I love to travel because it lets me experience people and places that are new and different and invigorating in ways I could never have imagined.
Yet inevitably if I come across something that reminds me of home, it makes me feel all that more connected to this new destination.
Two weeks ago I took part in a press tour in and around Cody, Wyoming, joining our friends at the Midwest Travel Writers Association who held their fall conference there.
It was my first time in Wyoming, and I relished every giant rock formation, wild bison herd, dry wind, racing river, show-stopping geyser, cowboy ballad, friendly face and rodeo moment I witnessed.
Wyoming seems as exotic and faraway a place as I can imagine. No wonder the Cowboy State’s tourism slogan used to be “Like No Place on Earth.”
And yet… I came upon obvious and surprising truths that connect Wyoming to the Finger Lakes region.
Let’s start with William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill, the world-famous entertainer/entrepreneur who brought his Wild West show to far corners of the globe and who helped found the frontier town back in 1896.
Did you know that a few years after Buffalo Bill began touring his Wild West show, the Cody family lived in Rochester? According to Jeremy Johnston, curator of the Buffalo Bill Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody had distant relatives in the region and considered making Rochester his East Coast business headquarters.
(No, the photo below, which I took at the Buffalo Bill Museum, does not show Cody with his relatives).
Cody himself spent little time there. He was too busy traveling with the Wild West Show. Tragically, his 5-year-old son, Kit Carson, died in Rochester and was buried in Rochester’s Mt. Hope Cemetery. Not many years later, his younger sister Orra joined him there, though by this time the family had moved. A second sister, Arta, was also laid to rest in Mt. Hope after she died as a young adult.
These family tragedies did not deter Cody from bringing his show to Rochester and the greater Finger Lakes area. The show performed three times in Geneva, and twice in Canandaigua. There were also shows in Corning, Ithaca, Cortland, Seneca Falls and Binghamton. The photo below has pins in all the locations where the Wild West Show performed.
(Fun footnote: The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave Site near Denver has a list on its web site of all the places where Buffalo Bill performed. Find out of your community was included.)
The Wyoming Territory did not become a state until 1890, nearly 50 years after New York's Wyoming County adopted the name. "Wyoming" comes from a Delaware Native American phrase for “wide open plains” or “broad bottom lands.” It would be nice to think that New York inspired Wyoming to adopt the poetic name, but in actuality, the state took its lead from Pennsylvania, which was first to establish a place called Wyoming.
While spending the better part of a day at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, I also came upon an exhibit of 19th century Western landscapes and Native American portraits by John Mix Stanley. The painter/explorer was born in Canandaigua and traveled extensively throughout the West, but ironically never in the Wyoming Territory. Still, I met up with him (see photo of his self-portrait below) in Cody.
The Finger Lakes and Wyoming are also tethered by a shared history of pushing the boundaries for women’s equality. While Seneca Falls was the site of the first women’s rights convention in 1848, Wyoming was the first state to give women the right to vote in 1869.
Though the Buffalo Bills are not based in the Finger Lakes, a lot of fans are, so I would be remiss if I did not mention the Western New York football team. Originally called the Buffalo Bisons, a 1947 contest resulted in the current name. William Cody had already been dead for 30 years, but his Wild West fame still loomed large in the public's imagination. Seven decades later, you would be hard-pressed to find a millennial who really understood the magnitude of Cody's fame and reputation.
Even here in Ontario County, we have a Buffalo Bills restaurant in Shortsville. But in truth, it has no real connection to Wyoming. The owner happens to be named Bill, and he happens to come from Buffalo.
Perhaps what makes me feel the most connected to Wyoming is that ribbon of highway, US Route 20, that runs just a few miles from my house in Geneva all the way to Cody and beyond.
So now, when I chase the sunset along Route 20, I can imagine myself in a never-ending ride from one gorgeous part of the country I call home-sweet-home to another we call Yellowstone National Park (pictured below).
America is beautiful indeed.