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On the Hunt for Buffalo Bill Image Credit: True West
On the Hunt for Buffalo Bill Image Credit: True West

On the Hunt for Buffalo Bill

​​​​Collectors bid high to land one of the earliest known images of the frontier scout.

Meghan Saar

The flowing locks and broad brimmed hat as William F. Cody cantered up on his horse made him “[look] like a picture of a cavalier of olden times” when the 4th Earl of Dunraven first met the scout.

A picture of that picturesque character earned the top bid at Cowan’s Auctions on November 18, 2016. By the time he struck this eye-catching pose, Cody was already known by his moniker, “Buffalo Bill,” for his success in hunting buffalo to feed Kansas Pacific Railway workers.

The earliest known photograph of Cody as a frontiersman surfaced from his family around 1984. Cradling the rifle he named Lucretia Borgia, the scout sat next to Dunraven, with Lts. Francis Michler and Walter Scribner Schuyler standing behind them, in a circa 1871 photo taken in Nebraska at Fort McPherson or at the nearby civilian settlement Cottonwood Springs, says Paul Fees, the former curator of the Buffalo Bill Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.

The auction tintype was taken in front of the same studio backdrop. Even more, the tines from the elk antler shown prominently in this tintype are seen behind the backs of the two soldiers standing in the other image.

Yet the frontiersman was not identified as Cody until Fees shared his research with Joseph G. Rosa, who became the first to properly label this auction tintype in his 1989 book, Buffalo Bill and His Wild West.

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