Monday, September 10, 2018

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody Museum, Cody, Wyoming

The Story of the American West is framed by an iconic image of the land, chapter after chapter devoted to the freedom, exploration and optimism it inspired. The story is forged by Native Americans, pioneers, cowboys, ranchers and settlers -- people with vision, courage, strong backs and hardy beliefs. People like William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, who imagined what could be and created a lasting legacy. More than a century ago, Cody dreamed of developing a special place that would "teach people by seeing history." Today, we've expanded on that dream at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the only museum in the world where people can immerse themselves in the story of the real American West. 

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody knew the American West intimately. He presented the West's "beauties, marvels, and possibilities" to people who "saw it for the first time." Cody believed in encountering authentic western things, people would come to understand, and cherish the West as he did. The Buffalo Bill Museum continues this legacy.

An account of William F. Cody hunting a bear: "I saddled up an extra pony express horse, and arming myself with a good rifle and pair of revolvers, struck out for the foot hills of Laramie Peak for a bear hunt.... The further I rode the rougher and wilder became the country, and I knew I was approaching the haunts of the bear. I did not discover any, however, although I saw plenty of tracks in the snow."

Cody's Boyhood Home

Chuck Wagon

A chuck (or mess) wagon was a kitchen on wheels during cattle drives and roundups. The chuckbox on the back contained cookware, dishes, and frequently used items. The box's hinged cover dropped down and served as the cook's work table. The cook's supplies were simple: flour, baking powder, coffee, sugar, bacon, canned tomatoes, canned and dried fruit, beans, molasses. Using a dutch oven and a campfire, a cook could make biscuits, stews and fruit pies. By the 1870s, cooks on the northern plains were using camp stoves that were better in bad weather. 

William Cody, circa 1862

W.F. Cody "Buffalo Bill" 1846-1917. When William Cody died in Denver on January 10, 1917, just short of his 71st birthday, a Chicago newspaper editor wrote: "Buffalo Bill has been more than picturesque: he has been worthwhile." The editor meant that Cody was a "representative man" in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Buffalo Bill represented to the world the very image of an American.

The road to becoming Buffalo Bill began with his birth on February 26, 1846. The nation was looking westward. Americans challenged England that year for the Pacific Northwest and established the U.S. northern boundary with Canada. Later in the year, President James K. Polk provoked war with Mexico. Victory in 1848 resulted in the annexation of California and the Southwest, and by 1853 all of what would become the "lower 48" states was owned by the United States.

Cody's father, Issac (1811-1857), was a pioneer who paid with his life for his "free-soil" (anti-slavery) activism. William F. Cody himself fought for the Union during the Civil War, hunted and scouted for the United States Army during the Indian Wars, and then planned, staged, and performed in an epic exhibition -- "winning of the West" -- for the show arena. Cody invested in ranching and town-building. He became an advocate for the rights of Indian people, for women, and for conservation. Thus, for his audiences, William F. Cody blended his life story with the best of both wilderness and civilization.

Left fatherless in 1857, eleven-year-old Cody took his first job tending cattle for Russell, Majors & Waddell, the country's largest overland freight company. He earned $50 in two months and "[thought] myself a millionaire." Will worked off and on with the firm for three years, first as a "bullwhacker" (cattle driver) and then as a wagon boss on several freight runs. He learned how to manage employees and gained valuable firsthand knowledge of the western landscape.

Circa 1873
Growing up along the Western frontier, Will Cody was schooled more outdoors than in classrooms. He learned to handle farm chores, ride horses and build traps. In Kansas, he played with Kickapoo Indian boys who taught him their games, their language, and other skills. Will also spent time with cowboys, hunters, and teamsters. "It was an excellent school for me and I acquired [much] practical knowledge," he recalled.

As a professional buffalo hunter, Cody provided meat for Kansas Pacific railroad workers under an 18-month contract beginning in August 1867. He earned $500 a month -- high wages for that time. Cody also sold fresh meat by the pound to Army forts in central Kansas and shipped barrels of preserved meat to eastern cities. He never participated in the lucrative trade of killing buffaloes for their hides, however, and disapproved of their slaughter. 

In 1868, Cody's success carrying messages through hostile country so impressed General Philip Sheridan that he named him chief of scouts for the Fifth Calvary. Cody held the post for four years, scouting for several military on expeditions and fighting in a dozen skirmishes against Plains Indians. He also guided dignitaries on hunting trips. Colleagues praised Cody's courage, tracking skills, and knowledge of western geography. "The mysterious plain," said one, "is a book he knows by heart."

Why Scouts grew their hair long. "Scouts grow their hair long as a rule. Our business is in the open, rain or shine, and we have found from experience that the greatest protection to the eyes and ears is long hair. Those who [are] prejudiced against long hair have suffered the consequences of sore eyes, pains in the head, and loud ringing in the ears. We who wear our hair long let nature have her way in the matter, and profit by it." ~~ Buffalo Bill Interviewed, Otago [New Zealand] Witness, August 5, 1887.

Rising Star 1869-1992.  Other people were nicknamed Buffalo Bill, but William F. Cody was the most famous. For Cody, his nickname became his persona; his character became his identity. From 1868 onward, short stories, novels and plays about his adventures brought Buffalo Bill to life. At first, other actors played Buffalo Bill on stage, but later, with his "Buffalo Bill Combination," Cody portrayed himself. Cody's own self-promotional efforts, including his 1879 autobiography, also helped shape Buffalo Bill. By the early 1880s, millions in North America and Europe knew Cody as Buffalo Bill. Once a mere nickname, Buffalo Bill was becoming an international celebrity.

William and Louisa Cody
Louisa Frederici and William F. Cody were married at the St. Louis home of her parents on March 6, 1896. The wedding was a quiet and simple affair before family and a few friends. William Cody and Louisa were married for 51 years. After the wedding they traveled to Leavenworth, Kansas where they ran a hotel called the "Golden Rule House." However, as Cody recalled in his autobiography (1879), hotel-keeping was "too tame employment for me, and I sighed for the freedom of the plains." The Cody union produced three daughters and one son. In his autobiography, Cody wrote about his bride, "... as I gazed upon her as she stood beside me ... I felt proud of her; and from that time to this I have always thought that I made a most fortunate choice for a life partner."

Cody's Saddle (1846-1917)
The exciting life of a Pony Express Rider. "I wrote Mother how well I liked the exciting life of a pony express rider. She begged me to give it up, as it would surely kill me. She was right about this, as fifteen miles an hour on horseback would, in a very short time, shake any man 'all to pieces.'  Few, if any, riders could stand it for any great length of time. Nevertheless, I stuck to it for two months." (1879)

The Showman 1883-1913. For years, William Cody had staged plays about the American West. By 1883, however, he felt the plays could not truly convey the West's openness and romance. Cody envisioned an outdoor entertainment, featuring cowboys, American Indians, and animals offering "a grander exhibition of Western life than ever before given east of the Mississippi." Thus was born Buffalo Bill's Wild West. "[P.T.] Barnum must look well to his laurels, or the Scout of the Plains will eclipse him as showman," one observer wrote. Over the next thirty years, Cody proved this prediction right.

Until the early 1880s, most people viewed cowboys as social outcasts who could not be trusted. Buffalo Bill's Wild West changed all that. Cody featured genuine cowboys in acts that highlighted their strength, courage, and reliability. By 1885, the Wild West also presented cowgirls. Their riding and roping talents and heroic qualities rivaled their male counterparts. Cody carefully groomed selected performers whose appearance, abilities and character made them popular heroes and sure-fire stars.

Texas-born Annie Shaffer, who became a Wild West cowgirl in 1907, rode her first bucking bronc at age 14. She also rode steers and did trick-roping.

William Cody became convinced women were equal of men. Just as his attitude toward American Indians changed during his Wild West years, so too did his views about women. Raised in a family dominated by women, Cody appreciated their independent nature even before marrying Louisa Frederci, strong minded about managing households and finances. As a showman, he met numerous able women, including Wild West cowgirls and sharpshooters. He became convinced that women could, and should, do anything men did, including vote.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West featured an international cast of performers. Living and working in the frontier west, Cody encountered American Indians, African Americans, and Mexican vaqueros (cowboys), and European emigrants. And, from its outset, Buffalo Bill's Wild West echoed this diversity. It became even more diverse in 1892 when the "Congress of Rough Riders of the World" became part of the show. By the late 1890s, the Wild West featured performers from nearly every continent, offering audiences unique opportunities to encounter diverse cultures firsthand.

Once rivals, now friends, Hunkpapa Sioux Chief Sitting Bull and William F. Cody posed for this picture in Montreal, Quebec, in August 1885, while Sitting Bull traveled with the Wild West.

Annie Oakley typically looked poised and proper when she posed for photographs. But she had an impish, playful side to her also, as her colleagues in the Wild West came to know and appreciate. This picture was taken at Ambrose Park in 1894. The log cabin behind her was used as a prop in performances.

Annie Oakley was born Phoebe Ann Moses (1860 - 1926). She began shooting as a young girl. In 1881 she out shot Frank Butler, a touring sharpshooter. They married a year later and he became her manager. She joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West in 1885 and soon became a star, second only to Cody himself. Her graceful charm and shooting feats captivated audiences wherever the Wild West performed. Injured in a 1901 train wreck, she retired and began acting. After leaving the Wild West, she continued performing as a sharpshooter. After 1913, her setter Dave became part of her act. In one stunt, Annie would shoot an apple from the top of Dave's head.

"In the arena she seems a bit of a thing, slender and with flowing hair, wearing a broad-rimmed hat. She gives an exhibition of skill and dexterity with firearms, aiming so swiftly and accurately and breaking glass balls with such ease and apparent carelessness that you wonder if she uses her eyes at all ... In a dozen ways she shows the keenness of her eyes and the steadiness of her nerve, and then breaking one after the other several glass balls thrown up together, she bows and runs away smiling." ~~ A Day with the Wild West, New York Tribune, July 22, 1894.

Annie Oakley (holding the rifle far right) posed with other cast members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West for this group photograph. It was likely taken in England during the summer of 1887 when the show spent the summer at Earl's Court in London. William Cody is seated in the front center.

Man of the World 1887-1906. The world's most famous man, and one of its loneliest. He was an international superstar. Millions recognized him in his showman's boots and Stetson hat. He had performed for presidents and princes. He had even met the Pope. Yet the world's most famous person was not William F. Cody, but his persona, "Buffalo Bill." In a hotel register in 1892, Cody have his residence as "The World." On the road so much, he really had no place to call his home. Alone in his tent -- where he could truly be himself -- Cody pondered his success and his fate. Who was Cody? How would he be remembered?

William Cody's private tent, a place where he could be himself. These pictures are based on different tents Cody used when traveling with the Wild West. He used larger tents when the Wild West stayed in one place an entire season. He used smaller ones when the Wild West spent its season on the road. Inside his tent, Cody wrote letters, greeted visitors, or rested between performances. He could shed his "Buffalo Bill" persona and be himself. Cody furnished his tents with his personal items and reminders of loved ones. 

William F. Cody's West: Performing and traveling with the Wild West, he increasingly yearned for the West that was wild. "How I long for the glorious mountains and sage brush," he wrote in 1912. "I cannot truly be happy away from there." Largely self-educated, Cody was not a philosopher. Nor was he deeply religious. Yet his writings and interviews reveal his special friendship with Nature. It bordered on the spiritual. In nature, Cody felt he encountered God. Nothing stirred Cody's sole more than the majestic landscapes of the West he knew and loved.

"I have put twenty years in the show business, and I think it is time to quit and take a rest. I don't say I'm tired of the work, but I have worked very hard, and I'm tired of the towns, and anxious to get back to the free life of the country." ~~William F. Cody, Interview, 1892.

Man of the New West 1896 - 1917.  Where others viewed Wyoming's Bighorn Basin as a barren landscape, Cody saw the future. Guiding fossil hunters in the 1870s, Cody learned that ancient seabeds harbored minerals. He believed the Bighorn Basin held vast riches. Its rivers could irrigate the arid region. Once the desert bloomed, settlers, towns, and transportation would surely follow, as would tourists heading for Yellowstone. To implement his vision, Cody needed leadership, political support, and willpower. He worked tirelessly, nearly exhausting his resources. Cody never fully realized his vision, yet the Man of the Old West left a lasting mark as a Man of this New West.

Camp Monaco was the tallest tree in the forest. In September 1913, Prince Albert, A.A. Anderson, W.F. Cody and guide Fred Richard, with the rest of their party, pitched camp in a wilderness meadow 10 miles north of Pahaska Tepee. The picturesque setting was (and is) dominated by a stand of Englemann spruce. Forest Ranger Harry Miller cut away a two foot square section of bark on the biggest of the trees. Prince Albert's artist, Louis Tinayre, painted on it the name "Camp Monaco."  Seventy-five years later, the Yellowstone fires of 1988 so stressed the 300-year old tree that by 1993 it had died. At over 150 feet tall, and with a five-foot diameter at chest height, it very likely was the tallest tree in the Shoshone National Forest. In 1994 with approval from the U.S. Forest Service, Buffalo Bill Historic Center trustee James Minter organized a team of helicopter pilots and lumberjacks who donated their time to remove this section of the tree for preservation and display in the Center.

In 1893 Cody bought this printing press to help his sister Helen Cody Whetmore and her husband, Hugh, start a newspaper business. Their Duluth (Minnesota) Press folded in 1896. Three years later, Cody shipped the press to Wyoming so that he and Col. John Peake, an acquaintance from Washington, D.C., could launch the Cody Enterprise. Cody sold his interest around 1905. The newspaper is still published today.

In 1867, Cody and a partner founded Rome, Kansas, a town that rose and fell within weeks. Yet Cody never lost his civic ambitions. Nearly three decades later, he joined with some Sheridan businessman to establish a town along the Shoshone River, some fifty miles east of Yellowstone. By early 1896, they had surveyed a site and begun laying out streets for a town that would forever bear Cody's name.

Oil Drilling Rig Band Wagon, circa 1915
Connected to a steam engine, the band wheel powered the rocking beam on an oil drilling rig. Such rigs were widely used in the Oregon Basin. The band wheel from this drilling rig was salvaged and brought to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in 2012 after vandals toppled the rig. It is shown here at its original location, on the Wind River Reservation, on property leased by Marathon Oil.

As early as 1884, oil-drilling began on the eastern side of the Bighorn Basin. In 1902, Cody and other investors founded the Cody Oil and Development Corporation and made the first attempt to drill for oil on the Basin's west side. Their effort failed. Within ten years, however, the first oil was drilled in a more productive field - the Oregon Basin, southeast of Cody.

How wealthy was William Cody? Information regarding Cody's wealth is scant and mostly hearsay, making it impossible to determine his net worth. As an actor who showcased the Wild West to international audiences, Buffalo Bill clearly made substantial earnings. In 1893, Buffalo Bill's Wild West reportedly earned a record $700,000 to $1 million in profits performing next to the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. However, like most investors of his time, William Cody lost a great deal of money in speculative investments. Eventually Buffalo Bill's Wild West went bankrupt. Yet at the time of his death, William Cody retained considerable property and money.

Crazy Horse, 1997, Bronze

The Unknown
A central element in the Wild West is the heritage of the Native peoples who once dominated the vast region of the Great Plains. For Plains Indian people, the grizzly bear symbolized strength, courage and wisdom. Warriors respected the grizzly bear for its enormous size and strength. They also sought its spiritual power. Following visions received in dreams, they painted images of grizzly bears on shields and shield covers to provide protection in battle. 

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