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March 1874

Newspaper advertisements had assured the public for weeks that their heroes would soon be treading the boards of theatres and music halls across New York State. A show in Schenectady had already been booked and sold out when an announcement appeared in papers, informing ticket holders that the show had been canceled, as the heroes they so longed to see were busy fighting on the frontier.

"Theater-goers will be pleased to learn that Texas Jack, Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill have been engaged to scout during the Indian war," the St. Louis Globe announced, "and that the service is one of considerable danger. The only subject for regret is the fact that Ned Buntline is not included in the cast."

Of course, this was a lie. Some theater critics were still quite upset that the masses who stormed the largest venues in city after city for the last two seasons weren't clamoring to see the nation's finest actors, but rather its most famous scouts. The show wasn't even a particularly good one, these critics told their public, and as actors the buffalo hunter William F. Cody, the cowboy John B. Omohundro, and the lawman James B. Hickok were dismal. This did nothing to discourage people from going to see The Scouts of the Prairie in 1873 or The Scouts of the Plains the following year. They didn't want to see great actors—they wanted to see "the real heroes."

Two years later, the lie and the truth merged. Wild Bill would be assassinated in Deadwood, a gold boomtown on Sioux land deep in Dakota Territory, and both Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack would be called into service as scouts following the defeat of George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn/the Greasy Grass.

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