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In 1877, William Frederick Cody, an army scout at a remote frontier post, and a longtime friend of the Cheyenne Indians, is riding one day when he sees a wagon being attacked by a group of Indians. After rescuing the endangered party, which consists of cavalry sergeant Chips McGraw, Senator Frederici and his daughter Louisa and businessman Murdo Carvell, Bill explains to the senator that the drunken Indians meant no real harm. Later, Louisa invites Bill to a dinner party at her home near the fort, much to the despair of Dawn Starlight, a Cheyenne schoolteacher who is in love with Bill. The dinner is interrupted by Chips, who has brought Yellow Hand, the son of Cheyenne chief Tall Bull, to discuss industrialist Schyler Vandevere's plan to build a railroad line through Cheyenne land. Despite Yellow Hand's warning that it will cause war, Vandevere insists he is going through with his project. Journalist Ned Buntline, another guest, is enthusiastic about covering an Indian war, but Bill fears a tragic result. Vandevere begins his construction, and the Cheyenne, led by Yellow Hand, the war chief, begin a campaign of destruction. Dawn Starlight, who is Yellow Hand's sister, sends him word that if he takes Frederici hostage, he can obtain greater peace terms. Frederici is captured, but Bill negotiates for his release, and soon after, a peace treaty is signed. Ned then returns to the East after telling Bill of his intentions to write about him. Louisa, who has fallen in love with Bill, coaxes the shy scout to propose to her, and they are married. Two years pass as Bill and Louisa enjoy a quiet life. One day, the senator brings news that he and Vandevere have started a company dealing in buffalo robes. Bill agrees to direct the operation but is sickened by the slaughter of the buffalo. Bill's anxiety is temporarily forgotten, however, when Louisa announces that she is pregnant. Meanwhile, Yellow Hand meets with Sioux war chief Crazy Horse, and they declare war on the white man for destroying the buffalo, which are their main food source. While the Indians attack in the North, where there are fewer soldiers, Louisa goes into labor as she and Bill are returning to the fort. Soon Bill is presented with a son, whom he names Kit Carson Cody. Upon their arrival at the fort, Bill and Louisa learn that the Sioux have beaten General George Custer's forces, and General Blazier urges Bill to join the Army. Louisa warns Bill that she will take Kit East if he leaves, but Bill feels compelled to accompany the Army. Bill subverts the general's orders, however, so that the leading group of cavalry meets Yellow Hand's forces at War Bonnet Gorge. There, Bill kills Yellow Hand in hand-to-hand combat, and when the Army reinforcements arrive, the Indians are beaten in a bloody battle, during which Dawn Starlight is killed. Despite his despair over the battle, Bill agrees to go to Washington, D.C., where he is to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroic actions. During the journey, Bill is surprised to learn that Ned's publications about the exploits of "Buffalo Bill" have made him a celebrity. Once in Washington, however, Bill learns that Kit is seriously ill. Bill rushes to Louisa's house, but the child has already died from diphtheria. Grief-stricken, Bill lashes out at Vandevere and other industrialists, accusing them of persecuting the Indians for their own gain. Powerful political forces then align against Bill and ruin his reputation through slander. Penniless, Bill wanders the streets until his sharpshooting at an arcade catches the eye of Sherman, a sideshow owner. Sherman hires Bill as part of his show, and when Louisa finally decides to locate her husband, she finds Bill in the humiliating job. The couple reconcile, but Bill decides that he cannot go home because of the way he has treated the Indians. One afternoon, Ned overhears Bill telling some children that Indian children are just like them, and he convinces Bill to start a rodeo show during which he and his Indian friends can demonstrate their skills. Soon Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show has become a success, and as the years pass, Bill travels throughout the world, performing for royalty, heads of state and adoring youngsters. Years later, after his final performance, Bill thanks his fans and announces that he is retiring so that he and Louisa can return to the West.