Saturday, July 13, 2013

Cody, Part the First

Buffalo Bill greets visitors
At the end of the 19th century, William "Buffalo Bill" Cody was arguably the most famous human being on the planet. By that time he had spent nearly 20 years bringing "The West" to the world. In the mid-1890s he decided it was time to bring the world to the West. Yellowstone National Park had been established and was attracting increasingly large crowds to Western Wyoming. Cody got a group of investors together with the intent of developing land in the Bighorn Basin just east of the park and established a town that would serve as a way station for Yellowstone visitors as well as a center for farming, ranching and commerce. Because of his international stardom, his fellow investors insisted that he lend his name to the community they were sinking their money into, and thus was born Cody, Wyoming.

The town never became a large metropolis but it certainly has remained true to its founder's showmanship sensibilities. Like "Buffalo Bill's Wild West", the town's Western image may be more hoopla than fact, but it is certainly entertaining and fun and people in this area certainly understand hospitality.

We arrived in Cody on Tuesday, having made prior arrangements to meet my cousin Ruth and her husband who have recently acquired a motorhome of their own and are starting out by taking a two-month sojourn through the Northwest. They live in Seattle and came to meet us here for a few days from whence they will journey on to Yellowstone and parts west while we turn back east toward the Great Lakes. They arrived somewhat later than expected on Tuesday, so all we did that evening was go to dinner at the Wyoming Rib and Chop House which is a great local restaurant as long as you are not a vegetarian.

We had been advised that the first thing we should do in town was take the Cody Trolley Tour, but when we looked into it the next morning it was completely booked for the day, so instead we went to Old Trail Town, a collection of historic western buildings and artifacts, dating from 1879—1901. Archaeologist Bob Edgar was convinced in the 1960s of the need to preserve some of the old pioneer buildings that were rapidly disintegrating and so began the task of collecting cabins and other buildings within a 150 mile radius of Cody and transporting them to the site where the town was originally planned (the town of Cody was later moved a couple of miles east for practical considerations). To date, Trail Town includes 25 buildings filled with Western memorabilia and artifacts. It includes a cabin where Butch Cassidy and his "hole in the wall" gang would hide out after their money raising efforts, the cabin one of George Custer's Crow scouts, some old general stores and saloons and a variety of settlers cabins of various sizes. The site also contains about 100 old wagons and other period vehicles.
Pseudo entropy
Liver Eater's grave
Probably the oddest item at Old Trail Town is the grave of John "Liver Eater" Johnson, whose largely fictional life was the basis for the movie "Jeremiah Johnson" in the 1970s. The odd thing about it is that he died in Pasadena, California and was buried in the veterans cemetery there for 75 years. He was moved to Cody in 1976. Perhaps my Google Fu is just weak, but I have been unable to find out how this came about. It's hard for me to believe that they moved a three-quarter of a century-old corpse 1000 miles just to promote tourist trade, but no other explanation has been forthcoming.

That evening we went to the nightly rodeo here in Cody. They have an amateur rodeo every night from Memorial Day to Labor Day, more or less. They also have a professional rodeo here for a week around the Fourth of July, but since we had never been to a rodeo before the amateur version was just fine for us. The events included bronco riding, both saddled and bareback, calf roping, both individual and team, and barrel racing for the female contestants.
Bronco ridin'
There was also some bull riding at the end but in this case it should have been listed as bull falling, since no one actually stayed on a bull long enough to get a score except for one semi-professional rider at the end. They also had a couple of junior events including junior bull riding. Boys under 12-years-old were fitted up with motorcycle helmets and stuck on the backs of young bulls in an attempt to train up the rodeo stars of the next generation. These were not full-grown animals but they weren't calves either by any means. These were huge animals and the event looked to us city folk like unadulterated child-abuse. None of the half-dozen boys stayed on the back of a bull longer than about 1.5 seconds. One kid fell off and the bull stepped on his leg. One of the cowboys rode over to help him and the horse promptly kicked the kid as well. I don't know if he suffered any significant injuries but I also don't know of any reason that he could not have ended up dead. I know out here they don't want the kids to be sissies but maybe they should consider just teaching them to shoot things. Overall however, we had a great time and recommend that you take in the rodeo if you ever get to Cody. Because if you don't, they lynch you.

The following morning we had reservations for the trolley tour first thing in the morning. This takes you to parts of town that you probably wouldn't even know were there if you just drove through on your way to Yellowstone. It's about an hour long, gives a lot of information in a short period of time and we thought it was pretty entertaining. It also included a two-day pass to the Buffalo Bill Western Heritage Center which is an interconnected set of five museums in downtown Cody. Sometimes referred to as "the Smithsonian of the West" it is nothing at all like the Smithsonian. Still, it's a heck of an impressive museum complex. The gun museum had over 3000 vintage weapons, most of them in what appeared
War bonnets
Guns galore
to be pristine condition. I don't know how they found that many antique firearms that had not been beaten up and weathered over the years. The collection of Native American artifacts was similarly extensive. There is a whole wing on the life and times of Buffalo Bill Cody which, I suppose, is nirvana if you're desperate to learn about Buffalo Bill Cody. We spent pretty much all afternoon in the museum and felt it was really worthwhile.

That evening we went to the street gun fight show where we saw ersatz cowboys fire blanks at each other in order to promote the sale of hearing aids in town. Oh, and Ruth got a free dance lesson. 

Afterwards we ate at the Irma Hotel (one of the first buildings in town, built by Buffalo Bill and named after his youngest daughter). They have a prime rib buffet there every night and we decided to go with the flow and have the prime rib. The meat was excellent. The other food was excellent as well. There wasn't a lot of variety but the quality was outstanding. And along with dinner came
The Irma Hotel
tickets to a "cowboy music review" at the theater across the street with Dan Miller and his group who put on a great if somewhat short show (about 70 minutes). I don't think they did any actual cowboy music. They did some Hollywood cowboy songs but no traditional folk music. They also did some 60s pop and original music. Their style included excellent tight harmonies and they had a primo lead guitar player who currently teaches guitar at the local college. My only complaint about the show is that it could have easily been an hour longer without losing my interest.

So that covers three days in Cody Wyoming. We've got three more to go before Paul and Ruth head for Yellowstone which I will cover in our next upload.

Bonus rodeo pics:

The horse won this bout

Lay back and relax

The calf ain't goin' much farther

Throw that critter down

How humiliating.  Lassoed by a girl.

About to be pulled up short

This will not end well

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