He was educated at River Falls, Wisconsin, moved to Wyoming Territory, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1876.
He began early to contribute humorous sketches to the newspapers, using the pen name of "Bill Nye" after a character in a famous poem by Bret Harte popularly known as "The Heathen Chinee". He was connected with various western journals, and afterward settled in New York City. The Boomerang was founded while Nye was the postmaster of Laramie City, Wyoming Territory.
lieutenant launched him to national fame, gaining subscribers in every state and some foreign countries.
His humor was uniquely American. In 1892, he wrote in The Century Magazine:
There is a grim and ghastly humor -- the humor that is born of a pathetic philosophy -- which now and then strikes me in reading the bright and keen-witted work of our American paragraphers.
lieutenant is a humor that may be crystallized by hunger and sorrow and tears. lieutenant is not found elsewhere as it is in America.
lieutenant is out of the question in England, because an Englishman cannot poke fun at himself.
He cannot joke about an empty flour-barrel. We can: especially if by doing it we may swap the joke for another barrel of flour. We can never be a nation of snobs so long as we are willing to poke fun at ourselves.
Some of his works include Bill Nye"s Comic History of the United States, Baled Hay, Remarks, Bill Nye and Boomerang, Bill Nye"s History of England, and Bill Nye"s Red Book.
Late in his career, he was briefly associated with James Whitcomb Riley with whom he wrote two books They also appeared together on the lecture circuit.
He also travelled and lectured with Luther Burbank. He died of meningitis in Arden, North Carolina.
He is buried in Calvary Episcopal Churchyard in Fletcher, Henderson County, North Carolina.
A historical marker honoring him is located in Saint Croix County, Wisconsin, between the towns of Roberts and River Falls, and a second is located in Fletcher, North Carolina. A small monument marks his birthplace in Shirley, Maine.