1846 - 1917
— Historic Wayside Tour #4 —
Isaac and Mary Cody and family arrived in the Leavenworth area June 10, 1854, and built a seven-room log cabin in Salt Creek Valley, just north of Fort Leavenworth. Bill was 9 years old, the only son in a family of girls. Immediately upon arrival here, Isaac secured an Army contract to supply hay to the Fort.
Thirteen weeks after his arrival, Isaac, an outspoken opponent to the spread of slavery, got into a heated argument with a pro-slavery neighbor and received a serious knife wound. Isaac never fully recovered but this did not prevent him from becoming active in "free soil" Kansas politics. On March 10, 1857, he died leaving Bill, at age 11, the only man in the family.
Mary Cody took in roomers and Bill got a job driving a team of oxen to town at 50 cents a day. His next job, at age 12, was with the Overland Freight Company of Russell, Majors and Waddell, running messages for their office. This was too dull and he switched over to being a herdsman for the company's large herd of oxen. About this time he got into a fight with a much larger boy. Getting the worst of it, he drew a knife and slashed the other fellow. To avoid arrest he hid out in a wagon train. The wagon master, a friend, persuaded his mother to let him hire on as a drover for the trains' extra oxen. They were hauling military freight to Fort Kearney and would be gone about 40 days. She agreed and so at the age of 12, Bill began the first of his many adventures. Other wagon train expeditions followed and then he switched over to the company's Pony Express.
At 15 years of age, William Cody was employed as a Pony Express rider and given a short 45-mile run from Julesburg to the west. After some months he was transferred to Slade's Division in Wyoming where he made the longest non-stop ride from Red Buttes Station to Rocky Ridge Station and back when he found that his relief rider had been killed. The distance of 322 miles over one of the most dangerous portions of the entire trail was completed in 21 hours.
Before the Civil War ended, Bill was old enough to enlist in the Union Army. It was at this time that he met his future wife, Louisa Frederici. Once out of the Army he married her on March 6, 1866. It was not a happy marriage for he was too much a free spirit to settle down and become an attentive husband and father.
In 1867, Bill signed on with the Kansas Pacific Railroad to provide meat for their construction crews. In the next 18 months he shot 4,280 buffalo and acquired the nickname "Buffalo Bill". Following this, he developed a well-earned reputation as a scout on several campaigns with the Frontier Army. But this hard riding, hard drinking, sharp shooting buffalo hunter and Army scout was catapulted into the bigger than life western folk hero we know by the pen of Ned Buntline.
Buntline, in a series of newspaper articles followed by a deluge of dime novels, made Buffalo Bill the most widely known celebrity of his day. It was he who introduced Bill to show business by casting him in his play "The Scout of the Prairie", and Bill took it from there. by 1883, he had started his Wild West Show, which was soon playing before the crowned heads of the world, making Bill a world-class celebrity.
Bill died January 10, 1917, in Denver, Colorado.