Wyoming’s not alone—Colorado remembers Cody, too.
West of Denver, atop Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado, the spirit of William Frederick Cody can gaze over the mountains and plains the famed scout and showman spent his life roaming and celebrating. There, the never-forgotten Buffalo Bill occupies a grave with a view beside a museum that delights even casual fans of the frontier days, with archives that appeal to researchers.
The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave revels in the life and legacy of America’s foremost Wild West icon. If the Buffalo Bill Historic Center in Cody, Wyo., is the brain center of Buffalo Bill country, this lofty location is its heart. By some accounts (supported by documents in the museum’s archives), Cody asked to be buried atop Lookout Mountain. His wife, Louisa, made the arrangements in June 1917, and four years later she was laid to rest beside him.
The idea for a museum originated with Cody’s foster son Johnny Baker, who had performed as a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and later served as the arena director during the entertainer’s worldwide tours. After Cody’s death from kidney failure on January 10, 1917, Baker came into possession of most of Cody’s personal effects—boots, gloves, hats (including the one Bill wore at his last public performance, on November 11, 1916), show jackets and buckskins, silver-mounted saddles, bridles and guns. Baker also inherited the last cartridge Cody ever fired, the coin he hit with that shot, the head of the last buffalo Cody shot, a lock of Cody’s hair and the receipt for the last earnings Buffalo Bill had collected with his show.
These possessions became the centerpiece of Baker’s tribute to the legendary man who had taught him so much. Cody’s burial site was already drawing many visitors when, in 1921, in conjunction with the city and county of Denver, Baker opened the nearby Pahaska Tepee (Pahaska—Sioux for “long hair”—was Cody’s Indian name, given him by Lakota Chief Spotted Tail) to house Buffalo Bill exhibits. Museum officials directed construction of a second building in 1979 for the artifacts, while the Pahaska Tepee became a gift shop and restaurant.
The museum features a timeline of Cody’s life, with in-depth text panels that provide visitors with a wealth of information. His first revolver and a bowie knife are on display. After covering his childhood, the exhibit moves on to his years as a frontier Army scout, showcasing many six-shooters and rifles, including an 1866 Springfield rifle— although not Cody’s beloved “Lucretia Borgia,” which museum director Steve Friesen says is displayed at that Buffalo Bill hot spot farther north. This rifle is reportedly Cody’s second Springfield. It shows signs of wear, with some broken parts replaced backward in the 1960s.
Indians played a big role in Cody’s life, of course. One panel deals with the Battle of Summit Springs (near modern-day Sterling, Colo.), where Cody claimed to have killed Cheyenne Chief Tall Bull with a “large Bowie knife.” Another panel recounts how Bill killed and scalped the Cheyenne Yellow Hair. For years that scalp was on display at the Pahaska Tepee. According to Friesen, the gruesome war trophy is now tucked away in Cody, but the Buffalo Bill Museum houses other relics and maps from the event. After the Indian wars, Cody became a friend and advocate of Indians. Photos document his friendship with Lakota Chief Iron Tail, one of the models for the Indian Head nickel. Also on display are a headdress and a bow and arrows belonging to Sitting Bull, who performed briefly with Cody’s Wild West.
The museum chronicles those showbiz years, offering film footage and many promotional posters for the Wild West, which took the country by storm in 1883. A short uphill stroll from the museum is Buffalo Bill’s picturesque burial site. Photos from the funeral, which was held six months after his death due to frozen ground atop Lookout Mountain, reveal a somber, open-casket ceremony. Buffalo Bill aficionados still debate whether Cody should really be buried in Cody, Wyo. But that needn’t distract from the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave, whose proximity (30-minute drive) to Denver makes it a favorite stop for both Cody fans and more general tourists.
The museum, at 9871⁄2 Lookout Mountain Road in Golden, is open year-round. For hours, admission prices and other information, call 303-526-0744 or visit www.buffalobill.org.
Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.