Buffalo Bill

This magnificent 1916 portrait of Buffalo Bill in his later years in all his finery comes from a postcard with no information about the artist. It has always reminded me of e. e. cummings' poem that begins "Buffalo Bill's defunct...." (cummings didn't title his poems) and also of Don McLean's song "Bronco Bill's Lament." Although it's most certainly not the case, in my mind it seemed that both the poem and the song could have been partly inspired by this picture. Though McLean refers to Bronco Bill (a fictional TV character when McLean was a child) in the title of his song, parts of it seem to fit perfectly with the life of Buffalo Bill. William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill's real name) led an adventurous and fascinating life, and with his traveling "Wild West Show" was almost singlehandedly responsible for the image of "cowboys & indians," however exaggerated or wrong, that filtered into America's historical consciousness and remains to this day.

          —Zimmerman Skyrat

Recommended reading endorsed by the staff and management of 101Bananas:
Buffalo Bill's Wild West: Celebrity, Memory, and Popular History
     by Joy S. Kasson
The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill
     by Don Russell
The Life of Hon. William F. Cody, Known as Buffalo Bill, the Famous Hunter, Scout, and Guide
     by William F. Cody

(A picture of Buffalo Bill's gravesite is in the Banana Graveyard.)


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Buffalo Bill's
defunct
             who used to
             ride a watersmooth-silver
                                                         stallion
and break onetwothreefourfive pigeonsjustlikethat
                                                                                     Jesus
he was a handsome man
                                        and what i want to know is
how do you like your blueeyed boy
Mister Death

          —e. e. cummings

(There is more of e. e. cummings' poetry
in 101 Bananas' Bag Full of Poems)



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BRONCO BILL'S LAMENT

I coulda been most anything I put my mind to be
But a cowboy's life was the only life for me
It's a strong man's occupation, ridin' herd and livin' free
But strong men often fail, where shrewd men can prevail
I'm an old man now with nothin' left to say
But oh God, how I worked my youth away

Well, you may not recognize my face, I used to be a star
A cowboy hero known both near and far
I perched upon a silver mount and sang with my guitar
But the studio, of course, owned my saddle and my horse
But that six-gun on the wall belongs to me
Oh God, I can't live a memory

You know I'd like to put my finger on that trigger once again
And point that gun at all the prideful men
All the voyeurs and the lawyers who can pull a fountain pen
And put you where they choose with the language that they use
And enslave you 'till you work your youth away
Oh God, how I worked my youth away
Whoopie ty yi yo, whoopie ty yi yay
One man's work is another man's play
Oh God, how I worked my youth away

You see, I always liked the notion of a cowboy fightin' crime
This photograph was taken in my prime
I could beat those desperados, but there's no sense fightin' time
But the singin' was a ball, 'cause I'm not musical at all
I moved my lips to someone else's voice

Yes, I coulda been most anything I put my mind to be
But a cowboy's life was the only life for me
It's a strong man's occupation, ridin' herd and livin' free
But strong men often fail
Where shrewd men can prevail
I'm an old man now with nothin' left to say
But oh God, how I worked my youth away

        —Don McLean