They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…and William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody had all kinds of imitators. I wouldn’t say that most were imposters or impersonators necessarily. I doubt they tried to actually pass themselves off as “the real Buffalo Bill.” More likely, I think they were simply aligning themselves with the Great Showman. We did kind of the same thing in the 1960s when we donned the clothing and ordered haircuts to look just like the Beatles.
In the historic photography collection at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a couple of those not real Buffalo Bill types appear in photographs. Penciled on the back of the image of Col. Curt Alexander at Cody’s funeral on January 14, 1917, are the words “Cody’s double.” Noted on the reverse of William Deveny’s ca. 1915 photo is the phrase “Buffalo Bill of Portland, Oregon.”
While pondering Alexander and Deveny, and the real Buffalo Bill, I discovered that a Mr. Don Holm wrote a story about DeVeny (as he spelled it)—“Were There Two Buffalo Bills?“—in the Frontier Times magazine, September 1965. In the excerpt below, Holm writes:
It has come to light that Cody was not larger than life, but there may have been two of him—the man known as Colonel Bill Cody, and a Portland, Oregon man, known as Dr. William DeVeny, a pioneer chiropodist…DeVeny not only resembled Colonel Cody, but evidently was a long-life friend, partner, and impersonator or double. He often received messages from Buffalo Bill and would disappear for a week or two at a time, only to return just as mysteriously, loaded with money. Could it have been his cut of the gate?
This I need to check out with the Papers of William F. Cody staff.
Franklin Samuel Cowdery was one of the most famous of the Buffalo Bill imposters. He changed his name to Samuel Franklin Cody, passing himself off as Buffalo Bill’s son, and performing with “Any O’Klay,” a play on Annie Oakley’s name. S.F. Cody’s own show on the Wild West confused many an audience who thought they’d seen the real Buffalo Bill. Read more about S.F. Cody in Lynn Houze’s story starting on page 4 of the March 2011 issue of Points West, the Center’s patron publication.
If you have questions about whether an image you wish to use is the “real Buffalo Bill,” contact the Center’s McCracken Research Library. You wouldn’t want an S.F. Cody or a Curt Alexander to make their way into an important document!