Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man behind the Legend

By Robert A. Carter | Go to book overview

13
“The Vastly Enlarged and
Reorganized Wild West”

When Nate Salsbury visited the show, ready to open the season at St. Louis in the spring of 1884, he found his partner “boiling drunk … sur/ rounded by a lot of harpies called old timers who were getting as drunk as he at his expense.… He had taken a plug hat from someone in the crowd, and jammed it on his head, and as his hair was long and thick in those days, a more ridiculous figure could not be imagined than he cut with his arm around White Beaver while they rehearsed the exploits of the frontier to the gaping gang of bloodsuckers that surrounded them.”

This scene prompted Salsbury to write a letter to Cody, which he hoped Bill would read in a sober moment. Cody replied: “Your very sensi/ ble and truly rightful letter has just been read and it has been the means of showing me just where I stand. And I solemnly promise to you that after this you will never see me under the influence of liquor. I may have to take two or three drinks today to brace up on; that will be all as long as we are partners. I appreciate all you have done. Your judgment and business is good and from this day on I will do my work to the letter. The drinking surely ends today and your pard will be himself, and on deck all the time.”

From this incident grew a legend that, as such tales do, grew larger in the retelling. The first version of the story was that Nate Salsbury limited Cody to one drink a day, whereupon Bill poured his drink into a schooner with the capacity to last him all day. In his book Timberline, Gene Fowler made it twelve drinks a day poured in twelve large tumblers. Fowler also went on to say that Nate sued Bill under their contract, but that the judge who heard the case held that the contract specified glasses of whiskey without any limitation on their size. This is pure nonsense, since Salsbury and Cody never had such a contract, nor did Nate ever sue Bill.

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