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New York Post
6 Jan 2024


NextImg:How Wild Bill ate his way across the west

In 1889, the impresario Will “Buffalo Bill” Cody met with Thomas Edison on a visit to Paris. 

As two of the most famous Americans in the world, Cody arranged a breakfast together to show his admiration for the inventor.

Along with pork and beans, fried beef, mince pie, and peanuts, there was sole, quail on toast, steak with mushrooms, clam chowder, Maryland-style chicken, and side orders of hominy, cornbread, and biscuits.

In ‘Galloping Gourmet – Eating and Drinking with Buffalo Bill’ (Bison), author Steve Friesen examines the key role food — and drink — played in the life of one of America’s most colorful characters.

“Buffalo Bill certainly galloped through the American West as a frontiersman, buffalo hunter, scout, and ultimately showman,” he writes, saying Bill “was many other things as well: actor, businessman, writer, art aficionado, hotelier, even town founder. But a gourmet?”

Born on a farm near Le Claire, Iowa, in 1846, William F. Cody’s lifelong love of food began as a child.

Steve Friesen wrote “Galloping Gourmet: Eating and Drinking with Buffalo Bill.”

Hungry and curious, he was once caught stealing apples and melons from a local orchard by a large dog. “Will got away with the apples but lost his pants . . . in the dog’s teeth,” writes Friesen.

Thrown into work from a young age, each job gave him opportunities for new gastronomic discoveries.

At age 14, for example, Cody took a job working for the Pony Express, carrying mail across the frontier on horseback. 

While it was dangerous — his food was often stolen by outlaws — it was also a job where sober riders were a rarity and where Cody developed a taste for liquor.

Buffalo Bill was so famous that he often rode with royalty — including Prince Albert I of Monaco, seen here with Cody on a hunting trip in 1913, Library of Congress

The tipple of choice was tanglefoot, a poor quality, redistilled whiskey that was flavorless and colorless but particularly potent.

When his mother died in 1863, Cody’s drinking worsened to the point where after one heavy session, “he awoke to discover he had enlisted in the Seventh Kansas Cavalry and went to war for the northern cause.”

When the American Civil War ended in 1865, Cody worked as a scout for the US Army where he discovered a rare talent for hunting buffalo.

Cody, as a young man, when he first discovered his love for consuming — and sharing — good food. Gado via Getty Images

Cody had first encountered buffalo when aged 11, he had eaten the meat on a trip along the Oregon Trail and realized their abundance made them a more cost-effective alternative to beef. 

Soon, he landed a contract supplying buffalo meat to the Kansas Pacific Railroad workers. Cody excelled at his job: “In January 1868, a Kansas newspaper reported that in four days, he had shot nineteen buffalo, totaling four thousand pounds of meat,” writes Friesen. He ultimately killed thousands.

And so the legend of Buffalo Bill was born.

The character suited him and after dabbling in amateur dramatics, often with friend “Wild Bill” Hickok, Cody launched his own revue, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” in 1883.

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Featuring a huge, diverse cast, the attraction toured the United States, Great Britain, and Europe for 30 years.

There were cowboys and native Americans, Cossacks and Turks, Bedouins, and Mexican vaqueros.

There were acrobats, horsemanship exhibitions, and battle re-enactments. 

There were famous names too, including fabled sharpshooter Annie “Little Sure Shot” Oakley.

The show was an instant hit and with money to burn, Cody bought a 4,000-acre Nebraska farm, complete with an 18-bedroom mansion and stables to house his show animals.

Success also meant Cody could indulge his true passion — eating.

As the show traveled internationally, Cody became the world’s most desirable dinner guest.

He met Pope Leo XIII, entertained Queen Victoria, and dined with Theodore Roosevelt and Oscar Wilde. 

But as Friesen notes, Cody was equally at home eating hardtack with fellow scouts on the Great Plains as he was banqueting with princes. “As his friend Annie Oakley observed: “He was probably the guest of more people in diverse circumstances than any man alive.”

Buffalo Bill and famed Sioux leader Sitting Bull c. 1900. Getty Images

While he certainly enjoyed the good life, Cody was equally keen to share his success. His 500-strong cast and staff, for instance, typically dined with their boss. 

“One newspaper reporter observed that ‘Cody displays no more care about anything than the proper feeding of horse and man,’ ” Friesen notes.

By 1896, there were 56 people employed just to feed the cast and crew, including a head chef, eight additional chefs with two dedicated to pastries, two butchers, 32 waiting staff, three people for cooking fires, two men on water duty, four dishwashers and two full-time dish packers.

Each day, a dozen cows were prepared by butchers with everything made in huge quantities, like one-yard square meat pies, 350 square tarts “as big as your hand” and, for breakfast, 150 pounds of bacon and around 1,500 dozen eggs.

Wild Bill’s entertainment troupe numbered in the dozens and consumed vast quantities of food daily, always with Bill eating alongside them. Bettmann Archive

The daily 100 quarts of coffee, meanwhile, was brewed in a hundred-gallon pot, described as so large that “six Indian warriors can dance a battle step” inside it. 

Cody’s gastronomic curiosity stretched beyond elaborate feasts. 

Flushed by the success of the “Show,” he also opened the first Mexican restaurant east of the Mississippi River when he launched a café in Madison Square Garden in 1886, introducing tamales to New York City.

Within a few years, tamale carts were found across Gotham — and the world’s first celebrity restaurant was born.