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

A Narrow Escape

T HE settlers had to spend a week at Fort Laramie. They repaired their wagons and rested their animals. Then they continued on their way westward to Oregon. Tommy, now well and strong, was back on the driver's seat of his wagon as the train moved slowly away over the plain.

Several weeks later Simpson returned to Fort Laramie. He sent for Billy as soon as he reached the fort.

"Billy," he said, "I met an old friend who is on his way to Oregon with a train of settlers. He told me how you and Red Hawk saved his train from a buffalo stampede. He and all the settlers had much to say about you. I have decided to give you a new job with my wagon train."

"Thank you, Mr. Simpson."

"It will be an important job but you can do it. I am taking two large wagon trains back to Leavenworth. The trains will travel in separate sections, one day apart. I need someone to scout ahead, to locate camping places, and to carry messages from one train to the other. Do you want to try it?"

"Yes, I do, sir," answered Billy quickly.

"It will mean that you will be on the trail alone much of the time. You may meet hostile Indians, and you will have to depend upon yourself to get away from them. You will watch for Indian signs, and keep the wagon drivers informed of anything suspicious that you see."

"That is almost like being a regular scout, isn't it?" asked Billy.

Simpson nodded.

"That's what I want to be!" exclaimed Billy. "I want to be a scout like Kit Carson."

Simpson laughed, but he said quietly, "I know you do, Billy, and that's why I am giving you this chance. You have a good rifle, but now you will need a bowie knife and a brace of revolvers. I will get them for you here at the trading post. They shall be yours if you make good on this trip. And, in the spring, I will make you one of my regular scouts."

"Oh, thank you, Mr. Simpson. I have always wanted a pair of matched revolvers," smiled Billy. He looked up quickly and asked, "Will I have to wait until spring to be one of your regular scouts?"

"This will be my last trip this year," explained Simpson. "I must get as many wagons as I can back to Leavenworth. We never have enough wagons when the spring rush starts westward."

A few days later, the first section of the wagon train left Fort Laramie. The long line of white-topped wagons stretched out over the trail. Two hundred men traveled with the section. Some of the men were mounted on mules or horses, but most of them walked beside the wagons.

The next morning, the second section was on its way. Billy, mounted on Prince, rode with Simpson in front of the lead wagon.

"Billy," said Simpson, "your horse is too good a horse to ride every day. You had better ride a mule most of the trip. I have some extra mules with each section for you to use."

"I won't ride Prince every day," said Billy. "But I wanted to ride my own horse the first day on my new job."

"When we halt at noon, you are to ride on to the first section, Billy," said Simpson. "Tell the wagon boss that we are following them."

"Shall I report back to you?" asked Billy.

"No, stay with the first section tonight," answered Simpson. "In the morning ride on ahead for about fifteen miles. While looking for signs of Indians, keep your eyes open for a camping place where there is enough grass to feed our animals." He shook his head as he continued, "There has been a lot of travel on the trail this year and I'm afraid there isn't very much grass left. Do this each morning that you are with the first section and report back to me each day."

"Yes, sir," said Billy.

Day after day the sections moved on over the trail. Billy rode back and forth with his reports to Simpson. Sometimes Simpson rode ahead with him, but most of the time Billy made his trips alone.

One day, Billy returned to the first section from his usual scouting trip. Finding Simpson with this section, Billy reported, "Mr. Simpson, there isn't enough grass on the trail to feed our animals. I even left the trail and rode southward a few miles but found nothing."

"That is what I feared," said Simpson. "Well, we'll have to leave this trail and follow the route along the North Platte River. I had hoped to avoid the northern route because of the chance of running into Indian trouble. But our animals must have food. From now on, Billy, watch even more carefully for Indian signs. And never ride away from camp without your rifle, revolvers, and plenty of ammunition."

Billy was careful and cautious. Each day, as he scouted ahead or rode between the two sections, he watched for signs. He carried his rifle ready for action. He wore the brace of revolvers buckled snugly around his slim waist. On the trail he was always alert for danger. In camp he was always ready to do more than his share of the work.

Every man with both sections was Billy's friend. All the men were experienced plainsmen, and many of them were rough in manners and speech. But they were fond of Billy and each day as they sighted the young rider galloping toward their section they greeted him with friendly shouts. They felt a little easier and a little less anxious for the boy when he was near, though they did not say so.

One day about noon, Billy, Simpson, and a man by the name of George Woods left together to join the first section. All three were mounted on mules. When they had ridden about twelve miles Billy suddenly pulled his mule to a stop.

"What is the matter, Billy?" asked Simpson.

"I thought I saw something moving," answered Billy. He pointed to the top of a hill in the distance.

"I don't see anything," said Woods, "except the sagebrush."

"There!" exclaimed Billy, "a horse and a rider. He's gone again. He rides his horse in a circle and then disappears. You know that's the sign many Indians use to let their braves know when to make an attack."

"You're right, Billy," snapped Simpson. "I see him now. We are in for some real trouble."

At this moment, a blood-curdling war whoop split the air. Over the hill raced a band of warriors. Their war bonnets of eagle feathers streamed out in the wind.

"Lead the mules together so that they will make a triangle," shouted Simpson as he jumped from his saddle. "Our only chance is to shoot the mules and use their bodies for a fort."

Simpson's and Wood's revolvers barked. "Quick, Billy," ordered Simpson, "there is no time to lose."

Billy obeyed. The bodies of the three mules now lay on the ground in the form of a triangle. The men fell to the ground in the center.

The Indians were almost within range. Arrows began to whiz through the air.

"Use your rifles," ordered Simpson. "Fire when they begin to close in on us. Now," he added, "let's get the three leaders."

The rifles blazed. Three Indians fell to the ground and their ponies raced madly away.

"Fire!" commanded Simpson, and again three riderless ponies ran loose over the plain.

Yelling and shouting, the Indians fell back.

"They'll be back in a minute," said Simpson. "Keep using your rifles to hold them as far off as possible, but have your revolvers ready. Billy, are you all right?"

"Yes, sir," answered Billy without taking his eyes off the Indians. "I'm glad I wasn't riding Prince today."

In spite of their danger Simpson laughed, "Surrounded by Indians who are trying to kill us, and all you can think of is that you are glad that you weren't riding Prince."

"Get ready, here they come," called Woods.

Time and again the Indians swooped straight down upon them. Each time, three rifles cracked and three Indians fell to the ground and lay still. So far, Billy and the men had not missed a shot. But the Indians kept up the attack. Leaning low over the sides of their ponies and using them as shields, the Indians would dash forward, let fly their arrows, and race away again.

"They can't get us by charging," said Woods.

"No," Simpson gritted his teeth, "but now they will begin to circle us."

The Indians spread out to form a huge circle. At a signal from their chief, the yelling braves began to close in. Billy's rifle was firing steadily on his side of the "fort."

"That's right, Billy," shouted Simpson, "get one with every shot." As he spoke, he aimed his rifle carefully and fired.

"If we live to get back to Leavenworth," continued Simpson, "you can have a job as regular scout with me anytime you want it, Billy."

Billy grinned in answer as he squeezed the trigger of his rifle.

The Indians again retreated, but in a few minutes they attacked with renewed fury.

An arrow struck Woods in the arm.

"Which one of you redskins did that?" he asked as he dropped his rifle. "No, Billy," he said, "keep your eyes on the Indians. I'll take care of myself."

Slowly he withdrew the arrow so as not to break the shaft and leave the arrowhead buried in his arm. He tore a strip of cloth from his faded, blue shirt and wrapped it tightly around the bleeding wound.

"Poisoned arrow?" asked Simpson without turning around.

"No, and lucky for me," answered Woods picking up his rifle. He took careful aim and fired.

"Didn't hurt my aim," he chuckled.

Darkness began to fall and the Indians withdrew to a safe distance from the range of the white men's rifles.

"That means the attacks are over for today," said Simpson. "Look at our poor mules. They are stuck so full of arrows they look like pin cushions."

"I believe these are Cheyenne arrows," said Billy. "See the marks on them?"

"That may mean that Yellow Hand—"

"Yellow Hand!" exclaimed Billy. "Kit Carson made him return some stolen horses to Fort Laramie this summer."

"Yes, and if I know Yellow Hand, he is out to get revenge," said Woods. "He is a tricky and a dangerous enemy."

The Indians made camp. Their campfires blazed and brightened the sky. Their guards surrounded the white men at a safe distance while the other braves danced around the campfire.

"I don't think they will attack during the night," said Simpson, "but we had better stay awake. If we can hold out for a few hours in the morning the second wagon train will come along and save us."

"Let me try to slip through the guards and get word back to our outfit."

"No, Billy," said Simpson, "our best chance is to try to hold out until the train reaches us."

"But let me try," pleaded Billy.

"No," Simpson's voice was firm. "I need you and your rifle here, Billy. I don't know what we would do without you. You are certainly a crack shot."

It was late when the Indian camp became quiet. The Indian guards, however, remained on duty.

In the morning, when the first rays of light appeared in the east, the Indians were astir. Just at sunrise, they renewed their attack. Yelling and shouting their war whoops, they circled and then began to close in on the mule fort. Three blazing rifles stopped them and sent them retreating out of range.

"They will try to make us use up all our ammunition," said Simpson. "Then they will ride in for the kill."

"Why doesn't our wagon train come along?" asked Woods. "Do you suppose they were attacked by Indians after we left them yesterday?"

"I don't know," answered Simpson, "but let's hope they started early this morning."

Slowly the morning hours dragged on. Several times the Indians made quick, sharp attacks. Each time they were forced back by blazing rifles.

Suddenly Billy jumped to his feet and shouted. Simpson grabbed him and pulled him roughly to the ground.

"What in the world is the matter with you?" he asked. "Are you trying to get killed?"

"No," said Billy, "but I heard the crack of a bull whip. It's our train! They are coming!"

Simpson and Woods looked at each other and the two men shook their heads.

"Look!" shouted Billy. "The Indians hear it, too. They have all stopped and are listening."

"You're right, Billy!" exclaimed Simpson, "but the Indians will make one last attack. Get ready!"

Once again the Indians charged down upon them. Yells and war whoops rang out. Tomahawks were hurled straight at the mule fort as the Indians dashed by.

Now the cracks of the bull whips could be plainly heard. The Indians made one final swoop past the mule fort and raced away.

Down the hill came the mounted men of the wagon train. As they galloped toward the mule fort their rifles blazed into the retreating Indians.

Billy ran to meet the men. Simpson and Woods leaned back against the body of a dead mule and called, "Good morning, boys. Thanks for coming up on time."

A halt was called and the men crowded around the mule fort. Simpson told them how they had been attacked and as he finished he turned to Billy and said, "The revolvers are yours, Billy, and anything else you want."

"What will it be, Billy?" laughed the men.

For a minute Billy hesitated. Then he said, " 'Billy' is a boy's name. I want to be called 'Bill.' "

Simpson slapped him on the shoulder. "Bill," he said, "if I ever hear anyone call you anything but 'Bill' from now on he will have to answer to me. Boys," he cried, "a cheer for Bill Cody!"

"Hurrah!" shouted the men. "Hurrah for Bill Cody!"

I. Why was Kit going to Yellow Hand's camp?

2. What sign did Kit and Billy decide to use if Billy saw Prince in the Indian camp?

3. Describe Yellow Hand.

4. What did Red Hawk and the young Sioux braves teach Billy?

5. What did the wagon boss mean by "settler trouble?"

6. How did Billy and Red Hawk save the wagon train?

7. Why did Simpson give Billy a new job with the wagon train?

8. Tell of the fight in "the mule fort".

9. How did Billy prove that he would make a good scout?

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