Cowboys, rodeos, and Western heritage abound in the city founded by America’s foremost proponent of the Wild West ideal, “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
By Anna Lee Braunstein, F351629
Colonel William Frederick Cody was a man of many talents. He was a soldier, a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, a buffalo hunter, a land developer, and, most famously, a showman. As Buffalo Bill, he created Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, a show of epic proportions that featured the people and animals who lived in the vast American West in the 1800s.
The show was Buffalo Bill’s most famous legacy, but it was not his only one. In the 1890s, along with partners, Cody traveled to northern Wyoming seeking to purchase and develop some land. Approximately 70 miles east of Yellowstone National Park, they founded a town and named it Cody. Today the Buffalo Bill heritage and naturally spectacular scenery make Cody a great vacation destination before or after FMCA’s 88th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase in Gillette.
If you have not already picked up some maps and information when you reach town, stop at the Buffalo Bill Dam & Visitor Center before you begin your adventure in Cody. After collecting brochures and talking to the volunteers, take time to tour the dam site and savor the view from the top. From there, drive the 6 miles into Cody, and then take the Cody Trolley Tour. It familiarizes you with tales both true and tall about the history and sites of the town. This one-hour tour takes visitors past popular attractions such as the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, as well as little gems including cabins built from Sears kits, and dwellings that housed the town’s last bordellos. A free shuttle transports passengers from campgrounds to the trolley. For those who prefer to hoof it, a self-guided walking tour brochure is available at the Chamber of Commerce office.
It is good that the Buffalo Bill Historical Center sells two-day passes. One day is not enough to enjoy this complex of five museums spread over seven acres. Edward Rothstein, in The New York Times, called it “among the nation’s most remarkable museums.” Interactive exhibits show details of William Cody’s life and the history of the town he helped to found. Clothing, equestrian gear, tools, and rodeo memorabilia that belonged to Cody and his peers present the story of this legendary figure.
The Plains Indian Museum tells of the lives of the Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow, Lakota, and Pawnee tribes. It recounts the history, culture, and values of the peoples who have lived so long upon this land. The original collection has expanded with the addition of the Paul Dyck Plains Indian Buffalo Culture Collection, an outstanding private ensemble of daily and ritual artifacts from the 1890s. The museum hosts an annual Plains Indian Museum Powwow, held this year over the weekend of June 15 and 16 (the weekend prior to FMCA’s 88th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase in Gillette, Wyoming). During the Powwow, artists, dancers, and musicians representing the Plains Indian tribes gather to celebrate their rich heritage. Food booths serve Indian fry bread, grilled meats, and vegetables.
Another museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center is the Whitney Gallery of Western Art. There, paintings and sculptures depict the people and animals who lived in the Old West. In addition to the outstanding art are replicas of the studios of Frederic Remington and Alexander Phimister Proctor. Hands-on opportunities for visitors of all ages to create their own art also are available.
Interactive displays showing grizzly bears, moose, and wolves capture one’s imagination at the Draper Museum of Natural History, also at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. All sorts of animals and local birds of prey are given attention here through live demonstrations, photographs, videos, and dioramas.
Just as cowboys and ranchers were integral to the development of the American West, so were the firearms they carried. The Cody Firearms Museum is home to the world’s most comprehensive collection of American firearms, centered primarily on Winchester rifles.
The historical center even includes William Cody’s boyhood home, which was moved here from LeClaire, Iowa. It is more than 150 years old and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Cody spent the first seven years of his life in this small house when it was located near the Mississippi River.
To learn more about the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, see www.bbhc.org, or call (307) 587-4771.
Many other sights in Cody will make you want to stay. The Irma Hotel, named for Cody’s daughter, once hosted famous folk such as Frederic Remington, Annie Oakley, and Calamity Jane. Each night during the summer, the street in front of the hotel is the place where guns blaze and actors portraying historic heroes Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickock, and more fight it out in the free Cody Gunfighters show.
Across from the hotel is the headquarters for the Dude Ranchers Association, where a free Western museum presents interesting historical photos and memorabilia.
Those wanting to see more historical firearms will find them at the Cody Dug Up Gun Museum, which features hand weapons from the American Revolution to World War II. Realistic displays show the guns as they were found, rusty and scarred.
Though endangered, bighorn sheep are making a comeback in this area. Dedicated to educating people about these animals, the Wild Sheep Foundation contains mounted and hands-on exhibits of sheep and goats native to the nearby mountains. Visitors also can examine horns and hooves of other animals. The purpose of the displays is to ensure that these animals continue to survive in the wild.
Not all of Cody’s monuments are from the distant past. The Wyoming State Veteran’s Memorial Park honors those who gave their lives in various conflicts.
World War II is the reason the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center exists today. The center is approximately 14 miles east of Cody in Powell. Japanese-Americans were relocated to a camp there during the war; today exhibits at the center tell of their experience. Through photographs, personal collections, videos, and a trail through the camp, the center reveals what 14,000 Japanese-Americans endured and how they survived and even thrived in the harsh, barren land at Heart Mountain. Japanese-American military members who served in the United States Armed Forces are listed on an “Honor Roll.” While this is not a story of the Wild West, the center’s theme of “Lessons from the Past, Guidance for the Future” is important for all of us to learn and understand. For more information, visit www.heartmountain.org or call (307) 754-8000.
Among its claims to fame, Cody is called the Rodeo Capital of the World. One reason is the Cody Nite Rodeo, presented at 8:00 p.m. each evening from June 1 through August 31. Bull riding, barrel racing, bareback riding, and bronco riding lead the list of thrilling events. A parade of participants and the antics of clowns are no less entertaining. Tickets for the Nite Rodeo can be purchased at dozens of places around town, and even at local RV parks. Just ask.
On the Fourth of July weekend, the Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede Rodeo takes over the town. This is considered “Cowboy Christmas,” because of the size of the purses and the quality of the stock. Dates for this year’s event are July 1-4. On the final day, bull riders try to stay on “Xtreme bulls” in order to win a $50,000 purse. RV parking is available. For tickets and information, visit www.codystampederodeo.com.
Cody offers even more ways to experience the Wild West. At the Old Trail Town and Museum of the Old West, visitors step back 150 years to the days when the Plains Indians roamed the land and the first European adventurers embarked into the unknown. It contains artifacts from the various tribes of the area.
The town has two dozen homes and shops built in the late 19th century, including cabins used by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the saloon that their Hole-in-the-Wall Gang frequented. The Mountain Man Memorial and tombstones in the cemetery honor the lives and oftentimes violent deaths of those who ventured to this land.
On a tinier scale, Tecumseh’s Old West Miniature Village and Museum in the Tecumseh Trading Post displays 300 years of life in Wyoming and Montana. Diminutive buffalo jump off cliffs, and toy cowboys and Indians fight historic battles. Visitors can operate a model train that rolls through the various scenes. And after enjoying this small-scale exhibit, shoppers are welcomed into the trading post, where authentic Western gear and one-of-a-kind objects await.
To experience the true wonder of this vast land, it’s best to venture out and enjoy the great outdoors. With Cody as the starting point, you can take scenic drives that include historic sites, waterfalls, and majestic mountains. K3 Guest Ranch offers half-day and full-day adventures, including hayrides. You can try horseback riding at local dude ranches and fly fishing with the help of local outfitters. More excitement awaits on river raft trips through the Shoshone River Canyon. If you would prefer that your outdoor adventure take place on well-tended grass, visit the Olive Glenn Golf & Country Club.
In the evening, the strumming of guitars and the singing of cowboys fill the air along the streets of Cody. Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Revue is offered regularly in the Cody Theater. And at the Cody Cattle Company, you can enjoy dinner and a live show; if you like, buy a combination ticket that includes admission to the Nite Rodeo, too.
These activities offer a wonderful nightcap to an adventure-filled day in the Wild West. Be sure to get to Cody to see what it’s all about!
To request a free vacation guide:
Buffalo Bill’s Cody/Yellowstone Country
P.O. Box 2454
Cody, WY 82414
The following may not be a complete list, so please check your favorite campground directory or the RV Marketplace, published in the January and June issues of FMC and online at FMCA.com.
Absaroka Bay RV Park
2002 Mountain View
Cody, WY 82414
Buffalo Bill State Park
47 Lakeside Road
Cody, WY 82414
Cody/Yellowstone KOA, C9142*
5561 Greybull Highway
Cody, WY 82414
Green Creek Inn & RV Park, C11606*
2908 Northfork Highway
Cody, WY 82414
1815 Eighth St.
Cody, WY 82414
The Virginian RV Park, C3875*
750 W. Broadway
Jackson, WY 83001
Yellowstone Valley Inn
3324 Yellowstone Highway
Cody, WY 82414
*FMCA Commercial Member