Buffalo Bill was a famous scout, hunter, rights advocate, and a colorful showman who chronicled “The America Wild West” in exhibition and pageant for the world to see.
William Cody was born in LeClaire, Iowa on February 26th 1846 but his family moved to Leavenworth, Kansas when he was a child. His father Isaac Cody and the Cody family were an anti-slavery activists and gave lectures against Kansas being a slave state.
Isaac was attacked by pro-slavery supporters and stabbed. His life was constantly in danger and the wounds he received would eventually lead to his pre-mature death. William was forced by financial hardship after his father died to look for ways to help support the family.
Young William Cody
At the tender age of eleven, William took a job as a messenger boy for a wagon train and rode up and down the length of the column delivering dispatches and important communications. Later at the age of twelve he joined Johnson’s Army as a scout during the Utah Mormon rebellion of 1857.
When William was fourteen he got a job with the Pony Express in 1860. He served as a laborer building corrals and way stations but eventually became a Pony Express rider and later a freight hauler after being denied acceptance into the military.
The American Indian Wars
William eventually served as a scout near the end of the Civil War and in 1868 accepted a position as a civilian scout for the United States Army. During this four year span of time William would distinguish himself as an expert tracker and Indian Scout and would also earn his nickname and acclaim as an Indian fighter!
The Civil War was over but the United States Government was busy at the task of subduing the native American Indian tribes and relocating them to reservations so that their land could be used for settlements for the ever expanding population moving out west from eastern states.
It was during this term of service that William earned the name “Buffalo Bill.” The nickname was the result of his time hunting and killing bison for the Army and the Kansas Pacific Railroad. The buffalo was the primary source of food for the Army and the railway workers.
In 1872 William was awarded the “Medal of Honor” for his service as a civilian scout for the Army. That honor was later revoked in 1917 due to his civilian status, but seventy-nine years later in 1989 the medal was restored to him by the military.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West
After he left his job with the army in 1872 Cody decided to use his national acclaim as an Indian fighter and scout to make some money in show business. He first appeared in a stage production called “The Scouts of the Prairie” with other famous western celebrities including friends Texas Jack Omohundro and Wild Bill Hickok.
In 1883 William founded “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” and it became an international sensation. The show included shooting exhibitions and historical reenactments of events such as “The Massacre at Little Big Horn” and included real life Indians such as famous native American “Chief Sitting Bull” who became one of the most popular attractions of the show along with renowned female marksman “Annie Oakley.”
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West toured the United States and even performed for Queen Victoria of Great Britain in 1887 and even though rebuffed by the promoters of the 1893 Chicago World Fair he set up his show close to the site of the fair and gave performances without the obligation to pay any royalties.
Buffalo Bills Legacy
From an early age William was taught that slavery was a social evil by his father Isaac Cody who gave his life for his beliefs and William became a staunch supporter of women’s rights and believed they deserved the right to vote. He also mourned the plight of the Native Americans and although he once considered the Indians his foe he was sympathetic to their ill treatment by the government and supported many of them by giving them parts in his show including “Chief Sitting Bull” who he greatly respected.
Buffalo Bill was easily the most famous and recognizable figure of his time and was loved and respected by multitudes of fans , friends, and family. His legacy ended on January, 10th 1917 when he died of kidney failure at the age of seventy-one years old. He was laid to rest on Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado. And, so ended the life but not the legend of one of America’s most flamboyant showmen and most admired citizens.