Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Buffalo Bill Cody

Below is an excerpt from the "Last of the great scouts:the life story of Col. William F. Cody, "Buffalo Bill" by Helen Cody Wetmore ©1899

The reason I decided to post this tidbit about Buffalo Bill is because of the nature of his Wild West show and how it influenced the American perception of the West. What I like about this book is that it is written by his sister and the oldest account I've found so far. However as stated in the intro she wrote these to sell at the Wild West Show. The excerpt is just a tidbit from the introduction written by Donald Danker. Here's a link to Google Books if you're interested in reading more.

Beginning Excerpt:
The American legend that is Buffalo Bill Cody was formed from three main sources; the man, the Wild West Show, and the printed word. The man was an authentic, likeable, and even modest western hero, cited by his army superiors for his bravery and resourcefulness, and willing and able to capitalize upon his prairie exploits for financial gain. The show was so good that it almost lived up to its billings; it was an exhibition of real Indians, cowboys, sharpshooters and wild derringdo that captivated Europeans and Americans, kings and democrats. Every other "Western" was and is, in a sense, an imitation of Buffalo Bill's Wild West. The printed word has been in the form of novels, autobiographies, articles, and biographies. Cody books have been numerous and exaggerated. Perhaps none have contributed more to the Buffalo Bill legend than Last of the Great Scouts, the Life Story of Col. William F. Cody "Buffalo Bill" as told by his sister Helen Cody Wetmore.

Helen Cody was the fourth of five daughters of the Isaac Cody family. Her brother, Bill, was four years older and she idolized him. Her admiration did not diminish when he became the famous Buffalo Bill. Helen's second marriage was to Hugh Wetmore, editor of the Duluth Press. The generous Cody helped the Wetmores financially. Helen wrote Last of the Great Scouts and it was first published by the Duluth Press in 1899. The book was widely sold and read and was good advertising for the Wild West Show. On the mornings of the pre-show parade a wagonload of Last of the Great Scouts would tour the city with a salesman and an Indian. The Indian would dance and the salesman sell books at a dollar a copy with a fifty cent show ticket added to the bargain. Several editions were printed, one illustrated by Remington. In 1918 Grosset and Dunlap issued a reprint boasting a foreword by the famous Zane Grey.

Although Mrs. Wetmore stated that she told "a plain unvarnished tale" and that "embarrassed by riches of fact I have had no thought of fiction," the book treats fact lightly. Its obvious exaggerations and inventions not only helped to establish the Buffalo Bill legend but they also gave ammunition to the debunkers of Cody. It was easy to prove the book to be laced with fiction and it followed that its hero was a fraud. The living hero did not care because he was in show business and knew the value of publicity.

The frontier scout and hunter had become a showman. One of his contemporaries on the Nebraska frontier at Fort McPherson, a talented girl named Ena Raymonds, recorded the change in her diary with a mixture of insight and poor prophecy. They met for the first time in the summer of 1872. He had returned to the fort from a scouting trip and invited her to a shooting match. Later, she saw him "dashing around first one place and then another" preparing for a hunt. She recorded that his baby boy, Kit Carson Cody, was a handsome child with great promise of a future. Neither she nor Cody could know that the boy would die within four years. When Bill went East on his first theatrical tour, Ena read the reviews and noted that one termed him ill at ease and "at loss of what to do with his hands." Ena commented to her diary "poor Cody! ... He is out of his sphere. I have seen him the very personification of grace and beauty; but it was not in the crowded city... but dashing over the free wild prairie and riding his horse as though he and the noble animal were bounding with one life and one motion! Well 'there is money in it' that golden fact renders every other consideration insignificant ... Such fame is not lasting."

Ena was wrong. Cody's fame was made lasting because he became more than a scout and Indian fighter; he became legend. As such he brought excitement and enjoyment to thousands, young and old. A part of the unsophisticated, simple pleasure they knew may be recaptured by an uncritical reading of Last of the Great Scouts.
Donald F. Danker

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