Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man behind the Legend

By Robert A. Carter | Go to book overview

2
“The Youngest Indian Slayer
on the Plains”

Frontier life in the nineteenth century did not allow for such indul/ gences as adolescence; children were considered small adults and expected to do their share of the work at hand. In Will Cody's case, that meant driving the Cody cows home from the meadow and hunting small game to contribute to the family larder—especially important because the Codys suffered from extreme hardship during the winter of 1854–1855. And even before Isaac's death, at the age of ten, the boy went to work to earn money. In his 1879 autobiography, Cody tells of being hired by William H. Russell at a salary of $25 a month. “I worked at this for two months and then came into Leavenworth.… Upon my arrival in Leavenworth with the herd of cattle, Mr. Russell instructed his book-keeper, Mr. Byers, to pay me my wages, amounting to fifty dollars. Mr. Byers gave me the sum all in half-dollar pieces. I put the bright silver coins into a sack, which I tied to my mule, and started home, thinking myself a millionaire. This money I gave to mother.”

There is no verification for this story, though following his father's death, Will went to work for a neighbor, driving an ox team to Leaven/ worth for fifty cents a day.

The family was badly in need of money. Isaac Cody had died before accumulating the wealth he expected from his sawmill and grist mill in Grasshopper Falls. Also, according to Helen Cody Wetmore, a claim for $1,000, for lumber and supplies, was entered against the estate. Had the claim been allowed, the Codys would have lost their home. Fortunately, it was settled in the late summer. Meanwhile, Mrs. Cody took in boarders.

After his job driving the ox team was finished, Will told his mother that he wanted to work for the freighting company of Majors and Russell. Mrs. Cody took her son along with her to Leavenworth, when she went to

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