The Spectacle of Buffalo Bill’s Death
Buffalo Bill Cody died on January 10, 1917, and as we mark the centennial of his death in a few days, I’ve been thinking about the continuing controversy about his true burial place. Although he was always the showman in life, I don’t think he would have liked the spectacle surrounding his death. It wasn’t what he wanted.
He died while visiting relatives in Denver, and I guess you can’t really blame the city and its newspaper, The Denver Post, for claiming a piece of the publicity pie by paying his widow for his body and staging an elaborate funeral on the city streets. Thousands of people paid their respects as Buffalo Bill Cody laid in state in the Colorado Capitol.
After the funeral, Buffalo Bill’s body was taken to a Denver mortuary to await the spring thaws for burial in the ground.
Several of Buffalo Bill’s friends were infuriated that Buffalo Bill was going to be buried in Denver instead of on Cedar Mountain overlooking the town he founded as he had wanted. They staged an elaborate switch, brought his body back to Cody and quietly buried him in an unmarked mountaintop grave.
Although Denver insists that the switch never occurred and Buffalo Bill’s body is buried in a tomb under tons of concrete, there are plenty of people who dispute that version of the story, including me. I’ve had to agree to disagree with some of my defensive Denver friends about Buffalo Bill’s true burial place.
If you want to read the story from a neutral source, check out the True West magazine, which recounts the story in the January 2017 issue.
When I hike up Cedar Mountain on January 10, I am certain I’ll be a lot closer to the spirit of Buffalo Bill than those visitors who pay to visit the concrete tomb that Denver claims is his resting place.
From my mountaintop perch near his grave, I’ll be able to see the dam Buffalo Bill built to ensure the city has water, the hotel he built to ensure the town’s visitors have a place to stay and the wide boundaries of Sheridan Avenue that he engineered to ensure easy traffic flow. This is what I think Buffalo Bill’s spirit sees every day. For the most famous man in the world, as Buffalo Bill was during his lifetime, that view seems a lot more fitting than seeing nothing but tons of concrete.
What isn’t disputed, though, is that in life Buffalo Bill Cody was a cagey showman with a talent for publicity along with a civic-mindedness that never goes out of style. On second thought, maybe the author of the True West story is right and he would have enjoyed the spectacle after all.
Until next time, I’m loving life and getting ready for a mountain hike here in Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country.