When Uncle Elver was knee-high to a grasshopper, America was having a television love affair with the western. Shows such as "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza" and "Rawhide" ruled the networks. These were just the top programs of the day.

A more inclusive list would contain such other shows as "Wagon Train," "Death Valley Days," "The Big Valley," "The Virginians," "The Rifleman," "Maverick," "The Rebel," "Bat Masterson" and "The Wild, Wild West."

Most of the characters from these shows were ficticious in nature. Ben Cartwright and his sons lived on The Ponderosa ranch on the popular program Bonanza. Marhshall Matt Dillon, his deputy, Festus, and Saloonkeeper Kitty, portrayed life in Dodge City on the long-running show "Gunsmoke."

Our interest in the old west began with stories about famous outlaws like Jesse James, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, Billy the Kid and the Daulton Gang.

The real cowboys, however, were real-life characters such as Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, Pawnee Bill and Buck Taylor. Many of these western heroes had a local connection to this area of eastern Pennsylvania.

Wild Bill Hickok was a sharp-shooter with a quick draw, who became the first marshall in Hayes City, and then, Abilene, Kan. He started out as a stage coach driver in the 1870s.

He became a theatrical stage show thriller with his shooting skills and was believed to have had a love affair with cowgirl Calamity Jane. He was shot while gambling in a poker game and his hand of "aces and eights" is referred to as a dead man's hand to this day.

Buffalo Bill Cody was another great western showman and Indian fighter. It is said that he killed 4,000 buffalo over an 18-month period.

He organized his wild west show in 1883 and traveled across the country with a band of tricksters and sharpshooters, both cowboys and Indians.

Cody invented and shrewdly marketed the image of the cowboy with the introduction of Buck Taylor to his show.

William Levy "Buck" Taylor, "King of the Cowboys," made his debut in Buffalo Bill's show in 1884. Taylor was a Texan whose grandfather and uncle died in the Alamo. His father died in the Civil War.

He had remarkable dexterity and could throw steers and break wild horses. He was a rough and tumble fellow but was handsome and had a gentle touch with horses. He could also easily load a rebellious bison into a railroad car.

A local man from Oaks once told Uncle Elver that his father often saw Buck Taylor and President Teddy Roosevelt ride on horseback through Valley Forge Park. He also noted that his father stated that these turn-of-the-century rides through the park were without the benefit of bodyguards or secret service agents.

Interestingly, Taylor died in 1924 in Downingtown and is buried in the cemetery of the Valley Forge Memorial Chapel, Valley Forge National Historical Park, the very park he rode through with the president.

A stone with a bronze plaque bearing his likeness marks the grave. The inscription merely reads: "Buck Taylor, King of the Cowboys."

While not as well-known as Wild Bill or Buffalo Bill, Buck Taylor was America's first cowboy hero, and he blazoned a trail for future western stars, such as Tom Mix, Tex Ritter, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy and John Wayne.

Next week, Uncle Elver will take another look at some of these famous cowboys, and we will take an extended look into the lives of Buffalo Bill Cody and Pawnee Bill. We will also reveal more local ties attributed to these cowboy legends. Stay tuned!

As for now, be the Good Lord willin', and the creeks don't rise, see ya next week! For now, we think we'll just ride off into the sunset.

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