The Center’s Mission, Vision, and Grounding Principles
Connecting people to the stories of the American West.
The story of the West is uniquely American—an account with which all Americans can identify. Exploring the American West through art, science, culture, and history allows us to reconnect with a sense of place found nowhere else on earth.
The Spirit of the American West is a story that began thousands of years ago.
Native Americans were first, drawn to the bounty and beauty of the new land. They touched lightly upon the land and lived in harmony with it and became connected.
Then the explorers and pioneers came, along with the settlers, ranchers, and cowboys—rugged people, willing to risk all with courage and vision.
The story rises from the West itself—the soaring mountains, rushing rivers, endless plains, breathtaking skies, abundant wildlife, and the often harsh beauty of nature.
The story tells of those who came to change the land, and were changed by it. The people of the West had their struggles and triumphs, heartbreaks and humor; their stories became a mosaic of myth, of legend, and of fact. It is the Spirit of the American West, and it is a story that must be told.
William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody told the story—and lived the tale—like no other. Explorer and frontiersman, soldier and scout, actor and showman, entrepreneur and civic leader, Buffalo Bill was emblematic of the American West to his countrymen and to the world. Through characters, voices, artifacts, and legends, Cody weaved a colorful tapestry that brought to life the Spirit of the American West. Even today, his legacy continues to shape how we think about our history and the American character.
Just over a century ago, Cody dreamed of an institution that would “teach people by seeing history.” His dream is realized in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, the town he founded and that bears his name. Housed on an impressive campus, the Center’s collection of western objects, papers and research materials, photographs, and art is unmatched. Scholars and journalists alike explore the Center’s unique resources to discover a deeper understanding of our country’s signature place and time. Compelling exhibits, programs, and outreach offer visitors from around the world an opportunity to connect to the American West in a very personal way. To be sure, in every visitor, the Spirit of the American West is reborn.
Yes, Buffalo Bill’s dream is alive today. The story is being told…and there is so much yet to tell. The Buffalo Bill Center of the West takes seriously its role as guardian and storyteller of the Spirit of the American West. Moreover, in retelling that story, our own dream will be realized, and the Spirit of the American West will be kept alive among us. In the end, the story is about connecting the Spirit with our audiences and the American West. This is our vision and the plan to accomplish this vision becomes part of the Spirit itself.
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is grounded in what was the American West and operates now in what is the American West. What the American West will be is a clean palette on which the Spirit of the American West that exists at the Center can grow, change, and prevail.
Our dream is that within twenty years the Buffalo Bill Center of the West will be recognized for linking our national character and values to the Spirit of the American West.
cre-do: derived from 12th century Middle English, from Latin, “I believe”; a set of fundamental beliefs; a guiding principle.
On January 29, 2010, the Trustees of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West unanimously adopted a “Spirit of the American West” credo. This powerful, formal statement of shared belief commits the Center to a goal of keeping—in the fullest sense of the word—the Spirit of the American West.
Our credo is our vow to communicate a vision that reaches beyond the treasures in our vaults. It reaffirms our commitment to preserving the spirit of the American West through our collections, programs, exhibitions, and scholarship. It guides all that we do and all that we plan, as well as, how we think about ourselves and how we present ourselves to others.
As such, we hope our credo will inspire people to become connected with us in ways they haven’t been able to before. It is our unifying force and lets the world know what we stand for and what we do.
We believe in a spirit, definable and intellectually real, called “the Spirit of the American West.”
We believe the Spirit of the American West is central to American Democracy and an iconic image of freedom worldwide.
We believe the Spirit of the American West is, tragically, not eternal; it can wither and die.
We believe the Spirit of the American West was first forged by nature as it created magnificent landscapes and abundant wildlife—a vastness where pioneer forefathers and mothers, and Native Americans joined in a moment of history, originally interpreted and mythologized by people such as William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody.
We believe the Spirit of the American West is the spirit of optimism itself, defined, and replenished by exploration, invention, and expanded environmental awareness; Western art and Native American culture; the history and craftsmanship of firearms; and an ethos of hardy individualism facing frontiers of all kinds.
We believe the Spirit of the American West lives at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West because generations of Americans saved, funded, taught, studied, authored, interpreted, recorded, performed, danced, conserved, painted, sculpted, collected, filmed, exhibited, and fought for this heritage in Cody, Wyoming.
We believe the Spirit of the American West, absent this dedication, can die in one or two generations of corrosive modern, mass indifference that creates an undeniable loss of classical minimum standards of learning in American history, art, and science, with huge consequences.
We believe the Spirit of the American West dies each day in the distracted face of a youth, alone, probably indoors, immersed in a globalized, saturated media environment of “self and cell,”—a situation that leads us to a high-powered, contemporary determination to keep the Spirit of the American West alive and relevant for him and her.
Above all, we believe the Spirit of the American West thrives in Cody, Wyoming, and the Greater Yellowstone region where we rededicate ourselves—through our collections, our educational programs, our interpretation and determination—to keeping this spirit vibrant for visitors, real and virtual, at home and worldwide, today and for generations to come.
Finally . . .
We believe we can succeed in this charge to keep, in the fullest sense of the word, the Spirit of the American West.