DENVER – Far from his image as a Wild West adventurer and a dead shot, the legendary Buffalo Bill died exactly 100 years ago of a kidney ailment after having become a successful show business entrepreneur.
“Aware of the fact that most people of his day probably would not visit the U.S. West or witness in person the wonders of that distant region, William Frederick Cody – Buffalo Bill’s real name – accepted the challenge of bringing the Wild West to the rest of the world,” Steve Friesen, director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in Golden, Colorado, told EFE.
Cody (1846-1917) was a son of the U.S. West “who loved his country a lot,” so much that he created the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, a touring extravaganza that made its way through the United States, Canada and even Europe.
The show gave many people their first chance to see real U.S. and Mexican cowboys, said Betsy Martinson, the program director of the museum, which is located in Lookout Mountain Park, part of the Denver Mountain Parks system.
Cody, considered by many to be the most iconic figure in the history of Colorado and nearby regions, began his career working as a scout for the U.S. Army and later became a Pony Express rider. It was only later in life that he devoted himself to show business.
In 1869, for example, Cody participated in a battle between the 5th Cavalry and a party of Sioux Indians who had left Kansas to travel to what is now Summit Springs, Wyoming.
At that time, Cody was working for Gen. Eugene Carr and had a company of Pawnee scouts under his command.
Later, with his Wild West Show, Cody transformed himself into an “almost mythological” figure whose impact on Colorado and the United States is still difficult to calculate because the show “represented the ‘American Dream’ of going to a land full of attractions and adventure instead of spending all day in an office or a factory,” Friesen said.
So, a century after his death in Denver, several Colorado museums and cultural institutions have launched a year-long tribute to Buffalo Bill.
During a tour of Europe, Cody was so impressed with the various cultures there that he soon began to incorporate those cultures into his Wild West Show, hiring Cossack riders, Irish lancers, Arab riders and later even Argentine gauchos.
“He brought them all to the United States so that Americans could get to know the world,” Martinson said.
And in the process, the world became familiar with Buffalo Bill, making him a figurehead and a symbol of the American West.
Buffalo Bill’s humanity is generally little known to the public, but he was one of the first to oppose the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo and to publicly denounce it.
In addition, he was a great friend of the Native Americans and defended their rights to Washington DC lawmakers.
“The Lakota (Sioux) Indians in his show respected him and considered him a true friend on whom they could always rely when they needed something,” Martinson said, adding that he also demonstrated a peerless respect for women, frequently saying that they should not only have the same opportunities as men but also the same pay, along with the right to vote.
Cody died at his home in Denver, but his wish was to be buried in a mountain west of the city, Lookout Mountain, from where – looking east – one has an impressive view of the Colorado prairies on which he spent a great part of his life.