The extreme log cabin: Old Faithful Inn

U.S., Montana, Idado and Wyoming flags as well as four pennants similar to those originally flown now fly atop the building.

Much has been written about Yellowstone National Park, the U.S.’s first National Park [1872] and the world’s largest collection of geysers, hot springs and other hydro-thermal features.  It encompasses a 30 mile by 45 mile caldera over a gigantic super-volcano.

For many, log cabins symbolize America’s frontier days.  Built in 1904, the Old Faithful Inn is one of the largest log structures in the world.  Architect Robert C Reamer made the building asymmetrical to better reflect nature.

76 1/2 feet above the floor is the Crow’s Nest

The huge center fireplace, foundation and other stone features are rhyolite, stone created when the volcano erupted and quarried in the nearby Black Sand Basin.

Reamer put a Crow’s Nest just below the seventy-six and a half foot high ceiling.  An orchestra played there after dinner in the early years while guests danced below.  A 1959 earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter Scale twisted some of the support beams making it unsafe for the public now.

Other features, such as the iron and brass clock on the fireplace, many chairs and chandeliers are original, now 114 years old.

The original center portion, the Old House, had 140 rooms with a bath on the hallway.  Expansions in 1914 and 1927 resulted in more than 300 rooms.  87 Old House rooms are still available.  Most still do not have a private bath but are nonetheless in high demand.

A portico was extended over the entrance driveway from which guests still can view the eruption of Old Faithful from a chair with a drink in hand.  Old Faithful is not the highest or largest geyser in the park, but it is the most predictable.  It once spouted on average every 66 minutes but the time gradually increased over the years.  Now it spouts between 65 and 91 minutes with a margin of error of 10 minutes both ways depending on the duration of the previous eruption.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 18 September 2018

P.S., Despite sensationalist articles to the contrary, scientists think the super-volcano is unlikely to erupt again in our lifetime.

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More Miscellaneous scenes from our Fall 2018 trip

Here are some more scenes from our fall 2018 drive around the U.S.  Click on photos to enlarge.  Hit the back button to go back to the post.

“King” Solomon was the Lexington town drunk who became a hero when he helped bury the dead during a 1833 cholera plague.

Lexington, KY

The first consolidated school district in Wisconsin [1903] was also the first to provide free transportation to school.

We passed through beautiful wheat fields on the Spirit Lake [First American] Reservation near Minot, North Dakota.

Spirit Lake First American Reservation, ND

The Chief Joseph Scenic Highway outside Cody, Wyoming was spectacular —

Along the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway

as was the Wind River Canyon to the south.

Wind River Canyon

We never really focused before on how beautiful the fall colors are in the Rockies.

Who knew there was a national monument dedicated to First American graffiti.  The Petroglyph National Monument is in the suburbs of Albuquerque, has pleasant easy trails to walk, and a great variety of petroglyphs to see.

Piedras Marcadas Trail, Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument


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Buffalo Bill Cody: the truth behind the “fake news”

Buffalo Bill, ca. 1872, about age 26

We visited the Buffalo Bill Museum, part of the Buffalo Bill Center of The West, in Cody, Wyoming.

William F. Cody was a showman and performer for much of his life. “Dime novels” and “pulp fiction” told tales about his life, often exaggerated and often fiction.  Sometimes Cody himself blurred the lines.

But as we toured the museum, it was clear no exaggeration was needed.  He truly had an amazing life that novelists would be hard pressed to imagine.

“Buffalo Bill” Cody was born in 1846 in Iowa. He died in 1917, just short of his 71st birthday.

He grew up on the frontier with Kickapoo First American friends alongside cowboys, hunters and teamsters who shared their skills.  While living in “Bleeding Kansas,” his abolitionist father was stabbed by pro-slavery forces.  When Cody was 11, his father died of some disease, and like many boys on the frontier, he went to work.  He tended cattle for the nation’s largest overland freight company.  He was a “bullwhacker,” driving cattle, and within three years was wagon boss, managing employees and gaining first-hand experience on the plains at age 14.

“Wyoming String” freight team

Wild Bill Hickok

James Butler Hickok earned the name “Wild Bill” for his exploits as a scout and spy during the Civil War and was 10 years older than Cody.  They met when Hickok was a teamster and came to young Cody’s rescue when he was attacked by another teamster.  From that point on, Hickok was Cody’s hero, mentor and friend.

The freighting company began the pony express in 1860 taking mail by fast horse relays 2,000 miles from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California.  It was a tough and dangerous job.  Evidence is mixed as to whether Cody was a pony express rider.  He rode as a messenger for the company and may have considered the jobs to be the same.

His mother died in 1863, and now 17, he joined the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry and fought in the Civil War.

He married in 1866 and operated a hotel in Leavenworth, Kansas but soon found life as a hotel proprietor “too tame.”  He was absent for the birth of each of his three children.

At age 21 in 1867 he became a professional hunter supplying meat to railroad construction employees and Army forts.  His skill as a rifleman earned him the sobriquet “Buffalo Bill,” but he never hunted the animals for their hides and disapproved of the practice.

Cody, the scout, ca. 1869. Long hair protected the frontiersman from the weather.

Impressed with Cody’s ability to get messages through hostile territory, General Philip Sheridan named him Chief of Scouts for the Fifth Cavalry in 1868 [he was only 22], a post he held for four years.  He became famed for his knowledge of the landscape, courage and tracking skills.  He was even hired by a New York professor looking for fossils.  Perhaps it was as a guide on hunting expeditions with Generals Sheridan and Custer and visiting dignitaries such as Grand Duke Alexis of Russia that he came to the attention of the press.

A New York newspaper published the first story about him in 1869.  Over the next 40 years around 700 short stories, novels and plays portrayed his life.  During the winter, he even began to play the part of himself on stage and wrote an autobiography in 1879.  A newspaper reviewer said “Nobody could play the part of Buffalo Bill better than Buffalo Bill himself.” By the 1880s, he was a celebrity in North America and Europe.

In 1872, he was awarded the Congressional Metal of Honor [given more frequently in that era] for his bravery when Sioux ambushed the Third Cavalry he was guiding.  His was one of only four ever awarded to scouts during the Indian Wars.

Cody’s Congressional Metal of Honor for “gallantry at the Platte River, April 26, 1872”

After the Buffalo Bill Combination theatrical company finished its winter season in 1876, he returned to the Fifth Cavalry.  Fighting in a skirmish not long after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Cody killed and scalped Yellow Hair, a Cheyenne warrior, and proclaimed “the first scalp for Custer.”  It soon became the subject of another play.

Feeling that plays did not reflect the scope of life on the plains, Cody created “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” in 1883.  It was a circus without clowns or acrobats.  It had soldiers and Indians, sharpshooters and horsemanship.

A 32-sheet billboard poster

In 1887, he took Buffalo Bill’s Wild West to England and even had a command performance for Queen Victoria, cementing his place as an international star.

Raised in a household with strong women and married to one, Cody became an advocate for equal rights for women.

The show continued a success, and he invested his profits in many things including ranch land.  Some investments were more successful than others.  Eventually, the show went into bankruptcy in 1913, and he “retired” to his 2000-acre Wyoming ranch.

Click on photos to enlarge.

“Portrait of Buffalo Bill [Wild West Dress]” by L.R. Jacobs, 1887

Date of our visit: 17 September 2018

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Buffalo Bill Center of the West: Cody, Wyoming

Generally we follow Rule 7 above and move in a direction not to a destination.  After leaving the Wisconsin, we were moving in the direction of Cody.  Or it might be Cody was a destination.  We had been there before, and we wanted to see it again.

There is much to do and see in Cody, but we specifically wanted to visit the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.  Cody was founded by Buffalo Bill Cody.  Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney sculpted a statute of him called The Scout in 1924 paying for the entire project herself.  But she wasn’t pleased with two proposed locations, so she bought forty acres on the western side of the town. Those forty acres now encompass both the statue and the modern seven-acre building that houses the Center.

The Scout by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney 1924

The original Buffalo Bill Museum was a 50 x 70 log building near the statue dedicated in 1927.  In 1955, Gertrude’s son “Sonny” donated a quarter of a million dollars to build a new building, the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.

The new Center had five sections when we first saw it: the Buffalo Bill Museum; the Whitney Gallery of Western Art [1958] now the Whitney Western Art Museum; the Plains Indian Museum [1969], the Winchester Arms Museum, now the Cody Firearms Museum [1976, re-dedicated in 1991]; and the McCracken Research Library [1980].  The Draper Museum of Natural History opened in 2002.

We chose to visit just two sections.  This week, my pictures are from the Whitney Gallery of Western Art.  Next week, I will talk a little about the amazing and complicated life of Buffalo Bill.

Here are samples of sculpture:

Classical western art;

And contemporary western art.

Click on photos to enlarge.  Use the back arrow to return to the post.

Date of our visit: 17 September 2018

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Medicine Wheel / Medicine Mountain National Historic Landmark, Wyoming

Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

I first read about the Medicine Wheel in the 1970s.  It was around then we began to occasionally read novels by Louis L’Amour, simple “westerns” without much literary value that provided relief from the daily grind.  They were better than most fare on television.  It was in one or more of those novels that we first discovered the Medicine Wheel.

As we crossed the Bighorn Mountains on our way from Sheridan, Wyoming to Cody, we saw a road to the Medicine Wheel about 46 miles west of Sheridan. We had to turn off.

The Wheel lies at 9,640 feet.  Wood in the center has been dated to 1760, but it is thought that First Americans used the site as much as seven thousand years ago.  Now part of a 4,080 acre National Landmark administered by the Forest Service, the Medicine Wheel is still used for sacred ceremonies by the Crow on whose tribal lands it rests as well as some other First Americans.

The Medicine Wheel consists of a central stone cairn about 10 to 12 feet in diameter with 28 spokes made of limestone rocks extending to an outer circle.  Six more cairns are near the outer circle.  The Forest Service has fenced it off and constructed a path around the edge.  Because the surrounding land is relatively flat, one really needs a drone to get a good photo.  I found this un-credited image on the Internet.  No copyright infringement is intended.

Image result for medicine wheel bighorn mountains

The site is open from mid to late June until mid September.  Visitors are required to walk from a parking lot to the Wheel, about three miles round trip.  It is possible to get permission to drive those with mobility issues closer, but no one was around to ask, so Alie remained behind to enjoy the mountain views while I walked.

In some First American accounts, such sites play a navigational role and perhaps have  astronomical meaning, as well as providing a place to camp, pray and seek visions.

For the rest of us, it is just interesting to be in the mountains at a place that has had importance to people from very ancient times to this day.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 16 September 2018

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Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, Montana

Bighorn Battlefield – last stand of Custer and 249 of his men

We were heading down U.S. 212 to I-90 in Montana on our way to Sheridan.

I am sure readers of this blog tire from repeated statements that we avoid Interstate highways because they are boring.  But we take them occasionally.

However, it was on 212 that we spotted a sign for the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the famous site of “Custer’s Last Stand” where perhaps some 2000 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors killed General Custer, his soldiers and the Crow and Arikara scouts with them June 25-26, 1876.

We went in because we are interested in history, but we were a little skeptical.  There is no doubt that for generations the history of the First Americans has been neglected or even deliberately been distorted.  On our travels, however, we became irritated by park service signs and videos telling us how bad our ancestors were for stealing the poor Indian’s land.  We believe invasions have occurred, cultures have clashed and people have lost their homelands throughout the millennia and across the world.  The First Americans frequently fought among themselves and invaded other tribes’ territories for hundreds of years.  They continued these wars among themselves even after Europeans arrived.  That does not excuse the behavior of our ancestors, but it puts it in perspective.

1881 Memorial

It was with this somewhat negative attitude that we went in to see the introductory video and museum before going out to walk the battlefield.

Perhaps a great benefit of low expectations is that you are often pleasantly surprised.  The video, the literature and signs were all very well done.  Not only were events leading up to the battle and the battle itself well explained, all parties were treated with respect for their cultures.

After the battle, Cheyenne and Sioux removed their dead.   The U.S. forces were buried in a mass grave.  The first memorial was created by the Army in 1881.  In 1890, the Army erected 249 headstones across the battlefield where Custer’s men were thought to have fallen.

Click on photos to enlarge.  Use the back arrow to return to the post.

In 1991, over a hundred years after that first memorial, the National Park Service began erecting headstones where known Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors died.  Subsequent oral history and paintings on animal hides told the story from the First American point of view.  The most recent “Indian Memorial” was interesting from both an historical and artistic point of view.  It included wall sections honoring not only the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, but also the Crow and Arikara scouts.

I really liked the memorial and would recommend stopping by if you are in Eastern Montana.  One sign noted Custer had Crow and Arikara scouts with him because the Sioux invaded their lands [killing many Arikara who were already diminished by smallpox and war].  But perhaps I am never fully satisfied.  The Sioux had a legitimate complaint that the U.S. went back on its treaty giving them the Black Hills.  But there are also frequent statements that the Black Hills were “sacred” to the Sioux.  I believe sometimes First Americans find it convenient to say all lands they once roamed are sacred.  Close to one such sign in the museum was another noting the Sioux had driven the Crow out of the Black Hills just forty years before the battle.  Forty years is a short time for the area to become “sacred.”

Noting that this post may be controversial to some, I have categorized it as Commentary as well as Travel.

Date of our visit: 15 September 2018

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt visited the Dakota Territory for months at a time between 1883 and 1886.  Unlike the badlands of South Dakota, this area was good for ranching,  It had open range with lots of grass on the plateaus and valleys to attract ranchers with large herds.  It seemed endless, but Roosevelt witnessed the results of overgrazing and bad management.

Hard work as a cattle rancher transformed him physically.  Always interested in nature, his time there also transformed him into a conservationist.  During his time as President, he created the U.S. Forest Service, signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, proclaimed 18 national monuments and worked to create five national parks, 150 national forests and dozens of nature reserves.

We have limited memories from our brief 2012 visit.  We did not see much wildlife.  While we did not spend much more time there in 2018, we were more fortunate in what we saw.  There had been more rain, the fall was more colorful, and we saw more animals.

The “badlands” here were carved by the Little Missouri River which originally flowed north to Hudson Bay in Canada.  When the river was blocked by ice age glaciers, it turned east towards the Missouri River and began to carve the scenery we see today.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 12-13 September 2018

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