What Would Buffalo Bill think of Cody Today?
Did you know? Cody’s 125th anniversary is right around the corner. In fact, it’s next year! And with such a special occasion on the horizon, we’ve been doing a little reflecting. Specifically, we’ve been thinking about the incredible vision of our town’s famous founder, Buffalo Bill Cody.
It’s said that from the first time he traveled through northwestern Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin, all the way back in the 1870s, Cody was smitten with our little corner of the world. He always remembered the majestic mountains, rushing rivers, and quirky rock formations — not to mention the diverse and abundant assortment of wildlife. And, of course, there was also Yellowstone National Park, which, when he arrived, had just recently become the world’s first national park in 1872.
There was no doubt about it, this was clearly Buffalo Bill’s kind of place. So, in the mid-1890s, he did what any charismatic showman with a love for the West would have done — he made it his mission to establish and build a town bearing his name.
Just like that, the dream of Cody, Wyoming was born.
A Career as Wild as the West
At this point in his career, Buffalo Bill Cody had worn a lot of hats. He’d been a trapper, bullwhacker, Pony Express Rider, Colorado “Fifty-Niner,” wagon master, stagecoach driver, Civil War soldier, hotel manager, and scout for the U.S. army — all to varying degrees of success. It wasn’t until 1872 that he launched the career that would lead to him becoming the most famous man in the world. That’s when he played himself in the attraction that would eventually become the legendary “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.”
And then, in 1896, he officially added “town founder” to his resume.
Through the years, Buffalo Bill steered the course of his thriving little community. He built a dam to ensure a reliable water source. He planned streets wide enough for horse-drawn carriages to easily turn around (which makes cruising around Cody a breeze today), and he built the Irma, an elegant hotel — named after his daughter — to house travelers on their way to Yellowstone. And that was only the beginning. By the time Buffalo Bill passed away in 1917, Cody had become a promising and popular destination.
But a lot can happen in a century. We think some of the changes Cody and Yellowstone have been through since 1917 might just knock Buffalo Bill off his horse — figuratively speaking, of course — if he were still with us today. For example:
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West
(Photo: Center of the West)
Mere weeks after his death, friends of Buffalo Bill formed the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association. Over time, this association has evolved into the Buffalo Bill Center of the West — a world-class museum that bears his name. Housing five museums, this Smithsonian Institute affiliated museum is the top Western Museum in the country.
The American Bison is Back!
In the 1800s, hunters — including Buffalo Bill — dramatically depleted the herds of bison that roamed this land. In fact, over the course of 18-months in the late 1860s, Cody killed more than 4,000 bison to feed railroad workers. It got so bad that there were only 25 bison in nearby Yellowstone National Park by the turn of the century.
So it might surprise Buffalo Bill to learn that, through painstaking conservation efforts in Yellowstone and elsewhere, the bison species has successfully been repopulated. Today, almost 5,000 bison can be found roaming the region.
Wolves Went and Came
Much like bison, gray wolves were once abundant in the region, but their numbers steadily declined over the years thanks to ranchers, hunters, and Yellowstone National Park managers. In fact, by 1926, nine years after Buffalo Bill’s death, the gray wolves were completely gone from this neck of the woods.
Luckily, this wasn’t goodbye forever. Thanks to relentless effort and dedication from biologists, conservationists, and others, gray wolves were successfully reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995.
Extra! Extra! Bill’s Newspaper is Still Tops
In 1899, Buffalo Bill Cody and his associate John Peake established the Cody Enterprise. And 121 years later, this semi-weekly newspaper has continued to run issues, all while picking up many awards for journalistic excellence along the way!
We’re Still Talking About his Grave
Before his death, Buffalo Bill expressed a desire to be buried on Cody’s Spirit Mountain. Unfortunately, circumstances resulted in a funeral and burial in suburban Denver. But rumors persist, and many Cody residents insist that Buffalo Bill’s body is buried in an unmarked grave atop the Cody mountain.
There’s a story behind the rumor, of course. One that Bill would have loved. Apparently, his beleaguered widow made a deal with publicity-hungry politicians, as well as the publisher of The Denver Post, to keep Cody’s body in Colorado in exchange for cash. This didn’t sit well with his outraged and heartbroken friends. So they hatched a plan to travel covertly to Denver, switch Buffalo Bill’s corpse with a lookalike ranch hand, and return his body to Cody. Once Bill was back home, he was quietly buried atop the mountain overlooking the town he built.
Who are we to stand in the way of a good rumor?
The Rodeo Rides On
Buffalo Bill’s staged his first Wild West Show in North Platte, Nebraska, in 1882. And this show helped inspire the sport of professional rodeo as it is today. When Cody’s Wild West Show went on tour, the amazing mix of skill and showmanship captivated audiences and prompted novelists to romanticize life in the “Wild West.” Just like that, the rodeo was born. Today, equestrians, cowboys, and bull riders show off their talents at the Cody Nite Rodeo — the longest-running summer-season nightly rodeo in the U.S.
Dark History Prompts Discussions for a Brighter Future
By all accounts, Buffalo Bill was a man ahead of his time who prided himself on his fair treatment of American Indians and women. So it might surprise him that the U.S. government chose a windswept mountain on the outskirts of town to imprison 14,000 Japanese-American citizens during World War II. The plight of these citizens is well documented at the award-winning Heart Mountain WW II Interpretive Center. Simple and powerful, the center reminds visitors of the heartbreaking challenges faced by the imprisoned citizens while also urging visitors to ask themselves the question, “could this happen again?”
Cody has Grown, but it’s Still got Those Small Town Charms
Today, nearly 10,000 people call Cody home full time. Now, considering the town had a population of about 1,200 at the time of his death, Buffalo Bill might see Cody as a metropolis today! But it’s still got the small town charms that people love: friendly faces, lovely shops and restaurants, and plenty of folks who share his adventurous spirit.
Come Celebrate 125 Years With Us
The celebrations are just around the corner, and we’d love to see you. Join us in 2021 to celebrate our 125th anniversary! Start planning your exciting Cody Yellowstone adventure today!