Having lived at almost sea level with either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean in my backyard for the first 40 years of my life, the ocean doesn’t have the draw for me that the rugged Wild West does at elevations that hint so brazenly of the connection between heaven and earth.
When Jim and I discovered the Buffalo Bill gravesite and museum were just outside Golden, Colorado at the top of Lookout Mountain, we jumped at the chance to learn more about the man behind the myth. After all, isn’t his face on the buffalo nickel?
William “Buffalo Bill” Cody embraced the rugged life and this unforgiving land at the tender age of 11 following the death of his father, a Canadian-born Quaker whose anti-slavery views ultimately cost him his life. OMG! Eleven!
Buffalo Bill earned his nickname after the American Civil War when he was just 21. He was contracted to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat. During an eighteen month period spanning 1867-1868, he was credited with killing 4280 American bison. Holy
cow! I mean bison! Those railroad workers were a hungry bunch.
Jimmy and I wandered through Buffalo Bill’s Museum, True West Magazine’s museum of the year in 2011, for about an hour; we soaked up over 3,000 square feet of history and rare artifacts: Cody's saddles, guns, show outfits, posters and artifacts; the peace pipe and headdress that belonged to Sitting Bull.
Annie Oakley was a regular with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show for 13 years, as was her husband, Frank Butler. She was a better sharpshooter than many of her male counterparts.
Cody was master of an untamed frontier. On a clear day, from the top of Lookout Mountain, he can still see the plains he loved.
Ten Things You Might Not Know About Buffalo Bill
1. “Willie” as he was called by his family, was the fourth of 8 children born to Isaac and Mary Cody. By his own admission, William Cody managed to “familiarize myself with the letters of
the alphabet” before a sudden love for skiff-riding on the Mississippi River arrested any future progress.
2. Buffalo Bill’s boyhood home of Le Claire, Iowa has traveled almost as extensively as Cody did. The home was moved 1200 miles west to Cody, Wyoming in 1933 and then moved again in 1947 approximately 2 more miles across the Shoshone River in Cody, Wyoming to a location adjacent to the 20-year-old Buffalo Bill Memorial. The then 129-year-old house was moved a third time in 1969 when the Buffalo Bill Memorial was sold and moved a few yards south as a completely refurbished addition to the new Buffalo Bill Historical Museum. In 1970, a fourth move placed the home inside the historical grounds in the Greever Garden area where the landscape now resembles the Iowa farmland surrounding Cody’s boyhood home.
3. Cody was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872 for “gallantry in action” while serving as a civilian scout for the 3rd Calvary Regiment. When the U.S. Army revised the standard for awards in 1917, Cody’s medal was one of 911 removed from the rolls of previously awarded medals. His award was reinstated in June, 1989 along with 4 other medals awarded to civilian scouts.
4. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show had a successful 30-year run, including 8 European tours to 12 countries: Great Britain, Germany, France, Austria, Belgium, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Bohemia (Czech Republic), Spain and Italy. His show is credited with laying the groundwork for today’s modern rodeo.
5. Among the dignitaries Buffalo Bill Cody performed for and/or met during his European tours was the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, Queen Victoria, Keiser Wilhelm II, future King George V and Pope Leo XIII.
6. Buffalo Bill Cody was one of the founders of the town Cody, Wyoming, where he is credited with establishing several National Historic sites, including the Irma Hotel (named after his daughter) and the TE Ranch that originally comprised 8,000 acres of land and a herd of cattle numbering 1,000.
7. Buffalo Bill made his stage debut in 1872 in Chicago in Ned Buntline’s Wild West production, The Scouts of the Prairie. A year later Wild Bill Hickok joined the troupe and toured with Buffalo Bill for ten years before Buffalo Bill opened his own show called Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.
8. Cody was a Knight Templar with the Freemasons Platte Valley Lodge No. 32 in North Platte,
Nebraska, receiving his 32nd degree in Scottish Rite Masonry in 1894.
9. Buffalo Bill was an advocate for women’s rights from equal pay to the right to vote. His respect for American Indians despite his early adversarial role was well documented in his treatment of those American Indians involved in his Wild West Show, including Sitting Bull and Short Bull.
10. In 1958, Cody was inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Bottom Line on Buffalo Bill Museum and Gravesite
Verdict: If you’re a baby boomer into western legends, you won’t want to miss this museum owned and operated by the city and county of Denver under the auspices of Denver Parks and Recreation. Several interactive exhibits are designed to keep kids entertained. Family guides are also available for downloading prior to visiting the actual museum. The depth of artifacts and information is substantial. The price of admission was very reasonable.
How to Get There: From Denver take I-70 W. to exit 256. Turn right at the top of the ramp, and then take an immediate left. Follow this road to Lookout Mountain Road. Turn right and travel approximately 4 miles. The Museum will be on your left following an open park and picnic area.
Insider Information: Dress in layers. The elevation at the top of Lookout Mountain is 7,582 feet, which often equates to chillier temperatures than those at lower elevations. Any time you travel in Colorado you should carry plenty of bottled water. Be alert for bicyclists on Lookout Mountain Road. Be sure not to miss the Observation Deck to the left of the actual
Museum. On a clear day the views of Golden as well as Denver are spectacular.
Nearby Food: The Pahaska Tepee Café inside the gift shop offers a full grill featuring the usual fast food options and taste, including buffalo entrees, burgers, ice cream and homemade fudge. Picnic tables and grills are available at Lookout Mountain Park, located at the base of the Museum entrance.