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 Much of his earliest autobiography written in 1879 contains important historical content concerning the region’s growth and development.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.
Crucial to our understanding of the significance of the Great Plains to Cody’s personal experiences are the early years of Cody’s life, from his birth and early childhood in Iowa in the 1840s through the early 1850s, to his formative years in Kansas from 1852-1868, and his young adult period in Nebraska from 1868-1878. Events that occurred before he wrote his first autobiography and went on to achieve national fame and world-wide celebrity are eventually incorporated first into his stage shows and then into his grand Wild West exhibitions.