Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Buffalo Bill in Cedar Falls IA | 1917 Double Bill

William F. Cody shaking hands
Above Looped film footage of William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, possibly filmed by the Edison Company, which recorded a series of brief films pertaining to Cody's Wild West performances. We have no explanation for the vigor of his handshake.


My father was born in northeastern Iowa in 1901. Buffalo Bill was still touring the country in those years, appearing with his traveling show. He performed in Cresco and Decorah, one time each, which may account for my father's memory of having actually attended a Wild West performance. Cody died in January 1917, two months before the following news article appeared in an Iowa newspaper—

Anon, BILL CODY'S DOUBLE: Col. Curt L. Alexander, of Nebraska, Startles Cedar Falls Lads in the Marshalltown Times-Republican (Marshalltown IA), March 6, 1917—

"Gee! Buffalo Bill ain't dead! Look, fellers!"

That's the way a small boy directed a bunch of his fellows to Col. Curt L. Alexander, of Hastings, Neb., walking the streets of Cedar Falls (IA) today. And a small army of boys greeted him every time he appeared.

Colonel Alexander is an exact "double" of the late Col. W.F. Cody, from his flowing hair, moustache, goatee and big sombrero to the tips of his cowboy boots. He is here visiting his nephew, Lloyd Alexander,  a prominent clothing merchant, while en route home from Chicago.

Besides looking enough like the famous "Buffalo Bill" to have been his twin brother, Colonel Alexander is an old plainsman and scout and as much like Colonel Cody in his habits. In fact, he was a lifelong intimate friend of "Buffalo Bill," working with him as a freighter across the plains when the west was young and in later years traveling for weeks at a time with Colonel Cody's great wild west show, where his remarkable likeness to his friend caused many amusing situations to arise.


Since first posting the above news excerpt, we have also found an article by David Whitsett, titled A CEDAR FALLS STOP: Four US Presidents, MLK Among Famous Visitors to Town, in the Cedar Falls Times (May 1, 2013), which is online here. It tells the story of the one occasion in which Buffalo Bill performed with the Wild West in Cedar Falls on August 31, 1912. Here is the excerpt pertaining to that—

[Cedar Falls resident] Stella Wynegar recalled that his [Cody's] crew set up their tents in “Mullarkey’s pasture,” which was on the northwest corner of Cedar Falls. She says that she and her son, Claude, did not attend the show but that they “were wandering around the grounds after his show, and Buffalo Bill came up and talked with us. He asked about our family and told us about his life and where he’d been. He was very interesting and very nice.”

Another Cedar Falls resident, Marie Cook, also recalled Buffalo Bill’s visit. She remembered that she and her family were living on West First Street near where his show was set up, “He came walking along and saw the chickens in our yard. He offered my grandma $1.50 to cook a chicken dinner for his troupe and she did it!” 

Both Marie and Stella also remembered that Annie Oakley was one of the stars of the Wild West Show when it was here. She was, perhaps, America’s first female superstar. She was a true sharp shooter who could split a playing card edge-on with her .22 rifle and put several holes in it before it hit the ground.

NOTE: There is a Wynegar Oral History Collection (Manuscript Record Series MsC-18) in the Special Collections and University Archives holdings at the Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.