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Buffalo Bill Comes to Town


For three decades, William F. Cody, better known as "Buffalo Bill," entertained throngs of spectators with his world famous show, "Buffalo Bill's Wild West." And on this date in 1910, as part of his farewell tour, Cody was preparing for his final appearance in North Dakota.

Cody was born in Scott County, Iowa in 1846, and grew up on the prairie. At age 7, Cody's family moved to Leavenworth, Kansas. Cody's father, Isaac, was an abolitionist. One afternoon, while giving an anti-slavery speech, the elder Cody so infuriated the pro-slavery members of his audience that they attacked and stabbed him. Young William managed to drag his father to safety, but the elder Cody would never fully recover. The family was persecuted and threatened until Isaac Cody finally succumbed to his injuries in 1857.

After the death of his father, it was up to William to support the family. Thus, Cody became involved in the rugged and quickly expanding West at a young age. When Cody was just 12, he landed a job on a wagon train headed for Laramie, Wyoming, and at 15, Cody became a rider for the Pony Express. Cody enlisted in the Union Army and saw action in the early Indian wars, as well as the American Civil War. He established himself as a marksman and earned his Buffalo Bill nickname while working as a hunter along the Kansas Pacific Railroad. Cody claimed to have killed 4,280 buffalo during his time on the railroad. According to Western lore, Cody won an eight-hour shooting match against fellow hunter William Comstock, also known as Buffalo Bill, to determine once and for all which man would bear the nickname.

Cody's exploits on the prairie were documented ... and exaggerated ... by dime novelists of the era, particularly Ned Buntline. "Buffalo Bill" became a household name, and in 1872, Buntline invited Cody to portray himself in a New York production about his exploits. Cody, who had never acted before, took up the role and proved a natural, dazzling his audiences.

In 1883, Cody revealed to the world his true prowess as a showman, founding "Buffalo Bill's Wild West." Billed as an "outdoor extravaganza," the show featured various aspects of Western life such as buffalo hunts, a Pony Express ride, and reenactments of the Little Big Horn. For one season, Chief Sitting Bull, billed as "The slayer of Custer himself," was a part of the tour. Later, Annie Oakley, the famous markswoman, would also join the troupe.

We'll have more on Buffalo Bill, and his final appearance in North Dakota, tomorrow.

Dakota Datebook written by Ben Lundquist

Works Consulted:

"Buffalo Bill's Big Wild West Show Here." The Fargo Forum. Thursday Evening August 25th 1910.

Carter, Robert A. (2002). "Buffalo Bill Cody: The Man Behind the Legend." Wiley. pp. 512.