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Postcard from the Past - Hoboes Name ‘Buffalo Bill’

Written by Dick Perue

The following story of how W.F. Cody got the nickname Buffalo Bill appeared in the Nov. 13, 1903 issue of the “Grand Encampment Herald.”

Buffalo Bill

Upon being questioned, Col. Cody repeated the oft-told tale of how he was given the title of Buffalo Bill.

He said, “The name was given to me by the hoboes who helped to build the Union Pacific. When the rails reached the buffalo country, the Indians were pretty thick and pretty bad on the whites, and desiring a change from salt meats, the company employed me to hunt buffalo for the men. I had quite a reputation as a buffalo hunter and so was put on the force as the meat man. I was a welcome visitor in camp upon my first few return trips, and the men used to yell out, ‘Here comes Bill with some nice buffalo meat.’

“The company found that it was cheaper to feed buffalo than to import salt meat, and the rations were limited to that. Thus the men wearied of a good thing, and they got to saying, ‘Here comes Bill with some more of that tough buffalo meat.’ My association with buffalo and a gang of hoboes who always nicknamed people gave me the title of Buffalo Bill.”

The Wild West show

Col. Cody talked at length about the great Wild West show of which he was the founder and which has made him famous throughout the world. Following a suggestion, he said that he did not believe any other man would have had the courage to launch such a show.

“People thought that a show without clowns, without snakes or elephants would not be a drawing card, but the fact is that the show has been on the road for 21 years and has traveled more miles, showed in more countries, played to more people and played before more royalty than any other show ever organized in the history of the world. I take great pride in the fact that the show is educational and therefore above all others.

“Wyoming and the West are pictured as they are and without exaggeration. One lives an hour in the West when he sees the show. When I hire a western cowboy to ride for the season, I tell him not to buy new chaps – the gaudy kind for show – but to report for business in the chaps he has worn while in the saddle, on the round-up and on the plains. I want the cowboy just as he is at home, and that is the way I present him to the world.”

“When will you promise to bring the show to Grand Encampment?” he was asked.

“Well,” replied the Colonel, “I will not show at Cody or Grand Encampment for another year at least, but I will tell you that the show takes well here at home. In 1892, I took the show – 70 cars, 600 people and 600 animals – all over my old scouting trails, starting at the Dakotas, through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana and back across the Mississippi, a distance of 14,000 miles, the greatest number of miles ever traveled by a show in one season. I met with the greatest approbation and success in the country where I had scouted for years.”

Next week, we will learn more about Buffalo Bill and his partner White Beaver.