Buffalo Bill in the Nebraska Legislature

Buffalo Bill at age thirty-five. (RG3004-12)

Many of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s exploits as a buffalo hunter, scout, and showman have been publicized in works ranging from dime novels to serious historical studies. In light of these successes, it is doubtful that Buffalo Bill ever had any serious interest in political affairs. However, an obscure episode in Cody’s life did lead to his “election” to the Nebraska Legislature in 1872.

At a convention held in Grand Island, some of Cody’s friends secured his nomination as the Democratic candidate from the Twenty-sixth District, which included the counties of Lincoln, Cheyenne, Dawson, Buffalo, Kearney, Franklin, Harlan, and unorganized territory. The board of canvassers for this election district was located in Lincoln County. As a Democrat, Cody had little hope of being elected from the predominantly Republican district and later remarked in his autobiography that “in fact, I cared very little about it, and therefore made no effort whatever to secure an election.”

However, his name proved a powerful vote-getter, and the returns filed with the Lincoln County board of canvassers gave Cody a majority of about forty-four votes over opponent D. P. Ashburn of Gibbon. A contest was immediately filed on behalf of Ashburn, charging that the returns were incomplete. An investigation revealed that the Harlan County clerk had sent his returns to the city of Lincoln, rather than to Lincoln County. When the results of these additional votes were tabulated, Ashburn was found to have received a majority of them and the legislative seat was awarded to him.

Members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago during which Cody was briefly mentioned as a Nebraska gubernatorial candidate. (RG2316-30)

More than twenty years later, in the summer of 1893, Buffalo Bill was briefly suggested as a Nebraska gubernatorial candidate after he and a troupe of performers from his Wild West show had played a prominent part in the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Sunday Morning Courier of Lincoln on July 2, 1893, commented, “The Chicago Sunday Democrat suggests the Honorable William F. Cody for governor of Nebraska and a number of papers in this state have endorsed the suggestion.” The Courier, however, did not approve of Cody’s presence in Chicago, which the newspaper believed had encouraged the world to think of Nebraska as without culture, “a howling wilderness, the home of Buffalo Bill and his cowboys, the land of Indians and buffaloes,” and discouraged the “Cody for governor” idea. The boomlet soon died, probably much to the relief of Buffalo Bill.

– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications

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