William F. Cody

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William F. Cody

Autograph Letter Signed Discussing Horse Thieves - 1886

Autograph Letter Signed by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, dated May 27th 1886 on vintage stationery from The Ebbitt Boarding House in Washington D.C.  One page, 6″ x 9″, written on both sides in black fountain pen, in good condition, with tape at folds and edges.

Related in architectural history to today’s Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington’s oldest, most historic bar, the Ebbitt Boarding House & Saloon hosted many eminent guests, including Presidents William McKinley, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, and Warren Harding.

On May 27, 1886, Buffalo Bill Cody wrote the following letter to Joseph Holman, a judge in Sevier County, Arkansas, in an apparent response to the Judge’s inquiry regarding two horse thieves whom Cody had captured:

Dear Sir,

Yours of May 15th at hand asking the discription (sic) of two horse thieves I captured in 1869. Its along time ago and Williams I can’t remember him very well. Bevins I have not (seen) as he served a long time in the Nebraska Penitentiary. Williams as well as I remember was a medium sized man, I think his hair and beard inclined to reddish. Would now be over 50 years old. That’s all I remember about him.

Yours Truly,
W. F. Cody
Buffalo Bill

The two thieves, Bevins and Williams, had stolen horses from the Army, and Cody and Captain W. Green were commissioned by the Army’s General Carr to track down and arrest the pair, who were nabbed in Denver in 1869. Cody recounted this episode fairly colorfully in his 1879 autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill:

“When within four miles of Denver-this was on a Thursday-we learned that the horse-thieves had passed there two days before. I came to the conclusion they would attempt to dispose of the animals in Denver, and being aware that Saturday was the great auction day there, I thought it best to remain where we were at a hotel, and not go into the city until that day. It certainly would not have been advisable for me to have gone into Denver meantime-because I was well-known there, and if the thieves had learned of my presence in the city they would at once have suspected my business…

Early Saturday morning, we rode into town and stabled our horses at the Elephant Corral. I secured a room from Ed. Chase, overlooking the corral, and then took up my post of observation. I did not have long to wait, for a man, whom I readily recognized as one of our old packers, rode into the corral mounted upon Lieutenant Forbush’s racing mule, and leading another government mule, which I also identified. It had been recently branded, and over the “U.S.” was a plain “D.B.” I waited for the man’s companion to put in an appearance, but he did not come, and my conclusion was that he was secreted outside of the city with the rest of the animals.

Presently the black mule belonging to Forbush was put up at auction. Now, thought I, is the time to do my work. So, walking through the crowd, who were bidding for the mule, I approached the man who had offered him for sale. He recognized me and endeavored to escape, but I seized him by the shoulder, saying: “I guess, my friend, that you’ll have to go with me. If you make any resistance, I’ll shoot you on the spot.” He was armed with a pair of pistols, which I took away from him. Then informing the auctioneer that I was a United States detective, and showing him-as well as an inquisitive officer-my commission as such, I told him to stop the sale, as the mule was stolen property, and that I had arrested the thief, whose name was Williams.

Farley and Green, who were near at hand, now came forward, and together we took the prisoner and the mules three miles down the Platte River; there, in a thick bunch of timber, we all dismounted and made preparations to hang Williams from a limb, if he did not tell us where his partner was. At first he denied knowing anything about any partner, or any other stock; but when he saw that we were in earnest, and would hang him at the end of the given time-five minutes-unless he “squealed,” he told us that his “pal” was at an unoccupied house three miles further down the river.

We immediately proceeded to the spot indicated, and as we came within sight of the house we saw our stock grazing near by. Just as we rode up to the door, another one of our old packers, whom I recognized as Bill Bevins, stepped to the front, and I covered him instantly with my rifle before he could draw his revolver. I ordered him to throw up his hands, and he obeyed the command. Green then disarmed him and brought him out. We looked through the house and found their saddles, pack-saddles, blankets, overcoats, lariats and two Henry rifles, which we took possession of. The horses and mules we tied in a bunch, and with the whole outfit we returned to Denver, where we lodged Williams and Bevins in jail, in charge of my friend, She riff Edward Cook. The next day we took them out, and, tying each one on a mule, we struck out on our return trip to Fort Lyon.”

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