William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody earned his fame and nickname during the late 1860s when he slaughtered thousands of bison to feed Kansas Pacific Railroad construction workers. Consequently, many sportsmen and early game preservationists looked down upon him as a mere “skinner.” By the end of his life, however, Cody’s perspective on game animals had changed. A mere month before his death, for instance, Cody in December 1916 wrote a letter of introduction for one Irving H. “Larry” Larom, writing that, “He will explain how we men here in the big game country are trying to preserve the fast disapearing [sic] big game of the country.” Yet, Cody always remained an avid sportsman, routinely organizing and/or leading big game hunts in northwestern Wyoming for his friends and business partners living throughout the United States, as well as European dignitaries.
William F. Cody’s early life—and his later celebrity based on it—took place largely within Kansas specifically and the Great Plains generally. Much of his earliest autobiography written in 1879 contains important historical content concerning the region’s growth and development. Though they do not appear explicitly in the autobiography, two landmark 1862 Congressional acts, especially the Pacific Railroad Act and the Homestead Act, set into motion and fundamentally shaped Cody’s Great Plains experience. Understanding the changing plains atmosphere as a result of the 1862 acts provides important context to Cody’s life at the time in which he became the legendary character of Buffalo Bill.