The Cowdery Family and "Samuel Cody."
Written and researched by Margaret Odrowaz-Sypniewska, B.F.A.


The surname Cowdery is the shortened version of Cowderoy. A variation of Cowderoy is Corderay. Corderay/Coudray from a place name, Corderay, near the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy. This area has been settled since ancient times and was frequently fought over by the French and English because of its strategic value. The name William de Cordai occurs in Normandy, 1195-1198. Peter de Cordrai is found in England from the 13th century. Cowdery was first found in Berkshire where they were seated [from very early times] and were granted lands, by the Duke of Normandy. for their service at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 A.D.


The earliest record of Cowdery/Coudray coat of arms was in Foster's Dictionary of Heraldry...

Foster states that "Sire William Coudray of Berkshire bore the crest above at the first Dunstable Tournament in 1308. At this time there were 16 billets [four, three, four, three and two] or. (French origin). The same shield was bore by Piers and William Caudray at Arden, St. George, Parly, Cotgrave, and Jenyns Rolls. Sir Thomas Coudray differenced with a label of the three azures (blue); Ashmole Roll."

In Rietstap it shows five (5) variations of Coudray and du Coudry of Normandy, Maine, and Bretagne (Brittany) - all located in N.W. France.


The Cowdery arms for the Hampshire, England, Cowdery family is: "Gu., ten billets or, four, three, two and one. Crest: Out of a ducal coronet, or, an arm, in armour, embowed, ppr., garnished, gold, in gauntlet, an anchor, gu., stock, sa., cordage entwined round arm, of the last. (Fairbairn)

*billets - a term for military lodging for a soldier or a place assigned for sleeping on a war-of-war ship. In heraldry, it represents a brick or a letter. However, with the family stronghold's location near the sea, they might have been seafarers.

In The General Armory, p. 236, there are two arms for the Berkshire, England, Family:

Cowdery - "Gules, thirteen billets or, four, four, three, and two.

Cowdery - "Gu. ten billets or, four, three, two and one. Crest: Out of a ducal crown or, a dexter arm embowed in armour ppr. garnished of the first, holding in the gauntlet an anchor, gu, stocked sa. to the ring a piece of cable of the last, entwined around the arm." dexter arm (Same as the Hampshire coat of arms)

Berkshire Genealogy


The first member of this family in the Americas was thought to be William Cowdery (1602-1687), the son of George Cowdery of Dorset, from Reading Parish, Weymouth, England (Banks). His family came to Lynn, Massachusetts in 1630, sailing from Southampton, England. William was a member of the General Assembly of the Colonies, Deacon, Clerk of the Units, Town Clerk, Selectman, and a Representative to the General Assembly of the Colonies. He married (1) Joanna Liscence in 1638, and they settled in Reading, Massachusetts. Joanna died on May 6, 1666. (2) Alice___? but she did not have any children. William died in Reading, on November 10, 1687. We know that William had at least one son who had heirs:

.....*Nathaniel Cowdery (1639-1690). Nathaniel died [age 51] on June 16, 1690 in Reading, Middlesex, Massachusetts. He married Elizabeth _______? in 1654. Elizabeth died in 1659.

.....Mathias Cowdery was born on September 30, 1640, in Lynn, Essex, Massachusetts. Matthias died on March 25, 1663 [age 23].

.....Bethia Cowdery was born April 17, 1643, in Lynn, Essex, MA. Bethia married Samuel Carter on September 18, 1667 [age 25].

.....Hannah Cowdrey was born sometime after 1645 in Reading, Middlesex, MA. Hannah married John Polly on September 18, 1667, in Roxbury, Suffolk, MA.


.....*A Samuel Cowdery, selectman, was born May 16, 1657 in Reading, Middlesex, MA.(the son of Nathaniel) married Elizabeth Parker in April 28, 1685. Elizabeth was the daughter of Hananiah Parker and Elizabeth Brown. Nathaniel is mentioned in Reading in 1688 as living in Charlestown End, and donated one English Pound for the building of a new meeting house. It also states that Samuel came from Reading.

.....Elizabeth Cowdery.


.....A Nathaniel Cowdery was born November 20, 1691 in Charlestown, MA. and died April 23, 1757 [age66]in Hadley, MA.


imposter Samuel Cody


According to Harry Jenkins, biographer of the life of Franklin Samuel (Cowdery) Cody, Jonathan Cowdery was a sailor and surgeon in the U.S. Navy, and in 1803, he was captured by the Turks in Tripoli.

On October 31, 1803, the Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor, on the Mediterranean Sea, south of the island of Malta. Yusef Karamanli, the sinister Pasha, then had more than 300 Americans to hold for ransom.

Edward Preble wrote a letter to Stephen Decatur to take his ship, the Intrepid, to Tripoli harbor, board the Philadelphia and burn her. On the moonless night of February 16, 1804, this plan was carried out. The captain, Stephen Decator, did not want his ship to be used by the Tripolitans.

So it seems Jonathan Cowdery was most likely one man among the 300 men imprisoned in Tripoli.


Mandy Cowdrey, sister of Benjamin Franklin Cowdery.

*Benjamin Franklin Cowdery was a printer, publisher, and editor, in Angelica, New York. Benjamin married (1) Amanda _______? In 1819. Amanda was a nurse and she died in 1842 in Oberlin, Ohio.


Martha Cowdery

Sarah Cowdery

*Samuel Cowdery was born in November 1831 in Rochester, New York. Samuel married Phoebe van Horn in May 1857, and they were divorced in 1879 (after 22 years of marriage). Samuel joined the Union Army and was discharged on June 13, 1864, because of a medical problem. After the army he was never healthy. Samuel died on September 27, 1902, and was buried in Davenport’s Memorial Gardens. His ex-wife, Phoebe, is not listed on his tombstone, nor are his children. Phoebe is buried in the same cemetery in a mausoleum only seven plots away.

Jabez Franklin Cowdery was a buccaneer on the Schooner “Mary Perkins” of Cape Cod, and later on the “Carrington.” In 1880, Jabez was visited by his brother Samuel. By 1859 Jabez was a lawyer, and in 1861, he worked for the Internal Revenue Collection services.

I found a Jabez Franklin Cowdery, age 32 as an attorney in the San Francisco Registry of 1867. His residence was in Ward 10 at 24 Mary Street. His date of registration was listed as June 23, 1866, and his last known residence was New York.



.....(1)Amanda Cowdery was born February 1859.

.....(2)Charles Cowdery was born September 1865.

.....(3)Elizabeth Cowdrey was born March 6, 1867. Elizabeth would be the daughter that supported and cared for her mother Phoebe.

.....(4)*Franklin Samuel Cowdery was born March 6, 1867 in Birdsville, Texas, only three months after "Buffalo Bill" Cody's daughter, Arta.

By 1872, in Chicago, Bill Cody made his first stage appearance, and later traveled with an extravaganza that featured the shooting of Annie Oakley.

In 1881, Franklin Cowdery headed to Montana and changed his name to Samuel Cody.


In 1884, Franklin Samuel Cowdery was paid $125.00 a month as a trail boss. He then worked for Adam Forepaugh in his Wild West type show. Adam was originally a Philadelphia butcher. Then he decided to run his own big-top shows. Adam was not above bogus activity. His "white elephant" was a grey whitewashed elephant, he called "Light of Asia." His objective for this deception was to compete with Barnum and Bailey's Circus. Barnum & Bailey's featured a true sacred white elephant.


"Samuel Cody" was born March 6, 1867 in Birdsville, Texas, and he married Maude Lee (age 17), daughter of Joseph Lee, when he was twenty-one (21) years of age. Their marriage took place in 1888. There were no civil records showing they divorced. (2) Samuel was said to have married Lela Blackburne Davis, daughter of John Blackburne Davis. Lela was fifteen (15) years older than Samuel. There was no record of this second marriage. On February 1895 in Basle, Switzerland, Lela gave birth to her and Samuel’s only child , Frank Cody.

Adam Forepaugh died in January 1890, in New York, of influenza. After this Samuel “Cody” had to find a new group to join. His new boss would then be Albert Newton Ridgeley.

Apparently Samuel Cody told everyone he was the son of William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody. This impressed many people including Maude. After a while they had a falling out. They had no children.

.....(5)Martha Cowdery, Franklin’s sister, was born September 1867 (This date doesn't seem right?). In 1882, Martha married Frederick Meckel. After her brother’s death she was contacted and she inherited 250 English pounds from his estate, as did all his siblings.


On April 15, 1890, Albert Newton Ridgeley was given a writ served by William Frederick Cody regarding the use of the terms “Wild West” in the new show that Samuel Cody was part of. Apparently William thought that he coined the “Wild West Show” concept and thus it was copyrighted to him. Ridgeley began his show after the death of Forepaugh. Bill Cody was never given satisfaction regarding their use of "Wild West Show" on their marquee, and many think that this was the reason Bill never persued the use of his name by Cowdery. Bill could not afford the legal costs.

Members of his show were billed as “Captain and Miss Cody.” They were billed as the son and daughter of William F. Cody and they earned most of their fame in England and Europe. Since few Englishmen knew Buffalo Bill Cody’s son, Cody, had died, or that Cody’s daughter, Irma was then only nine years old, the fraud continued.



"Colonel Cody" (birth name Franklin Samuel Cowdery), the imposter, then had a love affair with Lela Blackburne Davis, daughter of John Blackburne Davis. They never were legally married in England, as Samuel claimed, and they moved to Texas shortly afterwards. Samuel Cody's second marriage was as much of a deception as his name.

Lela (b. 1852) was married first to Edward King [of Chelsea, England] on January 1873. Lela was then twenty-one (21) years of age. Lela and Edward’s children were:

Lela’s children joined her and Samuel in their Cody Family Act. Elizabeth and Edward soon were sharpshooters.


Meanwhile, in 1887, William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody performed for Queen Victoria.

Lela was fifteen (15) years older than Samuel. Her family had connections to the Royal Family. Her father, John Blackburne Davis, provided horses for the Royal Stud. The in 1890, after twenty years in the monarch’s service, Lela’s sister Mercedes’ (nee Blackburne Davis) husband, Robert Glassby, succeeded Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm as official sculptor to Queen Victoria. Victoria did not like that her sculptor’s sister-in-law left her husband for an “American Wild West Cowboy.” Queen Victoria denied "Samuel Cody" and his family the right to perform for her because of their arrangement.


On February 1895 in Basle, Switzerland, Lela gave birth to her and Samuel’s only child, Frank Cody. She was now age 43. Their son, Frank Cody [age 18], would later join the 41st Squadron of the Royal Flying Corp (established on May 13, 1912) in Farnsworth, England, in August 2, 1913. Shortly after joining the Corp, he would be fighting in World War I (1914–1918). Frank's military service would begin just five days before his father’s death. By April 1, 1918, the Royal Flying Corp's name was changed to "The Royal Air Force."

Royal Air Force in 1914.

Franklin Samuel (Cody) Cowdery died on Thursday, August 7, 1913 in a plane crash (in his “Flying Cathedral“) at age 46. Samuel left no will. His estate went into probate for seven years. Samuel's money went to his first wife, Maude (nee Lee) Cody. She received 1,000 English pounds.

Lela [now 61 years of age], his second wife, and Samuel’s only child Frank Cody, received nothing! There was no proof of a marriage between Samuel and Lela, in England, or Samuel's divorce from his first wife Maude.

Franklin Samuel Cowdery’s siblings received 250 English pounds each. Amanda, Martha [nee Cowdery] Meckel, and Elizabeth were all recipients, while Samuel's brother Charles Couwdery is not mentioned in the probate settlement.

The thing that Franklin Samuel Cowdery ("Cody") won the most fame for was his airplanes and his experimentation with flying.


William Frederick Cody died on January 10, 1917 [age 71], four years after his imposter son, at the home of his sister, May Cody Decker, in Denver, Colorado. Bill was buried on Lookout Mountain, near Denver, Colorado.



"Buffalo Bill" made the cowboy famous through his Wild West Shows. He was also said to have loved children, most likely because of the pain involved in the death of two (Kit Carson Cody and Orra Maude Cody) of his own children before they reached adulthood. William Cody went on to make a few early movies in black and white featuring his show.


Samuel Frankling Cody a page by Jean Roberts, who researched much of the information regarding this family
The Oliver Cowdery Pages
Samuel Cody Britain's First Flyer
Monte Saint Michal, France.
William F. Cody ... Buffalo Bill and the Bison ... William F. Cody's Family
The American Bison



Fairbairn, James. Fairbairn's Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland. New York; Bonanza Books, 1986, 127.

Family Tree Maker CD 23 Pilgrim Genealogies and Histories 1600s-1900s Topographical Dictionary of New England, Emigrants from England to New England. Broderbund.

Family Tree Maker CD 367 - Notable British Families, 1600s-1900s - The Genealogical Armoury. Broderbund.

Family Tree Maker CD 200 - Compendium of American Genealogy Disc 2 of 3, Volume IV, Lineage Records. Broderbund.

Family Tree Maker CD 502 - MA. Vital, Probate, and Town Records 1600s-1900s History of Stoneham, MA. Broderbund.

Foster, Joseph. The Dictionary of Heraldry" Feudal Coats of Arms and Pedigrees. London: Studio Editions, 1994, 56.

Jenkins, Garry. "Colonel" Cody and the Flying Cathedral. London: Touchstone, 2000.

Rietstap, J.B. Armorial General: Dictionaires Ded Termes Du Blason. Baltimore, Maryland: Clearfield, 2003, 472.

Trachtman, Paul. The Gunfighters [The Old West Series]. New York: Time-Life Books, 1974.

You are the visitor since March 18, 2005

The Wild West Table of Contents
The Bear Clan - Table of Contents

Webmaster and author: Margaret Sypniewska, B.F.A.
Owner: Raymond Sypniewski, B.S., M.A.
Email Margaret: Margaret
Email Raymond: Raymond

This page was last updated on July 17, 2006

This page is hosted by