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Hampshire Museums

Samuel Franklin Cody

In October 1908, Farnborough was the site of Britain's first powered flight by an American, Samuel Franklin Cody.

Samuel Cody claimed he was born in Birdville, Texas, in March 1861 to Samuel Franklin Cody Sn and his wife, Phoebe and that his father was a hero of the Texan and Mexican War and had served as an officer in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

He also claimed his family were victims of an attack by a Sioux raid. Whilst Cody escaped with a gunshot wound to his thigh, he could only crawl away and watch as the family farm burned. In some accounts his whole family perished, in others his parents and sister survived, and sometimes his family are not mentioned at all. After Cody had crawled 9 miles to Fort Worth Military Hospital and had his wound treated, he decided to strike out on his own on the Western Frontier, where he worked as a horse-trader and cowboy.

In reality, he had been born Franklin Samuel Cowdery, on 6 March 1867 in the Great Plains of Iowa. His father, Samuel Franklin Cowdery, had served as a private in the Confederate Army. During the war his father suffered with dysentery and was imprisoned at Belle Island. After the war he found the return to civilian life difficult, with little or no job opportunities. At a young age Cowdery left home to earn a living. He started work as a horse-trainer and was certainly an able horseman, breaking in horses and eventually progressing to working on the cattle trails across Texas.

Wild West Shows

By April 1888 Cowdery started work in the Forepaugh Wild West Show and assuming the name Samuel Franklin Cody, thus creating a connection to the famous cowboy Samuel Cody, alias Buffalo Bill. Cody's acts included two-handed trick shooting and displays of his horse-riding and rope tricks.  In 1890 he set sail for Britain where he developed his own cowboy stunt show with his partner, Lela Cody, and her two sons. In 1892 they took the show to Europe.

Soon Cody became involved in a challenge with one of France's champion cyclists, Meyer of Dieppe to complete the greatest overall distance in a race, with Cody on horseback and Meyer on the latest modern bicycle. Over the space of 4 hours Cody emerged victorious crossing the finishing line astride two horses. Cody found it hard to refuse a challenge and this race was the first of many. The Cody family returned to England in 1898 and the show evolved into the sucessful spectacular 'The Klondyke Nugget'. The show included typical Wild West exploits and Cody stunts and was a major success.

Next - Cody's Kites and Flying Machines


I have done very little to shout loud about, but still, I have accomplished one thing that I hoped for very much, that is, to be the first man to fly in Great Britain
Samuel Franklin Cody

Cody Cycle race poster

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