Buffalo Bill Memorial Association (Cody, WY)


      Older man in western clothes playing guitar for a group of children 

Otto Rosfeld at the Museum Adventures school program for cowboy Songs & Range Ballads, the 25th-anniversary celebration of the music, poetry, and history of the American cowboy by the Buffalo Bill Historical center. Photo by Sean Campbell

Cowboys have long been a symbol of the American West, encompassing both the history of ranching and the commercial idea of the cowboy as depicted in movies and advertising. The Buffalo Bill Historical Center examines these two sides through their annual festival, Cowboy Songs & Range Ballads. The Historical Center focuses on more than just the cowboy culture; they advance knowledge of the American West through their Buffalo Bill Museum, Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Plains Indian Museum, Cody Firearms Museum, Draper Museum of Natural History, and McCracken Research Library.

In FY 2007, the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association received an NEA Access to Artistic Excellence grant of $20,000 to support its 25th anniversary celebration of the music, poetry, and history of the American cowboy. Cowboy Songs & Range Ballads: Melodies and Memories began on April 11-12, 2007, with school programs for more than 300 elementary school students, who visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Center for hands-on activities that explored the culture of the cowboy, such as how to make cinches, play the fiddle, and do trick roping.

An opening reception and informal jam session kicked off the weekend’s activities, which included a one-day symposium, Melodies & Memories. Speakers included folklorist, author, and storyteller Jim Garry and rancher, storyteller, and NEA National Heritage Fellow Glenn Ohrlin. Garry also participated in the 25th-anniversary celebrations in a different way—he collected oral histories from 14 past Cowboy Songs & Range Ballads performers, listening to their stories and learning about the influence of music on their lives. These oral histories will be housed as part of a major folk life collection at the McCracken Research Library.

The weekend’s concerts included performances by Cowboy Celtic, who combine Celtic instrumentation and music with cowboy songs; Wylie & the Wild West, a cowboy singer, yodeler, rancher, and roper; and Sons of the San Joaquin, a family trio whose music is rooted in the West harmony tradition of the Sons of the Pioneers. In addition, the weekend included open-mic sessions, allowing both new and seasoned musicians to perform. Cowboy Songs & Range Ballads 25th anniversary activities continued through August 2007, reaching more than 4,000 people total.

(From the NEA 2007 Annual Report)