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Cody, William Frederick (1846-1917)

William Frederick Cody (1846-1917)

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Scout and showman

Varied Career. William Frederick Cody, known as Buffalo Bill, was born in LeClaire, Iowa, but moved with his family to the Kansas Territory in 1854. He was a Pony Express rider (1860), served in the Union army with the Ninth Kansas Cavalry (1863), and joined federal forces in Tennessee and Missouri (1864-1865) as a teamster. After the war he tried various jobs in the West until he became a buffalo hunter (1867-1868) to supply meat to the Kansas Pacific Railroad. Cody claimed he killed 4,280 buffalo by his own count and thus earned the nickname Buffalo Bill. He scouted for the U.S. Cavalry (1868-1872), fighting against the Sioux and the Cheyenne. E. Z. C. Judson (Ned Buntline) soon began to write about Cody in a series of dime novels. Judson also encouraged him to appear in the authors popular play, The Scouts of the Prairie, a fictionalized account of Codys exploits that opened in Chicago in 1872. Other dime novels starring Cody appeared, many by the lurid novelist Prentiss Ingraham, all of which kept Codys name alive to the public imagination. Yet throughout his life Cody was always his own best publicist.

Personalizing the West. After these ventures Cody went back to the plains to raise cattle and to scout for the military; he allegedly killed and scalped the Cheyenne warrior Yellow Hand in a July 1876 duel. In 1883 he decided to profit from his fame by organizing Buffalo Bills Wild West Show in Omaha, Nebraska, with himself as the star and with other talented marksmen and riders to support him. The show toured throughout the United States and Europe for thirty years. By 1902 it began to lose money and finally closed in 1916.

Active Decline. Cody continued performing almost until his death. During the unrest involving the U.S. Army and the American Indians after the 1890 murder of Sitting Bull, who had performed in the Wild West Show, Cody offered his services to Gen. Nelson A. Miles, commander of the Military Division of the Missouri. He spent much of his last years on a ranch he received from the state of Wyoming in the Bighorn Basin (later the site of the town of Cody). His various autobiographies, many of them written by novelists, are not accurate. He died in Denver, Colorado, on 10 January 1917 and was buried on nearby Lookout Mountain. Dime novels on the life of Cody continued to appear as late as the 1950s.

Sources

Buffalo Bill and the Wild West (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Brooklyn Museum, 1981);

Joseph G. Rosa and Robin May, Buffalo Bill and the Wild West: A Pictorial Biography (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989);

Henry B. Sell and Victor Waybright, Buffalo Bill and the Wild West (Basin, Wyo.: Big Horn Books, 1979).

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Cody, William Frederick

William Frederick Cody: see Buffalo Bill.

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