Can a town designed for tourism offer an authentic glimpse into American history? The Virtuous Traveler, Leslie Garrett, ventures into the Wild, Wild West of Cody, Wyoming to explore the town that Buffalo Bill built.
Poor Buffalo Bill. Though he died more than 80 years ago, he’s certainly not resting in peace.
Indeed, neither are the people of Cody, Wyoming, who still argue about their hero’s final resting place with compelling arguments for both possibilities: Denver, Colorado or, as Bill had requested, atop Cedar Mountain just outside his beloved city’s borders.
You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Cody, Wyoming. It’s small town of 9,000, though its numbers swell in summer months when more than a half-million tourists make their way to the town, often en route to Yellowstone National Park.
Yet, though you may not have heard of Cody the town, there are few over the age of 30 who haven’t heard of Buffalo Bill Cody, to whom the town owes its name.
Check out Leslie Garrett’s previous report on the area in Virtuous Traveler: Back to School in Yellowstone National Park
Among Buffalo Bill’s friends were Wild Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley, not just legend but flesh-and-blood and part of Cody’s colorful past.
The problem lies, perhaps, in many people’s conviction that Buffalo Bill and his compatriots are the stuff of legend. Surely not of life.
A trip to Cody will set you straight. Designed by Buffalo Bill himself to be a tourist town (the man was nothing if not a visionary), it remains quintessentially so, offering up an authentic Wild West experience, complete with gun fights outside of Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel, a nightly spring/summer rodeo, chuck wagon dinners and Trail Town, in which sits the original log-cabin hideout of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
It’s a town that seamlessly melds fact with fiction, the Western frontier with Hollywood’s interpretation, in a way that leaves the visitor satisfied that they have experienced the wild frontier—though they may be no closer to the truth about Buffalo Bill’s burial. There is consensus, fortunately, on most of his life.
From the Pony Express, to Custer’s Last Stand to the creation of America’s great Buffalo Bill and the Wild West Show, Buffalo Bill—quite literally—changed the course of history.
When his Wild West show was invited to England, Buffalo Bill presented Queen Victoria with the American flag … and she graciously accepted; that encounter is credited with ushering the end of the icy relationship between Britain and the U.S.
History is one of the things that Jerry Fick knows best. Though his formal schooling ended with grade seven, Fick, who owns and operates Tecumseh’s Trading Post in Cody, has spent a lifetime creating his miniature village—a 7,000-square-foot diorama depicting American frontier history from the 1600s through the late 1890s.
For more travel ideas, try Dude, Where’s My Horse?: Dude Ranch Vacations.
It has been a lifetime labor of love, which began in childhood when Fick received a stagecoach the Christmas he was 10 years old.
His collection grew and what he didn’t have, he made—from the feathers on tiny Indian head-dresses (which he fashioned from pigeon feathers, trimming and painting them to look like eagle feathers) to the landscape itself.
He speaks with encyclopedic knowledge and great humility, rhyming off dates and events, and referring to his vast collection of memorabilia as “evidence.” An hour with Fick is as valuable any school history lesson.
The Whitney Gallery of Art offers up another chance to come face-to-face with history. Recently renovated, the Whitney is as close to a hands-on gallery as it gets, with the chance for kids to participate in the art-making process, while appreciating the majesty on the walls.
For museums, events, experiences and much more, visit our Culture section.
Much of the art work, from such renowned artists as Thomas Moran and Albert Bierstadt, depicts the Wild West and nearby Yellowstone National Park, but if you’d prefer to get out and experience it first-hand, you’ll have lots of opportunities.
Just outside Cody’s borders is a population of spectacular wild mustangs. You can take your chances of catching a glimpse or go with Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tours, whose operator seems to have a special relationship with the horses and can all but guarantee a sighting.
Forty-nine miles west of Cody, in the Shoshone National Forest is Sleeping Giant Ski Resort, reopened this past fall after being closed since 2004. A renovation that added a terrain park offers plenty for skiers and snowboarders to enjoy, most constructed from materials found on the hill.
Extreme daredevils can try climbing the frozen waterfalls at the South Fork of the Shoshone River, one of the highest concentrations of waterfall ice climbing in the U.S.
Or you can simply soak up the history of true cowboy culture. Just tell them Buffalo Bill sent you.
By Leslie Garrett for PeterGreenberg.com. Leslie Garrett is author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World. Visit her online at www.thevirtuoustraveler.com.
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