By RICH GRANT
It sounds like a trick question: Who’s buried in Buffalo Bill’s grave? However, there are some people up in Cody, Wyoming, who would have you believe that the body resting in the beautiful gravesite on top of Lookout Mountain, high above the town of Golden, Colorado, is not really Buffalo Bill Cody. They say Buffalo Bill’s body was switched before it was buried. The mystery goes back a century.
For 100 years, people have been climbing Lookout Mountain to pay homage and respects to Buffalo Bill Cody. So, who was this man? Quite simply, he was the world’s first superstar. In his youth, he was the real deal – an army scout, express rider, buffalo hunter and pioneer. Then, later in his life, from 1883 to 1913, he set out to recreate the romance and thrill of the rapidly changing Old West by staging the world’s first show business tour – a circus-like event that was called “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.” There has never been anything else quite like it.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West performed in more than 1,000 cities in a dozen nations with a cast of 640 cowboys, Indians, vaqueros and rough riders. It took a special train of 52 boxcars to move his show, which included the third-largest buffalo herd on Earth. As a comparison, Beyonce’s recent world tour (considered by many to be the largest modern tour) had just 20 backup dancers and was staged in only 41 cities.
Kings, queens and presidents attended Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and it is estimated that more than 25 million words were written about the famous scout during his lifetime, making his silver goatee, buckskin jacket and wide Stetson hat more recognizable and famous than anyone in the world at the time. When he died in 1917, while visiting his sister in Denver, his body was put on view in the state capitol.
And there began the controversy. He died in January, but could not buried on a frozen mountaintop, as he had requested, until June. The body was stored in what is now Lola’s Restaurant in Denver; it was then a mortuary. In the early 1900s, some people from Wyoming claimed they snuck down, took Buffalo Bill’s body, and replaced it with another body from the mortuary, taking the real body of Bill Cody back to Cody, Wyoming, the town that was named after him.
Unfortunately for this legend, their story is undone by the fact that Bill had an open casket at his burial on top of Lookout Mountain in 1917, with thousands of witnesses paying tribute to the famous scout who they certainly recognized. It was the largest funeral in Colorado history, with hundreds of pioneer automobiles clogging the roads to get to the grave site.
You can get a glimpse of this 19th-century Elvis and his exciting life at the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum. Located just a short walk from his gravesite, the museum has many of his costumes, guns, hats and posters from the show, as well other artifacts from the many people who appeared in his shows, including his close friend, gunfighter Wild Bill Hickock, Chief Sitting Bull, who wiped out Custer at the Little Big Horn, and sharpshooter Annie Oakley.
Kids (and adults) can try on western outfits for Facebook photos, and the view from the museum is perhaps the best in all of Denver, taking in both snowcapped mountains and the Great Plains.
Even better is the drive to the museum up the twisting Lariat Loop Trail. This was one of the first paved scenic roads in Colorado, designed in 1914 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the son of the famed landscape architect who created Central Park in New York. The road snakes, twists and turns, climbing 1,300-feet in 4.3 miles to the 7,379-foot summit of Lookout Mountain.
There are scenic pull-offs all along the road, with dramatic views down into Golden and Clear Creek Valley below.
In Denver, you can even eat like Buffalo Bill at his favorite restaurant, the Buckhorn Exchange.
This authentic saloon, opened by Bill’s friend, Henry H. “Shorty Scout” Zietz, in 1893, was Bill’s favorite watering hole in Denver, and today serves buffalo, elk, quail and even rattlesnake.
Belly up to the same bar Buffalo Bill did and order his favorite drink, apple juice and whiskey. And don’t forget to drop a penny on his grave for luck.
For more information about Buffalo Bill Cody, check out the webpage www.buffalobill.org.