When we think about the West and Wyoming, we can’t help but think about Buffalo Bill Cody! He was the embodiment of the spirit of the west to the world. In fact, at the turn of the century, Buffalo Bill was the most famous American in the world. Let’s shine the spotlight on The Man, The Show, and The Town.
The Man – He was born William F. Cody in 1846 and raised on the prairies of Iowa and Kansas. At the age of 14, he joined the Pony Express. He became one of their most fearless and daring riders. During the Civil War, he served as a Union scout against the Kiowa and Commanche. After the war, he married and was hired to hunt buffalo to feed the crews building the Kansas Pacific railroad. This occupation earned him the nickname, “Buffalo Bill.” He returned to scouting for the Army in 1868 and was earning a reputation for skill and bravery. His fame began to take shape when he became a character in Ned Buntline’s dime novels that mixed his real life stories with fiction. Buntline convinced Buffalo Bill to star as himself in a stage play. This is where Buffalo Bill fell in love with the spotlight. He spent eleven seasons on stage but returned to the West between theater seasons to guide hunting parties.
The Wild West Show – In 1883, Cody organized Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. It was an outdoor show that dramatized elements of frontier life from buffalo hunts to Indian attacks. The show mixed elements of rodeo, circus, pageant and theater and emphasized Cody’s showmanship and charisma. The show also featured sharpshooter, Annie Oakley, Chief Sitting Bull for one season and a “Congress of Rough Riders of the World.” Needless to say, the show was incredibly popular and toured the country for 30 years and traveled to Europe for about 10 of those years. The Wild West Show made Cody a wealthy man. Unfortunately, he was not a good businessman and fell prey to many bad investments. It is said that he made a million dollars twice in his lifetime to only lose it all. At the time of his death in 1917, he was broke.
The Town – Cody fell in love with the Big Horn Basin and in 1896 helped found the city of Cody. He had many visions for the town. The original town site was situated, at what is now the West end of town, near a hot springs. Cody had visions of making the town the next Glenwood Springs. Unfortunately, there was not an easy way to navigate the canyon below town to access the springs. The town site was moved a mile down the river where the railroad set up a station and Cody opened his “Hotel in the Rockies,” The Irma. Cody had visions of making the Big Horn Basin an agricultural center. Cody spent large sums of money on irrigation to the basin. He convinced his friend, President Teddy Roosevelt, to start the Bureau of Reclamation and finance projects like the Buffalo Bill Dam. When completed in 1910, the dam was the tallest concrete dam in the world. Today, you can visit the Buffalo Bill Dam Visitor Center to learn more on the history of the dam and Cody’s influence on the areas agriculture.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West – The five museums of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West share the history of the west that Cody was so proud of. The Buffalo Bill Museum is dedicated to the life and times of William F. Cody. He was more than an actor and showman. Cody was a noted hunting guide, scout, frontiersman, entrepreneur, town founder and American Icon. Authentic artifacts, exhibits and interactive displays tell the story of the multifaceted Buffalo Bill. This winter, the museum has been undergoing a renovation and is scheduled to re-open on May 19th.
William F. Cody was definitely a renaissance man. One of the most impressive things about Cody was his rise to international stardom as a showman, historian and proponent of the American West in a time without the mass media of our day. Next time you are in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country, be sure to explore more about The Man, The Show and The Town!
Until next time, I’ll be lovin’ life in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country!