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Buffalo Bill Dam 'a sight to see' in Wyoming

Posted at 7:30 PM, May 16, 2024

The Buffalo Bill Dam, just outside Cody, Wyoming, was considered an engineering marvel when construction was completed on the dam in 1910.

More than a century later, the dam is still a sight to see as well as an important provider of power and irrigation water for this part of Wyoming.

Called the Shoshone Dam until its name was changed to the Buffalo Bill Dam in 1946 to honor Buffalo Bill Cody, the dam changed the future for this part of Wyoming.

“There was a government direction to get people to come to the West, and to do that, people had to have water so they could farm and survive. So that was the originating thought of building this project,” says Leslie Slater Wilson, general manager for Buffalo Bill Dam Visitors Center.


It was a challenge to build the dam and get supplies to the area when work began in 1905. A lot of the work had to be done by hand with a pickaxe.

“It’s a very interesting story about how the dam was built and the struggles that they encountered back in the day,” Wilson says.

And there were a lot of struggles to be had.

The Shoshone River had to be diverted and a canyon walled off with concrete. Three companies went bankrupt. There were labor shortages and strife. It was hard and dangerous work.

“Seven workers did lose their lives,” Wilson says.

But five years later, the dam was complete. At 325 feet, it was the tallest concrete arch-gravity in the entire world at the time. Later another 25 feet were added to expand water capacity of the dam.

Four generating stations provide small amounts of power, but the main benefit of the dam is to provide irrigation. Water from the dam irrigates more than 93,000 acres of farmland in the Big Horn Basin.

The Buffalo Bill Dam Visitors Center is open May through September and includes a lot of history about the dam and the surrounding area. There is no charge for admission.

Along with being on the National Register of Historic Places, the Buffalo Bill Dam is also listed as a National Civil Engineering landmark.

Click here for more information.