Two Bills and a Pile of Bones

Bill had made a name for himself; several of them actually; a few of them profane but still complimentary in a backhanded way. Many knew him by “Medicine” ever since he saved the life of a young Indian girl by biting off her rattlesnake-poisoned finger.

He was a scout and one of the best. Like most scouts living in the wilds and wearing buckskins, his was life was a mystery to those who employed him yet he’d earned his share of respect. Colonel Custer made comment that he was "perfect in horsemanship, fearless in manner, a splendid hunter” but he also added that he was “as modest and unassuming as he was brave." This last compliment evidently pushed the limits of truth because Bill was anything but modest when it came to his good name.

One of his names was “Buffalo” and there was a rival claimant in town. By coincidence his name was Bill also but the argument was only over who could continue to use the “Buffalo” moniker.

So, sometime around the 17th of August, 1867, the two met on the field of battle in Logan County, Kansas to settle the argument. Eight hours later, the score was in: 69 kills for the newcomer Bill Cody, 48 for Bill Comstock. Honorably, Bill went back to being “Medicine” Bill and didn’t claim the title of “Buffalo” again.

“Buffalo” Bill Cody proudly carried his title for another fifty years, racking up his kill-count into the thousands.

On the other hand, Bill Comstock didn’t have to live with his defeat very long. A year later he died the typical ugly death of a scout, his dead body used as a shield against the attacking Indians.

The American Bison, and the Plains Indians who depended upon them, wouldn’t fare so well either.


Enbrethiliel said...


Now why does this make me think, "Arma virosque cano . . ."? The extinction of the American bison and the sufferings of the Plains Indians are another epic waiting to be written--one with "gods" fighting over nothing but a name. A silly name, too, if you don't mind my irreverence, and one which neither of them seemed to realise they owed as much to the bison as to their own skills.

Perhaps that line should be, "Nomen virosque cano . . ."

cyurkanin said...

Hmm, there's a thousand directions I could go with those comments lol In fairness and without apologizing for anything, I do think that these were both good strong men and products of their times. Buffalo Bill Cody also did realize later in life what he had partaken in regarding the American Bison and became an activist for their preservation, fighting the US Army's stance (particularly Sheridan and Grant) of total eradication.

There's also more recent studies that are starting to show that the Indians themselves were just as responsible for the demise of the Bison as the Anglos. The Commanches in the Southern Plains were killing almost 300,000 heads a year alone. No "sustainability" there.

Enbrethiliel said...


Fair enough! =) But now I don't know what the moral of this story is . . .

TH2 said...

Glad you mentioned "the Indians themselves were just as responsible for the demise of the Bison". In Canada, the Blackfoot tribe used to scare and corral bison, redirecting the whole herd so that it ran off cliffs. I remember being taught that in history class when very young. Such history, however, is not taught in today's Politically Incorrect classrooms.