Buffalo Bill Cody
Born: February 26, 1846
Died: January 10, 1917
Frederick Cody, known as Buffalo Bill, is a buffalo
hunter, U.S. army scout, and an Indian fighter. But he is
probably best known as the man who gave the Wild West its
name. He produces a colorful show called Buffalo Bill's
Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, which
has an international reputation and helps create a lasting
image of the American West. Buffalo Bill is a major
contributor in the creation of the myth of the American
West, as seen in Hollywood movies and television.
The Buffalo Hunter
Buffalo Bill is
known as the champion buffalo killer of the Great Plains,
so who better to take an important visitor on a hunt? When
the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia comes to visit in 1872, it
is arranged that Buffalo Bill will lead the wagon train.
Buffalo Bill knows many Indians and he is able to convince
a famous Sioux Indian named Spotted Tail and his village
to join the hunt.
When Buffalo Bill explains to
Spotted Tail about the trip, he apparently says, "Great
white man wants a big hunt with the Indians." Buffalo Bill
also arranges for the Indians to put on a show for the
Duke. The Grand Duke, who is 19, has a great time,
especially when he goes on a mad ride in a stagecoach
behind six wild horses with Buffalo Bill holding the
reins. All in all, they went on the most famous buffalo
hunt ever held.
Although they don't kill many
buffalo on this hunt, Buffalo Bill killed thousands during
his lifetime. He kills 4,280 buffalo in 17 months alone.
By 1870, the bison (the scientific name for buffalo)
population of the Great Plains have been divided into two
sections on either side of the Union Pacific railway
line--the northern herd and the southern herd. The
southern herd is completely killed by 1875 and the
northern herd by 1885. By 1889, only 835 bison are left
alive in the U.S. Today, one variety, the woodland bison,
is still an endangered species while over 20,000 plains
bison thrive in managed herds.
Bill's Wild West Shows
In the 1880s Buffalo
Bill starts producing a theatrical spectacle called the
Wild West show. It is wildly popular and one of the most
famous acts in his show includes a performer known as
Annie Oakley. Her real name is Phoebe Anne Oakley Moses,
but she is known as "Little Sure Shot" because she has
such great aim. At 30 paces Annie Oakley can fire a gun
and hit the edge of a playing card or the end of a
cigarette held in the lips of her husband, Frank Butler.
What other kinds of acts do you think were in the Wild
A show about the Wild West will not be
complete without some Indians, and you can bet that
Buffalo Bill had some very talented ones. American Sioux
Indian dancers in full war paint and war costumes perform
the Sioux Ghost Dance. This is the very first time that
American Indians appeared before a motion picture camera.
What's the one other thing that Buffalo Bill had to have
in his show?
Buffalo Bill already has Indians in
his Wild West show, so he has to have some cowboys! The
cowboy in this film is Lee Martin. He's riding a bucking
bronco--an unbroken range horse that tends to throw or
buck its rider. This is just one of the exciting acts in
the show. Buffalo Bill also has lots of wild animals in
the show, including buffalo, elk, deer, bear, and moose.
If you have to ride a wild animal, which one would you
Buffalo Bill in Show Business
William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody was an accomplished
Indian scout and buffalo hunter when E.Z.C. Judson, a
writer who goes by the name of Ned Buntline, meets him in
the summer of 1869. Judson writes western stories and what
are known as "dime novels" (small paperback books that
sold for 10 cents.) He helps create "Buffalo Bill" and
makes him the hero in a number of his books. These stories
make Buffalo Bill famous in the East and when he goes to
New York for a visit, he sees a play based on his
After his trip to New York, Buffalo
Bill goes home to Nebraska but decides to try his hand at
show business. Ned Buntline adapts the play and together
they produce the show, The Scouts of the Plains. Although
some critics thought the show is ridiculous, Buffalo Bill
is praised because his acting is based on genuine
experience. The following year Buffalo Bill organizes his
own troop of players, called the Buffalo Bill Combination.
In 1883, he comes up with the idea for the Wild West show.
It is an outdoor spectacle designed to educate and
entertain. When Buffalo Bill's Wild West show came to
town, it is a big deal. There will be a parade, which
includes cowboys, Indians, soldiers on horseback, and
In 1887, Buffalo Bill's
show performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City
with 100 Indians, Annie Oakley, trick riders, ropers, and
shooters as well as many different wild animals. The show
is four hours long and includes Indian war dances and an
"attack" on a stagecoach. The show even goes on tour to
England and Europe. It is such a success that Queen
Victoria sees it three times. Even after Buffalo Bill dies
in 1917, the Wild West shows continue.