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.
This story happened in 1778, a time of terrible war. As General George Washington’s troops shivered in their winter camp in Pennsylvania, at Valley Forge, Daniel Boone was hunting out west, in the future state of Kentucky. Nearby, in the forest, his friends were boiling down mineral-rich spring water to make salt for their families in Boonesborough. It was a community of cabins in and around a log stockade, to protect the pioneers from attackers.
Of whom were they afraid? The First Nations, who’d been living in the so-called New World for countless generations. Specifically, Daniel Boone’s people feared the Shawnee and Cherokee peoples—and vice versa. The Native Americans were fighting an endless supply of white settlers determined to take their ancestral lands. All through and after the Revolutionary War years, American, British, and Native warriors fought throughout the wilderness west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi River.
We know Daniel Boone as a frontier explorer and trailblazer. To the Natives, he was “Wide Mouth,” a leader of the invasion that threatened to end their ways of life forever. So it was a BIG deal when, on a winter day in 1778, Shawnee Chief Blackfish and his warriors captured him! Daniel used all of his wits to work out a trade: In return for making him and his salt-making friends their prisoners, the Shawnee would put off attacking Boonesborough.
For ten days, the captives were marched through the snowy woods to Chillicothe, the big Shawnee town in Ohio. The British paid bounties for colonial prisoners, so some of Daniel’s friends were sold. They and others were lost to history, but we know that Daniel had to prove his courage in the gauntlet, dashing between rows of Shawnee warriors, getting hit by clubs.
Now, he’d known Natives and studied their ways since he was a boy. To stay safe until he could get back to his family, he knew he needed to let Chief Blackfish do as he wished: adopt him into his tribe. Daniel got scrubbed. He got all of his hair plucked out except for a “scalp lock” atop his head. He got a new name too: Sheltowee or “Big Turtle.” But it was June before he got the chance to escape. Then Daniel ran, hid, hiked, and limped 160 miles home to Boonesborough, in time to prepare for the attack of the angry Shawnee.
But that’s another story for another day.
Once again, Cheryl Harness combines lively storytelling with vividly detailed illustrations to transport readers back to an exciting era in American history. During Daniel Boone's 86-year life, Colonial America is transformed into a revolutionary republic, trails morph into roads and highways, and Americans discover new ways to travel—by canal, and by steam-powered boats and trains. Readers journey through these formative milestones in America's great westward expansion with the aid of a time line running along each page, 200-plus illustrations, maps, sidebars, primary-source quotations, and resource lists. For information on The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone: How Early Americans Took to the Road, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Kidnapped!" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 4 June 2018,
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
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