Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Bill Cody, 1917

William F. Cody lay dying of kidney failure at his sister's house in Denver. He was 71 years old and his kidneys were shot, his own blood was turning against him. Family and friends surrounded his bedside, praying and witnessing. Touching the paper-thin skin of the old man's hand. It seemed like an unlikely way for him to go, they all agreed. He had seen his brother thrown to his death in Iowa, seen his father stabbed by Confederate sympathizers in Kansas. He fought Mormons in Utah and Souix across the plains, he knew his way around a gun.

He killed 4000 buffalo for the Transcontinental Railroad, sold their meat the the workers along the way. He prospected for gold in California, drove stagecoaches and rode for the Pony Express, acted as scout for Russian aristocracy. Nobody knew what was true and what wasn't anymore. He didn't know himself. He turned it all into a show and he took it around the world. He gave command performances for presidents and royalty, claimed "Wild Bill" Hickok and Kaiser Wilhelm II as personal friends. Queen Victoria presented him the cherrywood bar that still stands in his hotel in Wyoming. I ate breakfast in that same bar when I was just a kid. Smothered my pancakes in syrup.

He slipped in and out of consciousness for the better part of three days, and finally died on January 10, 1917. Word of his death was published on the front page of the next day's newspaper, between a Pueblo farmer who avenged his brother by killing his murderer, and an Indianapolis "negress" who made a fortune selling an ointment to straighten kinky hair.

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