What started out 32 years ago as an idea to recognize Lanesboro’s historical connection with a colorful part of Americana has evolved into one of the larger community events in southeast Minnesota. Celebrated in time for my birthday weekend, Buffalo Bill Days is named after one of Lanesboro’s most famous visitors: Mr. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. This has turned into the Summer of Buffalo Bill.
Nestled in the bluffs of the Root River Valley (in Southeastern Minnesota) is the hidden gem of Lanesboro. Visitors travel here to experience the quiet, peaceful, inspiring atmosphere found in this charming little town. Buffalo Bill Cody was no different. He brought his circus to Lanesboro during the down time.
Cody traveled to Lanesboro in 1881 to visit Dr. David Franklin Powell, his old friend and fellow scout for the U. S. Army. Powell had moved to Lanesboro in 1875 and established a medical practice in the Root River valley. Even back then, Lanesboro and a travelers hot spot.
While in Lanesboro, Powell became acquainted with the local Winneshiek Native American tribe. Buffalo Bill and Powell began scheming (as men will do) about ways to improve their financial situations and came up with the wild west circus idea. After a number of rehearsals in an open field near Lanesboro Cody took his circus far and wide. The first Minnesota Buffalo Bill Wild West Show was presented at Nelson Hall in Lanesboro in 1900 with 6 Indians (2 Indian Maidens), 2 White men (including Buffalo Bill and Doc Powell under the stage name “White Beaver”) and a Mr. Man. Powell traveled with the wild west show for a short time and then returned to his practice in Lanesboro, while Buffalo Bill continued on to worldwide fame.
Like the previous 31 celebrations, this year’s event had something for all ages. There were gunslingers, fireworks, duck races and even a “Buffalo Roam” 5K. Also, in keeping with Buffalo Bill’s theatrical roots, there were various re-enactments and high stakes bingo around town and much, much more!
But let me share these fun facts I’ve learned over the summer:
-Cody’s nickname came from the fact that he killed over 4,000 Buffalo personally in his time out west.
-Cody served in the Union Army as a scout during the Civil War, and his continuing work as chief of scouts following the war earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1872.
-Cody took part in some of the first “media events” in American history, gaining publicity for the Army of the West by taking people like the Grand Duke of Russia on a buffalo hunt.
-Buffalo Bill successfully blurred the lines between fact and fiction in his shows, bringing in real Wild West legends like “Wild Bill” Hickok and Texas Jack Omohundro alongside his performers. It was the first reality show!
-At the height of his popularity, Cody was known the world over and was consulted by Presidents from Ulysses S. Grant to Woodrow Wilson about matters concerning the American West.
-Because of his shows, the term “cow-boy” went from being an insult (meaning a coarse and callous person) to a term to be admired. The shows featured skilled riding, roping, and trick shots from famous sharp shooters like Annie Oakley.
-In 1887, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show was invited to England to perform for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Hard to believe that only a hundred years before, we had just got done fighting for our independence from England!
-Buffalo Bill gave out many free passes to orphanages when the Wild West show came to town. He argued for equal pay and voting rights for women, and the show’s women received pay comparable to the men in the show.
Here’s to the man behind the summer – Buffalo Bill Cody. What a celebration!
Whatever you decide to do this week, get out and enjoy everything your town has to offer. You’ll be glad you did!