Cody, (William Frederick) “Buffalo Bill”(1845–1917) frontiersman, showman; born in Scott County, Iowa. After his father died when he was 12, and with little formal education, he worked as a wagoner, trapper, and prospector before joining the Pony Express at age 14. During the Civil War, he served as a scout for the Union army's Ninth Kansas Cavalry (1863) and then with the Union forces in Tennessee and Missouri (1864–65). After the war he tried various ventures—running a hotel and freighting business, working on railroad construction—until in 1867–68 he became a buffalo hunter, supplying meat to the Kansas Pacific Railroad and gaining the nickname "Buffalo Bill." (He killed 4,280 buffalo by his own count.) He then became a civilian scout for the Fifth Cavalry (1868–72), fighting the Sioux and Cheyenne. (He was even awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor but it was revoked in 1917 because he had not been in the military.) In 1872 he appeared in a stageplay by E. Z. C. Judson, who under the pen name "Ned Buntline," also began to feature Buffalo Bill in a series of dime novels. Cody went back to the plains to raise cattle and scout again for the military (he was said to have killed and scalped the Cheyenne chief, Yellow Hand), but in 1883 he decided to capitalize on his fame by organizing "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show." With himself as the star and with other talented marksmen and riders—including Annie Oakley—and featuring a mock battle with Indians, the show toured before appreciative audiences throughout America and Europe for 30 years. Financial troubles then closed his own show in 1913 but he went on performing for others almost to his death. Meanwhile, in the 1890s he had settled on a large tract given him by the state of Wyoming in the Bighorn Basin (later the site of Cody). He died unexpectedly in Denver and is buried on nearby Lookout Mountain, one of the archetypal American legends.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.