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BUFFALO BILL CODY - FAMOUS INDIAN SCOUT & ENTERTAINER

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody was born in LeClaire, Iowa in 1846. While he was still a child, his family moved to Leavenworth, Kansas. Cody left his home in Leavenworth, Kansas, at the young age of eleven. He herded cattle and worked as a driver on a wagon train, crossing the Great Plains several times. He went on to fur trapping and gold mining, then joined the Pony Express in 1860. After the Civil War, Cody scouted for the Army and gained the nickname "Buffalo Bill" as a hunter. Codyís life in the West offered the stuff from which legends were made and he soon was popularized in newspaper accounts and dime novels.

Buffalo Billís show business career began on December 17, 1872 in Chicago; he was age twenty-six. "The Scouts of the Prairie" was a drama created by dime novelist Ned Buntline, who appeared in it with Cody and another well-known scout, "Texas Jack" Omohundro. The show was a success, despite one criticís characterization of Cody as "a good-looking fellow, tall and straight as an arrow, but ridiculous as an actor." Other critics noted Codyís manner of charming the audience and the realism he brought to his performance. Actor or not, Buffalo Bill was a showman.

The following season Cody organized his own troupe, the Buffalo Bill Combination. The troupeí show "Scouts of the Plains" included Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack, and Codyís old friend "Wild Bill" Hickok. Wild Bill and Texas Jack eventually left the show, but Cody continued staging a variety of plays until 1882. That year the Wild West show was conceived. It was an outdoor spectacle, designed to both educate and entertain, using a cast of hundreds as well as live buffalo, elk, cattle, and other animals.

"Buffalo Billís Wild West" used real cow-boys and cow-girls, recruited from ranches in the West. At first, few people shared Cody's admiration of the cow-boys. Most people regarded them as coarse cattle drivers and used the term "cow-boy" as an insult. By the end of the 19th century, the cow-boy became the much more popular "cowboy," thanks in large part to the Buffalo Bill Wild West shows. The shows demonstrated bronco riding, roping, and other skills that would later become part of public rodeos.

The Wild West was invited to England in 1887 to be the main American contribution to Queen Victoriaís Golden Jubilee celebration. "Buffalo Billís Wild West" was the hit of the celebration, visited by nobility, commoners, and by Queen Victoria herself. The show was credited with improving British and American relations. "Buffalo Billís Wild West" rose to international fame and returned two years later to tour the European Continent.

Today there is a lot of confusion about the relationship between Buffalo Bill and the Indians. Cody treated his former foes with great respect and dignity, giving them an opportunity to leave the reservation and represent their culture when many were trying to destroy it. Wild West show posters frequently portrayed the Indian as "The American." Buffalo Bill stated in 1885 that "The defeat of Custer was not a massacre. The Indians were being pursued by skilled fighters with orders to kill. For centuries they had been hounded from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back again. They had their wives and little ones to protect and they were fighting for their existence." These are not the words of an arrogant and bloodthirsty Indian killer, a manner in which he is sometime incorrectly portrayed.

Buffalo Bill had a great love and concern for people, particularly children. Many free passes were distributed to orphanages when the Wild West show came to town. He also was a champion of womenís rights, advocating equal pay and voting rights for women. The women in his show received comparable pay for comparable work to the men in the show. In fact, the women in the Wild West often out-rode and out-gunned the men. Certainly the most famous was Annie Oakley, nicknamed Little Sure Shot by Sitting Bull.

In spring of 1859 Buffalo Bill made his first trip to Colorado as part of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush. He passed through the new town of Denver on his way to the gold fields near Black Hawk where he searched for gold for two months, meeting with little success. On his return to Kansas he stopped in Julesburg, Colorado, where he was recruited to ride in the Pony Express. Most of his time with the Pony Express was spent in Kansas, although occasionally he traveled across northeast Colorado. The Pony Express route did not go to Denver but cut north into Nebraska and Wyoming.

Buffalo Bill did return to Denver in 1869, ten years after his first time in the town. By then Denver was a growing city where two thieves, who had stolen from the Army, hoped to hide out. General Carr sent scout Buffalo Bill Cody and Captain W. Green to capture the men and return them and the livestock they stole.

Cody returned to Denver another ten years later to perform in a local opera house with the Buffalo Bill Combination. He continued to tour through Colorado, performing at the Central City Opera (still in operation) and at another opera house in Georgetown.

After Buffalo Bill organized his Wild West show, he visited Denver and Colorado many times. Altogether, Buffalo Bill performed 35 times in Colorado between 1886 and 1916.

In addition to performing, Buffalo Bill had business dealings in Denver. In 1911 Cody acquired some horse halters from the Gates Tire and Leather Company in Denver. He liked them so well that he provided an endorsement for the product. This gave the fledgling firm such a boost in sales that it became the largest halter manufacturing firm in the U.S. It eventually became Gates Rubber Company.

In 1912 Buffalo Bill needed financing for his show and went to Harry Tammen of Denver for a $20,000 loan. In 1908 he had combined his show with Pawnee Billís under the title Buffalo Billís Wild West and Pawnee Billís Far East. In 1913 the combined show arrived for a Denver performance date at the time the $20,000 loan was due. To their surprise the show was seized by the sheriffís and held to pay off the $20,000 debt. Since Cody did not have that much cash available at the time and Tammen would not extend the loan, Buffalo Billís Wild West and Pawnee Billís Far East was sold off at auction in Denver.

Continuing to use the debt as leverage, Tammen then forced Buffalo Bill to appear in Tammenís Sells-Floto circus. It was clear that had been his objective all along. In 1915, Buffalo Bill finally got out of his coerced agreement with Tammen.

Buffalo Bill never retired, even though he had hoped to do so. He did two years of farewell performances while his show was combined with Pawnee Billís in 1908 but discovered at the end of the second year that he could not retire. Growing personal debts due to bad investments left him with little to retire on. Even after Cody left the Sells-Floto circus, his financial situation kept him performing with other wild west shows. In 1917 Buffalo Bill died while visiting his sisterís home in Denver. According to his wife Louisa it was his choice that he be buried on Lookout Mountain overlooking Denver and the Plains. Despite the claims of the citizens of Cody, Wyoming that he really wanted to be buried near Cody, close friends like Goldie Griffith and Johnny Baker, as well as the priest who administered last rites, affirmed that Lookout Mountain was indeed his choice. On June 3, 1917, Buffalo Bill was buried on Lookout Mountain, a promontory with spectacular views of both the mountains and plains, places where he had spent the happiest times of his life.

Louisa, who had married Buffalo Bill back before he became famous, was buried next to her husband four years later. That year, 1921, the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum was begun by Johnny Baker, close friend and unofficial foster son to Buffalo Bill. Just as millions of people saw Buffalo Bill in his Wild West shows during his life, millions of persons have visited Buffalo Billís grave in the years since 1917. Today it is one of the top visitor attractions in Denver and Colorado.
 

BUFFALO BILL CODY - FAMOUS INDIAN SCOUT & ENTERTAINER






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