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Buffalo Bill Cody, his little sister Helen, and their connection to Duluth

There are a lot of rumors and facts about Buffalo Bill Cody and his connection to Duluth. In this post, we examine the subject as deeply as anyone would possibly want to.

In short: Buffalo Bill Cody financed the Duluth Press Building in the friendly West End. There used to be a Cody Hotel in West Duluth named after Buffalo Bill, and he is the namesake behind Cody Street.

Here’s a link to a story I wrote in 2002 about Buffalo Bill’s little sister for The Area Woman magazine, which provides a good general background.

Area Women in History: Helen Cody Wetmore

And here are more details I couldn’t fit into the magazine article:

  • Helen was born Laura Ella Cody. “Helen” and “Nellie” were her nicknames.
  • Her first husband was Alexander Jester, a wealthy older man. They met and married in 1871; by 1877 Jester had lost his fortune and died.
  • After Helen married Hugh Wetmore they lived at 1825 W. First St., but they are believed to have moved into the Duluth Press Building in 1894.

At left is a modern photo of the Duluth Press Building. The sketch of the building at right is from the Jan. 27, 1894 issue of the Duluth Press. Note the smudged-out spots at the top and bottom of the building sketch; the original sketch had the words “People’s Press” in both places, as it was drawn before the name change.

  • Helen’s daughter from her previous marriage, Mary Jester, was the Duluth Press’ city editor.
  • Referring to the Cody Sanatorium in a Duluth Press editorial, Helen wrote this about the view: “On the left is the open lake, nearer the beautiful point, which makes for Duluth one of the finest harbors in the world. Then comes the harbor in St. Louis Bay, with its constant panorama of ships of every kind, moving in and out, and its numerous docks with their interesting contents. Then, to the right, the beautiful St. Louis River, winding in and out among the islands, a never ending source of beauty and grace. The sky expanse is wonderful in its grandeur, and the scene at night is one never to be forgotten; the twinkling lights of five or six towns near and far being in full view.”

  • In June of 1896, the Cody Sanatorium was turned into a “summer hotel and pleasure resort.” On Nov. 17, 1896, at 6 p.m., the sanatorium/resort burned to the ground. The fire was caused by a defective flue and spread rapidly. Police saved some of the building’s furniture by sending a rig with ladders and an extinguisher. There was no water supply on the hill to put out the fire. An article in the following day’s Duluth Evening Herald noted “the building was of frame, and a large structure and it made a great illumination while burning.” The sanatorium’s brick chimneys were the only things left standing after the fire.
  • After the fire Helen began work on her biography of Buffalo Bill, with help from Bert Leston Taylor. The book was compiled from Helen’s accounts of growing up with Buffalo Bill, which had been published in the Duluth Press, and the work of Col. Prentiss Ingraham, who had written in the Duluth Press about Buffalo Bill, based in part on stories told him by Helen.
  • Between the fire and construction of her “Codyview” home, Helen is listed in Duluth’s city directory as living at 5 S. 12th Ave. E.
  • Codyview was built in 1898. It had a marble fireplace and was said to have had the first bathtub in the city of Duluth.
  • Helen and Hugh Wetmore were summoned to court in 1897 because of liens brought against them to pay for labor and materials to build Codyview. Buffalo Bill paid the liens and became the new owner, allowing Helen and Hugh to live there rent free.
  • In 1899, Helen traveled with the Wild West Show to promote her book, handing out copies to ticketholders at the door of the tent.
  • Hugh Wetmore died in 1900. (Note: This assertion is presently in dispute. See the post “Death of Hugh A. Wetmore.”
  • In June of 1901, Helen’s daughter Mary Jester married Duluth newspaperman Robert Allen at Codyview. The couple left Duluth in 1902. (They had a daughter around that time, Helen Cody Allen.)
  • In 1905, Helen left Duluth for Cody, Wyo., a town named after her brother. There, she managed the Cody Enterprise newspaper, which Buffalo Bill eventually gave to her. After a reunion with the three other surviving Cody children, Helen is believed to have traveled some, ultimately stopping in Pasadena, Calif., where her daughter and son-in-law lived. There, in 1911, she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Buffalo Bill rushed in from Arizona to visit her just before she died.
  • In 1913, Buffalo Bill sold the Codyview house and land to Alice Hain. The next owners were William Hain (1922), John Watsick (1922-’24), Marie Watsick (1924-’28), John Watsick (1928), Herbert Pratt (1928-’36), Marion Edith Graham (1936-’40), David Anderson (1940-’44) Howard and Mary Lou McDonald (1944-’52), Carl E. Sjodin (1952-’91) and Elsie Sjodin.
  • The fantastic view of West Duluth and the St. Louis River that so fascinated Helen Cody is no more. “Now we don’t have any view,” Elsie Sjodin said in 2002. “Trees have grown up. There’s not much left, unless you go upstairs. Then you can see some of it.”
  • A plaque presented to Carl Sjodin by the Superior Telegram many years ago hangs above the fireplace at Codyview. It reads “Buffalo Bill Cody slept here in 1893.” It should be noted that, though Buffalo Bill did indeed sleep at Codyview during visits to Duluth, it wasn’t until 1894 that he first came to Duluth, and Codyview wasn’t built until 1898.
  • The stained-glass-windowed doors from Codyview are being used today as decorative pieces at the East Duluth home of William Patrick. Patrick bought the artifacts many years ago. “I had a friend whose father was in the storage business,” he said. “[The doors] were up in the attic of his store all covered with pigeon dung and in pretty bad shape.”
  • It is a matter of some historical confusion why all records indicate Codyview was built in 1898, but the stained glass windows in the double oak doors read “Codyview” and “Established 1895.” Since the Cody Sanatorium was built in 1895, the windows were probably labeled such to indicate Cody ownership of the land starting in 1895. It is unlikely that the doors were part of the original sanatorium and survived the fire.
  • Buffalo Bill first visited Duluth in 1894. He arrived at the Union Depot on Jan. 22, on the 3 p.m. train, and was greeted by a crowd of citizens. He went first to the Spalding Hotel to meet his friend Finley H. Frisbie, the hotel’s manager. Then he was taken by carriage to the new Duluth Press Building in the West End. The following evening, a reception was held on the second floor (or “bank floor”) of the Duluth Press Building. Of the 1,900 people invited, about 1,500 attended. Among those present were Capt. Ray T. Lewis (who had just received the Republican nomination for mayor, and later that year was elected) and former mayor Marcus J. Davis. The Duluth Press reported that the street in front of its building was “lined four deep with carriages.”
  • Upon leaving Duluth after his six-day visit, Cody said, “I am both pleased and surprised with what I have seen during my short stay here, and I leave Duluth with a firmer faith in her future greatness than I ever had before. You have a beautiful city and the prospects of a glorious future.”
  • Cody Street in West Duluth was named after Buffalo Bill on Feb. 12, 1894.
  • Buffalo Bill made a second trip to Duluth on Jan. 1, 1896. It was a short business trip, lasting only one day. He arrived early on New Year’s Day, visited the newspaper office, then spent the night at the Cody Sanatorium and left town the next day.
  • Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show first came to Duluth on Sept. 12, 1896, and was in Ashland the day before. Bill wrote a letter to his sister Helen, offering to make a wager that a show a few days later in his small town of North Platte, Neb. (population 3,500) would draw a bigger crowd than the show in his sister’s home, Duluth (population 65,000). “I could not accept any such inferred slur upon the Zenith City,” Helen wrote in her book Last of the Great Scouts. She accepted the wager, “a silk hat against a fur cloak.” The Duluth show, at 28th Ave. W. & Superior St., brought out thousands, and it looked like Buffalo Bill would lose his bet. What neither Buffalo Bill, nor his sister, knew was that managers of the Union Pacific were running excursion trains to North Platte from every town and hamlet. Over 10,000 people attended that show.
  • Mary Elizabeth Bogart, a cousin of Buffalo Bill, died in 1933. Bill’s third cousin, Walter Bogart, also lived in Duluth in the 1960s.
  • The Cody Hotel was at 332 N. Central Ave. There was also a Cody Drug Store there. Although the Duluth News Tribune has erroneously reported on more than one occasion that the hotel was financed by Bill Cody, that is simply not true. It was built in 1888 by J. W. Phillips and originally named the Phillips Hotel. In 1910 the new owner, Daniel Fitzgerald, renamed it the Cody Hotel in honor of Buffalo Bill. It was demolished in 1973, when owner John Dandrea opted to use it as a parking lot for his Gopher Restaurant and Lounge. Forty years later, it remains a parking lot for the Gopher. Below are some photos.

May 14, 1914, McKenzie Photo Studio

Circa 1920s, Northeast Minnesota Historical Society

Possibly shot after the Feb. 23, 1922 snowstorm, Northeast Minnesota Historical Society

1971 Roger Nesje photo

April 25, 1971 Roger Nesje photo

Undated Roger Nesje photo

Modern photo of the Gopher Lounge parking lot, former site of the Cody Hotel.

Newspaper ad for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Duluth.

8 Comments

hbh1

about 3 years ago

Fascinating article. I love Nellie's story. (I think Schumacher's pamphlet says that's the name they called her.) She's one of the few supposed ghost stories we have. That bit about her husband ending up living in a tent near the tracks makes me laugh, though it probably shouldn't. I've read that though she was most well known for writing Last of the Great Scouts, it was ghostwritten by famous Chicago journalist Bert Leston Taylor. He spent a winter here writing it for her.

hbh1

about 3 years ago

A question, Paul. Do people still call that area the Cody neighborhood?

Paul Lundgren

about 3 years ago

There is a sub-neighborhood of West Duluth called Cody, but that's not where Codyview is/was. Codyview is in the Bayview Heights neighborhood. Do people still refer to the Cody sub-neighborhood by name? Yes, but not many people. Just about everyone refers to every part of West Duluth as West Duluth. I grew up on the eastern edge of the Cody neighborhood, which no one refers to as Cody. Folks who live closer to Elim Church are more likely to use the term.

hbh1

about 3 years ago

Actually, looks like this Bert Leston Taylor guy was here for three years as editor of the News-Tribune. He ghost-wrote the book, and when it was published in 1899, went on to Chicago to become a famous columnist.

Dorkus

about 3 years ago

There are also several people around town carrying the "Cody" namesake. They have traced their roots back to Buffalo Bill himself.

Tony D.

about 3 years ago

The Cody Hotel, formerly of West Duluth, is one of the subjects in the book Lost Duluth.

Paul Lundgren

about 2 years ago

Here's an old Duluth Press masthead. I just came across a short history of the paper that I put together 10 years ago and then completely forgot about: The Duluth Press was founded by Hugh A. Wetmore as the official newspaper of the Duluth Trades and Labor Assembly. It was established in 1891 as The Union Workman: The People’s Press. The weekly four-sheet paper came out every Saturday. Single copies were 5 cents; one-year subscriptions were $1. Headquarters were at 2102-1/2 W. Superior St. In the paper’s early days, Wetmore rallied support for union workers and the People’s Party, and also advocated for women’s rights. He wrote in 1892: “The People’s Press is now and has always been independent, with pronounced sympathy for the cause of labor and the reforms proposed by the People’s Party.” The paper also gushed with frequent praise of Buffalo Bill. In the June 11, 1892 issue, Wetmore even endorsed Buffalo Bill for President of the United States. In July of 1892, the People’s Press moved its headquarters to the ground floor of a building at 1713 W. Michigan St. Around the same time, the paper began running its “Women’s Column.” In late October of 1992, Wetmore went on a business trip to Chicago, where he met Buffalo Bill’s sister, Helen Cody. Around the same time, the front-page flag started featuring a drawing that included Buffalo Bill (or a character strikingly similar to Buffalo Bill) as its central figure. Also, advertisements for Cody’s Wild West Show at the World’s Fair in Chicago started appearing in the paper. By July of 1893, Hugh Wetmore and Helen Cody were married. In late July of 1893, Helen Cody Wetmore took over as the business manager, and began writing stories about her brother for the paper. Eventually, she took over the “Women’s Column.” Two months later, on Sept. 30, 1893, the paper’s name was changed to the Duluth Press. In that issue, a long-running weekly serial drama about Buffalo Bill’s life, called “The Silver Star,” first appeared. Advertisements for Panmalt Coffee also became a regular item in the paper. The coffee substitute was made by the Cody/Powell Coffee Co. in LaCrosse, Wis. Buffalo Bill was president and treasurer of the company, and at the time said he was considering moving its plant to Duluth. On Jan. 6, 1894, an article about women’s rights included these remarks by Buffalo Bill: “A woman as well as a man can do anything she is taught. When people tell me that women can’t do this and they can’t do that, I know that it is only because they have not been taught how. “I never gave women’s rights much thought, but I say, give women their way; they have a right to it.” The Duluth Press was the only newspaper in Duluth to own its own building in 1894, when it opened its newly built Duluth Press Building at 1915 W. Superior St. Buffalo Bill, who had invested some $30,000 in the building, visited Duluth that year to celebrate its opening. The paper promised readers that the wild west showman would give away a pony, saddle and bridle to the Duluth or Superior boy or girl who secured the most yearly subscriptions. According to many historical accounts, Buffalo Bill had also purchased the newspaper at this time, but the paper itself does not announce a change in ownership. In July of 1894, Hugh Wetmore was replaced as editor by H. C. Van Leuven. It is unclear whether Buffalo Bill and his sister had seized control of the paper yet. Whether Wetmore still worked for the paper or was still living with his wife Helen has been a subject of speculation over the years. Wetmore is listed in Duluth’s city directory in 1895 as the paper’s advertising manager and “traveling solicitor.” Van Leuven wrote in his first editorial: “Hereafter the paper will be uncompromisingly republican -- advocating the principles of the party of Abraham Lincoln, and maintaining the doctrines of that grand organization that brought the nation out of the ruin and chaos of civil war, and made it chief among the powers of the earth.” Although there are vague references in the Duluth Press to the publisher of the paper in the summer of 1894, it’s not clear who is being referred to. It isn’t until Aug. 18 that the masthead finally lists as publishers: Col. W.F. Cody and Helen Cody Wetmore. In that same issue, the drawing of Buffalo Bill that had ran across the paper’s flag, was dropped. The Women’s Department of the Duluth Press, conducted by the Zenith Press Club, was started in September of 1894. Helen Cody Wetmore was the president, with three vice presidents, a secretary, a treasurer, three district officers, three county officers and 15 local presidents for various Duluth neighborhoods and cities as far away as Barnum, Mountain Iron and Pine City. Helen Cody Wetmore’s daughter from her first marriage, Mary “Mayme G.” Jester Allen took a job at the paper as city editor. By the end of 1894, the Duluth Press was calling itself “The Women’s Paper of the Great Northwest.” An editorial bragged that the paper had doubled its circulation in the second half of 1894, but no numbers were reported. A notice in the Jan. 19, 1895 issue declared that Col. Van Leuven had “retired” as editor. This supposed retirement was apparently not on the best terms. Three weeks later, the paper printed a warning to “railroads, politicians and the general public” that Van Leuven was no longer affiliated with the paper. The subtext of the warning being that he had made business transactions on behalf of the paper (while not under employment) in an attempt to either swindle money or damage the publishers’ reputation. Helen Cody Wetmore took on the title of managing editor after Leuven’s departure. Women now dominated every department of the paper’s staff. When the Duluth Press won the St. Louis County printing contract, narrowly outbidding the Duluth News Tribune, the DNT made a snide reference to “that weekly paper published down in the West End.” The Duluth Press shot right back, calling the DNT “a weakly daily paper.” The women were not going to be intimidated. By 1895, the Duluth Press was one of three publications in the country managed by women in every department. It had a readership in every state and throughout Canada. It also claimed to be “the very first paper in Minnesota to urge the necessity of keeping children at home after dark.” After opening a sanatorium in the fall of 1895, Helen turned over the position of managing editor and business manager to J. H. Peake, who had served as editor of the North Platte Enterprise in the 1870s, and would later help publish the Cody Enterprise in Cody, Wyo., owned by Buffalo Bill. Helen started writing a column called “Flash Lights from the Sanatorium.” In October, the paper expanded to eight pages. On April 18, 1896, the Duluth Press began distributing 25,000 extra copies through Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West Exhibition” summer tour. The paper began again running the old Buffalo Bill art on its flag and, during late May and early June, the paper temporarily changed its name to Buffalo Bill’s Press. At the end of May, the paper’s editorial claimed “the paper is reaching fully 200,000 readers in all parts of the world." But all was not well in the newspaper business, and a few of Buffalo Bill’s other investments were not paying off. According to Nellie Snyder Yost’s 1979 book, Buffalo Bill: His Family, Friends, Fame, Failures and Fortunes, “Helen was unable to rent any office space in the big building (Buffalo Bill) had built for her in Duluth.” The Aug. 29, 1896 issue would mark the end of the Duluth Press.

Paul Lundgren

about 3 months ago

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show also came to Superior. Here's the advertisement for Aug. 7, 1912 appearance: This clip comes via the Superior Public Library's Facebook page. It was posted there today with these notes:

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody brought his Wild West Show to Superior in August of 1912. During his lifetime, Cody had been a fur trapper, gold miner, scout for the United States Army and finally a showman. He and Superior photographer David F. Barry had become friends back in the day when they were both living and working in the Dakota Territory. When Buffalo Bill came to town that August, he was met at the Union Depot by his old friend Barry. They spent time at Barry's studio at 13th Street and Tower Avenue, before the show, talking about their days in the Dakotas. The Wild West Show was originally scheduled to take place at the show grounds on Belknap Street, but rainy weather had turned the ground to mud. The show was held at the Driving Park located on Tower Avenue near 28th Street. If you'd like to see a photo of Buffalo Bill, stop by the Douglas County Historical Society and take a look at the David F. Barry exhibit. There is a great picture of Buffalo Bill and his horse on display. The Douglas County Historical Society is located at 1101 John Avenue.

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