National Geographic : 1980 Jul
fires, and countless thousands of campfires consumed the scant stands. Just up the trail a piece, at North Platte, Nebraska, stands the enshrined home of a man whose life was a prime instance of stampeding repute: Buffalo Bill-bison hunter for railroad builders, scout for the Army, Indian fighter, Wild West showman, dime-novel hero, boyhood's eternal king on a white horse. "And he started as a Pony Express rider," Tom Morrison is fond of saying. Tom di rects an able staff that welcomes visitors from all over the world to Scout's Rest Ranch, built in 1886 by Buffalo Bill at the peak of his show-business career. Nebraska preserves it as a historic park. I admired the lofty red barn that stabled Bill's prize mounts, and a display of his Wild West post ers-circus art featuring warbonneted braves, swaying stagecoaches, and a buck skinned Bill in full gallop. Fatherless with mother and sisters in need, young Billy Cody was hired by the kindly Alexander Majors as a courier for his firm's wagon trains, then, at 15, as a Pony Express rider. Later Cody would write: "One day when I galloped into Three Crossings, my home station, I found that the rider who was expected to take the trip out ... had been killed; and that there was no one to fill his place. I did not hesitate for a moment to undertake an extra ride of eighty five miles to Rocky Ridge, and I arrived ... on time. I then turned back and rode to Red Buttes, my starting place . . a distance of 322 miles." Heroic enough for any lad just turned 15, but Bill's greatest contribution to the Pony Express came years later, in the opinion of biographer Don Russell: "For three decades a representation of the Pony Express was a spectacle at every performance of Buffalo Bill's Wild West. No other act was more consistently on its program. ... " And while Buffalo Bill gave it fame, oth ers gave it notoriety. A chief case in point was Bill's boss and Pony Express division chief, Joseph Alfred "Jack" Slade. To most chroniclers of his deeds, he is sim ply Slade, the reputed killer of 26 men. Mark Twain accords him several pages of his book OING A MAN'S JOB, the riders, mostly jockey-weight teenagers, proved theirgrit.William Cody (above), later known as Buffalo Bill, recalledthat at age 15 he rode 322 miles after a relief rider died. Thomas Owen King (right) at 20 lost the trail in stirrup-deepsnow, then found it again.