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Back in 1936 the venerable Pioneer Association of Niagara County presented a gold medal to a Niagara Falls pioneer born within a stone's throw of the cataract's precipice: one Edward C. Sims.

He was born in the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. George W. Sims, which was located in Prospect Park near the upper rapids. George Sims was superintendent of the Inclined Railway that carried visitors down into the gorge.

The railway was built in 1845 to replace the primitive tree ladders that visitors had to climb down into the gorge. The tree ladders were constructed by Native Americans years before a white man ever set eyes on the thunderous falls of Niagara.

The medal was awarded to Sims at the Aug. 19, 1936, annual meeting of the Pioneer Association at Krull Park in Olcott. Sims had the distinction of being the oldest man at the meeting. He was 87 years old at that time.

Sims was accompanied to the Olcott meeting by the late city historian Edward T. Williams and Fred Krull, a longtime clerk of the Niagara County Board of Supervisors. Krull was employed as a youth in Prospect Park and knew Sims from childhood.

Besides having the distinction of serving tourists by operating the inclined railway, George Sims was known for owning a fearless and indefatigable cow aptly named Bossy Sims. This cow had a habit of cooling off in hot summers by wading out in the treacherous rapids a few hundred feet from the brink of the falls.

Williams wrote that "Bossy Sims was photographed about 1860 standing in the river at a spot not over 100 feet above the American Falls and the sight of this gentle Bossy who used frequently in summer to wade out to the dangerous place with no more evidence or appreciation of the danger than she used to feel when she stood in the bed of some inland shallow creek, was a curious attraction to thousands of visitors for a period of years."

The photo was used to reproduce picture postcards that tourists purchased by the thousand and sent to relatives and friends across the globe. Williams, who at one time served as Niagara Falls postmaster, said it was not unusual to see 75,000 cards mailed in a single day.

The cow, Williams said, was "of a dark red color and her fastest gait was a slow walk. She never interfered with anyone ... and was not at all particular as to who petted her."

George Sims had an interesting job in operating the incline railway and had to field thousands of questions about the falls. Williams recalled that Sims explained to one curious tourist how the incline railway was operated with cars pulled up and down by heavy ropes.

Then the tourist asked what would happen if a rope should break. "Mr. Sims cheerfully replied, 'It would not make any difference; we collect the fares before they enter the cars.' "

Bossy Sims, Edwards said, never wandered far from her stall in the barn at Prospect Park, except to wade out into the rapids.

After the institution of the New York State Reservation in 1885, the house in which Sims was born as well as all other structures in the immediate vicinity of the falls were removed by the state, which bought the property.

The guest speaker at the meeting at which Sims received his gold medal was George W. Holley of Niagara Falls. He told the throng: "You are assembled for the purposes of retrospection, commemoration and consecration. Retrospection carries you back to the time when all this section was covered with a dense forest, within whose somber shades no animal except the fur bearing species, that could minister to the wants, necessities or comforts of man were seen."

(Bob Kostoff is a longtime Niagara Frontier newsman and author. E-mail him at RKost1@aol.com.)

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 1, 2011