Cowboy Trails

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His larger-than-life career linked two centuries. He was born in Iowa Territory in February 26, 1846  and died in Denver. Colorado on January 10, 1917 He was the stereotype of the wild west: Indian scout, buffalo hunter, gold prospector, Civil War soldier, pony express rider, rancher: William Fredrick Cody was that and more. He  also was many of the things that we think of as "20th century": His career included Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, showman, entrepreneur, town founder, owner of a dude ranch and big game hunting preserve and even environmentalist.


Having a good time visiting Buffalo Bill's home
On a recent visit to his Scout's Rest Ranch near North Platte, Nebraska, I learned much about this unusual man.  Cody had the two-story second empire style mansion built on about 4,000 acres during the heyday of his traveling show known as  Wild West  and named it Scout's Rest Ranch. The style and the cupola atop the home give it a decidedly Gothic look.

Today it is the site of Buffalo Bill State Historical Park which encompasses 25 acres of Cody's original ranch, including the house and barn. The park offers RV and primitive camping and picnic areas but for me the main attraction was Scouts Rest and the story it told about the man behind the legend.

Jason Tonsfeldt, park superintendant. showed us through the home and outbuildings. He calls it  "One of the coolest places I have ever been."

 Clock was Buffalo Bill's
In the dining room, the wallpaper is a copy of the original designed by BB. When the home was restored in the 1960s, a small section of the original paper was found. The paper is in effect a story of Buffalo Bill's life.  It is filled with log cabins, Indians, stagecoaches and buffalo. There is a woman on a horse shooting a gun believed to represent Annie Oakley and the man on the bottom in front of a bunch of teepees would be Buffalo Bill himself.

The home is filled with pieces correct to the period but only a few are original pieces owned by Buffallo Bill himself, the sideboard and clock in the dining room and in his den or office, there is a rolltop desk and chair that is original to the home. 

Portraits reflect Buffalo Bill as a family man. There are several in the home of his wife, Louisa Frederici. and their four children.

He entertained a lot so he had large rooms to accommodate a lot of people. We asked Jason what famous people Buffalo Bill might have entertained. He named "Teddy Roosevelt, Annie Oakley, Sitting Bull, maybe Houdini, and Grand Duke Alexis (sixth child of Russian Emperor Alexander II)." 

There was no guest book kept at Scouts Rest but according to Buffalo Bill's diary, he was a guide for the  buffalo hunting trip in January 1872 celebrating the duke's twenty second birthday.

Buffalo Bill's bedroom
Buffalo Bill wrote of the event, "Alexis at first preferred to use his pistol instead of a gun. He fired six shots from this weapon at buffaloes only twenty feet away from him, but as he shot wildly, not one of his bullets took effect. Riding up to his side and seeing that his weapon was empty, I exchanged pistols with him. He again fired six shots, without dropping a buffalo. Seeing that the animals were bound to make their escape without his killing one of them, unless he had a better weapon, I rode up to him, gave him my old reliable 'Lucretia,' and told him to urge his horse close to the buffaloes, and I would then give him the word when to shoot. At the same time I gave old Buckskin Joe (one of Buffalo Bill's own horses) a blow with my whip, and with a few jumps the horse carried the Grand Duke to within about ten feet of a big buffalo bull. 'Now is your time,' said I. He fired, and down went the buffalo."

Barn at Scout's Rest
Another unusual feature is that every bedroom has a closet. In that day a closet was taxed as a room. The centerpiece of the kitchen is a shiny black woodstove that used corn cobs for cooking. That required careful tending as you had to put in just the correct amount of cobs. He had a good icebox, the refrigeration of the day. Obviously he liked his food fresh and prepared well.

The house is like a big time capsule. So we can see him a very social and family man who would spare no expense for his comfort and that of his family and guests. It also reflects the attitude of his time about hunting for sport.

Some of the buggies displayed in the barn
The outbuildings are designed for the occupation that allowed him to build such a luxurious home, showman. The barn is huge and filled with memorabilia of his show; a covered wagon, several buggies, lots of stalls for his prized horses. In front of a larger-than-life painting there is a saddle where you can pose for your own claim to fame in front of the great man. "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" toured the Untied States, England and most of Europe. He met the heads of state including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Today, we tend to think of him as environmentally thoughtless to say the least but remember he lived in a different time. Actually, he was very environmentally friendly and liberal in his views in his later years.

Covered wagon on display in the barn
He employed many Indians in his show, paid them a fair wage and referred to them as "the former foe, present friend, the American." In one interview he stated "Every Indian outbreak that I have ever known has resulted from broken promises and broken treaties by the government."

He also supported Women's Rights. He is quoted as saying "What we want to do is give women even more liberty than they have. Let them do any kind of work they see fit, and if they do it as well as men, give them the same pay."

He even spoke out against hide hunting and campaigned for a set hunting season. He was a man of two centuries and left his mark on both. Scouts Rest is a must for every western fan, historian and sportsman. In fact, I can't think of anyone who would not enjoy a visit there.

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