Friday, December 30, 2011

Buffalo Bill Cody

Visited December 2011.  Denver Colorado

This is my most recent grave venture, but I just had to move it to the front of the line.

The legend of Buffalo Bill was created by the man himself. But the facts of his life are legendary enough.

Young Bill Cody
William Frederick Cody was born February 1846 in LeClaire, Iowa Territory. He was raised mostly on the Kansas prairie as the clouds of Civil War began to darken. His father was staunchly anti-slavery – eventually dying from the effect of a knife wound he received when he was attacked while giving an abolition speech. In order to help support his family after his father’s death ‘Willy’ Cody took a job as a scout with the army. Adventure got into his bloodstream early – he set out for the California Gold Rush at age 14, but never made it past Colorado. He mined for gold, drove a stagecoach and claimed to have ridden for the Pony Express, but this has been disputed. He was a Kansas Jayhawker during the ‘Bleeding Kansas’ border wars of the mid 1850’s. During the Civil war he served as a teamster with the Union Army. His post war adventures included being a professional scout, working for the US Army, Indian Tribes and even a Russian Duke on a highly publicized royal hunt. In 1872 Cody won the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in action as a civilian scout in Nebraska.

Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull

Cody acquired the name ‘Buffalo Bill’ for the thousands of buffalo he hunted and killed over the years. But his fame came through his shrewd capitalization on western folklore through the creation of his ‘Buffalo Bill Wild West’ show. This extravaganza of all things western – horses, guns, Indians, outlaws - proved phenomenally successful over decades of performances. Among the major attractions to the show were sharpshooter Annie Oakley and Chief Sitting Bull. In 1887 the show began a triumphant tour of Europe, playing in several major cities. The show overwhelmed the Paris Exhibition of 1889 (playing in the shadow of the brand new Eiffel Tower). While in Europe Buffalo Bill had audiences with Queen Victoria and Pope Leo. The show also drew millions of visitors when it played New York in 1886-87. Many historians hold that, at the turn of the 20th Century, Buffalo Bill was the most recognizable celebrity in the world.


This picture speaks for itself

Later in life Buffalo Bill retired from the show and turned his attention to taming the west through land development and irrigation. He became a successful rancher and businessman, founding the town of Cody, Wyoming. While visiting his sister in Denver, Cody passed away from kidney failure at the age of 71 in January 1917. According to his wife Louisa’s wishes (they had married in 1865) Cody was buried at the top of Lookout Mountain, in the Front Range of the Rockies just west of Denver. It is a tribute to Bill Cody’s life and legend that his death generally marks the end of what is understood as ‘the Old West’. In reporting his death one newspaper editor declared, "He has been more than picturesque; he has been worthwhile.”

Burial of Buffalo Bill in 1917

A number of films have been made about Buffalo Bill over the years.  One of the odder entries is Robert Altman's anti-western "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson" starring Paul Newman in the title role.  Check out the trailer here.

My kids in front of amazingly lifelike Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley
at the Bison Ranch Buffalo Museum in Arizona - Spring of 2004. 

My excursion to Buffalo Bill’s grave was entirely unexpected. In early December 2011 I had the opportunity to preach at Sovereign Grace Church in the Aurora area just southeast of Denver. I spent the evening talking with the Senior Pastor, Mark Alderton, and we got on the topic of things we like to do. I told him about this odd hobby and the blog that follows with it, and he mentioned that Buffalo Bill is the one famous person he knows is buried in the Denver area. I had to catch a plane back to Philly around 4:00 on Sunday. At around 1:30 after the service Mark grabbed me and said ‘I think we can make Buffalo Bill. We jumped in his car and we hightailed it 40 miles up into the front range – careening up the winding road to the top of Lookout Mountain. From the parking lot we dashed up to the top of the mountain to the grave site overlooking a beautiful view of Denver on the plain below. Back in the car we careened down the mountain and drove the fifty miles to the airport. I got through security and made my gate just in time to board the last flight out of Denver to Philadelphia. I think that’s just how Buffalo Bill would have done it himself.

Your Blogger and the intrepid Pastor Mark Alderton at
Buffalo Bill's final resting place.  His Medal of Honor marker is
visible through the fence. 

1 comment:

  1. Really cool post Andy! My great, great grandfather was a Cavalry Scout for General Custer at the Battle for Trevilian Station. I think I would have liked Buffalo Bill much more than Custer. Custer was arrogant. Scouts tend to be less so. My relative was shot and wounded in that battle. He later died after the war when he settled in Clearfield PA. Apparently he and some war buddies lit a shack on fire that they were drinking in.

    Buffalo Bill is one of the men of the old West who became famous in his own time. He was able to balance his fame with the tempering virtue of self control.

    Our relationship with our Lord helps us to stay humble even when we become famous Bloggers like you. Cody became a catholic 24 hours before he died. He told the priest that he had always believed in God, but wanted to die as a catholic. I like to think that a man with tolerance toward native Americans also was a God fearer.