Cody, Wyoming Founder Buffalo Bill Inducted into Business Hall of Fame 98 Years after His Death; What We Can Learn From His Vision Today
CODY, Wyo., October 29, 2015 – Buffalo Bill Cody was the most famous man in the world at one time, and his larger-than-life legend is forever tied to the town, dam and rodeo that bears his name. But he was first and foremost a cagey and highly effective businessman. And that is the reason that the Wyoming Business Alliance will be inducting Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody into the Wyoming Business Hall of Fame in November.
The announcement was recently made jointly by the Wyoming Business Alliance, Wyoming Business Council and University of Wyoming, the three entities that oversee the two-year-old Hall of Fame. Cody will be inducted under the “pioneer” category, joining James Cash Penney, founder of J.C. Penny department stores as well as contemporary heroes of the business community.
“Buffalo Bill Cody was many things – a showman, a storyteller and a civic leader – but he was also a businessman extraordinaire, with a long list of successes in a variety of industries, from tourism to newspapers,” said Claudia Wade, director of the Park County Travel Council, the marketing arm for Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country. “Today’s town of Cody owes its prominence and prosperity to its namesake, Buffalo Bill Cody, who had the guts to think about the future, and to think big.”
If he were alive today, Buffalo Bill would undoubtedly be running a global company and be even more famous than he was during his lifetime. “Can you imagine if Buffalo Bill had something as powerful as the Internet at his disposal?” speculated Wade.
Buffalo Bill Cody died in 1917. We’ll obviously never know what he would have accomplished if given today’s tools, but there are still many solid lessons that can be learned from his business history. Wade offered the following examples of Buffalo Bill’s business accomplishments and contemporary takeaways:
Go big or get out. Cody’s brainchild, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” was so oddly fanciful, so unbelievably elaborate and so incredibly successful that few could have pulled it off. Try providing temporary housing, feeding and tending to the medical and other needs of hundreds of people and animals. The logistics of the show were daunting. Then add the marketing, scheduling and other operational needs of the massive traveling show and you have a truly formidable daily undertaking. Yet because of Buffalo Bill’s innate business acumen and leadership, the show survived and thrived for years.
Notice and capitalize on trends. In the late 1800s, the world was having a love affair with the American West as well as horse-centric performances. Wild Bill Hickok, for example, staged a buffalo hunt with American Indians and cowboys performing, and American Indian life was often theatrically showcased in circuses in the U.S. and Europe. Buffalo Bill noticed. He first dipped his toes in the world of theatrics with small, local performances he called “border dramas” and applied what he learned from those small-scale productions to the “Wild West Show.”
Treat employees well. Buffalo Bill was known for fair treatment and good pay for all of his performers, including women, Indians and performers of various races and nationalities. All performers received fair wages. They received decent housing and three hot meals a day. And they were permitted to travel with their families. Performers repaid Buffalo Bill in loyalty and a high level of commitment with great performances time after time.
Make lots of friends and few enemies. Buffalo Bill made very important friends, and they helped him become successful. Among them were politicians such as Theodore Roosevelt and royalty including the Prince of Monaco, as well as generals, writers and civic leaders.
Employ creative problem-solving. The region that would eventually become Cody was perfect in all ways but one. It lacked a reliable water source. Instead of looking elsewhere, Cody and his team of investors created the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company and built the Cody dam on the Shoshone River. Construction on the massive project began in 1905, and the dam was completed in January 1910 at a cost of $929,658. At 325 feet, it was the highest concrete dam in the world.
Be an expert communicator. In 1896, the primary way to communicate with masses of people was through a newspaper, so Cody started one. Still in operation today, the Cody Enterprise was the vehicle Cody used to tell the growing population of the town about his vision, update them on developments and gain their support.
Be pragmatic. Buffalo Bill wanted travelers to visit Cody, and in order to accomplish that goal, he knew he needed a hotel. So he built the Irma Hotel (and named it after his daughter). The hotel is still in operation today, and every summer it is the gathering place for visitors to watch the nightly Wild West Gunfighters show.
Know your audience. The “Wild West Show” was relatively tame, with family-friendly performances depicting cowboy and Indian conflicts and other frontier scenes. When his show arrived in Spain, however, he added a rougher edge to the performance because the audience there – where the often-bloody running of the bulls was a cherished tradition – expected more perceived brutality.
Be kind to animals. Although he was an accomplished and dedicated hunter, he was also committed to the health and well-being of the animals in his show.
Always be on the lookout for talent. Annie “Little Sure Shot” Oakley learned to shoot a gun in order to feed her family, and once her skills were on Buffalo Bill’s radar, he made her one of the stars of his show. She performed in the Wild West Show for 17 years, and she had admirers around the world.
Look for beauty. Buffalo Bill Cody loved to hunt, and he found a way to feed that passion in an especially beautiful area of the Shoshone Forest. So crazy about the region, with its mountains, rock formations and river, he built a hunting lodge he called Pahaska Tepee. There, he was able to share the beauty of the region with friends such as Theodore Roosevelt and the Prince of Monaco.
Think globally. When the Wild West Show traveled to Europe, the show had perhaps more impact on positive diplomatic relationships than any traditional politician. His friendship was sincere, as illustrated by the room-long Cherrywood bar in the Irma Hotel that was a gift from one of his biggest fans, Queen Victoria.
Live locally. Buffalo Bill’s years-long mission to build the town of Cody was marked by a keen understanding of the importance of local buy-in. He formed the Cody Club, an early version of the Cody Chamber of Commerce which provided the town’s first formal governmental body. The club and its leaders eventually focused on the town’s needs like mail service, roads, telephone service, water works and sewers, ultimately resulting in the thriving, healthy, business-friendly town that visitors experience today.
Yellowstone Country is comprised of the towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse as well as the valley east of Yellowstone National Park.
The area of Park County is called “Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country” because it was the playground of Buffalo Bill Cody himself. Buffalo Bill founded the town of Cody in 1896, and the entire region was driven and is still heavily influenced by the vision of the Colonel. Today its broad streets, world-class museum Buffalo Bill Center of the West and thriving western culture host nearly 1 million visitors annually.
The Park County Travel Council website lists information about vacation packages, special events, guide services, weather and more. Travelers wishing to arrange vacation can also call the Park County Travel Council at 1-800-393-2639.