"Buffalo Bill" Cody

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William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody

Birthplace: Iowa Territory, near Le Claire, Scott Co., Iowa, United States
Death: January 10, 1917 (70)
Denver, Denver County, Colorado, United States (kidney failure)
Place of Burial: Golden, Colorado, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Isaac Martin Cody and Mary Ann Cody
Husband of Margaret Louise Maude Cody
Father of Arta Lucille Thorp; Kit Carson Cody; Orra Maude Cody; Irma Louise Garlow and Jessie McCoiq
Brother of Martha Crane; Julia Melvina Goodman; Eliza Alice Meyers; Laura Ella "Helen" Cody; Charles Whitney Cody and 2 others

Occupation: Soldier, Scout, Hunter, Showman, Military
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About "Buffalo Bill" Cody

William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody (February 26, 1846 – January 10, 1917) was an American soldier, bison hunter and showman. He was born in the Iowa Territory (now the American state of Iowa), near LeClaire. He was one of the most colorful figures of the American Old West, and mostly famous for the shows he organized with cowboy themes. Buffalo Bill received the Medal of Honor in 1872.

Nickname and work

William Frederick Cody ("Buffalo Bill") got his nickname after he undertook a contract to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat. The nickname was also given to Bill Comstock. Cody earned the nickname by killing 4,280 American Bison (commonly known as buffalo) in eight months, (1867–68). He and Comstock eventually competed in a shooting match over the exclusive right to use the name, which Cody won.

In addition to his documented service as a soldier during the Civil War and as Chief of Scouts for the Third Cavalry during the Plains Wars, Cody claimed to have worked many jobs, including as a trapper, bullwhacker, "Fifty-Niner" in Colorado, a Pony Express rider in 1860, wagonmaster, stagecoach driver, and even a hotel manager, but it's unclear which claims were factual and which were fabricated for purposes of publicity. He became world famous for his Wild West Shows. In Italy, the adventure story writer Emilio Salgari met Buffalo Bill, saw his show, and later put him as a hero in some of Salgari's novels.

Early years

The Cody family was originally Quakers and it was these Quaker beliefs that constantly got the family and especially Bill's father, Isaac, into trouble with slave owners. The other half of the Cody family settled just north of Toronto, Ontario in Canada. They emigrated with other Quaker families, who did not believe in slavery, from Vermont, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania to buy land and farm in York, Peel, and Ontario Counties. 'Buffalo Bill' was baptized in the Dixie Union Chapel in Peel County in 1847, now Peel Region, not far from his family's farm. His parents Isaac and Mary were Canadians. The Chapel was built with Cody money and the land was donated by Philip Cody of Toronto Township.

At age seven he moved to Leavenworth, Kansas. While giving an anti-slavery speech at the local trading post, his father so inflamed the supporters of slavery in the audience that they formed a mob and one of them stabbed him. Cody helped to drag his father to safety, although he never fully recovered from his injuries. The family was constantly persecuted by the supporters of slavery, forcing Isaac Cody to spend much of his time away from home. His enemies learned of a planned visit to his family and plotted to kill him on the way. Cody, despite his youth and the fact that he was ill, rode 30 miles (48 km) to warn his father. Cody's father died in 1857 from complications from his stabbing. After his father's death, the Cody family suffered financial difficulties, and at age 11 he took a job with a freight carrier as a "boy extra," riding up and down the length of a wagon train, delivering messages. From here, he joined Johnston's Army as an unofficial member of the scouts assigned to guide the Army to Utah to put down a falsely-reported rebellion by the Mormon population of Salt Lake City. According to Cody's account in Buffalo Bill's Own Story, the Utah War was where he first began his career as an "Indian fighter."

Presently the moon rose, dead ahead of me; and painted boldly across its face was the figure of an Indian. He wore this war-bonnet of the Sioux, at his shoulder was a rifle pointed at someone in the river-bottom 30 feet (9 m) below; in another second he would drop one of my friends. I raised my old muzzle-loader and fired. The figure collapsed, tumbled down the bank and landed with a splash in the water. 'What is it?' called McCarthy, as he hurried back. 'It's over there in the water.' 'Hi!' he cried. 'Little Billy's killed an Indian all by himself!' So began my career as an Indian fighter.

At the age of 14, Cody was struck by gold fever, but on his way to the gold fields, he met an agent for the Pony Express. He signed with them and after building several way stations and corrals, Cody was given a job as a rider, which he kept until he was called home to his sick mother's bedside.

After his mother recovered Cody wished to enlist as a soldier, but was refused for his age. He began working with a United States freight caravan which delivered supplies to Fort Laramie. In 1863 he enlisted as a teamster with the rank of Private in Company H, 7th Kansas Cavalry and served until discharged in 1865.

From 1868 until 1872 Cody was employed as a scout by the United States Army. Part of this time he spent scouting for Indians, and the remainder was spent gathering and killing bison for them and the Kansas Pacific Railroad. In January 1872 Cody was a scout for Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia's highly publicized royal hunt.

Medal of Honor

Cody received a Medal of Honor in 1872 for "gallantry in action" while serving as a civilian scout for the 3rd Cavalry Regiment. In 1917, the U.S.Congress — after revising the standards for award of the medal — revoked 911 medals previously awarded either to civilians, or for actions that would not warrant a Medal of Honor under the new higher standards. After Dr. Mary Edwards Walker's medal was restored in 1977, other reviews began that led to Cody's medal — along with those given to four other civilian scouts — being re-instated on June 12, 1989.


In December 1872 Cody traveled to Chicago to make his stage debut with friend Texas Jack Omohundro in The Scouts of the Prairie, one of the original Wild West shows produced by Ned Buntline. During the 1873-74 season, Cody and Omohundro invited their friend James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok to join them in a new play called Scouts of the Plains.

The troupe toured for ten years and his part typically included an 1876 incident at the Warbonnet Creek where he claimed to have scalped a Cheyenne warrior, purportedly in revenge for the death of George Armstrong Custer.

In 1883, in the area of North Platte, Nebraska Cody founded "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," (despite popular misconception, the word "show" was not a part of the title) a circus-like attraction that toured annually.

With his show, Cody traveled throughout the United States and Europe and made many contacts. He stayed, for instance, in Garden City, Kansas, in the presidential suite of the former Windsor Hotel and became friends there with the mayor and state representative, a frontier scout, rancher, and hunter named Charles "Buffalo" Jones.

In 1893 the title was changed to "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World". The show began with a parade on horseback, with participants from horse-culture groups that included US and other military, American Indians, and performers from all over the world in their best attire. There were Turks, Gauchos, Arabs, Mongols and Georgians, among others, each showing their own distinctive horses and colorful costumes. Visitors to this spectacle could see main events, feats of skill, staged races, and sideshows. Many authentic western personalities were part of the show. For example Sitting Bull and a band of twenty braves appeared. Cody's headline performers were well known in their own right. People like Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler put on shooting exhibitions along with the likes of Gabriel Dumont. Buffalo Bill and his performers would re-enact the riding of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains, and stagecoach robberies. Popular myth has it that the show typically ended with a melodramatic re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand, in which Cody himself portrayed General Custer. In fact, the show rarely finished with this display. The majority of the shows ended with an act recreating an attack on a settlers cabin, in which Cody would ride in with an entourage of cowboys on horseback to defend a settler and his family from a band of Indians on horseback. This ending featured predominantly from the show's origins as early as 1886, but vanished after 1907, appearing as the finale in 23 of 33 tours. The show is cited as being responsible for many modern portrayals of "the West" in twentieth century cinema and literature.

The profits from his show enabled him to purchase a 4,000-acre (16 km2) ranch near North Platte, Nebraska in 1886. Scout's Rest Ranch included an eighteen-room mansion and a large barn for winter storage of the show's livestock.

In 1887 he took the show to Britain in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria. The show was staged in London before going on to Birmingham and then Salford near Manchester, where it stayed for five months. In 1889 the show toured Europe. In 1890 he met Pope Leo XIII. He set up an exhibition near the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, which greatly contributed to his popularity, and also vexed the promoters of the fair. As noted in The Devil in the White City, he had been rebuffed in his request to be part of the fair, so he set up shop just to the west of the fairgrounds, drawing many of their patrons away. Since his show was not part of the fair, he was not obligated to pay the promoters any royalties, which they could have used to temper their financial problems.

In 1908 Pawnee Bill and Buffalo Bill joined forces and created the "Two Bills" show. That show was foreclosed on when it was playing in Denver, Colorado.


Larry McMurtry, along with some historians such as RL Wilson, asserts that at the turn of the 20th century Buffalo Bill Cody was the most recognizable celebrity on earth. And yet, despite all of the recognition and appreciation Cody's show brought for the Western and American Indian cultures, Buffalo Bill saw the American West change dramatically during his tumultuous life. Bison herds, which had once numbered in the millions, were now threatened with extinction. Railroads crossed the plains, barbed wire, and other types of fences divided the land for farmers and ranchers, and the once-threatening Indian tribes were now almost completely confined to reservations. Wyoming's resources of coal, oil and natural gas were beginning to be exploited towards the end of his life.

Even the Shoshone River was dammed for hydroelectric power as well as for irrigation. In 1897 and 1899 Cody and his associates acquired from the State of Wyoming the right to take water from the Shoshone River to irrigate about 169,000 acres (680 km2) of land in the Big Horn Basin. They began developing a canal to carry water diverted from the river, but their plans did not include a water storage reservoir. Cody and his associates were unable to raise sufficient capital to complete their plan. Early in 1903 they joined with the Wyoming Board of Land Commissioners in urging the federal government to step in and help with irrigation development in the valley.

The Shoshone Project became one of the first federal water development projects undertaken by the newly formed Reclamation Service, later to become known as the Bureau of Reclamation. After Reclamation took over the project in 1903, investigating engineers recommended constructing a dam on the Shoshone River in the canyon west of Cody.

Construction of the Shoshone Dam started in 1905, a year after the Shoshone Project was authorized. Almost three decades after its construction, the name of the dam and reservoir was changed to Buffalo Bill Dam by an act of Congress to honor Cody.

Life in Cody, Wyoming

In 1895, William Cody was instrumental in the founding of Cody, the seat of Park County in northwestern Wyoming. The site where the community was established is now the Old Trail Town museum, which honors the traditions of Western life. Cody first passed through the region in the 1870s. He was so impressed by the development possibilities from irrigation, rich soil, grand scenery, hunting, and proximity to Yellowstone Park that he returned in the mid-1890s to start a town. He brought with him men whose names are still on street signs in Cody’s downtown area – Beck, Alger, Rumsey, Bleistein and Salsbury. The town was incorporated in 1901.

In November 1902, Cody opened the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody, a hotel named after his daughter. He envisioned a growing number of tourists coming to the town via the recently opened Burlington rail line. He expected that they would spend money at local business including the Irma Hotel. Cody also expected that they would proceed up the Cody Road along the North Fork of the Shoshone River to visit Yellowstone Park. To accommodate travelers along the Cody Road, Cody completed construction of the Wapiti Inn and Pahaska Tepee in 1905 and opened both to guests.[16]

Cody also established the TE Ranch, which was located on the South Fork of the Shoshone River about thirty-five miles from Cody. When he acquired the TE property, he ordered the movement of Nebraska and South Dakota cattle to Wyoming. This new herd carried the TE brand. The late 1890s were relatively prosperous years for Buffalo Bill's Wild West and he used some of the profits to accumulate lands which were added to the TE holdings. Eventually Cody held around eight thousand acres (32 km²) of private land for grazing operations and ran about a thousand head of cattle. He also operated a dude ranch, pack horse camping trips, and big game hunting business at and from the TE Ranch, on the South fork of the Shoshone River. In his spacious and comfortable ranch house he entertained notable guests from Europe and America.

Life in Staten Island, New York

Cody brought his "Wild West Show" to an area of Mariners Harbor called Erastina (named for Staten Island promoter Erastus Wiman) for two seasons from June to October in 1886 and again in 1887. During the winter of 1886, the show moved indoors to Madison Square Garden. His show, featuring Native Americans, trick riders, "the smallest cowboy" and sharpshooters (including Annie Oakley) is said to have drawn millions of visitors to the island.

His 1879 autobiography is titled The Life and Adventures of Buffalo Bill.


William F. Cody died of kidney failure on January 10, 1917, surrounded by family and friends at his sister's house in Denver. Apocryphal tales say that Cody was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church[citation needed] the day before his death by Father Christopher Walsh of the Denver Cathedral. Upon the news of Cody's death, he received tributes from King George V of the United Kingdom, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Imperial Germany, and President Woodrow Wilson.[18] His funeral was in Denver at the Elks Lodge Hall. Wyoming Governor John B. Kendrick, a friend of Cody's, led the funeral procession to the Elks Lodge. Cody's grave lies atop Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado.

Contrary to popular belief, Cody was not destitute, but his once great fortune had dwindled to under $100,000. Despite his request in an early will to be buried in Cody, Wyoming, a later will left his burial arrangements up to his wife Louisa. Louisa Cody insisted that Buffalo Bill told her he wanted to be buried on Lookout Mountain, something that was corroborated by their daughter Irma, Cody's sisters, and family friends. But other family members joined the people of Cody, Wyoming in insisting Buffalo Bill should be buried in that town. This began a controversy that continues until today.

On June 3, 1917, Cody was buried on Colorado's Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado, west of the city of Denver, on the edge of the Rocky Mountains, overlooking the Great Plains. His exact burial site was selected by his sister, Mrs. Mary Decker, while looking over the area accompanied by W.F.R. Mills, manager of the Denver Mountain Parks. In 1948 the Cody branch of the American Legion offered a reward for the 'return' of the body, so the Denver branch mounted a guard over the grave until a deeper shaft could be blasted into the rock.


In contrast to his image and stereotype as a rough-hewn outdoorsman, Buffalo Bill pushed for the rights of American Indians and women.
" What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have. Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay."

In addition, despite his history of killing bison, he supported conservation by speaking out against hide-hunting and pushing for a hunting season.

Buffalo Bill and his exploits became well known in American culture, and his character has appeared in many literary works, television shows, movies, and on two U.S. postage stamps.[3] One of these was a 15¢ Great Americans series postage stamp. Buffalo Bill was portrayed in many Western movie and TV shows in the 1950s and 1960s. He is a character in the popular Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun.

Having been a frontier scout who respected the natives, he was a staunch supporter of their rights. He employed many more natives than just Sitting Bull, feeling his show offered them a better life, calling them "the former foe, present friend, the American", and once said, "Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government."[3]

In his shows the Indians were usually the "bad guys", attacking stagecoaches and wagon trains in order to be driven off by "heroic" cowboys and soldiers. Bill also had the wives and children of his Indian performers set up camp – as they would in the homelands – as part of the show, so that the paying public could see the human side of the "fierce warriors"; that they were families like any other, just part of a different culture.

The city of Cody, Wyoming, was founded in 1896 by Cody and some investors, and is named for him. It is the home of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. Fifty miles from Yellowstone National Park, it became a tourist magnet with many dignitaries and political leaders coming to hunt. Bill did indeed spend a great amount of time in Wyoming at his home in Cody. However, he also had a house in the town of North Platte, Nebraska, and later built the Scout's Rest Ranch there where he came to be with his family between shows. This western Nebraska town is still home to "Nebraskaland Days", an annual festival including concerts and a large rodeo. The Scout's Rest Ranch in North Platte is both a museum and a tourist destination for thousands of people every year.

Buffalo Bill became a hero of the Bills, a youth group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the latter 1950s, whose members idolized Western films.

The nickname of the K.A.A. Gent football club in Ghent, Belgium is De Buffalos (The Buffalos), which was adopted after the Wild West Show visited the area in the early 1900s.

In film and television

On television, his character has appeared on shows such as Bat Masterson and even Bonanza. His persona has been portrayed as anything from an elder statesman to a flamboyant, self-serving exhibitionist. Buffalo Bill has been portrayed in the movies and on television by: Italy was among many countries where stories recounting various adventures attributed to Buffalo Bill were highly popular. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nerbini Publishing House of Florence monthly published such brochures, sold at 60 centesimi each.

In 1942, when Fascist Italy found itself at war with the United States, the publisher added a note purporting to reveal that Buffalo Bill had actually been an Italian immigrant named Domenico Tombini, originally from Romagna, the region around Forlì - Benito Mussolini's own native province -, a pedigree for which no shred of historical evidence exists. In this way, the adventures could continue publication in wartime Italy, under the title "Buffalo Bill, the Italian Hero of the Plains".


  1. Herring, Hal (2008). Famous Firearms of the Old West: From Wild Bill Hickok's Colt Revolvers to Geronimo's Winchester, Twelve Guns That Shaped Our History. TwoDot. pp. 224. ISBN 0762745088. http://books.google.com/?id=BVMmjWgZB2AC&pg=PA29.
  2. Cody, Col. William F: "The Adventures of Buffalo Bill Cody", 1st ed. page viii. New York and London: Harper & Brother, 1904
  3. Wilson, R.L. (1998). Buffalo Bill's Wild West: An American Legend. Random House. pp. 316. ISBN 978-0375501067.
  4. "Historical Plaques of Peel Region". http://www.waynecook.com/apeel.html.
  5. Carter, Robert A. (2002). Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man Behind the Legend. Wiley. pp. 512. ISBN 978-0471077800.
  6. Miles from Nowhere: Tales from America's Contemporary Frontier, Dayton Duncan, U of Nebraska Press, 2000 ISBN 0803266278, 9780803266278
  7. Polanski, Charles (2006). "The Medal's History". Congressional Medal of Honor Society. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070928073912/http://www.cmohs.com/meda....
  8. Sterner, C. Douglas (1999–2009). "Restoration of 6 Awards Previously Purged From The Roll of Honor". HomeOfHeroes.com. http://www.homeofheroes.com/moh/corrections/restorations.html.
  9. Performing the American Frontier, 1870-1906, Roger A. Hall, Cambridge University Press, 2001,
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"Buffalo Bill" Cody's Timeline

February 26, 1846
Iowa Territory, near Le Claire, Scott Co., Iowa, United States
December 16, 1866
Leavenworth Co., Kansas, United States
November 26, 1870
Fort McPherson, Lincoln Co., Nebraska, United States
August 13, 1872
February 9, 1884
North Platte, Lincoln Co., NE, United States
January 10, 1917
Age 70
Denver, Denver County, Colorado, United States
Lookout Mountain, Golden, Colorado, United States