Aviatrix Amelia Earhart, almost 40 at the time, disappeared on July 2, 1937, on an around-the world flight in her twin-engine Lockheed Electra. She and navigator Fred Noonan’s last transmission was near Howland Island in the mid-Pacific. No trace of Earhart or her plane was ever found.
Just last week, though, Amelia Earhart and her plane were back in the news. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has what it believes to be a piece of the Electra. A photo showing a patch over one of Electra’s windows while it was in Miami before departure led to TIGHAR’s contention that they do indeed have the “Miami Patch.” “Not so fast,” say other researchers, though; for now, it seems the mystery of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance continues.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, however, has Amelia Earhart artifacts of its own. (Check out John Rumm’s blog post from March of this year.) Sometime between 1934 – 1936, the aviator visited the Double D Ranch on the Upper Wood River, near Meeteetse, Wyoming, about 45 miles southwest of Cody. The Center’s collection has photos of Earhart pictured with Carl Dunrud, enjoying a western vacation.
Secondly, Dunrud donated two coats that belonged to Earhart to the Center’s Buffalo Bill Museum. He identified the leather flight jacket as the one she wore on her solo trans-Atlantic flight in May 1932. “While there’s no reason to doubt that the jacket belonged to Earhart, it’s definitely not the one she wore on that flight,” explains Dr. John Rumm, the Center’s Curatorial Division Director. “Photographs in her papers at Purdue University indicate that she wore a different-style flight jacket [on that flight].” Clearly, further research is needed to determine whether or not Earhart wore “our” flight jacket on a different flight.
Dunrud also donated an 1870s buffalo coat, which he asserted “had been presented to Amelia Earhart by William S. Hart.” According to Rumm, Hart made Earhart’s acquaintance in the mid-1930s when he became annoyed with a small plane buzzing over his house. He learned it was Earhart, and, being chivalrous, decided to invite her to dinner to complain about her plane’s noise.
Ironically, they became fast friends. In the fall of 1936, Hart decided to give Amelia a buffalo coat “so that when she climbs far up into the sky, this old buffalo coat of the Indian wars and prairie seasons will hold her tight and keep her warm,” according to a letter he wrote her on October 8, 1936 (Purdue Archives). The coat was U.S. Army issue, given to soldiers during the mid-1870s “to fight the Plains Indians during the winter months.” After the Indian Wars ended, there were scores of leftover buffalo overcoats consigned to cold storage. Sometime around 1920, “they were then taken out and disposed of,” and, as Hart told Earhart, “I was so fortunate as to get hold of a few.”
We don’t know whether Earhart ever wore the coat, but as she prepared for her around-the-globe flight, she sent many of her personal possessions to Wyoming—including the buffalo coat. She attached a note to it that read, “For you Carl. I know of no one who can put this to better use than you.”
Dunrud gave the coats to the Center of the West in 1966.