HEROES OF THE WEST: BUFFALO BILL
William F. Cody was born on February 26, 1846 near Leclair, Iowa. In 1854 his family moved to settle on lands in what would soon be Kansas Territory. Young William’s father died in 1857, leaving the boy to help provide for his family.
William soon obtained a job as a messenger boy for Majors and Russell, who had a company store at Leavenworth, Kansas. In the next three years, William would try his hand at prospecting during the Pikes Peak gold rush, and at trapping. Neither ventures proved to be very successful.
In 1860, the partnership of Russell, Majors, and Waddell, in an effort to advertise and obtain a contract for a central route for mail to the Pacific, began the Pony Express. Cody, already acquainted with the principals in this partnership, was hired as a rider. The Pony Express operated from April 3, 1860 to November 18, 1861. The venture operated at a loss and failed to bring the desired contract to Cody’s employers, whose partnership ended in bankruptcy.
Cody’s mother died November 22, 1863. Shortly thereafter, in February, 1864, he enlisted in the 7th Kansas Cavalry, apparently influenced by friends and alcohol. During the Civil War Cody saw action in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Missouri. He served 19 months, including one year of active duty.
After his discharge, Cody married Louisa Frederici on March 6, 1866. He worked briefly as a scout at Fort Ellsworth, where an old acquaintance, James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, was also employed. The following year Cody was hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to kill buffalo to feed track layers for eight months. This job apparently was the source of the nickname that would become known virtually worldwide: Buffalo Bill.
Later Cody distinguished himself as a scout for the U.S. Army. He was valued so highly that General Phil Sheridan endeavored to keep Cody on the Army’s payroll even after the end of their campaign, something not done with scouts up to that time. This paved the way for the scout to become an established position in the Army during the years of the Indian wars. Cody was made chief scout of the 5th Cavalry by General Sheridan in October, 1868.
Cody first began to receive national attention in 1869, when a serial story about “Buffalo Bill” appeared in a New York paper. Then in 1872 he was assigned to guide the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia on a hunting trip. With the press following the Duke’s every move, Cody received a great deal more exposure. This experience was followed by his first trip to the eastern states. He attended a play about himself and was talked into taking part in the performance. Thus began a period of years when Cody alternated between scouting duties and theatrical tours.
Cody was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872 for action against Indians at the South Fork of the Loup River in Nebraska. However, his name was stricken from the record of Medal of Honor recipients in 1916, since we was a civilian, and considered not eligible for the award. He later assisted General George Crook’s campaign against the Sioux in 1876, the year of Custer's Last Stand (Custer was Cody's friend, and Buffalo Bill avenged his friend by defeating Yellow Hand's Cheyennes at the battle of Warbonnet Creek).
“Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” show had its beginnings in 1883. This was a propitious time for such an effort by Cody and his partners, during the height of popularity for outdoor shows such as circuses. The show in various forms would tour the United States and Europe for three decades.
Buffalo Bill was also commonly referred to as “Colonel Cody.” His rank was provided by Nebraska Governor John Thayer (former governor of Wyoming Territory)in 1887, when he was named aide-de-camp of the Governor’s staff. He was never an officer in the U.S. Army.
Cody became interested in developing the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming in the 1890s. The Cody Canal was built in 1895, as part of the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Project. The company laid out a townsite, first calling it “Shoshone.” With the Shoshoni Indian agency in the region this was rejected to avoid confusion. Therefore, in August, 1896 the Cody post office was established, with Buffalo Bill’s nephew, Ed Goodman, as postmaster.
The water project led to the building of the Shoshone Dam, which was completed in 1910. The dam was renamed “Buffalo Bill Dam” in 1946. Buffalo Bill was also instrumental in bringing a rail line to the town of Cody in 1901.
William F. Cody died January 10, 1917 while staying in Denver, Colorado. He is buried on Lookout Mountain, west of Denver.
The eternal Wild West Show: at Disneyland Paris since 1992