Title: My First Dead Indian

Periodical: Daily Alta California

Date: June 19, 1887

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I am perfectly well aware that for a man to boast of his own prowess is not dignified, and more especially is this the case when that man occupies a somewhat prominent position, however temporarily, before a public hitherto unacquainted with his past career; but to be reminiscent a man must naturally refer to incidents in that career which have assisted him to attain that prominent position, and that is why on this occasion I refer to my first dead Indian. This much being granted, I have demonstrated beyond dispute that I am not prompted by any feelings of vanity when I stand before them briefly sketching the outlines of my not uneventful career in the Wild West, which will, I think, on its own merits compare favorably with any biography hitherto written. I would further state that, in briefly detailing the outlines of my past career. I rely entirely on the facts to which I refer, and not on any claims which I may or may not possess in being the master of any particular style of merit or the reverse.

I was born in February, 1845, in the State of Iowa. I need not go into details respecting my family, and can dismiss my youth briefly by saying that when I was not on a horse I was just being thrown off one. I soon became a pretty smart rider, and my practice with a gun was pretty good, too. I was twelve years old when I killed my first Indian. It happened rather sudden. I was walking out by the river, near Fort Kearney, [1] one night about 10 o'clock. My companions had got on ahead somehow, and I was quite alone, when, looking up toward the bluff bordering the river, I saw, illuminated by the moon, the head of a live Indian, watching me with evident interest. Now I had heard many stories of the doings of the red men, and had also been inculcated with a thorough distrust of their ways; so, quickly coming to a conclusion as to what I should do, I brought my gun to my shoulder, and aiming at the head, fired. The report sounded louder than usual in the silence of the night, for it was past 10 o'clock, and was followed by a war whoop such as could only be built up by an Indian, and the next instant over six feet of dead Indian came down splash into the river.

Soon after this I went to business. I took to the plains, and in the employ of Messrs. Russell [2] & Simpson [3] soon learned the ins and outs of the wild life led with horses and cattle-driving teams, riding express ponies and getting to know the land. Among other things, I somehow found out how to hunt buffalo, a sport second to none, if you know how. I shall never forget the faces of five officers I met on the prairie once, now many years ago. They were after a herd of buffalo. So was I. We exchanged views. I gave them my ideas. They gave me their sympathy. "You surely don't expect to catch buffalo with that Gothic steed?" said they.

"I am going to try." I said.

"You'll never do it, man alive," said the captain. "It wants a fast horse to overtake buffalo."

"Does it?" I respond.

"Yes, but you can come with us, if you like."

And I did like. There were eleven buffalos in the herd, and while the officers rode straight at them I headed the leaders and got up to them with ease. The horse which my companion had been chaffing was the famous Brigham, who knew as much about the sport as I did; he speedily did his part of the business. A few jumps brought us up to the herd. Raising "Lucretia Borgia," [4] my trusty weapon, I aimed at the first animal, fired and brought him down, Brigham, like the ideal animal that he was, carrying me rapidly up to the next brute, not ten feet away; and, when I had dropped him, bounded on to the next, and so on, until I had slain the whole eleven animals, and then my horse stopped. I dismounted to regard my work with a feeling of satisfaction. Those officers rode up shortly, and I shall never forget their expression as they surveyed the work of five minutes lying around.

My horse Brigham was an exceptionally intelligent brute. He took the keenest delight in sport, and invariably took pains to aid me in getting game. All he expected of me was to do the shooting. The rest was his work. He would always stop if the buffalo did not fall at the first shot, so as to give me a second chance; but if I did not bring him down then, he would go on disgusted.

It was in 1867 that the Kansas Pacific track was in the buffalo country, and the company was employing over 1,200 men in the making of the road. The Indians were very troublesome, and it was not always easy to get sufficient supplies of fresh meat for the men. It was about this time that the Messrs. Goddard. [5] the contractors to the constructors, made me a handsome offer, provided I would undertake to hunt for them. They required twelve buffalos per diem. The work was somewhat dangerous, owing to the Indians, but the terms were handsome—$500 per month. I took the offer, and in less than eighteen months, during which time my engagement lasted, I killed 4,280 buffaloes single-handed, and had many scrimmages with Indians and narrow escapes. It was during this period of my career that I had my celebrated buffalo killing match with Billy Comstock, [6] the noted scout, then at Fort Wallace. The terms were settled as follows: We were to hunt one day and eight hours, from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. The stakes were $500 a side and the man who killed the most buffalo was to be declared the winner. The contest took place twenty miles east from Sheridan, [7] and many thousand people came from all parts to see the sport. We were fortunate on finding animals, and had plenty of sport. We made three runs each, and I killed sixty-nine buffalos, my rival being content with forty-six. Not a bad day's work, a day which is an historical one for me, inasmuch as since then I have invariably been referred to in all parts of the civilized world as Buffalo Bill.

I have now come to that point in my life when events, which in this case did not cast their shadows before, brought about an entire change in the routine of my career, a point which may be said to close the first volume of my history. I feel, therefore, that this is an appropriate moment at which to break off this narrative, the more especially as the numerous claims on my time and attention, social as well as imperative, render it no easy matter for me to sit down and wield the pen as energetically as I could "Lucretia Borgia" years ago. Before doing so, however, I should greatly like to say a few words respecting a topie which I must regret to find is understood in the inverse proportion to which it is discussed. I refer to that unique specimen of humanity, the cowboy of to-day. In order to be brief I will, like a cowboy, take the bull by the horns, and lay down the axiom, once and for all, and most emphatically, that a cowboy is not a blackguard; nay, more—he is in nine cases out of ten better than his fellows, more especially as in nine cases out of ten his fellows are the offspring of an effete civilization. He has certain attributes that commend him to creation. He is manly, generous and brave. He is not merely a creature of impulse, but uses the gifts given him by his Maker with a discretion which might well be copied by more of us. In putting in these few words for a class of men who have only to be understood to be admired, I speak after years of study, resulting in a conviction which nothing can shake. I will next proceed to detail some of the events in which I took part in my capacity as Chief of scouts of the United States Army—a position which, I am proud to say, I filled under thirty-one Generals in the field.

Note 1: Considered one of the more important Army posts along the Oregon Trail, Fort Kearny was established in 1848 on the south bank of the Platte River, eight miles southeast of present-day Kearney, Nebraska. [back]

Note 2: William Hepburn Russell (1812-1872), a businessman from Missouri most noted as one of the founders of the Pony Express. The transportation/freight company of Russell, Majors & Waddell developed a network of way stations, stores, banks, and other financial institutions providing the foundation for many new settlements throughout the West. [back]

Note 3: Probably Lewis Simpson, a wagon-master who worked for Russell, Majors & Waddell and a friend of William F. Cody. [back]

Note 4: "Lucretia Borgia" was the rifle used by William F. Cody for hunting buffalo during the 1860s and 1870s; the rifle was a .50-caliber U.S. Model 1866 Springfield Allin Conversion with a trapdoor breech-loading system. [back]

Note 5: Goddard probably refers to Edwin F. Goddard (1835-1920), manager of the Goddard Brothers Company hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad Company to provide food for the railroad construction crew of 1500 men. [back]

Note 6: William Averill Comstock (1842-1868), a hunting guide and a U.S. Cavalry and U.S. Army scout with a knowledge of Indian life. Though no proof of the event exists, the story persists that Comstock and Cody competed in a buffalo shoot to determine who would use the sobriquet "Buffalo Bill." Cody won by killing 69 bison to Comstock's 49. [back]

Note 4: Sheridan, Kansas, along the Kansas Pacific Railroad route, is now a ghost town. [back]

Title: My First Dead Indian

Periodical: Daily Alta California

Date: June 19, 1887

Also appeared as:

  Title: Buffalo Bill | Interesting Story of His Life and Adventures, as Related by Himself

  Periodical: Western Kansas World

  Date: July 23, 1887

Topic: Buffalo Bill Himself

Keywords: American bison American bison hunting American Indians Cowboys Firearms Horses Hunting Kansas Pacific Railway Company

People: Comstock, William, 1804-1882 Russell, William Hepburn, 1812-1872

Places: Fort Kearny (Neb.) Iowa

Sponsor: This project is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Geraldine W. & Robert J. Dellenback Foundation.

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