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American History
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 renown.

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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