BUFFALO BILL; William Cody Is Famed for the Wild West Showthat He Brought to Glasgow, but Scotland's Real Frontier Hero Was an Eccentric Aristocrat Who Played a Key Role in U.S. History

Daily Mail (London), November 11, 2006 | Go to article overview

BUFFALO BILL; William Cody Is Famed for the Wild West Showthat He Brought to Glasgow, but Scotland's Real Frontier Hero Was an Eccentric Aristocrat Who Played a Key Role in U.S. History


Byline: WILLIAM CODY

THE ORIGINAL by Jeremy Hodges IN the Green River valley below the Rocky Mountains, the wildest party in the Wild West was about to begin.

Hundreds of American trappers and fur traders met with thousands of Indians for the annual rendezvous of trading, hard drinking, gambling, fighting, horseracing and sex as men let off steam after lonely months of hardship in the wilderness.

In 1833, the mountain men got ready by hurling themselves fully clothed into an icy creek to wash the dirt from buckskin shirts and leggings and trimmed their beards with Bowie knives. In their colourful lives, they thought they'd seen everything. But none was prepared for the sight that emerged from the tent of Bill Stewart.

Immaculately groomed with the aid of an ivory toilette set, he stood transformed into Captain William Drummond Stewart, a Scottish aristocrat resplendent in white leather hunting jacket, Panama hat and tight-fitting tartan trews.

It was a sight to provoke roars of laughter, yet the men stood in stunned silence. One or two swore softly, but they could not make fun of a man with the courage of a lion, who could outride and outshoot them all. At 37, Stewart had already been through previous lives as a Perthshire gentleman, cavalry officer in the Napoleonic wars and peacetime traveller throughout Europe. He had sowed wild oats, acquired a wife and a son, but left all behind after a family feud.

Seeking adventure in the U.S., he would win lasting renown there as a pioneer of the untamed West, before the showman 'Buffalo Bill' Cody was born.

Yet while Cody is now being honoured with a statue in Glasgow, where his Wild West circus once performed, the original 'Buffalo Bill' Stewart is littleknown in his native Scotland.

Born in 1795 at Murthly Castle near Dunkeld in Perthshire, he was the second son of Sir George Stewart, 17th Lord of Grandtully and Fifth Baronet of Murthly, whose eldest son John was to inherit the titles and estates.

William was a young man of great charm, popular with tenants and estate workers but bored by rural tranquility. At 17, he was bought a commission in the Army. By 1814, he was a cavalry lieutenant in the 15th King's Hussars, heading for the Peninsular Wars against Napoleon. Displaying courage and coolness in bloody close combat, he served under Wellington to drive Bonaparte's army out of Spain.

In 1815, when the vanquished Bonaparte escaped from Elba to plunge Europe back into turmoil, Stewart

was still only 19 when he took to the field at Waterloo, cutting the French cavalry to ribbons.

Yet peacetime had no such adrenalin thrills and by 1821 Stewart had retired from the Army as a captain on half-pay. At 25, he was in no mood to rusticate in Perthshire and went travelling through Turkey, Russia, Italy and Portugal at his father's expense.

But in 1827 Sir George Stewart died.

He left his second son [pounds sterling]3,000 - worth about [pounds sterling]500,000 today - but the money was under the control of Sir John, the new Baronet.

Angered by such treatment, Captain Stewart spent much of his time in London.

When at Murthly, he paid long visits to friends on neighbouring estates.

At a farmhouse on the Atholl estate he chanced upon the beautiful Christina Stewart, a farm servant with her skirts hoisted high to do the laundry.

'He fell in love with her nether limbs when he saw her tromping blankets in a tub,' a local would recall.

Irrespective of their difference in station, a love affair ensued. So did a baby son, George. Stewart did not have to do the decent thing, yet three months later, in 1832, he married Christina in Edinburgh, with their little son present 'for the purposes of legitimisation'.

Yet his wife and child did not return to Murthly, where the gossip was that Captain Stewart had 'married a washerwoman'. …

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