Day 244 – Cody Country, August 17, 2011
So I camped with the truckers last night at the
Conoco…another first! By the time I
got up and going, most of them had left and only the two other camper folks
remained. Before I left the tiny town
for Cody Country, I stopped off at the Crook County Museum and Art Gallery to
see the exhibit on the Sundance Kid.
First, this town was so small, I would have never thought it
would have a museum, much less to stop at it (my book helped with that). Second, I found it humorous that it took me three
tries to find the place! I saw a giant
sign on an old high school building mentioning the museum, but then I realized
it said, “Future Home of the museum which is currently housed in the Court
House”. So I proceed to drive around the
three blocks looking for the Court House thinking it would be an old, ornate
building from 1915 like the bank. I
found the City Clerk’s office, stepped inside and asked where it was. “Just over there behind the trees,” answered
the local lady. I turn around to see the
flat roofed, bland brick building smack dab in between the old high school and
the City Clerk’s office…REALLY!! I drove
the block to the building as it was situated in a park with nice shade for
Petey. I knew the museum was in the
basement of the Court House. I followed
two hallways to dead ends and then stopped and asked an employee, “Where are
the stairs to the basement?” She pointed
to a grey door by the entrance 20 yards away.
The museum displayed much more than just history about the
Sundance Kid. Exhibits included gun
collections, old vacuums and filing cabinets, the life of pioneers, Indian
artifacts, and a poker table at which Al Capone played. The Sundance Kid, whose real name was Harry
Longabaugh, went to the Black Hills area near the Montana, Wyoming, South
Dakota border in 1887 looking for ranch work.
Only able to earn his room and board, he worked his way back to the VVV
Ranch in Sundance. The VVV Ranch was
under management by John Clay, a very influential local man. Harry stole a horse, revolver and saddle from
the ranch and headed toward Miles City.
Two weeks later, the ranch finally filed charges against
Harry with Sheriff James Ryan. Ryan
arrested Harry in Miles City three weeks after the charges were made. For reasons unknown, Ryan and Harry took the
Northern Pacific Railroad, a much longer route, back toward Sundance. Along the way, Harry and an accomplice thought to be Butch Cassidy picked the locks of his shackles and handcuffs and jumped off the moving train when Ryan was in the bathroom. Harry remained at large for another month,
but was caught by Deputy Sheriff Davis and Stock Inspector Smith when he
foolishly returned to Miles City.
Ryan retrieved the prisoner and traveled three days to
Sundance following the Miles City to Deadwood stage coach road. Harry was tried for Grand Larceny on August
4, 1887, six months after his crime. He
pleaded guilty to horse theft in exchange for dropping the other charges, and
was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
Because he was under 21, he was confined to the Sundance jail as opposed
to being transferred to the penitentiary in Laramie, Wyoming. He continued his escape attempts and nearly
succeeded in May of 1888, but was eventually granted full pardon one day before
his official release due to his young age and good behavior in prison.
In June of 1897, the Sundance Kid and his Hole-in-the-Wall
Gang robbed the bank in Belle Fourche, South Dakota. Due to poor planning, they rode off with on
$87. They were eventually caught, yet escaped
from jail and outran the law. They soon
joined up with Butch Cassidy and formed “The Wild Bunch” that consisted of 25
men who held up trains, robbed banks, and stole cows. It is said that Butch Cassidy vowed not to
kill anyone and that he never robbed from common people,
just banks and railroads. All the
members of the gang had amazing gun, horse riding, and hideout skills, though
Sundance was the best marksman. The
Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy were the last two members of the gang until they
were supposedly killed in Bolivia by soldiers.
There is new evidence, however, claiming the two outlaws survived and
lived with their families in America under different names.
From Sundance, we cruised across the highway to Cody Country
where we stopped at Medicine Wheel National Historic Monument. Shortly before reaching the monument, I
spotted a bull moose and passed through fields of wildflowers! I was so excited
and have to give thanks to another motorist who was pulled off the side of the
road or I might have missed it. I would
still like to get an entire body shot of a bull moose, but this beats the
antler poking out of the trees picture from Jackson!
The Medicine Wheel, located near the top of a mountain,
measures approximately 80 feet in diameter and has a circumference of
approximately 245 feet. The wheel, with
one central cairn and 28 spokes leading to the rim, was built between 1,200 and
1,700 A.D. In addition to the central
cairn, six smaller cairns are placed at varying intervals around the rim. Five of the cairns touch the rim while one is
located about ten feet outside the rim.
Of the six cairns, four face the center, one faces north, and one faces
east. No one knows for what reason the
wheel exists or who built it, though many Indians consider it sacred.
Petey and I took the mile and a half walk up the dirt road
to the barren mountain top to see the wheel and the many prayer flags and
offerings left at the site. The cool
breeze at 9,600 feet in the Big Horn Mountains was quite welcome. The sight of snow patches was also a
pleasant sight! Perhaps the rest of my
trip won’t be so bad without air conditioning.
After visiting the Medicine Wheel, we went in search of
Porcupine Falls in Big Horn National Forest.
This proved to be a difficult task.
After driving on three different dirt roads in the forest, I finally
found a sign to the falls which directed me over a poorly maintained road of
potholes and rocks. I practiced my
4-wheel drive skills for half a mile before I reached the trail. I brought Petey along on what turned out to
be an extremely steep hike of switch backs, first down to the falls and later
back up. On parts of the trail, it was
easier to run than walk down the steep grade.
After driving all over the place and then sliding down this path, I
thought to myself this better be one amazing waterfall. It was spectacular. Water plummeted 200 feet between two rocky
cliffs into a greenish, blue lagoon that made me wish I was in my bathing suit. I could have jumped right in. The falls were simply breathtaking. There were some more that tumbled 600 feet,
three miles up the road, but it was in disrepair and closed. This forest might make it onto my “revisit”
list. Camping was free, hiking trails
abound, and I even found another moose!
My final stop for the day was in Bighorn Canyon National
Recreation Area where a dam on the Bighorn River has formed a reservoir 70
miles long, lined with multicolored cliffs.
Passing through Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range, home to 100 mustangs
hiding on the countryside, we crossed into Montana and reached Devil Canyon
Overlook, where the view looks down 1,000 feet to the waters below.
We eventually arrived in Lovell, stopped for gas and luckily
asked the attendant if she knew of any campgrounds with a shower. “Oh yes, just two blocks away”, she said, “and
it’s free.” Shocked, I asked again, “it has showers?” “Yes, I haven’t been there in a few years,
but I know someone was there last week and the showers worked,” she
replied. Wow, I don’t think I’ve stayed
at a campground for free that has unlimited, hot water showers. It was the greatest city park in the world…or
at least it was to me tonight! ETB