William Cody was born into a Quaker family in 1846. As Quakers, his family were abolitionists. When he was 7 the family moved from Iowa to Kansas, where the family remained vocally anti-slavery. His father was attacked and stabbed by slavery proponents during a speech, and the family was continually harassed. His father died in 1857, when Cody was 11, and the young Cody had to take a job delivering messages on a freight carrier to help support the family. Soon afterwards he joined Johnston's Army, where he travelled to Utah to aid in putting down a rumoured, and ultimately non-existent, Mormon uprising. During this time he also allegedly took his first life, that of a Sioux warrior. At 14 he became involved in the gold rush, but while heading to the gold fields he encountered a member of the Pony Express. He joined the Express, and helped to build a number of way stations before acting as an actual courier. He continued in this occupation until his mother became ill. When she recovered he attempted to join the army but was rejected because he was too young. While he waited to be allowed to enlist he worked in freight transport. Finally, in 1863, at the age of 17, he enlisted in the 7th Kansas Cavalry, where he had the rank of Private. He remained there until he was discharged at the end of the Civil War, in 1865. Between 1867 and 1868 he earned the nickname by which he would later be known, "Buffalo Bill", by killing 4,289 buffalo in the span of eight months. Between 1868 and 1872 he worked as a scout for the US Army. Mainly his duties involved scouting for Native Americans and for buffalo. In 1872 he led the Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich's hunting party. Also in 1872 he received a Medal of Honour for unspecified gallantry in action.
At the end of 1872 he participated in his first stage show in Chicago with his friend, Texas Jack Omohundro. The production, The Scouts of the Prairie, bore some similarity with Cody's later work in that it was one of the original Wild West shows. They toured together until 1876. In 1883 Cody founded his own traveling show, Buffalo Bill's Wild West. His show, which travelled throughout much of the United States and Europe, brought him a great deal of notice, as well as useful contacts. His show attracted several famous people, including Annie Oakley, who joined in 1885, and Sitting Bull, who joined in 1884. In 1886 and 1887 the show was hosted in Mariner's Harbour, and in 1886 they were in Madison Square Gardens. In 1887 Cody brought the show to London, where they celebrated the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. They remained in England for five months. In 1889 they toured Europe, and in 1890 he met the then-current pope, Leo XIII. In 1893 the name of the show was changed to Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. Also in 1893 he set up an exhibition close to the Chicago World's Fair, drawing away a great deal of their business, allegedly because they had refused to allow him a space at the Fair. In 1895 he founded the town of Cody in Wyoming, where he would later become an influential part of the Shoshone Dam project from 1905 onwards. The town was incorporated in 1901, and by 1902 he had established a hotel there, the Irma Hotel, in the hopes that the town would attract visitors to the region who would spend money both on local businesses and on his hotel.
William Cody died on January 10th, 1917, a day after being baptized into the Catholic Church. The cause of death was kidney failure. He was 70-years-old.