THE LAST OF THE GREAT SCOUTS
THE story of frontier days is a tale that is told. The "Wild West" has vanished like mist in the sun before the touch of the two great magicians of the nineteenth century—steam and electricity.
The route of the old historic Santa Fe trail is nearly followed by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, which was completed in 1880. The silence of the prairie was once broken by the wild war-whoop of the Indian as he struggled to maintain his supremacy over some adjoining tribe; the muffled roar caused by the heavy hoof-beats of thousands of buffaloes was almost the only other sound that broke the stillness. To-day the shriek of the engine, the clang of the bell, and the clatter of the car-wheels form a ceaseless accompaniment to the cheerful hum of busy life which everywhere pervades the wilderness of thirty years ago. Almost the only memorials of the struggles and privations of the hardy trappers and explorers, whose daring courage made the achievements of the present possible, are the historic landmarks which bear the names of some of these brave men. But these are very few in number. Pike’s Peak lifts its snowy head to heaven in silent commemoration of the early traveler whose name it bears. Simpson’s Rest, a lofty obelisk, commemorates the mountaineer whose life was for the most part passed upon its rugged slopes, and whose last request was that he should be buried on its summit. Another cloud-capped mountain-height bears the name of Fisher’s Peak, and thereby hangs a tale.
Captain Fisher commanded a battery in the army engaged in the conquest of New Mexico. His command encamped near the base of the mountain which now bears his name. Deceived by the illusive effect of the atmosphere, he started out for a morning stroll to the supposed near-by elevation, announcing that he would return in time for breakfast. The day passed with no sign of Captain Fisher, and night lengthened into a new day. When the second day passed without his return, his command was forced to believe that he had fallen a prey to lurking Indians, and the soldiers were sadly taking their seats for their evening meal when the haggard and wearied captain put in an appearance. His morning stroll had occupied two days and a night; but he set out to visit the mountain, and he did it.
The transcontinental line which supplanted the Old Salt Lake trail, and is now known as the Union Pacific Railroad, antedated the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe by eleven years. The story of the difficulties encountered, and the obstacles overcome in the building of this road, furnishes greater marvels than any narrated in the Arabian Nights’ Tales.
This railroad superseded the Pony Express line, the reeking, panting horses of which used their utmost endeavor and carried their relentless riders fifteen miles an hour, covering their circuit in eight days’ time at their swiftest rate of speed. The iron horse gives a sniff of disdain, and easily traverses the same distance, from the Missouri line to the Pacific Coast, in three days.
Travelers who step aboard the swiftly moving, luxurious cars of to-day give little thought to their predecessors; for the dangers the early voyagers encountered they have no sympathy. The traveler in the stagecoach was beset by perils without from the Indians and the outlaws; he faced the equally unpleasant companionship of fatigue and discomfort within. The jolting, swinging coach bounced and jounced the unhappy passengers as the reckless driver lashed the flying horses. Away they galloped over mountains and through ravines, with no cessation of speed. Even the shipper pays the low rate of transportation asked to-day with reluctance, and forgets the great debt he owes this adjunct of our civilization.
But great as are the practical benefits derived from the railways, we cannot repress a sigh as we meditate on the picturesque phases of the vanished era. Gone are the bull-whackers and the prairie-schooners! Gone are the stagecoaches and their drivers! Gone are the Pony Express riders! Gone are the trappers, the hardy pioneers, the explorers, and the scouts! Gone is the prairie monarch, the shaggy, unkempt buffalo!
In 1869, only thirty years ago, the train on the Kansas Pacific road was delayed eight hours in consequence of the passage of an enormous herd of buffaloes over the track in front of it. But the easy mode of travel introduced by the railroad brought hundreds of sportsmen to the plains, who wantonly killed this noble animal solely for sport, and thousands of buffaloes were sacrificed for their skins, for which there was a widespread demand. From 1868 to 1881, in Kansas alone, there was paid out $2,500,000 for the bones of this animal, which were gathered up on the prairie and used in the carbon works of the country. This represents a total deathrate of 31,000,000 buffaloes in one state. As far as I am able to ascertain, there remains at this writing only one herd, of less than twenty animals, out of all the countless thousands that roamed the prairie so short a time ago, and this herd is carefully preserved in a private park. There may be a few isolated specimens in menageries and shows, but this wholesale slaughter has resulted in the practical extermination of the species.
As with the animal native to our prairies, so has it been with the race native to our land. We may deplore the wrongs of the Indian, and sympathize with his efforts to wrest justice from his so-called protectors. We may admire his poetic nature, as evidenced in the myths and legends of the race. We may be impressed by the stately dignity and innate ability as orator and statesman which he displays. We may preserve the different articles of his picturesque garb as relics. But the old, old drama of history is repeating itself before the eyes of this generation; the inferior must give way to the superior civilization. The poetic, picturesque, primitive red man must inevitably succumb before the all conquering tread of his pitiless, practical, progressive white brother.
Cooper has immortalized for us the extinction of a people in the "Last of the Mohicans." Many another tribe has passed away, unhonored and unsung. Westward the "Star of Empire" takes its way; the great domain west of the Mississippi is now peopled by the white race, while the Indians are shut up in reservations. Their doom is sealed; their sun is set. "Kismet" has been spoken of them; the total extinction of the race is only a question of time. In the words of Rudyard Kipling:
Of this past epoch of our national life there remains but one well-known representative. That one is my brother. He occupies a unique place in the portrait gallery of famous Americans to-day. It is not alone his commanding personality, nor the success he has achieved along various lines, which gives him the strong hold he has on the hearts of the American people, or the absorbing interest he possesses in the eyes of foreigners. The fact that in his own person he condenses a period of national history is a large factor in the fascination he exercises over others. He may fitly be named the "Last of the Great Scouts." He has had great predecessors. The mantle of Kit Carson has fallen upon his shoulders, and he wears it worthily. He has not, and never can have, a successor. He is the vanishing-point between the rugged wilderness of the past in Western life and the vast achievement in the present.
When the "Wild West" disbands, the last vestige of our frontier life passes from the scene of active realities, and becomes a matter of history.
"Life is real, life is earnest," sings the poet, and real and earnest it has been for my brother. It has been spent in others’ service. I cannot recall a time when he has not thus been laden with heavy burdens. Yet for himself he has won a reputation, national and international. A naval officer visiting in China relates that as he stepped ashore he was offered two books for purchase—one the Bible, the other a "Life of Buffalo Bill."
For nearly half a century, which comprises his childhood, youth, and manhood, my brother has been before the public. He can scarcely be said to have had a childhood, so early was he thrust among the rough scenes of frontier life, therein to play a man’s part at an age when most boys think of nothing more than marbles and tops. He enlisted in the Union army before he was of age, and did his share in upholding the flag during the Civil War as ably as many a veteran of forty, and since then he has remained, for the most part, in his country’s service, always ready to go to the front in any time of danger. He has achieved distinction in many and various ways. He is president of the largest irrigation enterprise in the world, president of a colonization company, of a town-site company, and of two transportation companies. He is the foremost scout and champion buffalo-hunter of America, one of the crack shots of the world, and its greatest popular entertainer. He is broad-minded and progressive in his views, inheriting from both father and mother a hatred of oppression in any form. Taking his mother as a standard, he believes the franchise is a birthright which should appertain to intelligence and education, rather than to sex. It is his public career that lends an interest to his private life, in which he has been a devoted and faithful son and brother, a kind and considerate husband, a loving and generous father. "Only the names of them that are upright, brave, and true can be honorably known," were the mother’s dying words; and honorably known has his name become, in his own country and across the sea.
With the fondest expectation he looks forward to the hour when he shall make his final bow to the public and retire to private life. It is his long-cherished desire to devote his remaining years to the development of the Big Horn Basin, in Wyoming. He has visited every country in Europe, and has looked upon the most beautiful of Old World scenes. He is familiar with all the most splendid regions of his own land, but to him this new El Dorado of the West is the fairest spot on earth.
He has already invested thousands of dollars and given much thought and attention toward the accomplishment of his pet scheme. An irrigating ditch costing nearly a million dollars now waters this fertile region, and various other improvements are under way, to prepare a land flowing with milk and honey for the reception of thousands of homeless wanderers. Like the children of Israel, these would never reach the promised land but for the untiring efforts of a Moses to go on before; but unlike the ancient guide and scout of sacred history, my brother has been privileged to penetrate the remotest corner of this primitive land of Canaan. The log cabin he has erected there is not unlike the one of our childhood days. Here he finds his haven of rest, his health-resort, to which he hastens when the show season is over and he is free again for a space. He finds refreshment in the healthful, invigorating atmosphere of his chosen retreat; he enjoys sweet solace from the cares of life under the influence of its magnificent scenery.
And here, in the shadow of the Rockies, yet in the very "light of things," it is his wish to finish his days as he began them, in opening up for those who come after him the great regions of the still undeveloped West, and in poring over the lesson learned as a boy on the plains:
Finishing Touch by Zane Grey.
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