Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders was one of the most famous touring shows in American history. When Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show toured the Northwoods in 1900, one of his performers fell in love with the area and decided he wanted to call it home.
Gus Bichowski of Woodruff, Wisconsin, is without a doubt one of the more colorful characters who have called the Northwoods home. Bichowski lived an adventurous life, and in his travels met some of the most famous names in the history of the American West. In fact, given Bichowski’s life story, it is surprising that he is not fondly remembered alongside his more famous counterparts.
Gus Bichowski was born in Chicago in 1857. He was a boy of 14 in 1871 when the Great Chicago Fire of that year burned the city to the ground. His family survived, but in 1876, at the age of 19, Bichowski struck out on his own. He traveled to Buffalo, New York, where he joined a traveling medicine show and began hawking Kickapoo and Sagawa Indian tonics to gullible farmers. For the next ten years the medicine show traversed the Midwest and Plains states until 1886 when the group passed through North Platte, Nebraska on its way to Wyoming. Buffalo Bill Cody was building a ranch in North Platte at the time, although Bichowski recalled meeting him in Wyoming. According to Bichowski, he witnessed a fight between Buffalo Bill and a fellow named Thompson. After the fight was over, Bichowski approached Buffalo Bill about a job. Bichowski claimed that because he was a good shot and skilled with animals that Buffalo Bill put him in charge of all the animals in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
Bichowski’s memories are a bit suspect because he also recalled meeting Kit Carson at this time and going into the woods with Carson to capture animals for the show. Kit Carson died in 1868 and never met Bichowski, but Bichowski may have been recollecting a wrangler who portrayed Carson in the Wild West Show because Bichowski officially joined the troupe in 1886.
Gus Bichowski worked with Buffalo Bill for the remainder of the century and was with the Wild West Show on its tours across the United States and Europe. He knew Annie Oakley, Pawnee Bill, and many of the famous characters who performed with Buffalo Bill. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders regaled the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893, and it was at this time that Bichowski got married.
The Chicago Columbian Exposition was among the greatest performances Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show ever gave, but it did not end there. The act continued touring until 1913, and it was during this time, in 1900, that Buffalo Bill came to the Northwoods. Three performances in Green Bay, Rhinelander, and Ashland convinced Bichowski that the Northwoods was an appealing place to live. After the Wild West Show folded, he retired to Chicago and tried his hand as a saloon keeper. Bichowski soon gave it up and by late 1913 moved to a home on Brandy Lake in Woodruff. He worked as a taxidermist and served as a Vilas County Justice of the Peace for a few terms. He died in Tomahawk in 1948.