Originally published in Points West magazine
“God Bless the Hands That Made Them Custard Pies”: William F. Cody’s North Rim Adventure
By Juti A. Winchester
Former Curator, Buffalo Bill Museum
Arizona was still a territory in 1892 when William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody took a party of English noblemen, American businessmen, and friends to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Fresh from a recent successful European tour, Cody was eager to invest some of his newly acquired capital in business ventures that would provide some fun for him as well as bring good returns. He had high hopes for this winter expedition to the Kaibab Plateau and the Buckskin Mountains, deep in the Arizona Strip country.
While in England, Cody had met John W. Young, businessman and son of the Mormon prophet Brigham Young. These two enterprising individuals had come up with a scheme to attract hunters from all over the world to the far-flung American frontier. Cody and Young planned to acquire a large piece of land straddling the Grand Canyon and, after fencing it, release captured big-game animals from Africa and Asia into the area to breed. Meanwhile, the “International Shooting Club” would build a posh clubhouse in Flagstaff that well-heeled hunters could use as a base camp. Experienced guides as well as equipment could be hired in the sleepy lumber town, and it was easily reached by rail, although Harvey girls and a spur going to the Grand Canyon were still a few years in the future. Cody and Young hoped that this trip would interest both English and American investors in the project, and spared no expense to impress their guests. They hired the best guides, porters and cook to make the journey memorable.
Colonel W.H. MacKinnon and Major St. John Mildmay were the English lords who made the trip from England to Arizona. “Arizona John” Burke and Prentiss Ingraham accompanied the group, as well as “Pony Bob” Haslam and Johnny Baker. Cody family members Horton Boal and Edward Bradford made the trip, and all were met at the station by North Rim residents Dan Seegmillier, Junius Wells, E.D. Wooley, and the later-famous Grand Canyon guide John Hance. North Platte photographer W.H. Broach brought his camera and made a record of the trip. The reporter for the Coconino Weekly Sun noted that Buffalo Bill and his party spent a few days in Flagstaff preparing for their trip before starting north through the rough volcanic landscape made white with winter snow.
The men traveled for almost two weeks before reaching Lee’s Ferry, where they crossed the Colorado River and reached the North Rim. There, they hunted deer and other game despite the inclement weather. At one point, Major Mildmay had a close call, his horse losing his footing on the ice and slipping toward the edge of a cliff. According to Burke, Buffalo Bill rescued Mildmay by lassoing his horse and pulling them both to safety. Camp life was jolly, however, and the group had a wonderful time while they made their way through the Arizona Strip and into the Buckskin Mountains, where Young owned some cattle property managed by Seegmiller and Wooley.
In Kanab, Utah, Cody and his party were the guests of the Wooley family for three days. Emma Bentley Wooley hospitably prepared a dinner for the men, and Dee Wooley, as head of the house, asked Buffalo Bill to say grace. With an eye for his favorite dessert, Buffalo Bill held forth for the company: “God bless the hands that made them custard pies.”
All good things must come to an end, and soon the expedition made its way north to Salt Lake City, where the men parted company for their respective homes. Despite the expense and trouble that Cody and Young went through to interest investors, the shooting club never became a reality. Other interests quickly claimed Cody’s attention. The 1893 season turned out to be the best ever enjoyed by the Wild West as it thrilled crowds at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Soon after, Cody made his initial investment in a Big Horn Basin irrigation project in Wyoming that became his namesake town. Eleven years after the North Rim expedition, President Theodore Roosevelt made the Grand Canyon into a national park, erasing forever the idea that individuals could claim a section of that country for private gain. Among Mormon families in the Kanab country, the story is still told about the blessing offered by Buffalo Bill for Mrs. Wooley’s custard pies, even to this day.
1. John M. Burke, compiler, “Buffalo Bill” From Prairie to Palace: An Authentic History of the Wild West, with the authority of General W.F. Cody (“Buffalo Bill”) (Chicago and New York: Rand, McNally and Company, 1893), 275.
2. Royal B. Wooley to P. T. Reilly, oral history interview, Ogden, Utah, May 31 and June 4, 1969. Plez Talmadge Reilly Collection (MS 275), Cline Library, Special Collections and Archives Department, Northern Arizona University.