Heroes of the Old Santa Fe Trail

Bill was a remarkable man in appearance as well as in experience. He was six feet two inches tall, slender, and as straight as an arrow. His face was small for so large a man, his profile regular, and he habitually wore a pleasant expression. Until the close of the war, when he went on the plains, he did not wear long hair, nor beaded buckskin garments, nor did he drink liquor or gamble,—those accomplishments he acquired after he became famous.

After “Wild Bill” went to Kansas, he fell into bad ways. He kept a saloon and a gambling house, and killed many men, both on his private account and officially, as the sheriff of the town of Abilene. during General Hancock’s campaign in 1867, he was the chief of scouts, and General Custer, in his description of the events of that summer, said of him:

“Whether on foot or horseback, he was one of the most perfect types of manhood I ever saw. His influence among frontiersmen was unbounded, and his word was law. Wild Bill is anything but a quarrelsome man, yet no one but himself can enumerate the many conflicts in which he has been engaged, and which have invariably resulted in the death of his adversary. I have personal knowledge of a dozen men he has killed, one of them being a member of my own command. Others have been severely wounded, but he always escaped unhurt. Yet in all the affairs of this kind in which Wild Bill has performed a part, there is not a single instance, in my knowledge, in which the verdict of 12 fair-minded men would not have been pronounced in his favor. That the even tenor of his way continues to be disturbed by little events of this character may be inferred from an item in the press, which states that ‘the funeral of Jim Bludso, who was killed the other day by Wild Bill, took place today.’ It then adds, ‘the funeral expenses were borne by Wild Bill.’ What could be more thoughtful than this? Not only to send a fellow mortal out of the world but to pay the expenses of his transit.”

Wild Bill finally became a refugee from justice, and after “removing” numerous sheriffs, detectives and other officers of the law was shot down like a dog, in Deadwood, several years ago, by a man whom he had tried to murder.

“Buffalo Bill,” before he left the plains for the “dramatic arena,” was also a frontier figure along the Santa Fe Trail, and was originally a protege of “Wild Bill,” serving under him as Deputy Sheriff at Abilene.

By William Eleroy Curtis, A Summer Scamper Along the Old Santa Fe Trail, and Through the Gorges of Colorado to Zion; Inter Ocean Publishing Company, 1883. Compiled & edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated October 2019.

Santa Fe Trail Map

Santa Fe Trail Map

Also See:

Santa Fe Trail – Highway to the Southwest

Incidents on the Trail

Early Traders on the Santa Fe Trail

Massacre at Nine Mile Ridge


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