Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. To celebrate, here’s a story about long distance love…or is it?
Have you ever felt as if you were intruding on someone’s personal journal while reading through historical documents? Perhaps it has made you blush or feel guilty. One might feel this way while reading the personal documents of dime-novelist and poet Colonel Charles D. Randolph, who called himself “Buckskin Bill” the “Poet of the Plains.”
Most of his poems are in reference to life in the West, when men were carving a name for themselves. Other poems are written as tributes and love poems to Kate Slaughterback, better known as “Rattlesnake Kate” for her 1925 heroic experience with 140 rattlers, which she killed and fashioned a dress from their skins. “Buckskin Bill” wrote 21 poems dedicated to Kate.
One such verse in Rattle Snake Kate My Pard of the Plains states, “When I wanted to-pour out-a measure and portion of love: When she cuddled up to me, and wound her soft young bare arms around me. I felt like, I was in Paradise In heaven, above.” Another poem, Rattle Snake Kate’s Passionate Love, tells us, “Nobody knows except-Buckskin Bill, how Rattlesnake Kate could Love; She would coil around her-‘Pard of the Plains,’ and hug, and kiss, and squeeze- pouring out her, Irish love, She charmed ‘The Scout,’ she was his, ‘Turtle Dove’, Nobody will ever know, the secret love, of, Buckskin Bill and Rattlesnake Kate.” Were these poems written from a novelist’s attempt at a dramatic romantic tale, or founded on a factual love affair?
Love poems such as these bring to mind adventurous love during the expansion of the great Wild West. The reality is that the poems are a reflection of the story-spinning abilities of this “Poet of the Plains.” This conclusion is based upon reading the correspondence between Randolph and Slaughterback from the 1930s to 1968, as well as comments from researchers who were hired by Buckskin Bill to write a biography of Rattle Snake Kate. It is through the efforts of the biographers that we have Kate’s responses, along with firsthand knowledge of Buckskin Bill and his character. Even though the two corresponded for almost 40 years, they were never close enough to shake hands.
In early letters, the two seemed to have developed a fond affection for one another. However, World War II changed a lot, and there was a 23 year silence between them. It seems for his part, Buckskin Bill married and was a guard at the Rock Island Arsenal. Kate became a Red Cross nurse stationed in Pusan, Korea and Nagasaki, Japan.
Later letters reflect the hardships Rattle Snake Kate endured post-World War II. She tells of being assaulted by a chicken thief, and of people coming in and stealing from her. Yet the worse seems to have occurred in a 1967 letter where she talks about being beaten, suffering a fractured skull that caused her to lose hearing in one ear.
Randolph and Slaughterback might not have shared the touching romance of his poetry. They did, however, share a friendship through correspondence that spanned almost 40 years. Buckskin Bill, whether enamored with her or not, attempted to write a biography of Kate, and seal a place for her in the Wild West.
Originally published in the Greeley Tribune
Written by Jennifer Wright, former City of Greeley Museums archives intern