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Cody History

*  On the northern edge of modern-day Cody, Wyoming, there flows the Shoshone River

– and where it flows west of town, there wafts a strong smell of . . . rotten eggs?  This is the area known to history as “Colter’s Hell”, from the vivid descriptions of early mountain man and explorer John Colter, who first recorded his impressions of this area from his solo explorations apart from the Lewis & Clark Expedition, in 1807.  The river rolls through a volcanically active region, with the smell coming from the sulphurous emissions of steam vents and a mineral spring that actually comes up into the river. The smell led to the early naming of the river by area Indians as the Stinking Water River.  The river appears as such on several early area maps.

The Crow Indians had, for many years, been frequent visitors to the Stinking Water.  Around 1860, the tribe had established a permanent camp for the sick, and they welcomed members of other tribes, although there was a strict policy of “checking all weapons at the door,” so to speak!   There are many tales told of animals bathing injured limbs in the warm waters of the springs and of various tribes visiting the area before the coming of the white man all but eliminated a tribal presence from the area.  The name was changed to the Shoshone River, in 1901 by the Wyoming State Legistlature – no doubt to enhance the image of the place!

*  The town of Cody was founded in 1896 by a group of business men/investors headed by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

While visiting Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1894, Cody’s son-in-law Horace Boal gave him a close look at this area from the top of the Big Horn Mountains which are located on the eastern side of the Basin, and asked him to join a group of Sheridan businessmen were already interested in founding a town here.  Buffalo Bill saw the beauty of the region, its proximity to Yellowstone National Park, which was already attracting tourists, the abundance of game and fish, and the available land for ranching and farming. The only major thing missing was sufficient water to enable ranchers and farmers to make a living as this is high desert country. The Shoshone River did run through the area, however, which meant there was potential for bringing more water to the land. By 1895, the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company was formed, made up of George T. Beck, William F. Cody, Nate Salsbury, Harry Gerrans, Bronson Rumsey, Horace Alger, and George Bleistein. That year an initial town site was laid out near DeMaris Hot Springs, a mile west of present-day Cody. Beck did not like the location or the fact that a great deal of the land was already owned by Charles DeMaris, for whom the Hot Springs are named, and began looking at other possibilities to the east. With that in mind, in the fall of 1895 work began on building the Cody Canal which would carry water from the Southfork of the Shoshone River east to the town. In May, 1896 Beck and surveyor Charles Hayden laid out the town at its present location.

*  The Colonel, as the townspeople usually referred to him early on, invested a great deal of money in the birth of the town.

George Beck was the town founder who lived here and oversaw its ups and downs. The Burlington railroad, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska, was interested in building a spur line to Cody from Toluca, Montana, which was on the line running from Billings, Montana to southern Wyoming. In order to make sure that the Cody did become the terminus of the line, the Shoshone Land and Irrigation Company sold the majority of the town lots to the railroad company, and dropped the “Land” from their company name. An attempt at publishing a newspaper was made in 1896 called the Shoshone Valley News, but it only lasted a short while. The first edition of the Cody Enterprise was published in 1899 and is still publishing today. The town of Cody was incorporated in 1901, the same year that the Chicago, Burlington. & Quincy railroad arrived on the north side of the river. In 1909, Park County was separated from Big Horn County by the Wyoming State Legislature and Cody was named the county seat.

*  Everything changes . . .

Both the building of the Buffalo Bill Dam, with its flooding of the small community of Marquette in 1910, and the Yellowstone earthquake of 1959 affected the geothermal features of Colter’s Hell and strength of the DeMaris Hot Springs.  Used first by the Indians, many generations of Cody families enjoyed swimming in the warm waters of the springs and remember the site fondly, even though it is no longer a health attraction.