Two Rough Riders make for a rocky relationship

Courtesy of Jeremy Johnston
At 1 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, as part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series, Jeremy Johnston will discuss the relationship between Buffalo Bill Cody, pictured below, and Teddy Roosevelt, above at right.

Both were sportsmen and liked the challenge of a hunt. They were rugged individualists. Both men loved and promoted the West. And, yes, Theodore Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill Cody knew one another. The public assumed a mutual friendship would be natural.

But Jeremy Johnston, curator of Western American History at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West thinks their relationship was not so simple.

As part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series, Johnston will give a talk titled “Two Rough Riders: The enigmatic relationship between Buffalo Bill and Theodore Roosevelt” at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy.

Johnston’s presentation has been arranged in partnership with the International Cody Family Association and is part of the celebration of the Cody Family 2014 Reunion.

Provided photo
Buffalo Bill Cody

Johnston undertook his research thinking he would find out the two were friends. Both men had high profile public images, and disagreements were best left undisclosed.

Each had something to lose from bad publicity. Roosevelt had a strong cowboy image. If he were to criticize Buffalo Bill, it might cost him votes in his political ambitions. News of friction between the two might diminish ticket sales for Cody’s Wild West shows.

Wedges in their relationship were driven in by a number of angles. Johnston said they were of a different class, Roosevelt an aristocrat, Cody among the nouveau riche. Once in 1900 in Junction City, Kansas, when Roosevelt was campaigning for William McKinley, “Cody stole the show from Roosevelt from the back of a train,” Johnston said.

Ever the promoter, Cody found fertile material in the Spanish American War, battles in which Roosevelt fought heroically. Roosevelt, however, never acknowledged Cody’s dramatization of the Battle of San Juan Hill in his Wild West show.

By the time Roosevelt was at the end of his presidential term, the two were not really talking, Johnston said.

The government was moving forward and Roosevelt was part of the government. But as can be the case today, westerners take an Anti-Federalist stance. Buffalo Bill Cody was a westerner and a rugged individualist to his core.

A Ph.D. candidate at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, Johnston is finishing his doctoral dissertation examining the connections between Theodore Roosevelt and William F. Cody. He is currently working with Charles Preston of the Buffalo Bill Center’s Draper Natural History Museum on an annotated version of Ernest Thompson-Seton’s The Biography of a Grizzly, to be published by University of Oklahoma Press.