Title: Colonel William F. Cody — Buffalo Bill

Periodical: Dallas Morning News

Date: July 20, 1901

Author: William F. Cody

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He Describes the Rise and Fall of the Romantic Period of the Great West.

Here is the story of the rise and fall of that romantic period in the arid States of the West which gave birth to these border dramas that still remain in the minds of half the civilized world to–day pre–eminent authority on Western life. The recent literature that has come out of the Far West, giving us truer glimpses of its civilization, its great universities, its modern cities, has not superseded the romance of Bret Harte or the story of "The Danites."

The spirit of the American nation, the sentiment and the humor took shape in the Far West, and the most insular conservative of Eastern Massachusetts has felt the sweep of its irresistible charm and courage. The legend of Eden, emblematic as it is of a divine touch that made the lion and the lamb lie down side by side and in their harmony of life, has been told again and again in the crude simplicity, the swift intuition of what was fair or unfair, the almost tender kinship between man and beast that existed in the Wild West of three score years ago, from the Rockies to the Missouri, from the Red River of the South to the Red River of the North. Nature intended great possibilities for those wind-swept prairies, those towering mountains, those corridors hewn of rock that form those mighty canyons; she intended that in this rugged college of great geological and agricultural wonders man should be put to the greatest test of physical strength and moral character.

The Indian was the first human expression of the savage melancholy of the West. His pride as high as the mountains, his silence as stolid as the rocks, his melancholy as deep as the overshadowed canyons; his god the sun, his philosophy a poetry as mysterious as the face of the earth about him.

About 1855 William F. Cody, then a "man" of about 10 summers (it didn't take a boy long in those days to cut his eye teeth), settled in the Bad Lands, as they were called, and began the formation of that composite disposition which has made the American character the swiftest human machine mentally and physically in the world. From that time to this beginning of the Twentieth Century "Bill" Cody has been in the thick of all the varied ills and troubles for which the Far West has been famous the would over. His personality is as familiar in his own country as it is in Europe, and it is not an exaggeration to state that he is a rare type of the national character in whom the best American qualities first found active form and voice in the days when the Far West was a law unto itself. It is quite likely that "Bill" would have made a fine orator—one of those fellows whose ideas come best when he's in his shirtsleeves to whom tailors and hairdressers are useless coyotes. Concerning his show, the "Wild West," I have nothing to say, save that it is an expression of Colonel Cody's eye for the picturesque, a miniature of his whole character and his wide experience.

It is with the details of that experience that I am going to deal, for it outlines the dreams of the West, which began with the conflict for existence, and the conquest of American courage and ingenuity over the all but insurmountable difficulties of nature and climate. I can not do better than transcribe as accurately as possible all that Colonel Cody told me about it. The camera was only introduced for the purpose of emphasizing the Americanism of much that Colonel Cody said.

I overheard him say to a young woman writer who was leaving the room this:

"I tell you what it is. I never scouted with a party of soldiers after Indians that I didn't feel a bit ashamed for myself and a whole heap sorrier for them."

There was the true American feeling about the inevitable problem of those Western States, inevitable in its desperate solutions, its all but inevitable extinction of the Indian. I picked him up where she had left him, full of complex feeling between his native Western sense of what was fair and his subtler sense of allegiance to the Government he had served.

"No scouting for Indians out there any more?" said I, while he bit off the joint of a cigar with savage emphasis.

"No, sirree! Scouting in the West is a thing of the past, it's a lost occupation." And he scratched a match, growing more deliberate in his manner, more cool with self–control.

"No buffaloes?"

"They're extinct, too!"

"And of course, no buffalo hunters!"

He settled back in his chair, and his far sight swept that Western country in swift vision as he had seen it alter in less than 50 years.

"The buffalo hunter learned his business from the Indian. He learned so quick that the Almighty couldn't make buffaloes as fast as he could kill them and he lost his occupation, as the buffalo was lost to him. He began to look around for something else to make a living out of and he became a bone hunter. He had sold buffalo fur, lived on buffalo meat, so he went back to look for the buffalo bones he had left on the plains, and finding them, he would cart them to the nearest railroads and sell them. There were millions of these bones left in the country by the Indians."

"And when the bones gave out?"

"The cowboy came along. He began to take up existence in the arid States soon after the buffalo disappeared. The grass where the buffaloes had lived was richer than ever, and the Texas and Mexican cattle owners began to drive their cattle north, onto the plains where the buffalo had lived and died. The cowboy owed his occupation to the cattle. At first they mostly all were Texans, a fine, free–hearted set of ramblers, faithful to their work, true to their employers. Then as cattle came in from other States to graze over the plains once known only to the buffalo, the boys came from Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana. They were trusty ones, all of them, and it was a roaming business they liked. Stories of the life and its excitements got East, and then a lot of college graduates came out West and became cowboys and ranch owners; they were the advance of the railroad, of civilization and irrigation. They began to buy land for hundreds of miles, the once arid deserts began settling up, and now the occupation of the cowboy is almost gone."

He paused a moment, for the confession of the downfall of the cowboy was only a little more saddening to this picturesque Westerner than the extinction of the buffalo, the decline of the Indian.

"What's to become of the cowboy?"

"He's got to hang up his saddle and spurs and learn to run a mowing machine, to stack his hay and feed his cattle. It's a mighty funny sight to see a cowboy running a threshing machine in spurs."

"Then the West is no longer the Wild West?"

"Not as wild as it was when I started to live there. I was about 10 years old when I went out, and I have been raised there ever since."

"What was there to do for a boy out there then?"

"A whole heap of occupations, I can tell you, and I guess I tackled 'em all; driving loose cattle behind a bull train, carrying dispatches for freighting outfits, following and going with trappers for furs on different streams. That's how I learned to know the Indian, by going with traders who trade with 'em for furs. When I was along in my teens I was perfectly familiar with all the country from the Canadian River in the south to the Yellowstone of the north, and the lands between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, I became thoroughly acquainted with the Indians, knew their favorite haunts, their camps and their bad lands."

"What was the real cause of the first Indian uprising?"

"It was the effect of the bad example set them by the white men. During the War of the Rebellion the Indians heard that the white men were killing each other off. They kept hearing about it for two years, until all the tribes were talking about the gradual extinction of the white man, who had wonderful guns and ammunition. At last they held a grand meeting, which led to a general uprising. They obtained modern guns and armed themselves like the white men, and it was their impression that they could sweep across the continent clear through to the 'great river,' the Atlantic, and recapture their country from the whites."

"A resolution worthy of the braves!"

"Yes, and a whole sight more earnest than some of the Eastern States realized. The Indian isn't what you'd call a trifler."

"But he lacks education?"

"Not always that. He knew all about that Western country, where he had been driven from the sea coast, but he was ignorant of the methods of the United States Government. At the beginning of the war an amusing incident occurred illustrating the fact. A paymaster was killed and robbed by Indians. He had $300,000 in greenbacks stuffed in his wallet. The first issue of greenbacks had just then been made. The Indians threw this money away in the hunt for gold and silver coin. The bills were blown broadcast across the prairies, and hundreds of men started out to gather up the greenbacks. When the Indians discovered their mistake they were so ashamed of their stupidity that they covered their heads with their blankets in mortification and chagrin.

"The Indian War followed the close of the Civil War.

"In the last year of the Civil War the Indians had begun to attack the settlers to steal their property and terrorize the West."

The material for Western romance began at this time with a vengeance, and followed the dramatic flavor that literature had gained from the sorrows of the Civil War. The United States Government is not a romantic organization, however, and as soon as peace was declare in Washington between the North and South, the entire forces of the regular army were hurried out to the frontier commanded in turn by such men as Sherman, Sheridan, Hancock, Custer, Carr, Miles, Cook, Augur, Ord, Hazen, Emery, Duncan, Forsythe, King, Reynolds, Terry, Penrose, Palmer, Gibbon, Canby, Henry, Whistler, Crosby, Greely, Sudley, Mills, Hayes, Schwitzer, and many others. Most of these officers were totally unfamiliar with the plains and then came into existence the man of whom "Bill" Cody is an ideal representative—the scout.

"You see, when these army fellows came out of our way," said Cody, with a touch of pride in the loss of his fine head, and a note in his voice a bit nearer the heart, "the question was, Who could they find to act as guides and scouts? The maps were inefficient, they didn't tell much about the hiding places of the Indians, so they began to look around for fellows like me, who had been raised out there. When General Sherman came West in '65 and '66, to e his great treaty with the Kiowa and the Comanche Indians, I was first employed as a scout and dispatch carrier. Well, he soon found that I knew the country better than any man in his command, and he made me his guide. I felt considerable pride in my responsibility, too, for I was pretty young to have an old army veteran like Sherman leaning on me." He paused.

"How young?" I asked.

"Nineteen!" he said, emphatically, "and in two years—that is, in '68—when Sheridan took command of the field, he made me Chief of Scouts and Guides of the United States army."

"Scouting was a trade?" I asked.

"It's a gift. The Indian is the natural scout, and he'll keep a white man hustling with all his clothes on and no sleep, either, to beat him."

"The scout knew his game?"

"Yes, sir; as well as the Indian could hunt his. A scout had to have eyes, ears and brain working overtime, when he was on the trail, I can tell you."

"You follow the tracks of the Indian ponies?"

"Tracks, nothing!" said "Bill" contemptuously. "That's no sawdust country, out there, it's all grass. You couldn't see a hoofprint. I've followed a single horse file by watching the grass and seeing how it was broken. I could tell by the way the grass broke if the Indians were traveling fast or slow, horses packed heavy or light, ridden by Indians or running loose. The manner in which a moccasin shaped its read on the prairies would tell me what tribe our enemy belonged to, and by their camp embers whether it was a party on the warpath or peaceful Indians. Nothing made an army man so sore as to have a guide make a dry camp at night, so that a scout had to be conversant with the country and reach water when nightfall came."

"The resistance of the Indians was a surprise to the organized troops?"

"It took four years for the United States Army to place the Indians back on the reservation; but it would have taken very much longer had it not been for the ingenuity and pluck of General Sheridan, who organized the first winter campaign. Up to that time it was considered that no man could stand the rigor and cold of a winter in the West, so that the Indians found time six months out of the year to recuperate from the summer fighting. General Sheridan said, 'Where the Indian can live my men shall,' and in 1868 the first winter campaign began. General Sheridan took command of this largest campaign against the Indians in person. We slept out with the sky for a roof many a night, rolled up in army blankets. We lost a good many horses, but the men soon got hardened to it, and we kept the Indians hustling day in and day out for three years. We gave the Indian no time to hunt for food, to make his blankets, to eat, to sleep or smoke. I was at the Battle of Wichita in '68 with General Custer, and several fights with General Carr. My first expedition as chief of scouts of the United States Army was with General Penrose in the month of October, 1868, who was in command of a division sent to the Canadian River country to operate west of General Sheridan.

"Our division included the Fifth United States Cavalry and the Second, Seventh and Tenth Regiments of United States Cavalry. We had 150 wagons and 200 pack mules. We were on the march until the following May; most of the command had no tents. We lived in 'wickyups,' made out of underbrush and bits of canvas. Many mules and horses died of starvation, but not a grumble from a single man. In the spring of 1869 our division returned to Fort Lyon, and General Sheridan came back with his division to Fort Dodge. We proved to the Indians that they were to have no peace summer or winter; that we were out for a continuous campaign. We gave them no time to make a living, but kept them on the run during the years of '68, '69 and '70."

"By that time the wild West was almost subdued?"

"Well, the Indians began calling for treaties and asking for peace; many of them surrendered, but, as in all wars, some still remained on the warpath, until General Miles took command of the Indian Territory and succeeded in rounding up and corralling every hostile in the country. He was the man who afterward went to Arizona, subdued the Apaches, captured their chief, Geronimo, and landed them in Florida. I am proud to ay that General Miles never failed in any field operations where he was in personal command."

"You continued as chief of scouts of the United States Army to the close of the war?"

"I served as a scout under 32 Generals. I guess I was in the thick of it. General Carr continued active service against the Indians and Sioux and Cheyenne countries and in the Department of the Platte in '69, '70 and '71. In '72 General Carr was succeeded by General J. J. Reynolds, who in that year closed the Indian wars in that section, until '76, when the Sitting Bull troubles took place. It was during this war that the death of Little Big Horn. General Wesley Merritt and General George Crook were sent to the frontier at the beginning of this war. Then General Carr came back to use and the Indians were dispersed and the bands broken up. It was then that General Miles was left on the Yellowstone to build a fort, having at his disposal only one regiment, the Fifth Infantry, United States Army. He needed cavalry, so he forthwith used some captured Indian ponies and mounted a portion of his infantry regiment on them, and he had cavalry. General Miles has never been sent after an enemy that he didn't get, and never lost a battle where he commanded in person, and more hostile Indians surrendered to him than to any other General. Some call him a 'dress soldier,' but he roughed it with the men as much as any other General ever did."

"Still the Indians were on the warpath?"

"As I said before, the subjection of the Indians was one of the toughest propositions the American soldier ever had to face. In 1877 the Pine Ridge trouble broke out. The Indians expected their Messiah, who was to liberate them from captivity. The suppression of this uprising fell to the lot of General Miles, and he fought, as he always does when in command, with his head. He put down the ghost dance without the loss of hardly a life on either side, and in all my service as a scout I never saw finer generalship than his at Pine Ridge."

Colonel Cody was standing at his full stature at the further end of the room, where we were talking, and he delivered the final words of his eulogium of General Miles with a force and feeling that those big men of the West can alone declare. Briefly, we had passed through the rise and fall of the great drama in the West. The picturesque, the romantic, the cruel and the tender elements of the Western life as it was, in all its important phases, he had outlined.

How did this country look in the eyes of a scout to–day.

Was it prosaic, or was there a new romance arriving?

This is what Colonel Cody said:

"Even in the thick of the Indian fighting it was impossible for a man to escape seeing the great possibilities of those arid States; but it took a professor to convince me of the chances of civilizing that country. I was stationed at Fort McPherson, Neb.; General Sheridan in command of the Missouri Division. The General came to me one day and instructed me to act as guide for Prof. O. C. Marsh and 25 Yale students, who wanted to go through the 'Bad Lands' on a fossil expedition. Well, I got kinder jealous of that professor. He was always talking a whole lot of stuff about that I'd never heard before. He said that the Great Big Horn basin was formed by the passage of a big lake, that had finally cut its way through the Big Horn Canyon. He went on to tell why there should be in this basin the finest soil in the world; that there must be great mineral deposits there, probably sea gold, because the lake had been salt water. I said to him then that I guess he thought he knew more about that country than I did, and told him he'd better go it alone. Well, sir, the old fossil hunter was right. Twenty years later a party of prospectors discovered gold, campers had seen the color of it, and hurried out there to locate claims."

"And what did they find?"

"Millions of acres of grazing land, the sides of the canyons covered with timber, all kinds of building stone, marble, granite, sandstone, gypsum. They found they could raise cereals as good as any in Indiana or elsewhere. They had discovered a national park. Why in my town of Cody, within a few miles, are seven different kinds of natural water geysers, hot, cold, boiling, freezing, any old style you want."

"So you've built a town called Cody in Wyoming?"

"I have and it's still building. I'll tell you how I came to do such a thing. In 1896 Senator Cary of Wyoming presented a bill asking Congress to grant to the arid States 1,000,000 acres each. This was passed and became a law. The States wanted taxpayers, but the land needed water. So the laws were made sufficiently liberal to induce capitalists to build canals, selling water rights to settlers.

"With other gentlemen I invested in and organized the Shoshone Irrigation Company. We got a concession from the State for 300,000 acres, went to building a canal and got settlers. We began in 1895, and in three years we had enough people in that section to induce the great Burlington Railroad to extend from their main line a branch of 140 miles, which will run into the town of Cody on July 4, 1901. Cody covers 640 acres, with a population of 5000 people in two years."

"You've got an opera house?"

"Opera House, City Hall, bank and Police Headquarters—in one building. We are the nearest town west of the Yellowstone Park, only 70 miles from the lake."

Starting life in the West at its most thrilling period, Colonel Cody has seen the buffaloes pass away, the Indian subdued, the cowboy farmed out, the settlers crowding in. He has been of active service to the United States Government in all these years; but the most American thing that this typical American has done is to build a town in the shadow of the canyons and baptize it with his own name.


Title: Colonel William F. Cody — Buffalo Bill

Periodical: Dallas Morning News

Date: July 20, 1901

Author: Cody, William Frederick, 1846-1917

Topic: Lakota Performers

People: Augur, Christopher Columbus, 1821-1898 Duncan, Thomas

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