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The Fort Riley Soldiers Go to Fort Larned to Horse Race With Cheyennes, Comanches and Kiowas.

The Indians are great people for sport and amusement and it would be difficult to imagine a more inveterate gambler. Their greatest ambition is to excel in strength and endurance.

Several times as our coaches meandered across the plains, we came upon the lodges of thousands of Indians, where the male population were trying their skill at horse-racing. Even the small boys, many times as many as fifteen or twenty, would be horse-racing and the chiefs would be betting upon their favorites.

For their race tracks, they dug ditches about four feet apart and threw up the sod and dirt between the ditches. The whole tribe then packed the ground in the tracks hard and smooth by riding their horses up and down those tracks to pack the dirt still more firmly. These tracks were generally one and one-eighth miles long. The Indians would then select a horse which they regarded as especially swift and banter the soldiers for a horse race, which the soldiers were quick to accept, if they were lucky enough to get a furlough. These Fort Riley soldiers always brought their best horses to Fort Larned to race against the Indians' race ponies.

Once during the summer of 1863 when there were only a few white people at Fort Larned, the Indians, about 15,000 strong, commenced preparation for a horse race between themselves and the Fort Riley soldiers. Everything was completed and the Indian ponies were in good trim to beat the soldiers. The Indians had placed their stakes consisting of ponies, buffalo robes, deer skins, trinkets of all kinds and characters, in the hands of their squaws. Then the Fort Riley soldiers came and the betting was exciting in the extreme, the soldiers betting silver dollars against their ponies, etc. The soldiers were victorious and highly pleased over the winnings. The Indians handed the bets over manfully and without a flinch, but one Indian afterward told me that they had certainly expected to have been treated to at least a smoke or a drink of "fire water;" but the soldiers rode away laughing and joking and promised the Indians to return in "two moons," perhaps "three moons," in response to their invitation. I was at this race and joined in the sport. Everything was as pleasant as could be. There was no disturbance of any kind and the soldiers took their "booty" and, as a matter of fact, did not even invite the Indians to smoke a consolation pipe.

During the fall of 1863 a small band of Comanches and Kiowas went to Texas and procured a white faced, white footed, tall, slim black stallion for racing purposes. In elation they notified the Fort Riley soldiers to come again. This time, not only did the Fort Riley soldiers come, but citizens from all over the whole country for a distance of from 300 to 500 miles came to see the fun. There were from twenty to thirty thousand Indians there, and the Indians who invited them prepared to take care of a large crowd in good style, so confident were they that this time "the pot" would be theirs. They had hunted down, killed and dressed some fifty or sixty buffalo, and had them cooking whole, in the ground--barbecuing the meats. This time the putting up of the bets before the races came off was still more exciting than at the previous race, for the Indians had from 500 to 1,000 ponies to put up. The white men matched their money against the ponies of the Indians. The race had begun. As it proceeded, shouts of "Hooray, hooray," the Indians' black stallion is ahead, 100 feet in advance of the soldiers' horse, he goes. The race is won, and the black stallion stands erect and excited, proud and defiant, and has won the laurel for his man, and seems to know that the trophy is theirs. All had placed their bets in the hands of the squaws for the spokesman, Little Ravin, the orator and regular dude of the Arapahoes, gave the white people to understand that everything would be safe in the hands of the squaws he had selected to hold stakes. These squaws proved true to their trust. After the distribution of the winnings, Little Ravin told the soldiers to stay and eat. Everybody grew merry. The soldiers went to the government dining room there at Fort Larned and got all the knives and forks they could rake and scrape together and took them to the barbecue. When the Indians saw that the white people had entered into the banquet with such enthusiasm and zest they went to the settlers' store and bought two or three hundred dollars worth of candies, canned goods of all kinds, crackers, etc., to make their variety larger. They also bought 50 boxes of cigars with which to treat the citizens and soldiers. When everything was in readiness for the feast, the white men all stood up near the feast with a few of the greatest chiefs of the several tribes, while the other Indians who were not acting as waiters, to see that the choicest pieces of buffalo meat were given their guests, stood in a ring back of the white guests, and did not attempt to satisfy their hunger until after the whites had demonstrated that they had feasted to the brim. This was one of the most amusing incidents of my life on the frontier, and the Fort Riley boys felt that in this treatment, they had been dealt a blow to their own generosity, and one of the soldiers acting as spokesman, told the Indians that they were ashamed of their own lack of hospitality when they were the winners of the other race. This pleased the Indians greatly, and they fell an easy victim to the duplicity of the soldiers and made a contract to sell their black stallion racing horse to them for the sum of $2,000, which sale was to be completed 60 days later if the soldiers still wanted the purchase of the horse, at which time they were to notify the Chief, and he was to bring or send him to Fort Riley. This was a great sacrifice, but the ignorant Indian was not aware of it. During the 60 days before the Indian brought the horse in and received their money one soldier went up to St. Joe and sold this horse, so I have been told for the sum of $10,000 in cash, but for the truth of this statement I will not vouch.

It is a picturesque sight to watch the Indians move camp. Their trains often covered several hundred acres of land. The Indians usually move in a large body, or band. Their moving "van" consists of two long slim poles placed on each side of a pony, made fast by means of straps tanned by the squaws from buckskin and buffalo hides. About six or seven feet from the ponies' heels are placed two crossbars about three or four feet apart, connected by weaving willow brush from one crossbar to the other, between these shafts, or poles, hitched to the pony. Upon this woven space or "hold" are placed the household goods, the folded tents or tepees, and lastly, their children and decrepit Indians.

It is not unusual to see several thousand of these strange vans moving together, their trains being sometimes three or four miles in length. Then their politeness might also be spoken of, for while it is true that they have a traditional politeness, it is not a matter of history. Their sledges were never in the public road but at least 10 to 20 rods outside of the road in the sage brush and cactus, leaving the road free for the Stage Company's mail coach.

In all the different books I have ever read, I have never seen one word of praise for any courtesy the Indians gave us during those frontier days, but instead I find nothing but abuse. The Indian is the only natural born American and the only people to inhabit North America before the discovery by Columbus. This land we so greatly love rightfully belonged to the Red Man of the forest, and it is my opinion that they had as much right to protect their own lands as do we in this century. The novelists howl about the depredations committed by the Indian, but their ravings are made more to sell their books and to create animosity than for any good purposes.

The Eastern people eagerly read everything they found that abused the Indians, and the Indians in those days had no presses in which to make known their grievances. The only thing left was to get vengeance wherever he found a white man. "To me belongeth vengeance and recompense." Personally I blame the press for loss of life to both the Indian and the white men, for having schooled the white man erroneously. Travelers crossing the plains were always on the defensive, and ever ready to commence war on any Indian who came within the radius of their firearms. When I was a boy I read in my reader: "Lo, the cowardly Indian." The picture above this sentence was that of an Indian in war paint, holding his bow and arrow, ready to shoot a white man in the back.

The novelists write many things of how Kit Carson shot the Indians. Kit Carson was a personal friend of mine, and when I read snatches to him from books making him a "heap big Indian killer," he always grew furious and said it was a "damn lie," that he never had killed an Indian, and if he had, that he could not have made the treaties with them that he had made, and his scalp would have been the forfeit. At one time Kit Carson went on an Indian raid with Colonel Willis down into Western Indian Territory. He volunteered to go with Colonel Willis to protect him and his soldiers, and at this very time Colonel Henry Inman tells of Kit Carson being on the plains of the Santa Fe Trail, with a large company of soldiers under his command, shooting Indians.

This is a mis-statement of Colonel Inman. Kit Carson never had a company of soldiers, was not a military man, and at no time raided the Indians. As will be seen in another chapter of this book, he was simply a scout and protector for the soldiers. Like Dryden, however, "I have given my opinion against the authority of two great men, but I hope without offense to their memories." Kit Carson said that the Indian, as a people, are just as brave as any people. Their warriors were not expected to go out as soldiers with a commanding officer, but each was to protect himself. That, in their opinion, was the only way to carry on war.