Colorado Legends: Buffalo Bill Cody

Buffalo Bill Cody was born in Iowa in 1846.  Christened William Frederick Cody, he didn’t earn his nickname until later in life.

Oddly enough, Buffalo Bill didn’t have much to do with Colorado except as a pony express rider in Julesburg when he was a teenager.

Other occupations in his early years were cattle drover, wagon driver, and scout.

In his twenties, he became a buffalo hunter for the Kansas railroad. The workers had to be fed, but the severely depleted herds took away food from the Indians.

Bill, along with other scouts and hunting parties were driving the buffalo to extinction.  Ironically, in his later life, Bill helped bring back the buffalo herds from the brink and sought their protection from the government.

Buffalo Bill received his nickname from a writer of dime novels, Ned Buntline.  Mr. Buntline had been visiting the old west and had heard of Bill’s adventures.  So he began writing about him.

Bill Cody didn’t sound very appealing to eastern readers, so he named Bill, Buffalo Bill.  He became a famous old west legend overnight.  People couldn’t get enough of his exploits.

So Bill decided to take his adventures to the theater, where real wild west action could be acted out.  He played to sell-out crowds all over the country.

His wild west show was born on July 4, 1883, in Nebraska, when at a fair, he thought about live-action in an outdoor atmosphere.

Bill put together a group of cowboys and performed acts that fashioned the old west.

The crowd loved it.  He was on his way.  Over the years, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show played to crowned heads all over the world.  Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull joined his group.

On his downtime, Bill built a home in Cody, Wyoming where he could relax and enjoy the natural beauty of that state.  That’s how the town got its name.

His wild-west show continued for decades.  As he grew older, he stayed more at his home in Cody.

Occasionally, he would visit his sister in Denver.  He liked the state of Colorado and spent his time divided between Cody and Denver.

A Mystery Lies Around the Death of Buffalo Bill Cody

Now the controversy and legend kick in. Bill had become ill and his sister convinced him to come to her home so she could take care of him. Buffalo Bill died at his sister’s home in Denver, on January 10, 1917.  When the news hit the papers, telegrams poured in from all over the world.

Bill’s sister said he would be buried on Lookout Mountain overlooking Denver. This didn’t sit well with the townspeople of Cody, Wyoming.  They claimed Bill as their own and wanted him buried there. Some say it was a political action to bring tourist dollars into Colorado. Friends of Bill’s said he had visited Lookout Mountain many times with them and said he wished to be buried there.

The legislation was quickly passed to allow Bill to lie in state at the capitol rotunda in Denver. Buffalo Bill Cody was finally interred on June 3, 1917.  The winter was especially rough that year and heavy snowfalls prevented the burial until the gravesite could be cleared and the great man buried.

After his burial, the authorities were afraid that residents of Cody, Wyoming would steal Bill’s body, so police were stationed to guard the grave. It was also sealed with concrete surrounding it so no one could break-in. A century later, Buffalo Bill Cody’s grave is a big draw to visitors coming to Denver.

My husband and I have visited it many times.  It is a lovely place, quiet and peaceful, overlooking the plains of Colorado and the mountains to the west.

The marker at his grave reads,

In Memoriam. Colonel William Frederick Cody. “Buffalo Bill.”  Noted Scout and Indian Fighter.  Born February 26, 1946, Scott County, Iowa.  Died January 10, 1917, Denver, Colorado.

Another marker states,

At rest here by his request.

Did he actually request to be buried here?  No one really knows.