Family link to a legend of the west
If walking around Aurora and you happen to see a guy looking a lot like the pictures you've seen of the Wild West showman Buffalo Bill Cody, stop and say hello to a direct descendant of Buffalo Bill.
Or if you stop by Benson's Corner for an espresso and the proprietor looks familiar, you've met Larry Benson, a cousin of the western entrepreneur and military scout, whose Wild West shows dazzled people around the world.
Benson was just a youngster when he found out they were distant cousins.
"I've known since second grade, probably first," he said. "Throughout school, kids would beat me up for saying we were related. It wasn't until my dad intervened and showed them my name in the book that they stopped and realized it was true."
His parents took him to a Cody family reunion in Portland when he was a small tyke, but he doesn't remember much of that. He does remember another reunion where they had three prizes. First one was for the closest birthday, which was his on that very day. The second had to do with who had the youngest child; his daughter had been born a week earlier.
The Cody family has a reunion every other year. The most recent was in the town William Cody founded, Cody, Wyoming. The next one, in 2021, will be in LeClaire, Iowa, where Cody was born 175 years before. There are about 75 people who continue to appear at the reunions. They all are close and when they get together every other year it's like they haven't been apart, he said. While most of the Cody relatives are in the United States, there are some who come from Canada and even a family in Brazil that's related by marriage.
Looking at Benson, especially when he's dressed as Cody, it's hard to believe the man isn't still alive and staring at you. He's got the same beard and mustache and with his cowboy hat and jacket is a dead ringer for his cousin.
"It's the nose. I get recognized at least six or eight times a year for people besides Buffalo Bill. Different people think I'm Sam Elliot, Dennis Weaver and even Custer," he said, wrinkling his nose at the thought.
The relationship between Benson and Cody can be traced back five generations to Cody's aunt Sophia Billings, who is Benson's great, great, great, great aunt, as well, he said. Cody was buried on Lookout Mountain in Colorado and to make sure that he would stay there, he was buried under three tons of concrete and guarded with a tank, said Benson.
Apparently, at the time, many people wanted to claim his body for their own cities and people worried they would dig his body up and move him where they wanted his bones.
"I'm super proud to be related to him," Benson told the Herald.
Once, he noted, people were taking photos of the people at the reunion. "One guy looked at me as if he'd seen a ghost," Benson said.
He's become close with all his cousins, he added, and they've asked him to be president of the family. He's made sure all his children have gone to at least one of the reunions, and his youngest, William Major Benson, is his most excited and happy to be related to Buffalo Bill.
Benson has lived in the area off and on since 1959. He's lived in Salem, Woodburn, Canby and Aurora and Colorado. In 1995 he opened estate sales and a car lot along with an espresso drive up on Ehlen Road in Aurora. He spent his early years in Salem and Eugene where his father was a police officer.
Quality local journalism takes time and money, which comes, in part, from paying readers. If you enjoy articles like this one, please consider supporting us.
(It costs just a few cents a day.)