Buffalo Bill

Between the 1880s and the 1920s, Americans created a brand new national mythology based on the settling of the West. History, legends, and folktales all contributed to the mythology of the Wild West. William Frederick Cody, known around the world as Buffalo Bill, became a living symbol of the American West. Cody earned his nickname by slaughtering 4,280 buffalo in eight months.

Cody was born in the Iowa Territory in 1846. At the age of 11, he became a mounted messenger for the freight company that later organized the famous Pony Express. He went on to serve with the Union Army in the Civil War and worked as a scout on the Great Plains. An excellent rider and marksman with a thorough knowledge of Native American customs and western geography, Cody also worked as an army scout during the 1870s.

After appearing as Buffalo Bill in a number of stage plays and popular novels, Cody became one of the best-known public characters in the United States. In 1883 he organized his own traveling show, Buffalo Bill's Wild West. This dramatic four-hour entertainment included wild animals, trick riding and shooting, and stunts such as Indian war dances and stagecoach attacks. Although his show was enormously popular for a while, it went out of business in 1913. Cody toured with other Wild West shows until his death in Denver, Colorado, in 1917—an event that the newspapers called "the passing of the Great West."

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