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Buffalo Bill Cody

Born: February 26, 1846
Died: January 10, 1917

History powered by Prof. WalterWilliam Frederick Cody, known as Buffalo Bill, is a buffalo hunter, U.S. army scout, and an Indian fighter. But he is probably best known as the man who gave the Wild West its name. He produces a colorful show called Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World, which has an international reputation and helps create a lasting image of the American West. Buffalo Bill is a major contributor in the creation of the myth of the American West, as seen in Hollywood movies and television.

The Buffalo Hunter
Buffalo Bill is known as the champion buffalo killer of the Great Plains, so who better to take an important visitor on a hunt? When the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia comes to visit in 1872, it is arranged that Buffalo Bill will lead the wagon train. Buffalo Bill knows many Indians and he is able to convince a famous Sioux Indian named Spotted Tail and his village to join the hunt.

When Buffalo Bill explains to Spotted Tail about the trip, he apparently says, "Great white man wants a big hunt with the Indians." Buffalo Bill also arranges for the Indians to put on a show for the Duke. The Grand Duke, who is 19, has a great time, especially when he goes on a mad ride in a stagecoach behind six wild horses with Buffalo Bill holding the reins. All in all, they went on the most famous buffalo hunt ever held.

Although they don't kill many buffalo on this hunt, Buffalo Bill killed thousands during his lifetime. He kills 4,280 buffalo in 17 months alone. By 1870, the bison (the scientific name for buffalo) population of the Great Plains have been divided into two sections on either side of the Union Pacific railway line--the northern herd and the southern herd. The southern herd is completely killed by 1875 and the northern herd by 1885. By 1889, only 835 bison are left alive in the U.S. Today, one variety, the woodland bison, is still an endangered species while over 20,000 plains bison thrive in managed herds.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Shows
In the 1880s Buffalo Bill starts producing a theatrical spectacle called the Wild West show. It is wildly popular and one of the most famous acts in his show includes a performer known as Annie Oakley. Her real name is Phoebe Anne Oakley Moses, but she is known as "Little Sure Shot" because she has such great aim. At 30 paces Annie Oakley can fire a gun and hit the edge of a playing card or the end of a cigarette held in the lips of her husband, Frank Butler. What other kinds of acts do you think were in the Wild West show?

A show about the Wild West will not be complete without some Indians, and you can bet that Buffalo Bill had some very talented ones. American Sioux Indian dancers in full war paint and war costumes perform the Sioux Ghost Dance. This is the very first time that American Indians appeared before a motion picture camera. What's the one other thing that Buffalo Bill had to have in his show?

Buffalo Bill already has Indians in his Wild West show, so he has to have some cowboys! The cowboy in this film is Lee Martin. He's riding a bucking bronco--an unbroken range horse that tends to throw or buck its rider. This is just one of the exciting acts in the show. Buffalo Bill also has lots of wild animals in the show, including buffalo, elk, deer, bear, and moose. If you have to ride a wild animal, which one would you choose?

Buffalo Bill in Show Business
William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody was an accomplished Indian scout and buffalo hunter when E.Z.C. Judson, a writer who goes by the name of Ned Buntline, meets him in the summer of 1869. Judson writes western stories and what are known as "dime novels" (small paperback books that sold for 10 cents.) He helps create "Buffalo Bill" and makes him the hero in a number of his books. These stories make Buffalo Bill famous in the East and when he goes to New York for a visit, he sees a play based on his adventures.

After his trip to New York, Buffalo Bill goes home to Nebraska but decides to try his hand at show business. Ned Buntline adapts the play and together they produce the show, The Scouts of the Plains. Although some critics thought the show is ridiculous, Buffalo Bill is praised because his acting is based on genuine experience. The following year Buffalo Bill organizes his own troop of players, called the Buffalo Bill Combination. In 1883, he comes up with the idea for the Wild West show. It is an outdoor spectacle designed to educate and entertain. When Buffalo Bill's Wild West show came to town, it is a big deal. There will be a parade, which includes cowboys, Indians, soldiers on horseback, and horse-drawn carriages.

In 1887, Buffalo Bill's show performs at Madison Square Garden in New York City with 100 Indians, Annie Oakley, trick riders, ropers, and shooters as well as many different wild animals. The show is four hours long and includes Indian war dances and an "attack" on a stagecoach. The show even goes on tour to England and Europe. It is such a success that Queen Victoria sees it three times. Even after Buffalo Bill dies in 1917, the Wild West shows continue.

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