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It's A Gray Area: Buffalo Bill's lessons in life endure

August 29, 2013|By James P. Gray

Recently I was blessed to be able to go with a wrangler on a horseback and fly fishing trip to the Beartooth Mountains on the Wyoming/Montana border.

To be able to stay in gorgeous natural places that haven't changed for centuries, and knowing that they will be the same centuries from now, was truly inspiring.

But before I arrived safely in the hands of the wrangler, I visited the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo. It is truly a world-class institution. In fact, if you have not taken your family to this genuinely interesting place, you are really missing out.

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The center is divided into five separate museums, specializing in the Plains Indians, Western art, firearms, natural history and, of course, Buffalo Bill. One of the features that was especially fascinating was the exhibit of the sculptures depicting Teddy Roosevelt, and others, by Alexander Phimister Proctor.

Another unique work that really got my attention was a sculpture of a tumbleweed. Imagine constructing a mold for something as small as the branches of tumbleweed, and then seamlessly welding all of the pieces together. Really an amazing work.

But the true center of attraction was the museum about Buffalo Bill. In fact, I was so taken by his story that I bought and read a book about him: "The Lives and Legends of Buffalo Bill," by Don Russell. It is aptly titled because this man did lead a number of different lives and left us with a number of legends — many of which are true.

Generally speaking, the Wild West in our nation's history lasted only about 30 years, from 1863 to 1893. William Frederick Cody, who lived from 1846 to 1917, probably best represented it. During his varied life, he was a wagon master, Civil War soldier, Army scout (for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor), Pony Express rider, rancher, hotel owner and, of course, a showman.

From experiencing his museum, and reading Russell's book, I have derived eight lessons from the life of this truly interesting man.

The first lesson is the importance of developing skills and a work ethic. From childhood "Willie" strove to master the skills of roping, riding, driving wagons and shooting, because having skills was how a person could get ahead. The skills may have changed for most of us today, but the lesson remains firm.

Second, the best way to have friends is to be a friend, and that is what William Cody was to many people for a lifetime.

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