BUFFALO BILL, NATIONAL HEROES IN THE MAKING By CHAS. QUINCY TURNER
THE whirligigs of time play many pranks. We contemporaries of seemingly great men would be surprised if we were alive 200 or 300 years hence to see what topsy turvydom has been the fate of some of them; men who loom large to us will have been forgotten as if they had never lived, while others whom we thought of but as transient meteors will have gathered round them the glory of the age. This is curiously true of the men of the open, whose lives have been adventurous. For instance, who can tell offhand what mighty kings ruled Great Britain, and whether with a rod of iron or a “big stick,” when Robin Hood and Friar Tuck ranged free in Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire? Yet millions of boys round the circuit of the globe can tell all about the bold outlaw of the midlands. How many can tell you the life story of Gesler, even who he was, and over what he ruled? Yet every child who speaks the English language knows all about the humble archer, William Tell. Mighty travelers in many ships have made many discoveries to the enrichment of the world. Magellan, Captain Cook and a host of others, and have gone hence, all but forgotten within two centuries, but Robinson Crusoe, the poor sailor man, cast adrift on desolate Juan Fernandez, is the hero of every boy who ever felt the salt tang of the sea in his nostrils. It is the same in pure literature; all the historic figures in Shakespeare may vanish like a wraith and leave not a wrack behind, while centuries afterward the jolly old rascal Falstaff will live in popular memory. Even Longfellow may pass into oblivion, but Fenimore Cooper’s “Leather Stocking” heroes, and the “Last of the Mohicans” will be virile and veritable. The genius of Alexandre Dumas may wane and Monte Cristo be forgotten, but never his heroic adventurer and soldier, D’Artagnan of “The Three Musketeers.” He is amongst the immortals. It will be the same with us Americans. The foremost place in the roll of those who mastered the methods of the native and bettered their instruction will ever be held by Washington, whose knowledge gained as a scout in Indian wars enabled him later to tear the States from British domination. But who among the popular heroes of the wild country, the opener up of the great middle west, will be next? Is it far from a safe venture to say Col. William Frederick Cody, whose sobriquet Buffalo Bill will not down even in his now venerable age? Here are the popular elements, a commanding and singularly virile picturesqueness of personality, a sweet and generous disposition, an intrepid soldier, a magnetic influence over his one time bitterest foes, the Indians, a mighty hunter and a dead shot, who while alive has forced himself upon the imagination of the youth of every nation in the world. To wide-eyed, mere children by the hundreds of thousands he is even now a demigod; when they are in their anecdotage they will be saying, nigh on a century hence, “There were giants in those days, and Buffalo Bill was the father of them all.” Tradition will carry forward to countless yet unborn the mythical wonders which he performed; and as the centuries roll by, in lands far and wide, Buffalo Bill will stand symbolical of the America of the then dim and shadowy aforetime. On the very forefront of youthful imagination, on a lone peak, with prairies tamed so that there can be no more raging fires, when the last of the Indians shall be as mythical as “Hiawatha,” Buffalo Bill will be a living spirit and a national hero. Nor is he unworthy of the honor. He has done the States some service, and they know it, as Othello says of himself. On many a tented field his has been the thinking brain, on many a perilous vigil his has been the sleepless eye, on many a lonely ride through the country of the most cruel and subtle foe his has been the saddle bag to carry despatches upon which depended the lives, aye and more than the lives, the honor, of fair women and frail children, and from many an isolated home have gone up prayers and thankfulness for the courage, skill and daring which has served them so well in their hour of direst need. He lived honored; he will die revered, and his memory will be a living inspiration. (from The Burr McIntosh monthly 1908)
William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody (February 26, 1846 – January 10, 1917) was an American scout, bison hunter, and showman. He was born in the Iowa Territory (now the U.S. state of Iowa) in Le Claire but he grew up for several years in his father’s hometown in Canada before his family moved to the Kansas Territory.
Buffalo Bill started working at the age of eleven after his father’s death, and became a rider for the Pony Express at age 14. During the American Civil War, he served for the Union from 1863 to the end of the war in 1865. Later he served as a civilian scout to the US Army during the Indian Wars, receiving the Medal of Honor in 1872.
One of the most colorful figures of the American Old West, Buffalo Bill started performing in shows that displayed cowboy themes and episodes from the frontier and Indian Wars. He founded his Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1883, taking his large company on tours throughout the United States and, beginning in 1887, in Great Britain and Europe. (From Wikipedia)