Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man behind the Legend

By Robert A. Carter | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Who was Buffalo Bill Cody? Most people know, at the very least, that he was a hero of the Old West, like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Kit Carson—one of those larger-than-life figures from which legends are made. Cody himself provided such a linkage to his heroic predecessors in 1888 when he published a book with biographies of Boone, Crockett, Carson—and one of his own autobiographies: Story of the Wild West and Campfire Chats, by Buffalo Bill (Hon. W.F. Cody), a Full and Complete His/ tory of the Renowned Pioneer Quartette, Boone, Crockett, Carson and Buffalo Bill. In this context, Cody was often called “the last of the great scouts.”

Some are also aware that he was an enormously popular showman, creator and star of Buffalo Bill's Wild West, a spectacular entertainment of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

It has been estimated that more than a billion words were written by or about William Frederick Cody during his own lifetime, and biographies of him have appeared at irregular intervals ever since. A search of “Buffalo Bill Cody” on amazon.com reveals twenty-seven items. Most of these, however, are children's books, and it is likely that many of them play up the more melodramatic and questionable aspects of his life story; a notable exception is Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire's Buffalo Bill, which is solidly based on fact. Cody has also shown up in movies and television shows, though not in recent years, for whatever else he was, he was never cool or cynical. As his latest biographer, I believe his life has a valuable contribu/ tion to make in this new millennium—it provides a sense of who we once were and who we might be again. He was a commanding presence in our American history, a man who helped shape the way we look at that his/ tory. It was he, in fact, who created the Wild West, in all its adventure, violence, and romance.

Buffalo Bill is important to me as the symbol of the growth of our nation, for his life spanned the settlement of the Great Plains, the Indian

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