The American Heritage Center houses several collections documenting the life and work of William F. Cody. “Buffalo Bill” Cody participated in the westward expansion of the United States and helped shape the world’s romantic image of the American frontier. The AHC has digitized widely from these collections, making the vast majority of its Buffalo Bill material available online.
Born February 26, 1846 in LeClair, Iowa, he moved with his family to Kansas and later rode for the Pony Express (1860-1861). He served briefly in the American Civil War and was given the nickname “Buffalo Bill” when he supplied buffalo meat for workers on the Kansas Pacific Railroad in 1867-1868. As chief of scouts for the Fifth U.S. Cavalry he participated in several Indian fights between 1868 and 1872. In 1869 his career took a new turn when he became the subject of a dime novel; he subsequently appeared in theatrical melodramas, touring successfully for 11 years. In 1883 he organized a Wild West show that staged Indian fights, roundups, stage robberies, and buffalo hunts and introduced such stars as Buck Taylor and Annie Oakley to the public. His Wild West Show toured Europe and the United States until 1913, after which Cody retired to the West until his death on Jan. 10, 1917.
The Buffalo Bill Letters to George T. Beck consist of personal correspondence to George Washington Thornton Beck from William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody concerning the operation of the Shoshone Irrigation Company and its water project. The letters range from 1895, when the company was first established, to 1910 with the majority being written in 1896. The majority of the letters concern the canal being built during this period, however, there are several instances of personal observations and descriptions by Cody of his Wild West Show and the places it was visiting.
The Buffalo Bill Dam Construction photographs contain images of the construction of the Shoshone Dam in Park County, Wyoming, during 1908. The dam was renamed after Buffalo Bill in 1946, who founded the nearby town of Cody and owned much of the surrounding land. At the time of its construction, the Buffalo Bill Dam was the tallest arch-gravity dam in the world.
The Beck Family papers contain the correspondence and business records of George T. Beck and his daughters, and document the founding of Cody, Wyoming, and the construction of the Cody Canal. Beck partnered with Buffalo Bill Cody to form the Shoshone Irrigation Company, which undertook the canal.
The Buffalo Bill Collection focuses primarily on the operations of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” from 1884 to 1916. It contains correspondence, legal documents, ticket receipts, train schedules, playbills and photographs related to the various aspects of daily operation and promotion of the Wild West Show both in the United States and abroad. Additionally there is printed material advertising both William Cody and his show, as well as booklets written after his death in 1917 which examine his life and the impact he had on the American West.
In all, the AHC has digitized nearly 1500 items related to Buffalo Bill, much of which will ultimately be contributed to the Papers of William F. Cody: An Archive of the Life and Times of an American Icon, a repository of digitized archival material being developed by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and its partners.