Buffalo Bill's grandson not only followed in his boot prints as showman, dude rancher, soldier and entrepreneur, he made history of his own. The unpretentious Harvard Law School graduate surrendered the most American troops in Europe during World War II, married more often than the average American, and lectured to more students about their heritage than any of his fellow countrymen. Among his many accomplishments, he learned to downhill ski at 65.
William Cody Garlow was born at the Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte, Nebraska, January 4, 1913. His mother, Irma, (Buffalo Bill’s youngest child) returned to Cody, Wyoming, with her two-week-old son and his older brother Fred and sister Jane. The children were orphaned in 1918 when their parents died two days apart during the influenza epidemic. Their grandfather, William F. Cody, passed away the previous year and his wife Louisa adopted their grandchildren and reared them until her death in 1921.
Bill Garlow was four when his illustrious granddad died. “I remember him distinctly only three times,” he said. “Once at the TE Ranch west of Cody, on his deathbed, and at his funeral on Lookout Mountain.”
Bill and his brother Fred were "installed in a military school" in southern California by their grandmother when they were six and nine. Bill continued his education at the Riverside Military Academy in Georgia, where his grades fluctuated according to the season and he studied six years, instead of four, to graduate. “Periodically I was excellent,” he said, grinning. “And other times I got lousy grades. It all depended on hunting season which started about the same time as school. I had to go hunting first.”
The trim six-footer studied pre-law at the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1936. He then enrolled at Harvard Law School. “Very early in high school I decided to become a lawyer. I visualized justice, equity and all that I wanted to participate in, but when I became a lawyer, I found that it was an entirely different ball game, so I practiced two years and quit.”
Following graduation from Harvard, Garlow enlisted in the army as a reserve commissioned second lieutenant. A platoon leader, he was later promoted to the ranks of captain, company commander and major. In 1944, he was transferred to the 106th Infantry Division and sent to Germany where his troops were caught in the Battle of The Bulge. Surrounded by German artillery troops, Garlow’s 423rd regiment, commanded by Colonel Charles Cavender, was stationed on the Schnee Eifel, attempting to fight its way west to the German town of Schoenberg.
Just before daybreak on December 19, 1944, Cavender gathered his three battalion commanders and staff in a small open field to discuss their next line of action when a German artillery shell fragment killed the officer standing next to Garlow. After the initial volley, American troops assembled to coordinate an attack westward across the hilly Schnee Eifel, but the entire command was caught in the open where artillery fire was inflicting heavy casualties. Colonel Descheneau of the 422nd gathered field officers in a bunker to discuss the graveness of their situation. Food and ammunition supplies had been cut off, and the colonel concluded that the only way to save the lives of the 5,000 men was to surrender.
Garlow volunteered to negotiate the surrender although he and several other men had planned to escape through the woods, with the colonel’s permission. He decided to hand over his gun and borrow white handkerchiefs to wave as he ran an erratic path down the side of the hill into German-held territory. There he was grabbed and stripped of “his most prized possessions.” He spoke no German and was unable to communicate his intent to negotiate a surrender until a young German lieutenant, who spoke English, came to his rescue and ordered his men to return Garlow’s watch, pint of bourbon and candy bars. He was then taken to a major who also spoke fluent English.
John Eisenhower describes the scene that followed in his book, The Bitter Woods:
Turning to the lieutenant [the major] snapped orders in German which Garlow soon learned charged the lieutenant with conducting a patrol of nine or ten men to accompany Garlow back to the American positions. Faced with a tense situation, the young volksgrenedier’s personality instantly changed. He jabbed Garlow in the back with his Schmeisder burp gun. “If this is a trick, Major, you’re dead.” Garlow winced under the painful blow: later turned out his chivalrous enemy had broken two of his ribs. But the lieutenant’s former friendly attitude returned. Keeping Garlow covered, he let the American guide his patrol up the hill to Descheneau’s CP on the Schnee Eiffel, where they found that Descheneau had prepared everything. Weapons were broken . . .
And many American soldiers were in tears. Garlow, therefore, held what he termed “the dubious honor or having negotiated the surrender of the largest number of American soldiers in the European theatre;" surpassed only by the Bataan surrender in 1942. Members of the 422and and Garlow’s 423rd regiments spent the rest of the war in German prison camps and were awarded purple hearts for the frostbite they suffered as a result of their capture. Garlow was also “unofficially shot in the leg.”
Following the war, he returned to “Cody Country” where he practiced law for two years and helped establish the local radio station. He was one of the founders of KODI, later serving as owner-general manager and on-the-air personality. He then moved to Texas where he “got into the oil business,” the drilling end of it. He went broke after a while, he said, because of his preoccupation with “having a good time and chasing girls.” So he once again returned to the town of Cody, where he established a river float business, later run by his son Kit. In 1969, he married for the fifth time.
His first marriage lasted six months. He married again while a law student at Harvard. The union produced four sons: Bill and Jack Garlow and Barry and Kit Carson Cody. He remarried after his sons' mother died, but was divorced after only a couple of years. A fourth marriage also failed, but he remained happily married to his fifth wife Barbara, some forty years his junior, until his death. Together they purchased a rundown guest ranch and established it as one of the most highly rated resorts in Wyoming. Located on ten acres of leased government land, it lay halfway between Cody and the east entrance to Yellowstone Park, adjoining millions of acres of national forest.
He began making public appearances for the Daisy Air Rifle Company in 1968 when a new line was introduced called the “Buffalo Bill.” The promoters insisted that he legally change his name from Bill Cody Garlow to Bill Cody for the television and radio commercials as well as public appearances. “Bill Garlow just wouldn’t do,” he said. “But I may have already been a Cody because my grandmother adopted me. I never thought to check the courthouse records. So with all my marriages and the change in name, I have the Cody family book well fouled up.”
Buffalo Bill’s grandson appeared on some 3,000 television shows, thousands of radio programs and various promotions during the next nine years. He also lectured to junior high and high school students about their “American heritage” while on the road making public appearances. He talked to “more youth in person than any other American” during 1,171 lectures in forty-two states. At the time of the interview, he still had hopes of speaking to students in all fifty states.
He said, “That’s my kind of pony express.”