Good Sam RV Travel Guide & Campground Directory
Buffalo Bill Country
By Lisa Halvorsen
By the time Buffalo Bill Cody settled in North Platte in the late 1870s, he was already renowned throughout the West for his fearless exploits as a cavalry scout, pony express rider and buffalo hunter.
But it was in this west-central Nebraska town that his reputation as a showman began, for it was here in 1882 that he staged the Old Glory Blowout, featuring horse racing, steer roping, bronco and buffalo riding, and reenactments of buffalo hunts and other history-making events of what was then the Wild West.
This Fourth of July gala is widely considered to be the country’s first rodeo and was the precursor to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.
That world-renowned outdoor extravaganza debuted the following year in Omaha and was part rodeo, part pageant and part circus. In its heyday it had a cast of 1,200, including western legends like sharpshooter Annie Oakley and Buck Taylor, the original “King of the Cowboys,” along with what Buffalo Bill called his “Congress of Rough Riders of the World” with a cast of cowboys from all over the globe.
At Scout’s Rest Ranch in North Platte you can learn all about Colonel William Frederick Cody, the legendary frontiersman who earned the nickname “Buffalo Bill” for his work supplying buffalo meat to Kansas Pacific Railroad workers. The ranch, where he lived for almost 35 years, is now part of the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, which comprises 25 acres of the original 4,000-acre property, including the main house, barn and outbuildings.
Cody’s ornate 18-room Victorian mansion was built in 1886 at a cost of $3,900 - a princely sum at the time - and includes many “modern-day” amenities for the era. The furnished home provides visitors with a nice snapshot of both Cody’s family and his professional life.
In one of the original horse barns on the property, you can watch a short movie with original film footage from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The popular show toured the United States and Europe for three decades. The barn museum also contains wagons, carriages and a chariot from his show. You can also see original posters and other Buffalo Bill and Chief Sitting Bull memorabilia on display.
Continue your quest to learn more about this legendary buffalo hunter-turned-showman at the Fort Cody Trading Post, which bills itself as “Nebraska’s Largest Souvenir and Western Gift Store.”
It’s easy to find as it’s right off I-80 and greets all with a larger-than-life cutout of Buffalo Bill standing guard over the store. You might also note that it was built to look like an old military fort complete with log stockade walls and watch towers.
While the store sells a wide range of western items from boots and apparel to souvenirs, the main attraction for most visitors is its Old West Museum, which contains the expected displays of vintage guns, clothing, saddles and Native American artifacts, along with a few oddities including a two-headed calf.
Don’t miss Buffalo Bill’s Miniature Wild West Show, which has 20,000 hand-carved, hand-painted, mechanized pieces. You can even have your photo taken next to the Indian “Muffler Man” or a teepee, wagon, or log cabin - all part of the trading-post complex.
Wild West Memorial
The Wild West Memorial at the entrance to Cody Park is situated near the site of the original Old Glory Blowout. The memorial includes a life-sized bronze statue of Buffalo Bill surrounded by the flags of all 48 states that Cody traveled to with his Wild West Show.
While at the park, visit the Cody Park Railroad Museum, where you can walk through a restored railroad depot and view the many railroad items on display.
The Union Pacific Railroad put North Platte on the map, although - because of its location at the confluence of the North and South Platte Rivers - it had been a popular stopping place for pioneers on journeys west along the Mormon, Oregon and Overland Trails, as well as a station for the short-lived pony express.
The free seasonal museum has several railroad cars, including a baggage car, a caboose and a mail car, as well as the Challenger 3977 locomotive on display. The latter is one of only two 3900-class locomotives still in existence.
In the 1930s the Union Pacific Railroad purchased 105 of these locomotives - one of the most powerful steam-locomotive models ever built - to haul cargo and passengers over the Rocky Mountains.
Bailey Railroad Yard
Train buffs also will enjoy a visit to Union Pacific’s Bailey Railroad Yard, the world’s largest reclassification rail yard - a distinction it’s held since 1866.
It covers an area the size of 2,800 football fields. About 135 trains pass through this yard every day hauling 10,000 railroad cars, of which 3,000 are sorted daily.
Plans are in the works for a visitors center with a 15-story-high observation tower, although the yard currently can be viewed from a one-story platform on Front Street, located about 2.4 miles east of the junction of Buffalo Bill Avenue and Front Street. Be sure to listen to the eight-minute audio presentation to learn what goes on at the railroad yard.
During World War II, North Platte served as a fueling and servicing stop for the troop trains passing through the state.
Residents of the town set up a canteen at the Union Pacific depot and met every train for more than four years, serving food, coffee and a big dose of Midwest hospitality to 3,000 to 5,000 soldiers a day - more than 6 million soldiers in the 51 months.
Although the depot was torn down in the 1970s, the famous canteen and the generosity of these volunteers live on in a permanent display at the Lincoln County Historical Museum on Buffalo Bill Avenue, not far from Scout’s Rest Ranch.
The exhibit includes photos of the canteen and arriving trains, as well as letters from soldiers touched by the kindness of the women, men, and children from North Platte and 125 other nearby communities who met the trains.
The historical museum also provides a good insight into the area’s heritage with its displays of items relating to its fascinating railroad, western and ranching history. The collections include quilts, china, household items, western art, natural-history exhibits and even an old doctor’s office.
Behind the main museum, visitors can wander through the Western Heritage Village, an assemblage of historic buildings moved here from their original sites, including the first homestead in the county, a two-story log home built in 1869.
Among the other structures are an 1860 pony-express station, the 1863 Fort McPherson Headquarters Building, a 1903 country school and a Lutheran Church
Most visitors to North Platte find the 20th-Century Veterans’ Memorial inspiring. This permanent memorial is the only one in the country commemorating all American military men and women who served their country during the last century.
The memorial was designed by veterans and includes a brick bas-relief mural depicting the five major wars and conflicts of that century, along with a Walk of Honor with the names of veterans inscribed on the individual bricks that were used to build the wall. The bronze statues along the walkway were created by North Platte sculptor Ted Long, a Korean War veteran.
A separate memorial lists the names of Nebraskans who lost their lives while fighting for their country. Another is dedicated to the volunteers at the North Platte Canteen during the Second World War
You also might consider taking a short drive to Fort McPherson National Cemetery near Maxwell, about 17 miles southeast of North Platte. A number of Medal of Honor winners are buried here along with 63 Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry.
If traveling with kids - or just a kid at heart - spend a few hours at the North Platte Area Children’s Museum, which has numerous interactive exhibits on science, technology, agriculture, history and transportation. Or visit Lake Maloney, just south of North Platte, which offers great spring walleye and white bass fishing along with other outdoor recreational opportunities.
Many visitors travel to North Platte, a community of 24,000, for two big events – NEBRASKAland Days (http://www.nebraskalanddays.com/) and the arrival of the sandhill cranes in their annual spring migration.
NEBRASKAland Days(http://www.nebraskalanddays.com/) – a statewide celebration held the second week in June - got its start in 1968, the year after the Cornhusker State celebrated its centennial.
Since then it has grown into a 12-day festival with more than 80 events including parades, pow-wows, stage shows, barbecues, art shows and concerts featuring local and top names in country-western music.
A highlight is the Buffalo Bill Rodeo, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned event with four nights of competition, including the crowning of Miss Rodeo Nebraska. Young cowpokes and cowgirls ages 3 to 14 compete in a special junior rodeo.
From mid-February to early April more than 100,000 sandhill cranes migrate through the area, heading north to the Arctic after wintering in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. A favorite spot to view these majestic birds is at Scout’s Rest Ranch, which while not open at this time of year, does permit visitors to use its bird blind to observe the sandhill cranes.
Although Buffalo Bill died almost a century ago, his legend lives on in North Platte.
For More Information
Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park/Recreation Area
2921 Scouts Rest Ranch Road
North Platte, NE 69101
North Platte Convention and Visitors Bureau
Holiday RV Park & Campground
601 Halligan Drive
North Platte, NE 69101
1102 S. Lake Ave.
Gothenburg, NE 69138
(308) 537-7387, (800) 562-1873