William F. Cody 18461917

Unidentified photographer
Woodburytype, 1887

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

William F. Cody did arguably more than any single individual to popularize the myth of the American West. Before achieving international fame as a showman, he worked a variety of short-term jobs, including serving as a Pony Express rider, an army scout, and a hunting guide.

Nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” because of his prowess in hunting buffalo, Cody entered the world of entertainment after a dime novelist in New York wrote a story about his exploits in the West. A subsequent offer to appear on stage led first to a theatrical career and ultimately to the creation in 1883 of his touring Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show.

For the next thirty years he was the centerpiece of this wildly popular display that combined rodeo and historical reenactment. This photograph was created in 1887, the year Cody first toured his wild west show in Europe.