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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Old West Kansas
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Hays City by lamp-light was remarkably lively and not very moral. The streets blazed with the reflection from saloons, and a glance within showed floors crowded with dancers, the gaily dressed women striving to hide with ribbons and paint the terrible lines which that grim artist, Dissipation, loves to draw upon such faces.

With a heartless humor he daubs the noses of the sterner sex a cherry red, but paints under the once bright eyes of woman a shade dark as the night in the cave of despair. To the music of violin and stamping of feet, the dance went on, and we saw in the giddy maze old men who must have been pirouetting on the very edge of their graves.

Being then the depot for the great Santa Fe trade, the town was crowded with Mexicans and speculators. Large warehouses along the track were stored with wool awaiting shipment east, and with merchandise to be taken back with the returning wagons. These latter are of immense size, and, from this circumstance, are sometimes called "prairie schooners;" and, in truth, when a train of them is winding its way over the plains, the white covers flecking its surface like sails, the sight is not unlike a fleet coming into port. Oxen and mules are both used. When the former, the drivers rejoice in the title of "bull-whackers," and the crack of their whips, as loud as the report of a rifle, is something tremendous.

On the day of our arrival at Hays City, one of these festive individuals noticed Dobeen gazing, with open mouth, and back towards him, at some object across the street, and took the opportunity to crack his lash within an inch of the Irishman's spine. The effect was ludicrous; Shamus came in on the run to have a ball extracted from his back!

These Mexicans who come through with the ox-trains are a very degraded race, dark, dirty, and dismal. In appearance, they much resemble animated bundles of rags, walking off with heads of charcoal. Personal bravery is not one of their striking characteristics; indeed, they often run away when to stand still would seem to an American the only safe course possible. We were desirous of sending back to Hays City some of the proceeds of our excursion for shipment to friends at St. Louis and Chicago, and therefore hired two of the Mexican teamsters to go as far as the Saline, and return with the fruits of our prowess. For this service, which would occupy about four days, they were to receive twenty-five dollars each.

The morrow was Sunday, and came to us, as nine-tenths of the mornings on the plains did afterward, clear and bracing. Compared with the previous evening, the little town was very quiet. There was no stir in the streets, although later in the morning a few of the last night's carousers came out of doors, rubbing their sleepy eyes, and slunk around town for the remainder of the day. All nature was calm and beautiful; it almost seemed as if we might hear the chime of Sabbath bells float to us from somewhere in the depths around.

One of our sea legends recites that ship wrecked bells, fallen from the society of men to that of mermaids, are straightway hung on coral steeples, where, when storms roar around the rocks above, they toll for the deaths of the mariners. Was it impossible, we mused, that ancient mariners, with whole cargoes of bells, went down on this inland sea centuries before Rome howled? The earth around us might be as full of musical tongues as of saurians, and only awaiting the savan's spade and sympathetic touch to give their dumb eloquence voice. If the people of those days were navigators, surely they might also have been men of metal. In the far-away past existed numerous arts which baffle modern ingenuity. Stones were lifted at sight of which our engineers stand dismayed. Bodies were embalmed with a skill and perfection which our medical faculty admire, but have scarcely even essayed to imitate. Is it impossible that vessels plowed this ancient ocean with a speed which would have left our Cunarders out of sight? If human spirits freed from earth take cognizance of following generations, how those old captains must have laughed when Fulton boarded his wheezing experiment to paddle up the Hudson! And if our doctor's Darwinian-Pythagorean theory were correct, Fulton's spirit might have brought the crude idea from some ancient stoker.

But while we were thus speculating and giving free reins to Fancy's most erratic moods, the chaplain arrived from the fort, and mounting the freight platform, read the Episcopal morning service. A crowd gathered around, and a voice from the past whispering in their ears, a few bowed their heads during prayer. A drunkard went brawling by, with a sidelong glance and the leering look of eyes whose watery lids seemed making vain efforts to quench the fiery balls. How it grated on one's feelings! In a land so eloquent with voices of the mighty past, it seemed as if even instinct would cause the knee to bow in homage before its Maker.

Monday was our day of final preparation, and we commenced it by making the acquaintance of those two celebrated characters, Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill, or, more correctly, William Hickok and William Cody. The former was acting as sheriff of the town, and the latter we engaged as our guide to the Saline.

Wild Bill made his entree into one court of the temple of fame some years since through Harper's Magazine. Since then his name has become a household word to residents along the Kansas frontier. We found him very quiet and gentlemanly, and not at all the reckless fellow we had supposed. His form won our admiration--the shoulders of a Hercules with the waist of a girl. Much has been written about Wild Bill that is pure fiction. I do not believe, for example, that he could hit a nickel across the street with a pistol-ball, any more than an Indian could do so with an arrow. These feats belong to romance. Bill is wonderfully handy with his pistols, however. He then carried two of them, and while we were at Hays snuffed a man's life out with one; but this was done in his capacity of officer. Two rowdies devoted their energies to brewing a riot, and defied arrest until, at Bill's first shot, one fell dead, and the other threw up his arms in token of submission. During his life time Bill has probably killed his baker's dozen of men, but he has never, I believe, been known as the aggressor. To the people of Hays he was a valuable officer, making arrests when and where none other dare attempt it. His power lies in the wonderful quickness with which he draws a pistol and takes his aim. These first shots, however, can not always last. "They that take the sword shall perish with the sword;" and living as he does by the pistol, Bill will certainly die by it, unless he abandons the frontier.

Buffalo Bill--From A Photograph.

Bureau Of Illustration_Wild Bill--From A Photograph.

Only a short time after we left Hays two soldiers attempted his life. Attacked unexpectedly, Bill was knocked down and the muzzle of a musket placed against his forehead, but before it could be discharged the ready pistol was drawn and the two soldiers fell down, one dead, the other badly wounded. Their companions clamored for revenge, and Bill changed his base. He afterward became marshal of the town of Abilene, where he signalized himself by carrying a refractory councilman on his shoulders to the council-chamber. A few months later some drunken Texans attempted a riot, and one of them, a noted gambler, commenced firing on the marshal. The latter returned the fire, shooting not only the gambler, but one of his own friends, who, in the gloom of the evening, was hurrying to his aid. Bill paid the expenses of the latter's funeral, which on the frontier is considered the proper and delicate way of consoling the widow whenever such little accidents occur.

The Professor took occasion, before parting with Wild William, to administer some excellent advice, urging him especially, if he wished to die in his bed, to abandon the pistol and seize upon the plow-share. His reputation as Union scout, guide for the Indian country, and sheriff of frontier towns, our leader said, was a sufficient competency of fame to justify his retirement upon it. In this opinion the public will certainly coincide.

Buffalo Bill was to be our guide. He informed us that Wild Bill was his cousin. Cody is spare and wiry in figure, admirably versed in plain lore, and altogether the best guide I ever saw. The mysterious plain is a book that he knows by heart. He crossed it twice as teamster, while a mere boy, and has spent the greater part of his life on it since. He led us over its surface on starless nights, when the shadow of the blackness above hid our horses and the earth, and though many a time with no trail to follow and on the very mid-ocean of the expanse, he never made a failure. Buffalo Bill has since figured in one of Buntline's Indian romances. We award him the credit of being a good scout and most excellent guide; but the fact that he can slaughter buffalo is by no means remarkable, since the American bison is dangerous game only to amateurs.

We were off early on Tuesday morning for the Saline, our course toward which lay before us a little west of north, the citizens turning out to see us start. We had just parted from Gripe, who went East on the first train to get his ribs healed. "To think, gentlemen," said he, "that I should have escaped rebel bullets and Indian atrocities, only to have my ribs cracked at last by a stampede of mules!" Poor Gripe's farewell reminded me strongly of the old saying about the ruling passion strong in death. As he stood on the platform, with one hand against his aching side, he could not refrain from waving a courtly adieu with the other, and bowing himself from our presence, into the car, as if leaving the stage after a political speech.

We were sorry to lose our friend, and this, together with the thought of the weeks of uncertainties and anxieties which lay before us, made our exit from Hays rather a solemn affair. Even Tammany Sachem's face was ironed out so completely that not a smile wrinkled it. Dobeen had loaded one wagon with culinary weapons, and now sat among his pots and pans, evidently ill at ease and wishing himself doing any thing else rather than about to plunge further into the wilderness.

When about to mount Cynocephalus, Semi's feelings were wounded by a depraved urchin who suggested, "You'd better fust knock that fly off, Boss. Both on ye 'll be too much for the hoss!" Fortunately, perhaps, for our feelings, the remainder of the inhabitants were so civil that further criticisms on our outfit, though they may have been ripe at their tongues' end, were carefully repressed.

Moving out over the divide above town the Professor noticed the general depression of the party, and forthwith began philosophising.

"My friends," said he, "had the feelings which explorers suffer, when fairly launched, been allowed to be present during the days of preparation, science and discovery would be in their infancy. Enthusiasm bridges the first obstacles to an undertaking, but others roll on and block the explorer's path, and the spirit which has got him into the difficulty momentarily deserts him. If properly courted, however, she returns, and meanwhile the traveler is afforded the opportunity of looking, through matter-of-fact spectacles, along his future journey. What he thought pebbles reveal themselves as hills, and what he had marked on his chart as hills develop into mountains. These he must recognize and examine with all the resolution he can summon, and he will be the more able to climb them from expecting to do so. Right here is the critical point in his journey. Numerous cross-roads branch off--some right, others left, but all with a brighter prospect down them. Perhaps on one, a wife and children stand at the door of their home, beckoning him. The garden that his own hand planted blooms in a background of flowers, while the path he has now chosen sparkles with winter snow. He knows, however, that beyond these, perhaps amid sterile mountains, are the precious diamonds he seeks.

"It is wise that, where these roads branch off--some to castles of indolence, others to comfortable homes and moderate exertion--the man should be left alone for a time and allowed to survey the rough path before him, with all the blinding glamour of enthusiasm subdued by the light of truth, and with a full knowledge of all the stumbling blocks which lie before him. If he then thumbs the edge of his hunting-knife, examines his Henry rifle, and presses forward, the metal is there, and from that time onward you may at any time learn of his whereabouts by inquiring at the temple of fame."

Sachem interrupted the Professor to remonstrate at the girding of loins being left out. He had always been used to the girding in similar discourses, and considered that loins were in much more general use than Henry rifles.

And now Shamus, from his perch on the pans, suddenly broke in: "Faith, Professor, your enthusiasm once brought me sore trouble. It got me into a haunted house, when the clock was strikin' midnight, and my legs were sore put to it to get me out fast enough. Ye see, I bet a pig with my next cousin that I would stay all night in an old house full of spirits. The master and his house-keeper had been murdered in the tenantry riots, and the boys that did the business, they swung for it soon afterward. And now, there was a regular barricadin' and attackin' going on those nights ever since. While I was lookin' at the old clock, and thinkin' of the pig I'd drag home in the morning, I must have dramed a little. He was as likely a pig as yez ever saw, and I was listenin' proudly to his swate cries as I carried him from the sty, and feelin' full enough of enthusiasm to stay there a hundred years. Just then there was a rustlin' in front, and I opened my eyes wide, and there stood the old house-keeper leanin' against the shaky clock, with her ear to its yellow face, and lookin' straight behind me to where I could feel the master was sittin'. There was an awful light in her eyes, and I thought I heard her say--any way, I knew she was sayin' it--'Hark, Sir Donald, they're comin', but the soldiers will be here, too, at twelve.' An' then there was a sort of shudder in the old clock and it commenced a wheezin' an' bangin' away, a tryin' to get through the strokes of twelve, as it did twenty years before. But it hadn't got out half, when I heard the crowd outside scrapin' against the window sill. An' then there come a report, and the room was filled with smoke, an' somethin' hit the back of my head. How I got out I don't know, but when I come to myself I was running for dear life across the common. I have the scar of the ghost's bullet ever since. See here, yez can see it for yourselves." And taking off his cap, Shamus showed us a bald spot about the size of a silver dollar on the back of his cranium.

"And what became of the pig?" asked Mr. Colon quietly.

"Faith, an' my cousin carried him home next morning," replied Shamus, with a regretful sigh; "and lady Dobeen, bless her sowl, never forgot to tell me of that to her dying day. We were needin' the bacon them times."

Sachem, who delighted to spoil our cook's stories, declared that, to gain a pig, it was worth the cousin's while to fire an old musket through the window over a drunken Irishman inside. Still that did not excuse him for his carelessness; he should have seen that the wad flew higher.

What Dobeen's answer might have been will never be known; for, just at that moment, the attention of the entire party was suddenly directed to a dark mass of moving objects away off upon our right, a mile distant at least, and to our untrained eyes entirely unrecognizable. The Mexicans, however, pronounced them buffaloes. Whether thinking to vindicate his reputation for personal courage, or whether simply from love of excitement, is not exactly clear, but Dobeen eagerly requested permission to pursue them, and as he would, _ex officio_, be debarred the pleasure of future sport, consent was given. This was done the more readily, because we knew that Shamus, while as inexperienced in the chase as any of us, was also a wretched rider; for, although constantly boasting of the tournaments he had been engaged in, we all indorsed Sachem's opinion, that, if ever connected with such an affair at all, it must have been in holding a horse, not riding one.

It was worthy of note that every one of the party was as eager for the chase as Shamus, and yet that personage was allowed to ride off alone. Mr. Colon, it is true, essayed to join his company, but after going a hundred yards or so, suddenly changed his mind and came back. Our maiden efforts in buffalo hunting promised such modesty as to refuse a public appearance, unless together.

Our cook had been instructed by the guide to avail himself of the ravines, and after getting as near the herd as possible, then spur rapidly up to it. He went off at a gallop, his solid body flying clear of the saddle whenever the donkey's feet struck ground, and soon disappeared in a ravine which seemed to promise a winding way almost into the very midst of the herd. We watched intently for his reappearance. In such periods of suspense the minutes seem strangely long, creeping as slowly toward their allotted three-score as they do when one, at a sickbed vigil, listens for the funeral chimes of the clock, telling when the minutes are buried in the hours.

At length, in the far away distance, we descried Shamus, disdaining further concealment, riding gallantly out of the ravine for a charge. A few moments more and game and hunter were face to face, and we held our breath, expecting to see the dark cloud dash away with our bloodthirsty cook at its skirts. "As I am alive," suddenly ejaculated Muggs, "Dobeen's coming this way, at a bloody good run, and the buffalo after him!" We could scarcely believe our eyes, but, sure enough, it was a clear case of pursuer and pursued, with the appropriate positions entirely reversed. Shamus seemed imitating that famous hunter who brought home his bear-meat alive, preceding it by only half a coat-tail. But the game before us was changing in appearance most wonderfully. It seemed bristling with unusually long horns, and as we looked the dark cloud suddenly spread out into a fan-like shape, and we all cried, simultaneously, "Indians!"

There they were, a party of our red brethren bearing rapidly down upon us in pursuit of Dobeen, whose arms and legs were playing like flails on his donkey's sides, with an appeal for speed which had evidently called into action all the reserves of that true conservative.

Our party would have sold out their interest in the plains for a bagatelle. Our whole outfit had whirled, like a weather-cock, and was pointing back to Hays. The Mexicans were already dodging in and out among their oxen, and firing their old muskets furiously, although the foe was yet a fair cannon-shot away. Shamus could not well have been in more danger from foes behind than he was from friends before; indeed, he afterward said that asking deliverance from the latter made him almost forget the former.

Bureau Of Illustration_Our Horses Run Away With Us.

The horses of both Sachem and Muggs ran away, taking a straight line for the distant town. This caused a general stampede on the part of all the other horses, much to the regret of their riders, who were thus cruelly prevented from a proper display of latent prowess in rendering protection to the wagons and our cook. From the former came a steady cannonade. Squirming like eels among their oxen, the Mexicans fired from under the animals' bellies, astride the tongue, from anywhere, indeed, that furnished a barricade between the distant Indians and themselves.

It is one of the remarkable tactics of this remarkable people, in military emergencies, that when they can not put distance between them and the enemy, they must substitute something else. A single trooper, on an open plain, could send a small army of them scampering off, but let them get behind a barricade, and they will continue banging away with their old muskets until either the weapon bursts or ammunition gives out. It is surprising how harmless their fusillades generally are. If Mexican powder is used, it goes off like a mixture of lamp-black and nitro-glycerine, with a premonitory fiz and then a fearful concussion, leaving a smell of burnt oil in the air which overcomes for a moment the natural aroma of the warriors themselves.

But while we were still being run away with by our spirited animals, another change occurred in the situation equally as unexpected as the first. The Indians had stopped running about the time that we commenced, and now stood in a dusky line something less than half a mile off, making signs to us. Shamus evidently considered it a horrible incantation for his scalp, and every time he looked backward plied with renewed fervor at his donkey's ribs. Our guide, who had stayed with the wagons and exerted himself to silence the Mexican batteries, motioned us to return, which we were finally enabled to do by virtue of steady pulling upon one rein and coming back in half circles.

By the time our cook reached us, out of breath and perspiring terribly, two savages had ridden out from their band, weaponless, and were now gesturing a wish to communicate. The Professor and our guide rode to meet them, apparently unarmed; but with characteristic exhibition of the white man's subtlety, the tail-pocket of the philosopher's coat held a pistol in reserve, and the guide, I have no doubt, was equally well provided.

 

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