William Frederick Cody (February 26, 1846 January 10, 1917), better known under his nickname Buffalo Bill, was a 19th century adventurer and entertainer, who grew to legendary proportions during his lifetime. It has been said that he was probably the most internationally famous man of the late 1880s to early 1900s.
Cody was already a renowned Folk Hero during the second half of the 19th century, when he worked for the Pony Express, served during the American Civil War, fought against Native Americans and famously shot bison from outside the train window. He also founded the city Cody in Wyoming. His real international fame, however, started from 1883 onward, when he began a travelling show called Buffalo Bill's Wild West. The act featured sharp-shooters, trick riders, staged races, a rodeo show and re-enactments of cowboy and Indians battles, basically the Theme Park Version of the Wild West. Some of the hundreds of people involved in this sensational spectacle were real-life legendary figures such as Sitting Bull, Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley. But the most fanfare was prepared for Buffalo Bill himself, who glorified his deeds as if he was some sort of mythological superhero. Buffalo Bill's Wild West did probably more to popularize the stereotypical image of The Wild West than any other phenomenon. Dime novels were written to cash in on Buffalo Bill's celebrity and soon he became ingrained as the most famous entertainer of his era.
The shows continued well into the 20th century, becoming even more popular in Europe than in his homeland. Despite having been a rich entertainer, his fortune shrunk, and by the time of his death in 1917, Bill was down to less than $100,000. He wasn't forgotten, though. US president Woodrow Wilson, German emperor Wilhelm II and King George V of the United Kingdom all paid tribute to him. Even a century after his death Buffalo Bill remains in the public consciousness as a colorful Wild West legend.
His legacy, however, is more of a mixed bag. Critics see him as a shameless self promoter who mythologized his past. Even though he experienced the Wild West firsthand, he still romanticized the era into the caricature that it remains today. Bill is also despised by some for ingraining many falsified stereotypes about The Wild West, particularly that of The Savage Indian. Animal rights activists see him as ruthless mass killer of bison for fun, which popularized the sport among other hunters so that by the end of the 19th century, these animals were already in danger of extinction in some areas of the country. On the other hand, Bill did bring the old Wild West, that was already dying out in the public consciousness, back to the fore. He respected Native Americans, paid them well to appear in his show and even during his acts he sought the time to remind the audience of how glorious the Wild West once was and that Indians were now the white man's friends. He even downright admitted that, "Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government." He also spoke out against hide-hunting and argued for conservation and a hunting season.
Buffalo Bill provides examples of...
- Alliterative Name: Buffalo Bill.
- Artistic License History: Even though William presented the "Buffalo Bill" shows as educational and historically accurate, they were mostly romanticized stories, going for the Broad Strokes of western expansion rather than specific events.
- Cowboys and Indians: The selling point of his show was a town of cowboys versus a rogue tribe of Indians fighting on stage. William/Bill did more than anybody else to popularize and ingrain a romanticized version of the cowboy and Indians era in the public consciousness.
- End of an Age: Buffalo Bill's Wild West went on tour when the end of the frontier was mostly conquered and The Wild West he helped form the idealized history of.
- Folk Hero: Buffalo Bill has become an American folklore icon, due to Willaim's efforts at telling the story
- Great White Hunter: Willaim was a renowned bison hunter and cultivated the image of an expert tracker and crack shot for Buffalo Bill.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: William's performances would invariably place his character of Bill as The Hero of the story, and many of the later storytellers would take these tales at his word or exaggerate them even more.
- I Call Her "Vera": Buffalo Bill named his favorite rifle Lucrezia Borgia.
- Iconic Outfit: His cowboy hat and blue uniform, accompanied by a large rifle and black boots.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: William would plaster "Buffalo Bill" and his face on all the promotional material for his show.
- Named After Someone Famous: Bill's gun, Lucrezia Borgia, is named after the famous 16th century Italian noblewoman.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: The name William F. Cody is far less famous than his persona, ''Buffalo Bill'.
- Referenced by...:
- The American football team Buffalo Bills carries his name.
- The The Beatles song ''The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill' is a Pun-Based Title.
- Buffalo Bill appears as a character in Annie Get Your Gun.
- Suske en Wiske: In Bibbergoud (Shiver Gold) Lambik reads a Dime Novel about Buffalo Bill at the start of this story that will eventually bring him and the cast to The Wild West. In De Gouden Locomotief (The Golden Locomotive) he buys Buffalo Bill's hat in a flea market and finds a treasure map inside it. This plot too brings the cast to the Wild West. The comic strip creator, Willy Vandersteen, used to read about Buffalo Bill during his childhood.
- Lucky Luke featured a cameo of Buffalo Bill.
- Robert Altman directed the film Buffalo Bill And The Indians Or Sitting Bulls History Lesson about him.
- One of the serial killers in Silence of the Lambs and the movie version was named after Buffalo Bill.
- An early '80s sitcom starring Dabney Coleman as a Buffalo, New York talk show host named Bill was called, naturally, Buffalo Bill.
- During a episode of Time Squad, Buffalo Bill is a crazy Conspiracy Theorist in charge of a tabloid magazine nobody reads, when he was supposed to have helped form the Pony Express.
- In Christopher Golden's Vampire Oddessy trilogy, one of the main protagonist vampires is Buffalo Bill Cody.
- Wonder Woman (1942): One of the "Wonder Woman in History" features depicts Annie Oakley's life, including her time traveling as part of Buffalo Bill's show.
- Theme Park Version: The Buffalo Bill's Wild West was a circus-like act that toured around the world to present a simplified and romanticized version of the history of America's westward expansion.
- The Wild West: William helped to form the mythology of the era, while placing his persona of Buffalo Bill as one of the central players of the setting.