Buffalo Bill’s Boyhood Home
Buffalo Bill, who embodies the spirit of the West for people across the country, was born William F. Cody in 1846. When he was only fourteen, he headed to Pikes Peak for the gold rush. He then fought as a Union soldier during the Civil War, enlisting in the Seventh Kansas Calvary. In the late 1860s and early 1870s, Buffalo Bill became a common household name, due to publications about his exploits as an outdoors-man and his famous traveling show, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West”. His childhood home became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. It is part of the "Buffalo Bill Center of the West" in Wyoming. The house has been moved from its original location in Iowa.
Backstory and Context
William F. Cody was born on February 26, 1846 in Iowa. Ten years later, his father passed away, causing him and his mother to move to Kansas. There he worked as a messenger and wrangler until he decided join the gold rush. As many did during this time, he headed west, ending up at Pikes Peak in 1859. Whether he met with any success there is unknown but doubtful, as the following year he joined the Pony Express. The Pony Express was a job that entailed riding across the country delivering messages. It was a risky job, but one that would later enhance the rugged reputation of the man soon to be known as “Buffalo Bill.”
Before he gained this name, William Cody served as a Union soldier during the Civil War. He was a scout for the Seventh Kansas Cavalry, where he fought in Tennessee and Missouri. He continued his army work as a scout and dispatch carrier, both of which he had experience doing during his time with the Pony Express. He took a break with the army but later returned as a civilian scout for the Fifth Cavalry. His past experiences as a plainsman made him very good at tracking and fighting. This resulted in him being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1872.
In 1867, William Cody earned himself the name “Buffalo Bill” when he killed over 4,000 buffalo in a year and a half. He began buffalo hunting in order to feed the construction workers that worked for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. He gained the reputation of an expert shooter. This alter ego of “Buffalo Bill” began taking on a character of its own while he was serving in the army, but he really became a folk hero because of novels created by Ned Buntline. By 1869, Buffalo Bill was a common name in houses because of the blurred line between fact and imagination of what the so-called wild west was like. It wasn’t until 1872 that Bill had his first onstage appearance. He starred in The Scouts of the Plains for eleven seasons. Ten years later he created another show, the well-known Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. In this show, William Cody showed off his outdoor skills as a hunger, fighter, tracker, and many other traits. This show was half filled with events that he had actually lived, half highly fictionalized. Over time, the show incorporated many other famous western figures, including Annie Oakley.
William F. Cody, now known only as “Buffalo Bill,” became one of the most famous Americans of his time. This was a time of westward expansion for the United States and these shows provided people a glimpse into what it was like. Presidents discussed matters regarding the west with him since he supposedly knew so much about them. Although some of the show was dramatized, there were many parts that involved real things that William Cody lived through, such as his buffalo hunting and battle with Indians. He went on doing this and embodying the west up until his death in 1917.
The Buffalo Bill Boyhood Home is located in Wyoming. This may seem confusing at first, since after reading his biography one knows that he was grew up in Iowa and then Kansas. The house that one visits at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is the original home that William F. Cody grew up in by the Mississippi River. This being said, it has been moved four times since it was built in 1841. It is said to be one of the oldest buildings in the state, but one needs to keep in mind it was not originally built there. William F. Cody lived in the house when he was three years old, as accounted in his memoir. The house models the architecture style known as “folk” or “vernacular”. It was common to see this type of house in the frontier, as it was built with lumber and plaster.
In 1933, the house was taken from LeClaire, Iowa by train to Cody, Wyoming. In brought in many tourists who were already visiting the area for Yellowstone National Park. When the tourism faded out in that area the house was given to the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association in 1948, resulting in a second move. The third move then happened when the association sold their current museum and moved everything across the street. The final move for the house was in 2004, when it was moved in the Greever Garden to help create a resemblance of an Iowa environment. The house was restored in order to make sure that it did not completely collapse and is now available to visit throughout the year. It became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
"William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody." Buffalo Bill Center of the West. Accessed April 08, 2019. https://centerofthewest.org/explore/buffalo-bill/research/buffalo-bill/.
"William F. Cody: "Buffalo Bill"." PBS: New Perspectives on the West. Accessed April 09, 2019. https://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/a_c/buffalobill.htm.