Different versions of America

And there are many, right?  We left Sheridan and headed to Cody today.  First, we had some glorious scenery unroll in front of us as we crested the Bighorn Mountains.

Who knows how many miles we could see?  It seems like the natural beauty goes on forever.  No bighorn sheep crossed our path, but we did see the remnants of the winter snow, still several feet deep on the mountains.  But look at those views!

That was the glorious, wide-open country view of America.  Then we got to Powell, WY, where a troubling moment in history is memorialized.  Outside of Powell was the Heart Mountain Japanese Internment Camp. Sadly, this camp was set up in a state known then for anti-Asian sentiment, and governed by a man whose xenophobia was quite extreme. He would only accept the camp in his state if it were clear that every Japanese person had to leave the state when the camp closed and that the guards be armed with machine guns.

What compelled FDR to make this happen, despite Pearl Harbor?  It is a very shameful moment of racism that was nothing new in the West.  The Chinese had been badly treated during their heroic efforts in building the transcontinental railroad, and the productivity of the Asians in mining communities and other industries had always been a reason for discrimination – “They are taking away our jobs!”  Sounds familiar, and we have heard this discussion several times on our trip regarding the subject of “those illegals.” (Though it is very rare to see anyone in most of these small Montana and Wyoming towns who looks remotely like an illegal alien.) Guess we have to learn some lessons over and over.

The camp museum is only three years old, but it is very thoughtfully done and the stories are told by the internees and their children.  What a sad story.  Of the 110,000 Japanese in all the US camps, none were ever accused of espionage or treason.  In another twist of irony, when young men in the camps turned 18, they were drafted and expected to serve in the military during the war.

The original hospital still stands on a hill looking over the barren field where all the barracks were lined up, with Heart Mountain off in the distance. Only one set of barracks remains as the foundation of the museum, but you can see what they must have been like, surrounded by guard posts and barbed wire fences.

Then for the view of America that was famous and loved throughout the world.  Yes, we reached Cody today, the town founded by Buffalo Bill, which has been welcoming tourists since he opened the Irma Hotel, named after his daughter.  It’s still very much a tourist town, filled with things that only a tourist would buy, but colorful in its own way.


The big draw is the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. It is a huge and evidently well financed museum with art, Indian artifacts, a nature center and, of course, a spectacular collection related to Buffalo Bill. Rather draining, but the depth of the collections was great. Let’s start with the art.  Much of it referenced BB of course, but there were also interesting things like a recreation of Frederic Remington’s studio :

And then Buffalo Bill’s wing – really the main event. An amazing collection of posters, film clips, artifacts – even his personal tent. You may remember that we have been to the Buffalo Bill Museum outside of Golden, Colorado, and seen his grave.  The people of Cody fought hard to have him buried here.  But clearly, he belonged to the world.  What an amazing showman – with a very enlightened world view for his day.

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