Originally published June 22, 2009
All Buffalo Bill Cody wanted at the end of his life was a tomb with a view, and boy, did he get one. And he probably would have appreciated that pun as well.
Born in 1846 in LeClare, Iowa, his family soon moved to the plains of Kansas, where young Bill Cody started his eclectic work history, starting with driving hay wagons to herding cattle, fur trapping, gold mining, and a stint as a rider for the Pony Express in 1860. After the Civil War, he was an army scout, and earned the nickname “Buffalo Bill” for his skill in hunting the buffalo. His unusual life here in the west made him a media celebrity, but none of these were his true calling – his true calling was to be a showman, and he got that opportunity starting in a dime novel drama called “Scouts of the Prairie” in 1872.
This put the acting bug under Cody’s cap, and the following year he formed the acting troupe that would become, in 1882, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. This show traveled across the country, and across the world, but Colorado always held a favorite place in Cody’s heart; his Wild West show preformed in the state no less than 35 times between 1886 and 1916. On a trip to Denver to visit his sister in 1917, Cody died and was buried on top of Lookout Mountain June 3, 1917, as per his request. Four years later, his wife was buried next to him.
By 1912, Lookout Mountain was already considered part of the Denver Mountain Parks system, and being part of a prominent park that gives such a lovely overview of the Denver metro area, Buffalo Bill’s grave became a frequently visited site. In 1921, his close friend Johnny Baker opened the Pahaska Teepee and Buffalo Bill Museum, to commemorate the life and times of his great friend. In 1979, a second building was built for the collection of Buffalo Bill artifacts as well as Native American artifacts, and the Pahaska Teepee became the gift shop and restaurant it is today.
The museum itself is set low into the hillside to blend with the environment, and filled with all kinds of artifacts from Buffalo Bill’s illustrious career. The display runs right to left, which is at first a bit disconcerting, but you quickly figure out the flow, as everything is well marked and dated. The artifacts themselves are excellent; the display and preservation of the leathers and papers found in the various collections is supreme. There is even an interactive area, in which you can dress up as a cowboy like those in his Wild West show.
Once you have finished with the museum, it’s just a short hike to the top of the hill and Buffalo Bill’s grave. Standing at his grave and facing east, you can quickly see why he chose this spot to be buried on. On the day I went, you could see the storm coming in behind from the west, but still see the sun shining on parts of the city. The newer building and the parking lot provide a variety of excellent views in all directions; from there, it looks like the city abruptly ends and mountains begin. The display plaques around the parking and viewing areas give you the names of the mountains and areas you are seeing.
From May 1st through October 31st, the museum is open 7 days a week, from 9am- 5pm. November 1st through April 30th, the museum is closed Mondays and on Christmas. This gives plenty of opportunities for everyone to come take a peek at life from the past.
Admission for adults is $4.00, seniors $3.00, kids ages 6 to 15 are $1.00 and 5 and under is free. Sorry, but the museum itself cannot process credit cards, but will happily accept cash, checks and traveler’s checks. The museum store CAN accept credit cards, and there is an ATM on site.
To get there, you can take two different routes. If you like the quick and easy route, head up I-70 and take exit 256 and follow the signs to Buffalo Bill’s Grave and Museum – just a few miles from the highway. If you’re the more adventurous sort and like curving mountain roads, then you can get there on the other end of Lookout Mountain Road. Take 6th Avenue west into Golden, turn left at 19th Street, the beginning of the Lariat Trail. This road becomes Lookout Mountain Road, and does loop back around to I-70. For a real treat, come up one way and go down the other!