At the turn of the 20th century, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, famed showman of the American West, began planning a massive irrigation project in northeastern Wyoming, which he hoped would transform the arid landscape into productive farmlands. He also envisioned harnessing the Shoshone River to create a “great power plant to turn the wheels of industry.” Unable to raise the enormous sums needed to construct the diversion dam and irrigation canals, Cody’s project failed. Farmers rejoiced, however, when the U.S. Reclamation Service, today’s Bureau of Reclamation, agreed to revive and complete the “Shoshone Project.” Reclamation engineers saw the steep-walled canyon of the Shoshone River near the town of Cody, Wyoming, as the perfect site for a new dam. When completed in 1910, the Shoshone Dam, later renamed Buffalo Bill Dam, stood at a record 325 feet.
The dam’s great height created a massive reservoir of water for irrigation. But Reclamation envisioned a second way to make use of the stored water—hydroelectricity. In 1922, the Shoshone Powerplant was completed just downstream from the dam, and its hydroelectricity immediately benefited the Shoshone Project. The power fueled construction for another Project dam, and excess power was sold to the nearby towns, including Powell. In the spring of 1922, the Powell Tribune announced that “Powell has now become an electrical town.” Irrigation transformed the region, and the modern benefits of electricity in rural Wyoming boosted settlement and economic development, just as Buffalo Bill Cody envisioned. Today, the Shoshone Powerplant is one of four powerplants on the Shoshone Project, which together generate more than 30,000 kW of power, enough to light a small town.