Cody is a Wyoming town named for a man who made a difference -- Buffalo Bill Cody the gentleman in question. But there are today in that town two more men making a difference in the lives of others, and I aim to tell you about them. (No, one of them is not Bill's great grandson, Kit, who lives there and owns the hotel I stayed in.) The town may be full of such men and women, for all I know, but I met only two, both seeming to personify that great Western ideal of independent thinking that has made the USA such a fascinating place to live in.
Both are transplants from the Midwest or East, and neither is interested in killing animals, as did Buffalo Bill (4,280 buffalo shot in 17 months). Ken Martin, owner of the Red Canyon River Trips and Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tours, says he came here from Wisconsin in 1972, working as a Shoshone river rafter for the company started by Bill's great grandson, Kit. By now, Ken has more experience than almost anyone on the Shoshone. But I loved his passionate devotion to the cause of the wild mustangs, which he lets visitors see with him on van trips into the Bureau of Land Management prairies near Cody. When I went recently, we saw a couple of antelope and dozens of horses, some grazing, some nuzzling their young, another 25 or so racing across the road near us in single file, perhaps spooked by the lightning that struck close by. For his river rafting trips (from $25 and up), check details at 800/293-0148 or 307/587-6988, website www.imt.net/~rodeo/raft.html. The Wild Mustang Tour costs $26. Details at 800/293-0148 or 307/587-6988, website www.wildmustangtours.com.
The second man who has made a difference is Jerry J. Fick, also known as "The Eagle Speaker," his Indian name (he is part Delaware/Cherokee, he says.) To attract visitors to his buckskin clothing line, which you can watch him make at his worktable, he opened Tecumseh's Frontier Trading Post, Miniature Village & Museum in 1994 after he moved here in search of clean air to help cure his severe asthma. He also brought with him his collection of Indian memorabilia and miniature figures, which he made into a sprawling miniature history of the Old West. He began the collection as a child of nine, with the encouragement of his mother, he says, and kept it up over the years. There are some 66 scenes on 7,000 sq. ft., with depictions of Custer's Last Stand, Bill's Wild West Show, the Oregon Trail, tiny trains and more. Open May to September and in winter by appointment. Buckskin coats go for around $265 to $280. 140 W. Yellowstone, Cody, tel. 307/587-5362, website www.tecumsehs.com.
"The Best Museum Between Minneapolis and the West Coast"
The most impressive sight in Cody, though, is the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the oldest (1917) and most comprehensive museum of the West, they say. It is actually five museums, which are the Buffalo Bill Museum (1927), the Whitney Gallery of Western Art (1959), the Plains Indian Museum (1969), the Cody Firearms Museum/Winchester Museum (1976), the Draper Museum of Natural History (2002) and a research library. They offer classes, seminars and the like, too. I counted at least ten Remington bronzes in the Whitney Gallery, and there is a short movie of Bill's actual "Wild West" performance filmed back around the turn of the 19th/20th century.
The Cody Firearms Museum says it houses the world's largest collection of American arms and the Draper says it is the first major natural history museum of the 21st century, partly funded by the National Science Foundation. There is a fine gift shop (with expensive Remington reproductions) and one of the best book collections I have ever seen in a museum. Seeing this magnificent collection in a town of only 8,800 persons reinforces my belief that, at least in Cody, people do make a difference. In fact, the museum says, it is "the Voice of the American West."
Admission is $15, less for seniors and students. Family rate is $40. Buffalo Bill Historical Center, 720 Sheridan Avenue, Cody, tel. 307/587-4771; website www.bbhc.org.
Another man who made a difference, Bob Edgar, started in 1967 putting together old buildings from Cody and other towns when developers began tearing them down to make room for new structures. The result is the Museum of the Old West at Old Trail Town, located on the original town site of Cody City. Now there are 26 buildings, dating from 1879 to 1901, along with 100 horse-drawn vehicles, and more, the largest collection of its kind in the state. The gravesites of Jeremiah Johnson and a few other legends of the past are here, as are three cabins connected to the Hole in the Wall Gang and the Sundance Kid. These consist of the cabin (1883) where Butch Cassidy and the Kid lived, the Rivers Saloon (1888) where the gang hung out and the Mud Spring Cabin used by the Kid as a hideout before attempting to hold up the Red Lodge Bank in 1897, a scene memorialized in the famous movie about the two desperadoes. Admission $7. Contact: 1831 Demaris Drive, Cody, tel. 307/587-5302, website www.imt.net/~stan/trltown.html.
The Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale is on September 21-22, with works by contemporary artists. You can see the pieces from August 23 onward. More information at 888/598-8119 or www.buffalobillartshow.com.
There's a corny "shoot out" by the Cody Gunfighters nightly except Sundays at 6pm in front of the Irma Hotel, free. Buy stuff from them and the proceeds go to charity. Details at 800/745-4762, website www.irmahotel.com.
Dan Miller leads a group of four musicians at his Cowboy Music Revue daily except Sunday at 8pm, May through September. The night I attended it was pleasant, good-natured and cheerful, with no phony flag waving, divisive joking and gospel preaching, even though the show is billed as "Branson-style family entertainment," where such goings on are all too common. Adults $12. 1110 Beck Avenue, tel. 307/272-6855, website www.cowboymusicrevue.com.
Cody calls itself "the Rodeo Capital of the World," because it has rodeo every night from June 1 through August 31 at 8pm. The action is always suspenseful. At an intermission the night I attended, I thought I was going to witness a Massacre of the Innocents, as small children (3 to 12) were invited to come out on the field and run with the broncos, clowns teasing the horses to keep them moving. About 60 kids jointed in, a few fell down, but one smart kid held back, waiting to see what happened to the others as his father tried to encourage him to join in. Adult tickets $17 to $20. Contact: Yellowstone Highway, tel. 800/207-0744 or 307/587-5155, website www.codyniterodeo.com.
In addition to Ken Martin's horse viewing and river raft trips, you could go with River Runners, established in 1967 by Kit Cody, Bill's great grandson, and raft down the Shoshone. Trips cost $22 and up. Details at 800/535-RAFT.
At Wyoming's Rib Chop House, I had a special dinner of bison, elk and yak at $49.95, and loved the bite of each meat I had, the portions being too big for me to handle. A New York Strip goes for $21.95, but was sorry to see a note on the menu that "we do not guarantee steaks which are requested to be prepared medium well or well done" -- in these days when many menus carry warnings that "eating undercooked protein can be dangerous to your health." 1367 Sheridan Avenue, Cody, tel. 307/527-7731.
Calling itself "Wyoming's Premier Steak House" is Cassie's, which is high-class Western saloon in appearance (lace curtains), claiming to have fed such luminaries as the first President Bush, Harrison Ford, Sissy Spacek and Willard Scott, among others. I had a nice appetizer of fried onions but didn't have time to eat the main course. Address, Cody, tel. 307/527-5500, website www.cassies.com.
The pork ribs ($12.50) I had at Irma's were good, but not great. On retrospect, the buffet ($19.50) might have been a better deal. 1192 Sheridan Avenue, Cody, tel. 307/587-4221, website www.irmahotel.com.
The best BLT sandwich in living memory is what I recall about Maxwell's, where I also had what might be the best chicken noodle soup on record ($4.25), with homemade noodles and the rest from scratch, not from a can. The BLT ($5.75) was so loaded with bacon I thought they'd made a mistake. The service was perfect, too. Maxwell's, 937 Sheridan Avenue, Cody, tel. 307/527-7749.
If you can, stay at the Chamberlin Inn, recently opened in a beautifully restored 19th-century hotel. Now a boutique hotel with gorgeous 1890s décor, this was once a travelers lodging, but everyone of note stayed here if they weren't at the Irma Hotel. I slept in the room (#18) where Ernest Hemingway had registered back in 1932. It's right downtown, and there's high speed Internet access in every room. 24 units, just renovated in 2005 and 2006. Rooms go for $145 to $285. Chamberlin Inn, 1032 12th Street, Cody, tel. 888/587-0202 or 307/587-0202, website www.chamberlininn.com.
The Cody Legacy Inn, between the town and the airport, is a modern motel with a pool, free continental breakfast in the lobby, and other amenities. Across a busy highway from a shopping center with supermarket and other useful outlets. Rooms run from about $68 to $169. Cody Legacy Inn, 1801 Mountain View Road, tel. 307/587-6067, website www.codylegacyinn.com.
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