Originally featured in Points West magazine in Summer 2018
Photograph, Kit Carson Cody, ca. 1876
This photo gives no hint about the tragedy that would soon befall the Cody family. As for any parent, the greatest sadness of Buffalo Bill’s life was the loss of his only son, Kit Carson Cody. In his 1879 book, The Life of Hon. William F. Cody, known as Buffalo Bill, the famous hunter, scout and guide. An autobiography, the author wrote about his breaking heart:
For the season of 1875–1876, Texas Jack and I reorganized our old Combination, and made a very successful tour. While we were playing at Springfield, Massachusetts, April 20th and 21st 1876, a telegram was handed me just as I was going on the stage. I opened it and found it to be from Colonel Gr. W. Torrence, of Rochester [New York], an intimate friend of the family, who stated that my little boy Kit was dangerously ill with the scarlet fever. This was indeed sad news, for little Kit had always been my greatest pride.
I sent for John Burke, our business manager, and showing him the telegram, told him that I would play the first act, and making a proper excuse to the audience, I would then take the nine o’clock train that same evening for Rochester, leaving him to play out my part. This I did, and at ten o’clock the next morning I arrived in Rochester, and was met at the depot by my intimate friend Moses Kerngood who at once drove me to my home.
I found my little boy unable to speak but he seemed to recognize me and putting his little arms around my neck he tried to kiss me. We did everything in our power to save him, but it was of no avail. The Lord claimed his own, and that evening at six o’clock [April 22, 1876] my beloved little Kit died in my arms. We laid him away to rest in the beautiful cemetery of Mount Hope amid sorrow and tears…
The McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West offers access to thousands of historic images for research and publication, thanks in part to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). To learn more, visit library.centerofthewest.org.
Kit Carson Cody (1870–1876), ca. 1876. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s only son. MS 006 William F. Cody Collection. P.6.1654
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