Fort Cody Trading Post
North Platte, Nebraska
On a cross-country trip, Fort Cody is a reassuring sight, with its log stockade walls and towers, looming 2-dimensional Buffalo Bill sign, and promise of "Western Gifts."
There's not much worth detouring for in western Nebraska -- Carhenge, a couple of Pony Express monuments, a buffalo made of barb wire. But the Fort Cody Trading Post lies right along I-80, so more often than not we visit -- just to make sure no one has turned the place into a warehouse store or tanning parlor.
The 30-foot tall sign resembling Buffalo Bill isn't an arbitrarily exploited Old West figure; Buffalo Bill Cody (called Buffalo Bill after killing 4,280 buffalo in one 18 month period) lived in North Platte for many years.
The Fort Cody Trading Post has remained true to its original vision -- a replica frontier redoubt of the 1860-to-1875 era that claims to be "Nebraska's Largest Souvenir and Western Gift Store." While many gift shops in the West attempt to look like frontier stockades, this is probably the largest, maybe even larger than life. Soldier dummies man the stockade battlements and towers; one has an arrow sticking out of his butt.
In the fort, aside from all the items for sale, is the Old West Museum, a collection of guns, chaps, boots, hats, and saddles and other leftovers from the past. The collection has been added to over the years. The proprietors of Fort Cody are particularly proud of Buffalo Bill's Miniature Wild West Show. Over 20,000 tiny hand-carved figures populate dioramas of Bill's show, which traveled across America and even to Europe in 1877. The scenes were created by Ernie and Virginia Palmquist over a 12 year period.
For hard-core Roadsiders, there are at least two special treats at Fort Cody:
1) A two-headed calf.
2) Out the back entrance you can pose with an Indian Muffler Man, a rare specimen with the head and positioning of a service station giant but in the clothing and headdress of a brave.
It's all for free! More than worth a stop.
Also in North Platte:
Buffalo Bill's Home. Called Scout's Rest Ranch, it is a huge house he lived in during his heyday as a showman, now maintained as a state historical park. Every summer, a reenactment of his Wild West Show takes place 200 yards from the ranch.