Buffalo Bill – Arizona Miner
Mining history article by Harold Hough
Colonel William “Buffalo Bill” Cody wasn’t always an Indian scout. Nor, was he always touring the capitals of the world with his Wild West Show. In fact, after leaving the Wild West Show, he became an Arizona mine owner. Unfortunately for Buffalo Bill, he was a better Indian scout and showman than miner.
Cody’s relationship with Arizona began in 1889 as a result of his Wild West Show’s success in Europe. He met John Young, son of Mormon leader Brigham Young, at Windsor Castle where he was doing a show for Queen Victoria. Young was interested in promoting the Kaibab Plateau on the north rim of the Grand Canyon as a hunting paradise for rich Europeans. Recalling Buffalo Bill’s success as a hunt guide several years before for the Russian Grand Duke Alexis, Young persuaded Cody to help arrange and lead a hunting party of Europeans from Flagstaff, AZ to the Grand Canyon.
The hunting party, that finally took place in 1892, didn’t open the area to hunting, although the Kaibab was (and still is) a great hunting territory. But it undoubtedly gave Cody a taste of what Arizona offered. Within ten years, Cody was investing in Arizona mining property.
Unfortunately, Cody’s investments in Arizona were due to his generous nature and his predilection for investing in friend’s pet projects instead of sound business sense. He had said, “When you die, people will say, ‘There goes a man who made a million dollars and kept it.’ When I go, people can say, ‘There goes a man who made a million dollars and spread it among his friends.’” He definitely got his wish.
By the turn of the twentieth century, the Wild West Show, although still profitable, was no longer the financial success that it had been in the earlier years. In 1908, it was touring places like Arizona, which didn’t draw the crowds it did in the Eastern United States and Europe. Needless to say, Arizonians were fairly familiar with the frontier and didn’t need to pay money to experience it.
At the same time, the hectic pace of the show was also telling on the 62 year old Cody. He decided that it was time to slow down and investigate other business opportunities, including movies and mining. His mining company would be the Cody-Dyer Arizona Mining and Milling Company.
Cody began wintering in Oracle in 1908, when the show wasn’t traveling. There he would stay at the Mountain View Inn, which was owned by Curly Neal an old friend and Indian scout from the days of the Indian wars. Whenever possible, he would travel to Tucson via train and take an automobile the thirty miles to the inn where he stayed. Although he had other mining properties in the area, the heart of the Cody mining interests was Campo Bonito, a gold mine in Oracle that he staked on April 14, 1912. A better name might have been The Money Pit.
While the mine proved to be an open sore on Buffalo Bill’s pocketbook, the life in Oracle was more to the old Indian scout’s liking. For the first time in a generation, he was no longer in the public limelight and able to come and go with relative ease. He was usually found on the front porch of the inn along with his second wife, who usually busied herself with knitting. If things got too boring, he would shoot wood blocks thrown into the air or pitch $10 gold pieces with his friends.
According to long time residents of Oracle, who remembered those days, Christmas was always a favorite time for the ever generous Buffalo Bill who dressed up as Santa Claus. Oracle pioneer Elizabeth Wood told the Arizona Republic in 1956 that, “Christmas was a great feast those three years at Campo Bonito. There were presents for everyone on the payroll and for youngsters from miles around. The Colonel, attired in the bright red suit, surely was a dramatic sight.”
Although the living was good, his financial situation was growing worse. He had lost about half a million dollars in his mining investments and his Wild West Show went bankrupt in 1913. Instead of spending his time in quiet retirement, he was forced to go on the road to pay bills.
Buffalo Bill left Oracle for the last time in late 1916. He intended to spend the entire winter in Arizona, but his failing health forced him to move to Denver and his sister’s house. He died weeks later on January 10, 1917. A few years later, his stepson built La Casa del High Jinks on the Oracle property.
In 1996, the Department of the Interior listed the High Jinks in the National Register of Historic Places.