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The grave atop Lookout Mountain in Golden where Buffalo Bill may (or may not) be buried. —Image courtesy of Billy Hathorn, via Wikimedia Commons

Only in Colorado: Buffalo Bill’s Grave

The gravesite of the icon of the American West is in Golden—or is it?

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In 1917, according to his wishes, the body of William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was laid to rest in a spectacular setting atop Golden’s Lookout Mountain. In a remarkable tribute, tens of thousands of mourners journeyed up the steep slopes to pay their respects to this beloved icon of the American West.

But is the body of the celebrated buffalo-hunter-turned-showman actually buried in Wyoming?

Conspiracy theories on Buffalo Bill’s final resting place abound. When Cody died in January 1917, the ground was reportedly too frozen to bury him. His funeral and the procession were thus postponed until early June.

Meanwhile, skeptics say that several of Cody’s friends snuck into the mortuary and swapped his body with that of a unknown man, bribed the mortician to make him look more like Cody, and buried the real remains atop Cedar Mountain, just outside of Cody, Wyoming, the town Buffalo Bill helped found and that still bears his name.

Born in 1846 on a farm outside Le Claire, Iowa, Cody lived a life of adventure that has captivated people for over a century. After leaving home at the age of 11, he worked as a “boy extra” with a freight carrier, herded cattle, prospected for gold, and became a Pony Express rider—all by the age of 15. During the Civil War, he served as a “teamster” (a person who drove a team of draft animals) for the 7th Kansas Cavalry, before becoming a scout for the Third Cavalry during the Plains War. He also supposedly operated a hotel and hunted buffalo, purportedly earning his famous nickname after winning a spirited buffalo-killing contest.

In 1883, after acting in several western-style events, Cody founded his own touring acts titled, “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.” These shows were huge outdoor spectacles that began with a horseback parade, included demonstrations of roping, bronco riding, and sharpshooting, and ultimately portrayed a highly romanticized vision of the West (think: outlaws, American Indians, and train robberies) to adoring audiences across the U.S. and Europe.

Buffalo Bill first traveled through Colorado seeking gold in 1859, then returned many times to perform at opera houses in Denver, Georgetown, and Central City. All told, he performed 35 times in Colorado between 1886 and 1916. At the age of 71, he died of kidney failure while visiting his sister’s home in Denver.

The citizens of Cody, as well as the Wyoming Legislature, expected that Buffalo Bill would be buried there, and they were shocked and dismayed to learn he would instead be buried on Lookout Mountain, according to Cody’s Buffalo Bill Center of the West website. Here is where the Buffalo Bill’s story forks. Some blamed Harry Tammen, then-publisher of The Denver Post, and other rich Denverites for bribing Cody’s wife, Louisa, into burying him in Colorado. Others claim that close friends of Cody, as well as the priest who administered his last rites the day before his death, said that he always wanted to be buried on Lookout Mountain.

People take these things seriously. In 1948, the simmering controversy became so heated that members of Cody’s American Legion post offered a reward to anyone who could steal Cody’s body back. Denver took the threat seriously, temporarily calling out the Colorado National Guard to safeguard the grave.

So are the remains of this famed adventurer and entertainer in Colorado or Wyoming? Regardless of where Buffalo Bill is truly buried, it’s stories like these that make the stuff of legends.

Visit: Located atop Golden’s Lookout Mountain, the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave are open to the public daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 1 to October 31, and Tuesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year. 303-526-0744

(Read more from our “Only in Colorado” series)

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