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By Staff | Jun 11, 2010

Wyoming, my wife and I discovered during our recent Yellowstone odyssey, is a vast and manly state with many manly place names such as Firehole River and Dead Horse Creek. Ten Sleep doesn’t seem quite so manly, though, and I’m not even going to ask about Crazy Woman Creek.

We are lifelong flatlanders and were awed by how much of Wyoming is tipped up on edge. I’d wager that at least half the state is uphill.

Driving through the Bighorn Mountains, I noticed roadside signs that helpfully displayed the type and age of local rock formations. That way, if you miss a curve, you’ll know what kind of rock caused your demise.

Being a farmer, I couldn’t help but notice the fences that paralleled the road. Some heroic fencing took place in the Bighorns; digging those postholes appears to have involved dangling from a rope and the use of high explosives.

Wyoming is chockfull of geology. After crossing the Bighorn Mountains – Powder River Pass, elevation 9,666 feet – there’s the long, twisting descent into the Bighorn Basin. The western foothills of the Bighorns are stark and otherworldly, with nearly no signs of life. It’s the sort of country that put the “bad” in badlands.

There are huge portions of the Bighorn Basin where the eye cannot detect a single snippet of human activity except for scattered oil wells and the aforementioned fences. The Bighorn River snakes lazily across the basin, its terracotta waters carrying particles of the Rocky Mountains toward their destination into the Gulf of Mexico.

Geology was also apparent in the climate. The day my wife and I visited Yellowstone, our car’s thermometer at one point registered 38 degrees. Later that day, after descending to the city of Cody, the car thermometer said 83.

Cody is a tidy town that sprawls across the toes of the Absaroka Range. You know you’re in mountain country when stores have signs that read “We carry bear spray!” And no, they weren’t talking about an ursine deodorant.

The city was established by William F. Cody, widely known as Buffalo Bill. Indian fighter, mountain guide, legendary buffalo hunter, showman – Bill Cody did it all. He was the ultimate Renaissance man of his era.

Cody’s imprint can be seen everywhere in this town. There’s everything from Buffalo Billies Gifts to Buffalo Bill Computer Repair. Perhaps the niftiest thing to bear his name is the museum called Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

My wife and I simply couldn’t help ourselves. We spot a sign that says “Museum” and we chime in unison, “Let’s go take a look!” It’s an affliction that we can’t seem to whip.

The center is impressively huge. It’s a topnotch facility and well worth a visit.

The Whitney Gallery of Western Art brims with original works from such icons as Remington and Russell. As much as I appreciate those masters, the piece that tickled my fancy was a portrait called, “Hickok and Cody,” by Thom Ross. In the painting, Wild Bill and Buffalo Bill sit side-by-side and are portrayed in a cartoonish caricature. Being drawn to that particular piece probably says something about my twisted nature.

There was also a wing that’s called – surprise! – The Buffalo Bill Museum.

“A cornucopia of Buffalo Bill memorabilia” best describes that section of the center. Going by the garments worn by Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, it would appear that neither were very large people. Perhaps McDonald’s didn’t have a “ride through” lane for horsemen.

A glass case held a warped silver dollar that had been tossed into the air by Cody’s nephew and shot by Cody with his .44-40 Winchester. I’m sure it was a difficult shot, but I could see that the coin was struck just a smidgeon off center. Not that I could do any better; I’m just saying.

A plethora of posters illustrates how wildly popular Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show was. He even took the show to Europe, where he was received by royalty. Cody was more popular than Elvis and Michael Jackson combined.

Museum goers can view a scratchy black and white film of the Wild West Show. The extravaganza seems to have involved a crude reproduction of life on the Western frontier – a life that Cody’s actions had helped bring to an end.

Dime novels were written about Cody. Stories about him were serialized in newspapers, and comic strips celebrated his real and fictional exploits. Cody understood the value of “going viral” long before the Internet.

Another wing of the museum holds a humungous collection of guns. It’s a virtual heaven for the firearm aficionado.

I stood behind a Gatling gun and gazed down its sights.

“Ok!” I said to my wife, “Now toss that silver dollar into the air!”

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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