granddad worked for Buffalo Bill Cody.
No, he didn't travel the nation with the old scout's famous Wild
West Show. But when the shoot-'em-up extravaganza came to Austin
in the fall of 1908 and again in1910, my granddad (L. A. Wilke,
1897-1984) played a role both important and minor - he helped reload
the blank rifle ammunition so copiously expended during the performances.
Years later, around 1975, Granddad recalled:
"Not many men living today knew Buffalo Bill Cody, who helped to
tame the west and then brought his feats to many people of the day,
who admired his shooting skill with a Winchester rifle.
"It was my privilege not only to know him, but to reload his rifle
cartridges with black powder and hand-cut cardboard wads for two
Granddad didn't say what caliber ammo he reloaded for Cody and his
fellow showmen (and women), but more than likely it was the .44
WCF (Winchester Center Fire).
Texan who got to meet Buffalo Bill when his show came to the Lone
Star State, Smith Moore, described Cody in his 1974 self-published
book Tall Tales:
"Colonel Cody was an erect, sinewy, active man in those days, with
a white goatee, a large mustache, and white hair which hung down
near his shoulders. He was a little taller than average…He had fiery
blue eyes that could burn a hole through you."
After playing to a packed crowd in New York's Madison Square Gardens
on May 14, 1910 - the venue of his first big show more than 20 years
earlier - Cody announced that he was beginning his final tour. (Which
turned out not to be true, but that's showbiz after all.)
That fall, the Wild West Show came to Texas and worked its way around
On Nov. 10, 1910, the show's 92 railroad cars rolled into Dallas,
arriving in four waves. The cars carried 500 horses and 1,270 people
ranging from the tent gang to the performers to Buffalo Bill himself.
Wagons hauled the show's equipment and personnel from the downtown
depot to the show site, a field just to the southwest of the intersection
of Commerce and Exposition Boulevard in what is now Central Dallas.
The show's press agent sent a notice to the Dallas Morning News
and the rival afternoon Times-Herald that "there will be no street
parade, for the reason that the parade fatigues the horses and performers."
Evidently well-rested, Buffalo Bill's congress of cowboys and Indians
put on a good show.
life was faithfully portrayed," the News reported, "and the
other features of the show were as truthfully outlined."
more than 65 years, Granddad could not remember just when Buffalo
Bill and his entourage hit Austin,
but he never forgot the experience. (A list compiled by the Buffalo
Bill Cody Museum and Grave at Golden, Colorado shows that Cody played
Texas' capital city on Nov. 6, 1908 and again on Nov. 6-7, 1910.)
"Because at 12 years of age I was considered too young and too light
weight to drive tent stakes or to carry water I got the job of reloading
blank cartridges," Granddad wrote. "My pay was a ticket to the show!"
That was worth 50 cents, no inconsiderable sum back in those days.
In seeking a job with the show, Granddad told whoever did the local
hiring that he had experience in loading Robin Hood shotgun shells
and by virtue of that, landed the reloading job. This was long before
the government worried much about child labor or workplace safety,
Though the youngster's only experience in recycling ammunition (not
that the word "recycling" had its present usage back then) involved
shotgun shells, the show needed brass rifle cartridges reloaded.
"The hulls had been emptied in shooting exhibitions at his last
show before coming to my home town," Granddad continued. "I was
too young to wonder if he had an extra supply on hand. I knew only
that here a great shooter was honoring me with a ticket to see his
exhibition for services rendered…"
Granddad told me that in addition to a pass to the show, he got
to shake the affable colonel's hand. Cody also complimented him
on his work.
sitting tall in the saddle in what would be the final decade of
his life, Cody choreographed his shows and put on a performance
of his own.
"Though Col. Cody has grown older, he bears well the burden of his
years, and in appearance and action is about the same man who was
the hero of boyhood days," the Dallas
Staying in present tense, the newspaper went on to describe how
the famous showman expended some of the shells my granddad would
reload for him:
"Mounted on his famous gray cow pony, the veteran plainsman gives
an extraordinary exhibition of marksmanship which denotes he has
also retained the keen eyesight that at one time made him a terror
to Indian marauders and evil doers. Going at full speed he breaks
glass balls tossed into the air in rapid succession, and very infrequently
did his bullets fail to find and smash the target."
Sam Baker, another marksman in the show, doubtless emptied many
of the cartridges my granddad reloaded.
"In his exhibition of expert shooting," the Morning News
continued, "[Baker] displayed extraordinary skill. Holding his weapon
in various and uncommon positions he broke in succession a score
or more of targets without a single miss."
Clearly, thanks in part of my granddad, Baker and Buffalo Bill had
good ammunition at their disposal. Knowing my granddad, a second-generation
German-Texan, he hadn't loaded any duds.
"Texas Tales" March
1 , 2018 column
An award-winning author of more than 30 non-fiction
Cox is an elected member of the Texas Institute of Letters.
A long-time freelance writer and public speaker, he lives near Wimberley
in the Hill Country. To read about more his work, visit his website
at mikecoxauthor.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.