Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Did Custer Ride His Horse to Death?

March 7, 2017
   Got a mini-controversy going regarding a great story we are going to publish in our May issue. Our intrepid mule authority and writer of the main feature, Deb Kidwell, brought us a wonderful mule vs. horse story. According to William F. Cody, he rode 65 miles on his trusty grey mule against Custer on his thoroughbred and not only did the mule win the race but in the morning, Cody found out Custer's horse died during the night.

Daily Whip Out: "The Scout William F. Cody On His Trusty Grey Mule"

   Doing my due diligence, I copied the Distinguished Professor Paul Andrew Hutton at the University of New Mexico knowing if it involved Custer he would give me the straight skinny. He surprised me with this reply:

"There are several variant editions of Cody's autobiography and the horse dying does not appear in all of them, suggesting some press agent was trying to improve on Cody's original story."
—Paul Andrew Hutton

   Turns out Cody wrote his first autobiography in 1879 and then another version in 1888 and then as his fame grew, the story was expanded and added on to—yes, by press agents and even Zane Grey!—and the dying Custer horse is not in the first version. So, to help clarify all this, Paul brought in Jeremy Johnston from the Cody Museum in Cody, Wyoming. Here is his report:

   "Buffalo Bill wrote, or John Burke co/wrote, four autobiographies.  The first one, The Life of the Hon. William F. Cody, Known as Buffalo Bill was published in 1879.  In 1888, a second edition was released, titled Story of the Wild West and Campfire Chats.  This version included the narrative of the original autobiography, along with an additional chapter about the 1887 tour of Buffalo Bill's Wild West in England and biographies of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Kit Carson.  Various editions of the 1888 autobiography were released.  In 1908, Buffalo Bill published True Tales of the Plains, which is a historical overview of the Indian Wars peppered with anecdotes from Cody's career.  Towards the end of his life, Buffalo Bill wrote a series of articles for William Randolph Hearst that were published as a book, posthumously in 1920, titled Buffalo Bill's Life Story.

   "Helen Cody Wetmore, Bill's sister published the biography Last of the Great Scouts in 1899, various editions and contributors, including Zane Grey, have appeared related to this work.  Julia Goodman's autobiography, which was very rough and appeared later in journal form, were used for a 1950s biography of Buffalo Bill.  

   "I know the Custer mule story appears in the first, second, and last autobiography.  I am not sure if it appears his 1908 history of the Indian Wars."
—Jeremy Johnston, Cody Museum, Cody Wyoming

Daily Whip Out: "Custer & Cody"

   So, I am inclined to think the dying horse story is true, but if you are a skeptic, you have plenty of ammunition to doubt the story. Here is a truncated version of our final take on the story, utilizing the Cody version from 1920:

Cody Vs. Custer, A Race to The Death
   In mid-1867 Bill Cody met George Armstrong Custer, when Custer needed a guide from Fort Hays to Fort Larned, a distance of sixty-five miles. According to Bill’s account in his book, An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill by Colonel W.F. Cody, Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, 1920, the following exchange took place;  "I am glad to meet you, Cody," he (Custer) said. "General Sherman has told me about you. But I am in a hurry, and I am sorry to see you riding that mule." "General," I returned, "that is one of the best horses at the fort." "It isn't a horse at all," he said, "but if it's the best you've got we shall have to start."
“His (Custer’s) animal was a fine Kentucky thoroughbred. Whenever Custer was not looking I slyly spurred the mule ahead, and when he would start forward I would rein him in and pat him by way of restraint, bidding him not to be too fractious, as we hadn't yet reached the sandhills. In this way I set a good lively pace—something like nine miles an hour—all morning.
“Custer advised his captain,  "I shall ride ahead with Cody," he added. "Now, Cody, I am ready for you and that mouse-colored mule."
“When we rode up to the quarters of Captain Daingerfield Parker, General Custer dismounted, and his horse was led off to the stables by an orderly. I was personally sure that my mule was well cared for, and he was fresh as a daisy the next morning.
“After an early breakfast I groomed and saddled my mule, and, riding down to the general's quarters. I saluted as he came out.
"I am not feeling very pleasant this morning, Cody," he said. "My horse died during the night."
“I said I was very sorry his animal got into too fast a class the day before.
"Well," he replied, "hereafter I will have nothing to say against a mule. We will meet again on the Plains. I shall try to have you detailed as my guide, and then we will have time to talk over that race."

"History is a cruel trick played on the dead by the living."
—Old Vaquero Saying

1 comment:

  1. BBB - the Custer dead horse story will always remain my favorite version. Bill (or Will as Helen called him) could always spin a yarn. I don't know about you, but I wasn't there to see it, so I will choose to believe the Colonel. Deb and the longears


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