Center of the West Staffers Dig Deep into the Life of William F. Cody

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At the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, the Papers of William F. Cody—an archive of the life and times of an iconic figure of the American West—transports audiences back in time to learn about a life on the frontier.

William F. Cody, 1900

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, ca. 1900

There's always a new discovery

At the turn of the 20th century, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody was a true celebrity in every sense of the word. With so much written by him, for him, with him, and about him, it's obvious that researchers with the Papers of William F. Cody, whose job it is to study those materials, have plenty to keep them busy. And, those who browse the archive gain a richer understanding of the political, economic, and environmental factors that influenced the United States during this famous American's lifetime.

Recently, Papers staff at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West took stock of where they find themselves some 10 years after Wyoming lawmakers provided legislation to fund the "collection, editing, and publishing of archival documents" related to Cody. Linda Clark, Assistant Managing Editor, explained that people originally thought the Papers project would only continue for three or four years. "We’ve barely scratched the surface. This [project] could go on for twenty-five years and not be complete.”

“There’s always a new discovery,” Researcher Deb Adams noted. For instance, not long ago the Center acquired six letters from the unofficial son of Cody, Johnny Baker. Clark explained that when the donors carried the letters to the Center, they said, “These belong here.”

Jeremy Johnson, Managing Editor, said his greatest surprise is “Cody’s tremendous ability to reach out to specific audiences.” Johnston explained Cody did not have a standard template for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show that traveled from one community to another. “Cody and his team had a really deep appreciation of the cultures where they performed, so he would alter the show.” For example, when the Wild West arrived in Spain, Cody chose not to perform the reenactment of a bison hunt because the audience was accustomed to bull fighting.

Additionally, the Papers staff shared their insight into Cody’s many close friendships throughout his lifetime. Johnston revealed that Cody was friends with everyone from “the guys he rode with on the Plains, to wealthy aristocrats in New York City, to royalty in Great Britain.” One of Cody’s close friends was Iron Tail—Oglala Lakota Chief of the Great Sioux Nation and star performer in the Wild West.

“[Cody] was adamant and absolutely dedicated to representing history as it was,” Clark mentioned. In fact, many of his performers actually participated in many historical events that were reenacted, such as the Battle of Little Big Horn.
In the future, Johnston explained, he hopes to add a dome-shaped immersion screen in the Buffalo Bill Museum at the Center, which would allow visitors to virtually experience the Wild West.

Finally, the staff is always searching for letters or writings related to Cody, and they encourage those who have such materials to forward a scan. Owners receive credit, but the staff is typically unable to purchase or acquire these materials. For the Papers team, though, the value is in the history. To learn more, visit


Since 1917, the award-winning Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, has devoted itself to sharing the story of the authentic American West. The Center, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, is now in its summer schedule—open daily 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. On September 16, the fall schedule goes into effect, i.e. 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily. For additional information, visit the Center's website or its pages on Facebook and Google+.

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Marguerite House

Jeremy Johnston
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