Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Like the former cow town it calls home, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West didn’t start out on such a grand scale. Mary Jester Allen wanted a shrine dedicated to her famous uncle, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. With the help of some wealthy friends, she opened the Buffalo Bill Museum in 1927. On Cody’s main street, the museum was housed in a 50-foot by 70-foot log cabin constructed as an exact replica (albeit larger) of the house on Cody’s TE Ranch, up the South Fork of the Shoshone River a short distance out of town.

Within a few years, the museum was bulging with “too many riches for its display space,” according to Allen. More and more people visited every year. Because this museum was so popular, a second museum, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, was added in 1958. Things just snowballed from there. The Plains Indian Museum opened in 1969. That same year, a new space was built for the Buffalo Bill Museum and the three museums together were christened “Buffalo Bill Historical Center.” In 1976, the Cody Firearms Museum opened. After that – with four museums – the center took a bit of a break. No new museums were added until the Draper opened, with Clint Eastwood looking on, in June 2002.

Whitney Gallery of Western Art
The Louvre may have the Mona Lisa, but the Whitney has the Last of the Buffalo by Albert Bierstadt and the giant Custer’s Last Stand by Edgar S. Paxson, as well as a few thousand other historic and contemporary western pieces.

Plains Indian Museum
After a $3.8 million remodel and reinterpretation, the Plains Indian museum reopened in June 2000 to tell the story of the lives of Plains Indian people, their cultures, traditions, values and histories, as well as the contexts of their lives today through traditional displays as well as interactive kiosks.

Cody Firearms Museum
Interested in behind-the-scene photos from Jimmy Stewart’s movie Winchester 73 or the television shows Bonanza and Have Gun Will Travel? The Boone & Crockett collection of trophy North American big game animals? The most comprehensive collection of American firearms in the world? Even if guns aren’t your thing, this museum will fascinate you.

Draper Natural History Museum
Inside the newest museum at Cody's Buffalo Bill Center of the West, it's not difficult to ignore the few dozen other people there. My full attention is devoted to the wildfire raging in front of me... not to mention the two wolves that are in danger of getting caught in it. Lights simulate the fire and sound effects create a realistic crackling and crashing of falling trees. An elk bugling drowns out the snufflings of bears. It even smells like fire.“If you were to stand in front of an approaching wildfire in one of Yellowstone’s forests, these are the sights, sounds and smells you’d experience,” a volunteer says.

The Draper is the newest and fanciest of the five museums (and one research library) that comprise the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, the undeniable heart of the town of Cody and a window into the entire West. Each, while not as 21st century as the Draper, is remarkable in itself, but together – the Draper Museum of Natural History, the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, the Plains Indian Museum and the Cody Firearms Museum – they present one of the most complete pictures of the history, geology, geography, people, cultures and spirit of the West … over an area equal in size to eight football fields. It’s no wonder novelist James Mitchener called the place, “one of the five best museums in the world.”