HomeHistory Articles • 2009 August
The Mason Who Had Two Funderals

It is something of an unusual occurrence to have more than one funeral, but a famous Freemason had two. Both were very well attended and open to the public, but the stories and the Masonic life of a brother are not well known. And that is a shame, for the man who was in the coffin both times was known throughout the world: William Fredrick "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

Cody's Masonic story begins with his petition to Platte Valley Lodge, at that time at Fort McPherson and under dispensation of the Grand Lodge of Nebraska, on Saturday February 12, 1870. The minutes show that the Lodge received five petitions for initiation in the first meeting they conducted, one of which was Cody's.i

At their second meeting on February 26, 1870, Cody was elected to receive the degrees and the Entered Apprentice degree was conferred on March 5, 1870. The Lodge closed at midnight, after conferring four other Entered Apprentice degrees and two Fellow Craft degreesii. On Saturday, April 2, 1870, Cody was found proficient and passed to the degree of Fellow Craftiii. He was examined on the second degree on April 23rd but failed that night's test. The next time his name appeared in the minutes was January 10, 1871 when he reballotted and was elected to receive the Master Mason degreeiv. He remained a Mason all his lifev.

So why the two funerals? Surely the answer lies in Cody's extraordinary fame. Cody's exploits, real and imagined were the subject of an estimated 1700 dime novelsvi. But Cody's real exploits were no less fantastic; his first attempt at what would become his Wild West Show occurred when he escorted visiting Russian Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich to a camp that included arranged buffalo hunts, a war dance done by friendly Indians and a terrifying stage coach ride in 1872. By 1883, the Wild West Show was so popular that it appeared at the Chicago World's Fairvii. Four years later, Cody took the show to Europe during the celebration of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. The performances sold out with an estimated 2 1/2 million tickets sold, as well as a personal performance for Queen Victoria herselfviii. Buffalo Bill's last performance was at Portsmouth, Virginia, where he became ill with a cold and headed for his Wyoming ranchix. Cody died on January 10, 1917, at the age of 71. Although it was known that he suffered from an enlarged prostate and rheumatism in his later years, the official cause of Cody's death was "uremic poisoning" or kidney failure.

The first of William's funeral services was held in Colorado's state capitol, where ten thousand people viewed his body in a bronze casket in the rotunda. His second and larger funeral occurred when he was laid to rest on Lookout Mountain, outside Golden, Colorado. Newspaper reports tell that 15,000 people came to see these "the solemn and impressive Masonic Funeral ritesx."

Cody's second funeral was almost four months after his death, on the afternoon of June 3, 1917, at the request of the family. His mother lodge, Platte Valley Lodge in North Platte, Nebraska asked Golden City Lodge No. 1, in Golden, Colorado, to confer the Masonic burial rites for their Brother.

Golden's lodge records note that North Platte Lodge offered fifty dollars toward any burial expenses, but it is believed that the brethren of Golden City Lodge performed the service without chargexi. The Golden Secretary's minutes comments what they did for their part:

The Lodge then repaired by Auto steamers to the top of Lookout Mountain where they met and took charge of the body of our late Brother and buried it in due and ancient form, according to Masonic Rites, about 150 Brethren taking part. An escort of Knights Templar and some of the Brethren from Platte Valley Lodge No. 32 of North Platte, Neb., also attended. After the burial they again repaired to the Hall in the city of Golden and closed the Lodge on the Third Degree of Masonry in due and ancient form. Peace and Harmony prevailingxii.

To me, it is much more than vibrations coming off the back of our eyes and is not just what allows us to see - light is how we think of Deity. It maybe a primitive way of expressing all that is good. Early man feared and could not do much in darkness. When the day came, life was anew and things could be accomplished.

During the ceremony, Cody's widow asked that the casket be opened. And a few of the Policemen's Honor Guard held umbrellas over the exposed upper half of his body to shade it from the sun. After a viewing, a song was sung and a poem was read by Jay J. Bryon about Cody (the first paragraph is given here):

Sleep, old scout and rest
On Lookout Mountain's crest
Where the rosy sun
E'er set [?] his race large
Where no unquiet dream
Disturb thy peaceful rest
In this, thy sovereign west ...xiii

The Worshipful Master of Golden City, G. W. Parfet, Jr. performed the main part of the Masonic service with eight appointed pallbearers. Then Cody's Masonic roll was read:
At the age of 23, he petitioned Platt Valley Lodge No. 32, A.F. & A.M. of North Platt, Nebraska. On his 24th birthday he was elected to membership. He was initiated an Entered Apprentice March 5th, 1870, passed to the Degree of a Fellow Craft April 2nd, 1870, and "raised" to the Sublime Degree of a Master Mason on January 10th, 1871.

At the age of 40, he petitioned Euphrates Chapter No. 15, Royal Arch Masons, of North Platte, Nebraska on September 1st, 1887. He was advanced to the Degree of Mark Master, inducted into the oriental chair and received and acknowledged a Most Excellent Master on November 14th, 1888. He was exalted to the Royal Arch Degree on November 15th, 1888.

Within two months thereafter he petitioned Palestine Commandery No. 13, Order of Knights Templar, was duly elected and received the Illustrious Order of the Red Cross on April 1st, 1889 and on the following day received the Order of Malta and was dubbed a Knight Templar. He petitioned Tangier Temple of the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine of Omaha, Nebraska on March 22nd, 1892, and walked the "hot sands" three days later.

Buffalo Bill was made a member of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry for the Northern Jurisdiction of the United States of America in the Valley of New York City on April 4th, 1894 having joined the Lodge of Perfection (4th-14th Degree), the Council of Princes (15th & 16th Degrees), the Chapter of Rose Croix (17th & 18th Degrees), and the Consistory (19th - 32nd Degrees) all the same day.

The ceremonies closed with taps played by a Spanish-American War veteran, followed by an eleven-cannon salute . It was certainly one of the largest, if not the largest, Masonic burials ever. Until a few years ago, the Grand Lodge of Colorado and their funeral team did an annual recreation of the event at the burial site.

There was a lot of unrest over Cody's grave site, most of it after the immediate family died and nieces tried to keep their Uncle in the public eyexv. Reportedly, the state of Wyoming was so upset that Cody was not buried in their state that as late as 1948, some citizens of Wyoming advocated using force to disinter Cody's body and remove it to Wyoming by force. . The Rocky Mountain News reported that the American Legion Post in Cody, Wyoming had passed out rifles, helmets and binoculars to the men willing to go to Denver and retrieve itxvi. A $10,000 cash award offered to the successful body snatchers was reputedly offered by persons unknown. The American Legion Post in Denver responded by sending five armed guards out to the grave site, demonstrating every intention of keeping Cody in Colorado, perhaps because the State had lost another important Masonic brother from the early western frontier - Christopher "Kit" Carson. He was buried near his home in Taos, New Mexico.

For years after Cody's passing, the grave site had a twenty-four hour police guard until a monument was erected "to prevent curio and memento seekers from committing acts of vandalism"xvii for individuals were always defacing the grave site. Some dug up the dirt to find the coins that were thrown on it; others like a P.T.A. group carried away the ground around him to honor another early settlerxviii.

The story of William Cody's Masonic life and his two public services are hardly ever told accurately. Cody was truly a "superstar" before the word was ever thought of. His world wide fame and years of promotion though the Wild West Show and books drew people by the thousands to his two funerals. And the prominence of Masons in his last and largest pushed our fraternity into the limelight. At a time when numerous famous men displayed symbols showing affiliation with Freemasonry, Cody's last meeting with fellow Masons gave many a view they never forgot. Not only of the place he was buried at, over looking the plains, but of our organization.

Mike Moore, PM
Lodge Historian

  1. Robert Gollmar, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Philalethes, July/August, 1968, www.tntpc.com/252/philalethes/p68aug.html
  2. Ibid
  3. Ernest J. Goppert, Jr., Buffalo Bill Cody, Presentation to 110th Annual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Wyoming, August, 1984.
  4. Gollmar
  5. Many of Cody's Masonic regalia, including his Scottish Rite uniform, is on display in the family section of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.
  6. Buffalo Bill's Life Story (An Autobiography), Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Chicago, 1947, 17.
  7. John Taylor, Buffalo Bill, the Life and Times of Brother William Cody, no date, personal copy given by Glen Mulholland, secretary of North Platte Valley Lodge, 25.
  8. Taylor, 27.
  9. Goppert, Jr., 3.
  10. Rocky Mountain News, January 15, 1917, p1
  11. Golden's lodge Secretary, Bryon Walker, interviewed by Mike Moore, May 26, 2009.
  12. Minutes from Golden Lodge special communication, June 3, 1917.
  13. Insert in Golden #1's meeting book.
  14. Gollmar
  15. Steve Freisen, director of Cody Grave and Museum, interviewed by Mike Moore, June 2, 2009.
  16. Rocky Mountain News, August 2, 1948.
  17. Gollmar
  18. Denver Post, September 15, 1942.