The Buffalo Bill Center of the West—a complex of five museums and a research library dedicated to sharing the colorful, rugged ways of the American West—celebrates its year-long Centennial. From the establishment of the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association in 1917 to the highly anticipated June 2nd opening of our two special Centennial exhibitions, the Center has undergone some spectacular changes in the span of 100 years.
With many remarkable additions, redesigns, and renovations, it can be a challenge to pinpoint some of the lesser-known museum happenings that took place during these big shifts. So, how exactly did the Center of the West flourish into such a comprehensive institution?
Buffalo Bill Museum
It all began in 1924 when Buffalo Bill – the Scout bronze equestrian statue by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was presented to the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association. Shortly after in 1927, the Buffalo Bill Museum (current location of the Cody Chamber of Commerce and the Cody Country Art League) was opened to the public on July 4. Several years later in 1969, the Buffalo Bill Museum opened as a part of the Center of the West.
Whitney Western Art Museum
In 1935, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney donated the Center’s current 40-acre site. Many years later in 1959, the Whitney Gallery of Western Art was dedicated and established in newly designed modern facility. With several renovations, the Whitney was rededicated once in 1987 and again in 2009.
Plains Indian Museum
The Plains Indian Collection was added in 1969, and a decade later, it was implemented as a distinct entity. In addition to the Center’s newest gallery, museum staffers were preparing for the third annual Patrons Ball and contemplating a proposed name change for the institution.
Cody Firearms Museum
In 1980, the Winchester Collection was installed. Amongst welcoming new trustee members, gaining a collection of 200 rare western history books, and acquiring new firearms, notice was also given that the Center had received accreditation from the American Association of Museums (AAM). Roughly a decade later, the expansive Cody Firearms Museum was dedicated and opened to the public in 1991.
McCracken Research Library
In 1980, the McCracken Research Library was dedicated; the Library was named to honor the Center’s first director, Harold McCracken. Interestingly, during this same time period, the Center was gearing up to showcase its new movie poster exhibition. In a 1980 edition of the Center’s newsletter, Gene Ball notes, “All items on exhibit will be lent by Don Look of Boulder, Colorado. Look, who is in the photo business, said his present collection is actually the second one he has assembled. He had his first as a kid, but his father did not appreciate the storage problem, and out went hundreds of posters.”
Draper Natural History Museum
Last but not least, in 2002, the Draper Natural History Museum (formerly known as Draper Museum of Natural History) opened to the public on June 4. The museum—named after Carroll Draper, Center trustee and benefactor—merged humanities and sciences to present a more comprehensive view of the American West.
After 100 years of showcasing the spirit of the American West, the Center is saddling up for 100 more. To kick off your own summer Centennial celebration, click here for a brief Center of the West timeline!