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Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Cody, Wyoming: A little of explaining is needed for you, Dear Reader, to learn why we are in Cody, Wyoming, and why we went to Yellowstone. I recently became aware of a French painter, Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), who was famed for painting animals. As an infant, she was adopted into a wealthy artsy French family outside Paris. Maybe her adopted father was her biological father, or maybe not. Either way, she lead an extraordinary life and studied animals, kept a lioness in her home as a pet, and received permission from the French government to wear men's clothing (trousers), because it was illegal for women to wear trousers (at the time), but a permit could be acquired if a woman would be going out in the woods or exploring something. Truth!

When Buffalo Bill brought his traveling Wild West Show to England in 1887, Rosa Bonheur traveled to London and spent weeks studying and sketching the animals of North America - and the Native Americans in the tents of the wild west show. Bonheur was fascinated with everything in the show and invited Bill Cody to her chateau (as one does) in France so he could pose for her - on his horse!

Bill Cody, by Rosa Bonheur

This entire story fascinated me and I asked Dave if we could go back to Cody so I could see the painting of Bill Cody, which is housed in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. We talked about a route and where we were going to travel after the wedding on August 6th. (All of this was before our bus needed the coolant hoses re-plumbed and before our panhard bar broke off from the chassis.) As you may (or may not) know, our trip was delayed several weeks due to all the repairs.

So what about a trip to Cody to see Rosa Bonheur's painting of Wild Bill Cody? Yellowstone National Park was on the way to Cody. We mapped our route... but then... before beginning such a thousand-mile trek, I phoned the museum to inquire if the painting was indeed on exhibit. Turns out, it is not! There is now a Rosa Bonheur exhibit at the Fine Arts Museum in Bordeaux, France, and the Cody museum has loaned the Buffalo Bill Cody painting to the museum in France (Bonheur didn't paint many people, usually animals). After the painting is exhibited in Bordeaux, it will travel to Paris in the fall to be shown in the fabulous Orsay Museum. The curator I spoke with at the Cody Museum said after the painting returns to Wyoming, it will go into the vault for a year or so to "rest" after the European travels.

Thank goodness I had the brains to phone the museum to make sure the painting was on display before we drove 1000 miles. Know what My Driver said when I told him the painting was not in Cody? Let's Go Anyway! (Notice he didn't suggest we hop on a plane to France?)

DT is just the best!

(Photo taken after our museum visit - when the sun was finally shining.)

So this is how we ended up at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, on a cold rainy Thursday morning. And, yes, we have been here before, but not for years. The center houses five museums: Bill Cody Museum, Plains Indian Museum, Museum of Western Art, Natural History Museum and a museum of firearms. We started with Buffalo Bill:

Buffalo Bill Museum entrance

Just as the Buffalo Bill Museum curator told me, the only representation of the Bill Cody painting by Rosa Bonheur on display currently is a lithograph for a poster advertising the 1905 Wild West Show in Laval, France - Le Dernier des Grands Eclaireurs - (The Last of the Great Scouts). I was able to find a much smaller version of this poster in the museum gift shop. Yeah, me.

The exhibit at the museum about Cody is fairly extensive, including photos of his wife, four children, grandchildren, personal items, and furniture they owned, a re-creation of the tent used while traveling in his wild west shows. He seemed to have done everything. Cody lost his father at age 11, and began scouting for freight/rail companies, getting to know the local tribes and learning every sort of skill a frontiersman would need to know. But he later owned hotels, newspapers, ranches, and invested (usually poorly) in other entrepreneurial opportunities. The biggest money-maker was his Wild West show, which included 200 performers from every corner of the globe. They performed across the country and Cody took the show to Europe several times, even performing for Queen Victoria in 1887 on the anniversary of her 50th year on the throne. (The Queen later requested an audience with Buffalo Bill, and sent him a massive cherrywood bar that is still in the Irma Hotel in downtown Cody.)

The Natural History section has a lot of local taxidermified animals - bison, elk, deer, birds, wolves, coyotes, mountain goats - displayed with their young, or hunting, or running. Very good displays, with a lot of things for the kiddos to explore and touch. The Plains Indian Museum is worth a visit. They show how the tribes lived, have many examples of clothing, headdresses, and weapons. Then it just gets depressing to learn how the natives were treated, slaughtered, diseased, and herded onto reservations like cattle. They weren't even allowed American citizenship. We did not visit the firearms exhibit - we have seen it before and it is just a bunch of guns.

Carriage used to transport tourists through Yellowstone National Park

The art museum portion of the Buffalo Bill Museum is most impressive. They have many works from famed western artists such as Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), Frederic Remington (1861-1909), James Earle Fraser (1876-1953), and Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902).

Bronze elk by T. D. Kelsey (1992) graces the entrance to the art museum
Where Great Herds Come to Drink, 1901 by Charles M. Russell
Charles M. Russell also was a sculptor: Bronc on a Frosty Morn, 1897
Albert Bierstadt - Geysers in Yellowstone, 1881
James Earle Fraser - End of the Trail, 1894
DT and Bill, after our museum visit

We had tickets for the rodeo tonight, but were advised around five o’clock the rodeo was cancelled due to muddy conditions. It rained so hard overnight, the road between Cody and Yellowstone washed out (about 7:30p last night). There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when we traveled there yesterday.

What is a camper to do but hunker-down, prepare stir-fry cashew chicken and watch a movie.

Cashew Chicken-ish

Until my next update, I remain your "the sky is erupting with thunder and lightning" correspondent.

One thought

  1. If you want to read an intriguing art story, Google “Stolen de Kooning painting from U of A recovered.” I found it very fascinating.

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