Was Louisa Cody a nagging shrew, as Buffalo Bill Cody claimed when he twice tried to divorce her? Or was this beautiful, dark-haired French woman a saint, enduring her husband’s long absences, recklessness with money, indulgence of liquor and relationships with other women?
Growing up in a secure St. Louis family and schooled by nuns, Louisa Frederici was unprepared for the hard life of making a home in what was still considered the Wild West. Due to the Civil War, her beaus had been few, so it’s no wonder she was smitten with a rugged army scout named William F. Cody and agreed to his proposal within weeks. Hours after their marriage, the newlyweds boarded a steamer for the west where Louisa followed her husband from post to post and dream to dream.
While “Willie” learned the art of entertaining dignitaries on buffalo hunts, Louisa learned to skin sage grouse and shoot a gun with her horse in a full run and a child strapped to her breast. She prepared antelope for a Russian Grand Duke while tending to toddlers and shooing Pawnee from the tiny kitchen of her crude cabin. Louisa would later say those days were the happiest times of her troubled and often lonely marriage. The more famous “Buffalo Bill” became, the more heated came the conflicts. The scandalous courtroom drama of her refusing his request for a divorce played out nationwide in newspapers.
In 1910, the final season of old age brought with it a truce after the couple was locked in a room together. Only William’s death in 1917 would end their fifty-year marriage. One thing is certain—without Louisa Cody and her talents and business sense, there would not have been a world-renowned figure still revered today as “Buffalo Bill”. Yes, theirs was certainly an intimate and yet stormy relationship. But then again, is there ever a perfect marriage?
Shrew or saint? I’ll let you the reader decide.