OTTUMWA — One of America’s most famous performers, Buffalo Bill Cody, entertained the nation and the world with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but did you know he has significant connections to Iowa?
At Tuesday’s Reminisce Society at the Ottumwa Public Library, Roy Behrens from Humanities Iowa gave a special presentation about Cody, who was born just north of Davenport in 1846, the same year Iowa became a state.
In his presentation, Behrens spoke to the incredible amount of fame Cody was able to achieve thanks to his show, which took him all across America and Europe and made more than $13,000 (compared to $275,000 today) in one of its seasons.
“Everyone in the world knew who he was,” Behrens said.
Although he was born in Iowa, the Cody family moved to Kansas when Buffalo Bill was young, and that’s where he started to get an affinity with the West.
Behrens said Cody would talk with travelers who were heading to California in search of gold, and eventually he started going with them as a wagon hand. That’s where he learned to hunt, shoot and ride a horse, which would serve very useful later in his life during the Wild West show, and he started talking with some interesting people.
“While he was doing this he was meeting all kinds of characters,” Behrens said.
The name Buffalo Bill came when he started being a scout and buffalo hunter for the U.S. Army, and during that time he was present for approximately 16 battles with Native Americans.
Cody’s travels started to become a little more famous when he started giving buffalo hunting tours throughout the western plains and stories of his travels began appearing in newspapers and books. Behrens said that’s when Cody and several characters started acting out short skits, and audiences loved it because when they forgot their lines they would just start telling strange stories about the West.