Nebraska at 150: Buffalo Bill’s Scout Ranch in North Platte

Editor’s Note: Nebraska is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2017. As the state observes its sesquicentennial, we are revisiting some of the state’s attractions. Today, we take a look at Buffalo Bill’s ranch in North Platte…

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North Platte is proud of its Buffalo Bill legacy. The Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park is the crown jewel of all things Buffalo Bill in the region.

William F. Cody settled in North Platte in 1878, following a long career as a Pony Express rider, soldier, scout and sometime actor.

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Buffalo Bill got his nickname during his work for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. The cowboy was hired to provide buffalo meat for the company. He reportedly killed almost 4,300 bison in during an 18-month period.

A three-story Victorian-style house welcomes visitors to the “Scouts Rest Ranch,” north of town. At the time it was built, it was THE most expensive house in North Platte, coming in at $4,000.

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Buffalo Bill and his wife Louisa had four children while living at the ranch. Life was not good to them when it came to the children. Two of them died from Scarlett Fever at ages 5 and 8. The third child, a daughter, died at age 35. The youngest daughter (three daughters and a son) – Irma – lived the longest to age 38.

Irma managed the ranch for Buffalo Bill when she was older. She also traveled with the show. She even raised her three children on the ranch.

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The dining room features wall paper based on the original design. Two figures on the wall paper seem to resemble Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley, a trick shooter in his wild west show.

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The Codys – at least Buffalo Bill – loved to entertain people at the ranch. Following a nice meal in the dining room, the men and women would separate to different rooms.

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The women would enjoy each other’s company in the parlor, where they could sing songs and play the piano, as well as visit.

The men, however, retired to buffalo Bill’s den. Here, they would smoke cigars and swap stories.

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A lot of the furniture in the house either belonged to the family or is from their era.

As with most families during the 1800s, indoor bathrooms didn’t exist. The family had a small storage shed behind the house, where a lot of items were kept, including the family bathtub. Baths were a luxury, even for the wealthy. It’s thought that they may have bathed once a month. And, the kicker…they used the same water. Can you imagine how muddy and filthy the water was by the time the last person (usually the youngest person) took their bath?

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One area the Codys were blessed in with their home was an ice box. They would cut a chunk of ice out of the pond not far from the house. Their ice building was well insulated with hay, so the ice kept for almost a year. They were able to keep their ice box (refrigerator for the youngsters) chilled in the kitchen.

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Buffalo Bill and his wife slept in separate bedrooms. She liked to go to bed at night. He liked to entertain into the late hours. His room had a buffalo hide spread over the bed. His work desk was located nearby. He would take the desk set with him during his travels.

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The guest room was located next to his bedroom, with a connecting door. I am guessing Buffalo Bill liked to party.

A room is set aside to display items related to his show days, including weapons and clothing. A Russian Cossack uniform is on display.

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Buffalo Bill loved his animals. He had a large barn built for the horses. The barn has the ranch’s name painted on the roof – Scouts Rest Ranch. He had an even larger one built for the other livestock, such as cattle. Buffalo Bill is credited with bringing the first blooded livestock to the state.

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Buffalo Bill was considered an innovator. And it flowed over to his ranch operations. He had an indoor grain bin in the horse barn. The top floor of the barn housed the bin. Hay could be stored inside and later fed to the horses through chutes. The horses didn’t have to leave their stables to enjoy a fine meal.

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The state park has a few items of display related to the Buffalo Bill era.

A covered wagon is located in the barn. It won an award for best horse-drawn entry during the Nebraskaland Days parade.

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A collection of saddles – mostly western – is on display. A couple of saddles stood out.

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The first is a Hispanic saddle. Latin cowboys loved big saddle horns (no reason given). The stirrups actually had boot covers, aka “booties.” This was to protect their feet from cactus as they rode the desert and other brush areas.

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The second saddle was an American Calvary saddle. It was thin and small. It didn’t look comfortable, but made sense for the travel time a soldier could spend on a horse, reducing as much weight as possible and increasing speed.

The barn is home to a theater, which airs a 20-minute show on Buffalo Bill’s life. It’s worth the time. You learn quite a bit during that short time.

A couple of personal features adorn the top of the barn. The slats used on the overhang are in the shape of rifles.

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At the top of the V on the barn is a heart with a hole in it. It’s to honor Annie Oakley, who was a star with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. The hole represents Oakley’s act of shooting a hole in the Ace of hearts card.

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After the barn, continue checking out the ranch. It sits on 16 acres of the original land. Buffalo Bill once owned about 4,000 acres of land at the ranch.

A windmill stands in a pasture just off the barn. The windmill’s head unit is original to the ranch.

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The ranch is home to a few bison. During our visit, we were among the first visitors to get a look at a new-born calf. It was two days old when we visited.

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Mom paid a lot of attention to us while we were stopped and watching them. The baby moved behind mom. Motherly protection seems to be natural with all creatures.

The calf brings the ranch total to three bison.

“One day we had two. The next day, we had three,” laughed Jason, the park superintendent. Jason was kind enough to guide us during our visit.

A log cabin that once belonged to Buffalo Bill was moved to the ranch. He used the cabin as a hunting lodge. It was located about 60 miles north of North Platte. The cabin had to be taken apart when it was transported to the park, and then rebuilt.

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Buffalo Bill planted several trees on his property. Remember, back then we didn’t have a lot of trees in the plains. Some people will argue that it’s the same today.

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A few of the Cottonwoods Buffalo Bill planted still stand at the ranch.

Buffalo Bill’s ranch is an outstanding attraction to visit when in the area. It should be at the top of everyone’s list when traveling to or through North Platte. I strongly recommend visiting the ranch.

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It is a state park, so a park permit is required. A day pass is $5. Admission is $2 for adults and $1 for children under 13.

In addition to the ranch, the state operates a state recreation area on the ranch grounds. People can camp and fish there.

For more information on the Buffalo Bill Ranch state park, please visit http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/parks/guides/parksearch/showpark.asp?Area_No=38.

Disclaimer: Thank you to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for the complimentary tour of the ranch. All opinions and views are ours.