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William F. Cody

Biography: 

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846-1917)

Western scout, buffalo hunter, and wild west show impresarioua Buffalo Bill Cody was a man who understood the value of branding.  Born in the Iowa territory, and raised in Fort Leavenworth Kansas, Cody, he early encountered violence in the 'bloody Kansas' clashes between the champions of slavery and the anti-slavery advocates, of which his father was a vocal adherent. The poverty suffered by his family after an assassination attempt debilitated his father Isaac. He became a teenage scout, participated in the Mormon wars of the 1850s in Utah, left the scout service to search for gold, but failed as a prospector, so signed on as a Pony Express rider at age 15.  Refused enlistment in the Union Army because of his age at the outset of the Civil War, he worked as a horse riding teamster for a company supplying Fort Laramie.  In 1863 he was finally admitted into the 7th Kansas Cavalry and served as a teamster until the end of the war.  In 1868 he commenced his career as a scout for the U. S. Army, provisioning the builders of the Kansas Pacific Railroad with bison and harrassing Natives who sought to disrupt the railroads construction.  His fame as a buffalo hunter grew legendary, and his exploits a matter of print entertainment until he won the Congressional Medal of Honor for "gallantry" and was chosen guide in 1872 for the Grand Duke Alexander of Russia's infamous Buffalo Hunt.  

Noteriety enabled him to part from Army service and enter the field of entertainment as a star in Ned Buntline's pioneering wild west show/western play "Scouts of the Plains" in 1873.  He co-starred with Wild Bill Hickcock and Texas Jack Omohundro. After touring in verious of this show for a decade he determined to form his own entertainment--more circus than play--reenacting incidents in the settlement of the west and showcasing the skills of the scouts and Native Americans in riding, shooting, and roping.  Buffalo Bill's Wild West hired Native Americans, women, and skilled cowboys, and traveled across the continent, and then throughout the world supplying a vivid afternoon of fancy riding, sharp shooting, and rope tricks with a staged skirmish between settlers and Natives as climax.  When Cody determined in the later 1880s to take his show to Europe, he globalized his entertainment by hiring "rough riders" from other parts of the world--gauchos, cossacks, Berbers to compete and contrast with the horsemen of the plains.  With each successive year the show became more romanticized and elegiac as the West transformed from a region dominated by Native Peoples and unsettled space to a partitioned landscape of ranches and mining towns.  He founded the town of Cody Wyoming and flirted with the idea of being one of Arizona's first two United States senators before his death from kidney failure in 1917.  Much of the entertainment world he created and his glitzed up versions of cowboys and warbonneted Natives was absorbed into motion pictures in the second decade of the twentieth century.