Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Buffalo Bill's Grave and Museum - a Denver Treasure worth visiting

So when was the last time you visited the Buffalo Bill Museum? Is it something you recommend to your out of town friends or family when they come to visit? Did you even know that Denver has a Buffalo Bill Museum and that the westerner and showman is buried there?

This is one of Denver’s great treasures and while visitors from all over the world visit the museum and gravesite, many local Denver residents are not even aware that it exists.

William Cody “Buffalo Bill” got his nickname as the result of having a contract with the Kansas Pacific Railroad to provide buffalo meat to the crews building the railroad (what is now the Union Pacific). He was paid the rather sizable sum for the time of $500 a month. This ditty regarding Buffalo Bill was penned by an unknown railroad worker:

Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Bill
Never misses, never will
Always aims to shoot and kill
And the company pays his buffalo bill.

He was born in Iowa in 1846 and spent his life as a soldier, scout and showman creating his world-famous Wild West Show. He died in Denver in 1917. The funeral and procession was huge, 20,000 people attended the open casket funeral.

His wife Louisa said that he had always wanted to be buried on Lookout Mountain, west of Denver and that is where he is buried and is the site of the museum. The burial site was and is controversial as the town of Cody Wyoming (which Buffalo Bill founded) claimed that he should be buried there. In 1948, the Cody chapter of the American Legion offered a reward for ‘the return of the body’. The Denver chapter of the American Legion then posted a 24 hour guard on the grave. Eventually, the grave was sunk deeper into the mountain and covered with five tons of scrap metal and concrete to dissuade grave robbers.

Louisa died in 1921 and was buried in the same grave and on top of Buffalo Bill. It is said that she wanted to be buried on top of him to keep him from ‘gallivanting’ around. Apparently Bill was prone to gallivanting. He had tried to divorce Louisa in 1905, accusing her of trying to poison him. The divorce was not granted - the Judge didn't think the poisoning allegations was true. But during the trial a lot came out about Bill’s philandering. Despite all this, Louisa still wanted to be buried with him.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was one of the great attractions in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It toured throughout Europe and the United States beginning in 1883 and lasting thirty years.

The museum and gravesite are actually part of the City of Denver’s Mountain Park system. The Museum’s core collection contains Cody’s last saddle, his Wild West Show outfit, and other personal, “favorite” items that he owned at the time of his death including his favorite portrait and favorite saddle.

The Museum also has one of the largest, if not the largest collections of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show promotional materials, including lithographs and programs. There is also a large collection of firearms.

The Museum also has a significant Native American collection including the headdresses of three important Sioux leaders: Sitting Bull, Iron Tail (he was used as the model for the Indian Head/Buffalo nickel), and Short Bull. Part of Sitting Bull’s peace pipe is also on display.

The gravesite and Museum (and of course the nearby Bison heard) on Lookout Mountain are consistently in the top-ten paid attractions in the Denver metro area. So, if you’re local and you haven’t, or even if you have; or if you are visiting and looking for something special, drive the short twelve miles west of downtown Denver on I-70 to Lookout Mountain. Enjoy the museum, the gravesite and the spectacular view east to Denver’s skyline and the Great plains beyond.

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