Close Window

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody (1846 - 1917)

Showman


Sadly, Brother William Cody's grave atop Lookout Mountain, outside Denver, bears no Masonic marking.

From this mountaintop, you could have watched the history of the American West as it rolled past, a nearly unbroken pageant, in the valleys below. For centuries, this place of high solitude looked down on the quiet passing of various peoples moving in harmony with the land and the animals. Explorers speaking Spanish came, followed by rough-edged men of the mountains, seeking only beaver pelts and solitude. From over the eastern horizon came covered wagons, miners, families, and farmers.

A small community popped up on the creek below the mountain. Cherry Creek, the miners called it. Railroads came, bringing more people. Cherry Creek outgrew its village name and replaced it with something much more grand sounding. It became Denver, and it sprawled along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and lapped up the valley and canyons around Lookout Mountain.

Today, you can drive to the top of Lookout Mountain. From its pine-covered summit, you can see the pinnacle of Western development-a great metropolis where once buffalo wandered undisturbed. Watching with you from that mountaintop, perhaps in bemused amazement, is one of the legendary figures of the American West. This marks the gravesite of Col. William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, whose name is synonymous with the excitement and showmanship of Western history. Col. Cody has always been one of my personal heroes. I admire him, even as I recognize a certain amount of Barnum's humbug in his tales. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I do admire him. The Colonel knew my grandmother. Grandmother Boyer was something of a free spirit in her youth, and the arrival of Cody's great Wild West Show in Omaha to kick off the new touring season each year was a special occasion for her.

For those and other reasons, when my business travels took me to Denver recently, I made a side trip up Lookout Mountain. I'd been there as a small boy of five or so with my parents. Somehow, things seemed a good deal smaller this trip. Once you contend with the usual array of cheap gift shops and pseudo museums, you walk up a winding path to the summit. There, surrounded by a low cast-iron fence are the graves of William and Louisa Cody, surmounted by a rounded stone marker with their names on a bronze plaque.

Also on the plaque is the unusual notation that this was the spot where Cody wanted to be buried. This, of course, is not so. It was and remains a myth originally promoted by the owners of the Denver Post, who had a financial interest in Cody's enterprises during his last years. In other words, the Colonel was broke, and the newspaper owners, a couple of history's more accomplished promoters and con men, owned him-lock, stock, and show wagon. But those shabby stories aside, it is Buffalo Bill who is remembered today, not Tammen and Bonfils of the Post.

I enjoyed my brief visit. A few other tourists passed by, but, for the most part, I had the place to myself. I said a short prayer of thanks for Col. Cody and his family and picked up a few small bits of trash. On the back side of the stone marker is another plaque, noting that it was placed there to honor Buffalo Bill by his fellow Elks.

That was when I suddenly realized what I was really looking for and hadn't found. There is no indication anywhere on the site that this is the last resting place of Brother William Cody, Master Mason, Scottish Rite, Knights Templar, and Noble of Tangier Shrine Temple. No mark at all. And the most amazing thing about that is this: his funeral was one of the largest Masonic funerals in American history.

Buffalo Bill (Brother Buffalo?) was called from labor to refreshment on January 10, 1917. He was in Denver at the time. Following a temporary interment, he was buried in a permanent tomb carved in the granite atop Lookout Mountain on June 3, 1917. Services were conducted by Worshipful Master G. W. Parfet of Golden City Lodge No. 1. The eight pallbearers were Brother Templars. Masons came from throughout the West. The procession up Lookout Mountain included 3,000 automobiles.

Wrote one observer, "Everybody attached to the funeral seemed to be Masons. They all wore the white lambskin aprons: the car drivers, the policemen at all the intersections from the mortuary to the west edge of Denver. On the way to Golden and on to Lookout Mountain, there were more Masonic policemen at every major intersection. I don't know where they found so many Masons."

In the 81 years since that Masonic ceremony, it has become popular to debunk historic figures. They did this, they didn't do that. They were only a little great or not really great at all. I don't believe it. I've read all Buffalo Bill's biographies, and I still come to the same conclusion: I wish I had known him. I wish I could have seen his show, watched him ride, talked to him as my grandmother did. I wish I could have shaken his hand in Masonic brotherhood. I wish I could have sat in Lodge with him, with the colorful, flamboyant, wonderful "Buffalo Bill" Cody!

And now I wish his Brothers had remembered to honor his memory with some small mark on top of Lookout Mountain. Here is the history of the West. Freemasonry was an important part of it. The Square and Compasses belong here with one of the Craft's most legendary Brothers.


William H. Boyer is the senior public relations officer of Best Western International, Inc. He is a member of Paradise Valley-Silver Trowel Lodge No. 29, Phoenix, Arizona, and serves as editor of the Lodge's Trestle Board, where this article was originally published. He is a member of the Philalethes Society and writes a regular column in the society's popular magazine. He is a Chevalier of the Order of DeMolay and also a member of the Brotherhood of the Blue Forget-Me-Not and the Scottish Rite Bodies of Phoenix, Arizona. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, he holds the prestigious Accredited Business Communicator (ABC) designation from the International Association of Business Communicators and has earned more than 70 regional and national awards for his writing and editorial work.

William Herbert "Skip" Boyer, 32°
6201 N. 24th Parkway
Phoenix, Arizona 85022
skip.boyer@bestwestern.com