Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Buffalo Bill Cody and Hays

William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody
Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The picture above shows the image of William F. Cody, also known as 'Buffalo Bill,' outside the Hays Library.  Buffalo Bill is nearly legendary in Hays, Kansas, his exploits familiar to local people.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Beneath the bust of Cody his importance to the city of Hays is described, explaining how he co-founded the town that was the predecessor of Hays, with a man named William Rose in 1867.

Cody was in the area because in 1867 he was employed by the Kansas Pacific Railroad, his job being to hunt buffalo to feed the railroad work crews.  The following year, 1868, Cody served as a scout and guide in the U.S. Army.  These assignments were often dangerous, and he was awarded a Medal of Honor.  His celebrity made him well-known, and he was featured in the popular dime novels of that era.

In his time, he was seen as a hero--brave, handsome, charismatic.  Yet today we often judge our heroes with hindsight.  His reputation was gained by the displacement, if not actual slaughter, of indigenous people and animals.  Indians saw the arrival of trains, and the people inside those trains, as a threat to their way of life--and they were correct.  While Cody killed the buffalo to feed railroad workers, he also killed for sport, killing far more than was needed to feed work crews, and he sometimes led hunting groups.  It is believed that Cody himself killed 4,000 buffaloes.  

Photo: Lyn Fenwick
Indians also killed the buffalo, but almost no part of the animal was wasted, from their wooly coats and their meat, all the way down to their sinews.  In contrast, wealthy sportsmen shot from trains, leaving the buffalo to rot on the prairie.  Sometimes they would compete to see who could kill the most buffalo in a single day.  It has been estimated that for every buffalo killed, as many as four wandered off to die, suffering from their wounds. 

The irony is that part of the thrill was the fact that these prairie bemouths were regarded as a great prize to kill.  As they were slaughtered to near extinction, they were also considered the Monarchs of the Plains.  The plaque at left reads:  "Herds of 60 million Buffalo once roamed the Prairie until reduced to 300 and near extinction.  They were the basis for the Indian Economy, Food for the Emigrant, Railroad Worker and Soldier." 

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

The reverence for the Monarch of the Plains is sculpted from the native limestone of the region, depicting the buffalo looking out across the fort once occupied by soldiers and now visited by tourists.  And so, Hays, Kansas honors both the marksman who used his frontier reputation to create his own Wild West Show and profit from the reputation he built killing buffalo, while on a hilltop outside of Hays a buffalo carved from the native stone looks over the city of Hays.

Cody's Wild West Show became internationally famous, but in the end, his show went bankrupt and closed in 1913, although he performed in other shows until his death in 1917.  Near extinction, a small herd of Buffalo was used to breed back the Monarch of the Plains, avoiding extinction.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick




The Blog Fodder said...

Killing for sport baffles me. For food, even for trophies perhaps, but killing for the sake of killing is mindless. Thank you for this post.

randy merrill said...

Lyn, as always, thank you for your posts- Larry may remember, we had a professor at our Merrill Lynch training in NY who used the phrase "Add to your fund of knowledge" or at least that is my recall- regardless - thanks to Lyn foe "adding to our fund of knowledge" Blessings, randy