Skip to Content

Inside the newsroom: What would Buffalo Bill think of the Women's World Cup win?

FILE - Utah Royals' Kelley O'Hara and Becky Sauerbrunn talk to the media about the United States' victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup and their return to the Royals at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Wednesday, July 17, 2019. Laura Seitz, Deseret News

CODY, Wyoming — Nan Aspinwall never took on France or the Netherlands in the World Cup like America's latest sports heroes just did. She never worked for NASA or crunched the mathematical numbers needed to reach the moon, like Dorothy Vaughan did.

But she, like the female mathematicians who followed decades later, and the women soccer stars who would soar many decades after that, sought recognition for record-breaking performances and had an ally for fair and equal pay in one of the West's most famous Americans, William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill.

Here in Cody, Wyoming, in the heart of the Great Basin, most of the disputes likely were over land and water rights as the area was colonized by early Mormon pioneers. But as they carved out an existence, the battle for the right to vote and for fair wages for women had an early ally to support the sharpshooting women who rode horseback and performed with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, an outdoor extravaganza featuring cowboys, Native Americans, women, horses, wagons and guns.

The show traveled to nearly every state in the nation and over to Europe to give folks a taste of what would soon become a vanishing part of America — the Wild West.

With apologies to Hugh Jackman and P.T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill became the world's greatest showman, playing before royal audiences and wowing Eastern crowds eager to hear and experience the stories that emerged from the West.

Some of those showstoppers were undoubtedly embellished for the good of the show. But he was more than showman. His exploits included a noteworthy career as a scout, eventually being appointed chief of scouts for the 5th Cavalry Regiment and winning the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1872 for his courage and assistance to the military. (The medal would eventually be revoked and then reinstated, but that's a story for another day.)

"If a woman can do the same work that a man can do and do it just as well, she should have the same pay."

You might expect that to be a quote from U.S. Women's National Team co-captain Alex Morgan or one of her mates who are suing U.S. Soccer for equal pay and treatment with the men's team. But they are actually the words of Buffalo Bill who famously threw in his lot for women's suffrage and both supported and capitalized on the talents of women.

You've likely heard of Annie Oakley, who traveled with the show known for her accurate shooting, including trick shots from horseback and using a mirror to hit targets behind her. She made the same pay as the men.

And Calamity Jane is famous, the woman born Martha Jane Canary in 1852. She traveled west as a young girl to Salt Lake City where her father reportedly intended to farm 40 acres, only to die a year after their arrival in 1866. She would eventually head north to Wyoming and became an accomplished woman of the frontier and a professional scout.

It was late in life when she joined Buffalo Bill's show, earning pay equal to the others.

Aspinwall has a different distinction: For a time she was the show's highest paid performer, male or female.

She, too, had a catchy name — Two-Gun Nan — and grew in stature after becoming the first woman to ride solo across the country on horseback. Her journey spanned 180 days in 1910 and 1911.

There on Page 12 of the July 9, 2011, edition of The New York Times rose the headline: "From Sea to Sea Rode Nan in Saddle." Said the reporter: "A travel-stained woman attired in a red shirt and divided skirt and seated on a bay horse drew a crowd to City Hall Park yesterday afternoon."

The paper recorded it as a 3,000 mile journey, but it actually was closer to 4,500 by the time she completed the trip. It would be her claim to fame, spurred on by Buffalo Bill and coming at a time when women didn't do such things, particularly alone.

Remarkably, Aspinwall spanned old and new America, born in 1880 and living until 1964, dying three years after President John F. Kennedy told the world that the United States would strive to reach the moon before the end of that decade. That, of course, was celebrated this weekend with the 50th anniversary of man on the moon.

Cody, Wyoming, is a place where pioneer women are celebrated for their determination and sacrifice. My wife's family helped settle the basin and it was a reunion that brought us here this week to celebrate the exploits of family and those who came with them.

Most who came to the basin, of course, did not become performers. The only pay most enjoyed was the satisfaction of building faith and families from their own sacrifice. And that is the greatest pay.

Yet lessons can be learned from pioneers of all sorts.

"Every year, every month, every day sees new fields opening to women, and it does me good. They deserve what they can get. If a woman (does) the same work a man (does) and just as well, they should have the same pay. I pay the women in my show just as much as I do the men, to be sure I do the square thing."

That expanded quote by William Cody appeared in the Baltimore Sun on April 3, 1898, and now adorns a display at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museums in the town that bears his name.

Inside the newsroom this week we honor the work of all pioneers, on the plains and on the moon.