By Randy C. Anderson (Photos by Randy C. Anderson)
Cody, Wyoming. The name conjures up images of the old west, cowboys, outlaws, mountain men and Native American Indians. I loved studying about the old west in my history classes, and still enjoy learning about it. The images of the west I have carried in my mind since my youth came to life during a recent trip to my wife and I took to Wyoming. As we researched the trip, we found several interesting museums, shops and restaurants that we wanted to explore. Cody would be our first real layover in Wyoming, and we set aside three days to check out the attractions.
Things started off as soon as we parked at our hotel and began to unload the car. We noticed a sign in front of the local drugstore that read, “We Have Bear Spray.” Yeah, I guess we were in bear country. But that part of the trip was still three days away … right now, we had some exploring to do in town.
Cody, Wyoming is a tourist town. It caters to the needs of hikers, campers, fishermen and hunters alike. Any outdoor activity you may wish to participate in, you can find everything you need for it in Cody. We grabbed a good night’s sleep in preparation for the next day’s exploration – Old Trail Town located on the west side of Cody. This remarkable gem is a memorial to “the old west.”
Old Trail Town stands on the original town site laid out by William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1895; the town was named in his honor. He loved the area for its spectacular scenery, hunting, and close proximity to Yellowstone. The entire town is made up of authentic structures from across Wyoming and Montana that were taken down piece by piece, moved here and reassembled by western historian Bob Edgar. Each of these structures was carefully preserved to help keep the history of the American West alive.
Old Trail Town is filled with thousands of historic artifacts, housed in the unique buildings that line each side of the street. One of the most fascinating features about the town is the actual cabins of famous westerners such as Butch Cassidy and his “Hole In The Wall” gang, and famed Crow Indian scout “Curly,” the sole survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Yes, I have actually stood in their cabins, and marveled at the artifacts preserved therein. The Hole In The Wall cabin was built in 1883 on the Buffalo River in the Hole In The Wall country, while Curly’s cabin was built in 1885 near the Crow agency.
The Rivers Saloon was frequented by such notable outlaws as Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Blind Bill Hoolihan, W.A. Gallagher, and many others. There are three bullet holes in the door of the saloon that beg the question, who made them? It is remarkable to be able to stand in these buildings where these famous and infamous western figures once stood. Want to see an actual livery stable from the 1800s? How about a one-room schoolhouse or a homesteader’s cabin? You will find them all in Old Trail Town. I recommend visiting this western treasure, and allow plenty of time to see it all when you go.
I had heard about the Buffalo Bill Historical Center before I arrived in Cody. I was warned to allow at least two days to see it all, but I didn’t believe it. Well, they were right and I was wrong. Allow at least two days to see it all. This place is huge, and filled with thousands of western artifacts. There are five distinct areas making up the center, including an area devoted entirely to Buffalo Bill’s life, one devoted to the natural history of Yellowstone National Park, another to the Plains Indians, and yet another that is exclusively about firearms. Their collection of Western Art is housed in The Whitney Gallery.
We did spend an entire day at the center, and only covered three of the areas – the Natural History of Yellowstone, the Plains Indians and the area on Buffalo Bill. The other two will be explored next time. On a positive note, your entrance fee is good for two consecutive days, and covers the entire center. This center is an American treasure, and I encourage everyone to see it.
Downtown Cody is reminiscent of the old west, only modernized. There are many gift shops lining the streets – you will find everything from high quality artwork to the tried and true tourist T-shirts and caps. There are also some nice shops specializing in Native American art.
One place we had to check out was the Irma Hotel. Built in 1902 by Buffalo Bill Cody, this hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and still operates today. But book your stay early; this is a very popular hotel. You can stay in renovated rooms that hosted some of the most famous personalities the world has ever known, including Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane. You can even stay in a private suite used by Buffalo Bill himself, or in one of many other historic and non-historic rooms, all with modern amenities. If you are hungry, the Irma features a restaurant and grill offering some of the best prime rib you will ever taste. The cherry wood bar is spectacular, and I am told it is one of the most photographed places in Cody – I can attest to being guilty of that! The architecture is remarkable. Do not miss the Irma Hotel when you visit.
Cody has a lot to offer, and the people are “Oklahoma” friendly. Its close proximity to the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park makes it a great jumping-off point for further wild-west adventures.