PONY EXPRESS — RIDE, CODY, RIDE
Reading about the Pony Express in the April 2006 issue reminded me of the vicissitudes of history. No doubt our understanding changes through time, but this never guarantees more accuracy. While in the past few doubted that Buffalo Bill Cody rode for the Pony, today it seems the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. In his 1960 book The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill, Don Russell wrote, “Some skeptics have vociferously denied that [Cody] ever rode Pony Express at all, but they offer no argument against it except his age.” Despite Christopher Corbett’s arguments in “Riders of Destiny: The Pony Express,” I’m not totally convinced that young Bill wasn’t a rider. My point is not that history is ever 100 percent accurate but that we must be careful about doubting too much.
Tom S. Coke
Belle Plaine, Kan.
Buffalo Bill was a real plainsman and an American hero, but when he got into show business, he went “Hollywood,” you might say. I’m firmly convinced he never carried mail for the Pony Express, which is a distinction from “riding” in some other capacity for Russell, Majors & Waddell. I believe Chris Corbett’s book Orphans Preferred is the bible on the Pony Express up to this time. Those items which he has been able to prove or disprove are clearly stated, and those doubtful claims and occurrences lacking real provenance are clearly labeled as such. The Pony Express was one of the most captivating episodes in our history. I really enjoyed reading the April issue.
When William Cody’s father died March 10, 1857, Alexander Majors, probably as a gesture of kindness to his widow, employed 11-year-old William Cody as a mule-riding errand boy in Fort Leavenworth. Cody, who was born in 1846, was too young at 14 to have been the Pony Express rider (1860-1861) some have claimed him to be. The average age of the original 80 riders was 19. The April article “Three Crossings of the Sweetwater” admits these Buffalo Bill Cody legends probably are not true but includes awe-struck details of these tales. Meanwhile, in “Riders of Destiny: The Pony Express,” Christopher Corbett continues his denigration of the importance and achievements of the factual Pony Express. While some legends were created about the Pony Express, it was and is a fact of history and an admired achievement in the settling of the American West, and will hopefully always remain so.
Wild West Magazine is the best source for history of that period! A job well done; thank you for the great reading material. In regards to Susan Michno’s article “The Spirit Lake Massacre: Death and Captivity” (February 2006), I don’t believe she is correct in saying that Inkpaduta led anybody at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. He would have been in his 80s. He led the Sioux in battles against the U.S. Army in the 1860s but was not a participant in the Minnesota massacres. Inkpaduta suffered at the hands of settlers, and out of frustration he murdered and kidnapped innocents. He was a hero to Native Americans and a villain to settlers. I don’t condone his actions, but I understand why he did them.
Sioux City, Iowa
Author Susan Michno responds: Several sources, including Michael Clodfelter’s Dakota War, say that Inkpaduta was born about 1815 and was in his 60s during the Little Bighorn fight. At least four Indians there — Black Elk, Gall, Rain in the Face and Dewey Beard — confirmed that Inkpaduta led warriors in the fight. He died in Canada in 1879 at about age 64. His son, Roaring Cloud, was killed by soldiers and volunteers in retaliation for the Spirit Lake Massacre; Roaring Cloud had participated in that event and had bludgeoned to death the captive Lydia Noble. Clodfelter writes that Inkpaduta was also “in the thick of things” during the Minnesota massacres. Inkpaduta, according to Clodfelter, is remembered “as an incorrigible killer without equal in the long story of the Sioux people.”
I can only wish there was a surviving picture of “Red-haired Cynth” (“A Shooting Affair in Old Florence,” April issue). She must have been beautiful to have her lover, Cherokee Bob, and estranged husband, Jakey Williams, shoot it out in Florence (Idaho). What is amazing is she caused two men — Cherokee Bob and Red-faced Bill Willoughby (who had nothing to gain in this fight) — to die and later went on to become a prostitute. Where was the honor that Jakey fought for? Thanks for showing us the Florence cemetery. It reminds me of all the small graveyards you can see on various hillsides in Kentucky. When I was stationed in Fort Knox, I would stop at these small family graveyards to read the tombstones.
Paul Dale Roberts
Elk Grove, Calif.
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