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General Harney was in command at Fort Leavenworth at the time of our visit, and a regiment of cavalry was stationed there. They were having a dress parade when we rode up, and as this was the first time that I had ever seen any soldiers, I thought it was a grand sight. I shall never forget it, especially the manoeuvres on horseback.

After witnessing the parade we resumed our journey. On the way to my father's trading camp we had to cross over a high hill known as Salt Creek Hill, from the top of which we looked down upon the most beautiful valley I have ever seen. It was about twelve miles long and five miles wide. The different tributaries of Salt Creek came down from the range of hills at the southwest. At the foot of the valley another small river--Plum Creek, also flowed. The bluffs fringed with trees, clad in their full foliage, added greatly to the picturesqueness of the scene.

While this beautiful valley greatly interested me, yet the most novel sight, of an entirely different character, which met my enraptured gaze, was the vast number of white-covered wagons, or "prairie-schooners," which were encamped along the different streams. I asked my father what they were and where they were going; he explained to me that they were emigrant wagons bound for Utah and California.

At that time the Mormon and California trails ran through this valley, which was always selected as a camping place. There were at least one thousand wagons in the valley, and their white covers lent a pleasing contrast to the green grass. The cattle were quietly grazing near the wagons, while the emigrants were either resting or attending to camp duties.

A large number of the wagons, as I learned from my father, belonged to Majors & Russell, the great government freighters. They had several trains there, each consisting of twenty-five wagons, heavily loaded with government supplies. They were all camped and corraled in a circle.

While we were viewing this scene, a long wagon train came pulling up the hill, bound out from Fort Leavenworth to some distant frontier post. The cattle were wild and the men were whipping them fearfully, the loud reports of the bull-whips sounding like gun-shots. They were "doubling-up," and some of the wagons were being drawn by fifteen yokes of oxen. I remember asking my father a great many questions, and he explained to me all about the freighting business across the great plains, and told me about the different government posts.

Pointing over to the army of wagons camped below us, he showed me which were the Mormons' and which were the Californians', and said that we must steer clear of the former as the cholera was raging among them. Five hundred had died that spring--1853--and the grave-yard was daily increasing its dimensions. The unfortunate people had been overtaken by the dreadful disease, and had been compelled to halt on their journey until it abated.

While we were looking at the Mormons they were holding a funeral service over the remains of some of their number who had died. Their old cemetery is yet indicated by various land-marks, which, however, with the few remaining head-boards, are fast disappearing.

We passed on through this "Valley of Death," as it might then have been very appropriately called, and after riding for some time, my father pointed out a large hill and showed me his camp, which afterwards became our home.

There was another trading-post near by, which was conducted by Mr. M.P. Rively, who had a store built, partly frame, and partly of logs. We stopped at this establishment for a while, and found perhaps a hundred men, women and children gathered there, engaged in trading and gossipping. The men had huge pistols and knives in their belts; their pantaloons were tucked in their boots; and they wore large broad-rimmed hats.

To me they appeared like a lot of cut-throat pirates who had come ashore for a lark. It was the first time I had ever seen men carrying pistols and knives, and they looked like a very dangerous crowd. Some were buying articles of merchandise; others were talking about the cholera, the various camps, and matters of interest; while others were drinking whisky freely and becoming intoxicated. It was a busy and an exciting scene, and Rively appeared to be doing a rushing trade.

At some little distance from the store I noticed a small party of dark-skinned and rather fantastically dressed people, whom I ascertained were Indians, and as I had never before seen a real live Indian, I was much interested in them. I went over and endeavored to talk to them, but our conversation was very limited.

That evening we reached our camp, which was located two miles west of Rively's. The first thing I did was to hunt up my ponies, and from my father's description of them, I had no difficulty in finding them. They were lariated in the grass and I immediately ran up to them supposing them to be gentle animals. I was greatly mistaken, however, as they snorted and jumped away from me, and would not allow me to come near them.

My father, who was standing not far distant, informed me that the ponies were not yet broken. I was somewhat disappointed at this; and thereupon he and one of his men caught one of the animals and bridled her, then putting me on her back, led her around, greatly to my delight. I kept petting her so much that she soon allowed me to approach her. She was a beautiful bay, and I named her "Dolly;" the other pony was a sorrel, and I called him "Prince."

In the evening some Indians visited the camp--which as yet consisted only of tents, though some logs had been cut preparatory to building houses--and exchanged their furs for clothing, sugar and tobacco. Father had not learned their language, and therefore communicated with them by means of signs. We had our supper by the camp-fire, and that night was the first time I ever camped out and slept upon the ground.

The day had been an eventful one to me, for all the incidents were full of excitement and romance to my youthful mind, and I think no apology is needed for mentioning so many of the little circumstances, which so greatly interested me in my childhood's days, and which no doubt had a great influence in shaping my course in after years. My love of hunting and scouting, and life on the plains generally, was the result of my early surroundings.

The next morning father visited the Kickapoo agency, taking me along. He rode a horse, and putting me on my pony "Dolly," led the animal all the way. He seemed anxious to break me in, as well as the pony, and I greatly enjoyed this, my first day's ride on a Kansas prairie.

At the Kickapoo village I saw hundreds of Indians, some of whom were living in lodges, but the majority occupied log cabins. The agent resided in a double-hewed log house, one of the apartments of which was used as a school for the Indians. The agency store was opposite this structure.

All the buildings were whitewashed, and looked neat and clean. The Kickapoos were very friendly Indians, and we spent much of our time among them, looking about and studying their habits.

After a while we returned to our own camp, and just as we arrived there, we saw a drove of horses--there were three or four hundred in all--approaching from the west, over the California trail. They were being driven by seven or eight mounted men, wearing sombreros, and dressed in buckskin, with their lariats dangling from their saddles, and they were followed by two or three pack-mules or horses. They went into camp a little below us on the bank of the stream.

Presently one of the men walked out towards our camp, and my father called to me to come and see a genuine Western man; he was about six feet two inches tall, was well built, and had a light, springy and wiry step. He wore a broad-brimmed California hat, and was dressed in a complete suit of buckskin, beautifully trimmed and beaded. He saluted us, and father invited him to sit down, which he did. After a few moments conversation, he turned to me and said:

"Little one, I see you are working with your ponies. They are wild yet."

I had been petting Dolly and trying to break her, when my father called me to come and look at the Californian.

"Yes," I replied, "and one of them never has been ridden."

"Well, I'll ride him for you;" and springing lightly to his feet, he continued: "come on. Where is the animal?"

Accordingly we all went to the place where Prince was lariated. The stranger untied the rope from the picket pin, and taking a half-loop around the pony's nose, he jumped on his back.

In a moment he was flying over the prairie, the untamed steed rearing and pitching every once in a while in his efforts to throw his rider; but the man was not unseated. He was evidently an experienced horseman. I watched his every movement. I was unconsciously taking another lesson in the practical education which has served me so well through my life.

The Californian rode the pony until it was completely mastered, then coming up to me, jumped to the ground, handed me the rope, and said:

"Here's your pony. He's all right now."

I led Prince away, while father and the stranger sat down in the shade of a tent, and began talking about the latter's horsemanship, which father considered very remarkable.

"Oh, that's nothing; I was raised on horseback," said the Californian; "I ran away from home when a boy, went to sea, and finally landed in the Sandwich Islands, where I fell in with a circus, with which I remained two years. During that time I became a celebrated bare-back rider. I then went to California, being attracted there by the gold excitement, the news of which had reached the Islands. I did not go to mining, however, but went to work as a _bocarro_-catching and breaking wild horses, great numbers of which were roaming through California. Last summer we caught this herd that we have brought with us across the plains, and are taking it to the States to sell. I came with the outfit, as it gave me a good opportunity to visit my relatives, who live at Cleveland, Ohio. I also had an uncle over at Weston, across the river, when I ran away, and to-morrow I am going to visit the town to see if he is there yet."

"I am acquainted in Weston," said father, "and perhaps I can tell you about your uncle. What is his name?"

"Elijah Cody," said the Californian.

"Elijah Cody!" exclaimed father, in great surprise; "why Elijah Cody is my brother. I am Isaac Cody. Who are you?"

"My name is Horace Billings," was the reply.

"And you are my nephew. You are the son of my sister Sophia."

Both men sprang to their feet and began shaking hands in the heartiest manner possible.

The next moment father called me, and said: "Come here, my son. Here is some one you want to know."

As I approached he introduced us. "Horace, this is my only son. We call him little Billy;" and turning to me said: "Billy, my boy, this is a cousin of yours, Horace Billings, whom you've often heard me speak of."

Horace Billings had never been heard of from the day he ran away from home, and his relatives had frequently wondered what had become of him. His appearance, therefore, in our camp in the guise of a Californian was somewhat of a mystery to me, and I could hardly comprehend it until I had heard his adventurous story and learned the accidental manner in which he and father had made themselves known to each other.

Neither father nor myself would be satisfied until he had given us a full account of his wanderings and adventures, which were very exciting to me.

Late in the afternoon and just before the sun sank to rest, the conversation again turned upon horses and horsemanship. Father told Billings all about Little Gray, and his great fault of running away. Billings laughed and said Little Gray could not run away with him.

After supper he went out to look at the horse, which was picketed in the grass. Surveying the animal carefully, he untied the lariat and slipped a running noose over his nose; then giving a light bound, he was on his back in a second, and away went the horse and his rider, circling round and round on the prairie. Billings managed him by the rope alone, and convinced him that he was his master. When half a mile away, the horse started for camp at the top of his speed. Billings stood straight up on his back, and thus rode him into camp. As he passed us he jumped to the ground, allowed the horse to run to the full length of the lariat, when he threw him a complete somersault.

"That's a pretty good horse," said Billings.

"Yes, he's a California horse; he was captured there wild," replied father. The exhibition of horsemanship given by Billings on this occasion was really wonderful, and was the most skillful and daring feat of the kind that I ever witnessed. The remainder of the evening was spent around the camp, and Horace, who remained there, entertained us with several interesting chapters of his experiences.

Next morning he walked over to his own camp, but soon returned, mounted on a beautiful horse, with a handsome saddle, bridle and lariat. I thought he was a magnificent looking man. I envied his appearance, and my ambition just then was to become as skillful a horseman as he was. He had rigged himself out in his best style in order to make a good impression on his uncle at Weston, whither father and I accompanied him on horseback.

He was cordially received by Uncle Elijah, who paid him every possible attention, and gave me a handsome saddle and bridle for my pony, and in the evening when we rode out to the farm to see my mother and sisters, I started ahead to show them my present, as well as to tell them who was coming. They were delighted to see the long-lost Horace, and invited him to remain with us. When we returned to camp next day, Horace settled up with the proprietor of the horses, having concluded to make his home with us for that summer at least.

Father employed him in cutting house logs and building houses, but this work not being adapted to his tastes, he soon gave it up, and obtained government employment in catching United States horses. During the previous spring the government herd had stampeded from Fort Leavenworth, and between two and three hundred of the horses were running at large over the Kansas prairies, and had become quite wild. A reward of ten dollars was offered for every one of the horses that was captured and delivered to the quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth. This kind of work of course just suited the roaming disposition of Billings, especially as it was similar to that in which he had been engaged in California. The horses had to be caught with a lasso, with which he was very expert. He borrowed Little Gray, who was fleet enough for the wildest of the runaways, and then he at once began his horse hunting.

Everything that he did, I wanted to do. He was a sort of hero in my eyes, and I wished to follow in his footsteps. At my request and with father's consent, he took me with him, and many a wild and perilous chase he led me over the prairie. I made rapid advances in the art of horsemanship, for I could have had no better teacher than Horace Billings. He also taught me how to throw the lasso, which, though it was a difficult thing to learn, I finally became, quite skillful in.

Whenever Horace caught one of the horses which acted obstinately, and would not be led, he immediately threw him to the ground, put a saddle and bridle on him, and gave me Little Gray to take care of. He would then mount the captive horse and ride him into Fort Leavenworth. I spent two months with Horace in this way, until at last no more of the horses were to be found. By this time I had become a remarkably good rider for a youth, and had brought both of my ponies under easy control.

Horace returned to assist father in hauling logs, which were being used in building a dwelling for the family who had moved over from Missouri. One day a team did not work to suit him, and he gave the horses a cruel beating. This greatly displeased father, who took him to task for it. Horace's anger flew up in a moment; throwing down the lines he hurried to the house, and began packing up his traps. That same day he hired out to a Mormon train, and bidding us all good-bye started for Salt Lake, driving six yokes of oxen.