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The Life of Hon. William F. Cody, Known as Buffalo Bill

William F. Cody

Publication Year: 2011

What we know of Buffalo Bill Cody (1846–1917) is more myth than man. Yet the stage persona that took audiences by storm was based on the very real encounters of William F. Cody with the American West. This autobiography, infused with the drama of dime novels and stage melodramas that would transform the author into an American icon, recounts a boy’s move to the Kansas territory, where his father hoped to homestead, and his subsequent life on the frontier, following his career from trapper to buffalo hunter to Army scout, guide, and Indian fighter.

Written when Cody was thirty-three years old, this life story captures both the hard reality of frontier life and the sensational image to which a boy of the time might aspire: the Indian fights, buffalo hunting, and Pony Express escapades that popular history contributed to the myth-making of Buffalo Bill. It is this movement between the personal and the mythic, plain facts and tall tales, William F. Cody and Buffalo Bill, that gives this autobiography its fascination and its power.

Based on the original 1879 edition, this volume provides a new introduction, historical materials, and twenty-six additional images. It reveals both the William F. Cody of personal history and the Buffalo Bill of American mythology—and, finally, the curious reality that partakes of both.

For information about the Buffalo Bill Cody archive, visit www.codyarchive.org.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Papers of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody


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pp. c-ii

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x

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Series Editor's Preface

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pp. xi-xiii

In 2006 the McCracken Research Library in Cody, Wyoming, set out to edit and publish the collected papers of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. It seemed like an idea whose time had come; in fact, it was long overdue. William F. Cody was the most famous American of his time. As a cultural figure his...

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Editor's Introduction

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pp. xiv-xxxiv

A promotional poster from 1900 superimposes the larger-than life image of William Cody’s head and shoulders on the side of a running buffalo. It includes the simple pronouncement, “I Am Coming.”1 The focal point of the advertisement is Cody’s face; the semi-profile wears a calm but commanding expression,...

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A Note on the Text

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pp. xxxv-xxxviii

The authorship of this autobiography has been a source of debate since its first publication in 1879. The fact that other works, namely dime novels, were attributed to Cody but were, in fact, penned by others, has led some to assume that The Life of Hon. William F. Cody was ghostwritten as well. The most thorough...

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pp. xxxix-xlii

The legacy of William F. Cody is in good hands thanks to a cohort of committed professionals, many of whom lent their generous gifts to this project.
Kurt Graham originated the idea for the The Papers of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody series and found in University...

William F. Cody's Life: A Chronology

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pp. xliii-xlix


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pp. l-liv

The Life of Hon. William F. Cody, Known as Buffalo Bill, the Famous Hunter, Scout, and Guide: An Autobiography, 1879

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pp. 1-4

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pp. 5-10

The life and adventures of Hon. William F. Cody—Buffalo Bill—as told by himself, make up a narrative which reads more like romance than reality, and which in many respects will prove a valuable contribution to the records of our Western frontier history. While no literary excellence...


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pp. 11-18

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1. Childhood

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pp. 19-30

My début upon the world’s stage occurred on February 26th, 1845.1 The scene of this first important event in my adventurous career, being in Scott county, in the State of Iowa. My parents, Isaac and Mary Ann Cody, who were numbered among the pioneers of Iowa, gave to me the name...

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2. Early Influences

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pp. 31-42

General Harney1 was in command at Fort Leavenworth at the time of our visit, and a regiment of cavalry was stationed there. They were having a dress parade when we rode up, and as this was the first time that I had ever seen any soldiers, I thought it was a grand sight. I shall...

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3. Boy Days in Kansas

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pp. 43-62

During the summer of 1853 we lived in our little log house, and father continued to trade with the Indians, who became very friendly; hardly a day passed without a social visit from them. I spent a great deal of time with the Indian boys, who taught me how to shoot with the bow and arrow,...

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4. Youthful Experiences

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pp. 63-74

In July, 1856, the people living in the vicinity of our home— feeling the necessity of more extensive educational facilities for their children than they had yet had—started a subscription school in a little log cabin on the bank of the creek, which for a while proved quite a success. My mother...

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5. In Business

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pp. 75-90

In the summer of 1857, Russell, Majors & Waddell were sending a great many trains across the plains to Salt Lake with supplies for General Johnston’s army. Men were in great demand, and the company was paying teamsters forty dollars per month in gold. An old and reliable wagon-master...

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6. Hard Times

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pp. 91-106

As it was getting very late in the fall, we were compelled to winter at Fort Bridger; and a long, tedious winter it was. There were a great many troops there, and about four hundred of Russell, Majors & Waddell’s employees. These men were all organized into militia companies,...

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7. Accidents and Escapes

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pp. 107-116

My restless, roaming spirit would not allow me to remain at home very long, and in November, after the recovery of my mother, I went up the Republican River and its tributaries on a trapping expedition in company with Dave Harrington. Our outfit consisted of one wagon and a yoke...

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8. Adventures on the Overland Road

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pp. 117-134

As the warm days of summer approached I longed for the cool air of the mountains; and to the mountains I determined to go. After engaging a man to take care of the farm, I proceeded to Leavenworth and there met my old wagon-master and friend, Lewis Simpson, who was fitting...

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9. Fast Driving

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pp. 135-140

It was in the spring of 1861, while I was at Horseshoe, that the eastern-bound coach came in one day loaded down with passengers and baggage, and stopped for dinner; Horseshoe being a regular dinner station as well as a home station. The passengers consisted of six Englishmen, and...

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10. Questionable Proceedings

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pp. 141-150

Having been away from home nearly a year, and having occasionally heard of my mother’s poor health, I determined to make her a visit; so procuring a pass over the road, I went to Leavenworth, arriving there about June 1st, 1861, going from there home. The civil war had broken out,...

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11. A Soldier

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pp. 151-160

In the fall of 1861 I made a trip to Fort Larned, Kansas, carrying military dispatches, and in the winter I accompanied George Long through the country, and assisted him in buying horses for the government.
The next spring, 1862, an expedition against the Indians...

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12. A Wedding

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pp. 161-170

It was during the winter of 1864–65, while I was on detached service at military headquarters, at St. Louis, that I became acquainted with a young lady named Louisa Frederici, whom I greatly admired and in whose charming society I spent many a pleasant hour....

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13. A Millionaire

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pp. 171-186

Soon after returning to Fort Hays, I was sent with dispatches to Fort Harker. After delivering the messages, I visited the town of Ellsworth, about three miles west of Fort Harker, and there I met a man named William Rose, a contractor on the Kansas Pacific Railroad,1 who had...

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14. Earning a Title

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pp. 187-196

It was about this time that the end of the Kansas Pacific track was in the heart of the buffalo country, and the company was employing about twelve hundred men in the construction of the road. As the Indians were very troublesome, it was difficult to obtain fresh meat for the...

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15. Champion Buffalo Killer

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pp. 197-204

Shortly after the adventures mentioned in the preceding chapter, I had my celebrated buffalo hunt with Billy Comstock,1 a noted scout, guide and interpreter, who was then chief of scouts at Fort Wallace, Kansas. Comstock had the reputation, for a long time, of being a most successful...

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16. A Courier

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pp. 205-230

The scouts at Fort Larned, when I arrived there, were commanded by Dick Curtis—an old guide, frontiersman and Indian interpreter. There were some three hundred lodges of Kiowa and Comanche Indians camped near the fort. These Indians had not as yet gone upon the war-path, but...

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17. An Appointment

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pp. 231-238

General Sheridan highly complimented me for what I had done, and informed me that I need not report back to General Hazen, as he had more important work for me to do. He told me that the Fifth Cavalry—one of the finest regiments in the army—was on its way to the Department...

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18. Scouting

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pp. 239-254

On the third day of October the Fifth Cavalry arrived at Fort Hays, and I at once began making the acquaintance of the different officers of the regiment. I was introduced by General Sheridan to Colonel William Royall, who was in command of the regiment. He was a gallant officer, and...

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19. A Tough Time

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pp. 255-266

General Carr soon received orders from General Sheridan that he was to make a winter’s campaign in the Canadian river country, and that we were to proceed to Fort Lyon, on the Arkansas river, in Colorado, and there fit out for the expedition. Leaving Fort Wallace in November, 1868,...

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20. An Exciting Chase

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pp. 267-282

General Carr, at my request, kindly granted me one month’s leave of absence to visit my family in St. Louis, and ordered Captain Hayes, our quartermaster, to let me ride my mule and horse to Sheridan, distant 140 miles, where I was to take the cars.1 I was instructed to leave the animals in the...

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21. A Military Expedition

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pp. 283-296

A day or two after my return to Fort Lyon, the Fifth Cavalry were ordered to the Department of the Platte, and took up their line of march for Fort McPherson, Nebraska. We laid over one day at Fort Wallace, to get supplies, and while there I had occasion to pass General Bankhead’s...

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22. A Desperate Fight

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pp. 297-310

On leaving camp, the command took a westward course up the Republican, and Major North with two companies of his Pawnees and two or three companies of cavalry, under the command of Colonel Royall, made a scout to the north of the river. Shortly after we had gone into camp, on...

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23. Administering Justice

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pp. 311-326

On returning to Fort McPherson we found that Brevet Major General W. H. Emory, Colonel of the Fifth Cavalry, and Brevet Brigadier General Thomas Duncan, Lieutenant Colonel of the regiment, had arrived there during our absence. General Emory had been appointed to the...

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24. Hunting Expeditions

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pp. 327-342

Early in the month of September, 1871, information was received at Fort McPherson that General Sheridan and a party of invited friends were coming out to the post to have a grand hunt in the vicinity, and to explore the country from McPherson to Fort Hays, in Kansas. On the morning...

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25. Hunting with a Grand Duke

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pp. 343-356

About the first of January, 1872, General Forsyth and Dr. Asch, of Sheridan’s staff came out to Fort McPherson to make preparations for a big buffalo hunt for the Grand Duke Alexis, of Russia;1 and as this was to be no ordinary affair, these officers had been sent by General Sheridan...

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26. Sight-Seeing

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pp. 357-364

General Ord, commanding the Department of the Platte at the time, and who had been out on the Alexis hunt, had some business to attend to at Fort McPherson, and I accepted his invitation to ride over to the post with him in an ambulance. On the way thither he asked me how I...

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27. Honors

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pp. 365-372

Upon reaching Fort McPherson, I found that the Third Cavalry, commanded by General Reynolds, had arrived from Arizona, in which Territory they had been on duty for some time, and where they had acquired quite a reputation on account of their Indian fighting qualities....

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28. An Actor

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pp. 373-384

During the summer and fall of 1872, I received numerous letters from Ned Buntline, urging me to come East and go upon the stage to represent my own character. “There’s money in it,” he wrote, “and you will prove a big card, as your character is a novelty on the stage.”...

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29. Starring

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pp. 385-398

Texas Jack and I spent several weeks in hunting in the western part of Nebraska, and at the end of our vacation we felt greatly re-invigorated and ready for another theatrical campaign. We accordingly proceeded to New York and organized a company for the season of 1873–74....

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30. A Return to the Plains

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pp. 399-414

We closed our theatrical season earlier than usual in the spring of 1876, because I was anxious to take part in the Sioux war which was then breaking out. Colonel Hills had written me several letters saying that General Crook1 was anxious to have me accompany his command, and I promised...

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31. Dangerous Work

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pp. 415-426

One evening while we were in camp on the Yellowstone at the mouth of Powder river, I was informed that the commanding officers had selected Louis Richard, a half breed, and myself to accompany General Miles on a scouting expedition on the steamer Far West, down the Yellowstone...

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32. Conclusion

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pp. 427-432

After my arrival at North Platte, I found that the ranchmen or cattle-men, had organized a regular annual “round-up,” to take place in the spring of the year.
The word “round-up” is derived from the fact that during the winter months the cattle become scattered over...

Appendix 1: Cody and Visual Culture

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pp. 433-450

Appendix 2: Letters

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pp. 451-460

Appendix 3: Cody and Celebrity

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pp. 461-492


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pp. 493-516

Select Bibliography

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pp. 517-520


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pp. 521-530

E-ISBN-13: 9780803271340
E-ISBN-10: 0803271344
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803232914
Print-ISBN-10: 0803232918

Page Count: 584
Illustrations: 114 illustrations, 3 appendixes
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Papers of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody

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Subject Headings

  • Scouts (Reconnaissance) -- West (U.S.) -- Biography.
  • Pioneers -- West (U.S.) -- Biography.
  • Buffalo Bill, -- 1846-1917.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- West (U.S.).
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