History Nebraska Blog

Buffalo Bill's Big House

By David L. Bristow, Editor

 

The Wild West built this house.

At first glance, an 18-room French Second Empire-style mansion might not strike you as “western,” but take a look at that huge barn! This is what a western man would build for his family if he found himself with a lot of extra money in the 1880s.

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody came to Nebraska in 1869 as a Fort McPherson cavalry scout. Later he made his fortune as a showman. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was a traveling outdoor show that combined elements of theater, circus, and rodeo, with lots of fancy riding and shooting and mock battles against Native American performers. Buffalo Bill did a lot to create the popular mythology of the American West. His influence shaped the Western movies and TV shows of the twentieth century.

With show money rolling in, Cody had the house at his Scout’s Rest Ranch built in 1886. The big barn was added a few years later. In the early days, Scout’s Rest was a working ranch with 4,000 acres. Cody hired others to manage it, but lived here with his family between tours.

Cody sold the ranch in 1911. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission bought it in 1964 and opened it to the public as the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park.

 

“Buffalo Bill” Cody (front and center) at Scout’s Rest Ranch. History Nebraska RG3004-0-44.

 

Cody wanted trees on his treeless ranch, but it was hard to get them to grow. The solution? Plant prairie-adapted species such as cottonwoods and box elders. This early twentieth century photo shows the result. History Nebraska RG3004-0-44

 

Never shy about self-promotion, Cody had his ranch’s name painted on the barn roof. Union Pacific Railroad travelers could read the name from a mile away. History Nebraska RG3004-49

 

A circa-1950 photo from inside the barn shows old Wild West posters left over from Buffalo Bill’s heyday. History Nebraska RG5741-5

 

 

This article first appeared in the April 2021 issue of NEBRASKAland Magazine.

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