In Buffalo Bill’s Footsteps
By John Woodward, Museum Director
Sheridan County Historical Society & Museum
History is around every corner in Sheridan. Every building and pathway has a story to tell. When walking along Main Street or spending a night at the Sheridan Inn, you might be walking in the footsteps of one of the West’s greatest legends, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
Even before coming to Sheridan, Buffalo Bill had built a reputation spanning continents. Born in LeClaire, Iowa on February 26, 1846, Cody came west by the time he was twelve. Before the Civil War he worked on wagon trains at Fort Laramie, in the gold fields of Colorado, and he may have even ridden the Pony Express. During and after the Civil War, he worked as an Army scout and professional hunter, earning the nickname “Buffalo Bill.”
Cody inaugurated “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show” in Omaha, Nebraska in 1883 and for the next thirty years brought the American West to audiences across the United States and Europe. His shows played for royalty and commoners alike. Always an entrepreneur, Cody invested his profits from the show in businesses across the West. Business was what brought Buffalo Bill to Sheridan.
Founded by John D. Loucks in the mid-1880s, Sheridan by 1890 was still a sleepy little town with a few hundred residents nestled in the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains. All of that changed in 1892 with the arrival of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. Suddenly Sheridan was a boom town with several thousand residents and local industry supplying timber and coal for the railroad. In the once sleepy little town, Buffalo Bill found a place to hang his hat.
Buffalo Bill first visited Sheridan in 1876 as an Army scout. His next recorded visit came in 1894. The original registry book at the Sheridan Inn has the signature of “W.F. Cody” arriving on January 8, 1894. Over the next several years, the Sheridan Inn became his base of operations in northern Wyoming.
Built in 1893, the Sheridan Inn brought eastern opulence and luxury to the rough and tumble west. Designed by Thomas Kimball of Omaha, Nebraska, the Inn had 64 bedrooms under its gambrel roof. The Inn boasted the first electric lights in the region and one of the first telephones. Originally built by the Sheridan Land Company to serve railroad travelers, it became the center of social life in Sheridan.
Buffalo Bill began investing in Sheridan in 1894 when he purchased a stake in the Sheridan Inn. The W.F. Cody Hotel Company managed his interests in the inn. He also worked with George Canfield, the inn’s manager, to provide transportation for guests. Located in stables behind the Sheridan Inn, the W.F. Cody Transportation Company provided stagecoach service.
Buffalo Bill wasn’t alone in coming to Sheridan. His oldest daughter Arta and her husband Horton Boal moved to Sheridan in the late 1890s. Buffalo Bill purchased a ranch north of Sheridan for the couple, and they lived in the area for several years.
Buffalo Bill’s legend followed wherever he went, and Sheridan was no different. Much local lore concerns his time at the Sheridan Inn. The most common tale holds that Buffalo Bill held auditions for his wild west show on the porch of the Sheridan Inn. Travelers coming into Sheridan by rail would be see a crowd gathered on the porch and lawn watching prospective acts.
Keep Buffalo Bill Cody in mind as you visit the Sheridan Inn and the other buildings in our Historic Railroad District including the old Train Depot. You might be standing in his footsteps when you order a drink or eat a meal at the Open Range Restaurant. You might be staying in the same room at the Sheridan Inn. Visiting Sheridan, Wyoming isn’t just about seeing the present, it’s about living the past.
2011.053.107 – Buffalo Bill Cody at the Sheridan Inn, undated, SCHS Collection, SCHS&M
2003.58.037 – Sheridan Inn Porch, undated, Sweem Collections, SCHS&M
2003.58.040 – W.F. Cody Transportation Company Stable & Stage Coach, undated, Sweem Collection, SCHS&M
Ledger – Buffalo Bill’s Signature in Sheridan Inn Ledge, January 8, 1894, Courtesy Photo, SCHS&M