Week 28: Character

My essay for last week was a tongue-in-cheek reflection on all of the famous people I’m supposedly related to. This week I’m going to focus on one famous person — and the only “character” — in my family tree. This is a person whose image transcends his reality.  When I was growing up, I knew only a couple of things about my family history.  One was that my mother’s ancestors, the Workman family, settled in New Amsterdam in the 1640s.  The other was that I was somehow related to Buffalo Bill.  I have been able to pin this down a little; to be precise, William F. Cody (1846-1917) was my 4th cousin 4x removed.  He is my one “character;” I call him Bill.

I have other ancestors who should have been remembered by my family but were not. 

  • On my father’s side, my paternal 2nd great-grandfather Miles Arnold (1821-1899) fought for the Ohio 76th Infantry in the Civil War, was wounded at the Battle of Atlanta and left for dead on the battlefield.  He was found alive the following day when both sides went out to collect their dead, and he lived until 1899.  My grandfather knew him, but I never heard of him.
  • On my mother’s side, my paternal 2nd great-grandfather Oliver Kyle (1829-1863) fought for the 28th Illinois Infantry in the Civil War, was captured after the 1862 Battle of Shiloh, paroled when he contracted malaria in a prison camp in Montgomery, Alabama, rejoined his unit for the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg, and died of malaria in the hospital in Natchez, Mississippi, a few months after the siege ended.

I never heard of either of these men until I started doing genealogy research 10 years ago.  Both of these men lived in the middle of the 19th century, just like Bill.  Miles Arnold was 23 when Bill was born, and Oliver Kyle was 15.  Bill’s generational peer in my family tree – my 2nd great-grandmother Lydia Deuel (1845-1881) – was born just one year after Bill.

Let me tell you a little about Bill (this is taken from what I wrote in my self-published 2016 book The Ellefritz Family in America).  I am related to Bill through my paternal grandmother, Orpha Lydia Ellefritz Arnold.

Bill’s 3rd great-grandparents (Philippe Lescaude and Martha Le Broque) were my 7th great-grandparents.  They were born on the Channel Islands between France and England.  Philippe was born on the Isle of Jersey and Martha was born on the Isle of Guernsey; they married on the Isle of Jersey in 1695 and relocated to Beverley, Massachusetts in 1698.  They were part of a late surge of migration to Massachusetts. 

Bill and I are descended from two sons of Philippe and Martha.  My 6th great-grandfather was their son Isaac (1703-1737), and Bill’s 2nd great-grandfather was Isaac’s older brother Joseph (1700-1756).  Sounds a little biblical.  Anyway, both sons, along with three other siblings, lived out their days in Massachusetts.  Same with the next generation, as Joseph and his wife Mary (again with the biblical names) had several children, including Bill’s great-grandfather, Philip, Sr., while Isaac and his wife Hannah had two sons, including another Joseph, my 5th great-grandfather.  Hang on.

The next generation gets a little hinkier.  Bill’s great-grandfather,  Philip Sr., had 11 children, more or less, including Bill’s grandfather, Philip Jr., who was born in Massachusetts in 1770 but died in Ohio.  Meanwhile, my 5th great-grandfather Joseph and his wife Mary (really? again?) had five children, including my ancestor, Daniel, who was born in 1777 in Massachusetts but died in Ohio.  The records are a little confusing – there are lots of Josephs, Philips, and Isaacs, along with a fair number of Lydias and Marys.

Daniel’s life was pretty straightforward.  He lived in Massachusetts until he moved to Syracuse, NY, where he married Hannah Manley in 1798.  (Daniel and Hannah were my 4th great-grandparents.)  He and Hannah had 13 children who all lived to adulthood (including two sets of twins) and lived most of the rest of their lives in western New York, moving only late in life to Ohio.   

The story of Philip Jr. (on Bill’s line, second cousin of the Daniel I wrote about above) looks similar at first.  Born in Massachusetts, died in Ohio.  But when you look closer, you see an unusual pattern.  Born in Massachusetts, married in … Canada?  Several children born in … Canada?  (including Bill’s father, Isaac, in 1811).  How is it that the showman of the iconic American West comes from a family with Canadian roots?

I began to research this question and immediately found myself in muddy waters.  Why would people move from the United States to Canada between the American Revolution and the War of 1812?

After a little bit of thought and research, I thought I had the answer – maybe the Cody family was made up of Loyalists, many of whom left the United States because their cause had been unsuccessful during the Revolution and because they saw no future in the United States of the 1790s.  This was borne out, I thought, by information that I was able to dig up about the founding of what would ultimately become Toronto by Loyalists from Massachusetts.  But I also knew that my 5th great-grandfather Joseph Cody fought for Massachusetts in the American Revolution, so I wasn’t sure about this.

I soon discovered information that suggested another possible explanation that fit better with the later evolution of the Cody family later.  This explanation relates to the family’s opposition to slavery.  Philip Cody, Bill’s grandfather who moved to Canada, married a Quaker woman,  Lydia Martin, whose views likely reflected and had an influence on Philip’s views, although there is no evidence that Bill was raised as a Quaker.

I was able to find out some interesting things about Philip’s life in Canada.  According to an article published in the April 2011 International Cody Family’s Genealogical and Historical Review, in 1803 he had received a 200 acre land grant in the County of York, Ontario, Canada.  Philip Cody was Toronto township’s second settler, in 1806.  (Another record shows that he was the first settler in Toronto in 1796, and first Justice of the Peace.) In 1806 he purchased 200 acres of land on the condition that he clear five acres, build a 16×20 foot log cabin, clear the roadway in front of his homestead, and show proof that he had done all of this.

By 1807, he had built an Inn on his property and was making a comfortable living.  In 1810, he donated an acre of land for the building of the Dixie Union Chapel, which became the first Union Church in Upper Canada and the first community hall. They purchased several lots of land and built the ‘Cody Inn and Tavern’ on the southeast corner of what is known today as Cawthra Road and Dundas Highway. Isaac Cody, Bill’s father, was baptized in this church in 1811, and (according to legend – and a plaque on the wall of the Dixie Union Chapel) Bill was brought back to this church to be baptized in 1847, although his own published memoirs don’t mention this and no one has found documents to support this claim. There is a small stub of a road called “Cody Lane” in Mississauga, Ontario, which supposedly abuts the original Cody farm.

Dixie Union Chapel, Toronto, Canada
This is the marker at the location of Dixie Union Chapel.  In case you’re wondering about the name Dixie (and its connection with the Confederate States of America 1861-1865, the chapel was named after Dr. Beaumont Dixie, a doctor who donated even more land for the church

Back to my part of this story.  After Bill’s family’s story, mine looks a little mundane.  One of Daniel’s children was my 3rd great-grandmother Melinda Cody (1803-1888), who married Joseph Putney Deuel in 1821 in Syracuse, NY. 

Now back to Bill’s story.  Bill’s line had only one generation to go before you get to Bill.  Bill’s father Isaac, now firmly back in the United States, married his first wife, Martha Miranda O’Connor, in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1832.  She lived for only a few years after their marriage, and he married again in 1844.  His second wife, Mary Ann Bosnell Laycock, had their first child, William Frederick Cody (aka Bill), in Iowa in 1846.  By the time Bill was 10 years old, the family was on the move again, from Iowa to Kansas Territory, where two of his siblings were born and where his mother died when he was 18 years old.

This is the point at which the Cody family’s anti-slavery sentiments become obvious.  The mid-1850s featured violence between pro-slavery and anti-slavery forces in Kansas, a time called “Bleeding Kansas.”  The Cody family was caught up in this violence to the point that Bill’s father Isaac was wounded by pro-slavery “border ruffians” who objected to his anti-slavery views.  This led the family to leave Kansas during Bill’s childhood.   In 1867, Cody hunted buffalo for the Kansas Pacific Railroad work crews, earning his moniker “Buffalo Bill” and his reputation as an expert shot. 

The next year, he was employed by the U.S. Army as a civilian scout and guide for the Fifth Cavalry. His experience and skills as a plainsman made him an invaluable tracker and fighter. On April 26, 1872, Cody became one of only four civilian scouts to be awarded the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars for valor in action. (He was later declared ineligible for the medal and stricken from the roll in 1917, but his name was reinstated in 1989 by the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.) During his life, Bill moved on to Nebraska and to Wyoming, where he became an army scout, buffalo hunter, pony express rider, land speculator, water entrepreneur (water was scarce in the West and Bill figured out a way to make money on this scarcity),  and, most famously,  a showman.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show—circa 1899. His Wild West Show appeared in Toronto twice during the 1880s, confirming his family’s roots in Canada.

So what can we make of all this?  First, Bill was for-real famous in the years following the American Civil War (1861-1865).  I’m sure that my family (Bill’s cousins) had heard his name and attached it to his Wild West Show.  Bill had been born in Scott County, Iowa, about 100 miles up the Mississippi River from Hancock County, Illinois, where my father’s family lived.  Lydia Deuel’s mother (my 3rd great-grandmother) was Melinda Cody, and I think that the family must have been aware of the familial connection. 

The Cody family is well-researched.  The International Cody Family Association was organized in 1925 in Chicago, Illinois. Some of my family members have been active in this Association; my cousin Dorothy was editor of the Association’s newsletter, the Cody Review, for years before her death in 2016.  Here’s how the International Cody Family Association acknowledged the work that Dorothy and her husband Bill did for the Association:

“Dorothy and Bill have been Active Members for years, working on the 2010 ICFA Reunion in Tucson, serving on the Executive Board, and editing the Cody Review.” 

In 2014, I attended the Cody Family Reunion in Jamestown, NY.  It happened to be scheduled at the same time that I was already planning to be at Chautauqua, NY, for a week.  So I drove on over and caught up with distant family.  I missed the festivities – the parade, the dinner, and the concert – but it was fun to connect with this part of my family.

Pictures I took at the Cody Family reunion:  Famous Generals Bill served under, Cody cousins at the welcome table, two maps of the US (one showing the route he traveled in 1902 and one showing all the places where his Wild West Show performed between 1872 and 1920. Plus a poster advertising when Buffalo took his Wild West Show to Scotland.
This is what it looked like when the Cody Family Reunion folks came to Chautauqua.  I was on the Chautauqua grounds while these folks were there but I didn’t realize it until the day after their visit.

This association publishes a lot of information about the Cosy family, including a number of directories and membership lists, including a two-volume set updated in 2013.

This is a picture of my copy of this two-volume set.  The weird coloration on the bottom half of this picture is a reflection of me taking this picture.  The covers are very reflective.
This is my family’s listing on page 264 of Volume 2 of this book.  This type of genealogy numbering system is called an Ahnentafel (ancestor table).  My father is Lloyd Cecil Arnold, 264/C612.  My brother Ken is his first child, so his number is 264/C6121.  I am Karen, his second child,, 264/C6122.  My daughter Lori is my first child so her number is 264/C61221, and my son Kevin is 264/C1222

I’m going to take a slight diversion to explain how an Ahnentafel works, in case you’re not familiar with it.  If you break down the numbers from the picture above and show the associated ancestors, the Ahnentafel is a concise way of showing a lineage. Here’s what my daughter’s number — 264/C61221 — means.

I have visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, in Cody, Wyoming.  The clerk in the gift shop got excited (well, sort of) when I showed her my family’s entry in the book – although she didn’t give me the book for free even when I asked.  We ate dinner at the Irma Hotel while we were in Cody.  This hotel/restaurant was built by Bill in 1902 and named for his daughter Irma.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The Irma Hotel and Restaurant, Cody, Wyoming

Genealogy research is easier when you have someone in your lineage who is at least semi-famous. Other people have done a lot of the work for you. I’m glad to be connected to this “character,” but it makes me a little sad that my family has recalled and celebrated our connection to a buffalo-hunter, huckster, and showman but has forgotten our real-life family heroes, Miles Arnold and Oliver Kyle.

Author: iseekdeadpeopleblog

I am a retired high school history and government teacher. I've been doing genealogy research since I retired in 2012. I define what I do as "constructing a plausible narrative about the past." I don't claim to know everything about the ancestors whose stories I tell, but I try to imagine myself in their lives. I sometimes call it "creative non-fiction." I try to differentiate between what I know for sure and what I "think" I know.

4 thoughts on “Week 28: Character”

  1. Loved reading your story this week! Very cool you’re related to Buffalo Bill. 🙂 I don’t believe I have a connection to him, but I haven’t really looked through his family tree. But I am kin to Wild Bill Hickok.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Have you been to his grave? It’s fairly close to my house. It’s on Lookout Mtn. in Golden, Colorado. I’ve been there many times. For some reason, it’s what we do here in Denver. We go up there, look at the grave, look at the view, go to the gift shop. People take their out of town relatives there. My grandmother and Dad actually took a trolley from east of Denver to Golden in the 1950s and walked all the way up the mountain to see it. If you see this mountain, you’d realize that’s quite a hike! We celebrate Buffalo Bill Days in Golden every July. My husband even grew his hair, mustache, and beard to look like him and has dressed up like him for Halloween. I’ve got a small picture of Buffalo Bill hanging up because he really looks like my husband. I’m not really as obsessed as I’m sounding but it’s just that the City of Golden has his picture on the highway so he’s just ubiquitous out here. Good post!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: