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In the forthcoming Spring 2024 issue frequent contributor Chuck Lyons will examine the identity of Harry “Sundance Kid” Longabaugh’s notorious lover Etta Place, portrayed to popular acclaim by Katharine Ross in the 1969 Western “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

That film’s depiction of their romance, highlighted by an iconic scene in which Ross rides atop the handlebars of a bicycle ridden by Wild Bunch honcho Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman), is an enduring image of Western mythology. It may come as a surprise that the leading purveyor of Western myth, pioneering showman Buffalo Bill Cody, regarded the bicycle with initial skepticism.  

By 1894, though the velocipede and its successors were widely popular, Cody remained dubious. “The trouble with the whole American race is they are too much inclined to be caught by the fads and hobbies,” he said in an interview that year with the Topeka Weekly Capital. “Now the bicycling fad has come on and has carried them right off their feet.…But then, I have never tried the bicycle, and it is far too popular for me to say anything against.”  

Cody didn’t scoff at the bicycle for long. Indeed, a year later he appeared in advertisements for Rambler Bicycles and took to racing horses against bicycles in special exhibitions. The showman extraordinaire was always looking for the latest, greatest act, and eventually his touring Wild West featured Carter the Cowboy Cyclist, pictured above performing a stunt foreshadowing Evel Knievel or the X-Games.  

In October 1895 the San Francisco Call made the following prediction: “The horse is being supplanted by electric cars, horseless carriages and bicycle. The horse will soon be as great a curiosity as the buffalo now is. We shall see some man, calling himself Horse Harry, going over the country giving exhibitions and claiming to be the man who once rode a horse. Horse Harry will be the successor to Buffalo Bill.”  

Thankfully, the horse and Buffalo Bill remain alive and well in the American popular imagination.