When the dusty bull train came rolling along the road past the garrison
it found us waiting. Our property was stowed in an empty wagon, and,
again shouting good-bys to the comrades who had come out to see us off,
we began our tedious, dusty, dirty march with the bull train.
At that time Majors & Russell, of Leavenworth, Kansas, had the contract
for transporting government supplies to all frontier posts. Mr. Majors
had the reputation of being a very religious man, and in fitting out
trains required all wagon-masters and teamsters to sign a written
contract agreeing to use no profane language and not to gamble or to
travel on Sundays. At starting he furnished each man with a Bible and
hymn-book, and exhorted him to read the gospel and hold religious
services on the Sabbath. This statement is regarded by many people of
the present day as an old frontier joke, but it is actual fact.
The wagons–called prairie-schooners–were large and heavy and
usually drawn by six yoke of oxen to the team. When outward bound
they were loaded at the rate of one thousand pounds of freight to the
yoke. Twenty-five such teams constituted a train, in charge of a
wagon-master and assistant, who were mounted on mules. The travel was
slow, dusty, and disagreeable beyond description. At camping time the
trains corralled across the road, a half circle on either side, leaving
the open road running through the centre of the corral.
[Illustration: _Bull Train corralled for camp._]
Our route was down the Arkansas River on the north bank, but the train
itself did not go to the water. That used for cooking and drinking was
carried along in casks, which were replenished at every opportunity.
The detail of this travel, while interesting, cannot be given here, but
on the journey we learned a great deal that was absolutely new to us.
On the first night out from Fort Wise we were awakened by a
bull-whacker, who brought to our bed two men who had asked for us and
who proved to be deserters. We felt the sympathy for them which the
average soldier feels for a deserter, gave them a little money and some
rations, and recommended them to hurry on, travelling at night and
lying hid in the daytime. They went on, as advised.
The next morning a sergeant and two privates from Fort Wise galloped up
behind us and stopped to speak to us, asking if we had seen a couple
of deserters. We gravely told them that we had seen no such men and
suggested that they might have gone west from Fort Wise. The sergeant
made a perfunctory search of the wagons and then went on, to camp a
little farther along and kill time until it was necessary to return
to the post. In those days such pursuing parties often overtook the
deserters they were after, gave them part of their rations, and sent
them along on their road.
At the Big Timbers, on the Arkansas, we met with a large band of
Cheyenne Indians on the way up to Fort Wise to receive their annuities;
and when we reached the Santa Fé road, where it crossed the Arkansas,
coming from the Cimarron River by the sixty-mile dry stretch called the
_jornada_, we saw a government six-mule train, travelling east, just
going into camp on the river bank.
Here, we thought, was an opportunity to get along faster and travel
more comfortably if we could arrange for a transfer to the mule train.
Its days’ drives were about twice as long as those of the bull train,
which seldom exceeded twelve miles a day. We therefore sent Tom back to
the mule train, and he found in the wagon-master of the train an old
acquaintance, who cheerfully agreed to take us on to Fort Leavenworth
without charge. Next morning, as the mule train passed us, we bade
good-by to our kind but dirty friends the bull-whackers and tumbled
ourselves and our baggage into one of the empty mule wagons and went on.
At the Santa Fé crossing of the Arkansas, we had begun to see a few
buffalo; and the herds grew larger as we went on until we reached
Pawnee Fork, near Fort Larned, which seemed to be about the centre of
their range. After we passed the fort their numbers decreased until
we came to the Little Arkansas, where we saw the last of them. Our
old company, K of the First Cavalry, had built the first quarters at
Larned, in 1859. When we passed it, in the autumn of 1861, it was
garrisoned by two companies of the Second Infantry and one of the
Second Dragoons and was commanded by Major Julius Hayden, Second
After joining the mule train Tom, Jack, and I made it our business
to keep the outfit supplied with fresh meat while passing through
the buffalo range. We also killed numbers of ducks, geese, brant,
and sand-hill cranes, borrowing the wagon-master’s shotgun for bird
hunting. This suggested to us that a good shotgun would be a useful
part of our equipment for the winter’s work.
[Illustration: _Mule Train camped in park_]
In due time we reached Fort Leavenworth, received our pay from our old
paymaster, Major H. E. Hunt, and then went down to Leavenworth City,
two and a half miles from the fort. We stopped at a boarding-house
kept by an old dragoon who had a wide acquaintance among citizens and
soldiers and who could and would be useful to us in getting together
The war between the States was now in full blast, and blue cloth and
brass buttons were seen everywhere. Several of our former comrades had
enlisted in the volunteers, and some had obtained commissions.
According to our previous understanding, I had been chosen as treasurer
and bookkeeper for the expedition and began to keep accounts of
receipts and expenses. Each man turned into a common fund, to be used
in the purchase of an outfit, one hundred and fifty dollars–making a
common capital of four hundred and fifty dollars. The balance of each
man’s money was left in his hands to use as he saw fit, except in the
case of Jack, whom we had persuaded to turn over all his money to me.
Jack begged ten dollars from me to go off and have a good time, and
Tom advised me to give it; but he warned Jack that he would probably
bring up in the lockup and declared that if he did so he should stay
there until we were ready to start. Both Jack and I had so much respect
for Tom’s greater age and experience that we never thought of taking
offence at his scoldings.
For two days Tom and I were busy going about from one stable to
another, hoping to find a ready-made camp outfit, team, and wagon
offered for sale cheap. Nothing like that had as yet been seen. We
had heard nothing of our Irishman, and I was getting a little uneasy
about him and asked Tom if I should not go to the police station, pay
Jack’s fine, and get him out. Tom agreed, and expressed some sorrowful
reflections on the blemish to Jack’s character which his love for
As expected, Jack was found behind the bars. He had evidently received
a terrible beating, part of it from a gang of toughs who had tried to
rob him, and the remainder from the police who had finally, with much
difficulty, arrested him. I was obliged to pay a fine of twenty dollars
to get Jack out.
A further search of Leavenworth City failed to show us what we wanted,
and we were getting discouraged. To buy a team and a camp equipment at
the prices that were asked would take all the money we could raise and
still leave us poorly prepared for our expedition. We were considering
the possibility of doing better in Kansas City and Saint Joe and had
half decided to go to those places when one day Jack came rushing in,
“I’ve struck it. I’ve struck just the rig that we want. A lot of
fine-haired fellows from the East have just got in from a buffalo hunt
with a splendid outfit they want to sell. They will take anything they
can get for it, because they are going back East on the railroad and
are in a hurry to get off; and who do you think I found in charge of
the outfit but Wild Bill Hickock?[B] Bill told me he’d been hired by
three fellows to buy the team and rig up the whole equipment for them,
and he’d been their guide. He says it’s a dandy outfit. He don’t know
how much they’ll ask for it, but says they don’t care for money and
will give it away if they can’t sell it. They’ve left Bill to get rid
of it. It’s over yonder on Shawnee Street, and we’d better look it over
and see what sort of a bargain we can make.”
By this time we were all heading for Jim Brown’s livery stable. There
we found the wagon in the back lot, and the team, a good pair of mules,
in the barn. When we had looked over the well appointed rig and made a
rough estimate of its probable value we began to fear that the owners
would ask more than we could pay for it. Wild Bill was absent.
I asked: “What do you think of the outfit, Tom?”
“It’s one of the best camp equipments I ever saw,” replied Tom, “but I
am afraid it’s too rich for our blood. Those mules and harness alone
would be cheap at two hundred and fifty dollars. The wagon is easy
worth another hundred dollars, and there is no telling what the camp
outfit cost. They must have let Bill fit things up to his own notion,
and Bill never did know the value of money. It may be, as Bill said,
that they don’t expect much for it and they’ll let us have it cheap as
dirt. We’d better be quick, if we can, before some one else snaps it
“Here comes Wild Bill himself!” exclaimed Jack; and sure enough, that
first of frontier scouts, in beaded buckskins and with his long, tawny
hair hanging down his back, came striding through the barn to meet us.
Bill confirmed what Jack had told us, and said that as these young men
seemed to have more money than they knew what to do with he had rigged
up as good an outfit as he knew how. He continued: “The wagons, mules,
harness, camp outfit, and some grub left over is for sale, but their
riding horses are not for sale. They are to be shipped on the cars back
to New York. They’ve got a couple of pretty fair broncos which they got
here at starting, and they’ll sell you them, or throw them in for good
measure. What will you give me for the whole lot?”
Tom asked if he was willing to let us unload the wagon and look at
its contents, to which Bill assented. We found it an extraordinarily
complete camp outfit, with many duplicate parts for the wagon, a Sibley
tent, a sheet-iron cook-stove, a mess-chest, and a complete mess-kit,
or cooking outfit. There was a large amount of provisions left over.
The wagon and the animals were good and the broncos had saddles and
While we were unpacking the wagon Bill told us something about the
trip, which, from the point of view of the hunters, had been very
successful, though commonplace enough as Bill saw it. When the
examination was completed Bill asked: “What do you think of the outfit,
Tom, and what will you give me for the whole caboodle?”
“It’s a good rig, and no mistake,” replied Tom with a seemingly
hopeless sigh, “but, Bill, I am afraid we haven’t money enough to buy
it. The outfit was all right for your purposes, but we’ll have to buy a
lot more things and must have some money left after buying a team and
camp outfit. To buy your outfit would clean us out.”
“Well,” said Bill, “make a bid of what you can afford to give, not what
it’s worth. They do not expect to get what it’s worth.”
“It sounds like a mighty small price, Bill, and I’m ashamed to make you
the offer,” said Tom hesitatingly, “but two hundred dollars is as much
as we can afford to give and still buy our other truck. Would your men
consider such a bid as that?”
“Boys, that does seem like giving the outfit away, and until I see my
men I won’t say whether they’ll take it or not, but I’ll talk for you
a little and help you out all I can. They told me to sell the rig for
whatever I could get, and I’ll tell them that two hundred dollars is
the best offer I have had–it’s the only one; if they say it’s a go the
outfit is yours.”
As we stood on a corner near the levee awaiting Bill’s return we heard
the long, hoarse whistle of a steamboat, and saw one approaching from
down the river, though still some distance away. A little later Bill
came hurrying out of the hotel and gladdened our hearts by telling us
that our offer had been accepted. His men were to take the approaching
steamer to Saint Joe, and he must hurry back to Brown’s stable and help
get their fine hunting-horses aboard the boat.
I counted him out the two hundred dollars, which he stuffed in his
pocket without recounting. We had bought for two hundred dollars an
outfit worth at least five hundred dollars.
We soon had the six fine horses on board the boat. Bill went up to the
cabin to turn over the money we had paid him. Soon the steamer’s big
bell clanged, and just as the deck-hands were about to pull in the
gangplank, Bill came running out and turned and waved good-by to his
employers, who stood on the hurricane-deck.
In the autumn of 1861 there was no railroad in Kansas, and the nearest
point to reach the cars going east from Leavenworth would have been
Weston, six or eight miles above, on the Missouri side of the river.
The railroad from Saint Joseph east was patrolled by Union soldiers, to
protect the bridges and keep it open for travel.
As we started back up-town Bill exclaimed gleefully:
“Well, boys, what do you think? When I offered them fellows the money
you paid me for the outfit they would not take a dollar of it, but told
me to keep it for an advance payment–a sort of retaining fee–for
my services next season. They’re coming out again next spring with a
bigger party and made me promise to meet them here and go with them.”
After Bill left us Tom said: “Bill never did know the value of money.
He could just as well as not have had the whole outfit that he sold us
or, if he didn’t want to keep it, could have sold it for twice what we
paid him for it. But he’s a free-hearted, generous fellow and never
thought of it. He’s brave as a lion; never was known to do a mean or
cowardly trick; a dead shot. I am afraid, though, that he will die with
his boots on, and die young, too.”
When we got back to the stable we found Jim Brown, the proprietor,
there, and Tom told him that we had bought the wagon, mules, broncos,
and so forth, and would pay his charges before taking them away, as
soon as Wild Bill came around to confirm the sale.
“Now, men,” said the veteran, when we reached our boarding-house,
“we’re beginnin’ to see our way toward gettin’ out of this town, an’
the sooner the better, I say; but we’ve got to do some more plannin’.
I’ll give you my plans, an’ if you can suggest better ways, all right.
To-morrow mornin’ we’ll pay our bills, an’ then we’ll hitch up an’ pull
out onto that open ground out t’other side of Broadway and camp there
an’ go to work gettin’ ready to leave here. In camp we can overhaul the
outfit an’ see just exactly what more we need.”
“Nothing could be better,” chipped in Jack.
“Same here,” I added. “Now tell us what to do to get ready for
“Hold on,” said Tom, “I’ve got another suggestion to offer. We’re going
to have a heap heavier load than them hunters had, an’ I’m in favor of
gettin’ a pair of lead harness an’ spreaders an’ putting them broncos
on for leaders an’ work four going out. We’ll want to take about five
months’ supplies for ourselves an’ what grain we can haul to help our
animals through the winter, an’ all that will make too much of a load
for the mules alone. We can’t afford to feed our stock full rations
of grain, but they ought to have some to help ’em through the worst
weather an’ keep ’em from gettin’ too poor.”
“That’s a good idea; but what if the mustangs won’t work?” suggested
Jack. “It’s a common trick with their sort to balk in harness, though
they may be good under the saddle.”
“I know that,” replied Tom, “an’ so we want that question settled right
here. Ef one or both of ’em refuses to pull we’ll trade ’em off for
something that’ll work.”
On going over to the stable next morning before breakfast to give the
team a rubbing down, I found Jack there ahead of me, hard at work with
currycomb and horse brush, grooming the stock.
Brown told us that Bill had called and said he should let us have the
outfit when we came for it.
After breakfast, while Tom went down street to a second-hand store
and bought lead harness and spreaders for the mustangs, Jack and I
harnessed the mules and put all our belongings into the wagon. We were
delighted to find that the broncos when hitched up walked away like old
work horses, which they evidently were.
Moving out Shawnee Street, beyond Broadway, where there was open ground
for camping, we made camp near a little creek and, after unloading the
wagon, gave everything a general overhauling to determine what more we
needed to fully equip us for the trip.
We had noticed a nice-looking black shepherd dog around Brown’s stable
that we had supposed belonged to Brown; but now discovered that it was
the property of Wild Bill. The dog seemed to be very intelligent and
his owner prized him highly.
After establishing our camp our commander, old Tom, gave his orders, as
occasion suggested, and Jack and I promptly executed them.
“One of us must always be in camp,” said the old man, “for we don’t
know what prowler might come along an’ steal somethin’ if we ain’t
here to watch things. Now, for to-day, I’ll be camp guard while you
youngsters do the foraging. First thing, Jack, you an’ Peck light out
an’ hunt up some wood to cook with.”
As the camp-stove would be so much handier and more economical of fuel
than an open fire, we had taken it out of the wagon and placed it on
the ground, with the mess-chest near by–just behind the wagon–and,
after pitching the tent, moved the stove inside.
Jack and I skirmished along the creek, and each gathered an armful of
wood which we broke up into stove lengths, while Tom busied himself
overhauling the mess-chest and cooking utensils.
When we had finished our job Tom gave another order:
“Now, while you’re restin’ Jack, you take the two mules, an’, Peck,
you take the two broncos, an’ go back up the street to that blacksmith
shop just this side of the Mansion House an’ git ’em shod all ’round.
That’ll take about all forenoon. An’ while the blacksmith is workin’
on ’em one of you can stay there an’ the other can go to a meat market
an’ git a piece of fresh meat an’ bring it out to camp right away so
that I can put it on to cook for dinner. While you’re gettin’ the meat,
bring a loaf or two of soft bread, too. We’ve got plenty of hardtack
in the wagon, but we’d better use baker’s bread while we’re in reach
of it an’ save the hardtack to use on the road, in camps where fuel is
Leaving Jack at the blacksmith’s shop to attend to the shoeing of the
team, I carried out Tom’s various instructions.
While a kettle of bean soup was boiling Tom was busy rearranging things
in the mess-chest and wagon. Fearing that he might neglect the soup and
let it scorch, I asked:
“Tom, is there any danger of the beans sticking to the bottom of the
camp-kettle and burning?”
“What do you take me for, young fellow?” he retorted indignantly. “Do
you s’pose I’ve been a-cookin’ an’ eatin’ Uncle Sam’s beans all these
years an’ ain’t learnt how to cook bean soup without burnin’ it? Ef
that soup scorches I’ll agree to eat the whole mess.”
“Of course you know how to cook ’em,” I said apologetically, “but I
noticed the beans are gettin’ soft and thought maybe while you was busy
at something else they might get burnt.”
“Ain’t you never learnt how to keep beans from stickin’ to the bottom
of the camp-kettle?”
“No, except to keep stirring them,” I replied.
“Well, I didn’t think you’d a-got through five years of soldierin’ on
the plains without learnin’ how to keep beans from burning. Now, I’ll
tell you of a trick that’s worth a dozen of stirrin’ ’em when you’ve
got somethin’ else to do besides standin’ by the kettle an’ watchin’
’em. When your beans begin to git soft just drop two or three metal
spoons into the camp-kettle, then go on about your business, an’ long
as they don’t bile dry they won’t burn. You savvy the philosophy of it?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, it’s just this: the heat keeps the spoons a-dancin’ around in
the bottom of the kettle, an’ that keeps the beans from settlin’ an’
burning. Savvy? Easy as rollin’ off a log when it’s explained to you,
After getting back to camp with the mules and broncos newly shod, we
had just taken our seats around our mess-box table when who should ride
up but Wild Bill. He had heard from Brown of our move and came out to
see how we were fixed. As he reined up near us Jack saluted him with:
“Get down, Bill, an’ hitch your hoss an’ watch me eat.”
“Not by a durned sight, Jack; I can do a heap better than that,”
replied the scout, too familiar with the rough hospitality of the
frontier to wait for a more formal invitation; “but if you’ve got time
to watch me eat I’ll show you how to do it.”
He dismounted, tied his horse to the wagon, turned up a water bucket
for a seat, and sat down to dinner with us. “The smell of that bean
soup catches me.”
As a surprise, when we had nearly finished Tom went to the oven and
brought out a couple of nice hot pies.
“What a blessin’ it is, sure,” said Jack, “to have somethin’ to cook
an’ somebody that knows how to cook it!”
“Well,” replied Tom, “it’s better than having a surplus of cooks an’ no
rations–a state of affairs we all know something about.”
“I was just a-goin’ to remark,” added Bill, “that I see you’ve got
a good cook in the outfit, an’ that’s no small help. I always knew
Tom was a first-class soldier, an’ now I’ve found out another of his
accomplishments. Boys, I expect to be out to Fort Larned before long,
an’ if I ever strike your trail out in that neighborhood I’ll sure
foller it up an’ invite myself to take a square meal with you once in a
“Well, I’ll tell ye right now, Bill, you’ll always be welcome,” said
Jack, while Tom and I added: “Second the motion.”
“My special errand out here,” said Bill as he unhitched his horse and
prepared to mount, “was to tell you that when you get ready to lay
in your supplies for the trip I think you can do better to buy ’em of
Tom Carney[C] than anywhere else in town. There’s where I bought the
truck for our trip, an’ I found his prices reasonable, an’ everything
was satisfactory an’ packed in good shape. Tom’s accommodatin’, an’
reliable, and an all-round good fellow to trade with.”
While standing by his horse Bill’s dog had taken post in front of
him and by wagging his tail and looking up at his master was trying
to attract his notice, seeing which the scout stooped down and began
talking to his canine friend and patting him affectionately, which
seemed to put the dog in an ecstasy of delight.
“Bill,” said Tom, “I’ve been wondering ef we couldn’t manage some way
to beat you out of that dog. Don’t you want to git rid of him?”
“No, Tom,” replied the scout, “money wouldn’t buy that dog. But there’s
been two or three attempts made to steal him from me since I’ve been
here in town–I come pretty nigh having to kill a feller about him just
the other day–an’, seeing as he’s taken such a shine to you fellers,
I was thinkin’ of gettin’ you to take him along with you out to Larned
an’ leave him with somebody there to keep for me till I come out; or
maybe you’d keep him with your outfit.”
“Just the thing!” exclaimed Jack. “We’ll take him along, all right, an’
we won’t leave him at Fort Larned, either–we’ll keep him till you call
“Well, boys, I b’lieve he’ll be useful to you, for he’s a shepherd
an’ takes to minding stock naturally, an’ he’s a good all-round
watch-dog–one of the smartest I ever saw. I call him ‘Found,’ ’cause
I found him when he seemed to be lost. You’ll have to keep him tied up
for a few days when you leave here; after that, I think, he’ll stick to
you, ’cause he’s been used to lookin’ after them mules an’ ponies all
summer. But, mind you, now, I ain’t a-givin’ him to you–only lendin’
“All right, Bill; he’s your dog,” said Tom, “an’ we’ll take good care
of him till you want him.” Thus Found became one of us.
That afternoon Tom began the work of estimating the supplies that we
would need for our winter’s trip, endeavoring to calculate the quantity
of each item of the provisions and from that the weight that we would
have to haul in our wagon. As an old soldier, he made his figures on
the basis of rations–one man’s allowance of each article of food for
one day. He said:
“We’ll make our estimate at about the rate of government rations, but,
as we don’t have to restrict ourselves exactly to Uncle Sam’s allowance
we’ll allow a margin in some things to suit our own notions.”
Tom calculated that about four months’ rations for three men ought
to be enough to carry us from the middle of October to the middle
of February, and he told me to make my requisition for four hundred
rations of each article and set down the number of pounds’ weight of
each as I went along.
“Of breadstuffs,” he said, “we ought to take about three fourths
flour–three hundred pounds–and one fourth hardtack–one hundred
pounds. That’ll make four hundred pounds of freight. Then, as an extra,
a sack of corn-meal–fifty pounds.
“As we’ll be able to kill plenty of wild meat, two hundred rations of
bacon will be enough. At three fourths of a pound to the ration, that
will be one hundred and fifty pounds.”
So he went through the list of beans, rice, hominy, coffee, tea, and
sugar, with vinegar, salt, pepper, yeast-powder, together with two
hundred pounds of potatoes and one hundred pounds of onions. With some
dried fruit and soap the total weight came to one thousand five hundred
and forty-one pounds, to which he added one thousand pounds of corn,
as feed for the animals during the worst weather. He purposed to take
also a scythe and hay-fork and, as soon as we got into camp, to cut hay
and make a stack as added provision against bad weather. These things,
together with all the camp equipment to be carried, would make a load
of not far from three thousand pounds for the animals.
To this load I suggested that it would be a good idea to add some
interesting books to read at night, and I told him that I purposed to
subscribe for some weekly papers which would give the news of current
Wild Bill’s skill in plains travel was evident in many things about
the outfit we had bought. He had fastened straps on the outside of the
wagon-box to carry the tent-pole, tripod, and stovepipe, and on the
opposite side to hold the axe, pick, and shovel, so that when needed on
the road or in camp the tools would be at hand.
On the plains one must be prepared to encounter strong winds at any and
all times, and often violent storms, and on this account we commended
Bill’s judgment in having selected a Sibley instead of a wall tent; for
the Sibley is in many respects a most serviceable tent.
It is conical in shape, like the Indian lodge, but in other respects
it is far superior to the red man’s habitation. It requires but a
single short pole which rests on an iron tripod, by pushing together
or spreading apart the feet of which the canvas is easily stretched
tight or slackened. The aperture at the top for the escape of smoke is
provided with a canvas cap which can be shifted so as to keep its back
to the wind, thus insuring a clear exit for the smoke. Two opposite
doors secure at least one entrance and exit away from the wind. Its
advantages over the wall-tent for withstanding stormy weather and for
comfort and convenience are generally admitted by all old campers.
[Illustration: _Sibley Tent_]
The inventor of this most excellent tent was a private soldier in the
Second Dragoons, whom I often saw at Fort Bridger, Utah, in ’58, but
whose name I have forgotten.
The next day we drove down-town and bought our supplies and on
returning to camp loaded the wagon for the trip to the plains, as Tom
“Put the heaviest truck, such as the sacks of corn and flour, in the
bottom an’ well toward the forward end,” said he, “an’ such things as
the mess box an’ stove–that we’ll be using a good deal on the road–in
the hind end, where they’ll be handy to git out of the wagon. The tent
an’ our bundles of bedding can go on top. The camp-stools, buckets, an’
camp-kettles can be tied on outside. An’, mind you, everything must be
stowed away snug or we won’t be able to get our truck all on the wagon.”
Stripping the wagon-sheets off the bows, we packed the wagon to the
best advantage, leaving at the hind end a vacant space to receive the
mess-chest and stove. Replacing the sheets, we tied them down snugly to
the wagon-box, all around, to be prepared for rainy weather.
Tom, who once had served as hospital steward, had learned something of
the use of medicines, and during our stay in Leavenworth he fitted up a
small medicine-chest and stocked it with such remedies as he knew how
to use, to be prepared for emergencies.
“You may not need ’em very often,” he remarked; “you may never need
’em; but, as Wild Bill says of his pistols, when you do need ’em you’ll
need ’em bad.”
As we were to pull out in the morning, Wild Bill rode out to our camp
that evening to take supper with us. The evening was pleasantly passed
with music from Jack’s fiddle, singing by all hands, and wound up by a
jig danced by Wild Bill which astonished and delighted us all.
As Wild Bill was mounting his horse to return to town, Tom took the
precaution to chain the dog, Found, to a wheel of the wagon, to
prevent him from following his master.
Our commander, old Tom, had given orders for an early start next
morning, and before daylight his call, “Turn out, men!” routed us out
of our blankets. Tom got breakfast, while Jack and I fed the team and
then groomed and harnessed them while they ate.
We intended to feed them well on grain as long as we were in the
settlements, where it was plenty and cheap; but after getting beyond
Council Grove there would be no more settlements, and consequently no
grain to be bought along the road, and, as the grain we were hauling
would be needed later to carry our animals through the cold of winter,
they would have to depend on the grass after leaving the settlements.
Daylight was upon us when we had finished eating, and, all hands
turning to, the dishes were soon washed and packed away, the wagon
loaded, the team hitched up, the fire put out, and we were off.
Our team was fat, frisky, and well rested, and walked away with its
load with ease; but, following our soldier training in starting
out for a long trip, we made short, easy drives for the first few
days, gradually increasing them till we reached the maximum–about
twenty-five miles a day.
Shortly after leaving Leavenworth we met our old friends the
bull-whackers, with whom we had made the first part of our trip on
starting from Fort Wise. They were just getting in with their train,
as dirty and jolly as ever. We were gratified to realize that we had
gained so much time and avoided so much dirt by transferring to the
mule train at the Santa Fé crossing of the Arkansas River.
Later we met more bull trains and other freighting outfits coming in
but found few going west. At this season most people were inclined to
seek the friendly shelter and comforts of the settlements rather than
to brave the inclemencies and dangers of the bleak plains.
Among the travellers whom we met coming in was an occasional outfit
of “busted Pike’s Peakers,” as unfortunate and discouraged miners
returning from the Pike’s Peak gold region were called. Most of these
gave doleful accounts of life and prospects in the Colorado mines.
For a few days after leaving Leavenworth we kept the dog, Found, tied
up, lest he should go back to his master; but we were all kind to him,
and he showed no inclination to quit our company, and when we turned
him loose again he contentedly remained with our outfit.
We found the roads fine and the weather real Indian summer; days hazy,
warm, and pleasant, nights cool, and mornings frosty, as is usual on
the plains at this the most pleasant time of the year.
While in the settlements we indulged in such luxuries as milk, butter,
eggs, and so forth, whenever they were to be bought, and we killed
plenty of prairie-chickens with our shotgun.
These prairie-chickens were very numerous in the Kansas settlements,
occurring in such multitudes that they were pests to the farmers,
eating great quantities of grain. They haunted the settled country or
grain-producing parts but were seldom found far out on the plains,
though while in the service I saw a few as far west as the Big Bend of
In the army the Sibley tent was calculated to hold twelve to sixteen
men–crowded pretty close together–but in our Sibley, with only the
three occupants, there was room for stove, mess-chest, camp-stools,
or anything else we might bring inside. Found always made his bed
under the wagon, where he could keep watch over the animals and act as
general camp guard.
In order to favor our team we made two drives a day, stopping for an
hour or so at noon to turn the animals out on the grass, while we made
coffee and ate some cold meat and bread. On our afternoon drive, as
night approached, we selected a convenient place and camped, turning
out the team–except the flea-bitten gray mare, which we always
picketed as an anchor to the rest. After supper, sprawled on our beds
in the tent, we talked and spun yarns.
Tom having served three enlistments–fifteen years–and Jack two,
while I had only five years’ service as a soldier to my credit, I was
considered a raw recruit and usually listened while they talked. When
in a musical mood, Jack got out his fiddle and played and sang.
We seldom lit a candle at night, for we had only one box of candles and
knew that before us were many long winter evenings when lights would be
more needed than now. We had found, rolled up in the tent, an infantry
bayonet–the best kind of a camp candlestick. When we had occasion to
light a candle we appreciated its convenience.
Since we first came from the plains into the Kansas settlements
we had heard much said about jayhawkers. The term jayhawking as
used then was a modified expression for theft or robbery, but was
applied more particularly to the depredations of gangs of armed and
mounted ruffians, who, taking advantage of the turbulent condition
of affairs resulting from the war–the civil law being impotent or
altogether lacking in many parts of the scattering settlements of
Kansas–roamed at will through the country, hovering especially along
main thoroughfares and helping themselves to other people’s property.
Sometimes they professed to be volunteer soldiers or government agents
sent out to gather in good horses, mules, or other property for the use
of Uncle Sam, giving bogus receipts for what they took and saying that
these receipts would be honored and paid on their presentation to any
government quartermaster–which, of course, was pure fiction.
Where they failed to get what they wanted by other methods they did
not hesitate to use violence, even to killing those who resisted their
Such were the Kansas jayhawkers of those times, whom we had hoped
to escape meeting; but we had talked much of the possibilities and
probabilities of such an encounter and had decided on certain plans of
action to frustrate the probable movements of any jayhawkers whom we
might meet. We did not propose to be robbed and stood ready to put up
a strong bluff and, if necessary, to fight to defend our property. In
view of a possible fight, arms were to be kept in order and ammunition
We had nearly reached Council Grove without encountering any jayhawkers
and had begun to flatter ourselves that we were going to slip through
the settlements without having trouble with them. At one or two places
along the road, however, we had heard that a party of jayhawkers had
lately been seen on the route ahead of us, and we had been cautioned to
look out for them.