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

Billy Saves a Wagon Train

K IT and Billy headed back to Fort Laramie. When it was almost dark they turned off the trail, hobbled their horses and made camp for the night. They did not build a fire. They ate cold meat and dry bread for their supper.

"Mr. Carson," asked Billy as they stretched out on the ground to go to sleep, "do you think Yellow Hand will return the horses?"

"I feel quite sure that he will," answered Kit.

"And Prince, too?"

"Prince will be returned if the other horses are brought back." A few minutes later Kit added, "I did not know that Yellow Hand was riding Prince until you gave me our sign. That was good work, Billy."

But Billy did not hear Kit's praise. He was already sound asleep. Kit smiled, looked up at the bright stars and soon he, too, was asleep.

The next five days were long, anxious days for Billy. He was encouraged by Kit's demand that the horses be returned. Yet he remembered that Kit had never said positively that Yellow Hand would bring them back. Sometimes Billy was certain that the Indians would return all the horses. Then again he was filled with fear that all the horses except Prince would be returned.

Each day when Billy finished his work he hurried to the fort to look for Kit Carson. If he did not find Kit at the fort, Billy hurried to the Indian camps. And there in one of the camps Kit was most often to be found. He and a silent group of braves carried on long talks without speaking a word. They used the sign language. Their hands made the signs clearly and swiftly. Billy was spellbound as he stood quietly by and watched Kit and the Indians.

Then when the long talks were over, Kit and Billy would walk back to the fort. Each day Billy asked the same old question. "Will Yellow Hand return Prince and the other horses?"

Kit's answer was always the same. "We will have to wait, Billy. I think Yellow Hand will bring Prince and the horses to the fort. But I am not sure. I don't trust Yellow Hand."

Five long, anxious days for Billy!

Then at last the fifth day passed. Just at sunset, a band of yelling Indians driving a herd of horses neared the fort. Men and soldiers rushed to a big corral. Billy was in the lead.

"The horses!" he shouted. "The horses!"

The gate was opened and the herd was driven into the corral. Billy climbed up on the gate. His keen eyes flashed from horse to horse as he searched for Prince. But Billy could not find Prince among the frightened horses racing about the corral.

"Prince," he called. His heart pounded so that he could scarcely breathe.

"Prince," he called again.

This time a whinny answered his call. And a beautiful brown horse with a star on his forehead pushed through the herd toward his master. Billy leaned over the gate. His arms went around Prince's neck.

"Prince, Prince," he whispered again and again. He patted the horse and ran his fingers through the silky mane. "Yellow Hand has taken good care of you, but I don't forgive him for taking you away from me."

Suddenly Billy turned and looked for Kit. The slim, blue-eyed scout was standing nearby.

"Mr. Carson," shouted Billy, "here he is. This is Prince."

"You hardly need to tell me that," smiled Kit as he came forward. "Even the papooses in Yellow Hand's camp would know that Prince is your horse."

Later that evening Kit said, "Billy, my work here is finished. I am leaving in the morning with Simpson and his fifteen wagons for Fort Bridger. Don't forget that to be a good plains scout you must learn everything you can about the Indians and the plains."

"I won't forget, Mr. Carson."

"The Sioux chief, Rain-in-the-Face, and his Indians camped near the fort today. They intend to stay here several months. The chief has a son about your age. His name is 'Red Hawk.' I think you would like this young brave. Spend as much time as you can with him and his friends."

"I will," nodded Billy. "Mr. Carson, I hope we'll meet again soon. But no matter if it is a long time before I see you again, I will never forget you."

"We will meet again, Billy. The trails are long and the forts are far apart, but here in the West old friends always meet again—somewhere."

Kit held out his hand and said, "Good-by, Billy."

"Good-by, Mr. Carson," said Billy as he shook hands with the famous scout. "Thanks for getting Prince back for me."

"I am glad that I could do it. Good luck, Billy."

Billy made friends with Red Hawk and the other young braves of the Sioux camp. They galloped their horses across the plains in wild, exciting races and Prince was the winner of most of the races. They followed trails and hunted together. The Sioux braves taught Billy many signs used in the sign language of the plains. They also taught him to speak the language of their tribe.

Red Hawk was Billy's best friend. The young brave was an expert hunter and trapper. He and Billy often went hunting together.

One day when Billy and Red Hawk were out hunting, they met a small wagon train. The boys joined the wagon boss and rode with him ahead of the train.

"What is your name and what outfit are you with, Son?" asked the wagon boss.

"I am Billy Cody and I am with Lew Simpson's wagon train. My friend is Red Hawk, the son of Chief Rain-in-the-Face."

"Rain-in-the-Face!" exclaimed the wagon boss. "Is the old Sioux chief at Fort Laramie? I am surprised he would let his son be a friend of a white boy. Better watch out for the chief. You don't want to lose your scalp, do you?"

"The Sioux are good Indians," defended Billy.

"You won't think so when they attack your wagon train," grinned the wagon boss. "Is Lew Simpson at Fort Laramie?"

"No," answered Billy. "He has gone on to Fort Bridger."

"Good. Then I'll see him there."

"Are you headed for Fort Bridger?" asked Billy.

"No, we are headed for Oregon. And if I ever get this train through, it will be the last train I'll take out for sometime."

"Why?" asked Billy.

"I need a long rest," laughed the wagon boss. "I am taking ten families of settlers to Oregon and not one of them has ever been on the plains before. They hired me as their wagon boss. But I am the cook, doctor, fire-builder, scout, nurse-maid, guard, wagon-mender, and"—he was silent for a moment—"minister," he added. "Yesterday a little girl died. I buried her and marked her grave."

Billy turned in his saddle and looked back at the covered wagons slowly coming on over the trail. In the first wagon, a young mother holding a baby in her arms smiled at him. She was pretty in her gay sunbonnet and flowered calico dress. On the driver's seat beside her was a boy about seven years old. He was driving the ox team. A man, gun in hand, walked along beside the wagon.

"Billy," said the wagon boss, "I have made many trips across the plains, but this trip is the most difficult one I have ever made."

"Have you had any Indian trouble?" asked Billy.

"No," the man shook his head, "I have had settler trouble."

"I don't understand," said Billy.

"Well, you see Billy, these people are very anxious to get to Oregon. They overlook the fact that it takes weeks, often months, to cross the plains. They are brave and they want to do their share of the work. But they had to learn that the success of a trip depends upon the help of everyone with the train.

"At first, I had to watch them carefully. They tried to drive their teams too hard and did not want to stop to rest during the day. At night they would forget to guard their animals. If I left them to find a good place to ford a river or a stream, they would sometimes try to cross before I returned and would get into trouble.

"At first, they saw no reason to form a circle with their wagons when we made camp. But one day we passed a burned wagon train. Since then I have had less trouble about getting them to camp properly."

At noon, the wagon boss ordered a halt. The drivers swung their wagons into position. The women hurried to prepare the noonday meal while the men cared for the animals. Laughing children ran in and out among the wagons, playing tag.

The boy in the first wagon unyoked his oxen and crawled back upon the driver's seat. His mother patted his head.

"I wonder what is the matter with Tommy," said the wagon boss. "I hope he isn't sick. Billy," he asked, "won't you and Red Hawk stay and eat with us?"

"No, thank you," answered Billy. "We started out to find a buffalo herd. We must be on our way."

"Well, I will see you at the fort," the wagon boss called over his shoulder as he rode to the circle. Billy and Red Hawk rode off across the plain.

Shortly after leaving the wagon train, the boys came to the top of a small rolling hill. Instantly both boys reined in their horses.

"Look over there!" exclaimed Billy, pointing at a cloud of dust rising from the plain. "Buffalo! And they are headed this way!"

Red Hawk cupped an ear with his right hand, "Listen!" he said.

The two boys sat motionless. The distant rumble of thousands of hoofs came to their ears.

"A stampede!" shouted Billy. "A big herd on a wild stampede!"

The sound of pounding hoofs became a deep rumble. It grew louder and louder. Straight across the plains roared the herd of maddened buffalo.

"The wagon train!" cried Billy. "It's in the path of the stampede. The settlers will all be killed."

In a flash, the boys whirled their horses and raced back to the train.

"Stampede!" shouted Billy. "Headed this way! Stampede! Coming this way!"

"Quick!" shouted Red Hawk, waving his arms in warning.

The wagon boss shouted sharp orders. Everyone in the train dashed quickly to his post. Already the dark forms of the buffalo were charging over the hill.

The women and children hurriedly climbed into the wagons. The wagon boss posted the men as a guard in front of the wagon train. Billy and Red Hawk quickly tied their horses inside the circle, and hurried to join the men. They all stood with rifles ready to fire at the advancing herd.

As the leaders came racing forward, the wagon boss ordered, "Pick the leaders in the center. Fire!"

Four huge buffalo leaders fell dead. Again and again the men fired. Again and again the leaders fell in front of the advancing herd. Their huge bodies made a mound and the herd was split. To avoid the dead buffalo, part of the herd swerved to the right and part to the left. Thousands plunged by each side of the wagon train. They came so close that some of them brushed against the sides of the wagons. The force of the glancing blows shook the wagons as though they were toy wagons.

Dust and a heavy smell filled the air. Everyone was coughing and choking. The earth shook with the heavy thunder of pounding hoofs.

Hour after hour the maddened herd swept on. Hour after hour Billy and Red Hawk stood guard with the men. Often a shot was needed to keep the wild herd separated.

Finally the last of the herd thundered by. The wagon train was once again alone on the prairie.

Everything was covered with a thick, heavy dust. On each side of the wagon train the grass and sage-brush had been trampled flat on the ground.

Now that the danger was over, everyone began talking and laughing at once.

"Billy, we owe our lives to your prompt warning," said the wagon boss.

"Don't forget my friend, Red Hawk," smiled Billy. "He helped as much as I did."

"Yes, I know," said the wagon boss. He scratched his head and grinned. "The next time the Sioux Indians attack me I'll try to remember that at least one Sioux brave helped save my life instead of trying to get my scalp."

Through the opening of one wagon the young mother with the gay sunbonnet looked out. Her eyes were wide with terror.

Billy hurried to her. "Are you all right, lady?" he asked.

"I think I am now," she smiled down at him, "but I was scared to death."

"Mary," called a man running toward the wagon, "are you and the children all right?"

"Yes, John," she answered, "but Tommy is too ill to drive any more today."

"I will drive for you," spoke up Billy.

"That would be a great help," said the man. "The wagon boss has ordered me to go on ahead with him. I must go now, Mary," he added. "Take care of Tommy."

"I will be back in a few minutes," said Billy. "I must get my horse."

Red Hawk, holding Prince, was waiting for Billy.

"I am going to drive one of the wagons," said Billy. "You ride on ahead to the fort and tell the men of my outfit where I am and that I'll be in later."

Red Hawk nodded. "I will tell them, but when are we going to hunt buffalo?"

Billy laughed. "I have seen all the buffalo I want to see for one day."

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