I rarely receive a postcard I don’t like. In fact, I enjoy receiving postcards that share a little about the history of a place. In spite of my appreciation for history and culture, there are historical and cultural postcards I would not be too excited about receiving–those that valorize racism, sexism, homophobia, and anything that is psychologically or emotionally harmful or that glorify horrific parts of a nation’s past.
I’ll admit it. The sender is one of my favorite postcard pals and I love receiving mail from her, but I raised my eyebrows at the sepia postcard from the “Old West Collectors Series” I received a few days ago–Buffalo Bill Cody.
Then, I read the description:
Hunter, scout, indian [sic] fighter; Buffalo Bill romanticized the West in his Wild West Show that toured through the Eastern U.S. and Europe. This photo of the colorful character was taken in El Paso in 1915 by Feldman Studio.
Are you kidding me? Indian fighter?! This postcard felt like a sucker punch. I mentioned this to my hubby–a history buff–and he responded, “That’s not who he really was.” I’ve paid very little attention to anything having to do with the “wild west,” since most of what I’ve seen in the long ago past of my childhood only perpetuated stereotypes about minorities and women in this country.
But this was worth exploring. Maybe, I was too hasty.
My search led me to a PBS biography and Corrie N. Cody’s Travel Blog, part of the Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country’s website for tourists. The post separated the man from the myth and I found that the values of the real life person may have very little to do with the values of the “image” or character.
Here are three of the “Top 10 Things You Don’t Know About Buffalo Bill”:
- Known as a fearless Indian fighter, Cody respected — and advocated for the rights of — American Indians and once said, “Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government.”
- Cody was an ardent supporter of women’s rights and insisted on equal pay for all members of his traveling shows, regardless of gender. “What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have,” he said. “Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay.”
- Cody’s family was Quaker and opposed slavery. When Cody was a young child, the family moved from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, a hotbed of conflict between slavery advocates and abolitionists. While giving an antislavery speech at a local trading post, Cody’s father Isaac was stabbed twice by an angry man in the crowd.
Although I still have some reservations, I’m happy to find that Buffalo Bill is not everything I thought he was. I can find some reasons to appreciate the postcard after all.
You can find out more about Buffalo Bill Cody by following any of the links above.
Have you been duped by television and legend? Are there some history makers out there you’ve ignored because you thought they were less than positive? Do tell!