Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cody, Wyoming and the Old Wild West

Everywhere you turn in Cody are reminders of the Old West, reproduced or real. Make believe gun fighters dueling it out nightly, and two pervasive Buffalo Bill look-alikes, an old one and a younger one, plus a much thinner version of his wife, Louisa.

Old saddle tree
Of the real remnants, my favorites were  Old Trail Town and Museum of the Old West, Old West Miniature Village & Museum and the Dug Up Gun Museum.

Old Trail Town.
I'd seen it from the road and it looked like a tourist trap but Old Trail Town, the original site of Buffalo Bill's Cody City, turned out to be well worth the effort.

Hole in the Wall Gang's cabin.
 Tip: Not that it is much of an effort.  The ground is mostly level if uneven and the only steps are on and off the boardwalk fronting the buildings.

And what buildings - 24 cabins of trappers and outlaws, a saloon, store, school, carpenter shop, livery barn, mayor's home, all equipped with the appropriate used, abused, rusting fittings. Dating from 1880 to 1901, their weathered boards, timbers and fogged glass panes silently testifying to a hard scrabble existence survived only by the hardy and often devious.

Names pop up from old dime novels and famous films - Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, the Crow Indian Curley, buffalo hunter Jim White, Kid Curry, cattleman William Carter.

Buckboards galore.
Buckboards, wagons, wheels and other necessities of life in the old west fill the spaces in between. "Out back" you'll find the graves of Jeremiah "Liver Eating" 
Johnson, the trapper made famous by
Robert Redford; buffalo hunter Jim White; scout James Stilwell; trapper Phillip Vetter, who met his demise at the claws of a grizzly bear; W. A. Gallagher and Blind Bill, cowboys murdered in 1894; and the murdered Belle "Lady in Blue" Drewry.                                                                                 

Old West Miniature Village & Museum


                                                                             Plains Indian bull boat.

In a labor of love, Jerry "Eagle Speaker" Fick created an enormous - possibly the largest in the U. S. - miniature diorama of the battles for Montana and Wyoming, 66 meticulously researched scenes in all each with an audio for a self-guided trip through history.

Jerry "Eagle Speaker" Fick

More interesting to me were the exhibits surrounding the diorama. Fick, a Native American, found his first arrowhead at the age of 12 and has been collecting ever since. From family artifacts to healers' bags from the Grand Medicine Society of the Great Lakes Indians, weapons, period clothing, tools and weapons from all across the country add up to a museum-quality assemblage.

It took three large and one medium-sized beaver skins to buy this blanket (you can tell by the black marks on the upper right).

You'll see the tripod used by the surveyor who laid out the canals Buffalo Bill had dug to bring water year-round to his city, pictures of Jessie James from his niece, a bull boat made from the hide of a bull buffalo and willow in which the Plains Indians navigated rivers.

Known to locals as Tecumseh's, if Fick is around forget the rest of your schedule and spend as much time absorbing his wealth of knowledge as he's willing to give. You won't be sorry.

Hans Kurth
Dug Up Gun Museum
   The name got me. Planned only to stop in, glance around and leave, but 90 minutes later I was still in this upstairs room on a downtown Cody side street fascinated by  founder Hans Kurth's histories of the guns, bullets, sabers, clothes and photos in this array of the literally "found".

Warning: There are 23 steps from street to museum.

It is all fodder for the imagination from the broken Springfield carbine found at the Wounded Knee battle site to a flintlock pistol from the infamous Civil War battle at Cold Harbor. Kurth's enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge is addictive.

A good introduction to it all, old and contemporary, is an hour on the pet-friendly Cody Trolley Tours trolley. As they say, "Give us an hour, we'll give you 100 years."

Actually it's more than 100 years.


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