Originally published in Points West magazine
Encounter a Great American Icon Again… For the Very First Time – Man of the West, Man of the World, Man of Will
A New Buffalo Bill Museum Opens
Exhibit photography by Chris Gimmeson
Many know Buffalo Bill, the icon whose Wild West show brought the West to the world. Long after the Wild West’s final performance, that phenomenon still affects how we envision the West—and America itself. Yet hardly anyone knows the individual behind the performer. Buffalo Bill was real, but so was William F. Cody.
Cody was born a “Man of the West,” but as “Buffalo Bill” he became a “Man of the World,” the first global superstar. Ironically, Cody’s search for his true identity, and his effort to create a lasting legacy, ultimately returned him to the West he knew and loved.
This, in a nutshell, is the theme of the “new” Buffalo Bill Museum opened May 19, with a June 15 grand opening. The images that follow, along with the various historical quotations, are the perfect preview to what visitors will see in the new space.
I am about to take the back-trail through the Old West—the West that I knew and loved. All my life it has been a pleasure to show its beauties, its marvels, and its possibilities to those who, under my guidance, saw it for the first time.
Now, going back over the ground, looking at it through the eyes of memory, it will be a still greater pleasure to take with me the many readers of this book. And if, in following me through some of the exiting scenes of the old days, meeting some of the brave men who made its stirring history, and listening to my camp-fire tales of the buffalo, the Indian, the stage-coach and the pony express, their interest in this vast land of my youth should be awakened, I should feel richly repaid. –An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (Colonel W.F. Cody), published in 1920
Going back west of the Mississippi and spending my pile out there in the country which an American statesman once said was fit only for the coyote and the rattlesnake. That’s my home country and that’s the place I love. Do I want to go back there? You just bet your life I do. –William F. Cody, interview, The Baltimore Sun, April 20, 1911
Through my life I have always tried to conceal any troubles by putting on a smiling face outwardly while my heart might be aching inside. This I have to do in my business as a showman. I have learned that [my] capital and stock is a smiling countenance and a buoyant spirit. –W.F. Cody, deposition for divorce case, 1904
This is the last round up,” said the Hon. William F. Cody yesterday, “and as soon as I can get home to Nebraska, I will become once again for the summer, showman ‘Buffalo Bill.’” –“Buffalo Bill’s Preparations,” The Daily Inter Ocean, (Chicago), March 16, 1889
[During the performance] we were yellin’ and screamin’, whoopin’ and hollerin’. We’d see the cowboys and we’d yell directions to them—‘Get those Indians over there!’ and stuff like that. We were part of the fight. We were living out our fantasies and imagination—living [them] out, as part of the show. –Winston Roche, interview done for “Buffalo Bill: Showman of the West,” A&E Biography, 1996
Here in the Bighorn Basin, surrounded by mountain ranges, my pet scheme is laid. My whole aim in life is to open this new country and settle it with happy and prosperous people, and thus leave behind a landmark of something attempted, something done. –William F. Cody, quoted in “Buffalo Bill, The Cowboy King,” Echo, December 31, 1902
I have an oil boom on my Wyoming lands. Everything is booming at Cody. My health and spirits haven’t been so good for years. I am climbing for another fortune. Yours broke or rich, Cody. –William F. Cody to Mike Russell, late 1916
While I am a rover, and [have] traveled over lots of country, Cody, Park County, Wyoming, is my home, and shall always be my home as long as I live. And I want so to live that when I have gone from this world, my spirit shall still be with you in the country of my choice. –William F. Cody, remarks in appreciation of 69th birthday tribute Cody, Wyoming, February 26, 1915
Sometimes one might think that God was unjust. But we don’t, do we? Here I’ve worked all my life and am a poor man. But I thank our Heavenly Father, for all His blessings to me. –William F. Cody to his sister Julia Cody Goodman, October 31, 1916
You never would have had a West if it had not been for the heroes of the plains. It was the Cody spirit. –Col. John Springer, Commander, Denver Lodge No. 17, Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks, eulogy for William F. Cody, January 14, 1917
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is grateful for the generosity of so many faithful donors who made this renovation possible.
Chris Gimmeson was the formerly the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s staff photographer.
Support of a 2012 fundraising campaign helped us complete the “new” Buffalo Bill Museum
In June 2010, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West formally launched the William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody: Man of the West—Man of the World campaign to secure $2.75 million to fund the re-installation of the Buffalo Bill Museum, thus creating a “new” museum for the twenty-first century. In less than two years, individuals and businesses joined together to make gifts and pledges that exceeded the goal. As of the date of original publication of this article (summer 2012), commitments to the “new” Buffalo Bill Museum totaled more than $2,813.
The campaign continued through December 31, 2012, and all dollars secured beyond the cost of construction were used in an endowment fund for the continued support of the Buffalo Bill Museum. The annual income from that fund is used to keep this new interpretation of Buffalo Bill’s life fresh and exciting in the years ahead. Ongoing support is critical to maintain the quality of the visitor’s experience.
The campaign committee, chaired by Anne Coe Hayes and Michael Sullivan, led the fundraising effort. A community committee, led by K.T. Roes, conducted a special drive in Park County, Wyoming, that secured more than $250,000.
The following businesses have made significant contributions to the project:
- Marathon Oil Corporation
- Stetson Hat Company and the Holden Foundation
- Rocky Mountain Power
- Pinnacle Bank
- Wells Fargo Bank
To learn more about lending support the Center of the West’s general operations, or specific museums or projects, visit centerofthewest.org/get-involved.