A scholarly edition of the original 1879 autobiography by William Frederick Cody (1846–1917), who in his lifetime became perhaps the most famous American in the world.
Editor Christianson (English/BYU; Philanthropy in British and American Fiction: Dickens, Hawthorne, Eliot and Howells, 2008) offers a useful introduction and a number of appendixes and illustrations to illuminate Cody’s celebrated text: photographs, chronology, letters and even an excerpt from one of Ned Buntline’s risible dime novels about Cody. But the centerpiece is the autobiography itself, a document at once self-effacing, unpretentious and profoundly disturbing to contemporary eyes. Cody wrote the book—Christianson argues he had little, if any, help, though no manuscript survives—when he was on the cusp of the worldwide fame that would enrich him. He was touring theaters around the country but was also still actively scouting for the military in the summer of 1876 when his friend Gen. George Custer last stood at the Little Big Horn. Cody was also friends with Wild Bill Hickok and met Kit Carson and any number of other frontier notables. Cody begins with his birth in Iowa and then narrates the experiences that led to his movements west (his father’s early death put him to work early on wagon trains), his adventures with the Pony Express, horse racing, scouting and hunting buffalo. Cody writes proudly about killing some 4,200 bison. Much of the second half involves chasing and killing Indians, running away from Indians, scalping Indians, getting married, making babies, disparaging Indians—and African-Americans, about whom Cody writes in a way that would make Huck Finn blush. Cody never for a moment questions his right to slaughter herds or to kill and scalp human beings.
A reminder of the deep belief we once held in white supremacy and manifest destiny.