Shooting showdowns in the streets are staged for tourists as are the stage shows and most of the shops, but the Wild West lives on in Cody, Wyoming, a perfect starting point for meeting wildlife, entry into Yellowstone National Park and dazzling scenic drives.
Tip: What you want to see and do in Cody is, for the most part, on the level, but you are at altitude (5,098 feet), so take it easy. The new Yellowstone regional airport is a delight. You will load and deplane outside with a short walk to the baggage area and beyond. The restaurant produces some good food, too.
Defining the American West
What was and is the West exactly? The Buffalo Bill Historical Center has been striving to define it since 1917. What began as a log cabin tribute to William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, founder and namesake of Cody, has grown into a seven-acre building housing five museums and a research center, any one of each most cities would claim with pride.
|Buffalo Bill in a Wild West show tent, ca. 1903.|
The Deadwood Stage used in the Wild West shows.
First came the Buffalo Bill Museum (1927) with its extensive collection of material from this fascinating man's life from his childhood years in Iowa, his adventures as a U. S. Army scout, a rider for the Pony Express, a hunter for the railroads, a respected friend of the Plains tribes, a guide to royals and other well-heeled visitors to father and showman extraordinaire.
|Spider Phaeton carriage built for Buffalo Bill in 1890 by Studebaker Bros.|
Tip: The Buffalo Bill Museum will be closing for renovation Oct. 1 but should be open by May 1, 2012.
Examining the documents; clothes - his, his wife, Louisa's, Annie Oakley's, daughter Irma's; his Spider Phaeton carriage built in 1890 by Studebaker Bros.; saddles and bridles - his, Irma's, Annie Oakley's; the chuckwagon and Deadwood stage from the Wild West shows; his saddle with its silver buffalo head medallion and hundreds more items could fill the better part of a day.
|"Last of the Buffalo" (1888) by Albert Bierstadt.|
The Whitney Gallery of Western Art (1959) is equally impressive with its collection of Bierstadts, Morans, Russells, Butterfields, Hannocks, Berneses, Scholders, N.C. Wyeths and Remingtons (including his studio) to name-drop a few.
|Studio of Frederick Remington.|
|Absaroka ashtaale, Crow lodge.|
|On the move|
Plains Indian Museum (1979) houses one of the largest and best collections of North Plains Indian art and artifacts that present their life in context from an Absaroka (Crow) lodge and Hidatsa Earth Lodge (the women owned them!) to a life-sized tribe on the move.
|1913 hunting camp of Prince Albert I of Monaco.|
Even pacifists will appreciate the Cody Firearms Museum (1991), the world's largest and most important collection of American arms from the 16th century to the present. If the artistry and affect on history leaves you cold, seeing the guns carried by actors and actresses in famous films and TV shows and the 1913 camp of Prince Albert I of Monte Carlo, the first foreign head of state to visit, who was guided by Buffalo Bill, will be worth a look.
|Visitors spiral down to today's landscape at the Draper Museum of Natural History.|
If you plan to visit Yellowstone, don't miss the Draper Museum of Natural History which shows you how it and its wild residents came to be.
Tip: This is the only non-level museum. A ramp circles down but as we all know, what goes down must come up. It's doable.
|Ernie LaPointe, last living great grandson of Sitting Bull.|
Don't miss the second, lower, floor where special exhibits are staged and talks given. I met and heard Ernie La Pointe, the last living great grandson of Sitting Bull.
Tip: It's 30 steps to the basement level but there's also an elevator.
|Sacagawea sculpture by Harry Jackson.|
|Ron Reed cooks for visitors at his chuckwagon.|
Outside the Center are impressive sculptures and fun, live demonstrations such as tepees, Ron Reed and his cowboy chuck wagon fare (see recipe for Cowboy Beans at www.foodafar.blogspot.com ) and local wranglers teaching visitors how to rope a steer.
To find all of this in Cody, a town of 9,000, is astonishing. Until you begin to meet some of those 9,000 inhabitants. I'll show and tell you more in coming posts.