William Frederick Cody was born near LeClair Iowa on February
26th, 1846. One early experience was witnessing his 14-year-old
brother Sam being crushed to death when the horse he was riding
recklessly while showing off for some young girls, reared and fell on
him. Will was determined to become an expert and careful
The family soon moved to Kansas. At a dry goods store near Fort
Leavenworth when Will was 9, his father was forced by the crowd to
speak his mind during a heated discussion about whether Kansas
should be a Free State or a Slave State. Isaac Cody spoke against
slavery and a man who worked for his brother Elijah stepped up
and put a knife in his chest. Isaac didn't die from the injury for three
years, but it was up to Will to provide for his family, and he got a job
working for the large freight company, Russell, Majors and Waddell.
He began as a courier, but worked as a cavalard, the boy who
cared for the spare animals, and as a bullwhacker. During this time
he became an expert at moving bull trains across streams and
rivers, met James Butler Hickok and learned to read the
topography of the western plains.
Cody worked as a rider for the Pony Express, rode with a
Jayhawker band led by Doc Jennison and tried his hand at trapping
and prospecting. His Mother died in 1863 and he was released
from a promise he had made to her and joined the 7th Volunteer
Kansas Cavalry. During the Civil War Cody served as a teamster,
courier and scout. He was sent to St. Louis near the end of the war
where he met Louisa Frederici, who was three years his senior and
became engaged as a prank they played on another of her suitors.
After the war she wrote Will to remind him of his promise and he
returned to marry her. He tried his hand as a innkeeper with the
Golden Rule Inn, but he never adjusted to domestic life and soon
returned to a life on the plains. After guiding General Custer to
Kansas Cody was hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to hunt for
meat to feed the men building the railroad. Cody was paid $500 a
month to kill 12 buffalo a day for their meat. He hunted for 18
months and killed an estimated 4350 buffalo. The men on the
railroad would sing a song about him.
Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill,
Never misses and never will.
Always aims and shoots to kill,
And the company pays his buffalo bill.
From that time on he was called Buffalo Bill. During his time hunting
he and a man named William Rose, who had a contract grading the
railroad right of way, staked out a town ahead of the railroad
advance and named it Rome. Over a period of a few months it
became a thriving community with several stores, homes and
saloons. When Rose and Cody refused to partner with the railroad
the line was moved north one and one-half miles and the town of
Hays City was created. Rome was dismantled in two days, but
Cody acquired a lifelong desire to develop property in the west.
Buffalo Bill scouted for the Fifth Cavalry and fought in several
battles, including the battles of War Bonnet Creek and Summit
Springs against the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers under Chief Tall Bull.
For his service as a civilian contractor Cody was awarded the
Medal of Honor.
It was at this time that he met Ned Buntline, whose real name was
Edward Zane Carroll Judson, a writer of dime novels and, although
a heavy drinker, a speaker on the temperance circuit. It was during
one of these speaking tours that he met Buffalo Bill. He was
originally intending to write another dime novel about Wild Bill
Hickok but he wrote one about Buffalo Bill instead titled Buffalo Bill
Cody - King of the Border Men which sold in large numbers making
Buffalo Bill famous in the East.
Cody began leading Buffalo hunting expeditions for wealthy
Easterners and visiting European royalty. During one hunting trip he
met James G. Bennett Jr. the Publisher of the New York Herald
who invited Cody to visit New York City. During that trip, he looked
up Ned Buntline who took him to a play based on the dime novel.
When the audience found out he was in the house it demanded he
appear on stage. He was embarrassed and scared but it was his
first taste of show business.
Later that year he went to Chicago with his friend Texas Jack
Omohundro and began touring in a play written by Ned Buntline. He
was a terrible actor at first, but within a year he could fill houses and
entertain the audiences with stories of the rescue of innocent
women who were captured by Indians and the foiling of villains.
Each scene ended with the curtain falling on a gun smoke
obscured scene of Buffalo Bill standing with his smoking rifle and a
thankful woman kneeling at his side clutching his knees while
surrounded by villains lying as if dead. The next scene the villains
are back and the rescue is performed again with small differences.
After ten years of performing with his Buffalo Bill Combination on
stages throughout America Cody formed the Wild West, a traveling
exhibition of various types of horse racing, bucking bronco riding,
re-enacting Indian War battles, telling the story of the winning of the
west and letting America see Native Americans living with their
families in tipis and caring for their children. With the Wild West
Cody traveled America and Europe and helped to create the
image of the west in the minds of the world. His vision of the west
was contagious and his audiences all over the world believed they
had seen the west as it had been during the days of the frontier.