During the Christmas festivities of the year 1900, the great scout, showman, and Medal of Honor recipient William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody collapsed on the ground in a heap. As he attempted to cry out for help, Cody found he was unable to speak.
Though he eventually recovered from this episode, the event held sway over him for the rest of his life. In 1905, as Buffalo Bill sued his wife Louisa Frederici Cody for divorce, Bill declared that she had poisoned him that Christmas night. He also asserted that she had been slowly poisoning him for a period of time.
During the divorce court proceedings Cody claimed that Louisa had bought a concoction called “Dragon’s Blood,” a Victorian-era anti-abuse-type medication designed to open the “sluices” at both ends, and poisoned him with it.
Bill claimed she procured the potion from a Gypsy traveler who told Louisa that, “...by feeding it to [Bill] it would make him love her again.” Responding to the accusation, Louisa said that she had never heard of “Dragon’s Blood” and denied giving Bill the tonic to, “...make him love her more than any other women.”
But Bill did not stop there, he went on to accuse her of having poisoned his prize stag hounds that he had received from the czar of Russia. Louisa refuted this by saying that the hounds were poisoned by mistake when food doused with strychnine was put out to kill rats and mistakenly eaten by the dogs.
At the time, a judge dismissed Cody’s claim and said that Bill had simply over indulged in alcohol at the Christmas dinner table. The Judge in the case agreed with Louisa and decided not to annul marriage.
Most people close to Louisa knew she hated her husband’s love of wine and spirits, but, they also knew she hated Bill’s supposed infidelity. Some even said, “She was jealous of all his fine friends, of the carousals at his ranch in Wyoming, of the adulation from adoring crowds he received, and of the long journeys overseas on which he never took [Louisa].”
On one particular occasion in 1887, Bill kissed the showgirls goodbye at the end of the Wild West’s touring season, making Louisa so furious she never forgot it. Some have felt these improprieties gave Louisa cause to buy a poison that would fatally fill Bill’s body with a venomous toxin.
Not too long after the divorce court ruling, Bill began suffering from extremely debilitating headaches. To combat them, Bill began taking special “powders” that he imported from Canada.
Today it is believed that these “powders” contributed to his death from Uremic kidney poisoning. The disease is commonly referred to today as impaired renal function that leads to kidney failure.
Bill gave up the ghost on January 10, 1917 at the age of 70. It’s worth noting that before Bill’s passing he and Louisa seemed to have reconciled their differences.
However the question still remains was Buffalo Bill poisoned by his wife? Did she truly give him the dreaded “Dragon’s Blood” and how long had she been spoon-feeding it to him before he caught on to the malfeasance? Did this heinous witch’s brew help usher in the intense headaches that eventually contributed to his death? Or, were Cody’s physical troubles mostly due to imbibing in too much booze and a rambunctious lifestyle?
The answer to these questions will most assuredly remain lost to history, but it is fun to try and seek them out anyway.
Kellen, this was too much fun to read and very interesting!! Thank you for all of your hard work.
I'm glad you liked it Mary Beth!!!
Very interesting, thanks.
Thanks it's much appreciated.
This was very interesting.
Thanks so much!
An interesting account of the fraught relationship between the Codys. Curious to know if by “Victorian-era anti-abuse type-medication” you might have meant Antabuse, the brand name for a medication used to treat alcoholism - and that autocorrect had its own idea?
It could not have been Antabuse as it was not discovered until 32 years after Cody's death.
You are (auto) correct. I write one thing, and editors do as well, and auto correct has it's own thoughts.
My great-great grandmother was Mary Minerva (Lamplugh) Tobin Harrington; Louisa's best friend. At the time of Cody vs Cody, she had known them for 26 years & was the financer of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. In the County of Sheridan's &Wyoming) court transcripts she testified she had provided them with loans totaling around $4,100, the security for which was the Cody's land.
My grandmother (Mary Harrington's grand daughter) was given her first sip of whiskey while sitting on Buffalo Bill's lap, as he said it would cure her cold.
According to my great-great grandmother, Louisa did not try to poison Buffalo Bill. Amusingly, what did happen is something that she & Louisa were "partners in crime": They actually used to steal his flask, pour out some of the whiskey & replace it with holy water from the church!