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

Wild Bill Hickock

W ILD Bill Hickock arrived at Red Buttes early Thursday morning. As Hickock reined in his horse and swung from the saddle, Slade hurried out of the station to meet him.

"Wild Bill," he said shaking hands with the famous plainsman, "I am glad to see you."

"And I am glad to see you, Slade," said Hickock. "Majors sent me to help you clear out the Indians and outlaws on your section. But I still feel that you could do this job yourself."

"I can't fight Indians, hunt down outlaws, and keep my riders on the job all at the same time," laughed Slade. "I certainly need your help. What are your plans?"

"Well, as you know, the Pony has been stopped," answered Hickock. "No more mail will be carried until we can make the trails safe for the riders. I think the first thing we should do is to get the horses the Indians have stolen from the Pony. Don't you think so?"

"Yes, I do," answered Slade quickly.

"Then we should run down the outlaws who have been holding up the riders on your section," continued Hickock. "The surest way of capturing them is to locate their hideout. Do you agree?"

"I certainly do."

"Good! By the way, I saw one of your riders in Rocky Ridge. Bill Cody was his name."

"Yes, I know," answered Slade.

"He said that he was going to make the return trip that night. Did he do it?'

Slade threw back his head and laughed. "Did he? He certainly did. Hickock, that boy is the best rider on my section. He gave me your message and I have the forty men ready for you. Bill Cody wants to go with us. I told him that as far as I am concerned he could go, but that you were in charge and that I would ask you. What about it?"

"You think he's all right, don't you?"

"He is young, but I wish I had forty men just like him." Slade pointed toward the corral. "See there, he is giving his horse, Prince, a good rubdown. He is crazy about that horse."

"Bill Cody," called Hickock, "you better get ready if you want to ride with us. We are going to get the stolen horses from the Indians."

A short time later, the posse of forty mounted men left the station. Bill, riding Prince, was in front with Hickock and Slade. The posse traveled rapidly over the trail toward the Sweetwater River. When they came to the river Hickock ordered a halt.

"We will divide into two parties," he said. "You ten men," and he pointed to the men, "are to ride with me and scout the country for signs of the Indians. Slade, you and the rest of the men keep to the trail. I'll take Bill Cody with me and if we locate the Indians, I will send him back to let you know."

Hickock and his scouts rode on. They spread out to look for signs of the Indians. Bill, leaning over Prince's neck, carefully watched the ground. Hickock looked for Indian signs as he rode along, but he also kept a close watch on Bill.

When they had ridden about twenty miles, Bill suddenly reined in Prince and dismounted. Prince stood quietly as his master crawled along the ground on his hands and knees.

Hickock signaled to his scouts and gave his horse the spurs. The men galloped toward Bill.

"What have you found, Bill?" asked Hickock as he pulled up beside the boy.

"I think I have located the Indians' trail." answered Bill. "See, here are the hoofprints of their unshod ponies. And here are the hoofprints of the horses that are shod. The horses that are shod don't belong to the Indians. They are horses that were stolen from the Pony."

Hickock slipped from his saddle and knelt on the ground. He examined the tracks.

"You are right, Bill. The Indians are leading our horses. Notice that the hoofprints of the shod horses are more distinct and are on top of the hoof-prints. of the unshod ponies. Ride back to Slade and lead him to this trail. My scouts and I will ride on to the north. When you return with Slade and his men, pick up our trail and follow us."

Hickock and his scouts followed the trail all day but did not overtake the Indians. Late the next afternoon they located the Indian camp near a small creek. There were about three hundred braves in camp. A hundred stolen horses were grazing nearby. Hickock watched the Indians for a while. Then he and his scouts hurried back to meet Slade and his men.

"The Indians don't suspect that we are on their trail," said Hickock. "They have no guards posted. We are outnumbered, but we will make a surprise attack as soon as it is dark. When I give the signal we will charge straight through the camp. Ride hard, keep together, and shoot to kill."

The Indians were taken by surprise. Hickock, with a blazing revolver in each hand, led the attack. The men raced through the camp yelling and shooting. They made so much noise and confusion that the Indians, thinking they were outnumbered, fled into the darkness.

In the morning five men were ordered to round up the horses and take them to the nearest pony express station.

"Bill," asked Hickock as he turned and winked at Slade, "don't you want to help take the horses to the station?"

"No, sir," answered Bill quickly. "I want to help locate the outlaws. Of course," he added, "if you order me to go, I will go, but I won't like it."

Hickock laughed. Then he asked, and his voice was kindly, "Why are you so anxious to go with the posse? You don't need to go."

"Well, you see, sir," said Bill, "I expect to be a scout some day and I need all the experience I can get so I will be a good one."

Hickock slapped Bill on the shoulder. "Good boy," he said and strode away.

Hickock and his men scouted the country for many days. They explored the canyons and followed trails over the hills and mountains. But they found no signs of the outlaws.

Every day the men spent long, weary hours in the saddle. Every night they made camp wherever they happened to be when it became dark. They built no campfires because they did not want to attract the attention of roving bands of Indians, or of outlaws in case their hideout should be near the posse's camp. They ate cold meat and dry bread and slept on the ground.

One night, camp was made just inside the entrance to a large canyon. The horses were watered at the little creek flowing through the canyon and then were hobbled nearby. The men talked in low voices as they ate their supper.

"Slade," said Hickock, "tomorrow morning we will explore this canyon. You and your men follow the creek. My scouts and I will take the trail to the top of the canyon."

"All right. I'll do that," said Slade. "Shall we meet you at the other end of the canyon or shall we meet back here?"

"Meet me at the other end," answered Hickock, "we must keep moving forward."

After talking over the plans for the next morning, Hickock said, "Well, I guess I'll turn in for the night. Bill, what about you?"

"I'll be ready as soon as I hobble Prince for the night."

"Why don't you hobble your horse when we make camp?" asked Hickock. "It would save you a lot of trouble each night. He always roams away from camp."

Bill laughed. "He never goes very far and he always comes back when I call him."

Prince had wandered a short distance up the canyon. But when Bill called softly to him the horse started at once toward his master. They made their way through the darkness back to camp.

Suddenly Bill stopped. "What was that I saw reflected on the canyon wall?" he asked himself. He stood perfectly still. He stared intently at the distant canyon wall.

Far up the canyon was a faint glow of light.

"It's a campfire!" he exclaimed. "Come, Prince," he added.

He led Prince quickly back to the other horses and hobbled him. "Stay here, old fellow," he said, "I won't need you on this job."

He hurried back to camp.

"Mr. Hickock," he called in a loud whisper.

"What's the matter, Bill? Has someone stolen Prince?"

"No," answered Bill, "but I believe I've located the hideout of the outlaws."

Quick as a flash Hickock sprang to his feet.

"What makes you think so, Bill?" called Slade.

"I was leading Prince back toward camp when I saw a faint glow of light reflected against the side of this canyon wall. Look off to the right. See! There it is. It is a campfire!"

"You are right, Bill," said Hickock.

"Could be some campers," said one of the men.

"No one but an outlaw gang would be camped way up there in that out-of-the-way place. They think they are safe or they wouldn't have a campfire," said Hickock.

"Let's find out who it is," said Slade. "What are we waiting for?"

"I'll take Bill with me and go up the canyon," said Hickock. "If we find that it is the outlaws' camp, I'll send word back by Bill. Slade, I'll depend upon you and the men to be ready to follow Bill in case he brings you word that we are to try to capture the outlaws tonight. Get your guns, Bill, and come with me."

Hickock and Bill left camp at once. They moved cautiously and quietly over the rough canyon path. In a short time, they struck a narrow trail that entered the canyon from the right. A little farther on they came to a place where the trail divided.

"You take the path to the right and I'll keep on straight ahead," said Hickock in a low voice. "Go about a half mile up the canyon and then come back and report to me here. If I am not here, wait for me."

"Yes, sir."

Bill went on alone. Slowly, carefully he made his way through the darkness. Now and then, he paused and listened. Not a sound broke the stillness of the night. The path became narrower. The light on ahead became brighter. He dropped to his hands and knees and crawled on up the rocky path.

Suddenly a gruff voice demanded, "Who is it?"

Bill did not answer.

"Who is it?"

Bill said to himself, "A guard! I'm in for it now. I must act fast to get out of this." He rose to his feet and said, "I am looking for a camping place."

"You have come a long way in the dark to find a camping place."

"I am lost," said Bill.

"Stand where you are. Make one move and I'll fill you full of lead," said the guard. Slowly the man came down the narrow path.

Bill backed up against the canyon wall. The man brushed past him. Bill hesitated for just an instant and then struck with all his might. There was a grunt and the man toppled over the edge of the path and fell into the canyon below.

"This path leads to the outlaws' hideout," said Bill to himself. "I must get back to Mr. Hickock and tell him what has happened." He moved quickly and quietly down the path.

Hickock was waiting. In a few words Bill told him about the guard and what had happened.

"Good work, Bill," praised Hickock. "Now get back to camp and bring Slade and the men. I'll wait here and see that no one gets by this spot."

A little later Bill and the posse, headed by Slade, joined Hickok. Then with Bill in the lead the men made their way quietly up the narrow path.

"This is where I met the guard," whispered Bill.

"All right. Step back, Bill," said Hickock. "From now on I'll lead the way."

Slowly they made their way along the trail. As Hickock and his men crept around a large rock, the outlaws' campfire came into view. Twelve rough men, armed with rifles, were gathered around the fire. They were laughing and talking.

Hickock halted his men. "You know what to do," he said. "Move into position around the camp. When I cover the outlaws, close in."

Without a word the men obeyed.

After waiting long enough for his men to surround the camp, Hickock whipped out his pearl-handled revolvers and strode forward.

"Hands up!" he commanded.

The outlaws jumped to their feet.

"Get him!" shouted one of them as he reached for his rifle. Hickock's revolvers barked and the outlaw fell dead.

The posse surrounding the outlaws closed in. The bandits made no attempt to shoot their way out of the circle of guns held ready to fire.

"Throw your guns on the ground!" ordered Hickock. "Who's the leader of this gang?"

"I am," growled one of the outlaws.

"Black Marlin!" exclaimed Bill.

The outlaw turned and glared. "Oh, you're the Kid of the Pony. I remember you. I'll get you one of these days."

"Come on, men," broke in Hickock, "get the ropes over there by the fire and tie up these bandits. We had a tough time locating them and we don't want to take a chance on losing them."

"How did you find our hideout?" snarled Marlin.

"You're getting careless, Marlin," laughed Hickock. "My scout, that 'Kid of the Pony', spotted your campfire and the rest was easy."

1. Explain Bill's plan for saving the mail and the money in his mochila.

2. Tell what happened when Black Marlin held him up.

3. Why was Bill transferred to Red Buttes?

4. Why was Bill now paid the top pay for a rider?

5. Who was the rider Bill met on this run?

6. How did Bill prove his loyalty to his friend and the Pony?

7. What record did Bill Cody make while riding for the Pony?

8. Describe Will Bill Hickock.

9. Why was Bill anxious to go with Hickock's posse?

10. What signs did Bill find that helped locate the Indians?

11. How did Bill's alertness lead to the outlaw's hideout?

12. Where did they find the outlaws?

13. Why was Bill called the "Kid of the Pony"?

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