William S. Tough

William Tough and Littleton Tough Born: 1840, Savannah, Georgia

Died: May 26, 1914

William S. Tough is found on almost all Pony Express lists. The only reference to him as a Pony Rider is from the Julesburg Grit-Advocate of April 8, 1964. It says:

" 'Mochila Joe' Paxton left Julesburg one day in the face of severe blizzard conditions, but made his way to Nine Mile station up Lodge Pole valley, where the station tender was out working to keep the trail open. He arrived at Lodgepole station to find the incoming rider, W.S. Tough was two days overdue with his mail. Joe watched for Tough all the way to 30 Mile station with no luck, but the agent there reported that he had left 36 hours before. Joe went back to look for him and in a protected place just off the trail he found an Indian brave placing the partly conscious form of Tough on a pole-litter. Working together they got Tough to the Mud Springs station where he was cared for, and lived, but was not able to walk or ride again, so badly had he been frozen. Joe secured the mail, and it continued on its way."

William Tough with Finn HillEarly in the Civil War an organization of Red Legged Scouts was established by Brigadier Generals Thomas Ewing and James G. Blunt. They were so called because they wore red leggings made from the red sheepskin used by shoemakers in those days. This was a quite informal militia or home guard organization. Originally it had included a number of "Jennison's Jayhawkers," but most of them had joined Colonel Charles R. Jennison in forming the Seventh Kansas Cavalry in October, 1861. Even then some unkind observer had defined a Red Leg as "more purely an indiscriminate thief and murderer than a Jayhawker." That reputation was not improved by one of it's commanders, Captain William S. Tough.

Note: In the winter of 1862, William Cody (Buffalo Bill) joined the Red Legs. Cody mentions as members Red Clark, the St. Clair brothers, Jack Harvey, and an old pony express rider named Johnny Fry.

Tough was born in Savannah, Georgia, and had lived in Baltimore, Maryland. As a very young man he came West to seek adventure on the frontier. His first fancy was to be a "mountain man" and he went to the Rocky Mountains with a company of trappers, but soon lost interest in the project because of the declining fur trade. before coming to St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1860 thus all his antecedents were Southern. A man of resourcefulness and unlimited courage, Tough had no interest in the war. In 1860, at the age of twenty-one, he had moved to Saint Joseph, Missouri. His father helped him to a little capital, and he, with a partner, invested in mules and wagons, and commenced freighting from St. Joseph to Denver City. They prospered in business until the war broke out.

In early 1862 Tough was field manager or wagon boss for the McDonalds, bankers and merchants of St. Joseph, who had contracted to haul supplies to military posts in northern Kansas and southern Nebraska. He was attacked by a band of Jayhawkers and had a consignment of horses stolen from him. He immediately goes to headquarters, at Leavenworth, for indemnification but gets no satisfaction from Uncle Sam. He then determines to state his cause to the rebels, and crosses the river at Leavenworth in search of rebel headquarters. He had proceeded but a half mile into the woods when be was confronted by five Bushwhackers, who ordered him to halt. Not inclined to obey the orders, he put spurs to his horse, the consequence of which was he was shot down and left for dead. He recovered however, and after a few weeks' nursing by some kind woman in the woods he was able to travel. Prior to this occurrance he had no particular interest in the fight, either one way or the other. But now he determined to go into the fight with all the force he possessed, not from any feelings of patriotism, but from pure motives of revenge. He swore eternal vengeance to the squad that shot him down, and to all others of that class.

In Leavenworth and vicinity he raised seventy-five men and took to the woods. They were soon well mounted on rebel horses, and well disciplined for their ferocious work. He adopted a system of scouts, spies and disguises, and was very soon in the secret of the Bushwhackers' operations. In just one month from the time he took his men into the brush he had the unspeakable satisfaction of seeing the five who first assaulted him swinging from the same limb. He seemed to have been transformed into a demon, he said, and to take the wildest delight in seeing the "poor cusses gasping for breath." On another occasion, he, with a half dozen of his men, were passing a house and found a woman crying bitterly over her dead baby. He learned that the Bushwhackers had just been there inquiring of the woman of Captain Tough's men. While she was answering their questions her child began to cry, and one of the fiends drew his revolver and shot it through the head. Tough put himself on their track and in a week killed five of the gang including the one who shot the child. From then on Tough and his company were counted on the Union side, and despite other revengeful killings, had considerable official standing. Tough had a distinguished career during the Civil War. Though some of his actions were on the thin side of legality he was judged basically a good man.

At another time he found one of his scouts beside the road with his head blown open with powder. He immediately took three of his men to track out the enemy. Towards night, after riding thirty miles, they came suddenly on seven horsemen whom they took to be rebels. Feigning himself a Bushwhacker, he galloped into their midst with, "Halloo, boys, whar's Quantrill?" Not knowing Tough or his companions, they were at first very cautious in their answers. But being a very shrewd man, he "let on right smart" like a Bushwhacker. "Here's a hoss" says he "I shot a d-d Yankee off from not more nor an hour ago." After boasting of several Yankee butcheries, and house burnings he had performed since breakfast, one of the rebels ventured to crow a little over what they had done. They had caught one of Old Tough's scouts in the morning, made some holes in him, loaded his ears up with powder, touched 'em off, and "blowed his old mug to h-l." Instantly Tough gave the order, and those seven men were biting the dust before they had time to cock a revolver.

General Blunt appointed Tough his chief of scouts with pay of $250 a month. Tough was traveling with General Blunt's wagon train accompanied by a small escort, including an army band, on October 7, 1863, when Quantrill's cavalry in blue uniforms appeared between them and the post at Baxter Springs.tough-sharitt Tough recognized them as enemies, and he and the General opened fire. Quantrill pulled out after killing the escort and bandsmen and burning the wagon train. Among the dead was Johnny Fry, the Pony Express rider mentioned by Cody. General Blunt, accompanied by Tough and six or eight men, followed Quantrill's retreat, until he crossed the Neosho going south.

Lt. J. B. Pond was the Commanding Officer at Baxter Springs. In 1894 recounted for a New York newspaper one of the exploits of Captain Tough.

Following the civil war he married and settled at Leavenworth. March 23, 1873, he was appointed U.S. Marshal for Kansas, retaining the post until 1876, a turbulent time when some of the plains notables served under him as deputies.

For many years Tough, with his sons, conducted a large horse and mule market at the Kansas City stock yards. During the Boer War he supplied great numbers of animals to the British army and so impressed the officers with his keen judgment and fair dealing that English purchasing agents sought out his son during World War I and commissioned him to buy for them.

He died peacefully.

Jayhawkers, Red Legs an Bushwhackers were everyday terms in Kansas and western Missouri:

A Jayhawker was a Unionist who professes to rob, burn out and murder only rebels in arms against the government.

A Red Leg is a Jayhawker originally distinguished by the uniform of red leggings. To guard against guerrilla incursions into Kansas and aid the Union cause, a company of border scouts, known as Red Legs, was organized in 1862. The name came from their red or tan leather leggings. Some were attached to the Union army. Writings on the Civil war offer divergent views of the character of this organization. Its members are described on the one hand as outlaws who endangered the peace and security of society; on the other as men above the average in ability, generally honest and patriotic, but drawn by the exigencies of the time into a savage and ruthless warfare. A Red Leg, however, was regarded as more purely an indiscriminate thief adn murdered than the Jayhawker or Bushwhacker.

A Bushwhacker is a rebel Jayhawker or a rebel who bands with others for the purpose of preying upon the lives and property of Union citizens.


Don Russell, Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill, Colonel William F. Cody, 1939.

Charles Monroe Chase. "An Editor Looks at Early-Day Kansas". The Kansas Historical Quarterly, Summer, 1960, Volume XXVI, Number 2. Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas, 1960.

Lary C. Rampp. "Incident at Baxter Springs on October 6, 1863". The Kansas Historical Quarterly, Summer, 1970, Volume XXXVI, Number 2. Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas, 1970.

* Photographs: Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply

The Commercial Advertiser
New York, Saturday, January 20, 1894

THEY KNEW NO FEAR: Brave Men's Deeds in the War Told by Their Comrades

Major Pond's Story of the Capture of Captain Ryan

About the most daring exploit that came under my notice during the war happened in the Autumn of '62, when my company (C Third Wisconsin Calvary) was engaged in protecting the border of Kansas and Missouri. Colonel Barstow had ordered the entire regiment from Fort Scott, Kansas, early one October morning on a reconnoitering expedition. There was plenty of bush along the route, which gave refuge to bands of bushwhackers or "Home Guards," as they were called, who cared for no better fun than firing on our column as it marched in close order.

This conduct very much enraged the scouts detailed with our regiment. There were three or four of them under command of William S. Tough, the most fearless man in that celebrated corps named the "Buckskin Scouts," and the best judge of horseflesh I have ever met. In the course of the march that day he had captured several natives, from whom he had obtained information that Captain Ryan, with a band of from fifty to one hundred "Home Guards," were camped on one of the creeks in the vicinity of Montevallo, Missouri. The scouts were thirsting to take reprisals against the "Bush whackers," and nothing suited Tough better than to go into their camp. He was ready and willing to meet the whole Confederate army if it could be found. At a council of war early in the afternoon it was decided that the scouts should ascertain Ryan's whereabouts and report his strength. Captain Tough, with Walt St. Clair and Jack Harvey, two of his men, accordingly made preparation for the journey. I had some trouble in joining the party because of the the difficulty in securing a perfect mount, which was indispensable for such an undertaking. Captain Tough had to select just the horse he wanted for me and to see that the trappings were perfect. He took care that I should run no risk from a loosening saddle girth. But finally everything was made ready and, with a final glance at our saddle girths and revolvers, we were off.

We rode out from camp which was in the opening near Horse Creek, to a prairie; we must cross that prairie to Montevallo. We had not gone far when Tough told St. Chair and Harvey to take a road leading to the right, and where to cross a creek and to meet us at a point ten miles distant. Tough and I were to go to Montevallo and follow a creek where Ryan was supposed to be camped, about a mile beyond his own home. It was just past sundown. Within about a mile of Captain Ryan's home we met a young woman afoot. Motioning me to be silent, Tough approached the woman and said hurriedly: "My good lady, is that Captain Ryan's house?" The woman hesitated just long enough for the keen scout to see that she was a Ryanite.

Tough reassured her in a smooth, Southern dialect that he was a friend and an officer on General Coffin's staff. "I must see Captain Ryan," he said; "where is he? quick!"

"He just went to camp," was the reply. "He came home and got his bay filly. He left `Old Buck' at home, to feed on corn; they've got no corn in camp."

"Where is `Old Buck?' " asked Tough.

"Right beyond the meat house," said the girl.

"Old Buck" was the most famous horse in the country. Ryan was a horse grower, and this was his favorite.

We rode directly to Ryan's home. Mrs. Ryan was standing at the door as Tough accosted her in his hurried manner. Mrs. Ryan," he said, after ascertaining her identity, "I am Major Johnson of General Coffin's staff. Our army is just across the creek and the Federals are coming from Kansas. We expect a big fight in the morning. General Coffin has sent me to get Captain Ryan to join the army tonight; my horse is nearly dead. Where is `Old Buck?' Ryan and I are old friends. My horse is run down; I must take `Old Buck' - my life is at stake."

Mrs. Ryan seemed to be magnetized. She led us to where "Old Buck" was quietly feeding. Tough saw at once what a prize he had, and lost not a moment in changing the saddle. We started at once for Ryan's camp my mind filled with amazement at Tough's audacity.

Capture of Captain Ryan We rode straight up to the sentinel in spite of his challenge, and there again Tough succeeded in deceiving everybody. In a cautionary whisper he told the sentinel of his alleged mission and asked to be conducted to Ryan at once. The man went over to Ryan, who was standing by a fire talking to a squad of men, and then returned to pilot Captain Tough and myself to the rebel chief's side. There the story about Coffin's brigade and his summons to Ryan was again repeated. "Say nothing to your men about your going," added Tough, in a low whisper. "There are so many unreliable men and women inside our lines that it will not do for you to trust any one. I rode my horse down in getting to your house. Mrs. Ryan insisted on my taking your horse here; mine will lie all right in the morning. Come, not a moment to waste. Be careful!" Ryan hurried to his horse, which was saddled as quick as lightning. Then we fell in. Tough said to me: "Lieutenant, you ride ahead; you know the way to camp."

I led. When we got near Ryan's house Tough said: "Lieutenant,' let us ride past you; we are in a hurry." I turned aside. As Tough and Ryan were passing me I the "click" of a pistol lock. It was Tough's revolver cocked and held to Ryan's ear.

"I'm a Federal," said Tough. "Captain Ryan, unbuckle your belt and drop your revolver, or you'll be in h--l in a second."

"I am captured by a brave man. I give up," he said.

J. B. Pond
Major, Third Wisconsin Cavalry