Adventures of Buffalo Bill - William Cody

My Duel with Yellow Hand

When the news of the terrible massacre of Custer was learned, preparations were immediately made to avenge his death. The whole Cheyenne and Sioux tribes were in revolt, and a lively, if not very dangerous, campaign was in prospective. Two days before receipt of the news of the massacre, Colonel Stanton, who was with the Fifth Cavalry, had been sent to Red Cloud agency, and on the evening of the receipt of news of the Custer fight a scout arrived in our camp with a message from the Colonel, informing General Merritt that eight hundred Cheyenne warriors had that day left Red Cloud agency to join Sitting Bull's hostile forces in the Big Horn country.

Notwithstanding the instructions to proceed immediately to join General Crook by the way of Fort Fetterman, General Merritt took the responsibility of endeavoring to intercept the Cheyennes, and, as the sequel shows, he performed a very important service.

He selected five hundred men and horses, and in two hours we were making a forced march back to Hat, or War-Bonnet Creek, the intention being to reach the main Indian trail running to the north across that creek before the Cheyennes could get there. We arrived there the next night, and at daylight the following morning, July 17, 1876, I went out on a scout, and found that the Indians had not yet crossed the creek. On my way back to the command I discovered a large party of Indians, which proved to be the Cheyennes, coming up from the south, and I hurried to the camp with this important information.

The cavalrymen quietly mounted their horses and were ordered to remain out of sight, while General Merritt, accompanied by two or three aids and myself, went out on a little tour of observation to a neighboring hill, from the summit of which we saw that the Indians were approaching almost directly toward us. Presently fifteen or twenty of them dashed off to the west, in the direction from which we had come the night before; and upon closer observation with our field glasses we discovered two mounted soldiers, evidently carrying dispatches for us, pushing forward on our trail.

The Indians were evidently trying to intercept these two men, and General Merritt feared that they would accomplish their object. He did not think it advisable to send out any soldiers to the assistance of the couriers, for fear that they would show to the Indians that there were troops in the vicinity who were waiting for them. I finally suggested that the best plan was to wait until the couriers came closer to the command, and then, just as the Indians were about to charge, to let me take the scouts and cut them off from the main body of the Cheyennes who were coming over the divide.

"All right, Cody," said the General. "If you can do that, go ahead."

I rushed back to the command, jumped on my horse, picked out fifteen men, and returned with them to the point of observation. I told General Merritt to give us the word to start out at the proper time, and presently he sang out:

"Go in now, Cody, and be quick about it. They are going to charge on the couriers."

The two messengers were not over four hundred yards from us, and the Indians were only about two hundred yards behind them. We instantly dashed over the bluffs, and advanced on a gallop toward the Indians. A running fight lasted several minutes, during which we drove the enemy some little distance and killed three of their number. The rest of them rode off toward the main body, which had come into plain sight and halted, upon seeing the skirmish that was going on. We were about half a mile from General Merritt, and the Indians whom we were chasing suddenly turned upon us, and another lively skirmish took place. One of the Indians, who was handsomely decorated with all the ornaments usually worn by a war chief when engaged in a fight, sang out to me, in his own tongue, "I know you, Pa-he-haska; if you want to fight, come ahead and fight me."

The chief was riding his horse back and forth in front of his men as if to banter me, and I concluded to accept the challenge. I galloped toward him for fifty yards, and he advanced toward me about the same distance, both of us riding at full speed, and then, when we were only about thirty yards apart, I raised my rifle and fired; his horse fell to the ground, having been killed by a bullet. Almost at the same moment my own horse went down, he having stepped into a gopher hole. The fall did not hurt me much, and I instantly sprang to my feet. The Indian had also recovered himself, and we were now both on foot, and not more than twenty paces apart. We fired at each other simultaneously. My usual luck did not desert me on this occasion, for his bullet missed me, while mine struck him in the breast. He reeled and fell, but before he had fairly touched the ground I was upon him, knife in hand, and had driven the keen-edged weapon to its hilt in his heart. Jerking his war bonnet off, I scientifically scalped him in about five seconds.

The whole affair from beginning to end occupied but little time, and the Indians, seeing that I was some little distance from my company, now came charging down upon me from a hill, in hopes of cutting me off. General Merritt had witnessed the duel, and realizing the danger I was in, ordered Colonel Mason with Company K to hurry to my rescue. The order came none too soon, for had it been one minute later I would have had not less than two hundred Indians upon me. As the soldiers came up I swung the Indian chieftain's topknot and bonnet in the air and shouted, "the first scalp for Custer."

General Merritt, seeing that he could not now ambush the Indians, ordered the whole regiment to charge upon them. They made a stubborn resistance for a little while, but it was no use for any eight hundred, or even sixteen hundred, Indians to try to check a charge of the gallant old Fifth Cavalry, and they soon came to that conclusion, and began a running retreat toward Red Cloud agency.

For thirty-five miles we drove them, pushing them so hard that they were obliged to abandon their loose horses, their camp equipage, and everything else. We drove them into the agency, and followed in ourselves, notwithstanding the possibility of our having to encounter the thousands of Indians at that point. We were uncertain whether or not the agency Indians had determined to follow the example of the Cheyennes and strike out upon the warpath; but that made no difference with the Fifth Cavalry, for they would have fought them all if necessary. It was dark when we rode into the agency, where we found thousands of Indians collected together; but they manifested no disposition to fight.

While at the agency I learned the name of the Indian chief whom I had killed that morning; it was Yellow Hand, a son of old Cut Nose, a leading chief of the Cheyennes. Cut Nose having learned that I had killed his son, sent a white interpreter to me with a message to the effect that he would give me four mules if I would turn over to him Yellow Hand's war-bonnet, guns, pistols, ornaments, and other paraphernalia which I had captured. I sent back word to the old gentleman that it would give me pleasure to accommodate him, but I could not do it this time.

The next morning we started to join General Crook, who was camped near the foot of Cloud Peak in the Big Horn Mountains, awaiting the arrival of the Fifth Cavalry before proceeding against the Sioux, who were somewhere near the head of the Little Big Horn—as his scouts informed him. We made rapid marches, and reached General Crook's camp on Goose Creek about the 3rd of August.

At this camp I met many old friends, among whom was Colonel Royal, who had received his promotion to the lieutenant colonelcy of the Third Cavalry. He introduced me to General Crook, whom I had never met before, but of whom I had often heard. He also introduced me to the General's chief guide, Frank Grouard, a half-breed, who had lived six years with Sitting Bull, and knew the country thoroughly.

We remained in this camp only one day, and the whole troop pulled out for the Tongue River, leaving our wagons behind, but taking with us a large pack train. We marched down the Tongue River for two days, thence in a westerly direction over to the Rosebud, where we struck the main Indian trail leading down this stream. From the size of the trail, which appeared to be about four days old, we estimated that there must have been in the neighborhood of seven thousand Indians in the war party.

For two or three days we pushed on, but we did not seem to gain much on the Indians, as they were evidently making about the same marches that we were. On the fourth or fifth morning of our pursuit, I rode ahead of the command about ten miles, and mounting a hill, I scanned the country far and wide with my field glass, and discovered a column of dust rising about ten miles farther down the creek, and soon I noticed a body of men marching toward me that at first I believed to be the Indians of whom we were in pursuit; but subsequently they proved to be General Terry's command.

I sent back word to that effect to General Crook by a scout who had accompanied me, but after he had departed I observed a band of Indians on the opposite side of the creek, and also another party directly in front of me. This led me to believe that I had made a mistake. But shortly afterward my attention was attracted by the appearance of a body of soldiers who were forming into a skirmish line and then I became convinced that it was General Terry's command, after all, and that the redskins whom I had seen were some of his friendly Indian scouts, who had mistaken me for a Sioux, and fled back to their command terribly excited, shouting, "The Sioux are coming!"

General Terry at once came to the post, and ordered the Seventh Cavalry to form line of battle across the Rosebud; he also ordered up his artillery and had them prepare for action, doubtless dreading another "Custer massacre." I afterward learned that the Indian had seen the dust raised by General Crook's forces, and had reported that the Sioux were coming.

These manoeuvers I witnessed from my position with considerable amusement, thinking the command must be badly demoralized when one man could cause a whole army to form line of battle and prepare for action. Having enjoyed the situation to my heart's content, I galloped down toward the skirmish line, waving my hat, and when within about one hundred yards of the troops, Colonel Weir, of the Seventh Cavalry, galloped out and met me. He recognized me at once, and accompanied me inside the line; then he sang out: "Boys, here's Buffalo Bill. Some of you old soldiers know him; give him a cheer!" Thereupon the regiment gave three rousing cheers, and it was followed up all along the line.

Colonel Weir presented me to General Terry, and in answer to his question I informed him that the alarm of Indians had been a false one, as the dust seen by his scouts was caused by General Crook's troops. General Terry thereupon rode forward to meet General Crook, and I accompanied him at his request. That night both commands went into camp on the Rosebud. General Terry had his wagon train with him, and everything to make life comfortable on an Indian campaign. He had large wall tents and portable beds to sleep in, and commodious hospital tents for dining rooms. His camp looked very comfortable and attractive, and presented a great contrast to that of General Crook, who had for his headquarters only one small fly tent, and whose cooking utensils consisted of a quart cup—in which he made his coffee himself—and a stick upon which he broiled his bacon. When I compared the two camps, I came to the conclusion that General Crook was an Indian-fighter; for it was evident that he had learned that to follow and fight Indians a body of men must travel lightly, and not be detained by a wagon train or heavy luggage of any kind.

That evening General Terry ordered General Miles to take his regiment, the Fifth Infantry, and return by a forced march to Yellowstone, and proceed down the river by steamboat to the mouth of the Powder River, to intercept the Indians, in case they attempted to cross the Yellowstone. General Miles made a forced march that night of thirty-five miles, which was splendid traveling for an infantry regiment through a mountainous country.

Generals Crook and Terry spent that evening and the next day in council, and on the following morning both commands moved out on the Indian trail. Although General Terry was the senior officer, he did not assume command of both expeditions, but left General Crook in command of his own troops, although they operated together. We crossed the Tongue River to Powder River, and proceeded down the latter stream to a point twenty miles from its junction with the Yellowstone, where the Indian trail turned to the southeast in the direction of the Black Hills. The two commands now being nearly out of supplies, the trail was abandoned, and the troops kept on down Powder River to its confluence with the Yellowstone, and remained there several days. Here we met General Miles, who reported that no Indians had as yet crossed the Yellowstone. Several steamboats soon arrived with a large quantity of supplies, and once more the "Boys in Blue" were made happy.

One evening, while we were in camp on the Yellowstone at the mouth of Powder River, I was informed that the commanding officer had selected Louis Richard, a half-breed, and myself to accompany General Miles on a scouting expedition on the steamer Far West, down the Yellowstone as far as Glendive Creek. We were to ride on the pilot house and keep a sharp lookout on both sides of the river for Indian trails that might have crossed the stream. The idea of scouting on a steamboat was indeed a novel one to me, and I anticipated a pleasant trip.

At daylight next morning we reported on board the steamer to General Miles, who had with him four or five companies of his regiment. We were somewhat surprised when he asked us where our horses were, as we had not supposed that horses would be needed if the scouting was to be done on the steamer. He said we might need them before we got back, and thereupon we had the animals brought on board. In a few minutes we were booming down the river at the rate of about twenty miles an hour.

The steamer Far West was commanded by Captain Grant Marsh, whom I found to be an interesting character. I had often heard of him, for he was, and is yet, one of the best-known river captains in the country. He it was who, with his steamer Far West, transported the wounded men from the battle of the Little Big Horn to Fort Abraham Lincoln on the Missouri River, and on that trip he made the fastest steamboat time on record. He was a skillful and experienced pilot, handling his boat with remarkable dexterity.

While Richard and myself were at our stations on the pilot house, the steamer, with a full head of steam, went flying past islands, around bends, over sand bars, at a rate that was exhilarating. Presently I thought I could see horses grazing in a distant bend of the river, and I reported the fact to General Miles, who asked Captain Marsh if he could land the boat near a large tree which he pointed out to him. "Yes, sir; I can land her there, and make her climb the tree if necessary," said he.

On reaching the spot designated, General Miles ordered two companies ashore, while Richard and myself were instructed to take our horses off the boat and push out as rapidly as possible to see if there were Indians in the vicinity. While we were getting ashore, Captain Marsh remarked that if there were only a good heavy dew on the grass he would shoot the steamer ashore, and take us on the scout without the trouble of leaving the boat.

It was a false alarm, however, as the objects we had seen proved to be Indian graves. Quite a large number of braves, who had probably been killed in some battle, were laid on scaffolds, according to the Indian custom, and some of their clothing had been torn from the bodies by the wolves and was waving in the air.

On arriving at Glendive Creek we found that Colonel Rice and his company of the Fifth Infantry, who had been sent there by General Miles, had built quite a good little fort with their trowel-bayonets, a weapon which Colonel Rice was the inventor of, and which is, by the way, a very useful implement of war, as it can be used for a shovel in throwing up intrenchments, and can be profitably utilized in several other ways. On the day previous to our arrival Colonel Rice had a fight with a party of Indians, and had killed two or three of them at long range with his Rodman cannon.

The Far West was to remain at Glendive overnight, and General Miles wished to send dispatches back to General Terry at once. At his request I took the dispatches, and rode seventy-five miles that night through the bad lands of the Yellowstone, and reached General Terry's camp next morning, after having nearly broken my neck a dozen times or more.

There being but little prospect of any more fighting, I determined to go East as soon as possible to engage in other pursuits. So I started down the river on the steamer Yellowstone, en route to Fort Beaufort. On the same morning Generals Terry and Crook pulled out for Powder River, to take up the old Indian trail which we had left.

The steamer had proceeded down the stream about twenty miles when it was met by another boat on its way up the river, having on board General Whistler and some fresh troops for General Terry's command. Both boats landed, and I met several old friends among the soldiers.

General Whistler, upon learning that General Terry had left the Yellowstone, asked me to carry to him some important dispatches from General Sheridan, and although I objected, he insisted upon my performing this duty, saying that it would only detain me a few hours longer; as an extra inducement he offered me the use of his own thoroughbred horse, which was on the boat. I finally consented to go, and was soon speeding over the rough and hilly country toward Powder River, and delivered the dispatches to General Terry the same evening. General Whistler's horse, although a good animal, was not used to such hard riding, and was far more exhausted by the journey than I was.

After I had taken a lunch, General Terry asked me if I would carry some dispatches back to General Whistler, and I replied that I would. Captain Smith, General Terry's aid-de-camp, offered me his horse for the trip, and it proved to be an excellent animal; for I rode him that same night forty miles over the bad lands in four hours, and reached General Whistler's steamboat at one o'clock. During my absence the Indians had made their appearance on the different hills of the vicinity, and the troops from the boat had had several skirmishes with them. When General Whistler had finished reading the dispatches, he said: "Cody, I want to send some information to General Terry concerning the Indians who have been skirmishing around here all day. I have been trying all the evening long to induce someone to carry my dispatches to him, but no one seems willing to undertake the trip, and I have got to fall back on you. It is asking a great deal, I know, as you have just ridden eighty miles; but it is a case of necessity, and if you'll go, Cody, I'll see that you are well paid for it."

"Never mind about the pay," said I, "but get your dispatches ready and I'll start at once."

In a few minutes he handed me the package, and, mounting the same horse which I had ridden from General Terry's camp, I struck out for my destination. It was two o'clock in the morning when I left the boat, and at eight o'clock I rode into General Terry's camp, just as he was about to march, having made one hundred and twenty miles in twenty-two hours.

General Terry, after reading the dispatches, halted his command, and then rode on and overtook General Crook, with whom he held a council; the result was that Crook's command moved on in the direction which they had been pursuing, while Terry's forces marched back to the Yellowstone and crossed the river on steamboats. At the urgent request of General Terry I accompanied the command on a scout in the direction of the Dry Fork of the Missouri, where it was expected we would strike some Indians.

The first march out from the Yellowstone was made in the night, as we wished to get into the hills without being discovered by the Sioux scouts. After marching three days a little to the east of north, we reached the buffalo range and discovered fresh signs of Indians, who had evidently been killing buffaloes. General Terry now called on me to carry dispatches to Colonel Rice, who was still encamped at the mouth of Glendive Creek, on the Yellowstone—distant about eighty miles from us.

Buffalo Bill


Night had set in with a storm, and a drizzling rain was falling when, at ten o'clock, I started on this ride through a section of country with which I was entirely unacquainted. I traveled through the darkness a distance of about thirty-five miles, and at daylight I rode into a secluded spot at the head of a ravine where stood a bunch of ash trees, and there I concluded to remain till night, for I considered it a dangerous undertaking to cross the wide prairies in broad daylight—especially as my horse was a poor one. I accordingly unsaddled my animal and ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and hardtack which I had stored in the saddle pockets; then, after taking a smoke, I lay down to sleep, with my saddle for a pillow. In a few minutes I was in the land of dreams.

After sleeping some time—I cannot tell how long—I was suddenly awakened by a roaring, rumbling sound. I instantly seized my gun, sprang to my horse, and hurriedly secreted him in the brush. Then I climbed up the steep side of the bank and cautiously looked over the summit; in the distance I saw a large herd of buffaloes which were being chased and fired at by twenty or thirty Indians. Occasionally a buffalo would drop out of the herd, but the Indians kept on until they had killed ten or fifteen. Then they turned back and began to cut up the game.

I saddled my horse and tied him to a small tree where I could reach him conveniently in case the Indians should discover me by finding my trail and following it. I then crawled carefully back to the summit of the bluff, and in a concealed position watched the Indians for two hours, during which time they were occupied in cutting up the buffaloes and packing the meat on their ponies. When they had finished this work they rode off in the direction whence they had come.

I waited till nightfall before resuming my journey, and then I bore off to the east for several miles, and by making a semicircle to avoid the Indians, I got back on my original course, and then pushed on rapidly to Colonel Rice's camp, which I reached just at daylight.

Colonel Rice had been fighting Indians almost every day since he had been encamped at this point, and he was very anxious to notify General Terry of the fact. Of course I was requested to carry his dispatches. After remaining at Glendive a single day, I started back to find General Terry, and on the third day I overhauled him at the head of Deer Creek, while on his way to Colonel Rice's camp. He was not, however, going in the right direction, but bearing too far to the east, and so I informed him. He then asked me to guide the command, and I did so.

On arriving at Glendive I bade good-by to the General and his officers, and took passage on the Far West, which was on her way down the Missouri. At Bismarck I left the steamer and proceeded to Rochester, New York, where I met my family.