A Western Tail
contributed by Lu Hickey
No Man's Land",
the "Neutral Strip". or Public Lands, as it was called variously, was a
political and geographic paradox. It was an ungoverned rectangle of land bordered by
Kansas on the north, Texas on the south and New Mexico on the west, an the Cherokee Strip
on the east. The region was not accepted part of any state bordering it, yet it had
been formed by the time of the eariliest surey of the Beaver River region, Wolf Creek and
the Edith Salt Plain in 1857.
Its history is an
interesting one and quite unique. Since the lawmen were afraid to enter into the parameter
of the Neutral Strip, of course, that is where all the hooligans and criminals were
living. That was their :"Safe Haven" knowing no US Marshall or bounty
hunter dared trespass.
Upon the conclusion of
the Mexican War in 1848, the northern and westen boundaries of Texas had not yet been
settled with Mexico. Texas claimed that her border extended west to the Rio Grande
river. And she manifested a will to enforce her claims by arms. In the mean
while, the newly acquired territory from Mexico gave rise to renewed and angry agitation
on the slavery question which was then before Congress. To insure a complete
settlement of all questions growing out of the imperialist acquistion of territory that
was United States had made from northern boundary a line on the 36th degree latitude and
the 32 degree latitude west to the 103rd degree of longitude and from there, the 32nd
degree and west to the Rio Grande River. In consideration of this, the United States
paid Texas the sum of ten million dollars..It became Public Lands or No Man's Land because
no state wanted it.
L.A. Allen, frontiersman
and cattleman and lawman of early times, comrade of Kit Carson, and the first sheriff of
southeastern Colordo, made a name for himself in protecting No Man's Land from outlaws. In
one night's operation he together with a possee of rangers, captured and hung eleven
members of the infamous Coe gang who preyed on the Santa Fe Caravans from 1855 to 1870.
Allen also made something of a name for himself in disagreement with the US
Government over the matter of owner ship and land title of the Neutral Strip.
"It was stipulated
in the treaty with Mexico that this zone should be 'neutral" forever. Mexico
has never reliquished her rights under this treaty, so Oklahoma has no ownership to this
peice of land because the United States had no legal right to cede it to Oklahoma.
This was a trading route established by the Indians and Mexicans so they
could drive their wagons back and forth with their wares and not be bothered.
Among the earlier
settlers of this area were squatters on cattle range were some who remained to work on
ranches after "drying out" their claim. A few such as Pap Keyes, WE Davis,
Steve Peney, Pap Fletcher, sold their ranches to the big land owners.
Cowboys reveled in the
glamorized image of the Old West. But unlike their less lucky Eastern admirers, the
cowhands had a chance to act the role. The Mayor of Dodge city, Robert Wright,
observed that cowboys delight appearing rougher than they are. They swagger down
cattle town streets, pistols hanging from their hips, and ready to face off with any
man...until a reminder from the sheriff about gun ordinances so they meekly handed their
weapons over till they decided to depart for home.
At this stage, the code of the
West had become a larger legend. and some canny businessmen realized that the legend was a
marketable commodity. The first to profit were the publishers of dime novels,
treating their readers to a barrage of paperbound books about Western derring-do..Though
real life action could hardly come up to a level of pulp fantasies, nonetheless....a few
promoters tried to entertain Eastern audiences with cowboys in the flesh. In a
venture billed as the "Grand Buffalo Hunt" held at Niagara Falls in 1872.
Wild Bill Hickok together with
a few Indians and Mexicans, roped three buffalo, while some Indians put on a
lacrosse-playing exhibition nearby. Pawnee Bill, who could speak the language of the
Plains tribe, began in 1888 to tour the US and Europe with one of the first Wild West
shows. Later he merged his show with that of the famous Buffalo Bill.
The premier cowboy of all the
live Western shows was William F. Cody, born in Iowa in 1846, he had done a bit of Pony
Express riding, a lot of buffalo shooting, some gallant scouting in the Neutral Strip of
Oklahoma, Indian fighting, cow punching and a whole lot of boasting...(In this capacity of
boasting, Cody was encouraged to tell his stories, A Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, who wrote
121 wildly exaggerated stories based on Cody's life).
Beginning in the 1870's, Cody
embarked on a career as producer and star of a series of Western melodramas that toured
small town stages and finally hit Broadway on March 31, 1873. Cody found his true
calling in the town of North Platte, Nebraska, in 1882.
While idling away his time one
afternoon in a saloon, he got word there was no festivities planned for the 4th of
July. This was more than Cody could stand. He quickly worked up a program
designed to display cowboy skills, offering prizes for shooting, riding and bronc
busting...This was the advent of the RODEO...Although he expected only a
few cowboys to participate, perhaps a hundred to enter, there were a thousand
applied....Cody perceived that with some added frills he had a magnificent theatrical
property on his hands. By the following year he had organized his show and called
it: "The Wild West" and was it a flamboyant outdoor exhibition of world
W.F. Cody married Louisa and
they had a son, that was named after his best friend, Kit Carson, the child died at
age 5. Little is known of this. However, Buffalo Bill made it a point to visit the
orphanages and distribute free passes so all the children could attend his shows.
Bill Cody lived and died in
the Colorado-New Mexico, No Man's Land area.. He is buried at a beautiful mountain site
outside of Denver Colo. A museum is there to honor him and exhibit memorabilia. It
is known that Dr. WE Cody of Morrison Colo. is a distant relative and as you enter
his clinic, there to greet you is a life-size portrait of his idol, Buffalo Bill Cody.
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