Buffalo Bill: The Old West's Greatest Showman

By | February 21, 2020

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The greatest showman of the wild, wild west, William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody, was born 174 years ago today in Scott County, Iowa. You might think you know everything about the buffalo-hunting, Pony Express–riding, sharpshooting, women's rights–advocating Civil War veteran who became the P.T. Barnum of the Old West, but even in death, Buffalo Bill has a few more cards up his sleeve.

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William F. Cody portrait, circa 1909. (Buyenlarge/Getty Images)

He Earned His Nickname The Hard Way

In the years following the end of the American Civil War, railway companies were busy laying a network of tracks across the west. It was a huge undertaking requiring a massive labor force, so Bill Cody was hired by the Kansas Pacific Railroad to keep company employees fed. He was no line cook: During an 18-month span from 1867–1868, Cody supposedly shot and killed 4,282 buffalo that ended up in the railroad workers' bellies.

This feat was so impressive that folks began to call him "Buffalo Bill," a gesture to which the original Buffalo Bill, a half-Cheyenne hunter and interpreter named Bill Comstock, took exception. The two Bills decided to settle the dispute with a buffalo-off, agreeing that whoever killed the most buffalo in an eight-hour period got the rights to the nickname. Cody won after shooting 68 buffalo to Comstock's 48.