William F. cody

Photo of William F. Cody Born: February 26, 1845, in Scott County, Iowa.

Died: January 10, 1917, Denver, Colorado,

At 15 years of age William Cody was employed as a Pony Express rider and given a short 45-mile run from Julesburg to the west. After some months he was transferred to Slade's Division in Wyoming where he made the longest non-stop ride from Red Buttes Station to Rocky Ridge Station and back when he found that his relief rider had been killed. The distance of 322 miles over one of the most dangerous portions of the entire trail was completed in 21 hours and 40 minutes using 21 horses.
Photo of Buffalo Bill

Source: Settle and Settle. Saddles and Spurs, The Saga of the Pony Express.

Buffalo Bill, probably more than any other rider, epidomizes the legend and the lore of the Pony Express. Numerous stories are told of young Cody's adventures as a Pony Express rider (many are listed in the BOOKS section of this web site). How many of them are true and how many pure fiction concocted by such writers as Ned Buntline will never be known.

Buffalo Bill
Ned Buntline. Buffalo Bill,
and His Adventures in the West
J.S. Ogilvie, New York, 1886.
The same is true concerning his own writings in later years when his fame had become worldwide as Buffalo Bill. Certain it is that in many cases imagination was allowed considerable freedom. Two essays that provide opposing views are"Thomas Bowdler's Elegy For The Pony Express" by Roy Bloss and "Buffalo Bill as a Pony Express Rider" by Vernon Combs.

The Buffalo Bill dime novels of Ned Buntline and Prentiss Ingraham enjoyed enormous success in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, but the real William Cody transformed the literary and stage character into the phenomenon that was Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, easily the most successful tour de force in travelling entertainment during the late 1800's.

buffalobill-wildwestshow Tom Cunningham has done extensive research on the Wild West Show's visits to Scotland in 1891 and 1904. He provides the following:

"The following I think is a wonderful quote, and it comes from the The Western Daily Press (A Bristol, England paper), Tuesday 29th 1891:

'Dashing into the enclosure on a fast pony, the rider flung himself from his steed while moving at full speed, and seizing another pony, which was in waiting, by the bridle, he sprang into the saddle while his fresh horse was moving at a rapid canter, and continued his career around the arena until reaching the next stage, when he repeated the change, the dexterity of the rider eliciting hearty applause.'

"This describes the way in which the Pony Express was represented in the show. It was a perennial feature of the Wild West show. "

In his most recent book The Colonel and Little Missie, Larry McMurtry gives his own take on whether or not Cody was every a Pony Express rider:

"There are plenty of skeptics who don't believe that Bill Cody rode with the Pony Express at all. One argument against him is ... Cody's youth. He was only fourteen when the Pony Express runs were initiated, and not quite sixteen when they ended.

"Had Cody showed up cold and asked for a job with a company where no one knew him, the age factor might indeed have been decisive. But such was not the case: Cody had already been riding for Russell, Majors, and Waddell for three years; he was known to be an able hand and had already undertaken several cattle-driving expeditions for the firm which were only marginally less dangerous than the Pony Express. In 1860 he was a proven, reliable plainsman whose horsemanship no one doubted.

"...I am inclined to think that he did ride..., since that would merely have been a more or less natural extension of a job he already had."

The debate on whether or not Cody rode for the Pony Express will undoubtedly continue. However, there is little doubt that through the publicity of his Wild West Shows, Cody can be credited with keeping the memories, legends, and lore of the Pony Express alive and making it part of the public consciences today.