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As the town founded by legendary showman Buffalo Bill Cody gears up for its 125th anniversary next year, students of his life and times can find enduring lessons — and inspiration — in his story.

First among those lessons: How you tell a story matters.

Long before reality TV, Buffalo Bill Cody was telling the story of the American West to eager audiences around the world. Through his world-famous Wild West Show, he captured the attention and spurred the imagination of audiences through an extravaganza of sights and sounds. 

The story of the American West is a rather large and complex topic, but Buffalo Bill was undaunted. He engaged his star-struck audiences with the aid of a cast of hundreds of people, animals, and wagons. And lots of gun shooting. The most important character in the Wild West Show was, of course, Buffalo Bill himself. Engaging, likable, and ever-aware of his audience, his enthusiastic fans rewarded him by spreading the word about the remarkable feats they had witnessed. Imagine if he’d had access to TikTok.

Think Big Or Go Back To Iowa

A cash register at the Irma Hotel

Average hotels, traditionally narrow streets, and cookie-cutter dams were for other people. If it was built by Iowa-born Buffalo Bill, it was the best. When it was built in 1902, the Irma Hotel was the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River; a showplace that attracted cowboys and celebrities alike. Buffalo Bill designed Sheridan Avenue — Cody’s main street — and other major town thoroughfares to be extra wide so horse-drawn vehicles could easily maneuver. The Buffalo Bill Dam was a remarkable feat of 20th-century engineering, and at 325 feet high, it was the tallest concrete dam in the world upon completion in 1910.

You Can Have More Than One Career

Buffalo Bill Cody Portrait

By the age of 22, Buffalo Bill Cody had been a trapper, bullwhacker, Pony Express Rider, Colorado “Fifty-Niner,” wagon master, stagecoach driver, soldier, hotel manager and scout for the U.S. Army. And everything he learned from those careers eventually led him to the one that made him the most famous man in the world: showman. He didn’t stop there. After establishing himself as a celebrity, Buffalo Bill began looking for a next act, and he found his inspiration in northwestern Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin. Intrigued by the region’s combination of natural beauty and abundant resources as well as proximity to the world’s first national park, Buffalo Bill Cody found the location for the town that bears his name.

Make Friends For Life

Buffalo Bill collected friends wherever he went, and he generously rewarded their loyalty and friendship. So it’s not that surprising that two of those friends — Fred Richard and Ned Frost — grief-stricken upon learning of Buffalo Bill’s death while visiting his sister in Denver, felt compelled to hatch a middle-of-the-night plan to steal his body and bring it home to Cody. The reason for the heist brings us to today’s final lesson:

Be Good to Your Spouse — or They Might Sell Your Body to the Highest Bidder

Although they were married for nearly 51 years and had four children together, Buffalo Bill Cody and his wife Louisa had a rocky marriage, in part because of Buffalo Bill’s extended absences. Additionally, even though the Wild West Show was profitable, Buffalo Bill Cody was prone to bad investments. The Codys were nearly broke when he died. But he remained one of the most famous men in the world, even upon his death. It is not that surprising that Louisa readily agreed when the mayor of Denver and publisher of The Denver Post offered to pay her $10,000 for the right to bury Buffalo Bill in Denver.

Where to Learn More About the Life and Times of Buffalo Bill Cody

With the town’s approaching milestone, it’s an especially good time to learn more about Buffalo Bill’s extraordinary life. The town of Cody and the surrounding area offer many attractions that showcase his life and times. Among them:

Buffalo Bills Center of the West with Tipis

Buffalo Bill Museum – This flagship museum of the five-museum Buffalo Bill Center of the West was extensively renovated in 2012. This family-friendly facility includes authentic artifacts, state-of-the-art exhibits, and engaging interactive activities. 

Pahaska Tepee – Buffalo Bill’s original hunting lodge, Pahaska Tepee, is located just outside the East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, visitors can tour the lower level of the two-story hewn-log lodge and view original artifacts from the period when Cody would host dignitaries and locals alike for fishing and hunting retreats. 

The Irma Hotel

Irma Hotel – The Irma Hotel has been the heart of downtown Cody since it was built in 1902. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel features comfortable rooms, a gift shop, and a restaurant and lounge. 

Buffalo Bill Dam & Visitor Center

Buffalo Bill Dam and Visitor Center – Though no longer the tallest concrete dam in the world, the Buffalo Bill Dam — a National Civil Engineering Landmark — offers fascinating exhibits showing how the dam continues to bring water to the Bighorn Basin. 

Are you ready to learn a few of your own life lessons from Buffalo Bill? Start planning your visit to Cody Yellowstone today!