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

Boots and Saddles

T HE peace treaty had been signed. The Indians were given a large tract of land in what is now the state of South Dakota. They were also given the right to hunt on the land farther west. One of the provisions of the treaty was that no white people would be allowed to enter the lands given to the Indians.

"This land is your own," the Indians were told.

The treaty put an end to the Indian war. The general and most of the officers and soldiers who had come west to fight the Indians returned to the East. However, the troops which had been stationed in the forts on the plains were ordered to remain on duty in their old posts. They were needed to guard the settlers and to see that the treaty was not broken.

The Indian war drums were silent. But the people who lived in the West knew that danger was not gone from the plains. They knew that the Indians still hated the whites and that roving bands of braves would quickly take advantage of any opportunity to steal or to kill.

As soon as the treaty was signed, the Fifth Cavalry rode northward to Fort McPherson where it had been assigned to duty. Bill Cody, chief of scouts, rode with the Fifth to his new headquarters. Bill and his scouts were to be the eyes and ears of the commanding officer. They were to keep him fully informed of what was going on in the area which the fort was protecting.

Every day, Bill and his scouts made their rides over the plains, keeping a close watch on the Indian villages and camps. The reports they brought in from these trips enabled the commanding officer to keep his soldiers ever on guard against sudden Indian attacks.

Slowly the months passed without any signs of Indian trouble. Many of the soldiers and scouts at Fort McPherson sent for their wives and children to join them at the fort. Louisa Cody and baby daughter were among the first to arrive.

For the next few years the Codys lived in a log cabin near the fort. Here in this little cabin their son was born. They named him "Kit Carson Cody" in honor of the great scout.

Each year, more and more white men came to the West. Many of them tried to settle on the land which had been given to the Indians. When they were told that they could not enter the Indian lands they became angry. Some of them defied the treaty and settled on the Indian reservation in spite of the warnings they received. Many of them were killed by the Indians.

The United States Government moved to put an end to the trouble between the settlers and the Indians. Soldiers were sent to the West to keep white people off the Indian reservations. The soldiers were to protect the Indians and to prevent the white people from breaking the treaty.

Some of the Indian chiefs, however, did not trust the government nor the soldiers. These chiefs still hoped to unite all the Plains Indians in a war against the whites. They hoped to drive all white people from all of the lands of the West.

Bill continued to act as scout for the Fifth Cavalry. Now and then a band of braves went on the warpath. But, due to Bill's alertness, these uprisings were quickly put down by the troops.

One day, Bill and his scouts returned to the fort after a week's ride over their part of the plains. Bill went at once to the commanding officer of the fort to make his report.

"Cody," said the officer, "while you were gone, General Custer and his Seventh Cavalry were here. The Seventh is on its way to the Black Hills in the Indian reservation. Custer asked about you. He still wants you to scout for him."

Bill laughed. "I am sorry to have missed General Custer. I should like to be one of his scouts. But as long as the Fifth needs me, I shall stay with the Fifth."

"Good!" exclaimed the officer. "Now what about your trip?"

Bill frowned. "The Indians are more hostile than they have been for sometime," he said. "Some of their more powerful chiefs are trying to unite all the Plains Indian tribes. If they are successful it will mean another hard-fought Indian war."

"Who are some of the chiefs trying to unite the Indians?"

"Well, among the Sioux chiefs are Rain-in-theFace, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Gall, and many others. Perhaps the Indian with the greatest influence and power is old Sitting Bull. He is a great warrior and his Sioux braves are loyal to him. The Sioux are trying to get the Cheyennes to join them. Chief Yellow Hand of the Cheyennes has long hated the white men, and I am sure that he and his braves will join the Sioux if they go on the warpath."

"I am afraid that you are right, Cody. We need more troops here in the West to keep the Indians quiet. They seem to be forgetting the treaty they made with the white men."

"The white men are the ones who are breaking the treaty," interrupted Bill. "It must be stopped at once. If it is not, we cannot blame the Indians for going on the warpath this time."

"Are you defending the Indians?"

"I am sorry for them," answered Bill. "They are determined to hold what little land they can still call their own. They must be protected from the greedy settlers who are slipping into their reservation and grabbing their land. If we can't stop the land-grabbers we are in for a great deal of trouble."

"That is why the United States Government sent General Custer out here," said the officer. "He is to keep the white people out of the Indian reservation in the Black Hills."

Custer might have succeeded in protecting the lands of the Indians but for the discovery of gold in the Black Hills. The news swept across the country. Thousands of white men hurried westward to stake claims in the new gold fields. And while the white men overran the Indians' land and mined the gold in it, the Indians prepared for war.

Once again the war drums sounded over the plains. Once again the Indians were on the warpath.

Sitting Bull took the leading part in preparing for action. His braves raced their wiry ponies across the plains. They carried Sitting Bull's message to the chiefs of other tribes: "We make our plans together. Meet me at camp on Little Big Horn. Come! Come at once!"

In the western forts the bugle call of the United States Army rang out sharp and clear. The bugle call of "Boots and Saddles" answered the slow, steady beat of Indian war drums.

The Fifth Cavalry was transferred from Fort McPherson to Fort Laramie.

As soon as the Fifth reached Fort Laramie, it was ordered to scout the country between the fort and the Black Hills to the north.

Bill and his scouts led the way. All day, and every day, the cavalrymen were in the saddle. Several times they came upon hostile bands of Indians who promptly fled after a short skirmish.

When they had finished the scouting assigned to them, the troops started back to Fort Laramie.

One night, just before dark, the men made camp near a small creek. Bill was eating his supper with a group of officers when one young officer said, "I joined the Fifth because I thought I was going to see some real fighting. So far we have had only a few skirmishes with small bands of roving Indians."

"Wait until you meet the Sioux and you will change your mind," said Bill.

The young officer laughed. "The Sioux! That's all I hear. Where are they? They must be staying close to their reservation since they learned that the army is on the march. They act as if they are afraid."

"Don't you believe it," answered Bill seriously. "The Sioux are our most powerful enemy. They are fearless fighters and their leaders have great military skill. Before we defeat them, you will see plenty of real fighting."

"General Custer is in the Black Hills among the Sioux. He doesn't seem to think they are so powerful. He is not afraid of them," argued the young officer.

"General Custer is one of the bravest and most daring officers I ever knew," answered Bill. "He knows the Indians and their ways of fighting. I only hope that he doesn't underestimate the great strength of the Sioux."

The conversation was interrupted by an orderly who saluted the commanding officer and said, "Sir, a scout from the north has just arrived. He has an important message for you."

"Bring him to me," ordered the general.

In a few moments, the scout came forward.

"What is your message?" asked the general.

"Custer and a large number of his men have been massacred," answered the scout.

"Custer and his men massacred!" cried the general. "What happened? How?"

"General Custer and his six hundred men found the camp of Sitting Bull on the Little Big Horn River in Montana," began the scout. "Custer had been told by his scouts that there were only about six hundred Indians in the camp. He decided to attack the camp from three directions and divided his troops into three units of about two hundred men each. He led his unit straight against the center of the camp. He found almost six thousand Indians in the camp instead of six hundred.

"Custer and his two hundred men were so greatly outnumbered they didn't have a chance," continued the scout. "They were surrounded and every man was killed before the other two units could reach them. The battle lasted only twenty minutes."

For a moment Bill and the officers sat in stunned silence. Then they slowly pushed aside their unfinished meal.

"Men," said the general rising to his feet, "let us salute the spirit of as brave an officer as ever wore a uniform."

At dawn the Fifth Cavalry was on its way northward. All thought of returning to Fort Laramie had been dismissed. This was war, and the Fifth was on its way to claim its share of the fighting. The men of the Fifth were fired with one desire—to avenge the death of their comrades in arms. They spared neither themselves nor their horses. Day after day they rode over the plains toward the land of the Sioux.

One evening after they had made camp, the general received a message. "A thousand Cheyennes are on the warpath," it said. "They are headed for War Bonnet Creek to join Sitting Bull and his victorious braves. The Cheyennes are still fifty miles from the creek. They must not be allowed to join the Sioux. Can the Fifth stop them?"

The general sent for Bill Cody.

"Cody," he asked, "how far are we from War Bonnet Creek?"

"Eighty miles, sir."

The general shook his head. "Then we can't make it."

"What do you mean, sir?"

"A thousand Cheyenne warriors are headed for War Bonnet Creek. They are to wait there for Sitting Bull to arrive with his warriors. Their plan is to unite forces under Sitting Bull's corn mand."

"That must not happen," broke in Bill. "If the Sioux and Cheyennes unite, we are lost. We must stop them."

"The only way that we can stop them is to get to the creek before the Cheyennes," said the general. "And we haven't a chance to do that."

"Why not?"

"Because they are only fifty miles from the creek while we are eighty miles away."

"General, the Fifth has never failed to carry out its orders. We can—we must make it."

"How?"

"Follow me. I know this country. I can get you there on time."

The general hesitated. "All right, Cody," he said at last, "the Fifth will follow you. But remember, if you fail to get us there in time it may cost the lives of every man in this cavalry. If you fail, another Custer massacre may take place."

Bill drew himself to his full height. "General," he said, "as a scout I give you my word that I will not fail. The Fifth will be waiting for the Cheyennes at War Bonnet Creek."

1. Why did the Indians try to stop the building of the railroad?

2. What does Pa-ha-ska mean?

3. Did the Indians or the white men break the treaty?

4. Tell what you can of Custer's massacre.


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