Monday, June 6, 2016

Guns of the Old Western in Wyoming

We spent last week in Montana and Wyoming, mostly touring Yellowstone and Grant Teton National Parks, but I'm happy to say that I still found some balm for my classic movie loving soul. One of the best spots for indulging a cinema obsession was Cody, Wyoming, where we spent a full day exploring the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a five museum complex affiliated with the Smithsonian and a treasure trove for all kinds of fascinating knowledge. I'll talk about Buffalo Bill's personal history and the movies in another post, but this time I want to focus on the Cody Firearms Museum, one of the five museums in the Center.

I'm not normally a gun fan; I grew up around them but find them disconcerting. In Westerns, however, I accept that guns are a necessary and iconic part of frontier culture, where homesteaders and cowboys might have good reasons for keeping firearms handy. Thus, as we were breezing through the firearms museum, not really paying too much attention to exhibits on Glocks and whatnot, I came up short when we arrived at an exhibit about guns in Westerns. This was a gun exhibit that could get my attention!

The display of Western Movie & TV Guns is not really large, but it does feature some gems sure to delight any true fan of the genre. The main cases contain the belts and guns of the stars of Bonanza as well as guns used by the stars of Gunsmoke, Bat Masterson, and The Lone Ranger. They also include a gun used by Gary Cooper in Vera Cruz (1954) and High Noon (1952). Another display pays tribute to World War II hero and Western star Audie Murphy. The gun displayed with it, a Colt Model 1905 Bisley Revolver, was a gift to Murphy from Gary Cooper.

The highlight of the exhibit, however, is the iconic rifle that gives its name to the 1950 Anthony Mann Western, Winchester '73. Displayed in a case by itself, it's an impressive sight, with a production still from the film serving as its backdrop. A closer look, however, reveals that the weapon was signed by all of the film's stars, starting with James Stewart himself. It's a fabulous piece of movie memorabilia that absolutely belongs here, surrounded not only by other Western firearms but by a history of the Winchester and its importance to the settling of the frontier.

If you're ever out around Yellowstone, make time for a stop in Cody, Wyoming. There's a lot of history here for a Western devotee to devour, as well as a nightly gunfight in the street and a whole lot of gift shops and rodeos.

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