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Buffalo Bill

Photo of William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody

Buffalo Bill (February 26, 1846January 10, 1917) was born William Frederick Cody in the American state of Iowa. He was one of the most colorful figures of the Old West, and was perhaps a bit misunderstood.


Nickname and work life

He assumed his nickname for supplying Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat. The nickname originally referred to Bill Comstock . Cody won the nickname from him in a buffalo killing contest 69 to 48.

He worked many jobs, having been a trapper, bullwhacker, "Fifty-Niner" in Colorado, a Pony Express rider in 1860, wagonmaster, stagecoach driver, a Civil War soldier, and even a hotel manager. But he became famous for his Wild West Show .


William Cody received the Medal of Honor in 1872 for "gallantry in action" while serving as a civilian scout for the 3rd cavalry. His medal was revoked on February 5, 1917, 26 days after his death, because he was a civilian, and thus ineligible for the award under new guidelines for the award in 1917. The medal was restored in 1989 by the U.S. Army

After being a frontiersman, Buffalo Bill entered show business. He toured the United States in plays based on his Western adventures, and, in Omaha, Nebraska in 1883, founded the "Buffalo Bill Wild West Show," a circus-like attraction that toured annually: Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull both appeared in the show. In 1887 he performed in London in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria, and toured Europe in 1889. He set up an exhibition near the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (properly the World's Columbian Exposition), which greatly contributed to his popularity.

He saw the American West dramatically change during his tumultuous life, seeing Wyoming's coal, oil and natural gas resources begin to be exploited towards the end of his life. The Buffalo Bill Dam was built on the Shoshone River after 1904, a dam used for hydroelectric power and irrigation.

He died on January 10, 1917. By his own request, he was buried on Lookout Mountain (Colorado) , west of the city of Denver, Colorado, on the edge of the Rocky Mountains overlooking the Great Plains.


Buffalo Bill may have been a rough-hewn outdoorsman, but was something of a liberal, pushing for rights of American Indians as well as women, and despite his history of killing the buffalo, he spoke out for conservation of this American symbol. He spoke out against hide-hunting and pushed for a hunting season.

Having been a frontier scout who respected the natives, he once said,

"Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government."

Despite how American Indians were depicted in his Wild West shows, he pushed for better treatment. 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."

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. But fifty miles from Yellowstone National Park, it became a tourist magnet; many dignitaries and political leaders coming to hunt.

In film and television

Buffalo Bill has been represented in the movies by:

Buffalo Bill's / defunct

A famous free verse poem on mortality by e. e. cummings uses Buffalo Bill as an image of life and vibrancy. The poem is untitled, but commonly known by it's first two lines: "Buffalo Bill's / defunct". The poem uses expressive phrases to describe Buffalo Bill's showmanship, referring to his "watersmooth-silver / stallion", and using a staccato beat to describe his rapid shooting of a series of clay pigeons .

External links and references

  • University of Wyoming on Buffalo Bill
  • on Buffalo Bill
  • The Life of Hon. William F. Cody (1879) and An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920) from Project Gutenberg.

Other Buffalo Bills

  • Buffalo Bill is also the name of a fictional character from Thomas Harris's Silence of the Lambs. The character, based on the life story of Ed Gein, takes the skins of women he kidnaps and kills.
  • Two television series, Buffalo Bill, Jr. (1955–6) starring Dickie Jones and Buffalo Bill (1983–4) starring Dabney Coleman, had nothing to do with the historic person.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 16:58:38
Last updated: 02-28-2005 02:55:17