For all you Old West “history buffs,” students, and Western writers out there who have been at this longer than I, can anyone answer the question I’ve posed in the title of this article? Did Buffalo Bill Cody and Wyatt Earp ever meet? If so, can you point me toward information about any meeting(s) or relationship between the two? If not, how or why do you think such a meeting would NOT take place?
Cody and Earp were close to the same age. Sources put Cody’s birth in Iowa in 1846 (1845 in early writings, but since corrected); Earp was born in Illinois in 1848. Cody died in Denver, Colorado, in 1917; Earp died in Los Angeles, California, in 1929. Both men spent time in and out of Kansas and the Great Plains in general. I’ve seen accounts that Earp at least met and may have spent some time with “Wild Bill” Hickok – and Cody definitely can be linked clearly to Hickok, even doing some abortive stage acting with Hickok in the 1870s.
Given such proximity, and given Cody’s and Earp’s quick tendencies as showmen to always try to turn a profit off their images (Cody certainly much more than Earp), I find it amazing that the two weren’t somehow associated.
It’s my understanding, and I am by no means knowledgeable about Wyatt Earp, that Earp never pushed the tall tales and showmanship or reputation as strongly as Cody. Nevertheless, in later years I believe Wyatt took advantage of the not always accurate accounts of his life to make money when he could. He certainly never seemed to seek nor did he attain the mythical status in his lifetime that Cody and Hickok did, probably because he never really cultivated it.
But even if that’s true, I am amazed that there are no accounts I could find of Cody and Earp ever meeting. When you consider that Cody went out of his way to recruit any “big names” he could find for his famous Wild West in the 1880s and ’90s, I’m surprised he didn’t make an effort to locate Earp and make him an offer. Perhaps the ups and downs of “real life” as Earp found it in the various Kansas cowtowns and later in Arizona put Cody off the idea. Or, we could as easily speculate, the hard bitten, sometimes lawman sometimes outlaw reputation Earp had in those years caused him to ignore Cody’s attempts to glamorize the “Wild West” and Earp simply wanted no part of it.
It is fun, though, to speculate how the two may have regarded each other. I suspect they knew enough of the reality of life on the Plains in the 1860s-1890s that both understood what was real and what was showmanship in each other.
So, I ask again: Did Buffalo Bill Cody and Wyatt Earp ever meet? If you have some information on that, and especially if you can direct me toward some sources on it, I invite you to leave a comment on my website!