Nebraska is a diverse agricultural state, with a broad and interesting farming and ranching history, from east to west. Some of the state’s finest ag history museums and educational sites help to tell the story of Nebraska agriculture through time.
In this installment in our series of Nebraska Farmer virtual tours, we encourage teachers, ag students, 4-H and FFA members, farmers and ranchers, and ag history enthusiasts to virtually visit Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park at North Platte, Neb., where the well-known army scout, buffalo hunter and world-renowned showman raised cattle and purebred stallions on 4,000 acres at the height of his popularity, when his Wild West Show was traveling the world.
Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park
William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s life was not boring. He did it all. Born in 1846 in Iowa, his family moved to Kansas when he was 7 years old. By the time he was 9, he was already working for Russell, Majors and Waddell, a Kansas-based freight company that also began the Pony Express. Cody was only 14 when he began riding for the Pony Express in 1860. In the Civil War, he served as a Union Scout, and later enlisted with the 7th Kansas Cavalry, and saw action in Missouri and Tennessee. He served as a buffalo hunter, providing meat to construction crews on the transcontinental railroad.
Cody remained as an Army scout and fought in at least 16 battles during the Indian Wars on the Plains. In 1872, Cody and Lt. Col. George Custer guided the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, at the request of President Ulysses S. Grant, on an American hunting trip. Soon, Buffalo Bill was the subject of popular dime novels of the day.
But Cody is probably most well-known as the owner and operator of the Wild West Show and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. He staged his first Old Glory Blowout on July 4, 1882, in North Platte. This precursor to modern rodeo was much more than an entertaining workshop of riding and Western skills. It became an extravagant traveling exposition of Western heritage.
He organized the Wild West Combination, debuting in Omaha, and touring the country over the next few years. Eventually his road show would include “stars” of the day, like sharp-shooter Annie Oakley and even Chief Sitting Bull in 1885. By 1893, 3 million people attended the show on the grounds of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Buffalo Bill was one of the most well-known people in the world.
Scout’s Rest Ranch
At the height of his wealth and popularity, he purchased a ranch at North Platte, called Scout’s Rest Ranch, and built a massive mansion and barn on the grounds. Cody’s ranch started with the purchase of 160 acres south of the Union Pacific tracks at North Platte in 1878. Buffalo Bill worked with Major Frank North, the leader of the Pawnee Scouts, to form a cattle business. The cattle business ended in 1882 as more homesteaders began settling on land around North Platte.
In 1878, Cody’s wife, Louisa, and their daughters moved to North Platte and monitored the property where Cody planned to retire. The ranch grew to raise high-quality livestock and purebred horses. By 1885, the family had 1,200 acres planted to corn, with 100 acres of alfalfa, 50 acres of broomcorn and a small oats field. The ranch was operated by 80 horses and 30 men.
Cody built his 18-room mansion on the ranch, sparing no expense on furnishings. Buffalo Bill had the words “Scout’s Rest Ranch” painted on the massive barn so it could be read from the Union Pacific railroad tracks a mile away. Cody, in dire financial straits, sold his ranch for $100,000 in 1911.
The house, barn and property eventually became a State Historical Park owned by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Today, visitors can tour the ranch house, as well as the massive barn and outbuildings, which house Buffalo Bill memorabilia, interpreting his days as a great showman, as well as a progressive rancher.
As for Cody, the ranch and his farming operation remained profitable, but other investments he had made did not. In spite of his worldwide recognition and early wealth, he was still performing in his Wild West Show at age 71, when he often had to be helped onto his horse backstage. He lost his fortune thanks to poor investments that included an unproductive gold mine.
His last public performance took place shortly before his death. Cody died of kidney failure on Jan. 10, 1917, in Denver. More than 25,000 people paid their respects. He was buried in a steel vault on Lookout Mountain overlooking Denver.
You can learn more about Scout’s Rest Ranch at Nebraska Game and Parks.
In case you missed it
We have created nine Nebraska Farmer virtual tour photo galleries, including Buffalo Bill Ranch. In case you missed any of our tours, here is a complete listing and links to the stories. You can also visit nebraskafarmer.com and search for “virtual tour.”
- Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island
- Homestead National Monument, Beatrice
- Marcus Cain exhibit in Dawes County, Chadron
- Birthplace of Arbor Day, Arbor Lodge, Nebraska City
- Legacy of the Plains Museum, Gering
- Bowring Ranch State Historical Park, Merriman
- Charles E. Bessey Tree Nursery, Halsey
- Lester F. Larsen Tractor Test and Power Museum, UNL East Campus, Lincoln