Wyoming – Cody’s Old Trail Town

We arrived in Cody, Wyoming, late in the afternoon and were still on our race against the snow to get to Glacier before the first September flakes fell.  Since we had both been in Cody before we decided to save a return visit to the Buffalo Bill Center with its myriad of museums for another trip.  Instead Don wanted to take me to Old Trail Town since I’d never been there.  What a great call. 

Don hadn’t been there in over thirty years and in the meantime the town of maybe a dozen buildings had swelled up to twenty-seven historic structures, dating from 1879 to 1901. Old Trail Town was established in 1967 in the area Buffalo Bill initially chose for “Cody City” in 1895 and a visit here takes you right back into those days.  Bob Edgar, an archaeologist and Wyoming native, was tired of seeing local history crumbling and disappearing, so he decided to identify some of these old treasured buildings and artifacts and assemble them in Cody.  Walking down the planks of the boardwalk, I wished I was wearing boots and spurs so I could recreate the sounds of that era as I poked into the homes and cabins of some of the earliest settlers. 

Having just come from the Little Bighorn Battlefield, it was appropriate that the first cabin I visited was Curley’s, a Crow Indian who had been enlisted by the U.S. Army and assigned to help locate the Sioux Indian encampment for Lt. Colonel Custer.  Fortunately for Curley, he had been outside the raging circle of Sioux and Lakota warriors when they attacked, and he was able to escape.  He may even have been the first to report the news of Custer’s defeat.  Around 1885 this cabin was built for Curley on his Crow Agency land near the Little Bighorn River.  Curley worked as the Chief of the Indian Police and lived in this cabin with his wife, Takes A Shield.  He died in 1925 and is buried in the National Cemetery at Little Bighorn.

Each structure in Old Trail Town is identified with its original owner and a piece of their story.  An 1884 cabin had been owned by Luther Morrison who came West on the Oregon Trail in 1853 and brought some of the first sheep into this area in 1882.  Another structure started its life as a buffalo hunter’s refuge in 1880 and was later used by homesteader Al Kerschner.  The interior held rudimentary furnishings of the period, quilts, and a stove, and the walls were decorated with skins, skulls and photos of buffalo hunts.  Even with the luxury of one small window letting in light, this must have been a cold, dark, bleak place in the middle of a raging Wyoming winter.

Further up the street a thirty-three star U.S. flag hangs on the wall of the Coffin schoolhouse, and next door a selection of men’s fur-lined coats decorate one of the walls of the first store built in Shell, Wyoming (1892). 

A two-room structure, one of the largest cabins on the property, is the Hole in the Wall Cabin (1883).  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid frequented this hideout where they would meet up with other local outlaws.  Butch and his boys also visited two other buildings that are now on the property: the Rivers Saloon, where they plotted over drinks, and the Mud Spring Cabin, which they used as a hideout before an attempted bank robbery in 1897. 

At the far end of the street, beyond the tall stack of sun-bleached antlers, six grave sites mark where Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnson and other famous Western figures have been reburied.  Each one has a fitting marker and a brief biography telling the story of the grave’s resident.  I was particularly taken with this sculpture by Tom Hillis of Jim White, the buffalo hunter who is reputed to have killed 16,000 buffalo over the course of his career. 

Some of the other structures include a livery barn and grainery, two blacksmith shops and a post office.  The cabins are outfitted with historic articles of the period and there are many informative displays.  In one of the cabins I found a three-ring notebook full of photos showing the painstaking steps and stages it took to move and restore the McNally cabin.  Another series of photos introduced me to some spunky women and the stories of how they made their own way in this raw and rugged land. 

With the sun setting and Old Trail Town closing for the night, we drove over to check into the Super 8 Cody and were delighted to find it to be one of the cleanest and tidiest motels of our trip.  We next stopped in Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel (1902)…the place he called “just the swellest hotel that ever was” then we headed out to walk the colorful streets of modern day Cody. 

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the passing parade of cars, people and dogs.  Tired tourists and locals were out enjoying the fine fall evening as well.

It was now time for us to wash off some of the trail dust and settle in for the night.

FOR MORE ADVENTURE: This is Part 6 of 11 in our drive from Maine to and from Glacier National Park.  If you would like to follow along with us, the first installment was Des Moines, Iowa, and the next stops are Yellowstone and Jackson, Wyoming.

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