Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill (William Notman studios,1895)
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill (William Notman studios,1895)

The death of the American myth

News on the death of a Russian and an American myth reached Hungary approximately at the same time: Az Est nevertheless noted that we should not be sure we would not hear about them any more. „No one knows whether Buffalo Bill lives or died after all. Since the large-bearded colonel has already died and resurrected several times. The competition was constant between him and Rasputin in this field. This week they finally achieved a tie.”

William Frederick Cody equestrian courier, military cavalry, legend and then media star (approximately in this order) died on January 10, 1917 among his family in Denver. Not as a poor man, but his wealth fell dramatically in the last years of his life. Cody, alias Buffalo Bill had been by that time an American legend, a Western hero for decades, embellishing the great American myth of the 19th century, the conquest of the continent.

The milestones of his life was listed by the necrology of Az Est as well. He lost his father at the age of 11 – according to Az Est, in the Canadian war, though Canada, which did not exist as a state at that time, did not wage war against the USA. His father’s death was in fact caused by his anti-slavery conviction: in a new state like Kansas (opened officially to people wishing to settle down in 1854), where it was still an open question if there should be slavery or not, Isaac Cody held passionate speeches – on one occasion, he was even stabbed, resulting in lasting complications – and participated actively in the organization of abolitionist colonists. He got some kind of fatal infection on one of such journeys. Kansas finally joined the USA in 1861 as a free state.

William stood out with his horse-riding skills already at a young age, in 1860-61, he also worked for the legendary Pony Express mail sending service, whose carts were able to take the road between the two oceans within 10 days. However, the company was over with the establishment of the telegraph network, and Cody first tried the military – do not forget that the civil war was already in full swing –, but his application was only accepted two years later, in 1863 owing to his age: he got famous as a scout.

He got the Buffalo name when he solved the food problem of workers of the Kansas Pacific Railroad [According to Az Est: Canadian Pacific] during the great transcontinental railroad fever with buffalo meat. However, the Hungarian tabloid quoted accurately that he allegedly served 4280 (4282 being the most accurate data) buffaloes for railway builders during one and a half years. He had to fight for this name with another buffalo hunter, William Comstock: the eight-hour marathon of buffalo hunting was won 68:48 by Cody.

He also participated in Indian wars with the army – to the knowledge of a journalist of Az Est, he also defeated an Indian chief in a duel on one occasion. The author definitely thought of the so-called Warbonnet Creek, where Cody stood duel with Yellow Hair cheyenne chief in 1876. The paper did not report on the fact that Cody “ended” the cheyenne fighter and thereby the duel with his Winchester rifle.

However, by this time, Cody had become a media star. He became acquainted with Ned Buntline penny-a-liner, who modelled and named the hero of his Wild West novel series on him. In 1872, he also appeared on stage: he played himself with one, and then two companions in the Wild West show directed by Buntline, entitled The Scouts of the Prairie. A decade later he established his own Wild West circus show: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West had successful tours for two and a half decades in America and twice in Europe: the audience was entertained with horse parade, cowboys and Indians.

As noted by Az Est, they visited Hungary too in 1906, where they performed in 25 towns. The performance was reported on by Borsszem Jankó in a poem, where they primarily expressed their “disappointment” that “wild Indians” behaved quite calmly as opposed to stereotypes. Though by this time the circus was complemented with heroes and fighters from all over the world, the main attraction was still the Wild West show, the performance of Indians:

The ones I made friends
in Cooper’s tales —
I can see wild Indians
now in Budapest.

The ones I used to adore,
The ones I dreamt of as a child:
The entire glorious
Red team are here now.

Hawkeye, Deerslayer
and Leatherstocking, My God! —
Whose legs display woven stockings,
purchased at a shop… 

No fire in their eyes,
nothing wild, nothing dangerous —
The wild Indian
is now a pious circus artist…

And after the performance
I stand in front of the Tattersall:
I can finally see – and oh, I lose
Leatherstocking and Deerslayer…

Even Kotányi promoted itself with the performance held in the riding hall at Kerepesi út, saying that Indians of Buffalo Bill can only be fired by Szeged pepper: “Pepper Kotányi also visited the Buffalo Bill circus, but is not at all captivated by the famous Indians. These Reds are pious, gentle guys, they only seem wild if the director puts Kotányi-type Szeged rose pepper in their soup. This fires them as hell! They also performed their battles at Kerepesi út under the influence of Kotányi pepper.”

 

References:

Buffalo Bill meghalt = Az Est, 1917. január 14.

Buffalo Bill = Borsszem Jankó, 1906. június 24. 5.

Perczel Olivér: Buffalo Bill Magyarországon. Source: http://mult-kor.hu/buffalo-bill-magyarorszagon-20150326

Don Russel: The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill. Norman, 1982.

 

Written by: Róbert Takács