Buffalo Bill is buried on Lookout Mountain, west of Denver, and the Buffalo Bill Grave and Museum attract fans of the Old West from all over the world.
‘Buffalo Bill was the Elvis of his day,’ a Denver friend of mine told me when I was wondering whether I really wanted to drive out to see his grave, just off I-70 west of Denver. ‘Just think about it,’ he insisted. ‘He was the world’s first superstar. He toured the globe giving shows, and was probably the first person ever to do that.’
I was left in no doubt about Buffalo Bill’s worldwide fame when I arrived at the Buffalo Bill Museum. Guides to the museum were printed in no less than 18 languages, including Greek, Thai, Polish and Korean.
It was Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show which toured the world and made him famous. It visited the unlikeliest destinations, such as Manchester in England, a grimy industrial city. Nevertheless, some of the show’s performers were so attracted by these ‘exotic’ venues that they left the show and settled down. Even today there are descendants of Native Americans who talk with the accents of Northern England..
The museum taught me lots of unusual facts about this western legend, many of them quite surprising. For instance, Buffalo Bill was one of the first people to start using the term ‘Native Americans.’ He disliked the word ‘Indians’ and insisted that these people were native inhabitants of this land and deserved equal rights and fair treatment. This was not a popular attitude at the time.
It is also a misconception that Buffalo Bill helped rid the west of the vast buffalo herds that once roamed the plains. Although he hunted buffalo, he did not kill them in such vast numbers, and, like the Native American people, he hunted them for a purpose, not simply as a sport. Ironically, just across the Interstate from where Buffalo Bill is buried can be found some of the remaining descendants of the last wild buffalo herd in the USA. This last herd lived in Southern Colorado, and they were rounded up and taken to Yellowstone. From here some were returned to Denver, to divide the herd and increase the chances of survival.
But it isn’t just the life of Buffalo Bill that is celebrated here at Lookout Mountain. Other legends of the Old West have their place here too, with artifacts that help you picture them very much as real people. There’s a letter that Billy the Kid wrote on Feb 2, 1881, to New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace: I ask to see you once more. Time is passing. Yours Respct. W.H.Bonney. There’s also a target pistol presented by Annie Oakley to Billy the Kid, Jesse James’s rifle, Wyatt Earp’s hat and gambling box, Kit Carson’s compass, Annie Oakley’s rifle, Calamity Jane’s buckskin jacket, and Doc Holliday’s business card.
Above the Museum a short path winds up to Buffalo Bill’s Grave, a peaceful final resting place for such a fascinating character. It made me go right back to the gift shop and buy a biography of this Old West legend, to help separate the truth from the fiction. A notice on the museum wall, in the exhibition about the myth and reality of these old west characters, says: ‘Sometimes heroism and villainy are a matter of perspective.’
Read about Buffalo Bill’s old hangout, and the Buffalo Bill Lookalike Contest at Denver’s Buckhorn Exchange by clicking here.