Buffalo Bill Ranch renews its welcome to Nebraska tourists

Buffalo Bill's home will be open to the public again beginning with Memorial Day, providing a delightful respite for tourists who travel the long road through Nebraska. The ranch, just three miles from downtown North Platte, belonged to Col. William F. Cody (1846-1917), an outstanding frontiersman and possibly the greatest showman of his day. As in frontier times, the city of North Platte is along the path of the major - now modern - east-west trails. Interstate 80, which runs 455 miles across the state, is only two miles south of North Platte.

Nebraska can lay claim to a few firsts. It was the first state to complete its segment of the main interstate highway system. US 30, the Lincoln Highway, skirts the north side of North Platte; in 1915, this was the first paved transcontinental highway. The Union Pacific Railroad, which first linked the east and west coasts, is found here, and just outside of town it operates Bailey Yard, the largest railroad classification yard in the United States.

Breaking away from the rush of people through North Platte, whether by the fast lane, the slow lane, or the rails, travelers can find a quiet spot from the past, Buffalo Bill Ranch.

Here, inside a long white picket fence in front of a trim house, is a seldom heeded sign, ``Please Keep Off Grass.'' In summer, children play on the broad lawns, and families picnic.

Scout's Rest Ranch is what Cody called it after having the house built for $3,900 in 1886. An addition made in 1909 retains what another sign says is ``Second Empire Style with Italianate and Eastlake'' features. Altogether, the house has nine bedrooms.

Cottonwoods around the house respond to even the slightest movement of air across the plains. They've been there since 1894. A huge barn, 148 feet long, was constructed in 1887 out of lumber that filled seven railroad cars.

Between house and barn flows Cody Canal, bringing a steady supply of water from the North Platte River a half-mile away. No doubt Cody was one of Nebraska's first farmers to use irrigation.

The size of the ranch today, sad to say, is not the 4,000 acres of Cody's day with an irrigation system for another 1,000 acres. Cody had run through several fortunes and was deeply in debt. He sold the original ranch in 1911 to Pawnee Bill Lillie, his partner, for $100,000.

Mrs. Cody received $80,000 of the sale price. Although the Codys had an obviously rocky marriage, three daughters and a son, who died in infancy, made up the family circle.

Mary Nason, the tour guide at the Cody home the day I visited, said with a tolerant smile, ``They were really a mismatch. She didn't like his friends. She didn't like the Indians.'' Mrs. Cody, a St. Louis native, had her own house -- in North Platte.

Still, Bill Cody -- with or without Mrs. Cody -- apparently had a busy social schedule here. Stage and opera stars often visited Scout's Rest.

The porch furniture is made of horseshoes painted white -- surely a man's touch - but the generous, beautiful flower beds between walks and house seem to reflect a woman's influence.

Once, 60 people worked on the ranch; today, only 13. Hay for a few horses and buffaloes is grown on the ranch, now reduced to 24.7 acres. Cody had pure-bred Durham beef cattle, which he brought to Nebraska from England, where Wild West Shows had often played.

In 1905, Cody moved on to develop the town that bears his name: Cody, Wyo. But his family lived on the ranch here until April 1913, when they, too, went to Cody.

No admission is charged for visitors. A 15-minute, half-mile buggy ride costs only 50 cents.

Buffalo Bill Ranch State Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the United States Department of the Interior in 1978.

For more information write to Superintendent, Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, RR No. 1, North Platte, NE 69101, or Lee Smith, Executive Director, NEBRASKAland Days, Box 706, North Platte, NE 69103.

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