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 Geni.com, 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 ThePeerage.com.)
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.
I 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.