Thursday, July 24, 2014

Cody, Wyoming

Left Ring Lake Ranch Saturday and drove back to Grand Teton campground, where we had left the RV, and headed through Yellowstone to Cody, Wyoming.  It was a lovely drive through Yellowstone--much different from Grand Teton in some ways, though both parks are quite close together.  Grand Teton does not have the underground thermals or the geysers, and it was quite interesting to view the contrasts so close together.  We didn't stop really going through Yellowstone--wanted to get on to Cody for a few days before going to visit Jennifer and Wendell in Montana.  Since we know we're coming back to Ring Lake next year, we figured we'd plan on some Yellowstone time then.  Really some great views as we drove through the park though.

Cody is quite the town, with the major attraction being the Buffalo Bill Cody Wild West Center,  downtown.  It houses several different museums under one roof, each one devoted to a slightly different theme, from Cody's life as an Army scout to his showman days taking his Wild West Show to the eastern US cities and Europe, the life and history of the Plains Indians, the Smithsonian Firearms exhibit, a natural history/raptor exhibit and the Whitney Museum of fine western art.  It's a very interesting collection, and they wisely include two days' admission in the cost of the ticket, as it's more than you can realistically see in one day.  So we spent much of Sunday there and then back for more on Monday afternoon.

Monday morning we drove to the nearby Heart Mountain Foundation memorial to the Japanese internment camp from WWII.  This is a powerful memorial to one of the bleaker chapters in American history, when, after the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent declaration of war on Japan, over 120,000 Japanese Americans, most of whom were American citizens were rounded up and imprisoned in internment camps for the duration of the war.  There was a rampant hysteria among much of the US that anyone of Japanese descent must be a spy and were hell bent on overthrowing the US from within, even though there was no evidence to support this belief.  Unfortunately for our nation, the inescapable conclusion is that this was fueled by racism, as shown by numerous quotes from government leaders, elected officials, newspaper editorials and the comments and actions of many individuals.  Anyone of Japanese descent was suspect, no matter what.  Some of these Japanese Americans held legal immigration status, but far and away the vast majority were American citizens, families with children born here, many owned businesses, owned homes, etc. and were an integral part of American society. Yet these American citizens were forced to sell their businesses, given a few short weeks to gather up only what they could carry with them, forced to report to what were euphemistically called "assembly centers," and shipped off by train to "relocation centers."  The display at the memorial showed articles published by the War Department that tried to portray these "relocation centers" as lovely places to live, when the reality was that most families of multiple people were forced to live in 12 ft. by 12 ft. single room units, with no privacy, public latrines with no partitions, and, of course, the camps were surrounded by barbed wire fences, with guard towers occupied by armed guards all the time.

The museum/memorial does a very good job of telling this story, with actual photographs from the time, as well as interviews with a number of people who lived through it.  These interviews were chilling at times, with stories of how, even after the war was over, these American citizens were subjected to racist attacks, were spit upon, called names, and worse.  When they returned to their homes, they found them either trashed, gone, occupied, and for those who had put their possessions into storage, they found that everything had been stolen or sold.  The government offered some compensation to some of those victims, but it was a paltry sum.  One of the most incredible stories was how the government, even after basically imprisoning these people, in blatant violation of the US Constitution, sent draft notices to the men.  Not surprisingly, some of these men resisted, which is understandable, given the circumstances, and many were convicted of draft evasion and sent to prisons.  In the words of one of them, though, they were already in prison, and the prison accommodations were sometimes better than what they had in the internment camps.

What was so amazing to us, though, was the incredible resiliency of these people, drawing upon their cultural background of just adapting to whatever comes.  Many of the interviewees talked about their sense of duty and loyalty, to country, and this being the US, their home country; they would say things like they accepted this internment out of a sense that they were doing their duty to the US.  While a few of them resisted and renounced their US citizenship and asked to be sent back to Japan, the vast majority did not.  In this particular camp they had a school, hospital, etc.--in the hospital, most of the doctors were internees, but they were paid only $19 a month, while caucasian nurses who worked their were paid $150.  Lest there be any doubt about the fact that this whole ugly chapter in our history was fueled by racism, there were never any such efforts directed toward German Americans during the war, or anyone from any of the other Axis powers nations.  It was hard to look at this exhibit and to read some of the horrific things people like the governor of Wyoming were saying, but I'm glad they have this museum there, to remind us of what we as humans are capable of, and hopefully it will help ensure that such a thing never happens again.

Monday night we went to the rodeo--they have a rodeo every night in Cody!  Pretty remarkable to do this every night.  While the Cody Stampede, early in July, has been voted the best outdoor PRCA event and attracts many big name rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, the nightly rodeo is a smaller scale event, with lots of young, up-and-coming rodeo athletes, many high schoolers, looking to get a start in rodeo competition.  It's a big draw for Cody, and there are busloads of tourists from town coming out to the arena for the show every night.  It was a lot of fun, as we always enjoy rodeos, but it was an interesting experience to be at a rodeo and be surrounded by folks from countries all over the world, hearing lots of languages other than English being spoken.  When we first arrived, there were storm clouds gathering and some far off lightning and we weren't sure the show would go forward, but fortunately the storm passed around us and we were all fine.

There were also tons of motorcycles in Cody--and we later learned from Wendell and Jennifer that it's due to the 20th annual Beartooth Rally in Red Lodge, Montana, sometimes known as Bone Daddy's rally, after Bone Daddy's Cycles, a big custom cycle shop that's headquarters for the rally.  Lots of fun!

Scenes along our drive through Yellowstone National Park, en route to Cody

Some evidence of past fires in the park

Here we are in Cody

Display of buffalo, one of whom is "wallowing," lying down, rolling around in the dust and dirt, apparently to scratch itself, which we had witnessed in the park

On the tour of the museums, this is a buffalo bladder, which the Indians used as a water carrier
War bonnet
Beautifully decorated leather wrap for babies
Intricately beaded baby carrier cover--no way the photo can show the level of detail work--many of the beads were made from porcupine quills
Elk's teeth used as decorations on this jacket
Annie Oakley's suit
Part of the firearms exhibit, on loan from the Smithsonian
Never saw a big horn sheep in the flesh last year, one of our big disappointments; looks like our luck is continuing--this may be the only one we'll see!
Outside in the gardens of the museum


An exhibit depicting the Heartland internment.

Interesting take by a Native American artist on the familiar "Sleeping Gypsy" painting depicting an Egyptian in the same pose--this is called "Tonto's Dream."  Note the Lone Ranger peeking out from behind a bush on the left!
Looking out through a window at the back of the museum--a vibrant statue, entitled "Scout,"  of Cody on his horse, done by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1924--she's the namesake of this museum

The Heart Mountain Internment Camp
Guard tower along the fence
Smokestack from the original hospital
Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts were organized at the camp and very active
Bricks on the entrance way, based on donations in memory of family members who were interned here; this one is particularly ironic
The quotes in these pictures are hard to read when you enlarge these pics, but are worth the effort

Sorry I cut off some of this quote--the 442d battalion was comprised of Japanese Americans who joined the Army in the war and fought in Europe--became the most decorated unit of the Army

This family was forced to live in this one room
Here is the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, on display here, along with stories of how the property of so many American citizens of Japanese descent was taken from them, like the grocery store depicted below--every time we say the pledge of allegiance we should take seriously the last phrase, "liberty and justice for all."  All means all.

Heart Mountain

Sunflower fields on the way back to Cody from Heart Mountain

Huge stacks of baled hay in the fields outside Cody
6 point buck, just chillin' between a building and an air conditioning compressor, just across the street from the RV campground


Love the rodeo clown!
Priest, all adorned in his western style shirt and clerical collar, enjoying the rodeo
Opening ceremony of the rodeo
Bareback bronc riding
After the cowgirls did the barrel racing, this "junior barrel racer" did the circuit around the barrels--a little assistance for her, since she's only 2 years old!!
The final and crowning event of any rodeo--bull riding!


  1. Fascinating photos...sure I would enjoy the museums. My book club read a great little book about the Japanese internment camps. Don't suppose either of you have much time for reading fiction, but might want to check it out sometime. Title is "Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet". Can't remember the author. Have been commenting off and on about your travels, but not sure it's going through! FB message me if you're getting them! Safe and fun travels!

    1. Mary Lou--yes, I'm quite sure you would enjoy all these museums; "enjoy" is a tough word to associate with the internment camp museum, but it's certainly an important reminder to us all to be vigilant to ensure that the rights of all people are protected. I've seen several of your comments, but at a time when I didn't have a chance to specifically reply; my apologies--I do appreciate your taking the time to read the blog and I'm always glad to see your comments. Thanks!

    2. Jack, I really don't expect you to reply. It's just that after I sent something, it didn't show up in the comments. Just wanted you to know I'm keeping up with your travels!