The legend of Buffalo Bill

Buffalo bill dam

On our recent trip up north to Yellowstone National Park, our grandson wanted to see a real dam. We had driven by Boysen reservoir on the way up, and he was disappointed when we got to the actual dam that it was just an earth-fill. So on the way home I headed up Highway 20 out of Cody up to Buffalo Bill Dam, the real thing, seen above. Of course, snow runoff this year is massive, so that the floodgates are wide open. The actual scene is not so serene as this photo. It is far more violent.

[By the way, if you are ever in that neck of the woods, driftwood collects at the dam, and once yearly they dredge it, and place it all in a huge pile at the end of the reservoir a few miles up the road. We have some very nice pieces laying around the yard and inside the house that we collected there some years back. It has very nice colors and patterns.]

The dam was originally named “Shoshone,” in honor of the Indian tribe of that name, but was later changed to “Buffalo Bill,” a man who at one time was famous in both the United States and Europe for his Wild West show. My wife read that William Cody, the real name of the man, was instrumental in getting the dam built at the turn of the 20th century for irrigation purposes, as he was a farmer. I thought that unlikely. I thought of Cody as just a showman, not a man of substance, and certainly not a man who knew the business end of a shovel or plow.

You can, if you like, do what I did, as it requires no expertise (meaning I am well qualified). I went to, where I was greeted with the page below.


The red arrow on the upper right points to the “Search People” box. I entered the name “William Cody” there, but here is the important part to make this work: Do NOT click on anything else – just enter the name and hit return (using a desktop, in my case). Geni will take you through its archive free of charge. I followed the paternal “Cody” line back in time, and sure enough, Buffalo Bill has a long and prominent lineage out of Essex, Massachusetts. (You will also find seven Cody’s in

Interestingly, in 1668, the name is no longer Cody. Phillippe Lacaudey is the ancestor named, and he was born in France. The lineage ends with Guillaume Lacaudey (1480-1568), who died at age 88.

8BC46D0B-B1B2-42AB-A576-3A947B8F1C41I read the Wikipedia account of the life of Buffalo Bill, so famous that even at this late date an NFL franchise bears his name. He was associated with others of his time when the mythology of the Wild West was being cemented in place, including Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, the Booth family and Wild Bill Hickok. But most interesting is this: his fame is not due to his own exploits. He was not a Pony Express rider, he probably did little of note in the Civil War. He might indeed have killed a lot of bison, as there were millions of them and official policy was to annihilate them to make way for cattle. “Hunting” them would be more like sitting atop a platform and shooting into the herd as it was driven by. But legend has Buffalo Bill riding out in front of the herd to divert them and kill the leaders. Righto. (I should concede here that Cody was a skilled horseman, otherwise he could not have pulled off his Wild West shows.)

The real legend behind Buffalo Bill is a journalist and publicist named Ned Buntline. Even Wikipedia, the source of all lies, does not buy into the Buffalo Bill myth. Maybe it is because he is French, and not part of the British peerage, but they downgrade his accomplishments, even noting that rather than being a Pony Express rider, he merely carried messages from one place to another, a trip of three miles.

So why does this man have a massive dam, a small Wyoming city, an NFL franchise and a huge legend behind him? Is it the madness of crowds? He was a sensation in his time, a showman. He dazzled not only Americans, but European royalty as well. My guess is that Buntline invented the legend and rode it for all it was worth. It’s not unusual. To this day we have tin-star heroes, be they soldiers, astronauts, mountain climbers or actors, who are nothing more than publicity fronts. John McCain comes to mind, a legend without anything real behind him. Buffalo Bill came early in the game, when the PR industry was in its infancy.

William Cody is buried down in Golden, Colorado, a few miles down below where we live. We have visited his grave. There’s a nice park around it. At the time of his death there was a squabble, as the town of Cody, Wyoming wanted his body buried there. Colorado won out, as the Wyoming connection, like the man himself, was the stuff of legend, not real. He had no more to do with the idea or construction of that dam than he did with the Civil War. He did live there for a time.

But why the long ancestry, the roots going back to 1480? I don’t know. Others can fill in those details, as genealogy perplexes me. I see it as a source of speculation more than fact, my only question being this: Why is it that almost everyone famous can be traced back in time, while the rest of us have one or two generations that we know about? I don’t think it is coincidence. I don’t imagine Bill Cody would be so famous had he not been juiced from the outset. But that’s all I have for you … idol speculation.

21 thoughts on “The legend of Buffalo Bill

  1. “Among the visionaries were William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and a group of investors who formed the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company, founded the town of Cody, and acquired water rights from the Shoshone River to irrigate 60,000 acres. When the project proved cost prohibitive, the Wyoming State Board of Land Commissioners turned to the Federal Government for help.”

    The whole boondoggle could be called a “public-private partnership.” Nothing West of the Mississippi ever made a dime without government subsidies. Today, subsidies dominate the economies of most states in the inter-mountain West.


    1. That’s a good point that I overlooked in my hurried state, having company and wanting to get the piece written before they awoke. The presence of Cody in the group of investors had to have been done for thr same reason that John Cleese recently hosted a panel of experts on death experiences … as he said at the outset, “My name is John Cleese and I am here because I am a celebrity.”

      And nothing, and I mean nothing out here having to do with farming and ranching makes it without subsidy. We traveled through normally parched Wyoming land, green this time of year, and southwest of the city lies the Alcova Dam, same deal, a BuRec water project that allows farming in the area. Casper is comprised mostly of rugged individualists, of course, Randian “going-Galt” types.


  2. It’s a classic land and water grab. Water is worthless in terms of dollars until “captured” and put to some “beneficial use.” The appropriation doctrine grants water rights in a system of “first in time, first in right.” Pretty handy to build a dam, snatch up cheap land and claim the (“senior” water right) water to make it produce crops; all in one slick move. Nice little feudal system for a few lucky ducks in Wyoming — with banker friends in New York City, or London.


  3. when I was a kid and visiting (with my parents) my grandparents in Arizona we went to see the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, AZ while it was still under construction….I was in awe because it was so huge to my young eyes.

    Regarding Cody…it’s not surprising that he is peerage…I recall listening to a podcast where they were talking about Henry Ford and he wanted this new land (USA) to have stories that were like legends – heard he was responsible for “Mary Had a Little Lamb” a complete fabrication.

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  4. So this source ‘Geni’ is not controlled by the same elites that control all historical data available for inquiring mind’s? And this guy was a showman/operative/lineage as the rest of made folk. Made up to keep us looking away from the real power.


    1. I don’t imagine anything gets out that is of any importance. I was on for a while, paying $19.99 a month, and found less, much less than offered by Geni for nothing. Take it for what it is worth, that’s all. (My wife still has Ancestry – I’ll have to log in her account and see what they have on Bill Cody.)


  5. So Geni is free if you know to just hit Enter, but they charge people who don’t know that? Weird…

    I’ve messed with those sites a little, but the layout, plus paywalls, is usually just frustrating. I wish one of MM’s acolytes would make a visual tree of it all, or at least the key lines. One you could zoom in and out on maybe. Might help, maybe not.

    Not sure why the genealogy sites list it all page by page, just showing one nuclear family at a time. Is a visual chart too unwieldy…


  6. Mark, any opinion on this?

    This is the second article I’ve come across lately that relies on WPA slave narratives collected in the 1930s as its source. According to Wikipedia, this oral history was only available in the form of excerpts until the 1970s, when much more was released. Not sure if this new book relies on “newly released” interviews or not.

    The gist of the book appears to be an argument to change the official consensus from blaming primarily white male slaveholders for the evils of slavery, to expand that to argue the complicity and (at times) primacy of white women. It cites these interviews to make that case, saying that previous historians downplayed womens’ role.

    To me it has the feel of being a contemporary political agenda… Maybe “old white women” need to be roughed up a bit more, like “old white men” have been? It’s suspicious how historians can revise our views of the past, by suddenly “discovering” new documents, or previously “unnoticed” passages. (If that’s the claim… Not entirely sure.) Wondering if you or anyone else has thoughts on this WPA project in general? Why did it take until the 70s to be fully(?) released?? Was it fully available in special archives before that time? But only accessible to authorized historians probably, so… Once again, it relies on having trust in officialdom, no way to verify probably.


    1. Is the WPA project the one that is archived at the University of Virginia, or is that different?

      It’s an interesting article on a book oddly published by a high-profile agency, Yale University Press, which means it went through without censorship (otherwise we might never see it).

      I do not imagine that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, nor do I care if it was women or men to ran the institution. What bothers me more is that the “North” cared no more about slavery than slave owners, only using it as a justification for a war really serving other purposes, mostly the assurance that the South would remain essentially a resource colony. Slaves were front and center, but not really the issue.


      1. I’m not sure where it is archived; I get the impression each of the 17 participating states have their part of it.

        I don’t follow you about Yale and censorship? Why would they censor some credentialed historian, I assume she’s doing her job as ordained…

        I think there is relevance to changing the historical concensus on male vs female roles in slavery… Partly for natural curiosity about the world, but more importantly if it reflects a current political agenda from the ruling classes, part of the ongoing focus on “identity” as the pavlovian signal by which people know themselves. Just a bunch of balkanized morons fighting for their tribe’s piece of the pie.

        Totally agree about the resource colony bit. That’s the most plausible scenario I’ve come across. Although Southern elites also represented different cultural values, not all of them heinous. The North’s victory was a victory for business culture and a more bottom line rapaciousness. Maybe the whole thing was managed by Masons for all I know, but it seems to have been a genuine clash between value systems, as well as the self interest of the two elites. Southern elites recovered their wealth within a generation; however, they were forced to adopt the Northern business values and culture to do so.


        1. But aside from all these big ideas, my main interest was in a POM or Fakeologist perspective on the WPA project itself, its authenticity etc…. Do people think these are reliable as a historical record of what slavery was like?


          1. I do not know. I did study some slave narratives in college, but the point of the exercise was to distinguish how former slaves talked depending on who they were talking to. Their tone changed dramatically when they thought they had a safe audience, as opposed to some formal interviewer. That made the narratives rather suspect.

            Is it a realizable reliable source? Is anything ever reliable? We have only our brains, always.


        2. The 13th and 14th Amendments established voluntary (debt) slavery following the prohibition of involuntary slavery. We are not “We the People,” but “human capital” managed as livestock. This can be verified. It is the “what” that people focused on the “who” seem to discount. The system is global. The top of the power structure can accommodate changes in who runs the show, but the show goes on, and on, and on.

          Dean has a good piece up on the 6,000 plus years of slavery hiding in plain sight all the while.

          More on Anunnaki bloodlines to come.


          1. Refreshing to see the Fallen One’s exposed. Theirs is thee lineages that run the show. Taught the forbidden knowledge’s that help them control the unwashed masses (non bloodline) to this day.


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