The Cody Firearms Museum: More Guns Than You Can Shake a Gun At


Buffalo Bill Center of the West photo by Marguerite House
The exterior of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, which also holds the Cody Firearms Museum. Image by Marguerite House.

Which of the following statements are true?

A. Cody, Wyoming is the most pro-gun city in the United States. You’ll see people open carrying freely and most every business prominently displays pro-Second Amendment messaging. Oh, and not coincidentally, murders in Cody for the years 2002 through 2011 (last reported dates) were measured at zero. Yes, that’s zero each and every year.

B. Winchester motorcyles look a lot like Harley Davidson motorcycles, but historians have found no evidence that notorious biker gangs like the Warlocks, Hell’s Angels, or Galloping Goose Motorcycle Club (founded 1942 in Los Angeles–really!) ever adopted the Winchester bike as club standard equipment.

The perfect home defense gun? A gatling with iron shield? Buffalo Bill Center of the West photo by Chris Gimmeson
The perfect home defense gun? A gatling with iron shield? Image by Chris Gimmeson.

C. The finest and most protein-enhanced breakfast on the planet can be found at Our Place Home Cookin’ restaurant in Cody, Wyoming.

D. Perhaps the most extensive and impressive firearms display in the United States can be found just about six blocks from the Silver Dollar Bar in downtown Cody, Wyoming.

If you guessed “all of the above” you are correct!

At the recent Shooting Industry Masters event, attendees were invited to a welcome reception at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. This amazing museum is an overflowing buffet of artifacts, guns, and stories that helped shape the American West.

While impossible to contain the content of the museum in a simple statement, it features displays and artifacts related to Buffalo Bill, Western art, the natural history of the greater Yellowstone area, Plains Indians, and of course, firearms. As this is a shooting column, I’ll focus on the Cody Firearms Museum section, but I encourage you to check out the rest of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West–it’s enthralling!

What you’ll see at the Cody Firearms Museum

The heart and soul of the Cody Firearms Museum is the Winchester Collection, which was transported to Cody in 1975. Lot’s of rare and priceless guns? Absolutely. Like a Colt-Paterson Model 1839 revolving shotgun. And a Winchester Model 1876 Short Rifle. And the Winchester 64 .30-30 lever action rifle presented to President Ronald Reagan. And so on…

Buffalo Bill Center of the West, photo by Sean Campbell
Some of the items on display at the museum. Image by Sean Campbell.

Browsing the Winchester collection, you’ll learn that Winchester made lots of other products in the slump after World War One. Like cutlery, fishing equipment, roller skates, and that motorcycle we mentioned earlier. By the way, that 1910 Winchester motorcycle on display is the only known survivor of the 200 made.

While the Winchester Collection is the anchor, you’ll find just as much not directly related to Winchester. Like the largest collection of antique air guns I’ve ever seen. And Girandoni air rifles like the one used by Lewis and Clark to impress Native Americans they encountered along their journey. You’ll also see period-specific machining equipment that illustrates how firearms manufacture transitioned from hand-made to the industrial age. You’ll also find exhibits showing the weapons of major conflicts.

One of our favorite exhibits was the Robert W. Woodrfuff Embellished Arms Gallery. You know Robert Woodruff–he’s the guy who built Coca Cola into a worldwide brand. In his spare time be demonstrated world-class philanthropy, filling museums with hundreds of millions of dollars of collectibles for all to enjoy. The Embellished Arms Gallery is filled with examples of art-deco customized guns, mind-blowing examples of the engraving arts, and the original oak woodwork from the Winchester offices in New Haven, Connecticut.

What you can learn

The Cody Firearms museum is also home to the original records of the Olin Corporation. Want to research your Winchester, Marlin or L.C. Smith firearms? Contact the museum’s Firearms Records Office and they can offer serial number search and factory letter services. If you join the museum first, you can get free and discounted access to these services.

Want to ride a Winchester? It'll cost you as there's only one left in the world. Photo by Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Want to ride a Winchester? It’ll cost you, as there’s only one left in the world.

Another fascinating find is the Serial Number Application Date ledgers. Also known as “polishing records,” these files contain information on the dates that serial numbers were applied to a firearm and its components early in the manufacturing process. It’s another gem to help understand that family heirloom gun.

The Firearms Records Office is the most fascinating part of the museum. I’ll bet you didn’t know some guns were shipped with witch-hazel stocks did you? Well the records office does! We’re in process of researching one of our own family heirloom–an L.C. Smith side-by-side. We’ll let you know if it turns out to be one of Teddy Roosevelt’s guns…

Everyone who owns a gun should have a visit to the Cody Firearms Museum on their bucket list. Plan on spending at least a day–just in the firearms section. Better yet, become a member!

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