Connecting Iron Eyes Cody to LeClaire
By Wayne Walley
The Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire, Iowa, has an exhibit featuring a teepee once owned by actor Iron Eyes Cody. Cody was actually of Italian descent with the real name Espera Oscar de Corti.
Cody, an actor of Italian descent who portrayed Native Americans in many westerns, is perhaps best known as the “Crying Chief” in the 1971 Keep America Beautiful TV commercial. He was not related to Buffalo Bill Cody, but he was good friends with LeClaire native Cecil Fletcher.
A LeClaire, IA Songwriter
Cecil was an accomplished musician and played the trumpet and bass fiddle in a number of area bands for many years. In addition, he was a farmer, song writer, penned the book, “The Life of a Rusticator from Buffalo Bill Ground and Napsinekee Hollow,” and recorded two music albums and several history tapes as well. Many folks will remember the little wayside chapel Cecil built at his home in Nap-Sim-Ekee Hollow. He was a member and former vice president of Scott County Historical Society, a director of Buffalo Bill Museum, a former deacon and choir leader of LeClaire Baptist Church, a former director of Federal Land Bank Association of Omaha and a member of Tri-City Musicians Union, Local 67.
Fletcher died in 2002, but was well-known as a historian, musician, author and admirer of Buffalo Bill Cody. He also composed the “LeClaire Song,” the official song of the community. That still doesn’t quite explain how the teepee found its way to LeClaire but starts to explain the connection. Here’s the rest of the story:
An American Pickers Find
Mike Wolfe, star of the TV series “American Pickers” and an avid history buff, remembers having had the opportunity to visit Cecil at his home in LeClaire. “The first time I was in his house, I saw a photo of him with Iron Eyes and he said they were good friends,” Mike said.
Fast-forward many years later to 2015, where Mike and his partner, Frank Fritz, are in Arizona to purchase a few items from the estate of Victor Buck, an entrepreneur and antiques dealer. Buck had received the collections of Iron Eyes Cody after his death in 1999.
Among those possessions acquired by Mike in that episode of the TV show was the teepee. He then promptly brought it back to LeClaire to donate it to the Buffalo Bill Museum.
“On the show, we like to incorporate our community, so we did the donation on the show,” Mike says. “They did a great job of setting it up.”
The museum even raised the roof in the spot where the teepee stands today to accommodate its height. In addition, the teepee is located near the museum’s display highlighting the life of Fletcher, including a video performance of his LeClaire Song, and several of Fletcher’s instruments.