William E. Mathewson
"Buffalo Bill," trapper and trader, Wichita pioneer. 1830-1916
Known by many Kansans of his day as "Buffalo Bill," William E. Mathewson lived the life that many of us have read about, but will never experience. He was born New Years Day in 1830 in the small town of Triangle, New York, the seventh of eight children. At the age of 19 he went to work as a trapper and trader for the Northwestern Fur Company, which was based in what is now Montana. In 1853 he set up his own outpost at the "great bend" on the Arkansas River, and other posts soon were built on the Little Arkansas River and Cow Creek.
Mathewson earned the nickname "Buffalo Bill," given by the numerous settlers he saved from starvation during the winter of 1860-1861. The drought of 1860 had ruined the crops that the settlers had planted leaving them without a reserve food source for the winter. Hundreds of settlers came to Mathewson from September to March asking the expert hunter to provide them with food. He complied by supplying them with buffalo meat, which he hunted without concern for his own safety or welfare, and for which he refused payment. He killed as many as 80 buffalo in a single day for the settlers. An accurate count of the number of animals he killed was not kept.
Through his 26 years as a trader and trapper he also earned the respect and trust of most of the Native Americans he encountered. His Indian name was "Long-Bearded Dangerous Man," which was given to him by the Kiowa chieftain, Satanta, after the warrior had received a severe beating from the trader at the Cow Creek post in 1861. Mathewson used the trust he had cultivated with the Indians to gather delegations of them in 1865 to negotiate the Little Arkansas Treaty and in 1867 for the Medicine Lodge Council meeting, the latter resulted in Indian lands being consolidated into smaller tracts and opened up Kansas for railroad expansion.
In his later years Mathewson settled in Wichita and enjoyed a profitable career as a civic leader and banker. He built one of the first homes in that area in 1868, established the Wichita Savings Bank, and remained there until his death in 1916.
Although a man of great accomplishments, news of his exploits rarely was printed in the newspapers or the dime novels published on the East Coast. Mathewson was a modest man who refused to talk to newsmen or sell the story of his life to a publishing house. This modesty is why when someone usually talks about "Buffalo Bill" they are referring to William F. Cody, instead of William E. Mathewson.
Entry: Mathewson, William E.
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: April 2013
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