Biography of Chalkley M. Beeson
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The recent death of Buffalo Bill brings to mind how few of the old western plainamen are left. One of the best known to Kansans of that picturesque class of Americans is alive and vigorous at Dodge City, and Chalkley M. Beeson, although he has rubbed shoulders with Generals Custer and Sheridan, Buffalo Bill and the Grand Duke Alexis (sou of a Russian czar), and was, during the earlier period of his manhood, an active flgure in the unrecorded movies of the wild and woolly West, has been settled these many years as a solid, prosperous farmer and state legislator of Ford County. He is a native of Salem, Ohio, born April 24, 1848; went to Denver in April, 1868; came to Kansas from Colorado in 1875, and has made stock raising the serious business of his life ever since. He has represented Ford County in four legislatures–those of 1903, 1905 and 1907, and the special session of 1908.
The following sketch is pertinent: “The life of Mr. Beeson bridges the gap between the old and the new of the great plains. Leaving his home in Ohio as a boy of nineteen years, he has lived to see the Wild West supplanted by the Civilised West; as he says, ‘the white-face and short-horn steers replace the buffalo, and wheat, and corn, and alfalfa, supplant the buffalo grass.’ For many years he lived an adventurous life, but finally settled down at Dodge City in the cattle business. As the old ranges were broken up, he acquired land of his own, and he is now one of the wealthy men of his community, with a beautiful home just south of Dodge. He was twice sheriff of Ford county in some of its stormy days, and he had the reputation of always getting the man he went after, although he had to bring him back in a coffin. Adapting himself easily to the changing conditions, he has played his part with equal success in the stormy days of the frontler and the settled, prosperous present. Through it all he has kept a great love for music. Always a fine violinist, he was the organizer of the calebrated Cowboy Band of Dodge City that played all over the country, and Becson’s Orchestra, of which his two sons are members, is famous all over the West.”
If there is any one event toward which Mr. Beason turns with especially glowing eyes in his young-old age, it is the Royal Buffalo Hunt of January, 1872, for which he was the guide and in which participated Grand Duke Alexis and his imperial party; Lieut. Gen. Phil. H. Sheridan, then in command of the Department of the Lakes, with headquarters in Chicago; Gen. George A. Custer, who was about to enter his campaign against the Sioux and two years later be slaughtered in his forlorn fight at Little Big Horn, Montana, and several other less noted officers of the American army, but none more enthusiastic than the two great generals. They were both in the prime of life, Sheridan past forty and Custer several years younger, but no figures could have presented a greater contrast–Sheridan, with his short legs and long, rather massive body, and Custer, with his flowing hair and athletic body so finely clad. The Grand Duke himself was about thirty–tall, well set up, blonde, with a Burnside beard and sparkling, frosty blue eyes; which is how Mr. Beeson recalls him, and his American hosts. Custer was in direct charge of the hunting party, and no more gallant leader could have been found on the western plains.
The Grand Duke’s party had already enjoyed a grand hunt in the Platte River country of Nebraska, under the special guidance of Buffalo Bill. When it reached Denver in January, 1872, Mr, Beeson had been engaged to play the violin at the grand ball to be given in the Duke’s honor. He was then living at Kit Carson on the Union Paciflc, having crossed the plains in 1868, and was chiefly engaged in running a threshing outfit in that part of the county. He had been boasting of the Kit Carson neighborhood as a wonderful place for buffalo, and General Custer came to him while he was playing for the dance and engaged him as a guide for another royal hunt. Sevcuty-five cavalry horses, four six-mule teams and four ambulances were requisitioned from Fort Wallace, fifty miles from Kit Carson, and the Grand Duke’s private train was run to the nearest point where it could connect with the mule-train. Finally he, his small army of followers, some regular soldiers from the fort, and the American officers of various grades, got in motion toward the scene of the hunt southeast of Carson and south of the Union Pacific and Sand Creek. The royal result of the day’s succession of chases and charges into the herds of the shaggy monsters was that the Grand Duke shot some thirty buffalo and killed about a dosen.
Before the hunt commenced Mr. Beason passed over his mount to the agreeable Bussian duke, who had been given rather a skittish horse and learned that the Beeson animal was an old buffalo hunter.
“General Custer,” says Chalkley Becson in his account of the hunt, “was one of the most noted horsemen in the army. I have never seen a finer. He rode with the cavalry sent, but as easily and as gracefully as a born cowboy. He immediately demanded my horse, and, mounting him, proceeded to show off his horsemanship before the Grand Duke. Throwing the reins on his neck, he guided the almost unbroken horse in a circle by the pressure of his kness, and drawing both his revolvers fired with either hand at a gallop with as much accuracy as though he were standing on the ground. The Grand Duke, who had seen the Cossacks of the Ukraine, declared it was the finest exhibition of horsemanship he had ever seen, and applauded every shot. Custer was then in the prime of life, a gallant figure with his flowing hair and his almost foppish military dress. Fresh from the great fight on the Washita, with no premonition of the Rosebud darkening his life, he was the ideal cavalryman and the idcal of the western army.
“That morning when the Grand Duke’s train pulled in, about daylight we had awakened him with a cowboys’ salute, and had burned ammunition enough for a small battle. The camp train was well fitted up, and it made us cowpunchers sit up to see the stuff the commissary department carried. There was every kind of liquor, champagne, all sorts of delicacies in the way of eatables–enough, it looked to me, to feed an army, and all for one day’s trip.
“The Grand Duke spoke English with a slight accent, and was extremely affable to every one. Affable is the word, for despite his courteay he never forgot, nor did you, that be was a great noble. It was not exactly condescension, but you knew the minute you saw him, that he did not belong to the common herd. The habit of command, the universal deference paid him, the easy way that he gave his orders and expected every one to wait on him, was noticeable in that country and time, the most democratie the world ever saw, where a scout was just as good a man as Phil Sheridan, and a cow puncher as good as his millionaire boss. So, easy as Alexis was in his ways, not even a cowpuncher would have thought of taking liberties with him.
“The route lay south from the railroad, and within five miles wo struck a herd of thousands of buffalo. The Grand Duke was delighted to see them. He had crossed the continent to get a shot at the great brutes, and here were numbers beyond his dreams. When we discovered them we took advantage of a small hill, a sort of hogback perhaps half a mile long, and skirted that to get near them. Custer, who was in charge of the hunting party, stopped and said: ‘Boys, here’s a chance for a great victory over that bunch of redskins the other side of the hill. Major B. you take charge of the right flank. I will attend to the left. General Sheridan and the infantry will follow direct over the hill. Ready! Charge!’ Away they went, Alexis in the lead. I recollect telling General Sheridan that the two soldiers who were to ride with the Grand Duke, and supply him with fresh loaded guns, would have their hands full when that black horse of mine saw the buffalo. I stayed with the ambulances, having no horse, and when we reached the foot of the hill we left the ambulances and started to the top on foot. We were just reaching the top when we saw two or three wounded buffaloes trying to get away. We started to get a shot at them, and just then the whole crowd of hunters charged the hill from the opposite direction, shooting at the buffaloes. The bullets were dropping all around us and we ‘infantry’ made tracks down the hill trying to get out of range. Sheridan was too short in the legs to run, and threw himself flat on the ground with his face in the buffalo grass to get out of range. I yelled to them to stop firing but they were so excited that it looked for a little bit as though they would wipe out the entire command of ‘infantry.’
“Finally they stopped, and when Sheridan got to his feet I think he was the maddest man I ever saw. On horseback his short legs did not show much, and he was a fine, soldierly figure; but on foot, with his long body, short legs and big waist-measure, he was far from impressive. But when he turned loose on that bunch he was impressive enough. There was only one man in the army who could equal him when it came to a certain kind of expletive, and that was Custer himself. I don’t know what kind of language Pa Romanoff used to Alexis when he got mad, but that alip of royalty got a cursing from Phil Sheridan that day that I bet he will never forget. He didn’t spare anybody in the bunch, not even Custer and the Grand Duke, and he included all their kinsfolk, direct and collateral. It was a liberal education in profanity to hear him. The Grand Duke didn’t seem to care–he was having the time of his life. My old black saddler took him into the thick of the herd every time, and his two soldiers kept handing him cool guns, fresh loaded. He sure had a hunt that day. The hunt never stopped until over two hundred were killed. One calf that had been wounded ran past us foot soldiers and Sheridan shouted to me to grab it. I caught him by the tail and held him, while Sheridan with his revolver put him out of his misery. Years afterward, in Virginia City, Nevada, I met the General again, and recalled myself to him as the boy who held the buffalo calf by the tail while he killed it.
“The six-mule team followed the hunt and the butchers cut off and saved the humps. The buffalo hump is a curious provision of nature. It is mostly fat, very tender and delicious, even when the owner is an old bull. It was thought that it was a reserve supply of nourishment for their long marches, the animal living on this surplus fat in times of scarcity. We loaded the Grand Duke’s commissary-car with buffalo humps that night, and for all I know he took some of them back to St. Petersburg with him.
“When we got back to camp we found that the servants and camp followers had started in to see what kind of grub the Russians ats, but more particularly what kind of stuff they drank. Everybody was drunk and happy. Champagne bottles, liquor bottles, and every other kind of bottle littered the ground. That battlefield showed more ‘dead ones’ than the hunting ground did buffaloes. Then it was Custer’s turn. All that Sherldan had done that morning in the way of cussing was equaled and surpassed. I cannot pay his efforts a higher compliment than to say that when Custer got through with that bunch they were pretty near sober, and that is cussing some.”