May 27, 2014

William F. Cody: Buffalo Bill of the Wild West

William Frederick Cody who became known as Buffalo Bill, was a buffalo hunter (thus the name), United States Army scout, and an Indian fighter. He is best known in history as the man who brought the Wild West to the eastern United States and major European cities. The colorful show was called Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World – a long name that created a long historical reputation.
His life story is mixed with legend and fabrication, but it provided an insight for people who did not live in the West during the height of its notoriety and hailed a way of life that was disappearing in the Victorian and Industrial period of American history.

William was born in Scott County, Iowa in 1846, just west of the Mississippi River near the town of LeClaire. Scholars and historians, state that his life was not as dynamic as the dime novels and other promoters of his show would have the public believe; but there remains the fact that he was part of a unique portion of American history. Those novels merely embellished upon his real life and personally he knew the difference. The following is rare footage of Thomas Edison early "moving pictures" ...

As a showman, William Cody was creative and successful; but, as mentioned in the video, was a poor business man who wanted to own a gold mine just because he thought it would be great to do so. The next video shows that he used his experiences as a youth to develop a successful traveling show. He succeeded in bringing the “Wild West” to people that could/would never experience or see it. It was the periodicals and dime novels helped boost the myth surrounding his life; so people would then begin to believe he was a fraud – but he did experience the American West and saw that its glory was fading into history – he brought its story to as many as he could and he did it in an entertaining manner and outdid Barnum & Bailey's Circus.

When William was 12-years-old, he worked for a wagon train heading to Fort Laramie, Wyoming and the following year he participated in the gold rush in Colorado. At age 15, he rode for a brief period for the Pony Express. He served as a scout for the Union Seventh Kansas Cavalry during the last years of the American Civil War. In March of 1866, he married Louisa Frederici (1843-1921) in St. Louis, Missouri. They had four children: Arta Cody (1866-1904), Kit Carson Cody (1870-1876), Orra Maude Cody (1872-1883), and Irma Louise Cody (1883-1918).
In 1867, Cody hunted buffalo for the Kansas Pacific Railroad work crews, earning his reputation as an expert shot and thus his nickname. The next year, Cody was employed as a civilian scout for the Fifth Cavalry. On April 26th, 1872, Cody became one of only four civilian scouts to be awarded the US Congressional Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars for valor in action. In 1917 he was stricken from the roll because it was declared he was ineligible for the medal; however, he was reinstated in 1989 by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records. It is believed that that the atmosphere of his traveling show had caused this action and refusal to believe he deserved the medal. Fortunately, after scouring records and testimonies, it was corrected in 1989. Cody was a showman, for sure; but not a fraud.
General Philip Sheridan, US General, saw Cody as a natural “public relations windfall” for the Army, which needed good publicity for its operations in the West; so with the protection of the US Army cavalry, visiting dignitaries like Grand Duke Alexis of Russia went on hunting expeditions accompanied by General Sheridan, Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer and Buffalo Bill as their guide. It was during this time that the pulp fiction industry, like the notorious Dime Novels, (sold for a nickel at first) and other such periodical magazines romanticized and made Buffalo Bill into a mythical character. In 1872, Ned Buntline, dime-novel writer, persuaded Cody to appear on stage. The idea of showmanship struck Cody as an opportunity and formed his own performing troupe in 1873. The initial group included James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickock and Texas Jack Omohundro, who were real western characters.
Buffalo Bill and London Ladies - 1887
While vicious rumors and gossip spread that he was a notorious ladies man, it was because ladies like getting their picture taken with him and found him dashing and handsome. It is the annoying part of fame where writers will make up things or something out of nothing just to get the public reader's attention. 
Cody returned to the prairies in the summer of 1876 to scout for the Fifth Army and on July 17th, 1876, three weeks after Custer and his Seventh Cavalry regiment was defeated at Little Big Horn, Cody's regiment intercepted a band of Cheyenne warriors. Buffalo Bill was dressed like he did on stage, and when killing and scalping a Cheyenne warrior named Yellow Hair, (mistakenly called "Yellow Hand") it was reported that he yelled out – First scalp for Custer! - which showed that he was not just a character made up on stage.
When he developed his show and added Annie Oakley to his list of performers, he began to be the most famous American in the world; who had friends like Frederic Remington (artist) and Mark Twain (writer and humorist). American presidents from Ulysses S. Grant to Woodrow Wilson consulted him on matters pertaining to the American West.
Despite his notoriety, Annie Oakley described him in the eulogy she prepared at Cody's funeral:
He was the simplest of men, as comfortable with cowboys as with kings.
This biography does not extensively cover the show he was famous for because I have already written about it previously.
Wikipedia entry:
In 1895, Cody was instrumental in the founding of Cody, the seat of Park County in northwestern Wyoming. The Old Trail Town museum is at the center of the community and honors the traditions of Western life. Cody first passed through the region in the 1870s. He was so impressed by the development possibilities from irrigation, rich soil, grand scenery, hunting, and proximity to Yellowstone Park that he returned in the mid-1890s to start a town. He brought with him associates for whom streets were named: Beck, Alger, Rumsey, Bleistein and Salsbury. The town was incorporated in 1901.
In November 1902, Cody opened the Irma Hotel, which he named after his daughter. He envisioned a growing number of tourists coming to Cody via the recently opened Burlington rail line. He expected that they would proceed up the Cody Road along the North Fork of the Shoshone River to visit Yellowstone Park. To accommodate travelers, Cody completed construction of the Wapiti Inn and Pahaska Tepee in 1905 along the Cody Road [38] with the assistance of artist and rancher Abraham Archibald Anderson.
Cody also established the TE Ranch, located on the South Fork of the Shoshone River about thirty-five miles from Cody. When he acquired the TE property, he sent cattle from Nebraska and South Dakota. His new herd carried the TE brand. The late 1890s were relatively prosperous years for "Buffalo Bill's Wild West", and he bought more land to add to the TE Ranch. Eventually Cody held around 8,000 acres (32 km²) of private land for grazing operations and ran about 1,000 head of cattle. He also operated a dude ranch, pack horse camping trips, and big game hunting business at and from the TE Ranch. In his spacious ranch house, he entertained notable guests from Europe and America.
Bill and sister, Helen
William Cody died of kidney failure in January of 1917, the same year the collaboration to remove his name from the Medal of Honor recipient list. Thankfully he did not live to see that insult take place. He was at his sister's house in Colorado when he died. His sister had him buried on Lookout Mountain, west of Denver according to her brother's wishes; although there was a fuss that he should be buried in the town he founded. 
While people felt that the Wild West show insulted Native Americans, Cody had great respect for them and their culture, even though he was known as an Indian Fighter.  His employment of Native Americans, incorrectly called Indians to this day, was an effort to provide them a better life by employing them. He also was quoted as saying:
Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government.
He also supported the rights of women and agreed with Annie Oakley's stance on that matter, whom he treated as an equal:
What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have. Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay
 Clearly he was a man beyond his time.
Sitting Bull and Buffalo Bill
While his show depicted native Americans attacking cowboys and wagon trains and cavalry; he also set up a mock native camp with the wives and children of the performers, so the public would see their human side and how they lived in peace with nature.
Seeing first hand, and being a part of the desecration and almost extinction of the buffalo; Cody became an advent conservation advocate and was against hide hunting and even pushed the idea of a hunting season in order to preserve animal life and at the same time preserve the tradition of hunting.
It seems the man who appeared before an audience of Americans and Europeans, had a more humanist side to him that the public did not know about. Fortunately, those who knew him personally, like Annie Oakley, conveyed to the public the true side/nature of William F. Cody known as Buffalo Bill.
Rare footage of the part of the show called the Battle of Summit Springs, based on a real battle.
The next video is about a photographer who saw the show and was impressed with the native Americans and began a series of photos to capture their character and real personality. The photographer, Gertrude Kasebier, (1852-1934) became an advocate for better treatment and respect for their culture and lived among the Sioux for a time to depict them in their natural environment. She went on to being a well-known and independent photographer in Europe. Her photographs are one of the best I have ever seen from that time period to now.

Visit the Buffalo Bill Museum in Wyoming, as depicted in the YouTube video:

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