AS I KNEW HIM
By M. I. McCreight
A 92-year-old veteran of the Old West tells the story.
I first met Colonel Cody in 1887-88. He was then traveling with his new
Wild West Show. Twice, or perhaps three times, he brought his show to
DuBois, PA, where it always drew large crowds.
|I owned then the first Rambler automobile seen in those parts, and drove the Colonel and Chief Iron Tail out to see The Wigwam. Both were greatly impressed with the situation and the sweeping view from the hilltop. Resting and smoking, we three sat fronting the big fireplace to talk over Old West times. The flames crackled, the wind sang in the chimney, and Colonel Cody talked of many things that had happened in his long adventurous life.|
other things, he mentioned the Slim Buttes fight, the death of Tall
Bull, and his own supposed duel with Yellow Hand. He stated definitely
that he did not kill Tall Bull, (Ed. Note: Tall Bull was killed by Major Frank North, at Summit Springs, in July of 1869), and that he did not kill Yellow Hand. He said earnestly that he had never knowingly killed any Indian.
I asked his opinion of my two friends, Captain Jack and Bob Strahorn, and he replied that they were both good scouts and did good service as such. I then asked him about the murder of American Horse by the soldiers at Slim Buttes. The Colonel would not discuss it; he just shook his head and said it was too bad to talk about.
Cody autographed a late photo of himself and asked that it be placed
beside a picture of his Indian friends. There it hangs today.|
In the afternoon of that memorable day at The Wigwam, Colonel Cody assembled the chiefs and sub-chiefs with his show to hold a ceremony for making a real Sioux Chief of the writer. Iron Tail made the impressive ceremonial speeches. I reciprocated by presenting the chief with a new repeating rifle as a tribute and token of my everlasting friendship. Mrs. McCreight was also dedicated as a good squaw, and feathers placed on her head. Cody and the editor of the local newspaper, the Journal, were the only white witnesses.
Colonel Cody stood about six feet tall. His was a kindly countenance, and he always had a kindly word for everyone. His hair was beginning to turn gray, and hung half-way to his waist. He wore a heavy mustache, carefully trimmed, and a bushy goatee. In his white wide-brim sombrero, he, when mounted erectly on his big white horse with flowing mane and tail, made a thrilling picture that was famous all over the world. He had taken his Wild West to Europe and exhibited in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Venice. In London, Queen Victoria asked for a special performance for herself and guests. The Sioux Chief, Red Shirt, put on a spirited war dance, The Queen applauded, and presented Red Shirt with a royal tribute. (A copy of Red Shirt's portrait, in his full regalia, hangs in the Wigwam today).
Harking back to his dinner conversation with Monroe McCanles, Cody remarked that he would include the story of Dave McCanles' killing in his projected autobiography. Unfortunately, this book was never published. Years later, the Nebraska Historical Society published a volume containing all details of that unsavory episode---verifying the facts related by Monroe McCanles to Colonel Cody. So, finally, the false tales of the outlaw Hickok's bravery were exploded by truth.
There, on that fondly remembered occasion nearly a half-century ago, Colonel Cody reiterated what he had told me before: that "Chief Iron Tail is the finest man I know, bar none!" He recalled with pleasure one time when he and Iron Tail went elk-hunting in the Rockies for a week, depending on the game they killed to supply them with food.
Seven years later, in 1915, the writer gave a reception for Iron Tail and Flying Hawk at the Wigwam where over a hundred guests gathered to meet them. The two chiefs were close friends and sometimes traveled with the same show---in this case, the 101 Ranch Show of Miller Brothers. When either or both came within a hundred miles of DuBois, they took a few days off and came to visit at The Wigwam. They considered it their home in the East, and knew they were always welcome.
In 1915, Iron Tail was with Colonel Cody's Wild West, showing in Philadelphia, when he took sick with pneumonia and was placed in St. Luke's Hospital. I sent a wire to Cody to send or bring the chief to The Wigwam for recovery as soon as he was able to travel. The message was not delivered as Cody had already left for Baltimore. The sick chief asked to be sent home. He was placed on a sleeper and was found dead in his berth at Fort Wayne next morning. His sudden death was a great shock to Colonel Cody. He never knew until months later of my wire.
I next saw the Colonel in the main dining room of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia at the close of his 1915 season. Cody was having breakfast with his wife. I saluted them and sat down for a chat.
The famous scout had aged greatly since our last meeting. His hair was a mass of straggling, wispy white and his face was deeply wrinkled. One not knowing him of old would hardly have believed that this was the real Buffalo Bill.
We talked about Iron Tail's death, and Cody almost wept in his grief. He keenly regretted not receiving my wire, believing as I did that the ailing chief might have recovered among friends at The Wigwam. Tactfully I changed the subject. He said that he would go out again for the 1916 season, and hoped to see us at The Wigwam on that roundup.
But the old Colonel was about at the end of the long trail. He went out as promised at the start of the 1916 campaign and I saw him at the end of the last performance. Going to his tent at the rear of the showgrounds, I found him lying on his blankets, with his snowy head resting on his saddle. He was asleep, but roused at once at my greeting. He arose, shook hands, and immediately spoke of Iron Tail. With deep emotion, he said he was going to put a granite stone on the chief's grave, with a replica of the buffalo nickel (for which Iron Tail had posed) carved on it as a memento. Cody's voice trembled as he again expressed his great regret at not receiving my telegram that might have saved Iron Tail's life.
I was shocked and saddened to observe how feeble he was. I helped him to his feet, guided him to his private car and saw him to his berth. I shook hands with him for the last time. Not long after, Buffalo Bill went to his last long sleep.
Note: This article appeared in the July-August 1957 edition of True West
The editor noted: The author of this article was a buyer and shipper of buffalo bones on the Plains in the 1880's. A life-long friend and defender of the Indian, he is now living at The Wigwam, in DuBois, Pennsylvania. On his property is an old-time Council House of the Mohawk tribe of the Six Nations, the Iroquois Confederacy that ruled the Eastern forests for hundreds of years before the coming of the white man. The esteem in which Mr. McCreight is held by the Mohawks is best illustrated by the following tribute written last New Year's Day by Aren Akweks, present head chief of that tribe:
Mr. M. McCreight,|
Sago Skenno-Kowa Tonikonrate, Brother:
Hogansburg, N. Y. Reservation.
Your Christmas greeting arrived here, and I have put it in our record book of the Akwesasne Mohawk Counselors so that our members can read your words and think on your thoughts. Brother, your message tells us that soon you will take the Sunset Trail where our ancient Fathers will welcome and greet you as one of themselves. It will make our hearts unhappy when you leave us....You will be remembered by the truths that you have written in your many books and articles about the Indians, our Fathers. Your words will be read by many and they will change the thoughts of many white folks who will read them. So, though your body may pass on, your thoughts will continue to live and speak for us...Always know that our hearts are with you...You are an INDIAN born again in a white body; sent here by our Creator to tell the world today the true story of our people. When you leave Mother Earth, you will return to your real self and our Ancient Ones will welcome you with outstretched arms. The prairies and forests will look golden and green to you and your moccasins will walk on smooth grasses. The sky will be blue, and here and there from skin and bark lodges you will see smoke rising into the sky. Your ears will hear the good music of singing voices, which will blend with the tom-tom music that belongs to this great Island. The faces you will see will be dark faces, and they will be smiling at you as you walk to greet them.
Remember this, Brother; this is how it will be for you.