William Cody (Buffalo Bill) was born near Le Claire, Iowa, on 26th February, 1846. His family moved to Kansas in 1854 and settled near Leavenworth.
Cody worked as an express messenger and at the age of 12 claimed he killed his first Native American. Later he worked as a driver at Fort Laramie. Cody also attempted to make his fortune as a gold miner. This was unsuccessful and in 1860 Cody became a Pony Express rider. He later told the writer Ned Buntline that he set a record by riding 322 miles in 21 hours 30 minutes.
After the war Cody worked as a stage driver from Fort Kearny to Plum Creek. In 1867 he was employed as a scout by General George A. Custer. This was followed by obtaining a contract to kill buffalo for the company supplying the food for the men building the Union Pacific Railroad. Cody later boasted of killing 4,280 buffalo in seventeen months, using a 50-clibre breech-loading Springfield rifle. Although most people thought this was a wild exaggeration he was given the nickname Buffalo Bill.
In 1868 Cody was appointed by General Philip H. Sheridan as chief scout for the 5th Cavalry. He held this post during the Republican River campaign. Along with Frank North and his Pawnee Scouts, Cody took part in the victory over Cheyenne warriors at Summit Springs, Colorado, on 11th July, 1869. Cody later claimed he had killed their leader, Tall Bull, but this was disputed by others who were involved in the operation.
As well as scouting for the army Cody worked as a guide for people wanting to hunt buffalo. This include taking Grand Duke Alexis of Russia in what became known as the Great Royal Buffalo Hunt. During this time he met the writer Ned Buntline. This resulted in the article, Buffalo Bill: King of the Bordermen, that appeared in the New York Weekly in 1869. This publicity helped Cody to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
In 1872 Cody appeared in a play in Chicago written by Buntine called The Scouts of the Prairie. It was a great success and Cody went on tour with the play. Later he appeared in Scouts of the Plains, a play written by Fred Maeder.
In 1876 Cody was back working as a scout for General George Crook in the wars against the Sioux. In July of that year he killed and scalped the Cheyenne chief Yellow Hand in battle while serving with the 5th Cavalry. The following year Cody joined up with his old friend, Frank North, to purchase a ranch on the Dismal River in Nebraska.
Cody found the work too unexciting and decided to go back to show business and in 1882 established his Wild West Show. He recruited several famous people to perform in his show including Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Frank North. This included re-enactments of Custer's Last Stand, Native American attacks on stagecoaches and cowboys showing off their skills.
In 1887 Cody toured Europe with his show and gave a special performance in London in front of Queen Victoria and the Royal Family. The Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII) was so impressed that he saw it three times. Cody and his team also appeared in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria and Belgium. In 1893 Cody's Wild West Show was the outstanding attraction of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition.
Cody made a fortune out of his Wild West Show but bad investments caused him financial problems. In 1908 he merged his operations with Major Gordon W. Lillie's Pawnee Bill Show. This was not successful and after the partnership broke up Cody joined the Sells-Floto Circus.
William Cody went bankrupt and was deeply in debt when he died on 10th January, 1917.