Title: Prairie Scouts and Their Work

Periodical: Castle's Saturday Journal

Date: July 30, 1892

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GENERAL DODGE, General Sherman's Chief of the Staff, has said that the success of every expedition against Indians depends, to a degree, on the skill, fidelity, and intelligence of the scouts; for, he says, "not only is the commander habitually dependent on them for good routes and comfortable camps, but the officers must rely on them almost entirely for their knowledge of the position and movements of the enemy."

Therefore, besides mere personal bravery, a scout must be self-reliant, a student of nature, a weather prophet, a geologist by experience, an astronomer by necessity, a naturalist, and, above all, he must be thoroughly educated in the warfare, stratagems, trickery, and skill of his implacable Indian foe. On him alone depends the correctness of destination, the avoidance of ambuscades, the protection against sudden storms, and the finding of game, grass, wood, and water, the want of which is more fatal than the bullet.

So recently as January, 1891, there was a conflict of a very fatal character between the American troops and the Indians at Pine Ridge, in Dakota, when "Sitting Bull" was killed, or, as some say, murdered. The long line of scouts, Yankee, Indian, and half breeds, mounted on their rough ponies and in their semi-civilised dress, made a curious spectacle. An Ogallala Sioux, "No Neck," a famous warrior and friendly to the whites, was a leading Government scout in that campaign, and the writer had the advantage of a talk with this chief recently in his tent—his squaw acting as interpreter—for he is one of the Indians "Buffalo Bill" has brought with him to the Exhibition now open at Earl's Court. John Shaugran, also a Government scout, guide, and interpreter, is in charge of the military hostages, some of whom still remain in London, and they make their daily appearance in the "Wild West" arena. "Buffalo Bill's" Indians are not supernumeraries, made up to represent the part, but they are men who not very many months since were on the warpath. One of them recently died of his wounds and is buried in Brompton Cemetery.

Those prisoners who elected to return to America in the spring were surprised to find that they were not permitted to proceed home to their own reservation. "Red Cloud," the only Indian who ever captured an American fort, is at Pine Ridge still, living in a cabin given him by the Government, and since the death of "Sitting Bull" he has been one of the most patriotic of all Indians. He recently wrote to Major Burke, acknowledging the help from him received by his people in their trouble, and hoping that his "young men" now in London were "good." He asked for a nice flag of the "Great Father"—meaning the President of the United States.


Colonel Cody ("Buffalo Bill") himself is the greatest living scout alive, and more interest attaches to his personality in this respect than in any other. Major J. M. Burke has been at his right hand for a quarter of a century, whether in the field or in the show arena. The latter both officers quitted for a while when the first rumours of the Pine Ridge troubles arose, in order to resume their active campaigneering life, some phases of which are now presented at the Earl's Court Exhibition by the actual individuals who have shared the dangers of the reality which they mimic so vividly.

In the course of a chat with Major Burke upon the life of a scout that gentleman spoke of many a celebrity of the plains. Daniel Boon is still remembered in Kentucky, and Daniel Crockett died in the Liberation of Texas, with Bowie—the inventor of the Bowie knife. Crockett's body was found after the first fight with fourteen dead men around it. Cody has often been chief of scouts, and under him were men who had been born—or "raised"—in the business, whites who had married squaws, and were known as squaw men. Baptiste, the famed scout, was one of these.

Jim White, "Wild Bill," "California Joe," Cosgrove, and "Texas Jack" are not yet forgotten. Jim White was Cody's devoted friend, and he was nicknamed "Chips." He was a man who never drank and never swore. General Sheridan in his autobiography tells the dramatic story of his death. "Just at this moment," he says, "I caught sight of 'Chips' on the opposite crest. All alone he was cautiously making his way, on hands and knees, towards the head of the ravine, where he could look down upon the Indians beneath. As yet he was protected from their fire by the bank itself—his lean form distinctly outlined against the eastern sky. He reached a stunted tree that grew on the very edge of the gorge, and there he halted, brought his rifle close to the shoulder, in readiness to aim, and then raised himself slowly to his feet, lifted his head higher, higher, as he peered over. Suddenly a quick, eager light shone in his face, a sharp movement of his rifle, as though he were about to raise it to the shoulder, when, bang!—a puff of white smoke floated up from the head of the ravine; 'Chips' sprang up convulsively in the air, clasping his hands to his breast, and with one startled, agonising cry, 'Oh, my God, boys!' plunged heavily forward on his face down the slope—shot through the heart."

In order fully to appreciate the difficulties which a scout—white or red—has to face, the immensity of the American plains, particularly when they were not penetrated by railroads, must be realised.


"Trailing," said Major Burke, "is most important. The Indians are very crafty. In times of war, or hunting, they split up into small bands to meet again at a central rendezvous. In war one of their objects is to conceal the fact of their having done so, and which could only have been discovered by whatever footprints, marks, or trails they made. They would send their scouts forward to spy where the white men were. One man would go alone, and he would try to leave behind him no indication of his presence. If he came upon a footprint of a horse or a shoe, he would know that his 'white brother' was near, for the Indian ponies are not shod. It would be possible—if he found particles of fodder—for him even to discover how far the white man's horse had travelled. Then he might see the débris of a fire. If still smoking he would know it was a recent camp, and his object would then be to strike a little bluff, or ridge of hard ground, where the herbage is not high, so that he might avoid crushing the tall grasses, which are slow to recover themselves. Or he would walk his horse up a shallow stream, for running water leaves no trace. If hard pressed and his pony's hoofs sank in the soft ground, he would attach claws to them, that the imprints might resemble those of some wild animal."

"You say the Indians are full of stratagems?"

"Oh, yes. They use all sorts of devices to obliterate trails, or change them. A party of a hundred Redskins intending to travel a hundred miles, would for the first five or ten miles of their journey do all kinds of tricks. Ten or a dozen would be constantly running backwards and forwards, and then the whole band would separate, arranging, as I have said, to meet later. The white scout when he struck a multiplicity of trails, would have to figure out which was really the last one made, and then to ascertain in which direction it actually led. The Indian is particularly fond of ambuscade. He does not allow you to choose the battle ground. It is when you hear nothing in the awful silence of the plains, see nothing and know nothing, you begin to expect something, but you don't know where it is coming from, or how. If anything is seen and known you are prepared for it—even if it is death; but these Indians give you no such warning with their strategy."

"What makes the Indian warfare so terrible," continued the major, "is that there is no quarter given or taken. To be captured by the Indians means mutilation and terrible suffering. So, if a man should be wounded, and you cannot help him and must leave him, you put his revolver handy that he may kill himself rather than the Redskin should find him alive and prolong his misery."

Colonel Cody made a great reputation as a message bearer, travelling with despatches four or five hundred miles alone, riding one horse, well used to him, and leading another to which he might change should a sudden rush, if pursued by Indians, be necessary. Such a solitary journey would be begun at night, and although the fact of his going alone testified to his personal bravery, it was a stronger evidence of his cunning, as Cody knew very well that one man might pass undiscovered when a party would infallibly have been attacked.