One of the most colorful figures of the Old West became the best known spokesman for the New West. He was born William Frederick Cody in Iowa in 1846. At 22, in Kansas, he was rechristened "Buffalo Bill". He had been a trapper, a bullwhacker, a Colorado "Fifty-Niner", Pony Express rider (1860), wagonmaster, stagecoach driver, Civil War soldier, and even hotel manager. He earned his nickname for his skill while supplying Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat. He was about to embark on a career as one of the most illustrious prairie scouts of the Indian Wars.
From 1868 through 1872 he was continously employed by the United States Army, a record in the hazardous and uncertain scouting profession. He won the congressional Medal of Honor in 1872 and was ever after the favorite scout of the Fifth Cavalry. The men of the Fifth considered Buffalo Bill to be "good luck." He kept them from ambush, he guided them to victory, and his own fame reflected glory on the regiment. Cody considered himself lucky too. He was lucky to have been wounded in action just once, and then it was "only a scalp wound." But mostly he felt lucky to have been in the right place at the right time.
In 1872 he appeared on stage for the first time, playing himself in "Scouts of the Prairie." Thereafter he continued to act in the winter and scout for the Fifth in the summer. The Wild West show was inaugurated in Omaha in 1883 with real cowboys and real Indians portraying the "real West." The show spent ten of its thirty years in Europe. In 1887 Buffalo Bill was a feature attraction at Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. At the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, only Egypt's gyrations rivalled the Wild West as the talk of Chicago. By the turn of the century, Buffalo Bill was probably the most famous and most recognizable man in the world.
The phenomenal success of the Wild West was founded on a nostalgia for the passing frontier which swept the nation in the late 19th Century. But Buffalo Bill himself never looked backward. "All my interests are still with the west - the modern west," he wrote near the end of his life.
He used his fame and public attention as a soapbox for western causes, for the rights of Indians and women, and for conservation. As early as 1879 he cautioned the government to "never make a single promise to the Indians that is not fulfilled." All frontier scouts respected the Indian, he said. "Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government." America was the Indian's heritage, and the Indian had only fought for what was his.
In 1894 a woman reporter asked him whether he thought the majority of women qualified to vote. He was caught off guard but answered, "As well qualified as the majority of men." The women in his Wild West were as skilled and courageous as the men. "If a woman can do the same work that a man can do and do it just as well," he...