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Buffalo Bill’s Big House

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'Buffalo Bill' Cody (front and center) at Scout's Rest Ranch. Photo courtesy of History Nebraska, RG3004-0-44

Story by David L. Bristow, History Nebraska

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.

Cody wanted tree 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 20th century photo shows the result. History Nebraska, RG3004-0-41

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 20th 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.

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

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.

In January 2021, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior added Scout’s Rest Ranch to its list of National Historic Landmarks.

Visit History Nebraska’s website at history.nebraska.gov.

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