The Mystery of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Two Graves
CODY, Wyo., Nov. 3, 2016 — Most people only get one grave, but William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, always the showman, has two.
Although thousands of people pay to visit Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave on Lookout Mountain just outside of Denver each year, some people in Cody believe the true burial location is an unmarked grave on Cedar Mountain overlooking the town that Buffalo Bill built.
The story of Buffalo Bill’s two graves includes enough intrigue for a full-length movie and involves a bold plan, a middle-of the-night trip to a Denver mortuary, an unlucky ranch hand bearing a likeness to Buffalo Bill and a passionate group of riled-up townspeople in mourning for their beloved town founder.
As the 100th anniversary of Buffalo Bill’s Jan. 10, 1917 death approaches, it is a good time to revisit the mystery of Buffalo Bill’s two graves.
What we know for sure
While visiting relatives in Denver in early 1917, Buffalo Bill Cody died. Soon after, his wife Louisa arrived to claim his body and settle his affairs. While in Denver, Louisa was approached by representatives from the Denver Post newspaper and the city of Denver who offered her $10,000 each to bury Cody in the area where they felt his grave would be a tourist attraction.
Although Bill Cody was at one time regarded as the best-known person in the world and his Wild West Show was incredibly popular and profitable, he was also prone to bad investments and was incredibly generous. As a result, he and his wife were broke when he died, and Louisa accepted this offer.
When Louisa returned to Wyoming and the town of Cody, its residents turned out to greet her with the expectation that she was bringing the town’s founder home to be buried. The townsfolk were shocked and more than a little upset when Louisa informed them that she had sold Cody’s body and that he was to be buried in Denver.
The rest of the story
Among those who were especially unhappy were the town’s undertaker and two of Buffalo Bill’s old friends, Fred Richard and Ned Frost. Buffalo Bill had long ago told his dear friends that he wanted to be buried on Cedar Mountain just outside of town. The vistas from the top of the mountain include the town and surrounding valleys. Buffalo Bill’s three heartbroken friends hatched a plan to travel to Denver to switch bodies and bury Cody on Cedar Mountain. When a local ranch hand died and his body went unclaimed, the three put their plan in motion. After trimming the unfortunate ranch hand’s beard in the Buffalo Bill style, the three loaded the body in the undertaker’s vehicle and drove for two and a half days to Denver.
At Denver’s Olinger Mortuary, the undertaker, Frost and Richard presented themselves as old friends of Cody and asked if they could view his body. After their request was granted, the three returned later that night, switched bodies and left for Wyoming. “All the way home they were convinced that the sheriff in every town they drove through was waiting to arrest them,” says Bob Richard, Fred Richard’s grandson. “Instead, they returned to Cody and quietly buried Buffalo Bill on Cedar Mountain overlooking his town.”
Once they had completed their job, they proceeded to make the rounds to all 13 of Cody’s saloons where they riled up the townsfolk and convinced them they should all go to Denver to bring Buffalo Bill back to be buried where he belonged. A caravan of 100 cars with three to four men in each then left for Denver. In Denver, meanwhile, the locals heard about the plan to retrieve Cody’s body, and they hurriedly and unsuspectingly buried the ranch hand’s body on Lookout Mountain even though permission to do so at the site had not been granted. For good measure, 20 tons of concrete was poured on top of the casket.
The caravan was met by law enforcement officials who convinced the disheartened townspeople to return home since the retrieval of the body was now impossible. They complied without incident, deeply saddened that their friend and leader would never get his wish.
Buffalo Bill’s friends quietly told others about the showman’s true resting place, although they closely guarded the exact location. Except to say that it has an expansive view of Cody, just as Buffalo Bill would have wanted.
Or so the story goes.
Yellowstone Country is comprised of the towns of Cody, Powell and Meeteetse as well as the valley east of Yellowstone National Park.
The area of Park County is called “Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country” because it was the playground of Buffalo Bill Cody himself. Buffalo Bill founded the town of Cody in 1896, and the entire region was driven and is still heavily influenced by the vision of the Colonel. Today its broad streets, world-class museum Buffalo Bill Center of the West and thriving western culture host nearly 1 million visitors annually.
The Park County Travel Council website lists information about vacation packages, special events, guide services, weather and more. Travelers wishing to arrange vacation can also call the Park County Travel Council at 1-800-393-2639 or connect with Cody on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.