WILLIAM F. CODY
William F. Cody
Cody's trademark double-signature "W. F. Cody" above "Buffalo Bill" on 2" x 4" paper. (See vintage cabinet card here.)
WILLIAM FREDERICK "BUFFALO BILL" CODY (1846-1917) was an American soldier, bison hunter and showman. He was born in the Iowa Territory (now the American state of Iowa), near Le Claire. He was one of the most colorful figures of the American Old West, and mostly famous for the shows he organized with cowboy themes. Buffalo Bill received the Medal of Honor in 1872. Cody got his nickname "Buffalo Bill" after he undertook a contract to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat. Cody earned the nickname by killing 4,280 buffalo in eighteen months (1867-68).
In addition to his documented service as a soldier during the Civil War and as Chief of Scouts for the Third Cavalry during the Plains Wars, Cody claimed to have worked many jobs, including as a trapper, bullwhacker, "Fifty-Niner" in Colorado, a Pony Express rider in 1860, wagon master, stagecoach driver, and even a hotel manager, but it's unclear which claims were factual and which were fabricated for purposes of publicity. He became world famous for his Wild West show.
In December 1872 Cody traveled to Chicago to make his stage debut with friend Texas Jack Omohundro in The Scouts of the Prairie, one of the original Wild West shows produced by Ned Buntline. During the 1873-74 season, Cody and Omohundro invited their friend James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok to join them in a new play called Scouts of the Plains.
The troupe toured for ten years and Cody's part typically included an 1876 incident at the Warbonnet Creek where he claimed to have scalped a Cheyenne warrior, purportedly in revenge for the death of George Armstrong Custer.
It was the age of great showmen and traveling entertainers. Cody put together a new traveling show based on both of those forms of entertainment. In 1883 in the area of North Platte, Nebraska he founded "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," (despite popular misconception, the word "show" was not a part of the title) a circus-like attraction that toured annually.
In 1893 the title was changed to "Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World". The show began with a parade on horseback, with participants from horse-culture groups that included US and other military, American Indians, and performers from all over the world in their best attire. There were Turks, Gauchos, Arabs, Mongols and Cossacks, among others, each showing their own distinctive horses and colorful costumes. Visitors to this spectacle could see main events, feats of skill, staged races, and sideshows. Many authentic western personalities were part of the show. For example Sitting Bull and a band of twenty braves appeared. Cody's headline performers were well known in their own right. People like Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler put on shooting exhibitions along with the likes of Gabriel Dumont. Buffalo Bill and his performers would re-enact the riding of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains, and stagecoach robberies. The show typically ended with a melodramatic re-enactment of Custer's Last Stand in which Cody himself portrayed General Custer.
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