WILL AS A BENEDICT
WHEN Will reached home, he found another letter from Miss Frederici, who, agreeably to his request, had fixed the wedding-day, March 6, 1866
The wedding ceremony was quietly performed at the home of the bride, and the large number of friends that witnessed it united in declaring that no handsomer couple ever bowed for Hymenís benediction.
The bridal journey was a trip to Leavenworth on a Missouri steamer. At that time there was much travel by these boats, and their equipment was firstclass. They were sumptuously fitted out, the table was excellent, and except when sectional animosities disturbed the serenity of their decks, a trip on one of them was a very pleasant excursion.
The young benedict soon discovered, however, that in war times the "trail of the serpent" is liable to be over all things; even a wedding journey is not exempt from the baneful influence of sectional animosity. A party of excursionists on board the steamer manifested so extreme an interest in the bridal couple that Louise retired to a stateroom to escape their rudeness. After her withdrawal, Will entered into conversation with a gentleman from Indiana, who had been very polite to him, and asked him if he knew the reason for the insolence of the excursion party. The gentleman hesitated a moment, and then answered: "To tell the truth, Mr. Cody, these men are Missourians, and say they recognize you as one of Jennisonís Jayhawkers; that you were an enemy of the South, and are, therefore, an enemy of theirs."
Will answered, steadily: "I was a soldier during the war, and a scout in the Union army, but I had some experience of Southern chivalry before that time." And he related to the Indianian some of the incidents of the early Kansas border warfare, in which he and his father had played so prominent a part.
The next day the insolent behavior was continued. Will was much inclined to resent it, but his wife pleaded so earnessly with him to take no notice of it that he ignored it.
In the afternoon, when the boat landed at a lonely spot to wood up, the Missourians seemed greatly excited, and all gathered on the guards and anxiously scanned the river-bank.
The roustabouts were just about to make the boat fast, when a party of armed horsemen dashed out of the woods and galloped toward the landing. The captain thought the boat was to be attacked, and hastily gave orders to back out, calling the crew on board at the same time. These orders the negroes lost no time in obeying, as they often suffered severely at the hands of these reckless marauders. The leader of the horsemen rode rapidly up, firing at random. As he neared the steamer he called out, "Where is that Kansas Jayhawker? We have come for him." The other men caught sight of Will, and one of them cried, "We know you, Bill Cody." But they were too late. Already the steamer was backing away from the shore, dragging her gang-plank through the water; the negro roustabouts were too much terrified to pull it in. When the attacking party saw their plans were frustrated, and that they were balked of their prey, they gave vent to their disappointment in yells of rage. A random volley was fired at the retreating steamer, but it soon got out of range, and continued on its way up the river.
Will had prepared himself for the worst; he stood, revolver in hand, at the head of the steps, ready to dispute the way with his foes.
There was also a party of old soldiers on board, six or eight in number; they were dressed in civiliansí garb, and Will knew nothing of them; but when they heard of their comradeís predicament, they hastily prepared to back up the young scout. Happily the danger was averted, and their services were not called into requisition. The remainder of the trip was made without unpleasant incident.
It was afterward learned that as soon as the Missourians became aware of the presence of the Union scout on board, they telegraphed ahead to the James and Younger brothers that Will was aboard the boat, and asked to have a party meet it at this secluded landing, and capture and carry off the young soldier. Will feared that Louise might be somewhat disheartened by such an occurrence on the bridal trip, but the welcome accorded the young couple on their arrival at Leavenworth was flattering enough to make amends for all unpleasant incidents. The young wife found that her husband numbered his friends by the score in his own home, and in the grand reception tendered them he was the lion of the hour.
Entreated by Louise to abandon the plains and pursue a vocation along more peaceful paths, Will conceived the idea of taking up the business in which mother had won financial successóthat of landlord. The house she had built was purchased after her death by Dr. Cook, a surgeon in the Seventh Kansas Regiment. It was now for rent, which fact no doubt decided Will in his choice of an occupation. It was good to live again under the roof that had sheltered his mother in her last days; it was good to see the young wife amid the old scenes. So Will turned boniface, and invited May and me to make our home with him.
There was a baby in Juliaís home, and it had so wound itself around Mayís heartstrings that she could not be enticed away; but there was never anybody who could supplant Will in my heart; so I gladly accepted his invitation.
Thoreau has somewhere drawn a sympathetic portrait of the Landlord, who is supposed to radiate hospitality as the sun throws off the heatóas its own rewardóand who feeds and lodges men purely from a love of the creatures. Yet even such a landlord, if he is to continue long in business, must have an eye to profit, and make up in one corner what he parts with in another. Now, Will radiated hospitality, and his reputation as a lover of his fellowman got so widely abroad that travelers without money and without price would go miles out of their way to put up at his tavern. Socially, he was an irreproachable landlord; financially, his shortcomings were deplorable.
And then the life of an innkeeper, while not without its joys and opportunities to love oneís fellowman, is somewhat prosaic, and our guests oftentimes remarked an absent, far-away expression in the eyes of Landlord Cody. He was thinking of the plains. Louise also remarked that expression, and the sympathy she felt for his yearnings was accentuated by an examination of the books of the hostelry at the close of the first six monthsí business. Half smiling, half tearful, she consented to his return to his Western life.
Will disposed of the house and settled his affairs, and when all the bills were paid, and Sister Lou and I cozily ensconced in a little home at Leavenworth, we found that Willís generous thought for our comfort through the winter had left him on the beach financially. He had planned a freighting trip on his own account, but the acquiring of a team, wagon, and the rest of the outfit presented a knotty problem when he counted over the few dollars left on hand.
For the first time I saw disappointment and discouragement written on his face, and I was sorely distressed, for he had never denied me a desire that he could gratify, and it was partly on my account that he was not in better financial condition. I was not yet sixteen; it would be two years more before I could have a say as to the disposition of my own money, yet something must be done at once.
I decided to lay the matter before Lawyer Douglass. Surely he could suggest some plan whereby I might assist my brother. I had a half-matured plan of my own, but I was assured that Will would not listen to it.
Mr. Douglass had been the legal adviser of the family since he won our first lawsuit, years before. We considered the problem from every side, and the lawyer suggested that Mr. Buckley, an old friend of the family, had a team and wagon for sale; they were strong and serviceable, and just the thing that Will would likely want. I was a minor, but if Mr. Buckley was willing to accept me as security for the property, there would be no difficulty in making the transfer.
Mr. Buckley proved entirely agreeable to the proposition. Will could have the outfit in return for his note with my indorsement.
That disposed of, the question of freight to put into the wagon arose. I thought of another old friend of the family, M. E. Albright, a wholesale grocer in Leavenworth. Would he trust Will for a load of supplies? He would.
Thus everything was arranged satisfactorily, and I hastened home to not the easiest taskóto prevail upon Will to accept assistance at the hands of the little sister who, not so long ago, had employed his aid in the matter of a pair of shoes.
But Will could really do nothing save accept, and proud and happy, he sallied forth one day as an individual freighter, though not a very formidable rival of Russell, Majors & Waddell.
Alas for enterprises started on borrowed capital! How many of them end in disaster, leaving their projectors not only penniless, but in debt. Our young frontiersman, whose life had been spent in protecting the property of others, was powerless to save his own. Wagon, horses, and freight were all captured by Indians, and their owner barely escaped with his life. From a safe covert he watched the redskins plunge him into bankruptcy. It took him several years to recover, and he has often remarked that the responsibility of his first business venture on borrowed capital aged him prematurely.
The nearest station to the scene of this disaster was Junction City, and thither he tramped, in the hope of retrieving his fortunes. There he met Colonel Hickok, and in the pleasure of the greeting forgot his business ruin for a space. The story of his marriage and his stirring adventures as a landlord and lover of his fellowman were first to be related, and when these were commented upon, and his old friend had learned, too, of the wreck of the freighting enterprise, there came the usual inquiry:
"And now, do you know of a job with some money in it?"
"There isnít exactly a fortune in it," said Wild Bill, "but Iím scouting for Uncle Sam at Fort Ellsworth. The commandant needs more scouts, and I can vouch for you as a good one."
"All right," said Will, always quick in decision; "Iíll go along with you, and apply for a job at once."
He was pleased to have Colonel Hickokís recommendation, but it turned out that he did not need it, as his own reputation had preceded him. The commandant of the fort was glad to add him to the force. The territory he had to scout over lay between Forts Ellsworth and Fletcher, and he alternated between those points throughout the winter.
It was at Fort Fletcher, in the spring of 1867, that he fell in with the dashing General Custer, and the friendship established between them was ended only by the death of the general at the head of his gallant three hundred.
This spring was an exceedingly wet one, and the fort, which lay upon the bank of Big Creek, was so damaged by floods that it was abandoned. A new fort was erected, some distance to the westward, on the south fork of the creek, and was named Fort Hayes.
Returning one day from an extended scouting trip, Will discovered signs indicating that Indians in considerable force were in the neighborhood. He at once pushed forward at all speed to report the news, when a second discovery took the wind out of his sails; the hostiles were between him and the fort.
At that moment a party of horsemen broke into view, and seeing they were white men, Will waited their approach. The little band proved to be General Custer and an escort of ten, en route from Fort Ellsworth to Fort Hayes.
Informed by Will that they were cut off by Indians, and that the only hopes of escape lay in a rapid flank movement, Custerís reply was a terse: "Lead on, scout, and weíll follow."
Will wheeled, clapped spurs to his horse, and dashed away, with the others close behind. All hands were sufficiently versed in Indian warfare to appreciate the seriousness of their position. They pursued a roundabout trail, and reached the fort without seeing a hostile, but learned from the reports of others that their escape had been a narrow one.
Custer was on his way to Larned, sixty miles distant, and he needed a guide. He requested that Will be assigned to the position, so pleased was he by the service already rendered.
"The very man I proposed to send with you, General," said the commandant, who knew well the keen desire of the Indians to get at "Yellow Hair," as they called Custer. "Cody knows this part of the country like a book; he is up to all the Indian games, and he is as full of resources as a nut is of meat."
At daybreak the start was made, and it was planned to cover the sixty miles before nightfall. Will was mounted on a mouse-colored mule, to which he was much attached, and in which he had every confidence. Custer, however, was disposed to regard the lowly steed in some disdain.
"Do you think, Cody, that mule can set the pace to reach Larned in a day ?" he asked.
"When you get to Larned, General," smiled Will, "the mule and I will be with you."
Custer said no more for a while, but the pace he set was eloquent, and the mouse-colored mule had to run under "forced draught" to keep up with the procession. It was a killing pace, too, for the horses, which did not possess the staying power of the mule. Will was half regretting that he had ridden the animal, and was wondering how he could crowd on another pound or two of steam, when, suddenly glancing at Custer, he caught a gleam of mischief in the generalís eye. Plainly the latter was seeking to compel an acknowledgment of error, but Will only patted the mouse-colored flanks.
Fifteen miles were told off; Custerís thoroughbred horse was still in fine fettle, but the mule had got the second of its three or four winds, and was ready for a century run.
"Can you push along a little faster, General?" asked Will slyly.
"If that mule of yours can stand it, go ahead," was the reply.
To the generalís surprise, the long-eared animal did go ahead, and when the party got into the hills, and the traveling grew heavy, it set a pace that seriously annoyed the generalís thoroughbred.
Fifteen miles more were pounded out, and a halt was called for luncheon. The horses needed the rest, but the mouse-colored mule wore an impatient expression. Having got its third wind, it wanted to use it.
"Well, General," said Will, when they swung off on the trail again, "what do you think of my mount?"
Custer laughed. "Itís not very handsome," said he, "but it seems to know what itís about, and so does the rider. Youíre a fine guide, Cody. Like the Indian, you seem to go by instinct, rather than by trails and landmarks."
The praise of Custer was sweeter to the young scout than that of any other officer on the plains would have been.
At just four oíclock the mouse-colored mule jogged into Fort Larned and waved a triumphant pair of ears. A short distance behind rode Custer, on a thoroughly tired thoroughbred, while the escort was strung along the trail for a mile back.
"Cody," laughed the general, "that remarkable quadruped of yours looks equal to a return trip. Our horses are pretty well fagged out, but we have made a quick trip and a good one. You brought us Ďcross country straight as the crow flies, and thatís the sort of service I appreciate. Any time youíre in need of work, report to me. Iíll see that youíre kept busy.
It was Custerís intention to remain at Fort Larned for some time, and Will, knowing that he was needed at Hayes, tarried only for supper and a short rest before starting back.
When night fell, he proceeded warily. On the way out he had directed Custerís attention to signs denoting the near-by presence of a small band of mounted Indians.
Suddenly a distant light flashed into view, but before he could check his mule it had vanished. He rode back a few paces, and the light reappeared. Evidently it was visible through some narrow space, and the matter called for investigation. Will dismounted, hitched his mule, and went forward.
After he had covered half a mile, he found himself between two sandhills, the pass leading into a little hollow, within which were a large number of Indians camped around the fire whose light he had followed. The ponies were in the background.
Willís position was somewhat ticklish, as, without a doubt, an Indian sentinel was posted in the pass; yet it was his duty, as he understood it, to obtain a measurably accurate estimate of the number of warriors in the band. Himself a very Indian in stealth, he drew nearer the camp-fire, when suddenly there rang out upon the night airónot a rifle-shot, but the unearthly braying of his mule.
Even in the daylight, amid scenes of peace and tranquillity, the voice of a mule falls short of the not enchanting music of the bagpipe. At night in the wilderness, when every nerve is keyed up to the snapping-point, the sound is simply appalling.
Will was startled, naturally, but the Indians were thrown into dire confusion. They smothered the camp-fire and scattered for cover, while a sentinel sprang up from behind a rock not twenty feet from Will, and was off like a deer.
The scout held his ground till he had made a good guess at the number of Indians in the party; then he ran for his mule, whose voice, raised in seeming protest, guided him unerringly.
As he neared the animal he saw that two mounted Indians had laid hold of it, and were trying to induce it to follow them; but the mule, true to tradition and its master, stubbornly refused to budge a foot.
It was a comical tableau, but Will realized that it was but a step from farce to tragedy. A rifle-shot dropped one of the Indians, and the other darted off into the darkness.
Another bray from the mule, this time a pæan of triumph, as Will jumped into the saddle, with an arrow from the bow of the wounded Indian through his coat-sleeve. He declined to return the fire of the wounded wretch, and rode away into the timber, while all around the sound of Indians in pursuit came to his ears.
"Now, my mouse-colored friend," said Will, "if you win this race your name is Custer."
The mule seemed to understand; at all events, it settled down to work that combined the speed of a racer with the endurance of a buffalo. The Indians shortly abandoned the pursuit, as they could not see their game.
Will reached Fort Hayes in the early morning, to report the safe arrival of Custer at Larned and the discovery of the Indian band, which he estimated at two hundred braves. The mule received "honorable mention" in his report, and was brevetted a thoroughbred.
The colonel prepared to dispatch troops against the Indians, and requested Will to guide the expedition, if he were sufficiently rested, adding, with a smile:
"You may ride your mule if you like."
"No, thank you," laughed Will. "It isnít safe, sir, to hunt Indians with an animal that carries a brass-band attachment."
Captain George A. Armes, of the Tenth Cavalry, was to command the expedition, which comprised a troop of colored cavalry and a howitzer. As the command lined up for the start, a courier on a foamsplashed horse rode up with the news that the workmen on the Kansas Pacific Railroad had been attacked by Indians, six of them killed, and over a hundred horses and mules and a quantity of stores stolen.
The troops rode away, the colored boys panting for a chance at the redskins, and Captain Armes more than willing to gratify them.
At nightfall the command made camp near the Saline River, at which point it was expected to find the Indians. Before dawn they were in the saddle again, riding straight across country, regardless of trails, until the river was come up with.
Willís judgment was again verified by the discovery of a large camp of hostiles on the opposite bank of the stream. The warriors were as quick of eye, and as they greatly outnumbered the soldiers, and were emboldened by the success of their late exploit, they did not wait the attack, but came charging across the river.
They were nearly a mile distant, and Captain Armes had time to plant the howitzer on a little rise of ground. Twenty men were left to handle it. The rest of the command advanced to the combat.
They were just at the point of attack when a fierce yelling was heard in the rear, and the captain discovered that his retreat to the gun was cut off by another band of reds, and that he was between two fires. His only course was to repulse the enemy in front. If this were done, and the colored gunners did not flee before the overwhelming numbers, he might unite his forces by another charge.
The warriors came on with their usual impetuosity, whooping and screaming, but they met such a raking fire from the disciplined troops that they fell back in disorder. Just then the men at the howitzer opened fire. The effect of this field-piece on the children of the plains was magicalóalmost ludicrous. A veritable stampede followed.
"Follow me!" shouted Captain Armes, galloping in pursuit; but in their eagerness to give chase the troops fell into such disorder that a bugle-blast recalled them before any further damage was done the flying foe. The Indians kept right along, however; they were pretty badly frightened.
Captain Armes was somewhat chagrined that he had no prisoners, but there was consolation in taking back nearly all the horses that had been stolen. These were found picketed at the camp across the river, where likely they had been forgotten by the Indians in their flight.
Shortly after this, Will tried his hand at land speculation. During one of his scouting trips to Fort Harker, he visited Ellsworth, a new settlement, three miles from the fort. There he met a man named Rose, who had a grading contract for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, near Fort Hayes. Rose had bought land at a point through which the railroad was to run, and proposed staking it out as a town, but he needed a partner in the enterprise.
The site was a good one. Big Creek was hard by, and it was near enough to the fort to afford settlers reasonable security against Indian raids. Will regarded the enterprise favorably. Besides the money sent home each month, he had put by a small sum, and this he invested in the partnership with Rose.
The town site was surveyed and staked off into lots; a cabin was erected, and stocked with such goods as are needed on the frontier, and the budding metropolis was weighted with the classic name of Rome.
As an encouragement to settlers, a lot was offered to any one that would agree to erect a building. The proprietors, of course, reserved the choicest lots.
Rome boomed. Two hundred cabins went up in less than sixty days. Mr. Rose and Will shook bands and complimented each other on their penetration and business sagacity. They were coming miilionaries, they said. Alas! they were but babes in the woods.
One day Dr. W. E. Webb alighted in Rome. He was a gentleman of most amiable exterior, and when he entered the store of Rose & Cody they prepared to dispose of a large bill of goods. But Dr. Webb was not buying groceries. He chatted a while about the weather and Rome, and then suggested that the firm needed a third partner. But this was the last thing the prospective millionaires had in mind, and the suggestion of their visitor was mildly but firmly waived.
Dr. Webb was not a gentleman to insist upon a suggestion. He was locating towns for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, he said, and as Rome was well started, he disliked to interfere with it; but, really, the company must have a show.
Neither Mr. Rose nor Will had had experience with the power of a big corporation, and satisfied that they had the only good site for a town in that vicinity, they declared that the railroad could not help itself.
Dr. Webb smiled pleasantly, and not without compassion. "Look out for yourselves," said he, as he took his leave.
And within sight of Rome he located a new town. The citizens of Rome were given to understand that the railroad shops would be built at the new settlement, and that there was really nothing to prevent it becoming the metropolis of Kansas.
Rome became a wilderness. Its citizens stampeded to the new town, and Mr. Rose and Will revised their estimate of their penetration and business sagacity.
Meantime, the home in Leavenworth had been gladdened by the birth of a little daughter, whom ber father named Arta. As it was impossible for Will to return for some months, it was planned that the mother, the baby, and I should make a visit to the St. Louis home. This was accomplished safely; and while the grandparents were enraptured with the baby, I was enjoying the delight of a first visit to a large city.
While the new town of Rome was regarded as an assured success by Will, he had journeyed to St. Louis after his wife and little one. They proceeded with him to the cozy cabin home he had fitted up, while I went back to Leavenworth.
After the fall of Rome the little frontier home was no longer the desirable residence that Willís dream had pictured it, and as Rome passed into oblivion the little family returned to St. Louis.