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Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s legacy extends beyond his Wild West show. A Wyoming town and museum named for him preserve his Big Horn Basin heritage. Lesser known is his brief exploration into the oil business.

buffalo bill oil company

“It would be hard to imagine the history of Wyoming around the turn of the 20th century without Buffalo Bill,” notes one historian. 1915 photo courtesy Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

In his day, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World” made W.F. Cody the most recognized man in the world. His fantastic traveling presentations of Indian attacks on wagon trains, amazing marksmanship by Annie Oakley, and a host of other attractions thrilled audiences across America and Europe.

Cody became a tireless promoter of the frontier town he helped found in 1896 that bears his name. The Cody, Wyoming, newspaper he and a partner started in 1899 is still publishing today. The Cody Enterprise continues to acknowledge W.F. Buffalo Bill Cody on its masthead.

buffalo bill oil company

A “Buffalo Bill Wild West show circa 1899” poster by Courier Lithographing Co., Buffalo, N.Y., shows cowboys rounding up cattle and a portrait of Col. W.F. Cody on horseback. Image courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

As a partner in the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company, he enticed the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad to build an extension from Toluca, Montana, to Cody to ensure future growth and prosperity in the Big Horn Basin of north-central Wyoming.

 buffalo bill oil company

W.F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, right of center in black hat, and other investors at an oilfield on the Shoshone Anticline near Cody, Wyoming, around 1910. Photo courtesy the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Always an entrepreneur, the showman had earlier formed the W.F. Cody Hotel Company when the railroad reached Sheridan, about 150 miles east of Cody, in 1892. He opened the Irma Hotel (named after his daughter) in Cody in 1902. Historian Robert Bonner notes that the veteran showman promoted his enterprises endlessly with anyone who would listen.

“He saw great possibilities in every direction, and he had an unquestioned faith in his personal ability to achieve whatever he set out to do,” writes Bonner in William F. Cody’s Wyoming Empire: The Buffalo Bill Nobody Knows. “He was always willing to back up his words with his money.” Read the rest of this entry »


Soon after America’s first oil discovery in 1859, oilmen met in northwestern Pennsylvania and decided a 42-gallon barrel was best for transporting oil.

42 gallon oil barrel

By the 1860s, barges floated barrels of oil down the Allegheny River to Pittsburgh to be refined into a highly demanded product – kerosene for lamps. Image from an early stock certificate.

42 gallon oil barrel

The 42-gallon standard was adopted by the Petroleum Producers Association in 1872.

When filled with oil instead of fish or other commodities, a 42-gallon “tierce” weighed 300 pounds. The 42-gallon oil barrel was officially adopted in 1866. Today, a barrel’s refined products include about 20 gallons of gasoline, 12 gallons of diesel and 4 gallons of jet fuel and other products like liquefied petroleum gases and asphalt.

In August 1866 a handful of America’s earliest independent oil producers met in Titusville, Pennsylvania, and agreed that henceforth, 42 gallons would constitute a barrel of oil. Pennsylvania led the world in oil production as demand for kerosene soared. Read the rest of this entry »