Utah History to Go
In Another Time
The Salt Lake Tribune Arch
Buffalo Bill' Cody: Ever The Showman
Hal Schindler
Published: 09/26/1993 Category: Sunday Features Page: D1

On a brisk afternoon in early December 1902, townsfolk along Salt Lake City's Main Street watched curiously as a six-horse stagecoach clattered to a stop in front of the Templeton Hotel on South Temple. Though it was still the horse-and-buggy era, Concord stagecoaches hadn't been a familiar sight in Utah's capital since the transcontinental railroad linked up at Promontory. If the stagecoach was a throwback to the old frontier days, so was its principal passenger and party this December day. He strode to the hotel desk and wrote boldly on the register: W.F. Cody, Buffalo Bill. In the space designated residence: The World.

Ever the showman, "Buffalo Bill" Cody did what he did with as much style and panache as possible. He had just completed a six-week hunting and sight-seeing tour of "the wild and woolly West" from his Scouts Rest ranch in Nebraska, through Colorado and New Mexico by railroad to Flagstaff, Arizona, the jumping-off spot.

With Cody was an impressive entourage including Colonel McKinnon of the British Grenadier Guards and his fellow officer, Major Mildway of the Queen's Own Lancers; Colonel Frank Baldwin, twice recipient of the Medal of Honor, detailed by General Nelson Miles himself for escort duty to the Cody party; Prentiss Ingraham, ghost writer and author of Buffalo Bill dime novels; Colonel Allison Naylor, Washington, D.C.; Colonel Frank Bolan, U.S. Army; John M. (Arizona John) Burke, manager of Cody's "Wild West" show; Robert (Pony Bob) Haslam, former Pony Express rider; Horton Boal, Cody's son-in-law; and William C. Boal, manager of Scouts Rest.

Never one to travel unprepared, Cody also brought along an official photographer, W.H. Broach of North Platte, Nebraska, and Louis Renaud, a chef d'cuisine of some renown. Actually, Bill Cody was no stranger to Utah. He had been humiliated as a 12-year-old cattle herder during the so-called Utah War of 1857-58 when Mormon guerrilla leader Lot Smith burned a government wagon train and forced its civilian teamsters to walk back to Missouri. Cody and his teen-age friend James B. Hickok were among those set afoot.

Cody's most recent visit to southern Utah had been in 1885. Now, in his late '50s, the flamboyant plainsman, idol of America's youngsters, hero of pulp novels and the epitome of derring-do was discovering that while fame may not always be fleeting, fortune certainly was. In the throes of marital problems, and with his Irma Hotel in the Wyoming town that carried his name opening in mid-November 1902 losing $500 a month in operating costs, Cody was riding a narrow financial trail. But he was Buffalo Bill and anything was possible.

Once in Flagstaff, the party was met by a cowboy contingent, fifty horses, three prairie schooners, as many mountain buckboards and an ambulance wagon. Cody already had provided enough weapons and ammunition to outfit a small army--the hunting expedition was ready to move. There was an ulterior motive to the tour, beyond that of showing off the West to visiting Brits. Cody, the one man in America whose reputation may have influenced the slaughter of its stupendous bison herds, herds that once blanketed the plains of the 1840s, now was lamenting the vanishing hunting grounds. Game no longer abounded, and bison had been hunted to the point of extinction on the continent.

He earned his nickname and his reputation killing buffaloes. During the months he was employed as a meat hunter for the Kansas Pacific contractors, he personally accounted for 4,280 animals, according to Cody's biographer, the late Don Russell. But in his years on the plains, Cody always hunted to feed Army troops throughout his scouting career and guided numerous hunting parties. Yet down to 1884, when he killed his last buffalo, it seems doubtful to Russell that Cody's total approached 10,000. A trifling number among the millions of bison roaming the plains. The destruction of the vast herds came so quickly the Smithsonian Institution found itself without presentable specimens, and ironically, the eighteen animals in Cody's Wild West show became critical in saving the species from extinction.

Imagine. In three years before 1875, 3.7 million buffaloes were killed for sport and hides; the southern plains herd ceased to exist. The herd that roamed the northern plains was gone by 1883. Lest Cody and the professional hunters suffer all the blame for this, William Hornady, a Smithsonian expert reporting on the loss of the herds, held the Indian tribes as much responsible for the slaughter as the white hide-hunters. In his report, Hornaday noted that Indians used such methods as driving a herd over a cliff, or surrounding it, butchering numbers far in excess of what they needed or could use, and took sadistic pleasure in the killing.

"True," he wrote, "they did not hunt for sport, but I have yet to learn of an instance wherein an Indian refrained from excessive slaughter of game through motives of economy, or care for the future, or prejudice against wastefulness." That then was the situation in '02 when Cody had invited a few important Brits to join him on a tour of the West. And that was why General Miles detailed Frank Baldwin, an old Indian campaigner like Cody, to act as an honorary escort "to the foreign military officers" with the expedition.

Cody also wanted to put on a good front for the dignitaries who were crucial to his plans to financing his gigantic "game park" scheme. Cody confided to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter that he represented a syndicate "which can command $6 million for the purpose, and the plan is to get control of 2,000,000 to 5,000,000 acres of land in the Rocky Mountain region." Whether this was a pie-in-the sky daydream or speculative investment scheme was never clear.

Cody had a history of poor investments: He shoveled thousands of dollars down shafts and tunnels in failed mining ventures, tried his hand at being a stage actor, and lent his name to an immense dime-novel publishing orgy that glorified him as America's hero. He would, in 1905, face his most "inglorious appearance," in a Wyoming courtroom, in a divorce suit he brought against his wife. Such was the state of Cody's affairs as the party moved out on the Flagstaff road for its first camp at old Fort Moroni at the foot of the San Francisco mountains.

Cody meant to show his guests the grandeur of the Grand Canyon; he also liked the idea of corralling a few million acres of the famous landscape for his "game preserve." In a few days, they reached the south rim of the canyon, and from that point spotted the Buckskin mountains across the gorge--seventeen miles distant--but a crossing that would take them some fourteen days and a 300-mile detour. It was two weeks to Navajo Springs, Cedar Ridge and Lee's Ferry, where they crossed the Colorado River, then to Jacobs Pools and Buckskin mountain on the north; then to Kanab in Utah's Kane County. Game was plentiful "and the larder always supplied with venison and all the other luxuries that the country afforded." During their time in the canyon they visited Bright Angel Point, Greenland Point, Point Sublime and other "points of observation," as Cody put it.

"We left the Grand Canyon as blizzards warned us that it would be death to remain and be snowed in, and descended to the Kanab Valley through a vast and gorgeous country," he said. In describing southern Utah, Cody explained, "Kanab is a Mormon settlement, where we found our first post office in three weeks. We were most hospitably received, and let me here say that the Mormons are by no means a backward people, but in touch with the age in which they live. They have schools, their villages are generally devoid of saloons and gambling dens, their young men and maidens are moral and respect their elders, while they have an energy and a push about them that surprised us all.

Their homes are comfortable, well furnished and well stored with home products, so that they live well, while their religion, outside of polygamy, will stand the closest criticism. Of course, plural marriages are abolished among them now under the law, but there is a resigned acceptance of the situation among all with whom we talked. Our whole escort was Mormon, from the guide in chief to the horse wrangler. In fact, we had Brigham Young, a grandson of the prophet, with us."

Cody's party struck out overland to Salt Lake City. "In our wanderings by rail, wagon and in the saddle we have had an opportunity to see Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming." We saw plenty of game of all kinds, but though found, was fast disappearing. We beheld scenery which no other land can equal. My foreign guests were even louder in singing its praises than our American contingent. Outside of the National Park of the Yellowstone, America is wholly devoid of any place for the preservation of game, while every country in Europe has private preserves for just such purposes. If I meet with success in the carrying out of my plans for a private park for the preservation of our National game, I shall be more than content."

The English officers McKinnon and Milway were indeed well-pleased with the trip thus far, and especially tickled in the knowledge that once the canyon had been reached, most of the expedition members returned to Flagstaff rather than endure the hardships facing them if they continued the itinerary through to Salt Lake City. On the day after entering the city, they were guests for a tour of Salt Lake's points of interest, and took the train for New York and their return to London.

William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody's grand plans for a game preserve did not materialize. He did not make enough money with the Wild West show to retire, and he made too much to quit. He died January 10, 1917, in Denver, of exhaustion and a heart condition. Twenty-five thousand mourners attended his funeral.

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