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Cody’s Buffalo Bill Center Reassembling Gigantic Grizzly Bear Skeleton; “It’s Adult Legos”

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A massive reconstruction effort is happening in Cody, but it’s not a building.

It’s a bear. 

And when you build a bear – a real one – you’ve got to start with the bones. 

That’s what volunteers and staff are doing at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, under the watchful eye of expert bone builder Lee Post. 

Post literally wrote the book on how to put together animal skeletons (“Building Bear Bones: A Guide to Preparing and Assembling a Bear Skeleton”), which is the guide used by staff at the Draper Museum of Natural History to assemble the bones of a 14-year-old grizzly that once inhabited this region.  

“The Draper Natural History Museum was established in 2002,” said Corey Anco, the Draper Museum’s interim curator. “This year, we turned 20 years old, and this is the first time we’ve ever done a reconstruction of the skeleton at this scale, open to the public.”   

Lee Post is the bone-builder himself, an expert not because of his degree, but his experience. Post isn’t an anthropologist, or even a scientist. He calls himself a “grown up nature nerd.”

“I got very interested in bones young in life, shortly after I dropped out of college, and never looked back,” Post told Cowboy State Daily. 

Homer, Alaska

Post, the owner of a bookstore in Homer, Alaska, learned how to articulate skeletons as a young man at the local library. 

“I live in Alaska, and we had a natural history museum, much smaller than this one, but a wonderful natural history museum,” Post said. “(They) had a whale skeleton that they had collected, it was a 17-foot Bering Sea beaked whale.”

Post said that during slow months in Homer, when he wasn’t working with his mom in their small bookstore, he hung out at the museum for the fun of it and expressed interest in assembling the whale bones. But he was told that no one at the museum had the time or the expertise to guide him.

“I had a bookstore, so I figured I’d go to my bookstore, look up books in print,” he said. 

But there were none on the topic. And he found that there were no museum experts who were articulating animal skeletons in any uniform way, so their methods were all radically different.

“So, this tells me there is no gold standard for how to do this,” he said.

He then decided to use his own experience as a bicycle mechanic and occasional carpenter to come up with his own methods. 

“With what I know about tools and putting things together and taking things apart,” he told the Homer museum staff, “I’m sure I can come up with better ways in this. So they gave me the go-ahead.”

How To Build Skeletons

After putting together skeletons of whales, moose, sea otters and porcupines, visitors who saw his work at the Homer Natural History Museum, as well as the local high school, began asking him to be a consultant for projects around the country.

“A lot of those visitors were teachers, and a lot of those teachers saw that and it’s like, ‘How can we do this?’ So I started writing up directions on how to do skeletons,” he said.

And now, Post has come “out of the closet,” so to speak, with his bones.

“I no longer want to just sit in a closet and put bones together by myself,” he said. “I’ve had too much fun too many times with too many organizations with their volunteers and their docents.”

Post said that his process has evolved over the years, so he can show volunteers with no experience in articulating bones how to put together a completed skeleton. 

“I just love when it’s organized to a point where we can set people down and I can show them step by step how to do this,” Post said. “And that’s what (the Center of the West) wanted, was to show their people how to do this, so they could do it next time.”

“We have volunteers that are retired bankers, retired military,” Anco explained. “Colleen just spent five months in Antarctica. Julia here is in her senior year of school at University of Wyoming.”

“Adult Legos”

Anco described the process of putting together the grizzly’s bones as “adult Legos.”

“All these little pieces come together in a certain way, they have an orientation,” he explained. “And so you line that up, you match the way the pieces go. And then we’re using a combination of glue and pins and epoxy to bring this all to life.”

Anco explained that the volunteers drill holes in the bones where pins will slide, then set the pins in place with glue. 

“We will be erecting this on two legs, as if it’s scratching its back, said Anco. “We will not be putting the skin back on – we want to showcase all the hard work of the volunteers and staff here in recreating this beautiful structure and skeleton. It will show how the skeletal structure lends itself to the morphology or the function of that animal.”

Anco explained that using the reconstruction of the bear as a workshop showcases the work that goes into creating displays that educate visitors.

“We wanted to do this in a way that we can show the visitors and show the community, we’re more than just exhibits on display,” Anco said. “We are actively constructing them right here, right in front of our eyes.”

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Lawsuit Against Buffalo Bill Center Dismissed, Plaintiff To Continue Efforts

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A lawsuit against Cody’s prestigious Buffalo Bill Center of the West that alleged age and gender discrimination against a former employee has been dismissed by a federal judge.

But Bonnie Smith, who served for 10 years as a curatorial assistant for the center’s Draper Museum of Natural History, said she is not giving up her effort to hold the center accountable for what she called her wrongful termination.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal dismissed the age and sex discrimination lawsuit in late December, finding Smith did not provide enough facts to back up her allegations and failed to exhaust all administrative remedies available to her before filing her lawsuit.

Smith was fired in early 2019 on grounds of “insubordination, gross misconduct, and violation of company policies/procedures.”

In her lawsuit filed in 2021, Smith alleged that she was actually fired because she had notified federal agencies that the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association, the parent organization of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, had incorrectly handled artifacts and was guilty of age and gender discrimination and that her interim supervisor, Rebecca West, had a personal vendetta against Smith.

Smith’s lawsuit claimed that during her employment with BBMA, a male employee with less experience was hired and promoted above Smith. 

The lawsuit also alleged that another co-worker had “laid hands on her in a violent and aggressive manner,” and nothing was done to address the incident despite her reports to her supervisor.

The lawsuit also claimed that Melissa Hill (who was in charge of the center’s raptor program) conspired with other defendants to make false allegations against Smith so that she would be terminated, and that West, now the center’s CEO, “made up inaccurate allegations that Smith was not acting in a professional manner.” 

West said the organization was satisfied with Fruedenthal’s ruling.

“The Buffalo Bill Center of the West is pleased with the Court’s decision,” she said. “We will continue to support our valued employees and maintain an inclusive and rewarding workplace.”

Freudenthal’s decision to dismiss all of the claims came as a blow to Smith, who said she loved her job as curatorial assistant at the Center’s Draper Museum of Natural History.

“I absolutely loved what I did every day,” Smith told Cowboy State Daily. “And working with the community and sharing our museum with the public gave me such joy. And to walk into work one day and suddenly be told that I have a pattern of poor performance – and I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ I have, like, close to 10 years of annual job reviews that are ‘exceeds expectations.’” 

Smith said she is not giving up the case.

“All that decision means is that that judge did not find specific instances of discrimination,” Smith said. “None of our state claims are dismissed. So we are going to continue to pursue this in state court, for the defamation, wrongful termination, breach of contract, things like that.”

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Buffalo Bill Exhibit Shows What Lies On Bottom Of Yellowstone Lake

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A new display at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody is allowing the public to share in the fascinating details uncovered by a research project about what lies at the bottom of Yellowstone Lake.

The exhibit titled “What Lies Beneath” shines a light into the dark waters explored as part of the Hydrothermal Dynamics of Yellowstone Lake project.

“At the Center of the West, we really explore the story of the American West and share that with our visitors,” said Nathan Doerr, curator for the Center’s Draper Museum of Natural History. “We focus on igniting curiosity, driving exploration and ultimately creating advocates of this amazing place, and this exhibit does a tremendous job of that, because it ignites curiosity based on these phenomenal photographs – and then it presents some incredible research.”

Dr. Rob Sohn of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, director of the Hydrothermal Dynamics project, the goal of the project is to understand how earthquakes, volcanic processes, and climate affect the hydrothermal system located beneath the Lake.

“I spent a lot of my career studying hydrothermal systems in the deep sea,” he said. “I was out doing research on the geysers in Yellowstone just after the big swarm of earthquakes in 2008, 2009 – that was one of the largest swarms in the last couple of decades, and it originated underneath the lake and propagated straight north right up to the Lake Hotel. And it was known that those earthquakes went right underneath some areas on the lake floor where there were thermal areas that had been documented.

“And Jake (Lowenstern with the U.S. Geological Survey) was kind of bemoaning to me that, ‘Geez, we have no way of knowing how these earthquakes affected those hydrothermal systems. It’d be so great if we had been able to monitor that and figure out what was really going on,’” Sohn continued. “And so he kind of turned to me and said, ‘Rob, don’t you monitor underwater hydrothermal systems? You should write a proposal to (the National Science Foundation) to do that study.’ And I kind of thought, ‘Jake, that’s a really good idea.’”

The roughly $5 million proposal was accepted by the NSF in 2014, and Sohn’s team began work in 2016. The expedition utilized new technology that was created specifically for this project, according to Dr. Sohn. 

Newly developed technology included the remote operated vehicle (ROV) named “Yogi,” and the boat used to travel the lake’s surface, which was loaded with equipment allowing the scientists to monitor what was happening on the lake floor.

“When we were assembling our team, we have this interesting mix of people who are the world’s experts in the geology of Yellowstone, and in the hydrothermal fluids of Yellowstone,” Sohn said. “And then we combined that with people who are experts in the deep sea technology that you need to study these kinds of features.”

“A lot of the design of this equipment happened in faraway landscapes and in oceans far from Wyoming,” Doerr said. “And to then bring that technology … into Yellowstone National Park and specifically into Yellowstone Lake provides an amazing opportunity.”

“Just having the ability to actually dive down there and collect a fluid sample, for example – that’s a pretty hard little trick technologically,” Sohn added. “And so we just gained a lot of basic information about these systems so that – just like trying to understand a patient – we gave it a pretty thorough set of exams, if you will.” 

The exhibit features photos of the work taken by photographer Chris Linder with Woods Hole. Doerr said it was Linder who brought the project to the center’s attention. 

“Exhibits like this can inspire especially younger generations to pursue really phenomenal careers and really interesting careers,” he said. “But then the research itself presents us with so much information — about the landscapes that might seem obvious to us from basic natural history, or just our naked eye; learning the story especially of the lake floor, and the impacts of things like earthquakes and volcanic events and climate, how those can change; even these hydrothermal features 400 feet below the surface of Yellowstone Lake.”

So, what does lie beneath the waters of Yellowstone Lake?

“These thermal areas, they’re in the lake, and it’s a pretty deep lake – it’s over 100 meters (328 feet) deep,” Sohn said. “But you know, we found that there’s a giant steam reservoir under Yellowstone Lake, and the rock in sediments under the lake that’s feeding this thermal area. 

“In terms of thermal power, it’s 30 megawatts over a very small area, and the roof of that reservoir is about 15 meters below the lake floor,” Sohn continued. “So you actually have this massive reservoir that’s shooting steam up through the sediments to make these thermal areas. And so being able to, kind of, outline the geometry and position of that steam reservoir has been one of the major results from our work.”

Another discovery made during the expedition was how pressure changes from this steam vent affect the lake itself.

“We were able to determine that these fluids that are coming out of this particular thermal area are saturated in volcanic gases, mostly carbon dioxide and, and sulfur species, hydrogen sulfide,” Sohn explained. “And when those fluids have that high saturation, that makes them very susceptible to pressure changes, and you can basically cause them to explode. 

“And so our best hypothesis is that if you have an event that causes the pressure to drop rapidly on these systems, you can cause them to decompress and explode and cause higher thermal explosions,” he continued. “So, if you had an earthquake, and there are a lot of fault zones that are near the lake and actually cut through the lake, you could generate the lake equivalent of a tsunami. So we’ve just learned a lot about the sensitivity of this system, especially to pressure changes.”

The exhibit will be on display at the Center of the West until May of 2022. More details can be found at https://centerofthewest.org/2021/02/04/exhibition-what-lies-beneath/

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Buffalo Bill Center Exhibit Features Cowboys Of Color

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Most of our impressions of life in the “Old West” come from movies. But they only tell part of the story. 

Photographer Ivan McClellan is working to fill that gap in knowledge by showcasing the role of Black cowboys in the American West – not just from the past, but in today’s rodeos as well. And a new exhibit at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody celebrates that culture.

“I started shooting cowboys of color five years ago,” said McClellan, who is based out of Portland, Oregon. “I went to a rodeo in Oklahoma and I just fell in love with the culture. It wasn’t until about two years ago that I started posting them online, and then people were like, ‘This is amazing, I didn’t know anything about this culture.’ And I realized there was something important there that needed to be told.”

The exhibit was opened to the public earlier this month, and is supported in part by a grant from the Wyoming Community Foundation. 

Hunter Old Elk, who is the assistant curator for the Plains Indian Museum at the Center of the West, said the exhibit brings to light a part of history that has been long forgotten.

“One in four, or depending on who you talk to, three in six, cowboys in the traditional West, were people of color,” she said. “That includes Black cowboys, indigenous cowboys, and Latino cowboys as well.”

Although McClellan’s work is in the spotlight, there are parts of the exhibit that showcase other, lesser-known aspects to cowboy culture. Ken Blackbird has been photographing Native American rodeos for years. Some of his work is also on display at the “8 Seconds” exhibit.

“It’s my interpretation of Native American cowboys and their horses,” Blackbird said. “That’s what I’m looking at. There’s a bonding element, that’s perceived in their culture.”

In addition to the exhibit at the Center of the West, McClellan has photographs on display at the Booth Museum in Georgia, and has shown at several other galleries across the country – although he said this is his first solo exhibit. 

To him, celebrating Black cowboys is also a celebration of America, he said.

“The cowboy represents grit, he represents integrity, he represents independence, you know, hard work, all of these attributes,” McClellan said. “And I think associating Black folks with that identity, with that icon, elevates the culture, it elevates the icon, it just is good for everybody.”

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Cody’s Buffalo Bill Center Hires Rebecca West As New Director

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Use any search engine, and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West will show up as the top tourist attraction in Cody. 

Five world-class museums, a research library, intertactive exhibits and a Smithsonian Institute affiliation make this 7-acre campus a must-see on anyone’s list when they travel to northwest Wyoming.

The museum itself is a testament to history — it was founded as the Buffalo Bill Memorial Association in 1917 by Buffalo Bill Cody’s niece, Mary Jester Allen. 

And now, for the first time since its beginning, a woman is once again guiding the museum’s path.

“Wholeheartedly, I’m embracing it,” said Rebecca West, the newly minted executive director for the Buffalo Bill Center. “There have been a lot of very strong and accomplished women in the history of the organization starting with Mary Jester Allen. She’s the founder of the Center; I’m considered to be the first official professional woman director in the history of the Center.

“We’ve had wonderful board members and advisors who are women right now,” West continued. “They’ve been inspirational, and I rely on them still for advice as to how to make your way in the museum world, in the professional world, as a woman.”

West isn’t just the first woman to lead the institution since its inception — she is also the first executive director to spend her entire career at the Center, from her start as intern through jobs in research and registration to curation and administration.  

“It’s not a career path that you’ll see a lot,” she said, “and I don’t know if I’d recommend it to a lot of people. I have worked for so many different departments — starting with the internship, that was really research; but I also worked for the conservation department. I moved on to curatorial work, worked for registration, and then started to get into management and other aspects.”

Because West has worked exclusively at the Center of the West for the last 25 years, she brings a level of experience to the job of executive director that can’t be found in a candidate who comes from somewhere else.

“Over 25 years, it’s not just the experience that you’ve gained here at the museum, but it’s also what you’ve absorbed, and what the Center has seen with world events, local events, regional events,” she explained. “And then there’s your own personal accomplishments, whether they’re family related, going back to school, all that. So it’s 25 years of experience — not just for work, but with life as well.”

West is also the first executive director who has lived for an extended period of time in Cody — having raised her family here.

“Chuck and I actually had our 25th wedding anniversary last year during the pandemic,” she said, smiling. “And we still managed to celebrate — I think we went fishing together down the Shoshone River.” 

West’s daughter will graduate this year from the University of Montana in Missoula, with a degree in resource conservation, and her son is a freshman at Cody High School.

“So both kids have grown up here — outdoors kids through and through, and I think they’re pretty attached to Cody and the West, as much as I am, if not more,” West said.

West said she hopes that her story will give hope to others who have started their careers at the bottom – proof that they truly can work their way to the top.

“I think that this is a really momentous occasion, and not just for women,” West notes. “It’s important for young professionals who are getting into the arts, the humanities and the museum business especially, to understand that it is possible to work your way up from starting as an intern to becoming someday a museum director.”

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