Museums, ranches and rollers capture the spirit of the Old West
Originating in Mexico in the 1500s, cowboys played an important role during the era of expansion into the western United States. By the late 1800s, the American cowboy had created an iconic reputation and lifestyle that was glamorized in countless books, followed in the 20th century by Western movies and television programs. Although the number of working cowboys has declined, the culture remains throughout the West in attractions, museums, ranches, entertainment and reels.
Few Western states embody the attitude and atmosphere of the working cowboy as much as Wyoming. This rugged, remote territory began with livestock, but eventually added leisure tourism to its economy when the world’s first national park was established in Yellowstone. With a perfect blend of western heritage and natural beauty, Cody, Cheyenne, Casper and Jackson Hole bring the cowboy tradition to life.
Cody, Wyoming, was founded as a hospitality center in 1896 by legendary Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. Cody, a popular gateway to Yellowstone, is 50 miles from the park’s east entrance and 80 miles from the northeast gate. The Wild West comes to life in Cody with reels, recreations for gun fighting, cowboy music, and the world-class Buffalo Bill Center of the West.
Since 1927, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, formerly known as the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, has been committed to keeping Western experiences alive. Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, it encompasses the full experience of the American West: history and myth, native art and culture, firearms, and the nature and science of Yellowstone. The Center West was awarded the 2012 National Tour Association Award at the Favorite Museum for Groups.
The Cody Cattle Company offers an à la carte buffet dinner and all live entertainment from June to September. The show ends in time to attend the Cody Nite Rodeo, which takes place every night from June to August. Each rodeo performance lasts approximately two hours, with events from the Bronze Mountain to the Bull Mountain and the rope equipment to barrel races.
Cody’s Red Canyon Wild Mustang Tour is one of the top wild horseback excursions in America. Travel 22 miles outside of Cody to the McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Management Area. Stand in the open meadow and observe the grace of a wild mustang, a symbol of our western heritage, in its natural habitat. Also during the two-hour hike, see pronghorn antelopes, golden eagles, coyotes, and black-tailed prairie dogs.
Cheyenne, the capital of Wyoming, is also considered the capital of rodeo and railroad. First explored by pioneers and modeled by the railroad track, Cheyenne attracted bustling city bars alongside elegant opera houses, theaters and commercial establishments. Even today it exemplifies the romantic appeal of the West.
Cheyenne Depot, a former Union Pacific Depot, now houses a visitor center, a restaurant, and a railroad museum. National historic landmark, it has been restored to its original glory.
The Bit-O-Wyo Horse Barn Dinner Show, on a ranch in the foothills of Medicine Bow National Forest, offers Western music and comedy after a meat dinner. Walking routes are available.
Western drawings and getaways of the Cheyenne Gunslingers are depicted in Gunslinger Square, located in the center of downtown, during the months of June and July. The shows are familiar and full of excitement and laughter. Performances take place at 6pm on Thursdays and Fridays and noon on Saturdays, except during the July border day celebrations, when performances are daily at noon.
Often known as the “father of all,” Frontier Days is the largest outdoor rodeo in the West. It has the show and sale of western art, Indian dances, carnival rides and entertainment, as well as daily reels.
Before settlers arrived in the Casper area, Native American tribes flourished on the plains for more than 12,000 years. The first Wyoming Indians were nomadic tribes known today as plain Indians; include Arapaho, Arikara, Bannock, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Crow, Big Belly, Kiowa, Nose Perce, Sheep Eater, Sioux, Shoshone and Ute.
The National Historic Trails Interpretive Center offers interactive and engaging exhibits that bring the history of Wyoming and the United States to life. Interpret Native American culture and traces of Western migration. Other topics include the Pony Express Trail and the Transcontinental Telegraph. The center offers a virtual carriage ride along the North Platte River, where all the bumps and shaking of the wagon are felt. Or sit in a virtual stagecoach and walk around wagons and a herd of buffalo. The 18-minute film, Footsteps to the West, recreates the lives of the pioneers; many of the stories were taken from his magazines and newspapers.
Jackson Hole, often known as “The Last of the Old West,” is famous for its western locales, world-class cowboy and ski culture, and outdoor activities. In 1890, Sylvester Wilson led the first group of settlers over the Teton Pass to what is now Jackson Hole. He came here with his family to raise cattle in the abundant grass of the fertile valley. More than 120 years and six generations later, this pioneering spirit lives on.
Rodeo has always been part of Jackson Hole culture. Every May, Jackson Hole hosts its annual Old West Days celebration. Visitors from all over the country come to enjoy live music, theatrical entertainment, crafts, delicious food and rodeo events.
However, American cowboy culture is not unique to Wyoming. The following cities also offer a rich western experience:
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Rodeo is for the American cowboy what football is for most of the world. The ProRodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to the cowboys and cowgirls who participate in the professional sport of rodeo. Live rodeo animals and special exhibitions are part of the museum.
For more adventurous groups, head to Academy Riding Stables for their famous tour of the Garden of the Gods on Horseback Garden. For experienced riders and beginners, trained cowboys have the knowledge and skill to ensure an amazing adventure.
The M Lazy C is a true type ranch located about an hour from Colorado Springs. Enjoy a golf course, sing around the campfire and live the life of a real cowboy. The family-owned ranch, which has been on home ownership for just over 100 years, offers hands-on adventures, but guests can do whatever they want.
Prescott was Arizona’s first territorial capital and is home to three of the state’s most prized museums: the Sharlot Hall Museum, the Phippen Museum of Western Art, and the Smoki Museum. Each explores Western culture and heritage in ways that entertain and educate.
Whiskey Row represents some of Prescott’s early stories. At one time, it hosted a total of 40 salons, mainly due to the culture of the gold rush that attracted to the city all sorts of settlers, cowboys, prospectors, cheeky girls, gamblers and outlaws. Today’s Prescott celebrates the history of Whiskey Row, which is now known for its art galleries, candy stores and, of course, its famous salons.
This year marks the 131st anniversary of Prescott Frontier Days, the world’s oldest rodeo. It is a deeply rooted Western tradition that people from all over the world come to enjoy. Held annually during the week of July 4, the rodeo has become an eight-day first-class rodeo competition and features a host of special events, such as the Rodeo Dance Parade and Prescott Frontier Days.
These cities and many others throughout the West offer a glimpse into the strong, independent, romantic heritage of the American cowboy. Introduce your groups to the hospitality and natural beauty that make these destinations so attractive.