Last of the Great Scouts
IT was during this period of his life that my brother's first literary venture was made. As
the reader has seen, his school-days were few in number, and as he told Mr. Majors, in
signing his first contract with him, he could use a rifle better than a pen. A life of constant
action on the frontier does not leave a man much time for acquiring an education; so it is
no great wonder that the first sketch Will wrote for publication was destitute of
punctuation and short of capitals in many places. His attention was directed to these
shortcomings, but Western life had cultivated a disdain for petty things.
"Life is too short," said he, "to make big letters when small ones will do; and as for
punctuation, if my readers don't know enough to take their breath without those little
marks, they'll have to lose it, that's all."
But in spite of his jesting, it was characteristic of him that when he undertook anything he
wished to do it well. He now had leisure for study, and he used it to such good advantage
that he was soon able to send to the publishers a clean manuscript, grammatical, and well
spelled, capitalized, and punctuated. The publishers appreciated the improvement, though
they had sought after his work in its crude state, and paid good prices for it.
Our author would never consent to write anything except actual scenes from border life.
As a sop to the Cerberus of sensationalism, he did occasionally condescend to heighten
his effects by exaggeration. In sending one story to the publisher he wrote:
"I am sorry to have to lie so outrageously in this yarn. My hero has killed more Indians
on one war-trail than I have killed in all my life. But I understand this is what is expected
in border tales. If you think the revolver and bowie-knife are used too freely, you may cut
out a fatal shot or stab wherever you deem it wise."
Even this story, which one accustomed to border life confessed to be exaggerated, fell far
short of the sensational and blood-curdling tales usually written, and was published
exactly as the author wrote it.
During the summer of 1877 I paid a visit to our relatives in Westchester, Pennsylvania.
My husband had lost all his wealth before his death, and I was obliged to rely upon my
brother for support. To meet a widespread demand, Will this summer wrote his
autobiography. It was published at Hartford, Connecticut, and I, anxious to do something
for myself, took the general agency of the book for the state of Ohio, spending a part of
the summer there in pushing its sale. But I soon tired of a business life, and turning over
the agency to other hands, went from Cleveland to visit Will at his new home in North
Platte, where there were a number of other guests at the time.