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

War Drums on the Plains

B UFFALO BILL'S fame spread across the plains and throughout the entire nation. Newspapers carried long stories about his daring courage and exciting adventures. Everyone thrilled to the deeds of Buffalo Bill. He was the young hero of a sturdy, growing nation.

In the West, wherever the men of the wagon trains gathered around their campfires at night, they boasted of Buffalo Bill and claimed him as their own. Trappers and old hunters who met in trading posts exchanged stories of the youthful Buffalo Bill. They, too, claimed him as their own. Keen-eyed scouts and dashing stagecoach drivers praised him for his knowledge and skill. He was one of them. Buffalo Bill belonged to all of them. His was the spirit of the old and the new West!

In the railroad camp, Buffalo Bill was the idol of the soldiers and men. And here, one day when he returned from the day's hunt, he was called to the headquarters of the commanding officer of the troops.

"Buffalo Bill," said the officer, "an old friend of yours arrived in camp this afternoon. He is waiting to see you in my office."

"Thank you."

As Bill entered the room, a man standing by the window turned and came forward. "Billy Cody," he smiled.

"Mr. Carson!" exclaimed Bill.

"I should call you 'Buffalo Bill' now," said Kit as they shook hands. "But I will always think of you as 'Billy Cody.' "

"Mr. Carson, you may call me anything you wish," laughed Bill. "However, I hope the men in camp don't hear you call me 'Billy.' "

Kit and Bill were together for several hours. They talked of their first meeting at old Fort Laramie and of their many experiences on the plains. Kit asked endless questions which only a good scout with a thorough knowledge of the plains could answer. He especially wanted to know about the troubles the railroad builders were having with the Indians. Bill was able to give him full information on this as well as other news of the plains. Kit was pleased.

"Billy," he said at last, "I am on my way home from Washington where I was called to meet the president. He wanted to discuss with me how we could avoid another Indian uprising. The president and his cabinet believe that it can be avoided. But I know it cannot. I told them that a serious Indian war is about to break out on the plains."

"You are right," agreed Bill. "The Indians are preparing to go on the warpath. They are getting more hostile every day."

"And when they are ready, their war drums will be heard all over the plains," said Kit. "It will not be easy to defeat them. The mighty Sioux nation is uniting. The Sioux are born warriors and their chiefs are powerful. Sitting Bull is one of their ablest leaders. He hates the white man and he is to be feared. The Cheyennes, too, have long hated the white men. Their chief, Yellow Hand, is a fierce warrior. Do you remember him?"

"I certainly do," answered Bill. "I have never forgotten how you made him return my horse, Prince, with the other horses he had stolen."

"I don't imagine he has forgotten it either," laughed Kit. "He is a bitter enemy, but we must admit that he is an able chief.

"I have always been a friend of the Indians," continued Kit. "Many of them call me 'Father Kit.' I know how dearly they love their tribal lands, and I understand their bitter feeling against the white men who would take those lands away from them."

"Do you think the white man could have avoided the hatred of the Indians?" asked Bill.

"Maybe we could have been friends," answered Kit, "but I don't think so. We whites belong to another civilization. We are builders. The Indians are content to live as they have always lived. They have tried time and again to stop our march of progress, but they cannot do it. This uprising will be put down, but that will not end the trouble with the Indians. There will be other uprisings later. But the day will come when the Indians and the white men will live in peace. Then we will all be Americans."

"Do you really believe that the whites and Indians can ever live together in peace?"

"Yes, I do," answered Kit, "and you will live to see it happen. I will not. My life is almost over. But I know it will happen because I know the men of the West. You are one of those men, and you are helping build a new West. I am very proud of you—Buffalo Bill."

Bill was silent.

On the plains he had earned the respect of the men with whom he worked. He had accepted their praise lightly. He had laughed and joked with them. But now as Kit Carson praised him, Bill was truly proud. He had a right to be proud. He had won the praise of the greatest of all scouts of the West.

He looked for a minute into Kit's clear, blue eyes. "Thank you, sir," he said, "for you to include me as one of the builders of the West is the highest praise I will ever receive."

The next day, Kit started his journey homeward. Bill watched him leave the railroad camp and ride away with an escort of soldiers. When the little party disappeared, Bill made ready to go out on his daily buffalo hunt.

Week after week, trouble on the plains increased. Indians swept down upon lonely cabins and scalped men, women, and children. They attacked wagon trains and destroyed the supplies being hauled to the western forts. They burned stagecoach stations, killed the drivers and agents, and stole the horses. They made many swift attacks upon the railroad workers, killing many of them and often tearing up the rails.

The war drums had sounded. The war was on!

In May, 1868, the work of the railroad was halted. Bill rode back to Fort Hays in western Kansas. He volunteered to serve as a scout in the United States Army and he was at once accepted.

"Cody," said the commanding officer, "it seems strange that you should arrive here today. I have just learned of the death of a great scout. Kit Carson is dead."

"I am very sorry to hear this sad news," said Bill quickly. "Kit Carson was my friend. What he did for the West will never be forgotten."

"Carry on for him, Cody."

"I shall try to do that, sir."

Bill had enjoyed his work with the railroad men, but now he was back in the work that he loved best. He needed a swift, wiry horse for his long rides as an army scout. He left Brigham with a friend and selected one of the best of the government horses for his new mount. "Lucretia Borgia," his heavy buffalo gun, was put away. Bill chose a lighter rifle to use in its stead so as not to give his horse any unnecessary weight to carry.

For the next several months, Bill scouted for the army and carried messages from one fort to another in the hostile Indian territory. He had many narrow escapes from the Indians. While other scouts often failed to get through, Bill Cody made his rides safely.

During the summer, the Indians made many swift surprise attacks and then as swiftly disappeared. The soldiers were kept constantly on the move. However, they were unable to put an end to these sudden raids. Then, with the coming of winter, the Indians left the warpath and went to their winter homes.

The commanding general called a war council of his officers and scouts. He decided on a bold plan.

"We will follow the Indians to their faraway camps," said the general. "We will attack their villages one after the other."

"General, it is impossible to fight on the plains during the winter," protested an officer. "Our men cannot face the blizzards, nor can supplies be brought to us over snow-covered trails. We must wait until spring."

Many of the officers agreed that it would be impossible to carry out the general's plan.

"What do you think about it, Cody?" asked the general. "You know the plains. Can our army carry the war to the enemy during the winter months?"

"I believe that it can, sir," answered Bill. "The Indians would be taken by surprise. Even if we take only a few of their villages, we will be carrying on an offensive war against them. So far they have been fighting when and where they chose to fight. We must gain the advantages of surprise attacks and of choosing when and where we shall fight."

"The army marches!" The general brought his fist down on his desk. "Get ready for action at once. We leave at dawn tomorrow."

As Bill left the meeting, an officer followed him. He was a dashing, handsome, young man. His quick smile and kindly manner made friends for him wherever he went.

"Cody," he said, "I am George A. Custer, in command of the Seventh Cavalry. I am going to ask the general to make you my chief of scouts. The Seventh needs a scout like you."

"Thank you," replied Bill. "But I have already been assigned as chief of scouts to the Fifth Cavalry."

"Just my luck," laughed Custer. "Well, maybe some other time you can scout for me."

"Whenever the Fifth doesn't need me," smiled Bill, "I'll come to you for a job."

"Good. Remember that."

At dawn the army took the trail toward the winter villages of the Indians. Blizzards swept across the plains. Men, horses, and mules struggled over snow-covered plains. Many of the animals were unable to stand the bitter cold. They broke under the strain of the struggle and fell on the trail. Wagons, loaded with supplies, had to be left in snowbanks.

But the army marched on!

The Indians were taken by surprise. Village after village was destroyed. The campaign was a success. When the power of the Indians was completely broken, they begged for peace.

"Come to nearest fort," the commanding general said to the chiefs. "We make treaty."

A few weeks later, the peace treaty was signed. The Indian chiefs were ready to leave the fort to return to their tribes.

Bill, standing near the heavy wooden gates of the fort with a group of scouts, watched the chiefs leave the meeting. One chief stopped for a moment, looked at him, and then walked on.

"Red Hawk!" exclaimed Bill. He went after the chief. "Red Hawk," he called in a loud voice.

The chief turned and, holding his bright red blanket closely about him, waited motionless.

"Red Hawk, don't you know me?"

"I do. You are Pa-ha-ska."

"Pa-ha-ska?" questioned Bill.

"Yes, your Indian name, 'Long, yellow hair.' You are my enemy."

"We were friends when we were at Fort Laramie."

"That was years ago. Now I am chief of my people. I am Rain-in-the-Face. I took my father's name. He hated the white men. I know now why he hated them. Once, you were my friend. Now, you are with white soldiers. You know my people. You know our habits. You know how to follow our trails. Now, you fight my braves."

"But we have signed a peace treaty. Now, we can be friends again," said Bill.

"Never! Yellow Hand is right. You are an enemy of my people. I hate you, Pa-ha-ska."

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