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

Champion Hunter of the Plains

O N March 6, 1866, Louisa and Bill were married. The ceremony was performed before an altar of flowers in the Frederici home in St. Louis.

Louisa was a lovely bride. She wore a long white satin gown, and a bridal veil which covered her black curly hair. She was slim and dainty and her eyes shown with happiness.

Bill, dressed in a dark suit, stood beside Louisa as they greeted their friends. He was very nervous and ill at ease, but he was a handsome groom. Now and then he tossed his long yellow hair back across his shoulders.

"I would almost rather meet Black Marlin and his gang again than have to meet all these people," he laughed to himself. Then he turned and looked down at his bride and changed his mind. He smiled into her upturned face.

Louisa and Bill's first home was in Leavenworth. It was a little cottage near the outskirts of the city. They were very happy.

One day Louisa was alone in the house. She was singing as she worked.

"Louisa," came Bill's voice from outdoors.

Louisa ran to the door and down to the gate where Bill, mounted on a buckskin-colored horse, was waiting.

"How do you like my new horse?" he asked. "His name is Brigham."

"Bill Cody!" exclaimed Louisa. "You didn't buy that horse! Why he is the homeliest horse I ever saw."

"I bought him to ride on my new job."

"I can't imagine what kind of job would make you buy a horse like Brigham."

"Louisa," laughed Bill, "that is no way to talk about the best buffalo horse in the West. I'll admit that Brigham is not good-looking. But I don't think the buffalo will notice his lack of good looks." He slipped from the saddle and tied Brigham to a post by the gate.

"What do you mean?" asked Louisa as she and Bill, hand in hand, walked slowly back to the house.

"I am going to work for the company that is building the railroad," answered Bill. "My job will be to furnish enough buffalo meat each day to feed twelve hundred men working on the railroad. My pay will be five hundred dollars a month."

"That is a lot of money, but do you want to become a buffalo hunter?" asked Louisa. "You told me that you wanted to scout or to drive a stagecoach."

"Yes, I know," replied Bill. "I was offered a job as scout, and Holladay offered to give me my old stagecoach run. But the railroad is the newest development in the West and I feel that I should do my share in helping to build it."

"Bill," said Louisa, "I know that this job will take you away from home for many months. I will try to be brave. If I am not, please understand that it is because everything here in the West is new to me. But in time," she laughed a little, "I will get used to your leaving me to go off fighting Indians, hunting buffalo, or driving a stagecoach."

Louisa turned away quickly to hide the tears in her eyes. "When do you leave?" she asked bravely.

"In the morning."

The next morning, Bill mounted Brigham and rode away. Louisa stood by the gate and waved good-by to him. The horse and rider soon disappeared from view. Louisa walked slowly back to the cottage. Long and lonely days were ahead for Bill's young bride.

Bill's job took him to the railroad camp in western Kansas. The camp was a busy place. Hundreds of men and animals were working on the roadbed of the railroad. Toward the west the endless miles of prairie stretched on to the horizon. But toward the east stretched two long rows of steel rails that had been laid by the workers. And each day the men pushed on to the west, laying the rails which were to cross a continent.

By the time the railroad camp had reached western Kansas, the laying of the track had become difficult and dangerous. It became more dangerous each day as the workers moved deeper into Indian territory.

The Indians of the plains fiercely resisted the building of the railroad through their hunting grounds. They were afraid that the buffalo herds would be driven away or killed off by the white man. Indian braves made frequent attacks upon the workers and killed many of them. United States soldiers were finally ordered to the camp to protect the men and to guard the railroad tracks.

At first, the moving of the supplies needed for the vast undertaking had been fairly easy. But as the railroad camp moved farther and farther westward, the job became more and more difficult. The most serious problem was the supplying of fresh meat for twelve hundred men. As there was no refrigeration, it was not possible to bring fresh meat over long distances or to keep a supply in camp for the hungry men.

To solve this problem, men were hired to hunt buffalo and to deliver each day the meat needed for the men of the camp. Much of the time, however, these hunters did not bring in enough meat for the day and sometimes they ran into Indians and returned to camp without any meat. These hunters had found it very difficult to locate a buffalo herd and at the same time be on the alert against Indian attacks.

The men in charge of building the railroad soon realized that hunting buffalo was a job for a man who was not only a good hunter, but who was also a scout and an Indian fighter. Bill Cody was a good hunter, and he was a scout and Indian fighter. But could he hunt buffalo, scout, and fight Indians all at the same time? The railroad builders believed that he could, and so did Bill.

Bill reported to the man in charge of the food supply for the camp. "Cody," said the man, "I hope you have better luck than the other men who have hunted for me."

"It takes more than luck to find a herd of buffalo," laughed Bill. "How many buffalo do you need each day to feed your men?"

"Ten or twelve."

"That's a big order," said Bill.

"Don't you think you can do it?" asked the man.

"Wait and see," grinned Bill.

"All right," said the man, "I'll have the men who go out with the hunter ready with their wagons in the morning. They will butcher the buffalo you kill and bring the meat back to camp. By the way, have you seen the new gun which the government shipped out here to the soldiers? It's a breech-loading rifle. It takes a little longer to reload, but its cartridges carry more powder and a heavier bullet than the older guns."

"No, I haven't seen it," answered Bill. "It sounds like just the gun I need. Can I buy one?"

"Yes, I'll see that you get one. Is there anything else that you will need?"

"Well, I will need an extra horse to ride when I go out to find a herd."

"You mean you need a horse," laughed the man. "That horse of yours is certainly not the kind of horse you need for this job."

Bill laughed, too, but said nothing.

"I'll have an extra horse for you," continued the man, "and I'll supply you with anything else you need. But I want the meat from twelve buffalo each day."

The next morning, Bill left camp on his first buffalo hunt for the railroad. He was riding the extra horse and Brigham was being led by one of the men in the wagons.

When they were several miles from camp, Bill turned in his saddle and called to the men. "I'll ride on and if I spot a herd I'll come back for Brigham. You wait here." He gave his horse the spurs and galloped on ahead.

A short time later he came to a hill. He rode straight to the top and reined in his horse. He shaded his eyes from the bright sunlight. Far to the north he saw a large herd of buffalo peacefully grazing on the short buffalo grass of the plains.

"There they are," he said to himself as he turned his horse about and started back to the wagons.

Brigham, standing beside one of the wagons, whinnied and began to move about as Bill came near.

"Have you found a herd already?" asked the men.

"Yes, and it's a big one," answered Bill, swinging from his saddle. "We'll get our twelve buffalo and be back in camp early today."

He picked up his new rifle from one of the wagons and loaded it. He opened his ammunition kit and filled the pockets of his buckskin shirt with cartridges. He told the men how to follow his trail with the wagons.

"Come, Brigham," he said, mounting the fresh and eager horse, "let's get some buffalo."

Brigham raced like a streak of lightning toward the herd. His long legs covered the ground in smooth, even strides.

Bill approached the herd from the rear. Without guidance Brigham galloped around to the right of the herd. As soon as he was even with them he closed in on the first buffalo. The buffalo started to run. Brigham raced along beside him.

Bill raised his gun and fired straight down behind the left shoulder of the animal. The buffalo dropped to the ground with a bullet through his heart.

At the crack of the rifle, Bill exclaimed, "What a gun! It kicks like a mule. But it certainly is a killer," he added, rubbing his shoulder. Then a smile flashed across his face. "Lucretia Borgia killed a few people in her day. I think I'll name my new gun after her."

The instant the buffalo had dropped to the ground, Brigham had dashed forward to the next animal. Bill was ready. Again the gun cracked and the second buffalo fell dead. "Lucretia Borgia, the killer, had nothing on this gun," grinned Bill. "What a rifle!"

Brigham raced alongside the third buffalo. Bill fired but the animal did not fall. Quickly he reloaded his gun and fired again. The buffalo crashed to the ground and lay still.

Brigham raced forward to another buffalo. Each time he allowed Bill only two shots for an animal.

When twelve buffalo had been killed, Bill rode back to the men in the wagons who had driven up and were watching the hunt. "There you are, boys," laughed Bill.

"I have seen many hunters," said one of the men, "but I have never seen anyone hunt as you do. Why do you get the herd running in a circle instead of letting them run across the plains?"

"It makes it easier for you," answered Bill. "If I followed the herd in a straight line, you would have to go several miles across the plains before you reached the last dead buffalo. But this way, they fall close together and you save time in butchering them."

Early that afternoon they returned to camp. The workers on the railroad were surprised to see them back so soon with the wagons loaded with fresh meat.

"Cody is a champion buffalo hunter," said one of the butchers.

"Maybe he was lucky today," said one of the workers, "we'll wait a few days before we agree with you that he is a champion."

Early each morning, Bill and the butchers left camp. Bill always rode the extra horse so that Brigham would not be tired when he was needed to run down the buffalo. Brigham always followed with the wagons. Nearly every day, they returned to camp early in the afternoon. Sometimes, however, the buffalo roamed far from the nearby trails and it took longer to find a herd. But Bill always returned to camp with the wagons loaded with meat.

Bill was always alert and on the lookout for Indians. Several times he and his little party were attacked. But each time Bill's quick thinking and his deadly skill in firing "Lucretia Borgia" saved them from certain death.

The Indians soon learned that the new buffalo hunter with the long yellow hair and the deadly gun was to be avoided rather than attacked. They often saw him racing his buckskin horse, Brigham, after the buffalo, and watched him shoot the leaders of the circling herd. And although they hated the white man for shooting their buffalo, they could not help but admire this hunter's skill and cool courage.

The men in camp praised Bill. But Bill was quick to give the credit to his faithful horse, Brigham, and to his gun, "Lucretia Borgia."

One night, the men were gathered around a big campfire, laughing and talking.

"Bill," said one man, "you are the greatest buffalo hunter on the plains."

"Your name should be 'Buffalo " added another man. "What about it, men? Am I right?"

"You're right," shouted the men. "Buffalo Bill!"

"Thanks, men," smiled Bill. "I can think of no finer reward than to have earned the title of 'Buffalo Bill.' "

1. How did Bill treat his horses?

2. Why was Slade not surprised when Bill reported to him at Three Crossings?

3. How did Bill save the gold from the outlaws?

4. Why did Bill buy Brigham for his new job?

5. Why was Bill so successful as a buffalo hunter?

6. What title did Bill's hunting bring him?

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Bill Plays a Lone Hand  |  Next: War Drums on the Plains
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.