One of the first true international superstar entertainers, Buffalo Bill Cody earned worldwide notoriety for his Wild West show, which toured North America and Europe for more than three decades after he first formed the show in Nebraska in 1883. By the start of the 20th century, the showman was focusing on other investments, particularly his eponymous town in Wyoming, not far from Yellowstone National Park.
Cody’s last surviving child, Irma Louise Cody Garlow, owned many of the family photographs auctioned off by Cowan’s in Cincinnati, Ohio, on January 31. Passed down in the family, these photographs come from Patsy Garlow, Cody’s direct great-granddaughter.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, acquired quite a few of the items at the auction, particularly the most notable sales: an album containing 301 images, mostly of the Wild West show and performers, and two albums of the showman at leisure, compiled by his ranch manager in Wyoming. The first album, which looks to have been compiled by Cody’s wife, Louisa, contains “numerous photographs of Cody that were previously unknown to us,” says John Rumm, the director of the curatorial division who acquired the album at the auction on behalf of the museum.
Rumm also purchased nearly 100 photographs taken at Cody’s TE Ranch, about 30 miles southwest of Cody. This purchase dovetails nicely with photographs the museum acquired at an auction outside of Philadelphia from the estate of Stanley Groves, the Campbell Soup magnate who bought the TE from the Garlow family in 1918 and owned it until the early 1930s. “We now have a much more extensive and visual documentation of this historic ranch than we had before,” he says. “Of particular interest in this regard are photographs showing Cody himself helping to corral horses and oversee cattle on his ranch—previously, we’d only seen a very few such images, and those were of poor quality.”
Steve Friesen, the director of the Buffalo Bill Museum & Grave in Golden, Colorado, also attended the auction. He mainly focused his purchases on materials associated with the oskate wicasa, the Indians who performed with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
At the auction, collectors earned more than $100,000 in bids on Cody photographs and memorabilia.
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Meghan Saar is the former editor of True West, the world’s oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine. She has worked in niche publication content development since 2002, and she has a B.S. in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Arizona—Tucson.