GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) – This year marks the 155th anniversary of Buffalo Bill’s birth. He’s buried on Lookout Mountain. Many people in Denver probably really don’t know what a big deal William F. Cody was. His Wild West show brought America to the world.
As if by magic, Buffalo Bill lives on. There’s a recording, possibly made by Thomas Edison, of the famous showman announcing the Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World show.
Archival film footage shows what live audiences world-wide witnessed over a span of three decades during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, perhaps more than anything else, forged a romantic image of the settling of the American West that survives to this day. Buffalo Bill Cody just may have been the world’s first media super star.
“I like to tell people that Buffalo Bill was bigger than Elvis,” Steve Friesen said.
Friesen is director of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave on Lookout Mountain above Golden.
“He was part of that Wild West period and then he took that out and promoted it and used the media,” Friesen said. “He was the right person at the right time at the right place.”
But Buffalo Bill was more than that — he lived the Old West. He first came to Colorado during the gold rush of 1859. He was a buffalo hunter and at the museum is the last buffalo he ever killed. He worked for the Pony Express; he was an Indian fighter as the United States conquered the continent. Cody always seemed to understand the importance of the national story.
“One of things most people don’t realize is 10 years before Cody started his Wild West show, he had a stage show and he appeared at places like Central City, he performed at the Central City Opera House.”
By the end of the run for the Wild West show, Buffalo Bill was one of the most famous people in the world. While visiting his sister in Denver, he died on Jan. 10, 1917. His death was treated as if he was a head of state.
“When they held his funeral in Denver, first his body laid in state in the state Capitol. Twenty-five thousand people came to see Buffalo Bill’s body during that time,” Friesen said. “We have photographs of people lining the streets of Denver watching the caisson that bore the casket to the Elks Lodge where they held the funeral.
“They waited until springtime to bury him here on Lookout Mountain, where he had asked to be buried. And 20,000 people then came to the burial ceremony on Lookout Mountain … even Theodore Roosevelt said that Buffalo Bill most appropriately should be buried outside of Denver because Denver was a place where the entire United States could come, and Buffalo Bill was indeed a man of America.”
It seems as if new information is always being released about Buffalo Bill. Those going to the museum should be sure to check out a new exhibit that just opened.
“This exhibit deals with the precious papers associated with Buffalo Bill’s life.”
There’s a letter that was written by Buffalo Bill about mothers. He wrote, “God bless our mothers,” and he says that if was not for his mother, he could very well have died by some of the difficult characters that he got involved with as a young man.
There’s also a letter from a big fan that reads, “Like every little boy, and everybody else, I think your show is the greatest thing in the world.” It’s signed “give my love to each Indian and cowboy.”
Find out much more about Buffalo Bill by logging on to the museum’s website at BuffaloBill.org, or give them a call at (303) 526-0747.
Get to the museum by taking Interstate 70 west out of Denver to the Lookout Mountain exit just past Morrison. Follow signs up Lookout Mountain Road to the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave.
Look for Friesen’s new book called “Buffalo Bill: Scout, Showman, Visionary.” It’s available at the museum or at area bookstores.