Monday, June 8, 2009

"Smithsonian of the West"

"Be sure to visit the Museum" was the diretive we received from Visitor Center personnel to the proverbial "man in the street" in Cody, WY.

They were referring to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center which was actually five museums in one--The Plains Indian, Buffalo Bill, Cody Firearms, and Natural History Museums. The fifth, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art, was closed.

Many people who tour these museums take advantage of the admission pass that is good for two days. We spent the greater portion of one day in the Plains Indian and the Buffalo Bill Museums.

These photos show some of the exhibits that we thought were most informative.

This girl's dress is decorated with only the two eye teeth of each elk killed by a hunter. The number of teeth on a dress symbolized the hunter's prowess as a provider.

This Southern Cheyenne dress is decorated with cowrie shells from South Pacific Islands.

It was surprising to learn that there existed an intercontinental trade network.

When I took this photo, I thought it looked blurred. So I failed to copy down the details of the material (bones or teeth or some other material) used in this dress, but I thought the craftsmanship was excellent.

This was a child's tipi (or teepee). It is a tanned hide with glass beads, wool, and dyed porcupine quills. Young girls learned how to put up and maintain tipis by playing with one of these smaller versions.

This Winter Count of Lone Dog was amazing. Winter counts are histories or calendars in which events are recorded by pictures, with one picture for each year. The Lakota call them waniyetu wowapi. Waniyetu is the word for year, which is measured from first snowfall to first snowfall. It is often translated as 'a winter.' Wowapi means anything that is marked on a flat surface and can be read or counted, such as a book, a letter, or a drawing.

The tribal history from 1800-1871 is recorded here. The history begins in the center and spirals in a counterclockwise fashion. For example, the first drawing (series of vertical lines) noted that 30 Lakota were killed by Crow warriors in 1800.

Just below that drawing is a human figure with black lines coming from the mouth of the figure, symbolizing the whooping cough epidemic of 1813-14. And to the right of the first drawing and in the outer ring is a tipi with circles nearby, indicating that in 1861 the buffalo were so plentiful that they came close to the tipis.

This is a Star Quilt, made by the Oglala Sioux. It is customary at the death of a relative to enhance their glory and memorialize their name. The stricken family of the Siouxan and numerous other tribes had little pride in ownership of goods, but much pride in "honorship" -- by giving of materials to relatives and very close friends who come to help them bury their loved ones. Things are less important than people -- property always flows back to those who let it flow freely forth and the grateful recipients praise the donor's name before other people as having done well!

This explains the traditional memorial services held on the first anniversary of the death of a loved one in the family and their presentation of quilts to those who have been especially kind to the deceased.

And Buffalo Bill Cody's childhood home. The charming two-story home, built in 1841, was moved from its LeClaire, Iowa, location to the Center's Greever Garden.

We only saw half of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center's exhibits, but we would certainly agree with James Michener, who called it "The Smithsonian of the West."

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