Buffalo Bill CodyOne of the Old West’s most famous personalities quite possibly received his fame because someone else refused it.

 On July 24, 1869 Ned Buntline was looking for fresh material. Now Buntline was a prolific writer of fictionalized books about the Old West called “dime novels.” At $20,000 a year Buntline was by far the highest paid writer of his time…exceeding the income of such famous authors as Whitman, Twain and Melville.

Buntline came to Fort Larned, Kansas looking for a prospective subject…Major Frank North. When he found North and made his proposition, North explained that real men didn’t brag about themselves. “But,” he said, “If you want a man to fill that bill, he’s over there under a wagon.” Buntline went over to the wagon and saw to a young scout sleeping off a hangover.

The writer and the 23-year-old scout ended up spending 10 days together, drinking and swapping stories. Before the end of the year Ned Buntline had written and published “Buffalo Bill, King of the Border Men, The Wildest and Truest Story I Ever Wrote.”

The book was made into a stage production in New York. Incidentally, the New York press called it the adventures of “Bison William.” Buffalo Bill came to see the show, and was intrigued with performing on the stage…After all it was a less dangerous than fighting Indians.

So, they rewrote the show and named it “The Scouts of the Plains.” The opening night was in Chicago. Even though there were no professional actors on the stage, and no lines were delivered as written, the audience applauded it enthusiastically.

They went on to St. Louis and eventually New York where Buffalo Bill and Buntline had a falling out. Buntline then hired Wild Bill Hickok, who, incidentally maintained that Buntline’s original novel “King of the Border Men” actually contained his exploits, not Buffalo Bills.

Filed under: Old West History

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