I just anchored in astonishment.
Where are they? Over the plains in all directions they go, as the choice meat hunters cut them out, while in a jumbled mass, circling all around is the main body. The clouds of dust gradually rise as if a curtain was lifted, horses stop as buffaloes drop, until there is a clear panoramic view of a busy scene all quiet, everything still save a few fleet ones in the distance ; horses riderless, browsing proudly conscious of success; the prairie dotted here, there, everywhere with dead bison; and happy, hungry hunters skinning, cutting, slashing the late proud monarch of the plains.
I was so interested in the sight that I came near being left, when fortunately a lucky long-range shot the only one fired during the day at a stray heifer saved my reputation. In about two hours every pony was loaded, their packing being quite a study that would need a deserved and lengthy description. It was wonderful. As I had walked a great deal, I proposed to return on horseback, and for that I chose the shorter way to reach the camp. Every pony was packed down only mine, seeing which "Peter's papoose" 'the sun chief' invited himself up behind.
Talk of gall—an Indian has got more cheek than a Government mule. He laughed at my objections, but as he had loaned me the pony I had to submit. He even directed the gait, and kept up a continual jabbering of 'Wisgoots, ugh! De goinartsonse stak-ees, ugh! A reproduction, as far as practical, of the method of buffalo hunting, will be a feature of a Buffalo Bill's "Wild West," with a herd of bison, real Indians, hunters, and Western ponies.
The denizens of the Eastern States of the Union are accustomed to regard the West as the region of romance and adventure. And, in truth, its history abounds with thrilling incidents and surprising changes. Every inch of that beautiful country has been won from a cruel and savage foe by danger and conflict. In the terrible wars of the border which marked the early years of the Western settlements, the men signalized themselves by performing prodigies of valor, while the women, in their heroic courage and endurance, afforded a splendid example of devotion and self-sacrifice.
The history of the wagon trains and stage coaches that preceded the railway is written all over with blood, and the story of suffering and disaster, often as it has been repeated, is only known in all of its horrid details to the bold frontiersmen, who, as scouts and rangers, penetrated the strongholds of the Indians, and, backed by the gallant men of the army, became the vanguard of Western civilization and the terror of the red man. Among the most stirring episodes in the life of the Western pioneer are those connected with the opening of new lines of travel, for it is here, among the trails and canyons, where lurk the desperadoes of both races, that he is brought face to face with danger in its deadliest forms.
No better illustration of this fact is furnished than in the history of the famous Deadwood coach , the scarred and weather-beaten veteran of the original "star route" line of stages, established at a time when it was worth a man's life to sit on its box and journey from one end of its destination to the other. It will be observed that it is a heavily built Concord stage and is intended for a team of six horses.
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The body is swung on a pair of heavy leather underbraces, and has the usual thick "perches," "Jacks," and brakes belonging to such a vehicle. It has a large leather "boot" behind, and another at the driver's foot-board. The coach was intended to seat twenty-one men—the driver and two men beside him, twelve inside, and the other six on top. As it now stands, the leather blinds of the window are worn, the paint is faded, and it has a battered and travel-stained aspect that tells the story of hardship and adventure.
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Its trips began in , when the owners were Messrs. Owing to the long distance and dangers, the drivers were always chosen for their coolness, courage, and skill. In its first season the dangerous places on the route were Buffalo Gap, Lame Johnny Creek, Red Canyon, and Squaw Gap, all of which were made famous by scenes of slaughter and the deviltry of the banditti. Conspicuous among the latter were "Curley" Grimes, who was killed at Hogan's Ranch; "wooden-Legged" Bradley, who was killed on the Cheyenne River; "Dunk" Blackburn, who is now in the Nebraska State Prison, and others of the same class, representing the most fearless of the road agents of the West.
On the occasion of the first attack, the driver, John Slaughter, a son of the present marshal of Cheyenne, was shot to pieces with buckshot. He fell to the ground, and the team ran away, escaping with the passengers and mail, and safely reached Greely's Station. This occurred at White Wood Canyon. Slaughter's body was recovered, brought to Deadwood, and thence carried to Cheyenne, where it is now buried.
The old coach here received its "baptism of fire," and during the ensuing summer passed through a variety of similar experiences, being frequently attacked. One of the most terrific of these raids was made by the Sioux Indians, but the assault was successfully repelled, although the two leading horses were killed. Several commercial travelers next suffered from a successful ambush, on which occasion a Mr. Liebman, of Chicago, was killed, and his companion shot through the shoulder. After this stormy period, it was fitted up as a treasure coach, and naturally became an object of renewed interest to the robbers; but, owing to the strong force of what is known as "shotgun messengers" who accompanied the coach, it was a long time before the bandits succeeded in accomplishing their purpose.
Among the most prominent of these messengers were Scott Davis, a splendid scout, and one of the self-appointed undertakers of many of the lawless characters of the neighborhood; Boone May, one of the best pistol shots in the Rocky Mountain region, who killed Bill Price in the streets of Deadwood, together with "Curley" Grimes, one of the road agents; Jim May, a worthy brother—a twin in courage if not in birth. Few men have had more desperate encounters than he, and the transgressors of the law have had many an occasion to feel the results of his keen eye and strong arm whenever it has become necessary to face men who are prepared to "die with their boots on.
These men constituted a sextet of as brave fellows as could be found on the frontier, and their names are all well known in that country. At last, however, some of them came to grief. The bandits themselves were old fighters. The shrewdness of one party was offset by that of the other, and on an unlucky day the celebrated Cold Springs tragedy occurred. The station had been captured, and the road agents secretly occupied the place.
The stage arrived in its usual manner, and without suspicion of danger the driver, Gene Barnett, halted at the stable door.
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An instant afterwards a volley was delivered that killed Hughey Stevenson, sent the buckshot through the body of Gail Hill, and dangerously wounded two others of the guards. The bandits then captured the outfit, amounting to some sixty thousand dollars in gold. On another occasion the coach was attacked, and, when the driver was killed, saved by a woman—Martha Canary, better known at the present time in the wild history of the frontier as "Calamity Jane.
When Buffalo Bill returned from his scout with General Crook, in , he rode in this same stage, bringing with him the scalps of several of the Indians whom he had met.
When afterwards he learned that it had been attacked and abandoned and was lying neglected on the plains, he organized a party, and, starting on the trail, rescued and brought the vehicle into camp. With the sentiment that attaches to a man whose life has been identified with the excitement of the far West, the scout has now secured the coach from Colonel Voorhees, the manager of the Black Hills stage line, and hereafter it will play a different role in its history from that of inviting murder and being the tomb of its passengers.
And yet the "Deadwood Coach" will play no small part in the entertainment that has been organized by Buffalo Bill and partners for the purpose of representing some of the most startling realities of Western life, in a vivid representation of one of the Indian and road agents' combined attacks. Among the many features of "The Wild West" not the least attractive will be the advent in Europe of a band of veritable "cowboys," a class without whose aid the great grazing pampas of the West would be valueless, and the Eastern necessities of the table, the tan-yard, and the factory would be meagre.
These will be the genuine cattle herders of a reputable trade, and not the later misnomers of "the road," who, in assuming an honored title, have tarnished it in the East, while being in fact the cowboys' greatest foe, the thieving, criminal "rustler. The cowboy! How often spoken of, how falsely imagined, how greatly despised where not known , how little understood! I have quite a lot of personal experience of this. How sneeringly referred to, and how little appreciated, although his title has been gained by the possession of many of the noblest qualities that form the romantic hero of the poet, novelist and historian: the plainsman and the scout.
What a school it has been for the latter! As "tall oaks from little acorns grow," the cowboy serves a purpose, and often develops into the most celebrated ranchman, guide, cattle king, Indian fighter, and dashing ranger. How old Sam Houston loved them, how the Mexicans hated them, how Davy Crockett admired them, and how much you "beef-eaters" of the rest of the country owe to them, is a large-sized conundrum. They are composed for the most part of those "to the manner born," but are also recruited largely from Eastern young men who, seduced by tales of sundry daring explorers, have walked out on their studies, their books and their relatives, whilst their teachers, parents, and guardians were slumbering, and have embraced a life of freedom on the prairies.
As the rebellious kid of old times filled a handkerchief always a handkerchief, I believe with his all, and followed the trail of his idol, Columbus, and became a sailor bold, the more ambitious and adventurous youngster of later days freezes on to a double-barreled pistol, and steers for the bald prairie to seek fortune and experience. If he don't get his system full, it's only because the young man weakens, takes a back seat, or fails to become a "Texas Cowboy.
As there are generally openings, likely young fellows can enter, and not fail to be put through. If he is a stayer, youth and size will be no disadvantage for his start in, as certain lines of the business are peculiarly adapted to the light young horsemen, and such are highly esteemed when they become thoroughbreds, and fully possessed of "cow sense.
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Now, "cow sense" in Texas implies a thorough knowledge of the business, and a natural instinct to divine every thought, trick, intention, want, habit, or desire of his drove, under any and all circumstances. The boys grow old soon, and the old cattle-men seem to grow young; thus it is that the name is applied to all who follow the trade. As the railroads have now put an end to the old-time trips, I will have to go back a few years to find a proper estimate of the duties and dangers, delights and joys, trials and troubles, when off the ranch.
The ranch itself and the cattle trade in the state still flourish in their old-time glory, but are being slowly encroached upon by the modern improvements that will, in course of time, wipe out the necessity of his day, the typical subject of my sketch. Before being counted in and fully endorsed, the candidate has had to become an expert horseman, and test the many eccentricities of the stubborn mustang; enjoy the beauties, learn to catch, throw, fondle — oh! Now his troubles begin I have been worn to a frizzled end many a time before I began ; but after this he will learn to enjoy them — after they are over.
As the general trade on the range has often been described, I'll simply refer to a few incidents of a trip over the plains to the cattle markets of the North, through the wild and unsettled portions of the Territories, varying in distance from six to eight hundred leagues — time, three to six months — extending through the Indian Territory and Kansas to Nebraska, Colorado, Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, and sometimes as far as California.