Icons and Outlaws: Buffalo Bill Cody’s Lasting Legacy In Sheridan, Wyoming

Icons and Outlaws

Frontier history is woven into the fabric of Sheridan’s identity. Reminders of a hardscrabble, bygone era are found etched into the wall of historic buildings, whispered about along century-old mountain trails, and recounted at interpretive sites from the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument to Fort Phil Kearny State Historic Site. Sheridan County has played host, sometimes unwillingly, often unwittingly, to cadres of nefarious and notorious outlaws like Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Big Nose George, and even the outlaw Jesse James. Icons, too, have staked claims at the base of the Bighorn Mountains, with the most celebrated of all being none other than William Frederick “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 the “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.

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.

Sheridan Inn Ledger
Buffalo Bill’s Signature in Sheridan Inn Ledge, January 8, 1894, Courtesy Photo, SCHS&M


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. And, after a famed trip overseas, Cody would bring a touch of European elegance to the inn.

Sheridan Inn Stable
2003.58.040 – W.F. Cody Transportation Company Stable & Stage Coach, undated, Sweem Collection, SCHS&M


Queen Victoria celebrated her Golden Jubilee on June 20 and 21 1887. On June 21 Queen Victoria traveled in an open landau to Westminster Abbey, escorted by Indian cavalry. The cavalry was part of Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Show”, invited to participate in the Jubilee for the entertainment of the Queen and her guests. In all, some 18 buffalo, 181 horses, 10 elk, 4 donkeys, 5 longhorn Texan steers, two deer and a Deadwood Concord stagecoach, along with 97 Indians and the rest of the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Show, descended upon England. The show was credited with improving British and American relations. The procession through London, according to Mark Twain, “stretched to the limit of sight in both directions.” Spectators were accommodated on terraced benches along 10 miles of scaffolding erected for the purpose. Queen Victoria rode in the procession in her gilded State landau, drawn by six cream-colored horses. And when the queen bid farewell to Buffalo Bill, she sent him home with a gift: a spectacular cherrywood bar was shipped across the Atlantic and assembled in the Sheridan Inn’s dining room, where you can still find it today. Order a drink at the bar and dine in fabulous modern western style at Open Range, the Sheridan Inn’s recently re-opened restaurant (we’re partial to the short ribs and the bison burger, if you are entertaining recommendations).

Open Range
Buffalo Bill Bar in the Open Range Restaurant


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 see a crowd gathered on the porch and lawn watching prospective acts.

Sheridan Inn Porch
2003.58.037 – Sheridan Inn Porch, undated, Sweem Collections, SCHS&M


With a massive ballroom and a dining room table large enough to seat 165 people, the Sheridan Inn was the social hub for the area, hosting grand dances and dinners. The 64 hotel rooms hosted new residents of Sheridan who stayed at the Inn while their houses were being built and ranchers would spend their weekends at the Inn. Early prices at the Sheridan Inn were one dollar per night and fifty cents for lunch or dinner. Over the years, The Sheridan Inn drew notable guests from far and wide, such as Ernest Hemingway, President Hoover, Will Rogers and Bob Hope.

Sheridan Inn
2011.053.107 – Buffalo Bill Cody at the Sheridan Inn, undated, SCHS Collection, SCHS&M


Unfortunately, The Sheridan Inn’s condition began to deteriorate over the decades, forcing its doors to close to overnight guests in 1965, around the same time it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2013, the Inn came under new ownership that was dedicated to upgrading the historic hotel and restaurant to their former glory. After an expansive refurbishment, the inn reopened with 22 beautifully appointed rooms, which have been uniquely designed and named after important figures in Buffalo Bill’s life. Reserving a room involves looking over a Room Menu and selecting from such options as the “Sitting Bull Room” or “Annie Oakley Room”. Each suite presents the times and individual histories of the person in the room’s overall finish and furnishings, artifacts, and exhibits.

A true testament to the incredible amount of time and work dedicated to the renovation and reopening of the property, the Historic Sheridan Inn received the “Best Preservation of a Historic Western Building” award from True West’s Best of the West 2016. Additionally, the Sheridan Inn has hosted numerous events and exhibitions, including the annual First Peoples’ Powwow and Dance, a one-of-a-kind event held after the WYO Rodeo Parade during Sheridan WYO Rodeo Week each July. Unique in its pageantry and participation, the Pow Wows feature Native American dancers and drum teams in full regalia, performing traditional ceremonial dances.

Pow Wow at the Sheridan Inn
Pow Wow held on the front lawn of the Sheridan Inn during Sheridan WYO Rodeo Week


The Sheridan Inn sits at the heart of the Historic Railroad District; across the street, northeast of the inn, is Sheridan’s original wooden railroad depot, built in 1892. To the southeast is the 1912 Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad depot. The red brick, Classical-Revival style station was built in 1912 and incorporated several businesses over the years, including the addition of the W U Telegraph Co. in 1930. The building remained a passenger station until rail service was discontinued in 1969.

Welcome Market Hall
Former Railway Station turned Welcome Market Hall in the Historic Railway District


The Downtown Sheridan Association’s Walking Tour features 70 historic Sheridan buildings in the downtown area and is available in both a print and digital format (download a digital guide here). Highlights include the Sheridan Inn, of course, as well as Trail End Historic Site, otherwise known as “Kendrick Mansion,” operated as a Wyoming State Museum site; Fort Mackenzie, established in 1899, and now operating as the Sheridan VA; the iconic Mint Bar; and much more.

Bill Cody was an entrepreneur, an entertainer, and a performer of the highest caliber, and we like to imagine that he would be proud of the town that Sheridan has become: a city steeped in history, in legend and lore, a place indebted to its past while always striving to become the next best version of itself. Step foot in Buffalo Bill’s Sheridan and find out for yourself.

This article features contributions from Shawn Parker; John Woodward; The Sheridan County Historical Society; The Museum at the Bighorns; and Downtown Sheridan Association. 

Spend a Weekend in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Sheridan, Wyoming


Make reservations to have dinner at Open Range and stay at the Historic Sheridan Inn.

Explore the immersive collection at The Brinton Museum and have lunch at the Brinton Bistro.

Take the self-guided walking tour of historic downtown.

Visit Kendrick Park to see the bison herd and grab a cone at Scoops Ice Cream Shack.

After dinner head to the WYO Theater for a show. 

Visit the iconic Mint Bar for an apres-adventure. 


Begin your day with breakfast at the 100+ year old PO News & Flagstaff Cafe. 

Take another step back into history with a tour of Kendrick Mansion, formally known as Trail End State Historic Site. 

Two of the most important Indian Wars battle sites are on our doorstep; visit one or both of Fort Phil Kearny and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  

Back in Sheridan, visit shops like King Ropes & Saddlery, Jackalope Ranch Mercantile, Crazy Woman Trading Co., High Mountain Mercantile, The Western Store, and Tom Balding Bits & Spurs for a taste of western charm. 

Have dinner at The Pony Grill & Bar, and explore local craft culture at Black Tooth Brewing, Luminous Brewhouse, Smith Alley Brewing, or Koltiska Distillery. 


Start with breakfast at the beloved Silver Spur Cafe on Main Street. 

Head out to the historic hamlet of Big Horn and tour the tiny Bozeman Trail Museum. 

After the museum, go for a hike on the Red Grade Trail system not too far from town. A series of Sheridan Community Land Trust Trails start here and provide stellar views of the landscape. 

Just LeDoux It Saloon & Steakout in Big Horn, Wyoming. The surf and turf served here is a great way to capitalize on your travels through Buffalo Bill Cody’s wild west.

Images to use

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

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