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Chapter XXVI Scouting in The Southwest—Death of Buckskin

I ACCOMPANIED nearly every scouting party which left the post, whether in pursuit of desperadoes or of Indians.

To be in the saddle on the wide, sweeping prairies was to be like the prodigal returned to his father’s house—fatted calf, best robe and all—for on such occasions I dressed and lived as an Indian, and the prairie furnished the calf.

One day I went, with a small detachment of soldiers, after some Comanches. According to the report, they had run off with a lot of Texas cattle.

I struck the trail, but the officer in charge was never the wiser.

It was Zakatoh’s.

And far from me was the thought of betraying the men whose fasting and feasting and fighting I had shared for years.

Indeed, I was often tempted to try to find the doughty warrior, and once more cast in my lot with him.

It was on an expedition in the panhandle of Texas that I made my first open rebellion against discipline.

We were camped on the Sweetwater, just below  Fort Elliott, and orders were issued prohibiting any of us leaving camp.

No sooner did taps sound than every man of us, except the guard, slipped away by twos and threes.

As we had left Fort Sill on the evening of payday, we had not had our bi-monthly blow out, so we intended taking it in the drinking and gambling places near the post

There was a genuine rampage that night, and the next morning there were consequences. Every man of us was ordered to walk and lead his horse.

I bucked. I was no dough-boy, I was a cavalryman.

I sat down on the ground and declared I would sit there till the Sweetwater froze over before I would walk.

Finally I was ordered to get into the ambulance. In this, under guard, I rode all day.

During a scout in this part of the country, we ran across a war-party of Apaches. In the scrimmage with them, a bullet took the big toe-nail off my left foot. This was the nearest I ever came to being wounded in my war-days.

But it was the last fight for my faithful Buckskin. The bullet that glanced off my foot went through his body.

He was human to me, my comrade in peril, sunshine and storm; with a heart beating steadily strong and true; with feet sure, tireless and fleet—my Brother-to-the-Wind, indeed.

I left him lying where the coyotes fought, but he has never been forgotten, nor will he be so long as my faithful memory brings me the pattering hoof-beats of his unshod feet.

As we were returning eastward, the troop was ordered down the North Fork of the Canadian River. We went into winter camp near where Oklahoma City now stands.

The winter furnished a few of us with at least one memorable experience. On a scout we were caught in a blizzard and snowbound.

The storm lasted over a week. We ran out of provisions. For several days our only food was parched com and little of that. Our horses lived on the bark they gnawed from cottonwood poles.

When we finally got back to our quarters camp-fare, meagre as it was, was a feast for a while.

In the spring I went with the troop on an expedition intended to quiet the restless Cheyennes. We camped at Bent’s Ranch.

There a scout came in with despatches from Fort Reno.

I had left my wife and child at this fort, so I went to him for news of them.

He took me aside and told me that a certain officer had basely insulted my Nacoomee.

It was this same officer who had once ordered me to perform a menial service for him, and had struck me with the fiat side of his sabre when I refused.

I vowed at the time to get even with him. Now I had double reason.

I could not get permission to go back to the post and protect my wife.

I determined to go anyhow and deal with that man in my own way.

I told two of my soldier friends of my intentions, and as each of them had grievances, real or fancied, against their officers they decided to leave with me.

One of the soldiers went by the name of Jack. The other one everybody called “Gee Whiz,” because of his frequent use of that expression. He had been a lumber-jack in Michigan and in a fight had bitten a man’s ear off. To hide away he enlisted in the army. In this he was not singular. More than one man enlisted to escape penalty for crime. Enlistment in the army in those days was in many instances like dropping through a hole in the ice.

One day Gee Whiz was on herd guard when a hail-storm came up and the wind blew his hat off. He was bald as a billiard ball, save for a little fringe of fiery red behind his ears; and when the hail-stones pecked him on the naked pate his voice was heard shouting, “Gee Whiz,” above all the roar of the storm.

Gee Whiz was his name from that time on.

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