Buffalo Bill Cody and Arizona Gold

Updated on November 28, 2017
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John loves writing about Arizona, gold prospecting, and stories of treasure. Beyond finding his gold, he likes reading about others' quests.

William Buffalo Bill Cody,1880 - One of his nicknames was "Nature's Nobleman."
William Buffalo Bill Cody,1880 - One of his nicknames was "Nature's Nobleman." | Source

Early Life

Buffalo Bill Cody was a man whose life was, for the most part, a string of successes. Born February 26, 1846, William Frederick Cody was an army scout, buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider, soldier, trapper, and civilian army scout. He performed in shows that reenacted Indian wars, pioneer living, and cowboy life. He even took his own production company to Europe to illustrate these themes to an inquisitive public.

With all of these endeavors (not an inclusive list) one could easily surmise that Buffalo Bill had a lucky star that followed him. But occassionally that star would wane.

A Little Bad Luck

A first huge disappointment came in 1901 when one of his trains crashed resulting in 110 horses dead, including two of his own treasured mounts. In addition, Annie Oakley, who was a major draw with her sharpshooting prowess, was so badly injured that doctors predicted she would never walk again. She did return, but that incident put the show out of business until her return. She claimed it made her hair turn white. The event resulted in financial losses, and may have precipitated the eventual loss of his company. Up to then, this could easily be concluded the most severe blow to his career.

Little did he know that in 1910, his hopes to strike it rich in Arizona would eventually lead to another huge disappointment.

Buffalo Bill and a Dream of Gold

There is a difference between having "gold fever" and being selfish. There is nothing in the record to indicate that William Cody was anything but honest, fair, and respectful. From Lt. Colonel E. A. Carr, 5th Cavalry, Fort McPherson (3rd July 1878):

"His personal strength and activity are such that he can hardly meet a man whom he cannot handle, and his temper and disposition are so good that no one has reason to quarrel with him."

One report from a friend indicated what kind of man he was. He told reporters of a time when Cody wished he had a gold mine. Buffalo Bill thought it would be wonderful because he could go and dig out gold to pay his friends and never have to take anything from them. In 1910 his off-hand comment had the possibility of coming true.

At Christmas time, Buffalo Bill Cody would play Santa and give gifts to the children of Oracle, Arizona. This despite the fact that he was slowly being duped by a number of mining buddies who were interested in a continuing paycheck and less in Cody's fortune.

Area of Buffalo Bill Cody's 6 Arizona Mine Claims

Campo Bonito Mining District
Campo Bonito Mining District

In 1905 or 1906, John D Burgess of Tucson, Arizona paid Cody a visit at his North Platte ranch in Nebraska. Burgess was touting his mine in Oracle, Arizona - the Campo Bonito Mine. Cody jumped at the opportunity to get rich and bought the mine.

It wasn't until 1910 that he visited his mine. In October of the same year he indicated in a letter that the mine was beyond his wildest dreams. He had a large team of miners working the property, and he was beside himself, almost giddy, that twelve folks wanted to invest.

Burgess was a promoter, and new his craft. He continued to build a bright painting of the odds of a huge fortune coming from the mine. He seems to have known what Buffalo Bill Cody wanted to hear.

Cody stone jewelry - silver and gold in quartz mined in the Catalina Mountains, Arizona. Stones like these came from the Cody Mines, hence the name.
Cody stone jewelry - silver and gold in quartz mined in the Catalina Mountains, Arizona. Stones like these came from the Cody Mines, hence the name. | Source

The Campo Bonito mines consisted of six claims. For $600,000, these caims made up the corporation called the Campo Bonito Mining and Milling Company.

Experience Arizona, an outdoor adventure site, states that at one time Cody had 100 claims, 45 mines, and 2 mills in the Oracle, Arizona area. He supposedly mined tungsten along with gold and silver and had a contract to provide tungsten for the Edison light bulb. Other authors relate that he had 6 mines: Campo Bonito, High Jinks, Southern Belle, Maudina, and Morning Star.

And according to the current "thediggings.com", Campo Bonito was worked beginning in 1908 and is located 110.734 degrees S and 32.5501 degrees E. It further states that it is of value worth excavating. Of the 10 claims listed, two are now sited as worthy of gold exploration, while 8 are listed as tungsten mines.

Other sources claim that Buffalo Bill's shafts were nothing more than dry holes. He had hoped to make $3.5 million in 1910 money. Some claim he found nothing, others claim it was so little that it didn't come close to covering the the 12.5 million dollar investment in today's money that he made. Cody's High Jinks Mine is estimated to have returned $100,000 in gold, which disappeared paying for debt. It is surmised that Cody was left with almost $2 million in today's money after the failure of his Arizona gold mines, and a fraction of what he had earned before leaving his shows.

When he died on 10 January, 1917, Bill Cody was bankrupt and owed a lot of people money.

Buffalo Bill Cody's Maudina Mine, Arizona

The Old Maudina Mine
The Old Maudina Mine | Source

Chiselers Were His Downfall

On his own from the age of 11, Cody was lauded as a self-made man. With all of his adventurous experiences and his bravado in wild west shows, he could sit with royalty in a castle or feast with cowboys around a camp fire. There was no evidence that he thought of himself as special in any way. Down to Earth was a common adjective describing him. But his Arizona foray was not a lucky one.

John D. Burgess really sold William Cody on Campo Bonito. In a letter to Cody, Burgess claims that a man of courage and foresight could find riches in the mining district of Campo Bonito. These were just the words a man like Cody would read with keen attention; his life reflected courage many times over. For a man in the 19th century to start a Wild West Show performing in the east for the first time, foresight was not lacking. Burgess promoted his mine claims with gusto.

Cody was given encouragement by an old friend who was an expert in mining. Buffalo Bill took the encouragement to be sincere. The friend's son, who was a civil engineer, came out to Arizona with his father and was hired on. He wound up pilfering money from the project.

Another associate encouraged Cody to hire a nephew, an Idaho mining engineer. He skimmed money from property deals that were valued too high. In short, relatives of men he trusted wound up being hired which made the original encouragement suspect. It is no secret that mining attempts are expensive, and frequently end up far more expensive than originally thought. It could be that these men were interested only in their relatives getting a job.


Epitaph

Though gold may have eluded him in Arizona, few men could count his successes.

Buffalo Bill Cody returned to the Army as a civilian scout during the Indian wars. After the defeat of Custer at the Little Big Horn, Cody led a charge against a band of Sioux. He killed two enemy, recovered horses and rode after the remaining Indians. For his bravery he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1917, the award was revoked when the military decided to tighten requirements for all of its medals. However, in 1989, upon further review, Cody's family was presented the reinstated medal.

He frequently spoke out about the situation native Americans found themselves in. He was aware of the cultural clashes between American values and the Indian way of life. Cody spoke honestly about what he considered less than fair treatment of Indian Americans.

He was an outspoken authority on native Americans and the West. He was consulted by Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson on matters of the West.

In short, at the turn of the 20th century, he was the most famous American in the world.

Certainly, the following would fit well on William Cody's tombstone:

"A good name is to be more desired than great riches, favor is better than silver and gold (Proverbs 22:1)."


Sources

https://writingcities.com/2017/01/03/buffalo-bill-codys-mines-old-maudina-campo-bonito/, Buffalo Bill Cody's Mines: Old Maudina and Campo Bonito, Andrea Gibbons, January 3, 2017

http://www.experience-az.com/About/arizona/places/campobonito.html, Mining for Gold at Campo Bonito with Buffalo Bill, Robert Zucker, 2011

https://truewestmagazine.com/buffallo-bill-busted/, Buffalo Bill Busted, Janna Bommersbach, July 11, 2017

http://www.copperarea.com/pages/oracle-in-1912-and-the-news/, Oracle in 1912 and the news, John Hernandez, January 12, 2012,

http://speccoll.library.arizona.edu/collections/papers-buffalo-bill, Papers of Buffalo Bill (bulk 1912-1916) AZ 177, William Cody

https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/1651903, Campo Bonito (from Beyond Desert Walls), project muse, Ken Lamberton, March 1, 2005

http://spartacus-educational.com/WWbuffalobill.htm, William Cody (Buffalo Bill) John SImkin, September 1997, Updated August 2014

© 2017 John R Wilsdon

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