“I could make more money.” Cody’s re¬frain echoes today, among young railroad workers in Kansas, for example. A brake¬man leaned on the counter at the Oakley, Kansas, depot, the only crew-change station between Denver and Salina, and explained, “There’s good money in railroading [brake-men's wages start at $25,000] for someone with no college, no ties.”
The last passenger train whistled through Oakley in 1971. So I climbed up into the cab of an eastbound freight, at the invitation of Union Pacific, to see the route Cody came to know as hunter and scout.
Where buffalo grass once waved, endless fields of winter wheat ripened in the May sunshine. Like oases in the vastness, farm¬steads stand within palisades of trees, plant¬ed by pioneers. Ducks flew up from a marshy ditch, and a deer bounded across the tracks. The engineer pointed to an oil well pumping in the middle of a cornfield. “Now that’s what I call farming.”
The freight passed through Hays. From the fort here Cody learned to scout with the likes of Wild Bill Hickok. Nearby he once sold illegal whiskey from a tent city called Rome. He and a partner sold lots, dreaming that Rome would become the depot town. But Rome fell. Railroad men built Hays.
The train rattled on. Three miles to the east at Big Creek a granite obelisk on a knoll above a cottonwood grove reflected the set¬ting sun. “That’s a cemetery for six track-layers killed by Cheyennes in 1867,” the engineer said. He blew his whistle for a crossing. It seemed more like a salute.
The Cheyennes in 1867 were enraged. The track was cutting through their hunting ground like a spear through the jugular. Game was disappearing; trees were felled. Three years earlier the Colorado militia had massacred a Cheyenne village at Sand Creek, ignoring both U. S. and white flags flown by peace leader Black Kettle. Now young braves were fighting back. Their sud¬den raids and fast retreats, their horse steal¬ing and hostage taking had all the markings of guerrilla warfare. The Army called them hostiles.