William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody MOH

b. 26/02/1846 Le Claire, Iowa. d. 10/01/1917 Denver, Colorado.

DATE OF MOH ACTION: 26/04/1872 Platte River, Nebraska.

William F Cody MOH

William Frederick Cody was born on February 26, 1846 on a farm just outside Le Claire, Iowa. His father Isaac was born on September 5, 1811, in Toronto Township, Upper Canada, now part of Mississauga, Ontario, directly west of Toronto. Mary Ann Bonsell Laycock, Cody’s mother, was born about 1817 in New Jersey, near Philadelphia. After Mary Laycock moved to Cincinnati to teach school, she met and married Isaac Cody. She was a descendant of Josiah Bunting, a Quaker who had settled in Pennsylvania. There is no historical evidence to indicate Buffalo Bill was raised as a Quaker. In 1847 the couple moved to Ontario, having their son baptized in 1847, as William Cody, at the Dixie Union Chapel in Peel County (present-day Peel Region, of which Mississauga is part), not far from his father’s family’s farm. The Chapel was built with Cody money, and the land was donated by Philip Cody of Toronto Township. They lived in Ontario for several years.

In 1853, Isaac Cody sold his land in rural Scott County, Iowa for $2000, and he and his family moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory. In these years before the Civil War, Kansas was overtaken by political and physical conflict related to the slavery question. Isaac Cody was against slavery. He was invited to speak at Rively’s store, a local trading post where pro-slavery men often held meetings. His antislavery speech so angered the crowd that they threatened to kill him if he didn’t step down. One man jumped up and stabbed Cody twice with a bowie knife. Rively, the store’s owner, rushed Isaac Cody to get treatment, but he never fully recovered from his injuries.

After his mother recovered, Cody wanted to enlist as a soldier in the Union Army during the American Civil War, but was refused because of his young age. He began working with a United States freight caravan that delivered supplies to Fort Laramie in present-day Wyoming. In 1863 at age 17, he enlisted as a teamster with the rank of private in Company H, 7th Kansas Cavalry and served until discharged in 1865. “Buffalo Bill” got his nickname after the American Civil War, when he had a contract to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat.

The next year, Cody married Louisa Frederici. They had four children. Two died young when the family was living in Rochester, New York. They and a third child are buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, in the City of Rochester.

Cody went back to work for the Army in 1868 and was Chief of Scouts for the Third Cavalry during the Plains Wars. Part of the time, he scouted for Indians and fought in 16 battles; at other times, he hunted and killed bison to supply the Army and the Kansas Pacific Railroad. In January 1872, Cody was a scout for Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich of Russia’s highly publicized royal hunt. William F. Cody received the medal in 1872 for gallantry as an Army scout in the Indian wars. 

In 1883, in the area of North Platte, Nebraska, Cody founded “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West”, a circus-like attraction that toured annually. (Despite popular misconception, the word “show” was not a part of the title). With his show, Cody traveled throughout the United States and Europe and made many contacts. He stayed, for instance, in Garden City, Kansas, in the presidential suite of the former Windsor Hotel. He was befriended by the mayor and state representative, a frontier scout, rancher, and hunter named Charles “Buffalo” Jones.

In 1887, Cody took the show to Great Britain in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria attended a performance. It played in London before going on to Birmingham and Salford near Manchester, where it stayed for five months. In 1889, the show toured Europe, and in 1890 Cody met Pope Leo XIII. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West toured Europe eight times, the first four tours between 1887 and 1892, and the last four from 1902 to 1906.

In 1895, Cody was instrumental in the founding of Cody, the seat of Park County in northwestern Wyoming. Today the Old Trail Town museum is at the center of the community and honors the traditions of Western life. Cody first passed through the region in the 1870s. He was so impressed by the development possibilities from irrigation, rich soil, grand scenery, hunting, and proximity to Yellowstone Park that he returned in the mid-1890s to start a town. Streets in the town were named after his several associates: Beck, Alger, Rumsey, Bleistein and Salsbury. The town was incorporated in 1901.

Cody died on January 10, 1917, surrounded by family and friends at his sister’s house in Denver. Cody was baptized into the Catholic Church the day before his death by Father Christopher Walsh of the Denver Cathedral. He received a full Masonic funeral. Upon the news of Cody’s death, tributes were made by George V, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and President Woodrow Wilson. His funeral service was in Denver at the Elks Lodge Hall. The Wyoming governor John B. Kendrick, a friend of Cody’s, led the funeral procession to the cemetery.

Soon after his death,  his Medal of Honor was revoked in 1917, along with medals of 910 other recipients, when Congress retroactively changed the rules for the honor. Congress stated that only military personnel could receive the award. Even though he was a Army veteran he was awarded the medal for service as a civilian scout, in all, five scouts lost medals in 1917. In fact, his family refused to return the Medal. However, in 1989 the Army Board for Correction of Military Records ruled that Cody and the four other scouts are nonetheless deserving of the honor and restored their names to Medal of Honor roll.



Gallantry in action.