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CODY, SAMUEL FRANKLIN

CODY, SAMUEL FRANKLIN (1867–1913). Franklin Samuel Cowdery, who adopted the name Samuel Franklin Cody, was born in Davenport, Iowa, on March 6, 1867, the fourth of five children born to Samuel Franklin Cowdery Sr. and his wife Phoebe. He became a frontier cowboy, Wild West showman and playwright, and pioneer of powered flight. Early in life he built for himself a deceptive autobiography. The legend he developed was that he was born in Birdville, Texas, escaped an Indian raid that killed his parents, worked on the Chishom Trailqv, became interested in kites from the Chinese cook, and that somehow he was either related to or the real Buffalo Bill Cody. The verifiable trail picks up again in 1881, when, at age fourteen, he had gone to Montana and was breaking in horses. His ability to handle even the most temperamental mount provided a self-assurance and self-possession he would never lose. In the spring of 1888 he joined Adam D. Forepaugh's Wild West show. He was billed as "Captain Cody, King of the Cowboys," and his act consisted of demonstrations of his skills as a marksman and cowboy. In December 1888 he joined Annie Oakley's show after she had left Buffalo Bill and his Wild West production. Cody rejoined Forepaugh the following January when Oakley's show folded. He married Maude Lee in Norristown, Pennsylvania, in April 1889, a year after he met her the previous spring. He taught her how to shoot, and she became the target-holding accomplice in his act. The next year they went to London and almost immediately found work with Albert Ridgeley's wildly successful Olympia show that Ridgeley unfortunately advertised as "Wild West Burlesque" which brought legal action by Buffalo Bill, closing the show. They moved their act to a show produced by Frank Albert and advertised themselves as "Captain Cody and Miss Cody: Buffalo Bill's Son and Daughter." This brought Buffalo Bill's lawyers again, and Cody and Maude disappeared. Precisely why Cody's marriage to Maude collapsed is a mystery. Less than two years after the "son of Buffalo Bill" case, he returned to the London stage with a new leading lady, Lela Blackburne Davis. Fifteen years his senior, Lela had four children from a previous marriage. SF Cody and Family, Champion Shooters of America, made their modest debut in the summer of 1892. At the end of the year he moved his show to France where it was met with great enthusiasm. Shortly after his arrival he learned of the popularity of bicycle racing and soon began challenging the leading cyclists to a race of horse-versus-cycle in addition to entertaining with his Wild West show. For the next five years he consistently won races and became the popular western horseback rider all over Europe. By the summer of 1898 he had returned to England developing new acts. Along with the usual Wild West attractions, Cody wrote plays and melodramas for the show, including The Klondyke Nugget, Calamity Jane, and Wild Alaska.

Another myth promoted by Cody was that he had been taught the art of making kites by a Chinese cook on the trail. Whatever the truth, in 1899 Cody began to give serious thought to a purpose for kites to be used for military observation and meteorology. After much experimenting he developed kites that could attain a height of 14,000 feet, close to a world record. Cody used these kites in his own meteorological research and was made a fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society for his contributions in this field. He developed a practical man-lifting kite that could ride in winds up to sixty miles per hour and take a man 1,000 feet up. In 1905 he built a set of kites for the British army and became an instructor in the use of the kites. He worked with Major General Sir John Capper in developing the first English dirigible, the Nulli Secundis. Piloting the airship, Cody flew fifty miles, from Farnborough to the grounds of the Crystal Palace in London. This was not only a milestone in English aviation history but made England much more aviation-conscious.

In 1908 Cody turned his attention to building a heavier-than-air flying machine. After much work, testing, criticism, and skepticism, he designed and built a large aircraft of wood, metal, fabric, and a fifty-horsepower French engine. On the morning of October 16, 1908, near Farnborough, Cody flew it a quarter mile in what is recognized as the first powered sustained flight in Britain. Cody is to England what the Wright brothers are to the United States. Over the next five years, with much experimentation and numerous crashes, he developed additional planes including a biplane, a monoplane, and a seaplane. His biplane, Cody's Flying Cathedral, was then the largest plane in existence. He taught himself to pilot all of his planes, and he set a world record of forty miles for a cross-country flight, won the British Empire Michelin Cup contest in 1910, and won both the British and International divisions in the military airplane trials in 1913, in spite of the fact that he wrecked the plane he was planning to fly four weeks before the trials. Undaunted, he built a new plane from the parts of former planes.

Cody continued flying in spite of many accidents, always aware of the dangers and risks involved. In August 1913 his Cathedral VI broke up in the air and crashed. More than 50,000 people attended his funeral and burial in the Military Cemetery southeast of London. Known as the father of British aviation, Cody was awarded the silver medal by the Aeronautical Society for his services to aeronautics. His work stimulated public interest in aviation and led to the formation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

G. A. Broomfield, Pioneer of the Air: The Life and Times of Colonel S. F. Cody (Aldershot, Hampshire: Gale and Polden, 1953). Garry Jenkins, Colonel Cody and the Flying Cathedral: The Adventures of the Cowboy Who Conquered the Sky (Picador USA, 2000). Arthur S. G. Lee, The Flying Cathedral (London: Methuen, 1965). Jean Roberts, "A Brief Biography of Samuel Franklin Cody," given at the S.F. Cody Symposium, Dieppe, France, September 10–11, 1998, Sponsored by the Drachen Foundation. The S.F. Cody Archive, Sotherby's, London, January 24, 1996.

Carol E. Williams and Richard S. Robertson

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Carol E. Williams and Richard S. Robertson, "CODY, SAMUEL FRANKLIN," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fcoac), accessed August 28, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.