On January 10, 1917, a titan of the American West, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, breathed his last. His life, a tapestry of daring adventures and indelible legacies, forever altered the very fabric of American history and the public's perception of the Aemrican West. Westerns don't merely depict the rugged terrains of the American frontier; they unfold in the grand, untamed world of Buffalo Bill's Wild West.
Cody's life journey was nothing short of a thrilling odyssey. From his early days as a messenger for the progenitors of the Pony Express to his exploits as a jayhawker, Union soldier, and later a hotel owner, buffalo hunter, and scout, Cody's life was the stuff of legends. His adventures fueled the imagination of Ned Buntline, leading to a series of sensational dime novels that catapulted Cody to fame. Buntline, recognizing Cody's star quality, convinced him and his best friend, cowboy John "Texas Jack" Omohundro, to join him in a theatrical extravaganza, "The Scouts of the Prairie," in the winter of 1872. This marked the birth of the Western genre, which would transcend the boards of the stage to dominate the silver screen, captivating audiences for more than a century.
Cody and Omohundro's initial play, though brushed off as melodrama by critics of the day, was the genesis of the Western drama. This trailblazing act led to a proliferation of plays, books, movies, and TV shows. After parting ways with Buntline, Cody and Omohundro expanded their theatrical troupe, bringing in the legendary James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok. Despite Hickok's brief stint, their collaboration was a critical chapter in Western history.
The duo continued to intertwine their lives with art and adventure, touring in winters and hunting in summers. The turning tide of history, marked by General Custer's demise at Little Bighorn, called them back to their scouting roots, only to see them part ways after the dramatic season of 1876. Their bond endured until Texas Jack's untimely death in 1880. 28 years after his friend's death, Buffalo Bill delivered an impassioned eulogy to Texas Jack in Leadville, Colorado.
Cody's next act was a spectacle like no other - the Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. This show, a moving tableau of the American frontier, brought the West to every corner of America and beyond, reaching over 1,400 cities. Buffalo Bill's Wild West wasn't just entertainment; it was a cultural phenomenon that made him the first American international superstar.
In his final days, battling kidney failure, Cody's journey took him to Glenwood Springs and then back to Denver, hoping to reunite with his family. His poignant stop at Leadville, where he reminisced about Texas Jack, was a testament to the enduring bonds of friendship and adventure. Too frail to visit his friend's grave, Cody's final farewell was a deeply moving moment, marking the end of an era.
Just four days later, William F. Cody died, and the legend of Buffalo Bill became immortal.
Today, Buffalo Bill's legacy lives on, not just in the dusty trails of the American West, but in the iconic imagery of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, the pages of Louis L’Amour and Johnny Boggs, and in timeless television shows like Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. Every Stetson wearing, pistol-wielding, horse-riding hero and villain of every western isn't just riding through the American West—they're riding hell for leather across Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, the version of the western frontier we see, breathe, and experience in these cultural landmarks.
To truly grasp the magnitude of Buffalo Bill's legacy, a pilgrimage to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, and the Buffalo Bill Grave and Museum on Lookout Mountain, Colorado, is a must. There, one can fully appreciate the colossal impact of a man whose life was legend.
As we remember him, let us not forget this last photograph of William F. Cody, known to the world as Buffalo Bill, taken just a week before his death, a final glimpse of a man who was, in every sense, the embodiment of the American West.