A TRIBUTE TO GENERAL MILES
IN view of the success achieved by my brother, it is remarkable that he excited so little envy. Now for the first time in his life he felt the breath of slander on his cheek, and it flushed hotly. From an idle remark that the Indians in the "Wild West" exhibition were not properly treated, the idle gossip grew to the proportion of malicious and insistent slander. The Indians being government wards, such a charge might easily become a serious matter; for, like the man who beat his wife, the government believes it has the right to maltreat the red man to the top of its bent, but that no one else shall be allowed to do so.
A winter campaign of the "Wild West" had been contemplated, but the project was abandoned and winter quarters decided on. In the quaint little village of Benfleld was an ancient nunnery and a castle, with good stables. Here Will left the company in charge of his partner, Mr. Nate Salisbury, and, accompanied by the Indians for whose welfare he was responsible, set sail for America, to silence his caluminators.
The testimony of the red men themselves was all that was required to refute the notorious untruths. Few had placed any belief in the reports, and friendly commenters were also active.
As the sequel proved, Will came home very opportunely. The Sioux in Dakota were again on the war-path, and his help was needed to subdue the uprising. He disbanded the warriors he had brought back from Europe, and each returned to his own tribe and people, to narrate around the camp-fire the wonders of the life abroad, while Will reported at headquarters to offer his services for the war. Two years previously he had been honored by the commission of Brigadier-General of the Nebraska National Guard, which rank and title were given to him by Governor Thayer.
The officer in command of the Indian campaign was General Nelson A. Miles, who has rendered so many important services to his country, and who, as Commander-in-Chief of our army, played so large a part in the recent war with Spain. At the time of the Indian uprising he held the rank of Brigadier-General.
This brilliant and able officer was much pleased when he learned that he would have Will’s assistance in conducting the campaign, for he knew the value of his good judgment, cool head, and executive ability, and of his large experience in dealing with Indians.
The "Wild West," which had served as an educator to the people of Europe in presenting the frontier life of America, had quietly worked as important educational influences in the minds of the Indians connected with the exhibition. They had seen for themselves the wonders of the world’s civilization; they realized how futile were the effort of the children of the plains to stem the resistless tide of progress flowing westward. Potentates had delighted to do honor to Pa-has-ka, the Long-haired Chief, and in the eyes of the simple savage he was as powerful as any of the great ones of earth. To him his word was law; it seemed worse than folly for their brethren to attempt to cope with so mighty a chief, therefore their influence was all for peace; and the fact that so many tribes did not join in the uprising may be attributed, in part, to their good counsel and advice.
General Miles was both able and energetic, and managed the campaign in masterly fashion. There were one or two hard-fought battles, in one of which the great Sioux warrior, Sitting Bull, the ablest that nation ever produced, was slain. This Indian had traveled with Will for a time, but could not be weaned from his loyalty to his own tribe and a desire to avenge upon the white man the wrongs inflicted on his people.
What promised at the outset to be a long and cruel frontier war was speedily quelled. The death of Sitting Bull had something to do with the termination of hostilities. Arrangements for peace were soon perfected, and Will attributed the government’s success to the energy of its officer in command, for whom he had a most enthusiastic admiration. He paid this tribute to him recently:
"I have been in many campaigns with General Miles, and a better general and more gifted warrior I have never seen. I served in the Civil War, and in any number of Indian wars; I have been under at least a dozen generals, with whom I have been thrown in close contact because of the nature of the services which I was called upon to render, General Miles is the superior of them all.
"I have known Phil Sheridan, Tecumseh Sherman, Hancock, and all of our noted Indian fighters. For cool judgment and thorough knowledge of all that pertains to military affairs, none of them, in my opinion, can be said to excel General Nelson A. Miles.
"Ah, what a man he is! I know. We have been shoulder to shoulder in many a hard march. We have been together when men find out what their comrades really are. He is a man, every inch of him, and the best general I ever served under."
After Miles was put in command of the forces, a dinner was given in his honor by John Chamberlin. Will was a guest and one of the speakers, and took the opportunity to eulogize his old friend. He dwelt at length on the respect in which the red men held the general, and in closing said:
"No foreign invader will ever set foot on these shores as long as General Miles is at the head of the army. If they should—just call on me!"
The speaker sat down amid laughter and applause.
While Will was away at the seat of war, his beautiful home in North Platte, "Welcome Wig-wam," burned to the ground. The little city is not equipped with much of a fire department, but a volunteer brigade held the flames in check long enough to save almost the entire contents of the house, among which were many valuable and costly souvenirs that could never be replaced.
Will received a telegram announcing that his house was ablaze, and his reply was characteristic:
"Save Rosa Bonheur’s picture, and the house may go to blazes."
When the frontier war was ended and the troops disbanded, Will made application for another company of Indians to take back to Europe with him. Permission was obtained from the government, and the contingent from the friendly tribes was headed by chiefs named Long Wolf, No Neck, Yankton Charlie, and Black Heart. In addition to these, a company was recruited from among the Indians held as hostages by General Miles at Fort Sheridan, and the leaders of these hostile braves were such noted chiefs as Short Bull, Kicking Bear, Lone Bull, Scatter, and Revenge. To these the trip to Alsace-Lorraine was a revelation, a fairy-tale more wonderful than anything in their legendary lore. The ocean voyage, with its seasickness, put them in an ugly mood, but the sight of the encampment and the cowboys dissipated their sullenness, and they shortly felt at home. The hospitality extended to all the members of the company by the inhabitants of the village in which they wintered was most cordial, and left them the pleasantest of memories.
An extended tour of Europe was fittingly closed by a brief visit to England. The Britons gave the "Wild West" as hearty a welcome as if it were native to their heath. A number of the larger cities were visited, London being reserved for the last.
Royalty again honored the "Wild West" by its attendance, the Queen requesting a special performance on the grounds of Windsor Castle. The requests of the Queen are equivalent to commands, and the entertainment was duly given. As a token of her appreciation the Queen bestowed upon Will a costly and beautiful souvenir.
Not the least-esteemed remembrance of this London visit was an illuminated address presented by the English Workingman’s Convention. In it the American plainsman was congratulated upon the honors he had won, the success he had achieved, and the educational worth of his great exhibition. A banquet followed, at which Will presented an autograph photograph to each member of the association.
Notwithstanding tender thoughts of home, English soil was left regretfully. To the "Wild West" the complacent Briton had extended a cordial welcome, and manifested an enthusiasm that contrasted strangely with his usual disdain for things American.