Riding the rodeo

When your guide-book description of Cody comes peppered with ‘gunslingers, gold diggers, outlaws and cowboys’, you think it’s over-sold. But then, the first local you meet, a co-passenger on the flight from Denver to Cody, greets you with a ‘Howdy’ as he tips his Stetson. He casts an intimidating figure at six-foot something, sporting a handle-bar moustache and boots with spurs that command attention even as he walks away. That’s when I knew instantly that Cody is the real deal. After all, this was the town founded by, and named after, the celebrated William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody.

Buffalo Bill was one of the most colourful figures in the 19th-Century American Old West. It was a turbulent and exciting time. The American Frontier was expanding, as rugged cowboys, mountain men and expeditioners travelled further west, claiming land. And Buffalo Bill wore many hats: frontier scout, showman, Pony Express rider, cowboy and hunter among others. He supposedly killed 4,282 bison (American buffaloes) in 18 months, earning his nickname.

The first place I visit is the Old Trail Town: an open-air museum of 19th Century buildings relocated from across Wyoming. Around me are wagons and cabins. The occasional deer skull marks certain cabins. It helps that Cody offers the perfect backdrop, surrounded by mountains and dotted with ranches. In the midst of this, you enter a hole-in-the-wall cabin that belonged to the notorious train and bank robber, Butch Cassidy. Cody is known as the ‘rodeo capital of the world’ because it’s possible to catch a performance every night, between June 1 and August 31. I watch as cowboys and cowgirls come onto the dauntingly-named Stampede Park, to perform fearless feats. As their horses kick up a dust storm, they round up cattle, wrestle steers, and ride fierce broncos.

The most-visited attraction is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. There are five museums within it — Cody Firearms, Whitney Western Art, Draper Natural History, Plains Indians and Buffalo Bill Museum; I head here first. At the entrance, I am greeted by an apparition; a hologram of the formidable William Cody. Within these walls lies his life story of triumph and tragedy.

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