Giving Voice to Children in History
Buffalo Bill was the ultimate showman, the superstar of the fabled Wild West show that toured America, Europe, and Russia for forty years. He was so famous that he performed for the queen of England and was friends with several American presidents.
But who was the person behind that celebrated name?
He was born William Frederick Cody in 1846 and called Billy. When he was eight, his family moved to Kansas Territory to become homesteaders. Kansas was in turmoil over the issue of joining the Union as a free or a slave state. Billy’s father, who opposed slavery, was stabbed by a pro-slaver. He died three years later from his injury, leaving eleven-year-old Billy, the eldest son, to support his mother and six siblings. Jobs were scarce, but Billy was already an expert horseman and a hard worker. A freight company paid him a man’s wages to work on supply wagons headed west. When he was just fourteen, he rode the Pony Express. He learned to be a trapper, trail guide, scout, and fine marksman. These dangerous jobs allowed him to care for his family while doing work he loved.
When the Civil War started in 1861, seventeen-year-old Billy enlisted, becoming a Union soldier, scout, and spy. After the war he worked as a civilian guide for the army, fought in the Indian Wars, and earned the nickname Buffalo Bill from Kansas railroad workers amazed by his skill in downing buffalo to provide meat for them. He used that name when he created a show about the Old West that he loved so much—and which was fast disappearing.
His show debuted in 1883 and was immediately successful. It featured sharpshooter Annie Oakley, hundreds of Native Americans, trick riders, cowboys and cowgirls, a runaway stagecoach, buffalo, and horses galore. People loved it, and Bill grew famous.
So who was he? A showman, yes, but also a generous philanthropist, a conservationist of western lands, and a supporter of women’s rights. When necessary, he fought Native Americans, but also befriended them. He paid them fairly and brought them recognition and dignity by featuring them in his show.
Above all, he was always Billy Cody, a brave boy who cared for his family and fought for his country, a boy who loved the West and brought it to life for millions of enthralled viewers around the world. He was truly an American icon.
To learn more about Buffalo Bill’s childhood, you’ll want to read Andrea Warren’s newest book, The Boy Who Became Buffalo Bill: Growing Up Billy Cody in Bleeding Kansas. Learn more about all her books at AndreaWarren.com.
Andrea Warren is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
The Running Encyclopedia
When he was a young man in his mid-twenties, future Roman leader Julius Caesar was voyaging across the Mediterranean Sea. Pirates swarmed over his ship. They took him to their base on tiny Farmakonisi Island, which lies off the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and held him for ransom.
When he learned how much the pirates were demanding for his release, Caesar laughed. Do you have any idea who I am, he asked. I belong to one of Rome’s most important families. So you can get more money for me—a lot more—almost three times as much. The astonished pirates were only too happy to oblige him.
Keeping a friend and two servants with him on Farmakonisi, Caesar ordered the rest of his traveling party to go to Asia Minor and raise his ransom. While they were doing that, Caesar acted as if he were the ruler of the tiny island, rather than a captive cowering in fright. He ordered the pirates to attend lectures and poetry readings he gave, and prodded those who nodded off as he droned on and on and on. When he wanted to sleep, he ordered the pirates to either speak in whispers or go to another part of the island. He even played games with them. He also told them that when he was released, I promise I will hunt you down and execute you. In the spirit of bonhomie he engendered, the pirates apparently thought he was joking.
He wasn’t. Though outwardly he was friendly with the pirates, he seethed inwardly at the humiliation of being taken prisoner. After the ransom was paid, Caesar sailed to a nearby port. He raised a fleet of ships and scores of armed men. He returned to Farmakonisi, captured the pirates, and reclaimed the ransom money. He threw his former captors into prison. They didn’t stay there long. Caesar crucified them. He did show some mercy. Since crucifixion was a long, lingering death, he cut their throats so they died instantly.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "A Man of His Word." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Mar.
The United States, in the 1880s, had become an industrial power in the world, but factory workers could hardly feed their families. Miners spent long days down in the dangerous dark, digging a wealth of coal out of the earth, yet they were dirt-poor. Farm families were going broke too. They barely had the money to pay rich bankers the interest on loans they took out to buy seeds or to pay what the railroad charged to ship the crops that hadn’t dried up in a drought or got gobbled by hungry grasshoppers. Many a broke homesteader went back east. Lettered on the covers of their wagons: “IN GOD WE TRUSTED. IN KANSAS WE BUSTED!”
Mary E. Lease, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher, went to Kansas, but she stayed there. And she was among the multitudes, who wondered why so many Americans were so poor in a country that was so rich? Where was the money going? Judging from what she read in the papers and heard down at the general store, the money seemed to be in the pockets of men who owned the mines, factories, railroads, and banks. And rather than pay people decent wages, they seemed to be paying politicians to make laws to help them stay rich and get richer. Sound familiar?
In the early 1890s, folks got together and formed their own “People’s (or Populist) Party.” What did they want? Fairness, more government regulations, less silver, and more printed paper money. It wouldn’t be worth as much; but at least there’d be more of it to go around! And right in the middle of this uprising was fiery Mrs. Lease.
At rallies around the Midwest, the South, even at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Mrs. Lease whipped up the crowds, crying out, “We are for humanity against the corporations – for perishing flesh and blood against the money bags!” People called her a “Patrick Henry in petticoats,” after the great Revolutionary War speechmaker. “Wall Street owns the country. When I get through with the silk-hatted easterners, they will know that the Kansas prairies are on fire!”
Oh, they knew it all right, for a while anyway. While it raged, this political tornado blew nine Populists into Congress. But the people’s movement fizzled out in the early 1900s. At least old Mrs. Lease lived to see some populist dreams come true. In the early 1930s, when so many Americans hit bottom, Franklin D. Roosevelt became President. Under FDR’s “New Deal” policies, the people got help from their very own government and the Wall Street banks and businesses were reined for a considerable time. Ah, but they’ve regained much of their former power and Mary E. Lease lies restless in her grave.
The perfect browsing volume for Women's History Month, Cheryl Harness's Rabble Rousers offers short, spirited profiles of twenty women who, like Mary E. Lease, impacted life in America by speaking out against injustice and fighting for social improvements. The folksy, friendly narrative introduces such fascinating figures as Sojourner Truth, abolitionist preacher; Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War physician; Margaret Sanger, birth control pioneer; and Doris Haddock, a ninety-two-year-old champion of campaign-finance reform. The book spans over two hundred years of American history and includes time lines for such important social movements as abolition, woman suffrage, labor, and civil rights. Readers inspired by these fiery women can use the civil action tips and resources in the back of the book to do some of their own rabble-rousing. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Mary E. Lease: Queen of the Populist Tornado." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 12 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Why is Black History Month celebrated in February?
The answer is really quite love-ly.
For Black people enslaved, a birthday was as hard to come by as justice. But, never one to be outdone by the “impossible,” Frederick Bailey wanted a birthday—and a birthday he was going to have. First, he'd have to find out when it was.
He’d heard that his father was the slave owner from whom he'd escaped, so he couldn't ask him. His mother, Harriet Bailey, had been sold away from him when he was only five, so he couldn't ask her. But, he could remember stories she'd told him before they’d been separated.
She said he was born on a Maryland plantation in the ‘teens. He chose the mid-teens, 1818, for his birth year. She always called him her “little valentine.” He chose Valentine’s Day for his birth date. With that, Frederick finally had the birthday he'd always wanted: February 14, 1818.
Then . . .
In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson wanted to solve a problem. For centuries, Americans were taught to believe that African Americans had “no history or culture.” Now that is, of course, impossible. Everyone inherits the history and culture of their family elders. But, this horrific idea was used to justify slavery and segregation by making Black people seem less than human.
Dr. Woodson had a better idea: he’d tell the truth. He would research and share the true history of Black people in countries throughout the world over.
To promote his idea, he created Negro History Week (now, Black History Month). He chose February in honor of two birthdays. Born on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to take action to end slavery. Born on February 14, 1818 Harriet Bailey’s “little Valentine's” became the noted Underground Railroad conductor, abolitionist, and publisher, Frederick Douglass. As a special adviser to President Lincoln, he proposed—and the president wrote and signed—the “Emancipation Proclamation”; ending slavery.
Such is the power of love.
We never know how we will remember what our parents say or what their words will mean to us when we need them most. Frederick's mother—an enslaved woman with so little to give—empowered her son for life with the gift of her enduring love.
For this love-ly reason, February is Black History Month.
Frederick Bailey's mother was sold to a new owner, leaving the 5-year-old behind. This was a common practice in the slavery era.
Abraham Lincoln's successful campaign to end slavery in the United States culminated in the Emancipation Declaration of 1863. Alexander Gardner via Wikimedia Commons
;In 1926, Carter G. Woodson (left) shown here as a young man, pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week" during the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (above) and Frederick Douglass (right). Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded the celebration to become Black History Month on February 1, 1970. Woodson Courtesy of the New River Gorge National River website, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, United States Government; Douglass via Wikimedia Commons.
Janus Adams has produced Steal Away-- a package of a book, an audio and a game about the Underground Railroad. You can learn more about her award-winning series of adventure and travel books, audios and games on her website called Back Pax Kids.
MLA 8 Citation
Adams, Janus. "Title tbd." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Feb. 2018,
History happens everywhere—even your own backyard. Have you ever heard of Carrie Chapman Catt?
From 1919-1928 Carrie lived in a house near mine called Juniper Ledge. She was a suffragist, one of many who fought for women’s right to vote. Without her, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the vote, might never have been approved.
Born in 1859 and raised in Iowa, Carrie got an early lesson in politics when she asked why her mother wasn’t voting in the 1872 presidential election. Everyone laughed, but not Carrie. She thought it unfair that women couldn’t vote—and wasn’t afraid to say so.
In college Carrie joined a literary society. Women were forbidden from speaking during meetings. After Carrie spoke at a debate, the rules were changed to allow women’s participation.
A woman of many “firsts,” Carrie worked as a teacher after graduation and became one of the first female school superintendents in the country. After marrying she moved to San Francisco. When her husband died she supported herself by working as that city’s first female newspaper reporter.
Back in Iowa, Carrie joined the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), led by Susan B. Anthony. Carrie’s rousing speeches brought her national attention. When Susan retired, Carrie became NAWSA’s president, leading suffrage campaigns all over the country and supervising a million volunteers.
Carrie’s “Winning Plan” for the vote worked on both state and federal levels. She supported President Woodrow Wilson’s efforts in World War I, even though she was a peace activist. She knew if Wilson backed women’s suffrage, Congress would vote for it. And that’s exactly what happened.
Carrie’s activism didn’t stop at the U.S. border. As founder and president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, she advocated for democracy and women’s rights on four continents. She also founded the League of Women Voters to educate women on political issues, worked for world peace, and campaigned against child labor and Hitler’s treatment of Jews.
When the Nineteenth Amendment was approved in 1920, Carrie was living at Juniper Ledge. There she nailed plaques to trees in honor of women who fought for the vote.
Juniper Ledge still stands, right down the street from the park where today kids play ball. Who knows what other people, places and stories from the past they may find in the neighborhood?
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council