Buffalo Bill (February 26, 1846 — January 10, 1917) was born William Frederick Cody in the American state of Iowa. He was one of the colorful figures of the Old West, and was perhaps a bit misunderstood.
Buffalo Bill's nickname and work life
He assumed his nickname for supplying Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat. The nickname originally referred to Bill Comstock. Cody won the nickname from him in a buffalo killing contest 69 to 48.
He worked many jobs, having been a trapper, bullwhacker, a "Fifty-Niner" in Colorado, a Pony Express rider in 1860, wagonmaster, stagecoach driver, a Civil War soldier, and even a hotel manager. But he became famous for his Wild West Show.
Buffalo Bill's life
After being a frontiersman, Buffalo Bill entered show business. He toured the United States in plays based on his Western adventures, and, in Omaha, Nebraska in 1883, founded the "Buffalo Bill Wild West Show," a circus-like attraction that toured annually: Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull both appeared in the show. In 1887 he performed in London in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria, and toured Europe in 1889. He set up an exhibition near the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 (properly the World's Colombian Exposition), which greatly contributed to his popularity.
He saw the American West damatically change during his tumultuous life, seeing Wyoming's coal, oil and natural gas resources begin to be exploited towards the end of his life. The Buffalo Bill Dam was built on the Shoshone River after 1904, a dam used for hydroelectric power and irrigation.
He died on January 10, 1917. By his own request, he was buried on Lookout Mountain, west of the city of Denver, Colorado, on the edge of the Rocky Mountains overlooking the Great Plains.
Buffalo Bill's legacy
Buffalo Bill may have been a rough-hewn outdoorsman, but was something of a liberal, pushing for rights of American Indians as well as women, and despite his history of killing the buffalo, he spoke out for conservation of this American symbol. He spoke out against hide-hunting and pushed for a hunting season.
Having been a frontier scout who respected the natives, he once said,
"Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government."
Despite how American Indians were depicted in his Wild West shows, he pushed for better treatment. He employed many more natives than just Sitting Bull, feeling his show offered them a better life, calling them "the former foe, present friend, the American".
The city of Cody, Wyoming was founded in 1896 by Cody and some investors, and is named for him. It is the home of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. But fifty miles from Yellowstone National Park, it became a tourist magnet; many dignitaries and political leaders coming to hunt.
Buffalo Bill as depicted in film and television
Buffalo Bill has been represented in the movies by himself (1898 and 1912), George Waggner (1924), John Fox, Jr. (1924), William Fairbanks (1928), Jack Hoxie, (1926), Roy Stewart (1926), Tom Tyler (1931), Douglass Dumbrille (1933), Earl Dwire (1935), Moroni Olsen (1935), Ted Adams (1936), James Ellison (1936), Carlyle Moore (1938), Jack Rutherford (1938), Roy Rogers (1940), Joel McCrea (1944), Richard Arlen (1947), Enzo Fiermonte (1949), Monte Hale (1949), Louis Calhern (1950), Tex Cooper (1951), Clayton Moore (1952), Charlton Heston (1953), William O'Neal (1957, Malcolm Atterbury (1958), James McMullan (1963), Gordon Scott (1964), Guy Stockwell (1966), Rufus Smith (1967), Matt Clark (1974), Michel Piccoli (1974), Paul Newman (1976), Buff Brady (1979), R. L. Tolbert (1979), Ted Flicker (1981), Ken Kercheval (1984), Jeffrey Jones (1987), Brian Keith (1993), Dennis Weaver (1994), Keith Carradine (1995), Peter Coyote (1995), J. K. Simmons (2004)
Two Television series Buffalo Bill, Jr. (1955-6) starring Dickie Jones and Buffalo Bill (1983-4) starring Dabney Coleman had nothing to do with the historic person.