Buffalo Bill was probably the most famous figure to roll out of the Old West and I am often asked how Buffalo Bill earned his title and what his connection was to Leavenworth. So, bare with me a moment and I’ll try to explain.

Buffalo Bill was probably the most famous figure to roll out of the Old West and I am often asked how Buffalo Bill earned his title and what his connection was to Leavenworth. So, bare with me a moment and I’ll try to explain.

He was born William Frederick Cody on a cold winters morning in 1846, way over on the other side of Iowa, near the Mississippi River at LeClair in Scott County. His early years were spent out on the farm, where he was the only boy child with five sisters. His father, Isaac Cody, was a very outspoken abolitionist and moved the whole family to Leavenworth County in 1854 during the height of the Border troubles.

While giving an anti-slavery speech at a local trading post, his father so inflamed the supporters of slavery gathered in the audience that they mobbed him and left him near death with stab wounds. Young Bill helped drag his father to safety where he survived, but never fully recovered from his injuries. From that point forward, the entire family was constantly persecuted by the supporters of slavery, forcing Isaac Cody to spend much of his time away from home.

Bill was only 11 in 1857 when his father finally died from complications of those stab wounds, leaving mom and the girls in near poverty. Being the only son, Bill felt it was his duty to support the family and set out looking for odd jobs.

He soon hired on with a wagon train going to Fort Laramie, Wyo., which was owned by the freighting company of Russell, Majors and Waddle. Bill’s first job was called a “general dog’s body,” riding up and down the wagon train as a messenger boy. After about a year he was struck with gold fever and set off for the “Gold Rush” in Colorado. Apparently, he never got rich though, because my research showed him riding the perilous and dangerous marathon journeys of a Pony Express rider at the age of 15.

At the outbreak of the War Between the States, Cody found himself involved with a gang of Jayhawkers – rouges who set out to harass the secessionist farmers of Missouri and steal their horses. Once his mother got wind of what he was up to, young Bill was shipped off to his sister’s house in Leavenworth to make a respectable future for himself.

In Leavenworth, Cody ran into Wild Bill Hickok. They became buddies and the two of them threw in together and soaked their meager savings into a race horse. The plan was for Cody to ride it in a horse race at St. Louis during Civil War times and make a killing. Apparently, they not only lost the race, but they lost all of their money to boot.

There was, however, one shinning moment come out of the whole affair – Cody met the love of his life in St. Louis and married Louisa Frederici. The couple returned to Leavenworth County and settled in the Salt Creek Valley. Cody hung around long enough to have three beautiful daughters and one little boy that he named Kit Carson. Bill and Louisa went into the hotel business, but that wasn’t very successful either and didn’t last too long. He left his family with his sister in Leavenworth and headed out West scouting for the army. He soon tied up with a railroad construction crew grading the road bed across Kansas. When 1,200 track layers showed up hungry, Cody was sent out to wrestle 12 buffalo a day for the dinner table. By his own count, Cody would end up killing 4,280 bison and that is how he picked up the handle of Buffalo Bill.

Reference: Last of the Great Scouts by Helen Cody Wetmore


In cooperation with The Examiner, Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups. These informative and entertaining programs have been well received over the past number of years across the metropolitan area.

To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an e-mail to teddystillwell@yahoo.com or call him at 816-252-9909.