Thursday, February 03, 2011

All those childhood homes ...

The 1841 house from Le Claire now parked in Cody, Wyoming. Photo "borrowed."

Iowa is littered with "childhood homes" --- Wyatt Earp's in Pella, Mamie Doud Eisenhower's at Boone and John Wayne's at Winterset among them. Be born here, get famous (or infamous), move away and by gum somebody'll buy your childhood home and restore it. We've got so many childhood homes that sometimes we export them.

That's how the oldest building in Wyoming, Buffalo Bill's childhood home, got there --- from Iowa.

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody (age 19 at left), son of Isaac and Mary, only lived here seven years, but somehow during that brief stay he ended up with five childhood homes as nearly as I can figure. One's still here, another is in Wyoming and three have vanished.

Here's the chronology, more or less. Bill was born on Feb. 26, 1846, in a log cabin in Napsinekea Hollow just west of the little town of Princeton in Scott County, along the Mississippi north of the Quad Cities. Almost immediately, however, the family moved temporarily into another log cabin while the limestone part of what's now known as the Buffalo Bill Cody Homestead west of Princeton was built in 1847. That's now Iowa's official "childhood home."

In 1849, two years after moving into the "homestead," the Codys left for an 1841 frame house in Le Claire, just south of Princeton. That's the house that landed in Wyoming, although the Codys lived there so briefly they hardly had time to make up the beds.

Here's how the old house looked when still standing in Le Claire.

Before long, the Codys moved a few miles west of Princeton to Walnut Grove, near Long Grove, also in Scott County. That's where the Codys were living when they left for Kansas some time after September, 1853, when Bill's older brother, Samuel, then 12, died after being thrown from a horse. He's buried in the Long Grove Cemetery and, as might be expected, his grave is something of a tourist attraction, too.

Buffalo Bill, then proceeded to get himself famous what with the Wild West Show and all. Among his accomplishments, during the 1890s, was helping to found the town in Wyoming named after him --- Cody, sometimes called the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center is a primary attraction in Cody now. And that 1841 house from Le Claire is parked beside it.

Here's how it happened. Yellowstone quite rightly became one of the nation's major tourist destinations in the years after its designation as our first national park in 1872. Trains were the way most people got there, and if you were coming in from the east you'd most likely arrive aboard the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.

The C.B.&Q. depot, however, was a mile north and two steep grades plus the Shoshone River removed from Cody itself. So the railroad built the Burlington Inn next to the depot to house arrivals before the expeditions to Yellowstone began --- and shopped around to find other things to amuse them. In 1933, the Cody house in Le Claire went on the market, was purchased by the C.B.&Q., loaded onto a flat car, hauled 1,200 miles to Wyoming and parked beside the inn.

It's moved three times since, first in 1947 to the grounds of the first Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody after the Burlington Inn was torn down; then in 1969, across the street to the new center; and finally, during 2004, to a new location in the Greever Garden, also on the museum grounds.

I've visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Center a couple of times (the Plains Indian and Western Art collections are incredible, as is the firearms collection --- if you're interested in firearms). But somehow managed to miss the childhood home. If I ever make it back, I'll have to look it up.

One of my childhood homes is still available, by the way. The other two have been torn down --- and there aren't even plaques. If you were born here and plan to become famous, please have the kindness to let us know early so we can be more careful.

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