Title: "Buffalo Bill" | An Appreciative Letter Concerning William F. Cody

Periodical: The Atchison Daily Globe

Date: May 26, 1888

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How He Was First Brought Into Prominence by the Exertions of Professor Ward, of Rochester—His Life on the Plains and as a Theatrical Man.

ROCHESTER, N. Y., May 21.—Sixteen years ago last January "Buffalo Bill" was a scout of the western plains. He was about 30 years old and had never been east of the Mississippi river. He was a poor man, who seemed to have found his place in the world as a hunter, a "crack shot" and a desirable escort for parties who would see life on the border of civilization, or rather beyond it. Gen. Sheridan in those days had no lack of applications from foreign tourists for some one, the proper person, to conduct them safely through a buffalo hunt and a camping out among the redskins. Happy were they if Buffalo Bill assumed the responsibility, and perhaps nothing surprised them more in their strange experience than to find so true a gentleman, a man so honest, trusty and high minded, where the opposite had hardly been out of the order of things. Brave, ready, keen, the perfect confidence he inspired and never betrayed was not less than the admiration he was sure to excite—that personal fascination which made the correspondents of the London press write of the man as "sitting his prancing white horse like a centaur," possessing "the courtly manner of a grandee of old Castile" and as "fulfilling every requirement for a hero of romance." The fact that he is a genuine gentleman by nature and was such when he supported his little family at Fort McPherson by his meager earnings, and was a good husband and father when the contrary would hardly have been uncensured, largely explained his wonderful success.

Professor Henry A. Ward, of Rochester, N. Y., the famous natural scientist, had as much to do with the development of that success as any one. Perhaps he gave the impulse to the evolution.

It was in January of 1872 that a grand buffalo hunt was arranged for the Duke Alexis. [1] Professor Ward [2] was honored with an invitation, whichj he received so late he did not reach the hunting grounds until the hunt was over. Not a bad thing for him, however, for he found horses and hunters in plenty for the scientific ends he had in view, and then he met Buffalo Bill for the first time, and the rifle of the expert hunter was at once engaged for an expedition in the interests of Ward's Natural Science establishment.

Professor Ward's estimate of William F. Cody has known no decrease from that time to this. It is the old story of enthusiastic admiration for Buffalo Bill. Cody told him of his invitation to visit New York by the Union club and the Jeromes, [3] and his reluctance to accept. Ward urged him to go—insisted upon it; Cody should go east in his company, which changed the view of the journey. Finally Cody decided to go, but Ward must wait until Mrs. Cody could make a suit of clothing for the traveler. Mrs. Cody did her best and as speedily as possible, and, so arrayed, the hunter turned his face eastward, little thinking he would return as a scout of the plains no more. He was surprised at [] W. F. CODY. the attentions he received on his journey and in New York. Everybody, of course, plied him with questions about Indians and buffaloes, etc., and so pleasingly did he respond that Professor Ward suggested that he should go before the public in New York, not with a formal lecture, but to explain and illustrate life on the plains. The character of the man was seen in his declining to do such a thing, for the reason that he found it would be questionable for him to improve the hospitality tendered him for his own pecuinary profit. He was the guest of Professor Ward on his return from the east, and while at Ward's house Ned Buntline came along with his play of "Western Life," urging Cody to take part in it with Texas Jack. That was the beginning of his life as an actor. He brought his family at once to Rochester, and soon after bought a home for them here. The death of his little boy, Kit Carson, was less noted by the community generally than it would be today, for "Buffalo Bill" then passed through our streets like a stranger, unless discovered and heralded by the small boy. Even now that he is famed, and one of the most successful men of the time, a great majority of the Rochesterese are surprised to learn that his name may be found in the directories of 1872 and 1873, if not later—"William F. Cody, actor."

He carried with him when he went to England on the visit which has been concluded so successfully several large stuffed buffaloes, which were prepared at Ward's Natural Science establishment. Possibly it would add something to the buffaloes in the collections of many foreign as well as home museums if it were known that they were brought down by the rifle of Buffalo Bill.

There is but one opinion concerning the man by those who know him best. The flower of England's chivalry do well to admire him; he is chivalry itself; genuine, loyal.

His success in London was the evolution of his success on the plains. There was nothing phenomenal about it. He has earned it by good, hard, honest work—when work gave him scanty comforts and few, if any, luxuries. When he arrived in London with his Wild West show he must have had some 200 influential friends there, Englishmen of wealth and position many of them, who remembered their faithful guide and hunter on the plains. They believed in him, and so could believe in his Wild West show, and were enthusiastic in giving it what we call "a good send off." It was hard for the English public to believe that it was a private enterprise and not a national undertaking. When had England ever seen an "exhibition" ready for opening on the day specified, complete in every essential detail? And when had it witnessed anything like the transplanting of genuine Indians, cowboys, Mexican vaqueros, frontier girls and "buck jumpers" right into London itself? The fact that the genuine Arapahoes wore "tights" was not concealed. The absence of pretention—the key note of Cody's character—was the characteristic of his show in England.

The man's executive ability is wonderful. Executive ablility is one of his peculiar gifts, and he had a school for its training in Nebraska. It must be remembered how much he was associated with army men of a superior grade and the advantages of his companionship with cultivated travelers. That association was an important offset to comradeship with cowboys and his intimate acquaintance with roughs and redskins.

From London Cody intended going around the world with his Wild West show, and Jerusalem was on the list of cities where Indians, buck jumpers and cowboys were to give performances, showing how the Pony Express carried the news of Abraham Lincoln's election, and how the Deadwood coach was often surrounded by redskins, and what the massacre of frontier settlers was like. What a spectacle all that would have been for Asiatics, and who but a typical American, a genuine son of the west, would conceive the idea?

Col. Cody is 46 years old. Sixteen years ago his wife was bravely doing her best here in Rochester to save and make thrifty expenditure of his earnings. She remains on his ranch in Nebraska most of the time, looking after his business there. He does not find the reward of his labor in the shouts that greet his every entrance into the ring, nor does he wear his heart upon his sleeve, great as it is.

Note 1: Grand Duke Alexis was Alekseĭ Aleksandrovich of Russia (1850-1908), who arrived in New York City at age 22 to tour the United States, including hunting buffalo in a hunt supported by the United States Cavalry and guided by William F. Cody in January 1872. [back]

Note 2: Professor Henry Augustus Ward (1834-1906), an American naturalist, geologist, and pioneer in the natural sciences, founded Ward's Natural Science. [back]

Note 3: The Jeromes were brothers Leonard Walter Jerome (1818-1891) and Lawrence Roscoe Jerome (1820-1888), both of whom accompanied William F. Cody on an 1871 hunt for bison and game. [back]

Note 4: Jane Marsh Parker (1836-1913), also known as Jenny Marsh Parker, a resident of Rochester, New York, was a writer of poetry and essays on history, travel, missionaries, etc. [back]