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The Catholic Defender: Medal of Honor, Catholic Convert, Buffalo Bill

I had a great opportunity to go to Mass here in Meeker Colorado. Visiting this Parish I felt a great sense of history.

The Church itself is a Romanesque style red brick building. According to Denver’s record of the Church, it was dedicated in 1913.

I recall that it was 1917 when Buffalo Bill Cody (famed pioneer of the old West) was Baptized a Catholic in this very Diocese just two days before his death. He was raised a Quaker (1847) who ultimately rode the Pony Express as a young teenager.

He first fought with the Indians in Utah where he learned to respect the Indian way of life.

It would be a former enemy of Buffalo Bill that would ultimately inspire him to become Catholic. This would be Sitting Bull who himself converted to the Catholic Faith Baptized by Father De Smet. Sitting Bull would play a part in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show so there was great mutual respect between them. Buffalo Bill said, “Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government”.

The Catholic Church played a great role in the old West in the lives of the pioneer who traveled westward towards the Pacific Ocean. Buffalo Bill was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1872 while serving as a scout for the 3rd Cavalry Regiment for “gallantry in action” during the Indian wars especially with the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes.

Buffalo Bill got his nickname for his killing 4,000 buffalo to feed the railroad workers and it should be noted that he did not just kill for the sake of killing nor did he have any part of trying to starve the Indian nations. He supported conservation by speaking out against hide-hunting and pushed for a hunting season. Unfortunately, because of the demand for buffalo hides, that did happen and is a dark part of American history.

Today, the buffalo has been safeguarded and is not in danger.

During the time of the Buffalo Bill Wild West show that traveled extensively, there was a cast of 500 people. There were 25 cowboys and 12 cowgirls that were main actors. Some of the noted actors that participated were Wild Bill Hickok, Annie Oakley, Cole Younger and Frank James.

Buffalo Bill was an early proponent for women’s rights, “What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have. Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay.”

William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody (February 26, 1846 – January 10, 1917) was an American soldier, bison hunter and showman. He was born in the Iowa Territory (now the American state of Iowa), near Le Claire. He was one of the most colorful figures of the American Old West, and mostly famous for the shows he organized with cowboy themes. Buffalo Bill received the Medal of Honor in 1872.

Cody died of kidney failure on January 10, 1917, surrounded by family and friends at his sister’s house in Denver. On his deathbed William F. Cody was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church the day before his death January 9, 1917, by Father Christopher Walsh of the Denver Cathedral. Upon the news of his death he received tributes from the King George V of the United Kingdom, the German Kaiser, and President Woodrow Wilson. His funeral was in Denver at the Elks Lodge Hall.

Wyoming Governor John B. Kendrick, a friend of Cody’s, led the funeral procession to the Elks Lodge.

Steve Friesen, Director of the Buffalo Bill Museum on Lookout Mountain said of Buffalo Bill, “He was probably the best known man of his era, He rode in the pony express, he was a scout, he was a buffalo hunter, and he even came to Colorado during the gold rush. I mean he really has this collection of experiences in the American West that mirror the history of the American West,… Buffalo Bill told his wife and everyone close to him – including his sisters and the priest (Father Christopher Walsh) who baptized him the day before he died – that he wanted to be buried on Lookout Mountain. And so he was.”

It would be very possible that Buffalo Bill might have had the chance to have been in this Church! I have found no record of this, but the age and place makes it possible.

Having the chance to participate and attend Mass in this Church that is still in use, it is a very beautiful Church.

After the Mass, I had the opportunity to meet several of the Parishioners. These are faithful people who love the Lord and the Catholic Faith.

I met a Doctor and his wife who moved there a couple of years ago from New Mexico. They are really excited about their faith.

I spoke with another couple who had been married for 51 years. Bob was raised in Kansas who (as a boy) personally knew Father Kapaun, a Catholic Military Chaplain of the United States Army.

Traveling throughout the area was a great blessing and I could almost feel the nostalgia of the old wild west, and how it was reenacted by the Buffalo Wild West Show.

Television was just on the horizon and it feels like the original westerns were influenced by the stage plays and acts of times gone by.

During this time, cultures were given more respect as people began to learn more about each other. The Wild West Show became a major opportunity to teach the masses more of the plight of the Indians, it also helped keep alive a legacy of the spirit of the pioneer.

Most importantly, just as the Church was present at the founding and the taming of this great land from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, the Church was also present when the west was living by the gun. The Church brought civilization to an untamed land.

Today, there are serious challenges that confront civilization, and through this time as in all time, the Catholic Church continues to be the voice of God taming the heart of man. May the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy, especially during this year of mercy, on America. That America turns it’s heart back to God as obedient children.

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