Authors: Terry C. Johnston
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because you helped me
feel again and showed
me just how much a miracle
loving someone can be
My people have never first drawn a bow or fired a gun against the whites. There has been trouble on the line between us, and my young men have danced the war danceÂ â¦ Two years ago I came upon this road, following the buffalo, that my wives and children might have their cheeks plump and their bodies warm. But the soldiers fired on us, and since that time there has been a noise like that of a thunderstormÂ â¦ The blue-dressed soldiersÂ â¦ killed my bravesÂ â¦ They made sorrow come in our camps, and we went out like buffalo bulls when their cows are attacked. When we found them we killed them, and their scalps hang in our lodges. The Comanches are not weak and blind, like the pups of a dog when seven sleeps old. They are strong and farsighted, like grown horses. We took their road and we went on it. The white women cried and our women laughed.
I have heard that you intend to settle us on a reservation near the mountains. I don't want to settle. I love to roam over the prairies. There I feel free and happy, but when we settle down we grow pale and dieÂ â¦ A long time ago this land belonged to our fathers; but when I go up to the river, I see camps of soldiers on its banks. These soldiers cut down my timber; they kill my buffalo; and when I see that, my heart feels like bursting; I feel sorryÂ â¦ Has the white man become a child that he should recklessly kill and not eat?
Map drawn by author, compiled from contemporary sources. Graphics completed by Sandra West-Prowell.
A warfare in which the soldier of the United States had no hope of honors if victorious, no hope of mercy if he fell; slow death by hideous torture if taken alive; sheer abuse from press and pulpit, if, as was inevitable, Indian squaw or child was killed. A warfare that called us through the cliffs and canyons of the southwest, the lava beds and labyrinths of Modoc land, the windswept plains of Texas, the rigors of Montana winters, the blistering heat of midsummer suns, fighting oftentimes against a foe for whom we felt naught by sympathy, yet knew that the response could be but deathless hateÂ â¦ A more thankless task, a more perilous service, a more exacting test of leadership, morale, and discipline no armyÂ â¦ has ever been called upon to undertake than that which for eighty years was the lot of the little fighting force of regulars who cleared the way across the continent for the emigrant and settler.
So penned Lieutenant Robert G. Carter, serving in Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie's Fourth Cavalry stationed on the frontier of west Texas. A most dramatic statement I wanted to use in beginning this foreword. Carter served the Army of the West with honor for much of the entire era of the Indian Wars.
As much as this time was one of supreme drama and romanceâwe must not forget that we are talking about real heroes, both red and white. Not the celluloid heroes Hollywood would have us believe peopled the West. Instead, I'm speaking of the faceless men and women who became heroic solely because they were called upon by circumstances to forge this nation's destiny across the trackless frontierÂ â¦ or they were called upon to resist that westward migration of a foreign and incomprehensible race.
Both races played lead roles in the most astounding drama played on any world stage at any time in our collective historyâthe American West.
Indeed, the American frontier West was an experience both of extremes and of complexities. Not an easy story to tell simply, but one I hope will be worth your experience in readingâthis whole-cloth tapestry of a dramatic and most romantic time. And perhaps nowhere else in the West did two of the greatest symbols of the American frontier confront one another but there on the southern plains, beginning in the early 1870s. Contrary to what most people believe, it would not be farther north in the land of Red Cloud and Sitting Bull and Man Afraid that we find this dramatic, last-ditch effort. Nowhere else but in that region of the southern prairie did those two great enemies stare one another in the eye so fatefully: the free-roaming Kiowa-Comanche and the buffalo hunter.
Besides the singular icon represented by the frontier horse soldier, these are the two most potent symbols of the West in our collective imaginations: the naked warrior on his small, quick ponyÂ â¦ and the hardy men who ventured onto the central and southern plains to begin the final chapter for the nomadic warrior tribes by hunting the buffalo for only the hides (and perhaps a few tongues).
Ironic too that in the mind of the Indian the buffalo hunter came to symbolize everything he could hate in the white race.
As this story will soon unfold, you will meet Billy Dixon, hide hunter. Nothing less than a real hero in my eyes, head and shoulders above so manyâalthough most of the time, young Billy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Through Dixon's role in this story, I will begin to tell of the buffalo hunters' era on the southern plains, a story that will continue right in the next book,
Volume 7 of the Plainsmen Series. Billy Dixon will be back with Seamus Donegan at the Battle of Adobe Walls, where twenty-nine white buffalo hunters held off untold numbers of Comanche and Kiowa and Cheyenne for five days. But first you'll read the background to the entire conflict, allowing me to set the stage for this novel,
These hide-men were not that different from the “long-hunter” who haunted the Appalachian and canebrake country two centuries ago to hunt for game and new homes for their family. Nor were they that different from the Rocky Mountain fur trapper who came in search of beaver. Each of them, like the last to comeâthe buffalo hunterâwere of a kind: a fiercely independent breed. A spearhead of the nation's destiny.
The only matter of any consequence that differed the hide hunter from those who had gone before him was that men like Billy Dixon were hunting buffalo, an animal irretrievably associated with the frontier, with the Myth of the West, and with the rise and fall of fortunes for the nomadic red man of the West. In killing off the buffalo to advance their own personal gain in addition to the larger fortunes of eastern entrepreneurs, the buffalo hunter unwittingly accomplished much more than his fair share to bring about the settlement of the plains.
This novel starts off at the beginning of that era of this ofttimes mythical creatureâthe buffalo hunterâwho descended upon this fringe of the western frontier like the locusts of ancient Egypt descended upon the Pharaoh. From 1871 through the winter of 1873, the period encompassed by what you will be reading shortly, these hide-men killed those great, nearly blind, massive-headed beasts in such astonishing numbers that one fact is likely to be incomprehensible for you to understand: that a relatively small group of white men armed with extremely accurate and powerful weapons began killing buffalo at the rate of what works out to be some two hundred per hour, spread out over a twenty-four-hour period per day, until, by the spring of 1874 (when the next novel in this series will take up this dramatic story), there were complete sections of the central and southern plains where a man could no longer find any of the beasts which had once blanketed the prairie from Canada to northern Sonora.
that next installment in this ongoing series that I envision encompassing some twenty-two novels, will tell the story of not only the waning days of the buffalo hunter on the central and southern plains, but the last days of the great horse-mounted cultures who once upon a time built their entire culture around the nomadic journeys of the buffaloâusing the animals for food, shelter, weapons, tools, and not the least as an object of worship.
When the buffalo were taken away from these horsemen, there was little culture left for the Indian to hold on to. The buffalo hunterânot the frontier armyâultimately drove the last of the southern tribes, those once-great warrior cultures, into the reservations to feed their families.
In the end, as I have said before, both sides in this conflict underestimated the resolve of the other. The buffalo hunter cleared the plains for the settler who came in his wake. And the Indian understood neither of themâhe was baffled by just how great a value the white man placed on the material ownership of the land. Yet, as I have mentioned before, the white man in turn failed to comprehend to what extremes the Indian would go to maintain the universal freedom of the land.