Home Away From Home, Wyoming

Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Today was day one for the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a museum that can’t possibly be covered in a day, at least not by my feet! We visited three sections today plus went through the Raptor Experience.

Our first stop was the Buffalo Bill Museum, the flagship of the entire museum. Its focuses on the life and times of Buffalo Bill from birth to his death. Upon entering this section, we were greeted by a large diorama featuring two large standing bison, a calf and a wallowing bison, very impressive. We were also able to watch a riveting video about bison and I learned still more about the fascinating creatures. Bison give birth in the spring and wean their calves within the first year. Although the calves rest and play among themselves they stay close to their mothers. Bison have few predators but wolves and grizzlies will attack the young, the old, the injured or the sick. Part of the video showed a wolf trying to attack a bison. He must have been a brave wolf because the bison kept kicking him away and he continued going back for more. Then it showed a pack of wolves chasing one bison. It was all shown on camera but there was enough that I surely knew what was happening to the bison. In another clip, it showed a calf running along with his mom and then a bear began to chase the calf. Try as she might the cow could not protect her calf.

Bison survive the harsh winters by growing thick winter coats which they shed in the warmer months by wallowing on the ground. They also wallow because of biting insects and itching. During the winter they burrow their heads in the thick snow to find food. It was amazing to watch them doing that. They are truly magnificent creatures.

The Buffalo Bill Museum is filled with originals and replicas of items representative of his life. He was unhappily married to Louisa with whom he had four children. In fact, in later years he tried to divorce her saying she was trying to poison him. This was very detrimental to his reputation as everyone sided with Louisa. They reconciled some years later and were together until his death. Sadly, she outlived all of her children, two of them having died in childhood. Their only son died of scarlet fever which he contracted when his father took him back east. Louisa blamed Cody for his death and that created even more fractures in their relationship.

Cody had many professions: guide, scout, frontiersman, showman, actor, entrepreneur, town founder, and American icon. During the 1860s and 1870s, he served as a civilian scout for the US Army. There he faced hostile situations, difficult terrain, and scarce resources. His sharp eyesight and ability to read the landscapes plus his riding ability made him a very valuable resource for the army. In fact, these very attributes led him to be a rider for the Pony Express. He wrote his mother telling her how much he liked the exciting life and her response was to ask him to stop as it would surely kill him. He agreed saying fifteen miles an hour on horseback would surely shake any man to pieces. He lasted two months!

Cody was also a professional buffalo hunter but did so to provide meat for the Kansas Pacific railroad workers. He also sold fresh meat to army forts in central Kansas. He never participated in the trade of killing buffalos for their hides and strongly disapproved of their slaughter. He said “People have the idea that I was a crack shot, and used that talent to kill for the buffalo hide. I never killed except for food and I never had any patience with the vandals of the plains”.

Another interesting fact: As a scout, Cody kept his hair long because the scouts who were out in the open, rain or shine, found that the greatest protection to the eyes and ears was long hair. Those who were prejudiced against long hair had “sore eyes, pains in the head, and loud ringing in the ears. We who wear our hair long let nature have her way in the matter, and profit from it”.

Cody’s sentiments toward the American Indians mellowed as he got older. Initially, as a boy, he played with them. As an adult, he feared them and considered them enemies but as his show developed and he incorporated them into it he began to soften and to treat them with respect. He also demanded that everyone else treat them with due respect.

One of the displays showed a map of the United States and had red pins on each of the cities that Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show visited. How surprised I was to learn that he went to Kinston!

In the mid-1890s Cody began to realize the value of water in the Bighorn Basin so he led the effort to seek funding and support for irrigation projects in the Bighorn Basin. This led to the Shoshone Irrigation Company which led to the Shoshone Dam, later renamed the Buffalo Bill Dam which is still in service today.

Fannie Sperry Steele
We continued our tour of the museum by going downstairs and reading about the history of the Cody Rodeo. This exhibit chronicled the growth of the rodeo from its beginning. There were many pictures, memorabilia and bronze sculptures depicting the various participants. One such sculpture was of Fannie Sperry Steele, a World Champion bronc rider and trick rider on her horse Sultan. She was the first woman inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame and was also inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame. She was a Montana native.

We continued our tour with the Draper Natural History Museum. We were constantly amazed at the variety of exhibits and videos. The very first exhibit was of the gray wolf, a much larger animal than I realized. The wolf was a top predator in Greater Yellowstone for many years before they were nearly eliminated in the 1930s. In 1995 the US Government reintroduced them to Yellowstone National Park where the pack has enlarged dramatically. Now the reintroduction becomes a hot topic as there are many who are opposed to it. While the wolves certainly serve as a tourist attraction and bring money to the area, they also cause problems for ranchers killing livestock and game animals, in particular, the elk.

Wolves are raised in dens and stay close to home. The adults mate in February and then by April the females start looking for den sites. There are usually four to five in an average litter and they are usually born in early April. The pups will leave the den at 10-14 days but stay close by for up to 10 weeks.

We visited the display of bighorn sheep and mountain goats where I learned that the major predators for both of those were the golden eagle, cougars, and humans. The bighorn sheep often butt heads to establish dominance to get to mate with the ewes. They launch themselves at each other, each weighing up to 300 pounds, and repeat until a winner is determined. They butt heads with enough force to kill any other animal but because of their flat, broad heads, they can absorb the hits from each other.

As we traveled through Custer State Park and Glacier National Park, we saw many fallen trees due to lightning strikes, insects (more specifically the pine beetle), disease or fire. We wondered why the forest was not cleaned up but learned today that a dead or dying tree is called a snag. Snags often serve as habitats, providing shelter and food long after the tree is gone. Cavities in the tree may be excavated by birds or other animals so that nothing in nature is wasted.

By this time, we were both getting hungry. We discussed going back to the campground for lunch but instead decided to eat at the museum. We both had salads in their cafeteria-style restaurant and they were very good. As we were eating, I noticed that Cody’s boyhood home was located right outside the door so as soon as we finished our meal we walked over. It is a partially recreated home of just two rooms although there were more in the original house.

We continued on and stumbled upon the Raptor Experience. A staffer had just finished a talk on the short-haired owl she was carrying. There are eleven birds in the area and all are there because they are unable to live in the wild. The owl has only one wing and the bald eagle also has a damaged wing.

Our next stop was the Whitney Western Art Museum which neither of us thought we would enjoy. How wrong we were. As we walked along, we were amazed at the display of art. Huge sculptures and large paintings that invited you right into the paintings were abundant. Our short time in the gallery turned into a remarkable visit.

At this point, we decided to cut out visit today short and finish up tomorrow since we were planning to go to the rodeo tonight. We walked into the gift shop and as we did we suddenly heard a loud clap of thunder. Thinking we could beat the storm Jerry went to the car to drive over to pick me up. Unexpectedly it began to pour down rain with some hail. Needless to say, Jerry sat out the storm in the car while I waited in the museum. I chatted with another RV couple on their way to West Yellowstone too. He told me it was only 100 miles away. Wrong! 300 miles. East Yellowstone is less than 100 miles away but we too are headed to the west side.

Jerry navigated the flooded streets quite well and we returned to the campground safely. Either Cody got a lot of rain during that storm or the downtown area has a drainage problem. We discussed going to the rodeo but decided that we might wait until tomorrow night as the weather for the evening was still unpredictable. We later learned that the rainfall was very unusual for this area thus the over-run streets.

Dinner at Cassie’s
We kept discussing what to do for the evening. The choices were Cassie’s for dinner or the rodeo. Since the weather had been so bad this afternoon we decided to wait until Sunday to go to the rodeo so off to Cassie’s we went. Cassie’s was established in 1922, a historic house of ill repute and is now a restaurant with a western flair for sure. Since we didn’t have reservations, we had to wait about 30 minutes so we sat at the bar and watched couples dance the two-step. At least I think that’s what they were doing. I really want to learn how to do that. There were a couple of interesting signs on the wall. “Not responsible for ladies left overnight” and “Act respectable. This is a high-class joint.” Of course, the requisite antlers were displayed in various places. I had an eight-ounce filet and oh my goodness. It puts NC filets to shame. By the time we had eaten fresh homemade bread slathered with honey butter plus a salad with a dressing made in-house, I couldn’t begin to finish my steak. Jerry got a ribeye and he too had some left over. Oh boy, dinner later this week!

After dinner, we ran by Walmart to see if they had a band for my FitBit. Mine had broken when I took my spill in Glacier. My FitBit is an older model and I really didn’t expect them to have one and they didn’t so I’ll continue to carry it in my pocket while we wander around.

The temperature had dropped significantly after the rain so it was a cool evening. Bet it’ll be some good sleeping tonight!

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