Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Center of the West - So Much More Than Buffalo Bill

Thursday, July 7, 2016
Cody, Wyoming

I couldn't be in Cody, Wyoming, and not spend time at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. My Bill would rather fish at Beck Lake, so he drops Tessa and I off at the entrance around 10 AM.

The $19 fee is good for two consecutive days, and is a great deal even for just one. Although I could easily have spent two full days here.

As much about quality as quantity, this is definitely one of the top three museums I've ever visited. The combination of visual, audio, and kinesthetic presentation in each exhibit is fascinating. The lay-out also allows for a large number of people to enjoy every area without it feeling crowded.

If there is one ding it would be that some of the audio overlaps between areas, making it sound garbled in places. In contrast, the visitors are all incredibly quiet and respectful of each other, which helps.

There are several ways to experience the center. You can join a guided tour twice a day, borrow their headphones and their handheld self-guide, borrow just the headphones and use your smart phone, your own headphones and smart phone, or just walk and read and watch. All options are free of additional charge. I choose the last one. Every narrated exhibit has a pedestal where you can read what is being said, and each small video booth is close-captioned. They seem to have thought of every accommodation to make the information available.

I start out in the Guns of the West section because it is first on the right. I soon tire of case after case of rifles that all look exactly alike. There are some unique and interesting pieces, like the long-rifles and a Teddy Roosevelt exhibit, but I soon lose interest and find my way back to the main hall.

These look as long as a horse!
President T. Roosevelt's saddle, used on his ranch in the Dakota Badlands
My favorite section is the Plains Indians, where I spend a couple hours immersed in the beautiful dioramas, exhibits and recreated homes. Sitting in front of a tall lodge, listening to elder women tell stories of their lives on the plains, with drumming and singing in the background, is very special.

Hand-scraped buffalo hide with Sun Dance Ceremony in the center of a buffalo hunt - approximately 1865
Two-story diorama with narrated video - beautifully done
Late 1800's saddle blanket
with exquisite bead work
This exhibit is Sanctuary, and even in the middle of a large museum the lodge evokes a wonderful feeling of home
It is very rare to see a Ghost Dance dress, worn for the most secret and sacred of ceremonies
Toy horse 1895-1898
Ceremonial artifacts with video of current Pow-wows
A small courtyard garden is home to lovely sculptures and a single Bald Eagle. The bird was rescued after breaking its wing, but the repair does not allow it to fly well enough to return to the wild. He now helps to educate visitors on raptors in North America.

The Unknown stands in the garden
with many tribe members facing a new and uncertain future
Surprisingly, my favorite single exhibit is in the Western Art section. A large replica of Frederick Remington's art studio from New York is so well done that I stay and listen to the narration (by his neighbor who visited the studio often with her husband) twice. I enjoy Remington's fabulous paintings and bronzes, but I'm not a huge fan by any means. This exhibit is just so well done that it somehow grabs my delight like no other.

Remington's New Rochelle, NY, studio
Most of his life's work, over 3000 pieces of art, were created in his studio
"A Post Office in Cow Country" originally painted as an illustration for Collier's Weekly, 1901 
The collection of art here is staggering. From masterpieces of the 1800's to more modern examples of western paintings and sculptures, the variety is wonderful. Signs warn against touching anything, but you can stand nose-to-canvas with every piece.

Tessa liked this one
One for Bill who loves snakes
By Wineid Reis in the early 1950's, I really like the detail and colors
The full-size Pioneer Woman by Alexander Proctor, was dedicated in Kansas City in 1925 before a record crowd of 30 thousand - wow!
A few modern offerings - including large balls of barbed wire (okay)
Standing two-stories tall, the Buffalo Bill section is overwhelming. From boyhood artifacts to historic photos, to costumes and guns, to full-size wagons, to videos and books, to his final resting place - you can learn more about this man than I'm sure most of his closest friends ever knew when he was alive.

Generals famous for who they led rather than how they led
An impressive collection of over 200 volumes
Every cowgirl's hero
The Wild West Show covered over 250,000 miles in thirty years
including in Europe where Bill Cody was treated like royalty - by royalty
Cody's wagon used for personal trips to the TE Ranch
The Natural History section is the most impressive, and when entered from the top takes you through the ecosystems of the large Yellowstone Area from alpine to plains. Each system has videos to watch, games to play, animals to enjoy (they're my favorite), plants and geology and weather patterns and human impact and everything you didn't know you didn't know about this area. I could easily spend one full day here and never get bored.

A small cabin holds the exhibit on the seismic reality that is Yellowstone - a bit unnerving
The large mosaic tile on the first floor is visible from all levels

The video on avalanches shows they are just as destructive
as wildfires - and that both create conditions for new growth
All of the animals here are absolutely beautiful
and are preserved on site at the Draper Lab - all specimens are acquired from collisions with vehicles or other accidents in the wild

This buffalo display is fascinating
My final stop is the Buffalo Jump exhibit. The multi-story depiction of the massive animals leaping to their deaths is extremely dramatic. There are several sites throughout the west where excavations are still being done - telling stories of tribal warriors herding the massive animals over a cliff where others waited to remove their hides and process the meat and bones for the survival of their people.

Excavation model

I almost asked these "workers" a question :-)
Tessa spends the whole visit by my side, either walking calmly or lying down at my feet. One bobcat catches her eye at a ground level exhibit, but otherwise she's content to people-watch and keep me company. Such a good dog!

Tessa-colored carpet makes her feel right at home.
Bill picks us up and we head to Bubbas BBQ for dinner. Unfortunately it doesn't live up to its hype and we take most of our babyback ribs home. Maybe they'll have more flavor tomorrow :-(

Friday is our last day in Cody and we plan to spend it outdoors.


  1. Glad you and Tessa enjoyed the museum:) It looks a little overwhelming. There certainly was something for everyone. I'm sure Bill was in heaven fishing around for the day.

    1. It was a great day for all of us. It really needs more than one day!

  2. I do like these kinds of museums but need much time to be able to take it all in.

    1. You really do - one could spend a day just on the videos and narrations I think.

  3. We enjoyed the museum a few years ago..very worthwhile.

    1. I'm already looking forward to going back :-)

  4. I had the same sense as John and Pam, so much to see it must be almost overwhelming. Sounds like the curator did an amazing job. I can see how you could spend two days easily. What a really good dog Tessa is to be so patient.

    1. I'm sure there was something in the gift shop about the building and design of the center but I didn't see it in my cursory visit. It would be a fascinating story to see how it all came together. She's very special :-)))

  5. What an excellent job you did of describing this incredible museum! Good too, to be able to go at your own pace without a possibly bored hubby!

    1. Thanks Lisa :-) Oh yes, so much better!!

  6. What an amazing museum! That would be so fun to go through. Thanks for taking us along!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it - it's pretty awesome :-)

  7. Replies
    1. You'd especially love the Native American exhibit - the music and voices are wonderful.

  8. What a wonderful tour guide you are! I almost feel as if I've been there—but I still must go to see for myself. :-) The Buffalo Bill museum complex has been on our list for a few years—but from all that you shared, I think we'll need the full two days to take it in! As always, Tessa is absolutely adorable.

    1. I wish I had given myself the two days - you'll definitely want to. They are working on another outdoor area with more sculptures so there will be even more!