IT and US: Domenico Tambini, the (fake) Italian Buffalo Bill
- WTI Magazine #134 Dec 17, 2020
Many stories have been told about Buffalo Bill. In Italy, his popularity has always been very strong. He was an icon of that America of the Frontier, now at the end of its historical phase and ready to enter the dimension of literary and cinematographic myth that has nourished generations of Italians.
It is no coincidence that, during the performance of his Wild West Show in Verona in 1890, a young reporter volunteers with other spectators to get on the stagecoach that has to undergo the assault of the Indians, the most applauded and adrenaline-filled number of the show. His name was Emilio Salgari, and would later become one of the greatest Italian writers. The spark between the adventure genre and the Wild West has been ignited. A long journey, finally leading to the cinema era of Italian westerns.
Not even during fascism did this love fade away. In the twenties of the twentieth century, the Florentine publisher Nerbini began the publication of a weekly comic book series dedicated to the adventures of Buffalo Bill. The success is such that even adults read it. But in the Thirties, the wind changed and we arrived at the Second World War. In 1942, with the United States entering the conflict, it seemed that the American hero's popularity was disappearing, but the publisher had a brilliant idea.
In one of the comic strips, Buffalo Bill himself reveals some incredible news: he is actually an Italian native, his real name is Domenico Tombini, and he also says that he comes from Faenza, a town in the Emilia Romagna region, specifically in the Romagna part. In short, the quintessential hero of the West has performed his deeds in America, now the enemy, but he is an Italian and was even born in Romagna that was also the birthplace of the nation's Duce, Mussolini. No one will now be able to oppose the publication of the weekly magazine.
Obviously, anyone who thinks that a cartoon stunt could have put one of the most sophisticated censorship apparatuses of the twentieth century out of action is very wrong. Nerbini knew what he was doing, and he put words in the mouth of his paper hero that refer to an event happened just five years earlier: the strange story of a fabulous inheritance that went up in smoke in an attempt to get it to cross the ocean, that of Domenico Tambini (slightly mispronounced Tombini by the publisher) also known as Buffalo Bill.
In 1910 the news of his death came from the United States. He landed there with his brother Giuseppe as a political exile in 1850, practically penniless, and was one of those pioneers who, in the land of wide open spaces and infinite possibilities, managed to amass a fortune. He died without children, it is inevitable that his inheritance should go to the descendants from the part of his family that stayed in Italy. And this is where the problem starts.
A sequence of disturbing events ends with the disappearance of the entire inheritance. Even today it is not known what happened to it. Some mostly inconclusive trials, the disappearance of important documents concerning the case and the mysterious suicide of the young lawyer who worked on it. What’s certain is that Domenico Tambini is called Buffalo Bill, like the original William Frederick Cody, and has left a fabulous inheritance. This is enough for the people of Romagna to spread the belief that he is actually the original one. The fact that William Frederick Cody's wife, the beloved Louisa Frederici, is of Italian descent perhaps has its own importance in the process of identification.
In 1937, as already mentioned, the story resurfaced in the national press. Among new revelations about Buffalo Bill's Italian/Romagnola - identity and the relative backward steps of a few journalists, who perhaps realized that they had blown it out of proportion, the case continued to be discussed for a while, only to be silenced for good.
But like a karst river, it continues to reappear on the surface today, especially in Faenza, the city in Romagna where Domenico Tambini, known as Buffalo Bill, was born, and where Bruno Fabbri, the man who has been digging into the intricate affair for years in an attempt to shed light on its dark sides, was born. He is the author of a book entitled “Buffalo Bill di Romagna”, edited by me and published by MnM print editions (ISBN 978-88-945210-4-7).
In addition to the story of the inheritance, the author proposes a literary reconstruction of the life of Domenico Tambini and his brother Giuseppe, reworking everything that has been said and written, and mixing it with the few historical data available. The story of the life of two Italian patriots forced to leave the Peninsula after the First War of Italian Independence. Having landed in New York together with other exiles, they soon realize that their future will be in AMerica. They begin their adventure by riding through prairies, wooded hills, and towns that sprung up out of nowhere in the wilderness, following the great waterways such as the Erie Canal and the first railroad tracks.
Having finally found a place where he could put down roots as a hunter and rancher, Domenico Tambini was able to deploy his undoubted qualities as a businessman, until he accumulated a fortune. It is a story common to many brave men escaping from the old world and landing in the new one, well disposed to identify themselves with the myths of the Frontier like that of Buffalo Bill.