William Frederick "Buffalo Bill" Cody wasn't a man for small measures. Perhaps the most famous American in the world during his time, the hunter, scout, and dime-novel hero founded Buffalo Bill's Wild West show—an outrageous extravaganza of "cowboys and Indians," gunfights and stagecoach hold-ups—in 1883. When he then decided to invest his name and part of his fortune in a new community in the dry, rugged country along the Shoshone River in northern Wyoming, he expected big things: a sagebrush metropolis and an urban showplace at the doorstep to Yellowstone, the first U.S. national park.
One hundred years after Bill's death, it’s fair to say that Cody, Wyoming, with a population of nearly 10,000, hasn't quite matched its founder's big-city aspirations. Still, it has flourished. "There's a lot more going on in Cody than you'd expect for a small town,” says Bruce Eldredge, the former executive director and CEO of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a world-class art and artifact museum that any city would be proud to claim. Now a riverside destination with shopping, dining, and outdoor attractions, Cody has done Buffalo Bill’s appealing vision proud.
As its namesake predicted, Cody became a vital stop for people on their way to or from Yellowstone, 50 miles to the west. Park traffic still rolls through Cody all summer, but from late fall to early spring, when the park's eastern entrance is closed, the town itself is the main attraction.