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

Billy Cody's First Job

Y OUNG Billy Cody pulled his galloping horse to a stop in front of a large building. Painted in black letters across the front of the building was the sign:


Billy dismounted and tied his horse to a post. He hurried into the building. He went straight to the office of Alec Majors who was a partner in the firm of Russell, Majors, & Waddell.

"Uncle Alec," said Billy, "I want to go west with your next wagon train. Will you give me a job?"

"I will find something for you to do," answered Alec Majors. "But I am afraid that I can't give you a job with one of our wagon trains."

"I don't want just 'something to do,' " broke in Billy. "I want a job—a real job. I want to work with a wagon train."

"You are too young, Billy."

"I am almost twelve years old," said Billy. "I can ride and shoot as well as a man. And besides, Uncle Alec, I must have a job."

"Does your mother know that you want to go west with a wagon train?" asked Alec Majors.

"Yes, sir," answered Billy. "Now that my father is dead, I am the man of the family. I want to take care of my mother and sisters."

"Of course you do, Billy, and I want to help you," smiled Alec Majors. "But you are asking for a man's job with a wagon train."

At this time there were no railroads west of the Mississippi River. All the freight that was shipped overland to the Pacific coast had to be hauled by wagon train.

The firm of Russell, Majors, & Waddell owned and operated a large overland freight business. More than six thousand of its freight wagons traveled the Western trails. The firm employed over eight thousand men. It owned seventy-five thousand head of oxen which were used to pull the heavy wagons. It also owned thousands of cattle, mules, and horses.

From early spring until late fall, the firm's wagon trains moved back and forth over a twothousand-mile trail which led across the great plains and mountains. The wagon trains carried food and supplies to the early settlers in the far West. Most of the wagons, however, hauled large quantities of freight to the United States soldiers stationed on the plains to protect the Western pioneers.

Alec Majors hired all the men who worked for the firm. Years before, he had hauled freight across the prairies and mountains. He knew from experience the many hardships and dangers of such a job. He asked men to do only the things that he, himself, was willing to do. He was stern, but kindly. He was a very religious man. He was just and fair. He was well known and respected by everyone who knew him. Billy, like most of the boys in Leavenworth, called him "Uncle Alec."

"Billy," continued Alec Majors, "I am afraid that a job with a wagon train is too dangerous for a boy twelve years old."

"I know it is a dangerous job," said Billy, "but I can take care of myself."

"Think of the Indians, Billy. You never know where they may be lying in wait for a chance to send an arrow or a bullet into you."

"I am not afraid of Indians," said Billy.

"But do you know about the danger from buffalo stampedes? A herd of buffalo on stampede can wreck a wagon train or wipe out a whole camp in a few minutes."

"I know," answered Billy. "I have heard your scouts tell about buffalo stampedes on the plains. I am not afraid, Uncle Alec."

Alec Majors smiled. "All right, Billy," he said, "but what about outlaws? They are as dangerous as the Indians."

"I know," was Billy's answer.

"There are other dangers, too, Billy. Life on the plains is hard. There may be times when you will have no water and but little food. Thirst and hunger are hard to endure, even for an old plainsman, Billy. The trails are long and dusty. The rivers and streams are without bridges. They must be forded. Sometimes teams and wagons get stuck in the sand or in the mud and everyone has to help pull them out."

"I know there are dangers and hardships on the plains, but I am not afraid," said Billy. "Please, Uncle Alec, give me a job with a wagon train."

Alec Majors leaned over his desk. He studied the eager face of the boy standing before him.

Billy was tall for his age. He was slender and he held himself proudly erect. He was dressed in buckskin clothes. His eyes were brown and his golden, curly hair fell to his straight shoulders. He was a handsome boy and, in spite of his youth, there was an air of self-confidence about him.

"Very well, Billy. I will give you a job with one of the wagon trains leaving for the West. Your job will be riding cavayard. You know what that means, don't you?"

"Oh, yes. Riding cavayard is herding all the extra cattle and horses that go with the wagon train. If they are allowed to stray they will get lost, or they will be stolen by the Indians. Riding cavayard is an important job."

"Yes, it is an important job, Billy. Your pay will be the same as that of other men who ride cavayard, forty dollars a month and your food."

"Thank you, Uncle Alec. I—"

As Billy was speaking, the door of the office was thrown open. A scout rushed into the room. His buckskin clothes were torn and stained with blood.

Majors jumped to his feet. "What's happened? What are you doing here?" he questioned. "By this time your wagon train should be somewhere along the Platte River."

"Indians!" exclaimed the scout. "Surprise attack—no chance to defend ourselves—all the men were killed—wagons burned—animals driven off. Our outfit was completely wiped out."

"This is terrible news," said Majors as he dropped back into his chair. "Some of our best men were with that outfit. We can replace the animals and wagons, but we cannot replace such men."

"We put up a good fight," said the scout.

"I'm sure you did. Well, in spite of this terrible loss, we must keep the freight moving. Get some rest and take care of yourself. Can you be ready to go out again in a few days?"

"Yes, Mr. Majors, be ready. All I need now is some rest," said the scout as he left the office.

Majors turned to Billy and asked, "Do you still want a job with one of our wagon trains, Billy?"

"Yes, I do," answered Billy.

"All right, but before you can work for our firm you have to sign an oath. Every man who works for Russell, Majors, & Waddell must take this oath. I will read it to you;

"I, William Frederick Cody, do hereby swear before the great and living God: that while I am in the employ of Russell, Majors, & Waddell, I will not use profane language; that I will not quarrel with any other employee of the firm; that I will not abuse nor neglect the animals; and, that I will conduct myself honestly. I will be faithful to my duties, and will act at all times so as to win the confidence of my employers. So help me God."

"I will sign the oath," said Billy, "and I shall do my very best to live up to it."

"Here is a Bible I want you to keep, Billy," said Majors. "I give a Bible to each man when he signs the oath and starts to work for our firm."

"Thank you, Uncle Alec. I am glad to have a Bible of my own."

"Now report to Frank McCarthy. He is one of the best wagon bosses in the West. His wagon train pulls out tomorrow. If you can get him to accept you as a cavayard rider with his train, you may go with him. I know how well you can ride, but you may have to prove it to McCarthy. He is boss of his train. If he doesn't want you to go with him, you will have to wait and go out with some other wagon train."

Billy hurried out to find Frank McCarthy. He found him in the wagon yard helping repair a covered wagon.

"Mr. McCarthy," said Billy. "I am Billy Cody. Uncle Alec Majors told me to report to you."

"And what is it you want, Lad?" asked McCarthy.

"I should like to go with your wagon train, Mr. McCarthy," answered Billy eagerly.

McCarthy threw back his head and laughed. "And what can a boy like you do with my wagon train?"

"I want to ride cavayard."

"Ride cavayard! Can you ride a bucking horse?"

Without waiting for Billy's answer, McCarthy called to one of his men, "Saddle Prince and bring him here."

In a short time a prancing horse was led to where McCarthy and Billy were standing. The horse reared and struck out with his forefeet.

"Do you want to change your mind, Lad?" asked McCarthy.

"No, I will ride him," answered Billy.

Prince was a fine looking animal. His broad chest and clean-cut legs were signs that he had speed and strength. His well-shaped head and neck meant a fine spirit. The only mark on his brown body was a white star on his forehead.

Billy held out his hand and the horse jerked his head away.

"This horse has been abused," said Billy.

"Yes, he has," said McCarthy, "and when I found it out I fired the man who was abusing him. No one who abuses animals can work for this firm or with my wagon train."

Billy patted Prince on the neck. When Prince had quieted down, Billy adjusted the stirrup straps to the right length. He allowed an arm's length for each strap. He patted Prince again and then quickly swung himself into the saddle.

Instantly Prince's head went down and up went his back. He bucked, and turned, and twisted. But Billy sat firmly in the saddle.

McCarthy was tense as he watched the struggle between Billy and this wild, western horse. His large, rough hands gripped the rim of the wagon wheel. It took the skill of a real horseman to ride Prince.

Suddenly Prince stopped bucking and like a flash of lightning struck out across the prairie. Billy swayed gracefully in the saddle.

"Watch that boy ride!" shouted McCarthy as he threw his hat into the air.

Billy let the horse run without trying to bring him to a stop. After about a mile of hard galloping, the horse began to slow down. Billy pulled him about and headed back toward McCarthy.

"You win, Lad," said McCarthy as Billy rode up to him. "You have a job with my wagon train and you may have the horse, too."

"Do you mean that I may have Prince for my own?" asked Billy as he swung to the ground.

"He's yours," said McCarthy. "Prince is a spirited horse, but you have shown me that you can handle him. You need a good horse when you are riding the plains. Does that horse over there in front of Majors' office belong to you?"

"He belongs to my mother."

"Take Prince home with you. You can lead the other horse. Leave your mother's horse at home for her to use while you are away. Don't forget, Billy, my train pulls out early tomorrow morning. Be ready if you are to ride with me."

"I'll be ready," promised Billy.

Billy Cody's life of adventure on the plains of the West was about to begin.

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