Thursday, July 21, 2016

Buffalo Bill

Buffalo Bill served as an inspiration for the protagonist, Will Braddock, in The Iron Horse Chronicles. Both boys embarked on a life of their own at age fourteen. It has been said that the youth of the mid-nineteenth century grew up faster than those of today. Knowing the history of Buffalo Bill, I felt comfortable that the adventurous life into which I thrust Will Braddock at that age could actually happen. I also knew from personal experience that accepting responsibility at that age was possible, since I took my first job at age fourteen.

Born William Frederick Cody in 1846 in Iowa Territory, several months before it became a state, the future showman grew up on a frontier farm. When Bill was seven, his father, Isaac, was stabbed by a pro-slavery advocate during a rally when he spoke in support of abolition. Bill helped carry his father away, displaying early on his ability to act for himself. Bill’s father died in 1857 of pneumonia attributed to his earlier stabbing. From age ten, Bill worked to help support his mother and sisters. At fourteen, Bill became a Pony Express rider earning a reputation as one of the best. I wrote about the Pony Express on this website in a post entitled "Orphans Wanted" on May 26, 2016.

In The Iron Horse Chronicles, Will Braddock becomes a hunter for his uncle’s Union Pacific Railroad survey inspection team. At the same time Will is hunting antelope for a survey team of five working on the first transcontinental railroad in Wyoming, William Cody is hunting buffalo to feed hundreds of tracklayers for what would become the Kansas Pacific Railway. The Kansas Pacific, known until 1869 as the Union Pacific Eastern Division, had lost the race to the Union Pacific Railroad in 1866 to be the first railroad to lay track to the Hundredth Meridian and earn the right to build west to meet the Central Pacific Railroad, coming east out of California.

Cody earned the admiration of several Army officers for his marksmanship while hunting for the railroad, and it is believed they bestowed upon him the nickname of “Buffalo Bill.” Bill later served as a scout for the Army in its wars with the Native Americans. His efforts earned him a Medal of Honor in 1872. In a strange political maneuver, Congress revoked the medal in 1917 (along with 910 other recipients) when they retroactively tightened the rules. Since Bill had served as a civilian scout, and not a soldier, he was deemed ineligible. Seventy-two years after Cody died on January 10, 1917, Congress restored his medal.

Bill Cody would have known about the great hundredth meridian expedition organized by Thomas “Doc” Durant, the Union Pacific’s vice president and general manager, in October 1866. I wrote about what I consider to be “the first wild west show” on my own website’s blog on June 6, 2016. You can read that post by following this link:

Perhaps it was from the Union Pacific’s Grand Excursion to the Hundredth Meridian that Cody gained the inspiration for founding Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This show became a huge success in the United States during his lifetime. Bill and his show also toured Europe repeatedly, and they played to Queen Victoria of Great Britain on three different occasions. 

Did Will Braddock and Bill Cody know one another in the late 1860s? It’s doubtful they met, but each was probably aware that the other was considered a top hunter by his respective railroad. In Bear Claws, The Iron Horse Chronicles—Book Two, Will Braddock guides a hunting expedition for a fictional German nobleman, much as Bill Cody did for a real-life Russian prince.

Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles--Book One, received the Bronze Will Rogers Medallion Award in 2015 in the category of books for Younger Readers. Bear Claws has been selected as a finalist for the 2016 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Younger Readers.The winners will be announced at an awards ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas, on October 29, 2016. I plan to be there.

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