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tv   Buffalo Bill and Frontier Myth  CSPAN  September 3, 2017 4:48pm-5:58pm EDT

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, just four days before the election, coolidge, ever a party regular, finally came forward with extraordinary proof uses public endorsement from a radio program. hoover had shown his fitness to be president. hoover said coolidge was able, experienced, trustworthy and safe. hoover was grateful. republican leaders were jubilant and relieved. in ahen hoover won landslide, coolidge hailed as a result as an endorsement of his own administration and announced he could retire from office in content. the president's term still have four months to run, and he was known to be very touchy about his prerogatives. no doubt with these
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sensitivities in mind, hoover officialhe take a semi tour latin america after the election. coolidge agreed. earlyovember 19 1928 to january 1929, hoover not only stayed out of washington. better still, he stayed out of the country. fulfilling an29, ambition that had touched his soul for a decade or longer, herbert hoover became president of the united states. he had done so without ever elective public office. for an hour and a half, he and calvin coolidge stood, sat and walked side-by-side without saying a word to each other. in his inaugural address, hoover paid tribute to his right predecessor.is
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when the ceremony was over, they said goodbye, and the ex-president went home to new england. announcer 2: you can watch this and other american history programs on our website where the video is archived. that is c-span.org/history. this year marks the 100th anniversary of buffalo bill's death at the buffalo -- and the buffalo bills center hosted a symposium. western historian paul hutton delivered the keynote address. he described how william cody, best known as buffalo bill became a symbol of the frontier , and the american perception of western culture. this is just over an hour. >> welcome, everyone, to the final event of what has been a terrific three days. you know when you start to plan these things, and you think we will have this person and that person and do all this stuff. there was this moment when we started to put the program on
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the paper and went we have 36 , different speakers on this thing. and it became exceeded our , expectations certainly. and so thank you to everyone for all of their thank you to -- all of their terrific presentations. thanks very much. [applause] >> and this won't be the last you will have heard from the gathered scholars. we are going to compile an edit -- and edit a new volume in our william f. cody series of the american west with the university of oklahoma press. all of the presenters are invited, as they know, to submit their work for consideration for this volume. then all of the rest of you are invited to purchase and read that volume when it comes out. [laughter] >> so stay tuned. it's a great pleasure to introduce tonight's keynote speaker. paul andrew hutton is an
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american cultural historian. he is an award-winning author. he is a documentary writer and television personality. he serves as a distinguished professor of history at the university of new mexico. as we all know, he is published quite widely in both scholarly academic venues and popular magazines. and he has reached a very large audience through that kind of work. his work has been recognized far and wide. he is a six-time winner of the western writers of america spur award and a six-time winner of the western heritage award from the national cowboy and western heritage museum for his work in both print and film. mentioned book jeremy the other day phil sheridan and , his army, that received the prize from the organization of american historians, the evans biography award, and a spur award. he is also the editor of several books that we all have on our
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shelves western heritage, round region thetier and , custer reader and soldiers west, as well as a 10-volume eyewitness to the civil war series he did for bantam in the 1990's. he started in many ways reaching on shaping western historical scholarship when he was an associate editor at the western historical quarterly and then editor of the new mexico historical review. now he has written several short films, dozens, of television documentaries, and he has appeared upon, if this is to be believed, over 300 television programs on major networks, public television, and cable networks as well. you may have known or seen the work that he did behind the scenes as a historical consultant on ron howard's film the missing.
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favreau'srked on jon cowboys and aliens and recently on gavin o'connor's jane got a gun. he has been very active as a public historian, making an imprint on programming at museums by guest curating exhibits on everything from the alamo, the custer legend, davey crockett, and billy the kid. his latest book, the apache wars, was published by crown, in may 2016, and it was recognized with a 2017 american writers spur award for best non-fiction. coming up through western history, my academic career came up during the time that we just saw reflected in the various toasts that we had. the heady era of the new western history, old western history range wars. [laughter] >> and, you know, paul hutton
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served as the executive director of the western history association from 1990 to 2006. so, you know, when we think of davy crockett, you know we have , a popular image in our minds of fess parker. when we think of the lone ranger, it is going to be clayton moore. when you think of james bond, it has got to be sean connery. right? and when you think of the western historian, you think of paul hutton. so it is my great pleasure to introduce paul to speak to us tonight. [applause] paul hutton: i know it is just so common to think of me and sean connery in the same way. [laughter] paul hutton: certainly my wife does. [laughter] paul hutton: not.
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[laughter] paul hutton: i want to thank the buffalo bill center of the west. i want to thank jeremy and his excellent staff. this really has been a marvelous three days. the only thing i've really learned as i have aged is how little i know. and being around all these bright, young scholars this week has certainly shown me just really how little i know about something i thought i knew everything about. it is just wonderful, new work and exciting new work. as a historian, one of the things that makes you get up in the morning and after hearing that introduction, all this stuff i have done, i understand why i am so tired, and it is so hard to get up in the morning. [laughter] paul hutton: but i certainly appreciate so much, all that they are doing to bring about new insight, but also to
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discover new material. i mean, we were shown all kinds of new material about buffalo bill and his show this week that is just absolutely astonishing to me. thank you all for educating me this week. i don't know if i am going to educate you very much tonight. this room is full of course of experts on william f. cody. the story i am going to tell is a familiar one, but i sort of thought that thematically i might be able to pull together here as the last speaker some of the themes that we have been talking about this week and put buffalo bill in perspective. let me start by doing that by telling you a personal story because we have been getting some of those this week as well. of course you know we are here because it is the centennial of buffalo bill's death, william f. cody's death.
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that was in 1917, which was the year of my mother's birth. then in 1968, 51 years later, i first visited this wonderful institution in company with two of my high school chums, steve horowitz and don fork. we had just graduated from short ridge high school in indianapolis, and we had don's volkswagen bus, and we had simon and garfunkel's "america" ringing in our ears, and we went out in search of america. i'm still looking. [laughter] paul hutton: well, the boys were anxious to get to the climax of our trip, the final destination, the really golden dream at the end of the western rainbow for all young men, las vegas, nevada. [laughter] paul hutton: but i would not and -- not ba -- be a party to the
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trip unless we visited first the black hills. then the little big horn battlefield, and then here, to cody, wyoming, to this museum, and they reluctantly agreed to -- to that. and they were perhaps not as delighted as i was by this institution in 1968, but they pretended to be charmed. it has now been 49 years since i made that journey. 51 years from the time of buffalo bill's death until i made the journey, 49 years now since i did that. and my point to you is just how short our history as a nation is and how an institution like this and what we are trying to convey is in fact a connection point,
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something that connects us to america's living past. it is alive. it dictates so much of our actions today. what's the old joke, if you're -- people who don't know the past are -- have to repeat it, and of course, the curse of historians is they do know the past and they have to watch the country repeat it over and over. and if you live long enough you get to see it being repeated again. it's like if you watch -- i used to watch "days of our lives" and you watch it too many times they repeat the same plots over. new people, same story. william f. cody was a man seemingly trapped in a distant past. yet he was one who cared desperately about an onrushing
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future for himself, for his family, his business and of course, his nation. he was progressive in his politics. he favored votes for women long before that liberal icon woodrow wilson finally got around to supporting it. and he was, for his time and place, you must always keep that in mind, he was for his time and place incredibly enlightened on questions of race and equality. he had lived the american dream. he had risen from abject poverty to incredible wealth. he had been fawned over by kings and queens, presidents and captains of industry, and at the time of his death, he was the living symbol of what it meant to be an american. president theodore roosevelt described him thusly. an american of americans, he embodied those traits of courage, strength and self-reliant hardihood which are vital to the well-being of our nation.
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he was like the nation he came to symbolize, though, a bundle of contradictions. paradoxes is the word used. contradictions works as well. he was a hunter who became a conservationist. he was a friend to the indian who was famous as an indian fighter. he was a rugged frontier scout best remembered as a sequined showman who could have stepped off the stage with liberace. or elvis in vegas. a living artifact from a pioneer past playing out his role in a world of telephones, motion pictures, automobiles, airplanes, skyscrapers, and finally at the very end world wars. cody's life 1846 to 1917 spanned a period of astonishing change. and he participated in much of that change. his father was a martyr in the fight to keep slavery out of
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kansas. and as a teenager, he fought in the civil war. he rode for the pony express. [laughter] paul hutton: hunted buffalo for the railroad, where he earned his nickname. scouted for the army. won the congressional medal of honor in a fight with the sioux. took the so-called first scout for custer. and a celebrated duel at war bonnet hat as it was originally known, creek in 1876. and took a final curtain call in his western adventures at the time of the terrible tragedy at wounded knee. that fight at war bonnet creek in which there was only one casualty, that fight is the defining episode of his life. and i want to talk about it for it was in many ways a moment -- an incredible moment simply frozen in time.
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where western reality and the frontier myth, the topics that i'm going to talk about tonight, came together. but first, a little context. to set the stage of how we got to war bonnet creek, one of my favorite movies is fort apache, in which the custer legend of western legend is proven to be entirely false. and yet it is covered up and protected by army officers and the line -- the final line in that film which is so powerful is correct, in every detail, about a famous painting of custer's last stand. let me just say that this painting, too, is correct, in every detail. [laughter] paul hutton: nothing is correct in that painting. many serious scholars who spent a considerable part of their lives debating points such as
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this have placed the birth of the western at 1823 with the publication of james cooper's novel "the pioneers." now, some grumbled that the more enduring and clearly superior "last of the mohicans" in 1826 deserves that spot of honor. the point is well taken but then others argued that the tales of captain jon smith and pocahontas, colonial indian captivity narratives, john fillsen's marvelous little chapter on the adventure of daniel boone written in 1784 are the true origin point for the western story. which is ultimately the story of america. now, there are those who give all credit to that talented harvard dude who came right out here to where we are, owen worcester, and he captured the imagination of the world with his 1902 novel "the virginian." it was worcester who turned the
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american cowboy and in fact an epithet. and it is still used that way sometimes. cowboy foreign policy, cowboy diplomacy, and when you said cowboy you meant a wild, rowdy, uncontrolled element in your society. well, suddenly he makes the cowboy into an american centaur. i'm looking at you, professor warren. an american centaur. he's always so riveted by my comments. [laughter] paul hutton: like the kid in class who pretends, you know, that you're his favorite professor and of course he's always on his phone facebooking in your class. anyway, i took professor warren's phone away from him before we began. [laughter] paul hutton: it was worcester who turned the american cowboy into a national symbol. albeit with considerable help from, of course, our hero --
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william f. cody from frederick remington from charlie russell and of course from the cowboy president himself, the real cowboy president, theodore roosevelt. all cowboy presidents go to harvard. [laughter] paul hutton: well, this debate helped found expression among my class of people in the endless -- and sometimes tiresome -- argument over frederick jackson turner's 1893 frontier thesis. now, turner saw the american national character and thus american exceptionalism as an outgrowth of the frontier experience. his critics, and there have been many, like the premier of "star wars" and line them up around the block and his argument the frontier is but one of many forces that shaped our nation. and of course you can't argue with that. the argument, though, is one between process and place.
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with the strongest modern interpreters, sometimes referred to by people like me as the rebel, led by professor patricia nelson limerick of the university of colorado, professor warren is just a fellow traveler with her. [laughter] paul hutton: and when you go to yellowstone and you see those packs. she's the leader. leader. well, this is exactly the same debate in historical circles that you have between cooper and owen worcester. where does the story begin? well, it doesn't matter where the story begins, i would argue. it's just rich and varied literary history, that's rich and varied historiography that's
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central to our understanding of ourselves and we're always looking for that. you start when you're a kid and you are always looking for your identity and of course many of us never get there. but nations do that, too. and we're looking for our identity. and we hope we're not like some of the other nations that we're familiar with. we want to be so special. and it's always been this way. in the 1820's americans were in search of identity that might unite them as a people. who were we? 13 colonies, what the hell is that? how do we get together and how do we become one out of many? north and south accomplished that by looking to the west. frontier america suddenly became respectable in literary circles with the success of cooper's leather stocking tales, the hunters of kentucky celebrating the prowess of kentucky and tennessee militiamen over the english at the 1815 battle of
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new orleans, apologies to our english brands. -- friends. but we elect presidents because they shoot english people. [laughter] paul hutton: i'm a historian. i can only speak the truth. i love the british. i tell my students that there's a beautiful thing about the british. is that they unite all peoples everywhere around the world. india. africa. russia, germany, france. the united states. we've all shot at them. because they're always in somebody else's neighborhood. telling folks how to behave. and then they get themselves in trouble and they get all shot up and then they build beautiful statues in london which we all pay a lot of money to go visit. it was a very clever technique. [laughter] paul hutton: nevertheless, that
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song the hunters of kentucky helped to sweep andrew jackson into the white house. and border dramas as they were called in those days, stories such as nick the woods and the lion of the west which was a play based on the life of davey crockett. it became all the rage on eastern and european stages in the 1830's and 1840's. and the rise of jackson, other western political figures , including the legendary crockett himself, symbolized a political and cultural shift in this country from the east to the west. which i always cheer for. no offense to our eastern friends. but since we've already done in the british, why not just continue? timothy flinch, best-selling biography of daniel boone, the martyrdom of davey crockett at the alamo, the celebrated adventures of kit carson and john fremont and the romance surrounding the great migration to oregon, which was immortalized by one of america's
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first great historians who was of course a western historian, frances parkman, harvard. [laughter] paul hutton: and by the way, professor limerick and professor warren, that is harvard, not yale. but i went to indiana university so what the hell do i know? thank you all very much. good basketball. well, anyway, they all served to change the frontiersmen once sustained by the guardians of american culture as a dangerous symbol of low breeding and anarchy into the very ideation of the evolving national character. here's who we are, we're davey crockett, we're daniel boone, kit carson and people pushing west on the oregon trail. that is the american. that is the new human that's come on to the planet from so
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many different places. well, a ghastly civil war tore all this asunder. a great westerner, the grandson of one who had followed daniel boone up the cumberland gap and into kentucky redeemed in the dream, restored hope to the country, and abraham lincoln through the homestead act and the transcontinental railroad, that he sponsored, created a new trans-mississippi west. and set it all in motion. and out of this story, out of the new west, a new epic arose. this story united the divided nation, north and south, forever cemented national identity and now for a richly diverse people. because folks were coming after the civil war from everywhere. you want to know who you were when you got to this country? just read a buffalo bill novel. it's right there. it doesn't matter that you're
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from poland or a russian -- it doesn't matter that you're an italian. get some but skins. buckskins. get a cowboy hat. and it helped. it helped people unite. a fresh generation of heroes emerged to be celebrated in the popular dime novels that horrified parents and literary critics alike. now we had the gun fighting lawman, wild bill hickok, the heroic soldier, martyred to manifest destiny george custer, the scout, buffalo bills, the outlaw billy the kid, the indian statesman sitting bull, the wild cowgirl calamity january. -- calamity jane. and from them came a story rich in romance and boundless optimism yet also burdened even while it was being told with nostalgia for vanishing past. because even as it played out it was over. over in an instant. buffalo bill cody who had lived the reality of the western story
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as a civil war soldier, railroad, buffalo hunter and army scout, put it all into a grand extravaganza in 1883 and he took it on the road. his wild west enthralled two generations of americans and people around the world. created the cliches and conventions followed by writers and film makers that were to follow him. now, cody was a true child of the american frontier. and he was a person who grew up in the very environment that he was now celebrating. he was the third child born in scott county, iowa, on february 26, 1846. and william frederick was the third child of isaac and mary cody. isaac moved the family to the newly organized territory of
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kansas, settling near fort leavenworth where he became a prominent advocate for free soil. he didn't want slavery extended into kansas for whatever reasons. when he was giving an anti-slavery speech, in september of 1854, he was pulled from the platform and stabbed by pro-slavery men and all the -- although he recovered and won election to the free soil legislature in topeka he was continually plagued by his wounds, finally dying in march of 1857. the young billy, his father was a martyr having "shed the first blood in the cause of freedom in kansas." with family in financial straits after his father's death, young billy, cody, went to work for the freighting company of alexander majors and william russell. the company had contracted with our government because president james buchanan was trying to take the spotlight off tensions between the north and the south
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by having a war against mormons out in utah who weren't obeying the government quite as well as they needed to. and so majors and russell provided the supply wagons to keep that army going. on this trip, during the so-called mormon war of 1857, this young kid cody struck up a friendship with james butler, wild bill hickok. and when they initiated the short-lived pony express in 1860 , cody briefly served as a rider and hickok also worked for the pony express. with the outbreak of the civil war, cody quit the express company and joined a band of kansas jayhawkers preying upon neighboring missourians and was anxious to avenge his father's murder and he was anxious to get some free horses from missouri. they have good horses over there. he felt no pangs of conscience, stealing from missourians, who would?
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[laughter] paul hutton: i don't know what's the matter with me. i've been to missouri. it's very -- well. cody readily admitted these were not his best days. i entered upon a dissolute and reckless life to my shame be it said and associated with gamblers, drunkards and bad characters generally. that was my experience when i ran the western history association for 16 years. [applause] paul hutton: after one particularly rowdy night in 1864, and as he later said, he was under the influence of bad whiskey. this is as opposed to good whiskey. under the influence of bad whiskey, he woke up in the morning and he had enlisted in the seventh kansas. and so he became a soldier in the civil war. his service was not particularly distinguished. but he certainly served in the war. when the war was over, took
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himself a bride, luisa frederica of st. louis and attempted to settle down to the life of a hotel keeper. he could have been the marriott's but instead, no, he took a different tack. it was not to be because he was totally devoid and his later career would prove this of any kind of business skill whatsoever. and within a year, he headed west to seek employment with the army. his buddy hickok was a scout for the arm out of fort else worth, kansas, and he got in his young friend a job. and while at fort elsworth he became acquainted with george armstrong custer, seventh calvary, just beginning his western career and cody was asked by custer to come and scout for him. and he declined that opportunity. wise career move. and became instead a hunter for the kansas pacific railroad. the firm of goddard brothers had
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the contract to feed the railway workers and they employed cody at a princely sum to hunt buffalo to feed the workers. in eight months' time from october of 1867 until may of 1868, cody killed 4,280 buffalo for the kansas pacific railroad. now, i know in the more environmentally sensitive time in which we live and under the influence of the new western history and its creed, we do not celebrate that. but they were after all eaten. this was for food. they weren't just being shot like happened later. and cody, indeed, when he hunted buffalo, did it on horseback, using a single shot rifle. and he did it indian style. which is unbelievably dangerous, of course. and he was incredibly successful with his breech loading .50 caliber springfield rifle, which
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he called lucrezia borgia and on his fleet horse brigham named for the mormon patriarch. you see, he had a sense of history from the very beginning. he was a young man. i'm amazed he actually knew who lucrezia borgia was. that is pretty good. it speaks to the power of education and territorial kansas, i guess. well, the workers for the railroad, he became a popular figure needless to say because he's bringing them dinner. and they made up a little song, a little song about him. buffalo bill, buffalo bill, never missed and never will. always aims and shoots to kill, from a company pays his buffalo bill. that's your authentic american poetry right there. eat your heart out, europeans. [laughter] paul hutton: and let me point out that it's not bison william.
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bison william never missed and never will. it is indeed buffalo bill. what is this going on? to make us stop calling buffalo, buffalo? and call them bison? bison? is that like -- is that like greek and latin derivatives or something? bison? i know it's scientifically incorrect, like i care. and i would like to tell you it's part of the american language. but of course it was champlain, the frenchman, who came up with the term and identified bison as buffalo. but nevertheless, just because a frenchman did it that doesn't mean it's not ok. and it goes to prove that the french can occasionally get something right. isn't that amazing? the bison nickel. bison wild wings. i mean, seriously. [laughter] paul hutton: and evidently the associated press has joined with the government in trying to
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change the american language. and i notice now any time buffalo are mentioned in the newspaper they must send out a style sheet. i'm sure they do. they're called bison. and i just think this is truly the definition of fake news. [laughter] paul hutton: culmination of bad weather and native hostility, temporarily halted construction of the kansas pacific when it reached end of track. and cody's contact with the railroad ended there despite the fame he had derived and he went to work at fort larnard for the army. and he carried dispatches. and it was a very dangerous job. he did such a superb job at it that he came to the attention of the new commander of the army on the southern plains, general field sheridan. he just loved this kid and he became his protector and he
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became his sponsor and he became his mentor. and after cody had made a couple of incredibly daring and dangerous rides where no one else would carry dispatches, sheridan promoted him and made him chief of scouts for the fifth cavalry. now, scouts are hired through the quartermaster department for campaigns. but cody is different. he is hired to be a permanent scout for the fifth cavalry. and indeed he did a spectacular job. and soon he became the army's most famous scout. on april 26, 1872, near the southfork of nebraska's loop river, cody led a squad of soldiers on a running battle with sioux raiders which won him the medal of honor on may 22, 1872. they cleaned up -- he wasn't really technically a soldier. so when they cleaned up the army rolls at the time of the first world war, they dropped him. but certain powerful political figures in the country managed to get it back for him. god bless al simpson.
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and he should have it. for heaven's sake. captain charles minehold in the letter of commendation describing the engagement with the indians noted simply that "mr. william cody's reputation for bravery and skill as a guide is so well-established that i need not say anything else but that he acted in his usual manner." announcer: -- it sounds like medal of honor stuff to me. and his words were typical of the praise that frontier soldiers gave to cody, phil sheridan, emery carr, charles king, anton mills, and many other army officers all praised cody both before and after he became nationally famous. his exploits, although later exaggerated by press agents and show business are absolutely authentic. and what just drives me crazy and not a long drive as you can tell -- [laughter] paul hutton: what drives me
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crazy is all the folks who want to present him as a charlatan and fraud. and he's not just not at all. he did it all before he was 25, you know? i wish i had. and indeed later writers have attempted to downplay his scouting activities and many of them treated him as just one of many comparable army scouts. but he was not just like one of many comparable scouts. he was truly head and shoulders above almost all of them and ranks with ben clark, luther kelly, frank north, as one of the great scouts of the indian wars. in one 12-month period, for example, from october 1868 to october of 1869, cody is chief of scouts for the fifth cavalry. participated in seven expeditions against the indians, engaging in nine fights during these campaigns. few soldiers experienced that much action in a decade of service.
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all of cody's frontier exploits , including 16 battles with native americans, occurred before his 32nd birthday. for after 1876 he devoted his time exclusively to the show business. now, the grand maestro of cody's rise to international fame and show business glory was in an obscure writer, a very limited talent but of unflagging imagination, a man by the name of ned muntliner. his real name was edward zane harold judson and born in new york in 1823 and was a plump , little man. he was a master of the dime novel and claimed to have written half a dozen of them in one week alone. writing and women were ned's great passions and he pursued both with vengeance. he went through several portions -- fortunes and six wives, and several of the wives he was married to simultaneously.
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not a problem for ned. july 24, 1869, found fort macpherson, nebraska, to deliver of all things a temperance lecture. learning that major william brown was leading a detachment of troops out after raiding indians, he volunteered to go along. they didn't find any natives. but he rode along with buffalo bill during the entire trip. and they became pals. and when the troops were reached fort sedgewitch, he promised cody he would keep in touch. on december 23, the new york weekly the first installment of "buffalo bill, king of the border men." the story was a fictional reworking of the already well publicized and well-known adventures of wild bill hickok. cody's friend.
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who by the way buntline kills in the story. which really irked wild bill, who was not a guy you wanted to get on the bad side of. nevertheless, from buntline's story was born the legend of buffalo bill. at fort macpherson the real buffalo bill was highly flattered by the tale. even if absolutely none of it was true. when his son was born on november 26, 1870, he proposed to name him after buntline. cooler heads prevailed. and the kid was named after kit carson instead. good move. now ned buntline was not a man to allow opportunity to slip away. he commenced scribbling a new dime novel right away, buffalo bill's, the heart of spotted tale. which began its cereal run in -- serial run in the new york weekly on march 25, 1872 and on and on and on they went. at the same time, ned baratz with letters saying come back here, kid. this is a gold mine. you are a gold mine.
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cody finally relented, thanks to -- with the help of sheridan. and he recruited another fort macpherson scout john b. texas jack to accompany him to chicago and join in this novel enterprise. the scout turned actor, buntline in chicago on december 12 and jack to accompany him to chicago and join in this novel enterprise. the scout turned actor, buntline in chicago on december 12 and they found buntline had no script. even though they were to open nixon's amphitheater on december 18. and retreating to his hotel room not a problem for writers such as professor limerick, professor warren and myself -- retreating to his hotel room penned the scouts in four hours. and an um impressed chicago theater critic asked him why it took him so long. [laughter] buntline hired thespians off the streets of chicago to portray indians in his little drama. and he acquired the services of the lovely italian actress to play the lovely indian heroine.
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and unlike the other members of the cast mirlaci had stage experience. she was scandalously famous for having introduced the can-can to america. that's right. a crowd estimated at 2,500 people crowded into nixon's amphitheater for opening night. the play had no plot. which was fine since cody couldn't remember any of his lines. and it didn't matter. the scouts were very handsome. and ms. mirlaci was incredibly fetching as an italian accented indian maiden and the action was nonstop. the scouts of the prairie was a grand success and even the theater critics had to admit that it might not be art but it was certainly entertainment of a unique sort. wrote one critic, on the whole it is not probable that chicago will ever look upon this like again.
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such a combination of incongruent drama, and acting, renowned performers, mixed audience and intolerable stench, blood and thunder not likely to be vouchsafed to a city a second time, even chicago. well, the western had been born. and ned buntline, buffalo bill were the mid wives. and popular mass market entertainment was never to be the same again. the play toured eastern cities, greeted by you enthusiastic audiences, stunned theater critics, and overflowing box office tills. as the historical advisor for cowboys and aliens, i know a thing or two about drama. so can speak to this subject with some, you know, some substance, some credibility. because i know at least three of you have seen that movie. and the aliens. absolutely historically accurate. everything about them was just perfect. correct in every detail.
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\[laughter] well, by the time the tour ended in june of 1873 cody was fully committed to a stage career and he had a bright idea. he didn't need buntline anymore. and so they parted company forever. so the 1873-74 season, cody enlisted the pen of fred mader to create a new drama for the buffalo bill combination as his gypsy troupe was now called. and the scouts of the plains opened in pennsylvania on september 8, buffalo bill and texas jack played themselves with ms. mirlaci portraying another can-canning indian maiden. but they have upped the ante because here was wild bill hickok had joined the troupe. joined his old friend, but alas, by this time, wild bill had added to his laurels as a civil war hero and a scout for the army by being the town-taming marshal of hayes city and abilene and a notorious man killer.
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and he just couldn't quite take this acting business very seriously. and cody kept trying to impress upon him how important this work was. but bill couldn't quite get it. and so after one particularly heated exchange, cody -- cody was left alone and hickok departed in a huff. they met again only once in wyoming in july of 1876 when cody was scouting for the fifth cavalry and hickok was heading for the black hills, boom town, of deadwood, and a sad date with destiny. 1876 was a tough year for western heroes. they were check being out right and left. for a decade from 1873 until he left the board to organize the wild west show in 1883, cody toured in various frontier dramas and every play he played only one role. one he had perfected. buffalo bill. played himself. that's what i do as a professor. constantly.
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we need drama. and supposedly based on authentic adventures of his own past. and that's the get. that's it. that's the point. it's his connection between history and drama that provided a unique electricity to cody's stage presence. it made his blood and thunder dramas no matter how silly they were resonate. it's like if john wayne really had gone up iwo jima instead of staying home during the war. cody's 1876 tour was a huge success as well but was interrupted in april of 1876 by a telegram informing bill that this is little 5-year-old son kit was desperately ill with scarlet fever and rushed home to rochester, new york. where he -- the little boy died in his arms. he was just broken. just broken. and he gets a telegram from sheridan, saying bill, come on. come on west.
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we're going to have this big indian war. and no, this doesn't sound politically correct but we're going to have this big indian war and that's our last chance. this is it. this is going to be over. there's never going to be another one. wrong. and never going to be another one and come join us and cody decided to do just that. and i have to believe it was the death of his son that was the deciding factor. after a final show in wilmington, delaware, on june 3, cody and texas jack split up the troupe and buffalo bill headed west to cheyenne, wyoming, and there he was reunited with his old friends and the fifth cavalry on june 10, 1876. he was immediately reappointed chief of scouts by lieutenant colonel eugene a. carr. and the enlisted men as well as the officers were all delighted to see him and when he rode into the camp the cry went up, here's buffalo bill. and hurrah, hurrah. but cody greeted old friends and the cavalry camp there must have been a strange mixture of deja vu and nostalgia.
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bill cody, known so well by so many of the old veterans of the fifth, and now become buffalo bill. hero of dime novels and stage shows. since departing the fifth in 1872, he had become one of the most celebrated actors in america. but of course he was only playing a single character. himself. now, he had returned to his past life of adventure and what he had so cleverly exaggerated in front of flood lights but in two days both lives and both buffalo bills the daring scout, and the celebrated actor, would get their greatest performance on a ghastly frontier stage in which western myth and western reality would morph perfectly into each other. what's real, what's not, it's hard to tell. one of the troupers who saw him, there is very little change in his appearance since i saw him last in 1869 except that he looks a little worn. probably caused by his vocation
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in the east not agreeing with him. all the old boys were happy to see carr and cody together again. well, the regiment had been transferred north from service with the -- against the arizona apaches. because there was a huge war brewing on the northern plains. gold had been discovered by custer in the black hills. the grant administration was determined to get the hills and open them up to mining interests. unfortunately, the hills had been given to the sioux, under the 1868 fort laramie treaty. a decent price, the administration thought was
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offered, and of course folks didn't want to sell. and so immediately mafia tactics were employed to convince them that it was in their interests to do business. the government, the grant administration, of course blamed sitting bull and his so-called northern roamers, people who had never come into the agencies at red cloud and pine ridge. blamed them for these problems. phil sheridan, commanding the western army, was ordered to drive the indians in and out came three columns, one from the west, from fort ellis and colonel john gibbon and one from the east under general alfred terry with custer's seventh cavalry the elite regiment of the plains. as his strike force. and up from the south from fort larry mi came general george crook with 15 companies of cavalry and five of infantry, thousands of troops out against the sioux and their cheyenne allies. and they were sure that they had enough -- enough troops but merit and carr and the fifth cavalry were ordered up to block
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any more indians that would leave the nebraska agencies and try to join sitting bull's people. they figured that they had at the most 500 warriors that they were going to confront. and that is because the bureaucrats of the department of the interior had lied to the army. and inflated the censuses at the agency so that they could get more money for more goods which they could sell off to their crooked pals in the west. it was a pretty grievous business and custer had testified against this before congress and had almost been stripped of his command by an infuriated grant. well, a good general and a terrible president.
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and so was kind of fuming about this disgrace when he headed west. had a bad attitude to say the least. well, the fifth cavalry heads north to block the indians from joining up with sitting bull and his people. and there weren't 500 warriors on the plains. there weren't 1,000 warriors on the plains. there weren't 2,000. there was far more and they all gathered together one last time for a great -- to do the sundance and have a renewal of their culture and their way of life and to just once more, just like sheridan said, one last time. and let's live the old days. and that's what they were doing. and they just wanted to re-create their past that they knew was slipping away. and the army couldn't allow that. because the politicians wouldn't allow it. well, as the fifth moves north, then comes the shattering news, custer is dead.
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along with every man of five companies of the seventh cavalry. it had taken a full 12 days for the dispatch to read the column. and they are perilously close to the scene of disaster. everyone is just stunned. just like 9-11. and even as we watched it on television, and what is it? what's -- what is that? and you couldn't believe it. you couldn't believe it. same with custer. no one could believe it. this can't be true. and it absolutely was true. well, this would make you nervous if you're out there. and so now, they move north. they had been ordered to reinforce crook who had been checked on the rosebud river on june 17, 1876, by crazy horse. and crook had retreated and hunkered down, licking his wounds. without even bothering to send any messengers north to warn custer of what was going on.
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and crook -- crook was actually -- crook is a really highly overrated military figure in western history. stunning to me how highly he's regarded by many historians. let me just put it this way. if we had generals like crook during the second world war, i would be giving this lecture in german to you. and usually crook was a pretty cool -- cool customer. and he had won his laurels fighting apaches and in arizona. but he was completely thrown a loop by this. and so he demanded merit's fifth cavalry join him. but merit heard that the cheyenne had left the agency and that they were heading up to join sitting bull. and he made a forced march north to get astride the great indian trail that led up to the bighorn and little bighorn river. and there amongst the troopers of the fifth cavalry buffalo bill was truly in his element.
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and he led the troops on a punishing 85-mile ride. riding his strawberry rhone horse and they reached war bonnet creek and bedded down late on july 16, 1876. before dawn that morning, merit ordered cody out to scout little wolf's approaching column. coolly cody went for it but not dressed in his buck skins as depicted here but instead in a stage costume that he claimed was the only clothes he had. all right. he was in a mexican vatero outfit with pants of black velvet trimmed in scarlet and flared at the bottoms and would have fit right in haight-ashbury 1969 and a little cigarette out of his mouth and not really a cigarette but you know what i mean.
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that's legal there in colorado where you teach, isn't it, professor limerick? [laughter] that's got to really help the classroom discipline. that's got to really help. i digress. he had a red silk shirt with a broad brim beaver sombrero and he had dressed for his role that day. he quickly located the cheyenne village. but he returned to find the cavalry camp in full alert as cheyenne had been spotted nearby. he reported to -- a slight hill overlooking the valley formed by war bonnet creek also called hat creek. in the distance a party of cheyenne scouts from the fifth cavalry. and merit ordered carr to silently saddle up the regiment and get ready. for arks. but in the distance came a supply train. and the cheyenne scouts were heading for it. and two dispatch riders were
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coming from the supply train toward merit's command. and cody could see that they were going to get cut off by the cheyenne. and he asked merit for permission to engage the cheyenne with his scouts and the colonel as he hurried away to rejoin the regiment said yes, go ahead. lieutenant charles king later to be a famous novelist would watch from the hill and send in the scouts just before the cheyennes could intercept the two messengers. and in with you, cried king as he sent them forward and buffalo bill and his men, they charge the surprised warriors, turning the tables on their ambush and scattering them with rifle volley. as cody's horse splashed across war bonnet creek and cheyenne warrior turned to meet him. now, this is not a story out of sir walter scott. this is a true story of the american west. and yet it's stranger and more bizarre even than fiction could possibly be.
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and the name of the warrior was yellow hair. and like cody, he had dressed splendidly for the day. he war a magnificent feathered bonnet. a special charm tin bracelet and a beautifully beaded belt in which he tucked the blond scalp from which he derived his name. his unique breech cloth had been fashioned from an american flag. i think that's a pretty powerful political statement. i don't know about you. \[laughter] he as his -- he stood his ground as his handful of companions fled. he took a shot at the longhaired scout in the crazy velvet costume that was charging at him and probably thought he was in cowboys and aliens. what the hell is this? and these guys are weird. but i mean, really now.
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and yellow hair's shot missed but cody placed a round through the cheyenne warrior's leg which dropped yellow hair's cal co-pony. at the same moment cody's horse stumbled sending him tumbling on the ground. he jumped clear, and did a somersault and you can't make this stuff up. and came up with his rifle leveled and shot yellow hair. just as yellow hair fired at him. yellow hair missed. cody didn't. rushing forward he scalped the fallen warrior and raised the top knot and war bonnet aloft and said first scalp for custer and the soldiers went whooping by and the cheyennes retreated back toward the agency. this is a moment -- a lot of debate about this scalp. to me, it's not that he's thinking forward. this is a good show business move. that comes later. he figures that out. no. he's reverted to his past. for just a moment there, he's back.
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he's just back. he's the kid in the civil war. he's the scout. scouting for the army. he's just completely reverted to the savage state. that the frontier had turned him into. and the regiment went forward, fifth cavalry pursued the cheyennes back to the red cloud agency some 30 miles away and the cheyennes quickly blended in with the rest of the population. lieutenant king remembered that the indians were pretty darn impressed with buffalo bill and sounds to me like just because of his crazy costume. one and all they wanted to see buffalo bill and wherever he moved they followed him with awe-filled eyes and the same dress in which he had burst upon them in yesterday's fight. a mexican costume of black velvet, splashed with scarlet and trimmed with silver buttons and lace, one of his theatrical garbs in which he had done much
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execution before the foot lights in the states. in which now became of intensified value. that night, an exhausted cody wrote to his wife, quote, we have had a fight. i killed yellow hand and yellow hair is often called yellow hand and killed yellow hand the cheyenne chief and promoted him. the cheyenne chief in a singlehanded fight. you will no doubt hear of it through the papers. and i'm going as soon as i reach fort laramie a place where heading for now. i will send the war bonnet, shield, bridal, whip, arms and his scalp to a friend back in rochester. and put up in his window. i will write kerngood to take them to you and show them to you. and kerngood did that. and she looked at the scalp and she promptly fainted. right away. the fifth cavalry now moved to reinforce general crook's column and pursues sitting bull's people. they had 2,000 men and did absolutely nothing and by the end of august it was clear this campaign was going nowhere. and cody asked for his release.
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and headed east to quickly put on a new theatrical combination. featuring a companion from the great sioux war captain jack crawford, the poet -- the new play was entitled the red right hand of buffalo bill's first scalp for custer and this five act monstrosity was according to cody himself without -- and made no difference at which act we commence the performance. it was his most successful play ever. not the least of the show's attractions were the scalp and feathered war bonnet of yellow hair. the northeastern press and our clergy in the east were not impressed. and they quickly send up a howl of protest over this bar bake display. so cody withdrew his trophies from theater windows and confined himself to brandishing them on the stage.
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so you had to pay to get to see them. this, though, this controversy only increased the box office. and made the play even more successful. and he stopped even showing the scalp because folks were passing out. well, is the red right hand a case of art imitating life? or rather had the slain of the unfortunate yellow hair become a case of life imitating art? cody had in fact dressed the morning of july 17, 1876 in one of his stage costumes. and a -- attired for the role he had gone forth and killed the cheyenne warrior in a grisly ritual that reaffirmed his status as a real authentic true frontiersman. then he hurried eastward, scalp in hand to exploit the deed. it was as if the frontier west had become a vast living stage. where cody performed ritualistic acts of heroism and violence for
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the entertainment of the population of the industrial east. it was a unique moment in time. for the west was providing living, breathing entertainment. for the east. by 1876 the frontier had already become an anachronism to folks on the east coast. and after his premier performance, at war bonnet creek buffalo bill simply took the show on the road. and red right hand was a rerun. and the residuals were quite profitable. well, in 1883 as you all know, inspired by the success of a july 4 rodeo he staged in his north platte, nebraska, ravage cody initiated his famous wild west show. the outdoor spectacle combined rodeo elements like bucking broncos and wild steers roping and riding with historical motifs, custer's last stand, various animals through the west were brought east. put on display as were famous frontier celebrities. frank norse, sitting bull and buffalo bill himself. the cowboy once -- such a pejorative term now became an
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american hero in the form of william levi buck taylor the king of the cowboys and johnny baker the cowboy kid. displays of marksmanship were provided by cody baker and most importantly, annie oakley the sensation of the show, little sure shot. as time passed, cody would update these historical pageants over and over. including a spanish american war, the boxer rebellion. and the philippine insurrection. however, then such as the attack on the deadwood stage ends the first scalp for custody was part of the show. and as you no, cody took his wild west to london in 1887 for queen victoria's jubilee where he became an international sensation. he gave the europeans just as he had given his own countrymen a glimpse of the vanishing
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frontier. he exploited the romantic possibilities of the american west. making them intelligible to millions who had no other knowledge of the frontier than what he presented. he became a buckskin clad goodwill ambassador. he won the hearts of the world as had no american since benjamin franklin. and he became for the rest of the world like dr. franklin had been, the time of the american revolution, the symbol of what it was -- and these crazy new people. these americans. here he is. wow. at -- after 30 years in which time cody made and lost several fortunes, the wild west show finally failed in 1913. he toured of course for two more seasons. with other circuses and finally with the miller brothers 101. ravage wild west show in 1916. william f. cody had h-lived the wild west from 1846 to 1876 and then he just took it on the road. first in stage shows and then in the greatest arena extravaganza of the 19th century and maybe of all time.
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but what he told was a romantic adventure, a gilded historical pageant. a combination rodeo and circus. and most importantly, a tale of progress. and of the birth of a nation. cody told americans and then people everywhere around the world all about how the united states had come to be. he became the embodiment of the new american. the embodiment of the american spirit. and presented to the world an image of the rugged american as important to the 19th century as dr. franklin had been to the previous century. he firmly inherited the frontier mantle of boone, crockett and carson. and with an able assist from james cooper, owen worcester, remington, frederick jackson turner, theodore roosevelt, he made the story of the american frontier into the nation's great creation myths.
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buffalo bill. astride his snow white stallion, presented an image that all the people of a rapidly changing nation could embrace. no matter where they had come from. when finally he died on january -- in january of 1917, his country about to march into a new century, into a future, steam, steel, world wars and international power, that country paused and reflected on just how far they had come in so short of time. and it had all been encompassed in the life of one man and with the passing of buffalo bill, the first great epoch of the american story came to a close. thank you very much. \[applause]

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