Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Search of Buffalo Bill!

Every trip to the West has the good, the bad and the unexpected that go along with it.
The good: Seeing old friends, some of whom are truly getting measurably older (not like us!)and those who seem to stay youthfully playful and adventuresome.

The bad: A series of tick bites that started in the Arkansas woods, followed by a motel mattress that I swear had bedbugs in it, followed by gnat bites and huge welts from mosquitoes that took advantage of my sad scratchy state of affairs.

The unexpected: An expedition with friends at the Wind River Reservation to search for a 140 year-old carving of Buffalo Bill Cody's name on one of the orange stone monuments that surround the neighborhood of my friend Blue Star.

We started out under gorgeous skies. The drive out to the surrounding neighborhood of high grasses and mesas and steep rises was very bumpy and rough but high with expectations that we were going to find this mysterious piece of history somewhere out there.

To be sure there is a mystery. Why was Buffalo Bill, the consummate showman so notorious for killing the buffalo, the mainstay of tribal survival, in the area of Wind River, Wyoming? It was recorded in diaries and other journals that he did travel to Cody and the Yellowstone area, but this particular back country of the reservation is totally desolate and was likely free from any human contact with the white man even way back then. To our knowledge, there were never any permanent homes built there or any mining explorations.

Blue Star, Brian and I were joined in an early fire ceremony by Mike Greywolf and his partner Wanda, who were the ones who suggested the possibility of this search party and they had an idea of where Buffalo Bill's name, etched in stone, might be.
So, after a picnic lunch of fried chicken, potato salad and chips, we drove to a spot that was dotted with beautiful orange monuments and we then spread out in different directions.

After an hour of searching that turned up nothing, the weather began to change rather rapidly. Thunder rumbled in and dampness and cold quickly took hold. I was uncomfortable to the bone but the others trudged on, making other discoveries as they hiked. Mike Greywolf came upon a very large bull snake, the kind that rattlesnakes fear and a mother pack rat with her babies!

When the rain got heavy, we got back into the trucks, but not giving up, we kept moving along on the rutted and boulder laden dirt roads in search of our prey. Somehow, Mike and Wanda got ahead of us to an area that seemed familiar to her. When we reached that spot, they proudly called us over to see what they had discovered. There at the very bottom of a very tall and wide orange monument,
was faintly scrawled "BUFFLO BILL 1871"

Everyone was happy and congratulating eachother for persistence, for keeping up the hunt, even in the worst weather. Then, here I am, looking at this carving and wondering why Mr. Cody did not know how to spell his name!
I questioned Mike Greywolf about it, and the immediate response was that he might have been carving quickly and that it is common to forget a letter when you are working so hard to get it into stone. Is it? I wondered. "BUFFLO?" Then, we all kind of started to make jokes about it. Mike found a piece of stone laying close by in the tell grass and told me that this was the stone Buffalo Bill used to carve with.

The discussion moved to Greywolf and Wanda's home, where the computer lookups began over a delicious roast beef dinner. Was Buffalo Bill literate? Blue Star found a note that said that he often wrote diaries and that we was "errant" in his writing. Then, he found an historical society that indeed called him "Bufflo."

So, the search party took a vote and it seems as though I was the only dissenter! So, is this carving the real item or is it that we the newspeople never get a break? Unfortunately, the only one who knows that truth is now a famous ghost of history and it is hard for me to compete with that!

Photos from top to bottom:
Blue Star asking permission to enter sacred land
Shoshone sacred mesa
With Blue Star on sacred land
Building fire for ceremony
Brian making the blessing
With Greywolf studying crystal calcite from the hills
The primitive roads of the outback
Wanda studying orange cliffs for signs of famous etching
Brian, Blue Star and Greywolf verifying discovery
The carving by "Bufflo Bill 1871"