Who was Buffalo Bill Cody? Get To Know Our Hometown HeroNov 152020
To put it shortly, Buffalo Bill Cody is a permanent fixture in the Wild West hall of fame. For thirty years his traveling show, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, told the story of frontier settlers across the North American continent and overseas. The show captured the world’s fascination and is credited for establishing the American "Wild West" as an era to be noticed.
As much a part of frontier history, Buffalo Bill remains culturally relevant today’s pop culture: The oft-referenced “wild west” symbolizes the unprecedented while Hollywood’s showcasing of the west in film and “spaghetti westerns” is eternally fashionable. Read on to see why Buffalo Bill Cody was a name everybody knew - even the Queen of England herself!
8 Facts About Buffalo Bill Cody
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1. Buffalo Bill Was The Stage Persona Of William F Cody
Will Cody was born on February 26 1846 near LeClaire Iowa Territory. He was one of eight children born to his father, Isaac. Isaac Cody later moved the family west to Kansas after hearing of the California Gold rush with hopes of pursuing gold of his own. Sadly his father never makes it further west, dying in 1857 from complications of stab wound he received while publicly advocating against slavery.
2. William F Cody Was Just Eleven Years Old When He Started Working To Provide For His Family
With the death of his father, he couldn’t afford the chance to go to school and instead worked jobs of all trades. Between 1857 to 1863 (being just 11-17 years old) his positions varied from trapper to messenger, stagecoach driver, hotel manager, wagonmaster and army scout. His many jobs and keenness for adventure took him to faraway places and placed him alongside the early frontier greats.
3. At Nineteen, William F Cody Married His Wife, Louisa Frederici in 1865
Together they had four children: Arta (1866 – 1904), Kit Carson Cody (1870 – 1876), Orra Maude (1872 – 1883), and Irma Louise (1883 – 1918). The family briefly lived in Rochester, New York while Cody continued to serve in the army out west. Only Arta and Irma lived to have children of their own, with six year old Kit’s death impacting Will greatly. Rochester, NY is where all of his children but Irma are now buried.
""...my little boy Kit was dangerously ill with the scarlet fever. This was indeed sad news, for little Kit had always been my greatest pride…. We did everything in our power to save him, but it was of no avail. The Lord claimed his own, and that evening at six o'clock my beloved little Kit died in my arms." - from his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill, 1917
4. William Cody Earned The Name Buffalo Bill While Working As A Buffalo Hunter To Feed The Union Pacific Railroad Workers In 1867-1868
He famously set a record for hunting 4,280 buffalo in his seventeen months on the job. He once shot sixty-nine bison in a day- defeating Bill Comstock the former champion buffalo hunter of the plains. Confidently with his .50 caliber Springfield rifle, old "Lucretia", he won the $500 bet and allegedly the right to the "Buffalo Bill" name. His tried and true method- circling the bison and picking off the leaders one by one. The final count was 69-46.
"On this morning the buffaloes were very accommodating, and I soon had them running in a beautiful circle, when I dropped them thick and fast … Comstock began shooting at the rear of the herd which he was chasing, and they kept straight on. He succeeded, however, in killing twenty-three, but they were scattered over a distance of three miles, while mine lay close together." -The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill, 1917
5. Buffalo Bill Got Into Show Business By Playing Himself In His First Show In Chicago
By now he was already a national folk hero - especially after a world famous hunting expedition with the Grand Duke of Russia and near constant dime novel features. Dime novelist Ned Buntline had made him a star and when he opened his own theater, he convinced Cody to portray himself in it. Never one to shy away from a risky venture, Cody tried the performance gig! New horizons opened up with his performance, and like everything else he did, he amplified its success in its later iteration- Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.
"Finally the curtain dropped, the play was ended, and I congratulated Jack and myself on having made such a brilliant and successful debut. There was no backing out after that." - The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill, 1917
6. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show Featured As Many As 500 People
The show ran for 30 years and included at times Chief Sitting Bull, "Little Miss Sure Shot" Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok, and Pawnee Bill. Spectators witnessed live acts of frontier skill such as sharpshooting, roping and riding. Cowboys were portrayed as the heroic defenders of the west. Their platform reflected the current and historic state of the west, allowing the rest of the world to peer into everyday lives of natives setting up camp or settlers traveling in stagecoaches.
“Immense success and comparative wealth...largely increased my ambition for public favor. Accordingly, I conceived the idea of organising a large company of Indians, cow-boys, Mexican vaqueros, famous riders and expert lasso throwers, with accessories of stage coach, emigrant wagons, bucking horses and a herd of buffaloes, with which to give a realistic entertainment of wild life on the plains.” - The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill, 1917
Annie "Little Miss Sure Shot" Oakley
7. Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show Traveled To All Lower 48 States, 6 Canadian Provinces, and 12 European Countries
With North America effectively covered, the Wild West show set sights abroad and crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1887. The show joined the American Exhibition in London and performed for Queen Victoria at her Jubilee. They went on to tour Europe three separate times with the last taking place in 1906. Through Buffalo Bill's Show, the US had finally presented to Europeans a cultural phenomenon that demanded attention.
"The immortal bard has well said, "ambition grows with what it feeds on.' So with Salsbury and I, our unexampled success throughout America with the Wild West show excited our ambition to conquer other nations than our own"- The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill, 1917
Curious to know if the Wild West came to a city nearby?
8. Buffalo Bill Founded Our Town Of Cody, Wyoming In 1896
Cody returned to this area that sat under the Absaroka Mountains and recognized investment potential in its proximity to Yellowstone and abundant ranch land. He got together with a group of businessmen to build an irrigation canal from the Shoshone River. Together with these men- George Beck, Horace Alger, Bronson Rumsey, George Bleistein, and Nate Salsbury- they formed an irrigation company and later designated the new town.
Today their name and influence are visible all over town: via street names, historic buildings and longstanding businesses. The most notable relics to this day are the Cody Enterprise newspaper (founded by Cody and Col. John Peake in 1899) and the Irma Hotel built in 1902 and named after Cody's daughter. Both continue to operate to this day. Come visit Cody to have a drink at the bar, gifted by the Queen, and stay in the suites where Buffalo Bill resided while in town.
Buffalo Bill Cody's life took him all across North America and Europe, and ever the storyteller, he loved sharing tales of his travels. By his death in 1917, he was an international celebrity and a household name. To learn more about his place in western history, we encourage you to explore these resources below. Even better, come to Cody Wyoming to visit our museums dedicated to him and his legacy.
- The Cody Archive
- Cody Yellowstone
- The Center Of The West Museum
- The Cody Heritage Museum
- The Cody Enterprise Newspaper
- The Irma Hotel
All images provided under creative commons license by the William F. Cody Archive.
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