“Cody.” The name alone conjures up images and legends of the American West: wagon trains, gold rushes, gunslingers, Indian battles and more. And among these legends, William Frederick Cody — commonly known as “Buffalo Bill” — is one of the best-known and most colorful.
And possibly the most misunderstood.
At the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo., (the town at the gateway to “Yellowstone Country” founded by the legend himself) visitors enjoy a more well-rounded view of Buffalo Bill: the legend and the man. And, as is often the case with legendary figures, “the truth is more interesting than the myth.”
Here’s a “top 10” list of little-known facts about the man, showman and pioneer who dazzled millions around the world with “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show”:
1. Known as a fearless Indian fighter, Cody respected — and advocated for the rights of — American Indians and once said, “Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government.”
2. Cody was an ardent supporter of women’s rights and insisted on equal pay for all members of his traveling shows, regardless of gender. “What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have,” he said. “Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay.”
3. At the age of 11, Cody took a job as a wagon train “boy extra” riding and delivering messages to drivers along the length of the train.
4. At the ripe old age of 14, he signed on with the Pony Express and after an apprenticeship building corrals and stations for the burgeoning mail service, became a full-fledged rider.
5. Cody’s family was Quaker and opposed slavery. When Cody was a young child, the family moved from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, a hotbed of conflict between slavery advocates and abolitionists. While giving an antislavery speech at a local trading post, Cody’s father Isaac was stabbed twice by an angry man in the crowd.
6. Cody was a Freemason who achieved the rank of Knight Templar in 1889 and 32-degree rank in the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in 1894.
7. While thousands visit the Buffalo Bill gravesite outside of Denver annually, many Cody residents believe their town’s namesake is actually buried on Cedar Mountain overlooking the town of Cody itself. The legend behind this belief involves a bold plan, a middle-of the-night trip to a Denver mortuary and an unlucky ranch hand bearing a likeness to Buffalo Bill.
8. Some historians assert that at the height of his traveling show’s fame, Cody was the most recognizable celebrity in the world — notoriety that earned him an audience with Pope Leo XIII while the Wild West Show was touring Europe.
9. In 1893, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” expanded and became the even more spectacular (though ponderously titled) “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World.” A true multicultural event, the show featured horsemen from around the globe, including South American gauchos, Arabs, Mongols and Turks.
10. Cody received a Medal of Honor while serving the Third Cavalry Regiment as a civilian scout. Congress later rescinded the medal, as well as all others awarded to civilians. In 1989, Cody’s medal was officially reinstated.
Yellowstone Country is comprised of the towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse as well as the valley east of Yellowstone National Park.
The area of Park County is called “Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country” because it was the playground of Buffalo Bill Cody himself. Buffalo Bill founded the town of Cody in 1896, and the entire region was driven and is still heavily influenced by the vision of the Colonel. Today its broad streets, world-class museum, Buffalo Bill Historical Center and thriving western culture host more than 1 million visitors annually.
The Park County Travel Council website (www.yellowstonecountry.org) lists information about vacation packages, special events, guide services, weather and more. Travelers wishing to arrange vacation can also call the Park County Travel Council at 1-800-393-2639.