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.
This project examines how Cody balanced sport-hunting and his preservationist aspirations in the game-rich area east of Yellowstone National Park. In doing so, it brings focuses on our attention on a part of Cody’s life that is often overshadowed by his Wild West Show or his business ventures. Examining the nuances and seeming contradictions of Cody’s hunting and preservation activities, this study highlights the intricate, changing relationships between men and the world around them. The hunting life, was, as Cody himself wrote, “the life I love.” That statement alone begins to explain Cody’s turn toward game preservation when the “frontier” passed and the abundance of the West proved vulnerable to the coming of “civilization”.
“Saving and Enjoying the Vanishing Wild West: William F. Cody as a Preservationist and Sportsman.” Shifting Boundaries: Expansion, Invasion, and Violence in the West, Seventh Annual James A. Rawley Conference in the Humanities, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, March 31, 2012. Adam Hodge, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.