Wyoming Places: Cody's Old Trail Town Finally Gets A Brothel

A trip to Old Trail Town in Cody is a step back to the Old West. The 6-acre complex has 28 buildings, seven gravesites, a museum of Western artifacts and more than 100 wagons and carriages. And now it's finally got a brothel.

AR
Andrew Rossi

October 08, 202312 min read

The entrance to Old Trail Town in Cody. Founded in 1967, the entire 6-acre complex functions as a museum of Old West structures, artifacts and graves.
The entrance to Old Trail Town in Cody. Founded in 1967, the entire 6-acre complex functions as a museum of Old West structures, artifacts and graves. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

CODY — It’s everything one would expect in a visit to an authentic Old West town. There’s a saloon, main street, general store and a graveyard that’s the final resting place of notorious Western figures.

And, of course, a brothel. But it took awhile to get it.

Everyone at Old Trail Town in Cody is ecstatic because, after several years of searching and nearly 60 years in operation, the town finally got its brothel. It even got a permit from the city of Cody to have a brothel in city limits.

“All we need now is a church,” Sylvia Huber, Old Trail Town's office and collection manager, told Cowboy State Daily.

“And a jail,” said Larry Edgar, treasurer for The Museum of the Old West, which operates Old Trail Town. “We need a jail. And if somebody finds either of those, we’ll make room for them.”

A wagon in front of a row of historic Old West buildings at Old Trail Town. There are 28 buildings, dating from between 1879 and 1901, and over 100 historic horse-drawn vehicles.
A wagon in front of a row of historic Old West buildings at Old Trail Town. There are 28 buildings, dating from between 1879 and 1901, and over 100 historic horse-drawn vehicles. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

History Happened Here

Old Trail Town started with one building in “Cody City,” the original location chosen for the town that would become Cody in 1895. Nearly every other building in the complex was moved there, either in pieces or intact, from places across the Bighorn Basin and other parts of Wyoming and Montana.

The boardwalk of square, ramshackle buildings looks the same up close as it does from a distance: dusty, creaky and not very romantic.

For Edgar, Huber and Old Trail Town Manager Bob Logan, that’s the point.

“These are all original buildings. There’s not anything new in this town, and almost all of them have a real history we know about,” Edgar said. “Old Trail Town gives people a different experience. What they see here is the real thing.”

Bob Edgar, Larry’s brother and founder of Old Trail Town, realized that the history of the American West was being lost as structures around the region decayed and fell apart. He started collecting and relocating historic buildings, along with any artifacts associated with that period of history.

Now the 6-acre complex has 28 buildings, seven gravesites, a museum of Western artifacts and more than 100 wagons, carriages and other horse-drawn vehicles.

The complex has gained notoriety for its eclectic nature — it was even featured as a question on “Jeopardy!” One of its most appreciated aspects is its authenticity.

“We get a lot of comments on Google that this is the ‘real West,’” Huber said. “This is what it was like. It’s not a romanticized version with huge, big buildings like in Western movies. This is the rough and tough.”

Old Trail Town's Treasurer Larry Edgar shows off an 1875 U.S. Calvary saddle recently donated to the museum. Old Trail Town is owned and operated by the nonprofit Museum of the Old West, founded by Larry's brother, Bob Edgar.
Old Trail Town's Treasurer Larry Edgar shows off an 1875 U.S. Calvary saddle recently donated to the museum. Old Trail Town is owned and operated by the nonprofit Museum of the Old West, founded by Larry's brother, Bob Edgar. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

Authentic Experience

What Old Trail Town lacks in grandeur it makes up for with the thrill of history.

Three buildings on-site are associated with the Hole in the Wall Gang, including The Rivers Saloon where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid planned bank robberies. The Mud Spring Cabin served as a hideout before their heist of the Red Lodge Bank in Montana.

Then there’s the Hole in the Wall Cabin, one of the gang’s most famous hideouts. Furnished with an authentic table, chairs and a bed, it looks like Butch and Sundance might step back inside to resume planning their next heist at any moment.

There are also the Meeteetse Blacksmith Shop and the Home of the First Mayor of Cody.  Old Trail Town’s main office is a cabin salvaged from the Town of Marquette before it disappeared forever in 1910 under the waters of the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.

The Bonanza Post Office was built in 1885 and was one of the first Western settlements ever built in the Bighorn Basin. It stands next to the Burlington General Store, which was transported 37 miles completely intact.

One of the cabins on site was once occupied by Ashishishe, also known as Curly and Bull Half White, a Crow scout for George Armstrong Custer and a survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn. It was moved to Cody from Montana, but Ashishishe’s descendants are granted free access to Old Trail Town whenever they want to visit their ancestor’s home.

The Coffin School is another structure relocated from Meeteetse. The school was named in recognition of Alfred Nower, who died inside the cabin from a gangrenous wound he received while building it.

One of the newest additions inside the schoolhouse is a historic blouse and dress like a Western schoolmarm might have worn. Huber found it recently after opening a chest that had been on site for years.

“It had never been opened before,” she said. “So, I steam-cleaned it and set it up inside.”

The Rivers Saloon at Old Trail Town, originally located west of Meeteetse at the mouth of the Wood River. The saloon was a favorite spot for Butch Cassidy and is the oldest saloon from the Wyoming Territory in northwest Wyoming.
The Rivers Saloon at Old Trail Town, originally located west of Meeteetse at the mouth of the Wood River. The saloon was a favorite spot for Butch Cassidy and is the oldest saloon from the Wyoming Territory in northwest Wyoming. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

Rosie’s Roadhouse And Brothel

The structure that once housed Rosie’s Roadhouse and Brothel is the “newest” real estate in the Old Trail Town complex. The process of finding, reconstructing, and preserving the historic structure is a perfect case study of the site’s mission to preserve western and Wyoming history.

The small cabin was originally located in Arland, 8 miles northwest of Meeteetse, which had the reputation of being “the roughest town of Wyoming.” Rose Williams owned and operated her business out of it starting in 1890, where it attracted locals, travelers, and a grisly reputation.

There has been a place for the building at Old Trail Town for decades. However, finding the Arland brothel was much more difficult than it was in 1890.

“We knew where she moved it, but we couldn’t find the cabin,” Edgar said.

In 2018, ranch owners discovered that the original building had been converted into a barn and covered with other wood and materials. When they removed a shed roof covering the barn, the brothel was discovered underneath.

“When we found out it existed, we had to get it,” he said.

The building was meticulously photographed, dismantled, and moved to Cody in 2019. Each individual log was labeled with its precise location in the structure so the brothel could be rebuilt exactly as it stood in Arland.

The restoration of Rosie’s Roadhouse and Brothel was funded with five-dollar “brothel tokens” that people could purchase. One side reads “Whiskey, Girls, Food, and Tobacco,” while the other reminds them to visit Old Trail Town in Cody, Wyoming (the tokens won’t be reimbursable at the establishment.).

The restoration and reconstruction started in 2021, with an official opening planned for Summer 2024.

 “It’s a slow process,” said Logan. “(The structure) was in pretty bad shape. We wouldn’t have even attempted it, but it had so much history.”

  • A line of graves at Old Trail Town. Seven people have been moved from where they were originally buried and reinterred at Old Trail Town because of their historical connections to the buildings on site or the American West overall.
    A line of graves at Old Trail Town. Seven people have been moved from where they were originally buried and reinterred at Old Trail Town because of their historical connections to the buildings on site or the American West overall. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)
  • The grave of Jeremiah "Liver Eating" Johnson at Old Trail Town. Johnson's remains were exhumed in California and reburied in Cody in 1974. His funeral attracted over 2,000 people, including actor Robert Redford, making it one of the largest in state history.
    The grave of Jeremiah "Liver Eating" Johnson at Old Trail Town. Johnson's remains were exhumed in California and reburied in Cody in 1974. His funeral attracted over 2,000 people, including actor Robert Redford, making it one of the largest in state history. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

Resting In Peace

One of the most unique inclusions in the complex is several graves, the “permanent residents” of Old Trail Town. Seven people were exhumed and reinterred just a few feet away from the buildings where they lived, worked, and (in a few cases) died.

The most famous resident of Old Trail Town is Jeremiah “Liver Eating” Johnson, the legendary mountain man. His story made it to the silver screen in the 1972 American Western film Jeremiah Johnson, where he was played by Robert Redford.

Johnson was buried in a veteran’s cemetery in Los Angeles, California, until 1974. When 25 California seventh graders heard the mountain man was buried between skyscrapers and a highway, they decided he should be permanently reinterred in the mountains of the American West.

The students started a successful campaign to be declared Johnson’s next-of-kin so they could legally exhume and rebury him. Bob Edgar heard about their efforts and offered Old Trail Town as the mountain man’s truly final resting place.

A funeral for Johnson was held in 1975 when he was buried at Old Trail Town with his original headstone and a new monument topped with a bronze sculpture of the Western legend. Over 2,000 people attended, including Robert Redford, who served as the lead pallbearer.

“Liver Eating” Johnson is buried alongside Jim White, a buffalo hunter who would’ve challenged Buffalo Bill’s title for killing the most bison, and US Marshal Simpson Everett Stilwell. There are also local legends like “Blind Bill” Hoolihan and Belle Drewry, “the Woman in Blue.”

History and legend say “Blind Bill” Hoolihan was shot dead inside Rosie’s Roadhouse and Brothel as part of a love triangle dispute involving him and Belle Drewry, who herself was murdered in the same building by poisoning. Their final resting places are now just a few steps away from the building where they lost their lives.  

Drewry’s ghost and a few others may have come with the brothel. The ranch owners where the cabin was rediscovered believed some patrons were still lurking around.

“They told us, ‘If you take this cabin, take the spirits with you. We’re tired of them’,” Edgar said.

Rose Williams is believed to be buried somewhere in the Bighorn Basin, but her grave has never been located.

“It’d be nice to have her here too. If they ever find her, we’ll move her up here,” Edgar said.

The interior of the Coffin School at Old Trail Town, originally located in Meeteetse. The dress and blouse on display were a recent discovery in one of the many unopened chests scattered throughout the complex.
The interior of the Coffin School at Old Trail Town, originally located in Meeteetse. The dress and blouse on display were a recent discovery in one of the many unopened chests scattered throughout the complex. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

Preserving The Past

Longevity was not a concern for anyone who built the structures at Old Trail Town. That makes preserving historic buildings one of the most critical and challenging tasks.

Bob Logan made finding a viable solution his top priority when he became Old Trail Town’s manager in 2014. An answer was found thanks to the restoration of another historic Wyoming building: the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park.

The team restoring the exterior of the iconic lodgepole pine structure visited the site and shared “the only solution they found that worked,” which was a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine.

Every few years, the concoction is sprayed onto every piece of wood in sight, soaking into and strengthening it internally.

“It takes 105 five-gallon cans of linseed oil to do it, and we dilute that with one-quarter turpentine,” Logan said. “Every building, every wagon. It takes about a month to do it,” Logan said.

In addition to being sprayed, Rosie’s Roadhouse and Brother is being rebuilt with a polymer resin holding the wooden timbers in place rather than the grout that would’ve been used in the olden days. It’s more expensive but will ensure the structural integrity of the building for much longer.

The West As It Was, And Is

The largest building on site is a museum filled with artifacts associated with Old Trail Town and the Old West.  The display has weapons, furniture, and taxidermy. Signature exhibits include a canoe from the Lewis and Clark era and a lavish horse-drawn hearse.

Many more items occupy the buildings that help create an authentic Old West world in which visitors can immerse themselves.

“We try to furnish each building like they would have been,” Huber said. “The entire town of Old Trail Town is the museum. Everything you’re touching and not supposed to be touching is real.”

The mission of preserving the authenticity of the Old West resonates with many visitors.

“In the last few years, we’ve had some people donate nice artifacts,” Logan said. “Our name is getting out there that we have a place to show artifacts, and they will be well taken care of.”

One of the newest donations is an 1875 U.S. Calvary saddle complete with all its accouterments, including a U.S. Calvary saber, a rifle and its holster, and “the spare tire,” a small pouch with extra horseshoes and nails.

One highly sought-after item for placement in the restored brothel is a hip bath, a clam-shell-shaped tub where people washed while sitting rather than lying down. There would’ve have been a hip bath in the brothel’s back room, and Logan, Edgar, and Huber hope one will turn up in the Cody community or through a donation for a visitor.

The interior of the Hole in the Wall Cabin at Old Trail Town. This two-room structure was a hangout and base-of-operations for Western outlaws, most famously Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang. It was moved to Cody from Buffalo Creek, Wyoming.
The interior of the Hole in the Wall Cabin at Old Trail Town. This two-room structure was a hangout and base-of-operations for Western outlaws, most famously Butch Cassidy and the Hole in the Wall Gang. It was moved to Cody from Buffalo Creek, Wyoming. (Andrew Rossi, Cowboy State Daily)

Different Experiences, Same History

It’s easy to compare Old Trail Town to the other history museum in Cody, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. For the visitors and staff at Old Trail Town, both institutions are spectacular but different from each other.

 “The Buffalo Bill Museum is a really fine museum, but it's apples and oranges compared to what we have,” Edgar said.

Old Trail Town “stands all on its own” since the funds to maintain the collection of buildings and artifacts come from ticket sales and donations. No federal grants have ever been sought or awarded to the non-profit.

“It’s quite a project, and it’s a never-ending project. You must restore and upkeep all the original buildings. But we’re on the map because Old Trail Town gives people a different experience. What they see here is the real thing,” Edgar said.

In And Out

One other recent addition to Old Trail Town adds another layer of historic immersion.

“With Rosie’s, we finally had an outhouse built so people can see what they had to use. None of the buildings had running water,” Huber said.

The outhouse, like the brothel, will not be operational for visitor use. It’s just another structure that would’ve been an essential addition to any town in the Old West

There are many historic Old West structures slowly decaying away across the vastness of Wyoming. Old Trail Town already has the monumental task of maintaining its current collection but won’t pass on the opportunity to add more real estate.

“If something comes along that’s really historic, we’ll make room for it,” Edgar said. “That’s our mission.”

Andrew Rossi can be reached at arossi@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Andrew Rossi

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