- Cody, William F.
▪ American showmanborn Feb. 26, 1846, Scott county, Iowa, U.S.died Jan. 10, 1917, Denver, Colo.buffalo hunter, U.S. Army scout, and Indian fighter who dramatized the facts and flavour of the American West through fiction and melodrama. His colourful Wild West exhibition (later known as Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World) became an international institution.Cody's father died in 1857, and at the age of 11 the boy went to work as a mounted messenger in Kansas for the wagon-freight firm that later became Russell, Majors, and Waddell, backers of the Pony Express. Before the end of his teens, Cody had become an accomplished horse wrangler, hunter, and Indian fighter.After serving in the American Civil War (1861–65), he worked for the U.S. Army as a civilian scout and dispatch bearer out of Fort Ellsworth in Kansas (1866–67). In 1867–68 he hunted buffalo to feed construction crews on the Union Pacific Railroad. During this time he slaughtered 4,280 head of buffalo, and he soon became known as the champion buffalo killer of the Great Plains.Cody acquired a reputation not only for accurate marksmanship but also for total recall of the vast terrain he had traversed, knowledge of Indian ways, courage, and endurance. He was in demand as a scout and guide, mostly for the U.S. 5th Cavalry, throughout much of the government's attempt to wipe out Indian resistance to the white man west of the Mississippi River (1868–76). He was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872, but the award was revoked in 1916 on the ground that he was not an officer or an enlisted man in the army (scouts were classified as civilians). The U.S. Army restored the Medal of Honor to Cody posthumously in 1989.In all, Cody engaged in 16 Indian fights, including the much-publicized scalping (July 17, 1876) of the Cheyenne warrior Yellow Hair (erroneously translated Yellow Hand) in Sioux county, Neb. Such exploits provided choice material not only for newspaper reporters but also for dime novelists, who transformed the hard-riding, fast-shooting Cody into a Western folk hero. Among these early authors were Ned Buntline (pen name of E.Z.C. Judson (Judson, E.Z.C.)) and Prentiss Ingraham. Recognizing the financial possibilities inherent in dramatizing the West, Cody was easily persuaded in 1872 to star in Buntline's drama The Scouts of the Prairie. Though his acting was far from polished, he became a superb showman, and his audiences greeted him with overwhelming enthusiasm. Between seasons, he frequently escorted hunting parties of wealthy Easterners and European nobility to the West.In 1883 Cody organized his first Wild West (Wild West show) exhibition—a spectacular featuring fancy shooting, a buffalo hunt, capture of the Deadwood (S.D.) stagecoach, a Pony Express ride, hard-riding cowboys, and yelling Indians. His stars included Annie Oakley (Oakley, Annie), the famous rifle shot, and, in 1885, Chief Sitting Bull.While Cody's exhibition remained extremely popular in the United States and abroad, in the end, through mismanagement, he lost the fortune he had made in show business. His last public appearance was at Portsmouth, Va., just two months before his death.Additional ReadingBiographies include Rupert Croft-Cooke and W.S. Meadmore, Buffalo Bill: The Legend, the Man of Action, the Showman (1952, reissued 1975); and Don Russell, The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill (1960).
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