William F. Cody ("Buffalo Bill")
King of the Wild West.
The Armstrong account, based on tales spun by Joe in 1927, makes some curious claims:
At one time, about six miles east of where Denver's capitol-building now stands, Sam Belonger and Buffalo Bill Cody, while on a scouting trip, were chased and surrounded by a war party of eight Indians. Their only chance to survive the fight was to shoot their horses and use the bodies for breastworks. Both Uncle Sam and Buffalo Bill, being dead shots with rifles, killed all eight Indians and escaped.
This sounds a lot like a story from Cody's autobiography, and Sam wasn't there. Thirteen-year-old Cody, already experienced as a horse messenger, was in Denver prospecting in 1859, but only for two months, and not as a scout, which he would take up near the end of the War. Afterward he spent his time on the Plains and back East. Sam seemed to gravitate between Colorado and California during this period, though, again, the War years are a mystery.
"One day Sam Belonger and another scout serving under Buffalo Bill Cody were bottled up in a deep canyon by 40 Apaches and had to shoot their way out."
Joe served many years as a part-time scout during our Indian wars under Chief Scout Buffalo Bill Cody. He also played in many a card game as Wild Bill Hickok's partner.
The Indian Wars lasted from 1864 to 1890.
Joe was mustered out in North Carolina in June, 1865. In 1868, he filed for a military pension, residing in Illinois. He was in Stockton, Illinois in 1870.
The period between 1870 and 1880 is tougher, and most crucial. The Albuquerque Morning Journal tells us that, when Sam was finally reunited with Joe in 1882, Joe was "a brother whom he had not seen for nine years and had long since given up as dead... He left the family circle in Salt Lake City nine years ago and has led an adventurous life since." Nine years is spot on if they had last been together in Salt Lake City. So when did Joe rejoin Sam, Lou and the Livingston family? Did he do his own thing between 1870 and 1873?
From 1868 to 1872, Cody was employed as a scout and guide by the Cavalry, most notably as chief of scouts for the Fifth Cavalry. Joe could have been involved here, but he was not in the military at this time.
We do consider it probable that talk of Black Hills gold in 1874 may have enticed Joe. He was probably in the region, heard the early stories, was willing and able to go, and obviously more disposed to mining than the saloonkeepers's life. Placing him in the Deadwood area would certainly raise the odds that Joe was an acquaintance of Hickok.
This also leaves open the possibilty that Joe worked with Cody in the late 70s, but at this time Cody was more of a showman than scout and had Joe been in the Wild West Show, he probably would have mentioned it.
By 1879 Joe was mining in New Mexico, and stayed in the Cerrillos area for over ten years. He also shows up in Denver in 1883. Pension filings place him consistently in New Mexico in 1885, 1887, 1889 and 1903. In 1891 he became a guard at nearby Allenville penitentiary after a jailbreak lead to the firing of several guards.
By 1908 he was in an old soldiers home in L.A.
So we haven't ruled out that he hung out with Wild Bill in Deadwood, and we haven't ruled out that he rode with Cody sometime around 1870. Pretty weak.