Buffalo Bill Cody’s Cleveland Connection

Ralph DiMatteo History

Buffalo Bill Portrait

We've all heard of the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," but the more we look into interesting bits of Cleveland history to share, we find that it seems there could easily be a new game called “The Six Degrees of Cleveland” as well.  

Who would have thought that soldier, hunter, and Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody would have had a connection of any kind to Cleveland? But he absolutely did through his grandfather Philip Cody, a native of Massachusetts who ended up spending much of his life in Toronto before, at the age of 60, deciding to pack up his wife and nine of his 11 children, heading south to the upcoming village of Cleveland.

The Cody family set up stakes in Cleveland on a 55-acre farm around Euclid Avenue and East 86th street of today. Cody continued his business successes in real estate, primarily with other family members, and stayed on the farm until 1847, the year his wife Lydia passed, moving in with his daughter Sophia and her husband Levi, who owned and operated a tavern near the farm property. Philip remained there until he died at the age of 80 in 1850.

So, you're probably asking, what does this have to do with Buffalo Bill? Well, admittedly, so did we, but here is the rest of the story.

Thirty years after Philip’s passing on his deathbed, one of his 11 children, son Joseph, confessed to his nephew Lindus that he had swindled other family members out of their shares of Philip’s estate by document forgery.

This revelation soon reached one William F. “Buffalo Bill" Cody, whose father Isaac was one of Philip’s 11 children. At the time of the disclosure, Buffalo Bill was already a celebrated showman all over America.

Cody’s Aunt Margaret learned of Joseph’s misdeeds and began the long process of gathering information to see if there was any way to correct the wrongs committed to the rest of the family and their heirs through the legal process. However, to file and pursue the case legally, she needed money, so she reached out to Buffalo Bill to not only add his celebrity to the lawsuit, but hopefully also get his financial support to see through the suit.  

Without getting too deep into the details (plenty of which are available if you wish to investigate further), the plaintiffs in the case, including one Buffalo Bill Cody, never got their day in court because after being given two chances to satisfy Judge Gershom Barber’s concerns about their legal filings and failing to satisfy the judge’s concerns, the case was dismissed in 1883. An appeal that was filed in the Cuyahoga County Court of Appeals in 1885 was upheld, and then the final appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court in 1887 also failed, so in essence, without evidence ever being actually heard, the matter was settled with many questions, opinions, and concerns still being debated outside the court process.

As with most issues, the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, but it was clear Buffalo Bill was no longer willing to pay the freight to pursue things any further.

Little physically remains of what the property once was, but the gravestones of Philip and Lydia Cody are still able to be seen at the East Cleveland Cemetery, and three houses at 2202, 2208 and 2210 East 83rd Street that stood in 1883 and were occupied by defendants in the case are still there today.

It is a little-known story within the universe of Buffalo Bill’s legacy, but at the time the tale of his trip to Cleveland seeking justice for his family members captured the interest of people all over the county through dramatic newspaper accounts, so if you find yourself with some time on your hands, it is worth looking into.

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