Since leaving Salt Lake City for Yellowstone National Park, everything became more “West”; there were ranches and signs warning “watch out for horseback riders,” stores ceased and instead trading posts and emporiums lined the small town main streets.
So, too, in Cody, Wyoming, chosen by me for an overnight stop because of its hour proximity to Yellowstone. As I entered the town (population 9,836), I passed its grandstand where the Cody rodeo was in full swing. Two fellows on horseback wearing cowboy hats sauntered towards the rodeo and a covered wagon being pulled by two horses appeared. A few blocks further, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West museum appeared, sporting a large statue of Buffalo Bill along with 3 tipis. Hmmm….. I thought, Buffalo Bill, Bill Cody, Cody, Wyoming….was there a connection?
Or course there was, as I learned surfing the internet. William Cody, aka the showman Buffalo Bill Cody and star of the Buffalo Bill Wild West show, was also the founder of the town. Hence, its name, Cody, Wyoming.
So, when in Rome…..I made my way to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, advertised as 5 museums in 1, to learn all things Buffalo Bill and the West.
The Buffalo Bill Museum traces the life and accomplishments of Buffalo Bill (except his stint living in Mississauga as a youth). He was a scout, although whether this was for the Pony Express, is debated, fervently anti-slave and served for the Union army during the civil war. Post war, he hunted buffalo to provide meat for the railroad workers, fought in the Indian Wars and became friends with another Western icon, Wild Bill Hickok.
In the 1870’s, he was bit by the acting bug and over the years, developed and starred in the show that would become synonymous with him, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. A combination of PT Barnum meets the Wild West, it was the predecessor to today’s rodeos and featured glorified visions of the Wild West to Easterners and Europeans anxious for a romanticized glimpse into the settling of the West. Extraordinary feats of horsemanship were performed alongside the marksmanship (markswomanship?) of ladies such as Calamity Jane and Annie Oakley.
Numerous Indians and their families traveled with the show, performing in mock battles of the Indian Wars, which they always seemed to lose. Mention was made in the museum of Custer and his defeat at Little Big Horn, but the focus was oddly on his widow’s attempts to keep his memory alive. The highlight of the Buffalo Bill Wild West show was the reenactment of the robbery of the Deadwood Stagecoach using the real Deadwood Stagecoach. The audiences always cheered loudly when the attackers were repelled and the stagecoach carried on its way.
Video footage of the show was available throughout the museum, alongside locations of its performances (Europe, Chicago) and some of its famous viewers (the Pope, Queen Victoria).
He also founded Cody, an old trail town, in 1895 where he dabbled in mining, architecture (the Irma hotel in downtown Cody is named after his daughter) and irrigation (the nearby dam is the Buffalo Bill dam). The Irma hotel still stands:
I toured, quickly, the Natural History Museum, mostly a shrine to the art of taxidermy. The Plains Indian museum was next, where the traditional Plains Indians’ lifestyle was portrayed, followed by a muted description of the European settlers’ arrival and the upheaval caused by them and finally, a look at the current revival of Indian customs and teachings. I passed on the Cody Firearms Museum and the Western Art Museum and decided to go for breakfast at the grill at the Irma hotel.
The décor was stereotypical West with a giant wooden bar backed by a long mirror, thick red carpet and more taxidermy.
The offerings were decidedly unWesternlike: a breakfast buffet and the diners were, like me, tourists. I ate and set off for my next destination.