being, they carefully reinterred them.
The party of trappers, sad at the loss of one of their number, started
down the Platte, with their boat-load of furs, but finding the river
too shallow to navigate their frail craft, they were compelled to
abandon it. They themselves carried what they could of its contents
and made the best of their way on foot, two hundred and fifty miles,
to the nearest settlement. In a few days their provisions began to
run short, and as game became scarce, they separated, after making
about one hundred miles of their lonesome journey, each man taking
his own trail toward the Missouri. The murderer of Brady happened
to be a very indifferent walker, and was soon left many miles behind
When the foremost of the party arrived at the Pawnee village, on the
Loup Fork of the Platte, they sent back two members of that tribe to
bring in the lost man, while they continued on their journey toward
the Missouri. A week or more later a small party of trappers
belonging to the same fur company, happening to go near the Indian
village, were stopped by the head chief, who requested them to go
with him, to see a white man who was lying very sick in his teepee.
They complied with the Indian's request, and found the murderer of
Brady at the point of death. He confessed to them how Brady came to
his end; told of his own sufferings, and believed them to be the
justice that was dealt out to him for the unwarranted killing of his
partner. He told them, further, that when his companions left him on
the road, he had tried to light a fire at night with his pistol, and
the charge accidentally entered his thigh bone, tearing it into
splinters. In that deplorable condition he was absolutely helpless;
to walk was an impossibility. He could hardly move at all, far less
dress his wound properly. He managed, by tying a piece of cloth to
a stick, to let any passing trapper know where he was lying.
He remained there for six days and nights, when at last his ear
caught the sound of human voices, and waking up from the stupor which
had overcome him from his weakness, to his great delight he discovered
two friendly Pawnees leaning over him, their countenances filled with
compassion. They gave him some nourishment, tenderly conveyed him
to their village, and had kindly cared for him ever since.
He expired while the trappers were conversing with him.
One of the historic places on the left bank of the North Fork of the
Platte is Ash Hollow, twelve miles distant from the main stream,
famous for a battle between Little Thunder, chief of the Brule Sioux,
and the Second Regiment of United States Dragoons, under command of
Brevet Brigadier William S. Harney; in which some eighty Indians were
slain, and the lives of twelve of our own soldiers lost.
Johnson's Creek was named for a foolish missionary a great many years
ago, who was on his way to Oregon, in company with a party of
emigrants in charge of John Gray.
As they were breaking camp one morning, a band of Sioux suddenly
charged out of the hills, and preparations were immediately made by
Mr. Gray and his men to repel them. Against such a course as this
Mr. Johnson loudly protested. He declared that it would be a terrible
outrage to shed innocent blood, and as the savages neared the camp,
he marched out to meet them and have a talk, notwithstanding that
he was told by his companions that the Indians would not listen to
him for a moment, but would take his scalp.
The deluded fool really believed that the savages would not harm him,
because he was a missionary, and had ventured out among them to do
their race good. Of course he fell a victim to his own ridiculous
credulity; for the moment the Indians came close enough, they
incontinently murdered him, and his hair was dangling at the belt of
one of the warriors before Johnson had a chance to put in a word.
In the fight which ensued three of the Indians were killed, and were,
with the mangled remains of the unfortunate missionary, buried in
Independence Rock is an isolated mass of clear granite, located a few
hundred yards from the right bank of the Sweetwater. Its base covers
an area of nearly five acres, and rises to a height of about three
hundred feet. There is a slight depression on its summit, otherwise
the rock would be nearly oval in shape. In the early days of the
trail, a little soil, which had probably been drifted into the
depression mentioned, supported a few sickly shrubs and one dwarf
The front face of this ancient landmark, like that of Pawnee Rock,
on the old Santa Fé Trail, is covered with the names of trappers,
traders, emigrants, and other men who supposed that their rude
carvings would immortalize them.
The rock derives its patriotic name from the fact that many years ago
one of the first party of Americans who crossed the continent by the
way of the Platte Valley, under the leadership of a man named Thorp,
celebrated their Fourth of July at the foot of the now historic mass
The most prominent inscription on the face of the rock is Independence.
Father De Smet, the celebrated Jesuit priest, says of it in his
letters to the bishop of St. Louis, in 1841:
The first rock which we saw, and which truly deserves the name,
was the famous rock Independence. At first I was led to
believe that it had received this pompous name from its
isolated situation and the solidity of its basis; but I was
afterward told that it was called so because the first
travellers who thought of giving it a name arrived at it on
the very day when the people of the United States celebrate
the anniversary of their separation from Great Britain.
We reached this spot on the day that immediately succeeds this
celebration. We had in our company a young Englishman,
as jealous of the honour of his nation as the Americans;
hence we had a double reason not to cry hurrah, for
Independence. Still, on the following day, lest it might be
said that we passed this lofty monument of the desert with
indifference, we cut our names on the south side of the rock,
under initials (I. H. S.) which we would wish to see engraved
on every spot. On account of all these names, and of the
dates that accompany them, as well as of the hieroglyphics
of Indian warriors, I have surnamed this rock “The Great
Record of the Desert.”
As is the case with nearly all of the prominent bluffs, mountains,
and isolated peaks in the romantic valley, Independence Rock has its
Indian legend. The story as told by an old warrior is this:—
A great many years ago, long before any white man had looked
upon the valley of the Upper Platte, the chief of the Pawnees,
whose big villages extended for some distance along that
river, was known as the Crouching Panther. He was one of the
bravest warriors that the famous Pawnee nation had ever
produced; large in stature, powerful in his strength, yet as
lithe and quick as the animal from which he derived his name.
He was beloved by his tribe, and none of his many warriors
could compete with him for an instant in all the manly games
which afford the amusements of the savages, nor with him in
the chase after the buffalo or the more fleet antelope.
His prowess, too, in battle was far beyond that of any of the
great warriors which tradition had handed down; yet he was not
envied by any, for he was of a loving and kind disposition.
He was equal in feats of horsemanship to the Comanches, which
nation excels in that particular over all other Plains tribes.
In the village there lived a superannuated chief, who
possessed a daughter considered the handsomest maiden in all
the region which was watered by the great Platte. She was as
graceful as an antelope in all her movements, and, as is usual
in the strange nomenclature of the savages who take their
cognomens from some characteristic of their nature, she was
known as the Antelope, because she more resembled that
graceful animal than any other of the young maidens in her
tribe. She would flit from rock to rock, when out gathering
berries, or float down the stream in her birch-bark canoe,
catching fish for her aged father's meals. Crouching Panther
had for a long time had his eyes riveted upon the Antelope,
and would often lie for hours on some high point of rock
watching the youthful girl as she attended to the cares of
her lodge. He never returned from a successful hunt without
sending some choice portion of the buffalo or other animal
he had killed to the lodge of the Antelope.
The arrangements, according to the customs of the tribe, had
already been made for a wedding of the favourite young savages,
when on the night preceding the ceremony a party of Sioux,
the deadly hereditary enemies of the Pawnees, made a night
assault upon the village, and after a terrible fight carried
off a number of scalps, and many prisoners, among whom was
The prisoners were hurried off to one of the remote fastnesses
of the Sioux up in the mountains, in the vicinity of
Medicine Bow River, where, as was the custom of the Indians,
they intended to sacrifice their prisoners by the worst
methods of torture as ingeniously cruel as they could possibly
In two days after the return of the warriors to the Sioux
village was the sacrifice to be made. The friends and
relatives of the Sioux who had been killed in the assault
upon the Pawnees were drawn up around the unfortunate captives,
who were about to be fastened to stakes and stand the terrible
ordeal of death by fire, when suddenly, like a clap of thunder
out of a clear sky, the terrible war-whoop of the Pawnees
sounded in the ears of the now thoroughly frightened Sioux,
who saw, to their dismay, a band of the dreaded Pawnees led
by the intrepid Crouching Panther. Dashing down upon them,
they fought their way to where the prisoners were already
stoically awaiting their terrible fate, and the Crouching
Panther, rushing to where the Antelope was standing, after
killing half a dozen of his foes, caught her up, and throwing
her before him on his saddle, dashed off with his brave
little band of followers before the astonished Sioux could
recover. It was not long before they recovered their presence
of mind, however, and, enraged by the loss of their prisoners,
immediately mounted their horses and quickly followed the
daring Pawnees on the trail.
The Sioux outnumbered the Pawnees ten to one, but Crouching
Panther had just that amount of courage in his nature that
numbers did not stop him when bent on such a mission, and he
had proceeded a great way on the trail with his warriors and
the Antelope toward their native village when they were
overtaken by a vastly superior force, and a terrible fight
took place. Many a Sioux did the Crouching Panther send to
the happy hunting-grounds, notwithstanding that he was
handicapped by the living burden in front of him on his horse.
He was near the rock, when he found that all his warriors,
though having fought bravely, were cut down, and himself alone,
death staring him in the face, or what was worse, the torture
for himself and the girl with him. He jumped from his animal
with the now fainting maiden in his arms, and, rushing up the
mountain, followed by a dozen of his foes, sprang to the edge
of the dizzy height, and stood for a moment confronting his
enemies. The sun was just setting; the valley was flooded
with a golden light, and he stood there with the Antelope in
his arms at bay for a moment, gazing in disdain upon his
pursuers. As one of the Sioux was foremost in his attempt to
seize the Crouching Panther, the latter hurled his hatchet
with terrible, unerring force, and buried it deep into the
presumptuous savage's brain. At the same moment crying out
“The spirits of a hundred Pawnee braves will accompany their
great chief to the happy hunting-grounds of their fathers,”
he pressed close to his bosom the beautiful form of the
Antelope, sprang out into the clear air, and bounding from
rock to rock, the two lovers were dashed to pieces on the
stony ground below.
Chimney Rock, on the Platte, was once a famous landmark in the early
days of the trail. When he reached it, the pioneer traveller knew
that nearly one-half of the journey from the Missouri River and the
Great Salt Lake was over. For miles on either side of it, it was
plainly visible to the lonely trapper, the hunter, and the
Erosion has worn it to an insignificant pillar, but it at one time
was a portion of the main chain of bluffs bounding the valley of the
Platte. Denudation through countless ages separated it from them.
Fifty years ago it was a conical elevation, about a hundred feet high,
from the apex of which another shaft arose forty feet. Its strange
formation was caused by disintegration of the softer portions of its
mass. It is located on the south side of the river, not far from the
boundary line between Nebraska and Wyoming. It looked like a factory
chimney, hence its name.
The origin of “Crazy Woman's Creek,” according to a legend of the
Crows, told by an aged chief to George P. Belden, is as follows:—
Years ago, when my father was a little boy, there came among
us a man who was half white. He said he wished to trade with
our people for buffalo-robes, beaver, elk, and deerskins, and
that he would give us much paint, and many blankets and pieces
of cloth in exchange for furs. We liked him, and believed him
very good, for he was rich, having many thousands of beads and
hundreds of yards of ribbons. Our village was then built on
the river, about twenty miles above where we now are, and game
was very plentiful. This river did not at that time have the
name of Crazy Woman, but was called Big Beard, because a
curious grass grows along its banks that has a big beard.
What I am about to relate caused the name of the river to be
The trader built a lodge of wood and stones, and near it a
great, strong house, in which he kept all his immense wealth.
It was not long until he had bought all the robes and furs
for sale in the village, and then he packed them on ponies,
and bidding us good-by, said he was going far to the east
where the paleface lives, but that he would soon come back,
bring us many presents and plenty of blankets, beads, and
ribbons, which he would exchange as before for robes and furs.
We were sorry to see him go, but, as he promised to return
in a few moons, we were much consoled. It was not long until
our spies reported something they could not understand coming
into our country, and the whole village was in a great state
of alarm. Some of the boldest ventured out, and returned with
the joyful intelligence that the strange objects our young men
had seen was the trader and his people. All the village ran
to meet him, and the sight was strange enough indeed.
The Crows had in those days never seen a wagon, horse, or ox,
and the trader had brought all these things. The wagons they
called teepees on rollers; the horses were giants beside the
little ponies, and the oxen, all believed were tame buffaloes.
There, also, was a squaw, who was perfectly white, and who
could not understand anything that was said to her. She wore
dresses down to her feet, of which she seemed to be ashamed,
and our women said she tied cords tightly about her waist,
so as to make it small. She had very long hair, and did not
plait but rolled it, and, instead of letting it hang down,
wrapped it tightly about her head.
It was not long until the trader had all his wagons unloaded
and his store open. He had brought all the women beads and
ribbons, and the men brass rings. Besides what he sold, he
made many presents; so everybody loved him, for no one had
ever before seen so rich and generous a man.
One day he told the Big Chief to come into the back part of
the store and he would show him something wonderful.
The chief went, wondering what it could be, and when they
were alone, the trader drew out a very little barrel and,
taking a wooden cup, poured out some black-looking water,
which he told the chief to drink. The chief did as desired
and immediately felt so jolly he asked for more. The trader
promised, if he would never tell any one where he got the
black water, he would give him all he wanted. The chief
promised, and the trader gave him another cupful. Now the
chief danced and sang, and went to his lodge, where he fell
down in a deep sleep, and no one could wake him. He slept
so long the warriors gathered about the lodge wondering what
could ail him, and they were about to go to the trader and
demand to know what kind of medicine he had given the chief
to make him behave so strangely when the chief woke up and
ordered them all to their lodges, and to ask no questions.
Next day the chief went to the trader and said he had had
great dreams; that he thought he had slain many of his
enemies, and that the black medicine must be very good to
make him have such pleasant visions. He begged the trader
to give him some more, and he did so. Thus the chief did
every day, and all the village wondered; for they believed
the trader had bewitched him. In former times the chief had
been a very quiet and dignified man, but now he sang, danced
in the streets, and publicly hugged the women, so every one
thought him crazy. The Crows disliked the conduct of their
chief very much, and began to grumble against the trader;
for they thought he was to blame for the great change that
had come over their chief. Some said he was bewitched,
others that the trader had an evil spirit in one of his boxes,
and thus they talked, some believing one thing, and some
another, but all blaming him. One of the young warriors
called a secret council, and the matter was discussed, and
it was finally decided that the trader must leave or they
would put him to death. A warrior, who was a great friend
of the trader, was sent to tell him of the decision of the
council, and when he did so, the trader laughed and said if
he would come into the back of the store, and never tell
anybody, he would show him what ailed the chief. The warrior
went, and the trader gave him a ladleful of the black water
to drink. Presently he began to sing and dance about, and
then went out into the street and sang, which greatly
surprised every one, for he had never done so before.
The young men gathered about him and asked him what ailed him,
but he only said, “Oh, go to the trader and get some of the
black water!” So they went to the trader and inquired what
kind of black water he had that affected people so strangely;
and the trader told them he had only the same kind of water
they drank, and brought out his pail, that they all might
drink. Each warrior took up the ladle and drank some, and
made the trader drink some, and then they sat down to wait
and see if it would affect them like the chief and their
brother-warrior; but it did not, and they rose up and said,
“The trader or our brother lies, and we will see who is the
liar.” They went to the warrior's lodge and found him sound
asleep, nor could they wake him. Two remained to watch by
him, and the others went to their teepees. When the sun
was up, the warriors rose, and, seeing the others sitting
in his tent, said, “Why are you here, my brothers?” And the
eldest of the two warriors replied, “You have lied to us,
for the trader has no black water.” The warrior, recollecting
his promise not to tell, said, “It is true that the trader has
no black water, and who said he had?” They explained to him
his conduct of the day before, at which he was greatly
astonished, and he declared if such was the case he must have
been very sick in his head and not known what he said.
Thereupon the warriors withdrew and reported all to their
brethren. The warriors were greatly perplexed, and knew not
what to do or think, but decided to wait and see.
The chief and warrior were now drunk every day, and the young
chief called another council. It was long and stormy in its
debate, all the wise men speaking, but no one giving such
counsel as the others would accept. At last a young warrior
rose and said that he had watched, and that it was true that
the trader had a black water which he gave the chief and
warrior to drink; for he had made a hole in the wall of the
trader's store and through it saw them drinking the black
water. He advised them to bring the trader and warrior
before them, and he would accuse them to their face of what
he had seen, and if they denied the truth he would fight them.
This speech was received with great satisfaction, and the
young chief at once sent some warriors to fetch the trader
and their brother.
When they were come into the council and seated, the young
warrior repeated all he had said, and asked if it were not
true that they would fight him.
The warrior who was first asked rose up and said the young
warrior lied, and that he was ready to fight him; but when
the trader was told to stand up and answer, he, seeing there
was no use in denying the matter, confessed all. He said the
black water was given him by the white people, a great many
of whom drank it, and it made them behave as they had seen
the chief and the warrior do. He also told them that after
a man drank of it he felt happy, laughed and sang, and when
he lay down he dreamed pleasant dreams and slew his enemies.
The curiosity of the warriors was greatly excited and the
young chief bade the trader go and bring some of his black
water, that they might taste it. He was about to depart when
the young warrior who had before spoken rose and desired him
to be seated, when he said: “The warriors heard my speech,
and it was good. The brother, however, when I asked him if
he would tell the council the truth, said I lied, and he
would fight me. Let us now go out of the village and fight.”
The young chief asked the drunkard if he had anything to say,
when he rose and addressed the council as follows:—
“Oh, my brethren, it is true that I have drunk of the black
water, and that I have lied. When the trader first gave it
to me to drink, he made me promise that I would never tell
what it was, or where I got it, and he has many times since
said if I told any one he would never give me any more to
drink. Oh, my brethren, the black water is most wonderful,
and I have come to love it better than my life, or the truth.
The fear of never having any more of it to drink made me lie,
and I have nothing more to say but that I am ready to fight.”
Then the council adjourned, and every one went out to see
the warriors fight. They were both men of great skill and
bravery, and the whole village came to see the battle.
He who drank the black water was the best spears-man in the
tribe, and every one expected to see the other warrior killed.
The spears were brought, and when they were given to the
combatants it was seen that the hand of him who had lied
shook so he could hardly hold his spear. At this his friends
rallied him, and asked him if he was afraid. He replied that
his heart was brave, but that his hand trembled, though not