The End of the Trail
T HE flight of Sitting Bull and his followers to Canada marked the end of real Indian wars in the West. The peace which followed was broken only by an occasional skirmish which was quickly put down. The Indians were given reservations and were required to stay on them. As Kit Carson had said, the time had come at last when the Indians and the whites were to live together in peace.
The next few years brought many changes to the West. Cities and towns sprung up where once Indian villages had stood. Fields of grain grew on the old Indian hunting grounds. Railroads carried the freight once hauled by the wagon trains. Old stagecoaches no longer rattled over the trails and only a few herds of buffalo were left from the millions of buffalo which once roamed the plains.
A new West was being built. But the restless spirit of the old West still filled Bill Cody's heart. Now that the old West was no more, what could he do?
There was no longer need for a scout,—no place for a stagecoach driver,—no job with a wagon train,—no rides for the Kid of the Pon,,—and no Indians to fight. And these were the jobs that he had mastered in doing his share in the building of the West. What could he do now?
"Louisa," he said one day, "there is nothing left for me to do."
"Oh, yes there is, Bill," smiled Louisa. "You are still young. You can begin a new life—perhaps in the East."
"And leave the West? I couldn't do that, Louisa. I could never be happy away from the West."
"You need a change. Why don't we go back to St. Louis and visit my family?"
"All right," agreed Bill. "But before we go to St. Louis, we will stop off and visit my sister in Leavenworth."
A week later, the Codys arrived in Leavenworth. Here, too, many changes had taken place. Only a few of the old landmarks still remained.
When Bill took his first walk down the old familiar streets, he came to the old warehouse which had belonged to the greatest freighting firm of the old West. The weather-beaten sign was still there. But the only words that could still be read were "Gateway to the West."
"Gateway to the West," said Bill to himself. Almost as if it were yesterday, he recalled the first time he had come to ask "Uncle Alec" Majors for a job. In imagination he heard again a group of scouts laughing and talking. Nearby, wagon bosses shouted their orders. Bull whips cracked and teams of oxen strained forward in their yokes. The wagon train was off!
Bill Cody—"Buffalo Bill"—was re-living the old days on the plains. He recalled the long weary miles, the good fellowship of the men, the songs, the jokes, the dangers, the hardships, and the stagecoach holdups. Once again he saw the Indians hiding in ambush along the trails, the burning wagon trains, the buffalo stampedes, and outlaws lying in wait to hold up the "Boys of the Pony."
A rattling stagecoach, with six galloping horses, pulled to a stop and the passengers alighted. The guard jumped down from the box. The driver, his hat tipped back on his head, threw the reins to the station agent. The "knight of the reins" stepped down from his high seat and strode into the station followed by a group of excited boys.
"The old West," he said to himself. "The old wild West!"
He started on down the street. Suddenly he stopped. "Why didn't I think of this before?" he asked himself. He laughed aloud. "Now I know what I can do to help both the West and the East. I'll take the West—my old wild West—to the East. I'll show the people in the East what the men of the West did to help build a nation."
Bill went to work at once. He organized a "Wild West Show." The show was to be the story of the dangers and hardships faced by the pioneers in their struggle against the Indians of the plains. It was to be the story of the "winning of the West."
For his show, Bill bought old covered wagons, stagecoaches, horses, mules, and oxen. He hired many of his old friends,—old stagecoach drivers, wagon bosses, teamsters, and station agents,—to act the parts they had played in real life. He hired Indians and scouts and "Boys of the Pony" to play the parts that gave true pictures of life in the "Wild West."
Buffalo Bill's "Wild West Show" was a great success. For nearly thirty years Bill kept his show before the American people. With it he toured England and many European countries. Wherever he went the people came in great crowds to see his show and to cheer him. Buffalo Bill was a hero to millions of people, young and old, rich and poor.
During these years Bill Cody had changed but little. His slim figure was still proudly erect. His brown eyes were still keen and bright. His long yellow hair had turned white and he walked more slowly, but that was all. He remained a man of the old West.
Then, late in the year of 1916, Bill was taken ill. When the doctor had examined him, Bill asked, "Is this the end of the trail, Doctor?"
The doctor hesitated. He did not answer.
"Tell me. I am not afraid. If I am not going to get well I want to know it now. If I am going to die I want to go home—to the West."
"Go home, Buffalo Bill," said the doctor. "Go back to your West. You have reached the end of the trail."
On January 10, 1917, Buffalo Bill died in Denver, Colorado. He was buried on the top of nearby Lookout Mountain. His death was mourned throughout the world.
Every year thousands of people come to the simple grave of this great scout to honor his memory.
Buffalo Bill, the last of the great scouts, is at rest in the West that he loved so well. His spirit looks out over the trails he once rode and over the plains he helped make safe for the settlers of a growing nation. He had the courage of a scout, the vision of a pioneer, and the faith of a loyal American.