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Trainwreck-The Day Buffalo Bill Cody Crashed in North Carolina
William Cody Becomes Buffalo Bill
William Frederick Cody was bigger than life and his spirit continues to inspire and awe almost a century after his death. He was born on a cold February day in 1846 to parents who had made the long trip from civilized Ohio to the wild frontier of Iowa.
Bill grew up in a time that was exciting and dangerous. His father had roaming feet and moved the family to Kansas in 1854, a decision that changed the boy’s life forever. This area was unsettled and the Indians were angry and restless. The land was desired by family men and ones only looking to make a buck. Slavery was a hot topic and free-soil men along with pro-slavery men were beginning to battle over Kansas.
The young Bill was exposed to these political issues, buffalo hunts, Indians cooking over open fires, gunfights and accidentally found long lost relative, Horace Billings, who was a master horseman. After watching the man in action, young Bill was hooked on horses and now had the Wild West in his blood.
As he grew, Bill became a well known figure in the West. He became head of the family at age eleven when his father died and he signed on to become a cattle driver, following wagon trains for the Cavalry. On the first trip, they were attacked by a war party of Sioux Indians and Bill killed his first man to save a comrade.
They were also taken prisoner by the dreaded Mormon Danites, (the same ones who committed the Mountain Meadows Massacre) and robbed but were let go alive.
He learned to write his name by practicing on barns, trees and anything else he could scribble or carve on when he could not sign his thousand dollar payroll check to give his mother his wages. One might still find “William F. Cody” scribbled on a tree somewhere in Salt Creek Valley.
Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show
These experiences combined to make a man who was fearless and adventurous. But the West quickly settled down and as Bill aged, he had nowhere to go that seemed familiar to him. So he created the famous or infamous Wild Bill Cody Wild West Show about 1883 and began a whole new adventure that took him around the world.
In October 1901, the show played in Charlotte, North Carolina then headed north on several trains for Danville, Virginia. This was a single track line and a southbound freighter had to pull over to a siding pass to allow the Show train(s) to pass. All went well and then first train passed so the freighter came back online. Having missed an important telegraph, the engineer thought there was only the one train. Then he saw the second train approaching at a high rate of speed and knew the engines were doomed.
Bill Cody was on the first train in a private car, Annie Oakley and other performers were on the second train along with hundreds of animals. There was nowhere to go and the trains collided suddenly and violently. Both train crews jumped free but others were not so fortunate.
It was a night of terror, fire, loud noise, screaming animals and people. Local people heard the noise and word spread. The community came to the rescue, taking in injured people and animals. Ladies brought bandages, food, water and love to the nightmare scene. People still talk about that night when horror visited a quiet community. The train cars were made of wood and shattered into pieces, piercing and impaling people and horses alike.
Over 110 horses died in the crash and subsequent fire, many others had to be destroyed including Bill’s beloved Old Pap. Only two horses survived the crash. Many people were injured but no one died from their injuries. Wild West performer Annie Oakley was severely injured and spent months recuperating from a broken back and partial paralyzed. She finally recovered after months in hospitals but never worked with Wild Bill again.
Wild Bill Cody sued the Southern Railroad and eventually received a $65,000 settlement but it was too late to recoup his losses. He performed again but was never able to regain the energy required to pull off a successful and tiring traveling show. He retired and the company was bankrupted. He gave it to creditors in 1913 and lived with his sister until his death in 1917.
It was the end of an era we shall know only through journals and history books. The character of a man formed by a life with no rules was strong and brave. An elderly man who was there that night says Cody purchased the entire stock from a local store and gave it to the cowpokes and Indians left destitute from the train wreck.
We can only dream that men are formed today with such integrity and honesty.I hope somewhere in some forlorn place, a boy is becoming a man with dreams and values that remain strong in him until the end. William Frederick Cody could be a great mentor and inspiration.
Facts About Buffalo Bill Cody
- Bill saved his father's life when he was stabbed by a pro-slaver. Bill was 10 years old.
- Bill learned Indian sign language from Kit Carson, Jim Bridger and other famous frontiersmen by watching them talk to Indians for hours.
- When Bill was 13, he survived an Indian attack by hiding behind his dead mule.
- As a teenager, Bill set out to become a gold miner but gave up when he saw how long and hard the work was. He decided to become an Indian trader.
- Bill was left alone when he broke his leg and his friend went for help, leaving Bill alone in subzero weather. The nearest settlement was 125 miles away. Indians stole his supplies but left him a deer carcass to live on. It took 29 days for Harrington to return with help.
- Bill rode for the Pony Express and made a 320 mile round trip in 21 hours and 40 minutes.
- Bill walked a thousand miles with Wild Bill Hickock after their bull train was burned by Mormon raiders.
- In 1864, Bill posed as a Tennessee boy to spy out General Forrest's location and saved two genteel Southern ladies.
- Bill smoked the peace pipe with the great Indian chief Satanta.
- Bill's father in law tried to take his daughter back but she remained loyal to her wild husband, true to her vows.
- Bill once traveled with General Custer who disapproved of the mule Bill was riding until his own horse died from the journey and the mule was still going strong.
Buffalo Bill Cody's Autobiography on Project Gutenberg
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Registered: 2012-04-21 13:32:26 UTC