Very few know William “Buffalo Bill” Cody visited Tupelo. Cody actually came to Tupelo twice, once as a Union scout and once as a showman.
He was here first on July 14-15, 1864 at the Battle of Harrisburg (Tupelo) serving under Conrad Houck with the 7th Kansas Calvary. This was the most important campaign in Cody’s Civil War career. Almost nobody could boast about winning a fight where Nathan Bedford Forrest was defeated, but Buffalo Bill could.
Houck had recommended Cody to General A.J. Smith, who told Cody his best information was Forrest was somewhere around Okolona.
“He instructed me to disguise myself as a Tennessee boy and to try to locate Forrest’s main command. Having accomplished this I was to gather all the information possible concerning the enemy’s strength in men and equipment and defenses, and to make my way back as speedily as possible,” Bill said.
Cody completed his mission and stood at the front lines when the command “Fire” was yelled out as the Confederates came into range. Cody, on horseback, sprung behind a big oak tree. He could tell the general was unhappy and asked him into his tent after the scrimmage, questioning why he was behind the tree.
“That is the way we have to fight Indians, sir,” Cody told General Smith. “We get behind anything that offers protection.” Cody said twelve years later that the general saw his stance as “correct.”
William “Buffalo Bill” Cody wouldn’t return to Tupelo again until he performed at the Buffalo Bill Wild West and Pawnee Bill Far East Show Oct. 14, 1911.
They had a show in Dyersburg Oct. 12 and arrived in Tupelo on Oct. 13. The morning of the fourteenth a group of Tupelo citizens carried Cody to the Tupelo battlefield site. The only monument there at that time was a tree with a cannonball in it. The tree was accidentally burned during a cleanup of the area by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the 1930s.
The show came into town via railroad on 48 cars, 20 flat cars, 14 stock cars, 12 pullman cars and two advance cars. Many who traveled with the original Buffalo Bill Wild West show were either dead or had moved on, including Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickock.
That was part of the reason Cody had merged his show with Pawnee Bill. Now he had elephants, camels, other exotic animals, Mexican cowboys, Japanese performers, and Arab jugglers. They would unload the rail cars, have a parade into the fairgrounds about 4:30 p.m. and start the two hour show about 6:30 p.m.
The shows were also known as Bill’s “Farewell Tour.” Though the shows grossed $1 million in 1910, netting the boys $400,000, by 1913 Buffalo Bill went bankrupt. He, like Elvis, had a tendency to give too much away.
The beginning of the end began in 1901 with a train wreck, which killed over a hundred horses and injured one of his key acts, Annie Oakley. His marriage was also on the rocks, plagued with allegations of affairs plus his fondness for too much alcohol. This and legal problems with Pawnee led to a nervous breakdown and finally death in 1917.