William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody - Misc. Characters

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody 1846-1917

William Frederick Cody was born on February 26, 1846, in Le Claire, Iowa. He had five sisters, Martha, Julia, Eliza, Helen, and Mary, and one brother, Samuel. Samuel was killed early on, when he fell from a horse. The family moved west in 1853. Though young, Billy could already ride and shoot. He rode ahead of the wagon train to look for likely camps sites and hunt game. Their first stop was Weston, Missouri, where Billy's uncle lived. They would stock up on supplies there.
But the uncle convinced them to forget the California gold fields and settle down in Kansas. The Cody's took his advice. So Billy, his father, and a scout went out to look for property. They took trade goods for the Indians. They passed through Fort Leavenworth, where Billy was fascinated by drilling soldiers and bushwhackers. They went on to a trading post called Rively's Place where a lot of rough characters hung around. Then they went on to an Indian trading post and traded with the Kickapoo Indians. After riding through Kansas for several days, they picked some land in the Salt Creek Valley to build a homestead. The trail to Salt Lake City led right through the valley.
One day, Billy had gone to the trading post for supplies when he met up with a cousin named Horace Billings. Billings was a scout and mountain man. Billings offered to take young Billy under his wing while he went on an expedition to search for wild horses. Billy loved being outdoors and learning everything he could about tracking animals and reading trail signs, and surviving in the wild. After returning home, he had a hard time concentrating on his chores.
One day in 1855 Billy and his father rode in to Rively's for supplies. Some men were there who talked loudly about Kansas becoming a salve sate. They badgered Mr. Cody into giving his opinion on the matter. When he said he was against slavery the men attacked and stabbed him. One day while his father was recuperating, Billy heard the men were planning to come out to their farm and finish the job. Billy's new little baby brother Charles had just been born at this time. Mr. Cody was forced to hide while the men were looking for him.
There were several raids and gunfights between pro- and anti-slavery factions. One night a man warned Billy that a gang lie in wait for his father. Billy set out to warn him, even though he was very sick with a fever. When he reached a certain point, his father's enemies tried to gun him down. But he somehow escaped and reached his father unharmed. Unfortunately, he was now so sick he fainted dead away.
He recovered a few days later and rode home. His father went to Ohio to try to bring more "free-staters" to Kansas. His father died in April 1857, when Billy was 11. It was up to Billy to provide for the family. He hired out with the Russell, Majors & Waddell Company, which operated out of Leavenworth. He was basically a go-fer, doing odd jobs for wagon trains that supplied the frontier forts. In May 1857, he shipped out on his first expedition. The trip out was uneventful. But on the way back, they were attacked by Indians. The Indians drove off the cattle. Three white men were killed and one was wounded. They hid in a high creek bank and managed to chase off the Indians. But then a few minutes later they started ransacking the wagons. The white men snuck off while they were occupied. The Indians burned the wagons when they were done.
The men built a raft so that they could put their weapons and the wounded man on it. They walked about 35 miles before finally reaching Fort Kearney. After resting up, Billy returned home with another outfit going back to Leavenworth.
His next trip would be with the Simpson wagon train bound for Utah. They had a mishap just a few days out. There was a large band of buffalo on the trail. On the other side of the buffalo ere some wagons and horsemen heading east. The horsemen rode straight into the buffalo, stampeding them straight into the Simpson wagon train. The frightened oxen took off, overturning several wagons and damaging several others. They were delayed while repairs were made and freight was repackaged. After a few uneventful weeks they arrived at Fort Laramie. Billy had a great time there and met the famous Thomas FitzPatrick and Kit Carson. In a few days, they continued on.
While taking the oxen to water, Simpson, Billy, and a few others were accosted by some men led by Joe Smith. T he Simpson trains were now in Mormon territory. The Mormons had declared that they were not subject to the laws of the U.S. They were taking anything that belonged to the army. They burned all the wagons and freight. They took all the livestock, except for a few oxen they left with Simpson. They had no choice but to walk back to Fort Bridger. There were others there who had suffered the same fate. But it was too late in the year to turn back. Billy and his friends would have to winter at the fort.
In the Spring, Billy, Simpson, and George woods were attached to a train heading back to Leavenworth. They decided to take a slight detour in hopes of finding better graze for the animals. But they were attacked by Indians instead. They shot their mules and used them as a barricade. This served them well and only Woods got a slight shoulder wound. But the Indians didn't leave. They figured the could wait the whites out. But then the wagon train appeared to rescue them and the Indians fled.
Billy returned home, but the following Spring he was on the trail again. At Laramie he met Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and other famous scouts and trappers. He spent the winter trying his hand at fur trapping, but barely made enough to survive. He returned home just in time to catch the gold fever. Gold had been found near Pike's Peak, Colorado in 1859. Billy had to try his hand at prospecting. He was only 13, when he got two friends and went to Golden, Colorado. Within two months they gave up.
In the fall, he and partner David Harrington tried trapping the creeks feeding the Republican River of western Kansas. They were doing quite well, when a bear killed one of their oxen. Then Billy broke his leg when he fell one day. Harrington rode the one oxen left over 100 miles to the nearest settlement. While he was gone, Sioux Indians came and took most of Billy's remaining food. The only reason they didn't kill him was because Billy had known the chief's son back at Fort Laramie. Dave finally returned and the two of them went back to civilization. They made quite a bit of money, most of which Billy turned over to his mother.
Then Billy heard about the Pony Express. This was an adventure tailor made for him. But he had to wait for his leg to heal. As soon as he could, he went to see George Chrisman at the Julesburg, Colorado station. Chrisman didn't want to take on someone was young as Billy, who was only 14 years old. He sent him to a station further east, where it was less dangerous. Billy was hired on a trial basis as the youngest rider. But when the Paiute War broke out in Nevada, the Pony Express was interrupted for several weeks. Riders were balking about going out there. Naturally, that is precisely where Billy wanted to be.
Al Slade took him on a 76 mile relay, from Red Buttes on the North Platte to Three Crossing son the Sweetwater. It was a dangerous route with outlaws and Indians lurking. On one ride, the rider that was supposed to relieve him had been killed. Billy had to ride another 85 miles to Rocky Ridge. He had scarcely got there when the rider coming east arrived. Billy had to turn right back around to Red Buttes, making one of the longest rides in the history of the Pony Express, 322 miles in 21 hours.
That year, Civil War broke out in the east. Most of the frontier soldiers went back to fight. The Pony Express line became unprotected and the Indians were especially troublesome. One time, they chased Billy most of his run. They were always running off the horses. They attacked stagecoaches and wagon trains.
About this time, Billy met Wild Bill Hickok. He was leading a group to go out and steal back some horses. Billy went with him. The raid was successful and the white men got all their horses back, plus some Indian ponies. Another time, Billy was almost captured by an outlaw band. But a clever trick allowed him to escape. But he lost his horse and had to walk back to the station.
Shortly afterward, he was called home to helping his ailing mother. When he arrived he found that there were constant skirmishes between the free staters of Kansas and the pro-slavery Missourians. Cody joined the Kansas men and became a Jayhawker. That didn't last long, as his mother was against it. So for awhile, he became a messenger for the army, carrying dispatches between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Larned, Kansas. In the winter, he scouted for the army against Indian and white outlaw gangs.
His mother died in 1863. Fortunately his sister had married, so the couple moved into the Cody household to look after the younger kids. Just before he turned 18, Cody enlisted in the 7th Kansas Regiment. He acted as scout and for a time scouted with Hickok. During his time in the army, he spent some time in St. Louis. While there he met a woman named Louisa Frederici. After the war was over, Billy returned there and asked for her hand in marriage. She agreed, but only if he gave up his life on the plains. Bill agreed, but first he'd have to make them some money. He drove stages for a year. Then he returned to St. Louis. They were married on March 6, 1866. He was 20, she was 22. Then returned to Kansas, where Cody re-opened his mother's hotel. But he was not a very good businessman. He had to sell the hotel.
Once again, he became an army scout. While he was gone, his daughter Arta was born. After an unsuccessful real estate venture, Cody was broke again. He resorted to working as a laborer on the railroad. But then came another big break.
A big buffalo herd was going by. Everyone encouraged Cody to go hunt some since he was the best shot. He rode out and shot three of them with no trouble at all. Part of his success was that his horse could anticipate what his master wanted. His railroad bosses were impressed and hired him full time to hunt buffalo. It was a dangerous job as the Indians became resentful of the slaughter of the buffalo. Other white men were taking them only for the hides. The Indians harassed Cody wherever he went.
A man named Billy Comstock challenged Cody to prove who was the best marksman and "champion of the plains." Cody was up for it. Cody won easily, killing 69 buffalo to Comstock's 46. For another year and a half, he hunted for the railroad. He killed 4,208 buffalo during that time. People started calling him Buffalo Bill.
After that he returned to being an army scout. The Indians were making war and the army was responding. One day, Cody was captured by Comanches. They soon let him go after some smooth talking by Cody. But soon a chase was on. Fortunately, a party of soldiers were nearby and they were able to chase off the Indians. After that Cody ended up at Fort Hays, scouting for the 5th Cavalry. At first some of the men did not respect Cody's skills as a scout and buffalo hunter. But after driving some buffalo into camp and shooting them practically at their feet, he had earned their respect. General Carr depended heavily on Cody and even increased his pay to prove it.
That winter was rough and Cody suffered frostbite on one of his ears. The damage left him permanently partially deaf on that side. He also had grown his air long, as well as grown a moustache and goatee. Louisa, who remained at St. Louis during this time, had a little trouble getting used to it. But he convinced her all the plainsmen looked like he did.
On a battle with the Sioux, Cody's horse was shot from under him. But he won an Indian horse he named Powder Face. Cody continued to scout and worked with a band of Pawnee scouts who were feared by the Sioux. The cavalry had several skirmishes with the Sioux, some of which were won by the Indians.
After that Cody was sent to Fort McPherson to scout for Major Brown. While there he met the famous Colonel E. Z. C. Judson, better known as Ned Buntline. Buntline wrote dime novels about famous frontier characters. He picked Buffalo Bill as his next hero and in 1869 published "Buffalo Bill, King of the Border Men."
Cody stayed at Fort McPherson and built a cabin there for his wife, daughter, and two of his sisters. They moved there in 1870. He scouted during the summer. In the winter his son Kit Carson Cody was born.
Then came the turning point. In the fall of 1871, a party of rich easterners and Europeans went out west in a hunting party. General Sheridan asked Cody to arrange with Chief Spotted Tail of the Sioux to put on a mock battle, war dances, and buffalo hunts. The Grand Duke Alexis of Russia was one of those thrilled by the show.
Shortly after this, Cody went back east. He had been invited several times. At the time he went, Buntline was putting on plays about Cody's life and it was highly popular. Cody returned to scouting a short time later. That summer he received the only injury he ever got in an Indian fight--a grazing scalp wound.
In August 1872, his daughter Orra was born. By that time, Buntline was nagging him constantly to come back east to perform. He finally relented, taking Hickok and Texas Jack with him. He spent the next four winters on stage and the summers scouting. In April 1876, his young son died. Soon after, he joined the Battle of War Bonnet Creek in the Black Hills. He made enough money to buy a house in Rochester, New York, for his wife, a cattle ranch on the North Platte, and 4,000 acres in the Big Horn basin of Wyoming.
Then he changed his show because he wanted it to be real. He got real sharpshooters, cowboys, and Indians. He did the show outside like a circus. The Wild West, Rocky Mountain, and Prairie Exhibition opened on May 17, 1883 in Omaha, Nebraska, the same year his third daughter Irma was born. Cody played himself. He had a stage holdup, pony express riders, and Indian battles. They fired real guns. The show was an instant hit. In 1885, Cody made $100,000.
The next year he took his show to Europe where it was just as successful as it was in America. In 1893, he made over a million dollars. His ranch in Wyoming was also becoming a very popular dude ranch, the first of its type. The town of Cody, Wyoming was planned by Cody and he paid for the first buildings. His business may have been doing well, but his personal life wasn't so pretty. Louisa had grown tired of his boozing and womanizing. They were on the verge of divorce when their daughter died. They reconciled after that.
But Cody's bigger problem was that he was generous to a fault. Though a millionaire, he frequently handed out his money. By the time he finally quit performing, he was bankrupt. He had to sell off his show to pay his debts. Somehow he scraped together enough to form his film company, the W. F. Cody Historical Pictures Company. He was the first to see the possibility of recording the west on film. In 1914, his company filmed a reenactment of the Battle at Wounded Knee. The film was a financial failure.
William F. Cody died on January 10, 1917, at 71 years old, at Denver, Colorado. He is buried on Lookout Mountain, twenty miles west of Denver.

-Copyright 2000 by Beth Gibson