William F. “Buff alo Bill” Cody had already established his presence on stage in theatrical performances and on the pages of dime novels when he launched a new, bold program: a spectacle that featured fearless horseback riders, daring stagecoach drivers, and carefully choreographed “fi ghts” between soldiers, settlers, and American Indians. He birthed his Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in 1882 to celebrate North Platte’s “Old Glory Blowout.” The town needed a celebration—an extravaganza—and Bill Cody was the man they knew could pull it off .
The “Blowout” organized at North Platte took place at Columbus just outside Omaha, a confluence of the West: a site that had Sioux to the north, Pawnees to the south, the tracks of wagons over prairie land, and the steel rails of the transcontinental railroad.
Cody’s Wild West Show was so well received that he put together a company of cowboys and Indians and toured across America and Europe. Cody easily merged these disparate characters as he had experience with both. He’d ridden for the Pony Express (you can still see original structures used for that service at Rock Creek Station and at Gothenburg), and he worked along the cattle trails (in Ogalalla you can visit a recreated Front Street and Cowboy Museum). He fought Indians, and served with the North brothers (Frank and Luther), who organized the Pawnee Scouts and provided essential services to the frontier military. Today you can experience the “Indian War” period by visiting Fort Hartsuff or Fort Robinson. When his Wild West show was in its heyday, Cody returned to Nebraska and his Scouts Rest Ranch—Now Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park—at North Platte.
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FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: While you’re traveling from Cody’s Ranch in North Platte, to the site of his Indian fi ght with Yellow Hand near Crawford, take in sites along the Oregon-California Trail including Ash Hollow and Chimney Rock, and visit the Museum of the Fur Trade in Chadron. In early spring you can enjoy a great cacophony of sound during the Crane Watch at Kearney when tens of thousands of sandhill cranes fl ock along the North Platte River. Hot summer days are best spent at the lake, and Nebraska has several options—including Lake McConaughy and Lake OgalalaState Recreation Areas.