Buffalo Bill

(William Cody)


Buffalo Bill was born William Frederick Cody into a family of Canadian Quakers living in Ontario. Because of his family’s religious beliefs, they were constantly in danger from slave owners, and when William was seven, his father was attacked and stabbed while giving an antislavery speech. The elder Cody survived, but the constant threat of further violence forced him to spend much of his time away from home. Four years later, he passed away from complications resulting from his stabbing. After his death, the family was fraught with financial difficulties, and William procured a job as a “boy extra” aboard a wagon train, where he was given the task of delivering messages up and down the length of the train. From there, he went on to join Johnston’s Army and put down a falsely-reported rebellion by the Mormon settlers in Salt Lake City, a “war” that was finally solved by negotiation. William intended to continue west to California, but he instead took up a position with the Pony Express. By this time, the young man was only 14 years old.

Buffalo Bill
After returning home for a time, Cody tried to enlist as a soldier but was refused, so he instead worked for a freight caravan that delivered supplies to Fort Laramie. In 1683, he enlisted with the 7th Kansas Cavalry, and five years later he obtained a position as a scout in the U.S. Army. In 1872, Cody received a Medal of Honor for serving as a scout for the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

In December 1872, Cody travelled to Chicago to perform in the Wild West show The Scouts of the Prairie along with his friend Texas Jack Omohundro. The troupe toured for ten years, until Cody founded his own “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,” a circus-like attraction that gave shows throughout America. The program eventually changed to “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World,” which starred performers from different cultures dressed in their native costumes. William also featured other famous Westerners, including Sitting Bull and Annie Oakley. In 1889 his show toured Europe, allowing him to meet Queen Victoria and Pope Leo XIII.

In addition to changing the way of life for settlers watching his shows, Cody had a significant effect on other aspects of American society. He helped to construct the Shoshone Dam, at that time the tallest dam in the world, to divert water to land in the Big Horn Basin, and in 1895 he founded the town of Cody in Wyoming. William was baptized into the Catholic Church just a few hours before his death in 1917, and after his passing his family received consolation from King George V, Kaiser Wilhelm III, and President Woodrow Wilson.

Key events during the life of Buffalo Bill:

Moved to Leavenworth, Kansas, where his father was stabbed while giving an abolitionist speech.
Father died from complications resulting from his stabbing.
  Took a job as a 'boy extra' for a freight carrier.
  Served in the Utah War.
Became a rider for the Pony Express.
Enlisted in the 7th Kansas Cavalry.
Employed as a scout by the United States Army.
Received the Medal of Honor.
  Travelled to Chicago to perform in The Scouts of the Prairie.
Founded 'Buffalo Bill’s Wild West,' later changed to include a 'Congress of Rough Riders of the World.'
Founded the town of Cody, Wyoming.
Helped construct the Shoshone Dam.
Baptized into the Catholic Church.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Buffalo Bill and Yellow Hand  in  Frontier Fighters  by  Edwin L. Sabin

Book Links
Adventures of Buffalo Bill  by  William Cody

Image Links

He saw the feathered head of an Indian poke over the bank before him.
 in The Adventures of Buffalo Bill

I disentagled myself and jumped behind the dead body of my horse.
 in The Adventures of Buffalo Bill

In the distance I saw a large herd of Buffalo which were being chased by twenty Indians.
 in The Adventures of Buffalo Bill

He looked up and saw Indians in War Paint standing inside the cave, gazing at him.
 in The Adventures of Buffalo Bill

As Lame Buffalo said, 'Little One' shot the straightest of any.
 in Buffalo Bill and Overland Trail

William Frederick Cody ('Buffalo Bill')
 in Buffalo Bill and Overland Trail

Give it to them! Split 'em! Split em!'
 in Buffalo Bill and Overland Trail

Why Hello Billy! Is that you?'
 in Buffalo Bill and Overland Trail

That's right. Fight'em off Davy!'
 in Buffalo Bill and Overland Trail

Buffalo Bill, Chief of Scouts
 in Frontier Fighters

Short Biography
Victoria I Longest reigning English Monarch. Presided over the British Empire at its height.
George V King of England during the Great War. Relinquished all German holdings; changed name to Windsor.
Woodrow Wilson United States President during the First World War. Founder of the League of Nations.
Sitting Bull Medicine man who organized resistance to U.S. Army. His warriors defeated Custer at Little Bighorn.