Home Away From Home, Wyoming

A Full Day in Cody

We started our day with a tour of Old Trail Town which shows the old West as it really was. It was a sunny but cool day, perfect for wandering in and out of the authentic cabins moved to Cody. This was where the original town of Cody was located. There were over twenty buildings, some we could enter and some roped off. All had authentic items in them and nearly all had either a bison head, a pronghorn head, a deer head, antlers from various animals or animal skulls. Each cabin is unique in its own way.

Bob Edgar, a Wyoming native with an interest in archeology realized that old historical buildings were rapidly disappearing so in 1967 he began the work of gathering the buildings and relics that are now located at Old Trail Town as this was where Cody had chosen for the first townsite of Cody in 1895. Many of the buildings were taken completely apart, moved and then reassembled. Among the relics at Old Trail Town are horse-drawn vehicles, memorabilia from the Wyoming frontier and Indian artifacts. While much of the memorabilia is in the various cabins the majority is housed in a very extensive museum viewed at the end of the trail.

The first cabin we entered was “Curley’s Cabin”. Curley was an Indian scout for Custer and luckily was able to escape the carnage at Little Bighorn as he was on the outside circle of the Sioux and Cheyenne. Many believe he was the first to bring the news of Custer’s defeat. The cabin was originally built near Crow Agency, Montana.

In 1882 some of the first sheep arrived in Central Wyoming brought by Luther Morrison. Morrison originally came west on the Oregon Trail in 1853 and built this cabin in 1884 located at the foot of Copper Mountain east of Shoshone, Wyoming. As in the other cabins, the walls were encircled by mounted animal heads but in addition, there was a two-headed calf! There was also a lovely old organ. Talking about juxtaposition.

Hole in the Wall cabin is a two-room cabin which was built on Buffalo Creek in the Wall Country, west of Kaycee, Wyoming by Alexander Ghent. It was known as the rendezvous place for Butch Cassidy, The Sundance Kid and other outlaws of the famous “Hole in the Wall Gang”.

Our next stop was the graveyard where five of the more infamous folks were buried. The first grave we visited was that of Jeremiah Johnson or better known as “Liver-Eating’ Johnson. Johnson was a trapper, hunter, wood hawk, army scout, marshal and Civil War veteran. He got his nickname because reportedly after he killed someone, he would take a bite of their liver. Yuk! Johnson’s body was moved to this location and one of the pallbearers was Robert Redford who played Jeremiah Johnson in the movie.

Other graves were those of Jim White also known as Buffalo Hunter, Jack Stilwell known as Frontiersman, Phillip Vetter, a trapper killed by a grizzly, W.A. Gallagher and Blind Bill, cowboys who were murdered and then the famous or more likely infamous Belle Drewry, the Woman in Blue. Supposedly she was involved in the murder of Gallagher and Blind Bill. She was buried in a blue dress.

Next, we visited a tribute to the famous Mountain Men including James “Old Gabe” Bridger, a hunter and trapper and Jim Bridger. Possibly the first man known as a Mountain Man was John Colter, a trapper who worked for Lewis and Clark. During his journey, he found “Colter’s Hell” which is where a tribute to him is now located. Although it cannot be accessed from Old Trail Town his monument can be seen in the distance. Legend has it that when captured by the Blackfeet he was forced to run for his life. He outdistanced the entire tribe for seven miles and survived, naked and weaponless but alive.

One of the last places we visited was the Rivers Saloon. It was frequented by Butch Cassidy, W.A. Gallager, Blind Bill and many other colorful cowboys of the old west. It is the oldest remaining saloon in northwest Wyoming. I saw bullet holes in the door!

Last but certainly not least is a museum filled with artifacts of the Old West including a horse-drawn hearse from the late 1800s. Initially, I didn’t realize what it was and then – wow!

We had decided to picnic again today so we went to the park at the Cody Visitor’s Center and had a nice lunch on the grounds. We still had two more museums to visit at the Buffalo Bill Center for the West so we returned there. We immediately went to the Plains Indians museum because we knew we would spend more time in there.

Jerry had remarked earlier that most of the photographs that we see of the Native Americans are either of children or men. Why not women? We asked at Old Trail Town but they were mystified as well. When we entered the Plains museum the very first and very large photograph we saw was of a woman. The first part of the museum emphasized the important role that the women played in their everyday lives.

“We women had our children to care for, meat to cook, and to dry, robes to dress, skins to tan, clothes, lodges and moccasins to make. We not only pitched the lodges, but took them down and packed the horses and the travois, when we move camp. We were busy, especially when we were going to move. I love to move, even after I was a married woman with children to take care of. Moving made me happy.” Pretty Shield, Absaroke (Crow)

Continuing on through the museum we saw life-sized women and men mounted on horses. Interestingly, before horses arrived on the Plains, dogs were essential to maintaining the season rounds. Dogs were not only family pets, but they were also used to carry the lodge poles and covers when families moved. After horses arrived the poles became longer and bigger so dogs were no longer used for that purpose.

One of the most interesting exhibits consisted of a life-size buffalo hide tipi. As buffalo disappeared from the Plains, women began making tipis from canvas so very few buffalo hides tipis exist today. This tipi showed evidence of many patches and repairs as well as hands and circles painted in red pigment. The audio that accompanied the exhibit explained the life of the Indians throughout each season.

The last museum we visited was the Cody Firearms Museum. It houses the most comprehensive collection of American firearms in the world with over 7,000 firearms and 30,000 firearms-related artifacts.

By this time, we were getting a little weary so we returned to the campground for a little rest as we knew we had an exciting night ahead.

After a little respite, we went to the Cody Cattle Company for dinner and a show before the rodeo. We were assigned seats for dinner and unfortunately, we were at a table with four people from Denmark. I chatted with the lady sitting next to me briefly but other than that neither of the others spoke to us keeping to themselves. I’m not sure they could speak English as I never heard them say anything in English. Dinner was beef brisket and/or chicken served with a choice of salad, slaw, vegetables and cowboy beans. It was good but the best part was the outstanding show. The band, The Three C, played a varied selection of old and new western songs. The guitarist was absolutely outstanding and has won several national titles. Watching him strum each of his guitars was mesmerizing.

Immediately after the show, we walked over to the rodeo. A PBR rodeo, it features all of the usual contests: bull riding, bare bronc riding, barrel racing, roping, and others. The rodeo started with a salute to the flag and prayed to our Lord and Savior. What a nice way to begin an evening. Someone had told us to take a jacket as it might be cold and when the wind started blowing it did indeed get a little chilly. Jerry and I have watched rodeos on television in the past but the real thing is a little different. The cowboys and cowgirls are a brave bunch and from the junior contests we saw, it looks like the future of the rodeo is on solid ground.

What a great day!

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!