Gateway to the Classics: Buffalo Bill by Frank Lee Beals
Buffalo Bill by  Frank Lee Beals

War Bonnet Creek

T WO hours later the Fifth Cavalry had broken camp and was on its way. Bill, mounted on a white horse, was in the lead. The race for War Bonnet Creek was on!

"We can't make good time until daylight," Bill said to himself. He kept his horse at a steady trot over the trail. "But we are on our way," he added.

On through the darkness the Fifth followed its chief scout. The men rode silently. They kept their mounts at a steady pace.

At last the early morning light spread across the plains. The trail was now easy to follow. The men urged their horses to greater speed. They came to a small stream. A halt was called for a short rest and breakfast of hardtack and cold meat.

"General," said Bill, "I am going on ahead. Keep the men moving and keep them together."

"All right, Cody," replied the general with a smile. "We will carry out your orders."

Bill rode on. He watched the trail and studied the distant rolling hills. Now and then, some faraway object attracted his attention. Each time he kept his keen eyes on the object until he was certain that it was not an Indian.

"If that were an Indian," he said to himself, "I would know it by this time. Their scouts always give themselves away by running and jumping around. But I am not going to tell them how I think they should scout," he laughed.

Several times during the day Bill rode back and reported to the general and then rode on ahead again. Late in the afternoon, he reported, "We can reach War Bonnet Creek tonight if we ride on without our supply wagons. If we travel with the wagon train we won't reach the creek until sometime tomorrow morning."

The general frowned. "We need our supplies. But we must reach War Bonnet Creek before the Cheyennes."

"Then I suggest that we leave one company of men to follow with the wagon train," said Bill. "The rest of the cavalry must push on as rapidly as possible."

"Very well, I'll give the order. Ride on."

Late that night, the Fifth reached War Bonnet Creek. They had covered eighty miles in thirty-one hours. Camp was made, but no campfires were lighted. Guards were posted, and the weary men were soon asleep.

Before dawn, Bill left the camp. He said to a guard, "If the general asks for me, tell him that I have gone out to do a little scouting."

"Aren't you going to take your horse?"

"Not this morning," answered Bill. "This time I'll have to do some walking."

Quietly, Bill made his way to the creek. He followed the winding bank upstream for almost a mile in the direction from which the Cheyenne trail led to the creek. Every now and then, he dropped to the ground and carefully examined the earth for the telltale hoofprints of Indian ponies, or the footprints of Indian scouts. He found none.

"The Cheyennes may have used that old trick of riding upstream in the water to throw us off their trail," he said to himself. "I had better scout the opposite bank of the creek before I report to the general that we have won the race to War Bonnet."

He waded across the creek and carefully studied the ground for Indian signs. "We've made it!" he said at last. "The Cheyennes have not crossed the War Bonnet!"

He started back toward camp. "There are no signs," he said to himself, "yet something tells me that the Cheyennes are near."

He studied the land to the west and the hills to the south. Suddenly he stiffened.

"There they are!" he exclaimed. "A scouting party of about fifty Cheyenne braves. That means that the rest of the warriors can't be far away."

Bill hurried back to camp and reported to the general. The men were ordered to mount their horses and to remain hidden behind a large bluff.

"Cody," said the general, "take me to the nearest spot where I can get a look at the scouting party."

The general and several of his officers mounted their horses and followed Bill who led them to a nearby hill.

"There they are," said Bill when they reached the top of the hill. He pointed to the south.

"They don't seem aware of the fact that the Fifth Cavalry is waiting for them," laughed the general. "What a surprise we will give them!"

The Cheyenne braves, riding their wiry little ponies, were headed toward the creek. Suddenly they divided and about twenty braves raced off toward the west.

"What are they doing now, Cody?" asked an officer.

"It looks like trouble," answered Bill. He raised himself up in the stirrups of his saddle.

"I don't see anything," said the officer.

"General," questioned Bill, "did you order your company of soldiers to remain with the supply train until they joined us at War Bonnet?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"The Cheyennes may have sighted the wagon train," answered Bill. "No, I was wrong. Now I see what they are doing. Two of your soldiers have left the wagon train and are riding straight into a trap."

"They were ordered to remain with the train," broke in the general. "Cody, you must be wrong."

"I'm afraid I'm right, sir."

"Then we must attack the Indians at once."

"If we do that, sir, it would warn the Cheyennes that the Fifth is waiting for them. Let me take fifteen men and make the attack. We can rescue the soldiers without letting the Indians know that the Fifth is here."

"Very well, Cody. Good luck."

Bill and fifteen scouts made the attack and rescued the soldiers. Several Indians were killed. The remaining braves turned their ponies about and raced for the hills.

"After them," shouted Bill. "Don't let them escape."

At that moment a war whoop split the air. A thousand mounted Cheyenne warriors sprang from their hiding places on the top of a hill. Another war whoop, and they dashed down the hill toward Bill and his men.

Bill brought his men to a sudden stop. "Get back to the general at once," he ordered. "Tell him to order half of his men to attack from the left and half from the right. I will try to delay the Indians until the men are in position. Hurry!"

"We won't leave you here," protested a scout. "You haven't a chance against all those Indians."

"Leave that to me. Do as I say," ordered Bill.

He gave his horse the spurs and galloped straight toward the yelling Indians.

The Indians were taken by surprise at this unexpected move. They made no attempt to follow the fifteen men who were now racing toward the woods along the creek where the Fifth was hidden. Instead they reined in their ponies and watched Bill as he rode toward them. In another minute the Indians recognized him.

"Pa-ha-ska! Pa-ha-ska!" they shouted.

Bill stopped his horse about a hundred yards from the front lines of the surprised braves. The chief of the Cheyennes called out an order. He waved his arms and his braves made a path for him to ride toward Bill.

Alone, the tall handsome chief rode forward. He was in full war paint. His buckskin trousers were fringed and richly embroidered with bright colored beads. He wore his beautiful war bonnet of eagle feathers with dignity and pride. He was dressed as only a great chief is dressed when on the warpath.

"Pa-ha-ska!" he called. "Pa-ha-ska!"

"Yellow Hand!" exclaimed Bill.

"Come on and fight if you dare," shouted Yellow Hand. "Come on and fight alone."

"I have come," was Bill's prompt reply.

They gave their horses the spurs and raced toward each other.

"Pa-ha-ska," shouted Yellow Hand as he drew a pistol from his belt, "you big fool to fight big chief of Cheyennes."

Quick as a flash Bill's revolver barked. Yellow Hand's pony dropped. The chief was thrown to the ground. As he fell, his pistol was knocked from his hand. In an instant, however, he recovered his gun and sprang to his feet.

At that moment Bill's galloping horse stepped into a hole and fell, throwing Bill heavily to the ground. Bill jumped to his feet, but he was stunned. Yellow Hand advanced, gun in hand.

"Pa-ha-ska! I get your scalp," hissed Yellow Hand.

The angry voice of the chief was all Bill needed. He threw back his head. His long yellow hair fluttered in the breeze. He was ready!

Their revolvers flashed. Yellow Hand's shot missed, but Bill's aim found its mark. Yellow Hand staggered and fell forward dead.

Bill ran to the dead chief. He removed the war bonnet and, holding it high, shouted, "This one for Custer!"

The Cheyenne braves were spellbound. Then a war whoop rang out. They dashed toward the white man who had killed their chief.

A volley from the Fifth Cavalry stopped their wild charge. The soldiers attacking from the right and left, closed in on the Indians. The plain instantly became a scene of wild confusion as Indian ponies and their riders went down before the withering fire from the cavalry.

The Indians fought stubbornly, but the Fifth was on the warpath to avenge the death of Custer and his men. Within a few minutes, the Cheyennes were racing over the hills in disorderly retreat.

"Cody," praised the general, "your courage and your quick thinking saved the day. Our victory belongs to you."

Bill smiled, "Thank you, sir. But don't forget that I ride with the 'Fighting Fifth.' "

* * * *

The war continued, but the power of the Indians had been broken at War Bonnet Creek when the Cheyennes and the Sioux had failed to unite. The Indians fought on for many long weeks, bravely and stubbornly. They could not stop the steady advance of the soldiers. Finally, Sitting Bull, a few chiefs, and several hundred braves fled to Canada. Then, one by one, the tribes surrendered and begged for peace.

And so at last peace came to the great rolling plains and to all the West.

1. Why was the general so anxious to reach War Bonnet Creek so quickly?

2. How did Bill delay the Indians until the Fifth Cavalry was ready to attack?

3. Tell what happened to the Cheyenne chief.

4. Why was War Bonnet Creek an important victory?

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