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

On to Fort Laramie

T HE soldiers returned to the fort and reported that the Indians had burned the wagon train and driven off the cattle. McCarthy decided to return to Leavenworth with his men. Billy's first trip had ended in disaster. But he had won the friendship and respect of the men with whom he worked. They liked his determination to share the work and the dangers of the trip.

When they reached Leavenworth, they told how Billy had killed an Indian warrior and saved the life of at least one of the men. They told how he had marched all night without a word of complaint.

Billy was praised by Alec Majors and other old-timers of the plains. Mrs. Cody was proud of her son. The boys of Leavenworth envied him and looked upon him as a hero.

A few days after their return, McCarthy said to Billy, "Alec Majors tells me that Lew Simpson is ready to leave with his wagon train. I want you to go west with him."

"But Mr. McCarthy," interrupted Billy, "I want to go with you when your train is ready."

"It will be several weeks before I can get another wagon train ready to leave, and you need a job, Billy. Lew Simpson is a good wagon boss. He is my friend and I've told him about you. He needs another cavayard rider. The job is yours if you want it. He is headed for Fort Laramie."

"Fort Laramie!" exclaimed Billy. "Why that is where all the famous scouts and trappers meet. I might even see Kit Carson there."

McCarthy nodded. "That's true, Billy. And don't forget that Fort Laramie is in the center of the Indian country. Bob has already signed up to ride with Simpson. Don't you want to go, too?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. McCarthy," answered Billy, "but I will be sorry not to be with you."

"Don't worry about that, Billy. You and I will have many trips together. Now come with me and I'll take you to your new wagon boss."

When they found the wagon boss, McCarthy said, "Simpson, here's the lad I told you about."

"Hello, Billy Cody," smiled Simpson. "I am glad to have you with my train. Report to Bob. He is in charge of the cavayard riders. We leave early tomorrow morning."

"Thank you, Mr. Simpson. I'll be ready."

The trip to Fort Laramie was long and difficult. Simpson, like McCarthy, was a fearless, but cautious wagon boss. Daily his scouts rode far ahead of the wagon train. At night guards were posted to keep close watch on the camp and animals. Day by day, the heavy wagons rumbled on over the dusty trail. Now and then, scattered bands of Indian braves were sighted, but they did not attack the train. Weeks later, the wagon train neared the fort.

Fort Laramie was built on a bluff overlooking the Laramie River. It was a square fort about the size of half a city block. It was made of adobe (sun-dried brick) with walls twenty feet high and four feet thick.

In 1834, a fur trading company had built the adobe buildings to be used as a trading post. Some ten years later the United States government bought the post and then it became an important military fort as well as a trading post. It was a famous meeting place for scouts, trappers, Indians, and the men of the wagon trains.

The wagon trains of Russell, Majors, & Waddell traveling over the Oregon Trail always stopped at Fort Laramie. Here the firm operated a supply station for its men. There was a blacksmith shop and a large warehouse stored with food, clothing, ammunition, and other supplies. There were corrals for oxen, cattle, horses, and mules. After a long, difficult overland trip, the men looked forward to a few days of rest at Fort Laramie.

Slowly Simpson's wagon train rolled on. Clouds of dust, kicked up by the animals and wagons, hung over the trail. At last the outline of the fort appeared in the distance. Near the fort several thousand Indians were camped. Their tepees and campfires were strung out along the river bank for miles. Back from the river and outside the walls of the fort were corrals and camping spaces for wagon trains.

Simpson, mounted on his horse, was in the lead. He turned in his saddle and, waving his hand toward a camping space, called to the driver of the first wagon, "Ride in!" He gave his horse the spurs and raced on ahead of the train.

The order was called from wagon to wagon. Bull whips cracked and the oxen broke into a run. The wagons rattled and bounced over the rough ground.

Billy, Bob, and the other cavayard riders guided the herd of cattle to a corral. When the cattle were corraled, the riders cared for their horses. It was late when they joined the men of the wagon train who had already made camp near the fort. Supper was ready and Billy ate hurriedly.

"Why are you in such a rush?" asked Bob.

"I am going to the fort," answered Billy.

"The fort will be there tomorrow," laughed one of the men. "You had better rest in camp tonight."

As the man said this, a voice called from the direction of the fort, "Billy Cody, come here."

Billy jumped to his feet and ran toward the fort.

Simpson was waiting for him near the main gate.

"Come with me, Billy. I have a surprise for you," smiled Simpson.

"What is it?" questioned Billy.

"It wouldn't be a surprise if I told you."

"Have you found Prince?"

"No," laughed Simpson.

Billy followed Simpson through the big gate of the fort and into a large open square. They made their way across the square to a big building. They entered a room where a group of officers and men were laughing and talking.

Standing in the center of the group was a slim man dressed in deerskin and Indian moccasins. He was speaking. His voice was gentle and low. But there was something in his quiet manner that held Billy's attention. There was something in the man's keen, blue eyes and in his proud, but modest, bearing which Billy admired.

"Who is that man?" he whispered.

Simpson threw back his head and roared with laughter. "I knew it, Billy," he said. "I knew that would be your first question."

Simpson signaled to the man.

The man nodded and strode across the room. His movements were quick and noiseless.

"Billy," said Simpson, "I want you to meet Kit Carson."

"Kit Carson!" exclaimed Billy.

The famous scout held out his hand. "Billy," he smiled, "Simpson tells me that you are doing a man's job for him. You are younger than I thought you would be. What do you like best about working with a wagon train?"

Billy tried to answer but could not speak.

Ever since the beginning of this trip, Billy had looked forward to the chance of meeting Kit Carson at Fort Laramie. On many nights, Billy had fallen asleep under a wagon planning the questions he would ask the famous scout. "What did a boy have to learn in order to be a scout?" "What did he need to know about Indians?" He had thought of these and countless other questions. And now, here was Kit Carson smiling down at him! He could not speak.

Kit put his hand on Billy's shoulder and began to talk to Simpson. The two men were old friends. They talked about the plains,—Indians, wagon trains, new settlers, and of friends in the West. Now and then, Kit explained some point to Billy. Almost before Billy realized it he was laughing and talking as though he had known Kit a long time.

Finally Billy said; "I want to be a scout when I grow up, Mr. Carson, and I want to be a good scout like you."

"I am glad to hear you say that, Billy," smiled Kit. "I am proud to be a scout because I am doing my part to help build the West. If you really want to become a scout, learn all you can about the Indians. Learn their languages, their habits, and their customs, as well as how to follow a trail and how to look for signs. Make friends with the Indians, for if you are a true friend they will trust you."

"My father had an Indian trading post," replied Billy, "and I used to play with the Indian boys when they came to the post."

"Did you learn to speak their language?" asked Kit.

"Yes," answered Billy, "and I also learned some of the signs used in the sign language."

"Good!" exclaimed Kit. "I use the sign language most of the time. I know the languages of many tribes, but I can talk to any Indian by means of the sign language."

"I learned some of the signs because I thought it was fun," said Billy. "Now, I shall try to learn as many more signs as I can. While we are here at Fort Laramie, I will make friends with the Indians camped near the fort."

"I would do that, Billy, if I were you." Then turning to Simpson, Kit asked, "How long will your wagon train be here?"

"A part of my train will be here two months—maybe three," answered Simpson. "Some of my men will be delivering supplies to the new fort being built about fifty miles from here. Fifteen of my wagons are loaded with supplies for Fort Bridger. I am leaving for Fort Bridger in a few days with the men who are driving these wagons."

"Are you taking Billy with you?"

"No, he is to stay here at Fort Laramie. When I get back I am going to organize two large wagon trains for our return trip to Leavenworth."

"Tomorrow I am riding to an Indian camp some distance from the fort," said Kit. "I had planned to go alone, but maybe Billy would like to go with me. If he wants to be a scout, he should know all he can about as many different Indian tribes as possible."

"I would like to go with you, Mr. Carson," broke in Billy, "but I have to help unload our wagons."

"You may go with Kit," said Simpson. "I will have Bob do your work."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Simpson," said Billy. He added quickly, "I will do extra guard duty for Bob when I return."

"Then it is settled, Billy," smiled Kit. "Meet me at the gates of the fort tomorrow morning at five o'clock."

"I'll be waiting," promised Billy.

1. Why were wagon trains needed in the West?

2. Give a brief description of a wagon train.

3. How did a wagon train make camp?

4. What did Billy want to be when he grew up?

5. What did Kit Carson advise Billy to do?

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