TripAdvisor called The Buffalo Bill Center of the West the top museum worth traveling for. All by itself, it’s definitely worth a trip to Wyoming. Since I was first there many years ago, it has grown into a complex of 5 museums, all of which are worth seeing. When I wrote about its Whitney Western Art Museum under the title “Buffalo Bill and Little Elk” on September 8, 2019, I mentioned that at least 4 hours is recommended to experience all 5. This is an absolute minimum. If I had to pick my favorite, I’d have to say the Buffalo Bill Museum was. It was also the most crowded and where I spent more time.
Before Ruth & I went into it, we checked out the just redone Cody Firearms Museum. Despite the fact that guns are not my favorite subject for a museum, this was the part of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West (BBCW) that I most vividly remembered. I had never experienced anything like it in my life! It’s even larger now, and I immediately went looking for the gun that most impressed me. I found the Japanese pinfire pistol still on display. The smallest firearm in the Cody’s vast collection, this tiny pistol is a functioning firearm, which is hard to believe. That’s it just below in a not-so-good photo because the lighting in this part of BBCW was not photography friendly. This time, I was even more impressed by this facility’s Winchester and Hawken collections. Despite its small production, single shot capacity, and weight of up to 15 pounds, the Hawken rifle was favored by mountain men. Saint Louisans Jacob and Samuel Hawken made these never-mass-produced guns. The new female head of this particular museum welcomes visitors in a video. She has put more than 10,000 objects, not just guns, on view.
The Buffalo Bill Museum provided a comprehensive portrait of an international showman of major importance. That’s a youthful photo of William Cody made when he was 16 at the top of this essay. Born in the Iowa Territory in 1846, Buffalo Bill Cody died in Denver in his early 70s in 1917. He fought with the Union Army in the Civil War, did farm chores, and hunted while young. He and his wife ran a hotel after they married, but he found that job too tame. He and Louisa had 4 children and a rocky marriage as his reputation as a potential showman grew and Mr. Cody became increasingly identified by his nickname Buffalo Bill. He began playing himself in stage shows and wrote about his exploits in an autobiography at the young age of 33. Seven years later he started his Wild West Shows that turned him into an international celebrity like P. T. Barnum. He performed for Presidents, Queens, and adoring audiences for 30 years typically introducing each show with, “Ladies and Gentlemen permit me to introduce to you a Congress of Rough Riders of the World”. This brief opening line was used by Philip Sawyer as his title when he painted Buffalo Bill on the black horse seen below.
Annie Oakley, Cody’s biggest star, doted on his youngest daughter Irma, who often traveled with the show. Two of her siblings had died young. Oakley was hurt in a train accident in 1901 and briefly retired but then began acting. Buffalo Bill founded Cody, WY 21 years before he died. This was smart because Cody has become the scenic gateway to Yellowstone National Park and his name is on a fantastic museum there.