Born near LeClaire in Scott County, Iowa, in 1846, Buffalo Bill Cody rode on the Pony Express at the age of 14, fought in the American Civil War, served as a scout for the Army, and was already an Old West legend before mounting his famous Wild West show, which traveled the United States and Europe.
Beginnings of a Legend
Born near LeClaire in Scott County, Iowa, on February 26, 1846, William F. Cody worked for a freight company as a messenger and wrangler before trying his luck as a prospector in the Pikes Peak gold rush in 1859. The next year, at age 14, Cody joined the Pony Express, fitting the bill for the advertised position: "skinny, expert riders willing to risk death daily."
Buffalo Bill: The Hero
Cody later served in the American Civil War, and in 1867 he began buffalo hunting (to feed constructions crews building railroads), which would give him the nickname that would define him forever. His own assessment puts the number of buffalo he killed at 4,280, in just over a year and a half.
In 1868, Cody returned to his work for the Army as chief of scouts (and his ongoing work with the military garnered him the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1872, which was subsequently stripped and then reinstated), all the while becoming a national folk hero thanks to the dime-novel exploits of his alter ego, "Buffalo Bill.” In late 1872, Cody went to Chicago to make his stage debut in The Scouts of the Prairie, one of Ned Buntline’s original Wild West shows (Buntline was also the author of the Buffalo Bill novels). The next year, "Wild Bill" Hickok joined the show, and the troupe toured for ten years.
Beyond a Showman
In 1883, Cody founded his own show, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West," a circus-like extravaganza that toured widely for three decades in the United States and later in Europe. Besides Buffalo Bill himself, the Wild West show starred sharpshooter Annie Oakley and, for one run, Chief Sitting Bull.
A champion of women’s rights and a lifelong soldier, Buffalo Bill Cody was more than just a Wild West showman and buffalo hunter. But his larger-than-life persona, at times real and at others fictitious, is what lives on in the hearts and minds of fans of the frontier West.
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