One of the most colorful figures of the Old West became the best known spokesman for the New West. He was born William Frederick Cody in Iowa in 1846. At 22, in Kansas, he was rechristened "Buffalo Bill". He had been a trapper, a bullwhacker, a Colorado "Fifty-Niner", Pony Express rider (1860), wagonmaster, stagecoach driver, Civil War soldier, and even hotel manager. He earned his nickname for his skill while supplying Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat. He was about to embark on a career as one of the most illustrious prairie scouts of the Indian Wars.
Buffalo Bill (click here for enlarged picture)
Mrs Cody (click here for enlarged picture)
From 1868 through 1872 he was continously employed by the United States Army, a record in the hazardous and uncertain scouting profession. He won the congressional Medal of Honor in 1872 and was ever after the favorite scout of the Fifth Cavalry. The men of the Fifth considered Buffalo Bill to be "good luck." He kept them from ambush, he guided them to victory, and his own fame reflected glory on the regiment. Cody considered himself lucky too. He was lucky to have been wounded in action just once, and then it was "only a scalp wound." But mostly he felt lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.
In 1872 he appeared on stage for the first time, playing himself in "Scouts of the Prairie." Thereafter he continued to act in the winter and scout for the Fifth in the summer. The Wild West show was inaugurated in Omaha in 1883 with real cowboys and real Indians portraying the "real West." The show spent ten of its thirty years in Europe. In 1887 Buffalo Bill was a feature attraction at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. At the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, only Egypt's gyrations rivalled the Wild West as the talk of Chicago. By the turn of the century, Buffalo Bill was probably the most famous and most recognizable man in the world.
First Buildings in Cody 1896
The phenomenal success of the Wild West was founded on a nostalgia for the passing frontier which swept the nation in the late 19th Century. But Buffalo Bill himself never looked backward. "All my interests are still with the west - the modern west," he wrote near the end of his life.
He used his fame and public attention as a soapbox for western causes, for the rights of Indians and women, and for conservation. As early as 1879 he cautioned the government to "never make a single promise to the Indians that is not fulfilled." All frontier scouts respected the Indian, he said. "Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government." America was the Indian's heritage, and the Indian had only fought for what was his.
Cody 1906 - Irma Hotel's Stage Coach
In 1894 a woman reporter asked him whether he thought the majority of women qualified to vote. He was caught offguard but answered, "As well qualified as the majority of men." The women in his Wild West were as skilled and courageous as the men. "If a woman can do the same work that a man can do and do it just as well," he said "she should have the same pay."
Cody recognized very early that a developer in the West was obligated to be a preserver as well. He has spoken out against the hide-hunters of the 1870s and 1880s for slaughtering the buffalo "cruelly, recklessly." In Wyoming and Colorado he worked to establish game preserves and limit hunting seasons. Gifford Pinchot, noted conservationist and head of the Forest Service for Theodore Roosevelt, lauded him as "not only a fighter but a seer."
Cody used his wealth as well as words. Because so few of his investments - in ranching, mining, irrigation, publishing, town building - paid off during his lifetime, he died almost broke.
Lobby of the Irma Hotel with Buffalo Bill on the right
But he had helped his West to make the transition from a wild past to a progressive future. His was the New West, he wrote, "with its cities, drawing upon the mountains for the water to make it fertile, and upon the whole world for men to make it rich."
The people of Cody have planned a year long celebration to commemorate the centennial of their town and the 150th Birthday of Colonel William F. Cody, the world-famous showman and scout, better known as Buffalo Bill held in February. Every Western event held in Cody in 1996, including the Cody Stampede Rodeo and Parade will carry a centennial theme. Founder's Day was celebrated on the 18th of May, 1996. (Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show manager, Nate Salsbury, was in Cody for the first Fourth of July celebration and claimed the town was exactly six weeks old on July 4th, 1896.)
A centennial history of Cody titled "Buffalo Bill's Town in the Rockies: A Pictorial History of Cody, Wyoming" is available from the Park County Historical Society. This unique centennial history traces the development of Cody from settlement to present time with special sections on Buffalo Bill, archhaeology and the early history of the region.
Cody is situated in the northwest corner of Wyoming's Big Horn Basin. It was one of the last places in the United States to be settled. Mountain man and fur trapper John Colter, a member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, was probably the first white man to visit the Stinking Water Valley, while searching for beaver. Later came the miners, cattle kings and flock masters. They had come to encroach on the hunting grounds of the Crow Indians. Once the buffalo were gone, the Crow retreated to their reservation in Montana.
In the 1890s the foundation was laid for irrigation projects in the vincinity of Cody. A few ranches had been developed prior to this time, but irrigation brought the first major colonization and development to the area. Irrigation was the key to the development of the desert land in the Big Horn Basin.
Buffalo Bill Cody advertised through his Wild West Show enticing settlers to come west and take up land under the Cody Canal. There was a sense of excitement and urgency felt by the people moving west. They realized that the Western lands were nearly all settled and if they wanted to be a part of this epic drama they must relocate soon.
Cody, along with a group of investors from Buffalo, New York, and George T. Beck and Holger Alger of Sheridan, Wyoming, formed the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company and proceeded with plans to locate a town. Cody was established at the present site in 1896.
An earlier attempt to start the town was made in 1895 at the site of DeMaris Springs, slightly northwest of the present site. By 1900, settlement of the Irrigation project picked up and as agriculture expanded in the area, so did the town of Cody. The Burlington Railroad completed a spur to Cody by 1901. Cody poured his own money into the town, building the Irma Hotel, Pahaska and the Wapiti Inn. He also owned the T-E and Carter ranches and had interests in coal mines and gas and oil claims as well as the Canal Company, Buffalo Bill Barn, Cody Enterprise and Cody Trading Company. By 1904 work began on the Buffalo Bill Dam, which would store water from the Shoshone River for hydroelectric power and irrigation use. A system of canals, flumes and dams was constructed to deliver the water to the land. This made it possible for even further settlement.
The founding fathers of Cody realized the potential for tourism. With Yellowstone National Park only fifty miles away and the town surrounded by thousands of acres of wilderness, the city would lure tourists from all over the world. William F. Cody brought many dignitaries and heads of state to Cody to hunt during the off-season of the Wild West Show. The Cody country had abundant game and was developing into a sportsman's paradise. Guiding and outfitting services flourished and guest and dude ranches began springing up to accomodate tourists brought in by the Burlington Railroad.
Another attraction was the reputed healing waters of DeMaris Hot Springs.
Cody continued to grow at a fast pace until World War I. The depression of the 1930s brought growth to a halt but the area remained stable. By this time Buffalo Bill had passed on and the town was searching for ways to commemorate his life. The Cody Stampede and Rodeo was founded, along with the establishment of the Buffalo Bill Museum and erection of the famous statue of Buffalo Bill called "The Scout." During this time the gas and oil interests were developed, producing significant economic benefit to the community.
The next era of prosperity was ushered in by the end of World War II. Soldiers came home to establish families and enjoy the good life made possible by their sacrifice. In order to accommodate the needs of the population expansion, more homes were built and business increased. By this time oil, gas and mineral revenue was becoming more important to the economic base of the community than agriculture or tourism. But the community continued to see itself the way it always had. Cody was the last home of the Western hero Buffalo Bill.
Down through the years Cody has gone through a series of economic booms and busts, tied to the major industries of agriculture, tourism and gas and oil.
As we approach our centennial, Cody is in the throes of change unlike any the town has seen since the first decade of this century. Many modern-day colonists are moving to Cody to take up small acreages in subdivisions, establish "ranchettes" and retire in Cody, far from the pressures of urban America.
A BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF PARK COUNTY
Park County is a large, rural, typically western county located in the Rocky Mountains and was one of the last areas in Wyoming to be settled. The Big Horn Mountain range lies just east of the county and the Absaroka Mountain range comprises the western portion of the county. Park County takes its name from the Yellowstone National Park. Its east entrance is fifty-three miles to the west of Cody which is the county seat of Park County. A major portion of Park County's land area is unpopulated mountain and desert wilderness with abundant wildlife. Park County has traditionally enjoyed extensive mineral wealth. The early day pioneers engaged in cattle and sheep production and irrigated farming. The majority of Park County's population is located along the Shoshone River.
The city of Cody was founded in 1896 by members of the Cody Canal Co. and named for Colonel William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody. Cody was chosen as the county seat of Park County in 1909. It is the home of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (which includes four museums), the Irma Hotel, Old Trail Town, the Park County Historical Society Archives, the Cody Stampede and the Cody Night Rodeo, and the Olive Glenn Golf Course. Industries in the Cody area include: tourism, oil and gas production, gypsum, sand and gravel mining, irrigated farming, ranching, outfitting, and the logging industry.
Buffalo Bill Historical Center
Buffalo Bill Museum, his grave and museum on Lookout Mountain, CO.
Rich Gross' site on Mr. Cody
Picture of Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull
Buffalo Bill Ranch
Biography of Buffalo Bill by THE WEST TV Series
Return to the AmericanWest Home Page.