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

Last Days of the Pony

A FEW days after the capture of the outlaws, the pony express began to carry the mail again. The outlaws were on their way to stand trial for their crimes.

Hickock and his men continued to scout the trails for signs of Indians. But they found that the Indians were staying near their villages or camps far from the Pony trail. Hickock was ordered to move on to another section farther west to help round up another band of outlaws. He said good-by to Slade, Bill, and the men of the Red Buttes station and rode away.

When the gangs of outlaws had been broken up, the Indians and outlaws did not molest the Pony for several months. Back and forth over the trail the boys raced their speedy horses. The nine-day mail service was shortened to eight days.

Then once again, bandits came out of hiding and began to waylay the "Boys of the Pony." Indians began to lurk along the trail. Once again the stations were burned, agents were killed, and horses and supplies were stolen. But this time the Pony was not stopped. The boys, more determined than ever, made their rides and, in spite of all dangers, brought the mail through on time.

On October 24, 1861, the telegraph line connecting the West and the East was completed. Now important messages could be flashed across the continent in a few minutes. The Pony was no longer needed. It had served its purpose.

The Pony had lasted only eighteen months. The Boys of the Pony had not only carried the mail, but they had made history. The record of their reckless deeds and daring rides is one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of our country. The story of the Pony cannot be told without including the exciting adventures of the "Kid of the Pony," Bill Cody.

As soon as Bill finished his last ride with the mail, he left Red Buttes and returned to Leavenworth. After a short visit with his mother and sisters, he went to see his friend, Alec Majors.

"I am glad to see you, Bill," said Majors. He pointed to a chair. "Sit down. I suppose you have come to see me about a new job."

"Yes, Uncle Alec."

"I am afraid that this time I can't give you one," Majors shook his head. "The firm of Russell, Majors, & Waddell is going out of business. My partners and I have lost all our money. Once I was a wealthy man, but during the past eighteen months I have lost more than a million dollars. All I have left now is my home and a few thousand dollars."

"Uncle Alec, what happened?"

"My partners and I knew almost from the start of the pony express that we would lose money. But we had a contract to carry out and we lost our entire fortunes doing it. That's all, Bill."

"I can't believe it, Uncle Alec. I thought the Pony was a success."

"Our firm failed, but that does not mean that the Pony failed, Bill. The Pony was a success. I have spent my life on the plains and I will always believe that the Pony was the biggest and finest service we could have done for our country. If I were to be given another chance to choose between the Pony and my fortune I would not hesitate. The Pony would win."

"I don't know what to say, Uncle Alec. But I think you are a great man."

Majors smiled. "I'm not a great man, Bill. Let us say instead that I am a man who loves the West."

They were silent for a moment. Then Bill asked, "What will you do, Uncle Alec? Can I help you?"

"First of all, the business affairs of the firm must be settled. We are selling our stagecoach line to Ben Holladay. Then I intend to do what I did as a young man. I started out with one wagon train carrying freight across the plains. And that is what I will do again."

"Let me work with your wagon train," broke in Bill. "I will ride cavayard for you, or I will drive a wagon, or scout. I will do anything to help you, Uncle Alec."

"I know you would, Bill," smiled Majors, "and I am grateful to you. Simpson and McCarthy were here today and they both want a job with my train. In fact all my men have offered to help me. I am very proud that I have so many loyal friends. But I am not ready to start my wagon train now. It may take several months to settle the business affairs of the firm. Until that is done, I cannot be certain of my own plans for the future."

A little later, Bill said good-by to Majors and left the office. He stood for a minute outside the closed door. "Uncle Alec is right," he said to himself. "He is a man who loves the West. I understand more clearly now how much the future of the West depends upon the courage, faith, and honor of such men. Uncle Alec, you have taught me how important it is for each man to do his share in this great work. I will try to continue to do my part."

He hurried from the building, mounted Prince, and headed for home.

Bill was glad to be home with his mother and sisters. However, he was worried about his mother. Mrs. Cody had been ill for several months. She was pale and thin. She insisted that she had recovered from her former illness, but the Cody children realized that their mother was never going to be well again. Their gentle little mother who had always been so active was to spend the rest of her life as an invalid.

Bill's sisters were heart-sick and bewildered. They turned to him for courage and comfort. And although he was sick with worry over his mother's illness, he did not let them know it.

"We must not let Mother worry about anything," he said to them. "I will get another job as soon as I can. Mother is to have everything she needs to make her happy."

Bill went again to Majors' office. He told his old friend of his mother's ill health. "I need a job at once," he said. "Will you give me a letter of recommendation?"

"Yes, but you don't need it. You can go anywhere and ask any man for a job and get it. Your name, 'Bill Cody,' is better than any letter of recommendation."

"Thank you, Uncle Alec."

"What do you want to do this time?"

"I want to be a scout for wagon trains going west from Leavenworth," answered Bill. "A job of this kind would enable me to see my mother from time to time."

"Bill, this is a serious time in our country's history. The war between the states has taken most of our good scouts away from the plains. They have joined either the Confederate or the Union Army. And now there is some talk of an Indian uprising. The government is anxious to keep the western forts supplied and to protect the settlers. If I were you I would get a job as scout with a wagon train carrying government supplies to these forts. You can see your mother each time you return to Leavenworth."

"I will do that, Uncle Alec."

And for the next two years Bill was a scout with the wagon trains hauling government supplies. He was a fearless scout. He was alert and cautious, for the lives of many men depended upon him. He soon came to be regarded as one of the safest and best wagon train scouts on the plains.

A few days before Christmas in 1863, Bill returned to Leavenworth after a long, hard trip with a wagon train. He stopped in the little town, gay with Christmas cheer, only long enough to buy some gifts for his mother and sisters. Then with a happy heart he hurried to his cabin home. He had great plans for a merry Christmas with his family.

But his home-coming was soon filled with sorrow. Mrs. Cody was dangerously ill.

Bill knelt beside her bed. "Mother," he said quietly, "I am home."

"Billy, Billy." Mrs. Cody opened her eyes. "Oh, Billy," she smiled, "I knew you would be home for Christmas. I feel better already."

"Of course you do, Mother."

But in spite of everything the doctor could do, Mrs. Cody died in her sleep late that night.

1. How long did the Pony Express last?

2. Was it a success? Why?

3. Explain what happened to the firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell.

4. Why did Majors say that Bill did not need a letter of recommendation?

5. How did Bill prove his love for his mother?

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