Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express Legend

In the meantime, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show became the primary keeper of the pony legend. By the 1890s, when William Lightfoot Visscher began gathering material for his history of the Pony Express, the business records of Russell, Majors, and Waddell had long since vanished, and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show had been promoting William Cody’s version of the pony’s history for the better part of two decades. Cody was the world’s most renowned showman and westerner, and had made himself far and away the most famous rider of the legendary pony line. He was also a personal friend of Visscher’s. When the journalist’s Thrilling and Truthful History of the Pony Express appeared in 1908, it was less history than hagiography, a devotional recounting of the heroic lives of saints. The author repeated Cody’s stories without any criticism.

(p. 552, n. 11)

Visscher, Thrilling and Truthful History; Corbett, Orphans Preferred, 173-99. For an example of the passage of Cody’s pony tales from show to history, see Bradley, Story of the Pony Express, 127. Bradley lifted his discussion of Cody’s exploits almost verbatim from Root and Connelley, Overland Stage to California, 129-30. Root and Connelley, in turn, lifted their account almost entirely from Cody himself. Cody, Life of Buffalo Bill 97, 103-7.