When visitors to the Center of the West tour our Buffalo Bill Museum, they pause to watch actual footage of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. The musical score that accompanies that imagery is also from the era of the Wild West, performed by the modern equivalent of Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band.
For that wonderful music and the research that went into accurately bringing it back, we have Mike Masterson to thank. He was a great friend to the Center.
Mike passed away on April 1, 2023, and will be greatly missed—not only by us here at the Center of the West, but by the communities of Cody and Powell, and Northwest College, where Mike spent his career as a Professor of Music. Click here for the Powell Tribune‘s obituary for Mike.
Among Center of the West staffers, Jeremy Johnston knew Mike best
Dr. Jeremy Johnston, former Professor of History at Northwest College and now Curator of the Center’s Buffalo Bill Museum, shared these reminiscences about Mike.
“I first met Mike Masterson when I began teaching at Northwest College in the mid-1990s and often invited him to speak in my Wyoming history course. At that time, he had recently completed his PhD dissertation on the music of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Based on this research, he produced a CD of the Wild West music as the conductor of the Americus Brass Band, a collaborative effort between the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and Northwest College. I will never forget his excitement when he managed to time the music with the original Wild West film footage of the Zouave performers’ military routine. Shortly after this, Mike worked to ensure the silent film footage in the Buffalo Bill Museum was accompanied by the Wild West musical score performed by the Americus Brass Band.”
Bringing back the “new” Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band
Mike shared the story of how he went about researching the music of the original Cowboy Band in a 2012 interview at the Center. Take a look and listen at that and the modern Cowboy Band performing in this video:
Through the years, the new Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band, under the direction of Mike Masterson, played frequently for events, including many celebrations of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s birthday, and the grand reopening of the Buffalo Bill Museum following its reinstallation in 2012.
Mike’s legacy marches on
Jeremy Johnston says, “Mike continued to share his passion for the Wild West’s musical score in many local concerts with the Buffalo Bill Cowboy Band he founded. Upon hearing a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Mike contacted me to donate research files and all the musical sheets used by the Buffalo Bill Cowboy Band. This collection is now housed in the the Center of the West’s McCracken Research Library, and the Cowboy Band continues to perform under Cody High School band conductor Wade French.
“I last saw Mike at the Sportsman’s Barbershop in Powell. He didn’t recognize me, but when he heard my voice, he asked, “I know you, don’t I?” I told him yes and explained that we worked together at Northwest College. Upon hearing this, he excitedly hugged me and proudly exclaimed how my voice triggered a memory of his past. Mike will be missed, but his legacy marches on. Whenever I hear the Cowboy Band or the musical score in the Buffalo Bill Museum, I will remember him.”
To learn much more about the music of the Wild West and its Cowboy Band, including an essay by Mike Masterson titled “Buffalo Bill’s Famous Cowboy Band,” visit this page.