Fourteen Things You Didn’t Know About Buffalo Bill Cody – and How to Learn More
He was the most interesting man in the world long before that Dos Equis guy. Buffalo Bill Cody entertained a queen, hunted with a prince, founded a town, and championed the rights of women, children, and minorities. He was a friend to many and a foe to few. His quirky, colorful life inspired a series of fiction books, but often, his true adventures were more outrageous than his fictional ones.
Here are some nuggets of Buffalo Bill Cody’s life that are not widely known:
1. He once claimed “the world” as his residence. On the tail end of a lengthy hunting trip throughout the West in 1902, he pulled his six-horse stagecoach to a stop in front of Salt Lake City’s Templeton Hotel and registered for a room. He signed the hotel register “W.F. Cody, Buffalo Bill,” and in the space to list his residence, merely wrote “the world.”
2. We were this close to having a Buffalo Bill Comstock. While employed as a hunter to supply bison meat to railroad workers, Bill Cody engaged in an eight-hour competition with another hunter, Bill Comstock, to see who could shoot the most bison and earn the “Buffalo Bill” nickname. Cody shot 68 bison – about one every seven minutes, soundly beating Comstock’s total of 48 bison.
3. He had a “hand” in establishing Cody’s Poker Church. About the last thing you might expect from a group of raucous men playing poker in Cody in 1902 would be for them all to pledge that the winner of the game would put all of his winnings towards the church of his choice. But these men had wives who wanted more churches in the burgeoning town. When Buffalo Bill’s friend George Beck won the game, he pledged his winnings to build the Christ Episcopal Church, which locals know fondly as simply the “Poker Church.”
4. He was lousy with money. Although he built a fortune with his Wild West Show, he was a generous lender to friends on the down and out, and he made a series of bad investments that ultimately led to financial ruin. One of the final financial blows was in 1902 when he lost much of his Wild West profits in an unsuccessful mining venture in Arizona. He was deeply in debt when he died in 1917.
5. He even tried his hand in journalism. Buffalo Bill started the Cody Enterprise in 1899, three years after founding the town of Cody, which had grown to a population of 300. The newspaper is still in operation today under the same masthead.
6. Buffalo Bill got his sense of fairness honestly. His father Isaac barely survived an 1853 stabbing following an antislavery speech he delivered in Fort Leavenworth, then part of the Kansas Territory. Pro-slavery sentiment in the town made life difficult for the Cody family, and at one point, a plot to murder Isaac was foiled when young William, not yet 10 years old, rode 30 miles to warn him of the plan.
7. He became a household name because of an imaginative dime novelist. Learning of his feats as a hunter and scout, novelist Ned Buntline authored a book called “Buffalo Bill, the King of the Border Men,” the first of some 550 dime novels about the larger-than-life character.
8. Buffalo Bill’s life has inspired many artists, even long after his death. Mark Twain described his “Wild West Show” as the country’s most “distinctly American pop-culture export to the world.” F. Scott Fitzgerald combined the personalities of Buffalo Bill and Daniel Boone to create “Dan Cody,” a character in “The Great Gatsby.” Film director and screenwriter Sam Peckinpah had Buffalo Bill in mind when he created Randolph Scott’s character in “Ride the High Country.” Even the Beatles found inspiration in their lighthearted, satirical song “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill.”
9. Upon his death in Colorado, his estranged wife Louisa sold his body for $10,000. The publisher of the Denver Post and the city of Denver bought the rights to bury Buffalo Bill’s body. The Buffalo Bill Grave and Museum in Golden may – or may not – be his final burial place, though. Some Cody residents still believe the story about an elaborate plot to steal his body from the mortuary and return it to Cody where he wanted to be buried.
10. Prominent friends formed the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association shortly after his death. Through the association, they secured funding from the Wyoming Legislature and commissioned sculptor Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney to create “The Scout,” a bronze sculpture that stands at the entrance to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
11. Cody was a Freemason who achieved the rank of Knight Templar in 1889 and 32-degree rank in the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in 1894.
12. Cody was an ardent supporter of rights for women and minorities, and he insisted on equal pay for all members of his traveling shows, regardless of gender. “What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have,” he once said. “Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them equal pay.”
13. Buffalo Bill received a Medal of Honor while serving the Third Cavalry Regiment as a civilian scout. Congress later rescinded the medal, as well as all others awarded to civilians. In 1989, Cody’s medal was officially reinstated.
14. He was known as a fearless Indian fighter, but he was also a committed advocate for the rights of Native Americans. He once said, “Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government.”
Ready to Learn More About Buffalo Bill?
There are numerous ways to learn about the life and times of this dynamic showman while vacationing in Cody Yellowstone. The Buffalo Bill Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West features an array of informational exhibits and artifacts. The entertaining hour-long Cody Trolley Tour includes details of the bearded one’s visionary efforts to establish the town of Cody. You can also stay at the Irma Hotel, which was built by Cody and named for his daughter, and have a drink at the bar that was gifted to Cody by England’s Queen Victoria. Or stop at Pahaska Tepee, Buffalo Bill’s hunting lodge on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. The Buffalo Bill Dam & Visitor Center provides insights into Buffalo Bill’s ingenuity with exhibits showcasing the building of what once was the tallest dam in the U.S.
Another great way to learn more about Buffalo Bill Cody and the town he built is to embark on a walking tour of downtown Cody’s historic sites. A guided audio tour is available through the free TravelStorys app downloadable from the Cody Yellowstone website.
Come Explore Buffalo Bill’s Cody Yellowstone
There’s plenty waiting for you to discover about Buffalo Bill Cody right here in the town he founded. Start planning your vacation in Cody Yellowstone today.