It may be surprising to learn that two of America’s greatest cowboy entertainers William “Buffalo Bill” Cody and singing sensation Gene Autry have ties to our fair town.
The Showman of the Wild West
William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, born in Iowa in 1846, was a direct descendant of Philip and Martha Le Gody (eventually Cody). Believed to be a French Huguenot, Le Gody settled in Beverly, MA, with his wife Mary and children in 1698. The family first appear in Hopkinton records in 1723. Upon his death in 1739, Philip left his wife and sons various segments of his 200 acre farm.
Though many Cody descendants remained in Hopkinton for several more generations, Bill’s grandfather left in 1811, eventually settling in Ohio. Bill’s father Isaac Cody moved from there to the Iowa territory where William Frederick Cody was born in 1846.
Leaving home at age 11, young Bill pursued an adventurous life which included driving a wagon train, fur trapping and mining. In 1860 he began work as a Pony Express rider throughout the western territories and joined the Kansas Seventh Volunteer Calvary during the Civil War. He remained a scout for the Army for several years after the war and is reputed to have fatally shot Tall Bull during a battle with the Cheyenne in Colorado.
It was then, he became a showman performing in “Scouts of the Prairie”, and in 1883 he launched his own traveling Wild West Show. Famous for its cast of hundreds including Native Americans such as Lakota leader Sitting Bull; women including Annie Oakley and the famous Black cowboy Bill Pickett. The production went bankrupt in 1913 and Buffalo Bill died soon after in Colorado.
The extended Cody family kept ties to Hopkinton well into the 20th century, holding the Family Association Reunion here in August of 1964.
The Singing Cowboy
Cold Spring Farm, located at the corner of Ash & Chestnut Streets, is where we find our next connection to a famous cowboy. Orvon Grover “Gene” Autry was born in Tioga, TX in 1907. Known as “The Singing Cowboy”, he launched his film career in 1934 as (what else?) a cowboy. Autry went on to star in dozens of cowboy pictures and produced more than 600 popular songs. His most famous tune “Back in the Saddle Again” (1939) remains a favorite decades on, as do several of his holiday songs including “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.”
Despite his lack of actual experience on the range, the celluloid cowboy nonetheless had an interest in authenticity. Throughout his career he collected many historical artifacts, which eventually found their home in the Autry Museum of the American West in in Los Angeles. Whether or not that collection includes the stagecoach he purchased from the Cold Spring farm owners sometime in the 1940s is uncertain, but definitely worth further research!
Interested in knowing more about our town’s rich history? Stop by the Hopkinton Historical Center museum & archive at 168 Hayden Rowe, Mondays 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm, or even better – consider joining as a member!
Anne Mattina is a Board Member and Vice President at the Hopkinton Historical Society