That Time Buffalo Bill Rode for Royalty
I have been watching “The Crown” nearly every night so far of this cold, frosty February. I can’t get
enough of it. I’m fascinated by the slice-of- life stories of a young and dignified Queen of England as she
faces crisis after crisis, standing large and strong against a rotating roster of stodgy parliamentarians –
all men – as they cajole and connive to maintain their powerful positions.
Google that scene where Queen Elizabeth takes Winston Churchill to task for putting his own pride
before the security of the country. Trust me; it’s fun.
While I’m certainly happy that we don’t have a monarchy here in the U.S., our country’s founders having
had the good sense to eschew curtsies, crowns and excessive pageantry in favor of a three-branch
government of laws, I do have a certain fondness for all things royal. So did Buffalo Bill Cody.
In the spring of 1887, Buffalo Bill Cody boarded the “State of Nebraska,” a massive steamship, along
with some 200 performers – cowboys, sharpshooters, musicians, American Indians – as well as 180
horses, 18 bison, 10 elk, 10 mules, five steers and a variety of items for set construction including a
stagecoach and materials to build temporary tepees and log cabins. After many days sailing through
stormy waters, the cast of the four-year- old Wild West Show made it to the coast of England in time for
the 50th year Golden Jubilee celebration for Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth’s great-great- grandmother.
On May 9, 1887, the Wild West show cast-members rode their hearts out in a London arena for a crowd
of 28,000. Sharpshooter Annie Oakley shot a cigar out of her husband’s mouth. American Indians
“attacked” the stagecoach only to be foiled by heroic cowboys led by Buffalo Bill himself. A trick rider
named Mustang Jack jumped over a horse while holding two 10-pound dumbbells.
Queen Victoria was not one of the thousands of audience members, however. Still, she read the positive
reviews and heard first-hand reports from members of her court and requested a private audience.
The accommodating showman happily complied with a 90-minute performance on May 11 in a 40,000-
seat arena for Queen Victoria and a small entourage. In a remarkable show of respect for the United
States, Queen Victoria and the others in the royal box stood and bowed when a rider entered the arena
carrying the American flag. It was the first time since the independence of the United States of America
was declared 111 years prior that a British royal had saluted the American flag.
Buffalo Bill Cody approached the royal box, bowed, and stated: “Welcome, Your Majesty, to the Wild
West of America.”
Buffalo Bill Cody and company eventually returned to that “Wild West,” which Buffalo Bill was in the
process of civilizing, having founded the town of Cody just two years before he left for England.
His quest to build a thriving and authentic Western town continued, and he spearheaded infrastructure
projects like the Buffalo Bill Dam, which provided the water to the town and nearby ranches, and the
establishment of the still-operating Cody Enterprise, to report on those milestones. With the world’s
first national park just 52 miles from town, Cody also planned for tourism with the construction in 1902
of the Irma Hotel, a centrally located landmark that Buffalo Bill named for his daughter.
While the hotel was under construction, Queen Victoria sent Buffalo Bill Cody a massive gift in the form
of a room-long Cherrywood bar that is still in use today in the dining room of the hotel.
Whenever I see that intricately carved, stunningly beautiful bar I am reminded how sometimes the
smallest of things – readily complying with a last-minute request, thoughtful gifts and respectful
gestures – can sometimes have an enduring impact.
Until next time, I’m practicing my royal wave and loving life here in Cody Yellowstone Country.