Happy Birthday, Buffalo Bill! From your biggest fan, Samuel F.

As every Buffalo Bill-ophile should know, William F. Cody was born in (or rather, near) LeClaire, Iowa on February 26, 1846.

 So, to celebrate the birth of this illustrious Scott County native son, why not visit the library and read up on Buffalo Bill’s famous exploits? Or this weekend, visit the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire!

 However, we don’t necessarily recommend going as far as Samuel Franklin Cody, the Davenport native who was born a Cowdry in 1863, but changed his name to emphasize how much he looked like the famous Buffalo Bill.  He actually rode with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a substitute for the great man, and in 1889, he left America to establish a Wild West Show in England.

 While he was there, however, Samuel’s interests turned to flying machines.  He became Chief Kite Instructor to the British Army Balloon Factory in 1902 and began working on a winged machine powered by a 50 horsepower engine.  On October 16, 1908, Cody flew his plane a quarter mile in the first powered sustained flight in England, becoming  Britain’s answer to the Wright Brothers, who only beat him to it by 5 years. 

Cody continued to work on his planes, including an enormous biplane, the Flying Cathedral, and became one of the country’s best pilots.  Flying in the early days was a dangerous business, even for an expert like Samuel.  On August 7, 1913, while he was testing his new plane, the Cathedral VI,  it broke up in flight and crashed.  Samuel F. Cody was buried in a London military cemetery and his funeral was attended by 50,000 people–a fitting goodbye for the man considered by many to be the father of British aeronautics.

The Davenport newspapers reported his death, although from a much different perspective: The Daily Times said that Samuel had been a good friend of Buffalo Bill and that his uncanny resemblance to the great man had led him to a career in the Wild West Show.  Of his feats of aviaton, the article simply states that he had also been a flyer and had died in an airplane crash in England.

So, if you already know all about Buffalo Bill, why not learn more about his greatest fan–not to mention England’s famous aviator?  We can supply newspaper articles and books, including Colonel Cody and the Flying Cathedral: the Adventures of the Cowboy who Conquered the Sky (Jenkins, 2001).

And go ahead and have two pieces of cake–one for an American Legend, and one who stepped out of the Legend’s shadow to create a legacy of his own.  Both from Scott County!

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4 Responses to Happy Birthday, Buffalo Bill! From your biggest fan, Samuel F.

  1. Randy Nichols says:

    I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    – Randy Nichols.

  2. Jean Roberts says:

    I was interested to read your article on Samuel Franklin Cody. Perhaps you would be interested in my website which could perhaps correct just a few of your statements. It is very good to see that Davenport is taking an interest in one of its heroes.
    With best wishes,

  3. Ann Ayres says:

    I am writing a book and would be interested in knowing of children of Samuel Franklin Cody.

  4. swesson says:


    According to _Colonel Cody and the Flying cathedral_ (Jenkins, 1999), Samuel Cody had only one biological child, Frank, by Lela Blackburne Davis, whom Cody did not marry– he had never divorced Maud Lee Cody, whom he married in Pennsylvania in 1899.

    Frank was born in November 1895 in Basle, Switzerland. He joined the Royal Flying Corps in World War I and was shot down in a dogfight in France with four German planes on January 23, 1917. Frank left two sons, one of whom had been born only five days earlier.


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