Oh, how I wish we’d had a book like this back when I was learning Kansas history! I grew up in east central Kansas, and although I’ve lived in Iowa for most of my adult life, every once in a while something pops up about Kansas history which intrigues me. Andrea Warren’s book, The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas, went on my list as soon as I saw the library had ordered it for just that reason. You never know, I thought. It could be good, right?
I love history, but there’s a lot of blah history for kids out there, especially when it seems to be written as part of a series which will fill in the blanks for school book reports. More on that another day…. Today let’s talk about how cool Buffalo Bill was.
His family moved to Kansas just as the conflicts began over whether Kansas would become a free state or a slave state. Billy Cody’s father was a free-stater, and he became well known enough that those he disagreed with tried to track him down and kill him again and again. Billy Cody helped take care of the homestead and his family, and he was good enough at shooting things and working with horses that he managed to get a job herding cattle as a nine-year-old. Then he signed on with a supply company to help take a wagon train west when he was just eleven. Through years of work as a trail hand and a guide, he got to know military officials and Native Americans, settlers and trappers. Later, he fought in the Civil War, rode with the Pony Express, shepherded wealthy people on buffalo hunts, and his fictionalized exploits became the subject of dime novels. His Wild West shows eventually took a version of the West to Europe, even performing for the Queen of England.
The West and the United States changed drastically and quickly in just the seventy-one years of his life — 1846-1917. Warren’s book brings so much of this time period to life by telling Billy-later Bill-Cody’s story. It’s well worth a read if you’ve never quite understood that whole “Bleeding Kansas” thing and even if you have.